Recommended Components Fall 2023 Edition Music Surround-Sound Components

Music Surround-Sound Components:

A:

Arvus H2-4D multichannel Dolby Atmos digital processor: $4990
The H2-4D combines HDMI and word clock inputs with 16-channel digital (AES3), balanced analog, and LAN outputs. It decodes and renders all extant varieties of Dolby (including Atmos), DTS (including DTS-X), and stereo and multichannel PCM (up to 24/192). Set-up and control is via a local webpage, accessible via the user's network. After wrestling with setting up the channels, KR found with the Arvus's digital outputs that while Apple Music's Atmos is lossy and limited to a 48kHz sample rate, he found it a credible alternative to high-rez stereo, "swapping the latter's clarity and immediacy for a huge enhancement in the acoustic space." In the test lab, JA found that while the Arvus's digital outputs preserved the resolution and sample rate of hi-rez files, the analog outputs downsampled the data to 48kHz, with not much better than 16 bits of resolution. He felt that this rules out the H2-4D for use in a system where the owner wants to play back hi-rez music files as well as movies, with just one processor. Nevertheless, KR concluded that the Arvus H2-4D "is the single piece of audio hardware that can deliver Atmos into a component audio system," (Vol.46 No.5 WWW)

exaSound s88 Mark II: $7599
See "Digital Processors."

exaSound Sigma Streamer Mark II:$799
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: $2756
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 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: $31,250 incl. 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)

Parasound Halo A 52+: $3999 ★
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)

Primare A35.8 8-channel power amplifier: $5500
See "Power Amplifiers." (Vol.45 No.11 WWW)

Topping DM7 8-channel D/A processor: $599.99
See "Digital Processors." (Vol.46 No.1 WWW)

Deletions
Hegel C53, NAD M17 V2i, 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