Lyle Lovett’s latest

If you’re in the mood for some musical comfort food, consider Lyle Lovett’s recent release – 12th of June.

If you’re a fan of his 1989 release, Lyle Lovett And His Large Band, and the 1992 follow up, Joshua Judges Ruth, this record picks up the same groove those records put down. Much like the opening of Large Band, Lovett begins this record with a short, snappy, uptempo instrumental that gets your ears warmed up for the rest of the journey. It feels as if this could have easily been release six months later.

Lovett is a musical chef that combines blues, country, Americana, and a little bit of jazz on the side to create a musical dish that’s mmm, mmm good. The title is a tribute to his twins born on June 12, how can you not love this guy?

The songs are great, with titles like “Pants is Overrated” (about his twins and their diapers), and “Pig Meat Man.” “Bring it to me on a great big platter – I’m a pig meat man, I like bacon and ham (with toast and jam).” You just want to call him up and go to Denny’s for a Grand Slam.

The record is fleshed out stylistically and texturally a lot like the Large Band record, and that’s a good thing. Featuring longtime collaborator Francine Reed, (who incidentally has just announced her retirement) the record flies by, perhaps too soon. This record is exquisitely recorded, and the musicianship first rate. Lovett’s voice doesn’t sound like its aged a day, even though a decade has flown by since we last heard from him. Let’s hope it doesn’t take this long for the next one.

12th of June is out on all formats, but if you need to live with it a bit before you buy a vinyl copy, it is also streaming with all the majors.

The FYNE 500SP

Small speakers can rarely energize a good-sized room with full-range sound. This is always the magic that is FYNE.

Featuring the coherence that usually only comes with electrostatic speakers, the time-aligned, coaxial driver of the FYNE speakers delivers a seamlessness that you might expect from a pair of vintage Quads, with a serious dynamic punch as well. Without the inherent graininess that plagues the other small speaker darlings – i.e., KEF and ELAC. (I say that with all respect, as a former Blade and LS50 owner) And it comes in an enclosure that isn’t even a cubic foot. At $1,995 a pair, these speakers are a mega value. The FYNE speakers are in a league of their own.

Tracking through Aphex Twin’s Syro album, the 500SPs generate a vast sound field in all three dimensions in our 15 x 26-foot main listening room. Only about 6 feet apart and 4 feet from the rear walls (with about 10 feet to each side), the small FYNEs open up, rendering layer upon layer of musical detail. Perhaps this isn’t the absolute sound, but music with a dense, atmospheric vibe needs this kind of presentation to engage you thoroughly.

Similarly trippy records from Yes, Art of Noise, and Steven Wilson are just as compelling. If you are a music lover who craves a spacious, dynamic sound at this price point and form factor, the FYNE 500SP should be at the top of your list. The toy piano in Gruppo Sportivo’s “Blah Blah Magazines” jumps way out in front of the speakers, showing how immersive the 500SPs are.

Superb standards

Switching it up, The Ginger Baker Trio’s Going Back Home reveals more insight into the level of nuance the SP500s deliver. Combining Baker’s powerful yet airy drumming, Bill Frisell on guitar, and Charlie Haden on bass, these speakers prove their prowess with acoustic instruments. There’s so much texture here in Baker’s drumming, and Haden’s runs up and down the neck of the acoustic bass, you’ll swear you’re listening to a much larger (and much more expensive) set of speakers. The extension and resolution of the lower frequencies are stunning with the SP500s.

Female vocal lovers will be equally delighted with the resolution the SP500s deliver. A long playlist of current and classic vocalists reveals the FYNE speakers are equally competent here. Though audiophiles have a tendency to lean on female vocals to judge speaker character, switching to male vocals is where many speakers fail to deliver. Johnny Cash’s “Delia,” from his original American Recordings, is always a go-to track because of his husky vocal delivery. Speakers lacking low-end reinforcement make Cash sound like a busboy with a lightweight character. The 500SPs allow this character to be the menacing executioner that the song portrays.

Again, our favorites fall to just about anything by Tom Waits or Buddy Guy. I’m sure you have your favorite demo tracks to see how well these speakers work in this context.

Finally, the 500SPs can play loud when the mood strikes. Watching the meter needles on the 100 Wpc Nagra Classic Amp hit 0dB on peaks made a thunderous presentation indeed when listening to Mott The Hoople’s “All the Young Dudes.” FYNE suggests amplifiers in the 30 – 120 Watt per channel (60 Watts, continuous), and we agree.

In a moderately sized space, you may never explore the upper reaches of these speakers’ dynamic capabilities. Your only limitation will be with bass-heavy material. The big drums in Peter Gabriel’s “The Rhythm of the Heat” are able to bottom the woofers at high volume, and this kind of punishment will probably be frowned upon should you return your damaged speakers to FYNE for repair.

This is the double-edged sword of the 500SP. In addition to their impressive tonal characteristics, this is a very low-distortion speaker as well. It makes for fatigue-free listening, but approach high sound pressure levels slowly at first, so you can find the overload point for your system and your ears. You will be surprised at the high sound pressure level the 500SPs can produce.

Choose your voice

Overall, the SP500s are a touch forward in their presentation but not harsh or strident. Thanks to a 90db/1-Watt sensitivity, they don’t need a massive power amplifier to make music at adequate listening levels. A well-designed crossover network, with a first-order slope going up from the 1.7kHz crossover frequency and a second-order slope going downwards, is a massive contributor to the smooth vocal character and lack of artifacts in the crossover region. However, their high level of resolving power allows them to shine with higher quality components. This leaves the music lover a wide range of options. You may find yourself pairing the FYNE speakers with more expensive components than you initially thought practical.

Rega’s Brio-R remains one of our favorite high-quality integrated amplifiers for just under $1,000 and is our starting point for this review after the initial break-in. A Prima Luna ProLogue 1 and the Luxman N-150 Neo Classic rounded out the picture for vacuum tube amplification choices. The T+A Caruso R and Cyrus Cast ONE both feature Class-D amplification, though the digital amplifiers start to become too much of a good thing.

The 500SPs resolving ability makes them less than perfect for older vintage solid-state amplifiers and receivers only because they tend to expose the flaws in the components upstream. Giving them a go with a re-capped Marantz 2270 feels a little dull, though putting them in a system with a set of freshly rebuilt Nakamichi 600 components (a distinct step up back in the day) made for a charming overall effect.

However, we all like something different. But, if you have a digital amplifier, you’ve been warned. The 500SPs relative neutrality gives you a wider range of options than most speakers at this price level to fine-tune the voice of your system, a definite plus.

Because of their wide dispersion and a downward-firing port between the cabinet base and bottom, these are incredibly easy speakers to place in your room. They are top performers in an environment where the speakers can’t always go in the optimum spot for perfect sound. If you don’t opt for the FYNE stands, go for the most massive, rigid ones that make sense for your wallet and décor. Flimsy stands will compromise bass extension and quality.

One thing unique to the FYNE speakers is their fifth ground lug on the back of the speakers. FYNE claims it will “ground the driver chassis and eliminate amp or cable born RF interference.” While the TONE studio is a big, metal building (essentially a Faraday cage), we don’t usually have this problem. However, in the house’s unshielded environment, taking advantage of this did make a slightly noticeable – and positive effect. A nice touch, indeed.

While the review set arrived in gloss black, gloss white, and gloss walnut is also available. The finish quality is exquisite. The 500SPs are designed and built in the UK. It shows. If you’ve spent any time at all with modestly priced speakers that hail from China, you’ll notice that the fine details are not executed as well as they are here.

Should you put a pair of 500SPs in your system, the only thing you might consider after you’re used to the speakers is a pair of high-quality jumpers to connect the woofer and tweeter, if you aren’t using bi-wired speaker cables. Jumpers from Tellurium Q and Cardas both added another margin of HF smoothness that is worth exploring.

It’s easy to give the FYNE 500SPs one of our Exceptional Value Awards for 2022. Every aspect of these speakers is flawlessly executed within the price point. (US distributor) (Manufacturer)

Joni Mitchell: Live at Carnegie Hall – 1969

When I was a little kid, I remember listening to albums from my parent’s collection that that have stuck with me throughout the ups and downs of life.

Throughout her career as a songwriter, painter and musician, Joni Mitchell has never made any excuses about being a strong Canadian woman, expressing herself in her art and music. Perhaps those memories of Clouds on that 60’s record player help me enjoy and appreciate The Hissing of Summer Lawns even more today. Mitchell’s Blue and Ladies of the Canyon are two of my favorite late night headphone listening albums – I’ll never shy away from that emotional journey. Her unique voice, distinct guitar sound are never far from my turntable.

The 3 album box set of Joni Mitchell’s career-changing debut at Carnegie Hall saw its first-ever release late in 2021 and I was fortunate enough to land the 180-gram, three LP, snow white vinyl version. This jewel is a must have for dedicated Joni fans.

From the first time you hold the beautiful but heavy jacket, to immersion in the music, Live at Carnegie Hall’ captures a time and place in history. When a 25-year-old Joni Mitchell stepped on stage in her long vintage skirt on February 1, 1969 in front of a packed house, it was her first major concert.  Her partner at the time, Graham Nash sat in the audience along with her parents and Bob Dylan. Her debut album, Song to a Seagull had been released less than a year prior, produced by David Crosby. This Canadian was new to California, but familiar with performing at coffee houses and nightclubs. But this was big.

The black and white photo on the cover features Mitchell, pin-straight hair down her back, sitting at a Steinway, 3 mic stands, and her trademark Martin D-28 Dreadnought laying on an otherwise empty stage. If a picture could tell a story, this one certainly sets the tone for what a treasure that jacket holds, captured on vinyl. Joel Bernstein’s candid photographs, Mitchell’s handwritten changes to the set list and lyrics to Blue Boy offer a glimpse into that night in New York.

For first play, this gorgeous white vinyl went onto my reference Acoustic Solid Vintage Exclusive with a low-output Dynavector DV-20X2 cartridge. The album begins with an appreciative crowd and Mitchell opening the 19 song concert with “Chelsea Morning. According to the notes written by Graham Nash, she had started the song, but had to stop.The crowd, in support of the important event they were witnessing, gave her a Valentine which she held up, smiling on stage. You can hear the nervousness in her voice as she acknowledges this kind gesture, but the initial hesitancy melts away when she settles into “Cactus Tree.”  From that moment on, she sounds relaxed, confident and in her element both in her voice and instruments as she bares her heart and soul on that famous stage. She is almost apologetic for her piano playing but nails it on “Blue Boy.”  Her lighthearted banter in between tracks sounds more like a conversation she is having with a small intimate crowd instead of addressing the 3,600 seats in front of her. On side 2, (my personal favorite track) the stellar a Capella rendition of “The Fiddle and The Drum” follows her explanation of what it was like to be a Canadian living in America during this incredibly important time in history.

The second set starts with “Marcie”, a song for a friend. The initial nerves are a distant memory, and her voice confidently holds the listener’s attention. Immersed in the music, Mitchell continues her musical storytelling. Dedicating “Morning Morgantown” to her parents, there is a realization that this young woman, alone on stage, has her friends and family there to support her during her first big show, not a seasoned professional who was accustomed to performing to large crowds. The second set ends with a medley of “The Circle Game, and Little Green.” There is a poignant edge to her description of the latter track as being “about a little girl.”  At that time in her career, not much was known about her personal struggle after surrendering her daughter for adoption in 1965. Perhaps only a few people in this crowd knew Mitchell’s longing and heartbreak. As she fluidly shifts between the 2 songs, the emotional connection to her story deepens, drawing your focus to the fusion.

The fifth side contains her encore, starting with “Michael From Mountains,” closing the show with “Urge For Going,” after she retunes her guitar and acknowledges how far it is from Saskatoon to Carnegie Hall. Her delightful fingerpicking on the final track draws the listener in as her voice delicately lifts and swells, describing a Sasketchewan winter.

The vibrato in her voice, the sound of fingers plucking steel strings and the voices of the crowd singing with her on Get Together are clearly heard, even when in the background, reflecting the talent of Bernie Grundman’s mastering. Overall, this live recording is dynamic and well balanced without taking away from the artist alone on stage. The exquisite layers and passion behind the music are attained in this album. From the first play, this peek into music history has quickly become a frequent flyer on my TT.

Live at Carnegie hall, 1969 is a gift from a place in history that needs to be remembered as a time of change and uncertainty. This album not only pulls the listener back to late 60’s free spirit hippy culture that embraced my parents, but draws you in with honest vulnerability and creativity. The special place I have for Joni Mitchell and her music throughout my life, in my collection and in Canadian music history, just grew by leaps and bounds. Two very enthusiastic Canadian thumbs up.

Issue 111

Cover Story:

We pay tribute to the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin:
A product that defined a market segment


Old School: The ESS AMT-1b
-By Jeff Dorgay

Cartridge Dude: The BENZ LP-S

1095: Gear for Just over a G
The LSA LS 50 Signatures

Merch Table: Relics From Rock’s Past

Mine: It Should Be Yours


Playlists:  We share our readers choices from around the world
LIVE!  Emily Duff covers Aimee Mann
Jim Macknie on JAZZ

Future Tense

Gear in our immediate future

The Heretic A614 Speakers

Warning, these speakers tend to keep you cemented in your listening chair. The Heretics are “album side” speakers if that makes sense.

Spinning Nightmares on Wax’s In A Space Outta Sound, the dub heavy, trippy vibe is intoxicating. Next up, Propellerheads Decksanddrumsandrockandroll. Again, the whole album goes by without the slightest urge to make a playlist. The bass line in “Oh Yeah?” is so much fun. The 12” coaxial driver combined with the ported cabinet adds up to a very organic, tuneful (yet not overdamped) bottom end.

If you’ve looked at Heretic’s website ( you’ll notice the famous shot of EMI studios, with the Beatles in the control room. They are listening to what looks like the larger Heretic A612, but these are actually Altec drivers in the cabinets. Robert Gaboury, the man behind the Heretic has taken this 12” coax and the Altec cabinet design and brought it into the modern age, to produce a speaker that is really a pleasure to listen to.

Powered by the Lab12 Mighty amplifier, which only produces 10 watts per channel, these speakers sporting a 97db/1-Watt sensitivity rating barely make the cool, circular VU meters move from rest. Seriously, how often do most of you listen to music at a 97db level? It’s unbelievable that this pair of speakers, combined with a $2,400 power amplifier can create such an expansive and immersive musical experience. But it does. Pricing is TBA right now, but they will be under $8k/pair for the smaller 614s, reviewed here.

Quick, adjective barrage

All of those audiophile cliches we’ve heard a million times over truly do apply to the Heretic A614s, but they are one of those rare speakers that provide instant fun. If you’re a persnickity audiophile, you’ll find things to nitpick, but then you will no matter what you’re listening to. These won’t be the speakers for you.

You can look at these speakers one of two ways – you can be fussy and point out the small things they don’t do (as you would with every single other speaker made) or you can sink into the vibe and just enjoy them. To give you a reference point of where I’m coming from (because saying a speaker is “fun,” really doesn’t give you much to go on…) my short list of fun, under $10k/pair speakers are in no order, The Vandersteen 1C, The JBL L-100 Century Classic, The Magnepan SMG, A nice used pair of MartinLogan CLS’s, The Harbeth C7s, The Zu Dirty Weekends.

Speakers that are not necessarily the last word in audiophile speakers, but ones that you can sit around all evening listening to music with, have a great time, and not have to engage the audiophile part of your consciousness that feels the need to dissect everything.

Quick setup

Thanks to their relatively light weight – about 40 pounds each, with a profile of 19” wide, 15” deep, and about 26” tall, you can move the Heretics around and set them up easily by yourself.
Having used these in small (10 x 13 foot), medium (11 x 18 foot) and large (15 x 26 foot) the Heretics deliver great results anywhere, though you will get a little bit more bass loading in an extremely small room, that may or may not work to your advantage.

While these speakers come with feet attached for use on the floor, I had the best results getting them about 13” off the floor. Custom stands are on the way, but for now a pair of heavy Sound Anchors stands with 1.25 thick butcher block boards work splendidly. A little blu tack between the boards and the stands really helps too. Getting that tweeter up a little higher than ground level makes for a lot less mid-bass bloom/roundness and gives up nothing on the bottom end. This also helps the Heretics to create a larger soundstage, eliminating a lot of reflection right from the floor.

Because the originals have that EMI heritage, the push for some Beatle’s was just too much to resist, and considering it’s that time of the year here in America again, Revolvers’ “Taxman” was perfect. These speakers do such a great job at holding the bass line rock solid, the drums in place and a clear view of all the harmonies – it’s incredible. And incredibly enjoyable. Whether you prefer the stereo or mono Beatles, this is a treat. Switching it up for Cheap Trick’s “Taxman, Mr. Thief” is equally rewarding. And this is not an awesome recording by any stretch. Yet the slightly round bottom end of these speakers gives a little bit of help to the average recordings in your collection. Again, that fun thing.

For those of you that haven’t been following my ongoing narrative, one of my biggest hot buttons is coherence. Thanks to the coaxial tweeter, these speakers sound like a big single driver speaker with extension. The crossovers are well designed, as the transition from woofer to tweeter is as good as it gets – seamless and free of grain. Regardless of what kind of music you enjoy, these speakers do a fantastic job rendering it.

Vocals are transcendent with the Heretics, both in terms of tonality and the way they can decode layered harmonies. The Heretics are highly natural in their presentation, and again thanks to the high sensitivity, nothing is ever working hard to produce sound – resulting in low distortion and fatigue. These are speakers you can listen to all day without becoming the least bit tired.


Don’t let the sensitivity rating fool you, even though these speakers don’t need a tremendous amount of power to play really loud, it’s a quality thing. A few obvious choices (the Cary 805 SET monos, the Line Magnetic 815) didn’t provide killer results, yet the 4 watt per channel Finale is out of this world good. As mentioned at the beginning of this review, Lab12s Mighty (10 watts per channel) is also fantastic. Our Pass First Watt SIT-3 was also a stunner. This amplifier is very speaker sensitive, but in this case, the match is perfection. This single ended solid-state amplifier delivers about 92% of the texture and depth of the best tube combinations, with a bigger image, and a lot more slam on the low end. So, again – big fun with these speakers. And there’s still about five or six amplifiers to try.

Perhaps we were cheating a bit at first, using the Pass XS Pre, XS Phono and dCS Vivaldi One with Vivaldi Clock, but even when bringing the associated components downstream in keeping with you’d probably expect to be in a system with a pair of speakers in this price range, the results are still excellent. The only thing tried that was less than awesome was our vintage Marantz 2270. This just sounded flat.

The rest of the story

Looking at the Heretic site, you’ll see there are several other finishes available, and you can order the speakers with or without grilles. If you have munchkins or pets, seriously consider the grilles. Our review pair came in the natural finish.

Gaboury says that the cabinets are made from 12mm Canadian ultra-premium birch plywood. The website says, “Because of tone. Tone comes from rigidity, lightness, and compliance, but not too much.” Rather than go on and on, if there is any way you can give these speakers a listen, if you share some of my listening priorities, I think you will really enjoy the Heretics. Should you have a larger room, or need more bass extension, they also make the A612, which is the same driver in a cabinet with more volume.

Sensitivity remains the same, but there is an additional half octave of bass extension. When Mr. Gaboury catches up with orders, he’s promising to send us a pair. For now, provisionally, I am purchasing the review pair, but I may hold the checkbook close to the vest until I hear the bigger model. I’ve got the room. Either way, these speakers have provided some of the most fun I’ve had in a long time just hanging out and listening to music for its own sake. You’ll only need one or two of your favorite tracks to decide if they are the droids you want.

For now, highly recommended, and #toneaudioapproved. (manufacturer) (importer/distributor)

But wait, there’s more

At the end of this review, designer Robert Gaboury had a bit of spare time in the middle of getting ready for Axpona, to fill me in on the fine details of how these great speakers came to be. Here’s what he has to share:

First thing, the ductless design.  Thiele/Small parameters are used to predict and accurately simulate low frequency behavior of transducers in closed and vented box. These days, all designers (including me) use software simulation in the development of loudspeaker enclosures.

However, T/S parameters were derived in the 1970s, meaning that Altec designers, when designing the 614 and 612 (1940 something) « utility cabinets » , which are ported, used another method to calculate vent area relative to enclosure volume. I found this fascinating, and decided 3 years ago to investigate, out of curiosity, what was happening.

Nowadays, we all want the best possible low frequency extension in the smallest air volume and most contemporary speakers use vented boxes with transducers designed especially for this. This is usually a tube in a box, and by adjusting area and length (along with enclosure volumes and transducer’s T/S parameters), the box is tuned to « load » the transducer at the lowest possible frequency. Loading happens when the air in the box opposes the cone motion, and at this point (the tuning frequency), the cone motion is nil and vent output is maximal. Below that frequency, the driver is unloaded, moves a lot, yet produces no sound, because the air pressure just escapes the port, out of phase with the driver, creating an acoustic short-circuit.

In recent years, passive transducers have been used when we want to tune a box to a lower frequency that would be practical with a tube (i-e, the tube is too long to fit in the box). This means that modern drivers are made to work in small boxes and generate ample LF. And accuracy in the mid-band is often sacrificed (I’d say always) a consequence of the quest for LF, because in order to allow a small transducer to resonate at – very – low frequency, the cone must be heavy. I simplify a bit, but think of a 1973 Buick Electra hitting potholes, versus a Lotus formula car… The Buick will resonate at very low frequency – and take a long time to settle, but won’t handle as well as the Lotus. As you can guess, the Lotus is a lot stiffer.

Back to the enclosure: a vent tube is always tuned to a specific frequency, say 42 Hz.  I found out, using simulation, that a ductless vent (such as the old Altec) is not precisely tuned. In fact, it is tuned to a much broader frequency band, which is highly desirable:  no « one-note » bass.

Also, a super stiff suspension is very desirable for medium (vocal range) definition. Think Lotus. So, if you accept the notion of a big transducer, a big box and ductless designs, something interesting is possible: musicality. That is Heretic.

Second thing: co-ax design, re-invented. Older professional coax drivers such as Altec 604 (and others) use a compression driver mounted in the woofer voice coil. The downside is the compression driver, which has a large dome (usually 3 to 4 inches). In the Heretic, the dome is quite small, almost as small as a modern tweeter, yet, it is horn loaded by a short aluminum horn, itself loaded with the woofer’s membrane, acting as a waveguide. Smaller dome means smaller mass, means higher resonant frequency (think Lotus), means very good extension – much better than older Altec 604 for example.

Third thing: serial crossover network. This alone is, for the designer, guaranteed headache. Because the woofer and tweeter are connected in series, the network logic is inverted. If you want to fix something in the high frequencies, you must act on the LF section. It like writing with your left hand in front of a mirror. Yet, when (and if) you get it right, it has a level of coherency not possible to achieve with normal parrallel networks used in 99% of all loudspeakers.

For me, designing Heretic was something extraordinary because it opened up a box of ideas that was shut and sealed somewhere in the 1970s, when acoustic suspensiuon was the « in » thing. For me, performance and musicality are two sides of a same token. Along with low mass and tight handling. That’s heretic.

Bob Carver at Axpona with their newest…

Stop by the Carver room at Axpona to see their latest.

As you may or may not know, Bob Carver is back, with a great team of engineers and craftspeople to implement his latest visions. Company director of operations, Jim Clark, will be in room 1410 at this week’s Axpona, answering questions and showing off the new goodies.

Need questions answered right now?

Call Jim Clark at (815) 323-0898

[email protected]

Silent Angel’s New Power Supply

Audio and network components that use small, switching power supplies can be very detrimental to your system’s sound. Silent Angel has a great solution that is compact, and offers 12V/1A, 12V/3A, 5V/1A, and 5V/3A outlets for those devices.

This is a great way to get those noisy wall warts out of your system. Cost is $1,599.

We’ve got one on the way, so we’ll keep you posted ASAP.

Pro-Ject Audio Adds Balanced Options

We really loved the Pro-Ject DS2 phonostage. All solid state, multiple gain and loading options. Great sound, killer price. Now it’s better.

Pro-Ject has just announced their new DS3B, for balanced. With all the circuitry re-designed, and a fully balanced circuit, this award winning phonostage is even better. A fully balanced output stage makes it that much easier to have the turntable on the other side of the room, closer to your record collection, and further away from the speakers. That’s a win all the way. And…The DS3B features full discrete circuitry, no op amps!

Intro price is 599 Euros, so probably about $699 US. Check your Pro-Ject dealer for final pricing. Silver and Black front face plates available, along with three choices for end caps: black, cherry, and walnut.

Look for a review in the very near future.

Pro-Ject Audio Adds Balanced Option…

We really loved the Pro-Ject DS2 phonostage. All solid state, multiple gain and loading options. Great sound, killer price. Now it’s better.

Pro-Ject has just announced their new DS3B, for balanced. With all the circuitry re-designed, and a fully balanced circuit, this award winning phonostage is even better. A fully balanced output stage makes it that much easier to have the turntable on the other side of the room, closer to your record collection, and further away from the speakers. That’s a win all the way. And…The DS3B features full discrete circuitry, no op amps!

Intro price is 599 Euros, so probably about $699 US. Check your Pro-Ject dealer for final pricing. Silver and Black front face plates available, along with three choices for end caps: black, cherry, and walnut.

Look for a review in the very near future.

Luxman’s First Cartridge in 40 Years!

Luxman’s new LMC-5 MC cartridge is their first cartridge in 40 years.

Luxman USA’s Jeff Sigmund says that this new reference is “the result of two years, taking every aspect of cartridge design into account.”
The generator features a cross mounted iron core with symmetrical windings for superior separation. It features a nude, square shank diamond with Shibata profile, mounted to a .5mm aluminum cantilever.

The LMC-5 delivers 0.4mv output, and has a suggested loading impedance of greater than 40 ohms. Recommended tracking force is 2.1 to 2.3 grams.

We’ve got one in house, and it’s sounding fab. We’ll have a full report shortly.

Should you be attending AXPONA next week, stop by the Luxman exhibit in the Prosperity room.

Change in Carver Biz Model

Just announced today:

In order to stay competitive, Bob Carver Corp. will now be selling direct only. Back orders will be filled in the next 30 days, and new things are on the horizon very soon. Changes in business climate and associated supply chain issues are dictating this change.

If you have questions on existing orders, etc., please contact Jim Clark.

[email protected]

Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood on Vinyl…

Light In The Attic announces the definitive, first ever reissue of Nancy & Lee, the iconic 1968 duet from Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood.

The latest installment from LITA’s Nancy Sinatra Archival Series, Nancy & Lee is available to pre-order now on vinyl, cassette tape, CD, 8-track, and digital formats and is set for release on May 20th.

Album features timeless hits “Some Velvet Morning,” “Sand,” and “Summer Wine,”plus two bonus tracks, including “Love Is Strange,” available now on all digital platforms.

LP and CD editions offer a new interview with Sinatra, plus never-before-seen photos.

Limited-edition merchandise capsule, including autographed items, now available for pre-order exclusively at Nancy’s Bootique at

An Easier Way to Buy HiFi From Naim and Focal

Sometimes, one of the most challenging parts of assembling an audio system is sifting through all the choices.

Right before COVID hit us, Naim and Focal had been putting together several Naim/Focal boutiques. Their goal is to establish a range of stores worldwide, where you can view, and most importantly listen to, a number of systems featuring both brands. Including their award-winning line of headphones. As we are pulling out of this global pandemic, they are picking up the pace again.

This is critical, because there are so many choices today. While many of us enjoy the audiophile as contact sport aspect of the hobby, an equal number, if not more music lovers would just like to purchase a great music system and get on with it. Regardless of where you sit in the crowd, the Naim/Focal oases are beautiful to behold, and will give you a lot of concentrated seat time with the brand.

As part of this scenario, they’ve put together this “10th Anniversary Edition” system, to celebrate the 10 years these brands have been together. The total cost is $48,000. Should you choose to go with Naim’s Fraim system to house everything, the total cost will be about $5,500 more, but there is no more elegant way to display Naim components than the Fraim system. It provides stability, isolation, and modularity. (So, it’s easy to add a turntable and keep it all tidy.)

The entire system is anchored by a special pair of Focal Sopra No.2 Speakers that come with concrete sidewalls, and a front baffle that looks like tin. Having visited the Focal factory, and seeing the level of detail that they provide for custom orders, these are sure to be very unique. The only way to get a pair of Sopra No.2s in this finish is to buy the anniversary system.

The system is powered by Naim’s NAC 282 Preamplifier, NAP 250 Power Amplifier, with matching NAPSC and HiCap DR power supplies. Naim’s award winning NDX 2 music server/DAC takes care of source materials. Those wanting to add a turntable, will have to provide their own, but the NAC 282 has five Naim connectors, as well as two RCA analog inputs. Naim fans that haven’t heard the 282 will be surprised at how much of the 500 series DNA is present here.

Even though it doesn’t affect the sound quality, it’s of major interest that to match the special finish of the Sopras, Naim has produced the components for the Anniversary Edition in a new medium grey finish. Naim has never produced anything but the standard black face, so this is incredibly cool. And, all the required cables are needed.

While I haven’t heard the anniversary system per se, I have heard these components in standard black finish with the Sopra No.2 in standard finish, and this is a top-notch system indeed. We have also spent a lot of time with the entire Sopra No.2s here as well.

Granted, nearly $50k might be more than your current budget – all the more reason to stop by one of the Naim/Focal shops and give a listen to the full product lineup. Who knows, you might only need a pair of headphones, or you might be enticed by one of the big Utopias? You never know. What’s so exciting about this concept, is the idea of being able to experience so much of it and truly make an informed purchase.

Though mail order hifi has become the de rigueur way to buy, there’s nothing like going to a hifi salon to peruse their wares. And the Naim/Focal stores have been tip-top. It really helps take the guesswork out of the process, and now you have the opportunity to purchase something that looks as unique as it sounds. Here’s to hoping Naim and Focal produce more of these special edition products.

It’s been great to watch these two industry leaders forge such a great partnership over the last decade. From the MuSo products, to their new headphones, and all of the current electronics and speakers, the synergy is there for all to see, and hear.

The LSA Signature 50 Speakers

In just over four decades of evaluating speakers, the most memorable ones always pull you in with an ease that may not always be as visceral and exciting as some of the flashier “best” speakers out there, but they’ve got staying power.

These are speakers that you want to sit on the couch and listen to for hours, perhaps for days. The Vandersteen 1, the Magnepan .7, and the ProAc Tablettes, come to mind. Anyone truly loving music can’t turn their backs on any of these. I’m sure we all have a few others on that list.

However, these legendary speakers have all crossed the $1,000/pair line some time ago. People stepping out of Sonos world, ready for an audiophile adventure, usually want something delivering more sonically, but not necessarily breaking the bank. Enter Underwood HiFi and LSA.

Speakers that are only sold factory-direct are not an entirely fair comparison, so let’s level the playing field and compare a new pair of LSA 50 Signatures to a used pair of the three speakers mentioned above. You can find a pair of either of these on any given day at Audiogon, SkyFi, or The Music Room. You might even have a friend with a pair they want to unload or a great local dealer with a pair on the floor. You should be able to pick either of these three speakers up for about $700 – $1,000 pair. About double that for a new, in-box pair.

Removing the dealer markup aspect from the speakers mentioned above, most used models trade for about half of their original retail price. The LSA 50 Signatures still stand up, compared to the well-known speakers at this level. This is an excellent pair of small speakers that you can build a serious yet reasonably priced music system around. One that will sound like a massive jump up from a Sonos, Zeppelin, or whatever other single box system is your current fave.

We traditionally stand behind brick-and-mortar retailers at TONE. However, when you are trying to get in the game watching every penny – going used, or in this case, a manufacturer direct product is going to give you the most sound for your hard-earned currency unit. If you don’t get excited about audio in the first place, you might never buy a $30k pair of speakers someday. Right?

We hate to impose rules on hifi. It’s different for everyone, but you need to go no further than any internet forum or Facebook page. Some know it all is blathering that you need to spend a fixed percentage of your budget on speakers and only so much on an amplifier, blah, blah, blah. It’s music. It’s individual, and it’s your journey.

However, I have never observed an awful speaker become a great speaker after 2,000 hours of break-in. Putting that in perspective, if you listen to your system 10 hours a week, it’s going to take four years for your speakers to sound good. I don’t have that kind of patience, and I’m guessing you don’t either. So, forget the “needs 1000 hours of break-in” rule, especially at this price point.

Much as you love a pair of panel speakers, they might not work in your environment. Your room might be too large for a pair of mini-monitors to generate any serious low-frequency energy. If you share your living space with one or more people, aesthetic concerns might also affect your choice. I suggest finding speakers you enjoy first, only because speakers are the most interactive component of your system, visually and physically.

Once you settle on speakers, it’s much easier to find an amplifier that will work, rather than the other way around. That’s the closest I can get to impose my will on you. Though the Signatures claim an 86db/1-Watt sensitivity, they are easy to drive. LSA’s Mark Schifter mentions how much work went into the crossovers, and this is truly where that work is realized. Even the 10-Watt per channel Luxman D-150 drives the Signatures to a more than reasonable volume level. There were no anomalies after auditioning these speakers with a wide range of amplification from low power to high and modest cost to expensive.

That ease

The LSA 50s sound is inviting right out of the box. While Underwood HiFi suggests they will take 100 hours or so to sound their absolute best, you won’t grimace when you hit play or lower the tonearm on the first track. These speakers are slightly warm tonally, with solid bass response. Remember, keepers. Stay on the couch for a long time.

As the new Tears for Fears record, The Tipping Point, just dropped while unboxing the LSA 50 Signatures, it felt like the perfect time to revisit The Seeds of Love. Perhaps one of the best bookends of the 1980s, this ethereal, finely crafted record is full of great bass lines, layered vocals, and can define pinpoint imaging when played on decent speakers.

Using the audio show trick of plugging a $600 pair of speakers into a six-figure system, the Signatures sound stunning, plugged into the Pass XA200.8 monoblocks, Pass XS Pre preamplifier, driven by the dCS Vivaldi ONE digital player. In addition to some incredible bass drive, they produce a big window into the sound. But that’s not how anyone will listen to them at home.

More good news. They still sound damn good plugged into a vintage Sansui AU-717 integrated, with the $199 SONY SACD player we have in for review, and that’s their magic. If you’re starting out, you’re probably going to cobble together whatever you can. That’s what makes these speakers so cool. Granted, they do not resolve as much musical detail as with the more expensive hardware; their core character remains fully intact. That’s the sign of a well-designed speaker. Too many “budget” speakers on the market sound fab with a big, high-powered amp but fall flat in your system. That’s what drives people away from high-end audio.

Moving right along

After a solid week of playing 24 hours a day, the lowest bass notes dig a little deeper and a little faster, the top end becomes slightly more extended, and the mids offer up a greater degree of transparency. All told, the needle has probably moved 5%, maybe a little more – but now we’re getting all audiophile-y on you, and that’s not what these speakers are about.

Set up is a breeze. After break-in out in the big listening room, the Signatures were moved into our 13 x 18-foot living room on the supplied ($179 extra) LSA Stands. This rear-ported design delivers serious low-end grunt, so position them for a smooth low to mid-bass transition in your room first, and then go for a bit of toe-in to suit how lively or dead your room is. If you have an overstuffed room with rugs, couches, etc., you might need a bit extra toe-in to get the sparkle you’d like. If your space is more on the lively side like mine, minimal to no toe-in will probably suit you just fine.

Keeping with the Signatures’ high performance/low-cost ethos, some of the living room listening was done with a PrimaLuna ProLogue 1 integrated amplifier (34 Watts per channel), with a fresh set of tubes, an older one OPPO streaming DAC, connected with Tellurium-Qs Blue II cables. The bulk was done with the LSA 70 integrated amplifier that we reviewed here. It’s a killer match. Total system cost: well under $3k.

The Signatures are a well-implemented two-way design, sporting a 6.5″ woofer and a 1.1″ soft dome tweeter. Thanks to some solid cabinets, they tip the scales at 26 pounds each. A quick rap against the surface of the cabinet feels substantial. In addition to the wood cabinets, the top and rear faces are covered in black leather. Execution is well above what is usually featured anywhere near this price.

Final assembly

It’s worth mentioning a few things about the LSA stands here, for those of you that take this path. First, ignore the instructions and do not use a powered screwdriver to put them together. The mild steel, threaded columns will surely strip the threads with too much force applied. Do it by hand with a big Phillips head screwdriver and only go slightly past snug when securing the columns.

If you do fill them with sand (and that’s a great idea), consider getting some black RTV/Silicone sealant and running a fine bead around the bottom of the columns once attached. That way, you won’t have small sand puddles after filling.

LSA does include some small brass pucks to put the rounded speaker stand’s spikes in. If you are on wood or tile, they will come in handy. The round, ball-like ends on the tips should not punch through your carpet, so consider not using the pucks there it may lead to instability.

That groove

Heading full circle, back to Tears for Fears, the opening bass line in “Woman in Chains” feels substantial. Ditto for the bass line in the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever.” The drums in A-ha’s “Take on Me” are right there. These speakers do an excellent job of keeping the pace locked down. The critical midrange is equally well rendered. Those leaning towards more vocal music will enjoy the slightly warm perspective these present. Whether you like Ella or Eilish, they deliver the goods.

Again, the bass response is equally enticing. Running through a long list of hip hop, heavy rock, and electronica tracks, The Signatures dish up enough bass that you won’t be clamoring for a subwoofer. The quality of the bass delivered is plenty resolving. Going back and forth between Jaco Pastorius’ electric playing and Alice In Chains Unplugged illustrates the detail in the lower registers these speakers provide. They are not one-note wonders.

Because the Signatures accomplish so much, it’s truly tough to find fault – remember this is a $600 pair of speakers. In 40 years, only the Magnepan SMG and Vandersteen 1 (back when they were only about $900 a pair) have offered this much sheer musical enjoyment for such a modest investment. Putting the LSA 50 Signatures in the same sentence with these two classic speakers is the highest compliment I can give them.

If you share the viewpoint that overall balance is the crucial factor in choosing a pair of speakers, we hope that those of you auditioning the LSA 50 signatures will enjoy them as much as we did. In a world where speakers costing nearly a million dollars a pair get a disproportionate amount of attention, these are truly exciting. Because everyone can play.

Yes, a few modestly priced speakers (to be clear, we define that as $500 – $1,500/pair) do specific things better than the LSA 50 Signature. The precious few speakers that offer this level of coherency, useful bass response, midrange clarity, and enough resolution that you can hear the difference between amplifiers and source components all cost more.

The $150 question

There’s a cost to play because Underwood HiFi isn’t Amazon, Best Buy, or Nordstrom. If you don’t like the Signatures enough to keep them, there’s a 15% restocking fee. And you’ll have to pay to ship 50 pounds back. But remember, experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want, and everyone has to keep the lights on.

If the description of the LSA 50 Signatures ticks your boxes, you probably won’t want to send them back. That said, these are worth rolling the dice for. Should your system grow beyond the roots you plant with the LSA 50 Signatures, you’ll probably keep them for a second system or to pass on to your kids or a friend about to start their audio journey. They are that good.

The LSA 50 Signature speakers truly define the concept of our Exceptional Value Award.

The Core Power EQUI=CORE 1800 MKIII

No matter how clean you think your power is, it isn’t. And there’s still the lightening storm now and then to play havoc with your gear.

Staffer Jerold O’Brien has the older version of the 1800 and was faced with just this problem recently. When the power went down, all of the components plugged in to the EQUI-CORE were fine. The circuit breaker in the unit had to be replaced, which we did over a coffee. Easy. Anyone can do it.

Opening the top reveals a massive toroidal transformer with 1800 watts of maximum capacity, hence the name. All the EQUI=CORE power products are named for the maximum amount of power they can pass through. The EQUI=CORE 1800 is fully balanced, to remove all the noise from your power line. You can see our reviews on the other EQUI=CORE products on the site. While we have a full review of this device in progress, it’s overall sound and functionality is even better than the smaller units we’ve tested. This one has more capacity, and more outlets. A total of 12, actually. Fortunately, Jerold has his mk.II (which can be upgraded) on hand, so we’ll do a proper comparison for the full review.

Those of you not using enormous monoblock power amplifiers can probably get away with one of these to power your entire system. Our experience has always been more of the quieting effect with tube gear than solid state, but regardless of what you use, you will notice a quieter background, and more resolution from the mids to the highest highs.

At the $1,799 intro price, this is tough to beat. If you thought you had to pull equity out of your house to buy a line conditioner, try this one and go on a vacation. It’s #toneaudioapproved.  Yep, we use em too.

The Aqua Audio LaScala MKII Optologic DAC

If you are a music lover wanting to upgrade your digital front end, but don’t necessarily want to spend $20k – $100k, consider the Aqua LaScala.

This one ticks all the boxes. Beautiful build quality and execution in every way. A dreamy tube/MOSFET analog stage. High performance FGPA digital decoding (without digital filter) so it won’t become obsolete. The list goes on, and you can read our review here, or you can click here to go to the Aqua site for the fine details.

This one has been on the rack for some time now, and its been going head to head with some pretty expensive challengers – all costing a lot more. This one gets our vote for the DAC that is right on the tail of six figure DAC performance for about $8,500 (check your dealer for exact price with all the wackiness going on in the world right now)

A bevy of inputs and outputs, as well as an 12S bus, means you can connect anything. There are a pair of RCA outputs as well as a transformer coupled pair of XLR balanced outputs. If you have both inputs on your amplifier or preamp, try them both. The RCAs are slightly crisper, and the transformer coupled balanced outputs just slightly warmer. You’ll prefer one over the other, but you won’t know till you plug them in!

The Aqua was our Digital Product of the year two years ago, and it still stands its ground. We’ve used it with everything from a $100 garage sale CD player up to a dCS Vivaldi transport with equally great results. Not to mention, Aqua offers a great CD transport, as well as their LinQ streamer.

You’ll never say “this sounds really good for digital” again. It just sounds fantastic and musical.

The Harbeth C7ES-3 XD

In years past, the “British sound,” especially in terms of loudspeakers, more often than not, was referring to the monitors from the BBC era.

A huge part of the design brief was to get the voices right, and the rest would follow along. This has always made for a musical speaker, that in some cases was not always dynamic enough to rock the house. Today, things are a bit more modern.

The Harbeth Compact 7, now in its third generation – the XD stands for Extended Definition is a winner. The previous generations have always been one of the most musically engaging, compact speakers going. The new model builds on the strengths of the old, adding more punch and resolution, without throwing the lovely midrange they are famous for under the bus.

Regardless of what you listen to, these 6-ohm speakers use Harbeths’ patented RADIAL2™ bass/midrange unit and their own dome tweeter. Weighing just over two stones, they are easy to move around, and with a great pair of stands offer a very full-range experience indeed.

Rated at a 6-ohm nominal impedance, the C7ES-3XD is easy to drive, whether you have tubes, transistors, or a vintage variation on the theme. 25 watts or so will have you up and running, a little extra doesn’t hurt if you have a larger room, or like higher volume levels.

They are available in cherry, walnut, and tamo ash (extra spiffy)

Standard cherry finish is $4,890/pair, while the two upgraded finishes are $5,190/pair

Our full review is here.

Fidelis Distribution is your connection in the US, please click here.

And, here is a link to the official Harbeth site.

The JBL L-100 Classic

There’s nothing in audiophile world that compares to the JBL L-100. They’ve probably sold more of these than every other speaker manufacturer combined. A true classic.

Show just about anyone a picture of a pair of L-100s (especially with orange grilles) and you’ll probably get an enthusiastic “yeah, I had a pair of those” from a wide range of people from a certain age group.

And they are still out there, popular as any muscle car of the same vintage. Some are really rough and a good pair will set you back $1,000 – $1,500 these days. Fortunately, we had a pair of clean originals to compare to the new Classic 100. No other audio reviewer bothered to make this comparison. But, we always do our homework. If you’d like the in-depth comparison, please click here.

If you just want to rock, get on down to your favorite audio dealer that offers JBL and buy a set. If you’re on the east coast, try Audio Classics, the Midwest, give Music Direct a call, and if you’re out west (the home of the L100) call Kevin Deal at Upscale Audio. All three of these dealers are TONE approved and will take great care of you.

So many classic things from years past often get reborn lacking the character of the originals. In the case of JBL’s Classic 100, the speaker has been improved in every way, and is one of the most fun rock & roll speakers going. Indulge yourself.

The Naim SuperNait 3

Nearly every audio manufacturer make a few products that take advantage of all their core competencies, and offer so much value, they become legendary. Naim’s Nait integrated amplifier now the SuperNait 3 is the perfect example of this philosophy.

At $5,699 this amplifier delivers 80 Watts per channel, and borrows heavily from Naim’s expertise in their flagship line, costing much more. Even though there has been a recent price hike from $4,995 when we reviewed it a year ago, to $5,699 now, this amplifier is still one of the best values going.

With an integrated MM phono section, this is the perfect amplifier for anyone craving a system with high performance, yet low box count. Add a turntable, streaming DAC, and your favorite speakers to make it a party. The MM phono is more than competent enough for vinyl enthusiasts with a table/cartridge combo in the $500 – $3,000 range.

The amplifier offers RCA and Naim connector specific inputs, the ability to biamp with another power amplifier, and offers an input for an external power supply. This is truly the key to the SuperNait 3. We’ve owned and reviewed every version, and while they are all fantastic performers out of the box, the performance jump from an external supply is not subtle. Especially if you have current hungry speakers, or really like the volume level up high.

The sleek, spartan, green and black Naim look is a modern take on the aesthetic that goes to the company’s beginning. A rack full of current and vintage Naim always goes together swimmingly.

There’s an in-depth review here, if you are so inclined, but if you’re just doing some quick recon, put this one on your list. We bought the review sample, and gave it an Exceptional Value Award for 2021. If you don’t have a great set of speakers yet, most Naim dealers can hook you up with a great pair of Focal speakers to go with. We had fantastic luck with the Sopra no.1s and the Kanta no.2 and no.3

The LSA Signature 50 Speakers

Think the words “great sound,” and affordable don’t belong in the same sentence?

Think again. The folks at LSA have just given you a great Scooby snack. The new LSA Signature 50 standmount speakers, are a great pair of compact, two-way speakers that might just change your perspective on approachable performance.

A big part of the credit goes to Underwood HiFi’s direct to you business model. When selling $850k/pair speakers, there’s enough pie for everyone to have at least a few slices. Not so much when you’re trying to bring awesomeness to market at $599 a pair. (Stands $179 extra, if purchased with speakers – highly suggested.) And, in Underwood tradition, the speakers have an intro price of $499 a pair.

Pee Wee Herman once said, “Everyone’s got a big but…” But in the context of a $1,000 pair of speakers (remember, these are $499) no compromises have been made. These two ways sport a 6.5” paper cone woofer and a 1.1” soft dome tweeter. The simple crossover is well executed, and the cabinets are substantial. These leather covered, hardwood beauties weigh just over 25 pounds each. Nice.

Saving the best for last, the sound is stunning. These speakers go a little beyond “nailing the basics,” with an expansive soundstage, great dynamics, and serious bass extension for such a small cabinet. A more in-depth review is on the way, but the LSA Signature 50s are not only Exceptional Value Award worthy, they’re deserving of your hard earned cash. Bark bark.

We will have an in-depth review shortly.

For now:

LSA Signature 50 Speakers

Perhaps my least favorite expression in the world of audio reviews is “wow, just wow.”

What does that really mean anyway? It leads to so many more questions. In all seriousness,
the new Signature 50 speakers from LSA (available only online from Underwood Hifi) offer
tremendous value, performance, and build quality for $599/pair.

Sporting a 6.5″ Paper cone woofer and 1.1″ soft dome tweeter, in substantial cabinets,
the complaint that high performance audio is an elitist pursuit doesn’t apply here. They’ve
done an amazing job. Real wood and leather folks.

We’ll have a full review very soon, but this is an exciting pair of speakers that you can
build a great sounding, modestly priced system around. That is kind of wow when you
think about it.

PS: Underwood is offering these at an introductory price of $499/pair. More wow.

STAX SRS-3100 System

Decades ago, when many music lovers were rocking out to a $50 pair of Koss Pro 4AA phones (or a $299 pair of ESP-9 Electrostatic phones if you had crazy money), Stax of Japan was making killer electrostatic headphones that cost as much as a Honda Civic of the current day. Today, Stax still makes some of the world’s finest, and most expensive headphones.

Now that $5,000/pair headphones are no longer anomalous, Stax has begun producing electrostatic headphones with a very modest price tag attached.

Enter the SRS-3100 system. This includes the SR-L300 Earspeaker and the SRM-2525 driver unit. Retail price is $995.

Watch for a full review very soon, but out of the box, these are impressive. But what would you expect from a company that has been making the world’s finest headphones for decades?

Equi=Core 1800 mk.III

If you’ve been following us for the past few years, you already know that we are HUGE fans of the Core Power EQUI=CORE line conditioners.

If you’re a new reader, Core Power has made a full lineup of line conditioners based on balanced isolation for some time now, and they offer fantastic results at incredibly reasonable prices. But the new 1800 is a completely different animal, because it has enough reserve power to handle an entire system, or a large power amplifier. This puts it in an entirely different league of power products. On initial listen, it’s everything we’ve come to expect from Core Power – great noise rejection/reduction, and we know first hand it will protect your entire system from the effects of a major electrical storm too. More about all of this in the upcoming review. Also, as you can see, 12 outlets. Awesome.

Right now, these are introductory priced at $1,799. Stop by and pick one up ASAP, while Underwood Wally is being this generous.

The Harbeth 40.3 XD Speakers

Enjoying music and audio is almost a spiritual journey. Some will even tell you it is. Your musical taste, hearing, budget, and where you are on your journey will determine how you will voice your system, and what components you will most likely gravitate to.

Past experience with the smaller Harbeth speakers has always played to smaller music. You can’t crank up Led Zeppelin, or Tool on a pair of C7s to the point where it is convincing. As a Harbeth owner, honestly, I’d rather play “The Rain Song” on my JBL L-100 Classics than my C7s, good as they are. Switch it up to Crosby, Stills, & Nash, or Joni Mitchell and the Harbeths prove more engaging. Much more engaging. Choices, choices.

The big Harbeth, the Monitor 40, now the M40.3 XD is an entirely different experience. The top Harbeth speaker has the weight and the depth to play any kind of music, at any volume level you need. You can play Tool loud – and get into it. But these speakers do so much more.

Forget all the audiophile stuff – for a minute

Walter Swanbon owner of Fidelis Distribution, the US distributor for Harbeth tells me the current 40.3 XD “is much more tube friendly,” and we talk about our mutual friend, the late Art Dudley. Hanging up the phone, wacky as it seems, the 40.3 XDs start their audio journey here with a pair of vintage Cary 805 SET monoblocks in the living room system. Maybe I was being possessed by Art for a little while, maybe I was having a wacky free will moment of the most counterintuitive kind. But this is a glorious combination.

Damn, if this doesn’t sound fantastic. The 40.1s were never tube adverse, but it was definitely a more diffuse perspective with a lack of bass control, that wasn’t worrisome, unless listening to someone like Jaco Pastorius or Stanley Clarke who plays a bass guitar as a lead instrument. Yet the new 40.3 XD is a more modern sound, even with these vintage 50 Watt per channel vintage SET monoblocks. Swapping the 300B driver tubes for a set of the new Western Electric 300B (review in process) tightens up the presentation even further – to a point that if you were building a serious chill out system, you’d love the combination for the win. At least at modest  to medium volume levels.

Going further in this direction, our PrimaLuna EVO 400 monoblocks, fitted with KT150s (normally a bit snappy for my liking) are just right with the big Harbeths. These amplifiers turn the 40.3 XDs into serious rock and roll machines, with close to 200 watts per channel of tubey goodness. Going through the classics from Led Zeppelin, Van Halen and some Who tracks is almost too much fun. The combination of tonal accuracy combined with a touch of saturation from the tubes makes the 40.3 XDs feel like they are the size of a Marshall stack.

The fun doesn’t stop there.

Switching to a high-current solid state amplifier made all the difference in the world with this kind of program material. Back when the 40.1s were here, my reference amplifier was the Conrad-Johnson Premier 350, and it really took control of those big woofers, creating a more modern sound. Even with the new found tube friendliness, the 40.3 XD is a different speaker entirely with a high quality solid-state power amplifier.

Unplugging the PrimaLunas and plugging in the Nagra Classic Amp brings a different perspective entirely. Listening to the bass line in the Beatles’ “Baby You’re a Rich Man,” is an entirely new groove. Through the tube amplifiers, it’s powerful and pleasant, but it becomes present with the Nagra in the system. Ditto for the Pass and Parasound amps. The extra grip from a large solid-state amplifier gives up about five percent of the midrange saturation, but adds about 200% in texture through the low frequency range.

All of this sonic intoxication leads to a day long binge listen of the Beatles. There’s so much resolution going on in the current XD version, you might just find yourself discovering information you missed previously. The extra punch in Paul’s bass, those Ringo fills you kinda heard before, and those harmonies.

Handle with extreme care

Many manufacturers of fine speakers include soft, cotton gloves to unpack them. Harbeth does not, and for good reason. The ultra-smooth finish on the Monitor 40.3 XDs are tough to get a grip on. They are just large enough (15 x 17 x 29.5 inches) and weigh just enough (84 pounds each) that you really want a pair or rubbery gloves with the grippy texture on the fingers. And a pair for the friend that helps you move them.

Normally, an 84-pound speaker isn’t the end of the world, but these are just large enough in girth, that they are a little awkward to move. Because the Harbeths have such a nice finish, and relatively thin wall cabinets, you need to handle them like a big, British, Faberge egg, that’s kind of square-ish.

Should you use the exceptional TonTräger stands that Fidelis Distribution imports from Germany and retail for this model at $1850/pr and suggests (and I do too), unless you have King Kong sized paws and Kung Fu grip, get a friend to help you unbox these and gently lower them into position on top of the stands. Keep said friend around for positioning them once on the stands too, one false move and they will tumble off the stands. Gravity’s a bitch when you watch your 23-thousand-dollar speakers tumble to the ground. Maybe this is why the 40.1s I received for review back in 2008 were less than pristine by the time I got them. Hmmm.

The Paradox of the Monitor 40.3 XD

These speakers play like massive Compact 7s, with more dynamics, more detail, and much more bass. However, like a C7ES-3 XD, these are still somewhat nearfield speakers. (Like all of the Harbeth speakers, they both feature the unique patented RADIAL2TM cone material in the midrange drivers for low mass and controlled resonance.) But… they sound their best in a large – ish room, so they can have room to breathe on their sides. Sure, you can put the Monitor 40.3 XDs in a small to medium room and they will sound great, but much like a pair of big electrostats, if you can do your best to minimize the side wall boundaries, you’ll enter a completely different world. And what a nice, inviting world it is.

Great as all this is, as hinted at the beginning of this evaluation, the Monitor 40.3 XDs really rock. Alan Shaw will probably spit out his afternoon biscuit at tea when he reads that I’ve been playing AC/DC, Van Halen and Aerosmith at punishing levels, but it’s so much fun. The 40.3 XDs move serious air, yet keep their composure. The big Harbeths not only play loud, they do it with grace, and in a linear fashion. Where some speakers have a sweet spot in terms of volume level, the 40.3 XDs don’t change their overall tonal balance going from whisper soft to brain damage loud. Yet they grab you again at the end of “Janie’s Got a Gun”  as Joe Perry’s backing vocal wafts in and out of the track – did I ever hear that before?

As we said in our awards issue, as great as the smaller Harbeths are, the 40.3 XD is Alan Shaw’s masterpiece. You should hear them.

The Harbeth Monitor 40.3 XD

Cherry – $22,500/pr.

Walnut / Rosewood / Exotic Ash – $24,500/pr.


Analog Source Rega P10/Apheta 3

Digital Source dCS Vivaldi ONE

Phono Pre VAC Renaissance

Power Amp PrimaLuna EVO 400 Monos

Cardas Clear and Clear Reflection

THE HiFi OG™ part one: I still love streaming

The recent skirmish with Neil Young and his bandmates has brought a new round of discussion about ethics surrounding streaming and streaming services. I’m not interested in re-kindling that argument.

I respect Young, CSN, and Joni Mitchell for all taking a stand. They were some of the original musical protesters, and their songs still ring true today.
However, this is just about the act of streaming. And why I enjoy it so much. If you’ve been reading our pages for a long time, you know we jumped on board with this concept when the original Sooloos music server was a $15k buy in. To stream your own discs and files. Crazy, but the Sooloos, now Roon interface is still the gold standard for my world.

I miss the interaction

As much fun as it used to be spending a day at the record store, combing through all the new and used records, how many times did you go to your favorite record store(s), and not find what you were looking for? Not that you probably didn’t still buy twice as many records as you planned on – way guilty as charged here.

For those of you lucky enough to frequent incredibly friendly and financially viable record stores, you might have gotten turned on to new artists by the staff, or by in-store performances. Sure I miss concerts, but I really miss going to Music Millennium here in Portland and seeing a new band up close do four or five songs right in the store. It’s gonna be a long time before that’s happening again, if ever.

How much is convenience worth?

The fun yet frustrating part of record shopping is being enough in the know to buy records you want to keep. Back when new records were under $10, and used records well below that, a few bad choices were merely absorbed in the ever growing record collection.

I wish I was at a point in time where I could just spend endless hours in the record store crate digging. Nah. I don’t. I’ve always had too much on my plate to spend a whole day to find a couple of albums. I don’t like camping either. And so it goes.

Once ROON came along, and then integrated itself with Qobuz, Tidal, and whatever other streaming service you might use, finding more music became interesting again. ROON remains the key to musical enjoyment, especially if your musical enjoyment is heavily weighted by musical exploration. I don’t care how old or young you are, once a few thousand albums (regardless of format) pile up, it gets harder to keep them all straight.

The video and radio stars are both long dead

Some of us of a certain age discovered new music via FM radio, and still others with MTV. Often, you had to stay up late with either format, but that’s where the treasure was buried. But now with ROON, it’s an absolute blast to select one track, no matter what the genre or artist and let ROON go from there. Their random playback algorithm beats everyone else when it comes to staying close to the original groove you started with. It’s eerie at how the machine reads my mind at times.

You may enjoy music for different reasons than I do – it’s all good. But if you share my love for musical exploration, and reminiscing, you really should consider making ROON, Tidal, and/or Qobuz part of your world. Much like the way the original Sooloos found tracks in your collection that you hadn’t heard in ages, combining this with the entire catalog at Qobuz and Tidal is wonderful. I enjoy nothing more than working away and hearing a track that was off my radar for some time. Which can often lead to digging through the virtual crates and adding another 30 or 50 albums to my library. Some will make it to physical media, others will be like movies – experiencing them once or twice will be enough.

I truly hope vinyl will always be with us. But that’s another movie and a different script. And I can say without question, with the last two years being fairly discouraging of close social interaction, the ability to easily explore a ton of new music has truly saved my sanity.

The PrimaLuna EVO 300/Floyd Design Integrated

The new PrimaLuna EVO 300/Floyd integrated amplifier begins its journey here with a PrimaLuna EVO 400 power amplifier (loaded with KT150 tubes) beside it on the rack. The dCS Vivaldi ONE has a high-quality variable output stage, making for a perfect front-end component to allow easy comparisons, as the EVO 400 is a power amplifier only. Aimee Mann’s “Humpty Dumpty” gets the evaluation off to a start, as it has on every other review I’ve written in the last 17 years.

The MoFi SACD offers a large soundfield in all three dimensions, and Mann’s voice is front, center, large, and breathy. This $7,399 integrated amplifier makes a heck of a first impression. As we’ve had a lot of great integrateds here in the last two years, mainly in the $7,000 – $12,000 range, there is a lot of competition at this price. Some offer onboard phonostages (A high-quality MM phono can be installed in your EVO 300 at the cost of $299, and it’s very good); others concentrate on a built-in DAC. Some have both, others have neither. And they all sound pretty good. There’s a lot of homework to be done. The EVO 300/Floyd leaves the choices to you.

Listening to PrimaLuna’s latest amplifier reminds me of the last time I visited the Louvre. Admiring all the different works of art from such a diverse pool of creativity made me think about amplifiers and how they all sound so different. Measurement geeks that say they all sound the same be damned. Different devices, different topologies all have a different sonic fingerprint. Here, we have something unique.

Your slice of heaven

Possibly one of the most significant discussions we as music lovers have when assembling an audio system is the merits of vacuum tube versus solid-state amplifiers. (And the relative subsets within these categories.) More often than not, tube designs possess an edge when recovering microdynamic information in a recording, and similarly, solid-state amplifiers usually have more current reserve, a higher damping factor, and more control over a speaker’s woofer cone. Hence tighter, more powerful bass response.

Many audiophiles have declared their piece of audio heaven mating a tube preamplifier with a solid-state power amplifier to get the airy delicacy that tubes produce and the extra bass control, dynamics, and current drive of a solid-state power amplifier. While other hybrid designs usually use a pair of tubes as buffer or driver stages to add a bit of warmth, the EVO 300 Floyd brings together a vacuum tube preamplifier and solid-state power amplifier on a single chassis. The result is sheer genius.

Herman van den Dungen, the man behind PrimaLuna, reveals that this hybrid integrated amplifier is designed with a twist. Though it sports a vacuum tube preamplifier section, with six 12AU7 tubes, and a solid-state Mosfet power section, don’t look for a pair of pre-out/power-in jacks on the rear panel. It is not meant to be broken apart into individual sections. On one level, why would you? Both sections have been designed to mate perfectly with the other, and the use of switching or jumpers would only degrade the sound. Tape deck and subwoofer fans fear not, there is a variable output for your sub and a pair of fixed outputs for your reel to reel deck!

As Mosfet devices come the closest to approaching the voice that tubes provide, it’s a natural match, and because there are no output tubes to replace, a re-tube will not be expensive. 12AU7s are plentiful, and even if you feel the urge to roll tubes, NOS 12AU7s aren’t nearly as costly as 12AX7s.

Getting into it

If you’ve never experienced a PrimaLuna amplifier – they are pretty heavy, and well packaged. However, where the EVO 400 all-tube amplifier tips the scale at almost 70 pounds, the EVO 300/Floyd is 55 pounds. Even though the usual massive output transformers are lacking, a dedicated 500VA transformer is on deck for the power amplifier section, and the preamplifier uses a pair of smaller, dedicated power transformers for the tube section.

Removing the bottom cover is a visual feast for the parts geek/aficionado. A cursory look reveals an expensive ALPS volume pot, along with resistors and capacitors from Nichicon, Rubycon, Kemet, Takman, DuRoch, and others. This is the kind of stuff that one usually finds lurking in amplifiers costing 3-5 times as much.

PrimaLuna’s vacuum tube amplifiers are all built with point-to-point wiring (except for the small auto-bias board that eliminates the need to bias the output tubes) and feature a fanatic level of attention to detail. Those arguing point to point wiring can’t compete with the consistency offered by printed circuit boards have never looked inside a PrimaLuna! The EVO 300/Floyd still uses point-to-point wiring, but there are three PCBs now. These boards are 2.4mm thick with 105um gold-plated copper traces, for maximum longevity and highest signal integrity.

Fit and finish elsewhere is equally fantastic. PrimaLuna has always set the standard for execution, using their signature dark blue metallic for the chassis, mated to a thick aluminum front panel with silver or black anodizing. The only thing feeling out of place on recent PrimaLuna products is the control and selector knobs. The rough, pebbly finish does not look as “finished” as the smooth ones used in earlier PL products. This is truly my only complaint with the EVO300/Floyd, but it is something that other PL owners have talked about online. Perhaps offer an upgraded, machined pair of knobs as an add-on?

Around the back, there are five line-level RCA inputs. Unlike the EVO separates, where moving to the 400 series brings balanced capability, the EVO 300 and 300/Floyd only feature RCA inputs. You can only fit so much onto a chassis at some point, and this won’t be a deal-breaker for most.

Finally, PrimaLuna offers a full-function, machined aluminum remote that is again a class leader. You won’t find this level of detail on a nearly $20,000 Audio Research Reference preamplifier. Even better, PrimaLuna’s remote will work with the full range of their components, so if you happen to have an older PL CD player or their EVO DAC (read our review here), you can control everything with one remote. It’s a nice touch that comes with 20 plus years of building components with a human element.

Tomato, tomato?

The EVO 300/Floyd has a rated output of 100 Watts per channel into 8 ohms, and 150 Watts into a 4-ohm load. Early reviews in the UK and European press that are putting it on the test bench reveal closer to 120 Watts into 8 ohms and about 180 into 4 ohms. My EVO 400 reference amplifier delivers 88 Watts per channel and can be switched into triode mode (albeit only producing 50 Watts per channel with KT-150s), offering more flexibility where the ultimate in LF “slam” is not a necessity.

This is more a “different” than a “better” comparison. Listening to both topologies side by side, the lineage is obvious. Thanks to the extra current drive that the hybrid amplifier provides, it will deliver better results with a broader range of speakers. Nothing is off limits with the EVO 300/Floyd. It will even take hold of a pair of Magnepans with ease. HiFi News (and occasional TONE contributor) correspondent Ken Kessler mentions that the EVO 300/Floyd did a great job driving his Wilson Audio DAWs – a speaker that requires a high-quality amplifier.

Carefully listening to tracks with dense mixes and highly layered vocals, such as Todd Rundgren, Crowded House, CSN, and others, shows the hybrid amplifier giving up little quarter to the all-tube EVO yet painting a slightly deeper, more dramatic sound field. Solo acoustic instruments and vocal pieces nod slightly to the tube amp, but heavy rock and large-scale classical pieces favor the Floyd. Again, remember I’m splitting hairs here. This is an incredibly well accomplished product.

Hours of listening underlines what an enjoyable product this is, and at times you might find yourself wanting to lift that top cover to see what’s really in there. We’ve got a pic, so you don’t have to – the EVO 300/Floyd does have a solid-state output stage. PrimaLuna has done a better job combining tubes and transistors on one chassis than anything we’ve come across. This amplifier has not made a single misstep while here. I can’t imagine anyone having buyer’s remorse after taking the plunge. This amplifier has an overall tonality incorporating the inner detail and spaciousness that you would typically associate with an all-tube design.

Feed your head

In addition to adding a MM phonostage, the EVO 300/Floyd sports a ¼” headphone jack on the front panel. You merely need to push the HP/LS switch on the right side to disable the speaker outputs when listening with headphones.

PrimaLuna powers the headphone jack with the full amplifier, so you are not listening to an inexpensive OP amp powered headphone module. Auditioning a wide range of phones on hand from Focal, Grado, and Sennheiser was indeed satisfying. All but the most obsessed headphone listener will not feel the need for an outboard amplifier – further increasing the value proposition or the EVO 300/Floyd.

But why go hybrid?

Telling the story of the EVO300/Floyd on the PrimaLuna home site, van den Dungen (with his usual wry sense of humor) asks the question, “PrimaLuna, what are you doing now?” The answer is complex, but this amplifier is a valuable addition to the PrimaLuna lineup. If you are an audio enthusiast that only wants a vacuum tube setup, PL has you covered. However, if you have a pair of speakers that could use that extra bit of current capability only a solid-state amplifier will deliver, then this amplifier is the perfect solution.

Maybe you’re a tube lover with limited space, or you’re just tired of buying so many tubes. Again, the EVO300/Floyd is the winner. Sonic taste is as wide as the Grand Canyon; you may prefer the hybrid’s voice over anything else. Considering how easy the PrimaLuna amplifiers we’ve owned and reviewed are on tubes, you may never even need to re-tube your EVO300/Floyd. 10,000 hours on a set of 12AU7s in a PrimaLuna or even more wouldn’t surprise me in the least.

As I’ve said many times before in these pages, I love integrated amplifiers because they save you a set of interconnects and a power cord when building a system, making them a supreme value. To that effect, I am thrilled to give the EVO300/Floyd one of our first Exceptional Value Awards of the new year. This is an amplifier you can build a high-performance system around and keep for a long time. Considering that my PrimaLuna ProLogue One is still going strong after 20 years, you can take that one to the bank.


Digital Source dCS Vivaldi ONE, HiFi Rose 150

Analog Source Technics SL-1200/Denon 103/Pass XP-27

Speakers Sonus faber Stradiveri, Eggleston Nico, Acoustat 2+2

Cable Cardas Clear Relection, Tellurium Q Black II

The SVS PB-1000 Pro and SB-1000 Pro Subwoofers

Here’s a twist for you. Normally, I’m always comparing cars to hifi gear. But not this time.

There’s a great burger place in my neighborhood called Killer Burger, that plays metal music most of the time and their burgers all have great names. My favorite burger is called “the fun guy.” That’s what the 1000 Pro series subwoofers are from SVS. The fun guy. Big fun.

If you haven’t heard of SVS, they aren’t far away. No other audio company is more ubiquitous in the world of social media. Not JBL, Not McIntosh Group. None of them come close. They are always doing cool product giveaways, group chats, instructional videos, and just plain entertaining stuff. They even posted a video the other day of the PB (ported) 16-Ultra sub knocking down a platoon of plastic army men with the bass ports. How cool is that?

I had to try this for myself, so I set up some army men and cranked up some Public Enemy through the PB-1000 we have here for review. About 20 seconds into “Fight the Power,” I’d slain them all. I told you that hifi should be more than charts and graphs.

Fun guys indeed

Billie Eilish’s recent release, Happier Than Ever, is full of deep, rumbling bass lines. It’s a testament to the SVS engineering team and production team’s prowess. These are some incredibly good subwoofers for $599 and $799 respectively.

Thanks to a 12-inch driver with a massive voice coil, and a 325-Watt Mosfet amp that gets the job done, whether you’re a music lover, movie goer, or both. If you have the space, and the budget, SVS gives you a $50 discount on a pair of SB’s and $100 on a pair of PB’s, free shipping, and they offer financing with Affirm. Top that with some of the best customer service in the business and you have no excuse for not having a system with serious bass extension.

The difference?

The PB-1000 Pro is the “ported box,” and the SB-1000 Pro is a “sealed box.” If you’re a new audio enthusiast, and aren’t familiar with the differences, the difference in enclosure makes for a different way to tune the woofer. A sealed box subwoofer doesn’t go quite as low as a ported box (all things pretty much equal as they are here) with the SB going down to 20Hz and the PB to 17Hz.

The bass characteristic of the ported PB-1000 Pro is a slightly looser and less defined, but a little more powerful. The SB-1000 Pro reproduces bass with a slightly taughter voice. There’s no better or worse here, but if you are watching more movies, you might prefer that extra bit of authority that the PB gives up when listening to bomb blasts, cannons, and the like. However, if you listen to more jazz, you might prefer the slightly more resolving presentation the SB offers when listening to a fretless electric bass, or a standup acoustic. It’s cool that SVS offers you the choice.

I listen to such a wide range of program material, I can have a great time with either. Not sure? If you have the extra room for the PB-1000 Pro, you can get port plugs (free of course, from the fun guys at SVS) and split the difference. This gives you the option to let the ports move a little more air when you’re watching your favorite movies, and plug them up when you’re feeling a little more audiophile-y.
Setup – part 1
Some people don’t realize that setting a subwoofer up for maximum bass extension, minimum upper bass bloat, and a seamless blend to your main speakers takes a bit of time to finesse. Those that blame “boominess” on the subwoofer, just don’t have them set up properly. That’s no fun.
Without the front grille, the SB-1000 Pro is nearly a 13” cube, making it easy to place just about anywhere. The PB-1000 Pro slightly larger, is about a 19” cube. You can find the full specs of both subwoofers here on the SVS site.

Working with both, in a side by side comparison, the first choice is always a corner placement if you can. Again, pay close attention to the transition from lower bass up through mid-bass and how it responds to your room. Find your favorite piece of music that has a lot of LF content that you are very familiar with. Get ready to play the track over and over, moving the box ever so slightly out from the corner until it no longer feels overly heavy.

Advanced setup

Should corner placement not work, go for placement up against the wall. Try starting about a foot away from the wall and do the same thing, though you will probably have to turn the level up a little higher. With 325 watts on tap, you can still pull this off with ease. If your room is reasonably symmetrical, do the same thing on the other side of the room.

Here’s what makes the 1000 series easier to use than the rest. In addition to their built-in DSP processing, they’ve made it something you can adjust from the convenience of your listening chair. This is awesome for two reasons: it’s a time saver and you can fine-tune the setup just right from your exact listening position. Just download the SVS app to your tablet or smartphone. I use this app with my PC-4000 and 3000 Micro subwoofers, and it’s a snap to use.

In addition to allowing you to set crossover frequency and level, the SVS app gives you a parametric EQ and the ability to save multiple setups. It’s like having the 1, 2, and 3 buttons on your car’s adjustable seats. Make it easy for different people or different moods.

The 1000 series can be wired with high level speaker connections, line level outputs from your preamplifier, or as a .1LFE channel for your surround/multichannel system. If that’s not convenient, you can add the SVS Wireless adapter. Of course, you can adjust all this from the rear panel of the subwoofer, but it’s so much more fun to do it from your phone!

If this feels a bit daunting, you can head back to the SVS website, where they have a number of great tips, and YouTube videos that will assist you in the finer points of subwoofer setup. These are well-executed, offering great information for audio enthusiasts at all skill levels.

Further advantages to the DSP

But the true advantage of DSP is that is gives you more placement options than subs that lack DSP. You can look at this two ways – the purist audiophile approach or what makes the most sense for your environment. We can’t always put speakers and subwoofers exactly where they need to sound perfect and let everything else fall by the wayside. Living your life comes first.

DSP will make up for nearly all of the room anomalies, getting you so much closer, and in some cases better without a lot of moving subwoofer(s) around. I still advise you to do as much physical optimization beforehand, but you’ll be amazed at the difference of your system’s sound before and after you run the DSP.

Thanks to said presets, if you happen to be an audio enthusiast that uses multiple speaker setups, or want to mix it up now and then, being able to store a few setups makes it a lot easier to engage multiple speakers. Using a pair of stand mounted monitors for a more intimate system, or perhaps swap for some large floorstanders, or drag a pair of Magnepans out? Easy, and I did just that, trying the 1000 series subs with a pair of small Maggies, a pair of Sonus faber Lumina 1s and a pair of Focal Arias. All were easy to mate with the SVS subs. I wouldn’t hesitate to use them with anything.

Final thoughts and listening

Hundreds of hours spent putting both subwoofers through extensive listening, with many different speakers proves them to be musical and of high quality. These are the easiest subwoofers to use on the market, and that’s as fun as hifi gets. Grab a pair of SVS 1000 series subwoofers and be the fun guy to everyone, except maybe your downstairs neighbors. Another Exceptional Value Award winner, to be sure!

The SVS PB-1000 Pro and SB-1000 Pro

Price: $799 and $599

The new Fozgometer is here…

Musical Surroundings just announced their new Fozgometer V2 azimuth range meter, a unique tool to optimize phono cartridge azimuth for the best sound from your HiFi system.

To achieve the best performance, your phono cartridge’s azimuth must be properly calibrated. Today’s Line Contact and Micro Line styli have a very small groove contact area as compared to elliptical styli, thus requiring finer adjustment. Correct azimuth alignment assures the highest channel separation and best channel balance, providing outstanding sound and imaging.

The Fozgometer V2 incorporates a sensitive “Log Ratio Detector” to measure the channel separation and channel balance of your phono cartridge. It features higher sensitivity, greater accuracy, a new meter design, and AC or battery power for more accurate azimuth calibration.

The original Fozgometer was introduced in 2010 with almost 5,000 sold worldwide. We’ve used ours with excellent result. #toneaudioapproved.

For more information contact: [email protected]

Last minute shopping with REL

REL 2022 Price Increases, Effective 01.15.2022

REL has been forced to raise their prices for all the usual reasons (400% shipping increases and an average of 21% per model cost increases). We’re lucky, they’ve decided to only pass on a portion of it so the biggest cost increases are 10% and some (T/5x) are as little as 3%, while others (T/9x) haven’t gone up at all. Serie S will see a 10% rise so the S/812 goes to $3,299, the S/510 up to $2,749.

Special Offer is Almost Over: For those of you in the U.S. you have just a few days left to buy them on their December Serie S Special, thereby saving you $600 on the S/812 and $450 on the S/510 compared with they’ll run you in just a couple weeks. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Issue 110

Cover Story:



Old School: The Dynaco Stereo 400
-By Jeff Dorgay

Cartridge Dude: The Ortofon Concorde Century

1095: Gear for Just over a G
The Dynaudio Emit 10 Speakers

Shanon Says: Shanon McKellar discovers the York phono stage

Merch Table: Relics From Rock’s Past

Mine: It Should Be Yours


Playlists:  We share our readers choices from around the world

Future Tense

Gear in our immediate future

Why High-End Audio Gear and Luxury Goods Are Strange Bedfellows

To the segment of the high-end audio industry trying to reposition components as luxury goods, I have a message: you’re barking up the wrong tree. To the new entrants trying to create “curated luxury goods experiences,” I submit that you’re wasting your time. No, I’m not trying to be a jerk. I’m actually trying to help.

As someone who’s spent an incredibly disproportionate amount of my income on audio gear since I turned 14 and who has been writing about said equipment for more than two decades, I have gotten to know many audio enthusiasts around the globe. My love of automobiles has also introduced me to another segment of affluent consumers. In addition, my first wife’s parents were incredibly wealthy and put me in touch with people in their network. While I may not be a total expert, I have relevant data points to share from four decades of experience. And, being the human equivalent of a fox terrier, I always ask questions. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Many of our industry’s best companies possess a level of passion for visual and electronic design that matches the intensity of any of the world’s finest automobile manufacturers. They also have the same density of thought. But a difference occurs downstream. Almost no one thinks you’re awesome because you bought a $100k DAC. (Guilty as charged.) In our influencer-driven, ADD world, hi-fi doesn’t have the same cache of a new Porsche GT3 or a Patek Phillipe watch. Sorry, but it’s true.

Don’t believe me? Tell 100 non-audio people you just bought a pair of Sonus faber speakers. (Again, guilty.) I’ll bet a healthy sum that nobody will even know what you’re talking about, other than you got a pair of speakers. Tell the same 100 people you just bought a new Rolex and they will all be impressed or possibly start a conversation with you about watches or jewelry. Tell 100 people you just bought a new Harley, Ducati, or Porsche 911, and you’ll probably have at least a dozen new friends that want to hang with you.

Why? One reason is because hi-fi isn’t transportable. You can’t take it to lunch and show it off or attend a cars-and-coffee event, casually trotting over to the pack after getting out of your new toy. Like it or not, part of the appeal of owning luxury goods is getting to brag about them and being included in a community. Hi-fi doesn’t work that way. For example, telling 100 Porsche owners you just bought a new GT3 might start a minor argument about whether you bought the right one with a manual gearbox or Porsche’s excellent PDK automatic. No matter which option you chose, you’re still a god in that universe. Tell 100 audiophiles you just bought a $50k turntable, or even better, upgraded your system with $50k of premium wire, and 97 of them will tell you why you’re an idiot and why their $4,000 system is far better than your mega system. The issues run deeper.

Because they are often experience-driven and time-challenged, high-income earners don’t spend major cash on high-end audio systems. On rare occasions, I’ve met a few people with means that love to hang out with friends, relax, and listen to music. Some are members of the Greater Toronto Area Audiophile Club. I know there are more, and I’ve seen a few groups on Facebook that I’d love to meet when travel eases again. But assuming that someone who owns a nice car or a collection of nice cars (or watches, cameras, wine, etc.) will automatically want to buy a mega audio system, even if it is branded a “luxury good,” is just wrong.

Maybe it’s because music is a deeply personal thing. It might also relate to high-end audio’s exclusionary nature. In order to derive the most pleasure from a system, you must sit in the sweet spot. Alone. In silence. That’s not something everyone wants to do. Most people would rather go to a concert. Or go on vacation. Granted, the recent COVID lockdowns and limits on mobility have contributed to a couple of terrific years in the industry. Still, I’m curious how many will upgrade their systems with equal enthusiasm when it’s relatively safe to travel again.

Where does that leave us?

The future of audio isn’t bleak. There are more and better choices than ever before. The point of entry for serious sound is far less expensive than any other time in history, and the proliferation of online retailers and used-gear vendors has made it easier to acquire last year’s toys. I’ve always said well-loved, pre-owned gear is a great way to start an audiophile journey.

A good friend who has been an audio retailer for as long as I’ve been buying gear once said: “My average customer is like you, a person that makes a decent living, that spends way too much of it on his hi-fi system. Where do I get a mailing list for that?”

While that doesn’t make for exciting social media, I suspect the world of high-end audio will still thrive the way it always has: by way of enthusiasts and enthusiast publications. Keep passing the word around.  -Jeff Dorgay

Tone’s Last Minute Holiday Shopping Guide – Sponsored by MoFi Distribution

For those of you like us, that either leave shopping and holidays to the last minute, or somehow end up being the person that buys yourself the best presents at the end of the day, here’s a few suggestions from the crew at MoFi Distribution.

Little Fwend Automatic Tone Arm Lifter. This one reminds us of the automatic and semi automatic tables of the old days, when you could walk away from your turntable, knowing nothing bad would happen at the end of the record.

MoFi Ultra Low Noise Feet.
We’ve used these with a number of different components to great effect.

MoFi Super Heavy Weight Champion Weight. This one’s so awesome, we’ve got three of em – one for each of our Technics decks.
IsoTek EVO3 Polaris. We use the larger Sirius version, but this and the Polaris offer up a great power conditioning solution for small systems. Very reasonably priced, too.

Suntory Whisky Toki.  More cocktails, less arguing about cables, pressings, and politics. Sign us up. Back when we all went to hifi shows, this crew made the best drinks. Here’s one of their secrets. (Key ingredient of the MoFi Japanese Old Fashioned)

Dr. Feickert Next Generation Cartridge Alignment Tool.
Another #ToneAudioApproved product. We started with the Geo Disc and graduated to the Feickert Protractor nearly a decade ago. The current version is even easier to use with a great instruction booklet.

PIEGA ACE 30 Speakers. These mini monitors from Piega, pack a major punch. Say that ten times as fast as you can. Bonus points for saying this ten times after a few Old Fashioned’s. Ha.

MoFi Script T-Shirt.
Our publisher’s been wearing one of these since the day TONE was launched. If you are a true vinylista, you really need one.

Wharfdale Diamond 12.2 Speakers.
These mini monitors with Wharfdale’s new Klarity cones will surprise you. In a good toys instead of socks kind of way.

MoFi Edition LS3/5a Speakers. There are a number of variations on the LS3/5a theme. These are one of the best. We could argue THE best, but hey, let’s have some of that whisky, and listen to another record instead…

Finite Element Ceraball Feet. Finite makes incredibly good equipment racks (that just happen to be gorgeous as well) and these Ceraball feet work remarkably well, eliminating even more vibration from diffusing the sonic picture your system presents. We’ve had incredibly good luck with these under vacuum tube components. Hint, hint.

Leak Audio Stereo 130. This one sounds great, and pays homage to Leak’s beginning. Not to mention looks super cool. Don’t forget the matching CD player!

SolidSteel SS Series Speaker Stands. Practical, affordable, and hold a lot of weight. The perfect thing for those big monoblocks. What, no big monoblocks? Keep shopping.

MoFi LP #9 Stylus Cleaner. Keep that stylus clean! It’s easy. Just go back to front. Remember that.

HiFi Rose RS201 The new HiFi Rose streamers are our favorites, bar none. This one’s got an integrated amp built in, making it the perfect audiophile gift for your non-audiophile friends. They won’t know you snuck it in under the tree. Just add whisky and speakers for instant party. See how easy that was?

Issue 109

Cover Story:

Three Integrated Amplifiers from Audia Flight

Long term reviews of BAT REX 3 Preamplifier
and REL Carbon Special Subwoofer


Old School: The Pioneer RT-707 Reel to Reel Deck
-By Ken Kessler

The Audiophile Apartment: The PrimaLuna EVO 100 DAC
-By Sean Zloch

1095: Gear for Just over a G
We check out the SVS SB and PB-1000 Subwoofers

Shhhh…. Systems for low level listening
T+A’s Caruso R and matching speakers

Merch Table: Relics From Rock’s Past

Mine: It Should Be Yours


Playlists:  We share our readers choices from around the world

Jim Macnie on Jazz

Review: Nancy Sinatra’s BOOTS re-issue
-By Pam Griffin

Future Tense

Gear in our immediate future

The EJ Jordan Marlow Speakers

Listening to Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” is increasing the gravitational pull of the couch the minute I hit the play button. If you’ve never heard a good single driver speaker, you might just freak out. In a good way.

There is something so special about the absence of a crossover network, and all the artifacts that come along with even the best ones – you don’t realize it until it’s missing. And the EJ Jordan Marlows are great single driver speakers.

Moving on to Keith Jarrett’s The Koln Concert makes this particular listening session even more of a treat. There’s a silkiness to the piano that feels absent or forced on other speakers. Where something like a big pair of Wilsons, Focals, or Magicos almost seem hyperdetailed, there’s a relaxed detail here. You can’t have a speaker that is more coherent than one with a single driver.

No, you shouldn’t trade in your Grande Utopias just yet. If you are a true audio enthusiast, this is a pair of speakers you should own, just to have the experience – even if you have a massive pair of floor standers. Just as there are certain watches you should own if you are a watch collector, and certain motorbikes you should take for a spin if that is your passion – I submit you should own a pair of Marlows, and build a system around them.

At about $2200/pair, the Marlows are on the low end of the price scale, if you’re looking at LS3/5As, and even if you go upscale to their CE version (about $300/pair more) these are more than fairly priced. The CE model features pure copper binding posts that will allow you to use speaker cable with spade lug ends, and offer additional damping inside. Our review concentrates on the standard Marlow model, which can only work with banana termination. This was easy as our reference living room system uses Cardas Clear Ultra cables, with banana plugs.

Amplifier choices

EJ Jordan states the Marlows will produce 86db with one watt – and with no crossover to absorb any power, they are more efficient than other speakers with a similar sensitivity. If you are familiar with Nelson Pass’ theory of the first watt – (if the first watt doesn’t sound great, the rest won’t either) the Marlows are incredibly easy to drive. Staying with that train of thought, starting the listening with the First Watt F3 amplifier that is optimized for single-driver speakers is positively heavenly. The Marlows gave their most extended performance with this amplifier – delivering the most solid, extended bass response and hf response.

A handful of tube amplifiers on hand also prove excellent, but different. The PrimaLuna ProLogue One (30 wpc, EL34 tubes) a warmer, mellower, almost fatter sound, than the Octave V110SE, which is more neutral, yet more dynamic. The conrad-johnson CAV54 mk 2 in our living room system is right down the middle, in terms of dynamics and extension, but proves to be the most three-dimensional experience. My Dynaco Stereo 70 is yet another sonic journey. See why these are so fun?

Back to the music

Now, you don’t have to be an obsessed audiophile to love the Marlows. Hook them up to your favorite integrated and sources and just enjoy them. A pair of 4-inch drivers will only move so much air and play so loud. You can’t rock the house with Zeppelin, but you might just be surprised at how loud these will play in a small-ish room. That’s not really what these are about though – the Marlows are definitely a quality over quantity decision. They provide satisfying results in our 13 x 18 foot room, but were even more lovely when moved to our back room that is only 11 x 13 feet.

On a pair of Sound Anchors 24” stands, about 6 feet apart, finding the perfect spot from the back wall to balance the bass and upper bass just right is critical. Plan on the better part of the day to really optimize these, if you don’t you will find the Marlows only average, and it’s not their fault. You can drive a 43 horsepower Austin Healy Sprite rather spiritedly down a country road, provided you don’t waste a single one of those horses.
The same approach applies to the Marlows. Use decent quality sources, a good amplifier, good cables and be relentless with the setup and they will make magic for you. If your musical taste does center more around vocals, string ensembles, and modest rock/jazz selections without the most major dynamic swings, these speakers will give their all. Going back to “Quiet Houses” from the Fleet Foxes s/t debut, and way back to “Helplessly Hoping” from the Crosby, Stills, and Nash debut both serve up equal levels of excitement. These speakers are all about subtle delicacy, providing a very immersive listening experience at a moderate volume.

Much like a pair of Magnepan SMGs, the bass response that the Marlows offer up is detailed and solid. Listening to the acoustic bass intro to Rickie Lee Jones’ “Easy Money” (especially in my smaller room) is more than compelling enough to have you lamenting what you’re missing. Ending the evaluation with Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy” is a ton of fun – as he proclaims his sexiness, the way RSF’s drawl eases into nothingness has me re-thinking the fidelity of this track.

Familiar look, yet different internals

If you aren’t paying careful attention, the BBC inspired styling cues of the EJ Jordan Marlow speakers might fool you into thinking you were looking at another LS3/5A. Yet these small British speakers couldn’t be more different. Because they are not under license from the BBC, the Marlows are not held to the same design constraints.

They are meticulously made, yet these compact speakers utilize a single 3.93 inch (100mm) full range Eikona driver. If you click here to go to the EJ Jordan site and poke around a bit, you’ll find out that their designer, Ted Jordan is a powerhouse of speaker engineering. The Eikona driver is assembled at Scan Speak with critical parts originating in the UK.

A major variation on the theme

I’ve never thought of LS3/5As as wooly or boxy (though they are a bit colored, especially through the mid bass range), but always as fun, very engaging, very musical small speakers that deliver a certain magic in a small room – in a near field situation. Thanks to my friend Erik at Gig Harbor Audio, I’ve even heard the LS3/5As rock in a medium sized room with a good subwoofer.

going back to my pair of reference LS3/5As, I’m now ruined by the clarity that the Marlows provide. I hope the folks at Jordan won’t be too upset with me, but with a pair of REL TZero Mark IIIs staring right at me (with 6-inch woofers, easily able to keep up with the small Jordan cones) it begged to be investigated. I won’t tell you that you must have a pair of small REL subs to enjoy the Marlows, but as someone who uses them with a pair of LS3/5As, you might really dig this combination. It’s a different vibe than the Marlow’s alone, yet with some care, it was easy to tune the RELs to come in ever so gently on the bottom where the Eikona driver rolls off. If your musical taste heads more towards electronica and more full scale music, it’s cheating doing it this way, but really fun. It’s almost like using a pair of Quad 57s (guilty of that sin as well) with subs.

It’s also worth mentioning here that Marlow suggests their stands that are optimized for these speakers. Though my Sound Anchors do, in fact have the solid plate that Marlow advises against. Rather than blu-tack them down as with any other speaker with a more dense, thick wall cabinet, digging a set of Finite Elemente Cerebase pods out of the toolbox, brought a cleaner sound overall. I suspect that going a step futher with the Jordan stands will offer every bit these speakers have to offer.

A must have

Whether you are building a compact, yet high-performance system for a small room, a second system, or even just want to keep a pair of these around for when you’re in the mood for a different drive, the EJ Jordan Marlows are one of the most enjoyable speakers we’ve had the pleasure to listen too. These may just end up back here at some point on a permanent basis.

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.

The Manley Snapper Monoblocks

Spinning Paul Weller’s “Beyond Sunset” just feels right through the Manley Snappers. Founder EveAnna Manley is currently a Southern California being, and these amplifiers instantly bring up that easy beach feeling. The amps are warmed up before the listening begins, and it only takes a few notes to get into the incredible chill vibe that these amplifiers provide.

These days, as many tube amplifier manufacturers are falling over themselves trying to make amplifiers that are hyper-accurate, some are losing their souls in the process. Selfishly speaking, if you’re going to go the tube route, there should be a bit of romance, a bit of feel, a sense that you are really in analog world, eh?

Those tied to the world of measurements (along with the subgroup that believes all amplifiers sound the same) rarely if ever get the magic that a great tube amplifier brings to the party. So, for now, we’re just going to ignore that group. For what it’s worth, Manley says the Snappers will deliver full power at 10Hz all the way to 40KHz. Considering all the electronic music we played while they were here, there’s no reason to doubt this claim. Cranking up all the Massive Attack, Aphex Twin and Tosca tracks we could find are a joy with these amplifiers.

The lowest frequencies are usually where tube amplifiers fall down, getting a little bit soft and uncontrolled at the lowest frequencies. A lot of the genius in tube amplifier design is in circuit refinement and the utmost in care when winding output transformers. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of either at Manley Labs, and like the world’s finest tube amplifier manufacturers, they wind their own. This makes it possible to get exactly what you need for the intended operation, and fine tuning doesn’t break the bank, paying an outside vendor to (hopefully) achieve the desired results.

When I caught up with EveAnna Manley, she confirmed my suspicions about their dedication to the output transformers, which are all wound in-house. “That’s a major motion picture. When we re-did the circuit topology a while back, Mitch went over everything. The output transformers are a 19-section wind. They take about 4 hours to wind one, it’s the best output transformer we make.” This is usually the difference between lesser and greater tube amps.

Fun shape, big value

The Snappers are finished in the standard dark blue color they’ve come in forever, and it’s a fun color. The shape is somewhat of a cross between vintage and contemporary, honoring new and old school industrial design in the process. Each amplifier weighs about 45 pounds each, so nearly anyone can lift them – a real benefit. My favorite part of the aesthetic is the way the Manley logo blinks until the amplifiers warm up – this lets you know the amplifier is in MUTE mode until it’s ready to go.

These amplifiers are a fully balanced, differential design, so they do not rely on transformers to achieve balanced operation. Each mono amplifier uses a 12AX7 input tube, a 5687 (or 7044) driver and four EL-34B output tubes. This adds to the finesse and transient speed that the Snappers offer. A pair of Snappers will set you back $9,399 as of October 1. Considering a pair of PrimaLuna EVO 400s are similarly priced, the McIntosh MC1502 tips the scale at about $12k and the new REF80 from ARC is $15k, the Snappers remain a top value. If you happen to be an audiophile on a budget, that likes to snap up gently used gear, good luck. In the last ten years, I think I’ve seen maybe three pairs of Snappers on the used market. I suggest getting your own pair and hanging on to them forever.

For those of you that aren’t familiar with Manley Labs, they build a lot of gear that works daily in some of the world’s most notable recording and mastering studios. Peeling the onion back further, you’ll be surprised at how many of your favorite tracks have been touched by Manley pro gear over the years. This matters for two reasons. Ms. Manley knows what music is supposed to sound like, and Manley gear doesn’t break. It’s one thing to have your home system crap out in the middle of a weekend listening session, but when something fails in the middle of a record that’s probably going to win a Grammy, heads roll.

Defining the Snapper sound

Sound, especially the sound generated by a playback system is a personal, intimate experience when assembled with care. You know the sound you’re looking for, and you might have to audition many different amplifiers until you find that sound. That sound that makes the tumblers in your cognitive center all snap into place and let you relax, forget about everything and settle in.

If you’ve been on a somewhat long quest for that perfect tube amplifier, and can live with 100 Watts per channel, the Snappers can be your grail. Joe Walsh’s So What? has a big, fat, beefy sound with the Snappers in the system, playing through the Sonus faber Stradiveris. (sans REL six-pack) Every bit of classic rock I love, and have listened to for decades is mega-engaging through the Snappers, regardless of what speakers I use.

The Snappers render music in a fast, lively, and engaging way, without getting too-tubey. Fun as some of our favorite vintage amps from Marantz, McIntosh, and Dynaco are, they have a warm, syrupy, romantic feel. Those of you that worship at the altar of PRAT (pace, rhythm, and timing) will call these vintage amplifiers slow. Depending on your room and system, this can be enticing, but when dynamic material is played, they come up short. Imaging suffers, and there just isn’t that slam you really want. The missing dynamics are the fourth dimension required to make music sound natural when reproduced.

The Snappers really rock. Again, thanks in part to the output transformers and equally because of their overbuilt power supplies. Manley tells me that while tube rectifiers are more romantic, “The solid-state rectifiers allow for bigger power supply caps and more energy storage. That’s the control you’re hearing.” Powering through the massive bass intro to BTOs “Not Fragile” really shows off the finesse these amps exhibit. Those of you with higher brow musical taste might try Stanley Clarkes’ “Bassically Taps.” The great thing about the BTO track, is how well the Snappers keep the grungy, distorted guitars firmly placed over the bass line as it progresses. No matter how complex and layered the mix, the Snappers keep everything where it should be. While they don’t over embellish, like those warmer, tube-y er amps, they do offer a nice degree of tonal saturation that is so pleasing, it’s tough to escape the gravitational pull of the listening chair. Like for hours.


With 100 Watts each on tap, the Snappers drove everything we paired them with. Having been in the middle of a speaker issue, they were tried with about 20 different speakers, from single driver models, up to the mighty Focal Stella Utopia EMs. (and quite a few in between) There were no issues with any speaker. The Snappers even did a great job with my vintage Acoustat 1+1s, and the Magnepan SMGs – both somewhat notorious to drive.

100 Watts per channel is a nice, sweet spot that makes nearly every speaker your oyster, unless you just have to listen at brain damage levels. I’m a huge fan of the smaller, less powerful Manley Mahi’s (50wpc with EL84 tubes) and they might just be the best amps on Earth for driving a pair of Quad 57s, but sometimes 40 Wpc isn’t always enough to really crank it up. Here’s where you have to think about your priorities (but don’t we all?). The Mahi’s can deliver a little more inner detail, a little bit more of that “pinpoint imaging” that is the catnip for some audiophiles. The Snappers have nearly all that finesse, but with more giddyup. It’s like the difference between a 400cc sport bike and a 600cc sport bike – both are still way more nimble than a full litre bike, but the 600cc bike makes it a little easier to get there.

If you are still intrigued by the Mahi’s, please click here to read our full review.

One more thing worthy of note, while some tube amps these days support an auto-bias configuration, the Snappers need to be biased manually. Manley provides excellent instructions in the owner’s manual and on their website -it’s not that tough. They are even kind enough to include a basic digital multimeter (DMM) so you won’t have to source one. Usually, biasing power tubes needs to be done when they are new, again at about 100 hours, and maybe double check every few hundred hours. Somewhere down the road, one or more of the output tubes will no longer bias up, or you’ll notice a bit of softness in the high frequencies. That’s when it’s time for new tubes. Unless you’re made of money, work with the standard tubes. Rolling EL-34s these days is expensive.

What’s not to love?

If you’re new to tubes, you might just think the Manley Snappers are incredible and be done with it. However, if you’ve sampled your fair share over the years, you’re in for a pleasant surprise at how great a job these monoblocks do at doing it all. Plenty of power, big dynamics, imaging like crazy, and easy to use. (not to mention easy to lift!)

There are other amps with snazzier casework, and snootier pedigrees. But, if you just love music and you want a pair of incredible monoblocks that deliver the goods, I can’t recommend the Manley Snappers highly enough.

The Rega P10 Turntable and Apheta 3 Cartridge

Rega’s top table, the P10 is new again. Not new new, but Rega new, which means It’s been subtly updated in nearly every aspect.

This warrants a two-tier review. One for those of you that closely follow the brand, and perhaps even have one of the last versions of the P10, or even a P9, and one for those of you that are new to Rega and may be considering a P10 instead of something else in the $6,000 – $10,000 range.

Part one: for the faithful

If you’ve been closely following the Rega narrative, you know that they don’t usually produce new models that deviate terribly far from the past ones. Back in 2014, Rega introduced their RP10, which introduced their “skeletal plinth,” derived from their Naiad prototype. Intriguing as this shape was, Rega played it safe, offering a traditional cutout plinth-esque plinth, allowing the attachment of a standard dust cover, and an their new RB2000 tonearm.

The space age ceramic platter was a carry-over from its introduction with the P9, and now because of the skeletal plinth featured a ceramic top brace between the tonearm mount and the center of the plinth for additional rigidity. Comparing the RP10 to the P9, side by side, the newer table was more resolving, more extended, and slightly less warm sounding. As with the P9, the bass response of this table is outstanding. No more comments about low mass tables lacking bottom end weight.

The P10 abandons the additional plinth, and now puts P10 on the front of the plinth where it should be, still an epic example of engineering beauty. Now, with its further refined RB3000 tonearm it is as much a joy to behold as it is to listen to.

Nothing overlooked

Looking through the design info on the Rega website, every aspect of this table is made better, to tighter tolerances, to a higher level of precision. This is the essence of Rega. Rather than reinvent the wheel, they refine the wheel over and over. Great at the P10 is at the task of playing records, it is an engineering aficionado’s dream. Just running your fingers across the surface of the ceramic platter, or moving the tonearm from rest to cue down on a record’s surface is exquisite. The complete lack of play in any dimension of the new, zero-tolerance bearing in the RB3000 is almost seductive in its action.

There’s a level of finish here that would not be out of place on an Aston Martin or an F1 car. It’s no coincidence that much of the engineering talent in F1 is from England. You might expect this level of quality in a six-figure turntable, but this level of execution in a table costing only $5,695 (without cartridge) is crazy good. If you dig the sound of the Apheta 3 MC cartridge, the package is an even better value at $6,995. Seriously, with or without cartridge, the P10 is one of the best values in high performance turntables period, end of story. Staffer Jerold O’Brien wanted my RP10, so it ended up going to him after the review – membership has its privileges, but this P10 is staying here. About a week into the review process, I sent payment to The Sound Organisation. I knew the minute I played the first track.

Equal attention has been paid to every other aspect of the P10, making this table the epitome of the whole item being more than the sum of the parts.

Part two: for those new to Rega

The toughest part of this review is not to sound like too much of a Rega groupie. If you’re someone who equates high mass, and a gigantic plinth with great sound, you probably won’t even give a P10 a shot. Much as I love to make comparisons to automobiles, I’ll make a cycling comparison this time. The P10 reminds me of the first time I rode a lightweight, high performance road bicycle. As someone skeptical of shaving 10 pounds or so off of something without a motor, I was floored by the increase in efficiency that loss of weight created. That’s how the P10 feels. So effortless in a way.

Rega has been building turntables for nearly 50 years now, and even if you place a current model next to one that’s been around forever, they look more similar than different. Nearly all of their improvements have been the result of constantly refining their process. No matter how much they make one of their products better, they are always striving to make them stronger, lighter, more reliable. And above all, better sounding. By these criteria, Rega is an unqualified success.

While there are many variations on the turntable theme, the basic groups are suspended or unsuspended (solid plinth) designs and low or high mass designs. Being that Roy Gandy is a former automotive engineer, he’s always taken the approach to eliminate as much mass as can be done without sacrificing rigidity. Much like a Formula 1 car. Mass equals stored energy, so the lower the mass, the more of the record groove’s energy can be transferred to your stylus. The P10 is a very lively sounding table, where some high mass designs feel slow in comparison.


Rega sent us the P10 with the third generation of their Apheta moving coil cartridge pre-mounted. An excellent choice for a number of reasons – if you use a Rega cartridge, and take advantage of their three-point mounting system, the cartridge is pretty much dialed in. It’s the most no fuss, no muss high end table/cartridge combination going. If your patience for fiddling with cartridge and turntable setup is close to zero, and you don’t have a friend, tech, or dealer that can do it for you, this setup is the way to roll. In ten minutes, tops, you’ll be spinning records. When was the last time you did that with a high end turntable?

Now that Rega has done away with their plinth extender, the current P10 comes with a clear acrylic cover that merely rests on the turntable mat and has a U-shaped bend where the tonearm goes. It’s great for keeping the cat off the turntable (not that you should have a cat anywhere near a turntable, but I digress) but not much more. Ditto for the stylus guard on the Apheta. Save it in case you need to move, but otherwise forget it. Chances are high that you’ll break the stylus/canteliver assembly taking this on and off repeatedly. Just saying.

Once the plinth/tonearm assembly is unpacked, all that’s left to do is mount the platter, the counterweight and set tracking force to 1.9 – 2.0 grams and the anti-skate/bias adjustment. The enclosed instruction manual will take you right through this process. Rega suggests 100 ohm loading, however if you have the ability to go to 50 ohms on your phono preamplifier, I highly suggest giving it a try.

You can read more about the Apheta 3 cartridge on the Rega site here ( where they go into great detail on what makes their cartridges unique. I’ve been using the Apheta since the first model and it provides a remarkable level of transient speed and lack of coloration that I’ve always found exciting. And again, this is not a crazy money cartridge. On its own, an Apheta 3 will set you back $1,995, but packaged with the P10, only $1,300.

Over the years, I’ve used several different cartridges with Rega tables with mixed results, but the Rega cartridges have always been a home run. Combining their ease of setup, with great sound, and no need to worry if you have the right compliance/mass combination is tough to beat. I can’t suggest the P10/Apheta 3 combination highly enough and am tempted to check out their top Aphelion cartridge at some point.

Further listening

Using the P10 in the main system, with the VAC Renaissance Phono Stage (all vacuum tubes) is downright sexy in the presentation. Combining the speed of the Apheta with the slightly lush tonality of the VAC phonostage is like catnip. Going for a more neutral, yet still very dynamic sound, the Boulder 509, set to 100 ohms is a powerful combination that won’t break the bank at $5,500. It’s incredibly low noise floor is well suited to the Apheta 3.

While we don’t currently have a Rega phonostage in our reference system, their past Ios phono was an outstanding match for the earlier Apheta, so it’s probably a safe bet the current Aura at $5,995 is probably an excellent match. When The Sound Org can free one up, we’ll let you know. Once you’ve settled on a phonostage, you’re in for a treat.

The P10/Apheta combination resolves a lot of musical detail without crossing the line into being harsh or grating. Once the P9 came on the scene, the big Rega tables had the heft in the lowest registers to compete with nearly anything out there.

Beginning our listening session with a Feickert test record to verify speed accuracy (and like the past dozen Regas we’ve tested, the speed is spot on) we move on to some bass heavy material. Queueing up Robert Plant’s Shaken and Stirred, along with his more current duet with Alison Krauss, Raising Sand puts any doubts that this table/cartridge combination can go deep. The Apheta 3 does a fantastic job at keeping the large soundfield it generates intact, in the middle of a solid bass line. Some refer to this as pace and timing. When it’s wrong, either the cartridge is unable to follow the bass groove, and gets muddy, or what’s going on in the rest of the musical spectrum becomes diffuse and undefined – the image collapses somewhat with complex material.

There’s an overall clarity to this table and cartridge that makes it so attractive. While it’s easy to get enticed by vinyl playback, it’s up to you whether you like a more euphonic (warm) presentation, or a more accurate presentation that is more natural in sound. Because the P10/Apheta 3 offers such a neutral presentation to start, you can tune to your taste. Those wanting a little extra warmth can head for a tube preamplifier, while those wanting every last molecule of detail will probably find solace in a solid-state phono pre.

A final word on the power supply and speed accuracy of the P10 makes for an incredibly lifelike rendition of acoustic guitars, piano and violin. Pulling a 40-year-old Planar 3 out of mothballs to compare Rega’s progress is amazing. Where those old belt drive turntables offered up a soundstage unlike our Technics 1200s of the day, they did fall short when playing back a solo violin. There’s definitely a bit of wavering going on with the old table. The current P10 is rock solid.

Nothing but praise

Living with the P10/Apheta combination for some time now, I couldn’t be happier about writing the check, and that’s the highest praise I can give this table. You can spend a lot more on a turntable and cartridge, but I doubt you can find a turntable offering more performance for the dollar, euro or pound. It’s funny after 40 years of buying turntables that I keep coming back to Rega. #toneaudioapproved.

PS: Thanks to Rega for some additional photos… (manufacturer) (NA distributor)

The Penaudio Lumi Speakers

Where so many manufacturers have fallen victim to designing a speaker line around a tweeter first, with each smaller model having progressively less bass as a result, Penaudio’s Sami Penttila does it old school, developing each model to be a unique entity.

The result is a small speaker that is optimized for a smaller room, yet not lacking in resolution or quality. The latest Lumi is a perfect example of his design expertise. At $2,995 per pair, they are an approachable entry to the Penaudio speaker lineup.

Our listening begins as the speaker is intended in a 10 x 13-foot room, yet with high quality electronics – in this case the lovely Pass INT-25 integrated. This 25-watt per channel, class A amplifier has more than enough drive and detail to make the Lumis do their thing. Incidentally, Lumi means snow in the Finnish language, and if you happen to follow Sami on Facebook or Instagram, you know there is plenty of snow where he hails from.

Even if you’ve never been to Finland, if you’ve grown up with snow, you know the quieting effect that fresh snow brings to your environment. It’s an interesting type of quiet, and I maintain that some of the world’s finest speakers come from the Nordic Region because of this quiet. You need to know what quiet sounds like before you can proceed from there.

What better tribute to these speakers born of quiet than something delicate? Having known Penttila for many years, I know he loves to rock, but pulling George Winston’s December out of my record stack, and playing the classic, quiet, first run vinyl, is fantastic. Winston’s piano floats from the small Penaudios, with every note intact. Both attack and decay are just right, with the piano sounding much bigger than you might think a small pair of monitors would be capable of delivering. On one level, that’s why Penaudio speakers, big and small have the dynamics to handle more aggressive music too. This is their strength.

As Winston’s piano is so relaxing and inviting, one more classic is in order – Liz Story’s Solid Colors. This record was originally recorded to two-track tape at 30 i.p.s. with no dolby, and Story’s Steinway is captured at it’s best. Almost 40 years later, this is still a great go to record. No matter what kind of music you love and spend most of your time with, piano and violin are two of the greatest torture tests of any speaker. The complex dynamics and tonal shadings will not hide and you can rest assured if things sound good here, you won’t be disappointed with the rest of your favorite music.


The small 180 x 300 x 325 mm cabinet (about 7 x 12 x 12 inches) only weighs 7.5kg (about 17 pounds) is easy to manouver, and place in your room for excellent effect. With any small, high-performance speaker, heavy stands, with careful attention paid to speaker/stand interface will allow optimum performance. A pair of 24-inch, filled, Sound Anchor stands works perfectly, and to confirm this, a pair of light weight, flimsy stands are tried later. This is not recommended, as bass response and speed will suffer.

You can approach the Lumi two ways, further out in your room, closer to the listening chair for a nearfield effect, or closer into the corners of your room, taking advantage of room gain to achieve a deeper bass response. Both work well, but provide a completely different experience, both of which are engaging. With careful tweaking, you can achieve an excellent balance of bass extension, while keeping most of the imaging capability that the Lumis offer in a corner placement setup.

Further out in the room, with a smaller “listening triangle,” and the speakers about five feet from rear and side walls, while about five feet apart and from the listening position is completely immersive, as if sitting in a giant pair of headphones. Those craving more bass response can of course, add a subwoofer or two. As they were in for review, I tried a pair of REL TZero Mk.III subs with excellent effect. We will talk about that more in a future “Shhhh” column in TONE, but for now, we’ll concentrate on the Lumi’s alone.

Playing with others

Most listening was done with the Pass INT-25, but these speakers were not out of their element with the combination of the Nagra Classic Preamplifier and Classic Amp, which is 100 watts per channel. Much like the Cenya Signatures, Lumi is very tube friendly too. With an 86db/1-watt sensitivity rating, we suggest at least about 50 watts per channel, if you go the tube route. Our Conrad-Johnson CAV-45S2 works incredibly well with the Lumis, and while the Pass amp offers slightly more bass grip and extension, the C-J is the master of creating a huge sonic image.
Fantastic results were also achieved with the Octave V110SE, PrimaLuna EVO400s, the McIntosh MC275 and of course the BAT REX gear we have in for review, though that is probably well outside the scope of what would be used as source components for a pair of Lumis. Yet, sonically they are up to task – this is a highly resolving speaker.

The SEAS connection

Bias admitted, I still prefer the slightly less resolving but more organic feel of a soft dome tweeter, and Penaudio speakers have always taken advantage of some of SEAS’ finest drivers and made them their own. The Lumi is no different. Using one of their newest Excel tweeters, the Lumi combines it with a 5.7 inch (145mm) Excel woofer made to spec for Penaudio. The match is perfect, with the pair offering a lot of musicality.

Playing some bass heavy tracks from Prince, the Lumis can’t quite go all the way down, but the texture and fundamental tonality is there. That small woofer does an excellent job when capturing Rhonda Smith’s quick, plucky bass lines on the Emancipation disc, as well as her stint with Jeff Beck on the Emotion and Commotion record. Again, if you listen to more of this style of music, consider opting for a pair of small subs, or at least corner placement.

Final thoughts

What really makes the Lumis shine is the incredible stereo image they can paint in a small room – always the highlight of a well-designed small monitor. That said, don’t count the Lumi’s out as part of a killer desktop system either. Mounted on a pair of great desktop speaker stands from ISO Acoustics, and powered by the Naim Uniti Atom proves to be a ton of fun, albeit a bit spendy for a desktop system. However, if you edit video, these could be the perfect tool for you.

Regardless of the setup, the Penaudio Lumi speakers are a sheer joy to live with. As someone who’s used Penaudio on and off as a reference speaker for the last 16 years, I had to purchase the Lumis for inclusion in our standing arsenal of compact reference speakers.

Maybe the other word for the Lumis should be rakkaus. #toneaudioapproved.         – Jeff Dorgay


Digital Source T+A 2500R

Analog Source Chord Huei, Technics SL-1200, Denon 103 (with alum. Cap)

Cable Cardas Clear, Tellurium Q Blue 2

Amplification Conrad-Johnson CAV-45S2, Pass INT-25

The Manley Mahi Monoblocks

Manley has not changed the circuit of their smallest monoblocks, the Mahi’s, but since this review came out in 2007, manufacturing costs and a crazy world economy has brought the price to nearly double what they were in 2006 when we first wrote this review. Still, at $5,399 a pair, these are still one of the best bargains in hand crafted tube amplifiers going and after revisiting a pair of a friend’s Mahi’s, I stand behind everything written here. –Jeff Dorgay, Publisher

Often, good sound in the audiophile world means big: big amplifiers, lots of big tubes, big heatsinks with a lot of power transistors. And of course, we need a big power supply too. That is the conventional wisdom, and it works well, but every now and then you get surprised.

The Mahis are one of those surprises.

When I first saw the Mahis, I really wanted to get my hands on them, just because they look so cool. I’m a major fan of Manley stuff from an industrial design point of view, and now years later, the sound as well. Only about 10 x 11 x 5-inches, the Mahis are small but substantial, weighing 18 pounds each. The chassis are black, but the front panel and spiked feet are a dark, metallic blue, and the front panels have the Manley Mahi logo on them that light up from behind when you turn the power on.

The Mahis are compact but substantial – like taking a teaspoon of matter from Pluto substantial. There is an IEC socket on the back, so you can use the power cord of your choice, and speakers connect via a pair of WBT binding posts, though there are no options for different impedance. I tried the Mahis with a number of different speakers, and this isn’t a problem.

Unlike a lot of tube amplifiers in this price range, the Mahis use a pair of EL-84 output tubes per channel, instead of the more common EL-34. This amplifier began its life about 15 years ago as VTL’s “Tiny Triode” amplifier, making quite a name for itself. They then became Manley 35-watt monoblocks, later morphing into their 50-watt monoblock amplifier. The 9-pin EL-84 looks a lot like a preamp tube at first glance, but it delivers the goods! Guitar geeks in the audience will recognize this tube as the one that contributes to the sweet sound of the old VOX amplifiers the Beatles (and the Knaack) used.

A pair of Mahis now cost $5,399, and are stoutly built at the Manley facility in Chino, Calif. These are monoblock versions of the popular Stingray, without input switching and volume controls, so they are perfect for those of you who already have a linestage you are fond of.

Initial Set-up

For the first part of the test and break in, I used the Mahis in a system consisting of the ACI Sapphire XLs along with the ModWright 9.0 SWL SE linestage. Digital came from an Ah! Tjoeb 4000, partnered with the Benchmark DAC-1. Vinyl playback was provided by my hotrodded Rega P25 with a Sumiko Blackbird and the Hagerman Trumpet phono stage, so I felt we had these amplifiers in a system representative of like-priced gear. Those of you wanting to stay all Manley would do well to consider their Shrimp preamplifier.

These amplifiers broke in very quickly, only requiring about 50 hours to be all they can be. For the duration of my listening sessions a pair of Tetra 506s, along with BAT VK-42SE linestage and VK-P5 phono preamplifier rounded out the system. A ModWright Denon 3910 (things have come a long way since 2006!!) provided digital playback and the LP-12 with Shelter 90x handled analog playback.

The fairly sensitive Tetra 506 speakers (92db/1-watt) prove a great match. The Mahis produce just over 40 watts in ultralinear mode, so this is more than enough juice to make plenty of noise. Triode lovers only get 20 watts per channel, but it’s a bit warmer sound.

Adjustability Equals Fun

The Mahis give you two different ways to tailor the sound to your liking. Not only can you switch between ultralinear and triode mode, there are three settings for feedback as well. The standard setting (middle position) offers about 6 db of feedback, with the low setting has 3 db and the high setting, 10 db. You may question all of this, but it really comes in handy to dial in the sound you want. In a perfect world, if all records were perfectly mastered, you wouldn’t need this, but we all know that’s not the case.

If you are new to the tube scene, the standard ultralinear mode is more powerful, offering slightly more control over the lower frequencies, while being just a bit more extended on the high end. Using the EL-84s in triode mode costs you a bit of extension and control, but the midrange is more liquid.

Quad 57 owners, this is your amplifier. Since this review was written initially, I’ve borrowed Echo Audio’s demo pair of Mahis, and they are beyond lovely with the classic Quad 57s and the current 28xx series Quads. I’ll stick my neck out and say the Manley Mahis offer the most musically engaging presentation I’ve heard with the original Quads.

While many of you might leave everything in the center position and forget it, I found this feature to be really handy as a tone control. Got a CD with way too much sizzle? Crank up the feedback. Granted, you will lose a little bit of ultimate detail and resolution, but the smooth sound will be a lot easier on your ears. Listening to female vocals late at night over a glass of wine or two, crank up the feedback and go to triode mode as well. This combination is as romantic as it gets. If you are playing Led Zeppelin and need that extra push over the cliff, switch back to ultralinear mode and turn the feedback all the way down.

For some of you, this will be too much to handle, so if you are like a friend of mine that keeps VTA settings for all of his favorite records on an Excel file, forget about the Mahis, they will probably drive you nuts. You need a power amplifier with a power switch and that’s it. However, if having a few options sounds like a good time, grab a pair of Mahis and live it up!

A Different Kind of Fun

If you have never experienced an amplifier using EL-84 tubes, you are definitely in for a treat. Though the 6550 and KT-88 tubes are more common because of their higher power capacity, this configuration is very interesting. Conventional wisdom states that the EL-34 tubes have a more romantic sound, while the 6550s have more extension and punch.

However, the EL-84 in many ways is the best of both worlds, having great bass, top end extension, yet a liquid midrange. The only drawback is that these little tubes are only good for about 40 watts per channel, so to take advantage of the magic these amplifiers have to offer, you need a small room, efficient speakers, or both.

The more time I spent listening to the Mahis, the clearer picture I got of their character. The Mahis are very nimble tube amplifiers that have a lot of control in the lower registers. I tried several of my favorite bass-heavy discs from Kruder & Dorfmeister, Mickey Hart, and even dusted off my oldest Run DMC LP’s. The bass response of the Mahis is satisfying on all occasions. There are a few tube amplifiers in this price range that have more power, but the Mahis have more finesse, so if that’s your hot button, you will dig these amplifiers.

Again, the key is system matching. Get a pair of 92-96 db speakers and you may never need a bigger amplifier, because the Mahis are so enjoyable.Hook ‘em up to a pair of 86 db speakers and you might not get the same picture I got unless you are in a small room. Thanks to the great tonality of these amplifiers, you female vocal fans will worship the Mahi sound.

It’s all about detail with the Mahis. You can’t beat the laws of physics with any pair of 40-watt amplifiers, but the Mahis do such a great job with detail, you may not find yourself wanting to turn it up quite so loud. One final detail: the Mahis are very sensitive only requiring about 300 mv to produce full power. If you take a pair for a test drive, turn your preamp way down before starting to listen.

The Verdict

Fifteen years and price increases later, the Manley Mahis are still one of the most enjoyable pairs of tube amps going. I think I need a pair. (I should have bought em in 2006!)

REVIEW: The Thrax Yatrus Turntable

With turntables spiraling out of control, price-wise, a $100k turntable is no longer the talk of a madman that it once was. That said, I submit that a well sorted $20k-ish table/arm/cartridge combination is all you need.

I must confess, as a Thrax owner (We use their Enyo integrated), I’ve become a big fan of this brand. I like their functional elegance and build quality. There is a solidity to Thrax products that reveals a major pride of workmanship. The Thrax Yatrus does not feel like a me-too product, it feels like something that’s been designed and built with care from the ground up.

Albert Einstein has been quoted as saying “things should be made as simple as possible, no simpler.” I wish I could come up with something more insightful for the Yatrus, but this sums it up. Every aspect of this table is exquisite. It’s low-profile, aluminum plinth features constrained layer damping and looks gorgeous. Unboxing this table, you’d swear it cost a lot more.

Comparing the level of execution the Yatrus offers, this feels much like some of my favorite components from Nagra, Burmester, AMG and D’Agostino. Quizzing the few friends that did stop by to look and listen to this table all said (without hesitation) “$50k” when I asked what they thought the price would be. One even mentioned “Is this another one of those fancy 100-thousand-dollar turntables?”

Though I’m giving the review away a bit, you could probably tell some people you did pay 100 grand for the Yatrus and they’d believe you. In all honesty, my range of solid experience stops at the $50-60k turntables, yet I feel the Yatrus sounds as good as anything we’ve ever had in for review, regardless of price tag.

The Yatrus tips the scale at $15,500, with mounting for a 9-inch (or less) tonearm. Our review sample came with a Schroder arm that you can purchase for another $5,500. If you aren’t aware of Frank Schroeder, he makes some of the world’s finest tonearms, and there is almost always a waiting list for them. If you don’t already have a premium arm you’re in love with, I highly suggest purchasing these two as a package, find your favorite $3k – $10k phono cartridge and live happily ever after.

The sweet spot or quandary?

A handful of readers will snipe about a $20k table/arm cartridge, but perhaps this isn’t the droid for you. As I’ve said before, I suspect few people will jump out of bed and say (or think) “I’m going to buy a twenty-thousand-dollar turntable today.” Most music loving audio enthusiasts work their way up to a table in this range. You probably have at least a few thousand albums (if not more) in good shape and appreciate the difference between the grades in pressings. You may even own a good chunk of first-stamper this, first-stamper that records. And, you’ll have something to sell or trade in to make this move, so it won’t be as much of a leap as it sounds at first.

If you’ve gone far enough on your analog journey to think about jumping up to this level in analog playback, there are some excellent choices at your disposal. With a number of past benchmarks from this realm pushing $40 – $50k (an SME 30 is $45k these days) $20k for a destination level turntable isn’t crazy talk.

Getting down to business

Things have come a long way since the days of the early direct drive Technics tables. Motor and  power supply design along with superior parts and build quality no longer make direct drive a less than option. Considering the fantastic direct drive tables we’ve had here from Brinkman, Grand Prix Audio and Technics, I’ve come to prefer the weight and speed accuracy of a direct drive table. The Yatrus reinforces this even further.

The Yatrus is quick and straightforward to setup. Like other Thrax components, it comes packed in its own high-density foam lined flight case. You might think this extravagant, but it shows major respect on the part of the manufacturer. They don’t want your table to arrive damaged, and they think enough of their work to protect it thusly. No small point of contention in today’s world of mass production. Should you change residences, this is something you can put a few zip ties on and let the movers move it.

If you have any appreciation at all for machine work and fine detail, savor unboxing the Yatrus. Every surface on this table is machined to perfection – it looks and feels like what you’d expect under the hood of a Ferrari or Aston Martin. The surfaces and fasteners are of exceptional quality, and the knobs adjusting the turntable’s height are protected by a white, stick-on plastic. The slight matte finish makes for a table that won’t be full of fingerprints all the time, like some of those chrome and gold-plated monstrosities. Again, understated elegance wins the day. PS: if you are that qualityphile that geeks out on the experience, you’re going to love the single knob to turn the table on and set speed. (the Yatrus even plays 78s!)

Once you remove the table and level it via the three adjustment knobs on the plinth, all that remains is to plug the power supply in from beneath, gently lower the platter onto the main bearing, and affix the tonearm. Used with our Analog Magik software suite, the Schroeder/Lyra combination was set up to perfection in about 15 minutes. From box to record playing music took about 45 minutes and I was really taking my time.

The music

Fun as all this tech worship is, the Yatrus delivers musically on a grand scale. Using the Pass Labs XSPhono as a conduit, the first thing noticed is quiet. Cueing up a copy of Lou Reed’s The Raven, and heading straight for “Vanishing Act,” listening for the solo piano just hanging in the air is incredible. Great as this track is through the dCS Vivaldi, the Yatrus adds the extra tonal saturation and air that makes Lou Reed feel six feet from the listening chair. If your taste runs more to classical and acoustic music, this is where the direct drive tables jump to the head of the pack. The superior speed accuracy that a top direct drive table offers renders piano, violin, and pretty much any other stringed instrument with a solidity and delicacy that even the best belt drives have a tough time competing with.

Even if you aren’t a classical aficionado, I urge you to add a copy of Yarlung Records Debut, by the Janaki String Trio. The spirited playing, captured on these two 45 r.p.m. discs, cut by Bernie Grundman tell you everything you need to know about the Yatrus. If I could only play you one cut, to convince you how exceptional this turntable is, “Allegro con spirito” from String Trio in C Minor, Op.9 no 3 would do the trick. It might even make a classical music lover out of you.

The speed, texture, and space that the Yatrus offers up has such a simple beauty. There is so much delicacy to this piece, that either feels harsh and screechy on a lesser table, or lacking in texture. The subtle differences in weight between the violin, viola, and cello are easily discernable, even to a novice classical music listener like me. A similar effect occurs when listening to Crosby, Stills, and Nash via mediocre vinyl playback – their voices just seem to blend together, yet with through the Yatrus, the vocal shadings and phrasings that make each of these vocalists unique now feels like night and day. This is what you get with a top turntable, and what makes the Yatrus worth the asking price.

It’s also worth mentioning how well the Yatrus does with the lower end of the musical spectrum – another area that the direct drive tables tend to excel. A few long evenings of electronica and prog selections reveal recordings that you might have thought had one-note bass, yet now reveal texture where there was none before.

In the end, it’s about resolution. This table offers up such a high level of fine detail extraction, it will take you to a new world of analog enjoyment. As digital continues to improve, this kind of musicality is what still makes vinyl an incredibly tactile experience.

A best buy

I submit that unless you have (and maybe even if you do) a seven-figure system, you can probably live happily ever after with the Thrax Yatrus. This table is killer good, and the Schroeder arm is one of the world’s finest. The combination is so good, you can experiment with other arms, but I’d suggest staying right here. With so many mega turntables looking like an engineering project at best, and a shop class project at worst, the Yatrus ticks all the boxes for me. It’s finished to swiss watch level quality, it’s understatedly attractive, and it is highly musical.

If you live in an ecosystem that makes a $500k turntable a pittance, the Yatrus isn’t going to be cool enough. But if you’re a music lover that wants to retrieve as much music as they can from their analog music collection, and still has to keep an eye on the bottom line – this one gets my vote. For my money, this is the point of diminishing returns, and the curve goes up sharply from here. I can’t imagine needing more turntable than this. If I didn’t have an engine rebuild project inhaling 20-dollar bills like a room full of 80s party people inhaling coke in the bathroom, I’d buy it today. Don’t be surprised if you see the Yatrus returning in the next 12 months as a reference component when the party’s over. (manufacturer) (US Distributor)



PHONO STAGE Pass XS Phono, VAC Renaissance Phono

SPEAKERS Sonus faber Stradivari, with six pack of REL no.25 subwoofers

CABLES Cardas Clear

REVIEW: The Naim Uniti Star

Naim’s audio gear legacy extends a half-century, starting with their original amplifier design. From those humble beginnings, they’ve continued to create durable and great-sounding components.

While the company makes excellent single-purposed standalone components like amplifiers, they have branched out their product lines to offer multi-purpose audio solutions, too. The Uniti Star resides among these all-in-one packages. The Star includes an excellent amp, a linestage preamp, headphone amplifier, CD player, and high-resolution DAC. That combination pulls together everything a digital audio fan needs to enjoy their favorite tunes.

Form and function

In comparison with the process of configuring and connecting many individual components, the Unity is almost comically simple to set up. Just connect your speakers using banana plugs — spade terminations are not compatible — and plug the Star into an electrical outlet. An internet connection enables many features – including all of the Uniti’s music streaming functionality – so you’ll want to make use of the Naim’s Ethernet port or set it up for wireless capability. From there, you can start playing a CD or streaming music right away.

The Naim does include a full-function remote control. However, the iPhone and Android apps offer a great deal of flexibility – and they are fun to use. A Uniti owner can use the app to connect to Qobuz, Spotify, and Tidal directly or utilize its “radio” functionality to stream from external sources. This convenient capability gives a user the ability to control the Naim from a different room. You certainly can’t do that with a typical remote! To adjust the volume manually, give the gigantic, lighted wheel on the top of the case a spin.

The Star is surprisingly compact for all the inner workings it offers. It’s 17 inches (432mm) wide, 10.5 inches (265mm) deep, and 3.75 inches (95mm) tall. For such a little guy, though, its substantial 29 lb (13kg) weight is primarily due to the toroidal transformer supporting the built-in amplifier’s 70 watts per channel into eight-ohm speaker loads.

Making connections

On the back panel, owners have many options to connect external components. The Unity offers two pairs of RCA jacks for analog inputs. It offers multiple digital inputs too, plus AirPlay integration, allowing owners to make use of the Star’s inner DAC. The Unity includes two standard USB ports for those wanting to attach additional external storage space for digital music. From there, the Naim can access those files for playback. An owner can also rip CDs automatically and have the resulting digital files stored for easy access.

If you need a phono stage, though, you’re out of luck. While the Naim offers a ton of capability under the hood, it’s for digital music, not vinyl.

The Uniti Star features a lot more than meets the eye – and far more capability than we can cover in a single product review. For more information about all its functionality, download the Uniti Star manual on Naim’s website.


The Naim sounded quite good right out of the box, but owners should expect some improvement with a bit of burn-in time. Regardless of the music type thrown at the Uniti, its built-in componentry worked wonders for sound quality without harsh digital artifacts. The combination of internal components purposely selected by Naim synergize well and unleash energy, drive, and subtlety as recordings dictate.

While there’s a lot of detail retrieval, the Uniti’s overall sonic character leans to the warm and forgiving side. This voicing choice lets listeners melt into their seats and immerse themselves in glorious music. For my preferences, this is an excellent characteristic. However, every listener is different. If a prospective owner prefers audio components with a cooler, super-detailed interpretation of their favorite music, the Naim’s sonic flavor might be a bit polite for their taste.

Streaming well-recorded albums like Imelda May’s Life Love Flesh Blood in high resolution offers beautifully rendered vocals with both delicacy and growl that draws in a listener. Even when using the CD player with a lower 16 bit / 44.1 kHz sampling rate, vocals, guitars, and cymbals come through without ear-twitching stridency. However, it took a while to figure out how to get the Star to eject the CD partway through playing. Neither the front panel nor the remote have an eject button. You need to do that via the app.

At 70 watts, the Star has plenty of power to drive reasonably efficient speakers with authority across the frequency range. Those using monitor-sized speakers with limited low-frequency handling capability may appreciate the Uniti’s subwoofer output to dig out those low notes. Those driving big, full-range speakers might find the power rating a bit mild. For this reason, auditioning the Star at home is a great idea to hear for yourself if it mates well with your chosen speakers.

Soundstage-wise, the Star also does a very good job. Instruments appear in their specifically engineered locations, and vocalists maintain a solid image in the front-and-center as they should. Musical elements can also exceed the speaker bodies’ physical locations to creating an immersive listening experience.

Summing up

With an MSRP of $4999, the Naim is an investment in your audio happiness. While some might consider that price tag steep, consider this: To acquire the number of high-quality components built into the Uniti as separates would cost far more. Plus, you won’t need extra interconnects with the Star, which saves even more money.

The Naim Unity Star is a turnkey, marvelous-sounding audio solution. If you are considering scaling down your system or simply want to start with an excellent piece of gear that you’ll enjoy for many years to come, the Naim Unity Star might be your perfect solution.

Additional Listening:  Jeff Dorgay

I have to confess being a huge fan of the Naim Uniti products. They offer so much value and performance in a relatively compact chassis, it’s the perfect spot for the music lover wanting a high-performance system without huge footprint. If you’re an all-digital music lover, just add speakers. As a vinyl lover, I had to add a turntable to the mix, in this case a Rega Planar 3, and just to keep it all British, pulled out the Naim Stageline phono. Sitting on top of a Herman Miller Nelson Bench, this all looks smart as hell, while delivering the goods.

I ran the Star with everything from the $149k/pair Focal Stella Utopia Ems down to a pair of LS3/5as. Personally, I really enjoyed this system with the Focal Kanta no.1s. You can order this as a combo from your Focal/Naim dealer and live happily ever after. As long as you choose a pair of speakers with about an 86dB/1watt rating, you should be just fine. The Star makes a lovely match with a pair of Harbeth C7s too.

Here’s to Naim proving again, that performance and style can peacefully coexist.

Naim Uniti Star

MSRP $4999


Digital Sources: Roon Nucleus, Simaudio MOON 780D DAC, Oppo BDP-103, Synology DiskStation 415 Play, Tidal and Qobuz streaming services.

Amplification: Conrad-Johnson ART150, Pass Labs X150.8

Preamplification: Coffman Labs G1-B

Speakers: GamuT RS3i

Cables: Jena Labs

The Naim Mu-So 2

Time flies when you’re having fun, the saying goes, and Naim’s Mu-so is an incredibly fun way to enjoy music.

The initial launch of the Mu-so at the Munich High End Show a few years ago raised the bar – dramatically for what can be called a desktop audio system. And a gorgeous one at that. As someone who’s been listening since the Mu-so arrived, this was a mega product to begin with. We’ve been living with the original Mu-so QB since the review. Pam looked at that, and just said “mine.”

And what’s not to love? Both Mu-so’s offer powered speakers, incredible industrial design, massive digital connectivity, and stunning sound. Thanks to their partnership with Focal, the Naim engineering staff has been able to leverage Focal’s expertise to produce a second-generation product offering true high-end sound in a box taking up a smaller form factor than a sound bar. If you’ve been thinking about a top sound bar for your TV, forget about it – buy a Mu-so.

Compact yet majestic

Don’t let the compact (about 12 x 24 inches, and only 5 inches high) form factor fool you. The new Mu-so packs 450 watts of power, into this enclosure, via a pair of DSP controlled, three-way speakers. When the original Mu-so was introduced, this was its most impressive feature – it could play loud, and with authority.

Nothing’s changed. After all of 8 seconds to pair up the Mu-so 2 with my iPhone, I’m rocking out. Robert Plant’s “Little by Little” has a solid bass groove, and about 20 tracks of Robert Plant later, this tabletop system is massively engaging, even using Spotify as a source. Fortunately, this is the lowest quality setting of which the Mu-so 2 is capable of.

With DAC and streaming circuitry derived from the flagship 500 series (which, incidentally, is also our cover story) the Mu-so 2 is able to decode PCM files up to 24/384khz PCM files and DSD 128.

Different, but the same

The new version of the Mu-so looks nearly the same externally, but Naim says (with their typical wacky sense of humor) that the new model is “95% different.” This means nearly everything has been gone over, optimized, and improved. It may look the same, but Naim has taken a class leading product and improved every aspect of it except one (and maybe that’s the 5%) the amazing volume attenuator. This is one of those works of engineering art that should be in museums everywhere. It feels just like the control in Naim’s top of the line Statement preamplifier. And when you power up the Mu-so, the backlit ring around the control dial glows in a circular fashion for about 20 seconds until warm up, revealing the unit’s control panel/main menu. It’s so beautiful to behold, you just might find yourself dimming the lights to see it more than once.

Again, with every aspect of the Mu-so 2s performance upgraded or tweaked, this is a component that is way more than the sum of its individual parts. Thanks to analog, USB, digital, and network inputs (wired and wireless) you can connect anything to the Mu-so 2. We tried everything, because again, Mu-so 2 is so much fun.

Connects to everything

First: old school analog. Thanks to the standard analog input, you can connect a turntable and phono preamplifier to the Mu-so 2. What better than a Technics 1200, fitted with a Denon 103 cartridge and a Naim Stageline phono? Should you hook a turntable up to your Mu-so 2, we suggest not placing the turntable on the same shelf, as the extended bass response of the Mu-so 2 will cause acoustic feedback. If you have no other way to go, investing in some kind of isolation platform or perhaps a wall shelf directly above the Mu-so 2 so you can keep cabling to a minimum. This was our approach, and it was fantastic.

Next: new school analog. As we have Cambridge Audio’s new Alva Bluetooth turntable, this seemed it might make the perfect fit for someone in close quarters, that needs to put their Mu-so 2 one place and a record player all the way across the room or pull it out and put it on a table somewhere for a night of record playing. The two paired effortlessly, and within 60 seconds we were playing records. Even though this is not a Naim piece, it makes a perfect complement for the Mu-so 2.

Streaming: via iOS device (or other). Just like the Alva, the iPhone synched with the Mu-so 2 in a heartbeat and proves easy to control. All of our listening was with Spotify, and because of this relatively low-quality stream, does not show off all that the tabletop Naim is capable of. Compared to CD and high-resolution digital files, there is a lack of resolution, which causes a smaller, less defined soundfield to expand in the room. In all fairness, it’s still pretty damn awesome.

Connecting the Mu-so 2 to our wired ethernet network via a CAT 6 cable and making it a ROON endpoint really shows off what this baby can do. When streaming a combination of 16/44, 24/96. And 24/192 files, the Mu-so 2 disappears in the room like a full blown hifi system. Naim got this right the first time, and it’s only better now. When comparing it to a few premier soundbars, or our Zeppelin wireless – the Naim is miles ahead in terms of dynamic range, and optimization of the DSP. Eyes closed; it really sounds like there are a pair of speakers on stands in the room.

When listening to heavy rock tracks and electronica titles with substantial low bass output, the Mu-so 2 digs in and goes deep. Thanks to a friend that lent us his original Mu-so (and we still have our Mu-so Qb) this is where you really feel the differences. Highs are cleaner, more defined, and have better, more anchored placement. As are the lowest frequencies – the new model goes down deeper and with less effort. Naim’s collaboration with Focal really shows itself to excellent result here.

All of the other major streaming services are compatible with the Mu-so 2, but if you happen to be a ROON user, this is such an exquisite pairing, and almost makes the Naim app useless. However, if you are not streaming with ROON, the Naim app allows you to control nearly every parameter of the Mu-so 2, so take your pick. This also comes in handy if you happen to be streaming your music collection via ripped CDs and a UPNP network. Again, we had great luck linking the Mu-so 2 to our Naim Uniti Core, with 2TB internal drive. Brilliant.

Finally: Television/movie sound. As I mentioned at the beginning of the review, don’t even think about buying a so called “soundbar,” when you can have a Mu-so 2. Out in the living room, using a projector to get about a 14-foot image on our main wall, putting the Mu-so 2 on a small table, about 18 inches off the ground, provided room filling sound.

Again, what impressed us the most, especially in this context is the Mu-so 2s sheer ability to play loud musical passages and its ability to handle gun shots, and various other cinema related crashes and booms. Streaming Netflix from a MacBook Pro, going to the Mu-So 2 via the Mac’s USB output was the best way to go here, but again, you have options, as this version also offers an HDMI input.

Fantastic, from beginning to end

As lovely as the Mu-so 2’s packaging is, it really should have confetti spray out when you open it. This is a party in a box, waiting to enjoy. Regardless of how you might engage Naim’s Mu-so 2, it’s up to whatever music related tasks you can give it. We tend to pooh-pooh all in ones, but this one is true to its heritage and worthy of an Exceptional Value Award for 2021.

REVIEW – The FinkTeam Kim Speakers

With all the internet banter about speaker “break-in,” (and, yes we do believe in it) you know a speaker is special when it sounds fantastic right out of the box.

When a speaker sounds as musical and inviting as the FinkTeam Kim speakers when you play the first track – in this case, the Rolling Stones “Has Anybody Seen my Baby?” it only gets better as the hours pile up.

Audiophile dinosaur that I am, my first experience with the Heil AMT (air motion transformer) goes all the way back to high school, when my neighbor brought home a pair of ESS AMT-1 tower speakers. Interestingly enough, this particular speaker was a 2-way design, featuring an AMT tweeter and a 10-inch woofer loaded with a transmission line. It’s interesting that these speakers follow a similar, albeit very refined concept. After listening to AR3a’s in my system, (back then) the clarity and speed from the Heil tweeter was a revelation. FinkTeam’s current implementation is a forward firing model, 110mm (4.33 inches) long, delivering great horizontal dispersion. Thanks to the integral stands, correct rake angle is close to perfect from initial unpacking. Your listening position will of course, dictate toe-in and fine adjustment of these parameters.

FinkTeam has developed their AMT with Mundorf, who also builds the driver and they’ve engineered it for a minimum of down-firing treble energy. This makes the Kims much easier to set up. The high end gets flat and muffled in a hurry when you have it wrong. Don’t panic, just dial in a little more lift to the rear of the speaker stands. And don’t be shy with the toe-in either.

These two-way speakers, complete with stands have an introductory MSRP of $11,995/pair. You can read the full specs on the FinkTeam website, but perhaps the most important is that they offer a sensitivity of 86db/1-watt, and though this might seem slightly inefficient, these speakers prove incredibly easy to drive with everything from a 25 wpc Class-A amplifier, up to my reference Parasound JC-1+ monos with over 400 watts per channel. And, they are easy to use with tube amplifiers of modest power.

Though you may not have heard of this relative newcomer, FinkTeam is a lot like Porsche Design in the sense that they have been doing a lot of engineering and design projects for a number of companies for years. Like that other famous German design house, they stay in the shadows unless said manufacturer mentions their work. “Over the past 30 years Karl-Heinz Fink and his team have collaborated with Denon, Yamaha, Mission, Tannoy, Wharfedale, Mordaunt-Short, Naim, Q Acoustics, Boston Acoustics, Castle, Marantz, IAG and Bentley, among many others.” This is why these speakers come to market so highly evolved.


We’ve been listening to several relatively compact, yet high performance speakers in the 10-20 thousand dollar a pair range; the Kims are solid contenders on a number of levels. Judged strictly on build quality and physical implementation, the Kims are tip-top. While every premium brand builds their enclosures differently, no one offers a higher level of material, finish, and fine assembly. Every joint on these speakers is executed to perfection, and this level of quality is far beyond speakers at the $5k – $7k level. The front panel is equally exquisite.

Turning the spotlight to price, the Stenheim Alumine 2s that were just here, tipped the scale at close to $12k without stands, the Sonus faber Guarneri Tradition about $17k with stands, and the Acora Acoustics SRBs top the chart at $20k with stands. Wilson, Magico, Focal, and others also have offerings at this price – it’s a very popular market segment for those wanting the refinement of six-figure floor standing speakers, yet don’t have a massive environment in which to place them.

Speaking of stands, these custom designed stands, are massive enough to get the job done, yet have a minimal footprint to interfere with imaging. It’s a nice touch to take this guesswork out of the equation, as speaker height and interface are critical to achieving maximum performance. You merely take the Kims out of their packaging and place them.

If you don’t need that last 10-15Hz of deep bass response (and you can mitigate some of this with very careful placement, taking advantage of room gain) these are exciting speakers, offering a huge helping of cost no object speaker resolution. Nearly all of our listening was done in our 13 x 18-foot room, and proved very engaging. Unless we were trying to play Led Zeppelin at near concert hall levels, the last bit of dynamics and bass extension from big speakers in a big room was not missed at all.

A different ribbon indeed

If your experience with ribbon tweeters has been somewhat less than awesome, I’m right there with you, on the other side of that canoe. The speed and transparency that this style driver brings is nearly always intoxicating at first listen, but often becomes fatiguing after a while. Even worse, the ribbon tweeter can’t keep up with the other driver(s) and you start to notice a disconnect in musical pace. Music with a lot of high frequency information is still compelling, but other tracks with more midrange and mid-bass energy just sound off.

However, the AMT driver is somewhat different than a traditional, pleated, ribbon driver that still essentially pushes and pulls air. The AMT is more of a folded ribbon design, with more surface area that squeezes the air out between the folds. This makes for even livelier transient response, and lower distortion due to a larger surface area. Even at high volumes, these are very low distortion speakers.

Fink produces two larger speakers, all utilizing AMT tweeters, but each of a different size, optimized for the system they are used in. The driver in the Fink is large enough to dig down into the mids somewhat and mate with the 8-inch woofer at a 2200 hz crossover point. Fink claims response down to 35hz, and while we don’t measure speakers, running some test tones, confirms that the output at 35hz is indeed strong and solid.

Taking control

Two controls on the back panel make the Kims easier to use and compatible with a wider range of amplifiers. The tweeter level control has center, +, and – settings, which tip the high end up by 0.25db[tl3] , and cut by an equal amount. This proves extremely helpful, as my living room is untreated, except for some diffusion material on the wall behind the listening couch – i.e. a more typical user environment. The main listening room out in the studio is treated to be free of major reflections, yet still somewhat live sounding. That little bit of boost and cut made it easy to optimize the Kims beyond what can be achieved with toe-in and rake angle adjustments.

This adjustment also proves helpful to fine tune the Kims to your amplifier or cables. Matterhorn Audio provided a set of HiDiamond Diamond 8 speaker cables to use with the review ($2,500/pair) that are highly complementary to the Kims. We will have a more in-depth review of the Diamond 8s shortly, but these too are worthy of your consideration. We did mate the Kims with a few different speaker cables from Cardas, Nordost, and Tellurium Q – all with good result. However, the resolving power of the Kims easily reveals the difference between them. The final choice will be up to you, but this was a very enjoyable exercise.

There’s one more adjustment the Kims have to offer, and it is just as useful as the HF level. A three-position control for woofer damping makes it much easier to mate the Kims with whatever amplifier you have on hand. We’ve reviewed more than one speaker that sounds too flat with a solid-state amplifier, or wonky in the low end with a tube amplifier. The settings are optimized for solid state, high damping factor amplifiers, moderate damping factor solid state amplifiers (this setting is excellent with your favorite Class-A, lower power solid state amp, and was heaven with the Luxman 595 Anniversary amplifier) and low damping factor tube amplifiers.

Running the gamut of tube amplifiers at our disposal from McIntosh, PrimaLuna, Conrad Johnson, BAT and Line Magnetic illustrates that these speakers play well with whatever you happen to have on hand. The open, airy feeling of the Kims with a great tube amp makes for an enormous three-dimensional experience, and that damping control came in handy.

Many speakers based on traditional ribbon tweeters have such a low impedance drop at a certain frequency point, making them unsuitable for use with a tube amplifier. The Kims are rated at 8 ohms, and FinkTeamclaims they never drop below 5.6 ohms, making for an easy load indeed.

More listening

Cool as the Kims are, extended listening takes you by surprise. Just when you might think you have a handle on the sound, a familiar bit in a well-traveled track takes you to another zone. The church bells at the beginning of David Bowie’s “The Wedding,” from Black Tie White Noise was one of these moments. Oddly enough, it was a serendipitous moment, as the church down the street from our house was ringing their bell, which triggered the urge to try this track. The attack and decay captured on this recording was incredibly lifelike and similar to what I had just heard minutes before.

The AMT tweeter does a fantastic job at speed and transparency, making for an excellent recreation of spatial cues and dimension. The time worn favorite, Jeff Beck’s Live at Ronnie Scotts, reveals room boundaries easily through these speakers. Other similar recordings, such as the Rolling Stones Stripped, or any live album that happens to be recorded in a small to modest venue comes that much more alive in your room.

Should your musical taste fall to tracks that came to life in a recording studio, the results are equally enticing. Going way back to the mid 80s to Jeff Beck’s Flash, a studio concoction with Jan Hammer reveals tons of tinkly bits, and synth riffs bouncing around the room. David Byrne’s collaboration with St. Vincent “Who” is sheer pleasure to track through, with a bouncing bass line, and layered harmonies that again, really show off the resolving capabilities of the Kims.

A large, three-dimensional soundstage is a hallmark of the AMT driver, but the implementation in the Kims, and careful crossover design takes this to another level. It’s amazing how far speaker design has come, even in the last years. The integration between woofer and tweeter is so good, it almost feels like listening to a giant, full range speaker.

Yet, even after hours of listening, these speakers are not the least bit fatiguing. Much as I dread audiophile clichés, this is one of those special speakers that will reveal enough fresh musical information, that you will rediscover your music collection with them. The fine detail that they offer up will keep you up playing more music to hear what you were missing.

A personal favorite

The sonic attributes listed above happen to be my personal favorites, so it’s somewhat selfish of me to say, I absolutely love these speakers. I’ve been trying to find a pair of ESS AMT-1 Towers for over 30 years to no avail. The Kim offers that same overall type of sound, yet with infinitely more finesse. The density of thought and execution put into the Kims is incredible. There’s a crispness to these speakers build, reminding me of a side-by-side comparison between a Rolex or a Barcelona chair next to those making knockoff copies. From a distance, it’s tough to tell, but when you get up close, the attention to fine details immediately grabs you. Great as these speakers sound, they are a pleasure to experience as part of your environment. They will appeal to the audiophile and music lover as they will to the qualityphile, desiring an equal amount of visual stimulation.

Sonic signature is always such a personal thing, almost like a fingerprint. Forget about the absolute sound for a minute, your perception of how music sounds is what’s most important. If you are looking for a pair of speakers offering a massive soundstage, and a lot of music detail without crossing the line into being harsh and fatiguing, FinkTeam’s Kim should be at the top of your list. We’re definitely keeping these… #TONEAUDIOAPPROVED (manufacturer) (Distributor)


Analog Source Avid Volvere SP/Lyra Atlas/Pass XS Phono

Digital Source dCS Vivaldi ONE

Preamplifier Pass XS Pre

Amplifier Pass XA200.8 monos, Pass INT-25, Octave VS110SE, PrimaLuna EVO400, McIntosh MC1502, Conrad Johnson CAV 45mkII, Line Magnetic LM805, Nagra Classic 100, Boulder 866

Cable Cardas Clear, Clear Beyond, HiDiamond Diamond8 Speaker cable

REVIEW – The Rega Kyte Speakers

The team at Rega Research is famous for somewhat out of the box solutions to engineering problems.

In the case of their newest Kyte speakers, they take this to heart, using a phenolic resin material to mould the speaker enclosure rather than make it out of MDF. This slightly curvy shape goes a long way at diffusing internal resonances, it also makes the Kytes fairly light in weight as well. Lower shipping cost means better price to the consumer. They are all pretty clever over there.

Many only know Rega for their turntables, but they have been a full-line electronics manufacturer for decades now. Yet, the speakers probably have the lowest profile in their lineup. At least here in the US, where we like stuff to be massive. Yet not everyone lives in a gigantic space, and more people are stepping up to better desktop hifi systems, especially in the current world where we sit at our desks in our pyjamas and work from home.

In addition to the cool resin cabinets, Rega designs and builds their own raw drivers too. Burn the word value into your cerebral cortex, and be ready for a happy face when you power up the Kytes for the first time. These are seriously good little speakers, especially for $795 a pair.

In typical Rega fashion, they did not just outsource these cabinets to China, they invested in their own equipment to make enclosures from this material. If you don’t know about Rega’s history, nearly 40 years ago, Gandy spent a small fortune to invest in proprietary dies to produce his tonearms, rather than be at the mercy of an outside supplier with dubious quality control. Don’t be surprised if we don’t see a few more speakers using this cabinet technology.

First laps

Knowing Rega founder Roy Gandy isn’t caught up in premium cables and such, I hope he doesn’t mind my listening begins on the desktop with my vintage Marantz 2220, connected with zip cord. Laugh as you might, this system is the great equalizer, because it doesn’t have an enormous power supply and doesn’t double down on power to four ohms, like a well-designed modern amplifier. The result? Hard to drive speakers sound awful with this receiver. And that means they will sound equally dreadful with your budget receiver or amplifier from Best Buy.

Rega lists a nominal impedance of 6 ohms and a sensitivity of 89db/1watt. They pass the Marantz test with ease. True to past experience, speakers that sound great with this mediocre 70s receiver, usually sound fantastic with modern amplification. Next step, our Rega Brio-R integrated/Planar 3 combination. Should you be in the market for a compact, high – performance, vinyl-oriented system, your Rega dealer can put you in the drivers seat for just under three grand. This will probably be some of the most fun you can have with your clothes on for that price.

Considering that a re-capped Marantz will set you back at least $500 these days, $995 for a New Brio (it is now merely called a “Brio”) is an incredible bargain. Just making this change on the desktop system feels as if the Kytes have doubled in physical size. Not to mention the huge increase in resolution.

More seat time

Seriously, the Kytes sound great right out of the box, but bass becomes slightly tighter and more extended after about 100 hours. This isn’t dramatic, but it’s there. So if you like em out of the box, you’ll like em more after a few weeks of play. Romping through a number of Electronica tracks, particularly a long playlist of Tosca and Chateau Flight. The Kytes are incredible, picking up a tiny bit of reinforcement from desktop placement. They do equally well in a room situation if you place them on top of a bookshelf, but be sure to leave a little bit of space between the cabinet back and the wall. The Kytes have a rear-firing port.

As these speakers do have ample bass output, do not put them on the same shelf with your turntable – you are guaranteed to get low frequency feedback. Great as all those Instagram pictures look, this is not the right way to set up a hifi system. (PS: Your Rega dealer can hook you up with a purpose built Rega turntable shelf to lift your table off the same shelf as your speakers)

The Kytes come with a plastic piece that screws in the back of the speakers to keep the front panel more perpendicular to the shelf surface. A stand mount adapter is also available, should you want to use them on stands. We had excellent luck on our 24” Sound Anchor stands, as they have a top surface big enough to accommodate the Kytes with their supplied adaptors. We also had excellent luck, taking advantage of the slight upward tilt (sans adaptors) with 16” Sound Anchors, and a bit of fine tuning with the spikes.

Fortunately, the Kytes are extremely easy to set up in your listening room, should you put them on stands. They offer up wide dispersion, so they aren’t terribly fussy to get the placement perfect. And once set up, they will engage you in the room no matter where you sit. A small woofer can only move a maximum amount of air, yet these speakers can play incredibly loud without distortion, even with a Brio-R.

Chequered flag

This is not very scientific at all, but the Rega Kytes are one of the most enjoyable small speakers I’ve had the pleasure of listening to in a long time. Many small, inexpensive speakers sacrifice overall sound quality for a single aspect of reproduction. The Kyte is such an overall high achiever, with a level of balance usually reserved for much more expensive speakers. Even after hours of constant listening, this is a speaker you will never tire of.

I could go on and on about this track and that track, but you really need to hear these speakers for yourself.

Much like that rare automobile that has a perfect balance of braking, acceleration and handling, these speakers offer everything a music lover will appreciate. Excellent bass response, smooth yet defined treble and a very refined midrange. Nothing sounds forced, nothing sounds lacking. The Kytes completely deliver Rega’s promise of making reasonably priced hifi gear that sounds great. There is a level of graininess and cloudiness that nearly every budget speaker has, that is completely absent with the Kyte, even powered by a vintage receiver. This level of refinement makes them sound much more expensive then their price dictates.

Normally we don’t do this kind of thing, but with mid – October only six weeks away, we’ll let you in on a secret. We will be awarding the Kytes our Budget Product of the Year Award in issue 109. They are more than just an exceptional value. If I were starting my hifi journey again from scratch, I’d buy a pair in a heartbeat. I may buy a pair anyway, just because they are so damn cool. (factory) (NA distributor)

REVIEW – The LSA Warp 1 Power Amplifier

We’ve been having a great time here at TONE with the new LSA products that Mark Schifter has been sending us. For those of you that don’t remember, he was one of the principals in Audio Alchemy and remains the king of high value/high performance audio. These days he works with Walter Lederman at Underwood HiFi, continuing to fight the good fight.

It’s always tons of fun to write about mega amplifiers and monster speakers with five and even six-figure price tags, but we know that about a third of our audience has a $2,000 – $10,000 system, all in. When you’re spending five or six g on your system, you have to proceed with caution, seeking out the most bang for the buck to really maximize it. $1,199 for 150 watts per channel is awesome, because it allows a wider range of speaker options than that 25 watt per channel, modded Dynaco you were going to buy.

Seriously, as nice of a combination as the Warp 1 makes with LSA’s DPH-1 preamp, if you have to have a bit more warmth, $800 will find you a nice vintage tube preamplifier to warm things up a bit. (which is exactly what I did a little later in the review – you can’t take the cheese out of a Wisconsin guy, and you can only take so much warmth out of a hardcore tube guy…)

But Class D?

I know, you’re thinking “Jerold is going for class D? That grumpy, curmudgey guy that likes 70s CJ and ARC tube amps?” Time for a few new spots, I guess.

Back when class D amps hit the scene, they offered efficient operation in a compact size with low power requirements. (And low heat generation) But, they kinda suuuucked in the sound department. Brittle and harsh was the order of the day. Additionally, they could be tough to mate with speakers that either had a low impedance dip or were somewhat difficult to drive. Much like an SET or OTL tube amplifier. Things have changed. The breed is improved.

I’m pretty old school and get crabby when called upon to go outside of my comfort zone. However, everything we’ve sampled from LSA has proven to be excellent. I’ve been eyeing the publishers Teddy speakers in his garage, and as I still have the DPH-1 Headphone amp/DAC in my garage, it made perfect sense.

We can talk tech, or we can talk fun

If you want all the specs and an in-depth report on all the tech that’s gone into this small amplifier (14”W x 10”D x 3”H) please click here to visit Underwood HiFi’s site:

It tells you everything you need to know about power (150wpc – 8 ohms) and the rest of the specs. Suffice to say, being a car guy, I had to pop the top and peek inside, this little amplifier is robustly built. LSA claims that this amplifier is stable into 2 ohms, and while I couldn’t completely verify that, my Quad 57s that have shut down more than one “modern” amplifier at modest volume, had no problems with the Warp 1. That’s as scientific as I get.

Doing most of my listening with a pair of Vandersteen 1CE speakers, a pair of ProAc Tablettes and some Magnepan SMGs all were fantastic matches. When I returned the Warp 1, our pub and I had some more valves to adjust, so we mated the Warp 1 to his Audio GE Teddy speakers (reviewed here, by yours truly) that you can also get from Underwood. The Warp 1, a DPH-1 and a pair of Teddy’s and you’ve still got enough cash left to buy a turntable. How great is that?

Back to the fun

What really sells me on the Warp 1 is the lack of grain and harshness that I used to associate with class D has left the building. It’s still not a Mac tube amp, but this easily is on par sonically with a lot of inexpensive solid-state amps with discrete parts I’ve heard, and better than some. Compared to something like the Benchmark AHB2 that was evaluated a while back, the Benchmark is definitely more flat and somewhat sterile in comparison. Our reference Simaudio MOON ACE has a more luscious solid-state sound, but it’s an integrated, has a $3,500 price tag and is only 50wpc.

Back to those speaker choices again. While I was visiting TONE HQ, I also made it a point to connect the Gershman Acoustics Studio Twos and the Eggleston Nicos. Much spendier speakers at $3,500 and $5,995/pair, yet this amplifier still delivers the goods at a high level. I wouldn’t have any problem using this amp with these speakers.

The two things you notice right away with the Warp 1, is that unlike tube or discrete solid state amplifiers, it takes no time at all to stabilize thermally and electronically. Five minutes, and you’re rocking – with precious little change. My Pass Aleph amp (single ended, class-A) takes about two hours to be all it can be. In today’s ADD world, some of you don’t even have two hours to listen to music! However, the low power usage of class D means you can just leave it on all the time, minimizing your carbon footprint while you’re annoying the neighbors.

Second, this amp is fast. Really fast. Drums, percussion, plucky acoustic guitar solos sound great. Being the old guy I am, heading back to the Sheffield Drum Record, I was really impressed at the quick pace of this amplifier with no overshoot or fatigue. A super set of Rush, listening to a lot of Neal Peart’s drumming was equally impressive. This speed and timing also carries over to the lowest frequencies as well – even at high volume. The way this amplifier took control of the Eggleston’s woofers when tracking through Mickey Hart’s Drumming at the Edge was fantastic. No one-note bass here – another problem with class D amps past.

Final notes

As mentioned the Warp 1 did not have any speaker or cable sensitivities in our test listening. We tried Cardas, Tellurium Q, Audioquest, and Nordost cables, all with excellent luck. Driving everything from vintage ESLs (Acoustat and Quad) to a number of current day speakers revealed nothing that couldn’t be driven, and to good volume levels.

Consider my attitude changed. The LSA Warp One is a great amp, period. Class D has matured, and very well I might add. For $1,195, we’re definitely awarding this baby an Exceptional Value Award. Job well done.