Audacious Audio

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John Atkinson Posted: Nov 26, 2014 4 comments
The experience left me doubting my ears. After I'd performed all the measurements of Ayre Acoustics' KX-R preamplifier ($18,500) to accompany Wes Phillips's review in our November 2008 issue, I spent a weekend listening to it. To my astonishment, the sound of my system with a Transporter D/A processor feeding the preamplifier was better than when the DAC fed the power amplifier directly. Through the KX-R, images sounded more tangible, and the sound was better focused, despite the signal's having been passed through not just another set of interconnects but also through the preamp's input and output socketry, switches, a volume control, printed circuit-board traces, and active and passive parts. Logically, you'd think that having nothing in the signal path would have less of a degrading effect than so many somethings. But no, that was not what I heard, much as I would have preferred otherwise.
Michael Fremer Posted: Nov 13, 2014 3 comments
Can a power-supply upgrade produce audible sonic benefits? If you've upgraded the power supply of a phono preamplifier, you probably don't need to be convinced that it does, and those usually cost only a small percentage of the price of the model they power. But to add Simaudio's Moon Evolution 820S power supply ($8000) to the Moon Evolution 650D DAC–CD transport ($9000), which I reviewed in the November 2011 issue, almost doubles the latter's cost—though the 820S can be used to simultaneously power two Moon Evolution components, like the 750D DAC ($14,000), 740P preamplifier ($9500), and 610LP ($7500) and 810LP phono preamplifier ($13,000).
Michael Lavorgna Posted: Oct 30, 2014 1 comments
Do you travel? Commute, perhaps? Just like to listen to music privately around the house? No matter—the Astell&Kern AK240 is the luxury choice in high-resolution portable music players (footnote 1). It even comes with a lovely leather case that beautifully cradles its angular beauty. The AK240 can play all of your PCM files, up to a resolution of 24-bit/192kHz, as well as DXD and single- and double-rate DSD, natively, and can do so from its internal storage, from a microSD card, or from your computer via WiFi or a wired connection. It can also function as a DAC or USB-to-TosLink converter. I'm not so sure there's much left wanting.
John Atkinson Posted: Oct 30, 2014 7 comments
For a reviewer, deciding which products to write about is a tricky business. You want to do a professional job of evaluation, but you also want to be able to wrest maximum enjoyment from your music while you do so. Attending audio shows is where reviewers perform sonic triage, weeding out the products that aren't ready for prime time, and making a note of those they wish to invite home after the show.
Michael Fremer Posted: Oct 10, 2014 0 comments
Among the biggest buzzes at the January 2013 Consumer Electronics Show, and at Munich's High End Show the following May, was the sound in the room of Siltech BV, a Dutch company best known for its high-end cables. Siltech was demonstrating an innovative new power amplifier, and using it to drive the company's glass-cabineted Arabesque loudspeakers ($90,000/pair). The sound was unmistakably lush yet also remarkably linear, notably dynamic, and seemingly free of electronic artifacts. It sounded like the sound of "nothing"—which was really something!—and so much of a something that it caught the attention of many reviewers. But while there's often controversy and disagreement about a given product's sound quality, this time the enthusiasm seemed unanimous.
Robert J. Reina Posted: Jul 31, 2014 4 comments
I've long been impressed by the design, construction, and sound of the tubed electronics produced by Vladimir Lamm, but I'd never had a Lamm Industries product in my house. So I asked for a review sample of Lamm's flagship line-stage preamplifier, the LL1 Signature.
Michael Fremer Posted: Jul 25, 2014 2 comments
A preamplifier is the port of entry through which you gain access to the sources you've so carefully assembled. It's also the gate through which all of your music passes. So while its sonic performance is obviously critical, you'd also better assess how it feels, how it looks, and how it operates—you're going to be in an intimate relationship with it for a long time. Before choosing a preamplifier, therefore, take some time to drive it around the block, or at least shake hands with it. Use your imagination as much as your ears.
John Atkinson Posted: May 27, 2014 Published: Jun 01, 2014 6 comments
A year or so ago, in my review of the Pass Labs XP-30 preamplifier, I wrote that the heart of an audio system is the preamplifier, in that it sets the overall quality of the system's sound. But it is the power amplifier that is responsible for determining the character of the system's sound, because it is the amplifier that must directly interface with the loudspeakers. The relationship between amplifier and loudspeaker is complex, and the nature of that relationship literally sets the tone of the sound quality.
Michael Fremer Posted: May 14, 2014 10 comments
VPI Industries' Harry Weisfeld has tried, built, and marketed almost every known way of spinning a platter. He began in the early 1980s, before many recent turntable enthusiasts were born, with the belt-driven HW-19, and since then has produced rim-driven models, and 'tables with motors outboard or inboard, one or three pulleys, one or three belts, and platters of acrylic or aluminum alloy. But while Weisfeld has owned quite a few direct-drive 'tables, he'd never come up with his own—until now.
Michael Fremer Posted: May 02, 2014 0 comments
Big tube amplifiers were once scary monsters reserved for those who didn't mind heavy maintenance, careful tweaking, and the occasional explosion. Blown tubes required replacing, preferably with pricey matched pairs, then biasing with a voltmeter. Optimal sonic performance required regular bias monitoring and adjusting, and because of current surges on startup, you had to choose between leaving the heat-producing monoliths on, or turning them on and off for each listening session, thus shortening the life of the tubes.
John Atkinson Posted: Mar 28, 2014 5 comments
In February 2013, I was taking part in a "Music Matters" evening at Seattle retailer Definitive Audio, playing some of my recordings and talking about my audio philosophy. I love taking part in these events—in addition to Definitive's, in recent years I've participated in evenings organized by North Carolina's Audio Advice, Colorado's Listen-Up, and Atlanta's Audio Alternatives—but, as might be obvious, at each one I use a system provided by the retailer. The February 2013 system comprised Classé electronics and, to my surprise, Bowers & Wilkins Nautilus loudspeakers.
Michael Fremer Posted: Mar 05, 2014 2 comments
Is the high-performance audio industry stagnating? Are designers simply repackaging the past? Cynics claim so, but to me it seems that making that case gets harder by the day, as a parade of veterans continue to produce their best work.
John Atkinson Posted: Feb 25, 2014 Published: Mar 01, 2014 7 comments
I well remember my first "real" headphones: a pair of Koss Pro4AAs that I bought back in 1970. The Kosses were relatively expensive, but, like headphones today, they allowed an audiophile with limited cash to get a taste of high-end sound that was not possible with a speaker-based system. I bought the Pro4AAs because I had become fascinated with how the images of the instruments and singers were strung along a line between my ears inside my head. It seemed so much more intimate—a more direct connection with the music—than playback through loudspeakers.
John Atkinson Posted: Dec 30, 2013 Published: Jan 01, 2014 11 comments
Whereas the Pass Labs preamplifiers are designed by Wayne Colburn, the power amplifiers are the work of company founder and high-end audio veteran Nelson Pass, who even lays out his own circuit boards. The X-model amplifiers, beginning with the X1000 in 1998, were the first implementation of Nelson Pass's patented Supersymmetry topology (see "Nelson Pass on the Patents of Pass"). The XA series, which debuted in 2002, combined Supersymmetry with the single-ended class-A operation of the Aleph series. The XA.5 models offer detail improvements over the XAs.
Michael Fremer Posted: Jan 04, 2014 Published: Jan 01, 2014 2 comments
More than a decade ago, Data Conversion Systems, aka dCS, released the Elgar Plus DAC, Purcell upsampler, and Verdi SACD/CD transport, for a total price of $34,000. In 2009 came the Scarlatti—a stack of four components for $80,000, also available individually (see my August 2009 review). The latest variation on the English company's theme are the four Vivaldi components, launched at the end of 2012 for a total price of $108,496.

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