Issue 37


TONE covers the Roadburn Festival
By Louise Brown

Budget Gear: The NAD PP 3i Phono Preamp
By Jeff Dorgay

Journeyman Audiophile: Clean Power For The Regular Guy
By Jerold o’Brien

Old School: The MartinLogan Aerius i Speakers
By Jerold O’Brien

Tone Style

T.H.E. Show Preview – Where to eat and Drink in Newport Beach
By Scott Tetzlaff

Apples iPad 2: Not so Much

The Rolling Stones Complete Singles Box Set

Quadraspire LP Qube Storage

Sassicaia Session by Ken Kessler


Live Music: Bob Gendron covers Neil Young and Femi Kuti

Current Releases:
Fresh Releases in the Pop/Rock World
By the TONE Staff

Audiophile Pressings
By Paul Rigby

Jazz and Blues
Three new releases
By Jim Macnie


Gemme Tonic 5 Loudspeakers

Lyra Kleos Phono Cartridge

Burmester 089 CD Player


Headphone Planet: Marshall and WESC
By Kevin Gallucci

The ARC PH6 Phono Preamplifier
By Jeff Dorgay

Red Wine Audio’s Ginevra LFP-V Phono Preamplifier and Factory Visit
By Steve Guttenberg

Octave MRE 130 Monoblocks and Super Black Box
By Jeff Dorgay

Silent Running Audio Ohio Class XL+ Equipment Platforms
By Jeff Dorgay

Comparison Test: The Simaudio Moon 600i and 700i Integrated Amplifiers
By Jeff Dorgay

Classics on the cheap

Rega Brio-R: Redefining the Genre

Too bad the folks at Rega aren’t in charge of balancing the trade deficit. While a substantial amount of modestly priced hi-fi is now produced in China, Rega continues to make solid designs built by hand by skilled craftspeople in its UK factory. That the company produces a 50wpc integrated amplifier with an excellent phonostage is quite admirable; that the firm does it at this level without going to the Far East is nothing less than incredible. Rega’s main man, Roy Gandy, is fond of saying that Rega likes to build products that offer top performance in their respective class. But this time, Rega hit the ball way out of the park.

Longtime Rega enthusiasts might be surprised that the price of the Brio-R is $300 more than that of the previous model, which has been around for about 12 years. However, the new version offers substantial gains even as it occupies a much smaller footprint. Think of the $895 Rega Brio-R as the Lotus Elise of integrated amplifiers; it’s not quite what you’d expect until you get behind the wheel. And yes, the “R stands for remote.

Make sure to use both hands when unpacking the Brio-R. The compact box is fairly heavy, weighing in at about 20 pounds. Peaking inside shows that Rega didn’t allow a square millimeter of space to go to waste. The Brio-R features the same enclosure as the Rega DAC we reviewed earlier this year, the shared approach keeping costs low and quality high. No detail is left to chance; the remote-control circuitry is even given its own separate power supply to ensure signal purity. Poking around inside reveals one pair of output transistors per channel, high-quality film caps, and a very short signal path.

Small Yet Strong

Despite its smaller box, the new Brio packs a bigger wallop than its predecessor. And there’s never been a more perfect example of specs not telling the whole story. While the previous Brio 3 is rated at 49 watts per channel and the new model at only 50 watts per channel (73 watts per channel into 4 ohms), Rega claims the new output stage can reasonably drive outputs “as low as 1.7 ohms.”

Indeed, while the last Brio struggled with low-impedance speakers, the Brio-R effortlessly sailed through. Driving a pair of Magnepans usually translates into the kiss of death for most small integrated amplifiers (and a few larger ones, as well), but the Brio-R did a very respectable job of powering the notoriously power-hungry MMGs reviewed in this issue. It’s also worth noting that my Cambridge Audio 740C (rated at 100 watts per channel) was not up to this task. Moreover, the Rega had no problems driving my vintage MartinLogan Aerius. A reasonably priced integrated that can tackle Magnepans and MartinLogans without problem? High marks are in order.

Like the prior Brio, the Brio-R features an onboard MM phonostage, also improved in sound quality and sensitivity. In the past, users that didn’t utilize a Rega phono cartridge complained about a lack of gain in the phonostage, an issue that required serious twisting the volume control to achieve reasonable listening levels. With a sensitivity of 2.1mv, the Brio-R had no troubles reaching full volume at the 12:00 level when outfitted with a Sumiko Blackbird cartridge, which boasts an output of 2.5mv. Thanks to its quietness, I was even able to use a Grado Master1, which has an output of only .5mv (47k loading). Doing so necessitated setting the volume at almost 2:00 for the maximum level, but the Brio-R remained up to the task.

Setup and Controls

The Brio-R will have you listening to music in a jiff. The spartan front panel shares the same design brief as the Rega DAC, with a power button on the left, volume control on the right, and a button that requires a touch to toggle between inputs. The mute control is only accessed via the remote, which also allows for volume level and input switching.  And the Brio-R can only be turned on and off from the front panel.

Around back, five inputs and a fixed level output made for an excellent match with my recently restored Nakamichi 550 cassette deck, which incidentally is almost the same size as the Brio-R. For the tapeheads, the output has a level of 210mv.

The only caveat? Input one is the phono input and not marked as such. Plugging in a line-level source here will cause a hateful noise at best and blown tweeter at worst, so proceed with caution. If you’re not a vinyl enthusiast, get a pair of Cardas RCA caps, if for no other reason than to prevent a mishap. Rega turntables do not have ground wires. But if you’re using a ‘table that has one, the ground screw is underneath the amplifier’s rear face.

The Brio-R uses a standard IEC AC socket, so those that enjoy swapping power cords can geek out all they want. However, the RCA jacks and speaker binding posts are so close together that some cables will not be compatible. And while the average consumer that purchases a Brio-R may not step too far into the world of premium cables, the amplifier is good enough to warrant doing so. Given the restricted space, speaker cables with spades are almost out of the question; grab bananas or banana adaptors.

Sounds Like Separates

Resolution often sets separate components apart from integrated amplifiers. The Brio-R has an overall clarity that I have never experienced at this price—and I’ve heard my share of much more expensive pieces that struggle to sound this good. After all, only a handful of sub-$3k amplifiers provide true high-end sound; the Brio-R belongs at the top of that short list. It truly sounds like separate components.

At the beginning of John Mellencamp’s “Sweet Evening Breeze” from Human Wheels, a Hammond organ faintly enters from the far back of the soundstage, barely registering a whisper. Other inexpensive integrateds I’ve sampled (except for the PrimaLuna ProLogue1) don’t resolve this. Or, what does come through is flat and on the same plane as the rest of the music—a blurry rendition. Oingo Boingo’s “Nothing Bad Ever Happens” from Good For Your Soul has similar textures, with multiple layers of guitars and keyboards that, via substandard gear, blend together and smear. By yielding genuine dimensionality, the Brio-R is a budget component that you can listen to for hours on end, fully engaged in the presentation.

The amp claims a fair share of headroom as well. Whether listening to KISS, with or without a symphony orchestra, the Rega didn’t run out of steam until played at very high volumes. Switching to the 99db sensitivity Klipsch Heresy IIIs (also reviewed this issue) resulted in a completely different situation. This combination achieved near rave-level SPLs with Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral. The opening drumbeats to “Big Man With a Gun” were big and powerful, yet the little Rega didn’t seem to break a sweat.

Your favorite speaker with a sensitivity rating of between 87–91db should prove a more than acceptable match for the Brio-R’s power amplifier section.

Vinyl Adventure

The phonostage in the Brio-R should prove a perfect match for anything in the $100-$600 range and when used with the Rega RP1 and its Performance Pack, an upgrade that includes the Bias 2 MM cartridge. The latter features a tonal balance slightly tipped toward the warm side of neutral, helping less-than-stellar LP pressings sound their best.

For example, a friend that brought over budget treasures purchased for fewer than $3/each couldn’t believe the performance wrought by the RP1/Brio-R combination. Again, the Brio-R’s phonostage offers excellent resolution and a very smooth upper register. And while the RP1/Bias combination turned in a great show, switching to the P3-24 and Blackbird offered a substantial helping of “what the analog fuss is all about.”

Good Things Do Come in Small Packages

The Rega Brio-R sets the benchmark for an $1000 integrated amplifier and then some.  While it’s easy for those that regularly hear the world’s best (and often most expensive) gear to get excited about great sound, it’s truly thrilling to hear this level of sound quality from an amplifier with an $895 price tag. Music lovers on a budget no longer have to sacrifice quality. This one could make a crazed audiophile out of you where you least expect it.

-Jeff Dorgay

The Rega Brio-R

MSRP:  $895
Manufacturer Information: (US) (UK)


Digital source                        Simaudio 750D, Cambridge 650BD

Analog source                        Rega RP1 w/Bias 2, Rega P3-24 w/Sumiko Blackbird

Speakers            Magnepan MMG, Klipsch Heresy III, Vienna Acoustics Hayden Grand, Spica TC 50

Cable                                    Audioquest  Columbia

Power                                    IsoTek EVO3 Sirius

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.

Sooloos Media Source 600

In the beginning, the Sooloos featured a Control (which held the system core and the touchscreen), giving you access to the Source (which provided analog and digital outputs in either one or five zones) and the Stores (the physical location of all of your music files), all connected via Ethernet to link the system together. But computer years are like dog years; things move quickly.

After Meridian purchased Sooloos, the next-generation hardware introduced the Control 10, which incorporated the Source and Control into the same box and added the option of Meridian’s Speaker Link system. All of which meant that the Sooloos could be used directly with a pair of powered Meridian speakers to make for a complete system.

These changes represented a quantum leap in Sooloos audio performance and build quality, but users requiring a number of zones had no choice but to purchase the somewhat expensive Control 10. No longer. The Media Source 600 includes this functionality, allowing for a pair of analog outputs (one balanced XLR and one balanced RCA), an SPDIF digital output, and an RJ-45 Meridian SpeakerLink output essentially equating to the addition of three more zones to your Sooloos system. Each can be controlled by a Sooloos Control, iPhone/iPad, or via another computer that shares the same network as the Sooloos system.

I found this setup very handy, as it allowed me to move the Control 15 closer to my listening position and the Media Source 600 to my equipment rack. Now, the extra analog outputs drive System Two and the SpeakerLink outputs are available to drive the DSP3200 powered speakers. Indeed, any of Meridian’s powered speakers make for an ideal solution for someone who wants high-performance audio without all the boxes, cables, and associated components.

A Model of Simplicity

The Meridian Sooloos Music Server redefines the often-overused phrase “plug and play.” And after using practically everything else on the market, nothing else gets me to play quicker. While the manual speaks of advanced functions that can be accessed from a Web browser, I didn t bother investigating them. All I needed to do to integrate the Media Source 600 into my existing system was simply plug in an Ethernet cable from my router and power it up. Within about 2 minutes, the Control 15 recognized the additional zone.

In my main reference system, and for the bulk of my listening tests, I utilized the Media Source 600 in place of my Control 15 as the connection between my music library and dCS Paganini stack via the SPDIF output.

Of course, the only drawback to using an iPad/iPhone as a Sooloos controller is that Apple devices do not offer the same interface touted by the Control 10/15—specifically, the placement all of the album art at your disposal, thus allowing you to peruse your music collection much faster than doing so alphabetically.

To avoid any potential confusion, please note that the Media Source 600 does not have an internal hard drive and hence, does not have the “system core” that’s required from a standalone Sooloos device. A Media Core 200, Media Core 600, or Control 15 is needed on the network to drive the system. So think of the Media Source 600 as an “expansion port.”

Functionality and Sound

The Sooloos system accesses high-resolution audio files, so you can keep all of your music in one place. If you are like most Sooloos owners and possess a fairly large collection of standard 16bit/44.1khz CDs, you ll be happy to know that the Media Source 600 utilizes Meridian s current upsampling and apodising filter. CD files emerge from the SPDIF output upsampled to a 24bit/88.2khz bitstream, while high-resolution files pass through in their native formats.

Meridian founder Bob Stuart told me that the DAC and analog sections of the Media Source 600 are very close to what’s available in their current G08 CD player. Since there’s no digital input on the Media Source 600, the system reads all the audio data that goes to and from the Sooloos components via the Ethernet network. For home automation, there’s a remote 12v. trigger as well as the option to connect a Meridian IR receiver so that basic functions can be controlled with a standard Meridian remote.

Playback through the analog outputs was excellent, possessing all the refinement I expect from a $4,000-$6,000 player. Having spent a good deal of time with the 800 series players and the G08, I can authoritatively state that if there is one hallmark of Meridian players, it s tonal correctness. The company bridges the gap of providing a digital player with high resolution that does not cross the line and become overly analytical or digital sounding.

When listening to recent Audio Wave XRCD24 discs from Horace Silver and Donald Byrd, I was repeatedly impressed with the lack of grain present in the upper registers. Cymbals took on a three-dimensional shape and the soundstage was fleshed out, especially when the discs were compared to their analog counterparts from Music Matters. Most importantly, when contrasting the sound from the digital output of the Media Source 600 to that of the Control 15 (both fed through the four-box dCS Paganini stack), the Media Source 600 definitely came out on top.

A Winner Either Way

If you need to expand your current Sooloos system beyond one zone and do not require the six-zone support provided by the new Media Core 600, the Media Source 600 is a highly cost-effective solution. Or, if you are considering adding a Sooloos Control 15 to an audio system that doesn’t currently possess an excellent DAC (and you aren’t quite ready to step up to the $18k Meridian 808.3), again, here’s your answer.

Meridian continues to refine the Sooloos Music Server system by adding features, increasing flexibility, and most importantly, improving the sound quality with every new bit of hardware released. The Control 15 represented a definite step forward in resolution and lack of grain from the Control 10, and the Media Source 600 takes the whole presentation a step further. So even if you don’t yet require an extra zone yet, I highly suggest adding the Media Source 600 to your Sooloos system.

Meridian Media Source 600

MSRP: $3,500

Manufacturer Information:


Digital Sources Sooloos Control 15, dCS Paganini stack
Preamplifier Burmester 011
Power Amplifier Burmester 911 mk. 3
Speakers GamuT S9
Cable Cardas Clear

Audion names new US importer

In keeping with the resurgence in vacuum tube electronics and their need for wider ranging representation in the US, Audion International Ltd., a British tube manufacturing company based in France has appointed Gary Alpern of True Audiophile to be their new distributor for North America.  Gary will be responsible for driving sales of Audion’s Amplifiers, Preamplifiers and cables within the US market.

We have some reviews in the works and will be visiting the Audion factory later this year with a full report.

You can reach Gary at:

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