Budget Component Reviews

Sort By:  Post Date TitlePublish Date
Tom Fine  |  Feb 02, 2024  |  2 comments
Do you remember your first really decent hi-fi system? It opened up your music, teased your brain with the possibilities of thrilling aural excitement, of dives to the bottom of the musical ocean. Perhaps it was all you needed, but more likely it was the beginning of a quest for your own ultimate sound-induced bliss.

That quest may be ongoing and never-ending, because our tastes and preferences evolve over time, money comes and goes, and we're simply never satisfied. And even if we are, eventually, we're audiophiles, and the industry always offers something interesting and new, or something old that's new again.

My time with a pair of Klipsch The Nines speaker-gadgets reminded me of the exciting, youthful bloom of my first serious sound system: a Technics SL-D2 turntable with Audio-Technica cartridge, a Philips 45Wpc receiver, and New Advent Loudspeakers.

John Atkinson  |  Dec 29, 2023  |  126 comments
When I reviewed the Concept 50 loudspeaker from the UK's Q Acoustics in August 2022, I concluded that the Concept 50 lowers the sweet price spot for affordable tower speakers to $3000/pair. Now I have another pair of Q Acoustics loudspeakers in the house for review. Like the earlier speaker, the 5040 is a slim, elegant-looking tower with a vertical D'Appolito drive-unit array comprising a 0.9" fabric-dome tweeter positioned between the two 5" plastic-cone woofers. But the price is half that of the Concept 50: $1499/pair. Will this be a new sweet spot? We shall see.
Robert Schryer  |  Dec 22, 2023  |  70 comments
Sometimes I think expensive components—I'll let you decide what constitutes expensive—should come with a big red sticker on the box that reads "WARNING! This product will probably not meet your expectations!" That's because when you spend a lot of money on something, you expect that something to have no flaws and to sound nigh perfect. Why else would you have paid so much? As you gaze at it, touch it, and listen to it, it constantly reassures you that you made the right decision by picking it over all the other, less pricey candidates. It has to be unambiguously better than any component of its nature that has passed through your system, or else, what was the point in all that upgrading?

Prior to this review, I had expectations about the product under review, the Leak Stereo 230 ($1695 with the walnut enclosure), based on, among other factors, price.

Rogier van Bakel  |  Mar 07, 2023  |  17 comments
You won't see many Apple products in these pages, and for good reason. As Stereophile Editor Jim Austin wrote to me recently in an email, "Apple may have the best acoustic-design facilities in the world, but its products are designed by engineers who don't seem to respect perfectionist sound—which is appropriate for a company that aims for the vast middle of the bell curve." Has that changed?
John Atkinson  |  Sep 07, 2022  |  First Published: Jan 01, 1989  |  1 comments
A new name to me, West German company MB Quart GmbH is, in fact, the reincarnation of the Peerless loudspeaker company that until 1983 used to be owned by New York–based Electro Audio Dynamics (EAD). The company has been in existence for over 20 years and under either name has an excellent reputation for its drive-unit technology, MB being one of the first manufacturers to offer an OEM metal-dome tweeter. Their 1" titanium-dome unit, for example, was featured in Dick Olsher's Dahlia-Debra DIY design (footnote 1), and I became quite enamored of the effortlessly clean nature of that speaker's treble.
John Atkinson  |  Jul 22, 2022  |  7 comments
Characteristically, the email from Kal Rubinson got straight to the point: "I have a WiiM Mini that I have played with, but I am not the right one to review this as I am not sufficiently interested in or knowledgeable about wireless streaming. It ... can handle uncompressed PCM via its DACs." "I'll review it," I replied, intrigued by a $99 D/A processor that can stream hi-rez audio via Wi-Fi and that also has an analog input so it can act as a preamplifier.
Ken Micallef  |  May 27, 2022  |  0 comments
Old-school audiophiles like me cling to our vinyl records and CDs. We spin them on turntables and slide them into transports, which send electric signals through wires to solid state or tubed amplifiers—a string of hardware devices. But, despite our object-attached ways, we're quite aware that we are living in a software-enabled, Bluetooth-connected, Wi-Fi–facilitated world. Even our Milky Way galaxy is wireless; as that pontificator of everything galactic, scientist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, has proclaimed, "We're all connected."
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  |  20 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  |  62 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  |  42 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.

Corey Greenberg  |  Jul 07, 2021  |  First Published: Apr 01, 1993  |  5 comments
In these waning days of Analog's Last Stand, it might seem absurd to review midpriced phono cartridges when this space could be given instead to the gear Stereophile usually covers—like $3000 OTL tube amps built by guys like that "Rainbow Man" lone nut who used to dance in the stands at Super Bowls before he took hostages in a hotel room with a .45 screaming, "MIT CAPACITORS!!! MIT CAPACITORS!!!"
Larry Archibald  |  Jun 11, 2021  |  First Published: Sep 01, 1982  |  4 comments
This is a speaker we've been fairly intimate with over quite a period of time. Designed by John Bau, the SC-50i started out three years ago as an inexpensive speaker system ($330/pair) not sold through dealers.

One of the factors allowing it to cost so little was the clever adaptation of cardboard tubes, normally used as forms for pouring concrete pillars, for use as speaker enclosures. They have a number of advantages, other than low cost: their circular form helps eliminate resonance of the back wave within the enclosure; the material is rigid because of its shape, and is non-resonant due to its construction.

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.

Pages

X