How does he do it?

After listening to the D’Agostino Momentum stereo amplifier for a couple of weeks, with a variety of systems, I am convinced that this thing really does have some pixie dust of something from Area 51 under the hood.

It sounds like a class A amp, but it isn’t – it only uses 3 watts of power in standby mode!

Even connected to my Sonus faber Guarneri Evolution speakers, with a sensitivity of 86db, it’s tough to get those power meters (that look like a vintage watch dial) to budge much.  Even cranking Slayer doesn’t seem to make them move much.  Maybe that green light from inside is from Kryptonite.

I’m glad I’m not Superman.

But this amplifier is something special.  Watch for our review, on the horizon.

The Simaudio MOON 850P

In issue #53, we reviewed the Simaudio Moon 880M monoblocks, that produce a staggering 800 watts per channel, with the delicacy and control of a small amplifier.

To make a long story short, the pair makes one of the best high power amplifiers we’ve ever heard at any price. To make a long story long, download #53 and read our review….

The matching flagship, MOON 850P preamplifier is equally stunning.  It’s two chassis design maximizes power supply design and minimizes noise, be it electrical or vibrational. It goes without question that the 850P and the 880Ms make quite a statement.

Stay tuned for issue #55, where we will have a full report.  But they are good. Oh, so very good.

In Progress: Review of the Pass Xs300 Monos…

After about three years, I’ve worked my way to the top of the Pass Labs food chain.

While the Xs 300 monoblocks are not for the faint of heart, or bicep for that matter, weighing in at about 300 pounds per side and costing about $40k per side, from the minute we unboxed them, it was apparent that these amplifiers were indeed one step beyond.  Having spent a year with the incredible XA200.5 that I just recently reviewed in issue #53, it seemed hard to believe that Pass could create two boxes that could reveal even more music.

It took four boxes.

Expanding the concept of Pass’ patented Supersymmetry amplifiers and the single ended, Class A design of the original Aleph, they have created a true masterpiece with the Xs300s.  As each channel draws 1000 watts of current per channel, all the time, I left them off on Earth Day, but they are back at full song today.  I walk to work, so my carbon footprint is still intact.

And what a better way to use electricity that these?

As we were taking the photos for the upcoming review, we hooked the first stack to the GamuT S9 speakers, and staff member Jerold O’Brien said, “Dude, your system sounds better in mono with one of these than it did with the pair of XA200.5s”  And the XA200.5s are no slouch.

Stay tuned for further adventures and our full review of the Xs300s.

Nelson Pass has created yet another masterpiece.

You can read more about the Xs300 here at the Pass Website.

Wyred4Sound mINT

Central California’s Wyred4Sound has taken the high end by storm with their extensive line of Class D based amplifiers, DAC’s, and music servers.

The Wyred4Sound mINT, short for Mini Integrated Amplifier ($1,499), is indeed a half sized component that interestingly, looks at once both retro and modern. The mINT boasts 100 wpc, and is a custom Class D design based on the ICE power modules. Wyred4Sound goes out of their way to stress the refinements found in the mINT that are usually regulated to much more expensive components. One aspect of the design they are especially proud of is the volume control. According to W4S, it is “a true-resistive ladder which results in linear control, excellent channel matching, and impressive sonic quality.”

But wait, there is more. A lot more.  Along with two analog inputs, the mINT is also a three input DAC, with TosLink and Coaxial inputs that handle 24 bit, 192 Khz data. There is also an asynchronous USB input that handles up to 96 Khz. Rounding off the list of features is a fixed output for a recording device, a variable output, an HT bypass, and a very nice, full function attractive remote control. And, the mINT is fully designed and built in California.

Down to business

The mINT was paired with Harbeth Compact 7 ES3 and the Opera Mezza speakers, proving a wonderful match for both, with more than enough power to drive both speakers to their limits. To put it another way, my listening rooms suffered from overload well before the mINT could even break a sweat.

The mINT is equally capable when fed analog sources, like a CD player or a file streamer, offering a spacious, precise, and untarnished presentation that I find wonderfully balanced. If anything, the tonal presentation of this amplifier is slightly tilted to the warm side, unlike the Class D amplifiers of a few years ago, that offered great bass performance at the expense of a smooth top end.  That bleached feeling is no longer a line item with Class D, and certainly not the mINT.  It proves very nimble on top, balancing dynamic contrast with brass instruments, staying delicate and finessed on strings and vocals.

The three digital inputs work equally well, and performance is on par with many outboard DAC’s that are similarly priced.  Eliminating some of the extra buffers and gain stages required with separate components pays big dividends here, giving the mINT high performance at a very reasonable cost.  You could easily spend $1,499 on power cords and interconnects between a separate power amplifier, preamplifier and DAC, making this little marvel a major bargain. In addition, the mINT offers a headphone jack on the front panel, upping the fun and the value factor even further.

The relaxed tonality the mINT provides, makes it highly enjoyable across a wide range of musical genres.  The opening track of Imelda May’s Love Tattoo album, “Johnny Got a Boom Boom,” combines a fast, dynamic slap bass line, snare drum and cymbal crashes, combined with May’s sultry, often screaming vocals.  Legendary salsa singer Hector Lavoe’s La Vos provides more of the same.  Percolating with layers of bass, percussion, brass and heavily syncopated rhythms, the mINT never loses its cool, throwing a large soundstage.  The mINT does an excellent job keeping these densely packed, explosive recordings well sorted and three dimensional – a perfect torture test for any amplifier.

Digital functionality

Windows users will need to install the proper USB drivers form the Wyred4Sound Website, and Mac users can just plug and play, selecting the the mINT in their sound control panel. All in all, an easy task, no matter what platform you choose.

The internal DAC proves equally balanced and on par with the amplifier section of the mINT.  Tunes from my Windows 7 laptop using Jriver’s Media Center 18 and FLAC files were spacious and engaging. Emmylou Harris’ Hard Bargain for a wide range of bluesy folk tunes and instrumental dexterity again reveals the mINTs ability to unravel delicate tracks without getting overly grainy or “digital” sounding.

The only area that left me wanting was the USB input being limited to 24/96.  The S/PDIF and optical inputs claim full 24/192 resolution, so those purchasing tracks in this format will have to search for a good USB converter to take full advantage of the mINTs digital performance.

However, this type of digital input flexibility offers a world of convenience to those who have ripped their CD collections to a hard drive or purchase high resolution downloads.

The mINT is a clever package, and if this is an indication of the rest of their line, I look forward to hearing more from this company.  It offers enough resolution to show what a higher quality power cord can do as well as better interconnect and speaker cables – a great sign.  But more refinement will cost quite a bit more money, perhaps twice as much, making the mINT an excellent bargain.
Additional listening

The Wyred4Sound mINT is the perfect solution for music lovers wanting great sound that have a reasonable budget and want to maximize space, i.e. not have a giant rack full of audio gear. Its ability to work with analog and digital sources means you can keep your turntable in the mix, or add one if you’re curious.  Thanks to its tiny form factor, the mINT, a turntable and a compact phonostage can fit on a shelf or tabletop nicely. The Rega RP3, Exact cartridge and Naim StageLine phonostage make a perfect match for the mINT, combining to make a system any analog lover will enjoy.

Its 100-watt per channel power rating opens the door to a much wider range of speaker choices that many of the small, desktop integrateds from Naim, Rega and others don’t drive as easily with 25-50 watts per channel.  The mINT was even able to drive the Magnepan MMG to adequate volume, and thanks to the variable output can take advantage of a small powered subwoofer – again increasing versatility.

Having tried it with a number of great speakers at my disposal, my favorite, hands down was the pairing with the Sonus faber Venere 3.0 speakers reviewed in issue #54 of TONEAudio.  Their 90db sensitivity makes for house party volume when you need it and great dynamics the rest of the time.

Equally intriguing is the built in headphone amplifier.  Starting with the ultimate torture test, the HiFi Man HE-6, the mINT falls down a bit, but to its credit, so does just about everything else, no black marks here.  Moving to a suite of much easier phones to drive (Grado, Sennheiser and Denon) proves enlightening.  Decent control and tonal balance overall makes the mINT a great way to get into the headphone game. Rocking some headphone favorites, it throws a wide and deep soundstage with Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, and Low’s The Invisible Way.

The Wyred4Sound mINT is easier to set up and listen to than it is to spell correctly.  For many, this will be a destination product, offering flexibility and performance unheard of five years ago.  We are happy to give the mINT one of our Exceptional Value Awards for 2013.  – Jeff Dorgay

The Wyred 4Sound mINT amplifier

MSRP: $1,495

Associated Equipment:

Opera Mezza Loudspeakers

Harbeth Compact 7 ES3

Musical Fidelity CDT transport

Marantz NA7004 streamer/DAC

Darwin Cables silver interconnects

QED Genesis Silver Spiral speaker cables

QED digital cables

Rega RP8 Turntable

Five years ago, when visiting the Rega factory in the UK, I joined a group of Rega dealers to witness something very special at Rega founder Roy Gandy’s house.

A new skeletal plinth design that was supposed to be a step above the flagship P9, featuring a one off, ceramic platter and what appeared to be an RB1000 tonearm.  Needless to say the sound was fantastic and the following day, back at the factory, we saw more.  Gandy and staff were coy, referring to it as a “prototype,” and a “work in progress,” tempering our enthusiasm, telling us that “it could be out in a few months, a few years, or not at all.”  So, I returned to the States empty-handed, but I did learn how to play cricket.

But time flies when your having fun, and we now have the RP8, looking surprisingly like that prototype I saw years ago, but for a few minor changes.  And, on one level the RP8 is a pretty big jump forward for Rega.  They have always championed a low mass plinth design as the path to analog greatness and the website hints that “this is the first of the skeletal plinth designs.”

Featuring a new RB808 tonearm, which looks like a further refinement of the direction taken with the RB303 on the RP6 turntable, introduced last year, and also features new, lower capacitance tonearm cables, that look very audiophile-like in nature. The RP8 has an MSRP of $2,995, however US customers can purchase one with Rega’s $1,800 Apheta MC cartridge attached and set up for $3,995.  A major bargain, if you have the right phono stage.

The hub/subplatter features a machined aluminum cap, extending all the way down so the belts can contact the full surface. Rega claims that this, combined with the new tonearm provides for increased resolution, and the first record auditioned, Herbie Hancock’s Empyrean Isles brings a new perspective on this Blue Note classic, and illustrates a turntable, tonearm and cartridge all working together as a system.

One of the toughest things facing an analog enthusiast is getting this combination correct, so that the optimum trackability, resolution and stereo separation can be achieved.  Freddie Hubbard’s Coronet bleats out of the left channel, completely occupying the left half of the listening room, with the proper height and spatial relationships – is both beguiling and convincing. The drum kit is miked equally hard right, with Hancock on piano, gently floating in the middle, with Ron Carter’s bass keeping the bass on track, yet dissolved into the stereo image.

Quick Comparisons – up and down the range

Utilizing the Audio Research REF Phono 2SE, with two identical inputs and the ability to load both phono cartridges at the 50 ohms required for utmost HF smoothness (and honestly, my ARC SP11 mk.2, with it’s 30 ohm setting is pure bliss with the Apheta moving coil cartridge, but alas only one input) makes it a snap to compare the RP8 to both the RP6 and P9 to see just how much higher the bar has been raised.

The MoFi version of Aimee Mann’s Lost In Space underscores the improvements on two levels.  This densely layered record needs a first rate analog rig to lay bare all the intriguing textures and spatial cues, which the RP8 aces.  Perhaps even more intriguing is the LF performance of the RP8 – it’s very close to that of the P9.  If you haven’t experienced the P9, it’s not like the rest of the Rega range.   It possesses incredible weight and body.  The RP8 has a similar weighty feel, you almost don’t expect this kind of locked in bass response to come from a table that is the opposite of some of todays massive record players.

That machined aluminum subplatter pays another big dividend; much better pitch stability, and consequently revealing more low level detail.  Where Mann’s delicate voice wavers ever so slightly during “Guys Like Me” on the RP6, it is rock solid when switching to the RP8.  This doesn’t mean the RP6 is rubbish, you don’t notice the difference as easily until you play it right next to the RP8, and let’s face it, the RP8 costs twice as much.

The biggest surprise comes in a side-by-side comparison with the P9.  While the $5,000 P9 still has more LF weight and an even dreamier, more defined high end, the RP8 closes the gap tremendously, leaving this reviewer to wonder what Rega has on the horizon with the RP10.  An urge to spin the recent remaster of Devo’s Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! Illustrates the huge soundstage the Apheta is capable, with synthesizers and special effects everywhere.  Moving up to the P9 offers an even bigger soundfield, yet pace and timing are equally enticing with both decks, yet the P9 takes the lead, with the opening, distorted bass line of “Mongoloid,” offering more grunt and more texture.

Ticking the necessary boxes

It wouldn’t be an audiophile review without some female vocals, eh?  The Low + Dirty Three In the Fishtank 7 LP seemed the perfect place to start, with it’s dreamy, ethereal vocals, fading way off into the distance of the soundstage on the opening track, “I Hear…Goodnight,” with Mimi Parkers gentle brushwork on the drums so faint, it would be lost on a budget rig.  This record also clearly illustrates the ease by which the Rega combo handles the violin – exquisite.

Going up in tempo to Me’Shell Ndegeocello’s Plantation Lullabies proves that the RP8 and Apheta can rock in a major way; Ndegeocello’s thunderous bass riffs command authority with this table and cartridge anchoring her sensuous vocals all the while.

We covered the Apheta in detail in issue 10 at it’s introduction.  In five years, it’s only gone up in price $300 and my opinion hasn’t changed.  This is a fantastic cartridge with a lightnening fast response, but it must be loaded properly or it will sound harsh and thin.  With comparisons to the RP6 and P9 out of the way, I could go back to in-depth listening through the ARC SP-11 mk.2, which has an incredible on board phono stage that just happens to have a loading setting of 30 ohms – perfection for the Apheta.

This allows the cartridge to have maximum dynamics, smoothing out the HF response at the same time.  Keith Richards “You Don’t Move Me,” From his Talk is Cheap album features great acoustic playing by the riff meister that hangs between the speakers.   Richard’s voice has never been his strong suit, yet it is rendered with plenty of body here.

Regardless of the program material chosen, the RP8/Apheta combination delivers the goods. Though you’ll save a few bucks should you choose an Exact 2 cartridge, if you have a phonostage up to the task, the extra $500 for the Apheta upgrade is the smartest $500 you’ll ever spend in the world of analog.

The nitty gritty

For those not familiar with Rega turntables and phono cartridges, they are the ultimate in simplicity, when it comes to setup.  The Apheta cartridge uses three screws instead of the usual two and this provides perfect alignment.  Your RP8 can arrive with the Apheta already installed, so all you need to do is five minutes of basic assembly (fit the belt, the platter and set tracking force/anti skate) Analog bliss is about 15 minutes away, if you’re really poking.

Personally, I love the skeletal plinth and as I have no children or furry creatures to threaten my analog world, I can bask in the RP8s high tech glory.  Those less fortunate, fear not.  The RP8 comes with a traditional plinth and dust cover that will protect it from the environment.  I could not discern any audible advantage or disadvantage to the extra hardware, but congratulate Rega for providing it.  My audiophile buddies were polarized, they either thought the RP8 was really cool, or tried to explain to me how it couldn’t work.

We could discuss techie bits in further detail, but you can read about that here, on Rega’s website.  Suffice to say they all work together brilliantly and the RP8/Apheta combination reveals more music than most in its class, if not all.  Mounting the Apheta on the VPI Classic 1 gives a warmer, slightly more bass heavy presentation, but it does not offer up the resolution that the RP8 does.  It’s like the difference between a Mini Cooper S and my Fiat Abarth.  You either prefer the more nimble ride of the Abarth or the somewhat more posh ride of the Cooper.  There’s no wrong choice.

However, if you want a high performance record player with next to zero fuss required, I can think of no better choice.

My Rega journey began with the Planar 3 in 1982, and somehow over thirty years later, I have the feeling it’s not over.  Roy Gandy and his crew are a clever group, and as long as they keep refining their turntables, there will be new vinyl adventures from this fine British company.  I’m very happy to award the RP8/Apheta combination one of our Exceptional Value Awards for 2013.

-Jeff Dorgay

The Rega RP8 Turntable

MSRP:  $2,995   ($3,995 bundled with Rega Apheta MC cartridge) (factory) (US importer)


Cartridge Rega Apheta MC
Phonostage Audio Research REF Phono 2SE
Preamplifier Audio Research REF 5SE, Audio Research SP-11mk. 2
Power Amplifier Octave Jubilee Monoblocks
Speakers Sonus faber Guarneri Evolution
Cables Cardas Clear
Power IsoTek Super Titan
Accessories Furutech DeMag, DeStat, GIK acoustic treatments

Issue 54


Old School:
The Thorens TD-125 Turntable

By Ken Kessler

995: Sounds that Won’t Break the Bank
The Lounge Audio Phonostage

By Jeff Dorgay

Macro: Sound for Small Spaces

Ferrari Cavallino T350 and Denon AH-D340 Phones
By Mike Liang

Bryston BHA-1 Headphone amplifier
By Jeff Dorgay

Tone Style

Single Malt Shootout:
Kirkland 20 vs. Macallan 18
By Bailey S. Barnard

Joey Roth Ceramic Speaker and Subwoofer
By Mark Marcantonio

Gumby Shot Glasses

Camera Lens Coffee Mug

Vicoustic Omega Wood Acoustic Panels

Tape Deck Stand


Current Releases:

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

Live Music:
Richard Thompson, Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell
By Bob Gendron

By Jeff Dorgay

Audiophile Pressings

Jazz & Blues
By Jim Macnie


KEF Blade Speakers

Music First Audio Classic Preamplifier

Audio by Van Alstine Ultravalve Amplifier

Simaudio MOON 850P Preamplifier

From The Web:

AVID Pellar Phonostage

NewClear NC1000L Power Amplifier

Rega RP8 Turntable

Wyred 4 Sound mINT Integrated Amplifier


Sonus faber Venere 3.0 Speakers
By Rob Johnson

Polk Audio LSiM703 Speakers
By Andre Marc

Boulder 3050 Monoblocks
By Jeff Dorgay

Dynaudio XEO 3 Wireless Speakers
By Rob Johnson

Qualia Indigo Phonostage
By Jeff Dorgay

Paradigm Reference Signature 8 Speakers
By Jeff Dorgay

KEF R300 Bookshelf Speakers
By Jerold O’Brien


How about Record Store Month?

Seriously, how about it?

With so many vinyl enthusiasts, new and old excited about this event, Record Store Day is growing to the point where it’s becoming more exclusive than inclusive.  Here in Portland, Oregon, my favorite record store owner, Terry Currier, of Music Millennium told me that “the line around the building started at 10 last night.”

A few other stores I know echoed the same sentiment, receiving so many titles that they got two or three copies of that could have easily sold a 100 copies, possibly more. Another store owner, preferring to remain anonymous, was a bit more bleak. “The limited edition model worked better when people weren’t aware of vinyl – it helped to build enthusiasm.  Now that the demand is there, customers go away from the store crabby when they can’t get the RSD goodies.”

So how about it Record Companies?  While you might lose a buck or two, making a few less RSD collectibles, you’d make a lot more money and achieve a lot more good will if those of us that actually listen to the records we purchase could get our hands on it.  Maybe compromise with Record Store Week? It appears the demand is there.

A Three-Letter Word For Fun: MAD

If I had to make a bet, I’d put my money on the Brits taking the prize for understatement.

Unpacking the 1920 loudspeakers from British manufacturer MAD (for “My Audio Design”), it’s tough not to have an internal dialog that goes something like, “Two and a half grand for these?  They are mad!”  But, looking past the relatively simple-looking box speakers, one soon notices gorgeously mitered corners and an exceptional attention to detail paid on behalf of the craftsmen behind these.  Hmmm.  Some understated British artistry, perhaps?  I take the necessary photos and roll the speakers into listening room two, which, at 13 feet by 16 feet, is perhaps even a bit on the large side for a pair of small speakers—truly mini-monitors, in this case.  The next thought that comes to mind is “LS3/5a clone,” until I turn the speaker around and see a rear-facing port.

At $2,650 per pair, the 1920s are towards the high end of the price scale for this category.  Their obvious competitors are the KEF LS50 ($1,499/pair), which we haven’t reviewed yet; the Harbeth P3ESR ($2,200/pair); and the Stirling Broadcast LS3/5a V2 ($1,999/pair).  A mint pair of original LS3/5a speakers can command up to $2,000 per pair.  While the originals do have a certain vintage charm, they are notably woolly sounding in the world of 21st-century monitors.  Colleen Cardas Imports is handling US distribution and now has three dealers, with more on the way.

A mini-monitor, properly optimized in a small room, is one of audio’s guilty pleasures.  Paired with a great amplifier, these speakers will provide ample bass quantity and well-above-average bass quality, going a long way to convince you that you won’t ever need a subwoofer.  But don’t forgo good stands, as they are essential to getting the maximum output from the 1920s.  Just place these on a pair of high-mass stands (sand filled Sound Anchors are my choice) after applying your favorite sticky substance to couple the speakers to said stands, and expect to be wowed.

Jumping Right In

Auditioning the 1920s begins with the Zombies’ classic, “Time of the Season.”  What better way to audition a British speaker than with some of the best of the British Invasion?  Immediately, the spatial characteristics of these speakers reveal a massive soundstage in the small room, with things clearly delineated and with solid bass—and rock-solid pace.  The added dynamics of the original mono record is an absolute blast with these speakers.  Rod Argent’s keys leap from the speakers.  When mated to the Conrad Johnson MV-50C1 power amplifier, the 1920s confirm the manufacturer’s spec sheet:  These little speakers are incredibly easy to drive.  Even the 20-watt-per-channel Carver Black Magic amplifier has no problem playing these speakers to maddening levels.  (Pardon the pun.)

Ry Cooder’s light touch on the acoustic guitar at the beginning of “The Very Thing That Will Make You Rich (Makes Me Poor),” from the Bop Till You Drop album, hovers just above the speakers, with Cooder well out in front of them.  Cat Power’s “Nothin’ But Time,” from Sun, her current album, has a more modern feel, laden with weighty synth bass riffs, again allowing the 1920s to sound so much larger than they seem capable.  Closing your eyes to concentrate on the presentation, it’s easy to think you are listening to much bigger speakers, only to open your eyes and find this pair of tiny audio morsels before you.  An equally spacious presentation is had with Little Village’s “Don’t Think About Her When You’re Trying to Drive.”

Tonality + Dynamics = Bliss

The performance of the 1920s is especially excellent during playback of a slew of acoustic standards.  But, while the speakers are not as rolled-off sounding on the top end as either the Harbeths or the vintage LS3/5as on hand, they are not quite as extended as the Penaudio Cenya or Dynaudio Confidence C1 IIs that I have here for comparison.  (To be fair, the Cenyas and C1 IIs are considerably more expensive.)  With the 1920s, it’s a nice, gentle roll-off, which will not be noticed on all but the best audiophile recordings and that, more often than not, goes a long way at making digital files and budget solid-state amplifiers considerably more listenable.

The only time I found the tonal characteristic of the 1920s a bit too soft for my taste was when using certain vintage tube amplifiers.  With the Dynaco ST-70 or Harman Kardon A500 integrated amp, for example, even digital files come across as slightly dull.  But, having drawn that line in the sand, the combination of vintage tube amplification and 320-Kb/sec MP3 files sounds much better than it has a right to.

All things considered, the extra efficiency, slam and bass weight are what separate the MAD 1920s from their comparably priced brethren.  You won’t mistake these for a pair of floorstanders, but they open up and breathe so much more than the other small speakers we’ve experienced at this price level.  While the Harbeth and Stirlings both present a benign enough load to drive with a 20-watt amplifier, they are still rated in the range of 83 to 84 dB—which means that a low-power amp can’t deliver the dynamic peaks like it can with a speaker rated at 90 dB.

Crazy Imaging

If you are new to the small British monitor thing, the sonic image that the 1920s present will spoil almost everything else for you.  From the first tap of the hi-hat on the title track to Donovan’s Mellow Yellow, the term “pinpoint imaging” takes on a new meaning, especially if you dim the lights just a bit to keep your eyes from sending visual information to your brain that might otherwise distract processing power from your auditory nerves.  Donovan sounds as if he’s singing just in front of your face, with his overdubs floating in a sea of handclaps and horns.  And the separation between the flute and the oboe in “Jennifer, Juniper” is magnificent.

Maybe it’s the stunning imaging that these old studio records present, or perhaps it’s the strong British heritage thing, but I just kept going back for more British Invasion records to play on these speakers.  I swear I was having flashbacks during Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man.”  But then, a brief detour spent on a number of Duran Duran and Thompson Twins tracks from the ’80s transitioned me back to the 21st century—and it was still good.

On the deep-bass side of the musical universe, Dungen and Dr. Dre are both off the menu at all but modest levels.  You can only cheat physics so far, and the 1920s pull off a major sonic feat already.  But heavy rock and hip-hop are simply not a match for these speakers, should you really want to crank it up.  But I’m guessing that, if this stuff happens to be at the top of your music menu, you’re not looking at mini-monitors anyway.  To use an old audiophile cliché, the 1920s are mostly guilty of omission.  They remind me of a first-generation VW Golf GTI or Mazda MX5—they’re tons of fun to drive between 20 and 80 mph, which is where we’re stuck living most of the time.  But if you have a modest amplifier, a medium- to small-sized room and few pipe-organ records in your collection, you won’t even know what you’re missing.

Smart is the New Sexy

A quick visual once-over of the 1920s and you might just pass them by.  While the small box is well executed, these aren’t head-turners.  But inside it’s a completely different story—an abundance of high-grade audiophile parts lurk: ultra-pure silver internal wiring on the tweeter, plus point-to-point wiring with equally zooty copper wire.  Best of all, these are hand assembled in the UK, with all components hand tested and matched before the construction process begins.

Don’t think of the MAD 1920 as a clone of the LS3/5a, nor as an update or replacement for it.  It will just raise your dander.  But do pay close attention to them—they are sleepers.  And don’t let the understated box fool you.  These speakers are the new standard for small monitors.

The MAD 1920 loudspeakers

MSRP: £1,500   (US pricing, $2,650)

US Distributor:  Colleen Cardas Imports


Preamplifier                Burmster 011

Power Amplifier         Conrad Johnson MV-50C1, Pass Aleph 3, Carver Black Magic 20.

Analog Source             Rega RP6/Exact, SME 10/Sumiko Blackbird

Digital Source              Sooloos Control 15, Aurender S10, Light Harmonic DAC

Cable                           Cardas Clear

Accessories                 GIK Room Treatments, Audience aR6-TSS Power Line Conditioner, Furutech DeMag and DeStat, Audio Desk Systeme RCM

Acoustic Geometry helps the noise battle…

As part of an ongoing effort to help children and young adults get the best music education possible, Acoustic Geometry made a donation to the Brennan Rock & Roll Academy in Sioux Falls, SD, involving multiple Studio 3D Doors and Studio 6 Windows, the finest soundproof doors and windows available.

Each Studio 3D Door featured custom viewing windows as part of the package, and the Studio 6 Windows were custom-built to fit the live recording area in the Main Room of the Academy.

Brennan Rock & Roll Academy’s own Rock & Roll Ambassador/Designer Kory Van Sickle said: “These doors are amazing! They’re not only beautiful; they’re also super soundproof as proven during our Grand Opening week. Lots of really great and really loud rock bands performed (all personal friends of Mr. Brennan), and I couldn’t believe how quiet the practice rooms were when the doors were closed. They truly are works of art and I can’t say enough about how great everyone from Acoustic Geometry was to work with.”

Acoustic Geometry’s Retail Sales Director John Calder, who attended the Grand Opening, remarked on the new Academy: “For anyone who loves music, this is a truly welcoming environment for learning how to ‘play well with others’. The Brennan Academy team has done a wonderful job of engaging the community with state-of-the-art resources for the Boys and Girls Club in Sioux Falls – I haven’t seen a better learning space for music. And the “entertainment-biz royalty” – like Alice Cooper, Gene Simmons, George Lopez, Louie Anderson, Vince Neil and Night Ranger – who gave their time and talent to kick off the event, were terrific!”

Acoustic Geometry (, the retail brand of Acoustical Surfaces, Inc., works with community-based organizations like the Brennan Rock & Roll Academy ( to help advance music education.


Acoustic Geometry

123 Columbia Court North

Chaska MN 55318


Brennan Rock

Rogers: Tubed Excellence

It arrived just before I jumped on a plane for the NY Audio Show.  It’s big, red and beautiful.

We’ve got the EHF-200MK2 integrated amplifier from Rogers High Fidelity here for a while and after hearing it at Stereo Exchange in New York this weekend, I’m anxious to put it through its paces with a wide variety of speakers.  Featuring a pair of KT120 output tubes per channel, this amplifier puts out 120 watts per channel in Ultralinear mode, but can be switched into triode mode as well.

The EHF-200MK2 is packaged like a piece of fine jewelry, homage to the luxury product it is.  The remote is gorgeous, the manual concise and easy to read – but best of all each one comes with a little note enclosed from the person who built it, adding a bit of humanity to the process. When I caught up with Roger Gibboni I thanked him for the extra car, but he said “We do that with every amplifier, we want people to know the care that goes into each one.” So, Trish, thank you very much for building this amplifier…

Stay tuned for our listening impressions and the world’s first review shortly.

Update: NYC Show

I certainly had a lovely time at this years HiFi Show in New York City…

Put on by the Chester Group, the same folks that sponsored last years show, things went incredibly smoothly for the UK based firm, considering they overcame a few major hurdles. First, there was a lot of hotel construction that was in progress, that no one expected during show week, when it was being organized almost a year ago, and there were a few water and power failures that necessitated some major jackhammering during the day on Saturday as well as some tenant evacuations on Sunday evening.  Yikes.

However, the show was not only well attended, it was a diverse crowd, perhaps the most diverse crowd I’ve seen at an audio show in the US.  Montreal and Munich do an excellent job at attracting kids and women to the party, but the US shows tend to be more often than not, a high percentage of beard tuggers.

It was nice to see a few groups of younger people, like the ones pictured in the VPI Industries room, not only grooving on the music, but asking to “turn it up…”  It was also nice to talk music and audio with some of our female readers and get their feedback on things.

The Chester Group and their US liasons, Sally Goff (formerly the face of McIntosh) and Christina Yuin (our director of sales) made an excellent effort to bring some seminars and events that were a lot more music centric, and wider ranging than I’ve seen in a long time.

SoundStageDirect and The SoundOrganisation, along with PMC Speakers contributed with their “Studio to You” series of lectures, bringing in some famous recording and mastering engineers, to discuss their part of the process.

And, speaking of music, this was the first show in memory that also did not consist primarily of audiophile standards. I did avoid a couple of rooms (still) playing “Keith Don’t Go,” but by and large, it was a much more musical show overall.  The Rutherford Group was rocking everything from Swedish House Mafia to Elvis on acetate, AudioArts NYC had a wide range of jazz, classical and blues, on vinyl, and Johan Coorg of KEF was a mixmaster – spanning a very wide range of music as well.

Rounding things out, Stereophile’s Michael Fremer was there, with his turntable setup seminar, and Art Dudley (also of Stereophile) and I held a spirited panel discussion about vintage hifi, which I am told by the folks at the Chester Group, had the highest attendance of all the seminars.

Again a thanks to the Chester Group for performing above and beyond the call of duty, and all of you that attended.  I hope to see you again next year.

For those of you craving more room by room coverage, stop by Stereophile’s website, where they have done their usual concise job.

AVID Pellar Phonostage

AVID, a Kimbolton, UK-based firm has been turning out some mighty impressive turntables for more than a decade now, and their recent pursuit of phono preamplifier designs, equally so.

AVID’s mission statement is simply this: “The truth, nothing more, nothing less.”  Of course, the “truth” is one of the most elusive subjects in the audio world. Is it the sonic realism of a live performance, the accurate reproduction of a studio master tape or something else? If beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, then audio truth resides in the ear of the listener.  From my perspective, audio truth is told when the essence of a recording, good, bad or indifferent, is revealed without additions or subtractions. Having lived with many (and I mean many) phonostages at widely ranging price points, I now investigate the baby of the AVID family, and see how much truth the Pellar serves up.

AVID: A Very Interesting Design.

Before getting the Pellar phonostage into my system, a look under the hood reveals a straightforward, unbalanced circuit, and high quality parts on the circuit board of this all solid-state design.  The compact chassis (2.75” (H) x 4” (W) x 9” (D)] has a single power switch on the front panel and is a rather solid little brick, weighing 3.5 pounds.  The rear panel has a power cord receptacle, stereo RCA outputs, and a tandem of RCA inputs, with the upper pair of RCA jacks used for impedance loading, much like the Naim Superline does.

The Pellar arrives with two 500 Ohm RCA plugs for this purpose, and this should work with a wide range of phono cartridges. Other values are available on request, or you can make your own. The default impedance without the plugs installed is 47K ohms. The turntable is connected to the Pellar via the lower set of inputs. Gain can be easily adjusted by sliding a pair of dipswitches from 40 dB (adequate for most MM cartridges) to 60 dB or 70 dB (adequate for most lower output MC cartridges).  Considering the complexity of many high-end phonostages, the Pellar is simplicity itself, resulting in a very quick unbox to enjoy music time.

Staging the Phonostage

Since the Pellar is billed as AVID’s entry level phonostage at $1,149 (the top-of-the-heap two-box Pulsare II will set you back $7,000), I mated it with my modified VPI Aries with outboard flywheel and JMW 10.5i tonearm.  For this review, I alternated two stereo MC cartridges, the higher output Clearaudio Stradivari (0.8 mv @ 5 cm/sec) and the low output Dynavector DV-20×2 (0.3 mv @ 5 cm/sec).  A Benz Micro Ruby 3H (0.7 mv @ 5 cm/sec) handled the mono LPs.   After a  48 hour power up, serious listening began in earnest.

Retrieval of detail is a good measure of a phonostage’s noise floor. Simply put, the lower the noise floor the more detail you get from the grooves.  Sheila, an intimate duet between jazz vocalist Sheila Jordan and bassist Arild Andersen (SteepleChase), is an easy way to evaluate this aspect of phonostage performance.  The proof in the pudding is hearing Sheila’s husky voice move toward and away from the mike and catching the short breaths that she takes between phrases. Meanwhile, you should also hear the varying harmonics of Andersen’s finger work on his bass.  The Pellar does a fantastic job on musical fundamentals.

Ry Cooder’s Jazz, an unabashed homage to ragtime and Dixieland music is a great example of a studio recording not victim of excess tweaking and one with with great recreation of voice and each of the small group of instruments involved. The opening track “Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now) clearly illustrates the Pellar’s ability to keep the vocals on track with all of the horns spread out across the soundstage, giving the illusion of these players in the room.

Encouraged by the ease at which the Pellar handled this favorite, the big stuff was next.  The classic recording of the Verdi Requiem with Sir Georg Solti leading a fabulous quartet of soloists, the Musikverein chorus  and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra proved another excellent challenge that the Pellar aced.  The Decca tonmeisters have always known how to get the most out of a huge surge of orchestral and vocal music.  The Pellar never feels overwhelmed with “Kyrie” section, one of the most dynamic choral passages ever written – a tough challenge for any analog front end.

If I had to pick one mono LP to demonstrate how good a phonostage can make mono records sound, it would be the 45 RPM reissue of Ella and Louis (Analogue Productions). Not a dud cut on the record and what presence Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong have! The Pellar mated to the Benz Micro Ruby 3H gets me very close to the vocal cords of these two jazz legends, and excited

What Do You Get For A G-Note?

Occasionally one of my audio buddies will ask me, “hey, I’m getting back into analog, so how much should I spend on a phonostage?” The Pellar’s resolving power and soundstage recreation might not reach the highest sound realms of my reference Pass XP-25 (to be had at ten times the price!) but it does provide a genuine peek at what audio heaven sounds like.  You get a lot of what the audio in-crowd venerates with enough coin left over to buy… a whole bunch of vinyl records. The AVID Pellar becomes my definite contender for one of the audio bargains of the year and an easy, suggestion for a friend who wants to rediscover the magic residing in those black vinyl grooves, that won’t break the bank.   – Lawrence Devoe

Second Listen:

Having spent a fair amount of time with both of AVID’s more expensive phono stages, the Pulsus and the first generation Pulsare, there is definitely a family resemblance here.  All three phonostages have a similar sound: a natural tonal balance with good dynamics and a low noise floor.  Much like the AVID turntables, each phonostage in the range has increasingly more dynamic punch, low level detail and low frequency heft.

That being said, the Pellar is remarkably good for $1,149.  I gave it a spin with a few of the tables in my stable here, the Linn LP-12/Shure V15 mxvr and the AVID Ingenium/SME 309/Ortofon 2M Black, both a good fit for the MM side of the equation.  As for MC, the Pellar works phenomenally well with the $379 Denon 103DL.  Combined with the Ingenium, this is a tough combination to beat for a prudent audiophile.  You will need to get 100-ohm loading plugs or get out the soldering iron, however.

Perhaps the best part of owning the AVID Pellar is that you can just turn it on, forget about it, and enjoy your vinyl collection, no matter what turntable you have.   Highly recommended.   -Jeff Dorgay

AVID Pellar Phono Preamplifier

MSRP: $1,149 (USD)

Manufacturer: AVID HIFI

Contact: (UK and Europe) (US)


  • Preamplifier: Pass Labs X-30
  • Amplifier: Pass Labs XA-100.5
  • Speakers: Martin Logan CLX
  • Power Conditioner: Running Springs Audio Dmitri, Maxim
  • Cables: Nordost Valhalla, Odin
  • Power Cords: Nordost Valhalla, Odin

Sonus faber Guarneri Evolution

It’s as if Sonus faber put the $120,000 Aida speakers in a shrink machine…

Finished to the same high standard as their flagship speakers, the new Sonus faber Guareri Evolution speakers retail for $22,000 per pair with the matching Evolution floor stands.  You can delete them and save $2,000, but you’ll never find a stand this inert or this beautiful, so just order both.

Our review pair arrives in the dark grey “Graffit” finish and is beautifully hand polished to a glass – like surface, as is the shiny nickel plated top and bottom plates.  But best of all, these speakers sound better than they look.  Not a pair of mere mini monitors, these are a world class speaker system, perhaps better suited to our readers that want cost no object sound, but don’t have a 20 x 30 foot listening room.

They are currently mated to a Burmester 011 preamplifier, Aesthetix Rhea phonostage, and the SME10 turntable, with Sumiko’s Palo Santos Presentation phono cartridge.  To say we’re in analog heaven would be an understatement.  Power is via the highly capable Burmester 911 mk. 2 power amplifier, capable of 350 watts per channel into 4 ohms, the impedance of the Evos.

You can read more about the Evos here…

Or better yet, head down to your Sonus faber dealer and experience them for yourself.

NewClear NC1000

While vacuum tube and solid-state amplifiers continue to improve, the gains have been for the most part evolutionary rather than revolutionary at this stage of the game.

Class D amplifiers are a whole different game – much like the introduction of the compact disc, early efforts were harsh and highly unmusical.  But Class D has matured.  Perhaps not into the voluptuous shape of a pair of giant VTL or ARC monoblocks, but not the skinny runway models they used to be.

The NC1000L is a dual mono design, built around the latest ICE Power modules and is essentially two power supplies and two separate mono amplifiers sharing the same chassis.  It features balanced XLR and single ended RCA inputs, both going in via a pair of high quality Lundahl transformers. The NC1000L delivers 501 watts into an 8-ohm load and doubles that into 4 ohms.  Magnepan lovers, this amplifier is your new best friend.  And that’s exactly where I began this review, with my Magnepan 1.7s.  This amplifier’s enormous power reserves light up these wonderful, but power hungry speakers – giving them a true semblance of dynamics, even playing fairly heavy rock.  Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter” never sounded better on the 1.7s.

Oodles of power

Many say the “first watt” is the most important, however I feel they are all important.  I also prefer a lot of power to not so much.  There are a number of classic low power amplifiers, all of which have a tonal magic about them: the Wavac EC-300, the Pass Aleph 3, the McIntosh MC-30, etc., etc.  And as much fun as they’ve been at very low levels, if you don’t have efficient speakers, those amps run out of steam fast. Ultimately, dynamics are just as important as tonal accuracy, or any of the audiophile parameters that try to convince us that we are hearing reality through our stereo systems – even with music that you don’t think demands it.

Low powered amplifiers are always fun to take for a spin, but I always go back to high power at the end of the day, and the NC1000L delivers the goods.  I mentioned Magnepans at the beginning of the review, and after about a month with both the 1.7 and 3.7, unless you are going to drop upwards of $15k on an amplifier, the NC1000L is the amplifier for you – at an introductory price of $2,600.

We can argue the merits of a “dealer direct” product versus one sold through normal distribution channels and whether a $2,600 amplifier sold this way really needs to be compared to a $5,000 amplifier sold with the costs of distribution attached to be fair.  No problem.  The NC1000L stands up handily to everything we’ve heard in this price category. It doesn’t have the sweetness of say, a McIntosh MC275, but you can’t drive a pair of inefficient speakers with an MC275 either. No disrespect intended to either manufacturer, the amount of clean power available with the NC1000L easily justifies its price.  With this much power on tap, I could not play the NC1000L loud enough (without risk of brain damage) to explore the boundaries of their claimed “graceful rounded waveforms at clipping.”

Under the hood

Popping the top of the thick, 14-gauge chassis and thick front panel reveals a tidy layout.  Each amplifier has it’s own separate board, with power supply and ICE module self contained.  The layout is tidy, and my only concern for sonic degradation over time is the screw terminals used to bring in power an input signal.  However, I have seen this approach taken in much more expensive amplifiers and speakers, some ten times the cost of this amplifier.

The NC1000L doesn’t take long to settle into a groove – it doesn’t need hundreds of hours to sound its best. The slight bit of solid-state haze at initial power up vanishes after about three days of 24/7 operation at modest volume.  Its miserly 28 watt current draw at idle lends itself to leave powered up continuously without guilt.

A real pleasure

Thanks to the NC1000Ls balanced XLR and single ended RCA inputs, it will work with whatever linestage or preamplifier you have handy.  After trying about ten different examples from my recently rebuilt Conrad Johnson PV-12 up to the $60,000 Indigo Qualia linestage, the NC1000 merely revealed the character of what was in front of it, with plenty of resolution to discern the differences between front end components with ease.

The NCl000L does fall short of spendier competitors is resolving last bit of detail in the upper registers, but this is not a fair comparison.  Auditioning similarly priced products in the 50-100 watt per channel range, the NC1000L is without peer.  The presentation is very neutral and if like, me you desire a bit more warmth or romance, you can always mate the NC1000L with your favorite tube preamplifier and season to taste.  I did just that with my vintage Conrad Johnson PV-12 (recently rebuilt by the CJ factory with a full compliment of CJD Teflon caps, so it’s not that vintage sounding) and was in affordable hifi heaven.  Man I wish I could have had this amplifier back in the days of my Magnepan Tympanis or Acoustat 2+2s!

This amplifier throws a very wide soundstage, thanks in part to it’s dual mono design, with well delineated imaging, but again not quite as much front to back depth as something with vacuum tubes in the circuit, yet low level detail is excellent.  Listening to the title track on Joni Mitchell’s The Hissing of Summer Lawns is fantastic, with the gentle percussion bits floating well outside of the speakers with Mitchell’s multi-layered vocals well separate from the bass line anchoring the tune.

Timbral complexity is also well represented, as Mitchell gets a bit shrieky on “Shadows and Light.”  This is a track that can deteriorate into a ball of midrange on an amplifier unable to handle complex passages.  The NC1000 does an equally good job with the violin, reproducing this delicate image with aplomb.

The NC1000s ability to drive speakers with a low impedance or a complex load is better than any Class D amplifier we’ve yet sampled, where many early Class D designs were more like an SET amplifier with many speakers, horribly rolling off the top end when the match was less than stellar.  The B&W 802 Diamond speakers always prove tough for the Class D amps we’ve reviewed in the past, but he NC1000L passes with flying colors.  There really was no speaker at our disposal that was problematic for this amplifier.

As with many ICE powered designs, the NC1000L excels at the low frequency part of the audio spectrum. Cranking up Bassnectar’s “Boomerang” with the 802 Diamonds felt like a subwoofer was added to the system now offering a serious punch to the chest at high volume levels.  Ditto with Prince’s “Billy Jack Bitch.”  And of course, the heartbeat at the beginning of Dark Side of the Moon was pretty cool too.  The massive power is well controlled, giving bass instruments a natural response that does not sound overdamped.

Speaking of cool, the NC1000 stays nice and cool, even when pushed to punishing SPL levels, and under normal operation, shouldn’t use much more electricity than a light bulb.

Nod to the new guys

If the market is an indicator, it will be tough for the crew at NewClear to keep building these amplifiers for this price forever.  Other manufactures have done incredibly well with the factory direct approach, and considering this amplifier is so underpriced at this point, our hope is that as NewClear grows and has to amortize those costs, this amplifier will still be a solid product.  But for now, this understated black box has to be one of the year’s best bargains.  If 500 watts per channel sounds like your way to party, get in on the ground floor.

The NC1000 does its job simply and effortlessly, serving the music all the while.  It easily earns one of our Exceptional Value Awards for 2013.

The NewClear NC1000 power amplifier

MSRP:  $2,600


Analog Source             AVID Volvere/SME V/Sumiko Palo Santos Presentation

Digital Source              dCS Paganini, Sooloos Control 15

Preamplifiers               Conrad Johnson PV-12, ARC REF5SE, Burmester 011

Phonostage                  Simaudio MOON LP810

Speakers                      Magnepan 1.7 & 3.7, GamuT S9, Dynaudio Confidence C1 II, B&W 802D

Cable                           Cardas Clear

KEF and Matrix Sound & Vision Present Fabrizio Sotti

KEF, the renowned manufacturer of innovative, reference-quality loudspeakers, will celebrate its participation in the New York Audio Show 2013 by hosting a special evening with lauded Italian jazz guitarist and music producer/songwriter Fabrizio Sotti on Friday, April 12.

Sponsored by New York-based Matrix Sound & Vision, the event featuring Sotti will be held from 9-10 p.m. ET at the New York Palace Hotel in Hubbard II Room.

Sotti, who has collaborated with an impressive range of artists from all genres, including Cassandra Wilson, Q-Tip, the late Whitney Houston and many others, will treat attendees with a special free performance to celebrate the upcoming release of Right Now, Sotti’s latest album which was mixed and mastered using KEF’s LS50 Mini Monitor Loudspeakers.

During the evening presented by KEF and Matrix Sound & Vision, Sotti will bring together musicians from around the world to treat attendees to a sampling of new tracks from Right Now and other works. Shareese Ballard, better known as Res, will accompany Sotti with her beautiful combination of soul, rock and Indie pop vocals. Also performing alongside Sotti will be accomplished bassist Tony Grey and internationally renowned drummer Francisco Mela.

The LS50s helped Sotti and an exciting and unexpected ensemble of guest on Right Now deliver a truly unique mix of original songs and covers of timeless classic songs, like an interpretation of “The Wall” featuring Ice-T, M-1 of Dead Prez and Res.

To attend the event, which will include an open bar, show attendees must stop by the KEF suite (No. 926) at the show to pick up a free pass. There, attendees will have the luxury of experiencing first-hand how the LS50 delivers a rich, multi-dimensional soundstage for the ultimate studio experience—even in the smallest of spaces.

KEF will also present attendees to the New York Audio Show with the opportunity to demo the new X300A, a premium powered loudspeaker system developed to offer the highest resolution digital music reproduction from a PC/MAC desktop or laptop computer via distortion-free USB input, as well as the legendary KEF Reference 207/2 and KEF R Series.  You can read the world’s first review of the X300A here.

For more information on KEF, please visit

Emotiva XDA-2 Review

John Darko from Digital Audio Review takes an in-depth look and listen at Emotiva’s latest DAC/digital preamp, the XDA-2…

My first slice of Emotiva DAC coverage appeared nearly two years ago. In 2011, I found the XDA-1 to be a bit of a bargain – US$399 for a (then) better-than-average sound atop a killer feature set: remote controllable digital pre-amp with balance outputs. Back then, very few DACs in the shallow end of the budget market could compete with such a high value proposition. More crucially, the XDA-1 offered a sound that didn’t screech or scratch its nails down the chalkboard despite being solid with detail dig and widescreen musical staging.  After teasing with 12 months of trade show demos, the XDA-2 (US$399) finally drops.

Please click here to read the rest of his review:

The Virtue of Vintage

If you happen to be at the New York Audio show this weekend, please stop by and sniff around.

And, if you feel so inclined, I invite you to sit in on “The Virtue of Vintage,” a presentation Stereophile’s Art Dudley and I are putting on at  11am on Saturday.

Art’s tales of restoration have certainly inspired me over the years, so it’s an honor to be sharing the stage with him.  He’s invited some other vintage restoration experts, who will help you walk through the joys of using some of the best of audio’s past.

We look forward to seeing you there!

The latest from Plinius…

We’ve just received a pair of Plinius Audio’s newest separates, and they are quite impressive.

The Hautonga Integrated amplifier features a 200 watt per channel class AB power amplifier, preamplifier and phono stage on board for $5,750 and the Tiki digital music player offers full streaming capabilities from a NAS for $4,750. This device has a network input only and is not meant as a standalone DAC.

Built to the same quality level of Plinius’ top reference components, the Hautonga and the Tiki both offer top performance and functionality in a somewhat compact package. They are available in silver or black and you can read more about Plinius here….

So far, the sound quality is exquisite and the Tiki very easy to use.  We’ll have a full report in Issue 55.

Rega RP9 and Apheta Cartridge

This is a review from way back, issue 10 to be exact.  But, as we are just getting our hands on the current RP8, it might be interesting for some of you to revisit our thoughts on the P9 and the excellent Apheta phono cartridge.

We usually review cartridges as separate items, but because this is Rega’s first moving coil cartridge (and it has been in development for a few years)designed to mate perfectly with a Rega arm, especially their flagship RB1000 arm featured here on the P9, a joint review it is.

In case you are not familiar with this turntable and cartridge, the P9 has a suggested retail of $4495 and the Apheta Moving Coil cartridge is $1695.  The accessory Tungsten counterweight is an additional $100.  This is definitely a serious turntable, folks.  Rega has been steadily moving upmarket with their P5 and P7 models, which are great turntables in their own right, but the P9 is the flagship and having spent time with both of them I feel that the P9 is really in a class all its own. (Ed. Note: These are now $4,995 and $1,995 respectively and the P9 has just been discontinued)

I enjoy Regas understated elegance.  If you want a big, bulky turntable, that screams “dig me”, the P9 is not going to be your cup of tea.  At first glance the P9 looks like a P25 with a larger wood base, but that would be missing the boat. Don’t let the subtle styling fool you; a peek under the traditional felt mat reveals a high tech ceramic platter, with a machined sub platter beneath.  The plastic part in the P3 and P25 is gone.

Cast your glance aside to the RB1000 tonearm.  According to Rega, it takes one technician as much time to hand assemble and adjust an RB1000 arm as it does to make 30 RB300’s and it shows the first time you pick that tonearm and set it down on a record.  Definitely a work of art.

And the idea that Rega has a moving coil cartridge, is also pretty exciting.  Designed from the ground up, they have eliminated the tie wire and foam damper found in conventional moving coil designs.  The result is indeed, very clean sounding with a tremendous amount of detail on tap.  As much as I like the sound, I love the clear body, allowing you a peek inside, a nice touch!­  A more in-depth technical analysis of the new arm and power supply, can be found on the Rega website.
Thanks to a power supply that is the same size as a Rega integrated amplifier, you no longer have to pop that platter and move the belt on the pulley to get 45rpm playback.  Just plug in the umbilical cord, turn it on and choose the speed you want.

I can’t imagine that there is anyone out there who hasn’t heard of Rega, or even owned one at one point in time.  My guess is if you did, it was probably a P2 or P3.  Aside from the Linn LP-12, the Rega P3 is probably one of the best selling turntables in history; certainly if we are talking about belt drive tables.  (NO Surly emails from Technics SL-1200 owners!!)

Like anything that has been around for a long time, there are a number of misconceptions, urban myths and other bits of misinformation floating around.  So let’s get the BS out of the way and clear the air.  Here are the Rega myths exposed and explained once and for all:

Rega turntables don’t have good speed accuracy, they tend to play a little fast.

Way back in the beginning of the companies tenure, some of their tables did play a smidge fast but that has not been an issue for many years now.  The engineering staff at Rega has painstakingly worked to rid themselves of this problem and they are so particular, they actually measure speed with a record playing to take the drag from tracking a groove into account.

Even with the P1, this issue is LONG a thing of the past and our review sample has perfect speed accuracy.  A new belt solved the slight speed issue with my own P25, so check this first if you are having an issue on an older table.  Most turntable manufacturers suggest changing the belt yearly or at least every other year.

Rega turntables don’t have deep bass, they sound a little thin.

This one is a matter of personal taste.  I have always found the P2, P3 and P25 to have more of a “fast” sound compared to other tables in its price range, with fantastic detail retrieval and smooth midrange.  One mans fast is another mans thin.  In all fairness, my bias is towards minimonitors and panel speakers so I’m not a big bass freak to begin with.  However even on a full range system, Rega tables have always come across as well balanced and bass has never been an issue.  Perhaps those complaining of thin bass response did not have the VTA set correct – this can be an issue with other manufacturers cartridges, but easy to remedy.

You can’t adjust VTA on a Rega and hence can’t use other manufacturers cartridges very easy.

Again, not true.  Granted, it’s not as easy to adjust the VTA on a Rega table as it is on an SME, but should you decide that you would like a cartridge other than Rega (which have a 14mm stylus to top of the cartridge body distance) there are a few options.  You can use one of the aftermarket VTA adjustment devices or if you measure this distance on your cartridge, chances one of Rega’s tonearm shims will do the trick.  They now have these available for the RB250/300/600 arms as well as the RB700/900/1000 arms and you can just order whatever combination you require from your dealer in 2, 4 or 10mm thicknesses.

That felt mat drives me nuts, I’ve had way better luck with (insert mat of the week here)…

Just shut up and use the felt mat.  It works just fine, especially when you are spinning a lot of records in a listening session.  You can just leave the platter spin and change records, fantastic! Let’s get back to the job at hand and talk about the P9. Right.

Initial setup

The P9 arrived with the new Apheta moving coil cartridge installed, but it can be set up in a jiffy yourself, should the need arise, thanks to Regas three point mounting system.  Attach the wires, insert the screws and you are good to go!  No adjustments to make, just tracking force (1.75g) and Anti-skate; not quite as easy as putting a CD in the drawer, but the easiest turntable setup you’ll ever experience.  Five minutes and you will be playing records!  I dare you to accomplish that with any other $6000 record player.

Loading is the secret to making the Apeheta sing.  At least 100 ohms, 50-75 if you can and a touch lower if you’ve got it.  If you only have a 1000 ohm setting on your phono stage, there is a high probability that you will find the Apheta bright.  Anything higher than that and you will definitely find it bright and possibly way too bright.

Setting the Modwright 9.0 SWLP to 50 ohms and the BAT VK-10SE  at 33 ohms was perfect.  Down here, the cartridge can still breathe and the top end is smoothed out very nicely.  All of my serious listening was spent with the ModWright, because I felt that this was a good match financially as well – a $3k phono stage is probably a more realistic combination for a $6k turntable than a 7k phono stage.  However, the P9/Apheta combination has enough resolution to justify it, should you decide to go there.

A great first impression

Often times, first impressions really do stick with you and getting the P9 out of the box was quite a surprise.  I was very impressed with the table right away, with the P9 offering a much bigger and more powerful presentations than past Regas I’ve listened to.  If you were on the bubble and in the “Rega tables sound a bit thin” camp, you can flush that misconception down the toilet.  The P9 has a very authoritative presentation, especially in the lower registers.

The first record I put on that familiar felt mat was Patti Smiths Trampin’.  The first song on side two, Cartwheels has some very deep bass riffs that were reproduced with the usual Rega texture but a lot more weight than I’m used to.  The next cut, Ghandi has a lot of air and some very tasty drum fills over the top of some very strong bass parts too.  What the P9/Apheta combination excelled at was keeping everything placed about the soundstage, without losing focus or grip.  Some cartridges I have heard in this price range get mushy when the music gets texturally complex, but not the Apheta.

This is when you know that you are listening to first class analog, the sense of air and texture is there along with plenty of detail, yet lacking in grain.  The more I listened, the more I was impressed with the Apheta cartridge and marveled at how it had a speed, extension and clarity that I would normally associate with CD, yet with the smoothness I would expect from analog.  Quite anomalous behavior from a company that didn’t even start making digital products until recently.

And their top of the line digital player has an amazing amount of the positive attributes of good analog.  Very interesting indeed, but you will have to wait until our next issue to read about the Saturn!

It’s getting better all the time

The P9 ticks all the boxes at its price point; smooth, even frequency response, plenty of LF weight and definition, and enough PRAT to satisfy that crowd as well. Getting comfy with the Apheta only requires a short break in period – a few days will do the trick. Moving it out to the main reference system with the ASR Basis phono stage (again, loaded at 50 ohms) it was easy to compare to the SME 10.  The Apheta is a fantastic match for the ultra low noise floor of the ASR, providing CD quiet backgrounds on pristine vinyl surfaces.

Moving through the gamut, listening began in earnest with the recent Willie Nelson album, Songbird, which was produced by Ryan Adams. This is a great album, with a lot of depth and spatial cues. Definitely one of those “delicate space between the notes” kind of records that really conveys Nelson’s vocals in a more soft-spoken manner.  Same with the Johnny Cash American Recording album; the presentation of Delia was RIGHT THERE.

The P9/Apheta has such a good combination of resolution and ease, it makes for fatigue-free extended listening sessions. Load this baby wrong and you will curse it forever.  Get it right and it is a very nice dose of analog bliss.

The Apheta works well with dense musical passages, regardless of whether it was ten layers of overdubbed guitars or the violin section in an orchestra, meaning the heavy metal fan and the orchestra lovers will be able to find peace here.

Exploring other options

Just to be thorough, I did spend some time mounting other cartridges to the P9 to see how well it would perform.  Again, it passed with flying colors.  My Sumiko Celebration has a 14mm stylus to top measurement, so it did not require any spacer, just a quick HTA adjustment and a rebalance of the tonearm.  A bit more on the lush side than the Apheta, this might be a good combination for those needing a bit less detail than the Apheta offers.  A pair of  2mm spacers made it easy to mount the Shelter 90x – another excellent choice for those wanting a more romantic presentation.

Tough to beat

Once you get to this price range in turntables, there is quite a bit to choose from and every table has its own characteristic sound.  Right now I have an Oracle and an AVID Volvere here in the studio which are similarly priced and while I don’t believe in shootouts, I will say the P9 holds its own with the others in it’s class that I have at my disposal.

If I could change one thing on the P9, I would love to see it offered with a set of balanced connectors so those of us running a fully balanced phono stage could take advantage of the additional noise reduction this configuration offers. That’s my only gripe and it probably only applies to 2% of the people who might buy this table.

The Rega P9 excels by offering a mega analog experience with none of the hassle that you might expect from a high performance turntable.  This is as close as you can get to close and play ease of use with this level of musicality and detail.  Yes there are tables (at this price point) that might reveal a little more of this or that, but if there is another table for this kind of money that offers up this much music, yet requires NO setup expertise, Ill eat that felt mat.

An old friend of mine used to say, “Dude, why do you want a Rega, you can’t tweak it!”  To which I would reply “Dude, that’s why I want a Rega, I don’t want to tweak it, I want to listen to records!”

And I still feel that way 28 years later.  This one’s a keeper.  Highly recommended.

The Rega P9 Turntable and Apheta moving coil cartridge

MSRP:  Table:  $4,995, Cartridge:  $1,995   (tungsten counterweight, $100)

Manufacturer: (Factory) (US Distributor)


Cartridge Shelter 90x, Sumiko Celebration, Dynavector 17D3
Phonostages Aesthetix Rhea, BAT VK-10 SE,  ModWright 9.0SWLP, ASR Basis Exclusive
Preamplifier Conrad Johnson ACT2/series 2
Power Amplifier Conrad Johnson Premier 350, Nagra PSA, McIntosh MC275
Speakers Martin Logan Vantage, Tetra 506 Custom, Penaudio Serenade
Cables Tara Labs The One, Cardas Golden Reference
Accessories Furutech DeMag, DeStat, GIK acoustic treatments