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Why we refuse to predict the future!!

Why we refuse to predict the future!!

I write very few actual rants in this space or in TONEAudio‘s publishers letter for good reason:  I want this to be fun.  I’ve always felt that the minute we bring our personal baggage into the editorial, it really stops being fun.  I don’t care if audio writers from across the pond disagree on how to set up a turntable or how to rip digital audio files.  Really, I don’t. And I care way less about it when they make it a personal bitchfest.  BORING.  I’d much rather talk about anything but audio at that point.

But the one tired subject that does push me over the edge is the constant waste of bandwidth on articles dealing with the future of the hifi industry. I’ve spent a lot of time on an airplane over the last ten years, going to trade shows, visiting factories and talking to both dealers and end users about this stuff, tirelessly.  Music and hifi has been the major obsession in my life since about age 13, so you’d think I’ve got at least a bit of a handle on it, right?  Well, kind of.

However, as much as those of us in the audio press would like to think we are all so plugged in, we really aren’t and here’s why:  our filter is too small.  Way too small.  It’s simple math.  There are 317 million people in the United States alone, and as of the other day, TONEAudio is read in 129 countries, so how can we possibly know what everyone is thinking, doing, or purchasing.  Really?

I get it.  It makes for great Google numbers to print “the sky is falling” editorial copy about how the industry is dying, or no one listens to music anymore, or there is no good music, etc., etc., etc. This ends up being terribly inaccurate at best and self-serving at the worst.

First thing I remember from news writing 101, was “never assume anything.”  Considering that many of us know 50 – 100 people and maybe have a peripheral reach of a thousand people, how can we possibly make these broad, grandiose speeches, declaring the rise or fall of anything?  I know I can’t, and I won’t.  My data is way too skewed.

Most of my friends are music and hifi fanatics (like minds, eh?) so any data I would cull from them would be useless to the readership at large.  I can’t believe how many people I know that own six figure hifi systems and own thousands, if not tens of thousands of albums, so it would be equally easy to think it’s all ducky going forward from where I sit.

Having visited more than my share of manufacturers that are somehow, in spite of all this death-speak, managing to ship every box they can build, I’ve reached the conclusion that someone has to be buying this stuff.  And with new manufacturers like Sonos, Peachtree and others having similar success stories, I fail to accept that the light at the end of the tunnel is a train. But then, that’s not terribly compelling copy, is it?

My challenge to my colleagues for 2014?  How about some insightful commentary, instead of just going for the low hanging fruit.  Remember, almost all of you were right there proclaiming (with equal certainty) the death of analog twenty years ago.


NOS – New Old Stash

NOS – New Old Stash

I don’t know what your listening habits are…

While cleaning my office/studio/listening room, I found a cache of unopened and hence, unplayed records.  It gave me pause for a second, perusing through the stack, thinking that I was not only feeling nostalgic on this particular day of record shopping, but pretty lucky as well. A little bit of old school hip hop, some classic jazz and some major heaviness from the 60s. I even found a few vintage MoFi’s lurking in the pile.  Where were they when I was thinking of listening to them?

I realize that we all find our joy in a different place.  Some enjoy being completist collectors, some enjoy searching rarities, while others just dig hanging out in a record store and smelling the vinyl.

But I suggest that for a day or two (maybe even longer) you step back and enjoy the collection you’ve already acquired.  I’ll bet that you too have some hidden treasure!

-Jeff Dorgay


Bowers & Wilkins Partners with Maserati

Bowers & Wilkins Partners with Maserati

The two European manufacturers get together for the audio system in the new Quattroporte sedan, a dressed-up pair of 805 speakers, and a global DJ tour.

Maserati is far from the first luxury carmaker to market with a premium sound system in its cars—but pair that with the new 805 Maserati Edition speakers from B&W, which provides the stereo for the Italian carmaker’s 2013 Quattroporte sedan, and a DJ throw-down at a hanger in Hollywood, and you’ve most certainly got our attention. (The Hollywood event in early June was part of the global Seven Notes tour. For these events, DJ/producer Howie B, who has worked with Björk and U2, among other acts, spins music inspired by the seven tones of a Maserati engine in action, with B&W delivering the chest-thumping sonic goods. Click here for more details on the tour: www.sevennotes.com)

The Quattroporte audio system is no mere car stereo, and I’ve heard similar systems from

Naim (for Bentley), Bang & Olufsen (for Audi and Aston Martin) and Burmester (for Porsche). The B&W system in Maserati’s roughly $130,000 Quattroporte easily holds its own in this competitive market. With B&W drivers and tweeters and Harman-sourced electronics, the 15-speaker, 1,280-watt stereo produces an audiophile-grade listening experience from any of the car’s four seats. The system offers a big display panel in the dash with intuitive touchscreen control, and easy synchronization with your digital-music device of choice.

B&W’s 805 Maserati Edition speakers aren’t too shabby either. The stand-mounted monitors are basically B&W’s flagship 805 Diamond speakers dressed up with the same materials used in the cabin of a Maserati, including bird’s-eye maple veneer, black Italian leather, and the Maserati trident symbol. The cost of the speakers, which will be available this fall, are likely to come at a premium over the $5,000 price tag of the standard 805s—but if you’re paying well over six figures for a Maserati, you might as well throw in a few extra bucks for matching speakers.

-Bailey S. Barnard


How about Record Store Month?

How about Record Store Month?

Seriously, how about it?

With so many vinyl enthusiasts, new and old excited about this event, Record Store Day is growing to the point where it’s becoming more exclusive than inclusive.  Here in Portland, Oregon, my favorite record store owner, Terry Currier, of Music Millennium told me that “the line around the building started at 10 last night.”

A few other stores I know echoed the same sentiment, receiving so many titles that they got two or three copies of that could have easily sold a 100 copies, possibly more. Another store owner, preferring to remain anonymous, was a bit more bleak. “The limited edition model worked better when people weren’t aware of vinyl – it helped to build enthusiasm.  Now that the demand is there, customers go away from the store crabby when they can’t get the RSD goodies.”

So how about it Record Companies?  While you might lose a buck or two, making a few less RSD collectibles, you’d make a lot more money and achieve a lot more good will if those of us that actually listen to the records we purchase could get our hands on it.  Maybe compromise with Record Store Week? It appears the demand is there.


Update: NYC Show

Update:  NYC Show

I certainly had a lovely time at this years HiFi Show in New York City…

Put on by the Chester Group, the same folks that sponsored last years show, things went incredibly smoothly for the UK based firm, considering they overcame a few major hurdles. First, there was a lot of hotel construction that was in progress, that no one expected during show week, when it was being organized almost a year ago, and there were a few water and power failures that necessitated some major jackhammering during the day on Saturday as well as some tenant evacuations on Sunday evening.  Yikes.

However, the show was not only well attended, it was a diverse crowd, perhaps the most diverse crowd I’ve seen at an audio show in the US.  Montreal and Munich do an excellent job at attracting kids and women to the party, but the US shows tend to be more often than not, a high percentage of beard tuggers.

It was nice to see a few groups of younger people, like the ones pictured in the VPI Industries room, not only grooving on the music, but asking to “turn it up…”  It was also nice to talk music and audio with some of our female readers and get their feedback on things.

The Chester Group and their US liasons, Sally Goff (formerly the face of McIntosh) and Christina Yuin (our director of sales) made an excellent effort to bring some seminars and events that were a lot more music centric, and wider ranging than I’ve seen in a long time.

SoundStageDirect and The SoundOrganisation, along with PMC Speakers contributed with their “Studio to You” series of lectures, bringing in some famous recording and mastering engineers, to discuss their part of the process.

And, speaking of music, this was the first show in memory that also did not consist primarily of audiophile standards. I did avoid a couple of rooms (still) playing “Keith Don’t Go,” but by and large, it was a much more musical show overall.  The Rutherford Group was rocking everything from Swedish House Mafia to Elvis on acetate, AudioArts NYC had a wide range of jazz, classical and blues, on vinyl, and Johan Coorg of KEF was a mixmaster – spanning a very wide range of music as well.

Rounding things out, Stereophile’s Michael Fremer was there, with his turntable setup seminar, and Art Dudley (also of Stereophile) and I held a spirited panel discussion about vintage hifi, which I am told by the folks at the Chester Group, had the highest attendance of all the seminars.

Again a thanks to the Chester Group for performing above and beyond the call of duty, and all of you that attended.  I hope to see you again next year.

For those of you craving more room by room coverage, stop by Stereophile’s website, where they have done their usual concise job.


The Virtue of Vintage

The Virtue of Vintage

If you happen to be at the New York Audio show this weekend, please stop by and sniff around.

And, if you feel so inclined, I invite you to sit in on “The Virtue of Vintage,” a presentation Stereophile’s Art Dudley and I are putting on at  11am on Saturday.

Art’s tales of restoration have certainly inspired me over the years, so it’s an honor to be sharing the stage with him.  He’s invited some other vintage restoration experts, who will help you walk through the joys of using some of the best of audio’s past.

We look forward to seeing you there!


CES 2013

CES 2013

According to the official CES website, this was the most highly attended show ever, with attendance over 150,000.

This is quite a jump from when it was only about 110,000 back in 2009, shortly after the economy tanked in the fall of 2008. The number is calculated by tallying everyone who physically got a badge holder, not just those registering.

Just down the street, the Venetian hotel showcased 95% of the “High Performance Audio” exhibits, with dCS, Nagra, Audio Plus Services and a few others across the street, displaying in the Mirage hotel.  The Home Entertainment Show was located a few blocks down the street at the Flamingo, more of a consumer show; similar to THE Show in Newport Beach and managed by Richard Beers, who handles both shows. Unfortunately, the Vegas THE Show is nowhere near the draw of its southern California counterpart.  It remains the ghost town that it’s been for the last few years.

Without taking an official tally, attendance seemed a bit off at the Venetian this year, as it was last year since CES has moved to a “middle of the week” format.  Now taking place Tuesday through Friday, instead of the usual Thursday through Sunday, the schedule change eliminated a lot of the bloggers and such from the world of high end audio, as many were unable to leave their day jobs to attend, leaving foot traffic steady, yet manageable. Many vendors commented that though foot traffic was down, qualified inquiries were way up.

As I mentioned on our Facebook page, If you are interested in room by room coverage, with commentary on every rack of gear present, visit the Stereophile site.  They did an excellent job and had a full compliment of writers on hand, working tirelessly to get fresh coverage up each day.

Here’s my take on what was trending:

More products with high aesthetic sense.  While “lifestyle” is such a dirty word in the high end audio industry, more products are appearing that wouldn’t look out of place in a design conscious environment.  I.e., hifi doesn’t have to be just for the man cave anymore.  With some great examples from Meridian, BelCanto, Nagra and Peachtree, to name a few, perhaps the most stunning product introduced this year is the Intuition from Wadia Digital.

Combining a Wadia DAC with a 350 watt per channel (into 4 ohms) integrated amp, this product looks like a bit of a variation on the Apple MacBook Pro design brief.  Available in four finishes: matte black, matte silver, turned aluminum and the nickel plated masterpiece you see here, the Intuition features multiple digital inputs (of course, it will grab the digital bitstream from your Apple device) and an analog input.

Picking up on the trail blazed by Devialet at the 2011 CES (by far the coolest product at the 2011 show), the Wadia is poised for success.  Retail price, depending on finish will be in the neighborhood of $8,000.  We look forward to a full review as soon as it’s available.

Happily, vinyl just keeps gaining steam, with more turntables, phono cartridges and phonostages than ever.  Regardless of budget, spinning records has never been easier or more fun.  Who would have thought ten years ago, that vinyl would be so vital in 2013?

Streaming continues a meteoric rise, with nearly all of the majors offering a streaming product, incorporating your tunes ripped to various storage devices, along with incorporating your favorite internet radio station, or online music provider all from the convenience of your mobile device. Simaudio’s MiND 180 is the perfect example.  This technology has become far less garage and much more glamour in the last year, making it easier than ever to get music from the net to your home.

Personal audio is still on a rising trajectory, with more of the majors getting into the headphone amplifier game.  This Pathos Class-A amplifier shown here at $1,495 underscores the majors commitment to performance and style.

The most intriguing development on the software side of the equation is the new PONO player, brainchild of Neil Young and Bob Stuart (of Meridian Audio).  I heard a very exciting demo of music via the PONO process, and it is well done.  Neil Young is calling it “sound from God.” I’d say he’s not far off track. More info when my NDA’s expire.

Another welcome trend, is that of more women on both sides of the fence.  There were more women presenting and attending this segment of the show than in years past and this will dovetail nicely with the women joining the TONEAudio staff in the next few months.  Stay tuned for their observation on the industry, the gear and their own personal pursuit of hifi.

-Jeff Dorgay


Our Top Nine “UN Awards”

Our Top Nine “UN Awards”

The end of the year always brings award mania.

It’s like the end of your kids soccer season, everyone wants a trophy.  Now that our awards have been spoken for, there are still a few things that keep gnawing at me. But we can’t give everything an award, can we?  While my hope is always that you read every page of every issue of TONEAudio, I know you’re busy, or you don’t care.

But here’s nine more things that I spent time with this year that I just enjoyed the hell out of.  Are they the best in class? I don’t know.  But I had a ton of fun listening to them, and even wrote a check for a few of them.  I suggest they are worthy of your time.

Enjoy!

-Jeff Dorgay, Publisher
TONEAudio

1.  Thorens TD-125 Turntable, rebuilt by Vinyl Nirvana. (www.vinylnirvana.com)

Proprietor Dave Archambault’s home page says “Your internet resource for AR Turntables,” but he does a cracking job on the Thorens TD-125 as well.  I selfishly wish he’d start working on the LP-12, but I digress.  While I’m not quite finished with a full review of the TD-125, this thing is beautiful.  Archambault does amazing work and offers a true alternative to the analog enthusiast wanting something different than the popular choices from Rega, et. al. in the $1000 – $2000 range.  The model pictured here was fitted with an SME 3009 tonearm and a price tag of about $1600.  Vinyl Nirvana also works carefully with a custom plinth maker to really take these these tables to the next level of restoration, should you so desire.  Standard woods are about $375 each, and you can order more exotic wood at an additional cost.  Should you be motivated to either purchase a table from VN, or just have him restore yours, I can’t suggest the new plinth highly enough.

2. Thorens TD-124 Turntable, rebuilt by Swissonor. (www.swissonor.ch)

Forget everything you think you know about the Thorens TD-124 turntable.  Rebuilt by Swiss craftspeople, with a handful of improvements that will turn your head as well as your ear, including a non magnetic cast iron platter that sounds straight out of a Bond film, this turntable delivers an amazing sound that has one foot firmly planted in the past, with the other in today.  Capitalizing on the precision these tables were originally built with, Swissonor tastefully updates this turntable in a manner that reveals more music, yet doesn’t hide the true character of this classic.  If you love vinyl, you owe it to yourself to experience this turntable.

3.  Goldpoint SW2X Input Switcher. (www.goldpnt.com)

Those needing to add an extra balanced input, switch between amplifiers, or perform quick cable comparisons, look no further.  This is the droid you need.  Well made and reasonably priced.  There is a balanced version (currently in-house) with two inputs and a single ended RCA version with four.

4. Apple iPad Mini (www.apple.com)

Apple haters, sod off.  I know it doesn’t have the Retina display and it will probably be replaced with a new model by the time you read this, but the Mini is the best way to control a music server that I’ve ever encounter, whether you use iTunes or a proprietary music server from Sooloos/Meridian, Aurender, Naim or one of the others.  The screen size is just big enough to see easily, yet small and light enough to fit comfortably in one paw, where the standard iPad does not.

5. Omega Headphone Stand (www.musicdirect.com)

These cost way more money than they should, but they are just so damn cool, they prove irresistible.

6. Solidsteel WS-5 Turntable Shelf (www.musicdirect.com)

Much like real estate in Manhattan or Tokyo, sometimes the only way to go is up.  If you’re adding turntables and out of rack space, this is the way to roll. Properly installed, it will support up to 130 pounds, so it’s perfect for a reel to reel tape deck too.

7. Furutech DeMag (www.furutech.com)

Sure to get you crucified on any audiophile forum by merely mentioning it, the Furutech DeMag works brilliantly on LP’s, removing the last layer of grain and grunge from the presentation.  How does it really work? Who knows? Yet it does and every skeptic I’ve given a proper demonstration walks away admitting defeat while they scratch their head.  If you’ve taken your system as far as it can go and you still crave more, the Furutech DeMag will give it to you.

8. Ikea Expedit Shelves (www.ikea.com)  Though a few internet pundits have circulated photos of collapsed Expedit shelving units showing catastrophic results, a bit of 1/4-inch plywood, a few strategically placed brads and a bit of heavy duty glue makes the Expedit a stylish and robust record shelf.  Just don’t put a heavy amplifier or turntable on the shelf with spikes.

9. EAT ECC88 and ECC803 Tubes (www.musicdirect.com) Another expensive accessory, these precision crafted small signal tubes deliver sound quality that rivals any vintage tube you’ll get your hands on.


The Future of Audio is… Women!

The Future of Audio is… Women!

Every day there’s a new rant on what is or isn’t the “future” of high end audio.

One camp insists that the vinyl resurgence is essential to gaining more minions, another hates vinyl with a passion, claiming that LP’s have inferior specs and no potential for multichannel reproduction (talk about dead horses!), while still another feels headphones and personal audio will save the world. I submit they are all missing the boat in a major way.  The constant whining about formats and hardware is short sighted at best and drives people away from audio at it’s worst.

The enjoyment of music should enhance your life and the minute it becomes a hassle in todays fast paced, attention deficit driven world, people change the channel. As someone who’s been obsessed with audio most of their life, sold it and now covers it on a daily basis, I’ve discovered a major change in the game.  Women are the key to high end audio’s future.

Back in the early days of high end audio (to me, that’s the 70s and 80s), audio gear, like sports cars, motorcycles and such were manly things to do and women were rarely if ever considered or invited to the dance.  How many of you, long in the retail game, had customers that made purchases insistent on using a certain credit card or checking account that “their wives didn’t see?”  Much like the focus group scene in Mad Men, where Don Draper asks Roger Sterling what women think and he glibly answers, “who cares?”

But as Ice-T says, “Shit ain’t like that anymore.”

You need look no further than the recent T-Mobile ads with the devilishly attractive woman on the sport bike racing around, or the female hosts on The Attack of the Show, to see that times have changed.  Watching the teens and twenty somethings of today, women have become just as excited about technology as men are, and they are just as efficient.  While my 19 year old daughter doesn’t check her oil as often as I would like her to, she knows what’s going on under the hood and a number of her friends have geeked out cars with exhaust pipes big enough for Honey Badger to climb into.  And they are no slouch at setting up a wireless router, either.

I can’t tell you how many times in the last few years, I’ve gone to a friends house and commented on their massive flat panel TV only to find out it was their wife or girlfriend that insisted on a 70-inch screen instead of the 50-inch model they thought they would have to beg for.  You’ll get my wife’s Meridan F80 compact music system ($2,995 MSRP) away from her when you pry her cold, dead hands from it, and like many women I know, was very influential in our early adoption of the Sooloos music server. A recent visit to Ears Nova in New York City confirms this.  When we were discussing who makes the purchase decisions in 2012, owner Joshua Cohn said, “Women key in on great sound and the emotional involvement right away. It’s usually the men that need to do more research, compare specs, or get an additional opinion from someone on an internet forum. Women are rarely if ever the ones that object to the sale.”

The bottom line is that enthusiasm breeds engagement, which translates into purchases.  When your female partner says, “Let’s get that new pair of MartinLogan speakers,” or “I want a better turntable,” most guys aren’t going to say “Let’s buy a couch instead.”  The fact that we are living in a world of technologically savvy women can only mean good things for the consumer electronics industry.


This is NOT your Dad’s console stereo…

This is NOT your Dad’s console stereo…

For those of you old enough to remember the big, console stereo systems that resided in our parents and grandparents living rooms, you know they pretty much sucked.  Except for a few that offered Dual turntables, most of them featured a tonearm not much unlike something from The Flintstones, and many even had a television built in.  Pale brownish, mauve-ish grill cloth abounded and they were full of vacuum tubes.  My Grandmother’s Magnavox even had a “magic eye” tube for signal strength in the tuner.  Ok, that was pretty cool.

The crack design team at Symbol Audio takes a different approach.  These music loving furniture designers have built a music system that looks right at home next to an Eames Lounge Chair, or poised proudly in a gallery of fine art.  And it sounds pretty damn good too.  We’ll have a full review early in 2013, but suffice to say the Symbol folks have put together all the right bits to create something truly special.

Handmade in their Nyack, NY factory, these consoles have an MSRP of $26,000.  Not for everyone, but those who make the investment will have an heirloom that will truly be cherished – and able to be handed down to the next generation, just like an Eames chair.

You can find out more here, at the Symbol Audio website.


Krell KSA-50

Krell KSA-50

Many audiophiles still revere the original Krell KSA 50 power amplifier.  A 50 watt per channel monster, it is able to double its power with halving of impedance all the way down to one ohm.

Ken Kessler will have a full story in Issue #51′s “Old School” column, but suffice to say this amplifier is still fantastic, stacking up handily to todays hardware.

Our thanks to Michael Trei for finding us a mint, one owner example.

Time for some listening, and to revisit history!


KEF LS 50s

KEF LS 50s

After a productive visit to the KEF factory in the UK last month, our review pair of their latest masterpiece, the LS-50s has arrived.

The review will be interesting, though somewhat of a formality as they are staying.  Our art director has requested an upgrade for her office system.  And you thought women didn’t care about great sound!  Ha.

Watch for a full review in our Macro section.


BlackBody…

BlackBody…

Jeremy Kipnis and I are investigating the effects of the new LossLess Black Body field conditioner.

Black Body claims better sound via absorbing unwanted radiations in the listening environment,
both from equipment and room noise.  So far, this has been an intriguing exercise.  Watch for
details on our new site, aptly labeled, “Tweakasaurus,” coming soon.


Mozart Arrives…

Mozart Arrives…

We’ve just received the Mozart Grand speakers from Vienna Acoustics for review.

Clad in piano black, these compact speakers strike a stunning presence, yet are compact enough to fit in most rooms.  A 6-inch two and a half way system with 90db sensitivity won’t tax your amplifier.

You can read more details here. And watch for more info on our Facebook page as the review progresses.


TONEAudio Index Updated

TONEAudio Index Updated

The current version of TONEAudio’s Gear Index is now available for free download.

We admit after 47 issues, that’s a lot of content to go through when you’re looking for
that one review.

Now you can find them all here in one spot.  Take 15 sec to download our PDF, which
has every review, divide by category – revealing the issue that it was originally published.

Click this link to begin the download.

Enjoy!


Pass Labs Aleph 3 Arrives

Pass Labs Aleph 3 Arrives

If you’re an automotive enthusiast, chances are you’ve had a car or two that you’ve always regretted selling. Hifi enthusiasts often face the same dilemma.

For me, it was always getting rid of my Quad 57′s (problem solved recently) and the Aleph 3 from Pass Labs.  A one owner model made it’s way to me and I couldn’t be more excited.

A 30 watt per channel (into 8-ohms) amplifier, the Aleph3 is fully biased Class-A and is a single ended design, just like your favorite SET tube amplifier.  The result is that single ended smoothness you get from a 300B amplifier, because the output transistors never shut off and there is no crossover distortion.  The Aleph sounds spookily like the best 300B you’ve ever heard, with major bass control and no problems driving a complex speaker load – welcome the Quad 57s. Remember, Class-A means hot. Give the Aleph 3 plenty of ventilation – as much as you would a tube amplifier.

This amplifier is bulletproof with no bias adjustments needed, so if you’ve got a clean one, hang on to it and enjoy it.  A quick call to Pass Labs service department confirms they are seeing no particular mortality on any of the components, including the power supply electrolytics. If you do have an Aleph that requiring service, the necessary parts are in stock and they can be easily repaired. As Kurt Doslu at Echo Audio likes to say, “Just don’t play catch with it!”

For those interested, you can read Stereophile’s original review of  the Aleph 3 here.  It certainly convinced me to buy one!

Stay tuned as we continue to build sound room 2.  We are almost sorted with the addition of the Aleph 3.


The Quad Adventure Begins!

The Quad Adventure Begins!

If you ask any number of audiophiles and speaker designers what they consider to be the holy grail of speakers, chances are high that many of them will answer “The Quad 57.”

The original Quads have a tonal purity and coherence that is still a benchmark, over 50 years after their introduction.  While this is not a full range speaker in the sense that they have limited output beneath about 45 hz, the quality of what is available is scrumptious.  And, yes, they have limited dispersion, making them a “one person” speaker, but building a system around the 57s is a somewhat self indulgent thing to begin with.  Lastly, these are not serious rock and roll speakers, but again with the GamuT S9′s in room one, we’ve got that box ticked.

While this sounds limiting at first, the second you put your favorite vocal record on the turntable, you forget about the Quad 57s limitations are and realize that what they do right, is intoxicating.

So follow us on the journey of putting together a system based around these wonderful speakers.

The room will be 13 x 16 feet and we’ve purchased a pair of rebuild 57s from Quads Unlimited.  An artisan shop, Quads Unlimited can work with your existing speakers, or find you a pair and do a complete rebuild.  We’ll discuss that more in depth in a future update, but suffice to say the end result is better than new. Keep in mind, QA is a small company, so it’s not like you can call today and have a pair delivered tomorrow. Your patience will be rewarded.


Adding the HRS Platform to the AMG V-12 Turntable

Adding the HRS Platform to the AMG V-12 Turntable

We’ve been living with the AMG V-12 turntable for some time now, and it sounds as exquisite as it looks. If you are looking for a turntable that is devoid of bling, that you can set up, forget it and just enjoy your record collection, it’s tough to do better than the V-12.

Exquisitely machined in every sense, this table is truly a work of fine art.  Garth Leerer, the president of Musical Surroundings feels that “With a table as high performance as the AMG, what you place it on will impact the ultimate performance.”

The AMG manual suggests placing the table on a granite slab for best results, so what better way to go than the current MX3-1921-AMGV12 platform from Harmonic Resolution Systems designed specifically for the AMG?  Machined from billet aircraft aluminum and incorporating a polished black granite surface, this platform is is load matched specifically to the weight of the AMG. It is priced at $2,650.

After listening to the AMG for a few weeks without the HRS, getting it under a proper platform made for a substantial jump in performance.  Having just played a few familiar tracks and then slipping the base underneath, it was evident that the upper bass tightened up and there was a larger spatial perspective on the music.  To make sure I wasn’t second guessing myself, I recorded the three before and after tracks on my Revox B-77 at 15 i.p.s. to see if I’d actually hear that difference, side by side.  Even on tape, it was still there, and at high volume I noticed the woofer cones on the GamuT S9′s did not have as much random movement (indicating acoustic feedback) providing a visual confirmation that the HRS platform was indeed getting rid of unwanted vibration.

Watch for our full review of the AMG soon, in the Analogaholic section.


New Bits for the Paganini

New Bits for the Paganini

Years ago, more horsepower meant getting under the hood and bolting on some parts.

Today, I get the engine management EPROM reflashed to achieve more horsepower.  And so it goes with digital audio.  While some may question the logic of a four-box digital audio player that still plays physical media, today just underscored why the dCS Paganini is worth the money I’ve invested in it.  It’s modular design makes it obsolete-proof.

Rather than having to take a bath on selling the Pag to get the newest thing from dCS, they sent me a pair of CD’s to upgrade the software in the Upsampler and DAC portions of my Paganini stack, which consists of a Transport, (for SACD and CD discs) the DAC, an upsampler and a word clock.

The whole process took about 40 minutes per box and the instructions were straightforward.  The result?  Being ever skeptical of digital, I was shocked at how much of an improvement took place.  Of course more listening will be required, but immediately there was a much bigger spatial perspective, with more clarity from the top to the bottom of the frequency spectrum and a huge layer of midrange cloudiness that I didn’t know existed is now gone.

It’s sounding a LOT closer to my analog rig.


Welcome to the Analog Barbershop

Welcome to the Analog Barbershop

On a recent excursion to the Oregon coast, as I was snooping for used records, who would have thought I’d find them in a barbershop!  When I saw the sign out front claiming “$15 Hair Cuts Until the End of the World” from the Analog Barbershop, I couldn’t resist.  Inside the lovely Olynxa was giving a gentleman a haircut amidst two walls of neatly bagged LP’s of all genres.

Pretty cool I say.

So, the next time you are in Astoria, Oregon, stop by the Analog Barbershop – located at 250 11th. Street.
Their phone number is 503-468-8277

Tell them TONEAudio sent you.


Turntables in Munich

Turntables in Munich

The Munich High End show opened yesterday and it’s clear that the Europeans are serious about analog!

This display from Pro-Ject is just a smattering of the wide range of turntables here on display.  Stay tuned for more tomorrow!


Gear Index Updated!

Gear Index Updated!

We’ve just updated our gear index again, through issue #44.  Now you can find all your favorite TONEAudio
reviews quickly….

Download it here.


Carver Cherry Amps: Tubey, SEXY!

Carver Cherry Amps: Tubey, SEXY!

Legendary amplifier manufacturer Bob Carver just sent us a pair of his latest tube mono block amplifiers, the Cherry 180′s, which produce 180 watts per channel into 8 ohms and feature six KT88 power tubes per channel.  Decidedly old school, these amplifiers are built in America at Carvers Kentucky facility.

These red machines sound even better than they look.

Full review and factory visit in progress.

Read more about Carver Amplifiers here:


ARC SE Models Arrive!

ARC SE Models Arrive!

The new SE version of the spectacular REF 5 preamplifier and REF Phono 2 have just arrived and our mascot is enjoying them even before they are out of the box.

According to ARC, both models have larger, improved power supplies, along with some internal parts upgrades as well.  Both of these units benefit from what ARC learned developing their 40th Anniversary preamplifier.  Reviews will be in process as soon as we can get the pup down.

For more info, click here:


Editor Bob Gendron’s new blog…

Editor Bob Gendron’s new blog…

It’s All One Song
By Bob Gendron

January is traditionally a slow time for live shows. Yet soon enough, announcements for spring dates, the excitement associated with South By Southwest, and the unveiling of lineups for destination festivals will put everyone back into a virtual club—or, in the case of Lollapalooza, a virtual lakefront park). Such anticipation prompts reflection on the year that just was.

In addition to reporting for the Chicago Tribune on the three-day fests otherwise known as Lollapalooza, Pitchfork Music Festival, and the Dave Matthews Caravan, and taking in the Montreal International Jazz Festival for TONE Audio, I had the privilege of witnessing more than 60 standalone concerts in 2011. Of the more than 250 artists I saw onstage, here are my ten favorite performances.

1. Deadmau5 at Lollapalooza (August 7, Chicago)
Starting his headlining performance almost exactly at the moment a pounding rainstorm commenced, the Toronto electronic maestro turned Grant Park into the world’s biggest and liveliest mud pit with a scorching light show and nonstop dance beats.

2. Drive-By Truckers at Vic Theatre (February 25, Chicago)
Playing with tremendous purpose and intensity, the always-reliable Truckers delivered a career-spanning set that made a case for the Alabama ensemble being the best live rock band on any given night.

3. Janelle Monae at Aragon Ballroom (May 27, Chicago)
Drawing on everything from golden-era silent films to science-fiction themes, the R&B phenomenon sang, danced, and painted her way through a breathtaking affair teeming with fervent energy and bold vision.

4. Guns N’ Roses at Allstate Arena (November 15, Chicago)
Fans that waited nearly two decades for Axl Rose to channel his old self were rewarded with a marathon extravaganza that, while falling short of the excellence displayed in 1991-92, eclipsed the original band’s 1993 trek. Don’t believe it? Cue up “Estranged” here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aOzrtr3IsBc.

5. (TIE) Prince at Metropolis; Brad Mehldau and Joshua Redman at Theatre Maisonneuve (June 25, Montreal)
On one night, pianist Mehldau and longtime collaborator Redman gave a clinic in pointillistic jazz while, hours later, the Purple One took over a small club with unrivaled showmanship, astounding instrumental acumen, and an enviable way with song.

6. Twilight Singers at Metro (May 17, Chicago)
On his best showing since the Afghan Whigs disbanded, Greg Dulli led his enthusiastic band through an unforgettably soulful show that renews one’s faith in music and prompts them to binge on the performer’s catalog for weeks.

7. Titus Andronicus at Lollapalooza (August 8, Chicago)
Setting a new standard that all Lollapalooza openers should follow, Titus Andronicus blazed through underdog-themed anthems tailor-made for a society mired in economic disparity and social unease.

8. Rihanna at United Center (June 15, Chicago)
No mainstream pop star better understands the secrets to an engaging arena spectacle than Rihanna, who buffeted a balanced blend of costume changes, visual props, and dance routines with a constant stream of contagious hits.

9. Elvis Costello at Chicago Theatre (May 15, Chicago)
The return of the Spectacular Spinning Songbook concept found Costello recharged, tearing through five opening songs in less than 16 minutes and accenting older material with avant-garde solos plucked from Thurston Moore’s playbook.

10. Brandi Carlile at Park West (December 1, Chicago)
Blowing away anything she’s put on record, the Seattle-based singer-songwriter went it alone and charmed with a disarming voice and independent streak that suggested Adele-like fame could be in her future if she makes a solo record absent a backing band.


Sonus Faber Aida World Premier!

Sonus Faber Aida World Premier!

The New York audio press was treated to the world premiere of Sonus Faber’s latest triumph, the Aida, on Tuesday night (an open-to-audiophiles affair was on Wednesday night). When I arrived for the auspicious event at Stereo Exchange’s NYC showrooms the speakers were cloaked in cloth wrappers. The Aida’s statuesque 68 inch tall presence and imposing 363 pound weight left no doubt: this speaker is a no holds barred effort.

Sonus Faber importer John Hunter hosted the proceedings, and introduced Fine Sounds’ CEO Mauro Grange. Hunter then played a wide range of music over the Aidas, everything from solo acoustic guitar, funky jazz, large orchestral works, before turning up the heat with Yello’s thumpin’ beats.

The Aida uses an “Arrow Point” Damped Apex Dome tweeter, a proprietary cellulose pulp/kapok/kenaf and other natural fibers midrange driver, high-tech syntactic foam core and cellulose pulp sandwich woofers, and a nanocarbon/honeycomb infra woofer. The cabinet is an elaborate “Lyra-shape,” multi-chambered design, outfitted with numerous resonance control measures. The drop-dead gorgeous finish, even by Sonus Faber standards, was simply stunning. Aida was being played with Audio Research electronics, including a Reference 5 preamp, Ref CD8 CD player, and the speakers were biamped with Reference 250 and DS450 amps.

I wasn’t in the sweet spot for most of the auditions, but the sound was big, bold and juicy. I was in the ideal position for Yello, and the Aidas not only threw a massive soundstage, the out-of-phase elements of the mix were projected well out in front of the speakers. The effect was as close to surround sound as I’ve heard from a pair of speakers.

The Aida will retail for $120,000 per pair.

– Steve Guttenberg


PS Audio’s P10 in for review…

PS Audio’s P10 in for review…

PS Audio has come a long way since the end of the 90s’ when they introduced their first Power Plant PS300. Where many power line conditioners use extensive filtering schemes to scrub the noise and distortion components from your AC mains, the P10 regenerates new, 120 volt (or 220 for European customers) power, eliminating the noise and distortion from the power feeding your gear. We’ve just finished the photography on the P10 you see here, so watch for a review soon. We will be posting comments here and on our FB page, so feel free to ask questions and interact with us along the way!


TONEAudio Gear Review Index is Here!

TONEAudio Gear Review Index is Here!

We’ve reviewed a pretty big pile of gear in the last six years and it can be tough to wade through it all…

So, we’ve launched our new Review Index, which we will be updating 8 times per year to help you sort
it all out. Feel free to download it here:

Let us know what you think, and if there is anything we can do to make the data more accessible.


Now you can live in the Wilco Building…

Now you can live in the Wilco Building…

Our editor Bob Gendron (who lives in Chicago) just tipped me off to this incredible real estate deal…

No, it’s not a vacation timeshare in some bizarre place, it’s a luxury condo right in downtown Chicago. Show off your enthusiasm for modern architecture and Wilco with this 2 bedroom condo located in Bertrand Golberg’s Marina City, also displayed on the cover of Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

Here’s a link: http://bit.ly/n3NJEo

$535,000 and a 42nd floor view of Chicago can be yours. Very cool.


The SME 3009: A vintage analog beauty

The SME 3009: A vintage analog beauty

Have you ever attended a top level car show and marveled at the level of craftsmanship that goes into restoring a vintage sports car?  The best ones always look like the car just rolled off the production line, as if time had stopped for the moment you were gazing at it.  If your object of desire happens to be the SME 3009 tonearm, look no further than smetonearms.com – they create, or more accurately recreate vintage SME tonearms at a concours level.

It didn’t hurt that my tonearm belonged to a good friends father and was actually a “one owner” model, so I had a decent arm to begin with.  And as any car restoration expert will tell you, the cosmetic bits are the toughest to replace, so if you can start out with a clean donor, it makes the job that much easier.  This particular arm looked fantastic and even had the original receipt in the box, when it was purchased new in the early 70′s with a Thorens turntable.

Proprietor Alfred Kayser is an affable guy and he knows vintage SME inside and out.  He assured me that the tonearm would be completely rebuilt from the ground up and completely rewired all the way back to the RCA plugs.  The final result is truly beautiful to behold, but Alfred also told me that one of their arms would stand up to the best that today’s market has to offer.  After a day of listening, I can’t argue with him, but the real differences will be revealed when we mount the 3009 to one of our two AVID Volvere SP turntables and compare it directly to another AVID Volvere SP with an identical Dynavector DV-20xl cartridge and a current SME 309 tonearm.  But for now, it certainly sounds fab on my AVID Diva II SP.

With 3009 arms selling as cheap as $150 these days (with a typical model about $300-$450), the $400-$600 that SME Tonearms charges is a bargain, perhaps one of the best bargains in high end audio I’ve seen.


Not Exactly Your Dad’s Walkman

Not Exactly Your Dad’s Walkman

With all of the emphasis on digital music recording these days, I’ve decided to make an about face and dramatically go old-school. Back in the 80s, the Nakamichi 550 was the ultimate portable analog recording deck. With peak reading meters and solid frequency response out to 18khz, it’s highly capable as a home or portable machine. Originally, it was meant to run on an AC adapter or 8 D-Cell batteries. (Buying that many batteries made me feel like Radio Raheem in Do the Right Thing. “I said D batteries, motherfucker!”) To stay green, a Black Lightning rechargeable battery supply is on the way from Red Wine Audio http://redwineaudio.com/components/black_lightning .

The unit pictured here is just about finished getting tuned up by the master, Willy Hermann from Willy Hermann Services. If you’ve got a Nakamichi deck that needs attention, give Willy a call. He rebuilt my Nakamichi Dragon to perfection and since its return, my reel-to-reel deck has been collecting dust. Who knows? Perhaps the 550 might make an appearance at one of next year’s hi-fi shows.

www.willyhermannservices.com


AVID’s new SCT Cable Arrives For Review

AVID’s new SCT Cable Arrives For Review

Building on the success of its latest phono preamplifiers, UK turntable manufacturer AVID has set its sights on the cable market. We’ve received the SCT interconnects and ACT speaker cable, so they are playing nicely in system two, consisting of the McIntosh C500 control center, ARC REF 150 power amplifier, and a pair of B&W 802 Diamond loudspeakers. Of course, there is an AVID table in the mix—two of them, actually, the Diva II and Diva II SP (also in for review).

Glamour shots have just been taken, so we’ve just begun listening. So far, so good, but we’re not letting the cat out of the bag just yet. Stay tuned to our Facebook page for review progress, but right now, it looks like AVID has produced another winner.  For more information, click here.


The Decware Zen Torii is simply amazing

The Decware Zen Torii is simply amazing

After hundreds of hours of initial listening, the Decware Zen Torii continues to improve, as designer Steve Deckert said it would.  While the full review will be in issue 40, suffice to say that this is one of the most musically engaging amplifiers I’ve had the pleasure to experience.  If you’ve ever spent time with a great SET and thought “If this only had 2-3 times the power, I could live with it,” your ship has arrived.  After owning a number of the world’s finest SET amplifiers, I can easily support Deckert’s claim that the Zen Torii is certainly the equal of any SET I’ve owned.

The best news is that the Zen Torii has 25 watts per channel.  Utilizing a pair of EL34 power tubes per channel as well as tube rectification and voltage regulation, it offers a sound that is fast, detailed and dynamic, with bass and treble controls that let you fine tune the amplifier to your speakers.  These are not tone controls in the classic sense, altering the frequency response of the amplifier.  The bass control controls the impedance match with your speakers, so it doesn’t increase or decrease the amount of bass as it does change the tonal character of the bass from soft to taut – so there is no right or wrong setting, but it does allow you to tailor the sound exactly to your liking.  Per the instruction manual, the treble control allows a gentle roll off of the high frequencies and is not in the actual signal path.

Digging further in the well written and illustrated owners manual reveals that this amplifier is a tube rollers’ delight, with a number of options available.  So far, we’ve stuck with the stock tubes, but when the rainy winter season hits the Pacific Northwest again, it will be time for some experimenting.  I’ve been stockpiling a few different types of EL34′s, some variations on the 5U4 rectifiers and even a couple of different voltage regulators.  If for no other reason, the blue glow of a pair of OB3′s looks like fun.

But all techie goodies aside, this amplifier sounds wonderful.  Pricing for the standard Zen Torii is $2,975 and the model reviewed here features a $500 V-Cap upgrade and a 21 position stepped attenuator, which will also allow you to maximize the output of your preamplifier to get maximum dynamic range.

These are 25 of the best watts you will find anywhere, at any price.  If a 25wpc tube amplifier is your idea of nirvana, I suggest calling Mr. Deckert now and getting in line, there is usually a waiting list for one of his amplifiers – but your patience will be rewarded!

www.decware.com

(photo courtesy of Decware)


Newport Beach Show Off To A Strong Start

Newport Beach Show Off To A Strong Start

For those that attended T.H.E. Show’s Newport Beach event at the Orange County Hilton this past weekend, you know they are off to a great start. With attendance reaching over 5000, this was highly impressive for the first year. It’s important to give credit where credit is due and the Los Angeles Audio Society did a great job (albeit somewhat pushy nearer opening day) of promoting the event as did Richard Beers, the show’s producer – with ads in most of the major hifi magazines well in advance.

The show featured an excellent mix of gear from all price ranges and the majority of the rooms had good sound. A few brought speakers that were somewhat large for their rooms, but that is often the norm, wherever a hifi show is held, so no penalty points here. As an attempt to reach out to associated luxury pursuits, there were wine and cigar vendors as well as a car show out back. Unfortunately, the car show was relatively uneventful (this is Southern California) and for most of the show, the excitement was in the parking lot, with numerous Ferraris, Porsches and a few Lamborghinis to peruse on your way in.

If you are looking for room by room, rack by rack coverage, I suggest blasting over to Stereophile’s website. Michael Lavorgna worked around the clock to provide what I feel is some of the best show coverage I’ve read in years; insightful and to the point, yet giving you ample feel for the vibe. I know if I hadn’t attended, this report would have made me want to make the pilgrimage next year.

The high point of this show for me was the diversity of music being played. For a change it wasn’t all female vocal dreck. As always, the guys in the Zu Audio room were doing a killer job, spinning plenty of records with a pair of their latest modded SL-1200′s featuring Rega tonearms, and of course, Zus Denon cartridges. Played through an Audion 300B amplifier and a pair of their Soul Superfly speakers, these guys really had it going on. And in the picture you see above, they were joined by no less than Bes Nievera from Music Direct, playing DJ. Always nice to see both sides of the industry playing well together!

But the room that gave me goosebumps was the Meridian room on the main floor featuring their 810 Video Projector. If you haven’t seen the 810 in action, it’s staggering. Imagine having an IMAX theater in your home. Yeah, it’s that good. For upwards of $200k for the system, you probably could spend the summer in style at Cannes next year, but you’d still have to go home to your boring 50-inch television. Once you’ve experienced the 810, your life will never be the same, it is by far the best video presentation I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing.

Though this event didn’t quite hit the promised mark of being “The Best HiFi Show in The World,” it’s certainly an outstanding first effort. Here’s to their continued growth and success.


Music is NOT dead…

Music is NOT dead…

Last night in Portland you could have spent $30 on going to see Pirates of the Caribbean.  But for the price of a movie ticket, 16oz. Diet Coke and some some soggy popcorn you could have gone to the Wonder Ballroom and experienced The Twilight Singers and a beer.  Watch for our editor Bob Gendron’s coverage of the band’s performance in Chicago in our next issue, but suffice to say if you’re of the mindset that “there’s no good music anymore,” you’re just plain wrong.


The New D’Agostino Amplifiers…

The New D’Agostino Amplifiers…

I went to the Innovative Audio Video showrooms recently in NYC to check out Dan D’Agostino’s new amplifier, The Momentum. The store was filled with customers and audio press. Dan is one of the founding fathers of American high-end audio, and started his first company, Krell Industries, in 1980 where he served as its chief engineer for 30 years, designing amplifiers, preamplifiers, CD players, surround-sound processors, subwoofers, and speakers.

The Momentum is a 300 watt monoblock power amplifier (you need two for stereo). The machined from solid aluminum billet and copper chassis is painted with high-gloss clear coat; it is one of the most beautiful components I’ve ever seen. How did it sound? Well, let me put it this way, it was so good it mesmerized a room full of audiophiles! During the 20 minute demo not one person talked, I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed that before. I heard a few Momentum demos that night with a range of Wilson Audio speakers: Sophia Series 3, Sasha W/P, and Alexandria Series 2. The sound was highly transparent and pure with all three speakers.

The Dan D’Agostino Momentum amplifier retails for $45,000 a pair; a matching preamplifier will soon be offered by the company.

-Steve Guttenberg


AudioVision SF: Join Us!

AudioVision SF: Join Us!

If you are in the San Francisco area, join us tomorrow, Thursday evening (April 28) at AudioVision San Francisco.

They will be hosting their 4th installment of their “Fiscally Sound Event,” which will be featuring two moderately priced systems with gear from Simaudio Moon, Triangle Loudspeakers and Nordost, to name a few.  The event takes place from 7:30 – 9:30 and refreshments will be served.  Of course, they’ve got a few surprise goodies to hand out and manufacturers reps will be on hand to answer your questions.  I’ll be there to chat with the crowd and talk to you about all things audio too, so if you’re nearby, stop on in!


The Sooloos – Explained!

The Sooloos – Explained!

For those new to the music server world, the Sooloos is by far the easiest and most comprehensive way to organize your music collection. As a very happy Sooloos owner for three years now, it’s definitely made my life easier and allowed me to listen to a lot more of my music collection.

Sooloos has produced a brief video explaining things and you can view it here.

We are currently working on a review of their latest products, the Control 15, the MS600 and the Media Core 200, so stay tuned…


MartinLogan ElectroMotion ESL is here…

MartinLogan ElectroMotion ESL is here…

In 1992, MartinLogan debuted the Aerius loudspeaker, shrinking the sound of their Sequel II in to a smaller and more affordable sized speaker, with an 8-inch woofer, at a retail price of $1,995 per pair. Stereophile’s John Atkinson gave these speakers a highly enthusiastic review, saying the panel/woofer integration was “seamless” and that “he was struck by the unity of the Aerius’s sound.”

I bought a pair of Aerius’s, based on that review, because while I had loved my former CLS’s, my current digs did not afford the room that the CLS required, but I really missed the MartinLogan sound. So out went my Acoustat 1+1′s and I was back in LoganWorld! My system consisted of a Klyne Audio Arts SK-5 preamplifier, a Conrad Johnson MV-50 and a Rega P3 with Dynavector Ruby Carat cartridge and I was digging the panel goodness. The Aerius’s could definitely rock out better than my Acoustats were able to.

Over the last 19 years, I’ve owned and reviewed a lot of speakers, but I always remember that pair of Aerius’s well. A little sniffing around the internet reveals a doggedly loyal following, even today. Considering that you can still get a replacement set of ESL panels for your Aerius’s, it’s easy to keep them singing.

At the end of 2010, Devin Zell (MartinLogan’s Marketing Manager) started talking about a new hybrid ESL that was going to come in right at $1995, to which I said, “Is this going to be a 21st Century Aerius?” Zell’s excitement for the project was tough to keep under wraps, as I had obviously hit a hot button. We then proceeded to nerd out about all things MartinLogan for a while and a review pair was promised.

Zell went way above and beyond the call of duty this time. He not only sent me a pair of the ElectroMotion speakers you see here in my driveway, but he had a pair of Aerius’s refurbished at the factory for me to use for comparison purposes! I felt this was so cool, I had to meet the challenge. My MV-50 just got back from Conrad Johnson, freshened up with their current CJD Teflon capacitors, so it will sound even better than it did back in the early 90′s when I first had my Aerius’s and I found a mint Klyne preamp as well. Add a current Rega P9 with Dynavector cartridge and it’s as close to going back in time as I can muster.

So, stay tuned. This will certainly be a fun review – of both speakers.

For now, here’s a little more information on the ElectroMotion’s:


Klipsch Heresy III’s a ton of fun

Klipsch Heresy III’s a ton of fun

Sometimes it’s easy to overlook the obvious. With new speakers hitting the market every day, here’s an updated classic that’s sure to please. The Klipsch Heresy hit the market in the late 50′s and now is in its third generation, featuring a 12-inch, 3 way design with a horn loaded midrange and tweeter. The result is a high efficiency (99db/1 watt sensitivity) speaker that rocks out in a major way with a minimum of amplifier power.

These speakers arrived yesterday, and have been blasting since I got them out of the box. Using the 40 watt Croft hybrid power amplifier tested recently, it’s going to take a while to find the volume limits of these speakers. Even with 40 watts per channel on tap, a modest twist of the volume control is producing plenty of oomph.

We’ll have a full review in issue 38, but even after a day’s listening, this is a speaker has put a big smile on my face.

$799 each, mfrs. info here


The World’s Best Wilson Audio Experience?

The World’s Best Wilson Audio Experience?

While visiting Washington DC, I had quite the audio experience at contributing writer Jacob Heilbrunn’s house. After attending an outstanding dealer event at JS Audio, that was packed until well past closing with demos from Wilson Audio’s Peter McGrath and Rich Maez from Boulder, the real treat was yet to come.

Heilbrunn’s purpose built room, featuring the Continuum Caliburn turntable with a matching pair of Cobra tonearms (featuring the Lyra Titan mono and the AirTight PC-1 Supreme), and the Ypsilon phono stage, showcasing a pair of Wilson Audio Alexandra 2′s driven by a pair of Classe 600 watt monoblocks. Digital was handled by the Playback Designs MPS-5 CD/SACD player and all sources channeled through the Messenger preamplifier. If this pair of enormous full range speakers wasn’t enough, Heilbrunn had a pair of Wilson Thor subwoofers, which McGrath had just recently installed in the room for a future review in The Absolute Sound. But the system was as much a testament to finesse as brute strength.

Running through a gamut of jazz, blues and classic rock, I was stunned at the system’s limitless dynamic range and perfect tonality. While many audiophiles like to think that recorded music can’t approach the real thing, it’s only a pile of cash away. In this case, about 400 large (Clevelands not Franklins), and it unquestionably delivers the goods. Having been to Wilson Audio’s Valhalla – David Wilson’s living room, even his spectacular system comes up short in terms of the delicacy and ultimate resolution I experienced here. McGrath went on to say that while listening to a live jazz recording as he was packing up at Heilbrunn’s house, the people chatting on the couch at the back of the room just added to the ambiance. “I really felt as if I was sitting right there in the club, experiencing a live show.”. McGrath also confirmed my analysis of Heilbrunn’s system and felt it might be the best he’s ever experienced as well. But he left it open with a wry smile, as he said “There is one customer of ours in Spain…”

This is truly a system that does it all. The monstrous X-2′s disappeared in the room completely; we didn’t need to dim the lights as a parlor trick. It was if they were coated with something from the Army’s latest stealth arsenal. (With the Pentagon only a few miles away and Heilbrunn’s day job covering politics, who knows? Maybe I did have an X-Files experience?). These six foot tall speakers never drew attention to themselves and had a top to bottom coherence that even the best panel speakers lack.

In the quest for even higher fidelity, Heibrunn is in the process of building a new sound room when he moves in fall. As we leave for the airport he ponders, “Is there more resolution available?”

We will see. Watch for the complete chronicle of his new project later this year in a future issue of TONEAudio.


Off to AVID!

Off to AVID!

By the time most of you are reading this, I’ll be on my way to the UK.

Going to visit Conrad Mas, the fellow who designs the full range of AVID turntables and take a tour of their brand new facility. Hoping to get some great photos of my table the Acutus SP Reference, which is sounding ever so fantastic here in the TONEAudio listening room.

Conrad is promising beer and a sneak peek at some new developments. What could be better?


The Elgar from RSA makes its debut…

The Elgar from RSA makes its debut…

I’ve been using Running Springs Audio power line conditioners in my two reference systems for the last four years now with excellent results. I’ve tried damn near everything else and everything else that I have tried has fallen short. Nothing has been able to offer the combination of lowering the noise floor and cleaning up the power line grain without compromising dynamics like the RSA products. Even the mightiest pair of monoblocks haven’t had an issue with the Maxim conditioner that I have plugged into a dedicated 20 amp line. I have their Dmitri connected to another 20A line for my line level components (and a few small power amplifiers, as needed) and a Haley on yet another 15A line strictly to keep the power going to my dCS Paganini stack and Sooloos music server performing at their best.

My only beef has been that this level of performance doesn’t come cheap. Their prior entry level product, the Haley tips the scale at around $2,000. It’s worth every penny, and in informal comparisons has often outperformed other PLC’s costing twice as much, but has been out of reach for the person with a more reasonable system, or perhaps someone not having such heavy current demands. Enter the Elgar, with a list price of $999.

A full review is in progress, but on first listen today with my Woo Audio 5 headphone amplifier, utilizing 300B SET amplification, my first impression is “fantastic!” For more information, visit the Running Springs website here:

-Jeff Dorgay


PSVANE 12AX7′s are fantastic tubes!

PSVANE 12AX7′s are fantastic tubes!

I’ve been living with a set of PSVANE 12AX7′s for a few weeks now and so far, these are great sounding tubes. While many lovers of vacuum tubes enjoy the hunt for NOS (new old stock) tubes, great deals on NOS tubes are few and far inbetween. With the 12AX7 being such a popular tube in vintage as well as current preamplifiers, a great 12AX7 is always in demand.

At $99 per pair for their highest grade, the Shuguang Psvane (Pavane) 12AX7′s are a bargain. With a warmer yet highly detailed presentation, these tubes outperform everything in my toolbox, except for a couple of very rare Tele’s and Mullards, all in the $250-$400 range, EACH. I’ve been using a complete set in the output stage of my McIntosh C500 preamplifier with excellent results. These tubes were a major upgrade in every way from the standard issue Mac tubes. If you’d like a great tube upgrade that’s easy on the wallet, call the folks at Grant Fidelity and order some of these for your favorite tube amp or preamp. Highly suggested!

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Best sound at T.H.E. Show

Best sound at T.H.E. Show

Somewhere between the odds and ends at T.H.E. Show, just down the street from the Venetian, where CES is featuring most of the high performance audio, there is a beacon of light. Well, sound, actually.

Should you be attending T.H.E. Show, do not miss the Blue Light Audio exhibit in Room 4044. Jonathan Tinn is has a stellar exhibit, that is by far the best sound at the show.

On display is his new Wave Kinetics reference direct drive turntable with a Durand tonearm and the Ortofon MC A-90 cartridge, the Playback Designs MPS-3 player darTZeel amplification and the amazing Evolution Acoustics MMMicroOne speakers.

The most amazing thing is that this six figure reference system is driving a $2,000 pair of speakers (not a typo) and the combination is fantastic. With solid bass down to 35hz, these small but stylish speakers threw a huge soundstage, with a tonality so realistic, you’d be hard pressed not to think you were listening to at least a $10-15,000 pair of speakers.

So, even if you only have 20 minutes to spend at T.H.E. Show, drop in the lobby and see the wonderful ladies from The Montreal Salon Son & Image Show (you can’t miss them, they have blue hair) and stop by Room 4044. You won’t be disappointed.


Nerd alert! It’s time for CES again…

Nerd alert! It’s time for CES again…

Now that we’ve all had a bit of holiday cheer, it’s time to head to Las Vegas for the mecca of the electronics world – CES. While TONE will be concentrating on the high performance audio at the Venetian, with the launch of TONEPhoto on the horizon, we will be spending some time at the main hall as well.

As always, CES is a chance to catch up with our industry partners, readers and check out the latest and greatest goodies. We will have a report on CES and next weeks’ NAMM show in the February issue of TONEAudio, so stay tuned.

Hope to see you there!

* Photo courtesy of Liquid Image….


The REGA DAC is here!

The REGA DAC is here!

Early this morning, the UPS Grrrl dropped off the highly anticipated DAC from REGA.

To some audiophiles, another DAC is certainly no big deal, but to those familiar with REGA, you know that Roy Gandy gets things done at his own pace and only when he is happy with the results. This new DAC uses the Wolfson chipset (similar to what is used in their Apollo and Saturn CD players) and a buffer circuit similar to the one employed in their flagship Isis CD player. As with their other digital products it is substantial, both from a physical standpoint (this little box is very hefty when you pick it up!) and the amount of functionality it offers. The DAC has a pair of RCA SPDIF digital inputs, a pair of optical digital inputs and a USB digital input.

While the REGA DAC accepts digital source material in 16, 20 or 24 bit word length, at sample rates from 32kHz all the way up to 192kHz, it does not upsample. Though a point of argument for some, the implementation is good here and initial listening with high res files has been pleasing. The only potential turnoff for computer audio users is that the USB input will not play high resolution files. Similar to Simaudio and a few other manufacturers, they have chosen to concentrate their effort on the SPDIF inputs for now as a way to get high resolution digital files into their DAC.

Another very intriguing function offered with the REGA DAC is its ability to choose between five different digital filters, with one of them an apodizing type. This will drive you crazy or lead to better digital playback, so I’ll leave the end users to sort this one out. Either way, I think it’s a nice touch to give the user the option.

A full review is under way and will be included in our last issue of the year, due out right at Christmas time. For our United States readers, the REGA DAC should start arriving in your dealers next week. If you’ve been considering adding a DAC to your system, I highly suggest an audition. I think you will be pleased at what REGA has to offer at a very reasonable price of $999. Stay tuned for more information.

http://www.rega.co.uk


Octave MRE 130 Monoblocks Keeping the Studio Warm!

Octave MRE 130 Monoblocks Keeping the Studio Warm!

The Octave MRE 130′s arrived straight from the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest and they’ve been not only keeping the TONEAudio studio warm, but providing some great sound! Their 130 watts per channel of KT88 power has so far proven to drive all of the speakers we have on hand with ease.

We reviewed the Octave V40SE integrated amplifier earlier this year and observed a perfect balance of vacuum tube virtures; an open airy sound, yet powerful and controlled. Like the V40SE, the MRE 130′s offer up a weighty, dynamic powerful performance and do not suffer the tonal colorations that some amplifiers possess.

The MRE 130′s have an MSRP of $18,000 per pair. We will have a full review shortly.

For now, you can find out more about the MRE 130 here.


Estelon Speakers have arrived – update!

Estelon Speakers have arrived – update!

While there were a lot of familiar faces at this year’s Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, these gorgeous matte black speakers from Estelon took me by surprise. Haven’t heard of them? Don’t feel bad, no one has, but company founder Alfred Vassilkov has been the brain trust behind numerous other loudspeaker and crossover designs in Europe for over 25 years. Now he brings this wealth of knowledge to a fresh design of his own.

As you can see from the shape, this is definitely a new twist on speaker design. A scientist, first and foremost, Vassilkov has addressed many of the issues that have plagued past designs and has even started with a proprietary crushed marble based composite material for the enclosures you see here.

And the sound? We’ll know more next week when Alfred arrives to fine tune the speakers in my listening room, but he was getting great sound at the show, and that’s no small feat. In the relatively small rooms of the RMAF, partnered with Lamm gear, Kubala-Sosna cable and Running Springs power conditioning, their setup had a very open feel, with plenty of weight on the bottom and a clarity that I’ve never heard with ceramic drivers before.

So stay tuned, there will be a full review in the December 23 issue of TONEAudio…

UPDATE: Nov. 31

While everyone else in the neighborhood was out hunting for Halloween candy, I had a treat of my own. Alfred and Bill from Estelon were here optimizing speaker placement here in our studio. I’ll buy my own chocolate bars. The hard work paid off; after removing a bit of room treatments, and some careful positioning the speakers disappear in the room perfectly. Now that they have been playing continuously for the last five days all is well. I look forward to spending the next two months listening intently.


Great day at Conrad Johnson…

Great day at Conrad Johnson…

Spent the day Wednesday with Lew Johnson and Bill Conrad at the Conrad Johnson factory. It was a great time getting to see where many of the legendary amplifiers and preamplifiers I’ve owned were built and got to meet the rest of the staff as well.

But the best part of the visit was to watch my MV-50 be rebuilt with the new CJ C-1 Capacitor upgrades and have the power supply upgraded to current specs, replacing the 33 year old electrolytic capacitors with new, polypropylene capacitors. Johnson pointed out that my MV-50 “should easily last another 33 years, if not longer” thanks to the new caps.

Watch for a full report in the “Old School” section of TONEAudio in December. In the meantime, if you have an older C-J amp or preamplifier that you’d like to have upgraded, click here for details:

http://www.conradjohnson.com


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