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No. 230 July 2023


translation Marek Dyba
images „High Fidelity”

No 230

July 1, 2023


About the fact that we live in times of excess, which is a good thing, and that the coexistence of many different technologies in audio is a chance for us to find the sound tailored precisely "for us".

ELEASED LAST YEAR, Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert's Everything, Everywhere, All At Once is, as we read, "an insane mix of action, comedy and science-fiction, a story about an incredible heroine, from visionary filmmakers Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert and producers Anthony and Joe Russo (Avengers: Endgame).” 'Crazy' in this context is a very good description. The publisher's promotional materials described its plot as follows:

Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh), a struggling middle-aged mom, stumbles upon the key to the "Multiverse": a network of intersecting worlds where she can explore all the paths in life she hasn't taken: from movie star to acclaimed chief of Teppanyaki cuisine. When dark forces emerge, Evelyn will have to use everything she has and everything she once could have been to save what matters most to her: her family. With amazing martial arts scenes, light pop humor and heart-pounding emotions, this is an epic and gripping movie like you've never seen before.

The film was hugely popular, and Michelle Yeoh, playing the lead role, received the Oscar for Best Actress during the 95th ceremony. The madness on the screen has an internal logic that you have to be able to read, otherwise it will just be madness. However, when you succeed, then - as the critics argue - you will be left with the incredible wealth of this world(s) in our head. I felt the same when walking around the High End 2023 in Munich this year. I've mentioned about it before, probably more than once, but the title of the above mentioned movie perfectly describes what I encountered.

⸜ For several years it has been a common sight - reel-to-reel tape recorders. On the photo: TP-1000 Analog Audio Design - it's a new project! Price - 15,000 EUR.

And it all started with the fact that a lot of money has been poured into the audio industry in recent years. The direction was set in 2007 by the Fine Sounds Group holding, belonging to Quadrivio, an Italian investment company, dealing with, for example, pension funds, which bought Sonus Faber, Audio Research and the D&M group (Denon and Marantz), and from which such brands as Sonus faber, Sumiko and McIntosh were bought last year by the private investment fund Highlander Partners. In 2016, Samsung Electronics confirmed the trend by purchasing Harman International, the owner of brands such as Mark Levinson, Lexicon, JBL, Harman Kardon, AKG, Dynaudio and Arcam. These big acquisitions were followed by many smaller, but still never before seen in the audio world, deals.

It could have been expected that companies focused on quick profits would want to "squeeze" as much as possible out of brands, regardless of their history, specific target customers and part of the market they occupy. It turned out otherwise. In some rare moment of clarity these companies invested in all the mentioned brands and bet on their development within the existing paradigm, albeit with more panache and in a more professional manner. In this way, the professionalization of the audio industry has become a fact.

More money in the industry as such translated into higher incomes not only of the "big" but also smaller companies, ones usually employing just a few people. It seems to me that the basic principle of capitalism has worked, according to which the tide lifts all boats, not just the biggest ones. Although on a macro scale, i.e. the world’s, it turned out to be much more complicated, it seems to work in our micro scale.

This is because our industry is made up of many micro-cells, nominally belonging to the same group, yet completely different. They usually only meet in one place: audio shows. Each of them has their group of loyal customers, often simply followers, and technologies that are completely depreciated by other manufacturers. Yet, they live side by side, like the heroes of the Everything, Everywhere, All at Once movie.

⸜ The return of the Walkman in the form of a cassette player by We Are Rewind. For PLN 700 we get a modern variation on a Sony portable cassette player in one of three colors.

I saw it in the rooms of this year's High End Show. Next to each other, in full harmony, there were reel-to-reel tape recorders and file players, turntables and CD and SACD players. In the neighbouring rooms you could find horn loudspeakers, wide-range ones, active, passive, vintage and ultra-modern solutions. Besides, tubes and semiconductors in various equally priced devices. And yet, if you think about clearly - which in Munich, with its excellent beer, is particularly hard, I know it from experience - it's disturbing that we can't get it right. After all, if one technology can be shown to be better than another by measurement and testing, we abandon the latter and stick to the former. It's a waste of time for something that's inherently inferior, right? And yet…

With a similar phenomenon, i.e. the coexistence of what was and what is, on equal terms, we are dealing in a library and a bookstore. Literature or philosophy are not as cumulative as, say, technical sciences. Side by side we will meet postmodernist artists and the Bible, Plato and Derrida, on equal footing. They are often part of one work. Just like in audio, there are hierarchies and canons in literature. However, they are updated and their frames are fluid, and among writers, readers and researchers we will find ardent "followers" of one or another view, style, direction.

⸜ These Super Dragon loudspeakers from the Chinese company ESD Acoustic, along with a ton of electronics, took up space with a window size of 3 x 5 m. The horns are made of carbon fiber, instead of magnets we have electromagnets, and diaphragms are made of beryllium and titanium. It played surprisingly well. Price - about 3.6 million euros.

One could say that this is because the value of literature is immeasurable. That alone would call into question the comparison I have used. But that's what laymen say. Anyone who has professional contact with literary studies knows that they have very precise tools to describe and evaluate a given text. However, the interpretation of this description may depend on which "school" a given person follows.

It's the same in audio. Measurements show conclusively that multi-driver loudspeakers have a more even frequency response than those with a full-range driver, and solid-state devices have lower distortion and noise than those with tubes. Nevertheless, when we sit down in front of a given system, these seemingly simple divisions and "markers" fail. Both can evoke an emotional response in us. And it will depend on the listener what type of experience he or she prefers.

Therefore, it seems to me that for some time this "everything everywhere at once" approach will be a benchmark for our market. On the one hand - and this is the second place where we will meet different ideas on equal terms - we will feel like in a museum. The choice of works depends on the curators, and they largely construct the binding canon. In audio, this will mean large companies related not only to the audiophile industry, but also to household appliances in general. Decisions regarding the direction of development will therefore be made outside our "bubble".

On the other hand, we will influence them from the bottom up. If the home appliances market decides that it's time for cassette tapes, as before for LPs, the money will flow there. If, in turn, it turns out after some time that the CD is an excellent format and that you can make money on digital discs, we will see the return of CD players. It will still be about following up, like a feedback loop.

⸜ IO Design are unusual, dipole loudspeakers without a cabinets, the photo shows the IO Naked RS model. 91 dB sensitivity and four drivers: two 12” bass woofers, a proprietary planar midrange driver and a proprietary ribbon tweeter.

There is still hope, though, and it is in large companies that have invested money in audiophile brands. They will exist at the junction of these two worlds, making them a kind of "translators" for one for the other. What we can all benefit from.

Because walking among the systems in Munich and listening to music, I did not, probably for the first time, pay attention to what format was being played. The obvious thing is that the tape gave most systems an advantage as it usually sounded very good. But not everywhere where a reel-to-reel tape recorder was used it sounded best. In one room it was an LP, in the other files, and in the third one a SACD disc. The acoustics of the room and the skillful placements of the speakers in it and cooperation of all individual components in the setup mattered much more.

It was similar with loudspeakers and electronics. Until recently, horn loudspeakers or speakers with full-range drivers, often sounded completely wrong, now they started to sound natural. I don't mean that everything starts to sound the same. It's exactly the opposite. Finally, the differences between technologies start to play their part, but not in the definite "good-bad" sense, but in the much more meaningful, at least for me, "for me-not for me" way.

⸜ Angstrom Audiolab, ZIA100 power amplifier from the Zenith series. It is a hybrid design, with tubes in the input and MOSFET transistors in the output. The amplifier offers 50 W in class A in the Circotron topology, with a current output.

In each of these niches there are better, worse and completely pointless devices. But custom products no longer made me resentful, which was often the case in the past. Even the best, most expensive proposals from outside the mainstream could disgust me so much in the past that I couldn't even look at the logos, let alone listen to them at home. So maybe it's the case that good audio products, both sources and electronics, and loudspeakers finally can compete with each other on equal terms for our attention? They can compete with the sound, not by belonging to one tribe or another.

In this sense, "everything everywhere at once" is the best thing that could have happened to us. This type of accumulation of various trends is characteristic of the turn of the epochs and, as I have mentioned several times, we are witnessing such a global paradigm shift. A few years ago, not even suspecting a pandemic and war in Ukraine, I wrote something similar. I think it's a part of a reshuffle of everything we've seen so far, sociologically, economically, and musically. We live in really interesting times. Let's take advantage of this it.

Chief editor

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Our reviewers regularly contribute to  “Enjoy the”, “”“”  and “Hi-Fi Choice & Home Cinema. Edycja Polska” .

"High Fidelity" is a monthly magazine dedicated to high quality sound. It has been published since May 1st, 2004. Up until October 2008, the magazine was called "High Fidelity OnLine", but since November 2008 it has been registered under the new title.

"High Fidelity" is an online magazine, i.e. it is only published on the web. For the last few years it has been published both in Polish and in English. Thanks to our English section, the magazine has now a worldwide reach - statistics show that we have readers from almost every country in the world.

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