The “Best”

I’m always amazed at how many products out there are claimed to be “the best.”

What does that even mean? Best for what? Best for who? Whenever this word is used (and I’ve used it REALLY sparingly in the last 17 years) it draws a mental line in the sand meaning nothing is better than this, because well, it’s the best.

My travels to Europe and Asia, interacting with others around the world leaves me thinking that other cultures aren’t quite as fixated on being the best, and having the best. I think we Americans have more of a propensity for needing to have the best. Laurie Anderson did a great tune called “0 and 1,” from her Home of the Brave soundtrack. As she says in her computer enhanced voice, “everyone wants to be number one, nobody wants to be 0, a loser.” Yet in this analog world that we all seem to worship, there are precious few shades of grey.

I have a hard time believing that all the people that design and build hifi gear want to build products that are less than. And on the flip side of that maxi single, there are so many claiming to be the best. How can there be that many bests. The New York Times recently claimed that a very popular $600 turntable is “the best turntable.” As Hall and Oates say in “Possession Obsession,” so why would you want more?

Well, why would you?

I fear that in today’s influencer laden society, no one wants to be caught with having any less than the best, yet there are so many great products available. There have never been more variations on the theme, regardless of what shape your hifi system needs to take.

This is something I’ve agonized over since I started writing about hifi. Trying to have enough insight to put things into perspective. To try and help you make intelligent purchase decisions that will help you. It’s not about me/us at all. We’ve all drawn our lines in the sand as to what we like, and what helps us achieve our music reproduction goals.

Back when I worked at The Absolute Sound, and used to chat with the late, great Harry Pearson on a semi-regular basis he always used to say: “Kid, don’t use the B-word. Resist the urge. The minute you do, you’ve painted yourself in a corner you can’t get out of.”

And while attaching those four letters to one of our reviews would certainly get us a lot more web traffic, and perhaps a better ranking on Google searches, it doesn’t help you one bit. What happens when you bring that best turntable or those best speakers home and they aren’t the best? Hmmmm. How likely are you going to be to listen to what we have to say in the future?

For all but the few people that can build an awesome system out of the chute and have the fortitude to stay there, the pursuit of building an audio system is usually a journey, an evolving thing. As cool as it is to say “I’ve got the best..” you probably don’t, because it doesn’t exist.

Here’s to hoping you’ll continue to enjoy your journey, wherever you are on that path, and that you can have the courage to enjoy the gear you’ve spent your hard earned money on, whether it’s the best or not.

-Jeff Dorgay

Dynaudio Introduces New Emit Series Speakers

Perhaps better known for their highest end offerings, Denmark’s Dynaudio has always applied what they learn in the lab to their entry level speakers.

Their new Emit series is sure to be a big success, borrowing tech from their other ranges to produce a very affordable set of speakers. Here’s what
Dynaudio has shared with us:

Emit is the entry point to the high-end Dynaudio universe. It’s been created to deliver eyebrow-raising audio performance for the price – taking the guesswork out of what, for many, is their first step into audiophile-level hi-fi.

The range comprises two stand-mount models (Emit 10 and Emit 20), two floor-standers (Emit 30 and Emit 50) and a centre-channel (Emit 25C). They’ve all been designed, styled, tuned and optimised in-house at Dynaudio Labs in Denmark. The company’s state-of-the-art Jupiter measuring facility – a vast measuring array – played a key role in their creation.

All Emit speakers use the Cerotar tweeter from the renowned Dynaudio Evoke series, which in turn is based on the formidable Esotar Forty tweeter from the company’s Special Forty anniversary loudspeaker. The Cerotar’s custom AirFlow magnet is made from strontium carbonate ferrite+ ceramic, while the 28mm voice-coil is made from aluminium – a Dynaudio signature, found in the company’s state-of-the-art Esotar 3 high-frequency driver.

And, you don’t have to look far to see styling cues from their top range Confidence speakers…

The Emit family will be available to purchase at Dynaudio retailers beginning June 24th, 2021.

Retail Pricing, USA

Emit 10:    $799 per pair

Emit 20:    $999 per pair

Emit 30:    $1,699 per pair

Emit 50:    $2,249 per pair

Emit 25C:  $799 each

We are looking forward to some review samples very soon. We’ll keep you posted!

Naim produces a turntable!

And, how cool is that?

Long known for their legendary ARO tonearm (which many Linn Sondek owners swear by to this day), amazing phono stages, and incredible power supplies, Naim has skated around the turntable thing for decades. No longer.

Teaming up with Germany’s Clearaudio to build their creation – which has been designed in its entirety by the Naim engineering team, the $20k MSRP for the entire package is truly a bargain, when considering everything included:

· Naim Solstice Turntable NVS TT – combining core Naim design philosophies, such as multiple levels of mechanical decoupling, with a celebration of beautiful materials. Features a magnetic bearing supporting a high-mass, highly polished aluminum platter, with a unique, self-calibrating motor drive system, meticulously delivering the Naim sound.

· Naim Aro Tonearm – retaining the original’s design principles and excellence but boosting performance further still by using improved materials – including tungsten and carbon-fiber – and adding an all-new, no-compromise bias, arm height and azimuth adjustments.

· Naim Equinox MC Cartridge – featuring a microline stylus shape – closer to the original cutting lathe head to enable the retrieval of accurate high-frequency information – and a boron cantilever, a stiff-but-light design that faithfully transfers the stylus movements to the moving coils.

· Naim Solstice Series Phono Stage NVC TT – the first Naim phono stage to use DR technology, first used on the flagship Statement amplifier. Sophisticated, ultra-low-noise Class A design with dedicated MC and MM head-amplifiers.

· Naim Solstice Series Power Supply NPX TT – powers both the turntable and the phono stage. For the ultimate performance, these two different power supplies are completely isolated, with no risk of interference. Also uses Naim DR technology.

· Solstice Accessories Set – including Digital Stylus Gauge; Bubble Level; Hex Drivers (x3); Vinyl Adjustment Tool; Dust Protector and Cleaning Cloth

· Naim Records True Stereo album – a curated collection of superb-quality True Stereo recordings, newly remastered for vinyl by original engineer, Ken Christiansen.

· Solstice Special Edition Book – including insight into heritage, technology and design

As this will be a limited edition package, there may or may not be review units available. I doubt anyone is going to need encouragement to sign on the dotted line for this one! Considering this is a turntable, external power supply, world class tonearm, cartridge and phono stage all in one package, this represents tremendous value as well.

The Audio GE Teddy Speakers

There are some fun speakers in the $1,000 – $2,000 range, and there are a lot more mistakes.

But there are a few true classics, transcending time, offering sonic value that is out of what you think would be possible for this price. The Audio GE Teddy, at $1,888 a pair delivered, certainly has the potential to join the ranks of the finest.

If you have two thousand dollars burning a hole in your pocket to buy a new pair of speakers, you can be overwhelmed by the amount of choices on the market today. When arguing with our publisher about what we’d buy for that money, we always end up pontificating about the great speakers back in our day. We’re getting old. Old guys always like to think the stuff from their era is way better than the current stuff. We do the same thing with our endless arguments about cars – that’s why we both drive mid 70s BMW 2002s.

Yet today, there are better choices than ever. A few of our favorites remain – the Vandersteen 1, and the current entry level Magnepan speakers are still top contenders, nearly 40 years later. The KEF LS-50 is spectacular, along with some great choices from Totem, Paradigm and B&W. Sonus faber’s new Lumina line is brilliant too. It’s a great time to be getting in the game.

Audio GE is a relatively new company from Lithuania. I had a friend in college from Lithuania, he was a smart and witty guy, as I expect Gediminas Racevicus – the managing director and designer at Audio GE is. Anyone can make a great speaker for $200,000. You have to be clever to make an exceptional speaker for $2,000. I wanna meet this guy.

It’s also worth mentioning that for US customers, the Teddy’s are an even bigger deal – because of exchange rates, and the fact that Underwood HiFi has really sharpened the pencil on shipping to get these to you in the CONUS for just under $1,995 shipped, it’s more like getting a $3,000 pair of speakers at this price. They’ve pared it to a single finish option to get you the best deal. Great hifi just got easier.

A shitload of amplifiers

Comedian David Letterman when asked “how many is in a shitload,” replied, “Seven. There are seven in a shitload.” And that’s exactly how many amplifiers were used in evaluating the Teddys. As I had to pick them up from TONE HQ after the photos were taken, this made for a great listening session with a few of the amplifiers in use there. Of course, the Teddy’s sound great with the reference PASS Labs XA200.8 monoblocks, but at that price, these amplifiers are completely irrelevant in the context of a $2,000 pair of speakers. And that’s the oldest hifi store/show trick in the book. Play inexpensive speakers through six figures worth of amplification to reel you in, then when you get them home you get the ultimate metal gift – disappointment. We’ve all been there.

The McIntosh MC1502 is still a bit crazy for these speakers, but again – fantastic. However, at my place, a Mk V version of the classic MC275 provides an incredibly similar vibe, and considering a nice, used MC275 can be had for around $3k, this would make a lovely combination, and stay within a realistic budget. The tubed Mac provides more than enough power (90 watts per channel), and like the PrimaLuna EVO 400 (with EL34 tubes) delivers a slightly mellow, warm overall sound.

The Mac and PrimaLuna amps deliver a more diffuse presentation than some of the other amplifiers in the rotation, however they offer up some of the yummiest midrange and top to bottom cohesiveness. This is where audio can drive you to madness, but it’s good fun. (isn’t it?) It’s worth mentioning again that these are not power-hungry speakers.

How about a PS Audio Sprout II for $599, a Rega IO, or a vintage Marantz 2220B? (Freshly recapped and aligned by our pals at Gig Harbor Audio) The magic is still there. These speakers kick major butt with budget sources, and that’s what entry level music loving audiophiles need to get excited about.

What you get

Browsing the Audio GE website shows off the crossover network, made of premium parts (including capacitors from Jensen and Mundorf), revealing both drivers sourced from Scan-Speak. As someone who’s always enjoyed “that sound,” it makes more sense why I’m drawn to these.

The cabinets are well built, and offered in a number of different finish options, so you should be able to find something that will go with your décor. (or if you cohabitate with someone, something that will go with their décor – ha!) Fortunately, they have a single set of binding posts – another nod to the beginning audiophile, not expecting them to bi-wire.

The only thing you don’t get is a pair of grilles, but hey who really uses them anyway?

Further setup and listening

A nice sized pair of floorstanding speakers with a bottom firing port, that makes for easy placement and setup. Speakers with rear firing ports are tough to get right for those of you that have to have your speakers a little closer to the walls, and front ports can “huff” a bit at low frequencies. There are a lot of five-figure speakers that take advantage of down-firing ports, so once again, Mr. Racevicus is a smart guy.

Personally, I think the downward firing port makes for a smoother transition as the woofer goes up the frequency range. Kind of like a 282 camshaft in a 2002, but again, I’m getting off track. Placed in my 14 x 19 foot listening room, about three feet from the rear walls, and about 8 feet apart proved optimum. As the soft dome tweeter is not edgy at all, feel free to experiment with toe-in. You can dial in more toe in with these speakers not being harsh. It all depends on your preference, as well as the overall voicing of your system.

Thanks to the wide dispersion characteristics of the soft dome tweeter and the general coherence of a two way system to begin with, the Teddy’s broad sweet spot makes for great times hanging out and listening to music. You’ll get a more precise image sitting right there, on the couch, but whether you’re sitting on the floor, or even in the next room, the sound is inviting.

GE Audio claims bass extension to 33hz, so I dug out my Stereophile test disc to investigate. The Teddy’s have seriously solid bass response to 30hz, so this meant a couple of long listening sessions of heavy rock music, just to feel it. Whether I was playing Dark Side of The MoonMade in Japan, or anything inbetween, these speakers really offer a solid foundation underneath any of your music.

The lack of grunge from the crossover network, combined with that soft dome tweeter, makes for comfortable long listening sessions. This is a speaker you’ll be able to easily listen to all day without tiring of. Many speakers in this price range have an accentuated treble response (by design) to feel “detailed,” but they usually aren’t speakers you can listen to, especially with budget electronics.

Regardless of the program material used, the Teddy’s are luscious. Yes, slightly on the warm side, but not murky. Tracking through a long play list of jazz cuts, and the required female vocals reveals some major magic. Though they wouldn’t play terribly loud, shaking the dust from my Bottlehead 2A3 monoblocks was incredibly involving, with a magic only those amps bring to the table.

Ongoing arguments

Both our publisher and I had no disagreement in awarding the GE Teddy speakers one of our Exceptional Value Awards for 2021. This is a pair of speakers that allow a tremendous amount of musical engagement at a price everyone can afford. Thanks to being so amplifier friendly, you can build a wide range of systems around them as well.

A new favorite and future classic. – Jerold O’Brien

The Sonus faber Maxima Amator

I’m somewhat of a Sonus faber fanboy for those of you who don’t know, but it’s complicated. My reference speakers are Stradivaris. Old School.

I’m not quite as bad as the old guy at the cars and coffee get-together claiming that the last real Porsche was the 356, but I’m particular about what I like. I try my best not to let that get in the way, trying to help you on your quest to find what you like, but it’s important you know my preferences before we begin.

Like most premium audio brands, Sonus faber’s legacy products have a particular sound. Current products tend to be more refined, reflecting advances made at the component level over the last 10 to 20 years. Capacitors, resistors, wire, and such have all gotten better. This translates to a higher degree of transparency, image focus, and dynamics. More seat time in the engineering chair reveals more music too.

The Stradivaris that I use as a reference are the final iteration of founder Franco Serblin’s vision. The current Aida, Lillium, and Cremonese speakers all have been designed under Sonus faber’s current team, headed by Brand Ambassador Paolo Tezzon and Chief Design officer, Livio Cucuzza, representing the current direction. This team has done a fantastic job at incorporating the emotional involvement that has made SF famous while adding more extension and transparency to the mix. A slightly more “modern” Sonus faber, if you will.

This leads us to the Sonus faber Maxima Amator

If you’re new to the game with Sonus faber, their speakers are big, bold, and dynamic, with a fashion-forward sense of design. The woofers mounted to the leather-covered baffles have SF logos on the caps, with bright chrome rings surrounding the drivers. You know this is a Sonus faber, the second you remove the grilles, even if you don’t know the first thing about audio.

Taking the aesthetic/beauty thing a little further, every friend that has ever stopped by to listen to the Strads or any other Sonus faber speaker we’ve had in for review and not say, “I need a pair of those in my living room.” Or their partner always says, “now that’s a pair of speakers I’d go for in the living room.” And that’s usually before they even hear them. That’s love.

The Maxima Amator harkens back to the beginning of Sonus faber, perhaps to the end of their founder, Franco Serblin’s tenure at the company. These compact floor-standing speakers have a more understated look, requiring only a small amount of listening space to perform. And perform they do.

Many question the concept of love at first sight, or perhaps in our case, love at first listen, first encounter. However, if you know what you are looking for, it’s not so odd after all. Speakers can be the most challenging part of the equation when putting a system together because other than phono cartridges, they have the widest variation of sound. Electronics have a voice, to be sure, and indeed some designers take great effort to try and make their amplifiers, preamplifiers, and DACs to have as little coloration as possible. Still, the variation on the theme is nothing like it is with speakers. Keep in mind that nothing interacts with your listening environment as much as speakers do either. Choices.

Witness all the variations on the theme that we see in speaker design: big, small, horns, panels, 2-ways, 5-ways, 6db/octave crossovers, 45db/octave crossovers, digital crossovers, and none at all. Speakers are like paintings – the artist’s (or, in this case, the designer/design team’s) vision of what sound should be. Of course, measurements play into this game somewhat, but in the end, most speakers convey the vision of what their designer feels music sounds like to them. Do you want Norman Rockwell, Picasso, Andy Warhol, or Cezanne?

Which is the right choice? The choice that aligns perfectly with how you feel music sounds to you. Designing speakers is a rough business because, in addition to all the aforementioned variables, many people have never heard live music. Think about that for a minute. Ask your friends that are outside the circle of your audio enthusiast friends how many live performances they’ve seen in their lifetime. Increase the level of difficulty and narrow the search parameters. How many have listened to a symphony orchestra, a string quartet, or even a person on the street corner playing an acoustic guitar in the open air?

Even with electronic instruments, what does a Fender Stratocaster really sound like? Not much if it isn’t plugged in. Once that happens, witness the variations that every great guitarist brings to the table – if you love listening to guitarists, you probably enjoy them all. The same for pianists – yet one pianist prefers a Steinway, another Yamaha, while still another swears they can only make music on a Bosendorfer. Which is the right choice?

This is why we don’t make empty promises about one speaker or another being “the best” of anything. It all goes back to you being able to define what provides the most engaging experience for you. On one level, it gets more difficult if you actually play an instrument. Now you have a point of reference. But that’s what makes it fun.

Instant gratification

Fortunately, the review samples we were sent already had hours on the clock, so an extensive break-in period was unnecessary. Our past experience with breaking in other Sonus faber speakers is always about 100-200 hours to deliver their full performance, but we’ve never heard a Sonus faber speaker sound bad, fresh out of the box. However, driver surrounds require a bit of mechanical break-in, and the capacitors in the crossover network also take some time with signals passing through them to sound their best.

What you’ll notice, opening a new pair of Maximas, is the slightest bit of muddiness in the upper bass, yet at the same time, the speakers will not go quite as deep without effort. This will require a slight adjustment in positioning after a couple of weeks because they will have more LF extension than they did when unboxed. It’s also worth your while to have a hex wrench handy to make sure the woofer hasn’t loosened up a bit in its mounting. We’ve seen more than one speaker become more diffuse and less defined, only to find, the woofers are not snugged down anymore.


Getting right at the Maxima Amator’s capabilities requires well-worn demo tracks. Somehow, we always fire up “Bug Powder Dust (dub)” from The K&D Sessions when a new speaker arrives.  Tight, controlled bass, convincing me that these speakers in a medium-sized room will easily hit the 35hz low-frequency spec Sonus faber claims.

But we can’t live on bass alone. This record is full of sonic tidbits that fly around the room on a great set of speakers, and these are great speakers. In the context of our 13 x 18-foot room, the Maxima Amators create a massive ball of sound – no need for surround speakers. This is what high-performance two-channel audio is all about. Even out in our main listening room, (16 x 24 feet) these speakers fill it easily. However, they are dwarfed somewhat by the Strads.

Listening for the bongos in Timewarp Inc’s “Groovy Booty” is equally exciting. This track has such a strong bass line that the bongos often get buried. Through the Maximas, they have a space and a life of their own. The ability of these speakers to find the groove in any track is unbelievably good.

The Minima  in the Amator line shares a tweeter with the Olympica Nova collection, while the Electa and Maxima a tweeter with the Homage Tradition and Reference collections. The Electa and Maxima share the same woofer (a 6-inch drive unit, where the Minima has a 5-inch drive unit), so they all speak with a similar voice. Looking at the specs, the Minima goes to 50hz, the Electa to 40hz, and the Maxima to 35hz. Judging this trio of speakers by specs alone, the casual observer might think, “no big deal.” But the magic that the Maxima brings transcends the spec sheet.

Along with their enticing tonality, these speakers all share a wide dispersion characteristic, making them easy to place. This also offers an engaging experience to all in the room. Good as the Maximas sound in the sweet spot from your couch or listening chair, they sound great off-axis too. Party guests sitting on the floor or the other side of the room will still enjoy a major musical experience.

Where early SF speakers have a touch of warmth that can’t be dialed out, sacrificing resolution and extension, in the process, the Maxima Amator is unmistakably SF, but no sacrifices are made. If you happen to be a huge fan of vintage SF sound, you will not be disappointed, yet there is a delicacy to the high frequencies and additional spatial cues that your old speakers just can’t manage. The blend of new and old school is fantastic. Even the Sonus faber people admit on their social media channels that this one has a certain magic to it. Not everything can be summed up with test equipment. Sometimes God truly is in the details.

No disrespect to the greatness that has come before, but the Maxima is a credit to the current design team. Perhaps it’s just that these speakers are the two-way monitor concept taken to its ultimate end. The stand mount Amator is close, but it doesn’t have quite the cohesiveness and lacks lower bass extension due to a smaller cabinet volume. Considering the cost of factoring good stands in, go for the floorstanders. I know I’m disobeying the prime directive here. However, I love the visual continuity of a small floorstanding speaker instead of a monitor on a stand.

Going back to some vintage R&B, tracking through the Fifth Dimension’s “One Less Bell to Answer” again reveals the Minimas ability to unpack dense recordings, giving all the vocalists their own sonic space. As with similar tracks that felt previously difficult to listen to, the Sonus fabers breathe live into recordings in a way that few speakers can. Are they the last word in ultimate resolution? No, but there is more than enough resolution to extract minute details in your favorite recordings.

Switching it up for some Stones, and this time their Totally Stripped in Paris disc, gives a terrific sense of the massive sound field these small floor-standing speakers can generate. The performance offers a close-up, intimately miked session in a small club, and as the audience response swells and fades, it feels like being there. Jeff Beck’s Live at Ronnie Scotts offers the same level of involvement.

Why the Sonus faber Maxima Amator?

If the great Italian philosopher Cicero were here, he might say, “why not?” A speaker is such a personal choice. But if you like what Sonus faber offers, and you don’t have a huge listening room, the Minima Amator will captivate you. Like many great speaker brands when the founders vision passes on to the next generation, there is a changing of the guard. The original Wilson, MartinLogan, and Sonus faber speakers are now designed by different people than those who started these iconic brands. These three come to mind because they all had a very distinct sound, and their current designers have chosen to refine the founder’s vision while retaining the essence of their roots.

While there is a difference between vintage or classic Sonus faber and the speakers produced in the factory today, the essence remains – both sonically and visually. The current speakers stand entirely on their own merits.

Final notes on setup

As mentioned, these speakers work well in a small to medium room, yet because a two way speaker with a 6-inch woofer can only move so much air, we had a more intimate experience in our smaller room. You’ll notice that the Sonus faber website shows these speakers in a fairly large room. We had excellent results in our listening room, which looks about the size of the SF room, buy you will probably require a bit more power to fill it.

The further you can get the Maximas apart without soundstage collapse, and more importantly, the amount of space between the speakers and the side walls will determine ultimate image width. Smaller rooms will favor more bass reinforcement, with a slightly deeper sonic field, and the larger room more width.

Thanks to a sensitivity rating of 88db/1-watt and a relatively simple crossover network, thanks to the two-way design, the Maximas are easy to drive. However, like every Sonus faber speaker we’ve owned or reviewed, more power is better than less and the higher quality of your amplifier, the more engaging your experience will be. The MC275 tube amplifier in our collection is the minimum amount of power we’d suggest with these speakers (90wpc)

The speakers have much more dynamic ability with more power. Switching to the PrimaLuna EVO400 monoblocks (almost 200wpc with KT150 tubes) made for a more immersive experience. The Boulder 866, Pass XA200.8 monoblocks and Parasound JC1+ solid state amplifiers all offered more bass grip and extension than the tube amplifiers we had on hand, however the SF sound does go incredibly well with a tube amplifier. More choices!

What price true love?

Just as there are many fine things in this world, not all of them are a perfect fit for you. Some people like relaxed-fit jeans, some like boot cut, while others like strategically torn ones, and for others, only the tightest fit, skinny jeans will do. Speakers are no different. While a heartfelt attempt at describing the Maxima Amator has been made, you must experience these speakers to be sure they are right for you. Respectfully submitted, if you know what you are listening for, these produce a voice like no other and I suspect you will fall in love immediately. If that is the case, buy them, take them home and treasure them. And don’t ever part with them; you’ll regret it for the rest of your days. Think about the loves of your life that got away – you know I’m right.

A good friend of mine is fond of saying, “How much would you pay for true love? It’s priceless.” In this case, true love might be as close as your Sonus faber dealer. At this point, $15,000 for what might be the love of your life is an incredible bargain, indeed.


Preamplifier Pass Labs XSPre

Power Amplifier Pass Labs XA 200.8, Boulder 866, PrimaLuna EVO400 monos, McIntosh MC 275

Phono stage Pass Labs XSPhono

Analog Source AVID Volvere SP/SME 309/Lyra Atlas

Digital Source dCS Vivaldi One

Cable Cardas Clear, Tellurium Q Diamond

EJ Jordan LTD launches the Marlow speaker

We haven’t had the opportunity to review a lot of single driver speakers, so these look very interesting indeed. Our review pair is scheduled to arrive next week. From the folks at EJ Jordan:

BRITISH manufacturer EJ Jordan Ltd has launched the Marlow, a compact loudspeaker with the unique combination of a single, wideband drive unit in a BBC-inspired cabinet.

The wood-veneered cabinet is made from high-quality, heavily-damped 9 mm Baltic birch ply, a technique based on the pioneering research by the BBC.

Behind the Marlow’s acoustically-transparent grille is the Jordan Eikona, an advanced, alloy cone drive unit that covers the majority of the musical spectrum. It was designed by audio legend Ted Jordan to produced a more natural sound than the conventional approach of separate woofers and tweeters.

EJ Jordan managing director Colin Shelbourn says: “The Eikona is a world-class drive unit and we wanted it to be at the heart of a traditional-looking loudspeaker whilst enabling it to perform at its best. This set us quite the challenge.

“The BBC cabinet technique is neither cheap nor easy, but has clearly audible benefits. It’s closer to creating a musical instrument than manufacturing a loudspeaker, requiring a lot of skill; every component is critical to the final sound.

”We also wanted the Marlow to have as small a carbon footprint as possible and we’ve managed to source almost everything within the UK or Europe.

“We are extremely proud of the result. It has taken us two years of research to get to this point: a loudspeaker that’s compact, sounds natural, and has a traditional, fine furniture appearance.”

The development process led to two versions being made available.

The standard Marlow features Kimber TC wiring and Swiss-made, silver-plated 4 mm sockets. The higher spec Marlow CE uses exclusive, pure-copper binding posts and matching internal cables from renowned UK amplifier designer, Tom Evans. Both versions are supplied as matched pairs with individual serial numbers.

Mark Manwaring-White, valve amplifier specialist and MingDa’s UK distributor, heard the first production pair and commented: “… The Marlows were an eye opener or should I say ear opener. To be honest I am not generally a fan of stand/shelf type speakers, big and brash is my taste BUT on this occasion, I was somewhat staggered by the results, especially with the valves.  … Quite a staggering sound from a small box.”

The standard Marlow costs £1960.00 (ex VAT) and the Marlow CE costs £2280 (ex VAT). Both are finished in real walnut veneer, with rosewood a £160 option. Matching stands are available, and both loudspeakers and stands can be ordered direct from EJ Jordan Ltd at

The McIntosh XRT2.1 K Speakers

Note:  this review started right before we were all stuck in the middle of the travel restrictions imposed by COVID.

Cleaning up the desktop, I realized the copy hadn’t had its final round of editing! Yet, my impressions are as vivid as the day I was sitting on the couch. These are impressive speakers.

If you want to audition a pair of the McIntosh flagship towers, there’s only one place to go:

LMC Home Entertainment in Scottsdale, Arizona. Once again, owner Mike Ware is kind enough to make his facility available, so I can give these massive speakers a listen. And a big thanks to his crew for setting a room up on my behalf, a day after they had a big listening event.

What better way to experience McIntosh’s top speakers than with a full stack of Mc electronics, consisting of a pair of their latest MC1.25KW power amplifiers, their C1100 tube preamplifier and a Linn Akurate DSM with Katalyst DAC/Streamer, using Qobuz for streaming, cabled together with Transparent XL cables. The speakers tip the scale at $130k/pair and the rest of the system is very reasonably priced, in context of what we’ve got going on.

The room designated for my listening is about 17 x 21.6, with the speakers’ center about 3 feet from each wall with slight toe in and the couch about 12 feet back. This proves to be a great space for these speakers to open up and breathe – no mistake of “too much speaker in too little room” going on here. This is a lovely music environment. The ten foot ceiling helps add volume too. The XRTs prove easy to set up, with two people of course, and while like any premium speaker will benefit from careful fine tuning (which LMC provides to all of their customers) a quick setup offers great results.

Starting the demo with Keith Richards’ “Wicked as it Seems” offers instant gratification. While the XRTs play everything well, these speakers epitomize rock and roll, thanks to a huge dynamic swing, and a solid bass foundation. They do a fantastic job rendering height, sounding like Richards is standing directly between the speakers, with everything else in the mix falling off to the side and behind. The XRTs line array format is impeccable capturing the impact of the drums too. There’s a lot of dynamics going on here!

These big speakers capture low-level detail like a pair of mini-monitors, yet expand to the loudest musical passages with ease. Much respect to fans of small speakers, but once you’ve heard a well-executed big speaker truly move air in the room, there’s no going back.  Horsepower does carry the day.

The obvious comparison has to be between the Sonus faber Aida and the XRT 2.1K… Both of these speakers are about the same price, The XRTs paint with broader strokes, yet for the standard rock and jazz that I normally listen to, I might just write the check for these.

Shifting to DJ Krush’s “Element” illustrates the bass drive of these speakers. The six 8-inch woofers in each cabinet go deep (Mc claims a LF limit of 12hz), but are fast, fast fast. Electronica lovers will be in heaven with a pair of these and a big amplifier. Taj Wilkenfields bass solo in Jeff Becks live version of “So We’ve ended as lovers” is equally engaging.

McIntosh claims a sensitivity of 90db/1 watt, but with the 1.25KWs, that really doesn’t matter. What I find more important with these or any speaker is the ability to deliver an engaging/involving experience at low volume level. You can tick that box with these speakers. With those big blue meters floating between .12 and 1.2 watts, all of the small bits in the soundscape of XTC’s “That Wave” pull me in and out of the mix, discovering nuance I haven’t heard in this recording before, or at least not to this extent.

I can’t imagine not using these speakers with a big pair of amplifiers, with a lot of headroom and control. For those needing to go beyond 11, the XRTs can be bi amped or even tri amped. I’m sure this would take you beyond concert level SPLS in nearly all rooms. So again, proceed with caution.

Todd Rundgren’s “Honest Work” from his A Capella album is another review staple here, Fantastic. Not only do the XRTs clearly delineate the individual harmonies, but again, the sheer scale of a group of people singing a capella is fully conveyed. Having seen Rundgren on this tour with 16 vocalists in tow, I’m immediately transported back to that amazing experience with the Big Mac speakers. This leads me to Rundgren’s Back to the Bars disc and a few other live albums, ending with Jeff Beck’s Live at Ronnie Scotts.  The incredible dynamic range of the Mc system really adds to the live feel of these recordings.  So often what is missing from a system, no matter how tonally accurate it might be is that extra rhythmic and dynamic drive that lets your brain relax and forget about the system. Dynamics are the fourth dimension.

Trying to run these speakers through as many different genre changes as possible, everything excites and nothing disappoints. These are definitely world class speakers that can play really loud. Louder than you need; be careful you don’t hurt yourself. Their effortless nature and lack of distortion will leave your ears ringing, because the normal warning mechanisms that tell you to shut it down aren’t here. 30 seconds of the alarm clocks in Pink Floyd’s “Time” was all I needed with the needles pegged to convince me that these speakers can hurt you.

Coming back to Earth and turning the volume way down to a very comfortable 80db listening level is equally enjoyable. Tracking though most of Matthew Sweet’s Girlfriend album is an engulfing experience. Again, these massive speakers give an excellent recreation of physical space that few speakers can match.

A major leap forward

Where the XRTs really leap ahead of all previous versions is the level of midrange clarity and lack of cloudiness that plagued past Mc line arrays is now gone. The ability of all these drivers to stop and start on cue is breathtaking.

Now that McIntosh shares design duties with the design group in Italy, we can see some influence, both in sound, and in finish. The same team, headed up by Paolo Tezzon and Livio Cucuzzo (the guys that designed the Sonus faber Aida) worked on the XRT2.1K. These are by far the best executed XRTs in terms of look and sound. Where the past model was aluminum, these now are softer, curvier, and made from wood. A massive affair, they sprout up nearly 8 feet tall. Having heard them on numerous occassions in the mighty McIntosh Town House, they can fill a room with cavernous proportions.

In all seriousness, what these large speakers accomplish is a way to distribute the sound so that it completely envelops you. While many audiophiles talk about a perfect point source, in the real world, sound doesn’t come at you from a point, it envelopes you from all directions. Perhaps this is why tall speakers (magnetic or panels) have a more realistic feeling, from the sense of reproducing spatial cues.

To this end, finishing my day long listening session with Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew leaves me with an even better impression of the XRTs than when I sat down. And I was a pretty happy guy at the beginning of the day.

The XRT2.1k’s cement McIntosh as a major player in the flagship speaker arena. They do everything well and on balance. Best of all, they are beautifully crafted, and are extremely user friendly, so should. If you have to have a pair and are on a “budget,” bring them home with a MC275 and build your system from there, knowing you have the anchor for a system you can go beyond infinity with as funds allow.

-photos courtesy of McIntosh Labs

The McIntosh MC1502 Power Amplifier

Much as I like to dismiss measurements when it comes to the subject of hifi, there’s one that I find intriguing – sound pressure level, which relates closely to dynamics.

Much as I like small Class A solid-state amplifiers, SET tube amplifiers, and small tube amplifiers like the hallowed MC30 amplifiers from McIntosh – there’s no substitute for power. And in this case the new MC1502 delivers incredible dynamic range.

Listening to The System’s hit, “Don’t Disturb This Groove” at a modest level of about 82 db, I’m surprised to see that the sound level app on my phone is recording 112 db peaks. Meanwhile the softest parts of this track fall all the way down to 55 db, with the room going “silent” at 29db. Even with somewhat compressed Motown tracks, Diana Ross’ lead vocal in “Standing at the Crossroads” Jumps up 20db with ease. Switching back and forth between the 1502 and an MC275 feels smaller, significantly smaller, and the MC275 is no slouch. But the meter doesn’t lie. With levels matched, the same tracks hit much lower instantaneous peak levels, even though average levels are exactly the same.

You might be surprised at how much of the music you feel is unlistenable because you find it overly compressed, is actually running your amp and speakers out of power. Your room size, and speaker sensitivity will play a big part in this, but again, 82db isn’t exactly concert hall levels. Even turning the volume down lower to a 76db average level, is still generating 100db peaks on a lot of tunes.  The 150 watts per channel that the MC1502 deliver comes in handy, and at much lower listening levels than you might think.

Racy carbon fiber or traditional Mac?

Anyone digging the matte black and carbon fiber look of the 70th anniversary MC2152 might still be lucky enough to snag one, albeit at a higher price of $15,000. It offers a slightly sleeker, look and has its controls oriented front to back, instead of side to side, as the MC1502 does. But it doesn’t sound any different. The $11,000 MC1502 is a stone cold bargain at that rate, and if you’re a Mac loyalist, maybe take the change and put it towards a C22 preamplifier. That’s where I’m headed.

Whichever direction you choose, unless you are really buff, get a friend to help you lift it out of the box. Packed, the MC1502 weighs 135 pounds, and unboxed, 118. A discussion with the urgent care doc about being careful nicked $800 out of the C22 fund, so proceed with caution. It’s not the lifting the 118-pound amp that gets you into trouble, it’s the trying to gently wiggle it into the equipment rack that will bite you.

And make sure to have plenty of space above wherever you place your MC1502. 8 KT88 power tubes throw off a fair amount of heat. You’ll notice that the MC1502 arrives with a tube cage in place, holding the shipping foam over the tubes. Throw that stuff in the packing carton and forget about it. You wanna see those tubes in action, which leads us to another nice touch.

For some time now, Mc gear has had green lights behind the tubes, so all the tubes glow green. I think the person that suggested this feature should be punished, but it’s still a free country for a little while. The MC275 requires making a small 1/8” jumper to plug into the remote power socket to disable these green lights and allow you to enjoy the tubes in their natural hue. The MC1502 lets you control this from a control knob on the right side of the amplifier. If the person that added this feature to the 1502 is the same person that came up with the green LED thing, rest easy. I won’t fire you when I am the next owner of McIntosh.

But you know what’s super cool? When the 1502 powers up from cold, the two middle driver tubes light up, then another pair, then another, then the final two. Oh yeah. That’s just vacuum tube awesomeness. Roon somehow senses that this is the time for more cowbell and plays “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” Life can’t get much better than this. The rest of the tube complement consists of four 12AX7 and four 12AT7 tubes. That makes for a total of 16 tubes. That’s a lot of tubes to tube roll if you feel so inclined. Fortunately, McIntosh amplifiers are really easy on tubes, and they sound great with the stock tubes. That being said, the area of my brain often overtaken by OCD behavior knows that the MC275 did reveal even more sound with premium tubes. I’ll leave you to your own madness.

All things big and small

Extended listening reveals that this amplifier is just as good at low volumes as it is pushed to its limit – which it does with tremendous composure. Many of the McIntosh owners I’ve met over the years really like to rock, and this amplifier indeed does that. Our Sonus faber Stradiveri speakers are fairly sensitive at 92db/1-watt, so playing music loud was easy. My ears gave up before the MC1502 could clip to the point where the soundstage collapsed.

Actual component break in was minimal. The MC1502 sounds good straight out of the box, and after about four solid days of listening had opened up the last bit, so this isn’t one of those fussy “needs 600 hours to sound right” amplifiers. Dig in and get to it right away. However, the MC1502 does need a solid hour to fully warm up, stabilize, and give its best performance. The first five minutes are compressed, and for the next hour, it slowly comes out of the fog in a linear fashion.

In addition to sounding great at high and low volumes, the MC1502 handles the most densely packed and technically challenging recordings with ease. Part of this delicacy is just what you get with tube amplification, yet auditioning recordings with a lot of percussion or acoustic guitars gives up that airiness and speed that tube aficionados will enjoy.

It’s always tough to get everything with a tube amplifier, but the MC1502 does an incredible job at an approachable price. There’s those transformers again. If you aren’t familiar with tube amplifiers on a regular, and you’ve heard other audio enthusiasts talk about the “warmth” that tubes provide – some of that is many tube amplifiers lack of control over the lowest bass frequencies. Or a softness in the highest frequencies.

The MC1502 takes charge of the lower register as well as or better than any high power tube amplifier we’ve had the opportunity to review in the past 17 years, and the overall tonal balance is slightly warm, with a moderate amount of tonal saturation as well. Yet there is a high level of resolution, which will allow you to peek way into your favorite recordings. This is not your grandfathers McIntosh – it’s a thoroughly modern amplifier.

Price, performance and heritage

There’s no doubt McIntosh makes great gear. And while they offer a wider range of product offerings than at any time in the company’s history, I submit they still rule when in the domain that put them on the map – building high quality tube amplifiers. Maybe I’m a little biased.

Walking through the McIntosh facility, you’ll make your way to a group of people that wind the output transformers for McIntosh amplifiers. Most of the people assigned to this critical task have been doing it for decades. High quality output transformers are the key to great tube amplifier performance. Most of the companies that make the world’s finest tube amplifiers wind their own, and keep the design parameters, as well as the winding technique top secret. All of these amplifiers have much higher price tags than McIntosh. 70 plus years of manufacturing allows not only an economy of scale, but an economy of process and refinement to manufacturing technique.

As mentioned earlier, the MC1502 has the same form factor that Mc tube amps have used for decades. They feature a polished stainless chassis, with transformers at the rear, and tubes up front, displayed for maximum effect. The front panel shows off the McIntosh logo proudly. A quick look at McIntosh tube amps new and old illustrates just how much refinement has gone into these designs. Long gone is the barrier strip for connecting speakers (making way for the sheer girth of today’s audiophile cables), input level controls, and we see balanced as well as single ended RCA inputs. Those of you with multi components systems can control power up remotely via the 12v trigger port. Inputs and outputs are both on the left side of the chassis, however the stereo/mono switch from the MC275 is absent. This is a 150 watt per channel stereo amplifier. That’s it.

One of the biggest questions

Chatter on the internet suggests you don’t need an MC1502 – you can just bridge a pair of MC275s. You can do that- however the results are different. Kudos to McIntosh for offering you a way to merely add another amplifier, and it’s not a dreadful way to go, but having a pair of bridged MC275s reveals enough of a difference, I suggest selling your MC275 (or just moving it to another room and building another Mac system!) and upgrading to an MC1502.

The McIntosh website suggests this is a better approach, because the new amplifier has a lower signal to noise ratio. Comparing a pair of bridged MC275s to the new MC1502 with a number of different speakers all reveals the same thing. The MC1502 has a cleaner, less cloudy, if you will presentation. The bridged MC275 sound great, until you swap the MC1502 into the system, and the effect is there just as much at low volumes, playing acoustic or vocal music as it is playing heavy rock. Talented as the Mc transformer people are, I doubt the output transformers in the MC275 are matched to a zero tolerance, because most people aren’t bridging them.

Once again, Roon anticipates my mood, playing Hall & Oates “Possession Obsession,” and I’m starting to get a little creeped out. But this is a case where trading up is a great thing. Thanks to the incredible loyalty of McIntosh owners, their products barely depreciate. These days, a nice used MC275 is trading for close to retail price, so you won’t lose much money trading up. Who knows, maybe your local Mc dealer will hook you up? All kidding aside, if you want bigger power, make the jump to the MC1502, you won’t be unhappy. However, as I like to say, I love to spend your money.

Final setup, listening, and tech notes

Once you’ve hoisted the MC1502 into place, the rest is easy. Thanks to RCA and balanced inputs, it will integrate into any system with ease. Again, if you’re all Mac, you’ve already got the rest of this figured out and it’s a plug and play operation. During the course of the review session, we made it a point to use the MC1502 with our reference Pass XS PRE, as well as the Backert Labs Rhumba, BAT REX, the Nagra Classic Pre, and a vintage Conrad-Johnson PV-12. All perfection, and the MC1502 has more than enough resolution and tonal purity to reveal the subtleties between all of these preamplifiers.

Thanks to auto biasing, you’ll never have to mess with setting the tube bias, and thanks to McIntosh’s Sentry Monitor circuity, the amplifier is automatically shut down in the event of tube failure. Should this happen to extreme clipping, or a short in the output terminals, the tubes will go from their standard green or amber to bright red. At this point, shut it off for a minute or two and reboot. McIntosh always runs their tubes well beneath maximum design limits, resulting in long tube life. I suspect that the MC1502 will be as easy on tubes as past McIntosh amplifiers I’ve owned, and with more power on tap, you might not find yourself cranking this one up as much to get the desired effect.

You can get all the specs for the MC1502 here, but this amplifier is quiet. There are plenty of solid-state amplifiers that aren’t this quiet. All the audiophile clichés apply here. Should you have fairly sensitive speakers, you will appreciate this aspect of the MC1502. While working on issue 107s speaker roundup, the 97db/1-watt Zu Dirty Weekends reveal less than quiet amplifiers immediately, and thanks to the ultra low noise floor of this amplifier, delivered a stunning performance.

It never hurts to have about 20 speakers at your disposal for a speaker roundup to really give an amplifier a thorough investigation. Everything in house delivered great results, however the MC1502 delivered amazing results with the new Harbeth C7ES3-XD, and the Harbeth/Mc combination is not usually two great tastes that taste great together. Again, that extra current and bigger power supply equals control, and that almost always equals great sound.

In the end, fantastic

Tube amplifiers aren’t for everyone, but the McIntosh has gone above and beyond expectation to bring us an amplifier that produces plenty of power, sounds fantastic, and is well built. Thanks to the auto bias circuitry and anticipated long tube life, this is as easy as it gets to live with a tube amplifier.

The highest compliment I can give the MC1502 is that I’m selling my beloved MC275 and buying a rack with a bigger lower shelf. It’s a keeper. – thanks to McIntosh Laboratory for additional photos.


Analog Source Grand Prix Audio Parabolica Turntable/TriPlanar/Lyra Atlas

Digital Source dCS Vivaldi One

Preamplifier Pass Labs XS Pre

Phonostage Pass Labs XS Phono

Cable Cardas Clear

The Gershman Acoustics Studio Two Speakers

Listening to the deep bass line in Jean-Michel Jarre’s Zoolook instantly reveals the sheer weight that these modest-sized monitor speakers deliver.

In a 13 x 18-foot room, driven by the Boulder 866 (200 wpc, class-A), taking advantage of a tiny bit of room gain, you won’t find yourself itching for a subwoofer. And the fun doesn’t stop there. The Studio Two’s deliver a high level of musical performance on numerous levels – and they do it for a very reasonable $3,995/pair.

As TONE nears the end of its second decade of publishing, we’ve had the chance to talk to many of you. Via email, social media, the phone, and in-person at shows – all over the world. Much like any other aspect of consumer goods, there is always a fair share of excitement and interest for the mega products that nearly no one can afford. What many of you have told us is that your sweet spot is a system in the $10k – $20k range. The amount of interaction we receive when reviewing components in this area is always the highest.

The most difficult reviews to write are the products I enjoy the most, for components I would buy myself. I don’t want to shortchange the manufacturer and not be enthusiastic enough (trying to be cool about it all…), and I don’t want to slight those of you reading, lest you think I’m being too much of a fanboy for the product in question. So, I’ll try and curb my enthusiasm.

Yeah, I love em

That being said, the Studio Two’s are speakers I would happily write the check for. They do everything I love in a speaker. The tonal balance is ever so slightly warmer, more engaging, just a bit saturated. Much of this is due to overall crossover voicing and the use of a silk dome tweeter. These tweeters rarely deliver those last few molecules of resolution, but they are never harsh or fatiguing. If that sounds like fun to you, read on.

Just as a quick comparison, the Focal Kanta no.1s with their Beryllium tweeters sound a little more forward, and the Gershman’s a little more relaxed. Which do you prefer? It all comes down to your choice of amplification, cables, and overall system tuning. Gershman claims a sensitivity of 87db/1-watt, but the Studio Twos prove incredibly easy to drive, even with my vintage PrimaLuna ProLogue One, which only delivers about 30 watts per channel, or the Pass INT-25, which produces about 25 watts per channel. (solid-state, Class A) With the Cardas Clear cables generally in use, the PrimaLuna combination proves very romantic but not slow or dull.

The Pass, Boulder, and Luxman amplifiers all on hand were Goldilocks (i.e., not too big, not too small). The Gershman speakers are more than resolving enough to easily discern differences in components, cables, and room setup. It goes without saying that in the context of our main reference system, these speakers deliver performance well beyond what is typically associated with a $4,000 pair of speakers yet still offer incredible results in the context of similarly priced components. The good news here is that if you live in a small-ish room and/or don’t need to play music at terribly high levels, you could make some pretty major equipment upgrades and not long for a different pair of speakers – that’s value.

Set up and such

These 27-pound two-ways are not only easy to carry around, but they are also effortless to set up in a small, medium, or large room. While most of their evaluation was spent in the 13 x 18-foot room, they did spend enough time in the larger 16 x 25-foot room on the long wall. Even in a fairly large room, these speakers still deliver plenty of low-frequency oomph, yet their excellent imaging performance is even more exciting if you can get them more than a few feet away from the side walls. Again, it boils down to choices – image size versus room gain or a bit of low-frequency reinforcement

I apologize for repeating myself if you are a regular reader, but I always find the purity of a well-executed two-way speaker an absolute joy to listen to. Fewer things in the signal path make for a level of tonal purity when listening to acoustic instruments and vocals that is tough to match in multiple driver systems, especially at this price point. Queuing up several vocal tracks from KD Lang, Ella Fitzgerald, Johnny Cash, and others instantly show the amount of texture revealed. It also shows off how well these speakers reproduce musical scale.

To make another common comparison, going from the Studio Twos to a pair of Magnepan 1.7s, the Magnepans offer up a slightly more expansive sound overall, but everything sounds enormous. The brilliance of the Gershman speakers is their ability to expand and contract with the music presented, which is as it should be. Flutes sound small, and saxophones sound big. And dynamically involving. These speakers also do a particularly great job with drums and percussion, again helping these modest-sized speakers feel like they could be floorstanders if you had your eyes closed.

The key to maximum performance here is finding the sweet spot in your room that is the perfect balance between maximizing lower bass extension and minimizing upper bass bloat or heaviness. These are easy speakers to just “throw in the room” and get pretty good sound. Again, the dispersion characteristics of the soft dome tweeters excel at this. But an hour or two spent optimizing placement will give you more than one “ah-ha” moment.

Finally, like with all smaller, stand mount speakers, the key to the last bit of performance is getting stands that are as massive as possible. Remember to use a little bit of something sticky to get the best coupling between speaker and stand – don’t short-change these wonderful speakers with shabby stands.

Lots more listening

We’ve spent a lot of time listening to the Studio Twos, with a vast range of music. Nothing is off-limits, even at levels slightly beyond reasonable and prudent. At a certain point, that 8-inch woofer can only travel so far, but again, these are at the top of their class in this respect too. Those that have a steady diet of full-scale orchestral music, EDM, or heavy arena rock, may want to move up to one of Gershman’s larger speakers or consider a pair of subwoofers. Most of you will be just fine. As mentioned earlier, Gershman has done a fantastic job of balancing musical detail, lifelike tonality, and a complete lack of fatigue to create a speaker that you will never tire of.

Once you achieve optimum placement, you will bask in a large soundfield. The images created by Studio Twos go well beyond the speaker boundaries in large and small rooms. Listening to music with lush studio production will surprise you and keep you riveted to the listening chair. Familiar records with multi-layered vocals and overdubs are tons of fun – even going back to some early Beatles was a kick. Whatever your favorites happen to be, the Studio Twos will deliver the goods.

Finally, these speakers are well executed from a fit and finish standpoint. Around the back are a high-quality pair of binding posts, and a pair of modest grilles are included. The Studio Two’s come in basic, gloss black – but again, finished to a high level of gloss, with no orange peel or surface imperfections.

Good as every individual aspect of the Gershman Studio Two speakers are, the most impressive thing about them is that they deliver such a high level of overall balance. No part of the musical performance has been compromised for another. Often times at this price point, just because of the nature of what parts and manufacturing cost – some speakers will have incredible imaging or dynamics, with bass response sacrificed. Or the other way around. Gershman has balanced everything so well, it makes for an enjoyable speaker that can play everything effortlessly.

At the risk of being too enthusiastic, the Studio Two is highly recommended and deserving of one of our Exceptional Value Awards for 2021. When we all get back to traveling to hifi shows, the Gershman room always has great sound going on. It’s even better when you bring a pair back to your room.


Digital Source dCS Vivaldi One, T+A 2500

Analog Source VAC Renaissance Phono, AVID Volvere SP/SME 309/Kiseki Purple Heart

Cable Cardas Clear

Core Power Ground Zero

Got hum in your system that you just can’t get rid of? Is it driving you nuts? Have you tried power conditioners, cheater plugs, etc.? Still there? Still mad?

Chances are, there’s some residual DC in your power. It happens. For those of you that think “well, I’ve got clean power where I live,” you don’t. Because even if you live in the middle of nowhere, chances are, there’s something in your house dumping RFI or something back into your power line, and it’s causing havoc with your system. This can be of particular annoyance if you love vintage gear or SET amps and high sensitivity speakers.

Yes, yes, and yes. When the folks at Core Power asked us to review the new Ground Zero, I knew I had a handful of problems that could put this device straight to the test. First stop, my vintage Marantz 2220B receiver. This baby is a humasaurus. It’s always fine listening to the radio, but the minute I plug in a turntable or CD player, the hum begins. The only other thing that worked was plugging the receiver into a dedicated Goal Zero (different company) 2000-watt battery supply. And that’s not going to be convenient or cost effective for everyone. We just tried it because it was here and we were at the end of our rope.

As you can see from the picture, the Ground Zero has one outlet, and a 500-watt maximum capacity. Our past experience with all power products is to keep it a little below max capacity so you don’t stress things out and limit dynamics.

Plug the Ground Zero into your outlet, and your device into the Ground Zero. Listen to your system with the volume control all the way down and adjust that control knob on the Ground Zero for minimum hum. Hopefully, it will get you all the way down to no hum. The Core Power folks have some great measurements and graphs demonstrating this performance, and if you’d like, you can see it here:

Seriously, in less time than it will take you to hook up a scope, you’ll be able to hear what the Ground Zero does. If you need more current capacity, Core Power’s Deep Core 1800 may be the droid you need, but if you’re current and device requirements are minimal, the Ground Zero will get you sorted.

Next stop, vintage tube amp. The Dynaco Stereo 70 to be exact. This is another perfect example of an amplifier that’s been lovingly restored, but still has some residual hum going on. When plugged into our Pure Audio Project speakers, or Zu Dirty Weekends, it becomes bothersome. Quickly installing the Ground Zero offers the same fix. A little twist of the control, and the hum is no more.

Finally, the Line Magnetic LM-805IA integrated. This 48 wpc SET is lovely, but even after carefully adjusting the amplifiers’ hum controls for both channels, some hum still remains. Once you know you can dial it out, you want it gone all the time, right? This worked similarly well, however at maximum volume, when the VU meters were peaking, the slightest bit of compression and flattening started to happen. As Line Magnetic does not list current draw anywhere for this amplifier, I suspect at peak power, I was approaching the limit of what the Ground Zero could handle. At modest volumes, it was just fine, and for those of you with 2A3 or 300B amps, it should be all you need. We will have to get a Deep Core in to investigate with a few bigger tube amps.

When operated within its operational limit, the Ground Zero brings no compromise to the musical signal. Like a good doctor, we want power products to do no harm to the audio waveform. Running through a long playlist of both dynamic rock and classical music, along with a number of delicate acoustic pieces, it’s clear that neither dynamics nor tonality are affected by inserting the Ground Zero.

The Ground Zero works as promised, solves the problems it was designed to address, and is reasonably priced. Right now, Underwood HiFi is offering an intro price of $399 – even better. There’s no point in buying exotic four and five figure power conditioning products for an $800 vintage component, or a budget tube amplifier. For that, we are happy to award the Ground Zero one of our Exceptional Value Awards for 2021. If you’re having this problem, you need one.

As they say at the end of the classic tune, “Hot Rod Lincoln,” that’s all there is and their ain’t no more.

$599 (intro priced at $399)