Triangle Esprit Antal Ez Speakers

Maybe it’s the concert halls, but so many European speakers have a thing for tonal accuracy, and Triangle is no exception. After spending a lot of time listening to the Triangle Antal Ez speakers from their Esprit line, I’ve come away highly impressed. The high gloss piano black (white and walnut veneer also available) towers stand approximately 44” tall by 12” wide and 15.75” deep.

The unique and very stable glass bases and rubber or spiked feet take about five minutes each to attach. Out of the box the Antal Ez’s were slightly tight and flat sounding, but they came alive after a few days of constant play. Initial listening took place in my 9’ x 12’ dedicated listening room, but these speakers begged to be heard in my larger 15’ x 19’ living room – and they are an excellent match.

Optimizing these speakers is well worth the effort, and good as they sound randomly placed, major gains in imaging and soundstage are achieved once your homework is done. Perfection in my space arrived with the Antal EZ’s eight feet apart and the rear panels 29 inches in front of the bay window.

Getting immediately into the groove with Issac Hayes’ Shaft soundtrack paints a massive sound field in the room. Hayes masterful use of various instruments gets full exposure with these black monoliths. The synthesizer steps out in front nicely and playfully bounces between the channels, with the beat solidly locked down.

A 92db sensitivity rating makes the EZs easy to integrate with whatever amplification you might have on hand. Even my vintage 20wpc Pioneer receiver that I use for speaker break-in gets these speakers up and jumping. Even though the EZs have a fairly high sensitivity rating, I suggest a bit more power, should you be going with tube electronics. (a bit more of a word from our publisher at the end of the review)

The tech inside

Triangle’s fascinating TZ2510 tweeter tucks a titanium dome inside a compression chamber, allows the hi-hat and flute in Hayes’ Oscar-winning theme song to propel throughout the listening space in delicious detail. This is a tweeter that has to be heard, providing both expansive detail and silky-smooth response. Much credit for the natural clarity Triangle states comes from the elimination of back standing waves. The mid-song, crystal clear tambourine in “Shaft” is placed solidly, just outside the right speaker boundaries – impressive.

Another hot spot for me is the reproduction of the harmonica, which easily gets shrill and brittle with lesser speakers. The EZs make this an instrument you’ll look forward to hearing, whether it’s classic Bob Dylan, Neil Young, or any other favorite track you might have in mind. Mick Jagger’s intro to “Hoo Doo Blues” is simply sublime, giving this instrument the smoothness and texture it deserves.

Matched up with the titanium tweeter is a single 6.5” white cellulose (paper) cone driver for the midrange frequencies, and dual 6.5” black fiberglass bass drivers. A bass port sits at the bottom of the front face. A rectangular magnetic grill is provided for owners desiring protection from kids, dogs, and the elements. The backside has only a brushed aluminum panel with dual locking copper banana plug binding posts, featuring first rate wire jumpers. This three-way design is housed in a high-density cabinet wrapped in a silky finish.

Back to the listening chair

Stunning as the TZ2510 tweeter is as a design element, it’s blend into the entire system provides head turning vocal clarity. The Antal Ez elevates any singer’s performance by a couple of notches. The lack of electronic haze adds an additional level of clarity to everything in your music collection. Holly Cole’s hi-rez vocal rendition of “Tennessee Waltz” is so tight, the slightest inflections become apparent.

Garth Brooks voice in the haunting “The Thunder Rolls” presents such detail on the Antal Ez’s that I spotted a specific Oklahoma accent point that a friend told me was common of people from Canadian County where Brooks was raised. The ability to pick out such vocal subtleties is something completely unexpected at under five figures, and mind-blowing at $2,750 a pair. ($2,995 for a few optional finishes)

This level of pace and clarity is available at any listening levels, but to their credit the EZ’s retain their resolution at low level as well. Lorde’s Melodrama is a favorite test track at moderate to loud volume around here; but even at a low 77db listening level, I could still catch the nuances in her voice as she subtly shifts from speaking to singing, and the driving bass line is still awash in reverb.

The Antal Ez’s are at their best when playing tracks combining wide dynamics and imaging. Like Isaac Hayes, Electric Light Orchestra thrives on both of the above traits, and in celebration of the recent, Guardians of the Galaxy, the vocals in “Mr. Blue Sky” pushes well to the outside of the speaker boundaries. Imagine Dragons Evolve album uses many of the sonic techniques of ELO. “Believer” swings between various dynamic moments that the Antal Ez’s recreate with ease.

Classical fans take note; the Ezs ability to project true detail of a full orchestra is top notch. Though rated down to 40hz, a little bit of room gain goes a long way to create a strong impression of deeper bass. The larger your room, the more you will be able to take advantage of the wide soundstage these speakers are capable of. For my money, the Triangle Esprit Antal EZ speaker are just plain awesome. Combining punchy dynamics, wide dispersion and phenominal imaging, they bring every musical selection to life. The way they draw out subtle musical artifacts makes them a joy to listen to.

Further Listening – Jeff Dorgay

I must concur with Mark’s analysis; these speakers are very dynamic and throw a huge three-dimensional image. Always catnip for this writer. I had a bit better luck mating the EZs to tube amplification than he did, but to be fair, I have a much wider range of amplifiers at my disposal. Though the 92db sensitivity rating suggests this might be a heavenly match with low powered tube amplifiers, this is not the case. My 20wpc Nagra amplifier fell down just as flat as his Vista i34 amplifier did.

Moving up the food chain to about 60wpc is what you really want to achieve tubey magic with these speakers. The Conrad-Johnson Classic 62 and the PrimaLuna DiaLogue HP both offer stunning performance spatially and dynamically, with plenty of bass extension and control. These speakers need a bit of current drive to achieve maximum effect.

Give these speakers a little bit of space and an amplifier with a bit of drive and you’ll be glad you did. And at this price, they are more than worthy of one of our last Exceptional Value Awards for 2017. We’ll be back with more Triangle product shortly, their new, small powered speakers are already in house and equally enchanting.

The Triangle Esprit Antal EZ Speakers

$2,750/pair – $2,999/pair (finish dependent)

Peripherals (MM)

Analog Source                        Rega RP1 w/Ortofon Super OM40/Sim LP5.3

Digital Source                        Simaudio 300D DAC

Amplification                         i7 Integrated Amplifier, Peachtree Nova 150

Cable                                      Cardas Clear, Shunyata Venom 3 PCs

Peripherals (JD)

Analog Source                        Technics SL-1200G/Grado Statement 2

Digital Source                        PS Audio DirectStream DAC and Disc Player

Amplification                         Esoteric F-07, PrimaLuna DiaLogue HP

Cable                                      Cardas Clear

Focal’s New KANTA no.2 Speakers

Part One: Initial Impressions

Old school auto mechanics have a saying, “If you want ‘em to run hard, break ‘em in hard.” With no connecting rods to send through an engine block, I can’t resist the urge to turn the volume up loud, the minute the photos for this review are finished. A quick playlist of Alice Cooper is queued up and a heavy hand on the volume control has “Hey Stoopid” filling the listening room with authority, my reference orange Focal Sopra no.3s in the shadows and the REL 212SE subwoofers turned off.

Where the Sopras were slightly stiff right out of the shipping cartons, the new Kanta no.2 is smoother and more relaxed, so we’ll see where this goes over the next few hundred hours. Out of the box, these are one of the most pleasing speakers I’ve spent time with – in this case a stunning first impression.

Expecting a pair of yellow Kantas (we love bright colors here at TONEAudio) the glossy Galouise Blue pair that arrived are just as stylish. Pamela gave them an instant thumbs up, mentioning that they nearly match the color of my bright blue Fiat 500e and current iPhone case. Who says guys can’t coordinate colors? Having seen nearly all the color combinations at the recent Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, they are all fun, and I applaud Focal delivering a few color combinations more daring than the standard white, black and wood.

The Kanta driver compliment consists of a 6.5” midrange, pair of 6.5” woofers and a new Beryllium dome IAL tweeter. Focal has updated their cone material again, this time using a Flax sandwich cone. They claim that this offers a “warmer, richer tone,” and a quick switch back to the Sopras confirms this. Which will you prefer? Both are excellent, but a trip to your Focal dealer for a listening session will help you decide. A sensitivity rating of 91db/1 watt means they won’t need a ton of power to get the job done.

Doing the audiophile thing, bouncing back and forth with 45 seconds of a wide range of musical material not only wins me over on the $9,995/pair Kantas, it brings two questions to mind: how can Focal keep making better and better speakers for way less than their $200k + pair of Grande Utopia Ems and what will the next Grande Utopias be?

The Kantas combination of technical excellence, sonic purity and sheer beauty, even after a few hours of listening is incredible. In the weeks to come, we will cover a lot more ground, mating the Kantas to a wide range of amplification from SET all the way up to our massive Pass Labs monoblocks.

For now, consider the Focal Kanta no.2 speakers one of the best first dates ever.

More info here:

An Excellent Powered Solution From Triangle

Triangle has just sent us their new, powered ELARA LN-01 speakers and they are a nice twist on the powered monitor thing. We just finished with their floor standing Antal EZ’s over at TONEAudio and were very impressed with the sound, style, and finish.

The $799/pair LN-01s are two-way powered speakers, but much more. With a pair of 50 watt, Class-D amplifier modules in each speaker, they feature wireless, optical and RCA connections for digital music, but wait, there’s more. In addition to a line level AUX input, there’s a built-in MM phono stage too. This makes em a step above the competition. A variable level output for a powered subwoofer also increases the versatility of these little satellites.

Our review is in the works, but these are very exciting. Triangle heats up the powered mini-monitor race!

Those of you in the Bay Area need only stop by our friends at AudioVision SanFrancisco to get a test drive. Tell em we sent you!

The AVID Volvere SP Turntable

In this fickle world of hifi, from the consumer and the reviewer perspective, who keeps a component for TEN YEARS?

Long term readers of TONE know I’ve always had an affectation for AVID turntables, produced by Conrad Mas and company. Mr. Mas has been slowly, carefully refining his tables for over two decades now and they have earned unanimous praise from owners and critics.

My AVID journey began with the original Volvere, purchased after our review in Issue 7. That’s a long time ago. (Fall of 2007, to be exact) A few years later, I upgraded to a Volvere SP and this table has been a reference staple ever since. These days, my Volvere SP sports a Rega RB-2000 tonearm, but it’s hosted many different arms from SME, Rega, Clearaudio, Jelco and Tri-Planar; all with excellent results.

While it’s always fashionable to get a new toy, I appreciate the green approach that AVID takes, offering motor and power supply upgrades, so you don’t have to take as much of a hit when you’d like a bit more performance.

Ten years later, this is still one of the best values in turntables I’ve ever experienced. It still competes handily with tables costing twice as much and is as much of a breeze to set up as it is to use. Highly recommended.

The AVID Volvere SP

Approximately $6,500 (without arm, pre drilled for SME arms)

Raidho X-1 Speakers

If you’ve been living with LS3/5as, ProAc Tablettes, or a pair of similar sized Harbeths and love the form factor, yet long for more resolution, look slightly to the North and the East. Yes, I’m talking about Denmark – the land of beautiful speakers.

Priced at $6,000/pair, the X-1s are available in the white shown here (a personal favorite) or black. They feature Raidho’s ribbon tweeter, utilized in many of their other designs, combined with a 4″ ceramic coned woofer. More specs are available at:

The X-1 shares the same sonic purity and transparency that is the hallmark of all Raidho speakers, just in a smaller package. Like your favorite Brit minis, there’s no low bass to speak of, and thanks to the front port, you can place them fairly close to the wall without it effecting the delicate midrange balance.

Make no mistake, to get the best out of the X-1, they need to be nearfield speakers, or coupled to a fantastic sub, if you want to fully enjoy them in a larger room. Or just get a bigger pair of Raidhos!  We’ve just started listening in earnest, but the X-1 makes a hell of a first impression. Stay tuned.

The McIntosh MC1.2KW Power Amplifiers

McIntosh made a big splash a while back with its six-box, 2,000-watt MC2KW power amplifiers. They are very cool, play incredibly loud (if you have enough juice in your power line to let them wind out all the way) and command an impressive presence.

Many lovers of the McIntosh brand see them as the Holy Grail. For those who don’t have the space or the budget but ­still dig those gigantic level meters, there’s a more reasonable alternative: the MC1.2KW. The more manageable MC1.2KW monoblocks tip the scale at only 147 pounds each. They’re still not budget components, but the $25k price tag will leave you with enough money left over from not buying the $70,000 MC2KW’s to assemble a formidable system.

Sporting metered faceplates the same size as the MC 2KW, the MC1.2KWs are attention getters. While many audiophiles love “deep-listening” sessions, nothing says “party on” like the gigantic blue meters, and this is a big part of their charm. Their blue glow floods your listening room like a couple of gigantic lava lamps. You can turn them off. But why?

A direct descendent of the MC1201’s, the MC1.2KW’s have significant electrical and cosmetic upgrades. According to Ron Cornelius, McIntosh product manager, the MC1.2KW “Actually produces closer to 1,600 watts per channel on a test bench, so you have to be careful with this much power on tap!”


Unless you are a super hero, getting at least one person to help you unpack the MC1.2KWs is a good idea. And be certain that your equipment rack can support at least 150 pounds per shelf.

Thanks to the large lip on the back, they are surprisingly easy to grasp and move around. I wish more manufacturers would provide rear panel handles on amplifiers this heavy.

While not the latest word in aesthetics, a pair of piano dollies come in handy shuttling the MC1.2KW’s between my reference amplifiers, along with the other gigantic amplifiers we had in for review this issue. They’ve since taken up permanent residence on a pair of Finite Elemente amplifier platforms and look very stylish; they beg to be displayed prominently.

Your next concern will be power. These big beasts need a lot of juice to do their thing. You can run a pair on a single 15-amp circuit, but they won’t reach full power. A dedicated 20-amp line

is better, but if you want an effortless 1,200-watt-per-channel experience, you’ll need a pair of 15-amp dedicated lines. McIntosh tech-support head Chuck Hinton recommends, “Each amp needs its own 15-amp line for maximum performance.” While McIntosh lists the maximum current draw at 13 amps, there’s no point in scrimping if you’re getting dedicated power lines run. Go for 20 amp lines and make sure to have it done by a qualified electrician. Ron Cornelius adds a few more tips, stressing the idea of having your wiring in top shape. Double check your power panel’s grounding and make sure all the connections to the panel and outlets are tight. It’s the nature of solid-core copper wire to wiggle loose with time. “If you don’t have solid power going to your system, your line level components will suffer as well.”

Extended listening with a dedicated 15-amp circuit, a dedicated 20-amp circuit, and dedicated 20-amp circuits for each monoblock reveals that power is your friend. While the amps worked with the single 15-amp line, the circuit breaker blew repeatedly at high volume.

The rest is easy. MC1.2KWs have balanced XLR inputs on the back panel along with RCA inputs and a 12-volt trigger, so it will integrate into any system handily. Due to the use of the legendary McIntosh Autoformers in the output stage, featuring 2-ohm, 4-ohm and 8-ohm taps to connect your speakers. Mc suggests starting with the nominal impedance of your speakers, but a bit of experimentation will yield the best results – sometimes the best match that transfers the most music might be a different tap. My only complaint with the MC1.2KWs, and for that matter all of the McIntosh solid state amplifiers are the dreadful speaker binding posts – they are too small and too close together.

The Sound

The MC1.2KWs immediately take charge. After a few hours warm up with nondescript background music, dropping Joe Harley’s recording of Mighty Sam McClain’s Give it up to Love threw a massive soundstage between my speakers. This record was recorded live to two-track analog tape and when you crank this one up and dim the lights, it sounds like mighty Sam is right there in your listening room (singing in front of a pair of gigantic McIntosh amplifiers in this case…).

With this kind of power at your disposal, big dynamic range helps to create a live feel on recordings with a big dynamic swing and the big Macs never disappointed, whether listening to a full symphony orchestra or Rammstein. You don’t realize just how wimpy your 100-watt per channel amplifier is until you have 1,200 per channel at your disposal. Trust me, you might never want to go back.

Friends listening to my system with the MC1.2KW’s always made the same comment: “Wow, I can’t believe how often those meters jump up around 300-600 watts and we’re not listening that loud.” All the arguments about “tube watts” vs. “transistor watts” vs. “whatever other watts you got” go away, and quickly. It’s big power vs. little power, baby, and if there was ever an argument for size mattering, the MC 1.2KWs settle the score handily.

People often forget that the need for power goes up exponentially as sound pressure level doubles; so that 100-watt-per-channel amp sounds great when you are listening in the one-to-10 watt range because you still have 100 watts or so in reserve, but when you get fast and furious with the volume control, compression sets in quickly and, if you’re not careful, clipping. Still, proceed with care when rocking out because even though it’s tougher to burn out a tweeter with all that clean power, you can run the risk of toasting a crossover when you are pushing the MC1.2KW’s near their limits. That’s when bad things happen to good people.

Power and Control

Next up, some Prince from the Diamonds and Pearls album. The beginning of the track, “Insatiable,” features deep synth bass lines with grunt that usually come across loose and sloppy. The extra power and control of the MC1.2KWs grabs those notes, holds the sustain and stops cleanly. I usually need the help of the JL Audio Gotham in my system to achieve that experience. No longer.

The other aspect of a high-powered amplifier that becomes instantly apparent is the ability to play complex music at relatively high volume levels without the soundstage collapsing. Try this with your favorite piece of densely packed music, whether it is a full symphony or driving rock. This is where the difference between 100 watts per channel and 1,200 per channel is instantly apparent. Though both play fairly loud, when you start to crank the 100-watt amp, everything gets muddy and you lose focus.

If you become the happy owner of a pair of MC1.2KWs, this will be a thing of the past and you might even discover that some of those discs that you thought were compressed just had their peaks rounded off.

During the course of this review, I had the opportunity to use the MC1.2KW’s with about a dozen different loudspeakers, from the Martin-Logan CLX electrostatics to the YG Acoustics Anat II Studios, both of which have low impedance dips and can be problematic to drive. Nothing in my speaker arsenal requires more power than my Magnepan 1.6’s Should you be a Magnepan owner looking for the Holy Grail, nothing lights up a pair of Maggies like the MC1.2KWs. Where the 1.6’s always feel somewhat bass shy in my 16 x 24 foot room, with the Mac amps they sounded like I had added a subwoofer to the system.

The dynamics were amazing and again, all who listened were surprised how easy it was to use up 1,000 watts per channel. It’s worth mentioning that no matter how hard I pushed these amplifiers, even when driving the Magnepans very loud, the MC1.2KW’s never got more than slightly warm to the touch.

Having just spent time with the MC252 amplifier that we reviewed very favorably, the MC1.2KW’s are in a completely different league. The MC252 is an excellent amplifier and a great value, but it does not have the delicacy and clarity that the MC1.2KW has. No matter what the listening level, these are some pretty special amplifiers with the slightest bit of warmth and body to the overall presentation. I doubt that anyone will ever refer to these amplifiers as “sterile solid-state.”

Big Power, Big Meters, Big Fun

At $25,000 a pair, this is not an idle purchase, even for the well-heeled. But if you want a pair of amplifiers that will never run out of juice or require you to buy a futures contract on output tubes, the MC1.2KW could be your Holy Grail. So dim the lights, put your favorite disc on and let em’ rip.

The McIntosh MC1.2KW Monoblocks


The New PS2000e from Grado!

We’ve just received the new flagship PS2000e headphones from GradoLabs.

These beautiful new phones, have not abandoned the familiar wood that makes
Grado’s famous, but now it is clad with a metal alloy, offering a more modern,
sleek look.

Until our review is live, you can read more here:

The REL 212SE Subwoofer

Actually, two of them.

As REL’s John Hunter will tell you, you need a pair of 212SEs to disappear in your room, and that is the ultimate goal of a sub-bass system, to prove a transparent extension to your main speakers, never drawing attention to themselves. While the uninitiated might opt for small cubes that can be placed a bit more out of the way, Hunter explains it succinctly: “When you hear low-frequency information out in the real world, it doesn’t just come at you from off in the corner, it envelops you from all directions.” Thus, the height factor of the 212SE is equally important to disappear audibly.

After Hunter spends a bit of time optimizing my Focal Sopra no.3s for perfect positioning, blending the 212SEs into the rest of the system takes place quickly. When complete, the subs are impossible to localize, and in addition to the lower register improving dramatically, the entire presentation takes on greater depth, width, and height. The Sopra no.3s and the 212SEs work together as one. Perfectly.

As the music is playing, Hunter says, “Ok, now we’re listening to about $300k worth of gear, right?” Then with a quick flick of two switches and a wry smile, he turns the 212SE’s off and says, “Now we’re listening to $292,000 worth of gear.” The difference is staggering; the soundstage completely collapses. Considering the $8,000 that a pair of 212SEs will set you back, won’t even buy a power cord from some manufacturers, this is amazing. The delta achieved by including the pair of 212SEs in my reference system is more than just a 100% jump, I no longer can listen to the system without them in. Adding a pair of these subwoofers to get this improvement for less than 3% of the total system cost is unbelievable.

It’s not the bass; it’s everywhere

The level of depth that the pair of 212SEs adds to the mix is just as exciting as the low-frequency extension. The delicacy of the opening Fender Rhodes licks in the Springsteen classic “Kitty’s Back,” waft through space between my Focal Sopra no.3s so gently, it sounds better than when I’ve sat ten feet away from one in a club. This stunning realism is the key to the 212s presentation. As it says on the REL website, their goal is to restore midrange warmth and harmonic structure. This deceptively simple goal, nearly impossible to achieve, is a promise that has never been delivered in my listening room until now.

Tracking through myriad cuts deliberately lacking substantial LF content reinforces the initial experience. Whether listening to Ella Fitzgerald or Eddie Mercury, my system has more bloom, more dimensionality. The music comes alive in all dimensions more clearly, with more low-level information present at all volume levels. Enticing as giving the volume control a hearty spin is, it’s still good at low volume.

These subwoofers have been a serious threat to productivity. The experience they’ve added to my primary reference system keeps me glued to the listening chair, at times for hours, at times for the entire day. With so much more musical information available, listening becomes sheer joy again.

It’s almost better than real

Because of the power required, lower frequency extension and detail is usually the first thing to give up the ghost when pushed, followed closely by overall system imaging. Depending on your room, system, and available power, it happens gradually or in a brick wall fashion. For the first time in nearly 40 years, this didn’t happen, no matter how loud the music was. The REL 212SEs offer no trace of distortion, compression or fatigue. Even when hitting nearly 120db peaks in my 16 x 25-foot listening room.

Fun as this is, be careful should you attempt this at home, OSHA says you should not be exposed to music at this high volume level for more than about 10 minutes. Just enough to listen to Pink Floyd’s “Breathe” in a way I’ve never experienced it – not even live. Whether you jump off the cliff for a pair of 212SEs or even one of REL’s smallest offerings, the musical force that comes with having a great sub-bass system will make it tough, if not impossible to go back. You can’t unhear it.

Inside the black box

We can go on and on about the tech inside the 212SE, but from the listening chair, it’s all about execution and level to detail. That’s why the 1.6-liter engine in a Kia makes 150 horsepower on a good day, and the 1.6-liter engine in a contemporary F1 car makes almost 900. Make no mistake, REL is the Ferrari F1 of low-frequency reproduction. Full specs are available on the REL site here:

The 212SE looks conventional from a distance, a big black box with woofers in the front. A closer look reveals that the two front-firing 12” continuous cast active drivers are paired to an additional 12” passive cone on both the rear and bottom. The passive cones use the same material as the active drivers, providing sonic consistency. REL claims that the two passive drivers not only add dimension to the bass produced giving the 212SE the equivalent of a pair of 17-inch drivers. Driving each of these woofer arrays is a 1,000-watt amplifier, optimized for its job.

Closer inspection reveals numerous fine details; the finish is exquisite. Not only is it the equivalent of anything I’ve seen on a six-figure pair of Wilson or Magico speakers, but it’s also the equivalent of anything I’ve seen on a Bentley. The gloss black on the review 212s is liquid in appearance, and this reflective quality helps it to physically disappear in the room. Even the complexity of the machined shape in the side handles reveals a level of attention that tells you this is indeed a special product.

For those not familiar with REL, they use a speaker level connection, requiring your main speaker’s run full range, so the signal going to the subs has the same sonic signature of what is going to the mains via your power amplifier. They can be used via line level inputs as well, but whenever I’ve tried this with a REL subwoofer, the results were never quite as good as doing it their way.

Should running a cable be inconvenient, REL subwoofers can also be connected via their Longbow wireless transceiver. The Longbow is a compression-free wireless system, utilizing the same speaker or line level outputs, transmitting wireless information effortlessly. While this option was not taken here, it has been used with other REL products with excellent result.

And the winner is

The combination of dynamics and musicality that a pair of REL 212SEs add to the mix is of such high quality, I had made up my mind after about 10 hours of listening (I was up until about 4 a.m. after Hunter left, the day he installed them) that this would be our product of the year. For my money, this could be TONE’s product of all time.

I’ve had the privilege to own and evaluate thousands of components in the last two decades. Nothing has ever come close to achieving so much at such a modest cost. $8,000 is by no means chump change, but when other companies are asking ten times this for wire, that they claim is a “component level” upgrade, I call shenanigans. If your system doesn’t go to 11 right now, a pair of these will get you there. And if it already does, hang on; you’re still in for a ride you aren’t expecting.

In the end, I’m not sure what freaks me out more, that a pair of REL 212SEs are this good, or knowing that there are two more models above the 212SE.

The REL 212SE Subwoofer

$4,000 each, two used in this review


Analog Source                        Grand Prix Audio Monaco 2.0w/triplanar arm, Lyra Etna

Digital Source                         dCS Rossini DAC and clock

Main Speakers                        Focal Sopra no.3

Preamplifier                             Pass Labs XSPre

Phono                                      Pass Labs XSPhono

Amplifiers                               Pass Labs XS 300 monos, XA200.8 monos

Cable                                       Cardas Clear, Tellurium Q Black Diamond

Racks                                      Grand Prix Audio Monaco

The ProAc Tablette Anniversary

In many ways the Brits are the kings and queens of getting great sound out of small speakers.

A typical British listening room is usually in the neighborhood of about 12 x 15 feet (3 x 5 meters), so this suits apartment living well. ProAc calls this diminutive speaker the Tablette and commemorating 30 years of production, calls this model the Tablette Anniversary. Typical British understatement. The Tablettes need about 30 watts per channel to really sing, but should you be a more crazed audiophile, the better your source components are, more giddyup the Tablettes will have. The Simaudio NEO Ace that we currently use as a reference in the Audiophile Apartment, makes for an amazing combination. Music lovers on a budget will do well to consider a Rega Brio  amplifier at $899 (review link here), another favorite around here. If you’re on a really tight budget, spend all your money on the speakers and grab a Harmon Kardon 730 vintage receiver. You can find one on Ebay for $150, get rocking now and find a better amplifier later.

The minute you fire up these tiny (10 5/8” H x 6” W x 9 ¾” D) marvels, you’ll be knocked back like the dude in the Maxell chair. These little speakers rock the house with full range sound that is incredibly disproportionate to their size. And yes darling, they produce real bass. Ok, you won’t be able to blast Skrillex or Deadmau5, but on all other program material they have enough reach in the lower register to enjoy everything else. Auditioning Stereolab’s Dots and Loops proves very palatable indeed, with sounds bouncing all over the room! The next track, “Lift Off” from Mars & Mystre keeps the energy high and we’re all striking poses around the living room like we’re at Fashion Week.

Streaming the title track from the Afghan Whigs Gentleman album via Tidal at high volume, Greg Dulli’s voice reaches right out of the speakers pulling me to attention. These little boxes can play loud, really loud if you need them to. Slowing it down for Elvis Costello’s rendition of “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again” from The Spy Who Shagged Me brings the vibe back to a more relaxed mode, revealing the character that defines his voice. Just letting my laptop swim through my music library, served up by ROON made this review a ton of fun; there was nothing these little speakers can’t handle.

You can place the Tablettes anywhere in your room. If you place them up on a shelf, try to get them out from the wall as far as possible as their rear port will do wonky things to that glorious bass if you place them right up against the wall. For more critical listening, we suggest some 28” speaker stands so that the tweeter is pretty level with your ears. This will give the most expansive sound, but if you must compromise as many of us apartment dwellers do, you still won’t be disappointed.

$2,200 is a lot of money to spend on speakers, but the ProAc Tablettes are so good, they could be the last pair you buy. And should you ever move out to that big McMansion, you can always add a subwoofer, but that’s another story!

The ProAc Tablette Anniversary

MSRP: $2,200 (US importer) (factory)

The Gold Note PH-10 Phonostage

If you’ve been reading TONE this year, you know we’ve made an amazing discovery in Italy’s Gold Note line of phono cartridges. They achieve a wonderful balance of tone, dynamics, and resolution, and at a reasonable price.

Their PH-10 phonostage offers more of the same sensibilities. $1,600 gets you a solid-state phonostage with two inputs, each configureable as MM or MC, with a pair of single ended and balanced outputs, assuring compatibility with any system compliment. Those wanting to take their analog journey even further can upgrade the PH-10 to a class-A tube output stage, along with a higher capacity power supply. We think that’s green thinking at its finest, allowing you the ability to grow with your PH-10 as your love for analog increases.

Listening begins with a well-used record I’ve heard thousands of times; Steely Dan’s Can’t Buy a Thrill. Of course, I’m using the high output (1.2mv) Gold Note Machiavelli, mounted on a TriPlanar U2 carbon fiber tonearm and the excellent Soulines Kubrick turntable. Gold Note’s own table is being photographed, and we like to swap only one component at a time to fully evaluate something new, so we’ll talk about an all Gold Note combination in the upcoming turntable review. Suffice to say they all work together incredibly well.

It’s tough to believe that this is such a reasonably priced phonostage; it reveals a level of musical information I would expect from a much more expensive component. If I didn’t know better, I’d believe the folks at Gold Note if they told me the price of the PH-10 was double the current asking price. Because they produce such a diverse range of products, there is a scale of engineering and manufacturing that makes it easier to offer such high value.

A familiar sound

In the context of other phonostages, all three of the Gold Note cartridges we’ve reviewed all have a distinct sonic signature that is a drop or two on the warm, romantic, involving side of neutral. Yet as you go up the range, each cartridge reveals more low level detail and paints a larger soundstage, offering greater dynamics, without sacrificing that delectable midrange.

The PH-10 offers the same presentation. Though this is a solid-state design, it has a level of tonal saturation that I would expect from Pass Labs, and that’s a good thing in my book. So many of the $1,000 – $2,000 solid state phonostages available today have a sterile, flat sound, while equally priced phonostages sporting vacuum tubes paint a more sonically interesting, or perhaps engaging palette, yet suffer a high noise floor. The PH-10 is a perfect balance. It’s drop dead quiet, and sonically gorgeous. And you can get it in red. (black and silver are also available)

Annie Lennox’ layered vocals in the Eurythmics 80s classic, Revenge, shine clearly front and center on this densely mixed record. The ability to unravel dense musical tracks helps to distinguish the PH-10 from its competitors. It helps get away from what you might assume a solid state phonostage would sound like, and to dig further into your music collection.

An incredibly versatile performer

The ability to use two turntables is a major bonus in any phonostage, but again, mostly unheard of in this price range, and usually only one input can be used in MC (moving coil/high gain) mode. Configuring the PH-10’s two inputs is only a click away, via the front panel switch and display, revealing which equalization is at your disposal. The PH-10 offers RIAA, Columbia, Decca and a “custom” setting. There is 45db of gain in the MM mode and 62db in the MC mode with four “trim” settings for fine adjustment. Gold Note even includes separate grounding terminals for each of the two inputs. My Audio Research REF Phono 3 ($14,000) does not. Once you set things to taste, it’s easy to keep track of via the easily read front panel display. Nice touch.

We’ve used $60,000 phonostages that didn’t have this level of adjustment. Having spent a lot of time in the music server world, this old fashioned audiophile really appreciates that all adjustments can be made from the front panel, without a remote or an app. Ultimate simplicity!

9 selectable loading options (10, 22, 47, 100, 220, 470, 1k, 22k, and 47K) mean no cartridge is off limits. The lower loading options are great for cartridges like the Rega Apheta/Apheta 2, which really need a 20-50 ohm setting to tame. A number of older MM cartridges perform a little better at 22k, so again, the level of versatility offered here is spectacular. Auditioning the PH-10 with the Gold Note cartridges at our disposal as well as cartridges from Rega, Grado, Lyra, Ortofon and Denon prove it’s versatility.

Gold Note mentions an upgrade to optimize the equalization curve, allowing you the option of fine tuning it even further to your taste. We hope to sample this at some point, along with the class-A tube output stage. This is connected via a 5 pin neutrik connector on the rear panel of both units, so this should take the PH-10 to even higher performance.

The PH-10s compact, half-chassis size allows it to integrate anywhere, and the balanced outputs allow you the luxury of having a turntable where it’s convenient to place it. The PH-10 easily drives a 30 foot pair of Cardas Clear balanced interconnects with no signal degradation whatsoever. Balanced outputs have a fixed level of 4 volts and the single ended outputs 2 volts, more than enough to drive any modern or vintage preamplifier or integrated amplifier to full output.

Back to the sound

Features and functionality are great, but without excellent sound to back it up, useless. The more time spent listening to the PH-10, the more we love this phonostage. Regardless of the program material chosen, its sonic character comes through. Bass is solid, powerful and well defined. Thanks to the on board subsonic filter, the extreme low to subsonic frequencies are gently rolled off to avoid potential sources of turntable rumble from reaching your speakers. The midrange is glorious and the highs are extended and detailed but never harsh.

The cymbals throughout Hank Mobley’s Roll Call, are always smooth and silky with just the right amount of bite, yet bass and kick drums are renedered with the necessary amount of dynamics and force to be convincing. In addition, the PH-10 reveals plenty of midrange detail and textural/spatial information to have you wondering if there isn’t a tube or two inside the red box. I assure you there isn’t.

Here’s to your analog path

Gold Note’s PH-10 phonostage comes right out of the box with top in class performance, yet it offers the ability to expand it considerably further. What else could you ask for? The price puts it within reach of a wide range of analog lovers, and the performance (along with a clear, concise upgrade path) make it easy to grow with.

I am happy to give the PH-10 one of our last exceptional value awards for 2017. It is well deserving.

The Gold Note PH-10 phonostage



Preamplifier                             Pass Labs XS Pre

Power Amplifier                     Pass Labs XA200.8s  (Pair)

Turntable                                 Soulines Kubrick HDX w/triplanar arm, Gold Note Machiavelli MC (other carts mentioned in review)

Speakers                                  Focal Sopra no. 3 w/2- REL 212SE subwoofers

Cable                                       Cardas Clear and Tellurium Q Black Diamond

The SVS SB16-Ultra Subwoofer

After listening to the SVS SB16-Ultra for some time now, it’s still been tough to put into context, yet a recent test drive of the latest 650 horsepower Z06 Corvette brings the point home clearly.

Sometimes nothing floats your boat like sheer, pavement melting horsepower. Maybe the Z06 lacks some of the finesse of the current offerings from Porsche or Ferrari, but when you put the pedal to the floor and light up the tires, you can’t help but smile. There are a few things the Vette does that it’s more refined European cousins don’t and that’s it’s magic.

For $1,995 you just can’t beat the SB16-Ultra, though if a 3db down point of 16hz still isn’t enough LF extension for you, the even larger PB16-Ultra ($2,499) will take you down to 13hz. I remember hearing a 10hz tone once, and it felt like someone was pounding a nail through my head, so proceed with caution. Cranking up a long playlist of Aphex Twin has me convinced that the SB16-Ultra delivers the goods in a big way. Tracking through my favorite bass heavy cuts from Fink, Infected Mushroom, Snoop Dogg and even Pink Floyd prove tons of fun. 40 years later that heartbeat at the beginning of Dark Side of the Moon just rules. The SB16-Ultra pumps it out so hard, you feel it in your stomach, you feel it in your soul.

It’s easy to get used to the SB16-Ultra until you shut it off. Then, the opiate center of your brain that is excited by major bass experiences immediate withdrawals. Much as I enjoyed my time with the SB16-Ultra (and contributor Ken Mercereau bought one as well) I really love it in the context of a theater/gaming system. While many subwoofer experts agree that you should have a pair of subs, a sole SB-16 gets you rocking in a big way, in a hurry. Barely bigger than a dorm fridge, it’s easy to find a spot.

Easy to love

One of the toughest parts of owning a subwoofer is integrating it with your main speakers as seamlessly as possible. SB16-Ultra makes this a breeze, thanks to the best app I’ve ever had the chance to experience. But first, take a bit of time getting the best sound you can from your SB16-Ultra the old-fashioned way; move it around. Don’t let the compact 20-inch cube fool you, unless you are super buff, keep in mind it tips the scale just over 120 pounds, so here’s a suggestion: grab a piano dolly. I like the “Milwaukee” ones from Home Depot.

You’ll have to decide on corner or mid room placement, and this will probably be determined somewhat by what you have to work around and how much flexibility you have in room placement. All things being equal, corner placement offers the most reinforcement from the floors and corner. I’d suggest the corner if you’re SB16-Ultra is being used for movies and games, where you want those cannons to embed you in the couch.  Should your listening be weighted more toward music, you might consider placing a sole SB16-Ultra just off center from your speakers and starting there. We’ll get back to this in a minute. You’ll also need a pair of interconnects to go from your amp or receiver, if you connect the SB16-Ultra via the line level ouputs. RCA or XLRs will work just fine. The SB16-Ultra has right and left inputs, or if you are doing a strictly theater setup, it has a single LFE input as well.

The coolest app ever

Fine tuning a subwoofer is tough, constantly getting up from your listening position, making adjustments and then sitting back down to listen and evaluate. First world problems, I know, but you want it to be awesome, right? SVS makes it easy with the absolute best app I’ve ever seen for this kind of thing. Better yet, the app explains and walks you through all the adjustments, and they do such a great job, even if you’ve never done anything like this, you’ll be rocking in no time.

Should you want to skip the “tune it by hand” part of the setup, the room gain feature of the app utilizes the digital signal processor (DSP) inside the SB16-Ultra, to compensate for being too close or too far away from room walls or corners. This eliminates that boominess that gives subwoofers a bad name. Once all parameters are set to taste, merely save your results as a custom preset. Done.

Getting into it

After spending about 30 minutes making small movements out and back from the wall in room two, with a pair of MartinLogan ESP9 speakers, the app makes it easy and fun to fine tune the system. Starting with the “music” preset, the first adjustment on the list after setting the level is the low pass filter frequency, and as the ESP9s go down past 40hz with ease, setting the sub to 35 hz, selecting a 24db/octave slope to get it out of the way quickly. Working with the Graham Audio LS5/9s, a gentler curve works better. The wide range of adjustment offered makes this easy with a little practice and patience.

Once you get used to going this far, move on to the room gain and parametric EQ settings. Again, SVS lets you vary frequency and “Q.” The Q setting varies how wide the frequency you select has an effect and the app lets you see this in real time. If you want a gentle bump to the bass, you can adjust the Q thusly. If you want a very narrow bump or cut, this can also be accommodated. If new to EQ settings, go at this with broad strokes at first to really get a feel for how the filters and EQ affect the sound.

This is why the SVS app really rocks; whether you are new or experienced, it’s so easy to experiment with all the settings, just to see how they affect your system’s tonal balance. And it’s so easy to back in and recalibrate, the more seat time you have. It makes hifi fun. It’s also worth mentioning that for the MartinLogan owners out there, the curved front metal grill matches the ML aesthetic perfectly.

Off to the movies

Moving the SB16-Ultra into my home theater system, with a set of Dali Fazon speakers (enlisting that dolly again) and an Anthem MRX-520, it is even easier to dial in the sub, letting Anthem’s built in ARC room correction do the heavy lifting. Still, I did a bit of fine tuning and depending on the program material, it was nice to have the app to use more as a tone control. Just like with musical selections, not all movies are mixed equally, and it’s nice to have the option of easily goosing, or cutting back the bottom end a bit to taste.

Even though my Dali’s have fairly small woofers all the way around, the SB16-Ultra does a great job integrating that big 16-inch driver with all these small 4-inch woofers, a testament to its design. Streaming London Has Fallen, I got more than my share of shooting, the minute I tuned into Netflix. Cranking up the volume to nearly movie theater levels and watching a barrage of car chase scenes from the Fast and Furious franchise, everyone came away convinced that the SB16-Ultra adds a sense of realism that you just can’t get without a moving serious air.

On top of that, service

In the event you can’t get your SB16-Ultra performing to what you feel it’s potential is, the SVS staff is there via phone or chat to help you back on the path. I tried the chat feature with excellent result and had my wife give them a call too. Both times, we were rolling in no time and this speaks volumes about the SVS staff. They really go out of their way to lend a hand, and in a day of customer service being nearly non-existent, I give SVS major kudos here.

All SVS products have a 45-day trial period, so if you just don’t like the damn thing, or the roommate you thought you could sneak that subwoofer past gets snarky with you, you can return it at no risk – SVS even covers the shipping. But I doubt you’ll want to part with it.

After living with the SB16-Ultra for some time now and using it in a variety of different hifi systems, I happily report excellent results in all circumstances. Whether you are working with a pair of minimonitors, your favorite panels, or massive floorstanders, the SB16-Ultra delivers stunning bass performance. With 1500 watts of power on tap, you’ll most likely bottom out your main speakers way before you push the sub too far. We certainly couldn’t no matter how loud the cannons blasted, the buildings blew up or the beats dropped.

All this, with major support and a no-risk return policy adds up to an Exceptional Value Award in our book. And, should you jump off the cliff and get a pair, SVS gives you a $200 discount. The holiday season is on the way, treat yourself! Highly recommended.

The SVS SB16-Ultra subwoofer


Farewell, Gérard Chrétien

I just heard the sad news that Focal’s Gérard Chrétien passed away on Sunday, October 1.

I had the pleasure of meeting him the first time about five years ago when I toured the Focal factory, with my friend John Bevier. Gérard was a wonderful host, giving me quite the tour, making sure I knew everything there was to know about Focal, making sure I fully understood the unique blend of technology, craftsmanship and passion that makes them tick. After business hours, he was. even more gracious, taking us around the city and availing us to some great meals while we were there.

Every time I saw him at a hifi show, no matter how busy, he always took the time to come over my way and give me a big hug. Even though I am a relative newcomer to this industry, he always inquired to how I was doing. With that big smile of his, without fail he would say, “How is that beautiful wife of yours?”

Always a kind man, always a professional, and always a perfect gentleman. That’s how I’ll remember Gérard Chrétien.

A High Value Amp and Pre From Emotiva

With record clamps fetching upwards of $3,000 these days, it’s nice to see that someone has some common sense.

The PT-100 preamplifier and A-150 power amplifier from Emotiva offer great performance at a price everyone can enjoy.
Both barely tipping the scales at $299 each, the PT-100 preamplifier also includes a 24/192 DAC, headphone amplifier and a tuner,
all in one box. Oh yeah, it even has a MM/MC phono stage too.

The A-150 amplifier is substantial, with a class AB output stage and a real power supply to match.

Both offer uniform, yet tastefully understated cosmetics, as part of Emotiva’s BAS-X series.

Our review is almost finished, but the short story is you can’t go wrong with these two. Whether you make this pair
the anchor for your first, last, or additional system, the level of sound quality and functionality can’t be beat.

Click here to see the rest of the lineup. (they have some pretty cool sub/sat speakers too!)

B&W’s White Zeppelin

We’ve lived with every generation of B&Ws Zeppelin desktop audio system, and each one is better than the last.

Stay tuned for a full report on the current, wireless model…