2012 Recommended Components Integrated Amps & Receivers

Integrated Amplifiers & Receivers


Allnic T-1500 300B: $6900
Made in South Korea and imported by Hammertone Audio, the 12.5Wpc T-1500 boasts exquisite industrial design: polycarbonate chimneys showcase, protect, and ventilate the tubes, while attractively molded handles make for easy lifting. It uses two PCL86 driver tubes, two choke-regulated 300Bs with user-adjustable fixed bias, and output transformers wound around a nickel-permalloy core. Though it lacked bottom-end extension, the T-1500 delivered harmonic richness, excellent transparency, and natural tonal colors, said ST. “One of the world’s most beautifully crafted amplifiers,” he said. “A stunning value.” (Vol.34 No.8)

ATC SIA 2: $4300
ATC’s beefy (44 lbs) SIA 2 delivers a claimed 150Wpc and is hand-built in the UK. It has five RCA inputs and a rear-panel headphone jack, but no phono stage, balanced inputs, or digital inputs. Fit’n’finish were good rather than great. Compared to the Luxman L-505u, the ATC had a more authoritative sound, with a less flattering sound, a lower noise floor, and more resolving power, said JM. “Excellent performance, good value for money, and a great match for ATC’s SCM 40 speakers,” he concluded. (Vol.33 No.4 Read Review Online)

Audio Note Jinro: $24,000
Like Audio Note’s staggeringly expensive Ongaku ($121,500), the 18Wpc Jinro has: enormous output transformers, a simple tube-rectified power supply, star-ground design, a solid-copper chassis plate that doubles as a ground plane, silver wiring throughout, and one directly heated 211 triode tube per channel. Though its midrange was a bit soft, the Jinro showcased powerful bass, unsurpassed flow and momentum, and an overall sound that was very subtly sweet. AD concluded: “The Jinro exists as an appealing alternative for those who can appreciate and afford such a thing: a wonderful, wonderful amplifier.” Though the Jinro’s performance will depend heavily on the tubes used, it measured well “for a single-ended triode design,” JA qualified. (Vol.34 No.4 Read Review Online)

Audio Research VSi60: $4495
In the 50Wpc VSi60, a passive line stage is combined with a JFET input stage driving one 6H30 driver tube per channel. Each channel’s output stage has a matched pair of Svetlana 6550C push-pull tubes with a combination of pentode operation and ARC’s “partially cathode-coupled topology.” Convenient to use, the VSi60 provides output taps at 4 and 8 ohms, as well as four pairs of voltmeter test points. Though it lacked the ultimate control of more powerful amplifiers, the VSi60 combined a glorious midrange with clean, detailed high frequencies and outstanding low-level dynamic articulation. “In the VSi60, Audio Research has produced an integrated amplifier of staggering quality, versatility, and value,” said BJR. Add $500 for tube cage. (Vol.33 No.9 Read Review Online)

Ayre Acoustics AX-7e: $3500 ✩
The success of this 60Wpc, solid-state, two-channel, fully balanced, integrated amplifier depended on the associated sources. Used from balanced output to balanced input, “It was brilliant. Amazing. Stirring, even,” said AD. However, used as an unbalanced amp, “The AX-7 still sounded good, but its musical performance lacked momentum and, ultimately, excitement.” Overall, the Ayre was “colorful, clear, well-textured, and spatially convincing.” It seemed sensitive to the type and length of speaker cable AD used, and seemed more sensitive to AC power quality than average. “I strongly recommend the Ayre AX-7 for use [only] in an all-balanced system.” The ‘7e’s power supply now includes greater filtering of the AC mains, increased peak current delivery, and filtering of the rectifier switching noise. In addition, the AX-7e’s gain stages now use two-stage voltage regulators in place of the earlier version’s single-stage regulators. The sound now combined classic Brit-style pacing and tunefulness with near-SET levels of presence and a fine sense of musical flow, a combination that allowed AD to become emotionally involved in the music. “The AX-7e is the best integrated I’ve ever heard,” endorsed WP. “One heck of an involving amplifier,” he summed up. Original AX-7s can be fully upgraded for $250–$350, depending on the age of the unit. (Vol.26 No.10 AX-7; Vol.29 No.1, Vol.31 No.3, AX-7e Read Review Online; see also “The Fifth Element” in Vol.34 No.2 and Vol.35 No.4 Read Review Online)

Boulder 865: $12,500 ✩
The 150Wpc Boulder 865 is essentially an 810 preamp and an 860 power amp crammed into a single, large chassis of anodized, aircraft-grade aluminum. It has four balanced line-level inputs; a sophisticated, microprocessor-controlled, optically activated volume control; and separate power supplies for the analog and microprocessor circuits. The 865 matched top-end sparkle and deep bass with rock-solid control, and its lack of noise and distortion allowed WP to hear deep into the soundstage. “It’s simple, and it’s darn near perfect,” he concluded. JA’s measurements revealed that the amp had to work hard to drive high powers into low impedances. Compared to the darTZeel CTH-8550, the Boulder had more low-bass impact but lacked some top-octave air. (Vol.32 Nos.4 & 8 Read Review Online)

Cary Audio Design CAD-300SEI: $5495 ✩
RH regarded the ultra-smooth, liquid sound of the 300SEI to be world-class, manifesting a warmth and beauty unmatched by any electronics he’s had in his system. “It’s actually a tone control, and an unpredictable one at that,” JA grumps (though he will admit under pressure that the sound of his B&W Silver Signatures driven by the Cary was first-rate). WP also got great sound using it to drive ProAc Response One SCs. When writing his reviews, the ever-spoiled J-10 now uses the 11Wpc Cary CAD-300—with a set of Western Electric 300B output tubes, of course!—to drive Sennheiser HD 600 headphones. Classic tube sound, if not the most dynamic Mr. Scull has heard; good bass, a bit plump overall, with “everything grand in the midband. Only a glutton could ask for more.” Current production in 2009 uses Chinese-made Cary output tubes in place of the original American-made Cetrons, replaces the Edison-Price Music Posts with common loudspeaker terminals, and lacks the optional 24k-gold faceplate. Though it lacked the texture and detail of AD’s Shindo components, the Cary “played melodies with organic, unmechanical, sinewy rightness and flow.” (Vol.18 No.9, Vol.23 No.12, Vol.32 No.5 Read Review Online)

darTZeel CTH-8550: 20,300 Swiss francs
The Swiss-made CTH-8550 is rated to deliver 200Wpc and offers a full complement of inputs and outputs, including MC phono. The large display on the darTZeel’s gold-anodized front panel allows the user to customize virtually any parameter, and includes both a clock and a function that automatically powers the amp on or off at a set time. Inside the burgundy chassis, a large toroidal transformer handles the output stage while a smaller toroidal transformer powers the preamp section. The darTZeel was “fast, dynamic, and detailed,” with a sense of scale and low-level resolution that allowed WP to hear deep into recordings. JA, however, was disappointed by the amp’s measured performance, citing high levels of distortion and suboptimal channel separation. US price will depend on the exchange rate from Swiss francs. (Vol.32 No.8 Read Review Online)

Engstrom & Engstrom The Lars Type 1: $96,000
The Lars Type 1 is supplied in two halves, each comprising a single, monophonic integrated amplifier. It uses a complementary pair of 300B directly heated triodes per channel, for a stated output of 20Wpc into 4 ohms. “Made to look like a whiz-bang little-boy hi-fi toy,” each chassis of the Lars Type 1 is first cloaked in a thin wood-composite wrap, then surrounded by four large panels of Plexiglas that form a transparent protective shield. Though the Lars Type 1’s decorative elements were “flimsy” and “frustrating,” AD found the amplifier’s sound to be “convincingly, enchantingly musical,” and was most impressed by its ability to play music “with uncanny humanness and realism.” But that price!! (Vol.32 No.6 Read Review Online)

Exposure 2010S: $1495 $$$ ✩
“A positively magnificent little amp,” the 75Wpc 2010S astounded AD with its ability to communicate music with an unusual intensity that invariably pulled him down into his listening chair. While it didn’t sound as liquid as a good tube amp or retrieve instrumental textures as well as a good SET, the 2010S offered transparency, tunefulness, and timing that were beyond reproach. Jim Austin loved the 2010S’s rich, full low end, but noted a slight de-emphasis of transients. JA’s measurements uncovered “a sensible set of engineering compromises,” but nothing that indicated why the amp should sound as good as it did. Optional MM or MC phono-preamp card adds $219. AD reviewed the more powerful 3010S in Vol.31 No.6 (110Wpc, $2295) and though he had many positive things to say, he ultimately feels that the 2101S is the star in the Exposure line. SM’s long-term reference. (Vol.28 No.11, Vol.29 No.2 Read Review Online)

Leben CS600: $6495
Taking its look from 1960s American hi-fi, the beautiful, 32Wpc CS600 has a gold faceplate with green trim and wooden side panels made from solid, fine-grain, Canadian white ash. The amp employs a push-pull topology and can use EL34 or 6L6GC tubes. There is a 1⁄4" headphone jack but no remote control. JM: “The Leben CS600 had a certain, almost indefinable sweetness about it, and a beguiling presentation of inner detail that made me overlook its limitations in dynamics and bass.” Partnered with the Harbeth P3ESR loudspeakers, the Leben sounded “simply glorious.” (Vol.33 No.6 Read Review Online)

Leben CS300: $3395
With its wood side panels, gold-toned faceplate, and large balance and bass-boost knobs, the line-only CS300 has a decidedly old-fashioned look and feel. It uses two pairs of EL84 power pentode tubes running in class-A/B mode to deliver 12Wpc. A rear-panel output control allows the user to switch between transformer secondaries that are optimized for use with speakers with impedances of 4, 6, or 8 ohms. Construction quality was superb throughout. Though it lacked the color, presence, internote silence, and sense of flow of AD’s Shindo separates, the Leben distinguished itself as a punchy and realistically textured amp with an especially deep, tight bottom end. It measured “about as well as can be expected from its retro design,” commented JA. (Vol.34 No.11 Read Review Online)

LFD NCSE: $6295
The 70Wpc NCSE is an upgraded version of LFD’s Integrated Zero Mk.III LE (NCSE stands for New Chassis, Special Edition). It uses the same circuit topology as the Integrated Zero, but has a heavy, ribbed chassis with four viscoelastic feet. Build quality is improved inside and out. Though the NCSE was “obviously superior” in terms of quietness, dynamics, low-level resolution, and finesse, there was “something a little somber about the sound,” said ST. It lacked the Integrated Zero’s “illuminated-from-within quality.” He does note that the basic LFD Integrated Zero Mk.III is a better value in today’s economy, however. (Vol.32 No.3)

LFD Mk.IV LE: $3695
“If you like features, this integrated has none,” says ST, but “If you like sweet, highly resolving sound, the LFD offers these aplenty.” The latest refinement of LFD’s LE integrated amplifier is rated to deliver 60Wpc and has a new chassis of extruded aluminum, a thick top cover, a much thicker faceplate, and three beautifully shaped knobs. The Mk.IV LE uses two MOSFET output devices per channel and a custom-made volume pot, but forgoes convenience features such as tone controls, specialized inputs, and remote handset. Compared with the Mk.III, the Mk.IV LE had a richer, fuller tonal balance, with deep, solid bass, astonishing immediacy, and exceptional dynamic range. “The LFD Mk.IV LE is artisanal hi-fi of the highest order, as much artistry as science,” said ST, who bought the review sample. (Vol.34 No.1)

Luxman L-505u: $4100 ✩ $$$
The 100Wpc L-505u offers four line-level inputs in addition to an MM/MC switchable phono input and headphone output. Large, backlit power meters and convenient tone controls mark its retro styling. The L-505u combined tactility and continuity with soundstage size and image specificity for an addictive overall sound. In direct comparison with the Grace m902, the Luxman’s headphone performance lacked body and spatial resolution. JM: “Luxman’s L-505u is my new default recommendation in integrated amplifiers.” (Vol.32 Nos.4, 6, 8, & 10, Vol.33 No.2 Read Review Online)

Musical Fidelity AMS35i: $8999
The class-A, dual-mono AMS35i is rated to deliver 35Wpc into 8, 4, or 2 ohms. Large and heavy and with dangerously sharp heatsinks, the AMS35i has one pair of balanced line-level XLR inputs, four pairs of fixed-level RCA tape outputs, and, for biamping or adding a subwoofer, a pair of variable preamp outputs; there is no phono stage or phono option and no headphone amp. Though it lacked some bass control, the AMS35i had a “rich, full-bodied, sweet, harmonically pure” sound that worked to ameliorate the less than perfect, especially digital recordings or remasterings, said ST, but points out that the MF’s owner is paying a premium for the overbuilt design. (Vol.33 No.3)

NAD Masters Series M2 Direct Digital: $6000
Though it’s convenient to think of it as an integrated amplifier, the solidly constructed M2 is actually a multiple-input D/A converter with an output stage that can deliver up to 300Wpc into 8 ohms. For legacy analog sources, it has two pairs of analog inputs that are immediately converted to 24-bit digital, with a user-selectable sample rate of 48, 96, or 192kHz. The M2’s slightly overripe bass worked to complement its spacious soundstage and silky high frequencies, preserving the immediacy of good recordings while never exaggerating the brashness of poorer ones. “While the M2 is relatively large and heavy for a class-D amplifier, runs warmer than you might expect, and is not inexpensive, when fed high-quality PCM data it offers sound quality that competes with that of the best conventional amplifiers,” praised JA. (Vol.33 No.3 Read Review Online)

Naim Uniti: $4495
In a single, reasonably sized box, the 50Wpc Uniti combines the guts of Naim’s Nait 5i integrated amplifier and CD5i CD player with various additional sources: an FM/DAB tuner, and interfaces for an iPod, a USB memory stick, and a UPnP-compatible connected computer or server. Five line-level analog inputs and five S/PDIF digital inputs are provided. Though it lacked some texture and ultimate scale, the Uniti exhibited the traditional Naim strengths of timing and momentum for a sound that was “tight, tuneful, and very explicit, yet also capable of almost breathtaking musical beauty,” said AD. “The Naim Uniti remains among the most intelligent, exciting, and altogether recommendable products that the perfectionist audio industry has produced in ages.” Though it didn’t excel in any one parameter on the test bench, the Uniti impressed JA with the overall balance of its measured performance. (Vol.33 No.3 Read Review Online)

Pass Labs INT-150: $7150
The push-pull, class-A/B INT-150 is rated to deliver 150Wpc (191Wpc at clipping), and has a high-quality volume control and five inputs: two XLR/RCA and three RCA-only. It uses Pass’s Super-Symmetry Circuit, previously featured in all X-series models, to naturally eliminate distortions from the audio signal. Though it produced a slightly forward midrange and top end, the INT-150 combined wide dynamic range with great rhythmic drive, a broad soundstage, and tight, tuneful bass, said EL, who recommended high Class B. Measured performance was excellent in most respects, said JA, who feels low Class A is the appropriate rating. (Vol.34 No.1 Read Review Online)

Simaudio Moon Evolution 700i: $13,000
Robustly built of thick, ultrarigid aluminum, the 700i is a fully differential dual-mono design rated to deliver 175Wpc (190Wpc at actual clipping), running in class-A up to 5W and in class-A/B thereafter. Its output stages are powered by six bipolar transistors per channel for a wide bandwidth and low noise floor, while its “zero global feedback” design works to boost the speed of the signal response and eliminate intermodulation distortion. Though it couldn’t match the Krell FBI’s transient speed or deep-bass extension, the 700i had a full-blooded, dynamic, seamless sound marked by vivid tonal colors, harmonic integrity, and a strong sense of rhythm. With the 700i, “I found myself drawn deeper into the music,” said FK. (Vol.34 No.3 Read Review Online)

T+A Power Plant: $3100
The 140Wpc Power Plant looks almost identical to T+A’s Music Player, and the two comprise a fully functional audio system in a single stack. Connection via a supplied RJ-12 cable coordinates the functions of the MP and PP, and allows the pair to be operated by a single remote. The PP’s switch-mode output stages were developed in-house, and combine MOSFET transistors with high-energy driver modules. JI noted a “dynamic-sounding amplifier section that exhibited ample and well-controlled bass along with a smooth, detailed top end.” Surprisingly robust and detailed sounding amp for such a small cool-running package, he concludes. (Vol.32 No.8 Read Review Online)

Unison Research S9: $10,995
The beautifully built, class-A S9 is rated to deliver 35Wpc. It weighs 110 lbs, measures 17" W by 9.75" H by 22.25" D, and uses two ECC82 or 12AU7 tubes for inputs and driver stages, and a pair of SV572-10 output tubes per channel in parallel single-ended mode. It provides just four line-level inputs and a tape loop. Lacking power and bass control, the S9 is not for hard-rockers, but its excellent low-level resolution, immediacy, and harmonic accuracy proved “especially well suited to classical and acoustic jazz,” said ST. “It brings the performances back alive. . . Super-dimensionality. Class A for sure.” Tube grill adds $160 (Vol.33 No.7)


Cayin SP-10A: $2195
See BJR’s review in the April 2012 issue.

Harman Kardon HK 990: $2599
The gorgeous, versatile, 150Wpc HK 990 is a two-channel integrated amplifier with analog and digital inputs, tone controls, bass management, and system equalization. Line-level analog inputs include six pairs single-ended, one pair balanced, a processor HT bypass, and two subwoofer; digital inputs include two optical and two coaxial. In addition, there are moving-magnet and moving-coil phono inputs, two subwoofer outputs, two coaxial outputs, and a front-panel headphone jack. Its Analog Devices AD1955 DAC chip handles resolutions up to 24-bit/96kHz. Though it was less transparent than the Parasound Halo JC 2 preamp, the HK 990 offered impressive performance with both analog and digital sources, exhibiting taut bass, clean mids, and outstanding power and control. “The HK 990 should be on every audiophile’s shopping list,” said KR, adding that it’s “a harbinger of the future of integrated amplifiers.” JA noted that the H/K’s measured performance was not compromised by its wealth of versatile features. “I am impressed,” he said. (Vol.34 No.12 Read Review Online)

Linn Majik DSM: $4250
Designed to communicate with other music-playback gear by means of an Ethernet LAN, streaming files in accordance with current UPnP specifications, the Majik DSM (previously Majik DS-I) combines a networked 90Wpc integrated amplifier, D/A converter, and phono preamplifier. It has three line-level analog inputs, three S/PDIF digital inputs, and three optical digital inputs, but lacks USB and FireWire digital inputs. FLAC, AIFF, WAV, ALAC, AAC, and MP3 file formats are supported at resolutions up to 24-bit/96kHz. Setup and installation proved time-consuming and frustrating, and required several additional pieces of hardware and software. The Ethernet-networked DSM provided “a more open, nuanced, explicit, involving, and altogether natural musical experience than any USB-based digital source I’ve heard,” said AD. The DSM’s integrated amp and phono sections lacked openness, texture, and resolution, however. “Fairly respectable measured performance,” said JA, “let down only by its limited channel separation and the relatively high level of background noise.” While the DSM accentuated the strengths of the Linn Majik 140 loudspeaker, it lacked the air, musicality, and ease of BJR’s reference combo of Audio Valve Eclipse line stage and Audio Research Reference 110 power amp. Further testing revealed that the measured performances of the Majik DSM, connected via Ethernet or S/PDIF, were basically identical. (Vol.34 Nos.3, 4, & 6 Read Review Online)

Luxman SQ-38u: $5990
The SQ-38u uses two EL34 tubes per channel in a class-A/B Ultralinear circuit to deliver 25Wpc into 8 or 4 ohms, or 30Wpc into 6 ohms. It has an attractive, old-fashioned solid-wood cabinet; its silver front panel is home to a Balance knob, separate Bass and Treble controls, a rumble switch, a Mono/Stereo switch, and a Mute button. In addition to the four power pentodes, the Luxman contains seven small-signal tubes and a pair of custom step-up transformers. Though it lacked the Leben CS300’s bass extension and texture, the SQ-38u delivered a consistently engaging sound with decent punch and presence, said AD. “High Class B.” It measured “about as well as I expected for a classic circuit using a pair of EL34 tubes per channel,” said JA. (Vol.34 No.11 Read Review Online)

Manley Labs Stingray iTube: $6000
Manley Labs Stingray II: $5650
Direct descendent of the acclaimed Stingray (reviewed by CS in December 1999), the rugged-looking, gorgeously constructed Stingray iTube is built around eight EL84 output tubes, rated to deliver 32Wpc in ultralinear mode and 18Wpc in triode mode. It offers three single-ended inputs, a certified iPod dock, a subwoofer output, and a 1⁄4" headphone jack. An IR/RF remote control provides full control of the amp, as well as the track functions of a docked iPod. After about 250 hours of break-in, the iTube exhibited a sound marked by “elegance, subtlety, and charm.” Though it lacked some body and color, and sometimes struggled at high volumes, the iTube had a grainless, extended treble and an overall sound that was “engaging and relaxing,” said EL. Though it lacked the balanced overall sound of the Simaudio Moon i3.3, the iTube “had a midrange to die for, and it effortlessly hung images in the air,” summed up EL. The Stingray II is identical to the Stingray iTube, but without the iPod dock. Though it lacked some bass control and low-level resolution, the Stingray II offered a surprisingly dynamic and expansive sound with a relaxed, romantic color, said ST. (Vol.22 No.12, original version, Read Review Online; Vol.33 Nos.3, 9, & 11, Stingray II Read Review Online)

Micromega AS-400: $4595
Housed in a metal enclosure with an attractive powder-coat finish, the AS-400 combines a class-D integrated amplifier with a high-quality moving-magnet phono stage, a D/A converter tailored specifically to computer music files, and a convenient iTunes-ready WiFi receiver. Though it lacked color and spatial depth, the AS-400 was dynamic, dramatic, and almost relentlessly exciting, for a consistently compelling overall sound, said AD. Music streamed from Art’s iMac was slightly clearer and had a more natural sense of flow than that streamed from his iPod, but both sources provided enjoyable listening. “The Micromega AS-400 strikes me as a virtually perfect choice for the audio perfectionist who shares space with other listeners—and multiple iPods and/or iMacs,” he concluded. (Vol.34 No.7 Read Review Online)

Musical Fidelity M3i: $1500
Designed to match the M3CD CD player, Musical Fidelity’s entry-level M3i is rated to deliver 76Wpc and has six line-level RCA inputs, one pair of constant-level RCA outputs, and one pair of variable-level outputs. Circuitry derives from Musical Fidelity’s Titan series. Like the M3CD, the M3i had “a direct, ingratiating quality,” with detail, definition, and an overall tonal rightness, said ST. Though it lacked the bass control of the NAD 375BEE, the M3i exhibited greater refinement in the midrange and treble. “One of Musical Fidelity’s best integrateds ever,” says Sam, “which is saying a lot.” (Vol.33 No.11)

Mystère ia21: $2995 $$$
Well built and clad in a gorgeous gloss-black finish, Mystère’s most powerful integrated amp is rated to deliver 50Wpc into 8 ohms and uses four 6SN7 input tubes and four KT88 or EL34 output tubes. Mystère’s Adaptive Auto-Biasing ensures that tube biases are always properly matched, and allows for fun and easy tube rolling. Used with KT88s, the ia21 offered fine, balanced performance, but with an overly thick, rich overall sound. Replacing the KT88s with EL34s smoothed out the upper bass and treble while retaining harmonic color and nuance. “The Mystère ia21 combines the fun of tube rolling, the convenience of auto-biasing, classic and distinctive styling, great build quality, and rich, engaging sound,” said EL, who feels the ia21 is a great value. JA was bothered by its extraordinarily high output impedance, however. (Vol.34 No.3 Read Review Online)

NAD C 375BEE: $1500
The 150Wpc C 375BEE offers five line-level outputs, two sets of preamp outputs, a front-panel minijack for portable music players, a built-in headphone amp, and an optional phono stage ($199). Like models in NAD’s Masters Series, the C 375BEE uses PowerDrive technology to maximize the dynamic power sent to the speakers. Though its headphone amp and phono stage lacked sparkle and detail, the C 375BEE’s overall sound was tight, dynamic, and fast, with crystalline highs and well-extended bass. “A competition crusher,” concluded Sam. Though he admits the NAD belongs in Class B, he’d choose it over many of the amplifiers in Class A. “So good, for so little money, that few are willing to believe it. Are you, JA?” he asks. (Vol.32 No.10)

Roksan Kandy K2: $1925
The stylish, solid-state Kandy K2 is rated to deliver 125Wpc (134Wpc at clipping) into 8 ohms, and has a front-panel headphone output, five line-level inputs, and a low-gain MM phono stage. The included handset offers pushbuttons and a touchscreen for controlling all functions. While it lacked the ultimate low-bass extension, midrange texture, and top-end sparkle of more expensive components, the K2 had a smooth, slightly soft sound, with good imaging, soundstaging, and musical timing. “One of the most listenable entry-level components I’ve had in my home,” said AD. JA appreciated the K2’s high power in a compact package, but was bothered by its poor volume-control tracking. (Vol.33 No.5 Read Review Online)

Shuguang Audio Classic S300MK: $2150 with Treasure tubes
The single-ended-triode S300MK is made in China and sold direct by Grant Fidelity in Alberta, Canada. It measures 16" W by 8.2" H by 13.1" D, weighs 51 lbs, features hand-wound transformers and point-to-point wiring, and uses eight tubes: two 12AX7 inputs, two Treasure 6CA7 drivers, two autobiased Treasure 300Bs delivering the rated 8Wpc, and two 5AR4 rectifiers. The S300MK exhibited truncated transients and limited bass impact, but offered a beautiful midrange and smooth treble, creating an overall sound that was sweet, euphonic, and slightly soft, said ST. Price includes Shuguang’s 300B Treasure tubes; price with standard tubes is $1660. (Vol.34 No.8)

Simaudio Moon 250i: $1800
The 50Wpc Moon 250i (originally i-1), built in North America, has five pairs of single-ended line-level inputs, a front-mounted minijack for personal media players, a headphone jack, and a preamp output. The all-aluminum chassis is rigidly built to minimize external vibrations, but there are no external heatsinks. Though BJR noted an occasional excess of midbass warmth, he was surprised by the Moon i-1’s “lifelike realism and ability to unravel gobs of midrange detail.” JA was impressed by the Simaudio’s graceful balance of strengths: “The only real clue that this is an affordably priced amplifier is the appearance of sidebands at the power supply frequencies.” (Vol.31 No.12 Read Review Online)

Vincent Tubeline SV-236MK: $1995 ✩
The 150Wpc Vincent boasts outstanding build quality and parts. It has three 12AX7 tubes and six line-level inputs, tone controls for Treble and Bass, and a Loudness button. Though it lacked the resolution, dynamics, and depth of much more expensive components, the Vincent produced a full-bodied, self-assured sound with good low-frequency extension and a nimble rhythmic presentation. “It’s the kind of component that gives me hope for this great hobby,” concluded Mikey. (Vol.32 No.4 Read Review Online)


Arcam Solo Mini: $999 $$$
The half-width Solo Mini CD receiver offers 25Wpc and on its front panel has 1⁄8" jacks for headphones and portable music players, as well as a USB input. The rear panel is crowded, however, with inexpensive speaker terminals that accept only the smallest spade lugs. Compared to the Integra DSR-4.8, the Mini sounded “immediately warmer, rounder, and fuller, with stronger bass”; in comparison to Arcam’s larger Solo Music, the Mini had a more stable soundstage with better-defined images. “Within its power limitations, I found it more tactile and overall easier to listen to than its more expensive stablemate,” he writes, concluding that “the Solo Mini sounds pretty darn good, is a tremendous job of packaging, and works pretty much intuitively.” (Vol.32 No.10 Read Review Online)

Audio Analogue Crescendo: $995
Sleek and simple, the 50Wpc Crescendo has five line-level inputs, a front-panel headphone jack, and iPod input. It uses two National Seminconductor LM3886 integrated circuits, each housing two bipolar output transistors working in class-A/B mode. Like the matching Crescendo CD player, the integrated produced a “compelling and immediate” sound, excelling with tonal textures and managing to convey the electricity and ambiance of recorded events, said ST. (Vol.33 No.10)

Denon RCD-N7: $599
With its rounded edges, gleaming white exterior, and minimal front-panel controls, the RCD-N7 CD-receiver, rated to deliver 65Wpc into 4 ohms, has a cute, modern appearance. It has both wired and wireless network connectivity, is compatible with Apple’s AirPlay software, and has a top-panel iPod dock. Though it lacked refinement and bass control, the Denon RCD-N7 could be the center of a good second system, decided JM. Its sound was essentially identical to that of its corporate sibling, the Marantz M-CR603. (Vol.34 No.10 Read Review Online)

Marantz M-CR603: $699
With a black case, rounded front corners, and blue illumination, the M-CR603 CD-receiver, rated to deliver 40Wpc into 8 ohms, has the appearance of a traditional stereo component. It has a front-panel USB port and provides wired network connectivity, but does not support WiFi. Compared to the TEAC CR-H500NT, the Marantz produced greater bass quantity but lacked refinement and control, said JM. Sounded essentially identical to its corporate sibling, the Denon RCD-N7. (Vol.34 No.10 Read Review Online)

Music Hall a15.2: $499
The a15.2 uses IGBT output devices, said to combine the slew rate and low internal impedance of MOSFET input devices with the current drive of bipolar output devices, to deliver 75Wpc into 8 ohms. It has five line-level inputs, a front-panel iPod minijack, an onboard headphone amp, and a “surprisingly good” moving-magnet phono stage that can also be used with a high-output moving-coil cartridge. Though it lacked the resolution and detail of more expensive amplifiers, the a15.2 offered an ingratiating, tube-like sound that never irritated or fatigued, said ST. (Vol.33 No.12)

NAD C316BEE: $380 $$$
Descendant of NAD’s famed 3020 integrated amplifier, the 40Wpc C 316BEE uses a new variant of the PowerDrive technology found in NAD’s Master Series components, said to maximize the short-term dynamic power sent to loudspeakers. It has five inputs, a single set of user-friendly binding posts for easy connections, defeatable tone controls, a headphone jack, and an iPod minijack. The NAD matched power with grace, providing a rich, forceful overall presentation and an impressive ability to follow complex musical passages and make clear, truthful distinctions among musical instruments. Compared to the JoLida FX 10, the NAD produced a far more compelling listening experience, with faster attacks, longer decays, and a wider soundstage, said SM. (Vol.34 No.7 Read Review Online)

Outlaw Audio RR2150: $699 ✩ $$$
This 100Wpc, two-channel receiver showcases stylish, deco-like looks and a full range of features that include line, iPod, phono, and USB digital inputs, tape and processor loops, tone controls, headphone output, speaker equalization, bass management, and a mono line-level subwoofer output. JA was “astonished” to discover what the bargain-basement-priced RR2150 offered, both on the test bench and in the listening room. The RR2150’s self-explanatory setup, versatility and convenience, and open, focused, and well-organized overall sound (though somewhat opaque and not fully fleshed out) make it “a great intro to hi-fi for a younger generation,” said MF. Problems with production led to delivery delays through July 2006, but the situation is now resolved. Current production samples (made in a different factory) offer the same excellent measured performance as the original, but the RR2150’s USB digital input, marred by limited resolution and high jitter, should be regarded as being for convenience only, advised JA. (Vol.29 No.3, Vol.31 No.1 Read Review Online)

Quad II Classic Integrated: $5999
Designed by Tim de Paravicini, the Quad II Classic uses four KT66 output pentode tubes running in pure class-A to deliver 25Wpc into 8 ohms. The amp’s small-signal tubes (four 12AX7 dual-triodes and two 6922 dual-triodes) function as the phase splitter/driver stage for the output section; the line-stage is passive. The distinct casework and controls are influenced by the classic Quad 22 preamplifier: The faceplate has a large, beautiful volume knob, and the source selector is a four-stop slider in a crescent-shaped slot with an old-style needle indicator. Though the Quad’s midrange was lush and warm, the amp lacked bass extension and top-end sparkle, said AD. Its measured performance, however, revealed the Quad II Classic to be “both a well-engineered amplifier and a very modern tube amplifier,” praised JA. (Vol.34 No.11 Read Review Online)

Rega Brio-R: $895
Minimalist in design and appearance, the 50Wpc Brio-R measures just 8.5" W by 3.25" H by 13" D and, like the Rega DAC, is housed in an attractive aluminum-and-steel case with a reflective front panel. It offers five line-level RCA inputs and one phono input. Though it lacked the definition, detail, focus, and frequency extension of the much more expensive LFD LE IV, the Brio-R delivered a relaxed, nonfatiguing sound with tight, full bass, said ST. “The Brio-R showed the excellence that’s possible when a manufacturer aspires to deliver less,” he said, adding that it includes “a very good moving-magnet phono stage, enough to satisfy the less fremerous among us. Yes, it’s ‘umble eye-fye, but very well done,” ST sums up. (Vol.34 No.12)

TEAC CR-H500NT: $599
Housed in a standard black box and rated to deliver 40Wpc into 6 ohms, the CR-H500NT CD-receiver has both wired and wireless network connectivity and is available with an optional iPod dock, but does not support Apple’s AirPlay software. It uses a Burr-Brown 24-bit/192kHz DAC chip, has a phono input, and offers the ability to rip LPs to an external hard-drive. Unlike the Denon RCD-N7 and Marantz M-CR603, the TEAC provides a front-panel volume knob and has a standard, three-prong IEC power receptacle on its rear panel. Compared to the Denon and Marantz, the TEAC sounded slightly more refined, with better bass control and finesse, said JM. (Vol.34 No.10 Read Review Online)


JoLida Glass FX 10: $499
The autobiasing FX 10 is claimed to deliver a modest 10Wpc into 8 ohms and uses two matched pairs of Electro-Harmonix EL84 output tubes and two 12AX7 input tubes. With its heat-resistant glass enclosure in place, the adorable JoLida measures just 8" W by 7" D by 7" H and weighs a friendly 12 lbs. It provides two rear-panel inputs, smartly arranged gold-plated output terminals for speaker loads of 4 and 8 ohms, and a front-panel iPod input. Though it was very quiet and retrieved impressive amounts of detail, the JoLida produced a restricted overall sound with soft highs, a lean midrange, and weak bass, felt SM. “Couldn’t match the dynamics, scale, or tonal color of the NAD C 316BEE,” sez he. A Follow-Up is planned. (Vol.34 No.7 Read Review Online)

Marantz PM5004: $449.99 $$$
An updated version of the successful PM5003, the 40Wpc PM5004 includes upgraded preamp and power-amp sections, and benefits from additional sound tuning. Compared to the PM5003, the PM5004 offered “greater dynamic contrasts, a bit more delicacy, and an overall sound that was a touch more rich and involving,” said BJR. “All in all, an improvement more evolutionary than revolutionary.” (Vol.34 No.3 Read Review Online)

MiniWatt N3: $378
Made in China, the MiniWatt N3 is rated to deliver just 3.5Wpc. Its nicely finished chassis is roughly cubicle at 5" on a side, and weighs only 5.7 lbs. Having only a single pair of RCA inputs, it uses one EL84 output tube per channel and one dual-triode 12AX7 input tube. Its sound was clean, quick, crisp, and clear, with a delicate, shimmering quality to the midrange and treble, but lacked body and bass control. “It delivers fun,” said ST. An optional, outboard Headphone Adaptor is available for $99. (Vol.33 No.8)


B.M.C Amp C1, PrimaLuna ProLogue Premium, Devialet D-Premier.


Peachtree Audio Nova, iDecco, discontinued; Cambridge Audio Azur 650A replaced by new model not yet auditioned.

Martin Osborne's picture

I understand that this is part of 'what you do', but thanks for bringing this altogther in one place - a lot of work has gone into it and I for one appreciate it. 



JItterjaber's picture

Making your product recommendations available to the digital generation will certainly help more people see your publication.  Thanks for trying to keep current!


Ajani's picture

This is a really good move! I know a lot of online users have been hoping and waiting for the recommended components to be released on the website. 

smittyman's picture

I've always appreciated how much content Stereophile makes available on this site.  I also always figured that Recommended Components was something that was held off the website to give us some incentive to purchase the magazine in either paper or on line form so I was really pleased to see this added.

soulful.terrain's picture


 This is great!  Thanks to all the staff for putting this valuable info together for us neophytes like myself. ;-)

Timbo in Oz's picture

One of the problems of the 'buy it yourself' approach to audio a Magazine is stuck with is that the path of modifying upgrading used gear gets short shrift, let alone doing it yourself. Those parts of the high-end are off the radar here.

This partciularly applies to FM antennas. The best results from FM stereo can only result from pointing a directional antenna with gain at the desired station. One sure way to get such results is an external directional antenna up high. This ensures that the FM front end will be in (i) full limiting and (ii) that there is minimal multi-path on the signal.

Few indoor antennas are really good at either (i) or (ii), unless your lucky and close to a desired staion or two. Just one type is capable of doing both, but you can't buy one. This best indoor FM antenna is the wire rhombic with sides approaching 3 metres long (or exceeding). The gain is high because each element equals the desired wavelength and becasue it is also a highly directional antenna. The cost in money is very low, 14 to 20 meters of twin ribbon, some resistors and a balun to feed coax to your radio.

When made from 300 ohm twin ribbon (the same stuff used for T folded dipole antennas) it will have twice the already high gain. Don't worry you are most unlikely to overalaod your FM front-end.

You can hide it on a suitable room's ceiling or under a large rug. A suitable room is the largest one which has a long diagonal pointing in the right direction - ie at most of your desired stations. Note also that the acceptance angle of a rhombic can be adjusted in and out a couple of ways, see the article referenced below.

The article about them and how to make one was published in the now defunct magazine 'Audio' and is available at the Audio Asylum's FAQ section, near the bottom of the listings.

If you can drive a good tuner into full limiting with a strong low multipath signal and have even one station that broadcasts live acoustic simply miked concerts, you have a true high-end source.

Tim Bailey




JohnnyR's picture

Cable reccomendations without a single measurement, just "oh it sounds just dandy" approach. How lame.This is useless.

Glotz's picture

This subjective review resource has around for decades, in print form.  You are the 4,895,235th 'listener' that thinks he knows more than these guys...

Bwahahahahahhaahhaahahhah!  Yeah, really.

Tim Lim's picture

Dear Stereophile,

This report is indeed welcome but may I ask how are the different classes differentiated? What are the criteria for any model to be included in their respective class? I don't see this guide anywhere.



earlnightshade's picture

Total new guy here, but a quick question about the rating of the Peachtree Dac it.  To confirm I'm understanding correctly, is it considered so poor quality it gets a letter grade of "K"?  As in not even worthy of an "F"?



smittyman's picture

They haven't reviewed it yet.  It is not several grades below an F

nleksan's picture

Okay, so sound quality is as subjective as the music itself, I get that.

But seriously, you include the ATH-M50's and ATH-AD700's (good headphones, don't get me wrong), but not the SR225/SR325 from Grado?  What about the absolutely SUBLIME RS1i or its little-brother the RS2i?  The PS1000's?

I own all of the above, and for studio work I favor the RS1i's above anything else, especially Sennheiser, as monitors don't have to be PAINFULLY Flat to listen to, they just have to be accurate to the source while able to replicate other sources, which the RS1i's/RS2i's/PS1000's do with aplomb!  The dynamic design and solid-mahogany cups make the music sound much more "alive", and the editing/mixing sessions sound identical to the recording sessions; this is in contrast to many others that neuter the sound to the point that it just goes flat.

I realize I am here spouting off my opinion, but as I am pretty sure that's like 87% at least of the job description for being an "audiophile", so I'm okay with it ;)

I just hate to see TRULY deserving headphones get passed over because they don't have the same "prestige" as Bowers&Wilkins or the like, nor the brand recognition of Sennheiser (who are, by the way, on track to becoming the BOSE of the headphone world.... I'll give them 5 years).  I challenge anyone to spend ~20hrs with a pair of Grado SR325's (NOT the SR325i's, but the original Mahogany ones), the RS1i's/RS2i's, the PS1000's, or even the SR225's (again, NOT the SR225i's), a strong headphone amp (everyone has their favorites, but I find that these do best with a good amount of overhead), and the best source material you can get, ideally a very high-end system with DVD-Audio quality sound or better (don't even think about any kind of lossy compression, because you WILL hear every "off" sound).  Heck, I get fantastic results with simply plugging any of the aforementioned 'cans directly into the headphone port on my HT|Omega Claro Halo XT sound card in my very high end workstation/overclocking rig (who says you can't mix business and pleasure??)...
I will admit that every pair of Grado's that I've owned has needed some break-in time, with as little as 40 hours for some SR80i's to ~120hrs for the SR225/SR325 cans to really shine (RS1i's = 75-80hrs, RS2i's = 70-75hrs, PS1000's = 90hrs), but I do my "break-in" a bit differently than most: I set up everything through my computer, including DAC/amp/etc running off an M-Audio card, and I have a specific playlist I use for breaking them in that consists of 125-175x ~3:30 to ~11:15 long Audio Tracks (full, uncompressed recordings and masters; the 125 songs take up about 3.7GB of space! yes, about 30MB per track, at 192Khz/48bit "RAW") of varying types/genres set in "loop" for the first playthrough and then "looping random" after that, and the volume automatically adjusts based on elapsed time.  For those who wonder, I use: Sigur Ros, Pink Floyd, OK GO, Led Zeppelin, Bowie, Florence & the Machine, Grateful Dead, Incubus, Jay-Z, Jose Gonzalez, Pete Yorn, (recently added) Trent Reznor & Karen O's "Immigrant Song" cover from Girl w Dragon Tattoo, K'Naan, Manfred Mann, Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Metallica ("One"), Norman Greenbaum, Neil Young, Rolling Stones, Scala ("Blower's Daughter"), Shwayze, Sufjan Stevens, RUSH, Tegan&Sara, Tom Petty, The Roots, Them Crooked Vultures, and a bunch more; as you can see, it's a mix of male and female vocalists, every instrument under the sun, all types of music, and so forth (quite eclectic).  BUT IT WORKS!
I PROMISE YOU that if you properly break-in any pair of Grado's, they will become one of your favorite listening headphones, if not your number one.  Having tried everything from the bird-poop-looking iPod iEarbuds (kill me please) to most of the consumer-level stuff (Sony MDR's are Amazing for the price, Beats by Dre are absolute junk and I've left stuff in the porcelain chamber with more musicality than that overpriced BS), to headphones that cost more than many peoples' cars and proclaim to be "hand-assembled by a team of naked supermodels over the course of 123 days with all work done only under a half-crescent moon while Mars and Jupiter align, emparting magical sonic characteristics into the hand-carved African rare wood covers and plated with Rhinocerous poop, well known for its excellent bass enhancement"... Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but not THAT much.  YET I KEEP COMING BACK TO THE GRADO'S!!!

JadenKrosis's picture

This product recieved rave reviews in Stereophile. It scored well in comparisons and has even become JA`s go to device for USB audio playback.

Without going into too much detail of Micheal Lavorgnas` review I`m quite sure I`m safe to say he liked it very much also. 

Is it possible this product was overlooked amid all the shock and awe created by the Dragonfly?  (not that there`d be anything wrong with that, I want one too!!!)

John Atkinson's picture

Is it possible this product was overlooked amid all the shock and awe created by the Dragonfly?

The Halide was reviewed in August 2012, after this "Recommended Components" was prepared. It will be included in the next update, due in April.

The Halide was also included in the Collector's Edition of Recommended Components, available from newsstands and form the shop on this site: http://ssl.blueearth.net/primedia/home.php

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

JadenKrosis's picture

Thank you John and I look forwards to reading that April issue.

bmilwee's picture

In your October 2011 issue, the VPI classic 3 gets an A rating, but here it seems to have been demoted to a B.   Tthe Rega RP3 is class B here, but in the anniversary edition it gets a C rating.  Which is correct?

John Atkinson's picture

Yes, sometimes as the result of further experience of the product or of competitive products, sometimes because the initial rating is provisional, for a product that is reviewed in the same issue as the updated list. But whenever a rating has changed, it is the most recent rating that reflects our current opinion of the product.

In the case of the VPI Classic 3, it has been reinstated in Class A in the listing that will appear in the April 2013 issue.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

shp's picture

I have been a binge reader of stereophile ever since high school when my first job was in a high end stereo shop (Threshold amps, KEF 104.2's).  

My brother is an architect and my colleague an electrical engineer.  They both deride the idea that giant audiophile cables make a difference noting that the wire that delivers electricity to the house and through the walls is only this big.

Not having the budget to try an assortment of (sometimes very expensive) cables I've kept mine pretty modest.  But I will concede they can sound different.  

But I am a little confused that Stereophile has ratings for digital data connects without any measurements. 

Digital cables either deliver bit-perfect data streams or they don't. And their accuracy should be reported even if Stereophile also wants to report the sonic affect of any digital distortion.

If I spent a lot of money on a music server, DAC, amplification and speakers, the last thing I want is the cable altering the bits.