Happy birthday to us!

Do you remember where you were ten years ago? I do. I was rushing frantically to finish the first issue of TONEAudio. We had been working around the clock and were having last minute server issues, so the magazine actually was successfully uploaded five minutes before I jumped on the plane to head for the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest to show it off. It was a crazy time to be sure.

The first guy I met at the show was Lee Weiland, from Cryo Parts, who sadly passed away in 2011. We had both been up all night and were exhausted but enthused that this show would be a productive event for both of us. He handed me one of his machined record clamps to review and wished me luck. We always stayed in touch and for the next four years, he would always be the first guy I went to see arriving at the show. The next guy I met was Lew Johnson from Conrad Johnson, who took note of the Conrad Johnson t-shirt I happened to be wearing. “Nice shirt,” he smiled and after a few minutes he agreed to send me a Premier 350 power amplifier and ACT 2 preamplifier, which would become the anchor of my reference system for years to come. Overall, it was a positive experience. I came home with enough advertising support to keep TONE going for the rest of the year and it was on to CES for our next issue and the adventure that would become TONEAudio Magazine.

Ten years later, I’m still buried the day before RMAF, getting last minute shipments out to manufacturers, editing photos, and trying to squeeze every bit of work I can into this day before I hop on the plane tomorrow morning. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Thank you all for being a part of it! I hope to see a few of you at the show!

AudioQuest SLiP 14/2 Speaker Cable

There are precious few more inflammatory subjects in the world of audio than cables. Reviewing the expensive stuff is the quickest way to a fiery death, at least figuratively and the biggest dilemma is that some of the premium cable is brilliant, while some of it is truly snake oil. Even the best cable won’t transform a component into something it’s not, but it will let more of what it’s capable through. What’s an audiophile to do?

However, the handful of real cable manufacturers make great stuff at all price points and AudioQuest is a perfect example of applying what they know at a price everyone can afford. AudioQuest’s Stephen Mejias tells us that their SLiP 14/2 cable uses their Semi-Solid Concentric Packed long grain copper conductors in PVC jackets, and while AQ is known for their solid conductor cable, this provides a high performance, cost effective and flexible alternative to typical stranded cable.

Bottom line, it’s a great speaker cable for those new to the audiophile world, or anyone wanting to wring a little more performance out of that vintage amplifier without breaking the bank.

HiFi Racks Limited – Grand Stand XL

While many argue about the sonic effects of a good hifi rack, you can count us in the plus category. With so many different configurations to choose from, and some having more benefit than others, the Grand Stand XL you see here is a winner for many reasons.

First, they are handmade in the UK with care and pride. Second, they feature hardwood construction, so they will stand the test of time, thanks to no veneers to separate or incur damage. Small nicks and scratches should be easily smoothed over without worry. HiFi Racks Limited offers a number of standard configurations, which should cover most gear, but should you need something special, they also build bespoke racks to your specification. A wonderful thing for those with oddly shaped gear, large or small.

Seven standard finishes are available, with color options here:  http://www.hifiracks.co.uk/wood-choices.php

Again, if these are not to your liking, custom options are available; you merely need to discuss with the friendly people at HiFi Racks Limited.

They arrive straight from the UK to your door via UPS, and the packaging is superb. Inside the padded box is everything you need to assemble a first-rate audio rack, which should take you about 10–15 minutes if you’re taking your time. As you can see, the shelves are decoupled with spikes, making for an easy move in the listening room should you decide to rearrange.

Once set up and in place, the Grand Stand XL makes for an attractive, yet understated, addition to your listening room. While we could not notice a mind-bending change to the sound after moving reference components from our SRA Scuttle rack, the Grand Stand XL does not muddy, blur or otherwise degrade the sound. Its solid wood shelves also do not ring or vibrate like many we’ve heard made from glass or MDF.

If you like the aesthetic, we highly suggest the Grand Stand XL, especially considering how easy it is to assemble and the company’s willingness to custom build. There is nothing worse than great components that don’t quite fit on a rack. Like a bespoke tailor, HiFi Racks Limited makes for a perfect fit with your system. And like the perfect frame for a piece of art, there’s nothing like that extra bit of presentation to go along with great performance.  -Jeff Dorgay

HiFi Racks Limited – Grand Stand XL



Wax Stacks Cubes

Here we present a bit more old school, more organic, less expensive and more scalable way to store your LPs. The crates you see here from Wax Stacks are made from birch ply (a totally green, renewable wood source) and can be stacked to infinity.

We like the finish and the fact that no tools are required. Take that, IKEA. Made here in the US, Wax Stacks is currently running a Kickstarter campaign, so there are still some early bird deals to be had. If you’re the lucky one that pledges $5,000, they will even come to you, assemble everything and help migrate your record collection to your newly purchased storage. But even at the $65 price, these babies are built to last and expand for a lifetime. -Jeff Dorgay

Wax Stacks Cubes



Benchmark DAC2 DX

Benchmark DAC2 review by Rob JohnsonBuilding upon the successes of their DAC1, Benchmark is not resting on their laurels. The release of the DAC2 series of products extends the capability and sonic performance of the product line with several different versions, offering a wide range of functionality to suit different owners’ needs.

While it might be easy to get confused by so many variations on the DAC2 theme, it’s important to note that all contain an improved digital engine. The primary differences are inputs and outputs, headphone capability and home theater pass-through. Two versions of the DAC2 come equiped with headphone outputs: DAC2 HGC and the DAC2 DX. DAC L and DAC HGC incorporate single-ended analog inputs for use as a preamplifier. The DX model we tested for this review includes an AES/EBU digital input, but no analog inputs.

Like its Benchmark ABH2 Amplifier we just reviewed, the DAC2 comes in a small enclosure with a lot packed inside. Measuring a scant 9.5 inches (249mm) wide, 9.33 inches (237mm) depth and a 1.725 inches (44.5mm) in height, the DAC2 is small enough to place anywhere easily, even on the most crowded audio racks. Plus, at a mere 3 pounds in weight, it’s easy to lift with one hand when placing it – a real joy after helping our publisher crate up the 274-pound Boulder 2160 the other day!

Internal Innovations

Under the hood, digital processing prowess is provided by SABRE DAC chips to decode 32-bit PCM and DSD files. Feeding these converters the best possible signal, Benchmark utilizes its new jitter-reduction technology via their UltraLock2™ system – a dramatic improvement over the original version in the DAC1. Focusing on lowering the noise floor and distortion level, the latest changes prove highly effective. The variable output makes the DAC2 more versatile than a DAC without, and makes it easy to become the cornerstone of a compact, yet high performance system, eliminating the need for a standalone linestage.

The back panel of the DAC2 reveals a plethora of connections fit to this tight space. Inputs include USB, two coaxial digital, and two optical connections. For analog output, the options depend on the DAC2 model chosen. All models have two pairs of single-ended outputs, and one pair of XLR balanced outputs. With the analog input equipped HGC and L models, the DAC2 features a HT pass through too.

You might not earn carbon offset points with your stereo system, but as a tree-hugging Oregonian, I appreciate that the DAC2 only draws half a watt at idle.

Snappy Setup

The DAC2 is extremely easy to set up. My Mac Mini instantly recognizes it, only requiring a few quick tweaks in the Mac OS sound settings to be ready to play music. Benchmark promises the same ease on the Windows side. While we did not have a Windows-based system on hand for testing, Benchmark has worked to make that experience just as seamless. For high resolution playback on Windows, an easily downloadable driver is needed.

Tight real estate on the rear panel is the only issue that has always plagued Benchmark DACs. As such a small unit, with so many input and output choices, the DAC2 rear panel is a bit crowded. If you have thick audio cables be aware that you may find it a bit of a stretch to get them connected. Lastly, those utilizing 24/192 or DSD files via USB will need to hold down the USB button on the remote for three seconds (a one-time setup operation) to engage USB 2.0 mode for the best performance.

Benchmark DAC2 review by Rob Johnson

Locked-in listening

When I’m anchored into my listening seat, the beefy aluminum Benchmark remote proves a couch potato’s dream come true. The ability to change inputs, volume, and mute leaves little need to get up.

After several days of burn-in, it’s exciting to give this DAC a chance to sing. From the first listen, DAC2 provides a treat for the senses with a highly resolving, yet forgiving nature. Regardless of music type, DAC2 performs as a sonic chameleon rocking and rolling when it needs to, but is equally at home with the delicate nuances of jazz and classical recordings.

Cat Power’s Jukebox illustrates how the DAC2 picks up every pluck of the guitar, keeping them appropriately separated from the vocals, which reside in a different vertical plane parallel to the first. The resonance and decay of acoustic guitar notes are easily discernible across several other recordings too, like Elliott Smith’s XO – his vocals retaining a smooth, organic quality. While DAC2 may not recreate quite the level of transparency reproduced by more expensive DACs I’ve heard, I really like the voice Benchmark engineered into the DAC2. Overly transparent and revealing equipment can tend toward stridency, sibilance and a wince-factor that takes away from the musical experience.

The DAC2, on the other hand, allows a listener to dissolve into the music and enjoy big, beautiful sound rather than getting bogged down in the minutia. For example, several songs on Portishead’s album Dummy have a glare that draws attention to those sharp edges rather than the rounded musical picture. With the DAC2, those sonic artifacts are not removed, but the entire album is much more listenable.

DAC2 also throws a huge soundstage and mines a lot of ambient detail from high-resolution recordings. The perceived stage width and depth easily exceeds the speaker boundaries in all directions. Also, DAC2 projects a sonic image that reaches from floor to ceiling. Many DACs I’ve heard do a good job of this, but so far, I have not heard one under $2,000 that does it so well.

Hearing Headphones

Rather than tossing a headphone amplifier into the unit as an afterthought, Benchmark took great care in delivering a high quality headphone amplifier in the DAC2. Those considering a Benchmark DAC for headphone listening should consider taking advantage of the company’s special pricing offer which bundles a reduced-cost set of Sennheiser HD-650 headphones with some versions of the DAC2 . Those headphones are among my own favorites, and a reduced-cost package through Benchmark is an added bonus for a DAC2 owner, not to mention a great place to start your headphone journey.

With a set of HD650s on hand, listening begins with the Benchmark-recommended cans. While very resolving, the Sennheisers are a bit to the warm side of neutral. As expected, the quality of the DAC2’s sound proves revelatory with any music being piped out. Especially enjoyable are the ease and naturalness of the sound. Electronica like Phantogram’s “Black Out Days” has plenty of punch and detail, but not at the expense of the bigger sonic picture. As an older recording, guitar on Albert King’s Born Under a Bad Sign can have some sting, but the DAC2 pulls the best from it.

When I switch to a set of Audeze LCD-X headphones, the DAC2 demonstrates plenty of power to drive them, delivering the bass punch these headphones are capable of producing with the right setup. Sonically, these headphones are like stepping forward several rows in an auditorium, getting up close and personal with every bit of the performance. For me, this action-packed delivery was perhaps too close and personal, and I found myself preferring the Sennheisers for the bulk of my listening. The HD-650s indeed seem a perfect match for this setup, and I can see why Benchmark recommends them.

In the end, excellent

$1,895 is not a small price tag, but in a hobby offering mega-buck DACs, it’s a modest sum for a component of this caliber. The DAC2 is a very easy component to live with sonically and aesthetically. Its versatility takes the value to another level, making me nominate this one for an Exceptional Value Award and give it an enthusiastic recommendation.  -Rob Johnson

Benchmark DAC2 review by Rob Johnson

Additional Listening

You have to go back almost seventy issues of TONE to our third issue for our first encounter with Benchmark. The original DAC1 was $995 and garnered our first Exceptional Value Award. It was a class leader then and it remains so today.

Staff member Jerold O’Brien still has his DAC1, so it was enlightening to compare it with the DAC2 alongside. Much like what we found comparing the Nagra PL-P to the current Jazz, the compact exteriors, as well as the overall sound, are very similar. Benchmark gear has always been very neutral, and like Nagra, because they supply so much equipment to the studio world, has little room for embellishment.

The trademark lack of sound that is Benchmark comes through instantly, but stepping up to the DAC2 immediately reveals more music and a deeper insight into recorded material, standard or high resolution. Remember, ten years ago we weren’t even talking about high resolution files, let alone DSD, so moving on to that realm is even more enlightening.

I’ve always loved using Benchmark DACs as a linestage and again, the DAC2 does not disappoint. Auditioning it with everything from a 35 watt per channel PrimaLuna ProLogue 4 up to the mighty Boulder 2160 reveals just how good this component truly is. The DAC2 is perfect for a primarily digital user who wants to put the preamp up on the shelf and run some interconnects to a power amplifier elsewhere in the room – the DAC2 drives long interconnects with ease.

So, ten years later, Benchmark continues to create an awesome DAC in a compact case. I’m guessing I’ll have to arm wrestle Mr. O’Brien for it again. -Jeff Dorgay

Benchmark DAC2 DX

MSRP: $1,895



Digital Sources Mac Mini with jRiver and Roon playback    dCS Debussy
Amplification Burmester 911 mk3
Preamplification Coffman Labs G1-A
Speakers Sonus faber Olympica III
Cables Jena Labs
Power Running Springs Audio Haley, and RSA Mongoose power cords
Accessories ASC tube traps    Mapleshade Samson audio racks    Coffman Labs Equipment Footers    AudioQuest Jitterbug

Naim Mu-so Tabletop System

Naim Mu-So review by Rob Johnson TONEAudioThe hifi press was abuzz last year over Naim Audio’s massive Statement stack: an amplifier and preamplifier capable of over 700 watts per channel with an equally huge price tag that is in Aston Martin territory. However, being the clever engineers that they are, the folks from Salisbury had something equally compelling and more approachable at the Munich High End show – the Mu-so. Standing alone in the Naim room, the Mu-so was introduced rather quietly, but every time we checked it was mobbed with onlookers.

This elegant tabletop system features a plethora of style cues, with the polished case, clad in sculptured black grille material, a clear acrylic base and a single multifunction control on top. Sure, you can use the app or the remote control, but this begs to be touched and interacted with. The Brits have outdone style leaders Bang & Olufsen this time – the Mu-so is as understatedly elegant as the Bentley Continental that Naim also happens to supply the hifi system for.

Queuing up Florence + the Machine’s latest disc hints at the Mu-so’s capabilities, filling the living room with her sultry, luscious voice in a way that suggests a pair of Quad 57s. Airy and much bigger than the small enclosure suggests. Moving to more rocking faire, a quick playlist of classic Little Feat proves that the Mu-so can rock with the best of them, its 450 watts of power and six bespoke drivers handling the low bass line in “Long Distance Love” with ease. The only remaining question is how you will interface with Mu-so. And perhaps whether to stick with the standard black grille, or swap for the optional Burnt Orange or Deep Blue.

Convenient Controls

The user has several interface options. The four-inch recessed disc on the top left of the unit enables several functions. The outer edge of the wheel is silver in color. The center is an obsidian black touch-screen from which simple, white, lighted controls emerge from the dark. When plugged in, the default view is a simple, lighted power symbol. Once touched, lights around the edge of the circle cycle indicate the status of the power-up process.

Additional controls surface from the darkness when Mu-so is ready to play, giving a user the option of selecting Naim iRadio or an external input. Pushing on either option activates that functionality. When pressing the input button to choose an external source, repeated presses select UPnP, USB/iPod, or Bluetooth inputs. Three lighted sections of light at the top of the wheel activate in turn as the touch screen cycles among the choices.

Depending on the input source, the Mu-so also makes available other touch controls to advance tracks, play, pause and more. It’s nice to see only what’s useable, and not a lot of other control options that have no impact in a given mode. The disc acts like a volume control when twisted to the right or left, and lights around the circumference of the wheel light up corresponding to changes in volume, temporarily commandeering the input lights and others around the edge to indicate the full volume range. All of this is easy to do up close and personal or via the included remote or free iOS and Android apps from Naim.

Naim Mu-So review by Rob Johnson TONEAudio

Simple Setup

Naim offers detailed instructions on every aspect of Mu-so setup in the included manual; for the sake of brevity, this review will hit only the highlights of the process. Even without touching the manual, though, I find it highly intuitive to get the Mu-so up and running. Naim has produced an excellent installation video that you can watch here: https://www.naimaudio.com/mu-so-support-simulator .

As a first step, when a location for Mu-so is decided, be sure to head into the iOS or Android app and select whether Mu-so is within 25cm of a rear wall or not. The selection allows the Mu-so to self-optimize sonically for its location and avoid bass loading when too close to a rear wall. After selecting the appropriate toggle, it’s still worth moving the Naim backwards and forwards a bit and do some tuning with your own ears.

With that done, a recessed area on the underside of the unit has three physical connections to make. First, Mu-so’s included power cord must be connected. Secondly an Ethernet socket enables a direct connection to an internet connection, although a wireless connection serves equally well. Finally, an optical input offers a hard-wired connection to complement other wireless streaming options.

The side of the Mu-so enables a few other input options. There’s a standard USB cable connection and a 1/8-inch analog input. Finally, a small, multi-color capable, LED status indicator delivers a dizzying array of information about the unit status and setup process. Depending on the color, and referring to the Mu-so manual, the LED informs the owner about status of internet connection, firmware updates, and other items. Simplicity is a good thing.

When attempting to pair an iPhone with the Mu-so, the first question asked on the iOS app setup screen is the color of the status LED. Clicking on the corresponding toggle, and with only a few additional touches on the iPhone screen, Mu-so and iDevice are fully paired. The process takes only a few seconds, and works seamlessly.

With the needed connections made, Mu-so offers playback via Bluetooth, Spotify, Airplay, internet radio and others. While all the wired and wireless playback options work very well through the Mu-so, much of my testing, a Mac Mini delivered the bits via Airplay. Whether exporting music to the Mu-so using iTunes, jRiver, or Roon, each came through with ease.

Super Sound

As it turns out, this little box packs a lot of surprises. From the get-go, the sonic balance of the Mu-so proves enjoyable. As with other Naim products I’ve heard over the years, the sound is plenty detailed, and a bit to the warmer side making long-term listening sessions fatigue free. Regardless of input choice, the Naim makes the best use of the digital signal.

While soundstaging prowess is inherently limited by a single-box design, the height and width of the sonic wall portrayed by the Mu-so remains surprisingly huge. Because of the perceived size, some guests visiting my home while the Mu-so played between my larger reference speakers made the assumption that the bigger boxes were responsible for playback.

Vocal reproduction is very good as with the rest of the midrange. On tracks like k.d. Lang’s “Tears of Love’s Recall” vocal crescendos lack grain or sting, while portraying the power of the performance.

Strengths and Scrutiny

The Mu-so is a really slick system that is fun to use. At $1,500 there’s a lot of capability and a lot of value packed into a small enclosure. After living with it in my home for some time, and trying it in different rooms which don’t have a quality sound system of their own, the Mu-so proves an addictive piece of kit.

A potential buyer should be aware of some caveats, however. Music fans desiring to approximate the left-to-right, and back-to-front soundstage of a realistic performance will be better served with a full Naim system and speakers.

Mu-so is certainly no slouch in the sound department. I find the sonic balance very enjoyable for long listening sessions. Naim did a great job creating the versatile Mu-so, but there are a few sonic compromises that should be expected from a one-box unit.

Mu-so is designed to fill a room with high quality sound, and equally importantly, offer a plethora of input and digital playback options. If one member of the house prefers streaming music via Bluetooth from an iPhone, another prefers to stream radio over the internet, and another prefers to connect directly via USB from a computer, each person gets exactly what they want given the Mu-so’s extreme flexibility. Also, the Mu-so’s elegant and modern look will fit well into any room without drawing a lot of attention to itself.

If the Mu-so’s strengths appeal to you, do yourself a favor and head to your local Naim dealer to check it out. As a one-box solution from a company with a long-standing history of great gear, that Mu-so does amazing things as expected.  –Rob Johnson

Naim Mu-So review by Rob Johnson TONEAudio

Additional Listening

Much like the iPod, one-box hifi is a rapidly developing area of the hifi world. About six years ago, we were blown away by the Bowers and Wilkins Zeppelin, and there have been a number of challengers, both more and less costly. Naim has chosen to take the high road, going after the stratosphere of the market – with excellent success. My personal favorite has been the now discontinued Meridian F80, which sported a $3,000 price tag.

The Mu-so eclipses my former one-box reference in every way, albeit with a larger footprint. The extra speakers and power really come in handy, and I can’t stress strongly enough that placement with this device is critical to get it to really rock. The wrong EQ settings and casual placement will leave you cold, but set it up properly and spend ten minutes placing it in just the right spot to get enough bass reinforcement, and you will be highly impressed.

I spent a lot of time using the Mu-so as the home theater system in my bedroom, using it to both stream music from Tidal via an iPad and provide movie sound, hardwired, via an Apple TV. In this situation, the Mu-so proved highly impressive, offering up room-filling sound in a 12 x 14 foot room, placed on a dresser, just below a 65-inch TV set.

I must confess a bias in favor of Naim’s timeless design, so I can’t really be objective here. I love the look of the Mu-so and feel that they’ve even outdone Devialet in the control elegance department. That part will be up to you. But for the music and movie lover who doesn’t want a rack of gear, yet still wants high quality sound, Naim’s Mu-so is pretty awesome and worth a trip to your Naim dealer for an audition.  – Jeff Dorgay

Naim Mu-so

MSRP: $1,500


Ryan R-610 Loudspeakers

Ryan R-610 Speaker review by Rob JohnsonRyan Speakers may be a new name to many; however, brothers Trevor and Todd started building speakers in the 1980s under the moniker Ryan Acoustics. Their designs, and the tools to optimize and improve them, have advanced in the new century, but the goal of the company remains the same: to make exceptional speakers at a down-to-earth price – and do it all in the United States from their factory in Riverside, California. They have succeeded brilliantly.

There are three different R-Series speakers with common driver designs optimized for each enclosure. The R610 reviewed here is priced at $2,000 and is a two-way bookshelf model. The R620 and R630 are 2.5- and 3-way floorstanding models, priced at $3,500 and $5,000. Multiple veneer choices are available, including walnut, oak and the clear cherry you see here, as well as custom staining options to fit a wider range of décor. I’d expect this flexibility with a much more bespoke (and expensive) product, so kudos to Ryan for being interior friendly.

These speakers instantly impress with their portrayal of Poe’s voice on “Fly Away” easily rendering reverberation heard in the recording, and simultaneously reveals the highly engaging and delicate quality to her voice. As a minimalist song, an accompanying flute remains layered in the distance behind the singer, and a piano locks in position to one side of the stage. The Ryans place all the elements of the performance slightly behind the plane of the speakers, and together this places the performers several rows down from my imaginary concert seat. Focusing on the forest rather than each individual tree, the overall musical picture is a wonderful one. Through the Ryans, a seat in row “J” is just fine with me.

It’s what’s inside that counts

The team at Ryan believes strongly in the structural rigidity that comes with the traditional box shape, reinforced with internal bracing, damping as they see fit. The cabinets are straightforward and understated (helping to keep the cost down), with the goodies on the inside – reminiscent of another highly successful West Coast speaker manufacturer. Even the felt ring around the tweeter is chosen with care, an attitude permeating this speaker’s design ethos.

Described in the product literature as a “bookshelf” design, the R610 leans towards the larger side of that moniker, measuring 16.73 inches (425mm) in height, 8.86 inches (225mm) in width, and with a depth of 12 inches (305mm) including the grille. They are mighty hefty, too, at 33 pounds (15kg) each. Inside is a 6.5 inch (165mm) Nomex cone woofer and a 1-inch (25mm) cloth dome tweeter. These tweeters are placed to the inside of the enclosure and are intended to be used that way as a mirrored pair. Placing the tweeters to the outside of the stereo pair will diffuse the soundstaging, so be sure to observe the manufacturer’s suggestion when placing the R610s. And plan on investing in a good pair of speaker stands to get the most out of the R610, as this is crucial to getting maximum bass extension. According to the team at Ryan, all their drivers are designed in-house at the facility in Riverside, California.

Ryan R-610 Speaker review by Rob Johnson

Up and running

The R610s are easy to set up; however the best integration in my room is with 26-inch speaker stands, keeping the tweeters close to ear level, so keep that in mind in relation to the height of your listening chair or couch. The manual included with the R610s provides excellent insight to new or experienced audio enthusiasts, so it is worth perusing as you are putting yours into service. They suggest placing the speakers 6–10 feet (1.8–3.0m) apart, at least 1.6 feet (0.5m) from the rear wall, and at least 2.0 feet (0.6m) from the side walls. This proved an excellent starting point, as did the ten degrees of toe-in, though I ultimately found nirvana with slightly more in my room. Again, this will depend on the exact tonal balance you prefer.

While the R610s serve up bass that is tight and tuneful, extreme low bass is lacking. In my larger listening room, roll-off becomes noticeable at about 80Hz. With test tones descending below that frequency, the drop-off becomes even more pronounced. Those who crave deeper, thunderous bass should consider supplementing the R610s with a high quality subwoofer. Or better yet – if budget allows – try one of the larger Ryan speakers which is designed to integrate all the audible frequencies optimally.

Other than inability to create deep bass, the frequency spectrum doesn’t overemphasize any region that creates an obvious imbalance. With a very neutral profile, these speakers work very well with every genre we throw at them. Experimenting with rock, electronica, classical, jazz, blues, and vocal-centric music, all prove enjoyable. It’s easy to get engrossed in the music rather than analyzing it.

Left to right imaging exceeds the speaker boundaries creating a huge soundstage, never drawing attention to the sound broadcast point, but to the music around them. The Afro Cuban All-Stars “A Toda Cuba le Gusta” illustrates this perfectly, defining and separating the musical elements contained with only a slight dithering of the big picture.

Epitomizing high performance for the price

The Ryan R610s peg the price-o-meter. $2,000 is still an investment for most seeking great sound, but well within the reach of those making a great music system a priority. Their modest form factor makes them easy to integrate into any environment and underlines Ryan’s commitment to research and development. Living with the Ryans for some time, they continue to impress. For all they offer at their modest price point, the R610 speakers certainly earn a 2015 TONEAudio Exceptional Value Award.  –Rob Johnson

Ryan R-610 Speaker review by Rob Johnson

Additional listening

There’s something awesome about a well-executed pair of 2-way speakers. Much like a first generation Miata on a curvy road, you don’t always need 500 horsepower to have a great time. Going straight to my small (10 x 13 foot) listening room after photos, the R610s are perfection: powered by the Nagra 300i tube amplifier with 20 watts per channel of 300B power, the Ryan speakers are well-served by the delicacy of the Nagra.

Even with something as cloudy and compressed as Todd Rundgren’s classic, Something/Anything, the R610s do an excellent job unraveling the music presented on a large canvas, beautifully disappearing in the room. Yet with an excellent recording, they take the presentation further, throwing a stereo image that extends way beyond the speaker boundaries, with a tonal purity that rivals much more expensive speakers.

Where the KEF LS-50 is more precise in terms of imaging performance, the R610 is more homogenous with additional weight in the lower register. Taking advantage of room gain in my small listening room was a bonus, and I wouldn’t suggest using these speakers in a room much bigger than 11 x 14 feet if you want solid bass response. I must confess a bias towards a well-executed soft dome tweeter, so if you share this preference, the R610 will thrill you. Should you be more in the ribbon or metal tweeter camp, you may find these speakers a little dull. Choices, choices.

Again, these speakers strike a natural chord, and the only thing they lack that the big bucks speakers have more of is ultimate resolution of minute musical details. Unless you are playing them side by side next to a great pair of $30,000 speakers at high volume, you won’t really notice. While most of my listening was done with the 20 watt per channel Nagra amplifier, substituting higher powered amplifiers of the tube and solid state variety worked well – bottom line, the better your components, the more music the Ryans will reveal.

For all of our readers that freak out when we review mega components, the Ryan Audio R610 speakers are as real as it gets. Buy a pair. I’m going to. – Jeff Dorgay

Ryan R610 Loudspeakers

MSRP: $1,999



Analog Source SME Model 10 with Model 10 tonearm    Dynavector 17D3 cartridge
Digital Sources Mac Mini with jRiver and Roon playback    dCS Debussy
Amplification Burmester 911 mk3
Preamplification Coffman Labs G1-A
Speakers Sonus faber Olympica III
Cables Jena Labs
Power Running Springs Audio Haley, and RSA Mongoose power cords
Accessories ASC tube traps    Mapleshade Samson audio racks    Coffman Labs Equipment Footers    AudioQuest Jitterbug

Bryston Mini T Loudspeaker

Bryston, the long-standing Canadian audio manufacturer, is highly respected on a number of fronts. Their gear is superbly built, rugged, and reliable. They also offer virtually unmatched support with multi-year warranties on most components. Their amplification is used worldwide in both professional and domestic audio environments. Their digital source components have been well received by the world press and remain in residence in my current reference system.

As comprehensive as Bryston’s product line is, with power amps, preamps, integrated amplifiers, digital file players, and power products, there was until recently one omission: loudspeakers. This gap in their product line has been filled with an extensive lineup of speakers ranging from the Mini A “bookshelf” model all the way up to big and bold room-filling floorstanders.

Why speakers?

The impetus behind Bryston’s drive to produce loudspeakers in an already crowded and competitive area is their VP of Product Marketing, James Tanner. Tanner, in his quest for a speaker that would satisfy him personally, came up short in his search, and thus decided to pursue an original design that would achieve certain goals. His efforts translated into results that were satisfying enough that Bryston decided to distribute these designs commercially.

Bryston put a lot of resources into R&D, doing extensive testing, listening, and measuring with the help of fellow Canadian manufacturer Axiom, whose facilities are state of the art.  The speaker lines are all manufactured in Canada – no outsourcing here – and there is an accompanying unheard of twenty-year warranty.

The Mini T monitor loudspeaker in this review sells for $3,200. The Mini T is flanked by the Mini A, its smaller brother, and at the top of the line, the mighty Model T Signature flagship multi-way tower. There is nothing actually “mini” about the Mini T, as it stands 22.5“ high and weighs in at 42 lbs. The speaker is a three-way, with a 1” dome tweeter, a 5.25“ midrange driver, and an 8“ woofer.  The frequency response is stated as 33Hz to 20kHz, impressive at this price point.  Efficiency is average, at 86 dB, 4 ohms, nominal.

The Mini T is available in Black Ash, Boston Cherry, Natural Cherry, and in custom veneers at an additional charge. There are custom stands available to which the Mini T can be bolted. Out of the box, the Mini T exudes quality. The finish, construction, and binding posts are first class – what many have come to expect from Bryston.

The Mini T takes residence in good company. The speakers are driven by an Audio Research VS55 tube amp, the Simaudio 760A solid-state powerhouse and a Coffman Labs G1-A tube preamp. Sources are Simaudio’s NEO 380D DAC, Bryston’s own BDA-1 DAC, and a Revox A77 tape deck. Cabling is Stager, Transparent, and DH Labs with the Mini Ts sitting comfortably on custom Sound Anchor stands.

Getting down to business

After a relatively short 25-hour break-in period, the listener is treated to a wonderfully coherent, integrated, and live sound. The Mini Ts are not slow, midrange heavy classic British style monitors of yesteryear. They are very much a modern product, with amazingly low distortion levels, deep, very satisfying bass, and an open, transparent midrange.

Listening reveals the Mini Ts’ opposing strengths. They are incredibly nimble and quick, yet buttery smooth and relaxed at the same time, projecting an unusually deep soundstage to boot. The reverb feels wetter, note decays are longer, and timing is better than any other speaker at this price point that I’ve experienced.

The Cars studio albums, remastered at 24/192, sound fresh, vibrant, and not the least bit dated via the Mini T. It is a real treat to hear such classics as “Good Times Roll,” “Got a Lot on My Head,” “Candy O,” and others with crunchy guitars, articulated bass lines, and the classic vocals of Ric Ocasek and Ben Orr floating holographically in the center of the mix.

The latest album from immensely gifted jazz singer Gregory Porter, Liquid Spirit, 96 kHz download, plays to many of the Mini T’s strengths: accurate tonality, correct instrumental timbres, and musical pacing. Porter sings like a human cello, with a bit of the finesse of Nina Simone, and the conversational style of Bill Withers, and the Brystons render his voice in a most astonishingly present way.

The Mini Ts do the versatility thing without breaking a sweat. Orchestral pieces, classic Blue Note jazz ensemble recordings, and classic rock are just different channels on the dial for the Bryston. No matter the source – analog or digital – the Mini Ts easily draw you in. Listening to Steppenwolf’s Gold: Their Greatest Hits on reel-to-reel is one of the highlights of the review period. The fuzzed-out guitars, psychedelic arrangements, and the ominous vocals of John Kay have the house rocking.

The Pentangle’s sublime Basket of Light, on SHM-CD, a longtime reference for evaluating speakers, is presented in a way suggesting electrostatic-like transparency and dynamics, especially on the track “The Cuckoo,” with the late, great, John Renbourn and Bert Jancsh’s acoustic guitars, the wonder that is Jacqui McShee’s voice, and Danny Thompson’s otherworldly acoustic bass. I’ve had very few true jaw-dropping moments in hifi, but this was one of them. The Mini Ts could have passed for floorstanders, given the earthy, deep-rooted foundation of the music.

The Mini Ts are also a breeze to set up. They are not super fussy about room placement, but of course a bit of experimentation is advised. Being relatively close to boundaries does not cramp their style, like so many high end speakers.  This is due to the controlled way the Mini Ts’ drivers disperse energy into the room. Despite the cabinet not being designed to to “tame” resonances into oblivion, which can cause other problems, there is no apparent transient smearing or non-mechanical distortion present.

A solid performer indeed

Bryston, with the Mini T stand-mounted monitors, eschews the “flavor of the month” design and concentrates on maximizing the potential of a three-way dynamic loudspeaker. The results are a smashing success. The Mini Ts will remain in my system as a reference in this price point. My only complaint is the stamped metal jumpers, but that is a small problem easily solved.

It must be noted the Bryston Mini T will rise to occasion with high-quality partnered equipment. Great cables, amplification, and sources will pay huge dividends due to the speaker’s low distortion. Focusing on amplifier quality rather than overall power rating will pay dividends, and the Bryston dedicated stands are definitely worth a look. The Bryston Mini T monitors are among the best deals going. An audition is highly recommended. Bring your favorite recordings and prepare to be impressed.

Additional Listening

I’ve heard the Bryston speakers a few times at various shows and have always come away impressed, but it’s always nice to set them up in a familiar environment and make a few brief comparisons. On the heels of the impressive $4,000 Eggleston Emmas that are my budget reference, the Bryston Mini T delivers excellent performance.

The size is a bit odd, as they are not really big enough to be floorstanders, but hardly small enough to be considered small monitors. For most this should not be an issue, but small kids and tail-happy dogs might be problematic.

I agree with Andre: the Mini Ts are incredibly easy to set up and get great sound with minimal fuss. After the photographs were taken, I took the liberty of trying them in three separate rooms: a small but modestly treated room (10 x 13 feet), my large listening room (16 x 25 feet) and the living room in my house, which has to be the worst sounding room I’ve ever heard, yet it makes for a great “real world” listening environment. The Mini Ts shined in all three.

Having heard Bryston amplification in a number of the world’s finest recording studios, matched with PMC loudspeakers, I’d make this comparison. The Mini T is very linear, with wide dispersion and sounds great whether you are sitting on the couch or hanging out, listening on the floor in the corner of the room – a plus for a speaker that you want to share with friends. It should come as no surprise that the Mini Ts sound fantastic with Bryston amplification, but their chameleon-like character makes them a good match for anything else on the shelf, from a vintage Marantz receiver to the Boulder 2160 I have here for review. But beware that these speakers reveal what they are fed, so if you aren’t happy with the end result, it’s probably due to something not quite right in your system. As I tend to prefer sound tipped a bit more to the warm romantic side, I preferred the Mini Ts with tube gear, to inject a little extra midrange magic into the presentation, and again, because these speakers are so natural, you can easily fine tune them to your taste.

Lastly, don’t let the 86db sensitivity rating fool you. The Mini-Ts are incredibly easy to drive and will provide more than satisfying sound pressure levels in a modest room with 20 watts of tube power. I found the Retro i-50 integrated we reviewed last issue to be more than enough in my 10 x 13 foot room. Of course, more power will provide more dynamics, especially in a larger room and on the opposite end of the spectrum, the Mini-Ts delivered an equally impressive performance in y large room with the Pass Labs Xs 300 monoblocks. These are definitely speakers you can grow with!

For just over three grand, this company, well known for their electronics, has produced a winning loudspeaker. We are very happy to give them one of our Exceptional Value Awards for 2015. If you’re speaker shopping, stop by your nearest Bryston dealer with a few of your favorite tracks. –Jeff Dorgay

The Bryston Mini T Loudspeaker

MSRP:  $3,200



Amplifier Simaudio 760A    Audio Research VS55
Preamplifier Coffman Labs G1-A
Digital Simaudio Neo 380D    Bryston BDA-1
Server Simaudio MiND    SOtM sMS-100
Tape Deck Revox A77
Cables Transparent Audio    DH Labs    Stager    Acoustic Zen
Accessories Symposium    Audience    Sound Anchor