Budget Component Reviews

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Robert J. Reina Posted: Aug 26, 2013 Published: Dec 01, 1995 3 comments
In this, my first equipment review for Stereophile, I'll begin by explaining my philosophy regarding reviewing inexpensive components. In my quest for products by designers who strive to establish new benchmarks for reproducing sonic realism at lower prices, I'll be looking for "value" components (a more appropriate term than "budget") whose designers logically fall into two camp. . .
Jon Iverson Posted: Aug 01, 2013 4 comments
Late last year came an epic audiophile moment: I slapped a final length of tape on the box of the awesome-sounding MSB Diamond DAC (Stereophile, October 2012), in final preparation for its trek to John Atkinson's testing lab, in Brooklyn. Next up was the Bifrost DAC from Schiit Audio. I popped it into my system, where, moments before, the MSB had held court.

From $43,325 to $449. Yowseh!!—the MSB costs almost 100 times as much as the Schiit! Was this even fair?

Robert J. Reina Posted: Aug 01, 2013 3 comments
It seems I'm always reviewing an integrated amplifier from Creek Audio. It started in the late 1980s, when I fell in love with the capabilities of inexpensive, well-designed audio equipment, sparked by the spectacular sound of a pair of Celestion 5 bookshelf speakers at a Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago. I was reading an issue of Hi Fi Heretic (now defunct), for which my friend Art Dudley wrote, and it included a survey of various inexpensive British integrated amplifiers, some of them made by Creek. I was already familiar with the company, but hadn't listened to affordable British electronics since I'd lived in London, in the early '80s. I got a Creek 4140s2 integrated and was amazed at its neutrality, its lack of etched sound, its natural reproduction of instrumental timbres. I ended up buying it, and used it to review bookshelf loudspeakers.
John Atkinson Posted: Jul 25, 2013 Published: Aug 01, 2013 18 comments
Apple's iPod came of age in the fall of 2003, when, with the release of iTunes 4.5, the player was no longer restricted to lossy compressed MP3 or AAC files. Instead, it could play uncompressed or losslessly compressed files with true "CD quality"; users no longer had to compromise sound quality to benefit from the iPod's convenience.

Enter Astell&Kern. At the beginning of 2013, this brand from iRiver, a Korean portable media company, introduced its AK100, a portable player costing a dollar short of $700 and capable of handling 24-bit files with sample rates of up to 192kHz.

Robert J. Reina Posted: Jul 02, 2013 27 comments
I often receive letters from Stereophile readers. I've even gotten a few letters from female readers, one an attractive young lover of tube gear who sent me a picture of herself and [sigh] her boyfriend. But most are from people who are either thanking me for a specific review that resulted in a purchase and a satisfied buyer, or are suggesting products they'd like me to review. I frequently take the advice of writers of this second category; in fact, two of the inexpensive speakers I'll review in the next year were recommended by readers.
Stephen Mejias Posted: Jul 02, 2013 1 comments
Late last year, when I first heard of the Music Hall Marimba, I was happily surprised: One of my favorite hi-fi manufacturers had finally introduced its first and (so far) only loudspeaker—and it was seriously affordable at $349/pair. I wanted to review the Marimbas right away, but grumpy old Sam Tellig beat me to them.
Art Dudley Posted: Jun 13, 2013 0 comments
No history of the computer-audio marketplace could be complete without some mention of High Resolution Technologies, the California company whose Music Streamer was, in 2009, the first perfectionist-quality USB digital-to-analog converter to sell for as little as $99. One could argue that HRT's entire business model has contributed to shaping our attitudes toward the hobby: Because digital-audio technology continues to evolve at such a rapid pace, HRT has introduced a succession of newer and ever more effective Music Streamers, occasionally to the obsolescence of their predecessors; yet because those products have all been so affordable—remarkably and laudably so, given their thoroughly American provenance—we tend not to mind.
Sam Tellig Alvin Gold Posted: May 14, 2013 Published: Jan 01, 1985 3 comments
The Boston Acoustics A40 loudspeaker ($150/pair) has become "legendary" (ie, it's stayed around for a while), probably because a pair of them images as well as Rogers LS3/5As. Unfortunately, it is no match for the LS3/5A in terms of smooth midrange response. Of course, at $150/pair, it shouldn't be.

I was originally going to do a review comparing the Spectrum 108A ($200/pair) and the Boston Acoustics A40. On first listen, I was mightily impressed by the A40. But after Stereophile's Larry Archibald schlepped me out a pair of the 108As, I didn't much want to listen to the A40s.

J. Gordon Holt Posted: May 14, 2013 Published: Nov 01, 1986 3 comments
One of the oldest names in US audio, Altec Lansing was building speakers for theaters and recording studios long before the introduction of the microgroove LP in 1948 (which date many see as marking the inception of high fidelity). Started in 1931 under the name All-Technical Services ~Corp., the firm later purchased another audio firm called Lansing Engineering, and merged the names. Altec's Model 604, one of the first true coaxial speakers, was adopted for home use by many early hi-fi buffs and, several permutations later, is still widely used for monitoring in disc-cutting rooms.
Sam Tellig Posted: Apr 25, 2013 Published: Jan 01, 2013 1 comments
With Peachtree Audio's new nova125 integrated amplifier, most decisions are made for you.

Need a DAC with three S/PDIF inputs (two coax, one optical)? An asynchronous USB DAC? A line stage? A tubed output buffer? A power amp that should be able to drive even difficult speaker loads? Remote control? You've got them all for $1499. Just add speakers. (I assume you have a laptop computer and several disc spinners.) You may want a separate phono stage, because there is none onboard.

Art Dudley Posted: Feb 28, 2013 Published: Mar 01, 2013 6 comments
Whether one was surprised, in 2010, by the success of Peachtree Audio's iDecco may have more to do with age than anything else. My peers and I wondered, at first, who would want their high-end integrated amps to come bundled not only with digital-to-analog converters but with iPod docks, of all things; at the same time, younger hobbyists wondered who in the world still wanted their integrated amps to contain phono preamplifiers. (Respect for the elderly, myself especially, prevents me from adding "and mono switches.") Color me chastened.
Stephen Mejias Posted: Jan 04, 2013 6 comments
There I was, sitting on the orange couch, with just a few hours to kill before my scheduled departure to Denver, Colorado—I'd been invited to the eighth annual Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, where surely I'd be moved to tears by some of the greatest, most advanced, most expensive hi-fi systems known to man—and I could not believe the awesome sound coming from my modest little stereo.
Robert J. Reina Posted: Jan 03, 2013 4 comments
I received a call from Aperion Audio, who wanted to know if was interested in reviewing their Verus Grand Bookshelf loudspeaker ($598/pair). I've had good experiences with speakers from this Oregon-based, Internet-only company. I reviewed their Intimus 6T (January 2009) and Intimus 533-T (April 2007), and felt both provided overall good sound and great value for the money. I was also impressed with the speakers' quality of construction and physical appearance. But those models were floorstanders—what excites me more is finding new bookshelf speakers at low prices. I was anxious to hear the Verus Grand.
Stephen Mejias Posted: Jan 03, 2013 9 comments
I was ready to have some fun with Dayton Audio's B652 loudspeakers—the ones with the outrageously high price of $39.80/pair.

Available from Parts Express (catalog #300-652), the Dayton B652 is a simple two-way, sealed-cabinet design with a 6.5" polypropylene mid/woofer and a ferrofluid-cooled, 5/8" polycarbonate tweeter. The cabinet is clad in black vinyl and has a removable grille of black cloth. The B652s sounded pretty much the same regardless of whether the grilles were in place, but I preferred their looks with the grilles off, so that's how I listened. Better looks often equal better sound—at least in my home.

Stephen Mejias Posted: Dec 06, 2012 8 comments
There are two things that don't have to mean anything; one is music and the other is laughter.—Immanuel Kant

We can dance until we die.—Katy Perry

I'd always figured I'd wind up with a girl who loved the Mets, hated cats, and had grown up on Sonic Youth and the Pixies—a female version of me, more or less. What could be better?

Was my vision misguided? Maybe. Narcissistic? Probably. A symptom of low self-esteem?

Hmm . . .

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