Recommended Components Fall 2023 Edition Disc & File Players

Disc & File Players:

A+:

Antipodes K50: $19,000
The made-in-New Zealand K50 works with Roon as both server and player, Roon as a server with Squeezelite or HQ Player as the player, or Squeeze as a server and Squeezelite as the player. It offers Ethernet, USB, I2S, AES3, and S/PDIF outputs, though the manufacturer doesn't recommend using USB. JVS found that the Squeeze server and Squeezelite apps were not as user-friendly as Roon, but using them to transmit the audio data via single AES3 to the dCS Rossini DAC "delivered the most transparent, detailed, color-saturated, vivid, midrange- and bass-rich sound of all options available to me." He also noted that playing files stored on the K50's optional SSD (sizes up to 24TB are available) sounded "a mite better—the extra transparency was noticeable" than playing the same files sourced from his NAS, or from Tidal and Qobuz. "Class A+ all the way," he concluded. (Vol.44 No.10 WWW)

Antipodes Oladra server/streamer: $25,000
This expensive server/streamer/reclocker from New Zealand is designed for precise clocking, low noise, and high bandwidth. The Oladra can serve as a Roon Core and can be operated with Roon or with another player app like HQPlayer, MPD with MinimServer, or with "Squeeze," Antipodes' own customized version of the Logitech Media Server. The Oladra can access audio files stored remotely on a NAS and stream music from Qobuz, Tidal, and other streaming services. Users can also add up to 24TB of internal storage—Antipodes recommends Samsung PM893 cards—by sliding up to three cards into the storage slots on the rear panel. In order of decreasing sound quality (according to Antipodes), data outputs are I2S on HDMI or RJ45, AES3, S/PDIF (BNC and RCA), and USB 2. There is also "Direct Stream Ethernet," when the data emerges direct from the Server engine, out to a streaming DAC, bypassing the Player and Reclocker. Using a dCS Vivaldi Apex DAC (which doesn't have an I2S input), JVS found that music sounded best when he used Squeeze as both server and player and AES3 or S/PDIF (BNC) for the Oladra's output. Switching outputs from AES3 to USB, which bypasses the Oladra's reclocker, he noted that the sound wasn't quite as warm, color-saturated, or transparent. Overall, Antipodes Audio's top-line Oladra "is among the finest sounding music servers I've had in my system," he concluded. On Paul Miller's testbench, the Oladra's output significantly reduced jitter compared with his desktop PC driving USB-connected AudioQuest DragonFly and iFi Audio NEO iDSD DACs, but offered little improvement with Mytek Brooklyn and dCS Vivaldi One Apex DACs. (Vol.46 No.7 WWW)

Burmester Musiccenter 151 MK2: $27,500
The 151 MK2 is a music server/network streamer with an internal DAC, a 2TB internal SSD, and a volume control. Operations are controlled with an iPad/iPhone app via Wi-Fi. There are analog inputs, and files can be played from USB sticks and external drives, or NAS drives; internet radio and music can be streamed from Tidal, Qobuz, and Idagio via Ethernet or Wi-Fi; and a CD drive allows silver discs both to be played and to be ripped to the internal SSD. The Musiccenter's DAC automatically upsamples/resamples lower-rez music to 24/96 or 24/192 and DSD up to DSD256 and DXD to 24/192 or 24/96. JVS enjoyed his time with the Burmester, concluding that "Music lovers who retain their love for silver discs will find them sounding even better when ripped to the unit's 2TB SSD, and those accustomed to file playback and streaming will find the Musiccenter's multifunction, multipurpose excellence a one-stop avenue to bliss. Through the 151 MK2 Musiccenter, music sings supreme." JA found that the CD transport offered superb error correction/concealment, which he felt was appropriate for ripping CDs. He concluded that the Burmester 151's performance on the test bench indicated excellent audio engineering in both the digital and analog domains. "It gets a clean bill of health from this measurer." (Vol.45 No.5 WWW)

CH Precision D1.5 SACD/CD player/transport: $41,000—$46,000
Base price is for the SACD/CD transport, which has TosLink, AES3, and CH's proprietary high-rez CH Link HD; two MQA-capable mono DAC cards add $5000. Control is via two coaxial knobs on the front panel or with an app for Android devices. When it's used as a player, all data are upsampled to DXD (24/384), and the analog output is processed with a reconstruction filter optimized for the time domain. Playing CDs, JCA reported that low frequencies had "seismic weight" and that stereo imaging precision and soundstage depth were excellent. He also noticed how good the D1.5 sounded at low volume. With the MQA-CD of Patricia Barber's Clique, JCA wrote that Barber's voice had a lovely, creamy texture, though as the music got louder, he detected some congestion. In level-matched comparisons of the SACD version of this album, he didn't hear as much creaminess on the vocals, though the presentation was not congested at high levels. JCA concluded that after several months with the D1.5 he never got bored; the music kept surprising him. In the test lab, JA found that with CD data this filter rolled-off frequencies above 15kHz because the review sample's firmware had selected an incorrect filter; JCA updated the firmware and reported on the behavior with the correct filter in the May 2022 issue. He wrote that with the new firmware, the transformation in the sound of the D1.5, when playing CDs, was qualitative. It "wasn't necessarily—wasn't immediately—a giant leap forward in absolute sonic quality. It was, rather, simply a major change in sonic character." Other than the frequency response with CDs now extending to –3dB at 20kHz, the primary measurable difference was the change from a relatively long, minimum-phase impulse response to an extremely short impulse response. (Vol.45 Nos.3 & 5 WWW)

dCS Rossini SACD Transport: $26,500
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)

exaSound Delta Server Mark II: $2999 plus cost of internal storage
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: $12,500 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)

Innuos STATEMENT: $16,700 and up, depending on storage
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: $18,500; optional Roon Ready module is $1480 ★
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)

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: $22,275
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: $7795 as reviewed ★
Wolf Systems Alpha 3 SX server: $9895 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:

Bryston BDP-3: $4495 ★
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. LG'S current reference. (Vol.41 No.1 WWW)

Jay's Audio CDT3 MK3: $4998
The massively constructed CDT3 MK3 CD transport—it weighs 50lb— uses Philips's top-of-the-line CD-Pro2LF drive. Although this was discontinued in 2013, Jay's says they have stockpiled a substantial inventory of these drives and is confident they have plenty on hand to cover potential future service issues. Digital outputs are AES3 (XLR), S/PDIF (BNC and RCA), and I2S on RJ45 and HDMI. (The latter follows the connection protocol established by PS Audio.) Using the I2S over HDMI output with a Denafrips Terminator II DAC, MT felt that the CDT3 offered a clear improvement in resolution resulting in a better defined and more spacious soundstage compared with his Audio Note transport. The Jay's transport features switchable 4× oversampling. MT found that this enhanced the presentation of the soundstage, as well as fleshing out the harmonic tonal colors of double bass and piaNo."Jay's upsampler seems to offer a genuine improvement," he concluded, adding that the CDT3-MK3 is "a truly exceptional way to play your CD collection." In the test lab, JA found that the CDT3 offered excellent error correction and low transmitted jitter. Peculiarly, however, while the oversampled outputs featured accurate 16-bit data, the non-oversampled outputs were limited to 15-bit resolution, due to the presence of LSB-level random noise. (It turned out that was due to the upsampling chip dithering its output, even when set not to upsample.) In his own auditioning, JA found that the Jay's upsampled output worked well with the Mojo Mystique SE NOS DAC. (Vol.46 No.5 WWW)

Melco N50 digital music library: $5499 incl. 3.84TB storage
The slim, Roon Ready N50 includes internal storage and has two Ethernet ports and four USB 3.0 ports, one of which is optimized for sending audio data to a USB-connected DAC. KR found that the front-panel controls and the small alphanumeric display worked fine for setup and basic music selection, but quickly realized that the Melco Music App running on an iPad—there's no Android support—was essential for selecting music and making the Melco enjoyable to use. Once the N50 was connected to KR's local network, the app's "Library" choices included every audio file on every device on his LAN. He summed up that the Melco "lets you engage with the music and does nothing to intrude on that engagement. That's its role, and it performs it well. Crucially, it does nothing to degrade sound quality. Especially when playing from its internal storage, the N50 is responsive." (Vol.45 No.6 WWW)

Mytek Brooklyn Bridge II: $3995
The small Brooklyn Bridge II streaming D/A preamplifier offers digital and analog inputs, including an MC/MM phono input, balanced and single-ended analog and headphone outputs, and incorporates a Roon core. All its owner needs to add to create a complete system are some file storage, a power amplifier, and a pair of loudspeakers. TF found the touchscreen too small for easy use, instead controlling the BBII functions with the Roon app. (Roon identified the Brooklyn Bridge II as a full MQA decoder and renderer.) He found that the single-ended outputs picked up some hash from his Mesh Wi-Fi network, though JCA and JA didn't encounter any Wi-Fi–related problems in their own systems. In the test lab, JA noted that the Mytek runs very hot. The DAC circuit offers between 18 and 19 bits' worth of resolution, he found, and commented that the analog output stage coped well with punishing loads. He was less impressed with the phono input, finding that even in MM mode, the noisefloor suffered from supply-related spuriae, these presumably radiated from the power transformer packed into the small chassis. The levels of these spuriae were unacceptably high in MC mode, decided JA. TF was also bothered by the Mytek's phono input, finding that even in MM mode, "there was enough his and hum to be audible at the listening position, through all outputs: balanced, unbalanced, headphone." Hum aside, however, he wrote that LPs "sounded vivid, the tonal balance was right, there was plenty of headroom." Playing back files from his NAS drive TF wrote that "the BBII sounds damn good . . . Its character was uncolored and revealing . . . the BBII is a fine DAC, in the top tier of its price range." (Vol.46 No.9 WWW)

Rotel Diamond Series DT-6000 CD Transport/DAC: $2300
As well as playing CDs, the DT-6000 has three digital inputs (coaxial and optical, these accepting PCM data up to 24/192), and a Class 2.0 USB input that will accept PCM data up to 32/384, DSD data, and MQA data up to 24/384k. However, despite being called a "Transport," the DT-6000 doesn't have a digital output. It uses the well-regarded ESS9028PRO DAC chip. HR wrote that with CD data his more expensive R-2R DACs "did not better the DT-6000's beat-keeping and boogie-stomping." Streaming well-recorded piano, the Rotel offered "clean, fast, well-sculpted authority," HR decided, and while he felt streaming was clearer, smoother, and more open than CD playback, contrasts weren't as sharp, the presentation less physical. "Music from CDs sounded denser and more fortified than music from Qobuz and Tidal," he concluded. (In the test lab, JA found that while jitter was nonexistent with CD playback, it was high in level with streaming audio via USB. He also noted that the Rotel's error correction playing CDs was superb.) Overall, HR described the DT-6000 as a "well-built, great-sounding, reasonably priced CD player." (Vol.46 Nos.2 & 3 WWW)

B:

Cyrus CDi-XR: $2999
KM found that this diminutive, well-finished CD player from the UK offered greater weight and punch than the same music when streamed via a Denfrips Ares II D/A processor. However, on some recordings he wrote that "this manifested as tonal thickness and a loss of transparency. Streaming tended to excel at treble, detail, and upper register air but often gave up some presence and weight." The CDi-XR is "a good CD player and a solid value," he concluded. In the test lab, JA found that the Cyrus inverted absolute polarity and that its error correction was not as good as that of the best players or transports that he had measured in recent years. (Vol.45 No.4 WWW)

Deletions
Baetis Audio Prodigy X3, replaced by a newer product not yet reviewed. Gryphon Ethos, Métronome t|AQWO not auditioned in a long time.

COMMENTS
creativepart's picture

Does Stereophile ever question the validity of this twice a year list? Perhaps it really helps with newsstand sales, but I've come to dread it's release twice a year. First, there are the stupidly priced A+ turntables all reviewed by one staffer that's been gone for quite some time. The entire A+ section will go away with "not tested in a long time" and rightly so.

Some items are ranked by full reviews with testing and others are just columnists saying - highly recommended - at the end of their monthly column. And those items are many times totally out of the mainstream of the product marketplace.

And, while price doesn't indicate quality, it is so jarring to see $500 products achieve the exact same ranking (A or B usually) along side $15,000 products.

I'd love to see you folks test more of the items people are buying in fairly large numbers everyday... even though they don't have the same 5 popular distribution partners or those that advertise in the magazine. No, I'm not saying it's pay to play. But MoFi Distributing buys a lot of ads, it's friends with staffers and routinely gets their products reviewed. It's not payola, but it is a symbiotic relationship.

I'd recommend you scrap the listing and retool the whole thing - and put some thought into how and why you test the products you test.

tenorman's picture

Very objective , well written and fair . You’ve made some great suggestions . Thank you

HeadScratcher's picture

I too recommend scrapping the current format for a complete retooling of a listing that isn't so time lapse convoluted...

Glotz's picture

Creativepart is mincing words to that they fail to commit to... They are saying it's pay to play in no uncertain terms and views their listings with mistrust. To imply MoFi has a friendly relationship is complete conjecture and Stereophile does not make nor position themselves as a symbiotic relationship with any manufacturer or distributor. If they get their product reviewed, it's because a reviewer saw or heard their product at a show, and anything else is implied BS. Rather, they hate MoFi for their lack of transparency about their debacle on digital masters, and want to see any association of Stereophile's behalf as condemnation of their own lack of transparency and veracity. That implication stinks like jaded political pundits grasping for correlated facts.

What CP is also implying directly is that he or she would like validation of their mainstream products purchased to be favorably reviewed (so they can feel good about their purchases of gear). It's generally opposed to what Stereophile does and any long term reader or subscriber would know that as gospel and the very reason the magazine exists on one level- to provide a review of one person's experience with a hard to find or less-investigated piece of gear. It is easy to find, learn and buy any mainstream piece of gear. I do think that should change a bit.

What is important is for Stereophile to review these mainstream audio products and compare against their audiophile offerings and EXPLAIN why they are different and (if) superior. That would be bring in more readers if the descriptions of well known products (vs. audiophile products) could be compared and contrasted well enough. This acts to bring real-world reference points to levels of sound quality that more non-audio dudes would understand.

I do not think this magazine is as good at comparisons (though understandable) as they used to be in the 80's and 90's (less HR and JA). Manufacturers don't like comparisons to their products because often the context is misunderstood by readers. Yes, almost all products in any category are vastly improved and the 80's performance points were much more obvious to hear and report about as negative or positive. Technology marching forward has changed that and leveled the playing field drastically. The fundamental design approaches of audiophile companies still focus on sound rather than ergonomics or functionality.

What should happen is to NOT name the product under comparison in the review but only use price as an indicator of quality vs. price in any comparison. That way readers can understand the product from a price perspective and not feel they have a field day crapping on the product that they 'KNEW was audiophile garbage'.

Side note- Other than subscribers, no reader should be allowed to make comments on this or the other sister websites. By way of omission of the subscribed investment, we will be able to separate the dross from water. I'm pretty sure there are a lot of other websites that do this outright, but I get that Stereophile wants to increase it's readership. Perhaps, this is actually a better way to do it. Require subscriptions for posting comments here and there (AP).

Jazzlistener's picture

high when you wrote this? Talk about verbal diarrhea. Creativepart made some good points. Although I do personally enjoy the Recommended Components feature, I too find it questionable (e.g. the Rega P3 makes it into Class C but none of their higher end tables can crack Class A? Pluh-ease. What I would really love to see is more system recommendations in Stereophile like in some of the British Hi-Fi mags, and at different price points.

Glotz's picture

But I was pissed a bit. Implied collusion ruffles my s***.

Great recommend on the system point you bring up. That should be a regular feature if they can create very different systems for each 'type' of listener. From there they could build on hybrids of system types involving tubes and solid-state, etc.

These rankings are just one reviewer judging a component in relation to their system. The Benchmark reviews come to mind- Certain people loved them, others not. There's massive nuance there and goes to the heart of preference thing- accuracy to source vs. myfi, vs. 'the absolute sound'.

They all need to fit somewhere into the classes here. It may be a hodge-podge like it is, but whatever. It just is.

The Belles vs. McCormack amp comparison from Sam Tellig (2000) comes to mind as well. The pursuit of accuracy vs. warmth and obscuration of detail lent the McCormack the nod and the higher rating for ST in Class A and the Belles to Class B. Same realm of performance and price (in my listening as well) but they don't share a rating. In more ways and in my lighter balanced system (at the time), I preferred the Belles.

I think dollar amounts do have play a part here as sometimes there are positives that 'overweigh' the subtractions to placement a certain class and could serve one particular group of listeners as a justification for a higher cost or greater perceived value.

Expensive modern tube power amps are a great examples. To get to a greater level of measurement and subjective performance to that of solid state one has to spend sometimes thousands more. The classes do need adjustments for a positive listening value like 'superb depth', even though there may be subtractions for other weaknesses.

I look at the classes as just a rough guide. I doubt that the Project DAC reviewed as Class A a few years back could compete with the top dollar DAC's like dCS, but I haven't heard the Project. I would think there is enough areas of merit to make Class A, but probably not as many facets of performance as the dCS or other pricey DACs.

Anton's picture

One of those turntable must surely be A++, no?

And some of that 'A' gear must really be 'A-.'

I think we should switch to the Moody's rating system...

Or, perhaps the Robert Parker 100 point scale.

Glotz's picture

lol.

RobertSlavin's picture

First let me say I heard the Raidho D2-1 speakers several years ago and was very impressed.

However, given how uneven the measured frequency response of the Raidho TD3.8 was in the Stereophile measurements, I question whether it should have even qualified for Class E if it were sold for $700. Instead, we find it recommended at Class A+ for $117,000.

It is generally acknowledged that there is a strong correlation between even measured frequency response and generally perceived speaker quality.

I realize that to get in A+ just one reviewer has to think that way. But it does raise my eyebrow.

Robert

Scintilla's picture

Despite my recent foaming-of-the-mouth and throwings-under-the-bus here, I do think there is value in the list each year. I have used Stereophile reviews and the list to both narrow my choices and to purchase goods based on a long-standing relationship with a reviewers words. Fremer might think me a random hater but I used his reviews to pick both a phono preamp, and a tonearm. I trusted my own ears to pick other parts of my system before glowing reviews appeared here. Assembling a modern, high-quality audio system is made much more difficult by the sheer number of products available, companies and general noise on the Internets. In the 80's we could go to a hifi salon and listen to products like the Robertson 4010 with some Soundlab A1's (made my neck hair stand up) and find Celestions with omni subs paired with Bedini or BEL amps. In this age, having a curated list to help people at least find products to seek is more valuable than ever. What it comes down to is whether you trust the ears that made the choices. And I do not trust all the new reviewers and neither should you. They haven't earned it yet.

Glotz's picture

Haven't you given a reason why you can't trust them?

Specifically why.

Scintilla's picture

Because they can't actually hear differences. I only trust Kal, JA1 and nobody else; maybe Herb; maybe but he's one of those I just write for pleasure guys. So why trust them? Because the rest of the new writers, including JA2 have not proved themselves over time. It's one thing to have a good review when many people agree. Why is JVS reveiwing the highest-end equipment like J10 did? WTAF does he really know about that gear other than his association with the magazine? Not much, actually. He's an amateur listener no more skilled than me. At least Fremer proved himself as a real arbiter of sound quality. I may not agree with his choices for equipment, but the man proved his prowess as a listener. Not so with the rest of these newbies. They can be indignant all they want to be but until they have a record of salient, quality reviews, they are nobodies... And this is Stereophile's big fail.

Glotz's picture

I wasn't trolling you- You didn't give reasons until now.

I thought these reviewers had enough experience at shows, with their own multi-thousand dollar systems and constantly refining their own craft by interviewing and working with manufacturers.

It would seem strange that a manufacturer or distributor installed-system would be anything less than successful playback, as they don't leave until they are satisfied. They certainly have the respect of manufacturers, dealers and distributors when I see them talk together at shows. (And if collusion ruled those relationships, we would see a different dynamic here.)

MF's system is real close in many ways to JVS' so what is the culprit?

Is it your perception of measurements don't match JVS' experiences? Or is that HR has a more observable scientific method by way of comparisons of gear that seems more transparent? Or the way either communicates their observations?

It just may be about the type of subjective tests that reviewers are performing that fails to bring one type of measurement to be audible. Classical music omits a ton of performance areas for review parameters. The component review may be really for classical lovers. I certainly don't read anymore into it if he isn't remarking on other music.

Yet I do see JA defending JVS' experiences in his measurements section in last month's Infigo review. No one seems to ever acknowledge or comment on those reasonable defenses- ever.

Thank you for your explanation no matter what.

ChrisS's picture

...from mine?

No problem!

creativepart's picture

I went to pains to explain I wasn't claiming payola. And, I'm still not. I'm saying that products with distributors are granted more reviews due to attendance at shows, relationships with editors, and just increased personal contact. Companies expect their distributors to represent their brand for them and to advertise their brand for them. And, that's what they do.

Reviewed products end up on the Stereophile Recommended Products list because of this greater exposure to Stereophile writers and editors.

When someone from a small equipment company calls an editor their call will not be answered as readily as a call from that nice rep you met at the Munich show and shared a beer with last year. It's how the business works.

And, everyone should know when a product is getting a review in a future issue the Ad Dept is made aware and sales people call to suggest an ad be placed in that same issue. It's not pay to play because the ad sale has nothing to do with the product review being printed. But companies recognize synergy when they see it.

Add to this that most reviewers seem to be in Urban areas that have the traditional HiFi Shop. Where the rest of the country only has internet forums and online reviews to audition various products.

My entire point is... the list is tilted, skewed toward bigger budget, higher priced gear that is professionally represented and that is not necessarily representative of the broader equipment marketplace, and what mainstream audiophiles are buying.

Jazzlistener's picture

“My entire point is... the list is tilted, skewed toward bigger budget, higher priced gear that is professionally represented and that is not necessarily representative of the broader equipment marketplace, and what mainstream audiophiles are buying.”

I do not begrudge any company that does a good job marketing itself, attending shows, building a presence in the industry, etc. That’s a lot of hard work and investment. There is a boutique speaker company in my home town that makes outstanding speakers, but the owner has steadfastly refused to show them off at shows, market them properly, or work with dealers. The result has been failure to grow his company or draw attention to his speakers. That’s on him. Stereophile is only one of myriad sources on the Internet where audio enthusiasts can find reviews on gear. Many other reviewers cover mainstream products. In fact, if you’re interested in a product you’d be hard pressed not to find a reasonably to excellent credible review on it.

ChrisS's picture

...shopping.

Does no one know how to do that anymore?

Yeesh!

Jean-Benoit's picture

It seems like an obvious thing to include, or else the reader is left to "manually" go looking for reviews of every component that piques his/her curiosity. Seems like a wholly unnecessary hassle for what is otherwise a really useful list.

CG's picture

Good suggestion!

I tried to search for the review of the Ayre VX-8. No luck, link or no.

John Atkinson's picture
CG wrote:
I tried to search for the review of the Ayre VX-8. No luck, link or no.

This review will be posted to the website on Friday. The other reviews in the new (October) issue will be posted over the next 10 days. (Stereophile gives priority to print subscribers.)

John Atkinson
Technical Editor/part-time web monkey

CG's picture

Ahh! Coming attractions, as they say. Fair enough, all around.

ChrisS's picture

The review for the EX is online...The new one should come up soon!

ednazarko's picture

Always stunned by how many people are compelled to tell the world at length how outraged they are about something online they don't like. Maybe insufficient joy in their lives? A lack of purpose? Afflicted with oppositional defiant disorder? I don't know. But if you think online comparison rankings of audio gear are a fruitless exercise, why read them? If you didn't read them, how can you have much of a useful opinion? Expressing outrage about something you refuse to read is mostly chest pounding and declaring superiority over the fools filling the world.

Don't like the comparison reviews? Really, just move on. Less rage hormones in your blood will extend your life span. Or raise money, buy the company, and show us your better ideas in action.

I enjoy reading through these comparison ratings. Don't agree with some, do agree with others. I've found over time that there are reviewers whose ears and preferences seem to match up with mine and others who don't. (In these twice yearly ratings, and in the ongoing reviews published.) These cyclical ratings and the ongoing reviews have been quite useful for me in trying and buying gear when living in a location that limits my ability to hear a lot of gear for myself.

Right now massively enjoying listening to Kingfish Live in London on my Okto stereo DAC, which I'd never have heard of without the review here, and would have never bought other than the reviewers were ones who's opinions and ears have matched with mine in the past, along with the wildly excellent measured performance. Through an old Anthem integrated that was well reviewed way long ago... and through B&W 702 speakers that got mixed reviews, but in the mix there were specifics that told me that they'd work well with my other components and in the large studio listening space I had. (And that I definitely needed the smattering of sound panels on the walls behind and to the side.)

Just because something pleases you not, or strikes you as ignorant and wasteful consumption of bits on the internet, doesn't mean that others don't find value and useful insights. Save your time and your cortisol and ignore the stuff you think it dumb. Life is short. Spend it well.

Glotz's picture

N/T

creativepart's picture

No anger, no stress on this end. Simply making suggestions in hopes of improving this twice a year feature (of the printed magazine). If you read anger and vitriol in phrases in my post like "I'd love to see you folks..." then it's not me that's overreacting.

If you like the listings as they are, then great. No one is stopping you. Me, I think they could be more meaningful than they are currently. But that's just me.

pinkfloyd4ever's picture

It would be really helpful if you posted a link to the full review of each of these products in this list

Jau's picture

Hi,
In delections from their latest Recommended Components they relate to the Devialet Expert 140 Pro and say that it has been replaced by a new model which has not been tested. However, the Expert 140 Pro continues to appear on the Devialet website and there is no new model to replace it. (?)

Firemike's picture

Maybe a quick visit to Funk & Wagnall's might be in order to refresh ourselves of what a review and recommendation is. If a consumer wants to spend $10 or $20,000 on a widget, consider a review as gospel, or only an opinion, isn't that their prerogative? If a person prefers the sound of pink colored audio equipment made from crystals and walnuts from "Big HI FI" that has no scientific or measurable reasoning behind it, who are we to judge? Akin to politics and religion, each person votes with their ears and ultimately, wallet. Not every opposing view is a conspiracy which require's a need to question other's intentions. A review is nothing more than one person's opinion. Aren't we in this hobby to listen and enjoy music - not hyper analyze equipment, materials, and the evil empires that provide it? Somehow fellow hobbyist's have survived all of these years in life - many of them very successfully - without our subjective criticism. Yes, I get it. As a subscriber you have input into how you would prefer to see things done. Maybe a letter to the editor could be a consideration.

moukie's picture

Really surprised NOT to see Bryston 4B3 14B3 or 28B3 in the recommended amps and that is like every year

Leah's picture

This is Leah Gwinn who has been a victim of the BITCOIN AND CRYPTOCURRENCY Scam recently. I have been scammed $350,000 during this fake Chinese Bitcoin. I lost all my life savings. I have paid attention to the fraud website and noticed that the scam website was shut down on 12/07/2022. Just now, I read a news article regarding the Pig Butchering Scam in Delaware. The Delaware DOJ initiated a halt to the Pig Butchering Crypto Scams. The enforcement policemen issued a cease-and-desist order to wallets, accounts, and individuals. This encouraged me because the scam website which robbed me just stopped. It may not be too late to take action against the cybercriminals. As the scammers copied the real American Crypto Company, they are most likely in the States. I didn’t stop at that I had to also look for alternatives to get my money back, so I had to contact (BRIGADIATECHREMIKEABLE@PROTON. DOT ME) who helped me recover my money and my friend as well. I can't thank them enough so I had to make this 5-star review. BITCOIN, CRYPTO, WALLET RECOVERY, SCAM RECOVERY contact the Email: brigadiatechremikeable@proton.me Telegram +13239101605 and get help, Good luck.

X