Budget Component Reviews

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Jason Victor Serinus  |  Jun 25, 2019  |  6 comments
Has Serinus been demoted? You might well ask. This month, instead of reviewing a $58,000 stereo amplifier, I'm tackling a $599 powered loudspeaker system.

Truth be told, I'm always on the lookout for products that deliver outstanding sound at bargain prices. And since I maintain in my living room a modestly priced system built around powered speakers—this in addition to the far costlier system in my dedicated listening room—it's an easy fit for me to evaluate low-priced products in a real-world context.

John Atkinson  |  May 17, 2019  |  7 comments
I have reviewed several network-connected music servers in recent years, from Antipodes, Aurender, and NAD. All performed well but are relatively expensive, and their associated player apps didn't equal Roon's user friendliness in terms of interface, organization of the library, and inclusion and updating of metadata. So when Roon Labs introduced their own server, the Nucleus+, I first reviewed and then purchased it, along with a lifetime subscription to Roon. But at $2498 without an internal drive for storing music files, the Nucleus+ is still relatively expensive, and even Roon's less-powerful Nucleus costs $1398. I was still on the lookout for a server that would be more accessible to our budget-minded readers.
Thomas J. Norton  |  Apr 23, 2019  |  12 comments
Visit any consumer audio show these days and you'll see rooms full of systems costing from six to seven figures. Manufacturers like to put their best foot forward, and demoing systems with loudspeakers designed to sell for $50,000/pair and up (often up) seems an obvious way to go.

It's also common for an audio company to launch its flagship models first, and only later release more affordable products, for a wider range of buyers. The hope is that the promotional shine of the dream products will be reflected onto the budget models.

Herb Reichert  |  Apr 19, 2019  |  70 comments
I keep getting older. By the time you read this, I will be genuinely old. When I was genuinely young, I bellyached, "Wires are the worst part of hi-fi—there's gotta be a way to get rid of them." I first made that statement when audio electronics and loudspeakers both still nestled inconspicuously in proper bookcases. Back then, people sitting on the sofa weren't forced to stare at diverse audio boxes and ungainly wires.
Ken Micallef  |  Mar 29, 2019  |  12 comments
I first met Pro-Ject Audio Systems' founder and president, Heinz Lichtenegger, in 2016, at the US launch of the Austrian company's The Classic turntable. His passion for all things hi-fi was so intense I thought his head might explode. Gleeful in his mission to bring high-end audio to the people at less than typical high-end prices, Lichtenegger and Pro-Ject can fairly claim bragging rights for their entry-level Debut Carbon (DC) ($460 and up), one of the world's best-selling turntables.
Herb Reichert  |  Mar 21, 2019  |  11 comments
If you've ever dipped your toe into some form of high-performance motor sport, you know: The best race-car engines spin torque and exhale horsepower—with intoxicating ease. They're engineered to be responsive. Depress the clutch, toe the throttle, and watch the tachometer instantly pin itself. Engage the clutch—your chest contracts and your head gets light. Then later . . .

Back in your Ford Fiesta, its revving engine sounds distant, muffled. Your body can't feel the powerplant's power. In gear, the Ford feels soft and hesitant, not responsive.

John Atkinson  |  Dec 04, 2018  |  24 comments
With reviews of Wilson's Alexia 2 loudspeaker ($57,900/pair) in the July issue, Constellation's Centaur 500 amplifier ($55,000) in the October issue, and Tidal's Akira loudspeaker ($215,000/pair) in the November issue, my system's been inhaling some rarefied air the past few months. Accordingly, I felt I should live with some components priced within the reach of real-world audiophiles. As it happened, I was finishing up my review of the Constellation amplifier when MoFi Distribution's Lionel Goodfield e-mailed me, asking if I'd like to review the new Diamond 11.2 loudspeaker from the venerable British brand Wharfedale.
John Atkinson  |  Nov 15, 2018  |  First Published: Dec 01, 1988  |  0 comments
A few issues back, in my review of the Mark Levinson No.26 and No.20 (May 1988, Vol.11 No.5), I mused on the fact that the preamplifier, being the heart of a system, had a more significant effect on sound quality in the long term than, say, the loudspeakers. It was worth spending more on a preamplifier, therefore, than on loudspeakers. Needless to say, this viewpoint was regarded by many readers as dangerously heretical. I decided, therefore, to investigate the sonic possibilities of budget-priced preamps in this issue, even the most expensive being less than one-tenth the price of the Mark Levinson.
John Atkinson  |  Nov 08, 2018  |  First Published: Dec 01, 1988  |  1 comments
By far the most complicated of the three preamps i review in this issue in terms of facilities offered, NAD's "Monitor Series" 1300 ($398) provides two buffered tape loops, an external processor loop (which can also be used as a third tape-recorder loop), a headphone output, a "null" switch, switchable bass equalization to extend the low-frequency range of small loudspeakers, and treble and bass controls, each with a choice of three turnover frequencies: 3kHz, 6kHz, 12kHz, and 50Hz, 125Hz, 250Hz, respectively.
Herb Reichert  |  Oct 23, 2018  |  15 comments
The original PS Audio Sprout, which I reviewed in the May 2015 issue, showed newcomers an easier, smaller way to amplify music recordings in the home. At $599, the Sprout100 costs $100 more. It fixes a few of the old Sprout's weirdnesses: no power-on indicator light, no remote control, five-way binding posts that weren't really five-way. It also doubles the Sprout's class-D power output into 4 ohms, from 50 to 100Wpc (or 50Wpc into 8 ohms), and adds a few sonic and mechanical enhancements.
Ken Micallef  |  Sep 27, 2018  |  0 comments
In 2015, the venerable Canadian audio company NAD introduced its soon-to-be-popular D 3020 integrated amplifier ($499), which combined 30Wpc output, streaming capability, and an onboard DAC in a slick, contoured case. NAD's latest D/A integrated also smartly combines trend with functionality, lifestyle convenience with technological advancement. The C 328 Hybrid Digital amplifier ($549) goes its older, smaller sibling a couple steps better in features, while reverting to NAD's traditional look: an unfancy box finished in a dark shade of matte gray with subtle white lettering and logo.
John Atkinson  |  Feb 20, 2018  |  6 comments
I got an e-mail last summer from my colleague Tyll Hertsens, editor of our InnerFidelity website. "Recently reviewed and really liked the new MrSpeakers Æon," he wrote. "They're a little rough-sounding as sealed headphones tend to be, but the tonal balance is superb. I got three in for review to make sure they're consistent. After measurements I asked [MrSpeakers'] Dan Clark if I could forward them to you because I like them so much and thought you should hear them. . . . I really think you may enjoy them."
Herb Reichert  |  Feb 20, 2018  |  33 comments
During the hour preceding my removal of the KEF LS50 loudspeakers from their spiked, rough-iron stands, I was lost in the recurring still moments, reverberating tones, and contemplative spirit of Sir John Tavener's Eis Thanaton and Theophany, in the recording by soprano Patricia Rozario, bass Stephen Richardson, and Richard Hickox conducting the City of London Sinfonia (CD, Chandos CHAN 9440).
Herb Reichert  |  Nov 16, 2017  |  14 comments
For audiophiles of a certain age, the mere mention of NAD Electronics' original 3020 integrated amplifier (1980, designed by Erik Edvardsen), or Adcom's GFA-555 stereo power amplifier (1985, designed by Nelson Pass), conjures up happy memories of audio's last Golden Age—an idyllic time when working stiffs could luxuriate in the same audio arcadia as bankers and brokers. Since then, few, if any, audio components have achieved that level of iconic high value. Which caused me to wonder: What would it take, nowadays, to manufacture a genuinely high-value audiophile product: one that delivers exciting, satisfying sound at a price most audiophiles can afford?
Ken Micallef  |  Sep 21, 2017  |  5 comments
"Looking back, my life's passions have mostly been sensual: food, females, fast cars, music, wine, sailing and skiing. My motivations, activities and work have stemmed from the need to fuel these passions rather than enjoyment of the process."

Who said this? John Atkinson? Art Dudley? Dr. Dre?

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