Recommended Components Fall 2021 Edition Complete Audio Systems

Complete Audio Systems

A

Devialet Phantom I 108 dB: $2990 each (available in 2 finishes) ★
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." As of summer 2021, Gold Phantom is the Phantom I 108 dB. (Vol.40 No.11 WWW)

B

Naim Mu-so 2nd Generation: $1690 with standard grille fabric
This slim, all-in-one, Roon Ready networked music system has a tweeter, a midrange unit, and an oval-shaped woofer for each channel, all powered by direct-digital, class-D amplification. The integral DSP offers three room compensation settings. There is also an alarm and a sleep timer. The major digital streaming services, including Spotify, Tidal, and Qobuz, are handled natively, and the Mu-so also offers AirPlay 2 (iTunes and Apple Music) and Chromecast. There are analog, S/PDIF, USB, Bluetooth, HDMI ARC, and wired and Wi-Fi network inputs, though other than the USB port, the physical inputs are inconveniently placed on the bottom of the chassis. The Mu-so can be controlled by a remote control, by its own touch controls, and by the Naim app for Apple iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, and Android devices. JMu was well-impressed by this app. She was also impressed by the sound, writing "a few sonic characteristics stood out: crisp clarity with more detail and dynamic output than I expected. Subjective impressions of bass extension seemed to exceed what's possible from small drivers within a smallish box." How did JMu conclude her review? "The musical Mu-so 2nd Generation offers serious sound and engineering from a respected maker, but it's also built for fun. I wanted to keep on listening, and that speaks volumes." Additional grille color options add $90 to price. (Vol.43 No.10 WWW)

Sony SA-Z1 desktop system: $7999
This unique, active desktop system is intended to be listened to in the nearfield, with the close-spaced boundaries reinforcing the lower midrange and bass. Back-to-back 4" anodized-aluminum woofers minimize enclosure vibrations, and the primary tweeter is flanked by two smaller tweeters, one above and one below. The three tweeters use soft domes that have been sputtered with titanium and are mounted on a gantry in front of the front-firing woofer. All five drive-units are powered by PWM amplifier modules featuring gallium nitride transistors. The SA-Z1 makes abundant use of DSP to optimize its sound quality. The system has balanced and single-ended analog inputs and USB and Toslink digital inputs. According to Sony, the latter are preferred. Several DSP functions can be applied with the digital inputs, including adjusting the crossover between the front and rear woofers, changing the time alignment of the flanking tweeters, and upsampling to PCM or DSD. Setup is crucial, advised JVS, but once he was satisfied with the placement and had replaced his large computer monitor between the speakers with his smaller-screened laptop, he noted (using the USB input) that despite the small woofers' inability to reach as low as a mighty organ can go, "bass was otherwise tight and convincing, the midrange was warm, and highs were as rousing as one might wish for. Images weren't gigantic, but the way the soundstage expanded beyond and through the speakers was awe-inspiring." He concluded that "the SA-Z1 is capable of opening up entire new realms of personal listening." (Vol.44 No.3 WWW)

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, 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)

Deletions
Apple HomePod, discontinued.

COMMENTS
MatthewT's picture

Not much for me here, being a vintage gear fan first. Please bring back the entry-level column, there is a lot of gear at that price-point worth getting reviewed.

Anton's picture

Budgetwise, I think I would be most like a "Double A" audiophile.

Same with me and wine.

I do admit to seeing some of the top end prices for either wine or Hi Fi and thinking that there are people who have checkbooks that are 'better' than their palates/ears.

Like JA1 described in the past...there are already parts of my own hobby that are beyond my budgetary event horizon.

_

If we did have audiophile classes, from minor leagues to major league, I wonder what the price points for each step would be.

MatthewT's picture

Lets me play every now and then in the Majors. Nothing depreciates faster than audio gear. I have to admit being somewhat happy at seeing a dartZeel break while listening to it, while my beloved Sansui keeps making music.

Anton's picture

I like showing gear in the reviews to my wife and asking her to guess the price.

When I saw the OMA turntable in the latest issue, I guessed 15,000 dollars. When she saw it, she guessed 12,000 dollars, and we've been playing this game for 25 years!

Next, I asked her if I were able to purchase it for 90% off retail, would she let me. She said, "Only I promised to flip it immediately."

Then, she threw me a bone and said, "You could buy it and keep it for the 12,000 dollars that I guessed."

I'd need a 97.5% discount to have a chance at it. And even that would be wildly extravagant. I'm happy with life, this is just for scale.

tonykaz's picture

Above the PS Audio level is the world of Status & Ego. !

Which has me wondering if Stereophile is a Status & Ego type publication ? Is this a Robb Report mag that belongs on the coffee tables of private Jet Airports ? ( I've never seen it there )

Does an Anodized Red $200,000 Amplifier belong on the Front Cover of a magazine like ours ? None of us will ever have any chance to experience Velvet Rope Gear so why are we bothering with it? It being better is probably one person's opinion ( and that person probably doesn't have to buy it or own it ).

Reviews of these $100,000 +++++ pieces are man-speaking to us how our gear is deficient and unworthy, we are reading Hubris & gas lighting.

There is a World of $1,000 bottles of Wine, $25,000 Rolex Watches, Super pricy First Class Seats on UAL Flights and Political Leaders that are wealthy from insider trading. We shouldn't be reading about those things here.

Ours is like the world of our modest Canadian, revealing a new form of music discovery and writing one of Stereophile's most insightful pieces of literature about it. ( nice writing Mr. Robert S.)( is that the door bell? )

Tony in Venice Florida

rschryer's picture

Thanks, Tony

tonykaz's picture

Annnnndddd :

Thank You to the Editor that gave you the Word Budget and turned you loose.

Stereophile keeps raising the Bar !!!

Tony in Venice Florida

Anton's picture

Where on Maslow's Pryamid is a half million dollar record player?

I'm curious to see....misguided 'esteem?'

I prefer to use Swanson's Pyramid....

https://external-preview.redd.it/5cDe4MZ9E0ZfvcS10kmAUd2ynTkp6b3wfU-fYsxyNfg.png?width=960&crop=smart&auto=webp&s=be478d54ccedc0bd3a8ea8428e368fe10ed78c60

(Second from bottom left.)

tonykaz's picture

A most expensive record player would service the Ego needs of someone needing to establish themselves as the very Top of Analog Audio's Caste System.

The widely recognised Top Level Analog Format has been Tape.

I grew up in a Performing Arts household, my mother was an Operatic Performer and one of my older brothers was a Horn Player for our local Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

So, from my point of view, no Analog Audio System has ever come close to performing like a Live Audio Performance from a listening distance position.

Super pricy Audio Gear is about Status & Ego !!! ( I hear that Bob Carver still laughs at this stuff )

Tony in Venice Florida

tonykaz's picture

Yes, Brilliant Observation! ,

of which, of-course, I completely agree .

Proving the old maxim: when two people agree on something - only one is doing the thinking.

Now that I'm living in the Deep South, Swansons Pyramid is where I'm slowly migrating to. Hmm.

Y'all have a Grate Day

Tony in Venice Florida

ravello's picture

The introduction to recommended loudspeakers states that "Candidates for inclusion in this class [i.e. Class A, limited LF extension] must still reach down to at least 40Hz, below the lowest notes of the four-string double-bass and bass guitar." The Falcon LS3/5a, for example, most certainly does not reach down to 40 Hz, unless you define "reach" to include a -10 or -15 or even lower dB point, which cannot be construed as useful bass etension. This is probably true for several other speakers listed in this category. So what is happening? What is the thinking behind this inconcistency?

smileday's picture

Perhaps about -7 dB at 40Hz in this room. Fig. 6, https://www.stereophile.com/content/bbc-ls35a-loudspeaker-harbeth-measurements

It might be -3 dB at 40Hz in a broadcast van, the intended usage at the design stage.

tonykaz's picture

...performance level for all Great Transducers?

It was the very loudspeaker that brought me and my English partner into the Audio Business. ( back in the early 1980s ) -- ( my business partner and I begged Raymond Cooke for this design to import to USA - he said NO! )

Isn't it still a "Reference" for comparison ? , doesn't any new design have to match or exceed it's super high levels of performance?

This little device and a well matched sub builds an outstanding Desert Island System.

But, it's still outstanding without the Sub.

It may not be Full Range but it well earned a Lifetime Class A+ transducer system rating. ( four Decades + )

Tony in Venice Florida

Ortofan's picture

... like antique furniture, but the KEF LS50 Meta is a much more highly evolved successor.

tonykaz's picture

I'm sure that I agree with you.

I seem to have a deeeeeeeep seated feeling that the LS3/5a is the grandfather of High End music Gear.

Even during the 1980s, my little shop : Esoteric Audio in Farmington Frills, Mi. stocked most of the small mini-monitors including the LS3/5a, Linn Kann, ProAc Tablette, Spica TC50, Quad ESL63 and the whole range of other hopefuls. Performance wise, the ProAc Tablettes were the musical leaders, the Quads were the Sales leaders, the Spica was the Reviewer Favourite . We had them all on permanant comparison using a VPI player, Koetsu Rosewood, Electrocompaniet Electronics and MIT Music Hose cable interfaces. It was an exciting adventure for any and all customers to take part in the ongoing comparisons. People bought scads of 'all' of those small speakers types.

With great or outstanding supporting gear, the LS3/5a can Scale up to amazing levels of music reproduction.

Tony in Venice Florida

ravello's picture

@ smileday: With due respect, the link you posted is not to the current Falcon "Gold Badge" reviewed in 2021, which I was talking about, and which is about 12 dB down at 40 Hz (ref. 1 KHz) in JA's listening room on the evidence of Fig. 6 and Fig. 8 (red trace). This, as I was saying, cannot and should not be construed as useful bass extension at 40 Hz, so listing this speaker as "Class A, limited LF extension" is misleading (to say the least) in light of Stereophile's own stated criteria for inclusion in this category. Perhaps Editor Mr. Austin would like to take the stand on this. Furthermore, most of us don't listen to music in a broadcast van. Mind you, I am not saying that these are not truly great speakers. Indeed, I used to own the Harbeth P3ESR, which I found as nearly flawless as I suspect is possible in a loudspeaker, except for bass extension and volume (SPL) capability -- admittedly an inevitable design constraint given the size of the midbass driver, the size of the cabinet, and the benign impedance. This is why I eventually replaced them with a pair of the Harbeth C7 (40th Anniversary), which turned out to be game-over speakers in my small, 12 sqm study. Perfectly solid bass to 40 Hz and possibly below.

TowerOfPower's picture

It's surprising to not see a single Soundsmith cartridge on this list. Would like to know why.

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