Budget Component Reviews

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Herb Reichert  |  May 27, 2015  |  3 comments
So, audiophiles, riddle me this: What does a DAC actually look like? I don't mean the box it hides in—I mean the little doodad that does the actual converting from digital to analog. Is it bigger than a phono cartridge? Is it made of rain-forest wood, gemstone, or porcelain? Do people show it to their friends, who gawk in awe and envy? Does it have an exotic, geisha-sounding name like Jasmine Tiger, Koetsu Onyx, or Miyajima Takumi? When it breaks, does a watchmaker type rebuild it for a not-insubstantial fee? Do people hoard them in vaults, like NOS tubes? Can you trade a DAC for a rose-gold Rolex Oyster Bubbleback ca 1945?
Herb Reichert  |  Apr 23, 2015  |  6 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  |  Apr 10, 2015  |  8 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.
Robert J. Reina  |  Mar 24, 2015  |  7 comments
"I'm intrigued how Emotiva can offer an active speaker for so little."

This was John Atkinson's response to my request to review Emotiva's Pro Airmotiv 4s ($299/pair). My colleague Steve Guttenberg had been discussing this speaker with me at a recent industry event, and I'd realized that it had been some time since I'd reviewed an entry-level loudspeaker. I'd reviewed Emotiva's X-Ref XRT-5.2 floorstanding speaker in the August 2012 issue and had been impressed with its combination of sound quality and price. I requested samples for review.

John Atkinson  |  Mar 23, 2015  |  69 comments
In the 1960s, musical giants walked the earth. I vividly remember the first time I heard a song called "Expecting to Fly," in a UK record store. The vast, reverberation-drenched sound was extraordinary; the frail, shaky alto voice of the singer riveting.

"Who is that?" I asked the clerk.

"It's a new American band, Buffalo Springfield . . . but they've already broken up."

I bought all I could find of the Springfield, which wasn't much, and learned that the singer and composer of "Expecting to Fly" was a Canadian, Neil Young.

Herb Reichert  |  Mar 11, 2015  |  18 comments
Before I moved to the boat, I lived in a big old firehouse with a shiny brass pole and a red door. The fire engines were gone but it was still a boy-toy pilgrimage site. The first thing one noticed on entering was a red 356 Porsche coupe. Behind it was a black '32 Ford hot rod with a flat-head V8 and triple Strombergs. Behind that was a 1939 Lincoln convertible from some Godfather movie. On the second floor . . .
Robert J. Reina  |  Feb 04, 2015  |  4 comments
I wish I'd had a VPI Nomad when I was in college. I was in a fraternity, and for most of my time there I had to rely on others' sound systems to play my music. My sophomore and junior years, some freshmen were rotated through my room, and several of them had nice sound systems and were accommodating about letting me play my music. When I wanted to really crank it up, I visited the stoners, who had the best systems and were happy to spin my collections of King Crimson and ELP, assuming I could get them to stop listening to Jefferson Starship for five minutes (footnote 1).
Herb Reichert  |  Dec 30, 2014  |  16 comments
I was sitting in my high chair, eating strained peas. My father was walking around the kitchen with a wooden box in one hand and a cord with a plug in the other. The box and the cord were attached to each other. I was inspired to utter my first actual sentence: "Plug it in over there!" Moments later, a man with a disturbing voice began squawking from inside the wooden box. It was a radio. Schnapps, our dachshund, barked angrily. I started to cry. Ever since, I've been charmed, fascinated, and mostly annoyed by wooden boxes that talk to me.
Herb Reichert  |  Dec 16, 2014  |  2 comments
• 1947: General Electric introduces a variable-reluctance phono cartridge with a 0.3mil sapphire stylus and 11mV output.

• 1948: Brook Electronics Inc. (Elizabeth, New Jersey) introduces the 12A audio amplifier and 12A3 preamplifier, beginning the era of high-fidelity audio separates.

Since hi-fi's postwar beginnings, hundreds of high-quality audio inventions for the home have thrilled and satisfied music lovers worldwide. But inevitably, no more than a few score companies, and maybe a dozen or so engineer-designers, have defined audio's most creative and enduring achievements.

Robert J. Reina  |  Dec 08, 2014  |  0 comments
The call I received from Music Hall's Leland Leard surprised me: "Hey, Bob, I think you'd be the perfect guy to review our new Ikura turntable!"

Hmm. It had been four years since I'd reviewed a record player: Pro-Ject's Debut III, in the February 2010 issue. And with the surging popularity of vinyl—hell, Rough Trade NYC's enormous new record store, in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, even sells turntables—the thought of a plug-and-play turntable-tonearm-cartridge combination for $1200 intrigued me. Sure, Leland—send it on.

Sam Tellig, John Atkinson  |  Jul 18, 2014  |  First Published: Apr 01, 2014  |  13 comments
They can't sound very good—they're not big enough. As we all know, in hi-fi, big products mean big performance. Musical Fidelity's V90 series can't be any good. They don't cost enough. With your golden ears, you must pay through the nose.

The V90 components turn all this around. They are tiny. Inexpensive. Beautifully built.

Kalman Rubinson  |  Jul 11, 2014  |  7 comments
It seems more and more that I'm reviewing equalization products in this column, and that such components are less often dealt with in the magazine's formal equipment reports. But it's not as if the problems created by room acoustics affect only multichannel systems. Stereophile has not ignored the topic—see the many reviews of physical and electronic room-treatment products posted on this website—but months can pass without publication of a review of such a component. Meanwhile, multichannel devotees such as I seem to talk about almost nothing else—and here's why.
Robert Harley, Sam Tellig  |  Jun 18, 2014  |  First Published: Aug 01, 1991  |  0 comments
No, the $399 price listed in the specification block isn't a misprint. And yes, the Audio Alchemy Digital Decoding Engine v1.0 is indeed a full-function outboard digital processor. And since this is the August issue, not April, you can stop worrying that this review is some kind of joke.

The $399 Digital Decoding Engine is for real.

John Atkinson  |  Jun 13, 2014  |  First Published: Oct 01, 1989  |  1 comments
666celestian3.250.jpg"Why does John Atkinson devote so much of his time to loudspeakers selling for under a [sic] $1000?" wrote a correspondent to The Audiophile Network bulletin board in August, there being a clear implication in this question that "more expensive" always equates with "better" when it comes to loudspeakers. While it is true that the best-sounding, most neutral loudspeakers possessing the most extended low-frequency responses are always expensive, in my experience this most definitely does not mean that there is an automatic correlation between price and performance. I have heard many, many expensive loudspeakers whose higher prices merely buy grosser sets of tonal aberrations. For those on modest budgets, provided they have good turntables or CD players, a good pair of under-$1000 loudspeakers, coupled with good amplification, will always give a more musical sound than twice-the-price speakers driven by indifferent amplification and a compromised front end.

End of discussion.

Sam Tellig, Peter W. Mitchell  |  Jun 13, 2014  |  First Published: Mar 01, 1989  |  0 comments
I once told Larry Archibald it might be worth, say, a 10% loss in sound quality with CD not to have to jump up and turn over the damned record. Sometimes a CD saves you from popping up twice—Mahler's Fifth or Bruckner's Seventh on a single disc instead of three LP sides—or three times—Mozart's Magic Flute on three CDs instead of 6 LP sides. That might be worth a 15% sacrifice.

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