Budget Component Reviews

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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.
Sam Tellig Michael Fremer Posted: Feb 02, 2010 Published: May 02, 2009 1 comments
Not being fond of self-flagellation, I don't usually do analog. I am not a fuddy-dudley, nor am I especially fremerous.
Sam Tellig John Atkinson Posted: Jul 18, 2014 Published: Apr 01, 2014 13 comments
They can't sound very good—they're not big enough. As we all know, in hi-fi, big products mean big performance. Musical Fidelity's V90 series can't be any good. They don't cost enough. With your golden ears, you must pay through the nose.

The V90 components turn all this around. They are tiny. Inexpensive. Beautifully built.

Sam Tellig Posted: May 30, 2005 Published: Dec 01, 2004 0 comments
The X-DAC v3 replaces Musical Fidelity's Tri-Vista 21 DAC, which is no longer in production, although you might find some on dealer's shelves. The Tri-Vista 21 used two pairs of subminiature 5703 WB military tubes in the analog output stage. MF's Antony Michaelson called this Cold War tube, which is no longer made, a trivistor. The Tri-Vista 21 was last seen selling for $2395.
Art Dudley Posted: Nov 15, 2007 0 comments
Specialization seems to be an inevitable consequence of progress: As the products of man and God become more and more complex, they're called on to do fewer things in more focused ways.
Jim Austin Posted: Oct 22, 2006 0 comments
At the extreme high end—Halcro, VTL, Boulder, etc.—reviewers gush about a lack of character. If you're paying $20,000, you want a preamplifier or power amp to disappear. At those price points we also want extreme, unfatiguing resolution, and noise that's well below what most people would consider audible. But at those prices, an absence of character is definitely something most people aspire to.
Chip Stern Posted: Jan 04, 2002 0 comments
NAD has been out there on the leading edge of entry-level high-end sound long enough that some audiophiles reckon they invented the category. Sure, we should give serious props to the likes of Creek, Rotel, Musical Fidelity, Arcam, Denon, and Parasound, all of which have made significant contributions to the musical aspirations of budget-conscious pilgrims. But I continue to harbor warm feelings about my last extended visit with an NAD component: the inexpensive yet supremely musical L40 CD Receiver, which I reviewed in the June 2000 Stereophile.
Stephen Mejias Posted: Apr 10, 2015 7 comments
In the mornings, just before I leave for work, I power up the system, turn the volume down low, and set the CD player to Repeat. I like to think that if I play calm, soothing music while Ms. Little and I are away, the cats will feel less alone and more relaxed. It's also nice, on returning home from work, to walk into a room filled with music. One evening a few weeks ago, I stepped into the apartment, dropped my bags to the floor, settled down into the couch with my iPhone, and began scrolling through text messages. I'd been seated for only a moment before I had to turn my attention entirely to the sound of the system, which, even at a very low volume, sounded warm, detailed, and unusually good—unbelievably, almost unbearably engaging.
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.)
Robert Harley Sam Tellig Posted: Aug 08, 1995 Published: Aug 08, 1985 0 comments
The $395 NAIT, rated at 20Wpc, is a good-sounding little amp. It's very open and spacious-sounding, but, like the $250 Rotel RA-820BX, sometimes sounds a little hard in the upper registers.
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.

Robert J. Reina Posted: Nov 19, 2006 0 comments
When reviewing affordable speakers, it's critical to have benchmarks and comparisons for various price points. Inexpensive speaker designs are exercises in tradeoffs and compromises, especially for the least costly products. In all of my reviews, I try to compare the speaker in question with other designs close to the review sample's price, chosen from my list of previously reviewed speakers. From time to time, if a speaker particularly impresses me, I ask the manufacturer if I can keep the speakers around a while longer, so that it can serve as a comparison reference for a certain price point. That's not to say that any speaker I don't keep around is less desirable—there's just not enough room in my house to keep a sample of every speaker I like. An audio reviewer's wife puts up with enough as it is.
Robert Harley Posted: Jan 25, 2016 Published: Sep 01, 1990 3 comments
Now Hear This (NHT) was founded to produce low-cost loudspeakers a breed apart from the mass-market variety often found at the lower price points. Co-founder Ken Kantor has a long history in the hi-fi business as a designer at Acoustic Research, NAD, and as a design consultant to some large Japanese manufacturers. NHT's line ranges from the $180/pair Model Zero to the $1200 Model 100.

At $480/pair, the Model 1.3 is midway in NHT's product line. Finished in a gloss-black high-pressure laminate, the 1.3 is elegant, even beautiful, and is distinguished by its unusual angled front baffle. This design means that the rear baffle is nonparallel to the driver, thus reducing the amount of internal cabinet energy reflected back toward the woofer. This is said to improve imaging and midrange purity by reducing comb filtering. In addition, the angled baffle puts the listener directly on-axis with the loudspeakers pointing straight ahead. This increases the ratio of direct-to-reflected sound reaching the listener and further improves imaging.

Robert J. Reina Posted: Nov 30, 2002 0 comments
I first met NHT co-founder Ken Kantor in 1975 when we were both undergraduates at MIT. Kantor was sponsoring an extracurricular class entitled "Musical Ideas." The concept was to stick a dozen or so musicians in a classroom for free improvisation and hope to create music à la Miles Davis' Bitches Brew. The result was a mess; although talented guitarist Kantor meant well, there was no common vision or consistency of musical talent. Nevertheless, I had a blast trying to simulate a tamboura drone with a Hohner Clavinet, phase shifter, and volume pedal.
Corey Greenberg Posted: Jan 30, 1995 Published: Jan 30, 1994 0 comments
What makes someone a good hi-fi reviewer? A fine critical sensibility? A good technical background? Ears? Eyes? Nose? Throat? So many different people are reviewing audio gear these days that it's downright impossible to characterize a good reviewer. But I do know that Beavis and Butt-head would make killer hi-fi reviewers!

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