Author Archives: toneaudio

The McIntosh MC1502 Power Amplifier

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

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

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

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

Racy carbon fiber or traditional Mac?

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

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

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

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

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

All things big and small

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

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

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

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

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

Price, performance and heritage

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

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

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

One of the biggest questions

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

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

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

Final setup, listening, and tech notes

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

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

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

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

In the end, fantastic

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

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


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

Digital Source dCS Vivaldi One

Preamplifier Pass Labs XS Pre

Phonostage Pass Labs XS Phono

Cable Cardas Clear

Original article: The McIntosh MC1502 Power Amplifier

Please note that all TONE Audio copy and photography is © 2005–2018 TONE Magazine LLC. This RSS feed is provided for personal, non-commercial use only.

If you are not reading this content in your news aggregator, RSS reader, or direct, then the site you are looking at may be guilty of copyright infringement. If you locate this anywhere, please contact [email protected] so we can take action immediately.

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The Gershman Acoustics Studio Two Speakers

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

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

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

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

Yeah, I love em

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

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

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

Set up and such

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

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

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

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

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

Lots more listening

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

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

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

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

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


Digital Source dCS Vivaldi One, T+A 2500

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

Cable Cardas Clear

Original article: The Gershman Acoustics Studio Two Speakers

Please note that all TONE Audio copy and photography is © 2005–2018 TONE Magazine LLC. This RSS feed is provided for personal, non-commercial use only.

If you are not reading this content in your news aggregator, RSS reader, or direct, then the site you are looking at may be guilty of copyright infringement. If you locate this anywhere, please contact [email protected] so we can take action immediately.

TONEAudio MAGAZINE. All Rights Reserved.

Original Resource is TONEAudio MAGAZINE » TONEAudio MAGAZINE

Core Power Ground Zero

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

$599 (intro priced at $399)

Original article: Core Power Ground Zero

Please note that all TONE Audio copy and photography is © 2005–2018 TONE Magazine LLC. This RSS feed is provided for personal, non-commercial use only.

If you are not reading this content in your news aggregator, RSS reader, or direct, then the site you are looking at may be guilty of copyright infringement. If you locate this anywhere, please contact [email protected] so we can take action immediately.

TONEAudio MAGAZINE. All Rights Reserved.

Original Resource is TONEAudio MAGAZINE » TONEAudio MAGAZINE

Leak’s Stereo 130 Amplifier and CDT Disk Transport

With so many old things being new again, what could be more hifi fun than an update on a British classic?

You might mistake the new Stereo 130 for a vacuum tube amplifier from the late 60s or early 70s; it’s actually modeled after the original Leak Stereo 30, which was, in fact, a solid-state amplifier. Though Leak did make a vacuum tube integrated, the Type 15, in the mid – 1940s. (Maybe they’ll bring that back to life next. We can dream, right?)

Beyond current parts updates, today’s Stereo 130 still offers an onboard MM phono stage. Yet, where the original had an input for a tape head (which wouldn’t be out of place), there are digital inputs. Which is perfect for the matching Leak CDT transport. Or your favorite streamer. At $995 for the amplifier ($1,195 with walnut cabinet) and $695 for the CDT ($895 with cabinet) this is a compact combination that looks great and is reasonably priced. But, how does it sound?

The Stereo 130’s 45-watts per channel is just enough for most smaller spaces and more efficient-ish speakers. Of course, the Wharfedale Linton or Dentons are an excellent match, as are the 90db/1-watt Vandersteen Ones, or perhaps something like the Zu Audio Dirty Weekends. These offer a 97db/1-watt sensitivity and will blow you off your couch, Maxell guy style. Even the current Focal Kanta no.1s in for review (87db/1-watt) turned in an excellent performance with the Stereo 130.

Shiny disc time

The CDT only plays Redbook CDs, with a front, slot-loading transport, but it does a fantastic job. Should you need a CD transport that does not take up a ton of space, this is an excellent choice. However, it is designed to be a bookend to the Stereo 130. That is how we used it for the majority of our listening time. In addition to playing CDs, the CDT also has a USB-A socket on the front for a thumb drive, if you care to play music back in this manner. The controls are the traditional transport controls and a power switch – simple, basic, classic.

Around the back, the CDT offers a coax digital output and an optical output. Playing through the DAC in the Stereo 130, it was challenging to tell the difference between using either output. For the sake of exploration, running optical and coax SPDIF cables through our reference dCS Vivaldi One, the CDT’s coax output did have a slight edge in musicality. The uppermost frequencies were smoother and more fleshed out. But even at this level of digital playback, it wasn’t a staggering difference.

Digitally speaking

Most of our listening was with the CDT transport, yet the Stereo 130 offers several digital inputs for other devices. It’s important to note that the Stereo 130 does not have a built-in network streamer. Yet, streaming Tidal/Qobuz/Roon from a MacBook Pro connected to its USB-B input proves easy and enjoyable no matter which format we played.

The DAC section of the Stereo 130 leverages the ESS Sabre ES9018 chipset, providing the ability to decode files up to 32/384 and DSD256. There is also a wireless connection with Bluetooth aptX support for high-quality streaming. This makes the Stereo 130 perfect for hanging out when you just want to stream some tunes from your mobile device. Or perhaps a friend’s mobile device. Flexibility is the name of the game here.

No slouch in the analog domain

The onboard JFET phono stage does a cracking job with vinyl and your MM cartridge of choice. Staying with the British vibe, breaking out the Rega P3 with Elys 2 cartridge makes sense, as it’s priced reasonably enough to be considered for pairing with the Stereo 130. However, our vintage Technics SL-1200/Shure M44 combination proves equally tasty.

Cueing up a few MoFi vinyl favorites from Supertramp, XTC, and Santana makes this a retro audio lovefest all the way around and shows off the quiet, dynamic character of the Leak’s phono section. In the context of a thousand-dollar amp that has a built-in DAC as well, the performance is excellent and equally matched to the rest of the combination.  It’s resolving enough that you’ll be able to tell the difference in quality and resolution between a budget bin LP and your favorite audiophile pressing.

Don’t forget the phones

The Stereo 130 includes a ¼-inch headphone jack on the front panel. Like its other sections, the headphone out is equally balanced in performance to the rest of the amplifier. Running a gamut of phones in the $100-$400 range from Grado, Audeze, and Sennheiser reveals excellent performance here as well.

The bass and treble controls (yeah, it’s got those too!) really help with budget phones. They even made my hamburger headphones sound better than expected! Though many will scorn the tone controls (you can bypass them with the “direct” button), if you live in a less than an optimum room or have some less than awesome recordings, they do come in handy. There is no specification listed for the tone controls on the Stereo 130. Still, they cut in fairly quickly on both ends of the audio spectrum, so a little goes a long way.

Overall sound and use

The Leak combination offers good bass control with speakers with more low-frequency capability and surprisingly has no problem driving more difficult speakers. Even powering a pair of vintage Acoustat 1+1s (with two of the latest REL Tzero mk.3s in the system) proved engaging at moderate levels. You won’t mistake the Stereo 130 for a tube amplifier, but its Class A/B has more punch than you’d imagine and serves the music well.

The key to the Stereo 130/CDT combination is overall balance. No aspect of its sound or functionality overshadows or shortchanges the rest. We achieved excellent results with several speakers in the $600 – $2,000/pair range, making this a perfect hub for a music lover on a real world budget. You can get great sound without spending five or six figures, and the Leak combo makes for a system to be proud of.

Thanks to their compact form factor (both boxes are almost 13 inches wide, 6 inches tall, and about 11 inches deep), these two should fit anywhere and sit nicely on normal furniture. However, both are pretty substantial, weighing in at around 20 pounds each, so they are somewhat deceptive.

We can tell that Leak obsessed over the details when they decided to bring the brand back to life. Fit and finish is very good and we consider the Walnut real wood veneer cabinets a must.

You’ll either drool over the vintage/mid-century aesthetic, or be turned off and move to the more typical looking gear in this price range. But if you’re in the “love it” category with us, these two components from Leak are a fantastic combination.

Original article: Leak’s Stereo 130 Amplifier and CDT Disk Transport

Please note that all TONE Audio copy and photography is © 2005–2018 TONE Magazine LLC. This RSS feed is provided for personal, non-commercial use only.

If you are not reading this content in your news aggregator, RSS reader, or direct, then the site you are looking at may be guilty of copyright infringement. If you locate this anywhere, please contact [email protected] so we can take action immediately.

TONEAudio MAGAZINE. All Rights Reserved.

Original Resource is TONEAudio MAGAZINE » TONEAudio MAGAZINE

Add Streaming Capabilities to Vintage McIntosh Gear

Vintage audio lovers rejoice!

If you have a vintage audio system of any capacity, and want to add streaming from your bluetooth device, McIntosh has the answer with their new MB20 Transceiver. This $500 device is exquisitely built and finished to match the rest of your vintage MAC gear, (or even slightly vintage MAC gear that lacks streaming) perfectly.

In addition to it’s Bluetooth antenna, you could even use a pair of these devices, to stream from a remote master system (Bluetooth carries for about 150 feet) via the RCA and analog inputs to extend the capability of your main audio system. Thanks to balanced XLR as well as the standard RCA and digital inputs, there are a myriad of options for placement. And connectivity.

This small box has a black anodized finish and similar gold lettering to perfectly compliment your Mac system. Even if you aren’t a vintage McIntosh owner, this is still a fantastic way to add streaming capability to your system. With the recent resurgence of vintage receivers from the 60s – 80s, I can’t think of a better box to add.

I’ve already got my order in for one, for the vintage system over at I’ll be spending the next year or so restoring a 1975 BMW 2002, and having full access to my music library will make those long nights wrenching a lot better. Who knows, maybe that Marantz 2270 sitting on top of my toolbox will get replaced with a McIntosh 1900?

It could happen.

Original article: Add Streaming Capabilities to Vintage McIntosh Gear

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The Aqua LaScala DAC: Take Two- Adding the New Aqua LinQ Network Interface to the Mix

Streaming Paul Weller’s self-titled album at 16/44.1 kHz resolution, is enough to demonstrate how musical the Aqua LaScala DAC is. And it only gets better…

Our only point of contention, when we examined this product about a year ago, was its lack of streaming capability. But at its price, a streamer can easily be added and still come in just over five figures. Now, Aqua’s own LinQ has had a series of updates that makes the LaScala/LinQ edge into five-figure territory, but a formidable contender against the industry’s finest DACs. We’ll get into that shortly.

We fell for the Aqua LaScala Mk.II DAC back in issue 99 and it ended up being our choice for product of the year in the digital category in issue 100. I went out on a limb and said it was “one of the finest DACs we’ve used at any price.” I stand behind that statement about 16 months later. Due to manufacturing and shipping delays, we ended up keeping the LaScala longer than we thought. The folks at Aqua audio were (as were many other audio companies) held prisoner by COVID-related shipping logistics, so getting their latest boards our way for their LinQ streamer took longer than expected.

This was a good thing, allowing more seat time with the LaScala. It’s easy to get a great first impression of a component, whether at a dealer, a show, or even the 4-8 weeks normally spent on a review. Yet, when a manufacturer can afford us the convenience of keeping a product longer, a wider range of music can be auditioned beyond the 30 or so albums and/or test tracks that are always used to evaluate and make comparisons.

Still Crazy (good) After all These Months

Aqua has had a very slight price increase since our last comments and is now $8,320 (up from $8,000 even). Long story short – it remains one of the most musically revealing DACs we’ve spent time with, regardless of price. After the opportunity to listen to a broader range of music, the LaScala continues to offer breathtaking digital reproduction. Wondering what their top Formula offers in addition to the LaScala is the only question – in context of how good this model performs.

Aqua does a lot of things really right with the LaScala. Utilizing a modular architecture, and a programmable FGPA for digital decoding, the user is not at the mercy of the recent fad in chipsets (or unavailability of replacement parts). This makes the investment much more long term – another benefit in today’s disposable world.

In addition to modular construction, the LaScala features a MOSFET/tube output stage that is stellar in execution, no doubt adding even more to the natural quality of this DAC. It features a pair of ECC81 (12AT7) tubes, delivering excellent results with the factory tubes. Long term listening allowed us the opportunity to swap in a pair of NOS Mullards from our buddy Kevin Deal at Upscale Audio. Currently, these are only running about $65/pair, so whether you choose stock or vintage, a re-tube will not break the bank. For those that just have to roll tubes, the NOS tubes offer a slightly bigger breath of tubey-ness. Most of you may never even notice, which underlines how well the output stage is designed. As much fun as tube rolling can be, we always raise an eyebrow at an expensive component that “needs a thousand-dollar set of vintage tubes” to deliver its all. That is clearly not the case here.

The Sound

The LaScala delivers a natural, dynamic and expansive sound that is free of digital artifacts. It’s one of those rare DAC’s that doesn’t have you reaching for a vinyl album. The sound is resolving, yet fatigue free. Smooth, but not dull or slow. That’s magic in our notebook. Even after spending hour after hour with the LaScala, it continues to delight.

The top end is fatigue free, and the DAC paints a large soundstage in all three dimensions. The ability to distinctly position information spatially is as exciting as the amount of low level detail that’s on tap. The LaScala is one of those components that will have you up for hours past your bedtime, discovering bits in your favorite recordings, providing countless “wow, I never heard that before” moments. That’s what makes a component like this worth the price asked.

A long playlist of 24/192 Motown tracks really shows off the midband smoothness and this DAC’s ability to unravel somewhat compressed tracks. Stevie Wonder’s “I Was Made to Love Her” on a budget DAC sounds flat and one dimensional, feeling like more of a wall of sound than even the Motown producers probably intended. Yet through the Aqua, all of the instruments’ not only have their own space, there’s detail and texture here. Now, this music goes from being fun background music, to fully engaging. Sometimes, a DAC’s ability to bring mediocre recordings to life is even more important than playing pristine recordings.

In addition to an extremely natural midband – again perhaps a little extra thanks to those tubes, and the complete lack of op amps anywhere in the analog circuitry, this DAC provides a solid bottom end as well. Again, in addition to weight, this DAC provides tons of texture. The snarly, distorted bass line in the Jackson 5’s “ABC,” jumps out of the speakers.

The more you listen to it, the further you’ll be pulled in. This level of performance usually costs a lot more than the LaScala’s modest price tag. A best buy to be sure.

The LaScala offers six digital inputs (click here to go to the Aqua site for all the tech info), with one of them being a proprietary I2S input for connection to the LinQ streamer. Making the LaScala your digital hub is a breeze, with inputs for everything, even optical. This is a nice touch, as some of us have older CD transports or changers that rarely get used but are still of value. The only thing the LaScala does not decode is MQA – again a moot point as far as we are concerned.

It’s important to mention that this Ladder DAC does not use digital filtering or oversampling. This purist approach also contributes to the natural sound. Proponents of each method claim they’ve done it right and done it the best, but there’s no arguing with the results that Aqua achieves here.

Whether using the SPDIF inputs or USB, this DAC does not disappoint. While there were obvious differences in sound quality between the Cambridge Audio CXT and the dCS Vivaldi transports used to play CDs, the LaScala turns in a great performance. Using a laptop or other computer for music playback can go straight in the USB port with excellent result, or…

Enter the LinQ

While Aqua’s LinQ is the perfect mate to their three DACs, with an entry level price of about $6,320 with one module. The LinQ Core as tested here is $7,550, which includes both the HQPlayer Core + NAA modules. (this includes the Signalyst license)

Should you have no interest in the ROON ecosystem, only the UpNP module is required. If you are using any of the UPnP media servers (link here) your journey can stop here. While the Aqua components are not “Roon Ready,” this is a moot point. Installing their HQ Player Core+NAA modules offers functionality that is recognized by ROON as a playback node, eliminating the need for certification, and being beholden to ROON for future upgrades. The good news is, should you change your mind and go for ROON at some point, you’ll have a top player to work with. Win-win.

Aqua’s website gives more details on technical information surrounding these choices:

Aqua believes Sound Quality is priority number 1. Says their founder Cristian Antelli,  “Our focus was to create an Audio Engine for Roon with zero-setup. The ambitious vision to combine extreme Sound Quality with delight.”

Aqua’s SQ player is recognized as a ROON endpoint, and this is how I used it for the review. From Aqua’s website: “Roon can be configured to implement of HQPlayer into a Zone. HQPlayer owns the final connection to the Audio Engine, and Roon is just passing along a stream of bits from media files / Streaming services as Qobuz and Tidal. This allows you to enjoy the benefits of HQPlayer SQ and the library management capabilities of Roon at the same time.”

Even if you don’t have an Aqua DAC but have a DAC you love that lacks a streaming component, I highly suggest the LinQ. It offers their own I2S output to the Aqua DACs but also features SPDIF, AES and dual AES outputs. Trying this out with older ARC and dCS DACs proves a perfect fit (electrically and sonically) and keeps a great component you already have in your system viable.

Many audio enthusiasts have their preference for digital connections, but after some careful listening between the I2S/RJ45 connection and the AES connection, the proprietary connection definitely gets the nod. It was fairly easy, (even for non-audiophile friends) to hear a further lack of grain when playing music through the I2S connection, especially with musical selections featuring acoustic instruments, or sparse vocals. This is an easy comparison to make.

Where many manufacturers scrimp on network implementation, the high-performance circuitry in the LinQ makes streaming via Ethernet the way to roll, whether using a NAS or your favorite streaming service.

A quick peek inside the casework of the LinQ to add the latest updates reveals fairly densely packed real estate, and an upgrade path that does not even require an external firmware upgrade. Plugging in the two new boards reminded this digital imaging pioneer of the old days of plugging graphics accelerator cards into my old Macintosh Power Mac. This is robustly implemented, so it will be easy for an end user. With two additional slots for future possibilities, Aqua scores again on making your investment future proof. Another pillar of Aqua is ensuring every piece is designed to be truly modular and upgradable in the future as technologies progress “LinQ knows no obsolescence”

There’s not much to say about the “sound” of a streaming/network interface, but it’s worth mentioning that this being implemented to the level that Aqua has, is what takes digital playback to the level they have. When this is poorly done, graininess and lack of image focus creeps back in to the presentation. Comparing the LinQ to a few budget streamers on hand was like going from MP3s to high res digital – so it does make a difference. You don’t realize how essential a high quality streamer like the LinQ is until you take it out of the system. You can’t unhear the contribution it makes.

Finally, the LinQ is a perfect complement to your Aqua DAC (and possibly transport) visually, sharing the same tasteful casework, and grey aluminum covers featuring a textured grey coating. We suggest not stacking these components together unless some kind of isolation can be provided to prevent scratching the surfaces.

Do You Need One or Both?

If you already have an Aqua DAC, there’s no better choice to stream than the LinQ. Period. If you have someone else’s premium DAC the only other one we’ve heard that has taken this level of care to implement the technology is dCS, and their renderer is about the same price. This still leaves the default choice as Aqua for our money. Their products are all fantastically built, and the combination of the LaScala and Aqua is bettered by few at any price.

Highly recommended.


Preamplifier Pass Labs XS Pre

Power Amplifier Pass Labs XA200.8 monoblocks

Cable Tellurium Q Black Diamond and Cardas Clear

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

Original article: The Aqua LaScala DAC: Take Two- Adding the New Aqua LinQ Network Interface to the Mix

Please note that all TONE Audio copy and photography is © 2005–2018 TONE Magazine LLC. This RSS feed is provided for personal, non-commercial use only.

If you are not reading this content in your news aggregator, RSS reader, or direct, then the site you are looking at may be guilty of copyright infringement. If you locate this anywhere, please contact [email protected] so we can take action immediately.

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Original Resource is TONEAudio MAGAZINE » TONEAudio MAGAZINE

Technics SU-G700 Integrated Amplifier

Watching the power meters bounce in the dark, listening to the title track in Brian Eno’s The Ship, the sheer dynamic power of this compact amplifier is completely revealed.

Eno’s husky voice and deep bass riffs, combined with an atmospheric, ethereal feeling creates an enormous sound field with the Sonus Faber Maxima Amators in the listening room. With even moderately efficient speakers, the 70 watts per channel this amplifier provides is more than enough to partake in realistic listening levels.

The SU-G700s compact, elegant and simple enclosure houses a 70 wpc (into 8 ohms / 140 into 4 ohms) amplifier, but digital is done with a twist. This being a full digital amplifier, there is actually no digital to analog conversion being done until the very last output stage to the loudspeakers, all digital signals (PCM/PWM) remain digital until that point, so no DAC is being done until then. This is what is different about Technics’ digital amplifier design and you still gain the benefit of the higher quality digital processing that a DAC would have given as a result of the 32/384 digital amplifier process throughout. There is an MM phono input for analog lovers too, did you think the makers of the mighty SL-1200 would forget the phono input? For a music lover wanting the ability to access multiple sources with a minimum of clutter, this $2,495 amplifier is going to be tough to beat. The only thing not available is a network streamer. However, it’s easy enough to add your streamer of choice, or use a computer via USB. I’ve beat this topic to death, having the ability to stream without buying another box would be a welcome addition, but not a deal breaker.

It’s often said that talented people make complex tasks look easy, as if anyone could do it. The same can be said for the world’s finest audio components. The level of sound quality, and meticulous attention to build is practically unheard of at this point, showing what having the manufacturing capabilities of a massive company like Technics brings to the table. The SU-G700 feels a lot more like it came from Nagra or Boulder. All of their current products are built to the same standard, think about it – how many SL-1200s are still spinning records 40-plus years later?

Music or tech?

As a tribute to the Technics engineers, there’s a lot going on inside this box. It is a credit to their talent that this is no mere chip amp, or basic A/B amplifier, especially for this price. This amplifier is built like a ten-thousand dollar amplifier, albeit a little different than what a lot of you might be used to. The SU-G700 is a digital amplifier. Digital sources stay in the digital domain all the way through, while analog sources are converted to 24-bit/192kHz digital by a Burr-Brown 1804 A/D converter. Keep in mind that anything connected to one of the two analog inputs (including phono) is also converted to digital.

Using Technics Jitter Elimination and Noise-shaping Optimization (or JENO for short) and a Pulse Width Modulation system, musical signals are amplified in the digital domain and then converted back to analog at the very end before delivering the goods to your speakers. The headphone amplifier uses similar technology to power your favorite headphones.

One of the most interesting aspects of the SU-G700 is its Load Adaptive Phase Calibration (LAPC) circuit, which helps optimize the amplifiers’ output characteristic to match whatever speakers are connected for optimum signal transfer. If you’ve had any experience with Class-D amplifiers, you already know how speaker sensitive they are, and anything presenting a fairly complex load at the speaker terminals doesn’t always produce great results. Not unlike that of an SET tube amplifier. Thanks to Technics proprietary design, the SU-G700 does not have this problem at all, and easily drove all the speakers we had on hand.

Where Devialet has tried something similar with their SAM correction, Technics has done a fantastic job with LAPC – much like earlier ABS braking systems in cars, the Technics system is far less intrusive and produces good result. You merely need to engage the LAPC calibration from the remote (yeah, don’t lose the remote!) and let it do its thing. LAPC runs a few minutes worth of test tones to optimize it for your speakers. Unlike a HT receiver doing “room correction,” (no microphone is required for LAPC) the GU-G700 is internally measuring the load your speakers present to the amplifier and optimizing it for optimum power delivery and phase response.

Where the Devialet system was hit and miss with the test speakers we tried, Technics’ approach  provides a more subtle, and at the same time less intrusive result. On everything from a pair of LS3/5A mini monitors all the way up to the Focal Stella Utopia EMs, things sounded better after running the LAPC correction routine. High frequencies always sounded more natural, and in our room, with the speakers at our disposal, low frequencies always felt more powerful, with less upper bass fatigue. Considering this all happening in the context of a $2,500 amplifier is astonishing.

This is only a slight overview of everything inside the SU-G700. Please visit the Technics site here, to get the full description, complete with charts and graphs.

How to interpret the SU-G700

This is one of those interesting pieces of gear that should appeal to both sides of your brain. Your left brain will love all the latest, state of the art tech inside, and the novel approaches taken to implement it. Your right brain will love how great it sounds and how cool it looks. How can that be a bad thing?

Using the onboard digital inputs proved excellent, and for most users that will probably be enough. We did have the Technics SL-G700 SACD player, which ultimately provides a step up in digital decoding (It is $2,999after all) but going from digital to analog and back again through the SU-G700 seemed redundant. Three different transports were used, a vintage SONY ES player, via optical output, the Cambridge CXT (also in this issue) via SPDIF and just to see where the end of the performance envelope was, the dCS Vivaldi One’s digital output. All discs were standard resolution (16/44) CDs.

There definitely was a jump in clarity when using the dCS, no doubt due to less jitter and artifacts in the digital bitstream from this transport, but suffice to say, the vintage and budget players did a great job, so if you have an older CD player or transport, you can expect excellent results. The majority of the evaluation was done with a combination of 16/44 and higher resolution files from Tidal and Qobuz. The Technics does not unfold MQA files.

The SU-G700 has a very neutral, non – embellishing sound quality about it. You will not mistake it for a tube amplifier, or even a pure class-A solid state amplifier, but it is not harsh. Some system matching will be required, as if you have speakers that start out revealing, with a slightly forward tonal balance, like a pair of newer Paradigm speakers, or the incredible Acora Acoustics monitors we have in for review, the Technics might be too much for you. Arguably, my personal bias tends more to a slightly warmer sound like you might experience with Sonus faber, Vandersteen, or Harbeth speakers – so that was my happy place. Almost like pairing a tube preamplifier with a solid-state power amplifier kind of thing.

Regardless of program material used, the SU-G700 offers a consistent presentation. The only characteristic it shares with other digital amplifiers we’ve auditioned is a slight lack of depth compared to your favorite tube gear. Left to right sizing is big, going somewhat beyond the speaker boundaries, but not massive. This overall character really did not change from speaker to speaker, again suggesting what a great job LAPC does.

The MM phono stage offers four gain settings (0, -3, -6, and -10dB) which is handy if you happen to have a Rega cartridge or a few others with higher outputs in the 5-7mv level. Then, the signal is sent to the ADC and treated as sound from any other input. Utilizing a vintage Technics SL-1200 with Shure M44 and a Rega P3 with an Exact II cartridge, both worked well, and the SU-G700 did an excellent job playing records. The resulting sound is dynamic, and incredibly quiet, something that jumps right out at the listener.  There is also a switchable subsonic filter from the menu, which will help those of you having speakers with major LF output. 
Soundstage width is to the edge of the speakers, not a broad expansive thing that you might expect with your favorite tube phono preamplifier, but then you have to pull yourself back to Earth and realize that this is part of an integrated that only costs $2,500, so in comparison to what’s out there for a few hundred dollars, this is a winner, indeed. The only thing you will notice, is that some of the personality, or some might say, the imperfections of the analog process are somewhat homogenized by the digital nature of the SU-G700.

Overall winner

The SU-G700 has no negatives, and we haven’t even discussed the beautiful enclosure and attention to detail that goes along with this product. From the thick front panel, to the delicately lit power meters and even the high quality of the silk screening on the meters is in five-figure product execution range. If you are a build/style junkie, you’ll freak out by the level of overall quality present here. This is one beautiful piece of hifi gear – and it’s also available in black.

What the Technics SU-G700 does is provide you with a top-notch anchor for a great music system at an incredibly affordable price. It sounds great, looks fantastic, and offers an intuitive user interface too. Good as the remote is, the quality and feel of the controls just beg you to walk up to it, give the volume control a bit of a spin, and watch those power output meters come to life. Pairing it up with the SL-G700 and the speakers of your choice make for an incredibly high value proposition.

Original article: Technics SU-G700 Integrated Amplifier

Please note that all TONE Audio copy and photography is © 2005–2018 TONE Magazine LLC. This RSS feed is provided for personal, non-commercial use only.

If you are not reading this content in your news aggregator, RSS reader, or direct, then the site you are looking at may be guilty of copyright infringement. If you locate this anywhere, please contact [email protected] so we can take action immediately.

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NEW From Naim! The Uniti Atom Headphone Edition

Naim Audio announces this morning that their latest addition to the Uniti series is now available. The Uniti Atom Headphone Edition premiers with an MSRP of $3,290.

You can read more at the Naim site here:

Years ago we raved about the Uniti Qute, put it on our cover, and even gave it a product of the year award. The level of performance and functionality it offered was well ahead of its competitors and Naim only continues to widen the gap, despite “me too” attempts by other manufacturers. Merely adding a touch screen to the front of the box does not make for a solution that has been engineered from the ground up.

Recently the Uniti Atom took the functionality of the original Qute, added a fantastic DAC, and the lovely volume control of Naim’s flagship components. A bigger, more crisp screen on the front panel, and ROON readiness (along with the ability to stream every other thing you can think of) kept the Atom at the top of the class.

Now, for those not needing a built in power amplifier, or wanting a mega personal listening station, Naim’s engineers have gone back to the lab, designing a purpose built, high quality headphone amplifier in place of the audio amplifier to drive speakers that is in the standard Atom.

We can’t wait for a review sample, and can only imagine that the new Atom will be a perfect match for Focal’s full line of headphones.

What might even be the bigger surprise, is with line level outputs, will the $3,290 Naim Atom Headphone edition prove to be this year’s killer DAC/PRE, waiting for a power amplifier and speakers to go along? You’ll know as soon as we get one in for review.

Stay tuned.

Should curiosity get the better of you and you HAVE TO HAVE ONE NOW, you can click on this link to purchase immediately. (In spirit of full disclosure we DO NOT receive commission for this transaction should you buy your Atom from this link. TONE does not participate in affiliate programs of any kind, whatsoever.)

Original article: NEW From Naim! The Uniti Atom Headphone Edition

Please note that all TONE Audio copy and photography is © 2005–2018 TONE Magazine LLC. This RSS feed is provided for personal, non-commercial use only.

If you are not reading this content in your news aggregator, RSS reader, or direct, then the site you are looking at may be guilty of copyright infringement. If you locate this anywhere, please contact [email protected] so we can take action immediately.

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Original Resource is TONEAudio MAGAZINE » TONEAudio MAGAZINE

REL’s new T/x subwoofers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chicken or egg?

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

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

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

Comparison one: Visual

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

Comparison two: sonics between old and new

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

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

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

Final comparison: between small, medium, and large

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

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

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

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

T/9x $1,449

T/7x $1,099

T/5x $679


Digital source Boulder 866 internal DAC

Cable Tellurium Q Ultra Black

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

Original article: REL’s new T/x subwoofers

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The Acora Acoustics SRB

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

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

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

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

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

You need the stands

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

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

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

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

Setup and initial listening

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

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

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

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

Arriving at the finished dish

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

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

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

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

It all comes down to clarity

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

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

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

In the end, brilliant

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


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

Digital Source dCS Vivaldi One

Preamplifier Pass XS Pre, Nagra Classic Pre

Phono Stage Pass XS Phono

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

Cable Cardas Clear

Original article: The Acora Acoustics SRB

Please note that all TONE Audio copy and photography is © 2005–2018 TONE Magazine LLC. This RSS feed is provided for personal, non-commercial use only.

If you are not reading this content in your news aggregator, RSS reader, or direct, then the site you are looking at may be guilty of copyright infringement. If you locate this anywhere, please contact [email protected] so we can take action immediately.

TONEAudio MAGAZINE. All Rights Reserved.

Original Resource is TONEAudio MAGAZINE » TONEAudio MAGAZINE