Recommended Components: Fall 2020 Edition Integrated Amps & Receivers

Integrated Amplifiers & Receivers

A

Anthem STR: $4499 $$$
Anthem's solid-state STR integrated amp offers 200Wpc (into 8 ohms) of class-AB power, along with seven analog inputs—one balanced, four single-ended, and two phono (one MM, one MC). It also offers a 32-bit/192kHz D/A processor with six digital inputs—four S/PDIF (two RCA, two TosLink), one AES/EBU (XLR), and one USB. A subwoofer output is provided, but, curiously, there's no headphone output. Of interest to users with problematic listening rooms is the STR's built-in Anthem Room Correction (ARC) processor: using the supplied microphone, ARC can be set up using a PC that's been configured with the appropriate (downloadable) software and connected to the Anthem's miniUSB or Ethernet jack. (The latter has no other function: the STR is not WiFi capable.) Even before setting up and trying ARC, TJN enjoyed the Anthem STR for sounding, with one recording in particular, "punchy and likely true to the source, with excellent detail and an open midrange." With ARC engaged, TJN heard differences that "ranged from subtle to striking . . . and were only rarely inconsequential." Benefits included a "cleaned up" double-bass sound on one CD, greater upper-bass precision in the sounds of massed voices on another. His conclusion: "a watershed product worth serious consideration." Writing of his experiences in measuring the Anthem STR, JA called it "a well-engineered amplifier offering high powers and respectable measured performance." (Vol.41 No.7 WWW)

ASR Emitter II Exclusive: $33,000
The four-box, solid-state Emitter II Exclusive—five boxes if you count the chunky, Corian-encased remote handset—weighs over 300lb total, largely (haw) for the number of outsize frame-style transformers it uses. The separate boxes include the amp itself—which is over 22" wide—plus two outboard power supplies and one outboard battery power supply, plus automated charging system for the amp's input circuitry. And that handset. Technical highlights of the 250Wpc (into 8 ohms), class-AB Emitter II Exclusive include input and output sections whose every active device is mechanically isolated, a variable-gain volume-control system actuated by a rotary encoder, and internal switches for tailoring most performance variables to the user's system; nontechnical highlights include a physical design unlike that of any other audio product, elements of which AD found "strangely beautiful," plus documentation, ergonomics, and a gestalt that had AD reaching for the L-word (as in love, not inductance). Through his DeVore Fidelity Orangutan O/93s, the ASR produced a grand sense of scale, a very good sense of flesh and blood, and stirring musicality; from AD's Quad ESLs the ASR teased momentum, clarity, touch, impact, electronic gunklessness, and the snappiest bass he's ever heard from those speakers. Art concluded that the ASR is "a very complex product that somehow manages to sound very simple." A great, unique integrated amplifier, and a must-hear for ESL owners. (Vol.41 No.8 WWW)

Ayre Acoustics EX-8 "Integrated Hub": $5990-$7850
Ayre's EX-8 integrated amplifier is available as an analog-only base unit for $5990; the $7850 fully loaded Integrated Hub version that JA wrote about in the February 2019 Stereophile adds an onboard D/A processor, an Ethernet port, and Roon readiness. The 100Wpc output section retains Ayre's feedback-free Diamond circuit—here, the output devices are mounted directly to the bottom of the amp's aluminum enclosure—but disposes with the company's Variable-Gain Transconductance (VGT) volume system in favor of a conventional Alps pot. As JA discovered, the Ayre allowed singing voices a fine sense of presence, consistently projecting them forward in the soundstage—although that was judged "too much of a good thing" with overcooked recordings. In measuring the amp, JA noted its low-for-an-integrated gain and a harmonic distortion character that led him to wonder if using the chassis as a heatsink prevented the amp from being biased near to the class-A end of things. In a Follow-Up, JA noted the Ayre's "subtler" presentation compared to the similarly conceived Cambridge Audio Edge A integrated. (Vol.42 Nos.2 & 4; WWW)

Bel Canto Design Black ACI 600: $25,000
No mere integrated amplifier—designer John Stronczer claims that his product "diverges from traditional architectures"—the Bel Canto Black ACI 600 is, in essence, the combination of a 24-bit/192kHz D/A converter with a 300Wpc class-D amplifier, the latter constructed with NCore modules. Also featured are a phono stage with MM and MC inputs, digital bass-management controls, circuitry for unfolding MQA files, and Seek, an iOS-based app for streaming music from Tidal—although, at the time of his review, JVS described Seek's instructions as inadequate. Happily, the sound was anything but: "Once fully warmed up, the Black ACI 600 shattered all notions of class-D sounding colorless and uninviting," wrote JVS, though "treble extension was a bit toned-down from what I'm accustomed to." His conclusion: "That this single box can do so much so well . . . should earn it pride of place in many a system." Writing from his test bench, JA noted the Bel Canto's difficulties with 384kHz files, but found it exceeded its power rating into 8 ohms, fell a bit short into 4 ohms, and evinced "respectable measured performance" overall. (Vol.41 No.4 WWW)

Cambridge Audio Edge A: $6000
Created in time for Cambridge Audio's 50th anniversary, the Edge A charts newish territory: a combination D/A processor-integrated amplifier designed and built to perfectionist standards, offered at a considerable though less-than-extortionate price. Boasting both digital and line-level analog inputs, the Edge A is specified to deliver 100Wpc, operating in what Cambridge calls class-XA, described as less efficient than class-AB but more efficient than class-A. This "seriously beautiful piece of hi-fi" seduced KM with the "creamy" feel of its large, dual-function (volume and source-selection) control knob and sealed the deal with bass notes that were "clean and round, a little dry," and spatial performance characterized by "some of the best soundstaging I've heard in my apartment." Writing from his test bench, JA noted power output (145Wpc into 8 ohms) that "handily exceeded the specs" and "superb measured performance in both the analog and digital domains." In a Follow-Up describing his listening impressions, JA praised the amp as "a sonic powerhouse." Ken's conclusion: "I'd say it's worth your time and your $5000." (Vol.42 Nos.1 & 4 WWW)

CH Precision I1 Universal Integrated Amplifier: $38,000–$52,000
CH Precision's decidedly modular I1 Universal integrated amp–D/A processor can be had with a variety of extra-cost options, including a USB digital-input board, an Ethernet-input streaming board, an MC phono-input board (with more EQ curves than just RIAA), and a clock-synchronization board that permits the use of an outboard digital clock. In its base form ($38,000), the I1 provides one pair each of balanced (XLR) and unbalanced (RCA) analog inputs, plus an S/PDIF digital-input board and two balanced (XLR) stereo outputs. Echoing the future-proof design of the amp itself is the I1's D/A processor, which is coded into a field-programmable gate array (FPGA); this upsamples 16-bit/44.1kHz PCM and its multiples to 24/352, and 16/48 PCM to 24/384. The I1 handles up to DSD2565, and converts all DSD data to 24/352.8 before playback. Its class-AB output section can provide up to 100Wpc into 8 ohms. Notwithstanding some setup complexities, JVS was able to get from the I1 "some mighty impressive sound," and to the extent it fell short of his own (costlier) reference gear, those were "sins of omission rather than of commission." JVS found the CH Precision's sound to be "clean, strong, and direct," yet it did not "filter out those intangibles that allow the music to elicit a powerfully emotional response." His verdict: "one of the most complete, most neutral sounding, most carefully conceived components I've reviewed." Writing from his test bench, JA praised the I1's "excellent measured performance." (Vol.42 No.2 WWW)

Devialet Expert 140 Pro: $6490
Two years after his first Devialet experience—sharing a Paris apartment with two Gold Phantom speakers—Jim Austin spent time with the manufacturer's integrated, the Expert Pro, in entry-level guise. Essentially a 140Wpc integrated amp with a built-in streaming DAC, the Devialet utilizes a unique output section that links Class-D with class-A circuitry that, in the manufacturer's words, "corrects and completes" the signal. Support for Roon, Qobuz, and Tidal—the latter two via UPnP—is also built in. The Expert 140 Pro comes with an "unusual" remote control—a large volume knob and three small buttons; alternatively, the user can download Devialet's smartphone/tablet-friendly Devialet Expert Remote app. Only one analog input (RCA) is provided, and it can be programmed to serve as an MM/MC phono stage—although all incoming signals are processed in the digital domain. JCA noted the amp's "remarkable sense of openness," combined with "impressive" bass weight and a pleasing freedom from editorializing: "It [was] honest, evenhanded, liquid, open." Apart from bemoaning its "complex" setup scheme, JCA considered the Expert 140 Pro "an easy recommendation." Technical Editor JA admired the DAC section's "almost 20 bits worth of resolution," but he noted higher than expected levels of background noise. (Vol.42 No.12 WWW)

Jadis Orchestra Black: $3995
Derived from the Jadis Orchestra Reference Mk.II integrated amplifier ($4795) that AD reviewed in December 2015, the Orchestra Black is a less-expensive version developed for the US market. It retains the Mk.II's mostly hard-wired circuitry and the fixed bias for each channel's push-pull pair of 6CA7/EL34 power pentodes but uses transistors to provide voltage gain. AD wrote that the Black initially had "that treble lisp that I assume many of you have heard from amps and preamps that aren't yet run in—audible here as an exaggeration of note attacks from violins," but found that as the amplifier broke in, it became considerably more listenable, though still slightly on the dry side. He commented on how the amplifier complemented the sound of the harp: "Each plucked note had pretty good—not top-shelf, but perfectly satisfying—physicality of attack, but even better decays: maybe a slight bit too much overhang, but in a pleasant, musically consonant way." AD was also impressed by the Black's bass: "The lowest notes had plenty of power and reach and a slightly frightening physicality," he wrote, ascribing this to the Jadis's hand-wound output transformers. In his measurements, JA found that the Black had an unusually high output impedance—3.5 ohms—and that it only met its specified power of 40W at higher levels of distortion than our usual 1%. The Jadis should not be partnered with loudspeakers whose impedance drops below 4 ohms, JA concluded. Nevertheless, "very strongly recommended," was how AD summed up his auditioning. (Vol.43 No.4 WWW)

Krell K-300i: $8000 w/DAC option
From the company whose name was at one time synonymous with class-A solid-state amplification comes this 150Wpc class-AB integrated—yet the K-300i's sliding-bias scheme, called iBias, allows it to run in class-A all the way up to 90Wpc, according to the manufacturer. An optional DAC ($1000) decodes PCM to 24/192 and, via USB, DSD to 128, and works with the ConversDigital mConnect app, which also allows streaming from Tidal, Qobuz, et al. In auditioning the Krell, JVS noted neutral timbres with "just a touch of inviting warmth," and fine spatial dimensionality, observing that, of the integrateds he has reviewed, the K-300i is the standout. Technical Editor JA noted that the Krell has "just sufficient heatsinking for its power rating" (it shut itself down while undergoing preconditioning), and excessive digital-input gain, the latter associated with the introduction of low-level spuriae, but was pleased that the K-300i exceeded its rated output power (190 instead of 150Wpc). "Overall . . . excellent measured performance," he concluded. (Vol.42 No.12 WWW)

Line Magnetic LM-845IA: $4895 ★
An original design from a Chinese company that also re-creates classic Western Electric audio gear, the all-tube Line Magnetic LM-845IA—which once was called the LM-518IA—is the rare modern integrated amplifier that combines a single-ended output stage with thoriated-tungsten (ie, bright-emitter) output tubes and a tube-rectified voltage rail. The LM-518IA provides three line-level inputs (all RCA) and produces up to 22Wpc into 8 ohms. Tube bias is user-adjustable—but, to HR's disappointment, there is no balance control or mono switch. That said, the amp's "vital energy," among other qualities, has earned it an especially hallowed place in his system: "It is musically alive and vigorous. It plays music with rare charm and sensitivity." Even the SET-skeptical JA was charmed: "For such a design, it offers high power." (Vol.38 No.10, Vol.39 No.10 WWW)

Linear Tube Audio Z10e: $6950
See Headphones & Headphone Accessories (Vol.43 No.5 WWW)

Luxman L-509x: $9495
Integrated amplifiers with tone controls—not to mention switch-selectable outputs for two pairs of speakers, power-output meters, a balance control, a tape monitor button, and a built-in phono stage with MM and MC inputs—are rare beasts. And with its rated power output of 120Wpc into 8 ohms—not to mention its weight of nearly 65lb—the solid-state Luxman L-509X is indeed a beast, and one whose subtly retro styling impressed KM, who called it "a behemoth of beauty." Ken was also taken with the Lux's sound: "Record after record, the L-509X illuminated every important aspect and area of the recording. It lived and breathed in the air around the notes, consistently creating big, solid, spatially natural images." And even though KM never really warmed to using its tone controls—though he admired the "very smooth, finely graded" adjustments they provided—he concluded that the L-509X was "one of the most intimate-sounding, dynamic, texturally nuanced, truthful purveyors of music of my experience." Writing from his lab, JA found that the L-509X "comfortably exceeded" its output-power specs, and declared the amp "a conservatively engineered design, with low noise and distortion and an excellent phono stage." (Vol.41 No.5 WWW)

Mark Levinson No.5805: $8500
"It's the feature set that impresses most" said JCA of the new Levinson integrated—not a surprising point of view considering the No.5805's MM and MC phono inputs; digital inputs that accept PCM to 32/284 and DSD up to DSD256; a headphone amplifier; and support for Bluetooth wireless (but not from iPhones) and full MQA decoding and rendering. JCA noted that the Levinson delivered sonic images that were larger in size, closer in spatial perspective, and "perhaps slightly more vivid" but also "marginally less live-sounding" than his more expensive reference amplification chain and DAC. But ultimately, when shifting from critical listening to simple enjoyment, JCA found the No.5805 to be "captivating, distracting . . . Paired with the excellent Revel Ultima2 Salon2 loudspeakers, the Levinson made enchanting music." Noting that the class-AB No.5805 exceeded its power specs (133.5Wpc instead of 125Wpc), Technical Editor JA praised its "excellent measured performance." (Vol.42 No.7 WWW)

NAD Masters Series M32: $4399
A Masters Series stablemate to their M50.2 digital music player, NAD's M32 combines a Roon-ready, network-connected D/A converter with a class-D amplifier—NAD calls it a DirectDigital Feedback Amplifier—specified to output 150Wpc into 8 or 4 ohms. In addition to its Roon Ready Ethernet socket and single USB input, the M32 provides two line inputs and one MM phono input, and converts all analog signals to digital at a user-selectable sampling frequency of between 48 and 192kHz. JA used the M32 with a variety of loads, from the expected (KEF LS50) to the exceptional (Wilson Audio Alexia 2), and described the NAD's consistent signature as "a clean, clear quality of sound that stepped out of the music's way with every pair of speakers I used." Later, writing from his lab, JA noted higher-than-specified output power—190Wpc into 8 ohms—and praised the phono section for its low RIAA error and high signal/noise ratio, concluding that "NAD's M32 packs a lot of well-engineered performance into its relatively small, discreet case. . . . Highly recommended." (Vol.41 No.5 WWW)

NAD Masters Series M33: $4999
See KR's review in this issue.

Octave Audio V 80 SE: $10,500 ($11,250 with MM or MC phono)
Shoppers, take heed: the Octave V 80 SE integrated amp is a veritable poster child for the concept of burning-in audio amplifiers before appraising their sound. When first installed in KM's system, the Octave struck him as "the most unlistenable amplifier I've ever tried: bright, forward, and generally eardrum-splitting." One month and nearly 100 records later, the amp had found its "happy-friendly footing," delivering "grain-free highs, very powerful and dynamic bass extension, and neutral, clear-headed sound." Designed and made in Germany, the V 80 SE accomplished all that with two modern Tung-Sol KT150 tetrode tubes per channel, operated in class-AB for specified outputs of 80Wpc into 8 ohms or 120Wpc into 4 ohms. These are supported by two 12AU7 dual-triodes and one 6072/12AT7 dual-triode. An MM/MC phono board is a $770 option, and owners can upgrade their V 80 SE any time with Octave's accessory Black Box power supply ($1200)—not a power supply per se, but an auxiliary reservoir-capacitor bank for the V 80 SE's actual supply. Though the Octave "lacked the tonal color, warmth, and shapeliness of textures" KM enjoys from his Shindo separates, it proved itself "perhaps the single most transparent and neutral machine" ever to grace his system. JA was "impressed by the V 80 SE's measured performance." (Vol.40 No.9 WWW)

Pass Laboratories INT-25: $7250 $$$
To HR, who prefers integrateds over separates yet wouldn't even consider buying an amp with a built-in DAC—"Why would I pollute a fine audio component with a non-upgradable and possibly third-rate ancillary?"—the Pass INT-25 emerged as an ideal component. The remarkably heavy (51lb) INT-25 is essentially a Pass XA25 power amp—class-A push-pull without degenerative feedback and offering 25Wpc—wedded to a minimalist line-level preamp. Used with his DeVore O/93 speakers and playing Erich Leinsdorf's recording of Wagner's Die Walküre, Herb found that "the INT-25 let the O/93s make that Die Walküre into something so beautiful I just laid back and basked in it." He also felt the INT-25 is capable of putting across "a subtle radiance" that eludes other solid-state electronics. With the amp on his test bench, JA found "much to admire in the Pass Labs INT-25's measured performance." HR's last word: "my new solid-state reference." (Vol.43 No.2 WWW)

Woo Audio WA5 (2nd Gen): $5899 ★
See "Headphones & Headphone Accessories."

Yamaha A-S3200: $7499.95
The styling of this well-finished, hot-running integrated amplifier evokes memories of the Japanese company's "Natural Sound" receivers from the 1970s. The A-S3200 offers both balanced and singled-ended line inputs, headphone, preamplifier, and loudspeaker outputs, and tone controls. JVS liked the headphone outputs, commenting that "the welcome smoothness and beauty of the presentation, and . . . the excellent left-right soundstaging, earn the headphone amp a big thumbs up." However, he was less happy with the A-S3200 driving his Wilson Alexia 2 loudspeakers, writing that while "air and depth were pretty good, the soundstage was as wide as I've come to expect from other integrated amplifiers I've evaluated, and musicality was a constant," what stood out most was "a predominant midrange whose color palette, compared to my reference, seemed somewhat restricted." JVS suspected that the Yamaha was not an optimal match for his current-hungry Wilson speakers, mandating a follow-up with higher-impedance loudspeakers to appear in a future issue. On the test bench, the A-S3200 exceeded its specified maximum continuous power of 100Wpc into 8 ohms and 150Wpc into 4 ohms, clipping at 110Wpc and 168Wpc, respectively. Line-input gain was on the high side, though the MM- and MC-capable phono input offered appropriate gains for both types of cartridge. (Low-output MC types will probably better match this input.) RIAA equalization featured slight boosts in the treble and midbass regions; the phono input's distortion and noise were very low. A follow-up that includes an audition of the A-S3200's phono stage is planned. (Vol.43 No.9 WWW)

B

Aesthetix MIMAS: $7500 plus options
Aesthetix Audio's first integrated amplifier, the Mimas mixes a fully differential tubed preamp with a balanced, zero-feedback, DC-coupled (servo-less, accomplished by means of careful parts selection), solid-state output section in a 44lb package. Features include Aesthetix's own in-house-wound mains transformer and a fully balanced volume control constructed with 60 individual resistors, providing volume increments of 1dB each. Extra-cost options, not reviewed, include a phono card, a DAC card, and an Ethernet card. JVS praised the Mimas's "gratifyingly neutral . . . sound whose beauty extended through its excellent bass, convincing pace and drive, and delightful touch of radiance," while noting that it exhibited less transparency and inter-note silence than the best amplification chains he has used: "As Schubert's music tugged at my heart, I noted the lovely liquid ringing of the piano's high notes and the beauty of the sound overall," he wrote. "But the music lacked transparency and the space between notes was less silent than I'm used to." Writing from his test bench, JA observed that the Mimas is "generally well engineered." (Vol.42 No.8 WWW)

Cary Audio SLI-100: $5995
A push-pull tubed integrated amp that uses two KT150 pentode tubes per side, operating in Ultralinear mode, to output 100Wpc, the SLI-100 provides the user with four line-level inputs, all unbalanced, and a choice of 8 or 4 ohm output taps. The output section is biased for class-AB and employs 4dB of negative feedback. In addition to the four output pentodes, the Cary uses four small-signal tubes—two 6922s, two 6SN7s—and splits the signal phase with a cathodyne ("split-load") phase inverter, for which HR expressed preference when compared with the more common long-tailed pair/dual-differential stages. Also integral to the design is a voltage-gain stage constructed with shunt-regulated push-pull architecture, also a Herb favorite. This all added up to an amplifier that allowed violinist Joseph Szigeti, playing Bartók, to wring the most "tearjerking presence and texture" from HR's Harbeth M30.2 loudspeakers. In measuring the SLI-100, JA found "a slight degree of overshoot" in the amp's squarewave reproduction and, far worse, strikingly less output power/higher distortion than specified: "I was disappointed in the Cary Audio SLI-100's measured performance." (Vol.41 No.12 WWW)

Cary SLI-80HS: $4495
This most recent version of Cary's longstanding SLI-80 vacuum tube integrated amplifier—the HS stands for Heritage Series—departs from its forebears with a solid-state–rectified power supply and switch-selectable output architectures: Given an 8 ohm load, its KT88 tetrode tubes can generate 40Wpc in triode mode or 80Wpc in Ultralinear mode. The Cary offers three line-level inputs (there is no phono section), switch-selectable 4 ohm and 8 ohm outputs, and a front-mounted headphone jack. KM found the SLI-80HS to be less "syrupy" than Cary amps of yore, describing the new amp as "a truth-teller, with few opinions of its own," and praised in particular its bottom-end extension. JA's measurements revealed output power that was less than the manufacturer's specs. He noted that Ultralinear operation offers "the lowest midrange distortion and the highest power, at the expense of a higher output impedance than triode mode." (Vol.42 No.11 WWW)

Exposure XM-5: $1795
The Exposure XM5 blends retro and cutting-edge with apparent ease, combining an MM-friendly phono stage with a 24/192 USB DAC in a case whose half-width size calls to mind the pre-1993 Naim Nait. A class-AB output stage uses complementary pairs of bipolar transistors to deliver 60Wpc; speaker connectors are banana-only. AD praised the XM5 for its freedom from upper-frequency etch and found its phono performance, though temporally precise, a bit dull: "CD playback, through its line stage, was more colorful and vibrant," he said. Writing from his test bench, JA observed that the hot-running XM5 had insufficient heatsinks "for sustained operation at highish powers" but exceeded its power spec, providing 70Wpc into 8 ohms. His verdict: "generally good measured performance considering its affordable price," though he was less impressed by the performance of its digital inputs. (Vol.42 No.6 WWW)

Luxman SQ-N150: $2795
A part of Luxman's newly revived NeoClassical series, the SQ-N150 is built around a 10Wpc (into 6 ohms) tubed output stage that uses stereo pairs of EL84 output pentodes preceded by two 12AX7 dual-triodes. (The EL84s run in fixed-bias mode, but adjustments cannot be made from outside the casework.) The chunkily compact Luxman also includes tone controls, a headphone amp, and a moving-coil phono stage and is supplied with a metal-enclosed remote—and we haven't event mentioned the classic good looks of its VU-meter–enhanced control panel. KM described the little Lux as "one of the most transparent components I've had in my system," with a "sweet" tonality and the ability to throw a wide, deep soundstage. In measuring the SQ-N150, JA found evidence of "well-designed" output transformers and an output of 12.5Wpc into 8 ohms. His conclusion: "It is well-engineered and offers excellent measured performance within its limited power envelope." (Vol.42 No.12, Vol.43 No.1 WWW)

Musical Fidelity M8xi: $6499
See JVS's review in this issue.

NAD M10: $2749 $$$
The words integrated amplifier are scarcely adequate to this task: The compact (only 8.5" wide) NAD M10 incorporates the BluOS operating system/music playback app; network, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth connectivity; analog and digital inputs; support for Tidal, Qobuz, et al.; multiroom capabilities; Dirac Live LE room correction (one hopes not the Delbert Grady sort); and a big "Gorilla Glass" display on its front panel—all this plus a 100Wpc class-D (nCore) amplifier. As for that last bit, JA expressed surprise at how good the NAD sounded, even when compared to a pair of monoblocks with a five-figure price tag. (The NAD actually offered better note definition, if not quite the same degree of deep bass extension and authority.) JA-the-listener concluded that the NAD "offers everything serious audiophiles and music lovers need to enjoy their music," while JA-the-measurer noted that "NAD's M10 packs a lot of well-engineered performance into its relatively small chassis." (Vol.43 No.1 WWW)

Naim Audio Uniti Nova: $5990
The star of Naim's rebooted Uniti line, the Nova combines an 80Wpc integrated amplifier with a media player and streamer, the latter supporting Tidal and Spotify. The Nova offers Bluetooth aptX HD and WiFi connectivity, and provides vTuner Internet radio as well as support for most music-file types, up to 384k PCM and DSD128. All user controls are accessible via an included remote control, Naim's downloadable app, and a full-color front-panel LCD display that KM described as "lovely," supplemented with a top-panel rotary control. Ken was enchanted with the Uniti Nova's radio function, and found its file-playing capabilities ergonomically comforting—"I was surprised by the Nova's ease of setup and practically instantaneous response"—and sonically rewarding: "file after file drove my jaw floorward as my ears reveled in the Nova's beautiful sound." KM's verdict: "the Uniti Nova is practically a bargain. Definitely, effusively, highly recommended." Apart from noting some anomalous behavior with 96 and 192kHz data—their responses were down by 9dB at the ultrasonic frequency of 29kHz—JA wrote from his test bench that "the Naim Uniti Nova's measured performance "reveals it to be well sorted, as they say in the UK." (Vol.41 No.3 WWW)

Outlaw Audio RR2160: $999 $$$
The RR2160—or, as Outlaw Audio calls it, their "Retro Receiver"—marries a 110Wpc class-AB integrated amplifier to an FM/AM tuner of the traditional sort, along with an MM/MC phono stage. Its tone controls—yes, tone controls!—and bass-emphasis switch hark back to an era of mustaches, flared trousers, and loudspeakers with sculpted-foam grilles, yet the RR2160 doesn't skimp on modern conveniences, including Ethernet connectivity, HD radio, an MP3 input, a headphone amp with independent volume controls, and a 24/192 DAC with USB, coaxial, and optical inputs. After being broken in and warmed up, the Outlaw rewarded HR with "a generously big, warm, articulate sound." Used with a CD transport, the RR2160's Burr-Brownbased DAC didn't reach the same performance heights as more expensive outboard processors, yet nonetheless surprised Herb with its "unfettered verity." The Outlaw's MM phono inputs performed well when addressed with a good-quality step-up transformer, though HR was disappointed by the lack of adjustability in its MC inputs. And its headphone section "far exceeded" HR's expectations. Writing from his test bench, JA noted the Outlaw's "significantly" higher-than-specified output power, the admirably low output impedance of its headphone amp, and its "superb" phono stage, though he was "somewhat disappointed by the measured performance of its digital inputs." HR's conclusion: "a conspicuously good-sounding audiophile product at a ridiculously low price." (Vol.40 No.12 WWW)

Parasound Halo Hint 6: $2995
Introduced in 2014, Parasound's Halo integrated amp offered 160Wpc from its bipolar output section—JFETs and MOSFETs were pressed into service elsewhere in the amp—plus a list of convenience features including a dedicated subwoofer output with its own variable high- and low-pass crossover filters; a 32-bit DAC with USB, coaxial, and optical inputs; a discrete headphone amplifier; an MM/MC phono stage; and a total of six line inputs (one balanced, five unbalanced). That amp has now been replaced by a refined version, the Halo Hint 6, with improvements that include a Burr-Brown electronically controlled analog volume control; a plug-and-play USB receiver; an increase in gain for its MM phono stage; and a bump-up in output power, to 180Wpc. KM tried the Hint 6 with a variety of speakers, commenting on the amp's sonic "wholeness and refinement," and for bringing "control and nuance" to his DeVore O/93s. His conclusion: "The Hint 6 worked well with every speaker I threw at it, delivering an upfront, slightly cool, dynamic sound. Recommended." (Vol.38 No.11, Vol.42 No.5 WWW)

Quad Artera Solus: $2495
Here's another of those products that stretches if not quite smashes the category for integrated amplifiers: The Artera Solus starts with a 75Wpc class-AB amplifier, with a headphone jack and two line-level inputs, and adds to that a D/A processor with multiple inputs—via USB it does 32/384 PCM and DSD256—and a front-loading CD player, all in a more-attractive-than-usual enclosure. Streaming Tidal and Qobuz files through the Quad's USB input, HR heard "a greater sense of force and density" than with his reference standalone DAC, but it was the CD player that Herb concluded was "the Artera Solus's raison d'être," noting that, "In my house, streaming usually sounds better than CD—but not with the Artera Solus." That said, HR didn't consider the headphone output good enough for "serious headphone enthusiasts." The verdict from chief tester JA: "[The Quad is] well-sorted, as they say in the UK." (Vol.43 No.3 WWW)

Rogue Sphinx V3: $1595
Descended from the original Sphinx that HR reviewed in 2014, the V3 is still "an old-school, 25lb, made-in-America integrated amplifier with three line-level inputs . . . and a 12AU7-based, mu-follower preamplifier stage driving a 100Wpc (into 8 ohm), class-D, solid-state power amplifier." The phono stage now has adjustable loading and gain so it can be used with both MM and MC cartridges. (The RIAA correction incorporates the IEC-recommended low-frequency rolloff, reaching –3dB at 30Hz.) Headphone output is now based on discrete MOSFET devices, which JA found led to a very low source impedance, appropriate even for low-impedance cans. With CDs, HR found that the Sphinx V3 "delivered a good amount of leading-edge bite and trailing-edge flow. Bass felt quicker and more articulate. The V3 displayed a fun, taut energy the original did not have." He tried the phono input with the Ortofon 2M Black moving-magnet and Hana EL moving-coil cartridges and concluded that "The Sphinx V3's MM/MC phono input did proclaim the virtues of analog." HR summed up the V3's headphone amp as "not as powerful, dynamic, or transparent as the Schiit Ragnarok's, but it's closer to that than any others I've auditioned." Overall, he summed up the Sphinx V3 as "an unpretentious working-person's amplifier. It delivers music with an eager expressive energy, in concert with a forgiving musical nature." On the test bench, the V3 didn't quite meet its specified power, clipping at 96Wpc into 8 ohms, and the phono stage's RIAA equalization was slightly mismatched between the channels, with the right channel up to 0.9dB higher in level in the treble than the left. (Vol.43 No.8 WWW)

Schiit Ragnarok 2: $1799
The first example of Schiit Audio's new Nexus current-feedback amplifier technology, the Ragnarok 2 improves on the original in a number of ways. As just an integrated amp, without add-ons—in which guise the Rag 2 sells for less than the cost of its predecessor—the redesigned amp also adds an improved volume-control circuit and remote handset. The Rag 2 is also available "Fully Loaded" ($1799), with an MM phono stage and a USB DAC. That's the version KM tried, and while listening to Ella Fitzgerald on vinyl he found that "vocals sounded more human and less canned than I've ever heard"—and with other LPs, drum thwacks "revealed an amplifier that doesn't soften transients." JA found higher-than-specified output power into 8 ohms—78Wpc instead of 60—but slightly less than the specified 100Wpc into 4 ohms, ultimately declaring the amp "well-engineered" and the phono stage "excellent." JA says: Class C for the digital input. (Vol.43 No.2 WWW)

C

NAD C 328: $599 $$$
The budget-priced NAD C 328 combines Bluetooth connectivity, a 24-bit/192kHz DAC based on a Cirrus Logic chip, an MM-ready phono stage, and a Hypex-based class-D amplifier rated at 40Wpc into 8 ohms—all in an enclosure whose size and appearance are closer to those of the company's legacy products than this amp's contemporary stablemate, the odd-looking D 3020. Cynical readers might expect less than the best sound from such a humble thing—and indeed, during his time with the C 328, KM found a few recordings that coaxed from it a bit of treble harshness, and a few others that lost a bit of flesh and blood on their trip through the NAD. But when mated with the right speakers—KM got the best results with Elac's Debut B6 ($279/pair)—this amp "consistently made music with a detailed, very dynamic, natural sound." In measuring the NAD's amplifier section, JA uncovered a superbly high signal/noise ratio, higher-than-specified output power, and very low distortion, with similarly excellent performance from the phono section; the C 328's onboard DAC was only slightly less distinguished, although it proved capable of more than 19 bits' worth of resolution, which is very good indeed. (Vol.41 No.10 WWW)

Peachtree Audio nova300: $2199 ★
With their nova300 integrated amplifier-DAC, Peachtree Audio made a number of transitions: from iPod docks to Lightning connectors and WiFi; from tubed preamp buffers to all solid-state; from line-only preamps to an onboard MM phono preamp; and, most notably, from Chinese to Canadian manufacture. Other characteristics endure, including the attractive wood wrap—made even more attractive by an Ebony Mocha finish option—and a class-D output stage, this one based on ICEpower modules, for a power rating of 300Wpc into 8 ohms. The nova300 also boasts double-DSD capability alongside 32/384 PCM, and Peachtree's Dynamic Noise Elimination (DyNEC), which is claimed to eliminate, among other noises, those associated with the display screens of smartphones and tablets. In a review that proved controversial, AD praised Peachtree Audio for the nova300's excellent phono section and for its overall good momentum and drive, but criticized the graininess of its treble range. In their Manufacturer's Comment in the same issue, Peachtree took issue with Art's pairing of the nova300 with his extremely sensitive Altec Flamenco speakers, calling it a "mismatch," though they held out the possibility of a flaw in the review sample, which they said was "on its way to our engineers for a testing, just in case." We were disappointed never to have heard back about the first sample, which, in his measurements, JA described as having "a high level of switching noise on its output." However, for the December 2017 Stereophile AD wrote a Follow-Up based on a second sample of the nova300, which he tried with the very contemporary Wharfedale Diamond 225 speakers. Art thought this pairing sounded "slightly less edgy" than his earlier experience, although the sound remained "dry and crisp overall." (Vol.40 Nos.6 & 12 WWW)

PS Audio Sprout100: $699 $$$
Designed in Boulder, CO 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, USB D/A processor, 1/4" headphone jack—use of which automatically mutes the loudspeaker output—and Bluetooth receiver. In its original version, reviewed in the May 2015 Stereophile, the Sprout's class-D power amp could deliver up to 33Wpc across an 8-ohm load. In 2018 the Sprout underwent a redesign and was christened the Sprout100. Refinements include an increase in power, to 50Wpc into 8 ohms/100Wpc into 4 ohms—the latter spec surely the source of its name—and an ESS Sabre DAC chip that bumps up resolution from 24/192 to 24/384. Whereas HR thought the original Sprout sounded best through its phono input, he found the Sprout100 "exactly the opposite. Its digital input seemed more articulate and vivacious." In all, Herb appreciated the Sprout100 as "an easy-to-use lifestyle product," albeit one lacking in appeal to seasoned audiophiles. (Vol.38 No.5, Vol.41 No.11)

Rega Brio: $995
This latest incarnation of the Rega Brio integrated amp—the company's "best-selling electronic product ever," according to company head Roy Gandy—retains the original version's design brief: class-AB architecture that emulates class-A performance without class-A heat. Refinements in the new amp include metal-film resistors in its feedback circuit and some power-supply refinements lifted straight from the Brio's original inspiration, a 1970s design from the pages of Wireless World. Features include a moving-magnet phono input, four line-level inputs, and all-new casework. After trying the Brio with his DeVore Orangutan O/93 loudspeakers, KM declared, "The Brio controlled bass notes fairly well[, but] its crowning glory was its extended and natural top end." Although it didn't reward Ken with "the last word in transparency or absolute detail," the Rega Brio impressed with its more musical characteristics: "big tone, big beat, big ambitions." After measuring the Brio, JA praised in particular the "superb" overload margins of its phono section, and declared the amp "well-sorted" overall, although he did note that it runs hot. (Vol.40 No.10 WWW)

Rogers High Fidelity 65V-1: $4000
The truly distinctive 65V-1 is a tubed stereo integrated amp whose output architecture is switchable between triode and Ultralinear modes. Also user-selectable are the 65V-1's output tubes: at the time of purchase, the buyer selects either EL34 or KT88 pentodes, although the tubes not taken, when purchased separately, can be used at any time, without the need for modification. Either way, the single-ended 65V-1 is said to produce less than 0.5% THD at 1Wpc and less than 3% at 10Wpc, with a peak output of 25Wpc. According to HR, with some music, the 65V-1 "let the vivid, undoctored reality of [the recordings] come through with eerie, preternatural directness." JA's measurements uncovered lower than specified output power—270mWpc at 1% THD, 2.275Wpc at 3% THD—as well as distressingly high output impedance. Independent of this, Herb concluded: "an uncommon audio product in search of uncommon audiophiles." In a Follow-Up, AD praised the ingenuity and audacity of bringing such an unabashedly fun product to the market, and noted the Rogers's abiding musicality. But through his DeVore O/93 speakers, he also heard a few "gritty" dynamic peaks from the 65V-1, which kept him from cozying-up to the amp's sound. (Vol.41 No.6, Vol.42 No.1 WWW)

Editor's Note: There are no Class D integrated amplifiers listed.

Deletions
Classé Sigma 2200i, GamuT Di150 LE, discontinued. Arcam FMJ SR250, Bel Canto Design Black amplification system, Pass Laboratories INT-60, not auditioned in a long time.

Complete Audio Systems

A

Devialet Gold Phantom: $2990 each
In a setting as idyllic as it was ideal, at least in a commercial sense—the samples were auditioned in an apartment on the rue des Ursulines in Paris, the city of their manufacture—Devialet's top-of-the-line Phantom powered speaker whetted JCA's appetite, and on returning home to his superior-sounding NYC apartment he requested review loaners. There, auditioned with Devialet's Tree stands ($375 each), Dialog dedicated router ($329), and Remote remote volume control ($149), a stereo pair of Gold Phantoms "'disappeared' nicely, as befits a phantom." (The Phantoms are sold singly and, per Devialet, are commonly used as mono playback systems.) JCA praised the system's "stark, disciplined" bass, which he described as surprisingly "deep, without bloat," though he wouldn't have minded more generous low-frequency response. He also praised its abundant soundstage depth, though he felt that the speakers' class-D amps didn't "resolve the unique timbres of instruments as well as other systems I've heard." Phonophiles will find the Devialet system fails on another front: it has no analog inputs. But for others, according to JCA, the Gold Phantom system is "a serious value" and "could be just the thing." (Vol.40 No.11 WWW)

B

Bluesound Vault 2i: $1199
Bluesound Powernode 2i: $799
Bluesound Node 2i: $499
Bluesound Pulse 2i: $799

The Bluesound line of whole-house sound products, from the Lenbrook Group, owners of NAD and PSB, have been updated with the 'i' designation, indicating a collection of upgrades. The Bluesound Vault ($1999), which requires an Ethernet connection, contains an optical drive, a 24-bit/192kHz Cirrus-Logic sigma-delta DAC, and 1TB of storage. The Bluesound Powernode ($799), which looks identical to the Vault but slightly smaller, is a network player with a 24/192 DAC. The Powernode can operate with or without the Vault; without, the Powernode will access music files from the user's NAS. The Bluesound Node ($499) is—get ready for it—rather like the Powernode, but without (output) power. The Bluesound Duo ($999) 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. Products with the 'i' designation gain AirPlay 2 support, aptX Bluetooth, and other features. (Vol.37 No.7 WWW)

Naim Mu-so: $1690 with standard fabric
See JMu's review in this issue.

C

Andover Model-One: $1999
This single-box stereo system marries a Pro-Ject Debut Carbon Esprit SB belt-drive turntable fitted with an 8.6" carbon-fiber tonearm and an Ortofon 2M Silver moving-magnet cartridge to 200W of class-D amplification, four small woofers, and two AMT tweeters in a rigidly constructed enclosure. The Model-One also offers DSP-implemented effects modes, optical and coaxial S/PDIF, Bluetooth aptX, and mini-USB digital inputs, and an analog input (this converted to digital), as well as headphone, line-level, and subwoofer outputs. DSP is also used to minimize acoustic feedback from the woofers to the turntable. JMu found at normal volumes that there was a "good impression" of bass. She added that "in general, the system served the midrange well, with textural detail and, especially on recordings without modern mixing tricks and complications, sufficient image-placement cues to draw you in." The Model-One "could be a starter system for an apartment or a second system for an office or bedroom," concluded JMu. Matching subwoofer costs $799; modular stand, $299. (Vol.43 No.9 WWW)

Apple HomePod smart speaker: $349
Apple, a company unfazed by the five-dealer requirement for getting a review in Stereophile, refers to their new HomePod as "a breakthrough speaker that adapts to its location and delivers high-fidelity audio wherever it's playing." Reviewer JCA refers to it as "a sophisticated, high-tech, 5.5-lb sound computer with many transducers and lots of unorthodox engineering." This "smart" speaker, so called for its integration with the Apple Music streaming service and Siri, Apple's notorious virtual assistant/speech-recognition interface, contains a single 4" woofer and seven horn-loaded tweeter/midrange thingies, each with its own amplifier—yet those aren't the only transducers. Also inside this 6.8"-tall cylinder are seven microphones that serve to both receive the user's voice commands and sense the HomePod's surroundings, as part of a complex equalization and dispersion-control system. Use of the HomePod requires WiFi Internet access and either an Apple iPhone 5s or later, or one of various recent models of iPad or iPod Touch, all running iOS 11.2.5 or later; full functionality also requires an Apple Music subscription. Although sold singly, the HomePod is not, strictly speaking, a monophonic device; as JCA noted, "With stereo recordings, it uses both channels of the signal, comparing phase relationships to differential direct sound from ambience" to, ultimately, add spaciousness to the sound. And spaciousness is what JCA heard from a favored mono Billie Holiday track—that and a "richer and more resonant" sound from Lester Young's sax than JCA expected: "I even wondered if I was listening to a different tenor player." Yet Jim felt that Apple "has made some tasteful and judicious choices" in voicing the HomePod, declaring it "an easy recommendation for anyone looking for an affordable wireless speaker." One issue later, JCA reported on firmware and operating-system updates that allow two HomePods to be used as a true stereo pair. With two HomePods in his living room, each perched atop its own 22"-tall speaker stand, JCA enjoyed deeper-than-expected bass (if still lighter than that from his main system) and "excellent stereo sound with remarkable imaging." He proclaimed the combo of two HomePods with an iPhone or iPad "the best-sounding wireless system I've heard at or near the price." (Vol.41 Nos. 8 & 9 WWW)

COMMENTS
partain's picture

I can't stand it !
Please review the new & improved KEF LS50s.
The things I've read are titillating , to say the least.

John Atkinson's picture
partain wrote:
Please review the new & improved KEF LS50s.

There is a pair of the new KEF LS50 Meta on its way to me.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

Link's picture

Awesome, looking forward to the review. Wireless or passive? Just curious what to expect. Thanks.

John Atkinson's picture
Link wrote:
Awesome, looking forward to the review. Wireless or passive?

Passive.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

rk11's picture

Auditioned the KEF R3s, Polk Legend L200s and the KEF LS 50 Metas a few days ago with 5 tracks of my choosing and thus far my rank ordering of these speakers is as noted. Personally, I found the Metas a bit bright and their bass response was the most lacking - not surprising given the size of the speaker cabinet. Never been a fan of the Polk speakers till the Legend series. The 200s were every bit as good as the R3s EXCEPT in the vocals. I am sure that JA's review will be under a much better controlled environment.

Shangri-La's picture

In the written review, the Ares II was preferred over the Chord Qutest. Yet the Qutest is rated Class A and Ares II is Class B. Interesting...

LinearTracker's picture

BD gave the Duo an “A” rating and deservedly so, but I am listening to the new Duo with the linear power supply and believe it to be a game changer.
I hope to see an update soon.

Link's picture

I have been able to compare the BRXs to a true class A speaker in my system, and I do now agree with the class B rating. Thanks again for the great reviews.

Glotz's picture

with explanation...

Link's picture

Comparisons having been done, the BRXs are nothing to shake a 1M interconnect at. Although they are not quite up there in terms of transparency, detail, and air - they sure do get the timbre, neutrality, and imaging right.

thyname's picture

You butchered the name of T+A MP 3100 HV. Please fix it. There is no such thing as “ T+A MD 3001 HD SACD/CD player: $21,000”

Robin Landseadel's picture

The "A" rated Sennheiser HD 650 headphones have been reissued at a lower price [with a couple of changes that don't affect the sound] as the Drop HD 6XX. Drop is an online only operation, sells for $220 + shipping & tax. It's one of the cheapskate audio high points of the season along with Topping Headphone amps and DACS.

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