Tag Archives: Review

Vertere Acoustics Mystic Moving Coil Cartridge and Phono-1 MKII Preamp | REVIEW

In my earlier review, I wrote about the Vertere MG-1/SG-1 turntable/tonearm combination. Here I’m going to pen about a few other offerings from Vetere (website), companion pieces I received with the ‘table and arm–the Vertere Acoustics Mystic moving-coil cartridge ($2,699) and Phono-1 MK II phono preamplifier ($1,395). First off, let me say that both these pieces were excellent performers. I was particularly impressed with the Phono-1, which I consider one of the best deals in high-end audio. The Vertere Acoustics Mystic cartridge was undoubtedly NOT an also-ran. Still, there are some excellent offerings around that price, so while exceptional, I think of cartridges as more system dependent. In other words, a Mystic could easily be the missing link in YOUR search for vinyl Nirvana. Comparison Is The Thief Of Joy That phrase may be true unless you’re an audiophile, and then it’s called The Hobby. I find comparing components is a lot of fun when I don’t have skin in the game. But if you’re a Libra with ADHD (raises hand), making comparisons to decide on a purchase can be a self-imposed torture chamber. Somebody, please tell me what to get! That’s where us reviewers come in – we’ll drive [...]

Original Resource is Part-Time Audiophile

ModWright PH 9.0 Phono Stage | REVIEW

The story of the ModWright PH 9.0 phono stage (website) is in many ways the story of my entry into the world of high-end vinyl playback, coinciding with my first serious turntable, then a second, and next the chance to hear some very serious phono stages such as the Manley Labs Steelhead RC and the one found inside the Mola Mola Makua preamplifier. When speaking with ModWright Instruments founder Daniel Wright, what strikes me the most is just how nice he is. Seriously, he’s in competition with Triode Pete of Triode Wire Labs for the title of “nicest dude in audio.” An amicable owner is one of those things that takes the pride of ownership to the next level—nobody ever regrets buying gear from someone who is a class act, especially if the gear sounds equally classy. In this case I’m happy to report that to be the case. But before I spoil your dinner, let’s start from the beginning. Words and Photos by Grover Neville When the ModWright PH 9.0 arrived at my house, the first order of business was removing it from packaging that I can only describe as heroic. I’ve had gear in that had dimensions nearly [...]

Original Resource is Part-Time Audiophile

Campfire Audio Dorado 2020 Review – Changes

Pros –

Excellent build and cable, Ergonomic and compact design, Hugely dynamic yet controlled bass, Natural voicing, Focused detail presentation, Good coherence

Cons –

Full and high-energy sound won’t suit all, Coloured midrange

Verdict –

The Dorado fills an interesting niche but does so with excellent execution. Very few fun-themed earphones strike with such poise and delicacy as the Dorado 2020.


Introduction –

Campfire Audio began life in Oregon, USA as cable manufacturer ALO Audio. They soon branched into IEMs, utilising their former experience to kickstart what has now become a long and successful career. Of the myriad models they’ve launch since, the Dorado was the company’s first hybrid that existed at a time where hybrids were not so commonplace. The same cannot be said for the modern market and here, quite admirably, CFA once again demonstrate their trend-setting prowess. For the new Dorado 2020 serves as a simplification of its progenitor, exchanging the 3-driver setup for a more refined crossover-less single DD + BA design. It combines elements from their past releases into a more coherent whole whilst staying true to the ethos behind the original Dorado. Once more, the 2020 variant seeks to bridge the gap between their more balanced high-end BA line-up and Solaris, and their bassier Vega and Polaris II.

The new Dorado is available for $1099 USD. You can read all about it and treat yourself to one on Campfire Audio.

Disclaimer –

I would like to thank Caleb from Campfire Audio very much for his quick communication and for providing me with the Dorado 2020 for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the earphones free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.

Contents –

Specifications –

  • Frequency Response: 5 Hz – 22 kHz
  • Impedance: 10 Ohms @ 1kHz
  • Sensitivity: 94 dB @ 1kHz
  • Black Ceramic Shell
  • Single Custom BA (High)
  • 10mm A.D.L.C Diaphragm DD (Mid + Low)
  • Oversized Neodymium Rare Earth Magnet
  • Custom Be/Cu MMCX connectors
  • Brass Spout w/Midnight Grey PVD Finish
  • Campfire Audio SPC Litz Cable

Behind The Design –

“No Complication” Acoustic Design

The Dorado 2020 takes the company’s hybrid designs back to their roots with a single DD + single BA driver setup sans crossover. The company reasons this provides improved resolution and cohesion. Indeed, crossover-less designs have become popularised recently for their phase coherence yet at the cost of more sophisticated acoustic design. Campfire Audio have proven themselves masters of such design, their Andromeda Gold and Ara being the pudding of proof.

Custom Drivers  

Campfire Audio work with OEMs to develop their own DD and customised BA drivers for their desired sound signature – especially imperative given the crossover-less design. Campfire Audio custom design their dynamic drivers and also own these designs, which permits stricter QC and means their performance is not replicable by other brands despite the increasing trend towards single-DD flagships with similar diaphragm constructions.

They implement an oversized Neodymium magnet to increase flux density, permitting higher efficiency and lower distortion that have been subjectively associated with increased dynamics. The dense ceramic shell and brass spout on the Dorado 2020 should also translate to decreased vibrations and resonances leading to shorter decay and a more defined sound. It may appear simple, but it’s clear that serious thought went into refining and distilling this design.

Unboxing –

Campfire Audio always do a great job with their unboxing experience, reinforcing the premium status of their products. The Dorado 2020 is no different, emplying the same colourful foiled box that folds open to reveal a protective hard box. CFA show support local business and their environment with their locally printed and sourced packaging in addition to upcycling marine plastics for their accessories.

Inside is the canvas zippered carrying case that exudes a classic and dapper vibe with metal CFA tag and pastel orange colour scheme. In the accessory box are two mesh IEM bags, one containing 3 pairs of foam tips and 3 pairs of CFA silicone tips and the other 5 pairs of Final Audio E-tips. The earphones themselves also come in an additional mesh bag, these are quite brilliant due to their compact size and separate compartments that separate each earpiece, preventing scratches whilst maximising portability.

Design –

It’s very easy to appreciate the delightful combination of colour and texture offered by CFA IEMs and the new Dorado is certainly no different. The gold PVD shell of its predecessor makes way for an otherworldly black ceramic with tinted brass nozzle. It’s a svelte package that doesn’t scream for attention but still manages to be visually distinct. As with the new Vega, the construction is a dense ceramic formed through an 8-day process. The results are superlative with immaculate hyper-gloss finish and perfectly even seams throughout their 3-piece construction. The look and feel is dense, sturdy and ultra-premium as we’ve come to expect from Campfire Audio.

The cable too impresses, coming paired with CFA’s Smokey Litz unit with SPC wires. The Dorado 2020 and cable both use custom Beryllium connectors that are harder-wearing that regular MMCX. Indeed, this has been my experience, I haven’t experienced issues with CFA’s connectors and I find them to offer tighter tolerances and a more affirmative engagement too. The cable itself is of pleasing construction with excellent strain relief on the right-angle 3.5mm plug and comfortable pre-moulded ear guides. The wires themselves are very supple with minimal memory and are, thereby, easy to coil for storage. The insulation also doesn’t appear to harden over time and carries minimal microphonic noise. Altogether, a reliable and easy cable to live with.

Fit & Isolation –

Those familiar with CFA’s older Vega or Lyra II will find a very familiar experience here with regards to overall shape and size. That means, they are superbly comfortable as they are compact enough not to contact much, if any, of the outer ear, thereby mitigating hotspot formation. In terms of nozzle design, the new Dorado also addresses the uncharacteristically long and wide nozzles that could impede a comfortable fit and seal on the original. With its sleeker, more aptly angled and tapered nozzles, fit and seal are worlds apart; the wearing experience on the new Dorado is much more conventional even with standard silicone tips, it fits deeper and is more stable during wear.

The seal is strong and the fit very stable when combined with the over-ear cable design. I was able to skip and jog without the earphones jostling loose, of course, they aren’t weather sealed in any way so this is not advised for consumers. Driver flex is apparent as on the new Vega and a lot of CFA’s DD earphones. As always, it doesn’t affect the listening experience nor did I find it to cause failure or performance degradation during my weeks of testing. In terms of isolation, the Dorado 2020 isolates slightly less than the new Vega but well above average for a hybrid earphone. They are easily suitable for public transport and general commute, especially with their robust, punchy low-end tuning. They would suffice in a pinch for air travel with foam tips, but I would still recommend a fully-sealed or CIEM for frequent flyers.

Next Page: Measurements & Sound Breakdown

The post Campfire Audio Dorado 2020 Review – Changes first appeared on The Headphone List.

Original Resource is The Headphone List

Sonus faber Maxima Amator Loudspeakers | REVIEW

The Sonus faber Maxima Amator loudspeakers (website) have taken me by surprise. I was so zeroed-in and focused on the idea of the perfect two-way bookshelf monitor, a longtime passion of mine, and now I have this feeling that someone with an Italian accent is leaning close to me, whispering in my ear: “Have you thought about a nice two-way tower? Maybe that’s what you’ve been searching for all this time.” It’s an interesting argument—while the floor-standing approach may introduce a couple of problems since it’s less of a point source design and its increased size and mass might create an obstacle when it comes to the “disappearing act,” I’m sure to enjoy a loudspeaker that reaches further into the lowest frequencies than your average shoebox monitor. I’ve also been dialing in one of the largest listening rooms I’ve ever had at home. I’m allowing some big speakers and big amplifiers to crash at my pad over the next few months, so I’m about to get a crash course in perspective. To tell you the truth, I was also getting tired of dealing with stands. I have a pair of 24” stands and a pair of 28” stands, but they [...]

Original Resource is Part-Time Audiophile

Triode Wire Labs | REVIEW

Triode Wire Labs, run by the eponymous “Triode Pete” (aka Pete Grzybowski) was a company recommended to me very highly by my fellow PTA staff members. That included both Scot Hull and Marc Phillips, who had nothing but praise for both man and company. When the opportunity came up to review some cables that praise stuck with me, and after a look through the Triode Wire Labs website, I was excited.  Words and Photos by Grover Neville “Affordable & ‘Audiophile’ Should Not Be An Oxymoron!” the About Us page on the website proudly declares. Now you’re speaking my language. Not only is Triode Pete an insanely nice guy, he’s an insanely well-credentialed one as well, with degrees in Bachelors and Masters of Science, and a professional engineering license. Furthermore, Triode Wire Labs utilizes Litzendraht-style braiding of its cables, a technique pioneered by Western Electric in the 1930s.  Readers familiar with my tastes know that classic hi-fi and Western Electric are up my alley, and I have had very positive experiences with all the litz and litz-braid style cables I’ve encountered. I won’t even mention the word triode is right there in the name. Furthermore, while I can appreciate the costs [...]

Original Resource is Part-Time Audiophile

Astell & Kern PEE51 USB-C Dual DAC Cable Review – Je Ne Sais Quoi

Pros –

Low noise floor, Flexible braided cable, Ultra-premium build quality and aesthetic design, Smooth and refined sound, Spacious stage

Cons –

Slightly higher OI can limit versatility, Type-C plug isn’t case friendly, No accessories included

Verdict –

The Dual DAC Cable ultimately showcases greater refinement in both feel and listening than even its premium competitors, however, its higher output impedance especially makes it a far more situational buy.


Introduction –

Astell & Kern are one of the most renowned DAP makers on the market with a legacy of innovative designs. One example includes new SR15 which implemented a rotated screen in order to accommodate the ergonomics of handheld use. Upon such a foundation, the company has decided to address the death of the headphone jack in smartphone design with their new Dual DAC USB cable. This dongle-style DAC/AMP sports AK’s signature aesthetic and sound design with a full metal chassis and Dual Cirrus DAC setup – one handling each channel. In turn, the company promises the same premium experience provided by their DAPs scaled down into a hyper-portable form factor and at a reasonable price. As always, the company demonstrate their prowess with a carefully considered premium design that showcases profound attention to detail.

The Dual DAC Cable retails for $169 AUD or $199 NZD at the time of launch. You can read all about the DAC/AMP and treat yourself to a set here.

Contents –

Specifications –

  • Frequency Response: 20Hz – 20kHz
  • S/N: 118dB
  • THD + N: 0.0004% Unbalanced
  • Output Impedance: 2-Ohms
  • DAC: Cirrus Logic CS43198 x2
  • Sample Rate: PCM up to 32bit.384kHz, DSD64 (1bit, 2.8mHz) Native, Stereo, DSD128 (1bit, 5.6mHz), Stereo/DSD256 (1bit, 11.2mHz), Stereo
  • Input: USB Type-C
  • Output: 3.5mm Headphone
  • Dimensions: 17 x 50 x 10.3 mm
  • Weight: About 25g

Behind the Design –

Full Metal Housing

Reminiscent of their DAP designs, the Dual DAC Cable implements a design drawn from the concept of light and shadow. It features a robust zinc alloy build that provides a solid feel and daily durability. It has a noticeably different feel to aluminium with a premium weight and density alongside a different surface finish. The angular design was optimised for comfortable grip and one-handed use, AK also focused on providing a flawless, smooth finish. 

Dual-DAC Chipset

AK’s dongle features two of Cirrus Logic’s CS43198 MasterHIFI DAC chips supporting native DSD256 and 32bit/384kHz playback. This is Cirrus Logic’s power and space-efficient chipset superseding the CS4399. It has been designed with proprietary digital-interpolation filters and low jitter. Two chips have been implemented, one for each channel.

Independent Amplifier

AK forgo Cirrus’ integrated amplifier in favour of their own independent module – a prime differentiator from the vast majority of competing hyper-portable designs. The Dual DAC cable is built atop a micro 6-layer PCB with custom micro-resistors and tantalum capacitors designed to provide stable operation and improved capacitance for a dynamic audio performance. AK’s amplifier circuit offers 2Vrms output (no load)

Silver-Plated Copper Shielded Cable

An often-neglected part of dongle design, AK’s Dual DAC Cable features a custom-made large-gauge 4-core cable with copper noise shielding. It resembles a litz design with a combination of SPC and copper wire entwined around a centre aramid fibre damping core. Separate shielding is then applied over the cable to further shield the device from noise from the playback device.

Unboxing –

The Dual DAC Cable comes within a compact rubberized box and is nestled within a foam inlet. The experience is streamlined and no-frills. Given that the cable is soldered onto the device, no other accessories are included. For the more premium pricing, a carrying pouch would have been appreciated and perhaps a USB-A adaptor.

Design –

Visually satisfying design has always been a defining trait of Astell & Kern’s products and this same ethos is embodied here. For though the Dual DAC is one of the larger dongles I’ve reviewed, it is also one of the most premium. Furthermore, given its slim design, it doesn’t feel too substantial when stacked with a smartphone. The 2-piece Zinc alloy construction surely makes a strong first impression, feeling immediately more robust in the hand than competing plastic and aluminium designs. This experience is reinforced by an extrusion-moulded Type-C connector with matching zinc housing and the cable too impresses greatly; in my experience, one of the most overlooked aspects of dongle design.

AK’s custom 4-core braided cable is especially flexible, which in addition to the weight of the dongle itself, makes the device very easy to stack and handle alongside a smartphone. It also places less stress on the Type-C port of the playback device – and I found the dongle to provide very reliable connectivity here too. Solid rubber strain reliefs are to be observed on both terminations, however, one niggle is that he Type-C connector is quite large and features no protrusion. This means you will need a smartphone case with a large cut-out in order to use this DAC/AMP. Overall, beside the bulky connector, I found the look and feel of this dongle to be highly appealing and a prime differentiator from competitors.

Usability –

As with most competitors, the Dual DAC Cable is marketed as being plug and play on Windows, OSX, IOS and Android devices. Though I was unable to assess compatibility with Apple’s products, I experienced no difficulty using the dongle with either my Windows 10 laptop or Xperia 5 II smartphone, neither requiring unique apps or drivers to interface. On Android, however, a music playback app supporting DSD is required should you want to take advantage of this function.

The dongle also lacks an auto-power function which, to me, is a positive as it maximises compatibility and reliability. Once plugged in, the dongle powers on, denoted by a white LED indicator on its face. There’s no jack-mounted switch or timer which streamlines usability at the cost of power consumption (though realistically, the dongle would be unplugged when not in use). The dongle itself has no controls so the source devices handles playback and volume. I found the dongle to offer a good range here, suitable for sensitive in-ears with enough headroom for less sensitive headphones too.

As there is no integrated battery, the dongle is powered by the playback device. This may limit compatibility with some older smartphones that do not support power output, however, should not be a problem on modern Smartphones and laptops. Power drain was not substantial despite the robust amplifier – I found the Dual DAC Cable to draw less power than most competitors such as the Cozoy Takt-C. This suggests that the circuitry has been well-implemented to optimise efficiency. Do note that the dongle does not support 4-pole in-line remote signal but will support audio-playback on 4-pin remote cables.

Next Page: Sound & Pairings

The post Astell & Kern PEE51 USB-C Dual DAC Cable Review – Je Ne Sais Quoi first appeared on The Headphone List.

Original Resource is The Headphone List

Primephonic Classical Music Streaming | REVIEW

When approaching Primephonic (website), one of the few high-res (24-bit/192kHz) streaming services devoted to classical music, I was interested to see if they could go beyond the existential questions of survival that tend to dominate any discussion of the genre. Working a fundraiser at a classical radio station, I was once told by a listener making a donation that she also gave to endangered species protection funds. This well-intended listener revealed that the questions of survival are pervasive and exist at every level of the classical ecosystem from the local symphony and radio station, to agencies and record labels. As I logged into Primephonic for the first time, I was hoping that this angst would lead to genuine creativity in the streaming platform rather than just be a streaming platform without all that pesky stuff known as other genres of music. I was also hoping that it would advance the conversation in classical music, moving from the yes/no question of “will we survive?” to the broader question of “how will we survive?,” and maybe to provide part of the answer. After listening for several months now and seeing continuous updates to the platform, I feel like Primephonic is taking major [...]

Original Resource is Part-Time Audiophile

Sivga Phoenix Review – The Charmer

Pros –

Excellent bass weight and extension, Clear and natural vocals, Rich and lush presentation, Good soundstage expansion and layering, Gorgeous build and design, Great carrying case

Cons –

Separation suffers from its fullness, Average technical performance in-class, Reasonably limited range of headband adjustment, Thin earpads can affect long-term comfort

Verdict –

Though its unique combination of qualities and thoughtful execution, the Phoenix is able to carve out a reasonably uncontested niche in the audio market for bass lovers who still value clear vocals and a spacious soundstage.


Introduction –

SIVGA are a Chinese audio company founded in 2016 who focus on stunning wooden designs and competitive pricing. They work hand-in-hand with Sendy Audio, their premium division, who recently achieved renown for their well-received Aiva planar magnetic headphone. The Phoenix is their latest creation, an open-back over-ear headphone featuring a huge 50mm dynamic driver. Signature to Sivga, the Phoenix features a premium bill of materials with special mention going to its gorgeous zebra wood cups. Sivga promise a rich and natural sound from its custom dynamic driver with moderate pricing placing it in direct comparison to some of the most acclaimed planar magnetic options on the market such as the Hifiman Sundara. Still, this is a unique approach and one that does feel well executed to boot.

The Phoenix sits just below the planar P-II in Sivga’s line-up at $299 USD. You can read all about it and treat yourself to a set on Sivga’s website. See also Sendy’s website for their premium planar offerings here.

Disclaimer –

I would like to thank Collin from Sivga and Mark from Capisco Ltd very much for their quick communication and for providing me with the Phoenix and Upgrade Pads for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the headphones free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.

Contents –

Specifications –

  • Driver: 50mm Dynamic Driver
  • Impedance: 32 ohms
  • Sensitivity: 103dB
  • Frequency Response: 20 Hz – 20 kHz
  • Weight: 296g

Behind the Design –

Special Film

The Phoenix’s dynamic driver features a uniquely developed polycarbonate film and independently developed diaphragm structure. The company specifies a clear focus on rigidity in order to reduce modal breakup at high frequencies. Meanwhile, a lightweight construction with copper-clad aluminium voice coil promise an agile transient response for a detailed, extended and low-distortion sound. This is enhanced by the adoption of a 3mm thick rubidium iron boron magnet that provides strong driver control and low-end drive. A 32-ohm impedance makes the Phoenix easy to drive.

Unboxing –

Sivga create a premium unboxing experience for the Phoenix with a gorgeous wood-grain and carbon-fibre textured hard box that slides open to reveal a zippered hard case. The case is excellent, moulded specifically for the Phoenix to provide a perfect, extra-secure fit during storage. It has a faux-leather texture and feels very well-constructed, four feet on its base enable the case to stand upright as well. Inside are the headphones and cable within a drawstring hessian pouch. Sivga also provide a 1/4″ adaptor for use with desktop amplifiers. Altogether, a well-considered and high-quality experience!

Design –

Immediately, it’s hard not to appreciate the gorgeous painted stainless steel and zebra wood build that stands out as a defining feature of this headphone. The Phoenix appears premium in materials and provides a timeless retro aesthetic with adjacent chrome and woodgrain drawing the eye. The metal hangers and headband are reasonably lightweight but feel sturdy in the hand, reinforced by well-weighted and smoothly articulating hinges. Due to its compact dimensions, the Phoenix also is far from a heavy headphone at just under 300g despite its construction mostly employing robust metal parts.

This experience is complemented by a slide-to-adjust suspension headband with a wide, padded goat leather strap. It feels super soft and, being authentic leather, should also hold up better over time than faux so long as it is appropriately maintained. The pads are super soft with memory foam interior that conforms well to the individual’s head shape. The sides are pleather, and the face made from a soft suede that provides a comfortable and slightly more breathable experience.

The cable attaches via 2.5mm mono plugs which is a less popular choice these days but still commonly available on aftermarket cables. Unfortunately, I am not so enthusiastic about the Phoenix’s stock cable which is thin and flimsy, barely thick enough to be an IEM cable. Albeit, the cable is very light and unobtrusive, it is also very compliant and doesn’t irk during listening. The connectors are metal and terminations have a nice strain-relief, the 3.5mm plug, in particular, employing a robust spring loaded one. Still, the thinness is a concern for longevity to me, I would like to have seen a more robust cable that better complements the build of the headphones themselves.

Fit & Isolation –

Looking over the design, I was expecting a very comfortable fit, however, the Phoenix’s compact dimensions means there are some concessions for all-day at-home listening. The headband has fairly limited adjustment relative to most competitors. I personally felt I required slightly more length as I was just able to fit the headphones with the setting maxed out. Otherwise, the headband is comfortable and didn’t form any hotspots for me over time. Though do keep in mind, that If you find yourself maxing out the slider on most headphones, the Phoenix may not fit.

In addition, while the earpads are soft and compliant, they are also very shallow. The opening is large enough to engulf my ears by a hair, however, the lack of width means the drivers are constantly pressed against them, causing soreness after an hour or two of listening. The discomfort was mild and I was able to listen for longer, though the Phoenix does feel more to me like a portable headphone than a full-size open-back as a result. The lightweight build and slim pads to me seem contradictory for an open-back design that is not ideal for portable use, and yet it almost appears geared towards it.

This may be the intention of the design as it does isolate considerably more than most open-back headphones, albeit not nearly to the extent of a closed-back model yet alone the stronger ANC performers out there around this price. This does mean they do in a pinch for basic commute. Still, they do leak sound which is not ideal for public transport. I feel the pad design is intentional to deliver the best sound, that said.

Upgrade Pads

For those concerned about the earpads, Sivga do offer OEM protein leather replacements that offer an additional half-centimetre of width for only $15. The pads are held in place by a twist lock like most competitors making pad swapping easy – though of note, they do rotate clockwise rather than anticlockwise to disengage so take care to twist in the right direction during removal. The company was kind enough to send over a pair for evaluation. Though they aren’t as breathable as the stock pads with an entirely faux leather construction without the velour of the stock pads, but do successfully provide more of an over-ear fit. For my ears, they were noticeably more comfortable for longer listening sessions as they reduced contact between the driver and my ears. I think this is a fine option and a reasonably priced extra, though do note that they will change the sound quite noticeably as I will touch on in the sound analysis below.

Next Page: Sound Breakdown

The post Sivga Phoenix Review – The Charmer first appeared on The Headphone List.

Original Resource is The Headphone List

Leapwing Al Schmitt Signature Plug-In Review

The legendary Al Schmitt
The legendary Al Schmitt

How do you capture the essence of a legendary engineer/producer with 23 Grammys, 160 gold and platinum albums and a ‘who’s who’ resume, and put that into a piece of software? Well, that’s just what Leapwig and the iconic Al Schmitt went for with the new Al Schmitt signature plug-in. The team literally encapsulated his gear, mixes’ textures and workflow to come up with something that ambitious.

When first opening the plug-in, you select from a Source dropdown menu that offers up Vocal, Bass, Brass, Mix, Piano or Strings. These are referred to as ‘profiles’ and each of them are tuned differently with their own character and tone. Each profile also features a different ‘tuned’ amount of harmonic distortion. Within each profile, there are a number of options as well—for example, Vocal features Body Level, Air Level, Echo Level, Compression, Air Type and Echo Type.

This approach to plug-in design has led Al and the team at Leapwig to create something that operates in a unique fashion. When audio is played, rings that represent loudness are played around the relevant icon in the center in real time. If there is something like gain reduction happening, the outer rings tighten up accordingly at ½ dB per ring. For instance, if there are four rings happening, you’ve got 2 dBs of reduction. It’s something your eyes have to get used to because it’s simply a new way of operating.

The METAlliance Report – Al Schmitt, Frank Filipetti Talk Miking

Since each source features its own customized parameters to tweak, you quickly adjust to how to get around. For example, Mix features Sub Boost, Low, Mid and High Level, Low, Mid and High Comp, a compressor link and Air Boost. Bass is nothing but Compression, Body Level and Air Level, but it includes additional harmonic distortion within those parameters. Piano, which is one of my favorites, features Compression, Echo Level and A/B/C Echo Type. Note that “echo” is actually a reverb, a name that was chosen since that is what Al calls it. Aside from that, there’s In and Out Meters with up to 12 dBs of gain.

Leapwing Al Schmitt Signature Plug-In
Leapwing Al Schmitt Signature Plug-In

What I like about this plug-in is that you can dial in some taste very quickly. When first listening, it helps to run through each source to understand what the parameters do. To hear the echoes clearly, I would simply put on audio with attack and stop the transport, listening to what sound is created afterwards. The others, such as Sub, Air bands and EQs are easy to hear. Compression is subtle yet clearly audible. I found it useful to also mix and match—for example, using the compression in the bass source on something like a piano. Then, if I wanted more, I put another instance after in the DAW and used the EQ in Echo in the Strings source, or the EQ and Air settings in the Mix source. Once you have a feel for it, your instinct knows where to go. I saved a number of presets for easy recall: I like Echo Type C on the Strings source, so that’s now my “RT Echo 1 Strings’ preset, and I also captured a nice Mix bus preset with Sub Boost, Air Boost a few dBs of Gain and a touch of Highs as “AS Master 1.”

The METAlliance Report: The Recording of Steely Dan’s ‘Aja’

Aside from being easy, this plug is fun to use. You can get to a sound with just a few quick fader slides and most importantly, it works as advertised. It’s not big, bold and aggressive, but subtle and tasty, especially in the reverb/echo fields. Most importantly, all of these sounds are clean, clear and tasty. I would also use the word “refined,” which is a testament to the team making it. Since you probably can’t get him to your session, now you can bring a little of Al Schmitt’s magic sonic touch to your own tracks.

Rich Tozzoli is an award-winning, Grammy-nominated producer, engineer and composer for programming such as FOX NFL, Pawn Stars and Oprah & Deepak Chopra. www.richtozzoli.com

Original Resource is ProSoundNetwork.com

Parasound Halo JC 3+ Phono Preamplifier | REVIEW

Is the Parasound Halo JC 3+ phono preamplifier (website) a modern incarnation of the Vendetta Research? Before you answer that, have you ever heard John Curl’s original Vendetta Research phono preamplifier? I have, maybe about a dozen years ago when I was writing some sort of column about “old school” amplification. The Vendetta Research was a revolutionary product, one where the importance of the phono stage was instantly elevated into a component that could make a big difference in the sound, leading many audiophiles—including me—to wonder, “Do I need this? Have I been missing out?” That Vendetta phono pre was sort of plain in a way, with its slim and relatively unadorned rack-mount chassis that inspired me to call phono preamplifiers “little black boxes” in my columns for many years. (My first outboard phono stage, from LFD, was also a mystery box—there wasn’t even a logo or a model designation on the front panel.) That Vendetta Research, however, impressed the heck out of me. It was transparent and natural, and a nearly perfect match with my J.A. Michell Orbe SE, SME V and Koetsu Rosewood Standard that I had at the time. This was one throwback article where the product [...]

Original Resource is Part-Time Audiophile