Budget Component Reviews

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John Atkinson  |  Sep 27, 2019  |  15 comments
It is said that while any competent engineer can design a superb loudspeaker if allowed an unlimited bill of materials, the true test is being able to produce a great-sounding, budget-priced speaker out of parts that cost a mere handful of dollars. With PSB's Alpha series of bookshelf speakers, Canadian engineer Paul Barton has illustrated this truism many times over the years.
Herb Reichert  |  Sep 26, 2019  |  47 comments
Class-D audio amplifiers: What's the argument for them? Class-A audio amplifiers: What's the argument against them? Class-AB amplifiers: Why does everybody make them? Each of these amplifier output architectures has strengths and weaknesses. Each will interface more or less successfully with a given loudspeaker in a given room. Each has a distinctive sonic signature. Consequently, as knowledgeable audiophiles with a laundry list of system-building goals, we are required to choose the amplifier type that best suits our speakers, our room, and our individual musical-aesthetic predilections.
Larry Greenhill  |  Aug 29, 2019  |  20 comments
SVS's recently introduced SB-3000 is a compact powered subwoofer that's $600 cheaper, a few cubic inches smaller, and 37lb lighter than the model it replaces, the SVS SB13-Ultra. Its amplifier is less powerful (800W vs 1000W), but its rated frequency response extends lower: a stygian 18Hz, compared to the SB13-Ultra's merely stentorian 20Hz.
Herb Reichert  |  Jul 18, 2019  |  28 comments
A visitor to stereophile.com named billmilosz commented: "Compared to these, everything else sounded like it was coming out of a cereal box." When I read that, I laughed out loud.

That reader was responding to my AXPONA report about Magnepan's new $650/pair Little Ribbon Speaker (LRS)—which I presume he also heard at the show.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Jun 25, 2019  |  22 comments
Has Serinus been demoted? You might well ask. This month, instead of reviewing a $58,000 stereo amplifier, I'm tackling a $599 powered loudspeaker system.

Truth be told, I'm always on the lookout for products that deliver outstanding sound at bargain prices. And since I maintain in my living room a modestly priced system built around powered speakers—this in addition to the far costlier system in my dedicated listening room—it's an easy fit for me to evaluate low-priced products in a real-world context.

John Atkinson  |  May 17, 2019  |  7 comments
I have reviewed several network-connected music servers in recent years, from Antipodes, Aurender, and NAD. All performed well but are relatively expensive, and their associated player apps didn't equal Roon's user friendliness in terms of interface, organization of the library, and inclusion and updating of metadata. So when Roon Labs introduced their own server, the Nucleus+, I first reviewed and then purchased it, along with a lifetime subscription to Roon. But at $2498 without an internal drive for storing music files, the Nucleus+ is still relatively expensive, and even Roon's less-powerful Nucleus costs $1398. I was still on the lookout for a server that would be more accessible to our budget-minded readers.
Thomas J. Norton  |  Apr 23, 2019  |  13 comments
Visit any consumer audio show these days and you'll see rooms full of systems costing from six to seven figures. Manufacturers like to put their best foot forward, and demoing systems with loudspeakers designed to sell for $50,000/pair and up (often up) seems an obvious way to go.

It's also common for an audio company to launch its flagship models first, and only later release more affordable products, for a wider range of buyers. The hope is that the promotional shine of the dream products will be reflected onto the budget models.

Herb Reichert  |  Apr 19, 2019  |  73 comments
I keep getting older. By the time you read this, I will be genuinely old. When I was genuinely young, I bellyached, "Wires are the worst part of hi-fi—there's gotta be a way to get rid of them." I first made that statement when audio electronics and loudspeakers both still nestled inconspicuously in proper bookcases. Back then, people sitting on the sofa weren't forced to stare at diverse audio boxes and ungainly wires.
Ken Micallef  |  Mar 29, 2019  |  19 comments
I first met Pro-Ject Audio Systems' founder and president, Heinz Lichtenegger, in 2016, at the US launch of the Austrian company's The Classic turntable. His passion for all things hi-fi was so intense I thought his head might explode. Gleeful in his mission to bring high-end audio to the people at less than typical high-end prices, Lichtenegger and Pro-Ject can fairly claim bragging rights for their entry-level Debut Carbon (DC) ($460 and up), one of the world's best-selling turntables.
Herb Reichert  |  Mar 21, 2019  |  11 comments
If you've ever dipped your toe into some form of high-performance motor sport, you know: The best race-car engines spin torque and exhale horsepower—with intoxicating ease. They're engineered to be responsive. Depress the clutch, toe the throttle, and watch the tachometer instantly pin itself. Engage the clutch—your chest contracts and your head gets light. Then later . . .

Back in your Ford Fiesta, its revving engine sounds distant, muffled. Your body can't feel the powerplant's power. In gear, the Ford feels soft and hesitant, not responsive.

John Atkinson  |  Dec 04, 2018  |  24 comments
With reviews of Wilson's Alexia 2 loudspeaker ($57,900/pair) in the July issue, Constellation's Centaur 500 amplifier ($55,000) in the October issue, and Tidal's Akira loudspeaker ($215,000/pair) in the November issue, my system's been inhaling some rarefied air the past few months. Accordingly, I felt I should live with some components priced within the reach of real-world audiophiles. As it happened, I was finishing up my review of the Constellation amplifier when MoFi Distribution's Lionel Goodfield e-mailed me, asking if I'd like to review the new Diamond 11.2 loudspeaker from the venerable British brand Wharfedale.
Herb Reichert  |  Oct 23, 2018  |  15 comments
The original PS Audio Sprout, which I reviewed in the May 2015 issue, showed newcomers an easier, smaller way to amplify music recordings in the home. At $599, the Sprout100 costs $100 more. It fixes a few of the old Sprout's weirdnesses: no power-on indicator light, no remote control, five-way binding posts that weren't really five-way. It also doubles the Sprout's class-D power output into 4 ohms, from 50 to 100Wpc (or 50Wpc into 8 ohms), and adds a few sonic and mechanical enhancements.
Ken Micallef  |  Sep 27, 2018  |  0 comments
In 2015, the venerable Canadian audio company NAD introduced its soon-to-be-popular D 3020 integrated amplifier ($499), which combined 30Wpc output, streaming capability, and an onboard DAC in a slick, contoured case. NAD's latest D/A integrated also smartly combines trend with functionality, lifestyle convenience with technological advancement. The C 328 Hybrid Digital amplifier ($549) goes its older, smaller sibling a couple steps better in features, while reverting to NAD's traditional look: an unfancy box finished in a dark shade of matte gray with subtle white lettering and logo.
John Atkinson  |  Feb 20, 2018  |  6 comments
I got an e-mail last summer from my colleague Tyll Hertsens, editor of our InnerFidelity website. "Recently reviewed and really liked the new MrSpeakers Æon," he wrote. "They're a little rough-sounding as sealed headphones tend to be, but the tonal balance is superb. I got three in for review to make sure they're consistent. After measurements I asked [MrSpeakers'] Dan Clark if I could forward them to you because I like them so much and thought you should hear them. . . . I really think you may enjoy them."
Herb Reichert  |  Feb 20, 2018  |  33 comments
During the hour preceding my removal of the KEF LS50 loudspeakers from their spiked, rough-iron stands, I was lost in the recurring still moments, reverberating tones, and contemplative spirit of Sir John Tavener's Eis Thanaton and Theophany, in the recording by soprano Patricia Rozario, bass Stephen Richardson, and Richard Hickox conducting the City of London Sinfonia (CD, Chandos CHAN 9440).

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