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Available at these fine retailers:
AS WE S E E I T
J o h n Ma r k s
Spectator Sports, Good and Bad
www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 3
T
here is something about the
performance of music that
is in the nature of a specta-
tor sport. By this I do not
mean big-arena stagecraft
and lights and fireworks and
dance routines. I mean the actual mak-
ing of the music.
To see Eric Johnson’s fingers flying
over his Fender Stratocaster as he hits
“Cliffs of Dover” out of the park one
more time (search for it on YouTube)
is to enjoy something that is every bit
as much an athletic performance and a
spectator sport as baseball is. There is
a thrill to watching people do difficult
things exceptionally well, things that
most of us can only take random side-
long swipes at.
I think this phenomenon extends
across most musical traditions and
genres. “Holy Cow, look at that!” has
been a feature of classical music ever
since the Renaissance—and perhaps
even before. People might not under-
stand what a modulation is or why it
is important, but everyone knows that
creating that many sounds at the same
time and/or that fast is really hard, and
most people think it exciting to watch—
regardless of whether the sounds come
from a guitar, a piano, or a violin. Op-
era and vocal music in general have,
of course, long depended on peoples’
instinctive appreciation of rare and spe-
cial and superbly trained people doing
supremely well something that most of
us can do but poorly.
The 19th century was a golden age
of concert music as spectator sport;
Paganini and Liszt drove audiences
into frenzies with their electrifying
technical skills. But even today, thrill-
ing athleticism in musical performance
remains a huge drawing card.
I have a modest little YouTube chan-
nel. Do a Google search on cremonaguy
(which refers to the home town of An-
tonio Stradivari) and you’ll get a link to
the channel’s webpage. In the column
of Uploads, click on “Kristóf Baráti
plays the 1741 Giuseppe [Guarneri
(del Gesù), ex–Henri Vieuxtemps vio-
lin]” (only the first six words appear in
the Uploads list). The video, live and
unedited, shows the young Hungarian
violinist playing a paraphrase (by the
19th-century Moravian virtuoso Hein-
rich Wilhelm Ernst) of Schubert’s “Der
Erlkönig.” The piece is fiendishly dif-
ficult: The solo violinist must suggest
not only the song’s ominous, complex
piano accompaniment with its rippling
bass line, but also, at the same time,
personalize the drama of this lied. All
that, plus left-hand pizzicato.
While most of the videos I have up-
loaded to Cremonaguy’s channel have
had fewer than 1000 views (and many
fewer than 500), Baráti’s “Erlkönig”
video has had more than 13,500 views
as of this writing. That total pales a bit
in comparison to Edgar Cruz’s video
about how to play Queen’s “Bohemian
Rhapsody” on the classical guitar (11
million views), but 13,500 isn’t shabby.
For some reason, the Baráti video has
gone viral in a way my other videos
have not. I’m sure that that reason is the
spectator-sport aspect. Which is okay.
It is also a little frustrating. After
you watch the Baráti video, please also
watch the video I shot (and synced up to
24-bit/96kHz-derived high-resolution
sound) of Arturo Delmoni and Steve
Martorella playing Nathan Milstein’s ar-
rangement of Chopin’s Nocturne in c#.
In its own way, it is every bit as much a
lesson in how the violin should be played
as is the Baráti video. Watch the finesse
with which Delmoni plays the second
scale run, starting at 3:27. That, too, is
athleticism, and engrossing to watch, es-
pecially if you’ve ever played the violin,
or even tried to. But the Delmoni video
has had only 700 views to date.
The spectator-sport side of classical
music seems to be a self-limiting phe-
nomenon. For years, violinist Gene
Fodor was a favorite of Tonight Show
host Johnny Carson’s. Fodor would
appear, play some fiendishly difficult
piece, the audience would ooh and aah,
and classical music would continue its
downward slide in market share. That’s
because brief but exciting, technically
difficult pieces are the empty calories at
the classical-music smorgasbord. A diet
consisting of nothing but such works is
tedious and not nourishing.
May I be so bold as to suggest that
there is a possible parallel with audio
journalism? Reading the postings on
some audio bulletin boards and some
of the letters we receive, I conclude
that a subset of audio enthusiasts regard
equipment reviewing as a spectator
sport more akin to TV wrestling than
to Olympic wrestling. Some readers
seem to want to read reviews that are
little more than takedowns and smack-
downs. A negative review is praised on
these boards simply for being negative.
Some people claim that we at Stereophile
don’t write enough negative reviews.
Therefore, the magazine’s reviewers
must be on the take.
What I find curious about these
complainers is that they don’t seem to
be in the market for equipment. They
don’t seem to be looking for actionable
intelligence about how to spend their
money wisely. They are spectators and
nothing else. I think they just want the
vicarious thrill of seeing some designer
they think haughty, or some company
they think piratical, getting their sup-
posed just desserts. What is tragicomic
is the illogic of their default position:
that a negative review is by definition
courageous and honest, while a posi-
tive review is automatically suspect.
Spectator-sporting can be good or
not so good. It’s pretty obvious that it
has been a mixed blessing for classi-
cal music—you reach more people, but
they care a lot less. My real point is that
wanting reviews of audio equipment to
be a spectator sport—to be entertain-
ment in and of themselves, instead of
ways to make prudent buying deci-
sions—is shortsighted and unfair. ■■
A SUBSET OF AUDIO ENTHUSIASTS REGARD
EQUIPMENT REVIEWING AS A SPECTATOR SPORT.
4 www.Stereophile.com, December 2010
EQUI PMENT REPORTS
80 Ayre Acoustics DX-5 “Universal A/V Engine”
Blu-ray player
Michael Fremer
97 Peachtree iDecco D/A integrated amplifier
Art Dudley
113 Halide Design USB-S/PDIF Bridge
John Atkinson
121 NHT Classic Absolute Tower loudspeaker
Robert J. Reina
128 Ultimate Ears 18 Pro in-ear headphones
John Atkinson
F EATURES
57
Gear of the Year
Stereophile’s writers and editors choose the best
audio components of 2010.
73
The Cello Suites: J.S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and
the Search for a Baroque Masterpiece
David Lander reviews Eric Siblin’s very readable book on a
seminal work from the Master of the Baroque era.
75
The Posies
After years apart, venerable Seattle power popsters return with
one of the best records of their career, Blood/Candy, says Rob-
ert Baird.
Dec ember 2010
Vol.33 No.12
FOLLOW- UP
111 Peachtree Nova D/A integrated amplifier
Art Dudley
131 HRT Music Streamer II USB D/A processor
Art Dudley
131 HRT Music Streamer II+ USB D/A processor
Art Dudley
133 Etymotic Research Custom-Fit earmolds
Wes Phillips
135 Sutherland Engineering Timeline
Brian Damkroger
135
80
57
www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 5
I NFORMATI ON
151 Audio Mart
149 Manufacturers’ Showcase
150 Dealers’ Showcase
149 Advertiser Index
25
COLUMNS
3 As We See It
John Marks tackles the notion of audio journalism as spectator sport.
11 Letters
Readers respond with passion to recent editorials from Stephen Mejias and
Michael Lavorgna.
Get on your Soapbox! Visit www.stereophile.com.
15 Industry Update
High-end audio news, including the dealer-sponsored events taking place in
November and December, the publication of the 2011 Stereophile Buyer’s
Guide, the reappearance of Dan D’Agostino, and new products from Cabasse,
Naim, and Vertex.
Want to know more? Go to the “News Desk” at www.stereophile.com for
up-to-the-minute info.
25 Sam’s Space
Sam Tellig writes about the audio scene in Turkey, and spends quality time with
the affordable Music Hall a15.2 integrated amplifier and cd15.2 CD player.
35 Analog Corner
Michael Fremer reviews the Esoteric E-03 phono preamplifier, and recommends
phono accessories from Orb, Soundsmith’s EZ-Mount cartridge screws, and the
Sharp DK-AP8P iPod/iPhone dock.
43 Listening
Art Dudley installs AC power cords and conditioners from Shunyata Research in
his system with surprising results.
49 The Fifth Element
John Marks sums up his recent “Mystic Chords of Memory” competition, recom-
mends modern choral recordings, and is gobsmacked by Ayre Acoustics’ Irrational
But Efficacious System Enhancement CD.
137 Record Reviews
For the final “Recording of the Month” of 2010, we’ve chosen the Posies’ Blood/
Candy. In classical this month, a pair of new recordings by the Baroque orchestra
Apollo’s Fire is featured. In rock/pop, there’s new music from Belle and Sebas-
tian, Stereolab, and Steve Wynn. In jazz, we wrap our ears around the work of
pianist Jason Moran, both as a solo artist and as a sideman.
147 Manufacturers’ Comments
PrimaLuna, Music Hall, Echole, Shunyata Research, Ayre Acoustics, Halide
Design, and Sutherland Engineering respond to our reviews of their products.
154 Aural Robert
The Boss almost became a bust? Robert Baird on the new boxed set, The Prom-
ise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story.
STE RE OPHI LE
DECE MBE R 2010
35
ON NEWSSTANDS THIS MONTH:
THE 2011 STEREOPHILE BUYER’S GUIDE
Fully updated and revised—we list the specifications and prices of 4500
high-end audio components. See p.15 for details.
137
15
6 www.Stereophile.com, December 2010
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“Is your sound
system delivering
the goods?”
Dear Music Loving Audiophile,
I hate to say it, but the answer is most
likely “Nope—not even close.”
I’ve been traveling around the country,
voicing systems. Sadly, every single one
was under-performing its real capability.
Audiophiles don’t have a reference for
how good their systems should be. Espe-
cially if their reference is sound at some
show or at a dealer. Tey don’t know that
their sound quality should be better than
any of those demos.
What happened?
All I did was to employ the same tips
and techniques that you can find in Get
Better Sound. No secret techniques, no
silly tweaks.
What they said
“Wow! I couldn’t
have gotten that
much improvement
even if I spent tens
of thousands!” And
they all say some-
thing to that effect,
every time, no ex-
ceptions.
Who is this guy?
When callers inquire about Get Better
Sound, they often have a question. “What
is your experience?”
You can Google “jim smith get better
sound” and get pages of informative links.
Heck, give me a call at 770-777-2095.
Still sold direct—no bookstores
To learn about Get Better Sound, in-
cluding what readers and reviewers are say-
ing, or to order your copy, visit our secure
website at www.getbettersound.com. You
can also order by phone—770-777-2095.
To get additional information, e-mail
jim@getbettersound.com
Best regards,
Jim Smith
PS—Why wait? Get the biggest improve-
ment in sound you’ve ever had, all for
the price of a couple of CDs!
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grain-free highs; and superbly stable and
accurate stereo imaging. It is also superbly
finished and looks beautiful. Highly
recommended. And when you consider
the price, very highly recommended.”
– John Atkinson, Stereophile

Intricately designed and crafted by world-renowned
Speaker Designer -
Real Sound for Real People
YG Acoustics LLC
4941 Allison St. #10, Arvada, CO 80002, U.S.A. Tel. 801-726-3887
E-mail: info@yg-acoustics.com Web: www.yg-acoustics.com
Designed by Yoav Geva (Gonczarowski)
The best loudspeaker
on Earth
Put us to the test!
When we make the bold claim above, we do not
expect you to take our word for it. Instead, we would
prefer if you put us to the test, by auditioning one of
the YG Acoustics speaker lines:
Anat Reference II – the best loudspeaker on Earth
Kipod – amazing performance, compact size
Carmel – entry into ultra-high-end
To this end, we have embarked on the YG Acoustics
Comparison Tour – a series of comparative-listening
events, in which our speakers are put head-to-head
against highly-regarded competitors.
Our mission is to give you a chance to audition YG
Acoustics speakers and experience for yourself how
they compare. Not through the opinions of reviewers
or others, helpful as they may be. Instead, your own
ears are the only judge.
Which speakers are compared?
The comparative-listening events feature only
competitors that are highly regarded, well-reviewed,
and cost significantly more than the specific YG
Acoustics speaker.
For instance, on the current tour, the YG Acoustics
Carmel (MSRP $18,000) faces a competitor with
significant press attention and rave reviews, with an
MSRP of $27,000.
How is the comparison conducted?
The discerning audiophiles who attend YG Acoustics
events expect a balanced comparison. To that end we
strictly adhere to the following rules:
UÊ Both speakers use the exact same system in the same
room.
UÊ Both speakers are moved in and out of the same exact
position, which is clearly marked.
UÊ The same program material is used for both speakers.
UÊ The volume level is precisely matched.
UÊ The competitor is measured before the events at the
state-of-the-art YG Acoustics lab, to ensure that it is
functioning properly and that its graphs match those
in its magazine reviews.
UÊ The competitor is allowed to attend and verify that
their speaker is adequately represented.
UÊ At the end of the event, participants fill out an
anonymous survey, with their vote and ideas for
improvement.
Schedule of Events
UÊ 20-Feb-2010, conducted by Audio Limits at the YG
Acoustics showroom in Arvada, CO. Completed – vote
tally: 15 for YG Acoustics Carmel, 0 for competitor,
1 tied.
UÊ 13-Mar-2010, at GTT Audio in Long Valley, NJ.
Completed – vote tally: 15 for YG Acoustics Carmel, 0
for competitor, 0 tied.
UÊ 2-Apr-2010, at HiFi Live in Alpine, UT. Completed – vote
tally: 7 for YG Acoustics Carmel, 0 for competitor, 0 tied.
UÊ 22-May-2010, at Advanced Home Theater in Plano,
TX. By the time of publication, this event will have
been completed. Please see www.yg-acoustics.com for
the vote results.
UÊ 11-Jun-10 through 13-Jun-10, during the Capital
Audiofest in Washington, DC. You are invited!
UÊ For updates and additional future events please see
www.yg-acoustics.com.
Summary
So, are we conducting these events to claim
that the competition makes bad speakers?
No-we only select high-quality competitors,
otherwise the comparison would be meaningless.
We are, however, conducting these events
to prove to you, using your own ears, that
YG Acoustics indeed manufactures the best
loudspeaker on Earth.
www.audioquest.com
Welcome to The
Family!
Once upon a time, the shift to dot-matrix printers meant new-found versatility, but lousy looking type, then
came laser and inkjet. Once upon a time, the shift to digital music files meant new-found opportunities, but ...
Now the digital sun has come out. Possibly the best quality consumer audio ever available, on planet Earth
anyway, has finally appeared in the form of 24/96 and 24/192 audio files, transferred through USB to a new
generation of superb DAC’s (Digital Audio Converters), whether built into today’s best receivers and amps, or
stand alone components.
To ensure that your favorite music is transferred with minimal corruption (jitter), AudioQuest offers
5 models of USB cable, featuring better metals, better geometry, Dielectric-Bias System, Noise-Dissipation
System ... all of AudioQuest’s expertise and proven techniques for delivering superior digital audio, whether
through coax (RCA or BNC plug), balanced cable (XLR plug), HDMI, 1394 (FireWire®), Ethernet (RJ45),
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Whether you’re playing 128K files, or lossless 44.1 (CD quality), or 24/96 ... it’s a bright and wonderful day in the
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Both a newborn and a proven
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USB Audio joins reel-to-reel tape,
the LP and DSD as having legitimate
claim to being the quality end of
the audio frontier.
L E T T E R S T O T H E E D I T O R
www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 11
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR should be sent as faxes or e-mails only (until further notice). Fax: (212) 915-4164. E-mail:
STletters@SourceInterlink.com. Unless marked otherwise, all letters to the magazine and its writers are assumed to be
for possible publication. In the spirit of vigorous debate implied by the First Amendment, and unless we are requested
not to, we publish correspondents’ e-mail addresses. Please note: We are unable to answer requests for information
about specific products or systems. If you have problems with your subscription, call toll-free (800) 666-3746, or write
to Stereophile, P.O. Box 420235, Palm Coast, FL 32142-0235.
Ypsil-oops
Editor:
Skimming through the latest edition
of “Recommended Components,” I
see that in the write-up of the Ypsilon
VPS-100 in “Phono Preamps” (p.67) are
the words “Joining the Boulder in A+.”
The problem is that you have moved the
VPS-100 from Class A+ in older edi-
tions of “Recommended Components”
to Class A in this edition. —Robert Slavin
robertslavin@yahoo.com
The Ypsilon VPS-100’s rating was correct
in the master database, but I inadvertently
cut’n’pasted the entry into the wrong category
in the file we sent to the art director for her to
prepare the October issue’s listing. My apolo-
gies to Ypsilon, to its US distributor, Aaudio
Imports, and to our readers. The VPS-100 will
be reinstated in Class A+ in our April 2011
listing. —John Atkinson
Shop class as soulcraft
Editor:
You have helped to restore some hope.
Stephen Mejias’s reference in your
September 2010 issue (“As We See It,”
p.3) to Matthew B. Crawford’s Shop
Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value
of Work is right on target. It is encourag-
ing to see other people recognizing the
importance of not only “doing” but of
“doing it right.” The employee who sees
a problem and takes ownership from
beginning to end is turning into a rare
commodity. The salesman who sells
it short is lost. We can only hope that
the “craftsman” in each of us is fully
restored. Being an old tube guy who
appreciates your magazine, I say: Roll up
your sleeves and keep up the good work.
—Galen Garnett
Fresno, CA
ggarnett@panapacific.com
C’mon, guys
Editor:
Aw, c’mon, guys. Yet another “As We
See It” (this time by Stephen Mejias, in
September) that says that the main-
stream press distorts reality when it sug-
gests that “astronomical prices” are the
norm for the audiophile world? Truth
hurting a bit too much for your taste?
Actually, the prices for a massive
percentage of newsworthy gear are
astronomical, and the only proof I need
of that is my subscription to Stereophile.
Here is a list of every piece of hardware
that you discussed more than in passing
in that same issue: a $5400 speaker base;
speakers costing $100,000/pair and
$80,000/pair; a $60,000 phono preamp;
a 32Wpc integrated amp at $3000 and
a tubed one at $4000 ($500 extra for a
tube cage); a turntable at $89,500 and
a turntable base at $2000; a surround-
sound pre-pro at $30,000; monoblock
amps at $12,500/pair; a $6500 SACD
player; and a $200 soundcard that the
reviewer could barely bring himself to
recommend at all.
Yes, it’s possible to have a low-priced
system if you stick to the source and
amplification products from some of the
five manufacturers that Mr. Mejias gave
as his budget examples, and three or four
I could name off the top of my head. (I
wouldn’t include Totem on that list, but
maybe Mr. Mejias’s idea of “affordable”
is different from mine.) I also readily
concede that the loudspeaker segment is
highly competitive throughout its price
range, with readily available low-end
products offering genuine consumer
choice at real-world prices.
I don’t doubt you’d publish more
reviews of affordable gear if manufactur-
ers actually bothered to focus on that
market segment, but they don’t, and you
don’t seem willing to call them out for
not doing so. That’s sad. Audio publica-
tions, being part of the audio industry,
are in a far better position than is the
mainstream press to admonish high-end
manufacturers to play in underserved
market segments. Rather than complain
when others point out the truism that
there aren’t many choices when it comes
to decent but affordable equipment,
perhaps you should join in that chorus,
as well. —Mike Rubin
mikerubin2@aol.com
Thank you for your letter, Mr. Rubin. I do
feel that the New York Times chose to
oversimplify matters by noting the $125,000
price of the large system at Stereo Exchange
while making no reference whatsoever to more
affordably priced components and systems.
They did so because it worked to prove their
point that high-quality sound is increasingly
being sacrificed to convenience. While this is
true, my feeling is that the situation is much
more complicated than the New York Times
suggests. I’m not satisfied with the idea that
“good enough” is the new “great,” nor am I
satisfied with the idea that high-end must
mean high-priced. These ideas make for
neat headlines, but certainly do not tell the
whole story. My goal here is to share the joy of
listening with others who may not realize what
pleasures it can bring, or who may believe they
cannot afford it.
At the same time, I’m not blind to the
often astronomical prices of hi-fi components.
Through my upcoming column, “The Entry
Level,” scheduled to begin with our January
2011 issue, I hope to uncover many afford-
able high-quality components. I would like to
show that there are, in fact, many more choices
in affordable hi-fi than we may realize or are
willing to believe. —Stephen Mejias
Right on!
Editor:
Michael Lavorgna’s October “As We
See It” was and is beautiful and right on.
Thank you! —Hal Marcus
Address withheld by request
Why music matters most
Editor:
It was a pleasure to read Michael Lavor-
gna’s editorial in the October issue (p.3)!
Only one question remains after reading
it: Why does Stereophile gradually reduce
the space it devotes to reviews of music?
How in the world can you claim in
an editorial that “music matters most”
when the balance between equipment
reviews and music reviews in Stereophile
is completely skewed toward equip-
ment? We need lots and lots more music
reviews. Music is what our hobby is all
about. —Anthony Melein
meleina@xs4all.nl
Good point, Mr. Melein, but the fact of the
matter is that Stereophile has always primar-
ily been a magazine about audio hardware.
Cutting back on our coverage of audio com-
ponents in favor of more music reviews is not
what the majority of our readers desire.
—John Atkinson
Trompe l’oreille?
Editor:
Regarding Michael Lavorgna’s com-
parison of music recordings to paintings
(“Why Music Matters Most: Enjoyment,
Illusion, and the Audiophile,” October
2010, p.3), my analogy is slightly but
L E T T E R S T O T H E E D I T O R L E T T E R S T O T H E E D I T O R
12 www.Stereophile.com, December 2010
importantly different.
It is not the apple the painter wants
you to see; it is his painting of the apple
he wants you to see, and there are better
and worse copies of his painting avail-
able. There are also better and worse
lighting conditions and rooms in which
to view such copies. I buy museum
copies of great paintings. I enjoy looking
at exact copies in the same kind of light
in which the museum’s originals are
displayed. I like to see Mondrian’s brush-
strokes and line corrections, not just the
rectangles he was constructing. This is
not trompe l’oeil.
In musical copies, I want to hear what
the record producer heard in the booth
through his monitors when he gave his
final approval to the finished product. I
believe this standard is applicable to ev-
erything from recordings of live, classical
performances to multitracked popular-
music constructions.
I don’t want to hear the actual black-
bird singing; I want to hear the prere-
corded tweets that Paul McCartney had
available in the studio. Not only that, I
want to hear the bird sounds the way
they sounded after George Martin laid
them down on “Blackbird,” exactly the
way they sounded in Mr. Martin’s moni-
tors. Why? Because this is what Messrs.
McCartney and Martin made for me to
hear. This is not “trompe l’oreille.”
To this end, I think there is a real,
absolute, best possible result. Of course,
the only way to confirm it would be to
have George Martin come to my house.
In the meantime, I’ll just sit back and
imagine (and light up a cigar!).
—Charles Mitchell
Fairfield, CT
mitchellx100e@gmail.com
Thank you for reading and for your thoughtful
response, Mr. Mitchell, but isn’t “exact copies
of great paintings” an oxymoron? Even with
an exact copy, you are not seeing “brushstrokes”
but a representation of same, which in a sense
is trompe l’oeil—especially if you call them
brushstrokes. In any case, there’s no need for
Piet Mondrian to pop over and point out that
my exact museum copy of his Broadway
Boogie Woogie doesn’t measure 50” by 50”
and isn’t even made of paint!
My point, in reference to music and repro-
duction, was and remains: With recordings of
music, we are buying and experiencing the orig-
inals. The job of our hi-fi of choice is to allow
us to enjoy that experience, and the exact form
of this enjoyment varies from person to person,
according to personal preference. I believe this is
one reason people are so vested in their hi-fis,
and that it helps explain why we don’t all own
and listen to nearfield monitors. It also helps
explain some of the passion enthusiasts exhibit
L E T T E R S T O T H E E D I T O R L E T T E R S T O T H E E D I T O R L E T T E R S T O T H E E D I T O R
www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 13
in discussing their choice of hi-fi.
The entire thing is really a production, if
you will—no re- required. There’s no need for
Sir George Martin to pop over and ordain
our tweets. We simply need to be able to enjoy
them. —Michael Lavorgna
Through a glass, foggily
Editor:
Re: Michael Lavorgna’s “As We See It”
in October 2010: Think of the audio
system as the medium by which the
message, the recording, is conveyed,
not as the message itself. Think of the
audio system as the museum where you
see those pictures of apples. Would you
want the museum to put those paint-
ings behind a foggy, distorted piece of
glass? Yes, the result may look good to
some eyes, but the artists’ intents, those
things that ultimately make the art “art,”
become compromised. The different
pictures lose some of their detail, some
of their individuality.
Think of the accurate audio system
as the fair forum through which the
artist’s work is most effectively realized—
whether the artist’s intent is fiction or
nonfiction, and whether the artist’s
intent is to fool the ear into thinking
there’s something real there, or to create
something that could never exist in the
real world. —E. Morris
Sherman Oaks, CA
edcyn@sbcglobal.net
Thank you, Mr. Morris, for your courteous and
thought-provoking response. I like to think of
the act of listening to music on the hi-fi as being
analogous to the act of looking at a work of art.
With hi-fi, our home becomes the museum.
In terms of the quality of the experience,
sure, I want the view into my art of choice to be
as unobstructed as possible. But in my opinion,
the largest obstruction to the enjoyment of art
is to hold it to an unrealistic and unobtain-
able ideal. The word accuracy implies an
objective ideal, yet accuracy isn’t the final goal
of listening to music, or of looking at a painting.
Accuracy is a quality attributed to aspects of the
experience.
If accuracy isn’t the goal, what is? To get
closer to the music? To the musicians’ intent?
Does an accurate system allow this to happen,
whereas a less accurate system doesn’t? How
do we know when a system is so inaccurate
that it isn’t worth listening to? I’d say when we
don’t want to listen to it. After all, if we love
listening to music through our hi-fi, how can
this possibly be a problem? Because we’d enjoy
it more if it were a more accurate experience?
Here’s the thing(s): I’ve enjoyed recordings
in my car, and through lo-fi, mid-fi, hi-fi, and
six-figure systems. I’ve never dismissed a record
review because of the reviewer’s hi-fi. (I rarely,
if ever, know what a music reviewer listens
through, let alone what his or her room looks
like, which are probably good things.) I’ve read
about hordes of musicians, from the age of the
78rpm disc to the present, who were inspired
to create because they heard another musician’s
record, and I never once thought, “I wonder
what hi-fi they were using? Well, if it wasn’t
accurate, they must not have got their inspira-
tion straight.”
What is our ultimate goal in listening to
music on a hi-fi? I believe it’s to connect to the
music with such intensity that all other things
disappear, and we are simply listening. Further,
when art touches us deeply, it also does so
personally. Which helps explain why we each
have our favorite paintings, our favorite records,
and even our favorite hi-fi. That last one is very
much like the others in that we know it’s our
favorite—not because it’s accurate, but because
we listen through it as much as we possibly can.
—Michael Lavorgna
Michael’s October “As We See It” generated
many more letters than we have room to
publish. The complete discussion can be read
on-line at www.stereophile.com/asweseeit/
why_music_matters_most. —John Atkinson
ZU AUDI O LOUDSPEAKER PROMOTI ON
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PROUDLY BUILT IN THE
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I NDUSTRY UPDATE
www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 15
US: YOUR LOCAL NEWSSTAND
Ari el Bi tran
The 2011 Stereophile Buyer’s Guide, the
ultimate resource for the who, the what,
and the where of the current US hi-fi
market will hit newsstands November
2010, priced $6.99. In its 164 pages,
you’ll find the biggest collection of list-
ings and specifications for more than
4500 components available in the US
hi-fi market. Brands imported from as
far as the Philippines and Norway, and
from as close to home as New Jersey,
with component categories that include
cartridges, tonearms, turntables, phono
preamps, digital sources, DACs, pre-
amps, power amps, integrated amps,
loudspeakers, subwoofers, speaker
cables, interconnects, and headphones!
Each component category lists a variety
of specifications so that you can become
more familiar with the products listed.
In these pages is the beginning of it
all: the primordial soup of the audio in-
dustry and the genesis of your listening
journey. You can put together your first
system, your dream system, or just find
that missing piece.
Due to circumstances beyond our
control, we had only three weeks (we
normally have 3 months) to collect all
the data you’ll find in this year’s Buyer’s
Guide. But that did not diminish our re-
solve to give you the best Buyer’s Guide
possible. We list more entries than last
year, many brand-new companies in ev-
ery component category, and a new sec-
tion that lists the manufacturers’ Web
addresses, to let you know where to find
your components in the digital world.
Whether you’re looking for a new
cartridge or an entirely new system, we
feel this Guide will be instrumental in
your search. Many key questions—price,
size, number of inputs, etc.—are an-
swered in these pages. How you use all
the information is up to you. And that
may be the most beautiful part of it all.
ITALY: VENICE
John Atki nson
Michael Fremer attended the world
launch of Sonus Faber’s new “statement”
loudspeaker, the Fenice (Phoenix) last
June. Only 30 pairs of this expensive de-
sign—anticipated price was ca $180,000/
pair—were to be produced and appar-
ently all 30 had been presold. However,
the Italian company has run into some
obstacles concerning the speaker’s name.
As of September 29, the loudspeaker
will be known as “The Sonus Faber.”
ITALY: MILANO
Ken Kessl er
It takes a lot to stop Italians dead in
their tracks: they’re used to gorgeous
designs. But at the premiere of Dan
D’Agostino’s Momentum monoblock
power amplifier in mid-September, at
the Top Audio Video Show in Milan,
the crowds went nuts. It was an act of
affirmation: DD was back.
D’Agostino’s return, with an outra-
geous new product, took place a year
to the day that he parted from Krell,
the brand he cofounded 30 years ago
and for which he was chief engineer.
Working feverishly over the 12 months
since, D’Agostino developed a compact
yet powerful monoblock, to be manu-
factured by the newly formed Dan
D’Agostino Inc. The result heralds a new
audio contender in the luxury sector.
While addressing audiophile con-
cerns, with power to spare and a
promised sound quality to die for, the
Momentum is also aimed at people
who cherish the finer things in life.
During the time I met with Dan and
Petra, his wife and business partner,
they referred often to iconic purveyors
of luxury items. Dan cited watchmaker
Breguet, whose hour and minute hands
inspired the shape of the needle in the
Momentum’s power meter. Goyard
luggage, Cohiba cigars, Romanée-Con-
ti wine—it’s the D’Agostinos’ intention
to establish a rapport with clients who
CALENDAR
Those promoting audio-related
seminars, shows, and meetings should
e-mail the when, where, and who
to stephen.mejias@sorc.com at least
eight weeks before the month of the
event. The deadline for the February
2011 issue is November 30, 2010. We
will reply with a confirmation. If you
do not receive confirmation within 24
hours, please e-mail us again. If you
prefer to communicate through fax,
the number is (212) 915-4167.
Attention All Audio Societies:
We have a page on the Stereophile
website dedicated solely to you: www.
stereophile.com/audiophilesocieties.
Check it out and get involved! If
you’d like to have your audio-society
information posted on the site, e-mail
Chris Vogel at info@vcable.us and
request an info-pack.
Please note that it is inappropriate
for a retailer to promote a new
product line in “Calendar” unless this
is associated with a seminar or similar
event.
ARI ZONA
❚ Wednesday, November 17, 7pm:
Charles Beresford of Cryogenics
International (14715 N. 78th Way,
Suite 200, Scottsdale) will address
the Arizona Audio Video Club on
how cryogenic treatment improves
the fidelity and sound quality of audio
components, interconnects, power
cords, outlets, tubes, CDs, DVDs,
and LPs. Beresford will also present
a video illustrating the performance
gains realized by cryogenic treatment
of automotive electrical parts such
as spark plugs, where superior
conductivity after treatment correlates
with the improvements heard in audio
components. A raffle is planned and
refreshments will be served. Guests
and new members are invited. For
I NDUSTRY UPDATE
are comfortable with “the best.”
What such individuals will appreci-
ate are dimensions much smaller than
those that have long identified mono-
lithic high-end amplifiers: the Momen-
tum measures only 12.5" wide by 4"
high by 18" deep. Yet thanks to a chassis
machined from a solid aluminum bil-
let, and massive side-panel heatsinks
machined from solid copper, each Mo-
mentum weighs 90 lbs. Dan’s party trick
was to ask visitors to try to lift one.
The first active demos should take
place at the Consumer Electronics
Show (January 6–9). But there was no
getting away from the fact that, in the
silent display at Top Audio, the Mo-
mentum’s looks alone were enough to
generate the kind of excitement rarely
seen these days in hi-fi. The fit’n’finish
of even the first, hand-built, prepro-
duction sample recalled those Breg-
uet watches, exuding a visual elegance
sometimes found in loudspeakers but
rarely in electronics.
The Momentum’s specifications
are still being refined, but the amp al-
ready has some unique selling points.
D’Agostino used copper heatsinks
because the metal’s thermal conduc-
tivity is 91% greater than that of alu-
minum, which made possible smaller
heatsinks, than the typical, bulky fins.
The sinks’ conductivity is enhanced by
the use of venturis; the upper aperture
of each venturi measures 0.75" wide,
narrowing to 0.5" in the middle. The
provisional output power is specified
as 300W into 8 ohms, 600W into 4
ohms, and 1200W into 2 ohms.
The active devices are 28 output tran-
sistors that “run at a blistering 69MHz”
for “incredible bandwidth,” says
D’Agostino. Each transistor is mount-
ed with two stainless-steel fasteners,
for maximum thermal transfer to the
heatsinks. A capacitor–resistor network
connected to the base of each transis-
tor ensures stability, even at high fre-
quencies and/or with low-impedance
speakers. The printed circuit boards
feature through-hole construction to
provide greater reliability and longevity
than surface mounting. All resistors are
1% metal-film types, and there are no
capacitors in the signal path. The Mo-
mentum is DC-coupled throughout. Its
vault-like casework—no screws are visi-
more info, call Adam Goldfine at (602)
524-3974, or visit the club’s new
website at www.azavclub.org.
CALI F ORNI A
❚ Saturday, December 18, 11am–
3:30pm: The Los Angeles and
Orange County Audio Society will
host its 17th Annual Society Gala
and Awards Banquet in the Grand
Ballroom of the Buena Park Holiday
Inn (7000 Beach Boulevard). Keith O.
Johnson of Reference Recordings
and Spectral Audio will be on
hand to receive the Society’s 2010
Founders Award, and Stereophile’s
Michael Fremer will join the Society
as cohost and keynote speaker to
share his perspective on the state of
the High End. A raffle is planned and
“an extravagant holiday buffet” will be
served. Guests and new members are
invited, and parking is free. For more
info, visit www.laocas.com or call Bob
Levi at (714) 281-5850.
❚ Sunday, January 30, 2–5pm: The Los
Angeles and Orange County Audio
Society will hold its monthly meeting
I NDUSTRY UPDATE
ble—is nonresonant, and claimed
to provide excellent shielding
from RFI and EMI.
Each Momentum will be
hand-built in the US, and is
due to ship before Christmas,
at $42,000/pair. For full details,
visit www.dagostinoinc.com.
Dan D’Agostino Inc., 139 Steep
Hill Road, Weston, CT 06883.
Tel: (203) 227-9099.
FRANCE: PARIS/PLOUZANÉ
Paul Messenger
A recent overnighter to Paris,
courtesy French manufacturer
Cabasse Loudspeakers, made me re-
alize just how interesting the French hi-
fi speaker industry is. Three substantial
brands, each with its own distinct identi-
ty and proprietary technologies, are now
competing strongly on the world stage.
Competition has always been the
best growth hormone, and it’s not dif-
ficult to see parallels with the German
motor industry; the engineering and
production rivalry among VW/Audi,
BMW, and Mercedes-Benz has helped
stimulate the worldwide success of all
three marques. By a substantial margin,
Focal is the largest of the French speak-
er makers. Indeed, founder Jacques
Mahul probably regards UK brand
Bowers & Wilkins as his main global
competitor. Cabasse and Triangle In-
dustries might be smaller, but both
have recently changed hands, and this
has provided them with new impetus.
This year, all three companies cele-
brate significant anniversaries: 60 years
in the case of Cabasse, and 30 years
at Definition Audio Video (2909
182nd Street, Redondo Beach). The
demonstration will include Dynaudio
loudspeakers and Simaudio
electronics. A raffle is planned and
lunch will be served. Guests, visitors,
and new members are invited, and
parking is free. For more info, visit
www.laocas.com or call Bob Levi at
(714) 281-5850.
I NDI ANA
❚ Thursday, November 18, 5–8pm:
Audio Solutions (6371 N. Guilford
Avenue, Indianapolis) will present
an evening of music with Bowers &
Wilkins and Classé. Tom McConville
of Classé will demonstrate the
M600 monoblock power amplifiers
with B&W’s new 800 Diamond
loudspeakers. For more info and to
RSVP, call Rick at (317) 255-4434.
M A R Y L A N D – V I R G I N I A –
WASHI NGTON, DC
❚ Saturday, December 11, 2010,
12–7pm: Command Performance
AV (7105 Marbury Court, Falls Church,
Dan D’Agostino’s Momentum monoblock.
P
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18 www.Stereophile.com, December 2010
I NDUSTRY UPDATE
each for Focal and Triangle. All three
also have their own unique drive-unit
technologies, very different from each
other and therefore offering a wide
range of alternatives to audiophiles.
Focal has arguably been the most inno-
vative in this regard, with its compos-
ite-sandwich bass and midrange cones,
inverted-dome tweeters of beryllium
and various alloys, Power Flower mul-
timagnet motors, and adjustable “field
coil” bass drivers. In contrast, Triangle
has deliberately stuck with traditional
materials and methods, including
paper-pulp cones, pleated fabric sur-
rounds, and horn-loaded tweeters.
Cabasse, widely regarded as the
“Grand Old Man” of French hi-fi, was
for decades the dominant brand in the
French speaker market. However, as
so often happens, the company began
to lose market share when its founder
retired. Georges Cabasse built his first
coaxial speaker system for a movie the-
ater in 1952, and the coaxial approach
has ever since been a key part of the
company’s design strategies, largely
because of its advantages in dispersion
consistency and control. That situation
changed in 2003, when Cabasse be-
gan to collaborate with Japanese mul-
tinational Canon, which has a large
facility nearby, and in 2006 Canon be-
came Cabasse’s majority shareholder
and began taking a much more active
role. Georges’ son Christophe Cabasse
remains with the company as Inter-
national Sales & Marketing Director.
The considerable and growing extent of
Canon’s involvement and its high-tech
resources have begun to make an im-
pact. I’m sure Canon played a role in the
extraordinary La Sphère loudspeaker,
a four-way, coaxial active model intro-
duced in 2007, and reviewed by Michael
Fremer in the June 2008 Stereophile.
Coaxial construction is a beneficial
feature of some of Cabasse’s new cus-
tom-installation models, but the com-
pany’s press conference focused on two
developments. The more technologi-
cally interesting of these was strictly
embargoed until a global Canon get-
together on October 12, but if the two
new, upmarket tower models are less
exciting, they’re also considerably more
commercially relevant.
The Cabasse Pacific 3 comes in both
passive and partially active SA versions,
with respective UK prices of £8000/
pair and £11,000/pair ($13,000 and
$17,500, respectively). Both have the
same drivers: twin 8" bass units crossed
over at 175Hz to the two-way coaxial
driver used in Cabasse’s Riga satellite
speaker, which covers the rest of the
audio range. The Pacific 3 SA incorpo-
rates 450W of active drive for the bass,
which makes life easier for the ampli-
fier driving the coaxial unit, and also
permits larger bass-unit magnets and an
enclosure 20% smaller. I was not alone
in congratulating the design engineers
on the Pacifica 3’s impressive sound.
Cabasse has shown impressive
growth in recent years, and while part
of that is doubtless due to improved
business efficiency and distribution, it’s
also obvious that Cabasse has the ambi-
tion and the technical resources to claw
its way back to the top of French hi-fi.
UK: SALISBURY
Kei th Howard
It’s not that long ago that Naim Audio
had a reputation for being conservative
to the point of reactionary. It didn’t in-
troduce its first CD player until 1991,
nine years after the medium’s launch,
and even then it declined to include
S/PDIF outputs, on the grounds that
single-box CD players outperform
two-box designs—a philosophy re-
versed only last year with the launch
of its own outboard digital-to-analog
converter, the Naim DAC.
Naim today is a chip off the old block
on one hand, and radically changed on
the other. Unusually, it has prospered
through the current recession, with re-
ported growth figures of 10% in 2009
and 23% in 2008. It’s not hard to see
why. First, Naim has retained the loy-
alty of its customer base by remain-
ing faithful to its core vision of what
Virginia) will host a seminar featuring
Philip O’Hanlon and a wide array of
Luxman electronics. RSVP: (703)
532-7239.
MI NNESOTA
❚ Tuesday, November 16, 7–9pm:
The Audio Society of Minnesota
will hold its monthly meeting at the
Pavek Museum of Broadcasting (3517
Raleigh Avenue, St. Louis Park). Steve
Dobbins will be on hand to discuss
his analog products and services.
Refreshments will be served. Guests,
visitors, and new members are invited.
For more info, visit http://sites.google.
com/site/audiosocietyofminnesota.
MI SSOURI
❚ Friday, November 19, 7–10pm:
St. Louis Public Radio and The
Sound Room (1661 Clarkson Road,
Chesterfield) will host an evening
celebrating high-definition audio.
David Young, president of The
Sound Room, will present “HD Radio
and Internet Audio for the Home”;
Terrence Dupuis, chief engineer of
St. Louis Public Radio, will present
“Broadcasting Digital Audio”; and
Stereophile’s Kal Rubinson will present
“For Mozart, Multichannel is Stereo,
Only Better!” RSVP to Jeff Bewley
at (314) 516-5494 or jbewley@
stlpublicradio.org.
NORTH CAROLI NA
❚ Thursday–Friday, November 18–19,
6–10pm: Audio Advice will host
Music Matters 2010 on Thursday
at their Raleigh showroom (8621
Glenwood Avenue), and on Friday at
their Pineville-Charlotte showroom
(11409 Carolina Place Parkway).
Both evenings will include the latest
loudspeakers and components from
Audio Research, Ayre Acoustics,
B&W, Classé, Peachtree Audio, and
Wilson Audio Specialties, among
others. Stereophile’s Michael Fremer
will be a featured presenter. A special
attraction will be the Harman Mobile
Showcase, with a two-channel
listening room and a multichannel
home-theater room featuring
loudspeakers from Revel and JBL
and electronics from Mark Levinson
and Lexicon. Food and refreshments
will be provided, and a prize drawing
will be held for attendees. RSVP:
event@audioadvice.com or call (919)
881-2005 (Raleigh), (704) 821-4510
(Pineville-Charlotte).
P
H
O
T
O

P
A
U
L

M
E
S
S
E
N
G
E
R
Christopher Cabasse, International Sales &
Marketing Director (right), and R&D Director Bernard
Debail show off the Cabasse Pacific 3 SA.
See details next page.
THE NEW EDGE UNDERSTANDS 10,000 COMMANDS.
20 www.Stereophile.com, December 2010
constitutes quality sound
(with particular emphasis
on “rhythm and timing”),
providing ready upgrade
paths for most of its prod-
ucts and continuing to
support owners of older
Naim models. If you have
an aging Naim amplifier,
for instance, the factory
will gladly, for a very rea-
sonable price, replace all its electrolytic
capacitors, make any necessary adjust-
ments or other replacements, and check
that it is performing as new.
It’s the second factor in Naim’s on-
going success that constitutes a sea
change. Instead of resisting new modes
of music delivery, Naim now em-
braces them. While it never hopped
aboard the ill-fated bandwagons of
DVD-Audio or SACD—and no one in
Salisbury evinces much enthusiasm for
Blu-ray Disc—Naim introduced its first
hard-disk player, the HDX, in 2008,
and recently supplemented it with the
cheaper UnitiServe.
While the HDX and UnitiServe
can be connected to an Ethernet net-
work and retrieve and play audio files
they find there, they can’t stream files
from a server in the manner of, say, the
Logitech Squeezebox—so Naim has
come up with products that will. The
latest and best of these is the NDX
standalone streaming player, which is
24-bit/192kHz capable, will sell in the
US for $4750, and goes into production
at the end of October. Like Naim’s first
streaming player, the Uniti, introduced
last year, the NDX uses the Universal
Plug and Play (UPnP) network proto-
col to stream files from UPnP servers,
and Naim has written its own UPnP
code for the HDX and the UnitiServe
to allow them to fulfill that role. WiFi
wireless network connection is offered
“as a convenience,” but wired Ether-
net is preferred. Naim isn’t as fussy as
Linn Products about network setup,
but does acknowledge that its products
may perform better with a dedicated
audio network than one that carries
other traffic as well.
Internet radio—“the radio of the fu-
ture,” as Naim calls it—is available via
the NDX using the vTuner service.
Three S/PDIF inputs are provided for
other digital sources, and the NDX will
play audio files from a USB memory
stick. A DAB/FM tuner can be added
as an option.
Internally, the NDX draws heav-
ily on technology originally developed
for the Naim DAC. Multiple regulated
power supplies and galvanic isolation
are deployed to ensure minimum inter-
action of the digital and analog circuits,
and the NDX uses the same system of
a buffer memory and switchable mas-
ter clocks to remove incoming jitter. It
also adopts the DAC’s proprietary digi-
tal filter, here implemented via 40-bit
rather than the usual 32-bit floating-
point processing to ensure that arith-
metic noise remains well below 24-bit
resolution. A modified Butterworth
alignment is used, implemented as an
infinite impulse response (IIR), aka re-
cursive, filter—not because Naim has set
its face against the pre-response inher-
ent in linear-phase filters, but because
listening tests have shown that IIR im-
plementations sound better than finite
impulse response (FIR) alternatives,
even when both have the same ampli-
tude and phase responses. Naim puts
this down to the lower computational
load imposed by an IIR filter, which in
turn reduces demand from the power
supply. Indeed, the writing of DSP code
to distribute computational activity in
an optimal way has become an impor-
tant means of honing sound quality in
Naim’s R&D department.
As usual with Naim products, an up-
grade path is available via the additions
of an external power supply (XPS or
555PS) and/or the Naim DAC, which
itself can be upgraded with an external
PSU. An extension of Naim’s n-Stream
app allows the NDX to be controlled
via such handheld devices as Apple’s
iPhone and iPad, as well as convention-
ally via its front-panel buttons and dis-
play or the supplied remote control.
When the NDX was unveiled to
the press at Naim’s factory, manag-
ing director Paul Stevenson was up-
beat about the future of the specialist
audio industry. He believes that new
means of delivering high-quality audio,
such as hard-disk replay and network
streaming, will rekindle the wider pub-
lic’s interest in high-fidelity sound and
blow us out of the doldrums of recent
years. Let’s hope he’s prescient.
UK: LLANDRINDOD
WELLS, WALES
Paul Messenger
It’s seven years since I first
wrote about an interest-
ing new UK company
called VertexAQ (“Indus-
try Update,” Vol.27 No.1),
whose initial products—vi-
bration-absorbing mount-
ing platforms, and cables
incorporating damping blocks—took a
“whole-system” approach to the con-
trol of vibration. Finding VertexAQ’s
equipment surprisingly effective at
lowering the “hash” floor, I purchased a
number of their products that I still use
today (www.vertexaq.com).
Just a year ago (“Industry Update,”
Vol.32 No.11), I mentioned the work
VertexAQ was doing in collaboration
with Nordost and Acuity Products to
try to correlate measurements with lis-
tening (www.quantumqrt.com/content.
asp?ContentID=24). That project is still
ongoing, but a couple of other new Ver-
texAQ initiatives deserve reporting.
While such early VertexAQ prod-
ucts as the Moncayo speaker cable
were specifically designed to absorb
mechanical vibrations, more recent de-
velopments also include multiple tech-
niques to absorb electromagnetic and
radio-frequency interference (EMI and
RFI). Together with silver conductors
and Teflon insulation, these absorbers
are incorporated in VertexAQ’s costly
new HiRez Moncayo speaker cable.
I’ve always been dubious of claims
that high-cost speaker cables can offer
genuine benefits, but substituting the
HiRez versions for the standard Mon-
cayo cables linking my B&W 800 Dia-
mond speakers to my power amp did
much to dispel that skepticism. The im-
provements were obvious and not small:
the top end was significantly sweetened,
the focus of the stereo image substan-
tially improved. I can’t yet afford a set of
HiRez Moncayos, but I’m saving up.
While VertexAQ’s activities have
hitherto been restricted to the bits that
support and link audio components,
they’re about to introduce a line of
electronics, Aletheia, which will in-
clude their own damping and RFI/
EMI absorption. (Aletheia is the Greek
word for truth.) A “technology demon-
strator” version of the Aletheia dac1
D/A converter is due to make its debut
at the UK National Audio Show. That’s
about a week away as I write, and the
VertexAQ room is one I shall definitely
visit. ■■
I NDUSTRY UPDATE
Naim’s new NDX streaming network player.
Simply open your phone’s browser and download the free app at gettag.mobi or text “MYFORDTOUCH”
to 4FORD. Then follow the directions to snap this tag and see MyFord Touch come to life.**
* Optional. Driving while distracted can result in loss of vehicle control. Only use mobile phones/MyFord Touch/other devices,
even with voice commands, when it is safe to do so. Some features may be locked out while the vehicle is in gear. Certain commands
abbreviated. See owner’s guide for complete commands. **Standard text messaging and data rates apply.
2011 EDGE
fordvehicles.com
It doesn’t just give directions, it takes orders. A whole lot of them.
The new EDGE with MYFORD TOUCH.
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An automotive first. It’s quite
possibly the world’s smartest crossover.
THERE’S NO TOUCHING THAT.
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Miles Davis - Someday My Prince
Will Come
LP = AAPJ 8456-45 $50.00
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Miles Davis - Seven Steps
to Heaven
LP = AAPJ 8851-45 $50.00
SACD = CAPJ 8851 SA $30.00
Bill Evans
New Jazz Conceptions
LP = AAPJ 12-223 $30.00
LP = AAPJ 12-223-45 $50.00
Bill Evans
Everybody Digs Bill Evans
LP = AAPJ 1129 $30.00
Harbeth P3ESR Speakers
$1,995
Spin-Clean Record Washer
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Disc Doctor Record Cleaner
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$157.00 (Gallon Kit)
Symposium Rollerblock Jr.
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$279.00 (set of 4)
Parasound JC 3 Phono Preamp
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It’s Raining Records
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After Midnight
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Nat “King” Cole
Just One of Those Things
LP = AAPP 903-45 $50.00
SACD = CAPP 903 SA $35.00
Nat “King” Cole
Love Is The Thing
LP = AAPP 824-45 $50.00
SACD = CAPP 824 SA $35.00
Hugh Masekela - Hope
LP = AAPJ 82020 $50.00
SACD = CAPJ 82020 SA $30.00
Nat “King” Cole
The Very Thought of You
LP = AAPP 1084-45 $50.00
SACD = CAPP 1084 SA $35.00
Junior Wells - Hoodoo Man Blues
LP = AAPB 034-45 $50.00
SACD = CAPB 034 SA $30.00
Sam Cooke - Night Beat
LP = AAPP 2709-45 $50.00
SACD = CAPP 2709 SA $30.00
The Power of the Orchestra
LP = AAPC 2659-45 $50.00
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Elvis Presley
Elvis is Back!
LP = AAPP 2231 $50.00
Nat “King” Cole
Where Did Everyone Go?
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SACD = CAPP 1859 SA $35.00
Bill Evans
Riverside Recordings Box Set
LP = AAPJ 0018 $599.99
Humble Pie - Smokin’
LP = AAPP 4342 $30.00
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Rachmaninoff - Symphonic Dances/
Vocalise
LP = AAPC 34145-45 $50.00
Elvis Presley
24 Karat Hits!
LP = AAPP 2040 $75.00
Yes - Fragile
LP = AAPP 7211 $29.98
Nat “King” Cole
After Midnight
LP = AAPP 782-45 $75.00
SACD = CAPP 782 SA $35.00
Soundtrack - The Hot Spot
LP = AAPB 8755-45 $50.00
SACD = CAPB 8755 SA $30.00
Feickert - Next Generation
Universal Protractor
$249.00
Nat “King” Cole
Just One of Those Things
LP = AAPP 903-45 $50.00
SACD = CAPP 903 SA $35.00
Nat “King” Cole
Love Is The Thing
LP = AAPP 824-45 $50.00
SACD = CAPP 824 SA $35.00
Hugh Masekela - Hope
LP = AAPJ 82020 $50.00
SACD = CAPJ 82020 SA $30.00
AcousTech Electronics Deluxe
Stylus Force Gauge
$79.99
Nat “King” Cole
The Very Thought of You
LP = AAPP 1084-45 $50.00
SACD = CAPP 1084 SA $35.00
Junior Wells - Hoodoo Man Blues
LP = AAPB 034-45 $50.00
SACD = CAPB 034 SA $30.00
AcousTech The Big Record
Brush
$52.99 (GROUNDED)
$36.99
Sam Cooke - Night Beat
LP = AAPP 2709-45 $50.00
SACD = CAPP 2709 SA $30.00
The Power of the Orchestra
LP = AAPC 2659-45 $50.00
SACD = CAPC 2659 SA $30.00
Elvis Presley
Elvis is Back!
LP = AAPP 2231 $50.00
Analogue Productions - The
Ultimate Analogue Test LP
$39.95
Art Vinyl The Play & Display
Flip Frame
$145.00
Nat “King” Cole
Where Did Everyone Go?
LP = AAPP 1859-45 $50.00
SACD = CAPP 1859 SA $35.00
Bill Evans
Riverside Recordings Box Set
LP = AAPJ 0018 $599.99
Humble Pie - Smokin’
LP = AAPP 4342 $30.00
SACD = CAPP 4342 SA $30.00
Rachmaninoff - Symphonic Dances/
Vocalise
LP = AAPC 34145-45 $50.00
Elvis Presley
24 Karat Hits!
LP = AAPP 2040 $75.00
Yes - Fragile
LP = AAPP 7211 $29.98
It’s Raining Records
Analogue Productions Continues Its Dizzying Pace...
Sam in Turkey
www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 25
S A M’ S S PA C E
S a m T e l l i g
W
ho knew that
Istanbul was a
hotbed of hi-fi?
I did. About
15 years ago, I
got an invita-
tion to visit and speak before
the Istanbul Hi-Fi Club. There
was some miscommunication
and the trip never came off.
At about that time, Kerem
Küçükaslan was at Worcester
Polytech, on his way to a BS in
Industrial Engineering, which
accounts for his fluent Amer-
ican-accented English. By the
time he returned to Istanbul to
pursue his MBA, he’d caught
the hi-fi bug, and the Istanbul
Hi-Fi Club beckoned.
Little did Kerem know how his life
would change. He joined the club,
whose leader must have seen that Kerem
would be a good catch for his daughter.
I think Kerem could marry Berrak only
on condition that he take over as leader
of the Istanbul Hi-Fi Club.
Just kidding. Now thoroughly im-
mersed in hi-fi, Kerem went on to
launch not one but two hi-fi companies:
Echole cables and Absolare electronics.
Kerem says that echole and absolare are
“17th-century Latin” for, respectively,
school and absolute. Search me. All the
Latin I studied was from Roman times.
I couldn’t find either word. Probably
made the names easy to trademark.
The 17th century, eh? Isn’t that when,
in 1683, Vienna turned back from the
gates of the city an army of Turks and
Tartars and saved civilization? I’m sure
they teach something different in Turk-
ish schools.
Just think what life might be like
today if the Ottomans had conquered
all of Europe. Amsterdam would have
no drug addicts, Moscow no drunks
in the street. Milan would be free of
graffiti. Naples would have regular gar-
bage pickups. History depends on who
writes the narrative.
My wife, Marina, and I traversed
much of Istanbul by car and most of
the Old City on foot. We encountered
none of the above—no graffiti, no gar-
bage, no drug addicts, no drunks. Some-
one did try to convert me to Islam after
we left the Blue Mosque. I took his lit-
erature and bought a Koran.
Istanbul is a beautiful, modern, spot-
lessly clean city—thanks, in part, to the
countless (millions?) cats, who assure
me that there are no rats. Marina and
I did not look for bedbugs in our hotel
room. This is not Cincinnati. Or New
York.
Residents of Istanbul seem to delight
in telling you that no one can afford to
live there. Traffic is a big headache—
the city chokes on it—and mass transit,
while clean and attractive, is inade-
quate. They’re trying to build a subway
line across the Bosporus, between Eu-
ropean and Asian Istanbul. Construc-
tion crews on the European side keep
digging up artifacts from the past.
One of the finest hi-fi shops in the
world—the finest, anyway, that I’ve ever
visited—is Extreme Audio, in the base-
ment of the Sheraton Istanbul Hotel.
Exquisitely appointed listening rooms
honor classical composers: Bach,
Beethoven, Mozart, Mahler (my favor-
ite), and Tchaikovsky (Marina’s fave). I
didn’t make a list of the brands carried,
but I saw products from Wilson Audio,
Focal, Sonus Faber, Harbeth, and many
more.
From the street, or even from the
hotel’s lobby, no one would know the
shop’s suite of showrooms is there.
Demonstrations are entirely by ap-
pointment. The store is so . . . civilized.
Turkish food is tops, too. It has a
Russian flavor. Actually, the reverse:
Russian food has a Turkish flavor, via
the Black Sea. Kerem put us on to a
restaurant (no tourists, only locals) that
specializes in ravioli. Russians took the
dish and turned it into pilmeni, usually
served with sour cream; in Turkey,
they prefer yogurt. How can simple
food be so tasty? Spices, of course, and
centuries of practice. I told Kerem that
the food is tasty, too, at the Tacis Beyti
Restaurant on Coney Island Avenue,
Brooklyn, near Avenue P.
Many people in Istanbul speak Eng-
lish, which is a good thing—Turkish is
forbidding. The alphabet aside, there
are almost no similarities with Ro-
mance or Slavic languages. Turkish,
aka Turkic, is in the Altaic family, along
with Tungusic and Mongolian. I’m told
there are even some similarities with
Korean. A Belgian audiophile with a
Turkish wife told me he finds the lan-
guage impossible to learn, even though
he lives there. He couldn’t turn Turk if
he wanted to.
The travelogue is relevant. You can
use Extreme Audio as an excuse to go
there. Just don’t stay at the Sheraton
Istanbul if you’re a tourist: it’s in a
commercial district. Marina and I are
returning for a longer visit next year.
Maybe we’ll run into Kerem and
Berrak.
Absolare power amplifiers and tubed preamp on Absolare
equipment stands made from laminated African Rosewood.
26 www.Stereophile.com, December 2010
SAM’ S SPACE
Fresh breezes from the
Bosporus
Echole cables are local: hand-assem-
bled in Turkey. Absolare electronics are
made in Turkey and may soon be as-
sembled in the US, too. Turkey may be
a hotbed of hi-fi, but there are only so
many customers. Kerem
Küçükaslan has to think
globally. He’s got his eye
on creating an alliance of
independent hi-fi com-
panies all over the world.
The idea is to share ideas,
create synergies and
systems, share distribu-
tors, and maybe create
a broader awareness of
hi-fi as something worth
spending your money
on. This alliance already
includes companies from
Germany, Spain, South
Korea, and the US.
Kerem is taking aim
at something that has
plagued serious hi-fi for
years: a lack of coop-
eration and sometimes
downright petty feuding
among companies. Some hi-fi compa-
nies have enemies, especially in Italy. I
wonder when Treviso will declare war
on Vicenza.
I told Kerem about surveys I’ve seen
regarding luxury goods. What do rich
people want, besides more money?
The usual stuff: nice homes, vacation
homes, luxury cars, fine watches, high-
end shoes. But hi-fi . . . ?
The audio “industry” (if you can call
it that) can take much of the blame
for its current marginal status, with its
petty feuding and its obstinate refusal
to reach out to attract female buyers.
High-end products tend to be butt-
ugly, even when well-made. It’s as if
manufacturers hung out a sign: WOM-
EN: DON’T BUY ME.
In the 1930s and early ’40s, before
the US entered World War II, my Un-
cle Stan sold radios in New Bedford,
Massachusetts. Almost all were fin-
ished in wood, and many were beau-
tiful. In almost every household, the
wife chose the radio. When she made
up her mind, the hapless husband had
to buy. Straight from Uncle Stan.
Kerem wants to make beautiful hi-
fi. He even wants to make beautiful
cables and interconnects.
Echole and Absolare held their
second annual meeting at the end of
the summer, at Kerem’s home in Is-
tanbul. Our schedules were so packed
that Marina and I hadn’t time to at-
tend the Ramadan Jazz Festival, on
the grounds of Topkapi palace. Maybe
next time. Meanwhile, the daughter of
Marina’s cousin gave birth to a son in
Istanbul, the week before we arrived.
I immediately named him Ramadan
Rosenbaum.
Kerem’s alliance includes Kaiser
Acoustics (Germany) and
Wadax (Spain). Kaiser
makes passive speakers,
while Wadax special-
izes in powered speakers;
both use Echole wire for
their speakers’ internal
circuits. Kerem says this
is key: Keep the con-
necting links consistent
throughout the system,
from source to speakers.
Echole cables are avail-
able to other manufac-
turers as OEM (original
equipment manufactur-
er) stock.
We grooved on vinyl
for the most part at the
Echole-Absolare annual
meeting via a flabber-
gasting new turntable
from John Park, of Pyon
Sound, in South Korea. Called the
Muzika Ultima, it’s expected to retail
for around $18,000 with tonearm (but
no cartridge). It has two belt drives: one
to drive a flywheel, which turns the
platter via filament fishing line. Elegant.
Alas, Mikey will likely get this one—I
don’t spin much vinyl these days.
I’ll whet his and your appetites: The
Muzika Ultima’s platter has three lay-
ers: “vaporized resin” on top, a solid
slab of acrylic in the middle, and a bot-
tom platter milled from a block of cast
iron. The platter mechanism weighs
55 lbs (25kg), most of it the iron—the
entire turntable weighs 172 lbs (78kg)
without arm. The center spindle,
milled from a block of stainless steel, is
mechanically decoupled from the plat-
ter. All the details could consume an
entire column. Go to www.pyonsound.
com and take a peek.
High-end shoes, anyone?
John Park even makes high-end shoes,
including the DS4 Ultimate Resonance
Tuning Shoe, which seems quite rea-
sonably priced at $65. This is not just
for the well-heeled. John is a young
guy—in his early 40s, I’d guess—and has
a mischievous sense of humor. That’s
a problem with too many hi-fi manu-
facturers: no humor. And only answers,
no questions.
Absolare Electronic and Echole,
40 Pemberton Road, Nashua, NH
03063. Tel: (917) 267-7476.
Fax: (212) 486-7371.
Web: http://echole.com.
Extreme Audio, Eski Üsküdar
çerenköy Street, Aydoan Apartment
No.14/A, çerenköy/Istanbul, Turkey.
Tel: (90) 216-574-3877.
Fax: (90) 216-574-3846.
Web: www.extreme-audio.com.
Music Hall, 108 Station Road, Great
Neck, NY 11023. Tel: (516) 487-3663.
Fax: (516) 773-3891. Web: www.
musichallaudio.com.
Pyon Sound, 1434-28 Gwangyang-
dong Dongan-gu, Anyang City,
Kyunggi-do, Seoul 431-060, Korea.
Tel: (82) 31-349-8464. Web: www.
pyonsound.com.
Steinmusic Ltd., Hingbergstraße
103a, 45468 Mülheim, Germany. Tel:
(49) 0208-32089. Fax: (49) 0208-
390938. Web: www.steinmusic.com.
CONTACTS
The Absolare Bybee Purifier is designed to take unwashed power
from the mains and give it a good bath.
Live the
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SAM’ S SPACE
Wait till I get my hands on more
products from Steinmusic, Ltd. Herr
Holger Stein is going to help me mess
with the molecules inside audiophiles’
brains. When I laughed my evil laugh,
Holger replied with one of his own.
“There are more things in heaven and
earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in
your philosophy.”
Steinmusic employs a dozen people
in a former malt factory near Düssel-
dorf. One could probably get drunk
just working there. Herr Stein offers
something called E-Pads—tiny, shiny
squares of something that you attach
strategically wherever you wish. Herr
Stein recommends affixing them to
CD transports, the front baffles of
loudspeakers, headphones, amplifi-
ers—even your home’s main electrical
panel—“for a permanent improvement
of the sound quality without interfer-
ing with your living environment.” He
gave me two strange, ceramic-looking
cones to put atop my loudspeakers,
front and center.
I took them home (heh-heh-heh),
looking forward to stirring up the pot.
My Harbeth Compact 7 ES3 speakers
have never sounded better. But why?
Holger Stein or John Park could
have stolen the show. But this was
Kerem’s show, mainly, so Echole
and Absolare were front and center.
Speakers were the Kaiser Acoustics
Kawero ($65,000/pair). The Echole
Obsession speaker cables retail for
$6100/6' pair, while a 3' pair of in-
terconnects (RCA) goes for $3800.
His focus is on “signal purity and
resonance control,” Kerem said. “We
established the company in 2007.
The creation of a proprietary alloy
followed, consisting of cryogenically
treated silver, gold, and palladium.
This alloy is patented and manu-
factured in a dedicated facility. The
purity of the signal path is optimized
with an exclusive resonance-control
process. First, the wire is hand-
wound in a symmetrical pattern. A
very stable organic composite resin
is hand-applied as an air-based di-
electric. External resonance control
is accomplished with machined
aluminum blocks and solid zebrano
wood.” Each speaker cable compris-
es four solid-core runs of the silver-
gold-palladium alloy and two runs of
99.99999%-pure copper.
The Absolare Pure tubed line stage
Echole speaker cables—aluminum blocks and solid
Zebrano wood keep external resonances at bay.
SAM’ S SPACE
preamp is going into production about
now. Does $23,000 seem a lot to ask?
Easy for me to spend your money, but
there looks to be solid value here—in
this case, solid aluminum. The chas-
sis, made from a 152-lb (69kg) block
of “aircraft grade” aluminum, is cov-
ered with leather and accented with
wood. If you want a nice phono stage
and step-up transformer, John Park of
Pyon Audio will step right up.
Absolare’s monoblock power
amps ($32,000/pair) are now be-
ing assembled in Turkey, and there’s
talk of making them in the US, too.
Each amp uses two 845 output tubes
to deliver 50Wpc into 8 ohms. Or
maybe 55Wpc. The output tubes are
configured as parallel single-ended.
Of course, to clean your mains power,
you’ll want the Absolare Bybee Puri-
fier ($6500). My late friend Lars, who
called him Yack, said that Jack Bybee
is a genius. A wedding kept Yack from
yoining us in Istanbul.
Dealer showrooms are being set up
in Turkey (at Extreme Audio), Germa-
ny, Spain, Russia, and Australia. In the
US, Walter Swanbon, of Fidelis AV, is
setting up an East Coast showroom at
his store in Derry, New Hampshire,
while Rick Brown is doing the same
for the West Coast in Carlsbad, Cali-
fornia.The managing director of Ec-
hole and Absolare in the US is Fred
Manheck, whose office is in Nashua,
New Hampshire. Southern New
Hampshire is an easy drive for me; I’m
sure I’ll be doing more listening.
Kerem said that less costly, “mass-
produced” products might be in the
offing. Meanwhile, there are tweaks
and accessories from Steinmusic and
Pyon Sound, some of which seem af-
fordable. Shoes, anyone? A Steinmusic
E-Pad for your iPod?
Or maybe you want to go upmarket.
Kerem is helping to launch the Vano
Bagration line of hi-fi gear: equipment
Echole power cords. It’s about controlling resonances,
internal and external. No bad vibes.
www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 31
SAM’ S SPACE
fit for a king. That’s Prince Juan Bagra-
tion, of the royal family of Georgia.
You may remember General Pyotr
Bagration from Tolstoy’s War and Peace
(felled by a bullet in 1812, in the Battle
of Borodino). We met the present-day
Prince Bagration in Istanbul. Just one
disappointment for Marina: his native
language is Spanish.
More to come.
Music Hall a15.2 integrated
amplifier and A15.2 CD player
My crony Roy Hall dropped off his
Music Hall a15.2 integrated amplifier
and cd15.2 CD player. Each retails for
$499 and measures 17" wide by 2.75"
high by 11.2" deep. The two pieces
share a common, somewhat cheesy
remote control. Want do you want for
the price? Luxury? Go to Istanbul, not
Glasgow.
Actually, native Scot Roy has lived in
Great Neck, New York, for as long as I
can remember, each year losing a little
more of his Glaswegian accent. His
Music Hall electronics are made for
Roy in China, of course. He sells them
around the world.
Music Hall a15.2 integrated am-
plifier: The a15.2 integrated opts for
simplicity (so does the CD player).
No balance or tone controls. But Roy
hasn’t stripped away everything. You
get a useful onboard headphone amp
(okay for casual listening), and a sur-
prisingly good moving-magnet phono
stage that you can also use with a high-
output moving-coil cartridge.
Sly fox, that Roy. He’d love to sell
you a Music Hall turntable. He figures
that if he gives you a fine phono stage,
you’ll get the itch to spin vinyl. I know
I did. I couldn’t look at the a15.2’s
phono-stage input without attaching
my Rega P25 turntable. I love to rile
Roy with Rega, his competitor—though
I did use a very fine 1042 moving-coil
cartridge from Goldring, which Roy
distributes here. I bought it from him
in a fit of foolishness. It’s a very sweet-
sounding cartridge.
In addition to the phono stage,
which you get whether you want it or
not, the a15.2 integrated has five line-
level inputs, plus a mini jack on the
front for connecting a pod or some-
thing. There’s also a fixed line out for
connecting a headphone amp, proces-
sor, or tape deck.
The a15.2’s output is a claimed
75Wpc into 8 ohms from a pair of
IGBT devices per channel. IGBT. Ig-
gybits. I’m not turning technical on
you, but these devices are like Dr. Je-
kyll and Mr. Hyde: half MOSFET (in-
put), half bipolar (output). The skinny
on iggybits is that they combine the
slew rate and low internal impedance
of tubes (and MOSFETs) with the cur-
rent drive of bipolars. These devices
have been around for a couple of de-
cades and have become steadily more
reliable.
I connected the a15.2 amp to my
Harbeth Compact 7 ES3 speakers—
another product that Roy doesn’t dis-
tribute. I should use a pair of Epos
speakers, right? But Roy, sniffing, fi-
nally admitted that the Harbeths are up
to snuff.
I had expected the listening to be a
chore—cheap stuff often makes it so.
Inexpensive transistor gear often has a
thin, brittle, sterile sound. The music
sounds as if it’s slogging through silicon,
even trapped by it. It’s why so many
audiophiles turn to tubes, expense and
inconvenience be damned.
But I had a pleasant surprise: I truly
enjoyed the Music Hall a15.2 inte-
grated amp and matching CD player.
The integrated offered up a tubelike
sound—remarkably so for $499. Per-
haps it gave preference to even-order
harmonics, particularly second-order
harmonics. Maybe it did something to
tame odd-order harmonics. Whatever
it did, I found it ingratiating, if not al-
ways involving. The a15.2 never irri-
tated, never fatigued.
The a15.2 lacked resolution and de-
tail compared to my new solid-state ref-
erence, LFD Audio’s Integrated Zero
Mk.IV SE—the latest version of my
longtime favorite. The LFD sells for
more than six times the Music Hall’s
price. It should offer much more, and it
does. It compels me to stop whatever I
am doing and start listening seriously.
It would be easy, but pointless, to
find fault with the a15.2. I lost some
but not all sense of acoustical space in
recordings. Instruments didn’t separate
the way they do through truly great hi-
fi gear, tubed or solid-state. Transients
seemed somewhat but not severely
rolled off. Rounded off. Truncated.
Whatever. Brass lost some of its bite,
timpani some tingle.
I could blather on like this for hours.
Of course this product has its limitations.
I’d rather concentrate on what the
a15.2 does.
It does harmonic accuracy: instru-
ments and voices. The a15.2 reminded
me of the Audio Analogue Crescendo
integrated amplifier from Italy, which
I reviewed in the October 2010 Ste-
reophile. The a15.2 has much the same
sonic signature, if not quite the resolu-
tion, and it’s half the price. In terms of
delivering power to my Harbeth speak-
ers, the two amps are close. I’d give the
Crescendo a two-testicle rating; the
Music Hall, one ball.
My only answer for it is that Roy is
mellowing with age. At one time, in
his youth, he was into all that Britshit
about pace, rhythm, acceleration, and
timing. That is a good way to sell turn-
tables, I suppose—vinyl can boogie bet-
ter than any digital I’ve heard.
Mind you, I’m not saying that there’s
anything slow about the a15.2. My big
toe—always my right one—liked the
amp just fine. But its priority seems to
be to get the notes themselves right,
not just their movement. The beauty of
the note, the magic of the moment, the
mystical chords of nature . . . I’m really
blathering now.
The a15.2’s performance will likely
Music Hall’s a15.2 integrated amplifier uses IGBT devices to deliver
tube-like sound without the tsuris (trouble).
32 www.Stereophile.com, December 2010
SAM’ S SPACE
not satisfy the most demanding audio-
phile, nor do I think it was meant to. It
may not be meant for audiophiles at all,
which is the highest compliment I can
bestow. Music Hall, indeed.
The a15.2 was kind to older record-
ings and less-than-prime source materi-
al. The only thing I missed was a mono
switch—too bad, because the amp has
such a fine, if modest, phono stage. No,
that phono stage’s soundstage didn’t
walk through windows and spread into
the driveway below. But the amp itself
wouldn’t let it. (I laugh when people
tell me they’re going to digitalize their
LP collections. Really?)
I took the a15.2 upstairs to play
with my pair of Dynaudio Excite X12
speakers. At $1200/pair (plus stands),
the X12s are a more likely pairing for
the Music Hall than the Harbeths.
Once again, I was seduced by the
sound quality—up to a point. With re-
cording after recording, I didn’t hear
all the there there.
These products—amp and CD play-
er—would be ideal Christmas presents
for your parents or other relatives who
love music and don’t want to get caught
up in the hi-fi rat race—or be chained
to the hedonic treadmill. If you don’t
get on the hedonic treadmill in the
first place, then you never need worry
about climbing off.
This is a sweet little amp—in more
ways than one.
Music Hall cd15.2 CD player:
There aren’t many $499 CD
players around these days. Who
needs one?
Your parents, maybe. Someone who
doesn’t want a computer anywhere
near the living room or listening room.
Someone who just wants to put the
disc in the player and play it, without
worrying about formats and settings
and downloads.
There’s just one problem. While I
could easily load a disc in the cd15.2’s
tray, I couldn’t get it out. Once in the
tray, a disc defies being picked up by
its edges. This reminds me of the $32
Philips DVD player I bought at Wal-
mart. I have to place my pinky under
the disc and jiggle it up from the tray.
Problem is, I might push the drawer
closed by accident, and jam or trap
the disc.
I guess we can thank Sanyo for
this: The cd15.2 CDP uses a Sanyo
DA11SLM transport mechanism. You
always wanted one of those, right?
It’s said to combine low jitter with
excellent resolution. The signal then
goes to a 24-bit/192kHz Burr-Brown
DAC. You’d like one of those, too, I’ll
bet. The player offers both coaxial (S/
PDIF) and optical (TosLink) digital
outputs, not that most users are likely
to use them.
Of course, I needed to rile Roy, so I
hooked up my Musical Fidelity X-Ray
V8
CD player, now discontinued but last
seen selling for $1500—three times the
price of the cd15.2. There was method
in my madness. How could I evaluate
the sound of the amp if I changed my
CD player, too? The a15.2 integrated
let me hear the superiority of the X-
Ray
V8
. More resolution, more balls in
the bass. But no big deal. The a15.2 was
capable in its own right.
The cd15.2 CD player doesn’t mess
much with CD’s native 16/44.1 signal.
There’s no upsampling—no placing of
bogus bits under the format’s 16 to
bring the word length up to 24 bits.
Roy doesn’t much care for such digital
prestidigitation. It would probably not
be possible to implement upsampling
in a $499 player and do it right, so Roy’s
judgment is probably right on.
Which brings me back to the appeal
of the a15.2-cd15.2 combination. Roy
knows what he’s doing, which is to not
do too much. Keep the designs simple.
Don’t cheap out with crappy parts
where sound quality counts. Don’t
pretend there’s more hear than meets
the ear by highlighting detail at the
expense of harmonic presentation. It’s
for all these reasons—the right reasons—
that the a15.2-cd15.2 pairing is such a
success.
Merry Christmas. ■■
Music Hall cd15.2—buy one for mom!
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Great Myth N°18
Myth 18
N
o
Dlrector ot Lnglneerlng vern Creollle alms a laser at tbe sloe panel ot a louospeaker.
Tbe laser ls part ot a laser vlbrometer system, wblcb was orlglnally oevelopeo tor tbe aerospace lnoustry ano ls useo
to measure mlnute vlbratlons ln alrtrame structures. |t's also useo by e×otlc supercar makers to stuoy englne vlbra-
tlons.
At Wllson Auolo, we use lt to measure cablnet resonance. Tbe beam ls sequentlally tocuseo on as many as 100
polnts ln a grlo lalo out on an enclosure panel. A trequency sweep ot 2500 measurements ls maoe at eacb polnt,
ano a computer collects tbe oata, wblcb are ultlmately output to torm a vlsual olsplay ot tbe test panel, sbowlng tbe
lntenslty ano amount ot resonance over tbe surtace at eacb moment ln tbe trequency sweep. Wltb tbls rlcb oata
ñelo, Wllson englneers are better able to analyze ano reñne braclng structures, as well as evaluate tbe pertormance
ot present ano potentlal cablnet materlals.
Peouctlon ot cablnet resonance (wltb lts lnberent coloratlon ot tbe souno) ls among tbe blgbest ongolng prlorltles at
Wllson Auolo. Tbe laser vlbrometer ls testament to our oeolcatlon to tbat goal÷a blgbly sopblstlcateo ano cuttlng-
eoge lnstrument tbat can measure olsplacements ln tbe range ot nanometers (wblcb, tor tbe rest ot us, ls rougbly a
bllllontb ot an lncb).
www.wilsonaudio.com
Watcb tbe laser vlbrometer ln actlon at wllsonauolo.com. Cllck on Company, tben Autbentlc values.
UHUVTL[LYZ
ANALOG CORNER
Mi c h a e l F r e me r
A Phono Preamp from Esoteric?
www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 35
“E
verybody’s gotta get
inta da act!” was a
trademarked phrase of
the late, great musician
and comedian Jimmy
Durante (who, were
he a youngster today, would get a nose
job and kill his career). And it was my
sentiment exactly when I heard last
year about the E-03 phono pream-
plifier from Esoteric. True, vinyl has
come back, and spinning digital discs
will either become extinct (CDs) or
even nichier than vinyl (SACD), so
who can blame Esoteric for wanting a
piece of the analog-source pie? None-
theless, the company made its bed
with digital sources, so why shouldn’t
it just lie there in the ones and zeros,
and leave analog to the folks who nev-
er abandoned the medium?
So I thought as I began to unpack the
E-03 ($6500), along with This thing must
be enormous! Actually, it’s only Esoteric’s
multibox packaging that’s huge—the
E-03 measures 17.2" (442mm) wide by
4" (103.5mm) high by 14.2" (364.4mm)
deep, including protrusions, and weighs
23.1 lbs (10.5kg)—but Esoteric appar-
ently considers the E-03 deserving of
such protection. After spending a few
months listening to it, I agree.
True Dual-Mono Design: The
E-03’s satiny finish aluminum exterior,
rugged chassis, and overall fit’n’finish
will be familiar to owners of other Eso-
teric products. Those unfamiliar should
be impressed with both the handsome,
sculpted design (no screws in the top
plate) and the robust construction. The
chassis sits on the points of three coni-
cal feet of hardened steel.
On the rear panel are two sets of sin-
gle-ended, chassis-mounted RCA in-
puts: either can be used with a low-out-
put moving-coil cartridge, and one can
be used with MCs or moving-magnets.
On the front panel are three knobs:
The central one switches between In-
puts 1 and 2; the left and right knobs,
labeled Input 1 and Input 2, are used to
adjust each input’s settings. What could
be simpler? Well, one thing could be
more clear, at least: the tiny notch on
each knob that lets you know where
it’s actually set could be a bit bigger or
more clearly marked. That’s about the
only complaint I have.
With the Input 1 knob you can select
sensible MC loading values of 10, 50,
100, 300, 500, 1k, and 10k ohms. Input
2 offers fewer choices of MC loading
(100, 500, 1k, and 10k ohms) to make
room for three equally sensible choices
of capacitive loading: 0pF, 100pF, and
300pF. Choose your input, set your
resistive and/or capacitive load, and
you’re done. What could be easier?
Each Input knob also includes a
DeMag setting, and this, too, is easy
to use. Play any LP, select DeMag,
and wait 30 seconds, during which no
sound is output. Esoteric claims that
this system can demagnetize both the
MC cartridge’s iron core and that of a
step-up transformer connected to the
MM/MC input. However, the Eso-
teric’s built-in head amp is so quiet and
transparent that I’m not sure if even
diehard fans of step-up transformers,
like Art Dudley, would run one in MM
mode with the E-03.
Inside, the E-03 is a longitudinally
“dual split chassis” (sounds redundant
to me), which both stiffens the chassis
and keeps magnetic leakage from the
power transformer from making its
way to the larger of the two compart-
ments, which contains the dual-mono
circuit boards for the two channels’ sig-
nal paths. The resistive and capacitive
switching occurs close to the rear-panel
inputs, to keep the signal paths short.
It’s a neatly accomplished layout, and
the overall construction quality is high.
Boulder Amplifiers high? No. But
neither is $6500 a Boulder Amplifiers
price! There didn’t appear to be any es-
oteric parts (pun intended), but judging
by the sound, someone was listening as
the E-03’s parts were chosen.
The MM gain is specced at 44dB,
the MC gain at 66dB. With ultralow
noise specs of –137dB/V (MM) and
–140dB/V (MC), and comfortable
overload margins of 180mV (MM)
and 9mV (MC), presumably both at
1kHz, the E-03 should prove compat-
ible with all cartridges other than MCs
with outputs below 0.25mV—which is
close to the output of the Ortofon A90
(0.27mV at 1kHz, 5cm/s).
1
Remarkable Sound: As with the
Ortofon A90 cartridge, if you want
romance and soft highlights, look
elsewhere—that’s not what the Esoter-
1 I’ve been told by its designer that the limited edition
of the Ortofon A90 is just about sold out. I recently
heard a comparison of the A90 fresh out of the box
and two other highly regarded cartridges, each of
the latter costing far more. Though the system was
far grander than my own (though it, too, included a
Continuum Audio Labs Caliburn turntable), it con-
firmed what I wrote in my review of the A90 in the
November 2009 issue. This is an amazingly neutral,
revealing cartridge that, for worse or for much better,
tells you what’s on the record. I’ve heard from many
other A90 owners, who agree with what I heard and
what I wrote. It’s gratifying to have one’s opinion con-
firmed, of course, but even more so to make so many
readers happy to have bought a cartridge they might
not otherwise have considered because it’s made by
“too mainstream” a company. Only inept setup might
yield disappointment; the A90’s Replicant stylus has a
demanding geometry.
The rugged, well-built chassis of the Esoteric E-03 has a satiny aluminum finish.
ANALOG CORNE R
ic E-03 is about. But the E-03 should
satisfy the needs of most vinyl fanatics
in search of an honest ride, who want
an honest appraisal of what’s in the
grooves. It’s that good.
The accepted formula for cartridge
loading says the preamp’s input im-
pedance should be set to 10x cartridge
internal impedance, which means
that the starting point for the 4 ohm
Ortofon A90 would be around 40
ohms. I began at 50 ohms and ended
up at 100. Any higher and there was
a lack of overall control, some bright-
ness and edge, and a loss of solidity.
With the E-03’s easy-to-use Input 1
knob, I could simultaneously listen
and adjust.
Set correctly, the E-03 did so many
things well that it was difficult to fault,
unless you prefer tube warmth. Other-
wise, the E-03 produced backdrops of
a jet-blackness that only a few tubed
phono preamps can manage. Images
popped unrestrained from that black-
ness, solidly formed, with finely drawn
outlines. Instrumental attacks were fast
and clean, with pristine transients that
were neither edgy nor too hard. High
frequencies shimmered, free of grain
and glare, but so extended that if your
cartridge has a rising high end or has
been set up less than perfectly, you’ll
hear it. Don’t blame the E-03.
The midband was equally trans-
parent and cleanly rendered, though
some listeners might wish for—and
some systems might require—a fuller,
richer sound. The E-03’s midrange
wasn’t threadbare or receded, just not
as “fleshy” as some prefer.
However, the Esoteric’s supple, well-
extended, yet resolute bottom end
was what ultimately defined its excel-
lence. The best phono preamps have
what I’ve referred to before as bass
“stiction.” That is, bass notes don’t just
appear and decay, but seem to dig in
and hang around longer than expected,
though not so long that they confuse or
muddy the rhythmic intent. Each note
becomes an anchor—not just a gesture
that marks time, but an important mu-
sical event.
The first phono preamp I heard
that had this quality was the legend-
ary Peter Mares Connoisseur, which
seemed to slow down time itself. The
first time I heard it, I had to check my
turntable’s speed—I was certain it was
running slow, but it wasn’t. This effect
was caused by the Connoisseur’s ap-
Esoteric Division, TEAC America,
7733 Telegraph Road, Montebello,
CA 90640. Tel: (323) 726-0303.
Web: http://esoteric.teac.com.
ORB, JAI Ltd., 6-1 Minamibefu
Settu, Osaka, Japan. Tel: (81) (0)6-
6349-1858. Fax: (81) (0)6-6349-
7344. Web: www.orb-audio.jp. US
distributor: Twin Audio Video, Inc.,
P.O. Box 681, Loma Linda,
CA 92354. Tel: (909) 954-2175.
Fax: (909) 954-2176. Web: www.
twinaudiovideo.com. Tel: (951)
347-2732.
The Soundsmith, 8 John Walsh
Blvd., Suite 417, Peekskill, NY
10566. Tel: (800) 942-8009, (914)
739-2885. Fax: (914) 739-5204.
Web: www.sound-smith.com.
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ANALOG CORNE R
parent ability to slow time by
anchoring the bass lines with-
out muddying them.
The E-03 has some of that
ability. Not, as best I can re-
member, to the same degree
as the Mares Connoisseur, but
enough that—in combination
with its overall transparency,
clarity, high-frequency purity,
transient cleanness, and black
backgrounds—it produced an
overall sound picture that was
both compelling and unfor-
gettable.
The Esoteric E-03 has re-
mained in my system as a
reference against which I
measured a series of less ex-
pensive phono preamps for a
forthcoming survey. Return-
ing to the E-03 from any of the others
being evaluated consistently confirmed
the excellence of its sound. As well as
the Boulder Amplifiers 1008 measured
and as fine as it sounded, I could make
a case for the E-03 being a better match
for some systems. The E-03 may not
have had the 1008’s dynamic authority
or midband fullness, but its cleanness,
clarity, and transparency were endlessly
satisfying. The E-03 will sound right in
some systems in which the 1008 will
sound a bit thick.
I’ve just finished hosting the pilot
episode of Strictly Vinyl, a radio show
produced by Jim Luce: 60 minutes dur-
ing which only vinyl is played.
Obviously, I can’t schlep the
Continuum Caliburn into a
studio; instead, I transferred
about 50 minutes’ worth of
LPs to 24-bit/96kHz files us-
ing the Benchmark ADC-1
A/D converter and the Eso-
teric E-03. Listening to play-
back in the studio, I wasn’t
disappointed; the broadcast
engineer was more than im-
pressed by how good the files
sounded, and especially by
how quiet and dark the back-
grounds were. It certainly
didn’t sound like a CD!
One track I chose for the
show was “Green Shirt,” from
a fantastic new 180gm reissue
of Elvis Costello’s Armed Forces
(Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab MFSL
1-331). The 24/96 track, popped from
the studio monitors in exquisite three-
dimensional space with deep, forceful
bass. Costello’s voice hovered three-di-
mensionally well in front of the speak-
ers, and the entire picture was free of
artifacts—the vinyl variety or otherwise.
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www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 39
ANALOG CORNE R
The turntable wasn’t “there.”
Nor was the phono preamp.
Another track was Mi-
chael Praetorius’s “La Bourée
XXXII,
1
∕2", from a 1961 LP
by Fritz Neumeyer and Col-
legium Terpsichore titled
Dance Music of the High Renais-
sance (Deutsche Grammo-
phon Archiv ARC 73153)—
and believe me, when I first
started playing it in 1969, I
was in the middle of my own
high renaissance (rim shot). So I’ve
been playing this track filled with
sharp transients—including a glocken-
spiel, tambourine, small drums, and a
buzzy reed organ called a Knopfregal,
for more than 40 years now. It was
precisely and delicately rendered via
the E-03, yet the attacks were appro-
priately sharp-edged. Above all else, I
can’t stand soft attacks, which is why
I dismiss overly “tubey,” soft-sound-
ing phono preamps and cartridges.
Real music doesn’t sound like that.
(The Archiv album had been treated
with LAST, by the way. While the
reissue by Speakers Corner doesn’t
sound quite as fast and open as the
original, it’s plenty good, and recom-
mended.)
The Esoteric E-03 is beautifully
made, easy to look at, especially easy
to use, and its sound never failed to
satisfy during the months it was in
my system. Its wideband, uncolored
honesty may not appeal to some, but
it sure appealed to me.
Why Didn’t I Think of That?
Dept.: Soundsmith EZ-Mount
screws
Soundsmith’s new sets of knurled
screws, designed to fit most brands
of tapped cartridge, make their instal-
lation easy—or, at least, much easier.
Instead of tiny screw and nut drivers
or Allen keys, you simply turn the
knurled end with your fingers. This is
really helpful for “older folks.”
Each $29.95 set includes pairs of
10mm-long screws made of four
different materials: nylon (1.04gm),
aluminum (2.06gm), stainless steel
(5.80gm), and brass (6.24gm)—all
weights per pair of screws. This
means that, if you need to increase
your tonearm’s effective mass to bet-
ter match your cartridge’s compliance,
here is a really easy way to do it.
Also included are two nonmagnetic
stainless-steel nuts and four captive ny-
lon washers. The nuts can be used to re-
pair the screw threads should you need
to shorten the screws: First screw the
nuts on, then clip the screws. Then, by
unscrewing the nuts, you’ll repair
the threads at the screw’s newly
clipped end.
While this set is particularly
useful for reviewers who are
constantly changing cartridges,
it should also prove useful to
audiophiles who don’t enjoy
fumbling with Allen keys or tiny
screwdrivers. The EZ-Mounts
can be ordered directly from
Soundsmith at www.sound-
smith.com/screwset/index.html.
ORB accessories: look familiar?
I can’t say I understand too well the
culture of Japan, especially as it relates
to high-performance audio. The Air
Tight record flattener is a rebadged
Furutech? Why would one supply to
the other such a specialized product
intended for an equally specialized
market in a relatively small country?
Doesn’t make sense to me.
So I was astonished last March, at the
Stereophile-sponsored Axpona show in
Jacksonville, Florida, to find a line of fa-
miliar-looking Japanese-made products
badged with yet another name: ORB,
made by JAI Co. Ltd. What’s more,
unless I got the translation wrong,
ORB is apparently the source of simi-
lar products marketed by Furutech and
Air Tight, including a disc flattener, the
SFM-2 stylus-force gauge ($480), the
Sakura handheld static-discharge elimi-
nator ($299), and the CRE-2 Cartridge
Exciter ($399).
The Sakura appears to be a variant of
the Furutech SNH-2 destaticizer and
dust remover ($396), which I wrote
about in October 2007; the CRE-2
Cartridge Exciter looks identical to Air
Tight’s AT-LCE-1 Cartridge Enhancer
($360). Both can accelerate the break-
in of cartridges, but only wealthy and/
or incredibly impatient audiophiles—
and reviewers—will feel the need for
such devices.
The SFM-2 stylus-force gauge, while
pricey, is beautifully made, includes
built-in illumination, and is accurate, if
to only one decimal place. But a reso-
lution of 0.1gm resolution is enough—
you should be making your final adjust-
ment of stylus force by ear (within the
manufacturer’s recommended range,
please!).
These products are available directly
from www.twinaudiovideo.com.
Sharp DK-AP8P: a silly-good
portable iPod/iPhone dock
Attracting journalists to press events
From top: The Soundsmith’s EZ-Mount screw set;
phono accessories from Orb: the Sakura static
eliminator, CRE-2 Cartridge Exciter, and SFM-2
stylus-force gauge.
40 www.Stereophile.com, December 2010
ANALOG CORNE R
sometimes requires the promise of
swag (tchotchke in Yiddish). In the
good old boom days of the early
2000s, when HDTVs sold for $8000,
companies flush with cash would give
out such good swag as high-quality
headphones or electric nose-hair clip-
pers (Philips, of course), but as com-
moditization took its toll, the swell of
swag decreased to a ripple. So it was
surprising when, at a PR event, Sharp
gave away the DK-AP7N iPod dock,
a fit-in-the-hand, ridiculously good-
sounding little thing (with mini-plug
auxiliary input) that you can find on-
line for under $100. My wife liked it
so much she bought one for herself.
Her friends liked hers so much they
bought them for themselves.
Now Sharp has a new model, the
DK-AP8P, which is compatible with
the iPhone. (It’s been available in Eu-
rope for a while now, and has just been
released here, priced somewhat higher
than the earlier model.) Instead of the
DK-AP7N’s flip-down front panel, the
DK-AP8P’s panel is held in place with
a magnet; pull it off and it’s a remote
control.
And those controls are now more
versatile: The DK-AP8P can be used
for hands-free phone conversations,
and it even has a composite video out-
put. The earlier model’s remarkably
clean sound has been retained and the
built in “subwoofer” goes surprisingly
low.
I use the DK-AP8P with my
iPhone when I’m cleaning the garage,
or for casual listening away from my
listening room. As long as you don’t
expect high SPLs, this little thing will
perform far better than you might ex-
pect. ■■
1) Nat King Cole, After Midnight,
Capitol/Analogue Productions
180gm mono LP
2) Amanda Palmer, Performs the
Popular Hits of Radiohead
on Her Magical Ukulele, 8ft.
Records red-vinyl LP
3) The Merry-Go-Round, You’re a
Very Lovely Woman: Live, A&M/
Sundazed LP
4) Joe Henderson, Our Thing, Blue
Note/Music Matters 180gm
45rpm LPs (2)
5) Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah
Dogs, God Willin’ & The Creek
Don’t Rise, RCA 180gm LPs (2)
6) Bill Evans, At the Montreux Jazz
Festival, Verve/Speakers Corner
180gm LP
7) Taj Mahal, The Natch’l Blues,
Columbia/Pure Pleasure
180gm LP
8) Jenny and Johnny, I’m Having
Fun Now, Warner Bros. LP
9) Ariel Pink, Ariel Pink’s Haunted
Graffiti 3, Cooler Cat LPs (2)
10)Hans Zimmer & Lisa Gerrard,
Gladiator, original film sound-
track, Decca/UMG/ORG 180gm
45rpm LPs (2)
Visit www.musicangle.com for full
reviews.
I N HEAVY ROTATI ON
Sharp’s DK-AP8P iPod dock with
its magnetically attached front panel.
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A r t D u d l e y
Incandescence
www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 43
M
y house is 35 minutes
from the Arkell Mu-
seum of Canajoharie,
New York, home to
key works by Winslow
Homer, Andrew Wyeth,
Georgia O’Keeffe, John Singer Sargent,
and William Merritt Chase. The Arkell
also contains a favorite of mine:
The Rainbow, by the New York
State landscape artist George
Inness. In that 1878 painting,
one sees a few cows being
driven along a hillside path,
while a steepled village sleeps
in the background. The quality
of light that Inness captured or
created in The Rainbow is en-
chanting: It brings more depth,
complexity, and sheer autum-
nal longing to the scene than
one usually associates with pic-
tures of livestock.
My home is one minute
from Glensfoot Farm, employ-
er of a small crew of farmhands
and home to several dozen
nice-looking cattle. Glens-
foot Farm is itself one minute
from the center of Cherry Valley, where
at least one 19th-century church still
stands, steeple and all. My house has
two decks and six windows that afford
a grand view of all that.
I love the Arkell’s collection of
American art, and I love looking out
my window at the farm and the village
below. The two experiences persist in
having little to do with one another.
An artist, I suppose, is one of a few who
are blessed with the ability to change the
perspective of the many, if only for an in-
stant, in much the same way that a good
story compels us to consider the effects
of things that never happened. We need
only enter a space where a work of art
is on display and open our eyes: Inspira-
tion, enlightenment, and entertainment
are virtually guaranteed. Even if some
galleries and museums are better or
worse than others.
How to distinguish between good
spaces and bad? Comfort matters, as do
convenience and freedom from distrac-
tion. But, as I learned during the years
when I worked for the lamp designer
and industrialist Edison Price, who
was once described as having illumi-
nated more great art than anyone else
in modern times, it’s a simple matter
of good lighting. To fully appreciate a
work of art in the manner intended by
its creator does not require precisely the
same quality of light as shone on Inness’s
cows when he painted them in the first
place—that sort of nutty, quixotic liter-
alism seems limited to a subset of my
own profession—but rather that the light
simply be abundant, clear, and steady.
The zeros in the stream
When you play recorded music, you
have before you a work of art with al-
most no physical existence at all; recon-
stituting it requires electricity, which
will itself imitate the musical contin-
uum represented by the bumps in the
groove or the zeros in the datastream.
When you listen to recorded music,
you are listening to your household AC,
and better AC equals better playback.
That sounds obvious to me and you,
even as it sends the technocodgers into
paroxysms of puritanical indignation.
Goodness in AC is not unlike good-
ness in light: It must be abundant, clear,
and steady. Improving or at least main-
taining that quality is something that
can be accomplished in a variety of
ways. Strictures or gaps in power’s path
can be corrected with surer connections
and more consistent conductors. Filters
can be introduced, to prevent or correct
deviations in voltage or frequency. (The
metal-oxide varistor, or MOV, which
sacrifices itself by stepping into the path
of destructive voltage spikes, occupies
an interesting subset of the filter group;
the isolation transformer, wherein AC
on the primary conjures within
the secondary its identical twin,
albeit without distortive har-
monics—Brundle without The
Fly—has another subset virtu-
ally to itself.) Most extremely
of all, AC can be regenerated
altogether, on the spot.
As audio reviewers go,
I’ve remained less current
than most with products that
promise better AC, having
sampled relatively few such
things: PS Audio outlets made
a teensy improvement in my
system’s sound, but their lack
of mechanical durability dis-
appointed. Power cords from
JPS Labs have made startling
improvements—small improve-
ments, but startling in that
they should exist at all—especially their
expensive Aluminata line, although
their much cheaper Digital AC cords
remain a genuinely good value. A re-
cent test of Nordost’s decidedly holistic
approach to cabling (see “Listening,”
December 2009), including some of
their own exotic power cords, proved
rewarding.
The latest party at which I’ve shown
up late is that held by the storied Shun-
yata Research, whose gear was recom-
mended to me by two company reps
whom I consider good friends. Eventu-
ally, Shunyata’s Grant Samuelsen and I
spoke on the telephone, and I received
a loan of four Shunyata Black Mamba
CX Power Snake AC cords ($595 each),
a Hydra V-Ray eight-outlet power dis-
tributor ($4995), and a specially ter-
minated Black Mamba HC ($750), by
which the Hydra itself is connected to
the household current.
I followed Shunyata’s recommenda-
tion and began by replacing my stock
Shindo AC cords—one for the Mas-
seto preamplifier, one each for the two
George Inness, The Rainbow, 1878. Oil on canvas, 28¼” H x 38” W,
object; 35½” H x 44½” W, framed. Gift of Bartlett Arkell. Courtesy of
the Arkell Museum at Canajoharie.
Corton-Charlemagne mono amplifi-
ers
1
—with the Shunyatas. Each Black
Mamba Power Snake, which is among
the company’s least expensive power
cords, incorporates 140 individual
conductors, all drawn from CDA-101
copper. (According to the website of
one alloy vendor, CDA 101 copper is
prized for its resistance to embrittlement,
which sounds like a word that Spring-
field’s Mayor Quimby might have
invented.) Those conductors are said
to be wound in a patented counter-
rotating, RFI-canceling helix pattern.
Shun yata’s own SR-ZP plugs, precision
machined and cryogenically treated at
the factory, complete the picture.
When I powered the system back
up after installing all of this, it seemed
the Shunyatas were doing a number of
things I like—to a greater degree than I
associate with cables at all, let alone AC
cables. “Winterlong” and “Everybody
Knows This Is Nowhere,” from Neil
Young and Crazy Horse’s Live at the Fill-
more (LP, Reprise/Classic 44429-1), had
a better, larger sense of scale. Instruments
sounded more explosively dramatic, and
voices were similarly punchier: There
was more holler in the singing (I mean
that in a good way). Cecille Ousset
and Rudolf Barshai’s fine recording
of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto 3 (LP,
EMI ASD 1077851) gained in similar
ways, with an added sense of purpose:
Musical lines sounded surer and more
meaningful. I like that sort of thing.
Then, also in keeping with Shun-
yata’s recommendations, I added to
the system their Hydra V-Ray power
distributor. CDA-101 copper also
abounds in the Hydra, as do capaci-
tive filters and specially made MOVs
designed to sacrifice themselves only
in the event of severe, potentially
catastrophic spikes and irregularities.
There are also electromagnetic circuit
breakers, a dual-box chassis of alumi-
num alloy, and fully 7 lbs of copper
bus bar. Also featured are Shunyata’s
proprietary SR-Z1 AC outlets, manu-
factured for them by Hubbell.
2
Yet on first listen, the gains gained by
Computer by Apple, AC accessories by Shunyata,
faux-antique stepstool by the author.
P
H
O
T
O

A
R
T

D
U
D
L
E
Y
2 Grant Samuelsen also sent me a sample of Shunya-
ta’s SR-Z1 twin-socket AC outlet ($75), but I have yet
to find time to install it, for comparison with either my
stock household units or the PS Audio outlets I wrote
about some time ago. I intend nonetheless to try the
Shunyata outlet, and will report back by and by.
1 The AC cords of the two Thorens TD 124 turnta-
bles that I use in my main playback system, and those
of my Linn LP12 and Rega Planar 3 turntables, aren’t
easily replaced. And during the time when the Black
Mambas were here, my review sample of the Ayre
Acoustics QB-9 USB D/A converter was summoned
back to the factory for a firmware update.
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LI STE NI NG
the Black Mambas were gone, and then
some. The imaginary stage seemed wid-
er, but the center fill was absent. The
color, too—the area the crayon was sup-
posed to fill in—was gone, leaving only
outlines, albeit sonically sharp ones. In
the Prokofiev concerto, the fifths in the
bass strings and timpani that announce
the piano’s entrance were robbed of
substance and momentum. The Neil
Young album sounded scooped-out
in the way of so much modern sound:
plenty of bass and treble, not enough
flesh and blood in between. I was suf-
ficiently disappointed with the sound of
the V-Rayed system that I wondered if
either the Shunyata power distributor
had had insufficient running in, or if the
listener had had too much—for that day,
at least. I elected to stop for the time be-
ing, to relegate the V-Rayed system to
background duties for a few days, and to
listen more intently some other time.
Drifting too far from the shore
Later in the week I repeated all of the
above, with similar results: Wonderful
sound with stock AC cables. Even bet-
ter sound with Black Mamba Power
Snakes on the preamp and amps. En-
duringly and unambiguously less cen-
ter-fill focus, less color, and less sense of
solidity and substance with the Shunya-
ta power distributor in the system. The
Sibelius Violin Concerto, with violinist
Ruggiero Ricci, Øivin Fjeldstad, and
the London Symphony, in a typically
first-rate reissue by Speakers Corner
(LP, Decca SXL 2077), sounded bet-
ter without the V-Ray in virtually ev-
ery regard: Staccato eighth-notes in the
ensemble violins and violas in the first
movement had much more texture and
clearer attacks without the power dis-
tributor, while the clarinet had greater
presence and a more believable spatial
presence. Most of all, the many rubato
passages seemed better timed—less aim-
less and adrift, temporally, and much
more purposeful—without the V-Ray.
And in the 1958 David Oistrakh/
André Cluytens recording of the
Beethoven Violin Concerto with the
Philharmonia Orchestra (LP, a typical-
ly noisy late-’90s EMI Centenary reis-
sue, SAX 2315), the soloist’s “Conte de
Fontana” Stradivarius was richly tex-
tured when the preamp and amplifiers
were connected directly to the house-
hold AC outlet, but noticeably less so
with those same components plugged
into the Shunyata distributor.
Still, I listened on, returning once
again to that Prokofiev concerto: There
was no question that, with the Shunyata
Hydra V-Ray, piano chords were being
hit harder while remaining even clean-
er. And I dare say the system’s sense
of spatial focus improved with the AC
power distributor in-line: Oddly or not,
I merely had to move my listening seat
back a few inches in order to notice or
appreciate that change.
Then I noticed: With the Shun yata
AC distributor, digital music files (most-
ly AIFF with a scattering of WAVs,
streamed from iTunes on a recent iMac)
fared even worse than LPs. That led me
to try three more experiments:
First, I compared the performance of
my Thorens TD 124 turntables (these
days, one is relegated to stereo duty,
while the other one handles mono LPs
and 78s), plugged alternately straight
into the household current and into the
Shunyata Hydra V-Ray. In every case,
with every record I tried, my turntables
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www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 47
LI STE NI NG
sounded markedly better—more drive,
more momentum, more realistic tex-
tures—when their AC was conditioned
by the Shunyata: a true man-on-the-
street difference. (When I began mak-
ing those comparisons, it also seemed
that the 124s’ platters got up to speed
more quickly, with less need for speed
correction, with the Hydra V-Ray in
line. But while those distinctions were
never reversed, they weren’t consis-
tently present, leaving open the possi-
bility that motor temperature or other
factors were at play.) As a hobbyist with
years of experience with various acces-
sory power supplies for turntables with
AC motors, I suppose I shouldn’t have
been surprised.
Second, I tried something out of the
ordinary (for me, at least): I powered
my iMac with the Shunyata Hydra
V-Ray, to see if it could make even a
slight difference in the sound of music
files streamed from therein. I admit, I
so expected to hear no difference that I
almost wrote the rest of this paragraph
ahead of time. And I admit, not only
was there an audible improvement
with my computer plugged into the
Hydra V-Ray, that difference was just
as significant as the one wreaked on
my Thorenses, and quite possibly more
so. Singers had more body, instruments
more substance and texture—oddly
enough, the very qualities the Shunyata
power distributor seemed to withhold
from my electronics.
Third and finally—and back to LPs—I
compared the sound of my system with
no components plugged into the Hy-
dra V-Ray (the Shunyata Power Snakes
remained in place), and with either just
my preamp or just my power amps
drawing their AC from the Shunyata.
In a nutshell, I was hard-pressed to hear
any difference at all between having
my Shindo Masseto preamp plugged
into the household outlet and having
it plugged into the Shunyata. But my
Shindo Corton-Charlemagne mono-
blocks were another story—and there, I
knew, was the source of my disappoint-
ment: my amps didn’t in the least care
for the AC distributor.
I repeated the comparisons using an
alternate preamp (the Shindo Vosne-
Romanee, which I wrote about in the
October Stereophile) and an alternate
pair of monoblocks (the interesting
Shindo Lafon GM70s, which so far are
the least Shindo-sounding Shindo amps
I’ve heard), and heard the same results.
I don’t know the precise origin of the
discomfit, though it’s hard to imagine
that a product containing 7 lbs of cop-
per bar-stock alone could be somehow
limiting current draw.
3
Then, without a moment’s hesita-
tion, I powered down my iMac, moved
the Shunyata Hydra V-Ray back to the
other side of the room, and once again
used the latter to power the former.
Once again, my AIFFs sounded better
that way. And who among us wouldn’t
want his or her computer, and irre-
placeable photos and Word files, pro-
tected by such a thing?
Sailing home
That’s where I was going to leave this
story. But the same inner voice that
compels me to help red efts across our
driveway each fall, and that keeps me
from filling my pockets with those little
jars of marmalade when I have break-
fast in nice restaurants, chided me: By
neglecting to use a Black Mamba Pow-
er Snake on my iMac before hooking
up the Hydra V-Ray, I had confounded
the Shunyata’s very reasonable require-
ments. Then another voice joined the
debate, possibly the one that compels
me to play with the blood-pressure ap-
paratus and the illuminated magnifying
scope when I visit the doctor’s office.
This one argued that an iMac with an
enormous audiophile cable emerging
from its backside would look ridicu-
lous. Besides, the plug of the one surely
wouldn’t fit the socket of the other.
The only way to end the inner tur-
moil was to try it anyway. I powered
down the iMac again, removed its very
nice, pliant AC cord, and replaced it
with the Shunyata Black Mamba, the
plug of which fit perfectly after all. I sat
back down, booted up the system, and
actually made a little noise of surprise
when I saw my “wallpaper” picture: a
photo I took of my daughter some four
or five years ago, on a day when the
cows from Glensfoot Farm climbed
the hill, breached the fence, and be-
gan to fill our yard. The resolution and
contrast apparent in that image had in-
creased, unambiguously and without
doubt. I was mildly stunned.
I popped in a DVD, hoping for some
quick confirmation of either refine-
ment or delusion. (For reasons best left
unsaid, my visual acuity is not at its best
of late.) An hour later I realized that I
had just sat, mesmerized, through al-
most half of Tim Burton’s Big Fish.
Probably with my mouth agape.
At their most impressive, the audible
improvements wrought by Shunyata’s
AC products didn’t equal the degree
of improvement I associate with, say,
upgrading a major sound-system com-
ponent to a model unambiguously
better. But those improvements were
quite real—and I’m open to the sugges-
tion that their perceived benefits would
be greater, perhaps significantly so, in
a music system assembled with resolu-
tion of sonic detail more in mind. (As-
suming that Shunyata Research’s inter-
est was in determining their products’
effects on my sort of playback system,
which has been assembled with very
different values in mind, the answer is
a gentler if no less clear-cut yes.) And
I admit that, this morning, as I played
the AIFF of Nick Drake’s Five Leaves
Left while gazing over steepled fingers
at the lush fields outside my window, I
wondered if I could really bring myself
to send these Snakes back to Shunyata.
Notwithstanding their (presumably
uncommon) incompatibility with my
favorite amplifiers, I finally know what
all the fuss is about. ■■
IN EVERY CASE, WITH EVERY RECORD I TRIED,
MY TURNTABLES SOUNDED MARKEDLY
BETTER WHEN THEIR AC WAS CONDITIONED
BY THE SHUNYATA.
Shunyata Research, 26273 Twelve
Trees Lane, Suite D, Poulsbo, WA
98370. Tel: (360) 598-9935.
Fax: (360) 598-9936.
Web: www.shunyata.com.
CONTACTS
3 Certain builders of artisanal amplifiers have long
held that an amp’s sound can be influenced by the
quality of the electron flow pulled from ground, as
determined by the material used for that portion of
the thing’s chassis that functions as a central ground-
ing point. Thus we see solid-copper plates on portions
of some amp enclosures, silver on others, steel on yet
others, and so forth. Fanciful though such an idea will
surely sound to some, I can’t help wondering if that’s
at least an issue here.
Boul der, Col or ado ˆ www. ayr e. com ˆ 303. 442. 7300
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F I F T H E L E ME NT
J o h n Ma r k s
Puer natus est!
www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 49
O
f course, the Latinists
among my readers (all
three of them) already
know that the ancient Ro-
mans would have carved
this column’s title “PUER-
NATUSEST.” (Not that the Romans gave
a fig about that particular puer until
much later . . . ) All in capital letters,
because lower-case (ie, minuscule) let-
ters were not invented until scribes in
the Middle Ages wanted to write faster
by not having to lift their pens so of-
ten between strokes. Spaces between
words also came after Roman times.
Similarly, the exclamation mark was
not invented until the Middle Ages.
There is a theory that the exclama-
tion mark began as a calligraphic
representation of Io, the Latin word
for “joy.” The I is represented by the
vertical stroke, the o by the dot below
it. Whether that charming story is the
actual origin of ! is beside the . . . point.
This, after all, is the season for joy, and
for giving gifts. In due course I shall
recommend several excellent record-
ings, seasonal and otherwise; a demon
tweak that costs not a lot of money at
all; and a book—all of which will make
excellent gifts.
But first, the results of August’s
write-in competition, in which I asked
readers to send in their lists of the re-
cordings that strike their mystic chords
of memory.
Those Mystic Chords
The response was gratifyingly robust—
more than 150 entries. I chose 14: 12
official winners and two favorites of
my own. The official winners received
their choice of a single CD from Ste-
reophile’s online store, and I gave John
Marks Records CDs to my two picks.
The backstory of the latter is that I real-
ly loved an entry that violated the rules,
and it would not have been cricket to
give that entry a Stereophile prize. The
other pick wasn’t an entry at all, but
packed enough of a wallop that its au-
thor, too, gets a JMR CD. Scoot over
to www.stereophile.com/thefifthele
ment/the_fifth_element_61/ and read
them all. Thanks to everyone who en-
tered, and to John Atkinson for once
more tolerating my enthusiasms.
In reading the entries that most im-
pressed me, I was most moved by their
self-revelatory quality. I came to the con-
clusion that while my own original picks,
which ranged from Linda Ronstadt to
Frederick Delius, indeed were and re-
main strongly evocative for me, they do
not plumb the depths touched by the
choices of some other entries. So, cast-
ing inhibitions to the four winds, I take
advantage of the fact that this space is
mine to fill and dig a whole lot deeper—
scary deep, to give you some additional
mystic-chords-of-memory recordings to
remember, ponder, or learn from.
1) Tom Rush: “Biloxi,” by Jesse Win-
chester, from Wrong End of the Rainbow—
or “Wild Horses,” from the Rolling
Stones’ Sticky Fingers
First real love: pure, chaste, trembling.
Lying on the porch swing with her head
on my chest, I was in heaven. She had a
KLH compact stereo she’d bought with
her earnings from shelving books in the
public library. We kept the porch door
open so we could hear the music.
2) Ella Fitzgerald: “Easy to Love,”
from The Cole Porter Songbook, Volume
Two—or Villa-Lobos: Aria, from Bachi-
anas Brasileiras No.5, with mezzo Salli
Terri and guitarist Laurindo Almeida,
on Duets with Spanish Guitar
Disillusioned, kinda make-do,
“adult” love. The other kind is better.
But there was a stereo here, too—even
though the best music was on mono
LPs, such as the above. I put a long
cable on one speaker and moved it into
the bedroom.
3) Wham!: “Careless Whisper,” from
Make It Big—or Michael Franks: “In the
Eye of the Storm,” from Sleeping Gypsy
When married love jumps the rails
and ends up in the hands of lawyers.
4) Jackson Browne: “Fountain of Sor-
row,” from Late for the Sky—or Morten
Lauridsen, “Contre Qui, Rose,” from
Les Chansons des Roses
Staying up too late, drinking port,
trying to make sense of it all.
5) Christy Moore: “So Do I,” from
This Is the Day—or David Gray: “This
Years Love,” from White Ladder
Feeling 19 years old again—for a
while, at least. It was nice while it last-
ed. Hope springs eternal, I guess.
And if that is all a bit too heavy for
you, what follows came in right on
deadline, from my friend Jeff Mitchell,
who is my listening companion Bob
Saglio’s partner in their custom-instal-
lation and home-integration business.
Five songs I’ve listened to with
John Marks
1) Kaaren Erickson singing Richard
Strauss’s “Morgen,” at the Consumer
Electronics Show, perhaps 1999 or
2000, on a $19,000 pair of Audio Note
bookshelf loudspeakers modeled after
the Snell E/III, driven by the Audio
Note tube integrated amplifier, which
then cost about $69,000. The thing
I love about hi-fi is the rare moment
of magic. Pushing electricity through
valves and wires, into a loudspeaker
that can tease sound out of the air, and
voices, and music. Ms. Erickson was
there, with us, in the room that day. A
more special musical and audio experi-
ence I cannot remember.
2) Guy Klucevsek playing “Eleven
Large Lobsters Loose in the Lobby”
through Shahinian Compasses—one of
the easiest loudspeakers in the world to
live with. Made an amazingly inexpen-
sive debut. They sound great on nearly
every piece of music one can play. The
design is unique but not terribly fussy.
Showed off the accordion stylings of Mr.
Klucevsek with an authoritative “pop.”
3) One of Beethoven’s Bagatelles
through ASA Pro Monitors. I had the
chance, with John, to spend some time
THE RESPONSE TO THE “MYSTIC CHORDS OF
MEMORY” COMPETITION WAS GRATIFYINGLY
ROBUST—MORE THAN 150 ENTRIES.
F I F TH E LE ME NT
talking with Phillippe Bernard, the
designer of this extraordinary loud-
speaker. It’s a tough act to follow, this
ASA, and an example of what I re-
ally enjoy about speakers. The com-
ponents of a loudspeaker are really
imperfect—very bad, actually—at what
they do, and the parts of an ASA are no
different. The design is rather generic,
two-way, vented six-and-one-half, the
cabinet is wood, and regular stuff too—
no cryogenically treated Mpingo here.
And yet, putting these together, a little
bit of this and that, the sum of these
is a rather amazing loudspeaker. Just
sounds right, just right. Bravo.
4) Extreme’s “More than Words”
through Wilson Benesch Act Ones.
Why, might you ask, am I listening to
this stuff. This band is just awful. I did,
I recall, say that very thing at the time—
until, that is, the presentation over-
came me with sound so good, so fine,
so precious that it distracted me from
the shortcomings of the music. From
a loudspeaker that might be the antith-
esis of the ASA, a carbon-fiber–tech-
nology goddess. We listened to better
stuff (Ella singing Cole Porter) later, all
of it breathtaking, clean, and effortless.
The only speaker in the group I’d bring
home. It hit all the important buttons:
toy, tech, joy, beauty, done.
5) Okay. I don’t remember 5.
Puer natus est, indeed!
You may recall my previous advocacy
of the newish British vocal group Stile
Antico, a rising star in the firmament of
international label Harmonia Mundi,
which remains one of the most stead-
fast supporters of the SACD format.
Stile Antico’s newest is a Christmas-
themed recording, not surprisingly
titled Puer natus est, or “A boy is born”
(Harmonia Mundi HMU807517).
Don’t let the Christmas theme scare
you off. This is just great Tudor-period
vocal music in great performances and
excellent sound, with nothing recogniz-
ably “Christmasy” about it to modern
ears. The album is organized around
Thomas Tallis’s (of Vaughan Williams’
Fantasia on a Theme of fame) incomplete
but substantial Mass à 7, Puer natus est
nobis. However, rather than set out the
unfinished Tallis Mass as is, Stile Antico
has interleaved its parts with Advent
and Christmas music from Tallis con-
temporaries John Taverner, William
Byrd, Robert White, and John Shep-
pard, and fit in the plainchant from
which Tallis drew inspiration. I had my
reservations, but it really works.
As far as the performances go, unac-
companied early-music singing doesn’t
get much better than this. I don’t mean
to damn this release with faint praise,
but this music, like almost all Tudor
church music, is very easy to listen to;
any drama that there is is restrained, to
give an overwhelming impression of
F I F TH E LE ME NT
simple, pure vocal beauty. So while the
program rewards close listening, it is
also very congenial background music
for social gatherings, and classy as all
get-out. And the sound is, again, first-
rate, recorded in DSD by Brad Michel
at All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak,
London. As per the usual HM stan-
dard, there are beautiful packaging,
complete texts and translations, and
very informative notes by a member
of the group—the way it all should be
done. Sound bites available at http://
media.hmusa.com/listeningparty/
stileantico/.
I continue to think that Stile Antico’s
first effort, Music for Compline (SACD,
HMU 807419), which I praised in
my December 2007 column, is a bet-
ter overall introduction to the group.
But if you already have that, you can’t
go wrong with this. And as I have also
said before, if you care about the future
of the SACD format, now is the time
to vote with your wallet. Buy one for
yourself, and a few as gifts.
More Great Lauridsen
Morten Lauridsen got in touch to let
me know that a new professional vo-
cal ensemble in Hartford, Connecticut,
had self-produced a CD of his music,
accompanied and a cappella. The CD is
called Sure On This Shining Night, by the
ensemble Voce and the Voce Chamber
Artists (www.voceinc.org).
In due course the CD arrived. I was
tickled to see that the liner notes in-
cluded a quote from one of my Stereo-
phile writings about Lauridsen’s chan-
son “Contre Qui, Rose,” a strong and
perhaps absolute favorite of mine. I
found Voce’s first effort to be very trea-
surable. The recorded acoustic is a bit
swimmy, but with music as numinous
as Lauridsen’s, you don’t want razor-
sharp definition anyway.
To make it easier to compare versions
of “Contre Qui, Rose,” I compiled on a
CD-R the original Los Angeles Master
Chorale version, the phenomenal re-
cording by Polyphony on Hyperion, the
Elora Festival Singers on Naxos, and the
new effort from Voce. I found that the
Los Angeles effort has well stood the test
of time, but that the Polyphony is, over-
all, superior. I was pleasantly surprised
by how the large acoustical space and the
tender, even slightly reticent singing by
Voce worked so well together to create a
very special atmosphere: an atmosphere
of regret recollected late at night.
However, I noticed something else.
The Elora group on Naxos is good,
but in this particular piece I found my-
self playing air violin in an effort to, I
don’t know, rouse them a bit. And I
wondered why I was playing air violin
rather than wielding an air baton.
It hit me like a ton of bricks: “Contre
Qui, Rose” is actually a string-quartet
encore piece masquerading as a choral
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F I F TH E LE ME NT
piece. At the end of the day, there’s
not much difference between sopra-
no-alto-tenor-bass and violin I–vio-
lin II–viola–cello. And the work’s
melismatic flow and incipient sad-
ness just called out—at least to me—
for soulful string playing.
After writing a hasty note to my-
self, I resumed listening, and the next
morning did a quick Internet search.
While there is an arrangement for
brass ensemble of “Contre Qui,
Rose”—as well as for Lauridsen’s O
Magnum Mysterium—zip, zero, nada
on the “Contre Qui, Rose” string-
quartet front.
So I sent Lauridsen an e-mail
that began “Stop me if you’ve heard
this one . . .” His reply was not long
in coming, and I swear I heard, from
more than 3000 miles away, the sound
of palm impacting on forehead. To say
the least, he liked the idea, and despite
being on his summer vacation, began
work on it right away.
In a few weeks, Morten sent me a .pdf
of the score in its then stage of typeset-
ting. I was shocked and humbled to see
that he had dedicated the new work to
. . . me. So as far as I am concerned, I
have already received a great and rare
Christmas present. The final score,
edited by Nathaniel Rosen and with a
word to the players from me, should be
available soon. JA and I plan to cooper-
ate in recording the piece. Exactly what
we will do with the result remains to be
seen, but it should be great fun.
Back to our friends in Hartford. The
program on Voce’s Sure On This Shining
Night is unusually diverse, combining
all four of the Nocturnes (with Laurid-
sen himself at the piano) with excerpts
from Cuatro Canciones, Madrigali, A Winter
Come, Lux Aeterna, and Les Chansons des
Roses, and various individual works. Four
of the recordings are premieres, and the
“Chanson Éloignée” alone is worth the
price of admission. It’s heartbreakingly
beautiful. If you care about Lauridsen’s
music, just buy it.
Ultimately, I come out on a bit of
a strange place with this new CD. I
could nitpick this or that, but strangely
enough, although I’m in awe of Po-
lyphony’s technical perfection, I find
that Voce’s comparative lack of same
lends an organicity, even an incantatory
quality, to the music. Lauridsen’s mu-
sic is not about technique anyway, but
about soulfulness. My guess is, you will
either get Voce’s approach or not.
The Los Angeles Master Chorale’s
Lux Æterna (CD, RCM 19705), com-
bining the orchestral version of the title
work with the complete Les Chansons
des Roses and O Magnum Mysterium, re-
mains for me the best one-disc intro-
duction to Lauridsen’s art. But if you
already have that, I think Voce’s Sure On
This Shining Night is the best one-disc
introduction to the rest of his canon.
Voce’s mission is to use their concerts
to partner in fundraising with worthy
causes; a portion of the net proceeds
from sales of Sure On This Shining Night
has been earmarked for Hartford’s
Habitat for Humanity. Please take this
as a little nudge to do a nice holiday
thing: go to www.voceinc.org, buy the
CD directly from them, and perhaps
use the PayPal Donate button on the
website to give a little extra.
This is the day
I recently had the peak experience of
helping Wilson Audio Specialties’ Pe-
ter McGrath set up and dial in a pair of
Wilson Audio Alexandria II loudspeak-
ers ($158,000/pair). The seven crates
containing all the modular components
for a pair weigh a total of 2250 lbs, and
Wilson Audio has thought through just
about everything. The only moment
of anxiety was when, during my pro-
cess of uncrating and laying out and
un-shrink-wrapping all the various bits
and pieces before McGrath arrived, I
failed to notice that a step in the assem-
bly manual had already been done for
me by the factory, and so kept looking
for certain machine bolts in the parts
box that were already holding down
something on the bass modules. (I con-
fess I was a bit tired.) A quick phone
call straightened that out.
The Alexandria’s innards are as zu
ordern as one finds in an expensive Ger-
man film camera, and the high-gloss
automotive finish is applied even to
areas that will not be seen once the
modules are bolted together. Prac-
tical, real-world-friendly touches
abound, such as the bass modules’
having casters already installed—they
just roll out of their shipping crates,
and the fully assembled speakers can
be easily moved around. The parts
kit includes a motorcycle-engine
jack, so the speakers can be lifted and
the casters changed out for spikes,
once the final speaker positions have
been determined.
I was surprised that, when Peter
McGrath was ready to do the fine
work of shifting the speakers closer
and farther back in half-inch incre-
ments, the only test track he used
was one from a singer-songwriter CD
(although this singer-songwriter did
not write this particular song) by an
Irish chap I had at least heard of, Chris-
ty Moore.
I was taken (or taken in) by the title
track of Moore’s This Is the Day (Co-
lumbia Sony Music 5-3225.2), “So Do
I.” The first line is “This is the day the
fisherman likes, and so do I.” A girl in a
muslin dress is also somehow involved.
It’s not a technically fabulous record-
ing, but a very nice and natural one, and
it sounds very analog. If you’re going to
hear the same track for hours on end
while nudging this way and that,
1
∕4" at
a time, speakers that weigh about 750
lbs each, it had better sound like analog.
What McGrath was listening for was
undue emphasis in the upper bass and
chestiness in the lower midrange.
The good news is that “So Do I” is a
really wonderful, evocative track. The
bad news is that the rest of the CD is
mostly dross. Bleeding-pony-tail, hard-
left political propaganda. Moore must
be the last person on the planet who
thinks of Fidel Castro as a humanitar-
ian. I wonder if Moore knows how
Castro’s regime treated and treats ho-
mosexuals? Prison and torture, mostly.
(Improper Conduct, a documentary about
the Cuban concentration camps—yes,
concentration camps—for gays, won the
Best Documentary Audience Award at
the 1984 San Francisco International
Lesbian and Gay Film Festival.) So: I
report, you decide. Is it worth it pay-
ing a premium price for an out-of-print
CD with only one worthwhile track on
it? Your choice.
Oh yes. The Alexandrias were pretty
impressive. And addictive.
1
1 We will be publishing a feature on this system in the
January issue.—Ed.
54 www.Stereophile.com, December 2010
F I F TH E LE ME NT
Irrational, But Efficacious!
Now is as good a time as any to report
my total bafflement at Ayre Acoustics’
Irrational, But Efficacious! System Enhance-
ment Disc, Version 1.2, available from
vendors such as Music Direct for about
$20 plus shipping.
I played “So Do I” on the system I
will report on next time, Vivid Audio’s
B-1 loudspeakers ($15,000/pair and
fabulous!) driven by Ayre’s entry-level
AX-7 integrated amplifier and CX-7
CD player. I then played the Ayre disc’s
one-minute “Short Glide Tone,” then
played “So Do I” again. I have not had
a good night’s sleep since.
I am flabbergasted. I heard a lower
noise floor. Things were quieter and
smoother: less metallic/electronicky,
with better microdynamics, and just
overall more listenable. I had a greater
sense of the flexion of the pick in the
attacks on guitar strings, if that makes
sense. I am aware that Art Dudley’s reac-
tion in July 2009 (see www.stereophile.
com/reference/book_review_iget_bet
ter_soundi) was 180° apart from mine.
But at least he heard something.
Everyone I have played this demo
for has been floored, and three have
since bought the CD. JA is coming at
the end of the week to measure the
Vivid B-1s in-room. I will do the demo
for him, and he will, I’m sure, let you
know about it. My advice: Buy Ayre’s
Irrational, But Efficacious! from a vendor
who will provide a money-back guar-
antee even after you’ve opened it, and
try it out. (Music Direct will accept re-
turns, they tell me.)
More Great CDs
First is a CD from French vocal group
Accentus, whose vocal transcriptions
include their wild adaptation of the
Adagietto from Mahler’s Symphony 5
that I raved about in June 2009 (2 CDs,
Naïve V 5151). This disc combines
their performance of the rediscovered
1893 original version of Fauré’s Requi-
em with a knockout performance of his
Cantique de Jean Racine (Naïve V 5137).
To hear Fauré’s familiar Requiem in its
original conception is like going from a
1950s massed-forces Messiah to a his-
torically informed performance. That
the singers are presumably all native
speakers of French can only help, and
the lovely Cantique, accompanied by
full orchestra, is a wonderful program-
closer. Still, the best performance I ever
heard live (the all-male King’s College
Choir) was with organ accompaniment
only (a CD of this version is available as
DG Panorama 469 268-2).
And now for something completely
different. A Holy Grail of the Messi-
aen discography has been newly rere-
corded: Fête des Belles Eaux, for Ondes
Martenot sextet (CD, ATMAClassique
ACD2 2621). The Ondes Martenot, an
early analog tube synthesizer of sorts, is
most famously still heard in Messiaen’s
Turangalîla-Symphonie. Like all such early
electronic instruments, it can play only
one note at a time, so a sextet is required
to play chords. Again, you will “get”
it or you won’t. A wonderful bonus is
an authorized transcription of the first
movement of Ravel’s String Quartet for
Ondes Martenot sextet. Check out the
informative video at www.arkivmusic.
com/albumpage/207464-E708-5.
Vinyl Cheesecake
Finally, a book for those more hor-
monally than culturally oriented,
perhaps. Vixens of Vinyl: The Alluring
Ladies of Vintage Album Covers is Ben-
jamin Darling’s tribute to said ladies
(Chronicle Books, 2001; hardcover,
$14.95). It’s good, mostly clean fun—a
little naughty, but not porn-like, like
some other such efforts. The list price
is reasonable, and though it’s now out
of print, many copies are offered at re-
duced prices on eBay, Amazon.com,
and Alibris.com. For the LP collector
on your gift list.
Comments: stletters@sorc.com ■■
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powerful...
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- John Atkinson, Stereophile .
The JosephAudio Pulsar
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reproducing (near) full-range bass,
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M o d u l a r
D e s i g n
C o n s t r u c t i o n
ince 1992, Stereophile
has named a few choice
components as its
“Products of the Year.”
In doing so, we happily
recognize those prod-
ucts that are capable
of providing musical
pleasure far beyond our
formal review period. If one of our
reviewers raved in Stereophile about a
component, that component is men-
tioned here. These are products that
not only define the current audio
landscape, but that we hope will some-
day be seen as classics—products to be
handed down to future generations of
audiophiles and music lovers.
Traditionally, we have awarded com-
ponents in five primary categories:
“Loudspeakers” (including subwoofers),
“Amplification Components” (preampli-
fiers, power amplifiers, and integrateds),
“Digital Sources” (transports, processors,
music servers, disc players), “Analog
Sources” (phono cartridges, turntables,
tonearms, FM tuners, etc.), and “Acces-
sories” (all those little extras that keep
us busy and satisfied). This year, we
add two new categories: “Computer
Audio Components” and “Headphone
Components.” The vast worlds of com-
puter audio and headphone listening are
proving so exciting and alive that we felt
they deserved the attention. Finally, the
two most important categories are self-
explanatory: Our overall “Product of the
Year” is the one that made the biggest
splash of all, and our “Budget Com-
ponent of the Year” leaves us with the
most cash to spend on new records.
The voting is simple: Each of Ste-
reophile’s hardware reviewers is asked
to nominate up to six components in
each of the nine categories. To be a
contender, a product had to have been
reviewed in one of the 12 issues of Ste-
reophile from November 2009 through
October 2010, in a full Equipment Re-
port, in a Follow-Up review, or in one
of the regular columns by Art Dudley,
Michael Fremer, John Marks, Kalman
Rubinson, and Sam Tellig. That way,
only those components could be nomi-
nated for which a writer had put his
opinion in print for public scrutiny. We
then put together a ballot form listing
all components nominated by three or
more writers and/or editors. This pro-
cess ensures that most of the nominees
in most of the categories will have been
auditioned by most of the reviewers.
Fourteen of the magazine’s editors and
reviewers gave three votes for his first
choice in each category, two votes for
his second choice, and one vote for his
third choice (if any). As the votes came
in, an unambiguous picture emerged
and the winners became clear. JA tallied
the votes; address your love letters and
hate mail to him. (See JA’s comments on
how the voting process works at www.
stereophile.com/asweseeit/1207awsi.)
The prices listed were current as of
the end of September 2010. To order
back issues cited in this article, call (888)
237-0955, or visit www.stereophile.com
(MasterCard and Visa only). “WWW”
indicates that the review is available free
of charge in our online Archives.
And the winners are . . .
www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 57
STEREOPHILE PICKS THE INDUSTRY’S
BEST PRODUCTS OF 2010
BY STEPHEN MEJIAS
www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 59
2010 RUNNERS-UP
(in alphabetical order)
❚ Acapella High Violoncello II
($80,000/pair; reviewed by John Atkinson,
Vol.33 Nos. 9 & 10 WWW)
❚ Aerial Acoustics Model 20T V2
($32,000/pair; reviewed by John Atkinson,
Vol.32 No.11 WWW)
❚ Audio Fathom f112 subwoofer
($6000; reviewed by Larry Greenhill,
Vol.33 No.4 WWW)
❚ DeVore Fidelity Gibbon 3XL
($3700/pair; reviewed by Sam Tellig,
Vol.33 No.6)
❚ Dynaudio Excite X12
($1200/pair; reviewed by Robert J. Reina,
Vol.33 No.3 WWW)
❚ Harbeth P3ESR
($1995/pair; reviewed by John Atkinson
& John Marks, Vol.33 Nos. 8 & 10 WWW)
❚ Vandersteen Model Seven
($45,000/pair; reviewed by Michael Fremer,
Vol.33 No.3 WWW)
❚ Verity Audio Leonore
($15,995/pair; reviewed by Sam Tellig,
Vol.32 No.12)
❚ Vienna Acoustics Klimt The Kiss
($15,000/pair; reviewed by Wes Phillips,
Vol.33 No.2 WWW)
❚ Vivid G1Giya
($65,000/pair; reviewed by Wes Phillips,
Vol.33 No.7 WWW)
W
ilson Audio Specialties has
done it again. Last year’s race
for the “Loudspeaker of the
Year” award was fiercely contested, with
Wilson’s MAXX Series 3 barely edg-
ing out the mighty YG Acoustics Anat
Reference. This year, Wilson’s Sasha
W/P found strong competition from an
extraordinary loudspeaker in the Vivid
G1Giya. Wes Phillips, who has spent
quality time with both speakers, feels
that the G1Giya may be the greatest
thing he’s ever heard, yet also feels that
the Sasha is not only the finest iteration
of the WATT/Puppy system, but per-
haps Wilson’s most balanced-sounding
overall design. By the time all votes were
in, however, a clear winner had emerged:
The Wilson soared to the top of our
competition with more overall votes (19!)
than any other contender in any of our
component categories. But this should
come as no great surprise. After all, as a
direct descendent of the WATT/Puppy
8—Loudspeaker of the Year for 2007—the
Sasha has an uncommonly fine pedigree,
and represents the ninth level of refine-
ment in Wilson’s renowned WATT/
Puppy loudspeaker system.
Watt’s new about this puppy? (Haw.)
Well, though outwardly similar to the
WATT/Puppy Series 8, the Sasha
is very slightly larger overall, for in-
creased bass extension and freedom
from upper-bass congestion; and while
the cabinet is still made of Wilson’s pro-
prietary phenolic-based laminates, the
front baffle has been refined to better
suit the resonant characteristics of the
higher-frequency drivers. Additionally,
all four drivers in the three-way Sasha
are designs exclusive to Wilson that
have been either upgraded from the
Sasha’s predecessor or brought in from
more expensive Wilson models.
While the Sasha provided all the clar-
ity and resolving power we’ve come to
expect from a Wilson design, it was the
speaker’s unambiguous and uncanny
sense of humanness that Art Dudley
most appreciated. Measurements-wise,
the Sasha finally eliminates the upper-
bass “blump” endemic to earlier genera-
tions of the WATT/Puppy, considered
by many to be that speaker’s Achilles’
heel. As a result, designer David Wilson
has created a loudspeaker that not only
sounds clear, authoritative, and convinc-
ing, but one that’s capable of reproducing
the texture, color, and emotion of music.
Wilson Audio Specialties Sasha W/P
($26,900/pair; reviewed by Art Dudley, Vol.33 No.7, July 2010 WWW)
2010 PRODUCTS OF THE YEAR
LOUDSPEAKER
www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 61
2010 RUNNERS-UP
(in alphabetical order)
❚ Lyra Delos phono cartridge
($1500; reviewed by Michael Fremer,
Vol.33 No.8)
❚ Miyajima Shilabe MC phono cartridge
($2800; reviewed by Michael Fremer,
Vol.33 No.10)
❚ Oracle Delphi Mk.VI turntable
($13,300, as reviewed; reviewed by
Michael Fremer, Vol.33 No.3)
❚ Ortofon MC A90 phono cartridge
($4200; reviewed by Michael Fremer,
Vol.32 No.11)
❚ Pro-Ject Debut III turntable
($369–$399; reviewed by Robert J. Reina,
Vol.33 No.2 WWW)
❚ Soundsmith “The Voice” phono
cartridge ($1899.95; reviewed by
Michael Fremer, Vol.32 No.11)
2010 PRODUCTS OF THE YEAR
JOINT ANALOG SOURCE COMPONENTS
W
ith 12 overall votes apiece,
our Analog Source winners
are the Bauer Audio dps and
the Spiral Groove SG2 turntables—two
happy marriages of science and art, each
representing the product of one man’s
special vision. I’ve heard both of these
turntables, and couldn’t have imagined
a better outcome to our competition.
In Willi Bauer’s handsome dps, an
aluminum plinth houses three shallow
PVC cups, filled with elastomer but-
tons, that act as supporting springs for
the rest of the turntable. The body of
the plinth is a laminate of six separate
sheets: two layers of lossy damping
material sandwiched by three sheets of
Baltic birch plywood and topped with a
layer of cork. Bauer prevents the stor-
age of mechanical energy by combining
a resistive bearing with a high-torque
AC synchronous motor powered by
a three-phase power supply custom-
made by Ayre Acoustics. The result was
unsurpassed pitch stability and revelatory
soundstaging abilities. “A striking, inno-
vative success,” said Art Dudley.
Allen Perkins’s Spiral Groove SG2
represents an evolution of design and
production capabilities from his RPM
turntables. Though similar in appear-
ance to the RPMs, the Spiral Groove
uses a five-layer chassis—two thin layers
of damping material separated by three
aluminum plates—and a thick, anti-
vibration platter comprising layers of
aluminum, an impregnated phenolic,
vinyl, and graphite. Additionally, the
bearing assembly has been optimized
to eliminate radial movement and pre-
vent stray magnetic fields from inter-
acting with the cartridge. The SG2’s
dramatic timing, authoritative mid-
range, and superb resolution of detail
worked to present music with a stun-
ning sense of urgency, felt Brian Dam-
kroger. Through the SG2, a recording
“became a performance,” he raved.
Honorable mentions should be given
to the Oracle Delphi Mk.VI, which re-
ceived more first-place votes than any
other contender in the category, and to
the budget-priced Pro-Ject Debut III,
which received two first-place votes.
Bauer Audio dps turntable
($9250; reviewed by Art Dudley, Vol.33 No.4 WWW)
Spiral Groove SG2 turntable with Centroid tonearm
($15,000; reviewed by Brian Damkroger, Vol.33 No.6 WWW)
Top: Bauer Audio dps turntable
Bottom: Spiral Groove SG2 turntable
www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 63
2010 RUNNERS-UP
(in alphabetical order)
❚ Benchmark DAC1 HDR USB D/A
preamplifier ($1895; reviewed by
Erick Lichte, Vol.33 No.9 WWW)
❚ Bryston BDA-1 D/A processor
($3150; reviewed by Larry Greenhill,
Vol.33 No.2 WWW)
❚ HRT Music Streamer+ USB D/A
processor ($299; reviewed by Art Dudley,
Vol.32 No.11 WWW)
❚ Musical Fidelity V-DAC D/A processor
($299; reviewed by John Atkinson & Jon
Iverson, Vol.32 No.12 & Vol.33 No.6 WWW)
❚ Oppo BDP-83SE Blu-ray player
($899; reviewed by Kal Rubinson &
John Marks, Vol.33 Nos. 3 & 6 WWW)
❚ Playback Designs MPS-5 Reference
SACD player ($15,000; reviewed by
Michael Fremer, Vol.33 Nos. 2 & 7 WWW)
❚ Sony SCD-XA5400ES SACD player
($1500; reviewed by Kal Rubinson,
Vol.32 No.12 WWW)
❚ Stello U2 USB-S/PDIF converter
($350; reviewed by John Atkinson,
Vol.33 No.5 WWW)
2010 PRODUCTS OF THE YEAR
DIGITAL COMPONENT
W
e all know
what dCS
brings to the
digital game: Seemingly
boundless innovation
and ingenuity, an obvi-
ous commitment to
excellence, and an un-
flagging desire to advance the state of the
art. It’s almost unfair; dCS seems to play in
a league of its own, and the well-respected
company has succeeded again with the
Puccini. Garnering more first-place votes
(five!) than any other product in any of this
year’s component categories, the Puccini
distinguished itself from this strong group
of contenders.
The least-expensive model in the
new dCS line, the Puccini is a one-box
SACD/CD player with both balanced
and unbalanced analog outputs; it has
pairs of digital inputs and outputs, and
can be partnered with the external Puc-
cini U-Clock ($4999), which offers
24-bit/96kHz support and adds a USB
input. Examples of state-of-the-art tech-
nology abound: The Puccini employs
dCS’s Ring DAC and the bombproof
Esoteric UMK5 transport mechanism,
while the U-Clock’s USB port uses a
Texas Instruments TAS 1020B USB re-
ceiver chip operating in asynchronous
mode. With its convincing low fre-
quencies, outstanding midrange clarity,
confident musical flow, and immaculate
measured performance, the Puccini pro-
duced a sound that allowed John Atkin-
son to almost forget he was listening to
recordings. (Almost?! Man, JA is a tough
audience.) Congrats, dCS!
I
guess we can blame the current head-
phone rage on the Apple iPod—if you’ve
got an iPod, you’ve got headphones,
and who, other than Sam Tellig, doesn’t
have an iPod? But let’s face it: Headphones
have become as much a fashion necessity
as Levi’s or Chuck Taylors. They’re ubiq-
uitous. And this is a good thing. Have you
seen all the kids rocking their headphones?
Pink headphones, blue headphones, ze-
bra-striped headphones, headphones with
skulls on them, bedazzled headphones,
itsy-bitsy headphones, gargantuan, old-
school headphones. And celebrities, too:
At this very moment, every hip-hop artist
in the world is talking to an agent, discuss-
ing a product-placement strategy involv-
ing their favorite brand of headphones.
Dr. Dre’s got ’phones, Lady Gaga’s got
’phones, P. Diddy’s got ’phones.
Yes, headphones are pretty cool. The
kids are having fun, and we can expect
some of them to turn their attention
to higher-quality sound reproduction.
Meanwhile, for the audio enthusiast who
can’t afford a big two-channel system, or
who doesn’t have a dedicated listening
environment, a headphone system pro-
vides a viable and rewarding alternative.
So it only makes sense that we would
create a category honoring the best head-
phone components.
The classic, crazily affordable Grado
SR60i—my trusted reference—came this
close to being our first-ever winner, but
was edged out by the outstanding Bench-
mark DAC1 HDR USB D/A head-
phone amplifier, the latest in a growing
line of fine Benchmark products. The
DAC1 HDR offers slightly better build
quality than earlier models, and adds
a motorized Alps volume potentiom-
eter. National Semiconductor LM4562
op-amps are used throughout its analog
stage, as well as Teflon RCA connectors.
Though it maintained the tonal balance
of earlier DAC1s, the HDR proved more
musical and engaging, with a bigger
soundstage, better solidity and separation
of instruments in the stereo image, and
better treble resolution, said Erick Lichte.
Erick is having fun, too. As I write this,
he’s shaking his booty, using his Bench-
mark DAC1 HDR to blast Lady Gaga’s
“Telephone.” (I’m just guessing.)
dCS Puccini SACD playback system
($17,999; reviewed by John Atkinson, Vol.32 No.12 & Vol.33 No.10 WWW)
2010 RUNNERS-UP
(in alphabetical order)
❚ CEntrance DACport 24/96 USB
headphone amplifier ($399.95;
reviewed by John Atkinson & Erick Lichte,
Vol.33 Nos. 6 & 10 WWW)
❚ Etymotic Research hf2/hf5 in-ear
headphones (hf2, $179; hf5, $149;
reviewed by Wes Phillips, Vol.33 No.8 WWW)
❚ Grado SR60i headphones ($79;
reviewed by Jim Austin, Vol.33 No.4 WWW)
❚ Music Hall dac25.2 D/A headphone
amplifier ($599; reviewed by
John Atkinson, Vol.33 No.2)
2010 PRODUCTS OF THE YEAR
HEADPHONE COMPONENT
Benchmark DAC1 HDR USB D/A headphone amplifier
z
www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 65
N
ow this was a surprise. Not that
the Audio Research VSi60 in-
tegrated amplifier doesn’t be-
long at the top of this list—it certainly
does, and it got my vote—but you’ve
got to admit that there are some other
heavyweights in this category. We’ve
got the jewel-like The Tube from Ein-
stein Audio, the bespoke Fi 2b, and the
extremely pleasurable darTZeel NHB-
18NS, to name just a few. Meanwhile,
at just under $4000, the VSi60 is also
one of the most affordable products in
the running. How do you like that? I,
for one, like it very much, but I’m not
alone: The VSi60 received votes from
seven of our writers, not only winning
this competition but pulling far ahead
of the pack.
The 50Wpc Audio Research VSi60
is a beast—a sexy beast, a sexy Ameri-
can beast. It looks as if it will whip
the living spit out of your prissy little
speakers. You want this thing in your
listening room. In the VSi60, a passive
line stage is combined with a JFET
input stage driving one 6H30 driver
tube per channel. Each channel’s out-
put stage has a matched pair of Svetlana
6550C push-pull tubes with a combi-
nation of pentode operation and ARC’s
“partially cathode-coupled topology.”
(Yeah, whatever. Tubes!) And it’s con-
venient to use: The VSi60 provides 4
and 8 ohm output taps, as well as four
pairs of voltmeter test points to ensure
accurate bias.
The sound? Though it lacked the
ultimate control of more powerful am-
plifiers, the VSi60 combined a glori-
ous midrange with clean, detailed high
frequencies and outstanding low-level
dynamic articulation. “In the VSi60,
Audio Research has produced an inte-
grated amplifier of staggering quality,
versatility, and value,” said Bob Reina.
The tube cage adds $500, but only sis-
sies use tube cages.
Audio Research VSi60 integrated amplifier
($3995; reviewed by Robert J. Reina, Vol.33 No.9 WWW)
2010 PRODUCTS OF THE YEAR
AMPLIFICATION COMPONENT
2010 RUNNERS-UP
(in alphabetical order)
❚ Aesthetix Saturn Calypso Signature
preamplifier ($6999; reviewed by
Wes Phillips, Vol.33 No.7 WWW)
❚ Balanced Audio Technology VK-55SE
power amplifier ($5995; reviewed by
Wes Phillips, Vol.33 No.4 WWW)
❚ Convergent Audio Technology SL1
Renaissance preamplifier ($7995;
reviewed by Robert Deutsch, Vol.32 No.11
WWW)
❚ Classé CT-SSP preamplifier-processor
($9000; reviewed by Kal Rubinson, Vol.33
No.7 WWW)
❚ darTZeel NHB-18NS preamplifier
($29,500; reviewed by Michael Fremer,
Vol.33 Nos. 5 & 10 WWW)
❚ Einstein The Tube Mk.II preamplifier
($18,400; reviewed by Michael Fremer,
Vol.33 No.10)
❚ Fi 2b preamplifier ($8200 as reviewed;
reviewed by Art Dudley, Vol.33 No.7 WWW)
❚ Leben CS600 integrated amplifier
($5795; reviewed by John Marks, Vol.33
No.6 WWW)
❚ Manley Labs Stingray iTube inte-
grated amplifier ($3400; reviewed by
Erick Lichte, Vol.33 No.3 WWW)
❚ McIntosh MC275 power amplifier
($4500; reviewed by Fred Kaplan, Vol.33
No.10 WWW)
❚ NAD Masters Series M2 “Direct
Digital” integrated amplifier ($5999;
reviewed by John Atkinson, Vol.33 No.3
WWW)
❚ Quicksilver Silver 88 monoblock
power amplifier ($3700/pair; reviewed
by Sam Tellig, Vol.33 No.4)
❚ Rogue Audio M-180 monoblock
power amplifier ($5495/pair; reviewed
by Erick Lichte, Vol.33 No.1 WWW)
❚ Shindo Vosne-Romanee preamplifier
($17,900; reviewed by Art Dudley,
Vol.33 No.10)
Dear Audiophile,
Have you ever seen a new concept
appear and wondered, where did that
come om? You never even heard of
the company, and suddenly, it’s here,
fully developed, and its products are
making a dierence.
at was my reaction when I rst
heard about THE LARS ampliers
from Sweden. I thought I knew who
the ‘players’ in the industry were.
So who are these guys?
Engström & Engström is the name of
the company. Lars Engström is the
amplier designer.
Lars is an engineer. He has that
quiet and unassuming air that can fool
you into underestimating the man.
Lars has designed some of the most
critical components in railway switch-
ing and electronic
control systems.
ese include signal
ampliers and other
electronic systems
that must be fail-safe
for decades. Failure
could mean hundreds
of lives lost. If you’ve been
to Europe, you may have
ridden over a bridge or railway
system that was Lars’ design.
Lars is an avid audiophile. Many
years ago, he decided that he wanted a
beer audio amplier for himself. As
an engineer, he had access to research
tools that could enhance his quest.
He had a deep understanding of
electronics. So he quietly went about
building his personal dream amplier
– an amplier of extreme quality and
durability.
Timo Engström is a respected in-
dustrial designer. He also teaches
design in Sweden’s universities.
While images can give an idea of
Timo’s design for THE LARS, you
simply have to see it in person to
appreciate it.
“Suddenly, From Sweden”
From personal to public
Lars took his amplier prototypes
around to various audiophiles’ homes,
and inserted the amplier into their
systems. e typical engineer, he
wanted to see how it would interact
with various components.
Although he was focused on listen-
ing to the ampliers, he was amazed at
what he heard when he listened to the
reactions of the audiophiles who heard
the amplier. “You HAVE to build
this and oer it for sale. It’s just too
good to keep for yourself!”
Aer a number of meetings, he and
Timo nally decided to make the
jump from employees to entrepre-
neurs. e fact that you are reading
the story today is a testament to the
validity of their decision.
Design Imperatives
Everyone agrees about the sound. It
has an incomparable rightness. When
I asked Lars how he managed this feat,
he gave me an engineering answer. So
I not only had to translate Swedish-
English, I also had to translate ‘engi-
neering’ into ‘audiophile.’
Lars kept referring to his Twenty
Design Imperatives (OK, that’s not
exactly his term – I translated). He
felt that many ampliers have some of
the Design Imperatives necessary to
make a great amplier, but he hadn’t
found any that included them all.
Lars felt very strongly that ignoring
even one of his Design Imperatives 
resulted  in a lower quality of sound. 
It wasn’t a design compromise that he
was willing to accept. e results weren’t
as pure sounding. e sound was simply
less musically involving.
The Final Frontier
Lars explained that he thinks that
the  ampliers  that don’t incorporate
all of his Design Imperatives are lack-
ing  one key ingredient. He calls it soul.
I think of it as an emotional high
like the feeling that you get when
you hear live music. e dilemma
is that THE LARS makes it hard to
listen to background music. It’s too
involving.
In addition to sound quality and
construction, another design fea-
ture  that enhances the ownership
of these ampliers is the inspir-
ing aesthetic treatment provided
by  Timo  Engstrom’s
industrial design.
Find out more
ese are ampliers
that need to be seen and
heard. And there is so
much you’ll want to learn
about them.
To nd out more, visit:
www.thelars.se
Contact: Engström & Engström at
info@thelars.se
or call +46 (0)733-70 51 51
In North America, you can reach me
at Quarter Note US – at
jsmith@QuarterNote.US
or call 770-777-2095
Best regards,
-LP6PLWK
www.QuarterNote.US
US Distributor of Fine Audio
PS.- Shown above are;
THE LARS TYPE 1 (in optional gold)
THE LARS TYPE 2 (in optional chrome)
www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 67
2010 RUNNERS-UP
(in alphabetical order)
❚ CEntrance DACport USB headphone
amplifier
❚ Channel D Pure Music iTunes
front-end program ($129; reviewed by
Michael Fremer, Vol.33 No.8 WWW)
❚ dCS Puccini U-Clock ($4999; reviewed
by John Atkinson, Vol.32 No.12 & Vol.33
No.10 WWW)
❚ HRT Music Streamer+ USB
D/A processor
❚ XTZ Room Analyzer with v2 software
($256; reviewed by Kal Rubinson, Vol.32
No.11 WWW)
2010 PRODUCTS OF THE YEAR
JOINT COMPUTER AUDIO COMPONENTS
C
omputer audio is hot. We know
this. The results from a recent
survey on www.stereophile.com
showed that an overwhelming propor-
tion of our readers want more coverage
of computer audio products. While
some audio enthusiasts remain timid,
more and more of you are diving head-
first into the world of computer audio,
searching for ways to best integrate a
computer into your system and elimi-
nate physical discs from your listening
rooms. And with an increasing number
of record labels offering high-resolu-
tion downloads, computer audio looks
to be much more than just a hot trend.
As John Marks argues in his August
2010 “As We See It,” downloads may
very well define the future of music
distribution. High-end manufactur-
ers are responding appropriately, with
products that aim to soothe whatever
worries or fears we may face in mak-
ing the transition to computer audio.
Several of these products can be found
in our list.
With identical numbers of first-place
votes (three) and overall votes (14), our
very first Computer Audio “Products of
the Year” are the Logitech Squeezebox
Touch network player and the Channel
D Pure Vinyl LP ripping-and-playback
program. The original Squeezebox
was quickly embraced by our writers,
enticing them with its painless setup
and friendly operation. It was named
Stereophile’s “Editor’s Choice” and was
one of our “Joint Budget Components”
of 2006. Following in its footsteps, the
Squeezebox Touch continues the tradi-
tion of fast, seamless integration into a
stereo system. Within moments, Kal
Rubinson, a self-proclaimed sideline
player in computer audio, was up and
running, streaming music from Radio
Bartók, setting up a Pandora account,
downloading 24-bit/96kHz files, and
installing apps—all while having an ab-
solute blast. “I cannot see living with-
out it,” he confessed.
But that was Kal. What about the
audiophile who cherishes the antedi-
luvian 12" disc? There might be no
audio hobbyist more suspicious of this
computerized revolution than the vinyl
enthusiast. After all, vinylphiles—freaks
that they are—like collecting stuff, like
the process of playing records. For them,
Channel D offers Pure Vinyl, a software
package for the Mac that digitizes vinyl
LPs at 24-bit/192kHz resolution and
applies the RIAA or other EQ curves
in the digital domain, where there’s
no interchannel phase shift, capacitor
distortion, additional noise, or compo-
nent variability. Nice! In Record mode,
the user can apply one of over 50 EQ
curves or create custom EQ settings; in
Editor mode, the user can insert track
breaks or remove surface noise. Fun!
According to Michael Fremer, the digi-
tized versions lacked a touch of body
but sounded “very analog-like.” There
you have it: Even Mikey liked it, and
Mikey hates computers.
Channel D Pure Vinyl LP ripping & playback program
($299; reviewed by Michael Fremer, Vol.33 No.8 WWW)
Logitech Squeezebox Touch network player
($299; reviewed by Kal Rubinson, Vol.33 No.10)
Top: Channel D Pure Vinyl LP ripping
and playback program.
Bottom: Logitech Squeezebox Touch
network player.
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www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 69
2010 PRODUCTS OF THE YEAR
JOINT BUDGET COMPONENTS
I
hope you know by now that Budget
Component of the Year is, by far, my
favorite category of this lighthearted
(but altogether serious!) event. Why?
First of all, money does not pour out of
my ears; I can’t afford a pair of Wilson
Sashas or a Spiral Groove SG2 turntable,
but I can afford the fine products we
praise here. Second, just as JA taught in
his seminal “The High End, Mid-Fi &
Pretend High End” (see www.stereophile.
com/asweseeit/1194awsi2), our Budget
category reminds us that high-end doesn’t
necessarily have to mean high-priced. There
is no magical price point that characterizes
a product as “high-end.” If a component
strives to convey the emotional truth of
music, leaving the listener enthralled
by the musical performance, then that
component is worthy of the High End.
Despite their relatively low cost, the
products listed here achieve that feat.
The Dynaudio Excite X12 is ap-
propriately named. From Bob Reina
to Sam Tellig to me, it seems to excite
everyone who sees and hears it. Its at-
tractive cabinet is available in real-wood
veneers of maple, cherry, rosewood, or
black ash (sexy high-gloss white or black
adds $75/pair), and it combines the airy
treble, rich midrange, and realistic bass
found in much more expensive designs.
“With the Dynaudio Excite X12, there
are no tradeoffs,” enthused Bob. “It sets
a high standard of excellence in every
meaningful sonic parameter, whether
in absolute terms or with respect to its
price and size.” JA agreed: “A well-en-
gineered speaker like this makes it hard
to justify spending more on a bookshelf
speaker unless you can afford one of the
cost-no-object models.”
Like the Dynaudio Excite X12, the
lovely little Logitech Squeezebox Touch
network music player has a way of en-
chanting its users. To touch it is to love it:
Reviewer Kal Rubinson bought his re-
view sample, and so did cover photogra-
pher Eric Swanson! If the ultimate mark
of an audio component is the ability to
forge a closer bond between listener and
music (and I believe it is), then it’s no
wonder the Squeezebox Touch proves
so compelling. With one connected to
a home network, users have immediate
access to the wide world of Internet radio
and downloads of up to 24-bit/96kHz
resolution. Hate computers? The Touch
will play files stored on a USB drive or
SD card, allowing it to be used without
a host PC. In addition, modifications,
apps, and tweaks abound, suggesting that
the Touch has yet to reach its full poten-
tial and promises to change the way we
interact with our music. In Kal’s words,
“The Touch has transformed my listen-
ing habits.” All that for just $299? Wow!
Finally, with the BDP-83SE, Oppo
takes their already impressive, bargain-
priced, universal Blu-ray player and re-
places everything in it, from DACs to
jacks, with some of the most cutting-edge
chips on the market: the Sabre
32
family
of DACs from ESS Technology. “The
two-channel performance of the Oppo
BDP-83SE, playing either PCM or DSD
recordings, was a significant improve-
ment on the BDP-83,” said Kal. Don’t
you love it when hi-fi companies start
with great value and turn it into incred-
ible value? John Marks, too, was stunned.
He called the $899 Oppo “an amazing
player,” and felt it fared well against the
$5000 Luxman DU-50. (Okay, so the
Oppo lacked some bass and overall co-
herence. So what?) Amazing, indeed.
Dynaudio Excite X12 loudspeaker
($1200/pair; reviewed by Robert J. Reina, Vol.33 No.3)
Logitech Squeezebox Touch network player
Oppo BDP-83SE Blu-ray player
2010 RUNNERS-UP
(in alphabetical order)
❚ ASUS Xonar Essence ST/STX soundcards
($199.95; reviewed by John Atkinson,
Vol.33 Nos. 1 & 9 WWW)
❚ Audio-Technica AT-PEQ3 phono
preamplifier ($119; reviewed by
Michael Fremer, Vol.32 No.12)
❚ Benchmark DAC1 HDR USB D/A
headphone amplifier
❚ CEntrance DACport USB headphone
amplifier
❚ Channel D Pure Music iTunes front-end
program
❚ Grado SR60i headphones
❚ HRT Music Streamer+ USB D/A processor
❚ Linn Majik 109 loudspeaker ($1590/pair;
reviewed by Robert J. Reina, Vol.33 No.4 WWW)
❚ Marantz PM5003 integrated amplifier
($449.99; reviewed by Robert J. Reina,
Vol.33 Nos. 1 & 4 WWW)
❚ Musical Fidelity V-DAC D/A processor
❚ NAD PP 3 USB phono preamplifier
($199; reviewed by Robert J. Reina,
Vol.33 No.10)
❚ Pro-Ject Debut III turntable
❚ PSB Image T6 loudspeaker ($1199/pair;
reviewed by Kal Rubinson & John Atkinson,
Vol.33 Nos. 3 & 7 WWW)
❚ Stello U2 USB-S/PDIF converter
❚ YBA Design WD202 D/A headphone
amplifier ($879; reviewed by Jon Iverson,
Vol.33 No.6 WWW)
Clockwise from above: Dynaudio Excite X12
loudspeaker, Logitech Squeezebox Touch
network player, Oppo BDP-83SE Blu-ray player
www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 71
2010 PRODUCTS OF THE YEAR
ACCESSORY
A
lthough, by definition, accessories
are ancillary or superficial parts
of our audio lives, they may also
be considered gateways to periods of
enhanced enjoyment and as invaluable
sources of pure fun. Feeling the urge to
produce some slight change in a system’s
sound—real or imagined, good or bad, it
sometimes makes no difference—we turn
to accessories. Needing to make some
minor technical adjustments, demagne-
tizing this or elevating that, we turn to
accessories. When money’s tight and we
feel that pull to upgrade but can’t afford
a new source component or loudspeaker,
we satisfy our longings with accessories.
For these reasons, accessories bring im-
mediate and significant pleasure to this
hi-fi game. They keep our fires burning.
And while it can always be argued that
there is no better accessory than a great
record, here we have some very worthy
(and some very wacky) alternatives.
Indeed, the race for “Accessory of the
Year” is always one of the most entertain-
ing because it involves such a diverse cast of
characters. Where else in this event would
you find a $79 record-washing system
made of plastic (the fantastic Spin Clean)
or a $2500 “scalar field generator” (the
fascinating Quantum RT Qx4)? On the
surface, the two have nothing in common—
until we remember that both fulfill those
audiophilic needs of immediate gratifica-
tion and unbridled fun. (Don’t try to deny
it: I know you like fun.) Neither scalar-field
generation nor grime-free records posed a
real threat to this year’s winner, however.
With four first-place votes and sig-
nificantly more total votes than any
other contender in this zany category,
our winner is the DB Systems DBP-10
phono alignment protractor, a simple
little product that’s been loved by au-
dio enthusiasts for decades—the copy-
right date on the sample I borrowed
from JA is 1979, making this fine tool
an audiophile classic. The DBP-10’s in-
struction sheet, which is clearly written
and even welcoming, informs us that
“The objective of the alignment proce-
dure is to achieve lateral tracking error
of zero degrees at two points which are
2.60" and 4.76" from the center of the
record. When the cartridge is parallel
to the grooves at these points then the
distortion is optimally low across the
recorded area of a modern LP record.”
There you go: The DB Systems DBP-
10 turns a daunting task into a pleasant
one, and squeezes greater performances
from the records we love. For the vinyl
enthusiast, this inexpensive accessory just
might be mandatory. Yeah! You want
optimally low distortion, I’m telling you.
With the DBP-10, you won’t only achieve
it, you’ll have fun getting there.
T
his was an extremely close and
hard-fought race. Votes were scat-
tered across the board. Eight of
our ten contenders earned first-place
votes, and four received individual votes
from five or more of our writers. A vote
here or a vote there, and either the dCS
Puccini SACD playback system or the
stunning Vivid G1Giya speaker could
easily have topped this list. In the end,
however, there was one clear winner:
With 15 total votes and four first-place
votes, the Wilson Audio Sasha W/P is
our “2010 Overall Product of the Year.”
Art Dudley had the pleasure of reviewing
the Sasha. In his review, Art confessed that,
before last year, he had little more than a pro-
fessional interest in the products of Wilson
Audio Specialties. His time with the Sasha,
however, transformed that professional in-
terest into deep, full-blown admiration. The
Sasha produced outstanding resolution of
detail, exhibited a surprisingly good sense of
scale, gracefully communicated the notion
of force, and proved just as emotive as any
of the speakers AD most loves. With the
Sashas in his system, aspects of stereo repro-
duction that Art had previously considered
luxuries somehow became commonplace—
glorious bass and exquisite spatial prowess
were suddenly achievable without significant
compromises. By the end of the review pe-
riod, the Wilson Sashas were no longer a
luxury: “I was taking them for granted, and
had surrendered to them in full ignorance
of the consequences of the discomfort of
sending them back. Now that’s my idea of
a great speaker.”
It’s true: Great audio components have
the strange power to change our expecta-
tions, to alter our notions of what’s right
or possible in the listening room, draw-
ing us closer to the music, transporting
us from our homes to the concert hall.
The Wilson Audio Specialties Sasha
W/P is a great audio component.
DB Systems DBP-10 alignment protractor
($49; reviewed by Art Dudley, Vol.33 No.6 WWW)
2010 RUNNERS-UP
(in alphabetical order)
❚ Aerial Acoustics Model 20T V2
loudspeaker
❚ Audio Research VSi60 integrated
amplifier
❚ Bauer Audio dps turntable
❚ Convergent Audio Technology SL1
Renaissance preamplifier
❚ dCS Puccini SACD playback system
❚ Logitech Squeezebox Touch network
player
❚ NAD Masters Series M2 “Direct
Digital” integrated amplifier
❚ Spiral Groove SG2 turntable with
Centroid tonearm
❚ Vivid G1Giya loudspeaker
2010 RUNNERS-UP
(in alphabetical order)
❚ Audience Au24e interconnects & loud-
speaker cables (interconnect: $857.20/1m pair,
unbalanced; $1352.50/1m pair, balanced;
speaker cables: $1493.50/2m pair; reviewed
by Brian Damkroger, Vol.33 No.6 WWW)
❚ Audyssey Sub Equalizer ($799;
reviewed by Kal Rubinson, Vol.33 No.1 WWW)
❚ Musical Surroundings Fozgometer
azimuth alignment device ($250;
reviewed by Michael Fremer, Vol.33 No.5)
❚ Paradigm Perfect Bass Kit PBK-1 ($299;
reviewed by Kal Rubinson, Vol.33 No.1 WWW)
❚ Quantum RT Qx4 “scalar field
generator” ($2499.99; reviewed by Art Dudley,
Vol.32 No.12, Vol.33 No.1 WWW)
❚ Spin Clean Record Wash System ($79.99;
reviewed by Michael Fremer, Vol.33 No.2)
Wilson Audio Specialties Sasha W/P loudspeaker
OVERALL PRODUCT OF THE YEAR
a class above
With the same innovations as KEF's revolutionary Concept Blade
technology showcase, the all-new Q Series from KEF performs
like speakers from a higher price class in terms of realism,
musicality and off-axis dispersion.
All new Uni-Q
array.
Total system design.
Sweet, spacious and true,
wherever you sit.
The groundbreaking 10th generation
Concept Blade Uni-Q array has a
large vented tweeter at the centre
of the bass/midrange driver, with a
´tangerine´ waveguide and a unique
Z-flex surround to combine unrivalled
dispersion with generous travel for
the aluminium MF/LF cone.
Advanced bass
technologies.
Deeper, tighter and more
accurate bass.
Inside the fashionably rectilinear
cabinets, the new bass driver
combines a rigid superlight cone with
a massive vented magnet assembly
and an oversized voice coil for
exceptional sensitivity and
distortion-free power handling.
A holistic approach, with
no compromises.
These advanced new drivers only
need first order crossovers,
maximising fluency and transparency,
and KEF's legendary attention to
detail extends from innovations for
easier bi-wiring to environment-
friendly finishes.
Q Series
GP Acoustics (US), Inc. 10 Timber Lane, Marlboro NJ 07746
Tel: (732) 683-2356 Fax: (732) 683-2358
www.kef.com
Q900, featuring an 8” Uni-Q Driver
B OOK R E V I E WS
www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 73
The Cello Suites: J.S. Bach, Pablo
Casals, and the Search for a Baroque
Masterpiece, by Eric Siblin (New
York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2009);
hardcover, 318 pp. $24.
I
n his lifetime, J.S. Bach (1685–
1750) was an obscure figure.
He never lived in a major city,
he didn’t work in the musi-
cal form—opera—that in his era
could propel a composer to star-
dom, and his style seemed antiquated
to many. Bach saw a mere nine of his
compositions published; when his
consummate masterwork, The Art of
the Fugue, appeared the year after he
died, it sold just 30 copies.
Eric Siblin includes these and
countless other facts in The Cello Suites,
a book that will fascinate anyone who
loves Bach’s music. He notes, for in-
stance, that Bach’s four musical sons
kept his work in circulation, that Mo-
zart was mightily impressed by a motet
he heard at a Leipzig church, and that
the 12-year-old Beethoven raised some
eyebrows when he performed The Well-
Tempered Clavier in Vienna.
Young Ludwig’s performance did
nothing for Johann Sebastian, but a
revival did get underway after Felix
Mendelssohn organized and conducted
a performance of Bach’s St. Matthew Pas-
sion in Berlin in 1829. The 20-year-old
Mendelssohn’s talents as a promoter
apparently equaled his compositional
gifts—Prussia’s King and Crown Prince
graced the audience, along with the poet
Heinrich Heine and the philosopher
G.W.F. Hegel. About a thousand people
were turned away for lack of space.
The seed for Siblin’s book, first pub-
lished in 2009 and now available in
various English-language editions as
well as in German, had been planted
nine years earlier, on the 250th anniver-
sary of Bach’s death. The journalist and
former pop-music critic had attended a
Toronto concert to hear Bach’s Suites
for Unaccompanied Cello, “music I
knew nothing about.” Perhaps, he sur-
mises, he went because too many top-
40 tunes continued to drum inside his
skull. “I wanted music to occupy a cen-
tral place in my life, but in a different
way,” he states.
This engaging volume, which docu-
ments Siblin’s quest to understand
Bach’s six compositions for solo cello,
also tells the story of the great com-
poser’s life and that of the Catalonian
cellist Pablo Casals, who ultimately
brought the works to the world’s atten-
tion. Many of the facts woven into tex-
tual fabric glitter like metal threads as
Siblin shifts the reader’s focus from one
protagonist to the other. The results are
rich depictions of Bach in his 18th-cen-
tury milieu, which limited his potential
employers to aristocrats, municipali-
ties, or the church; and of Casals in his
20th-century sphere, troubled by the
Spanish Civil War and the subsequent
fascist regime of Generalissimo Franco,
which drove the cellist into exile.
Siblin also maps his own route to
the music’s core. He joins the Ameri-
can Bach Society and attends its bien-
nial convention, where he finds himself
face to face with one of the two extant
paintings of the master, the portrait that
commonly appears on album covers.
He sees it as “far more severe and seri-
ous” than the Bach he comes to know,
and the conference’s keynote speaker,
Christoph Wolff, the world’s leading
Bach scholar, agrees that it’s an “offi-
cial pose” that the composer had surely
hoped would “shape [his] image.”
At the suggestion of Walter Joachim,
Siblin takes cello lessons for “insight”
into the Cello Suites. Joachim was a fa-
miliar figure on the sidewalks of Siblin’s
Montreal neighborhood, but the writer
approaches him only after overhear-
ing him utter the word cello during a
conversation. It turns out that the frail
yet determined 89-year-old, “shuffling
along . . . with a cane, gingerly nego-
tiating the street corners like so many
landmines strewn between his high-rise
apartment building and a café he fa-
voured,” had been the Montreal Sym-
phony Orchestra’s first cellist. Joachim
had heard Casals play in Düsseldorf in
1927, and had shadowed him on his tour
to nearby cities in the hope of absorbing
as much technique as possible.
Siblin talks with several cellists dur-
ing his book’s long gestation period,
including the eminent Mischa Maisky,
who surprises him by agreeing to an
interview. Buzzed through a security
gate at the Russian émigré’s art-deco
mansion south of Brussels and greeted
by a maid, he feels “like a detective
attempting to pry information out of
some wealthy eccentric who had no
business talking to me. My reason for
being there—that I was writing a book
about the Bach Cello Suites—seemed
an unlikely story.”
The author’s colorful prose conveys
substantial charm, and reveals a first-
rate travel writer’s sense of place. It’s
as if we’re with Casals when, in 1890
and barely into his teens, he wanders
with his father toward the bookstore
where they will serendipitously un-
cover a Bach score titled Six Sonates ou
Suites pour Violoncelle. We stroll with
them near Barcelona’s Columbus
monument, “towering sixty-two me-
tres above the eight bronze lions at its
base . . . a fiercely proud Columbus, the
world’s highest.” We leave behind “the
singing birds of the Ramblas [for] the
tangle of narrow, twisting streets near
the waterfront.” We pass “ironwork
balconies . . . draped with laundry and
flowers. The occasional stone gargoyle
scream[s] mutely. There[’s] a faint smell
of the sea.”
The biography of Siblin on his web-
site (http://ericsiblin.com) notes that
he holds an MA in history, and in-
deed he skillfully traces the historical
currents his two main subjects were
caught up in. Like a multidimensional
musical recording that puts the reader
in the space the performers occupied,
his verbal record, sets biographical and
musicological details neatly in context.
Siblin vividly recreates both Bach and
Casals. —David Lander ■■
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www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 75
It was the 1990s, and in rock music,
hair bands were gone and Seattle
was doing all the talking — much
of it unintelligible but nonetheless
compelling.
But while Kurt Cobain memorably raged “I don’t care, I don’t
care, I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care, if it’s old” (“Breed”), in
another part of town, not to mention another artistic universe,
Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow were singing:
I’ll call you sister Carrie but you’ll never hear it
Fifty limits later
As time pulls down her fader
And nibbles off the fakers
Who roll under the breakers
—“Solar Sister” (1993)
Sadly, both bands are long gone. The black-and-white
image of Cobain’s one lifeless hand and Converse All-Star
pointing toward the ceiling is an indelible part of rock’s
wreckage. The Posies, after a brief flirtation with mainstream
success, broke up. Or did they?
Releasing a “reunion” album like the Posies’ new Blood/
Candy means they’ve been apart, right? But while their high
harmonies are among the best in the business, and String-
fellow and Auer are accomplished songwriters who know
hooks and how to use them, it seems that staying apart is not
one of their strong suits. Yes, they may have spent almost a
year apart but even that part is questionable. In conversation,
the band that never really broke up is attached to the notion
that they did. They stopped speaking. The Posies, for a time,
were no more—dammit!
“I would say, from our farewell show in 1998, the project
went completely dry and we didn’t really communicate much,”
Stringfellow says with a straight face.
THE OSIES RETURN
J
U
L
I
A
N

O
C
H
O
A
BY ROBERT BAIRD
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www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 77
“He’s right,” Auer eagerly sec-
onds the notion. “We did break
up, and it was difficult.”
“Jon and I spent all day, every
day, together. We were teenagers
when the band started, but we had
a history even before that. That’s
why our band fell apart, eventu-
ally, because to extricate those two
lives, we were developing into the
adults we were going to become,
and you had lives, and it’s hard to
separate all that . . .”
“I think it’s called too much to-
getherness,” Auer states. “We had
this intense long-term relationship.
It’s not just bands or musicians, it’s
any long-term relationship. Life
has its peaks and valleys, and if
you’re being emotional and hon-
est, [conflict is] inevitable. I think
it says a great deal that we’re here
together now, doing this.”
The Spinners may have sung it
best: the games people play. Since
what the bio on the Po-
sies’ website deems their
“professional and personal
split” in 1998, the duo has
released two, now three
studio albums: Success, a
country record turned sup-
posed swan song; the very
uneven Every Kind of Light,
for which they wrote and
recorded a song a day for 10
days; and Blood/Candy. Dur-
ing their brief separation, they
also found time to go through
a mountain of unreleased material—song demos, live
recordings, studio outtakes—to assemble a fan’s dream come
true: the four-CD At Least, At Last, now out of print and an
expensive collector’s item. In those three years they also re-
leased two live albums, Alive Before the Iceberg and In Case You
Didn’t Feel Like Plugging In, as well as an EP, Nice Cheekbones
and a Ph.D., and Dream All Day: The Best of the Posies. Less
than a year after they split, they began sitting in with each
other—Stringfellow played theremin during an Auer solo
set in 2000. Most acts that are officially together should be so
productive.
Meanwhile, in their spare time, each was building a solo
career. They toured Europe together, and lived a shared
dream by becoming the replacement bass (Ken) and guitar
(Jon) players in a new version of Alex Chilton’s ridiculously
revered, proto-alt rock band Big Star—thereby helping to res-
urrect a group that had broken up in 1975. Again, these boys
are healers, not destroyers.
All of which brings us to Blood/Candy.
“After five years [ie, since Every Kind of Light], we got to the
point when we were like, ‘Wow, look at the clock, it’s been
such a long time—we really should do another Posies [studio]
record,” Stringfellow says. “Ryko[disc] sat us down when we
were in town for a lunch and said, ‘We’re going to get up,
walk away, and leave you guys with the bill if
you don’t say you’re going to make a record in
the next 12 calendar months.’ We said, ‘Okay,
pick a year: 2010 or 2011? We said 2010 and their faces
lit up. We said 2011 and they got very dour and sour-
looking, so . . .”
As power-poppers addicted in equal measure to the
Beatles, Beach Boys, Raspberries and the like, Auer and
Stringfellow made their label happy, thanks in large part
to the holes left in their schedules by Alex Chilton’s un-
timely demise in March 2010. They’ve delivered a record
on which the quality of the songwriting and performances rival
those on their previous highpoint, Frosting on the Beater (1993).
Frosting (the title is a sly reference to masturbation), released two
years after Nirvana’s game-changing Nevermind, became a mod-
erate hit, and the album’s single, “Dream All Day,” eventually
reached No.4 on Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks chart. Defi-
antly melodic amid the waves of grunge then emanating from
the Emerald City, the Posies became the little power-pop band
that could. Conversations about Seattle music suddenly mor-
phed into “Mudhoney, Soundgarden, Nirvana, and . . . oh yeah,
the Posies.” With the benefit of hindsight, it’s not that surprising
that the band’s densely lyrical, instrumentally hard-edged power
pop now seems ahead of its time.
“If you want to use a label like Sub Pop to talk about the
issue of timing and success,” Auer says, “look at what they
were releasing and signing when the whole—I hate to use
the word [voice goes high]—Gruuunnnnge! thing was happening,
and now look how they’ve completely redefined themselves.
It’s the Shins, Iron and Wine, Fleet Foxes.”
“If you took our vocals off [Blood/Candy] and just put
Rogue Wave on the front . . . ,” says Stringfellow, citing a
current Sub Pop band to illustrate how much influence the
Posies have had on younger acts. “When we started out, to
be literate and melodic was anathema. In many ways, people
have come around to our way of thinking.”
,
C
H
R
I
S
T
I
N
E

T
A
Y
L
O
R
The Posies, 2010, left to right: Matt Harris, Darius Minwalla,
Ken Stringfellow, Jon Auer
www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 79
“Had Death Cab for Cutie [a current Seattle indie-rock band]
come out with ‘I Will Follow You into the Dark’ during the
grunge era, it could be a different story,” Auer says of one of
Death Cab’s best-known singles. “Would it be any less of a
good song, a great song? No. But would it have been as suc-
cessful, really, honestly? I doubt it.”
“I definitely think we made an impact. We had great re-
views, and we did sell a couple hundred thousand records,”
Stringfellow continues. “It would have been satisfying to
have made several million more of them, but a lot of those
records made their way into the hands of future musicians
like Chris Walla, who’s a huge fan . . .”
“ . . . and Nick Harmer,” Auer adds softly. (Walla and
Harmer are both members of Death Cab for Cutie.)
“ . . . so the fact that someone was carrying the torch
through the dark ages,” resumes Stringfellow, “it’s helped
give a cause to be caused. People were like, ‘Okay, there is an
alternative to the alternative.’”
When the pair walk into a conference room at Warner
Music’s offices in midtown Manhattan, their similarities and
differences are on full display. Stringfellow is dressed in stove-
pipe pants, an expensive shirt, and shiny black patent-leather
lace-ups. Auer, a superb guitar player who works in open
tunings and has the stronger falsetto of the two,
ambles in in black jeans, an oversize black zip-up
sweatshirt, and fluorescent-orange high-top Chuck
Taylors. Where they once seemed to be holding an
informal competition about who had the crazier dye
job—Auer’s violet locks topped Stringfellow’s cherry-
red Dutch boy—they now opt for messy dos that are
fairly standard issue for rock stars. A guitarist who also
sings, plays keyboards, and routinely throws himself
around the stage (a brief stint of wearing dresses has
thankfully faded), Stringfellow now lives in Paris with
his second wife and their six-year-old daughter. Auer
is a few pounds heavier than he was a decade ago;
Stringfellow, always lean, is even skinnier.
The conversation turns toward the subject of building a
rhythm section around them. “We began to have too many
offers that we could have refused but didn’t,” Stringfellow
says. “In 2001 we needed a full band again, which at first
became Joe Bass [né Howard] and [drummer] Darius [Min-
walla],” who had played in Auer’s self-titled solo band. In
2001, Matt Harris, from the band Oranger, replaced Howard
on bass. Not exactly sure of how their current band actu-
ally came together, the two begin to think aloud. After some
counting on fingers, it’s decided that, leaving themselves out
of the equation—they played all the instruments on their first
album, Failure (1988)—they’re now on their fifth drummer
and third bass player.
“As far as players who’d been in the band, I think we’d
sort of had it with them,” Stringfellow muses. “And we knew
[drummer] Brian [Young, now with Fountains of Wayne]
was busy anyway. We didn’t really perceive the vibe being
right with [original drummer] Mike [Musberger]. In my
memory, not as a hard condition, but you [looks at Auer] sort
of indicated it would be a lot more interesting for you if
Darius came along.”
“Hmpf,” Auer grunts in surprised assent. “That sounds
good. I don’t remember it, but . . .”
“From a musical point of view,” Stringfellow says, “we’ve
had some folks who maybe could have been better. And
then, from a personality point . . . well, not a single one of us,
myself included, has been that easy to work with, especially
in our younger and more volatile years.”
“I was going to add that, too,” Auer says. Both are now
smiling. “We’re easier to deal with now. We’re wiser, hope-
fully.”
“Jon and I have a pretty strong vision and are pretty strong
about carrying it out . . .”
Auer’s high voice returns: “Under-staaaate-ment . . .”
“ . . . We’ve always had a strong vision about what we are,”
Stringfellow continues, unfazed. “However, we were super-
naïve and just didn’t have a lot of life knowledge. So I would
say we had vision, but with plenty of clouds to obscure it.
And this record is like the full, terrifying, laser-beam thing
unleashed, and as a result, I think it’s good.”
As the interview concludes and the lasers dim, the pair
kibitz about their plans for the evening. The together/
apart, John/Paul dynamic of these two best friends and
rivals is fascinating to watch. Down-to-earth Auer says
he’s going to meet some friends in Brooklyn for a ritual
called Burgers and Bourbon.
“I’m going to Babbo,” String-
fellow says, nearly licking his lips
with glee. He refers to Mario
Batali’s Greenwich Village flag-
ship, which is not only one of
Manhattan’s best restaurants,
but a place where the uncon-
nected and unbeautiful are of-
fered tables only at 5 or 11pm.
“I guess being a rock star
does have its benefits,” I shoot
back, unwilling to let an easy
one get by. Auer smiles.
Later that week, at the re-
lease party for Blood/Candy
at Brooklyn club, the Rock
Shop, the subtleties of their relationship are once again
on display. Stringfellow is having trouble tuning his guitar.
After several tries, and an admission that he can’t remember
the tuning, he turns and loudly asks Auer, “What is the fucking
tuning on this song?”
There’s a burst of laughter from the crowd, but no reply
from Auer.
“Hand me my coat!” Stringfellow commands. “Reach into
the pocket and get me the red phone!” Auer, who’s been
watching completely nonplused, picks up the jacket from
the side of the stage and walks it across to Stringfellow, who
grabs it, reaches into a pocket, pulls out an iPhone, and begins
to search for the right file.
“Oh, right, that’s it,” Stringfellow smiles. The crowd ap-
plauds.
Auer, his back turned, shrugs and pretends to tune his
own guitar.
Together and apart. The story of the Posies. Blood/Candy
indeed! ■■
o
80 www.Stereophile.com, December 2010
E Q U I P M E N T R E P O R T
DESCRIPTION Universal disc
player with remote control and
asynchronous USB data input.
Formats supported: Blu-ray (BD-
Video, BD-Audio), DVD-Video,
DVD-Audio, AVCHD, SACD, CD,
HDCD, Kodak Picture CD, CD-R/
RW, DVD±R/RW, DVD±R DL, BD-R/
RE. Analog outputs: 1 pair each
unbalanced (RCA) and balanced
(XLR). Digital outputs: AES/EBU
(XLR), HDMI audio, HDMI A/V.
Digital inputs: USB, Ethernet
LAN. Maximum output levels:
2.0V RMS (single-ended), 4.0V
RMS (balanced). DSD: 2.0V RMS
(balanced), 1.0V RMS (single-
ended). Frequency ranges:
DC–20kHz at 44.1kHz, DC–22Hz
at 48kHz, DC–40kHz at 88kHz,
DC–44.1kHz at 96kHz, DC–80kHz
at 176.4kHz, DC–88kHz at 192kHz,
DC–100kHz at 2.8224MHz (2x DSD).
Signal/noise: not specified. Power
consumption: 60W.
DIMENSIONS 17.25" (440mm)
W by 3.75" (95mm) H by 12.5"
(320mm) D. Weight: 23 lbs (10.5kg).
FINISH Black- or natural-anodized
aluminum.
SERIAL NUMBER OF UNIT
REVIEWED 19A0139.
PRICE $9950 (black finish adds
$250). Approximate number of
dealers: 30. Warranty: 5 years,
transferable (2 years, transport).
MANUFACTURER Ayre Acoustics,
Inc., 2300-B Central Avenue,
Boulder, CO 80301. Tel: (303) 442-
7300. Fax: (303) 442-7301.
Web: www.ayre.com.
T
he old Saab slogan, “Find Your Own Road,” was so good that the
old General Motors, which once owned Saab, had to kill it—just as
the newly revived GM tried, in a “Call It Chevrolet” memo, to kill
“Chevy.” GM did a U-turn on that one the very next day, but “Find
Your Own Road” never returned, and is available for Ayre Acoustics
to use. I can’t think of a better slogan for a company that I admire
almost as much as I do Saab.
Consider this: While Ayre calls its new DX-5 ($10,000) a “universal A/V engine,”
the disc player doesn’t have a coaxial or a TosLink S/PDIF input. That appears crazy
to me, but to Ayre, no. They’ve found their own road.
Ayre’s Steve Silberman explained to me that Ayre wasn’t interested in servicing a
“niche” product like Meridian’s Sooloos music server—or, apparently, any other products
that require an outboard S/PDIF-equipped D/A converter. “Steve,” I said, “everything
Ayre makes is a niche product—as is everything reviewed or advertised in Stereophile.”
Ayre contends that anyone needing an S/PDIF input should find their own
road. Why? If you’re into silver discs, the DX-5 plays them all. If you’re setting up
a server-based system, you’ll most likely use a computer and the DX-5’s USB port.
Who then would need S/PDIF?
The multichannel-capable DX-5 will play CDs, SACDs, high-resolution DVD-
Audio discs, DVD-Video and Blu-ray discs, and, via its USB port, music files stored
on a personal computer using iTunes or other organizational software. For now, the
DX-5’s USB port can reliably handle files of 24-bit/96kHz resolution from any com-
puter and 24/192 from “some,” with USB 2.0, though an in-the-field firmware up-
grade will allow the USB port to reliably handle 24/192 files from all computers.
1
The DX-5 is based on an Oppo BDP-83 Blu-ray player, but uses only the Oppo
player’s disc drive and controller. Everything else—I mean, everything else—is built by
Ayre, including, and especially, the USB port functionality. (Ayre says this is even
better than the one they engineered into their well-regarded QB-9 USB DAC.)
The DX-5 in no way resembles the recent embarrassment from Lexicon, where
their expensive BD-30 player turned out to be the Oppo BDP-83 in a substantial
Lexicon case, the only other changes being in the player’s firmware. The DX-5
Ayre Acoustics
DX-5
UNIVERSAL A/V ENGINE MICHAEL FREMER
1 For the lowdown on Ayre’s use of Gordon Rankin’s “Streamlength” asynchronous USB technology, read Wes
Phillips’ description in his review of the QB-9 in the October 2009 issue (www.stereophile.com/computeraudio/
ayre_acoustics_qb-9_usb_dac).
www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 81
E
R
I
C

S
W
A
N
S
O
N
Ayre Acoustics DX-5 universal player
A single note struck on a
piano, followed by another.
The subtlest brush stroke from
the drummer a few feet away.
Low bass notes filling the air.
The piano strikes a full chord.
For just a few moments, the
world stops... and there is only
the music.
www.dcsltd.co.uk
Exact science
Creative imagination
www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 83
AYRE ACOUSTI CS DX- 5
makes use of a completely new power
supply, Ayre’s zero-feedback, fully bal-
anced audio circuitry, opto-isolators to
prevent clock and other forms of noise
pollution from entering the audio sig-
nal, and Ayre’s latest iteration of its min-
imum-phase digital reconstruction filter,
in the design of which both measuring
and listening played important parts.
While the DX-5 is intended mainly for
use in a multichannel audio and/or video
surround-sound system—Kal Rubinson
will be writing about the DX-5 in this
context in his next “Music in the Round”
column—John Atkinson figured it would
be worth reviewing in a two-channel sys-
tem as well. So while I can’t use the DX-5
with my Sooloos, which I found frustrat-
ing, I suspect the lack of an S/PDIF input
won’t be a problem for most audiophiles
heading into the 21st century’s second de-
cade. That’s Ayre’s bet, anyway.
Steve Silberman brought along and
set up a Mac mini computer, complete
with Bluetooth keyboard, a 7" Pyle
PLMN7SD LCD monitor, and mouse.
I already had a few discs loaded into
iTunes, and I added some more. But I
also had many discs, plus some hi-rez
files, loaded on my own laptop’s iTunes;
with the Mac’s network iTunes sharing,
I could access the thousands of tunes al-
ready loaded on my desktop computer.
The 2000 CDs and hi-rez files I’d down-
loaded from HDtracks and uploaded to
the Sooloos? Not so much.
I also have a lot of SACDs and CDs
and, in the garage, a big box containing
more than 100 DVD-A discs with no
way to play them—until the DX-5 ar-
rived. I could strip the
data from them using
software, then store
the files on my laptop
or on the Sooloos, but
I don’t have the time.
As for Blu-rays, I have
a live Tom Petty al-
bum, Neil Young’s
Archives box, and some
from 2L and other fu-
turist vendors.
Setting it all up
My review sample of
the DX-5 came config-
ured for two-channel
use, but I believe the
factory default is multi-
channel; if you’re con-
sidering using a DX-5 for stereo playback,
it’s best to connect it to a video monitor
to access the onscreen setup menu and
make sure it’s properly configured.
There will be times when you’ll want
to make configuration changes after the
initial setup, so it’s a good idea to have
a screen handy, especially if you have
DVD-A discs, most of which require
playback setup via an onscreen display.
I
mostly used Stereophile’s loan sample of the top-of-
the-line Audio Precision SYS2722 system to perform
the measurements on the Ayre Acoustics DX-5 (see
the January 2008 “As We See It” and www.ap.com);
for some tests, I also used my vintage Audio Precision
System One Dual Domain and the Miller Audio Research
Jitter Analyzer. I have CDs, DVD-As, and SACDs with test
signals, but as of yet I have no Blu-ray test disc. However,
it is safe to assume that the Ayre DX-5’s performance with
24-bit audio stored on BD-Audio discs will be the same as
with 24-bit DVD-As.
The maximum output level with CD and DVD-A was
3.84V from the balanced output, but only 1.8V with
SACD. The level from the unbalanced output was half
those figures, as expected, sourced from a low imped-
ance of 69 ohms at all audio frequencies. The balanced
output impedance was twice that, again as expected, at
139 ohms. The DX-5’s outputs preserved absolute polar-
ity (ie, were non-inverting) with all media with which I
tried it. (The balanced XLRs are wired with pin 2 hot.)
Tested with the Pierre Verany Test CD, whose pit spiral
contains laser-cut gaps of various lengths, the Ayre DX-
5’s error correction was the best I have encountered. It
wasn’t until there were two 3mm gaps in series that the
player stumbled, and then only briefly. Good gracious!
Tested with my MacBook, the DX-5’s USB input operated
correctly with data having sample rates of 44.1, 48, 88.2, and
96kHz, and bit depths of 16 and 24. Data sampled at 32,
176.4, and 192kHz were sample-rate–converted by the host
computer to whatever the rate of the last file played had
been. (I understand that a forthcoming firmware upgrade
will allow the higher sample rates to be handled correctly.)
Connected to the Audio Precision digital input with a true
110 ohm Canare cable and tested with 16-bit J-Test data, the
Ayre’s AES/EBU digital output offered low datastream jitter,
measuring between 345 and 394 picoseconds peak.
The DX-5 offers two choices of digital reconstruction
filter, Measure and Listen. The latter gives a slightly early
rolloff with both CD and DVD data (–3dB at 20kHz and
39kHz, respectively; fig.1, blue and red traces) and less
MEASURE ME NTS
Fig.1 Ayre Acoustics DX-5, frequency response at –12dBFS into 100k ohms
from balanced outputs with data sampled at 44.1 and 96kHz with
Measure reconstruction filter (left channel cyan, right magenta), and
with Listen filter and DSD data (left blue, right red). (1dB/vertical div.)
Disc drawer above, display below.
5ound - |nnovat|on - Þo||ab|||ty - 5orv|co
|oss |oborotor|es. |oresth|||. L^ 95631 · |530] 3673690 · poss|obs.oom

www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 85
AYRE ACOUSTI CS DX- 5
You’ll also need that screen should you
wish to hear a hybrid SACD’s CD layer
(though how often would you want to
do that?). Fortunately, you can now buy
a little LCD monitor for under $100,
from Pyle or Mimo. The DX-5’s back-
lit remote control belongs to a Blu-ray
player, so it has many video functions
and buttons you won’t use. A second,
simpler, audio-only remote would be a
nice option for everyday use.
Don’t forget to properly configure
the computer’s digital output before
you listen to any music. And if you use
a Mac, be sure to download and buy
either Pure Music ($129) or the more
expensive Amarra program, both of
which bypass Apple’s mediocre audio
engine and use iTunes merely as a “skin”
for accessing and retrieving your music
files. The audible improvement is not
subtle. Ayre is preparing its own iTunes
bypass software, called AyreWave, but
the beta version gave us trouble during
the initial setup. I went with Pure Mu-
sic, which also has configuration pages
packed with jargon that will leave many
dizzy (see my review of Pure Vinyl in
the August issue); but, once it’s up and
working, it’s usually stable.
If you love iTunes, you’re all set, oth-
er than the fact that iTunes can’t play
the popular FLAC format. (A program
called Max will convert FLAC files to
iTunes-compatible formats, but it’s just
another annoying step.)
The DX-5 as SACD player
The Ayre DX-5 was a pleasant-sound-
ing SACD player, but its performance
wasn’t spellbinding. I auditioned Da-
vid Chesky’s superb Area 31 (SACD,
Chesky SACD288). I strongly recom-
mend this SACD; the three works on
it are edgy and riveting contemporary
classical music, and the sound is spec-
tacular. In the Violin Concerto, with
soloist Tom Chiu, conductor Anthony
Aibel, and Area 31, the handclaps should
be sharp, the strings searing, the tim-
pani bold, the stage deep and spacious.
The DX-5’s rendering was more about
warmly holding the picture together
than about letting individual orchestral
instruments break free and assert them-
selves. The Ayre’s soundstage was also
smaller than I expected from this SACD
in both width and depth.
When I played Mobile Fidelity Sound
Lab’s outstanding SACD of the Band’s
Music from Big Pink (Capitol/Mobile
Fidelity Sound Lab UDSACD 2044)
on the DX-5, I was surprised by how
reserved and smooth it sounded com-
pared to what I’m used to. Again, the
DX-5 produced a lush, rich, warm,
but somewhat soft overall sound, par-
ticularly at the bottom end. Playing
the excellent-sounding SACD of Roxy
Music’s Avalon, bass lines were softer
and warmer through the DX-5, shakers
and gourds less sharply drawn, and the
overall picture was softer. Bryan Ferry’s
voice seemed diffuse and recessed
through the DX-5, perhaps because the
reverberant backdrop blended with his
voice instead of separating out in space.
I compared the Ayre playing SACDs
to the considerably more expensive
Playback Designs MPS-5 SACD player
(see my review in the February 2010
issue)—the DX-5’s output was consider-
ably lower than that of the MPS-5; I had
to take great care to match output levels
before drawing any conclusions. The
Playback was more “event oriented,”
dynamic, and three-dimensional, with
blacker backgrounds; the DX-5 was
more about delicacy, richness, and atmo-
spherics, less about punch and plumbing
rejection of ultrasonic images, while the Measure filter
behaves more conventionally (fig.1, cyan and magenta
traces), with a very steep rolloff just below the Nyquist
Frequency (half the sample rate). With SACD playback
(fig.1, top pair of traces), the ultrasonic rolloff continues
the smooth contour seen with PCM data and the Measure
filter, reaching –6dB at 85kHz. Fig.2 shows the impulse re-
sponse of the Listen filter. There is no pre-ringing, and just
a single cycle of post-ringing. I haven’t shown the Measure
impulse response, but it is similar to that of Meridian’s
“apodizing” filter (see fig.2 at www.stereophile.com/digital
processors/ayre_acoustics_qb-9_usb_dac/index6.html.)
Channel separation was superb, at 116dB at 1kHz,
and still 86.5dB at 50kHz. Noise levels were also very
low, though when a CD was paused, there were spuriae
present at 352.8kHz at 35mV.
For consistency with my previously published tests of
digital components, I first examine resolution by sweeping
a
1
∕3-octave–wide bandpass filter from 20kHz to 20Hz while
the device under test decodes dithered data representing a
1kHz tone at –90dBFS. The top pair of traces below 4kHz in
fig.3 show an analysis of the DX-5’s balanced output with
16-bit data. The peak just touches the –90dB line, implying
minimal linearity error, and other than a slight bump in the
Fig.3 Ayre Acoustics DX-5,
1
∕3-octave spectrum with noise and spuriae of
dithered 1kHz tone at –90dBFS with: 16-bit data (top below 4kHz), 24-
bit data (bottom), DSD data (top above 4kHz). (Right channel dashed.)
measur ement s, c ont i nued
Fig.2 Ayre Acoustics DX-5 set to Listen, response to single sample at
0dBFS, 44.1kHz sampled data (4ms time window).
“ Ridiculously easy to recommend. It’s the kind of
component that gives me – and should give you
– hope for the future of this great hobby.”
Michael Fremer, Stereophile, April 2009
The Enhanced Vincent SV-236 MK
The S/PDIF Bridge
www.HalideDesign.com
Bring the world of high resolution
computer audio playback to your
existing DAC with a single
plug-and-play cable.
Bit-perfect, asynchronous USB
technology for exceptional sound
quality. Designed and manufactured
in the USA.
For more information, visit us online.
Avaible with BNC (shown)
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www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 87
AYRE ACOUSTI CS DX- 5
the depths. Roughly speaking, it was sort
of like the difference between a Lyra Ti-
tan i and a Benz Micro LP S—superb but
very different-sounding cartridges.
The DX-5 as DVD-Audio player
Here’s where things began to get ex-
citing. For whatever reasons, the Ayre
DX-5 played DVD-As closer to how the
Playback MPS-5 reproduced SACDs. I
don’t care if the same filters are at work,
the sound was very different: far more
expansive, exuberant, and engaging, yet
still smoooooth in the best sense of that
word. Overall, the DX-5’s sound was
smooth and almost golden-toned, re-
gardless of format or resolution.
As Wes Phillips wrote in his QB-9
review, here’s digital sound with analog
flow. If you want a good laugh, compare
the DVD-A of producer George Mar-
tin’s remixes of Beatles songs on Love
(Apple/Capitol 3 79810 2 5) with the
CD edition. The DVD-A has space, life,
transparency, flow; the CD sounds drab
and compressed. It’s almost like the dif-
ference between a CD and an MP3. You
can sink your ears into the rich-sound-
ing DVD-A in ways you can’t with any
CD in my experience.
It was liberating to pull out my box
of dusty DVD-As and play them at
last. Some were great, some not. For
instance, I’m certain tacky reverb was
added to the Grateful Dead’s Working-
man’s Dead (Warner Bros.), rendering
it silly. On the other hand, the DVD-A
of The Band’s Music from Big Pink was
stunning, with Levon Helm’s drum kit
having a full, deep fury that I’m told
was chopped by Capitol from the origi-
nal LP, and somewhat tamed and soft-
ened on Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab’s
outstanding SACD (Capitol/Mobile
Fidelity Sound Lab UDSACD 2044)
through the DX-5.
So much work and money went into
the failed format of DVD-Audio. I have
a disc of Gerry Rafferty’s somewhat
obscure Can I Have My Money Back?,
originally issued on Transatlantic in
the UK (Blue Thumb/Silverline)—this
was before “Baker Street.” It’s one of
my favorite pop albums, and Silverline
went to the trouble of remixing it for
surround sound. The DVD-A package
contains a second copy of the album,
on CD, as well as really well-done notes
and extras. The stereo mixdown on the
DVD-A sounded precise, detailed, and
three-dimensional via the DX-5, bet-
tering the LP in a few ways, though of
course [you can finish the sentence].
2
I compared the DVD-A and SACD of
Peter Frampton’s Frampton Comes Alive!
(The sacrifices I make for you . . . but
don’t get me wrong: from The Herd to
Camel to Humble Pie, I was a big Framp-
ton fan.) That confirmed that the DX-5’s
OVERALL, THE DX-5’S SOUND WAS
SMOOTH AND ALMOST GOLDEN-TONED,
REGARDLESS OF FORMAT OR RESOLUTION.
right channel’s output at 60Hz, the noise floor is actually the
dither noise used to encode the signal. Repeating the test
with 24-bit data played back from a DVD-A gave the bottom
pair of traces in fig.3. The noise floor has dropped by 10dB,
suggesting a DAC resolution of around 18 bits, which is
similar to the performance of Ayre’s QB-9 processor, and
again there is a slight amount of a 60Hz tone present in the
right channel only. (At –118dBFS, this is not going to disturb
anyone’s musical enjoyment.) The lower maximum output
level with SACD, however, results in a noise floor no better
at low and middle frequencies than that with the same
signal played back from CD (fig.3, top traces above 4kHz).
Repeating the spectral analysis with the 16- and 24-bit
signals but now using an FFT technique again gives a
10dB lowering of the noise floor (fig.4), but the spectra
are commendably free from spuriae other than the 60Hz
component noted earlier. Fig.5 shows the waveform of
an undithered 16-bit/1kHz tone at exactly –90.31dBFS;
the three discrete DC voltage levels described by the
data are clearly resolved, with excellent waveform sym-
metry. Increasing the data’s bit depth to 24 gave rise to
a well-defined sinewave (not shown). DAC linearity error
with 16-bit data was vanishingly low to below –110dBFS
(not shown).
Fig.5 Ayre Acoustics DX-5, waveform of undithered 1kHz sinewave at
–90.31dBFS, 16-bit data (left channel blue, right red).
measur ement s , c ont i nued
Fig.4 Ayre Acoustics DX-5, FFT-derived spectrum with noise and spuriae of
dithered 1kHz tone at –90dBFS with: 16-bit data (left channel cyan,
right magenta), 24-bit data (left blue, right red).
2 I now have a political blog, “Can I Have My Money
Back?” (http://blogs.northjersey.com/blogs/fremer).
Rest assured, readers: No more politics from me in
Stereophile! Check it out. Even conservatives will like
the picture.
www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 89
AYRE ACOUSTI CS DX- 5
SACD playback lacked its DVD-A play-
back’s imaging precision, spaciousness,
and three-dimensionality, not to mention
bass punch. So if you have those DVD-
As hanging around, the DX-5 will play
them fully resolved. On the other hand,
you can rip them to files to play via your
computer and the DX-5’s USB port.
The DX-5 as Blu-ray–Audio player
Again, you’ll need the LCD screen to
navigate the menus of many discs, and
there aren’t yet that many Blu-ray–Au-
dio releases, but Tom Petty’s Live played
without a hitch, sounding really big, full,
and flowing. Neil Young’s Archives at
24/192 produced incredible detail reso-
lution, weight, and three-dimension-
ality. It was great to finally get to hear
the Young set in my main rig instead of
through our less-than-optimal home-
theater system, but the vinyl still sounds
“wetter,” more lifelike, less mechanical
overall—especially on sharp transients
and sibilants, even though the playback
process is more mechanical.
The few classical BD-A discs I have,
including Brett Mitchell and the Hous-
ton Symphony’s performance of Holst’s
The Planets: An HD Odyssey, sounded far
superior to any CD I’ve ever heard. The
problem with this disc was that I got
distracted by the NASA space footage,
even on the tiny 7" screen.
Another one, Mira (BD-A, Jienat
NCD002), composed, arranged, and
produced by Andreas Fliflet, is a per-
cussion sonic spectacular that should be
in anyone’s collection of “wow” demo
discs (a second disc repeats the program
on SACD). It sounds like American
Indians meeting Argentineans meeting
Norwegians to chant and bang drums—
something Todd Garfinkle might pro-
duce for M•A Recordings, only more
closely miked. If your system can repro-
duce really deep bass, Mira will deliver
plenty. It was among the best-sounding
discs or files I heard through the DX-5.
I tried playing Grieg’s Piano Concerto
in the recording made from a reperfor-
mance, with Rolf Gupta conducting the
Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra, of
the Duo-Art piano-roll recording made
by Percy Grainger (BD-A/SACD, 2L
60SABD)—something I really wanted
to hear to compare to the SACD also
included in this release—but I could get
only a blue screen, and the default audio
mode was DTS-HD Master Audio. It
appears that there are still glitches to be
ironed out of Blu-ray–Audio.
The DX-5 as CD player
When you spend time with hi-rez files
and discs, it’s easy to forget CDs. How-
ever, the DX-5 proved to be a very good
CD player, on the somewhat smooth
and forgiving side of the scale, with less
“bite” and top-end sparkle, and lacking
the half-again-as-expensive Playback
MPS-5’s bass extension and, particularly,
its punch. Still, many listeners will prefer
the Ayre’s smoother, richer sound, just
Into the high 100k ohms lab test load, the Ayre’s bal-
anced distortion signature with 24-bit data—what there was
of a signature—consisted of the third harmonic at –77dB
(0.014%), the second at –87dB (0.004%), and the fifth at
–100dB (0.001%). Dropping the load impedance to a pun-
ishing 600 ohms somewhat raised the levels of the odd
harmonics (fig.6), but not to anything like levels that might
be audible. The “leaky” ultrasonic nature of Ayre’s Listen
filter gives rise to poor image rejection with the high-level
mix of 19 and 20kHz tones, as well as some audioband
aliasing (fig.7), though actual intermodulation distortion
is very low. Switching to the Measure filter cleans up the
spectrum nicely (fig.8).
Fig.8 Ayre Acoustics DX-5, Measure, HF intermodulation spectrum, DC–
24kHz, 19+20kHz at 0dBFS into 100k ohms (linear frequency scale).
Fig.7 Ayre Acoustics DX-5, Listen, HF intermodulation spectrum, DC–24kHz,
19+20kHz at 0dBFS into 100k ohms (linear frequency scale).
measur ement s, c ont i nued
Fig.6 Ayre Acoustics DX-5, spectrum of 50Hz sinewave, DC–10kHz, at 0dBFS
into 600 ohms (left channel blue, right red; linear frequency scale).
THE VINYL STILL SOUNDS “WETTER,”
MORE LIFELIKE, LESS MECHANICAL OVERALL—ESPECIALLY
ON SHARP TRANSIENTS AND SIBILANTS.
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www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 91
AYRE ACOUSTI CS DX- 5
as many analog devotees prefer warmer,
more graceful-sounding cartridges.
The DX-5 as USB DAC
I transferred the 2009 Beatles remaster-
ings from the 24/44.1 Apple USB don-
gle version to my laptop, converted them
from FLAC to AIFF with Max, and they
sounded clearly superior to the more
cardboardy 16-bit CDs. Attacks were
richer, more supple and natural, particu-
larly with vocal sibilants, cymbals, and
tambourines; and the decay was longer
and more graceful before fading more
naturally to black. Images were rounder
and more solid. The stage space was
more generously rendered. You can sit
and listen to these 24-bit files for hours,
and I did, particularly enjoying the band’s
precise, hash- and grain-free voices and
the cleanly rendered percussion.
As for CDs played “live” on the DX-5’s
transport vs from computer, among the
CDs transferred to the Mac mini were
Andy Statman’s Between Heaven & Earth:
Music of the Jewish Mystics (CD, Shanachie
64079), an unusual hybrid of klezmer,
bluegrass, and jazz; and a recent reissue
of Ray Charles’ great Genius+Soul=Jazz,
recorded in 1960 when he was but 30
years old. This mostly instrumental al-
bum was originally issued on vinyl by
Impulse! (IMP-2) in 1961, with Charles
on Hammond B-3, backed for half of
the album by the Count Basie Orchestra
(minus the Count). This new edition (2
CDs, Concord CRE-31669) has been
expanded to include three later big-band
sets with Charles backed by an equally
distinguished grouping assembled for the
date, including trumpeter Clark Terry and
drummer Roy Haynes (still going strong
at 85!). The arrangements, by Quincy
Jones and Ralph Burns, are big, yet leave
a lot of space for Ray’s organ work to be
punctuated by big horn blasts. Rudy Van
Gelder engineered at his studio in Engle-
wood Cliffs, New Jersey, where Jimmy
Smith recorded those great Blue Note
Hammond B-3 sessions; Ray was thrilled
to be doing likewise in the same venue.
Comparing “live” CD playback on
the DX-5 with “raw” iTunes playback
via USB (ie, without Pure Music) pro-
duced a noticeable difference. The
“live” playback sounded smoother and
definitely more transparent, with more
compact and better-focused images. The
computer playback was grainier and
less pleasing overall, with sloppier bass,
grittier horns, and a less juicy-sounding
Hammond B-3—but when I opened
Pure Music and bypassed iTunes, the im-
provement was immediate; playback of
the disc and the same bits via the DX-5’s
USB input were then indistinguishable.
From the conversations I have had with him over the past
couple of years, I know that Ayre’s Charlie Hansen takes jitter
rejection very seriously. Measuring the DX-5 using the 16-bit
J-Test signal played back on CD or DVD, or fed to the Ayre’s
USB port, gave identical spectra (fig.9).
1
The harmonics of the
low-frequency squarewave are at the residual level, and the
only sidebands visible lie 120Hz to either side of the central
spike representing the high-level 11.025kHz tone. Repeating
the analysis with a 24-bit version of the J-Test signal gave a
beautifully clean spectrum (fig.10), though the supply-related
sidebands at ±120Hz are still present, and another pair can
be seen at ±240Hz, just above the noise floor at –140dBFS.
It is a pleasure to measure such a well-engineered
product as Ayre’s DX-5. This “universal A/V engine”
may be based on an Oppo chassis, but its measured
performance, especially via that asynchronous USB port,
is pure Ayre Acoustics! —John Atkinson
Fig.10 Ayre Acoustics DX-5, high-resolution jitter spectrum of analog
output signal, 11.025kHz at –6dBFS, sampled at 44.1kHz with LSB
toggled at 229Hz, 24-bit data from DVD-A. Center frequency of trace,
11.025kHz; frequency range, ±3.5kHz (left channel blue, right red).
measur ement s, c ont i nued
Fig.9 Ayre Acoustics DX-5, high-resolution jitter spectrum of analog output
signal, 11.025kHz at –6dBFS, sampled at 44.1kHz with LSB toggled at
229Hz, 16-bit data from MacBook via USB. Center frequency of trace,
11.025kHz; frequency range, ±3.5kHz (left channel blue, right red).
1 Some argue that it is inappropriate for the J-Test signal to be used to test a
system in which data are not biphase -encoded, as they are in an S/PDIF or AES/
EBU datastream. However, while I accept that the signal is not formally diagnos-
tic unless used for biphase data, it is still revealing of other problems, such as the
Logic-Induced Modulation first described by Ed Meitner and Robert Gendron in
1991 (see www.aes.org/e-lib/browse.cfm?elib=5611).
YOU CAN SIT AND LISTEN TO THESE
24-BIT FILES FOR HOURS, AND I DID,
PARTICULARLY ENJOYING THE BAND’S PRECISE,
HASH- AND GRAIN-FREE VOICES AND THE CLEANLY
RENDERED PERCUSSION.
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AYRE ACOUSTI CS DX- 5
The same differences were
obvious with the excellent-
sounding Andy Statman re-
cording. The timbral warmth of
the clarinet, the graceful attack
of the piano, and the surround-
ing acoustic were all greatly
diminished—until played back
through Pure Music.
While some listeners claim
hard-drive playback sounds
better than from the original
discs, I heard no differences
once Pure Music was in the
chain. Via the Ayre DX-5’s
USB input, computer playback
sounded like disc playback. In
other words, an inexpensive
Mac mini used as a music
server can store and play your
CDs and hi-rez files, and you’ll
pay no sonic price for the con-
venience of instant access, so
long as you bypass iTunes with
something like Pure Music or Amarra.
I won’t clog this up with a page more
of musical examples. All I’ll say is that,
in addition to superb CD playback in-
distinguishable from “live” playback,
the Ayre DX-5 offers its owner access
to high-resolution files from a variety of
online sources. Computer audio is the
future—for some, it’s the present—and it
will change how you listen to music, for
the better and for the more convenient.
Conclusions
Ayre Acoustics’ DX-5 is a unique way
to meet your current and future digi-
tal playback needs with a single box.
It plays every disc format in your col-
lection now, and it’s ready to play
24-bit/192kHz Blu-ray–Audio discs.
Its asynchronous USB port can reli-
ably handle up to 24/96 files, and, with
a chip upgrade, files with sample rates
up to 192kHz with claimed “virtually
jitter-free” performance. Using an inex-
pensive computer like a Mac mini, and
with 1-terabyte hard drives now cost-
ing around $100, you can use the DX-5
as part of a server-based music system,
storing all your music on an external
hard drive (or two or three), and back-
ing it all up and storing it at another lo-
cation (such as a safe-deposit box), all
for the cost of some audio cables.
Of course, you can also do that with
far less expensive, driveless USB DACs
available now from Ayre and other
companies, so the real question is this:
How many DVD-A discs do you cur-
rently own, and do you want to prepare
now for an audio-disc future that will
possibly be dominated by BD-A?
In my case, with so much software
and so many formats available, having
a player capable of decoding everything
was liberating. I could play hundreds of
the discs that have been gathering dust
here. I really loved listening to DVD-
As; it’s too bad the format died due to
poor planning and the need to have a
screen back when you couldn’t add a
small TFT-LCD for under $100, as you
can now.
I don’t know why the DX-5 performed
so much better with PCM than with
DSD signals, but it did. Not that the DX-
5’s SACD sound was unacceptable—it
wasn’t. But if you already own an SACD
player you like, trading it for a DX-5 to
get the Ayre’s other features will probably
be, at best, a sonic step sideways.
That said, I truly enjoyed the time I
spent with the DX-5, discovering all the
great and great-sounding hi-rez music
that’s sat unplayed on my shelves for so
long. And that’s what it’s all about. ■■
ASSOCIATED EQUIPMENT
ANALOG SOURCES Continuum Audio Labs Caliburn turntable, Cobra tone-
arm, Castellon stand; Graham Engineering Phantom II tonearm; Ortofon A90,
Lyra Titan i, Miyajima Premium BE mono cartridges.
DIGITAL SOURCES Playback Designs MPS-5 SACD/CD player/DAC, Camelot
Roundtable Anagram Technologies DAC, BPT-modified Alesis Masterlink
hard-disk recorder, Benchmark ADC1 A/D converter, Meridian Sooloos
music server, Mac mini computer running Pure Music software.
PREAMPLIFICATION Einstein Audio Turntable’s Choice, Esoteric E-03 phono
preamplifiers; darTZeel NHB-18NS preamplifier.
POWER AMPLIFIER Musical Fidelity Titan.
LOUDSPEAKERS Magico Q5, Wilson Audio Specialties MAXX 3.
CABLES Phono: Hovland/Graham MG2 Music Groove. Interconnect: TARA
Labs Zero, Stealth Sakra, ZenSati. Speaker: TARA Labs Omega Gold, ZenSati.
AC: TARA Labs The One Cobalt, Shunyata Research King Cobra Helix CX,
Isoclean 1000.
ACCESSORIES Finite Elemente Pagode, HRS SXR stands; Symposium Roller-
blocks; Audiodharma Cable Cooker; Shunyata Research V-Ray II Reference,
Silver Circle Audio Pure Power One 5.0, TARA Labs Power Screen power
conditioners; Furutech DeMag & deStat LP treatments; Oyaide AC wall box
& receptacles; ASC Tube Traps, RPG BAD & Abffusor panels; VPI HW-17F,
Loricraft PRC4 Deluxe record-cleaning machines. —Michael Fremer
The “Universal A/V Engine”—all the digital source you need?
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nding the best bang for the buck, and the discerning buyer who wants the
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It seems that there is a push in the manufacturing world to produce goods
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e techniques we use to make everything from our entry level Tonik
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E Q U I P M E N T R E P O R T
DESCRIPTION Solid-state integrated
amplifier with built-in D/A converter,
USB interface, and digital iPod dock.
Inputs: 1 line-level analog, 2 S/PDIF
digital (1 coax, 1 optical). D/A signal/
noise ratio: 118dB. Preamp output
impedance: <30 ohms. Amplifier
output power: 40Wpc into 6 ohms
(14.8dBW) at <1.0 % distortion.
DIMENSIONS 14.75" (380mm) W
by 5" (130mm) H by 14" (360mm)
D. Weight: 23 lbs (10.5kg).
SERIAL NUMBER OF UNIT
REVIEWED 0004184, firmware v1.1.
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ART DUDLEY
Peachtree
iDecco
D/A INTEGRATED AMPLIFIER
A
s with so many other things, from cell phones to soy milk, the idea
of a portable MP3 player was something I at first disdained, only
to later embrace with the fervor of any reformed sinner. But not so
the idea of a high-fidelity iPod dock: Given that I now carry around
several hundred high-resolution AIFF files on my own Apple iPod
Touch, the usefulness of a compatible transport seemed obvious
from the start. Look at it this way: In 1970, whenever I bought a
music recording, I could enjoy it on any player, in any room in the house. In 2010,
why shouldn’t I enjoy at least that degree of convenience and flexibility—without
resorting to a pair of tinny, uncomfortable earbuds?
So it was that Wadia Digital’s first iPod dock, the Model 170, earned its status as a
seminal product; and so, I daresay, will Peachtree Audio be recognized for pioneer-
ing yet another worthy genre with their iDecco: a perfectionist-quality iPod dock
and a similarly pedigreed digital-to-analog converter, combined with a tube-buffered
preamplifier and a 40Wpc power amplifier—all for $999.
Description
The US-designed iDecco, which is manufactured in mainland China, has its origins
in the Peachtree Nova ($1199), a similar DAC-integrated with a little more power
(80Wpc) and a lot less dock. Having earned dozens of rave reviews, including John
Marks’ writeup in “The Fifth Element” in the August 2009 Stereophile, and with re-
tail sales nearing the 4000 mark, the Nova endures. But Peachtree’s David Solomon
Peachtree iDecco D/A integrated amplifier with digital iPod dock
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www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 99
PEACHTRE E I DECCO
now seems ready to bring the gospel of
good sound even nearer to the audio-
indifferent.
Solomon describes the genesis of
the iDecco: “We simply started read-
ing RIAA statistics, and there it was:
Look what’s happening! Consumers have
changed the way they buy music, and
[the world of downloadable media files]
is where they are.”
The Peachtree iDecco is designed
around a traditional linear power sup-
ply with a toroidal transformer: Thank-
fully, wall warts are neither required
nor supplied. (I’ll probably never ac-
cept the idea of four-figure domestic
audio products that use the same sort
of AC adapter as a Hello Kitty portable
CD player.) For its part, the power amp
is built around the TDA 7293 power
MOSFET IC from ST Microelectron-
ics, operated in class-A/B. The pream-
plifier’s solid-state gain stages run in
class-A, while some degree of driver-
stage buffering is conferred by a 6N1P
dual-triode tube. As in the Peachtree
Nova, the tube buffer can be switched
in and out via a pushbutton on the re-
mote handset, a function not duplicated
T
o perform the measurements on the Peachtree
iDecco, I mostly used Stereophile’s loan sample
of the top-of-the-line Audio Precision SYS2722
system (see the January 2008 “As We See It”
and www.ap.com); for some tests, I also used my vintage
Audio Precision System One Dual Domain and the Miller
Audio Research Jitter Analyzer.
Before I did any testing of the iDecco, I ran it at one-
third power into 8 ohms for an hour, which imposes the
maximum heat stress on an amplifier with a class-AB
output stage. At the end of that time, the iDecco was hot
but not bothered.
Looking first at the iDecco’s performance as a digital
decoder, a full-scale 1kHz tone clipped the amplifier’s out-
put stage with the volume control set to 2:30. The level
from the variable preamp outputs with the tube in-circuit
was 848mV in this condition. The maximum level from
the line-level output jacks was 2.06V, sourced from a low
impedance of 10 ohms, and while both the loudspeaker
outputs and the fixed-level line outs preserved absolute
polarity for digital sources, the variable preamp outputs
inverted polarity with the tube. Other than when noted,
I continued the digital testing from the fixed line-level
outputs with the volume control set to its minimum,
to avoid stressing the iDecco’s amplifier output stage.
The iDecco locked to S/PDIF datastreams with sample
rates ranging from 32 to 96kHz, but not to data with sample
rates greater than 96kHz. The top two pairs of traces in
fig.1 show the iDecco’s D/A frequency response with
44.1kHz data (cyan, magenta traces) and 96kHz data (blue,
red) with the rear-panel Filter pushbutton set to Fast. The
response is flat and extended at both frequency extremes,
at least until the inevitable steep rolloff just below half the
sample rate. By contrast, the green and gray traces in fig.1
show the response with 44.1kHz taken from the variable
preamp outputs with the tube operating, the volume
control set to 2:00 and the Filter set to Slow, offset by 1dB
for clarity. There is now a slight (0.3dB) imbalance between
the channels and the low-frequency response is down 3dB
at 11Hz. At the other end of the spectrum, the effect of the
Slow filter is to roll off the top-octave output a little early,
the response being down 3dB at 19.5kHz.
Testing the DAC’s resolution with a swept bandpass filter
while it decoded a dithered 1kHz tone at –90dBFS gave
MEASURE ME NTS
Fig.2 Peachtree iDecco,
1
∕3-octave spectrum with noise and spuriae of
dithered 1kHz tone at –90dBFS with 16-bit data (top) and 24-bit
data (bottom). (Right channel dashed.)
Fig.1 Peachtree iDecco, frequency response at –12dBFS into 100k ohms from
fixed outputs with data sampled at 44.1kHz (left channel cyan, right
magenta) and 96kHz (left blue, right red), and from variable outputs
with volume control set to 2:00 (left green, right gray). (1dB/vertical div.)
The iDecco’s tube can be switched in and out of circuit with the remote.
phone: 510.547.5006 www.musicalsurroundings.com
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www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 101
PEACHTRE E I DECCO
on the iDecco’s front panel; given that
the tube is “ramped in” to the circuit—
with full rail voltage on the plates at
all times—the changeover takes only a
few seconds. Solomon says that, with
the tube switched in, “we lose about
6dB of signal/noise ratio. But I think it
sounds better.”
The D/A board is where things get
really interesting. The star of the show
is an ES9006 Sabre DAC from ESS
Technology, of Fremont, California.
According to Solomon, the Sabre DAC
reclocks the datastreams from all digi-
tal sources, and upsamples them to 24
bits and 96kHz. Solomon also says that
the iDecco’s D/A board incorporates
11 regulated power supplies of its own,
to enhance interstage isolation and thus
keep noise to a minimum.
The iDecco’s USB transceiver is
separate from the ESS Sabre DAC, and
is galvanically isolated from the rest of
the board. “We learned early on we had
to do something about noise coming
off the USB cable,” Solomon says. The
USB socket and the iPod connection—
the latter is purely digital, and bypasses
the player’s headphone output—are also
transformer-coupled to the circuit, to
prevent grounding glitches and switch-
ing noise.
The iDecco’s front panel is simple
and spare: That lucky tube gets its own
little window, flanked on one side by a
(motorized) volume knob, and on the
other by five illuminated source-selec-
tion buttons. All front-panel controls
are duplicated on the pleasantly rub-
bery remote-control handset, alongside
such extras as a Mute button and the
the traces shown in fig.2. The top pair of traces were taken
at the variable preamp jacks, again set to 2:00, with 16-bit
data, and the bottom pair with 24-bit data; you can see that
the increase in bit depth drops the noise floor by 10dB or
so in the treble. There is a slight bump at the 60Hz AC line
frequency, but this is sufficiently far down in level not to be
an issue. Repeating the analysis, this time from the fixed-
level jacks with an FFT technique, gave the traces shown in
fig.3. The increase in bit depth now drops the noise floor by
18dB, which implies that the iDecco’s ESS 9600 Sabre chip
has at least 19-bit resolution. However, some harmonics of
the AC frequency can be seen with the 24-bit data (blue, red
traces), and a regular series of distortion harmonics is also
unmasked by the lowering of the noise floor. DAC linear-
ity error with 16-bit data (not shown) was vanishingly low
to below –100dBFS, and the iDecco’s noise floor was low
enough to allow the three DC voltage levels that describe an
undithered 16-bit tone at –90.31dBFS to be readily resolved
(fig.4). With undithered 24-bit data, the result was a noisy
but otherwise well-defined sinewave (not shown).
When it came to distortion, the two line-level outputs
varied dramatically. The blue and red traces in fig.5 show the
spectrum of a full-scale 50Hz tone at the fixed-output jacks.
The second harmonic lies at –90dB (0.003%), the third at
–80dB (0.01%), and the fourth at –110dB (0.0003%). By
contrast, while the third harmonic remains at the same level
from the tubed variable-output jacks, the fourth harmonic
has risen to –90dB and, more significant, the second has
Fig.3 Peachtree iDecco, FFT-derived spectrum with noise and spuriae of
dithered 1kHz tone at –90dBFS with: 16-bit data (left channel cyan,
right magenta), 24-bit data (left blue, right red).
Fig.5 Peachtree iDecco, spectrum of 50Hz sinewave, DC–10kHz, at 0dBFS
into 100k ohms from fixed outputs (left channel blue, right red), and
from variable outputs with volume control set to 2:00 (left channel
cyan, right magenta). (Linear frequency scale.)
Fig.4 Peachtree iDecco, waveform of undithered 1kHz sinewave at
–90.31dBFS, 16-bit data (left channel blue, right red).
THE TUBE BUFFER CAN BE SWITCHED IN
AND OUT VIA A PUSHBUTTON ON THE
REMOTE HANDSET.
measur ement s, c ont i nued
* DAC1.5 display is used solely for the purpose of this ad and does not reflect the actual display.
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PEACHTRE E I DECCO
aforementioned tube switcher. Addi-
tional buttons on the handset can be
used to control the most basic playback
functions of the iPod itself: skipping
forward or backward through various
songs (but not albums), pausing the
music, and resuming play.
The rear panel is nicely laid out, with
inputs for four of the five sources—USB
digital, coax and optical S/PDIF digi-
tal, and line-level analog—plus one pair
of preamp outputs for subwoofers or
other ancillaries, and a pair of line-level
outputs for those who might wish to
use the iDecco as a standalone DAC to
drive some other preamp or amp. Two
other items deserve mention: a two-
position switch for choosing between
soft and steep digital filter slopes, and
a Jitter Bandwidth control, with Nar-
row and Wide settings (think of them
as fine and coarse sieves, respectively),
for use with the S/PDIF inputs.
Finally, the Peachtree iDecco is pro-
tected by an MDF “wrap” liberally
vented for heat dissipation, and finished
with a sufficiently glossy (black) paint
that I long assumed the case was made
of some sort of polymer.
risen to –50dB (0.3%). In both cases, a picket fence of
very-low-level spuriae is also visible. The primary difference
between the two outputs is that, with the variable jacks, the
signal passes through a 6922 tube. It is the “bent” transfer
function of this tube that generates the even-order distortion.
As can be seen in fig.1, the slow in “Slow Filter” refers to
the rate of the reconstruction filter’s ultrasonic rolloff. It is
generally felt that a slower rate of rolloff sounds better, but
the downside is that there is less rejection of the ultrasonic
images that result from the digitizing of the signal. This can be
seen in fig.6, which shows the spectrum of the iDecco’s fixed
outputs while it decoded 24-bit data representing an equal
mix of high-level 19 and 20kHz tones. The primary ultrasonic
image of the two tones is suppressed by just 12dB, and other
aliasing spuriae are folded down into the audioband. Switch-
ing this filter to Fast gives the spectrum shown in fig.7: the
ultrasonic images have dropped significantly in level, as have
the audioband aliasing spuriae. The primary intermodulation
product, at 1kHz, has risen slightly, to –96dB (0.0015%), but
this is still negligible in absolute terms.
The iDecco offers three choices of digital input: S/PDIF
(on coaxial and TosLink connectors), USB, and from an
iPod plugged into the top-panel dock; a second rear-panel
pushbutton selects between Wide and Narrow receiver PLL
bandwidths. The Wide setting is to allow the iDecco to suc-
cessfully lock to digital sources with poor-tolerance clocks;
however, the downside is that this gives rise to increased
Fig.7 Peachtree iDecco, HF intermodulation spectrum, Fast Filter, DC–
24kHz, 19+20kHz at 0dBFS into 100k ohms (linear frequency scale).
Fig.6 Peachtree iDecco, HF intermodulation spectrum, Slow Filter, DC–
24kHz, 19+20kHz at 0dBFS into 100k ohms (linear frequency scale).
Fig.8 Peachtree iDecco, Wide receiver, high-resolution jitter spectrum of analog
output signal, 11.025kHz at –6dBFS, sampled at 44.1kHz with LSB toggled
at 229Hz, 16-bit data from SYS2722 via 15’ TosLink. Center frequency of
trace, 11.025kHz; frequency range, ±3.5kHz (left channel blue, right red).
measur ement s , c ont i nued
USB and S/PDIF digital inputs—and one pair of analog inputs.
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PEACHTRE E I DECCO
Setup and use
Like the Naim Uniti CD/receiver be-
fore it (see my review in the March 2010
Stereophile), the Peachtree iDecco led a
nomadic existence in my home: I applied
it to four different pairs of loudspeakers
(Audio Note AN-E/SPe H/E, Wilson
Audio Sophia 3, Quad ESL, Advent
Loudspeaker) in three different rooms.
Most of my listening was done with the
first two pairs, in my listening room/of-
fice (19' long by 12' wide by 8' high).
Installation was a breeze: Once I’d
connected the iDecco’s USB input to my
Apple iMac G5 computer (OSX 10.6.2),
a sound output device listed as “USB
Audio DAC” appeared in the comput-
er’s System Preferences window, and I
duly selected it. As for its top-mounted
iPod connection, the iDecco is supplied
with four different dock inserts, one of
which fit my and my daughter Julia’s
iPod Touches to a T.
In addition to AIFF and MP3 files
from our iPods (v.4.0.2), and those plus
WAV files streamed from my com-
puter’s copy of iTunes (v.9.2.1), I tried
bypassing the iDecco’s USB transceiver
by streaming files to a Stello U2 USB
transceiver, then on to the iDecco’s co-
axial S/PDIF input by means of a Black
Cat Veloce cable (a superb product at
a bargain price of $123). I compared
the whole of the iDecco’s USB DAC
system to various outboard USB DACs
on hand, using the latter to address the
Peachtree’s single pair of line-level ana-
log inputs (labeled Aux). I also tried my
aging Sony SCD-777ES SACD/CD
player, from both its line-level analog
outputs and its optical S/PDIF output.
I had intended to try streaming music
files direct to the iDecco’s optical input,
from the iMac’s headphone jack—which,
remarkably, is also an S/PDIF digital
output—but an optical plug adapter that
I ordered for that purpose didn’t arrive
in time. A Follow-Up may follow.
Listening
It’s often presumed that, all other things
being equal, the performance of an inte-
grated amp is compromised compared
to the performance potential of good
separates. Take that equality from the
scene and the compromise is presumed
greater still, as with an especially cheap
levels of jitter. Fig.8, for example, shows the spectrum with
the 16-bit J-Test signal fed to the iDecco via TosLink. Though
data-related jitter other than the sidebands at ±229Hz is at
the residual level, there are strong sidebands at ±1.8kHz,
and a significant widening of the central spectral peak due
to random low-frequency clock variations. The jitter level
was 519 picoseconds peak–peak, according to the Miller
Analyzer. This is still low in absolute terms, but switching to
the Narrow setting lowered the jitter level to below 200ps,
narrowed the central peak in the spectrum, eliminated the
high-frequency sidebands, and reduced all data-related
sidebands to the residual level of the test signal (fig.9),
which is superb performance.
The iDecco takes data from an iPod in digital format;
repeating the jitter test with the 16-bit J-Test signal play-
ing on an iPod Classic 160GB gave a low 310ps of jitter.
While there were no data-related sidebands present in the
spectrum (not shown), there were sidebands of unknown
origin present at ±91 and ±816Hz. Feeding USB data from
my MacBook gave just 260ps of jitter, from sidebands
at ±1423Hz (not shown). The iDecco offers excellent
rejection of jitter, though with both iPod and USB sources
there was significant widening of the central spectral peak,
again due to the presence of random low-frequency jitter.
Examining the iDecco with the Mac’s USB Prober utility
identified the USB receiver as a “USB Audio DAC” from
“Burr Brown from TI” operating in adaptive isochronous
mode, and indicated that it accepted 16-bit data with
sample rates of 32, 44.1, and 48kHz only.
Moving on to the iDecco’s amplification section, the
output from the speaker jacks preserved polarity (ie, was
non-inverting) for digital inputs, but inverted absolute
polarity for analog signals fed to the Aux input via the tube.
The maximum gain for analog input signals was fairly low
for an integrated amplifier, at 28.7dB into 8 ohms. The Aux
input impedance was usefully high, at 48k ohms at low
and middle frequencies, dropping slightly but inconse-
quentially to 42k ohms at the top of the audioband.
I had to scratch my head a bit when I examined the
iDecco’s output impedance. I perform this measurement by
comparing the output voltage with the amplifier driving 8 or
4 ohms with how much that voltage rises when I remove
the load. A simple Ohm’s Law calculation then gives me the
amplifier’s output impedance (including the cables in use,
Fig.9 Peachtree iDecco, Narrow receiver, high-resolution jitter spectrum of
analog output signal, 11.025kHz at –6dBFS, sampled at 44.1kHz with
LSB toggled at 229Hz, 16-bit data from iPod Classic. Center frequency of
trace, 11.025kHz; frequency range, ±3.5kHz (left channel blue, right red).
Fig.10 Peachtree iDecco, frequency response at 2.83V into: simulated
loudspeaker load (gray), 8 ohms (left channel blue, right red), 4
ohms (left cyan, right magenta), 2 ohms (green). (1dB/vertical div.)
measur ement s , c ont i nued
106 www.Stereophile.com, December 2010
PEACHTRE E I DECCO
integrated amp. For the amp to share its
chassis and power supply with source
components—an iPod dock and a D/A
converter, perhaps?—harshens the com-
promise still further. So the question
becomes: How cleverly were those com-
promises chosen and implemented?
In the context of the perfectionist-
quality gear with which I’m familiar,
the iDecco’s shortcomings were far
from severe, and had more to do with
abstract sonics than purely musical ca-
pabilities, the latter being extremely
good (a subject to which I’ll return in
a moment). The iDecco’s overall sound
was nonetheless satisfying, with a treble
range that sounded naturally extended,
lacking both the excess grit and the pe-
culiarly chalky quality that characterizes
a great deal of budget solid-state play-
back gear. The opposite end of the spec-
trum was also well served: The lowest
piano notes and drum and synth tones
sounded fast and well controlled, albeit
without quite the locomotive weight
one can hear from, say, a Shindo, Lamm,
Audio Note, or EAR tube amp. But the
Peachtree did a satisfying job with the
huge orchestral drum sounds and other
harrowing effects in John Adams’ On the
Transmigration of Souls, with Lorin Maa-
zel leading the New York Philharmonic
(CD, Nonesuch 79816-2).
Actually, the iDecco’s most identifi-
able shortcoming was that to which I
find myself least sensitive: It didn’t have
quite the same degree of spatial depth
as the best contemporary electronics.
I might also add that my favorite elec-
tronics, all of which are either very ex-
pensive, or very rare and thus terrifyingly
of course). However, when I disconnected the load with
the iDecco, the output voltage dropped, suggesting that
the Peachtree actually has a negative output impedance of
about –0.2 ohm. This can be seen in the plot of the ampli-
fier’s frequency response (fig.10), where the output with
the 2 ohm load (green trace) is higher than it is with 4 or 8
ohms. This is unusual, and suggests that the amplifier circuit
uses a degree of positive feedback. However, the variation
in response with our simulated speaker (gray) is very low.
Note the low-frequency rolloff in fig.1, which, at –3dB
at 55Hz, is even more extreme than that seen in the
response from the preamp outputs (fig.1, green and gray
traces). I was puzzled by this, but after some thought I
repeated the response measurements at various settings
of the volume control. The traces in fig.10, taken with the
volume control at its maximum, are repeated as the bot-
tom pair of traces in fig.11. The other traces in this graph
were taken at progressively lower settings of the volume
control, and you can see that the iDecco’s low frequencies
are well extended at volume-control settings of 12:00 and
below. It looks as if the iDecco reduces its low-frequency
bandwidth as you increase the volume beyond 12:00, and
that this is performed in the tubed preamp section.
Fig.10 indicates that the iDecco’s ultrasonic response
extends well beyond the 200kHz limit of this graph.
This correlates with very short risetimes on its response
to a 10kHz squarewave, but there is a small degree of
overshoot with very-high-frequency ringing into lower
impedances (fig.12). Channel separation was good rather
than great, at 87dB R–L and 59dB L–R at 1kHz, as was
the wideband, unweighted signal/noise ratio (taken with
Fig.12 Peachtree iDecco, small-signal 10kHz squarewave into 4 ohms.
Fig.13 Peachtree iDecco, distortion (%) vs 1kHz continuous output power
into (from bottom to top at 1W): 8, 4 ohms.
measur ement s, c ont i nued
Fig.11 Peachtree iDecco, frequency response at 2.83V into 8 ohms with
volume control set to (from right to left): maximum, 3:00, 2:00,
12:00, 9:00 (left channel blue, right red, 1dB/vertical div.).
THE iDECCO’S OVERALL SOUND WAS
NONETHELESS SATISFYING, WITH A TREBLE
RANGE THAT SOUNDED NATURALLY EXTENDED.
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PEACHTRE E I DECCO
expensive, imbue recorded music with
a little more presence, somewhat more
color, and a lot more texture than did the
iDecco. That would be true—but who in
the world would expect otherwise?
As to the iDecco’s purely musical
performance, I was impressed beyond
all reasonable expectations. The iDecco
played music with an excellent freedom
from timing distortions: Upbeat fare
such as the title track of Audra Mae’s
The Happiest Lamb (CD, Sideonedum-
my SD1416-2)—a more rhythmically
nuanced track than average, I daresay—
exhibited fine pacing. Even downtempo
numbers—such as Peter Rowan and
Tony Rice’s “Trespasses,” from the
Quartet album (ripped from Rounder
11661-0579-2), and Procol Harum’s
poignant “An Old English Dream,”
from The Well’s On Fire (CD, Eagle ER
20006-2)—maintained good momen-
tum, and resisted tipping over like the
musical equivalent of a ponderous bike:
a rarity, believe it or not, among cheap
and dear equipment alike.
Of course, of the many playback
modes of which the iDecco is capa-
ble, I most looked forward to hearing
AIFF files from my iPod Touch played
through the integral iPod dock, and
comparing them with the exact same
files streamed from my iMac-iTunes
installation through the iDecco’s USB
input. I spent many a long hour doing
just that.
The results weren’t always what I ex-
pected. The distinctions weren’t huge,
by any measure, and they confounded
me further by being somewhat music-
dependent. For the most part, I slightly
preferred the iMac-to-USB route, for a
number of reasons: That approach not
only rewarded me with the most open,
least opaque treble performance of which
the iDecco seemed capable, but also with
the Peachtree’s best sense of note-to-
note flow—which was considerable. The
beautiful, sun-dappled melodies that fill
Elgar’s Nursery Suite, as performed by Paul
Goodwin and the English Chamber Or-
chestra (ripped from Harmonia Mundi
HMU 907258), were easier to trace
through the USB than through the iPod
inputs. Likewise, the subtle keyboard
wash in the background of Jeff Buckley’s
“Lilac Wine,” from Grace (ripped from
measur ement s , c ont i nued
the volume control at its maximum but the Aux input
shorted) at 67.5dB ref. 1W into 8 ohms. This was primarily
due to low-level spuriae at 120Hz and its harmonics that
I couldn’t eliminate by experimenting with the grounding
between the iDecco and the Audio Precision test system.
A-weighting the S/N ratio, which discounts the effects of
LF and HF noise, thus improved the result to 83dB.
Peachtree specifies the iDecco’s maximum output power
as 40Wpc into 6 ohms (14.8dBW) rather than the usual 8
ohms. However, fig.13 shows that the amplifier didn’t clip
(defined as 1% THD) until 40Wpc into 8 ohms (16dBW) and
53Wpc into 4 ohms (14.2dBW). The low-power distortion
is around 0.03%, but increases in a linear fashion with
increasing power, this due to the mainly second-harmonic
distortion introduced by the preamplifier stage (figs. 14 and
15). Intermodulation distortion with an equal mix of high-
frequency tones at a level just below visible clipping on the
oscilloscope screen (fig.16) was primarily the low-order dif-
ference product, at –50dB (0.3%), again this stemming from
the tubed preamp stage; but the power-supply–related spur-
iae can also be seen in this graph, admittedly at a low level.
Peachtree’s iDecco may be budget-priced, but it packs a
lot of functionality into a small package. Its D/A section is
particularly impressive technically, especially regarding its
resolution and rejection of jitter, but you need to take the
output from the fixed line-level jacks to get the maximum
performance from it. As an integrated amplifier, the
iDecco’s performance is dominated by its tubed preamp
section, which introduces even-order harmonic distortion
much like that of a classic tubed amplifier. —John Atkinson
Fig.14 Peachtree iDecco, 1kHz waveform at 1W into 8 ohms (top), 0.155%
THD+N; distortion and noise waveform with fundamental notched
out (bottom, not to scale).
Fig.16 Peachtree iDecco, HF intermodulation spectrum, DC–24kHz,
19+20kHz at 20W peak into 8 ohms (linear frequency scale).
Fig.15 Peachtree iDecco, spectrum of 50Hz sinewave, DC–10kHz, at 20W
into 8 ohms (left channel blue, right red; linear frequency scale).
www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 111
PEACHTRE E I DECCO
Columbia CK 57528), seemed more
delicate, and consequently more effec-
tive, through the USB.
But played through the iDecco’s
USB input, some music—soft acoustic
fare, for the most part—could at times
sound a bit too smooth for my tastes:
listenable, but comparatively unstir-
ring. On guitarist David Grier’s ap-
proach to “Little Wing,” for example,
from Phillips, Grier & Flinner’s Look-
ing Back (ripped from Compass 7 4342
2), I found myself thinking that the
sound from the iPod input gave a bet-
ter feeling of (realistic) pick-on-string
noises, while most of the outboard
USB DACs I had on hand—especially
the Wavelength Cosecant ($3500)—
were even more satisfying. That said, I
suspect that the iDecco’s ultrasmooth
Sabre DAC would be more at home
in budget systems, and with music
files of less than high resolution.
A few words about the iDecco’s more
esoteric user controls: Even though it
sounded a little brighter and sharper, I
generally preferred the iDecco’s Fast fil-
ter slope, which seemed to get the most
out of note attacks, natural textures, and
the like. Also, as the iDecco’s very useful
manual would lead one to expect, digi-
tal sources that are presumed to be low
in jitter were sonically better served by
the Narrow setting of the jitter switch,
whereby music sounded a little more
substantial and detailed, and more musi-
cally purposeful and tuneful. As for that
tube switch, the differences were extraor-
dinarily slight, but I did prefer having the
tube in-line; voices and lead instruments
then gained a shade more body and color.
Without the tube, the sounds of solo
voices were more like outlines: perimeters,
with anchor points in the bass and treble,
but missing some midrange fill.
Nova
A final performance note: Just before
writing this review, I compared the
Peachtree iDecco with a well-worn
sample of its predecessor, the Peachtree
Nova. I expected few, if any, obvious
differences, especially when driving the
more sensitive speakers at my disposal—
an expectation that was confounded,
howsoever slightly. The smoothness
that characterized the iDecco’s USB
input was, if anything, more conspicu-
ous through the Nova, in addition to
which the latter presented a soundfield
noticeably larger than that of the less
expensive Peachtree amp. Through the
iDecco, Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revis-
ited (ripped from the “Red Book” CD
layer of Columbia CH 90324) sounded
as I’ve come to expect over the course of
several years: a little bright. (In the open-
ing of “Queen Jane Approximately” in
particular, the trebly electric guitar and
hi-hat tambourine can be a bit much.)
The Nova rounded off those high-
frequency edges, and seemed to spread
the left-channel piano and the right-
channel organ farther away from each
other—qualities that it imposed on a
variety of other recordings, as well. The
distinctions were sufficiently slight that
the Nova review sample’s longer run-in
period could well have been a factor; still,
those whose rooms and speakers are more
kind to soft trebles, and whose needs don’t
include an iPod dock, may wish to hold
out for the higher-priced spread.
Conclusions
In the August 2009 Stereophile, John
Marks suggested that Peachtree Au-
dio’s Nova is “the Dynaco Stereo 70 for
the 21st century.” Well said—and if so,
Peachtree’s iDecco is surely the latest
incarnation of the Advent 300 receiver:
great source, great styling, great sound.
The source part is obvious, the styl-
ing subjective—and, I’m happy to say, the
sound is wonderful. On the one hand,
the iDecco is much closer than the aver-
age affordable product to having what I
consider true perfectionist-quality sound:
very good bandwidth, openness, clarity,
timbral neutrality, and smoothness, with
spatial qualities that, if not quite top-
drawer, are surely leagues above those
from which the average Peachtree owner
will have just upgraded. On the other
hand, comparing the iDecco to my own
system of Shindo tube electronics and
vintage phono components—a larger in-
vestment by a factor of 30 or so—is silly
to the point of pointlessness: To para-
phrase Voltaire, the better may indeed be
the enemy of the good, but for the vast,
hurtling majority of people, the iDecco
is the better.
And even for this perfectionist, it’s
quite good enough: During its time in
my home, the Peachtree iDecco proved
so delightful, so indispensable, that I
had no choice but to buy it. A perfec-
tionist-quality music system—just add
speakers!—with a three-figure price? For
the domestic audio market of 2010 and
beyond, a more important new product
is hard to imagine. ■■
ASSOCIATED EQUIPMENT
ANALOG SOURCES Thorens TD-124 Mk.II turntable; EMT 997, Thomas Schick
tonearms; Shindo SPU, EMT OFD 25 & OFD 65, Ortofon 90th Anniversary
SPU cartridges.
DIGITAL SOURCES Ayre Acoustics QB-9, Wavelength Audio Cosecant, HRT
Music Streamer II & II+, Chord Gem USB DACs; Stello U2 USB transceiver;
Apple iMac G5 computer running Apple iTunes; Sony SCD-777 SACD/CD player.
PREAMPLIFICATION Auditorium 23 Hommage T1 step-up transformer;
Shindo Masseto, Shindo Vosne-Romanee preamplifiers.
POWER AMPLIFIERS Shindo Corton-Charlemagne & Lafon GM-70.
LOUDSPEAKERS Audio Note AN-E/SPe HE, Wilson Audio Specialties Sophia
3, Quad ESL, Advent Loudspeaker.
CABLES USB: Transparent Performance USB. Digital: Black Cat Veloce 75 ohm.
Interconnect: Audio Note AN-vx, Shindo Silver. Speaker: Auditorium 23, DIY copper.
ACCESSORIES Box Furniture Company D3S rack (source & amplification
components); OMA slate plinth (Thorens turntable); Breyer horse (“Pandora”)
as chassis damper (amplifiers); Keith Monks record-cleaning machine.—Art Dudley
W
hen I first listened to
the Peachtree iDecco—
in my room, with my
Advent Loudspeakers—
it was like finding the Holy Grail, or
a 10,000-year-old Macedonian ballet
shoe. It was awesome. The sound
was much clearer than with head-
phones. But this . . . there are no
words for it: The iDecco had spirit. It
almost echoed in my tiny little (no
other words for it) black-hole-of-
sound bedroom.
Even with the trickiest pieces of
music—such as Strauss’s Die Fleder-
maus, from the Twilight soundtrack,
or the Cranberries’ “Linger”—the
iDecco was perfect, accentuating
underlying notes, or subtle crescen-
dos and decrescendos.
And it’s not too steeply priced—
bon appétit and happy shopping!
—Julia Dudley
I N MY ROOM
DI STRI BUTORS OF EXCEPTI ONAL AUDI O PRODUCTS FOR MUSI C LOVERS
CHORD ELECTRONI CS • CROFT • EXPOSURE • PEAK CONSULT • SPENDOR • VAN DEN HUL
The new A series combines Spendor’s 40 years of research
and engineering prowess with the latest innovations in drivers,
materials and cabinet design.
“We can’t praise them enough… these are astoundingly good
floorstanders… the most accomplished speakers available at
this money.” – What HiFi, Group Test Winner, A5
“… these speakers will bring real, live breathing music into
your home. Easy to use, easy to drive and easy to get the best
out of, I love the A6s. They’re GRREAT!” – Roy Gregory, HiFi+
WWW. BLUEBI RDMUSI C. COM
TEL: 416. 638. 8207
THE NEW A SERIES
www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 113
E Q U I P M E N T R E P O R T
T
he weekly Vote! Page is one of the most popular features of the Stereophile
website, and the August 22 question, “Should Stereophile review more
or fewer computer-audio products?” (http://cgi.stereophile.com/
cgi-bin/showvote.cgi?691), generated a record number of responses.
No less than 88% of those responding asked for more coverage of
products that allow a computer to be a legitimate source of music in a
high-end context. Just 7% of readers wanted less coverage.
We have been trying to meet this demand for some time. I wrote a primer on
the subject a few years ago,
1
and more recently have been auditioning relatively
inexpensive products that take audio data from the PC’s humble USB 1.1 output
port and transform it into a conventional biphase-encoded S/PDIF datastream to
feed to a high-end D/A processor. I wrote about the Bel Canto USB Link 24/96
in May 2009 (www.stereophile.com/digitalprocessors/bel_canto_usb_link_2496_
usb-spdif_converter), and the Stello U2 from April Music and the Lindemann
USB-DDC 24/96 in May 2010 (www.stereophile.com/digitalprocessors/lindemann
_amp_stello_usb-spdif_converters). These three converters operate in what the
USB specification describes as “adaptive isochronous mode,” in which the host
computer controls the flow of data from the USB port. A PC is not optimized for
uninterrupted streaming; while the sample rate of the output data, adjusted every
millisecond and averaged over a longish period, will indeed be the specified 44.1 or
48kHz, there will be short-term fluctuations, or jitter.
Depending on the design of the USB receiver and its clock generator, some of
that jitter will make it through into the S/PDIF output—a wise old engineer once
JOHN ATKINSON
DESCRIPTION Bus-powered USB-S/
PDIF converter for use with PCs and
Macs (no third-party driver software
required). Input: USB 1.1–compliant.
Operates in asynchronous
isochronous mode. Output: S/PDIF
electrical on 75 ohm BNC plug or
Eichmann Silver Bullet RCA plug,
as requested by customer. Sample
rates supported: 44.1, 48, 88.2,
96kHz. Input/output bit depth:
16 or 24. Includes 6' USB cable.
DIMENSIONS 0.5" (13mm)
diameter by 3.5" (89mm) L,
plus integral 6' cable. Weight:
approximately 2oz (56gm).
FINISH Black-anodized aluminum.
SERIAL NUMBERS OF UNITS
REVIEWED 2100099 (BNC),
2100104 (RCA).
PRICE $450. Approximate number
of dealers: 12 (and sold direct).
MANUFACTURER Halide Design/
Devilsound Labs.
Tel: (858) 224-3551.
Web: www.halidedesign.com.
Halide Design
S/PDIF Bridge
USB-S/PDIF CONVERTER
Halide Design S/PDIF Bridge USB-S/PDIF converter
1 A basic guide to the various strategies for getting the best sound from a computer can be found at www.ste
reophile.com/computeraudio/1008servers. A discussion of audio file formats can be found at www.stereophile.
com/features/308mp3cd.
www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 115
HALI DE DESI GN S/ PDI F BRI DGE
told me that you can never eliminate
jitter, only low-pass–filter it—so these
products need to be used with D/A
processors that offer effective jitter re-
jection. However, it is also possible to
operate the USB interface in what is
called “asynchronous mode,” which lets
the DAC control the flow of data from
the PC, clocking the output data with
a constant-frequency, high-precision
crystal oscillator. In theory, asynchro-
nous USB operation (not to be confused
with the asynchronous sample-rate con-
version used in some D/A converters)
reduces jitter to unmeasurable levels.
However, only a very few products cur-
rently available—from Ayre Acoustics,
dCS, and Wavelength Audio—have fea-
tured this mode, and these have used it
as the front-end circuit for a full-function
D/A processor.
The Halide Design S/PDIF Bridge
($450) is the first USB–S/PDIF con-
verter of which I am aware that oper-
ates in asynchronous mode, and that
does not require that a driver program
be installed on the host PC.
Streamlength
From the outside, the Halide Bridge is
about as utilitarian as it gets. A 6' USB
cable is terminated with a 3"-long black
aluminum tube half an inch in diam-
eter, with either a 75 ohm BNC plug
or an Eichmann Silver Bullet RCA plug
on its other end. The complexity is on
the inside. The Bridge gets its 5V power
from the USB bus, but then low-pass–
filters it with a Pi filter (a series inductor
between two shunt capacitors) that has a
corner frequency of 3kHz. The filtered
voltage is then regulated to 3.3V for the
digital electronics, and separately to 3V
for the clock oscillators.
The USB datastream is fed to a
Texas Instruments TAS1020B receiver
chip, which converts the audio data to
two-channel I
2
S format. The TAS1020
includes an embedded microprocessor
that runs the proprietary Streamlength
code licensed from Wavelength’s Gor-
don Rankin. This code allows the
Halide Bridge to be operated in asyn-
chronous mode without the host com-
puter having to run a proprietary driver
program. Streamlength works with au-
dio data having sample rates of 44.1, 48,
88.2, or 96kHz.
The output from the TAS1020B is
converted to S/PDIF with a transceiver
chip. To minimize any logic-induced jit-
ter, the output from this device is clocked
by the system’s original master clock with
a D-type flip-flop. This is coupled to the
outside world with a small pulse trans-
former, which isolates the output ground
from that of the PC. The Halide S/PDIF
Bridge can be plugged into the coaxial
S/PDIF input jack of any D/A processor.
I
examined the measured behavior of the BNC version
of the Halide USB converter using the Audio Precision
SYS2722 system (see www.ap.com and “As We See
It” in the January 2008 issue, www.stereophile.com/
asweseeit/108awsi), as well as the Miller Audio Research
Jitter Analyzer. I played test tones at various sample rates
and bit depths from BIAS Peak Pro 6 on an Intel MacBook
running OS10.6.4, with some tests repeated on a dual-
core PC running Windows 7 and Adobe Audition 3.0.
The Halide operated at whatever sample rate the audio
file had been recorded at, provided the sample rate had
been set with Audio MIDI Setup on the Mac or Audio
Devices–Properties on the PC. Very importantly, the
Halide Bridge did operate at the 88.2kHz sample rate. I
checked that the Halide was bit-transparent by feeding
its S/PDIF output to an RME soundcard fitted to a second
PC, and recorded the data using Adobe Audition. When
I played that recording simultaneously with an inverted,
bit-synchronized version of the original audio file, there
was a perfect null with both 16- and 24-bit data, proving
that the bits output from the converter via S/PDIF were
the same bits sourced from the host computer via USB.
I used RME’s DIGICheck utility to examine how many bits
were active in the Halide Bridge’s S/PDIF output—the
number of active bits followed how many had been set
in the Mac’s Audio MIDI Setup utility or the PC’s Audio
Devices–Properties dialog: 16 or 24, as appropriate.
The USB Prober program revealed that the Halide Bridge
operated in asynchronous isochronous mode, as specified.
The “eye pattern” of the S/PDIF data waveform was wide
open and free from timing uncertainty at its start and end
(fig.1), and the Audio Precision System SYS2722 calculated
the jitter in the S/PDIF datastream to be a very low 345
picoseconds peak. For reference, the other three USB–
S/PDIF converters I have tested—the Bel Canto USB Link
24/96, Lindemann USB-DDC 24/96, and Stello U2—respec-
MEASURE ME NTS
Fig.2 Assemblage DAC-1, high-resolution jitter spectrum of analog output
signal, 11.025kHz at –6dBFS, sampled at 44.1kHz with LSB toggled
at 229Hz, S/PDIF data from RME soundcard via 15’ TosLink. Center
frequency of trace, 11.025kHz; frequency range, ±3.5kHz (left
channel blue, right red).
Fig.1 Halide Design S/PDIF Bridge, eye pattern of S/PDIF data output
carrying 16-bit J-Test signal (±500mV vertical scale, 175ns horizontal
scale).
www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 117
HALI DE DESI GN S/ PDI F BRI DGE
Listening
I hooked up the BNC version of the
Halide Bridge to the 2006 Mac mini that
I use as a music server; the Mac’s USB
Prober utility revealed that the converter
identified itself as “SPDIF Bridge” from
“Halide Design” and, instead of the
usual serial-number string, displayed the
text “(C) 2010 Wavelength Audio Ltd.” I
plugged the Bridge into the coaxial input
of my longtime reference Benchmark
DAC1, plugged the balanced outputs
of the DAC1 into the Simaudio Moon
Evolution P-8 preamp, fired up iTunes
and Pure Music in Memory Play mode
on the Mac, and sat back to listen.
Hmm. The Benchmark sounded as I’d
expected: a little dry and a little forward.
But it was also easier on the ear than I’d
anticipated. The asynchronous sample-
rate conversion used by the Benchmark
upstream from its DAC chips is very
good at rejecting jitter. So in principle,
using a source with lower levels of jitter
shouldn’t make much of a difference.
Except that it did. I could hear deep
into the imaginative mix of 10cc’s “Old
Wild Men” (256kbps MP3 Amazon
download, from Sheet Music, UK Re-
cords), and the contrast between the
similarly pitched tenor voices of Eric
Stewart, who sings the first verse, and
Kevin Godley, who sings the second,
was readily apparent despite the lossy
coding. The deliciously supportive
acoustic of the Church of St. Catherine
in Vilnius surrounding the solo baroque
flute of Vytautas Sriubikis in his per-
formance of Bach’s Partita in A Minor
(24/96 FLAC, converted to Apple
Lossless with Max, free download from
LessLoss) was superbly well defined—as
was the distant traffic.
I changed to the Esoteric D-07 pro-
cessor that I have in for review, now
using the RCA version of the Halide
Bridge. (The Esoteric has RCA S/PDIF
inputs, whereas the Benchmark has a
BNC.) I had previously auditioned the
Esoteric feeding its AES/EBU input
from the Ayre C-5xe
MP
’s digital out-
put, and if there was a difference to be
heard when I switched to the Mac mini
tively measured 2.91 nanoseconds (2910ps), 444ps, and
395ps, all with a 50Hz–100kHz measurement bandwidth.
I looked at the effects of datastream jitter in the recon-
structed analog signal with a 1995-vintage Assemblage
DAC-1 D/A processor, sourcing 16-bit J-Test audio data
from the MacBook’s USB output. I chose the Assemblage
because it appears to have the worst rejection of incom-
ing datastream jitter of the DACs I had to hand.
Fed S/PDIF data via TosLink from the RME soundcard in
one of my test-lab PCs, the spectrum of the Assemblage’s
analog output suffered from very high levels of data-related
sidebands, as well as significant broadening of the central
peak that represents a high-level tone at exactly one-quar-
ter the sample rate (fig.2). The Miller Analyzer calculated
the jitter level to be an enormous 11.4ns peak–peak. By
contrast, feeding the Assemblage data from the Halide
S/PDIF Bridge reduced the jitter by a factor of 10, to 1.1ns
p–p. While there is still some accentuation of the lower-
frequency data-related sidebands, the spectrum was signifi-
cantly cleaner, with now a well-defined central spike (fig.3).
Replacing the Assemblage with the Musical Fidelity
X-24K DAC gave a similar reduction in jitter when the
TosLink connection was replaced by the Halide Bridge,
with the latter offering just 185ps p–p in the reconstructed
analog waveform, and a much cleaner spectrum with
all but the lowest-frequency data-related sidebands at
the residual level (fig.4). For reference, the Bel Canto
USB Link gave 4.57ns p–p with the X-24K, the Stello U2
455ps, and the Lindemann USB-DDC 270ps.
Tested with the Esoteric D-07, with which I thought
the Halide Bridge worked well, the TosLink output of my
MacBook gave 1049ps p–p; the MacBook via the Stello
U2 actually increased this slightly, to 1090ps, while the
Halide Bridge reduced the measured jitter to 780ps.
This indicates that the Halide’s Streamlength code works
as advertised. —John Atkinson
Fig.3 Assemblage DAC-1, high-resolution jitter spectrum of analog output
signal, 11.025kHz at –6dBFS, sampled at 44.1kHz with LSB toggled
at 229Hz, S/PDIF data from Halide Design S/PDIF Bridge. Center
frequency of trace, 11.025kHz; frequency range, ±3.5kHz (left
channel blue, right red).
Fig.4 Musical Fidelity X-24K, high-resolution jitter spectrum of analog
output signal, 11.025kHz at –6dBFS, sampled at 44.1kHz with LSB
toggled at 229Hz, S/PDIF data from Halide Design S/PDIF Bridge.
Center frequency of trace, 11.025kHz; frequency range, ±3.5kHz (left
channel blue, right red).
THE BENCHMARK SOUNDED AS I’D
EXPECTED: A LITTLE DRY AND A LITTLE FORWARD. BUT
IT WAS ALSO EASIER ON THE EAR THAN I’D ANTICIPATED.
meas ur ement s , c ont i nued
www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 119
HALI DE DESI GN S/ PDI F BRI DGE
driving the Halide Bridge, I was hard-
pressed to hear it.
I swapped the Esoteric for the Log-
itech Transporter DAC and again com-
pared disc sources played on the Ayre
and fed to the Transporter’s AES/EBU
input to the BNC Halide Bridge driving
one of the Transporter’s S/PDIF inputs.
Again, the differences were small. Cer-
tainly, if I left the room, then reentered
after someone had randomly switched
between sources, I wouldn’t be able to
tell you which one was playing purely
by listening. It was that close.
It was time for a more relevant
comparison.
Enter the Stello U2
My review sample of the Bel Canto USB
Link 24/96 has long since been returned
to the manufacturer, but the Stello U2
($349) has been my go-to device for us-
ing my Mac mini as a legitimate high-
end audio source since I reviewed it. (If
you attended any of the demonstrations I
presented at Colorado dealer Listen-Up’s
three stores last May, the only source I
used was my MacBook with the Stello.)
The only problem I have had with the
U2 is that it won’t work transparently
with audio files sampled at 88.2kHz.
This is a shame, as almost all of my own
recordings are made at that sample rate,
2
as are many of those I have downloaded
from Linn Records. The Halide Bridge
solves that problem, but for CD-quality
audio and 96kHz-sampled files, the acid
test of the $100-more-expensive Halide
is how it rates against the Stello.
For the comparisons, I used the NAD
M2 integrated amplifier that I reviewed
last March. The M2, basically a DAC
that can power loudspeakers directly,
worked well with the Stello, providing
a superbly transparent, grain-free pre-
sentation. (I used the pairing at the third
of my Colorado demos.) I had both
converters plugged into the Mac mini’s
USB ports, and they fed the NAD’s two
coaxial inputs. Switching between them
involved resetting the Mac’s default au-
dio output to one or the other device
and changing the input on the NAD.
This didn’t make possible an instanta-
neous switchover, so I tended to listen to
long passages at a time on one converter,
then on the other, then back to the first.
Admittedly, the difference between
the Stello and Halide was small in abso-
lute terms. However, over time I did tend
to prefer the Halide Bridge’s sound. For
example, with pianist Robert Silverman’s
performance of Robert Schumann’s Sym-
phonic Études (which I recorded in Goshen,
Indiana, in 2008, for CD release this win-
ter), while the amount of Sauder Hall’s
delicious acoustic that could be heard to
be excited by the piano was the same with
each converter, that acoustic seemed a bit
more of a piece with the direct sound of
the Steinway when the Halide was han-
dling the data. The instrument’s upper
register seemed a touch more prominent
with the Stello, which emphasized the ef-
fect of the sustain pedal a little—something
you don’t want with Schumann—while the
piano’s left-hand register seemed fuller
through the Halide. On “Somewhere in
Hollywood,” 10cc’s pastiche of “A Star Is
Born” from Sheet Music, every small de-
tail of this intricate arrangement was laid
bare without anything sounding spotlit or
exaggerated. (In this new century of for-
mulaic pop pap, I marvel that, in 1974, a
pop band like 10cc could put out an al-
bum like this, with every song different
from every other in every way, and have
it make the charts.)
I finished my comparison with Pe-
ter Gabriel’s Scratch My Back (ALAC
files, from CD, EMI), which has been
in heavy rotation since I heard Dynau-
dio’s Mike Manousselis play it at the
2010 Salon Son et Image in Montreal.
I could still live with the Stello U2, but
the Halide S/PDIF Bridge let Gabriel’s
idiosyncratic readings of others’ music
through that little bit more readily.
Summing Up
When USB–S/PDIF converters can
be had for not much more than $150, a
product providing the same functionality
but costing three times as much needs to
offer sound quality that is beyond criti-
cism. Fortunately, that was the case with
the Halide S/PDIF Bridge. With all the
D/A processors I used, even the jitter-
prone Assemblage DAC-1, its grain-free
presentation stepped out of the music’s
way in a very welcome manner.
The Halide Bridge is limited to sam-
ple rates of 96kHz and below, which
may be a problem for some users. For
me, however, that was more than out-
weighed by the fact that it will function
correctly with 88.2kHz data. And, of
course, its owner doesn’t have to buy a
separate S/PDIF cable to use with it. It
is also truly plug’n’play.
Recommended. ■■
ASSOCIATED EQUIPMENT
DIGITAL SOURCES Ayre C-5xe
MP
universal player; G4 Mac mini run-
ning OS10.5.8, iTunes 10, Pure Music
1.6; Shuttle PC with dual-core AMD
Athlon processor running Windows
7, Foobar 2000, Adobe Audition 3.0;
Esoteric D-07, Benchmark DAC1,
Assemblage DAC-1, Logitech
Transporter D/A converters;
Stello U2 USB-S/PDIF converter.
PREAMPLIFIER Simaudio Moon
Evolution P-8.
POWER AMPLIFIERS Classé
CTM-600 monoblocks.
INTEGRATED AMPLIFIER NAD M2
Direct Digital.
LOUDSPEAKERS Harbeth P3ESR.
CABLES Digital: Stereovox XV2 electri-
cal S/PDIF, DH Labs Silver Sonic AES/
EBU, Belkin Gold USB. Interconnect
(balanced): AudioQuest Wild. Speaker:
AudioQuest Kilimanjaro & Wild. AC:
PS Audio Lab, manufacturers’ own.
ACCESSORIES Celestion Si 24"
speaker stands; Target TT-5 equip-
ment racks; Ayre Myrtle Blocks; ASC
Tube Traps, RPG Abffusor panels;
Shunyata Research Dark Field cable
elevators; PS Audio Power Plant 300
at 90Hz (preamp), Audio Power
Industries 116 Mk.II & PE-1, APC S-15
AC line conditioners (not power
amps). AC power comes from two
dedicated 20A circuits, each just 6'
from the breaker box. —John Atkinson
2 This is because I make recordings for eventual re-
lease on CD, and the conversion from 88.2kHz to
the CD’s sample rate of 44.1kHz preserves as much
as possible of the original’s quality. By contrast, the
96-to-44.1kHz operation is computationally complex
and easily compromised. And if shortcuts are taken to
allow the change to be performed in real time, such
as when you play a 96kHz file in iTunes when the
latter is set to operate at 44.1kHz, the sound is made
significantly worse. That’s the beauty of front-end
programs like Amarra and Pure Music: they eliminate
the possibility of iTunes invoking its poor real-time
sample-rate converter.
WITH ALL THE D/A PROCESSORS I USED, THE HALIDE
S/PDIF BRIDGE’S GRAIN-FREE PRESENTATION
STEPPED OUT OF THE MUSIC’S WAY IN
A VERY WELCOME MANNER.
The Cars
Shake It Up
Curtis Mayfield
Curtis
Ray Charles
The Genius Sings
The Blues
Linda Ronstadt
Simple Dreams
Elvis Costello
Armed Forces
Frank Sinatra
Sinatra At The
Sands (Live)
Foreigner
Foreigner
Beck
Sea Change
Little Feat
Waiting for Columbus
The Pretenders
Pretenders II
Yes
The Yes Album
The Band
Rock Of Ages
www.mofi.com
also available at
The Original
Audiophile Record
Label. Still Producing
the World’s Finest
LPs, SACDs and
24K Gold CDs.
musicdirect
®
ph. 800-449-8333
musicdirect.com
www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 121
E Q U I P M E N T R E P O R T
I
’ve always enjoyed the time I’ve spent with NHT loudspeakers. The two
bookshelf models I’ve reviewed—the SB-3 (Stereophile, November 2002) and
its successor, the Classic Three (November 2006)—shared NHT’s “house
sound”: liquid, balanced, and dynamic, with little coloration, and a slightly
forward and lively midrange. The newer Classic Three, still in production,
sounded more refined, natural, and detailed than the SB-3. I like to see
speaker designers whose work improves over time.
So when NHT approached me about reviewing a new floorstanding model with a
small footprint, the Classic Absolute Tower—their first new speaker design of the next
decade, they say—I jumped at the chance. Not only had I not reviewed an NHT in a
while, but I’m increasingly intrigued with—and applaud—the trend of manufacturers
to add small-footprint tower speakers to their lines of affordable speakers. As most
speakers costing under $1000/pair tend to be bookshelf models, shoppers need to
ROBERT J. REINA
DESCRIPTION Three-way, acoustic-
suspension loudspeaker. Drive-units:
1" aluminum-dome tweeter, 5.25"
polypropylene-cone midrange
(in separate chamber), two 5.25"
polypropylene-cone woofers.
Crossover: third-order low-pass and
high-pass at 450Hz, second-order
low-pass and high-pass at 2.2kHz.
Frequency range: 58Hz–20kHz.
Impedance: 8 ohms average,
4 ohms minimum. Sensitivity:
86dB/2.83V/m. Distortion: 0.3%,
150Hz–20kHz; 1% at 60Hz (1W).
DIMENSIONS 36" (920mm) H by
5.7" (145mm) W by 7.25" (185mm)
D. Base: 10.63” (270mm) W by
1.9" (50mm) H by 12" (305mm) D.
Weight (including base):
35.6 lbs (16.2kg) net, 43 lbs
(19.5kg) shipping.
FINISH Piano-black lacquer.
SERIAL NUMBERS OF UNITS
REVIEWED 259000204, 259000172.
PRICE $999.90/pair. Approximate
number of dealers: 150.
MANUFACTURER NHT Audio LLC,
140 W. Industrial Way, Benicia, CA
94510. Tel: (800) 648-9993, (707)
815-3069. Fax: (707) 982-0004.
Web: www.nhthifi.com.
NHT Classic
Absolute Tower
LOUDSPEAKER
NHT Classic Absolute Tower loudspeaker
122 www.Stereophile.com, December 2010
NHT CL ASSI C ABSOLUTE TOWE R
worry about buying good-quality stands
of the appropriate height, and about op-
timizing the speaker positions with re-
spect to the front and side walls. Then,
when that’s done, the buyer will need
to deal with his or her significant other,
who is likely to issue an order to move
the speakers somewhere else—or, God
forbid, she or he will bypass the entire
setup process and stick the speakers on
bookshelves, above ear level and flush
with the front wall. Conversely, a floor-
standing speaker with a small footprint
is much easier to place in a room, and
less likely to interfere with décor and
thus trigger spousal rebellion.
Design
The Classic Absolute Tower is a sealed,
three-way, acoustic-suspension design.
Its drive-units are a 1" fluid-cooled, alu-
minum-dome tweeter with neodymium
magnet structure, a 5.25" polypropylene-
cone midrange unit, and two 5.25" poly-
propylene-cone woofers, all with video
shielding. NHT cofounder Chris Byrne
told me that small dual woofers were used
to keep the footprint small, but also to
provide good dynamic range. The cabinet
of braced MDF is finished with two coats
of primer, seven coats of polyester paint,
and two coats of clear acrylic polymer.
I was impressed by the Absolute
Tower’s appearance. Sexy, rounded,
and glossy black, it suggests a much
higher price tag, and its footprint, size,
and color should help it blend in easily
with any décor. My wife didn’t object
to them. I had set up the speakers but
had not yet removed my reference Alón
Circes from the room; she stared at the
piquillo-pepper NHTs next to the jumbo-
burrito Alóns and said, “Well, I like the
way they look.” Translation: Spouses will
usually welcome new speakers if they’re
smaller than the old ones.
I asked Byrne to compare the design
criteria of the Classic Absolute Tower
with those of the Classic Three, which
I’d reviewed four years ago. His response
was intriguing. The Three was designed
with two-channel music in mind;
home-theater sound was a secondary
consideration. NHT tried to maximize
the Three’s frequency response so that,
ideally, a subwoofer would be “an option
as opposed to a necessity,” Byrne said.
“Everything about the Three was detail,
finesse, and response.” He then said that
the Absolute Tower had been designed
more with home theater in mind. The
goal was a speaker with good horizontal
dispersion, high output for its size, and
a small footprint so that the speakers
would “look good near a flat-panel set.”
A full frequency response was “not a
priority”; NHT expects that most home
theaters will include a subwoofer.
I
used DRA Labs’ MLSSA system and a calibrated DPA
4006 microphone to measure the NHT’s frequency
response in the farfield, and an Earthworks QTC-40
for the nearfield responses. NHT specifies the Classic
Absolute Tower as having a sensitivity of 86dB/W/m.
My estimate was within experimental error of this figure,
at 85.5dB(B)/2.83V/m. The impedance lies above 6 ohms
for much of the audioband, dropping below 5 ohms in
just two regions, with minimum magnitudes of 4.56 ohms
at 133Hz and 4.27 ohms at 550Hz (fig.1). The speaker
is a relatively easy load for the partnering amplifier.
The traces in the impedance graph are free from the
small glitches that would imply the presence of cabinet
vibrational resonances. Nevertheless, investigating the
behavior of the panels with a simple accelerometer did
uncover a moderate mode at 234Hz that was present on
all surfaces, as well as a lower-frequency mode on the
side panel level with the bottom woofer (fig.2). However,
Bob Reina heard no lower-midrange congestion that
might have resulted from this behavior.
The single peak at 67Hz in the impedance graph indi-
cates that this is the tuning frequency of the sealed-box
woofer alignment. This is also the frequency at which the
output of the woofers (which behave identically) is down
MEASURE ME NTS
Fig.2 NHT Classic Absolute Tower, cumulative spectral-decay plot calculated
from output of accelerometer fastened to center of side panel
adjacent to lower woofer (MLS driving voltage to speaker, 7.55V;
measurement bandwidth, 2kHz).
Fig.1 NHT Classic Absolute Tower, electrical impedance (solid) and phase
(dashed). (2 ohms/vertical div.)
The topmost 5.25" unit handles the range
from 450Hz to 2200Hz.
www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 123
NHT CL ASSI C ABSOLUTE TOWE R
The Absolute Tower is supplied with
screw-in integral bases, floor spikes, and
brass cups for the spikes to sit in, should
the room have a wooden floor. The
spikes and cups kept the Towers seated
solidly on my own wood floor, and the
entire setup took less than 15 minutes.
NHT strongly suggests leaving the
Tower’s grille in place; the speaker is
voiced to have a more natural tonal bal-
ance that way. I can’t agree more strong-
ly. With the grille off, the highs were
more prominent, and I noticed a slight
depression in the lower midrange that
detracted from the speaker’s normally
coherent sound.
Sound
When I first listened to the Classic Abso-
lute Tower, I was surprised to find that I
didn’t like its sound. The upper midrange
and lower highs were tense, glary, and
forward, and the speaker didn’t sound bal-
anced. Listening for longer than 15 min-
utes was fatiguing, and every time I turned
the system on, my wife told me to turn it
down—no matter the volume level or the
music being played. After five hours of lis-
tening, I discovered the problem.
I’m a strong believer in breaking in a
new product before critically listening
to it, a view not universally held among
Stereophile writers. I have found this to be
particularly critical with dynamic speak-
ers, and with electronic components with
exotic capacitor designs. So I always re-
quest that a manufacturer break in a prod-
uct for 100 hours before shipping it to
me. My review samples of the Absolute
Towers arrived with what NHT claimed
was “36 to 48 hours of break-in.” I fig-
ured that would be enough, but it wasn’t.
However, after the NHTs had played
music for another five hours, for a total of
10 additional hours, the clouds parted—for
the rest of my time with them, the Tow-
ers let me enjoy many hours of coherent,
natural, nonfatiguing listening.
The NHT’s neutral midrange made
it an excellent match for small-ensemble
jazz recordings. I focused on Herbie
Hancock’s simple yet dynamic chordal
comping on his composition “Blind
Man, Blind Man,” from My Point of
View (CD, Blue Note CDP-84126). The
sound of his piano was warm and woody,
but every percussive attack was perfectly
integrated with the rhythm section, with
no trace of rounding or excess sharpness.
Jazz guitar was also remarkably realis-
tic. Kenny Burrell’s lower-register me-
lodic work in “Main Stem,” from Jimmy
Smith’s Fourmost (CD, Milestone MCD-
9184-2), recorded live at Fat Tuesday’s
in New York City, sounded as if I were
sitting in the fifth row of that wonder-
ful club (now defunct), which I had done
many times in the 1980s.
The holographic quality of all vocal re-
cordings I listened to through the NHTs
made me want to span the entire range
by 6dB (fig.3). The Absolute Tower doesn’t offer much
more than a minimonitor in the way of bass extension,
though BJR did comment very positively on the quality
of what low frequencies were present. The blue trace in
fig.3 shows the NHT’s response with its grille on, the red
with it removed. Bob strongly preferred the speaker’s
tonal balance with the grille in place; its main effect is to
suck out energy at 6 and 12kHz. There is nothing in this
graph, however, that would explain why Bob felt the bal-
ance without the grille to suffer from “a slight depression
in the lower midrange that detracted from the speaker’s
normally coherent sound.” Perhaps the grille reduces the
audibility of the panel resonances noted earlier.
Measured without the grille, the NHT Tower’s lateral
dispersion (fig.4) is as wide and even as you’d expect from
its narrow front baffle and the contouring in the vicinity
of the tweeter. Though there is a slight flare off-axis at the
bottom of the tweeter’s passband, this is too small to add
any treble character to the speaker’s sonic signature. In
the vertical plane (fig.5), the Absolute Tower maintains
its even balance over a wide window centered on the
tweeter axis, which is 35" from the floor.
Turning to the time domain, the NHT’s step response
(fig.6) indicates that all four drive-units are connected
Fig.3 NHT Classic Absolute Tower, anechoic response on tweeter axis at 50"
with (blue trace) and without (red) grille, averaged across 30° horizontal
window and corrected for microphone response, with complex sum of
nearfield midrange and woofer responses plotted below 300Hz.
Fig.4 NHT Classic Absolute Tower, lateral response family at 50", normalized
to response on tweeter axis, from back to front: differences in response
90–5° off axis, reference response, differences in response 5–90° off axis.
THE NHT’S NEUTRAL MIDRANGE MADE IT AN
EXCELLENT MATCH FOR SMALL-ENSEMBLE
JAZZ RECORDINGS.
www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 125
NHT CL ASSI C ABSOLUTE TOWE R
of the human voice. Paul McCartney’s
rich lower-register work in the verses of
his “Let It Be,” from Let It Be . . . Naked
(CD, Apple CDP 5 95713 2), resonated
without a touch of chestiness or speaker-
enclosure colorations. Further up the vo-
cal range, Col. Bruce Hampton’s closely
miked “Georgia tenor” can sound grat-
ing or nasal with the wrong equipment,
and is at best acquired taste. However, in
his “Halifax,” from the Hampton Grease
Band’s Music to Eat (CD, Shotput/Co-
lumbia/Legacy C2K 67483), there was
just the right amount of nasal squawk,
and a timbral envelope that reminded
me of when I heard Hampton sing this
tune at New York’s Fillmore East in 1971.
In the mezzo-soprano range, “Urge for
Going,” from Hits (CD, Reprise 46326-
2), presented an airy and pristine Joni
Mitchell, with perfectly articulated tran-
sients. Moreover, the NHT’s ability to
render low-level dynamics were such
that, for the first time, I noticed how
strong Mitchell’s Canadian accent is in
this recording.
High frequencies were extended, airy,
and uncolored, and lost no sense of natu-
ralness, even with the most challenging
recordings. Flutist Daniel Carter does
an elegantly minimalist duet with bassist
William Parker on “X-Ray,” from pianist
Matthew Shipp’s Nu Bop (CD, Thirsty
Ear TH 57114); Carter’s breathy, silky,
dynamic phrasing was as identifiable
through the NHTs as I’ve heard it in
concert. (I’m blessed to have a recording
of Carter sitting in with my jazz quartet,
Attention Screen.) But the acid test was
percussionist Terry Cox’s accompani-
ment, on closely miked finger cymbals
and glockenspiel, of John Renbourn in
the latter’s “The Earle of Salisbury,” from
the guitarist’s Sir John Alot of Merrie Englan-
des Musyk Thyng & ye Grene Knyghte (CD,
Shanachie 97021). The sharp, piercing,
extended transients are very easy to re-
produce poorly, but the Absolute Tower
captured them perfectly, without harsh-
ness or blurring. The speaker’s high-
frequency performance also married
nicely with its ability to flawlessly re-
produce rapid transients in both acous-
tic and electronic recordings. Guitarist
John McLaughlin makes extensive and
creative use of electronic sequencer
programming on his Industrial Zen (CD,
C&B Media/Verve Fontana 7066-02);
the NHT reproduced this with a speed,
immediacy, and delicacy reminiscent of
those of a fine electrostatic speaker.
As I listened to recordings with sig-
nificant bass output, I thought about
what Chris Byrne had said: that the Ab-
solute Tower was not designed with full
bass response in mind. But listening to a
wide range of rock and classical record-
ings at all volume levels, I never once
felt that the NHTs sounded bass-shy.
And while my large listening room is
capable of fully supporting the bottom-
octave reproduction of large speakers,
I’ve frequently had difficulty getting
small, affordable loudspeakers to pro-
duce a realistic bottom end here. Not
HIGH FREQUENCIES WERE
EXTENDED, AIRY,
AND UNCOLORED.
with positive acoustic polarity, and that the tweeter’s output
leads that of the midrange, which in turn leads that of the
woofers. That the decay of each step smoothly blends into
the start of the step of the next driver lower in frequency
suggests optimal crossover implementation. I was a bit
puzzled by the presence of a small reflection at 7.2ms in
this graph, which didn’t appear to be from any of the room
boundaries. I windowed it out of the impulse response
when I calculated the NHT’s cumulative spectral-decay plot
(fig.7), which is superbly clean.
That NHT’s Classic Absolute Tower measures very well
is especially commendable when you consider that it
costs just $1000/pair. —John Atkinson
Fig.5 NHT Classic Absolute Tower, vertical response family at 50", normalized
to response on tweeter axis, from back to front: differences in response
15–5° above axis, reference response, differences in response 5–10°
below axis.
Fig.7 NHT Classic Absolute Tower, cumulative spectral-decay plot on
tweeter axis at 50" (0.15ms risetime).
meas ur ement s , c ont i nued
Fig.6 NHT Classic Absolute Tower, step response on tweeter axis at 50"
(5ms time window, 30kHz bandwidth).
www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 127
NHT CL ASSI C ABSOLUTE TOWE R
a problem with the Absolute
Towers. Even bass guitarist
Peter Freeman’s thunder-
ing opening to “Aurora,”
from Jon Hassell’s Last Night
the Moon Came Dropping
Its Clothes in the Street (CD,
ECM 2077), was dramatic
and forceful—and it was very
easy to determine the pitch-
es of his melodic bass line.
What I enjoyed most
about the NHT was its co-
herent presentation of the
textures of rhythm sections
in jazz and rock recordings.
Listening to Wayne Short-
er’s “Sanctuary”/“Nefertiti,”
from guitarist Steve Khan’s
The Green Field/El Prado Verde
(CD, Tone Center TC-4044
2), I focused on the interplay
between bassist John Patitucci
and drummer Jack DeJoh-
nette; the sense of pace repro-
duced by the NHT was tight
and coherent. Similarly, Ringo
Starr’s flamboyant drumming
on George Harrison’s “Only
a Northern Song,” from the
Beatles’ Yellow Sub-
marine Songtrack (CD,
Apple CDP 5 21481
2), locked in with Paul
McCartney’s bass and all of
this track’s electronic effects to provide
through the NHTs a lively, swirling, chug-
ging sound with no trace of sluggishness.
This diminutive floorstander could rock!
Then I cranked the Absolute Towers
to rock-concert level and spun Scream-
ing Headless Torsos’ “Smile in a Wave,”
from their eponymous album (CD, Dis-
covery 77019). This reimagining of Miles
Davis’ “Theme from Jack Johnson” by
guitarist David Fiuczynski created some
slammin’ rhythms at 95dB through the
NHTs in my large listening room.
But in addition to high-level dynam-
ic swings, the Absolute Towers were
capable of subtle low-level dynamic
shadings. I analyzed Mark Flynn’s wide-
ranging percussive palette in “Mansour’s
Gift,” from Attention Screen’s Live at
Merkin Hall (CD, Stereophile STPH018-
2). The NHTs captured all the subtle
nuances of Mark’s drumming near the
beginning of the piece’s pianissimo pas-
sages, and followed through with the fff
blast near the end. This is the sort of lin-
ear reproduction of a full dynamic enve-
lope that I normally expect from much
larger, more expensive floorstanders.
Reflecting again on
Byrne’s comment that the
Absolute Tower was de-
signed to be primarily a
home-theater speaker, I
cranked up the pilot epi-
sode of Lost (Blu-ray, ABC
100834). In the dramatic
plane-crash sequences, all
of the thundering effects
were delivered without
compression or distortion—
again, I never felt the need
for a subwoofer.
What finally put the en-
tirety of the Absolute Tow-
er’s performance together
for me was Tomiko Kohji-
ba’s The Transmigration of
the Soul, from the Santa Fe
Chamber Music Festival’s
Festival (CD, Stereophile
STPH007-2). I reveled in
the detailed and delicate ar-
ticulation of transients from
these nine instruments and
one soprano on a wide,
deep soundstage; in the
broad, linear dynamic en-
velope of the performance;
and, finally, in a sense
of drama that I nor-
mally associate with
larger speakers.
Comparisons
I compared the Classic Absolute Tower
($999.90/pair) with NHT’s own Clas-
sic Three ($798/pair), the Dynaudio
Excite X12 ($1200/pair), and the Moni-
tor Audio Silver RS6 ($1200/pair when
last offered).
I felt that the Classic Three and Classic
Absolute Tower had similar timbral char-
acteristics, but the Tower seemed more de-
tailed, less veiled, and with more extended
highs. Although the Three’s published
specifications claim deeper bass extension
than the Tower’s, I felt that, with music,
the two models were comparable in this
regard, although the Three’s bass was a bit
warmer and a touch slower.
Dynaudio’s Excite X12 had a slightly
warmer bass than the NHT Absolute
Tower, but also a more detailed and
delicate midrange and silkier, more ex-
tended highs. I felt the Dynaudio had an
airier, more coherent sound, and found it
much easier to follow individual instru-
ments through than the NHT Tower.
Finally, the Monitor Audio Silver RS6
also had more detailed and extended
highs than the Absolute Tower, but the
upper end of the audioband was a bit
more crisp through the RS6, with more
prominent sibilants. The Monitor also
had the tightest, deepest, most dynamic
bass response of all four speakers.
Payoff
A reviewing colleague once wrote of a
speaker, “This is a speaker you can take
home to meet Mother.” That description
perfectly fits NHT’s Classic Absolute
Tower. I found it a smooth, liquid, de-
tailed, dynamic performer with a wide
range of program material, both music
and films. It did nothing wrong, and was
sufficiently revealing to let well-recorded
music shine while making lesser record-
ings quite listenable.
Other speakers may do more in a
particular area, but this one does it all
in a naturally balanced fashion. Over-
all, in fact, the Classic Absolute Tower
has impressed me more than any other
NHT model I’ve heard. Stereophile read-
ers should find it a truly “universal”
speaker: Every reader of this magazine
will enjoy listening to music through
the Absolute Towers, and I am sure that
no reader’s spouse will object to their
presence in the house. For $1000/pair,
what more can you ask? ■■
ASSOCIATED EQUIPMENT
ANALOG SOURCES VPI TNT IV, Rega Planar 3 turntables; Immedia, Syrinx
PU-3 tonearms; Koetsu Urushi, Clearaudio Virtuoso Wood cartridges.
DIGITAL SOURCES Lector CDP-7T, Creek Destiny CD players.
PREAMPLIFICATION Vendetta Research SCP-2D phono stage, Audio Valve
Eclipse line stage.
POWER AMPLIFIER Audio Research Reference 110.
INTEGRATED AMPLIFIER Creek Destiny.
LOUDSPEAKERS Alón Circe, Dynaudio Excite X12, Monitor Audio Silver RS6,
NHT Classic Three.
CABLES Interconnect (all MIT): Magnum M3, MI-350 CVTwin Terminator,
MI-330SG Terminator. Speaker: Acarian Systems Black Orpheus.
ACCESSORIES Various by ASC, Bright Star, Celestion, Echo Busters,
Salamander Designs, Simply Physics, Sound Anchor, VPI. —Robert J. Reina
128 www.Stereophile.com, December 2010
E Q U I P M E N T R E P O R T
H
eadphone listening is hot these days, due not only to the ubiquity of
the iPod as a music source but also because it is possible to get state-of-
the-art headphone playback without having to have stupidly bottomless
pockets. A plethora of affordable high-quality headphone amplifiers are
available, and high-performance ’phones can be had for a few hundred
dollars. Used with a computer or iPod to play uncompressed WAV or
AIF files or losslessly compressed FLAC or Apple Lossless (ALAC) files,
a headphone-based system can offer the audiophile on a budget seriously good sound.
My own headphone listening takes place mostly on my commute to work, by bus or
subway, so I have been most interested in in-ear models, especially when they offer some
isolation from external sounds. I was very much taken by the sound of the Ultimate Ears
UE-5c ($600; since renamed the 5 Pro) when I reviewed it in December 2004 (see www.
stereophile.com/headphones/1204ultimate), and Stereophile has since reviewed the Ultimate
Ears UE-10 Pro (October 2006, www.stereophile.com/headphones/1006ue; no longer
available) and the 11 Pro ($1150; May 2008, www.stereophile.com/headphones/508ue).
All these Ultimate Ears Pro custom models require that impressions be taken
of the listener’s inner ears; the resultant molds are used to form the bodies of the
headphones, which are inserted into the ear canals, sealing off the outside world.
Instructions for how to have an “open-mouth impression” taken by a local hearing-
aid center or audiologist can be found at http://ultimateears.com/en-us/support/
find-your-audiologist, as well as a search engine to find recommended audiologists
in your area. Low-frequency extension will depend on the effectiveness of the seal,
which is why it is important to have the molds taken with care. The Ultimate Ears
molds used to be offered in either hard or soft plastic. The soft molds offered excel-
lent isolation, I found, but took quite a long time to expand and fully seal the ear
canal. UE’s current molds use a fairly hard acrylic shell that I found comfortable,
even over multi-hour listening sessions.
The molds contain the drive-units and crossover components; the Ultimate Ears
models basically differ in how many of each are used. The original UE-5c used two
proprietary balanced-armature transducers, one handling the low frequencies, the other
the highs, with a passive crossover. The 10 Pro added a second LF armature, while the
JOHN ATKINSON
DESCRIPTION
In-ear headphones
with custom
earmolds,
1
∕8"
(3.5mm) stereo
plug, and optional Ambience
feature. Drive-units:
6 balanced armatures with
three-way crossover. Frequency
range: 20Hz–18kHz. Sensitivity:
110.6dB SPL at 1kHz. Efficiency:
115.6dB/m. Impedance:
21 ohms at 1kHz. Noise isolation:
26dB.
DIMENSIONS Weight: 1 oz.
Cable length: 48" (1220mm);
64" (1626mm) available for $45
as an accessory.
SERIAL NUMBER OF UNIT
REVIEWED 3511-1.
PRICE $1350 plus custom earmold
fee; includes personalized aluminum
carrying case and cleaning tool.
Optional Ambience feature adds
$50. Approximate number of
dealers: sold online. Warranty:
1 year, monitors, housing, internal
speakers; 30 days on fit for custom
in-ear monitors.
MANUFACTURER Ultimate Ears
by Logitech, 5 Jenner Street,
Suite 100, Irvine, CA 92618.
Tel: (800) 589-6531,
(949) 502-8341.
Fax: (949) 502-8379.
Web: www.ultimateears.com.
Ultimate Ears
18 Pro
IN-EAR HEADPHONES
www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 129
ULTI MATE EARS 18 PRO
11 Pro has four balanced armatures, add-
ing a midrange driver to the 10’s tweeter
and double woofers. Like the 11 Pro, the
18 Pro is a three-way design but takes
things a step further by using six balanced
armatures. Two each are used for the bass,
midrange, and treble, the latter allowing
the 18 Pro to have the most extended top
end of any UE model.
The six armatures communicate with
the user’s inner ear via three tubes within
the body of the headphone—two of these,
for the low and midrange frequencies, are
concentric—so that the three frequency
bands remain separate until they com-
bine at the eardrum. (The less-expensive
Ultimate Ears models have two tubes.)
Acoustically tuned filters in these tubes
equalize the signal for the flattest overall
response. Since its acquisition by Logitech
in 2008, Ultimate Ears has invested heav-
ily in headphone R&D, including the
purchase of an expensive G.R.A.S. Kemar
manikin for testing in-ear frequency re-
sponse and other parameters.
“I love this music . . .”
When I reviewed the UE-5c, I was most
impressed by the smoothness of its mid-
range and high frequencies, though its
low frequencies were definitely larger
than life—what my friend Martin Col-
loms once referred to as “the JBL Effect.”
(Listen to the kick drum and bass guitar at
a live rock concert—both will be mixed at
a higher level than the rest of the instru-
ments to maximize the visceral effect of
the sound on the audience.) By contrast,
the 18 Pro, even with twice as many LF
units, didn’t sound as fat as the 5c. How-
ever, it sounded cleaner in the bass, with
better extension and definition. The war-
ble tones on Editor’s Choice (ALAC files,
ripped from CD, Stereophile STPH015-
2) were audible down to the 20Hz limit,
with harmonic distortion evident only
on the 25 and 20Hz tones, and then
only to a slight extent. The ultralow bass
lines on “Nightwalker,” from Anders Tr-
entemøller’s The Last Resort (ALAC file,
ripped from CD, Pokerflat PFRCD18),
made my skull pulse in and out in sym-
pathy. (The clarity of the Ultimate Ears
does tempt you to play LOUD!)
The 18 Pro’s midrange was uncol-
ored and smooth—the massed voices of
the Elora Festival Singers in Eric Whi-
tacre’s “I thank you God for this most
amazing day” (ALAC file, ripped from
CD, Naxos 8.559677) had a lumi-
nous intensity through these ’phones.
The restored Steinway piano used for
Robert Silverman’s performance of
Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Handel
(24-bit/88.2kHz AIF files), which Er-
ick Lichte and I am preparing for even-
tual release as a Stereophile CD, sounded
as powerful and as clean as it had the
day I recorded it in Sauder Hall at
Goshen College, Indiana. The orches-
tra backing Joni Mitchell in “At Last,”
from Both Sides Now (24/96 ALAC
file, ripped from DVD-A, Reprise
47620-9), sounded rich and clean, with
delicate details—such as drummer Peter
Erskine’s brushwork—readily audible.
The Ultimate Ears’ midrange clarity
had a downside, of course: it allowed me
to hear that the version of “For Just Once
in My Life,” from the Righteous Brothers’
Unchained Melody (CD, Verve 847 248-2,
1990)—Bobby Hatfield’s high tenor, Bill
Medley’s rich baritone, a Goffin-King
composition, a Phil Spector production,
what more could anyone want?—is actu-
ally a dub from LP, with low-level groove
noise just audible in the quiet passages.
The Achilles’ heel of in-ear ’phones is a
lack of top-octave extension. Some mod-
els, such as the Phiaton PS 200 I reviewed
in September 2009 (www.stereophile.
com/headphones/phiaton_ps_200_in-
ear_headphones), try to compensate
for this by exaggerating the mid-treble
level. Through the 18 Pros, however, the
acoustic guitar and percussion on “Satel-
lites,” from Rickie Lee Jones’ Flying Cow-
boys (AAC file, ripped from CD, Geffen
24246-2), had top-octave air to spare,
but without the highs sounding fizzy or
bright. (This album, produced by Walter
Becker of Steely Dan, has the widest dy-
namic range of any nonclassical record-
ing I have measured, with an average
peak:mean ratio around 14dB and a peak
level on “Satellites” of -4.4dBFS.)
As with the other in-ear headphones I
have tried, binaural recordings, such as my
recording of the 1992 Canadian Grand
Prix on Test CD 3 (ALAC file, ripped
from Stereophile STPH006-2), obsti-
nately refused to image in front of my
head with the UE 18 Pros. This, I assume,
is due to the absence of the acoustic mod-
ification of the sound reaching the ears by
the pinnae, which is, by definition, absent
with in-ear ’phones. However, sounds to
the sides were reproduced well outside
my head, as were the ambient sound ef-
fects in Trentemøller’s “Nightwalker.”
“. . . I love this philosophy”
With the temporary demise of the UE-
5c, due to a failed cable and connector,
the Shure SE310 ($300; September 2009,
www.stereophile.com/headphones/
shure_se310_in-ear_headphones) became
my daily earphones. But as much as I like
the Shure, the Ultimate Ears 18 Pro plays
in a different league. Its ability to play low
frequencies at high levels with minimal
distortion is unmatched by other in-ear
’phones, and the clarity and smoothness
of its midrange is Class A. Yes, the 18 Pro
is expensive—and $1350 is within spitting
distance of the best regular headphones
money can buy, the mighty Sennheiser
HD800. But you’re not going to take the
Sennheisers with you on the subway, and
that’s where the Ultimate Ears come into
their own. ■■
T
he only parameter of headphones that I measure,
is their electrical impedance, to determine how difficult
they are to drive. To take these readings, I inserted
the Ultimate Ears ’phones in my ears so that they had
the correct acoustic loading.
The Ultimate Ears 18 Pros’ impedance and electrical phase are
shown in fig.1. The impedance meets the 21-ohm specification
at 1kHz, but drops to 18 ohms in the lower midrange and bass,
and to 11 ohms between 8 and 10kHz. The variation in impedance
is relatively small overall, though the mid-treble might sound a
little laid-back with headphone amplifiers having a high output
impedance. —John Atkinson
MEASURE ME NTS
Fig.1 Ultimate Ears 18 Pro Custom Monitor, electrical impedance
(solid) and phase (dashed). (10 ohms/vertical div.)
FOLLOW- UP
Ar t Dudl ey, Wes Phi l l i ps, & Br i an Damkr oger
www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 131
HRT Music Streamer II and Music
Streamer II+
Consumer audio hasn’t enjoyed many
success stories in recent years, so this
one stands out: According to distributor
Elite Audio/Video, their USB-based
Music Streamer D/A converters, de-
signed and built in California by
High Resolution Technologies,
have been kicking ass, taking
names, and generally scar-
ing the hell out of everyone
else who wants a share of the
computer-music market.
But the Metamucil of tech-
nology doesn’t settle in the
bottom of the glass for very long,
especially when audio reviewers are
doing all the stirring. (Stereophile thrives
only by sowing discontent among hap-
less consumers. I read that on the Inter-
net, so it must be true.) Thus the folks at
High Resolution Technologies (HRT)
have been busy in the two years since
they introduced the Music Streamer
($99) and Music Streamer+ ($299)
USB D/A converters.
1
In August 2010,
the Music Streamer II ($150) and Mu-
sic Streamer II+ ($350) arrived.
Except for their slightly different lo-
gos, the new models look exactly like
their predecessors: 4"-long (Streamer
II) and 5"-long (Streamer II+) boxes of
hexagonal cross-section, made of alumi-
num alloy and painted red or gray. The
boxes are all but featureless, having only
a USB jack at one end and a stereo pair
of RCA jacks at the other. Neither wall
warts nor DC-in jacks are needed—the
Music Streamers get all the power they
need from the USB bus itself.
Inside, the most obvious difference
between the old and new models is the
use of a single PCB in each instead of
a motherboard with a smaller plug-in
(as before). However, designer Kevin
Halverson says that the differences are
many, including a thoroughly rede-
signed power supply along with newer
and presumably better USB transceiv-
ers, D/A chips, and other bits. Indeed,
I spotted a high performance TI TAS
1020 chip among the various sub-
miniature imponderables in both new
models. (The earlier models had used
the resolution-limited Burr-Brown
PCM2706 transceiver chip.) The new
Streamers are claimed to handle
sampling rates up to 96kHz and word
lengths of up to 24 bits. Further, Halv-
erson says the new models will always
play music files at their native resolu-
tions, with no attempted upsampling of
lower bit rates and word lengths.
Like the originals, the new Music
Streamers were easy to install and to use.
They powered up automatically when
connected to an active USB bus, be-
coming very slightly warm to the touch
over the course of several minutes. Pro-
prietary software identified each HRT
converter for the host computer—in this
case, a recent-vintage Apple iMac—after
which output-device selection was per-
formed onscreen in a matter of seconds.
For audiophiles, such as I, who use Ap-
ple iTunes without benefit of a software
plug-in such as Pure Music (see Stereo-
phile, August 2010) or Amarra, it’s also
necessary to adapt to each distinct file
type by exiting iTunes, opening the com-
puter’s Audio MIDI utility, and select-
ing the appropriate sampling rate before
reactivating iTunes.
The Music Streamer II+, the first of
the new models to grace my system af-
ter I’d briefly reacquainted myself with
its predecessor (sloth has its advan-
tages), retained the HRT house sound:
slightly dry, with a little less openness
and body than with the exponentially
more expensive DACs from Ayre
Acoustics and Wavelength Audio, but
with notable musical momentum and
flow, especially for such an affordable
product. From there, the II+ improved
on the original in a variety of ways.
Notwithstanding some enduring dry-
ness, the new HRT had distinctly more
saturated tonal colors, with especially
notable gains in the sounds of wood-
winds, brasses, and voices.
The II+ also sounded much
bigger—the smallish group in
Daniel Myssyk’s brilliant in-
terpretation of Hindemith’s
Escales Romantique, from
Fidelio Musique (at pres-
ent, this superb record-
ing is available only on a
limited-edition Fidelio sam-
pler), seemed to stretch in
every direction—and like a much
more dramatic, more dynamically
nuanced device. On Live at the Linda
(ripped from Dreadnought CD 0701),
David Grier’s mid-1940s Martin D-28
sounded notably richer through the
II+: more like its very complex vintage
self. The result, in plain English, was a
realer, incontrovertibly more involving
sound. The improvements wrought
in the HRT II+ were no less evident
on standard-issue pop. The songs on
Joanna Newsom’s richly arranged Ys
(ripped from Drag City DC303CD)
gained in that same way: They, too,
were richer, with more color, corpus,
and human subtlety.
If I had to describe in two words the
improvements offered by the Music
Streamer II+, they would be: appreciably
richer. Surprisingly or not, the same must
be said of the performance changes
noted in replacing the original budget-
priced Music Streamer with the Music
Streamer II: In terms of sheer degree of
improvement, in fact, the less expensive
Music Streamer II is the greater success,
and the performance gap between the
red and the gray converters is smaller
than before.
As evidence, I offer the way the Mu-
sic Streamer II played pop recordings of
no great pedigree. Audra Mae’s wonder-
ful “The Happiest Lamb,” from the CD
of that title (ripped from Sideonedum-
my SD1416-2), is ripe with the trebly
1 I reviewed HRT’s Music Streamer and Music
Streamer+ in the November 2009 Stereophile. Manu-
facturer: High Resolution Technologies, LLC, 1027
N. Orange Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90038. Tel: (323)
967-7447. Fax: (323) 466-9825. Web: www.hirestech.
com.
HRT Music Streamer II
Broomall:
1001 Sussex Blvd.
Broomall, PA 19008
(610) 544-4420
Jenkintown:
509 Old York Road
Jenkintown, PA 19046
(215) 885-5300
Wilmington:
1 block south of Charcoal Pit
2304 Concord Pike
Wilmington, DE 19803
(302) 655-4780
toll free 800.990.h|ñ www.h|ñhouse.com
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so RSVP today to:
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6:30pm - 9pm, December 8, 2010
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www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 133
F OLLOW- UP
sounds of various percussion in-
struments, which ring overmuch
through even the best DACs
I’ve tried. The Music Streamer
neither harshened nor softened
those sounds, but simply passed
them along, with virtually the
same degree of unfettered and
reasonably natural flow to the
music itself. The Music Streamer
II sounded slightly less open than
the II+, and spatially less “pre-
cise.” (My sample of the II had
an output imbalance that favored
the left channel to a very slight
degree; perhaps the higher cost
of the II+ allows for tighter toler-
ances in that regard.) Recordings
already noted for lacking open-
ness and sonic light—the Vienna
Piano Trio’s appropriately dark
performance of Mahler’s Piano
Quartet (ripped from MDG Gold
3421354-2) comes to mind—sounded
more explicit through the dearer HRT
box, but the Music Streamer II got the
job done nonetheless.
In fact, although it didn’t always sat-
isfy my desire for the ultimate in open,
colorful, organic sound—it’s hard not to
get spoiled in this job—even the cheap-
er Streamer was enough to please me,
absent an Ayre or a Wavelength of my
own. That’s a remarkable thing to say
about a $150 product that also has the
distinction of being made in the US.
For anyone with a decent computer
and a copy of iTunes (or similar soft-
ware) who has yet to try a USB con-
verter, the Music Streamer II is indeed
a no-brainer: Just buy the thing and get
on with your (musical) life.
—Art Dudley
Etymotic Research Custom-Fit
earmolds
In my review of Etymotic Research’s
hf5 and hf2 in-ear headphones in the
August 2010 Stereophile, I mentioned
that the company
2
was about to offer
custom earmolds via its Custom-Fit
program, which would produce custom
eartips for its headphones via a nation-
wide network of audiologists, for a cost
of about $100/pair. Once the master
molds have been made, additional pairs
of earmolds are available at a discount.
I’d had earmolds made previously,
first for my original pair of Etymotic
ER-4s, and later for several pairs of very
costly Ultimate Ears ’phones. I thought
I knew how the song went: I’d go to
an audiologist, sit there for 15 minutes
with my mouth open as the specialist
pumped my ears full of goo, and, three
weeks later, I’d receive in the mail my
headphones with hard-plastic negatives
of my ear canals. Compared to “regu-
lar” in-canal eartips from Etymotic,
Shure, or whomever, the custom molds
were quite comfortable—at first. On
long airplane flights, which are where
I most often listen for hours on end,
I found that the hard earmolds grew
uncomfortable, rubbing some parts
of my ear canals or, more often, just
seeming too warm. Given the custom
molds’ better fit and increased reduc-
tion of ambient noise, these weren’t
huge negatives; still, I’d find myself re-
moving one earmold, then the other, to
stick my finger in my ear to massage
it. This wasn’t a huge problem in the
days when airplanes had more empty
seats, but nowadays I usually end up
with two seatmates staring at me—and,
of course, with hot ears.
Etymotic’s Custom-Fit earmold rou-
tine wasn’t quite like that. You still need
an audiologist to make the molds (for
a referral, go to www.etymotic.com/
customfit/register.aspx), and Etymotic
will e-mail you a certificate that guar-
antees their $100 price, no matter what
the audiologist normally charges. The
company sent me to Dr. Craig Kasper,
AuD, FAAA, at the Audio Help Hear-
ing Center in Manhattan—the “Chief
Audiology Officer” who developed
Etymotic’s network of audiologists.
Dr. Kasper used a new (to me) system
that took casts of my ear canals
in just a few minutes—and, when
he examined the completed
molds, it was revealed that they
didn’t extend as far into my ears’
twisty inner canals as my previ-
ous molds had. (Just to show
you how proud one can be of
something over which one has
no control, when, after making
the molds, Dr. Kaspar said “Nice
ears,” I simply glowed.)
Three weeks later, when I re-
ceived my Custom-Fit earmolds
in the mail, I was startled to find
that they were made of soft sili-
cone rather than the hard plastic
of my other molds. They slipped
easily over any of the Etymotic
headsets I had on hand, once
I’d removed the headsets’ stock
flanged eartips. Although the
molds are sold as complements
to the models hf2 and hf5, they also
proved perfect for my ER-4s. (Molds
that fit all other Etymotic models are
also available.)
Etymotic refers to the material of its
Custom-Fit molds as “ultrasoft” silicone,
and that’s about right. Think of the con-
sistency of a Gummi Bear. They fit ex-
tremely well, as you might imagine, and
I’ve found them extremely comfortable
for listening sessions of up to eight hours.
In fact, rather than having to take them
out periodically to air out my ears, I tend
to get irritated if, for some reason, I have to
remove them—because the earmolds are
made of clear silicone, people tend not to
notice you’re wearing them, and they will
insist on talking to you. And, because of
the custom fit, the earmolds improve on
the stock Etymotic eartips’ claimed 32-
45dB reduction of ambient noise. With
both earmolds in place, you won’t be hav-
ing any conversations—not a drawback, in
my opinion, but another feature.
Bottom line: The hf5s and hf2s have
been my go-to headsets for quite a
while, not necessarily because they’re
the best I’ve heard (though they sound
plenty fine), but because their cables
are flexible, convenient, and nonmicro-
phonic. Also, they’re easy to throw in
my gym bag or briefcase. (I always feel
I’m dissing the pricey Ultimate Ears
models when I don’t store them in their
supplied hard cases.) However, the ad-
dition of the Custom-Fit earmolds has
elevated the performance of all of my
Etymotics at least a full level above my
previous assessments of them. The ER-
4s are still my reference portable head-
2 Manufacturer: Etymotic Research, 61 Martin Lane,
Elk Grove Village, IL 60007. Tel: (847) 228-0006. Fax:
(847) 228-6836. Web: www.etymotic.com.
Etymotic Research Custom-Fit earmolds
F OLLOW- UP
www.Stereophile.com, December 2010
set, the hf5s still my everyday model.
With the Custom-Fit earmolds, the
bass is better, the midrange is clearer,
and the highs are crisper—but most im-
portant, they’re comfortable.
And let’s face it: In headsets as in
shoes, comfort trumps almost every-
thing else. Custom-Fit earmolds more
than justify their $100 price. —Wes Phillips
Sutherland Engineering Timeline
record weight
As a diehard vinyl junkie, I have as-
sembled or built a pretty comprehen-
sive set of accessories over the years,
ranging from all of Wally’s Tools to a
homemade switchbox and high-preci-
sion HP multimeter that I use with test
records to help fine-tune a cartridge’s
azimuth. The one thing I lacked—it
was a major source of frustration—was
a simple, robust way of measuring and
monitoring a turntable’s speed while a
record was playing.
Usually, my routine for doing this
comprised three steps. First, I’d run the
’table for 30 minutes or so, to get any
lubricant moving and bring everything
up to temperature. Next, I’d set the
speed with a strobe and test disc. The
final step was to put the tools away, cue
up the record, and hope that the speed
was—and remained—correct. I always
found this process unsatisfying, and in
some cases—such as when two suppos-
edly accurate turntables were obviously
running at different speeds—infuriating.
Ron Sutherland’s Timeline, which
was briefly mentioned by Michael Fre-
mer in the March 2010 “Analog Cor-
ner,” is the answer to my prayers.
3
This
simple, battery-powered record
weight, 3" in diameter, houses
an extremely accurate strobe
light that projects a spot onto a
wall near the turntable. If the
turntable’s speed is correct,
the spot on the wall doesn’t
move; if the speed is not cor-
rect, the spot moves. Best of
all, the Timeline allows the
speed to be set, monitored,
and tweaked as necessary, all
while the record is playing.
Different record sizes? Chang-
es in room temperature? Phases
of the moon? No muss, no fuss,
no angst—your turntable is running
perfectly, and you know it. Or maybe
it’s not . . . but that’s a different issue.
These days, most high-end turn-
tables come with some sort of clamp
or integrated disc hold-down system.
My Spiral Groove SG-2, for example,
has a slightly concave, screw-down
clamp, and my VPI HR-X has both a
weight and a rim clamp. Both the Spi-
ral Groove and VPI are superb with
respect to speed accuracy and stability,
but both need a bit of tweaking from
time to time.
No problem—with the VPI I used
the Timeline instead of VPI’s own
weight, then added mass to bring the
Timeline’s 9.7oz (275gm) up to match
the VPI’s 26.3oz (745gm). For the SG-
2, I set the speed with the Timeline,
made sure it was stable, then used
the Spiral Groove’s own screw-down
clamp, adding just a bit of ballast to
make its weight match the Time-
line’s.
Anyone who’s serious about analog
needs a way to accurately measure,
set, and monitor his or her turntable’s
speed, and Ron Sutherland’s Timeline
perfectly fits the bill. It’s a gorgeous
little gadget and spectacularly accurate,
but far more important, it’s simple and
easy to use—which ensures that it will
be used. $399 isn’t pocket change, but
for someone with a wall full of LPs
and a multi-thousand-dollar analog rig,
it’s a small price to pay to ensure that
that rig is running at precisely the right
speed. And for a diehard vinyl junkie
such as I, it’s indispensable.
—Brian Damkroger ■■
The Sutherland Timeline—indispensible?
3 The Timeline costs $399. Manufacturer: Sutherland
Engineering, 455 E. 79th Terrace, Kansas City, MO
64131. Tel: (816) 822-1881. Web: www.sutherlanden-
gineering.com.
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RECORD REVI EWS
RECORDI NG OF T HE MONT H
The Posies Blood/Candy
www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 137
H
aving a long career in the
temporal world of indie rock
has its drawbacks. Before I
wrote this review, someone
sent me a quote about Blood/Candy
from the all-powerful world of In-
ternet music criticism where speed
trumps knowledge. “A collection
that’s thankfully a world away from
their largely charmless and invari-
ably dull nineties output for Gef-
fen.”
It’s true that the Posies began
back in the horse-and-buggy days
of the late 1980s, but another truth,
for those who know their history,
is that Blood/Candy sounds more
like the band’s rich, rockin’ Geffen
records than anything they’ve done
since. It is, in the best sense of the
word, a Posies record: expansive,
brainy, tuneful pop folk-rock with a slight punk twinge
(they like it loud), two well-played guitars, and two male
voices in harmony. Psychedelia—which is, to use a Posie-
ism, the current flavor of the month in indierockdom—is
glazed across nearly every song on Blood/Candy in taste-
ful, sparing ways. And what was once simply imaginative
power pop—a term Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow now, not
surprisingly, dislike as too confining—has grown far more
ornate and mannered, leaning further into chamber-pop
territory, and showing the effects that years of voracious lis-
tening and touring wisdom can have on songwriting. Like
many charmless and invariably dull songwriters, the Posie boys
have over time absorbed and learned even more from the
songwriting genius of such masters as the Beach Boys and
the Beatles. The best result of that combined with their in-
creased life experiences comes in a stretch of tunes deep
into Blood/Candy. In “Accidental Architecture” (track 8) the
Liverpool and SoCal streams collide in the ringing verses of
the “White Album” Beatles, while the vocally lush chorus,
“There’s architecture in the way you care,” is an unmistak-
able bow toward and a cop from the wily Mr. Wilson.
Next up is “She’s Coming Down Again!,” led by shim-
mery guitar chords. After a skuzzy, phased fuzz bass
thumps in, Stringfellow’s soaring voice dissects the grim,
selfish life of a hipster, with a chorus—again, silly big and,
musically, eminently lovable—that’s matched to lyrics that
build, sweet ’n’ sour, to an accidental overdose: “Felt so
good when she got high / She took too much and she
started to panic / Does anybody have a couple extra Xanax
/ What a shitty way to spend the night.” Again, the swirl of
the ending vocal flourish sounds like an outtake from one
of Brian Wilson’s ever-more-influential Teenage Sympho-
nies to God.
What follows that, “Notion 99,” is the two-headed love
child of “Golden Blunders” and “Dream All Day,” both Po-
sies singles from the ’90s. A driv-
ing guitar rocker, it joins Auer’s
“The Glitter Prize” and String-
fellow’s “So Caroline” as Blood/
Candy’s accessible rock tunes aka
singles-in-waiting. The sinuous,
intricate “Cleopatra Street,” a tune
many early listeners have cited as
the album’s most Beatles-esque, is
a stunning example of how Auer
combines his musical intelligence
and playful, lyrical urges into a
sharp, smart gem.
Then there’s “Holiday Hours.”
This is Auer at his very best,
singing high and delicate over a
McCart ney-tinged melody whose
chorus hook is the soul of irre-
sistibility. The Posies have always
wisely liked a little noise in their
sweet pop for texture, and while
Auer’s guitar solos remain major-key and coherent, in
many of the tunes here, including this one, keyboard sam-
ples and percussive touches wash and/or poke in, in the
back of the mix.
Full of color and heft in the LP version, Blood/Candy
was recorded piecemeal in different studios in places
like Spain and Ecuador, and on both Stringfellow’s and
Auer’s home rigs. At the band’s record-release show at
the Rock Shop, a Brooklyn club, one of the first groups
Stringfellow thanked from the stage was YouSendIt.
com, a public FTP service by which music files can be
sent via e-mail. The resulting mixes took some extra
mastering work, according to Sterling Sound mastering
engineer Greg Calbi, who worked on the project. “The
mixes I got were all different, and some required more
work than others, but the songs are really good, the ideas
are really good, and for this environment, this economy,
this was a good listen.”
Auer and Stringfellow feel that the sound on Blood/Candy
nails what they wanted to hear. “We like details,” Stringfel-
low says. “I like that there’s always something shimmering,
bubbling, oodling.”
“We always talk about keeping it simple, even on our solo
records,” Auer adds—“and then we really go for the layers.
You really can, upon repeat listenings, find more and more.
It’s layers upon layers upon layers—it’s inevitable. The track
count here on some of the songs is insane.”
Although several guest singers—Broken Social Scene’s
Lisa Lobsinger, and Kay Hanley from Letters to Cleo—
add background-vocal cameos, and the Stranglers’ Hugh
Cornwell contributes a spoken-word bit to the opener,
“Plastic Paperbacks,” it’s the partnership of Jon Auer and
Ken Stringfellow, now clearly renewed, that’s so impres-
sively alive on Blood/Candy.
—Robert Baird
Rykodisc RCD 11094 (LP). 2010. Jon Auer, Ken
Stringfellow, prods., engs.; Paco Loco, Scott
Greiner, others, engs.; Greg Calbi, mastering. AAA?
TT: 42:39
Performance ★★★★
1
∕2
Sonics ★★★★
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R E C OR D R E VI E WS
classical
APOLLO’S FIRE
Bach & Mozart
J.S. BACH: Concertos
Brandenburg Concertos 1–6, BWV 1046–
1051; Harpsichord Concertos in d & f, BWV
1052 & 1056; Violin Concerto in d, BWV
1052 (reconstructed)
Elizabeth Wallfisch, violin; Jeannette Sorrell,
conductor, harpsichord; Apollo’s Fire
Avie AV 2207 (2 CDs). 2010. Erica Brenner,
prod.; Thomas Knab, eng. DDD. TT: 2:32:02
Performance ★★★★★
Sonics ★★★★
MOZART: Symphony 40
With: Ballet Music from Idomeneo; Dances,
K.123, 462, 463; “In un istante,” from Lucio
Silla
Amanda Forsythe, soprano; Jeannette Sorrell, Apollo’s Fire
Avie AV 2159 (CD). 2010. Erica Brenner, prod.; Thomas Knab, eng. DDD. TT:
61:05
Performance ★★★★★
Sonics ★★★★
A
pollo’s Fire, aka the Cleveland Baroque Orchestra, is a
group of young period-instrument players founded in
1992 by its conductor, Jeannette Sorrell. Named for
the Greek god of music and the sun, the ensemble
has gained international acclaim on stage and radio, and has
released 13 records.
On these two albums, Apollo’s technical brilliance, close
ensemble, spontaneity, and enthusiasm are in full evidence.
Though the musicians tune normally (A=440), the style is
entirely baroque, especially on the Bach album. The strings
play almost without vibrato, and use open strings wherever
possible. They favor strong dynamic contrasts, crescendos
on ascending lines, diminuendos on descending ones, and
swells in the middle of long notes. The phrasing is clear,
if sometimes overdone. Repetitions, both of small figures
and entire phrases, are exploited for echo effects, a device
that eventually becomes a bit tiresome. Tempi are blessedly
moderate; only the finale, Allegro, of the Brandenburg Con-
certo 3 sets a new speed record. The winds are fabulous; to
produce a tone of such beauty and perfection on baroque
instruments is a major achievement. (The players, as listed
in the booklets, changed between 2005 and 2008: only the
concertmistress and the bassist remained the same.)
In the Brandenburgs, Sorrell brings out each movement’s
character; many fast ones, not only the Minuets, have a grace-
ful, dance-like quality, while the slow ones are spacious and
expressive. The playing is splendid, but even these fine mu-
sicians cannot keep Concerto 6 from sometimes sounding
rough, or the opening of No.1 from sounding muddy. In
No.5, Sorrell reveals herself as a formidable harpsichordist,
an impression confirmed in the harpsichord concertos in d
and f. In Brandenburg 3, she interpolates a cadenza shared
with the solo violin and cello. Among the many excellent
soloists, concertmistress Cynthia Roberts stands out; her vir-
tuosity in No.4 is quite stunning.
Bach’s harpsichord concertos are assumed to have been
originally written for violin, being much more idiomatic to
that instrument. Included here is the Concerto in d in a bril-
liant violin version by Elizabeth Wallfisch, who plays it with
such dramatic intensity and bravura that one wishes she had
also played the other one.
The Mozart program juxtaposes little-known early works
with the “great” Symphony 40 in g,
K.550. The Symphony 40 is one of
those masterpieces open to many
interpretations. Here it is all restless
turbulence, with very fast, driven
tempi and extreme contrasts; like
many conductors, Sorrell adds to the
opening theme surging swells not
indicated in the score. An aria from
the 1772 opera Lucio Silla combines
high drama with dazzling, strato-
spheric coloratura, negotiated with
incredible ease and vocal purity by
soprano Amanda Forsythe; her in-
tonation is impeccable, her runs like
chains of perfectly matched pearls.
Incongruously, she sings with full
vibrato while the strings use none,
and the orchestra sounds faint and
distant. The three Dances are partly vigorous, partly gra-
cious. Of the ballet music from the opera Idomeneo, only the
Gavotte is familiar: Mozart used the melody in one of his
piano concertos.
The sound is first-rate: clear, transparent, and vibrant. The
only flaw is the balance: with the winds consistently over-
powering the strings, especially the cellos and basses, the
music often lacks a strong foundation. —Edith Eisler
rock/pop
BELLE AND SEBASTIAN
Write About Love
Matador OLE-944 (CD). 2010. Tony Hoffer, Stuart Murdoch, prods., engs. AAD?
TT: 43:23
Performance ★★★★
Sonics ★★★★
W
hat was once often sad, even morose, has now
become predominantly happy and peppy—to the
point where Norah Jones actually sings on one
tune. Weirdly enough, Jones slays her vocal in
“Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John.” It can cause whip-
lash in older Belle and Sebastian fans if cued up without
introduction. “Is that . . . ?” they incredulously mutter, just
before their heads lash around and their neck vertebrae are
permanently fused.
B&S brainchief Stuart Murdoch’s intricate miniatures
of folk-pop love stories are as detailed and compelling as
ever, but on Write About Love, the band’s second collabora-
tion with producer Tony Hoffer—who, on their last record,
The Life Pursuit (2006), moved them towards a new zip and
polish—their celebrated sepia moments continue to dwindle.
The appealing retro 60’s pop lusciousness they’ve mastered
in the past has oozed back into the sound here. Even Barry
(Jack Black), who famously disparaged B&S in the film High
Fidelity, would have to admire such frolics as the relentlessly
upbeat “I Want the World to Stop” or the nearly danceable
“I Didn’t See It Coming.”
In “Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John,” Norah Jones
proves again that her smoke-trail voice can be quite an ex-
pressive instrument. It’s a disturbing sign—either that Mur-
doch was willing to consider her or that Jones, she of the
www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 141
R E C OR D R E VI E WS
one massive hit followed by several
unfocused, confused albums, is ac-
tually gaining some modicum of
street cred.
The album’s title tune is an-
other big, sticky, retro-’60s vocal
pop number, but one that opens
with odd, clanging Springsteen-ish
echoes (for a possible second bout
of whiplash?) and bounces along
like an old soul number. Write About
Love’s other guest, actress Carey
Mulligan, makes a vocal appearance
on this track, presenting a passable
coo. And while Murdoch’s fragile
voice would never make it in Mem-
phis, the tempo of “The Ghost of
Rockschool” is reminiscent of a Stax soul ballad.
Write About Love’s other big upbeat number, “I’m Not Liv-
ing in the Real World,” is drenched in ’60s pop mannerisms,
and more than a whiff of Paul Simon’s “Me and Julio Down
by the Schoolyard.” Some of this album is positively Bachar-
ach-ian, which marks it as yet another triumph of B&S gone
happy. Hoffer and Murdoch value clarity and dynamics;
keyboards are crisp, and acoustic guitars are clear and full-
bodied. While there’s surely more of their trademark mope
and worry in Belle and Sebastian’s musical future, and little
of what’s here equals their very best work, pop music this
worldly and elegant is irresistible. —Robert Baird
BLACK MOUNTAIN
Wilderness Heart
Jagjaguwar 52175 (CD). 2010. Dave Sardy, Randall Dunn, prods., engs.; Ryan
Castle, Cameron Barton, engs. AAD? TT: 42:54
Performance ★★★
1
∕2
Sonics ★★★
1
∕2
O
nce the place where Vancouver’s most prolific mu-
sical engine, Stephen McBean, got his progressive-
metal ya-yas out, Black Mountain has become
something more with Wilderness Heart. The songs
are better focused, the stylistic variety is impressive, and
the voices of McBean and Amber Webber have emerged
as strengths rather than as afterthoughts to power chords
and dragon’n’unicorn lyrics. A big leap forward in matu-
rity and, especial-
ly, songwriting,
Wilderness Heart
works the edge of
the ballad/rocker
contrast to great
effect. The sound
of the CD is, for a
modern rock record
(now the standard
qualifier), well bal-
anced, and the fre-
quencies decently
well defined. And
what McBean has
described in inter-
views as “folky”
and “mellow” is
really a turn toward an awareness
of pop, an adjustment that results
in a more finessed, more inclusive
collection.
Perhaps the most noticeable
tweak from the band’s last, very
prog-leaning effort, In the Fu-
ture (2008), is how McBean’s and
Webber’s voices are now up front
and singing together rather than
being contrasted with each oth-
er. Whether deployed solo or in
splendid harmony, they are two of
this album’s choice attractions.
While the Velvets remain an
inspiration—and you’ll always be
able to hear McBean’s prog-rock
urges rumbling under the hood—it’s clear from the first
notes of Wilderness Heart’s startlingly mainstream folk-rock
opener, “The Hair Song,” that he’s ready for change. That’s
confirmed by two vocal duos with Webber on the mostly
acoustic Moody Blues–esque “Radiant Hearts” and the tri-
umphant, Americana-inflected “Buried by the Blues.” Both
are so short and soft that they’re bound to be a shock for
those in love with the band’s 17-minute prog-rock epics, but
as pushing art in new directions goes, they’re well done, and
welcome new flavors.
Proggy fans of Black Mountain’s earlier records needn’t
fear completely, however—McBean hasn’t changed everything,
and his homages to 1970s rock continue. “Old Fangs” is an
organ-driven rocker that will tickle the heart of any Deep
Purple fan. And one of the best Black Mountain singles ev-
er—as well as their most overt tribute to the band’s metallic
whisperers, Tony Ioomi and Ozzy—is “Let Spirits Ride,” a
chunk of revved-up, retro, riff-rock glory. Then there are
those rainbow lyrics, which here are as fanciful as ever, with
references to the “piper at the gates” (“Buried by the Blues”)
and that magical time “When the sun is electric, it sparkles
its way through your heart” (“Old Fangs”).
Is this newfound mellowness the start of a trend or a one-
album experiment? Savvy artists like to keep you guessing.
—Robert Baird
STEREOLAB
Not Music
Drag City DC430 (CD). 2010. Sean O’Hagan, Tim Gane, prods., engs. AAD? TT:
56:25
Performance ★★★
1
∕2
Sonics ★★★
B
ritish lounge-pop mavens Stereolab have a curious way
of marking their 20th anniversary in the music biz.
They’ve been on official hiatus for almost two years
now, while the members focused on . . . well, other
than icy-cool vocalist Laetitia Sadier, who recently issued a
solo album, The Trip, we’re not exactly sure what they’ve all
been up to. Cofounder Tim Gane has been noticeably quiet
of late, other than to prepare this latest platter for release.
Yet Not Music isn’t a comeback effort; it contains material re-
corded during the same sessions that yielded Chemical Chords
(2008), and at the moment there are no plans to tour behind
the new material. So much for blowing out any candles.
But Not Music just might be one of the stronger Stereo-
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www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 143
R E C OR D R E VI E WS
lab efforts to date. While Chemical Chords, mostly comprising
short, perky tunes, seemed slight, and the all-over-the-map
quality of Margerine Eclipse (2004) felt distinctly unfocused, this
baker’s dozen of tunes strikes a happy balance between the
band’s pop and experimental sides. On the former, for ex-
ample, one encounters “Suphah Jaianto,” powered by piano,
horns, and vibraphone, and with an array of cartoonish tempo
twists, plus random Tropicalia and neosymphonic flourishes.
Representing more experimental approaches is the 10-minute
Krautrock epic “Silver Sands,” whose droning, pulsing, motorik
vibe, interspersed with synth starbursts and Sadier’s sexy in-
cantations, suggests a girl-group field trip down the proverbial
autobahn. The fact that this track appeared on Chemical Chords,
drastically shortened and with a different mix, only highlights
how adept Stereolab can be at stretching out and elaborating
on musical themes and sonic motifs.
Ultimately, Not Music is a psychedelic dance-party delight.
If this is how the band wants to celebrate its 20th, so be it.
Somebody bake ’em a cake. —Fred Mills
STEVE WYNN & THE MIRACLE 3
Northern Aggression
Yep Roc 2235 2 (CD). 2010. Steve Wynn, prod.; Adrian Olsen, eng.; Nicolas
Vernhes, mix. AAD? TT: 45:56
Performance ★★★★
1
∕2
Sonics ★★★★
I
t’s been five years since Steve Wynn last convened his band
the Miracle 3 in the studio, to record . . . tick . . . tick . . . tick
(2005). He hasn’t exactly been dormant, though; there was
a solo album, Crossing Dragon Bridge (2008); tours with the
Miracle 3; busman’s holidays with the Baseball Project and
Robyn Hitchcock; and, most notably, overseeing the remas-
tering of Medicine Show (1984), a gem by his early outfit, the
Dream Syndicate, and one of this year’s crucial reissues. It’s
telling, then, that Northern Aggression showcases Wynn at his
most vital, in terms of both songwriting and performance,
since the first M3 release, Here Come the Miracles (2001).
Northern Aggression finds Wynn firmly in his element,
and the band—guitarist Jason Victor, bassist Dave Decastro,
drummer Linda Pitmon—firing on all cylinders. The sound is
sumptuous from track 1: “Resolution,” a thrumming rocker,
shudders into view like snaky heat lines hovering over sum-
mer asphalt, and gradually turns widescreen in the grand-
est psychedelic tradition—think vintage headphone-hugging
tones laced with a contemporary digital
crispness and clarity. This then-meets-
now trick is pulled off repeatedly: the
dreamy yet propulsive “No One Ever
Drowns,” with its fat bottom end,
resonant guitar twang, and droning
Mellotron, is ’60s sci-fi surf for the
21st century, while “Cloud Splitter,” a
pedal-steel–powered cosmic-cowboy
rocker, is like the opening-credits mu-
sic for a contemporary western noir
flick.
Speaking of noir: Wynn still writes
for a cast of characters in his head,
from the hard-luck protagonist of
a bluesy minimalist sketch, “The
Death of Donny B,” to the swagger-
ing, street-smart narrator of the dirty-
edgy-funky “We Don’t Talk About It.” Also in his lyrics
toolbox are reflective reveries and brooding confessionals,
and it’s this attention to thematic balance, along with a keen
ear for the sequencing of songs, that helps elevate Northern
Aggression to “classic Wynn” status.
Which is no small matter, considering the man’s three-
decade career. Long may he burn. —Fred Mills
jazz
JASON MORAN
plays with . . .
JASON MORAN: Ten
Jason Moran, piano; Tarus Mateen, bass; Nasheet Waits, drums
Blue Note 57186 (CD). 2010. Jason Moran, prod.; Sascha von Oertzen, eng.
DDD. TT: 64:28
Performance ★★★★★
Sonics ★★★★
RALPH ALESSI: Cognitive Dissonance
Ralph Alessi, trumpet; Jason Moran, Andy Milne, piano; Drew Gress, bass;
Nasheet Waits, drums
CAM Jazz 5038 (CD). 2010. Ralph Alessi, prod.; Bobo Fini, eng. DDD. TT: 60:28
Performance ★★★★
Sonics ★★★★
RUDRESH MAHANTHAPPA & BUNKY GREEN: Apex
Rudresh Mahanthappa, Bunky Green, alto saxophone; Jason Moran, piano;
François Moutin, bass; Jack DeJohnette, Damion Reid, drums
Pi AUM 064 (CD). 2010. Rudresh Mahanthappa, prod.; Mike Marciano, eng.
DDD. TT: 71:34
Performance ★★★★
1
∕2
Sonics ★★★★★
CHARLES LLOYD QUARTET: Mirror
Charles Lloyd, alto & tenor saxophone, vocals; Jason Moran, piano; Reuben
Rogers, bass; Eric Harland, drums, vocals
ECM 2176 (CD). 2010. Charles Lloyd, Dorothy Darr, prods.; Dominic & Adam
Camardella, engs. DDD. TT: 72:58
Performance ★★★★★
Sonics ★★★★
B
andwagon has never been a more appropriate name
for pianist Jason Moran’s decade-old trio with bassist
Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits. Critical
consensus places the group at the top of the list of
working jazz combos, and the band’s 10th-anniversary re-
lease will probably top many Album of the Year lists. Ten is a
compendium of the band’s and Moran’s particular strengths:
programmatic imagination, depth of emotional content,
stunning rhythmic invention, and virtuosity that’s never pa-
raded for its own sake but is always in
service of a larger goal. The band’s
internal communication is at a level
that places it in the realm of legend.
The elasticity of the band’s rhyth-
mic flow is central to its concept, al-
though it takes numerous forms over
the course of Ten. Moran and Ma-
teen have an otherworldly rapport
that animates “RFK In the Land of
Apartheid,” which rolls on a funk-in-
fluenced bass line contrasted by Mo-
ran’s contemplative underpinning of
the melody, an approach further ex-
plored in the stark, electric mood of
“Feedback, Pt. 2.”
The beautiful reading of “Crepus-
cule with Nellie” takes the slightest
144 www.Stereophile.com, December 2010
of liberties with the
theme, stuttering at the
bottom of the descend-
ing melodic line, a
subtle twist that fits the
contours of this Thelo-
nious Monk composi-
tion. Moran goes on to
embellish his reading
with flourishes of fancy,
then moves into a blues
passage that gives Ma-
teen room for his own
improvisation as the
trio stretches Monk’s
rhythmic and melodic
contours into barely
recognizable shapes
without destroying
their boundaries.
After the lyrical,
meditative interlude of
“Pas De Deux—Lines
Ballet,” framed by two
takes of “Study No. 6,”
the group hits its signa-
ture piece, “Gangster-
ism Over 10 Years,” the
three voices balancing
off each other’s lines
like aerialists working trapeze stunts.
Moran showboats the theme, flying
merrily through its nooks and crannies,
momentarily lingering over a particu-
larly satisfying phrase before surging
to a breakneck resolution. Moran of-
fers tribute to two major influences:
Andrew Hill, whose beautiful “Play to
Live” floats along with the fragile in-
tensity of a first kiss; and Jackie Byard,
with a swinging, bluesy “To Bob Vatel
of Paris.” Between these tracks, Mateen
provides a meditative interlude with
his own “The Subtle One.” Ten closes
dramatically with “Old Babies,” a dar-
ing two-part construction consisting of
a wistful 53-second piano statement
followed by 53 seconds of silence, be-
fore the band turns a sprightly melodic
theme into one last cascading roller-
coaster ride of improvisation.
Bandwagon’s inventions chart some
of the new roads jazz can travel, but
by no means restrict the range of Jason
Moran’s genius [appropriately, Moran
was awarded a MacArthur “Genius”
Grant of $500,000 in 2010]. In other
settings, he impressively adapts his
playing to the tasks at hand. On Ralph
Alessi’s Cognitive Dissonance, recorded
a few years back but released this fall,
Moran is vibrant in support of the
outstanding trumpeter, underpinning
Alessi’s muscular soloing on “Sun-
flower,” providing his own powerful
pianistic flourishes on “One Wheeler
Will,” and evoking a quiet, sorrowful
mood on “Sir.”
Moran also plays a supporting role
in the all-star assemblage Apex, an al-
to-saxophone battle between Rudresh
Mahanthappa and Bunky Green, with
the brilliant bassist François Moutin,
and Jack DeJohnette and Damion
Reid alternating on drums. Each player
is stretched to his absolute limit on this
white-hot set of challenging composi-
tions by the pair of reed masters. In this
case, support means a performance from
Moran that ranges from the percussive
thunder of McCoy Tyner to the archi-
tectural delicacy of Mal Waldron, with
moments of transcendence dropped in
seemingly out of nowhere—like the ex-
traordinary exchange with Moutin on
“Little Girl I’ll Miss You.”
My favorite recent performances
by Moran are on the new release by
alto and tenor saxophonist Charles
Lloyd, Mirror, whose title is an apt
metaphor for the way Moran seems to
shape-shift in response to Lloyd’s mu-
sical personality. In Lloyd’s company,
Moran’s playing is more restrained,
his phrasing more subtle and poetic,
even when he’s backing one of Lloyd’s
more discursive solos with an arpeg-
giated flourish.
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P
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B
R
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D
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Jason Moran
www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 145
R E C OR D R E VI E WS
Mirror moves seamlessly from track
to track, sounding like one long sonata
structure tied together by the devout
passion of Lloyd’s playing, a sound
that hovers like a spirit in its translu-
cent, vibratoless purity. The vivid me-
lodic deconstruction Lloyd performs
on “I Fall in Love Too Easily” is fol-
lowed by a Moran solo that mimics
the emotional depth of Lloyd’s vision.
The gospel song “Go Down Moses”
is reimagined as a kind of Moroccan
trance vehicle driven by Eric Har-
land’s peripatetic drumming. In his
own “Desolation Sound,” Lloyd de-
velops a well-shaped melody that he
articulates in short phrases and single
notes separated by dramatic pauses,
statements assembled with expressive
blocks of color. Moran is right there
at every step, nudging and convers-
ing. He doubles Lloyd’s theme on the
beautiful, traditional “La Llorona,”
and, with Harland and bassist Reuben
Rogers, sets the stage for Lloyd’s pow-
erful reading of Brian Wilson’s “Caro-
line, No.” The title track is framed by
Thelonious Monk’s “Monk’s Mood”
and “Ruby, My Dear,” the latter
reaching a glorious climax as Lloyd
channels John Coltrane’s ballad voice,
running the scales and letting the
melody direct him, Moran following
every step of the way. The band, now
completely unfettered, enjoys a happy
romp through a soul-jazz rundown of
“The Water Is Wide” before a wild,
careening version of another gospel
tune, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” in
which Moran finally unleashes his
open-ended rhythmic attack.
The album closes with two lengthy
meditative pieces, “Being and Becom-
ing: Road to Dakshineswar with San-
geeta” and “Tagi,” both evocative of
Lloyd’s eastern spiritual philosophy.
“Being and Becoming” features Lloyd’s
most expository playing on Mirror, a
bright flame of music smoldering with
inner strength before quieting to a soft,
meditative lullaby. “Tagi” begins as a
spoken-word recitation by Lloyd that
takes a raga-like form, Rogers playing
bass patterns that sound like tamboura
drones; Harland’s drumming sounds
like tablas as Lloyd and Moran dance
around each other’s lines. In its own
way, Mirror is as daring a conception
as Ten, a personal statement so stylis-
tically free, a collective expression so
resolute, that the music always sounds
newborn. —John Swenson
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M A N U F A C T U R E R S ’ C O M M E N T S
www.Stereophile.com, Decmeber 2010 147
PrimaLuna ProLogue Seven &
DiaLogue Seven
Editor:
While we at PrimaLuna are of course
honored to have several pieces in your
most recent “Recommended Compo-
nents” list, I must point out that there is an
error in the text describing the ProLogue
Seven monoblocks. It reads “The 70W
ProLogue Seven, PrimaLuna’s top-of-the-
line amplifier,” which is incorrect. It is the
DiaLogue Seven monoblocks (coinciden-
tally located directly above the ProLogues)
that are our flagship amps, although the
ProLogue certainly rocks. Kevin Deal
PrimaLuna
Music Hall a15.2 & cd15.2
Editor:
“By George, he’s got it! By George, he’s
got it!”
After 25 years of criticism, Sam has
finally figured out that my stuff sounds
sweet.
Henry Higgins would be proud of
me. To take a common guttersnipe like
Sam and turn him into a frog (I mean, a
prince) took a lot of work.
Sam’s problem, common among jour-
nalists, is that he knows how to write.
My wife has worked for newspapers
for years, so I know many real journal-
ists (some of them have won Pulitzers).
What do they all have in common?
They are all lazy bastards!
They sit there, like Sam, on their fat
asses, waiting for folks like you and me to
come along and tell them a story. Then,
magically, they turn it into prose and dazzle
us with their knowledge. It’s alchemy!
Sam is a prime example. The most
popular writer in Stereophile, he knows
absolutely nothing about hi-fi. He’s a
black hole, a pit, a void—but put a story in
his mouth (sound like a song?) and he be-
comes Elmer Gantry, Clarence Darrow,
or (more accurately) Groucho Marx.
But all that is changed. I was in
Europe when Sam wrote his review. He
was too cheap to call, so he evaluated the
gear himself without being spoon-fed.
He has finally learned how to listen. He
loves my equipment. He has arrived. In
future, his reviews will be well written
and have substance.
Rest assured, all ye timid, groveling
manufacturers, ye who are terrified of
Sam. Fear not. Give him a good product
and he will listen; he will understand and
like it. You will no longer have to cozy up
to him, feed him, or bring him bribes (I
mean, gifts). In fact, you can take a leaf out
of my book and just treat him like shit.
Just make sure the product is musical,
and he will get it.
When I read this excellent review, I
realized that my work was done. I was
so happy, I could have danced all night.
Now it’s time to start work on the rest
of the Stereophile crew. Roy Hall
Music Hall
Echole cables
Editor:
We are speechless and truly inspired by
Sam Tellig’s sincere, delightful, and inspi-
rational [article on our cables]. Sam, since
the beginning, our core research and de-
velopment has been done in Istanbul. And
until today, our products were assembled
in free-trade zones in Turkey. Strategical-
ly—mainly for brand image, and as importantly
my personal goals in the USA—we are, today,
setting up a workshop in Nashua, New
Hampshire (being a neighbor to you).
In other words, Sam, the commercial
motivation is that Echole and Absolare are
being strategically located in the USA.
By the time this edition goes live, the
cables and electronics will be substan-
tially assembled in the USA. Some of
the leather craftsmanship will be done in
Turkey, and Gokhan, the chief engineer
of Echole and Absolare, will be leading
the R&D in Istanbul. Therefore, Turkey is
transformed into a development, design,
and support center, which was the idea
from the beginning. Kerem Küçükaslan
Absolare Electronic and Echole
Shunyata Research
Editor:
There is a reason manufacturers
sometimes use the “Manufacturers’
Comments” section to thank writers for
their time and hard work. Art Dudley’s
thorough evaluation of Shunyata Re-
search products represents what high-end
journalism should be. Art received the
products only a few months ago, and ap-
parently got right down to his evaluation.
He used different contexts, applications,
and processes to come up with a com-
plete result, taking notes and reflecting
on his process along the way. This ex-
traordinary commitment to the writer’s
craft showed up eloquently in the review.
We sincerely appreciate Art Dudley’s
insight and professional consideration.
Obviously, we are pleased that Art’s
experience with the Black Mamba CX
power cords and Hydra V-Ray v2 were
largely positive. Art’s complimentary
remarks reflect the positive experiences
of other reviewers, studios, and industry
professionals worldwide.
The Shindo amplifiers embody the life’s
work of an electronic artist, and are specifi-
cally tuned to perform at their highest level
with Shindo power accessories. We are aware
that no product can be completely compat-
ible with every type of electronic component.
We were informed by Shindo dealers that
there is no power conditioner that improves
on the amplifier’s performance. We were,
therefore, very gratified that the Shun yata
Black Mamba CX cables had such a positive
impact on their performance.
By all accounts, over 10 years’ time,
the vast majority of electronic com-
ponents (including amplifiers) can be
improved with the use of a Hydra V-
Ray, as Art pointed out in his description
of his experiments with using an Apple
iMac as a digital audio server and as a
quasi–home-video system :o). These
benefits will be even more notable with
big-screen projectors, and plasma- and
LCD-based systems. Shunyata Power-
Snakes and Hydras continue to be used
by the finest high-end electronic manu-
facturers in their reference systems and
at trade shows. Please visit the Shunyata
Research website for a comprehensive
list of manufacturers and recording pro-
fessionals who use our products.
Caelin Gabriel and Grant Samuelsen
Shunyata Research
Ayre Acoustics DX-5
Editor:
We would like to thank Michael Fremer
for his comprehensive review of our
DX-5 universal A/V engine. This is a
multifaceted product with many capabili-
ties. It is obvious that Michael took the
time to explore every aspect of the player
in detail, categorizing these nicely into
the sections of his article. Well done!
Michael loved the DX-5’s playback of
DVD-As but found the DX-5’s playback
of SACDs to be below his expecta-
tions. We are somewhat puzzled by this
finding. Our C-5xe
MP
universal player
inhabits the rarefied air of Class A+ in
Stereophile’s “Recommended Compo-
nents” list. In our listening tests, the
DX-5 outperforms even this highly ac-
claimed player with SACD recordings.
One possibility is that, due to the
complexity of the DX-5’s menu system,
a setting may have been changed that
would convert SACD’s DSD signal into
a PCM signal. This allows for compati-
bility with older equipment but degrades
the sound. Another way in which this
could happen is by connecting the DX-5
to a video monitor via HDMI. If the
monitor is not DSD-capable, the player
(in order to protect the monitor) will
automatically switch the SACD output
from DSD to PCM. A mystery for now.
148 www.Stereophile.com, Decmeber 2010
“Find your own road” is a great
slogan, and precisely what Ayre’s USB
music servers are about. They don’t
lock you in to a proprietary format or
limiting hardware where the only way
out is a technology, like S/PDIF, that
inherently adds jitter. On the contrary,
we let you connect to all of your music,
as Michael discovered via the “Home
Sharing” feature in Apple iTunes, or
any number of other technologies both
now and in the future. That is what the
freedom of Ayre is all about. Oh, and
don’t forget that the DX-5 is also a killer
Blu-ray player, if you fancy a good film
every now and then! Brent Hefley
Ayre Acoustics
Halide Design S/PDIF Bridge
Editor:
We would like to thank John Atkinson
and Stereophile for the informative article
about the Halide Design S/PDIF Bridge.
By utilizing a variety of different measure-
ment techniques and DACs, JA graphical-
ly illustrates a rather tricky but important
point: the final jitter depends not only on
the transport or USB-to-S/PDIF device,
but also on the way the device integrates
with the DAC’s circuitry.
Of particular interest are JA’s measure-
ments taken at the end of the digital-to-an-
alog chain, in which he effectively measures
jitter after the DAC (by analyzing “the
effects of datastream jitter in the recon-
structed analog signal . . . [via the] Miller
Analyzer”). Using this method of measur-
ing jitter, he demonstrates that the Bridge
integrates extremely well with a variety of
DACs made in the last 20-plus years by As-
semblage, Esoteric, and Musical Fidelity.
We believe this type of careful measure-
ment gives an excellent window into the
audio performance of a particular setup,
and accounts for much of the sonic qualities
that JA reports. The Halide Design Team
Halide Design/Devilsound Labs
Sutherland Engineering Timeline
Editor:
Thank you, Brian Damkroger, for getting
the word out on the Timeline. If you
would like to see a Timeline in action,
Jaime Monroy has produced a video
clip of a Timeline at work. Just go to
YouTube.com and search for Sutherland
Engineering Timeline. Since that was
made, there has been a software change
to the Timeline. Instead of one flash per
1.8 seconds, there are now eight equally
spaced flashes per 1.8 seconds. For each
revolution, eight spots are projected.
At least one of the eight will hit a good
reference. Just watch for drift on that
one and ignore the other seven. Makes it
much easier to use. Ron Sutherland
Sutherland Engineering
MANUFACTURERS’ COMMENTS
MANU FACT U R E RS’ S HOWCAS E
ADVE RT I S I NG
www.Stereophile.com, December 2010 149
Acoustic Sounds ...........................22–23
Angel City Audio ................................ 92
Audience ............................................116
Audio Advisor ..................................... 40
Audio Plus Services ...........................C4
Audio Vision SF ................................ 126
Audioengine ....................................... 70
AudioQuest ......................................... 10
Audiowaves ...................................... 138
Auton ................................................... 90
Ayre Acoustics .................................... 48
Bel Canto........................................... 102
Benchmark.................................... 16–17
Cable Company .................. 50–51, 112,
......................................142, 150, 150
Canton ................................................. 27
Cardas Audio ...................................... 60
Chesky Records .................................118
Crutchfield .......................................... 32
Crystal Cable .................................... 108
CSA Audio ......................................... 142
David Lewis Audio ........................... 138
dCS ....................................................... 82
Dynaudio ............................................ 56
Electrocompaniet ............................... 12
Elite Audio Video................................ 98
Elusive Disc .......................... 36–37, 136
Engstrom & Engstrom ....................... 66
Esoteric ................................................ 13
Fidelis Audio ....................................... 98
Ford Edge ...................................... 19, 21
Furutech .............................................. 98
Galen Carol Audio ........................... 150
Get Better Sound ................................. 6
Gifted Listener Audio ...................... 145
GTT AV ................................................. 46
Halide Design ..................................... 86
Hammertone ................................28–29
Harman International ........................C2
Harman Kardon ................................. 68
Head Direct ....................................... 148
HeadRoom .........................................114
Hi Fi House ....................................... 132
Joseph Audio ...................................... 54
JPS Labs .............................................. 12
JS Audio ............................................ 144
Kef ........................................................ 72
Kimber Kable...................................... 96
Linn Audio ........................................ 148
Magico ................................................. 30
Manley Labs ..................................... 149
Music Direct .................................44–45,
................................................ 76, 149
Musical Surroundings ..................... 100
NAD ...............................................33, 55
Naim .................................................... 58
Needle Doctor ...................... 38, 62, 94,
............... 95, 110, 124, 134, 140, 146
Nordost ............................................... 52
NuForce ..............................................112
Olive Media ........................................ 74
Oppo Digital ......................................114
Paradigm ............................................. 42
Parts Express ....................................... 92
Pass Laboratories ............................... 84
PSB ................................................... 7, 41
Reno Hi-Fi ......................................... 150
Sanus ................................................... 24
Select Sound Audio ......................... 135
Siltech ..................................................C3
Spendor ..............................................112
T.H.E. Show ....................................... 130
Ultralink ............................................... 78
Vermont Teddy Bear ........................ 152
Vienna Acoustics ................................ 64
Vincent Audio ..................................... 86
Vitus Audio........................................ 104
Von Schweikert Audio ..................... 149
Wavelength Audio ........................... 102
Weinhart Design .............................. 145
Wilson Audio Specialties................... 34
Wireworld ........................................... 88
YG Acoustics ......................................8-9
Zu Audio .............................................. 14
Listed in this index is done so as a courtesy. Publisher is not liable for incorrect information or excluded listings. Advertisers should contact their sales representative to correct or
update listing.
Stereophile (USPS #734-970 ISSN: 0585-2544) Vol.33 No.12, December 2010, Issue Number 371. Copyright © 2010 by Source Interlink Magazines, LLC. All rights reserved. Published monthly by
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A D V E R T I S E R I N D E X
DE AL E RS’ S HOWCAS E
ADVE RT I S I NG
Jeff Rowland Design, Shunyata, Audio Physic,
Musical Fidelity, Quicksilver, Bryston, Audience,
Berkeley Audio, ModWright, Jolida, Basis, Sim Audio,
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C L A S S I F I E D
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154 www.Stereophile.com, December 2010
There was a ferocity in the band
after Darkness that perhaps wasn’t
there before.
—E Street drummer Max Weinberg, aka
“The Mighty Max”
I
n 1978, Bruce Springsteen went on
“The Darkness Tour.” Named after
the album he’d released that summer,
it set a standard for live tours that has
yet to be equaled. Few performers in
rock’n’roll history ever had as much to
prove and give, for as many hours, with
as much emotion, and drenched in more
sweat, than Springsteen did that summer
and fall. Everywhere he played, theaters
full of people went hoarse yelling “Bru-
uuuuce!” Even those of us who’d seen
him live after the previous three albums
were floored. Two years of battling legal
entanglements and making a difficult re-
cord had forged the band into a take no
prisoners brotherhood. I clearly remem-
ber a ride home from a 1978 show in a
car full of hepped-up, dope-eyed bab-
blers who couldn’t spell his name going
in, but having seen just this one show,
were ready to have kids with the man. In
the shadowy, seductive realm of Spring-
steen bootlegs, the ’78 shows are always
among the best.
Most artists who become truly ex-
traordinary survive the experience of
a defining moment; that hoop of fire
when they have to decide if they’re all
in or unable to take the risk. In the case
of Springsteen, who today is the pic-
ture of financial and artistic success and
stability—truly The Boss—that moment
came in the summer of 1976, when he
filed suit against his former manager,
Mike Appel, for fraud, breach of trust,
and undue influence—and, essentially, to
void a predatory (but sadly, not unusual)
contract he’d foolishly signed in 1972.
When Appel countersued and obtained
an injunction to keep Springsteen from
immediately recording a follow-up to
his hit album, Born to Run (1975), Bruce
and the E Street band spent a year tour-
ing and trying to keep body and soul to-
gether. By May 1977, when the suits had
been settled out of court and Spring-
steen had regained control of his first
three albums and his career, the once-
innocent artist had become a harder,
chastened man. Gone forever were the
show-off lyrical explosions of Greetings
from Asbury Park N.J. (1973) and the tow-
ering, wall-of-sound production style of
Born to Run. In their place was a
much leaner, meaner vision, one
that, after months of recording,
produced his opus noir, Dark-
ness on the Edge of Town. Today,
Darkness and the stark acoustic
masterpiece, Nebraska (1982),
remain the defining albums of
his career.
On November 16, 2010, ac-
companied by the obsession with
control and making money that
are a result of the 1976 lawsuit and
Springsteen’s partnership with
music critic-turned-manager Jon
Landau, Sony released the boxed
set The Promise: The Darkness on
the Edge of Town Story. In what’s
become standard practice, the set
will be configured several differ-
ent ways, with the most extensive
deluxe edition ($119.98) contain-
ing the original album, digitally
remastered by Bob Ludwig; an
80-page book of photos and
facsimiles of handwritten lyric pages; 21
previously unreleased songs (not alternate
takes) left over from the Darkness sessions;
and, on Blu-ray or DVD, a new 90-min-
ute documentary, The Promise: The Mak-
ing of Darkness on the Edge of Town. Also
included are two discs of concert footage
from Asbury Park, NJ (shot in hi-def in
2009 with no audience), Houston and
Phoenix (both in 1978), and New York
City and Holmdel, NJ (both in 1976).
While the new tracks, known commodi-
ties to Springsteenphiles for years, are
lacking in any life-changing revelations—
in terms of what to cut and what to
keep, he made the right choices—the 70’s
concert footage is incredibly sweet. The
carefully digitized video shows just what
a dynamo (to use a favorite Bruce word)
the band was at this point.
The documentary, directed by Thom
Zimny, premiered in September at the
2010 Toronto Film Festival and was
broadcast on HBO on October 7. It,
too, is extremely well done, and full of
revealing black-and-white footage shot
during the studio sessions for Darkness.
The new interviews, threaded through
the film, include a lot of meaningful epi-
grammatic snatches. The lawsuit is now
water under the bridge, with Springsteen
lamenting his lost friendship with Ap-
pel, who at one point says in regards to
why he settled, “In the end, you have to
say, ‘Mike, who’s the artist?’” After say-
ing he wanted the music on Darkness to
be “angry and rebellious but also adult,”
Springsteen mentions how he felt a “sim-
ilarity in spirit to punk,” a musical move-
ment that was breaking big at the time;
and also how, during that period, he first
connected with country music, specifi-
cally Hank Williams.
The mixing of Darkness, a legendary
struggle in its own right, is gone over
in detail. Springsteen mentions how the
lack of reverberation in the recording stu-
dios of the 1970s “made his skin crawl,”
and how Landau called engineer Chuck
Plotkin to ride to the rescue, saying that
he and the band were stuck, and having
great difficulty locating in the mix any-
thing between “dull and shrill.”
In the film, Springsteen says that what
he wanted on Darkness was “apocalyp-
tic grandeur.” Plotkin says that when he
was mixing the opening of the album—
“Badlands” into “Adam Raised a Cain”—
Springsteen told him to think of a movie
in which a family or a pair of lovers were
having a nice picnic, and then “there was
a shock cut to a dead body.”
That jarring juxtaposition retains its
power to this day, much as the album it-
self does in Springsteen’s catalog. Darkness
is the sound of a suspicious, vulnerable
artist, his career hanging in the balance,
fighting his way between the Badlands
and the Promised Land. ■■
I ain’t a boy—no, I’m a man.
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Audiophilia - May 2010
Stereophile - July 2010

© 2010 HARMAN International Industries, Incorporated. All rights reserved. Photo by Henry Diltz. Owned by Quincy Jones Productions, Inc. AKG is a trademark of AKG Acoustics GmbH, registered in the United States and/or other countries. The Crutchfield logo is a registered tradermark of Crutchfield New Media, LLC. J&R is a trademark of J&R Electronics, Inc.

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AS WE SEE IT
John Marks

Spectator Sports, Good and Bad

T

here is something about the performance of music that is in the nature of a spectator sport. By this I do not mean big-arena stagecraft and lights and fireworks and dance routines. I mean the actual making of the music. To see Eric Johnson’s fingers flying over his Fender Stratocaster as he hits “Cliffs of Dover” out of the park one more time (search for it on YouTube) is to enjoy something that is every bit as much an athletic performance and a spectator sport as baseball is. There is a thrill to watching people do difficult things exceptionally well, things that most of us can only take random sidelong swipes at. I think this phenomenon extends across most musical traditions and genres. “Holy Cow, look at that!” has been a feature of classical music ever since the Renaissance—and perhaps even before. People might not understand what a modulation is or why it is important, but everyone knows that creating that many sounds at the same time and/or that fast is really hard, and most people think it exciting to watch— regardless of whether the sounds come from a guitar, a piano, or a violin. Opera and vocal music in general have, of course, long depended on peoples’ instinctive appreciation of rare and special and superbly trained people doing supremely well something that most of us can do but poorly. The 19th century was a golden age of concert music as spectator sport; Paganini and Liszt drove audiences into frenzies with their electrifying technical skills. But even today, thrilling athleticism in musical performance remains a huge drawing card. I have a modest little YouTube channel. Do a Google search on cremonaguy (which refers to the home town of Antonio Stradivari) and you’ll get a link to the channel’s webpage. In the column of Uploads, click on “Kristóf Baráti plays the 1741 Giuseppe [Guarneri (del Gesù), ex–Henri Vieuxtemps violin]” (only the first six words appear in the Uploads list). The video, live and unedited, shows the young Hungarian
www.Stereophile.com, December 2010

violinist playing a paraphrase (by the 19th-century Moravian virtuoso Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst) of Schubert’s “Der Erlkönig.” The piece is fiendishly difficult: The solo violinist must suggest not only the song’s ominous, complex piano accompaniment with its rippling bass line, but also, at the same time, personalize the drama of this lied. All that, plus left-hand pizzicato. While most of the videos I have uploaded to Cremonaguy’s channel have had fewer than 1000 views (and many fewer than 500), Baráti’s “Erlkönig” video has had more than 13,500 views as of this writing. That total pales a bit in comparison to Edgar Cruz’s video about how to play Queen’s “Bohemian

downward slide in market share. That’s because brief but exciting, technically difficult pieces are the empty calories at the classical-music smorgasbord. A diet consisting of nothing but such works is tedious and not nourishing. May I be so bold as to suggest that there is a possible parallel with audio journalism? Reading the postings on some audio bulletin boards and some of the letters we receive, I conclude that a subset of audio enthusiasts regard equipment reviewing as a spectator sport more akin to TV wrestling than to Olympic wrestling. Some readers seem to want to read reviews that are little more than takedowns and smackdowns. A negative review is praised on

A SUBSET OF AUDIO ENTHUSIASTS REGARD EQUIPMENT REVIEWING AS A SPECTATOR SPORT.
Rhapsody” on the classical guitar (11 million views), but 13,500 isn’t shabby. For some reason, the Baráti video has gone viral in a way my other videos have not. I’m sure that that reason is the spectator-sport aspect. Which is okay. It is also a little frustrating. After you watch the Baráti video, please also watch the video I shot (and synced up to 24-bit/96kHz-derived high-resolution sound) of Arturo Delmoni and Steve Martorella playing Nathan Milstein’s arrangement of Chopin’s Nocturne in c#. In its own way, it is every bit as much a lesson in how the violin should be played as is the Baráti video. Watch the finesse with which Delmoni plays the second scale run, starting at 3:27. That, too, is athleticism, and engrossing to watch, especially if you’ve ever played the violin, or even tried to. But the Delmoni video has had only 700 views to date. The spectator-sport side of classical music seems to be a self-limiting phenomenon. For years, violinist Gene Fodor was a favorite of Tonight Show host Johnny Carson’s. Fodor would appear, play some fiendishly difficult piece, the audience would ooh and aah, and classical music would continue its these boards simply for being negative. Some people claim that we at Stereophile don’t write enough negative reviews. Therefore, the magazine’s reviewers must be on the take. What I find curious about these complainers is that they don’t seem to be in the market for equipment. They don’t seem to be looking for actionable intelligence about how to spend their money wisely. They are spectators and nothing else. I think they just want the vicarious thrill of seeing some designer they think haughty, or some company they think piratical, getting their supposed just desserts. What is tragicomic is the illogic of their default position: that a negative review is by definition courageous and honest, while a positive review is automatically suspect. Spectator-sporting can be good or not so good. It’s pretty obvious that it has been a mixed blessing for classical music—you reach more people, but they care a lot less. My real point is that wanting reviews of audio equipment to be a spectator sport—to be entertainment in and of themselves, instead of ways to make prudent buying decisions—is shortsighted and unfair. ■■
3

Stereophile. December 2010 4 . and the Search for a Baroque Masterpiece David Lander reviews Eric Siblin’s very readable book on a seminal work from the Master of the Baroque era.com.S. Bach.12 57 73 75 57 80 97 113 121 128 F E AT U R E S Gear of the Year Stereophile’s writers and editors choose the best audio components of 2010. EQUIPMENT REPORTS Ayre Acoustics DX-5 “Universal A/V Engine” Blu-ray player Michael Fremer Peachtree iDecco D/A integrated amplifier Art Dudley Halide Design USB-S/PDIF Bridge John Atkinson NHT Classic Absolute Tower loudspeaker Robert J.33 No. The Cello Suites: J.December 2010 Vol.U P 111 131 131 133 135 Peachtree Nova D/A integrated amplifier Art Dudley HRT Music Streamer II USB D/A processor Art Dudley HRT Music Streamer II+ USB D/A processor Art Dudley Etymotic Research Custom-Fit earmolds Wes Phillips Sutherland Engineering Timeline Brian Damkroger www. The Posies After years apart. says Robert Baird. Reina Ultimate Ears 18 Pro in-ear headphones John Atkinson 80 135 F O L LO W . Pablo Casals. venerable Seattle power popsters return with one of the best records of their career. Blood/Candy.

Ayre Acoustics.stereophile. both as a solo artist and as a sideman. and Steve Wynn. and recommends phono accessories from Orb. we wrap our ears around the work of pianist Jason Moran.2 CD player. and new products from Cabasse. the publication of the 2011 Stereophile Buyer’s Guide. recommends modern choral recordings. I N F O R M AT I O N 137 www. In classical this month. 35 25 35 43 49 137 Sam’s Space Sam Tellig writes about the audio scene in Turkey. we’ve chosen the Posies’ Blood/ Candy. Stereolab. Soundsmith’s EZ-Mount cartridge screws. December 2010 151 149 150 149 Audio Mart Manufacturers’ Showcase Dealers’ Showcase Advertiser Index 5 .15 for details. 15 Industry Update High-end audio news. 25 147 154 Manufacturers’ Comments PrimaLuna. See p.stereophile. Music Hall. and spends quality time with the affordable Music Hall a15. Shunyata Research. In rock/pop. 15 Listening Art Dudley installs AC power cords and conditioners from Shunyata Research in his system with surprising results.Fully updated and revised—we list the specifications and prices of 4500 high-end audio components. including the dealer-sponsored events taking place in November and December. In jazz. the reappearance of Dan D’Agostino.com. Naim. Record Reviews For the final “Recording of the Month” of 2010. and the Sharp DK-AP8P iPod/iPhone dock. and is gobsmacked by Ayre Acoustics’ Irrational But Efficacious System Enhancement CD.com for up-to-the-minute info. there’s new music from Belle and Sebastian. and Sutherland Engineering respond to our reviews of their products. Analog Corner Michael Fremer reviews the Esoteric E-03 phono preamplifier. ON NEWSSTANDS THIS MONTH: THE 2011 STEREOPHILE BUYER’S GUIDE STE R E O P H I LE D EC E M B E R 2010 C O LU M N S 3 11 As We See It John Marks tackles the notion of audio journalism as spectator sport.com. Get on your Soapbox! Visit www. The Fifth Element John Marks sums up his recent “Mystic Chords of Memory” competition. and Vertex. Echole. a pair of new recordings by the Baroque orchestra Apollo’s Fire is featured. Letters Readers respond with passion to recent editorials from Stephen Mejias and Michael Lavorgna.Stereophile. Aural Robert The Boss almost became a bust? Robert Baird on the new boxed set. Want to know more? Go to the “News Desk” at www. The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story.2 integrated amplifier and cd15. Halide Design.

Digital Product Development: Binh Tran VP. every single one was under-performing its real capability. which are posted at http://privacy. all for the price of a couple of CDs! 6 Reprints: Contact Wright’s Media at (877) 652-5295 (or (281) 419-5725 outside the US and Canada) to purchase quality custom reprints or e-prints of articles appearing in this publication. West Coast Mfgs & National Retailers (718) 745-5025 • Laura_Lovecchio@sbcglobal. Edith Eisler.com. Robert J. I hate to say it. . Please specify magazine and issue date. David Sokol. David Lander. (212) 915-4156 Editorial fax. Subscriptions: International . Retention & Operations Fulfillment: Donald T.getbettersound. Digital Marketing: Craig Buccola Sr. John Swenson Graphic Design: Natalie Brown Baca. Leland Rucker. and phone number on any inquiries.com Reprints: Wright’s Media . CDs . VP. (800) 666-3746 or e-mail Stereophile@emailcustomerservice. No secret techniques. john.sourceinterlinkmedia. Michael Fremer. Markus Sauer. (212) 915-4164 John Atkinson . VP.00 shipping and handling per issue (International order—add $10 per order) and applicable sales tax in your area.baird@sorc. Douglas St.com Advertising Manager: Laura J.com Digital Director: Jon Banner • Jon. Fred Mills. Who is this guy? When callers inquire about Get Better Sound. e-mail jim@getbettersound. (877) 652-5295 BACK ISSUE INFORMATION—To order back issues. Source Interlink Distribution: Alan Tuchman Chief Financial Officer: Marc Fierman Chief Legal Officer: Cynthia L. . Manufacturing & Production: Kevin Mullan VP. . .Banner@sorc. simbackissues. Chairman: Gregory Mays Chief Executive Officer: Michael Sullivan President & Chief Operating Officer: James R. Jim Smith PS—Why wait? Get the biggest improvement in sound you’ve ever had.DiBenedetto@sorc. Audiophiles don’t have a reference for how good their systems should be.. Allow 3-4 weeks for delivery. Larry Greenhill. www. IMPORTANT STEREOPHILE TELEPHONE NUMBERS Subscriptions: Inquiries. 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compact size Carmel – entry into ultra-high-end To this end. Instead. we would prefer if you put us to the test. in which our speakers are put head-to-head against highly-regarded competitors. we do not expect you to take our word for it. Tel. helpful as they may be. Instead. #10. by auditioning one of the YG Acoustics speaker lines: Anat Reference II – the best loudspeaker on Earth Kipod – amazing performance. we have embarked on the YG Acoustics Comparison Tour – a series of comparative-listening events. U. your own ears are the only judge. Not through the opinions of reviewers or others.yg-acoustics.A. 801-726-3887 E-mail: info@yg-acoustics.com Web: www. Designed by Yoav Geva (Gonczarowski) YG Acoustics LLC 4941 Allison St. Arvada. Our mission is to give you a chance to audition YG Acoustics speakers and experience for yourself how they compare. CO 80002.The best loudspeaker on Earth Put us to the test! When we make the bold claim above.com .S.

Completed – vote tally: 7 for YG Acoustics Carmel. to ensure that it is functioning properly and that its graphs match those in its magazine reviews. For instance. We are.yg-acoustics. during the Capital Audiofest in Washington. By the time of publication. Summary So. 0 for competitor. and cost significantly more than the specific YG Acoustics speaker. 0 for competitor.000. UÊ At the end of the event. this event will have been completed. To that end we strictly adhere to the following rules: UÊ Both speakers use the exact same system in the same room.yg-acoustics. 0 tied. 1 tied. Completed – vote tally: 15 for YG Acoustics Carmel. conducting these events to prove to you. conducted by Audio Limits at the YG Acoustics showroom in Arvada. at GTT Audio in Long Valley.com. otherwise the comparison would be meaningless. with their vote and ideas for improvement. participants fill out an anonymous survey. 0 for competitor. which is clearly marked.000) faces a competitor with significant press attention and rave reviews.Which speakers are compared? The comparative-listening events feature only competitors that are highly regarded. using your own ears. with an MSRP of $27. UÊ 11-Jun-10 through 13-Jun-10. the YG Acoustics Carmel (MSRP $18. on the current tour. Schedule of Events UÊ 20-Feb-2010. that YG Acoustics indeed manufactures the best loudspeaker on Earth. UÊ Both speakers are moved in and out of the same exact position. Completed – vote tally: 15 for YG Acoustics Carmel. Please see www. UÊ 2-Apr-2010.com for the vote results. . UÊ 13-Mar-2010. UÊ 22-May-2010. CO. TX. at HiFi Live in Alpine. You are invited! UÊ For updates and additional future events please see www. How is the comparison conducted? The discerning audiophiles who attend YG Acoustics events expect a balanced comparison. DC. UÊ The competitor is measured before the events at the state-of-the-art YG Acoustics lab. are we conducting these events to claim that the competition makes bad speakers? No-we only select high-quality competitors. UT. NJ. UÊ The volume level is precisely matched. UÊ The same program material is used for both speakers. 0 tied. well-reviewed. at Advanced Home Theater in Plano. however. UÊ The competitor is allowed to attend and verify that their speaker is adequately represented.

To ensure that your favorite music is transferred with minimal corruption (jitter). better geometry. whether through coax (RCA or BNC plug). on planet Earth anyway.1 (CD quality). Whether you’re playing 128K files. or 24/96 . Once upon a time.. Ethernet (RJ45).audioquest. Toslink .. and now USB. transferred through USB to a new generation of superb DAC’s (Digital Audio Converters). then came laser and inkjet. the shift to dot-matrix printers meant new-found versatility. or lossless 44. the LP and DSD as having legitimate claim to being the quality end of the audio frontier. Noise-Dissipation System .. all of AudioQuest’s expertise and proven techniques for delivering superior digital audio.. Dielectric-Bias System.. the shift to digital music files meant new-found opportunities. but .Welcome to The Family! Both a newborn and a proven Olympic athlete: USB Audio joins reel-to-reel tape. has finally appeared in the form of 24/96 and 24/192 audio files. Once upon a time.com . whether built into today’s best receivers and amps... HDMI. or stand alone components.. Now the digital sun has come out. but lousy looking type. AudioQuest offers 5 models of USB cable. it’s a bright and wonderful day in the audio world! www. 1394 (FireWire®). Possibly the best quality consumer audio ever available. balanced cable (XLR plug). featuring better metals.

—Robert Slavin robertslavin@yahoo. Palm Coast. If you have problems with your subscription.” nor am I satisfied with the idea that high-end must mean high-priced.3)! Only one question remains after reading it: Why does Stereophile gradually reduce the space it devotes to reviews of music? How in the world can you claim in an editorial that “music matters most” when the balance between equipment reviews and music reviews in Stereophile is completely skewed toward equipment? We need lots and lots more music reviews. —John Atkinson C’mon.nl Good point. It is encouraging to see other people recognizing the importance of not only “doing” but of “doing it right. In the spirit of vigorous debate implied by the First Amendment. many more choices in affordable hi-fi than we may realize or are willing to believe. —Anthony Melein meleina@xs4all. in fact. The salesman who sells it short is lost. or write to Stereophile. “The Entry Level. we publish correspondents’ e-mail addresses. Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work is right on target. Rubin.” The problem is that you have moved the VPS-100 from Class A+ in older editions of “Recommended Components” to Class A in this edition. These ideas make for neat headlines.67) are the words “Joining the Boulder in A+. monoblock amps at $12. Mejias’s idea of “affordable” is different from mine. the prices for a massive percentage of newsworthy gear are astronomical.O. or who may believe they cannot afford it. www.com.com The Ypsilon VPS-100’s rating was correct in the master database. guys. Audio publications.LETTERS TO THE EDITOR Ypsil-oops Editor: Skimming through the latest edition of “Recommended Components. Being an old tube guy who appreciates your magazine. it’s possible to have a low-priced system if you stick to the source and amplification products from some of the five manufacturers that Mr. guys Editor: Aw. I would like to show that there are. I’m not blind to the often astronomical prices of hi-fi components. a surroundsound pre-pro at $30. Cutting back on our coverage of audio components in favor of more music reviews is not what the majority of our readers desire. my feeling is that the situation is much more complicated than the New York Times suggests. At the same time. but maybe Mr. E-mail: STletters@SourceInterlink. my analogy is slightly but LETTERS TO THE EDITOR should be sent as faxes or e-mails only (until further notice). —John Atkinson of that is my subscription to Stereophile. I don’t doubt you’d publish more reviews of affordable gear if manufacturers actually bothered to focus on that market segment.” I see that in the write-up of the Ypsilon VPS-100 in “Phono Preamps” (p. CA ggarnett@panapacific. —Mike Rubin mikerubin2@aol. Fax: (212) 915-4164. c’mon. but the fact of the matter is that Stereophile has always primarily been a magazine about audio hardware. and three or four I could name off the top of my head. They did so because it worked to prove their point that high-quality sound is increasingly being sacrificed to convenience. —Stephen Mejias Right on! Editor: Michael Lavorgna’s October “As We See It” was and is beautiful and right on. and the only proof I need Trompe l’oreille? Editor: Regarding Michael Lavorgna’s comparison of music recordings to paintings (“Why Music Matters Most: Enjoyment.com Why music matters most Editor: It was a pleasure to read Michael Lavorgna’s editorial in the October issue (p. I do feel that the New York Times chose to oversimplify matters by noting the $125.3). Yes.) I also readily concede that the loudspeaker segment is highly competitive throughout its price range.com.000/pair and $80.000. speakers costing $100. P. Stephen Mejias’s reference in your September 2010 issue (“As We See It. Yet another “As We See It” (this time by Stephen Mejias. My goal here is to share the joy of listening with others who may not realize what pleasures it can bring. are in a far better position than is the mainstream press to admonish high-end manufacturers to play in underserved market segments. FL 32142-0235. —Galen Garnett Fresno. being part of the audio industry. a turntable at $89. Rather than complain when others point out the truism that there aren’t many choices when it comes to decent but affordable equipment. My apologies to Ypsilon. Illusion. and a $200 soundcard that the reviewer could barely bring himself to recommend at all. but they don’t.000 price of the large system at Stereo Exchange while making no reference whatsoever to more affordably priced components and systems. to its US distributor. with readily available low-end products offering genuine consumer choice at real-world prices. Mr. Please note: We are unable to answer requests for information about specific products or systems. I say: Roll up your sleeves and keep up the good work. We can only hope that the “craftsman” in each of us is fully restored. (I wouldn’t include Totem on that list.500/pair. and to our readers. but I inadvertently cut’n’pasted the entry into the wrong category in the file we sent to the art director for her to prepare the October issue’s listing. While this is true. Mejias gave as his budget examples. but certainly do not tell the whole story.Stereophile. call toll-free (800) 666-3746. Aaudio Imports. in September) that says that the mainstream press distorts reality when it suggests that “astronomical prices” are the norm for the audiophile world? Truth hurting a bit too much for your taste? Actually.000/pair. Through my upcoming column. Thank you! —Hal Marcus Address withheld by request Shop class as soulcraft Editor: You have helped to restore some hope. December 2010 11 . and unless we are requested not to. The VPS-100 will be reinstated in Class A+ in our April 2011 listing. as well. That’s sad. Unless marked otherwise. Melein. all letters to the magazine and its writers are assumed to be for possible publication. Music is what our hobby is all about. and you don’t seem willing to call them out for not doing so. Box 420235.” The employee who sees a problem and takes ownership from beginning to end is turning into a rare commodity. Here is a list of every piece of hardware that you discussed more than in passing in that same issue: a $5400 speaker base.000 phono preamp. I hope to uncover many affordable high-quality components.” scheduled to begin with our January 2011 issue. Mr.500 and a turntable base at $2000.” October 2010.com Thank you for your letter. a $60.3) to Matthew B. a $6500 SACD player. I’m not satisfied with the idea that “good enough” is the new “great. a 32Wpc integrated amp at $3000 and a tubed one at $4000 ($500 extra for a tube cage). p. perhaps you should join in that chorus. and the Audiophile.” p.

there’s no need for Piet Mondrian to pop over and point out that my exact museum copy of his Broadway Boogie Woogie doesn’t measure 50” by 50” and isn’t even made of paint! My point. the only way to confirm it would be to have George Martin come to my house. but isn’t “exact copies of great paintings” an oxymoron? Even with an exact copy. best possible result. Mr. I believe this standard is applicable to everything from recordings of live. in reference to music and reproduction. and that it helps explain why we don’t all own and listen to nearfield monitors. I want to hear what the record producer heard in the booth through his monitors when he gave his final approval to the finished product. Martin’s monitors. I enjoy looking at exact copies in the same kind of light in which the museum’s originals are displayed. absolute. In any case. I like to see Mondrian’s brushstrokes and line corrections. CT mitchellx100e@gmail. according to personal preference. I want to hear the bird sounds the way they sounded after George Martin laid them down on “Blackbird. There are also better and worse lighting conditions and rooms in which to view such copies. I want to hear the prerecorded tweets that Paul McCartney had available in the studio. December 2010 .com Thank you for reading and for your thoughtful response. we are buying and experiencing the originals. I believe this is one reason people are so vested in their hi-fis.” exactly the way they sounded in Mr. classical performances to multitracked popularmusic constructions. not just the rectangles he was constructing. I’ll just sit back and imagine (and light up a cigar!). Not only that. The job of our hi-fi of choice is to allow us to enjoy that experience. This is not trompe l’oeil. This is not “trompe l’oreille. I think there is a real. which in a sense is trompe l’oeil—especially if you call them brushstrokes. Mitchell. you are not seeing “brushstrokes” but a representation of same. and the exact form of this enjoyment varies from person to person. and there are better and worse copies of his painting available.Stereophile. It is not the apple the painter wants you to see. Of course. it is his painting of the apple he wants you to see. In musical copies. It also helps explain some of the passion enthusiasts exhibit 12 www. —Charles Mitchell Fairfield. McCartney and Martin made for me to hear. was and remains: With recordings of music. I buy museum copies of great paintings. I don’t want to hear the actual blackbird singing.LETTERS TO TH E EDITOR LETTERS TO TH E EDITOR importantly different.” To this end.com. In the meantime. Why? Because this is what Messrs.

Think of the audio system as the museum where you see those pictures of apples. and we are simply listening. hi-fi.” become compromised. The different pictures lose some of their detail. We simply need to be able to enjoy them.com/asweseeit/ why_music_matters_most. our home becomes the museum. is conveyed. Morris. The complete discussion can be read on-line at www. what is? To get closer to the music? To the musicians’ intent? Does an accurate system allow this to happen. which are probably good things. CA edcyn@sbcglobal. Accuracy is a quality attributed to aspects of the experience.required. —E. or to create in my car. If accuracy isn’t the goal. if it wasn’t accurate. December 2010 13 . those things that ultimately make the art “art. our favorite records. Think of the accurate audio system as the fair forum through which the artist’s work is most effectively realized— whether the artist’s intent is fiction or nonfiction. let alone what his or her room looks like. if you will—no re.stereophile. how can this possibly be a problem? Because we’d enjoy it more if it were a more accurate experience? Here’s the thing(s): I’ve enjoyed recordings Through a glass. Morris Sherman Oaks. The entire thing is really a production.) I’ve read about hordes of musicians. “I wonder what hi-fi they were using? Well. the result may look good to some eyes. if we love listening to music through our hi-fi. That last one is very much like the others in that we know it’s our favorite—not because it’s accurate. but because we listen through it as much as we possibly can. and whether the artist’s intent is to fool the ear into thinking there’s something real there. Would you want the museum to put those paintings behind a foggy. not as the message itself. With hi-fi. mid-fi. from the age of the 78rpm disc to the present. distorted piece of glass? Yes. and through lo-fi. the largest obstruction to the enjoyment of art is to hold it to an unrealistic and unobtainable ideal. but the artists’ intents. they must not have got their inspiration straight. There’s no need for Sir George Martin to pop over and ordain our tweets. who were inspired to create because they heard another musician’s record. whereas a less accurate system doesn’t? How do we know when a system is so inaccurate that it isn’t worth listening to? I’d say when we don’t want to listen to it. —Michael Lavorgna something that could never exist in the real world. —Michael Lavorgna Michael’s October “As We See It” generated many more letters than we have room to publish. In terms of the quality of the experience.com. foggily Editor: Re: Michael Lavorgna’s “As We See It” in October 2010: Think of the audio system as the medium by which the message.” What is our ultimate goal in listening to music on a hi-fi? I believe it’s to connect to the music with such intensity that all other things disappear. sure. if ever. some of their individuality. I’ve never dismissed a record review because of the reviewer’s hi-fi. —John Atkinson www. it also does so personally. the recording. Mr. and I never once thought.Stereophile. or of looking at a painting. and even our favorite hi-fi. I like to think of the act of listening to music on the hi-fi as being analogous to the act of looking at a work of art. But in my opinion. The word accuracy implies an objective ideal. when art touches us deeply. know what a music reviewer listens through. I want the view into my art of choice to be as unobstructed as possible. for your courteous and thought-provoking response. Which helps explain why we each have our favorite paintings. Further. (I rarely.net Thank you. and six-figure systems.LETTERS TO TH E EDITOR LETTERS TO TH E EDITOR LETTERS TO TH E EDITOR in discussing their choice of hi-fi. After all. yet accuracy isn’t the final goal of listening to music.

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INDUSTRY UPDATE
US: YOUR LOCAL NEWSSTAND A r iel Bitr an The 2011 Stereophile Buyer’s Guide, the ultimate resource for the who, the what, and the where of the current US hi-fi market will hit newsstands November 2010, priced $6.99. In its 164 pages, you’ll find the biggest collection of listings and specifications for more than 4500 components available in the US hi-fi market. Brands imported from as far as the Philippines and Norway, and from as close to home as New Jersey, with component categories that include cartridges, tonearms, turntables, phono preamps, digital sources, DACs, preamps, power amps, integrated amps, loudspeakers, subwoofers, speaker cables, interconnects, and headphones! Each component category lists a variety of specifications so that you can become more familiar with the products listed. In these pages is the beginning of it all: the primordial soup of the audio industry and the genesis of your listening journey. You can put together your first system, your dream system, or just find that missing piece. Due to circumstances beyond our control, we had only three weeks (we normally have 3 months) to collect all the data you’ll find in this year’s Buyer’s Guide. But that did not diminish our resolve to give you the best Buyer’s Guide possible. We list more entries than last year, many brand-new companies in every component category, and a new section that lists the manufacturers’ Web addresses, to let you know where to find your components in the digital world. Whether you’re looking for a new cartridge or an entirely new system, we feel this Guide will be instrumental in your search. Many key questions—price, size, number of inputs, etc.—are answered in these pages. How you use all the information is up to you. And that may be the most beautiful part of it all. ITALY: VENICE John Atkinson Michael Fremer attended the world launch of Sonus Faber’s new “statement” loudspeaker, the Fenice (Phoenix) last June. Only 30 pairs of this expensive design—anticipated price was ca $180,000/ pair—were to be produced and apparently all 30 had been presold. However, the Italian company has run into some obstacles concerning the speaker’s name.

C A L E N DA R
Those promoting audio-related seminars, shows, and meetings should e-mail the when, where, and who to stephen.mejias@sorc.com at least eight weeks before the month of the event. The deadline for the February 2011 issue is November 30, 2010. We will reply with a confirmation. If you do not receive confirmation within 24 hours, please e-mail us again. If you prefer to communicate through fax, the number is (212) 915-4167. Attention All Audio Societies: We have a page on the Stereophile website dedicated solely to you: www. stereophile.com/audiophilesocieties. Check it out and get involved! If you’d like to have your audio-society information posted on the site, e-mail Chris Vogel at info@vcable.us and request an info-pack. Please note that it is inappropriate for a retailer to promote a new product line in “Calendar” unless this is associated with a seminar or similar event.

As of September 29, the loudspeaker will be known as “The Sonus Faber.” ITALY: MILANO Ke n Ke ssl e r It takes a lot to stop Italians dead in their tracks: they’re used to gorgeous designs. But at the premiere of Dan D’Agostino’s Momentum monoblock power amplifier in mid-September, at the Top Audio Video Show in Milan, the crowds went nuts. It was an act of affirmation: DD was back. D’Agostino’s return, with an outrageous new product, took place a year to the day that he parted from Krell, the brand he cofounded 30 years ago and for which he was chief engineer. Working feverishly over the 12 months since, D’Agostino developed a compact yet powerful monoblock, to be manufactured by the newly formed Dan D’Agostino Inc. The result heralds a new audio contender in the luxury sector. While addressing audiophile concerns, with power to spare and a promised sound quality to die for, the Momentum is also aimed at people who cherish the finer things in life. During the time I met with Dan and Petra, his wife and business partner, they referred often to iconic purveyors of luxury items. Dan cited watchmaker Breguet, whose hour and minute hands inspired the shape of the needle in the Momentum’s power meter. Goyard luggage, Cohiba cigars, Romanée-Conti wine—it’s the D’Agostinos’ intention to establish a rapport with clients who
15

ARIZONA ❚ Wednesday, November 17, 7pm: Charles Beresford of Cryogenics International (14715 N. 78th Way, Suite 200, Scottsdale) will address the Arizona Audio Video Club on how cryogenic treatment improves the fidelity and sound quality of audio components, interconnects, power cords, outlets, tubes, CDs, DVDs, and LPs. Beresford will also present a video illustrating the performance gains realized by cryogenic treatment of automotive electrical parts such as spark plugs, where superior conductivity after treatment correlates with the improvements heard in audio components. A raffle is planned and refreshments will be served. Guests and new members are invited. For

www.Stereophile.com, December 2010

I N D U S T R Y U P D AT E

more info, call Adam Goldfine at (602) 524-3974, or visit the club’s new website at www.azavclub.org.

CALIFORNIA ❚ Saturday, December 18, 11am– 3:30pm: The Los Angeles and Orange County Audio Society will host its 17th Annual Society Gala and Awards Banquet in the Grand Ballroom of the Buena Park Holiday Inn (7000 Beach Boulevard). Keith O. Johnson of Reference Recordings and Spectral Audio will be on hand to receive the Society’s 2010 Founders Award, and Stereophile’s Michael Fremer will join the Society as cohost and keynote speaker to share his perspective on the state of the High End. A raffle is planned and “an extravagant holiday buffet” will be served. Guests and new members are invited, and parking is free. For more info, visit www.laocas.com or call Bob Levi at (714) 281-5850. ❚ Sunday, January 30, 2–5pm: The Los Angeles and Orange County Audio Society will hold its monthly meeting

are comfortable with “the best.” What such individuals will appreciate are dimensions much smaller than those that have long identified monolithic high-end amplifiers: the Momentum measures only 12.5" wide by 4" high by 18" deep. Yet thanks to a chassis machined from a solid aluminum billet, and massive side-panel heatsinks machined from solid copper, each Momentum weighs 90 lbs. Dan’s party trick was to ask visitors to try to lift one. The first active demos should take place at the Consumer Electronics Show (January 6–9). But there was no getting away from the fact that, in the silent display at Top Audio, the Momentum’s looks alone were enough to generate the kind of excitement rarely seen these days in hi-fi. The fit’n’finish of even the first, hand-built, preproduction sample recalled those Breguet watches, exuding a visual elegance sometimes found in loudspeakers but rarely in electronics. The Momentum’s specifications are still being refined, but the amp already has some unique selling points. D’Agostino used copper heatsinks

because the metal’s thermal conductivity is 91% greater than that of aluminum, which made possible smaller heatsinks, than the typical, bulky fins. The sinks’ conductivity is enhanced by the use of venturis; the upper aperture of each venturi measures 0.75" wide, narrowing to 0.5" in the middle. The provisional output power is specified as 300W into 8 ohms, 600W into 4 ohms, and 1200W into 2 ohms. The active devices are 28 output transistors that “run at a blistering 69MHz” for “incredible bandwidth,” says D’Agostino. Each transistor is mounted with two stainless-steel fasteners, for maximum thermal transfer to the heatsinks. A capacitor–resistor network connected to the base of each transistor ensures stability, even at high frequencies and/or with low-impedance speakers. The printed circuit boards feature through-hole construction to provide greater reliability and longevity than surface mounting. All resistors are 1% metal-film types, and there are no capacitors in the signal path. The Momentum is DC-coupled throughout. Its vault-like casework—no screws are visi-

founder Jacques Mahul probably regards UK brand Bowers & Wilkins as his main global competitor. Redondo Beach). and it’s not difficult to see parallels with the German motor industry.000/pair. are now competing strongly on the world stage. A raffle is planned and lunch will be served. and is due to ship before Christmas. FRANCE: PARIS/PLOUZANÉ Paul Messenger A recent overnighter to Paris. call Rick at (317) 255-4434. but both have recently changed hands. 5–8pm: Audio Solutions (6371 N. Weston. CT 06883. each with its own distinct identity and proprietary technologies. BMW. November 18. made me realize just how interesting the French hifi speaker industry is. visit www. and this has provided them with new impetus. the engineering and production rivalry among VW/Audi. and new members are invited.. For more info and to RSVP. at $42. Dan D’Agostino Inc. three marques. December 11.dagostinoinc. and 30 years .com or call Bob Levi at (714) 281-5850. This year. ble—is nonresonant. Indeed. Falls Church. 12–7pm: Command Performance AV (7105 Marbury Court. Guests. Cabasse and Triangle Industries might be smaller. courtesy French manufacturer Cabasse Loudspeakers. Three substantial brands. By a substantial margin. Dan D’Agostino’s Momentum monoblock. visit www.I N D U S T R Y U P D AT E INDIANA ❚ Thursday. Indianapolis) will present an evening of music with Bowers & Wilkins and Classé. and Mercedes-Benz has helped stimulate the worldwide success of all PHOTO KEN KESSLER at Definition Audio Video (2909 182nd Street. and parking is free. and claimed to provide excellent shielding from RFI and EMI. Competition has always been the best growth hormone. Guilford Avenue. D C ❚ Saturday. Each Momentum will be hand-built in the US. all three companies celebrate significant anniversaries: 60 years in the case of Cabasse. For more info. 139 Steep Hill Road. MARYLAND–VIRGINIA– WA S H I N G T O N . Tom McConville of Classé will demonstrate the M600 monoblock power amplifiers with B&W’s new 800 Diamond loudspeakers. For full details. Focal is the largest of the French speaker makers. The demonstration will include Dynaudio loudspeakers and Simaudio electronics.com. 2010. visitors.laocas. Tel: (203) 227-9099.

on the grounds that single-box CD players outperform two-box designs—a philosophy reversed only last year with the launch of its own outboard digital-to-analog converter. Louis Public Radio and The Sound Room (1661 Clarkson Road. Multichannel is Stereo. Power Flower multimagnet motors. Georges Cabasse built his first coaxial speaker system for a movie theater in 1952. St. B&W. and also permits larger bass-unit magnets and an enclosure 20% smaller. pleated fabric surrounds. largely because of its advantages in dispersion consistency and control. Coaxial construction is a beneficial feature of some of Cabasse’s new custom-installation models. International Sales & Marketing Director (right). Cabasse has shown impressive growth in recent years. driver used in Cabasse’s Riga satellite speaker.I N D U S T R Y U P D AT E Virginia) will host a seminar featuring Philip O’Hanlon and a wide array of Luxman electronics. Terrence Dupuis. among others. com/site/audiosocietyofminnesota. It’s not hard to see why.Stereophile. the company began to lose market share when its founder retired. a four-way. In contrast. Both evenings will include the latest loudspeakers and components from Audio Research.com or call (919) 881-2005 (Raleigh). Steve Dobbins will be on hand to discuss his analog products and services. when Cabasse began to collaborate with Japanese multinational Canon. will present “HD Radio and Internet Audio for the Home”. with respective UK prices of £8000/ pair and £11. RSVP: (703) 532-7239. I was not alone in congratulating the design engineers on the Pacifica 3’s impressive sound.000 and $17. but if the two new. Focal has arguably been the most innovative in this regard. and Wilson Audio Specialties. and even then it declined to include S/PDIF outputs. respectively). chief engineer of St. That situation changed in 2003. which covers the rest of the audio range. and Stereophile’s Kal Rubinson will present “For Mozart. Guests. it’s also obvious that Cabasse has the ambition and the technical resources to claw its way back to the top of French hi-fi. A special attraction will be the Harman Mobile Showcase. 6–10pm: Audio Advice will host Music Matters 2010 on Thursday at their Raleigh showroom (8621 Glenwood Avenue). First. as so often happens. but the company’s press conference focused on two developments. Food and refreshments will be provided. each for Focal and Triangle. president of The Sound Room. (704) 821-4510 (Pineville-Charlotte). Stereophile’s Michael Fremer will be a featured presenter. and new members are invited. December 2010 18 PHOTO PAUL MESSENGER M I N N E S O TA ❚ Tuesday. which makes life easier for the amplifier driving the coaxial unit. and in 2006 Canon became Cabasse’s majority shareholder and began taking a much more active role. very different from each other and therefore offering a wide range of alternatives to audiophiles. All three also have their own unique drive-unit technologies. The more technologically interesting of these was strictly embargoed until a global Canon gettogether on October 12. the Naim DAC. and radically changed on the other. and horn-loaded tweeters. Peachtree Audio. MISSOURI ❚ Friday. November 19. inverted-dome tweeters of beryllium and various alloys. will present “Broadcasting Digital Audio”. widely regarded as the “Grand Old Man” of French hi-fi. I’m sure Canon played a role in the extraordinary La Sphère loudspeaker. Classé.500. The Cabasse Pacific 3 comes in both passive and partially active SA versions. 7–9pm: The Audio Society of Minnesota will hold its monthly meeting at the Pavek Museum of Broadcasting (3517 Raleigh Avenue. upmarket tower models are less exciting. Louis Public Radio. Only Better!” RSVP to Jeff Bewley at (314) 516-5494 or jbewley@ stlpublicradio. Refreshments will be served. Naim has retained the loyalty of its customer base by remaining faithful to its core vision of what www. with reported growth figures of 10% in 2009 and 23% in 2008. It didn’t introduce its first CD player until 1991. N O RTH CARO LI NA ❚ Thursday–Friday.com. The considerable and growing extent of Canon’s involvement and its high-tech resources have begun to make an impact. 7–10pm: St. it has prospered through the current recession. Both have the same drivers: twin 8" bass units crossed over at 175Hz to the two-way coaxial . which has a large facility nearby. visitors. and adjustable “field coil” bass drivers. Triangle has deliberately stuck with traditional materials and methods. The Pacific 3 SA incorporates 450W of active drive for the bass. Naim today is a chip off the old block on one hand. UK: SALISBURY Keith Howard It’s not that long ago that Naim Audio had a reputation for being conservative to the point of reactionary. Chesterfield) will host an evening celebrating high-definition audio. Ayre Acoustics. and the coaxial approach has ever since been a key part of the company’s design strategies. coaxial active model introduced in 2007. nine years after the medium’s launch. Christopher Cabasse. November 18–19. was for decades the dominant brand in the French speaker market. with its composite-sandwich bass and midrange cones.org.google.000/pair ($13. RSVP: event@audioadvice. November 16. and R&D Director Bernard Debail show off the Cabasse Pacific 3 SA. visit http://sites. and on Friday at their Pineville-Charlotte showroom (11409 Carolina Place Parkway). with a two-channel listening room and a multichannel home-theater room featuring loudspeakers from Revel and JBL and electronics from Mark Levinson and Lexicon. including paper-pulp cones. For more info. Unusually. Georges’ son Christophe Cabasse remains with the company as International Sales & Marketing Director. Louis Park). and reviewed by Michael Fremer in the June 2008 Stereophile. Cabasse. they’re also considerably more commercially relevant. David Young. However. and while part of that is doubtless due to improved business efficiency and distribution. and a prize drawing will be held for attendees.

See details next page.THE NEW EDGE UNDERSTANDS 10.000 COMMANDS. .

quantumqrt. as well as conventionmay perform better with a dedicated ally via its front-panel buttons and disaudio network than one that carries play or the supplied remote control. which will include their own damping and RFI/ EMI absorption. WALES Paul Messenger It’s seven years since I first wrote about an interesting new UK company called VertexAQ (“Industry Update.1). When the NDX was unveiled to Internet radio—“the radio of the fu.I N D U S T R Y U P D AT E constitutes quality sound (with particular emphasis on “rhythm and timing”).blow us out of the doldrums of recent ily on technology originally developed years. play audio files from a USB memory such as hard-disk replay and network stick. filter—not because Naim has set While the HDX and UnitiServe its face against the pre-response inhercan be connected to an Ethernet net. and the NDX will means of delivering high-quality audio. Together with silver conductors and Teflon insulation. Finding VertexAQ’s equipment surprisingly effective at lowering the “hash” floor. an upand Naim has written its own UPnP grade path is available via the additions code for the HDX and the UnitiServe of an external power supply (XPS or to allow them to fulfill that role. ■■ www. It of music delivery. He believes that new other digital sources. Naim’s new NDX streaming network player. asp?ContentID=24). 20 UK: LLANDRINDOD WELLS. via such handheld devices as Apple’s but does acknowledge that its products iPhone and iPad.Naim’s R&D department. Aletheia.power supplies and galvanic isolation ments or other replacements. aka recheaper UnitiServe. As usual with Naim products. While such early VertexAQ products as the Moncayo speaker cable were specifically designed to absorb mechanical vibrations. here implemented via 40-bit aboard the ill-fated bandwagons of rather than the usual 32-bit floatingDVD-Audio or SACD—and no one in point processing to ensure that arithSalisbury evinces much enthusiasm for metic noise remains well below 24-bit Blu-ray Disc—Naim introduced its first resolution. alignment is used. implemented as an and recently supplemented it with the infinite impulse response (IIR). which in 24-bit/192kHz capable. the focus of the stereo image substantially improved. beat about the future of the specialist Three S/PDIF inputs are provided for audio industry. replace all its electrolytic for the Naim DAC. but I’m saving up. Instead of resisting new modes ter clocks to remove incoming jitter. It’s the second factor in Naim’s on.” Vol. WiFi 555PS) and/or the Naim DAC.and the NDX uses the same system of going success that constitutes a sea a buffer memory and switchable maschange. they can’t stream files plementations sound better than finite from a server in the manner of. and goes into production supply. make any necessary adjust.11). That project is still ongoing.) A “technology demonstrator” version of the Aletheia dac1 D/A converter is due to make its debut at the UK National Audio Show. they’re about to introduce a line of electronics. Logitech Squeezebox—so Naim has even when both have the same amplicome up with products that will. While VertexAQ’s activities have hitherto been restricted to the bits that support and link audio components. While it never hopped tal filter. for instance. in 2008.also adopts the DAC’s proprietary digibraces them.” but wired Ether. If you have an aging Naim amplifier. Like Naim’s first to distribute computational activity in streaming player.the press at Naim’s factory. the HDX. and the VertexAQ room is one I shall definitely visit.” as Naim calls it—is available via ing director Paul Stevenson was upthe NDX using the vTuner service. A modified Butterworth hard-disk player. the NDX draws heav. which is load imposed by an IIR filter. and cables incorporating damping blocks—took a “whole-system” approach to the control of vibration.com. for a very reasonable price. (Aletheia is the Greek word for truth.com). providing ready upgrade paths for most of its products and continuing to support owners of older Naim models. action of the digital and analog circuits. The improvements were obvious and not small: the top end was significantly sweetened. December 2010 . will sell in the turn reduces demand from the power US for $4750. Just a year ago (“Industry Update. Let’s hope he’s prescient. will rekindle the wider pubas an option.” Vol. the Uniti. whose initial products—vibration-absorbing mounting platforms. A DAB/FM tuner can be added streaming. Naim isn’t as fussy as app allows the NDX to be controlled Linn Products about network setup. Multiple regulated capacitors. but a couple of other new VertexAQ initiatives deserve reporting. Naim now em. Naim puts latest and best of these is the NDX this down to the lower computational standalone streaming player. which wireless network connection is offered itself can be upgraded with an external “as a convenience. but because work and retrieve and play audio files listening tests have shown that IIR imthey find there.ent in linear-phase filters. Indeed. The tude and phase responses. I’ve always been dubious of claims that high-cost speaker cables can offer genuine benefits. and check are deployed to ensure minimum interthat it is performing as new.Stereophile. I can’t yet afford a set of HiRez Moncayos. That’s about a week away as I write. managture. the factory will gladly. the NDX uses the Universal tant means of honing sound quality in Plug and Play (UPnP) network proto.27 No.vertexaq. but substituting the HiRez versions for the standard Moncayo cables linking my B&W 800 Diamond speakers to my power amp did much to dispel that skepticism.PSU. introduced an optimal way has become an imporlast year. these absorbers are incorporated in VertexAQ’s costly new HiRez Moncayo speaker cable. the impulse response (FIR) alternatives. other traffic as well.com/content. col to stream files from UPnP servers. the writing of DSP code at the end of October. cursive. more recent developments also include multiple techniques to absorb electromagnetic and radio-frequency interference (EMI and RFI). lic’s interest in high-fidelity sound and Internally. I purchased a number of their products that I still use today (www. An extension of Naim’s n-Stream net is preferred. I mentioned the work VertexAQ was doing in collaboration with Nordost and Acuity Products to try to correlate measurements with listening (www. say.32 No.

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Search me. Russians took the dish and turned it into pilmeni. Now thoroughly immersed in hi-fi. I think Kerem could marry Berrak only on condition that he take over as leader of the Istanbul Hi-Fi Club. December 2010 W Sam in Turkey Absolare power amplifiers and tubed preamp on Absolare equipment stands made from laminated African Rosewood. At about that time. How can simple food be so tasty? Spices. Brooklyn. Istanbul is a beautiful. only locals) that specializes in ravioli. Actually. Kerem put us on to a restaurant (no tourists. Exquisitely appointed listening rooms honor classical composers: Bach. even though he lives there. and Tchaikovsky (Marina’s fave). Kerem Küçükaslan was at Worcester Polytech. Just kidding. they prefer yogurt. there are almost no similarities with Romance or Slavic languages. Or New York. on his way to a BS in Industrial Engineering. It has a Russian flavor. of course. at the Tacis Beyti Restaurant on Coney Island Avenue. Marina and I are returning for a longer visit next year. and the Istanbul Hi-Fi Club beckoned. Mozart. I’m told there are even some similarities with Korean. Residents of Istanbul seem to delight in telling you that no one can afford to live there. My wife. Marina and I did not look for bedbugs in our hotel room. no drunks. and I traversed much of Istanbul by car and most of the Old City on foot. Probably made the names easy to trademark. and many more. You can use Extreme Audio as an excuse to go there. Maybe we’ll run into Kerem and Berrak. in part. Turkish food is tops. The store is so . is inadequate. A Belgian audiophile with a Turkish wife told me he finds the language impossible to learn. to the countless (millions?) cats. All the Latin I studied was from Roman times. Milan would be free of graffiti. There was some miscommunication and the trip never came off. We encountered none of the above—no graffiti. They’re trying to build a subway line across the Bosporus. The alphabet aside. .Stereophile. Amsterdam would have no drug addicts. From the street. which is a good thing—Turkish is forbidding. He couldn’t turn Turk if he wanted to. spotlessly clean city—thanks. and centuries of practice. By the time he returned to Istanbul to pursue his MBA. no drug addicts. 25 . Just think what life might be like today if the Ottomans had conquered all of Europe. Construction crews on the European side keep digging up artifacts from the past. Traffic is a big headache— the city chokes on it—and mass transit. via the Black Sea. which accounts for his fluent American-accented English. The 17th century. in the basement of the Sheraton Istanbul Hotel. I couldn’t find either word. anyway. Turkish. He joined the club. who assure me that there are no rats. Demonstrations are entirely by ap- pointment. that I’ve ever visited—is Extreme Audio. Sonus Faber. I didn’t make a list of the brands carried. Harbeth. one did try to convert me to Islam after we left the Blue Mosque. Beethoven. Focal. school and absolute. I took his literature and bought a Koran. Naples would have regular garbage pickups. Somewww. modern. Marina. Mahler (my favorite). but I saw products from Wilson Audio. the reverse: Russian food has a Turkish flavor. in 1683. One of the finest hi-fi shops in the world—the finest. Vienna turned back from the gates of the city an army of Turks and Tartars and saved civilization? I’m sure they teach something different in Turkish schools. along with Tungusic and Mongolian. he’d caught the hi-fi bug. too. while clean and attractive. usually served with sour cream. Kerem says that echole and absolare are “17th-century Latin” for.S A M ’ S S PA C E S a m Te l l i g ho knew that Istanbul was a hotbed of hi-fi? I did. near Avenue P. respectively. The travelogue is relevant. aka Turkic. whose leader must have seen that Kerem would be a good catch for his daughter. About 15 years ago. Kerem went on to launch not one but two hi-fi companies: Echole cables and Absolare electronics. Moscow no drunks in the street. .com. This is not Cincinnati. too. between European and Asian Istanbul. Many people in Istanbul speak English. eh? Isn’t that when. Just don’t stay at the Sheraton Istanbul if you’re a tourist: it’s in a commercial district. no one would know the shop’s suite of showrooms is there. is in the Altaic family. civilized. History depends on who writes the narrative. in Turkey. I told Kerem that the food is tasty. no garbage. Little did Kerem know how his life would change. I got an invitation to visit and speak before the Istanbul Hi-Fi Club. or even from the hotel’s lobby.

Kerem is taking aim We grooved on vinyl at something that has for the most part at the plagued serious hi-fi for Echole-Absolare annual years: a lack of coopmeeting via a flabberThe Absolare Bybee Purifier is designed to take unwashed power from the mains and give it a good bath. Web: www.000 with tonearm (but on Vicenza. Extreme Audio. in South Korea.com. South equipment manufacturKorea. He’s got his eye makes passive speakers. Tel: (516) 487-3663. Nashua.steinmusic. Tel: (917) 267-7476.com. the for around $18. fine watches. John Park even makes high-end shoes. on 55 lbs (25kg). NY 11023. In almost every household. the daughter of Echole cables are local: hand-assem. He even wants to make beautiful don’t spin much vinyl these days. which seems quite reaNo. a hotbed of hi-fi. Web: http://echole. and many were beau. and maybe create necting links consistent a broader awareness of throughout the system.com. my Un. Turkey may be the US entered World War II. the hapless husband had to drive a flywheel. both use Echole wire for The idea is to share ideas. no questions. too. homes. with its tanbul. Aydo an Apartment Tel: (82) 31-349-8464. on creating an alliance of while Wadax specialindependent hi-fi comizes in powered speakers. which turns the regarding luxury goods. is CONTACTS mechanically decoupled from the platAbsolare Electronic and Echole. including the DS4 Ultimate Resonance çerenköy Street. 45468 Mülheim. even when well-made. vacation fi. I ished in wood. wife chose the radio. Eski Üsküdar Kyunggi-do. Germany. Steinmusic Ltd.Marina’s cousin gave birth to a son in bled in Turkey.Muzika Ultima. I’d guess—and has Web: www. çerenköy/Istanbul. Called the nies have enemies. most of it the iron—the entire turntable weighs 172 lbs (78kg) without arm. hi-fi as something worth from source to speakers. Go to www. Great 390938. Pyon Sound. Istanbul. especially in Italy. pyonsound. their speakers’ internal create synergies and circuits. panies all over the world.. Kerem’s alliance includes Kaiser many customers. Fax: (212) 486-7371. Korea. But hi-fi . ? Echole and Absolare held their Muzika Ultima’s platter has three layThe audio “industry” (if you can call second annual meeting at the end of ers: “vaporized resin” on top. Tel: a mischievous sense of humor. of Pyon among companies. This alliance already able to other manufacincludes companies from turers as OEM (original Germany.manufacturers hung out a sign: WOM.Rosenbaum. the week before we arrived. 103a. Anyang City. Elegant.Alas.extreme-audio.com. . besides more money? Kerem wants to make beautiful hi. Turkey. Neck. anyone? dong Dongan-gu. It has two belt drives: one I told Kerem about surveys I’ve seen up her mind. it’s expected to retail wonder when Treviso will declare war tiful.slab of acrylic in the middle. Kaiser globally.14/A. NH Fax: (516) 773-3891. and a botfor its current marginal status.Stereophile. Web: www. Mikey will likely get this one—I The usual stuff: nice homes. Seoul 431-060.S A M ’ S S PA C E Fresh breezes from the High-end products tend to be butt. Hingbergstraße guy—in his early 40s. The center spindle. high. Spain. sonably priced at $65. Our schedules were so packed tom platter milled from a block of cast petty feuding and its obstinate refusal that Marina and I hadn’t time to at. share distribuis key: Keep the contors. and the US. Web: www. . eration and sometimes gasting new turntable downright petty feuding from John Park. 26 www.pyonsound. facturers: no humor. December 2010 . platter via filament fishing line. at Kerem’s home in Is. milled from a block of stainless steel. Maybe Bosporus ugly. people want. John is a young Fax: (90) 216-574-3846. All the details could consume an 40 Pemberton Road. 1434-28 GwangyangHigh-end shoes. entire column. And only answers.iron. before I immediately named him Ramadan sembled in the US. tend the Ramadan Jazz Festival.the grounds of Topkapi palace. spending your money Echole cables are availon. ter.Massachusetts. Almost all were fin. The platter mechanism weighs to reach out to attract female buyers. 03063. er) stock.Sound. I’ll whet his and your appetites: The end shoes. made in Turkey and may soon be asIn the 1930s and early ’40s. Absolare electronics are EN: DON’T BUY ME. Fax: (49) 0208a problem with too many hi-fi manuMusic Hall.cables and interconnects. When she made no cartridge). a solid it that) can take much of the blame the summer. Kerem says this systems. but there are only so cle Stan sold radios in New Bedford. Meanwhile. Some hi-fi compa. 108 Station Road. This is not just Tel: (90) 216-574-3877.com. It’s as if next time. What do rich to buy. for the well-heeled. Tuning Shoe. com and take a peek. Straight from Uncle Stan. That’s (49) 0208-32089.com. musichallaudio. luxury cars. Kerem Acoustics (Germany) and Küçükaslan has to think Wadax (Spain).

On the drive home you’re already setting up your playlist – getting ready to unwind in that first nuanced chord. Minneapolis. 612. Quebec H2S 2S1.279. Suite 400. listening to your music is no longer simple gratification. 6555 Saint-Denis Street. Montreal. Smartketing. For more information on Canton’s Reference Series. it’s a passion that starts long before the first chord and resonates long after the song’s end.com Canton. 504 Malcolm Avenue SE. please visit www. . MN 55414.cantonusa.Live the music! Reference Series It’s been a tough day and you just need to listen to your music and relax. 514.706. Canada. With Canton’s new Reference Series.9250.6006.

looking forward to stirring up the pot.99999%-pure copper. I took them home (heh-heh-heh). When I laughed my evil laugh. A very stable organic composite resin is hand-applied as an air-based dielectric.000/pair). so Echole and Absolare were front and center. the front baffles of loudspeakers. His focus is on “signal purity and resonance control. than are dreamt of in your philosophy. The creation of a proprietary alloy followed. First. The Absolare Pure tubed line stage . while a 3' pair of interconnects (RCA) goes for $3800. ceramic-looking cones to put atop my loudspeakers. But this was Kerem’s show. “We established the company in 2007. This alloy is patented and manufactured in a dedicated facility. External resonance control is accomplished with machined aluminum blocks and solid zebrano wood. “There are more things in heaven and earth. Herr Stein offers something called E-Pads—tiny. consisting of cryogenically treated silver. gold. the wire is handwound in a symmetrical pattern. Herr Holger Stein is going to help me mess with the molecules inside audiophiles’ brains.” Each speaker cable comprises four solid-core runs of the silvergold-palladium alloy and two runs of 99. Speakers were the Kaiser Acoustics Kawero ($65. Ltd. amplifiers—even your home’s main electrical panel—“for a permanent improvement of the sound quality without interfering with your living environment. My Harbeth Compact 7 ES3 speakers Echole speaker cables—aluminum blocks and solid Zebrano wood keep external resonances at bay. shiny squares of something that you attach strategically wherever you wish. Horatio. front and center. have never sounded better. But why? Holger Stein or John Park could have stolen the show. One could probably get drunk just working there. headphones.S A M ’ S S PA C E Wait till I get my hands on more products from Steinmusic.” Kerem said. mainly. The Echole Obsession speaker cables retail for $6100/6' pair. The purity of the signal path is optimized with an exclusive resonance-control process. Holger replied with one of his own. Herr Stein recommends affixing them to CD transports. and palladium.” He gave me two strange.” Steinmusic employs a dozen people in a former malt factory near Düsseldorf.

solid aluminum. “massproduced” products might be in the offing. while Rick Brown is doing the same for the West Coast in Carlsbad. My late friend Lars. Kerem said that less costly. you’ll want the Absolare Bybee Purifier ($6500). The output tubes are configured as parallel single-ended.000/pair) are now being assembled in Turkey. whose office is in Nashua. is covered with leather and accented with wood.000 seem a lot to ask? Easy for me to spend your money. Absolare’s monoblock power amps ($32. The chassis. Does $23. It’s about controlling resonances. Russia. New Hampshire.The managing director of Echole and Absolare in the US is Fred Manheck. who called him Yack. Of course. internal and external. Each amp uses two 845 output tubes to deliver 50Wpc into 8 ohms. Southern New Hampshire is an easy drive for me. of Fidelis AV. Walter Swanbon. Meanwhile. I’m sure I’ll be doing more listening. Shoes. and Australia. John Park of Pyon Audio will step right up. In the US. A wedding kept Yack from yoining us in Istanbul. but there looks to be solid value here—in this case. and there’s talk of making them in the US. Dealer showrooms are being set up in Turkey (at Extreme Audio). California. Kerem is helping to launch the Vano Bagration line of hi-fi gear: equipment .S A M ’ S S PA C E preamp is going into production about now. No bad vibes. Spain. too. made from a 152-lb (69kg) block of “aircraft grade” aluminum. there are tweaks and accessories from Steinmusic and Pyon Sound. New Hampshire. is Echole power cords. If you want a nice phono stage and step-up transformer. anyone? A Steinmusic E-Pad for your iPod? Or maybe you want to go upmarket. some of which seem affordable. said that Jack Bybee is a genius. Or maybe 55Wpc. Germany. setting up an East Coast showroom at his store in Derry. to clean your mains power.

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It’s a very sweetwww.2 reminded me of the Audio Analogue Crescendo integrated amplifier from Italy. in the Battle of Borodino). of course. brittle. Instruments didn’t separate the way they do through truly great hifi gear.2 integrated amp and matching CD player. I could blather on like this for hours. The beauty of the note. That is a good way to sell turntables. I’d give the Crescendo a two-testicle rating. which you get whether you want it or not.2 amp to my Harbeth Compact 7 ES3 speakers— another product that Roy doesn’t distribute. Iggybits.2 integrated amplifier and A15. . The music sounds as if it’s slogging through silicon. in his youth. Perhaps it gave preference to even-order harmonics. particularly second-order harmonics. processor. finally admitted that the Harbeths are up to snuff. Mind you. More to come. Want do you want for the price? Luxury? Go to Istanbul. Each retails for $499 and measures 17" wide by 2. and it’s half the price. I’m not saying that there’s anything slow about the a15. He sells them around the world. The a15.2 integrated amplifier and cd15. I’m not turning technical on you. It does harmonic accuracy: instruments and voices. acceleration. native Scot Roy has lived in Great Neck. I’m really blathering now. and it does. It compels me to stop whatever I am doing and start listening seriously. if not quite the resolution.2 integrated opts for simplicity (so does the CD player). Transients seemed somewhat but not severely rolled off. The LFD sells for more than six times the Music Hall’s price. the two amps are close. but these devices are like Dr.IV SE—the latest version of my longtime favorite. one ball. . I lost some but not all sense of acoustical space in recordings. I know I did. The skinny on iggybits is that they combine the slew rate and low internal impedance of tubes (and MOSFETs) with the current drive of bipolars. I connected the a15. I love to rile Roy with Rega. that Roy. That’s Prince Juan Bagration. sterile sound. I’d rather concentrate on what the a15. At one time. My big toe—always my right one—liked the amp just fine. December 2010 sounding cartridge.2’s output is a claimed 75Wpc into 8 ohms from a pair of IGBT devices per channel. somewhat cheesy remote control. his competitor—though I did use a very fine 1042 moving-coil cartridge from Goldring. and timing. half bipolar (output).2 CD player.2 CD player My crony Roy Hall dropped off his Music Hall a15. the a15. He figures that if he gives you a fine phono stage. His Music Hall electronics are made for Roy in China. never fatigued.2 integrated amplifier: The a15. New York. I had expected the listening to be a chore—cheap stuff often makes it so. But its priority seems to be to get the notes themselves right.2 integrated has five linelevel inputs. My only answer for it is that Roy is mellowing with age. Hyde: half MOSFET (input). You get a useful onboard headphone amp (okay for casual listening).2 never irritated. each year losing a little more of his Glaswegian accent. and a surprisingly good moving-magnet phono stage that you can also use with a highoutput moving-coil cartridge. I suppose—vinyl can boogie better than any digital I’ve heard. Of course this product has its limitations.Stereophile.2" deep. of the royal family of Georgia. Sly fox. Truncated. plus a mini jack on the front for connecting a pod or something. the mystical chords of nature . The a15. the magic of the moment.S A M ’ S S PA C E Music Hall’s a15.2 lacked resolution and de- tail compared to my new solid-state reference. He’d love to sell you a Music Hall turntable. IGBT. the Music Hall. The two pieces share a common. Actually. Whatever it did. even trapped by it. timpani some tingle. It’s why so many audiophiles turn to tubes. Music Hall a15. It would be easy. There’s also a fixed line out for connecting a headphone amp. The a15. or tape deck. Just one disappointment for Marina: his native language is Spanish.2’s performance will likely 31 . But Roy hasn’t stripped away everything. tubed or solid-state. But I had a pleasant surprise: I truly enjoyed the Music Hall a15. The a15. not Glasgow. Inexpensive transistor gear often has a thin. fit for a king. Whatever. he was into all that Britshit about pace. sniffing.75" high by 11.2 has much the same sonic signature. rhythm. Brass lost some of its bite. but pointless.2 does. The a15. In addition to the phono stage. expense and inconvenience be damned. LFD Audio’s Integrated Zero Mk. if not always involving.2. I should use a pair of Epos speakers. not just their movement. right? But Roy. I found it ingratiating. you’ll get the itch to spin vinyl. The integrated offered up a tubelike sound—remarkably so for $499. which Roy distributes here. Music Hall a15. for as long as I can remember. to find fault with the a15.2.2 integrated amplifier uses IGBT devices to deliver tube-like sound without the tsuris (trouble). No balance or tone controls. In terms of delivering power to my Harbeth speakers. Jekyll and Mr. These devices have been around for a couple of decades and have become steadily more reliable. which I reviewed in the October 2010 Stereophile. It should offer much more. We met the present-day Prince Bagration in Istanbul. Rounded off. Maybe it did something to tame odd-order harmonics. I bought it from him in a fit of foolishness.2’s phono-stage input without attaching my Rega P25 turntable. The a15. I couldn’t look at the a15.com. You may remember General Pyotr Bagration from Tolstoy’s War and Peace (felled by a bullet in 1812.

so I hooked up my Musical Fidelity X-RayV8 CD player.1 signal. There was method in my madness. This is a sweet little amp—in more ways than one. It’s for all these reasons—the right reasons— that the a15.2 CD player: There aren’t many $499 CD players around these days. which is to not do too much. I needed to rile Roy. With recording after recording. maybe. more balls in the bass. too? The a15.2 CD player doesn’t mess much with CD’s native 16/44. right? It’s said to combine low jitter with excellent resolution.com. You’d like one of those. If you don’t get on the hedonic treadmill in the first place. How could I evaluate the sound of the amp if I changed my CD player.2 upstairs to play with my pair of Dynaudio Excite X12 speakers. There’s no upsampling—no placing of bogus bits under the format’s 16 to bring the word length up to 24 bits. ■■ For your free A/V catalog or to talk to a Crutchfield expert. The cd15.2 pairing is such a success. indeed. (I laugh when people tell me they’re going to digitalize their LP collections. Merry Christmas. The a15. a disc defies being picked up by its edges. I guess we can thank Sanyo for this: The cd15.S A M ’ S S PA C E FREE A /V catalog Bring your favorite music to life — Just call Crutchfield ■ Huge selection from top brands ■ Install it yourself — our experts can help you save money and get professional results ■ Free shipping on most orders not satisfy the most demanding audiophile.com/stereophile Music Hall cd15. Once in the tray. There’s just one problem. Really?) I took the a15. I couldn’t get it out. Which brings me back to the appeal of the a15. Roy knows what he’s doing. that phono stage’s soundstage didn’t walk through windows and spread into the driveway below. I have to place my pinky under the disc and jiggle it up from the tray. The signal then goes to a 24-bit/192kHz Burr-Brown DAC.2 integrated let me hear the superiority of the XRayV8. Don’t cheap out with crappy parts where sound quality counts.2 was capable in its own right. without worrying about formats and settings and downloads. I might push the drawer closed by accident. too. It may not be meant for audiophiles at all. These products—amp and CD player—would be ideal Christmas presents for your parents or other relatives who love music and don’t want to get caught up in the hi-fi rat race—or be chained to the hedonic treadmill.2-cd15.Stereophile.2 was kind to older recordings and less-than-prime source material. Someone who just wants to put the disc in the player and play it. call: 1-800-317-6595 www. Music Hall. not that most users are likely to use them. December 2010 . now discontinued but last seen selling for $1500—three times the price of the cd15. The only thing I missed was a mono switch—too bad. Don’t pretend there’s more hear than meets the ear by highlighting detail at the expense of harmonic presentation.2 combination.2’s tray. Music Hall cd15. which is the highest compliment I can bestow.2—buy one for mom! 32 www.crutchfield. nor do I think it was meant to. I was seduced by the sound quality—up to a point. At $1200/pair (plus stands). Roy doesn’t much care for such digital prestidigitation. But the amp itself wouldn’t let it. Problem is. I’ll bet.2.2 CDP uses a Sanyo DA11SLM transport mechanism. It would probably not be possible to implement upsampling in a $499 player and do it right. then you never need worry about climbing off.2-cd15. because the amp has such a fine. and jam or trap the disc. While I could easily load a disc in the cd15. Keep the designs simple. You always wanted one of those. The player offers both coaxial (S/ PDIF) and optical (TosLink) digital outputs. Once again. if modest. I didn’t hear all the there there. so Roy’s judgment is probably right on. phono stage. Who needs one? Your parents. the X12s are a more likely pairing for the Music Hall than the Harbeths. More resolution. No. Someone who doesn’t want a computer anywhere near the living room or listening room. But no big deal. The a15. Of course. This reminds me of the $32 Philips DVD player I bought at Walmart.

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December 2010 35 . included a Continuum Audio Labs Caliburn turntable). if you want romance and soft highlights.Stereophile. too. it confirmed what I wrote in my review of the A90 in the November 2009 issue. and one can be used with MCs or moving-magnets. more clearly marked. 300. It’s gratifying to have one’s opinion confirmed.4mm) deep. What could be easier? Each Input knob also includes a DeMag setting. it’s only Esoteric’s multibox packaging that’s huge—the E-03 measures 17. which contains the dual-mono circuit boards for the two channels’ signal paths. along with This thing must be enormous! Actually. That’s about the only complaint I have. well-built chassis of the Esoteric E-03 has a satiny aluminum finish. the company made its bed with digital sources. 1k. the MC gain at 66dB. The MM gain is specced at 44dB. and weighs 23. and 10k ohms. to keep the signal paths short. and spinning digital discs will either become extinct (CDs) or even nichier than vinyl (SACD).27mV at 1kHz. Input 2 offers fewer choices of MC loading (100. like Art Dudley. This is an amazingly neutral.5kg)—but Esoteric apparently considers the E-03 deserving of such protection. each of the latter costing far more. and comfortable overload margins of 180mV (MM) and 9mV (MC). and overall fit’n’finish will be familiar to owners of other Esoteric products. one thing could be more clear. select DeMag. 100.25mV—which is close to the output of the Ortofon A90 (0. labeled Input 1 and Input 2. so who can blame Esoteric for wanting a piece of the analog-source pie? Nonetheless. are used to adjust each input’s settings. It’s a neatly accomplished layout. during which no sound is output. 1k. With the Input 1 knob you can select sensible MC loading values of 10. I recently heard a comparison of the A90 fresh out of the box and two other highly regarded cartridges. great musician and comedian Jimmy Durante (who. vinyl has come back. so why shouldn’t it just lie there in the ones and zeros. including protrusions. 500. Though the system was far grander than my own (though it. And it was my sentiment exactly when I heard last year about the E-03 phono preamplifier from Esoteric. the E-03 is a longitudinally “dual split chassis” (sounds redundant to me).com. revealing cartridge that. would run one in MM mode with the E-03.5mm) high by 14. Only inept setup might yield disappointment. and you’re done. and the overall construction quality is high. 50. which both stiffens the chassis and keeps magnetic leakage from the power transformer from making its way to the larger of the two compartments. However. and wait 30 seconds. The chassis sits on the points of three conical feet of hardened steel. After spending a few months listening to it. and 10k ohms) to make room for three equally sensible choices of capacitive loading: 0pF. sculpted design (no screws in the top plate) and the robust construction. the E-03 should prove compatible with all cartridges other than MCs with outputs below 0. the left and right knobs. I’ve heard from many other A90 owners. What could be simpler? Well.1 Remarkable Sound: As with the Ortofon A90 cartridge. presumably both at 1kHz. www. too. look elsewhere—that’s not what the Esoter1 I’ve been told by its designer that the limited edition of the Ortofon A90 is just about sold out.ANALO G C O R N E R Michael Fremer “E A Phono Preamp from Esoteric? verybody’s gotta get inta da act!” was a trademarked phrase of the late. but judging by the sound. 5cm/s). chassis-mounted RCA inputs: either can be used with a low-output moving-coil cartridge. the A90’s Replicant stylus has a demanding geometry. set your resistive and/or capacitive load. but even more so to make so many readers happy to have bought a cartridge they might not otherwise have considered because it’s made by “too mainstream” a company. I agree. With ultralow noise specs of –137dB/V (MM) and –140dB/V (MC). rugged chassis. tells you what’s on the record. of course. were he a youngster today. someone was listening as the E-03’s parts were chosen. Boulder Amplifiers high? No. On the rear panel are two sets of single-ended. The resistive and capacitive switching occurs close to the rear-panel inputs. and leave analog to the folks who never abandoned the medium? So I thought as I began to unpack the E-03 ($6500).2" (364. who agree with what I heard and what I wrote. True Dual-Mono Design: The E-03’s satiny finish aluminum exterior. 100pF. But neither is $6500 a Boulder Amplifiers price! There didn’t appear to be any esoteric parts (pun intended). Choose your input. Play any LP. Inside. the Esoteric’s built-in head amp is so quiet and transparent that I’m not sure if even diehard fans of step-up transformers. True. is easy to use.1 lbs (10. and 300pF. Esoteric claims that this system can demagnetize both the MC cartridge’s iron core and that of a step-up transformer connected to the MM/MC input. Those unfamiliar should be impressed with both the handsome. On the front panel are three knobs: The central one switches between Inputs 1 and 2. for worse or for much better. at least: the tiny notch on each knob that lets you know where it’s actually set could be a bit bigger or The rugged. and this. would get a nose job and kill his career). 500.2" (442mm) wide by 4" (103.

However. Tel: (951) 347-2732. Fax: (909) 954-2176. The first phono preamp I heard that had this quality was the legendary Peter Mares Connoisseur. US distributor: Twin Audio Video. Tel: (81) (0)66349-1858. ORB. Web: www. some brightness and edge. who want an honest appraisal of what’s in the grooves. Hubble Phono Stages & Timeline Strobe Record Weight . It’s that good. Peekskill. Fax: (914) 739-5204. Tel: (909) 954-2175. but it wasn’t. which means that the starting point for the 4 ohm Ortofon A90 would be around 40 ohms. Otherwise. The accepted formula for cartridge loading says the preamp’s input impedance should be set to 10x cartridge internal impedance. 7733 Telegraph Road. (914) 739-2885. yet resolute bottom end was what ultimately defined its excellence.com..1 & Eroica LX MC Cartridge Graham Phantom II B-44 Tonearm Also Available with Gold Accents & SME Mount! VPI Classic Turntable w/JMW10. Call Our Audio Experts Today! Musical Surroundings Nova Phonomena & Phonomena II Phono Stages & Fosgate Fozgometer Azimuth Alignment Meter Clearaudio Concept Turntable & MC Cartridge Music Hall MMF-9. Web: http://esoteric. Any higher and there was a lack of overall control. Web: www.ANALO G CO R N E R CONTACTS Esoteric Division. the Esoteric’s supple. bass notes don’t just appear and decay.” That is. The E-03’s midrange wasn’t threadbare or receded. but an important musical event. Each note becomes an anchor—not just a gesture that marks time. Instrumental attacks were fast and clean. Set correctly. But the E-03 should satisfy the needs of most vinyl fanatics in search of an honest ride. 6-1 Minamibefu Settu. P. but so extended that if your cartridge has a rising high end or has been set up less than perfectly. Loma Linda. I began at 50 ohms and ended up at 100. Images popped unrestrained from that blackness. • Excellent Customer Service. High frequencies shimmered. Box 681. Osaka. which seemed to slow down time itself. unless you prefer tube warmth. Tel: (323) 726-0303. The Soundsmith. Fax: (81) (0)6-63497344. This effect was caused by the Connoisseur’s ap- . Suite 417.com A Trusted Name Since 1989! What you can expect from us: • Expert Cartridge Installation & Set Up. free of grain and glare. The midband was equally transparent and cleanly rendered.sound-smith.com.jp.5i Special Edition Tonearm & Scout II Turntable w/JMW9T Tonearm Sutherland 20/20. Tel: (800) 942-8009. with pristine transients that were neither edgy nor too hard. 8 John Walsh Blvd. CA 92354. ic E-03 is about.. the E-03 produced backdrops of a jet-blackness that only a few tubed phono preamps can manage. and a loss of solidity.. Inc. richer sound. CA 90640. With the E-03’s easy-to-use Input 1 knob. Montebello. • Speedy & Safe Delivery.com.teac. you’ll hear it. JAI Ltd.O. with finely drawn outlines. NY 10566. just not as “fleshy” as some prefer. wellextended. Don’t blame the E-03. Japan. The best phono preamps have what I’ve referred to before as bass “stiction. but seem to dig in and hang around longer than expected. the E-03 did so many things well that it was difficult to fault. TEAC America. The first time I heard it. Web: www. I had to check my turntable’s speed—I was certain it was running slow.orb-audio. twinaudiovideo. • Expert Help & Advice. solidly formed. though some listeners might wish for—and some systems might require—a fuller. though not so long that they confuse or muddy the rhythmic intent. Ph3D. I could simultaneously listen and adjust.

and transparency were endlessly 1-331). Returnof Elvis Costello’s Armed Forces ing to the E-03 from any of the others or midband fullness. Costello’s voice hovered three-dia case for the E-03 being a better match I’ve just finished hosting the pilot mensionally well in front of the speakfor some systems. but ing the Benchmark ADC-1 enough that—in combination A/D converter and the Esowith its overall transparency. back in the studio. the broadcast backgrounds—it produced an engineer was more than imoverall sound picture that was pressed by how good the files both compelling and unforsounded. Soundsmith Moving Iron Cartridges Benz Micro S Class MC Cartridges Clearaudio MC Cartridges Clearaudio MM Cartridges Cayin Tube & Solid State Integrated Amps STAX Headphones & Headphone Amps FEATURED GEAR! Cartridge Trade-In & Package Pricing Available! Lyra MC Cartridges Grado MM Cartridges Audioquest Speaker. I transferred ability. It certainly mained in my system as a didn’t sound like a CD! reference against which I One track I chose for the measured a series of less exshow was “Green Shirt.com Call Today! 800-782-3472 . I could make sound a bit thick. and the entire picture was free of have had the 1008’s dynamic authority produced by Jim Luce: 60 minutes dur. and black disappointed. a radio show ers. in 46013 • sales@elusivedisc. The E-03 may not episode of Strictly Vinyl.artifacts—the vinyl variety or otherwise. bass. (Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab MFSL being evaluated consistently confirmed clarity. Listening to playclarity. popped from the excellence of its sound. Continuum Caliburn into a The E-03 has some of that studio.com • m-f 9-6 sat 11-3 est www. teric E-03. Accessories. I wasn’t transient cleanness.ANALO G CO R N E R parent ability to slow time by ing which only vinyl is played. and especially by gettable. Parts & Upgrades VPI Record Cleaners & Money Saving Packages! fax: 765-608-5341 Info: 765-608-5340 • 4020 frontage rd anderson.elusivedisc. The E-03 will sound right in the studio monitors in exquisite threethe Boulder Amplifiers 1008 measured some systems in which the 1008 will dimensional space with deep. instead. forceful and as fine as it sounded. to the same degree LPs to 24-bit/96kHz files usas the Mares Connoisseur. but its cleanness. Not. as best I can reabout 50 minutes’ worth of member. pensive phono preamps for a a fantastic new 180gm reissue forthcoming survey. As well as satisfying. Interconnect & All Cables Grado i Series Headphones Koetsu MC Cartridges Transfiguration MC Cartridges Shelter MC Cartridges Air Tight MC Cartridges VPI SDS. high-frequency purity. The 24/96 track. anchoring the bass lines withObviously.” from Dual AC power transformers are isolated in their own compartment. I can’t schlep the out muddying them. how quiet and dark the backThe Esoteric E-03 has regrounds were.

.

but it sure appealed to me. Ltd. Both can accelerate the breakin of cartridges. phono accessories from Orb: the Sakura static eliminator. the CRE-2 Cartridge Exciter looks identical to Air Tight’s AT-LCE-1 Cartridge Enhancer ($360). which I wrote about in October 2007. Sharp DK-AP8P: a silly-good portable iPod/iPhone dock Attracting journalists to press events 39 From top: The Soundsmith’s EZ-Mount screw set. and brass (6. The EZ-Mounts can be ordered directly from Soundsmith at www. it should also prove useful to audiophiles who don’t enjoy fumbling with Allen keys or tiny screwdrivers.” Nor was the phono preamp.twinaudiovideo. the SFM-2 stylus-force gauge ($480). The Air Tight record flattener is a rebadged Furutech? Why would one supply to the other such a specialized product intended for an equally specialized market in a relatively small country? Doesn’t make sense to me. and the CRE-2 Cartridge Exciter ($399). tambourine.) The Esoteric E-03 is beautifully made. ORB is apparently the source of similar products marketed by Furutech and Air Tight. is beautifully made. much easier. if to only one decimal place. and is accurate. uncolored honesty may not appeal to some. includes built-in illumination. So I was astonished last March. and recommended.ANALO G CO R N E R The turntable wasn’t “there.: Soundsmith EZ-Mount screws Soundsmith’s new sets of knurled screws. Its wideband. you’ll repair the threads at the screw’s newly clipped end. The Sakura appears to be a variant of the Furutech SNH-2 destaticizer and dust remover ($396). This means that. Real music doesn’t sound like that.04gm). which is why I dismiss overly “tubey. The nuts can be used to rewww. ORB accessories: look familiar? I can’t say I understand too well the culture of Japan. please!). here is a really easy way to do it. Above all else. make their installation easy—or. when I first started playing it in 1969. December 2010 unscrewing the nuts. and a buzzy reed organ called a Knopfregal. I can’t stand soft attacks. These products are available directly from www. Why Didn’t I Think of That? Dept.com. from a 1961 LP by Fritz Neumeyer and Collegium Terpsichore titled Dance Music of the High Renaissance (Deutsche Grammophon Archiv ARC 73153)— and believe me. and its sound never failed to satisfy during the months it was in my system. the Sakura handheld static-discharge eliminator ($299). Then. designed to fit most brands of tapped cartridge. especially as it relates to high-performance audio. at the Stereophile-sponsored Axpona show in Jacksonville. made by JAI Co. (The Archiv album had been treated with LAST.06gm).com. aluminum (2.80gm). stainless steel (5. if you need to increase your tonearm’s effective mass to better match your cartridge’s compliance. including a disc flattener. 1∕2". What’s more. by . to find a line of familiar-looking Japanese-made products badged with yet another name: ORB. Also included are two nonmagnetic stainless-steel nuts and four captive nylon washers. unless I got the translation wrong. The SFM-2 stylus-force gauge.1gm resolution is enough— you should be making your final adjustment of stylus force by ear (within the manufacturer’s recommended range. you simply turn the knurled end with your fingers. This is really helpful for “older folks. and SFM-2 stylus-force gauge. While this set is particularly useful for reviewers who are constantly changing cartridges.95 set includes pairs of 10mm-long screws made of four different materials: nylon (1. pair the screw threads should you need to shorten the screws: First screw the nuts on. Instead of tiny screw and nut drivers or Allen keys. easy to look at. CRE-2 Cartridge Exciter. yet the attacks were appropriately sharp-edged. by the way. It was precisely and delicately rendered via the E-03. I was in the middle of my own high renaissance (rim shot).24gm)—all weights per pair of screws. especially easy to use.html. So I’ve been playing this track filled with sharp transients—including a glockenspiel.Stereophile.soundsmith. for more than 40 years now.” Each $29. small drums.com/screwset/index. it’s plenty good. but only wealthy and/ or incredibly impatient audiophiles— and reviewers—will feel the need for such devices. Florida. Another track was Michael Praetorius’s “La Bourée XXXII. While the reissue by Speakers Corner doesn’t sound quite as fast and open as the original. while pricey. then clip the screws.” soft-sounding phono preamps and cartridges. But a resolution of 0. at least.

. organic and grain free presentation.ANALO G CO R N E R Pangea AC-9 Upgrade Power Cable For Power Amps & More. five-way multi-gauge geometry. and double shielding enhance high-current power delivery.. and more. Sharp’s DK-AP8P iPod dock with its magnetically attached front panel. Its 9AWG construction. receivers. Clarity.” – David B.” – Dennis L. subwoofers. Save Up To 69%! Pangea Audio’s AC-9 power cable is designed to deliver high current for power amplifiers. CT “Dynamic. PA &%*)&'(. air and extension are phenomenal. What AC-9 Owners Are Saying: “I wasn’t prepared for the dramatic improvement! I give them my highest recommendation!” – Chris H. WV “A top contender for one of the best buys in audio today.

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sometimes requires the promise of swag (tchotchke in Yiddish). In the good old boom days of the early 2000s, when HDTVs sold for $8000, companies flush with cash would give out such good swag as high-quality headphones or electric nose-hair clippers (Philips, of course), but as commoditization took its toll, the swell of swag decreased to a ripple. So it was surprising when, at a PR event, Sharp gave away the DK-AP7N iPod dock, a fit-in-the-hand, ridiculously goodsounding little thing (with mini-plug auxiliary input) that you can find online for under $100. My wife liked it so much she bought one for herself. Her friends liked hers so much they bought them for themselves. Now Sharp has a new model, the DK-AP8P, which is compatible with the iPhone. (It’s been available in Eu-

rope for a while now, and has just been released here, priced somewhat higher than the earlier model.) Instead of the DK-AP7N’s flip-down front panel, the DK-AP8P’s panel is held in place with a magnet; pull it off and it’s a remote control. And those controls are now more versatile: The DK-AP8P can be used for hands-free phone conversations, and it even has a composite video output. The earlier model’s remarkably clean sound has been retained and the built in “subwoofer” goes surprisingly low. I use the DK-AP8P with my iPhone when I’m cleaning the garage, or for casual listening away from my listening room. As long as you don’t expect high SPLs, this little thing will perform far better than you might expect. ■■

IN HEAVY ROTATION
1) Nat King Cole, After Midnight, Capitol/Analogue Productions 180gm mono LP 2) Amanda Palmer, Performs the Popular Hits of Radiohead on Her Magical Ukulele, 8ft. Records red-vinyl LP 3) The Merry-Go-Round, You’re a Very Lovely Woman: Live, A&M/ Sundazed LP 4) Joe Henderson, Our Thing, Blue Note/Music Matters 180gm 45rpm LPs (2) 5) Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs, God Willin’ & The Creek Don’t Rise, RCA 180gm LPs (2) 6) Bill Evans, At the Montreux Jazz
Festival, Verve/Speakers Corner 180gm LP 7) Taj Mahal, The Natch’l Blues, Columbia/Pure Pleasure 180gm LP 8) Jenny and Johnny, I’m Having Fun Now, Warner Bros. LP 9) Ariel Pink, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti 3, Cooler Cat LPs (2) 10)Hans Zimmer & Lisa Gerrard, Gladiator, original film soundtrack, Decca/UMG/ORG 180gm 45rpm LPs (2)

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In that 1878 painting. in much the same way that a good groove or the zeros in the datastream. employof mechanical durability diser of a small crew of farmhands appointed. spaces and bad? Comfort matters. occupies Georgia O’Keeffe. and home to several dozen JPS Labs have made startling object. clear. but their lack from Glensfoot Farm. The Rainbow. is one of a few who stituting it requires electricity. cent test of Nordost’s decidedly holistic I love the Arkell’s collection of approach to cabling (see “Listening.) Most extremely while a steepled village sleeps of all. 35½” H x 44½” W. Improving or at least main.” American art. John Singer Sargent. as do taining that quality is something that I followed Shunyata’s recommendaconvenience and freedom from distrac. enlightenment.minated Black Mamba HC ($750).uum represented by the bumps in the mended to me by two company reps stant. Gift of Bartlett Arkell. having nal longing to the scene than sampled relatively few such one usually associates with picthings: PS Audio outlets made tures of livestock. The two experiences persist in have before you a work of art with al. and a specially tergalleries and museums are better or Goodness in AC is not unlike good. by worse than others.rewarding.Stereophile. quixotic liter. tion. We need you are listening to your household AC. 28¼” H x 38” W. foot Farm is itself one minute ments. than most with products that complexity. its creator does not require precisely the an interesting subset of the filter group. a loan of four Shunyata Black Mamba is on display and open our eyes: Inspira. AC can be regenerated in the background. A rea grand view of all that. tributor ($4995). and steady. Strictures or gaps in power’s path Shindo AC cords—one for the Maswhen I worked for the lamp designer can be corrected with surer connections seto preamplifier. a teensy improvement in my My home is one minute system’s sound. most no physical existence at all. on the spot.LI STE N I NG Art Dudley Incandescence M y house is 35 minutes and industrialist Edison Price. home to in modern times. framed. My house has alism seems limited to a subset of my their much cheaper Digital AC cords two decks and six windows that afford own profession—but rather that the light remain a genuinely good value. nated more great art than anyone else deviations in voltage or frequency. Power cords from George Inness. which up late is that held by the storied Shunare blessed with the ability to change the will itself imitate the musical contin. it’s a simple matter metal-oxide varistor. and I love looking out The zeros in the stream December 2009). steeple and all. work of art in the manner intended by of destructive voltage spikes. ally. Andrew Wyeth.can be accomplished in a variety of tion and began by replacing my stock tion. simply be abundant. Shunyata’s Grant Samuelsen and I of things that never happened. The Arkell same quality of light as shone on Inness’s the isolation transformer. but startling in that from the center of Cherry Valley.com. and sheer autumpromise better AC. whose gear was recomperspective of the many. I suppose. Courtesy of nice-looking cattle.the household current. one each for the two 43 www. Filters from the Arkell Mu. Glensimprovements—small improvethe Arkell Museum at Canajoharie. you their own exotic power cords. by the New York the secondary its identical twin.can be introduced. as I learned during the years ways. and I received only enter a space where a work of art and better AC equals better playback. Oil on canvas. December 2010 . wherein AC also contains a favorite of mine: on the primary conjures within The Rainbow.expensive Aluminata line. created in The Rainbow is enI’ve remained less current chanting: It brings more depth. proved below. reconThe latest party at which I’ve shown An artist.That sounds obvious to me and you. State landscape artist George albeit without distortive harInness.was once described as having illumi.yata Research. and William Merritt Chase. having little to do with one another. or MOV. and entertainment even as it sends the technocodgers into a Hydra V-Ray eight-outlet power disare virtually guaranteed. But. To fully appreciate a sacrifices itself by stepping into the path Homer. ally to itself. who and more consistent conductors. (The New York. which key works by Winslow of good lighting. monics—Brundle without The one sees a few cows being Fly—has another subset virtudriven along a hillside path. Even if some paroxysms of puritanical indignation. Eventustory compels us to consider the effects When you listen to recorded music. The quality altogether. ness in light: It must be abundant. where cows when he painted them in the first they should exist at all—especially their at least one 19th-century church still place—that sort of nutty. clear. which the Hydra itself is connected to How to distinguish between good and steady. 1878. of light that Inness captured or As audio reviewers go. CX Power Snake AC cords ($595 each). including some of my window at the farm and the village When you play recorded music. if only for an in. whom I consider good friends. although stands. to prevent or correct seum of Canajoharie. spoke on the telephone.

I added to the system their Hydra V-Ray power distributor. Also featured are Shunyata’s proprietary SR-Z1 AC outlets. incorporates 140 individual conductors. the gains gained by 2 Grant Samuelsen also sent me a sample of Shunyata’s SR-Z1 twin-socket AC outlet ($75). RFI-canceling helix pattern. precision machined and cryogenically treated at the factory. CDA-101 copper also abounds in the Hydra. “Winterlong” and “Everybody 1 The AC cords of the two Thorens TD 124 turntables that I use in my main playback system. Each Black Mamba Power Snake. Knows This Is Nowhere. larger sense of scale. I intend nonetheless to try the Shunyata outlet. faux-antique stepstool by the author. Then. with an added sense of purpose: Musical lines sounded surer and more meaningful. Computer by Apple. which is among the company’s least expensive power cords. let alone AC cables. (According to the website of one alloy vendor. manufactured for them by Hubbell. potentially catastrophic spikes and irregularities. as do capacitive filters and specially made MOVs designed to sacrifice themselves only in the event of severe. had a better. also in keeping with Shunyata’s recommendations. it seemed the Shunyatas were doing a number of things I like—to a greater degree than I associate with cables at all. a dual-box chassis of aluminum alloy. EMI ASD 1077851) gained in similar ways. I like that sort of thing. There are also electromagnetic circuit breakers. and fully 7 lbs of copper bus bar. aren’t easily replaced. And during the time when the Black Mambas were here. musicdirect it’s the music that matters™ ® ph. for comparison with either my stock household units or the PS Audio outlets I wrote about some time ago. but I have yet to find time to install it. When I powered the system back up after installing all of this. AC accessories by Shunyata.2 Yet on first listen.” from Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s Live at the Fillmore (LP.449. Reprise/Classic 44429-1).com Musical Fidelity M3 Series PM-11s2 M3i & M3CD SA-7s1 Wadia PowerDAC mini . and will report back by and by.PHOTO ART DUDLEY Corton-Charlemagne mono amplifiers1—with the Shunyatas. which sounds like a word that Springfield’s Mayor Quimby might have invented.8333 musicdirect. 800. Cecille Ousset and Rudolf Barshai’s fine recording of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto 3 (LP. and voices were similarly punchier: There was more holler in the singing (I mean that in a good way). Shunyata’s own SR-ZP plugs. Instruments sounded more explosively dramatic.) Those conductors are said to be wound in a patented counterrotating. my review sample of the Ayre Acoustics QB-9 USB D/A converter was summoned back to the factory for a firmware update. CDA 101 copper is prized for its resistance to embrittlement. all drawn from CDA-101 copper. and those of my Linn LP12 and Rega Planar 3 turntables. complete the picture.

Even better sound with Black Mamba Power Snakes on the preamp and amps. or if the listener had had too much—for that day. Decca SXL 2077). streamed from iTunes on a recent iMac) fared even worse than LPs. sounded better without the V-Ray in virtually every regard: Staccato eighth-notes in the ensemble violins and violas in the first movement had much more texture and clearer attacks without the power distributor. That led me to try three more experiments: First. while the other one handles mono LPs and 78s). And in the 1958 David Oistrakh/ André Cluytens recording of the Beethoven Violin Concerto with the Philharmonia Orchestra (LP. less color. not enough flesh and blood in between. we offer a 30-day. albeit sonically sharp ones. and to listen more intently some other time. plugged alternately straight into the household current and into the Shunyata Hydra V-Ray. a typically noisy late-’90s EMI Centenary reissue. too—the area the crayon was supposed to fill in—was gone. with the Shunyata Hydra V-Ray. at least. piano chords were being hit harder while remaining even cleaner. one is relegated to stereo duty. the many rubato passages seemed better timed—less aimless and adrift. the soloist’s “Conte de Fontana” Stradivarius was richly textured when the preamp and amplifiers were connected directly to the household AC outlet. In every case. nothing is more important to us than your satisfaction. And I dare say the system’s sense of spatial focus improved with the AC power distributor in-line: Oddly or not. We have a staff of audio and music experts whose only job is to help you get the very best performance from your audio system. with similar results: Wonderful sound with stock AC cables. but the center fill was absent. while the clarinet had greater presence and a more believable spatial presence.LI STE N I N G the Black Mambas were gone. digital music files (mostly AIFF with a scattering of WAVs. The imaginary stage seemed wider. with violinist Ruggiero Ricci. Drifting too far from the shore Later in the week I repeated all of the above. The Neil Young album sounded scooped-out in the way of so much modern sound: plenty of bass and treble. and much more purposeful—without the V-Ray. in a typically first-rate reissue by Speakers Corner (LP. Then I noticed: With the Shunyata AC distributor. with every record I tried. my turntables Let Us Earn Your Trust Music Direct has over twenty years of experience helping music lovers get closer to the music you love. I compared the performance of my Thorens TD 124 turntables (these days. in-home. Øivin Fjeldstad. The color. It’s because at Music Direct. and less sense of solidity and substance with the Shunyata power distributor in the system. Most of all. I was sufficiently disappointed with the sound of the V-Rayed system that I wondered if either the Shunyata power distributor had had insufficient running in. and the London Symphony. temporally. to relegate the V-Rayed system to background duties for a few days. SAX 2315). To make you feel more comfortable. but noticeably less so with those same components plugged into the Shunyata distributor. The Sibelius Violin Concerto. In the Prokofiev concerto. I merely had to move my listening seat back a few inches in order to notice or appreciate that change. Enduringly and unambiguously less center-fill focus. I listened on. I elected to stop for the time being. and then some. the fifths in the bass strings and timpani that announce the piano’s entrance were robbed of substance and momentum. Still. money back guarantee on almost everything we sell. Phono Cartridges PS Audio PerfectWave Transport/DAC/Bridge Dynavector 10x5 Lyra Delos Ortofon 2M Red VPI 16. leaving only outlines.5 Basic Bundle Dynavector XV-1S Clearaudio Maestro Benz Glider . returning once again to that Prokofiev concerto: There was no question that.

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booted up the system. perhaps significantly so. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. Fax: (360) 598-9936. and actually made a little noise of surprise when I saw my “wallpaper” picture: a photo I took of my daughter some four or five years ago. ■■ 47 www.Stereophile. Web: www. steel on yet others. mesmerized. and heard the same results. I had confounded the Shunyata’s very reasonable requirements. I was hard-pressed to hear any difference at all between having my Shindo Masseto preamp plugged into the household outlet and having it plugged into the Shunyata. The resolution and contrast apparent in that image had increased. I was mildly stunned. And I admit. Thus we see solid-copper plates on portions of some amp enclosures. MY TURNTABLES SOUNDED MARKEDLY BETTER WHEN THEIR AC WAS CONDITIONED BY THE SHUNYATA. This one argued that an iMac with an enormous audiophile cable emerging from its backside would look ridiculous. without a moment’s hesitation. and quite possibly more so.) And I admit that. which I wrote about in the October Stereophile) and an alternate pair of monoblocks (the interesting Shindo Lafon GM70s. more realistic textures—when their AC was conditioned by the Shunyata: a true man-on-thestreet difference. (For reasons best left unsaid. Poulsbo.) An hour later I realized that I had just sat. this morning. was the source of my disappointment: my amps didn’t in the least care for the AC distributor. I powered down the iMac again. and once again used the latter to power the former. WA 98370. In a nutshell. my visual acuity is not at its best of late.com. and so forth. in a music system assembled with resolution of sonic detail more in mind. WITH EVERY RECORD I TRIED. and replaced it with the Shunyata Black Mamba. At their most impressive. as I played the AIFF of Nick Drake’s Five Leaves Left while gazing over steepled fingers at the lush fields outside my window. at least): I powered my iMac with the Shunyata Hydra V-Ray. and irreplaceable photos and Word files. and with either just my preamp or just my power amps drawing their AC from the Shunyata. 26273 Twelve Trees Lane. And who among us wouldn’t want his or her computer. chided me: By neglecting to use a Black Mamba Power Snake on my iMac before hooking up the Hydra V-Ray. the plug of which fit perfectly after all. that way. hoping for some IN EVERY CASE.3 Then. it also seemed that the 124s’ platters got up to speed more quickly. I so expected to hear no difference that I almost wrote the rest of this paragraph ahead of time. they weren’t consistently present. But while those distinctions were never reversed. on a day when the cows from Glensfoot Farm climbed the hill. my AIFFs sounded better The only way to end the inner turmoil was to try it anyway. the audible improvements wrought by Shunyata’s AC products didn’t equal the degree of improvement I associate with. Besides. though it’s hard to imagine that a product containing 7 lbs of copper bar-stock alone could be somehow limiting current draw. silver on others. Second. Notwithstanding their (presumably uncommon) incompatibility with my favorite amplifiers. protected by such a thing? Sailing home That’s where I was going to leave this story. and that keeps me from filling my pockets with those little jars of marmalade when I have breakfast in nice restaurants. through almost half of Tim Burton’s Big Fish. I wondered if I could really bring myself to send these Snakes back to Shunyata. more momentum. I don’t know the precise origin of the discomfit.LI STE N I N G sounded markedly better—more drive.com. unambiguously and without doubt. the plug of the one surely wouldn’t fit the socket of the other. which has been assembled with very different values in mind. say. instruments more substance and texture—oddly enough. But those improvements were quite real—and I’m open to the suggestion that their perceived benefits would be greater. December 2010 . to see if it could make even a slight difference in the sound of music files streamed from therein. But my Shindo Corton-Charlemagne monoblocks were another story—and there. I sat back down. removed its very nice. that difference was just as significant as the one wreaked on my Thorenses. I admit. Suite D. I can’t help wondering if that’s at least an issue here. But the same inner voice that compels me to help red efts across our driveway each fall. (Assuming that Shunyata Research’s interest was in determining their products’ effects on my sort of playback system. I powered down my iMac. with the Hydra V-Ray in line. as determined by the material used for that portion of the thing’s chassis that functions as a central grounding point. and began to fill our yard. (When I began making those comparisons. leaving open the possibility that motor temperature or other factors were at play. upgrading a major sound-system component to a model unambiguously better. I tried something out of the ordinary (for me. Fanciful though such an idea will surely sound to some. possibly the one that compels me to play with the blood-pressure apparatus and the illuminated magnifying scope when I visit the doctor’s office. the very qualities the Shunyata power distributor seemed to withhold from my electronics. quick confirmation of either refinement or delusion. Once again.shunyata. I knew. Probably with my mouth agape. pliant AC cord. CONTACTS Shunyata Research. with less need for speed correction. 3 Certain builders of artisanal amplifiers have long held that an amp’s sound can be influenced by the quality of the electron flow pulled from ground. moved the Shunyata Hydra V-Ray back to the other side of the room. Third and finally—and back to LPs—I compared the sound of my system with no components plugged into the Hydra V-Ray (the Shunyata Power Snakes remained in place). I finally know what all the fuss is about. the answer is a gentler if no less clear-cut yes. not only was there an audible improvement with my computer plugged into the Hydra V-Ray. Then another voice joined the debate. Tel: (360) 598-9935. which so far are the least Shindo-sounding Shindo amps I’ve heard). Singers had more body. I repeated the comparisons using an alternate preamp (the Shindo VosneRomanee. I popped in a DVD. breached the fence.) As a hobbyist with years of experience with various accessory power supplies for turntables with AC motors.

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” from Make It Big—or Michael Franks: “In the Eye of the Storm. The design is unique but not terribly fussy. ) All in capital letters. after all. Ms. The other pick wasn’t an entry at all. f course. or learn from. with John. .” from This Is the Day—or David Gray: “This Years Love. at least. There is a theory that the exclamation mark began as a calligraphic representation of Io. I was most moved by their self-revelatory quality. Those Mystic Chords The response was gratifyingly robust— more than 150 entries. and to John Atkinson for once www. So. drinking port. 3) Wham!: “Careless Whisper. in the room that day. And if that is all a bit too heavy for you. The other kind is better. The thing I love about hi-fi is the rare moment of magic.000 pair of Audio Note bookshelf loudspeakers modeled after the Snell E/III. But first. “adult” love. and it would not have been cricket to give that entry a Stereophile prize. Spaces between words also came after Roman times. I take advantage of the fact that this space is mine to fill and dig a whole lot deeper— scary deep. It was nice while it lasted. to give you some additional mystic-chords-of-memory recordings to remember. with us. the exclamation mark was not invented until the Middle Ages. and for giving gifts. 2) Ella Fitzgerald: “Easy to Love. on Duets with Spanish Guitar Disillusioned.” from The Cole Porter Songbook.5. but packed enough of a wallop that its author. In reading the entries that most impressed me. But there was a stereo here. the results of August’s write-in competition. casting inhibitions to the four winds.” 3) One of Beethoven’s Bagatelles through ASA Pro Monitors.” from the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers First real love: pure. trying to make sense of it all. perhaps 1999 or 2000. Whether that charming story is the actual origin of ! is beside the . and I gave John Marks Records CDs to my two picks. the Latin word for “joy. Showed off the accordion stylings of Mr.” from Les Chansons des Roses Staying up too late. Lying on the porch swing with her head on my chest. the o by the dot below it. to spend some time 49 . from my friend Jeff Mitchell.” from Late for the Sky—or Morten Five songs I’ve listened to with John Marks 1) Kaaren Erickson singing Richard Strauss’s “Morgen. trembling. The official winners received their choice of a single CD from Stereophile’s online store. She had a KLH compact stereo she’d bought with her earnings from shelving books in the public library. kinda make-do. 2) Guy Klucevsek playing “Eleven Large Lobsters Loose in the Lobby” through Shahinian Compasses—one of the easiest loudspeakers in the world to live with. the Latinists among my readers (all three of them) already know that the ancient Romans would have carved this column’s title “PUERNATUSEST.com. They sound great on nearly every piece of music one can play. what follows came in right on deadline. December 2010 THE RESPONSE TO THE “MYSTIC CHORDS OF MEMORY” COMPETITION WAS GRATIFYINGLY ROBUST—MORE THAN 150 ENTRIES.” at the Consumer Electronics Show. We kept the porch door open so we could hear the music. driven by the Audio Note tube integrated amplifier. in which I asked readers to send in their lists of the recordings that strike their mystic chords of memory. into a loudspeaker that can tease sound out of the air. too—even though the best music was on mono LPs.com/thefifthele ment/the_fifth_element_61/ and read them all.FIFTH ELEMENT John Marks O Puer natus est! more tolerating my enthusiasms. Scoot over to www. Lauridsen. I put a long cable on one speaker and moved it into the bedroom. I had the chance. “Contre Qui. from Bachianas Brasileiras No. point. I was in heaven. Volume Two—or Villa-Lobos: Aria. . This. 4) Jackson Browne: “Fountain of Sorrow.” (Not that the Romans gave a fig about that particular puer until much later .Stereophile. Erickson was there. which ranged from Linda Ronstadt to Frederick Delius. Thanks to everyone who entered. is the season for joy. such as the above. gets a JMR CD. . minuscule) letters were not invented until scribes in the Middle Ages wanted to write faster by not having to lift their pens so often between strokes. seasonal and otherwise.” by Jesse Winchester. I came to the conclusion that while my own original picks. with mezzo Salli Terri and guitarist Laurindo Almeida. who is my listening companion Bob Saglio’s partner in their custom-installation and home-integration business. on a $19. too. Pushing electricity through valves and wires. Made an amazingly inexpensive debut. they do not plumb the depths touched by the choices of some other entries. indeed were and remain strongly evocative for me. and a book—all of which will make excellent gifts.stereophile. from Wrong End of the Rainbow— or “Wild Horses.” from Sleeping Gypsy When married love jumps the rails and ends up in the hands of lawyers.” from White Ladder Feeling 19 years old again—for a while. a demon tweak that costs not a lot of money at all. .” The I is represented by the vertical stroke.000. The backstory of the latter is that I really loved an entry that violated the rules. Rose. and music. Klucevsek with an authoritative “pop. because lower-case (ie. 5) Christy Moore: “So Do I. 1) Tom Rush: “Biloxi. and voices. A more special musical and audio experience I cannot remember. Similarly. In due course I shall recommend several excellent recordings. I guess. I chose 14: 12 official winners and two favorites of my own. Hope springs eternal. chaste. ponder. which then cost about $69.

and effortless. The album is organized around Thomas Tallis’s (of Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme of fame) incomplete but substantial Mass à 7. but this music. unaccompanied early-music singing doesn’t get much better than this. the presentation overcame me with sound so good. It hit all the important buttons: toy. which remains one of the most steadfast supporters of the SACD format. but it really works. is very easy to listen to. so precious that it distracted me from the shortcomings of the music. Don’t let the Christmas theme scare you off. a carbon-fiber–technology goddess. Just sounds right. And yet.FIFTH ELEMENT talking with Phillippe Bernard. Puer natus est nobis. vented six-and-one-half. all of it breathtaking. I had my reservations. the designer of this extraordinary loudspeaker. I don’t remember 5. or “A boy is born” (Harmonia Mundi HMU807517). a rising star in the firmament of international label Harmonia Mundi. This is just great Tudor-period vocal music in great performances and excellent sound. and fit in the plainchant from which Tallis drew inspiration. and an example of what I really enjoy about speakers. clean. two-way. a little bit of this and that. just right. This band is just awful. Why. From a loudspeaker that might be the antithesis of the ASA. done. We listened to better stuff (Ella singing Cole Porter) later. As far as the performances go. am I listening to this stuff. 4) Extreme’s “More than Words” through Wilson Benesch Act Ones. The components of a loudspeaker are really imperfect—very bad. like almost all Tudor church music. that is. joy. However. Stile Antico has interleaved its parts with Advent and Christmas music from Tallis contemporaries John Taverner. might you ask. and John Sheppard. not surprisingly titled Puer natus est. The design is rather generic. William Byrd. Puer natus est. It’s a tough act to follow. the cabinet is wood. beauty. putting these together. with nothing recognizably “Christmasy” about it to modern ears. tech. 5) Okay. Stile Antico’s newest is a Christmas- themed recording. and the parts of an ASA are no different. actually—at what they do. any drama that there is is restrained. so fine. say that very thing at the time— until. I recall. to give an overwhelming impression of . this ASA. the sum of these is a rather amazing loudspeaker. I don’t mean to damn this release with faint praise. and regular stuff too— no cryogenically treated Mpingo here. Bravo. indeed! You may recall my previous advocacy of the newish British vocal group Stile Antico. I did. The only speaker in the group I’d bring home. Robert White. rather than set out the unfinished Tallis Mass as is.

Rose. but in this particular piece I found myself playing air violin in an effort to. and the new effort from Voce. firstrate. The CD is called Sure On This Shining Night.com/listeningparty/ stileantico/. Connecticut. In due course the CD arrived. there are beautiful packaging. Rose” is actually a string-quartet encore piece masquerading as a choral . pure vocal beauty. I continue to think that Stile Antico’s first effort. I was pleasantly surprised by how the large acoustical space and the tender. rouse them a bit. but that the Polyphony is. And the sound is. The recorded acoustic is a bit swimmy. and a few as gifts. is a better overall introduction to the group. I noticed something else. again. but with music as numinous as Lauridsen’s. recorded in DSD by Brad Michel at All Hallows Church. To make it easier to compare versions of “Contre Qui. the phenomenal recording by Polyphony on Hyperion.org). accompanied and a cappella. complete texts and translations. And as I have also said before. It hit me like a ton of bricks: “Contre Qui. by the ensemble Voce and the Voce Chamber Artists (www.hmusa. you don’t want razorsharp definition anyway. the Elora Festival Singers on Naxos. I don’t know. The Elora group on Naxos is good. Rose.voceinc. HMU 807419). But if you already have that. superior.FIFTH ELEMENT simple. you can’t go wrong with this. I found that the Los Angeles effort has well stood the test of time. London. Buy one for yourself. now is the time to vote with your wallet. had self-produced a CD of his music. overall. I was tickled to see that the liner notes included a quote from one of my Stereophile writings about Lauridsen’s chanson “Contre Qui. However. even slightly reticent singing by Voce worked so well together to create a very special atmosphere: an atmosphere of regret recollected late at night. and classy as all get-out. So while the program rewards close listening.” a strong and perhaps absolute favorite of mine. and very informative notes by a member of the group—the way it all should be done.” I compiled on a CD-R the original Los Angeles Master Chorale version. As per the usual HM standard. I found Voce’s first effort to be very trea- surable. if you care about the future of the SACD format. which I praised in my December 2007 column. Sound bites available at http:// media. it is also very congenial background music for social gatherings. And I wondered why I was playing air violin rather than wielding an air baton. Gospel Oak. Music for Compline (SACD. More Great Lauridsen Morten Lauridsen got in touch to let me know that a new professional vocal ensemble in Hartford.

ADVERTISEMENT Magic Bus? Computer Audio Just Got Serious Like all new formats and sources.0 data cable is precision wound from dimensionally optimized. US Toll Free: +1 800 836 2750 www.nordost. Their hybrid construction combines data and power conductors with multiple screens in a precision symmetrical array. the cables used in computer audio applications can have a dramatic effect on sound quality. “magic” technique. These are digital leads. Along with file formats and transmission standards. The new Blue Heaven USB 2.com Tel: +1-508-881-1116 . and just like the digital leads in any other high-end audio application. Nordost’s Blue Heaven USB 2. making it a challenge that tests the ability of cable manufacturers to produce and consistently terminate cables that meet the standard sufficiently accurately for high-fidelity audio reproduction. Metal-jacketed plugs ensure shielding continuity and to further guarantee quality control and consistency.0 cables is rather more complex than the 75 and 110 Ohm digital leads we are more used to. the cables are entirely manufactured and hand-terminated in the USA. It’s just that the standard for USB (Universal Serial Bus) 2. This cable sets new standards of audio performance – not by inventing some new. it takes time: time to learn how to do it properly. solid-core conductors that employ Nordost’s proven micro mono-filament technology to ensure ultra high transmission speeds with superb geometrical accuracy. but by applying the same tried and tested technology and absolute attention to detail that has made Nordost audio cables market leaders across the analog and digital domains. they have standards to adhere to. time to learn what matters and what makes a difference.0 – a rigorous exercise in affordable excellence. Any geometrical or impedance deviation will materially effect dataintegrity.

Four of the recordings are premieres. I wonder if Moore knows how Castro’s regime treated and treats homosexuals? Prison and torture. although I’m in awe of Polyphony’s technical perfection. but a very nice and natural one.FIFTH ELEMENT piece.com. and it sounds very analog. the only test track he used was one from a singer-songwriter CD (although this singer-songwriter did not write this particular song) by an Irish chap I had at least heard of. and Les Chansons des Roses. I find that Voce’s comparative lack of same lends an organicity. just buy it. Please take this as a little nudge to do a nice holiday thing: go to www. I was surprised that. JA and I plan to cooperate in recording the piece. I was taken (or taken in) by the title track of Moore’s This Is the Day (Columbia Sony Music 5-3225.” The first line is “This is the day the fisherman likes. . Back to our friends in Hartford. such as the bass modules’ having casters already installed—they just roll out of their shipping crates. a documentary about the Cuban concentration camps—yes. nada on the “Contre Qui. It’s not a technically fabulous recording. speakers that weigh about 750 lbs each. The bad news is that the rest of the CD is mostly dross. zero. I resumed listening. Ultimately. My guess is. and the fully assembled speakers can be easily moved around. Voce’s mission is to use their concerts to partner in fundraising with worthy causes. Exactly what we will do with the result remains to be seen. The good news is that “So Do I” is a really wonderful. real-world-friendly touches abound. After writing a hasty note to myself. Oh yes. I have already received a great and rare Christmas present. And addictive. but it should be great fun. Lauridsen’s music is not about technique anyway. when Peter McGrath was ready to do the fine work of shifting the speakers closer and farther back in half-inch increments. to the music. and the next morning did a quick Internet search. (Improper Conduct. Madrigali. What McGrath was listening for was undue emphasis in the upper bass and chestiness in the lower midrange. Lux Aeterna. he liked the idea.pdf of the score in its then stage of typesetting. and the “Chanson Éloignée” alone is worth the price of admission. and the high-gloss automotive finish is applied even to areas that will not be seen once the modules are bolted together. The Alexandria’s innards are as zu ordern as one finds in an expensive German film camera. began work on it right away.1 1 We will be publishing a feature on this system in the January issue. it had better sound like analog. but strangely enough. I come out on a bit of a strange place with this new CD. . Bleeding-pony-tail. (I confess I was a bit tired. combining all four of the Nocturnes (with Lauridsen himself at the piano) with excerpts from Cuatro Canciones. but about soulfulness. I could nitpick this or that.) So: I report.000/pair). mostly. even an incantatory quality. I was shocked and humbled to see that he had dedicated the new work to . To say the least. remains for me the best one-disc introduction to Lauridsen’s art. the sound of palm impacting on forehead. While there is an arrangement for brass ensemble of “Contre Qui. there’s not much difference between soprano-alto-tenor-bass and violin I–violin II–viola–cello.” His reply was not long in coming. edited by Nathaniel Rosen and with a word to the players from me. comwww. I think Voce’s Sure On This Shining Night is the best one-disc introduction to the rest of his canon. I failed to notice that a step in the assembly manual had already been done for me by the factory. and so kept looking for certain machine bolts in the parts box that were already holding down something on the bass modules. me. you decide. If you’re going to hear the same track for hours on end while nudging this way and that. But if you already have that. If you care about Lauridsen’s music.) A quick phone call straightened that out. evocative track. once the final speaker positions have been determined.” A girl in a muslin dress is also somehow involved. concentration camps—for gays. a portion of the net proceeds from sales of Sure On This Shining Night has been earmarked for Hartford’s Habitat for Humanity. The seven crates containing all the modular components for a pair weigh a total of 2250 lbs. Rose”—as well as for Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium—zip. Rose” stringquartet front. The only moment of anxiety was when. Morten sent me a . The final score. and so do I. you will either get Voce’s approach or not. hardleft political propaganda. A Winter Come. and despite being on his summer vacation. December 2010 bining the orchestral version of the title work with the complete Les Chansons des Roses and O Magnum Mysterium.—Ed. should be available soon.org. The Los Angeles Master Chorale’s Lux Æterna (CD. RCM 19705). It’s heartbreakingly beautiful. and I swear I heard. 1∕4" at a time. during my process of uncrating and laying out and un-shrink-wrapping all the various bits and pieces before McGrath arrived. In a few weeks. and Wilson Audio has thought through just about everything. won the Best Documentary Audience Award at the 1984 San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival. . “So Do I. The Alexandrias were pretty impressive. and various individual works. The parts kit includes a motorcycle-engine jack. The program on Voce’s Sure On This Shining Night is unusually diverse. buy the CD directly from them.voceinc. Practical. Moore must be the last person on the planet who thinks of Fidel Castro as a humanitarian. . At the end of the day.Stereophile. so the speakers can be lifted and the casters changed out for spikes. So I sent Lauridsen an e-mail that began “Stop me if you’ve heard this one .2). Is it worth it paying a premium price for an out-of-print CD with only one worthwhile track on it? Your choice. from more than 3000 miles away. 53 . and perhaps use the PayPal Donate button on the website to give a little extra. Christy Moore. And the work’s melismatic flow and incipient sadness just called out—at least to me— for soulful string playing. So as far as I am concerned. This is the day I recently had the peak experience of helping Wilson Audio Specialties’ Peter McGrath set up and dial in a pair of Wilson Audio Alexandria II loudspeakers ($158.

uncolored.95). But Efficacious! System Enhancement Disc. 2001. I played “So Do I” on the system I will report on next time. That the singers are presumably all native speakers of French can only help. like some other such efforts. whose vocal transcriptions include their wild adaptation of the Adagietto from Mahler’s Symphony 5 that I raved about in June 2009 (2 CDs.com "Devastatingly right" "The Pulsars are veritable light-sabers" . Vinyl Cheesecake Finally. DG Panorama 469 268-2). The JosephAudio Pulsar 15" High. A Holy Grail of the Messiaen discography has been newly rerecorded: Fête des Belles Eaux..com. hardcover. and just overall more listenable. is a wonderful programcloser. Irrational. I have not had a good night’s sleep since. Comments: stletters@sorc. (Music Direct will accept returns. the best performance I ever heard live (the all-male King’s College Choir) was with organ accompaniment only (a CD of this version is available as "For those of you who have dreamed of owning relatively compact stand mount monitors that really do convey the sense of reproducing (near) full-range bass. JA is coming at the end of the week to measure the Vivid B-1s in-room. it can play only one note at a time. mostly clean fun—a little naughty.stereophile.hifi (4434) 54 ..FIFTH ELEMENT "extraordinarily powerful. ATMAClassique ACD2 2621). available from vendors such as Music Direct for about $20 plus shipping. I then played the Ayre disc’s one-minute “Short Glide Tone. Things were quieter and smoother: less metallic/electronicky. natural" . I am flabbergasted.com. for Ondes Martenot sextet (CD. and Alibris. The Ondes Martenot. But Efficacious! from a vendor who will provide a money-back guarantee even after you’ve opened it. accompanied by full orchestra. The list price is reasonable. an early analog tube synthesizer of sorts. com/albumpage/207464-E708-5. I heard a lower noise floor. Version 1.Chris Martens. Everyone I have played this demo for has been floored. But Efficacious! Now is as good a time as any to report my total bafflement at Ayre Acoustics’ Irrational. Again.arkivmusic. Amazon.Stereophile. with better microdynamics. they tell me. The Abso!ute Sound . . Vixens of Vinyl: The Alluring Ladies of Vintage Album Covers is Benjamin Darling’s tribute to said ladies (Chronicle Books. Spectacularly Deep..josephaudio. and he will.John Atkinson. And now for something completely different. you will “get” it or you won’t. but not porn-like. It’s good. com/reference/book_review_iget_bet ter_soundi) was 180° apart from mine. a book for those more hormonally than culturally oriented. let you know about it.000/pair and fabulous!) driven by Ayre’s entry-level AX-7 integrated amplifier and CX-7 CD player. and try it out. many copies are offered at reduced prices on eBay.com. Like all such early electronic instruments. I had a greater sense of the flexion of the pick in the attacks on guitar strings. December 2010 your loudspeaker has arrived!" . JosephAudio EffortlEss Musicality ExclusivE tEchnology (800) 474.2. This disc combines their performance of the rediscovered 1893 original version of Fauré’s Requiem with a knockout performance of his Cantique de Jean Racine (Naïve V 5137). To hear Fauré’s familiar Requiem in its original conception is like going from a 1950s massed-forces Messiah to a historically informed performance.” then played “So Do I” again. But at least he heard something. Vivid Audio’s B-1 loudspeakers ($15. Check out the informative video at www. so a sextet is required to play chords.. 8 1/2" Wide. I am aware that Art Dudley’s reaction in July 2009 (see www. I’m sure. Stereophile . is most famously still heard in Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie.com ■■ www. and though it’s now out of print. I will do the demo for him. perhaps. My advice: Buy Ayre’s Irrational. Naïve V 5151). Get the full story at www. Still.) More Great CDs First is a CD from French vocal group Accentus. $14. The Abso!ute Sound . if that makes sense. A wonderful bonus is an authorized transcription of the first movement of Ravel’s String Quartet for Ondes Martenot sextet. and the lovely Cantique. and three have since bought the CD.Steven Stone. For the LP collector on your gift list.

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STEREOPHILE PICKS THE INDUSTRY’S BEST PRODUCTS OF 2010
BY STEPHEN MEJIAS

ince 1992, Stereophile has named a few choice components as its “Products of the Year.” In doing so, we happily recognize those products that are capable of providing musical pleasure far beyond our formal review period. If one of our reviewers raved in Stereophile about a component, that component is mentioned here. These are products that not only define the current audio landscape, but that we hope will someday be seen as classics—products to be handed down to future generations of audiophiles and music lovers. Traditionally, we have awarded components in five primary categories: “Loudspeakers” (including subwoofers), “Amplification Components” (preamplifiers, power amplifiers, and integrateds), “Digital Sources” (transports, processors, music servers, disc players), “Analog Sources” (phono cartridges, turntables, tonearms, FM tuners, etc.), and “Acces-

sories” (all those little extras that keep us busy and satisfied). This year, we add two new categories: “Computer Audio Components” and “Headphone Components.” The vast worlds of computer audio and headphone listening are proving so exciting and alive that we felt they deserved the attention. Finally, the two most important categories are selfexplanatory: Our overall “Product of the Year” is the one that made the biggest splash of all, and our “Budget Component of the Year” leaves us with the most cash to spend on new records. The voting is simple: Each of Stereophile’s hardware reviewers is asked to nominate up to six components in each of the nine categories. To be a contender, a product had to have been reviewed in one of the 12 issues of Stereophile from November 2009 through October 2010, in a full Equipment Report, in a Follow-Up review, or in one of the regular columns by Art Dudley, Michael Fremer, John Marks, Kalman Rubinson, and Sam Tellig. That way, only those components could be nomi-

nated for which a writer had put his opinion in print for public scrutiny. We then put together a ballot form listing all components nominated by three or more writers and/or editors. This process ensures that most of the nominees in most of the categories will have been auditioned by most of the reviewers. Fourteen of the magazine’s editors and reviewers gave three votes for his first choice in each category, two votes for his second choice, and one vote for his third choice (if any). As the votes came in, an unambiguous picture emerged and the winners became clear. JA tallied the votes; address your love letters and hate mail to him. (See JA’s comments on how the voting process works at www. stereophile.com/asweseeit/1207awsi.) The prices listed were current as of the end of September 2010. To order back issues cited in this article, call (888) 237-0955, or visit www.stereophile.com (MasterCard and Visa only). “WWW” indicates that the review is available free of charge in our online Archives. And the winners are . . .

www.Stereophile.com, December 2010

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2010 P RODUCTS OF TH E YEAR

LOUDSPEAKER
2010 RUNNERS-UP
(in alphabetical order) ❚ Acapella High Violoncello II ($80,000/pair; reviewed by John Atkinson, Vol.33 Nos. 9 & 10 WWW) ❚ Aerial Acoustics Model 20T V2 ($32,000/pair; reviewed by John Atkinson, Vol.32 No.11 WWW) ❚ Audio Fathom f112 subwoofer ($6000; reviewed by Larry Greenhill, Vol.33 No.4 WWW) ❚ DeVore Fidelity Gibbon 3XL ($3700/pair; reviewed by Sam Tellig, Vol.33 No.6) ❚ Dynaudio Excite X12 ($1200/pair; reviewed by Robert J. Reina, Vol.33 No.3 WWW) ❚ Harbeth P3ESR ($1995/pair; reviewed by John Atkinson & John Marks, Vol.33 Nos. 8 & 10 WWW) ❚ Vandersteen Model Seven ($45,000/pair; reviewed by Michael Fremer, Vol.33 No.3 WWW) ❚ Verity Audio Leonore ($15,995/pair; reviewed by Sam Tellig, Vol.32 No.12) ❚ Vienna Acoustics Klimt The Kiss ($15,000/pair; reviewed by Wes Phillips, Vol.33 No.2 WWW) ❚ Vivid G1Giya ($65,000/pair; reviewed by Wes Phillips, Vol.33 No.7 WWW)

Wilson Audio Specialties Sasha W/P
($26,900/pair; reviewed by Art Dudley, Vol.33 No.7, July 2010 WWW)

W

ilson Audio Specialties has done it again. Last year’s race for the “Loudspeaker of the Year” award was fiercely contested, with Wilson’s MAXX Series 3 barely edging out the mighty YG Acoustics Anat Reference. This year, Wilson’s Sasha W/P found strong competition from an extraordinary loudspeaker in the Vivid G1Giya. Wes Phillips, who has spent quality time with both speakers, feels that the G1Giya may be the greatest thing he’s ever heard, yet also feels that the Sasha is not only the finest iteration of the WATT/Puppy system, but perhaps Wilson’s most balanced-sounding overall design. By the time all votes were in, however, a clear winner had emerged: The Wilson soared to the top of our competition with more overall votes (19!)
www.Stereophile.com, December 2010

than any other contender in any of our component categories. But this should come as no great surprise. After all, as a direct descendent of the WATT/Puppy 8—Loudspeaker of the Year for 2007—the Sasha has an uncommonly fine pedigree, and represents the ninth level of refinement in Wilson’s renowned WATT/ Puppy loudspeaker system. Watt’s new about this puppy? (Haw.) Well, though outwardly similar to the WATT/Puppy Series 8, the Sasha is very slightly larger overall, for increased bass extension and freedom from upper-bass congestion; and while the cabinet is still made of Wilson’s proprietary phenolic-based laminates, the front baffle has been refined to better suit the resonant characteristics of the higher-frequency drivers. Additionally,

all four drivers in the three-way Sasha are designs exclusive to Wilson that have been either upgraded from the Sasha’s predecessor or brought in from more expensive Wilson models. While the Sasha provided all the clarity and resolving power we’ve come to expect from a Wilson design, it was the speaker’s unambiguous and uncanny sense of humanness that Art Dudley most appreciated. Measurements-wise, the Sasha finally eliminates the upperbass “blump” endemic to earlier generations of the WATT/Puppy, considered by many to be that speaker’s Achilles’ heel. As a result, designer David Wilson has created a loudspeaker that not only sounds clear, authoritative, and convincing, but one that’s capable of reproducing the texture, color, and emotion of music.
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11) Top: Bauer Audio dps turntable Bottom: Spiral Groove SG2 turntable Bauer Audio dps turntable ($9250. Through the SG2. reviewed by Michael Fremer.33 No. Vol. reviewed by Michael Fremer.11) ❚ Pro-Ject Debut III turntable ($369–$399. Allen Perkins’s Spiral Groove SG2 represents an evolution of design and production capabilities from his RPM turntables.VI. reviewed by Michael Fremer.32 No. Vol. and to the budget-priced Pro-Ject Debut III. The result was unsurpassed pitch stability and revelatory soundstaging abilities.” said Art Dudley. antivibration platter comprising layers of aluminum. and couldn’t have imagined a better outcome to our competition. an impregnated phenolic. an aluminum plinth houses three shallow PVC cups. Honorable mentions should be given to the Oracle Delphi Mk. our Analog Source winners are the Bauer Audio dps and the Spiral Groove SG2 turntables—two happy marriages of science and art.” he raved.8) ❚ Miyajima Shilabe MC phono cartridge ($2800. the Spiral Groove uses a five-layer chassis—two thin layers of damping material separated by three aluminum plates—and a thick. December 2010 layer of cork. Bauer prevents the storage of mechanical energy by combining a resistive bearing with a high-torque AC synchronous motor powered by a three-phase power supply custommade by Ayre Acoustics. which received more first-place votes than any other contender in the category. Though similar in appearance to the RPMs. vinyl. “A striking. reviewed by Michael Fremer.000.Stereophile. Vol.2010 P RODUCTS OF TH E YEAR JOINT ANALOG SOURCE COMPONENTS 2010 RUNNERS-UP (in alphabetical order) ❚ Lyra Delos phono cartridge ($1500. each representing the product of one man’s special vision.33 No.4 WWW) Spiral Groove SG2 turntable with Centroid tonearm ($15. and superb resolution of detail worked to present music with a stunning sense of urgency. filled with elastomer buttons.3) ❚ Ortofon MC A90 phono cartridge ($4200. Reina. Additionally. Vol. In Willi Bauer’s handsome dps.2 WWW) ❚ Soundsmith “The Voice” phono cartridge ($1899. a recording “became a performance.300. reviewed by Michael Fremer. Vol.95. felt Brian Damkroger.10) ❚ Oracle Delphi Mk.33 No. reviewed by Art Dudley. Vol. The SG2’s dramatic timing. that act as supporting springs for the rest of the turntable.com. which received two first-place votes. reviewed by Brian Damkroger. reviewed by Robert J. and graphite. Vol. as reviewed. The body of the plinth is a laminate of six separate sheets: two layers of lossy damping material sandwiched by three sheets of Baltic birch plywood and topped with a www.33 No. I’ve heard both of these turntables.33 No.32 No. Vol.VI turntable ($13.6 WWW) W ith 12 overall votes apiece.33 No. the bearing assembly has been optimized to eliminate radial movement and prevent stray magnetic fields from interacting with the cartridge. innovative success. 61 . authoritative midrange.

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he’s shaking his booty. reviewed by Erick Lichte.33 No.33 Nos. December 2010 Meanwhile. Have you seen all the kids rocking their headphones? Pink headphones. $149. The least-expensive model in the new dCS line. itsy-bitsy headphones. the Puccini produced a sound that allowed John Atkinson to almost forget he was listening to recordings.33 No. 2 & 7 WWW) ❚ Sony SCD-XA5400ES SACD player ($1500. Vol.com.33 No. Vol. The kids are having fun.Stereophile. As I write this. too: At this very moment. 6 & 10 WWW) ❚ Etymotic Research hf2/hf5 in-ear headphones (hf2.9 WWW) ❚ Bryston BDA-1 D/A processor ($3150. Vol. The classic. gargantuan. Vol.2 D/A headphone amplifier ($599. every hip-hop artist in the world is talking to an agent. blue headphones.000. www. the Puccini is a one-box SACD/CD player with both balanced and unbalanced analog outputs. but was edged out by the outstanding Benchmark DAC1 HDR USB D/A headphone amplifier. reviewed by Michael Fremer. reviewed by John Atkinson & Jon Iverson. 3 & 6 WWW) ❚ Playback Designs MPS-5 Reference SACD player ($15. reviewed by John Atkinson & Erick Lichte. Vol. it has pairs of digital inputs and outputs. and we can expect some of them to turn their attention to higher-quality sound reproduction. the HDR proved more musical and engaging. reviewed by John Atkinson. an obvious commitment to excellence. said Erick Lichte.2) 63 .2010 P RODUCTS OF TH E YEAR DIGITAL COMPONENT dCS Puccini SACD playback system ($17. confident musical flow. and adds a motorized Alps volume potentiometer. the Puccini distinguished itself from this strong group of contenders. bedazzled headphones.33 No. and better treble resolution. as well as Teflon RCA connectors. and immaculate measured performance. With its convincing low frequencies. Vol. reviewed by Larry Greenhill.) 2010 RUNNERS-UP (in alphabetical order) ❚ CEntrance DACport 24/96 USB headphone amplifier ($399.95. hf5.” (I’m just guessing.32 No.999. Vol.8 WWW) ❚ Grado SR60i headphones ($79. Dr. discussing a product-placement strategy involving their favorite brand of headphones.32 No. reviewed by Jim Austin. Lady Gaga’s got ’phones. doesn’t have an iPod? But let’s face it: Headphones have become as much a fashion necessity as Levi’s or Chuck Taylors.12 WWW) ❚ Stello U2 USB-S/PDIF converter ($350. And celebrities. and who. while the U-Clock’s USB port uses a Texas Instruments TAS 1020B USB receiver chip operating in asynchronous mode.33 No. reviewed by Wes Phillips.2 WWW) ❚ HRT Music Streamer+ USB D/A processor ($299. outstanding midrange clarity. the latest in a growing line of fine Benchmark products.33 No.4 WWW) ❚ Music Hall dac25.33 No. $179. Vol. reviewed by John Atkinson. P. Examples of state-of-the-art technology abound: The Puccini employs dCS’s Ring DAC and the bombproof Esoteric UMK5 transport mechanism.5 WWW) W e all know what dCS brings to the digital game: Seemingly boundless innovation and ingenuity. Garnering more first-place votes (five!) than any other product in any of this year’s component categories. reviewed by Kal Rubinson. Diddy’s got ’phones. and can be partnered with the external Puccini U-Clock ($4999). Vol. a headphone system provides a viable and rewarding alternative. The DAC1 HDR offers slightly better build quality than earlier models. using his Benchmark DAC1 HDR to blast Lady Gaga’s “Telephone.11 WWW) ❚ Musical Fidelity V-DAC D/A processor ($299. reviewed by Art Dudley.12 & Vol. Vol. And this is a good thing.33 No. for the audio enthusiast who can’t afford a big two-channel system. zebra-striped headphones. or who doesn’t have a dedicated listening environment. It’s almost unfair. headphones with skulls on them. crazily affordable Grado SR60i—my trusted reference—came this close to being our first-ever winner. Erick is having fun. National Semiconductor LM4562 op-amps are used throughout its analog stage. So it only makes sense that we would create a category honoring the best headphone components. (Almost?! Man. you’ve got headphones. and an unflagging desire to advance the state of the art.33 Nos. Dre’s got ’phones.32 No. with a bigger soundstage. dCS seems to play in a league of its own. which offers 24-bit/96kHz support and adds a USB input. better solidity and separation of instruments in the stereo image. Vol.12 & Vol. Yes. JA is a tough audience.10 WWW) 2010 RUNNERS-UP (in alphabetical order) ❚ Benchmark DAC1 HDR USB D/A preamplifier ($1895. reviewed by Kal Rubinson & John Marks. dCS! 2010 P RODUCTS OF TH E YEAR HEADPHONE COMPONENT Benchmark DAC1 HDR USB D/A headphone amplifier I guess we can blame the current headphone rage on the Apple iPod—if you’ve got an iPod. Vol.) Congrats. headphones are pretty cool. other than Sam Tellig.33 Nos.6 WWW) ❚ Oppo BDP-83SE Blu-ray player ($899. and the well-respected company has succeeded again with the Puccini. too. They’re ubiquitous. Vol.32 No. reviewed by John Atkinson. Though it maintained the tonal balance of earlier DAC1s. oldschool headphones.

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Vol.33 No. to name just a few. reviewed by Wes Phillips.500.10) ❚ Fi 2b preamplifier ($8200 as reviewed. “In the VSi60. reviewed by Michael Fremer.6 WWW) ❚ Manley Labs Stingray iTube integrated amplifier ($3400. Vol. 5 & 10 WWW) ❚ Einstein The Tube Mk. but only sissies use tube cages.33 No. and value.33 No. reviewed by John Atkinson. reviewed by John Marks. for one.33 No. 65 .33 Nos. December 2010 N this competition but pulling far ahead of the pack. Vol. It looks as if it will whip the living spit out of your prissy little speakers. Meanwhile.33 No. the VSi60 combined a glorious midrange with clean. reviewed by Erick Lichte. Not that the Audio Research VSi60 integrated amplifier doesn’t belong at the top of this list—it certainly does. Vol. at just under $4000. like it very much.32 No. Vol.400.900.9 WWW) ow this was a surprise. not only winning www. reviewed by Michael Fremer. Tubes!) And it’s convenient to use: The VSi60 provides 4 and 8 ohm output taps.11 WWW) ❚ Classé CT-SSP preamplifier-processor ($9000. Vol. The 50Wpc Audio Research VSi60 is a beast—a sexy beast.1 WWW) ❚ Shindo Vosne-Romanee preamplifier ($17.33 No. the VSi60 is also one of the most affordable products in the running. reviewed by Art Dudley. Each channel’s output stage has a matched pair of Svetlana 6550C push-pull tubes with a combination of pentode operation and ARC’s “partially cathode-coupled topology. Reina. Vol.7 WWW) ❚ Balanced Audio Technology VK-55SE power amplifier ($5995. Vol. a sexy American beast. Vol.3 WWW) ❚ Quicksilver Silver 88 monoblock power amplifier ($3700/pair.10 WWW) ❚ NAD Masters Series M2 “Direct Digital” integrated amplifier ($5999.33 No.2010 P RODUCTS OF TH E YEAR AMPLIFICATION COMPONENT 2010 RUNNERS-UP (in alphabetical order) ❚ Aesthetix Saturn Calypso Signature preamplifier ($6999.33 No. reviewed by Art Dudley. We’ve got the jewel-like The Tube from Einstein Audio.II preamplifier ($18.Stereophile.4) ❚ Rogue Audio M-180 monoblock power amplifier ($5495/pair. reviewed by Fred Kaplan. Vol. versatility.10) Audio Research VSi60 integrated amplifier ($3995. The tube cage adds $500.33 No.33 No. reviewed by Wes Phillips. reviewed by Kal Rubinson. a passive line stage is combined with a JFET input stage driving one 6H30 driver tube per channel. How do you like that? I. the bespoke Fi 2b.33 No. The sound? Though it lacked the ultimate control of more powerful amplifiers. In the VSi60. Vol.” said Bob Reina.7 WWW) ❚ darTZeel NHB-18NS preamplifier ($29. reviewed by Erick Lichte.33 No. reviewed by Robert Deutsch.7 WWW) ❚ Leben CS600 integrated amplifier ($5795. Vol. Vol. Vol. You want this thing in your listening room. detailed high frequencies and outstanding low-level dynamic articulation.33 No.4 WWW) ❚ Convergent Audio Technology SL1 Renaissance preamplifier ($7995.com. as well as four pairs of voltmeter test points to ensure accurate bias. reviewed by Robert J. Audio Research has produced an integrated amplifier of staggering quality. Vol. and the extremely pleasurable darTZeel NHB18NS. and it got my vote—but you’ve got to admit that there are some other heavyweights in this category. but I’m not alone: The VSi60 received votes from seven of our writers.3 WWW) ❚ McIntosh MC275 power amplifier ($4500. whatever.” (Yeah. reviewed by Sam Tellig.

e sound was simply less musically involving.“Suddenly. he and Timo nally decided to make the jump from employees to entrepreneurs. I thought I knew who the ‘players’ in the industry were. It’s just too good to keep for yourself!” A er a number of meetings. He has that quiet and unassuming air that can fool you into underestimating the man. e results weren’t as pure sounding. If you’ve been to Europe. From Sweden” Dear Audiophile.US or call 770-777-2095 Design Imperatives Everyone agrees about the sound. “You HAVE to build this and o er it for sale. e typical engineer. you simply have to see it in person to appreciate it. -LP6PLWK www.se Contact: Engström & Engström at info@thelars. And there is so much you’ll want to learn about them. He calls it soul. Lars Engström is the ampli er designer. From personal to public Lars took his ampli er prototypes around to various audiophiles’ homes. When I asked Lars how he managed this feat. It’s too involving.Shown above are. visit: www. where did that come om? You never even heard of the company.se or call +46 (0)733-70 51 51 In North America.thelars. It has an incomparable rightness. and its products are making a di erence. that’s not exactly his term – I translated). e fact that you are reading the story today is a testament to the validity of their decision. Lars has designed some of the most critical components in railway switching and electronic control systems. Find out more ese are ampli ers that need to be seen and heard. I think of it as an emotional high like the feeling that you get when you hear live music. He had a deep understanding of electronics. he had access to research tools that could enhance his quest. another design feature that enhances the ownership of these ampli ers is the inspiring aesthetic treatment provided by Timo Engstrom’s industrial design. To nd out more. it’s here. he decided that he wanted a be er audio ampli er for himself. fully developed. He felt that many ampli ers have some of the Design Imperatives necessary to make a great ampli er. While images can give an idea of Timo’s design for THE LARS. He also teaches design in Sweden’s universities. he was amazed at what he heard when he listened to the reactions of the audiophiles who heard the ampli er. So who are these guys? Engström & Engström is the name of the company. As an engineer. you can reach me at Quarter Note US – at jsmith@QuarterNote. It wasn’t a design compromise that he was willing to accept. Lars is an avid audiophile. Failure could mean hundreds of lives lost. you may have ridden over a bridge or railway system that was Lars’ design. So he quietly went about building his personal dream ampli er – an ampli er of extreme quality and durability. he gave me an engineering answer. Lars felt very strongly that ignoring even one of his Design Imperatives resulted in a lower quality of sound. So I not only had to translate SwedishEnglish. Although he was focused on listening to the ampli ers. Best regards. e dilemma is that THE LARS makes it hard to listen to background music. I also had to translate ‘engineering’ into ‘audiophile. In addition to sound quality and construction. THE LARS TYPE 1 (in optional gold) THE LARS TYPE 2 (in optional chrome) . The Final Frontier Lars explained that he thinks that the ampli ers that don’t incorporate all of his Design Imperatives are lacking one key ingredient. he wanted to see how it would interact with various components.’ Lars kept referring to his Twenty Design Imperatives (OK. ese include signal ampli ers and other electronic systems that must be fail-safe for decades. Timo Engström is a respected industrial designer. Have you ever seen a new concept appear and wondered. and suddenly. Lars is an engineer. and inserted the ampli er into their systems.US US Distributor of Fine Audio PS.QuarterNote. but he hadn’t found any that included them all. Many years ago. at was my reaction when I rst heard about THE LARS ampli ers from Sweden..

the Squeezebox Touch continues the tradition of fast. setting up a Pandora account. Several of these products can be found www. Vol. and Mikey hates computers. It was named Stereophile’s “Editor’s Choice” and was one of our “Joint Budget Components” of 2006. Vol. Channel D Pure Vinyl LP ripping & playback program ($299. capacitor distortion.” downloads may very well define the future of music distribution. With identical numbers of first-place votes (three) and overall votes (14).11 WWW) Top: Channel D Pure Vinyl LP ripping and playback program. reviewed by John Atkinson. reviewed by Kal Rubinson. Vol.10) omputer audio is hot. a software package for the Mac that digitizes vinyl LPs at 24-bit/192kHz resolution and applies the RIAA or other EQ curves in the digital domain. computer audio looks to be much more than just a hot trend.stereophile. For them.33 No. a self-proclaimed sideline player in computer audio. with products that aim to soothe whatever worries or fears we may face in making the transition to computer audio. The results from a recent survey on www. vinylphiles—freaks that they are—like collecting stuff.33 No. or component variability. Vol. Nice! In Record mode. 67 .33 No. the user can apply one of over 50 EQ curves or create custom EQ settings. our very first Computer Audio “Products of the Year” are the Logitech Squeezebox Touch network player and the Channel D Pure Vinyl LP ripping-and-playback program. additional noise.” he confessed. After all. “I cannot see living without it. Channel D offers Pure Vinyl.12 & Vol.8 WWW) ($299. And with an increasing number of record labels offering high-resolution downloads. High-end manufacturers are responding appropriately.8 WWW) ❚ dCS Puccini U-Clock ($4999. reviewed by Kal Rubinson. where there’s no interchannel phase shift.com. searching for ways to best integrate a computer into your system and eliminate physical discs from your listening rooms. Within moments. As John Marks argues in his August 2010 “As We See It. downloading 24-bit/96kHz files. like the process of playing records. enticing them with its painless setup and friendly operation. The original Squeezebox was quickly embraced by our writers.33 No. Vol. While some audio enthusiasts remain timid. the digitized versions lacked a touch of body but sounded “very analog-like. reviewed by Michael Fremer. was up and running. in Editor mode. reviewed by Michael Fremer. streaming music from Radio Bartók. Following in its footsteps. December 2010 Logitech Squeezebox Touch network player C in our list. Bottom: Logitech Squeezebox Touch network player. Kal Rubinson. seamless integration into a stereo system. Fun! According to Michael Fremer. the user can insert track breaks or remove surface noise. and installing apps—all while having an absolute blast. What about the audiophile who cherishes the antediluvian 12" disc? There might be no audio hobbyist more suspicious of this computerized revolution than the vinyl enthusiast.Stereophile. more and more of you are diving headfirst into the world of computer audio.32 No. We know this.32 No.com showed that an overwhelming proportion of our readers want more coverage of computer audio products.10 WWW) ❚ HRT Music Streamer+ USB D/A processor ❚ XTZ Room Analyzer with v2 software ($256.2010 P RODUCTS OF TH E YEAR JOINT COMPUTER AUDIO COMPONENTS 2010 RUNNERS-UP (in alphabetical order) ❚ CEntrance DACport USB headphone amplifier ❚ Channel D Pure Music iTunes front-end program ($129.” There you have it: Even Mikey liked it. But that was Kal.

S. Meticulous attention to detail.com U.Baker@HARMAN. Contact HARMAN today.Tan@HARMAN. Africa: Andy.com ©2010 HARMAN .com Latin America: Gabriela. Mark Levinson®. every JBL Synthesis®. U. engineered and rigorously tested to deliver the very essence of every performance.Gaffney@HARMAN. East: Patrick. Lexicon® and Revel® component is a distinctive blend of technology.Arango@HARMAN.Unsurpassed power.com Asia: Matthew. innovation and aesthetics. West: Ron. HARMAN will deliver precise. Middle East. In fact. Offer your customers a pure sonic experience. Like the new 2x300-watt two-channel N° 532H amplifier from Mark Levinson®. No other products come close to providing your customers the acoustic purity of HARMAN electronic components. Incomparable clarity.S.Rouse@HARMAN.com Europe. unmatched sound reproduction every time. Whether you’re outfitting a home theater or audiophile’s listening room.

reviewed by John Atkinson. and tweaks abound.Stereophile. allowing it to be used without a host PC. apps.” JA agreed: “A well-engineered speaker like this makes it hard to justify spending more on a bookshelf speaker unless you can afford one of the cost-no-object models.4 WWW) ❚ Marantz PM5003 integrated amplifier ($449. There is no magical price point that characterizes a product as “high-end. Mid-Fi & Pretend High End” (see www. suggesting that the Touch has yet to reach its full potential and promises to change the way we interact with our music.95. reviewed by Kal Rubinson & John Atkinson. users have immediate access to the wide world of Internet radio and downloads of up to 24-bit/96kHz resolution. “It sets a high standard of excellence in every meaningful sonic parameter. too. reviewed by Jon Iverson. He called the $899 Oppo “an amazing player. So what?) Amazing. Oppo BDP-83SE Blu-ray player Dynaudio Excite X12 loudspeaker ($1200/pair. and realistic bass found in much more expensive designs. reviewed by Robert J.” If a component strives to convey the emotional truth of music. whether in absolute terms or with respect to its price and size. reviewed by Robert J. 69 . reviewed by Robert J. Why? First of all.” and felt it fared well against the $5000 Luxman DU-50. and it combines the airy www. Its attractive cabinet is available in real-wood veneers of maple. or black ash (sexy high-gloss white or black adds $75/pair).10) ❚ Pro-Ject Debut III turntable ❚ PSB Image T6 loudspeaker ($1199/pair. I can’t afford a pair of Wilson Sashas or a Spiral Groove SG2 turntable. modifications. indeed. bargainpriced. Despite their relatively low cost. rosewood. but I can afford the fine products we praise here. “The two-channel performance of the Oppo BDP-83SE.33 Nos. and so did cover photographer Eric Swanson! If the ultimate mark of an audio component is the ability to forge a closer bond between listener and music (and I believe it is). Hate computers? The Touch will play files stored on a USB drive or SD card. In Kal’s words. the lovely little Logitech Squeezebox Touch network music player has a way of enchanting its users. the products listed here achieve that feat. Vol. With one connected to a home network.33 Nos. just as JA taught in his seminal “The High End. Reina. Vol. cherry.” enthused Bob.33 No. so the Oppo lacked some bass and overall coherence.2010 P RODUCTS OF TH E YEAR JOINT BUDGET COMPONENTS 2010 RUNNERS-UP (in alphabetical order) ❚ ASUS Xonar Essence ST/STX soundcards ($199. 1 & 4 WWW) ❚ Musical Fidelity V-DAC D/A processor ❚ NAD PP 3 USB phono preamplifier ($199. Vol. it seems to excite everyone who sees and hears it. then that component is worthy of the High End. there are no tradeoffs. 1 & 9 WWW) ❚ Audio-Technica AT-PEQ3 phono preamplifier ($119. my favorite category of this lighthearted (but altogether serious!) event. The Dynaudio Excite X12 is appropriately named. “With the Dynaudio Excite X12. 3 & 7 WWW) ❚ Stello U2 USB-S/PDIF converter ❚ YBA Design WD202 D/A headphone amplifier ($879. with the BDP-83SE. Vol.” All that for just $299? Wow! Finally.12) ❚ Benchmark DAC1 HDR USB D/A headphone amplifier ❚ CEntrance DACport USB headphone amplifier ❚ Channel D Pure Music iTunes front-end program ❚ Grado SR60i headphones ❚ HRT Music Streamer+ USB D/A processor ❚ Linn Majik 109 loudspeaker ($1590/pair.3) Logitech Squeezebox Touch network player Oppo BDP-83SE Blu-ray player I hope you know by now that Budget Component of the Year is.” Like the Dynaudio Excite X12. Vol. money does not pour out of my ears. Vol. Logitech Squeezebox Touch network player. Reina. by far.33 No. from DACs to jacks.33 No.33 Nos. was a significant improvement on the BDP-83.6 WWW) Clockwise from above: Dynaudio Excite X12 loudspeaker. Vol. December 2010 treble. Don’t you love it when hi-fi companies start with great value and turn it into incredible value? John Marks. com/asweseeit/1194awsi2). rich midrange. was stunned.stereophile. universal Blu-ray player and replaces everything in it. To touch it is to love it: Reviewer Kal Rubinson bought his review sample. Reina.99.33 No. leaving the listener enthralled by the musical performance. our Budget category reminds us that high-end doesn’t necessarily have to mean high-priced. Second. Oppo takes their already impressive. Vol. then it’s no wonder the Squeezebox Touch proves so compelling.32 No. From Bob Reina to Sam Tellig to me. reviewed by Robert J. Reina. (Okay.com. playing either PCM or DSD recordings. “The Touch has transformed my listening habits.” said Kal. with some of the most cutting-edge chips on the market: the Sabre32 family of DACs from ESS Technology. reviewed by Michael Fremer. In addition.

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exhibited a surprisingly good sense of scale. and either the dCS Puccini SACD playback system or the stunning Vivid G1Giya speaker could easily have topped this list.33 No. Votes were scattered across the board.32 No. Where else in this event would you find a $79 record-washing system made of plastic (the fantastic Spin Clean) or a $2500 “scalar field generator” (the fascinating Quantum RT Qx4)? On the surface.6 WWW) 2010 RUNNERS-UP (in alphabetical order) ❚ Audience Au24e interconnects & loudspeaker cables (interconnect: $857. informs us that “The objective of the alignment procedure is to achieve lateral tracking error of zero degrees at two points which are 2. The Wilson Audio Specialties Sasha W/P is a great audio component. demagnetizing this or elevating that.” It’s true: Great audio components have the strange power to change our expectations. and squeezes greater performances from the records we love.33 No. it sometimes makes no difference—we turn to accessories. drawing us closer to the music. gracefully communicated the notion of force.33 No. you won’t only achieve it. and had surrendered to them in full ignorance of the consequences of the discomfort of sending them back. the Wilson Sashas were no longer a luxury: “I was taking them for granted. aspects of stereo reproduction that Art had previously considered luxuries somehow became commonplace— glorious bass and exquisite spatial prowess were suddenly achievable without significant compromises. a simple little product that’s been loved by audio enthusiasts for decades—the copyright date on the sample I borrowed from JA is 1979.” Art Dudley had the pleasure of reviewing the Sasha. Vol. he had little more than a professional interest in the products of Wilson Audio Specialties. they may also be considered gateways to periods of enhanced enjoyment and as invaluable sources of pure fun.Stereophile.” There you go: The DB Systems DBP10 turns a daunting task into a pleasant one. When the cartridge is parallel to the grooves at these points then the distortion is optimally low across the recorded area of a modern LP record. $1352. Now that’s my idea of a great speaker. balanced. In the end. For the vinyl enthusiast.20/1m pair.60" and 4. With four first-place votes and significantly more total votes than any other contender in this zany category. I’m telling you. reviewed by Kal Rubinson. transformed that professional interest into deep. With the Sashas in his system. A vote here or a vote there. Vol. here we have some very worthy (and some very wacky) alternatives.33 No.33 No. good or bad.6 WWW) ❚ Audyssey Sub Equalizer ($799.33 No. our winner is the DB Systems DBP-10 phono alignment protractor. Vol. unbalanced.76" from the center of the record. there was one clear winner: With 15 total votes and four first-place votes. the Wilson Audio Sasha W/P is our “2010 Overall Product of the Year. The Sasha produced outstanding resolution of www.50/1m pair.com.) Neither scalar-field generation nor grime-free records posed a real threat to this year’s winner. this inexpensive accessory just might be mandatory. Vol. we satisfy our longings with accessories. you’ll have fun getting there. the race for “Accessory of the Year” is always one of the most entertaining because it involves such a diverse cast of characters.99. Yeah! You want optimally low distortion. reviewed by Brian Damkroger. reviewed by Michael Fremer.1 WWW) ❚ Spin Clean Record Wash System ($79. Art confessed that. By the end of the review period. The DBP-10’s instruction sheet. Vol. Feeling the urge to produce some slight change in a system’s sound—real or imagined. however. speaker cables: $1493.1 WWW) ❚ Quantum RT Qx4 “scalar field generator” ($2499. reviewed by Art Dudley. (Don’t try to deny it: I know you like fun. reviewed by Michael Fremer. and proved just as emotive as any of the speakers AD most loves. full-blown admiration.1 WWW) ❚ Musical Surroundings Fozgometer azimuth alignment device ($250. In his review. and four received individual votes from five or more of our writers. the two have nothing in common— until we remember that both fulfill those audiophilic needs of immediate gratification and unbridled fun. 2010 RUNNERS-UP (in alphabetical order) ❚ Aerial Acoustics Model 20T V2 loudspeaker ❚ Audio Research VSi60 integrated amplifier ❚ Bauer Audio dps turntable ❚ Convergent Audio Technology SL1 Renaissance preamplifier ❚ dCS Puccini SACD playback system ❚ Logitech Squeezebox Touch network player ❚ NAD Masters Series M2 “Direct Digital” integrated amplifier ❚ Spiral Groove SG2 turntable with Centroid tonearm ❚ Vivid G1Giya loudspeaker 71 . Vol.2) A lthough. Indeed. accessories are ancillary or superficial parts of our audio lives. When money’s tight and we feel that pull to upgrade but can’t afford a new source component or loudspeaker. however. reviewed by Kal Rubinson. Eight of our ten contenders earned first-place votes. we turn to accessories. before last year. Vol.5) ❚ Paradigm Perfect Bass Kit PBK-1 ($299. making this fine tool an audiophile classic.99. OVERALL PRODUCT OF THE YEAR Wilson Audio Specialties Sasha W/P loudspeaker T his was an extremely close and hard-fought race. accessories bring immediate and significant pleasure to this hi-fi game. December 2010 detail. which is clearly written and even welcoming. Vol.12. They keep our fires burning. For these reasons. reviewed by Art Dudley.50/2m pair. With the DBP-10. And while it can always be argued that there is no better accessory than a great record. however. His time with the Sasha. to alter our notions of what’s right or possible in the listening room. Needing to make some minor technical adjustments. transporting us from our homes to the concert hall.33 No.2010 P RODUCTS OF TH E YEAR ACCESSORY DB Systems DBP-10 alignment protractor ($49. by definition.

a class above With the same innovations as KEF's revolutionary Concept Blade technology showcase. spacious and true. tighter and more accurate bass. with no compromises. 10 Timber Lane.kef. maximising fluency and transparency. Deeper. the all-new Q Series from KEF performs like speakers from a higher price class in terms of realism. wherever you sit. Marlboro NJ 07746 Tel: (732) 683-2356 Fax: (732) 683-2358 www. A holistic approach. the new bass driver combines a rigid superlight cone with a massive vented magnet assembly and an oversized voice coil for exceptional sensitivity and distortion-free power handling. with a ´tangerine´ waveguide and a unique Z-flex surround to combine unrivalled dispersion with generous travel for the aluminium MF/LF cone. featuring an 8” Uni-Q Driver Q Series All new Uni-Q array. Inside the fashionably rectilinear cabinets. The groundbreaking 10th generation Concept Blade Uni-Q array has a large vented tweeter at the centre of the bass/midrange driver. GP Acoustics (US). Q900. Inc. musicality and off-axis dispersion.com . Advanced bass technologies. and KEF's legendary attention to detail extends from innovations for easier bi-wiring to environmentfriendly finishes. These advanced new drivers only need first order crossovers. Total system design. Sweet.

but in a different way. agrees that it’s an “official pose” that the composer had surely hoped would “shape [his] image. Christoph Wolff. The journalist and former pop-music critic had attended a Toronto concert to hear Bach’s Suites for Unaccompanied Cello. that Mozart was mightily impressed by a motet he heard at a Leipzig church.” We pass “ironwork balconies . had been planted nine years earlier. Siblin vividly recreates both Bach and Casals.F. He joins the American Bach Society and attends its biennial convention. when his consummate masterwork. “music I knew nothing about. 2009). or the church. and had shadowed him on his tour to nearby cities in the hope of absorbing as much technique as possible. The occasional stone gargoyle scream[s] mutely. The seed for Siblin’s book. that Bach’s four musical sons kept his work in circulation. he went because too many top40 tunes continued to drum inside his skull. Buzzed through a security gate at the Russian émigré’s art-deco mansion south of Brussels and greeted by a maid.” We leave behind “the singing birds of the Ramblas [for] the tangle of narrow. including the eminent Mischa Maisky. which drove the cellist into exile. It’s as if we’re with Casals when. Bach (1685– 1750) was an obscure figure. he feels “like a detective attempting to pry information out of some wealthy eccentric who had no business talking to me. The 20-year-old Mendelssohn’s talents as a promoter apparently equaled his compositional gifts—Prussia’s King and Crown Prince graced the audience. sets biographical and musicological details neatly in context. municipalities. and his style seemed antiquated to many. December 2010 I also tells the story of the great composer’s life and that of the Catalonian cellist Pablo Casals. Joachim had heard Casals play in Düsseldorf in 1927. $24.S. he wanders with his father toward the bookstore where they will serendipitously uncover a Bach score titled Six Sonates ou Suites pour Violoncelle. Siblin talks with several cellists during his book’s long gestation period. in 1890 and barely into his teens. a book that will fascinate anyone who loves Bach’s music. Joachim was a familiar figure on the sidewalks of Siblin’s Montreal neighborhood. Pablo Casals. . .” The biography of Siblin on his website (http://ericsiblin. where he finds himself face to face with one of the two extant paintings of the master.BOOK REVIEWS The Cello Suites: J.Stereophile. . This engaging volume. who surprises him by agreeing to an interview. The Art of the Fugue. He notes. but the writer approaches him only after overhear- ing him utter the word cello during a conversation. Siblin takes cello lessons for “insight” into the Cello Suites. gingerly negotiating the street corners like so many landmines strewn between his high-rise apartment building and a café he favoured. We stroll with them near Barcelona’s Columbus monument. and the conference’s keynote speaker. Eric Siblin includes these and countless other facts in The Cello Suites. which limited his potential employers to aristocrats.S. for instance.” Perhaps. and reveals a firstrate travel writer’s sense of place. Siblin also maps his own route to the music’s core. first published in 2009 and now available in various English-language editions as well as in German. About a thousand people were turned away for lack of space. he didn’t work in the musical form—opera—that in his era could propel a composer to stardom. a fiercely proud Columbus. . and indeed he skillfully traces the historical currents his two main subjects were caught up in. the world’s highest. it sold just 30 copies. Bach.” he states.com) notes that he holds an MA in history. hardcover. There[’s] a faint smell of the sea. Hegel. and of Casals in his 20th-century sphere. “towering sixty-two metres above the eight bronze lions at its base . Matthew Passion in Berlin in 1829.” At the suggestion of Walter Joachim. but a revival did get underway after Felix Mendelssohn organized and conducted a performance of Bach’s St. which documents Siblin’s quest to understand Bach’s six compositions for solo cello. by Eric Siblin (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press. with a cane. n his lifetime. Many of the facts woven into textual fabric glitter like metal threads as Siblin shifts the reader’s focus from one protagonist to the other. along with the poet Heinrich Heine and the philosopher G. on the 250th anniversary of Bach’s death. The results are rich depictions of Bach in his 18th-century milieu.com. He sees it as “far more severe and serious” than the Bach he comes to know. appeared the year after he died. his verbal record. Like a multidimensional musical recording that puts the reader in the space the performers occupied. . 318 pp. www. J.W.” The author’s colorful prose conveys substantial charm. the portrait that commonly appears on album covers. Bach saw a mere nine of his compositions published. He never lived in a major city. twisting streets near the waterfront. the world’s leading Bach scholar. he surmises. “shuffling along . Young Ludwig’s performance did nothing for Johann Sebastian.” had been the Montreal Symphony Orchestra’s first cellist. My reason for being there—that I was writing a book about the Bach Cello Suites—seemed an unlikely story. draped with laundry and flowers. —David Lander ■■ 73 . and that the 12-year-old Beethoven raised some eyebrows when he performed The WellTempered Clavier in Vienna. . and the Search for a Baroque Masterpiece. “I wanted music to occupy a central place in my life. who ultimately brought the works to the world’s attention. troubled by the Spanish Civil War and the subsequent fascist regime of Generalissimo Franco. It turns out that the frail yet determined 89-year-old.

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the project went completely dry and we didn’t really communicate much.THE OSIES RETURN BY ROBERT BAIRD JULIAN OCHOA It was the 1990s. 75 . from our farewell show in 1998. both bands are long gone. if it’s old” (“Breed”). The Posies. Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow were singing: I’ll call you sister Carrie but you’ll never hear it Fifty limits later As time pulls down her fader And nibbles off the fakers Who roll under the breakers —“Solar Sister” (1993) www.Stereophile. not to mention another artistic universe. broke up. I don’t care. and in rock music. they may have spent almost a year apart but even that part is questionable. after a brief flirtation with mainstream success. I don’t care. The black-and-white image of Cobain’s one lifeless hand and Converse All-Star pointing toward the ceiling is an indelible part of rock’s wreckage. But while Kurt Cobain memorably raged “I don’t care. The Posies. for a time. the band that never really broke up is attached to the notion that they did. December 2010 Sadly. Or did they? Releasing a “reunion” album like the Posies’ new Blood/ Candy means they’ve been apart.” Stringfellow says with a straight face. I don’t care. and Stringfellow and Auer are accomplished songwriters who know hooks and how to use them.com. I don’t care. in another part of town. it seems that staying apart is not one of their strong suits. They stopped speaking. right? But while their high harmonies are among the best in the business. hair bands were gone and Seattle was doing all the talking — much of it unintelligible but nonetheless compelling. were no more—dammit! “I would say. Yes. In conversation.

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now three studio albums: Success.” “If you took our vocals off [Blood/Candy] and just put Rogue Wave on the front . live recordings. together. each was building a solo career. “After five years [ie. for which they wrote and recorded a song a day for 10 days.” Auer says. the duo has released two.” says Stringfellow. 2010. .” Auer eagerly seconds the notion.” “Jon and I spent all day. studio outtakes—to assemble a fan’s dream come true: the four-CD At Least. in their spare time. the very uneven Every Kind of Light. I think it says a great deal that we’re here together now. not destroyers. Most acts that are officially together should be so productive. Jon Auer walk away. Less than a year after they split. It’s the Shins. proto-alt rock band Big Star—thereby helping to resurrect a group that had broken up in 1975. In many ways. “We had this intense long-term relationship. . instrumentally hard-edged power pop now seems ahead of its time.” “I think it’s called too much togetherness. eventually. Frosting on the Beater (1993). Soundgarden. they also found time to go through a mountain of unreleased material—song demos. During their brief separation. it’s been such a long time—we really should do another Posies [studio] record. the Posies. Fleet Foxes. and lived a shared dream by becoming the replacement bass (Ken) and guitar (Jon) players in a new version of Alex Chilton’s ridiculously revered. so . we were developing into the adults we were going to become. and it’s hard to separate all that . look at the clock. Raspberries and the like.” 77 www. to be literate and melodic was anathema. pick a year: 2010 or 2011? We said 2010 and their faces lit up. and Blood/Candy. All of which brings us to Blood/Candy.” Stringfellow says. ‘Wow. thanks in large part to the holes left in their schedules by Alex Chilton’s untimely demise in March 2010.’ We said. a country record turned supposed swan song. We said 2011 and they got very dour and sourlooking. doing this. citing a current Sub Pop band to illustrate how much influence the Posies have had on younger acts. Nice Cheekbones and a Ph. Nirvana. these boys are healers. At Last.” eventually reached No. . became a moderate hit. released two years after Nirvana’s game-changing Nevermind.. “Dream All Day. . since Every Kind of Light].” Auer states. every day. Again. Ken Stringfellow. That’s why our band fell apart. “When we started out. left to right: Matt Harris. and the album’s single. Beach Boys. [conflict is] inevitable. now out of print and an expensive collector’s item. Darius Minwalla. the Posies became the little power-pop band that could. CHRISTINE TAYLOR The Posies.D. Defiantly melodic amid the waves of grunge then emanating from the Emerald City.4 on Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks chart. ‘Okay. It’s not just bands or musicians.“He’s right. oh yeah. and if you’re being emotional and honest. because to extricate those two lives. it’s any long-term relationship. Iron and Wine. Meanwhile. and now look how they’ve completely redefined themselves. They toured Europe together. Conversations about Seattle music suddenly morphed into “Mudhoney. as well as an EP.com.” The Spinners may have sung it best: the games people play. Since what the bio on the Posies’ website deems their “professional and personal split” in 1998. We were teenagers when the band started. but we had a history even before that. . December 2010 . they began sitting in with each other—Stringfellow played theremin during an Auer solo set in 2000. They’ve delivered a record on which the quality of the songwriting and performances rival those on their previous highpoint. In those three years they also released two live albums. “If you want to use a label like Sub Pop to talk about the issue of timing and success. Alive Before the Iceberg and In Case You Didn’t Feel Like Plugging In. Frosting (the title is a sly reference to masturbation). “Ryko[disc] sat us down when we were in town for a lunch and said.Stereophile. and you had lives. and leave you guys with the bill if you don’t say you’re going to make a record in the next 12 calendar months. and . Auer and Stringfellow made their label happy. “We did break up. and Dream All Day: The Best of the Posies. .” As power-poppers addicted in equal measure to the Beatles. . . and it was difficult. people have come around to our way of thinking.” With the benefit of hindsight. it’s not that surprising that the band’s densely lyrical. . “look at what they were releasing and signing when the whole—I hate to use the word [voice goes high]—Gruuunnnnge! thing was happening. we got to the point when we were like. Life has its peaks and valleys. . ‘We’re going to get up.

.

” Stringfellow says.” Auer says. leaving themselves out of the equation—they played all the instruments on their first album.“Had Death Cab for Cutie [a current Seattle indie-rock band] come out with ‘I Will Follow You into the Dark’ during the grunge era. We had great reviews. and an admission that he can’t remember the tuning.” As the interview concludes and the lasers dim. . In my www. plays keyboards. but you [looks at Auer] sort of indicated it would be a lot more interesting for you if Darius came along. nearly licking his lips with glee. . an oversize black zip-up sweatshirt.” Auer adds softly. myself included. “I guess being a rock star does have its benefits. “In 2001 we needed a full band again. . A guitarist who also o sings. unwilling to let an easy one get by. People were like. . . “Would it be any less of a good song. which at first became Joe Bass [né Howard] and [drummer] Darius [Minwalla]. who’s a huge fan . (Walla and Harmer are both members of Death Cab for Cutie. Later that week. Auer is a few pounds heavier than he was a decade ago. Matt Harris. now with Fountains of Wayne] was busy anyway. We’re wiser. has been that easy to work with. the Rock Shop. And then. But would it have been as successful. After some counting on fingers.) “ .” resumes Stringfellow. from a personality point .” Stringfellow muses. . and as a result. We didn’t really perceive the vibe being right with [original drummer] Mike [Musberger]. not a single one of us. and fluorescent-orange high-top Chuck Taylors. reaches into a pocket. “We began to have too many offers that we could have refused but didn’t.” who had played in Auer’s self-titled solo band.’” When the pair walk into a conference room at Warner Music’s offices in midtown Manhattan. . and we did sell a couple hundred thousand records. their similarities and differences are on full display. always lean. We’ve always had a strong vision about what we are.” Auer grunts in surprised assent.” “ . unfazed. Both are now smiling. but no reply from Auer. it could be a different story. So I would say we had vision. John/Paul dynamic of these two best friends and rivals is fascinating to watch. replaced Howard on bass. Stringfellow is having trouble tuning his guitar. The story of the Posies. . the pair kibitz about their plans for the evening. . not as a hard condition. ambles in in black jeans.” “Hmpf. . from the band Oranger. I don’t remember it. well. shrugs and pretends to tune his own guitar. Stringfellow is dressed in stovepipe pants. “it’s helped give a cause to be caused. Auer. The together/ apart. and shiny black patent-leather lace-ups. too. “Reach into the pocket and get me the red phone!” Auer.” “I was going to add that.Stereophile. an expensive shirt. The crowd applauds. Down-to-earth Auer says he’s going to meet some friends in Brooklyn for a ritual called Burgers and Bourbon. he turns and loudly asks Auer. a great song? No. but a place where the unconnected and unbeautiful are offered tables only at 5 or 11pm. After several tries. who’s been watching completely nonplused. but a lot of those records made their way into the hands of future musicians like Chris Walla. a superb guitar player who works in open tunings and has the stronger falsetto of the two. . but with plenty of clouds to obscure it. Failure (1988)—they’re now on their fifth drummer and third bass player. December 2010 memory. and Nick Harmer. the two begin to think aloud. I think it’s good.” “Jon and I have a pretty strong vision and are pretty strong about carrying it out . The conversation turns toward the subject of building a rhythm section around them. at the release party for Blood/Candy at Brooklyn club. and begins to search for the right file. pulls out an iPhone.” “ . laser-beam thing unleashed.” Stringfellow says.” I shoot back. terrifying. “However. . And this record is like the full. honestly? I doubt it.” Stringfellow says. I think we’d sort of had it with them. “It would have been satisfying to have made several million more of them. “As far as players who’d been in the band. “I’m going to Babbo. especially in our younger and more volatile years. “we’ve had some folks who maybe could have been better. that’s it. Stringfellow now lives in Paris with his second wife and their six-year-old daughter.” Stringfellow smiles. right. picks up the jacket from the side of the stage and walks it across to Stringfellow. there is an alternative to the alternative. Where they once seemed to be holding an informal competition about who had the crazier dye job—Auer’s violet locks topped Stringfellow’s cherryred Dutch boy—they now opt for messy dos that are fairly standard issue for rock stars.” Auer says of one of Death Cab’s best-known singles. . really. and routinely throws himself around the stage (a brief stint of wearing dresses has thankfully faded). Auer. Together and apart. “That sounds good. Stringfellow. ‘Okay. we were supernaïve and just didn’t have a lot of life knowledge. “What is the fucking tuning on this song?” There’s a burst of laughter from the crowd.” “I definitely think we made an impact.” Stringfellow continues. “Oh. but . “We’re easier to deal with now. is even skinnier. Auer smiles. . He refers to Mario Batali’s Greenwich Village flagship.com. “And we knew [drummer] Brian [Young. the subtleties of their relationship are once again on display. it’s decided that.” “From a musical point of view. Not exactly sure of how their current band actually came together.” Auer’s high voice returns: “Under-staaaate-ment . In 2001. so the fact that someone was carrying the torch through the dark ages. hopefully. which is not only one of Manhattan’s best restaurants. his back turned. Blood/Candy indeed! ■■ 79 . . “Hand me my coat!” Stringfellow commands. who grabs it. .” Stringfellow continues.

and is available for Ayre Acoustics to use. to kill “Chevy. Digital outputs: AES/EBU (XLR). SACD. the DX-5 plays them all.com.1 The DX-5 is based on an Oppo BDP-83 Blu-ray player.ayre. Fax: (303) 442-7301. Tel: (303) 4427300. The DX-5 1 For the lowdown on Ayre’s use of Gordon Rankin’s “Streamlength” asynchronous USB technology. Digital inputs: USB. Analog outputs: 1 pair each unbalanced (RCA) and balanced (XLR).5" (320mm) D.) The DX-5 in no way resembles the recent embarrassment from Lexicon.25" (440mm) W by 3. you’ll most likely use a computer and the DX-5’s USB port. DVD-Video and Blu-ray discs. MANUFACTURER Ayre Acoustics. CD-R/ RW. which once owned Saab. DIMENSIONS 17.0V RMS (balanced). 1. HDMI audio.1kHz.0.. DVD±R DL. DC–44. read Wes Phillips’ description in his review of the QB-9 in the October 2009 issue (www. “everything Ayre makes is a niche product—as is everything reviewed or advertised in Stereophile.EQ U I P M E NT R E P O RT Ayre Acoustics DX-5 MICHAEL FREMER DESCRIPTION Universal disc player with remote control and asynchronous USB data input. and. (Ayre says this is even better than the one they engineered into their well-regarded QB-9 USB DAC.” with USB 2. transferable (2 years. had to kill it—just as the newly revived GM tried. but uses only the Oppo player’s disc drive and controller. and especially. BD-R/ RE.” the disc player doesn’t have a coaxial or a TosLink S/PDIF input. Kodak Picture CD. HDMI A/V. transport). FINISH Black. DVD-Audio. BD-Audio). though an in-the-field firmware upgrade will allow the USB port to reliably handle 24/192 files from all computers. DC–88kHz at 192kHz. CD.0V RMS (single-ended). the DX-5’s USB port can reliably handle files of 24-bit/96kHz resolution from any computer and 24/192 from “some. “Steve. Boulder. AVCHD.” Ayre contends that anyone needing an S/PDIF input should find their own road.75" (95mm) H by 12. high-resolution DVDAudio discs. Ethernet LAN.com/computeraudio/ ayre_acoustics_qb-9_usb_dac). For now. music files stored on a personal computer using iTunes or other organizational software. Formats supported: Blu-ray (BDVideo. DC–40kHz at 88kHz. Who then would need S/PDIF? The multichannel-capable DX-5 will play CDs. If you’re setting up a server-based system. Ayre’s Steve Silberman explained to me that Ayre wasn’t interested in servicing a “niche” product like Meridian’s Sooloos music server—or.stereophile. Warranty: 5 years. but to Ayre.5kg). Approximate number of dealers: 30. CO 80301. 80 www.” was so good that the old General Motors. That appears crazy to me. DC–80kHz at 176. PRICE $9950 (black finish adds $250). DVD±R/RW.8224MHz (2x DSD). DVD-Video. Inc. Power consumption: 60W. no. Consider this: While Ayre calls its new DX-5 ($10. SACDs. any other products that require an outboard S/PDIF-equipped D/A converter. Web: www. “Find Your Own Road.4kHz. via its USB port.0V RMS (balanced). UNIVERSAL A/V ENGINE T he old Saab slogan. Everything else—I mean. Signal/noise: not specified. everything else—is built by Ayre. the USB port functionality. Weight: 23 lbs (10.com. DC–22Hz at 48kHz. Maximum output levels: 2. Why? If you’re into silver discs. including. SERIAL NUMBER OF UNIT REVIEWED 19A0139.Stereophile.” GM did a U-turn on that one the very next day. apparently. the only other changes being in the player’s firmware. They’ve found their own road. Frequency ranges: DC–20kHz at 44. December 2010 . where their expensive BD-30 player turned out to be the Oppo BDP-83 in a substantial Lexicon case. but “Find Your Own Road” never returned. DC–100kHz at 2.” I said. DSD: 2. 4.000) a “universal A/V engine. 2300-B Central Avenue.1kHz at 96kHz. in a “Call It Chevrolet” memo.or natural-anodized aluminum. I can’t think of a better slogan for a company that I admire almost as much as I do Saab.0V RMS (singleended). HDCD.

December 2010 81 ERIC SWANSON .Stereophile.com.Ayre Acoustics DX-5 universal player www.

the world stops. Low bass notes filling the air.. For just a few moments.. The piano strikes a full chord. www. and there is only the music.uk . followed by another.Exact science Creative imagination A single note struck on a piano.dcsltd. The subtlest brush stroke from the drummer a few feet away.co.

complete with Bluetooth keyboard. The 2000 CDs and hi-rez files I’d downloaded from HDtracks and uploaded to the Sooloos? Not so much. display below.com. but I don’t have the time. especially if you have DVD-A discs. and I added some more.5 makes use of a completely new power supply.4. 48. respectively. The DX-5 offers two choices of digital reconstruction filter. and some from 2L and other futurist vendors. While the DX-5 is intended mainly for use in a multichannel audio and/or video surround-sound system—Kal Rubinson will be writing about the DX-5 in this context in his next “Music in the Round” column—John Atkinson figured it would be worth reviewing in a two-channel system as well. rived. the Ayre DX5’s error correction was the best I have encountered. 176. The balanced output impedance was twice that. It wasn’t until there were two 3mm gaps in series that the player stumbled. opto-isolators to prevent clock and other forms of noise pollution from entering the audio signal. and with Listen filter and DSD data (left blue.1 and 96kHz with Measure reconstruction filter (left channel cyan. However. The DX-5’s outputs preserved absolute polarity (ie. (1dB/vertical div. DVD-As. again as expected. a big box containing more than 100 DVD-A discs with no way to play them—until the DX-5 ar- M E A S U R E M E N TS I mostly used Stereophile’s loan sample of the top-ofthe-line Audio Precision SYS2722 system to perform the measurements on the Ayre Acoustics DX-5 (see the January 2008 “As We See It” and www. for some tests.1. and 192kHz were sample-rate–converted by the host computer to whatever the rate of the last file played had been.8V with SACD.Stereophile. and 96kHz. if you’re considering using a DX-5 for stereo playback. plus some hi-rez files. most of which require playback setup via an onscreen display. frequency response at –12dBFS into 100k ohms from balanced outputs with data sampled at 44. I also have a lot of SACDs and CDs and. right magenta). Setting it all up My review sample of the DX-5 came configured for two-channel use.84V from the balanced output. it is safe to assume that the Ayre DX-5’s performance with 24-bit audio stored on BD-Audio discs will be the same as with 24-bit DVD-As. Neil Young’s Archives box.ap. blue and red traces) and less Fig. in the garage. fig.2. and bit depths of 16 and 24. measuring between 345 and 394 picoseconds peak. but only 1. Data sampled at 32.) Connected to the Audio Precision digital input with a true 110 ohm Canare cable and tested with 16-bit J-Test data. 88. I already had a few discs loaded into iTunes. Measure and Listen. So while I can’t use the DX-5 with my Sooloos. as expected. sourced from a low impedance of 69 ohms at all audio frequencies. Steve Silberman brought along and set up a Mac mini computer. and SACDs with test signals. Disc drawer above.) Tested with the Pierre Verany Test CD. Ayre’s zero-feedback. December 2010 83 . at 139 ohms. loaded on my own laptop’s iTunes.AY R E A C O U S T I C S D X . and mouse. The latter gives a slightly early rolloff with both CD and DVD data (–3dB at 20kHz and 39kHz.) www. That’s Ayre’s bet. so it’s a good idea to have a screen handy. were non-inverting) with all media with which I tried it. which I found frustrating. it’s best to connect it to a video monitor to access the onscreen setup menu and make sure it’s properly configured. and Ayre’s latest iteration of its minimum-phase digital reconstruction filter. whose pit spiral contains laser-cut gaps of various lengths. The maximum output level with CD and DVD-A was 3.1 Ayre Acoustics DX-5. Good gracious! Tested with my MacBook. As for Blu-rays. I could access the thousands of tunes already loaded on my desktop computer. a 7" Pyle PLMN7SD LCD monitor. I also used my vintage Audio Precision System One Dual Domain and the Miller Audio Research Jitter Analyzer. the DX-5’s USB input operated correctly with data having sample rates of 44. (I understand that a forthcoming firmware upgrade will allow the higher sample rates to be handled correctly. (The balanced XLRs are wired with pin 2 hot. But I also had many discs. in the design of which both measuring and listening played important parts. I could strip the data from them using software. fully balanced audio circuitry.com). anyway. then store the files on my laptop or on the Sooloos. I have CDs.1. The level from the unbalanced output was half those figures. right red). with the Mac’s network iTunes sharing. I suspect the lack of an S/PDIF input won’t be a problem for most audiophiles heading into the 21st century’s second decade. There will be times when you’ll want to make configuration changes after the initial setup. the Ayre’s AES/EBU digital output offered low datastream jitter. and then only briefly. but as of yet I have no Blu-ray test disc. but I believe the factory default is multichannel. I have a live Tom Petty album.

170&g 0018#6+10g'.XMIJGE˜jIGNkGJKgGJMN˜2#55.#$5T%1/ .g'48+%'  #55#$14#614+'5X 14'56*+.+6..+#$+.

1. reaching –6dB at 85kHz.) Channel separation was superb. rich. conductor Anthony Aibel. I strongly recommend this SACD. cyan and magenta traces). 44.Stereophile. the handclaps should be sharp. I first examine resolution by sweeping a 1∕3-octave–wide bandpass filter from 20kHz to 20Hz while the device under test decodes dithered data representing a 1kHz tone at –90dBFS.3 show an analysis of the DX-5’s balanced output with 16-bit data. (Right channel dashed. richness. Noise levels were also very low. DSD data (top above 4kHz).stereophile. and the overall picture was softer. and the sound is spectacular. I had to take great care to match output levels before drawing any conclusions. with blacker backgrounds. 1∕3-octave spectrum with noise and spuriae of dithered 1kHz tone at –90dBFS with: 16-bit data (top below 4kHz). I went with Pure Music. and three-dimensional. with soloist Tom Chiu. once it’s up and working. A second. 24bit data (bottom). If you love iTunes. at 116dB at 1kHz. When I played Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab’s outstanding SACD of the Band’s Music from Big Pink (Capitol/Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab UDSACD 2044) on the DX-5. Fortunately.2 shows the impulse response of the Listen filter. but it is similar to that of Meridian’s “apodizing” filter (see fig. December 2010 85 . Ayre is preparing its own iTunes bypass software. be sure to download and buy either Pure Music ($129) or the more expensive Amarra program. though when a CD was paused. but somewhat soft overall sound.5 You’ll also need that screen should you wish to hear a hybrid SACD’s CD layer (though how often would you want to do that?). Chesky SACD288). continued rejection of ultrasonic images. the strings searing.html.1kHz sampled data (4ms time window). With SACD playback (fig.2 at www. but the beta version gave us trouble during the initial setup. from Pyle or Mimo.1. perhaps because the reverberant backdrop blended with his voice instead of separating out in space. but it’s just another annoying step. shakers and gourds less sharply drawn. The DX-5’s rendering was more about warmly holding the picture together than about letting individual orchestral instruments break free and assert themselves. The DX-5’s backlit remote control belongs to a Blu-ray player. the ultrasonic rolloff continues the smooth contour seen with PCM data and the Measure filter. Don’t forget to properly configure the computer’s digital output before you listen to any music. The Playback was more “event oriented. response to single sample at 0dBFS. and other than a slight bump in the Fig. top pair of traces). other than the fact that iTunes can’t play the popular FLAC format. I compared the Ayre playing SACDs to the considerably more expensive Playback Designs MPS-5 SACD player (see my review in the February 2010 issue)—the DX-5’s output was considerably lower than that of the MPS-5. particularly at the bottom end. so it has many video functions and buttons you won’t use.5dB at 50kHz. Fig.8kHz at 35mV. I was surprised by how reserved and smooth it sounded compared to what I’m used to.3 Ayre Acoustics DX-5.2 Ayre Acoustics DX-5 set to Listen. the stage deep and spacious. I haven’t shown the Measure impulse response. called AyreWave. the DX-5 was more about delicacy. the three works on it are edgy and riveting contemporary classical music.com/digital processors/ayre_acoustics_qb-9_usb_dac/index6. implying minimal linearity error.com. and just a single cycle of post-ringing. And if you use a Mac. Again. The audible improvement is not subtle. you can now buy a little LCD monitor for under $100. For consistency with my previously published tests of digital components. bass lines were softer and warmer through the DX-5. and still 86. while the Measure filter behaves more conventionally (fig.) www. the DX-5 produced a lush. audio-only remote would be a nice option for everyday use. and Area 31. simpler. with a very steep rolloff just below the Nyquist Frequency (half the sample rate). The peak just touches the –90dB line. Playing the excellent-sounding SACD of Roxy Music’s Avalon. In the Violin Concerto. The Ayre’s soundstage was also smaller than I expected from this SACD in both width and depth. which also has configuration pages packed with jargon that will leave many dizzy (see my review of Pure Vinyl in the August issue).” dynamic. but its performance wasn’t spellbinding. both of which bypass Apple’s mediocre audio engine and use iTunes merely as a “skin” for accessing and retrieving your music files. The top pair of traces below 4kHz in fig. Bryan Ferry’s voice seemed diffuse and recessed through the DX-5. warm.) The DX-5 as SACD player The Ayre DX-5 was a pleasant-sounding SACD player. but. there were spuriae present at 352. Fig. it’s usually stable.AY R E A C O U S T I C S D X . and atmospherics. (A program called Max will convert FLAC files to iTunes-compatible formats. the timpani bold. There is no pre-ringing. less about punch and plumbing measurements. you’re all set. I auditioned David Chesky’s superb Area 31 (SACD.

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3. deep fury that I’m told was chopped by Capitol from the original LP. the CD sounds drab and compressed. waveform of undithered 1kHz sinewave at –90.31dBFS. Roughly speaking. For instance. suggesting a DAC resolution of around 18 bits. So much work and money went into the failed format of DVD-Audio.5 shows the waveform of an undithered 16-bit/1kHz tone at exactly –90. some not. but don’t get me wrong: from The Herd to Camel to Humble Pie. 16-bit data (left channel blue. As Wes Phillips wrote in his QB-9 review. . and engaging. You can sink your ears into the rich-sounding DVD-A in ways you can’t with any CD in my experience. the three discrete DC voltage levels described by the data are clearly resolved.and 24-bit signals but now using an FFT technique again gives a 10dB lowering of the noise floor (fig. December 2010 87 . detailed. Some were great. with excellent waveform symmetry. and somewhat tamed and softened on Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab’s outstanding SACD (Capitol/Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab UDSACD 2044) through the DX-5. regardless of format or resolution. here’s digital sound with analog flow. The noise floor has dropped by 10dB. exuberant. this is not going to disturb anyone’s musical enjoyment. measurements. the DX-5’s sound was smooth and almost golden-toned. originally issued on Transatlantic in the UK (Blue Thumb/Silverline)—this three-dimensional via the DX-5. www.) That confirmed that the DX-5’s 2 I now have a political blog. 24-bit data (left blue. Repeating the test with 24-bit data played back from a DVD-A gave the bottom pair of traces in fig. the sound was very different: far more expansive.5 Ayre Acoustics DX-5.31dBFS. Fig. and Silverline went to the trouble of remixing it for surround sound. stunning.). however. and again there is a slight amount of a 60Hz tone present in the right channel only. yet still smoooooth in the best sense of that word. The DVD-A has space. Fig.4). THE DX-5’S SOUND WAS SMOOTH AND ALMOST GOLDEN-TONED. REGARDLESS OF FORMAT OR RESOLUTION. as well as really well-done notes and extras. life. On the other hand. I’m certain tacky reverb was added to the Grateful Dead’s Workingman’s Dead (Warner Bros. readers: No more politics from me in Stereophile! Check it out. For whatever reasons. the noise floor is actually the dither noise used to encode the signal. Fig. right red). top traces above 4kHz). Increasing the data’s bit depth to 24 gave rise to a well-defined sinewave (not shown). FFT-derived spectrum with noise and spuriae of dithered 1kHz tone at –90dBFS with: 16-bit data (left channel cyan. it was sort of like the difference between a Lyra Titan i and a Benz Micro LP S—superb but very different-sounding cartridges. The DVD-A package contains a second copy of the album.” It’s one of my favorite pop albums. compare the DVD-A of producer George Martin’s remixes of Beatles songs on Love (Apple/Capitol 3 79810 2 5) with the CD edition. If you want a good laugh. I was a big Frampton fan.northjersey. right red). (At –118dBFS.AY R E A C O U S T I C S D X . results in a noise floor no better at low and middle frequencies than that with the same signal played back from CD (fig. though of course [you can finish the sentence]. . It was liberating to pull out my box of dusty DVD-As and play them at last. the DVD-A of The Band’s Music from Big Pink was was before “Baker Street. The stereo mixdown on the DVD-A sounded precise.4 Ayre Acoustics DX-5. The DX-5 as DVD-Audio player Here’s where things began to get exciting.) The lower maximum output level with SACD.Stereophile. DAC linearity error with 16-bit data was vanishingly low to below –110dBFS (not shown). and OVERALL. transparency.5 the depths. Even conservatives will like the picture. bettering the LP in a few ways. Overall. flow. but the spectra are commendably free from spuriae other than the 60Hz component noted earlier. on CD. the Ayre DX-5 played DVD-As closer to how the Playback MPS-5 reproduced SACDs. which is similar to the performance of Ayre’s QB-9 processor. continued right channel’s output at 60Hz. with Levon Helm’s drum kit having a full.3.com.com/blogs/fremer). rendering it silly. Repeating the spectral analysis with the 16. Rest assured. “Can I Have My Money Back?” (http://blogs. I have a disc of Gerry Rafferty’s somewhat obscure Can I Have My Money Back?.2 I compared the DVD-A and SACD of Peter Frampton’s Frampton Comes Alive! (The sacrifices I make for you . It’s almost like the difference between a CD and an MP3. I don’t care if the same filters are at work. right magenta).

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Listen. I tried playing Grieg’s Piano Concerto in the recording made from a reperformance. and three-dimensionality. DC– 24kHz. the DX-5 proved to be a very good CD player. It sounds like American Indians meeting Argentineans meeting Norwegians to chant and bang drums— something Todd Garfinkle might produce for M•A Recordings. It was great to finally get to hear the Young set in my main rig instead of through our less-than-optimal hometheater system. Jienat NCD002). Fig. as well as some audioband aliasing (fig. the DX-5 will play them fully resolved. The DX-5 as Blu-ray–Audio player Again. DC–24kHz. particularly. and there aren’t yet that many Blu-ray–Audio releases. and the default audio THE VINYL STILL SOUNDS “WETTER.5 SACD playback lacked its DVD-A playback’s imaging precision. Fig. richer sound. Neil Young’s Archives at 24/192 produced incredible detail resolution.8). The DX-5 as CD player When you spend time with hi-rez files and discs. at 0dBFS into 600 ohms (left channel blue. the second at –87dB (0. Measure. just measurements. 2L 60SABD)—something I really wanted to hear to compare to the SACD also included in this release—but I could get only a blue screen. HF intermodulation spectrum. arranged. HF intermodulation spectrum.6 Ayre Acoustics DX-5.001%).8 Ayre Acoustics DX-5. including Brett Mitchell and the Houston Symphony’s performance of Holst’s The Planets: An HD Odyssey. spectrum of 50Hz sinewave. though actual intermodulation distortion is very low. weight. with less “bite” and top-end sparkle. Switching to the Measure filter cleans up the spectrum nicely (fig. and three-dimensionality. However.014%). with Rolf Gupta conducting the mode was DTS-HD Master Audio. cussion sonic spectacular that should be in anyone’s collection of “wow” demo discs (a second disc repeats the program on SACD).7). linear frequency scale). right red. 19+20kHz at 0dBFS into 100k ohms (linear frequency scale). www. you can rip them to files to play via your computer and the DX-5’s USB port. It appears that there are still glitches to be ironed out of Blu-ray–Audio. the Ayre’s balanced distortion signature with 24-bit data—what there was of a signature—consisted of the third harmonic at –77dB (0. you’ll need the LCD screen to navigate the menus of many discs. only more closely miked.com. and flowing. but the vinyl still sounds “wetter.Stereophile.6). 19+20kHz at 0dBFS into 100k ohms (linear frequency scale). Mira will deliver plenty. of the Duo-Art piano-roll recording made by Percy Grainger (BD-A/SACD. and produced by Andreas Fliflet. DC–10kHz.004%). December 2010 89 . even on the tiny 7" screen. The few classical BD-A discs I have. continued Into the high 100k ohms lab test load. sounding really big. Dropping the load impedance to a punishing 600 ohms somewhat raised the levels of the odd harmonics (fig. spaciousness. many listeners will prefer the Ayre’s smoother. but Tom Petty’s Live played without a hitch. It was among the best-sounding discs or files I heard through the DX-5. sounded far superior to any CD I’ve ever heard.” more lifelike. less mechanical overall—especially on sharp transients and sibilants. Mira (BD-A. So if you have those DVDAs hanging around. and the fifth at –100dB (0. is a per- Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra. and lacking the half-again-as-expensive Playback MPS-5’s bass extension and. If your system can reproduce really deep bass. The “leaky” ultrasonic nature of Ayre’s Listen filter gives rise to poor image rejection with the high-level mix of 19 and 20kHz tones.” MORE LIFELIKE. but not to anything like levels that might be audible. its punch. full. The problem with this disc was that I got distracted by the NASA space footage. Still. Another one. composed. Fig. even though the playback process is more mechanical.AY R E A C O U S T I C S D X . it’s easy to forget CDs.7 Ayre Acoustics DX-5. On the other hand. on the somewhat smooth and forgiving side of the scale. LESS MECHANICAL OVERALL—ESPECIALLY ON SHARP TRANSIENTS AND SIBILANTS. not to mention bass punch.

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and a less juicy-sounding Hammond B-3—but when I opened Pure Music and bypassed iTunes. while I accept that the signal is not formally diagnostic unless used for biphase data. Concord CRE-31669) has been expanded to include three later big-band sets with Charles backed by an equally Smith recorded those great Blue Note Hammond B-3 sessions. bluegrass. or fed to the Ayre’s USB port. measurements. You can sit and listen to these 24-bit files for hours.1 The harmonics of the low-frequency squarewave are at the residual level.10 Ayre Acoustics DX-5. high-resolution jitter spectrum of analog output signal.025kHz. The DX-5 as USB DAC I transferred the 2009 Beatles remasterings from the 24/44. and a recent reissue of Ray Charles’ great Genius+Soul=Jazz.and grain-free voices and the cleanly rendered percussion. Center frequency of trace. AND I DID. As for CDs played “live” on the DX-5’s transport vs from computer.1kHz with LSB toggled at 229Hz.aes. Attacks were richer. HASH. right red). particularly with vocal sibilants. The “live” playback sounded smoother and definitely more transparent. sampled at 44. 24-bit data from DVD-A. are big.10).025kHz at –6dBFS. is pure Ayre Acoustics! —John Atkinson Fig. Comparing “live” CD playback on the DX-5 with “raw” iTunes playback via USB (ie.025kHz at –6dBFS. The arrangements. only sidebands visible lie 120Hz to either side of the central spike representing the high-level 11. yet leave a lot of space for Ray’s organ work to be punctuated by big horn blasts. This mostly instrumental album was originally issued on vinyl by Impulse! (IMP-2) in 1961. cymbals.Stereophile. and the decay was longer and more graceful before fading more naturally to black. just above the noise floor at –140dBFS. and the 1 Some argue that it is inappropriate for the J-Test signal to be used to test a system in which data are not biphase-encoded. This new edition (2 CDs. However. PARTICULARLY ENJOYING THE BAND’S PRECISE. especially via that asynchronous USB port. It is a pleasure to measure such a well-engineered product as Ayre’s DX-5. Rudy Van Gelder engineered at his studio in Englewood Cliffs. ±3. high-resolution jitter spectrum of analog output signal. with sloppier bass. continued From the conversations I have had with him over the past couple of years. www. recorded in 1960 when he was but 30 years old. converted them from FLAC to AIFF with Max. The stage space was more generously rendered. ±3. sampled at 44.5 as many analog devotees prefer warmer.com. among the CDs transferred to the Mac mini were Andy Statman’s Between Heaven & Earth: Music of the Jewish Mystics (CD. an unusual hybrid of klezmer. frequency range. and another pair can be seen at ±240Hz. Fig. 11. 11. 11.025kHz tone. though the supply-related sidebands at ±120Hz are still present.025kHz.1 Apple USB dongle version to my laptop. more supple and natural. where Jimmy compact and better-focused images. with more YOU CAN SIT AND LISTEN TO THESE 24-BIT FILES FOR HOURS. hash. December 2010 91 . such as the Logic-Induced Modulation first described by Ed Meitner and Robert Gendron in 1991 (see www. New Jersey. without Pure Music) produced a noticeable difference. particularly enjoying the band’s precise. it is still revealing of other problems. as they are in an S/PDIF or AES/ EBU datastream.AND GRAIN-FREE VOICES AND THE CLEANLY RENDERED PERCUSSION. playback of the disc and the same bits via the DX-5’s USB input were then indistinguishable. backed for half of the album by the Count Basie Orchestra (minus the Count). gave identical spectra (fig.5kHz (left channel blue. and I did. I know that Ayre’s Charlie Hansen takes jitter rejection very seriously. Measuring the DX-5 using the 16-bit J-Test signal played back on CD or DVD.9 Ayre Acoustics DX-5. distinguished grouping assembled for the date. frequency range. and jazz. Images were rounder and more solid.AY R E A C O U S T I C S D X . with Charles on Hammond B-3.9). 11. but its measured performance.org/e-lib/browse. the improvement was immediate. by Quincy Jones and Ralph Burns. Repeating the analysis with a 24-bit version of the J-Test signal gave a beautifully clean spectrum (fig.5kHz (left channel blue. 16-bit data from MacBook via USB. Ray was thrilled to be doing likewise in the same venue. right red).1kHz with LSB toggled at 229Hz. grittier horns. Center frequency of trace. Shanachie 64079). The computer playback was grainier and less pleasing overall.cfm?elib=5611). and tambourines. more graceful-sounding cartridges. This “universal A/V engine” may be based on an Oppo chassis. and they sounded clearly superior to the more cardboardy 16-bit CDs. including trumpeter Clark Terry and drummer Roy Haynes (still going strong at 85!).

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Benchmark ADC1 A/D converter. and do you want to prepare The “Universal A/V Engine”—all the digital source you need? now for an audio-disc future that will possibly be dominated by BD-A? In my case. and the surrounding acoustic were all greatly diminished—until played back through Pure Music. It plays every disc format in your collection now. at best. RPG BAD & Abffusor panels. all for the cost of some audio cables. the graceful attack of the piano. PREAMPLIFICATION Einstein Audio Turntable’s Choice. it’s too bad the format died due to poor planning and the need to have a screen back when you couldn’t add a small TFT-LCD for under $100. Oyaide AC wall box & receptacles. Loricraft PRC4 Deluxe record-cleaning machines. Mac mini computer running Pure Music software. ACCESSORIES Finite Elemente Pagode. and. The timbral warmth of the clarinet.AY R E A C O U S T I C S D X . Conclusions Ayre Acoustics’ DX-5 is a unique way to meet your current and future digital playback needs with a single box. it’s the present—and it will change how you listen to music. Castellon stand. Using an inexpensive computer like a Mac mini. I heard no differences once Pure Music was in the chain. the Ayre DX-5 offers its owner access to high-resolution files from a variety of online sources. TARA Labs Power Screen power conditioners. Interconnect: TARA Labs Zero. Stealth Sakra. ZenSati. DIGITAL SOURCES Playback Designs MPS-5 SACD/CD player/DAC. as you can now. HRS SXR stands. darTZeel NHB-18NS preamplifier. While some listeners claim hard-drive playback sounds better than from the original discs. with so much software and so many formats available. a sonic step sideways. with a chip upgrade. discovering all the great and great-sounding hi-rez music that’s sat unplayed on my shelves for so long.Stereophile. ■■ ANALOG SOURCES Continuum Audio Labs Caliburn turntable. December 2010 93 . storing all your music on an external hard drive (or two or three). and backing it all up and storing it at another location (such as a safe-deposit box). Speaker: TARA Labs Omega Gold. All I’ll say is that. and it’s ready to play 24-bit/192kHz Blu-ray–Audio discs. and you’ll pay no sonic price for the convenience of instant access. so the real question is this: How many DVD-A discs do you currently own. Not that the DX5’s SACD sound was unacceptable—it wasn’t. BPT-modified Alesis Masterlink hard-disk recorder.com. Symposium Rollerblocks. you can also do that with far less expensive. I don’t know why the DX-5 performed so much better with PCM than with DSD signals. Wilson Audio Specialties MAXX 3. And that’s what it’s all about. Isoclean 1000. —Michael Fremer ASSOCIATED EQUIPMENT www. Computer audio is the future—for some. Graham Engineering Phantom II tonearm. but it did. Meridian Sooloos music server.5 The same differences were obvious with the excellentsounding Andy Statman recording. Esoteric E-03 phono preamplifiers.0. driveless USB DACs available now from Ayre and other companies. That said. Cobra tonearm. VPI HW-17F. you can use the DX-5 as part of a server-based music system. CABLES Phono: Hovland/Graham MG2 Music Groove. I truly enjoyed the time I spent with the DX-5. In other words. Silver Circle Audio Pure Power One 5. having a player capable of decoding everything was liberating. Camelot Roundtable Anagram Technologies DAC. files with sample rates up to 192kHz with claimed “virtually jitter-free” performance. ZenSati. I really loved listening to DVDAs. But if you already own an SACD player you like. Lyra Titan i. trading it for a DX-5 to get the Ayre’s other features will probably be. Shunyata Research King Cobra Helix CX. I won’t clog this up with a page more of musical examples. Of course. ASC Tube Traps. so long as you bypass iTunes with something like Pure Music or Amarra. Via the Ayre DX-5’s USB input. Its asynchronous USB port can reliably handle up to 24/96 files. I could play hundreds of the discs that have been gathering dust here. an inexpensive Mac mini used as a music server can store and play your CDs and hi-rez files. AC: TARA Labs The One Cobalt. LOUDSPEAKERS Magico Q5. computer playback sounded like disc playback. in addition to superb CD playback indistinguishable from “live” playback. Shunyata Research V-Ray II Reference. POWER AMPLIFIER Musical Fidelity Titan. Audiodharma Cable Cooker. Furutech DeMag & deStat LP treatments. Ortofon A90. for the better and for the more convenient. Miyajima Premium BE mono cartridges. and with 1-terabyte hard drives now costing around $100.

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A s with so many other things. Tel: (704) 391-9337. Amplifier output power: 40Wpc into 6 ohms (14. Having earned dozens of rave reviews. combined with a tube-buffered preamplifier and a 40Wpc power amplifier—all for $999.com. SERIAL NUMBER OF UNIT REVIEWED 0004184.Stereophile. I daresay. why shouldn’t I enjoy at least that degree of convenience and flexibility—without resorting to a pair of tinny. DIMENSIONS 14. 2045 120th Avenue NE. from cell phones to soy milk. and so. and digital iPod dock. Approximate number of dealers: 104. the Nova endures.75" (380mm) W by 5" (130mm) H by 14" (360mm) D. the usefulness of a compatible transport seemed obvious from the start. MANUFACTURER Signal Path International.5kg). Web: www. 1 optical). uncomfortable earbuds? So it was that Wadia Digital’s first iPod dock. WA 98005. USB interface. has its origins in the Peachtree Nova ($1199).1.EQ U I P M E NT R E P O RT Peachtree iDecco ART DUDLEY D/A INTEGRATED AMPLIFIER Peachtree iDecco D/A integrated amplifier with digital iPod dock DESCRIPTION Solid-state integrated amplifier with built-in D/A converter. Weight: 23 lbs (10. the idea of a portable MP3 player was something I at first disdained. In 2010. But not so the idea of a high-fidelity iPod dock: Given that I now carry around several hundred high-resolution AIFF files on my own Apple iPod Touch. December 2010 97 .8dBW) at <1. a similar DAC-integrated with a little more power (80Wpc) and a lot less dock. firmware v1. Bellevue. which is manufactured in mainland China. PRICE $999.com. the Model 170. whenever I bought a music recording.0 % distortion. including John Marks’ writeup in “The Fifth Element” in the August 2009 Stereophile. in any room in the house. Inputs: 1 line-level analog. Preamp output impedance: <30 ohms. Look at it this way: In 1970. But Peachtree’s David Solomon www. and with retail sales nearing the 4000 mark. 2 S/PDIF digital (1 coax.signalpathint. earned its status as a seminal product. only to later embrace with the fervor of any reformed sinner. Description The US-designed iDecco. D/A signal/ noise ratio: 118dB. will Peachtree Audio be recognized for pioneering yet another worthy genre with their iDecco: a perfectionist-quality iPod dock and a similarly pedigreed digital-to-analog converter. I could enjoy it on any player.

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T I continued the digital testing from the fixed line-level outputs with the volume control set to its minimum. The maximum level from the line-level output jacks was 2. I also used my vintage Audio Precision System One Dual Domain and the Miller Audio Research Jitter Analyzer. 1∕3-octave spectrum with noise and spuriae of dithered 1kHz tone at –90dBFS with 16-bit data (top) and 24-bit data (bottom). the response being down 3dB at 19. Looking first at the iDecco’s performance as a digital decoder.5kHz.) For its part.1 show the iDecco’s D/A frequency response with 44. As in the Peachtree Nova. the tube buffer can be switched in and out via a pushbutton on the remote handset.com. By contrast. (I’ll probably never accept the idea of four-figure domestic audio products that use the same sort of AC adapter as a Hello Kitty portable CD player.3dB) imbalance between the channels and the low-frequency response is down 3dB at 11Hz.2 Peachtree iDecco. while some degree of driver- stage buffering is conferred by a 6N1P dual-triode tube. The level from the variable preamp outputs with the tube in-circuit was 848mV in this condition. (1dB/vertical div.” The Peachtree iDecco is designed around a traditional linear power supply with a toroidal transformer: Thankfully. magenta traces) and 96kHz data (blue. The top two pairs of traces in fig. The preamplifier’s solid-state gain stages run in class-A.ap.com). right red). to avoid stressing the iDecco’s amplifier output stage. the power amp The iDecco’s tube can be switched in and out of circuit with the remote.PEACHTREE IDECCO now seems ready to bring the gospel of good sound even nearer to the audioindifferent. and there it was: Look what’s happening! Consumers have changed the way they buy music. December 2010 99 . is built around the TDA 7293 power MOSFET IC from ST Microelectronics. I ran it at onethird power into 8 ohms for an hour. a function not duplicated M E A S U R E M E N TS o perform the measurements on the Peachtree iDecco. Other than when noted. There is now a slight (0. I mostly used Stereophile’s loan sample of the top-of-the-line Audio Precision SYS2722 system (see the January 2008 “As We See It” and www. a full-scale 1kHz tone clipped the amplifier’s output stage with the volume control set to 2:30. operated in class-A/B. right magenta) and 96kHz (left blue. Testing the DAC’s resolution with a swept bandpass filter while it decoded a dithered 1kHz tone at –90dBFS gave Fig. offset by 1dB for clarity. and [the world of downloadable media files] is where they are. Before I did any testing of the iDecco.) www. (Right channel dashed.1kHz (left channel cyan. the effect of the Slow filter is to roll off the top-octave output a little early. frequency response at –12dBFS into 100k ohms from fixed outputs with data sampled at 44.Stereophile.1kHz taken from the variable preamp outputs with the tube operating. The response is flat and extended at both frequency extremes. the variable preamp outputs inverted polarity with the tube. the iDecco was hot but not bothered. The iDecco locked to S/PDIF datastreams with sample rates ranging from 32 to 96kHz. the green and gray traces in fig.1 show the response with 44.1kHz data (cyan. but not to data with sample rates greater than 96kHz. which imposes the maximum heat stress on an amplifier with a class-AB output stage. At the other end of the spectrum. for some tests. Solomon describes the genesis of the iDecco: “We simply started reading RIAA statistics. right gray). the volume control set to 2:00 and the Filter set to Slow. sourced from a low impedance of 10 ohms. At the end of that time. at least until the inevitable steep rolloff just below half the sample rate.06V. wall warts are neither required nor supplied. red) with the rear-panel Filter pushbutton set to Fast. and while both the loudspeaker outputs and the fixed-level line outs preserved absolute polarity for digital sources. and from variable outputs with volume control set to 2:00 (left green.1 Peachtree iDecco.) Fig.

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31dBFS to be readily resolved (fig. The USB socket and the iPod connection— the latter is purely digital. the third at –80dB (0.3 Peachtree iDecco. red traces). The increase in bit depth now drops the noise floor by 18dB. The iDecco’s USB transceiver is separate from the ESS Sabre DAC. When it came to distortion. Repeating the analysis. There is a slight bump at the 60Hz AC line frequency. more significant. to enhance interstage isolation and thus keep noise to a minimum. some harmonics of the AC frequency can be seen with the 24-bit data (blue.4). with the tube switched in.01%). All front-panel controls are duplicated on the pleasantly rubbery remote-control handset. DC–10kHz. FFT-derived spectrum with noise and spuriae of dithered 1kHz tone at –90dBFS with: 16-bit data (left channel cyan. December 2010 101 . With undithered 24-bit data. By contrast. and from variable outputs with volume control set to 2:00 (left channel cyan.” The D/A board is where things get really interesting. gave the traces shown in fig. the fourth harmonic has risen to –90dB and. waveform of undithered 1kHz sinewave at –90. right red). “We learned early on we had to do something about noise coming off the USB cable. 24-bit data (left blue. “we lose about 6dB of signal/noise ratio. and on the other by five illuminated source-selection buttons. and is galvanically isolated from the rest of prevent grounding glitches and switching noise. which implies that the iDecco’s ESS 9600 Sabre chip has at least 19-bit resolution. Solomon says that. the second has Fig. the two line-level outputs varied dramatically. right red).4 Peachtree iDecco. flanked on one side by a (motorized) volume knob. to little window. California. The second harmonic lies at –90dB (0. the Sabre DAC reclocks the datastreams from all digital sources. and the fourth at –110dB (0. while the third harmonic remains at the same level from the tubed variable-output jacks. and bypasses the player’s headphone output—are also transformer-coupled to the circuit. The blue and red traces in fig. DAC linearity error with 16-bit data (not shown) was vanishingly low to below –100dBFS.) www. at 0dBFS into 100k ohms from fixed outputs (left channel blue. the result was a noisy but otherwise well-defined sinewave (not shown). given that the tube is “ramped in” to the circuit— with full rail voltage on the plates at all times—the changeover takes only a few seconds. Fig. 16-bit data (left channel blue. of Fremont. According to Solomon.” Solomon says. But I think it sounds better. right magenta).Stereophile. the board. continued the traces shown in fig. and the bottom pair with 24-bit data.3. Solomon also says that the iDecco’s D/A board incorporates 11 regulated power supplies of its own. this time from the fixedlevel jacks with an FFT technique.com. you can see that the increase in bit depth drops the noise floor by 10dB or so in the treble. The iDecco’s front panel is simple and spare: That lucky tube gets its own THE TUBE BUFFER CAN BE SWITCHED IN AND OUT VIA A PUSHBUTTON ON THE REMOTE HANDSET. right red). (Linear frequency scale. Fig. The top pair of traces were taken at the variable preamp jacks. again set to 2:00. spectrum of 50Hz sinewave. The star of the show is an ES9006 Sabre DAC from ESS Technology. and upsamples them to 24 bits and 96kHz.5 Peachtree iDecco.2. but this is sufficiently far down in level not to be an issue. However.PEACHTREE IDECCO on the iDecco’s front panel. right magenta). and the iDecco’s noise floor was low enough to allow the three DC voltage levels that describe an undithered 16-bit tone at –90.003%).0003%).31dBFS. with 16-bit data.5 show the spectrum of a full-scale 50Hz tone at the fixed-output jacks. alongside such extras as a Mute button and the measurements. and a regular series of distortion harmonics is also unmasked by the lowering of the noise floor.

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the Peachtree iDecco is pro- tected by an MDF “wrap” liberally vented for heat dissipation. pausing the music. 19+20kHz at 0dBFS into 100k ohms (linear frequency scale). with the variable jacks.0015%). with inputs for four of the five sources—USB digital. The Wide setting is to allow the iDecco to successfully lock to digital sources with poor-tolerance clocks. HF intermodulation spectrum.025kHz at –6dBFS. The rear panel is nicely laid out. December 2010 103 . sampled at 44. The primary intermodulation product. Center frequency of trace. continued risen to –50dB (0. Additional buttons on the handset can be used to control the most basic playback functions of the iPod itself: skipping forward or backward through various songs (but not albums). a picket fence of very-low-level spuriae is also visible. Fig. 19+20kHz at 0dBFS into 100k ohms (linear frequency scale). It is the “bent” transfer function of this tube that generates the even-order distortion. ±3. right red).1. The primary difference between the two outputs is that. Fast Filter. DC– 24kHz. Fig.5kHz (left channel blue. Slow Filter. Two other items deserve mention: a twoposition switch for choosing between soft and steep digital filter slopes. and resuming play. www. and other aliasing spuriae are folded down into the audioband. Wide receiver. This can be seen in fig. HF intermodulation spectrum. frequency range. and a pair of line-level outputs for those who might wish to use the iDecco as a standalone DAC to drive some other preamp or amp. DC– 24kHz. Switching this filter to Fast gives the spectrum shown in fig. USB. with Narrow and Wide settings (think of them as fine and coarse sieves. It is generally felt that a slower rate of rolloff sounds better. In both cases. which shows the spectrum of the iDecco’s fixed outputs while it decoded 24-bit data representing an equal mix of high-level 19 and 20kHz tones.PEACHTREE IDECCO aforementioned tube switcher. high-resolution jitter spectrum of analog output signal. and USB and S/PDIF digital inputs—and one pair of analog inputs.7: the ultrasonic images have dropped significantly in level. as have the audioband aliasing spuriae. coax and optical S/PDIF digital.3%). however.6 Peachtree iDecco. 11. and from an iPod plugged into the top-panel dock. a Jitter Bandwidth control. the signal passes through a 6922 tube.com. 16-bit data from SYS2722 via 15’ TosLink. to –96dB (0.Stereophile. The iDecco offers three choices of digital input: S/PDIF (on coaxial and TosLink connectors). and line-level analog—plus one pair of preamp outputs for subwoofers or other ancillaries.025kHz.1kHz with LSB toggled at 229Hz. The primary ultrasonic image of the two tones is suppressed by just 12dB. but the downside is that there is less rejection of the ultrasonic images that result from the digitizing of the signal. for use with the S/PDIF inputs. the downside is that this gives rise to increased Fig. measurements. Finally. a second rear-panel pushbutton selects between Wide and Narrow receiver PLL bandwidths. but this is still negligible in absolute terms. As can be seen in fig.7 Peachtree iDecco.8 Peachtree iDecco. at 1kHz. and finished with a sufficiently glossy (black) paint that I long assumed the case was made of some sort of polymer.6. 11. has risen slightly. the slow in “Slow Filter” refers to the rate of the reconstruction filter’s ultrasonic rolloff. respectively).

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but switching to the Narrow setting lowered the jitter level to below 200ps.Stereophile. at 48k ohms at low and middle frequencies.com. and 48kHz only. remarkably. Wilson Audio Sophia 3. Narrow receiver.9).2). sampled at 44. from sidebands at ±1423Hz (not shown). which is superb performance.5kHz (left channel blue. 4 ohms (left cyan.7dB into 8 ohms. I had to scratch my head a bit when I examined the iDecco’s output impedance. As for its top-mounted iPod connection. December 2010 105 . for example. and a significant widening of the central spectral peak due to random low-frequency clock variations. in my listening room/office (19' long by 12' wide by 8' high). Listening It’s often presumed that.9 Peachtree iDecco. was non-inverting) for digital inputs. there are strong sidebands at ±1. eliminated the high-frequency sidebands. 8 ohms (left channel blue. I compared the whole of the iDecco’s USB DAC system to various outboard USB DACs on hand. 11. ±3.83V into: simulated loudspeaker load (gray). then on to the iDecco’s coaxial S/PDIF input by means of a Black Cat Veloce cable (a superb product at a bargain price of $123). narrowed the central peak in the spectrum. In addition to AIFF and MP3 files from our iPods (v. right red). and I duly selected it. This is still low in absolute terms. there were sidebands of unknown origin present at ±91 and ±816Hz. dropping slightly but inconsequentially to 42k ohms at the top of the audioband. I perform this measurement by comparing the output voltage with the amplifier driving 8 or 4 ohms with how much that voltage rises when I remove the load. and reduced all data-related sidebands to the residual level of the test signal (fig. Take that equality from the scene and the compromise is presumed greater still. using the latter to address the Peachtree’s single pair of line-level analog inputs (labeled Aux). the output from the speaker jacks preserved polarity (ie. The iDecco offers excellent rejection of jitter.1. one of which fit my and my daughter Julia’s iPod Touches to a T.1). I also tried my aging Sony SCD-777ES SACD/CD player. I tried bypassing the iDecco’s USB transceiver by streaming files to a Stello U2 USB transceiver. (1dB/vertical div. the iDecco is supplied with four different dock inserts.8kHz.) www. continued levels of jitter.6. high-resolution jitter spectrum of analog output signal. and those plus WAV files streamed from my computer’s copy of iTunes (v. from both its line-level analog outputs and its optical S/PDIF output. The iDecco takes data from an iPod in digital format. 2 ohms (green). again due to the presence of random low-frequency jitter. 16-bit data from iPod Classic. Most of my listening was done with the first two pairs.025kHz. 11. frequency response at 2. Fig. Though data-related jitter other than the sidebands at ±229Hz is at the residual level. A simple Ohm’s Law calculation then gives me the amplifier’s output impedance (including the cables in use. and indicated that it accepted 16-bit data with sample rates of 32.1kHz with LSB toggled at 229Hz. Fig. shows the spectrum with the 16-bit J-Test signal fed to the iDecco via TosLink. Center frequency of trace.2).0.9. from the iMac’s headphone jack—which. Advent Loudspeaker) in three different rooms. I had intended to try streaming music files direct to the iDecco’s optical input. The maximum gain for analog input signals was fairly low for an integrated amplifier. the Peachtree iDecco led a nomadic existence in my home: I applied it to four different pairs of loudspeakers (Audio Note AN-E/SPe H/E.10 Peachtree iDecco. Moving on to the iDecco’s amplification section. though with both iPod and USB sources there was significant widening of the central spectral peak. frequency range.PEACHTREE IDECCO Setup and use Like the Naim Uniti CD/receiver before it (see my review in the March 2010 Stereophile). as with an especially cheap measurements. a sound output device listed as “USB Audio DAC” appeared in the computer’s System Preferences window. repeating the jitter test with the 16-bit J-Test signal playing on an iPod Classic 160GB gave a low 310ps of jitter. right red).025kHz at –6dBFS. Fig. is also an S/PDIF digital output—but an optical plug adapter that I ordered for that purpose didn’t arrive in time. but inverted absolute polarity for analog signals fed to the Aux input via the tube. Examining the iDecco with the Mac’s USB Prober utility identified the USB receiver as a “USB Audio DAC” from “Burr Brown from TI” operating in adaptive isochronous mode. The jitter level was 519 picoseconds peak–peak. Quad ESL. Feeding USB data from my MacBook gave just 260ps of jitter. the performance of an integrated amp is compromised compared to the performance potential of good separates. While there were no data-related sidebands present in the spectrum (not shown). all other things being equal. right magenta).4. Installation was a breeze: Once I’d connected the iDecco’s USB input to my Apple iMac G5 computer (OSX 10. 44.8. at 28. A Follow-Up may follow. according to the Miller Analyzer.2. The Aux input impedance was usefully high.

I was puzzled by this. 3:00. but there is a small degree of overshoot with very-high-frequency ringing into lower impedances (fig. taken with the volume control at its maximum. Actually. Audio Note. the iDecco’s most identifi- THE iDECCO’S OVERALL SOUND WAS NONETHELESS SATISFYING.10). and you can see that the iDecco’s low frequencies are well extended at volume-control settings of 12:00 and below. The opposite end of the spectrum was also well served: The lowest piano notes and drum and synth tones Transmigration of Souls. The traces in fig.PEACHTREE IDECCO integrated amp. This correlates with very short risetimes on its response to a 10kHz squarewave. the output voltage dropped. suggesting that the Peachtree actually has a negative output impedance of about –0. Fig.). 1dB/vertical div. I might also add that my favorite electronics. continued of course).83V into 8 ohms with volume control set to (from right to left): maximum. December 2010 . So the question becomes: How cleverly were those compromises chosen and implemented? In the context of the perfectionistquality gear with which I’m familiar. Nonesuch 79816-2). Fig. or EAR tube amp. Note the low-frequency rolloff in fig. This can be seen in the plot of the amplifier’s frequency response (fig.13 Peachtree iDecco.10.12).Stereophile. 9:00 (left channel blue. with a treble range that sounded naturally extended. but after some thought I repeated the response measurements at various settings of the volume control. This is unusual. WITH A TREBLE RANGE THAT SOUNDED NATURALLY EXTENDED. which.11 Peachtree iDecco. small-signal 10kHz squarewave into 4 ohms. unweighted signal/noise ratio (taken with Fig. 2:00. say. and had more to do with abstract sonics than purely musical capabilities. However. frequency response at 2. at –3dB at 55Hz. or very rare and thus terrifyingly measurements. 4 ohms. and that this is performed in the tubed preamp section. sounded fast and well controlled. all of which are either very expensive. are repeated as the bottom pair of traces in fig.11. distortion (%) vs 1kHz continuous output power into (from bottom to top at 1W): 8. lacking both the excess grit and the peculiarly chalky quality that characterizes a great deal of budget solid-state playback gear. green and gray traces). as was the wideband. However. albeit without quite the locomotive weight one can hear from.10 indicates that the iDecco’s ultrasonic response extends well beyond the 200kHz limit of this graph. For the amp to share its chassis and power supply with source components—an iPod dock and a D/A converter. and suggests that the amplifier circuit uses a degree of positive feedback. right red. 106 www. a Shindo. Lamm. with Lorin Maazel leading the New York Philharmonic (CD.com. where the output with the 2 ohm load (green trace) is higher than it is with 4 or 8 ohms.1. the iDecco’s shortcomings were far from severe. Channel separation was good rather than great. perhaps?—harshens the compromise still further. when I disconnected the load with the iDecco.2 ohm. It looks as if the iDecco reduces its low-frequency bandwidth as you increase the volume beyond 12:00.1. at 87dB R–L and 59dB L–R at 1kHz. The other traces in this graph were taken at progressively lower settings of the volume control. the variation in response with our simulated speaker (gray) is very low. The iDecco’s overall sound was nonetheless satisfying. 12:00. Fig. the latter being extremely good (a subject to which I’ll return in a moment). But the Peachtree did a satisfying job with the huge orchestral drum sounds and other harrowing effects in John Adams’ On the able shortcoming was that to which I find myself least sensitive: It didn’t have quite the same degree of spatial depth as the best contemporary electronics.12 Peachtree iDecco. is even more extreme than that seen in the response from the preamp outputs (fig.

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Fig. admittedly at a low level. spectrum of 50Hz sinewave. somewhat more color. and comparing them with the exact same files streamed from my iMac-iTunes installation through the iDecco’s USB input. Its D/A section is particularly impressive technically.” from the Quartet album (ripped from Rounder 11661-0579-2). Of course. 1kHz waveform at 1W into 8 ohms (top).03%. The iDecco played music with an excellent freedom from timing distortions: Upbeat fare such as the title track of Audra Mae’s The Happiest Lamb (CD.3%). the iDecco’s performance is dominated by its tubed preamp section. However. for a number of reasons: That approach not only rewarded me with the most open. this due to the mainly second-harmonic distortion introduced by the preamplifier stage (figs. not to scale). Likewise. A-weighting the S/N ratio.14 Peachtree iDecco. but increases in a linear fashion with increasing power. Peachtree specifies the iDecco’s maximum output power as 40Wpc into 6 ohms (14. among cheap and dear equipment alike. I daresay— exhibited fine pacing. but also with the Peachtree’s best sense of note-tonote flow—which was considerable.2dBW).155% THD+N. especially regarding its resolution and rejection of jitter. but it packs a lot of functionality into a small package.com.16 Peachtree iDecco.” from The Well’s On Fire (CD. and they confounded me further by being somewhat musicdependent. I most looked forward to hearing AIFF files from my iPod Touch played through the integral iPod dock. the subtle keyboard wash in the background of Jeff Buckley’s “Lilac Wine. DC–10kHz. The results weren’t always what I expected. As an integrated amplifier. Even downtempo numbers—such as Peter Rowan and Tony Rice’s “Trespasses. by any measure. fig. but the power-supply–related spuriae can also be seen in this graph. December 2010 109 . 1W into 8 ohms.Stereophile. sun-dappled melodies that fill Elgar’s Nursery Suite. The low-power distortion is around 0. DC–24kHz.” from Grace (ripped from measurements. thus improved the result to 83dB. of the many playback modes of which the iDecco is capable. at –50dB (0. Peachtree’s iDecco may be budget-priced. and Procol Harum’s poignant “An Old English Dream. 19+20kHz at 20W peak into 8 ohms (linear frequency scale). Fig. Intermodulation distortion with an equal mix of highfrequency tones at a level just below visible clipping on the oscilloscope screen (fig.15 Peachtree iDecco. Eagle ER 20006-2)—maintained good momentum. The beautiful.13 shows that the amplifier didn’t clip (defined as 1% THD) until 40Wpc into 8 ohms (16dBW) and 53Wpc into 4 ohms (14. which discounts the effects of LF and HF noise. believe it or not. right red. I spent many a long hour doing just that. and resisted tipping over like the musical equivalent of a ponderous bike: a rarity. This was primarily due to low-level spuriae at 120Hz and its harmonics that I couldn’t eliminate by experimenting with the grounding between the iDecco and the Audio Precision test system.5dB ref. which introduces even-order harmonic distortion much like that of a classic tubed amplifier. HF intermodulation spectrum. but you need to take the output from the fixed line-level jacks to get the maximum performance from it. I slightly preferred the iMac-to-USB route. That would be true—but who in the world would expect otherwise? As to the iDecco’s purely musical performance.8dBW) rather than the usual 8 ohms. For the most part. were easier to trace through the USB than through the iPod inputs. 0. linear frequency scale). continued the volume control at its maximum but the Aux input shorted) at 67. and a lot more texture than did the iDecco. www. imbue recorded music with a little more presence.PEACHTREE IDECCO expensive. again this stemming from the tubed preamp stage. —John Atkinson Fig. Sideonedummy SD1416-2)—a more rhythmically nuanced track than average. at 20W into 8 ohms (left channel blue.16) was primarily the low-order difference product. The distinctions weren’t huge. least opaque treble performance of which the iDecco seemed capable. as performed by Paul Goodwin and the English Chamber Orchestra (ripped from Harmonia Mundi HMU 907258). I was impressed beyond all reasonable expectations. 14 and 15). distortion and noise waveform with fundamental notched out (bottom.

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I suspect that the iDecco’s ultrasmooth Sabre DAC would be more at home in budget systems. the iDecco is the better. the iDecco is much closer than the average affordable product to having what I consider true perfectionist-quality sound: very good bandwidth. Shindo Masseto. Keith Monks record-cleaning machine. Sony SCD-777 SACD/CD player. it’s quite good enough: During its time in my home. Ortofon 90th Anniversary SPU cartridges. It was awesome. and the like.—Art Dudley ASSOCIATED EQUIPMENT ited (ripped from the “Red Book” CD layer of Columbia CH 90324) sounded as I’ve come to expect over the course of several years: a little bright. ACCESSORIES Box Furniture Company D3S rack (source & amplification components). On guitarist David Grier’s approach to “Little Wing. howsoever slightly. if any. I generally preferred the iDecco’s Fast filter slope. Interconnect: Audio Note AN-vx. Wilson Audio Specialties Sophia 3. or the Cranberries’ “Linger”—the iDecco was perfect. Digital: Black Cat Veloce 75 ohm. with my Advent Loudspeakers— it was like finding the Holy Grail. timbral neutrality. great sound. obvious differences. Grier & Flinner’s Looking Back (ripped from Compass 7 4342 2). which seemed to get the most out of note attacks. EMT OFD 25 & OFD 65. the trebly electric guitar and hi-hat tambourine can be a bit much. As for that tube switch. the sounds of solo voices were more like outlines: perimeters. hurtling majority of people. some music—soft acoustic fare.com. voices and lead instruments then gained a shade more body and color. Breyer horse (“Pandora”) as chassis damper (amplifiers). and seemed to spread the left-channel piano and the rightchannel organ farther away from each other—qualities that it imposed on a variety of other recordings. But this . and consequently more effective. Shindo Silver. On the one hand. but comparatively unstirring. A perfectionist-quality music system—just add speakers!—with a three-figure price? For the domestic audio market of 2010 and beyond. But played through the iDecco’s USB input. December 2010 111 . DIGITAL SOURCES Ayre Acoustics QB-9. the Peachtree iDecco proved so delightful. but I did prefer having the tube in-line. in addition to which the latter presented a soundfield noticeably larger than that of the less expensive Peachtree amp. more conspicuous through the Nova. I’m happy to say. Even with the trickiest pieces of music—such as Strauss’s Die Fledermaus. accentuating underlying notes. are surely leagues above those from which the average Peachtree owner will have just upgraded. Quad ESL. and smoothness. Apple iMac G5 computer running Apple iTunes. CABLES USB: Transparent Performance USB. and with music files of less than high resolution. PREAMPLIFICATION Auditorium 23 Hommage T1 step-up transformer. may wish to hold out for the higher-priced spread. Speaker: Auditorium 23.” for example. the better may indeed be the enemy of the good.Stereophile. if anything. EMT 997. and more musically purposeful and tuneful. Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revis- ANALOG SOURCES Thorens TD-124 Mk. while most of the outboard USB DACs I had on hand—especially the Wavelength Cosecant ($3500)— were even more satisfying. It almost echoed in my tiny little (no other words for it) black-hole-ofsound bedroom. Through the iDecco. Peachtree’s iDecco is surely the latest incarnation of the Advent 300 receiver: great source. with spatial qualities that. Without the tube. that I had no choice but to buy it. a more important new product is hard to imagine. . but for the vast. and whose needs don’t include an iPod dock. for the most part—could at times sound a bit too smooth for my tastes: listenable. A few words about the iDecco’s more esoteric user controls: Even though it sounded a little brighter and sharper. still. whereby music sounded a little more substantial and detailed. those whose rooms and speakers are more kind to soft trebles. from Phillips. if not quite topdrawer. (In the opening of “Queen Jane Approximately” in particular. And it’s not too steeply priced— bon appétit and happy shopping! —Julia Dudley www. digital sources that are presumed to be low in jitter were sonically better served by the Narrow setting of the jitter switch. Nova A final performance note: Just before writing this review. especially when driving the more sensitive speakers at my disposal— an expectation that was confounded. the styling subjective—and. The sound was much clearer than with headphones.” Well said—and if so. the sound is wonderful. as the iDecco’s very useful manual would lead one to expect. . the Peachtree Nova. The source part is obvious. Advent Loudspeaker. there are no words for it: The iDecco had spirit. as well. the differences were extraordinarily slight. Thomas Schick tonearms. John Marks suggested that Peachtree Audio’s Nova is “the Dynaco Stereo 70 for the 21st century. natural textures. I expected few. POWER AMPLIFIERS Shindo Corton-Charlemagne & Lafon GM-70. Also. Stello U2 USB transceiver. Wavelength Audio Cosecant. DIY copper. seemed more delicate.000-year-old Macedonian ballet shoe. LOUDSPEAKERS Audio Note AN-E/SPe HE. or subtle crescendos and decrescendos. from the Twilight soundtrack. great styling. Shindo SPU. comparing the iDecco to my own system of Shindo tube electronics and vintage phono components—a larger investment by a factor of 30 or so—is silly to the point of pointlessness: To paraphrase Voltaire. OMA slate plinth (Thorens turntable). I found myself thinking that the sound from the iPod input gave a better feeling of (realistic) pick-on-string noises. The smoothness that characterized the iDecco’s USB input was. And even for this perfectionist. I compared the Peachtree iDecco with a well-worn sample of its predecessor. clarity. That said. On the other hand.PEACHTREE IDECCO Columbia CK 57528). Chord Gem USB DACs. Conclusions In the August 2009 Stereophile. with anchor points in the bass and treble.) The Nova rounded off those highfrequency edges. openness. Shindo Vosne-Romanee preamplifiers. or a 10. but missing some midrange fill. HRT Music Streamer II & II+. ■■ I N MY RO O M W hen I first listened to the Peachtree iDecco— in my room. through the USB.II turntable. The distinctions were sufficiently slight that the Nova review sample’s longer run-in period could well have been a factor. so indispensable.

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96kHz. Approximate number of dealers: 12 (and sold direct). 2100104 (RCA).com/ cgi-bin/showvote. and the Stello U2 from April Music and the Lindemann USB-DDC 24/96 in May 2010 (www. DIMENSIONS 0.1 and more recently have been auditioning relatively inexpensive products that take audio data from the PC’s humble USB 1. Includes 6' USB cable.1 or 48kHz.2. Input: USB 1. We have been trying to meet this demand for some time. adjusted every millisecond and averaged over a longish period. I wrote a primer on the subject a few years ago. A discussion of audio file formats can be found at www. will indeed be the specified 44. “Should Stereophile review more or fewer computer-audio products?” (http://cgi.1 output port and transform it into a conventional biphase-encoded S/PDIF datastream to feed to a high-end D/A processor. Depending on the design of the USB receiver and its clock generator.5" (89mm) L. 48. com/features/308mp3cd. there will be short-term fluctuations. Tel: (858) 224-3551.stereophile. Input/output bit depth: 16 or 24.5" (13mm) diameter by 3. and the August 22 question.1–compliant.stereophile. FINISH Black-anodized aluminum. PRICE $450. 88. Web: www. MANUFACTURER Halide Design/ Devilsound Labs. SERIAL NUMBERS OF UNITS REVIEWED 2100099 (BNC). Weight: approximately 2oz (56gm).com/digitalprocessors/lindemann _amp_stello_usb-spdif_converters). These three converters operate in what the USB specification describes as “adaptive isochronous mode.com/computeraudio/1008servers.E Q U I P M E N T R E P O RT Halide Design S/PDIF Bridge JOHN ATKINSON USB-S/PDIF CONVERTER Halide Design S/PDIF Bridge USB-S/PDIF converter DESCRIPTION Bus-powered USB-S/ PDIF converter for use with PCs and Macs (no third-party driver software required). Output: S/PDIF electrical on 75 ohm BNC plug or Eichmann Silver Bullet RCA plug. while the sample rate of the output data.stereophile. A PC is not optimized for uninterrupted streaming.com.halidedesign. December 2010 113 .1. Sample rates supported: 44. Operates in asynchronous isochronous mode. some of that jitter will make it through into the S/PDIF output—a wise old engineer once 1 A basic guide to the various strategies for getting the best sound from a computer can be found at www. www.” in which the host computer controls the flow of data from the USB port.ste reophile.com. plus integral 6' cable. as requested by customer. No less than 88% of those responding asked for more coverage of products that allow a computer to be a legitimate source of music in a high-end context. generated a record number of responses.Stereophile.com/digitalprocessors/bel_canto_usb_link_2496_ usb-spdif_converter). T he weekly Vote! Page is one of the most popular features of the Stereophile website.stereophile. I wrote about the Bel Canto USB Link 24/96 in May 2009 (www. Just 7% of readers wanted less coverage.cgi?691). or jitter.

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December 2010 115 .2 Assemblage DAC-1.2. The complexity is on the inside. 48. and recorded the data using Adobe Audition. When I played that recording simultaneously with an inverted. and these have used it as the front-end circuit for a full-function D/A processor. as specified. www. In theory. which isolates the output ground from that of the PC. but then low-pass– filters it with a Pi filter (a series inductor between two shunt capacitors) that has a corner frequency of 3kHz. eye pattern of S/PDIF data output carrying 16-bit J-Test signal (±500mV vertical scale. Streamlength works with audio data having sample rates of 44. The Halide operated at whatever sample rate the audio file had been recorded at. 11. frequency range. 88. and that does not require that a driver program be installed on the host PC. I checked that the Halide was bit-transparent by feeding its S/PDIF output to an RME soundcard fitted to a second PC. A 6' USB cable is terminated with a 3"-long black aluminum tube half an inch in diameter. The Halide S/PDIF Bridge can be plugged into the coaxial S/PDIF input jack of any D/A processor.ap. sampled at 44. the Halide Bridge did operate at the 88. The Bridge gets its 5V power from the USB bus. high-precision crystal oscillator.HALIDE DESIGN S/PDIF BRIDGE told me that you can never eliminate jitter. right red). clocking the output data with a constant-frequency. and separately to 3V for the clock oscillators.2kHz sample rate. it is also possible to operate the USB interface in what is called “asynchronous mode.025kHz. the output from this device is clocked by the system’s original master clock with a D-type flip-flop. For reference. ±3. However. The “eye pattern” of the S/PDIF data waveform was wide open and free from timing uncertainty at its start and end (fig.025kHz at –6dBFS. provided the sample rate had been set with Audio MIDI Setup on the Mac or Audio Devices–Properties on the PC. with some tests repeated on a dualcore PC running Windows 7 and Adobe Audition 3. S/PDIF data from RME soundcard via 15’ TosLink.1 Halide Design S/PDIF Bridge. www.” which lets the DAC control the flow of data from the PC. the Halide Bridge is about as utilitarian as it gets. M E A S U R E M E N TS I examined the measured behavior of the BNC version of the Halide USB converter using the Audio Precision SYS2722 system (see www.com. To minimize any logic-induced jitter. Streamlength From the outside. This code allows the Halide Bridge to be operated in asynchronous mode without the host computer having to run a proprietary driver program. only a very few products currently available—from Ayre Acoustics.0. proving that the bits output from the converter via S/PDIF were the same bits sourced from the host computer via USB. 11. which converts the audio data to two-channel I2S format. The TAS1020 includes an embedded microprocessor that runs the proprietary Streamlength code licensed from Wavelength’s Gordon Rankin. as well as the Miller Audio Research Jitter Analyzer. Fig. and the Audio Precision System SYS2722 calculated the jitter in the S/PDIF datastream to be a very low 345 picoseconds peak. Lindemann USB-DDC 24/96. high-resolution jitter spectrum of analog output signal. The filtered voltage is then regulated to 3.1kHz with LSB toggled at 229Hz. there was a perfect null with both 16.6.5kHz (left channel blue. asynchronous USB operation (not to be confused with the asynchronous sample-rate conversion used in some D/A converters) reduces jitter to unmeasurable levels.and 24-bit data.3V for the digital electronics.1. The USB datastream is fed to a Texas Instruments TAS1020B receiver chip. The output from the TAS1020B is converted to S/PDIF with a transceiver chip.com and “As We See It” in the January 2008 issue. only low-pass–filter it—so these products need to be used with D/A processors that offer effective jitter rejection. I used RME’s DIGICheck utility to examine how many bits were active in the Halide Bridge’s S/PDIF output—the number of active bits followed how many had been set in the Mac’s Audio MIDI Setup utility or the PC’s Audio Devices–Properties dialog: 16 or 24. and Wavelength Audio—have featured this mode. This is coupled to the outside world with a small pulse transformer. dCS. or 96kHz.Stereophile.1).stereophile. as appropriate. I played test tones at various sample rates and bit depths from BIAS Peak Pro 6 on an Intel MacBook running OS10. bit-synchronized version of the original audio file. 175ns horizontal scale). The Halide Design S/PDIF Bridge ($450) is the first USB–S/PDIF con- verter of which I am aware that operates in asynchronous mode. The USB Prober program revealed that the Halide Bridge operated in asynchronous isochronous mode. Center frequency of trace. the other three USB– S/PDIF converters I have tested—the Bel Canto USB Link 24/96.4. and Stello U2—respec- Fig.com/ asweseeit/108awsi). with either a 75 ohm BNC plug or an Eichmann Silver Bullet RCA plug on its other end. However. Very importantly.

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444ps. similarly pitched tenor voices of Eric Stewart. Tested with the Esoteric D-07. whereas the Benchmark has a BNC. (The Esoteric has RCA S/PDIF inputs. to 1090ps. and 395ps. www. While there is still some accentuation of the lowerfrequency data-related sidebands.2). high-resolution jitter spectrum of analog output signal.3 Assemblage DAC-1. So in principle. BUT IT WAS ALSO EASIER ON THE EAR THAN I’D ANTICIPATED. By contrast. The Benchmark sounded as I’d expected: a little dry and a little forward. right red). I looked at the effects of datastream jitter in the reconstructed analog signal with a 1995-vintage Assemblage DAC-1 D/A processor.1ns p–p.5kHz (left channel blue. Replacing the Assemblage with the Musical Fidelity X-24K DAC gave a similar reduction in jitter when the TosLink connection was replaced by the Halide Bridge. Hmm.91 nanoseconds (2910ps). S/PDIF data from Halide Design S/PDIF Bridge. feeding the Assemblage data from the Halide S/PDIF Bridge reduced the jitter by a factor of 10.com. all with a 50Hz–100kHz measurement bandwidth.1kHz with LSB toggled at 229Hz. and if there was a difference to be heard when I switched to the Mac mini measurements. and a much cleaner spectrum with all but the lowest-frequency data-related sidebands at the residual level (fig. Except that it did. displayed the text “(C) 2010 Wavelength Audio Ltd.Stereophile. 11. ±3. This indicates that the Halide’s Streamlength code works as advertised. The Miller Analyzer calculated the jitter level to be an enormous 11.5kHz (left channel blue. and sat back to listen.025kHz. For reference. the Bel Canto USB Link gave 4. high-resolution jitter spectrum of analog output signal. as well as significant broadening of the central peak that represents a high-level tone at exactly one-quarter the sample rate (fig. and the contrast between the formance of Bach’s Partita in A Minor (24/96 FLAC. 11. with now a well-defined central spike (fig. December 2010 117 . with the latter offering just 185ps p–p in the reconstructed analog waveform. the spectrum of the Assemblage’s analog output suffered from very high levels of data-related sidebands. UK Records).025kHz. Catherine in Vilnius surrounding the solo baroque flute of Vytautas Sriubikis in his perusing the RCA version of the Halide Bridge. frequency range. free download from LessLoss) was superbly well defined—as was the distant traffic. from Sheet Music. S/PDIF data from Halide Design S/PDIF Bridge. who sings the second.025kHz at –6dBFS. using a source with lower levels of jitter shouldn’t make much of a difference. Fig. I changed to the Esoteric D-07 processor that I have in for review. now THE BENCHMARK SOUNDED AS I’D EXPECTED: A LITTLE DRY AND A LITTLE FORWARD. fired up iTunes and Pure Music in Memory Play mode on the Mac. with which I thought the Halide Bridge worked well.57ns p–p with the X-24K. 11. was readily apparent despite the lossy coding. right red).4). the spectrum was significantly cleaner. the MacBook via the Stello U2 actually increased this slightly.025kHz at –6dBFS. the Mac’s USB Prober utility revealed that the converter identified itself as “SPDIF Bridge” from “Halide Design” and. frequency range. Center frequency of trace. and the Lindemann USB-DDC 270ps.1kHz with LSB toggled at 229Hz. But it was also easier on the ear than I’d anticipated.” I plugged the Bridge into the coaxial input of my longtime reference Benchmark DAC1. converted to Apple Lossless with Max. plugged the balanced outputs of the DAC1 into the Simaudio Moon Evolution P-8 preamp. instead of the usual serial-number string. to 1. —John Atkinson Fig. The asynchronous samplerate conversion used by the Benchmark upstream from its DAC chips is very good at rejecting jitter. sampled at 44. ±3. 11. the Stello U2 455ps. continued tively measured 2. while the Halide Bridge reduced the measured jitter to 780ps. the TosLink output of my MacBook gave 1049ps p–p.4 Musical Fidelity X-24K. and Kevin Godley. who sings the first verse. sourcing 16-bit J-Test audio data from the MacBook’s USB output.4ns peak–peak.3). Fed S/PDIF data via TosLink from the RME soundcard in one of my test-lab PCs. I could hear deep into the imaginative mix of 10cc’s “Old Wild Men” (256kbps MP3 Amazon download.) I had previously auditioned the Esoteric feeding its AES/EBU input from the Ayre C-5xeMP’s digital output. sampled at 44. Center frequency of trace. The deliciously supportive acoustic of the Church of St. I chose the Assemblage because it appears to have the worst rejection of incoming datastream jitter of the DACs I had to hand.HALIDE DESIGN S/PDIF BRIDGE Listening I hooked up the BNC version of the Halide Bridge to the 2006 Mac mini that I use as a music server.

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THE HALIDE S/PDIF BRIDGE’S GRAIN-FREE PRESENTATION STEPPED OUT OF THE MUSIC’S WAY IN A VERY WELCOME MANNER. the difference between the Stello and Halide was small in absolute terms. Logitech Transporter D/A converters. iTunes 10. Benchmark DAC1. which emphasized the effect of the sustain pedal a little—something you don’t want with Schumann—while the piano’s left-hand register seemed fuller through the Halide. I was hardpressed to hear it. a pop band like 10cc could put out an album like this. I wouldn’t be able to tell you which one was playing purely by listening. Esoteric D-07. that was more than outweighed by the fact that it will function correctly with 88. Stello U2 USB-S/PDIF converter. Indiana. ACCESSORIES Celestion Si 24" speaker stands. if I left the room. which has been in heavy rotation since I heard Dynaudio’s Mike Manousselis play it at the 2010 Salon Son et Image in Montreal. With all the D/A processors I used. ■■ ASSOCIATED EQUIPMENT DIGITAL SOURCES Ayre C-5xeMP universal player.1kHz preserves as much as possible of the original’s quality. Fortunately. EMI). that was the case with the Halide S/PDIF Bridge. The Halide Bridge is limited to sample rates of 96kHz and below. basically a DAC that can power loudspeakers directly. Switching between them involved resetting the Mac’s default audio output to one or the other device and changing the input on the NAD.6. I swapped the Esoteric for the Logitech Transporter DAC and again compared disc sources played on the Ayre and fed to the Transporter’s AES/EBU input to the BNC Halide Bridge driving one of the Transporter’s S/PDIF inputs. from CD. that acoustic seemed a bit more of a piece with the direct sound of the Steinway when the Halide was handling the data. then reentered after someone had randomly switched between sources. AC: PS Audio Lab. Shuttle PC with dual-core AMD Athlon processor running Windows 7. then back to the first.2kHz to the CD’s sample rate of 44. over time I did tend to prefer the Halide Bridge’s sound. It was that close.) The only problem I have had with the U2 is that it won’t work transparently with audio files sampled at 88. each converter. The M2. for CD release this winter). It was time for a more relevant comparison. RPG Abffusor panels.Stereophile.2kHz data. Recommended. but for CD-quality audio and 96kHz-sampled files.2kHz. By contrast. as almost all of my own recordings are made at that sample rate. worked well with the Stello. while the amount of Sauder Hall’s delicious acoustic that could be heard to be excited by the piano was the same with Born” from Sheet Music.8. Certainly.5. On “Somewhere in Hollywood. and have it make the charts. the differences were small. the 96-to-44. I could still live with the Stello U2. APC S-15 AC line conditioners (not power amps). PS Audio Power Plant 300 at 90Hz (preamp). However. G4 Mac mini running OS10. Interconnect (balanced): AudioQuest Wild. Admittedly.” 10cc’s pastiche of “A Star Is WITH ALL THE D/A PROCESSORS I USED. but the Stello U2 ($349) has been my go-to device for using my Mac mini as a legitimate highend audio source since I reviewed it. (I used the pairing at the third of my Colorado demos. then on the other. For the comparisons. POWER AMPLIFIERS Classé CTM-600 monoblocks. Adobe Audition 3. each just 6' from the breaker box. even the jitterprone Assemblage DAC-1. The instrument’s upper register seemed a touch more prominent with the Stello. (In this new century of formulaic pop pap. with pianist Robert Silverman’s performance of Robert Schumann’s Symphonic Études (which I recorded in Goshen. its grain-free presentation stepped out of the music’s way in a very welcome manner. It is also truly plug’n’play.1kHz operation is computationally complex and easily compromised. CABLES Digital: Stereovox XV2 electrical S/PDIF. the acid test of the $100-more-expensive Halide is how it rates against the Stello. INTEGRATED AMPLIFIER NAD M2 Direct Digital. I used the NAD M2 integrated amplifier that I reviewed last March.) I had both converters plugged into the Mac mini’s USB ports. Foobar 2000.com. in 2008. with every song different from every other in every way. manufacturers’ own. DH Labs Silver Sonic AES/ EBU.) I finished my comparison with Peter Gabriel’s Scratch My Back (ALAC files. For example.0. Assemblage DAC-1. I marvel that. LOUDSPEAKERS Harbeth P3ESR. the only source I used was my MacBook with the Stello. so I tended to listen to long passages at a time on one converter. ASC Tube Traps. and the conversion from 88. grain-free presentation. 2 This is because I make recordings for eventual release on CD. the sound is made significantly worse. of course. Audio Power Industries 116 Mk. AC power comes from two dedicated 20A circuits. in 1974. a product providing the same functionality but costing three times as much needs to offer sound quality that is beyond criticism. Shunyata Research Dark Field cable elevators. but the Halide S/PDIF Bridge let Gabriel’s idiosyncratic readings of others’ music through that little bit more readily.II & PE-1. however. That’s the beauty of front-end programs like Amarra and Pure Music: they eliminate the possibility of iTunes invoking its poor real-time sample-rate converter. Again. Pure Music 1. For me.1kHz. which may be a problem for some users. December 2010 119 . Enter the Stello U2 My review sample of the Bel Canto USB Link 24/96 has long since been returned to the manufacturer. (If you attended any of the demonstrations I presented at Colorado dealer Listen-Up’s three stores last May. This is a shame. —John Atkinson www. This didn’t make possible an instantaneous switchover. such as when you play a 96kHz file in iTunes when the latter is set to operate at 44. Summing Up When USB–S/PDIF converters can be had for not much more than $150. PREAMPLIFIER Simaudio Moon Evolution P-8. Target TT-5 equipment racks. providing a superbly transparent.HALIDE DESIGN S/PDIF BRIDGE driving the Halide Bridge. And. The Halide Bridge solves that problem.2 as are many of those I have downloaded from Linn Records. Belkin Gold USB. Speaker: AudioQuest Kilimanjaro & Wild. every small detail of this intricate arrangement was laid bare without anything sounding spotlit or exaggerated. And if shortcuts are taken to allow the change to be performed in real time. and they fed the NAD’s two coaxial inputs. Ayre Myrtle Blocks. its owner doesn’t have to buy a separate S/PDIF cable to use with it.

The Original Audiophile Record Label. Still Producing the World’s Finest LPs. 800-449-8333 ® musicdirect.mofi.com Curtis Mayfield Curtis The Band Rock Of Ages Linda Ronstadt Simple Dreams The Pretenders Pretenders II . SACDs and 24K Gold CDs.com also available at musicdirect ph. Yes The Yes Album Elvis Costello Armed Forces Ray Charles The Genius Sings The Blues Frank Sinatra Sinatra At The Sands (Live) Foreigner Foreigner Beck Sea Change The Cars Shake It Up Little Feat Waiting for Columbus www.

Frequency range: 58Hz–20kHz. I NHT Classic Absolute Tower loudspeaker ’ve always enjoyed the time I’ve spent with NHT loudspeakers.E Q U I P M E N T R E P O RT NHT Classic Absolute Tower ROBERT J. I like to see speaker designers whose work improves over time. Fax: (707) 982-0004. The two bookshelf models I’ve reviewed—the SB-3 (Stereophile. shoppers need to www. two 5. and dynamic. November 2002) and its successor.com.83V/m. Base: 10. As most speakers costing under $1000/pair tend to be bookshelf models. acousticsuspension loudspeaker. Industrial Way. and a slightly forward and lively midrange. they say—I jumped at the chance. CA 94510. REINA LOUDSPEAKER DESCRIPTION Three-way. Impedance: 8 ohms average. DIMENSIONS 36" (920mm) H by 5. 43 lbs (19. Crossover: third-order low-pass and high-pass at 450Hz. still in production. Web: www. Sensitivity: 86dB/2. Weight (including base): 35. 5. SERIAL NUMBERS OF UNITS REVIEWED 259000204. the Classic Three (November 2006)—shared NHT’s “house sound”: liquid. 1% at 60Hz (1W).nhthifi.2kg) net. second-order low-pass and high-pass at 2.2kHz. 150Hz–20kHz.25" polypropylene-cone woofers. Approximate number of dealers: 150. 4 ohms minimum.25" (185mm) D. but I’m increasingly intrigued with—and applaud—the trend of manufacturers to add small-footprint tower speakers to their lines of affordable speakers. So when NHT approached me about reviewing a new floorstanding model with a small footprint. with little coloration.63” (270mm) W by 1. sounded more refined.90/pair. Benicia. Not only had I not reviewed an NHT in a while.6 lbs (16.Stereophile. December 2010 121 . (707) 815-3069. 140 W. Distortion: 0.25" polypropylene-cone midrange (in separate chamber).com. the Classic Absolute Tower—their first new speaker design of the next decade.7" (145mm) W by 7. balanced.9" (50mm) H by 12" (305mm) D. Drive-units: 1" aluminum-dome tweeter.5kg) shipping. The newer Classic Three. MANUFACTURER NHT Audio LLC. Tel: (800) 648-9993. 259000172. FINISH Piano-black lacquer.3%. and detailed than the SB-3. PRICE $999. natural.

home-theater sound was a secondary consideration. and glossy black. The impedance lies above 6 ohms for much of the audioband. a floorstanding speaker with a small footprint is much easier to place in a room.25" unit handles the range from 450Hz to 2200Hz. (2 ohms/vertical div. The Three was designed with two-channel music in mind. she or he will bypass the entire setup process and stick the speakers on bookshelves. aluminum-dome tweeter with neodymium magnet structure. a subwoofer would be “an option as opposed to a necessity. The cabinet The topmost 5.) Fig.” A full frequency response was “not a priority”. she stared at the piquillo-pepper NHTs next to the jumboburrito Alóns and said. and color should help it blend in easily with any décor. However.25" polypropylenecone midrange unit. high output for its size. who is likely to issue an order to move the speakers somewhere else—or.” He then said that the Absolute Tower had been designed more with home theater in mind. “Well. The traces in the impedance graph are free from the small glitches that would imply the presence of cabinet vibrational resonances. Nevertheless. acoustic-suspension design. M E A S U R E M E N TS I used DRA Labs’ MLSSA system and a calibrated DPA 4006 microphone to measure the NHT’s frequency response in the farfield. and its footprint.N H T C L A S S I C A B S O L U T E TO W E R worry about buying good-quality stands of the appropriate height. Sexy. which I’d reviewed four years ago. but also to provide good dynamic range.1 NHT Classic Absolute Tower. and about optimizing the speaker positions with respect to the front and side walls. investigating the behavior of the panels with a simple accelerometer did uncover a moderate mode at 234Hz that was present on all surfaces.56 ohms at 133Hz and 4. when that’s done. I had set up the speakers but had not yet removed my reference Alón Circes from the room. all with video shielding. the buyer will need to deal with his or her significant other. Bob Reina heard no lower-midrange congestion that might have resulted from this behavior. it suggests a much higher price tag.83V/m. God forbid. NHT expects that most home theaters will include a subwoofer.” Byrne said. 122 www. ideally. The goal was a speaker with good horizontal dispersion. size. three-way. of braced MDF is finished with two coats of primer. seven coats of polyester paint.Stereophile. with minimum magnitudes of 4. and a small footprint so that the speakers would “look good near a flat-panel set. I asked Byrne to compare the design criteria of the Classic Absolute Tower with those of the Classic Three. Its drive-units are a 1" fluid-cooled. and an Earthworks QTC-40 for the nearfield responses. measurement bandwidth. NHT specifies the Classic Absolute Tower as having a sensitivity of 86dB/W/m. a 5.2 NHT Classic Absolute Tower. NHT tried to maximize the Three’s frequency response so that. and two coats of clear acrylic polymer. and response. finesse.” Translation: Spouses will usually welcome new speakers if they’re smaller than the old ones.27 ohms at 550Hz (fig. above ear level and flush with the front wall. and two 5. at 85.5dB(B)/2. as well as a lower-frequency mode on the side panel level with the bottom woofer (fig. December 2010 . dropping below 5 ohms in just two regions. “Everything about the Three was detail.25" polypropylene-cone woofers. rounded.2). Conversely. NHT cofounder Chris Byrne told me that small dual woofers were used to keep the footprint small. This is also the frequency at which the output of the woofers (which behave identically) is down Fig. 2kHz). Design The Classic Absolute Tower is a sealed.com.55V.1). His response was intriguing. The speaker is a relatively easy load for the partnering amplifier. electrical impedance (solid) and phase (dashed). 7. cumulative spectral-decay plot calculated from output of accelerometer fastened to center of side panel adjacent to lower woofer (MLS driving voltage to speaker. I like the way they look. I was impressed by the Absolute Tower’s appearance. Then. My estimate was within experimental error of this figure. My wife didn’t object to them. and less likely to interfere with décor and thus trigger spousal rebellion. The single peak at 67Hz in the impedance graph indicates that this is the tuning frequency of the sealed-box woofer alignment.

from back to front: differences in response 90–5° off axis.” from My Point of View (CD. Sound When I first listened to the Classic Absolute Tower. I focused on Herbie Hancock’s simple yet dynamic chordal comping on his composition “Blind Man. I discovered the problem. a view not universally held among Stereophile writers. after the NHTs had played music for another five hours.com. Listening for longer than 15 minutes was fatiguing.6) indicates that all four drive-units are connected Fig. that would explain why Bob felt the balance without the grille to suffer from “a slight depression in the lower midrange that detracted from the speaker’s normally coherent sound. the speaker is voiced to have a more natural tonal balance that way. recorded live at Fat Tuesday’s in New York City. lateral response family at 50". I was surprised to find that I didn’t like its sound. So I always re- jazz recordings. and every time I turned the system on. Blind Man. though BJR did comment very positively on the quality of what low frequencies were present. However. NHT strongly suggests leaving the Tower’s grille in place. which is 35" from the floor. should the room have a wooden floor. the red with it removed. The Absolute Tower doesn’t offer much more than a minimonitor in the way of bass extension. Though there is a slight flare off-axis at the bottom of the tweeter’s passband. There is nothing in this graph. with no trace of rounding or excess sharpness. averaged across 30° horizontal window and corrected for microphone response. The upper midrange and lower highs were tense.4) is as wide and even as you’d expect from its narrow front baffle and the contouring in the vicinity of the tweeter. however. and with electronic components with exotic capacitor designs.3 shows the NHT’s response with its grille on. reference response. and the speaker didn’t sound balanced.3 NHT Classic Absolute Tower.3). and forward. The holographic quality of all vocal recordings I listened to through the NHTs made me want to span the entire range by 6dB (fig. natural. The sound of his piano was warm and woody. which I had done many times in the 1980s. Jazz guitar was also remarkably realistic.” from Jimmy Smith’s Fourmost (CD. Blue Note CDP-84126). The blue trace in fig. In the vertical plane (fig. my wife told me to turn it down—no matter the volume level or the music being played. The spikes and cups kept the Towers seated solidly on my own wood floor. Kenny Burrell’s lower-register melodic work in “Main Stem.Stereophile. and the entire setup took less than 15 minutes. but it wasn’t. Bob strongly preferred the speaker’s tonal balance with the grille in place.5). with complex sum of nearfield midrange and woofer responses plotted below 300Hz. the Towers let me enjoy many hours of coherent. My review samples of the Absolute Towers arrived with what NHT claimed was “36 to 48 hours of break-in. and I noticed a slight depression in the lower midrange that detracted from the speaker’s normally coherent sound. but every percussive attack was perfectly THE NHT’S NEUTRAL MIDRANGE MADE IT AN EXCELLENT MATCH FOR SMALL-ENSEMBLE JAZZ RECORDINGS. this is too small to add any treble character to the speaker’s sonic signature. normalized to response on tweeter axis. Turning to the time domain.4 NHT Classic Absolute Tower. Fig. differences in response 5–90° off axis.” I figured that would be enough. the NHT Tower’s lateral dispersion (fig. www. quest that a manufacturer break in a product for 100 hours before shipping it to me. floor spikes. glary. I can’t agree more strongly. the NHT’s step response (fig. its main effect is to suck out energy at 6 and 12kHz. for a total of 10 additional hours. anechoic response on tweeter axis at 50" with (blue trace) and without (red) grille. With the grille off. After five hours of listening. Milestone MCD9184-2).” Perhaps the grille reduces the audibility of the panel resonances noted earlier. and brass cups for the spikes to sit in. the highs were more prominent. I’m a strong believer in breaking in a new product before critically listening to it. Measured without the grille. sounded as if I were sitting in the fifth row of that wonderful club (now defunct). the Absolute Tower maintains its even balance over a wide window centered on the tweeter axis. I have found this to be particularly critical with dynamic speakers. The NHT’s neutral midrange made it an excellent match for small-ensemble integrated with the rhythm section. the clouds parted—for the rest of my time with them. nonfatiguing listening. December 2010 123 .N H T C L A S S I C A B S O L U T E TO W E R The Absolute Tower is supplied with screw-in integral bases.

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step response on tweeter axis at 50" (5ms time window. extended transients are very easy to re- produce poorly. (I’m blessed to have a recording of Carter sitting in with my jazz quartet.” from pianist Matthew Shipp’s Nu Bop (CD. ment. I was a bit puzzled by the presence of a small reflection at 7. . and lost no sense of natu- ralness.” from the Hampton Grease Band’s Music to Eat (CD. 30kHz bandwidth). I never once felt that the NHTs sounded bass-shy.) But the acid test was percussionist Terry Cox’s accompani- HIGH FREQUENCIES WERE EXTENDED. and uncolored. Apple CDP 5 95713 2). normalized to response on tweeter axis. Paul McCartney’s rich lower-register work in the verses of his “Let It Be. Shotput/Columbia/Legacy C2K 67483). —John Atkinson Fig. I’ve frequently had difficulty getting small. of John Renbourn in the latter’s “The Earle of Salisbury. which didn’t appear to be from any of the room boundaries. AIRY. for the first time. in his “Halifax. “Urge for Going. Guitarist John McLaughlin makes extensive and creative use of electronic sequencer programming on his Industrial Zen (CD. Flutist Daniel Carter does an elegantly minimalist duet with bassist William Parker on “X-Ray. and that the tweeter’s output leads that of the midrange. December 2010 125 . Further up the vocal range. I windowed it out of the impulse response when I calculated the NHT’s cumulative spectral-decay plot (fig. the NHT reproduced this with a speed. Carter’s breathy.2ms in this graph. That the decay of each step smoothly blends into the start of the step of the next driver lower in frequency suggests optimal crossover implementation. Col. The sharp. And while my large listening room is capable of fully supporting the bottomoctave reproduction of large speakers. affordable loudspeakers to produce a realistic bottom end here.5 NHT Classic Absolute Tower. without harshness or blurring. silky. Attention Screen. but the Absolute Tower captured them perfectly. immediacy. Fig. That NHT’s Classic Absolute Tower measures very well is especially commendable when you consider that it costs just $1000/pair.N H T C L A S S I C A B S O L U T E TO W E R of the human voice. airy.” from Hits (CD. differences in response 5–10° below axis. which in turn leads that of the woofers. Shanachie 97021). Moreover.7).Stereophile. I thought about what Chris Byrne had said: that the Absolute Tower was not designed with full bass response in mind. Reprise 463262). dynamic phrasing was as identifiable through the NHTs as I’ve heard it in concert. there was just the right amount of nasal squawk. even with the most challenging recordings. on closely miked finger cymbals and glockenspiel. However. continued with positive acoustic polarity.com. and is at best acquired taste.7 NHT Classic Absolute Tower. vertical response family at 50". . and a timbral envelope that reminded me of when I heard Hampton sing this tune at New York’s Fillmore East in 1971. which is superbly clean. I noticed how strong Mitchell’s Canadian accent is in this recording. Naked (CD. the NHT’s ability to render low-level dynamics were such that.” from Let It Be . C&B Media/Verve Fontana 7066-02). piercing. As I listened to recordings with significant bass output. High frequencies were extended. presented an airy and pristine Joni Mitchell. The speaker’s highfrequency performance also married nicely with its ability to flawlessly reproduce rapid transients in both acoustic and electronic recordings. reference response. AND UNCOLORED. But listening to a wide range of rock and classical recordings at all volume levels. Not measurements. Bruce Hampton’s closely miked “Georgia tenor” can sound grating or nasal with the wrong equipment. In the mezzo-soprano range. cumulative spectral-decay plot on tweeter axis at 50" (0. with perfectly articulated transients. from back to front: differences in response 15–5° above axis. www. resonated without a touch of chestiness or speakerenclosure colorations.” from the guitarist’s Sir John Alot of Merrie Englandes Musyk Thyng & ye Grene Knyghte (CD. and delicacy reminiscent of those of a fine electrostatic speaker.15ms risetime). Fig.6 NHT Classic Absolute Tower. Thirsty Ear TH 57114).

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Simply Physics. Syrinx PU-3 tonearms. Listening to Wayne Shorter’s “Sanctuary”/“Nefertiti. detailed. the two models were comparable in this regard. was dramatic and forceful—and it was very easy to determine the pitches of his melodic bass line. more expensive floorstanders. LOUDSPEAKERS Alón Circe. chugging sound with no trace of sluggishness.com. Salamander Designs. and. It did nothing wrong. in a sense of drama that I normally associate with larger speakers. and was sufficiently revealing to let well-recorded music shine while making lesser recordings quite listenable. I felt that. POWER AMPLIFIER Audio Research Reference 110. “This is a speaker you can take home to meet Mother. This reimagining of Miles Davis’ “Theme from Jack Johnson” by guitarist David Fiuczynski created some slammin’ rhythms at 95dB through the NHTs in my large listening room. Speaker: Acarian Systems Black Orpheus. Dynaudio’s Excite X12 had a slightly warmer bass than the NHT Absolute Tower.N H T C L A S S I C A B S O L U T E TO W E R a problem with the Absolute Towers. ACCESSORIES Various by ASC. But in addition to high-level dynamic swings. Dynaudio Excite X12. in the broad.” from the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine Songtrack (CD. Even bass guitarist Peter Freeman’s thundering opening to “Aurora. Payoff A reviewing colleague once wrote of a speaker. in fact. What I enjoyed most about the NHT was its coherent presentation of the textures of rhythm sections in jazz and rock recordings. more coherent sound. Stereophile STPH0182). I focused on the interplay between bassist John Patitucci and drummer Jack DeJohnette. INTEGRATED AMPLIFIER Creek Destiny. Immedia. The Monitor also had the tightest. VPI. all of the thundering effects were delivered without compression or distortion— again. I cranked up the pilot episode of Lost (Blu-ray. the Dynaudio Excite X12 ($1200/pair). most dynamic bass response of all four speakers. Discovery 77019). ■■ what more can you ask? ASSOCIATED EQUIPMENT ANALOG SOURCES VPI TNT IV. the Classic Absolute Tower has impressed me more than any other NHT model I’ve heard. Stereophile readers should find it a truly “universal” speaker: Every reader of this magazine will enjoy listening to music through the Absolute Towers.90/pair) with NHT’s own Classic Three ($798/pair). but the upper end of the audioband was a bit more crisp through the RS6. Clearaudio Virtuoso Wood cartridges. Bright Star. and found it much easier to follow individual instruments through than the NHT Tower. but the Tower seemed more detailed. MI-330SG Terminator. the sense of pace reproduced by the NHT was tight and coherent. but this one does it all in a naturally balanced fashion. For $1000/pair. ABC 100834). I analyzed Mark Flynn’s wideranging percussive palette in “Mansour’s Gift. Tone Center TC-4044 2). and with more extended highs. Stereophile STPH007-2). with music.” from guitarist Steve Khan’s The Green Field/El Prado V erde (CD. Rega Planar 3 turntables. Monitor Audio Silver RS6. Celestion. the Absolute Towers were capable of subtle low-level dynamic shadings. with more prominent sibilants. In the dramatic plane-crash sequences. I found it a smooth. both music and films. the Monitor Audio Silver RS6 also had more detailed and extended highs than the Absolute Tower. although the Three’s bass was a bit warmer and a touch slower. ECM 2077). NHT Classic Three. MI-350 CVTwin Terminator. I never felt the need for a subwoofer. CABLES Interconnect (all MIT): Magnum M3. and I am sure that no reader’s spouse will object to their presence in the house. locked in with Paul McCartney’s bass and all of this track’s electronic effects to provide through the NHTs a lively. December 2010 127 . from the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival’s Festival (CD. Reina www. —Robert J. swirling. What finally put the entirety of the Absolute Tower’s performance together for me was Tomiko Kohjiba’s The Transmigration of the Soul. DIGITAL SOURCES Lector CDP-7T. Other speakers may do more in a particular area. linear dynamic envelope of the performance. Koetsu Urushi. and the Monitor Audio Silver RS6 ($1200/pair when last offered). Apple CDP 5 21481 2). PREAMPLIFICATION Vendetta Research SCP-2D phono stage. Audio Valve Eclipse line stage. but also a more detailed and delicate midrange and silkier.Stereophile. This is the sort of linear reproduction of a full dynamic envelope that I normally expect from much larger. I reveled in the detailed and delicate articulation of transients from these nine instruments and one soprano on a wide. Reflecting again on Byrne’s comment that the Absolute Tower was designed to be primarily a home-theater speaker. I felt the Dynaudio had an airier. more extended highs. Finally. Comparisons I compared the Classic Absolute Tower ($999. The NHTs captured all the subtle nuances of Mark’s drumming near the beginning of the piece’s pianissimo passages. I felt that the Classic Three and Classic Absolute Tower had similar timbral characteristics. Creek Destiny CD players.” That description perfectly fits NHT’s Classic Absolute Tower. liquid. Echo Busters.” from Jon Hassell’s Last Night the Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes in the Street (CD. This diminutive floorstander could rock! Then I cranked the Absolute Towers to rock-concert level and spun Screaming Headless Torsos’ “Smile in a Wave. finally. less veiled. Ringo Starr’s flamboyant drumming on George Harrison’s “Only a Northern Song. Although the Three’s published specifications claim deeper bass extension than the Tower’s. dynamic performer with a wide range of program material. and followed through with the fff blast near the end. Sound Anchor. Overall. Similarly.” from Attention Screen’s Live at Merkin Hall (CD. deepest. deep soundstage.” from their eponymous album (CD.

Efficiency: 115. the Ultimate Ears models basically differ in how many of each are used. but took quite a long time to expand and fully seal the ear canal. December 2010 . with a passive crossover. as well as a search engine to find recommended audiologists in your area. Frequency range: 20Hz–18kHz.com/en-us/support/ find-your-audiologist.stereophile. so I have been most interested in in-ear models.5mm) stereo plug. The original UE-5c used two proprietary balanced-armature transducers. housing. MANUFACTURER Ultimate Ears by Logitech. The Ultimate Ears molds used to be offered in either hard or soft plastic. even over multi-hour listening sessions. by bus or subway. (949) 502-8341. Noise isolation: 26dB.com.Stereophile. The molds contain the drive-units and crossover components. The soft molds offered excellent isolation. Sensitivity: 110.6dB SPL at 1kHz. since renamed the 5 Pro) when I reviewed it in December 2004 (see www. 30 days on fit for custom in-ear monitors. Impedance: 21 ohms at 1kHz. A plethora of affordable high-quality headphone amplifiers are available. Optional Ambience feature adds $50.com/headphones/508ue). no longer available) and the 11 Pro ($1150.E Q U I P M E N T R E P O RT Ultimate Ears 18 Pro JOHN ATKINSON IN-EAR HEADPHONES DESCRIPTION In-ear headphones with custom earmolds. the resultant molds are used to form the bodies of the headphones. Used with a computer or iPod to play uncompressed WAV or AIF files or losslessly compressed FLAC or Apple Lossless (ALAC) files.ultimateears. 5 Jenner Street. UE’s current molds use a fairly hard acrylic shell that I found comfortable.6dB/m. Fax: (949) 502-8379. Web: www.stereophile. while the 128 www. 64" (1626mm) available for $45 as an accessory. and high-performance ’phones can be had for a few hundred dollars. especially when they offer some isolation from external sounds. which are inserted into the ear canals. All these Ultimate Ears Pro custom models require that impressions be taken of the listener’s inner ears. Cable length: 48" (1220mm). I was very much taken by the sound of the Ultimate Ears UE-5c ($600. includes personalized aluminum carrying case and cleaning tool. Approximate number of dealers: sold online. H eadphone listening is hot these days. PRICE $1350 plus custom earmold fee. CA 92618. monitors. due not only to the ubiquity of the iPod as a music source but also because it is possible to get state-ofthe-art headphone playback without having to have stupidly bottomless pockets.com/headphones/1204ultimate). 1∕8" (3. and Stereophile has since reviewed the Ultimate Ears UE-10 Pro (October 2006. www. My own headphone listening takes place mostly on my commute to work. which is why it is important to have the molds taken with care. Instructions for how to have an “open-mouth impression” taken by a local hearingaid center or audiologist can be found at http://ultimateears. one handling the low frequencies. I found. internal speakers. SERIAL NUMBER OF UNIT REVIEWED 3511-1. The 10 Pro added a second LF armature. May 2008. Drive-units: 6 balanced armatures with three-way crossover. DIMENSIONS Weight: 1 oz. Irvine. and optional Ambience feature.com/headphones/1006ue. Suite 100.com. sealing off the outside world. stereophile. a headphone-based system can offer the audiophile on a budget seriously good sound. www. Warranty: 1 year. Tel: (800) 589-6531. the other the highs. Low-frequency extension will depend on the effectiveness of the seal.

stereophile. The six armatures communicate with the user’s inner ear via three tubes within the body of the headphone—two of these. I love this philosophy” With the temporary demise of the UE5c. the latter allowing the 18 Pro to have the most extended top end of any UE model. with delicate details—such as drummer Peter Erskine’s brushwork—readily audible. the Ultimate Ears 18 Pro plays in a different league. The ultralow bass lines on “Nightwalker. M E A S U R E M E N TS he only parameter of headphones that I measure. ripped from DVD-A. I was most impressed by the smoothness of its midrange and high frequencies.) www. but without the highs sounding fizzy or bright. Like the 11 Pro. made my skull pulse in and out in sympathy. and treble. the 18 Pro is expensive—and $1350 is within spitting distance of the best regular headphones money can buy. a Goffin-King composition. to determine how difficult they are to drive. midrange. which Erick Lichte and I am preparing for eventual release as a Stereophile CD. though the mid-treble might sound a little laid-back with headphone amplifiers having a high output impedance. This.1 Ultimate Ears 18 Pro Custom Monitor. www. The Ultimate Ears’ midrange clarity had a downside. The orchestra backing Joni Mitchell in “At Last. Yes.S.” “.” (Listen to the kick drum and bass guitar at a live rock concert—both will be mixed at a higher level than the rest of the instruments to maximize the visceral effect of the sound on the audience. To take these readings. September 2009. Reprise 47620-9). December 2010 129 . absent with in-ear ’phones. Since its acquisition by Logitech in 2008. the mighty Sennheiser HD800. such as my recording of the 1992 Canadian Grand Prix on Test CD 3 (ALAC file. Ultimate Ears has invested heavily in headphone R&D. The Achilles’ heel of in-ear ’phones is a lack of top-octave extension.Stereophile. such as the Phiaton PS 200 I reviewed in September 2009 (www. and the clarity and smoothness of its midrange is Class A. “I love this music . the 18 Pro is a three-way design but takes things a step further by using six balanced armatures. However. Verve 847 248-2. the 18 Pro.2kHz AIF files). the Shure SE310 ($300.1. Geffen 24246-2). Indiana. is their electrical impedance. I assume.” from Both Sides Now (24/96 ALAC file. it sounded cleaner in the bass. (The less-expensive Ultimate Ears models have two tubes. Some models. by definition. I inserted the Ultimate Ears ’phones in my ears so that they had the correct acoustic loading. (10 ohms/vertical div. with harmonic distortion evident only on the 25 and 20Hz tones. due to a failed cable and connector. with an average peak:mean ratio around 14dB and a peak level on “Satellites” of -4. The variation in impedance is relatively small overall. is due to the absence of the acoustic modification of the sound reaching the ears by the pinnae. though its low frequencies were definitely larger than life—what my friend Martin Colloms once referred to as “the JBL Effect.) As with the other in-ear headphones I have tried.) By contrast. try to compensate for this by exaggerating the mid-treble level. Kemar manikin for testing in-ear frequency response and other parameters. what more could anyone want?—is actually a dub from LP. are concentric—so that the three frequency bands remain separate until they combine at the eardrum. . and that’s where the Ultimate Ears come into ■■ their own.” When I reviewed the UE-5c.U LT I M AT E E A R S 1 8 P R O 11 Pro has four balanced armatures.” from Rickie Lee Jones’ Flying Cowboys (AAC file. However. as were the ambient sound effects in Trentemøller’s “Nightwalker. the acoustic guitar and percussion on “Satellites. which is. sounds to the sides were reproduced well outside my head. and to 11 ohms between 8 and 10kHz. with better extension and definition. ripped from CD. ripped from Stereophile STPH006-2). sounded rich and clean. adding a midrange driver to the 10’s tweeter and double woofers. ripped from CD. Through the 18 Pros. Pokerflat PFRCD18). for the low and midrange frequencies. produced by Walter Becker of Steely Dan. had top-octave air to spare.” from the Righteous Brothers’ Unchained Melody (CD. (This album. including the purchase of an expensive G.R. but drops to 18 ohms in the lower midrange and bass. . however.com.A. The Ultimate Ears 18 Pros’ impedance and electrical phase are shown in fig. The warble tones on Editor’s Choice (ALAC files. But as much as I like the Shure. even with twice as many LF units.” from Anders Trentemøller’s The Last Resort (ALAC file.4dBFS. The impedance meets the 21-ohm specification at 1kHz. —John Atkinson T Fig. binaural recordings.com/headphones/ shure_se310_in-ear_headphones) became my daily earphones. with low-level groove noise just audible in the quiet passages. . Stereophile STPH0152) were audible down to the 20Hz limit. has the widest dynamic range of any nonclassical recording I have measured. and then only to a slight extent.stereophile. electrical impedance (solid) and phase (dashed). The restored Steinway piano used for Robert Silverman’s performance of Brahms’ Variations on a Theme by Handel (24-bit/88. Naxos 8. didn’t sound as fat as the 5c. of course: it allowed me to hear that the version of “For Just Once in My Life. Its ability to play low frequencies at high levels with minimal distortion is unmatched by other in-ear ’phones. (The clarity of the Ultimate Ears does tempt you to play LOUD!) The 18 Pro’s midrange was uncolored and smooth—the massed voices of the Elora Festival Singers in Eric Whitacre’s “I thank you God for this most amazing day” (ALAC file. com/headphones/phiaton_ps_200_inear_headphones). ripped from CD.) Acoustically tuned filters in these tubes equalize the signal for the flattest overall response. Two each are used for the bass. a Phil Spector production. . ripped from CD. sounded as powerful and as clean as it had the day I recorded it in Sauder Hall at Goshen College. But you’re not going to take the Sennheisers with you on the subway.559677) had a luminous intensity through these ’phones. obstinately refused to image in front of my head with the UE 18 Pros. Bill Medley’s rich baritone. 1990)—Bobby Hatfield’s high tenor.

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Fax: (323) 466-9825. Wes Phillips. I spotted a high performance TI TAS 1 I reviewed HRT’s Music Streamer and Music Streamer+ in the November 2009 Stereophile. Tel: (323) 967-7447.Stereophile. August 2010) or Amarra. with a little less openness and body than with the exponentially more expensive DACs from Ayre Acoustics and Wavelength Audio. corpus. Proprietary software identified each HRT converter for the host computer—in this case. Los Angeles. They powered up automatically when connected to an active USB bus.) The new Streamers are claimed to handle HRT Music Streamer II sampling rates up to 96kHz and word lengths of up to 24 bits. D/A chips. with no attempted upsampling of lower bit rates and word lengths. the Music Streamer II ($150) and Music Streamer II+ ($350) arrived. Further. opening the computer’s Audio MIDI utility. & Brian Damkroger HRT Music Streamer II and Music Streamer II+ Consumer audio hasn’t enjoyed many success stories in recent years. such as I. For audiophiles. incontrovertibly more involving sound. the same must be said of the performance changes noted in replacing the original budgetpriced Music Streamer with the Music Streamer II: In terms of sheer degree of improvement. David Grier’s mid-1940s Martin D-28 sounded notably richer through the II+: more like its very complex vintage self. December 2010 131 .com. The boxes are all but featureless. the new HRT had distinctly more saturated tonal colors. Manufacturer: High Resolution Technologies. have been kicking ass. designer Kevin Halverson says that the differences are many. The songs on Joanna Newsom’s richly arranged Ys (ripped from Drag City DC303CD) gained in that same way: They. the new models look exactly like their predecessors: 4"-long (Streamer II) and 5"-long (Streamer II+) boxes of hexagonal cross-section. CA 90038. seemed to stretch in every direction—and like a much more dramatic. so this one stands out: According to distributor Elite Audio/Video. especially when audio reviewers are doing all the stirring. If I had to describe in two words the improvements offered by the Music Streamer II+. too. Halverson says the new models will always play music files at their native resolutions. taking names. and generally scaring the hell out of everyone else who wants a share of the computer-music market. it’s also necessary to adapt to each distinct file type by exiting iTunes. (The earlier models had used the resolution-limited Burr-Brown PCM2706 transceiver chip. a recent-vintage Apple iMac—after which output-device selection was performed onscreen in a matter of seconds. and voices. becoming very slightly warm to the touch over the course of several minutes. their USB-based Music Streamer D/A converters. retained the HRT house sound: slightly dry. The result. Inside. But the Metamucil of technology doesn’t settle in the bottom of the glass for very long. the new Music Streamers were easy to install and to use. the most obvious difference between the old and new models is the use of a single PCB in each instead of a motherboard with a smaller plug-in (as before). is ripe with the trebly www. and the performance gap between the red and the gray converters is smaller than before. The improvements wrought in the HRT II+ were no less evident on standard-issue pop. who use Apple iTunes without benefit of a software plug-in such as Pure Music (see Stereophile. (Stereophile thrives only by sowing discontent among hapless consumers. and selecting the appropriate sampling rate before reactivating iTunes. and human subtlety. made of aluminum alloy and painted red or gray. The Music Streamer II+. LLC.) Thus the folks at High Resolution Technologies (HRT) have been busy in the two years since they introduced the Music Streamer ($99) and Music Streamer+ ($299) USB D/A converters. Neither wall warts nor DC-in jacks are needed—the Music Streamers get all the power they need from the USB bus itself. 1020 chip among the various subminiature imponderables in both new models. Indeed. Notwithstanding some enduring dryness. in plain English. As evidence.” from the CD of that title (ripped from Sideonedummy SD1416-2). brasses. I offer the way the Music Streamer II played pop recordings of no great pedigree. However. especially for such an affordable product. with more color. with especially notable gains in the sounds of woodwinds. On Live at the Linda (ripped from Dreadnought CD 0701). Like the originals. the first of the new models to grace my system after I’d briefly reacquainted myself with its predecessor (sloth has its advantages).FOLLOW-U P Ar t Dudley. in fact. were richer. the less expensive Music Streamer II is the greater success. com. so it must be true. was a realer. the II+ improved on the original in a variety of ways. The II+ also sounded much bigger—the smallish group in Daniel Myssyk’s brilliant interpretation of Hindemith’s Escales Romantique. including a thoroughly redesigned power supply along with newer and presumably better USB transceivers.1 In August 2010. Orange Drive. I read that on the Internet. this superb recording is available only on a limited-edition Fidelio sampler). from Fidelio Musique (at present.hirestech. Except for their slightly different logos. From there. but with notable musical momentum and flow. 1027 N. more dynamically nuanced device. and other bits. Audra Mae’s wonderful “The Happiest Lamb. having only a USB jack at one end and a stereo pair of RCA jacks at the other. Surprisingly or not. designed and built in California by High Resolution Technologies. Web: www. they would be: appreciably richer.

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still. and nonmicrophonic. but simply passed them along.) Recordings already noted for lacking openness and sonic light—the Vienna Piano Trio’s appropriately dark performance of Mahler’s Piano Quartet (ripped from MDG Gold 3421354-2) comes to mind—sounded more explicit through the dearer HRT box. I have to remove them—because the earmolds are made of clear silicone. but nowadays I usually end up with two seatmates staring at me—and. With both earmolds in place. In fact. and. absent an Ayre or a Wavelength of my own. In fact. colorful. That’s a remarkable thing to say about a $150 product that also has the distinction of being made in the US. Tel: (847) 228-0006. The company sent me to Dr. with virtually the same degree of unfettered and reasonably natural flow to the music itself. (Just to show you how proud one can be of something over which one has no control. just seeming too warm. I mentioned that the company2 was about to offer custom earmolds via its Custom-Fit program. organic sound—it’s hard not to get spoiled in this job—even the cheaper Streamer was enough to please me. For anyone with a decent computer and a copy of iTunes (or similar software) who has yet to try a USB converter. at the Audio Help Hearing Center in Manhattan—the “Chief Audiology Officer” who developed Etymotic’s network of audiologists. when I received my Custom-Fit earmolds in the mail. perhaps the higher cost of the II+ allows for tighter tolerances in that regard. once I’d removed the headsets’ stock flanged eartips. and Etymotic will e-mail you a certificate that guarantees their $100 price. and spatially less “precise. I’d receive in the mail my headphones with hard-plastic negatives of my ear canals. (Molds that fit all other Etymotic models are also available. more often. —Art Dudley Etymotic Research Custom-Fit earmolds Etymotic Research Custom-Fit earmolds In my review of Etymotic Research’s hf5 and hf2 in-ear headphones in the August 2010 Stereophile. I found that the hard earmolds grew uncomfortable. which would produce custom eartips for its headphones via a nationwide network of audiologists. but another feature. December 2010 133 . additional pairs of earmolds are available at a discount.com. 61 Martin Lane. rather than having to take them out periodically to air out my ears. but the Music Streamer II got the job done nonetheless. Dr. Fax: (847) 228-6836. for some reason. IL 60007. Kasper used a new (to me) system that took casts of my ear canals in just a few minutes—and. And. with hot ears. Think of the consistency of a Gummi Bear. They fit extremely well. for a cost of about $100/pair. This wasn’t a huge problem in the days when airplanes had more empty seats. FAAA. Dr. I was startled to find that they were made of soft silicone rather than the hard plastic of my other molds. which are where I most often listen for hours on end. they’re easy to throw in my gym bag or briefcase.” (My sample of the II had an output imbalance that favored the left channel to a very slight degree. On long airplane flights. people tend not to notice you’re wearing them. rubbing some parts of my ear canals or. Also.etymotic. (I always feel I’m dissing the pricey Ultimate Ears models when I don’t store them in their supplied hard cases. after making the molds. and later for several pairs of very 2 Manufacturer: Etymotic Research. in my opinion. The Music Streamer neither harshened nor softened those sounds. to stick my finger in my ear to massage it. the earmolds improve on the stock Etymotic eartips’ claimed 3245dB reduction of ambient noise. because of the custom fit. Once the master molds have been made. Craig Kasper. You still need an audiologist to make the molds (for a referral. the custom molds were quite comfortable—at first.com/ customfit/register. the Music Streamer II is indeed a no-brainer: Just buy the thing and get on with your (musical) life. They slipped easily over any of the Etymotic headsets I had on hand.U P sounds of various percussion instruments. The Music Streamer II sounded slightly less open than the II+. you won’t be having any conversations—not a drawback.etymotic. Web: www. and I’ve found them extremely comfortable for listening sessions of up to eight hours. or whomever. go to www. which ring overmuch through even the best DACs I’ve tried. Compared to “regular” in-canal eartips from Etymotic. Shure. I’d had earmolds made previously. Kaspar said “Nice ears.) Three weeks later.” I simply glowed. when.com. convenient. these weren’t huge negatives. when he examined the completed molds. no matter what the audiologist normally charges.) Etymotic refers to the material of its Custom-Fit molds as “ultrasoft” silicone. they also proved perfect for my ER-4s. three weeks later. sit there for 15 minutes with my mouth open as the specialist pumped my ears full of goo. the addition of the Custom-Fit earmolds has elevated the performance of all of my Etymotics at least a full level above my previous assessments of them. Etymotic’s Custom-Fit earmold routine wasn’t quite like that. first for my original pair of Etymotic ER-4s. it was revealed that they didn’t extend as far into my ears’ twisty inner canals as my previous molds had. costly Ultimate Ears ’phones. and they will insist on talking to you. of course. AuD. The ER4s are still my reference portable head- www. and that’s about right.) However. Given the custom molds’ better fit and increased reduction of ambient noise. Although the molds are sold as complements to the models hf2 and hf5. I’d find myself removing one earmold. not necessarily because they’re the best I’ve heard (though they sound plenty fine). I tend to get irritated if. Elk Grove Village. I thought I knew how the song went: I’d go to an audiologist. Bottom line: The hf5s and hf2s have been my go-to headsets for quite a while.Stereophile. although it didn’t always satisfy my desire for the ultimate in open.F O L LO W. as you might imagine. but because their cables are flexible.aspx). then the other.

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My Spiral Groove SG-2. and my VPI HR-X has both a weight and a rim clamp. they’re comfortable. Both the Spiral Groove and VPI are superb with respect to speed accuracy and stability. Anyone who’s serious about analog needs a way to accurately measure. the spot moves.3 This simple. and in some cases—such as when two supposedly accurate turntables were obviously running at different speeds—infuriating. to get any lubricant moving and bring everything up to temperature. if the speed is not correct. MO 64131. I set the speed with the Timeline. Usually.sutherlandengineering. adding just a bit of ballast to make its weight match the Timeline’s. most high-end turntables come with some sort of clamp or integrated disc hold-down system. no angst—your turntable is running perfectly. monitored. and monitor his or her turntable’s speed.” is the answer to my prayers.7oz (275gm) up to match the VPI’s 26. set. it’s a small price to pay to ensure that that rig is running at precisely the right speed. and tweaked as necessary. And for a diehard vinyl junkie such as I. which was briefly mentioned by Michael Fre- mer in the March 2010 “Analog Corner. These days. . . I always found this process unsatisfying. cue up the record. the midrange is clearer.3oz (745gm). 455 E. then used the Spiral Groove’s own screw-down clamp.F O L LO W. First. has a slightly concave. With the Custom-Fit earmolds. I’d run the ’table for 30 minutes or so. 3" in diameter.com. the hf5s still my everyday model. but for someone with a wall full of LPs and a multi-thousand-dollar analog rig. made sure it was stable. it’s indispensable. screw-down clamp. Kansas City. Custom-Fit earmolds more than justify their $100 price. houses an extremely accurate strobe light that projects a spot onto a wall near the turntable. and the highs are crisper—but most important. but both need a bit of tweaking from time to time. I have assembled or built a pretty comprehensive set of accessories over the years.Stereophile. Manufacturer: Sutherland Engineering. and hope that the speed was—and remained—correct. Ron Sutherland’s Timeline. —Brian Damkroger ■■ 3 The Timeline costs $399. and Ron Sutherland’s Timeline perfectly fits the bill. And let’s face it: In headsets as in shoes.U P The Sutherland Timeline—indispensible? set. For the SG2. the spot on the wall doesn’t move. $399 isn’t pocket change. www. battery-powered record weight. If the turntable’s speed is correct. comfort trumps almost everything else. I’d set the speed with a strobe and test disc. for example. 79th Terrace. The one thing I lacked—it was a major source of frustration—was a simple. it’s simple and easy to use—which ensures that it will be used. but that’s a different issue. the bass is better.com. Tel: (816) 822-1881. Best of all. Or maybe it’s not . and you know it. robust way of measuring and monitoring a turntable’s speed while a record was playing. December 2010 . It’s a gorgeous little gadget and spectacularly accurate. all while the record is playing. ranging from all of Wally’s Tools to a homemade switchbox and high-precision HP multimeter that I use with test records to help fine-tune a cartridge’s azimuth. no fuss. —Wes Phillips Sutherland Engineering Timeline record weight As a diehard vinyl junkie. The final step was to put the tools away. then added mass to bring the Timeline’s 9. Web: www. Next. the Timeline allows the speed to be set. my routine for doing this comprised three steps. but far more important. Different record sizes? Changes in room temperature? Phases of the moon? No muss. No problem—with the VPI I used the Timeline instead of VPI’s own weight.

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“A collection many early listeners have cited as that’s thankfully a world away from the album’s most Beatles-esque. of Brian Wilson’s ever-more-influential Teenage Sympho“Plastic Paperbacks. low says. keyboard samvoices in harmony. to use a Posieples and percussive touches wash and/or poke in. and for this environment. Jon Auer. with a chorus—again. the Posie boys sent via e-mail. It is. upon repeat listenings.Stereophile. “The the Beatles.” both Po—Robert Baird 1 2 www. Auer and Stringfellow feel that the sound on Blood/Candy “There’s architecture in the way you care. phased fuzz bass “We always talk about keeping it simple. mastering. and on both Stringfellow’s and surprisingly. singing high and delicate over a Rykodisc RCD 11094 (LP). AAA? like the band’s rich. in the best sense of the wisely liked a little noise in their word.” Stringfelable bow toward and a cop from the wily Mr. in (they like it loud). The resulting mixes took some extra have over time absorbed and learned even more from the mastering work. Blood/Candy ful. engs. tening and touring wisdom can have on songwriting.com. dislike as too confining—has grown far more Auer’s home rigs. prods. In “Accidental Architecture” (track 8) the are really good. Liverpool and SoCal streams collide in the ringing verses of this was a good listen.” led by shimbubbling.” mery guitar chords. “I like that there’s always something shimmering.” a tune trumps knowledge.” the “White Album” Beatles. two well-played guitars. who worked on the project. and the Stranglers’ Hugh the ending vocal flourish sounds like an outtake from one Cornwell contributes a spoken-word bit to the opener. Ken Stringfellow. Like com. and Kay Hanley from Letters to Cleo— / What a shitty way to spend the night. now clearly renewed. others.” is an unmistaknails what they wanted to hear. not like Spain and Ecuador. A drivtemporal world of indie rock ing guitar rocker. find more and more. Before I “The Glitter Prize” and Stringwrote this review. and two male many of the tunes here.” of the late 1980s. according to Sterling Sound mastering songwriting genius of such masters as the Beach Boys and engineer Greg Calbi.” and playful. glazed across nearly every song on Blood/Candy in tasteFull of color and heft in the LP version. After a skuzzy. Wilson. a Posies record: expansive. rockin’ Geffen chorus hook is the soul of irreTT: 42:39 Performance ★★★★ ∕ records than anything they’ve done sistibility. engs. sparing ways. “We like details. sweet ’n’ sour. while the vocally lush chorus. Next up is “She’s Coming Down Again!. and showing the effects that years of voracious lisStringfellow thanked from the stage was YouSendIt. Greg Calbi. musically. selfish life of a hipster. child of “Golden Blunders” and “Dream All Day. You really can. The Posies have always Sonics ★★★★ since. Psychedelia—which is.” Again. it joins Auer’s has its drawbacks. The best result of that combined with their inmixes I got were all different. one of the first groups territory. but another truth. eminently lovable—that’s matched to lyrics that It’s layers upon layers upon layers—it’s inevitable. that’s so impresWhat follows that. The track build. Ken Stringfellow. Scott is that Blood/Candy sounds more McCartney-tinged melody whose Greiner. sweet pop for texture.. back in the horse-and-buggy days Then there’s “Holiday Hours. the swirl of add background-vocal cameos. ternet music criticism where speed intricate “Cleopatra Street.” good when she got high / She took too much and she Although several guest singers—Broken Social Scene’s started to panic / Does anybody have a couple extra Xanax Lisa Lobsinger. lyrical urges into a It’s true that the Posies began sharp. the current flavor of the month in indierockdom—is back of the mix. Stringfellow’s soaring voice dissects the grim. and while brainy.. silly big and. someone fellow’s “So Caroline” as Blood/ sent me a quote about Blood/Candy Candy’s accessible rock tunes aka from the all-powerful world of Insingles-in-waiting. but the songs are really good. and some required more creased life experiences comes in a stretch of tunes deep work than others. to an accidental overdose: “Felt so count here on some of the songs is insane.. tuneful pop folk-rock with a slight punk twinge Auer’s guitar solos remain major-key and coherent. And what was once simply imaginative was recorded piecemeal in different studios in places power pop—a term Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow now. even on our solo thumps in. smart gem. including this one. this economy. December 2010 137 .” Auer adds—“and then we really go for the layers. 2010. a public FTP service by which music files can be many charmless and invariably dull songwriters. Paco Loco. records. for those who know their history. leaning further into chamber-pop the Rock Shop.” is the two-headed love sively alive on Blood/Candy. “Notion 99.” it’s the partnership of Jon Auer and nies to God. This is Auer at his very best. The sinuous.RECORD REVIEWS R ECOR DI NG OF TH E MONTH The Posies Blood/Candy H aving a long career in the sies singles from the ’90s. in the ism. the ideas into Blood/Candy. At the band’s record-release show at ornate and mannered. is their largely charmless and invaria stunning example of how Auer ably dull nineties output for Gefcombines his musical intelligence fen. oodling. a Brooklyn club.

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2010. Jeannette Sorrell. K. “Is that .Stereophile. 462. if sometimes overdone. Bach’s harpsichord concertos are assumed to have been originally written for violin. driven tempi and extreme contrasts. Here it is all restless turbulence. and enthusiasm are in full evidence. The Mozart program juxtaposes little-known early works www. who famously disparaged B&S in the film High Fidelity.1 from sounding muddy. The three Dances are partly vigorous. changed between 2005 and 2008: only the concertmistress and the bassist remained the same. Jeannette Sorrell. and the orchestra sounds faint and distant. being much more idiomatic to that instrument. Among the many excellent soloists. only the finale. Apollo’s technical brilliance. 463. partly gracious. Repetitions. Ugly Jack. Harpsichord Concertos in d & f. spontaneity. she of the 139 W . her virtuosity in No. prods. Named for the Greek god of music and the sun. The phrasing is clear.” Norah Jones proves again that her smoke-trail voice can be quite an expressive instrument. the ensemble has gained international acclaim on stage and radio.123. who plays it with such dramatic intensity and bravura that one wishes she had also played the other one. Though the musicians tune normally (A=440). BWV 1052 & 1056. she interpolates a cadenza shared with the solo violin and cello. Ugly Jack. especially on the Bach album.. The Symphony 40 is one of those masterpieces open to many interpretations. TT: 61:05 Performance ★★★★★ Sonics ★★★★ A pollo’s Fire. BACH: Concertos Brandenburg Concertos 1–6. Dances. and has released 13 records. The winds are fabulous. many fast ones. The appealing retro 60’s pop lusciousness they’ve mastered in the past has oozed back into the sound here. Sorrell brings out each movement’s character. DDD.com. Even Barry (Jack Black). The strings play almost without vibrato. eng. the music often lacks a strong foundation. Tempi are blessedly moderate. aka the Cleveland Baroque Orchestra. ?” they incredulously mutter. an impression confirmed in the harpsichord concertos in d and f. The sound is first-rate: clear. and use open strings wherever possible. B&S brainchief Stuart Murdoch’s intricate miniatures of folk-pop love stories are as detailed and compelling as ever. or the opening of No. only the Gavotte is familiar: Mozart used the melody in one of his piano concertos. BWV 1052 (reconstructed) Elizabeth Wallfisch. is a group of young period-instrument players founded in 1992 by its conductor. as listed in the booklets. The Life Pursuit (2006). They favor strong dynamic contrasts. Thomas Knab.” In “Little Lou. diminuendos on descending ones. Jones slays her vocal in “Little Lou. conductor. but on Write About Love. Tony Hoffer. and vibrant. —Edith Eisler rock/pop BELLE AND SEBASTIAN Write About Love Matador OLE-944 (CD). both of small figures and entire phrases. 2010. soprano. on their last record. DDD. K. Erica Brenner. not only the Minuets. Prophet John. are exploited for echo effects. In No. dance-like quality. Sorrell reveals herself as a formidable harpsichordist. Violin Concerto in d.RECORD REVI EWS classical APOLLO’S FIRE Bach & Mozart J. Weirdly enough.. have a graceful.” It can cause whiplash in older Belle and Sebastian fans if cued up without introduction. negotiated with incredible ease and vocal purity by soprano Amanda Forsythe. just before their heads lash around and their neck vertebrae are permanently fused. TT: 2:32:02 Performance ★★★★★ Sonics ★★★★ MOZART: Symphony 40 With: Ballet Music from Idomeneo. 2010. AAD? TT: 43:23 Performance ★★★★ Sonics ★★★★ hat was once often sad. An aria from the 1772 opera Lucio Silla combines high drama with dazzling. Incongruously.4 is quite stunning. engs.) In the Brandenburgs. prod.550. In Brandenburg 3. her intonation is impeccable. Sorrell adds to the opening theme surging swells not indicated in the score. violin. and swells in the middle of long notes. Prophet John. even morose. a device that eventually becomes a bit tiresome. .S. harpsichord.” from Lucio Silla Amanda Forsythe. The playing is splendid. crescendos on ascending lines. has now become predominantly happy and peppy—to the point where Norah Jones actually sings on one tune. Thomas Knab. would have to admire such frolics as the relentlessly upbeat “I Want the World to Stop” or the nearly danceable “I Didn’t See It Coming. Erica Brenner. stratospheric coloratura. Stuart Murdoch. while the slow ones are spacious and expressive. “In un istante. she sings with full vibrato while the strings use none. with very fast. like many conductors. the style is entirely baroque. BWV 1046– 1051. On these two albums. It’s a disturbing sign—either that Murdoch was willing to consider her or that Jones. of the Brandenburg Concerto 3 sets a new speed record. Apollo’s Fire Avie AV 2159 (CD). close ensemble. Included here is the Concerto in d in a brilliant violin version by Elizabeth Wallfisch. Jeannette Sorrell.5. The only flaw is the balance: with the winds consistently overpowering the strings. December 2010 with the “great” Symphony 40 in g. (The players.. . the band’s second collaboration with producer Tony Hoffer—who. concertmistress Cynthia Roberts stands out. Allegro. eng. prod. but even these fine musicians cannot keep Concerto 6 from sometimes sounding rough. Of the ballet music from the opera Idomeneo. Apollo’s Fire Avie AV 2207 (2 CDs). her runs like chains of perfectly matched pearls. to produce a tone of such beauty and perfection on baroque instruments is a major achievement. transparent. moved them towards a new zip and polish—their celebrated sepia moments continue to dwindle. especially the cellos and basses.

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engs. it contains material recorded during the same sessions that yielded Chemical Chords (2008). other than icy-cool vocalist Laetitia Sadier. They’ve been on official hiatus for almost two years now.. Dave Sardy. Hoffer and Murdoch value clarity and dynamics. “I’m Not Living in the Real World. retro. —Robert Baird STEREOLAB Not Music Drag City DC430 (CD).” Some of this album is positively Bacharach-ian. —Robert Baird BLACK MOUNTAIN Wilderness Heart Jagjaguwar 52175 (CD). riff-rock glory. “The Hair Song. songwriting. and the frequencies decently well defined. Sean O’Hagan. So much for blowing out any candles. and at the moment there are no plans to tour behind the new material. is how McBean’s and Webber’s voices are now up front and singing together rather than being contrasted with each other. While there’s surely more of their trademark mope and worry in Belle and Sebastian’s musical future. and the voices of McBean and Amber Webber have emerged as strengths rather than as afterthoughts to power chords and dragon’n’unicorn lyrics. sticky. which marks it as yet another triumph of B&S gone happy. And while Murdoch’s fragile voice would never make it in Memphis. with references to the “piper at the gates” (“Buried by the Blues”) and that magical time “When the sun is electric. December 2010 . Wilderness Heart works the edge of the ballad/rocker contrast to great effect. Cofounder Tim Gane has been noticeably quiet of late.” a chunk of revved-up. “Old Fangs” is an organ-driven rocker that will tickle the heart of any Deep Purple fan. While the Velvets remain an inspiration—and you’ll always be able to hear McBean’s prog-rock urges rumbling under the hood—it’s clear from the first notes of Wilderness Heart’s startlingly mainstream folk-rock opener. pop music this worldly and elegant is irresistible.” is drenched in ’60s pop mannerisms. engs. more inclusive collection.RECORD REVI EWS one massive hit followed by several unfocused. . and little of what’s here equals their very best work. Ryan Castle. And what McBean has described in interviews as “folky” and “mellow” is really a turn toward an awareness of pop.Stereophile. Perhaps the most noticeable tweak from the band’s last.. an adjustment that results in a more finessed. and more than a whiff of Paul Simon’s “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard. but one that opens with odd. Black Mountain has become something more with Wilderness Heart. AAD? TT: 56:25 Performance ★★★1∕2 Sonics ★★★ B ritish lounge-pop mavens Stereolab have a curious way of marking their 20th anniversary in the music biz. keyboards are crisp. for a modern rock record (now the standard qualifier). however—McBean hasn’t changed everything. and his homages to 1970s rock continue.” that he’s ready for change. But Not Music just might be one of the stronger Stereo141 www. Americana-inflected “Buried by the Blues. confused albums. very prog-leaning effort. they’re well done. Write About Love’s other guest. In the Future (2008). AAD? TT: 42:54 Performance ★★★1∕2 Sonics ★★★1∕2 O nce the place where Vancouver’s most prolific musical engine. 2010. engs. prods. well balanced. we’re not exactly sure what they’ve all been up to. got his progressivemetal ya-yas out. 2010. Is this newfound mellowness the start of a trend or a onealbum experiment? Savvy artists like to keep you guessing. Write About Love’s other big upbeat number. Whether deployed solo or in splendid harmony. the tempo of “The Ghost of Rockschool” is reminiscent of a Stax soul ballad. they are two of this album’s choice attractions.com. Yet Not Music isn’t a comeback effort. other than to prepare this latest platter for release. Tony Ioomi and Ozzy—is “Let Spirits Ride. makes a vocal appearance on this track. is actually gaining some modicum of street cred. Then there are those rainbow lyrics. while the members focused on . actress Carey Mulligan. the stylistic variety is impressive. Stephen McBean. Tim Gane. and acoustic guitars are clear and fullbodied. . That’s confirmed by two vocal duos with Webber on the mostly acoustic Moody Blues–esque “Radiant Hearts” and the triumphant. well. but as pushing art in new directions goes. prods. Randall Dunn. A big leap forward in maturity and.. who recently issued a solo album. retro-’60s vocal pop number. and welcome new flavors. The songs are better focused.” Both are so short and soft that they’re bound to be a shock for those in love with the band’s 17-minute prog-rock epics. it sparkles its way through your heart” (“Old Fangs”). And one of the best Black Mountain singles ever—as well as their most overt tribute to the band’s metallic whisperers. The sound of the CD is. The album’s title tune is another big. Cameron Barton. The Trip. clanging Springsteen-ish echoes (for a possible second bout of whiplash?) and bounces along like an old soul number. which here are as fanciful as ever. Proggy fans of Black Mountain’s earlier records needn’t fear completely. presenting a passable coo. especially.

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pulsing. Damion Reid.” whose droning. Jason Moran. 2010. . overseeing the remastering of Medicine Show (1984). drastically shortened and with a different mix. along with a keen ear for the sequencing of songs. —Fred Mills JASON MORAN plays with .” which rolls on a funk-influenced bass line contrasted by Moran’s contemplative underpinning of the melody. most notably. 2010. .” a pedal-steel–powered cosmic-cowboy rocker. motorik vibe. AAD? TT: 45:56 Performance ★★★★1∕2 Sonics ★★★★ I t’s been five years since Steve Wynn last convened his band the Miracle 3 in the studio. and with an array of cartoonish tempo twists.” The beautiful reading of “Crepuscule with Nellie” takes the slightest 143 . eng. “The Death of Donny B. Steve Wynn. prods. 2010. that helps elevate Northern Aggression to “classic Wynn” status. Dorothy Darr. although it takes numerous forms over the course of Ten. Ultimately. drummer Linda Pitmon—firing on all cylinders. since the first M3 release. and virtuosity that’s never paraded for its own sake but is always in service of a larger goal.” powered by piano. alto & tenor saxophone. plus random Tropicalia and neosymphonic flourishes. He hasn’t exactly been dormant. this baker’s dozen of tunes strikes a happy balance between the band’s pop and experimental sides. piano. Jason Moran. Critical consensus places the group at the top of the list of working jazz combos. 2. mix. suggests a girl-group field trip down the proverbial autobahn. vocals. This then-meetsnow trick is pulled off repeatedly: the dreamy yet propulsive “No One Ever Drowns. electric mood of “Feedback. bassist Dave Decastro. . The sound is sumptuous from track 1: “Resolution. there was a solo album. jazz JASON MORAN: Ten Jason Moran. and.. interspersed with synth starbursts and Sadier’s sexy incantations. eng. vocals ECM 2176 (CD). Nasheet Waits. . 2010. DDD. and one of this year’s crucial reissues. Crossing Dragon Bridge (2008). in terms of both songwriting and performance. so be it. Jack DeJohnette. . piano. prod. and gradually turns widescreen in the grandest psychedelic tradition—think vintage headphone-hugging tones laced with a contemporary digital crispness and clarity. alto saxophone. and droning Mellotron. TT: 72:58 Performance ★★★★★ Sonics ★★★★ STEVE WYNN & THE MIRACLE 3 Northern Aggression Yep Roc 2235 2 (CD). Nasheet Waits.” Also in his lyrics toolbox are reflective reveries and brooding confessionals.. depth of emotional content.com. . bass. drums Blue Note 57186 (CD). Reuben Rogers. The band’s internal communication is at a level that places it in the realm of legend. Ten is a compendium of the band’s and Moran’s particular strengths: programmatic imagination. Which is no small matter. considering the man’s threedecade career. Jason Moran. a gem by his early outfit. perky tunes. Ralph Alessi. and the band—guitarist Jason Victor. Sascha von Oertzen. though. It’s telling. Eric Harland.” a thrumming rocker. stunning rhythmic invention. Pt. and vibraphone.. TT: 71:34 Performance ★★★★1∕2 Sonics ★★★★★ CHARLES LLOYD QUARTET: Mirror Charles Lloyd. Dominic & Adam Camardella. seemed slight. Bunky Green. prod.” with its fat bottom end. street-smart narrator of the dirtywww. resonant guitar twang. François Moutin. bass. from the hard-luck protagonist of a bluesy minimalist sketch. Somebody bake ’em a cake. engs. Rudresh Mahanthappa.. an approach further explored in the stark. piano.. to record . Tarus Mateen. trumpet. Drew Gress. busman’s holidays with the Baseball Project and Robyn Hitchcock. . is ’60s sci-fi surf for the 21st century. While Chemical Chords. eng. drums. one encounters “Suphah Jaianto. Here Come the Miracles (2001). If this is how the band wants to celebrate its 20th. prod. DDD. Nicolas Vernhes. then. piano. The elasticity of the band’s rhythmic flow is central to its concept. and the all-over-the-map quality of Margerine Eclipse (2004) felt distinctly unfocused. and the band’s 10th-anniversary release will probably top many Album of the Year lists. On the former. DDD. Andy Milne.RECORD REVI EWS lab efforts to date. Mike Marciano. shudders into view like snaky heat lines hovering over summer asphalt. drums Pi AUM 064 (CD). December 2010 B andwagon has never been a more appropriate name for pianist Jason Moran’s decade-old trio with bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits. the Dream Syndicate. mostly comprising short. is like the opening-credits music for a contemporary western noir flick.Stereophile. 2010. prod.. Not Music is a psychedelic dance-party delight. Northern Aggression finds Wynn firmly in his element. horns. Representing more experimental approaches is the 10-minute Krautrock epic “Silver Sands.” to the swaggering. tours with the Miracle 3. Adrian Olsen. Speaking of noir: Wynn still writes for a cast of characters in his head. while “Cloud Splitter. Jason Moran. bass. for example. that Northern Aggression showcases Wynn at his most vital. bass. Bobo Fini. tick . TT: 60:28 Performance ★★★★ Sonics ★★★★ RUDRESH MAHANTHAPPA & BUNKY GREEN: Apex Rudresh Mahanthappa. Charles Lloyd. only highlights how adept Stereolab can be at stretching out and elaborating on musical themes and sonic motifs. and it’s this attention to thematic balance. . eng. DDD. tick (2005). drums CAM Jazz 5038 (CD). TT: 64:28 Performance ★★★★★ Sonics ★★★★ RALPH ALESSI: Cognitive Dissonance Ralph Alessi. —Fred Mills edgy-funky “We Don’t Talk About It. Moran and Mateen have an otherworldly rapport that animates “RFK In the Land of Apartheid. The fact that this track appeared on Chemical Chords. Long may he burn. tick .

meditative interlude of “Pas De Deux—Lines Ballet. Clear Light. Bryston Control 4. VPI. he impressively adapts his playing to the tasks at hand. In Lloyd’s company. Niles One year 100% trade up policy Select pre-owned producst available Equipment trade-ins accepted 4919 Saint Elmo Avenue Bethesda.” providing his own powerful pianistic flourishes on “One Wheeler Will. Clear. After the lyrical.” framed by two takes of “Study No. Mateen provides a meditative interlude with his own “The Subtle One.” the group hits its signature piece. Musical Surroundings. sorrowful mood on “Sir.656.” and evoking a quiet. whose beautiful “Play to Live” floats along with the fragile intensity of a first kiss. Billy Bags. Moran was awarded a MacArthur “Genius” Grant of $500.” Ten closes dramatically with “Old Babies. recorded a few years back but released this fall. and Jack DeJohnette and Damion Reid alternating on drums. but by no means restrict the range of Jason Moran’s genius [appropriately. an alto-saxophone battle between Rudresh Mahanthappa and Bunky Green. Moran is vibrant in support of the outstanding trumpeter.com jsaudio@jsaudio. On Ralph Alessi’s Cognitive Dissonance.7020 of liberties with the theme. In this case. stuttering at the bottom of the descending melodic line. 6. momentarily lingering over a particularly satisfying phrase before surging to a breakneck resolution. Mirror. In other settings. Maxx 3 Sasha . and Jackie Byard.Music Systems & Home Theater Avalon Acoustics Accuphase Ayre Acoustics Cardas Audio Clear Beyond. before the band turns a sprightly melodic theme into one last cascading rollercoaster ride of improvisation. with a swinging.000 in 2010].com Visa. Cables Boulder Amplifiers Meridian New 861 V6 808. American Express. Mastercard. Moran’s playing is more restrained. Discover 301.com.” the three voices balancing off each other’s lines like aerialists working trapeze stunts. December 2010 144 .” Moran also plays a supporting role in the all-star assemblage Apex. support means a performance from Moran that ranges from the percussive thunder of McCoy Tyner to the architectural delicacy of Mal Waldron. with the brilliant bassist François Moutin. Moran offers tribute to two major influences: Andrew Hill.jsaudio. Duette & Watch Dynaudio JL Audio McIntosh New MC-452 & MC-352 MCD-1000 Reference CD C-50 & C-48 Preamps MX-150 & MVP-881 SONY New XBR-900 Series Analysis Plus. underpinning Alessi’s muscular soloing on “SunPHOTO CLAY PATRICK MCBRIDE Jason Moran flower.Stereophile. a subtle twist that fits the contours of this Thelonious Monk composition. then moves into a blues passage that gives Mateen room for his own improvisation as the trio stretches Monk’s rhythmic and melodic contours into barely recognizable shapes without destroying their boundaries. Kimber Select Pioneer Elite. even when he’s backing one of Lloyd’s more discursive solos with an arpeggiated flourish. bluesy “To Bob Vatel of Paris. Jeff Rowland.3 DSP-7200’s Meridian Sooloos New Control 15 & MS-600 Wilson Audio New Sophia 3 . Moran goes on to embellish his reading with flourishes of fancy. Bandwagon’s inventions chart some of the new roads jazz can travel. with moments of transcendence dropped in seemingly out of nowhere—like the extraordinary exchange with Moutin on “Little Girl I’ll Miss You.” My favorite recent performances by Moran are on the new release by alto and tenor saxophonist Charles Lloyd.” a daring two-part construction consisting of a wistful 53-second piano statement followed by 53 seconds of silence. “Gangsterism Over 10 Years. flying merrily through its nooks and crannies. Maryland 20814 www. Moran showboats the theme. Each player is stretched to his absolute limit on this white-hot set of challenging compositions by the pair of reed masters. www.” Between these tracks. his phrasing more subtle and poetic. whose title is an apt metaphor for the way Moran seems to shape-shift in response to Lloyd’s musical personality. Stewart Filmscreen.

A . now completely unfettered. The album closes with two lengthy meditative pieces. “Tagi” begins as a spoken-word recitation by Lloyd that takes a raga-like form. Monday – Friday 10 AM . My Dear. Mirror is as daring a conception as Ten.8880 www.RECORD REVI EWS Mirror moves seamlessly from track to track. careening version of another gospel tune. The band.weinhartdesign. “Being and Becoming: Road to Dakshineswar with Sangeeta” and “Tagi. No. In his own “Desolation Sound.” and. “Being and Becoming” features Lloyd’s most expository playing on Mirror.com www. L . CA 90077 P: 310 .” The title track is framed by Thelonious Monk’s “Monk’s Mood” and “Ruby.” Lloyd develops a well-shaped melody that he articulates in short phrases and single notes separated by dramatic pauses.” both evocative of Lloyd’s eastern spiritual philosophy. a bright flame of music smoldering with inner strength before quieting to a soft.” the latter reaching a glorious climax as Lloyd channels John Coltrane’s ballad voice. a sound that hovers like a spirit in its translucent. Harland’s drumming sounds like tablas as Lloyd and Moran dance around each other’s lines. Make an appointment today to hear and see for yourself what’s possible in Audio and Video.6 PM Weekends and Evenings by appointment weinhart design Tr ade s We lcomed! Changing the way you listen 2337 Roscomare Road Studio 1. The vivid melodic deconstruction Lloyd performs on “I Fall in Love Too Easily” is followed by a Moran solo that mimics the emotional depth of Lloyd’s vision. sounding like one long sonata structure tied together by the devout passion of Lloyd’s playing. statements assembled with expressive blocks of color. Moran is right there at every step. traditional “La Llorona.com. —John Swenson he revolutionary is now at TWeinhart Design:new Magico Q speakerdealer in The finest audio video Los Angeles. a personal statement so stylistically free. Moran following every step of the way. meditative lullaby. with Harland and bassist Reuben Rogers. vibratoless purity. The gospel song “Go Down Moses” is reimagined as a kind of Moroccan trance vehicle driven by Eric Harland’s peripatetic drumming. a collective expression so resolute. nudging and conversing. In its own way.472. He doubles Lloyd’s theme on the beautiful. December 2010 145 . “Lift Every Voice and Sing. running the scales and letting the melody direct him.Stereophile.. Rogers playing bass patterns that sound like tamboura drones. sets the stage for Lloyd’s powerful reading of Brian Wilson’s “Caroline. that the music always sounds newborn. enjoys a happy romp through a soul-jazz rundown of “The Water Is Wide” before a wild.” in which Moran finally unleashes his open-ended rhythmic attack.

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he knows absolutely nothing about hi-fi. Sam. Then. magically. I must point out that there is an error in the text describing the ProLogue Seven monoblocks. We sincerely appreciate Art Dudley’s insight and professional consideration. Sam’s problem. categorizing these nicely into the sections of his article. the vast majority of electronic components (including amplifiers) can be improved with the use of a Hydra VRay. applications. due to the complexity of the DX-5’s menu system. and processes to come up with a complete result. he’s got it!” After 25 years of criticism. In fact. taking notes and reflecting on his process along the way. therefore. By the time this edition goes live. Sam. Rest assured. It is obvious that Michael took the time to explore every aspect of the player in detail. Obviously. common among journalists. you can take a leaf out of my book and just treat him like shit. It is the DiaLogue Seven monoblocks (coincidentally located directly above the ProLogues) that are our flagship amps. Kevin Deal PrimaLuna and he will get it. the cables and electronics will be substantially assembled in the USA. is that he knows how to write. and apparently got right down to his evaluation. as Art pointed out in his description of his experiments with using an Apple iMac as a digital audio server and as a quasi–home-video system :o). although the ProLogue certainly rocks. This extraordinary commitment to the writer’s craft showed up eloquently in the review. Fear not. We were informed by Shindo dealers that there is no power conditioner that improves on the amplifier’s performance. In future. very gratified that the Shunyata Black Mamba CX cables had such a positive impact on their performance.MAN U FAC T U R E R S’ C O M M E NT S PrimaLuna ProLogue Seven & DiaLogue Seven Editor: While we at PrimaLuna are of course honored to have several pieces in your most recent “Recommended Components” list. I could have danced all night. What do they all have in common? They are all lazy bastards! They sit there. Art Dudley’s thorough evaluation of Shunyata Research products represents what high-end journalism should be. since the beginning.2 & cd15. The most popular writer in Stereophile. If the monitor is not DSD-capable. Strategically—mainly for brand image. When I read this excellent review. He’s a black hole. This allows for compatibility with older equipment but degrades the sound. they turn it into prose and dazzle us with their knowledge. or (more accurately) Groucho Marx. feed him. the chief engineer of Echole and Absolare. Just make sure the product is musical. Henry Higgins would be proud of me. Shunyata PowerSnakes and Hydras continue to be used by the finest high-end electronic manufacturers in their reference systems and at trade shows. and plasma. Our C-5xeMP universal player inhabits the rarefied air of Class A+ in Stereophile’s “Recommended Components” list. He was too cheap to call. so he evaluated the gear himself without being spoon-fed. will be leading the R&D in Istanbul. In our listening tests. A mystery for now. his reviews will be well written and have substance. I realized that my work was done.2 Editor: “By George. a void—but put a story in his mouth (sound like a song?) and he becomes Elmer Gantry. setting up a workshop in Nashua. But all that is changed. like Sam. Caelin Gabriel and Grant Samuelsen Shunyata Research Echole cables Music Hall a15. a pit. Clarence Darrow. gifts). You will no longer have to cozy up to him.com. and are specifi- Editor: We would like to thank Michael Fremer for his comprehensive review of our DX-5 universal A/V engine. and inspirational [article on our cables]. Well done! Michael loved the DX-5’s playback of DVD-As but found the DX-5’s playback of SACDs to be below his expectations. we are pleased that Art’s experience with the Black Mamba CX power cords and Hydra V-Ray v2 were largely positive.and LCD-based systems. studios. He loves my equipment. Another way in which this could happen is by connecting the DX-5 to a video monitor via HDMI. and industry professionals worldwide. He used different contexts. our products were assembled in free-trade zones in Turkey. This is a multifaceted product with many capabilities. delightful.” which is incorrect. Roy Hall Music Hall cally tuned to perform at their highest level with Shindo power accessories. a setting may have been changed that would convert SACD’s DSD signal into a PCM signal. These benefits will be even more notable with big-screen projectors. I was in Europe when Sam wrote his review. groveling manufacturers. It’s alchemy! Sam is a prime example. so I know many real journalists (some of them have won Pulitzers). a prince) took a lot of work. Editor: We are speechless and truly inspired by Sam Tellig’s sincere. It reads “The 70W ProLogue Seven. And until today. My wife has worked for newspapers for years. ye who are terrified of Sam. or bring him bribes (I mean. Some of the leather craftsmanship will be done in Turkey. Turkey is transformed into a development. and Gokhan. Art received the products only a few months ago. We were. the DX-5 outperforms even this highly acclaimed player with SACD recordings. our core research and development has been done in Istanbul. www. We are aware that no product can be completely compatible with every type of electronic component. on their fat asses. over 10 years’ time. In other words. waiting for folks like you and me to come along and tell them a story. he will understand and like it. Sam has finally figured out that my stuff sounds sweet. To take a common guttersnipe like Sam and turn him into a frog (I mean. the player (in order to protect the monitor) will automatically switch the SACD output from DSD to PCM. he’s got it! By George.Stereophile. PrimaLuna’s top-of-theline amplifier. Kerem Küçükaslan Absolare Electronic and Echole Ayre Acoustics DX-5 Shunyata Research Editor: There is a reason manufacturers sometimes use the “Manufacturers’ Comments” section to thank writers for their time and hard work. which was the idea from the beginning. Please visit the Shunyata Research website for a comprehensive list of manufacturers and recording professionals who use our products. Therefore. By all accounts. and support center. today. He has finally learned how to listen. Decmeber 2010 147 . New Hampshire (being a neighbor to you). One possibility is that. We are somewhat puzzled by this finding. the commercial motivation is that Echole and Absolare are being strategically located in the USA. I was so happy. design. Now it’s time to start work on the rest of the Stereophile crew. all ye timid. The Shindo amplifiers embody the life’s work of an electronic artist. Give him a good product and he will listen. Art’s complimentary remarks reflect the positive experiences of other reviewers. and as importantly my personal goals in the USA—we are. He has arrived.

. The Halide Design Team Halide Design/Devilsound Labs Sutherland Engineering Timeline Editor: Thank you.M A N U FA C T U R E R S ’ C O M M E N T S “Find your own road” is a great slogan. Makes it much easier to use. Just watch for drift on that one and ignore the other seven. They don’t lock you in to a proprietary format or limiting hardware where the only way out is a technology.8 seconds. Using this method of measuring jitter. there has been a software change to the Timeline.com. and accounts for much of the sonic qualities that JA reports. eight spots are projected. if you fancy a good film every now and then! Brent Hefley Ayre Acoustics Halide Design S/PDIF Bridge Editor: We would like to thank John Atkinson and Stereophile for the informative article about the Halide Design S/PDIF Bridge. as Michael discovered via the “Home Sharing” feature in Apple iTunes. On the contrary. By utilizing a variety of different measurement techniques and DACs. or any number of other technologies both now and in the future. . Esoteric. That is what the freedom of Ayre is all about. Brian Damkroger. Since that was made. Oh. but also on the way the device integrates with the DAC’s circuitry. At least one of the eight will hit a good reference. and Musical Fidelity. that inherently adds jitter.8 seconds. We believe this type of careful measurement gives an excellent window into the audio performance of a particular setup. and precisely what Ayre’s USB music servers are about. JA graphically illustrates a rather tricky but important point: the final jitter depends not only on the transport or USB-to-S/PDIF device. there are now eight equally spaced flashes per 1. Instead of one flash per 1. Of particular interest are JA’s measurements taken at the end of the digital-to-analog chain. Decmeber 2010 . For each revolution. like S/PDIF. Just go to YouTube.com and search for Sutherland Engineering Timeline. Jaime Monroy has produced a video clip of a Timeline at work. [via the] Miller Analyzer”). in which he effectively measures jitter after the DAC (by analyzing “the effects of datastream jitter in the reconstructed analog signal . he demonstrates that the Bridge integrates extremely well with a variety of DACs made in the last 20-plus years by Assemblage. If you would like to see a Timeline in action. for getting the word out on the Timeline. Ron Sutherland Sutherland Engineering 148 www. and don’t forget that the DX-5 is also a killer Blu-ray player. we let you connect to all of your music.Stereophile.

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with Springsteen lamenting his lost friendship with Appel. and also how. It. and. and undue influence—and.” a musical movement that was breaking big at the time.com. Bruce and the E Street band spent a year touring and trying to keep body and soul together. it set a standard for live tours that has yet to be equaled. In what’s become standard practice. directed by Thom Zimny. to void a predatory (but sadly. a new 90-minute documentary.” Plotkin says that when he was mixing the opening of the album— “Badlands” into “Adam Raised a Cain”— Springsteen told him to think of a movie in which a family or a pair of lovers were having a nice picnic. produced his opus noir. Springsteen mentions how the lack of reverberation in the recording studios of the 1970s “made his skin crawl. In their place was a much leaner. By May 1977. fighting his way between the Badlands and the Promised Land.98) containing the original album. Sony released the boxed set The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story. dope-eyed babblers who couldn’t spell his name going in. the ’78 shows are always among the best. who’s the artist?’” After sayPHOTO FRANK STEFANKO I n 1978. When Appel countersued and obtained an injunction to keep Springsteen from immediately recording a follow-up to his hit album. In the shadowy. are lacking in any life-changing revelations— in terms of what to cut and what to keep. Darkness on the Edge of Town. Nebraska (1982). In the case of Springsteen. during that period. Darkness is the sound of a suspicious. Springsteen says that what he wanted on Darkness was “apocalyptic grandeur.” and how Landau called engineer Chuck Plotkin to ride to the rescue. The new interviews. I’m a man. not unusual) contract he’d foolishly signed in 1972. Bruce Springsteen went on “The Darkness Tour. the set will be configured several different ways. threaded through the film.Stereophile. Two years of battling legal entanglements and making a difficult record had forged the band into a take no prisoners brotherhood. The lawsuit is now water under the bridge. Houston and Phoenix (both in 1978). ‘Mike. is gone over in detail. 21 previously unreleased songs (not alternate takes) left over from the Darkness sessions. The carefully digitized video shows just what a dynamo (to use a favorite Bruce word) the band was at this point. accompanied by the obsession with control and making money that are a result of the 1976 lawsuit and Springsteen’s partnership with music critic-turned-manager Jon Landau. you have to say. NJ (shot in hi-def in 2009 with no audience). Few performers in rock’n’roll history ever had as much to prove and give. Also included are two discs of concert footage from Asbury Park. and drenched in more sweat.” Springsteen mentions how he felt a “similarity in spirit to punk. meaner vision. aka “The Mighty Max” Born to Run. and New York City and Holmdel. Most artists who become truly extraordinary survive the experience of a defining moment. digitally remastered by Bob Ludwig. vulnerable artist. a legendary struggle in its own right. that hoop of fire when they have to decide if they’re all in or unable to take the risk. theaters full of people went hoarse yelling “Bruuuuuce!” Even those of us who’d seen him live after the previous three albums were floored. after months of recording. chastened man. Gone forever were the show-off lyrical explosions of Greetings from Asbury Park N. “In the end.J. when he filed suit against his former manager. but having seen just this one show. —E Street drummer Max Weinberg. Today. who today is the picture of financial and artistic success and stability—truly The Boss—that moment came in the summer of 1976. The mixing of Darkness. much as the album itself does in Springsteen’s catalog. On November 16. essentially. Born to Run (1975). with the most extensive deluxe edition ($119. NJ (both in 1976). than Springsteen did that summer and fall. saying that he and the band were stuck. While the new tracks. for as many hours. who at one point says in regards to why he settled.” That jarring juxtaposition retains its power to this day. December 2010 154 . Darkness and the stark acoustic masterpiece. he first connected with country music. were ready to have kids with the man. and then “there was a shock cut to a dead body. an 80-page book of photos and facsimiles of handwritten lyric pages. (1973) and the towering. when the suits had been settled out of court and Springsteen had regained control of his first three albums and his career. The documentary.AURAL ROBERT Robert Baird Streets of Fire There was a ferocity in the band after Darkness that perhaps wasn’t there before. his career hanging in the balance. is extremely well done. wall-of-sound production style of I ain’t a boy—no. I clearly remember a ride home from a 1978 show in a car full of hepped-up. seductive realm of Springsteen bootlegs. remain the defining albums of his career. he made the right choices—the 70’s concert footage is incredibly sweet. one that. and full of revealing black-and-white footage shot during the studio sessions for Darkness. on Blu-ray or DVD. for fraud. known commodities to Springsteenphiles for years. ing he wanted the music on Darkness to be “angry and rebellious but also adult.” In the film. the onceinnocent artist had become a harder. with as much emotion. specifically Hank Williams. The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town. Everywhere he played. 2010. include a lot of meaningful epigrammatic snatches. and having great difficulty locating in the mix anything between “dull and shrill. too. breach of trust.” Named after the album he’d released that summer. ■■ www. premiered in September at the 2010 Toronto Film Festival and was broadcast on HBO on October 7. Mike Appel.

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