Integrated Amp Reviews

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Herb Reichert Posted: Jul 02, 2015 5 comments
As an audio scribe, the fiercest demons I wrestle are beliefs—yours and mine; those of my friends, my editors, my fellow reviewers; and those of the engineers and promoters of the products I write about. Sometimes the force of these rabidly held and (mostly) conflicting beliefs paralyzes me with self-doubt: What do I know? What makes me qualified to listen and judge?
Herb Reichert Posted: Jun 05, 2015 5 comments
For decades, I read all the British and American audio magazines, and I pretty much believed everything written therein—with one exception. The equipment reviews published in Stereo Review had an off-puttingly disingenuous quality. I learned a lot from the magazine's reviews of recordings and loudspeakers, but every time senior editor Julian Hirsch wrote that any amp with sufficiently high power, low measured distortion, and high damping factor would sound the same as any other with similar qualifications, I felt estranged from my favorite hobby. Stereo Review's arrogance came off as duplicitous and self-serving. The magazine seemed committed to stamping out all forms of individualized audio connoisseurship.
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.
Herb Reichert Posted: Feb 05, 2015 11 comments
The more integrated amps I review, the more I want to tell manufacturers: Please, skip the DAC, omit the phono stage, lose the Bluetooth—just give me the best sound quality, and the most vivid, most transparent line stage and control center (with pre-out) you can design. Make sure this line stage has appropriate gain, and high input and low output impedances. Give me at least four balanced and single-ended inputs. Make sure the volume, balance, and tone controls are durable and degrade the sound as little as possible. That way, I can add a DAC, server, phono stage, or Bluetooth, of any quality level, any time I choose.
Robert Deutsch Posted: Dec 16, 2014 8 comments
Ever since I reviewed PrimaLuna's ProLogue Premium, for the June 2012 issue, it has been the model I would turn to when I wanted a moderately priced integrated amplifier to try with a new speaker. It never disappointed me, and never seemed outclassed, even when the speaker was the MartinLogan Montis ($10,000/pair). At $2399, the ProLogue Premium to me represents the "sweet spot" for systems in the range of $4000–$10,000 or higher. Although its 35Wpc may not be enough for some speakers (depending on the room and personal preference), I never had any such problem, regardless of whether the speaker had a built-in powered subwoofer (eg, the Montis or the GoldenEar Technology Triton Two) or was a passive design (Wharfedale's Jade 7 or Focal's Aria 936). With differences noted depending on whether EL34 or KT88 output tubes were used, the ProLogue Premium delivered sound that was always smooth and musically involving.
Herb Reichert Posted: Nov 07, 2014 11 comments
It was spring. I was planting kale and cabbage, wearing bib overalls, and listening to Pigboy Crabshaw (aka Elvin Bishop) on my iPhone. My girlfriend, "bb," came out, and just stood there laughing. "What's this? American Gigolo: The Alabama Years?"

Now, please, don't start worrying about your newest Stereophile reviewer. I've owned my share of Julie London and Jennifer Warnes records, but these days I'm more into Hazel Dickens and Maybelle Carter. It's summertime, fish are jumpin', and that dirt-road American music is getting me high.

Herb Reichert Posted: Sep 26, 2014 3 comments
Some among us remember a time when audio was divided into rival interests. On the left side of the pond was the New World, where left-brainers believed that vanishing harmonic distortion meant that "all amplifiers sound the same," and that good loudspeakers are a high-fidelity audio system's most important components. Across the waves, so-called flat-earthers claimed that the most important part of the playback chain was the turntable. (Of secondary importance were the tonearm and cartridge, followed by the preamp and amplifier. Loudspeakers were deemed relatively unimportant.) In the 1980s, this extremist idea of the "front end first" captured the imaginations of audiophiles, mostly in the Mother Country.
Herb Reichert Posted: Jul 31, 2014 6 comments
Once, on a cold, dank, soundless day deep in the Eastern bloc, I watched a man spend over a million dollars on an audio system: a turntable, a fancy horn tweeter, a few wires, and some amplification for his modified Klipschorns. I asked him what he did for a living, and he told me he was a notary public.
Art Dudley Posted: Jul 25, 2014 4 comments
They spoiled all my fun.

When I receive a product sample for review, I look forward to taking photos while I unpack the thing, as a guide to repacking for later on. This company provided an illustrated packing list—it was the first thing I saw on slitting open the carton. I look forward to crafting amusing remarks about poorly written or whimsically translated owner's manuals; this company provided the clearest, most comprehensive manual I've ever seen. I look forward to having some sort of anomalous event—smoke, noise, or smoke and noise—to write about. This product offered nothing of the sort.

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?"

Art Dudley Posted: Jan 02, 2014 5 comments
Last summer, in an uncharacteristic fit of wanderlust, I took an American Airlines flight to London. Two days later, I rode the Eurostar train to Paris in the company of my daughter and my wife, a travel agent, who had secured first-class train accommodations on her professional discount. Our ride was brisk, but the upgrade would have been a waste at any price: The Eurostar food was vile.
Stephen Mejias Posted: Oct 25, 2013 Published: Nov 01, 2013 32 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.
Posted: Sep 27, 2013 14 comments
The name sounds perfect. It fits neatly next to those of Messrs. Leak, Sugden, Walker, Grant, Lumley, and others of Britain's most rightly revered amplifier builders. In fact, when their distributor called and asked if I'd like to review the latest amplifier from Croft Acoustics, I accepted without actually knowing who they are, simply because they sounded like someone I was supposed to know—someone who's been around for 60 years or so, shellacking bell wire in an old mill with a thatched roof.
Robert J. Reina Posted: Aug 26, 2013 Published: Dec 01, 1995 3 comments
In this, my first equipment review for Stereophile, I'll begin by explaining my philosophy regarding reviewing inexpensive components. In my quest for products by designers who strive to establish new benchmarks for reproducing sonic realism at lower prices, I'll be looking for "value" components (a more appropriate term than "budget") whose designers logically fall into two camp. . .

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