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John Atkinson Posted: Nov 25, 2015 2 comments
For me, one of the highlights of 2013 was being able to live with the Sonja 1.3, the flagship loudspeaker model from Colorado-based YG Acoustics. I reviewed this tall, massive, three-enclosure tour de force of a design, which costs $106,800/pair, in July 2013, and was not surprised when, for the December 2013 issue, Stereophile's writers voted it one of the magazine's two Loudspeakers of the Year. So when I was asked last spring if I wanted to review the new version of the smallest and least-expensive model in YGA's lineup, the request fell on receptive ears.
John Atkinson Posted: Oct 29, 2015 1 comments
I first met electronics engineer John Dawson in 1979, at a British audio show. The company he'd co-founded, A&R Cambridge, had just launched the A60, a slim, elegant-looking, 40Wpc integrated amplifier costing only £99 (then equivalent to $217).

By the time I reviewed the Mk.2 version, in the October 1984 issue of Hi-Fi News & Record Review, the A60's price had risen to £199 ($248), the company was now called Arcam, and more than 22,000 A60s had been sold, making it one of the best-selling amplifiers in England. While preparing that review I had visited Arcam's factory, near the English town of Ely, where Dawson had shown me filing cabinets containing a separate manufacturing report for each and every one of those A60s.

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John Atkinson Posted: Sep 29, 2015 4 comments
Perhaps because I grew up in post-WWII England, with austerity and food rationing the norm, I learned at an early age the value of frugality. It was a financial stretch for me to buy, in the late 1960s, my first real audio system: Garrard SP25 turntable with Audio-Technica cartridge, Kenwood integrated amplifier, Wharfedale Super Linton speakers. Even when I could afford to upgrade the system, other than replacing the Garrard with a Thorens TD 150 and the Audio-Technica with a Shure, I went the DIY route. Back then, in the early '70s, I assumed that the advent of op-amp chips like the Fairchild Semiconductor µA741 would make it possible for me to design and make, for example, a good-sounding preamplifier for a lot less than it cost to buy one from an established manufacturer. That assumption turned out to be wrong, of course, but frugality was, by then, a habit: too ingrained for me to shake entirely.
John Atkinson Posted: Sep 03, 2015 18 comments
I got an early start on computer audio. At the end of the last century I was using WinAmp with first a CardDeluxe PCI soundcard, then a similar card from RME, to play files on a Windows PC. After I became a MacPerson, I used FireWire audio interfaces from pro-audio company Metric Halo and an inexpensive USB-connected ADC/DAC from M-Audio. But it was with the USB version of Benchmark's DAC 1 that the computer began taking over from physical discs for my music listening. At first I used iTunes au naturel, but as I acquired more high-resolution files, I began using Pure Music to handle all the tedious audio housekeeping, assigning as a dedicated music server a G4 Mac mini I'd bought in 2006.
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John Atkinson Posted: Aug 28, 2015 8 comments
Photo: Stephen Mejias

We were saddened to hear of the death of loudspeaker designer Bobby Palkovic, apparently by his own hand. We had published positive reviews of Bobby's Merlin speakers, including one of his VSM Millennium design and the VSM-MX at Following is the news posted to Facebook by Bobby's friend, Rich Brkich of audio retailer Signature Sound...

John Atkinson Posted: Aug 27, 2015 2 comments
Danish manufacturer GamuT Audio's patchy history in the US includes a succession of distributors that failed to establish the brand here. But in 2014 GamuT tapped Michael Vamos to spearhead their own US-based distribution company, which is now energetically promoting the company's products. That change coincided with my auditioning, at the 2014 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, of GamuT's two-and-a-half-way RS5 tower loudspeaker ($31,900/pair). I was sufficiently impressed that I asked to review it—but then, at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show, I experienced the RS7. This was the GamuT speaker I wanted to spend some time with, and at the end of March, GamuT's R&D manager, Benno Meldgaard, joined Michael Vamos in setting up a pair of RS7s in my listening room.
John Atkinson Posted: Jul 23, 2015 8 comments
Of the hundreds of product reviews I have written over the years, it is perhaps those of power amplifiers that present the hardest task in defining their worth. This is not because power amps are unimportant. As I wrote in my review of the MBL Corona C15 monoblock, in June 2014, "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." But because the amplifier's role is so fundamental, it can at first be difficult to determine a given amp's balance of virtues and failings. A paradox.
John Atkinson Posted: Jun 11, 2015 1 comments
Aurender was a name new to me when I encountered the company at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show, where they displayed a range of music servers designed in California and manufactured in South Korea. But what caught my attention in Aurender's suite was their Flow portable D/A headphone amplifier ($1295). This handsome, battery-powered device, housed in a machined aluminum case about twice the size of a pack of playing cards, offers optical S/PDIF and USB 2.0/3.0 input ports and a single ¼" stereo headphone jack. Two features distinguish the Flow from the pack: Its USB input can be used with iOS (iPhone/iPad) and Android smartphone sources, and it can accept an mSATA drive (not included in price) of up to 1TB capacity for internal storage of audio files. Visually, the Flow's distinguishing feature is its round LCD display, which stands proud of the faceplate; the bezel encircling the display acts as a velocity-sensitive volume control operating in 0.5dB steps.
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John Atkinson Posted: Jun 09, 2015 Published: Jan 01, 1995 2 comments
It was with regret that I heard John Ulrick had passed away on May 20, 2015 due to complications from cancer. With Arnie Nudell and Cary Christie, John was one of the founders of loudspeaker manufacturer Infinity, a company that, with Audio Research, Magnepan, Mark Levinson, and Threshold, epitomized the nascent High End that emerged in the early 1970s. After leaving Infinity, John Ulrick started Spectron, to manufacture class-D amplifiers.

Just by chance, I met with the John Ulrick, in Los Angeles in late 1987, when he was doing some design consultancy on a switch-mode power amplifier to be used with the Sumo Samson subwoofer. As I had my Walkman Pro with me, I took the opportunity to tape some background from John about the birth of Infinity and about switching/pulse-width-modulated/class-D amplifiers—boy, can this man talk about switching amplifiers! The natural kickoff question was, How did Infinity get going?

John Atkinson Posted: May 28, 2015 8 comments
The story's been often told: 30 years ago, British speaker manufacturer KEF was asked to design a small, spherical loudspeaker that could be used in a European project to research room acoustics. The speaker had to have wide, even dispersion, so KEF's solution was to mount the tweeter coaxially, on what would have been the woofer's dustcap. That "point source" drive-unit, called the Uni-Q, began appearing in KEF's commercial speaker models in 1989, starting with the Reference 105/3—but it wasn't until the appearance of KEF's 50th-anniversary loudspeaker, the LS50, which I reviewed in December 2012, that I felt that the Uni-Q drive-unit had fully fulfilled its promise, at least in a speaker I had auditioned in my own room.


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