Recommended Components Fall 2023 Edition Power Amplifiers

Power Amplifiers:


Ayre VX-8: $6800
See Ken Micallef's review in this issue. (Vol.46 No.10 WWW)

Bel Canto E1X: $6200
Trickled down from Bel Canto's premium Black line, this slimline, lightweight amplifier uses the well-regarded Ncore class-D modules and a low-noise switch-mode power supply. TG commented positively on the e1X's image specificity, low-frequency control, and extremely low background noise. "I didn't expect to be so completely gobsmacked by the level of clarity and musicality I'm hearing now from the e1X," he concluded. JA's measurements revealed that the Bel Canto easily exceeded its rated output powers of 250Wpc into 8 ohms and 500Wpc into 4 ohms, clipping at 340Wpc into 8 ohms and at 530Wpc into 4 ohms. Noise, harmonic distortion, and intermodulation distortion were all impressively low in level. (Vol.43 No.6 WWW)

Benchmark AHB2: $3499 $$$ ★
Named for the late Allen H. Burdick, the engineer whose work formed the basis for its design, Benchmark's AHB2 makes use of THX Corporation's Achromatic Audio Amplifier (AAA) technology, in which a low-power feed-forward amplifier drives a low-bias class-AB output section. In his listening tests, KR discovered "much more apparent low-level detail in already-familiar recordings" —a characteristic he credited to the Benchmark's evident noiselessness—and a tonal balance that "sounded more 'right' than any of [the other amps on hand]." In measuring the AHB2 and attempting to confirm its specified (very) high signal/noise ratio, JA observed nonlinearities in his testing equipment that "haven't affected the measured performance of other amplifiers I've tested, but they were detectable with the AHB2's very low intrinsic distortion and noise." His conclusion: "an extraordinary amplifier." In his Follow-Up report, JCA compared the AHB2 to his reference amp: "Although I preferred the AHB2's denser presentation of certain details, it's not clear to me which is truer to the source." One of Kal Rubinson's reference amplifiers. JA compared the AHB2 with a pair of Schiit Tyr monoblocks, writing that the Benchmark sounded a tad lighter-balanced—"clean, clear, transparent, yes, with terrific soundstage depth, but lighter." He also found the AHB2 to be a synergistic partner for Benchmark's high-resolution DAC3 B. (Vol.38 No.11, Vol.41 No.10, Vol.46 Nos.1 & 3 WWW)

Classé Delta MONO monoblock: $21,998/pair
The first fruits of the Canadian company's acquisition by Sound United, the Delta series products were in development for several years. Designed in Canada but made in SU's Japanese factory, where the high-end Denon and Marantz products are manufactured, the Delta Mono impressed JA not only with its sound quality but also with its impeccable construction. The front panel features an accurately calibrated VU meter. With its lateral-MOSFET output devices heavily biased into class-A, the Delta Mono's waste heat is expelled from its rear with a quiet-running, microprocessor-controlled fan. "The midrange transparency of the Classé amplifiers was impressive," wrote JA, adding that "the high frequencies were impressively clean and smooth" and that the Delta Mono exhibited tight low-frequency control and articulation. Compared with the Parasound Halo JC 1+s, the Delta Monos had a touch less bloom through the lower midrange. The Delta Mono exceeded its specified output power of 300W into 8 ohms and 600W into 4 ohms, clipping at 380W into 8 ohms and 610W into 4 ohms. Price includes high-quality DR Acoustics AC cables. (Vol.43 No.7 WWW)

Dan D'Agostino Momentum M400 MxV monoblock: $79,500/pair
The M400 MxV Mono is the latest iteration of Dan D'Agostino Master Audio Systems' debut amplifier of 2011, the Momentum MoNo.Featuring circuitry and active devices trickled down from the company's cost-no-object and weight-no object Relentless amplifier, the MxV is specified as offering output powers of 400W into 8 ohms, 800W into 4 ohms, and 1600W into 2 ohms. (JA measured clipping powers of 442W into 8 ohms, 778W into 4 ohms, and 1050W into 2 ohms, though his wall voltage had dropped significantly at the latter two powers.) JVS exclaimed that with the monoblocks driving his Wilson Alexia V speakers "the strength and quality of bass with the M400 MxV blew me away." The MxV's magic, however, was not limited to its bass, he commented. "Above its fine, true midrange, treble sounded less bright and forward on the M400 MxV than with the Progression M550." Overall, he wrote that the clarity and ease with which the MxV handles even the most challenging recordings is remarkable. "It is one of the most musical, truthful, satisfying amplifiers I've ever heard in my system and one of the most striking aesthetically." (Vol.46 No.6 WWW)

Dan D'Agostino Progression M550 monoblock: $47,500/pair
This massive monoblock has balanced inputs only and requires a power cord fitted with a 20A IEC connector. JVS was impressed: "In addition to their far blacker space between notes, greater resolution of small details, and natural-sounding illumination, the Progression M550s consistently wowed me with their dynamic mastery." The latter is what one should expect from such a powerful amplifier: The M550 is specified as offering maximum powers of 550W into 8 ohms, 1100W into 4 ohms, and 2200W into 2 ohms. JA found that the amplifier met its specified power into 8 ohms, though the inevitable droop in his AC wall voltage meant that the M550 offered less power than promised into the lower impedances. JA was concerned by higher levels of distortion than he was expecting at moderate powers, which he ascribed to underbiasing of the 48 output-stage devices in the sample he was sent. Nevertheless, JVS concluded of his samples, which had had their output stage bias currents checked, that "For anyone who values colorful and glowing amplification that brings natural timbre and the subtlest of details and dynamic shifts to the fore while supplying a breathtakingly full measure of big-picture dynamics, slam, and top-to-bottom frequency response, the Progression M550s must be heard." (Vol.44 No.11 WWW)

darTZeel NHB-108 model two: $61,000
This dual-mono, solid state power amplifier offers balanced and single-ended inputs plus the Swiss manufacturer's impedance-matched Zeel inputs. Nominal output power is 150Wpc into 8 ohms and 225Wpc into 4 ohms, which was confirmed by JA's measurements. No global negative feedback means that the distortion level is a little high, at 0.1%, but not only is the distortion signature predominantly the subjectively innocuous second harmonic, notably the level of the distortion doesn't change with frequency or power (up to actual waveform clipping). "Detail was remarkable," noted JVS, remarking, "Welcome to the rare amp that manages to reveal the smallest details without sounding etched, hyperdetailed, or unnatural. Ever." He felt that the only thing lacking was stronger and tighter bass compared to his reference D'Agostino monoblocks. Still, JVS wrote, the darTZeel was among the most satisfyingly musical amplifiers ever to sing in his system, concluding, "There is an inherently nonmechanical, organic flow to the NHB-108 model two's golden sound that will keep enticing many a music lover back for more." (Vol.45 No.3 WWW)

Electrocompaniet AW 800 M: $22,500 each
See Jason Victor Serinus's review in this issue. (Vol.46 No.10 WWW)

Esoteric Grandioso M1X: $71,000/pair
This massive Japanese class-AB solid state amplifier has single-ended, balanced, and Esoteric's proprietary ESL-A inputs and offers specified maximum powers of 300W into 8 ohms and 600W into 4 ohms. It exceeded those powers in the test lab, JA measuring 340W into 8 ohms and 620W into 4 ohms. JVS found that the M1X requires a very long warm-up period but at the end of that time he commented that the sound was natural, relaxed, alive, and convincing. "Percussion had gratifying presence on a wide soundstage," he wrote, "and was correctly colored." Bass was "prodigiously powerful," the midrange "smooth, captivating," and fatigue free. "Its burnished sound flows effortlessly even through complex passages, and its somewhat laid-back presentation, from top to bottom, helps expose fine detail," he concluded. (Vol.46 No.4 WWW)

Gryphon Apex Stereo: $103,500
A massive (445lb), dual-mono solid state amplifier that has an output stage that can be biased into class-A operation up to high powers. MF found that with his Wilson XVX speakers, the Apex Stereo's ease of presentation was immediately obvious. He commented on the amplifier's overall, top-to-bottom speaker grip: "Everything in familiar music appeared better organized, timed, and settled, without restricting the musical flow...The Apex takes grip and musical flow to a higher level, particularly in the upper bass through the lower midrange." JA found that the Apex Stereo exceeded its specified powers of 210Wpc into 8 ohms and 420Wpc into 4 ohms, clipping at 240Wpc into 8 ohms and 450Wpc into 4 ohms. Even though the left channel was slightly noisier than the right and offered higher, though still low, levels of distortion, the Gryphon Apex "offers high power coupled with a wide bandwidth and primarily low levels of low-order distortion," he concluded. (Vol.45 No.9 WWW)

Gryphon Essence Mono monoblock: $46,400/pair
This massive solid state amplifier from Denmark has an output stage that can be operated in class-A or class-AB. JVS very much preferred the sound in class-A, writing that with the Lorraine Hunt Lieberson Wigmore Hall recital album, "Words cannot describe the alchemical transformation wrought by the Gryphon Essences on this remarkably air-filled recording." Even so, he did use words to sum up his time with the Gryphon Monos: "Although fully capable of conveying the entire frequency range, even through speakers that bring some modestly powered amplifiers to their knees, they cannot convey the huge dynamic swings and minute details that some more powerful beasts command. But on music that touches the heart, they can transport to a realm where few components know to go." Specified maximum power is 55W into 8 ohms, 110W into 4 ohms, and 220W into 2 ohms. JA found a small shortfall in clipping power, but the Essence Mono's distortion was very low at typical output powers. (Vol.43 No.12 WWW)

Karan Acoustics POWERa Mono monoblock: $106,000/pair
Weighing an extreme 231lb, each Serbian POWERa Mono contains two 2700VA toroidal transformers, a 210,000µF bank of custom capacitors, and requires two power cables. Though the amplifier is specified as outputting 2.1kW into 8 ohms, 3.6kW into 4 ohms, and 6kW into 2 ohms, this won't be achievable with US household power, even if each of the two power cords is on its own circuit. JA measured clipping powers of 1.85kW into 8 ohms and 2.5kW into 4 ohm, both powers lower than the specified figures as his wall voltage had dropped by several volts with the amplifier clipping. The Karan's output stages operate in sliding-bias class-A; as a result the amplifier runs relatively cool. The Karan Mono incorporates switchable DC power filtering—JVS preferred the performance with this engaged: "the sound was even smoother, the noisefloor lower, the top-to-bottom focus tighter. The POWERa's internal power conditioning allowed the inner glow of instruments and voices to emerge with no sense of dynamic constraint." Overall, JVS concluded that "For visceral impact, swiftness of attack, and sheer, apparent accuracy, the POWERa monoblocks top every other monoblock, stereo amp, or integrated I've reviewed. Ditto for color saturation, shading, dynamics, and the ability to portray the most complex passages without a hint of compression." (Vol.46 No.5 WWW)

LKV Research PWR-3: $3350 $$$
With a specified output of 175Wpc into 8 ohms, 360Wpc into 4 ohms, and 220Wpc into 2 ohms, this discreet-looking amplifier combines proprietary, zero-feedback voltage-gain circuitry with Purifi Audio's 1ET400A class-D output modules and a switching power supply. KM wrote that the PWR-3 produced "a spooky quiet, which can probably be attributed to low distortion and noise, in the audible range at least. (Both were confirmed by JA in the test lab.) The PWR-3 "presented a deep soundstage with luxurious spaciousness," found KM, adding that "a walloping, tight low end was balanced by clean mids and a clear, silken treble." His conclusion? "It's a sweet-sounding amplifier with a penchant for making instruments sing." JA noted that the LKV amplifier exceeded its specified powers. He concluded that the PWR-3 offer high power coupled with very low noise and primarily low-order distortion and that its linearity was independent of load impedance, commenting that this was both unusual and commendable. (Vol.45 No.9 WWW)

LKV Research Veros PWR+: $10,000
This surprisingly massive, American-made amplifier powers its Purifi class-D output stage modules with a hefty linear power supply utilizing a hefty 1kVA toroidal transformer and two smaller transformers. Front-end and driver circuitry is based on paralleled discrete devices biased into class-A. HR wrote that "the class-D LKV amp played equally rich and atmosphere-soaked through the entire audio band. It did atmospheric dreamy like class-A does atmospheric dreamy." He found that every recording he played with the Veros PWR+ sounded "richer and wetter (atmospherically) than class-D is supposed to." In the test lab, the LKV amplifier exceeded its specified power of 200W into 8 ohms, clipping at 221Wpc with both channels driven, while it delivered the specified 400Wpc into 4 ohms. With one channel driven, the clipping power into 2 ohms was 505W. Noise and distortion levels were both very low, and the distortion signature was almost pure third-harmonic in nature. (Vol.43 No.9 WWW)

Luxman M-10X: $19,995
JA found that this elegant-looking amplifier exceeded its specified power, clipping at 202Wpc into 8 ohms and at 350Wpc into 4 ohms. Noise, interchannel crosstalk, and all types of distortion were very low. He was also impressed by its sound quality, though he noted that he found it difficult to discern an identifiable character that the amplifier was imposing on the music. "With all types of music," he wrote, "the midrange was clean, uncolored, and detailed. The highs were also clean, with no emphasis or sibilance on the sound of cymbals. Low frequencies were articulate, and—I have to return to this word—clean." He summed up the month he spent with the M-10X by writing that it got very close to the late Peter Walker's definition of the role of a perfect power amplifier as being "a straight wire with gain," neither subtracting from the signal it was amplifying nor adding to it. (Vol.45 No.5 WWW)

McIntosh MC462: $10,000
As of this writing the most powerful stereo amplifier in the McIntosh line, the solid state MC462 is rated at 450Wpc into 2, 4, or 8 ohms, and weighs a floorbending 115lb. The output section is class-AB, designed so that each individual phase of the signal waveform is amplified by a complete push-pull output section; there are two complete push-pull amps in each channel, their outputs combined—using autoformers—in what McIntosh refers to as a Quad Balanced architecture. SM praised the Mac for delivering, without strain, a piano sound faithful to the original, for portraying brass instruments, drums, and other instruments with appropriate force, impact, and, when called for, swing. As for value, SM opined that "$9000 is more than fair for the excellence delivered." Reporting from his lab, JA declared that the MC462 is "an extraordinarily well-engineered, exceptionally powerful amplifier." (Vol.42 No.5 WWW)

NAD C 298: $2399 $$$
An affordably priced, powerful—185Wpc into 8 ohms. 340Wpc into 4 ohms—utilitarian-looking, class-D stereo amplifier based on the Purifi-Eigentakt output modules used in NAD's more expensive M33 and M28. The C 298 features balanced and single-ended inputs, variable gain, and can also be operated in bridged-mono mode. KR found that a pair of bridged-mono NADs offered explosive dynamics without breaking a sweat—JA measured the clipping power into 8 ohms in this mode as 980W! "The NAD C 298 is a transparent, uncolored, powerful stereo power amplifier," concluded KR, adding that even in stereo mode it can easily drive most speakers "to levels that exceed domestic tranquility." Measuring man JA commented that the C 298 continues NAD's tradition for conservative and competent engineering but "sets a new standard for combining very high power with supremely low distortion." (Vol.44 No.6 WWW)

Parasound A 21+: $3999
The successor to the Parasound A 21, the new A 21+ offers 300Wpc into 8 ohms, compared with its predecessor's 250Wpc—and the new model, which operates in class-AB, can be bridged to serve as a 1000W monoblock. Other refinements include a gruntier power transformer, brawnier speaker connectors, an increase in power-supply filter capacitance, and other niceties. Balanced (XLR) and unbalanced (RCA) inputs are both provided, as are dual-mono level controls. According to KR, "listening to the A 21+ was eminently delightful and satisfying from the first note," and he pointed to the new amp's "transparency without highlighting or emphasis" and the manner in which it handled dynamic challenges in orchestral music "without stress." Technical Editor JA found that the A 21+ exceeded its power specs, delivering a full 400Wpc into 8 ohms, and noted that the amp "isn't fazed by impedances as low as 2 ohms." (Vol.43 No.3 WWW)

Parasound Halo JC 1+ monoblock: $19,998/per pair
A replacement for the long-term "Recommended Components" resident, the original Halo JC 1, the 1+ represents designer John Curl's further thoughts on this powerful solid state monster. While more expensive in real terms than its predecessor, the Halo JC 1+ is 30% heavier, still heavily biased into class-A, and offers slightly more power than the original amplifier: 450W into 8 ohms, 850W into 4 ohms, and 1300W into 2 ohms. Bass guitar and kickdrum were reproduced with appropriate force and definition, felt JA, exclaiming, "Low-frequency power and delicacy!" JA was also impressed by the pair of monoblocks' ability to differentiate soundstage depth and described the Parasound's high frequencies as sounding "more like what I experience from a good tube amplifier." "This is a superb-sounding amplifier that will get the best from every loudspeaker with which it is partnered," JA concluded, adding "Well done, Mr. Curl." On the test bench, the Halo JC 1+ exceeded its specified power into 8 ohms, clipping at 500W. It didn't quite meet its specified power into lower impedances, clipping at 830W into 4 ohms and at 1200W into 2 ohms, though JA did note that the slight shortfall was due to him not holding the AC wall voltage constant in the testing. Commendably, the JC 1+'s distortion was predominantly the subjectively innocuous second harmonic, though at a very low level. (Vol.43 Nos.6 & 7; Vol.46 No.1 WWW)

Pass Laboratories XA25: $5150
The lowest-priced amplifier in Pass Laboratories' XA series, the XA25 strips away all inessentials—front-panel meters, balanced inputs, excessive output power—and provides the listener with a three-stage amplifier in which output power is generated by a single pair of transistors per channel, operating in push-pull class-A. Output is specified as 25Wpc into 8 ohms or 50Wpc into 4 ohms. HR tried the Pass with a great variety of speakers, starting with a rebuilt pair of original Quad ESL electrostatics: "Through the Quads, the XA25 radically improved the tactile presence of music and musicians, their voices and instruments," he wrote. "It made the Quad's legendary midrange more solid, dynamic, and well defined than I'd ever thought possible." Another, very different panel speaker came next: "Driven by the Pass Labs XA25, the Magnepan .7s did real-life natural with ease and élan." Additionally, HR found, "bass weight and organ power were well reproduced by a speaker not famous for these traits." But even that pales in comparison to Herb's adventures using the Pass amp to drive his DeVore Orangutan O/93s: "I began to realize that the XA25 is the most transparent amplifier I've ever heard." His verdict: "reasonably priced, strong beyond its power rating, and positively revelatory." Writing from his laboratory, JA noted that the Pass far exceeded its rated power output, concluding that "the XA25 performed well on the test bench, as I've come to expect from Pass Labs." (Vol.41 No.2 WWW)

Pass Laboratories XA60.8 monoblock: $14,250/pair ★
In reviewing Pass Laboratories' solid state XA60.8 monoblock amplifier, JCA echoed JA's earlier published response to the amp's predecessor, the XA.60.5: "the best amplifier I've heard." Each 88lb XA60.8 operates in pure class-A, made possible in part by the amp's massive aluminum heatsinks and no-less-massive steel mains transformers. (Indeed, the most obvious change from XA60.5 to XA60.8 is a weight increase of 22lb—per channel.) Output is specified as 60W into 8 ohms, doubling to 120W into 4 ohms. JCA thought the Passes sounded "sweeter, warmer, more delicate" than the more expensive monoblocks that preceded them in his system, but reserved his greatest praise for their spatial prowess: "I'd never heard an amplifier make such an obvious difference... To walk into this room while a good recording was playing was to enter an immersive aural space." JA, now acting as measurer rather than reviewer, wrote from his test bench that the "well-engineered" XA60.8 "considerably exceeded" its rated output power, delivering 150W into 8 ohms at 1% THD, and he praised its A-weighted signal/noise ratio of 93.6dB: "This is a quiet amplifier." JCA's conclusion: "I am smitten." (Vol.40 No.12 WWW)

Primare A35.2: $3900
This hefty Danish amplifier uses what Primare calls their "proprietary UFPD2 analogue class-D amplification technology" to deliver 200Wpc into 8 ohms. According to the manufacturer, UFPD2 integrates the class-D output stage and the necessary low-pass filter, "making control with feedback much more immediate and accurate." HR found that with his Magnepan .7 speakers, the A35.2 sounded very similar to the slightly more expensive Bel Canto Ref600M class-D monoblocks. He wrote that the A35.2 "gripped the Magnepans' diaphragms with greater control and force than either the class-A Pass Labs XA25 ($4900) or the $3495 all-tube, class-AB Rogue Stereo 100 (in Ultralinear mode). This control delivered a tauter, more rhythmic bass." With Harbeth M30.2 speakers, HR found that the Primare's high frequencies were "crisp and super-clear—but not luxuriant and engaging." On the test bench, the Primare exceeded its specified powers, clipping at 225Wpc into 8 ohms and at 460Wpc into 4 ohms. (Vol.43 No.5 WWW)

PS Audio BHK Signature 300 monoblock: $16,998/pair ★
Named for its designer, Bascom H. King, the BHK Signature 300 is a hybrid monoblock with a tubed input stage and a MOSFET power stage, and is specified to deliver 300W into 8 ohms. In a departure from the usual practice, all of those output transistors are N-channel devices, implementation of which requires cunning—and, according to King, a bit of global feedback. Both single-ended (RCA) and balanced (XLR) inputs are provided on the rear panel, where one also finds a removable panel for access to the amp's two dual-triode tubes. In MF's words, "the BHK Signature 300 is a powerful, nimble-sounding amplifier that immediately drew me in with fast, punchy, tight bass; rich, liquid mids; and delicate, transparent highs—all effectively well integrated into a coherent whole." On JA's test bench, one of the BHK Signature 300 monoblocks became unstable, and while it didn't fall and break its hip, it stopped working. JA carried on with the other monoblock, describing it as "a well-designed, well-engineered powerhouse of an amplifier, though it will perform at its best with speakers having an impedance of 4 ohms and above." In 2017, JCA embarked on an interesting pairing—PS Audio's "big brute" amps with the sensitive, easy-to-drive DeVore Fidelity Orangutan O/96 speakers—and discovered that while the DeVores didn't necessarily benefit from such a surplus of power, he "slightly preferred the BHKs' weight" to the "airier, spacier" sound heard with his Leben tubed integrated amp. (Vol.39 No.2, Vol.40 No.8 WWW)

PS Audio Stellar M1200 monoblock: $6998/pair
This slim, powerful amplifier—specified power is 600W into 8 ohms, 1200W into 4 ohms—combines a gain stage that uses a single Psvane 12AU7-TII tube with an output stage based on a class-D output module from ICEpower. MF was impressed by what he heard, writing, "It's no surprise that this superquiet class-D amplifier excels on bottom. Bass is what class-D was originally built for...The M1200's ability to couple with, control, and drive the woofers of my Wilson Alexx loudspeakers matched that of any amplifier I've had here." The M1200 was as fast, precise, and clean from the mids on up as it was in the bottom octaves, he decided, adding that this "helps ensure a bottom-to-top rhythmic coherence and transparency that lets you 'see' into the farthest reaches of the soundstage." Compared with his cost-no-object reference darTZeel amplifiers, he noted a lack of microdynamic delicacy, and timbral verisimilitude was dependent on the recording being played. Summing up, MF wrote: "Maybe the M1200s were just too fast for their own good. After the superclean attack, they went right for the too-fast decay and missed the sustain. While that often leads to 'skeletal' sound, the M1200s never delivered bones, because the transients were never edgy or nasty. They were natural and just right." On the test bench, the M1200 offered low levels of primarily third-harmonic distortion and met its specified output power. (Vol.44 No.1 WWW)

Rotel Michi M8: $14,999.98/pair
The massive Michi M8 monoblock weighs 130.3lb. "I should have known that a class-AB amplifier said to deliver 1080W into 8 ohms and 1800W into 4 ohms would be heavy," wrote MF. Designed by an engineering team with members based both in Japan and in the UK, the superbly well-made M8 is manufactured in China. Mikey didn't just like it, Mikey loved it: "The M8 doesn't sacrifice transparency or well-articulated transients to achieve a sweet disposition." On the test bench, the M8 offered excellent measured performance, though both its balanced and unbalanced inputs inverted absolute polarity. Oh, and that enormous rated power? JA measured clipping powers of 1020W into 8 ohms and 1500W into 4 ohms, which should be more than enough for even the lowest-sensitivity speakers. (Vol.44 No.7 WWW)

Rotel Michi S5: $7499.99
A relatively affordable, fan-cooled, dual-mono, class-AB amplifier that weighs 132lb and is specified as offering a maximum continuous power output of 500Wpc into 8 ohms and 800Wpc into 4 ohms. JVS commented on the Michi S5's "absolute authority, natural timbres, and ability to convey acoustic space realistically." Compared with his six-times-the-price monoblocks, JVS decided that the S5's soundstage was narrower and slightly less deep, the bass was less strong and controlled, and the treble was less extended. However, the S5 sounded "more transparent, with blacker blacks." In sum, JVS wrote that the S5 deserves a Class A listing in Recommended Components with $$$ (for value) beside its $7499.99 price. "It's that good." In the test lab, the S5 exceeded its specified power, clipping at 570Wpc into 8 ohms and 940Wpc into 4 ohms. "The Rotel Michi S5 combines high power with a wide bandwidth, low noise, and very low, primarily even-order distortion," summed up JA. (Vol.45 No.7 WWW)

Schiit Audio Tyr: $3198/pair
Instead of the ubiquitous high-value capacitors, the US-made Tyr monoblock amplifier uses a hefty inductor or choke to smooth its power supply's rectified DC voltages. The Tyr's output stage features a constant-transconductance topology called "Continuity," which Schiit says offers the benefits of class-A biasing for the 24 bipolar output devices but with greater efficiency than class-A. JA found that the Tyr offered grain-free highs and an excellent sense of low-frequency drive and weight, if not quite up to the level of the much-more-expensive Parasound monoblocks. Compared with the Benchmark AHB2, the Schiit monoblocks had better low-frequency clarity, though he also noted that while the pair of Tyrs excelled at reproducing recorded space, they were slightly less transparent, with a little less soundstage depth. In the test lab, the Tyr exceeded its specified power, clipping at 252W into 8 ohms and 360W into 4 ohms. JA concluded that the Tyr is a perfect example of a thoroughly modern solid state amplifier: "It offers high power, is not fazed by low impedances, sounded superb with the three pairs of loudspeakers that I used for this review, and is competitively priced. Strongly recommended!" (Vol.46 No.1 WWW)

Simaudio Moon 860A v2: $20,000 each, $40,000/pair
The 860A v2 is a trickle-down, two-channel relative of Moon's top-line statement 888 monoblock. It is specified as delivering 225Wpc into 8 ohms, doubling its power with every halving of impedance down to 2 ohms. JVS auditioned a pair of 860A v2s as monoblocks, where it outputs 750W into 8 ohms and 1500W into 4 ohms. (JA found that the Simaudio amplifier exceeded its specified powers in both stereo and mono modes, as well as offering very low distortion and noise.) Using the recommended balanced inputs, JVS found that "no matter what genre or piece of music the 860A v2s amplified, it sounded right, perfectly stitched together, all of a piece. Nothing stood out, nothing drew my attention away from the whole; I just wanted music to keep flowing, singing, rocking, shouting, sighing, as the composers, musicians, and engineers intended." His conclusion about the 860A v2 used as monoblocks? "Ease, flow, and beauty are their bottom line. They can rock, groove, and serenade with the best. Their sound feels complete and of one piece." (Vol.45 No.11 WWW)


Doshi Audio EVO Monoblock: $43,995/pair
The EVO (for "Evolution" ) replaces Doshi's Monoblock V3.0 that JVS reviewed in Vol.41 No.11 and that had been in production for seven years. The amplifier still employs a pair of Tung-Sol KT150 output tubes for each channel, but changes include a machined-aluminum, constrained-layer top panel, a stiffer chassis, passive power correction, improved capacitor and resistor quality, and "slight" circuit changes to increase the amplifier's small-signal bandwidth. With a violin recording and at 170mV bias, the EVO monos driving Wilson Alexia 2 loudspeakers "beautifully conveyed the violin's intermingling of horsehair, resin, and steel," but the recommended bias of 190mV "rendered the sound too warm and pleasant." The class-AB EVO is specified as outputting up to 160Wpc into 4 ohms, the first 120Wpc in class-A. At the amplifier's recommended bias setting of 190mV, JA measured 107W into 8 ohms and 127W into 4 ohms from the single output transformer tap at 1% THD+N, though relaxing the clipping criterion to 3% THD+N increased the maximum power into 4 ohms to 153W. The output impedance was commendably low for a tube design—0.54 ohm at low and middle frequencies and still 0.67 ohm at the top of the audioband. "The Evolution Monoblock power amplifier's measured performance indicates conservative audio engineering, a superb output transformer, and the ability to deliver high powers into relatively low impedances," JA concluded. An NOS Tube Upgrade package, which JVS recommends, adds $500 to the price. (Vol.44 No.5 WWW)

Feliks Audio Arioso: $7495
When HR replaced his reference solid state amplifier, the high-power Parasound Halo A 21+, with the Feliks Arioso, which offers 8Wpc with its Electro-Harmonix EH Gold 300B output tubes, he shook his head in disbelief at how radically different a track from old-time country blues singer Turner Junior Johnson sounded. What really got him, with the Arioso's 8 ohm taps driving Falcon's 15 ohm "Gold Badge" LS3/5as, was how Turner appeared to be directly there in front of him "with a definite tangible humanness" that he had not noticed with the Parasound. "The Arioso appeared to recover some extra amount of low-level information," he felt, though he added that the Feliks did not sound warmer, fuzzier, blurrier, more distorted, or more euphonic than the Parasound. "It did not emphasize the midrange or roll off the frequency extremes. It was simply more transparent," he decided. With the 10 ohm DeVore Fidelity Orangutan O/93s driven by the Arioso's 8 ohm output taps, he felt that the sound was not as rich of timbre or as bitingly textured as he thought it should sound. But when he connected the DeVores to the Arioso's 4 ohm taps, "the sound displayed a more grain-free clarity. Colors became more saturated. The sound felt more correct." HR summed up this experience: "The lesson here is: If you have a tube amp that offers multiple output taps, never assume 8 ohms to be 8 ohms, or 4 ohms to be 4 ohms. Try them all and choose the one that pleases you most." Replacing the stock Electro-Harmonix 300Bs with the new Western Electric 300Bs, the Feliks Arioso's 50Hz–1kHz octaves were more brilliantly lit and refraction-free than with the stock tubes, and the bass with the WEs was more tightly damped than with other 300Bs. (Vol.44 No.8 WWW)

Manley Laboratories Mahi: $6599/pair
See Alex Halberstadt's review in this month's Brilliant Corners column. (Vol.46 No.10 WWW)

Octave Jubilee Mono SE: $80,000/pair
The German manufacturer's flagship amplifier weighs 145.5lb. It uses three ECC82 small-signal tubes and eight KT-120 output tubes operated in pentode mode, each of which can be biased individually. The single output transformer tap is said to be optimized for loads averaging between 3 and 12 ohms. JVS found that with the output tube bias set to "1125," "the background was dead silent, an absolutely blank canvas from which colors blossomed forth like flowers in springtime. The sound had irresistible natural warmth—that thrilling, indefinable liquidity that makes audiophiles melt." Low frequencies sounded tight and convincing but not quite equal in impact with his challenging Wilson Alexia 2 speakers as with the solid state D'Agostino Progression M550s. With the bias set to "1250," the Jubilee Monos produced a huge soundstage. JVS concluded that "most music lovers will find its bass convincingly complete and natural, its midrange marvelously full and smooth, its highs heavenly. Unique among tube amplifiers in size, topology, stunning silence, and durability, the Mono SE will beckon to those who can afford it." On the test bench, the Octave amplifier's source impedance was a relatively high 2–4.5 ohms and the Jubilee Mono didn't quite meet its specified power of 400W into 4 ohms, clipping (3% THD+N) at 380W into that load. JA commended the Jubilee Mono for its low levels of distortion at moderate powers into higher impedances, coupled with its benign distortion signature and its low levels of noise. However, he doesn't recommend the Octave for use with loudspeakers whose impedance drops below 4 ohms. (Vol.45 No.9 WWW)

VAC Statement 452 IQ: $75,000 stereo; $150,000/pair as monoblocks
Reviewed as a pair of monoblocks, MF marveled at "the relaxed and fully immersive presentation" from this massive, high-powered, cool-running amplifier, which uses banks of horizontally situated output tubes operated in class-AB using VAC's patented iQ Intelligent Continuous Automatic Bias System. Though he sometimes felt that these amps produced a picture that was too large for his room, the soundstage produced by a pair of these amplifiers on the Wilson Alexxes "was wider, taller, and especially deeper than anything I've ever experienced." MF also commented that "On the right recordings, the illusion of 'there' produced by this amp, thanks in part to the sensation of shimmering soundstage air, is extraordinary." Summing up, he wrote that the sound "was at all times coloration-free, exhibiting no frequency lumps or bumps and sounding refreshingly timbrally neutral, particularly from the midbass through the lower midrange, where I was expecting warmth and bloom. The bottom never sounded or felt sluggish or insufficiently extended, even on electrified rock, though its overall character was somewhat polite. The upper frequencies were addictively clean and pure, with faultless transient speed and clarity." The Statement 452 IQ is specified as delivering 225Wpc in two-channel mode or 450W in single-channel mode, both into 4 ohms. When he measured the amplifier as a monoblock, JA found that the VAC clipped at 235W into 8 ohms, but at 183W into 4 ohms unless he relaxed the definition of "clipping" from 1% THD+N to 10%, when the amplifier delivered 410W into 4 ohms. Fortunately, the VAC's distortion in the midrange and above was predominantly the subjectively innocuous second harmonic. Though he was bothered by what appeared to be modulation by the audio signal of the amplifier's noisefloor, JA noted the amplifier's very low distortion in the treble at low-to-moderate powers into high impedances. (Vol.43 No.5 WWW)


ELAC Alchemy DPA-2: $1749.98
A skinny, 14lb device from the Americas division of ELAC Germany, the DPA-2 was designed by veteran engineer Peter Madnick. Its output stage uses Hypex UCD class-D modules, which Madnick prefers to the more recent Purifi-Eigentakt modules. Balanced and single-ended inputs are available, and the gain can be increased by 6dB. Although the Alchemy DPA-2 is a stereo amplifier, JVS auditioned it as a pair of bridged monoblocks, commenting that in this mode they were "the finest low-priced power amplifiers I've encountered." "What caught me off guard, and pleasantly, was the wide range of color I heard from these inherently musical amps," he added, concluding that "Peter Madnick has exceeded his goal 'to provide the kind of real-life transparency and clarity that you would not expect at this price point.'" Maximum power is specified as 325Wpc into 4 ohms in stereo mode—JA measured 339W into 4 ohms and 202W into 8 ohms at 1% THD+N. As a bridged monoblock, the "powerhouse" DPA-2 delivered 590W into 8 ohms and 550W into 4 ohms. (Vol.44 No.6 WWW)

EleKit Tu-8600RS: $2080 as reviewed ($1695 basic version)
As the name suggests, the EleKit TU-8600R is a build-it-yourself power amp, a single-ended design that uses one 300B directly heated output tube per side for a specified output of 9.2Wpc at 10% THD. (A preassembled version is available at extra cost.) Prices start at $1185 without tubes and top out at a $2985 version that includes Lundahl output transformers and deluxe German-made Elrog 300B tubes. HR tried a variety of 300Bs in his Lundahl-equipped review sample and praised the EleKit for sounding not warm and soft but "fast and vigorous, as transparent as any amplifier, and extremely captivating," with a sonic character that's "clean, neutral, and precise." HR's conclusion: "This is what I call value for money." Other kits are available, but availability is sporadic. In his May and August 2021 Gramophone Dreams, HR used the Elekit TU-8600S as a platform for comparing different 12AX7s and 300Bs. He later compared the Elekit fitted with Linlai Cossor WE300B tubes to the EL34-fitted Lab12 Mighty with a Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau LP. HR noted that the Mighty emphasized the immediacy and raw texture of the upper octaves, while the Elekit directed his attention to beauties in the baritone's mid and lower octaves. (Vol.42 No.4, Vol.44 Nos.5 & 8, Vol.46 No.1 WWW)

Lab12 Mighty: $2290
This Greek amplifier uses just two tubes per channel: a 6N1P dual triode feeding a Russia-made Electro-Harmonix EL34 power tube operating at fixed bias. The Mighty's output transformer has separate taps for driving 8 or 4 ohm speakers, and the single EL34 can be operated in either triode or Ultralinear modes. Power is specified as 8–9W depending on tube, with 10%–15% more power available in Ultralinear mode. HR commented that the Ultralinear Mighty "played waltzes and reggae with Leica-lens focus and a thinner-than-water flow" and noted the sound's "surprising physicality." In triode mode, the presentation "became more pure by several notches—and also more color-saturated." Compared with the 300B-fitted Elekit TU-8600S, the EL34 Mighty in both UL and triode modes "played with crisper, more conspicuously detailed clarity, which distributed charged energy across a well-constructed, shallower sound matrix." "The Mighty is an exciting-to-use, paradigm-shifting treat," concluded HR. (Vol.46 No.1 WWW)

LSA Discovery Warp 1: $1499
This small design features a class-D output stage based on Texas Instruments TPA3255 chip. An "over-specified" switch-mode supply supplies the power. Though both single-ended and balanced inputs are provided, balanced operation is preferred. Internal DIP switches allows the driver-stage gain to be optimized for a specific system. The switches are labeled "0dB," "6dB," 14dB," and "20dB," with "6dB" the default setting. TF ended up with "0dB," when the amplifier offers 20dB of voltage gain, because he likes to use his Benchmark LA4 preamplifier with less attenuation. Driving TF's big B&W 808 speakers, which don't need a ton of amplifier power, but do need an amplifier that can push the power through with speed and authority, the Warp 1 delivered the goods. "My favorite rock, soul, blues, and funk tunes took on full-bodied punch that made the beat stand out and got feet tapping," he wrote. In the test lab, though the Warp 1 offered respectable measured performance, it didn't quite meet its specified output power of 150Wpc into 8 ohms and 250W into 4 ohms. With both channels driven and with clipping defined as when THD+noise reaches 1%, JA measured clipping powers of 110Wpc into 8 ohms 165Wpc into 4 ohms. (Vol.46 No.7 WWW)

Mytek Brooklyn AMP+: $2495
A complete change in the facility that manufactures Mytek products led to the company's entire component lineup being revised. The Brooklyn AMP+ is the first of the new-generation products to be reviewed, replacing the AMP that KM reviewed in Vol.41 No.9. Compared with the original amplifier, the AMP+'s clarity "facilitated better microdynamics, those small dynamic shifts that make reproduced sound more lively and more live," noted KM, adding that the AMP+ dispenses with the AMP's overt midrange lushness. "The AMP+'s upper midrange and treble were decidedly cleaner while maintaining just a touch of richness." Compared with the Parasound Hint 6 Halo, the Parasound presented an even deeper and more layered soundstage than the Mytek. On the other hand, the AMP+ sounded more sensuous with more low-end force. The AMP+'s class-D output stage is based on modules from Danish company Pascal and offers specified maximum powers of 250Wpc into 8 ohms, 300Wpc into 4 ohms, and 400Wpc into 2 ohms. JA found that the clipping power with both channels driven was 265W into 8 ohms. However, the Mytek went into protection mode when he tried to measure the maximum power into lower impedances. Nevertheless, he concluded that, like its predecessor, "Mytek's Brooklyn AMP+ is indeed a tiny powerhouse." (Vol.44 No.5 WWW)

Primare A35.8: $5500
This eight-channel colleague of the Swedish manufacturer's stereo A35.2 uses the reliable and powerful Hypex NC500 class-D module, with some modifications. The amplifier features a switch-mode power supply, with its two outputs each feeding four amplifier stages. Pairs of outputs can be run as bridged mono amplifiers. KR auditioned the Primare with three bridged pairs to run his Left-Center-Right speakers and the remaining two channels to run his two surround-channel speakers. While he did try the amplifier in eight-channel mode KR found that bridging transformed the A35.8 "into a much more exciting amplifier" with a better bass balance and superbly stable imaging, even in stereo. He noted that there was never any evidence of the "gray" treble he had experienced with earlier Ncore-based amplifiers: "In my preferred five-channel configuration, the A35.8 equaled other good amplifiers in the treble." Comparing the Primare with his reference Benchmark AHB2, he felt that the Primare sounded "more convincingly live" than the Benchmark. On the test bench, the A35.8 exceeded its specified power of 150Wpc with two channels driven into 8 ohms, clipping at 200Wpc, and met its 300Wpc specification with two channels driven into 4 ohms. JA's conclusion was that the Primare A35.8 offers high power, especially in bridged mode, with very low levels of distortion and audioband noise. KR suggests A—; too bad there's no such rating. (Vol.45 No.11 WWW)

Zesto Audio Bia 200 Select: $15,900
This elegant looking, zero-loop–feedback, tubed design from California comes fitted with push-pull pairs of KT150 output tubes operated in Ultralinear mode, but can also use K120s or KT88s. Output tube bias is adjustable on the fly for KT150s (three settings) and KT120s (two settings). There are balanced and single-ended inputs and 4, 8, and 16 ohm output transformer taps. KM used both KT150s and KT88s. With the latter tubes, KM noted that the Bia 200 Select sounded "laid-back, a bit slumber-toned, and easy on the ears...Smoothness and textural sweetness were its strongest points." With KT150s at the same low bias he had used for the KT88s, the Zesto sounded entirely different, "like a transparent membrane, now pulled tighter." Moving up to the middle bias setting, and then to the highest, KM commented that "music swelled with more intensity and force in the low end and better articulation and more immediacy, overall." He concluded that the Bia 200 "is transparent, powerful, resolving, fun. Maybe it's the top end that seems to go out for miles, or the sonorous bass, or how it steps out of the way of recordings and lets them shine on their own terms." On the test bench, the Zesto featured extremely high source impedances from all three of its output taps, conform to classic telecommunications practice in which making the source impedance the same as that of the load impedance maximizes power transfer. However, this means that the amplifier will sound different with every loudspeaker with which it is used. Of greater concern was that the Bia 200 only met its specified powers at relatively high levels of harmonic distortion, along with the fact that the distortion was higher at low frequencies than it was in the midrange and that the distortion and noise were different in the two channels. JA found that this behavior was due to mismatched output tubes—Zesto recommends that the tubes have at least 50 hours of use to sound their best, but the review sample's tubes had more than 500 hours of use, with corresponding deteriorations in their operating parameters. The paradox, therefore, is that the longer the tubes are used the better the amplifier will sound but the worse it will measure. JA2 says that B rating is tentative pending a follow-up review of a new sample with fresh tubes. (Vol.46 No.3 WWW)

First Watt F8, First Watt SIT-3, discontinued. Air Tight ATM-300R, Audio Research Reference 160S, darTZeel NHB-468, Hegel C53, Schiit Audio Aegir, Shindo Cortese, Vandersteen M5-HPA, not auditioned in a long time.

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


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.


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

Does no one know how to do that anymore?


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


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