After Fred Kaplan reviewed Boulder Amplifiers' 810 line preamplifier and 860 power amplifier for the December 2007 Stereophile, John Atkinson requested that I listen to the 860 in my own system for a while. Never having reviewed any Boulder kit, I was curious.
I've been chipping away for some time at the task of trying to put together a music lover's stereo system for about half the money of my last such effort: $2500 to $3750 now, vs around $7500 back in 2005. My timing was good: CD and DVD receivers are a hot product category, with several attractive new entries at various prices.
Winter has returned to Cherry Valley, New York, and I'm reminded of a bad habit that I used to conceal: On cold mornings I started my car well before driving off, then actually weighted down the accelerator pedalwith the heavy socket tray from my toolboxin an effort to keep the idle high, and thus more quickly warm the windshield and the interior. Whether my lazy trick had the desired effect is a matter of some debate, but I wish now that I hadn't been so wasteful and so casually fouled the air.
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.
Fearless leader called me and asked if I'd be interested in reviewing the Simaudio Moon i-1 ($1500), the entry-level integrated amplifier in Simaudio's Classic line. Hmmm. I'd been very impressed by all of the more expensive Simaudio products I'd heard at Stereophile's Home Entertainment shows over the years, and the 50Wpc Moon i-1 would be an interesting match for the affordable speakers I've had in-house lately. Send it on, JA!
After using Bel Canto's e.One DAC3 with the McIntosh Laboratory MS750 music server, I was so impressed that I wanted to hear Bel Canto's CD transports as well. But willing as Bel Canto president and CEO John Stronczer was to supply me with a CD-2, he suggested I audition the S300iu ($2195, footnote 1).
Three years ago, the idea of a solid-state integrated amplifier that sold for only $1250 yet combined some of the best performance aspects of a Naim Nait and a Dynaco Stereo 70 seemed likely to resonate with consumers and critics alike. And it did: Introduced in early 2005, the British-built Exposure 2010S was an unequivocal hit on both sides of the Atlantic, and remains in Class A of Stereophile's "Recommended Components." Deservedly.
Late in 2006, I was watching John Atkinson set up a pair of DPA cardioid microphones in front of the stage of New York City's Otto's Shrunken Head to record a performance of my jazz quartet, Attention Screen (footnote 1). Before the first set, Wes Phillips approached me. "Bob, I found a piece of equipment you must review—the Cayin A-50T integrated amp. It's only 1300 bucks and you'll love it!"
My first one-piece stereo—I think I paid $60 for it, including a pair of speakers with pegboard backs—gave me a lot of pleasure when I was young, and I loved it. Everything that came after has been better in every way but one: None has inspired that kind of love. And most have left me wondering if there might be something just a little bit better.
Although she'll deny it, my wife thinks ill of me because I've failed to buy her a new Mini Cooper. I can point to a number of things in my defense—especially the Mini's lack of all-wheel drive, which we need for climbing our quarter-mile driveway in bad weather, and its insufficient cargo and passenger space—all of which would constrain a Dudley-owned Mini Cooper to recreational use only. And a new round of car payments would be difficult to justify for those reasons: not because I'm cheap, and not because I'm too old to appreciate a car that's fun to drive.
Ars-Sonum is a Spanish audio company that, as far as I can tell, makes only one product—but it's a doozy (footnote 1). The Filarmonía SE is a tube integrated amplifier that is, in many ways, an homage to Dynaco's iconic Stereo 70 power amplifier of 1959, but the Filarmonía is by no means a slavish copy. Get down to specifics, and it's actually more of a clean-sheet-of-paper design.
"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."
There's something a bit oddball about the notion of a $16,500 integrated amplifier—until you stop to consider that the market is fairly drenched with preamps and power amps that, together, cost that much and more. And putting both pre- and power amp in a single chassis cuts down on storage (one less shelf), accessories (one less pair of cable), and electrical outlets (one socket freed up).