Recommended Components Fall 2022 Edition Music Surround Components

Music Surround Components

A

exaSound s88: $7599 ★
See "Digital Processors."

exaSound Sigma Streamer: $750
To those who already own an exaSound DAC, the exaSound Sigma Streamer offers an affordable and tidy alternative to the company's PlayPoint digital-source components. The simple Sigma, which streams via wired or wireless LAN, is a Roon-ready endpoint, can function as an HQPlayer network audio adapter, and is compatible with UPnP, OpenHome, and AirPlay protocols. It supports PCM to 32/384, DSD to DSD256, and MQA (full unfold). KR found the Sigma to be "easy to use and completely functional as a network link" for his own exaSound e38 and e38 MkII DACs. (Vol.42 No.9)

Merging Technologies MERGING+ANUBIS Monitor Controller Premium: $2599
Another category-defying product from Swiss manufacturer Merging Technologies, the Merging+Anubis Premium combines a 32-bit 384kHz DAC with the processing power required to accept an eight-channel stream via Ethernet and concomitantly control up to eight studio monitors. It is, in other words, a pro-audio studio controller that does double duty as a domestic multichannel D/A processor. Add to that the Anubis's two headphone outputs and two analog inputs—the latter could accept, say, a stereo phono preamp, FM tuner, or other source—and you have an unusually flexible, high-quality Swiss-made product at a distinctly reasonable price. KR described his delight with the Anubis's sound, noting in particular its "sense of natural balance and smoothness," and praised this most recent Merging Technologies product as "a superb multichannel DAC that has redefined my entire system." (Vol.42 No.11)

miniDSP U-DIO8 Multichannel Interface: $399 ★
"There has been a serious impediment to the spread of multichannel playback among audiophiles." Thus did Kal Rubinson describe, in his September 2018 "Music in the Round" column, the scarcity of commercial multichannel D/A processors—at the moment, there appear to be only three—and its stultifying effect on hobbyists interested in surround sound. A solution has appeared in the form of the U-DIO8 multichannel interface from miniDSP. This takes the USB output of any computer running Windows, Mac OS, or Linux, and converts it to AES/EBU or S/PDIF, thus allowing that computer, acting as a server/player, to drive three or four two-channel DACs, which appear to be as common as worms after a rainstorm. While noting that the U-DIO8's output is limited to 24/192, KR tested it with several different two-channel processors and observed that "the sonic signature of each model of DAC remained audible," and concluded that miniDSP's new interface is "as indispensable to multichannel audio as a cream filling is to an Oreo." In his November 2018 column, Kal wrote of using the U-DIO8 to wrangle a trio of Benchmark DAC3 HGCs, with interesting and, at times, musically stunning results. (Vol.41 Nos.9 & 11 WWW)

NAD M17 V2i preamp/processor (with Dirac): $7999 ★
In the January 2015 Stereophile, KR opined that NAD's Masters Series of products had taken a turn from the conservative to the adventurous—evidence of which he saw in the Masters M17 (then $5499), which contained individual, updatable modules for digital video, analog video, digital audio, and analog audio. KR criticized the poor positioning of the front-panel off/standby switch, yet declared, "the M17's remote control was an unalloyed delight: slim, and just hefty enough to feel good in the hand." According to him, "The M17's sound, too, was delightful." He noted dynamics that were "precise and satisfying," and bass that was "delivered with authority"—and KR observed that "playing hi-rez and/or multichannel files from my server, connected to the M17 via HDMI, was simply glorious, especially as these signals were passed through a Dirac Live speaker-and-room–correction filter set at 24/96." Precisely four years later, in the January 2019 issue, Kal wrote of his experience with the M17 V2, noting that "either [the off/standby switch has] been improved or I've become more adept," and reporting his delight with the new version's included Dirac Live room-correction software, which replaces the original's Audyssey XT32 software: "NAD's Masters Series M17 V2 is a superb-sounding pre-pro and DAC right out of the box, but Dirac Live elevates it to something special." Latest version adds Apple's AirPlay 2. (Vol.38 No.1, Vol.42 No.1 WWW)

NAD M28: $5499
A seven-channel power amplifier that shares the same NAD Purifi-Eigentakt class-D output modules as the two-channel C 298—see "Two-Channel Power Amplifiers"—and offers 200Wpc. KR was impressed by the M28, commenting that, compared with his previous reference multichannel amplifier, a Bryston 9B-ST THX, "the treble seemed more delicately detailed while the upper low frequencies were a bit better defined. In multichannel, the M28 created a somewhat greater sense of envelopment with both 5.1 and Atmos content." (Vol.44 No.6 WWW)

Okto dac8 PRO: €1289 $$$
An 8-channel DAC with USB input and output, 8 channels of AES/EBU input, 8 channels of balanced (XLR) analog output, a headphone output, and a choice of seven reconstruction filters, the made-in-Prague dac8 Pro so impressed KR that he bought the review sample. JA's measurements indicated that, with just over 20 bits of effective resolution and vanishingly low linearity error and distortion, no compromises had been made to pack eight D/A channels into the Pro's slim chassis. (Vol.43 No.12, Vol.44 No.2 WWW)

Trinnov Altitude 32/-816: $29,000 w/ 3D decoding package as reviewed ★
In recent years, KR has written about the Trinnov MC Optimizer, a processor that impressed him with its ability "to move, at will, the sounds of instruments around the soundstage." Now the Optimizer exists as a suite of DSP software inside the company's Altitude 32 preamplifier, which Kal reviewed as the Altitude 32-816. (The model number denotes this version's eight-channel capability and 16 outputs.) While bemoaning the product's weight (32lb), complexity, and most of all, its price, KR noted that the Trinnov's capabilities are such that "its limitations are inconsequential" and that, as a preamp alone, the Altitude 32 offers transparency and tonal precision competitive with those of any preamp, A/V or not. (Vol.42 No.7 WWW)

B

Essence Evolve II-4K HDMI v2.0 Multi-Channel DAC: $349 ★
The Evolve II-4K is that rarity in high-end audio: a bargain-priced niche product. In this case, the niche is the one reserved for D/A processors capable of extracting and decoding the high-quality audio embedded in an HDMI video stream, while sending the video content direct to the user's display. KR put the little Evolve II-4K to work in a couple of settings and was "stunned that it sounded so good," adding that, although the Essence DAC didn't sound quite as good as his exaSound e38, "it was not shamed." (Vol.42 No.7 WWW)

Hegel C53 3-Channel: $6500 (three channels) ★
The Hegel C53 ($6000) is a three-channel power amplifier specified to deliver 150Wpc into 8 ohms—but thanks to its modular design, the amp is also available as the four-channel C54 or the five-channel C55, each additional 150W channel adding an additional $1000 to the price. Each channel offers the user the choice of single-ended (RCA) or balanced (XLR) inputs and gain that's switch-selectable between 23 and 29dB, as well as switch-selectable inversion of signal polarity. Driving KR's B&W 802 D3 speakers, the C53 sounded "precise but far from sterile," with good presence and tonal roundness on singing voices and "awesome" soundstage recreation. And on one particularly difficult, particularly loud passage, the Hegel surpassed KR's other amps, leading him to declare the C53 as "an outstanding amplifier that performs beyond its modest specs and not-so-modest price." (Vol.42 No.5 WWW)

KEF R8a Dolby Atmos surround loudspeaker: $1549.99/pair ★
KEF's R8a uses a Uni-Q coincident driver array—in this case, a 5.25" aluminum cone with a 1" aluminum dome at its center—in a roughly 10" × 7" sealed box with a sloping baffle. Provisions are made for wall-mounting; alternatively, the R8a can be perched atop another, larger loudspeaker and aimed at the ceiling, to make the most of the height information in immersive audio codecs such as dts-X, Auro-3D, and Dolby Atmos. KR borrowed three pairs (!) of R8a's, and after experimenting with placement, found success placing them upright on shelves, just at ear height and aimed slightly but not directly at the ceiling. Kal found that, with most classical recordings made in a single, coherent ambience, "the soundstage was pleasingly wider. With pop or rock recordings . . . this effect was substantial." (Vol.42 No.3 WWW)

Parasound Halo A 52+: $3199 ★
The Parasound Halo A 52+ five-channel power amp offers 180Wpc into 8 ohms or 255Wpc into 4 ohms. (When used as a two-channel amp, those power specs are respectively bumped up to 225 and 350Wpc.) This John Curl–designed amp operates in class-AB and offers both balanced and unbalanced inputs—although, as KR observed, it can't be used with both types of input cables connected simultaneously. That and the amp's 55lb weight were the only aspects of the Halo A 52+ that didn't fully delight KR, who noted sweet, pure tones from strings, freedom from blurring of individual voices or instruments in dense ensemble recordings, fine bottom-end extension, and "all [the] necessary juice no matter how loud I turned it up—and I turned it up loud." (Vol.41 No.5 WWW)

Deletions
Marantz AV8805, replaced by newer model not yet reviewed.

COMMENTS
Auditor's picture

The text under the J. Sikora Initial is the same as under the J. Sikora Reference, which is obviously a mistake.

John Atkinson's picture
Auditor wrote:
The text under the J. Sikora Initial is the same as under the J. Sikora Reference, which is obviously a mistake.

Fixed. Thank you.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

lesmarshall's picture

I was very surprised to read that the Benchmark DAC 3 is no longer a Recommended Component . In the earlier 2022 edition of Recommend Components , it was an A+ component . Your stated reason for the deletion was because it was not auditioned in a long while . Well why not audition it then ? Also, why is an audition necessary ? It measured as one of the best DACs ever . Why would its measurements change simply because you have not auditioned it recently ? I understand its your policy , but it seems rather unfair to Benchmark that you no longer recommend it for that reason . I believe a much fairer policy would be that a highly rated component should only fall off the recommended list if it is auditioned periodically and you determine that its current level of recommendation is no longer justified based on the factors that you use to include a component of the recommended list .

JRT's picture

Les, toward some light hearted amusement, consider a reductio ad absurdum.

The quoted material below was excerpted from the first version (published 01 May 1963) of Stereophile's recommended components, just the A,B,C rated amplifiers and preamplifiers:

Quote:

Preamplifier-Control Units
A: Marantz 7, McIntosh C-20
B, C: Dynaco PAS-2

Power Amplifiers
A: Marantz 8B, McIntosh MC-60 (footnote 5), Marantz 9A (footnote 5)
B, C: Dynaco Stereo 70

Footnote 5: mono amplifier.

Reductio ad Absurdum... Should the old gear listed above continue as currently recommended gear, or is it best left in its original context in the circa 1963 article? ...and why or why not? ...and is it a much too different set of cases for comparison? ...why? Would that old gear be good fodder for a listing of recommended vintage gear, and is that good subject matter for the current Stereophile readership? These are mostly rhetorical questions, but not all.

JRT's picture

Would you also include the essentially similar PAS-3, and then also the PAS-3X with updated tone controls, and then maybe also Frank van Alstine's improved Super PAS Three, etc.? The original short-list can grow large.

https://www.stereophile.com/content/recommended-components-1-0

https://www.stereophile.com/tubepreamps/1088vana/index.html

georgehifi's picture

It would be nice if the "title" of the piece recommended was clickable, so one could easily then read the full review of all these thousands of "recommended components" instead of searching like a ???

Just a thought??

Cheers George

liquidsun's picture

I must say I'm surprised to see Perlistens into Restricted Extreme LF category as I thought they were full range speakers.

Kal Rubinson's picture

For most, they will be full range but, as you can see from JA's Fig. 4, the FR is rolling off smoothly below 100HZ such that it will easily mate with a complementary subwoofer. I believe that was Perlisten's intent. That said, unless you are assessing the sound of low, low organ pedal tones, explosions or thunder, the bass from the s7t is clean, powerful and musically satisfying.

Robin Landseadel's picture

There's a lot of Dance Pop/Techno music that gives the lowest octave a workout. Managed to blow out the small bass driver from a Paradigm bookshelf speaker with a Sarah McLaughlan track---"I Love You" from the album "Surfacing"---a quiet ballad with a synth bottom without overtones, so there's pure, deep bass. Another good example would be the work of Bill Laswell, a producer/bass player.

Kal Rubinson's picture

OK but how is this relevant? On the one hand, I am not surprised that one can blow out the small bass driver in a bookshelf speaker. On the other, I doubt if it would do that to the Perlisten.

Robin Landseadel's picture

Blowing out the driver of a Paradigm Atom might not be meaningful save that I blew it out with a track that is low in level and undynamic. More to the point, it sounds like the speakers in question could use a sub. Of course, you pointed out that the speakers in question are designed to integrate well with subs. My Infinity 250 speakers, small floor-standing speakers, also requires a sub for deep bass.

What is meaningful is that there is more to the bottom octave than organ pedals and explosions. Lots of modern productions take advantage of digital recording/playback's ability to record/reproduce the lowest octaves of sound.

Kal Rubinson's picture

Yes, there is a lot more to the bottom end than I cared to mention but the distinction between the small Paradigm Atom and the s7t is that the former needs a sub (or a LP filter) merely to survive wide-band signals while the latter does not.

Did you read my comments about the Garage Door test? I doubt that either your Paradigm or your Infinity could compete with the Perlisten, with or without a sub.

Robin Landseadel's picture

Doubtless. My point was more about program material and really deep bass. In any case, my Infinity Primus 250s are aided by my Sonance Son of Sub. As the system is in a small room, it's probably as much bass as the room can take.

Anton's picture

I like to hit this issue and pretend all my Hi Fi gear is gone and I have to start over with my budget and this list.

Glotz's picture

Droooooool.. and I'm done FOREVER.

Soulution, MBL... heaven.

KEFLS50W's picture

It will be interesting to see if Stereophile catches up to the focus on active, integrated designs. The relevance of separates seems to be waning in comparison to these sexy and modern designs (many of which are good value to boot) from KEF, B&W, Q Acoustic, ATC, Dali, and others. LS50WII for example gives me access to high quality, high current class a/b amplification I would not have been able to afford with separates. On another note, why are REL subs not listed - they would floor the competition listed in terms of sonics and build quality. Sorry but SVS is a home theater product and KEF KC62 is for kids.

X