SOTA Comet turntable

An unsung hero in the world of affordable turntables, the Comet does a “great job on the fundamentals” and offered extended bass, detail and texture galore. Mated with a good cartridge in the $500 range will offer “very involving analog playback” for journeyman audiophiles looking to take it to the next level (we found it to be a perfect match with the wooden-bodied Grados).

Sophia Electric Music Baby amplifier

A 10wpc push-pull tube amplifier, the Music Baby is a viable low-powered alternative for those who believe SETs lack extension at the frequency extremes and inner detail. Beautiful and robust in construction, the Sophia had plenty of finesse and will offer plenty of magic with the right room and the right high-efficiency speakers.

Sooloos Music Server

While a music server can be bought (or even built) for significantly less, the Sooloos is simply unequaled in terms of user-friendliness. Almost every person who came in contact with the wonderful touch screen was reduced to blubbering; play with the Sooloos once and you’ll immediately want one, regardless of the price. We called it “the ultimate music lover’s treat” that possessed “a touch of greatness.”

Sonist Concerto 2 loudspeakers

With their 95 dB sensitivity and stunning good looks, the Concerto 2 monitors are a perfect match for SET amplifiers-even those with 2A3 output tubes. The Sonists provided a very romantic sound (they were voiced with SETs in mind), and they can convey a big presentation with extremely smooth high frequencies as well. While not detailed, these speakers are nevertheless very musical.

Sonicweld Pulserod active loudspeaker system

$110,000 buys you two slim tower speakers, two subwoofers, a DEQX digital preamp/controller with remote control and custom-designed power cords and interconnects. It also buys you a magnificently-machined aluminum work of art that offers fantastic build quality and “a maniacal attention to detail” that propels this design into the realm of “the best sound systems available today.”

Sonics by Joachim Gerhard Argenta loudspeakers

On the outside these are mild-mannered medium-sized 2-way monitors, but on the inside dwells some serious engineering that made the Argentas “confounding at first listen.” Modestly priced at $1500 a pair, these are very accomplished speakers that go deep in the bass (down to 38 Hz!) while sounding smooth and seamless through the treble. Highly recommended.

Sonics by Joachim Gerhard Allegra loudspeakers

From the former designer at Audio Physic, the Allegras are “a real contender” for the money and are gorgeous to look at as well. Efficient and friendly to tube amps, these Germans were anything but clinical and completely disappeared into the room thanks to their wide dispersion patterns. If you like Audio Physic speakers, we concluded, “you’ll love these.”

SME 10 turntable

The entry level turntable from this legendary British company surpasses the performance of many so-called “flagships,” and we were very impressed with the engineering and flawless build quality as well. We found that character of the 10 always shined through no matter the system, and we were never once disappointed with the results. It made the sound of our best LPs go from “great to unbelievable” on a consistent basis.

SimAudio Moon LP 5.3 phono preamplifier

Compact and attractive, this Canadian phono stage “radiated quality” when pulled out of the box and offered a sound quality that “will never be the weak link in any system.” The LP 5.3 was also extremely quiet and was the perfect tool for lowering the noise floor in an all-tube system. With its flexibility, we found that it was the very definition of a “Swiss Army knife” audio component.

SimAudio Moon I-7 integrated amplifier

The flagship integrated amplifier from this respected Canadian audio company is a dual-mono balanced design that offered an “engaging and effortless sound.” With 150 watts per channel on tap, this beautifully sculpted solid-state amp can drive just about any loudspeaker on the planet and may be the perfect solution for audiophiles who are tired of swapping tubes.

Shunyata Hydra V-Ray power conditioner

This hefty 40-lb. line conditioner excelled at lowering the noise level in a number of systems, but was especially effective with SET amps and other types of valve-based designs. Noted for its ability to make systems sound more three-dimensional, we felt that removing the V-Ray from the chain was the sonic equal of replacing a new set of tubes with old, worn-out ones.

Shunyata Anaconda power cord and Dark Field cable elevators

We can be as skeptical as the next audiophile when it comes to premium power cords, but we heard definitely sonic advantages to using these two products. The Anaconda resulted in “a reduction in grain and haze,” and while the Dark Field elevators may seem kind of tweaky at first, everyone who used them wanted to keep them.

Shelter 9000 phono cartridge

An “improvement in every way” over the classic 90x it replaces, the Shelter 9000 offers control and texture for a very reasonable price. Perfect for an analog rig that might be a tad laid back, the low-output MC flagship from this very popular Japanese company is forward yet offers a big slice of what the hyper-expensive cartridges provide.

Sehring S704S loudspeakers

The flagship speakers from this relatively unknown German company are a modular design that are capable of filling almost any room with powerful, authoritative sound. While the bass only went down to about 36 Hz, we found them to be an excellent speaker for loud rock while excelling in microdynamics and detail. The upgrade path even allows you to start off with small monitors and “work your way up!”

Running Springs Dmitri power-line conditioner

We’ve been huge fans of Running Springs products since Issue 2, and the Dmitri takes power-line conditioning to a whole new level. While the new carbon-fiber faceplate and isolation feet are an attractive and functional additions, even bigger improvements come from within. We felt the Dmitri offered even more substantial reductions in the noise floor and “represents the state of the art” in power-line conditioning.

Running Springs Audio Jaco power conditioner

The Jaco was the first power conditioner that we felt lived up to its claims, and we “won’t review another piece of equipment without it.” This was the rare conditioner that didn’t restrict dynamics and didn’t sound like a tone control. “The noise floor wasn’t just lowered, it was gone” we concluded. “Using the Jaco was like buying a whole new system.”

Running Springs Audio Haley and Duke power conditioners

We approached these two products from the viewpoint of someone who may be skeptical about power conditioning, and we walked away convinced. The RSA units made music sound “more real,” with fuller mid-bass and smoother highs, and they may actually help to reduce overall listener fatigue. The lower noise floor also made the sound “more fully resolved.”

Rotel RX1052 receiver

The two-channel receiver is alive and well, and Rotel has equipped this one with all the bells and whistles including an MM phono section, a high quality FM tuner, a built-in headphone amplifier, two sets of speaker outputs and tone controls (that’s right, just like in the old days). Rotel has also kept the “old days” price, offering this 100wpc receiver at just $899. It sounds pretty darned good as well!

Rethm Second Rethm loudspeakers

The single-driver Rethms are designed specifically for low-powered SET amplification and may not be “everyone’s vision of audio nirvana.” But these massive cabinets mated to Lowther drivers delivered a surprising amount of bass and avoid the “megaphone” coloring that afflict similar designs. Incredibly musical and coherent, the Rethms also delivered impressive detail.

REL Brittania B2 subwoofer

A forward-firing subwoofer with 300 watt amplifier inside, the B2 transformed a number of systems ranging from an SET-based tube system with high-efficiency speakers to a more traditional high-powered solid-state ensemble with low-efficiency Apogees. This sub reveals a large amount of bass detail, not just bass depth, and provides a huge amount of fun as long as you’re willing to experiment with placement.

Rega Saturn and Apollo CD players

We don’t believe in “shoot-outs,” but we did compare these two well-regarded CD players and determined the formidable strengths of each one at their respective price points. These players look almost identical from the exterior, but we found the innards to be very different, with the Apollo being an excellent player for the money and the Saturn being an excellent player, period.

Rega P9 turntable with Apheta cartridge

It was such a pleasure to use Rega’s flagship turntable with their first MC cartridge that we kept it on as the reference at its price point. It offered “first-class analog” sound with plenty of air and texture and detail and a complete lack of grain. It’s also easy to own since it’s so hassle-free; it’s perfect for the audiophile who hates to tweak and just wants to listen to music.

Rega P3-24 turntable

The latest version of this legendary turntable now offers an optional external power supply, new plinth construction and the same motor found in the flagship P9. For less than $1000, this Rega is the perfect solution for analog lovers who want to amass a large LP collection before committing to a megabuck ‘table. We think it remains “one of the best performers and best bargains in vinyl playback.”

Rega P1 turntable

“Fun right out of the box,” this entry level turntable from Rega comes fitted with a new tonearm and an Ortofon cartridge-all for under $400. It delivers a lot of music for the money while “committing no real sins,” and is a great value for those audiophiles and music lovers who want to jump back into vinyl without spending a fortune.

Rega Ios phono stage

Rega’s new premium line of products has surprised us with their outstanding level of performance, and this $3195 phono preamplifier competes with the very best available. “Quiet yet powerful,” the Ios is a heavy, extremely well-built machine due to its substantial power supply. It’s so quiet, in fact, you’ll be unsure of whether or not it’s turned on until the stylus hits the groove.

Red Wine Audio 30.2 Signature amplifier

A compact, well-built and stylish battery-powered amp, the 30.2 Signature comes with or without a volume control so listeners with one source can bypass the need for a preamp (as well as an expensive power cord!). We describe it as a “great little amplifier,” and even get to chat with RWA’s Vinnie Rossi about the future of audio and his unique products.

Red Wine Audio Isabella preamplifier

This battery-powered “little jewel” can be configured in a basic version, with options for a DAC and a headphone amplifier available for a little more. Due to the SMART battery charging technology, this preamp shifts to AC power when the juice is running low and automatically starts the recharging process. We were mightily impressed and felt that the Isabella was much quieter than any preamplifier we have heard at this price point.

Red Rock Renaissance monoblock amplifiers

At nearly $40K per pair, these tube amplifiers are built by hand in Colorado and feature point-to-point wiring, a beautifully-rendered chassis and four 572 output tubes per side. While it takes 100 hours to build them, they are offered with a variety of custom finishes and are rare enough to appeal to exceptionally well-heeled audiophiles. While $40,000 is a lot for a 50wpc amp, the sound is “really intoxicating.”

Ray Samuels Emmeline XR-10B phono stage

We found that the XR-10B stands out from most other solid-state phono preamps by offering three inputs, making this the perfect solution for those lucky souls who have more than one turntable sitting around. An “analog addict’s dream,” the two-box XR-10B was extremely quiet yet powerful and had a highly refined sound that made this unit a bargain, even at $4500.

PS Audio Digital Link III DAC

After introducing one of the first commercial DACs on the market back in the ’80s, PS Audio revisits the original DL and adds 96 kHz and 192 kHz upsampling for basically the same cost ($1000). This well-built unit is elegant but simple, and easy to use as well. We also found the sound quality to be consistent with many of the better $2K one-box players available today.

Pro-Ject Tuner Box FM tuner

As rumors of the death of “terrestrial” radio gain momentum, many audiophiles may just want a simple, compact tuner to hear those last gasps of breath. This tiny yet feature-filled FM tuner retails for only $249, which makes it a viable and affordable alternative to those Marantz 10Bs and McIntosh MR-78s that are still commanding a thousand bucks on eBay and Audiogon.

PrimaLuna ProLogue Eight CD player

This CD player has a full complement of tubes and looks more like an amplifier than a digital front end. The sound was very tube-like as well, offering a large, almost spherical soundstage that reminded us of a great 300B amplifier. The digital technology is decidedly modern, however, with the proprietary SuperTubeClock offering “gains in clarity, resolution and detail.”

PrimaLuna ProLogue 7 monoblock amplifiers

We’ve enjoyed the PrimaLuna amps over the years, and the ProLogue 7 addresses our only concern-more power!¨Ü With 70 wpc, these PrimaLunas offer twice the power and more refinement over the stereo version (the ProLogue 5), and when asked if if those improvements were worth it, we proudly exclaimed “No question about it!”

PrimaLuna Prologue 3 preamplifier and ProLogue 5 power amplifier

Whether you prefer KT88s or EL34s, this power/pre combination “offered a lot of sound for the money.” Well-executed and flawlessly assembled in China, the ProLogues produce “great sound and are very musical,” and they even perform well in otherwise spendy systems. Look no further for great tube sound that is reasonably priced.

Pioneer DV-588A-S universal player

For the price of a premium power cord, you can buy this Pioneer and play CDs, SACDs, DVD-As and DVD movies. While it won’t make you want to put your expensive digital player on Audiogon, it will sound (and look) great in a second system. The DV-588A-S also has 5.1 capabilities and can “handle anything you throw at it.”

Penaudio Charisma loudspeakers

These tiny Finnish monitors live up to their name, and we would “recommend them with confidence to anyone.” Designed to work wonders in small rooms, the Charismas became a downright astonishing speaker system when mated to the dedicated Chara subwoofer towers. These little speakers are also imaging champs and throw a very deep soundstage that was “SMASHING.”

Penaudio Serenade loudspeakers

Designed by a Finnish musician and engineer, these tall and slim floorstanding speakers were “always musical and involving,” regardless of the source. We liked the speed and transparency as well, and the fact that the soundstage was so wide and deep that “it’s almost like listening to 5.1.” With bass extension down to 30 Hz, the Serenades are a well-balanced speaker that we recommend highly.

Peak Consult Princess loudspeakers

These Danish floorstanders are “small and unassuming” until you try to pick them up (they weigh 110 pounds each!). Unlike most princesses, the Peak Consults are very easy to live with and produce a “high level of resolution” without being big or overbearing. The build quality is exquisite and is marked by gorgeous wood veneers and a fine leather baffle that will make owner proud.

Peachtree Audio Decco integrated amplifier

For only $819 you get an integrated amplifier with a tubed preamp section, a DAC that can work with USB, optical and RCA inputs, a headphone jack, remote control and in interface for a Sonos music server. All this versatility makes the Decco really shine in a computer-based or digital-based system, and with a decent pair of bookshelf speakers and an iPod you can have good sound for a very reasonable price.

Paradigm Reference Signature S1 loudspeakers

These tiny yet stylish monitors were a pain to fit onto their dedicated stands, but once everything was dialed in we noticed that the S1s imaged “like nobody’s business.” Designed for use with a subwoofer, the Paradigms still managed to sound wonderfully balanced on their own when matched with warmer (i.e. tubed) amplification. These are also a natural choice for an impressive and satisfying desktop system.

Pacific Creek SE300I integrated amplifier

Not quite “integrated,” this amplifier combines a 300B-based power section with a passive volume control and a selector switch for four inputs, all at a very affordable price. We achieved an amazing level of performance when we substituted a premium power cord and NOS output tubes, finding that the Pacific Creek was a bargain compared to some 300B amps that cost close to five figures.

Outlaw Audio 2200 monoblock amplifiers

These amps weigh 36 pounds, provide 200 watts per channel of power and retail for only $650. While that may seem like an amazing bargain regardless of sound quality, the 2200s provided “a pretty fair amount of finesse” and didn’t rely solely on brute power to make their point. These amps mated well with tubed preamps and provided a solid foundation for a home-theater system as well.

Oracle Delphi V turntable

Seeing this classic beauty on our doorstep was like saying hello to a dear old friend, albeit one that has returned after a few years of hitting the gym. The Oracle sounds fast, powerful and detailed, with enough weight to “round out the picture nicely.” We concluded that the Delphi V was “a winner back then, and a winner today,” and even offers a tempting upgrade path as well.

Onix xl-s loudspeakers

With their amazing cabinetry and level of sound quality, we wouldn’t be surprised if these mini-monitors cost several times their $219 per pair price. As it stands, we can’t think of any other speakers that offers this kind of performance for so little green. While you can only expect so much within reason, we found that the little Onixes “covered the basics pretty well.”

Onix SP3 integrated amplifier

This tubed integrated may seem like just another entry in the $1000 amplifier sweepstakes, but the high parts quality and robust construction set it apart. Weighing a stout 56 pounds, the 38wpc SP3 is a warm-sounding amplifier that does almost nothing wrong. We even placed in into some high-dollar systems and fooled our friends into thinking they were listening to a much more expensive amp.

Naim SuperNAIT integrated amplifier

We waited a long time for this one to hit the market, and we weren’t disappointed. The latest in the legendary NAIT line offers a substantial power supply (of course-it’s a Naim!) as well as a very high-quality DAC for use with iPods and music servers. This forward-thinking integrated sounded “very powerful and well-controlled,” and we ultimately thought it was “pretty close to perfection.”

Naim NAIT 5i integrated amplifier and n-SAT speakers

This amplifier-speaker combo sounds great, looks fantastic and works very well together, defining the concept of synergy that often accompanies discussions about Naim Audio. The NAIT 5i and n-SATs delivered the prerequisite tone and pace while sounding very detailed and neutral. We also noticed the same outstanding build quality that can be found in Naim’s top-of-the-line gear.

Naim CD555 CD player

A $32,000 CD player may seem a little crazy at first, but the Naim completely surpassed our expectations about digital playback. We found that we’ve never enjoyed music this much, and that the CD555 possesses the same strengths as the very best analog rigs combined with the perfect pitch accuracy, greater dynamic range and lower noise floor of the very best in digital.

Nagra VPS phono stage

The legendary Nagra reputation for sonic neutrality is carried into this new hybrid phono preamp, making it one of our all-time favorite stages. Small, compact and machined to the highest standards, the VPS is a perfect match for the most lofty of analog rigs. We describe it as “nuanced balanced with power,” and many TONE staff members have named this Swiss-built component a favorite.

Nagra VFS isolation shelf

While the $1500 VFS (Vibration Free System) may qualify as one of the most expensive component shelves in the industry, it is an absolutely essential accessory that will help you squeeze even more musicality from your Nagra amp, preamp, phono stage and CD player. It’s also a perfect visual match with Nagra components and will make other isolation shelves look clunky and out of place in comparison.