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Monitor_Audio_Studio_White_Lifestyle_Blue_Room

Monitor Audio has consistently impressed me with the quality of their sound at the audio shows. Whether top tier or more modest gear, they have always achieved a high standard of performance that has honored the music and earned spots on my personal wish list. This British company has a proven track record dating back to 1972, and has been on a roll of late, conjuring up a parade of state of the art challengers and high value trickle down offerings that have garnered universal accolades. The newly introduced Studio loudspeaker marks a fairly radical departure from their more traditional bookshelf designs. It stands in its own division and borrows technologically from their top tier Platinum Series with a tantalizing mix of fresh ideas applied to their proven technology. Just how good is the Studio?

The designer has opted for an ambitious D’Appolito configuration, marrying their advanced Heil variation MDP (Micro Pleated Diaphragm) tweeter to a pair of long throw 4 inch mid woofers derived and modified from their uppermost Platinum II line. The woofers utilize Monitor Audio’s proprietary C-CAM and RDT II technologies to achieve exceptionally low distortion. The woofers are clamped rigidly into place onto a curvaceous, die cast metal sub baffle via a bolt through assembly connecting the magnet structure of each driver to the rear panel to increase rigidity. The cabinet, though relatively light, is extremely solid. The design is dual rear ported, using a slotted variation of their HiVe II design, and allows an uncluttered rear panel layout. The connectors get the full premium treatment, with large, rhodium plated terminals from the Platinum line. Crossover components are likewise, high grade. Specifications indicate an efficiency of 86 dB and a nominal 4 ohm load that dips below 3 ohms, so quality amplification possessing a robust power supply will be needed for best advantage.

In the looks department, the Studio gets high marks. The grill-less sculptured face and svelte 340 x 156.2 x 361 mm (133/8 x 61/8 x 143/16“) dimensions echo their premium PL500 II line with a refined aesthetic that screams slick, modern lifestyle décor. The speakers are done in a tasteful satin paint finish, available in white, black or grey, with upscale lower corner logo embellishments. The size allows wide placement versatility, from casual tabletop mount, to more traditional stand mount configuration, depending on your requirements and the seriousness of your audio playback ambitions.

The optional stands included for review were very nicely matched, both in aesthetic execution and build quality. The top plate is laser cut steel, the pillar is extruded aluminum, and the base is die cast aluminum. The provided finish had a matching grey pillar with a satin black top plate and a richly contoured black base. Full white satin is also available. Monitor Audio has opted for a 4 footer arrangement with height adjustable chrome plated spikes. The Studios can be bolted to the stands via 4 threaded holes located on the underside of the speaker, for a more rigid and stable interface. Damping and surface protection is afforded by oversized, rubber spacers on the top plate. The rear of the pillar offers a vertical recess with adjustable plastic restraints, to keep cabling tidy. The spike mount is thoughtfully recessed within an elastomer surround to allow for adjustable placement without spikes for those with hardwood or solid flooring, a nice touch.

My standard monitor arrangement automatically assumes the requirement for additional vibration management and utilizes IsoAcoustics resonance control mounts between the speaker and stand. To create a benchmark reference point, the Monitor Audio speakers and stands were set up as a matched pair, minus the IsoAcoustic enhancement. Electronics was a combo of Tortuga pre/Bel Canto/Wyred components, with Arkana Physical Research cable. A second round of listening sessions added the mounts back into the mix to see if the speakers would see benefits.

JBL 4312 SE 70th Anniversary Monitor Speakers 01

Anyone who knows audio, knows JBL. The internet generation will tell you about JBL’s high quality computer and portable audio products. Hardcore audiophiles will speak of their JBL Synthesis wish lists, and old-timers will whisper the names Paragon and Aquarius with misty eyed reverence. Any studio pro will automatically give you a big smile and a thumbs up. That’s the benefit of legendary status backed by a long history of engineering milestones.

JBL is one of the very few audio companies that can trace its roots back over a century.  Engineering pioneer James B. Lansing, born in 1902, made numerous collaborative efforts with several well known firms before launching the company which bears his initials in 1946. JBL established itself as a dominant force and de facto standard in the American professional market in both sound reinforcement and studio reference loudspeakers for decades. At Woodstock it was JBL that provided the sonic magic for the crowds, and in the studio the JBL 4310 and 4311 control monitors dominated the recording landscape in the 70s and 80s, serving as reference for many beloved recordings. If there was a critical decision to be made, the JBL output was accepted as gospel.

The new 4312 SE 70th Anniversary Monitor is an homage to those professional studio monitors of bygone days, emulating the looks of its predecessors while maintaining their stringent requirements of accuracy. The SE is an extensively upgraded variation of the current 4312 series, weighing in 16 pounds heavier than the standard E version, completely re-voiced with a different woofer and crossover compliment. It takes full advantage of parent company, Harman International‘s extensive state of the art facility in Northern California to push the 4312 series  to a loftier level. The Special Edition comes clothed in classic black wood grain finish, sporting a front panel 70th Anniversary badge and has a removable black grill cloth. Befitting their higher grade status, each pair of speakers is shipped as a perfect matched pair, accompanied by a certificate, bearing sequential serial numbers, and signed by JBL Synthesis/Studio monitor lead engineer Chris Hagen, and the individual assembly technician who produced them. These 70th anniversary edition speakers have been given the full luxury treatment and their introduction affords the general public a rare opportunity to enjoy the best of the classics that previously only graced the ears of professional engineers.

For the techie, here’s a quick paraphrase of the information available on the JBL website: the speakers are a 3-way front ported bass reflex design. The woofer is a 12 inch Aqua-Plas-coated Pure Pulp cone, the mid is a 5-inch Polymer-coated Pure Pulp cone, and the tweeter is a 1-inch Magnesium/Aluminum Alloy dome tweeter with a waveguide. Frequency response is conservatively listed as 44 Hz – 40 kHz (-6 dB), indicating that the emphasis here is on bass control rather than ultimate extension. Sensitivity is 90 dB with a nominal impedance of 6 ohms and recommended amplification is 10 to 200 watts, so they should be relatively easy to drive and capable of robust output. Retained from its distinguished studio predecessors, the front panel includes midrange and treble attenuators to allow a bit of tailoring for critical room matching.

Those associating the term monitor with compact dimensions will find the 23-1/2” x 14-1/4” x 12” size and 55.5 lb weight more in the realm of floor-stander territory, so be prepared to bring sufficient muscle or help to unbox and maneuver them into position. These speakers will also require either traditional stand mount, or alternative support, to optimize in either a vertical or horizontal placement, as the situation requires.

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Skogrand Rachmaninov Interconnects NOVO 01

When asked why his cables are so expensive, designer, Knut Skogrand’s response was simple, “I sell performance.” And setting aside all the technical jargon, meticulous measurements, and painstaking craftsmenship, it really does boil down to that.

Skogrand Cables’ top end Stravinsky product commands a daunting $27,000 US and is acknowledged among the finest in the world. The Rachmaninov cables being reviewed here are attractively priced at 10 times less than that pinnacle product. They are aimed at the serious audiophile who wants a good portion of what the best has to offer at a more affordable cost.
Most people would not regard an audio cable that costs $2,625 US per 2.5 m pair as a “high value” purchase, but like any other pursuit of passion, better quality doesn’t come easy or cheap. Ask anyone with a luxury performance car, or a top end camera. A real bargain isn’t about the lowest price. It’s about the highest value.

Skogrand Cables are designed and manufactured by a small group of talented craftsman in the picturesque mountain hills of Norway and priced to appeal to the mid to upper echelons of audio enthusiasts. Started in 2011, their current stable of offerings now encompasses a broad range of analog interconnects, speaker cables, power cords, jumpers, as well as digital interconnects. Skogrand builds all their cables from the bare wires to completion. The metals are custom manufactured around the globe, and components are sourced from 37 countries on four continents with connectors custom built to their specs. Skogrand Cables utilizes a hybrid sales model of dedicated dealers as well as direct sales in the absence of dealer availability.

So what does the Rachmaninov series have to offer? These cables sit one tier above the entry level Vivaldi line in price, and constitute the sole divergent design in the company’s stable. Up to this point, all Skogrand cables have utilized single crystal, high purity copper, in combination with an air dielectric approach. That design philosophy has achieved stellar results and worldwide acclaim. The Rachmaninov cable loom goes a very different route. Instead of continuous cast copper, it employs a multi-stranded copper/silver alloy constructed to afford the advantages of high conductivity without compromising the fundamental tonal balance of Skogrand’s other designs. Undertaken to satisfy market demand, the line required a full two and a half years of painstaking research and development to meet Knut Skogrand’s own strict standards. For the technically curious, the SC Rachmaninov speakers cables offer 2 x 12 AWG signal wires, and the interconnects employ 2 x 24 AWG wires. The air dielectric found in Skogrand’s other cable series was dropped in favor of Teflon for this design. Mr. Skogrand stipulates that while the Rachmaninov can’t quite reach the abilities of his top flight efforts, it’s performance is impressive enough to confidently bear the Skogrand logo. So, not lesser ability, merely less absolute ability.

Cosmetically, the cables keep the upscale, appearance of the higher lines, with an understated, elegant red on black silk brocade, in this iteration protected by a clear sheath. Connectors on the review samples were Rhodium plated, locking barrel RCAs for the ICs and extremely high quality gold plated spades for the speaker cables. Other terminations are available. The cables are exceedingly well made but also quite stiff, so gentle curves, not abrupt angles are required. Be prepared to allow room to maneuver.

Skogrand Rachmaninov Speaker Cables NOVO

The big question, of course is what did they sound like? To be more accurate, in the context of a cable as a pure signal conduit, were they honest? I listened to a wide variety of music from Tidal streaming and high resolution files on my music server with excellent results. The cables were tested with two different amplifiers affording a suitably broad range of voicing to challenge if they would reveal the changes without adding their own character.

In their ability to faithfully reproduce the timbre and complexity of live, acoustical instruments, the Rachmaninov trod the absolute high ground. With many cables, you may marvel at the speed and talent of a Spanish guitarist as the strings light the air afire. But where is the wooden instrument? Often lost. Here the instrument stayed whole, finger attacks, string materials, wooden body, all identifiable, all reproduced with authenticity. All other orchestral instruments and voices followed suit, from the upper register to the lower end of the scale, portrayed with uncommon accuracy of natural texture. Mr. Knut Skogrand brings his experience as an accomplished musician to the table in setting the performance requirements of the Skogrand Cables, and his ears are uncompromisingly astute.

How did the Rachmaninov fulfill the other audiophile niceties? Handling of proportion, placement, differentiation of individual instruments, and venue information were all done exceedingly well. To simplify the technical artistry involved in achieving that, it is as the comedian once said, all in the timing, and the timing here was up to Swiss watch precision. Detail? Dynamics? Fine detail was impeccably preserved at all frequencies, with full bodied attack and lovely decay, showcasing a good gradation of scale that mirrored what the recording had to offer. Low distortion and low noise were expected from the SC cables, and they didn’t disappoint, allowing deep insight into low level information. Married with timbre accuracy, these traits amalgamated to convincingly portray realistic three dimensional instruments in a real acoustic environment. The overall presentation resided in very lofty territory, even by absolute standards, and certainly exceeded most of the state of the art contenders of time gone by.

The Rachmaninov cables offer a remarkable level of performance that should be on every serious audiophile’s short list to check out. While obviously not inexpensive by any traditional definition, the Rachmaninov will still constitute a bargain in the right setting. The cables have the potential to shine with mid to high level systems that don’t have the insatiable power demands of some high ticket components. Less absolute ability, not lesser ability comes into play with a vengeance here in favor of the audiophile with the right system match. While Mr. Skogrand contends there are shortcomings with the capabilities of the Rachmaninov against his loftiest efforts, even the most jaded of listeners may find themselves too busy enjoying their virtues to seek out those faults. Ultimately, that is the definition of a true high value product.

Pricing – SC Rachmaninov and SCI Rachmaninov:

1m $2,325 US
1.5m $2,425 US
2m $2,525 US
2.5m $2,625 US
3m $2,725 US
3.5m $2,825 US

Warranty is 5 years upon product registration (required within 30 days of purchase), or 90 days if you choose not to register.

For more info, please visit www.skograndcables.com

Skogrand Rachmaninov Interconnects NOVO 02

Bryston BryFi BW-1 Wireless Amplified Loudspeaker 01

Bryston has been a revered name in the audiophile and professional community for over 35 years. From the onset their products have been considered upper echelon for their superb sound quality, top notch engineering, and bulletproof reliability. Many of their amplifiers have outlived their extraordinary 20 year warranty by wide margin and are still going strong in the harshest 24/7 environments. Over the years their range of offerings has continually expanded from their original amplifier lines into the realms of digital, analog turntables, and speakers to name a few. They have kept themselves fresh and relevant by both following and leading the changing needs of the marketplace.

The wireless BryFi BW-1 loudspeaker continues Bryston’s successful collaborative effort with Axiom Audio, mining fresh territory in the current popular field of compact single box stereo loudspeakers. It aims to prove that state of the art technology and aesthetic sophistication can come as a single package. This sleek amplified loudspeaker is extremely décor friendly, breaking out of the conventional box mold by utilizing elegant curved surfaces with quality accents, and is available in a full assortment of wood finishes from their regular speaker line as well as a custom black or silver aluminum top with the Bryston logo embossed into it. Custom colours are also available on request. It looks and displays like an interior decorator’s dream, but what can it do?

In our modern file based universe of digital music this ambitious little all-in-one entry can pretty much do it all. The BW-1 has WiFi connectivity, allowing you access to network music files, internet radio and streaming services plus accessibility to portable storage. In the absence of a WiFi network you can switch it to be a hot spot, creating your own WiFi network. It’s also AirPlay and UPnP compatible for streaming. While WiFi offers ease of use and both superior range and sound quality, Bluetooth fans also get support with firmware currently in the works. Tucked behind the small front pop down Bryston panel, is an Ethernet port and two 3.5mm miniplug analog inputs, as well as 4 USB 2.0 inputs, power button, volume control for analog sources and 3 status LEDs. Essentially, if you’ve got music, there’s a way to get it there. Want to break free from the confines of the room? Optional internal battery packs let you take the music anywhere you want to go. Yes, there’s even a carry handle built into the back of the unit. Want multi room capability with more than one BW-1? That’s here too. Need more bass? There’s a miniplug subwoofer output on the rear to shake things up.

Functionality is one thing. Sound can often be a different matter, and certainly the standards applied to single box solutions generally don’t pass muster with the ears of audiophile listeners. Well, that’s not the case here. Bryston has entered the lifestyle game with serious aspirations that will surprise and satisfy the toughest critic. Underneath that stylish exterior there’s a whole lot of sophisticated technology. The heart is Bryston’s BDP-Pi digital player based on the Raspberry Pi platform which supports the playback of most digital file formats up to a native resolution of 192/24. For the computer knowledgeable audiophile that will earn a big thumbs up. For the computer challenged music lover it just means you’ve got one of the best little computer engines in existence dedicated to delivering music from point A to B, with the appropriate technological might to unravel the beauty of higher resolution files and let you hear them in all their glory. On the muscle end of the equation are two powerful Bryston 75 watt amplifiers driving a pair of 3 way speakers sourced from their acclaimed Mini A loudspeakers. They can impress with delicate finesse or play the party animal at loudness levels up to 115 db. How loud is that? A jet airplane engine on takeoff is only 5 db louder. The BryFi BW-1 has the looks and the technological refinement, but is it simple to operate?