Amps. Class D switching amps are a major innovation.
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I would say that entire systems seem to sound better than those ten years ago. The reason for this is probably the effort and expense invested in assembling them. We are all aware of the insane prices for some components, that people are willing to shell out. I don't recall quite as many years ago.
The quality of sound is frequently preferable when using a currently made top notch system, but not always, it invariably is a matter of taste.
I keep systems from several eras. I always think of my main rig first for the best sound and it is the most modern. This is not to say that ten or more year old equipment can't compete. A well thought out and executed system with synergy can certainly be assembled from the good stuff from ten years ago.
My nickels worth ..
If greater choices means anything it could be that amps have now been the more improved. Namely by a wider selection of hybrid amps.
Preamps however make a strong argument for settling into first place too as its taking less dollars to get astride the threshold of diminishing returns with the most recent versions. Ive seen articles which allude to the facts that even some of the mid to upper tier receivers preamps come quite close to the performance levels of preamps ranging near the $2K - $4.5K arena.
But Ill vote for speakers. In spite of the fact Im finding specific very nice to great personal choices get well into the average of $10K, theres so many out there now which do a more than satisfying job for far less.
Somehow I feel each category here is ahead of the game vs. their constituents of a decade ago amps in graeter or more broad spread appeal due to design innovations. Preamps seem the ones favoring value as its chief concern. Leaving speakers determined as being improved by technology and materials, best.
I think the Vandersteen 7s represent a quantum leap - they really stood out from all the other speakers I've heard. if the innovations it uses 'trickle down' to where it doesn't cost 45K to get that sound, that will be a wonderful thing indeed...
and I probably would have said 'speakers' even before hearing the 7s.
(it should also be mentioned that some recent production tubes are finally equal to older production ones)
False dichotomy; the tide of increasing technological benefits lifts all boats.
One of the most significant technological changes is the new breed of component, the "new integrated", which incorporates a device for streaming audio, or a preamp, or a DAC or cdp in various combinations. These are allowing systems in less traditional forms and consequently some improvments in streamlining rigs. Utilization of more direct approaches from source to speaker can result in stunning improvements in sound.
Among the most amazing systems I have assembled is one which uses two such devices, neither one traditional in operation, but which together have fabulous synergy. When put together such components are sensational and clearly mark a departure from the old school dedicated source, pre, amp, speaker methodology. I will update pics to show in due time.
What are the innovations in the VAndersteen 7?
What other highly regarded speakers have you compared it to, old or new?
Its shaky to make the case that any particular audio technology has improved categorically on the basis of thinking one particular speaker sounds way better than everything else without something to back it up.
One thing that has changed over the years is that there are more companies than ever out there catering to the high end market and charging increasingly more for sound that may be marginally better at best than the best available prior.
Also in order to make such a determination, I think listening to a variety of good quality recordings is required.
The most "advanced" sound I've heard in the last few years were mbl 111s driven from a restored but older RtR deck playing a state of the art modern orchestral master recording. The RtR, master tape source, and mbls (with suitable amps to drive them, nothing radically new there) are the things that together delivered the benchmark results I heard. This was indicated by the completely holographic soundstage with exceptional depth and imaging location of instruments within the full orchestra, and realistic detail and harmonics.
Categorically, the new technology here that probably made the biggest difference was the RtR master recording (which also sold for several hundred dollars alone), the mbl 111 omni design, and the right sized showroom that provided enough room to allow things to happen as they should. mbl 101s would probably have taken things to yet another level dynamically from what I hear.
Now, how much of the technology that made this exceptional is readily available to the average audio buff? Not much at those prices.
I believe that much of this could have been produced years ago with similar well matched and executed equipment.
I'm with Douglas Schroeder on this one. I'd really like to see a convergence of digital and analog and/or amp to speaker. Say active electrostatics akin to the Acoustat X where they have balanced in for long ic runs plus one less transformer in the output. This could be driven with something akin to the Metric Halo ULN 8 that serves as moving coil preamp, room equalizer and if needed electronic crossover (operating within an 80 bit environment!). Toss in some sort of global feedback and we might have a game changer (or the worlds most sterile system).
the 7s' innovations supposedly involve using the same materials (end-grain balsa in particular) in all the drivers and not having any shared frequencies (to prevent smearing) among adjacent drivers.
I make no claims about thoroughness as far as listening to lots of speakers. in fact, I went to the demo in a pretty jaded state of mind and was decidedly not 'blown away' by the wilson sashas - even though they sounded great. my response to the 7s was something along the lines of 'these sound different from any speaker, no matter how expensive, I've ever heard'. and I don't even like the artist they used for the demo ('the boss'...).
obviously, the rest of the system, the room, the 'software', etc., all contribute, and I'm hardly in a position to do a series of A-B comparisons ($45K!), but I haven't been this blown away by any single component in years. it's a given that they'll be much reviewed and much discussed when they get 'out there', so my initial impressions will either be confirmed or dubunked by the 'pros' - and I'm no pro by any stretch of the imagination.
sure wish they were cheaper...
Foster9, I put the components together merely out of curiosity. They were meant for different rigs, but I can't pass up an experiment in system building. The results were far beyond expectations. Last night I switched the power cables on the VAC Royal Power Supplies powering the Kingsound King speakers, and got a bit more out of the speakers.
It's a perfect case of "Don't judge the system by appearance." You know Susan Boyle? People mocked until she opened her mouth to sing. This rig is similar. You'd never expect what it sounds like. It would actually be not recommended if not for the unique combination of gear.