Questyle CMA600i

I’ve been a huge fan of Bruce Ball’s Questyle gear for some time. They’ve made quite a splash at all the shows and their gear offers a combination of mega performance, value and an elegantly understated visual style to boot.

All of their products look much more expensive than their price tags, (having them assembled in the Foxconn factory doesn’t hurt!) and deliver top functionality as well.

With so many people pinched for space, multi-function components are all the rage, and in addition to offering a pure DSD DAC and outputs for every headphone termination imaginable, the CMA600i has RCA and balanced XLR line outputs so it can be used as a 2 channel line stage. Regular readers know this is one of our publisher’s hot buttons. The CMA600i retails for $1,295.

You can read all the techie goodness about the CMA 600i here.

Reviews are in process here and over at The Audiophile Apartment, so stay tuned!

Reimyo DAP 999EX DAC and CDT 777 transport

If you think digital audio is merely bits being decoded and there isn’t any difference between players, you haven’t been listening.

Much like your favorite phono cartridges, all digital players have their own personalities, too. They all take a different approach, and it’s not necessarily better or worse, but it is certainly different – with each manufacturer putting a different emphasis on the part of the player they find the most important. This DAC and transport combination from Reimyo is a perfect example.

With so much emphasis on high resolution digital audio, Reimyo’s Kauzo Kiuchi (the founder of Combak) chooses to optimize his player, in this case, as a separate DAC and transport, for 16 bit/44.1kHz playback, and incorporate his take on fine tuning the combination; two sets of their Combak tuning plugs are included to deliver the digital goods. They also suggest using a bevy of their signal and power cables to achieve the ultimate result.

In the day of DSD and high res files, this may seem like an anachronism to some. But let’s face it, unless you started collecting music three weeks ago, the bulk of your collection is probably redbook files, or even compact discs. Should you be the music lover that really doesn’t care all that much about high resolution audio files, the Reimyo pair could be your destination, at least for the foreseeable future. Back when I traded my Naim CD555 for a dCS stack, I had remarked more than once that I could have lived happily ever after with the CD555 if it had a digital input on the rear panel. But computer audio dragged me down another path.

Un-digital digital

Listening to the ease at which the vibes and violin in the introduction of Elvis Costello’s “This House is Empty Now” are rendered, it’s clear that Kiuchi-san has created a masterpiece for music lovers. Forget everything you think you know about digital if you haven’t heard this player. Years ago it was very hip to have a first generation Play Station to play CDs, because it had a very warm and involving, yet unresolving sound that masked many of digitals errors of omission.

The Reimyo pair gives this same warmth without loss of resolution. I wanted to open the cover and look for vacuum tubes, but photos on the internet reveal that there are none inside. Another review of this player mentions the effect, comparing it to photography, saying that this player lacks the “sharpening” often associated with image processing. As a photographer, I agree with this analysis, but as digital camera sensors have improved with more dynamic range and resolution, that precious little sharpening is not required anymore. And thanks to the 999EX’s approach, it’s not needed here either. For those that remember film, the Reimyo feels much more like Kodachrome than an unsharpened digital image, with a wide tonal scale that seems to fade out almost to infinity that to the uninitiated seems soft. The longer you listen to this combination the more under its spell you fall. You’ll be stunned at just how much musical detail exists in those standard resolution discs of yours.

While both components are excellent on their own, the pair together is where the glamour lies. Using the CDT 777 with Simaudio, dCS and Gryphon DACs all proved excellent, and vice versa using Simaudio and dCS transports with the Reimyo DAC, the combination takes the relaxed analog-like effect to the ultimate level. I’m always great at spending your money, but in this case I highly suggest buying the two as a pair instead of working your way up. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get the full complement of Combak cables, so the thought of even more resolution and ease lurking with this pair is indeed compelling.

More music

This player will really shift your paradigm in terms of worrying about high resolution downloads. With so many of these files just being upsampled redbook, it’s tough to know where the rocks in the road lie, and it’s often too late to turn back once you’ve bought a bum album. Anyone having a huge CD collection should really give the Reimyo combination serious consideration as a destination player and call it a day. There was never a time during the review period that I found myself craving the high resolution files lurking on my Aurender W20 server.

Listening to Dave Stewart’s understated masterpiece from the ’90s, Greetings From The Gutter, there was so much subtle spatial information lurking on what has always seemed like a brilliant album that was only mediocre in the recording department, it was a revelation. Even The Monkees’ Then and Now, which has to be the worst sounding CD ever, sounded fantastic with this player. Songs that felt hopelessly compressed to the point of being unlistenable are now palatable.

Which means well-recorded CDs sound brilliant. Tracking through Neil Larsen’s Orbit, mastered by Bernie Grundman, is full of percussive attack, a massive soundstage and weight that feels like a 24/192 recording, as do all of the best sounding CDs in my collection.

Single purpose player

The CDT777 transport links to the Reimyo DAC via a single coaxial output, where the DAC features coax, BNC, AES and optical inputs, so those streaming music will not be left out. Unfortunately, the only input lacking is a USB connection, but with so many good, reasonably priced outboard converters, this will not stop you from using your computer with the Reimyo DAC. Though precious few audiophiles will need the Toslink input, it is incredibly well implemented, should you need to use it, proving that not even the smallest detail is overlooked in the design of the Reimyo DAC. As mentioned, files are kept in their original format without being converted to higher resolution before digital conversion, which is done at a 24 bit/16x rate.

A Phillips CDM-Pro 12 mechanism, with clamp (very similar to the Naim 555…) is used to spin the discs with excellent results. This transport is robustly built and at this point in the game, should outlive you. A very basic remote is offered to control machine functions and switch digital inputs, so the rest is really installing the various Combak bits and getting down to business.

It’s really all about tonality

If you’ve ever been taken under the spell of a great SET amplifier, a well-presented single driver loudspeaker, or the original Quad 57 loudspeaker, these devices all present a “continuous tone” type of musical reproduction, because of the simple signal path, lack of crossover effects and the lack of interaction between multiple drivers or output devices.

There is a certain signal purity that accompanies any of these that is unmistakable and, once you hear it, it will either become your holy grail, or it will not be detailed (a.k.a. “audiophile enough”) for you. Add the Reimyo combination to this list of components that has an all encompassing, musical feel to its presentation. At first blush, you might even find it slightly dull, but the more time you spend listening, the more difficult it is to leave the couch or chair in front of your speakers.

This continuous tone nature really starts to pull you into the music after a few minutes, especially with vocal tracks and acoustic instruments. The piano takes on a new life through the Reimyo, and it’s tough to believe that you are actually experiencing digital music, let alone redbook CD.

Is it for you?

In the day of multiple, high resolution digital formats that change like the wind, there will always be a steady supply of compact discs to play, much like the massive collections of analog records still floating about. Should you be a music lover with a substantial collection of CDs, in search of a better rendition of your library, the Reimyo CDT777 and DAP 999EX will be your grail.

MSRP:  $12,500, transport and $11,500 DAC (manufacturer) (NA distributor)

Pass HPA-1 Headphone Amplifier

Listening to Thomas Dolby’s “Ability to Swing,” the Acoustats in my living room have dramatically increased their ability to swing in every way: these vintage ESLs known for their somewhat loose and flabby bass now stand up and deliver Dolby’s snappy synth bass lines with authority.

The low level resolution that this preamplifier brings forth unearths minute details normally only heard on the TONEAudio reference system costing almost a hundred times more; all three dimensions of the sound field painted now expanded to the point of being psychedelic. In 35 years of listening to the Acoustats, they’ve never sounded this exciting. The slow sax fade in on Traffic’s “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” becomes conscious so deliciously, so delicately, as the accompanying instruments fold into the mix, it’s creepy the way these vintage ESLs wrap you up in sound.

But this isn’t Pass’ $38,000 Xs preamplifier; it’s their new HPA-1 headphone amplifier. This thing sounds so damn good twenty minutes out of the box, the thought of plugging a pair of headphones in is frightening, fearing my head will either melt or serious flashbacks will be triggered. So for the next few days, it merely does duty as the anchor of a modest 2-channel system, logging some hours on the listening clock. Before you start griping about the unobtainable price, the HPA-1 retails for $3,500 – hardly unobtainable at all.

Sheer genius

Wile E. Coyote lists himself as “super genius” on his business card, but I can’t think of guys more deserving of this title than Nelson Pass and his crew at Pass Labs. I’ve been buying his designs since his days at Threshold circa 1980, and I’ve never heard one I didn’t love. Not like. Love. Personal bias, maybe, but I keep trying everything else, finding plenty of lovely things, but when I come back to a Pass product, it just feels––or should I say sounds––perfect. So in case you haven’t been reading my reviews for years now, I confess my personal bias here, openly.

The HPA-1 is the brainstorm of the newest addition to the Pass team, Jam Somasundram. Speaking with him on the phone is highly enjoyable and he makes it a point to tell me that he “designed the HPA-1 as a linestage first,” giving it the necessary oomph to drive a power amplifier, so that driving headphones would be no problem. A man of major understatement, this thing is fantastic.

Even if you aren’t a headphone enthusiast, but have been shopping for a linestage in the $15,000 range, consider the HPA-1. (Remember, it’s only $3,500…) If you have a minimalist, yet high performance system and can live with two single-ended inputs and a lone single-ended output to your power amplifier, get your hands on an HPA-1 and spend the rest of the money on your system.

Pairing the HPA-1 with everything in the studio and at home from bare-bones vintage amplifiers up to the Pass Xs300 monoblocks used as the anchor to our main system is a treat. Comparing it to a number of other preamplifiers in the $5,000–$10,000 range, the Pass holds its own or outperforms them in terms of quietness, dynamic range and tonality. Once powered up for a few days, and played for about 100 hours, it opens up further, exhibiting a level of refinement you would expect from a $10k preamplifier. Remember, only two inputs, no remote and one set of outputs. But purely from a sonic standpoint, it is stellar.

From a visual standpoint, it looks like an Xs Pre put in a shrink machine. Its diminutive size is less than half of a standard component, making it great for a compact, yet high performance system, or the perfect desktop headphone amplifier.

Oh yeah, it’s a great headphone amplifier

Pass keeps the minimalist thing going here too. With only a single ¼-inch jack on the front panel, they haven’t addressed the balanced thing, or multiple outputs, merely concentrating on the one way of connecting that most headphones offer. Forget about that; this thing sounds awesome.

The Pass press release mentions that it will easily drive planar phones, and this is instantly confirmed with a quick test drive of HiFiMan, Audeze, and Oppo phones. Even the notoriously tough-to-drive AKG phones pose no threat to the HPA-1.

For those who haven’t had the Pass experience, Nelson Pass has said on more than one occasion, he “likes the sound of tubes, without the hassle,” that is, replacing tubes and the occasional catastrophic failure that can accompany high voltage and high heat. The HPA-1 sounds just like the current crop of Xs gear: refined, dynamic and quiet, with a tonal balance a few molecules to the warm side of neutral. Never a bad thing with today’s current crop of headphones, especially the top of the line Sennheiser phones.

After running through a wide gamut of phones to confirm no rocks in the road, most serious listening was done with the Audeze LCD-2s (current version) and the OPPO PM-1s. While this is a very well-balanced amplifier, its strongest suit is the sheer dynamic range it offers. Much like the Xs300 monoblocks we use daily, this extra dynamic range and grip helps whatever headphones you might have, fully controlling their diaphragm, resulting in quite possibly the most wonderful experience you will have with your current phones. Even my late ’70s vintage Koss Pro4aa’s took on new life with the HPA-1 driving them.

If you’ve ever been in a hifi show room, or trade show where the speaker manufacturer uses a massive power amplifier to drive a small pair of speakers with great result, you know what I’m talking about. It also gives whatever phones you are listening to extra oomph in the bass department. Favorite EDM tracks now really feel weighty, especially with the Audeze phones.

As you might expect, the stereo image produced by this amplifier on a premium pair of headphones is big, bold and exciting. A couple of times I caught myself getting up out of the chair, ready to walk away, thinking that I didn’t even have headphones on.

A $3,500 headphone amp with free preamp or vice versa?

Rather than bore you with audiophile cliché after cliché, let’s break it down. The Pass HPA-1 is on the top tier of the world’s finest headphone amplifiers, regardless of cost, end of story. If you can live with the single-ended functionality and a single output, you’ll have a tough time getting better sound anywhere. It is an expensive headphone amplifier, but delivers the goods. If you are only looking for a headphone amplifier, this is the top of the heap.

As the control center of a minimalist hifi system, it offers performance far beyond what you’d expect to get from a $3,500 linestage, and it has a world-class headphone amplifier thrown in for free. Again, if the topology fits your needs, even the most crazed audiophile could live the rest of their days with the HPA-1. It’s that good. Even if you never plug a pair of phones into the front panel and merely use it as a preamplifier, this is one of the best values in high-end audio today. And swing it does.

The Pass HPA-1


Issue 78


Old School:

Recapping the HH Scott 357

By Erik Owen


A Mini Miracle From Totem Audio

By Mark Marcantonio

Journeyman Audiophile:

Wharfedale Diamond 250  Loudspeakers

By Jeff Dorgay

Personal Fidelity:

Quad PA-One Headphone Amplifier and Audioengine HD6 Speakers

By Rob Johnson

TONE Style

Anker SoundCore Bluetooth Speaker

Bald Eagle Skull Shaver

Eunique Jean’ster and Ride’ster Jeans

DJ Pillows

Hot Wheels Yellow Submarine

Muss Cobblestone

StarTrek Communicator Net Phone


Spin the Black Circle: Reviews of New Pop/Rock and Country Albums
By Bob Gendron, Todd Martens, Chrissie Dickinson, Andrea Domanick and Aaron Cohen

Jazz & Blues: Florian Weber Trio, Julian Lage, Avishal Cohen and More!
By Aaron Cohen and Jim Macnie

Gear Previews

Audio Research PH-9 Phono, DAC 9 and LS 28


Audio Classics 9b Amplifier
By Richard H. Mak

System Audio Pandion 30 Speakers
By Jeff Dorgay

Conrad Johnson CA 150SE
By Jeff Zaret

Torus AVR 15 Plus Isolation Transformer
By Rob Johnson

Pass Labs XA30.8 Power Amplifier
By Rob Johnson

The Best Boink Music…

Today, Spotify announced their list of “Top 10 Shagging songs” here:

I agree that most music is subjective, and we all have our favorites to initiate or accompany the mating ritual. Here’s mine – in no particular order. If this is all TMI, sorry about that! I hope you’re open enough to either be inspired or amused. Keep in mind, these are not staff choices. Like Captain Kirk, I stand alone on this one. Let the comments begin.

1.  Prince – One Night Alone

2.  Mickey Hart – Eliminators

3.   Pat Metheny – Are You Going With Me?

4.  Anja Garbarek – Big Mouth

5.  Dylan – I Want You or Just Like a Woman

6.  Crash Test Dummies – I Want to Par-Tay!

7.  Crowded House – Whispers and Moans

8. Dusty Springfield – Breakfast in Bed

9. The Tubes – Let’s Make Some Noise

10. Art of Noise – Moments in Love

Extra Credit:

Stephen Pompougnac – Hotel Costes (the entire series)

The Pretenders – Bad Boys Get Spanked

Judas Priest – Turbo

Kiss – Deuce

Squeeze – Tempted

Betty Davis – Game is my Middle Name

Sly & The Family Stone – You Can Make it if You Try

Fun, But Obvious:

Marvin Gaye – Let’s Get it On

Beatles – Why Don’t We Do It In The Road


Anything by REO Speedwagon, Journey or Styx

Rega’s Planar 3 Turntable

When you see the new Rega Planar 3, take a close look. It’s changed. The journey has become a destination. Nearly 40 years of constant refinement makes the Planar 3 the best in its class; no one does it better. Whether you’ve been a fan for years or this is your first go, this table defines elegant simplicity at an approachable price.

Lots of new bits, top to bottom

Starting as a Planar 3, then becoming a P3 and then an RP3, the Planar 3 designation returns. Rega claims that there are “only two bits in common with the outgoing RP3,” and according to Phil Freeman from Rega those are the two hinges holding on the dust cover, so it has been a total redesign. First time and legacy Rega fans will be equally astonished at how much music this table reveals.

Further conversation with Freeman reveals exactly how much has changed. He tells me that they have been going “aggressively” back to Rega’s original values and that they have done something “quite special” with the new Planar 3. While Rega has always been about evolution over radical change, a quick look around the new Planar 3 shows it to be overall much crisper than the outgoing table. To the untrained eye, the older P3 doesn’t look all that much different, until you look closely and put the close up view of the Macro lens to bear.

You’ll notice the feet underneath the table are different, with a wider profile, providing a more stable platform. The braces that goes from the tonearm pivot to the bearing are now 3mm thicker and the plinth is finished to a much higher level as well. Freeman makes it a point emphasizing that much of what they learned building the cost no object Naiad turntable filtered into the Planar 3. “We’ve streamlined, updated and optimized our manufacturing process, so part of the way we’ve kept the cost down is by eliminating assembly time. Yet the end result is more consistent than ever before.”

Even the glass platter is different. Now made out of a special, clear glass called “Optiwhite,” the 12mm platter is made to a tighter tolerance than past models. Comparing it to past platters, they all look green in comparison. This is referred to as a technical glass with no iron content. Rega polishes the edge cleaner, and now you can see all the way through to the center hole. Overall, the table has a much more expensive, refined feel in addition to better sound quality.

There’s plenty of stuff you can’t see contributing to the improved sound. Better CNC technology makes for a more precise main bearing hub, with no visible fixing into the plinth. The nut and washer of Rega’s past are now gone, claiming a much lower noise level and our listening confirms this. Microscopically the bearing is compressed somewhat.  You can hear this instantly in the much lower noise level provided when comparing directly to the old model. Freeman laughs as we end the conversation, reflecting on this journey, pointing out that Rega has not shipped any of their manufacturing away from the factory; “We’re control freaks, we have to have control. When you make something 6,000 miles away you can’t control them.  And we love making things.”

My long Rega journey

It seems like only yesterday I was leaving the world of mass-market hifi and entering the wacky world of high-end audio. Conventional wisdom at the time was that direct drive (i.e. my Technics SL-1200) was bad, and a British belt drive table was good. Not quite able to make the stretch to a Linn LP-12 back in 1982, Rega’s Planar 3 seemed the obvious choice. A chance visit to The Audio Emporium in Milwaukee, Wisconsin had them in the process of unpacking a crate full of Planar 3s as I walked in the door. Salesperson Jon Spelt happened to be pulling a lime green Planar 3 out of a box, remarking, “What idiot would buy a turntable this color?”

Well, I was that idiot, and thus began a very long path with Rega and the world of high-end audio. 34 years later here we are. Who knew? All I can remember was bringing that table home, setting it up next to the Technics and spinning the MoFi copy of Poco’s Legend. Hey, it was 1982, cut me some slack. The only thing I remember was that it provided a significantly more engaging experience than my Technics and I was pretty excited to finally be part of the club.

Capturing some of that lost memory, it seems appropriate to dig out that Poco album from the vault and test drive it for old time’s sake. At first listen the new table sounds fantastic, but memory has a way of romanticizing. The Rega Planar 3, at $945 without cartridge has only gone up about 2.5 times in that period and has made a major jump in performance and build quality. And by combining it with the table at time of purchase, you save $100. Not bad at all.

Getting down to the business of listening, the first thing to check is speed accuracy. About twenty years ago, it was common for Rega tables to run ever so slightly fast and once a few reviewers got wind of this, it was like the Audi sudden acceleration effect that dogged the carmaker for years after (yet no one could successfully duplicate). During the 12-year history of TONEAudio, we’ve yet to have a Rega table measure anything but perfect speed and the Planar 3 you see here is no different.

Back to the listening chair

To really get a firm handle on just how much Rega has accomplished, a 36-year-old model is commandeered to compare to the current table side by side in real time. Freeman confirms the serial number, saying the table was built in the fall of 1980, adding, “I probably built that deck.” Steve Daniels at The Sound Organisation, Rega’s US importer was kind enough to send another Elys 2 cartridge for the older table, making for a direct comparison. Pass Labs new $45,000 Xs Phono makes it a breeze to compare the tables as well as limit any equipment limitations. A quick speed check on the older P3 reveals that it is right on spec for turntable speed, so the analog gods are clearly smiling on us this day.

Identical copies of Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde (well, two pressing numbers apart) bring the Rega engineers efforts to bear immediately. The jangly guitar at the beginning of “Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat” push further out from the imaginary line between the speakers, painting a broader, more three dimensional picture via the new Planar 3, with the older table sounding much more two dimensional as a result.

Other LPs with nearly identical pressings reveal the same thing, regardless of which pressing is on which table – the new table is much more dynamic, with a lot more jump than the old. After a few direct comparisons are made to get a baseline, it’s tough to go back to the older table, showing how far the engineering staff at Rega has come with this new design.

The P3 has never been famous for bass extension, yet the new Planar 3 offers more weight, more control and more texture than ever. Rifling through bass heavy tracks shows how much of a contender this table has become. Bouncing back to that totally 80s groove, the synth bass line in Paul Young’s version of “I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down” now rattles the room, where the old table politely offers up some bass.

Thanks to the capability of the Xs Phono, it’s easy to hear a much lower noise floor on the new table compared to the old, but even through a vintage Marantz 2245 receiver, the difference is still discernable, even playing though a pair of JBL L100s. This won’t do you a ton of good spinning your favorite Motorhead disc, but if you’re listening to anything in the acoustic or solo vocal genres, it’s an entirely new ballgame.

Should you order your Planar 3 with a Rega cartridge, setup will take all of five minutes. Attach the belt, fit the cartridge screws and set tracking force to 1.75 grams. Job done. This is not a terribly tweekable table. However, if you want to get into the tweak zone, consider Rega’s Reference Drive Belt. For $59, it’s made from a higher quality rubber and machined to a tighter tolerance, giving a better belt to platter and drive pulley interface. No, it doesn’t make the heavens part, but again those listening to classical and acoustic music will notice an extra degree of smoothness in the upper registers. Take a peek at our video clip to see just how easy this all is.

This more robust, more stable platform makes fitting a better cartridge to the current Planar 3 a better value proposition. If you can find a cartridge that has a similar stylus tip to top of cartridge body measurement, it will pop right in. For other cartridges, Rega makes a 2mm stainless steel spacer, or a step adjustable 2/4/6/8mm spacer that will adjust the back of the tonearm for proper VTA. Stepping up to a Sumiko Blackbird 2 was exciting, showing just how much more music this new table is able to reveal.

And, if you want to take your Planar 3 even further, Rega’s TT-PSU 2 (an additional $395) not only lowers the noise floor even further, controlling the motor better than the stock wall wart power supply, it lets you change speed from 33 to 45 on the fly, at the push of a button. Back when the original Planar 3 roamed the Earth, most records were only 33 1/3 r.p.m., so removing the platter and moving the belt on the pulley manually wasn’t a big deal. Now, with so many audiophile pressings being produced in the two disc, 45 r.p.m. format, it’s a major time saver. Not to mention how much easier playing those 45 r.p.m. maxi-singles will be!

When you really listen to the Rega Planar 3, listen close. It’s changed a lot. And we’re happy to give this perennial favorite one of our Exceptional Value Awards for 2016. We defy you to find a better executed turntable at this price.

The Rega Planar 3 Turntable

$945 without cartridge

$1,145 with Elys 2 cartridge installed (Elys 2 is $295 separately) (factory) (US importer)


Preamplifier              Pass Xs Pre

Phonostage                Pass Xs Phono

Amplifier                    Pass Xs300 monos

Speakers                    MartinLogan Neolith

Cable                          Tellurium Q Silver Diamond

**  Ed. Note: while the system listed here was used for ultimate comparison between the new Planar 3 and old to eliminate that from the equation, the majority of review listening was done with the new Simaudio NEO ACE integrated and a pair of Rogers LS5/9 speakers to keep this a bit more “real world,” if you will.