September 16, 2021 § Leave a comment
It may seem contradictory to note that a turntable with a base price of $450,000 has a recognizable sound, but if you get to hear the Air Force Zero under conditions commensurate with its performance capabilities, you’ll quickly understand that it’s not contradictory at all. The turntable is recognizable because no other turntable, or none that I’ve yet reviewed, so effectively sinks unwanted and extraneous noise while passing the musical goods with effortless ease, often in the most subtle and nuanced ways. The AF Zero is not a flashy-sounding “show off” turntable.
The Zero is the most speed-consistent belt-drive turntable I’ve reviewed, and with its air-bearing platters and air suspension, also the quietest, best isolated, and most inert, with stable sonics, quiet, and exceptional detail resolution with no added grain or unnatural, mechanical edge definition. The Zero was also trouble- and hassle-free for six months and as much fun to use as it was to hear.
July 12, 2021 § Leave a comment
Now that McIntosh shares design duties with the design group in Italy, we can see some influence, both in sound, and in finish. The same team, headed up by Paolo Tezzon and Livio Cucuzzo (the guys that designed the Sonus faber Aida) worked on the XRT2.1K. These are by far the best executed XRTs in terms of look and sound. Where the past model was aluminum, these now are softer, curvier, and made from wood. A massive affair, they sprout up nearly 8 feet tall. Having heard them on numerous occassions in the mighty McIntosh Town House, they can fill a room with cavernous proportions.
In all seriousness, what these large speakers accomplish is a way to distribute the sound so that it completely envelops you. While many audiophiles talk about a perfect point source, in the real world, sound doesn’t come at you from a point, it envelopes you from all directions. Perhaps this is why tall speakers (magnetic or panels) have a more realistic feeling, from the sense of reproducing spatial cues.
June 16, 2021 § Leave a comment
I discovered that in addition to a wide soundstage, definite strengths of the Bartók are transient attack and driving rhythmic energy, so I cued up Winds of War and Peace [Wilson Audio WCD-8823], with its (in)famous bass-drum explosions during “Liberty Fanfare.” The monstrous bass drum at the 1:00 mark was ultra clean and powerful. With the Bartók, I was hearing better separation of mallet strike, the drum head and bass-drum body resonance than I’d heard before, maybe even better than in the rooms using Wilson speakers at AXPONA. My modest system will never match the big Wilson speakers’ bass power, sheer volume or unflappable dynamics, but with the Bartók in the system, I was able to re-create a better impression of bass-drum tone. As an aside, I play trumpet in some local concert bands and I’ve performed “Liberty Fanfare” for several patriotic concerts. I’m always disappointed when our bass drum isn’t as awe-inspiring as the crushing whacks Lowell Graham and the National Symphonic Winds produced on this great Wilson Audio recording.
February 24, 2021 § Leave a comment
January 12, 2021 § Leave a comment
December 26, 2020 § Leave a comment
I had a hard time wrapping my head around the XVX’s tonal balance. On one hand, it is extremely flat, smooth, and neutral in character, all the way down to the bottom octave. When playing music without much energy in the mid-to-upper bass, the XVX’s bottom-end is world class in pitch definition and clarity, but doesn’t sound qualitatively different from other reference-class loudspeakers. But when asked to reproduce instruments with a lot of energy in the lower registers, the XVX takes on an entirely different character. Suddenly, it’s as though there’s another level of weight, richness of tone color, solidity, and visceral power. The XVX, unlike any other speaker I’ve heard, fully reproduces the solidity, density, and weight of low-frequency-rich instruments such as an orchestra’s doublebass section, or brass instruments when playing in their lower registers. This is the classic “power range” of the orchestra, and heard through the XVX it is thrilling. Listen, for example, to the Dallas Winds brass section on the spectacular Keith Johnson recording John Williams at the Movies on Reference Recordings (176/24 downloaded from Reference). The big brass-section tuttis will lift you out of your seat with their force. Not only that, but the timbre of the instruments is fully fleshed out, without the common affliction of low-frequency-rich instruments sounding thinned in tone color and robbed of their weight.
November 30, 2020 § Leave a comment
Stereo image focus was fairly good, the phantom center image wider than usual but not unduly so. In general, I obtained good image depth and transparency from the Duo. Image stability was very good, and notably unaffected by sound level. I heard less room-excited ambience; the sound was clearly more directed (as horn theory teaches us) toward the listener, with less room contribution than usual in the mid and treble. This kind of room drive took a little getting used to; I consider it a significant component of the “difference” felt to exist between the horn and direct-radiator technologies. Of course, in some rooms with awkward, asymmetrical dimensions and acoustics, the horn speaker will provide a more consistent and more accurate sound at the listening position because of its controlled directional behavior.
October 7, 2020 § 1 Comment
“The dCS Bartok is probably the best sounding integrated DAC and headphone amplifier I have reviewed to date in the 10 years we have been operating this website. That is some statement but I will not future proof it because, well, the Bartok is modular, it is firmware upgradeable, and has plenty of legs in it to go on for a few years more and still stay relevant.
The Ring DAC may well be the star of the show but the Class A amp is no slouch either. Right now, the Bartok delivers a rich and powerful sounding component with a smooth delivery and tons of dynamic range with just about every headphone I tested it with.
Where other systems refine and distill to give you that perfect sound, the Bartok opts to give the rawest most realistic sound possible. Throw in all the mod cons of networked streaming, save for BT and built-in WiFi, and a very useable free app, and it is perfectly poised to cope with the digital streaming era.
Yes, the Bartok is huge, weighty, and oh so very expensive. However, it is likely all you could ever need for a high-end headphone setup and honestly, it could well be all downhill from here unless there is a Bartok 2 in the pipeline. Please do not do that dCS, stick to the firmware upgrades and people will appreciate this beautiful example of engineering a lot more in the long run. ”