Recommended Components: 2019 Edition Surround-Sound Components

Music Surround-Sound Components (other than speakers and disc players)

A+

Merging Technologies NADAC Multichannel-8: $11,500
Among pro-audio companies that have set their sights on the domestic market, the Swiss manufacturer Merging Technologies is noted for its experience with high-resolution networked-audio interfaces. Their NADAC Multichannel-8 (its first name stands for Network Attached Digital to Analogue Converter) is intended for use with network-based file players, and is compatible with the audio-specific Ravenna protocol. Via Ethernet, the Multichannel-8 supports PCM up to 384kHz, plus DXD and DSD256; S/PDIF and AES/EBU inputs are also supplied, and these are compatible with up to 192kHz, and DSD over PCM (DoP). In KR's system, physical hookup went smoothly, and although there was a hitch or two in setup, the effort was rewarded: "Even admitting to a positive expectation bias, I was impressed with the sound, not disappointed." KR observed that, while listening to a multichannel DSD256 file, "I had the disturbing but exhilarating feeling that music was actually being made in my room, not merely reproduced. The sound was no more 'multichannel' than it was 'stereo.'" Speaking of which, a stereo-only version of the Multichannel-8, the NADAC Stereo, is available for $10,500. (Vol.39 Nos.3 & 5 WWW)

A

ATi AT543nc 3-channel power amplifier: $3595
From ATI—a company founded by Morris Kessler, best known for also having founded SAE—comes the AT543NC: one of a line Hypex NCore–based, 500Wpc, class-D amplifiers that are modular inasmuch as the user can select from two-, three-, and four-channel amps. Inside the AT543 are an NCore module with two amplifiers and another with only one; both are powered by conventional linear supply boards, the former drawing from a 950kVA toroidal transformer and the latter drawing from a 650kVA toroid. With the AT543NC powering his Bowers & Wilkins 802 D3 loudspeakers, KR reported a sound that was "immediately appealing in terms of both balance and clarity." His conclusion: "I am completely taken with ATI's AT543NC." (Vol.40 No.3 WWW)

Bryston 9B-SST2: $10,995 ★
The 9B-SST2 power amplifier (called 9B-THX at the time of the review) boasts five channels, 120Wpc into 8 ohms, and is built like pro gear; ie, like a tank. Hand-soldered, double-sided glass-epoxy boards and elaborate grounding scheme front special-grade steel toroidal transformers. According to JA, "the excellent set of measurements indicates solid, reliable engineering." LG was impressed by this amp's speed, power, extension, its tightness and definition in the bass, and its "excellent" midrange. Fully the equal of more costly amps, with wide dynamic contrasts and "involving" vocals, and sonically similar to previous Bryston ST amps. THX conformance, a 20-year (!) warranty, and a reasonable price make this beefy, reliable amp an attractive package—a perfect choice, suggests LG, for home-theater and multichannel music systems. KR's long-term multi-channel reference. (Vol.23 No.9 WWW)

Classé Sigma AMP5 power amplifier: $5000 ★
From Classé's Sigma series of Chinese-made and comparatively budget-priced components comes their new AMP5, descended from the Sigma AMP2 stereo amplifier. The five-channel AMP5 shares the proprietary class-D technology of its two-channel brother, and gives the user a choice of inputs: RCA jacks for all five, or XLRs for the two front channels and RCAs for the remainder. On installing the AMP5 in his system, KR "immediately" heard a performance distinction, and ultimately praised the amp's midrange and treble as "pure and smooth—something of a surprise for a class-D amp—and the bass was powerful, delineated, and extended." His verdict: "performance that easily competes with or outperforms comparable nonswitching designs." (Vol.38 No.5 WWW)

Marantz AV8805 preamplifier/processor: $4499
The AV8805 is the fourth Marantz pre-pro used by Kal Rubinson, who assures us that "the most widely promoted features new in the AV8805 concern home theater . . . and video." What really interested KR were the carryovers from the AV8805's predecessor, the AV8802a, such as Marantz's Hyper Dynamic Amplifier Module (HDAM) buffer output stages for each channel, and the AV8805's support of Audyssey's brand-new MultEQ Editor app. If you already own an AV8802a, should you replace it with an AV8805? Quoth KR, "Maybe, but only if you're using it for more than just multichannel music playback." Nonetheless, Kal regards the Marantz AV8805 as "the standard bearer in home theater and multichannel audio." (Vol.41 No.11)

miniDSP DIO8 USBStreamer: $299 inc. cable $$$
There has been a serious impediment to the spread of multichannel playback among audiophiles." Thus did KR describe the scarcity of commercial multichannel D/A processors—at the moment, there appear to be only three—and its stultifying effect on hobbyists interested in surround sound. A solution has appeared in the form of miniDSP's U-DIO8 multichannel interface. It converts the USB output of any computer running Windows, Mac OS, or Linux to either AES/EBU or S/PDIF, thus allowing that computer, acting in the role of server/player, to drive three or four two-channel DACs, which are as common as worms after a rainstorm. The U-DIO8's output is limited to 24-bit/192kHz. KR tested the U-DIO8 with several different two-channel processors, observed that "the sonic signature of each model of DAC remained audible," and concluded that miniDSP's new interface is "as indispensable to multichannel audio as a cream filling is to an Oreo." (Vol.41 No.9 WWW)

miniDSP U-DIO8 Multichannel Interface: $299
There has been a serious impediment to the spread of multichannel playback among audiophiles." Thus did Kal Rubinson describe, in his September 2018 "Music in the Round" column, the scarcity of commercial multichannel D/A processors—at the moment, there appear to be only three—and its stultifying effect on hobbyists interested in surround sound. A solution has appeared in the form of the U-DIO8 multichannel interface from miniDSP. This takes the USB output of any computer running Windows, Mac OS, or Linux, and converts it to AES/EBU or S/PDIF, thus allowing that computer, acting as a server/player, to drive three or four two-channel DACs, which appear to be as common as worms after a rainstorm. While noting that the U-DIO8's output is limited to 24/192, KR tested it with several different two-channel processors and observed that "the sonic signature of each model of DAC remained audible," and concluded that miniDSP's new interface is "as indispensable to multichannel audio as a cream filling is to an Oreo." In his November 2018 column, Kal wrote of using the U-DIO8 to wrangle a trio of Benchmark DAC3 HGCs, with interesting and, at times, musically stunning results. (Vol.41 Nos. 9 & 11 WWW)

NAD M17 V2 preamp/processor (with Dirac): $5999
In the January 2015 Stereophile, KR opined that NAD's Masters Series of products had taken a turn from the conservative to the adventurous—evidence of which he saw in the Masters M17 (then $5499), which contained individual, updatable modules for digital video, analog video, digital audio, and analog audio. KR criticized the poor positioning of the front-panel off/standby switch, yet declared, "the M17's remote control was an unalloyed delight: slim, and just hefty enough to feel good in the hand." According to him, "The M17's sound, too, was delightful." He noted dynamics that were "precise and satisfying," and bass that was "delivered with authority"—and KR observed that "playing hi-rez and/or multichannel files from my server, connected to the M17 via HDMI, was simply glorious, especially as these signals were passed through a Dirac Live speaker-and-room–correction filter set at 24/96." Precisely four years later, in the January 2019 issue, Kal wrote of his experience with the M17 V2, noting that "either [the off/standby switch has] been improved or I've become more adept," and reporting his delight with the new version's included Dirac Live room-correction software, which replaces the original's Audyssey XT32 software: "NAD's Masters Series M17 V2 is a superb-sounding pre-pro and DAC right out of the box, but Dirac Live elevates it to something special." (Vol.38 No.1, Vol.42 No.1 WWW)

NAD Masters Series M27: $3999 ★
No mere afterthought to the Masters M17 pre-pro," according to KR, the Masters M27 is a seven-channel class-D power amp based on the recent Hypex NCore module. Single-ended (RCA) and balanced (XLR) inputs are provided for all channels, and the Masters M27 is rated at 250Wpc—or 180Wpc with all seven channels driven. A mildly wonky on/off switch was the only fly in this multichannel ointment: KR praised the M27's sound as "notably clean and punchy," adding that "[the amplifier's] midrange and treble were completely free of any grain or, significantly, the grayish character that is a consistent flaw in the sounds of many of the otherwise excellent class-D amps I've used." (Vol.38 No.1 WWW)

Parasound Halo A 31: $3295 $$$ ★
Based on circuitry developed by John Curl for the highly praised Halo JC 1, the three-channel A 31 power amplifier is rated to deliver 250Wpc into 8 ohms or 400Wpc into 4 ohms. Like other Halo models, the A 31 is solidly built and has a clean, attractive, brushed-aluminum faceplate. On the rear panel are three groups of connectors/controls, one per channel, including balanced and unbalanced inputs and gain controls. Though it lacked some upper-bass richness, the A 31 had a "clean, luminous" overall sound, with a sophisticated, detailed treble; rich, clean midrange; and firm, extended bass, said KR, adding that "the sound is full, balanced and detailed and packs a wallop." (Vol.35 No.9 WWW)

Parasound Halo P 7: $2295 $$$ ★
The Halo P 7 is a full-featured analog stereo preamp with six stereo inputs, balanced and unbalanced outputs, front-panel headphone and MP3 jacks, and an MM/MC phono preamp. It also provides two 7.1-channel unbalanced inputs that can be set for home-theater bypass, optional bass management for all sources, and RS-232/12V connections to integrate with modern A/V systems. With its "delightfully open, balanced sound" and outstanding versatility, the Halo P 7 is "the category killer of analog multichannel preamps or HT bypass," raved KR. (Vol.32 No.1 WWW)

Sound Performance Labs Volume 8: $699
Sound Performance Labs SMC 7.1: $1899

As Kal Rubinson noted in the January 2018 Stereophile, "It's no secret that there are very few analog control options . . . for multichannel." Into that void steps a German pro-audio company called Sound Performance Labs with their first domestic-audio products. The Volume 8 is a volume control in a box with an eight-channel balanced input and an eight-channel balanced output. The SMC 7.1 Surround Monitor Controller adds to the Volume 8 a second eight-channel balanced input, two pairs of XLR stereo inputs, one stereo XLR output, an XLR subwoofer output on which appears a full-range mono sum of the L/R stereo inputs, a headphone jack, two outputs for metering, an array of illuminated pushbuttons, and a GPS receiver. Both SPL products require the use of DB25 cables (not included). KR began with the Volume 8—"connecting it . . . was much easier than I'd expected"—but was at first disappointed by its "dim, claustrophobic sound." Yet in time, the sound improved to a point where "there was only a slight dimming above 10kHz." Now "the entire soundstage was more continuous than contiguous, and the sweet spot was much bigger." KR found the SMC 7.1's sound indistinguishable from the Volume 8's; although he appreciated the additional multichannel input of SPL's more expensive model and acknowledged that "the studio-style switching options are a bonus," he noted that he would rather have channel-level controls. Just kidding about the GPS receiver. (Vol.41 No.1 WWW)

Theta Digital Dreadnaught D: $6985 and up ★
The fourth model in Theta Digital's Dreadnaught series—hence the D, which also refers to the output stage's class of operation—the Dreadnaught D uses Hypex NCore modules, coupled not with a switch-mode power supply but with a distinctly robust supply of more traditional design and construction. Hence this class-D amp's atypical size and weight of 17.5" wide by 7.9" high by 19.6" deep and 98.6 lb. A modular design, the Dreadnaught D can be had with up to eight channels of 225W each; Theta Digital sent us a 225Wx5 sample, which, according to KR, "not only sounded good, it sounded right." After writing his review, KR continued to live with the Dreadnaught D, using only three of its five channels, and his enthusiasm for it didn't wane: "I've been on a long search for a powerful, transparent three-channel amplifier that I can lift. The Dreadnaught D meets the first two criteria." (Vol.39 Nos. 3 & 5 WWW)

B

KEF R8a Dolby Atmos surround loudspeaker: $1399.99/pair
KEF's R8a uses a Uni-Q coincident driver array—in this case, a 5.25" aluminum cone with a 1" aluminum dome at its center—in a roughly 10" by 7" sealed box with a sloping baffle. Provisions are made for wall-mounting; alternatively, the R8a can be perched atop another, larger loudspeaker and aimed at the ceiling, to make the most of the height information in immersive audio codecs such as dts-X, Auro-3D, and Dolby Atmos. KR Borrowed three pairs (!) of R8a's, and after experimenting with placement, found success placing them upright on shelves, just at ear height and aimed slightly but not directly at the ceiling. Kal found that, with most classical recordings made in a single, coherent ambience, "the soundstage was pleasingly wider. With pop or rock recordings . . . this effect was substantial." (Vol.42 No.3 WWW)

miniDSP U-DAC8: $255 $$$
According to KR, miniDSP's U-DAC8 is, "by an order of magnitude, the least expensive multichannel DAC on the market." The PCM-only U-DAC8 handles resolutions up to 24-bit/192kHz, is powered by a 5V wall wart, and has a front-mounted USB Type A jack. Although the U-DAC8's better-than-average resolution of detail seemed accompanied by "a somewhat etched treble," KR was pleased with its sound: "music sounded pretty clean across the audioband, with particularly good, tight bass." Calling this newest miniDSP DAC "a giant-killer," KR concluded that "the U-DAC8 is an excellent way to begin listening to multichannel files." In a Follow-Up, Kal described the benefits of using the U-DAC8 with various add-ons, each of which costs more than the miniDSP DAC itself—which "would seem silly to consider were there not such a huge price gap between the U-DAC8 and the other [multichannel] DACs." He reported improvements in clarity and balance, and weightier and more impactful bass, when powering the U-DAC8 with his coyly named HDPLEX 400W ATX Linear Power Supply ($795) and connecting it to a USB port on his no less elegantly named SoTM tX USBhubIN USB repeater board ($350), the latter fortified with its own clock ($700). (Vol.38 No.9, Vol.41 No.7 WWW)

Parasound Halo A 52+: $2995
The Parasound Halo A 52+ five-channel power amp offers 180Wpc into 8 ohms or 255Wpc into 4 ohms. (When used as a two-channel amp, those power specs are respectively bumped up to 225 and 350Wpc.) This John Curl–designed amp operates in class-AB and offers both balanced and unbalanced inputs—although, as KR observed, it can't be used with both types of input cables connected simultaneously. That and the amp's 55-lb weight were the only aspects of the Halo A 52+ that didn't fully delight KR, who noted sweet, pure tones from strings, freedom from blurring of individual voices or instruments in dense ensemble recordings, fine bottom-end extension, and "all [the] necessary juice no matter how loud I turned it up—and I turned it up loud." (Vol.41 No.5 WWW)

C

Monoprice Monolith 3-channel power amplifier: $1099.90
Monoprice Monoliths are 200Wpc class-AB amplifiers offered in versions for two, three, five, and seven channels, all outwardly identical. According to KR, the Monolith 3 is well built and boasts great specs; its "bass extension and power were formidable, its midrange and treble seemed smoothly extended." But, on closer listen, the Monoprice lacked "air and space" and "crisp delineation of individual voices and instruments." Although it was powerful, inexpensive, and "really easy to listen to," KR felt that "the Monolith 3 is hard to recommend to critical music listeners." (Vol.40 No.3 WWW)

Deletions
Emotiva XMC-1 preamplifier-processor no longer available.

COMMENTS
Bogolu Haranath's picture

Two things that are certain every year in April :-) ..........

Stereophile April edition recommended components list ........
Taxes .........

Two things that are certain every year in October :-) ..........

Stereophile fall edition recommended components list .......
Oktoberfest ...........

CT's picture

Reading Stereophile is always a pleasure. But I was surprised, in the April issue, by the disappearance of the phonos stages and SUT in the recommended components list. However, they appear in the list published online. What happened?

jacobus20's picture

"..an impedance-phase angle sufficiently challenging that the user 'will require a good 4 ohm–rated amplifier to drive the speaker to acceptably high levels.'"

Given this in the Goldenear Triton One write up, what amps would you recommend from the A or B levels, both SS and Tube?

romath's picture

Time to add Ayon's Stealth, Stratos and Sigma dacs?

Audiolad's picture

The Legacy Monitor HD is a "B" level speaker, but the write up was mostly negative. Having heard this speaker live, I don't hear what they hear. In some ways it is very close to the best $1800 pair I've ever heard (all music).

Ali's picture

Is there any difference between Macintosh V. VI and LE?

Ali's picture

Apple HomePod photo came on frot page of Stereophile but it is not in Recommended List of components. Has it been dropped by accident from the list or it is not recommended at all?

ArmyStrong's picture

Stereophile Editors, in your humble and professional opinion, which of the following full range loudspeakers would you say are the best in this price range:
1) Rockport Technologies Avior II
2) Magico S5 Mk.II
3) Wilson Sasha DAW
4) EgglestonWorks Viginti

Carlos benita's picture

I am a 51 year old female that just found out I have Parkinson's, but I have been having signs of it for years, tremors, depression, body weakness. ECT. I honestly don't think my doctor was reading the signs because of my gender and age. A few years ago I had my shoulder lock up on me and I was sent to a P.T since x-rays didn't show any physical damage. My shaking was getting worse and I began falling. Only when my speech became so bad that it brought concern to my dentist was Parkinson's even considered. He phoned my doctor with his concerns about my shaking and balance problems. By this time I was forgoing shots in the back of my neck for back and neck pain to which once again I was sent to a P.T (although x-rays showed no damage) I was told I had a few spurs which were most likely causing the pain. Here I was feeling like my whole body was falling apart and doctor could not find anything wrong, maybe in was all in my head? My doctor even seemed annoyed with me and things just kept progressing and I just kept it to myself, why bother going through testing and them finding nothing? Well, it was after my second P.T called my doctor about the weakness in my legs and arms, by this time I have developed a gait in my walk and I fell more frequently. Only then did my doctor send me to a specialist and it was found that I had Parkinson's, and that I have had it for awhile. I think because I was a woman that my signs and symptoms weren't taken seriously and therefor left untreated for so long,I was taking pramipexole dihydrochloride three times daily, I Was on carbidopa levodopa but only lasted 90 minutes then wore off.I found that none of the current medications worked effective for me.I got tired of using those medication so I decided to apply natural herbs formula that was prescribed to me by my second P.T, i purchase the herbal formula from totalcureherbsfoundation. com, There has been huge progression ever since I start the treatment plan which will last for 15 weeks usage.all the symptoms and sign has begin to disappear .

davehenri's picture

How can you recommend a turntable for 2019 that is discontinued, not even in production anymore? I expect better than jut a rehash of the 2018 recommended components.

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