Freewheelin’ on MoFi

What can really be said about Bob Dylan that hasn’t already been said by the world’s preeminent music critics?

Nothing, really, so it’s best to focus on the sound of this wonderful Mobile Fidelity release.

As with Beatles records, you’ll either find the stereo releases intriguing or heresy, but even those in the latter camp should get out of their comfort zone and give this version a try—you’ll be pleasantly surprised. While the original Columbia mono release has a certain midrange body absent from the stereo version, this edition comes damn close. And it exceeds the finest original pressings in every other way.

The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan is mostly Dylan, his guitar, and harp alone in a recording studio. Because this is the stereo mix, the harp does sound larger than life, and from time to time, the engineers’ panning creeps into the presentation. But who cares? What’s truly amazing is that the master tape is still in such good shape. MoFi removes so many layers of sonic crud here, there’s no need to try and seek out an early Columbia pressing.  This is the definitive rendition. And there’s another bonus: the newfound air and detail showcases Dylan’s skillful guitar playing.

Throughout, the record combines every molecule of Dylan’s unique intonation with a perfect blend of natural room decay and judicious reverb, conveying a delicacy that fools you into thinking the man is sitting on a stool in between your speakers. Playback on my newly rebuilt Quad 57s is simply stunning.

You can sum this record up with two words: “clarity” and “quiet.”  Josh Bizar at Music Direct (the parent company that owns MoFi) recently mentioned that the firm spent a “pile of money” upgrading the mastering chain at MoFi. So, add another word to the summation: “WOW.”  Dylan records have never been praised for their fidelity, but if this one doesn’t grab you immediately, have someone check your pulse.

Cary Audio’s New Hybrid Headphone Amplifier

Cary Audio has just introduced their HH-1 headphone amplifier, which is a hybrid design, offering the best performance of both tube and solid-state circuits where they can be utilized to their greatest advantage. Tubes make their best contribution to the overall sound when used in the input stage and they use a pair of 6DJ8 tubes (one per channel). The output stage is a single-ended current-sourced MOSFET working in Class A at all times.

As in all Cary Audio products, much thought has gone into the power supply, which has a major impact on the sound quality and reliability. In the HH-1, the power supply is fully regulated for lowest possible noise, including the power supply for the tube heaters, and it uses a high performance audio grade toroidal transformer.

Cary Audio president Billy Wright comments: “We realize how important excellent headphones are to many audiophiles, and made a concerted effort to develop a truly world-class headphone amplifier in a very compact form. By using the best qualities of both tubes and solid-state, we have come up with a dedicated headphone amplifier whose performance rivals that of our famous CAD-300SEI tube integrated amp, considered by many to be among the very best amplifiers in the world. We’re very excited to introduce this new headphone amplifier and establish Cary Audio as a leader in this new market.”

The American-made HH-1 hybrid headphone amplifier will begin shipping on July 30, 2012.

Weight:  10 lbs.

Dimensions:  14.5” L x 8.5” W x 4” H

Retail Price:  $1,595

Jaco Pastorius – S/T

Spinning Jaco Pastorius at 45RPM rules.

Originally produced in 1976, arguably when records pressed at Columbia were at their sonic worst, this record now finds its volatile tracks split onto a pair of LPs. What a difference.

Released at the beginning of the instrumentalist’s tenure with Weather Report, the record includes heavy hitters Lenny White, Herbie Hancock, and Wayne Shorter, to name a few. The mix is not straight-ahead jazz, but it’s not fully locked into fusion, either. Some pieces sound like they could have been culled from the outtakes of Hancock’s Blow Up sessions. Beginning with the only cover tune on the list – Miles Davis’ “Donna Lee,”  Pastorius takes the lead on bass as Don Alias is his sole accompaniment on congas.  The congas, which sound horribly flat on the original, come alive on this 45 r.p.m. masterpiece, floating around the middle of the soundstage, setting the tone for what lies in store on the rest of the record.

Track four, “Continuum” is much more spacey and free form, the foundation of the sound Pastorius goes on to create with Weather Report, with loose drumming and gentle Fender Rhoads riffs in the background.  While this record contains a handful of stylistic changes, Pastorius’ mastery of the bass guitar is consistent throughout.

Bernie Grundman takes the production helm here and fully utilizes his lifetime of jazz-related experience to give this masterpiece the attention it deserves. Pastorius’ bass is finely depicted, his parts effortlessly gliding through the soundstage. Hancock’s piano soars, liberated from the sonic grunge of the original. My speakers can barely contain this record!

Note: To naysayers claiming today’s remasters lack the vitality of the original recordings, grab this record now and await pleasant discoveries.

Click here to purchase this album at Music Direct.

DiMeola, McLaughlin, and deLucia – Friday Night in San Francisco

Recorded in December of 1980 at San Francisco’s Warfield Theater, these three mega guitarists convened to create one of history’s most memorable acoustic-guitar records.

Five of the seven tracks are duos, and the final two feature the trio. Bernie Grundman, the original mastering engineer, returns for remastering duties on this sweet ORG pressing. All the compression in my 1A original is swept away; spreading the music over two discs yields myriad benefits.

If there was ever an acoustic disc that encourages you to crank the volume, this is it. When the applause swells up at the end of songs, it’s easy to close your eyes and be transported to that magical winter evening. Every nuance gets captured; every toe tap, every whack of the guitar body comes alive, and if your system is up to snuff, these guys sound as if they are right in the room. You can almost hear the guitar strings picking up weight as they become coated with sweat as the performance progresses.

The most exciting aspect of this recording, now restored to full brilliance? A toss-up between the rapid attack of the players’ blazing speed and the low-level detail in the quietest passages. It’s a shame unreleased material couldn’t be included; this legendary evening begs for bonus tracks.

Priscilla Ahn – A Good Day

Put those Patricia Barber and Eva Cassidy albums away, and give something else a try.

For those unwilling to forgo female vocalists as part of their audiophile heaven, Priscilla Ahn’s debut is a good way to expand your repertoire.

Issuing the album on LP for the first time, Mobile Fidelity strips away the merciless compression present on the CD and leaves Ahn unsquashed. The perky, Pokemon-esque singer paints a rosy soundscape, with arrangements often resembling those of It’s a Beautiful Day. Ahn’s purity of tone and delicate phrasing should make vocal aficionados swoon, and while the top end crushes that of the digital version, it’s still slightly on the hot side. This one will undoubtedly score more points with the vintage tube crowd than those that own ultra-resolving systems.

Another bonus: The pressing includes three bonus tracks not on the original CD.  Keeping in character with the rest of the album, yet more sparsely arranged, they possess fairly little dynamic range, allowing seven tracks to fit on a side without compromising fidelity.

Click here to purchase from Music Direct.

Audio-gd Reference 10.2 DAC…And More!

A common view among some more senior digital audiophiles (those that remember the CD spinners of the 90s) is that newer delta-sigma (single bit) chips can’t reproduce the rhythmic impact and dynamics of their multi-bit forerunners.

Mention multi-bit in the right company and words such as ‘analogue’ and ‘smooth’ get bandied around.  A surge in delta-sigma implementations means that such multi-bit DACs are beginning to fade from mainstream consciousness.  Whilst the audible magic isn’t just in the chip itself – there’s power supply and output stage to consider – there might be some truth to the superior ‘rightness’ to DACs that sport, say, a Philips TDA1541 or a Burr-Brown PCM1704.

A New Player in the Digital Arena

Kowloon-based Audio-gd might be new to some readers. They are one of several emerging Chinese manufacturers who have taken the slow boat to reputation building.  The design ethos of chief engineer He Qinghua (“Kingwa”) is empathically ‘old-school’.  Pop the lid on any one of his products and you’ll be exposed to the work of man obsessed with power supply quality.  He’s also a keen proponent of the decoding chips of yesteryear.  Texas Instruments’ PCM1704 forms the nexus of his higher-end (<US$2000) designs.  Despite a brief flirtation with ESS Sabre models, Audio-gd’s cheaper DACs (<US$1000) rotate around a Wolfson WM8741 axis.

Audio-gd’s (8 x PCM1704) flagship Reference 7.1 DAC still wows with snap-attack micro-dynamics and tonal beauty; something that often eludes many delta-sigma designs, especially at sub-$1000 price points.  Delta-sigma chips are presumably chosen by manufacturers for their lower production-cost impact and on-silicon extras (e.g. up-sampling, filtering, volume control).  Audio-gd has infiltrated this space also. In Australia at least, Kingwa’s NFB-2.x has long been seen as the go-to digital decoder for five hundred bucks.  A crown that has only been recently challenged by Schiit’s Bifrost.

The Reference 10.2 DAC/head-amp/pre-amp is new for 2012. It runs with four slabs of PCM1704 multi-bit silicon. Two per channel for a fully balanced topology.  Right off the bat, this unit’s panache with pace, timing and rich tonal colours (as per the Reference 7.1) is easy to pick. However, with an absence of (fixed) line-out connectors, pre-amplifier and DAC stages are fully inter-twined to feed *variable* single-ended or balanced outputs as well as Audio-gd’s own current-domain ACSS connectivity.

A switch on the rear allows the use to specify linear (70 steps) or exponential (99 steps) volume attenuation as well as volume setting memory; useful if you have sources of varying loudness.  The pre-amplifier adds a maximum of 13db gain with 0db points are located at 46 (out of 70) or 65 (out of 100); useful for running in DAC-only mode.

The brushed aluminium chassis is as deep as it is wide, rounded corners being the only aesthetic concession to lift it beyond the rudimentary. You’re not paying for exotic casework here.  Neither are you paying for a deluxe remote control – it’s a fairly standard aluminium billet. Peeking inside: an R-core transformer feeds each of the three fenced-off subsections: left channel, right channel and digital (which bowls down the middle). The Altera Cyclone II chip handles digital filtering (“DSP-1, Version 5”), data re-clocking and – therefore – jitter minimisation. Connected to this CPU-esque square are jumpers for setting over-sampling options (2x, 4x, 8x or NOS).  A DIR9001 receiver board handles S/DPIF inputs of up to 24/96 but the TE8802 receiver board from Tenor is the new star of the digital input show: it’s asynchronous, USB Audio Class 2.0 and handles up to 24/192 – but drivers for both OS X and Windows are a must. Prior to installation on a Snow Leopard-y 2010 MacMini audio consistently crapped out after 10 seconds of playback, Once installed, audio ran seamlessly from both the aforementioned MacMini and 2011 MacBook Air (Lion)

Multiple Inputs

All too often with boxes like this USB ends up playing second fiddle to a good quality S/PDIF feed. For many multi-input DACs even a modest USB-S/SDIF convertor will best the sound quality of the in-built USB port can muster.  Improvements usually present as a more effortless presentation and less evidence of ash-tray grey in the treble.  Whilst the Reference 10.2 is no exception, the Tenor board is a sign that in-built USB (done right) can get close to its neighbouring S/PDIF input. In a broader sense it’s encouraging to see a manufacturer taking USB seriously.

However, end users of even this Audio-gd unit are still advised to go with a good USB-S/PDIF convertor if they want to drag the VERY best from their source PC/Mac. In my listening tests either a JKSPDIF MK3 and Empirical Audio Synchro-Mesh were required to juice the most vivid presentations of Lampchop’s Mr. M from MacMini and Squeezebox Touch respectively.  Both set-ups bested the Tenor USB implementation with jumpier micro-dynamics and broader believability.

My world vs your world. With a fresh copy of Music On Vinyl’s 180gm re-issue of Bowie’s Heathen on the turntable, a digital vs vinyl stand-off was set. Could the analogue-fancier’s favourite DAC chip hold a candle to a most modest vinyl rig (Ortofon Blue + Rega RP1 + PSAudio GCPH)? The latter was hooked into the first of two line single-ended inputs on the rear of the Audio-gd.  An Empirical Audio Synchro-Mesh and Squeezebox man-handled the FLAC rip.  Chris Sommovigo’s Black Cat Morpheus interconnect and Silverstar digital interconnect stitched it all together.
The digital take on opener “Sunday” is emphatically more dynamic, wider of staging and more three dimensional.  Conclusive winner? Not quite. On vinyl, this emotionally-detached Bowie album comes across as softer and more supple of musical joint. The Audio-gd pre-amplification injects a soupçon of effervescence into the RP1, which can at times sound top-end-neuterered when heading source-direct into the Audio EL34 amplifier.  Think Audion single malt with a squirt of Audio-gd soda.


What about digital vs digital in the headphone space?  As a standalone DAC/head-amp, the CEntrance DACMiniPX’s sound is shinier, more chrome-polished than the Chinese unit.  The American serves up more room ambience and transients run with more bite.  The Audio-gd doesn’t wear such flashy pants.  Instead, it takes the listener by the hand through darker, smokier rooms. That’s not to say it is at vague with detail retrieval.  It isn’t.  Typical of other multi-bit/delta-sigma DAC showdowns, the Audio-gd is more unassuming; it doesn’t shout about what it’s found.  Quick-switch A/B comparisons between CEntrance and Audio-gd might lead the more impatient listener to favour the former.  The Audio-gd demands more time – only after several weeks of listening do it talents begin to unfurl. Think of the darkest chocolate demanding a more mature palette for better appreciation of its higher cocoa (and less sugar) content.

Working as a standalone decoder, the DACMiniPX line-out was then lassoed to the second line input of the Audio-gd DAC/Pre-amp. A predictable sonic half-way house was reached: the DAC detail sparkle of the American mixed infused with the richer-flavoured Chinese headphone stage.  Kingwa’s power supply delineation – one R-core for each of channel and one for the digital stage – is exceptional at this price point. This is not not to downplay what Michael Goodman achieves with 19V of switch-mode juice but to marvel at what can be achieved with a dedicated Chinese production facility aiming for a sticker of under US$2K. It’s abundantly clear why both companies have a formidable reputation amongst more seasoned head-fi-ers. I could live with either unit as daily headphone amplifier.  Both handle AKG K-702s with aplomb – something you can’t say about many rival all-in-one units.

Consider the Audio-gd if your current headphone experience borders on the overly-bright or if you want to dig deeper into the mix with a balanced connection. Having said that, the balanced topology of this amplifier means even quarter-inch-ers benefit.  Furthermore, if you’re op-amp reluctant or have cans that are a more challenging drive, the Reference 10.2 could also be for you. This fully discrete headphone stage’s output is specified as furnishing 6000MW into 50 ohm, 3500MW into 100 ohm, 1200MW into 300 ohm and 600 MW into 600 ohm. The Reference 10.2 combines the bleach-clean signature of Audio-gd amplification with the caliginous detail trawl of their top-of-the line DAC. A classic car augmented with go-faster stripes. Sound incongruous? Nope. What we hear is neutrality that’s not tainted by synthetic glare. A digital swiss-army-knife front-end that sounds anything but artificial.

It’s easy to be impressed with trophy hifi. Or showroom demo theatrics. Audio-gd won’t allow for either. I’ve yet to hear a multi-bit-chipped DAC that I didn’t enjoy.  With knockout power regulation as much a part of the recipe, the Reference 10.2 is no exception. It gently nods to the empirical rumblings and ramblings of old timers. That Kingwa can bundle in fully-balanced preamplifier and headphone amplifier for less than $2k renders this black box a serious contender from the fringes of mainstream choices.  If you can live with the prosaic casework and have no need for home theatre bypass it offers a genuine alternative to the ESS Sabre-chipped offerings. Furthermore, Audio-gd’s promotional copy is free from unfulfillable jitter-destruction promises.  It puts its sound where its promotional mouth should be and it scores pretty much every time you listen.  -John Darko

Pub Note:  For more of John Darko’s insightful audio reviews, visit his site – Digital Audio Review

The Audio-Gd Reference 10.2

MSRP:  $1,850 (USD)

Manufacturers Information:


2010 MacMini / 2011 Macbook AirSqueezebox TouchEmpirical Audio Synchro-MeshJKSPDIF MK3Rega RP1PSAudio GCPHAudion EL34 Sterling power amplifierCEntrance DACMiniPXZu Omen bookshelvesProAc Tablette Reference 8AKG K-702


Black Cat Silverstar digital interconnectBlack Cat Morpheus interconnectGrave Science speaker cableQED USB cable

Issue 47


Value Proposition: DefTech SM45 speakers

By Jeff Dorgay

Journeyman Audiophile: Focal Chorus 826W Speaker
By Jerold O’Brien

Old School:  Marantz 2245 Receiver
By Jerold O’Brien

Hangin’ With Herbie Hancock
By Bailey S. Barnard

Tone Style

Major Moxie: Davone Mojo Speakers
By Steve Guttenberg

Beer Snob: Inside the Cantillon Brewery
By Bob Gendron

Mixtape Table

Thiel 3.7 “Burst Speakers”

C3PO USB Stick

Bacon Strip Bandages!


Justin Townes Earle, Chickenfoot and Hellfest

Current Releases:

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

Audiophile Pressings

Billy Joel, The Best Coast, Traffic and the Band

Jazz and Blues

New releases from Henry Threadgill and Ryan Truesdell

By Jim Macnie


McIntosh MEN220 Processor

Octave Jubilee Monoblock Amplifiers

McIntosh C50 Preamplifier

From The Web:

Acurus A2002 Amplifier

Peak Consult Kepheus Speakers


Naim DAC and 555PS Power Supply
By Jeff Dorgay

Conrad Johnson GAT Preamplifier
By Jeff Dorgay

Meitner MA-1 DAC
By Steve Guttenberg

Crystal Cable Micro Diamond Cables
By The TONEAudio Staff

Estelon XC Loudspeakers
By Jeff Dorgay


Pass Labs Aleph 3 Arrives

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

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

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

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

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

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

Onyko Enhances Streaming on New Receiver Lineup

Recognizing the importance of music streaming to today’s tech-savvy consumers, Onkyo has added streaming capabilities to its remote control apps for iPod Touch/iPhone and Android/Kindle platforms, and introduced a USB Bluetooth adaptor that provides similar capabilities through a hardware gateway.

The upgraded Onkyo Remote 2 App for iPod and iPhone allows users to stream music stored on their iPod Touch or iPhone directly to Onkyo’s 2012 model networked receivers through their wireless home network. Streaming through this app is done at CD Quality, 44.1/16bit rates and supports Track name, Album name, Artist name, Album Art and Time Data. The improved Onkyo Remote App for Android now supports streaming music directly from the Kindle Fire. In addition, these new apps were also improved to manage remote zone functions and support music playback in these zones.

Onkyo is also shipping its UBT-1 Bluetooth USB Adapter, which will allow Bluetooth enabled wireless phones, tablets and other devices to stream music to Onkyo’s 2012 network receivers

The Onkyo UBT-1 adapter is configured with CSR’s aptX™ compression reduction codec which restores the natural dynamic range to audio files. It provides a remarkably flat frequency response over a 10-Hz to 22-kHz bandwidth, a dynamic range of 92 dB, and algorithmic delay of less than 1.89ms. It also uses the latest Bluetooth version 3.0 with improved audio bandwidth capability to deliver sound quality approaching that of compact disc.

The Onkyo UBT-1, which is similar in size to a USB flash drive, plugs into the front USB port of a 2012 Onkyo Network receiver (models TX-NR414 and higher). Once the adapter finds a Bluetooth pairing with the wireless device, all the user has to do is hit ‘play’ on their music software. The adapter supports the AAC file format. Control functions include Auto Power-On and Direct Input Change function on hybrid standby status.

These free improved Remote Control Apps will be available at the end of the month from the Apple App Store, Google Play and Amazon App Store for Android as well as via links at Follow Onkyo USA on Facebook at for the latest status updates.

The Onkyo UBT-1 Bluetooth USB Adapter is now available with a suggested retail price of $59.

Elvis Costello – Imperial Bedroom

Mobile Fidelity continues their streak of Elvis Costello classics with Imperial Bedroom.

Hitting the charts in the summer of 1982, Imperial Bedroom marked what would eventually be only one of the many turns Costello’s career would take. The twang of Blue now put to bed, Costello returns to the pop side of the fence, yet former producer Nick Lowe is absent on this record.  Turning to Geoff Emerick as producer and engineer, Imperial Bedroom takes a spin towards the Beatle-esq, with a wider range of orchestration and a few longer tracks peppering his standard faire of short, quirky pop songs.

Whether the allusion to a husband’s affair in “A Long Honeymoon,” affirmation of nervous love pervading “Man Out of Time,” or spousal abuse in “A Boy With a Problem,” don’t let Costello’s smooth tone fool you.  Beneath the smoky melodies an angst-ridden world still lurks.

Sonically, this record is an analog triumph.  The benefit of the using original mastertape is immediately evident. The MoFi album possesses a world of width and depth that is virtually nonexistent on the original US and UK pressings.  Where the cymbals are truncated in tone and dynamics on the Columbia version, they now fade to infinity, sounding much livelier.

Costello’s voice has a warm, throaty, reverb laden body throughout and audiophiles seeking the “pinpoint imaging” effect will enjoy the MoFi treatment of this classic, whether through their speakers or headphones. Now full of uncovered low level detail,   this version of Imperial Bedroom is destined to become a major hit with headphone listeners.

Be warned, there is so much new information on this record, ADHD audiophiles may freak out; the real standout is the liberation of Steve Nieve’s keyboard playing. Buried in the original mix like Michael Anthony’s bass lines on an early Van Halen record, it’s far easier to understand his contribution to the overall sound. His varied keyboard riffs are a great addition to the overall sound.

Often it is argued that todays remastered records rarely reach the level of excellence that the early original pressings do.  In this case, MoFi has exceeded the original in every way – the increase in clarity emphasizes the genius present on both sides of the mixing console.

You can purchase this album from Music Direct here.

The Audiophile Directory Project

Gavin Fish, of Audio Evo fame, has embarked on a project to build a free directory for all things audiophile; a personal project dedicated to creating the most comprehensive directory of the world’s high-end audio companies.

With the help of an army of e-volunteers, Gavin hopes to maintain an up-to-date directory that will become a useful tool for high-end companies and audiophiles like.

Forgot to pack the directory from the last audio show you visited?  Chances are in a few months, it will be here.

Gavin Fish announced on July 13 the launch of the Audiophile Directory Project: a personal project dedicated to creating the most comprehensive directory of the world’s high-end audio companies.

You can peruse it here:

Denon DL-103R

In a world of five-figure phono cartridges, a serious audio aficionado might pass on the Denon DL-103R because it’s too inexpensive. Wrong decision.

They’d be missing out on one of the high-end’s best bargains. A decent moving-coil cartridge for $379? Heck, a decent cartridge for $379? Yes and yes. If you love analog, the DL-103R is a cartridge you should not be without. First introduced for broadcast use in the early 60s, it brought a new level of detail to analog playback.

The DL-103R has always used a spherical stylus and boasts a relatively low output of .25mv. It’s also undergone constant refinement over the years, with the current model featuring 6N copper coils.

Simple Setup

Unlike some others in the Denon line, the DL-103R is a low-compliance cartridge, which makes it easier to implement in most of today’s tonearms. The conical stylus profile aids with the DL-103R’s easy setup; it’s not at all fussy. While the .25mv output didn’t pose a problem for any of the phono cartridges I had on hand, double check that your phonostage has at least 60db of gain—a little more won’t hurt. DecWare’s newest step-up transformer proved a perfect match for the Denon, should you not want to add another box with a power cord. Just be sure to tell DecWare what cartridge you are using so the company can optimize the transformer for the 103. And per Denon’s spec sheet, 100 ohms proved the optimum loading point for a conventional moving-coil preamplifier.

A quick listen with the Rega RP-1 resulted in an amazing budget analog setup that wasn’t crazy money. Stepping up to the P3-24 offered greater resolution across the tonal spectrum, and more bass weight. However, I did most critical listening via the Triplanar VII mated to the new AVID Volvere SP. And no, this cartridge was not the least bit embarrassed by an $11,000 table/arm combination.

A Touch Too Much

With virtually every bit of new vinyl being pressed from digital masters, most LPs are too hot in the upper registers and sound rather CD-like. If you’ve just scored a new turntable, and listening to some of your favorite recordings on LP leaves you a little bit cold, this cartridge is the answer. The DL-103R possesses a tonal balance that’s ever so slightly on the warm/romantic side, giving everything you spin a little extra bump of tonal richness.

Granted, the cartridge didn’t have enough richness to overcome the inherent brightness of the new 12” maxi single of C-Low Green’s “F**k You!,” but it went a long way at making the hit song much more listenable. But it worked wonders on the Twilight Singers’ Dynamite Steps (reviewed by editor Bob Gendron, last issue). The record is the perfect example of an album comprised of brilliant music with a bit too much ProTools in the final mix. Play it back with the SoundSmith Sussurro Paua cartridge—which reveals way too much detail for this particular record—and you will be running for the Tylenol bottle; it’s sure to give you a headache. Yet the warm midrange magic that the DL-103 brings to the sonic picture tames the beast and allows actual engagement.

With so many classic albums from the 60s and 70s being re-pressed—albeit rarely from the original analog tapes—the “new vinyl sound” isn’t always warm and magic like it was in the 60s. Moreover, many such records were knocked out with little care invested in the original production. So, as much as you might think everything wine and roses from analog’s early days, the dirty truth is that a lot of these records need a little help—and the Denon DL-103R is just the cartridge to provide assistance. Recently remastered pressings of VanDerGraaf Generator’s The Aerosol Grey Machine and the Tangerine Zoo’s Outside Looking In are both older albums that, while pressed on vinyl, retain a decidedly digital edge. The DL-103R also made a number of my favorite 70s MoFi records more enjoyable and my Nautilus pressings listenable.

Posh Performance

The biggest surprise came when using the DL-103R with the Rega P9 or AVID Volvere. I wasn’t prepared for how much performance was lurking! A more stable platform allowed the DL-103R to show off its much more solid bass performance and imaging abilities. The AVID/Triplanar combination extracted the maximum from the cartridge, throwing a large soundfield well beyond my speaker boundaries. When using this ‘table in System Two (C-J tube electronics, B&W 805D speakers), I easily fooled some of my audiophile cronies into thinking that a much more expensive cartridge was at work.


“Forgiving” is the word that best describes the DL-103R. It won’t retrieve that last bit of minute detail from meticulously recorded albums; that will cost you $3–$10k. But, what it will do is give average records in your collection a new lease on life. The Denon DL-103R is one of the few components I’ve experienced that truly serves two masters. In more modest turntables (Rega P3, SL1200, etc.), it goes a long way at making up for the shortcomings of low-budget records. Yet it also performs incredibly well in fairly expensive turntables.

While the best pressings in the analog domain seemingly join the endangered species list on a daily basis, there are still plenty of acceptable LPs to be had in the $3-$6 range—a perfect place to build a music collection without breaking the bank. Whether you use the Denon DL-103R as a primary or secondary cartridge, I guarantee you will enjoy it.

Denon DL-103R


Turntables                  AVID Volvere SE/SME 309, AVID Volvere SE/TriPlanar, Rega P9/RB1000

Phonostage               Audio Research PH8

Preamplifier              Conrad-Johnson PV-12 (upgraded to current status)

Power Amplifier       Conrad-Johnson MV-50 (upgraded to current status)

Speakers                     B&W 802 Diamond

Cable                           Cardas Clear

Shelter 9000

Shelter is no stranger to the audiophile world, with their 501 and 90x cartridges winning their fair share of awards along the way.

Having owned both, the 501 is always a top choice for those wanting a big taste of analog magic, with a healthy dose of tonal warmth thrown into the presentation – it’s a cartridge that makes even average records sound better than they should at times.  The 901 was always a red headed stepchild, having more detail albeit at the cost of that wonderful midrange magic that the 501 has.  For those with a larger budget, the 90x was an excellent fusion of both cartridges, offering wonderful tonal contrast with extension.

We were all very curious to sample the 7000 and 9000 to see what the next generation would provide.  If you were a fan of the 90x, chances are good you will enjoy the 9000 even more. At $4,195, the price of the Shelter 9000 has gone up substantially since its introduction at an even $3,000, with the 90x tipping the scale at about $2,800.


Though the 9000 spent a little bit of time on the Rega P3-24 to get some hours on the clock, it was definitely overkill for this table.  It is an excellent match with the Continuum, the TW Acustic Raven Two, and finally landing on the Oracle Delphi V with Rega RB1000 tonearm.

The 9000 weighs about 11 grams, so it will work well with most counterweights, though some arms may require a heavier weight.  The RB1000 was at the limit of its adjustment range with the stock weight, upgrading to the heavier tungsten weight proved better. With a suggested loading of 100 ohms, the 9000 works well with both active and transformer based phonostages.  The .6mv output should work well even with MC phonostages of modest gain and still provide maximum dynamic range.  Suggested tracking force is a range of 1.4 – 2.0 grams and 1.9 proved optimum in the RB1000 arm.

A Lively Dance Partner

The 9000 turns in an excellent performance with the SME 309 arm as well, proving livelier through the midband, with more air in the upper registers when paired with the Rega arm – both on the Raven and also on the Rega P9 (a 2mm spacer is required here).  However, the best balance from top to bottom was with the RB1000 arm mounted to the Oracle Delphi V, the inherent speed of the Oracle a perfect match for this cartridge.

Slightly grainier and smaller in scale than my reference Dynavector XV-1s, the 9000 is an excellent performer for about $1,500 less – so that’s a call only you can make.  The 9000 also renders an extremely quiet background, minimizing surface noise, much the way the Koetsu cartridges do.

The Shelter 9000 offers more resolution than previous models, yet gives up none of the tonal richness in the process – an across the board improvement.  It’s even finished in a cooler color, a nice shade of platinum silver versus the stark black that used to grace Shelter bodies.

A side by side comparison using identical SME 309 arms on the Raven reveals the 9000 to be the champion in high end extension – but a cleaner, faster midbass response as well.  The opening bass riff on “Woman in Chains” from Tears for Fears Sowing the Seeds of Love, has more attack and much less bloat when the 9000 is engaged.  Switching back to the 90x, sounds slow in comparison with the triangle playing in the background is lacking in sparkle and presence.  Throughout the album, the layered backing vocals also take on more of a distinct space, adding to the three dimensional illusion.

Much as I love the 90x, it still has some of the upper bass bloat that makes the 501 so romantic and on many levels, enjoyable – especially with less than outstanding recordings.  Should you enjoy that bump and perhaps mistake it for actual bass response, a quick romp through a few bass heavy tracks will reveal not only more extension but again more texture.  Jaco Pastorius’ “Ocus Pocus,” from his self titled album works well here – trying to follow his lightning fast fretwork on the bass is a torture test for any cartridge and again the 9000 is the clear winner.

The analog front end is a system and while the SME/Raven combination was very good, the RB1000/Oracle proved a bit more lively and to my liking. The former combination is weightier, while the latter somewhat more nimble – favoring highly dense recordings, with only slightly less bass “oomph.”

Tonal balance is excellent and the overall presentation of the Shelter 9000 still more forward than my Koetsu RSP or Dynavector XV-1s.  Of course some of this can be tempered by your overall system balance and choice of phonostage.

A worthy successor

The Shelter 9000 passes muster quite well indeed.  Tonally, it is very neutral, offering a big helping of what the cost no object phono cartridges offer for a more reasonable price – though many might think $4,195 is still crazy money for a phono cartridge.

If you’ve been a Shelter fan for years and ready to trade up, the 9000 will make you feel right at home in a way that trading up to a slightly newer model of Porsche or BMW would.  Everything is similar to the old model, but the refinements make themselves obvious after the first few miles.

For those new to Shelter, I would highly suggest this cartridge to anyone with an overall system balance from laid back to neutral, perhaps even slightly forward, but should your system already be somewhat forward, the 9000 may be too revealing.

Ultimately, this cartridge is an excellent performer and is certainly on par with the level of music it reveals in comparison to comparably priced offerings from other manufacturers.

This review was originally featured in TONEAudio #16.

The Shelter 9000 Phono Cartridge
MSRP:  $4,195

Manufacturers Info


Preamplifier                            Conrad Johnson ACT2/series 2

Phono Preamplifiers               Nagra VPS, Audio Research PH7

Turntables                               TK Acustic Raven Two w/SME IV.Vi arm and Rega

RB1000 arm, Rega P9 w/RB1000 arm, Oracle Delphi V w/RB1000 arm, Continuum Criterion w/Copperhead arm

Power Amplifier                     Conrad Johnson Premier 350

Speakers                                  MartinLogan Summit with Descent i subwoofer

Interconnects                          Cardas Golden Reference, AudioQuest Sub 3

Speaker Cables                        Shunyata Orion

Power Conditioning                Running Springs Dimitri and Jaco

Audio Desk Systeme RCM

If you groove to the beautiful music that black vinyl discs produce, then you understand that there is a price of admission charged by the noise that gunks up the grooves.

The search for the ultimate groove cleaner, as older vinyl enthusiasts may remember, began with the Cecil E. Watts Dust Bug. Suction-mounted to the turntable plinth, it had a plastic arm terminating in a small brush and plush roller that swept the grooves and picked up, well, dust. The demand for more effective record cleaners led to automated or semi-automated machines. You could start with the VPI 16.5 or Nitty Gritty 1.0 (each about $400 to $500), or move to the mega-buck Keith Monks KMAL (about $5000) professional record cleaner.

The vinyl renaissance has since yielded many options between such price extremes. By way of full disclosure, I own more than 10,000 LPs and two record cleaning machines, the VPI 17F and Loricraft PRC 3 (a “poor man’s” KMAL). I first saw the Audio Desk Systeme Vinyl Cleaner at the 2011 T.H.E. Show. Robert Stein of Ultra Systems, the exclusive Audio Desk Systeme distributor in the US, kept dropping one LP after another into the gaping maw of this modern marvel. I was completely enthralled.

There are Record Cleaners, and Then There are Record Cleaners

Audio Desk Systeme, Reiner Glass’ German-based company, specializes in LP and CD cleaning equipment. The ADS Vinyl Cleaner dramatically differs from most other record cleaners that require placing your beloved platters on a turntable, applying some kind of cleaning fluid, and spinning the record. When one side is cleaned (often with a suction system), you have to flip the disc and clean the other side. It’s absolutely essential that the cleaner’s turntable surface remains ultra-clean. Otherwise, the previously cleaned side again becomes soiled.

By contrast, the ADS Vinyl Cleaner stands upright, eliminating the turntable from the equation. You add 4.5 liters of distilled water and a 20ml flagon of proprietary cleaning solution, which enters a reservoir. A proprietary sponge goes into a small side trough and, during the cleaning cycle, traps debris. The record is placed into a main trough between two rubber guides. Pushing the “on” button transfers the cleaning fluid from the reservoir to the trough that, when full, initiates a record spin cycle. Four microfiber rotors gently agitate the cleaning fluid around both record sides. After a minute or so, the fluid drains back into its reservoir, starting a four- to five-minute blow-dry cycle. A dinger indicates a complete cycle and, voila, out comes a super-clean record.

In layman’s terms, the cleaning process uses ultrasonic frequencies that create microbubbles and minute liquid jets that enter the grooves and literally blow out contaminants. For particularly dirty records, pressing the unit’s “on” button for a longer period extends cleaning time. A green light indicates a full fluid reservoir, a yellow light shines during cleaning, and a red light signals the need for a refill. One full tank of fluid handles up to 200 LPs, fewer if your discs are seriously grimy. The sponge needs to be periodically removed and squeezed out; microfiber rollers get replaced after cleaning 500 records. Fluid replacement is easily done via a release port on the unit’s rear of the unit (do this in a sink) and repeating the set-up process.

Cleanliness is Next to Godliness

Buying any record cleaning system requires a significant leap of faith, particularly given when $3895 is at stake. Will this finely engineered German machine resurrect your precious vinyl?  After cleaning more than 500 LPs (all previously cleaned with one of my other record cleaners), I can assure you that before-and-after comparisons are simply no contest. The ADS cleaner brings out more life from my records, with noticeable reduction of surface noise. Most ticks and pops are gone. I continually hear details previously hidden within the grooves. Reduced surface noise also enables higher listening volume that comes without the audible nasties that have always been vinyl’s Achilles heel.

In the true sense of set it and forget it, this is the most user-friendly record cleaning system I have ever used. Is the ADS vinyl cleaner the answer to your analog prayers? If you have a large collection of new and/or used LPs, your investment already far exceeds the cost of ownership. The answer, then? A resounding yes!

Publishers Note: After talking to Lawrence and a few other Audio Desk customers, I also took the plunge and traded up to this machine.  After trying pretty much everything else, nothing gets my records as clean as this machine does – it redefines analog quiet. I realize that this is not a willy -nilly purchase, but if you have a lot of records (especially a lot of used and dirty records) the throughput offered by this machine is as enticing as the end result.  When using the VPI or the Loricraft, I usually got pretty burned out after five or six records, and you really can’t multitask with the other options.  The Audio Desk lets you “push play” and do something else during the cleaning regimen.

After thirty years of buying and cleaning records, I’ve probably cleaned more records in the last 6 weeks than I have in the last six years.  If that doesn’t make a strong case for this machine, nothing does.

-Lawrence Devoe

Audio Desk Systeme Vinyl Cleaner

MSRP: $3895

Manufacturer Information: (factory)  (US importer)

Acurus Returns

The Aragon and Acurus brands were originally owned by Mondial, founded by Paul Rosenberg and Anthony Federici.

Dan D’Agostino, former CEO and Chief Designer of Krell, was involved in the design of the Aragon 4004 amp.  The high performance, but more reasonably priced Acurus A250 debuted in 1993.  In 2001, Klipsch bought the brands intending to offer custom electronics to match their loudspeakers, but a few years later they shifted their strategy away from electronics, sticking with the core speaker lines and mothballing a great brand.

Ted Moore and Rick Santiago, who had been leading electronic design groups at Klipsch, left the company in late 2008 co-founding Indy Audio Labs, LLC.  They bought both brands from Klipsch and began working with a select group of talented engineers to bring the products back to market.  The goal was to keep the great sound of the originals, while updating the look and adding some innovative new features – Aragon models are forthcoming with the “value branded” Acurus amps now available, leading the way.

Built With Pride

The Acurus name stands for “Accuracy from the U.S.”, and Indy Audio Labs is proud that their products are built and assembled in the U.S. The metalwork is done here as well, with much of the chassis work done by a machine shop in Indianapolis that makes precision parts for Indy racecars. The torodial transformers and power supply capacitors are still made by some of Mondial’s original suppliers, and even the circuit board assembly and final construction are done by a local company in southern Indiana.

Overall construction is simple and elegant.  The front panel is black, brushed aluminum featuring a single round power button, with a lighted surround ring.  The rest of the casework is simple but elegant with an intriguing rear panel featuring an off white powder coated finish.  This makes it easier to see connections and labels in lower light conditions typically encountered in home theater racks and listening room AV shelving units, along with being highly durable.

The input connectors are high-conductivity, gold-plated, isolated RCA jacks, and are arranged near their corresponding output connections.  The outputs are discrete, 60-amp gold-plated binding posts with anti-touch protective clear housings.  All posts are color-coded with red and black rings for + and – speaker polarity and, each pair is spaced to accommodate dual banana jacks.  Each pair is also angled to make it easy to feed large speaker cables and relieve strain, even in a tight rack unit.

Highly Compatible

Indy Audio wanted these amps to be an ideal choice for those building a serious surround or home theater too, so all models are THX Ultra 2TM certified.  The full range is fitted with a proprietary new “Network Module” that allows the amplifiers to be Ethernet controlled.  The module features a standard Ethernet jack with a “Network Active” LED, a 3.5mm, 12-volt trigger jack along with an RS-232 port.

The A2002 is a 2-channel amp in a 3 RU enclosure and weighs 29 pounds, with 5 and 7 channel versions available in a 5 RU configuration for multichannel applications. It is biased high enough to operated in Class A at low power, shifting into Class AB at higher levels.  It produces 200 watts per channel into an 8-ohm load, with 300 watts per channel available into 4-ohm loads.

When power is connected, the ring around the power switch lights red, indicating “standby mode.”  When activated by the power switch or any of the other Network Module inputs, the surround turns blue. The faint click of the power relays is the only sound coming from the A2002; it was free of electrical or mechanical noise.  When powering my MartinLogan Summit speakers, which dip to 1 ohm at high frequencies, the heatsinks never rose above lukewarm – even during long bouts of high decibel listening.

Those intent on monitoring operating temperatures more closely can access the amplifier via the Ethernet connection on the rear panel. Typing the amplifiers IP address into your web browser reveals everything you might want to know about the A2002: temperature and protect status of each channels, mute buttons, enabling Ethernet and serial controls and an “about” section on the amplifiers other parameters.  You can even adjust the brightness of the power button!  While this functionality might seem trivial to the two-channel listener, those with large multichannel, remote applications will find this very handy.

A Change for the Better

The first few days were as much burn in time for my ears, as the amplifier.  Having lived with a vintage, Class A power MOSFET amplifier for some time, the A2002 has a different sonic signature that won me over fairly quickly.

Being a recording and live sound engineer, a home stereo system always leaves me longing somewhat for the sound of live drums, often aided by a giant concert sound system.  The increased clarity and punch of the A2002 eliminated the previous upper bass muddiness I was experiencing, allowing the Summits LF trim controls to be boosted slightly.  Now the kick drums in my system had some serious kick.  Snare and toms both had more impact and definition, with cymbal crashes now lifelike and full of character that was not present – possessing more authority on initial attack and decaying much longer into total silence. Very impressive.

I also am a reverb and effects fanatic.  I like well-produced albums with believable sound spaces.  I was hearing drum sets in their respective spaces, well placed and not jumbled with effects of other instruments and vocals.  One example is the HD Tracks version of Bob James Urban Flamingo.  Tracks like “Niles Ahead” feature a simple arrangement, but incredible side stick snare and just the right room sound on the drum kit.  “Bobary Coast” adds more synth and vocals, but the drum sound is still tight and right up front.  Bass always has to compliment the drum sound, and again on “Niles Ahead”, the upright bass that sounded alright before, was now defined, crisp and downright punchy – more like a live performance.

The 96K/24 bit HD version of Spyro Gyra’s In Modern Times album offers a cornucopia of great percussion sounds.  “The River Between” has shakers, snaps, triangles, slide, whistles, little bells, ahs, and gahs.  The fantastically recorded flanged fretless bass and sax duet, nylon string acoustic, electric guitar, piano and synths were almost overwhelming by the increased stage width and depth that the A2002 brought forth.

Another go to reference is the unique sound of Michael Franks voice. “Feathers from an Angel’s Wing” from the Time Together CD opened up in a way I hadn’t heard before.  It was easy to hear fretting on the electric guitar, layers of percussion building throughout the song, a spacious synth pad, and stereo acoustic guitars that were well outside the speakers along with a haunting doubled vocal in the chorus, previously buried in the mix.

I auditioned to many other vocalists, male and female that now sounded much truer to life than before.  The tune that stunned me the most though was the new HD Tracks recording of “Where is the Love” from the Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway S/T album.  I’ve been listening to this album since my teen days on cassette in my car and on every combination of gear since then.

Value Indeed

Indy Audio Labs has indeed held up their end, when they say that Acurus is a “value” brand.  At a mere $2,499, I can’t recommend it highly enough to those with a reasonably priced system, where budget still is an object – yet great sound is a priority.  The build is solid, and an exercise in elegant simplicity.  The sound of the A2002 has really put my modest system into a whole new category, making it a lot of fun to listening to both old and new music in my collection all over again.

Additional Listening

Running the A2002 through its paces with a number of different loudspeakers after the photo session proved this amplifier unflappable.  With enough juice to comfortably drive the Magenpan 1.7s, everything else from the Harbeth Compact 7ES-3s to the B&W 802D and the new Sonus Faber Ellipsa SE was a great match.

The A2002 was equally preamplifier friendly, working equally well with all of the tube and solid-state units at my disposal.  This amplifier is incredibly neutral and dynamic, performing much better than I expected for the price asked – just as the original models did in the 80s. Both the Aragon and Acurus amplifiers were often referred to as “the working mans Krell” by enthusiasts.

This adds up to an Exceptional Value Award for 2012, and I’m looking forward to hearing the Aragon amplifiers as soon as they are available. – Jeff Dorgay

The Acurus A2002

MSRP:  $2,495

Manufacturer Info:


Analog Source             Technics SL1200/SME 309 arm and Sumiko Blackbird Cartridge

Digital Source              Benchmark DAC1 USB, with MacBook Pro

Preamplifier                Manley Jumbo Shrimp

Phonostage                  EAR 834

Speakers                      Martin-Logan Summit and PMC db1i

Cable                           Tetra, Shunyata, AudioQuest

Power                          Running Springs Haley

REL Acoustics LTD Announces New Website

REL Acoustics Ltd, Great Britain’s premier manufacturer of subwoofers and sub-bass systems
announces today the launch of a new international website. The new website,
is dedicated to presenting the company’s product design, philosophy and approach to subwoofer technology. The website is organized in an easy and accessible manner that allows the viewer to explore the world of REL, learning along the way what indeed makes a REL a REL.

“We wanted to take a simple approach to teaching people about the brand so we focused
on a portfolio-like presentation of products which highlights the beautiful design and our
attention to detail” said John Hunter, REL President. “Every effort went into demystifying
the process of selecting the appropriate sub-bass system. Customers need this kind of
information available to them in order to make an informed decision on a subwoofer for
either a home cinema or two-channel audio system. Not only is there a wealth of
information on selection, set-up, integration and connectivity but we made a great effort
to depict the product visually in lifestyle settings as well as in detailed product shots”
continued Hunter.

REL Sub-Bass Systems are available worldwide through a select group of dealers and
distributors. Please visit

The Quad Adventure Begins!

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

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

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

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

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

Harbeth Compact 7ES-3

Sometime back in the early 80’s Roger Van Oech wrote a book titled A Whack on the Side of the Head focusing on creative solutions to problems that one might not have considered without being taken outside of their comfort zone.  The new Harbeth Compact 7ES-3 is the perfect example of this.

The first whack on the side of the head came when visiting Acoustic Sounds years ago covering the Blues Masters concerts.  Listening to the Avalon Sentinels in their main sound room was my top priority, but what I heard in the second room was just as amazing considering the price.  No, you can’t have the sound of a pair of Avalon Sentinels for 3,500 bucks, but you can achieve substantial musical enjoyment with these small boxes at a price that is accessible to most music lovers. Today, the 7ES-3 sells for $3,690 – $3,990, depending on finish.

Spending the evening listening to the Compact 7s in a friends house in an outstanding system, consisting of the SME 20 turntable (with Koetsu Urushi Blue cartridge) and Croft’s best amplifier and preamp, proved highly impressive.  After calling it a night around 2a.m., it was settled that the Compact 7s would head our way for a review.

All new from top to bottom

First, forget any kind of built in prejudice you might have about “The British Sound”, just producing good midrange and forgetting the extremes.  None of that applies to the new Compact seven.  That’s not to say they aren’t musical, but they are open and dynamic in a way that isn’t the norm from the likes of Spendor, ProAc or any of my other favorite British speakers, even the Compact seven version 2 for that matter. None of the legendary BBC accuracy has been sacrificed, however these speakers now have more resolution as well as more extension at both ends of the frequency spectrum.

Though version three looks the same as version two, it is a completely new speaker from the drivers to the crossover components.  The woofer features Harbeth’s new Radial 2 technology, used on the more expensive Monitor 30 and 40 along with a new tweeter.  We could write pages about all the techie stuff, but suffice to say it works tremendously well.  A quick trip to the Harbeth site ( will answer all of your in-depth technical questions.

The Compact 7ES-3 impedance is rated as 6 – ohms and it is equally at home with tube or solid state electronics.  Though the spec sheets suggest slightly low sensitivity at 86db/1 watt, we had no problem driving these with amplifiers possessing 30 watts per channel and up.

Incredibly un-fussy

Alan Shaw, Harbeth’s director and designer of the Compact 7 advised putting the speakers on 19 – inch stands in place of the 24 – inch stands at my disposal.  This proved spot on. Unless you have a very tall listening position, getting the tweeters up on 24 – inch stands makes for an uninvolving listening experience.  Both Mr. Shaw and I suggest the Sound Anchor stands, built specifically for this speaker.  A pair will set you back about $625 plus shipping, but it is money well spent.  While others swear by the Skylan wood stands, I am not a fan – they tend to muddy the lower mid/upper bass region too much for my taste.  The Sound Anchor stands give these speakers the authority they deserve.

For the novice audiophiles in the audience, these are incredibly easy speakers to set up.  While a little bit of futzing will help the ultimate imaging performance of the Compact 7’s, just getting the speaker height correct will get you 80% of the way there.  A bit of time with the tape measure and a little bit of room treatment will give you the last bit of performance they are capable of, but in short, the Compact 7s are not tough to achieve great sound with.

Listening began with Shunyata’s Orion speaker cables from my reference system, but enjoy the ED 415 speaker cables as well.  These cost $450 a pair and are a fantastic match for the Compact 7s.  Experimenting with other from Cardas, Furutech and ALO Audio all gave excellent results, confirming that these speakers are not terribly cable dependent.


The Harbeth Compact 7ES-3 is one of the most enjoyable speakers I’ve heard in the last few years, regardless of price.  They offer tremendous balance, with strong bass down to about 45hz, (according to Harbeth, they have a measured frequency response of 45- 20khz with the grilles on) and what’s there is solid, accurate and full of detail.  The midrange is also very correct; when you listen to a piano, it sounds like a piano.  I can listen to someone play a Steinway on the Harbeths, go in the house and plunk around on our Steinway and hear a very accurate resemblance.

In a small to medium sized room move enough air to give a good feel of dynamics – a very important aspect of musical reproduction that is often overlooked.  Push them too hard and they will flatten out instantly. The threshold from playing fairly loud to compressing is very immediate; you will know when you’ve hit the wall.  Fortunately, that wall is at a high enough sound pressure level that all but the most crazed rock and rollers will be more than happy.

The Compact 7’s also do a fantastic job at having an airy presentation with just the right amount of decay that again, gives that feeling of acoustic instruments sounding correct.  A familiar acoustic guitar record instantly confirms this.  The image presented by the Harbeths doesn’t extend all the way to the side walls as it does with a panel speaker, but with good recordings it extends well beyond the speaker boundaries.

Chameleon – like

Where version 2 of the Compact 7 had a definite wooly character, the current speaker does not.  These speakers are revealing enough to take on the characteristics of the electronics behind them.  Those favoring the “classic British” sound will be better served by a more traditional sounding valve amplifier.  The McIntosh MC275 served this purpose perfectly, adding a bit of warmth and tonal saturation to the presentation.

The Naim Supernait, in for review, was the ying to the Mac’s yang, producing plenty of PRAT and dynamics, as did the Conrad Johnson Premier 350.  The Luxman L590A -II integrated, with 30 watts per channel of Class – A power was the staff favorite, offering the best of both worlds for all audiences.

Combining the Luxman with the Rega P9/Lyra Skala combination is analog bliss.  The wind chimes in Santana’s Abraxas (MoFi version) on the opening track floats around the speakers as if a small pair of surround speakers are hidden somewhere, and the layers of percussion in this classic recording are a delight to partake.

Vocals emerge up and out of the soundfield created with ease, the Compact 7s dissapearing in the room, making it easy to concentrate on the music.  Old favorites from Ricki Lee Jones, Tom Waits and Johnny Cash all proved compelling.  At the price asked, the Harbeth Compact 7ES-3 is a speaker without fault – they are faithful to the music.

Those wanting to rock out with the Compact 7s will not be disappointed, provided you have a high current solid state amplifier at your disposal.  Switching the program material from James Taylor to Deep Purple was easy when using the Premier 350, allowing for sufficient dynamics and bass control.

Long term listening

While the review above was originally featured in issue 16, my enthusiasm for the Compact 7 remains strong as ever after using these speakers as a reference for a few years now.  I’ve also had the chance to use them with a much wider range of amplification, and pretty much the only amplifiers that won’t drive them are of the 300B and 2A3 vintage – they really need at least 30wpc and you won’t regret having more if it’s convenient.

Best of all, these speakers still remain highly true to the music.  Others dazzle and sizzle, either with fancier cabinetry, or voicing trickery, but an oboe sounds like an oboe when played on the Compact 7s and that’s something even a few five – figure speakers can’t get right.  These speakers have been tuned to perfection in the BBC tradition to achieve a natural midband, and the result is a highly resolving, yet low distortion speaker that you can listen to for hours on end without fatigue.

Four years later, the price has not increased – a testament to Alan Shaw running a tight ship.  The Harbeth Compact 7ES-3 remains one of the best buys in high-end audio.

The Harbeth Compact 7ES-3

MSRP:  $3,960 in eucalyptus, $3,690 in cherry

Manufacturers Information (factory) (US Importer)


Preamplifier:                           Conrad Johnson ACT2/series 2

Phono Preamplifiers               Nagra VPS, ASR Basis Exclusive

Analog Sources                       Continuum Criterion w/Copperhead arm and Dynavector XV-1s, Rega P9 w/RB1000 arm and Dynavector XV-1s

Digital Sources                        Naim CD555

Power Amplifier                     Conrad Johnson Premier 350, McIntosh  MC275

Interconnects                          Cardas Golden Reference, Shunyata Antares

Speaker Cables                        Shunyata Orion

Power                                      Running Springs Dimitri and Jaco

The Faces – First Step

Released in the spring of 1970, the Faces, made their debut record – with members of the original Small Faces and the Jeff Beck Group. Mistakenly titled Small Faces in the US and Canada, what would become a highly influential and critically acclaimed band.

Unfortunately, they would never become a huge box office draw at the concert hall or the record store, with this album never going higher than #119 on the Billboard charts.

The ever stealthy 4 Men With Beards imprint does an admirable job on this forgotten classic, with nary a production credit in sight.  Whoever took the helm on this one, they did good work on the record as well as the reproduction of the gatefold cover.

Musically this one’s as raw as they come, and it’s well preserved.  Leading off with Dylan’s “Wicked Messenger” the record starts with a fat organ riff reminiscent of the Band’s Music From Big Pink, but the minute the guitar and Rod Stewart’s voice kick in, you know this is something completely different.

The rest of the tracks are all Faces originals and perhaps the strongest track on the album is “Flying,” though the band would not really reach it’s stride until their third – A Nod is as Good as a Wink… t0 a Blind Horse. However this album does build a foundation for what became The Faces’ signature sound – heavy on keyboards and relatively devoid of lead guitar excess.  In retrospect, it’s easy to see why the Rolling Stones may have considered Wood to be their rhythm guitarist.

4MWB has done an admirable job on the remaster.  My original is way too knackered to do an honest comparison, but the surfaces are quiet and this record sounds reasonably dynamic overall. To their credit, the label keeps their prices very reasonable, with this record only costing $18.95.

You can purchase this from Music Direct here…

Adding the HRS Platform to the AMG V-12 Turntable

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

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

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

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

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

New Bits for the Paganini

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

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

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

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

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

Audio Pro LV2 Wireless Speakers

Whether you are often on the go, or a more stationary human that just would like great sound in a compact space, freed from the wires that bind you to a rack full of hifi gear, the thought of wireless speakers has no doubt crossed your mind.

Unfortunately, most of the current offerings either offer disappointing sound at best and aesthetics that leave much to be desired. There’s nothing like a bit of Scandinavian design and black leather to spice things up, and the Audio Pro LV2 wireless speakers sound fantastic as well.

Utilizing a two way, front ported design, featuring a 4.5 – inch woofer and a 1-inch soft dome tweeter, each powered by a 25 watt class D amplifier, and optimized via DSP crossovers, the LV2 plays with authority and offers much more dynamic punch than I was expecting from such small speakers.  Audio Pro claims that their wireless transmitter that operates in the 2.4GHz band will carry for about 165 feet (50 meters) could not be verified, but they did work from anywhere in my house to the garage or studio, which were about 50 feet away.

Great Sound Everywhere You Are

Available in white or black leather, these small speakers that only measure about 8″H x 6″W x 7″D will fit anywhere – there’s no excuse for not having great sound anymore.  The LV2s have been my traveling companions – using them almost non stop for the last six months, tucked in a small Pelican case, they’ve provided music on the go and transform the hotel experience into something much more hospitable, much more livable.  Their leather finish is particularly attractive – and solicited enthusiastic responses from my male and female non-audiophile friends.

Fully compatible with Apple’s Air Play, the setup is quick and easy.  Plug the TX100 dongle/transmitter into a free USB socket on your laptop or computer, head to the control panel and tell your computer to output audio to the AudioPro system. Mac users, choose “USB Headset” and push the play button in whatever music player utility you use.

$1,000 buys you a pair of LV2s and the TX100 transmitter, along with the necessary wall wart power supplies to power them up and a handy remote control that lets you control three separate volume zones in your house. (And a master level control) Both the TX100 and the speakers offer three wireless channels so that you can have more than one system playing in your environment.

While you still require an AC outlet to power the LV2s, being freed from running speaker cables opens a lot of possibilities.  A little too gorgeous to go in the garage, they are fantastic everywhere else.  They provide a perfect way to bring sound out on deck for a grilling session, and now that a few friends know about the pelican case, the LV2s have been invited to more than one dinner party.

Natural mids, Excellent Imaging

Easing into critical listening, the recent AF remaster of Crosby, Stills and Nash’s self titled album reveals a lifelike midrange, keeping these three vocalists autonomy intact within the mix.  Other equally dense recordings proved effortless for the LV2s – underlining what a great job the Audio Pro engineers have done with the crucial midrange region.   KD Lang’s Ingénue album was equally compelling.  Her trademark vocals had plenty of tone, sustain and breathiness to impress.

Thanks to the open and non – fatiguing sound the LV2’s offer, you may find yourself abandoning some of your playlists and just listening to the whole album – I did. While not terribly tangible, this seems to be an easy way to judge listener fatigue.

As mentioned, the LV2s are easy to work with in terms of speaker placement.  The more passionate audiophile can, of course, tweak the setup to achieve maximum results, but these speakers sound great with a minimum of fuss, just placing them on a desktop, bookshelf or countertop.  Should you be so inclined to get that extra bit more from them, experimenting with small footers to raise the speakers about an inch off of the surface they are placed on will eliminate some of the bass gain (which I actually found to my liking in the desktop environment) but will yield even cleaner midrange response.  Just avoid anything sharp and pointy, so you don’t harm the leather case. How much of a crazed audiophile are you? Fortunately, wireless operation means no fussing with speaker cables.

Playing a wide range of program material with various levels of quality proves the LV2s have ample dynamic range to really rock out and enough resolution to easily discern between mp3 and CD quality files if you have a mixture at your disposal.  Because of the systems 48khz sampling rate, 24/96 or higher sources will be a moot point.

Bass and Then Some

Most good desktop speakers feature great imaging, with the listening spot seriously nearfield, so bass is what makes or breaks an awesome desktop experience for this listener.  Sampling beats from Dark Side of the Moon, The K&D Sessions, and Can’s Tago Mago, the LV2s have well defined bass extension without overhang or upper bass bloat.  Should you need to rock the bass a bit more than the LV2s provide, the LVSUB will fill the bill, with its 8-inch woofer powered by a 200 watt class D amplifier, featuring the necessary level trim and crossover adjustments on the rear panel – all wrapped in matching leather.

The LV2s tick all the right boxes to make for a great desktop and portable audio system, yet those requiring even more power will be pleased with the new LV2e model that will be released as you read this.  They have made some minor driver changes, but the most exciting difference is the addition of a satellite mode that rolls off the bass response when used with the LVSUB – allowing 10db more output than just running the LV2s full range.

If that doesn’t turn you into the Maxell guy at your desk, nothing will!

The “e” model now has wall-mounting capability, along with red as an optional color.  Pricing stays the same at $1,000 per pair, and for those wanting something even more unique, there is a brown saddle leather option at $1,300 for the most posh environment.

Those requiring great sound with stylish good looks and freedom from speaker cables, look no further than the AudioPro LV2.  I’ve enjoyed them enough to purchase the review pair.  – Jeff Dorgay

The AudioPro LV2/LV2e

MSRP:  $1,000

Mfr. Info

Peak Consult’s Kepheus

All arguments about speaker parameters and measurements aside, a great speaker either grabs me with an emotional response and an instant urge to purchase them, or at least investigate further.  Just like any other object of extreme desire, an outstanding speaker will have you daydreaming about it even when you are not in its presence.

I’ve only had this experience a handful of times in my life.  Mind you, the job of reviewing speakers is somewhat different – bias must be kicked to the curb, or the review just becomes gushy and overloaded with adjectives.  Interestingly about half of the speakers that have really burrowed into my subconscious mind over the last few decades have been from Denmark.  Perhaps I was a Viking in another life?

The Peak Consult Kepheus is not inexpensive – at $110,000 per pair these are squarely aimed at the more well-heeled customer.  And you can more than double the price by adding their dedicated bass modules that add four more 8-inch woofers per side, cabinets slightly larger than the main speakers.  Signing up for the four-box Kepheus experience may require some room remodeling.  Most will find the standard issue Kepheus without the extra bass modules just fine.  I certainly did and a quick frequency sweep validated that they are flat to about 30hz, with solid bass output down to about 25hz.

Yet Peak Consult speakers always evoke a highly emotional response, making me weak in the knees because they paint such a natural musical picture.  Make no mistake – a six figure pair of speakers better rock your world and never ask you to make excuses for any aspect of their design.  The Kepheus is a destination speaker that does not disappoint – even without the additional bass modules in my 16 x 25 foot listening room.

Music First, Tech Later

Jumping right in with the self titled Sbtrkt, the dual 6.5-inch woofers prove their ability to move serious air, working in conjunction with the intense cabinet tuning, pumping out plenty of well controlled bass with the opening track, “Heatwave.”  Bass is not enough though, the stereo image presented by this somewhat compressed CD is massive, extending all the way to the listening room walls, almost eight feet from the speaker boundaries.

A series of other favorite tracks from The Supreme Beings of Leisure, DJ Crush and Mickey Hart convinced me that these speakers muster more than enough LF drive to accommodate any kind of music.  I kept thinking that I would be able to bottom the Audio Technology woofers, designed specifically for the Kepheus, but even the most raucious rap tracks at high volume yield no sense of strain.

Great results were achieved on both the long and short walls of my listening room, yet I enjoyed the wider soundstage rendered on the long wall versus the deeper soundstage on the short wall.  Being able to get back from the speakers a few more feet on the short wall did provide more bass augmentation from the room, so the Kepheus is easily adaptable and not difficult to setup.  I suggest a set of Delrin pucks and spending a long weekend deciding which presentation you prefer best.  Because of their almost 400 pound (each) weight, I also suggest not worrying about the supplied spikes until you are sure about final placement.

The Kepheus is a stellar performer that always keeps the most densely packed recordings sorted out.  My Japanese LP pressing of Judas Priest’s Screaming For Vengance has more compression than I’d like, yet the combination of the Kepheus and Carver 180 vacuum tube monoblocks made it easy to hear each of the individual drums in the kit, while keeping Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downings dualing lead guitars in their proper place on the stage.

If Priest is not at the top of your playlist, Jackie McLean offers the same dogfight between his alto sax and Blue Mitchell’s trumpet – one taking up residence just behind the right speaker and the other behind and beyond the outer boundary of the left, with the piano softly in the middle on his Bluesnik album. (The particularly tasty Music Matters 45 rpm remaster even more so)  The Kepheus keeps the musical soundscape intact – never faltering, or blurring the stereo image.

The wonderful tonality of these speakers will most likely be the first thing to grab your attention, no matter what music you enjoy. The closer you listen, the clarity that they present along with a correct sense of scale keeps you glued to the listening chair. I love electrostatic speakers for their coherence (which the Kepheus is certainly the equal of), even though they often paint an overblown sense of musical scale.  This can be a lot of fun, with popular and electronic music, merely adding to the effects created in the studio, but when listening to a solitary acoustic guitar that sounds eight feet tall, not as much.  A perfect example is that of Alex DeGrassi’s Southern Exposure LP on Windham Hill, Ry Cooder and Ali Farka Toure’s Talking Timbuktu. The acoustic guitars in both of these records are well recorded with minimal miking and only a tiny bit of effects – but both render the guitar in a realistic note, sounding as if there’s someone in the room about 10 feet from your listening chair playing.

A Wide Range of Options

Along with the high degree of coherence the Kepheus provide, they maintain a high level of resolution from low volume to ear shattering levels without compression.  At low volume, they disappear like a pair of great mini monitors – tough to do for a large floorstander.  Their 90db sensitivity and crossover presented an easy load to drive for the low power tube amplifiers at my disposal.  The 20 watt per channel 845 SET monoblocks had no problem achieving fairly realistic volume levels with all but the heaviest rock music.  50 watts per channel of quality tube amplification will work fine with the Kepheus.

However, those that enjoy higher volume listening sessions will enjoy the Kepheus in equal measure – the massive stereo image presented does not collapse when driven by a large amplifier.  All of the reference amplifiers at my disposal ran out of steam before the Kepheus did. Perhaps it’s time for those Audio Research REF 750s I’ve been pondering.

Neither forward or laid back sounding, they will take on the characteristics of whatever electronics put in front of them, and thanks to their high resolution, will be as revealing as well.  These speakers are so versatile, they will be easily fine tuned by your choice of electronics.

Visual And Technological Works of Art

A quick “knuckle rap” test anywhere on the Kepheus cabinet produces a faint sound with zero hint of vibration or resonance, confirmed by a few quick frequency sweeps.  The only thing rattled there was my eardrums.  These cabinets define inert, with the woofers, each midrange driver and the tweeter all having its own individual cabinet made from 1.5 – inch to 3 inch thick HDF board covered by another inch of solid acrylic, with additional resonance supressors milled into the cabinetry. If that weren’t enough, there are no parallel surfaces to be found anywhere with these enclosures.

The hundreds of hours that go into these complex shapes not only eliminates resonance, it also minimizes diffraction effects and maximizes off axis response at the same time, resulting in a speaker everyone can enjoy.  Of course, the optimal spot is still firmly centered between the speakers, but sitting on the floor well of axis still provides a highly satisfying result.

Lastly, the front surfaces of the enclosures are covered with black leather.  While chosen to further minimize diffraction, this touch adds a human quality to the speakers that helps them to blend with any decor.

All of the drivers in the Kepheus are hand built specifically to PK specification – no “off the shelf” components are used.    The crossover boards are massive, utilizing custom components and isolated in their own enclosures inside the speaker cabinet, further eliminating any vibration and interaction from the drivers.

The Kepheus is Indeed Something Special

Though neutral is an overused word with hifi components, I prefer natural – the Kephus has a natural presentation, again with much of the credit going to the extensive amount of time spent on matching drivers and crossover components as well as Peak Consult concentrating on the phase and time domain parameters.  Though it is a deceptively simple mission, the Kepheus sounds like music, not like an electronic reassembly of musical information. Minimalist recordings of acoustic instruments are accurately reproduced with timbre, tone and decay.

The ultra low distortion presented by these speakers makes them easy to listen to for days on end without fatigue or boredom.  I’ve heard a few speakers that are more engaging on the first few demo tracks, but after about 15 minutes, I’d rather be doing anything but listening to music.

The Kepheus succeeds brilliantly because you can not only listen to music continuously with them, whatever program material you choose will be reproduced faithfully and effortlessly.  There’s nothing that they can’t handle, so the speaker isn’t limited to a handful of audiophile approved test tracks.  The Kephus offers a full spectrum of musical enjoyment – no matter what your musical taste consists of.

If you are looking at a destination speaker, you owe it to yourself to audition the Kepheus.  Bring your checkbook and a few strong friends to help you get them home!

The Peak Consult Kepheus

MSRP:  $110,000 (US)

Manufacturer:  (factory)  (North American Importer)


Analog Source             AVID Acutus Reference SP/TriPlanar/Lyra Atlas

Phono Preamp                        Vitus Audio MPP-201

Digital Source              dCS Paganini, 4-box stack, Sooloos Control 15, Aurender S10

Preamplifier                ARC REF 5 SE, Burmester 011

Power Amplifier         ARC REF150, Burmester 911 mk. 3, Pass XA200.5

PROJECT 1: Thorens TD-124

Our newest project just arrived on Friday, a very clean, one owner Thorens TD-124 Mk.1 turntable that we will begin to overhaul, evaluate and eventually restore to better than new quality for use in our second sound room, a project all by itself.  We’ve enlisted the help of Gideon Schwartz, owner of AudioArts in New York City – an analog guru as well as the importer for the Schopper and Swissonor lines of Thorens updates.

Stay tuned and please feel free to share your comments and TD-124 experiences with us here.