Focal’s Kanta no.2 Speakers

It’s tough deciding what to name something. Taking the short cut and choosing a mere number is still daunting as one culture may see a number as auspicious, while another sees it as perilous.

Nothing less can be said for the name “Kanta.” In Croatian, Kanta means bucket, while in Sanskrit, it means desired, or beautiful. I’m guessing the latter is more what the Focal product development team had in mind.

The Kantas certainly sound beautiful listening to Adrian Belew’s Inner Revolution, with his signature elephant-like guitar wailing all around the room. If you happen to be a Focal fan, and have been following their progress with beryllium tweeters, every generation is better than the last. Just as Focal did with the Sopra tweeter, the new IAL 3 tweeter in the Kanta not only resolves more fine detail, it’s a touch warmer than the Sopra tweeter. This is neither good nor bad, but it is a different presentation. Do you usually order your car with the sport suspension upgrade? You might prefer Sopra. Do you like a slightly softer ride? You might prefer Kanta. Keep in mind, this is not a huge difference we are talking about here and there’s no wrong choice.

Another part of the Kanta sound is the Flax Sandwich Cone material used in the other drivers. Again, this offers a slightly different tonal rendition than Sopra or Utopia. You can read the details here.

A quick look around the speaker cabinet reveals the same level of quality construction and finish present on the $220,000/pair Grande Utopia EM. The smooth paint finish is like liquid glass, and the perfection of all joints, combined with beautiful machining on the bases and feet makes for a premium product. This is a speaker you will really enjoy living with and looking at, as much as listening to. Thank the team of experienced craftspeople at Focal for this – a visit to their factory reveals only the right people, tools and process for the task. Things that can be done better with a CNC machine or a computer are produced that way. When something requires hand finishing, it is done that way.

At this year’s Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, during the introduction of Focal’s latest masterpiece, there were smiles all around, but I had the biggest smile, knowing a pair of Kantas would be waiting for me when I got home. The other surprise was the cool blue color of my review samples, reminding me (fondly) of the pale blue on a family friend’s Renault Dauphine. So much for the yellow they promised me. Of course, white, black and wood finishes are also available for those less adventurous in their interior taste. Personally, I think it’s very cool that Focal is offering some more fashion forward choices, says the man with orange Sopras.

Childhood memories aside, the Kantas are not vintage in any way. They incorporate all the latest technolological advances from Focal’s engineers. From the new polymer material used in the cabinet, to the new driver designs (more on that here at the Focal website) to the front port, making them even easier to set up than my reference Focal Sopra no.3 speakers. Where the Sopra is particular about getting the rake and toe-in just right for the best performance, Kanta is slightly more forgiving. The Kanta is also more listener friendly right out of the box. The Sopras needed about 50-100 hours to level out, the Kantas were rocking from the first hour.

Speaking of set up

Tipping the scale at just under 80 pounds each, the Kantas are extremely manageable. Only 44 inches tall and slightly more than 12 inches wide, they will be at home in all but the tiniest of rooms. Like any speaker, a little extra room to breathe is always a good thing, but the Kantas deliver excellent results in even our smallest listening room, measuring only 11 x 13 feet. Thanks to one of the two ports being front firing, this speaker is easy to place for optimum coupling to the room.

Quickly optimizing for even bass response, fine tuning the rake for your listening position is a breeze, thanks to the finely threaded feet. This allows you to go slowly and catch the perfect spot where the Kantas disappear in the room like a pair of panel speakers. Incredible. As I’ve mentioned before, fine tuning your speakers to the last degree is much like when you achieve the perfect VTA setting on your turntable, there’s a pocket where the music just flows and loses that sense of being transmitted by a mechanical device. You should be able to take your Kantas from great to transcendental in about an hour or two – less if you have a patient friend.

Comfortable with any musical choice

Tracking through Throbbing Gristle’s 20 Jazz Funk Greats, and Autechre’s Anti, the sheer level of low frequency grip these speakers offer is evident. If you listen to a steady diet of this type of music, you may want a larger amplifier with more current reserves to dig down as far as the Kantas can go. Should your taste be more to the middle of the spectrum, anything else will do.

The sparse arrangements in Belle and Sebastian’s “The Everlasting Muse” shows the other side of the Kanta’s character, locking down the pace of this track, easily rendering the delicate vocals, yet swelling up towards the end of the track, easily negotiating the volume and density as it increases.

In perspective, if you consider the rendition of the Sopra as natural/neutral, the Kanta is one or two slight clicks to the warmer/laid back side, almost akin to putting a pair of great NOS 12AX7s in your preamplifier instead of the stock ones, or switching from a Lyra cartridge to a Koetsu.

Focal has always had an excellent reputation for precise imaging, thanks to their beryllium tweeters and this is another exceptional aspect of their performance. Whether listening to an orchestra, a jazz quartet or a well-crafted studio performance, the Kantas produce a large and precise stereo image in all three dimensions. When you have your Kantas optimized, they will disappear in the room like a pair of ESLs.

A Team Player

With a sensitivity rating of 91db/1 watt, a ton of power is not required for a highly musical experience, especially in a smaller room. As with the Sopra, Kanta works well with tube or solid-state electronics, and in the small room, we made it a point to pair them up with PrimaLuna, Rega, Pass and of course the Naim Atom, which is now the room 3 reference. Those requiring reasonable listening levels, wanting a maximum of flexibility will be well served by the Atom, with 40 watts per channel. And the chances of picking one up at your Focal dealer is high, making it a breeze to do one stop shopping.

As someone who prefers to fall in love with a pair of speakers, building and perhaps eventually upgrading around them, the Kantas are a perfect place to begin the construction of an ultimate system. Even starting with a vintage receiver from the 70s, they deliver great sound. As you update your amplification and sources, they will only get better. And you’ll have to spend six figures before you outgrow the Kantas. That’s value and performance.

Can’t stop listening

Wonderful as the Kantas are, these are not fussy, audiophile speakers that can only shine with the best recordings. That tiny drop of warmth in the tonal balance, combined with their incredible resolving power extracts so much musical information from even the worst recordings, (especially if you’ve gone the extra mile and optimized the setup) nothing is out of bounds. Great as they are with your best recordings, the Kantas do a fantastic job at delivering the utmost from marginal to poor recordings. Favorite recordings that don’t always sound the best on a hyper resolving speaker are very palpable through the Kantas, and for most of us, that’s great news.

Where the Sopras are remarkably fatigue free, the Kanta has a slightly lower amount of distortion and increased clarity, that you won’t notice if you don’t have the opportunity to hear them both side by side. In case you might be wondering “why would I want the Sopras then?” the Sopras generate a larger, weightier sense of scale with more ultimate dynamics in a larger room with massive amplifiers driving them. If you need to really rock the walls down, the Sopras still give you more of this, albeit at a higher cost.

The similar voice and tonality of the entire Focal line is by far one of their most impressive aspects. As you go up the range, their speakers reveal progressively more music, resolving more detail and dynamic drive. Even in this area, the Kanta shares the ability to resolve wide tonal contrast, doing an incredible job with music full of hard, quick transients.

One of the most impressive things about Focal, is that their speakers all have a similar voice and tonality, but as you go up the range, progressively more music is revealed in terms of dynamics and fine detail resolution. But not everyone can afford $60k for a pair of Maestros or $20k for Sopras. $10k for a set of Kantas isn’t inexpensive, but by the time you add an amp, source and cables, marvelous sound can still be achieved for way less than a decent sportbike. Think of all the money you’ll save on speeding tickets!

If you’ve read this far, you know I’m a big Focal fan, and the new Kanta exceeds all expectation. They combine sound and build quality with fantastic dealer service and support, world wide. If you’ve enjoyed the sound of the bigger Focal speakers, but desire these sonic attributes in a slightly smaller package, the Kanta is for you.

The Focal Kanta no.2

$9,995/pair (NA distributor)


Analog Source GPA Monaco 2.0/Triplanar/Lyra Etna

Digital Source dCS Rossini DAC and clock

Preamplifier Pass XS Pre

Power Amplifier Pass XA200.8 monoblocks

Phonostage Pass XSPhono

Cable Cardas Clear, Tellurium Q Black Diamond

Racks Grand Prix Monaco

The Conrad-Johnson ART 150 Power Amplifier

Celebrating 40 years in business, Conrad-Johnson released their special edition flagship amplifiers, the ART150, which is a single chassis stereo version and the monoblock ART300s. According to C-J, the amp represents the culmination of all their design expertise to date, and they will produce only 250 of them. For those needing more power, C-J also offers the new ART300 monoblocks. Like their smaller stereo sibling, production is limited 250 pairs.

C-J’s entry-level tube amplifier, the Classic Sixty-Two SE (reviewed here in issue 84) offers marvelous sound and represents an amplifier I could live with happily. That said, the ART150 defies expectations, delivering an extraordinary musical experience that few components in my personal experience have.

Creating a classic

Like all recent C-J gear, the new ARTs are available in gold anodized finish only. All the components reside within a 16.3”D x 19”W x 8.75”H metal chassis, resulting in an overall weight of  80 lbs. The ART’s aesthetics adhere to the style brief set by current Conrad-Johnson designs. As with all C-J products, the ART is a collaborative effort of Lew Johnson, Bill Conrad the rest of the C-J team.

The hefty base serves as the amplifier’s foundation, with custom power and output transformers shielded in a black metal enclosure jetting upward from the rear. A rounded Lucite frame with tube-sized holes in it protects the semicircle of three 6922 tubes up at the front face. Between these two functional structures rests a protective metal cage, with a front panel also made from clear Lucite. The resulting “window” makes it easy to admire the row of four KT150 driver tubes from a distance. The most recent offering from Tung-Sol, the elongated egg shape of the KT150 gives the ART amplifier more of a space age flair.

The front of the ART is a model of simplicity. A single, quarter-sized power button resides toward the right side, illuminated by a subtle amber LED when activated. When depressed the amp warms the tubes slowly, helping extend tube life. You might hear a few pings and pops through the speakers while the tubes warm up, but once the ART achieves optimal voltage and temperature one’s ear must be very close to the woofer or tweeter to detect audible hiss.

Mining for the best parts

As old wisdom suggests, “It is what’s inside that counts.” In the case of the ART150, careful component choices result in staggering performance. C-J sought the best possible parts for the new ART, right down to the type of internal wiring, with the wide-bandwidth output transformers and Teflon capacitors being custom-made solutions. Also under the hood are laser-trimmed metal foil resistors chosen for their high levels of performance in the sensitive signal path. As a single ended design, the ART accepts only RCA interconnects from a preamplifier. The high quality gold-plated input terminals offer both excellent electrical transmission and a secure grip on cables.

A set of metal five-way binding posts on the back of the unit facilitate connection of spade, banana, or bare-wire cable terminations with ease. Spades used in my case secure quickly and very firmly under the posts. For those without muscular fingers, a 7/16-inch plastic binding post wrench fits over the nut correctly, allowing extra leverage. If you elect this route, consider an approach of gentle assertiveness, remembering you are not bolting together a skyscraper’s support beams.

The Conrad Johnson design philosophy has always centered around meticulously executing simple circuit designs – a big part of why they don’t produce balanced circuit designs. Taking the simplification mantra further in this amplifiers, a single pair of KT150 output tubes per channel replaces four KT120 tubes per channel in the original ART amplifier, with the new design producing 150 watts per channel, up from the 140 per channel available in the original.

Swift set up

The tubes are carefully packed inside the tube cage, so this will need to be removed to fit power and driver tubes. Each tube box is wrapped in black tissue paper giving the unpacking process an extra touch of class.

Like every other C-J power amplifier, the user must manually bias the power tubes after installing them. The process is surprisingly easy, using a simple plastic screwdriver included in the ART150 package. After a new set of tubes are socketed, twist the biasing screw just enough to extinguish the small yellow LED next to each tube. C-J suggests doing this again after an hour or so of use, and again every six months to extend the life of the tube set. When re-tubed, the biasing process should be repeated.

The ART requires significant break in due to the custom Teflon capacitors and other electronics within. C-J completes a 5-day burn-in before ART amplifiers leave the factory. During that time, the C-J team can ensure no component inside the amp fails before shipping, and do a listening test. I gave the ART150 another 200 hours of play time to ensure it reached its full sonic potential, and the sound did gain improvement during that period.

It is best to shut down the amp when not using it. Doing so will help maximize valuable tube life. ART warm-up time from a cold start is a scant 15 minutes, so the wait for optimal sound is never a long one. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, right?

Jewelry for the eardrums

C-J’s tagline “It Just Sounds Right” is not just marketing hype. In this case, those four words may comprise the shortest product review ever written. However, quantifying “Right” requires quite a few more words because a lot is right with this amp.

With the ART150, C-J did not just jump over the high bar set by the Classic 62. Instead, it seems they used a ten-foot pole to vault over it. The Classic 62 is a fantastic amp by any measure. However, the ART exceeds the Classic 62’s capability in every way.

With the ART150, my entire listening room becomes part of its huge projected soundstage. Music extends well beyond the left and right speaker boundaries, wrapping around the edges of the space. When music dictates it, spatial cues place instruments and vocals above, below, behind, or well out in front of the speakers. Imaging presented by the ART remains not only precise and defined, but almost tangible. Instruments and vocals layered over one another retain independent space rather than collapsing into one another. The three-dimensional nature of the music experience proves immersive, and time evaporates while listening to song after song. Even with familiar tracks, subtle sound effects are much easier to discern, offering details few components retrieve so exceptionally. Occasionally, music freed by the ART will surprise me, as if sneaking up next to my listening seat before revealing itself. Even older recordings reveal a few surprises. For example, engineered vocal effects in “By My Side” by INXS extend the background voices, well… right by my side. Alternately, the bar chime sounds in Depeche Mode’s “Everything Counts” seem to leap forward to a point a few inches from my ears. To have an audio component capable of detailed projection that catches me off guard like this is equally rare, eerie, and thrilling.

The ART will reveal every nuance of a song for better or worse. Great recordings sound quite realistic. However, on less-than-stellar tracks, the ART exposes any shortcoming too. For instance, listening to Santana’s Supernatural, the level of compression is evident. Cymbals lack both the splash of impact and a lingering decay. In contrast, extremely well-recorded albums like Johnny Cash’s American IV: The Man Comes Around provide the honest illusion of Cash sitting in the room. Few amplifiers I have experienced offer this degree of revelation. The ART represents quite an achievement indeed.

Despite the level of detail, this C-J’s purposeful voicing choices offer organic, natural, and forgiving sound. Even with some strident or sibilant recordings, ear-twitching spikes lose their sting and seem much more refined through the ART. C-J manages to capture every detail within a song but accomplishes the trick of making edgy sonics more enjoyable.

Forget any pre-conceived notion that this tube amplifier might generate watered-down or mushy bass. The ART150 rides the perfect balance between bass depth, punch, and naturalness. Similarly, high notes offer a welcome sparkle. Both male and female vocals glide through this amp’s circuitry, providing the listener a lush and luxurious musical experience as they emerge. Regardless of music genre, the ART never failed to deliver fantastic music, exceeding my expectations for an audio component.

Go for the gold!

Reaching audio heaven comes with a cost. Retailing at $19,500 for the limited edition ART150 and double that for the ART300 monos, either choice represents a significant investment. However, considering the extensive research and design process, no-compromise electronics, and the stellar sound this amplifier produces, one should expect a component of this magnitude to have a price commensurate with its performance level.

Those familiar with any piece of tube gear know they need replacement over time, so unlike solid-state amps, an ART owner should budget for planned maintenance. C-J suggests the ART’s tubes have a longevity of two or three years depending on usage. KT150s cost around $90 each and prices for 6922s can range widely depending if they are modern production or new old stock. Budget at least $500 every few years for a complete re-tube. The ART300 monos, each of which is essentially an ART150 optimized for a single channel, would double that tube cost.

Yes, I am utterly stunned by the ART150’s sonic prowess. Among amplifiers I have had the pleasure of evaluating at home for an extended period, the ART deserves a place on a tiny list of amps I would enjoy for the long haul. We will have to wait and see what C-J creates for their appropriately-golden, 50th anniversary! For now, the ART earns a place among those scarce components that offer such an outstanding level of performance it could halt one’s long journey in pursuit of better gear. Kick off those worn-down trekking shoes, relax, and just enjoy the music.

I am giving the ART150 amplifier my highest praise: I purchased the demo unit as a reference component. If you are seeking a flagship amplifier to enjoy for many years to come, do yourself a big favor and head to your local Conrad-Johnson dealer for a demo. Like me, you may find you cannot walk away from the ART150. Grab one before these limited-edition units are gone!

Further Listening: Jeff Dorgay

Even though Conrad-Johnson has been refining their designs for decades now, they’ve made some pretty incredible tube amplifiers over the years. Audiophiles the world over still discuss many of their Premier designs in hushed conversations, with reverence.

Not only is the ART 150 one of the most musical revealing amplifiers I’ve heard, the combination with C-Js flagship GAT 2 Preamplifier has me squeezing my adjective gland for some new superlatives. I can not find them. If you already have one of CJ’s top preamps, the ART 150 will take you somewhere rare and special. If you don’t, you’ll be shopping. I won’t taunt Rob with the GAT until he recovers from the ART 150 purchase.

Everything Rob points out about the ART 150, is heightened even further when paired with the GAT 2. It’s worth mentioning that the ART 150 is no slouch with an ACT 2 either, so even if you have one of these on your equipment rack, it is a worthy partner for an ART 150.

As a friend pointed out recently, we are really living in an exceptional period for audio, no matter what your budget might be. With so many of the industry’s top designers benefitting from decades of experience, creating their best work. It’s often said that it takes 10,000 hours to master something. 40 years of refining greatness results in the ART 150 power amplifier. More often than not, tube power amplifiers give you musicality/tonality, inner detail, or massive imaging prowess, but rarely all three. The ART 150 does that and more – adding major dynamic swing and bass control. This level of resolution, delicacy and freedom from fatigue is what makes the ART 150 so special. That is why it is our Amplifier of the Year for 2017.

The Conrad-Johnson ART 150 Stereo Power Amplifier

MSRP:  $19,500


Analog Source: SME Model 10 with SME V and Model 10 tonearms. Dynavector 17D3 and Denon DL-103R cartridges

Digital Sources: Mac Mini, Roon Music Service, Simaudio MOON 780D DAC, Oppo BDP-103

Amplification: Conrad-Johnson Classic 62, Burmester 911 Mk3

Preamplification: Coffman Labs G1-B

Speakers: GamuT RS3i, JL Audio Dominion Subwoofers

Cables: Jena Labs

Power: Torus AVR 15 Plus, RSA Mongoose power cords

Accessories: ASC tube traps, Mapleshade Samson audio racks, Coffman Labs Equipment Footers, AudioQuest Jitterbug, Atomic Audio Labs Mac Mini stand

Issue 86

The Sonoma Model One Headphone System

It only takes about 8 seconds of listening to the delicacy of the violins on the The Jung Trio’s self titled SACD to realize that the Sonoma Model One headphone system is one of the most incredible personal listening experiences going.

Maybe the most, but we’ll leave that argument for the internet pundits. The level of texture, detail and sheer tonal correctness is well above anything we have yet experienced.

The sheer clarity and lack of distortion presented by the Model One might have you looking for the volume control, (to turn them up) but proceed with caution, this newfound level of sonic purity will fool you. So, don’t take your first test drive with Metallica. Ease your way into the Sonoma Model Ones until you get used to the feel. But be warned, you can’t un-hear this once you have.

Instant attitude adjustment

We pulled out all the stops to revisit well-worn test tracks, with the best sources we could muster. The dCS Rossini Player was used as a transport, via the coaxial digital input and our Aurender server, via the USB input for digital files (standard and high resolution) along with streaming Tidal selections. The analog combination of the Brinkmann Bardo turntable, featuring a $10,000 Koetsu Jade Platinum cartridge and the Pass Labs XS Phono made a great conduit for the analog bits. And, because the jack was there, an iPhone 7+ was called into duty, just to see how that would work. Spoiler: while not as good as the dCS or Bardo, with uncompressed files, the iPhone never sounded better!

Regardless of music selected, the key words to describe the Model One are effortless and natural. Incredibly natural. Often headphones and speakers can pick up a sound, a coloration, based upon the materials used in cabinets, crossovers and drivers. Not here. While the Model One’s do a splendid job with dynamics, thanks to the lightening sharp rise time of the electrostatic driver, the amount of fine detail they reveal will almost frighten you, especially with familiar recordings you thought you knew intimately.

The epic spatial presentation in Sigur Ros’ Valtari slowly envelopes you with sound, and as the music swells, the phones seem to disappear into thin air. The grumbly bass lines present are well fleshed out and full of detail – the only thing missing is the sheer sock factor from listening to a pair of dynamic speakers in a room. Your favorite pop, rock, rock and electronic selections will be portrayed in a way you’ve never experienced, yet the ease by which acoustic instruments are reproduced is an outright luxury. A fair amount of time spent with the Model One might even have you rethinking your primary speaker choice.

Road trip

My journey with electrostatic speakers goes back to the early 70s. The first real hifi system I experienced was a friends McIntosh setup, paired to a pair of Jantzen Electrostatic speakers. I didn’t even know what “transparency” or “imaging” was, but grooving on Robin Trower’s Bridge of Sighs proved captivating via his Dad’s Thorens TD124. Senior year in high school, when nearly everyone had a pair of Koss Pro 4AA’s, I had already traded up to ESP 9s, so the audiophile virus had already taken hold.

In the years that followed, I always had the good fortune to have a large enough room to keep those ESP 9s on the shelf most of the time, along with a pair of Stax that have been handed down to a good friend, but I keep coming back to that sound, or better, lack of sound that an ESL driver in headphones or speakers offer. I still own Acoustat, MartinLogan and Quad speakers as references.

Like premium phono cartridges, premium headphones have brought a dimension to personal listening not thought possible even five years ago. Planar headphones from Audeze, HiFiMan, OPPO and a few others have joined the field and their offerings are very good, but there’s still something special about electrostatic headphones – enter the Sonoma Model One System.

One step beyond

Previous electrostatic phones have worked like tiny ESL speakers in an ear cup, in the sense that they use a very light weight diaphragm energized between two grids carrying high voltage that pushes and pulls the diaphragm in and out to move the air. Sonoma takes advantage of a new transducer that they call a high precision electrostatic laminate (HPEL) design. You can read the full story on the Sonoma website here ( but to make a long story short, the Sonoma driver eliminates the grid, replacing it with an extremely thin membrane. Then, the driver surface is divided up into seven separate areas, tuned to different frequencies to eliminate resonance, which you can see from the transparent back of the drivers, yet maintains full range performance for cohesiveness.

Though the headband and ear cushions look fairly bulky, the cups are made from magnesium and the hand sewn pads are produced from Cabretta sheepskin leather. Knowing precious little about leather, this type of leather is made from the skins of sheep that grow hair rather than wool. This results in a smoother, lighter and more resilient leather that is typically reserved for gloves. Long listening sessions prove effortless with the Model One and where other, bulkier phones beg to be put down after an hour or so, the Model Ones can be listened to, without drawing attention to themselves for the better part of a day.

The result is a fairly massive looking set of headphones that doesn’t feel it. Design geeks in the crowd will flip over the careful attention to fine detail, right down to the high level of fit and finish present thanks to high precision stainless fasteners. Finally, Sonoma collaborated with Straight Wire to design a custom cable from the ground up to transmit the maximum amount of audio information. The cable alone looks like something you’d buy in the aftermarket for $500 – $1,000. Who wants to buy a $5,000 pair of phones, only to have to upgrade the cable?

A complete system

There are more than a few mega headphones out there, crossing the $5k mark, but none of them come with an amplifier and a full function, high res DAC. In case you forgot or aren’t familiar, the team at Sonoma invented the DSD workstations, used to record many of today’s digital recordings, so to say they know great sound is an understatement. Either way, their passion for sound is such a great place to start when designing a complete playback system like the Model One.

The latest DAC chipset from ESS, the Sabre Reference is used here, along with the AKM premium ADC chips, capable of operating up to 32bit/384khz. The ADC is required to allow the use of a 64-bit digital signal processor to optimize the frequency response of the Sonoma Model One.

This extra step is what gives the Model One the advantage over its competition, your music is fully optimized to the output capabilities of the driver, eliminating any frequency response anomalies along the way.

Technology that serves the sound

Combining the best build quality, with the coolest technology doesn’t blow you away without results, and the Sonoma Model One delivers. After listening to hundreds of other headphone/amplifier combinations, the Model One is our top choice. Not only have we awarded it our Product of the Year in the personal listening category, we are purchasing a Model One system to use as the standard by which we judge all other phones, so you will be hearing a lot more about the Model One system in the future. Wrapping it up, the Model One is exquisitely packaged as well – certainly a nice touch when you’ve made an investment like this in your listening future.

Remember, you aren’t buying a $5,000 pair of headphones, your getting an amp, DAC, DSP processor and top line cable for the asking price.

The value proposition

You can get a pair of earbuds at Best Buy for $19 and plug them into your laptop to enjoy music, so by that definition, you don’t need a $5,000 pair of headphones. But, if you’d like to have a level of sound quality that would probably take six figures to achieve in a room with amplifiers, speakers and cables, The Model One might just be the best value in high end audio today. Even those with mega systems will be amazed at what this system can do, revealing nuance and detail that can often be masked by the best of rooms.

Don’t say we didn’t warn you. Once you hear them, you will find a way to make them yours. And you’ll be glad you did.

The Sonoma Acoustics Model One Headphone System


SVS Latest Bass Monsters!

In case you missed our review of SVS SB-16 Subwoofer, we were pretty excited about this massive, gloss black, low frequency machine. You can read the full review here.

However, if the SB-16 series is just a little bit too big for your environment, or a touch too expensive for your holiday budget, their new 4000 series is the way to roll. We compared the SB-16 series to the ZO6 Corvette. Hey, there’s no shame in getting a Grand Sport. Applying everything they’ve learned with the SB-16s, the new 4000 series subs offer all the functionality that made the bigger brother get so much world wide acclaim.

Priced from $1,499 to $1,999, you have a choice of the SB, which is smaller and has a sealed cabinet, the PB, featuring a larger, ported cabinet (along with the ability to go a few hz lower to 13hz instead of 19 hz in the SB) and the PC, which has a footprint of only 16″. (and it still goes down to 16hz) With maximum output in the 126-134db range, any of the new 4000 series will handle the most demanding music, movies or gaming situation. You can read the complete specs here.

Finally, the SVS DSP smartphone app works with these new subwoofers. As with any device, it’s all about interface, and SVS wins the day here – giving you control over more parameters from the comfort of your listening chair than any other. Party on, Garth. Watch for a review as soon as we can get our hands on one.