Category Archives: REVIEWS

Techno giants, Ilian Tape and Surgeon kick off 2020 with three gems

Artist: Surgeon
Title: The Golden Sea
Label: Ilian Tape
Cat No: IT043
Released: Out Now!
Genre: Techno

If Ilian Tape hadn’t already cemented its place as one of the leading techno labels today, adding Surgeon to their already impressive list of artists doesn’t hurt the argument. For this author, the 2 seem like a good fit. They both produce and provide the world with a diverse blend of techno and electronica, and both can be as unpredictable as the other. There are moments on this Ep that sounds nothing like Surgeon, let alone anything you would expect to hear on Ilian Tape. Feeling more like US House sometimes than Birmingham or German techno.

With its fat, bouncing kick drums, mischievous basslines and warped acid hooks; sonically The Golden Sea EP feels like the logical evolution from the styles and sounds propagated in 2019’s, Rax Trax; a series of releases on Surgeons own, Dynamic Tension label and also from his 2018 full length, Luminosity Device.

The title track, ‘The Golden Sea’ bursts onto the scene with a thumping kick and a funky, darting bassline. Some warm, floating synth-action keeps everything relatively subdued; evoking more spring afternoon vibes than winter nights. This is not UK techno. In the end, a quality jacking number that lands somewhere in between Dan Curtin and Derrick Carter. Again on ‘Aqua Marina’, the energy feels more like tweaked, jacking acid house. With its Landstrumm style, burnt-out acid loop, splashy hats and choppy snares. With just alone, stark light of synth to guide your path. Tune! ‘Hostages of the Deep’ is the most straight-up techno track on offer, even harking back to Tony’s Force + Form days. Masterfully maintain tension with a very clean, clear and precise sonic arrangement. Shuffling itself into a pleasant state of organized chaos.

Either way, it’s a solid start to 2020 for both Surgeon and Ilian Tape.

The post Techno giants, Ilian Tape and Surgeon kick off 2020 with three gems appeared first on Decoded Magazine.

Original Resource is Decoded Magazine

Sonus Faber Olympica Nova III Loudspeaker Review

In September 2019, Hurricane Dorian hammered the Bahamas. That historic storm wrought a catastrophic death toll and an untold amount of suffering. I can only wish the survivors the speediest of recoveries for what was (hopefully) a once in a generation disaster. If you can afford to, please donate funds to any of the entities [...]

Original Resource is NOVO Audio and Technology Magazine

NORDOST QRT Power Products Review. Part 2 of 3: QKORE Ground Unit and QKORE Wires

Perhaps you have been waiting for this second installment in my Nordost QRT Power Products Series review. Yes, this is Part 2 but who says sequels can’t be just as exciting? Afterall, there was Aliens and The Empire Strikes Back, not to forget The Dark Knight. Anyone disagree…? And, now it’s time for our second [...]

Original Resource is NOVO Audio and Technology Magazine

The Luxman P-750u

Breezing through George Benson’s “This Masquerade,” via the Focal Utopia, Audeze LCD-2, and Abyss Diana Phi phones, (thanks to three headphone outlets on the front panel of the Luxman P-750u) it’s easy to make quick comparisons.

It’s even easier to get lost in the clarity that these premium phones produce via this incredible headphone amplifier. A lot of talk goes on when setting speakers up in a room, with one of the main goals being to make them disappear in the room. Achieving a VTA setting that is close to perfection with a tonearm and cartridge makes the turntable get out of the way of the reproduction chain and let the music flow. A great audio system, set up to the best of its potential goes a long way to help you concentrate on the music and forget about the gear. At least if that is the experience you are predisposed to.

If you are a music lover that enjoys not thinking about your gear, I hope you will agree that a great headphone system is the same way. Even the finest headphones played through a mediocre or overly colored headphone amplifier still feel like you do have cans on your head. A high quality headphone amplifier makes it easy to forget you are wearing headphones, and the Luxman P-750u is one of the best.

Sans cans (and tubes)

We’ve had the good fortune to listen to a lot of great headphone amplifiers from a number of manufacturers over the last year or two. Many high-performance audio enthusiasts are enthralled with vinyl, but the upper end of personal listening has grown as much, if not more. Five years ago we had precious few four figure (and even five figure) headphones or amplifiers – today it’s commonplace.

Luxman’s P-750u goes out the door for $4,995. By no means inexpensive, but nothing like some of the examples we’ve seen. Much like their class-A integrated amplifiers, the overall sound is slightly saturated tonally, very dynamic and extremely quiet. The P-750u is all solid-state, so in addition to being silent, you will never have to chase or roll tubes. Considering that a number of the world’s finest headphone amplifiers feature tubes, factoring never having to replace tubes makes the P-750u an even better long-term value proposition. If you listen to your headphones a lot during the day, this can get costly in a hurry.

Thanks in part to the massive power supply and resulting current reserve, the sheer dynamic ability of the P-750u not only goes a long way to make your favorite phones disappear, it does so with a wider range of phones than anything we’ve yet taken for a test drive.

If you’ve ever been at a hifi dealer or show, where they’ve used a massive power amplifier to drive relatively inexpensive speakers (with tremendous result) the P-750u performs the same miracle. Connecting my vintage Grado SR60s is a revelation through the P-750u – they sound like $1,500 phones now, and the big Grados have lost their harshness. This adds a degree of versatility to your headphone choices that few amplifiers offer.

Powerful feature set

You can get all the fine details and specs from the Luxman site here:

However, the P-750us ability to drive any headphones you can connect really makes this headphone amplifier a pleasure to use. With your choice of a standard ¼-inch output jack, a stereo balanced output, and individual L/R balanced outputs and three sensitivity settings, it’s a breeze to completely tailor the amp to your phones. Much like trying multiple output taps on a tube power amplifier, if you have the cables, give balanced a try to your standard phones, you might be surprised.

Around back, there are two sets of balanced XLR inputs and one set of RCA inputs too, so you can easily connect a DAC, phono stage and maybe a tape deck. This leads to the only complaint with the P-750u – at this price, a set of variable level outputs would be incredibly nice so that it could be used as a two-channel linestage too. That might make it easier to justify the cost to some buyers, and is becoming more and more popular in higher end headphone amplifiers.

Especially considering how much of the standard design and build features that go into Luxman’s top components are all present here, from the huge power supplies, premium individual components and the fine casework. And it begs being mentioned again to those unfamiliar with Luxman components – even the packaging is fantastic. This amplifier is built and boxed with extreme care.

Casework is typical Luxman, with the best front panel screen printing in the industry, combined with a level of machining that would be right at home on a fine wristwatch. Even the cast iron feet on the bottom of the chassis are produced with the same level of excellence, as is the inside of the chassis. This is industrial art at its finest.

More listening please

The P-750u is almost hallucinogenic in its delivery of musical information, yet not overdone. Whether sitting at a desk working, or lounging, the soundfield generated is large in all three dimensions and comes the closest to sounding like a pair of great monitors somewhat nearfield as anything I’ve yet used. A few of the top (i.e. 5-figure) headphone amplifiers have painted larger pictures, but it’s always felt unrealistic. If you’ve ever had the chance to experience a pair of the 9 foot tall Sound Labs electrostatic speakers, it’s incredible, but the sense of scale is overblown. The Luxman amp gets it just right, and the wider range of other headphone amps you’ve heard, the more you’ll appreciate this one.

A similar experience is had with vocal heavy tracks. Often, even with the finest headphone amplifiers, certain vocal tracks can sound as if the singer is performing right inside the middle of your head, instead of sounding in the middle of your speakers. This was another area that the P-750u really excelled at: preserving the sense of scale and placement of vocalists within the soundfield.

The beauty of this amplifier is in the details, the fine details to be exact. Listening to whatever your favorite bass heavy tracks are, the extension offered, combined with a level of LF texture that you won’t notice until you go back to what you were listening to, is uncannily good. And the top end presentation is detailed, refined, and controlled. The Grado P2000s and the Utopia phones both can get strident with the wrong amplifier, yet the lack of harshness through the P-750u is the best I’ve heard on these phones.

Best of the best

Much as I despise that word, especially in the context of reviewing gear, the Luxman P-750u is one of the finest headphone amplifiers I’ve had the pleasure to experience. It reveals as much music as any of the five figure amplifiers we’ve auditioned here, and for most that would be more than enough. When you add the versatility and level of sheer craftsmanship to the mix, it’s easy to see why this one is such a favorite.

Original article: The Luxman P-750u

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Original Resource is TONEAudio MAGAZINE » TONEAudio MAGAZINE

Dynamique Audio Shadow 2 Interconnects, Power Cords, & Speaker Cables Review

Dynamique Audio’s Shadow 2 Cable Review The game of cable one-upmanship seems to be never ending. Perceived value for money in anything is, of course, a personal thing. While some drooling audio dorks might see a power cable with a $20K USD price as a “bargain”, for most audiophiles, spending $100,000 USD on a cable [...]

Original Resource is NOVO Audio and Technology Magazine

The Merrill Audio PURE Tape Head Preamp

If you grew up in the hifi era of the 60s and 70s, magazines featured the latest stereo equipment in their ads and editorial pages, and the reel to reel tape deck was the pinnacle. You may have owned one, yourself.

Most were bought to record radio broadcasts or to record music to have continuous play of music for several hours – a long playing tape at 3 ¾ i.p.s. was the original party playlist. The convenience of the compact cassette began the end of open reel tape and the introduction of the compact disc accelerated the decline. The advent of home digital recording in the nineties finished the market for reel to reel decks.

Yet over the last five years or so, reel to reel has been making a quiet comeback. If you’ve attended any audio shows recently, you’ve probably noticed open reel tape decks playing in more and more rooms. Approximately, ten years ago a company arrived on the audio horizon that offered the ultimate in-home music playback, copies of original master tapes. The Tape Project was a brave endeavor, licensing master tapes, with 1:1 copies available to the few. Squarely aimed at the well-heeled audiophile, priced at $450 per album it was a labor of love. Several other startup’s followed suit along with some of the established names such as Analogue Productions and Groove Note.

These new, professional grade tapes bore no resemblance to the pre-recorded reel tapes from earlier days, mass duplicated on 7 ½-inch reels. Most of today’s open reel tapes are produced on 10 ½-inch reels, in 15i.p.s., half-track configuration. Perhaps the biggest difference of all is todays tapes using IEC equalization instead of the NAB EQ used in past consumer tapes. Today’s tapes are a studio effort from start to finish.

Fast forward to 2019

Since the manufacture of new reel to reel decks is non-existent, a cottage industry has developed, supporting the renewed interest in the reel format. In addition to several companies doing ground up restoration of vintage decks, a new tape manufacture came aboard to offer tape stock along with the revitalization of the last original tape manufacturer.

This brings us to the point of this review, a tape head preamp. If you are new to the format, you may wonder why you need an external tape head preamp, because tape decks all came with line level outputs. Like a phono cartridge, the tape head is a low output device that requires boosting and equalization to be used as a line level source.

In the heyday of hifi, it would have been unthinkable that a preamp, receiver or integrated amp would not have a built-in phono stage. However just as we have discovered over the last couple of decades with the onslaught of phono preamps, a dedicated well-designed phono preamplifier reveals more music in the playback of vinyl.  The same applies to tape playback: simply put most of the built-in circuitry while acceptable can be improved upon. To take full advantage of what todays tapes have to offer, it’s a necessity.

Unlike your turntable, you cannot simply insert the Tape preamp between the deck and your preamp.  All decks regardless if they are consumer, prosumer or even professional require some modification to use an external tape preamplifier.  Without going into specifics, you need to be able to take the signal directly from the playback head. The good news is that if you are not technically inclined most skilled technicians can do this for you at a reasonable cost.

Merrill Audio, based in New Jersey has joined a small but growing number of companies offering tape preamps and the first to offer a non-tube unit. I chose to use the term non-tube instead of the dreaded term solid-state because many think of solid-state as having a cold sterile harsh sound, which todays best solid-state gear simply does not.

Much like a great phono stage, external tape head preamplifiers are similarly priced. The Merrill PURE has an MSRP of $9,000. Not inexpensive, but by no means crazy money, especially when put in the context of what a phono preamplifier of similar performance would cost.

The setup

The PURE is the first of three units that Merrill will be offering, with additional flexibility as you move up the chain. The PURE features an outboard power supply connected by an umbilical cable, sufficient in length, to allow placement of it away from the electronics. The preamp itself offers well machined casework with a large display that can be easily read from across the room. Although, given its pro audio roots, input and output connections are balanced XLR only.

During the review period, it was used in both balanced and SE mode, using Cardas XLR/RCA adapters with no degradation in sound. Two toggle switches hidden on the bottom of the chassis allow gain selection (65db and 71db) and tape equalization for numerous speeds. The PURE Tape Preamp comes with predefined Equalization settings for 3 ¾, 7 ½, 15 for both NAB and IEC as well as a 30 IEC2/AES setting.

Diving in

With the general audience for external tape preamplifiers being pro studios and very serious tape users, there is a lot of demand for the 15 i.p.s. setting, but this isn’t the only path. A number of internet pundits devoted to open reel playback have a general disdain for pre-recorded, ¼ track tapes, which run at 7 ½ i.p.s. and 3 ¾ i.p.s.. With a large collection at my disposal, I feel that overlooking this segment of recorded music is a mistake. Though many rock titles were produced using a high speed duplication process (resulting in somewhat inferior playback quality) many of the early Jazz and Classical title offer sound that surpasses their vinyl counterparts.

The key to enjoying these tapes to the fullest is the ability to select the proper EQ for the tape you are playing – there is no one size fits all here. Other premium tape head preamplifiers I’ve used need to be recalibrated when changing tape speeds, or offer no predefined tape speed EQ at all. Fortunately, the PURE eliminates this problem, making it easy to switch EQ.

Background prep

Before sending our review unit, Merrill Audio asked if I required input cards for the ATR 102, a professional deck currently available from ATR Services. This leads me to believe that the Pure Tape Head preamp was targeted at those users. While I’m not an ATR owner I do have the following decks as reference components: JCorder with an external head block housing Flux Magnetics half and quarter track heads, a customized Revox PR99 that was built with direct head output as well as custom playback electronics by Soren Wittrup of CS Electronics and an Otari MX5050 with Flux Magnetics half track heads and direct output. My Studer A807 is currently out for service.

I tried to source a wide range of music and variations on the format to put the PURE through its paces. The following tapes were used for evaluation: AP’s Muddy Waters The Folk Singer, Fritz Reiner’s amazing version of Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kije, The Tape Projects’ Jerry Garcia/David Grisman, and Sonny Rollins’ Saxophone Colossus - all are produced at 15i.p.s. using IEC EQ. Commercial 7 ½ i.p.s.quarter track versions of John Coltrane’s Giant Steps and A Love Supreme along with Charles Mingus’ Mingus, Mingus, Mingus and Blues and Roots were used for comparison.


The sheer quiet of the PURE is apparent before you even push the play button.

Before the tape starts, background noise seems to be reduced. When the music starts, the PURE’s ultra low noise floor allows subtle details in the recordings to shine, much like a premium phono preamplifier offers a deeper and blacker background, it’s the same with tape. Merrill’s electronics are known for lightening fast transient response, and the PURE upholds that tradition. Garcia’s guitar work on the Garcia/Grisman tape has the ring associated with well recorded acoustic guitar. The opening rim shots on Sonny Rollins’  “St. Thomas” are equally lifelike and full of excitement.

The soundstage rendered expands far beyond my speaker boundaries and depth has the illusion of extending beyond the rear wall. This is true analog involvement. The Lieutenant Kije tape gives a panoramic view of the orchestra, and the dynamic swings have no drag in timing. Finesse is not a word I usually associate with Muddy Waters however it is the word that comes to mind listening to the tape. It’s easy to hear and feel Waters’ breathe and bellow at the beginning of “Mr Captain” in a way that you just can’t realize without the additional resolution an external tape head preamplifier provides.

Bonus points

The PURE’s ability to play 7 ½ i.p.s. ¼ track tapes without recalibration is its crowning achievement for tape enthusiasts with a diverse tape collection. While the current crop of 15ips tapes use new high output tape, vintage commercial tapes were recorded at lower levels, to avoid saturating the tape formulations of the day. Switching the output of the preamp to the higher setting. selecting the 7 ½ NAB setting allows these tapes to shine like never before. While they will never challenge the performance of the current premium crop of master copies, they can outperform their best vinyl counterparts, as I hinted at earlier.

Those with tape collections that include these pre-recorded vintage tapes can now take full advantage of what these tapes have to offer. An informal gathering of audiophile friends left my place shocked at just how much information is lurking in these tapes. The vintage version of Coltrane’s A Love Supreme eclipses even my best vinyl pressings on hand. From the opening soprano sax cry in “Acknowledgement” through the opening bass line of “Resolution” it feels as if you are being moved closer to the control room than in any other version available.

The PURE offers a level of refinement, with a smooth extended top end, but the overall bass performance is really this unit’s calling card. Without exception, bass takes on a new dimension on every recording thrown at it.

Final thoughts/fine points

In auditioning the three decks on hand, the decks with Flux Magnetic heads reap the biggest gains in performance. Adding the external preamp allows your tape deck to become a fully realized audiophile component. The Revox Pr99 which has the stock Studer/Revox heads received the least bit of enhancement, more in terms of a lower noise floor and resulting dynamic range.

My only qualm with the unit is a remote that performs less than perfectly. Often, using a remote for another unit in my system it would cause the Pure preamp to change speed selection. Fortunately, the PURE rarely needs the remote; most will set it and only change the selection when a different format of tape is used. This is easily accomplished with a flip of the switch on the front panel.

Like all other Merrill components, the front panel has a very large display showing the tape speed and Eq currently being used. I understand how in a studio environment this is useful from across a darkened control room, however in a domestic environment it’s obtrusive, thankfully it can be turned off.

If you are a serious tape head and have suitable tape transports, I strongly urge you to audition the Merrill PURE. It is a worthy addition to your tape playback chain.

The Merrill PURE Tape Head Preamplifier

MSRP: $9,000


Preamplifier Pass Labs XP-32

Power Amplifier Pass Labs XA100.8 monoblocks

Speakers Wilson Audio Alexia 2

Cable Kimber Select

Original article: The Merrill Audio PURE Tape Head Preamp

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

The REL no.25 Six-Pack

It only takes about eight seconds listening to a double stack of six REL no.25 subwoofers to realize that this is something completely otherworldly.

It’s not about sheer bass extension, though there’s plenty of that. The No.25 goes down to about 14 Hz (11 Hz in a well-dimensioned room) and will shake the room sufficiently if that’s the effect you seek. Go no further than your favorite electronica tracks to experience bass that goes beyond flapping your pants legs, or hitting you squarely in the gut. Winding out my reference system hard, really hard with a string of Aphex Twin tracks, both me and the Maxell man are peeling ourselves off the wall. But you can get this elsewhere.

What you can’t get elsewhere is low frequencies that feel real, rendered four dimensionally, with a true sense of height, depth, power, and texture. You don’t know where all of this perfectly rendered low frequency content is coming from – it merely exists. Just as it would if you were outdoors and heard a gunshot, an explosion, or a wall of sound from an outdoor PA system at a live concert.

The effect this will have on your reference system as well as what you thought a hifi system can accomplish is transformative. Combining the rest of my system with six REL No. 25s has brought an improvement that can’t be expressed in percentages. Before their arrival, I was listening to well recorded music on a premium hifi system, now I’m experiencing music that, if the recording is of the right caliber, it feels real. This level of improvement is nearly impossible to quantify.

More than a subtle shift

It’s one thing to make a pair of small speakers disappear in a room. It’s quite another to make six large cabinets, weighing 168 pounds each in a room vanish into thin air. Yet under the expertise of REL’s John Hunter (REL’s head designer who paid a visit to set them up properly) the dual stacks do just this in my listening room. It’s almost a Spinal Tap moment when they are optimized. “Yes, it’s all quite fearful, people run away screaming.” Something like that. The six pack of No.25s are a fundamental shift in what I believed was possible in a music system.

Nearly eight months after the six-pack has been installed, it remains tough to concentrate on two things at once, so I default to just listening.  The musical experience is so much different, so much more involving that what I’ve been used to, my point of reference is now reset. Unlike other components that thrill out of the box, only to fade with familiarity, if anything I’m more engaged and excited about listening to music than I have ever been, as a result of the six pack being part of my system. Though the word magic is often overused in the context of product reviews (of any kind) something supernatural is going on here.

More than excursion

The first thing guests say when they walk in the room is usually a comment about how much bass these must produce, or “do you really need six subwoofers?” The answer to the latter question is an unquestioned “Yes”. The answer to the first question is more complex.

Initial shock aside, what happens on a regular basis at modest listening levels, the reaction to the REL no.25s is one of overwhelming emotional involvement and connection to the music. It usually involves tears, and even a bit of outright sobbing. That’s the connection to music and the REL stack’s true power. Watching someone listen to one of their favorite pieces of music, perhaps one that’s been heard hundreds, if not thousands of times before, come way out of their comfort zone and just tear up – uncontrollably –  is pretty amazing. These 6 No.25 are the final step in making the illusion real.

But even this still isn’t the full story, either. What six REL No.25s do is bring your hifi system to life in a way that is not possible without them. Performing Mr. Hunter’s favorite demo of listening to a piece of music, even one with modest low-frequency content, and then quickly shutting the subs off with the 212SEs that were my past reference is one thing. I immediately want to turn the 212s back on, their contribution significant.

Shutting off the six No.25s is what I imagine quitting heroin cold turkey must be like. The world is no longer right and I just want another fix. Yep, it’s that good. It’s that powerful. Great as one or two No.25s can be, the stack is where it’s at. It’s that much of a buzz.

The secondary shock, if you will, is just how much low frequency content lurks in so many records that I thought I knew inside and out. Even after living with a pair of REL 212SEs and before that the mighty GamuT S9s, which went down deep. Between about 12,000 ripped CDs, a few thousand LP’s and all the new music I’m either discovering or revisiting on Tidal and Qobuz, I’d be lying if I told you I’ve gone through my entire collection.

More than dynamics

The six low-mass/high excursion 15-inch carbon fiber drivers in the REL no.25s, are each powered by a 1000-watt Class-D amplifier that has been refined over a few generations of REL subwoofers. Mr. Hunter tells me that this amplifier was chosen strictly on sonic and reliability parameters, as they use both Class-D and AB amplifiers for their products. “It’s simply the best tool for this application.”  You can read the full specifications of the no.25 here.

However, with this much power and cone excursion at your beck and call, it’s questionable that you will ever use most of it. The benefit at normal levels is the elimination of any distortion or smearing of the sound field being generated. It’s truly amazing at how much low frequency content is present at conversation levels. Neither the drivers nor the amplifiers are being stressed at all, and this sense of ease is what paints such a broad sonic picture.
Where other manufacturers have looked at a subwoofer to extend the frequency response and move a lot of air, the lack of resolution is what always makes them sound like an afterthought. This is what gives you that feeling of hearing those two boxes on the floor, thumping along. This is not the REL way of doing things.

The resolution is the solution

What this all adds up to is a bass system that is built to the same level of excellence that your main speakers are, if not better. Considering that the majority of the energy present in music is in the lower registers, doesn’t it make perfect sense that this is where the attention be paid?

Once the RELs are in place, set up and properly matched to your room and main speakers, even music without high levels of apparent LF energy take on more depth, more life. Common audiophile terms like pace and timing take on new meaning. Should you take the plunge, you’ll notice even the most average recordings in your collection have all become so much more listenable, and the best recordings will fix you in your listening couch or chair to the point that hours will slip away.

And, you just might be surprised how much spatial information is lurking in recordings you thought you knew. It’s not all just way up on the top end of the musical spectrum. This was the biggest revelation of having these subwoofers now part of my system. And with every kind of music. Even well worn Electronica/EDM/Ambient tracks, that use no real instruments still felt way more alive, while acoustic recordings now have so much more realism. Again, listening to someone play a stand up bass in the context of a small club feels correct, yet that last bit of harshness and screechiness that usually accompanies a violin or viola via a pair of speakers vanishes too.

Once optimized and broken in, the REL six pack will have you rediscovering your entire music collection. Cliché but true.


Mr. Hunter is busy writing a detailed blog on setup of the No.25 Line Arrays. A link will be posted shortly on Tone Audio for those interested in learning how to dial-in their Line Arrays. Suffice it to say, those familiar with the basics of REL setup and dial-in will have a solid grounding in the listening tools needed. But the obvious need for a meticulous, methodical approach when dealing with 6 units totaling over 1,000 pounds, 6,000 watts and over 1,000 square inches of driven surface area necessitates having a solid game when it comes to the finer aspects of pulling a 6-pack together. As always, John Hunter will deliver all the fine points needed to help his customers and especially his dealers achieve the kind of performance expected from a ne plus ultra product such as this.

As someone who started the serious part of their audio journey with Quads 57s, MartinLogan CLS, Acoustat and Magnepan speakers, it’s easy for someone with my built-in bias to minimalize the importance of low frequency content done right. “Me, I’m all about the imaging and soundstage.” “I prefer the transparency of a panel speaker and bass just isn’t that important.” And the well repeated, “you can’t really get a sub to keep up with a panel speaker.” You know the excuses. And hey, you lovers of small mini-monitors are guilty of the same sins.

For those living in the past with their heads in the sand of 1985, yes. But it’s 2020 (for all practical purposes) and there are more than a few excellent cone speakers offering incredible imaging, tonality, delicacy, and dynamics. They even provide decent low frequency reproduction, some very good. However, subwoofers have made similar advancements, and it is possible to get more bass extension in a more unobtrusive way.

Like nearly everything offering high performance, and a high degree of craftsmanship, the best of the best still costs extra – and justifiably so. A six pack of REL no.25 subwoofers is by no means overkill, especially once you’ve had the experience. Many of you know the obvious advantage of two subwoofers versus a single – it allows you to optimize the bass output in your room so much more evenly than a single one can, and also allows more bass excursion with less distortion than a single subwoofer can provide.

The key to this extroadinary experience, is the way the array interacts with the room and the main speakers. The array connects to your main speaker system via a high level Speakon connection at the speaker terminals. This helps the subs to accurately mirror the sonic signature of your amplification chain, as well as letting your main speakers run full range.

This would be where a regular REL subwoofer would pick up, but with the array, each of the three subs per channel is optimized to a slightly different output level, crossover frequency and fine adjustment of the filters, so that each can blend with the room and main speakers perfectly. Your REL dealer will facilitate delivery and setup to perfection.


One, or even two REL no.25s, at $7,500 each is probably not going to be an idle purchase. And while you might think $45,000 is just crazy for a set of six of these, in the context of a system built to take advantage of what they can bring to the table, the percentage of total system cost is probably going to be between 10-20% of your total system investment.

Looking at this from a cost/benefit analysis, like the pair of REL 212SEs that used to be my reference, the amount of performance gained in relation to the rest of the system is off the chart good. As a comparison, I have heard the Wilson Audio Thor’s Hammer on numerous occasion (about $50k/pair, without crossover and amplifiers) and I feel a six pack of REL no. 25s exceed the ability of the Hammers in every possible parameter – which makes the REL stacks a stone cold bargain. Especially considering that when playing in this league, a highly advanced audio enthusiast could easily spend way more than this on cable or a couple of equipment racks which might bring a few percentage points of improvement in the scheme of things.

Wait for it

A single REL no.25, or even a pair, is the finest subwoofer I’ve heard. But the six pack is in a class by itself. There’s nothing to compare them to. The level of realism that they bring to a world class system is unmatched. That is why the REL no.25 six pack is more than deserving of one of our first ever Product of the Decade awards. This is the new benchmark, indeed it is the missing link in our systems, not just for low frequency reproduction but for dissolving the boundary between recorded music and physical reality happening in one’s own home. And there’s no other way to get it.

The REL no.25 six pack


Preamplifier Pass Labs XSPre

Digital Source dCS Vivaldi One

Analog Source GrandPrixAudio Parabolica Turntable/TriPlanar Arm Koetsu Jade Platinum

Amplifier Pass Labs XA200.8 Monoblocks

Speakers Sonus faber Stradivari (35th anniv. edition)

Cable Cardas Clear, Tellurium Q Reference

Original article: The REL no.25 Six-Pack

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The PrimaLuna EVO 400 Preamplifier

Thirty years ago, I spent $4,500 on an Audio Research SP-11. Think about that for a second. Granted, it had a really good, built-in phonostage, but that was crazy money for a preamp in 1989.

Fortunately, I keep track of nearly everyone that buys my vintage gear as it passes through, and much like vintage cars, I always feel like, with a great piece of equipment like the SP-11, you’re merely taking care of it for the next owner. So, getting it back for a day to listen to what used to be the top of the heap, comparing it to PrimaLuna’s best, was illuminating, to say the least.

Staring down the barrel of 2020, $4,495 for the PrimaLuna EVO 400 has to be the preamplifier bargain of all time. This is a bit of a gray zone, where it’s not inexpensive, but in a world of $100k boutique preamplifiers, very reasonable indeed. More than likely, you’ve got something you’re trading in/up. Hypothetically if you are trading up to an EVO 400 from any $2k preamplifier out there, and you can still get $1,000 for it on the secondary market, you’ll never hear this much of a difference in your hifi system for what it will cost you to trade up to the EVO 400. I can think of several $10k preamplifiers I’d sell for $6k, buy an EVO and take a road trip with the change. Maybe even drive down to see Kevin and take him to lunch.
When PrimaLuna first hit the scene around 2003, their first integrated amplifier struck a delicate balance between new and old, both visually and sonically. It was reasonably priced, but built and finished like components costing far more. This is a trait that has only improved over the years and given PrimaLuna the reputation they now enjoy.

For a while, the naming conventions were a bit confusing, but they have now standardized on the EVO lineup, with 100, 200, 300 and 400 designations of their integrated, pre and power amplifiers. Going up the range, each model reveals more sonically and has additional functionality. This is in part due to a higher concentration of premium parts (wire, resistors, and capacitors) along with a more massive power supply in the EVO 300 and EVO 400 models. Finally, the EVO 400 includes a balanced input and output – a first for PrimaLuna, which makes it able to drive a broader range of power amplifiers. This also allows for using the EVO 400 with some of the world’s finest DAC’s and phono stages that only offer balanced outputs. You can use adapters to achieve your goals, but going straight balanced to balanced, more often than not, provides a little bit more sonic perfection.

Finally, the EVO 400 is available in a silver or black finish, with a handy, but not overdone remote. We’ve commented in years past on the extraordinary level of finish that PrimaLuna products offer, and the EVO series now has an even more finely machined front panel. The chassis finish remains on par with the world’s finest automobiles. All PrimaLuna components are triple boxed, delicately wrapped, and come with a pair of cotton gloves to help you avoid fingerprints.

What’s in a name?

The EVO series is appropriately named. With nearly 20 years of evolution behind them, all the improvements that have been made from generation to generation add up to something truly spectacular. In the past, some have shied away from PrimaLuna because of the lack of balanced input and output. With that hurdle removed, the only thing stopping you is whether you like the aesthetics or not. That’s a personal decision that only you can answer. But like several iconic brands, PrimaLuna maintains a lineage of design that welcomes the new buyer and remains familiar to the legacy customer, so mixing and matching components, should you choose is easy. Before you underestimate this, a quick scan of your favorite audiophile forum or Facebook user group clearly illustrates how many people love having all one brand on their rack.

Which begs the question, when is PrimaLuna going to release a phono preamplifier to go along with their components? Kevin Deal and Herman Van Den Dungen, the guys behind PrimaLuna, are always coy when I’ve brought this up, but maybe one of these days…

Stacking up

As the quality of capacitors under the hood increases, so does break-in time. In the past, most PrimaLuna components have been rocking out of the box, improving a bit over about 50 hours, tops. The new EVO 400 preamplifier, like the EVO 400 power amplifiers, still sound exceptional at first turn on, but it does improve a bit over about 100 hours. So if you love it when you unbox it, you’ll love it even more after about a month of play.

That out of the way, the EVO400 is straightforward. At 52.8 pounds, it’s substantial, so plan where it’s going to go on your rack. This is a reasonably substantial preamplifier, so make sure that your rack or shelving solution has enough heft to hold one of these without issue.

The rest is easy, connect your sources, plug in your power amplifier (s) and start listening. While a pair of EVO 400 power amplifiers (which are now reference components here at TONEAudio) were on hand, serious listening began with Pass XA200.8 amplifiers to get a feel for just what the preamplifier was contributing in a known environment. The dCS Vivaldi ONE was connected via RCA outputs, and the Boulder 508 phono stage was used via balanced outputs, along with a Luxman PD-171 turntable fitted with a Kiseki Purple Heart cartridge (also available from Upscale Audio). Everything was cabled together with Tellurium-Q Reference cable, and a pair of Sonus faber Stradivaris rounded out the system, so the EVO 400 was indeed in good company.

Again, a miracle from PrimaLuna

Taking as much personal bias out of the equation as possible, the EVO 400 preamplifier delivers a level of sonic performance that is not uncommon in preamplifiers in the $10k – $30k range. As this can be hard to quantify, most premium preamplifiers in this price range simply reveal a level of musical nuance that lesser models do not. There is nothing we’ve heard at anywhere near the cost of the EVO 400 that achieves this level of low-level resolution and delicacy, combined with sheer dynamic swing. That’s what you have to write the five-figure check for, as it is with nearly everything.

Adding further to the dynamic prowess of the EVO 400, thanks to its large, dual-mono design and the utilization of three 12AU7 tubes per channel (for maximum current swing), maximum gain is kept to about 10db. This makes for an incredibly quiet preamplifier, and with today’s’ higher output sources and higher gain amplifiers, you don’t really need a ton of gain anyway.

Even in the context of using the EVO 400 with the Pass XA30.8 amplifier and the Pure Audio Project Horns, which have a sensitivity of about 96db, background noise is non-existent, even pressing your ear right up to the horn driver. Dare I say the EVO 400 is nearly solid-state quiet.

Using the 12AU7 also makes re-tubing simpler and less expensive. Where ultra-premium 12AX7s are getting tougher to come by all the time and pushing the $250-$500 range (each), it’s nice to know that you can re-tube the EVO 400 for the cost of one Telefunken 12AX7. Past experience with PrimaLuna and tube life has always been excellent. Unlike a few current tube brands that run their tubes incredibly hard (requiring new tubes sometimes in the 3000-5000 hour range), I’d be surprised if the EVO 400 needs tubes 10,000 hours down the road.

You can knock yourself out tube rolling if that’s your hobby, but the EVO 400 sounds fantastic right out of the box with the stock tubes. After doing a little bit of this, it was more of a “different” than “better” experience, yet for some, this will offer the last bit of system fine-tuning that you are looking for. And in some cases, it’s just plain fun. Buy your EVO 400 with an extra set of tubes, and you just might pass it down to one of your family members without needing more.

Kevin Deal is quick to mention that they voice the EVO 400 slightly warm, because “that’s how 90% of our customers like it.” You can swap the center two 12AU7s out to the new, re-issued Mullards ($30 each) for a little more bite. Way easier and more consistent than trying to change tonality with a piece of wire.

The final question

Whether you add an EVO 400 to your system or not will boil down to the final question of whether you like the voicing of this component. Vacuum tube components, more often than not, have a slightly to substantially warmer, more sonically saturated sound than solid-state components. This is usually more associated with an “airier” presentation.

The EVO 400 provides this in abundance. Yet, where some tube components take this to an extreme, where it is so lush and romantic, dynamics and resolution suffer, the EVO 400 is a modern tube preamplifier. Most tube families have their own voice – the 6922/6DJ8 based units have one range of sound, those based on the 6H30 another, and the 12AX7/12AU7 still another. There are even a few designs based on the 300B tube.

Without going into an endless playlist of tracks, the EVO 400 is definitely rich in tonal saturation and contrast without over embellishing. Great recordings sound great, yet mediocre recordings sound pretty good, unlike some overly “tubey” preamplifiers, where everything sounds pretty good, yet nothing sounds brilliant. All of your favorite audiophile clichés apply to the sonic landscape painted by the EVO 400: big, broad, three dimensional. This is that “reach out and touch – it” feeling that tubes accomplish with ease.

The top end is clean, clear, and defined. Cymbals have the right amount of sheen to be believable, yet drums sound dynamic and forceful. The bottom end of the EVO 400 is taut and powerful, but slightly softer than what you’d expect from the world’s finest solid-state preamplifiers – and I’m comparing the EVO 400 to my reference Pass XS Pre and the new Boulder 1000 series. ($38,000 and $21,000 respectively)

A ten minute listen with three of your favorite tracks is all you need to see how much performance is packed into the EVO 400 preamplifier, whether it’s at the dealer or in your home system. I think those downsizing from a six-figure system that doesn’t want to give up the performance, or the audiophile on the way up, wanting six-figure system sound, but doesn’t quite have that budget will be equally impressed with this preamplifier. I’d even say that for 95% of you, the EVO 400 could be your destination preamplifier. Period…

High-performance audio is always so much more than wires, tubes, and specs. It’s about emotion and how close a component can bring you to what your idea of musical bliss is. You truly need to experience an EVO 400 to believe it. This is one of the world’s finest vacuum tube preamplifiers at any price. That you can have one for $4,495 is pretty cool. That’s why the PrimaLuna EVO 400 is our Product of the Year in the preamplifier of the Year category.

The PrimaLuna EVO 400 Preamplifier



Analog source AVID Volvere SP/Kiseki Purple Heart/Luxman EQ-500

Digital source dCS Vivaldi ONE

Power amplifiers Pass XA200.8 monos, PrimaLuna EVO 400s, Audio Research REF160M

Cable Cardas Clear

Speakers Focal Stella Utopia

Original article: The PrimaLuna EVO 400 Preamplifier

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

The Pro-Ject T1 Phono SB

With vinyl showing no indication of slowing down whatsoever, more and more people are looking for a place to dip their toe in the pool.

While many seasoned vinylistas might stick their noses in the air at a four-hundred dollar turntable with a built-in phono stage, it’s a damn good deal.

Let’s be honest, there’s a lot of junk out there for $400. Thanks to their level of vertical manufacturing, Pro-Ject is making a decent turntable at this price, and are giving you the option of a built in phono stage. And, unlike nearly every other belt drive turntable at this price, you can switch between 33 and 45 r.p.m. from the plinth, without having to remove the platter or touch the drive belt. Some tables costing considerably more still make you do this. Not a great idea in the middle of a party, when your hands could contain food residue. Not good for the belt.

Putting it all in perspective, those $99 dollar turntables from Pioneer, Dual, Garrard and a few others back in the late 70s would be about $450 in today’s money. None of those included a cartridge or phono preamplifier handily built in either. Value proposition, check.

60 second setup

After carefully removing the T1 from its box, you need merely attach the drive belt between the pulley and the sub platter (the bigger black pulley), gently lower the platter onto the subplatter, and connect the cable to the output jacks on the rear. Plug in the 15V wall wart power supply and job done.

Because the T1 has a built in phono preamplifier, you can connect it to an aux or line input on your amplifier, receiver, or powered speakers. Should your device have a moving magnet (MM) phono input, order the less expensive model without onboard phono, and take that extra $50 to grab lunch, or some records!

The tracking force is already preset from the factory, and the Ortofon OM-5MM cartridge is already set up properly. A cursory check with our tools confirms that the cartridge was installed with care and the tracking force where it needed to be, right at 1.9 grams. Any tools precise enough to squeak 5% more performance out of the T1 will cost more than the table, so leave well enough alone and enjoy your T1.

The T1 has enough output to drive any line level you’ve got. We used it with a PrimaLuna EVO 100 vacuum tube integrated, and a Cambridge solid state integrated, driving a pair of Paradigm Atom SE speakers, making it the centerpiece of a nice $1,000 – $1,500 system. A perfect spot for this table.

The four hundred dollar question

Going for broke, listening begins with a MoFi one-step version of Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water. The T1 presents a solid musical foundation on this stellar pressing. That Ortofon OM-5 is a real sleeper and one of the best low key values in audio. Should you want just a bit more performance out of your T1, when the removable stylus needs replacing, you can put the stylus from an OM10 or OM20, it plugs right in.

Tracking through the crate full of classic rock LPs that are in the “party bin” in my living room, the T1 continues to impress. While digital audio converters (especially the ones in the $350-$1,000 range) have improved tremendously, there’s still a level of warmth and continuity to the sound that you won’t get with something like an AudioQuest Dragonfly. Granted, streaming 24/192 via Qobuz might offer a little more ultimate resolution, but the Pro-Ject wins hands down in the organic way it assembles the sound molecules from a vinyl LP. And Vinyl is all about the tactile experience.

An impromptu gathering of a few neighbors, has everyone joining in, playing a few records and marveling at how easy the T1 is to use. While the T1 makes a great start to your vinyl journey, I highly suggest that even seasoned audiophiles have one, for casual listening. And starting out your friends with one of these means that their records won’t get damaged either. Nearly everyone buying those cheapie tables is not doing their records a favor.

Ticks all the boxes

In a world full of $5,000 tonearm cables, a $399 turntable, cartridge and phono preamplifier combo is a pretty refreshing thing. Legacy audiophiles forget that we all started somewhere, and most likely it wasn’t with a megabucks system. I can’t think of a combination that is more user friendly, with such a high level of sound and build quality than the Project T1. Another thing often overlooked, is that an entry level has to deliver compelling enough sound for the user to stay interested. Again, the T1 is a major triumph in this regard.

In addition to the semi matte white finish you see here, it is also available in black and simulated wood finishes, so it should fit in easily anywhere (I personally like the white).

In the end, as easy and fun as vinyl gets, from a name you know and trust.

Original article: The Pro-Ject T1 Phono SB

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

The SVS PC-4000 Subwoofer

Sometimes, the toughest part of adding a subwoofer to your stereo or theater system can be where to put it.

The SVS PC-4000 makes this easy; its 16-inch in diameter cylinder shape fittsin a corner perfectly. The PC-4000 is only available in black, and that’s my only complaint – white would disappear in the room better, and in the context of my 2.1 system with the powered Totem Kin Play speakers, you’d barely even know it was there. But that didn’t stop me from buying the review sample. We usually watch movies in the dark anyway so who cares?

Moving the PC-4000 out to our living room as the heart of a 5.1 system, featuring SVS Prime Elevation speakers, it works equally well, though in a quest for even more slam, I could fit two in this room. Because hey, you can’t get enough punch when watching action movies or playing games, can you? It has certainly made following this years’ Formula 1 season exciting. Watching the pack roar into turn one is way more engaging with all that low frequency energy. As is everything else.

SVS has built a tremendous reputation on high performance for the dollar and over the top customer service. The PC-4000 will no doubt, strengthen this reputation even further. While the shipping container looks rather imposing, once unboxed, the PC-4000 only weighs 93 pounds, so it should be easy to unpack and place with the help of a friend. Our more buff readers will be able to handle it solo, and our most buff readers will be able to play catch with it. Ha!

The proof is in the listening

The PC-4000 is easy to integrate into your system, once plugged in, download their app and adjust the necessary parameters. You can use the standard presets, or tweak to your heart’s content. The option of using the PC-4000 ported or plugging the three top firing ports makes fine tuning the sound to your room and system a snap. Deep in the corner of the bedroom system, plugging all three ports helped level out the corner gain in the room, and tweaking the EQ with the app takes things to perfection, not to mention perfect integration with my two main speakers. Once set up all the way, it was impossible to hear the subwoofer standing out.

Viewing the Queen biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, with the PC-4000 turned off makes it so much more dramatic when the sub is engaged, showing off the full force of this legendary band in action. Awesome! For many, a pair of powered speakers utilizing the sub’s LFT channel might be all you need in a small room. In our 12 x 14 viewing room, we don’t even need to pop the popcorn, just putting the Orville Redenbacher bag on top of the PC-4000 and cranking it up makes the kernels spontaneously pop!

But seriously, having the level of bass extension and slam that the PC-4000 adds, makes you wonder how you ever did without it! Movies and music come alive and this sub is not a one note wonder. At the sound pressure levels that my small room accommodates, clipping or compression wasn’t ever part of the agenda. The level of detail and resolution it offers is tip top.
Moving the PC-4000 back to the living room, and taking advantage of the EQ presets earlier, it’s easier to achieve a bigger sonic picture. While we started our living room test with an Anthem MRX multichannel receiver and a set of SVS Prime Elevation speakers, this time around we made the PC-4000 part of a larger, more audiophile oriented 2.1 audio system with the PrimaLuna EVO400 preamplifier and EVO400 power amplifier with the SVS Prime Pinnacle floorstanding speakers. High res audio files were streamed with Qobuz and ROON via the dCS Bartok.

Thanks to the pluggable ports and the wide range of settings that the SVS app provides, you can easily optimize (and store) the PC-4000 to work with the LF requirements of a theater environment or a strictly music environment. Whether rocking out to AC/DC or listening to Stanley Clark playing acoustic bass, the PC-4000 digs down deep. In a larger room, it was easy to achieve near concert hall levels, and we could not drive the PC-4000 to clipping or exceed the woofers excursion levels. The heartbeat at the beginning of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, and Aphex Twin’s SYRO had the windows and the cabinets rattling!

Of course, the deeper your main speakers can go, the easier it will be to achieve perfect integration between sub and mains, yet trying the PC-4000 with a wide range of speakers large and small confirms this subwoofer has excellent upper bass response, with low coloration, making it easy to mate with a wide range of main speakers.

Easy to set up, easy to acquire

One of the smartest things they’ve done at SVS is to make it easy to finance their products. A set of speakers and a sub at $3,000 might not fit in your budget right now, but $125 a month is a lot easier to swallow for great music, gaming and movie sound. Putting it in perspective, that’s less than a foo foo coffee a day. I’d give that up in a heartbeat for rocking sound, how about you?

Those hungry for the full specification sheet, please click here, but SVS claims solid output down to about 16hz. Essentially the equivalent of their big, more traditionally shaped subs, with 1300 watts rms power on tap (close to 4000 watts peak) but in an easier to integrate form factor.

The SVS PC-4000 has no downside. It’s all good. And at $1,799, it fills a niche that no other subwoofer covers. Should you want/need a pair, the price drops to $1,600 for the second one – a nice touch.

If you need bass, and floor space is at a premium, the SVS PC-4000 is the way to go.

The SVS PC-4000 Subwoofer

Original article: The SVS PC-4000 Subwoofer

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

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