Zappa Records / UMe ZR3848-1
Musical Performance: ***½
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****
In December 1971, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention were appearing at London’s Rainbow Theatre when an audience member rushed onstage and pushed Zappa into the orchestra pit. Zappa suffered severe injuries, and was in a wheelchair for a year. He would not tour again until the fall of 1972, but recuperating from injuries was not something that would keep a driven, almost compulsive musician like Zappa down.
As I mentioned in my January 1 writeup here on SoundStage! Ultra, for several years I’ve been enamored with the idea of the super integrated amplifier. In that article, I listed the myriad models I’ve reviewed and mentioned that I’d soon be auditioning yet another super integrated amplifier in my Ultra Reference System. That product is the Vitus Audio SIA-030 integrated amplifier, which retails for $46,200 USD in its standard configuration (an optional DAC-streamer and/or phono stage can be added at additional cost).
I’m a late adopter of social media, having only recently conceded that it’s a must for brand building and networking. I joined LinkedIn back in August, and started posting to “the ’gram” (jeff_hifi) in November. For me, LinkedIn was the real eye-opener. One of my most striking discoveries was just how small the business side of high-end audio is. The number of people directly involved in the making, marketing, selling, and reviewing of audiophile gear is nowhere near the countless crowds involved in many other high-tech industries. Being involved in high-end audio is somewhat like living in a small town: you get to know just about everyone, at least on some level.
Audiophiles are typically divided when the subject of power conditioning comes up. On one hand, many audiophiles will tell you that power conditioning—or more accurately, the entire electrical chain associated with a stereo system, including the in-the-wall wiring and outlets—is the foundation of an audio system. The theory behind it is that if you don’t start with pristine power delivery, everything that comes after—meaning everything—will be compromised.
“When I’m too old and feeble to stop you, you’re probably gonna sell my record collection, right?”
Weird World Record Co. WEIRD149LP
Musical Performance: ****
Sound Quality: ***
Overall Enjoyment: ***½
English musician Richard Dawson has made recordings under his own name since 2005, but also under the pseudonym Eyeballs and in collaborations with other musicians. His primary influence is English folk music, but his recordings are highly experimental and veer into prog rock. His music has a willful eccentricity that sets him apart from the mainstream and makes him worth hearing, but it requires some time to absorb and appreciate.
The products I’ll be describing below—with one exception—do not yet exist. And honestly, there’s every chance that some of them never will. With others, I think you’ll find sound reasoning that a new design just might exist, if not on a drawing board somewhere, then at least as a gleam in a CEO or engineer’s mind. Either way, these fantasy products are the high-end audio offerings I’d love to see announced in 2023. I’m not only convinced good commercial reasons exist for each of them to come into existence, I’m also being a little selfish. These are all products I want to hear and write about. If I could will them into reality, I surely would.
If you’re a regular reader of SoundStage! Ultra, you’ll recall that back in October of 2021, I set up my personal pair of Sonus Faber Maxima Amators in my reference listening space. They sounded phenomenal, and I enjoyed several months of listening to them in that environment. The SFs were eventually supplanted by the Vivid Audio Giya G1 Spirits, which would take pride of place in my reference audio system—an experience you can read about by clicking my name under the Reference Systems tab on the front page of Ultra.
The Best of British
Quite simply, SME is one of the crown jewels of the British audio industry, and is as quintessentially English as the BBC, Windsor Castle, or strawberries and cream at Wimbledon. Nestled in the foothills of the beautiful South Downs in West Sussex, you’ll find the magnificent art deco headquarters of one of the world’s finest engineering companies. Note the lack of qualification there: not audio engineering companies, but engineering companies—period. For SME doesn’t just build some of the world’s most desirable turntables and tonearms; it also undertakes leading-edge engineering projects for Formula 1 racing teams and aerospace firms. It’s no exaggeration to say that SME’s astonishing capability in precision metalwork is world-renowned and globally respected. This is a company that builds analog replay equipment to the sort of tolerances that NASA specifies for its spacecraft. So when Stuart McNeilis, SME’s charismatic CEO, offered me the opportunity to review the company’s new flagship Model 60 turntable, he didn’t need to ask twice.
I have to imagine that, as an elder Millennial, I’m on the young end of the audiophile spectrum. So my system is more a “work in progress” than an “endgame.” It wasn’t until late 2021, when I moved with my pregnant wife and our dog to the Philadelphia suburbs, that I even had a dedicated listening room to call my own. Such is life. And anyway, hi-fi should complement our lives, not the other way around. While my system gives up a fair bit on the aesthetic front compared to what I could own, it works exactly the way I want it to and scores highly in the transparency and neutrality columns. These aspects are what matter most to me, and frankly, I’m pretty pleased with my setup—even if it’s not as “Ultra” as those of some of my SoundStage! colleagues. Click the links below to read about each component in my system to find out why I selected it.
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