The world’s finest 300B tubes

If you are a lover of single ended triode amplifiers, no doubt you are familiar with the mighty 300B.

The mightiest of them all are the vintage Western Electric 300Bs, and then if you can find them, the reissued WE 300Bs that came out around 2005 or so. Only a few pairs of these were made and then the “new Western Electric” fell back into obscurity. I had a pair of those and they were pretty incredible, and I did spend some time with the NOS models when I had my WAVAC monoblocks. Never should have gotten rid of those. Oh well.

Today, the 300B amps have had a bit of a resurgence (and to some, they never went away – just like vinyl) but there are no incredible tubes to power them with. Having listened to more than my share of the current 300Bs, most manufacturers have settled on Electro Harmonix or JJ, because they are available. But don’t expect the 50,000-hour tube life of the NOS WE’s. Nope, these are 5,000 hour tubes on a good day. Most manufacturers have voiced around the current tubes, but that only goes so far. If you have the chance to experience the vintage 300Bs, you’ll freak out.

The vintage WE’s are so smooth, extended, and dynamic, you’ll swear you’re listening to an entirely different amplifier. However, with these tubes going as high as $6,000 a pair for an amazing set. And being 60-80 years old, there’s still a chance you can pull them out of the box and have them croak. I’m just not that much of a gambler.

Enter EAT

The European Audio Team has their own factory in the Czech Republic, and recently, they’ve started production on the famed 300B, providing tubes that are a clear cut above the mass-produced items that are available, bridging the gap between NOS and NEW. With no WAVAC on hand, they were kind enough to send me a matched set of four for my Nagra 300B amplifier that is a push/pull design, delivering about 25 watts per channel.

The EAT 300B also bridges the price gap, tipping the scale at $1,695 per matched pair. Not so bad if you have SET monoblocks, but it gets a bit spendy if you need four of em. Regardless, this is still way less cash out of pocket that the 2004 vintage WE’s or the really old originals.

The Sound

Going past the afford/not afford, will my partner kill me/will they not notice part of the decision tree, the EAT tubes provide a substantial increase in performance than the current offerings in the $500-$900 pair tubes from “the other guys.” And by increase, I mean that the EAT tubes are more neutral sounding than the other current tubes, honestly more extended at both ends of the frequency range.

Where the Nagra has exceptional bass control, due to its massive, tight tolerance output transformers that are wound in-house, the EAT tubes bring a nearly solid state like grip to the lowest frequencies. Using our 96db/1-watt sensitive Pure Audio Project HORN 15 speakers, it’s almost as if I’ve added a subwoofer. Whether listening to EDM/electronica tracks, or Led Zeppelin, the bass line is hitting me more in the chest than the Nagra does with the stock JJ tubes.

An equal level of excitement is had on the upper register as well. Stringed instruments take on a more three-dimensional quality, with more texture. Pick your favorite acoustic guitar piece that you know well, and you will be surprised at how much more real the strings sound while being played, as well as the overtones that hang in the air after the strings have been struck. This is the stuff we all love 300B amplifiers for in the first place and the EAT tubes give you more of it.

In the end

At first the price tag might seem a bit prohibitive, but considering the care in manufacturing that goes into these tubes, I’m going to stick my neck out and bet that the EAT 300Bs will probably last a lot longer than the others. If that’s the case, then these are not so much more money out the door in the long run. And if you hate swapping tubes as much as I do, once you’ve settled on a sound, this will be indeed welcome.

There are so few 300B enthusiasts out in the field that have jumped off the cliff on these tubes, I can’t say that anyone’s experience backs up my own, yet. I highly recommend their 300Bs, and hope to give the KT88s a spin sooner than later.

North American Distributor:


A very cool video on EAT’s tube production facility:

Issue 95


Old School:

Juan Cavillo restores a very old Pioneer Turntable


Jerold O’Brien scopes out the new mini ProJect Integrated Amp

Journeyman Audiophile:

Chord Qutest DAC
By Shanon Swetlishnoff

The Audiophile Apartment:

Harbeth P3ESR Anniversary Edition
By Jeff Dorgay

Mine: It Should Be Yours

Still more lego stuff!

Porsche Coloring book

Talking fish

Snazzy reading glasses

and more….


Playlists:  We share our readers choices from around the world

Future Tense

Focal’s Utopia Phones

PrimaLuna EVO 400 Amplifier

Golden Ear 5 Speakers

and more…

Cover Feature: The Tokyo Record Bar

One of Soho’s coolest dinner getaways, installs a full blown McIntosh System!

MOON by Simaudio 390

Building on the success of their Neo 380D DAC, Simaudio went back to the drawing board, creating the MOON 390 from the ground up, offering a perfect combination of flexibility and sonic performance that we’ve come to expect from this great Canadian company.

Thanks to an onboard phono stage and a streaming DAC (that is also a ROON endpoint) you are covered, no matter how you like to listen. This perfection starts at $5,300.

The biggest difference here between the 390, the 380D and the popular ACE is that the MOON 390 is a line level component only. You must add your own power amplifier to complete the system, but that is part of the fun!

Those wanting the modern functionality of an AV receiver, but only require a 2 channel environment, the 390 feels right at home and provides the latest HDMI specs with 4 HDMI inputs and one output (video pass-through/switching only. No video processing). The video works flawlessly and produces great sounding stereo for both TV and movies, without needing 5+ channels.

Digital music lovers can enjoy maximum flexibility with two ethernet ports, three USB inputs, TOSLINK, and AES-EBU inputs. unbalanced and balanced inputs and outputs, along with an MM/MC phono stage, an on board headphone amplifier for personal audio enthusiasts, anchored by a very capable preamplifier. It’s nice to see traditional audiophile companies adopting the latest AV functionality to their components, and with the 390 Simaudio has gone “all in.”


With an original 380D on hand for comparison, it is easy to see the progress made in the 390. The 390 sounds similar to the 380 right out of the box, but after about 48 hours of constant play, it comes into its own. The expanded input options allowed enjoying formats previously avoided. One killer feature with the provided HDMI board is the ability to decode a native DSD bitstream from SACD, for those that still have a large collection of SACDs and other disc-based media.

Connecting an Oppo UDP 205 to the 390 via it’s HDMI input, allows the ability to go back to untouched SACDs and DVD-A discs, providing long listening sessions more closely akin to vinyl than digital in both sound and experience. The SACDs of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blueand Chet Baker’s Chetwere so lifelike that it made me wonder why I ever ceased listening to the format. This may mean having to actually walk over to the player and drop in a shiny silver disc, but it’s a forgotten ritual that tends to yield a more focused and enjoyable listening experience than mere streaming.

Moving to the provided built-in phono stage with a Rega P5, I went exploring through some vinyl favorites that have been skipped since selling my external tube phono preamplifier a few months back. The sound of Louis Armstrong’s Satchmo Plays King Oliverwas clean, detailed and dead quiet, somewhere on par with the performance of their 110 LP phono preamplifier. Thanks to the flexibility of the 390 it never limits your format choices and you don’t have to choose between convenience and ritual.

Convenience and sound

Easy as the 390 is to use, it never compromises sound quality for convenience. With TIDAL and Simaudio’s MiND app ready, a world of music is instantly available at your disposal. Through the 390 and MiND, even basic 16/44 CD quality provides a lush soundstage with a natural sound that checks off nearly box one would want from a great DAC. Dense, detailed, warm/musical, and enjoyable at every note. With sound this good in this price range, one might even feel guilty about somehow getting away with the steal of the century. Each successive track compels me to linger a little longer rather than skip around.

With the ease of the 390/MiND combo and TIDAL’s vast collection, there is much more music to be had. The MQA Master of “The Angel of Doubt” from the latest Punch Brothers album All Ashore starts rather subdued, but eventually builds into a bluegrass vocal rap that shows off both the diverse talent of Chris Thile & Co. and just how well the 390 can translate a more subtle track like this. The opening gentle mandolin plucking, whispered vocals, and silent spaces provide the perfect contrast to the more forceful vocal tongue twisting ending. On this track, the 390 provides plenty of low-end authority with the acoustic bass while allowing the vocals to remain clear and separate over the top.

Pushing the 390 a little more, “The Dark” from the latest Thrice album Palms, delivers thundering toms and brooding guitars with enough space to hear how well the 390 can unpack even the most complex modern recordings. There’s plenty of air, detail, as well as bass extension as the track manically swings between the quieter verses and heavy chorus. The overall sound that the 390 produces reminds me again why the previous 380D DAC that the 390 builds on was such an amazing value. (you can read the original 380D TONE review here for additional listening reference: It’s clear that Simaudio has eclipsed the already excellent 380D with their latest release.

While Simaudio continues to improve to their MiND app, it remains a weak point in the complete package. I eventually settled into its methods and quirks, but there’s definitely some room for improvement in overall ease of use and performance. Sound quality is exemplary, but I did experience issues with functionality and firmware upgrades in the context of my system. ROON users will not have this problem.

The Preamplifier

While it’s been a few years since I last auditioned the Moon by Simaudio 350P Preamplifier that the 390 is based on, it sounds every bit as enjoyable as I remember the 350P being. It’s detailed, with dead quiet backgrounds, punchy and controlled bass, speed, neutrality, and transparency… it is all there. It is amazing that Simaudio took the $3,700 Moon Neo 350p Preamplifier, the $6,100 380D DSD DAC, a good phono stage, a decent headphone amp, added modern HDMI connectivity/convenience along with the new MiND 2.0 network streaming unit, and gave it a $5,200 price tag. That’s progress.

Don’t forget the 10-year warranty, either.

With balanced XLR outputs as well as standard RCAs, the 390 is compatible with any power amplifier, new or old. Our publisher goes further into detail with this below, as I only had my Rogue Audio Stereo 100 for this review.

The bottom line

If you already own a previous generation 380D DAC, you’ll be happy to know that your award winning component is still great. However, those wanting a component that can decode analog and digital files, with a preamplifier and headphone amp built in, consider the new MOON 390. Simaudio has put so much of their top level components in to a single chassis, it’s equally worthy of one of our Exceptional Value Awards for 2019. – Brian Gage

Additional listening

Having had the pleasure of reviewing nearly 30 Simaudio components since we started TONE, owning a few, and visiting the factory a couple of times – I can speak with confidence that I have some seat time with this brand.

Comparing the sound quality to that of Simaudio’s most expensive components, it’s easy to see where the technology has trickled down, and strategically, where costs have been cut to meet a budget target. First, the casework, while still machined in house and of excellent quality, is simpler in execution, but you still get three color choices: silver, black, or silver and black. The remote is stripped down in functionality and plastic instead of the coolio billet one that comes with the 800 series components. All excellent choices to put the money where it will do the most – inside.

Sonically, the MOON 390 feels similar in tonality and general dynamics to the top components. Again, because it lacks the massive power supply from their reference series, the 390 lacks the ultimate dynamic heft and low level resolution of the five-figure Simaudio components.

However, in the context of a number of power amplifiers in the $3,000 – $12,000 range, I never felt that I was missing out on anything. While my personal bias leads to a slightly big warmer side of the tonal scale, I enjoyed the 390 the most with the Pass Labs XA25 class A solid state amplifier and the new PrimaLuna EVO 400 tube power amplifier. The good news is that the MOON 390 is very neutral tonally, so you can achieve whatever overall effect you desire by voicing the rest of your system accordingly.

I’ve never been a big fan of the MiND app, but being a long term ROON user, I’m not a fan of any of the others either. Like so many other third party music server apps, MiND falls down hardest with a large collection. Those not wanting to shell out the coin for a ROON subscription that don’t have huge music collections will probably be just fine.

Running the phonostage through a gamut of moderately priced phono cartridges, utilizing the Luxman PD-171A turntable (which costs more than the 390), I’ll stick my neck out and suggest that a cartridge in the $100 – $1,000 range will be an excellent match for the MM/MC stage that is on board.

In the end, Simaudio has raised the bar incredibly high for this type of component, and while the ACE has served me well for the last few years, I have to step up and purchase the 390 – I love the ability to choose power amplification. Highly recommended. – Jeff Dorgay

The Devialet Expert Pro 140

It’s been a long time since Devialet set the audio world on its axis, creating a product that sounds fantastic, yet looks as it should be on display at MOMA. Or perhaps in this case, the Louvre. Since Devialet, “lifestyle” is no longer an unmentionable word in high end audio. Like any classic, the design has to be something you never tire of.

Consider that box checked. The new Devialet Expert Pro looks as fresh as it did eight years ago when we reviewed the original. This beautifully polished box is stunning, whether you place it on a table, hang it on the wall, or give it its own enclave. This is industrial art at its finest. You should not hide it.

A range of three

Devialet offers the Expert Pro in three versions. The 140 we have here at $6,490, the 220 at $9,990 and the 250 at $18,990. As with past models, all three offer incredibly similar sonics because of the circuit topology (more about that later), and all can be used as monoblock or even multi-amplifier configurations, making them incredibly flexible.

Moving up the scale brings more inputs, and still more flexibility, with the two top models having a more advanced MM/MC phonostage, allowing more precise adjustment for your phono cartridge. All Devialet models digitize the incoming analog signal to 24/192, and if you choose the optional ($490) preamp out option, you can use the Expert Pro 140 to digitize your LP collection. Pretty cool. The two other models offer this as standard.

Where Devialet’s new technologies have reduced noise and distortion close to theoretical limits, they haven’t scrimped on musicality – their products sound great. They have over 100 patents, so this is not a rehash of old concepts.

Rolling with the changes

If you haven’t tried it, Devialet provides the most sensory engaging remote control experience in the world of high end audio. It’s unconventional, oversized, square shape, with a massive dial and four strategically placed function buttons is almost decadent to use. Everyone that’s ever had one of these dropped in their hand freaks out at the smooth, silky operation it delivers. And it helps you access the tone controls!

That’s right. The Expert Pro has a pair of tone controls that you can custom tailor to your system and speakers via the Devialet configurator. Argue you will, but when none of your audiophile buddies are looking, you’re gonna be trying them out. I guarantee it.

This is a big part of what makes Devialet products so awesome. Upgrades are a quick firmware update away, as are changes in functionality. You can easily set the parameters for the phono stage, crossover points, tone controls and whether you want to use your amplifier in a stereo, mono, or multiple amplifier configuration.

Once you’ve registered your Expert Pro, all of these changes are available from the Devialet website and can be transferred to your unit via an SD card. Being that the Expert Pro works as a wireless streamer, we remain surprised that Devialet does not allow the changes to be made over the web, or like a current PC, just allow you to automatically make firmware updates. Though the SD card seems a little bit old school in 2019, it works well and is straightforward in operation.

The French connection

Devialet has created a system called SAM that optimizes the amplification to the low frequency parameters of your speakers, providing the best combination of bass extension, yet restricting maximum cone movement so you can’t damage your speakers when playing loud. I suspect this is similar to what they use in their Phantom speakers, which seem like no matter how hard you play them, they do not seem to run up against the excursion limits of the drivers. With my early Devialet, I had excellent results with SAM on a few speakers, so it was exciting to see how many more speakers have been added to the list – nearly 100 now.

Even without SAM, the 140 really grips the big woofer cones of the Focal Stella Utopia Ems with authority. If you like bass heavy music, you will adore this amplifier. Staying as purely French as can be, I began my listening streaming Qobuz via ROON with Jean-Michel Jarre’s Zoolook. Fantastic. Yet with SAM in place, the 140 watts per channel that the Expert Pro delivers into the 94db/1-watt Focals provides bottomless dynamic range.

Grooving on electronica favorites from Kraftwerk and Aphex Twin shake the windows, walls and even the dishes in the kitchen! This is big fun. Best of all, it’s big fun in a completely understated, stylish way.

Additional combinations

The other speakers in my collection deliver equally fantastic results. The Expert Pro has no problem driving my power hungry Magnepan Tympanis, and it even sounds lovely through a vintage pair of JBL L-100s, though there is no SAM profile for these.

Devialet’s unique amplifier topology (read more about it on the Devialet site here combines a class A front end/driver stage in parallel with a class D output stage. Devialet claims it combines the best of both worlds and the result is more musical than any class D amplifier we’ve ever taken for a test drive.

It’s incredibly low level of distortion, and high linearity makes for a clean, crisp sound that is never fatiguing. Difficult as it is to try and describe tonality, the level of tonal saturation that the Devialet provides is not quite as high as a full class A amplifier like Pass or Luxman, yet it is higher (i.e. warmer in overall sound and tone) than say a Bryston or Simaudio amplifier. This is always a very personal choice with many variables, so your ultimate taste and speakers will determine the end result. That being said, we did not find a single pair of speakers that did not produce pleasing sound with the Devialet.

Another interesting aspect of the Expert Pro is that it was more impervious to cable changes than most amplifiers we’ve used, making it all the more user friendly. I suspect the low .001 ohm output impedance and damping factor of 8000 is a major contributor to this.

Ultimate connectivity

The last thing you probably want with a hifi system this elegant, is a massive loom of wires exiting the rear panel. Devialet has you covered, literally, a matching cover that slips on the back of the chassis, covers all of the cables, looking incredibly slick in the process.

Due to the low height, slim form factor, we suggest getting speaker cables that use banana plugs, at least on the ends that connect to your Devialet. They do offer 5-way binding posts, but you’re going to have a hell of a time connecting speaker cables with any girth at all.

Thanks to the differential design of the Expert Pro phonostage, Devialet claims that the grounding wire is a thing of the past and we concur, though it does seem kind of weird to not use the grounding wire anymore. Unless you have a Rega table that is.

Long time analog enthusiasts might wrinkle their noses at the thought of their precious analog signal being upsampled to digital bits, but the ADC converters used are first rate and we never found ourselves longing for an all analog signal chain. Again, considering the Devialet’s price, we highly doubt you will be able to find an all analog phonostage, DAC, streamer, full function preamplifier, (with tone controls!!) 140 watt per channel power amplifier and all the cables to connect it for even double this price. Give it a try!

The DAC/streamer section of the Devialet is equally exciting, decoding files up to 32/192 and DSD 64. The only thing not supported is MQA. Being a Roon endpoint, with access to Qobuz, there are so many high res files to stream, that I can’t imagine this being a deal breaker for that many. All inputs work very well, but we prefer the Ethernet connection, and this was the way all test listening was done, streaming regular and high res files from both Tidal and Qobuz.

A fantastic performer

The Devialet Expert Pro 140 is truly without flaw in our opinion. If you love music, high quality sound reproduction and don’t want a massive rack full of gear to stare at, there’s no better choice. If you can believe it, the Expert Pro 140 sounds even better than it looks, is incredibly easy to set up and operate, and is virtually future proof.

Now that Devialet has been in the market place for nearly a decade, their reliability has proven to be world class, and this is another one of those special components that almost never shows up in the secondary marketplace. You’re going to have to head to a dealer and buy a new one folks!

I not only give the Expert Pro 140 an Exceptional Value Award, I give it my highest personal recommendation as well. Our industry needs more of this. Please.

The Devialet Expert Pro 140

MSRP:  $6,490

The Krell K-300i

It’s funny what you remember. My tenure with Krell goes way back, to the demo room I was scared to enter, where an early Krell KSA 150 was matched to a pair of Apogee Stage speakers. Even though I had just purchased a Rotel integrated from the same dealer the “Krell room” seemed like exalted territory.

The sound and appearance this combination made played heavily on my senses – even the smellof this amplifier had an aroma that neither the Classe or Levinson amplifiers possessed, and this combination that was the KSA 150 engaged on all levels. It was an audiophile elixir. I soon became obsessed with Krell and purchased a KSA 150. Moving up the product range, the

next generation FPB 300, FPB600, KSL preamp, SPB32-X DAC, KRC preamp, the KPS20i cd player and finally the KPS25i cd player would follow. This was money spent with consumer dollars, not reviewer dollars.

Thoughout my journey reviewing a wide range of manufacturer’s components, I’ve always rooted for Krell’s success, though I haven’t had much experience with current products since founder Dan D’Agostino moved on to form his own company. In the middle of evaluating a number of integrated amplifiers, Krell’s Walter Schofield offered the first crack at Krell’s K-300i, making for an excellent opportunity to revisit the brand.

Slim and powerful

Despite a low-profile enclosure, the K-300i weighs in at 52 pounds. Producing 150 watts per channel into 8 ohms, doubling into 4, the K-300i provides the weighty, grip that will entice newcomers, and be familiar to fans. The 1/2-inch milled aluminum front panel (available in silver or black) completes the homage to Krell products past, while the curved front keeps an eye on the future.

The K-300i is loaded. Equipped with 2 HDMI inputs, 1 HDMI out and a preamp output to compliment two pairs of balanced XLR inputs and 3 RCA line level inputs, everything at your disposal will easily plug in. Those checking the digital box also have Toslink and coax inputs along with USB and RJ45 ethernet inputs, as well as Bluetooth/aptX capability. This is a well thought out product as a stand-alone control center or integrated into a full home system via the RS-232 ports.

Vinyl lovers will need an outboard phono stage, but with so much going on in this compact chassis, I’d almost prefer keeping the delicate analog signal out of this box, and why pay for functionality you don’t need? Digital music lovers are in luck, with Krell offering an internal, streaming DAC for an additional $1,000 over the $7,000 MSRP. This includes an on-board DAC and Roon Ready streamer, that will decode digital files up to 24/192 and unfold MQA as well.

Krell’s David Goodman, their director of product development and head of engineering is the person behind the current XD series of amplifiers. As we saw in a recent comparison, the difference between their last series of amplifiers and those with XD technology, the improvement is not subtle.

Goodman relates that the XD upgrade (Xtended Dynamics, Xtended Dimensionality, Xtended Detail) “takes an already great sounding amplifier, and raises its performance to the next level. This is a perfect example of Krell’s continuous R&D efforts delivering benefits across multiple product lines. During the development of the K-300i, we discovered substantial sonic improvements lowering the amplifiers output impedance below traditional norms. Applying this to the existing products made for an equally big improvement and required a unique designation, hence XD. This lower output impedance exerts more control over the speaker drivers and damps out unwanted vibrational modes, allowing a more accurate reproduction of the original signal.”

Exceeding expectation

Fully anticipating big dynamics and a tonal balance favoring the lowest octaves, as with past Krell product, the K-300i is vastly different from past Krell efforts. It’s a top to bottom improvement towards a more refined, yet more musical sound. The lower registers are more refined and controlled at the same time.

Retaining the dynamics and forceful low end that’s made Krell famous with audiophiles the world over, the K-300i is more nuanced and natural in its musical delivery. There is a sweetness to the sound that is reminiscent of the original KSA-50. The K-300i is non-fatiguing, inviting you to turn up the volume on your favorite tracks – right out of the box. That’s always a great sign. Remember, Krell amplifiers are still class-A, but thanks to Krell’s current i-Bias topology, they don’t run as hot, or draw as much power at low volume levels as the original models did. Yet the K-300i still draws 900 watts from the AC line at full output – and generates a fair amount of heat.

Utilizing a wide range of speakers from Sunny Cable, Lansche and PBN, nothing threw the Krell a curve ball it could not field. After a solid week of burn in, some direct comparisons to my reference D’Agostino Momentum Preamplifier and Pass Labs XA200.5 monoblocks, reveals the big bucks gear still having the edge, but it’s not as big as you might think. The key word here is value. This is performance that would have been unheard of ten years ago for this price.

Great with all sources

This newfound balance altered my approach. Past Krell components always had me reaching for the more bombastic selections in my music collection, but the K-300i sends me to vocal rich recordings, exploring the heart of the mid band and treble in ways that older Krell designs did not inspire as a first move. From Sarah Vaughn’s previously unreleased concert pressed by Devialet, via my VPI Avenger Reference, with the Gryphon Sonett and Boulder 508 phono stages, it’s easy to see what this amplifier does so well.

Liquidity, color, expressive dynamics, and space. All positive aspects of these two phono stages, and the differences between them are clearly rendered by the K-300i, revealing the emotion present in the recordings auditioned. Sarah Vaughn’s vocals sound full of life at times and a weary at others. Eva Cassidy’s Live at Blues Alley is another familiar go-to when trying to reproduce inflection, a wide range of dynamic control, and emotional impact. “Bridge Over Troubled Water” from this band is wonderful, and though I’ve heard this recording so many times, the Krell never gets in the way of the music.

Compared to my reference McIntosh MB50 streamer, the Krell provides a more intense presentation to the Mac’s slightly sweeter rendition. If I didn’t already have an outboard streamer, I could happily live with the one built into the Krell. For the less than the price of a decent pair of signal cables and a power cord, you can have it all inside the chassis. A great thing for those craving simplicity.

Just a quick note about the HDMI performance of the K-300i. In a word, it is phenomenal. Watching Mary Queen of Scots, my wife and our friend agreed, it was like we had upgraded our modest Epson projector several levels. Color saturation and detail rendition was startling as was the contrast and brightness. If you are like me and your audio system does double duty as your home theater, the upgrade in video quality alone not to mention the ease of integration is worth at least half the overall cost the K-300i.

Coming to grips with it all

On balance, this is one of the best sounding pieces of Krell gear I’ve had the pleasure to use. While the last bit of resolution and slam from their top products is not here, because you can’t have everything for $8,000, Krell has made it a point to deliver a high degree of sonic excellence and balance in this compact package. Those needing more power can consider using the K-300i as a control center and adding a more massive Krell power amplifier later.

The only part of the K-300i that I didn’t terribly enjoy was the Bluetooth streaming, but this is not my favorite way to listen anyway. Still, it is nice of Krell to offer this, so that when friends drop by and want to share their favorite playlist, connectivity is only a click away.

It’s a true treat for this long time Krell user to hear what they’ve achieved with their latest XD technology and the K-300i in particular. At this price, it can make an excellent anchor for a reasonably priced, yet high performance audio system. Its compact form factor makes it an easy roommate to live with as well.

And I still think about that KPS25i – it was one of the coolest pieces of audio gear I’ve ever owned. It’s funny what you remember. The K-300i is a piece that I suspect its owners will treasure for a long time.

The Krell K-300i
MSRP: $7,000 (without internal streaming DAC)  $8,000 (with DAC)

The GamuT Zodiac Speakers:

Letting the audition of the GamuT Zodiac speakers begin with the Beastie Boys “Groove Holmes” is so much fun, I don’t even need the weed. The massive, all-encompassing, psychedelic picture that these speakers paint is outstanding.

Keeping the disco groove going with a long playlist of classic Bee Gees tracks has me searching Amazon for a twinkly, glass ball for the ceiling. The bass line in “Nights on Broadway” has those super cool, see-through power meters in the Audio Research REF160M amplifiers bouncing in between the glowing KT150s and it’s all good.

$179,000 is a lot of money to spend on a pair of speakers, but if you’ve got that kind of cash, it’s not. Kind of a weird paradox. As it is with super high-end cars, motorcycles, watches, and the like, the uninitiated might think that once you step up to this level, said product does everything. Yet it only takes a quick ride around the block in a few mega cars to realize that while a Bentley is a truly amazing vehicle, it’s a completely different ride than a Ferrari, a Porsche 911 GT3RS, or an Aston Martin. All excellent to be sure, but still different, and very special. They will all get you to 200mph, but in their own way. Make no mistake, the GamuT Zodiacs are very special speakers and worth the price asked. And if you just want the sound, you can get em in black for $159,000/pair. Such a deal.

So it goes with mega speakers. Should you dig the GamuT Zodiac, you probably will not enjoy a similarly priced pair of Wilsons, the Focal Grande Utopias or a pair of Sonus faber Aidas quite as much. All four of these speakers are excellent and definitely have the same density of thought in their design and construction, but all approach how sound is produced in a different way, with different design choices made in their execution. If you’re looking for me to tell you that the GamuTs rule and the others suck, or vice versa, you’ll have to go elsewhere.

But I willsay that the Zodiac is my personal favorite for top speaker at this moment. Having spent plenty of time with the other contenders, these are the ones I’d happily write the check for. The priorities that designer Benno Maun Meldgaard has chosen appeals to what I love in a speaker most. First, and most importantly, they pass my main crazy expensive component requirement – they reveal so much music, that they will take you to a level of musical involvement that you won’t get with lesser speakers. And they do it with any kind of music.

Equally, if you’ve got nearly 200 big ones to spend on speakers, you’ve probably been at the hifi game long enough to know what you don’t like. And I’m guessing you already have the room, system, and software to wring the most performance from these speakers. The Zodiacs are up to the task of partnering with the world’s finest components, revealing everything they have to offer. They will never be the weak link in your audio chain, regardless of how much you’ve invested in the rest of your components.

What’s your sign?

One of the biggest audio mistakes so many people make is to put big speakers in a small room and expect good sound. The Zodiacs also deliver their most compelling performance in a medium to large space, but they deliver a better performance in a modest size room than any other big speaker I’ve used. This might be a plus if your Zodiacs arrive before your main listening room is done being built, or you’re anticipating a move in the near future. The only limit you will have in placing the Zodiacs in a small room, is that they will overdrive the room fairly quickly because they can move so much air.

GamuT only builds 12 of these yearly, one per month to go with the individual signs of the zodiac. says that Capricorns (me) and Taurus (the Zodiacs) are a good match most of the time, so I guess it just makes sense that I’ve been enjoying these speakers so much. Though the signs of the zodiac are all very different, each of the 12 pairs of GamuT Zodiac’s are hand assembled with extreme care, and then fine-tuned by Mr. Meldgaard. Within a year of your purchase, you will also receive a personal visit by him to fine tune the speaker’s setup in your listening room, no matter where in the world you might be. That’s part of what you write the big check for. If you want an off the rack suit, this might be excess, but if you want something bespoke, and optimized by its creator, this is the way to go – and you don’t get this with any of the other mega speakers.

While I’m certain that I’m compatible with the Zodiacs, after pairing them with about a dozen different amplifiers (tube and solid-state) from a wide range of manufacturers, these are very equipment friendly speakers. Everything from the 20-watt per channel Nagra 300 amplifier up to the big Pass XA200.8 monos worked well, yet at the same time offering a different perspective on the music.

Because the Zodiac goes all the way down to 16hz, they will deliver the most convincing performance with an amplifier of the highest quality and best bass control. The trio of 10-inch woofers sailed through every bass heavy track in my collection, providing a level of detail and dynamics that most speakers need external subwoofers to achieve. Whether I was grinding through Aphex Twin, or gliding through Stanley Clark, the level of bass detail the Zodiac delivers is first class.

Let’s get serious

The Zodiac’s greatest strengths is their ability to walk a fine line between resolving a high level of detail without being harsh, sterile or fatiguing. Like every other GamuT speaker I’ve owned or reviewed, the Zodiac is a speaker you can listen to all day and never want to leave the listening chair.

Most big speakers with this kind of footprint feelbig and overbearing, and in some instances only play big. My Magnepan Tympanis are famous for this effect, and while it can be fun, not all music is meant to be presented at the same size. Listening to Eddie Van Halen play solo acoustic guitar on “316” through my Maggies sounds as if EVH is 14 feet wide. Cool, but not realistic. Playing the same track on the Zodiacs feels like he’s sitting between the speakers on a footstool, as it would if he were. But the second I mix it up and go with “Atomic Punk,” the living room walls fall down and there is a wall of speaker cabinets on a big stage behind me.

While the Zodiacs are fantastic with tonality and coherence, they also excel in terms of dynamics. They do not lose their ability to engage at the lowest of volume levels – often an area of contention with large speakers. Playing well below conversation level, the Zodiacs reveal minute musical details, and were able to draw more than one guest into the mix, requesting “to turn it up a bit more please…”

At the other end of the spectrum, the sheer dynamic punch the Zodiacs deliver will be limited by how much clean amplifier power you have at your disposal. Those wanting to achieve concert hall levels will have no problem doing so, with plenty of amplifier power. My Pass XA200.8s clipped and ears started to buzz before the Zodiacs reveal distortion of any kind. And that’s way louder than you should be listening to music without ear damage. This ability to play well between loud and soft reveals a degree of linearity that is seldom experienced at any price, and another one of the Zodiac’s strengths.

What you get at this price is a healthy dose of magic along with technological and manufacturing excellence. This combination of art and science is what fools you into believing the music is unfolding in front of you. This doesn’t happen at $10k or $20k, and you don’t realize it until you experience these. As I mentioned earlier, it’s almost hallucinogenic. Absolute power does indeed corrupt.

How do you describe what does not exist?

While other hifi writers have written volumes on the Zodiac, both in their listening rooms, and at various hifi shows around the world, I keep returning to my first experience with GamuT. Current designer Benno Meldgaard has built on the foundation of their original designer, Lars Goller, yet the magic is still there.

After days of listening to speakers at CES, I went offsite to where GamuT had (then) the S7 and S9 set up in separate rooms and my perception of speakers was re-defined. The Zodiac is capable of this achievement, with even more refinement and resolution.

What you don’t get with the GamuT Zodiac is distraction. All of the distractions that come from distortion, phase anomalies, and tonal inequities simply doesn’t exist with these speakers. They require no excuses whatsoever. When listening to many other speakers, my inner voice often says “if only they had less of this, or more of that.” I’ve never had this conversation with myself, when listening to the Zodiacs, no matter what music is playing. It’s so much easier to ramble on about speakers with shortcomings, but these really have none.

Looking the part

If you’ve had the pleasure of visiting Denmark, you know that they are masters of understated design, both elegant and functional at the same time. Where many of the other six-figure speakers sport rich automotive paint finishes to command attention, the Zodiac’s wood cabinet is specifically curved to achieve the desired acoustic effect, but GamuT takes a different approach. They use nearly 30 layers of fine wood, glued together and formed under over a ton of pressure to achieve their shape. (It’s worth noting that they used to make the cabinets for the B&W 800’s and developed this process)

The result is a beautiful cabinet that only needs an occasional oiling to look it’s best. And with no paper-thin veneer or highly polished paint, a slight bump to the cabinet will not mar the finish of your speakers. Intelligent design at its finest. These speakers just look more handsome as the years go by.

Simple setup.

The intelligent design of the Zodiac goes beyond the speaker itself. These are by far the easiest large speakers to set up – period. Their wheeled crates allow nearly anyone to get them in the vicinity of where they need to be. Tip the crate up, and remove two braces holding the speakers in place. Slide the crates back and you’re almost there. These crates are fairly large, so you will need storage space!

The Zodiacs weigh about 420 pounds each, so get a friend to help you, two if you can, for fine tuning. A quick trip to Home Depot for a custom pair of ¾-inch particle board sub platforms made fine tuning the front to rear and side to side alignment a breeze.

The two-part, five-layer steel bases are coated with an anti-vibration compound and the finely threaded feet allow precise tuning of the Zodiac’s rake. Easy as these speakers are to set up, this is the critical bit – much like achieving perfect VTA when setting up a phono cartridge. This is the most critical part of setting up any GamuT speaker. Once the rake is correct, the time alignment is assured, and everything falls properly into place.

Beyond big

Having owned the prior flagship S9 for a number of years, as well as the smaller RS5i (Our managing editor, Rob Johnson also uses the RS3i as his reference) has given a lot of insight into the refinement that goes into the Zodiacs. These speakers are so much more than just a “big speakers play big” experience.

As hinted at earlier, the Zodiacs can not only play big, but they can play at whatever scale the recording dictates – expanding and contracting as necessary. They not only follow the music, but mange to be mere conduits of the music – no small feat. Where the GamuT comes out a winner, is in its ability to perform all the necessary audiophile tasks at an equally high and balanced level. Yes, the Grande Utopia is a touch more resolving, perhaps the big Wilsons have a few molecules more bass grunt, and so on, but for my money the Zodiac does more at integrating all musical aspects at a tremendously high level than any other I’ve yet experienced. That is their strength to me. I never feel like I’m listening to speakers when they are on.

If you are buying speakers at this level, you need to hear the GamuT Zodiacs. I have to confess a true bias for the presentation that they deliver – guilty as charged. But that’s why I’d buy an Aston Martin instead of a Ferrari. That part of the argument is immaterial, I applaud your choice, whatever it might be at this level – you are obviously an obsessed music lover.

But, you don’t want to spend 180 big ones and not test drive these. Your biggest questions will be “can my floor support them,” and “what color should I get?”

The GamuT Zodiac Speakers

MSRP: $159,000/pair and up, depending on finish


Analog Source Luxman PD 171 w/Kiseki Purple Heart

Digital Source dCS Vivaldi One

Preamplifier Pass Labs INT-60 integrated

Power Amplifier Pass Labs XA200.8 mono blocks, Audio Research REF160 mono blocks

Cable Cardas Clear Beyond, Tellurium Q Black Diamond

Rack Grand Prix Audio Monaco

PrimaLuna EVO series is here!

It’s always fun to unbox something from PrimaLuna. They pack their electronics better than anyone, except maybe Luxman. But seriously, the three layers of packing – heavy, closed cell foam inserts, and a set of gloves makes sure your PrimaLuna amp or preamp gets out of the box in pristine fashion.

With so much hotly contested talk about component break-in, I’m here to tell you that the EVOs sound incredible right out of the box. Typically, their amplifiers have never taken terribly long to find their voice, so this will only get better.

Driving the mighty Focal Stella Utopia EM’s (with a 94db/1-watt sensitivity) I may not even need to use a pair of EVO 400s in mono configuration, which incidentally offer 144 watts per channel in Ultralinear configuration. Half these numbers with the stereo or mono in Triode mode.

In addition to an even further sonic refinement of the PrimaLuna concept, The top range EVO 400 components offer balanced inputs, giving them a much wider range of flexibility. Where the EVO 400 power amplifier comes shipped with EL-34 tubes (a long time favorite here) as with all other PL amps, you can use a wide range of output tubes to custom tune the sound to your preference. Input tubes are a breeze too, because PL’s designers chose to use the more reasonably priced 12AU7 tubes in the input and driver stages, instead of the ridiculously priced 12AX7s. Those wanting to tube roll and go hard core NOS can still afford 8 12AU7s without raiding the kids college fund.

Of course we need to do more listening, but when something sounds this good right out of the box, cold, it’s a winner.

The PrimaLuna EVO400 amplifier. $4,699 each, $9,398/pair
The PrimaLuna EVO400 preamplifier. $4,499

The Octave HP 700 Preamplifier

Based in Karlsbad, Germany, Octave Audio has produced meticulously designed audio components for over 30 years. Their HP-500 preamplifier, released in the late 80’s, has gained worldwide respect. It’s still manufactured today, although improvements have slipstreamed over the years resulting in the current SE version.

The Octave team never rests on their laurels and continually tackle the challenge of improving on their past designs. Their hard work results in Octave’s latest flagship preamplifier, the mighty HP 700. It’s a sonic marvel indeed.

What’s inside counts

The Octave’s clean and modern look, accentuated with a brushed aluminum exterior, conjures quite a visual impact. At 462 x 130 x 480 mm (W x H x D) and a weight of 10 kilograms there’s no overlooking the HP 700 on an audio shelf. The main unit is flanked by an external power supply measuring 110 x 90 x 277 mm (W x H x D).  While the HP 700’s outward appearance is quite dapper, the unit also embodies the spirit of an old proverb: It’s what’s insidethat counts.

The most impressive quality of the HP 700 is its versatility. Octave’s design approach involves creation of modular gear that can be tailored to best serve its owner. Rather than fill the chassis with a one-size-fits-all complement of inputs and outputs, Octave gives a prospective owner some say in what gets dropped under the hood. Do you need XLR, RCA, or both types of line inputs? Do you need an MC or MM phonostage? Or both? How about an MC phono input with XLR type connectors? What if you need a step-up transformer? Do they offer that, too? With the HP 700, the answer to any or all of these questions is a simple and resounding yes. Octave will help put together the perfect module complement for the new owner’s needs – there are eight different modules available. Best of all, should your system needs change later, you can always add or subtract additional modules. Our HP 700 review sample offers a little of everything, so the TONEAudio team had a chance to test it out with a variety of components on hand.

The Octave is a tube-based preamplifier; and regardless of modules chosen, the HP 700 requires eight tubes, regardless of configuration. The linestage section utilizes three tubes. There’s a single 12AU7 (ECC 82) required, and Octave makes available choices for the other two tubes needed. With the flick of a switch, an owner can choose to socket a pair of EF184 (EF 800) or D3A tubes. If you really want to start experimenting with tube rolling, it’s also fun to note that the switches can accommodate one of each.

The phonostage’s tube complement is a set configuration including one each of type 12AX7, 12AT7, and 6922 (6DJ8). Finally, the HP 700 control unit requires a 6922 (6DJ8) mounted sideways inside the chassis.

Getting ready for a treat

Setting up the HP 700 is simple, with no unexpected challenges. First, connect the umbilical from the external power supply to the main chassis. A notch in the connector prevents the possibility of misalignment. Then simply attach sources to their respective input module connections, choose RCA or XLR outputs to an amplifier, and you’re ready to rock.

The three huge knobs on the front panel control all elements of the HP 700’s functionality. The central volume control is flanked to the right by an input selector. A tiny blue LED indicates the chosen source. On the left side of the unit, a third “mode” knob stands at the ready. Its options require a little more explaining.

Turning on the power supply, the Mode indicator LEDs keep the user notified of progress. An amber LED indicates the start of a two minute warm up cycle during which the tubes are coaxed to operating voltages. In doing so, HP 700 does its best to extend tube life. During this short delay, a Mute indicator simultaneously makes its presence known until the Octave fully ready for operation. Once there, the mute disengages itself. The Mode knob also offers a low, medium, and high gain setting so the owner can best match the preamp to the source being heard. If changing music sources, the gain can be reset on-the-fly with a tiny twist. A final setting on the Mode selector offers the option of home theater bypass, disengaging the volume knob and deferring to the home theater processor’s volume settings.

Yes, a remote control is included with the HP 700. It’s an example of true simplicity featuring two buttons only: volume up and volume down.

Sing to me

It’s difficult pinning down the sonic signature of the Octave when the unit behaves like a sonic chameleon, optimizing any input source and any music genre thrown downstream. No element of the sonic picture seems emphasized or neglected. Music comes out as pure as it did going in. All this creates a fantastic, immersive listening experience.

It’s ironic to imply a $20,000 piece of gear does nothing to add or subtract from the sound, but for many that is the holy grail. There seems to be nothing in the Octave design that adds to, or takes away, from the music. Vocals and instruments flow through with a wonderfully organic quality that conveys all the human cues captured in a recording be it subtlety, passion, force, energy, or anything else the performers exude. Because the sound feels so natural, it is very easy to get immersed in long listening sessions with the HP 700. “Nothing” never seemed so beguiling! Of course, to achieve “nothingness”, the devil resides in the details. It’s much more likely the Octave is doing “everything” behind the scenes, but making such a complex task seem easy and seamless to the listener.

Reaching conclusions about the HP 700’s sonic attributes takes a bit of time and aural adjustment. At first listen, it seems the Octave lacks a bit of bass heft. But the more I listen, the more that initial perception proves wrong. What makes the HP 700 bass response interesting is that it delivers what the music commands it to. No region among the bass frequencies appear accentuated or diminished. There’s no supplemental punch or heft applied. Realistic bass response simply floats from the HP 700 to the amp without coloration or undue emphasis.

Similarly, vocals glide forth with a level of smoothness and realism that brings performers into the room. “Wash me Clean” from k.d. lang provides an immersive experience. Complementing her powerful and silky voice, guitar plucks have an organic texture. Small ambient notes slide forth with delicacy.

Soundstaging prowess is another Octave strength. Performers and musical cues are scattered across a perceived stage that extends well beyond the speakers. Not only does sound extend well behind the speakers, the HP 700 can place vocals so that they project a bit forward of the speakers. Beck’s album Midnight Vulturesincludes various unexpected sounds like a piece of metal pipe dropped on the floor, and an industrial-sounding machine punch. These elements skip across the soundstage as the sound engineer placed them. Even when a listener anticipates those sounds, the level of realism though the Octave creates moments where sound effects generate head turning surprise.

There’s little to criticize about the HP 700, and there’s no question about its overall prowess. Is it perfect? If natural, neutral, sound is what you seek, the Octave HP 700 will serve your ears extraordinarily well. That said, not every audio component is ideal for every audiophile. Those who seek to complement their existing components with a preamp that generates a little extra bass presence, or a warm and laid-back sound, or an extra-detailed and analytical presence will not experience those attributes via the Octave design.

Choices, choices

An audiophile with a budget around $20,000 for preamplification is a lucky individual indeed. For that amount, many world-class components are within reach. The question, of course, is which to choose. Making a purchase decision even more complicated, that same amount of money potentially can be divided to buy separate phonostage and linestage components, making a hard decision even more agonizing.

After listening to the Octave and experiencing the modular approach they take, I have little hesitation suggesting a prospective owner make the decision easy on themselves and take the plunge on an HP 700 configured to his or her liking. First and foremost, the sound is marvelous. Second, the unit can be configured with line and phono stage modules to accommodate any type of input. Buy what you need now, and add other things you need in the future. Third, gain control options help the Octave play very well with all the other components in the audio chain. Finally, the HP 700’s build quality leaves little to be desired.

The Octave HP 700 is a marvelous piece of audio gear, and those who choose to make an investment in one are sure to be thrilled with their purchase for a long time to come.

Further Listening

Having spent the better part of a year with Octave’s flagship tube monoblock power amplifiers a while back and a few of their integrated amplifiers as well, the Octave sound, or lack of it, as Rob describes is indeed wonderful. Upon closer comparison to ARC, BAT, C-J and McIntosh, I’d spot the Octave HP 700 a few molecules more tonal body and richness than the current ARC REF components, a few less than the CJ ACT 2 or GAT preamplifiers, a little less dark than the BAT and not quite as syrupy as the Mc MC1000 or MC500. How’s that?

All of the Octave gear I’ve experienced has come across with a lively, dynamic sound high in tonal contrast and saturation without sounding overly tubey; you won’t mistake one for a solid state component, but it is never tube-like in a vintage tube component perspective.

What has always impressed with Octave components is their teutonic build quality, attention to detail and Bauhaus – like casework. Plenty of German precision here. Like the other well known brands listed, an Octave component is built to last a lifetime, and as you go up the range, the sonics remain intact, yet each component reveals more music than the one beneath it in the lineup. Designer Andreas Hofmann always runs the tubes in his designs well within their limits, contributing to long tube life, another plus – especially for those making a substantial investment in vintage tubes.

Putting the HP700 through its paces with a wide range of sources and power amplifiers, both single ended and balanced reveals no difference in sound quality between outputs, making it an excellent choice for those prone to swapping amplifiers on occasion. Should you have the budget, I’d highly suggest their Jubilee monoblocks, a combination I’ve heard many times with excellent result.

The phono section is particularly good, and is reminiscent of the Octave Phono Module that we reviewed some time ago, in terms of sound quality and functionality. It works well with every MC and MM cartridge we were able to pair it with, and provides a level of sonic excellence that is in keeping with the rest of the preamplifier; vinyl playback is clearly not an afterthought here. Considering rack space is often at a premium, mating the HP 700 with a two tonearm turntable makes for a formidable analog based system with a minimal footprint.

The HP 700 offers some other novel technological goodies, that in addition to the modularity, really make it future proof; another consideration when writing this kind of check. Along with the option of setting gain, you can also set the output impedance to perfectly match your power amplifer and cable length. Precision tone controls are available as well as a stepped attenuator. Additional modules have a cost of between $475 and $2,750.

As far as destination preamplifiers go, the Octave HP700 ranks with the worlds finest. Thanks to their modular approach, it can easily be the last preamplifier you’ll ever need to purchase.  – Jeff Dorgay

Octave HP 700 Preamplifier

Starting at $20,000 depending on chosen modules


Analog Source SME Model 10 with Model 10 and SME V tonearms. Dynavector 17D3 and Denon 103R catridges

Digital Source Mac Mini with Roon music service, dCS Debussy

Amplification Burmester 911 mk3

Speakers Sonus faber Olympica III

Cables Jena Labs

Power Running Springs Audio Haley, and RSA Mongoose power cords

Accessories ASC tube traps, Mapleshade Samson audio racks, Coffman Labs Equipment Footers, AudioQuest Jitterbug

Why I don’t always listen to as much new music as I should

I’m a hifi reviewer, with an excellent music system at my disposal and thanks to Tidal, Qobuz and Roon, I pretty much have the world’s biggest record store available 24/7. That’s better than the flying cars they promised me when I was in high school – really, it is.

So why don’t I explore new music every minute of the day?

In all fairness, I am still sampling as much as I have time for, but at this point in my life, day to day can get in the way more than I’d like. Flipping through the updated copy of Robert Dimery’s 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, I bookmarked 8 titles that I hadn’t heard, and about 20 that I didn’t own, or have in my Roon library. Not bad.

But there’s great music being released every day. I’m not one of those crabby old men that thinks all of today’s music suuuuucks (though I do find some of it a little derivative at times), but it boils down to this:


I usually get unglued with a vengeance when people make the blanket “everybody/nobody” statements, so I’ll refrain from it here. I don’t know what everybody my age is doing or thinking, but based on my limited experience, it boils down to hours in the day.

Think about it, you’ve got that keep the bills paid app spinning all the time. Maybe you’ve got the future college fund, future wedding fund (maybe future divorce fund), retirement, vacation, health insurance, and fitness apps running all the time, along with a few special interest apps. If you’re a hifi enthusiast on top of that, you’re probably thinking about the system a bit as well.

All of these apps are eating up bandwidth. And battery power. While I’d like to think I’m pretty perky (and relatively immature) for 60, there are days I still feel like an iPhone 7 that’s had it’s performance limited because of an aging battery.

Which brings us back to the initial question.

Whenever you try something new, you are taking a 50% risk that it’s going to suck. Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want, but as a function of time, when you are on the downhill to EOL (end of life, as my perky 42-year old primary health care physician is fond of saying) there’s only so much time left.

You’ve got three hours to listen to music. How much of it do you devote to potential bad experiences? Do you play it safe and listen to Mahler V, or Led Zeppelin II, or take a risk, knowing that if you don’t get what you want, that’s 40 minutes of your remaining battery life you won’t get back. Excitement versus stability, the age old question.

Those of you that are more on the adventuresome side of the risk avoidance spectrum no doubt are still jumping off the cliff every chance you get. And I salute you. Further, you’re the ones I follow on Facebook and when you’re excited about a new album, I go to Roon and usually stream it right away. This has actually bumped the success rate with trying new things to about 80% positive, which I appreciate more than you know. As Lyle Lovett said once, “If it’s not too late, make it a cheeseburger.”

Some days I just want comfort food instead of the latest fusion cuisine. And sometimes, Van Halen II is just what the doctor ordered. But again, I encourage you to sample as much music as you can make time for, it’s never been easier. That’s one of the things that keeps me going every day. And please, keep sharing those new albums on social media. It’s always nice to be surprised.

The PS Audio DirectStream P15 Power Plant

Last year, we published a very enthusiastic review of PS Audio’s top P20 DirectStream Power Plant. It’s awesome, and every audiophile cliché you can think of applies. So we don’t need to go there again.

If you’d like to hear all the lavish praise, click here to read our review of the P20. At just a few molecules under $10,000, the P20 is not for everyone. The $7,495 P15 will perform the same miracles on your system and is sonically identical, except for a few minor differences. Where the P15 has a lower maximum capacity (1500 watts vs. 2000) it also only has the ability to utilize a 15-amp AC cord, where the P20 lets you take advantage of a 20 amp AC line and cord, the P15 does not. And it weighs a little less, which isn’t a bad thing.

The P15 features 10 outlets, to the P20s 16, but for most audio enthusiasts, that should be more than enough. With two “high current” zones and three regular zones, it’s easy to plug your power amplifier or integrated into the high current outlet, while plugging your DAC, phonostage and turntable all into separate zones of their own.

Originally, this was going to be an incredibly short review, because as long as you keep the P15 within operating limits, the sonic effect is identical to what the P20 offers. The P15 is the perfect choice for those not needing the full 20-amp capacity of the P20; some of you won’t even need the capacity of the P15. For those of you, PS Audio makes the P12, priced at $4,995.

Let’s address the elephant in the room right away. Yes, the P15 is worth the price to me, because in the context of the system that it’s powering (worth about $40k) there is way more than a 20% improvement. That’s always tough to quantify, and always easy when I’m spending your money, so I get it if this has you outraged.

The last six feet

However, what the P15 does, you really can’t get any other way. The top passive conditioners get you closer, but they don’t offer the last bit of silky smoothness without compromising resolution and dynamics that the Power Plants do because they actually regenerate and rebuild a fresh AC feed to your components – hence the name.

The argument that every crabby pants non-believer on the internet has is “but if the power has traveled all this way to my house, what does the last few feet make?” I could write another article on why I don’t agree with that philosophy, but to blow that out of the water completely, let’s start with fresh power right at the bottom of your audio rack. Now what do you non believers have to say?

Because the Power Plant is providing you with fresh AC, that six feet of power cord now makes an even bigger difference. The P15 and P20 make it much easier to discern the improvement that a premium power cable provides. You need look no further than the touch panel scope on the front panel of the P15 to see it in action. In my office/studio which features recent cabling and more attention to the Earth ground, the AC power only had an input distortion of 2%, coming from a 20 amp dedicated line and new breaker panel. In my house, with older wiring and a breaker box from the early 70s, that distortion rises to 3.5%. Interesting. Both Power Plants reduced output distortion to around .1%, a major increase in clarity.

Plugging an electric drill into the same outlet and pulling the trigger makes that figure jump up to nearly 10%, so while you might be thinking you’ve got clean power, everyone on your power pole’s transformer is contributing to the pollution in your power line. This is a lot of the haze and cloudiness that you might be hearing through your system without any attention to power treatment. This is also why your system sounds better at certain times of the day.
This distortion in the AC line is a major contributor to your system not giving you all the performance you paid for. Less distortion in the incoming AC power means that the power supply in your components work that much less, with less residual noise is getting through to your speakers. The P15 offers an ease that isn’t there without it being in the line, with no loss in transient impact or detail, a peril that more often than not plagues passive line conditioners.

A fresh start

Eliminating the other people on your power line gives you a clean baseline to start from. Perhaps the biggest benefit to have a Power Plant is that your system will always sound its best, day or night. Because it is generating power from scratch, you no longer need to worry about temporary power sags from other things like a refrigerator, water heater, or other appliance turning on at random when you’re in the middle of a listening session.

Adding the P15 to a system consisting of a VAC 170i integrated amplifier, Simaudio MOON 390 DAC/streamer and a Luxman PD 171A turntable doesn’t come close to taxing its maximum power capabilities. Again, the front panel display will tell you how much capacity you are using. In this case, about 39%. Swapping the VAC for the Nagra Classic preamplifier/Pass Labs XA30.8 amplifier (pure class A) upped the utilization to about 55% – still plenty of room.

Both amplifiers were driving the Focal Kanta no.3s, which are fairly efficient, but on hard musical peaks, both amplifiers were able to be driven to clipping and susceptible to voltage sag on the AC line at high volume without the P15. Installing the P15 eliminates this effect, yet you will get a similar “flattening” effect if you run the P15 very close to its limitations. The good news is that limit is much further down the road with the P15 on the job.

It’s not just about loud

As anyone who’s been following the loudness/compression wars for any period of time knows, getting louder isn’t the trick to volume. It’s all about dynamic range – make things quieter and the delta between loud and soft is volume. It’s like reducing the weight of a race car instead of just adding more horsepower.

This is where the P15 (and P20) really excels. Of course, your favorite records will have more life, dynamics and detail, but so will all the records (I use this term generically for analog and digital files) that you thought were marginal to shitty. Should you demo a P15 for yourself, I suggest starting with a few of your worst tracks – ones you might even think unlistenable. You’ll be surprised. I was shocked at how many albums in the junk bin became much more enjoyable. The amount of low level detail revealed by clean power is incredible. That alone is worth the price asked of the P15. Imagine getting another thousand LPs for free that you now love. What’s that worth to you?

The effect on analog and digital sources is equally bold, yet different. Every DAC plugged into the P15 instantly displays less harshness and glare – all the stuff you hate about digital, is now either gone or greatly diminished. Every phonostage exhibited a lower noise floor, especially those with vacuum tubes under the cover, allowing more of the finest musical details to come through. I guarantee you will have at least a few “wow, I never heard that” moments with the P15.

The same conclusion

I have the same suggestion I did with the P20 – get one if it makes sense for your budget. On one level the P15 offers more than a component level upgrade because dropping another 5 or 10 thousand bucks on a better component, or a set of world class power cords still leaves the noise in your entire system un-adressed.

If you are at a crossroads in your system where you are seriously considering a component or cable upgrade in this range, I strongly suggest that you audition a P15 first. I am confident you will hear a tremendous difference. And that goes for those of you at the top of the mountain.

The PS Audio P15

MSRP:  $7,495


Analog Source Luxman PD 171 w/Kiseki Purple Heart

Digital Source Simaudio MOON 390, dCS Vivaldi One

Amplifier VAC Sigma 170i integrated, Pass Labs INT-60 integrated

Speakers Focal Kanta no. 3

Cable Cardas Clear Beyond, Tellurium Q Black Diamond

Rack Quadraspire EVO

The Raidho D1.1

The opening organ riff in the Who’s “Eminence Front” permeates my listening room. Diffuse, yet locked down slightly off the center of the soundstage as Pete Townshends guitar comes up out of nowhere and the track builds in intensity before his lead vocal enters the mix. These small monitors do the near impossible – they play loud, like a pair of big speakers.

Pushing the volume until my Pass INT-60 flattens out, the soundstage from the D1.1s just keeps getting bigger. Talk about good first impressions. Moving on to Keith Richards, “Wicked as it Seems” delivers similar dynamic excellence. Hours later, my ears are buzzing from listening to music so damn loud. Yet these little speakers offer such an undistorted, unfatiguing look at my favorite tunes, it’s easy to go past the danger zone.

I need to confess a hard-core reviewer bias right away. I really like Raidho speakers. A lot. A lot, a lot. I’ve been using a pair of their entry level X-1s in system two for some time now and they deliver such an incredible amount of musical detail, combined with a level of smoothness and dynamics that I’ve never heard from a ribbon tweeter, it’s tough not to be smitten – especially for someone that really enjoys the transparency of an ESL. The Raidho driver is even faster, and they incorporate this tweeter in every speaker they make, so if you discover that you like the Raidho sound as much as I do, you just get more of it as you go up the line. Think of it like drinking Macallan’s 12, 18, 24, or 60. More refinement costs more…

While all Raidho speakers share a common tweeter, the X series utilizes Raidho’s ceramic coned woofers, and the D series uses their diamond cones. The diamond composite in this driver is deposited at high voltage to create a cone that has no breakup anywhere near the audible range, making for an incredibly distortion free presentation. Unlike speakers built around the Accuton drivers, the Raidho driver takes this much further, offering much greater dynamic punch. No matter what your favorite type of music, these are not audiophile speakers, limited to solo vocalists and string quartets. They deliver massive dynamic contrasts when called upon.

$25k/pair vs. $6k/pair

A number of audiophile buddies observing the slightly larger D1.1 next to the X-1 all gave me the same look – how much more for these smallish speakers? It’s not a misprint, a pair of D1.1s will set you back $25k. A little more if you want the custom finish you see on our test pair.

Why you might want to consider going up the range is the level of refinement these speakers offer. You could argue that my $20k/pair Focal Sopra no.3s in room one arefull range floorstanding speakers for less money. That’s a valid argument, and smitten as I am with these little Raidhos, my Sopras aren’t showing up on Audiogon anytime soon. Yet, after hearing Raidhos in a number of different show rooms, dealers and my own room, there is something special here.

Where the entry level Raidho X-1 remains a fantastic speaker, and compared to a lot of small $4-$6k monitors I’ve experienced, a top value, the D1.1s are in an entirely different league. The D1.1s can play much louder, much cleaner and are truly world class. If you’ve ever met a feisty small dog and had their owner say, “He thinks he’s a big dog. He doesn’t know he’s in a small dog body,” that sums up the performance and attitude of the D1.1.

Yes, you will have to get a subwoofer or pair of subwoofers to get true full range performance with the D1.1s, but from about 50hz up, they rival anything I’ve experienced at any price. In a small room you may not even need the sub, depending on your musical requirements. I was more than impressed with the quality of the bass response in our smaller, 13 x 15 foot room.

Critical set up

While the D1.1s are nowhere near as fussy as some mega speakers I’ve set up, the one aspect that is critical when setting up any Raidho speaker is getting the rake angle correct. The ribbon does not have as much horizontal dispersion as some other speakers, so if you lean Raidhos back too far, the high frequencies will appear dull and diffused, along with a loss of image precision. A similar thing happens tipping them too far forward, but now additional image smear from floor reflections will muddle the mix even more.

The good news is that this limited horizontal dispersion makes the Raidhos a lot easier to integrate in a room than many others, because there’s not a ton of downward firing energy from said tweeter to interfere with the presentation.

As with any other speaker, use whatever method you choose to get the best low/mid frequency integration in the room and then slowly adjust the rake angle a couple of degrees at a time. Lift your head above and below the axis you are set, to figure out where you need to go for the optimum sound.  Finally, experiment a bit with toe in for the last bit of fine tuning.

With a claimed impedance of 6 ohms and a fairly low sensitivity of 85db/1 watt, these compact monitors are fairly power hungry. The Raidho website suggests a minimum of 50 watts per channel, but “good results with low power tube amplifiers are possible.” While I had decent results with our PrimaLuna DiaLogue HP Premium integrated amplifier (60wpc with EL34s) the Raidhos did a lot better with the KT150s installed (92wpc) and are pure heaven with the new PrimaLuna 140wpc EVO 400 monoblocks.

At the end of the day, my personal favorite was still pairing these amplifiers with solid-state amplification, and my experience with the Pass XA200.8s, the new Bryston 28B cubed, and the Luxman C900-n power amplifiers all deliver the most engaging performances with the small Raidhos. The big, high current amplifiers all produce a broader sense of dynamic scale, along with better bass control and extension than their tube counterparts. The few additional molecules of three dimensional space that the tube amplifiers could muster was not worth the added punch of the solid state amps.

A particularly nice combination was the pairing of the Nagra Classic Preamplifer and the Bryston amplifiers. These 1000 watt per channel amplifiers have grip in spades, and the ever so slightly warm presentation of the Nagra offers the best of both worlds. Of course, you will have to find your own nirvana with the D1.1s, but don’t scrimp on any other part of your system if you want them to give their best performance.

Returning to the listening chair

Once you have your D1.1s optimized to your taste and ability, expect a huge, presentation that will fool you time and time again that there really are a pair of floor standers lurking in your listening room.

Additionally, the tremendous amount of speed, and the coherent integration between woofer and tweeter will keep even the most feverish panel lovers happy. Acoustic instruments are reproduced with a stunning degree of realism, and heavily multi-tracked selections unravel with ease in front of you. As I may have mentioned before, but even more with the D1.1s, their setup is much like fine tuning the VTA on a premium phono cartridge. When it’s right, the presentation is almost limitless, and when it’s not, things are flat.

Most impressive about the D1.1s, as with my reference X1s is their ability to do a great job on less than pristine musical selections. These are musical speakers first, not audiophile speakers, limited to a few perfect tracks. Thanks to the incredibly low distortion in the Raidhos, these are speakers you can listen to all day long with no fatigue.

As mentioned earlier, the bass that these speakers can generate is of extremely high quality, and extends quite low, lower than the 50hz spec might suggest. Tracking through a long play list of hip hop, electronica, and classic rock tracks with plenty of low bass output was indeed satisfying, though with the Bryston amplifier’s 1000 watts per channel on tap, I did have to be careful not to bottom those little woofer cones!

They are also available in black…

Musically engaging as the D1.1s are, if you take enough time to really examine them closely, you will see just how beautiful they are built. The finish is luxury squared, as is the fine points of cabinet assembly. Joints are invisible, corners are perfectly executed and the gaps between the front face and the rest of the cabinet are meticulously optimized. The D1.1s look the part as well as sounding it.

Those wanting a compact, yet high performance monitor should consider the Raidho D1.1 at the top of their list. They are certainly at the top of ours. Highly recommended.

The Raidho D1.1



Cartridge Koetsu Onyx Platinum, My Sonic Lab Ultra Eminent EX, Lyra Atlas

Phonostage BAT VK-P12SE, Boulder 508, Pass Labs XS Phono, ARC REF Phono 3

Preamplifier Pass Labs XS Pre

Power Amplifier Pass Labs XA200.8, Luxman C900n, PrimaLuna EVO400 mono blocks

Power PS Audio P20 and P15 power conditioners

Cable Cardas Clear and Tellurium Q Reference

VPI Ditches the belt:

A few years ago, we put VPIs direct drive turntable on our cover, giving it a product of the year award.

It was a brilliant design exercise, offering incredible sound, but VPI had some supply issues with the direct drive motor, and had to discontinue production. However, it opened the doors of perception for both Mat and Harry Weisfeld, once they saw what a well-executed direct-drive turntable could achieve.
Audiophile purists that scowl like the red angry bird when contemplating direct drive over belt drive usually haven’t heard a contemporary direct drive table. (isn’t that how life in our world usually goes?) Way too often their only point of reference is that Technics SL-1200 they think they remember from college days, or the stigma surrounding the SL-1200 because it was used as a “DJ table.”

Like so many other technologies, direct drive utilizing modern materials and construction is not not only a formidable competitor, but done properly, exceeds the resolution of the best belt drive tables. Brinkmann Audio and Grand Prix Audio both make such a table, and we use them both as references. The legendary Technics SP-10 with power supply upgrades, and the newest version are both exceptional too. That first VPI direct drive was up there with the big boys too, we were sad to see it go. Evidently, so were they.

The direct difference

What well implemented direct drive offers that the belt drive tables often do not, is superior speed accuracy. This leads to a lower noise floor and a level of pitch stability that rivals CD or SACD. Now you can have that speed accuracy that you crave from digital, with the tonal richness that is more often than not, easier to get from analog.

Where the original direct drive VPI tipped the scale at a fairly heavy $30k, the current table has a much lower MSRP of $15,000. Always a nice thing. Thanks to expanding their engineering staff with veteran Mike Bettinger, direct drive stayed on the table. VPI’s Mat Weisfeld tells us, “Mike took Harry Weisfeld’s original design and made it more efficient. Most important, by taking advantage of the latest in cutting edge motor technology, he made the table easier to build in quantity – something that plagued the original design.

This allowed us to build 400 motors out of the gate, and pass a cost savings on to our customers. Direct drive speaks to VPI’s roots – Harry built the HW-9 for Denon’s direct drive motor back in the late 70s/early 80s. So, it’s always been in our blood.”

I’ve switched to direct drive with my two reference turntables, and there’s a definite clarity to the presentation that isn’t there to the same extent with the best belt driven tables. If you happen to be blessed with perfect pitch (I am not) the pitch stability that the best direct drive tables will give you a new musical perspective. More than one pitch-perfect acoustic music lover has remarked that they can’t deal with the instability that belt drive offers.

The HW-40 is no slouch in this department. Queing up George Winston’s Winter,with it’s solitary, lingering notes has a solidity that the belt drives, even VPI’s can’t match. A similar effect is easily noticed when listening to violin recordings, the tonal subtleties in both the piano and violin’s decay pattern is unmistakably more solid and organic sounding through the VPI.

A variation on the Fatboy

VPI’s 3D printed Fatboy tonearm has been a favorite upgrade with legacy owners, but they’ve offered an interesting variation on the theme with the Direct Drive – a gimbaled arm. As someone who’s owned VPI’s for an incredibly long time, I’m still a bit uncomfortable with the relative ease that the arm can be bumped from its pedestal. Especially when a Koetsu, Atlas, or other 5 figure cartridge is mounted.

The gimbal variation makes the proposition a bit more solid, and confidence inspiring to mount up a few more cartridges and get back to work. VPIs manual is very straightforward, and you should have your table up and running quickly. Running the 12-inch arm through the Analog Magik software suite makes a world of difference, all for the better. In theory, a 12-inch tonearm can provide lower tracking/tracing error, however that’s only if it’s set up properly.

Improper setup exaggerates the errors, due to the longer arm wand, and perhaps this is why the longer arms don’t always deliver on the promise. Once optimized, the gimbaled Fatboy is exceptional.

Spending time with the Lyra Atlas, Koetsu Onyx Platinum and the new Ultra Eminent EX from My Sonic Lab is an analog delight, with the Fatboy/DD combination easily bringing out the personalities of these fine cartridges. Those with multiple cartridge setups might want to have their direct drive fitted with a standard Fatboy so they can exchange armwands with multiple cartridges.

Back to the listening chair

If the direct drive feel grabs you, it’s tough to unhear it. The clarity offered by the speed stability offers such a neutral music delivery platform to start with, it’s so easy to fine tune the tonality to your liking from there. The Koetsu Onyx Platinum, paired with BAT’s new VK-P12SE phono stage provided a level of sonic perfection that I found tough to beat, offering a few clicks of warmth, combined with a massive soundstage and a well defined bottom end.

Our recent installation of a six pack of REL no.25 subwoofers (and the incredible amount of low-frequency resolution they provide) made the HW-40s locked in bottom end even more prominent. I’ll go out on a limb and declare that the better your system is dialed in to reproduce low frequencies, the more you will appreciate the HW-40. To further take advantage of the HW-40s capabilities, keep in mind that it is a non suspended design, so it will give the most LF extension on a premium rack, or even wall mounting.

We had excellent results on the top of a Grand Prix Audio Monaco rack, and a SolidSteel wall shelf, thoroughly anchored to the wall studs. Keep in mind, this baby weighs about 75 pounds, so don’t even think about using wall anchors.

Properly set up and secured, further listening leads to bass heavy recordings, because the HW-40 delivers a full palette of low frequency information, and the resulting drama that this brings to the music. Beginning with the three LP set of the classic K&D Sessions, “Bug Powder Dust” squeezes me back into my listening chair. The opening bass line in Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused” takes on new meaning with the amount of sheer LF texture the HW-40 provides.

But don’t think we’re just rattling the walls with bass. From the bottom of the frequency range to the top, the HW-40 paints a large sonic canvas. Small details hang in the air, and deeply layered recordings reveal treats you might have missed on a lesser table. No matter what kind of music you love, the HW-40 does a fantastic job.

A distinct lack of bling

The HW-40 reminds me of staffer Jerold O’Brien’s new silver Audi RS3. On the outside, it’s looks plain as plain can be, but when you turn the key, this sixty-thousand dollar car delivers the performance envelope of a two hundred thousand dollar car. This is what I love about the HW-40 – it’s all performance. While VPI’s Avenger is a much more mechanically complex beast (and offers the ability to use three tonarms, which is totally cool) I like simplicity. And I love the level of performance the HW-40 delivers at the price.

No doubt you’ve got your own opinion, and fortunately VPI offers both. At the end of the day, I’m hooked on the presentation of direct drive and while there are a few much more expensive tables that reveal slightly more resolution, the overall effect of the HW-40 is unbeatable for 15k.

Hence, we are happy to award the VPI HW-40 direct drive table one of our Exceptional Value Awards for 2019. This is the biggest portion of cost no object analog we’ve had the pleasure to experience for $15k.

We would like to thank VPI Industries for the accompanying photos.

The VPI HW-40 Direct Drive Turntable



Cartridge Koetsu Onyx Platinum, My Sonic Lab Ultra Eminent EX, Lyra Atlas

Phonostage BAT VK-P12SE, Boulder 508, Pass Labs XS Phono, ARC REF Phono 3

Preamplifier Pass Labs XS Pre

Power Amplifier Pass Labs XA200.8

Speakers Quad 2812, Focal Sopra no.3, Focal Stella Utopia EM Evo with six REL no.25 subwoofers

Power PS Audio P20 and P15 power conditioners

Cable Cardas Clear and Tellurium Q Reference