Issue 65


Personal Fidelity:

McIntosh’s MHA100 Headphone Amplifier!

By Bailey Bernard


Blumenstein Audio’s Thrashers

By Mark Marcantonio

Getting Personal:

An in-depth interview with Sharon Van Etten

By Jaan Uhelszki

TONE Style

The Beats Pill
By Jeff Dorgay

Space Girl Bath Bomb from Lush

The Screw Pen

Staying Green:

Living with Smart’s Electric Drive

Crowdfunding-It’s not just for HiFi anymore:

Snappy clothing from Gustin


Current Releases:

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

Audiophile Pressings

Jazz & Blues
By Jim Macnie & Aaron Cohen

Snapshot: Deep Purple
By Jerome Brunet


REL S2 Subwoofer

Alta Audio FRM-2 Speaker

Van Alstine Vision Phonostage

Rega RP-10 Turntable

From the Web

Ortofon 2M Black Cartridge


BAT VK-3000SE Integrated Amplifier
By Rob Johnson

PrimaLuna DiaLogue Premium Preamplifier
By Jeff Dorgay

Peachtree Nova220SE Integrated Amplifier
By Mark Marcantonio

Simaudio MOON 610LP Phonostage
By Jeff Dorgay

Roksan Kandy K2BT Integrated Amplifier
By Andre Marc

Ortofon’s 2M Black

I’m sorry to say we are late to the party on this one…  Ortofon’s 2M Black has received numerous accolades from nearly every hifi magazine on the planet and with good reason – it’s a fantastic sounding cartridge.

Trying to break the price/performance barrier, there are a couple of great moving coil cartridges that immediately come to mind, and Ortofon’s own SPU at $999 is at the top of my list, but all of these cartridges need a step up device of some kind, which adds to the bottom line.  Much as I’d rather have 16/44.1 digital well implemented than budget high res, I feel the same way about cartridges.  I’d much rather listen to a great MM with a well designed phono stage, than a budget MC cartridge with a less than stellar phono stage.

Enter the 2M Black.  Reasonably priced at about $700, depending on where you purchase one, this cartridge features a shibata stylus and is very easy to set up.  With an output of 5mv and a recommended tracking force of 1.5 grams, it works equally well with your favorite vintage receiver to a modern MM phono stage.  Mounted in my Thorens TD-124/SME 3009 combination, equally good results were achieved with both a vintage Sansui 771 receiver and the Decware MM phono stage in my reference system.

Previously accustomed to the current OM40 and the vintage VMS20 cartridges, there is a definite family resemblance, yet the 2M Black displays more refinement throughout the range.  Almost exactly like the Cadenza Bronze cartridge I use in my Avid Volvere SP turntable, the 2M Black features an incredibly clean midband.  This cartridge does not enhance, embellish or color the midrange in a way some other designs can.  It proves an incredibly good mate for the Decware phonostage, which is a few drops on the warm side of neutral, making up for the slight bit of soul that the 2M Black does not posess.  Again, you might view that “soul” as coloration, so if that is your preference, ignore my choice in phono stage here.

Digital Amplifier Company Cherry Maraschino Monoblocks

The Digital Amplifier Company—founded in 1996 and located in Allentown, Penn.—solely produces hyper-engineered, audiophile-grade Class-D amplifiers. Its products output plenty of power from manageably sized and attractive packages. The company’s Cherry line comprises stereo and monoblock variants, which are available in standard or higher-output Ultra configurations.

The company says it does not use prefabricated modules and that it designs all vital components in-house, with everything built in the Unites States. Every amplifier comes built to user specifications, allowing customers to choose standard or Ultra configurations and the amp’s color. The company sells direct to end users.

The $4,000-per-pair Cherry Maraschino monoblock model is the newest brainchild of company designer Tommy O’Brien. The Maraschinos are mighty mites, with published output power of 250 watts into 4 ohms. The parts employed are very high quality and include Dayton binding posts, Neutrik XLR inputs, and high-tolerance metal oxide resistors.

The amps feature true balanced input and external power supplies with IEC receptacles. These power supplies are upgradeable, with an available power increase of up to 800 watts. The chassis sits on a granite block, with Sorbothane feet for resonance control. The Maraschinos are produced with a brilliant, high-quality red finish (which is fitting considering the amp’s name).

Setting up the Maraschinos is pretty straightforward, with some twists. The accompanying documentation asks that the user plug in the power supplies last, after all other connections are made, and with low-level music playing through the system. There is no power switch, as the amps automatically detect a signal and come out of standby mode; when no signal is present for a period of time, they return to standby. The amplifier sensitivity is on the high side, at 2.2 volts, but that should be no issue with most preamps and sources.

The Maraschinos accept only XLR inputs, but very nice RCA-to-XLR adaptors are supplied. The adaptors are put to good use, as a passive preamp is what we put ahead of the amps, driving a pair of Harbeth Compact 7 ES3s. Sources include a variety of DACs and disc players. Cabling comes courtesy of Transparent, Shunyata, and Stager Sound.

The amplifiers very much make their identity known from the get-go, with their wonderfully open, clear, transparent, and precise sound. There are no mechanical artifacts or spotlighting of any kind. There is a top-to-bottom, even keeled balance that becomes very quickly addicting such that even familiar recordings come alive with a fresh perspective. This may be due to the Maraschinos’ incredibly quiet background. Music seems to appear out of the ether. Recordings that seemed previously homogenized now appear spacious and wide.

The amps render the Punch Brothers’ Antifogmatic with startling dynamics, precise imaging, and stop-on-a-dime timing. Chris Thile’s well-recorded vocals and virtuoso mandolin playing take on very human qualities, and the groups clever arrangement of Radiohead’s “Kid A” through the Marachinos is worth the price of admission alone.

Peter Gabriel’s New Blood, featuring new interpretations of some of his classic songs, is a hair-raising showpiece through the Maraschinos. The recording is amazingly dynamic; the use of a live orchestra in lieu of rock instrumentation allows the amps to showcase their sound-staging chops. One listen to the new version of “San Jacinto” brings you as close to the recording as you could hope for.

The recent 96 kHz remaster of Nick Drake’s three sublime albums are ravishing through the Maraschinos. Having heard these albums in every format and through countless amplifiers, I find it rather impressive that they still sound fresh, with the amps unexpectedly lifting even more detail from the recordings. If you have a collection of high-resolution music, the Maraschinos will serve you well, as they reproduce what the mastering engineers intended.

After cycling through more genres of music, I discover that the Maraschinos greatest strength is coherence. Bass notes are deep and punchy yet speedy and nimble, with high frequencies sounding extended and smooth. Certainly, system matching is going to be important here. If your speakers edge toward the speedy side of things, that may be too much of a good thing with the Maraschinos. These amps will expose lean-sounding speakers and sources. If listening preferences trend toward mellow and rosy, there will be other amps to look at. However, if clarity, brilliance, and agility are your thing, then the Maraschinos will serve you well. A balanced tube preamplifier ahead of the Maraschinos may indeed provide a perfect balance of both worlds. Neutral, open-sounding cables will also pay dividends.

Perhaps the only quirk to nitpick is that one of the amps is slightly less sensitive than the other, so it takes a few extra seconds to come out of standby. This is not a deal breaker; just a minor annoyance. The fact that the amps save watts while still being ready for optimum performance when awakened is worth the trade-off. They also run cool as a cucumber—a very nice contrast to some of the space heaters usually in for review.

The Digital Amplifier Company has wonderful success on its hands with the Cherry Maraschino monoblocks. By the way, the company’s name does not reflect its design mission: It does not make digital amplifiers. These are analog amps all the way. They are amazingly refined with low distortion. Those accustomed to bogus mid-bass warmth may think the Maraschinos are a bit vivid, but in reality they provide a clean window and they have speed to spare.

If your system needs a kick in the pants, the Maraschinos will deliver. They make our reference system come alive. It is like cleaning a dirty windshield to get a better view of the road. At $4,000 per pair, the Maraschinos are not entry-level amps. They deliver all the real-world power you need, and they’re upgradeable, efficient, great looking, and terrific sounding. These amps give listeners a good look at what the very best amps do well, for a fraction of the cost. Pair them with high-quality sources and speakers and they will deliver the sonic goods.

Cherry Maraschino Monoblocks

MSRP: $4,000 per pair

Digital Amplifier Company


Speakers Harbeth Compact 7 ES3
Preamp Channel Islands Audio PLC-1  MKII
CD transport Musical Fidelity M1 CDT
DAC Denon DA-USB300    CLONES Audio Sheva
Music server Squeezebox Touch
Cables Transparent    Shunyata    Stager    DH Labs

Wireworld Launches New, Updated Webiste

Wireworld has just finished work on a complete site overhaul, showcasing their products in a much more informative, graphic rich environment than ever before.

The new site has plenty of product and company info, making it easier to find out more about their products, and their creator, David Salz. Links to their social media portal and YouTube are now available to further expand the Wireworld experience

Stop by and explore!

KISS Lunchbox

While perusing the cassettes on sale for 99 cents each I almost missed this one, but my daughter let out a squeal when she saw the KISS lunchbox, not realizing this is a most excellent one from the period celebrating the four “individual” KISS records.

KISS Lunchbox:  $5, Mermaid Records

The Kiss Van

Here’s one fan’s ultimate expression for the hottest band in the land, and it succeeds brilliantly.  Contact artist Jay Werner at his studio to explore the possibilities. Maybe a Tales of Topographic Oceans van next?

The Kiss Van

Price: TBD

Kiss Plushies

Move over Bart Simpson. The hottest plushies in the land are here, and they rule. At about eight inches tall, the likeness of the band’s four individual members are captured in grand style, from the platform boots to guitarist Ace Frehley’s gold Les Paul. And let’s not forget Gene Simmons’ trademark tongue. If you love Kiss, or great memorabilia, you need these. –Jeff Dorgay

Kiss Plushies

$10.99 each

Ortofon MCA-76 Head Amplifier

Back when I was selling Technics SL1200s and Shure V-15 cartridges by the truck load, on the brink of becoming an major obsessive audiophile, our shop received the latest and greatest from Ortofon – their MC20 moving coil cartridge and the accompanying MCA-76 head amplifier.  If memory serves me correctly, the cartridge was about 300 bucks and the MCA-76 about twice that.  Big bucks to step up from that Shure indeed.  I was driving a bright green Saab 99 that I barely had that much invested in, but I had to have it.

The Ortofon cartridge was a major step up in analog playback, and having just discovered Stereophile and The Absolute Sound, I was crazed with an expanded vocabulary that included words like “soundstage” and “transparency…”  Yes, I was hooked on analog madness in a major way.   Of course, after about two weeks of listening to these new toys, the Technics was no longer good enough and an Oracle Delphi Mk. 2 would take its place, but that’s another story for another day.

Today, the MC20 continues as the MC20 Super, reviewed here, but the MCA-76 is long discontinued, however it is readily available on the secondary market.  And a new old stock MC20 can be purchased for about $100-$200, but vary widely in quality.  The same goes for the MCA-76; these can be had for as little as $100 (what I paid for this example) up to as high as $600.  Six big ones is probably a trifle optimistic, considering that the thirty plus year old electrolytic capacitors in the power supply really need to be replaced by now and how insane you want to get will that could easily add a few hundred more to the eventual price.

Staffer Jerold O’Brien who has a penchant for vintage gear is already champing at the bit to give the MCA-76 an overhaul, add film capacitors, better RCA jacks and a healthy dose of Cardas wire to this vintage jewel, so we may revisit this on the Analogaholic section of our website.

To be as true to my memories as possible, a Technics SL-1200 was borrowed from O’Brien and I still had a pristine example of the MC20 from our review of the MC20 Super.  Once set up at the necessary 1.7gram tracking force, listening could begin in earnest.  This cartridge produces a miniscule output of .07 (mk1) to .09mv (mk2), so the MCA-76 has a correspondingly high gain to match, making it a less than optimum partner for many of todays MC cartridges in the .4 – .6mv range without overload.  There are no adjustments for gain or loading with the MCA-76; audiophiles did not have the plethora of MC cartridges that they enjoy today.

With analog, it’s always worth giving even the wackiest combination a go, even if the specs suggest otherwise and the MCA-76 was not a bad dance partner with the Dynavector Karat 17D3, (.3mv), even though it has a DC resistance of 38 ohms, where the MC20 is only 3.  Ortofon’s SPU Classic GM E cartridge spans the gap between new and old, with a DC resistance of 6 ohms and an output of only .2mv – an excellent combination.

But enough stalling, how did our visit down memory lane with the MC20 go?  Quite well, actually.  Listening to Mobile Fidelity’s version of Los Lobos’ Kiko proved enchanting.  The swinging groove of “That Train Doesn’t Stop Here,” had a wide and vivid sounstage, with the vocals large, in charge and up front, as they are with a modern cartridge.  Moving the MC20 from the Technics to a recently refurbished Thorens TD-125/SME 3009 combination made for even better low level detail retrieval and a warmer overall sound.  The rest of my listening sessions would be with this setup and the MC20 has remained on the Thorens.

Even with the old power supply capacitors, the MCA-76 renders a fairly quiet background, though not as inky black as you’d expect from something like a Lehmann Black Cube.  For now, the jury is out until we upgrade the caps.

Do you need one?  Probably not, unless you can get a major deal and just feel like taking that test drive again, but if you are a careful shopper that can probably be arranged.  The only real exception to this rule would be to pair it up with an SPU on the cheap until you find the $$ for a better MC phonostage.  These two have a synergy that can not be denied.

Either way, it’s always a great time taking a look at legendary gear that changed our perceptions of what analog is capable of, and the solid engineering behind these two pieces from Ortofon continue to this day.

– Jeff Dorgay

Peachtree’s deepblue 2 on the way!

Peachtree Audio, manufacturer of high-performance audio products since 2007, is proud to announce that their campaign for the launch of deepblue2, the company’s “Ultimate Bluetooth Speaker”, has exceeded $200,000. The campaign reached its initial goal of $63,000 in just over an hour.

Launched on Monday, July 21, the campaign gave early backers the opportunity to

get deepblue2 for $249, a 50% savings from its expected $499 US retail price. Current backers are still able to get deepblue2 for $299, a 40% discount.

“We’re ecstatic about the response that deepblue2 has received,” said Andrew Clark, President of Peachtree Audio. “Our more than 600 backers include longtime Peachtree customers, as well as people from all over the world who are coming to the brand for the first time. It’s encouraging that more than 20% of our backers have chosen to receive multiple units, and we’re confident that our newly-added referral program will help introduce even more backers to our brand and products.”

Peachtree launched the original deepblue in 2013 to rave reviews from the media and customers alike. The unexpected closing of an OEM supplier forced Peachtree to discontinue the product shortly after the first production run.

Rather than give up on the concept of “Ultimate Bluetooth Speaker”, Peachtree went back to the drawing board determined to build a product that would play louder, produce deeper bass and have even better overall sound quality. The result is deepblue2, a more advanced and higher performance Bluetooth speaker in every way.
“Everybody loved the original deepblue,” said Jonathan Derda, Peachtree’s Ambassador of Awesome.  “The response to our Indiegogo campaign shows that there are a lot of people who want a simple, high-quality all-in-one speaker, and we’re confident they’ll love deepblue2.”

The campaign for deepblue2 went live July 21 and runs through August 22nd. Deepblue2 is expected to be available from select retailers and in late 2014 for $499.