Budget Component Reviews

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Jon Iverson Posted: Sep 25, 2015 2 comments
There are dozens of music-playback programs for computers, touchpads, and smartphones, ranging from Amarra, Audirvana, JRiver, Pure Music, and VLC, which manage libraries or work with library software, to programs that are integrated with a specific distribution service: Pandora, Spotify, Tidal, and, of course, iTunes. Still others, such as Sonos, are integrated with a dedicated hardware product.
John Atkinson Posted: Sep 03, 2015 15 comments
I got an early start on computer audio. At the end of the last century I was using WinAmp with first a CardDeluxe PCI soundcard, then a similar card from RME, to play files on a Windows PC. After I became a MacPerson, I used FireWire audio interfaces from pro-audio company Metric Halo and an inexpensive USB-connected ADC/DAC from M-Audio. But it was with the USB version of Benchmark's DAC 1 that the computer began taking over from physical discs for my music listening. At first I used iTunes au naturel, but as I acquired more high-resolution files, I began using Pure Music to handle all the tedious audio housekeeping, assigning as a dedicated music server a G4 Mac mini I'd bought in 2006.
Herb Reichert Posted: Apr 23, 2015 5 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.
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: Mar 24, 2015 7 comments
"I'm intrigued how Emotiva can offer an active speaker for so little."

This was John Atkinson's response to my request to review Emotiva's Pro Airmotiv 4s ($299/pair). My colleague Steve Guttenberg had been discussing this speaker with me at a recent industry event, and I'd realized that it had been some time since I'd reviewed an entry-level loudspeaker. I'd reviewed Emotiva's X-Ref XRT-5.2 floorstanding speaker in the August 2012 issue and had been impressed with its combination of sound quality and price. I requested samples for review.

Robert J. Reina Posted: Feb 04, 2015 4 comments
I wish I'd had a VPI Nomad when I was in college. I was in a fraternity, and for most of my time there I had to rely on others' sound systems to play my music. My sophomore and junior years, some freshmen were rotated through my room, and several of them had nice sound systems and were accommodating about letting me play my music. When I wanted to really crank it up, I visited the stoners, who had the best systems and were happy to spin my collections of King Crimson and ELP, assuming I could get them to stop listening to Jefferson Starship for five minutes (footnote 1).
Herb Reichert Posted: Dec 30, 2014 10 comments
I was sitting in my high chair, eating strained peas. My father was walking around the kitchen with a wooden box in one hand and a cord with a plug in the other. The box and the cord were attached to each other. I was inspired to utter my first actual sentence: "Plug it in over there!" Moments later, a man with a disturbing voice began squawking from inside the wooden box. It was a radio. Schnapps, our dachshund, barked angrily. I started to cry. Ever since, I've been charmed, fascinated, and mostly annoyed by wooden boxes that talk to me.
Herb Reichert Posted: Dec 16, 2014 2 comments
• 1947: General Electric introduces a variable-reluctance phono cartridge with a 0.3mil sapphire stylus and 11mV output.

• 1948: Brook Electronics Inc. (Elizabeth, New Jersey) introduces the 12A audio amplifier and 12A3 preamplifier, beginning the era of high-fidelity audio separates.

Since hi-fi's postwar beginnings, hundreds of high-quality audio inventions for the home have thrilled and satisfied music lovers worldwide. But inevitably, no more than a few score companies, and maybe a dozen or so engineer-designers, have defined audio's most creative and enduring achievements.

Robert J. Reina Posted: Dec 08, 2014 0 comments
The call I received from Music Hall's Leland Leard surprised me: "Hey, Bob, I think you'd be the perfect guy to review our new Ikura turntable!"

Hmm. It had been four years since I'd reviewed a record player: Pro-Ject's Debut III, in the February 2010 issue. And with the surging popularity of vinyl—hell, Rough Trade NYC's enormous new record store, in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, even sells turntables—the thought of a plug-and-play turntable-tonearm-cartridge combination for $1200 intrigued me. Sure, Leland—send it on.

Kalman Rubinson Posted: Jul 11, 2014 7 comments
It seems more and more that I'm reviewing equalization products in this column, and that such components are less often dealt with in the magazine's formal equipment reports. But it's not as if the problems created by room acoustics affect only multichannel systems. Stereophile has not ignored the topic—see the many reviews of physical and electronic room-treatment products posted on this website—but months can pass without publication of a review of such a component. Meanwhile, multichannel devotees such as I seem to talk about almost nothing else—and here's why.
Art Dudley Posted: Apr 07, 2014 11 comments
Asked how to make a guitar, the celebrated luthier Wayne Henderson offered a straight-up answer: "Just get a pile of really nice wood and a whittling knife. Then you just carve away everything that isn't a guitar." (footnote 1)

The making of a preamplifier seems more or less the opposite. You start with a simple volume control and a couple of jacks, then add whatever you think constitutes a preamplifier. Choices might include electronic source switching, line-level gain, phono-level gain and equalization, tone controls, tone-defeat switches, a balance control, a headphone jack, an iPod input, and maybe even a digital-to-analog converter with a USB receiver. The sky is pretty much the limit.

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.

Jon Iverson Posted: Mar 07, 2014 0 comments
Most folks don't even know they exist, but the Channel Islands are a chain of eight moderately sized mountains poking through the Pacific Ocean along the coast of southern California, between Santa Barbara and San Diego. The most famous of these is Catalina Island and its city, Avalon, which sit opposite San Clemente. The other Channel Islands are relatively wild and have been preserved mostly uninhabited.
John Atkinson Posted: Mar 07, 2014 1 comments
Back in the summer of 2009, USB-connected D/A processors that could operate at sample rates greater than 48kHz were rare. Ayre Acoustics had just released its groundbreaking QB-9, one of the first DACs to use Gordon Rankin's Streamlength code for Texas Instruments' TAS1020 USB 1.1 receiver chip. Streamlength allowed the chip to operate in the sonically beneficial asynchronous mode, where the PC sourcing the audio data is slaved to the DAC. But high-performance, USB-connected DACs like the Ayre were also relatively expensive back then, so in the January 2010 issue of Stereophile I reviewed a pair of soundcards from major computer manufacturer ASUS , the Xonar Essence ST and STX, which, at $200, offered a much more cost-effective means of playing hi-rez files on a PC.
Stephen Mejias Posted: Mar 12, 2014 Published: Mar 01, 2014 12 comments
In his article on the future of audio engineering in this issue, John La Grou tells us—succinctly and correctly, I think—that we are rapidly moving from a culture of handheld devices to one of headworn devices. He postulates that by perhaps as early as 2025, rather than being actively sought out, most audio/video media will be delivered, like milk or the newspaper—but delivered not to our front doors, but more or less straight to our brains. Fascinating? Sure. Frightening? Kinda, yeah.


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