In an industry whose newest products are often as discouragingly unaffordable as they are short of the sonic mark, the Naim Audio Uniti ($3795) stands out. In a single reasonably sized box, the Uniti combines the guts of Naim's Nait 5i integrated amplifier and CD5i CD player with various additional sources: an FM/DAB tuner, and interfaces for an iPod, a USB memory stick, an iRadio, and a UPnP-compatible connected computer or serverall for the price of a very good television set.
In a world of me-too products, NuForce distinguishes itself from all those other components whose names begin with i by actually using a capital I. Actually, that statement is unkind, even unfairunlike the myriads of products designed to capitalize on the Apple iPod's current sexiness, the NuForce Icon isn't designed to be portable (although NuForce does offer an Icon Mobile). What the Icon unquestionably is is a fine little piece of audio engineering, which most of those other i components are not.
"Onkyo Returns to its Stereo Roots to Debut New Digital Amplifier Technology." This heading of the press release for Onkyo's A-9555 digital integrated amplifier was surely intended to warm the cockles of the two-channel audiophile's heart. Some of us remember the Onkyo Grand Integra amplifiers of the 1980s, which were considered competitive with the big Krells and Mark Levinsons of the day. To refresh my memory, I looked through my Stereophile archives and found the December 1985 issue (Vol.8 No.8), which included Larry Greenhill's review of the Grand Integra M-510, a 300Wpc power amplifier covered in lacquered persimmon wood, weighing 139 lbs, and costing $4200 (about $8000 in 2007 dollars). Larry was most impressed with the M-510, describing it as "a very powerful amplifier with outstanding sonics across the board—power with delicacy."
Wilson Audio Specialties' David Wilson likes to say that you should build a stereo system from the speakers down. Of course he does—he sells speakers. But that doesn't mean he's wrong. So recently, when offered an inexpensive new product for review, I decided it would be a good test of Wilson's theory. I tried driving Wilson's $45,000/pair MAXX2 speakers with Outlaw Audio's RR2150, a $599 stereo receiver.
Ten thousand hours. According to Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers: The Story of Success, it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become truly exceptional in your field. For any endeavor, Gladwell contends, what will get you to Carnegie Hall isn't inborn talent but practice, practice, practice.
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.
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.
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 flexibilitywithout resorting to a pair of tinny, uncomfortable earbuds?
Does the modern audiophile want a sleek, compact, powerful, remote-controlled, microprocessor-driven, two-channel integrated amplifier? Perreaux Industries, based in New Zealand, thinks so. They've designed all that, plus good looks and impressive build quality, into the R200i. Despite its relatively small size—4.1" tall by 16.9" wide by 13.4" deep—the R200i packs a punch. It's rated at 200Wpc into 8 ohms and 360Wpc into 4 ohms, yet it weighs just a fraction under 30 lbs.
Despite its name, the Panache is not made in France, but here in the States, by Portal Audio, headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina. The company is owned and run by Joe Abrams, a longtime veteran of high-end hi-fi who was once closely associated with Threshold.
My first reaction to the Prima Luna Prologue One was based solely on looks: For $1095, I might not have been disappointed had it sounded no better than a Bose Wave Radio. Its casework straddles the breach between vintage and modern in a way that little else does, at any price. The dark gray-blue finish, hand-rubbed to a tactile gloss, wouldn't look out of place on an Alfa GTV (the new one, which resembles a drop of oil). And for the first time in my experience, a high-end audio manufacturer has figured out a way to make a protective tube cage easy to remove and replace: with banana plugs and sockets. Why couldn't one of the high-price American brands have figured that out?
Integrated amplifiers are hot. I don't mean in the literal sensealthough having a preamplifier and stereo power amplifier in the same chassis usually results in higher running temperaturesbut in the metaphorical one. Once viewed as the type of component that no serious audiophile would consider buying, integrated amps have made a comeback in popularity and prestige. Consider: the October 2006 "Recommended Components" issue of Stereophile listed 29 integrated amps, whereas the October 2011 issue lists 40. Stereophile's 2010 Amplification Component of the Year award went to an integrated amp, the Audio Research VSi60, beating out a host of heavy-hitter preamps and power amps. The 2012 Stereophile Buyer's Guide lists 400 integrateds.
Lovers of Italian wine, travelers to Italy, and, of course, Italians, may be familiar with this story. It seems that in the year 1111, Henry V was traveling to Rome to be crowned Holy Roman Emperor. A member of his entourage, one Giovanni Defuc, was very fond of wine, and had the practice of sending ahead one of his servants to sample the wine in each place. When the servant found a wine that he particularly liked, he would write "Est!" on the door of the establishment, which was a signal to his master that the wine is (est) good. Having arrived at Montefiascone, the servant found a wine he thought so superb that he wrote on the door of the inn "Est! Est!! Est!!!"
Given that Quad's founder, the late Peter J. Walker, wasn't around to design the Quad II Classic Integrated, the English firm relied instead on Tim de Paravicini, whose credits include the comparatively recent Quad II-eighty mono amplifiers and QC-twentyfour preamplifier (not to mention his own line of E.A.R./Yoshino electronics and countless other well-regarded products). It's with respect for both men that I say: In turning to Tim de Paravicini, Quad has probably chosen the closest approach to the original.
You can read all about an automobile, check its gear ratios, and ponder the engine's horsepower all you want—but until you put yourself in the driver's seat and take that baby out for a spin, you have no idea whether or not it's going to be fun to drive.