Audacious Audio

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Jason Victor Serinus  |  Jun 20, 2024  |  14 comments
Tubes, tubes, tubes—how we love to bask in their glow, roll them, and take their second-harmonic distortion into our hearts as if it were a child or a pet. Some may put out so much heat that we have no choice but to open a window, turn on the air conditioning, or listen in the garb of Adam and Eve before that fatal first bite. As they and you age, you can never be sure who's at their best. Tubes, at least, can be replaced, albeit at significant expense...

I haven't reviewed much tube gear, but when I have—Bruce Moore and VTL (in my pre-Stereophile days), Audio Research, and in our September 2022 issue, the towering Octave Jubilee Mono SE tubed pentode push-pull monoblocks—I've been enamored of their sound. I waxed ecstatic about the "captivating beauty" and "heavenly" highs of the Jubilee Mono SEs. I can still recall how gorgeous they sounded; every listen was special.

Hence, my enthusiastic "yes" to a solicitation from John Quick, VP of Sales & Marketing for Dynaudio North America, Octave's North American distributor, to review the smaller MRE 220 SE mono push-pull tube amplifier.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Jun 06, 2024  |  13 comments
Six years after Hans-Ole Vitus, the founder of Danish company Vitus Audio, visited the United States to premier his first three products at CES 2004, Michael Fremer went gaga over the company's top-line MP-P201 Masterpiece Series phono preamplifier. Thirteen years later, at AXPONA 2023, it was my turn to be blown away, this time by the sound of a $385,000 Vitus Audio top-of-the-line Masterpiece series front-end and amplifiers that sang through price-commensurate Estelon Extreme Mk II loudspeakers.

In between—and not for want of trying—Vitus's presence in these pages has been limited to show reports. It's time to change that.

Rogier van Bakel  |  May 31, 2024  |  42 comments
There was a period in the 1970s when many pop ballads that should have had understated arrangements instead turned grandiose and even maudlin. Take Gilbert O'Sullivan's sensational single "Nothing Rhymed" (a track that went deep for a pop hit, referencing famine, duty, and morality). Soon after the start, O'Sullivan's piano is overshadowed by a loud, saccharine string section.

Another example is "Lotte," German singer Stephan Sulke's portrayal of a dying love affair. The devastatingly wistful chanson is burdened by a mawkish orchestral track—the equivalent of glitterbombing an Edward Hopper painting.

Contrast this with Roberta Flack's definitive version of Ewan MacColl's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face." Apart from Flack's voice and her emotional delivery, the gently strummed guitar and quiet piano do all the heavy lifting. An unhurried double bass and a couple of minimally bowed string instruments leave swaths of negative space, helping to give her interpretation its hushed, reverent character.

I reflected on all this after spending several months with Balanced Audio Technology's REX 500 solid state power amplifier ($25,000), which has more in common with the Roberta Flack track than with the bombast of "Nothing Rhymed."

John Atkinson  |  May 23, 2024  |  9 comments
In December 2023, I took the train from New York to Los Angeles to attend the Los Angeles & Orange County Audiophile Society's 30th annual Gala. I took the trip because it is both stimulating and satisfying to spend an afternoon in the company of more than 200 audiophiles and music lovers; I also wanted to see John Curl presented with the Society's fourth Innovation Award, by George and Carolyn Counnas of Zesto. John was given the award "for his groundbreaking contributions to the field of solid-state audio amplifiers, circuit innovation, mastering recorders and much more."

I first met John more than 40 years ago, at a Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago, where I was blown away by John's intuitive and innovative approach to circuit design.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  May 06, 2024  |  22 comments
For reasons that have as much to do with why the creek does or doesn't rise as anything, almost all the UK-manufactured electronics I've reviewed over the years were from dCS of Cambridge. Through 2023, no electronics from Linn or a host of other UK-based companies have crossed the threshold of my music room.

That situation changed when, soon after New Year's, a pair of Linn's 60lb Klimax Solo 800 monoblock amplifiers ($90,000/pair) arrived from Scotland. Right away, they delighted me with their ease of maneuverability, handsome, uncluttered look, and relative compactness. Given their impressive power output—400W into 8 ohms, 800W into 4 ohms, and a whopping 1.2kW into 2 ohms—the Klimax Solo 800s set a record for highest price per watt and per pound among class-AB monoblocks I've reviewed.

Sasha Matson  |  May 01, 2024  |  9 comments
Review samples of some new high-end audio products do not grow on trees. They are more like dray horses trouping from one destination to another. After the US premiere of the Technical Audio Devices (TAD) Grand Evolution One (TAD-GE1), a floorstanding speaker from TAD's Evolution series, at the 2023 Capital Audio Fest, the review pair came to stay with me in Upstate New York for a couple of months before traveling on to the 2024 Florida Audio Expo for another public appearance. After that, they returned to John Atkinson for measuring—then off again on another journey.

The TAD Labs GE1 is a three-way, three-driver design. Up top is TAD's proprietary Coherent Source Transducer (CST), a 5½" coaxial tweeter/midrange driver. Two matched 7" woofers fill out the middle of the front panel.

Brian Damkroger  |  Apr 26, 2024  |  1 comments
I jumped at the chance to review T+A's $47,900/pair Solitaire S 530 loudspeaker for a few reasons. First, because T+A is a well-established company with an approach I like and respect: They make hi-fi equipment of the highest quality but with prices that, though substantial, are in line with their technology and execution. Their stuff is very handsome with impressive industrial design, but T+A doesn't do audio jewelry. What's more, though T+A is aggressive in R&D—their "Company" webpage says, "Actually, we're scientists ..."—but they are selective in the use of new technology. The third reason I was interested in reviewing a product from T+A is that their prices and technical level place them in a market segment I know well.

What I didn't know until recently is that T+A makes loudspeakers, and they're quite different from the loudspeakers other companies make. I only learned this when I started hearing about the S 530 and its larger sibling, the S 540, from friends—friends whose ears I trust.

Martin Colloms  |  Mar 22, 2024  |  28 comments
Based in Bulgaria, European audio company Thrax has been active since 2009. Their ingenious and varied design approaches seen over several product lines have continued to intrigue me with their conceptual originality, innate musicality, and imaginative use of a broad spectrum of technologies. Their products range from valve (tube) amplification to digital audio and, more recently, loudspeakers . . . The range of distinctive high-end electronics has continued to expand to include a loudspeaker, the standmount Lyra, now joined by the smaller Siren ($13,600/pair), also a standmount and the subject of this Stereophile review.
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Mar 20, 2024  |  12 comments
Edmund (Ed) Manfred Meitner's name and reputation have long been synonymous with pioneering achievements in the fields of digital audio, especially DSD. In 1971, after designing the first fully automated studio console, Ed identified what he calls "the jitter problem." He worked with Sony and Philips to help create and refine SACD and subsequently designed the first complete six-channel DSD playback system for home use.

In 1998, while developing the eight-channel A/D and D/A DSD converters still used to create most SACDs, Ed founded EMM Labs and became head of design, with the goal of bringing DSD to the consumer realm...

Less widely discussed are Ed's amplifier circuit designs, which are the heart of the EMM Labs MTRX and MTRS amplifiers he designed collaboratively with Mariusz Pawlicki, EMM manager of R&D, and the late Zenon "Zanny" Muzyka.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Mar 01, 2024  |  19 comments
Ever since I raved about Krell's K-300i integrated amplifier after it was released in early 2019, I've wanted to review other Krell products. After spending more than a year and a half (since its prerelease announcement) awaiting the opportunity to review Krell's new flagship mono power amplifier, the KMA-i800 ($73,000/pair), the time has come. Both Krell models utilize the company's proprietary iBias technology, albeit in different iterations, and both were designed by longtime Krell engineer Dave Goodman.
John Atkinson  |  Feb 23, 2024  |  34 comments
When standalone digital/analog processors made an appearance a quarter-century ago, they were limited to the CD medium's 16 bits of resolution—at best. These days, almost every DAC can process at least 24 bits, and many models offer between 20 and 21 bits of real-world resolution. Modern models from Benchmark, dCS, Merging, Mola Mola, Okto, and Weiss illustrate not just the skill of the circuit designer but also that of the engineer who laid out the printed circuit board.

One of the first digital processors I encountered that offered 21 bits of resolution was the Weiss DAC202, which Erick Lichte reviewed in January 2012. Subsequent processors from this Swiss company have consistently performed well, not just on the test bench but also in the listening room.

Tom Fine  |  Feb 16, 2024  |  16 comments
Back in August, I received an email from Editor Jim Austin. Subject line: "Want to do a big review?" He had my attention. Jim wrote that he had visited Bowers & Wilkins parent company Masimo Consumer in Carlsbad, California, for a demo of the brand-new B&W 801 D4 Signature and 805 D4 Signature loudspeakers. (That visit was chronicled by Jim in the September 2023 Industry Update section.) B&W had offered Stereophile the first US review of both products—look for John Atkinson's review of the 805 D4 Signature in the coming months—and Jim thought the big 801s would be "right up my alley."

Indeed! The voice of my full-range system in the living room is a pair of B&W 808 speakers, ca late 1980s. The smaller-scale system at our house upstate features a pair of B&W 805 D2s. So, outside of my mastering studio, most of the music I listen to is through Bowers & Wilkins speakers. I am accustomed to and enjoy B&W sound and styling.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Feb 07, 2024  |  7 comments
For some, it takes the likes of Scheherazade to seduce; for me, simple sound will suffice. But not just any sound. If I'm going to enter into a relationship with an audio component, I want it to last.

I don't know anyone who, having heard the JMF Audio system at AXPONA 2023—the HQS 6002 dual-mono power amplifier ($40,000; footnote 1) and PRS 1.5 dual-mono line stage preamplifier ($36,000) with Harbeth M40.3 XD speakers—did not rave about the sound. In my show report, I credited the system, assembled by Fidelis Distribution and Audio Skies, with delivering "some of the finestsounding music" I heard at the show. "This is the perfect sound for mellow music," I proclaimed. "Bliss."

Sasha Matson  |  Jan 25, 2024  |  21 comments
Wilson Audio's new Sasha V loudspeaker (that's "V" as in victory, not "five") extends the line that began in 2009 with the debut of the Sasha 1 model. The installation manual includes a page titled "Sasha Evolution," with elegant line drawings of the various versions of the Sasha loudspeaker—now four—which were preceded by the two-box WATT/Puppy combo, which dates from 1989. The Wilson Audio Specialties Sasha V ($48,900/pair) replaces the prior Sasha model, the Sasha DAW, in the Wilson lineup.

The hefty, floorstanding Sasha V maintains a close family resemblance. The new Sasha's width and height are almost identical, logging 14½" and 45 1/16", respectively. The cabinets gain an inch in depth and now measure 23 15/16". The cabinets' subtle beveling is slightly different; probably only recent Sasha owners would notice. Extra thickness in the cabinets adds 9lb for a total of 245lb per speaker.

Jason Victor Serinus  |  Jan 05, 2024  |  5 comments
When Jim Austin offered the Plinius Reference A-150 stereo amplifier ($14,995) for review, it felt like a welcome blast from the past. Plinius has, lately, maintained a low profile in the US, likely due to several changes in US distributorship...Under the auspices of Ralph Abramo and California-based Plinius Audio Sales and Repair, Plinius's US profile seems to be rising again.