Integrated Amp Reviews

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Ken Micallef Posted: Jun 23, 2016 4 comments
In 1999, I visited a friend, professor of Italian history Bill Adams, at his castle lair in the mountain village of Panzano, in Chianti, Italy. The 10th-century Castello di Panzano towers over the lush Tuscan hills, offering stupendous views. Each morning we'd walk down the mountain to the town below, where squat old men drank espresso and watched soccer at the all-in-one café/general store/post office. We toured the Roman ruins at Volterra and San Gimignano, gorged ourselves on pasta, and admired the fashionable young women.
Herb Reichert Posted: Apr 28, 2016 19 comments
This is a story about vulgar words and what is likely one of the most innovative and exciting, yet self-consciously idiosyncratic, audio components of the 21st century: Schiit Audio's Ragnarok integrated amplifier ($1699).

I never use vulgar words—at least not in public. I rarely use the word shit as an adjective, a verb, or a noun. Therefore, when I first heard of an audio company founded by legendary audio engineer Mike Moffat (formally of Theta) and award-winning science-fiction author and audio polymath Jason Stoddard—a company named Schiit—I could permit myself to pronounce its name only as Shite. I thought it made me sound British instead of rude.

Art Dudley Posted: Mar 24, 2016 8 comments
Described by manufacturer April Music as an "all-in-one music center," the Aura Note Version 2 ($2500) is a 125Wpc integrated amplifier with a built-in CD player, USB DAC, and FM tuner. The Aura Note is further enhanced by a Bluetooth receiver, a pair of line-level output jacks, and a headphone jack.

The hackneyed but not inappropriate comparison to a Swiss Army knife comes to mind—but where that well-loved tool does a great many things with less than perfection, I've now heard the Aura Note V2 do at least two different things well enough that no excuses need be made on its behalf.

Herb Reichert Posted: Mar 03, 2016 5 comments
August 26, 1944: The liberation of Paris. Imagine ranks of tattered Canadian soldiers marching past the Moulin Rouge à Paris. The voice of Édith Piaf singing "Ou sont-ils, mes petits copains?" (Where are my boyfriends?). Maurice Chevalier crooning "Ça sent si bon la France" (It smells so good in France). A Canadian army tank with the words Kaput and Finito painted in white above the word Montréal, motoring past the Eiffel Tower. Remember the fresh, celebratory taste of fine Champagne.
Art Dudley Posted: Dec 01, 2015 0 comments
I don't think Americans dislike the French a tenth as much as the corporate media, in their endless struggle to sell our pettiest ideas back to us in cartoon form, suggests we do. Our nations' histories are intertwined, to our great mutual benefit. Americans envy the French their centuries of cultural accomplishments, the French envy Americans their sense of industry and their wide-open spaces. (That one's a tie.) We turn to them for wine, they turn to us for blue jeans. (A point for France.) We watch their films about law-breaking hipsters, they watch our films about law-breaking gangsters. (A point for the US, in whose films things actually happen.)
Larry Greenhill Posted: Nov 25, 2015 2 comments
In July 2000, I reviewed the Mark Levinson company's first integrated amplifier, the No.383, and found that its sound had "clarity, transparency, liquid mids and highs, with dynamic contrasts." Also evident were the No.383's power-output limitations, the result of building large power supplies and heatsinks into a single case that had to fulfill multiple functions. Still, the No.383's price of $5900 was much less than the total cost of the equivalent in Mark Levinson separates. Later, in April 2007, I reviewed a similarly powered integrated amplifier, Bryston's B100-DA ($3195), which included a built-in DAC.
Herb Reichert Posted: Oct 30, 2015 6 comments
Like baking bread or watering my garden, playing records in my monk's cell is an expression of my devotion to living mindfully. It is part of my search for identity and comfort. It shows me how my thoughts, feelings, and poetic imagination fit in with yours, Keith Jarrett's, and everyone else's. The only problem: Often, the stereo components that most enhance my experiences of devotion and identity are not those that I can sincerely declare to be the most accurate or neutral.
Art Dudley Posted: Oct 29, 2015 6 comments
Please don't tell her I said this, but lately, my wife has been getting twitchy about my records. Twitchy as in: She wants me to sell them. Or at least some of them.

I have only myself to blame. For years, I have shared with her my every joy that came of finding, at a lawn sale or garage sale or on eBay or at a record store whose proprietors "had no idea what this thing is worth," some rare and valuable treasure. And therein lay another facet of my problem: As often as I would rejoice at the music I was poised to enjoy, or the sheer pleasure of acquiring something rare and well made, I would roll, pig-like, in the pleasure of the thing's potential monetary value. Old Testament–style dark clouds fill the sky outside my window even as I type this.

Michael Fremer Posted: Oct 22, 2015 3 comments
Nuvistors—miniature, small-signal, vacuum tubes made of metal and ceramic—were introduced by RCA in 1959, at the dawn of the transistor revolution. RCA used them throughout the 1960s in its New Vista line of television sets, mostly in the tuner section. But by the early 1970s, solid-state devices had all but replaced tubes, nuvistors included (with a few notable exceptions). Ampex based the electronics of its well-regarded, late-'60s MR-70 open-reel tape deck on nuvistors, which were also used in microphone preamplifiers—in both cases for their very low noise and reputation for reliability and long life. For a time, Conrad-Johnson used them as well. While nuvistors may seem exotic today, they're hardly rare. On eBay you can find for sale hundreds if not thousands of used and new-old stock (NOS) nuvistors, as well as nuvistor sockets, without which the tubes are less easy to implement. (But they can be, and often are, hard-wired into a circuit.)
Herb Reichert Posted: Sep 25, 2015 15 comments
When I began writing for Stereophile, I heard people whispering:

"Herb is one of those triode-horn guys."

Wrong. Most of my life, I've favored solid-state integrated amplifiers driving small, British-made speakers.

"I'm sure he hates digital."

Herb Reichert Posted: Sep 04, 2015 13 comments
My girlfriend, "bb," a 6'-tall Aries artist, always says, "Math, science, religion, and even history, are all simply stories we tell ourselves about our experiences with a phenomenon we call energy."

My father, Herb Senior—the Deacon—always said, "The fundamental nature of the universe is vibratory—everything we experience is just waves!" He explained that waves—possessing power, amplitude, and frequency—are the basic building blocks of our reality. The universe actually "works" and is "comprehensible" because these waves are not random, but organized into exponential intervals called octaves. Our job, he told me, was to recognize and study this mathematical (and mystical) nature in action.

It's a shame that bb and the Deacon never met.

J. Gordon Holt Posted: Aug 11, 2015 Published: Dec 01, 1977 7 comments
This receiver includes a rather respectable little tuner, almost comparable to the Dyna FM-5 in performance, a 15Wpc power amplifier of passable quality, and a preamplifier section that in some ways gives some of the costliest preamps a run for their money.

If you don't live in a difficult receiving area or are trying to receive long-distance FM, the tuner should satisfy any perfectionist. It is far superior to the FM transmission quality in most US cities anyway. The power amplifier is better than any we have previously found driving the dinky little speakers in most compact systems, but it has neither the power nor the other attributes to replace any of the amplifiers currently in favor with perfectionists.

Herb Reichert Posted: Jul 02, 2015 7 comments
As an audio scribe, the fiercest demons I wrestle are beliefs—yours and mine; those of my friends, my editors, my fellow reviewers; and those of the engineers and promoters of the products I write about. Sometimes the force of these rabidly held and (mostly) conflicting beliefs paralyzes me with self-doubt: What do I know? What makes me qualified to listen and judge?
Herb Reichert Posted: Jun 05, 2015 8 comments
For decades, I read all the British and American audio magazines, and I pretty much believed everything written therein—with one exception. The equipment reviews published in Stereo Review had an off-puttingly disingenuous quality. I learned a lot from the magazine's reviews of recordings and loudspeakers, but every time senior editor Julian Hirsch wrote that any amp with sufficiently high power, low measured distortion, and high damping factor would sound the same as any other with similar qualifications, I felt estranged from my favorite hobby. Stereo Review's arrogance came off as duplicitous and self-serving. The magazine seemed committed to stamping out all forms of individualized audio connoisseurship.
Herb Reichert Posted: Apr 23, 2015 7 comments
I find small humans more beguiling than big people. My favorites are the two-footers—those little two-year-old boys with a kind of wobbly, bent-kneed stride that dips like a blues song every fourth step as they stagger ahead of their watchful parents. I like three-footers too—sprightly three-year-old girls who dress better than their moms and never need a lifestyle consultation. Whenever we see one of these cheerful, bouncing young'uns coming toward us on the sidewalk, I smile and my dog's tail wags. Their bright faces and excited voices make me think, You go, little sprouts! These miniature humans' special beauty is that they still possess their full force de vie.

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