Grace Design m920 (Steinway and Sons office systems, Part IV)
Digital-to-Analog Converter, Line Stage, and Headphone Amplifier
Made in Lyons, Colorado, USA; US MSRP $1995
For the stereo systems I specified for use in two of the executive offices at Steinway and Sons’ global headquarters in New York City, my major design goals were fatigue-free yet detail-rich listening (for hours at a time), flexibility, and future-proofness. Given that the major source was going to be USB computer audio or wireless streaming, I wanted a digital-audio source component that had multiple digital inputs, the ability to decode not only conventional PCM digital data but also Direct Stream Digital (DSD) files, was of professional-grade build quality, and which sounded just plain great. Oh, and also not break the budget. (Note, the Grace m920 on its own does not handle wireless; in these systems, an Audioengine wireless receiver unit outputs S/PDIF to the m920 via a Toslink optical digital cable.)
Grace Design’s m920 DAC/HPA/linestage filled that bill admirably. Please click through to learn more, and also to learn how to get an additional $100 off the lowest advertised price, as a thank-you for reading The Tannhaüser Gate! Continue Reading →
(Photo of Eric Feidner at Steinway and Sons’ NYC Global headquarters by and courtesy of Wes Bender Studios.)
Connections, connections (Steinway and Sons office stereo systems, Part III)
AudioQuest cables and Hosa power adapters
One of my all-time favorite “educational” TV shows was James Burke’s Connections… . I’ll have to get around to covering that some time. But in the context of a high-quality but affordable stereo system, connections are very important. And on the subject of connections, Steinway and Sons have renovated their website; the About tab now brings up a very evocative introductory video featuring lots of wonderful close-ups of the craftspeople at work. Check it out! (You will need to un-mute the sound; there is an icon in the upper-right corner.)
One of my favorite audio shibboleths is, “Buy it once and buy it right, and get off the ‘upgrade’ merry-go-round.” Therefore, the systems I specified for Eric Feidner and for Mike Sweeney were anchored by components that, while not extravagant by any means, were not bargain-basement items either. They are not “bargains;” they are “keepers.” Both the Grace Design m920 DAC/linestage and a pair of Harbeth P3ESR loudspeakers run about two thousand dollars. So to make the necessary connections, I wanted audio cables that were high-performance, but at reasonable cost.
Respighi Impressioni brasiliane, La Boutique fantasque
Liège Royal Philharmonic, John Neschling, conductor
BIS SACD 2050
I raved about this SACD/CD in my next-to-last column for Stereophile magazine. Having since then heard it played back on a variety of stereo systems, my continued exposure to it has only increased my respect.
I have not yet heard Andris Nelsons’ and the Boston Symphony’s Grammy-winning Shostakovich 10th symphony, which, perhaps, might be even better. But as of right now, the Liège Royal Philharmonic’s Respighi Brazilian Impressions on BIS is the best new orchestral recording (not only in terms of recording quality, but also in performance) I have heard in years. Even if you rarely listen to classical music, this recording is well worth acquiring as material that shows off what a great stereo system can sound like.
Parasound’s Zamp v.3 stereo amplifier
One of my favorite lines from the original Star Trek TV series (and please, nobody forget that Alexander Courage’s theme music borrowed heavily from Mahler’s symphonies 1 and 7) was something like:
I bet five Quatloos on the feisty newcomer!
Well, Parasound’s Zamp v.3 is hardly a newcomer, but, it’s very feisty! And, at a US Suggested Retail Price of $349, it is a stellar bargain.
The primary reason for the slow roll-out of The Tannhäuser Gate has been that I have been slaving away at my new enterprise, Esperanto Audio.
Esperanto Audio has launched its first product, the Esperanto Audio “Small Batch” S/PDIF digital-audio cable “Blue.” The Blue cable is available with RCA terminations, BNC terminations, or BNC terminations with RCA adapters, if you wish. The Blue cable comes in a re-usable zip-up padded nylon stuff sack made for me by Porta-Brace in Vermont.
(Photo of Eric Feidner at Steinway & Sons’ NYC Global headquarters by and courtesy of Wes Bender Studios.
I totally love the way Eric’s and Mr. Rubinstein’s legs are the mirror images of each other!
Way to go, Wes! And, what an amazingly clean desk Eric has!)
I derive immense pleasure from setting people up with (relatively) affordable stereo systems that work as systems, and are not just a bunch of random components selected from “Best-Of” lists. An early effort in that line was the series of columns I wrote for The Absolute Sound magazine entitled “A Stereo for Mr. Stevens.” Mr. Stevens being Wallace Stevens, because music and sound were such important parts of his poetry. I had no evidence that Wallace Stevens (who died in 1955) was an early adopter of hi-fi; but, I wasn’t about to let that stop me.