REL T/9x Subwoofer

REL, often gets tagged on social media and mentioned in other platforms for their massive six-pack arrays, which are unquestionably awesome.

However, just as some Porsche or Range Rover, potential uniformed buyers can be frightened by what these premium models cost, not realizing that their engineering expertise goes all the way back to their entry and slightly above entry models as well. You don’t have to go into hock to get great subwoofer performance from REL.

I’m happy to say I use a six-pack of their top, no.25 subs in my main system, yet to put things in perspective, I use their $449 TZero III sub in my desktop system and a six-pack of the 510s in my living room. What this has given me is an opportunity to experience most of the lineup and see just how much quality and performance has been brought to bear on their T/x series. A while back, we did a comparison review of the entire T/x series, the T/5x, T/7x, and T/9x.

This is a more in-depth review of the T9/x, which is the top of this series. Not everyone has the room, the budget, or the system to support $50k worth of subwoofers, but a hifi system is just that, a system, and it’s important to keep a handle on trying to achieve synergy between the components to achieve the maximum result within what you have to work with.

Much has been said about this elusive concept of synergy, about magical systems that deliver well beyond what one might expect for the amount of cash spent. Consider each building block of an audio system in terms of just how much music said component can reveal. Often, we see proud pictures of systems on Facebook and Instagram featuring a “jewel” component, that is well beyond the capability of the rest of the components featured. More often than not, the owner has found an incredible deal on a used piece, or a demo piece priced so much lower than they expected, so it makes perfect sense.

Machine like

I’m often asked why I compare audio systems to automobiles, and the main reason is because the most successful automobiles, if you truly enjoy the tactile pleasure of driving, are not necessarily the fastest ones, but the ones that provide the best balance. The number of people that have called the first-generation Mazda Miata a “chick car” are often flabbergasted by how fast that little car can hustle down a twisty country road, providing an engaging driving experience that many, much more expensive cars cannot.

The same thing goes for a great hifi system, no matter what the cost. If you can choose components that will work in concert with your room, and the other components, it’s possible to achieve results you may never have dreamed possible on even a limited budget. Another big part of this equation is the ability to set your system up to the absolute limit of its ability, but that’s another article.

Enter the T/9x

Another point that needs to be underscored with REL, (and another reason for the comparison between hifi and autos) is their approach of bringing flagship technology to the rest of the lineup. What they learn in their top models, always finds a way, albeit abbreviated to their entry level models.

Successful experiments in materials, topology, and cabinet construction are all in full effect here. One of the first things you might notice about the current range is the rounded cabinet corners. Harder to make, but better for acoustics. Refinements to their 300-Watt A/B amplifier and filter network all contribute to the sonics provide by the 10-inch FibreAlloy™ woofer, and 10-inch, downward facing passive.

As with REL’s other subwoofer families, there is an underlying design brief, with each model in the range going deeper with more LF extension than the model before. Where the T5/x is more of a fit for a room with a smaller volume, the T/9x moves more air, suited to a bigger room, and a main speaker that can dig a little deeper.

Setup and such

We agree with REL that if you can, consider a pair of subwoofers rather than a single, because it makes it easier to optimize the bass response in your room. Of course, if you have to start with one, by all means. While you will get more ultimate output with a pair, the major gain with two comes with the way they couple to your main speakers, providing a more effortless, more transparent blend.

Starting with our pair of Eggleston Nicos ($5,495/pair, review HERE) and the Luxman L-550AXII ($5,995, review HERE), a solitary T/9x makes an excellent match in our 13 x 15-foot room. RELs comprehensive setup guide suggests corner placement, yet in this particular room, a single subwoofer works well slightly off center. Setting up in this configuration will require slightly different settings because the room gain achieved from corner placement is diminished in the middle of the room.

Moving out to the 13 x 18-foot living room (which opens into the rest of the house) makes for a perfect dual woofer setup. As the Nicos go down fairly low, setting the T9/x crossover down fairly low works perfectly. If you are new to the REL way of doing things, they use a high-level connection, from your speaker outputs. This lets the subwoofer follow the same signal that is going to your speakers in terms of sound character, but more importantly, makes it much easier to get a seamless blend with your main speakers.

Letting the main speakers run full range, and letting their low frequency output roll off naturally makes for subwoofers that will blend perfectly with your mains, and providing more sonic cohesion – provided you take the care to set them up correctly. And blend seamlessly they did. In the slightly bigger room, the extra T/9x adds more upper bass and lower midrange body to the Nico’s presentation. The extra grunt provided on bass-heavy tracks is equally enjoyed, but again, the presence provided by these subwoofers is unmistakably good.

As with every REL-based system I’ve set up over the years, when properly set up the RELs are undetectable, until you turn them off. In addition to the lowest bass fundamentals diminishing, the front to back imaging component of the system nearly disappears. Even when listening to music that doesn’t have a ton of heavy bass. The level of depth that the REL subwoofers provide never ceases to amaze me.

In case you are wondering, the T/9x tips the scale at a mere 45.5 pounds (20.6kg), so these are subs you can move by yourself. They are available in high gloss black and high gloss white. That’s no marketing speak – when REL says “high gloss,” they mean it. There isn’t a new automobile on the market at any price that has as deep a finish as what comes standard on a REL. Cabinet size is a compact 14.5” wide, 13.4” high, and 15.5” deep. You should be able to install them nearly anywhere without issue.

That the T/9x can take advantage of REL’s Arrow wireless system, makes system integration and installation even easier. $199 gets you a transmitter and receiver, allowing you to place your T9/x’s up to 50 feet away. Setup is painless and takes less than 90 seconds to implement. We did not use the Arrow system in the context of this review, but past experience with REL wireless options on other subwoofers is fantastic.

Further listening

Tracking through the title of Carole King’s classic, Tapestry – an album not known for its LF content, reveals much more body and saturation in her voice and piano with the RELs active. Moving on to Duran Duran’s latest record, Future Past begins with some amazing bass grooves, right from the start. Those loving bass will really enjoy this, because that’s what you add subwoofers for, right? To feel that bass.

Mating the T9/x’s up with a few different speakers delivers equally good results. In addition to their power and extension, these subs are fast, dynamic, and articulate. Swapping the Eggleston out for a pair of Magnepans and some vintage Acoustat ESLs, prove they can keep up with the pace of the delicate ESL panels. I wish I would have had a pair of these 30 years ago, when my main system used Acoustat 1+1s! The Luxman amp has two pairs of speaker outputs, making it incredibly easy to hear the difference between subs in and out of the system. There’s no turning back.

Final thoughts

As mentioned, each of the three models in the /x series provide a similar voice and level of resolution. The one (or pair) you choose will depend heavily on how low your main speakers can extend, the volume of your listening room, and ultimately how loud you play music.

Moving up to the Serie S subs brings more refinement in every aspect, though at a higher cost. If you are looking for a high performance, yet compact and cost-effective way to add low frequency extension, the REL T/9x is fantastic. The T/x subwoofers are meant to be used as single subwoofers or in pairs, they can’t be expanded to six-pack array service. This may be your ultimate decision when trying to decide between a pair of T/9x’s and a single S510. If you want bang for the buck, and a minimal box compliment, the T/9x will serve you well. Higher audiophile ambitions? Maybe the S/510. Or, just put the T/9xs in another system. I can spend your money all day.

Either way, the REL T/9x is highly recommended and worthy of one of our Exceptional Value Awards for 2021.

-Photos courtesy of REL.

Legendary McIntosh Amp goes for BIG bucks!

Legendary Grateful Dead guitarist, Jerry Garcia’s MC2300 power amplifier just sold at Sotheby’s for a record $378,000.

That’s not a typo.

While Sotheby’s did not disclose the buyer, there were other parts of the Grateful Dead’s setup that also went on the auction block.

These days, you can find a nice, used 2300 in the $3,000 – $5,000 range, but finding a vintage Bud Man sticker may be tougher. Might be a good time to grab one before prices head up! These are still great amplifiers by any standard. And the heritage is unmatched.

The Parasound JC 1+ Monoblocks

Eyes closed, listening to The Allman Brothers Live at the Fillmore East, at close to concert hall levels for a few minutes (gotta watch the OSHA regs…) if someone whispered in my ear and said, “you’re listening to a six-figure pair of amplifiers,” I would believe them. The JC 1+ monos are that good, that refined, that musical.

To those not familiar with the new JC 1+, you might be a little bit freaked out at their current $17,998 a pair price (nearly double that of the old JC 1s), but you shouldn’t be. These amplifiers are worth every penny asked and then some.

To put your fears at ease, my friend and contributor Jerold O’Brien still has his pair of original JC 1s (of course he does), so it was easy to do a side-by-side comparison. Make no mistake, the originals are still fantastic, and if you’re an audiophile on a tighter budget, i.e. an $18k pair of amps isn’t in your immediate future, a used pair of originals will only set you back about $5k.

However, listening to both amplifiers side by side reveals so much improvement in every aspect, the current JC 1+ is every bit as much of a killer deal at $17,998/pair as the originals were at $8,990/pair. Rather than waste a lot of ink here, about all the minute details, click here to go to the Parasound site, where every single change and update over the previous model is listed.

It’s probably going to be tough for most of you to hear the difference between 400 Watts per channel (8-ohms) and 450, but as you can see, the entire amplifier has been re-designed. Side by side they may look nearly identical, but it’s a completely different movie under the hood. Parasound also has a 4-page PDF called “the JC 1+ development story,” that you can access while looking at what’s changed. This is an impressive account of engineering excellence – legendary designer John Curl and the Parasound team didn’t just beef up a few capacitors and double the price.

Unbox and setup

The JC 1+ amplifiers are 83 pounds each, so if you need a buddy to unbox and place, make the proper arrangements so you don’t hurt your back or the amps. No one wants to dent a brand-new piece of gear, or go to the ER.

Once unpacked, the relatively slim form factor reveals a pair of amplifiers that are aesthetically pleasing, and also unobtrusive. Our review pair came in a lovely matte black finish, though silver is also available, matching all the rest of the Parasound lineup. A peek inside reveals a very tidy layout, careful assembly, and top-quality parts.

In addition to the outstanding sonics the JC 1+’s provide, they have to be the most versatile amplifiers we’ve ever used. Sporting high quality Neutrik XLR input (and loop-output) connectors, Vampire 24k gold-plated RCA connectors and dual CHK Infinium speaker binding posts, (great for bi-wiring, or subwoofers that use line-level outs) this amplifier feels the part. There is also a provision for changing the gain from 23dB to 29dB. This is very handy if you might just be using a vintage tube preamplifier, so that you can keep it in its sweet spot. We did this later in the review, with Jerold’s ARC SP-3 and my C-J PV-11, reliving the days when we both used a tube preamplifier for the warmth and a solid-state amplifier for the drive.

Once set up in the main reference system, where I normally use a pair of Pass Labs XA200.8 monoblocks, and a pair of Sonus faber Stradivari’s, the JC 1+’s have way more than enough power. The Strads have a sensitivity rating of 92dB/1-Watt, so they barely got out of the first 25 watts, that are all class-A. If you have similarly efficient speakers (the big Focal Stella and Grande Utopias are 94 and 96dB/1-watt) you may never get too far out of the class-A range.

It’s worth noting that there is a switch on the rear panel that lets you choose high or low bias. This nearly doubles the idle power draw from 145 watts to 275 watts. (Parasound claims approximately 400 watt draw at “normal listening levels.”) I walk 12 steps to work, so what the hell, I kept the bias cranked. This isn’t as big of a difference as switching a tube amp from Ultralinear to Triode mode, but I suspect this keeps the JC 1+ in class-A mode a little longer.

Because the reference speakers at my disposal are too efficient to even get close to running the JC 1+s out of power, it was not easy to tell if running two of them from a single 15A circuit would limit anything. Parasound says they require 1500 watts each for maximum power, so dedicated lines are probably in order. As my main amplifiers run from a pair of dedicated 20A lines, that’s how I ran the JC 1+’s for the entire review.

These amplifiers do not require a lengthy break in period. They sound great out of the box and within a couple days of being left on constantly, and being run for about 14 hours a day, the change between fresh out of the box and “broken in” is only a slight improvement. And, because they are not full blown class-A amplifiers, they don’t stay in the fog for the hour most of my favorite class-A solid-state amplifiers do. They sound pretty darn good at turn on, and sound their best at about 15 minutes. This is a real benefit to those of you that don’t always have hours and hours to listen!

Big amps, big sound

Awesome as that first 25 Watts in class-A is, these amplifiers are about effortless dynamics. That’s really what a ton of power is all about. These are amplifiers that make you want to play classical music, full symphony stuff that goes from pin-drop quiet to crescendos that rattle the roof. So I spent a lot more time listening to Mahler, Shostakovich, and Bax than I normally do.

Many audio enthusiasts forget that dynamics are really that fourth dimension, and even when you are listening to music that doesn’t seem to have massive dynamic swings, you are surprised when you have an amplifier that can deliver this kind of power. Chalk this up to an enormous power supply with a 2.1kVA transformer, 198,000uF filter capacitance, and the ability to deliver 180 peak amps of current. In each amplifier.  Whether you’re listening to Mahler or Megadeth, when you really want to crank it up, the Parasounds will not let you down. Even when listening to some tracks way louder than was reasonable and prudent for way too long, (like my ears were ringing when I was done) these amplifiers are barely warm to the touch.

What’s really important here, and another facet of these upgraded amplifiers is the level of finesse that the + model offers over the originals. They both have more power than you’ll probably ever need, yet when you switch back to the original amps, it’s easier to hear the improvements that the current model brings. No disrespect to the original JC 1s, but they were great amps with a lot of power, but not quite amplifiers I’d connect to my favorite $50-$250k pair of speakers.

After using the JC 1+’s with both the Strads and the $150k/pair Focal Stella Utopia EMs, these amplifiers are worthy of any system you might want to place them in, regardless of cost. Parasound has built world-class amps for 18k. I’ve owned and reviewed a number of fantastic power amplifiers, and I could live happily ever after with these, with no regrets. As a matter of fact, I’m doing just that – the JC 1+’s are staying on as reference amplifiers. Over the past five years, there have been a couple of low-efficiency speakers where I’ve wished I’d had a little more power. The JC 1+s will fit that need perfectly.

Power is one thing, but resolution and low-level detail is another thing. Exciting as all of this power is, what separates the Parasound amplifiers from a number of high-powered amplifiers not costing as much as a new 3-series BMW is the level of resolution they offer. At high and low listening levels. More often than not, high powered solid-state amplifiers can play loud, but they can’t play soft, and it usually takes stepping up to something from Boulder, Pass, Vitus or a few other top contenders.

The JC 1+’s impress just as much when playing smaller scale music. Switching the program from full symphony and rock festival type music to string quartets, acoustic piano, and vocal heavy music is just as much of a treat. My fall back tracks are always Crowded House, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and Todd Rundgren’s Utopia. I’m sure you have yours. When listening closely, anything with layered harmonies takes on a solid, three-dimensionality that pulls you into the music intimately, helping you to forget you’re listening to a hifi system.

Many of you are big fans of recent star Billie Eilish. She’s not my cup of, but there are some great bass grooves there, as well as some great atmospherics going on in her music. “All The Good Girls go to Hell” from her debut sounds flat and monodimensional on a mediocre system. Even at low levels, the powerful, grinding bass track will place a demand on your system. Yet with the Parasound amps, this is a big track. I’m a little fonder of Anja Garbarek’s Smiling and Waving. Check out “I Won’t Hurt You.” Garbarek has a softer, smoother, dreamier, less gritty voice than Eilish, and thanks to Steven Wilson having a hand in production, a bigger overall soundscape than the former.

Moving on to some equally spacey jazz from Nils Petter Molivaer’s 2001 release, Solid Ether gives up some Miles – esque horn riffs mixed with killer drum n’ bass beats. The JC 1+s again present this music with an enormous soundstage in all three dimensions, with the bass track cemented in place. Fun.

While we don’t live and die by specs here at TONE, it’s worth mentioning that the JC 1+’s have a damping factor of 1200 at 20hz. High damping factor and high current capability means deep bass with control. On many levels the JC 1+s remind me a lot of the Burmester 911’s I used to have in my reference system – except a pair of those will set you back $75k. See where I’m going with this?

We can’t not talk about tone

So often with these top – quality amplifiers, with so much power on tap, your final decision aside from cost might come down to tonality. Every amplifier sounds different. To try and put this in perspective, the Parasound amps remind me more of Boulder (totally neutral) and Burmester or Luxman’s new 900 series power amplifier – extremely neutral/natural with a bit more tonal saturation than “just the facts.” And I’m talking a few drops here. Where my reference Pass amps are a bit warmer in tonal scale, as are the top Luxman integrateds(the class-A ones), or the Vitus SIA-25 we just reviewed, with Bryston being a bit on the slightly cold side, and the Simaudio amps a few more clicks further in that direction.

What you will prefer is up to you, however the nice thing about an amplifier being this neutral to start, it allows you to perform final voicing to your taste with the rest of the components in your system. Again, I’m merely trying to put the Parasounds in perspective to the other things I’ve used or reviewed extensively – all of the aforementioned amplifiers are excellent. However, they all cost a lot more. The JC 1+ monos are fantastic amplifiers, that still engage after a full day’s listening.

Close as it gets to having and eating your cake

While we rarely if ever throw that big “b-word” around, the Parasound JC 1+ monoblocks are pretty damn incredible, ticking all the boxes for an incredibly reasonable price. In my travels, I’ve met a number of audiophiles that have to have the most expensive components money can buy, regardless of cost. These are the people you see with $500k to sky’s the limit systems. As Jerry Seinfeld used to say, “not like there’s anything wrong with that.”

However, I have met a number of music lovers that have experienced those systems, and while equally passionate, would love a system in the $100k – $200k range offering as much of the sonic benefits that these no holds barred systems render, but with more realistic budgets. If you are someone with this priority list, and want solid-state amplification, the JC 1+ monos should be at the top of your list. I have yet to hear a pair of solid-state amplifiers that offer anywhere near this much sonic excellence and sheer power for anywhere near the asking price of these amplifiers. Should you be on the way up in your audiophile journey, assembling a mega but sensibly priced system, these could also be your first major anchor as you build that system. With this much power on tap, you certainly won’t have any limits with your speaker choices.

Finally, one other aspect of these amplifiers that rarely gets mentioned in the context of a hifi review is long term value and durability. I’ve never seen a complaint about Parasound on the internet anywhere. In a world where all the internet pundits complain about everything on a regular basis, I looked for a few days to see if anyone had any kind of problems with Parasound, either in terms of disappointment with the purchase, to lack of support, or problems with repairs. For that matter, I couldn’t find a single horror story about a Parasound product croaking, anywhere. And I have my share of horror stories about a few brands that cost 2-5x what these amplifiers do, that took months (and in one instance years) to be repaired. Parasound’s stellar reputation for build quality should weigh heavily into your matrix when thinking about dropping this kind of cash.

These are fantastic amplifiers. That’s why they are staying, making them worthy of two of our awards, the #toneaudioapproved award, and our Exceptional Value Award.

I can’t suggest these highly enough.

The Parasound JC 1+ Monoblock Amplifiers



Digital Source dCS Vivaldi ONE

Analog Source AVID Volvere SP, Rega P10

Preamplifier Pass Labs XS Pre

Phono Pass Labs XS Phono, VAC Renaissance

Speakers Sonus faber 35th Anniversary Stradivari, Focal Stella Utopia EM

Cable Cardas Clear Beyond. (power, speaker, and interconnect)

The Vitus Audio SIA-25 Integrated

Listening to John Hiatt’s Little Village collaboration, the delicacy presented is otherworldly good. The bass line in “Inside Job” is tight, controlled, defined and powerful. The treble range is equally scrumptious and the mids glorious. One might think a much more powerful set of monoblock amplifiers were at work, but it’s the compact (yet heavy) Vitus Audio SIA-25 integrated amplifier. Some might even think there were some vacuum tubes somewhere, but I assure you, there are not. This is a solid-state amplifier that transcends its topology.

Driving the Sonus faber Stradiveris which have a sensitivity of 92db/1 Watt, the SIA-25 offers up enough power to play as loud as I need to listen to music. If you have speakers in the 88db/1 Watt and up category, I suspect this amplifier will be enough for you as well. Should you be in the market for an extremely resolving audio system with a minimal box compliment, this amplifier delivers a level of refinement you’d expect to pay six-figures for. If you have power hungry speakers, a huge room, and you really like to listen loud, you’ll need a full stack of Vitus components to achieve that goal.

Yet in a medium-ish room, with somewhat efficient speakers, at realistic levels, the SIA-25 does not disappoint. It’s always worth mentioning the difference between the $75k-$100k system person and the $350k-$500k system person. Most of the people I’ve met over the years in the former category (feel free to adjust this up or down for inflation and whatever decade you like) crave the same level of performance as the latter, they just have to watch their bitcoins a little more. No shame in that. Rolex sells a lot of $4,000 Tudor watches to enthusiasts that would love a $28,000 Yacht-Master. It’s all good.

Hundreds of hours later, the affection for the SIA-25 only grows stronger. For those not familiar with Vitus Audio, the “signature” series (of which the SIA-25 is the smallest amplifier) is actually the middle of their product lineup. The Masterpiece series is bigger, heavier, more powerful and even more refined. And more expensive. If you can get by with this much power, you might even call the SIA-25 a “sweet spot” in the lineup.

The SIA-25 is a very understated amplifier, with a front panel power switch, and a symmetrical panel layout featuring six push buttons, controlling input functions and volume. This can also be controlled by a Vitus supplied remote, which we didn’t have on hand for the review. I’ve used Vitus remotes in the past and they are excellent. As a friend of mine from the UK likes to say, “You Yanks all need some extra steps.”

I was not the least bit inconvenienced by NOT having the remote. The SIA-25, like all Vitus products is finished to such a high quality level, you might just want to do the same. Walk up and touch it, stare at it. Our review sample was in the standard silver, but Vitus does offer some cool colors as an option – perhaps you’ve seen their orange amplifiers over the last couple years at hifi shows (or pictures of hifi shows…). Regardless of the color you choose, you’ll notice the level of quality in the final finish and anodizing.

Around back, there are single-ended RCA and balanced XLR inputs. All of our listening used the dCS Vivaldi ONE digital player and the Pass Labs XS Phono, both balanced. Cardas Clear Beyond interconnects along with Cardas Clear speaker cables and Cardas Clear power cords took care of the rest. Even though the SIA-25 only draws about 200 watts, it was given a dedicated 20A AC line for power – as we do with every power amplifier we evaluate.

From the beginning

Many years ago a pair of 25-Watt, Class-A monoblock amplifiers from Mark Levinson convinced me that a well-designed amplifier with a massive power supply could provide a more involving, more musical experience than many amplifiers claiming to produce a lot more power. Current delivery and headroom mean a lot when we’re talking about the dynamic, ever changing musical signal.

Confessing my bias, if we’re talking solid-state amplifiers, class A power amplifiers are still the ones I find most engaging, because of the natural, nearly tube-like presentation (with none of the drawbacks) they offer. The very first time I heard the Vitus SIA-25 it was as much of an a-ha moment, driving a pair of Peak Consult speakers at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest years ago. Some experiences you never forget.

Today, the SIA-25 still impresses. If you are someone that wants to brag to your audiophile friends about your zillion watt per channel amplifier, this is not going to be your amplifier. Yet, if you want something wonderfully musical and aren’t going to freak out over spending $26,400 on a 25-Watt per channel amplifier, party on. But don’t play catch with it.

First, the SIA-25 weighs more than a lot of hundred-something watt per channel amplifiers, at nearly 85 pounds. Inside the meticulously crafted billet aluminum chassis lurks an incredibly densely packed circuit flanked by a massive power supply – the heart of all big amplifiers. It is a fully balanced amplifier circuit. While I did not remove the top panel, I’ve seen enough pictures of the SIA-25, and have visited the Vitus factory to watch these amplifiers be built. This is not an amplifier made of fancy casework full of air. It is densely packed to be sure.
Forget all the above and listen

What matters most about the SIA-25 is how beautiful it sounds. Tracks that I’m infinitely familiar with come to life using the SIA-25 as a conduit, in a way few amplifiers at any price do. In my perfect world, as the price on gear goes up, more music is revealed. It’s that easy. Vitus amplification always passes this test.

Even doing a loose comparison with a few favorites on hand from Luxman, Pass, and Boulder integrateds (all in the $8k – $14k range), the Vitus amplifier still renders the music through a lens that is more resolving.

Granted, the Class-A design of the Vitus amplifier is ever so slightly on the warm side of the tonal scale, it is not quite as saturated as the Luxman or Pass, but more so than the Boulder, if that makes sense. The last bit of voicing will depend on your sources, cables, and speakers. What really stands out with the Vitus (and what makes it worth the higher pricetag) is this level of fluidity, and lack of electronic artifacts present when listening to any kind of music. You don’t realize how awesome a set of Michelin Pilot Cup 2s are until you drive the same car with regular Pilot Sports. Or even the difference between a budget cashmere sweater and a bespoke one.

Vocals have more tonal variation, gradation and texture. Dynamics are greater, and without overhang on leading or trailing transients. Play any tune you like, but if you have a favorite jazz album with some great drumming, listen to the way the cymbals fade into complete nothingness. Listen to your favorite guitarist play an acoustic guitar, observing the sound of their fingers sliding up the fretboard and all the artifacts that go along with that. Ditto for a great vocalist or vocal solo. Now you hear even more breathy stuff and more vocal gymnastics than before.

If you can, try some tracks that you’ve played hundreds of times. The more you listen, the more you’ll hear. It may be old, but I always go back to the title track from Michael Hedges Aerial Boundaries (if you have this on vinyl, even better) or Al DiMeola’s Friday Night in San Francisco. There are plenty of great others, yet these are burned into my memory, not only because I’ve used them to evaluate so many components, I’ve heard them both live more than once.

Another area the SIA-25 really excels in in its ability to render size and scale. Some amplifiers just sound big, others just sound small. Not all amplifiers have the ability to expand and contract with the source fed. I consider this another aspect of resolution. If you love chamber music, listen to selections that feature violin and viola together. On lesser quality playback gear, a string quartet just sounds like four of the same stringed instruments. I really enjoy Luigi Gatti’s Six Sonatas for Violin and Viola, to illustrate this. The viola, being about 20% larger than a violin and plays a bit lower, and more mellow than a violin, so this is a great test of resolution and behavior on the top end of the frequency scale.

Even if your taste in music falls to the completely electronic, I suspect you’ll get excited (or really freak out) about when the SIA-25 is in your system. First, the level of bass extension and control is incredible, and feels like a much larger amplifier. Jean-Michel Jarre’s Zoolook is usually the go to here, but his latest release, Amazonia, serves up a massive soundscape, full of guttural sounds, deep bass tracks, and plenty of signature Jarre tinkly bits all over the room. While none of this music has a “real” component to it, there is again a degree of liveliness that mega components bring to this kind of music. Again, the SIA-25 aces the test.

All of these aspects together – dynamics, resolution, tonal scale, and tonal saturation are what combine to feel like you are listening to real music and not a reproduction. Few components are capable of this level of excitement on the level that the SIA-25 is.

What else can I tell you?

To recap, the Vitus SIA-25 looks fantastic, and sounds even better. It’s level of visual, mechanical, and audible refinement are at the top of what you can expect from the world’s finest gear.

The only questions to answer is whether you want an integrated solution, and does this amplifier have enough power to suit your needs.

The Vitus SIA-25 (mfr) (NA distributor)


Analog Source AVID Volvere SP/SME 309/Lyra Etna, Rega P10/Apheta

Phono Preamp Pass XS Phono

Speakers Sonus faber Stradivari, Fink Team Kim, Dynaudio Contour 20

Cables Cardas Clear, Cardas Clear Ultra

Issue 108

Cover Story:

Luxman’s L-595ASE Integrated

And… Amplifier roundup


Old School: Altec Lansing 14’s
-By Jeff Dorgay

The Audiophile Apartment: The Pass Labs X-150.8
By Rob Johnson

1095: Gear for Just over a G

Shhhh…. Systems for low level listening

Merch Table: Relics From Rock’s Past
-By Blackie Pagano

Mine: It Should Be Yours


Playlists:  We share our readers choices from around the world

NEW!  Merch Table – cool stuff from music’s past

Review: George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass box
-By Pam Griffin

Future Tense

Gear in our immediate future

The Luxman L-590AXII

Not only did Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock’s “It Takes Two” make hip-hop history, the 1988 smash and pop-culture staple espoused a philosophy that mirrors a long-held high-end audio doctrine: Separate components (two) reign superior over their integrated brethren (one), unless the latter commands a far, far higher price tag than the comparable pieces.

From a technological angle, the tenet remains difficult to argue. Two pieces of gear, each dedicated to a primary function in the audio chain and free of the compromises that often need to be implemented to merge preamplification and amplification duties under one roof, seems, on paper at least, to carry the day. What usually goes unspoken is that the arrangement generally requires more thought put into system synergy (especially when different brands are involved) as well as more money and more space. The audiophile industry also counts on such tradition to boost demand for associated categories—cables, interconnects, racks. After all, the more equipment you have to link, the more wire you’ll require, and the more shelves you’ll need. Everything adds up, and quick.

For decades, the approach has simply been accepted and considered the price of entrance. Like many assumptions, experience supported it—and the audio press and marketplace dutifully reinforced it. By and large, two (or, for everyone running dedicated mono amps, three) boxes offered a higher magnitude of sonic enticement than one-box affairs. But, in the words of Bob Dylan, times have changed.

Fueled by leaps in technology, the practicality of high-resolution streaming, and the limitations associated with small living spaces, listeners increasingly appear bent on simplifying their setup without sacrificing on sound. Akin to dialing up practically any album on your phone and wirelessly sending it in better-than-CD quality to your hi-fi, the prospect of marrying such accessible convenience with seductive fidelity faced myriad roadblocks not so long ago. As evidenced by the Luxman L-590AXII integrated amplifier—a model whose predecessor, L-590AX, TONE publisher Jeff Dorgay cites as one of the five of the thousands of audio products that have crossed his doorstep that he wishes he never let get away—those blockades have been eradicated.

They Still Make ‘Em Like They Used to Do

The co-flagship of the five integrated models in the manufacturer’s line, L-590AXII broadcasts its signature calling card by way of two amber VU meters—a color designation the brand reserves for high-current Class A designs. Whether you’re new to high-end audio or a dyed-in-the-wool aficionado, Class A remains the summit to which amplification technologies aspire. As with nearly every choice in life, the approach touts advantages and disadvantages. When it comes to next-to-zero distortion, even-order harmonics, and linearity, Class A rules with an iron fist. The drawbacks: Some designs run extremely hot and many tout efficiency on par with the gallons-per-mile consumption of a 1967 Lincoln Continental. Plus, Class A tends to translate into a higher price tag due to expenses associated with production.

At $9,495, the Japanese-made L-590AXII doesn’t come cheap. Yet even before you begin counting the dollars you’ll save on extra cables, the value proposition of L-590AXII becomes clear the moment you open its shipping carton. Ready to withstand the in-transit abuses thrown its way by UPS or FedEx, the 62.6-pound unit arrives triple-boxed. Unpacking it bestows the sensation of uncovering a series of Matryoshka dolls. Once you unwrap the protective padding from the amplifier, the stalwart construction of L-590AXII manifests itself. The old adage “you get what you pay for” transforms into “you get what you pay for, and then some more.”

Furnished with gorgeous steel and aluminum casework that extends to its bead-blasted, clear anodized finish and screw-free exterior, L-590AXII lures eyeballs with a thick top plate complete with a pair of vents for heat dissipation. The front panel continues the visual feast. The attractive VU meters, extremely responsive in operation, center an array that finds an input selector on the left and volume knob on the right. Riding above the bottom edge: A power button, small monitor button, six more selector dials, two more small buttons, and a headphone jack. In standby mode, a faint honey-colored indicator glows between the meters. When active, a powder-blue light blushes above the Operation button, an orange LED signifies the chosen input, and the meters prepare to dance. Consider the effect stately, not showy.

If you’re a hands-on type of person, know that it’s impossible to overstate the tactile feel of the silver-matted controls. They convey a confidence, prestige, and durability you only get from handmade craftsmanship and the implementation of premium-grade materials. Ironically, L-590AXII’s metal remote boasts similar solidity, But even it cannot replicate the sensation engendered by the panel. The differences go beyond the fact L-590AXII trades in metal rather than plastic or composite. They point to a faculty of command, pride, and authority, as well as the privilege of piloting a purpose-based component engineered for longevity and devoted to virtuosity.

Gumby-Like Flexibility

The guts of L-590AXII subscribe to the same vision. The integrated shares much of the tech instilled in Luxman separates, not the least of which pertains to version 4.0 of the company’s Only Distortion Negative Feedback (ONDF) circuit, a LECUA1000 computerized attenuator, and a discrete buffer circuit. In another nod to L-590AXII’s worth, all three also grace C-900u, the manufacturer’s $15,000 flagship preamplifier. And each involves complexities that underline Luxman’s pursuit of purity and naturalism.

In short, ONDF benefits from a fast slew rate, three-parallel push-pull structure with three-stage Darlington, and the advantages of an open-loop circuit—sans the latter’s instability and distortion. Short for Luxman Electrically Controlled Ultimate Attenuator, the LECUA1000 utilizes an 88-step amplifier circuit and three-dimensional layout that permits the substrates to be placed in a manner that minimizes all routes—and fosters resistance to external vibration. As for the buffer, it comes mounted on preamplifier circuit output stage to preserve signal integrity and enhance the power amplifier section’s drive.

Also on board: A high-inertia power supply circuit with a high-regulation large-capacity power transformer and big block capacitor of 80,000μF independently arrayed for instantaneous power and stability; a low-resistance speaker relay in which two contacts are connected in parallel, an order that leads to a damping factor of 320 (versus its predecessor’s 240) for remarkably vibrant music reproduction; and OFC wire, beeline construction, a loop-less chassis, and gradation cast-iron insulator legs.

Functionally, L-590AXII doubles as the equivalent of a five-tool Major League Baseball star. Four pairs of line-level RCA inputs, two pairs of balanced XLR inputs, tape/record jacks, and preamplifier out and main input jacks—allowing L-590AXII to serve as a standalone preamplifier or amplifier, should you choose to do so now or later—augment four pairs of Emuden speaker binding posts. Oh, and yes, a top-notch MM/MC phono input resides here too, as well as phonostage bonuses such as a subsonic filter and mono button, furthering L-590AXII as a jack of nearly all trades. The only implement missing from L-590AXII’s toolbox? A built-in DAC. Given everything else the integrated promises, and how it makes good on those pledges, it’s a moot point.

The versatility extends to the features anathema to many audiophiles: tone controls. Those of a certain age will remember graphic equalizers that in the 1980s were as ubiquitous as the power conditioners of the current era. Cut from a related cloth but superior in that they present no damage or manipulation to the signal, Luxman’s bass and treble controls offer the opportunity to finitely tailor recordings lacking in certain areas or fine-tune your overall setup. Akin to the attenuators found on many JBL loudspeakers, they can come in handy and beg the question of why a majority of high-end gear shuns their existence. Since no room sounds exactly like another, you can’t go wrong by at least experimenting. Or, you can just leave them alone.

It Can Handle the Truth

From a specifications perspective, when taking into account its rated 30Wpc output into eight ohms (60Wpc into four ohms), the appeal of L-590AXII appears to dim. Many listeners in the market for an amplifier key in on one figure and one figure alone: watts per channel. It’s understandable. Over time, manufacturers have groomed audiophiles to associate herculean output numbers not only with fidelity, but necessity. L-590AXII, and other likeminded Class A products, tosses such logic out into the alley. A caveat: Should you own less-efficient speakers (say, anything below 88dB sensitivity, with 90dB a preferred cutoff), consider instead one of Luxman’s Class AB models, like the 120Wpc L-509X, previously reviewed in TONE.

But, if your speakers don’t require a miniature power plant, L-590AXII stands to school you in how engaging, powerful, robust, gorgeous, and dynamic 30Wpc can sound (and feel). Using it to drive a pair of Klipsch Cornwall IV towers (102dB sensitivity rating)—and matching it with a Feickert Woodpecker turntable with Ortofon Cadenza Bronze cartridge, dCS Bartok DAC, and Oppo BDP-105 universal player—proves positively electric.

Out of the box, L-590AXII performs ably. Once it registers 200-300 hours of break-in time, it finds another gear. And while touching the top of the unit after hours of operation might mirror the wisdom of Flick sticking his tongue to a frozen flagpole in A Christmas Story, L-590AXII runs warm, not broiling, thankfully avoiding the face-melting heat generated by many of its ilk. Also, while some audiophiles may opt to leave L-590AXII powered on for days on end, it reaches top speed from standby in only about 20 minutes. Translation: Be green, save on your utility bill, and shut it down when you’re done.

By the same token, plan on extended listening sessions. L-590AXII renders program material with ravishing degrees of spaciousness and body. It may not have a single tube inside, yet it plays with the corresponding warmth, body, and sweetness of its valve brethren—and without the latter’s regular hassle and finicky disposition. Machines lack emotions, but that doesn’t mean they cannot impart emotionalism to art, exactly what happens every occasion L-590AXII processes a signal. If your preferences lean towards fullness, naturalism, and roundness, and you can stand to sacrifice a hint of clinical precision and forceful slam for beguiling tonality and involving personality, L-590AXII walks your talk.

The Luxman also knows control. Challenged with a complex piece or invited to untangle knots of information, it does so without blinking. Its trademark faculties—nuance, detail, depth, weight, grip, taut bass, punchy mids, resolved highs—hold tight. Whether tested with Lana Del Ray, Bob Marley, Staple Singers, Beyonce, Judas Priest, Allen Toussaint, Accept, Leonard Bernstein, Andrew Bird, Megan Thee Stallion, Missy Elliott, Outkast, Cheap Trick, Eric Clapton, Charley Pride, Bob Mould, or Bob Dylan, L-590AXII possesses an uncanny knack for presenting the air and space around  instruments and vocals—to the extent they exist on the actual recording. L-590AXII knows where things go, assembles multi-dimensional soundstages, and helps makes music reflect live properties. The results beckon you to experience more of the recording, more of the producer’s and artist’s aims. Want truth and perspective? Come and get it.

Just as impressively, L-590AXII never sounds forced or dry. It handles graceful, delicate passages as masterfully as those prone to explosive swings or Marshall-stack potency. Fast and nimble, rich and fluid, L-590AXII conjures an overused audiophile term—effortlessness—by way of its top-shelf-whiskey smoothness and mediation-like ease. Speaking of the latter, L-590AXII’s fanciest magic arguably relates to how loud it can go without any hint of strain, harshness, glare, or distortion.

While the Cornwall IVs play a major role in the equation and harbor ridiculous power-handling abilities, L-590AXII seemingly knows no decibel boundaries. Importantly, the combination doesn’t just do loudness for loudness’ sake. Besides, achieving such a goal isn’t tremendously hard but will sound horribly unpleasant. Instead, the difficulty for any hi-fi lies in playing at booming volumes where the clarity never suffers, where the volume doesn’t ever seem deafening, and where cranking it up edges you closer, closer, and closer still to the kind of system—big, involving, transparent, crisp, vivid, sonorous, direct, in-your-chest present—you dream of encountering at a rock concert.

Built to perfectionist-minded standards and wearing a badge that in the United States still lacks the household recognition of other luxury brands—meaning you both benefit from not paying an extra premium just for a nameplate and leverage the audio expertise of a company with a 95-year history, with its first integrated dating to 1961—L-590AXII can take you there. And rest assured you’ll still have plenty of road to travel on that volume knob, which you might never twist past the two o’clock position. If the prospect of such excitement, enlightenment, fun, and involvement doesn’t grab you, you should probably find a new hobby.

Luxman L-590AXII

MSRP: $9.495


Analog Dr. Feickert Woodpecker turntable with Jelco tonearm and Ortofon Cadenze Bronze cartridge

Digital dCS Bartok DAC and Oppo BDP-105 universal player

Speakers Klipsch Cornwall IV

Cabling Shunyata Delta interconnects and power cables

Power Shunyata Hydra Delta

Additional listening – Rob Johnson

While I love my reference tube amp, preamp, and phonostage, I prefer to savor them at those times when I’m sitting down and actively listening to music. To me, there’s just no sense in burning through expensive or NOS tubes for background music while I’m working. Therefore, the idea of a solid-state integrated amp, complete with a phonostage and headphone amp, offers an incredibly appealing proposition.

After spending time at local Luxman dealer, Pearl Audio, listening to the L-590AX MkII – and borrowing one owned by a good friend to audition at home – I was smitten with it. I purchased one too. Not only is the build quality and finish superb, but its smooth and beguiling sound is also perfect for all-day, fatigue-free enjoyment. While I initially worried about a 60 watt-per-channel (4 ohms) Luxman providing enough juice for my GamuT RS3i speakers, that concern faded quickly after a few minutes of playback.

Yes, my reference tube components do exceed the Luxman’s prowess in some ways. At more than double the L-590AX’s price, they better! However, those nitpicky quibbles do not leave me longing for “more” while listening to the L-AX590 MkII. I’ve found the Luxman’s exceptional sound and versatility place it among my favorite audio components ever. It’s perfect for those seeking to simplify their audio systems without compromising sonics. Just add the analog or digital music sources of your choosing, sit back, and enjoy.

Today, there are many great-sounding pieces of gear built by relatively new companies. However, I’ve had experiences where more exotic equipment I’ve owned failed for one reason or another. With electronics, it just happens sometimes. But, in a couple of cases, it took months for the manufacturer to complete my repairs. The hallmark of a renowned brand like Luxman is not just in its ability to design and build marvelous components, but its customer service should a problem arise. Given Luxman’s legacy of 90 years in business, I know I’m in good hands.

More Additional listening – Jeff Dorgay

The most rewarding part of this job is when A: people actually listen to what I have to say, and B: when the advice proves excellent and the end user is happy with the results. Then, I have done my job correctly.

Bob Gendron and I had many conversations about him wanting to streamline his hifi system, yet not lose any performance. I tried to convince him that going to the L-590AXII would actually be a step up from what he was currently using. A tall order to be sure. “Are you sure, are you absolutely sure?” Man, we had about 20 of these conversations. I was starting to feel like Yoda arguing with Luke Skywalker in a swamp. I told Bob the same thing I’ve told countless (now) Luxman owners – the (last generation) L-590AXI was an amplifier that I’ve always regretted selling. A lot like my 87 Porsche 944 Turbo. The level of performance and style is off the chart for the price asked.

On phone call number 21, I drew the line in the sand. I told Bob that if he didn’t LOVE the 590AXII, I would buy it back from him and pay the shipping. “It’s really that good?” Yes it is. Needless to say, you’ve read his copy and he’s still thrilled with the amp. Now that Rob Johnson and his friend (along with about 6 other TONE readers since) all have 590s, it’s time for me to get another one.

As for Rob, the phone call started with a suggestion for a good friend of his. We had a similar line of conversation, but as I didn’t know if I’d be buying Bob’s 590, I couldn’t make the same money back guarantee on this one. Fortunately, his friend was equally smitten, which led to his loaning it to Rob for a weekend and convincing him in a similar manner.

The L-590AXII is one of those rare components that offers performance way beyond the sum of its parts. If you sat at a chair blindfolded and someone told you were listening to $40k worth of separates, you’d believe them – and that’s not just me using the force on you. I’ve reviewed the flagship Luxman pieces, and while they offer more power and more ultimate resolution, the 900 series amplifier only plays in class-A mode to about 12 watts per channel. At modest volume, with my Sonus faber Stradiveris, which are fairly efficient (92dB/1-watt sensitivity) it’s tough to hear the difference. Of course if you want the flexibility of separates, and need the power, you’ll need the separates.

Personally, much as I love everything else about the 590, I really love the phono section, (and the tone controls!) especially with a Denon 103r cartridge. The level of performance is incredible – it’s dynamic, quiet, and resolving. One less set of interconnects and power cord less to buy, and unless you are in the $5k-$10k cartridge club, you may find this is all the phonostage you ever need.

In the end what truly makes the Luxman L-590AXII an incredible product, and one of the few pieces of gear that I’ve talked more friends into buying than almost anything else is the level of balance it offers. Much like a sports car, if you have more stop than go, or more go than handling, or more performance than reliability, the exercise fails. The Luxman L-590II takes the systematic approach to perfection. No one section of this amplifier leaves performance on the table at the expense of the other. And, together, this amplifier gives those of you wanting a money no object, mega performance system on a reasonable budget a bigger helping of that than anything I’ve yet encountered, especially if you want on-board phono instead of DAC.

The Luxman L-590AXII is not just an Exceptional Value, it is one of the best values in high end audio in my book. #toneaudioapproved.