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Cirque Du Soleil
(Cirque Du Soleil)
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Patricia Barber
(Blue Note)
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Cirque Du Soleil
(Cirque Du Soleil)
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Jim Pearce
“Why I Haven't Got You”
Prairie Dog Ballet
(Oak Avenue Publishing)
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Andy Timmons Band
“Gone (9/11/01)”
(Favored Nations)
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Ralph Towner
Time Line
(ECM Records)
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Anoushka Shankar

Amos Lee
"Arms Of A Woman"
Amos Lee
(Blue Note)

Julius Curcio
"American Pie"
Alligator Shoes
(Electric Roots)
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"Come Alive"
Changing Into Me
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Feature [Issue #5]
: Hi-Fi Lives
By Ken Micallef

In a world of tinny sounding MP3 files and car audio rigs that crush your head with distorted bass and squealing treble, who listens to music reproduced as God intended, with fidelity intact, frequencies transmitted with their true presence, and vocal and instrumental tones rendered in life-like, room filling stature?

You might be surprised to learn that while millions listen to music on tiny i-Pods or go deaf as their car’s stereo beats their ears bloody, select consumers still understand the beauty and accuracy that a home hi-fi music system can deliver. And while most punters see their "multi-channel video centers" as a way to envelop themselves in the booms, screams, and zooms of the latest action adventure thriller, others enjoy 6.1 SACD/DVD systems, which raise the bar of music playback systems to unheard-of heights.

Of course, the revolution that prompted Beck’s chant of "two turntables and a microphone," instigated by such inspired vinyl cut-up artists as DJ Shadow, the Chemical Brothers, Thievery Corporation and Kid Koala has created an upsurge in the used vinyl market, as well as the rebirth of new vinyl and turntables (fact: in the latter half of 2003, sales of vinyl trumped those of SACD and DVDA). But then again, listeners who have long valued sound over style have kept the market for turntables and beloved vinyl booming for years.

Today there are hundreds of manufacturers turning out speakers, turntables, and cartridges, as well as tube, solid state, and digital amplifiers and preamplifiers, and even more producing CD/SACD/DVD/CDR players. Prices come in all pocketbooks and in all tastes. If you are a first time turntable buyer you might consider the $300 or so pieces by Music Hall, Rega or Sumiko/Pro-Ject. And excellent lower priced amps can be had from Rotel, NAD, and more recently, Cambridge Audio. Or, if you are an established captain of industry perhaps the $73,750 Rockport Technologies System III Sirius turntable will excite your vinyl lust. If you are ready for the latest digital technology that far supersedes the stunted CD and scraggly sounding MP3, you must hear Super Audio CD, or SACD, which has a frequency range 63 times that of a normal compact disc. Which means that music recorded or remastered for SACD will sound more like live music than you have ever heard before. SACD is incredibly lifelike, restoring the front to back, top to bottom experience of a live performance.

Whatever your tastes in music or equipment, a hand picked, well researched home hi-fi system can help restore some of the magic that made you love music in the first place. Before music became a lifestyle accessory or the background noise to a bad video it was an essence that the soul required, like air, food, or love, be it animal or human. Music is not meant to thrash the skull (though some may enjoy that), nor is it proper to compress music down to a shallow image of its former self. Music must be free to soar and surround, its message clear and clean. Whether it’s Missy Elliot singing about shaving her cha-cha or Norah Jones wondering why she didn’t come, the medium (gear) can help you understand the message (music) as God and artist originally intended.

Good Sound Cheap System
Pro-ject Rm-4 turntable $495
Grado Platinum cartridge $300
QED DS-1 Discsaver phono stage $79
Cambridge Audio D500SE CD player $479
Cambridge Audio A500 integrated amp $450
Triangle Titus speakers $500

Here we have the opposite of a failure to communicate. Cambridge Audio (British) and Triangle (French) are among a handful of manufacturers who have won over the common man market with solid engineering and exceptional sound for relatively minor bucks. The Cambridge Audio amp and CD player perform well beyond their respective price ranges and offer a wonderful sense of inner system synergy. You can’t just throw money at a stereo and expect it to sound great - this combination really works. The Triangle Titus speakers are the bottom of the company’s line, but outperform similarly priced speakers from the likes of Tannoy and Bowers & Wilkins. Warm, with a transparent and natural sounding treble, the Titus are world beaters. Pro-ject is a new company manufacturing their wares in Czechoslovakia, and has received raves for their entire line of modern looking turntables. Paired with the Brooklyn made Grado cartridge, the Rm-4 makes wonderful music.

Average Audiophile Fanatic System
47 Labs Shigaraki CD player $3500
Philips DV963SA SACD/DVD/CD player $500
Pro-ject RM-9 turntable $1495
EAR 834 phono preamp $1000
Benz Micro Glider L2 $795
Audio Research Reference One Preamplifier $7500
Balanced Audio Technologies BAT-75 power amp $8000
Proac 2.5 speakers $5000

Now this is getting interesting. This system will let you hear music with everything attached. Forget small bookshelf speakers. The highly regarded and perennially awarded Proacs (standing about five feet tall) create fully fleshed out bass with a smooth treble; all in all, delivering a full scale rendition of the original recorded experience. The Proacs are well suited to the 75 watts per channel Balanced Audio Technology BAT 75 power amp, and yes, it has tubes. Tube technology made a great comeback in the ‘90s, thanks to the sound-loving Japanese and French. It takes more power for tubes than solid state to drive the same pair of speakers, but the sound is more tactile and lifelike. There is a greater sense of 3D imaging with tubes than solid state, though digital amps from Bel Canto and Tact are catching up. For a power amp, you need a good preamplifier, and though the Audio Research pushes the limits of this budget, it is the system’s nerve center, the piece that will color, flavor and direct the signal from both CD player and turntable, so go for broke if you can. Audio Research is one of the most lauded companies in high end, and the Reference One was for years it’s flagship preamp. It can be had used for $3,500. (A good source for high quality used gear is Audiogon.com, where you can find almost anything you are looking for and usually for half off retail). The 47 Labs CD player is a more unusual piece, made in Japan to very exacting standards. The 47 Labs credo is less is more, and the Shigaraki boasts an incredibly small amount of parts, the idea being the less gunk in the way, the closer you will get to the original recorded experience. The best word to describe the 47 Labs CD player is organic. The Philips DV963SA is a great SACD player, delivering all the bang, detail and power of this new technology. If you still have some scratch left over, invest in the Pro-ject table, Benz cart and EAR phono amp (most modern preamps (and amps) don’t come with an internal phono amp, which is needed to amplify the smaller phono cartridge signal). This system will produce a sound with plenty of bass execution and extension, as well as exceptional inner detail and ease throughout the audio frequency spectrum. And should you ever resell, this gear hold’s its value well.

Cost No Object Insanity Dream System
Accuphase DP-85 SACD/CD Player $16,500
Rockport Technologies System III Sirius turntable $73,750
Audio Note Kondo IO-J/Silver cartridge $15,000
Boulder 2008 phono stage $29,000
Conrad-Johnson ART Series 2 preamplifier $15,995
Halcro dm58 monoblock power amps $27,900
Dynaudio Evidence Master speakers $85,000

You are a captain of industry, a master of men. You count Fabio, Bill Gates and the Steely Dan’s Walter Becker (an avid audiophile) among your friends. This system will be an addition to the foreign cars in your garage and the trophy wife (or boy toy husband) in your bed. The turntable alone is a work of art, elevating vinyl playback to a rarefied realm. Of course, you will want to invest in your own vinyl factory to retain the integrity of the LPs that grace your platter. But hey, it’s all worth it. The Audio Note cart and Boulder phono stage are further evidence of your vaunted position in the world. Though not listed, you would do well to also invest in a set of Magnepan 1.6s ($1695 a pair) for surround sound SACD duties. And there is no better way to approach multi-channel audio nirvana than the Accuphase player. The ultimate in audio engineering, the Accuphase is gold colored, as well it should be. The Halcros are the next step in amplification technology, and are hands down the finest amplifiers in the world (though some would prefer the all tube Lamms). With the equally impressive Dynaudio speakers and highly rated Conrad-Johnson preamp, the Cost No Object Insanity Dream System will make you disregard family and friends for the sublime essence of music.

Now refinance your home, get a used car, and put the kids to work. There is some serious listening in your future.

Hi-Fi Lives

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