Author Archives: toneaudio

Andover Audio Songbird Hi-Res Music Streamer – First Look

Life is good. I’ve got my head under the hood of my car, changing radiator hoses, and I’m streaming my favorite tunes (in this case about 4 hours of XTC, spanning the entire catalog) on my old Marantz 2220B receiver on top of my tool box. I’m in my happy place, thanks to the Andover Audio Songbird hi-res streamer.

If you happen to own the Andover Model-One music system for your house, you’ve probably realized the only thing missing is a way to stream digital music to it. Now, with the release of the Songbird streamer, you can – and it’s outstanding. And, it’s only $129.

Digital purists will snipe that the Songbird only has 24/192 maximum resolution, and complain about all the stuff it doesn’t have. As the Blues Brothers once said, “What do you want, Rubber Biscuit?” Seriously, think of all the exciting audio products you can buy for $129. Not a lot, eh? What the Andover Songbird does is sound great, and plug in to just about any device you might have, with zero fuss.

Thanks to an optical input, and an Ethernet port, you can use the Songbird as a straight up DAC, Ethernet renderer, or a streamer via Bluetooth or WiFi. Depending on what your streaming with. While it is not a Roon endpoint (yet) you can work around this by using it as an AirPlay device, if you just want the sheer functionality that your Roon infrastructure offers. This proves the way to rock in my garage system. Elbows deep in an engine rebuild isn’t exactly the sweet spot anyway.
The obvious hookup for the Songbird is to attach it to the Andover Model-One in the living room, now under review. The match is perfect, and for anyone with a Model-One, aching for digital/streaming playback, this is the way to roll. Thanks to the Songbird being about the size of a 2000 grit 3M sanding block, it fits anywhere. Power it up, locate it on your network, and go. It shouldn’t take you more than about 60 seconds to be playing music.

Using the Songbird with a couple of budget integrated amplifiers, and a few powered speakers lacking internal DACs, all provide excellent results. It’s amazing that digital can sound this good for $129. Getting all audiophile-y for a few minutes, I did a quick head to head comparison between some 16/44 files streamed through the Songbird and the vintage SONY ES disc player I used to have in the garage. Keep in mind that years ago, this was a $1,000 dollar (maybe a little more expensive) player.

Especially with the cymbals on Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild,” the Songbird offers a distinct advantage in its lack of high frequency graininess that’s there in spades with the Sony player. Even with my head under the hood, I could hear the reverb trailing off more smoothly on Tommy James and the Shondells “Crimson and Clover.” I couldn’t be sure, but a long set of Porcupine Tree tunes sound damn good too.

Great of a match as the Songbird is with the Andover Model-One, it really stole my heart in the context of a vintage system. So many of my friends have second or third systems, mostly vintage (or at least centering around a vintage receiver or amplifier) who aren’t going to drop money on a DAC, or a streamer. Wanna be a great friend? Send your favorite vintage hifi lover a Songbird as a gift.

There’s not much else I can say about a $129 DAC/streamer. It sounds fantastic, easily better than what we were paying a few hundred to nearly a thousand bucks for 20 years ago. It’s easy to set up and install. And if you own the Andover Model-One, it’s the icing on the cake.

We’ll be announcing our products of the year in November, so I’m going to let the cat out of the bag now – this is our 2020 budget component of the year. This is the best sounding, highest value component I’ve ever heard for $129. And you thought we were snooty audiophiles that only liked six figure components. Ha!

NOTE: The Songbird is available for pre-order right now, and will be shipping sometime soon. Probably too late for trick or treaters, but plenty of time for holiday gift season!

Please click here to go to the Andover site…

Original article: Andover Audio Songbird Hi-Res Music Streamer – First Look

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The PrimaLuna ProLogue One Integrated

Who knew that almost 20 years ago that this cool little tube amplifier would change my life?

My first assignment for The Absolute Sound was supposed to be a NAD integrated amplifier. But the day I got my copy of Stereophile in the mail with the ProLogue One you see here on the cover, I thought that might be a great piece to review.

As fate would have it, less than an hour later, Robert Harley was on the phone. “The NAD fell through, they didn’t want the new guy at TAS reviewing it. How about the new tube integrated from PrimaLuna?”

I already knew Upscale Audio’s Kevin Deal from the world of cars, so this felt like a slam dunk. The review was a success, cementing the PrimaLuna brand and my audio reviewing career – though I didn’t know it quite yet. When I started TONE (and for years to follow) people would say, “you wrote that PrimaLuna review in TAS, didn’t you?)
Yeah, I did.

Of course I bought the review sample. This amplifier was so good, how could I not? If you’re a fan of the vintage Dynaco and Marantz EL34 amps, the original ProLogue One felt and sounded like a restomodded classic. Not slow, soft, and syrupy like the vintage amps, yet not as clinical as a current ARC, BAT, or VAC amp. And the price was a killer deal. $1,095 in 2005 was insanely inexpensive for a tube integrated amplifier, wired point to point, with this level of fit and finish.

Another point of contention back in 2005 was the “built in China” moniker, but PL principal and lifetime high end audio pro, Herman Van Den Dungen makes sure everything is produce to perfection. The amplifier you see here has been in use since I wrote the original review in TAS, and it’s only had a single tube change.

When I got the ProLogue One back from my (now ex) niece a few years ago, I couldn’t have been more excited to be reunited with this old friend. And it cost me dearly – I had to trade she and her husband a new Simaudio NEO integrated ($3,400), along with some heavy convincing that having a tube amp around the house with a couple of toddlers was a really bad idea. The fatigued tubes were replaced with a new pair of PrimaLuna 12AU7s, a pair of EAT 12AX7s and a mint quad of NOS Siemens EL34 power tubes. Other than a slightly noisy volume control (with a little bit of contact cleaner took care of immediately) the PL One was back rocking with a pair of 1976 vintage Klipsch LaScalas. The sound was glorious, and with the coolio, upgraded tubes, even better than the day I unboxed it for the first time.

Almost 20 years later, PrimaLuna products have only gotten better, and there is now a wider range to choose from.

My ProLogue One no longer gets daily use, but it has the exalted position of being the first component I reviewed professionally. Today, I still use a pair of EVO400 monoblocks as reference amplifers, which produce around 140 watts per channel with 8 EL34s per channel.

I’m sure these will be as highly regarded as classics in 20 years, much like the great amps from ARC, Marantz, CJ and others. Every time I fire the ProLogue One up, it’s my favorite memory in high end audio.

www.primaluna-usa.com

Original article: The PrimaLuna ProLogue One Integrated

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DS Audio’s assault on high end analog

Japanese cartridge manufacturer DS Audio has just raised the bar significantly on their optical phono cartridge platform.

We’ve reviewed a couple of their cartridges in the past, along with their own proprietary equalizer (necessary for use with an optical cartridge) to great result. Both Richard Mak, our resident analog master and our publisher found the DS cartridges to have a clarity like nothing they’ve experienced.

The new DS Grand Master is a third generation design, claiming to have a 50% weight loss over the previous flagship, a re-designed optical system and equalizer to go with.

DS offers a modular approach, so existing DS users can merely upgrade to the Grand Master for an increase in performance. The Grand Master cartridge by itself is about $15,500 (current exchange rate), definitely in line with the world’s top MC cartridges. Stepping up to the new Grand Master Equalizer/Phono stage will set you back about another $50k, again, certainly on par with what the top of the analog mountain requires.

Considering what a revelation the past DS models have been, we can only imagine what this will sound like, but we’re betting on excellence.

www.ds-audio-w.biz

Original article: DS Audio’s assault on high end analog

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Monster integrated from McIntosh – the MA12000

Today, McIntosh announces their mighty MA12000 integrated amplifier. The MSRP is $14,000, and if you’ve got a shelf capable of holding it, this looks to be a fantastic product.

Blazing a trail started with the MA252, and MA352, the MA12000 offers a full set of the features you’ve come to enjoy from McIntosh. The giant, blue power meters, a front panel window showing off the preamplifier tubes, a headphone output, tone controls, and enough connectivity for every device you can imagine.

The MA12000 is analog ready, with MM and MC phono inputs, and digital ready, with all of the major connections, as well as being Roon certified. Thanks to the plug-in DA2 audio module, it is ready for any future digital developments.

Best of all, the MA12000 produces 350 watts per channel, so you can pair it with whatever speakers you prefer.

These will be available soon, but McIntosh dealers are taking orders now. That will give you a little bit of extra gym time before it arrives! (it weighs in at just over 100 pounds…)

www.mcintoshlabs.com

Original article: Monster integrated from McIntosh – the MA12000

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Rotel’s A11 Tribute Integrated Amplifier

We’ve just received the new A11 Tribute from Rotel, aptly named as this project was initially designed with the late, legendary audio designer Ken Ishiwata.

One of the most influential designers in audio’s history, Ishiwata was equally famous for taking components that he felt “had extra potential,” and reworking them to his liking. The results are always fantastic, as they are here with the A11. Unfortunately, Mr. Ishiwata passed away just as the A11 Integrated and CD11 CD player were being finalized, so the Rotel team finished them in his honor. The amplifier is here for now, and the CD11 is on the way soon.

This 50wpc integrated offers a built in MM phono stage, and a streaming (only) DAC. But for $795, it is an excellent solution for anyone wanting basic, yet high performance audio, at an incredibly reasonable price.

We will have a full review very soon.

Please click here for a link to the Tribute products on the Rotel site.

Original article: Rotel’s A11 Tribute Integrated Amplifier

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Naim Audio updates Control 4 interface

While connected audio isn’t our usual cup of, Naim Audio has updated their Control 4 driver to include “advanced music-streaming functionality.”

This will let you control multiple Naim devices through your Control 4 system. Volume control, source switching, and most importantly, full integration with Tidal and Qobuz services. They are promising a speed boost to these services as well, which will be a boon to those with large collections.

For more information visit www.naimaudio.com

Original article: Naim Audio updates Control 4 interface

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RIP, Eddie VanHalen

Can’t believe I just heard the news that Eddie VanHalen, co-founder of legendary heavy rock band, VanHalen is gone.

Where were you when you heard “Eruption” for the first time? I was working at Southridge Mall in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in a little record store called Galaxy of Sound. We were hanging out at the counter, price guns in hand when the rep from Warner Brothers walked through the door with one white promo album in his hands. He walked up to the stereo, and took the record that was playing off and looked at us with a slightly drug-induced smile (it was the 70s you know), put the record down on the platter, and just before he dropped the needle, said: “You little fuckers will never hear anything like this, again. This is coming out on Friday and I’m giving you a glimpse of history.”

We heard “Eruption” and freaked out. The next 30 minutes flew by, and though we begged him to leave the record with us, he would not. It was Wednesday, February 8th, and true to his word, the world of rock was changed forever two days later.

It was cool to be there first. Many have been influenced by EVH, and though he had his demons, there’s never been another Eddie VanHalen on the scene.

Rest In Peace.

Original article: RIP, Eddie VanHalen

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Test Post 2019

Here’s a test of the emergency award system…

Original article: Test Post 2019

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Parasound’s new Halo P6 preamplifier

We are pretty excited about putting the new Halo P6 from Parasound through its paces. This is a component that a lot of audio lovers need at a very reasonable price.

For $1,599, they’ve built a true preamplifier/control center. This includes a MM/MC phono stage, a built in DAC and even an electronic crossover, providing discrete subwoofer and main outs, that are adjustable from the back panel. Throw in a headphone jack on the front panel (and switchable tone controls) and this adds up to a pretty kick ass combination.

Considering the extremely high value proposition that Parasound products have always offered, this is a lot of performance and functionality for what many would consider an entry level product. We’ll have a full review shortly.

For now, this link will take you to the Halo P6 on Parasound’s site.

Original article: Parasound’s new Halo P6 preamplifier

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Esoteric’s N-01XD DAC/Streamer

Two years ago, we awarded Esoteric’s N-01 network player our product of the year in the digital category. Now, they return with the XD version of this highly capable network player and world-class DAC.

At $20,000, this will not be an impulse buy for most, but on one level, it is an even better value than the product it replaces.

 As much excitement as there is over high-resolution formats, the true mettle of a great DAC is often how well it decodes standard 16/44 files. Listening to the title track of John Klemmer’s Barefoot Ballet is simply stunning. Klemmer’s use of the echoplex with his sax makes for an open, airy presentation. This is an average recording, yet the N-01XD shines as much as it will on your favorite 24/192 or DSD recording. The level of realism the N-01XD offers up is incredible. And I’m guessing that most of you with extensive digital libraries, or those streaming music, still have a disproportionate amount of your music at standard CD resolution. The ability to present extraordinary reproduction at 16/44 is a huge win, and the N-01XD delivers.

Getting to the music

While Esoteric offers its own music player, it can also be used as a ROON endpoint. This is where I did the bulk of my listening. With five systems between the studio, house, my wife’s office, and the garage, the ROON ecosystem makes it easy to merge NAS, Tidal, Qobuz, and Spotify effortlessly. If you happen to be an audiophile sticking to one streaming service, and maybe a NAS, you may not need the functionality that ROON provides. In this case, the Esoteric player will serve you just fine.

Those still spinning physical digital media can use one of Esoteric’s excellent transports (if you want to keep it all Esoteric  - and why would you not?) via their high-performance ES-Link inputs. This also allows native DSD playback from SACD discs – a bonus for those with extensive SACD collections. 

The high-quality Ethernet connection offers the next best sound quality making the N-01XD easy to locate far enough from your NAS (if you are using one) to not have to hear it. And all the more convenient for those just using a streaming service.

Rounding out the picture, RCA, USB, XLR, and even optical inputs are available. Don’t laugh – connecting my 90s era SONY ES 10-disc changer to the N-01XD via a 12-foot long optical cable from an adjacent room still provides incredibly good performance. As I did not have an Esoteric transport on hand, I used the one in my dCS Vivaldi, but an Esoteric transport will provide even better performance because of the ES Link. Sometimes you gotta use what you have on hand.

Finally, the N-01XD offers both RCA and balanced XLR outputs. Both easily drive a 30-foot length of cable, so if you need to place yours away from the system, that’s easy. This is of particular advantage here; we were able to use the balanced outputs to drive the main system in room one, and the RCAs to drive the system in room two as well. Again, the ability to drive two separate systems if the need arises, adds to the value proposition of the N-01XD

Tech talk

The N-01XD provides a level of playback that few DACs can match. Much of this comes from the XD model’s improvements – many of them courtesy of the Master Sound Discrete DAC circuitry in their top Grandioso D1X DAC. The DAC section of the N-01XD actually has 64bit resolution, so this is as future proof as it gets. Now using FPGA circuitry instead of individual DAC chips, the N-01XD will be able to be updated to future functionality via the data socket on the rear panel.

As with our Aqua Audio, dCS, and PS Audio DACs, an FPGA configuration is easy to upgrade when the time comes. With a DAC based on a chipset, you’re at the end of the road. The experience I’ve had with dCS and PS have been fantastic, so I expect the same with Esoteric.

Though this is an expensive piece of gear, it will have a long service life. 

Because all of the digital processing is performed in software, Esoteric is able to provide unique decoding algorithms for DSD and PCM files. With no conversion taking place, each can be processed optimally. Those with extensive DSD libraries will be able to take full advantage of the N-01XD.

Because it incorporates so much of the tech from the Grandioso series, the N-01XD can easily be the last DAC/streamer you buy.

If you get the itch for more performance, you can always add an external clock. My experience with the Esoteric clock is indeed exciting. While I haven’t heard their Grandioso clock with the N-01XD, I have listened to it with the Grandioso player, with stunning results. The extra timing accuracy that a top-quality external clock brings can not be understated.

Esoteric offers three clocks from about $9,000, all the way up to $26k for the Grandioso. Their mid-range G-01X ($20,000) would probably be the one I’d pair with this player. When I’ve heard Esoteric DACs with and without the clock, it’s the last bit of icing on the cake. Switching the clock on lifts the last veil of digital sound, so it’s nice to know that even the lofty N-01XD does have an upgrade path.

More listening

The Esoteric N-01XD is one of the few digital components that renders digital files so naturally and effortlessly, you might find your turntable collecting a lot of dust once you install it into your system. I can honestly say I was not itching to spin any vinyl while the Esoteric was here. If you don’t have a turntable, you might not jump off the analog cliff. As much fun as my favorite rock records were, thanks to the incredible dynamic range the N—01XD provides, it really shines with acoustic material.

The two violins and cello that make up the Janaki String Trio are breathtaking, streamed at 88.2/24. Reproducing the violin and piano with enough acoustic space and tone to feel real is tough for analog, but to nail this in the digital domain is something that few digital players at any price can accomplish. When violins are wrong, and they nearly always are, you just want to leave the room, but here, you just might be brought to tears. It’s that good.

Backing this up with a spin of another Yarlung Records great – The Yuko Mabuchi Trio, vol.1 is incredibly engaging. Ms. Mabuci has such a delicate touch on the keys,reproduced flawlessly is lovely. You’ll find yourself lost in the music in seconds. Great as the piano playing is on this album, the depth of the applause from the audience is hauntingly real. You’ll be looking for the surround speakers, yet there are none. This is two-channel audio in its finest moment.

And of course, my favorite Crosby, Stills, and Nash records sound great too. The N-01XD unravels the three voices, giving each one their own distinct space between the speakers, providing more than a few moments where you can close your eyes and feel like you are right there in the studio.

As real as it gets

Rather than bore you with all the specs and such (though you can read them here if you like) the Esoteric N-01XD needs to be experienced to believe. In 2020, the digital vs. analog ship has sailed. The combination of low-level resolution, and tonal gradation is some of the finest going. The only thing taking away from the sheer value of this player is that it might just force you into a major analog upgrade, should you be playing analog files. But that’s part of the fun.

The latest version of Esoteric’s network player is a digital tour de force.

The Esoteric N—01XD

MSRP:  $20,000

www.esoteric.jp

Peripherals

Preamplifier Pass Labs XSPre

Amplifier Pass Labs XA200.8 monos

Speakers Sonus faber Stradiveri w/six pack of REL no.25 subwoofers

Cable Cardas Clear

Original article: Esoteric’s N-01XD DAC/Streamer

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]om so we can take action immediately.

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