The Ultimate Record Cabinets, On Sale!

Record Cab2Last year we featured what I consider to be the ultimate record cabinets, from Atocha Design. These are custom, made to order cabinets that you can have configured to suit your record (and CD) collection. If you’ve been wanting to treat yourself to something special this holiday season, now’s the time to do it…

Third day added for Seattle event…

tune_homescreenConnon Price of TUNE HiFi in Seattle has just informed us that Pat will be stopping by a day early for the clinic, so feel free to drop in on Thursday to check out the DAC, NaimNet gear and get started on your upgrades.

First stop: Portland!

I stopped by at Stereotypes to see Pat working away on a customer’s power supply…

I expected him to be in the back room sequestered away, but they had him front and center, with a gigantic work bench set up in the middle of the showroom! Pat had a soldering station set up, a distortion analyzer ready to go and a number of tool boxes as well as piles of capacitors everywhere.naim caps

The store has had a great turnout, with a number of people coming by to see the new Naim DAC, and all 22 service spots had been taken. By the time I had reached the store at noon, Pat said he “only had about five more units to go…” Not only is this level of customer support excellent, it also redefines what you might consider “being green”. Anytime you can bring something back to spec without throwing it away, that’s always a good thing for the environment as well as the customer!naim dac

15 Jerold O’Brien

Our publisher can’t remember if he first met Jerold at a Badger game at the University of Wisconsin or standing in line waiting to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show on Milwaukee’s East Side.The staff hermit, Jerold now also resides in the Pacific Northwest where he listens to a lot of 60’s and 70’s rock music, restores old BMWs and vintage tube amplifiers. He is the only member of the staff that does not have a Spotify subscription.

22 Tom Caselli

A Native New Yorker, Tom is our musical encyclopedia and a discerning audiophile to boot. A devout Jimi Hendrix collector who has “everything but Jimi’s casket”, Tom brings a wealth of knowledge to the staff. If it has anything to do with popular music from the 60’s or 70’s, he’s got it and usually has at least 20 different pressings to compare. (And he’s got a pretty awesome collection of GI Joe’s too!)

Tom lives in the suburbs of Atlanta with his family and his collections.

02 Jaan Uhelszki

Jaan Uhelszki was one of the founding editors at Detroit’s legendary Creem magazine. Since that time, her work has appeared in leading publications including USA Today, MOJO, Uncut, Rolling Stone, Spin, NME, Guitar World, and The Village Voice.

Currently the editor at large at Relix, she is the only journalist to have ever performed in full makeup with Kiss. These days she only feels compelled to put on Serge Lutens kohl black eyeliner and Dior mascara when she goes out to grill rock stars over an open pit.

Music Hall’s new PH25.2 Headphone Amp

The ph25.2 is tube hybrid headphone amp/pre-amp. It has 2 x buffered headphone outputs, 2 x inputs, tube pre-amp section, solid-state amp, and pre-output. Marrying a gorgeous sounding tube pre-amp with solid-state image002amplification has been a technique for achieving unequaled sound quality in hi-end component audio since the advent of the transistor. While kicking around ideas for our new headphone amp we thought, why not try this same technique in a single component? We built one up and were blown away by the increased detail, clarity, and presence the design offered. The tube hybrid headphone amp was born. Hand assembled using the highest quality parts available the music hall ph25.2 will have you singing along with your favorite artists. A full featured headphone amp in a beautiful and solid chassis.

Rega’s Trade-in Program

rega clunkersDoing their bit to stimulate the economy and promote better digital sound, the US distributor for REGA, The Sound Organisation is promoting their version of a “Cash for Clunkers” program. Bring in your old CD or DVD player and get a 15% discount on a new Apollo player, or 25% off on a new Saturn player. This is a pretty sweet deal and it’s running until the end of the year.

Sounds like a great time to upgrade…

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.

Naim Roadshow starting in Portland, Oregon: Tuesday October 27-28!

We will be featuring photos and commentary from the road, so stay tuned here for further updates.nait home

Pathos ClassicOne mk.III

full view 2I’ve always been a fan of Pathos Acoustics fusion of Italian style with technology, while always yielding very musical results.

The Classic is the perfect integrated amplifier for someone wanting to integrate a compact, yet high performance music system into a design conscious environment. It is very reasonably priced at $2,995.

The ClassicOne mk. III has been part of the Pathos product lineup for some time now and is a solid seller, packing 70 watts per channel onto a very compact chassis that only measures 8” x 14” x 5” (90 x 100x90mm). Though there are five inputs on the rear panel, input one can be either balanced XLR or RCA, with the other three being RCA. There is also a fixed level RCA output to use for recording. I would love to see a variable level output for a subwoofer substituted here. I think this would be highly useful, as often times when a system has to be designed around the decor, a subwoofer/sattelite setup is called into play. Perhaps in the mk. IV?

Major Style Points

From the minute you take the ClassicOne out of the box, the attention to detail is apparent. The front panel is polished aluminum and sculpted wood, with a tiny power switch to the right and an LED display to the left, working double duty as a volume indicator and input selector. The transformer case is polished to a high gloss while the black plexiglass chassis top has a matte finish, something I felt was a nice touch, as it will not show fingerprints as readily as a gloss black surface. The very svelte remote control is made from solid wood and has four small buttons to control inputs, muting and volume.

No attention to detail has been spared on the ClassicOne. The allen head bolts on the top of the chassis are chrome plated along with the control knobs and the small tube cages guarding the pair of 6922 tubes in the preamplifier section. This is definitely a work of art that will get plenty of attention in your listening environment.Overhead

A true integrated

Unlike many amplifiers at this price point, the ClassicOne has a separate pre and power amplifier stage. Taking this approach is more costly to the manufacturer, but it does offer more linear volume control action as well as a stable input impedance. Many so called integrated amplifiers with a passive volume control tacked on the front of a power amplifier can be very source dependent, sometimes sacrificing dynamics or rolling off the high end somewhat. I had no problems using the ClassicOne with any of my reference components.

The output stage of the power amplifier is class AB solid state, with high bias current. This uses a few more watts of power, but results in a smoother sound throughout the range, with excellent bass control.

The System

Keeping with the design concept of the ClassicOne, most of my listening was done in the living room system, however to get a good feel for the performance envelope of the amplifier, I started out in the studio, using the GamuT S-7’s, Harbeth Monitor 40.1’s and MartinLogan Spires. Mating a $3,500 amplifier with considerably more expensive speakers is somewhat overkill, but it reveals the limits of the amplifier much easier.

Even as the heart of a $100,000 system, the ClassicOne did an excellent job. I also made it a point to compare it to a couple of my other favorite amplifiers in the three to ten thousand dollar range to see how it stacked up against its peers. Needless to say, I came away very impressed. Should you live with the ClassicOne for a while and decide you have to have more power, the ClassicOne can be bridged and used in mono mode, giving you a pair of very compact 150-watt amplifiers.

We managed to get a second ClassicOne for a brief period and the results were excellent. I’m not sure if I would build a system like this from the ground up, probably choosing one of Pathos larger power amplifiers instead, but the flexibility is a great idea.

Once a baseline feel for the ClassicOne’s performance was established, I moved it back to the living room system, with the highly efficient Zu Audio Presence speakers. This was a great match, because the Zu speakers high sensitivity gave the ClassicOne almost unlimited headroom.

The system was rounded out with the BelCanto CD1, which has a similar form factor to the ClassicOne, though I’m sure if you were starting from scratch, you’d probably want to go with the Pathos Digit CD player – it matches the aesthetics of the ClassicOne perfectly.

Shunyata Venom cables and their VRay power conditioner took care of the power duties with Empirical Design 422 interconnects and 213 speaker cables made up the rest of the system. All told, I had assembled an extremely satisfying system for just over $10,000.rear view

The Sound

The hybrid concept of the ClassicOne succeeds brilliantly, truly combining the benefits of both technologies. The overall tonal balance is slightly warm, yet it has the grip of a good solid-state amplifier. When listening to “The Barbarian” on Keith Emerson’s current album, the tiny Pathos amplifier took hold of the GamuT’s woofers and shook the room accordingly, with the low synth bass notes on “Ignition.”

Thanks to the ClassicOne’s rich sound, the female vocal lovers in the audience will be extremely happy. Those of you that live on a steady diet of this kind of music will love the way this amplifier gives solo vocalists a larger than life presentation. Spinning Jacqui Naylor’s Live at the Plush Room, 2001 put her center stage, about six feet in front of the equipment rack. It’s worth noting here that the ClassicOne makes an outstanding combination with the Focal Utopia Diablos that we reviewed last issue. The warmth of the Pathos with the high resolution of the Diablos convinced many visitors to my home that they were listening to a much more expensive system.

Those two tubes give this amplifier something special, offering a slightly lush, airy presentation that I think will bring out the best in source components that are similarly priced. It’s also worth noting that the ClassicOne offers one balanced input, so this will give you a lot more flexibility when choosing source components. Many of today’s newer DAC’s have balanced outputs, so this is handy, if you want to put the Pathos amp front and center, yet have your DAC and perhaps a music server elsewhere in your listening room.

The ClassicOne’s slightly forgiving nature was also a huge blessing when streaming audio from the Internet, or using the iPod as a source. The 320kb/sec feed from the Zune Pass on our living room’s HP Touch Smart music server sounded the best I’ve ever heard from a low-resolution source.

When we stepped up the game a bit and played some high res files from the Naim Label, and the B&W Music club through the Wadia 521 DAC, the ClassicOne had the necessary resolution to showcase the format.

On all but the most inefficient speakers, I had to press the ClassicOne way beyond reasonable levels to drive it to clipping (and again, you can add the second amp if you have to play that loud), even with the Harbeth 40.1’s which have a low sensitivity of 86db.


Overall the Pathos ClassicOne mk.III is one of those rare components that achieves a perfect balance of performance, style and value. Thanks to the small tube compliment, you will not have to worry about sourcing tubes, either. The 6922 and it’s variants are very plentiful at reasonable cost, and I don’t imagine the ClassicOne going through tubes in a hurry, so probably a new pair every five years or so should keep you running along just fine.

Whether you are a mega audiophile putting together a second system, or a music lover that doesn’t want to sacrifice aesthetics for performance, this amplifier will keep both sides of your brain very happy.

UPDATE: 10/2019

Kevin Deal from Upscale Audio/Upscale Distribution has taken over as the new North American distributor for Pathos products, and we are excited so see a true qualityphile and tube guy distributing this fine product. Here’s Kevin’s quick take on having the line:

“I have always loved Pathos. In Europe, Pathos enjoys an incredible reputation for both sound and build quality, and they are very popular. Their previous U.S. importers  were not deeply technical. They sold it as being beautiful, which it is, but the real beauty is on inside. Everything is made in-house in Vicenza Italy. Even the remotes are machined at the factory. They make the best hybrids on the market. They have real chops, and we are super excited.”

The Pathos ClassicOne Mk. III

MSRP: $3,195

North American Distributor

Upscale Audio/Upscale Distribution
2058 Wright Avenue
La Verne, California


Digital Sources BelCanto CD3, Wadia 521 DAC, Luxman DU 7i combination player

Speakers Harbeth Monitor 40.1, Gamut S-7, Focal Utopia Diablo, Zu Audio Essence

Cable ED Design 213 and 422 (speaker and interconnect)

Power Shunyata VRay power conditioner, Shunyata Venom power cords

Vista Audio i34 Integrated Amplifier

In the world of audio, simplicity not only exists, but also is ravenously celebrated. Both Conrad-Johnson and McIntosh have produced anniversary editions of a few of their most beloved equipment. The single driver speaker community is alive and well. Most importantly, the days of mass buttons and switches have gone the way of the dinosaur, sans home theater receivers. Vacuum tube equipment thankfully has always followed a more simplified life. Though the process of developing a fine piece of glowing glass is a long and laborious process, the finished product is quite simple, and usually elegant.

Vista-Audio first caught my eye a few years back when I got to spend a few weeks with their i84 integrated tube amplifier. It was a very musical amplifier, that had a tonal purity and did an excellent job with fairly inefficient speakers, so I was anxious to sample their latest creation, the i34, which uses a pair of EL34 tubes per channel to produce 35 watts per channel. This definitely opened up the possibilities to mate the Vista sound with a wider range of speakers.

The i34 is designed and built in Serbia and is very reasonably priced at $980. It uses a pair of ECC832’s, which designer Boris Sasic feels offers the best qualities of the 12AX7 and 12AU7 in one tube. The latest version of JJ’s EL34 the EL34L’s are used for the output tubes and are supplied in a matched quad for this view

Sleek and simple

The i34 features a basic layout, reminiscent of the Dynaco Stereo 70 or early McIntosh power amplifiers with an open steel chassis, exposing the tubes and transformers. Definitely an old school approach. The transformers are sourced directly from Traformatic, who’s factory is nearby. Sasic says that this helps to keep the build cost more reasonable, because the majority of the amplifiers bulk doesn’t have to be shipped very far. The i34 weighs 24 pounds, but feels heavier than it is, definitely having a short and stout footprint.

The front panel has a simple volume control and input selector. Around back ar three sets of high level inputs marked CD, TUNER and AUX. There is also a ground for Vistas’ new phono preamplifier that I am in the process of reviewing. There are taps for 4 and 8 ohm speakers, rounded off with a standard IEC receptacle for power and the power switch, which keeps the front panel clean.
Setup and burn in

Thanks to the matched quad of tubes, the i34 leaves the factory with it’s bias already set. Sasic claims that the tubes do not need to be rebiased until a new set is fitted. Per Sasic’s direction, I gave the i34 a full week of burn in before settling down to serious listening.

Not wanting to get too much of a tubey good thing, I kept my modified Jolida CD player with a tube output stage on the sideline and used the SimAudio i.5 and the Rotel RCD-1520 CD players as sources for the bulk of the review. My usual reference speakers, the Eficion F200 speakers were used, sans MartinLogan subwoofer, as the i34 does not have a variable output to use with a sub.

The Sound

The i34 had a very open tonal quality and did not bloat breathy female vocals as some tube amplifiers can do. When listening to Nora Jones, Come Away With Me, the airy sultriness that attracts most listeners to her voice wasn’t overdone in the least. This was very similar to my memory of the i84; midrange magic, but not too much.

Thanks to the more delicate nature of the EL 34 tube, this amplifier is probably more suited to acoustic and vocal music. Unless you have incredibly efficient speakers, you won’t be able to enjoy Megadeth or Audioslave at the proper levels, though I was intrigued with the Who’s Quadrophenia when listening to Keith Moon’s drumming. While this amplifier does not hit you on the head with thunderous bass performance, the quality of the bass is excellent and the amplifier has great pace overall.

Comparing the i34 to my other tube amplifier, the Onix SP3, the Onix amplifier had more overall slam, but the i34 had more detail and delicacy. The i34 is a very resolving amplifier for its price point indeed.

Trying a few different speakers, I had excellent luck with the Swan 2.1SE monitors, which have a slight bass bump, making for an excellent match with the bass performance of the i34. The Era Design 5’s are less efficient and were not terribly enticing overall. The i34 is no different than any other 35 watt tube amplifier in this respect; careful speaker matching is necessary to get the most out of the power on tap.rear view

Final thoughts

There’s a solid selection of tube integrated amplifiers around the $1000 price range. At $980 the Vista Audio i34 holds it’s own very well. The fit and finish is excellent, with an understated vintage aesthetic. The overall presentation is excellent, with this amplifier providing a more refined sound than you would expect at this price point.

The Vista Audio i34 amplifier

MSRP: $980

Manufacturers Information

ENG Vista, Inc.
77-21 86th St
Ridgewood, NY 11385

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.

RMAF-Day Two

axis roomsAnother great day at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. Fest owner/presenter Marjorie Baumert announced that the Fest is go for next year and possibly as far as 2012. So, next year, show your support to convince Marjorie to stay on board!

This show has grown a lot since its inception and has become a great destination point for industry members and audiophiles to mingle in a very relaxed atmosphere. Even the legendary Harry Pearson of The Absolute Sound made an appearance.

We’ve never posted any kind of “Best of Show” sound awards, because quite frankly, these are very challenging rooms, most nowhere near what you might listen to at home, so coming here to really judge the manufacturers wares is just not fair. Personally, I’m always amazed that they manage to do whatever it takes to actually GET the gear here in one piece and over to the show so that you can oogle it. The first room in the picture here was up on the mezzanine, where Axiss Audio was showing the Transrotor Turntable, with a full compliment of Accuphase electronics, Hansen speakers and Running Springs power conditioning.

vandersteenThe folks at Shunyata, Vandersteen and Audio Research also did a very good job at defying the room acoustics, getting good sound out of a small room, bringing in some heavy duty room treatments and careful attention to setup. Just slightly off camera, they had a full bank of diffusors that did a great job at taming the room, along with a heavy dose of Shunyata’s latest Aurora cable, which we will have a full review in the next issue of TONEAudio.
grant fidelity
But it wasn’t all mega systems that were offering good sound. The folks at Grant Fidelity were showing off the Rita integrated amplifiers along with their newest small speakers that were under $2000 a pair. Look for a review soon.

devil DACFor me, the coolest products at the show were the “Devil Dac” shown in the Luxman room by Philip O’Hanlon, and a new battery powered DAC that will pull the digital bitstream from your iPod (just like the Wadia 170i) from the folks at ALO Audio and GR9 Technologies.

This is the future of audio folks, and not only does it sound great, it’s very easy to use, which I’m hoping will bring more people into our world.

And that’s what this show is really all about, the people and the interaction that takes place at the Rocky Mountain Audio fest is unmatched anywhere. So we end our coverage with a shot of the folks at Skiing Ninja. Sean is headed up to Portland in a couple of weeks to work his magic on my Magnepan 1.6’s, so watch for a full review soon. It should be fun. How could you not want to buy an upgrade from these guys?

This show continues to get better every year, but the one thing I’d like to see after five years is some better music being played in the rooms. I heard a few people getting slightly out of the box playing a little bit of electronic music and I thought I heard Van Halen coming out of one room, but it was way TOO MUCH female vocals again.

Nothing but the standard, Eva Cassidy, Allison Krauss and Patricia Barber. And if I ever hear “Keith Don’t Go” by Nils Lofgren again, I’m gonna hurt somebody. This is why we can’t get anyone under 50 interested in hifi. So your homework assignment for next year is to bring some interesting music!

RMAF: Day One

rmaf-4The Rocky Mountain Audio Fest got off to a great start in Denver today, with a very chilled out start time of noon, which was a benefit for exhibitors arriving from the East Coast and Europe.

The first stop on my agenda was the Audio Unlimited suite, with the Focal Grande Utopia EM’s powered by MBL Gear and Running Springs new power line conditioner. Vinyl was spinning on the new Clearaudio Innovation table (watch for a full review in the next issue of TONEAudio) allowing the Grande Utopia’s to put on a great show. So far, this looks to be one of the most exciting rooms at the show.

Next stop, the Naim press conference, where their new speaker the Ovator was revealed. More about this tomorrow, when I interview the speaker’s designer.

You know I’m a panel lover, so I was very intrigued by the demo of the King’s Audio Electrostatics. At $8,000 a pair the speaker was very impressive, with excellent bass for a full range electrostatic speaker.

The rest of the day was spent catching up and exploring the layout of this year’s show. More in depth tomorrow when we have a full day. Stay tuned!