Budget Component Reviews

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John Atkinson  |  Jul 27, 2012  |  First Published: Aug 01, 2012  |  16 comments
When it comes to getting audio from a PC via its USB port, the buzzword du jour is asynchronous. This cryptic term refers to which device has control over the timing of the audio data being streamed from the computer: the computer itself, or the device receiving the data. It might seem logical to have the computer control the timing, but this is not so. When digital audio data are converted to analog by a D/A converter, control over exactly when each dataword is converted is critical for the best quality of sound. Any uncertainty in that timing manifests itself as analog distortion, aka jitter.
Stephen Mejias  |  Jul 12, 2012  |  3 comments
Back at home, I'd recently set up Polk Audio's RTi A3 loudspeakers ($399.95/pair), which, at 14.75" H by 8.58" W x 14" D, are by far the largest bookshelf models I've had in my listening room. Right out of the box, the RTi A3 impressed me with its fit and finish. In Polk's Damped Asymmetrical Hex Laminate Isolation (DAHLI) cabinet design, five layers of MDF are glued together to form a damping system, then topped by a real-wood veneer of black ash or, in the case of my review samples, an impeccable cherry. The gracefully curved cabinet narrows in width from 8.58" at the front to about 5" at the rear, and is said to create a stronger, more rigid, more acoustically inert enclosure. (Knocking on the speaker's side panels resulted in a hollow resonance.)
Robert J. Reina  |  Jul 06, 2012  |  5 comments
I thought I'd review the procedure I typically use to seek out affordable speakers for review as, in the case of the Denmark-designed DALI Zensor, made in the company's facility in China, there was a twist at the end.

In preparing to review affordable loudspeakers, I typically put together a list of potential candidates I've discovered at audio shows, or that have been recommended to me by other Stereophile writers. I add to that list products I've learned about from press promotions, usually from companies whose products have impressed me in the past. I boil this down to a short list, then run it by Stephen Mejias to make sure I'm not tripping over The Kid's own quest for budget sonic nirvana.

Stephen Mejias  |  Jul 05, 2012  |  14 comments
It was unusually warm for early spring, without a cloud in the big, blue sky to tame the sun's dazzling light—far too beautiful a day to be indoors, but Uncle Omar and I had already planned a little listening session, and I was determined to show him that high-end cables would make a difference in his system. I wasn't necessarily feeling bullish about the task, though. It had taken me a couple of years to convince Omar that he should replace his old boom-box speakers with something better, and it was only dumb luck that finally made it happen: I was with him when he found a gently used pair of B&W DM602 speakers at a junk shop in Jersey City. When they were new, the DM602s sold for around $600/pair, but on this happy day they were tagged at $50. "Do it," I begged him. "Doooooo it!"
Jon Iverson  |  May 10, 2012  |  6 comments
It's common knowledge that manufacturers tune the sound of each DAC model. There are the facts of product design and marketing: inputs, outputs, case materials, price points. After that, what's left are the trade-offs of different circuit designs and filter options, which are chosen with care—each has a subtle yet telling effect on a DAC's sound. Most designers try to go from bits to analog with minimal deviation from perfect. But when you look at the measurements and listen closely, you realize that perfect is elusive. One has to make choices.
Stephen Mejias  |  Feb 21, 2012  |  18 comments
Playing a Compact Disc is nothing like playing a live show.

Wild, right? This is just the latest of the profundities to explode into my mighty brain as I slouch on the orange couch, staring at stacks of CDs, contemplating life and stuff. It came to me on a lovely Sunday morning. The sun was shining, the birds were cheeping, and I was still high from my band's performance two nights earlier.

Sam Tellig  |  Aug 13, 2012  |  First Published: Jan 01, 2012  |  13 comments
There's so much uncertainty and confusion surrounding computer audio and high-resolution downloads. Which hi-rez formats will win out? How do you store the downloads you've bought? (Easy. Don't buy them.) How do you access them? Will digital rights management (DRM) cramp your style, or data-storage fees for cloud computing crumple your wallet?
Stephen Mejias  |  Dec 15, 2011  |  9 comments
My thirst for vinyl can be blind and wild. I know this when I find myself dashing through the midday sun, from the Stereophile office and up Madison Avenue, into Grand Central Station, onto the 6 train to Astor Place, and into my favorite record shop, Other Music, like a man in lust or love or, worse yet, possessed wholly by need. But unlike some of my more dogmatic friends and colleagues, I have no real problem with the Compact Disc. It's just that CDs often lack a certain intangible charm, the ability to make my heart race.
Sam Tellig, Robert J. Reina  |  Dec 09, 2011  |  10 comments
Roy Hall has his famous Music Hall MMF (Make Money Fast) turntables made for him in the Czech Republic.

Roy has also long been associated with Epos Limited, since a chap named Robin Marshall started the company in 1983. Their first product was the ES-14 loudspeaker, followed by the smaller ES-11. Both were largish, stand-mounted models, and both offered a lively, expressive, unstuffy sound. The speakers have always been fun to listen to, even if they lacked—and still lack—the refinement of some far more expensive speakers.

Erick Lichte  |  Dec 09, 2011  |  3 comments
Sure, Stereophile gets letters to the editor. We also get some colorful responses for our "Manufacturers' Comments" section. (Vince Bruzzese and Roy Hall are literary standouts among their component-making peers.) And, as one of the magazine's Contributing Editors (Audio), I get lots of personal mail from readers seeking my advice. I thought I might share some of these letters with you, and my responses.
Stephen Mejias  |  Apr 09, 2012  |  First Published: Dec 01, 2011  |  7 comments
Because I am an audiophile, I want to hear that music through the best possible source component. Lately, I've been enjoying CDs through the Emotiva ERC-2 CD player ($449).

The Emotiva ERC-2 measures 17" (435mm) wide by 4.25" (110mm) high by 14" (360mm) deep and, at 17.5 lbs (8kg), is the heaviest component to enter my listening room since the 25-lb Simaudio Moon i3.3 integrated amplifier ($3300, discontinued). The player's distinct appearance was developed by Emotiva's president and CEO, Dan Laufman, and VP of engineering, Lonnie Vaughn. In building the ERC-2, their goal was to "keep it simple, easy to use, and elegant . . . in a machine-oriented way."

Stephen Mejias  |  Nov 15, 2011  |  0 comments
On Thursday, August 11, Cut Copy performed for a massive crowd at Brooklyn's Prospect Park, putting the perfect end to what had been a beautiful summer day. Concert photos by Natalie.

The enormous sky above Brooklyn's Prospect Park was a dazzling watercolor. Warm, soft shades of yellow, orange, and violet swept across a saturated canvas as the sun slowly dissolved into the horizon and day reluctantly gave way to night. It was the second week of August and, though no one wanted to admit it, the days had become noticeably shorter.

I walked alone through turnstiles that led to the large band shell where thousands of people would congregate for the final night of "Celebrate Brooklyn," a summerlong series of outdoor concerts. This year's season included performances by a wonderfully diverse and talented collection of artists—some obscure, some renowned, all worthwhile: Andrew Bird, Larry Harlow, Animal Collective, Real Estate, The Feelies, Los Lobos, The Bad Plus, Dr. John, and dozens of others.

Stephen Mejias  |  Mar 02, 2012  |  First Published: Nov 01, 2011  |  0 comments
The two-way Energy CB-10 ($269.99/pair) is a bass-reflex design. A large rear-firing port has an internal diameter of 2" and flares out to 2.75". The speaker uses a 1" aluminum-dome tweeter and a 5.5" woofer with a ribbed elliptical surround, the latter said to increase excursion, decrease distortion, and create a larger piston area for greater efficiency, making the CB-10 an easy match for amplifiers. The CB-10's frequency range is listed as 66Hz–20kHz, its in-room sensitivity as 90dB, and its nominal impedance as 8 ohms. In Energy's Convergent Source Module design, the tweeter and woofer are meant to act as a coincident source working together to provide wide bandwidth, constant dispersion, and a flat frequency response. In theory, this would all add up to easy setup and satisfying listening from anywhere in the room.
Stephen Mejias  |  Mar 02, 2012  |  First Published: Nov 01, 2011  |  3 comments
While listening to Boston Acoustics' A 25 loudspeaker ($299.98/pair), I kept thinking about magic.

Paul Messenger introduced Boston Acoustics' A Series in the April 2011 "Industry Update." With the creation of the A Series, Paul reported, BA wanted to create a "global loudspeaker," one that would be appreciated by music lovers worldwide.

Stephen Mejias  |  Oct 27, 2011  |  5 comments
We were sitting near the pool, in a cozy, private cabana on the outdoor terrace of the Trump Plaza Residences in downtown Jersey City, surrounded by all kinds of beauty: To the north, the old Powerhouse Building stood proud, strong, and silent; to the south, Exchange Place's Colgate Clock was just beginning to glow, extending its tireless arms toward Lower Manhattan; to the east, the Empire State Building soared into the humid evening sky, its white-lit spire making thin veils of the summer clouds; and to the west, the redbrick row houses of Harsimus Cove hummed with the sounds of quiet domestic life. Before us stretched a long table covered with delicious treats: cheeses, meats, and crackers; olives, grapes, and hummus; bottles of beer, vodka, and wine. We were at Shana's place, with Natalie, Nicole, and Daniela—Kristin was there, too. And all I could think about were loudspeakers.

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