REL Classic 98 Subwoofer

REL has achieved a well-deserved reputation for making some of the (if not the) world’s highest performing subwoofers. Whether you have a single, pair or a six-pack, you can count on REL to deliver solid, defined bass response with prodigious output, mating invisibly with the main speakers. Considering how much speakers have evolved over the years, few can even make this claim, yet deliver the performance to back it up. Bass response is like any other aspect of audio – we all have our preferences.

Whether you want to use a subwoofer with a vintage pair of speakers, or just prefer your sub to deliver a bit more tonal saturation in the upper mid bass, the fastest, most transparent subwoofer may not make for the combination you desire. Putting a set of Michelin Cup 2’s on your vintage sports car will yield the same results – that much grip is not always the best thing. Enter the Classic 98. With its down firing 10-inch woofer in the tradition of earlier REL subs and walnut finish, it is the perfect sonic as well as aesthetic companion for your favorite classic speakers, British mini monitors, or even a set of high-sensitivity single (or coaxial) driver speakers. I did some serious listening with a number of different speakers to confirm this. And a big thanks to Kevin Deal of Upscale Audio for sending a PrimaLuna EVO 100 integrated amp and a pair of Tannoys to round out the picture.

REL’s John Hunter shares my love of slightly vintage/current classic audio, and we both have way too much of this gear in our respective collections, which have only grown over the last few years of semi-confinement. However, when it comes to older speakers like his KEF Ref 101s or original Wilson Watts, my Acoustats and original JBL-L100s, the fast, tight bass of a modern subwoofer doesn’t quite integrate as it should. Enter the Classic 98.

Tasteful modifications and improvements

While high performance rubber may upset the balance of your semi vintage car or motorcycle, there is always a level of tasteful, subtle modifications that can yield a vehicle outperforming the original enough to be more engaging, yet does not defy the character of the initial design brief, or upset the balance so much that you spend a ton of money and lose your way. Ask me how I know this.

Hunter tells me that they laid down the initial priorities to build a “new old stock REL of his dreams, that is just vintage enough in sound and styling – a little softer and more romantic (but still with the room filling bass you expect from REL) than current models.” Though he still has a REL Strata III on hand for reference, it didn’t quite keep pace with his memories. When placed into a semi vintage system, the Strata III was a bit too warm.

REL has adapted the look of their first subwoofers, with a luxurious satin walnut finish to a contemporary size. If you recall, the original Stratas were big boxes. The Classic 98 uses a hot pressed paper coned, 10-inch driver with a cotton center cap. It looks very vintage when you flip the Classic 98 over, but Hunter is quick to mention, “We know a lot more about paper than we did 25 years ago. The result is purer and more refined, retaining some of the rounder, gentler qualities of that era, yet steers clear of being dark and muddy.”

As you unpack the Classic 98, its build quality is instantly apparent. The cabinets are finished in a lovely matte finish and compliment the Tannoy’s perfectly. Good as all the combinations were, these tiny Tannoys and the Classic 98 are as good as it gets together. 40 watts per channel of tube power is all you need to enjoy this system.

When you find the optimum position for your Classic 98 and have the initial settings where you want them, have a friend dial the level control all the way down, play your favorite bass heavy track, and slowly bring the level up. Go back and forth, over and under the sweet spot until you have it where the subwoofer is no longer feeling like a separate speaker element. Experiment with the crossover frequency set slightly lower than you might think, with the gain slightly higher, and repeat the process to perfection. Then sit back and rock on.

When it’s right, you get more low frequency energy, but the sub calls no attention to itself. Try the opening of Rickie Lee Jones’ “Easy Money,” (from her self-titled album) and the opening of Bachman Turner Overdrive’s “Not Fragile” (from Not Fragile).

The players

Five speakers were auditioned with the Classic 98, all with fantastic results. The Heretic A612, Tannoy Prestige Autograph Minis and Harbeth Compact 7 were excellent modern speakers with a more vintage feel. A pair of original, mint JBL L-100s, Acoustat 2+2s were the vintage contingent. All five of these speakers have a slightly soft, warm bass response. Think more like the sound of a Dynaco Stereo 70 instead of an Audio Research REF 80S. Inviting and pleasant, even if not the last word in resolution.

Power was provided by the PrimaLuna EVO 100 integrated amplifier (40 wpc/EL-34 tubes) for most of the listening, with the First Watt SIT-3 (20 wpc/solid-state) an alternate choice. The dCS Vivaldi ONE provided music to the test setup, with the Pass Labs XS PRE combined with the First Watt as it is a power amplifier only.  All cable for this system was the latest Studio ONE from Audience.

To stay in the period groove, I didn’t listen to any of the usual techno or hip hop tracks I usually listen to when evaluating modern subwoofers. It was 60s, 70s and early 80s rock all the way. The completely groovy bass line in the Cowsills “The Rain, The Park, And Other Things” takes on a new dimension, filling in with the extra weight that the vintage speakers always needed. Next up, Dark Side of The Moon. Smiley face EQ-d MoFi vinyl no less. Get over it, it is fantastic.

All of the speakers in the test lineup required different settings, easily adjusted. Like all RELs, the Classic 98 has rear mounted controls for level, crossover, and LFE (should you have them in a surround setup but ignored here) connected by a speakon connector to your amplifiers speaker outputs. Of course, you can use line-level preamplifier outputs, but the results will not be quite as good, especially in terms of subwoofer to main speaker integration.

With a pair of vintage, or vintage-ish speakers as mains, adding the Classic 98 gives them the extra grunt they all need, without calling any attention to itself. I took Hunters’ advice, poured a bit of whisky, leaned back in the Eames Lounge, and played records all night. Even though my main speakers were right there, dormant with the REL six pack they are connected to, I never really had the urge to fire up the big system. This combination made for a great evening, and the total system cost was well below $10k. Even with more current music. With the Classic 98, you can create a magical, musically engaging system that’s so much fun, you might even forgo something more resolving. This is audio comfort food at its absolute best.

You didn’t know you need it but you do

The REL Classic 98 might just be the ultimate audiophile guilty pleasure. At $1,398 it embodies the same high level of quality that every other REL I’ve owned or used is famous for. Much as I’d like to tell you I bought the review sample, I couldn’t – they don’t have inventory yet! However, by the time this review is live you and I should be able to put our hands on one of these. Run don’t walk. I often suggest getting a pair of RELs (or a six pack), and the same applies here, but you can certainly have fun with a single Classic 98 to start. The downward facing driver makes for a bit more omnidirectional delivery, less critical of placement, and fits in with the tasteful presentation.

Aside from this being a product that completely hits the mark, I really enjoy that this was a labor of love project for John Hunter. It’s perfectly executed, yet affordable and approachable. This is something the high end needs more of. Hunter closes our conversation stating, “The Classic 98 is a chance to revisit REL’s rich heritage. We strove to remain true to Richard Lord’s basic principles and styling. We restrained ourselves from simply building a modern REL in a walnut cabinet.”

To his point, they have succeeded – to perfection.

Please click here to visit the REL site.

The REL Classic 98 Subwoofer

It may look retro, but rest assured the new Classic 98 from REL delivers the goods. This is a unique sonic tool, geared more towards listeners that enjoy vintage/classic speakers, with a slightly warmer low-frequency response, or perhaps a British monitor, with some of the same. Ever hear Harbeth owners complain that you can’t mate a sub with them? Now you can.

But let’s stay in the vintage groove for now. We’ll release the full review later today, but suffice to say that if you’ve got a pair of speakers from the 60s to the early 90s that you are really fond of, but would enjoy a bit more extended bass response while keeping in character, this is the droid you want. With a downward-firing, paper coned 10-inch driver and 300 watt amplifier, it’s still a REL, but subtly tuned for the application.

REL’s John Hunter has created a masterpiece that is voiced to be ever so slightly more tonal saturated and robust in the mid-bass, and a bit softer on the bottom of the LF register, but not soggy and slow like the subwoofers of that era were. It’s a perfect fit for a lot of classic speakers, and one we recommend highly.

YG Acoustics Cairn Speakers

Listening to the expansive sound field created by the tiny YG Cairns, with a pair of 8-foot tall electrostatic speakers in the background is really impressive, but not surprising.

The opening of Tears For Fears “Woman in Chains” is big and broad – paying homage to some of the best studio craft the 80s had to offer, with stuff panning around everywhere. Switching to Lou Reed’s “Vanishing Act” is equally exciting, with his voice and solo piano sounding larger than life. It’s almost hard to belive that all this music is coming from a pair of diminutive (14.6 x 7.6 x 10.3″) monitors on 24” tall stands.

I had the good fortune to visit the YG factory in Colorado at the beginning of April, to experience the entire Peaks line of speakers. In their purpose-built room, everything on display not only sounded incredible, but clearly illustrated where the increases in performance occur between the entry level Cairn and the top of the range Summit at $25,000/pair.

Duncan Taylor and Steve Huntley were even kind enough to put up with my quirky musical tastes, but that made it very easy to get a quick read on what their speakers can accomplish. If you only remember YG for their exquisitely machined aluminum enclosures, the new Peaks have wooden cabinets, that retain the thick, inert aluminum front face. Though the precision machined waveguide for the tweeter in the Peaks series is quite different than the reference series, the look makes them instantly recognizable as a YG.

Taking care of business

Listening to the Cairns in my 24 x 36-foot room, which is at least similar in volume, provides equally engaging results. While Taylor is a master set up person, even just plopping them in my room for an initial listen is still excellent. The wave guide giving the patented YG ForgeCore tweeter a wide dispersion pattern, not only helps to make these speakers easy to set up, they provide a large enough sweet spot that everyone can enjoy the music. As with any great hifi speaker, the best seat will always be right in the middle, but the Cairns deliver an expansive enough experience that they sound great off axis, and even sitting on the floor as a casual observer/listener.

In the big room, final placement ends up being about ten feet apart and about four feet out from the rear wall, with about 7 feet on each side. This makes for an incredibly open sound, and even in this size room, the amount of LF energy these small (6”) woofers can generate is truly impressive.

Speaking of stands, the machined 24” tall aluminum stands that will put the Cairn tweeters at the perfect height will set you back another $1,500 – but they are worth every cent. Machined at the same level of the rest of the YG lineup, they include small dimples on the speaker platforms, so you never need worry about a perfect speaker/stand interface. And you never need to worry about bumping them out of alignment. This is the only quandary with the Cairn, do you spend $10k for speaker and stand, or go all out and invest $14,200 in a pair of Talus floorstanders, taking up about the same amount of space? Great as the Cairns are, someone with little ones might just want to get the floorstanders.  

(Lack of) sonic signature

The original YG speakers were billed as the “world’s greatest speakers,” and to be fair, they were indeed very good, but a bit on the overly analytical/harsh/fatiguing side. We enjoyed their stay, but they were only lovely on your best recordings. Everything else felt over-caffinated. (or something a little less legal, if you know what I mean) So much time and effort have been put into all of the current YG speakers, forget everything you remember about the past.

The result is a speaker that is both highly resolving, yet not fatiguing. Tonally, they are extremely natural, so you can leave the final system voicing to your taste. While the Cairns sound different with tube amplifiers than they do with solid-state, both are pleasing, and it’s up to you to decide the ultimate flavor of your audible experience. You don’t notice immediately just how uncolored these speakers are until you go back to something else. And then it hits you.

YG does not mention the Cairns crossover frequency, but the sheer seamlessness between the woofer and tweeter is pure success. There’s no beaming, cutoff, or the sense that you are listening to a separate woofer and tweeter. Tracking through numerous female and male vocalists is enjoyable, without anomalies of any kind. Stringed instruments sound correct – as well as violins and pianos, my favorite torture tests.

Final voice is up to you

Trying the Cairns with everything from a 8-Watt/channel SET amplifier (The ampsandsound Black Pearl, with WE 300B tubes) up to the mighty Pass XA200.8 monoblocks is a fruitful endeavor. Thanks to an unobtrusive crossover network, these 86db/1-Watt speakers sound absolutely engaging, even with the 8 Watts per channel the Black Pearl has to offer. At least to a certain volume level.

While 8 Watts per channel is somewhat shy, 30-50 will serve you well in all but the largest rooms. The PrimaLuna EVO 400 power amplifier in stereo mode with EL34s delivers a warm, yet resolving groove. Substituting KT150s offers more mid to top end snap. The versatility that the YGs offer is so much sheer fun, you might get lost in the experimentation! And isn’t hifi supposed to be fun? Even with warmer tube amplifiers, the sheer resolution that the Cairns provide allow you to re-examine your music collection. The only danger with the big Pass amplifiers was watching the volume control when listening to music of a more electronic or hip-hop groove. A six-inch woofer can only move in and out so far. And the Cairn exhibits so much raw ability, it’s tempting to keep twisting the volume control.(and damage the woofers)

YG has promised to send us their Descent subwoofer from the Peaks lineup for a second listen with the Cairn, but for now, bringing a REL Carbon Special into the mix, confirms how much a topnotch subwoofer can flesh out the sound of these incredible speakers. Thanks to the dynamic, punchy nature of the Cairns, the last bit of LF reinforcement from a sub expands their already large soundfield.

Editors note: since we originally published this review, YG has sent us their matching Descent subwoofer and it’s the perfect match. We’ll have a full review very soon.

The details

From a performance standpoint, the YG Cairn speakers are a true bargain. Closer examination reveals an attention to detail usually reserved for Formula 1 cars. The sophistication of their machine shop where the aluminum cabinet parts, the woofer cones and other parts are an exercise in top level design and implementation.

The YG team doesn’t miss a single thing. Even the binding posts are shipped with threaded protectors to keep the posts from being snapped off in shipping. Ask me how many times this has happened over the 20 years of TONE reviews? What a considerate thing to do.

As an admitted technology geek, I pretty much freaked out at how attentive YG is to every single aspect of their design and manufacturing. Company principal Dr. Matthew Webster is a Stephen Hawking smart kind of guy and told me about how much time and money they spent on Amazon’s supercomputing network to not only optimize speaker design, but modeling how their speakers would work in every possible environment with different components. This level of engineering just isn’t done in audio. It’s a wonderful thing when the technology serves the music like this.

Raw tech just for tech’s sake isn’t worth diddly if it doesn’t work. The YG speakers succeed on every level and are one of the easiest to set up and integrate into a wide range of cables and components I’ve yet experienced. That’s worth a lot, especially to those entering the realm of high-end audio, as their capability for some of the fussiness that seasoned audiophiles take for granted hasn’t developed yet.

The YG Cairns offer an exceptional amount of performance for the most demanding music enthusiast, and so we are more than happy to award them an Exceptional Value Award for 2023. These speakers are the most thought-out product I’ve had the chance of using, ever.

Please click here for more info on the YG site…


Preamplifier Pass XS Pre

Phono Stage                            Pass XP-27, Nagra Classic, Backert Labs Rhumba 1.1

Analog Source                        SME 20 w/Hana Umami Red

Digital Source                         dCS Vivaldi ONE

Cable                                       Cardas Clear

The Peak Consult Sinfonia Speakers

Listening to Kraftwerk’s “Boing Boom Tschak” through the Peak Consult Sinfonias has so much information in all three dimensions, it’s almost psychedelic. Tracking all the way through the Techno Pop album is almost too much fun. The sonic field created by these speakers is so enormous, you might think you were listening to a pair of big Sound Lab ESLs or MartinLogan CLX’s. However, the punchy bass convinces you these are no panels. Peak Consult has always had a way with sound.

The picture you see above is interesting because about 15 years ago we reviewed the Peak Consult Princess speakers and loved the engaging sound of these compact floor standing speakers. At the time, they had an MSRP of about $15,000/pair and were worth every penny. If you’ve ever seen a pair of Peak Consult speakers, you know that the build quality is incredible and even the small Princesses weighed over 100 pounds each. To say that these artisan-built cabinets are inert is an understatement. The Sinfonias you see here are $55,000/pair, and weigh 165lb. (75kg) each.

In my forgetful way, I neglected to send the accessory package back, containing a cleaning cloth, some cleaner for the leather surfaces, and a bottle of oil for the wood surfaces. When I called the late Chris Sommovigo, who at that time was the Peak importer, he said, “Just keep it, we’ll be sending you another pair for review shortly.” As fate would have it, that did not happen, and the Sinfonias were a welcome site, their large crates arriving practically the day I decided to tear all the walls down in my listening room. So, they stayed hidden in the garage, with my Mini pushed back to within a few millimeters of the crates as a bit of extra “security.”  

Fortunately, all went smoothly, the walls came down, and the Sinfonias are now strutting their stuff in a 24 x 36-foot room. Initial setup attempts where past speakers sounded good yielded a slight upper bass bump, so after several different placements, they worked magnificently about three more feet into the room than before (which would not have been possible in the old room) and also on the long wall, with nearly 12 feet on each side of the speakers. While I realize not everyone will have this option, it is glorious.

Taking care of business

Because the Sinfonias have substantial low bass output, these are not speakers that can be casually placed in the room, and because they also deliver high resolution, it is to your advantage to take the time to carefully place them. First setting up for proper bass optimization and coupling to the room is key. Then, a bit of experimentation with rake and toe-in to get just the right amount of high-end sparkle takes them the rest of the way. These 172-pound (each) speakers are remarkably easy to remove from their shipping crates and thanks to some Teflon pucks on hand, easy to move into place singlehandedly.

Peak’s soft dome tweeter is smooth, yet resolving (I admit a bias for the sound of soft dome tweeters, so take that for what it’s worth) and the level of coherence provided is definitely reminiscent of a full range design. This is a true testament to the meticulous crossover network inside, which crosses to the midrange driver at 3,100 Hz and then again to the woofer at 450 Hz. This rear ported design claims to be 3dB down at 25 Hz on the bottom and 30 kHz up on top. While we don’t do specific measurements, playing a series of test tones reveals only slightly diminished output going from 30 to 25 Hz, but then dropping substantially from 25 to 20 Hz. But that’s what REL six packs are for…

Even the most dedicated bassheads will be more than happy with the low frequency performance of the Sinfonia. The biggest difference between these and my last reference speakers, the Sonus faber Stradivari’s’ is the quality of the LF output and an equally natural, yet more resolving midband. Listening to a wide range of tracks with serious energy in the lowest part of the frequency spectrum is very rewarding.

The opening track of Joni Mitchell’s Don Juan’s Restless Daughter features some incredibly low bass notes played by Jaco Pastorius, that are tough to capture on vinyl, but absolutely growl when played back from a 24/192 digital file. It starts at 1:45 in, and these riffs punctuate the track. While the single woofers in each Sinfonia cabinet can not produce the sheer output of my six pack of REL no.25 subwoofers, what’s most important is that the definition and quality provided is incredibly close. Precious few speakers at any price can deliver this.

It’s about the cabinet

So much has been carefully optimized in terms of driver and crossover design, yet the cabinet is a huge part of the equation. Chatting with Wilfried Ehrenholz, the principal at Peak Consult, he makes it a point to discuss the complexity of the Sinfonia’s enclosure, which features a 45mm thick (almost 2-inches) front baffle and a cabinet made up of multiple materials, bound together with a special flexible adhesive. These layers work together to absorb the unwanted resonant energy instead of clouding the sonic presentation. “Like in two different restaurants, using the same ingredients, one meal is fantastic, and one is average. The design team on the Sinfonia has a combined experience of nearly 80 years in the speaker business – that makes the difference.”

He goes on further about the cabinets to emphasize that they are made entirely in-house. “You can not go to a cabinet supplier to get all the crazy custom work we have done to these cabinets. It must be done in-house.”

For those of you not familiar, Ehrenholz is the former CEO of Dynaudio, recently out of retirement to work with Peak Consult. Karl-Heinz Fink (of Fink Team) has been enlisted to work on the crossover design and perform all the measurements. Ehrenholz goes on to comment, “we are very efficient in our design process. Karl-Heinz has very sophisticated measuring equipment and knows exactly what he’s doing, so before we start, he’s measuring drivers. By the time we start listening, we’re already about 70% of the way there.”

In addition to the cabinet, the Sinfonias (like all PC speakers are coupled to the floor by “Serenity bars.” These stainless steel footers at the bottom of the enclosure have screw in steel pods with high quality ceramic balls, supporting the entire weight of the speaker, with less than 1 square millimeter actually coming between the ground and the speaker. This not only decouples the speaker, but eliminates the need for potentially damaging spikes. Beautiful, precise, and unique.

This is only part of the story. Quality mavens will be excited over every inch of the Sinfonias, from their gorgeous wood cabinets to the lovely leather front and rear faces. The quality of execution is every bit as good if not better as what comes from Sonus faber in Italy. These are speakers you will be excited to have in your environment.

A quiet calm

If you bought a Bentley Continental as your first luxury car, you probably wouldn’t appreciate just how special it is, and so it goes with speakers. I gently suggest that the more you’ve heard, the more you will appreciate these speakers. Their lack of tonal coloration makes every kind of music welcome, and their high level of resolution will bring numerous “a-ha” moments to the time spent in front of them.

Like the Bentley they do everything at such a high level of quality, you almost forget how much work went in behind the scenes to make it all seem so easy. Swapping components in and out instantly reveals the changes made, so while being incredibly musical the Sinfonias are incredibly useful as a reference speaker as well. Whether you are a music lover, gear geek, or any combination thereof, you’ll be equally enthralled with the Sinfonias.

Specs aren’t the whole picture

One more aspect of the Sinfonia’s design that Ehrenholz is particularly proud of is the crossover design. Thanks to their Peak linear impedance control (PLIC), they claim the impedance only varies +/- 1 ohm with a nominal impedance of 5 ohms. The Sinfonias also have a claimed sensitivity of 89dB/1 Watt.

In addition to the seamless blend of the drivers, the PLIC is a low-loss crossover network. Not all speakers with the same sensitivity measurements are equally easy to drive. Thanks to this design, even driving the Peak’s with the 15-watt per channel ampsandsound tube monoblocks is a success. Some crossover designs that are more complex tend to lose the first few watts in the network – no big deal if you have 200-Watt monoblocks. To make a long story short, the Peaks are incredibly tube friendly.

All things considered, anything above about 40 Watts per channel will drive the Sinfonias, but how loud you need to go will determine how much more power you’ll need. Much as I love my reference Pass XA200.8/Pass XS Pre combo, the absolute magical combination has turned out to be the new PS Audio BHK 600 Monos, driven by the incredible ART88 preamplifier from conrad-johnson.

The PS amps deliver slightly better bass control at higher levels, and the CJ preamplifier images like nothing I’ve ever experienced – again proving how resolving the Peak speakers are. Every change, no matter how minute is easily discerned. This will allow you to fine tune the result exactly to your liking with ease. That being said, there wasn’t a combination I didn’t like.

More listening

Because the Sinfonias are so engaging, I listened to even more music than normal, both in dedicated listening, and just for background music while doing other things. No matter what music was playing, it was all enjoyable. Nothing caught me off guard, whether listening to solo piano or guitar, to larger scale orchestral works, or the heaviest rock music. Having heard the last version of their top-of-the-line Dragon at contributor Richard Mak’s house, the only thing the Sinfonia does not deliver, is that last half octave of low bass, and the ability to play louder. But I don’t listen as loud as Mr. Mak does, so for me the Sinfonias are just fine. All of the Peak Consult speakers share a similar voice, which again speaks to the excellence of the design team.

In closing I ask Ehrenholz when he and his team know when to stop the design process and go forward with the final build. “When I have no further ideas on how to improve, then we stop.” The proof is in the listening. While I am no speaker engineer, I have certainly listened to a lot of them over the past 40 years, and I must agree, there is nothing I would ask the Peak Consult team to improve in the Sinfonia. These are by far one of the most musically satisfying speakers I’ve had the pleasure to spend time with. I feel they have certainly met their goals. In my room with my system, they are absolutely heavenly.

Please click here for more information at the PC site:

Vera-Link: The most fun you can have for $199!

Some of you may remember Mark Schifter for all the fun products he came up with during his tenure at Audio Alchemy. They made some incredible products that had cutting edge performance, in tiny enclosures, with tiny price tags to match.

Many an audiophile started their journey with one or more Audio Alchemy components. Well, you can’t take the fun out of the boy, and his latest product, the Vera-Link is a 50 watt-per-channel class D amplifier and streamer, built into a box about the size of a deck of playing cards. While this may not sound super “audiophile-y,” because you can only get so much for 200 bucks, but the Vera-Link does sound pretty damn good for what it is. Certainly, better than a $300-$500 vintage 70s receiver that needs to have all the caps refreshed, that still needs a streamer. And, you can control up to five zones from your phone, so put those surplus speakers to work!

Substitute the word audiophile for fun

Now you’ve got it. I’ll bet you’ve got a great pair of older vintage speakers lying about that you’d love to press into service, or perhaps make more mobile – i.e. take em’ out on the porch/patio when you’re grilling, maybe even throw in the back of your truck for a trip to your favorite camping spot. But how to power them? If you’ve got any kind of inverter, you can run the Vera-Links that way. To try a mobile battery solution I used the two supplied wall warts with a 1400W Yeti battery supply with excellent results. All that’s left is to pair the amps with your Bluetooth streaming device. Vera-Fi even provides the Velcro to attach these babies to the back of your speakers. After the better part of an afternoon, the Yeti went from 100% capacity to 96%, so the current drain from these is minimal.


While I tried the Vera-Link with a couple of speakers that are way more expensive than what you’d choose to pair them with, it does reveal the engineering prowess at work. Even connected to the Eggleston Nicos that were on the cover of issue 102, listening to the strings at work with Al DiMeola, Jean-Luc Ponty, and Stanley Clarke’s Live at Montreux 1994, is highly enjoyable. No, it’s not a pair of Pass Class-A monoblocks enjoyable, but it’s way better than my neighbor’s crappy $800 Alexa speaker.

To make things more equitable for the little amplifiers, the next choice is a pair of vintage A/D/S L400 speakers. Thanks to the magic of Velcro, an older pair of Cerwin-Vega speakers are brought into play as well as a really old pair of Dynaco speakers. (Remember those?) Think thrift store fun here. Upping the budget a bit, the XSA Vanguards were also brought out for a test drive with excellent results making for a great portable system as well. However, I’m just so enamored with the simplicity and low-budget ethos of the Vera-Link, I like the lower priced speakers. An iPhone 14 was used as a source, and files streamed to the Vera-Link with Roon (16/44) and Spotify (320kb/sec).

The Vera-Link certainly has enough resolution to hear the difference between CD quality and 320kb files, but it’s not enough to discourage you from using your favorite $100-$200 pair of speakers and not being able to enjoy music. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of these tiny, non-distinct amplifiers is how far Class-D amplification has come. The A/D/S are my favorite budget/vintage speaker, with great midrange and smooth highs. They make a wonderful match with the Vera-Fi’s. And while we don’t do measurements, they certainly can play loud with these amplifiers, easily as loud as my vintage Marantz 2275.

When listening to heavier rock selections, as well as some of my favorite fusion tracks (lots of Stanley Clarke and Herbie Hancock) the Vera-Link’s ability to play complex music really shines through. Go back to that Montreux album and listen to Stanley Clarke’s bass solo. Yow. These amplifiers not only deliver robust bass extension, but good bass control.

Short and sweet

Other than the fact that these amplifiers are very musical, play loud without distortion, and have much less grunge than you would ever expect from a $200 pair of monoblocks (albeit Barbie Dream House sized monoblocks) there’s not much more to tell. They sound great, are unobtrusive, and offer no-fuss, no muss setup. If the audiophile bug still won’t let you go, plug the Vera-Fi’s into a linear power supply for even better sound – but you lose some of the portability.

Seriously, I’m buying a pair for my tool box. Why wouldn’t I? You never know when that vintage receiver is going to take a dump, or a friend in need has the same problem. They are going to go right next to my battery jump box. These would make great stocking stuffers, or even a great way to get your favorite budding audiophile one step further down the path. As I mentioned earlier, these are also a great way to have portable high-end sound anywhere. This is such a cool product, I think everyone should have a pair of these.

Here is the website for more info.

Should you be so excited that you need one RIGHT NOW, here’s a direct purchase link:

PLEASE NOTE: This is NOT a paid, “affiliate” link. We reserve NO compensation for you purchasing this product via the TONE site. Just trying to make your shopping easier, and save you a few minutes in your busy day. :)

Keeping the discs spinning – Naim’s CD5si

What’s more intriguing in 2023? That vinyl’s upsurge refuses to subside, or that some music lovers still love their CD collections? Crazy as it may seem, CDs are still being pressed, and used CDs languishing on music store shelves are one of the best bargains going.

Naim has always made fantastic CD players, and the CD5si is the sole survivor. And for about $1,600 it’s a killer value. The build quality is much like their old flagship, the CD555. Thanks to Naim’s own semi-circular, manual drawer, this is a robust drive mechanism indeed. All the bits you can’t see (clock, power supplies and the latest Burr Brown PCM 1793) contribute to a highly musical player at a budget price.

We’ll have a full review very soon, but if you’re looking for that last, reasonably priced, yet high performance CD player, we can’t suggest the CD5si highly enough. Note, this player does not have DAC or streaming inputs. The CD5si does one thing – play CDs with RCA (and Naim) analog outputs, and it does it incredibly well.

Please click here for the CD5si page on the Naim site.