Convergence. Blurring boundaries. As in music, so in audio. One area that demonstrates these trends are the inroads pro-oriented products have made into consumer use and consumer-audio press coverage. Stalwarts Bryston/PMC, Meitner, Tannoy and dCS are of course well-known but there are more. How about Benchmark Media with their accoladed affordable DAC1; Weiss High-End with their statement Medea DAC and Jason transport; Apogee Digital with their Mini DAC; Grace Design with their m902 headphone amp (now carried by Tyll Hertsens). How about Superscope/Marantz, the Alesis Masterlink and Tascam CD/R recorders? How about Rives Audio's room acoustics services that are directly rooted in experience garnered from designing state-of-the-art recording studios? 

High-End consumer products are also migrating into the professional or MI arena. Gordon Rankin's Wavelength Audio expertise and Ralph Karsten's output-transformerless Circlotron tube circuits under his new Ovation Audio brand can be found in guitar amplifiers. Manley Labs serves both the pro and consumer market and the former is likely a bigger percentage of their gross annual sales. Then there's the wholesale appropriation of telecommunications-spawned amplifier chips like Tripath and Texas Instruments that have gained a solid footing in consumer audio. It's all a result of platform sharing and the erosion of clear-cut usage definitions. There's even a term to capture elements of this trend: prosumer, a consumer with interests that include professional applications.

The old perception of recording and mastering engineers using junk hardware far below High-End audio standards is fading as well. Or at least it's punctuated with examples to the contrary. It has small and esoteric specialty firms like Wavac and ESP make marketing hay when certain recording studios or high-profile mastering engineers use their equipment. Former SoundStager Grant Samuelson has done a masterful job of penetrating recording studios with Shunyata power product. MA Recordings' Todd Garfinkle uses Crystal Cable and Stax headphones. More than one of the CDs in my personal library lists bona fide High-End products like Cardas Cables, Jeff Rowland amplifiers and Avalon speakers in their monitoring hardware chain.

What's this mean for the hobbyist music lover? Simply that many products in the professional market carry pricing far more attractive than HighEnd audio. This pricing is usually attached to very feature-rich packages that go beyond what the consumer market offers. At the risk of over-generalizing things, consumer audio is about toys, pro audio is about tools. Nuff said. Just because a product derives from the professional sector no longer needs to mean unfit for serious High-End applications. Any number of upper-crust recording monitors --
active or passive -- can give their equivalent consumer relatives a fierce run for the money. Think ATC and Tannoy, for example. John Stronczer of Bel Canto Design is one smart engineer who's taken advantage and listens to TAD studio two-ways with super-expensive wood-hornloaded tweeters [above]. I've heard the setup two years ago and can vouch for its high-endishness. Even SoundStage! Editor Marc Mickelson who usually finds hornspeakers unfit for serious music listening changed his mind during a recent coverage of this particular system. How about the Paradigm active speakers of yore? Those were arguably some of their best designs ever. Still, our High-End mentality -- anti active speakers -- didn't embrace them so the Canadians had to - er, retire them. Offkill Audio.

Derek Wilson of the very much alive Overkill Audio flat-out writes off passive networks as unfit for state-of-the-art domestic loudspeakers. His new Encore [left] thus doesn't have any crossover inside the box. To operate, you'll have to use an external crossover and actively bi-amplify the speakers. Derek's chosen solution is the Australian DEQX box that combines solid pro roots with digital conversion, preamp functionality and speaker/room correction. It can thus guarantee phase/time coherence well beyond passive approaches plus allows for comprehensive frequency contouring via a laptop interface to optimize integration with listening room acoustics. NHT's new M60xd sub/sat system [insert] too relies on the DEQX. One could also look at Jürgen Scheuring's Ascendo room correction technology [below].

Simply put, the days when anything pro suggested compromise to high-enders have long past. Savvy consumers as well as retailers would do well to keep tabs on the professional market. There are
some exciting and affordably priced products available that make up for their lack of cosmetic flash with heavy-duty performance that's often every bit the equal of the gold-plated boxes in the glossy consumer audio ads. This year, we shall
attempt to cover some of this product and report back to you from personal experience. Those readers already hip to certain underground discoveries are encouraged to contact me so we can learn from you and identify the most promising prospects in this developing field of "crossover convergence" products.