If you ever find yourself in an audiophile-type argument and need proof that, in the 21st century, manufacturing high-performance audio gear to sell for a reasonable retail price is becoming an impossibility, point to Vincent T.A.C.'s TubeLine SV-236MK integrated amplifier, designed in Germany and built in China.
High-tech, compact, and lightweight, Chord's entry-level SPM 650 power amplifier ($4995) promises robust power output, low distortion and noise, flat and ultra-wideband frequency response, and bulletproof reliabilityall in what seems an impossibly small package measuring 16.4" wide by 3.4" high by 13.8" deep and weighing only 22 lbs.
Unless you've already acquired a large collection of SACDs, buying a player in 2009 necessitates an act of faith similar to the one turntable buyers faced back in 1992. As with the LP back then, the major labels today have all but abandoned the SACD to such niche players as Chesky, Proprius, Harmonia Mundi, Pentatone, Channel Classics, 2L, Telarc, Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab, Groove Note, and Acoustic Sounds.
Italian manufacturer Chario Loudspeakers has never had a strong presence in the US. No wonder, then, when confronted by these exquisitely finished beauties of solid hardwood, many American audiophiles think, "Sonus Faber rip-off." Without knowing the musical history of the 1960s, had you heard Badfinger first, you might have thought the same thing when you then heard the Beatles. Similarly, Chario, by far Italy's largest maker of high-performance speakers, was founded in 1975, eight years before Sonus Faber. While SF has its drive-units built to its own specifications by other firms, Chario designs and builds its own.
Founded in 1925, Luxman has long been one of Japan's most highly regarded audio manufacturers. Throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s, Luxman's tube preamplifiers and power amplifiers occupied the top shelves of high-performance audio retailers, and to many older American audiophiles, the Luxman name is as familiar and esteemed as those of such storied American brands as McIntosh and Marantz. Luxman's combination of rich, warm sound, superb build quality, and indelible industrial design made its products fully competitive with other brands then considered among the world's best.
Don't be confused by the MBL 6010 D's oddly baroque, even retro looks. Behind all the glitzthe oversize, perfectly finished, black-lacquered faáade; the two big, solid brass knobs plated with 24-karat gold; the ornate lettering; and the incongruous digital volume displayresides a thoroughly modern, remote-controlled, unusually versatile, and well-thought-out solid-state preamplifier. Not that the 6010 is a new design. It's been around for a long time, and the current "D" iteration is at least five years old.
Not that many years ago, it seems, every sound crew in Hollywood and around the world recorded production sound using a compact, open-reel analog tape recorder made by Nagra. The first iteration of the Swiss-made machine appeared in the early 1950s. Shortly thereafter, with the addition of an inaudible recorded tone that allowed easy syncing to picture, the Nagra recorder became the industry standard, and remained so through the 1980s. To this day, Nagra's line of audio products retains the look of those early recorders.
Has any modern designer of high-performance speakers extracted more music from a two-way box than ProAc's Stewart Tyler? His early-1990s stand-mounted Response 2 (later upgraded to the Response 2S) was an instant classic, and while his tiny Tablette proved controversial for being bass-shy and relatively pricey, his track record of two-way speakers remains unassailable.
The German company AQVOX Audio Devices has produced an innovative moving-coil/moving-magnet solid-state phono preamplifier, the Phono 2Ci, that's as intriguing for its technology and performance as it is for its relatively low price: $1400. The zero-feedback, op-ampfree circuit uses a compact switch-mode power supply that's built into the chassis and features conventional voltage gain for moving-magnet cartridges via its RCA jacks, and current gain for moving-coil cartridges through the balanced XLR inputs. Rear-panel switches select between RCA or XLR inputs and offer a convenient ground lift. Either the single-ended or the balanced outputs can be used with either input. Unfortunately, the tight spacing of the RCA input and output jacks, which are mounted on the circuit board, will somewhat limit your choice of cables: Pairs of thick-barreled plugs will have difficulty fitting.