Blog

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!

Click here to visit their site


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


TONEAudio’s coverage of the ATP festival

TONEAudio’s coverage of the ATP festival

Music editor Bob Gendron and I are here in upstate New York at Kutsher’s Country Club, covering the ATP (All Tomorrows Parties) Music Festival. Scroll down to the On Tour section or click here to read our coverage of Friday night’s bands: The Scientists, Mudhoney, Sleep and of course, Iggy Pop and the Stooges.

More to follow in the next day or so, along with a full feature in issue #32.


Off to ATP!

Off to ATP!

Music Editor Bob Gendron and I are headed off to the ATP music festival at Kutsher’s Country Club in Monticello, New York this weekend, so stay tuned for commentary and lots of pictures. Iggy Pop and the Stooges will be playing Raw Power in its entirety, Sleep will be performing Holy Mountain and that’s just the beginning!

Check back for updates and if you’d like to attend the festival, there are still a few tickets available. We’ll be watching for you.

www.atpfestival.com


Chord Indigo in house!

Chord Indigo in house!

We’ve managed to get our hands on Chord’s new Indigo DAC. Complete with wireless capability and a built in iPod dock, this looks to be one of the most versatile digital control centers available. This is a very fashion forward DAC, addressing every possible need.

Full review to follow!


More reviews on Blu-Ray Definition

More reviews on Blu-Ray Definition

For all of the TONEAudio readers that would like to read some movie reviews and perhaps some home theater/AV as well, stop by Blu-Ray Definition. We’ve decided to team up with BRD publisher, Brandon DuHamel and cross pollinate a bit. I’ll be writing a few hardware reviews and giving you my take on some of my favorite movies, new and old.

There’s a lot of great content over there, so we encourage you to take a peek! Just click here.


The Clearaudio Concept Turntable

The Clearaudio Concept Turntable

While known for their megabucks, state of the art turntables that can run into the six figure range, Clearaudio has produced a winner for the audiophile that doesn’t have a fortune to spend with their new Concept turntable.  Priced at $1,400, it is a belt drive table that features a tonearm that I’d expect to pay $1,400 for alone, utilizing a magnetic bearing with outstanding build quality.

Clearaudio dealers have been offering a package price on select Clearaudio cartridges bundled with the table.  As I just happened to have a Clearaudio Maestro Wood moving magnet cartridge sitting on the shelf, it was the perfect match for the table. (I believe you can buy the two as a set for $2,200)

The full review will be up on the Gear section of our website shortly, but I think the Concept is the new heavyweight champ in the $1,500 turntable range.  Stay tuned for more info…


Watch Gene Simmons Sunday on A&E’s Private Sessions

Watch Gene Simmons Sunday on A&E’s Private Sessions

Just had a fantastic time chatting with the host of A&E’s Private Sessions, Lynn Hoffman this afternoon.

Every bit as warm and friendly in person as she appears on VH-1 Classics or Private Sessions, Lynn shared quite a few insights on her career, handling rock stars and what she’s listening to today.  Watch for the full interview in issue #31, due out around August 17.

In the meantime, check out her show on A&E this Sunday morning (9 a.m. EST./8 Central), when she hosts Gene Simmons from KISS and Gene Simmons’ Family Jewels.  Here’s a clip that will give you an idea of what’s in store:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LaT_3W66I2A


Getting on the download bandwagon

Getting on the download bandwagon

I have to say, I’ve been having a great time downloading high resolution digital files from Naim, HDtracks.com and others over the last few weeks.  In case you haven’t noticed, we’ve added a new section for downloads right next to our audiophile pressings section in the magazine.  With so much more music becoming available this way, it’s exciting to keep on top of it.

We’ll continue to expand this section going forward.  Any suggestions, just drop us an email…


Record store day almost here!

Record store day almost here!

In case you didn’t know, Saturday, April 17 is Record Store Day. Record stores around the country will be having a lot of special merchandise in their stores, starting Saturday, and much of it in very limited supply.

We are launching some new record reviews over the next week, so stay tuned. And we have an interview with Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips as well.

Now get your butt over to your favorite record store on Saturday and show some support!


Enjoying the Apple iPad

Enjoying the Apple iPad

While I’ve barely slept in the last 36 since the iPad arrived, we’ve all been putting it through its paces.

So far, it’s a winner. While it may be a laptop substitute for some, I think this device (like other Apple products before it) will define a new category of electronics. Read the full review below in the Spotlight section and let us know what you think.

The Wi-Fi only models, available in 16-64gb capacity are on most retailers shelves right now. Even if you aren’t buying today, you should stop by and check one out. But it might be tough to resist once it’s in your hot little hands. 3G models (requiring a seperate data plan, $30/month) will be available later in the month.


CNET’s Music Awards Contest

CNET’s Music Awards Contest

CNET author (and TONEAudio contributor) Steve Guttenberg is sponsoring a contest for undiscovered talent.

While you won’t win as much cool stuff as you might on American Idol, you will get a great pair of headphones
from Monster Cable and some net airplay. Who knows where that will lead? Best of all, it’s a contest based
on sound quality as well as content.

So, fire up ProTools and get to work!

Here’s the link:

http://news.cnet.com/8301-13645_3-10459423-47.html


Digging the Paganini

Digging the Paganini

It may sound like an exotic Italian snack treat, but it’s even better than that.

The Paganini is DCS’ latest four box digital player that consists of a CD/SACD transport, Master Clock, Upsampler and DAC. Yeah, it’s expensive, but it’s awesome. The good news is that you can build the system module by module, and if you are using computer based playback, you might not even want the transport.

But I’ll give you a hint, even with a tricked out dedicated computer for music, with all the latest greatest goodies, running Amarra, the spinning disc is still superior.

I’m off to the DCS factory on Monday to meet the brains behind the technology and it should be exciting.


More TONEAudio Magazine in 2010!

More TONEAudio Magazine in 2010!

That’s right folks, you keep asking us for more content and we deliver. Starting with the Feb. 10 issue of TONEAudio, #27, we will be going to a full 8 issue schedule, publishing every 6-7 weeks. We will also be changing our format from the square you’ve known for the last five years to a more standard, 8 1/2 x 11 inch vertical format.

Why you ask? With the proliferation of eBook readers, and most importantly, the Apple iPad, we’re formatting TONEAudio so that it’s an easier read for our mobile audience. Those of you reading TONEAudio on your laptop will now be able to have the issue fill the whole screen when you read it in two-page mode.

When the Issue #27 is released, it will be in our standard resolution and high resolution formats, with a third version in ePub format to follow shortly after. As soon as we can transfer them, we will also make our back issues available in ePub format, albeit still in their original square formats.

We hope you enjoy the new format and for those of you becoming early adopters of the iPad, will download it to your newest toy.


CES 2010 – Day 1

CES 2010 – Day 1

Spent most of the day in meetings finding new goodies for upcoming TONEAudio reviews, but the two most intriguing things I did see for the day were both small.

Naim announced their new UnitiQute (pronounced “Unity-Q”) in Vegas for the world to see and it is a brilliant product. Fashioned after the outstanding Uniti that won our product of the year award in 2009, it takes a slightly smaller power amplifier than the Uniti (30 wpc vs. 50) and eliminates the CD drive.

The remaining tiny box still provides a full function integrated amplifier, 24/96 DAC, FM tuner and internet radio access as well as being able to stream digital music from your Naim HDX or network server. All in a package about the size of a Nait 2.

And, the price is small too! $1,995 will put one of these little jewels in your living room or wherever you’d like to put it. I have no doubt that this will be one of the hottest selling products of 2010. Watch for a full review asap.

The other small but mighty surprise was in the Nagra room, where they were showing off their newest power amplifier with a pair of 300B output tubes, driving a pair of Verity Leonore speakers.

I saw these first being built on my trip to Nagra this summer and while according to US importer John Quick, they are still a year from production, if you are a fan of the 300B, this amplifier is worth the wait. Nagra has done a fantastic job here! Stay tuned….


Julian Lennon’s New EP

Julian Lennon’s New EP

Julian Lennon and James Scott Cook are releasing a four song EP on December 15 entitled Lucy to honor Cook’s grandmother, Lucy Cook who has lived with lupus for years and Lucy Vodden, a childhood friend of Julian Lennon’s. They will donate a percentage of the EP’s proceeds to the Lupus Foundation of America. The EP will be on sale at major retailers and the Apple iTunes store.

Vodden recently passed away at 46 after a lifelong battle with lupus and Beatle fans may remember her as the woman who was the subject of a drawing that inspired his father John Lennon to write “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.”

We’ll be chatting with Lennon on Thursday to get some more information and will have a review of the EP in the Dec 23 issue of TONEAudio in the music section.


Red Wine Audio’s Black Lightening Redefines Quiet

Red Wine Audio’s Black Lightening Redefines Quiet

I just got my hands on one of Vinnie Rossi’s new Black Lightning power supplies and it’s fantastic.

Based on the same SLA battery technology he uses in all of his other products, this is now available as an external power supply that can be used with just about anything that relies on an external, switching mode power supply. Wall warts are very dirty and give off a lot of RFI as well as dumping noise back into the power line for your gear to pick up and ultimately cloud the presentation of your system.

We’ve got a full review in the works, but the short version is buy one of these. I’m using the review sample with my Nagra VPS phono stage and the result is stunning. The RWA supply redefines “black backgrounds.”

I’ll keep you posted, but this one’s a winner.


Win Analog – BIG tube power

Win Analog – BIG tube power

If you love the sound of a great SET but want more than a few watts, so you can really rock, Win Analog is the place to get it.

I saw their new 833 based monoblocks at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest and almost didn’t go in the room fearing that they were $300 thousand a pair, like WAVAC.

The good news is that they are $75 thousand a pair, and while that’s not exactly grocery money, it puts these 130 watt per channel SET monoblocks in the reach of the most demanding listeners.

I’ve spent the day at Win Analog listening today, and came away highly impressed. These beautiful amplfiers deliver the goods!

For more information, go to their website:

www.winanalog.com


Rega’s Flagship CD Player The ISIS is Here!

Rega’s Flagship CD Player The ISIS is Here!

Literally just off the FedEx truck about 15 minutes ago, Rega’s ISIS CD player has arrived. The retail price is $8,995 and this is a great deal for US customers as the player carries a 6,000 pound pricetag in Europe.

I had the opportunity to audition the ISIS when I visited Rega last summer and it was superb. Fans of Rega and their founder Roy Gandy know that they never jump into anything quickly and when they do, the results are always excellent.

The ISIS can also be used as a full function DAC, so this will add tremendously to its appeal. Stay tuned and we will keep you posted with more listening impressions.

www.rega.co.uk
www.soundorg.com


A new headphone botique in Portland!

A new headphone botique in Portland!

There’s a new way to buy headphones, headphone amplifiers and associated components. The first of it’s type in the US if not the world, is right here in Portland, in the stylish Hawthorne District. ALO Audio owner Ken Ball has opened a super cool store with walls of iPods, full of music, where you can audition every major headphone there is, in both stock form and hot rodded models that have been refitted with his own cables. If you’ve followed our “Headphone Planet” column, you know we at TONEAudio are very fond of ALO’s creations.

We’ll have a full feature soon in our “Dealers that make a difference” column in a future issue of TONEAudio Magazine.

But for now, if you need anything headphone related, we highly recommend visiting 32 Ohm Audio.

www.32ohmaudio.com


Marantz 8B project…

Marantz 8B project…

I’ve been looking for one of these for years now!

The legendary Marantz 8B was one of the best sounding amplifiers of the 60′s and I
am anxious to start probing around to see what it can do. More copy to follow.


CEDIA 2009: Burmester steals the show!

CEDIA 2009:  Burmester steals the show!

As always, there was a lot of excitement to be found at the 2009 CEDIA expo in Atlanta.

Even though CEDIA is considered by most to be an AV and multichannel show, the 2
channel vendors were out in full force. But the most exciting thing I experienced at the
show was the Burmester audio system for the new Porsche Panamera.

The Burmester sound system has to be the audio bargain of the 21st century.
Burmester had a gorgeous blue metallic test sample of the Panamera on hand for everyone
to sample and it was effortless, no matter what music was being played. With a total system
output of 1000 watts, you can rock to your hearts content in the Panamera.

The system is a $5,690 upgrade in the standard and 4S model Panamera and only
a $3,990 upgrade in the Turbo model.

We also had the opportunity for a second helping of the Panamera later Friday evening
at Audio, Automation & Theater, in Atlanta. In collaboration with Porsche Cars North
America and Burmester, they brought another test car to their event (along with a few other
choice cars from their fleet) for their customers to audition. This is a dealer that knows
how to do it right, so watch for a feature on AA&T in our December issue.

www.audioat.net

Burmester has promised a test car, so that we can have a full review as soon as the Panamera
becomes available, but if you are in the process of ordering one, the Burmester system
is a MUST. As much as I love the sound of a Porsche engine revving through it’s range, this
mobile stereo system could easily make me forget about the engine!

Now you can take the enjoyment of your Burmester system on the road. Here’s to Burmester’s
success and my hopes that they will soon engineer a system for the 911 and Boxster!


And Just When You Couldn’t Get More Beatles…

And Just When You Couldn’t Get More Beatles…

Picked up my Beatles’ Mono box tonight as my local record shop was closing and as part of the deal, got one of the rare 7″ singles of their Seattle interview in 1964.

While poorly recorded, it’s a fun look back into the history of the Fab Four. The interview is typical Beatles, with the press asking stupid questions, “do you ever get tired of performing?”, “are you disappointed with the low concert turnout here in Seattle?”, etc, etc.

But the guys handle it with typical aplomb, and make fun of the interviewers in such great form, that they don’t even know they are being messed with. If you can find one of these, it’s definitely worth a spin.


More fun from Montreux!

More fun from Montreux!

Now that the dust has settled, the folks at the Montreux Jazz Festival are starting to release video highlights of the show. If you didn’t get a chance to partake, this is the next best thing. Every Friday, they are releasing another concert.

This week’s feature is Kool and the Gang, check it out and the others here:


Comments are closed..