Budget Component Reviews

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Kalman Rubinson Posted: Jul 11, 2014 0 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 7 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.

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.
Robert J. Reina Posted: Jan 30, 2014 Published: Feb 01, 2014 0 comments
I've long kept an eye on Michael Creek's loudspeakers (Epos) and electronics (Creek). He's always moving forward, with either updates of current designs or a revamp of an entire product line. And though I've found that many of his new-product ideas tend to feature evolutionary rather than revolutionary sonic improvements, I've found that they always represent excellent sound quality for the dollar in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
Stephen Mejias Posted: Jan 02, 2014 2 comments
"J-10? What's an integrated amplifier?"

It was fall 2000. I'd just begun working at Stereophile, and I clearly remember sheepishly, innocently putting this question to former senior editor Jonathan Scull.

I think the question confused him—not because he didn't know the answer, but because the answer seemed so obvious, the question itself should have been unnecessary. How could anyone not know what an integrated amplifier is? I might as well have asked, "What's a song?"

Sam Tellig Posted: Feb 14, 2014 Published: Dec 01, 2013 6 comments
Am I the only one who values content and convenience over sound quality?

There. I've said it. I am not an audiophile; ie, someone who's in love with recorded sound for its own sake. The search for ideal sound can leave a person burned out and broke.

Robert J. Reina Posted: Oct 31, 2013 Published: Nov 01, 2013 5 comments
I was introduced to audiophilia by my friend Gary Gustavsen. Although I'd known Gary since I was 13, I didn't discover his passion for music until that day in high school physics lab when I blurted out an obscure line from the Doors' "The Soft Parade," and Gary bounced back immediately with the next line. It turns out I shared my friend's passions for the Doors and Frank Zappa, but not for Mahler. Before long, Gary was dragging me to every audio store in our area to listen to potential speakers for his first high-end audio system. At the beginning of each trip he'd say, "Right now I'm partial to the Rectilinear 3s." Although I heard him say that many times, I never actually got to hear a pair of Rectilinear 3s.
Stephen Mejias Posted: Sep 13, 2013 7 comments
Two of the five loudspeakers reviewed in our July issue were designed by Andrew Jones: the $29,800/pair TAD Evolution One and the $129.99/pair Pioneer SP-BS22-LR (footnote 1). I did the math. You can buy 229 pairs of the Pioneer for the price of a single pair of the TAD. Which is the better deal? Which would result in more happiness? Imagine keeping one pair of the Pioneers, and delivering the other 228 pairs to friends and family. Or donating them to schools. The possibilities are great. How much fun can you have with just a single pair of speakers, anyway?
Robert J. Reina Posted: Sep 06, 2013 4 comments
As the years pass and I turn into a crotchety old man, I'm reminded of those old TV ads for the Honda Accord: "Simplify." Even though I now have more things going on than at any other point in my life, I try to eliminate complications everywhere I can. I now can't believe that, for over 15 years, I used the Infinity RS-1B as my reference loudspeaker. Sure, I loved it—the RS-1B was the first speaker I'd owned that produced a wide, deep soundstage, the full dynamic range of an orchestra, and bass extension down to 25Hz. But it was ridiculously complex: a five-way design with three different driver types and a servomechanism for the woofers. It also required biamplification—I got the best sound with a combination of high-powered tube amp and high-current, solid-state amp.
Art Dudley Posted: Aug 30, 2013 Published: Sep 01, 2013 6 comments
Those of us who groan at the appearance of every new five-figure digital source component in a massively oversized chassis—and who groan in greater torment when the offending manufacturer says his customer base insists on products that are styled and built and priced that way—can take heart: The appearance of such sanely sized and affordable products as the Halide Design DAC HD ($495) and the AudioQuest DragonFly ($249) would suggest that the market has a mind of its own.
Robert J. Reina Posted: Aug 01, 2013 3 comments
It seems I'm always reviewing an integrated amplifier from Creek Audio. It started in the late 1980s, when I fell in love with the capabilities of inexpensive, well-designed audio equipment, sparked by the spectacular sound of a pair of Celestion 5 bookshelf speakers at a Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago. I was reading an issue of Hi Fi Heretic (now defunct), for which my friend Art Dudley wrote, and it included a survey of various inexpensive British integrated amplifiers, some of them made by Creek. I was already familiar with the company, but hadn't listened to affordable British electronics since I'd lived in London, in the early '80s. I got a Creek 4140s2 integrated and was amazed at its neutrality, its lack of etched sound, its natural reproduction of instrumental timbres. I ended up buying it, and used it to review bookshelf loudspeakers.
Jon Iverson Posted: Aug 01, 2013 4 comments
Late last year came an epic audiophile moment: I slapped a final length of tape on the box of the awesome-sounding MSB Diamond DAC (Stereophile, October 2012), in final preparation for its trek to John Atkinson's testing lab, in Brooklyn. Next up was the Bifrost DAC from Schiit Audio. I popped it into my system, where, moments before, the MSB had held court.

From $43,325 to $449. Yowseh!!—the MSB costs almost 100 times as much as the Schiit! Was this even fair?

John Atkinson Posted: Jul 25, 2013 Published: Aug 01, 2013 17 comments
Apple's iPod came of age in the fall of 2003, when, with the release of iTunes 4.5, the player was no longer restricted to lossy compressed MP3 or AAC files. Instead, it could play uncompressed or losslessly compressed files with true "CD quality"; users no longer had to compromise sound quality to benefit from the iPod's convenience.

Enter Astell&Kern. At the beginning of 2013, this brand from iRiver, a Korean portable media company, introduced its AK100, a portable player costing a dollar short of $700 and capable of handling 24-bit files with sample rates of up to 192kHz.

Stephen Mejias Posted: Jul 02, 2013 1 comments
Late last year, when I first heard of the Music Hall Marimba, I was happily surprised: One of my favorite hi-fi manufacturers had finally introduced its first and (so far) only loudspeaker—and it was seriously affordable at $349/pair. I wanted to review the Marimbas right away, but grumpy old Sam Tellig beat me to them.

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