REL’s new T/x subwoofers

Listening to the speed, detail, and delicacy of the bass line in Sly and The Family Stone’s “It’s a Family Affair” proved the impetus for where this review is heading.

A distinct trend in product design, both in and out of the high-end audio world, lets the junior designers cut their teeth on entry-level products in the lineup. This isn’t a terrible idea for many reasons, but the main ones are probably risk management and damage control. If the new person screws up on a small scale, all is not lost. Not to mention the new people can often pull a bit of genius maneuvering, so it can actually be a big win.

Like one of those personality assessments, there’s no real wrong answer here. However, this approach can often detract from the cohesiveness of a product lineup. A recent discussion with REL’s head designer, John Hunter, reveals that he had just as much of a hand in creating the new lineup as with the no.25 – and this is obvious the minute you fire up these new subs. REL sent us a pair of each model, and thanks to their small size, they are easy to work into any décor.

Please click here to go straight to the REL site for those wanting the exact size, weight, and electrical specifications. If you don’t have a REL dealer nearby to assist you, there is an excellent “subwoofer finder” section that will pair the right REL sub to the speakers and room that you have now.

To make a long story short, the T5/x utilizes a 125-watt Class AB amplifier connected to an 8-inch downward-firing woofer. The T/7x has an 8-inch front-firing active driver, a 10-inch, downward-firing passive radiator, and a 200-watt Class AB amplifier. The top of the range T/9x offers a 10-inch front-firing active driver and a 10-inch passive facing down, coupled to a 300 watt Class AB amplifier.

If you aren’t familiar with REL subwoofers, the original T series made its debut in 2006, replaced by the T/I series in 2015. The jump in performance from the T to T/I was dramatic, and REL’s own copy describes it best, “these were softer, slower, and not as potent in output, as their flagship designs.” The T/I series was faster, with more detail and nuance – now REL had a modest priced subwoofer that could keep up with a pair of panel speakers or a small pair of mini-monitors.

Many manufacturers prefer to connect via line-level connections, and some take it even further by having a built-in crossover that will pass sound from about 80hz or so on to your main amplifier and speakers (letting the sub do the rest, in the hope of taking some of the load off your main amplifier). REL has always chosen to use a high impedance connection at the speaker terminals. This makes for better integration between the main speakers. It also passes through the complete character of your amplification chain to the subwoofer.

Fear not, if you have to connect your REL (or pair of RELs) by line-level output, they will accommodate that, as well as connecting via a .1 LFE input. It might be confusing to some that REL does not pass upper frequencies through the REL, they just affect the point at which the sub begins to play, variable from about 30hz to 120hz. So, in essence, you are using the crossover level control to dial upper bass out of what the REL is producing. Having used RELs for over a decade in various systems, the lower you can go on your main speakers, the better integration you will have with them. That being said, I have achieved incredible results using RELs with the KEF LS50 and various iterations of the LS3/5a. But it will take more setup time. And, should cables be inconvenient, you can take advantage of RELs wireless “arrow” system to do away with the cables entirely.

REL has some excellent setup tutorials on their website and in the instructions that come with their subs, so I won’t go into great detail here. However, REL prefers you to work with the room corner if possible, and that was no problem in our setups.

Chicken or egg?

Several things affect how much sheer output a subwoofer can produce, along with the quality of the low-frequency signal produced. If you’ve ever modified anything with wheels, you know that if you add more go, you need more stop, and if you add more stop and go, chances are you need some suspension upgrades to keep that newfound performance sticking to the ground. It’s the same with subwoofers. When redesigning the /x series, a slight increase in cabinet volume led to the ability to achieve more extension, which meant the overall subwoofer could be driven harder (louder) without suspension/cone distortion. So, as a result of many changes to every aspect of these subwoofers, practically a new series is born. They outperform the units they replaced by a considerable margin. I borrowed a T/9i from a friend to get some valid side-by-side comparisons with at least one of the range.

Most listening was done in a 13 x 18-foot room (usually populated by a six-pack of REL S/510s) with Eggleston Nico Evolution speakers or the new Harbeth C7s. We feel a $5000 pair of high-quality main speakers is a logical candidate for a pair of subwoofers in this range. Not wanting to overly dwell on this, but it is important to note when comparing the quantity, quality, and overall character of the /x series to the six-pack of S/510s and even the flagship no.25s, there’s no question these products came from the same mind.

Even in their least expensive models, REL does not dilute any of their core attributes. From the quality of the connectors used to the attention to detail in final assembly, and ultimately to the quality of the finish applied, the gloss and complete lack of surface imperfections (remember, I’m a crazy car guy – I pay close attention to this stuff) is just as subtle on the $679 T/5x as it is on the $7,500 no.25. That’s devotion to excellence.

Comparison one: Visual

The first thing you might notice when comparing the new /x series to the outgoing /I series is the rounded corners of the /x, giving the new models a little bit more elegant feel – dare we say a little more room and user friendly. The /x subwoofers are available in gloss black and gloss white – of course, you’ll have a preference. Though black has always been the rage for subwoofers (especially if you have gloss black main speakers), white really disappears in the room nicely. Let’s face it, if that’s the most challenging decision you have to make today, life is indeed good.

Comparison two: sonics between old and new

As mentioned earlier, only having the T/9i for comparison, it doesn’t take more than about 30 seconds to hear improvement in every way. After dragging out the standard REL test tracks from the Sneakers soundtrack, and Jennifer Warnes’ “Ballad of the Runaway Horse” to finesse integration between speaker and sub with both woofers, it was easy to compare and contrast.

Moving on to our own LF warhorses, “Pulp Culture” from Thomas Dolby, “Bug Powder Dust” from Kruder & Dorfmeister, and Jaco Pastorius’ self-titled album, it’s easy to see that all of the marketing departments claims have been met, and exceeded. That REL is only charging $200 more for the T/9x (and incrementally less for the other models) underscores their commitment to providing an excellent product at an approachable price.

The improvement from old to new is a definite increase in speed and sheer output capability. Where the /i could be bottomed out when playing the Thomas Dolby track really loud or playing a long playlist of electronic music at a similar volume, the new /x model is cleaner, more dynamic, and does not have the woofer cone flattening out. If this makes sense, there’s more air in the bass, which increases the upper bass/midrange presence provided by the REL in the first place, an even bigger delta when switching it on and off. And this is with a single woofer. There’s a greater sense of ease with a pair.

Final comparison: between small, medium, and large

All three models share a similar overall character, but bigger main speakers and more room volume will demand a bigger woofer. In the 11 x 10 back bedroom system, with the KEF LS50s, paired with the Luxman 550 integrated that was recently reviewed, the T/5x was more than enough to achieve a perfect balance. 20 watts of high current, class A power made for an incredibly musical system.

In our 13 x 18 room, the T/7x was able to fill the room better, especially at higher levels. Depending on the system, speaker, and volume level, deciding whether the 7 or the 9 is the better model will depend on your wallet. If you have a relatively budget system, the 9s might be overkill, but the better your system and discerning your ear, stretching for the top ones is the way to roll. Especially if we are talking pairs. The T/9x turns in a very respectable performance with our Dynaudio Confidence 20 speakers mated to the Boulder 866 integrated, our new reference in that room.

What the new REL /x subwoofers bring to your system, in addition to more bass output, is a higher level of definition in the lower frequencies, as well as more presence in the entire frequency spectrum. Don’t believe me? Listen to them for an hour and have a friend shut them off while remaining at your listening position. Better yet, have your friend do it while you’re listening to music with barely any low-frequency content. It will grab you instantly. The best way to really experience what any REL subwoofer can do is to shut it off. The 30 seconds you hear your system with it disabled will convince you. That’s truly all it takes.

We are happy to award the REL/x series one of our Exceptional Value Awards for 2021. These are fantastic subwoofers. You owe it to yourself to experience them if you are in the market.

T/9x $1,449

T/7x $1,099

T/5x $679


Digital source Boulder 866 internal DAC

Cable Tellurium Q Ultra Black

Speakers EgglestonWorks Nico Evolution, Harbeth C7ES-XD, Dynaudio Confidence 20

The Acora Acoustics SRB

Listening to the Acora SRB monitors in a 16 x 25-foot handle the complex dynamics in Brand X’s Unorthodox Behaviour, you could easily be fooled into thinking you were listening to a floor standing speaker, even at a fairly high listening level. The sonic landscape created is big, deep, and immersive. A number of well-known tracks reveal minute details either fully or partially obscured with other speakers.

Many audiophiles cling to the notion, that small speakers sound small. In most cases that’s true. Think of some of your favorite small speakers. The team at Acora has pushed the boundaries of what’s possible with small speakers. The laws of science and physics can’t be broken, yet these speakers are an example of what can be achieved with solid engineering concepts applied and refined to the utmost. Precious few small speakers play with authority, but these must be at the top of that list. They carry a premium price as well, ($15,000 pair, matching stands $5,000/pair) yet in the context of other high performance, compact monitors, not out of line.

These understated black speakers appear to have a simple shape from across the room; close inspection reveals they are machined from solid granite. Ditto for the matching stands. Don’t do the “knuckle-rap” test on these, unless you want to head to the emergency room with broken knuckles. Nothing says inert cabinet like granite.

Unless you start measuring closely, you probably won’t even notice that the cabinets have non-parallel walls. Cutting granite is one thing. Machining granite speaker cabinets with non-parallel walls is an impressive feat, going far beyond the adage of “measure twice, cut once.” This is serious implementation.

Other than panel speakers, which try to eliminate the cabinet completely, most speaker manufacturers either work with the inherent resonances in the cabinets; or try to eliminate them completely. These incredibly dense granite enclosures accomplish the latter. The complete lack of cabinet resonance allows you to hear exactly what the drivers and crossover are doing. In the process, all that output that would normally get smeared or absorbed, makes for a small speaker that sounds big. Really big.

You need the stands

If you’re thinking about skipping the stands as an economy move, prepare to be disappointed, and this is an unfair reflection on the SRBs. You can buy budget lenses for your favorite Leica rangefinder camera too, but you won’t achieve 100% of the optical performance designed into the camera. To verify this, a pair of massive Sound Anchor stands were substituted, to negative effect. Working with a top-quality monitor like this, that has a claimed low frequency spec of 43hz, you don’t want to lose any of the performance you are paying for.

If you’re trying to be slightly more fiscally responsible, Acora does offer the SRS-M stand at a reduced price of $2,500. They will reduce the ultimate performance of the speaker, and with a 27” height, probably not terribly useful should you decide to finally pony up and get the granite ones. Sometimes, it just makes sense to get exactly what you want to begin with.

The granite SRS-G stands each weigh almost 100 pounds. Considering that the SRB speakers tip the scale to nearly 60 pounds each, the combination should be kid and pet proof. The base is wide, to the point that they will be incredibly difficult to knock over. Let’s just say if you have kids or pets than can topple these, you have different issues to deal with.

The sheer mass of the stands suggests that these will aid in coupling the speaker to the floor, but again, the 27-inch height is critical to achieving proper tweeter to ear balance – but there’s an even more crucial issue. When dealing with a high-resolution loudspeaker, the ability to fine tune speaker rake angle also plays a big factor in getting every last bit of performance. Examining the finely machined feet at the base of the SRB’s stands tells the story.

Setup and initial listening

The SRBs are sonically engaging on both aspects of a rectangular room, yet when on the long wall in my listening room, deliver a much wider stereo image, when not in close proximity to the side walls. As with many other speakers, they produced a slightly deeper image on the short wall and a wider image on the long wall.

In both cases, a few degrees of toe-in made for the best combination of detail and overall image size. Adding a few dots of blu-tack or similar compound will make it slightly easier to reposition the speakers when making incremental changes, and because of their weight, plan on spending a bit more time than you might to get them exactly where the belong in your room.

You’ll know you have the SRBs optimized when you can’t wring any more image depth and detail out of the presentation. Much like optimizing a top phono cartridge, fine tuning will take some trial and error, so be prepared to invest some time.

Acora claims a sensitivity of 86.5db/1w/1meter, but being a two-way design, they are easy to drive. Auditioning a number of amplifiers from Boulder, McIntosh, Nagra, Octave, and Pass, you can rest assured that a pair of SRBs will work well with whatever you are using, but they will reveal whatever is lacking in your upstream components. Their natural tonal balance and slightly forward tonal position allows you the option to fine tune your system elsewhere. Should you be a fan of a bit warmer overall sound, it will be easy to mate them with a warmer sounding amplification chain that will reflect this. And vice versa. There was nothing in our current collection of amplifiers, from 30wpc to over 400wpc that didn’t play well with the SRBs.

Arriving at the finished dish

When Martha Stewart used to make really complex dishes on TV, she’d walk you over to the finished meal so you could take it all in. So rather than bore you with the process, let’s sit down and dig in.

Once fully optimized, these speakers provide a level of resolution and clarity that becomes addictive. The better your music collection, the more the SRBs will lure you back to your listening chair. During their time here, they provided more than a few revelatory moments, even on highly familiar tracks.

Regardless of program material, these speakers never fail to delight. They offer up many of the attributes of some of audio history’s finest speakers. Within a short time, they reminded me of the detail of the original Wilson Watt, the massive soundfield of the original MartinLogan CLS, and the sheer delicacy of the Quad 57, yet with none of the drawbacks these benchmark speakers had. This is a high resolution, compact monitor, that is dynamic and tuneful, while being easy to drive. And that’s what justifies their price tag.

The only limit to this speaker’s performance is that a solitary 5.9” woofer can only move so much air. Fans of bass heavy music (that also need to play it loud) may opt for the larger, floor standing Acora SRC-1, or SRC-2 models. Or perhaps a subwoofer. Should you pursue the latter, much like a pair of Quads, only the best will do, or you will be staring down a severe disconnect in LF integration.

It all comes down to clarity

We can add superlative after superlative, but the success of Acora’s fully inert granite enclosure can not be ignored. The longer you listen to a pair of SRBs, the sheer clarity they provide will carry you away. If you enjoy hearing fine spatial cues, and those crazy audiophile detail-y things like hearing every singer’s breath/gasp in front of the mic, these will be your cup of. The longer you listen to the SRB’s you notice their complete lack of overhang, transient blurring, or any of the other shortcomings that disconnect you from the music at hand.

There’s a big difference between edgy detail and overall clarity. Edgy detail makes for a great five-minute impression, but 30 minutes later, you’ll be fatigued (you may not even know it consciously) and want to go do something else. With the SRBs, I suspect you’ll be in the listening chair until the wee hours of the night. These speakers will encourage you to re-explore your music collection, seeking out new music with equal enthusiasm.

Everyone finds their joy in a different aspect of music reproduction. Because of the refinements that Acora brings with the SRBs, music lovers that geek out on imaging will be in heaven. The SRBs do a clearer job with portraying accurate instrument size relationships than any small speaker we’ve yet experienced.

In the end, brilliant

If you are seeking out a small form factor, high performance speaker, Acora’s SRB is ace. As these are not entry level speakers, I’m guessing you’re looking for a top compact speaker for a reason, and you don’t really care about that last 10hz of bass in the first place. If this is what you’re looking for, the Acora SRB will be the pinnacle of your experience.


Analog Source Grand Prix Audio Parabolica Turntable, TriPlanar arm, Lyra Atlas cartridge

Digital Source dCS Vivaldi One

Preamplifier Pass XS Pre, Nagra Classic Pre

Phono Stage Pass XS Phono

Power Amplifiers Pass XA200.8, Nagra Classic Amp (2, in monoblock config), Parasound JC-1+, Prima Luna EVO400 monoblocks

Cable Cardas Clear

Issue 106

Cover Feature

Naim ND555/PS555

And… Compact Disc Player roundup


Old School: Returning to 14-bit digital

The Audiophile Apartment: Two Great Compacts from Technics and Naim

Mine: It Should Be Yours

1095: Gear for Just over a G

Mine: It Should Be Yours


Playlists:  We share our readers choices from around the world

Jim Macnie Returns with some great Jazz Choices

Emily Duff’s “Can’t Get it Out of my Head…”

Future Tense

Gear in our immediate future

The Technics SL-G700 digital player

Tracking through the recent SACD remaster of Todd Rundgren’s Something/Anything, it’s easy to see the validity of the concept album – listening to a series of tracks precisely as the artist intended. Sure you can do that with your favorite streaming service, but for some, the act of putting a disc in the tray, pressing play and easing into the music for approximately 45 minutes is wonderful.

With the Technics SL-G700, you don’t have to choose – it offers the option to play SACDs as well as CDs, along with the ability to stream from your NAS, or a number of music services.

There are still a high number of music lovers with an emphasis on playing physical media, yet are making their way into the current world of streaming. As a few dedicated imprints like Mobile Fidelity are still pressing high quality SACDs, this is a definite niche that has been left unfulfilled outside of a handful of very expensive players.

Thanks to their extensive design and manufacturing capabilities, and much like their current SL-1200 turntable, Technics offers world class products at down to Earth price points. The SL-G700 SACD player/DAC/Streamer is yet another example of something you’d easily pay five figures for from a boutique manufacturer. Reminiscent of the preacher on the radio when driving through Texas one long day, “now here’s some good news.” The SL-G700 will only set you back $2,999.99. This is one of the greatest values in disc playback we’ve encountered in forever.

Instant gratification

Anyone enjoying the unboxing ritual will really enjoy this aspect of the SL-G700. It is carefully packaged, and removing the protective covering, you find a heavy player that is finished to exacting standards. This is a deck you will feel proud to own and display in your system. All of the controls are damped and easy to access, and the disc tray glides in and out with a luxurious ease. Sonics aside, this is one of the most elegant players we’ve used.

You probably won’t remove the cover of your SL-G700, but if you do, you can see how densely packed, and mechanically robust this player is, with all of the various sections electrically and mechanically isolated. In the day of components with more air than circuitry, this is a true treat. The spec sheet reveals that the SL-G700 is almost 30 pounds.

Around back, there are RCA and XLR/balanced analog outputs, along with optical and coax SPDIF inputs for the DAC section. (there are also digital outputs, in the event you’d like to use this as a transport and streamer) You can connect to the SL-G700 to stream wirelessly, or via the Ethernet jack. We still feel a cabled connection provides top fidelity, especially when streaming high resolution files, but it is very nice that Technics has included this functionality. Finally, there is a USB input for an external HD, but you can not connect a computer here. An additional USB port is on the front with identical function, which is great for plugging in a memory stick or small portable drive. This player offers an epic level of accessibility.

Those wanting to hear music instantly need do no more than insert a disc and push play. Should you want to stream Tidal, Deezer, Spotify or music from a NAS drive, can do so via the on-screen menus, accessed by the control on the left. To their credit, Technics has made all control functions available from the front panel, though it will take you some time to get through all of them. For easier access, using their app will streamline the process.

The only thing the SL-G700 doesn’t do, at least not directly, is offer the option of being a ROON endpoint, but you can’t have everything for three grand. However, because it does offer Air Play and Chromecast options, you can still use this player within a ROON ecosystem, just at 16/44 resolution. As we are heavily invested into this playback workflow at TONE, it was simple to stream CD quality selections via Chromecast, and access high res files via NAS. At the end of the day, the SL-G700 ticks all the boxes.

Technics has, however, added a few cool things to the mix. For those of you using Tidal/Deezer, you can fully decode MQA master/studio files, via disc, streaming and USB. When playing CD or SACD discs, they offer a Pure Disc Playback Mode, which shuts off all networking completely, eliminating any network related noise. When streaming DSD files, or listening to SACD discs, there is a DSD Native mode, optimized for these files, eliminating the DSD to PCM conversion that many other (much more expensive) players rely on.

Podcast and internet radio listeners can also program this functionality with the SL-G700, making it an extremely well rounded digital hub. Should you have a matching Technics amplifier, the unified handheld remote can control both devices. This is an extremely well thought out machine from a human interface standpoint.

The sound

Form and function are lovely things – and the SL-G700 is at the top of the class in this respect, but the level of music it reveals is stunningly good too. You can read all about the engineering excellence behind this player on the Technics site. They go into great detail about the tech under the hood. Again, you’d swear you were reading about a thirty thousand dollar player.

You’ll forget all the tech the instant you press play. Perhaps dated, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong’s “Isn’t This a Lovely Day” gives an instant read on tonality and dynamic scale. When Mr. Armstrong chimes in, his voice is big and bold in comparison to Ms. Fitzgeralds’s creamy soft voice. Not every player can reproduce the dynamic contrast going on here – yet the Technics succeeds brilliantly, providing a highly convincing reproduction. Tonality is neither warm nor cold – Technics strikes an excellent balance, providing a natural sound, that will integrate with any system.

A long suite of acoustic and vocal tracks merely confirm what Ella and Louis reveals immediately. Moving on to more electronic, heavy rock, and such, this player wades heavily in the level of sonic involvement that the world’s best players provide. Whether listening to the notes fade to black with a solo violin piece, or the delicate, atmospheric bits in a Brian Eno album, this is the level of musicality that makes you forget you are listening to digital. And that’s just with 16/44 tracks. Well mastered high-res files and SACD provides an even bigger helping.

The line of demarcation

Like computational ability, digital audio has advanced tremendously in the last five years, and performance that you could only dream of for the price of this player didn’t exist. The Technics SL-G700 hits the mark of a great digital player by being understatedly excellent. If you have to have a ROON streamer onboard, this might be a deal breaker. But for everyone else, and especially music enthusiasts that are more into disc playback, it’s a perfect destination. Unless you are willing to spend the five-figure sum for a dCS, Esoteric, MSB, or one of the stratospheric players, there’s no need to go any further. It’s that good.

The Technics SL-G700


Amplifier Technics SU-G700, Boulder 866, Luxman L-550AXII, Octave VT-110SE

Speakers Dynaudio Confidence 20 with six pack of REL S/510 subwoofers

Cable Cardas Clear

The Luxman L-550AXII Integrated Amplifier

Magic isn’t always where you expect it, and sometimes conventional wisdom suggests trying combinations that you might not think will impress.

The deep synth-bass line in Jerry Harrison’s “I Don’t Mind,” (from Casual Gods) has a rock-solid foundation, anchoring Harrison’s blazing guitar bits, as the backing vocals dart in and out of his lead vocal. Even as this class-A amplifier is warming up, the sonic landscape it renders is large, becoming extra-large in about an hour. Those wanting a super-size drink will have to shell out the extra $3,000 for the larger L-590AXII, which offers a bigger power supply and 30 watts per channel into 8 ohms, vs. 20 per channel for the L-550AXII. But this is damn good.

Leaving the music selection to the ghost in the machine, ROON drags us from Jerry Harrison, through Adrian Belew’s “Oh Daddy,” to Thomas Dolby’s “Nuvogue.” Again, the complete trippiness of these selections and the ones that follow bring us closer to a super-sized presentation after all, with the 550 opening up a bit more as the clock gets closer to the two-hour mark. Though it might rub your green sensibilities a little bit the wrong way, to get maximum enjoyment from your 550, consider turning it on at least an hour before you are ready to begin serious listening. Then take a 60-minute walk and return. Now, don’t you feel better?

Coming off a fresh viewing of the new Bee Gees’ documentary on HBO, the Gibb brothers talk about how one of the keys to their sound, is their alternate lead vocals, and the interaction of their voices as a sole instrument. Even if you’re not a Bee Gees fan, you probably have a few of your own examples of this kind of vocal styling. This is the kind of aural workout that instantly reveals the delicacy that the Luxman class-A amplifier offers. The classic “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?” does the job nicely, resolving the differences between each voice, rather than just blending them together as one big, fat voice. Subtle but great.

The dollar per watt quotient

You might be thinking $5,995 for a 20-watt per channel integrated amplifier is crazy talk. Yet, in light of amplifiers from Audio Note, Wavac and a few others, the Luxman is a steal. Another competitor, albeit from the same manufacturer is the $7,995 LX-380 tube integrated, also delivering 20 watts per channel. We’ve been promised a review sample is in the works, so this will also be an interesting comparison. But a tube amplifier is a somewhat different game.

The L-550 AXII can be summed up in one word – refinement. Everything about this amplifier, even the packaging is refined, and thoroughly executed. Many in the audio industry like to push the luxury goods moniker around, yet few components display the density of thought and the level of attention that Luxman bestows on their products.

Grated, some may be drawn towards the glowing bottles anyway, and that’s just fine. But if you’re the kind of music lover that would like 95% of the tube sound with none of the tube hassle, the 550 is the one you want. Whenever I’ve had a Luxman Class A integrated here to audition, it’s always the same hamster spinning around in my head – those last few molecules of airiness, or freedom from hunting for tubes, and agonizing over the tube choices I’ve made. Get off the rollercoaster, life is short. Forget those demons telling you that there’s no happiness with a solid-state amplifier.

A few quick comparisons

This is also a level of performance that will have you questioning the tube thing. A lot of time was spent comparing this amplifier to the Conrad-Johnson CAV 45S2. Though similarly priced, the C-J has no phono stage, no coolio output meters, and no tone controls. The glass bottles still offer a slightly more spacious presentation, but the Luxman is a quieter amplifier, with more bass control.
Pushing play on the St. Vincent/David Byrne collaboration “Who,” sets me back in the chair. Nope, tubes just won’t do that. Going back to bass heavy favorites from Aphex Twin and Kruder & Dorfmeister underline this line of thinking. This is a big part of what you’re paying for. Sure, you can get a 100 watt per channel amp from someone else for half the price of the 550, but it can’t reproduce music this. It won’t have the finesse and delicacy that this amplifier possesses. Do you want a medium sized glass of awesome or a super-size cup of mediocrity?  Think about this as the inception thought burrows in your head. Add tire and suspension choices to this kind of thing, and you know you know why I rarely sleep.

Deliberate functionality

If you’ve had the opportunity to spend any time in Japanese culture, you quickly see how everything in their world is done with purpose. This level of mindfulness permeates every aspect of the 550. At first glance, you might think the tone controls are a frivolous addition, yet they are so gentle and inconspicuous, the first time you give in and reach for them, you’ll find yourself unable to live without them. Audiophiles be damned, they work. What do you think a great mastering engineer does?

An equal level of attention is paid to the phono section and the headphone amplifier. Everything has an equally high level of performance. The MM/MC phono is dead silent, with the only drawback being fixed loading at 100 ohms. Both the Kieseki Purple Heart mounted to our Luxman PD-171 table, and the Denon 103r currently in a Technics SL-1100/SME 3009 work brilliantly, offering dynamic analog playback.

At first, you might even find the speaker selector switch unnecessary. For some of you it might be, but being in the middle of a speaker roundup, it made A-B comparisons effortless. Audiophiles enjoying more than one speaker setup will find this all too easy to get used to.

Around back, in addition to the phono input (MM/MC is switchable via the front panel), there are four RCA line level inputs, along with one XLR line level input, full tape in and tape out jacks, along with pre in and main out jacks too. The Luxman site mentions that the 550 shares the same attenuator circuit with the higher priced Luxman amplifiers and a number of overall upgrades from the original 550. You can read all of the details here at the Luxman site. It appears that the major difference between the 550 and the higher-powered L-590AXII is a smaller power supply and output stage in the 550.

Back to the sound

I must confess a bias toward Class-A solid-state amplifiers for all the above mentioned reasons. As much fun as tubes are, these devices are always in a state of degradation from the day you plug a fresh set in. Evaluating gear day to day, makes the consistency of a solid-state amplifier so much easier to deal with, though I still entertain tubes when there is no deadline on the horizon.

A comparison to the $7,500 Pass INT-25 we have on hand, which comes in right between the L-550AXII and the $8,995 L-590AXII is incredibly interesting, as the Pass amp has even more of that tubey delicacy, and is more resolving in fine detail. Taking a cue from Stereophile’s Herb Reichert, I brought out my Line Magnetic LM-805iA SET amplifier for another data point. On one level, this just brought out more confusion, as all of these amplifiers are fantastic, yet in different ways. Honestly, I could live with either of them.

While some might be averse to having an onboard phono stage, I’d really prefer that to an onboard DAC, because that technology is still changing. Today’s DAC performance will probably be eclipsed at the same price point in ten years, but a great phonostage will never go out of fashion.

If I had to have every last drop of resolution, I’d probably buy the spendier Pass amp. If I couldn’t live without the last bit of inner detail of the SET, I’d probably buy the Line Magnetic. But what makes the Luxman a perennial favorite, is that it’s the best all-rounder, wrapped in the most refined casework. 20-30 watts will only go so far, but if you have the right speakers it’s all you need.

Just as I thought this review was finished, as I wrote the above paragraph, the Zu Audio Omen Dirty Weekend speakers (97db/1-watt sensitivity) arrived. Putting those in the system was some of the most fun I’ve ever had listening to music, giving the Luxman amp so much reserve power, it made for an incredibly dynamic combination. Time to bust out the hair metal tracks. I won’t bore you with the fine details, but the Zu and Luxman combination is one of the best party machines going.

When the L-550AXII first arrived, we still had the $149,000/pair Focal Stella Utopia EM speakers in place and their 94db/1-watt sensitivity also made for a great party machine, with those big field coil woofers. However, this might be a little overkill, but it worked wonderfully. The 550 had plenty of LF control and HF resolution to make a great showing with the massive Focals, though for some reason we were playing a lot of hip hop then.

An excellent anchor

Regardless of what ancillary components you prefer, if you would like to build a $10k – $50k music system of very high quality, and you are a music lover that tends to hang on to your gear, this is an amplifier you will never tire of. Just add speakers, a DAC, and your favorite turntable. Off you go.

The Luxman L-550AXII Integrated Amplifier

MSRP: $5,995


Digital Sources dCS Vivaldi One, Luxman D-03x

Analog Sources Luxman PD-171, w/Kiseki Purple Heart, Technics SL-1100/SME 3009, w/Denon DL-103r

Speakers Focal Stella Utopia EM, Sonus faber Stradiveri, Eggleston Nico, Dynaudio Confidence 20, Zu Audio Dirty Weekend, Focal Kanta no.1

Cable Tellurium Q Black, and Black Diamond


Rotel has been gaining a lot of attention, with their statement Michi products at the top of their range, and the Tribute products at the entry level. They’ve just done an overhaul the RA1592 integrated amplifier, now in MKII class – long an anchor of their range.Raising the price slightly from $2,995 to $3,195 the new MKII version looks nearly identical to the model it replaces. A casual look at the specs reveals much the same, but digging in further reveals that Rotel has made over 28 critical component changes. Most of this derived from what they learned building the Michi series.

While it is always tough to remember what a component sounded like a few years ago, we’ve always been impressed with Rotel and the level of value they bring to the mix. For 60 years, Rotel has been providing high sonic performance at an approachable price, and the RA1592 MKII is a perfect example of this philosophy.

In the 16 years we’ve been producing TONE, we try to interact with our readers as much as possible, to try and get a feel for what you actually enjoy and purchase. We’ve always noticed a large number of end users with a system budget of about $6,000 – 10,000 all-in. The new MKII version of the RA1592 is a better choice than ever before for a music lover wanting to listen in all formats.

With an onboard MM phono stage, and DAC, it’s easy to add a turntable, your favorite pair of speakers and get to it. This approach is efficient, because at this level, every $100 you spend is critical, and if all functions are available with a single component, that’s less money that needs to be spent on a suitable rack, and cables. That leaves more in the budget for a turntable and pair of speakers. We know everyone likes to mix it up in their own way, however, if you are looking for the maximum sound and the minimum amount of hardware, it’s tough to beat a premium integrated amplifier.

The full feature set

The RA1592 MKII does everything but stream directly from your network. It is “ROON Tested,” which means it works with your PC or NAS via USB, but it can’t be used as a “ROON Ready” endpoint, so that’s how we used it, with a spare MacBook.

The internal DAC now uses a TI chipset, and as part of Rotel’s Balanced Design Concept, to offer better sound and functionality than the past model based on the AKM chipset. In addition to better sound, the MKII trades DSD functionality in the MKI for on board MQA decoding, which will be a benefit to a much wider user base. I’ll stick my neck out here and guess there are a lot more people streaming Tidal, than there are with massive DSD collections.

The built in MM phono stage was used to excellent result with a handful of MM carts on hand from Sumiko, Audio Technica, and Shure. Whether you already have a turntable, or have been thinking about adding one, the on board phonostage in the 1592 will serve you well with a MM cartridge in the $100 – $800 range. Should you decide to move up to an even better table/cartridge, an outboard phono stage can be used for even greater performance. Our reference Pro-Ject Ultra 500, a fully restored Technics SL-1200 and Denon DL-103 made an excellent combination through one of the 1592s three RCA line level inputs (marked CD, TUNER, and AUX). The 1592 provides a set of balanced XLR inputs, as well as preamp and mono outputs, so there’s plenty of room to grow should you want to build a bigger system.

An APT/X Bluetooth receiver supporting AAC and aptX, three optical inputs, and a USB port on the front panel for iOS devices, giving you a myriad of digital options. Two sets of front panel switchable speaker outputs and a headphone jack deliver maximum output flexibility, and with 200 watts per channel (into 8 ohms, 350/channel into 4 ohms) no speakers should be off limits.
This is a hefty receiver, weighing in at almost 40 pounds, thanks to an enormous power supply transformer and a full class-AB power amplifier.

Superb sound

With a speaker issue up next, we had the good fortune to give the 1592 a workout with nearly a dozen different speakers. It’s overall tonal balance is fairly natural/neutral, and all that power makes for plenty of dynamic punch. It also helps with woofer control and low frequency slam.

A wide range of digital tracks in both standard and higher resolution, from Tidal and Qobuz make the 1592 an excellent musical partner. While this version of the 1592 does not support DSD files, it still decodes PCM files up to 32/384 and unfolds MQA to 24/384.

Starting with the $899/pair Sonus faber Lumina 1s, and going all the way up to the $16k/pair Sonus faber Minima Amators proved a joy. There was no way we could push any of these speakers to clip in our 13 x 18 foot listening room, with even the most demanding of program material.

Rotel’s Michi components represent a major step forward, elevating Rotel to a serious high end manufacturer – yet by applying the improvements learned, and a careful utilization of the parts bin, have polished their former flagship to a much higher level. With careful speaker selection, the Rotel RA1592 MKII will give you an even bigger slice of the high end audio pie than the already excellent component it replaces.

Incredibly capable

What makes the Rotel 1592 MKII the recipient of one of our Exceptional Value Awards for 2021 is its high level of overall competence. Even buying gently used pre owned components, it’s doubtful that you could come up with a fully functioning preamplifier, DAC, headphone amplifier, MM phonostage and a 200 watt per channel power amplifier of this quality for anywhere near the cost of the 1592 – that’s it’s beauty.

For many, the mix of components is the thrill in assembling a music system, however if you happen to be a serious music lover that doesn’t want to go through the myriad of choices (and potential non synergistic ones), call it a day with the Rotel. You won’t regret it.

The Rotel 1592 MKII



Analog Source Technics SL-1200 with Sumiko Amythest cartridge, Shure M44 cart, Shure V15III (w/jico stylus) and Grado wood.

Cable Tellurium Q Black

Speakers Sonus faber Lumina 1, Harbeth C7ES-3XD, Eggleston Nico, Dynaudio Confidence 20, Gershman Acoustics Studio II

First look/listen: The new T/x Serie from REL

As with so many top audio manufacturers, it’s easy to get caught up in the products at the very top of their range, both in terms of performance and cost.

REL Acoustics is an excellent example of how we can get lost in their no.25 subwoofer, or even the six pack of them that I use in my reference system to excellent effect. Amazing as the no.25s are, not everyone needs, has the space or the budget for a couple thousand pounds worth subwoofers.

REL pours the same level of dedication, performance and execution in their entire line, and their modestly priced Serie T/x subs provide maximum performance within the constraints of a minimum footprint. Yet, at $679 (T/5x), $1,099 (T/7x) and $1,449 (T/9x), there’s a level of sheer performance here that feels like what you’d expect from subwoofers with a higher price tag.

With a REL T/5 that’s been in service for at least 10 years in several iterations, a casual comparison is easy to make – the new models are better in every way. If you happen to be a fan of this company, you know they do not make product upgrades haphazardly. Only when a significant performance gain can be made, is an upgrade slated for production.

First, the visual. Where the T-series was always a basic square box, the new T/x series features rounded cabinet corners, giving them a more refined visual feel. Driver and amplifier updates allow these new subwoofers to go deeper with more speed and refinement than their predecessors. Considering how much the cost of materials and shipping have increased in the last few years, the T/x versions are less expensive than the models they replace.

We’ve just started listening seriously, so we’ll have a full review in a few weeks. For those who place tremendous weight on first impressions, these three new subwoofers from REL are definite winners.

Please click here for more information on the REL site….

The BAT REX Preamplifier

We’re almost done with our full review of Balanced Audio Technology’s new REX tube preamplifier.

At $30,000, it’s crazy money, but it’s crazy good. This two box design with a power supply that eclipses most power amplifiers reinforces the school of thought that power is everything. It weighs 40 pounds, to the actual “control module’s” 36 pounds. Not only does the REX’s massive power supply have a lot of sheer capacity, thanks to tube regulation and rectification, this power supply is a piece of audio fine artwork all by itself.

You’ll also notice that BAT has done an aesthetic overhaul (new logo) that pays homage to their past components, while moving forward, retaining the blue LEDs for power on and user interface (which is all customizable)

If you’ve got the space on your credit card, and the room on your audio rack (and use only balanced components, as there are no RCA jacks to be found on the REX preamplifier) save a little room for when you’ll need to re-tube this 18 tube monster preamplifier. While we don’t want to let too much of the review out from under wraps, suffice to say that this one is easily one of the world’s finest. And in that context, not crazy priced at all.

Go here: – for more information and photos.

And should you feel like buying one RIGHT NOW, click here to go to the Music Direct website.

You’re only remaining choice is silver or black?