Revisiting the Best of 2021 with the NAD C 700 BluOS Streaming Amplifier

Note: for the full suite of measurements from the SoundStage! Audio-Electronics Lab, click this link.

January 2022

Over the first year of this “Art+Tech” column, I’ve explored some intriguing new pieces of equipment and listened to a lot of great music in the process. I’ve mentioned some of the music I’ve most enjoyed in 2021 along the way; but not all of it. And of all the terrific gear that passed through my office, the piece that really caught my eye—NAD’s C 700 BluOS streaming amplifier ($1499, all prices in USD)—has only recently landed on my desk. That’s perfect timing for revisiting my ten favorite albums of the past year and seeing how the C 700 treats them.

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Streaming Contemporary Composition Through the EarMen Tradutto DAC

Note: for the full suite of measurements for the EarMen Tradutto DAC from the SoundStage! Audio-Electronics Lab, click this link.

December 2021

For a time, about a decade ago, I had this fantasy of promoting a concert that would feature an all-star band of top-flight musicians who held PhDs. As it happens, it wasn’t as far-fetched as it seems; pianist Vijay Iyer and saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa have already collaborated, and the French Moutin twins, drummer Louis and bassist François, would make a great rhythm section.

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Discovering Contemporary Trios Through the Arcam SA30 Intelligent Integrated Amplifier

Note: for the full suite of measurements for the Arcam SA30 from the SoundStage! Audio-Electronics Lab, click this link.

November 2021

In 1997, pianist Brad Mehldau, then 26, released The Art of the Trio, Volume One, his second album for Warner Bros. Records. That was followed by four additional volumes, the latest in 2001. The aggressively declarative title was conceived by producer Matt Pierson, who was also the head of A&R for jazz at the label. The idea was clearly to establish Mehldau as the heir to the postwar jazz trio tradition that had been established by artists like Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, and Keith Jarrett. Each of these pianists recruited band members who could improvise at a high level and be counted on to play outside the standard role of a rhythm section.

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Decoding Henry Threadgill through Focal Alpha 50 Evo Studio Monitors

October 2021

I have a self-imposed rule when assigning stars for albums I review for SoundStage! Xperience or on my other gig at DownBeat magazine: As a service to consumers, I deduct half a star if the artist provides less than the 45 minutes of music I would expect on a typical album without discounting the retail price.

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Summer on the Porch with Tom Petty and the Audio Pro Addon C5A Wireless Multiroom Speaker

September 2021

Whether the credit is due to his Florida upbringing or his longtime residency in California, singer-songwriter Tom Petty had an incredible knack for writing summertime anthems. Songs like “Even the Losers,” “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” and “The Waiting” had extra resonance when played on a car radio on a sultry day, and there was something related to yearning and the quest for freedom in many of his songs—or those he cowrote—that naturally led to the open road or the beach.

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Time Traveling to Mid-1960s Chicago via AudioQuest's DragonFly Black and Red DACs

August 2021

In 1940, Chicago was home to 278,000 black residents. Twenty years later, that number had climbed to 813,000—the result of a massive northward migration of African Americans, largely from rural parts of Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee. The institutionalized racism in the South was at the root of much of this migration, but intertwined economic factors also shaped the movement.

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The iFi Audio Zen Phono Breathes New Life into Andrew Hill's Missing Masterpiece

Note: for the full suite of measurements for the iFi Audio Zen Phono from the SoundStage! Audio-Electronics Lab, click this link.

July 2021

When the stars align, the intersection between art and commerce can benefit both artist and audience, but the meeting is never anything but unpredictable. Sometimes, the two forces collide with terrible results.

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Digging Through Bill Evans’s Career with KLH Albany II Bookshelf Loudspeakers

Note: for the full suite of measurements for the KLH Albany II loudspeakers performed in the anechoic chamber at Canada’s National Research Council, click this link.

June 2021

Everybody Digs Bill Evans—the name of a recording released in 1959—seems like little more than a hip album title until you reflect on the broad admiration the late jazz pianist engendered in most of the people who encountered his playing. Even in the atypically aggressive performances toward the end of his life, listeners could hear his sensitivity and heart, to say nothing of his deft touch and ability to find original ways of phrasing—even with a hoary chestnut like “Danny Boy.” So outsized is his influence it’s actually possible to make the case that Evans played a disproportionate role in making Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue the album that many people—including those who generally dislike improvised music—cite as their favorite jazz recording.

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The Sound of Fire—Mahavishnu Orchestra Roars Through the Rotel A11 Tribute Integrated Amplifier

Note: for the full suite of measurements for the Rotel A11 Tribute from the SoundStage! Audio Electronics Lab, click this link.

May 2021

Thanks to a spate of influential recording sessions, 2021 is a landmark year for albums marking their 50th anniversary. From the Allman Brothers Band’s At Fillmore East to The Who’s Who’s Next, 1971 saw the release of more exceptional rock or rock-related albums than perhaps any other single year, with the possible exception of 1967.

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When the Rubber Hits the Road—Celebrating Ornette Coleman with AudioQuest Type 5 Speaker Cables

April 2021

Dear Audiophile: If you’ve slid over here from SoundStage! Hi-Fi or even SoundStage! Ultra, welcome. But, listen, perhaps you should skip ahead a couple of paragraphs; I’m going to reveal something sacrilegious.

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