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Anthony

Anthony’s Audio Asylum # 2

By | Anthony's Blog

Nobody loves an In-Wall.

No aspiring rock star ever says: “When I become rich and famous, I’m going to snag a pair of mediocre speakers that I can cut into my wall, paint over and ignore.”  World-class audio is the stuff of dreams, yet it becomes ever more difficult for qualified customers to buy it.

Back in the 1980s, Cerwin-Vega’s ad slogan was: “Life in order of importance-Food, Shelter, and a Pair of Very Loud Speakers.  “Those were the days! In the system-design articles I wrote during my freelance days, I routinely simplified the speaker selection process with the quote, “speakers make sound by moving air.”  The more air you want to move, the bigger the speaker (and/or drivers) needed. During my stint as Automotive Editor at Maxim, I often borrowed the phrase, “there’s no replacement for displacement,” which explains the direct relationship between power and engine size. What these auto and audio examples have in common is that you can’t cheat the laws of physics: if you want more horsepower, you need a bigger engine; if you want more bass or sound pressure, you need a bigger loudspeaker.

During the twenty-three years since I started Specialty Sound and Vision, no component category has changed as dramatically as Loudspeakers. Before the 90s, most consumers bought box-type speakers, either Towers or Monitors, after visiting a local HiFi store, consulting with a salesman, auditioning multiple models and choosing the speaker best suited to their taste.

Those days are gone. Few customers visit HiFi stores anymore, in part because there are ever-fewer stores and in part because purchasing behavior has changed. In the past, great sound was a priority and those individuals able to afford top-notch equipment would actively seek out the best gear: visiting dealers, reading magazines and soliciting expert advice. Nowadays, most affluent buyers abdicate their “sound decisions” to decorators or architects whose product choices are determined by visual impact or, more precisely, lack thereof. One of the largest integrators in our territory told us that Invisibles comprised eighty percent of their speaker sales and the best-selling models from virtually every speaker company—even High End ones—are architectural.

During my life in audio, loudspeakers have marched the “Trail of tears” from Tower, to Bookshelf, to In-Wall, to In-Ceiling and finally…Invisibles. At every step of the journey, sound suffered, to the point where today’s standard “Millionaire’s System” is at once more expensive and worse-sounding than those of two decades ago.

Don’t get me wrong, HiFi equipment has steadily improved and if we’re comparing “Apples to Apples” there are compelling sonic improvements to be had in the latest gear. Problem is, we’ve moved from Analog to Digital to Bluetooth, from Tubes to Transistors to ICs, from Towers to Bookshelves to In-walls to Invisibles. Convenience, installation-friendliness and domestic acceptability have skyrocketed…at the expense of performance.

So, here we are in the twenty first century, at a time when High End Audio has realized its ultimate expression, hawking a bunch of wimpy, low-performance products which condemn consumers to the sonic stone-age. Designers and architects seem contemptuous of High End Audio. Customers—and we’ve witnessed this—request great sound, only to have performance beaten down by designers who couldn’t care less about performance. End users still care. We recently met with a music-loving “Master of the Universe” who hired Elvis Costello and Joan Jett to play his birthday party. After his integrator spec-ed and installed a house full of invisibles, the fellow called his salesman, screaming “Get this shit out of my house NOW!!!” As I write this, Leon President Noah Kaplan is custom-designing bespoke speakers that will combine luxury aesthetics with the performance this customer demands.

Big bland boxes precipitated the downfall of in-room loudspeakers and the rise of architectural alternatives. Think back to your Large Advent, Acoustic Research AR-3a or KLH Nine from the late 70s: pretty sloppy, in retrospect, and certainly nothing one would proudly display in a modern living room. Now, think about the latest Wilson Wamm, Maarten Coltrane, EgglestonWorks Viginti, etc. These are gorgeous, intricately-shaped objects which radiate quality and exclusivity…and that’s before you turn them on! High End speakers can be as sculpturally stunning as they are sonically sublime. They can be objects of profound pride and admiration, if we can only convince designers to spec them and integrators to sell them.

The central point is this: big speakers can be beautiful. They don’t disappear the way architectural and invisibles do…and that’s the point! If we accept that a speaker will be seen, we can choose something that looks as special as it sounds, enhancing décor instead of competing with it. I’ve spoken to a couple of “heavy-hitter” architects and there is genuine enthusiasm for integrating large, high-performance speakers into the design of high end living spaces. For integrators, the margin from a single pair of “Statement” loudspeakers easily exceeds the profit of a dozen pairs of Architecturals.
Better quality for the consumer, more profit for the dealer and a design showcase for the architect. Everyone wins. All that remains is for dealers to initiate a return to performance….

Yours,
Anth

Anthony’s Audio Asylum # 1

By | Anthony's Blog

Six Reasons Why High End Audio Is a “Sound Investment”?

As a professional writer, I hate clichés. So, why did I use one to title this blog? Because there really is enduring value in a great two-channel audio system. Let’s be precise here: I’m talking about a discrete stereo system with, at the minimum, a high-performance amplifier and a pair of top-quality loudspeakers. Anyone who has purchased Home Theater, “Distributed Audio” or whole-house control and AV systems has suffered the sharp depreciation to which each of these purchases is subject. A “Super Stereo,” on the other hand, holds its value over decades of ownership and certain components will actually increase in value. So, why does two-channel gear hold its value while other media products don’t? I think there are a few reasons:

Reason #1: The Stereo Format hasn’t changed in decades. Buy a Home Theater processor and it’s a safe bet that (with the exception of software-upgradeable products such as Trinnov) it will be obsolete, within two years. Fact is, multichannel formats change more quickly than a chameleon on a patchwork quilt (OK, another cliché) and, perhaps by design, the gear just can’t keep up with the algorithms. Buy an expensive projector and it will be surpassed just as quickly, and at a lower price. Control systems are even worse, as lower pricing and higher sophistication are the driving force of that market segment. Stereo, on the other hand, is pretty much the same as it was in the 1970s, and much for the gear from back then is still utilized and cherished today. There’s something to be said for stability.

Reason #2: It’s never going to get much better than it is today. Decades of relentless refinement have brought solid state electronics, Digital-to-Analog Converters—even record players—to a state of near perfection. Whereas past generations obsessed about future “Mk II versions” which solved a host of sonic and reliability issues, today’s components embody the excellence of Swiss watches. Buyers’ Remorse has become a non-issue.

Reason #3: The best pieces become classics. Audio geeks know that McIntosh and Marantz components from the “Golden Age” of HiFi have skyrocketed in value, but those aren’t the only audio products with investment potential. Have you searched ebay for classic receivers? A Marantz 2600 from the late ‘70s (about one grand new) recently sold for over $6250 and most similar-vintage Pioneer, Sansui, Yamaha, Technics and Kenwood Receivers and Integrated Amplifiers are selling for several times their original MSRP while Open-Reel Tape Decks, Technics “Broadcast Series” Direct-Drive Turntables, original Mark Levinson electronics and NOS Telefunken, Western Electric and Mullard Tubes appreciate like fine wine.

Reason #4: Prices of new gear keep rising. In 1978, the Audio Research SP-6B—widely considered the best preamplifier available—retailed for $1,295. Forty years later, $15K is the de facto standard for a world-class preamp while flagship models from Simaudio, D’Agostino, MAC and, of course, ARC now flirt with $40-grand. Six-figure Monoblocks have become commonplace, as have speaker systems in excess of $500,000. As prices escalate, you can be confident that the gear you buy today will look like a bargain in 10 years.

Reason #5: Rich people crave it. Let’s face it, there wouldn’t be so many exquisite and expensive products hitting the market if there weren’t customers to buy them. A state-of-the-art stereo system might not have the ubiquitous snob appeal of a Ferrari or Patek-Phillippe but there are certainly a group of wealthy connoisseurs who chase the best gear and, as a result, have become not only the patrons of our industry but also the catalysts for higher-budget gear. Expect this trend to continue.

Reason #6: It delivers continual joy. Most exotic cars sit in garages and are driven infrequently, Ultra-luxe watches are worn on special occasions. Even a home theater is only utilized when the owner can devote two hours of uninterrupted viewing time. By contrast, a great HiFi is used and appreciated daily, not only as an end in itself but as a backdrop for parties and other activities, both social and solitary. How many discretionary purchases can provide infinite pleasure?


Completely aside from its appreciation potential, a fine sound system is one of the most rewarding indulgences available, and among the most decadent. Trying to decide how to spend your next bonus? I have a few suggestions….

Yours,
Anth

 

 

Sounds and Visions – June 2019

By | Newsletters

Sounds and Visions

The Newsletter of Specialty Sound and Vision – June 2019

EAT Summer Savings: “6 for $600” Massive Clamp Promotion!

EAT’s “Massive Clamp” has proved a runaway best-seller. An 800 gram hunk of beautifully machined Stainless Steel critically damped at its base and periphery, the Massive Clamp makes a remarkable improvement, to ALL “Unsprung” turntables (VPI, Clearaudio, etc.) including EAT! Performance is comparable to clamps costing $500 or more but the Massive retails for just $195. For a limited time, VANA is offering a “6 for $600” promotion: order six clamps for $600 Dealer Cost. With Prompt Pay, your gross margin exceeds 50-points on one of the best analog enhancements ever! A surefire “Call to Action,” this promotion is a great opportunity to engage your customers.

Dynaudio Performance Series: Shipping This Month

Performance Series, Dynaudio’s NEW, value-priced line of architectural speakers, will ship in June. For those dealers who have admired the state-of-the-art Studio Series in-walls and in-ceilings but wished for something more affordable, Performance series is ideal! Offering Dynaudio performance at prices that compete with commodity products, Performance Series also offers enhanced margins, making them a no-brainer for all your architectural needs.

Cambridge Audio AX Series

Cambridge Audio’s Topaz series defined performance and value in entry-level high end. Now, Cambridge Audio introduces the AX series, a new range of hi-fi separates. Designed and engineered in the UK, AX has something to offer every music lover, hitting the perfect balance between performance and affordability. Currently consisting of a CD player, an integrated amplifier and two stereo receivers, the AX range takes design and innovation cues from Cambridge Audio’s award-winning CX and Edge product ranges and brings Cambridge quality to a uniquely affordable price range. The AXA35 Integrated Amplifier and AXC35 CD Player ($349 ea, MSRP) will be shipping in June, with two new Stereo Receivers, the AXR85 ($399 MSRP) and AXR100 ($499 MSRP) following shortly thereafter.

Like Topaz before it, the AXR Series is the benchmark in affordable audio.

Introducing AudioLab, Thorens and Goldring

Thanks to our long association with JAM Industries, we are proud to be representing:

Thorens: one of audio’s legendary brands, Thorens makes superb turntables at every price point, including a series of Fully Automatic Turntables, a rarity that many of our dealers and their customers demand!

Goldring: among the world’s finest and most well-known cartridge brands, Goldring offers a complete line of Moving Magnet, Moving Iron and Moving Coil cartridges from $99-1,500

Audiolab: complete line of audiophile electronics, DAC products and earbuds.

Please ask us how these superb product lines can fill gaps in your merchandising mix.

Brinkmann’s NEW Turntable and Integrated Debut at Munich

Among the highlights of Munich High End 2019, Brinkmann debuted two products which are destined to become high End Classics.

A stunning synthesis of Balance and Bardo turntables, Taurus combines the massive plinth of the former with the platter and bespoke Direct Drive motor of the latter and also features a wireless speed selector and the ability to add a second arm at will. Due in Q3 2019, $14,999 MSRP

More than just a state-of-the-art amplifier, Voltaire is a new category of component: the Integrated Sound System or ISS. Brinkmann’s ultra-performance hybrid features 150 high-current watts per channel combined with the ability to drive very low impedances. A port on the back panel accommodates either the Nyquist DAC module or a bespoke phono module, enabling Voltaire to become either a full digital or analog system in a single chassis. Due in Q4 2019, price TBA.

Sounds and Visions – May 2019

By | Newsletters

Sounds and Visions

The Newsletter of Specialty Sound and Vision – May 2019

Munich High End: Starts Thursday
The world’s largest HiFi Show begins Thursday, 9 May and Anthony will be prowling the halls, visiting our vendors and searching out the best new products. Hoping to see our friends there!
Cambridge announces NEW AX Series
Cambridge’ “Topaz Series” has defined ultimate value in Specialty Audio; however, time has passed, technology advanced and now Cambridge proudly introduces the NEW AX Series: the finest entry level audio components available. A collection of five superlative components, AX Series includes two stereo Receivers, two Integrated Amplifiers (one of which is network enabled) and a CD Player. All of which are priced under $500 MSRP
New Moon: The 860A v2 Is Here!
Improving one of the world’s finest power amps isn’t easy; in fact, it has taken Simaudio more than a decade of intensive research and development to create the 860A v2. Using parts and technologies developed for the $120,000/pr Moon 888 Monoblocks, the v2 represents a leap forward in performance, enhanced with convenience features like switches for monaural operation and AC coupling. $18,000 MSRP
Wisdom Tour
Joe Walters, Wisdom Audio’s Eastern Regional Sales Manager, just completed a week on the road with SSV. We showed everyone the NEW Insight On-Walls and discussed some exciting upcoming products. Thanks to all of our dealers for taking the time to meet!
Price Drop: Dynaudio Music
It’s not often that High End products actually go down in price but Dynaudio’s “Music” series of portable music systems now feature lower Dealer Cost and MAP, making the world’s most versatile audio systems the best values, as well. Please contact us for more information.
Summertime is Terra Time!
When the party moves outdoors your music should go with you. Terra Outdoor Speakers, a Leon Company, offers the most weather-resistant outdoor speakers made and, in true Leon style, are now available in a vast palette of custom finishes.