Original Resource is Articles – The Absolute Sound
This review feels very much like an opening act, following the headliner.
In the July/August 2020 issue of TAS, Greg Weaver penned a review of the Audionet Stern linestage and Heisenberg monoblocks, declaring the Scientist Series both the reference-level cat’s meow and pure audiophile shizzle (i.e., he liked them very very much). His review was thorough, well conveyed, and left little to add. Now the Humboldt combines technologies from Audionet’s $150k reference electronics into a huge, and hugely ambitious, integrated amplifier—the $55k Humboldt.
Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander Von Humboldt was a Prussian scientist and explorer (1769–1859), who is best known for his analysis and understanding of how plant species are distributed throughout the world. He was a botanist, expert geographer, naturalist, explorer, and polymath. He is considered by some to be the father of ecology, and one of the first great environmentalists. Audionet’s U.S. distributor, Bill Parish of GTT Audio, is none of those things, although I’m pretty sure he has a garden in his backyard. He is, however, a fervent supporter of the company, and has been for many years. I don’t think anyone was more sincerely excited about the Scientist Series introduction than Bill, except maybe Thomas Gessler, Audionet’s International Sales Manager. Thomas’ passion for meticulously crafted audiophile equipment, whose specs settle between untouchable and unmeasurable, is well known in the industry. Audionet’s “Lighthouse” project, begun in 2013, was an all-out assault on what could be achieved, and the obvious first step was a linestage and monoblock amplifier. Enter Stern and Heisenberg. The Humboldt is the logical next step in the model lineup. For those who can’t afford or can’t accommodate separate components, the Humboldt is the solution. I offered Mr. Gessler the opportunity to describe what makes the Humboldt special; his response is unsummarizable. (I am well aware that is not a word, but it wasn’t.)
Thomas responded, “With Stern and Heisenberg, Audionet has attempted to redefine what is possible today in sound and music reproduction without regard to the effort and cost. It was to be another ‘Lighthouse’ project, with which we wanted to tear down the existing boundaries and redefine the sonic horizon. Thus, we spared no expense and effort and invested all our heart and soul. From conception to industrial design, circuit design, electronic components, and materials, we meticulously redesigned, tested, experimented, and validated everything. As a result, we have created pre- and power amplifiers that define the limits in terms of speed, stability, resolution, distortion, and noise, and in most cases are better than the competition by dimensions. Finally, audio does not sound like a machine any more—just pure, free, light, fine, delicate, and authoritative music and listening pleasure. How do you bring this all together in one housing? First of all, by making no compromises with regard to everything that is relevant to sound reproduction. It’s not the dimensions of a power supply, but its construction and its components that make the bigger difference. A smaller power supply will, of course, result in a loss of possible maximum performance. But this is something every customer has to decide for himself—what level of performance is required for him. By reducing the size of the power supplies, we gained a lot of space without any loss of sound quality. We were also able to reduce the size of the pre- and power amplifier boards because of the lower potential power requirements. But, also, without any noticeable loss of sound, because we did not abandon the decisive circuit details nor any components and materials relevant to sonic quality. Humboldt is, therefore, essentially a careful audiophile downscaling in the sense of potential absolute performance, without sacrificing the decisive sonic and technical merits of Stern and Heisenberg! If you want the absolute sonic and performance limit, choose Stern and Heisenberg; if you want the sonic and performance limit of an integrated amplifier, choose Humboldt. Like its big brothers, Humboldt sets the benchmarks of speed, stability, distortion, and noise for integrated amplifiers. And Humboldt also sounds like nothing: pure, free, light, fine, delicate, and authoritative music and listening pleasure. Actually, very simple, but technically, a Herculean task.”
The technical details, case design, inputs, and features were well explained in Greg’s review, and do not need to be reiterated as they are nearly identical, other than the obvious reduction in power supply, the single-chassis design, and the subsequent output-power reduction to 320Wpc into 8 ohms, 460Wpc into 4. For most, 320Wpc into 8 ohms is more than sufficient. For more power, look to the Stern/Heisenberg combo, and ye shall be satisfied. There are no DAC or phono modules available. As Bill Parish explained, “The concept of plug-in modules is simply not in conjunction with the level of performance the Humboldt has attained.” The Humboldt is built with the design principles of NASA, the resilience of a Sherman tank, the ease of use demanded by Apple, the aesthetic flair of a Manhattan plastic surgeon, and the engineering prowess of, well, a German engineer. Prächtige Skulptur!
Sonically, Humboldt resembles the atmosphere around Mount Everest. This integrated amp offers clarity, a complete absence of pollution, unrestricted vistas of majesty, the power and speed of an avalanche, and the romance, passion, and intensity of Into Thin Air. (See how I stuck with the Everest theme there?) The noise floor is also perceived like the “are they even there?” distant plains of Nepal as seen from Everest’s summit, 29,032 feet below. And like the wonder Everest is, the Humboldt’s presentation is natural in its truest form: smooth and mild-mannered when it needs to be, yet able to rage like Vesuvius. There is a variation and richness of timbre, which I perceived as simply better differentiated, with more palpable and clearer colors than most of what I have heard previously. Low-end extension is simply taut, unrestricted, and visceral without haze or savagery. Layering of the soundstage is on a completely different canvas, as if painted on a mountain wall as opposed to the confines of a typical canvas. The high-frequency reproduction is effortless, while never calling specific attention to itself. I found the midrange to be ever so slightly highlighted in the lower mids on some speakers, although this was imperceptible on others.
With the finesse of a French painter and the speed and handling of a McLaren 650s, the Humboldt is the fundamental expression of Thomas’ Lighthouse project. In essence, it takes what it is given, amplifies it, and sends it to the speakers without otherwise affecting the signal in any perceivable way. Imagine, if you will, watching water from a crystal-clear mountain spring silently fall off the edge of a great waterfall, plunging faster and faster. down thousands of feet to a cool blue lake below. The water is imbued with the energy that gravity exerts upon it; yet, the water itself remains completely pure, untouched, and unchanged. A “gravity amplifier,” as it were.
Original Resource is Articles – The Absolute Sound
Backnang, Germany (June 23, 2021)—d&b audiotechnik has unveiled its new D40 four-channel Class D mobile amplifier.
Intended for mobile applications, the D40 is the mobile version of the 40D installation amplifier. Its user interface consists of a 4.3-inch (480 x 272 pix.) color touchscreen and a digital rotary encoder, providing information of the device configuration and status monitoring.
The D40 amplifier has a dynamic range of 116 dB (unweighted) and is designed to drive high-voltage d&b loudspeakers while providing management and protection capabilities. The D40 reaches 180 V peak, reportedly delivering full performance from d&b KSL System loudspeakers and V-Series and Y-Series.
The D40 uses Digital Signal Processing (DSP) to incorporate loudspeaker configurations and user-definable setups, equalization and delay functions. Aiming to achieve a smaller environmental footprint, it also provides advanced voltage management to drive systems that demand less input power as a whole. The D40 includes enhanced energy saving features, power efficiency and Automatic Wake up for environmentally responsible and sustainable Green Building requirements.
d&b audiotechnik • www.dbaudio.com
Original Resource is ProSoundNetwork.com
The following is a press release issued by Starkrimson.
June 15, 2021 | Succasunna, New Jersey – Following the enormous success of the Starkrimson® Mono amplifier, Orchard Audio is introducing the Starkrimson Stereo Ultra amplifier, with the same proprietary dual-feedback modulator and next-generation gallium nitride (GaN) transistors. Unlike its predicesor the Ultra amplifier delivers up to 500WRMS (1000WPEAK) of power and 20A of current while maintaining extremely low noise and distortion.
This latest design, which has already been previewed, tested and highly praised by those who were able to have access to it, fully explores the benefits of the latest GaN transistors, providing less harshness, cleaner highs, and better overall transparency and detail with irrelevant noise levels. The pulse-width modulation is performed completely in the analog domain before being amplified by the GaN power stages. Starkrimson amplifiers use Leo Ayzenshtat’s proprietary DC-coupled, fully balanced dual feedback modulator, which allows the amplifier to be completely balanced from input to output, through the use of bridged GaN power stages.
This design provides the Starkrimson Stereo Ultra amplifiers with a huge reserve of power for extended transients, and the power expands linearly with the load – 125 watts into 16 ohms; 250 watts into 8 ohms; and 500 watts into 4 ohms – for powerful, unrestrained music. The amplifier is packaged in an aluminum and steel chassis with high-end gold-plated binding posts and connectors, with a front panel option of either matte black or brushed aluminum (silver).
- Fully balanced from input to output (w/differential input)
- Differential and single-ended audio inputs
- Extremely low noise and distortion
- 2-ohm capable
- 20A of output current
- Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR): 120dB (A-weighted, 22kHz BW)
- Frequency response: DC – 80kHz+
- Gain (balanced input): 19.05dB
- Gain (single-ended input): 25.05dB
- Power output into 16/8/4Ω: 125/250/500WRMS
Orchard Audio is still offering preorder prices ($1,999.95 USD) on its website until the end of June 2021. Starkrimson Stereo Ultra amplifiers will start shipping in August and are available with differential (XLR) and single-ended (RCA) inputs or both ($150 option). All DIY enthusiasts can also order the Starkrimson Ultra Mono Amp Module and kits separately, in order to build their own systems.
Original Resource is Articles – The Absolute Sound
In Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, the flibbertigibbet Lady Henry observes, “I like Wagner’s music better than anybody’s. It is so loud that one can talk the whole time without other people hearing what one says. That is a great advantage, don’t you think so, Mr. Gray?” Dorian doesn’t miss a beat. “I am afraid I don’t think so, Lady Henry,” he replies. “I never talk during music—at least, during good music. If one hears bad music, it is one’s duty to drown it in conversation.”
By this humorous standard, when listening to the new 450-watt Parasound JC 1+ monoblock amplifier, my guess is that you’re not liable to engage in much small talk because it makes most music sound so good. “JC” are the initials of legendary audio engineer John Curl, who has given his original JC 1 design a complete overhaul. [John Curl was inducted into The Absolute Sound’s High-End Audio Hall of Fame in 2018, Issue 289. —RH] As it happens, I used a pair of the original JC 1 Class AB monoblocks for several years to power Magnepan 1.6 loudspeakers, which prospered from the clean current that those amps provided. Any Magnepan lover knows that these big panels suck up watts like almost nothing else in the way of loudspeakers on the planet, but also that the sonic rewards can be great. In this case, they were.
Naturally, I was curious to hear what Parasound and Curl had accomplished after almost two decades. On paper, the revisions to the JC 1 appear to be extensive. It boasts a new power transformer with 20% higher capacity than its predecessor, as well as Nichicon power-supply filter capacitors that have been increased in capacity from 132,000uF to 198,000uF. Both measures typically translate into an increased stability that provides a wealth of sonic benefits, including better imaging and dynamics. The amplifier also employs Bybee Music Rails to help eliminate the input-stage noise that can have a deleterious effect on tonal purity. The amplifier has a two-position toggle switch that allows you to choose between 23dB or 29dB of gain, depending on the sensitivity of your loudspeaker. With the Wilson Audio WAMM Master Chronosonic loudspeaker, I relied upon the 29dB setting. The amp also sports two nifty pairs of CHK Infinium speaker terminals that grasp the loudspeaker cable lugs very firmly, indeed. As long as you insert the lugs straight up into the terminals, the CHKs are a breeze to use; deviate, however, by even a millimeter, and the lugs simply won’t glide in. At 83 pounds (the original was 63), these amps are no lightweights, but they’re not too difficult to maneuver into place by yourself.
As with most big powerhouse amps, it’s always tempting right away to declare, like the Thing in the Fantastic Four, “It’s clobberin’ time!” Whether running the Parasounds on the subwoofers or the front speakers of my system, I consistently found that they can, as you would expect, deliver quite a wallop. Initially, I ran the Parasounds on my subwoofers to break them in and to test their mettle on the deepest bass passages. Quite frankly, I was taken aback by what they brought to the table in the bass realm. They seemed not simply to plunge down more deeply into the nether regions, but also to more fully energize the notes themselves. This was apparent on both CDs and LPs. On a Decca pressing of the Solti recordings of the Wagner operas—recently bestowed upon me by Ali Saad, a classical aficionado and avid audiophile in Los Angeles—the forging of Siegfried’s sword came through with a remarkable clang, resounding to the back of the room. Jeepers, creepers! It was though the Parasounds were delivering the current into the loudspeaker unmediated by cables or anything else. I consistently found that the Parasounds not only increased the dynamics of my overall system, but also the perceived sense of hall space. It’s been said, time and again, that subwoofers play a pivotal role in defining the soundstage dimensions of a recording, but it’s always a pleasure to hear the phenomenon vividly demo’d, as it was with the JC 1+.
As tempting as it might have been to retain the Parasounds on the subs, duty called. It was time for the Full Monty. I ventured to the recesses of my listening room, eyed the Parasounds for a moment, then hoisted them into the air, one at a time, mind you, to install them on my main loudspeakers. The results were quite revealing.
The first thing I noticed was that same sense of enveloping space I’d heard with the subwoofers. On a BBC Music CD that I recently received, a whoosh of ambient hall and audience sound came through even before the music began, followed by Frederick Delius’ pleasant trifle “On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring,” a tone poem he composed in 1912. It features an onomatopoetic cuckoo call that is sounded first by the woodwinds, then the strings. With all that surplus power on hand—the first 25 watts in Class A—the Parasounds vividly conveyed the sweeping and shimmering sound of the orchestra, turning it into an engrossing experience. In part, the Parasounds possess such an enveloping character because of their ability to plumb the depths with satisfying richness and grip.
To give their ability to stand up to a real high-powered orchestral performance a go, I played an old EMI, Herbert von Karajan conducting the Berlin Philharmonic on Sibelius’ tone poem Finlandia. This one has it all—melodrama, pathos, and grandeur. Right from the outset, the Parasounds delivered the staccato trumpet fanfare with precision and alacrity. No less impressive were the timpani whacks, which were never drowned out by the orchestra, but clearly audible in all their majestic force. There was none of the smearing or congealing or discombobulation of the various sections of the orchestra that you might expect with a lesser amplifier, without the power to keep everything from spiraling out of control. On the contrary, the JC 1+ kept the proceedings firmly in hand right up through the very grand finale, as the orchestra crescendos triumphantly while the tympani delivers a sustained roll—a kind of emphatic period to the overture. Once again, the clear delineation of the tympani even as the orchestra was playing full bore was most impressive.
Another blockbuster was a CD on the Sony label called Oriental Trumpet Concertos that features the Hungarian trumpeter Gabor Boldoczki playing Alexander Arutiunian’s Trumpet Concerto in A-flat major. The Parasounds effectively captured the velvety sound emanating from the bore of Boldoczki’s trumpet, as well as the more nasal quality when he deployed a straight mute for the wonderfully plangent and meditative middle movement. On the cadenza that wraps up matters with a triumphant finish, the trumpet almost sounds as forceful as a machine-gun, as Boldoczki double-tongues the sixteenth notes. The transient dynamism of the amps was consistently apparent on trumpet recordings—it was as though the music were snapping to attention, like a soldier crisply saluting a flag.
As noted, the spaciousness and power of the sound has a lot to do with the bass control of these amplifiers. On a very fine recording by Stephen Hough of the final piano pieces of Brahms [Hyperion], the rumbling of the piano in the subterranean regions was quite palpable. On both the Fantasias and Intermezzos, both the delicacy and lingering quality of Hough’s touch were discernible as his left hand traveled down the keyboard. I’ve rarely heard such fidelity and accuracy in the bass as I did with the Parasounds. The PS Audio M1200, an amplifier based around a tubed input and switching output stage, may have gone even deeper, but I don’t think it boasted the same grip, or, to put it another way, the same variety of timbres.
I heard something similar in terms of bass fidelity on an oldie but goodie, the Concord label album called “Don’t Forget the Blues,” which sounded unforgettable. On the song “Rocks In My Bed,” Ray Brown’s bass was tautly defined, moaning and groaning as he accompanied the superb trombonist Al Grey, a master of the wah-wah mute, if there ever was one. If the sound of Brown’s bass line were a rubber band and any tauter, it would have snapped in two.
How did the Parasounds perform on more delicate fare? You’ll get few quibbles from me, friends. There were moments when I was simply startled by the finesse that they offered. On Louis Bellson’s album Thunderbird, for example, I was smitten by the rendition of the Neal Hefti standard “Softly With Feeling.” The Parasounds were able to provide the hushed backing of the winds with total control, endowing the song with a sense of realism that it would otherwise have lacked. This was one of those times when this LP on the Impulse! label really sounded opened up rather than claustrophobic. I mean talk about pristine. Suffice it to say, that the Parasounds conveyed, or appeared to convey, just about every last little nuance the cartridge excavated from the black grooves.
But even on the delicate passages, the sound was never wispy. Take the magnificent album Festival of Trumpets [Nonesuch]. It was mastered in 1974 by Bob Ludwig and features the New York Trumpet Ensemble, directed by Gerard Schwarz. I was riveted, among other things, by a lovely Sonatina by the baroque composer Johann Christoph Pezel, who himself played trumpet and violin. The gossamer-like trumpet playing of Schwarz and Louis Ranger sounded very enticing, but it was the accompaniment of the bassoon and harpsichord that really caught my ear. It’s easy for them to get lost in the mix. But here it was easy to hear the pleasingly sonorous sound of the bassoon as it puffed along, as well as the soft and deliberate plucks of the harpsichord. If I had to pick a nit, it would be in the treble. It’s not that the sound ever became hard or dirty—the Parasound always has a rich, warm, inviting sound on top—rather, the amp could sometimes be less slightly transparent and pellucid on top than some of its far-pricier brethren.
The JC 1+ shows just how far amplifiers have come in the past several decades. Always a stalwart, it has been vastly improved in its latest incarnation. Both consummately reliable and stellar in performance in my listening room, it offers a beautifully refined, flowing, and organic presentation of music. It is clearly voiced on the sumptuous and warm side, which is to say it has the breath of musical life. I could listen to it for hours and hours, and did.
No doubt you can spend a lot more money on amplifiers ranging from $50,000 and up, and I’d be the last to dissuade anyone from chasing audio rainbows as vigorously as they please. The gains will be there in tonality, dynamics, and filigree of detail, particularly in the treble. But the JC 1+ monoblocks come so darned close to the best, in so many categories, that for more than a few listeners it may seem an otiose pursuit to look elsewhere. Parasound and John Curl deserve a rousing round of applause for producing a real-world-priced amplifier that delivers otherworldly sound.
Specs & Pricing
Type: Monoblock solid-state power amplifier
Power output: 450 watts @ 8 ohms; 850 watts @ 4 ohms; 1300 watts @ 2 ohms
Class A power output: 25W, bias switch set to high; 10W, bias switch set to low
Frequency response: 2Hz–120kHz, +0/-2dB; 20Hz–20kHz, +0/-0.25dB
Total harmonic distortion (THD): <0.15 % at full power; <0.02 % at typical listening levels
IM distortion: <0.03 %
Damping factor: >1200 at 20Hz
Input impedance: Unbalanced, 50k ohm; balanced, 100k ohm (50k ohm per leg)
S/N ratio, inputs shorted: >122dB, IHF A-weighted, bias set to Low; >120dB, IHF A-weighted, bias set to High; >113dB, unweighted, bias set to Low; >111dB, unweighted, bias set to High
Dimensions: 17½” x 7¾” x 20″
Net weight: 83 lbs.
Price: $8495 each
PARASOUND PRODUCTS, INC.
2250 McKinnon Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94124
Original Resource is Articles – The Absolute Sound
Boulder Amplifiers’ products tend to be as hefty as their prices. The company’s new 508 phono- stage is neither. It is a svelte piece of gear that retails for $5000. At this price point, there is a lot of competition, but the Boulder acquits itself very well, indeed. It is a clear offspring of the company’s more lavish products, including the new two-box 2108 phonostage. The smallest product that Boulder has offered in two decades, it is carved out of a single block of aluminum and looks quite attractive, at least if a Bauhaus look is your style. Personally, I found its appearance to be quite ingratiating; it didn’t take up much space on my new Stillpoints ESS rack and was dead quiet in operation. No hum, no buzz, no nothing. It just sat there like a quiet guest—until the needle dropped on the vinyl. Then came something else entirely.
Like all Boulder products, the 508 runs in balanced mode. Since many tonearms are terminated with single-ended connections, Boulder offers a spiffy set of adapters, but it must also be run balanced from its outputs. You could use adapters on the outputs if you really wanted, but I wouldn’t advise it. The more adapters you use, the more distortion you introduce. There’s a switch on the front panel for on-off operation along with a mute switch, and another switch in the rear that toggles between mc and mm mode. Gain is a robust 70dB in moving-coil mode and 44dB in moving-magnet mode. You could substitute your own step-up transformer and thereby run an mc cartridge in the mm mode to bypass an extra gain stage, but I don’t really see the point.
Having recently auditioned the $52,000 Boulder 2108, I reckoned that the 508 would be a big step down in performance. It wasn’t. The first LP that I played on the TechDAS Air Force Zero turntable with a Graham Phantom Elite 12″ tonearm and a TechDAS TDCO1 cartridge was a Deutsche Grammophon recording of Narciso Yepes and Godelieve Monden playing Telemann guitar duos. This is a subtle record that takes far less dynamic wallop than delicate figurations and beautiful timbral shadings to make its point. Right from the outset, I was smitten by the 508’s ability to convey them. The exceptional linearity of the 508 manifested itself not as a dryness of sound, but as an ability to convey little details accurately against extremely black backgrounds. Another notable feature was the wide and deep soundstage. Once again, the clarity of the Boulder had a beneficent effect, not only allowing you to hear where the instrumentalists were positioned, but also how their plucks resounded into the hall. The sense of the ambient decay of the notes, particularly on the Sarabande section of the Partita in E major, came through vividly, as did the twang of the guitars on the Menuet that immediately follows the Sarabande. The 508 delivered a keen sense of the body of the guitar and the forcefulness of the performers in communicating with each other. In this regard, the absence of noise with the 508 was itself a striking development. What you don’t hear in high end can often be as important as what you do. In my experience, whether it comes to amplifiers or phonostages, this is an arena in which Boulder has always excelled.
Perhaps even more impressive was the monumental recording of another duo, Pierre Fournier and Friedrich Gulda, performing Beethoven’s complete works for cello and piano. I recently procured from Chad Kassem’s Acoustic Sounds what looks to be one of the last sets of a special LP edition mastered at half-speed by Emil Berliner Studios. (My limited edition numbers 1668 out of 1700. If you see one, grab it.) The sonics are as superb as the performance, which was recorded in 1959 in Vienna’s legendary Musikverein. Fournier has long been one of my favorite cellists, and the 508 accurately captured his refined and majestic sound. What was most stunning on this album were two things: The 508 anchored the two performers in their respective spaces and provided what seemed like limitless dynamics. To further test the 508, I played another Deutsche Grammophon LP, this time a Boston Symphony Orchestra recording of the late-Romantic composer Manuela De Falla’s wonderful ballet score The Three-Cornered Hat, which he wrote at the urging of Sergei Diaghilev, the impresario of the Ballets Russes. Once more, the Boulder nicely laid out the orchestra with the trumpet solos firmly rooted in the right rear and woodwinds spaced neatly in the middle. The opening fandango came through with real swagger, the sheen on the strings could only garner a thumbs up, and the great mezzo-soprano Teresa Berganza’s voice soared over the orchestra. All in all, it was a very spacious, even lavish, presentation. Dynamics were very good—not as good as with megabuck phonostages. In the treble region, the 508 just couldn’t quite soar into the ether on orchestral recordings, but the tympani came down with a resounding whack. Dynamics are where, in my experience, most phonostages that don’t have separate power supplies tend to falter. The 508 never sounded compressed, but it didn’t have the ultimate resolving power that the big boys can deliver.
Nonetheless, the linearity of the Boulder and its prowess in the bass region should not be underestimated. This came home to me in listening to the 45-rpm reissue of the South African musician Hugh Masekela’s “Stimela,” which is probably one of the most overplayed cuts at audio shows, but, heck, I like it. And it reveals a lot. What it revealed to me in this instance was the profound bass definition that the 508 delivers. The drum crescendos in “Stimela” were cleanly defined and propulsively powerful. I also noticed how clearly the 508 captured not only the huskiness of Masekela’s voice, but also how beautifully it rendered his enunciation of the song’s lyrics. It was as though they were etched in stone. Ditto for his playing on the flugelhorn. The way Masekela soared into the treble region, then issued plaintive wails was profoundly moving to listen to on my system. Boulder often gets knocked for delivering a sterile sound, but it’s a bum rap. This went right to the emotional essence of the music. Ditto for a Sackville label recording that I recently acquired called Three Is Company that features the jazz soprano saxophonist Jim Galloway, a remarkable musician who teamed up with the pianist Dick Wellstood for this album. This is traditional straight-ahead jazz and on lively numbers like “Minor Drag,” the 508 viscerally delivered the fast-paced excitement of the music. The 508 nailed the sometimes nasally and keening quality of Galloway’s soprano sax, while Pete Magadini serenely mans the drums, gently accompanying his peers.
To some extent, I’m scratching my head over the 508. It definitely marks new territory for Boulder, which rockets into the stratosphere when it comes to the pricing of amplifiers, phono- stages, and preamplifiers. Somehow the company has managed to cram into this small box a wealth of the attributes of its top-notch gear. It has done the same thing, incidentally, with its new 866 integrated amplifier, which I listened to for several months and which left me flabbergasted at what it delivers. The 508 is a fine piece of equipment that is at home in any high-quality system and is likely to elevate the vinyl performance of not a few. For anyone considering a solid-state phonostage in this price level, auditioning it isn’t an option but a must.
Specs & Pricing
Inputs: One pair balanced, converts to unbalanced
Outputs: One pair balanced
Input impedance: Maximum mc: 100 ohms; mm: 47k ohms
Output impedance: 100 ohms, balanced
Gain, RIAA: mc: 70dB; mm: 44dB
Frequency response, RIAA: ±0.5dB, 20Hz to 20kHz
Dimensions: 11.5″ x 2.3″ x 9.5″
Weight: 11.5 lbs.
255 S. Taylor Avenue
Louisville, CO 80027
Original Resource is Articles – The Absolute Sound
Nashville, TN (January 6, 2021) – Gibson Brands, parent company to the Gibson guitar, has acquired guitar amp manufacturer Mesa/Boogie, becoming, in the words of Mesa/Boogie founder Randy Smith, “Gibson’s custom shop for amplifiers.”
The acquisition marks the first major purchase by Gibson Brands since the conglomerate emerged from bankruptcy in 2018. In recent years, Gibson sold off most of the brands from its Gibson Pro Audio division, including the Stanton DJ brand, Cerwin-Vega Pro and Cerwin-Vega Home in July, 2020, opting to focus on its core competency of guitars and related products. The Gibson Pro Audio division is now centered around KRK Systems.
Smith, 75, started Mesa/Boogie 51 years ago in a converted dog kennel under the redwoods of Northern California, creating the company as a boutique amplifier manufacturer whose products are now found in studios and on stages worldwide. Smith will join Gibson as master designer and pioneer of Mesa/Boogie.
“At Gibson, we are all about leveraging our iconic past and leaning into the innovative future, a quest that started over 100 years ago with our founder, Orville Gibson,” says James ‘JC’ Curleigh, president / CEO of Gibson Brands. “This is a perfect partnership based on our collective professional experiences and passion for sound.”
“Mesa Boogie, led by Randy, has been in service to sound without compromises since the very beginning, and that’s a perfect fit for us,” adds Cesar Gueikian, CMO of Gibson Brands. “We are looking forward to being the best custodians of Mesa Boogie’s iconic heritage that we can be, and at the same time, a steward of its future. We are honored that Randy and the Mesa Boogie team have trusted us to lead Mesa Boogie into the future. Together, we will continue to pursue our mutual quest of sound, quality and craftsmanship and to push the boundaries of how guitar sound is delivered and experienced.”
Mega/Boogie • https://www.mesaboogie.com
Gibson • https://www.gibson.com/
Original Resource is ProSoundNetwork.com
The following is a press release issued by Aavik.
December 2020 | The Danish high-end audio brand Aavik has become renowned for its untiring endeavor to set new benchmarks for the quality of high-end audio performance. With their latest series of amplifiers, digital-to-analog converters (DACs), streamers, and phono stages (RIAAs), Aavik has again managed to live up to this reputation.
For each of these series, Aavik uses Tesla coils, dither circuitry and anti-aerial resonance coils – premium technologies from their sister company, Ansuz Acoustics – to bring the noise level down and to secure an unconstrained signal flow. The finest nuances of musical details are now projected onto a larger sound stage with an extremely quiet background.
The amplifiers are equipped with the patented UMAC technology.
The DACs provide four different audio settings to better accommodate individual listening preferences.
The streamers boast six separate, low-noise, regulated power supplies to secure an unprecedented clarity and precision.
The phono stages have an absolutely quiet input section that allows exploring even the finest musical details of a vinyl audio source.
For an entirely new potential of authentic sound that is warm, harmonious and powerful, Aavik’s engineers tapped into the audio properties of a new, natural-based composite material for the cabinets. The shape of these cabinets is inspired by the design and construction of traditional music instruments.
All units are embedded in the same shape of cabinet. The inner chassis of the premium 580 series – Aavik’s most sophisticated reference series – is made of solid copper, which delivers more energy and power to the music.
The Aavik 180 and 280 series are the junior series but share to a very large extent the DNA of the 580 series.
Don’t miss out on the opportunity to audition the various optional configurations of the new Aavik series, and immerse yourself into a completely new dimension of an authentic sound experience in high-end music with previously unknown dynamics, lightness and emotional passion.
Visit the Aavik website www.aavik-acoustics.com to learn more and to find your local Aavik dealer.
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Original Resource is Articles – The Absolute Sound
“From the Land of Great Rock Music.” “Great British Sound!” Both of these components came with these stickers affixed to them. And that worked for me. Partly because I have a long-time affinity for British rock (particularly from the 70s, 80s, 90s), and partly because I tend to be drawn to hi-fi equipment from the UK. Since Cambridge Audio has been making highly respected components for 50+ years now, I expected a lot from this reasonably priced duo—the British-designed CXN V2 network audio streamer and the CXA81 integrated amplifier. I will examine them individually and together, since used jointly they make up a nearly complete system—just add cables and speakers, and you can stream from your phone, PC, or network.
CXN V2 Network Player Features
The $1099 CXN V2 is the second generation of Cambridge’s very well received streamer and DAC. It is based on the dual 24-bit Wolfson WM8740 DAC with a “bit-perfect signal path” and jitter suppression. Cambridge’s proprietary ATF2 upsampling algorithm increases the bit-rate of all sources to 24-bit/384kHz, and the analog filter uses a two-pole dual-differential Bessel topology.
Available inputs on the CXN include wired USB, coaxial, TosLink, and Ethernet (UPnP) connections, along with wireless AirPlay 2 and Chromecast. Tidal and Qobuz have native support in the Cambridge app, which also provides high-quality Internet Radio streaming thanks to MPEG-DASH support and HLS. The CXN V2 is Roon-ready, but if you need Bluetooth aptX you can separately purchase a BT100 Bluetooth receiver. Compatible audio formats include ALAC, WAV, FLAC, AIFF, DSD (64), WMA, MP3, AAC, HE AAC, AAC+, and OGG Vorbis. WLAN capability (via included USB transmitter) is IEEE 802.11 b/g or n (2.4GHz).
The CXN V2 is too complex and supports too many different types of streaming and music files for me to test every single one. Even if I had high-res files of each supported type stored somewhere (which I don’t), it would be a Herculean task to try them all. But, as Cambridge is offering free shipping, a 60-day return (only slightly shorter than my review period!), and unlimited online/phone support, doing your own in-home research and auditioning is a breeze.
CXA81 Integrated Amplifer Features
The CX series is actually the midrange of Cambridge’s offerings, with the CXA81 positioned between the extremely affordable AXA35 and the top-of-the-line Edge A at a cool $6k. Priced at $1299, the CXA81 is rated at 80Wpc of Class AB solid-state power. It costs $300 more than the CXA61, but offers only 20 additional watts per channel. Since that only equates to about 1dB greater sound volume capability, which would barely be perceptible, I suspect much of the unit’s added price has gone towards refinements that improve sound quality. Cambridge does state that only the CXA81 has physically separate, symmetrical left and right channels for the analog stages.
Along with the typical four pairs of RCA analog line-level inputs, this amp includes one pair of XLR balanced ins. There are digital inputs, as well—SPDIF coax, TosLink, USB, and Bluetooth (aptX HD)—to drive the onboard high-quality DAC. (I assumed that this DAC was not quite as good as the one in the CXN V2, but more on that later.) The CXA81 features an entirely new digital board, with the ESS Sabre ES9016 D/A chip. It can handle digital files up to 32bit/384kHz, or DSD256. As for outputs, there are two sets of stereo speaker terminals, and both sets can be turned on and off independently. Also included are pre-out, subwoofer out, and a headphone jack on the front panel (plugging in ’phones will mute all other outputs).
Cambridge Audio also includes its proprietary CAP5 five-way protection system to ensure long-term reliability for amplifiers and the speakers they are connected to. CAP5 monitors for DC at the speaker outputs, over-temperature, over-voltage/over-current, short circuits, and intelligent clipping detection.
Both units come with a two-year parts and labor warranty in the USA.
Let’s have some fun. Pretending all I had was a mobile device (Android phone) and the CXA81, I started by pairing them via Bluetooth and brought up the Tidal app on my phone. I began with Sonic Temple from The Cult, another great British rock band, and the sound was decent but nothing to write home about. I blamed the Bluetooth connection. (My past experiences with Bluetooth have not really wowed me, even in its highest-fi version—aptX HD—although there is no guarantee that my phone was actually utilizing aptX HD to full effect.) Sonics could have also been limited by less-than-full-bandwidth Tidal data going to my phone (even though it was connected to WLAN). You do get full Tidal bandwidth and quality (lossless CD or even better from MQA tracks) from a WLAN or Ethernet or Windows PC-connected CXN V2. Don’t get me wrong, what I was hearing completely blew away any music I have heard directly from a phone or tablet or even laptop PC speakers. But it was not up to high-end home-audio standards.
Time for upgrade Number One. I sent the 16/44 PCM digital from Sonic Temple spinning on my Rotel RDD 980 CD transport to Input D3 on the CXA81 (SPDIF coax digital). Wow, this was more like it! Subtle details were popping out of the mix, drum beats had more power and impact, and there was a much better sense of space and reverb. It is incredible how much you are missing from data-reduced music like MP3s and Bluetooth-transferred mobile-phone streaming. With full use of all the capabilities of the DAC, preamp, and amplifier, the sound now coming out of the CXA81 was really quite good. Yes, it was capable of long-term listening satisfaction. But we’re not finished yet.
Then, you guessed it, I had the CXN V2 revved-up and ready to go for upgrade Number Two, with the same tracks from Sonic Temple streamed to the Tidal app on my PC via WLAN, and the CXN V2 connected to the A1 analog input on the CXA81 with balanced XLR AudioQuest Mackenzie interconnects. This was another real step up in sound quality! Billy Duffy’s guitar distortion had sharper teeth. Ian Astbury’s voice had a more convincing gravelly grumble. Subtle sounds and details were even more noticeable. Things which should be smooth and pure were, like solo vocal and sustained notes on solo guitar. The reverb gave me an enveloping sense of the size of the room (or artificial space) The Cult was playing in. Each individual instrument was easy to follow in the mix; even when things got busy and loud, nothing was covered up by anything else. The bass guitar was well fleshed-out as well.
To cross-check, I also tried my CD transport connected to a coax digital input on the CXN V2. Listening to Theater of Pain by Mötley Crüe, I started feeling there were some limitations to the recording quality of this album. So I switched to Mötley Crüe’s self-titled album from 1994 instead. The more sophisticated recording quality on that album brought out some very good qualities of the Cambridge duo. All of this just served to reinforce what I had heard when going from my second to third configuration: that the CXN has a much more serious DAC than the one that is built into the CXA81. Dynamics were more powerful, as if the drummer were hitting the drums harder. Subtleties about guitar sound, distortion, and effects had more character. Voices were more natural and liquid. There was a greater sense of space.
Most of my listening now included the CXN V2, through either Tidal or CD transport to the CXN’s digital input. These two provided the best sound, virtually identical in quality (unless the album had been remastered in the last 15 years or so, where the more recent Tidal version sounded better). For Tidal I tried navigating directly to albums from its menu and remote, which was annoying due to the small display, limited buttons, and slow scrolling I faced with large lists (my album favorites are over 600 now, and growing). I also tried using Cambridge’s StreamMagic app on my Android tablet. That was easier, but had its own issues, as after I’d selected and listened to a track it would move on to some other track that I’d been listening to before, forcing me to manually click on each new track I wanted to hear. (This app was recommended in the Quick Start sheets that came with both units, partly because it includes some configuration and set-up controls for the CXN V2.) You would think the default playback mode for an app would be the same “play the whole album from start to finish” that we’ve become accustomed to since the LP was invented in 1948.
Then I discovered the Cambridge Connect app, which is much better, and installed it on the tablet. Easier to navigate, clearer in layout, easier to search, nearly comparable to the Tidal app itself. I could let an entire album play (or a playlist), or pick and choose individual tracks like a DJ. And, of course, it was using Tidal native, with full data rate and sound quality (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC) but with no MQA decoding, which was an issue. Many albums that I love are available in MQA on Tidal “Master,” and even my humble Windows PC with Soundblaster Audigy sound card is capable of decoding MQA (at least the first unfold, which is the most important one). There is a major noticeable upgrade in quality going from CD (Tidal calls it “Hi-Fi”) to MQA, even though the overall data rate is the same. So I decided to try “casting” to the CXN V2 from Chromecast (Google Home app), and my tablet was able to pair with it and send sound to it. Then I brought up the Tidal app and played from that, hoping it might decode MQA. However, I was not getting full fidelity from this configuration. It obviously sounded worse, data-reduced, (even with CD-quality albums), as if there were another CODEC chain the music had to pass through with Chromecast to the streamer. So that option works, but not if you want the best sound.
Chinks in the Armor?
I know for a fact that my B&W 804 speakers have metal-dome tweeters with a resonance peak around 25–26kHz. I was wondering if I might be hearing some of that peak intruding more than it used to with older equipment that rolled off the response above 20kHz—not hearing the actual frequencies themselves, mind you (my hearing doesn’t go up that high), but perhaps some modulation artifacts an octave or so down. There was some stridency and harshness up in the highest frequencies (upper treble) that made the music less natural. I think it was more the fault of the CXN V2, since I heard similar results when coupling it with my own single-ended Class A amps instead of the Cambridge integrated. So, for comparison, I swapped the B&Ws out for the much smaller Rogers dB101s, which have polymer tweeters.
I put on one of my favorites, Steve Reich’s rhythmic 1970s avant-garde classical masterpiece Music For 18 Musicians. Wow, all the top-octave harshness was gone. These speakers and this recording came together in a synergistic harmony. Apart from the obviously missing low bass, the sound was incredible—one of the most natural and convincing renditions I have ever heard of this music. When hit with mallets, the marimbas were incredibly woody, as if I could touch them and feel the exact density of the hardwood the tone bars were made from.
As I listened more, however, I realized that these speakers were really missing part of the top octave, and that that did cut down on the sparkle of the music. There was a bit of realism missing, and also the Rogers could not play very loud without sounding strained, compared to my large speakers. None of this is surprising, as these were fairly affordable true bookshelf monitors, with small enclosures and only 5″ woofers. Nevertheless, my “experiment” showed two things. One, that the CXN V2/CXA81 system is best partnered with speakers that aren’t excessively bright. And two, that these Cambridge units can make a wide variety of speakers sound great, even smaller, modest ones. To really get the full resolution this Cambridge system is capable of, you do want to aim for getting a more serious pair of speakers eventually, perhaps in the $1000–$2000 range, with decent bass and power handling.
Now about the display in the CXN V2, which is important for track/artist info and not just for album art. If information is going to be displayed on a screen (which worked well with Tidal, for example), it may as well be at a screen-size that you can actually read from more than three feet away, and/or don’t have to get down on your knees to see, if the unit is mounted in a floor rack! Cambridge would have to increase the height of the unit, and minimize (or eliminate) the lower front-panel strip, but these changes would be well worth it, IMHO. Cambridge could then essentially double the size of the display so that it could be legible from 4–6 feet away, instead of only 2–3 feet.
Getting back to the “optimal configuration” with both Cambridge units feeding into the B&W 804s, I discovered that certain recordings can tame the harsh top octave without a speaker swap. Streaming Duniya by Loop Guru was another synergistic harmony. This far-out dance fusion (classified as World Beat or Exotic Dub by some) of looped ethnic samples has always been a lot of fun to listen to. Through the Cambridge system, the inner detail was illuminated in a new way, making it more exciting, more engaging, more toe-tapping. The resonance of the hand drums had more tone; the soundfield felt deeper and wider. The music was dynamic and pulsating, not in a forced but in a friendly way.
The integrated amp has traditionally been more popular in Europe than in North America. The reasons for this include smaller living spaces, lower prices, fewer cables needed, etc. If you view an integrated as a preamp and amp built together on the same chassis, you have to admit there are some advantages. There is a potential for better sound for the money, since the output jacks, interconnect cable, and input jacks needed between preamp and amp, and any sonic colorations they impose, are gone. As long as the designers take care to properly isolate the power supplies of the different stages from each other, very good results can be had when using an integrated amp as the heart of your main system.
At a little over $1000, the CXA81 could be the perfect start to a system that is one step up from entry-level high end. You could begin with this unit, some inexpensive cables and speakers, and a low-cost or hand-me-down CD player (use digital-out), and have a decent-sounding system. As time goes by, you could upgrade a cable here, a pair of speakers there, add the CXN V2, and bit by bit hear the improvements, until you arrived at a truly impressive setup. The whole time the CXA81 would be keeping up with the advancements and performing well enough to pass on the increase in fidelity for each change. Highly recommended!
As for the CXN V2, I also liked it a lot. It does many things well, has a plethora of features and supported files/streaming services, and, of course, sounds fantastic. The DAC alone is quite impressive at this price. With its advanced upsampling and high-bit-depth D/A chips, it could reveal more about recordings than I had been accustomed to with my own dated DAC. I just wish it had a larger display and MQA decoding. Actually I would purchase the review sample if it did have MQA, but then again I still might anyway. Also highly recommended!
I must say, good show, old chap, on the lovely British sound—and at a price that’s more affordable than traveling to London.
Specs & Pricing
Type: Network audio streamer/DAC
Inputs: Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth, LAN, coaxial digital, TosLink digital, USB, Apple AirPlay 2, Roon-ready, Chromecast built-in
Outputs: Balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA analog, SPDIF coaxial, and TosLink optical digital
Frequency response: 20Hz–20kHz +/-0.1dB
SNR: -112dBr (at volume set to full)
Weight 4 kg (8.8 lbs.)
Type: Stereo integrated amplifier (digital-capable)
Analog inputs: 1x balanced XLR, 4x RCA
Digital inputs: SPDIF coaxial, 2x TosLink optical, USB, Bluetooth
Outputs: Speakers A+B, 3.5mm headphone, preamp, subwoofer
Power output per channel: 80W RMS into 8 ohms, 120W RMS into 4 ohms
Frequency response: <5Hz–60kHz +/-1dB
Input impedances: Input A1 (balanced) 50k ohm, Input A1-A4 (unbalanced) 43k ohm
Weight: 8.7 kg (19.1 lbs.)
AudioQuest Niagara 1200 Low-Z power conditioner, AudioQuest NRG-Y3 and NRG-Z3 power cables, AudioQuest Mackenzie and Golden Gate analog interconnects, and Cinnamon digital. AudioQuest Type 5 speaker cable. Kimber Hero and Silver Streak interconnects. Alpha Core Goertz MI-2 T-series speaker cable. Goertz MI Micro Purl silver interconnect. Rotel RDD 980 CD Transport. Assemblage DAC-3 D/A processor. Customized Zen/Bride of Zen pure single-ended class-A integrated amps. Rogers dB101 and B&W Matrix 804 speakers
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Original Resource is Articles – The Absolute Sound