Budget Component Reviews

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John Atkinson  |  Jul 22, 2022  |  4 comments
Characteristically, the email from Kal Rubinson got straight to the point: "I have a WiiM Mini that I have played with, but I am not the right one to review this as I am not sufficiently interested in or knowledgeable about wireless streaming. It ... can handle uncompressed PCM via its DACs." "I'll review it," I replied, intrigued by a $99 D/A processor that can stream hi-rez audio via Wi-Fi and that also has an analog input so it can act as a preamplifier.
Ken Micallef  |  May 27, 2022  |  0 comments
Old-school audiophiles like me cling to our vinyl records and CDs. We spin them on turntables and slide them into transports, which send electric signals through wires to solid state or tubed amplifiers—a string of hardware devices. But, despite our object-attached ways, we're quite aware that we are living in a software-enabled, Bluetooth-connected, Wi-Fi–facilitated world. Even our Milky Way galaxy is wireless; as that pontificator of everything galactic, scientist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, has proclaimed, "We're all connected."
Kalman Rubinson  |  Mar 25, 2022  |  12 comments
What am I doing with a vacuum tube preamplifier? I haven't owned a tubed preamp since I bought a Sonic Frontiers Line 3 preamplifier at the turn of the century. I set that aside within a few years as I moved into multichannel because multichannel tube-based electronics were, and still are, rare. My last home experience with a vacuum tube was with a PS Audio Stellar M1200 monoblock power amp, which is a hybrid with a 12AX7-based input stage.

John Atkinson  |  Feb 04, 2022  |  19 comments
There are words that, for reasons I can't fathom, I cannot stand. One such is "dongle." So when Bluebird Music's PR rep emailed me to ask if I would be interested in reviewing a new dongle from Chinese company Questyle Audio, I shuddered. But I must admit that "dongle" rolls off the tongue a lot more readily than "portable USB D/A headphone amplifier." I put aside my grammatical quibble and agreed to a review.
Kalman Rubinson  |  Jan 28, 2022  |  49 comments
There has not been a conventional preamplifier in my main audio system for quite a while, because no multichannel preamp is available that's of high enough quality. Instead, I use the high-precision digital volume controls in my players and DACs and choose sources with a relay-based multichannel analog switch. Plus, I tell myself that no preamp can be more accurate and transparent than no preamp.
Julie Mullins  |  Dec 31, 2021  |  17 comments
It had been a while since I'd done any serious, critical listening through headphones. That changed when Editor Jim Austin asked if I wanted to review the iFi Audio ZEN Signature Set ($599). Figuring I could use more Zen in my life, I agreed.

UK-based iFi Audio, which operates under the auspices of the Abbington Global Group, has released several compact products in its ZEN series: DACs, headphone amps, a Bluetooth receiver, and a network streamer.

Herb Reichert  |  Jul 23, 2021  |  41 comments
My incommodious room favors small standmount and panel speakers that some audiophiles would say require a subwoofer.

But I was never inspired to try one until a new category of subwoofer appeared: the "micro" (aka soccer-ball) subwoofer. The minute I saw the little KEF KC62, a 10" cube, I imagined it could do 0–100Hz and back to zero in record time. I reported on the KEF microsub last month, in Gramophone Dreams #49.

Corey Greenberg  |  Jul 07, 2021  |  First Published: Apr 01, 1993  |  5 comments
In these waning days of Analog's Last Stand, it might seem absurd to review midpriced phono cartridges when this space could be given instead to the gear Stereophile usually covers—like $3000 OTL tube amps built by guys like that "Rainbow Man" lone nut who used to dance in the stands at Super Bowls before he took hostages in a hotel room with a .45 screaming, "MIT CAPACITORS!!! MIT CAPACITORS!!!"
Larry Archibald  |  Jun 11, 2021  |  First Published: Sep 01, 1982  |  4 comments
This is a speaker we've been fairly intimate with over quite a period of time. Designed by John Bau, the SC-50i started out three years ago as an inexpensive speaker system ($330/pair) not sold through dealers.

One of the factors allowing it to cost so little was the clever adaptation of cardboard tubes, normally used as forms for pouring concrete pillars, for use as speaker enclosures. They have a number of advantages, other than low cost: their circular form helps eliminate resonance of the back wave within the enclosure; the material is rigid because of its shape, and is non-resonant due to its construction.

Alex Halberstadt  |  Feb 23, 2021  |  19 comments
A few months ago, a friend asked me to recommend a record player. This friend knows and loves music as much as I do; when he visits, we spend our time drinking wine and listening to records. Last time, it was Scott Walker, Fela, Joni Mitchell, Jacques Brel, Burzum, and both glorious sides of The Chronic.

"How much do you want to spend?" I asked cautiously. His answer: $500, tops.

Robert Harley  |  Dec 09, 2020  |  First Published: Oct 01, 1992  |  6 comments
Though their first CD player featured a vacuum-tube output stage, California Audio Labs is recently known for making good-sounding, moderately priced solid-state CD players, like the Icon Mk.II that Jack English reviewed in July 1992 (Vol.15 No.7). The Sigma, a $695 tubed D/A converter, furthers their reputation in both areas.
Ken Micallef  |  Oct 02, 2020  |  25 comments
Summer!

COVID-19 notwithstanding, summer—warmth, flowers, leaves on trees—has descended on Greenwich Village, my New York City home for the past 30 years. What hasn't descended are tourists, belching motorcycles, behemoth sports cars, beer drinkers, and the usual summer hell-raisers, the sort that would've sent legendary Village bohemians Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs running back to their cold-water flats.

John Atkinson  |  Aug 20, 2020  |  22 comments
Loudspeaker manufacturer GoldenEar Technology was founded in 2010 by a team led by Sandy Gross, who over the decades was responsible for a succession of affordable high-performance loudspeakers from Polk and Definitive Technology (footnote 1). Gross continued that tradition with GoldenEar: Even the company's flagship, the Triton Reference, which I favorably reviewed in January 2018, was priced a couple of dollars short of $8500/pair. (GoldenEar was acquired by The Quest Group, the parent company of cable company AudioQuest, in January 2020; Gross continued with the brand as president emeritus.)
Herb Reichert  |  Jun 25, 2020  |  47 comments
I've been wrestling with my elders about new ways to measure loudspeakers, lobbying for methods that might correlate more directly with a listener's experience. And wouldn't you know? Right in the middle of this Socratic dialogue, I put the fresh-from-UPS, $1000/pair, Tannoy Revolution XT 6s into my reference system, plunking them down on my 24" Sound Anchor Reference stands in the same spot my Harbeth P3ESRs had been sitting. And I freaked! I was using the Rogue RP-7 preamp and the Rogue Stereo 100 (100Wpc) amplifier, and I could never adequately describe how bad the shiny white Tannoys sounded. Imagine sound that's thin, metallic, herky-jerky, dull, and rolled off completely below about 90Hz.
Robert Schryer  |  May 21, 2020  |  112 comments
Reviewing a new loudspeaker from Totem feels like destiny—as if a formative moment 30 years ago has come full circle. That's because the first genuine audiophile speaker I ever owned was Totem's now-iconic Model 1, a product whose arrival altered many audiophiles' expectations of how much great—and wide-range—sound a small speaker can deliver. It's still being made today, at least in spirit.

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