Ken Micallef

Ken Micallef  |  Feb 08, 2024  |  3 comments
When I reviewed Luxman's L-509X flagship integrated amplifier, in May 2018, that sleek machine shook me to my vitals. I wrote, "Record after record, the L-509X illuminated every important aspect and area of the recording. It lived and breathed in the air around the notes, consistently creating big, solid, spatially natural images that presented me with a) the roundness and complexity of each instrument, b) a holistic sense of the musicians' intent, c) excellent touch and texture and impact, and d) a unified whole, regardless of musical style or dynamic level." I concluded, "the Luxman L-509X integrated amplifier takes a different path to musical involvement. The L-509X is one of the most intimate-sounding, dynamic, texturally nuanced, truthful purveyors of music of my experience."

Luxman's new flagship integrated, the L-509Z, has the same thick aluminum top plate and steel casework as its forebear and weighs a similarly knee-crushing 64lb. The older L-509X cost $9495; its newer, younger sibling rachets that up to $12,495. The front-panel controls are nearly identical, including those big, eye-catching dual VU meters; except for a new 4.4mm Pentaconn five-conductor mini headphone jack and a mute button, the Z matches the cosmetics of the X to a T. But as in all things, appearances can be deceiving.

Ken Micallef  |  Jan 03, 2024  |  5 comments
In the 1970s, Steely Dan produced hit records for a listening public that could care less about the band's cryptic lyrics. Those early Dan fans responded to their songs' epic choruses and glistening hooks, awarding chart-topping success and a global audience.

From 1972's Can't Buy a Thrill to 1980's closing act Gaucho, Bard sages Walter Becker (1950–2017) and Donald Fagen occupied a place in pop music as unique as their songs' references to "wild gamblers," "midnight cruisers," "bodacious cowboys," and a female protagonist who "prays like a Roman with her eyes on fire." Much later, Becker and Fagen returned to the studio, issuing Two Against Nature to an audience still hungry for their singular R&B-and jazz-based music.

Ken Micallef  |  Nov 29, 2023  |  76 comments
In the mid-2000s, I worked at a "white-shoe" law firm on Wall Street, ran with renegades, and fancied myself a writer. Fast-forward some 18 years. The firm, like many cash-flush NYC firms, has moved to midtown and I've moved on. Those renegades are now respected members and players in the hi-fi community. I still fancy myself a writer.

Back then, I made friends with a big-eared clique that would influence my future in hi-fi: audio writer Michael Lavorgna (currently editor at TwitteringMachines.com); NYU law professor Jules Coleman; former Stereophile deputy editor and current AudioQuest director of communications Stephen Mejias; record-industry veteran Andrew Klein; composer Dan Cooper; illustrator Jeff Wong; vacuum-coffee–machine collector and audiophile Margery Budoff, who regrettably passed in 2015; Tone Imports' Jonathan Halpern; and DeVore Fidelity proprietor-designer John DeVore.

Ken Micallef  |  Nov 20, 2023  |  1 comments

Voxativ's Ines Adler and Christopher Cunningham brought the full Voxativ experience from Berlin to Rockville, including the new and revised Voxativ Ampeggio back-loaded horn with AC-1.9 full-range driver loudspeaker ($12,900/pair).

Ken Micallef  |  Nov 20, 2023  |  0 comments

It was hard to find focus in Victor Kong's room. Between the nearly invisible AER BD3B/650mm full-range open-baffle speakers ($9800/pair) and the various amps on static display—Sun Valley SV-1616D 300B integrated amp ($2450), or the Elekit TU-8900 ($3050) or Elekit TU-8850 ($1850) power amps—my palms felt sweaty, my head, dizzy. Is this SET-amp lover’s heaven?

Ken Micallef  |  Nov 20, 2023  |  0 comments

Japan’s Technical Audio Devices Laboratories, Inc. (TAD) brought several products to CAF, including the US debut of the TAD Grand Evolution One (GE1) floor-standing speakers ($65,000/pair) and new TAD C1000 preamplifier ($24,950).

Ken Micallef  |  Nov 20, 2023  |  2 comments

Dan Wright of ModWright Instruments Inc., partnered with Cardas Audio, Acora Acoustics, and Woodsong Audio to bring his new compact, affordable 9-series products, which are "based on our Reference Designs," Wright told me in a preshow email.

Ken Micallef  |  Nov 17, 2023  |  2 comments

Fast-talking, smooth-walking, Brit-expat Robin Wyatt is one of the best setup men in the game. Showcasing unique gear that he operates to perfection, his rooms typically capture best-in-show performance.

Ken Micallef  |  Nov 17, 2023  |  5 comments

Walter Swanbon of Fidelis AV Distribution brought not only the Harbeth loudspeakers and Pure Fidelity turntable I raved about in recent Stereophile reviews, but also a couple brands I was unaware of until now. Walter always gets great room sound, so I was looking forward to a discovery.

Ken Micallef  |  Nov 17, 2023  |  5 comments

Command AV's Jeff Fox was running two rigs at CAF, including a large scale assemblage in the Democracy suite, where the sound matched the beauty of the hi-fi. Jeff's setup included the day-glow red J.Sikora Standard MAX Special Editon turntable ($19,995) and J.Sikora KV MAX 12" Tonearm ($14,500) mounted with an Aidas Mammoth Gold Cartridge ($8650). From thence the signal ran to a Doshi Audio Evolution phono stage ($20,995). Digital front-end duties were handled by an Aurender N30SA server ($25,000), a Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC Series 3 ($28,000), and a Berkeley Audio Design Alpha USB Series 2 digital interface ($2495).

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