Budget Component Reviews

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Herb Reichert  |  Nov 16, 2017  |  8 comments
For audiophiles of a certain age, the mere mention of NAD Electronics' original 3020 integrated amplifier (1980, designed by Erik Edvardsen), or Adcom's GFA-555 stereo power amplifier (1985, designed by Nelson Pass), conjures up happy memories of audio's last Golden Age—an idyllic time when working stiffs could luxuriate in the same audio arcadia as bankers and brokers. Since then, few, if any, audio components have achieved that level of iconic high value. Which caused me to wonder: What would it take, nowadays, to manufacture a genuinely high-value audiophile product: one that delivers exciting, satisfying sound at a price most audiophiles can afford?
Ken Micallef  |  Sep 21, 2017  |  3 comments
"Looking back, my life's passions have mostly been sensual: food, females, fast cars, music, wine, sailing and skiing. My motivations, activities and work have stemmed from the need to fuel these passions rather than enjoyment of the process."

Who said this? John Atkinson? Art Dudley? Dr. Dre?

Herb Reichert  |  Jul 20, 2017  |  40 comments
Have I told you about my objectivist friend—the left-brain audiophile who puts a lot of trust in measurements? He has a high natural intelligence and is an extremely experienced listener, but once he knows a component doesn't measure well, he can never again experience it impartially.

I don't want to embarrass my friend, so in this story I will call him O., for Mr. Objectivity.

John Atkinson  |  Jun 20, 2017  |  14 comments
For digital playback, in recent months I've been breathing some rarefied air, pricewise. In December 2016, I reviewed dCS's Rossini Player and Clock, followed in May 2017 by Meridian's Ultra DAC, and in June by Chord's DAVE DAC. The Rossini Player costs $28,499 without the Clock, the Meridian $23,000, and though the DAVE is less expensive than either at $10,588, that's still a fair chunk of change. Even PS Audio's PerfectWave DirectStream DAC, which I bought following Art Dudley's review in September 2014, costs $6899 with the Network Bridge II, which hardly counts as "affordable."
Herb Reichert  |  Feb 23, 2017  |  9 comments
In the United Kingdom, the first seeds of perfectionism in audio separates were sown by Goodmans Industries, founded in 1925. Then, in 1930, Garrard (est. 1722) produced its first commercial gramophone. Shortly thereafter, England experienced the Great Slump, the British name for the worldwide catastrophe known in the US as the Great Depression. Near the beginning of this economic downturn, in 1932, Gilbert Briggs founded Wharfedale Wireless Works—and the first British "high-fidelity" audio amplifiers began being manufactured by H.J. Leak & Co. Ltd., founded by Harold Joseph Leak in 1934.
Ken Micallef  |  Feb 02, 2017  |  16 comments
Reviewers of high-fidelity gear are a trend-sniffing, topology-bandying bunch. When four of our kin gathered last November over lunch, during the 2016 New York Audio Show, the high-end chatter flew fast and furious. "Did you hear those mother-rocking big horns on the seventh floor?" "Nah, man, the Bruno Putzeys speakers on nine were best in show." "What about those li'l Lowthers on eight? Great sweet spot, but small as peanuts."
Herb Reichert  |  Jan 31, 2017  |  12 comments
UK, 1976: Upon its release, Rega Research's original Planar 3 turntable became the poor man's Linn Sondek LP12. It opened a gateway of affordability to the exotic world of high-quality British record players. Forty years later, the new Planar 3 turntable and its "light and rigid" engineering aesthetic, as conceived by Rega founder Roy Gandy, still occupy an admirably working-class, pro-music position in an audio world increasingly populated by gold-plated tonearms and quarter-ton turntables.
Art Dudley  |  Aug 25, 2016  |  6 comments
Approximately 331/3 years after AudioQuest's first phono cartridge, the company announced two new USB D/A headphone amplifiers: the DragonFly Black ($99) and the DragonFly Red ($199). Both have circuits designed by the engineer responsible for the original DragonFly—Gordon Rankin, of Wavelength Audio—and both have the novel distinction of requiring considerably less operating power than their predecessors, so much less that the new DragonFlys can be used with iPhones, iPads, and various other mobile devices.
Jim Austin  |  May 19, 2016  |  3 comments
I was lying on a mattress on the floor of an empty apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Not as grim as it sounds—it's a nice apartment, and the mattress was new, and had just been delivered—but it was hot (no air-conditioning), and my family and my furniture were still in my condo up in Maine, and I was lonely. I needed some cheering up. Which is how I rationalized the decision to buy an Explorer2, Meridian Audio's tiny, inexpensive ($299) digital-to-analog converter.
Herb Reichert  |  Mar 31, 2016  |  20 comments
The first I heard about Elac's new Debut line of speakers was from two 12-year-olds at T.H.E. Show Newport Beach 2015. "Elac's room is making the best sound at the show," they said.

Elac? I thought. I have an Elac Miracord 40A turntable. Hmmmm...

So I walked to Elac's room and listened to the Debut B5 bookshelf speakers ($229.99/pair). I was impressed—but maybe not as impressed as everyone else in the room seemed to be. In the halls, people were raving: "Did you hear Andrew Jones's new speaker?" Show bloggers went crazy. People kept asking me, "Herb—what'd you think of the Elacs?" My polite response was always, "I'm glad I'm not in the business of making $1000/pair speakers."

Larry Greenhill  |  Feb 02, 2016  |  1 comments
Ten years ago, our family was joined by my son-in-law, who was raised in Dublin, and spent his university years in London. I was editing this review during a recent visit with our daughter and grandchildren, and Justin became interested in the fact that I was reviewing a subwoofer made by Tannoy. He reminded me that, in the UK and Ireland, Tannoy had long been a generic term for public-address systems, just as Hoover had come to describe any vacuum cleaner, regardless of manufacturer. Although Justin admitted that this usage was probably "old school," he teased me that I was reviewing a PA speaker for an audiophile magazine!
John Atkinson  |  Jan 27, 2016  |  29 comments
Like all men, I learned at an early age to resist the allure of a pretty face.

Okay—I learned that I should try to resist the allure of a pretty face.

Okay, I confess: I have never been able to resist the allure of a pretty face. Which is why, when I first clapped eyes on the Mojo D/A headphone amplifier from English company Chord Electronics, at an event hosted by Manhattan retailer Stereo Exchange, I had to borrow a sample for review.

Jon Iverson  |  Dec 22, 2015  |  0 comments
Apogee Electronics Corp. has been in business for 30 years, and I've always thought of them as one of the pro-audio companies responsible for moving digital in the right direction. They've made their mark in recording studios around the planet with digital-audio interfaces and master clocks that have long been considered some of the most technically and sonically advanced, and that were probably used in a high percentage of the recordings in your collection. So when I saw Apogee pop up at the consumer end of the market with a technically unique product, budget-priced at $295, it got my attention.
Herb Reichert  |  Nov 24, 2015  |  7 comments
With each review I've written for Stereophile, I've redoubled my efforts to choose my adjectives prudently—to curb my penchant for overstatement. I've been feeling a need to speak more concisely and maturely about what my ears, mind, and heart experience while listening to music through a component that's new to me. So today, at the start of this review, I ask myself: What adjectives must I use to describe the character of GoldenEar Technology's new Triton Five tower loudspeaker ($1999.98/pair)? Which words will best use our shared audiophile lexicon to give you a working vision of what I experienced?
Michael Lavorgna  |  Nov 05, 2015  |  4 comments
Unless something is broken, the bits from your computer will be delivered to your DAC intact; the claim behind three new products I recently listened through is that each can reduce noise within the DAC—noise that could otherwise corrupt the analog signal and thus make our music less musical. This notion is not based on audiophool woo-woo, but on the basic electronics of mixed-signal systems: Although its input is digital data, a DAC's output is subject to all the noise problems of analog circuits.

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