2015 Recommended Components Fall Edition Integrated Amps & Receivers

Integrated Amplifiers & Receivers

A

Ayre Acoustics AX-5 Twenty: $12,950
In 2013, AD described the original Ayre AX-5—a $9950 integrated amplifier built around a recently rediscovered configuration of bipolar transistors known as the "diamond" circuit—as "one of the three best, most musical, most human-sounding solid-state amps I've ever heard." Then, in 2015, Ayre debuted a new version, the AX-5 Twenty—a nod to the company's 20th anniversary—promising even better sound. The AX-5 Twenty is built into the same foursquare aluminum case as the AX-5, and is controlled by the same performance-optimizing Variable Gain Transconductance (VGT) volume-control system—but the Twenty incorporates Ayre's new Double Diamond output, claimed to run cooler (which AD verified) and to offer slightly more power (though the 125Wpc rating remains). This time out, AD got a little pissy about Ayre's user manual and the amp's "pointlessly complex" setup procedure, but was otherwise smitten: He delighted in a sound that was "slightly sweeter" than the original AX-5's. Stringed instruments, he said, were "reproduced with color, body, scale, melodic and rhythmic drive, and believable spatial presence." AD concluded that "the AX-5 Twenty is inarguably .ˇ.ˇ. more compelling than its predecessor." Although he raised an eyebrow at the 30% ($3000) price increase over the original, AD commended Ayre for allowing AX-5 owners to have their amps upgraded to Twenty status for the same price. (Vol.38 No.8 WWW)

Ayre Acoustics AX-7e: $3950 ★
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. Compared to the Luxman MQ-88 power amplifier, the Ayre offered greater bass extension and soundstage control but lacked the Luxman's beguiling midrange, said JM. 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 WWW; see also "The Fifth Element" in Vol.34 No.2 and Vol.35 No.4 WWW)

Bel Canto Design Black amplification system: $50,000
Tempting though it is to classify the Bel Canto Black as an integrated amplifier, it is more than that. This three-box system comprises a sort-of preamplifier, the ASC1 $20,000), and two sort-of monoblock amplifiers, the MPS1s ($15,000 each), the latter operating in class-D for 300Wpc into 8 ohms or 1200Wpc into 2 ohms. The Ethernet-ready ASC1, which can be controlled with an iPhone/Android Bluetooth app, provides a brace of digital inputs and, via ST-optical connections, feeds the MPS1 amps digital signals at their native resolutions up to 24-bit/192kHz and DSD64. The ASC1's single pair of analog inputs (RCA) address an internal 24/192 ADC: Everything that goes through the ASC1 does so as a digital stream, eligible for tailoring by a variety of user-selectable digital filters. (The MPS1 amplifiers also offer analog inputs.) In his listening tests, MF found the Bel Canto Black to offer "the most compelling digital sound yet," and to embody the best-yet implementation of class-D technology: "here, finally, is a class-D product that, though sounding definitely different from the older technologies, makes a strong case for equality." Writing from his test bench, JA declared that he was "very impressed by the Bel Canto Black, especially with its behavior as a D/A converter that is effectively capable of driving loudspeakers." (Vol.38 Nos.7 & 10 WWW)

Bel Canto C7R: $2595 $$$
Made in the US, the versatile C7R is a 60Wpc solid-state FM receiver with four S/PDIF digital inputs (two coaxial, two TosLink), two pairs of analog inputs (one phono, one line), one pair of line-level analog outputs, a front-panel headphone jack, and a built-in DAC with USB input capable of handling resolutions up to 24-bit/96kHz. Though it lacked some midrange clarity and high-frequency smoothness, the C7R sounded clear, immediate, and powerful, with excellent dynamics and tight, tuneful bass, said EL. "I loved the Bel Canto C7R. I recommend it to anyone who wants simplicity and great sound," he concluded. "Overall, the C7R is a well-designed piece of hardware," said JA. (Vol.36 No.3 WWW)

Jadis I-35: $7495
Made in France, the beautiful I-35 is a tubed, integrated amplifier with five line-level inputs. Though rated to deliver 35Wpc into 1–16 ohms, the I-35 produced just 17W into 8 ohms at 1% THD. It uses five small-signal tubes (three 12AU7s and a pair of 12AX7s) and two pairs of KT120 output tubes run in autobias mode in an Ultralinear circuit, with plates and screen grids for each channel tied to the split-coil primaries of transformers expertly designed and made in-house. Build quality and cosmetics were outstanding, inside and out. Though it lacked the fullness and richness of Art's Shindo separates, the Jadis produced a natural and engaging overall sound, with an excellent sense of momentum and a very good sense of the spatial relationships between different sounds in a stereo recording, said AD. "This is a damn good amp for getting to the essence of music," he concluded. (Vol.37 No.1 WWW)

Kondo Overture: $26,900 ★
Made in Japan, the 32Wpc Overture uses a class-A, Ultralinear output circuit with minimal (3dB) global feedback, executed with split-primary output transformers custom-wound by Tango. It uses two Electro-Harmonix EL34 output pentodes, one 6072, and one 12BH7 per channel. Build quality was exceptional and marked by silver wiring, handmade capacitors, bespoke resistors, a solid-copper ground plane, and a tuned chassis made from a combination of steel, brass, and aluminum. The Overture has no balance control, remote control, mono switch, headphone amplifier, or phono stage, but does provide four pairs of line-level inputs and a choice of 4- or 8-ohm output sockets. Though it was slightly lean and not quite as colorful as AD's Shindo separates, the Overture produced a natural, compelling overall sound with a well-extended treble and exceptional senses of drive and scale. (Vol.36 No.11 WWW)

LFD NCSE: $6795
A bigger and more powerful version of LFD's excellent Mk.IV LE, the NCSE Mk.II measures 17.2" W by 3.25" H by 15.7" D, and is rated to deliver 70Wpc. The basic circuit remains the same, with a pair of MOSFET output transformers for each channel. The NCSE Mk.II retained the smaller model's speed, transparency, harmonic accuracy, and illuminated-from-within quality, but added improved bass and dynamics, said ST. "If you like the Mk.IV LE but feel you're running out of power, the NCSE Mk.II would be the better choice, particularly if you're driving bigger speakers in a bigger room," he advised. (Vol.36 No.11)

LFD LE V: $4495
Dr. Richard Bews, proprietor of England's LFD electronics, has once again upgraded his and Dr. Malcolm O. Hawksford's original integrated amplifier, the 65Wpc LE (née Mistral): a perennial ST favorite, owing to its complete lack of convenience or "luxury" features that degrade sound and add expense. To those ends, all iterations of LFD's solid-state amp have lacked balance and tone controls, headphone jacks, extra sets of speaker outputs, digital displays, and, especially, remote controls. The LE, which Dr. Bews builds in small batches, provides five line-level inputs (but no phono section), and is made with only the highest-quality parts, some vintage (NOS), some custom-made. According to ST, the new LE V—whose improvements all seem to arise from a combination of sturdier casework and more refined parts—"is a showstopper. I mean that literally. I didn't want to write; I wanted to listen." Compared to the LE IV, which ST owns and loves, the LE V represents "a substantial improvement. Everything just fit into place: harmonics, timing, resolution." Quoth he: "Buy your LFD LE V today." (Vol.37 No.7)

Line Magnetic LM-518IA: $4450
See HR's review in this issue.

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 WWW)

PrimaLuna DiaLogue Premium HP: $4399
PrimaLuna's DiaLogue Premium HP employs a total of eight power tubes—EL34s are standard, although the user can substitute a variety of other power pentodes—to produce 40Wpc in triode mode or 70Wpc in Ultralinear mode. (On-the-fly switching between modes can be performed with the DiaLogue Premium HP's remote handset.) Additional features include a newly designed, six-tube front end; the "highest-end" implementation yet of PrimaLuna's Adaptive AutoBias circuit; and an all-tube headphone amp. RD, a fan of the company's earlier ProLogue Premium, found that the new amp provided higher power with no loss of finesse, and declared, "PrimaLuna had taken a major step forward in amplifier performance." JA's measurements indicated that "PrimaLuna's output transformers are of excellent quality." Distortion wasn't the lowest JA has seen, but, "fortunately, the distortion is heavily second-harmonic in nature in both modes, even at low frequencies." He concluded that, "overall, the PrimaLuna DiaLogue Premium HP measures well for a design using push-pull pairs of EL34 tubes." RD summed up: "$4199 for an integrated amp of the DiaLogue Premium HP's level of performance represents excellent value." (Vol.37 No.12 WWW)

PrimaLuna DiaLogue Premium: $3399
PrimaLuna's top-of-the-line integrated amplifier is rated to deliver 36Wpc with its stock EL34 output tubes or 43Wpc with optional KT120s. It uses PrimaLuna's Adaptive AutoBias feature for easy swapping of output tubes, and has a bad-tube indicator, power-transformer protection, and output-transformer protection circuitry. The DiaLogue Premium was extremely quiet and sounded bigger than its power rating suggested, with a rich midrange and an excellent sense of timing, said ST. "The DiaLogue Premium will be a dream come true for anyone who has a closetful of output tubes," he concluded. (Vol.36 No.6)

PrimaLuna ProLogue Premium: $3399 ★
Designed in Holland and made in China, the solidly built ProLogue Premium is rated to deliver 35Wpc with EL34 tubes or 40Wpc with KT88s. It has a heavy-gauge, ventilated case with a lustrous five-coat finish, features point-to-point wiring, and offers five pairs of RCA input jacks, a Home Theater bypass, and connections for speaker loads of 4 and 8 ohms. Though it lacked the three-dimensional imaging, detailed highs, and extended bass of more expensive amplifiers, the ProLogue Premium produced a natural, inviting midrange and performed well with a wide variety of speakers. "The PrimaLuna ProLogue Premium offers outstanding sound quality at a very reasonable price," said RD. JA noted respectable measured performance for a classic tube design. (Vol.35 No.6 WWW)

Simaudio Moon Evolution 700i: $14,000 ★
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 WWW; see also FK's Moon Evolution 860A review in Vol.38 No.8 WWW)

T+A Power Plant Balanced: $3300 ★
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, Vol.35 No.9 WWW)

Unison Research S6: $5600
Each channel of the Italian-made S6 uses three EL34 power pentode tubes in a class-A, single-ended, triple-parallel configuration to deliver 35Wpc into 8 ohms. Its distinctive chassis is longitudinally divided into three portions: a central raised center that houses the iron-core transformers is flanked by identical lower sections that hold the tube sockets, bias meters, and bias-adjustment controls. Compared with the Ars-Sonum Filarmon°a SE, the S6 was more forceful but gave up nothing in finesse; when partnered with the Opera Callas loudspeakers, the S6 was fatigue-free, with surprising dynamics and bass, said JM. (Vol.36 No.8 WWW)

Vinnie Rossi LIO: $7750 as tested
Vinnie Rossi, of Red Wine Audio, designed the LIO integrated amplifier around his unconventional PURE DC-4-EVR power-supply technology, which powers the electronics using two rows of series-wired ultracapacitors: one provides pure DC while the other is being charged, those roles alternating every few minutes. The LIO is modular: The buyer adds to the combination of case and power supply—a $1995 product that, by itself, cannot pass a music signal—his or her choice of volume-control module, input-selection module, line stage, phono stage, D/A converter, headphone amp, and power amp, prices and options for which are too numerous to list here. HR was charmed: "Right out of the box, the Vinnie Rossi LIO played music that flowed smoothly and silkily." He noted in particular the amp's "detail, drive, and forward momentum." HR's verdict: "If there is a more innovative and musically satisfying integrated amplifier than the Vinnie Rossi LIO, I have yet to experience it." JA's measurements revealed "good to excellent" performance from the LIO's volume-control, phono-preamp, and digital-audio modules, but uncovered problems such as low-level spuriae at 60Hz, unexpected bumps in the noise floor, power output into 8 ohms that failed to reach the 25Wpc spec by 8W, and too high a level of second-harmonic distortion for his comfort. (Vol.38 No.9 WWW)

B

Cambridge Audio Azur 851A: $1999
First cousin to the Cambridge Azur 851D DAC, the Azur 851A integrated amplifier provides 120Wpc into 8 ohms, two balanced inputs (XLR), eight unbalanced line-level inputs (RCA), and the rare luxury of bass and treble tone controls. HR wrote that he could best describe the sound of the Azur 851A as "relaxed and enjoyably colorful, in a class-A triode sort of way. It sounded more naturally toned and weighty than my Creek 3330 or my Line Magnetic LM-518IA, and showed none of that off-putting grayness or brittleness often heard in low-priced, high-powered amps." In his measurements, JA discovered that the amp's right-channel performance was not in keeping with that of the left channel—although he suggested that the right channel's relative shortcomings were inaudible. His conclusion: "Assuming that the less-good performance of its right channel was a sample-specific fault, Cambridge Audio's Azur 851A is a well-built amplifier that offers a lot of power with very low distortion at an affordable price." HR's last word: "a versatile and extraordinarily musical cornerstone on which to build a truly enjoyable high-end system that can play all types of music with righteous aplomb for little cost." (Vol.38 No.2 WWW)

Creek Audio Evolution 100A: $2195
The top-of-the-line amp from UK-based Creek, the new Evolution 100A integrated operates in class-G: A pair of Sanken Darlington transistors, biased for class-A/B, do the honors up to 25Wpc, beyond which an additional pair of transistors kicks in, for 110Wpc total into 8 ohms. Of its five line-level inputs (RCA), one can also be addressed as balanced (XLR), while any of the remaining four can be upgraded with plug-in DAC, AM/FM tuner, and phono-stage modules. HR enjoyed using the Creek's Ambit tuner ($250), and praised the "clean, open, extended highs" of the amp's optional Ruby DAC module ($599), which handles 24-bit/192kHz inputs via its coax and TosLink S/PDIF inputs, and 24/96 via USB—though he felt the merely "good" Sequel Mk.2 moving-magnet phono-stage module ($200) wasn't up to the DAC's level of quality. Considering the 100A's amplification talents, HR praised it for playing a great variety of music in a "straightforward, exciting, satisfying way." Apart from some front-panel control glitches that might have been specific to "this well-traveled review sample," JA found that the Evolution 100A "measured quite well." (Vol.38 No.7 WWW)

Creek Evolution 50A: $1195 $$$
Creek's new entry-level model is a class-A/B design claimed to deliver 55Wpc into 8 ohms. It offers four single-ended and one balanced input, one of which can accommodate one of three MM or MC plug-in phono boards. The clean front panel has input-selector and Volume knobs, Balance and Tone controls, and a large display. The Creek produced an uncolored midrange, impressive bass impact, and excellent resolution of high-frequency detail, delicacy, and air, said BJR. "An involving, flexible, and good-sounding piece of electronics," he concluded, adding that it "sounds more powerful than its rating would imply." "Considering its affordable price, Creek's Evolution 50A measures fundamentally well," said JA, though he points out that its output stage is underbiased. (Vol.36 No.8 WWW)

Croft Phono Integrated: $1895 $$$
Croft's 45Wpc Phono Integrated combines in a single package the company's Micro 25 preamplifier and Series 7 power amplifier to create a hybrid integrated in which line- and moving-magnet–compatible phono-stage gain is provided by ECC83 vacuum tubes, output power by transistors. In addition to its phono input, the Croft has three analog line inputs, but offers no remote control, digital inputs, headphone jack, or upgrade paths for USB connectivity. Apart from a small circuit board containing the bipolar timer and relays, the Phono Integrated is hand-wired, point to point, with neatly made solder joins and Bakelite terminal strips. AD liked the Croft's dual-mono volume controls, SM not so much. They agreed, however, that the Croft's sound was extraordinary: smooth, coherent, open, naturally detailed, forceful, physical, and dynamic, with a great sense of space and an expert ability to drive a beat forward. "If I were a designer or builder, this is how I would do the thing. If I were buying in this price range, this is the one I'd choose," raved AD. On JA's test bench, however, the Croft exhibited a nonflat RIAA response and high levels of harmonic and intermodulation distortion. According to ST, "the sound of the Phono Integrated was musical in a way that very few hi-fi components are." Apart from noting this model's 1970s-style cosmetics ("A pox on cosmetics!"), minimalist conveniences ("A pox on convenience!"), and slightly plump bass, ST declared the Croft "one of the best integrated amplifiers I have ever heard." (Vol.36 No.10, Vol.37 No.5 WWW)

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 WWW)

Hegel Music Systems H160: $3500
The Norwegian-made Hegel H160 swims against technology's tide with an output section based on discrete bipolar transistors operated in class-A/B, rather than the increasingly common class-D devices. The H160 is specified as offering 150Wpc into 8 ohms, and its features include a front-mounted 6.3mm headphone jack—a first on a Hegel amp—plus USB, coaxial, optical, and Ethernet digital inputs, these addressing an internal DAC whose measured performance JA described as "workmanlike." Despite his disappointment that the H160 offered only a single unbalanced analog input alongside its single balanced input, HR warmed to its "ardent and visceral" sound, and praised its playback of recorded voices as being "striking in its naturalness." JA's measurements included the observation that thermal stressing brought about a temporary increase in distortion in this otherwise "well-engineered powerhouse": "this is not an amplifier suitable for sustained high-power use." (Vol.38 No.6 WW)

Manley Labs Stingray iTube: $6300 ★
Manley Labs Stingray II: $5900 ★

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 ¼" 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, WWW; Vol.33 Nos.3, 9, & 11, Stingray II WWW)

Naim NAIT 5si: $1995
Introduced 30 years after Naim Audio's original Nait, the new Nait 5si is a 60Wpc (into 8 ohms) integrated amp with a built-in headphone amp, and with inputs for four line-level sources—but no phono preamp. Inputs are selected with soft-touch buttons, and all are addressed with RCA plugs, while two of those are also equipped with DIN inputs: Naim's traditional preference. HR enjoyed the Nait 5si for tracking complex rhythms with perfection, and for keeping even the most microscopic pitch intervals "in good focus." The Nait 5si lacked color and spaciousness compared to HR's more expensive tubed integrated, but "made it easy to hear—watch—[the music's] rhythms. Forward momentum was spellbinding: The Nait directed my attention toward how the players attacked their instruments." Apart from inverted signal polarity on the headphone output, JA found nothing untoward in his measurements—noting, in fact, that the Nait developed more output power than specified. HR summed up: "The Nait 5si is a world-class integrated amplifier that delivers more audio precision and musical enjoyment than any self-respecting anti-imperialist should ever need." (Vol.37 No.10 WWW)

Octave Audio V 40 SE: $4500
The entry-level V40 SE Line, from Germany's Octave Audio, is an integrated amplifier with an active line-only preamp section and—despite its model designation—a push-pull output section, using two KT88 pentode tubes per side to produce 40Wpc. (A wide variety of similar pentodes can be used instead, but not all will produce the same amount of power.) The output tubes are operated as true pentodes, and the design entails 10dB of global feedback; output-tube bias is user-adjustable via system of which AD remarked, "I have never encountered a surer, safer, less ambiguous, or altogether better means of checking and adjusting tube bias." He was similarly impressed by the Octave's musical performance, describing its ability to portray musical timing and momentum as "superb." AD also enjoyed the V40 SE's "up-front" sound and "better-than-average sense of scale," also noting that while it didn't sound bright, it had sufficiently extended trebles that "reasonable care should be taken in the setup and adjusting of partnering gear." An easy-to-install power-supply enhancement, the Octave Black Box ($1200), made an audible improvement, but shouldn't be considered mandatory. JA noted that the V40 SE "measured as I would expect from a traditional design that uses a pair of KT88 output tubes for each channel," and praised the amp's "impressively high standard" of construction. (Vol.37 No.8 WWW)

Peachtree Audio nova125SE: $1199
The handsome, remote-controlled nova125 combines a 125Wpc amplifier, preamplifier with tubed buffer stage, headphone amp, and asynchronous USB DAC capable of handling resolutions up to 24-bit/192kHz. It offers three S/PDIF inputs, one analog input, and a preamp output. Though it lacked some resolution, the Peachtree had a slightly warm and soft overall sound, with excellent tonality, well-defined bass, and smooth highs, said ST. "Peachtree Audio has delivered a plum," he concluded. Add $100 for Cherry or Rosewood finish. (Vol.36 No.1 WWW)

Rogers High Fidelity EHF-100: $7000
Made in the US by former NASA engineer Roger Gibboni, the EHF-100 is rated to deliver 65Wpc (JA measured 35Wpc) into 8 ohms; offers four pairs of line-level inputs; and uses two EF86 miniature pentode, two 12AX7 triode, and four KT88 power tubes. Fit and finish were excellent. Though not as nuanced, colorful, or dramatic as AD's reference Shindo separates, the EHF-100 distinguished itself as a tight, punchy-sounding amplifier with loads of natural detail, a very good sense of momentum, and an excellent sense of space. Despite differences in the noise floor between its two channels, the EHF-100 measured well "for a classic design," said JA. (Vol.35 No.11 WWW)

Rogue Sphinx: $1295
The Sphinx is that rarity in contemporary audio: a US-made integrated amplifier with a tubed (12AU7) line stage, a MM-appropriate phono stage, and a headphone jack, all for less than the price of a round-trip ticket to Paris—and Rogue Audio doesn't even make you buy their remote handset ($100). Using Bruno Putzeys's Hypex class-D power modules in tandem with a nonswitching power supply, this hybrid integrated delivers 100Wpc into 8 ohms or 200Wpc into 4 ohms. HR enjoyed his time with the Sphinx, noting its "greater scale and bass force" than his Creek 4330 integrated, and praising its line stage as perhaps "the best of [its] many good features: Everything I played was enjoyably detailed, transparent, and spacious." HR's verdict: "Judging by my experiences with the Sphinx, Rogue's owner and designer, Mark O'Brien, has taken this stigmatized, lower-class mode of operation to a new, more refined level." According to JA, apart from a bit of ultrasonic noise in its output, the Sphinx's amplifier section avoided most of the usual class-D pitfalls, and he particularly praised the MM phono section. (Vol.37 No.8 WWW)

Roksan Kandy K2 BT: $1900
This solid-state integrated amp, descended from the original Roksan Kandy K2 (reviewed by AD in Vol.33 No.5), is notable for offering both an MM phono stage and a Bluetooth input alongside its three line-level inputs. The Kandy K2 BT, which also provides a pair of preamp-out jacks and a bypass input for AV fans, delivers 140Wpc into 8 ohms and 250Wpc into 4 ohms. In HR's system, "The K2 BT showed consistently good tone and scale, but music often felt a tad soft and round—especially at the edges of string plucks and keystrokes." That said, HR declared that "[the Roksan's] phono stage was the best I've heard in a moderately priced integrated—it played LPs in living color." As for Bluetooth, HR was underwhelmed, noting that "the detail, life and naturalness exceeded my expectations but I was disappointed by the amount of low-level fuzz and blur I was noticing." He found that Bluetooth music sounded best when playback levels were kept in check. In his measurements, JA echoed that last sentiment—"if you use the Roksan's BT input, keep your source's volume control down"—and commented that the K2 BT's frequency response "depends to a larger extent than usual on its volume-control setting." (Vol.37 No.11 WWW)

Unison Research Simply Italy: $3000 ★
The solidly built Simply Italy uses an ECC82 driver tube and an EL34B output tube to deliver 12Wpc. It measures just 10" W by 7.5" H by 15.5" D and offers four line-level inputs, a tape loop, and a single set of outputs optimized for 4–8 ohm speakers. Solid-wood inlays around the hefty, stainless-steel volume and selector knobs help damp vibrations. Fit and finish were outstanding. Though it lacked the dimensionality and expansiveness of larger Unison Research amplifiers, the Simply Italy had a confident, solid sound with surprisingly tight bass, said ST. "My little bambino." He sums up. "Clear, crisp sound, tight bass for all of its 12 watts." ST thinks there may be no better amp for small-group jazz. The Simply Italy was an especially good partner for DeVore Fidelity's Orangutan O/93 loudspeakers, said ST. Replacing the amp's stock EL34Bs with Genelex KT77 output tubes resulted in an airier sound with less robust bass and improved top-end extension. (Vol.35 No.8; Vol.37 No.1)

C

Arcam FMJ A19: $999 $$$
Rated to deliver 50Wpc into 8 ohms, the FMJ A19 is Arcam's most affordable integrated amplifier. It provides six line-level inputs, tape and preamplifier outputs, a moving-magnet phono stage, and two front-panel mini-jacks: one for driving headphones, the other for connecting an iPod. While the A19 gets its power from a hefty toroidal transformer, a second internal power supply can deliver a direct, isolated, and regulated 6V to two of Arcam's r-series products, such as the rBlink Bluetooth DAC that ST enjoyed. Build quality was excellent, setup simple, operation flawless. Though it lacked some smoothness and drama, the A19 combined a sweet treble, a clean midrange, and well-defined bass for a sound that was fun, involving, and never fatiguing, said SM. JA noted excellent measured performance, but warned that the A19 shouldn't be used to drive at high levels loads much below 6 ohms. Borderline Class B. (Vol.37 No.1 WWW)

Music Hall a15.3: $549
Rated at 50Wpc into 8 ohms or 75Wpc into 4 ohms, the Music Hall a15.3 is a full-size (16.9" W by 3.1" H by 13.2" D) integrated amplifier that includes a MM phono input, mini-jack and RCA line-level inputs, and a front-panel headphone jack. SM admired the a15.3's "high level of fit and finish," adding that the amp performed without flaw in his system. Using the a15.3 with Music Hall's companion c15.3 CD player–DAC and comparing it with NAD's C 515BEE CD player and C 316BEE integrated amplifier, SM found that the a15.3 sounded "more open and airy, and produced a wider, deeper soundstage with beautifully focused images," although it "lacked the NADs' intangible smoothness and musical flow." Among the inputs offered, none impressed SM more than the a15.3's phono stage, which "sounded superb—quiet, dynamic, and emotionally compelling." (Vol.37 No.6 WWW)

NAD D 3020: $499 $$$
Launched to celebrate NAD's 40th anniversary, the 30Wpc D 3020 takes only its name from the company's iconic 3020 integrated amplifier; every other aspect of the design has been thoroughly modernized. It uses a switch-mode power supply, lacks a phono stage, and has only a single analog input, but includes a front-panel headphone minijack; an optional 6dB bass boost; a subwoofer output; coaxial, optical, and 24-bit/96kHz-capable asynchronous USB inputs; and uses an audio-optimized aptX codec for Bluetooth streaming. Weighing just 3 lbs and measuring an unusual 73/8" H by 25/16" W by 85/8" D, the D 3020 can be placed horizontally, like a traditional component, or stood upright, like a modem or hard drive. Uncommonly sensual for a hi-fi product, it has a large, textured volume knob; soft, smooth side panels; and a touchscreen that occupies its entire front panel and extends through one entire side panel. The sound from every input was warm, present, and naturally detailed; even low-quality MP3s streamed wirelessly via Bluetooth were engaging, said SM. "Right now, NAD's D 3020 is the best bargain in all of hi-fi," added ST. Borderline Class B. (Vol.36 Nos. 11 & 12, Vol.38 No.5 WWW)

NAD C 316BEE: $379 $$$ ★
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 WWW)

PS Audio Sprout: $799 $$$
Designed in Colorado, and built in China, the PS Audio Sprout is a compact (6" W by 1.75" H by 8" D) integrated amplifier with built-in MM phono preamp, 24-bit/192kHz USB D/A converter, and Bluetooth receiver. The Sprout's class-D power amp can deliver up to 33Wpc across an 8-ohm load, and its front panel incorporates a ¼" headphone jack, use of which automatically mutes the loudspeaker output. In his review, HR observed that the Sprout occasionally lent the sound "a trace of darkness—not grayness or lack of color," but he found that the little Sprout consistently "demonstrated an ability to engage my attention and keep it locked on the space, character, and artistry of the music being played." HR also felt that the Sprout's Bluetooth wireless performance was "richer, more detailed, less hollow and vapid than any Bluetooth sound I've tried so far," though he found the Sprout's sound through headphones less rich than through speakers. Apart from a response-curve bump centered at 67Hz, JA's measurements uncovered nothing untoward. HR's conclusion: "The Sprout specialized in the beguiling reproduction of every kind of music I sent through its four inputs." (Vol.38 No.5 WWW)

D

Lepai LP7498E: $99.90
Rated to deliver 100Wpc via its TriPath class-D output stage, the Lepai is a small (4.5" W by 1.25" H by 7" D) integrated amplifier with one pair of RCA inputs, two pairs of speaker binding posts, and a dedicated 36V DC power supply. It uses STMicroelectronics' TDA7498 class-D module and supports Bluetooth streaming but not aptX. CDs played through the Lepai's RCA input sounded big, bold, and emotionally compelling, with a natural midrange, sweet highs, good bass weight, and well-focused images, but digital files streamed via Bluetooth sounded gritty, compressed, and murky, said SM. Sold by Parts Express with a 45-day money-back guarantee and lifetime service warranty. (Vol.37 No.2 WWW)

K

Musical Fidelity NuVista 800.

Deletions
Ayre Acoustics AX-5 replaced by new model; AVM Inspiration C8 discontinued; Swissonor V.S.O.P. not currently available in the US; Audio Research VSi60, Cayin SP-10A, Leben CS300, Outlaw Audio RR2150, Rega Brio-R, all not auditioned in a long time.

Complete Audio Systems

Eclipse TD-M1: $1300
The TD-M1 system comprises a pair of desktop loudspeakers, each of which has a single 3" full-range driver in a reflex-loaded and vaguely egg-shaped enclosure, the latter made with an alloy frame and a molded exoskeleton. Of each TD-M1 pair, one enclosure also contains a 20Wpc digital amplifier and a 24-bit/192kHz USB D/A converter, the latter equipped for wireless streaming via Apple AirPlay. Aside from grousing about high-tech user controls that were slightly too obscure, AD had fun with the easy-to-install TD-M1 system, enjoying in particular its very accessible WiFi function. All in all, AD's time with the Eclipse system left him giddy: "I had a great time with this system whenever I used it—and it was always easy." (Vol.38 No.5 WWW)

Bluesound Vault, Powernode, Node, Pulse, Duo: $449–$999
Bluesound is a new line of whole-house sound products from the Lenbrook Group, owners of NAD and PSB. The Bluesound Vault ($999), which requires an Ethernet connection to the Internet, is an 11.5" W by 9.3" H by 8.1" D box containing an optical drive, a 24-bit/192kHz Cirrus-Logic sigma-delta DAC, and 1TB of storage. Inputs are Ethernet, WiFi, USB Type A, and, by means of an optional dongle, Bluetooth. Outputs include an analog RCA pair and digital TosLink capable of passing up to 24/192 data to an external DAC. The Bluesound Powernode ($699), which looks identical to the Vault but is slightly smaller, is a network player with a 24/192 DAC. The Powernode has the same complement of inputs as the Vault, while its outputs are a subwoofer-out jack (RCA) and two pairs of binding posts for speakers. The Powernode can operate with or without the Vault; in the latter case, the Powernode will access music files from the user's NAS. The Bluesound Node ($449) is—get ready for it—rather like the Powernode, but without (output) power. The Bluestone Duo ($899) is, in the words of ML, "a straightforward satellite-and-(self-powered)-subwoofer loudspeaker system designed by Paul Barton of PSB Speakers [and] meant to be powered by the Powernode." And the Bluesound Pulse ($699) is a 13.4-lb "network-ready boom box" that runs on AC wall current. With Bluesound products scattered throughout his home and with the system as a whole accessing files on his QNAP NAS, ML found the sound of the Bluesound "ecology" to be pleasantly rich and full, if, in some instances, a bit dark; with regard to the latter quality, inclusion of the Auralic Vega DAC restored the missing sparkle. "I enjoyed my time with the Bluesound components," ML stated, noting that the Pulse was perhaps the pleasantest surprise of the lot. (Vol.37 No.7 WWW)

COMMENTS
corrective_unconscious's picture

Is meant to summon 1960s LP album covers - the record company banners on them. Of course the "stereophile" logo is of a different style, but still a nice touch if I'm correct.

Venere 2's picture

Too funny to see the 1499$ KEF LS50 still in Class A with the Magico Q5 at 65 000$

That is one of a good handful of aberrations. Stereophile gets a lot of things right. But when they don't, they really don't!

z24069's picture

Under Disc Players, Transports, etc...there are some fine choices in all the categories and they all definitely belong on the list IMHO.

HOWEVER, you've completely left Esoteric products off the list; this begs the question as to how at least one of the myriad SOTA products (1box as well as multi-box) from Esoteric including the K-01x, K-03x, P-02/D-02, P-1/D-1s/etc...cannot be found on this list.

Their products did receive nominations from TAS and Stereophile for best-of categories for many years and have been bettered in terms of sound quality in more recent product releases; it leaves one wondering how they could be conspicuous by their complete absence from this year's and last year's lists???

John Atkinson's picture
z24069 wrote:
it leaves one wondering how they could be conspicuous by their complete absence from this year's and last year's lists???

This is because we haven't reviewed any Esoteric products for a couple of years. (I favorably reviewed the D-07 D/A processor in 2011 - see www.stereophile.com/content/esoteric-d-07-da-processor.) The company has gone through major changes in its management and distribution and we are waiting for things to settle down before investing our resources in a review.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

z24069's picture

John,

Thank you for the reply...there has been high praise on various forums for K01, K01X, K03X, P1/D1, P2/D2 and C02/C02X products from them. It is true with the buy of Esoteric away from Teac and Onkyo/Integra now providing support and sales things have changed and a number of us had to dig a bit to get contacts at the new company for everything from sales to support. It may be time to review them again however as the level of playback achieved by the P1/D1, P2/D2 and K01X is nothing short of stunning, certainly in line with many products that did make the list over the last couple of years. If you are interested in those contacts or talking directly with some Esoteric owners of multi-generations including the current ones, please let me know and I'll get you in touch.... There are other brands and products missing as well (check out Legacy "V" and "Aeris" for example) and the industry has grown,...perhaps the 500 number as a cut-off should be revisited and raised!

z24069's picture

BTW...if there is a way to reach you via email, I'd be happy to pass on the contacts that some of us have found work for getting in touch with the Sales and Support side of the new Esoteric and to talk about some great music that is currently spinning....Have a great weekend!

yuvalg9's picture

Hello,

1. In the CD players category, I think you should have mentioned the Naim CD5si and the Cyrus CD i. Both are great value for money.

2. In the Turntables category, I think you should have mentioned at least one of the Pro-Ject models. Pro-Ject is, as you may know, the largest TT Manufacturer in the world.

3. GoldenEar's Triton 5 under the "K" category? Maybe I misunderstood what the "K" category is?

Regards,

Yuval

blingbass's picture

Hello,
I am in the quest of a good noise-cancelling pair of headphones and I came across this bose quietcomfort 25 review.
They are far cheaper than the PSB M4U 2 but I don't know how they compare... Have you tried them ?

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