The Esoteric F-07 Integrated

High quality integrated amplifiers are a hotbed of audiophile activity these days.

Thanks to improved manufacturing techniques, and in the case of a company like Esoteric, their ability to call upon the same engineering team that builds $50k (each) digital audio components, the $7,500 F-07 integrated amplifier makes perfect sense. Before the first track is played, this easily looks like a $20,000 component on the rack. The exquisitely machined chassis, elegant controls, and gentle blue backlit front panel all declare quality, high quality. If that doesn’t convince you, pick it up, the F-07 weighs 60 pounds.

Too enthused to read the manual or pour over all the specs, the F-07 is quickly connected to the Quad 2812 speakers for a test drive. Even from cold, this 100-watt per channel integrated entices. (it does produce 170wpc into 4 ohms, nearly doubling it’s rated power) The recent vinyl release of Crowded House’s Woodface fills the space between and beyond the boundaries of the Quads, which can be notoriously tough to drive, because of their highly capacitive nature.

Features Galore

Did I mention? The F-07 includes a built-in, dual mono MM/MC phonostage that is anything but an afterthought with a fixed loading of 100 ohms – perfect for my Zu Audio modded Denon DL-103r cartridge and the latest Technics SL-1200G table we reviewed last issue. The MM section is equally enticing, paired with the Gold Note Machiavelli cartridge. This on-board phonostage only features one input, with MM/MC selection on the front panel. Even moving up to the Ortofon Cadenza Black MC proves the F-07 up to the task, this amplifier will be at home with turntables costing as much or more! Nothing in the F-07 is an afterthought.

Digital lovers wanting an inclusive option can add the Op-DAC-1 DAC board in the accessory slot on the rear panel. This DSD capable DAC will only set you back $1,100, keeping the total package price of an F-07 with DAC under $9,500. Running through a long playlist of high-resolution tracks, the performance delivered by the F-07 is first class, and 16/44 performance equally involving. The delicate harmonies in Hall and Oates’ classic Abandoned Luncheonette are stunning, with all the elements of the recording having plenty of room to breathe. The harmonies in John Mayer’s latest, The Search For Everything prove equally enticing.

Today’s bargain DAC’s offer a level of resolution that would have commanded a five-figure sum a decade ago, but the F-07s onboard DAC has a smoothness that you won’t find with a budget DAC. No doubt, this is a result of trickle down technology from their world class Grandioso D1 DAC. Bottom line, unless you are going to drop major cash on an external DAC, I suggest just adding the card and be done.

Plenty of Power

The sonic signature of the F-07 is very natural. A well tempered, dual mono, class AB power amplifier, fed by a massive power supply makes for a dynamic presentation, that is free of coloration. The F-07 neither embellishes nor emphasizes what isn’t there. Sonically, this amplifier reminds me a lot of the Boulder amplifiers regarding “doing no harm,” but at a much more affordable price point. Bypassing the internal DAC and phono illustrates just how good the internal bits are, yet shows off what a fantastic amplifier the F-07 is.

Moving to more dynamic music and giving the volume control a major twist clearly illustrates how much sheer oomph it offers, especially now paired with the Focal Sopra no.3 speakers, with a 91.5db/1-watt sensitivity rating. Even tracking through major rock and EDM tracks, the F-07 never gets more than warm to the touch, at ear shattering volumes. An equally impressive performance is given with the current MartinLogan 13A ESLs as well as the Graham LS5/9s. 100 watts per channel should be more than enough for anyone in less than a cavernous room. And the F-07 does offer a set of preamp out jacks so you can use it strictly as a preamplifier, driving a larger power amplifier.

Regardless of the source, the F-07 is incredibly fatigue free. After many 8-12 hour listening sessions, I could always put one more record on, and that is the highest compliment I can pay this amplifier. While the majority of my test listening was done with the onboard DAC and phonostage, Esoteric’s Scott Sefton had to recall the DAC board, leaving the trusty Gryphon Kalliope ($32,000) DAC in its place. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the Gryphon offers better digital performance, but the bigger picture is how well the F-07 responds, revealing a proportionate increase in resolution. A large slice of high-end audio heaven is yours with the F-07s internal DAC, but should the urge to upgrade still beckon, it has more than enough performance to keep you happy. Maybe the Esoteric K-07 SACD player?

In the Eyes of the Beholder

Excellent as the audio performance of the F-07 is, the level of human engineering on this product is equally great; it’s an incredibly easy integrated to live with and use day to day. The controls are well distributed on the front panel, with input and volume controls larger than the rest to command attention and secondary controls at the ready. And yes, it has a pair of tone controls that work incredibly well, only giving a gentle nudge to the opposite ends of the frequency spectrum. (+/- 12db @ 63hz and 14khz, respectively) I found these very helpful with records featuring less than optimally mastered. Audiophile purists can grouse about tone controls all they like, I’m enjoying the ones on the F-07.

The rear panel has all the inputs and outputs equally distributed, with four single-ended RCA and one balanced XLR line level inputs. Considering that you already have an on board phono and the potential for a built-in DAC, the F-07 should be able to handle any compliment of ancillary component you might have. In the best tradition of Japanese integrateds past, there are even two speaker outputs.

Last but not least, a headphone amplifier is included for those desiring personal listening sessions. Auditioning a modest cache of phones’ from Oppo, Audeze, B&W and Grado shows that like the phonostage, the headphone section is not an afterthought, either. No matter what set was chosen, the F-07 delivers a large soundstage along with the ability to control the presentation. Bass generated was excellent, the deep bass line in Prince’s “Here on Earth,” indeed impressive, with force and control.

Is it the one for you?

Whether you are a seasoned audio enthusiast, that is perhaps downsizing and would like to have the sound and functionality of a big stack of components in a more reasonable sized enclosure, or the music lover moving from a basic system, wanting to achieve the same objective, the F-07 is a winner. Having the privilege of listening to the world’s finest components daily, I must admit to looking at the F-07 after a full day of listening, asking myself, “could I just take this, a turntable and one good pair of speakers and call it a day?” The answer to that question is yes.

Everyone wants something different from their hi-fi system. And yes, there is more performance to be had from Esoteric’s flagship components. But I am a human being valuing balance above everything else. I’d rather have a new Miata than a Maserati. If that balance is your preference as well, I can’t suggest the Esoteric F-07 highly enough. Much for all the same reasons I love the Simaudio ACE integrated at $3,400; the F-07 is a similar component in the balance it offers. All of the components compliment each other and offer an equal level of performance, but the F-07 offers more in every way. I’m buying the review sample myself.

The final note on the F-07 comes in the heritage behind the company. With TEAC being the parent company, the build quality is fantastic, and there is a world-wide dealer and service network in place to assure support. This is as good as it gets. I suspect those buying an F-07 of their own, will plug it in, turn it on, and just enjoy great music for years, if not decades. I am more than happy to award this amplifier one of our Exceptional Value Awards for 2017 – it embodies all the values we hold true at TONEAudio.

The Esoteric F-07 Integrated Amplifier

$7,500, Op-DAC-1 DAC board $1,100 additional

Turntable                     Soulines Kubrick HDX, Rega RB1000, Gold Note Macchiavelli

Speakers                      GamuT RS5i, Focal Sopra no.3, Quad 2812, Graham LS5/9
Cable                           Cardas Clear

Power                          Equi=Core 1200

First Look: The Magnepan .7 Speakers

Having spent a fair amount of time with the Magnepan MMG over the years, it’s a fun little speaker that can’t always rock. Change the program to jazz or vocal music, and you’d swear you are listening to much more expensive speakers. The spatial perspective of the MMG is incredible, feeling almost like you have a gigantic pair of headphones in the listening room. For $699 a pair, they are tough to beat.

The new Magnepan .7, at twice the price, is another high-end audio bargain of all time. Much more dynamic, with the ability to create a huge soundfield in a modest sized room, these speakers are so much more of what the MMGs offer, yet still reasonably priced. We’ll have more to talk about when our full review is finished, but after a few days of run in time, these little panels are nothing short of amazing.

Magnepans past are fairly power hungry, yet the .7s work with 60 watts per channel quite nicely. PrimaLuna’s HP Integrated and the Pass INT-60 offer excellent results, so whether you like tubes or transistors you can bask in the panel experience.

The holiday season is upon us. If you’re looking for a new pair of speakers, I highly suggest the Magnepan.7. My high-end journey started with a pair of MGIIs nearly 40 years ago. Even if you aren’t, zoom on over to your Magnepan dealer to see just what $1,395 buys. And for all of you complaining on internet forums about how high end sound is out of reach unless you have six figures to spend, here’s your solution.

EAT’s GLOW S phonostage

With phono preamplifier reaching the stratosphere, what is the performance minded analog lover to do? We’ve got a few good examples coming in the January issue of TONEAudio, but this new model from European Audio Team, the Glow S, is incredible. Here’s why:

Super styling. The sleek case, with soft blue LEDs, matte finish tube towers (hiding a pair of EAT ECC 83 tubes) and complimentary wooden end caps makes for a compact component that will look fantastic on any equipment rack.

Intelligent functionality. Everything is on the top panel, and you can adjust MC gain, (45, 50, 55, 65 and 70 db) loading (10, 25, 50, 75, 100 and 1000 ohms) and capacitance (50, 100, 150, 200, 270, 320 and 420pf) easily. There is also a very unobtrusive subsonic filter – great for those of you with subwoofers!

The sound. Bells and whistles sweeten the deal, but the Glow S sounds a lot more expensive than it’s $2,995 price tag would suggest. Click here to visit the VANA LTD site, if you’re in the US, or here to visit the EAT site, if you’re not.

Why I Love White Speakers

Everyone has a favorite color; mine is red, and my husband (it’s no secret about Jeff Dorgay) loves lime green. When it comes to accessorizing these are the colors that attract us.

However,  our favorite colors sometimes may tend to be a bit too harsh indoors, or too big (in the case of lime green, no offense my love).  What man or woman hasn’t incorporated black into their wardrobe, or home? It’s understated and elegant and goes with everything.   There isn’t anything quite as beautiful as a pair of black lacquer speakers or black cars. In reality, black is only beautiful without smudges or dust, which is almost impossible to achieve.  The opposite of black is white, a non-color that reflects light rather than absorbing it.  Even the smallest black speaker will look more massive than a white one; all an illusion.

Bowers & Wilkins matte white speakers blend in with the room and don’t fight with the colors you are already using, still looking bright and best of all, they always look smart. Europeans have favored white for years as they have less available light than other places – especially the Scandinavian countries. Whether you live in the Northern part of the U.S. and have more rain, or in the lower Southern states with heat, white speakers reflect light. The new B&W705’s that I’ve placed in the bedroom blend with modern as well as traditional settings, so eclectic does well too. White looks crisp, clean and pure; just like the sound.

Raidho’s X-1 Speakers are compact, yet sit prestigiously on their custom stands. The white gives off the appearance of being ‘light and airy.’  Sound that is light travels, and psychologically we transfer this insight into our beliefs about what we see we also hear. The experience of listening is affected by our sight as well as hearing – such is the science of psychoacoustics. Some individuals have a neurological condition called “sound-to-color synesthesia,” or “chromesthesia,” in which they effortlessly experience their very own light show while hearing music and other sounds. Interestingly, many chromesthetes grow up assuming that everyone has the same visual responses to sounds as they do, and are shocked when they discover this is not so. (1 in 13,000).

Even smaller and more compact are the Dali Fazon Mikro speakers. Again, in white, with matching subwoofer and center channel, these make a potent, yet compact home theater choice. We’ve been using this in our small, bright white living room for a few years now with excellent result. You barely know they are there.

Your favorite color can be a big part of your personal life, but when it comes to choosing a speaker color, it’s best to think about what color works best for your living space. White doesn’t go out of style and it’s what many Europeans prefer. Practical because it hides dust and dirt, white is a big plus for a busy lifestyle. White represents perfection and is the purest most complete color. What more could you ask for? – Pamela Dorgay

The 705 S2 from Bowers & Wilkins

There’s nothing more unfair to a pair of speakers than to pull them out of the box, throw them in a room with no care paid to fine tuning the setup and just playing music. But if you just got home from your favorite hifi store, that’s probably what you’d do, right? Especially if you’re not a terribly geeky audiophile.

Our back bedroom is the hang out room in our house. It’s about 11 x 12 feet, with a couple of big wardrobe closets, and a huge comfy chair and ottoman. It’s a great little room to get cozy in, put a pair of headphones on, and curl up with a glass of wine on a cold, rainy Pacific Northwest afternoon. But since we’ve added the Naim Atom to the mix, we’ve been on a quest for a great pair of small speakers that fill the room.

Having been to the introduction of the 705s in Boston a few months ago, we knew these were going to be pretty special, but you never know for sure until you get em in your room and your system. Ok, we are kind of geeky. However, in this room, it’s the rule that whatever is placed in it sounds great without major setup. We’re trying to keep it real in this environment.

The 705S2s pass this test with flying colors. Using the very reasonably priced Cardas Iridium speaker cables, and plopping the 705S2s on the filled Sound Anchors stands, they produce glorious sound right out of the box. Of course, as with any fine loudspeaker, careful attention to fine tuning makes for even better performance, we’ll explore that shortly in a full review.

Parsound’s JC3 Jr. Phono Preamplifier

With 30 minutes on the power up clock, unable to resist the temptation any further, a new copy of Crowded House’s Together Alone is dropped on the current Technics SL-1200G with Hana SL cartridge, and magic begins pouring through the latest offering from Parasound.

If you’re new to the analog game, the JC3 Jr.s designer, John Curl is a legend, having a hand in some of the world’s finest preamplifiers and phono preamplifiers. We reviewed their $2,400 JC3 about five years ago, finding it an incredible performer and an incredible bargain. Since then, Parasound has gone on to build an improved JC3+ (at $2,995) and the Jr. you see here for $1,495.

Not a complete dual mono, dual shielded chassis design like the more expensive 3+, Jr. still gets the job done. It’s quiet, quiet, quiet; paints a big soundstage and is incredibly dynamic. Like the more expensive models, you have balanced and single ended output options and the choice of a fixed 47k loading or a variable 50-500 ohm MC setting, with three gain settings; 40, 50, and 60db. (6 db more if you use the balanced outputs).

Got your interest piqued? Watch for Eric Neff’s full report. I’m off to FedEx to blast it his way. Oh yeah, it comes in black too…

Sonus faber Introduces New Aida

Time flies when you’re gorgeous and having fun!

Way back in 2012, we reviewed Sonus faber’s flagship speakers, the Aida and they were breathtaking to say the least. Now, they have just announced an updated version that is even better than the previous model. You can read our past review here:

But to sum it up, we called Aida “the new Italian word for perfection.” These speakers look as beautiful as they sound, and one friend wept when he heard Bob Dylan through them at our place. No kidding!

While the Aida looks the same from the outside, everything inside has been upgraded; crossovers and drivers all take advantage of everything SF has learned in the last six years.

Our North American readers will not be able to experience Aida until the end of 2017, but it will make it’s debut in the Warsaw hifi show this weekend. I envy any of you that will be there to experience it. I may be heading to Italy sooner than later!

RMAF 2017 Part Two: My Six Favorite Rooms at RMAF

Having attended a dozen RMAF’s now, this year’s show had the best sound overall that I’ve ever encountered – at any show. While some manufacturers were not happy with the reconfigured hotel rooms, they did a damn good job at wringing good sound from them. The level of consistent great sound was definitely at an all-time high this year.

And while I think it’s unfair to draw a “best sound at the show,”line in the sand, here are my five favorites below. Speaking of unfair, I really liked the PS Audio room too, but this was a teachers pet favorite, because they were showing off a number of components I own! (The Focal Sopra no.3s along with REL 212SE subwoofers and a full compliment of PS Audio electronics, with their new Power Plant power conditioners that we should see for review sooner or later)


Rene Laflamme and crew have been getting spectacular feedback all over the world this year, and it is well deserved. Basing a system around their new Classic DAC, Classic Preamplifier and HD Power Amplifier, with time tested speakers from Wilson and analog playback via their own reel to reel deck and the Kronos turntable, the Nagra components gave their best. Though this writer is not a Wilson fan, this was one of the most coherent and musical presentation I’ve ever heard them deliver. This room was a triumph of system synergy.

However, what made this system shine the brightest for me, was the high level of quality and consistency between sources. Great as the reel to reel playback was, digital and vinyl was so incredibly close, it didn’t matter what they were playing. This is what makes a truly high end system magical, when you can just get into the music and forget about the tech.


Another group leaning heavily on the reel to reel, (While GamuT designer Benno Baun Meldgaard is a massive RTR enthusiast, they too provided equally stunning playback with all sources, from an all-GamuT system, anchored by their flagship Zodiac speakers. US Importer Michael Vamos had the tunes flowing from morning till night.

The Zodiacs have an amazing way of disappearing in the room, even more incredible considering how big they are. And the sound they produce is one of the most coherent, friendly sounds going. Having used GamuT speakers as reference components for years, they can be listened to forever without fatigue.

Featuring their latest XT-5 floorstanding speakers, the Raidho’s provide a vastly different presentation that GamuT or Wilson, yet on one level offer some of the strengths of each. Very dynamic, yet resolving, (without being fatiguing) the XT-5s paint an incredibly detailed and dimensional look at the music. Scary good.

We’ve just received their entry level X-1 and they are fantastic. Expect to hear a lot more about Raidho from us in the months to come – we have a factory visit scheduled for January, to get the story behind the speakers.

MartinLogan/Audio Research

Many long-term ESL lovers wax poetic about the marriage of an electrostatic speaker and tube amplifiers. ML went for broke this year, using the massive ARC REF 750SEs. Nothing beats the Audio Research REF 750SE monoblocks when it comes to sheer power delivery and control, yet these monstrous amplifiers have the same level of finesse that you’d expect out of a small tube amplifier.

Paired up with the equally gargantuan MartinLogan Neolith, the sound presented was big, bold, and stunning. If you ever thought panels couldn’t rock, this was the system to shatter your beliefs.

Pure Audio Project/Whammerdyne

Last year the $15k Whammerdyne “Truth” 2A3 amp re-defined what I thought a low power SET amp could do, but Pat Hickman has been hard at work, designing a killer low power amp for those not having that kind of budget. While the flagship Truth amp was in rotation and delivering amazing sound with the massive Pure Audio Project Quintet speakers, the real buzz for me was mating these speakers to his new DGA (Damn Good Amp 3) amp that barely tips the scales at $2,500.

Mated to the $3,500 Exogal Comet DAC, this whole system with your choice of reasonably priced cable is still only around $15k. This system was the bang for the buck king of the show. If you want six figure sound on a modest budget and have the room for the speakers, this is the way to roll.


Featuring their $42,000/pair XT-5s, the Raidho room offered stunning resolution and the best implementation of a ribbon tweeter I’ve ever experienced. An in-depth, and lively presentation by Rune Skov, with a wide range of musical material had us all on the edge of our chairs. And, as you would expect from Danish craftspeople, the cabinets are just as gorgeous as the sound.

You will be hearing more about Raidho in the months to come in our pages!

RMAF: Part one…

Five Postcards from RMAF and Beyond:
A first visit to Denver’s audio show

By Gautam Raja, Photo: Brian Von Bork

#1. Wish You Were Hurting

There aren’t many Indian brands in high-end audio, which is why I’m sitting on an orange sofa at the Hotel Irvine, talking to Jacob George, a pony-tailed architect from Cochin, India. It’s 2015 at T.H.E. Show Newport, and Jacob is the founder and designer of Rethm, a company whose single-driver loudspeakers received good reviews in the international audio press. Jacob is in Orange County to show a pair of his elegant Rethm Maarga’s, and is also on the verge of setting up a US distribution network. He has run into an unexpected problem.

A dealer heard their room, and loved both sound and aesthetics of the speakers so much, that he walked the distributor into the corridor to talk business. The dealer had a bevy of high-profile clients with holiday homes at an upscale location in the US, and knew they’d love Jacob’s product.

But the distributor soon returned: no deal. The sound was right. The looks were right. The price was a problem. Too expensive? No, at $10,500, they were too cheap. His clients were expecting to pay about $80,000 for a pair of loudspeakers.

Long dissolve to 2017. The scene is the Davone room at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest in Denver. I walk in and look with suspicion at these pretty teardrop-shaped speakers with a beautiful wood finish. And when they play like a proper high-end product, I’m surprised. I make this admission to the soft-spoken Davone designer and founder Paul Schenkel, and while I don’t expect to be the first, I also don’t expect Paul to have no defensiveness or resignation about this, but a simple acceptance: this is how it is.

A little later, I talk to an experienced dealer about Davone, and he says, “Oh yeah, great speakers, but I can’t sell them. Too pretty.”

Please write back and tell me, why does it have to hurt?

#2. Wish You Were Younger. No, Older. No, Younger

In my recent past, I worked as a salesperson at a high-end audio dealership, a brief career unbesmirched by the ugliness of commerce (i.e. actual sales). But hey, I made lots of friends. Many industry reps visited the dealership, and I would ask them the same wide-eyed question: “Who is the new audiophile?”

They’d say, “You. Young people like you, with your USB turntables.”

And I would respond, “Holy crap, how old do you think I am?”

I’m 43, but I’m told I look much younger. (What they don’t tell me, but I know is true, is that I act much younger too.) But, apparently even 43 is young in audio world, and my callow USB-turntable-toting youthfulness was borne out at RMAF at the seminar “Young Guns of Hi-Fi”. It was part-joke that the venerable Steve Guttenberg sat in on the panel, but I don’t think anyone missed the irony of not having enough young guns to go around. Ebullient, ubiquitous Danny Kaey of Positive Feedback and SonicFlare led the seminar, and also on the panel were Rafe Arnott of Part-Time Audiophile, and Sean Casey of Zu Audio. They were all chronically young rather than chronologically—and I mean that in a good way. I guess that was the point.

Perhaps the only truly young people were self-described “older millennial” Jessa Zapor-Gray, vice president of marketing, Intervention Records, and someone I’ll describe as a likely older millennial, Jordon Gerber, manufacturing manager and chief engineer, Bob Carver Corporation.

The main question posed to the panel was the all-important: “How do we bring young people into audio?” The ball was thrown around a bit, but the game didn’t really take off. It wasn’t poor Danny’s fault, but more that these discussions are like lowering cartridge to your favorite record, and expecting the stylus to follow some other path—any other path—than the inevitable downward spiral through a bunch of well-worn tunes, to finish up “and but”-ting into eternity in the run-off groove.

“That was like stabbing myself in the eye,” said one of the panelists afterwards.

The industry seems to universally claim that young people must step in to save it, and yet one of the revelations at the seminar, something everyone on the panel and much of the audience agreed with, was that young people are ignored in rooms by manufacturers, dealers, and distributors. “These are young people with money, ready to buy,” said Rafe.

Again. Why does it have to hurt?

Also, I have never owned, and do not plan to own, a USB turntable.

#3. Wish You Were Hearing

Danny Kaey and I both live in LA, and he has promised to invite me to the next of his famous listening parties. (Hopefully it’ll stand even after he reads this article.) I phoned him for a post-RMAF chat about his seminars and, of course, “the industry”. Those aren’t my scare quotes; Danny had used them in the title of his Sunday seminar ‘Why We in “The Industry” Are All Arguing Over MQA and So Much More’. Again, Danny tried valiantly to kick it off, but the stylus descended, caught the groove, and a familiar album played out, including the famous “Bits is Bits” song. We all know the lyrics to that one, especially when sung by a computer engineer.

Though Danny is a certified gearhead, the three rooms he liked the most at the show were ones that were about music over equipment: Zu Audio, Classic Album Sundays, and Devore Fidelity.

“Shows need to be much less about listening to equipment and much more about a music party,” he said. “They need to make it comfortable, play non-audiophile music, and much less that quasi-controlled environment… it should be a lounge set-up where you can be social.”

Once again, we’re talking about self-induced pain. Stern chairs set up facing an audio system that’s a small skyscrapered city, playing beautiful inoffensiveness in a sea of variables that make it almost impossible to judge the merits of the object of your desires.

“This isn’t an inherently fun experience,” said one of the (truly) young observers at the Young Guns seminar, and most of us laughed. Jessa Zapor-Gray however, didn’t.

“But it is an industry event,” she pointed out.

I pivoted once more, starting to feel like a member of the fickle rabble in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Are shows such as the Los Angeles Audio Show, T.H.E Show, and RMAF marketed as consumer events, but treated and set-up like industry events?

And is this a problem?

#4. Wish You Were Here

Here’s what I felt on my final walkabout at 3.45pm on Sunday afternoon, catching the last of the rooms on my list before the sources started disappearing, and power amps mysteriously powered down in anticipation of the huge pack-up job at 5.30pm. There’s something deeply lonely about truly high-end audio. It’s polished into the liquid finish of speaker enclosures, brushed into the sides of solid metal casework, made manifest in the fanatical detail that bridges the chasm between 98% and 99%. I believe it’s a necessity not a symptom.

But it’s not a necessity to bake this sterility into the marketing. Looking at the advertisements, you’d think a home with $200,000 loudspeakers is a mausoleum with great light and stunning views. Floor-to-ceiling windows, floor-to-ceiling loudspeakers, and no humans to mar the gloss with their fingerprints, nachos, hairy pets, and cables. In these pristine mansions, no children clap their hands and giggle in front of turntables, no couples do an impromptu dance while dinner warms up. There’s not even the stereotypical target-demographic model: an old, white audiophile grinning at the veils being lifted by his new power conditioner.

These are products, the ads tell you, to be locked up in golden-ratioed towers. They celebrate loneliness, and loneliness sells when we’re largely not lonely. Today, we’re too lonely to be seen apex buying—just look at those extroverted little Bluetooth speakers that sing of backyard barbecues, dinner parties, and spontaneous picnics… in France.

So what happens if we start throwing people—you know, like actual human beings: happy families, beautiful friends—into those product advertisements?

I await your response.

#5. Back To the Home Fires

I should state that I’m no young gun, or gently middle-aged gun, or in fact, any kind of cis-weaponised member of the audio industry. I’m the upstart; the arriviste recently crossed over from consumer to industry, who presumes to comment upon the field. I wrote recently (and perhaps optimistically) that I had the tools to be the ideal observer: “I know the language but not the water-cooler gossip. I have the framework, but carry little baggage.”

In the days following RMAF, I reflected that though audiophilia was a huge, rewarding part of my life, I had an ambivalent relationship to it. You can’t come away from loving a $73,000 pair of loudspeakers without the moral fiber fraying a little. Something changes when you talk high-end all weekend with your audio-show buddy (hey, I have audio-show buddies now!), and he goes home to a small Northern California town that few people around the world had heard of; until the evening of October 8, when the firestorms put Santa Rosa on a global tragedy map. I went directly from discussing my friend’s upcoming loudspeaker purchase, to asking if his home was still standing.

I know it’s futile, even unfair, to bring life tragedy or world poverty to a luxury event. As I wrote in the long caption on an Instagram post (@gautamraja): “At shows such as Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, you meet passionate people whose surnames on their name tags match the badging on their highly engineered, beautifully finished products. Depending on the energy you bring to the show, it could be a study in glittering, exclusionary excess, or a moving view of a human yearning for perfection.”

My energy rattled between the two all weekend, but when things went well, as they often did, it was possible to walk through darkened hotel corridors on a clear, crisp Colorado day, and feel proud to be human.

If it’s going to be beautiful, sometimes it has to hurt.

#6. A Post-it Note From the Old Guy – Jeff Dorgay

Like our new guy Gautam, I too am usually confused for someone younger, but it’s because I’ve remained pretty immature, and the fact that I can still clear out a demo room in under ten seconds. With all this gray hair, I usually get mistaken for Einstein, the Doc in Back to the Future, or Nelson Pass. I’m comfortable with either of these. I asked Gautam to walk around, soak it up and give me his opinion on the vibe. I’d say he pretty much nailed it. I’ve been attending the RMAF now for 12 of the 13 years it’s been going on. I’ll always have a soft spot for it, because it’s where the first, 55 page issue of TONEwas launched 12 years ago.

One thing I did notice this year, was a lot higher percentage of rooms with good sound. That’s a big start. If you want people of any age to get excited about what this industry has to offer, the sound has to be compelling, and not just from a single, head in a vice position. This year, the chance with someone random stumbling in the door and hearing great sound was much higher than in years past, and I think that’s necessary to bring more people to our world. And unlike the Barrett-Jackson car auction in Scottsdale, which I’ve been attending even longer, I did see a lot of unfamiliar faces, and that’s a good start.

All that being said, it was a pleasant show. Saw my buds, met some readers and made a few new friends, so life is good.

In closing, I don’t think anyone realizes what a crushing amount of work, show promoter Marjorie Baumert goes through, so I’d like to ask my fellow audio enthusiasts for a minute of silence and praise. I know how tough it is just to coordinate Thanksgiving dinner. I can’t imagine how tough it is to get all the wacky folks in our industry in one place and keep em all happy. Well done, Marjorie. See you next year.

Conrad-Johnson ART 150 Power Amplifier

For their 40th anniversary, Conrad-Johnson started shipping their new limited-edition, tube-based flagships, the ART150 stereo amp and ART300 monoblocks.

Over time we have had the opportunity to review C-J’s current lineup of amplifiers including MF2550 and MS2275 solid-state designs, and the Classic 62 tube amp. Each one has its strengths, but there is not a slacker among the bunch. The ART150, however, takes things to another level of detail and soundstaging with a very natural, and organic sound. It indeed won our team over, earning the TONEAudio 2017 Product of the Year in the amplifier category.

Using a tube compliment of four new-production Tung-Sol KT150 tubes and three 6922s, the ART150 produces 150 watts per channel, plenty of power to let most speakers sing. The ART150 shares a visual lineage with C-J designs past, what’s under the hood is all new. Every detail in this design was scrutinized by the C-J team, including proprietary transformers and CJD Teflon capacitors alongside carefully-chosen foil resistors and wire for the delicate signal path.

With such attention to detail and a legacy of stellar products, Conrad-Johnson has another big winner with the latest ART amplifiers. Our full review is coming soon, so you will be able to get all the details.

The Triangle LN-01A Powered Speakers

With a plethora of fairly cool powered speakers on the market these days, it can be tough to choose.

Triangle makes it easy with the LN-01As because in addition to being a great pair of powered speakers, priced right at $799/pair, they include an on-board DAC, subwoofer output, and an MM phonostage. The phono input makes the deal for me, because what’s the point of a “compact” system, if you have to add a bunch of other boxes, right?

Spinning records with a recently restored Dual 1229 and Grado Black cartridge is a lot of fun with these little speakers, the built-in phonostage performs well, with decent frequency response and dynamic range. Triangle offers a turntable, produced by Pro-Ject, but any basic table/cartridge combination will work well here. We tried a couple of budget Grado, Shure and Ortofon cartridges with excellent result.

Though it defeats the above mentioned compact ethos, plugging in a recently restored TEAC reel to reel deck makes for a cool new and old combination. Watching the VU meters bounce when playing a few mix tapes is indeed romantic with the Triangles.

Sly and the Family Stone’s classic “If You Want Me to Stay” is rendered faithfully, and that bass control on the remote comes in handy; whether you’re in the party mode wanting more sock, or just need to compensate for room placement, these modest tone controls are highly effective. Take off the audiophile hat and enjoy, I say.

Switching the program material for something more raucous (like Slayer) proves the French pair can rock. “Reigning Blood” had to be turned up to painful levels to get the onboard amplifiers to clip, making the LN-01As capable party guests. Even more so if you add a small subwoofer. Our trusty REL T5 rounded out the lowest notes, giving our favorite hip-hop and EDM tracks more body, especially at party levels. A little sniffing around on eBay can get you something you can live with for a few hundred bucks and keep the total system cost around a thousand. That’s tough to beat.

Very Versatile

Setting up the LN-01As is a simple task. Everything you need to get started, including a 20-foot length of speaker cable to connect the passive left speaker to the right speaker, where the amplifier and related electronics, is included in the box. A small yet capable remote is accompanied by an excellent instruction manual, to guide you through the process.

Coax and optical digital inputs are provided along with a line level analog input and the phono. Music can also be streamed via Bluetooth. A USB is not offered with the LN-01As, but everything included performs at a high level. I’d rather see more performance and less connectivity, but your tastes may differ. A quick comparison, running TIDAL from a MacBook Pro via line level, streamed from an iPhone 8 via Bluetooth and an older Sony CD player’s optical output reveals the digital input a winner in ultimate fidelity by a slight margin over the line level, with the Bluetooth third, though still very good. The key here is flexibility. The LN01As work great on a desktop, bookshelf, or on dedicated stands all the same. They use a rear-firing port, so take care not to place them right up against a wall, or the lowest frequencies will roll off slightly.

Passing judgement

The Triangle Esprit floorstanders we just finished auditioning were incredibly good overall and an incredible value. The same level of sonic excellence and workmanship is here with the LN01A, though both speakers are intended for entirely different audiences. Admirably, the LN01A shares all the audible virtues that the more substantial speakers offer, and share a similar voice. The highest highs and lowest lows are slightly rolled off in comparison to the larger speakers (as expected) but the lovely, natural midrange that we experienced with the Esprit is in full effect with the much smaller LN01A.

The LN01As are comfortably at the top of the class, providing you don’t need to have a USB input. However, we feel that the functionality offered by the on-board MM phono stage and subwoofer output far outweigh the lack of a USB input. The only mystery is the sampling rate of the DAC, but again, what it accomplishes with TIDAL files is outstanding. I can’t imagine that many music lovers with an $800 system going to the expense of downloading high-resolution files.

If there is one suggestion to be made with these speakers, considering how tiny the remote control is, a full function smartphone app might be a useful upgrade to the LN01A. But seriously, I’m thinking of buying the review pair and a Pelican case to have these at the ready for when we take a road trip. Exellent as these speakers are in the house or office, they would make great traveling companions!

The Triangle LN01A powered loudspeakers

$799/pair (white or black)

McIntosh Announces MA252 Integrated…

Today McIntosh announced the release of their new MC252 integrated amplifier, to a wide range of polarizing comments around the world.

With an MSRP of $3,500, this is a pretty kick ass little package. The approximately 12 x 18 inch footprint makes it about the size of a PrimaLuna amplifier, so it’s not going to take up a ton of space wherever you end up placing it, and at only 28 pounds, nearly anyone can lift it into place – pretty cool for McIntosh.

A hybrid design, the MA252 uses four tubes in the input/driver segments and a solid state output stage, delivering 100 watts per channel into 8 ohms and 160 per channel into 4 ohms, so you’ll have enough juice to drive most any speakers. A headphone amplifier is included and an MM phono section as well.

You can see by the rear view, that there is one balanced XLR input, two unbalanced RCA inputs and the phono, along with a single, mono output for a powered subwoofer. This should make it easy to make the MA252 the anchor for a great compact system.

Visually, the 252 pays homage to past classic McIntosh tube amplifiers, adding the current aesthetic of LED’s underneath the tubes and a digital display to indicate function and volume level. You’ll love it or hate it, but it’s pure Mac, and built on the same assembly line in Binghamton, New York with all current day McIntosh components.

We look forward to a full review as soon as samples start shipping!

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