2012 Recommended Components Miscellaneous

Complete Audio Systems

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AUX Classic: $999–$1599, depending on finish
This handsome, Italian-made satellite-subwoofer computer speaker system features four 100W digital amplifiers in its sub: two for the single-driver bass-reflex satellites and two for the sub itself. The sub (14" by 8" by 11 ") can be placed under a desk, and the satellites (each 8" by 4") on the desk, or the three pieces can be fitted together and carried in the optional “boombox supreme” leather bag. The subwoofer sounded very clean and went quite low, while the tweeterless satellites managed to sparkle sufficiently well above 15kHz. “A lovely-sounding, near-full-range desktop system,” said MF, “but don’t push it, or it gets nasty and compressed.” Available from www.auxout.com. (Vol.33 No.8)

Deletions

Meridian F80, Sharp DK-AP8P iPod/iPhone dock both discontinued.

Accessories

Acoustic Revive RR-77: $595
The RR-77 is a “pulse generator”—“Yeah, right!” says the ever-skeptical JA— intended to restore and reinforce the natural Schumann Resonance that exists between Earth and its ionosphere. Its single circuit board contains two zener diodes, seven capacitors, twelve resistors, one variable resistor, and an eight-legged integrated circuit. In addition, the inner surfaces of its plastic case are painted with various designs. When AD switched on the RR-77, the music in his room consistently seemed bigger, but he couldn’t decide whether the unit was affecting the sound in his room or his perception of that sound. (Vol.34 No.11 Read Review Online)

Audio Research Tube Damping Rings: $3.90 each ✩
Damping rings for all AR products are now available to the public at large. They’re made of a proprietary polymer material that converts kinetic energy to heat, and their improvements are not subtle, exclaims BJR: tighter, cleaner, deeper, more dynamic bass; more coherent transient attacks; crisper, more extended highs; plus “improvements in the reproduction of subtle gradations of low-level dynamics.” Give ‘em a whirl—the cost is minimal. (Vol.23 No.2, Vol.26 No.8)

Audioengine W1: $99
Audioengine’s AW1 comprises two tiny modules, a transmitter and a receiver, each about half the size of a credit card and 1⁄4" thick, with a pigtail USB connector. Audio input to the transmitter and audio output from the receiver are via stereo mini-jacks. The AW1 modules reliably linked up with each other and were free from signal interruptions, audible network problems, and extraneous noise. Connected between the L/R inputs of Kal’s Bryston 9B-SST power amp and the L/R outputs of his Anthem Statement D2 processor, the AW1 lacked high-frequency sparkle and midrange detail while sounding “surprisingly okay.” The AW1’s sonic compromises were much less noticeable when it was used for the surround and/or bass channels. (Vol.31 No.9 Read Review Online)

AudioPrism Noise Sniffer RFI/EMI detector: $250 ✩
An “electronic detective in the campaign to eliminate noise,” said Chief Barry Willis. “Simply plug it in and turn up the volume—its small built-in loudspeaker will reveal where your problem outlets are.” Then you can turn to AudioPrism’s QuietLine Parallel AC line filter for a cure. “A must-own product, period,” says BD. “10-4,” adds J-10. (Vol.21 No.12)

AudioQuest binding-post wrench: $10.00 ✩
A great idea improved—similar to the original Postman, but with a metal sleeve reinforcing the sockets. (Vol.20 No.9)

Ayre Acoustics Irrational But Efficacious System Enhancement CD: $19.99
Ayre’s test CD includes five tracks of various white, pink, and brown noise, as well as two glide tones that sweep from 5Hz to 20kHz. The disc produced a less electronic sound in JM’s system, while lowering the noise floor and improving microdynamics. “I am flabbergasted,” said he. “Highly recommended.”AD adds that this CD should be used “with caution, and with the understanding that, as with trying to measure a transformer with a DVM and unintentionally magnetizing the core, negative results may ensue and may take a few days to fade away.” ST points out that “weird shit goes on in hi-fi. Don’t dismiss it until you try it. I use this thing, too. Just don’t play too loud.” (Vol.33 No.12, Vol.34 No.2 Read Review Online)

CAIG DeoxIT GOLD Wipes: $19.95/25ct; $37.95/50ct
For cleaning electrical connections, available from www.markertek.com. JM: “A small but powerful stocking-stuffer.... You’ll feel like a pro!” (Vol.25 No.12 Read Review Online)

ETI Bullet Plugs: $79 in copper (set of 4), $165 in silver (set of 4) ✩
Originally called the Eichmann Bullet, this RCA connector uses a clever design in which the hot signal is conducted by a hollow rather than a solid pin, and where a smaller, solid pin at the connector’s periphery takes the place of an unnecessarily massive ground sleeve. AD heard “a more open and explicit sound” with a “deeper, more open, and more inviting” soundfield. Silver Bullet Plugs made the difference “clearer, more explicit, and even smoother.” (Vol.27 No.12 Read Review Online)

Quantum Resonant Technology Qx4: $2699.99
Roughly the size of a cigar box, this surprisingly heavy aluminum block has a pair of AC outlets and an on/off switch. Quantum RT describes the Qx4 as a “scalar field generator” that’s supposed to emit an energy wave, the beat of which is calculated to react in specific ways with stray electromagnetic radiation. So they say. Though AD was dismayed by the technological explanation for the Qx4’s effects, he could not deny the positive influence it had on his system. With a Qx4 placed atop each of his Audio Note AN-E speakers, Art’s system sounded richer, more dramatic, and more involving. A Qx4 placed between preamp and power strip, however, had no consistently discernible effect. (Vol.32 No.12, Vol.33 No.1 Read Review Online)

Sound Alignment Systems by American Recorder Technologies, SAS-1335, P-770 Pro laser alignment tool: $300 ✩
“The ideal device for positioning speakers,” RD said energetically, agreeing with LB that it should be “in the tool chest of every audiophile who wants to get the best sound from loudspeakers.” It’s easy to use—just turn it on, hold it against the speaker’s front panel, then adjust the speaker’s position until the “appropriate toe-in and vertical orientation are obtained”—and is much more effective than “eyeballing the speaker from the listening position.” (Vol.21 Nos.1 & 11, Vol.24 No.8 Read Review Online)

Stabilant 22 contact enhancer: $55/Service Kit, includes 5ml concentrate, 15ml mixing bottle, applicator, microbrush
Used to increase the reliability of contacts, available from www.posthorn.com. JM: “An initially nonconductive complex block polymer liquid that, under the influence of electricity, becomes conductive. Furthermore, it does not cross-link to form sludge. Pretty nifty!” (Vol.25 No.12 Read Review Online)

Stein Music Magic Discs: $50/each; Magic Diamond: $185/each
Stein Music Harmonizers: $3999/4-Harmonizer pack; $2099/2-Harmonizer Package
Designed by Holger Stein, the Harmonizers, Magic Stones, and Magic Diamonds are meant to work together to minimize the sonic effects of room boundaries. Each Harmonizer is housed in a small (4.75" W by 3.5" H by 4.75" D), gloss-finished box, sits atop a 40"-tall stand (optional), and is powered by four AA batteries or a wall-wart AC power supply. Each triangular, 0.4"-thick Magic Stone is designed to be placed near the corners of a listening room and in line with the listening position, while a Magic Diamond goes atop each loudspeaker, front and center. In ST’s listening room, the Stein Music devices made room boundaries “disappear,” illuminating recording venues and giving the music more room to breathe. For optimal performance, keep the windows closed, advised ST. (Vol.34 No.9)

WBT nextgen Signature WBT-0110Ag phono plugs: $102 each; $408/4 ✩
“A breeze to install,” these phono plugs feature reduced conductor mass in an effort to create a true 75-ohm RCA connector, and have a two-part polymer structure that, when snapped together, holds the machined central plug and partial outer sleeve tightly in place. “The Nextgen Signatures had a nice effect on my system’s high-frequency performance in particular,” said AD. (Vol.29 No.3)

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PWB Electret Cream.

Stands, Spikes, Feet, & Racks

Good Speaker Stands: There are too many possibilities, but, briefly, a good stand has the following characteristics: good rigidity; spikes on which to rest the speaker, or some secure clamping mechanism; the availability of spikes at the base for use on wooden floors; if the stand is steel, provision to keep speaker cables away from the stand to avoid magnetic interaction; and the correct height when combined with your particular speakers (correct height can be anything from what you like best to the manufacturer’s design height for best drive-unit integration). Though Stereophile hasn’t reviewed speaker stands, it’s not because we think they’re unimportant—for speakers that need stands, every dollar spent on good stands is worth $5 when it comes to sound quality. Brands we have found to offer excellent performance are Arcici Rigid Riser, Merrill (see Vol.18 No.1, p.39), Sound Anchor, Sanus Systems Steel and Reference, and Linn. (Sound Anchor also makes an excellent turntable stand, reports TJN.) Interface material between the speaker and the stand top plate is critical: Inexpensive Blu-Tack seems to reduce the amplitude of cabinet resonances the most (see Vol.15 No.9, p.162 Read Review Online)

Art Vinyl Play & Display Flip Frame: $53
The attractive, sturdy Flip Frame is made of heavy-gauge plastic with a black or white matte finish and a clear Plexiglas window. The frame is hinged along one edge so that LPs can be quickly and easily inserted and removed without removing the frame from the wall. “The Play & Display Flip Frame makes a nice addition to any man cave,” said MF. Pack of three Flip Frames: $139. (Vol.34 No.12)

Audio Elegance Furniture ✩
Audio Elegance’s “aesthetically simple, sturdy designs” are available in three lines; in the upper two, Dakota and James River, only select hardwoods, softwoods, and multidirectional plywoods are used. Biscuit joinery is featured throughout, and finishes include catalyzed lacquers and hand-rubbed oils. Prices start at $261 for a Frontier Series amp stand and rise to $3960 for a Dakota Collection LP storage unit. Custom items are also available. (Vol.32 No.2 Read Review Online)

Audio Points by Star Sound Technologies: $67.49–$149.49/set of 3
Highly polished point of solid milled brass, claimed to have been developed along the theories of Coulomb Friction, transfer resonant energy through the virtual point away from the component. 28 sizes and thread combinations available. (NR)

AudioQuest SorboGel Q-Feet: $135/4
Each cute, Q-shaped SorboGel Q Foot measures approximately 3" in diameter and stands about 1" tall in its PVC holding tray. Like Bright Star Audio’s IsoNodes, Q-Feet are black, slightly squishy, and somewhat sticky, and are designed to absorb resonances and isolate components from external vibrations. Each Q Foot is rated to support 6.5 lbs. Because of their larger size and slick, rounded trays, the Q-Feet were far easier than the IsoNodes to properly place under the Music Hall USB-1 turntable. Atop the Q-Feet, the turntable seemed more stable and less susceptible to shifts, found SM. (Vol.34 No.9 Read Review Online)

Aurios Classic MIB component supports: $199/3 ✩
RD highly recommends these footers. Of the latest 1.2 version, he writes, “Do everything the originals did, but leveling is much less critical.” (Vol.24 No.5)

Ayre Myrtle Blocks: $5 each ✩
Designed and made by Cardas Audio, each Myrtle Block measures 0.618" by 1" by 1.618", in accordance with the golden-section ratio. Myrtle Blocks are meant to be placed beneath the actual structure of a component in groups of three. AD heard “subtle but unambiguously nice things” when he placed them under most components. Beneath speakers, however, “they robbed the music of so much of its emotional wallop that it was downright creepy.” “In a properly run universe, these wouldn’t work at all,” sez WP. “In this one—and assuming every other sonic hiccough is attended to—they do help,” though he refuses to speculate why. (Vol.29 Nos.1 & 3 Read Review Online)

Black Diamond Racing Pyramid Cones: $20 each ✩
“Expensive, but very effective,” according to J-10. WP and JA, who generally use these whenever they need to support electronic components, agree. (Vol.21 No.6)

Boltz CD 600 storage rack: $279; expansion kits, $199 Boltz LP shelves: $609 for a three-shelf unit; each additional shelf: $169 ✩
Surfing the Net (www.boltz-usa.com), MF found these do-it-yourself racks: each is 48" high, 24" wide, just 6" deep, and holds 600 CDs! You can double or triple the capacity with the expansion kits, and the racks are now available pre-assembled. Now available as equipment racks, TV stands, and LP shelves. MF bought the LP rack, which consists of a heavy base and three shelves; additional shelves (3' wide by 10" deep) run $169 each, and you can stack ‘em to the ceiling! “Really well-made and incredibly sturdy,” reported The Analog One. Free shipping. (Vol.22 No.11, Vol.24 No.1)

Box Furniture Co. Equipment Rack S3S: $2300
Box Furniture Co. racks have premium hardwood frames and plywood shelves. All joints are mortise-and-tenon, and catalyzed finishes are applied to all surfaces. Art used a single-width, three-shelf rack finished in Quartered Sapele ($2300). Beautiful and sturdy, he said, and equipment stacked atop it sounded good. (Vol.32 No.2 Read Review Online)

Bright Star Air Mass 3: $218 ✩
Ingenious, inexpensive, and effective air-bladder product that damps out floor and air-borne vibrations, MF said. WP agrees. Originally called Air Mass 1. (Vol.20 No.2)

Bright Star Audio IsoNode feet, Large feet: $24.99/set of 4; Small feet: $14.99/set of 4
These small (1.25" W by 0.75" H by 1.25" D), squishy, somewhat sticky half-spheres of polymer are designed to be placed between a component and its shelf, where they absorb harmful vibrations. The IsoNodes effectively isolated the Music Hall USB-1 turntable from footfalls, and while they were easy to knock out of place when used beneath that turntable’s pivoted feet, the IsoNodes were stable when used with other components, found SM. (Vol.34 No.6 Read Review Online)

Bright Star Audio Rack of Gibraltar 1 equipment stand: $2150 ✩
Bright Star Audio Big Rock 1.1: $299 ✩
Bright Star Audio Little Rock 1 Isolation Pod: $179 ✩
Bright Star Mini-Rock F VPI isolation base: $199 ✩
Bright Star IsoRock 6.3S: $388
A very effective isolation system for control of unwanted vibrational energy. Individual components float on a sand bed for energy dissipation, and are weighted down with the Little Rock to minimize spurious vibrations. The payoff is enhanced resolution of the music’s nuances, says DO. RN adds that this system consistently tightens the bass, increases sonic transparency, and smooths treble hash and grain. The Bright Star TNT Big Rock is a $275 sand table specially sized to support the TNT. MF, BD, and BJR all use one under their VPIs, as they provide a stable surface and offer such sonic benefits as a lower noise floor and increased bass. The Mini-Rock F is specially sized for use under the TNT’s flywheel. KR placed each of his Bel Canto e.One amplifiers atop an IsoRock and encased it within a Little Rock for a belt-and-suspenders setup that had the amps almost glued to the floor, creating as optimal an environment as possible. “If you are concerned about RF and other nasties thrown off by digital amps,” he notes, “these little guys will let you rest easy.” (Vol.16 No.5; Vol.18 No.11, Mini-Rock F; Vol.20 No.4, TNT Big Rock; Vol.29 No.11 Read Review Online IsoRock, Little Rock.)

Bright Star Rack of Gibraltar 2 equipment stand: $2650 ✩
Rigid, super-stable platform for audio equipment, and the “carrier” for the Ultimate Isolation System: air-base (Air Mass) and sand-filled damping platform (Big Rock) makes a “sandwich” of sorts. The Gibraltar 2, with its two-wide, three-high, widely spaced, large shelves, isn’t quite ready for MoMA and boasts no neon lights, but “in its simplicity and quality it’s attractive, even elegant,” said BD. He recalled Louis Henri Sullivan, who immortalized the phrase “form ever follows function.” Suitable for turntables, superbly built, and the best BD has ever used. (Vol.23 No.5 Read Review Online)

Bright Star Ultimate TNT Isolation System: $2397 ✩
Simple, affordable, effective isolation system for the VPI TNT that combines a static pneumatic isolation mount with mass loading. WP noted that “high frequencies seemed clearer, less smeared—harmonics leapt off strings and floated independent of the fundamental...Bass sounded more deep and taut, especially sustained notes or anything in the bottom two octaves of the piano.” BD agrees, finding that the Isolation System lowers the TNT’s (already low) background noise, resulting in subtle but noticeable improvements in image dimensionality, ambience, and inner detail. (Vol.20 No.7)

Finite-Elemente Pagode HD03 equipment rack: $8300 ✩
This stylish, well-built, four-shelf audio equipment rack with integral vibration damping uses high-strength aluminum uprights, shelves and supports of Canadian maple, and stainless-steel hardware. Placing components atop the HD03 resulted in “slightly but consistently improved” focus, resolution, and dynamic precision. Installing a set of Finite-Elemente’s Cera feet beneath a component, however, resulted in “huge, jaw-dropping” improvements in the same areas of sonic performance. Adding a set of Cerabases ($795/4) to the HD03 increased overall performance throughout. Cera component feet: Ceraball, $135/4; Cerapuc, $450/4. (Vol.29 No.2 Read Review Online)

Gingko Audio Cloud 11 isolation stand: $449 ✩
The Cloud 11 uses up to ten rubber-like balls strategically placed between two slabs of acrylic. Mikey’s sample was configured for use with the VPI Scoutmaster turntable. MF: “Putting the Cloud under the Scoutmaster resulted in a dramatic lowering of the noise floor and an improvement in the ‘blackness’ of the background. Images stood out in clarified relief, bass tightened, transients sounded sharper and more natural. The differences were not at all subtle.” (Vol.27 No.11)

Golden Sound DH Cones, Squares, and Pads ✩
With the Cones alone, J-10 “noted a lift in overall transparency, with a slightly tighter focus.” Using the Squares alone, “the sound was softer than the Cone/Square combo...but nevertheless got high marks for a sweet and pleasant presentation.” And in combination? “The highs and upper midrange were beautiful and open, the midrange had just the right amount of juice, the lower midrange wasn’t boomy at all, and the bass extension was excellent.” ST is also a fan, particularly of the Pads, which “wrought quite an improvement in sound under my Cary SE300Bs.” Super Cones, $120/set of 3; Jumbo Cones, $90/set of 3; Large, $60/set of 3; Medium, $50/set of 3; Small, $30/set of 3. Squares, $36/set of 3, $48 set of 4; Super Pads, $270 (19" by 17" by 1⁄2" thick); Golden Sound Pads, $170 (121⁄2" by 171⁄2 " by 1⁄2" thick); Acoustic Discs, $140/set of 12. (Vol.20 Nos.11 & 12, Vol.24 No.5)

Grand Prix Audio Monaco equipment stands: $1850–$7999 ✩
Despite their stylish, lightweight design, a four-shelf Monaco stand can carry up to 150 lbs per shelf, for a maximum total load of 500 lbs. PB: “More than anything else, the Monaco brought a sense of focus and a difficult-to-explain sense of calm” to the sound of everything he placed on them. Loading the hollow stainless-steel columns with lead shot produced another increment of improvement: “Backgrounds became quieter, low-level detail retrieval improved markedly, and dynamic contrasts took on greater subtlety and sharper contrasts.” Using separate isolation footers under components only “muddled things,” providing evidence of the “fundamental soundness of the GPA approach to vibration control.” The amp stand is expensive but “works as promised and looks cool too,” decided MF. A 3-shelf system costs $4612; 4-shelf system, $6150; 5-shelf system, $7999; base module, $2950; short or tall module, $1850; amplifier stand, $1850; Formula Shelf Carbon-fiber/Kevlar composite shelf, $1995–$2250. (Vol.24 No.7, amp stand; Vol.25 No.12 Read Review Online)

Harmonic Resolution Systems SXR component rack: $12,575 as reviewed ✩
The SXR frame system comprises solid, heavy aluminum struts and rigid shelves of cross-braced aluminum. Each joint is damped with a thick donut of polymer. Circular holes in each of the cross-brace’s four corners accept the base’s feet, which support its weight with an elastomer suspension that isolates in both the vertical and horizontal planes; each foot of a component whose weight is unevenly distributed can have a base with an elastomer of different compliance. “Adding the HRS SXR improved my system’s focus and low-level resolution, and lowered its level of background noise,” said MF. (Vol.32 No.2)

SQ Products (Sound Quest) Isol-Pads: $25/4 ✩
Each 2"-square-by-7⁄8"-thick pad consists of two slabs of ribbed rubber sandwiching a layer of isolation cork, and is said to support 75 lbs. ST is in the process of putting them under everything. “I’m no tweaker, but they did clean up the sound wherever I used them.” (Vol.28 No.12)

Symposium Energy Absorption Platform: $659 ✩
Symposium Ultra Isolation Platform: $659 ✩
The top and bottom of the Ultra platform are aluminum, while the middle is made up of several unequal-thickness layers of vibration-damping material designed primarily to drain vibrational energy away from your component, rather than to provide isolation from external vibrations or footfalls. It succeeded at lowering noise and enhancing resolution, while bringing “an entirely subjective sense of ease” to listening, said JM. The less-expensive platform jazzed MF with the “top-to-bottom authority, focus, and slam” that his system gained when the platform was installed under his turntable. Prices are for 19" by 14" size; 19" by 21" costs slightly more. (Vol.20 No.5. Vol.26 No.3 Read Review Online)

Symposium Rollerblock Series 2+: $399/set of 3, $499/set of 4 ✩
For improved resolution from your CD player (or any other digital equipment), ST recommended these precision-machined items, which consist of a block with a ball bearing set in a hemispherical depression. Once they’re in place, he said, the sound “just tightens up, cleans up, clears up. I hear more low-level information. Imaging improves. Timing, too...Transients are crisper. I hear improvement in just about every respect.” The only drawback (outside of cost) is that the player might “roll around a little” when you load a disc or hit Play. SD concurs with ST’s enthusiasm; MF became a believer in the “high-roller” phenomenon when he put his Virgos on the similar Yamamura speaker bearings. (Vol.22 No.4)

Vibrapods: $25/4 pack ✩
KR: “Placed under CD players/transports, DACs and preamps, the small (1"x3" diameter), formed Vibrapods isolate and enhance performance. Five different models rated for loads of 2–28 lbs; match the quantity to the component. I keep a box of them around so that no component goes without.” A KR favorite. (NR)

Walker Valid Points: $395/set of 3 large cones and 5 discs; other sizes available ✩
Heavy brass-alloy-and-lead cones, with points that rest atop large, brass-ringed, lead-filled “tuning discs.” “Definitely worth checking out,” said MF, “and Walker will refund your money if you’re not satisfied. (You must return the set within 30 days in the original condition.)” MF adds that “not only do I like them a lot, they’re well worth the price—as I clearly found when I put a set under the Ayre K-1 and added a few of the discs on top.” Combined height may be too tall for some racks. Super Tuning Kit ($525) includes three large cones, five discs, and four 1" discs. (Vol.20 No.5, Vol.21 No.11)

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Bright Star IsoNodes, Composite Products CF-1000-5 equipment stand, Composite Products amp stands, Shunyata Dark Energy cable lifters.

Room Acoustics Treatments

Acoustic Geometry Curve System
Acoustic Geometry’s Curve System comprises Diffusors, Absorbers, and Corner Traps, each 42" high and available in a number of fabric choices. Each model is built on a wooden frame with a wedge-shaped cleat for hanging the product from a matching piece attached to the wall. Diffusors include a Mass-Loaded-Vinyl (MLV) membrane and are intended to control low- and midbass frequencies; Absorbers are essentially the same design as the Diffusors, but have an acoustically transparent front and don’t include the MLV membrane; Corner Traps are triangular wooden frames filled with recycled cotton. In EL’s listening room, the Curve System created a wider soundstage and greater clarity. Diffusors: $274.95–$399.95, depending on width. Absorbers: $245.99–$349.95, depending on width. Corner Traps: $574.90. Prices based on Guilford fr701, Anchorage and Acoustic Suede. All other sizes and fabric options quoted on individual basis. (Vol.35 No.2 Read Review Online)

ASC Studio Trap: $405 ✩
Adjustable tripod-mounted room-tuning device that represents the “latest in TrapThink from ASC,” according to J-10, who uses an array of Studio Traps to great effect in his Manhattan loft. The front half is treble-reflective for a brighter sound, while the back side is treble-absorptive for a drier acoustic. He highly recommended the Traps for “anyone whose family will allow them to populate the listening room with gobos.” (Gobos are “sound-absorbing panels used to surround performers in recording studios.”) Stereophile’s “Accessory of 1999.” (Vol.21 No.12 Read Review Online)

ASC SubTrap: $469–$586 ✩
This “big, chunky black box” sits under a subwoofer to attack acoustic problems caused by the interactions of a subwoofer’s output and the room’s modes. Improvements in room acoustics were immediate, thought KR, even with the subwoofer disconnected: “There was less apparent energy from clapping, loud conversation, or just stomping around.” With the system turned on, there was “less apparent bass energy from all widerange signals.” With a Paradigm Servo-15 sub sitting atop a SubTrap, bass was deeper and more detailed: “Ah, yes—glorious bass without the boom!” Available in three sizes: 15", 18", and the 22" square model reviewed. (Vol.27 No.9 Read Review Online)

ASC TowerTrap: $274–$1096 ✩
Originally called the Cube Tower, the Tower Trap is a “smaller, more cosmetically acceptable, more affordable version of the classic Tube Trap,” writes BJR. “Very effective at taming mid- and upper-bass room anomalies. Looks like an attractive Vandersteen speaker sitting there in the corner.” (NR)

ASC TubeTraps: $380–$1046 ✩
Relatively inexpensive but remarkably effective room-acoustics treatment. Tube Traps soak up low-to-high bass standing-wave resonances like sponges. WP agrees, using Traps to optimize the acoustics of his room for MartinLogan SL3 electrostatics, while BD used ‘em to optimize his room while auditioning the Thiel CS7.2s. Using the Music Articulation Test Tone (MATT) from Stereophile’s Test CD 2 (STPH004-2), he first positioned them for smoothest overall response and articulation, then “dialed-in depth, dimensionality, and ambience.” A chart recorder graphically showed the changes. In the end, “The sound was fantastic,” quoth BD, who recommends them unconditionally. (Vol.9 No.3, Vol.15 No.2, Vol.16 No.12, Vol.19 No.1, Vol.20 No.5, Vol.23 No.2 Read Review Online)

Auralex SubDude: $59.99 ✩
An MDF platform 23" long by 15" wide, covered with a carpet of thick felt and supported by two risers of high-density isolation pad, the SubDude has a rated load capacity of 300 lbs. KR found that the SubDude significantly isolated his Paradigm Servo-15 subwoofer from the live wooden floor, and made the sound “tighter and fuller, but, conversely, less obtrusive.” When used under full-range speakers, the SubDudes offered similar bass results while affecting high-frequency performance. (Vol.27 No.12 Read Review Online)

Bag End E-Trap: $1598 ✩
Uses active electronics to control an acoustic device that acts directly on room acoustics rather than imposing anything on the electronic signal path. With its 10" driver, controls, and power amplifier in a box measuring 18" H by 13" W by 9.5" D, the E-Trap looks like a small subwoofer without input terminals. “While the appearance of the E-Trap is generally not noted, its effect on room acoustics is substantial,” praised KR. It canceled out the superimposition of room modes, providing tight, clean bass while reducing the effects of ambient noise. (Vol.31 No.7 Read Review Online)

Cathedral Sound Acoustic Panels: $179.95/pair
These relatively unobtrusive damping panels from Nucore measure 11" by 16" by 2", weigh only 4 lbs, and are designed to be installed in the corners of your listening room, 6–8" from the ceiling or floor. They are covered in a black or white fabric that can be painted to match the room décor. With the panels installed as directed, RD noted a definite improvement in bass clarity. (Vol.32 No.7 Read Review Online)

Ready Acoustics Chameleon Super Sub Bass Traps: $249.99
The Chameleon Super Sub Bass Trap measures 48" high by 24" wide by 6" thick, and is available in eight fabric covers and four frame colors, allowing it to be employed without dominating the view. Assembly and installation were simple. The Chameleons were “audibly and measurably more effective” than KR’s Echo Busters corner traps, and produced “undeniable” improvements in the midbass and bass. (Vol.32 No.9 Read Review Online)

RealTraps MiniTraps: $199.99
RealTraps RFZ Panels: $249.99
The MiniTrap, essentially a small MondoTrap measuring 48" W by 24" H by 3.25" D, offers bass absorption down to about 80Hz. In Wes’s small listening room, two MiniTraps worked to even out the mid-to-low-HF response, providing more air and creating a coherent and near-holographic center image. RealTraps’ Reflection Free Zone Panels (42" H by 32" W by 2.25" D) should be mounted on a sidewall, at or near the first reflection point, and are said to employ broadband absorption to reduce the effects of comb filtering. The RFZ panels allowed Wes to move his speakers closer to the walls of his listening room, without deleterious audible effects. Overall, the RealTraps added top-to-bottom coherence and bottom-end linearity. (Vol.33 No.2 Read Review Online)

RealTraps MondoTrap: $300
Corner MondoTrap: $350 ✩
The MondoTrap is a large (57" H by 24" W by 4.25" D) acoustic absorber built from “double-density” rigid fiberglass and covered in a sound-transparent fabric. In addition to imparting to bass instruments a “fuller, clearer, more palpable” sound, the MondoTraps seemed to reduce a “glaze,” allowing Jim Austin to hear deeper into the music. “Far from deadening the room,” he said, “the MondoTraps made the music more involving.” “I really liked what the Mondo Traps did in my room,” adds KR, “although I have to agree with Jim (and my wife) that their appearance better suits a studio or dedicated audio room than a regular person’s lifestyle.” Adding four MondoTraps to WP’s small listening room resulted in punchier, more coherent bass. Corner MondoTrap, designed to fit unobtrusively into a corner of a room, costs $350. (Vol.30 No.8, Vol.33 No.2 Read Review Online)

RealTraps Tri-Corner Trap: $250 each
These small equilateral triangles, 32" on a side, were the perfect fit for the lower rear corners of KR’s weekend room, and increased bass response dramatically. “What a great idea! Completely inconspicuous bass trapping that made a noticeable and measureable improvement in my already well-treated room.” A notable product for those with spousal and decorative restraints, he decided. (Vol.29 No.11 Read Review Online)

RealTraps: $110–$600, depending on size ✩
With these fiberglass panels set up across the junction of room boundaries and in corners, KR heard major improvements in imaging, detail, and soundstage width: “Every sound in the room, real or reproduced, is more defined in character and location.” While KR was greatly satisfied with the results, he admitted that the panels were visually imposing: “The stand-mounted HF MiniTraps are in the way all the time.” MiniTrap, $200; HF MiniTrap, $180; MondoTraps, $300; stands, $60. (Vol.28 No.1, Vol.29 No.11, Vol.33 No.2 Read Review Online)

Sensible Sound Solutions Fabric-Wrapped 2" Acoustic Panels: $70 w/standard edge ✩
Neat and effective sound absorbent panels, according to KR. Wall-mounted or constructed into corner/soffit bass traps, these come in a variety of GOM fabrics for high WAF. Other sizes and configurations are available. Custom edge details cost $5/panel. (Vol.29 No.7 Read Review Online)

Totem Acoustic Beak: $125/pair
(The Beak is a precision-machined, bullet-shaped device, about 2" high by 1.5" in diameter, that’s intended to be placed atop a speaker to control parasitic resonances. When the Beaks were used with the GoldenEar Triton Two loudspeakers, highs gained clarity and extension, percussion instruments had greater presence, and voices became more tightly focused, said RD. “The improvement wrought by the Beaks was such that I wouldn’t want to be without them,” he said. See also EL’s Totem Forest review in Vol.33 No.1. (Vol.35 No.2 Read Review Online)

K

Auralex Space Array diffusion panels.

Deletions

RPG Diffusor Systems Acoustical Tools for Home Theater no longer available.

Books & Computer Software

Amarra software: $695
Amarra (Mac only and in v2.2.3 at the time of the review) offers memory play, user-adjustable equalization, full compatibility with native FLAC files, a handy switch for comparing Amarra playback with iTunes, and a Playlist Mode that lets users bypass the iTunes interface altogether. Amarra had a naturally detailed and consistently involving sound with clean, extended trebles and a deep, wide soundstage, said AD. Amarra Mini, a stripped-down version with an upper limit of 192kHz, is available for $295. A free, 14-day trial version can be downloaded from www.amarraaudio.com. Amarra Junior: $79. (Vol.34 No.7 Read Review Online)

Channel D Pure Music software: $129
Pure Music can play sampling rates of up to twice the 192kHz limit of Amarra and Decibel. Like those programs, Pure Music (Mac only) offers memory play, automatic sampling-rate changes, and full compatibility with native FLAC files and in its latest version, DSD files. Going from iTunes to Pure Music, the sonic improvement was modest but worthwhile, with cleaner trebles and improved pitch certainty. Compared with the less expensive Decibel, however, Pure Music lacked some openness and clarity, decided AD. Using Pure Music in its Memory Play and “Hog Mode” settings for optimal sound quality resulted in a wider soundstage and greater sense of ease, said JA. A free, 15-day trial version can be downloaded from www.channel-d.com. Included with Channel D’s Pure Vinyl Version 3.0. (Vol.33 No.8; Vol.34 Nos.7 & 9 Read Review Online)

Channel D Pure Vinyl LP ripping software: $279
Used with a microphone preamp or non-RIAA phono preamp, Channel D’s Pure Vinyl digitizes vinyl LPs at 24-bit/192kHz resolution and applies the RIAA or other EQ curves in the digital domain, where there’s no interchannel phase shift, capacitor distortion, additional noise, or component variability. Record mode allows the user to apply over 50 EQ curves or create custom EQ settings; Editor mode allows the user to insert track breaks or remove surface noise. CDs made with Pure Vinyl sounded “much better” than those made with the Alesis Masterlink, said MF. Compared to the original LPs, the digitized versions lacked a touch of body but sounded “very analog-like.” Compatible only with Apple Macintosh computers. Version 3.0 includes Channel D’s Pure Music front-end program for iTunes. “Pure Vinyl will change the musical lives of collectors with large collections of pre-1954 discs,” said MF. (Vol.32 No.3; Ver. 3.0, Vol.33 No.8 Read Review Online)

David Moulton’s Playback Platinum Test CDs: $44.95 each if purchased separately, $159.80 for the set of 4 ✩
Four-volume lecture series that covers the fundamentals of audio from a popular-music production standpoint: Vol.1, Loudness, Compression, Distortion; Vol.2, Stereo Miking; Vol.3, Equalization; Vol.4, Digital Audio: Sensory Listening Tests. Each volume is on a separate CD, which comes in a hardbound, textbook-sized book that includes about 50 pages of additional text keyed to each track of each lecture. JM: “I’m impressed with how Moulton & Co. take material that has the potential to be dauntingly dry, and make it enjoyable and memorable by adopting at times a ‘radio drama’ approach.” (Vol.26 No.5 Read Review Online)

Decibel software: $33 $$$
Unlike Pure Music and Amarra, Decibel (Mac only and in v1.2.4 at the time of the review) can be used without launching iTunes at all. Memory play and other options are selectable via pull-down menus, FLAC files are decoded natively, and sampling-rate changes are handled automatically. Its graphical user interface is plain and simple, and its playback engine accessed the music files in AD’s iTunes library without a problem. Decibel removed haze and artifice from the highest treble range, and cleaned up the sound overall, making pitches and timbral colors clearer and more distinct. Compared to Pure Music, Decibel sounded clearer and more open. “The best $33 I ever spent,” decided AD. A free, limited-time demo can be downloaded from www.sbooth.org. Requires Mac OS10.6. (Vol.34 Nos.7 & 9 Read Review Online)

Digital Recordings Audio-CD Hearing Test: $49.95 ✩
This system permits useful evaluation of hearing thresholds with only a CD player and a pair of headphones. KR reported that it reveals any significant gaps in your hearing. (His own results were “close to ideal, especially considering my age and usual haunts.” Whew.) “Ever wonder why others don’t hear what you do? This simple test will tell you, even though you may not like the answer.” Such a card. (Vol.23 No.1 Read Review Online)

ELAC Technische Software CARA REL 2.2 Plus program: $74.95 ✩
To use CARA, one must create a full three-dimensional model of the listening room, using the program’s CARACAD module. KR: “By ‘full,’ I mean that all room dimensions and surfaces are defined: doors, windows, furniture, soffits, bays, etc.” Kal found it time-effective to reduce the complexity of the model (eg, remove smaller objects) and the order of reflections (3–4) for the early iterations, at which point the number of possible speaker and user positions is large—an 800MHz Pentium III can take 48 hours or more to run even that modest a set of variables. “Several simplified runs will tell you which arrangements deserve more investigation. After that, you can limit the range of positions for speakers and listener while progressively increasing the number of reflections and adding more feature details, as a confirmation of the optimum arrangement.” Checking predictions against the results with ETF or with TacT RCS measurements confirmed CARA’s conclusions to an amazing degree. KR: “Wouldn’t you like to know how well a speaker might work in your room before you buy it? I would.” Runs under Windows. Version reviewed was 2.0; 2009 version is 2.2. Web: www.cara.de. (Vol.24 No.9 Read Review Online)

Feickert Adjust+ computerized tonearm alignment program: $299 ✩
The Adjust+ software, sold direct from Germany, is Windows-compatible (Feickert recommends a 2GHz Intel Premium 4 or AMD Athlon 2000+ processor) and requires a soundcard capable of 24-bit/96kHz analog-to-digital conversion or an outboard USB box. Though Mikey had trouble with its instruction manual, he used Adjust+ to set his tonearm’s azimuth, calculate his ‘table’s speed accuracy, measure wow and flutter, and determine the frequency response of his cartridge. “It’s a powerful tool in the analog-setup arsenal, and when its manual has been rewritten in clear English, I’ll be able to highly recommend it,” he concluded. Only available from the manufacturer’s website in Germany. Pro version with more features is available for $399; standard version can be upgraded. (Vol.31 No.10)

XTZ Room Analyzer: $256
Includes a USB-connected microphone, a heavy mike base with a USB-powered signal generator, cables, software, and illustrated manuals in English and Swedish. Installation and use were intuitive. Kal enjoyed using the XTZ Room Analyzer for quick and easy identification of room modes and EQ adjustment. Along with measurement (and display) of modes and corrections, XTZ includes a competent RTA. Version 2 software lets the user overlay the results of up to four frequency-response measurements, and provides FR and spectral-decay measurements from 20Hz to 20kHz. “The Room Analyzer is a good tool now made better,” praised KR. Available directly from www.xtz.se. (Vol.31 No.11, Vol.32 No.11 Read Review Online)

K

XTZ Room Analyzer II Pro, FuzzMeasure Pro, SignalScope, and SignalSuite for Mac OSX, Studio Six AudioTools app for iPhone/iPod Touch, TrueAudio spectrum analyzer for Windows.

Deletions

RPG Diffusor Systems Room Optimizer Software no longer available.

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COMMENTS
Martin Osborne's picture

I understand that this is part of 'what you do', but thanks for bringing this altogther in one place - a lot of work has gone into it and I for one appreciate it. 

 

 

JItterjaber's picture

Making your product recommendations available to the digital generation will certainly help more people see your publication.  Thanks for trying to keep current!

www.hifiqc.com

Ajani's picture

This is a really good move! I know a lot of online users have been hoping and waiting for the recommended components to be released on the website. 

smittyman's picture

I've always appreciated how much content Stereophile makes available on this site.  I also always figured that Recommended Components was something that was held off the website to give us some incentive to purchase the magazine in either paper or on line form so I was really pleased to see this added.

soulful.terrain's picture

 

 This is great!  Thanks to all the staff for putting this valuable info together for us neophytes like myself. ;-)

Timbo in Oz's picture

One of the problems of the 'buy it yourself' approach to audio a Magazine is stuck with is that the path of modifying upgrading used gear gets short shrift, let alone doing it yourself. Those parts of the high-end are off the radar here.

This partciularly applies to FM antennas. The best results from FM stereo can only result from pointing a directional antenna with gain at the desired station. One sure way to get such results is an external directional antenna up high. This ensures that the FM front end will be in (i) full limiting and (ii) that there is minimal multi-path on the signal.

Few indoor antennas are really good at either (i) or (ii), unless your lucky and close to a desired staion or two. Just one type is capable of doing both, but you can't buy one. This best indoor FM antenna is the wire rhombic with sides approaching 3 metres long (or exceeding). The gain is high because each element equals the desired wavelength and becasue it is also a highly directional antenna. The cost in money is very low, 14 to 20 meters of twin ribbon, some resistors and a balun to feed coax to your radio.

When made from 300 ohm twin ribbon (the same stuff used for T folded dipole antennas) it will have twice the already high gain. Don't worry you are most unlikely to overalaod your FM front-end.

You can hide it on a suitable room's ceiling or under a large rug. A suitable room is the largest one which has a long diagonal pointing in the right direction - ie at most of your desired stations. Note also that the acceptance angle of a rhombic can be adjusted in and out a couple of ways, see the article referenced below.

The article about them and how to make one was published in the now defunct magazine 'Audio' and is available at the Audio Asylum's FAQ section, near the bottom of the listings.

If you can drive a good tuner into full limiting with a strong low multipath signal and have even one station that broadcasts live acoustic simply miked concerts, you have a true high-end source.

Tim Bailey

 

 

 

JohnnyR's picture

Cable reccomendations without a single measurement, just "oh it sounds just dandy" approach. How lame.This is useless.

Glotz's picture

This subjective review resource has around for decades, in print form.  You are the 4,895,235th 'listener' that thinks he knows more than these guys...

Bwahahahahahhaahhaahahhah!  Yeah, really.

Tim Lim's picture

Dear Stereophile,

This report is indeed welcome but may I ask how are the different classes differentiated? What are the criteria for any model to be included in their respective class? I don't see this guide anywhere.

Regards,

Tim

earlnightshade's picture

Total new guy here, but a quick question about the rating of the Peachtree Dac it.  To confirm I'm understanding correctly, is it considered so poor quality it gets a letter grade of "K"?  As in not even worthy of an "F"?

 

Thanks

smittyman's picture

They haven't reviewed it yet.  It is not several grades below an F

nleksan's picture

Okay, so sound quality is as subjective as the music itself, I get that.

But seriously, you include the ATH-M50's and ATH-AD700's (good headphones, don't get me wrong), but not the SR225/SR325 from Grado?  What about the absolutely SUBLIME RS1i or its little-brother the RS2i?  The PS1000's?

I own all of the above, and for studio work I favor the RS1i's above anything else, especially Sennheiser, as monitors don't have to be PAINFULLY Flat to listen to, they just have to be accurate to the source while able to replicate other sources, which the RS1i's/RS2i's/PS1000's do with aplomb!  The dynamic design and solid-mahogany cups make the music sound much more "alive", and the editing/mixing sessions sound identical to the recording sessions; this is in contrast to many others that neuter the sound to the point that it just goes flat.

I realize I am here spouting off my opinion, but as I am pretty sure that's like 87% at least of the job description for being an "audiophile", so I'm okay with it ;)

I just hate to see TRULY deserving headphones get passed over because they don't have the same "prestige" as Bowers&Wilkins or the like, nor the brand recognition of Sennheiser (who are, by the way, on track to becoming the BOSE of the headphone world.... I'll give them 5 years).  I challenge anyone to spend ~20hrs with a pair of Grado SR325's (NOT the SR325i's, but the original Mahogany ones), the RS1i's/RS2i's, the PS1000's, or even the SR225's (again, NOT the SR225i's), a strong headphone amp (everyone has their favorites, but I find that these do best with a good amount of overhead), and the best source material you can get, ideally a very high-end system with DVD-Audio quality sound or better (don't even think about any kind of lossy compression, because you WILL hear every "off" sound).  Heck, I get fantastic results with simply plugging any of the aforementioned 'cans directly into the headphone port on my HT|Omega Claro Halo XT sound card in my very high end workstation/overclocking rig (who says you can't mix business and pleasure??)...
I will admit that every pair of Grado's that I've owned has needed some break-in time, with as little as 40 hours for some SR80i's to ~120hrs for the SR225/SR325 cans to really shine (RS1i's = 75-80hrs, RS2i's = 70-75hrs, PS1000's = 90hrs), but I do my "break-in" a bit differently than most: I set up everything through my computer, including DAC/amp/etc running off an M-Audio card, and I have a specific playlist I use for breaking them in that consists of 125-175x ~3:30 to ~11:15 long Audio Tracks (full, uncompressed recordings and masters; the 125 songs take up about 3.7GB of space! yes, about 30MB per track, at 192Khz/48bit "RAW") of varying types/genres set in "loop" for the first playthrough and then "looping random" after that, and the volume automatically adjusts based on elapsed time.  For those who wonder, I use: Sigur Ros, Pink Floyd, OK GO, Led Zeppelin, Bowie, Florence & the Machine, Grateful Dead, Incubus, Jay-Z, Jose Gonzalez, Pete Yorn, (recently added) Trent Reznor & Karen O's "Immigrant Song" cover from Girl w Dragon Tattoo, K'Naan, Manfred Mann, Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Metallica ("One"), Norman Greenbaum, Neil Young, Rolling Stones, Scala ("Blower's Daughter"), Shwayze, Sufjan Stevens, RUSH, Tegan&Sara, Tom Petty, The Roots, Them Crooked Vultures, and a bunch more; as you can see, it's a mix of male and female vocalists, every instrument under the sun, all types of music, and so forth (quite eclectic).  BUT IT WORKS!
I PROMISE YOU that if you properly break-in any pair of Grado's, they will become one of your favorite listening headphones, if not your number one.  Having tried everything from the bird-poop-looking iPod iEarbuds (kill me please) to most of the consumer-level stuff (Sony MDR's are Amazing for the price, Beats by Dre are absolute junk and I've left stuff in the porcelain chamber with more musicality than that overpriced BS), to headphones that cost more than many peoples' cars and proclaim to be "hand-assembled by a team of naked supermodels over the course of 123 days with all work done only under a half-crescent moon while Mars and Jupiter align, emparting magical sonic characteristics into the hand-carved African rare wood covers and plated with Rhinocerous poop, well known for its excellent bass enhancement"... Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but not THAT much.  YET I KEEP COMING BACK TO THE GRADO'S!!!

JadenKrosis's picture

This product recieved rave reviews in Stereophile. It scored well in comparisons and has even become JA`s go to device for USB audio playback.

Without going into too much detail of Micheal Lavorgnas` review I`m quite sure I`m safe to say he liked it very much also. 

Is it possible this product was overlooked amid all the shock and awe created by the Dragonfly?  (not that there`d be anything wrong with that, I want one too!!!)

John Atkinson's picture

Quote:
Is it possible this product was overlooked amid all the shock and awe created by the Dragonfly?

The Halide was reviewed in August 2012, after this "Recommended Components" was prepared. It will be included in the next update, due in April.

The Halide was also included in the Collector's Edition of Recommended Components, available from newsstands and form the shop on this site: http://ssl.blueearth.net/primedia/home.php

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

JadenKrosis's picture

Thank you John and I look forwards to reading that April issue.

bmilwee's picture

In your October 2011 issue, the VPI classic 3 gets an A rating, but here it seems to have been demoted to a B.   Tthe Rega RP3 is class B here, but in the anniversary edition it gets a C rating.  Which is correct?

John Atkinson's picture

Yes, sometimes as the result of further experience of the product or of competitive products, sometimes because the initial rating is provisional, for a product that is reviewed in the same issue as the updated list. But whenever a rating has changed, it is the most recent rating that reflects our current opinion of the product.

In the case of the VPI Classic 3, it has been reinstated in Class A in the listing that will appear in the April 2013 issue.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

shp's picture

I have been a binge reader of stereophile ever since high school when my first job was in a high end stereo shop (Threshold amps, KEF 104.2's).  

My brother is an architect and my colleague an electrical engineer.  They both deride the idea that giant audiophile cables make a difference noting that the wire that delivers electricity to the house and through the walls is only this big.

Not having the budget to try an assortment of (sometimes very expensive) cables I've kept mine pretty modest.  But I will concede they can sound different.  

But I am a little confused that Stereophile has ratings for digital data connects without any measurements. 

Digital cables either deliver bit-perfect data streams or they don't. And their accuracy should be reported even if Stereophile also wants to report the sonic affect of any digital distortion.

If I spent a lot of money on a music server, DAC, amplification and speakers, the last thing I want is the cable altering the bits. 

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