Michael Trei  |  Dec 06, 2023  |  1 comments
About four years ago, the stand-alone tonearm market went through a bit of a crisis. First, in December 2019, SME announced that it would stop selling tonearms separately, effective immediately. From that point on, SME tonearms would be available only in combination with SME turntables. . .

Five months later, in May 2020, we received the second blow in this double whammy of bad tonearm news. That's when the Ichikawa Jewel Company of Japan, maker of Jelco tonearms, announced without warning that they were shutting down operations, closing their doors for good. They blamed a combination of an aging workforce, worn-out tooling that needed to be replaced, and the coronavirus pandemic. . .

We lost two key players all at once, but it's not as if we suddenly had nowhere to turn for tonearms. Turntable manufacturers like Acoustic Signature, Clearaudio, Origin Live, Pro-Ject, Rega, and VPI all sell their tonearms separately . . . A number of smaller tonearm specialists have popped up in recent decades: Acoustical Systems, Graham, GrooveMaster, Kuzma, Reed, Schick, Schröder, and at the ultrahigh end, Swedish Analog Technologies. Now we can add Korf Audio to the list.

Herb Reichert  |  Dec 05, 2023  |  13 comments
My adoptive mother, Lily Mae, was a retired businesswoman and former fashion model turned stay-at-home mom and artist-painter with famously good taste in everything. She raised me to have good manners, an "active awareness of color and texture," and "an eye for form." She expected me to critique her paintings, her decorating, and her wardrobe, urging me constantly to develop "good taste in everything."

In Lil's world, a perfect day was for me to skip school and go with her clothes shopping at Marshall Field's, where it was my job to sit in a plush chair offering comments about which outfits had the best fabrics and best "complimented her form." She always said "form is bones" and fashion is about "how fabrics hang on people's bones."

Tom Fine  |  Dec 01, 2023  |  2 comments
Saturday, August 18, 1962, was quite a day in music. In England, Ringo Starr made his first appearance as a full member of the Beatles, at a Horticultural Society dance at Port Sunlight, Merseyside. In Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, two jazz giants met in a recording studio for the first time. Duke Ellington showed up with a streamlined, potent ensemble: Johnny Hodges, Harry Carney, Ray Nance, Lawrence Brown, Aaron Bell, and Sam Woodyard. Then tenor sax legend Coleman Hawkins arrived.

Ellington and Hawkins had never recorded together, so there was an atmosphere of energy and something grand and long overdue. Producer Bob Thiele and engineer Rudy Van Gelder stayed out of the way and let the music unfold while making sure not to miss anything. The result was a spectacular, loose, joyous, perfectly played album: Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins (Impulse! Records, AS-26, A-26 in mono).

Stereophile Staff  |  Dec 01, 2023  |  0 comments
Register to win an AudioQuest Cobalt portable USB DAC (retail value $349.95; limited-time $199.95) we are giving away.

"In the December 2019 issue of Stereophile, John Atkinson pondered: 'Is AudioQuest’s DragonFly Cobalt worth the extra $100 compared with the DragonFly Red? Yes. That sense of ease it offers with long-term listening is something I don’t want to do without.'"

Click on the picture above for details on how to enter.

Robert Baird  |  Nov 30, 2023  |  0 comments
A vital member of the second wave of Texas singer-songwriters that emerged in the 1970s and included Lucinda Williams, Butch Hancock, and Lyle Lovett, Nanci Griffith was a product of a time when, to paraphrase a once-ubiquitous bumper sticker, Austin was still weird. Gifted with a delicate, sweet voice and fierce determination, she started playing out at the age of 12 and getting paid at 14. While never having the ability to project Joan Baez–like volume, she could certainly fill a room. And while her voice could at times take on a flat, almost-nasal resonance, her tight vibrato was strong and evocatory the more you listened.
Ken Micallef  |  Nov 29, 2023  |  76 comments
In the mid-2000s, I worked at a "white-shoe" law firm on Wall Street, ran with renegades, and fancied myself a writer. Fast-forward some 18 years. The firm, like many cash-flush NYC firms, has moved to midtown and I've moved on. Those renegades are now respected members and players in the hi-fi community. I still fancy myself a writer.

Back then, I made friends with a big-eared clique that would influence my future in hi-fi: audio writer Michael Lavorgna (currently editor at; NYU law professor Jules Coleman; former Stereophile deputy editor and current AudioQuest director of communications Stephen Mejias; record-industry veteran Andrew Klein; composer Dan Cooper; illustrator Jeff Wong; vacuum-coffee–machine collector and audiophile Margery Budoff, who regrettably passed in 2015; Tone Imports' Jonathan Halpern; and DeVore Fidelity proprietor-designer John DeVore.

Herb Reichert  |  Nov 28, 2023  |  11 comments
The pleasures of reviewing a new CD player reside in its light weight, compact dimensions, and, most of all, its ABC-simple installation: no cartridge to mount, no stylus to break, no step-up trans formers or cartridge-load values to explore. No server, no Ethernet switches, no digital processor or outboard clock, no NOS, OS, filter choices, or upsampling (usually), no DSD or DXD, no specialized cables, and-especially-no garish, billboard-sized LCD menu to trigger anxiety. Just plug the player in, connect it to a preamp, and choose a CD to play first.

Yes, folks, digital audio was once that simple.

I'm pleased to be reviewing a new CD player, the Viking from Hegel Music Systems, in part because Hegel's founder and chief engineer Bent Holter appears to feel the same way I do.

Alex Halberstadt  |  Nov 27, 2023  |  18 comments
To misquote Morrissey, some knobs are better than others. The Manley Neo-Classic 300B amplifiers that I've been listening to, for example, have a knob marked "feedback" that goes from 0 to 10. I've learned so much from using it that I've come to believe that if your amp doesn't have such a knob, it should. You see, the higher you set this control, the better the amp will measure. Applying more global negative feedback to these amps lowers their nonlinear distortion and noisefloor, increases their bandwidth, renders them less sensitive to the speaker's impedance variations and otherwise makes them more stable and efficient. In fact, by applying lots of feedback to an amplifier, it's possible to reduce distortion to barely measurable levels.

So what's the problem? Well, a few turns of the knob suggest that negative feedback isn't as useful as it appears on paper.

Kalman Rubinson  |  Nov 24, 2023  |  6 comments
I've been watching Estelon since they came on the market in the US. Their striking appearance grabs the eye, but, preoccupied with other brands and reviews, I was able to deny them serious attention until now.

I had my reasons—especially price. The prices of those earlier Estelons were a poor fit for my budget. I was also troubled by the fact that, despite rhetoric about driver and component choice, advanced cabinet materials and construction, and fastidious engineering, Estelon has been stingy with details and specifications—not a complete disqualifier but rather a missed opportunity to appeal to objectivist proclivities.

What changed my mind? First, while Estelon is deservedly known for the elegance of its designs, the AURA is, to me, the cleanest design the company has yet achieved . . . Second, at $19,900/pair, the AURA is much less expensive than the earlier models, including the Forza reviewed by Michael Fremer and the XB Diamond Mk.2 reviewed by Jim Austin.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Nov 23, 2023  |  45 comments
One of the finest chamber music performances I have ever attended took place this past August under far from ideal circumstances. The venue was one-month-old Field Hall in Port Angeles, Washington, a city of fewer than 20,000 people known more for its port and proximity to the Olympic National Forest than for its rich culture. Perhaps that reputation will soon change, because the performers in the concluding concert of the Music on the Strait chamber music festival included its two local founders, violinist James Garlick of the Minnesota Orchestra and violist Richard O'Neill, the newest member of the Takács String Quartet. These excellent musicians, who have been friends since high school, were joined by the superb pianist Jeremy Denk and cellist Ani Aznavoorian. These are world-class musicians who attract eager audiences to New York's 92nd Street Y and Carnegie Hall, London's Wigmore Hall, and other prestigious venues. . .

What was true for that live performance in Field Hall is also true for performances reproduced on audio systems: A system can be less than technically perfect yet still transmit with eloquence every iota of care and feeling that artists and engineers put into recordings. Perfection is not an essential component of musical truth. Inspiration is.

Lest readers think this preamble is intended to suggest some shortcoming in the component under review, the Accuphase A-300 monophonic power amplifier ($51,900/pair), let me reassure you at the outset: Time and again, the A-300, like Jeremy Denk's artistry, inspired a state of wonder. The more I listened to the A-300 monoblocks, the more I wanted to listen. In my too-busy life, every occasion for listening was an occasion indeed, a special event.