Budget Component Reviews

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Kalman Rubinson  |  Mar 25, 2022  |  12 comments
What am I doing with a vacuum tube preamplifier? I haven't owned a tubed preamp since I bought a Sonic Frontiers Line 3 preamplifier at the turn of the century. I set that aside within a few years as I moved into multichannel because multichannel tube-based electronics were, and still are, rare. My last home experience with a vacuum tube was with a PS Audio Stellar M1200 monoblock power amp, which is a hybrid with a 12AX7-based input stage.

John Atkinson  |  Feb 04, 2022  |  19 comments
There are words that, for reasons I can't fathom, I cannot stand. One such is "dongle." So when Bluebird Music's PR rep emailed me to ask if I would be interested in reviewing a new dongle from Chinese company Questyle Audio, I shuddered. But I must admit that "dongle" rolls off the tongue a lot more readily than "portable USB D/A headphone amplifier." I put aside my grammatical quibble and agreed to a review.
Kalman Rubinson  |  Jan 28, 2022  |  49 comments
There has not been a conventional preamplifier in my main audio system for quite a while, because no multichannel preamp is available that's of high enough quality. Instead, I use the high-precision digital volume controls in my players and DACs and choose sources with a relay-based multichannel analog switch. Plus, I tell myself that no preamp can be more accurate and transparent than no preamp.
Julie Mullins  |  Dec 31, 2021  |  17 comments
It had been a while since I'd done any serious, critical listening through headphones. That changed when Editor Jim Austin asked if I wanted to review the iFi Audio ZEN Signature Set ($599). Figuring I could use more Zen in my life, I agreed.

UK-based iFi Audio, which operates under the auspices of the Abbington Global Group, has released several compact products in its ZEN series: DACs, headphone amps, a Bluetooth receiver, and a network streamer.

Herb Reichert  |  Jul 23, 2021  |  41 comments
My incommodious room favors small standmount and panel speakers that some audiophiles would say require a subwoofer.

But I was never inspired to try one until a new category of subwoofer appeared: the "micro" (aka soccer-ball) subwoofer. The minute I saw the little KEF KC62, a 10" cube, I imagined it could do 0–100Hz and back to zero in record time. I reported on the KEF microsub last month, in Gramophone Dreams #49.

Alex Halberstadt  |  Feb 23, 2021  |  19 comments
A few months ago, a friend asked me to recommend a record player. This friend knows and loves music as much as I do; when he visits, we spend our time drinking wine and listening to records. Last time, it was Scott Walker, Fela, Joni Mitchell, Jacques Brel, Burzum, and both glorious sides of The Chronic.

"How much do you want to spend?" I asked cautiously. His answer: $500, tops.

Ken Micallef  |  Oct 02, 2020  |  25 comments
Summer!

COVID-19 notwithstanding, summer—warmth, flowers, leaves on trees—has descended on Greenwich Village, my New York City home for the past 30 years. What hasn't descended are tourists, belching motorcycles, behemoth sports cars, beer drinkers, and the usual summer hell-raisers, the sort that would've sent legendary Village bohemians Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs running back to their cold-water flats.

John Atkinson  |  Aug 20, 2020  |  22 comments
Loudspeaker manufacturer GoldenEar Technology was founded in 2010 by a team led by Sandy Gross, who over the decades was responsible for a succession of affordable high-performance loudspeakers from Polk and Definitive Technology (footnote 1). Gross continued that tradition with GoldenEar: Even the company's flagship, the Triton Reference, which I favorably reviewed in January 2018, was priced a couple of dollars short of $8500/pair. (GoldenEar was acquired by The Quest Group, the parent company of cable company AudioQuest, in January 2020; Gross continued with the brand as president emeritus.)
Herb Reichert  |  Jun 25, 2020  |  47 comments
I've been wrestling with my elders about new ways to measure loudspeakers, lobbying for methods that might correlate more directly with a listener's experience. And wouldn't you know? Right in the middle of this Socratic dialogue, I put the fresh-from-UPS, $1000/pair, Tannoy Revolution XT 6s into my reference system, plunking them down on my 24" Sound Anchor Reference stands in the same spot my Harbeth P3ESRs had been sitting. And I freaked! I was using the Rogue RP-7 preamp and the Rogue Stereo 100 (100Wpc) amplifier, and I could never adequately describe how bad the shiny white Tannoys sounded. Imagine sound that's thin, metallic, herky-jerky, dull, and rolled off completely below about 90Hz.
Robert Schryer  |  May 21, 2020  |  112 comments
Reviewing a new loudspeaker from Totem feels like destiny—as if a formative moment 30 years ago has come full circle. That's because the first genuine audiophile speaker I ever owned was Totem's now-iconic Model 1, a product whose arrival altered many audiophiles' expectations of how much great—and wide-range—sound a small speaker can deliver. It's still being made today, at least in spirit.
Ken Micallef  |  Apr 17, 2020  |  3 comments
Located outside Glasgow, in a geographical area that's also home to Linn Products and Tannoy Ltd.—and also near the storied whisky distilleries of Aberfeldy and Blair Atholl—Fyne Audio got off to a fast start. A mere three years after the company's 2017 founding, Fyne already has distribution deals in 50 countries and offers 24 products in seven series.
John Atkinson  |  Nov 21, 2019  |  13 comments
Unlike the world of recorded music, where streaming has decimated sales of physical products, book publishing is seeing the reverse trend: sales of eBooks are declining while those of both hardback and paperback books are recovering. I have been a book junkie all my life—the two long walls of my listening room are lined with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and I have many boxes of books in storage—but these days almost all my book reading is with the Kindle app on my iPad mini.
Herb Reichert  |  Oct 16, 2019  |  27 comments
In the realm of loudspeaker reviews, John Atkinson's measurements and my empirical observations have one important equivalency: Both are meaningless abstractions until confirmed by your listening experience.

Both are contingent on factors that are necessarily obtuse and not especially controllable.

John Atkinson  |  Sep 27, 2019  |  14 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  |  51 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.

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