Issue 104

This issue, we’ve got some great new gear:

The Andover Model-One compact music system

Focal’s ARCHE headphone amplifier (hint, hint,
it’s a KILLER 2ch preamp too!)

Sumiko’s Amethyst MM phono cartridge
We take a look back at VanHalen

A mint Nakamichi CR-7A cassette deck

Sonus faber’s Sonetto V floor standing speakers

Cam VanDerHorst is back with the SWILL column, investigating Snoop Dogg.

We tackle yet another REL six pack: This time the S/510.
And more…

** Those of you on mobile devices, we’ve now got a smaller, more mobile friendly
download. This is a work in progress, so please let us know what you think!

The LSA-10 Signature Speakers

Serious listening with the LSA-10 Signature speakers begins with a quick dial back on the way back machine, all the way to 1965 and some Gabor Szabo.

If you aren’t familiar, this Hungarian guitarist was quite the rage back in the day, with a clean style that remindsme a lot of Johnny Smith or Kenny Burrell. Szabo’s playing quickly showcases the coherence displayed by this 2 1/2 way design from LSA. With a 6.5-inch woofer and soft dome tweeter on the front face, and a 5×7 inch passive radiator facing rearward, this “bookshelf” design might just fool you into thinking it’s a floorstander with your eyes closed. The transition from the lowest bass notes all the way up to the top of the frequency spectrum has this Quad loving audio enthusiast nodding in approval. And as your favorite 80s game show host might say, “what would you expect to pay for speakers offering this kind of performance?” The Signature model reviewed here is now only $1,495/pair.

The $3,495 Statement model is the same, except for a beryllium dome tweeter. If you want a bit more resolution and a harder edge to the sonic picture painted, pony up for the Statements. This part will be strictly personal preference and related ancillaries. Underwood Wally (the man behind distributor Underwood HiFi) will probably be angry with me for loving the lower-priced model. Still, I confess to almost always preferringthe sound of a silk dome tweeter. Bias exposed. While I’m making enemies – throw out the perforated metal grille while you’re at it. (or put it back in the box for another day) The rest of the fit and finish would be better served by a well-executed fabric grill, or something with a finer perforation, more like what MartinLogan does. I’m guessing most of you listen without grilles, so this is really no big deal.

Running the gamut

LSA doesn’t specify sensitivity on these speakers, but even the low powered Pass Labs INT25 integrated (25wpc, pure Class-A) offers more than enough power and control to drive these speakers to a high level in my 13 x 18-foot living room. While several different tube and solid-state amplifiers were given a go with the LSA-10 Signatures, they are not at all difficult to drive. After trying about a dozen different combinations, most listening was done with the PrimaLuna EVO400 power amplifier (85wpc, tubes) in concert with the Backert Labs Rhumba preamplifier and Gold Note DS10 DAC/Streamer, with a bit of vinyl on the side. 95% of the source music used was via Roon and Qobuz. The EVO400 proved to have more than enough drive and smoothness that really compliments the LSA-10s. As with the tweeter choice, those wanting a slightly more forward sound might prefer a non-Class-A solid-state amplifier.

The Hegel 590 is in for review, and this amplifier offers up a punchier, more forward presentation. Substituting the Hegel for the CJ/PrimaLuna combo feels like moving up from row 20 to row 8 in the auditorium. I like the soft dome tweeter; those wanting a bit more aggressive overall sound have more options than a speaker with a tweeter that’s already a little forward. But we can argue about this all day long; let’s get back to listening to music!

Splitting hairs

Just as the line between prince and frog can be thinner than you think, the same applies whether you consider a speaker smooth or laid back. After listening to the LS-10s for some time, I’m still going with smooth. For my money, laid back feels more like a loss of resolution, especially in the upper registers, and the LS-10s do not fall victim to this. Listening to more acoustic music illustrates that cymbals dither into nothingness with plenty of detail, and stringed instruments have the required amount of body to feel realistic. Like nearly all speakers relying on a soft dome tweeter, there is a slight softening of the hardest transients, such as drum heads and the initial strike of piano keys.

A long playlist of hard-rocking tunes clearly proves that the LS-10s ability to move air. That rear-firing passive radiator goes a long way to make these speakers feel like floorstanders. When playing material with heavy bass content (Kruder andDorfmeister, Pink Floyd, Massive Attack, that kind of thing), these compact speakers demonstrate significant authority. In addition to delivering substantial low-frequency information, the quality of what is produced is excellent. Stanley Clarke has been in heavy rotation here lately and tracking through If This Bass Could Talk, proves the LS-10s more than capable.


Those rear-firing passive radiators will require a bit more time to ace the setup, but your efforts will be rewarded. I suggest starting about a foot further out in your room than what you might be used to with other speakers lacking a rear driver or passive radiator. As always, the key is going to be adjusting around the bass presentation you want, and then adjusting the rest with toe-in and rake angle.

Using a pair of filled 24″ Sound Anchor stands with a bit of sticky stuff to improve the speaker/stand interface works like a charm. Small monitors always need great stands to deliver the most solid bass response, and these perhaps a bit more, because they go down further than many of the other small monitors we’ve used.

The LS-10s do not produce a stereo image that goes well beyond the speaker edges, so adjust speaker width, and toe-in with care. The more time you spend on this aspect of setting them up will produce the largest stereo image they are capable of. What these speakers lack in the last few molecules of stage width and pin-point imaging, is more than made up forin natural tonality and lifelike sonics. Every speaker has design compromises, and they’ve made solid choices here. That devil personal bias sets in again, but I’d much rather have a coherent speaker with a natural midrange over a speaker that produces a mile wide stereo image, yet falls flat on tonality.

A major contender

Trying to stay more in tune with those not wanting a six-figure hifi system, yet still craving a great musical experience, we’ve been auditioning more speakers in this price range, and we all agreed that the LSA LS-10s would be on our top five list if we actually did that kind of thing. It’s not often that a $1,495 pair of speakers do this much right tonally and offer an excellent sense of scale too. Those needing more oomph can step up to the LS-20 floorstanders or add a pair of subs to the LS-10s.

Balance and nuance will always be my catnip, and this is something the LS-10 Signatures excel at. I can’t imagine a better choice in the context of a $5k – $15k system. Different, yes, but in terms of sheer sonic quality, these are awfully impressive. The design choices by the LSA team havemade serve the music. I am very happy to give the LS-10s an Exceptional ValueAward for 2020.

Andover Audio Songbird Hi-Res Music Streamer – First Look

Life is good. I’ve got my head under the hood of my car, changing radiator hoses, and I’m streaming my favorite tunes (in this case about 4 hours of XTC, spanning the entire catalog) on my old Marantz 2220B receiver on top of my tool box. I’m in my happy place, thanks to the Andover Audio Songbird hi-res streamer.

If you happen to own the Andover Model-One music system for your house, you’ve probably realized the only thing missing is a way to stream digital music to it. Now, with the release of the Songbird streamer, you can – and it’s outstanding. And, it’s only $129.

Digital purists will snipe that the Songbird only has 24/192 maximum resolution, and complain about all the stuff it doesn’t have. As the Blues Brothers once said, “What do you want, Rubber Biscuit?” Seriously, think of all the exciting audio products you can buy for $129. Not a lot, eh? What the Andover Songbird does is sound great, and plug in to just about any device you might have, with zero fuss.

Thanks to an optical input, and an Ethernet port, you can use the Songbird as a straight up DAC, Ethernet renderer, or a streamer via Bluetooth or WiFi. Depending on what your streaming with. While it is not a Roon endpoint (yet) you can work around this by using it as an AirPlay device, if you just want the sheer functionality that your Roon infrastructure offers. This proves the way to rock in my garage system. Elbows deep in an engine rebuild isn’t exactly the sweet spot anyway.
The obvious hookup for the Songbird is to attach it to the Andover Model-One in the living room, now under review. The match is perfect, and for anyone with a Model-One, aching for digital/streaming playback, this is the way to roll. Thanks to the Songbird being about the size of a 2000 grit 3M sanding block, it fits anywhere. Power it up, locate it on your network, and go. It shouldn’t take you more than about 60 seconds to be playing music.

Using the Songbird with a couple of budget integrated amplifiers, and a few powered speakers lacking internal DACs, all provide excellent results. It’s amazing that digital can sound this good for $129. Getting all audiophile-y for a few minutes, I did a quick head to head comparison between some 16/44 files streamed through the Songbird and the vintage SONY ES disc player I used to have in the garage. Keep in mind that years ago, this was a $1,000 dollar (maybe a little more expensive) player.

Especially with the cymbals on Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild,” the Songbird offers a distinct advantage in its lack of high frequency graininess that’s there in spades with the Sony player. Even with my head under the hood, I could hear the reverb trailing off more smoothly on Tommy James and the Shondells “Crimson and Clover.” I couldn’t be sure, but a long set of Porcupine Tree tunes sound damn good too.

Great of a match as the Songbird is with the Andover Model-One, it really stole my heart in the context of a vintage system. So many of my friends have second or third systems, mostly vintage (or at least centering around a vintage receiver or amplifier) who aren’t going to drop money on a DAC, or a streamer. Wanna be a great friend? Send your favorite vintage hifi lover a Songbird as a gift.

There’s not much else I can say about a $129 DAC/streamer. It sounds fantastic, easily better than what we were paying a few hundred to nearly a thousand bucks for 20 years ago. It’s easy to set up and install. And if you own the Andover Model-One, it’s the icing on the cake.

We’ll be announcing our products of the year in November, so I’m going to let the cat out of the bag now – this is our 2020 budget component of the year. This is the best sounding, highest value component I’ve ever heard for $129. And you thought we were snooty audiophiles that only liked six figure components. Ha!

NOTE: The Songbird is available for pre-order right now, and will be shipping sometime soon. Probably too late for trick or treaters, but plenty of time for holiday gift season!

Please click here to go to the Andover site…

The PrimaLuna ProLogue One Integrated

Who knew that almost 20 years ago that this cool little tube amplifier would change my life?

My first assignment for The Absolute Sound was supposed to be a NAD integrated amplifier. But the day I got my copy of Stereophile in the mail with the ProLogue One you see here on the cover, I thought that might be a great piece to review.

As fate would have it, less than an hour later, Robert Harley was on the phone. “The NAD fell through, they didn’t want the new guy at TAS reviewing it. How about the new tube integrated from PrimaLuna?”

I already knew Upscale Audio’s Kevin Deal from the world of cars, so this felt like a slam dunk. The review was a success, cementing the PrimaLuna brand and my audio reviewing career – though I didn’t know it quite yet. When I started TONE (and for years to follow) people would say, “you wrote that PrimaLuna review in TAS, didn’t you?)
Yeah, I did.

Of course I bought the review sample. This amplifier was so good, how could I not? If you’re a fan of the vintage Dynaco and Marantz EL34 amps, the original ProLogue One felt and sounded like a restomodded classic. Not slow, soft, and syrupy like the vintage amps, yet not as clinical as a current ARC, BAT, or VAC amp. And the price was a killer deal. $1,095 in 2005 was insanely inexpensive for a tube integrated amplifier, wired point to point, with this level of fit and finish.

Another point of contention back in 2005 was the “built in China” moniker, but PL principal and lifetime high end audio pro, Herman Van Den Dungen makes sure everything is produce to perfection. The amplifier you see here has been in use since I wrote the original review in TAS, and it’s only had a single tube change.

When I got the ProLogue One back from my (now ex) niece a few years ago, I couldn’t have been more excited to be reunited with this old friend. And it cost me dearly – I had to trade she and her husband a new Simaudio NEO integrated ($3,400), along with some heavy convincing that having a tube amp around the house with a couple of toddlers was a really bad idea. The fatigued tubes were replaced with a new pair of PrimaLuna 12AU7s, a pair of EAT 12AX7s and a mint quad of NOS Siemens EL34 power tubes. Other than a slightly noisy volume control (with a little bit of contact cleaner took care of immediately) the PL One was back rocking with a pair of 1976 vintage Klipsch LaScalas. The sound was glorious, and with the coolio, upgraded tubes, even better than the day I unboxed it for the first time.

Almost 20 years later, PrimaLuna products have only gotten better, and there is now a wider range to choose from.

My ProLogue One no longer gets daily use, but it has the exalted position of being the first component I reviewed professionally. Today, I still use a pair of EVO400 monoblocks as reference amplifers, which produce around 140 watts per channel with 8 EL34s per channel.

I’m sure these will be as highly regarded as classics in 20 years, much like the great amps from ARC, Marantz, CJ and others. Every time I fire the ProLogue One up, it’s my favorite memory in high end audio.

DS Audio’s assault on high end analog

Japanese cartridge manufacturer DS Audio has just raised the bar significantly on their optical phono cartridge platform.

We’ve reviewed a couple of their cartridges in the past, along with their own proprietary equalizer (necessary for use with an optical cartridge) to great result. Both Richard Mak, our resident analog master and our publisher found the DS cartridges to have a clarity like nothing they’ve experienced.

The new DS Grand Master is a third generation design, claiming to have a 50% weight loss over the previous flagship, a re-designed optical system and equalizer to go with.

DS offers a modular approach, so existing DS users can merely upgrade to the Grand Master for an increase in performance. The Grand Master cartridge by itself is about $15,500 (current exchange rate), definitely in line with the world’s top MC cartridges. Stepping up to the new Grand Master Equalizer/Phono stage will set you back about another $50k, again, certainly on par with what the top of the analog mountain requires.

Considering what a revelation the past DS models have been, we can only imagine what this will sound like, but we’re betting on excellence.

Monster integrated from McIntosh – the MA12000

Today, McIntosh announces their mighty MA12000 integrated amplifier. The MSRP is $14,000, and if you’ve got a shelf capable of holding it, this looks to be a fantastic product.

Blazing a trail started with the MA252, and MA352, the MA12000 offers a full set of the features you’ve come to enjoy from McIntosh. The giant, blue power meters, a front panel window showing off the preamplifier tubes, a headphone output, tone controls, and enough connectivity for every device you can imagine.

The MA12000 is analog ready, with MM and MC phono inputs, and digital ready, with all of the major connections, as well as being Roon certified. Thanks to the plug-in DA2 audio module, it is ready for any future digital developments.

Best of all, the MA12000 produces 350 watts per channel, so you can pair it with whatever speakers you prefer.

These will be available soon, but McIntosh dealers are taking orders now. That will give you a little bit of extra gym time before it arrives! (it weighs in at just over 100 pounds…)

Naim Audio updates Control 4 interface

While connected audio isn’t our usual cup of, Naim Audio has updated their Control 4 driver to include “advanced music-streaming functionality.”

This will let you control multiple Naim devices through your Control 4 system. Volume control, source switching, and most importantly, full integration with Tidal and Qobuz services. They are promising a speed boost to these services as well, which will be a boon to those with large collections.

For more information visit

RIP, Eddie VanHalen

Can’t believe I just heard the news that Eddie VanHalen, co-founder of legendary heavy rock band, VanHalen is gone.

Where were you when you heard “Eruption” for the first time? I was working at Southridge Mall in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in a little record store called Galaxy of Sound. We were hanging out at the counter, price guns in hand when the rep from Warner Brothers walked through the door with one white promo album in his hands. He walked up to the stereo, and took the record that was playing off and looked at us with a slightly drug-induced smile (it was the 70s you know), put the record down on the platter, and just before he dropped the needle, said: “You little fuckers will never hear anything like this, again. This is coming out on Friday and I’m giving you a glimpse of history.”

We heard “Eruption” and freaked out. The next 30 minutes flew by, and though we begged him to leave the record with us, he would not. It was Wednesday, February 8th, and true to his word, the world of rock was changed forever two days later.

It was cool to be there first. Many have been influenced by EVH, and though he had his demons, there’s never been another Eddie VanHalen on the scene.

Rest In Peace.

TONEAudio 2020 Awards