Pursuing the Ultimate Music Experiences

Audio Federation High-Fidelity Audio Blog

Emm Labs MTRX Amps LIVE

emm labs mtrx amps on acapella speakers

Emm Labs MTRX Amps LIVE – and we are already learning a lot about music, sound and what we have been missing.

We all know solid-state amps have lots of power – but typically sound not so much like music but like ‘hifi’.

Well, we already learned one reason why that is…

Who knew solid-state amps were so sloppy with the sound, petering out on notes all the time, making what now sound like half-hearted attempts at each note – some attempts getting closer to where the note is supposed to be, some fumbled all together..

And those background notes! Geez.

Not anymore.

Until you hear it, it is hard to believe.

We’ll have a lot more to say, and about how the 93dB Acapella Atlas speakers, with 2 10in woofers and one isobaric 10in woofer, can tell us some things right away about these amps.

Previously we had on the Atlas speakers an older pair of Edge amps, 200 watts, and to our ears one of the best solid-state amps made [probably worth $50K to $60K in today's inflated market if that company still existed and did some marketing and hadn't keep shooting themselves in the foot. You can get this old pair for $8K here. These are WAY better than most of your $120K amps that have been all the fad lately, in our opinion, with more resolution, micro-dynamics, linearity, etc. but somewhat less bass slam].

Currently playing: the famous $25K Emm Labs XDS1 CD / SACD player, the legendary $130K Audio Note M9 Phono preamplifier [lots sold, but have NEVER seen one on the used market], the $130K Emm Labs 750 watts/channel amps, and the $99K Acapella Atlas speakers with ION tweeter [our demos need a new home before CES]. Mostly Nordost Odin cables and power cords. HRS SXR equipment rack. Oh, and Kimber Model 10 PowerKords on the amps.

Radiohead – In Rainbows

Can hear amps warming up minute by minute

Kings College Choir – Nelson Mass

Voices much more distinct and legible [we've heard this CD on a LOT of different systems, some quite good]. Hear more emotion and modulation and the power of the lead vocal’s voice.

Radiohead – Kid A

More complex and innovative than In Rainbows. The MTRX really showed how this album is a spectacle of sound . Massive amounts of separation – can hear Everything. Changes in tone more accurate a the amps were able to keep up with all the weird changes. The cacophony near the end of track 3 was actually understandable as about 5 to 7 different ‘instruments’ making sound at the same time [some purposely obnoxious. You know. Radiohead.]

Amps still warming up. Been on about 4 hours. With only about 150 hours on them, they still need breaking in as well.

Silly me, but you know how you hear a song on the car radio, and then go home to hear it on your system – you know, to hear what it REALLY sounds like? This is like that, except all over again.

Ha! You think I exaggerate.


All significantly better systems make you want to hear this album on it, and that album…

… but here there is so much more accuracy, so much more information [because the amp does not allow the speaker to slack off on any of the sound, which tends to muddy things up a lot, and which obscures lots of what we hear, ordinarily] … it really is a case of ‘great sound’ [which we had before with some of the best solid-state amps around] or ‘great sound with none of the music removed’ [of which there is, apparently, a LOT.], and which is what, with the MTRX, we are hearing now.

A lot more later… and over the forthcoming days and weeks.


An Audiophile-style Halloween morning in Boulder

Today it is all about Treats. Audiophile Treats. This Halloween morning.

Very sunny. Good ole Boulder is coming through.

About to hook up the Emm Labs MTRX 750 watt/channel amps up to the Acapella Atlas speakers. The Emm Labs XDS1 CD player into the Audio Note M9 as source.

Then… Radiohead. :-) [followed by music from just about every genre under the sun]


Streaming doing to downloads what downloads did to CDs

Streaming is doing to downloads what downloads did to CDs, which is make the media harder to find and the gear that plays them harder to find and more expensive.

Yeah, we are still keeping our CDs around, and maybe a lot of audiophiles will keep their downloads around, but…

Should audiophiles stop investing in downloads and music servers? Or will we have another niche economy where we collect downloads and machines to store and play them back for the next 100 years, like vinyl?

And what is it with media coming and going so quickly these days? Remember Blu-ray [Sony has  stopped producing this, their own format]? DVD-Audio?

This looking at the abyss as downloads and CDs fade into obscurity for the majority of the human race makes this a bit scary for those of us with many $1000s invested and for companies whose product lines depend heavily on these media. So scary that this becomes the third in our special ‘Halloween Series’  posts.

Streaming is Up (source: PandoDaily):

And Downloads are down 13% to 15%. Similar to the decline in CD sales in the early to mid 2000s.

Streamed albums should exceed CD album sales sometime in 2014:

Q1 2014 At-A-Glance

Digital sales (albums + TEA) Down 13.3%
Interactive streaming 34.28 billion streams (vs. 25.44 in Q1 2013)
Interactive streaming rate $0.005 (vs. $0.00375 in 2013)
Streaming equivalent albums 22.85 million
CD sales 31.9 million scanned (vs. 40.1 million in Q1 2013)
Number of tracks > 1M scans 16 (vs. 15 in Q1 2013)
Electronica 2.7% increase in sales
Classical 33.3% decrease in sales
Pop 28.6% decrease in sales

Yay, Electronica! Ouch, Classical. Pop? Eh.

A lot of more great information at this link: Billboard.com : Nielsen’s Q1 numbers

We talked about how streaming will win the media delivery wars and problems like their being no ‘used market’ with streams, so no one can get top quality music at bargain pre-loved prices. On the other hand, if it just costs a few cents to listen to an album, this will drive prices of Downloads and CD down, down, down unless people really want to put the things on ‘repeat’ [like, uh, we do sometimes here :-)] and won’t want to pay 50 cents an hour, $12/day for the delicious pleasure of hearing:

Kruder & Dorfmeister

over and over..


“23% of music streamers used to buy more than one album a month but no longer do so. Download sales are affected most and will continue to feel the pinch with 45% of all music downloaders also music streamers.

Thus although streaming and subscriptions will grow by 238% on 2013 levels to reach $8 billion in 2019, download revenue will decline by 39% – only five percent less than the rate at which CD revenues will fall – leaving streaming and subscriptions representing 70% of all digital revenue.”

Much of this is attributed to the fact that the “first wave” of subscribers to streaming services like Spotify are/were among the most valuable iTunes downloaders.

In the age of streaming, downloading has just become an inconvenience.

From AltPress


From the Music Industry Blog.

Unfortunately, while this is great for music lovers, it is unclear how music artists (musicians) will survive all this: What the Numbers Tell Us About Streaming in 2014

It seems to us that it is best to hedge our bets; the audiophile community could even move enmass to back to vinyl [some certainly think this is happening now, based on the steadily dramatic increase in vinyl sales], or to streaming, like everyone else.

For now, pity the poor manufacturers, who have to support Vinyl, CDs, Downloads and now Streaming. Yeah, I realize that some components, like DACs with a lot of interfaces, span multiple categories. Just relax and go with the flow here. Manufacturers have to be really good at reading tea leaves to figure out that next month triple wireless DSD will be the hot must-have feature next month… but only for a month.

Why we dropped Marten Design and Jorma Design

Why we dropped Marten Design and Jorma Design

What we have here is what we think is the most egregious violation of the implied contract between manufacturer, distributor and dealer in the history of high-end audio. To the tune of approximately one million dollars; ten times worse than anything we have ever heard of in our industry.

What follows are the details of this little horror story… just in time for Halloween :-/

None of the principal players think there is anything wrong with what happened. We do. You decide. We just could not, in good conscience, keep quiet about what happened; ‘events’ like this can be life threatening to any business, especially small businesses.

Also, because we are so closely identified with these brands, and have been their most public champions for so long, we feel we need to explain why we are no longer in their corner.

Apparently the number of dollar signs got to be too much for Marten and Jorma and their greed drove out all common sense.

We did well with these brands. We sold, or at least our customers bought, the vast majority of the higher-end Marten speakers sold in North America [all but one pair according to several sources], and similarly with the higher quality Jorma cables [especially if you include our dealer friends who we nagged into picking up these cables]. Worldwide, we encouraged several of our friends to buy the top speakers in the Marten line, as well as lots of Jorma Design Prime cables.

But it is misleading and unethical, in our opinion, to set up a dealer network that works hard to convince customers to buy something, and have the dealer lose the sales to their distributor or manufacturer because the distributor or manufacturer offers the customer a much, much lower price.

But this has been our experience with Marten Design and Jorma Design and their distributor. Marten and Jorma are both Swedish manufacturers and attend most shows together; Jorma cable is used inside Marten speakers.

Most of this involves one particular customer.

This is not any ordinary customer. We had the pleasure of spending several days in the guest room in his lovely home, demoing gear, including a nice Jorma Design cables versus Nordost Odin shootout. He traveled to our store a few times, spending several days while we demoed Jorma cables and the Marten Coltrane Supreme speakers. He bought almost $200K of gear from us. We gave him nice, industry-standard discounts based on the various brands’ stated discount policies at the time.

He eventually bought approximately $1M in Marten and Jorma Design products, including the new version of our (now $500K) Marten Coltrane Supreme speakers. From our distributor. At the same time we were busy convincing him [obviously successful] that this gear was great [and it is].

Its been almost 3 years. We presented detailed, well-documented time-lines, which nobody is disputing. We asked for extremely modest compensation for these direct sales, and our requests have been rejected.

Sucks for us, huh?

But wait, there’s more

We thought the distributor was selling at 30%, maybe 40% off. What honest dealer can make a living at these discounts? What dealer can compete with their own distributor on pricing? What customer would turn down the opportunity to save $100K to $200K?

But it turns out our distributor claims (and we believe him) that the prices were so low that he was making nothing on most of the Marten sales, and a pittance on the Jorma sales.

Marten says this is not selling direct, but picture yourself as a distributor [or a dealer like us] selling a million dollars in gear. If you are making hardly anything off the deal, or nothing at all, what would you call it?

This extreme discount pricing we just learned about a month or so ago.

Why doesn’t the distributor drop these lines, being taken advantage of this way? As far as we can tell his EAR distributorship is run like a normal, healthy distributorship.

Probably for the same reason we were so hesitant to finally give up on these guys. We spent 10 years investing in, promoting and demoing these brands. We took them 6 times to RMAF, 4 of those times with the large Marten Coltrane Supreme 4-box speakers, and took Jorma about 7 times. Look at the photos of our rooms on our ‘shows‘ page, look at the pictures of our shop on our ‘tour‘ page – we featured these brands all over the place. It is hard to throw away 10 years of hard work.

And, you know, we kind of fall in love with our gear. We identify with it, and it is identified with us.

They make excellent products. But in our experience they make extremely poor business partners.

We tried for almost three years to try and work this out with Marten and Jorma.

Most manufacturers compensate their dealers and distributors when this happens. Manufacturers sometimes want to handle celebrities or very large sales directly. It has happened here twice before with two different manufacturers and they were happy to compensate us, without being asked, at several times the percentage we were asking from Marten and Jorma.

Several members of the industry watched this as it unfolded. They are horrified.

For a small business, this kind of thing can be devastating, both financially and psychologically.

Jorma has no clue why we are upset, believes that we don’t help his sales, and that we should just drop his line immediately. Marten responds with “shit happens” and tries to put the blame back on the distributor [who obviously has serious issues].

We still cannot fathom why they are not more interested in building their brand than screwing their partners out of what is, at this scale, chump change.

So long Marten Design and Jorma Design. Hello big wide world of lots of other speakers and cables! :-)

We really enjoy building up brands from nothing to a million plus in sales.

Moving forward, we are expanding to offer additional services to both the industry and to audiophiles.

We now offer a new website development service catering primarily to the high-end audio industry. This will hopefully help the general public to find us all significantly more appetizing.  Give us a call or drop us an email if you are interested.

We are also in the process of massively updating Ultimist, a search engine and more,  that finds you the best deals, right now, on high-end audio gear in the U.S., and soon, the World!

And now we return you to our regularly scheduled programming.

P.S. Sometime during the middle of all this they declared our customer to be a ‘showroom’, often using this to excuse their previous and subsequent behavior. This is an old trick used by disreputable distributors and manufacturers to sell at large discounts out the back door, as well as to do what was done to us. There are many reasons why this ‘showroom’ excuse is especially specious in this case.

First, almost all customers, especially but not exclusively at the high end of the market, offer to be showrooms. They think it is great fun that we’d want to bring other people to their homes to hear their systems. We’d like to assure our customers that it is quite unusual for someone to receive several $100K’s of dollars in discounts because they offer to be a showroom. :-)

If it is important to have a showroom in San Diego, isn’t it important to have one in Beverly Hills? How about the Bay Area? At least one on the Peninsula, one in S.F. and one across the bay in Berkeley, at the minimum, since nobody wants to spend an hour or more to get anywhere. How about Manhattan? Miami? Houston? Paris? Munich? Hamburg?

So any customer of any dealer or distributor of theirs can be declared a ‘showroom’, just about anywhere, at any time, because it is important to have a showroom there. Any customer of any dealer or distributor can buy direct at significantly below dealer cost leaving their dealers and distributors high and dry, just by declaring themselves to be a ‘showroom’.

Seems like a problematic policy to us if a manufacturer wants distributors and dealers.

Page 1 of 29712345...102030...Last »