31 December, 2017

2017 in Review


2017 in Review

It is hard to believe it's that time of the year again. Here in Asia we are ahead in time and it's 2018 already. So this morning I must finish this article. I rose early, made tea, turned on my Kondo setup and started listening to one of my favorite pianists, Geza Anda, playing the complete Mozart concerti while I wrote.

Happy New Year!
Happiness is to get together with friends and have a good time together. Audio is secondary - BUT, if one can achieve substantial improvements while having a good time, it is even more gratifying. In 2017 the NYC gang did precisely this, several times over, under the leadership of Andy.

Thank You Happiness is also giving thanks. NYC Here I'd like to thank Andy for organizing all these events which provided a modicum of relief for me during a period when I saw mother through considerable strife. I'd also like to thank teetotaler Kevin for serving us expensive Napa wines and driving me to the airport. Also to Ralph and Andy again for cooking those wonderful meals. HK I'd like to thank my friend wss in particular for helping me get rid of some unused goodies languishing in my old home, for hosting happy hour at his small den, and for the free concert tickets. Readers Thank you readers for your words of encouragement - I appreciate them.

Thank you to the Great Composers for giving us music that immeasurably improve our lives! Writing this article I went through Mozart's Piano Concerti 19 to 24. Like our lives, in everyone, there was great beauty, but also undercurrents, foreboding and sadness. Mozart just lay it all out, whereas someone like Beethoven would work hard to overcome. Later, perhaps.

Looking Forward Though I expect our NYC gang to unfurl surprise after surprise, for myself there will be few audio events as my family may see tumultuous changes in 2018. But our struggles pale next to those of the countless uprooted peoples (including the urban homeless, definitely on the increase in NYC) of this unkind world. I spent New Year's Eve alone at home, and all of a sudden the faces of suffering children came to the surface. Unlikely as it may be, with the prospect of nuclear war looming larger than ever, I hope 2018 shall witness more peace and kindness.

Best Sound
There are several excellent setups (mostly horns of course), but two of the most gratifying experiences involved drastically re-positiong the loudspeakers.

Transfigurations Most audio improvements are better termed "transcendence", at most "metamorphosis", but the following experiences are even greater. Foremost must be Ralph's Wilson Grand Slamm (here), which turned from barely listenable to the best Wilson I have heard (I am not a fan but I have heard tons in HK; none came remotely close.) Then came my own pair of Klipsch Heresy (here), which over-performed when given the room and support. These experiences mirror my previous La Scala experience, as quoted in the Heresy article.

Altec Fever Most gratifyingly, through Andy's arrangement, I heard two excellent Altec A7: excellent as Leo's is (here), Kevin's (here) has even greater potential and is undergoing metamorphosis as I write. Of course, there is also Andy's mellower A5  "casual setup" (here), which I predict shall also undergo metamorphosis soon.

Western Electric Fever What can rival Western Electric? Nothing, really. In HK, our friend Humphrey's all-WE system is awe-inspiring. I have not yet written it up, as he is constantly changing and it is a daunting task.

BBC For mere mortals, especially in HK, who don't have the space for large horns, few loudspeakers can rival the sheer brilliance of jules' LS 5/1A (here). For even smaller footprints, I cite myself as I have further fine-tuned my Kondo system, and my final choice of loudspeaker is surprisingly my KEF LS 3/5A (here) - they provide immense pleasure during my very limited free time.

Most Significant Negative Experience
Why? Because negative experiences are as much learning experiences as positive ones. Having owned (and still own) and heard countless CDPs, transports and DAC's, I regard myself as a seasoned student of digital, but I was not prepared for the occasion when a change of transport completely turned a system from ugly duckling to swan (at the bottom of this article.)

Analog Events of Note
Again, the superiority of Reel-to-Reel is unassailable (here). And two vintage phonoamps excelled, as evidenced by the Citation I (here and here) and the even more incredible Brook 7 (here.)

For a much smaller outlay, the diminutive Schiit Mani (here) has surprisingly good color. For those who need more details and precision, the MoFi StudioPhono punched way out of its class (here,) though those with lean systems should avoid it.

Bargains
The Schiit Saga is several things in one (here,) and should be seriously considered by those who are in the market for a passive preamp or buffer.

The Tien Direct-Drive Turntable (here) is not exactly budget, but given its performance and finish, I regard it as a bargain. Personally I'd choose it over the likes of VPI, Rega or Pro-ject at the same price.

CD of the Year As Bach is my favorite composer and his music is inexhaustible, after much thought I decided to nominate this disc (details) that features the mandolin as an unusual member of a trio. The arrangements are deceptively simple and artless, the playing of one piece, the recording superb - a joy from start to finish.

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