Budget Component Reviews

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Art Dudley Posted: May 19, 2011 3 comments
I tried to name a high-end audio product that's been recommended more often than the Rega Planar 3 turntable. I failed.

The closest I could come was Rega's own RB300 tonearm, surely the best-selling perfectionist tonearm of all time. After that came the Rega Planar 2 turntable, a sample of which I owned and loved in the early 1980s. Next on my list was the original Rega Elys, a moving-magnet cartridge that sounded as chunky and direct as it was cheap and magenta.

Robert J. Reina Posted: May 16, 2011 3 comments
The two-way, biwirable, rear-ported Dreamcatcher is designed and manufactured in Canada; its drive-units are designed by Totem, but made and assembled in Europe. The 1" titanium-dome tweeter, manufactured by German Acoustik, is mated to a 4" Scan-Speak woofer. Totem founder Vince Bruzzese feels very strongly about sourcing his drivers in the West. In the past, he got his small woofers from Peerless in Denmark, but switched to Scan-Speak when Peerless started manufacturing in China. Bruzzese also pointed out that the tweeter used in the Dreamcatcher costs him €16, more than 15 times as much as most similar Asian-made tweeters.
Stephen Mejias Posted: May 09, 2011 4 comments
Head-Direct's HiFiMan HM-602 is the second in a growing line of perfectionist-quality portable music players designed by Fang Bian, a 31-year-old audiophile and student of nanotechnology at the City University of New York's Hunter College. Bian's first HiFiMan design was the larger, heavier, more versatile HM-801 ($790; see my review here). In building the HM-602, Fang sacrificed the '801's removable amplifier module, 15V rechargeable battery, and coaxial input, thus creating a smaller, more portable product. Much sleeker and less substantial than the '801, the HM-602 measures approximately 4" L by 2.5" W by 1" D and weighs just 7oz—it can rest comfortably in the palm of a hand or a coat's inner pocket.

Overall, the HM-602 has a handsome, rather serious appearance: With its gold controls and its fine metallic finish, which at times seems a deep green and at others takes on a smoky charcoal, the HM-602, like its predecessor, exhibits an air of elegance and sophistication. And while the HM-801 proudly takes after Sony's famed Walkman—Fang Bian once owned every available model of the now-discontinued portable cassette player—the HM-602 much more closely resembles Apple's iPod Classic. On its front panel, below the 2" LCD screen, the HM-602 has a four-way control ring similar to the iPod's scroll wheel, and three sliding switches: Power, Hold (deactivates controls while music is playing), and DAP/USB.

John Atkinson Posted: Apr 25, 2011 3 comments
A computer is not optimized for the uninterrupted streaming of audio data. It has rapidly become established wisdom, therefore, that the optimal means of extracting audio data from a computer's USB port is to operate that port in what is called "asynchronous isochronous" mode. This lets the receiving device, such as a digital-to-analog converter (DAC), control the flow of data from the PC. In theory, asynchronous USB operation (not to be confused with the asynchronous sample-rate conversion used in some DACs) reduces jitter to unmeasurable levels, depending on the accuracy of the receiver's fixed-frequency oscillator, which is used to clock the data to the DAC. By contrast, in the alternative and almost ubiquitous USB operating mode, called "adaptive isochronous," while the sample rate of the output data, averaged over a longish period, will indeed be the specified 44.1 or 48kHz, there will be short-term fluctuations, or jitter, due to the oscillator having to change its frequency every millisecond to match the uncertain rate of data flow from the PC.
Robert J. Reina Posted: Mar 18, 2011 11 comments
After writing my very favorable review of Marantz's PM5003 integrated amplifier ($449.99) for the January 2010 issue, I began to fantasize about how it might be packaged with other components to create a dynamite entry-level system for about $1000 (excluding cables). A good place to start, I felt, was the companion model to the PM5003, Marantz's own CD5003 CD player. Since then, both have been replaced with new models, respectively the PM5004 and CD5004, so I sought out review samples of both. (To read how the PM5004 compares with the PM5003, see my "Follow-Up" on the Marantz PM5004 integrated amplifier.)
Robert J. Reina Posted: Feb 25, 2011 0 comments
The M5i, basically a two-way bookshelf version of the 21½-way M16i, has the same tweeter, woofer, and footprint as the larger model, less its larger cabinet and second mid/woofer, and incorporates all of the i-series updates included in the M16i. The speakers look very similar; like the M16i, the M5i is available in gorgeous cherry veneer or basic black. The price ($899/pair) is $249/pair higher than the original M5. I placed the M5is on Epos's dedicated stands.
Jon Iverson Posted: Feb 23, 2011 6 comments
Art Dudley and others have covered the first products released by HRT, and now the company has added to its product line a Pro version of its Music Streamer, which sports balanced circuit design from tip to tail.

Housed in the same simple, functional, six-sided case of extruded aluminum as HRT's other products, the Pro is painted a bright blue to distinguish it from the Music Streamer II (red) and Music Streamer II+ (gray). At 5.6" it is also a tad longer than the others, and includes a single B-type USB 1.1 jack centered on one end, and two small, fully balanced TiniQ output jacks on the other. More about these special mini sockets later.

Art Dudley Posted: Jan 24, 2011 0 comments
There's home cooking on one side of the hedge and fast food on the other, and the world moves farther from the former and nearer to the latter with each passing day. So it goes in domestic audio, where virtually every new milestone of the past quarter-century has pointed far more toward convenience than toward quality.

Depressed? Don't be. Those of us in the perfectionist community have a history of dealing with such things, howsoever slowly and inefficiently. (footnote 1). We're getting better at it, too, year by year. An example: Chord Electronics, of sunny southern England, has now brought to market their Chordette Gem D/A converter ($799) which they offer as an affordable means of getting perfectionist-quality sound from computer-music files.

Robert Harley Posted: Jan 02, 2011 Published: Oct 02, 1990 2 comments
Cyrus is the name given to the higher-priced line of loudspeakers made by England's Mission Electronics. The entire Mission loudspeaker line includes six products under the Mission label and three under Cyrus. Mission also manufactures a wide range of electronics and CD players. The company has a long history of audio innovations, both in loudspeaker and electronic design. Among Mission's claimed "firsts" are the first polypropylene-cone drive-unit used in a product (1978), first widespread use of MDF loudspeaker enclosures (1981), and first CD player from a specialist manufacturer. Interestingly, Mission also makes IBM-compatible personal computers.

The $900/pair Cyrus 782 is a two-way design employing dual 7" (175mm) polypropylene-cone woofers and a single ¾" (19mm) fabric-dome tweeter. The drivers are arranged in a D'Appolito configuration to simulate point-source radiation characteristics. Both woofer and tweeter were designed from scratch by Mission. The polypropylene woofer cones include a "mineral loading" that reportedly increases cone rigidity, thus decreasing cone breakup. Additional woofer design features include a shaped pole piece to increase linearity during high cone excursions, rigid steel chassis to reduce driver resonances, and a tight tolerance between the voice-coil and magnet to increase sensitivity.

Michael Fremer Posted: Dec 27, 2010 1 comments
Ron Sutherland has devised the Timeline, a device for testing the 33.33 and 45rpm speeds of turntables. It's housed in a disc of aluminum and Delrin that fits over the platter spindle. Turn it on, and an LED shoots a red dash of light at the wall (if there is one) behind your turntable. If the dash doesn't move, the speed is correct. If it drifts to left or right, you'll need to adjust the 'table's speed. Unless your wall has hash marks, there's a bit of subjectivity involved, and at $399 the Timeline isn't cheap, but Sutherland says he's not making much money at that price, and that it will take a lot of sales to recoup the R&D he's put into designing something as precise as he claims the Timeline is.—Michael Fremer
Robert J. Reina Posted: Dec 23, 2010 0 comments
I've always enjoyed the time I've spent with NHT loudspeakers. The two bookshelf models I've reviewed—the SB-3 (Stereophile, November 2002) and its successor, the Classic Three (November 2006)—shared NHT's "house sound": liquid, balanced, and dynamic, with little coloration, and a slightly forward and lively midrange. The newer Classic Three, still in production, sounded more refined, natural, and detailed than the SB-3. I like to see speaker designers whose work improves over time.

So when NHT approached me about reviewing a new floorstanding model with a small footprint, the Classic Absolute Tower—their first new speaker design of the next decade, they say—I jumped at the chance. Not only had I not reviewed an NHT in a while, but I'm increasingly intrigued with—and applaud—the trend of manufacturers to add small-footprint tower speakers to their lines of affordable speakers. As most speakers costing under $1000/pair tend to be bookshelf models, shoppers need to worry about buying good-quality stands of the appropriate height, and about optimizing the speaker positions with respect to the front and side walls.

John Atkinson Posted: Dec 23, 2010 4 comments
The weekly Vote! Page is one of the most popular features of the Stereophile website, and the August 22 question, "Should Stereophile review more or fewer computer-audio products?", generated a record number of responses. No less than 88% of those responding asked for more coverage of products that allow a computer to be a legitimate source of music in a high-end context. Just 7% of readers wanted less coverage.
Art Dudley Posted: Dec 13, 2010 4 comments
As with so many other things, from cell phones to soy milk, the idea of a portable MP3 player was something I at first disdained, only to later embrace with the fervor of any reformed sinner. But not so the idea of a high-fidelity iPod dock: Given that I now carry around several hundred high-resolution AIFF files on my own Apple iPod Touch, the usefulness of a compatible transport seemed obvious from the start. Look at it this way: In 1970, whenever I bought a music recording, I could enjoy it on any player, in any room in the house. In 2010, why shouldn't I enjoy at least that degree of convenience and flexibility—without resorting to a pair of tinny, uncomfortable earbuds?
John Atkinson Posted: Nov 07, 2010 Published: Aug 07, 1988 0 comments
The loudspeaker coming under the microscope this month emanates from north of the border. The Canadian loudspeaker industry has benefited enormously in the last few years from having the measurement, testing, and listening facilities of Canada's National Research Council in Ottawa made available to it on a commercial basis. Unlike the US or even the UK, where a new speaker designer has pretty much to rely on his own resources, having to invent his own test procedure as well as design the product, the Canadian equivalent can have his loudspeaker tested under standard conditions, quickly indicating whether he is on the right track or not. (He still, of course, has to rely on his own talent to get on the right track in the first place or to get back on it if it appears that something is amiss.)
Robert J. Reina Posted: Oct 18, 2010 1 comments
Even Mikey Fremer is surprised at vinyl's current popularity. Some pundits postulate that eventually CDs will die out, and we'll be faced with the choice of LPs or downloads. (I hope not. I'm just getting used to CDs.) With abundant sources of new pop releases and a wide range of reissues on vinyl, and a variety of used LPs, every audiophile should own a turntable. And with the availability of affordable turntables such as the Pro-Ject Debut III, which I reviewed in the February 2010 Stereophile, the cost of entry to VinylLand is not very dear. The problem is that so few entry-level integrated amplifiers and receivers available today include phono stages. (The Marantz PM5003, which I reviewed in the January 2010 issue, is a notable exception.)

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