Recommended Components Fall 2021 Edition Disc & File Players

Disc & File Players

Editor's Note: SACD and DVD-A player ratings are based on how they sound with their respective hi-rez media, not CD.

A+

Antipodes K50: $15,000
See Jason Victor Serinus's review in this issue. (Vol.44 No.10)

Aurender N10: $8000 with 4TB storage ★
Designed in California and manufactured in South Korea, Aurender's N10 is a computer running a modified version of the open-source Linux operating system, and is dedicated to retrieving audio files from an external NAS drive, or a drive plugged into one of its USB ports, or its internal storage, and sending the data to its Class 2 USB output port or to one of its serial digital audio ports. Internal storage comprises two 2TB Western Digital Green hard drives, along with a 240GB solid state drive that's used to cache files before playback. Superb sound quality, decided JA, but DSD files were reproduced with a drop in volume when transcoded to PCM to play via a serial digital port. (Native DSD playback was okay.) "This server is a keeper," he summed up. In a Follow-Up, JVS described in detail his efforts to get the most from the N10. In the end, he expressed admiration for this one-box server's ease of use and its ability to connect to a DAC via USB, but noted his ultimate preference for other solutions. An extra 4TB of storage costs just $500 more. (Vol.39 No.4, Vol.42 No.4 WWW)

Baetis Audio Prodigy X3 server: $4800 (without options) ★
In spite of having more bells and whistles than its predecessor, the Baetis XR3, the new Prodigy X sells for a lower base price. That said, a number of options are available—and KR's review sample had more than a few, including a faster i7 CPU ($200), 32GB of RAM ($280), a pre-installed SOtM USBhubIN port with independent clock board ($1200), and an HD-Plex linear 400W PSU with Baetis cryo-treated DC cabling ($1220). Used with JRiver Media Center and his own exaSound e28 multichannel DAC, the Prodigy X treated KR to "marginally less noise at [the] speaker outlets," a bottom end that was "a bit tighter," and "greater overall clarity." Kal summed up the Prodigy X: "Another evolutionary step in an already distinguished line." In his "Music in the Round" column for the November 2017 Stereophile, KR noted that the Prodigy X "is now running the latest versions of Roon and JRiver Media Center (respectively v1.3/build 247 and v23.0.22)." (Vol.41 No.2 WWW)

dCS Rossini Player 2.0: $30,000 ★
dCS Rossini Clock: $9000 ★
Boasting the updated version of the company's signature Ring DAC, the dCS Rossini Player combines a Red Book CD drive with multiple digital inputs and a UPnP network player. The Rossini Player upsamples to the DXD format—PCM at 352.8kHz or 384kHz—and supports both DoP and native DSD up to DSD128. The Player is compatible with Ethernet and Apple AirPlay, and, as of the time of our review, the most recent version of its iOS app supports Roon endpoint integration. JA combined his review sample of the Rossini Player with the similarly new dCS Rossini Clock; summing up his thoughts on both, he wrote that the combo "produced what was, overall, the best sound from digital I have experienced in my system." Of his measurements, all of which incorporated the Rossini Clock, JA wrote that the Rossini Player offers performance that is "about as good as can be gotten from a thoroughly modern digital audio product." In the June 2019 Stereophile, JVS reported on dCS's Rossini software v2.0, which applies to both the Rossini Player and D/A processor. (Vol.39 No.12, Vol.42 No.6 WWW)

dCS Rossini SACD Transport: $25,000
Unlike the earlier Rossini Player, which only played CDs, the Rossini Transport uses a new mechanism from Denon that plays both SACDs and CDs. The Transport outputs audio data on twin AES/EBU links, to allow it to send native DSD data and CD data upsampled to DXD, DSD, or double DSD (these both encrypted) to a dCS DAC. JA used the Transport with a Rossini DAC and was mightily impressed by what he heard. He consistently preferred the sound of SACDs played on the Transport compared with the same data sent to the Rossini DAC over his network, feeling that the low frequencies sounded more robust. "Once these words have been laid out on the pages of this issue," JA concluded, "I'll have to return [the Rossini Transport] to dCS. It breaks my heart." (Vol.42 No.5 WWW)

dCS Vivaldi 2.0: $124,000/system as reviewed ★
The top dCS digital playback system comprises: the Vivaldi DAC ($35,999), which can decode every digital resolution from MP3 to DSD and DXD, provides 10 filter options (six for PCM, four for DSD), and offers every digital input other than Ethernet; the Vivaldi Upsampler ($21,999), which can upconvert even the lowest-resolution MP3 data to 24/384, DSD, and DXD, or any format in between; the Vivaldi Master Clock ($14,999), containing two groups of four clock outputs, which can be independently set; and the Vivaldi Transport ($41,999), a smooth, quiet, quick-booting SACD/CD drive based on TEAC's Esoteric VRDS Neo disc mechanism, controlled by dCS-designed signal-processing electronics and capable of upsampling CDs to DSD or DXD. In addition to updated casework and cosmetics, the Vivaldi products use a complete revision of dCS's Ring DAC topology, increasing the Ring DAC's available dynamic range and decreasing its jitter. Though setup was complicated, the Vivaldi components produced "a texturally supple, delicate, musically involving sound filled with color and life," said MF of the original version. On the test bench, the Vivaldi measured superbly, improving on dCS's Scarlatti in almost every way. "Wow!" said JA. In the December 2017 Stereophile, JVS wrote of the Vivaldi DAC's upgrade to v.2.02 firmware, which enables DSD128 file playback and includes other refinements; MQA compatibility, though anticipated, was not available at the time of our review. Compared to the same DAC running v.1.2 firmware, the upgraded DAC presented JVS with more vividly saturated tonal colors—"I was so impressed by the degree of color saturation that, to fully bask in the sound, I turned the lights out"—and, in place of dryness, "an iridescent clarity to timbres and textures." (Vol.37 No.1, Vol.40 No.12 WWW)

exaSound Delta: $3000 plus cost of internal storage and LCD display
Powered by an Intel i9-9900, this passively cooled music server runs exaSound's custom Linux operating system and a Roon Core, these stored on an SSD. An optional second SSD can be used for file storage. KR found the Delta to be more powerful than either a Roon Nucleus+ or a Baetis X4i, better coping with demanding DSP operations with multichannel and DSD files. "The Delta Music Server is the most capable server I have used, but it is far from the most expensive," he concluded, adding that the Delta is, in his opinion, what a Roon server should be. (Vol.44 No.4 WWW)

Grimm MU1 music streamer: $10,700 plus cost of internal storage (ex VAT)
The MU1 is based on an Intel twin-core i3 processor running a Linux-based operating system. It incorporates a Roon Core and is fully integrated with the Roon Server app. It can be controlled by rotating and pressing a top-mounted, bronze-colored disc. (A high-precision digital volume control and other functions can be selected with this control.) While its Ethernet and USB ports can be used to send audio data from the Intel board to a DAC, the MU1 upsamples PCM data and downsamples DSD data sourced from its AES/EBU outputs, using what Grimm calls a "Pure Nyquist" decimation filter hosted in a Xilinx FPGA. (Measurement revealed that this is an ultra-fast-rolloff filter, reaching full stop-band attenuation at half the original PCM data's sample rate.) JA very much preferred the sound from the AES/EBU outputs, finding that the upsampling of CD-resolution data reduced congestion, added depth to the soundstage, and increased the separation among acoustic objects in that soundstage. JA recommended the MU1 highly as a streamer, writing that it can also operate as a network bridge with legacy D/A processors that don't have USB or Ethernet ports, and that it can be used as the sole source component with active speakers that have digital inputs. A 1TB SSD adds $225; 2TB SSD adds $430; 4TB SSD adds $805. An FM tuner function is promised. (Vol.44 No.3 WWW)

Gryphon Ethos: $39,000
Released at a time when new CD players in general are rarities, let alone ones that cost as much as a 2020 Alfa Giulia, the Gryphon Ethos entices with its user-selectable upsampling (up to 24/384 PCM or DSD128) and digital filters (seven PCM, three DSD), its USB-addressable D/A processor (up to 32/384 PCM or DSD512), its choice of single-ended and balanced outputs, and its "eye-catching and resolutely retro styling"—that last one according to JVS, who also noted that the DAC does not decode MQA and that the player does not play SACDs. JVS also found that upsampling CDs "to either DSD or PCM enhanced listening with additional air and depth. … I liked the upsampling feature a lot." Jason's conclusion: "The Ethos is one open, marvelously detailed, and fresh-sounding unit that makes listening an absolute joy." Measurer-in-chief JA added to that assessment: "The Gryphon Ethos offers excellent audio engineering." Because it plays only CDs, A+ rating applies only to its use as a DAC. (Vol.43 No.1 WWW)

Innuos Statement: $15,100 and up
A dedicated server from Portuguese company Innuos, the two-box Statement includes a drive for ripping CDs and features eight separate power supplies: three for each voltage of the motherboard; one for the CPU; one for the SSD storage device; one for the Ethernet Reclocker board; one for the USB Reclocker Board; and one for the USB clock. At the time of the review, Roon and Innuos were discussing how the two systems will work together, but the Statement could still be used as a Roon output device. Comparing the Statement with a Nucleus+ using USB connections to his dCS Rossini D/A processor, JVS found that the Innuos server's treble seemed slightly rounded, the presentation "a touch warmer. … The Statement warmed the piano and smoothed out the top in a manner that some would call analoglike or tubelike." JVS concluded that "In its flagship Statement music server, Innuos has created a transparent instrument that scores big in soundstage size and depth, dynamics, and bass reach." He was less impressed by the InnuOS 1.4.3 Web app, which he felt was best described as "a work in need of progress." In a Follow-Up, JA found almost no measurable differences in a PS Audio DirectStream's analog output whether it received data from the Nucleus+ or Statement via USB or from the Nucleus+ via Ethernet. In a series of listening tests, JA found differences between the Innuos and Roon servers difficult to hear with many recordings but ultimately agreed with JVS that via USB connections, the Nucleus's low frequencies were outclassed by the Statement's. "Not by much, I admit," he wrote, "but enough to matter; … the bass line had a touch more drive with Statement sending data to the PS Audio." (Vol.43 Nos.4 & 5 WWW)

mbl Noble Line N31: $15,400 ★
Designed to play "Red Book" CDs and, via its USB and other digital inputs, music files up to 24/192 and DSD64 (DoP), the Noble Line N31 is less a digital-audio Swiss Army knife than a luxuriantly attractive, 40lb monument to the idea of perfecting the playback of audiophilia's best-loved digital formats. Built around the ESS Sabre 9018 DAC, the N31 offers a full-color 5" TFT display—the MBL player recognizes CD text and displays title information—and features an SDcard slot for firmware updates, a choice of three playback filters, and a remote handset that lights up before the person reaching for it has even touched it. Listening to CDs and even a CD-R through the N13, JA was impressed by the "sheer tangibility" of the MBL's sound, noting that, with its Min filter engaged, the N31 "gracefully reproduced" one "overcooked" track, and that the differences among its three filters were "greater in degree than with other DACs." Through the MBL's USB inputs, even iPhones and iPads, their own volume controls disarmed by the MBL's USB input, offered "excellent" sound quality. JA originally raised an eyebrow at the lack of a network port and the fact that the player's filters can't be selected via the remote handset, but both of these issues have been addressed in 2020 production with the optional Roon Ready Input Module. As with USB, the networked MBL rendered music with an excellent sense of overall drive and low-frequency impact, JA found, with low-level recorded detail well-resolved. JA concluded his original review by saying that digital sound "doesn't get any better" than what he heard from the N31. He also noted that the MBL offered 21 bits of resolution—the current state of the art of digital audio. This prompted JA the measurer to agree with JA the listener: "Digital audio engineering doesn't get any better." Price is with factory-installed Roon Ready network module. Price without module is $15,400. (Vol.41 No.2, Vol.43 No.12 WWW)

Métronome c|AQWO: $26,000
Métronome t|AQWO: $24,000
A combination of Métronome's c|AQWO D/A processor ($26,000) and t|AQWO transport ($24,000), this four-box SACD/CD player—each of the two above-named units has its own outboard Métronome Elektra power supply—provides the lucky owner with a means of not only playing the hi-rez layer of an SACD but also upsampling it to DSD256 or to 24-bit/384kHz PCM, the latter transformation also available to Red Book CDs. (Refer to the full review for details on the combination's output and input options, which defy description in a brief précis such as this.) JVS enjoyed the Métronome combination and singled out the c|AQWO DAC for its "non-fatiguing, easy-on-the-ears sound that some would consider analog-like." Writing from his lab, JA noted that the t|AQWO transport's error correction was "one of the best I have encountered." Apart from "disappointing" jitter performance via its AES/EBU and TosLink connections—all was well via HDMI—the c|AQWO DAC "did well on the test bench." (Vol.43 No.3 WWW)

Pink Faun 2.16x music streamer: $22,000 as reviewed, with S/PDIF and USB I/O cards
Storage for music files is optional with this expensive, dead-silent streamer from Holland, and it has no built-in DAC. As a streamer, though, it's an all-out effort. "Its huge size and weight and [custom] Lamborghini Orange front panel shout that out loud," KR wrote. The CPU on the motherboard is liquid-cooled by copper tubes coupling it to a large heatsink on one side of the chassis. The heatsink on the other side cools five large power transistors. Proprietary, sealed Oven Controlled Crystal (Xtal) Oscillators (OCXOs), available in standard or Ultra versions, are used for the system clock, the motherboard, and each of the I/O cards. The "headless" Pink Faun is controlled by the Roon app, which can run on a tablet or laptop. KR was impressed by this streamer's performance with both stereo and multichannel files, writing that it was sufficiently transparent to permit him to hear differences among DACs and reconstruction filters. "The Pink Faun 2.16x Streamer is, sonically, as perfect a stereo source component as I have used," he concluded. (Vol.43 No.12 WWW)

Roon Labs Nucleus+: $2559 without audio file storage ★
The first hardware product from software specialist Roon Labs, the Nucleus+ combines an Intel i7 processor/NUC board with 8GB of RAM and a 64GB SSD solid state drive, the latter hosting the Linux-based Roon Optimized Core Kit (ROCK) operating system and Roon server software. Also provided are a single gigabit Ethernet port, USB 3.0 ports for conversing with external drives and/or USB DACs, a multichannel-friendly HDMI port, a Thunderbolt 3 port, and an internal bay for an HDD or SSD drive. Use of the Nucleus+ requires a Roon subscription ($9.99/month, $699.99/lifetime). When JA tried the Nucleus+, he found he had "nothing specific to say about the sound other than that it was always excellent." KR described his efforts at pressing the Nucleus+ into service as a multichannel server. His results were encouraging, although DSP execution was a mixed bag, depending on sample rate, the operation desired, and the strain they put on processing power. Upsampling in particular "seemed to drain the tank." In a 2020 Follow-Up, JA found that the sonic differences between the Nucleus+ and the considerably more expensive Innuos Statement server were small. (Vol.41 No.8, Vol.42 No.3, Vol.43 Nos.4 & 5 WWW)

T+A MP 3100 HD SACD/CD player: $21,000
This impressively well-engineered, "Roon tested" hi-rez player includes AES/EBU, TosLink and coaxial S/PDIF, Wi-Fi, Ethernet, and USB serial data inputs as well as a USB Type A port to play files on a storage device. It even has an FM radio tuner. A choice of four oversampling reconstruction filters allows the user to tailor the HD 3001's sonic signature. JCA concluded that "Treble tones glisten like light reflected from the facets of a diamond, and also seem especially relaxed—no digital glare. Bass, while not louder than with other digital sources, has more sturdiness and depth." On the test bench, the T+A player's measured performance was beyond reproach, though JA warned that those rare preamplifiers with an input impedance of less than 1k ohms should be avoided. (Vol.43 No.6 WWW)

Wolf Systems Alpha 3 server: $7195 as reviewed ★
Wolf Systems Alpha 3 SX server: $9295 as reviewed
Wolf Audio Systems specializes in configuring eighth-generation, six-core i7 processors for use as silent (no cooling-fan noise) music servers with prodigious computing power—leading KR, Our Man in the Round, to wonder if there existed a sufficiently powerful Wolf to meet the demands of multichannel playback (!) of hi-rez files (!!) with DSP and/or EQ (!!!). Wolf suggested he try the Alpha 3 High Fidelity Audio Server (HFAS), which supports JRiver Media Center and Roon and offers 16GB of RAM, a 2TB SSD for internal storage, and a TEAC Blu-ray transport for ripping and playing CDs. KR was impressed with the Alpha 3—and by Wolf's semi-customized owner's manual and telephone and VPN support. He noted that "the Alpha 3 never blinked, blanked, or unceremoniously rebooted itself; it worked silently and reliably." His verdict: "a great choice for playing hi-rez files of multichannel music." In his review of the premium Alpha 3 SX version—the SX stands for "Stillpoint/eXemplar Audio" and refers to grounding, vibration management, and RF/EMI rejection technology designed by those two companies—JVS wrote that "from the very first notes, the Alpha 3 SX's neutrality came as a breath of fresh air." JVS also auditioned the Alpha 3 SX with the optional Flux Capacitor USB clock card ($600). Without the clock card, he found that "the magic was lessened." With the USB clock card, depth was "quite good, if not as deep as through my reference Nucleus+ with external linear power supply." JVS felt the Wolf server was a better match with darker-toned ancillary components but summed up his review by writing "Match the Wolf Alpha 3 SX with the right components, and you may end up howling for joy." (Vol.42 No.1, Alpha 3 WWW; Vol.43 No.5, Alpha 3 SX WWW)

A

ATC CDA2 Mk2 CD player: $4999
An unexpected gem in the product line of a UK speaker specialist, the CDA2 Mk2 majors in the playing of "Red Book" CDs and minors in preamplification. As KM noted, "the beating heart of the revised CDA2 is twofold: a Chinese-made TEAC 5020A-AT CD transport … and [AKM's] AK4490EQ DAC chip." Preamp gain comes courtesy of op-amps built around discrete devices, and the USB receiver is an Amanero Combo 384. When using it to play CDs, KM found that "the ATC presented each as a character study of a unique sonic personality telling a singular story," and he praised in particular the player's sonic transparency. Playing files through the ATC's USB input—streaming is not supported—Ken described the sound as "very good overall, including from DSD files, but it lacked the visceral grip of CDs through the ATC's transport." Reporting from his test bench, JA praised the CDA2 Mk2's "generally superb measured performance, though its S/PDIF inputs aren't up to the standard of jitter rejection offered by CD playback and the USB input." (Vol.41 No.12 WWW)

Bryston BDP-3: $4095 ★
In February 2017, Bryston upgraded their BDP-2 digital player to BDP-3 status, with refinements including an even faster Intel Quad-core processor; a Bryston-manufactured integrated audio device (IAD) in place of a soundcard; a custom Intel Celeron motherboard; a bigger power supply; and two additional USB ports, for a total of eight—three of which use the faster USB 3.0 protocol. Bryston's tried-and-true player now supports up to 32/384 PCM and DSD128. The BDP-3 supports Tidal, and can be configured as a Roon endpoint. LG sent his BDP-2 to the Bryston factory for conversion to BDP-3 status (a $1500 upgrade) and found that the new media-player software displays more album art and metadata; more important, he found slight improvements in sound over the BDP-2, including improved bass extension and clearer, more open, more detailed presentations of well-recorded choral music. (Vol.41 No.1 WWW)

Kalista DreamPlay One: $49,000
The Kalista DreamPlay One, from French digital-audio specialists Métronome, is a two-box CD player, only one of whose halves—its Elektra power supply—is really a box at all. The other half—the DreamPlay One itself—is an exotic-looking and roughly hexagram-shaped device made of steel, aluminum, and methacrylate. Its modified Philips CDM12PRO transport is exposed and designed for use with a supplied CD puck, also exotic-looking. Both single-ended and balanced outputs are provided, but there are no digital inputs or outputs. A brilliantly executed display screen is integrated within the player's frontmost structure. Soft-touch buttons control the DreamPlay One's basic functions; the screen also assists in choosing from among the player's six user-selectable digital playback filters, differences between which AD found to be "the smallest real differences … I've ever heard." Far more apparent were the distinctions between the Kalista DreamPlay One and most other players of Art's experience: "I really can't recall the last time a CD player was so good that it helped change my mind about music I'd never quite favored." Art described the Kalista as "more tonally balanced" than his aging reference Sony player and raved over its abilities to convey instrumental colors, musical momentum and force, realistic scale, and realistic presence. He summed up: "the DreamPlay One is without flaw in every regard but price." Measurer-in-chief JA wrote that, apart from a trace of power-supply ripple, "the Kalista DreamPlay One demonstrates good audio engineering." (Vol.41 No.9 WWW)

NAIM ND5 XS 2: $3490
Built around Naim's proprietary streaming platform, the ND5 XS 2 player—at present the company's entry-level model—can be used wirelessly or via an Ethernet connection to the user's router or network switch. Depending on file type, the Naim supports PCM up to 32/384 and DSD to DSD128, but does not unfold MQA content. The Roon-ready ND5 XS 2 supports Tidal, Chromecast, and Spotify, with Qobuz compatibility said to be in the works. AD found the Naim sounded its best with files played from his laptop via Roon—and that was very good indeed, a beloved Beck track in particular sounding "as good and big and compelling" as he'd ever heard it. Writing from his test bench, JA noted that he was "puzzled" by the Naim's less-than-straightforward jitter performance but noted that the player "otherwise … turns in respectable measured performance." AD's conclusion: "a good-sounding, pleasant-to-use player that offers very good value." (Vol.42 No.4 WWW)

Sony DMP-Z1: $8499.99
Weighing as it does a little over 5lb, the Sony DMP-Z1 is less of a Walkman (as the manufacturer describes it) than a SitInTheLimoMan (as JA describes it); however it's labeled, this media player/digital processor/headphone amplifier is unambiguously a luxury product, with convenience features that include a top-mounted color touchscreen; two slots for microSD cards; Bluetooth alongside USB connectivity; MQA support; and a big, gold-plated-brass volume knob—plus user-selectable reconstruction filters and DSP functions. The Sony rewarded JA with sound with "excellent low-frequency weight" but that was a bit too mellow with darker-than-neutral 'phones such as his AudioQuest NightHawks—Audeze LCD-Xes were a better match. "An MQA-encoded classical track sounded simply glorious through the Sony." JA-the-measurer confirmed the impressions of JA-the-listener, noting "superb measured performance, indicative of equally superb analog and digital audio engineering." (Vol.42 No.8 WWW)

B

Pro-Ject Stream Box S2 Ultra: $899 $$$
This relatively affordable server/network bridge runs a customized Volumio operating system, which resides in its 12.79GB onboard memory, and can be controlled by either a Web browser or Pro-Ject's own iOS app; it can also be used as a Roon endpoint. Network connectivity is via Ethernet or Wi-Fi (an antenna is included). Tidal and Spotify streaming services are supported, as is Shoutcast internet radio, and the Stream Box S2 Ultra supports PCM up to 32/352.8 and DSD up to DSD256. In JA's system, the Pro-Ject network bridge, controlled by its free app and with a USB-connected DAC, produced sound that was "indistinguishable from that using my [Roon] Nucleus+ with Roon to stream audio over my Ethernet-wired network. Not bad for something that costs only one-third the Roon server's price." (Vol.42 No.4 WWW)

Rega Apollo: $1095 $$$
In 2018, AD tested both the most expensive current-production high-end CD player of his experience (the $43,000 Kalista DreamPlay One) and the least expensive; the latter was the latest version of Rega's humble Apollo, a half-size (8.7" wide) player whose top-loading transport is accessed via a cleverly designed manual-lift lid, and whose DAC chip is a Wolfson WM8742. The Apollo impressed Art with its generally unfussy appearance and ease of use, and, most of all, its compelling sound quality. With a disc-dependent balance that ranged between slightly light and just right, the Rega complemented the well-saturated and -textured sound of AD's tubed electronics, and proved a reliable revealer of pitches, rhythms, and otherwise-unnoticed musical subtleties. His conclusions: "This player has a sonic brilliance—a clarity of detail and musical line, allied with a spatially up-front presentation—that enhances musical engagement. Robustly recommended." Writing from his test bench, JA noted that the Apollo's rejection of word-clock jitter was "not quite to the otherwise excellent standard of digital engineering revealed by the rest of its measured performance." (Vol.41 No.6 WWW)

Volumio Primo Streamer: €649 $$$
This Ethernet-connected streamer may be small and affordable, but, controlled by the open-source Volumio app or by Roon via a plug-in, it offers full functionality with music libraries stored on NAS drives. (It doesn't have internal storage for audio files.) The Primo is based on the ASUS Tinker Board single-board computer, to which Volumio has added an audio processing board. When turned on, it establishes a Wi-Fi "hotspot," allowing control via tablets or smartphones. A USB output port can send audio data to a separate D/A processor, but the Primo also offers high-quality analog outputs for those who value system simplicity. (KR reported that these outputs sounded clean and balanced, with impact and scale.) KR wrote that "the Volumio Primo is a neat little music player. Its sound was clean and balanced through any of my three DACs," though he did add that his DACs sounded more dynamic and open when the significantly more expensive Baetis or Pink Faun players were sending the data. While the Primo's hardware was underpowered for KR's downsampling/multichannel/DSP needs, he concluded that "if your music library and streaming sources are stereo only, and you intend to use the Primo's very good ESS DAC, I can recommend it highly." (Vol.44 No.2 WWW)

Deletions
Merging+Player Multichannel-8, Merging+Player Stereo, Bryston BCD-3, not auditioned in a long time.>

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.

X