This review page is supported in part by the sponsor whose ad is displayed above
Mean Standards
This is my 2nd year end summation for 6moons and this year my personal Best-Of is about as personal as you can get. After all, what better sign of approval is there beyond a purchase? Picking out those nuggets from the stream of gear that float through our systems. Setting up personal standards. But wait a minute - what about universal standards? How will I know I own the best? Can't we measure for that? Nope, we can't. Listening to music on a hifi isn't scientific. It serves no practical, universally applicable end. So I certainly don't need anyone's personal yardstick or agenda intruding here. I prefer to follow Duchamp's string as it falls to define a new image of the unit of measure. While I'm not suggesting a random act, I am saying that my choices are based on personal preferences and circumstance, not universal standards.

Thankfully there is no need for an International Bureau of HiFi Listening.

So what's the point of such a personal year-end Best-Of? The point is while there are a near infinite number of choices, eventually we choose. And our personal hifi threads intertwine with others. Whether those intersections are music, gear, beer or butterflies, there's always something to learn from someone else's journey. So it's a Road Tour to my place so to speak and a look at my new system choices.

Shindo Laboratory Monbrison
Over four years ago, before I joined 6moons and before any word of Shindo had hit the US press paper or e, I strolled into In Living Stereo in search of speakers. Steve Cohen, being one of the most knowledgeable and nice hifi sales guys I've had the pleasure to get to know (who's since sadly left our ranks to devote his time to -- gasp -- music as head of programming for East Village Radio), chose to drive my speaker audition with some funky green boxes. I knew tubes, having owned Sun Audio and others, but these oddly colored swan-bedecked electronics were foreign to me. My interests and ears were equally piqued.

Fast forward to today. Okay, let's rewind and slow down that reel so you can see me listening to a shed full of Shindo over these past 4 years, culminating in a Road Tour to US Shindo Importer Jonathan Halpern's digs housing an all-Shindo system. Then the Trojan Horse Shindo Aurieges-L preamp spent some loaner time in my system and my dim bulb was lit. Hell, it was ignited. Months with the Aurieges-L sealed my fate and future. Since I'm a re-obsessed vinyl guy, I wanted a full-function preamp and what better selection than the new iteration of the very first Shindo preamp I ever heard? So the Monbrison it was and the tubed, point-to-point hand wired Monbrison it is, sitting pretty in my Finite Elemente Master Reference Rack.

A thing of understated beauty inside and out (you can peer in at two of its otherwise bashful eight NOS tubes through the front window), there's nothing obvious about the Monbrison. There's no bombast or showmanship. Nothing flashy. Yet the Monbrison reveals more about the music than anything I've had in-house. And it does so without calling undue attention to itself. Without dissection, cross section or any kind of magnification. No wriggling parts on pins. What you get is the music, a focus on the performance. The flow of it and the Art of it.

Finite Elemente Pagode Master Reference Rack
I spent a fair amount of time this past year getting my room in order. Actually, buying equipment, furniture and storage to support my working and audio habits. Before this, it was hand-me-down town in my home/office. Now things were going to be different. And my hifi had outgrown my rack. So my mind wandered back to the Finite Elemente racks I've been eyeing for years. A few conversations with some owners, hifi sales guys and a few reviews and I decided to take the plunge. So I had some email exchanges with Finite Elemente importer Norbert Schmied of Immedia and decided on a double-wide Master Reference HD-13. While I liked the look of the lower HD-12, there just wasn't enough space between those shelves to fit my gear. So the HD-13 with 3 shelves came and it's been my gear's stable mate ever since. Beautifully designed, expertly crafted and a solid success on all - um, levels.

DeVore Fidelity Gibbon Super 8
The Super 8s are two-way floorstanding speakers. While I think they're beautifully made, on the surface and the spec sheet there's nothing to suggest anything sexier than just those facts - a nice two-way. This is a good time to introduce the word of the day. That word is lyricism. Like a poem. The DeVore Gibbon Super 8s are lyrical in the sense that they gel from bottom to middle to top, very much like the single-driver sound I've grown to revere. So there's nothing to distract you from the musical measure. And they go taller.

This is also a good time to introduce the concept of the day - you don't know the most important thing about a piece of hifi gear if you haven't listened to it. And sometimes, actually all the time, listening takes time. The more time I spend listening to the DeVore Gibbon Super 8s, the better they get. That's because they know all about musical ebb and flow. And that never gets old. Never comes up short. And I can drive my Gibbon 8s with as little as 2 watts from my Fi 45s. I'd like to say with no sweat but the fact of the matter is, the Fi 45 does break a sweat when things get loud and tough. But late-night lower level listening is blissful and bountiful poetry.

Red Wine Audio Signature 30
I'm going to sneak in a few private Road Tours on top of the public trip I took to Red Wine HQ and Vinnie Rossi's back in July. The first took place at John DeVore's place and included Vinnie and
his Signature 30 amp. Think summertime, lower east side of Manhattan, hot, steamy and some fine Chimay Ale, cheese and Tequilla slushies for desert. And a few thousand LPs waiting to be played through the Sig 30 feeding the DeVore Gibbon 3s and Super 8s. I will quote "that amp drives the shit out of the Gibbon 3s". And so it did. So well in fact that we did this particular private Road Tour Take 2 at my house and demoed some prototype DeVore speakers (the Gibbon 9s which will debut at CES 2007) and the Red Wine Signature 70 monos. For those Super 8 and Sig 30 owners or potential buyers looking for more, you're in for a treat.

For my space at my place, the Signature 30/Super 8 is the combo meal of choice when I want more. When I want to drive the shit out of the Super 8s, maybe even dust off the air guitar, it's Sig 30 time. And whatever you throw at it, the Sig 30 complies. Silently, obediently and musically. Just like Charles Dickens' little Oliver who only asks "May I have some more? Please?" So I've happily jumped on the Sig 30 bandwagon which appears to be getting very crowded. And what a pleasant crowd it is.

Auditorium 23 SoloVox
From the Auditorium 23 website: "That is our quest: not to recreate the past, but to find current implementations of the spirit, insight and genius of the original creative giants when it really was all about the music."

I'd been looking at and thinking about the single driver, open baffled SoloVox for a very long time before a pair ever made it from Germany to America. As part of my web work for A23 importer Tone Imports' website, I'd posted the SoloVox page well before they made it to NYC. And I'd read about them through those wonderfully bad on-line translators from the German Image Hi-Fi reviews.

"My mouth must have mile far been open, when I left the hospitable Studio. And was not surely only because of my hunger."
"Keith cinder burner is really an institution. Who heard itself wrong at all world food and which looks for special ones, finds in him a competent, fair and music-inspired advisor and partner." From Solo für Keith - ein ganz normaler Händlertest

It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say I hounded Jonathan about the SoloVox arrival date. And when they landed, I was there. And from the first few minutes I listened to the SoloVox, I knew I was hearing something I needed to spend more time with. That first listening session was well over a year ago and it took many hours of listening to realize I was ready. Ready to invest. Turned out I owned a lot of great gear but I didn't listen to a lot of it. And even when I did, it wasn't the same. My point of reference had shifted. The main movers being the all-Shindo system I heard at Jonathan's, those private Road Tours with the DeVores and a few other private sessions including some with the SoloVox. So I sold off a bunch of gear and invested in my present.

How good are the SoloVox? Don't they need a side of super tweeter and sub? It's fresh! Of the very few things I know, one thing I know for certain is that if you think you need to add a super tweeter and/or a sub to the SoloVox, you're looking at the wrong speaker. Sure my thoughts can go lower and higher but my music is served by the SoloVox. Part of my job as a listener is to go to the music. I need to bring all the stuff I know to it and let the two mingle. Get acquainted. If I start to impose ideals, we stop communicating. What I'm finding with the SoloVox is that they have more to tell me about the music I know than I know. Or thought I knew. You just have to be willing to listen to music and forget about being impressed by sounds. (I'll be spending more words on the SoloVox in a full-fledged review coming soon).

The Wire
My list of favorite recordings isn't fixed. It won't stay put long enough for me to grab a few to pin down. So my pick for best music of 2006 is to throw in a plug for my favorite magazine about music - The Wire. For less than the cost of a cable, you get 12 issues chock full of New music. And the majority falls way off the mainstream radar, making it otherwise easy to miss. If you add in the free CD series that comes with subscription, it's a giant killer of a deal. Heck, they even offer an in-home trial for only $8.00. As a matter of fact, I guarantee it will expand your musical horizons farther than a new pair of interconnect. (Past performance is no indication of future returns. No warranty, express or implied.)

The Musical Standard
At times, when reading about hifi in reviews or on the forums, I get the distinct impression that we're talking
about sound effects. Blips, beeps and bobbles that we can dissect, compartmentalize and examine. Like pinned butterflies, the examination necessarily kills the thing being examined. Music disassembled isn't music and the only sound in and of itself that I see as being relevant to music is silence. So I wasn't looking for frequency extension, measured fidelity or any other sort of anechoic map making when I picked out my new gear. I listened over time, in some cases years, and in every case in different places and system contexts. Till I heard something I wanted in my home. And what I wanted was the lyricism of the performance intact - the flow of it and the Art of it. Turns out my personal hifi standards are dictated by the recordings I own. By the music I want to listen to and how I want to connect with it. Now there's a universal standard I can live with.