Tag Archives: Reviews

Rega P6 Turntable, RB330 Tonearm, Neo PSU, and Ania Moving-Coil Cartridge

For a company that produced just five turntable models over its first 20-something years—1973’s original Planet (with a steel and aluminum platter), the original aluminum platter Planar (only 200 units made), followed by the long-in-production Planar 3 and 2 (the first commercial models sporting glass platters)—Rega has been on a roll this past decade, with a flurry of new designs I find it hard to keep pace with.

That said, Rega doesn’t release new models for the sake of it, just when significant improvements to previous ideas merit it. Having reviewed five Rega ’tables for this publication between 2012 and 2014, it’s been a while since I’ve taken a spin with a new Rega—a gap now bridged with Rega’s latest mid-priced design, the P(lanar)6. 

Priced at $1595 with no cartridge—or $1995 (Exact mm), $2195 (Ania mc, which is how I’m reviewing it), or $2495 (Ania Pro mc) when fitted with one of three Rega cartridges—the P6 falls smack in the middle of Rega’s current lineup; with the Planar models 1, 2, and 3 below it, and the 8 and 10 above. Given the excellence of the P6’s performance, Rega’s deserved reputation as a high-value option remains solidly assured.


Should any reader need a refresher, Rega’s longstanding design philosophy is pretty straightforward, and rather contrary to the rest of the industry’s thinking. Rega’s iconoclastic founder and owner Roy Gandy firmly believes that lightweight, rigid plinths retain less airborne and playback-generated resonance than massive designs do, and therefore allow the entire package to more accurately track the miniscule canyons pressed into vinyl LPs. 

This isn’t the place to weigh in on the myriad pros and cons of various turntable design philosophies. Like most opinions, everybody’s got at least one. And as I’ve written before, my lengthy experience with analog rigs—from the earliest Regas, Linn LP12s, and Goldmund Studios I once sold at retail, to the countless designs reviewed over the years, to my current reference Basis 2200 Signature/Vector 4 ’arm—I’ve found great musical satisfaction in wildly different approaches to turntable design. Be they lightweight on fixed plinths, like the Regas are, or massive designs with fixed plinths, or lighter suspended designs or heavier…the list goes on ad infinitum, as does the range of materials employed.

Besides, I really couldn’t add much to what my TAS colleague Paul Seydor so thoughtfully explained in Issue 311 in his review of the Helius Alexia turntable and Omega tonearm, and its accompanying sidebar “Vinyl Problems and Solutions, Theoretical and Real,” which I highly recommend reading. 

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Original Resource is Articles – The Absolute Sound

McIntosh C53 Preamplifier and MCT500 SACD/CD Transport

McIntosh’s C53 preamplifier is the successor to the outstanding C52, which I reviewed two years ago in TAS 283 (I purchased the review sample). Like many preamplifiers and integrated amplifiers these days, the C52 is an analog/digital hybrid housing an on-board DAC. McIntosh called the C52 “the most advanced, single-chassis solid-state preamplifier we’ve ever made,” and despite a seven-grand retail, sales were extremely brisk. Little wonder: its matchless connectivity such that it handles virtually every audio format of two-channel analog and digital sources available for home consumption at performance levels that reach state of the art. Yet, here we have a replacement for which the manufacturer makes the same claim and which is so literally identical as regards circuitry, features, connectivity, performance, sound quality, size, and appearance—side by side the only differentiating clues the new model number under the McIntosh logo on the fascia and an HDMI port on the rear—that I’ll skip the usual descriptive tour around and through the unit, and also a detailed consideration of its sound, referring you instead to my review of the original (TAS 283 and at theabsolutesound.com). Mentally replace “C52” with C53” and you have the review. 

So why a new model and why a review? Two things: fears of obsolescence and television sound. Despite the C52’s strong sales, a number of potential buyers demurred, fearing that in an area as fast-moving as digital audio their purchase might soon become obsolete. So the engineers went back to the drawing board and designed a new digital audio module, designated the DA2. The DA2 is both removable and upgradable as new digital formats or components come along, all without having to replace the entire preamplifier. Already the DA2 benefits from a later generation of the popular ESS components that constitute the heart of the onboard DAC. It has the same connectivity (2 coaxial, 2 optical, 1 USB, and 1 proprietary MCT for use with the MCT series of SACD/CD transports), plus an additional feature that for me is something of a game-changer: a new audio-only HDMI Audio Return Channel (ARC) that, according to McIntosh’s literature, “allows it to be connected to TVs with a compatible HDMI (ARC) output to bring your TV sound to a new level of audio performance by listening to it through your home stereo system. Popular multichannel audio formats from Dolby and DTS are supported and will be expertly converted to 2-channel audio for proper playback through the C53. When CEC communication is enabled in both the C53 and your TV, your TV remote can control the power and volume of the C53.” 

But since McIntosh is primarily an audio company and TAS an audio magazine, who cares about TV sound, and isn’t it already available anyhow? Easier to answer the latter first. No, or at least not easily. Increasingly, all these fancy new “smart” TVs have dispensed with RCA jacks that provide a mixed-down audio signal for connection to two-channel sound systems, while some new smart TVs no longer have even a headphone jack that could be counted on (more or less) for the same thing. Without those, the only way to get two channels out of your television is the TosLink connection, but that requires an accommodating DAC, whether built-in or outboard. Even then, the sound you’ll get, while usually an improvement over the RCA and headphone-jack alternatives, is not nearly as good as what you would get from a properly mixed down two-channel signal because, as McIntosh’s literature suggests, such popular multichannel formats as Dolby and DTS are not consistently supported by or correctly converted via the TosLink output. In other words, it’s still something of a dumbed-down way of getting quality two-channel audio out of a television.

McIntosh MCT500

There is a third alternative. A number of third-party vendors sell devices that claim to split off a stereo signal from an HDMI output. These devices are quite inexpensive ($15–$50 or so) and readily available on Amazon or other sites. I’ve tried some with at worst no success at all (no sound comes out) or middling results that are no better than the headphone and RCA jacks on earlier TVs and usually not as good. The reality is that some pretty sophisticated conversion protocols and circuitry are required to do a correct two-channel down-conversion. I’m not sure if you can find that on processors, receivers, preamplifiers, and integrated amplifiers that are home-theater products, but so far as I am aware, McIntosh’s DA2 module is unique in being able to do this the right way on a preamplifier otherwise designed strictly for the reproduction of high-end two-channel. While I cannot provide details on how the company accomplishes this, the circuit being proprietary, I can report that the results are genuinely revelatory. 

But first, let’s return to the question of who cares about two-channel TV sound. Well, I do, for one, and so do many people I know whose listening rooms must do double-duty as TV rooms, yet who don’t want to invest in multichannel setups or augment (purists might say “corrupt”) their two-channel systems with home-theater components. According to McIntosh, quite a number of their customers feel the same way—another reason, in addition to upgradability, for the DA2. As many of my readers know, I am a film editor (features mostly, some non-commercial TV), and I oversee the sound mixing and dubbing of all the films I edit. Yet I don’t have a home-theater setup, nor do many of my colleagues who work in movies. (Indeed, I personally know far fewer movie professionals with surround-sound home-theater than I do without.) Speaking for myself, I don’t much enjoy “hardware” movies such as all those big tentpole productions. My idea of a really long night at the movies, whether at home or in theaters, consists in superhero movies, action “epics,” space-opera, and other kinds of mass-market sci-fi, with soundtracks proliferated with bullets, explosions, high-speed chases, rockets, laser ordnance, and other sorts of futuristic weaponry, not to mention grunts, groans, growls, roars, screams, screeches, and other effusions of monsters from the Mesozoic Era to galaxies far off and away—all this without mentioning near non-stop music loud enough to cause hearing damage.  

Nor do I much care for sound effects coming from all around me whether at home or in theaters. My reasons for this require a much longer discussion than there is space for in an audio review, so I’ll reduce it to a single sentence: I find it both weird and distracting to have sounds coming from behind, above, or beside me when the image remains stubbornly in front of me. I’ll let you in on a little secret. A remarkably large number of filmmakers feel the same way, including quite a few directors. Most of us got into this business because we wanted to tell stories that mean something to us and that we hope will mean something to others as well. When it comes to all those CGI visual and sound effects, most of us feel that less definitely equates to more. And while I’ve heard some impressive music-only surround-sound demonstrations (notably courtesy of Peter McGrath and his own outstanding recordings), I have neither space nor inclination to set up something similar at home. These admissions may suggest that as regards both my vocation and my avocation I’m in the wrong line of work, but there appears to be enough of us to constitute a market worth accommodating. (According to McIntosh, this includes a considerable number of their customers.)

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Sonus faber Lumina

I associate Sonus faber with luxurious floorstanders in windswept shapes with finely grained and glossy wood finishes. Even the lowercase “f” in faber somehow makes them sound fancier. So when I was told that Sf had a new “entry-level” bookshelf for review, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The Lumina ($899) took me off guard and flipped a lot of my preconceived notions about what a bookshelf speaker in this price range sounds, looks, and feels like. In many ways, this review is about expectations: how marketing sets them, how product categories reinforce them, and how some products occasionally redefine them.

 The Lumina is a vented-box, two-way bookshelf speaker that measures a miniscule 5.8″ x 11″ x 8.4″ and weighs less than 10 pounds. I don’t normally lead with a product’s measurements, but these things are really small—borderline desktop size. They’re much slimmer than the Wharfedale bookshelves I compared them with, and are the smallest non-desktop speakers I’ve had in my listening space to date. It is only natural for people to wonder whether a set of speakers so tiny can play loud enough to fill a large room and dig down deep enough to create a sense of appreciable bass. While I don’t want to spoil the review, I’ll go ahead and spoil it anyway: Yes and yes, they most certainly do.

The tweeter is Sonux faber’s 29mm Damped Apex Dome featured in the Sonetto series, and the mid/woofer is a 120mm custom-designed driver with a diaphragm made from a blend of cellulose pulp and other natural fibers. The speaker’s nominal impedance is 4 ohms, and its sensitivity is 84dB, which means the Lumina is going to be a bit harder to drive. From my own experience, I would stick with Sf’s suggested power guideline of 30–100Wpc, though I’d aim for the upper end of that range.

 My review pair came in a wenge wood finish, but the Luminas are also available in piano black and walnut. The wenge versions include sleek silver accents around the tweeters and mid/woofers, which lend the Luminas an exquisite sense of gravitas that is strange considering their size. Best of all, the main body is wrapped in a soft, dark leather that feels great to touch and looks fantastic. Overall, I’d say these speakers are high among the most visually appealing pieces of gear I’ve ever had in my listening room. I would have gladly placed them in my living room if I didn’t have a toddler who would immediately destroy them.

 Of course, speakers are only as good as they sound, and physical attributes don’t always reveal a product’s inner worth. I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, even though everyone’s always judging based on covers, but in this instance, I’d say the form factor of the Lumina does suggest something about the way it’s going to sound, just not in the way you might expect.

 First up on my turntable was a new record from Nat Birchall, a UK multi-instrumentalist and jazz musician. His spiritual, Sun Ra-inspired Mysticism of Sound felt a lot like a pandemic album: self-produced with Birchall playing every instrument. Which is actually a great thing, because Mysticism of Sound reveals a wide and arcing breadth of music. While Birchall’s playing is melodic and multifarious, I couldn’t help but notice the low end first and foremost. Bookshelf speakers don’t typically create powerful bass, and while that was certainly true to some extent in this case, I was still absolutely astounded by the big sounds coming from the Luminas. Considering their tiny dimensions, they shouldn’t have given me a very palpable sense of the low end, and yet never once did I feel the need to turn them up to compensate for their size.

The track “Inner Pathway” is a meandering musical journey with a simple cymbal tap keeping precise time, while Birchall’s sax plays atop a mix of bass and synth. Sax mids were liquid smooth, and the nice sax tone shined through. The synth and bass combination made for a big, deep sonic landscape, and I was impressed with the Luminas’ ability to reproduce a clear and crisp midrange, while still digging deep for the rhythmic bass. It was a comforting and intriguing sound, not at all what I expected from these tiny boxes.

I switched over to the Speaker’s Corner reissue of the 1956 album The Jazz Messengers. Art Blakey plays the only way he knows how: big, bold, and in control. The Luminas kept his fast-paced snare rolls on “Infra-Rae” in tight focus, while his call-and-response solo toward the end of the track was booming and had just enough depth for the kicks to resonate. There’s nothing like a Blakey fill smashing me in the teeth; I always ask for more when he’s through. I want and need a pair of speakers to recreate Blakey’s impact in an almost painful way, and while I can’t say I was left with a gaping chest wound from the Luminas’ low end, I was very impressed by the overall sound. For me, that tactile response, where the bass isn’t just heard but also felt, is the hallmark of perfect bottom octaves. The Luminas simply can’t push enough air to make a kick drum feel like a kick drum. But they certainly do sound like a kick drum, which is a feat in itself.

The live album East/West by Ill Considered features meandering and repetitive, looping, free-jazz freak-outs. The energy of this live show remained solidly grounded through the Luminas, and the mingling of the dual saxophones with Emre Ramazanoglu’s drums and Leon Brichard’s bass created a blanket of twisting sounds. The saxophones were front and center, and the Luminas, once again, built a nice, deep soundstage while reproducing just enough ambient crowd noise to make the space feel like it was alive. Finesse and speed are particularly important when it comes to a live album like East/West, and the Luminas remained on beat and engaging. Drums had enough heft and cymbals had enough sparkle, and the distorted bass rumbled just right below it all. During my listen to these sparkling LPs, I was never tempted to swap in my bigger main speakers for more powerful impact, which I think says a lot for the Luminas.

Speaking of sheer size and scope, I recently received VMP’s reissue of one of my all-time Top Five albums, Spiritualized’s Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space. It’s an emotional, maximalist slog through a breakup, and a great way to test speakers. It’s the sort of album where more is never enough, and the end result is an enormous, gorgeous sonic landscape. The third track “I Think I’m In Love” starts out with spacey synth over a simple intermittent bass line. Through less than ideal speakers, it can sound a little hollow and the soundstage doesn’t feel deep enough. But the Lumina did it justice, especially as the song progressed and more and more instruments, noises, and voices were added to the mix. 

Finally, I turned to my latest obsession: The Tone Poets series from Blue Note Records. Herbie Hancock’s My Point of View was his second release as a leader and features a fantastic septet. Anthony Williams’s drumming was tight and on point. His cymbals shimmered with just enough sparkle, and his frequent, interesting flourishes and fills sound tight and solid. Tone Poet records are some of the best sounding in my collection and a great test of any system. The Luminas had superior soundstage separation and depth, with Hancock’s piano dead center and the drums shoved off in the right channel. The opening track on Side B, “King Cobra,” begins with a trumpet solo from Donald Byrd, which sounded smooth and tight, never venturing into the harsh and grating, despite getting fairly loud. 

I’ll admit to having some preconceived ideas about how smallish bookshelf speakers were going to sound. Just because of their size, I assumed they wouldn’t have deep bass heft, and they probably wouldn’t have the tightest sense of rhythm and dynamics. However, the Luminas proved me very, very wrong. No, they aren’t going to give you heart palpitations with their sub-bass rumbles. (Again, physics is a thing.) But the Luminas certainly changed my mind about how small bookshelf speakers are supposed to sound—or can sound. As far as I’m concerned, these are the new sub-$1k bookshelf speakers to beat. Just keep in mind those power amp requirements. Highly recommended to anyone looking for fantastic sound and beautiful style in a surprisingly compact package. 

Specs & Pricing

Driver complement: 29mm Damped Apex Dome tweeter, 120mm paper-cone mid/woofer
Frequency response: 65Hz–24kHz
Impedance: 4 ohms
Sensitivity: 84dB SPL (2.83V/1m)
Crossover: 2kHz
Loading: Bass-reflex
Finish: Wenge, black, walnut
Dimensions: 5.8″ x 11″ x 8.4″
Weight: 9.7 lbs. each
Price: $899/pr.

36057 Arcugnano (VI)
[email protected]

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REL’s new T/x subwoofers

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Chicken or egg?

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

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

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

Comparison one: Visual

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

Comparison two: sonics between old and new

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

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

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

Final comparison: between small, medium, and large

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

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

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

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


T/9x $1,449

T/7x $1,099

T/5x $679


Digital source Boulder 866 internal DAC

Cable Tellurium Q Ultra Black

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

Original article: REL’s new T/x subwoofers

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The Acora Acoustics SRB

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

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

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

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

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

You need the stands

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

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

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

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

Setup and initial listening

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

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

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

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

Arriving at the finished dish

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

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

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

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

It all comes down to clarity

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

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

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

In the end, brilliant

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



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

Digital Source dCS Vivaldi One

Preamplifier Pass XS Pre, Nagra Classic Pre

Phono Stage Pass XS Phono

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

Cable Cardas Clear

Original article: The Acora Acoustics SRB

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Original Resource is TONEAudio MAGAZINE » TONEAudio MAGAZINE

Elac Uni-Fi 2.0 UB5.2

Elac’s Uni-Fi UB5  compact monitor, which I reviewed in Issue 266, remains one of the best friends an audiophile on a budget can have. In a price range mostly reserved for traditional two-ways—like Elac’s entry-level Debut Series—the UB5 was the rare three-way design that was also equipped with a concentric tweeter/midrange. At $499/pair, the original UB5 represented remarkable value and performance that made it the small monitor to beat in its class. But, as they say, there’s always room for improvement. Thus, the Elac team, led by the indefatigable Andrew Jones, decided to push the envelope just a little more. Hence, the Uni-Fi UB5.2. 

As the price has been bumped up to $599 for a pair, you might ask–what’s a hundred-buck difference going to buy you at this or any level? Turns out, a lot. Elac didn’t just pretty up the UB5, adding a chamfer here and an accent there. Nope, the changes go significantly deeper. Physically, the UB5.2 has different dimensions. It’s a little taller, narrower, and deeper, which to my eye gives it a more contemporary silhouette. The relocated bass-reflex port now resides upfront beneath the woofer, rather than out back. It’s a move that Elac states reduces back wall interaction and creates more stable direct output. The concentric midrange/tweeter transducer has received attention, as well. Thanks to a wider surround, the inset tweeter extends treble response, and transitions more smoothly with the midrange. The 4″ aluminum-cone midrange has a modified profile, an improved neodymium magnet assembly, and a larger voice coil. Bass duties are handled by a 5.25″ aluminum-cone woofer. 

The enclosures are engineered with thick MDF outer walls, plus internal bracing for added stiffness to reduce vibrations and coloration. The Uni-Fi’s crossover now boasts greater linearity and better driver integration. Crossover points are 200Hz and 2kHz (lowered from 2.7kHz). Sensitivity is a slightly challenging 85dB, while nominal impedance is 6 ohms, up from 4 ohms. While efficiency has improved overall, don’t scrimp on amplification. The UB5.2 likes quality power. Finished in “black ash” vinyl (pricier wood veneers and deep lacquers are reserved for Elac’s upscale models), the UB5 has a nicely executed utilitarian look. 

In performance, the key strengths that lifted Uni-Fi to critical prominence remain securely in place. Namely, the UB5.2’s midrange weight, forward-leaning energy, and focused imaging continue to make for highly satisfying vocal reproduction. Its tonal character retains the immediacy, transient attack, rhythmic jump, and midbass oomph that preserve its rock ’n’ roll bona fides. 

However, Elac has taken Uni-Fi to finishing school in a big way. It has matured in virtually every area. The few rough edges I noted with the original have been largely buffed out in the UB5.2. Compared with its forebear, it has a smoother, less pushy, less edgy sound. Tonally, and for the better, it’s a hint warmer in the mids. Treble frequencies from the revised concentric are slightly more rounded with a bit more air. For example, during the Manhattan Jazz Quintet’s rendition of “Autumn Leaves,” the speakers seemed to breathe more easily, and the venue appeared to expand in volume. Tellingly, the UB5.2 eliminates the hint of glare on solo piano that I noted with the UB5. (Helpfully, I had a pair of original UB5s on hand for comparison.) Image precision and focus, always strong points with concentric transducers, continue to shine, but the UB5.2 has added a more realistic sense of ambient space to balance its inherent pinpoint focus—a small but significant difference that improves dimensionality and reduces localization of the loudspeaker.

An upswing in transparency is also obvious. Elac has removed a soft veiling, revealing greater low-level detail, microdynamics, and soundstage realism. During Harry Connick’s “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square,” for example, it was as if the UB5.2 blew the dust off the recording—the sax solo was just a hint silkier and more immediate, without any sacrifice in reedy grit, bloom, and weight. 

For reference, I’ve added a few additional examples of the Uni-Fi’s evolution– during “Who Will Comfort Me,” Melody Gardot’s bluesy vocal was more settled and relaxed, but still imbued with stand-your-ground presence. The accompanying trumpet in this cut had the requisite spark and snap. Stage width improved somewhat, but in this one area I would rate the UB5.2 as average (in its segment). Jennifer Warnes’ wistful cover of Eddie Vedder’s “Just Breathe” from Another Time, Another Place was reproduced with a slightly drier timbre than what I hear through my reference system, but still substantially improved over the UB5’s presentation. A nice touch within this song was the lovely timbre of the French horn and the soft cymbal accents, which the UB5.2 sensitively reproduced. On occasion, I perceived a small drop in intensity on vocals—a slight suppression of the presence range that lightened Mary Chapin-Carpenter’s resonant contralto during “Bells Are Ringing” from MCC’s Christmas album Come Darkness, Come Light. But this was only a slight wobble from the Elac in an otherwise delightful performance.

The UB5.2 produced lower frequencies well into the 50Hz range, where they began rolling off fairly swiftly. Bass response was impressive as pitches descended, with little evidence of bumps or dips. There was formidable weight and foundation from cello and bass violin sections, and impressively full-bodied upper-bass dynamics. The UB5.2’s low frequencies were a little on the free and bloomy side, rather than the overtightened one. To my ear, this was not so much a loss of control and grip, but a looser, more sophisticated musicality. The work on the newly reconfigured cabinet has obviously paid dividends, because at least part of the UB5.2’s bass clarity is owed to the absence of vent colorations and the low windage effects of its relocated port. 

The UB5.2 does have bass limits, of course. Drums and heavy percussion don’t have the widest dynamic range nor the transient snap-and-crackle they might have. Melodic lines off a bass guitar were a little rounded and subdued. Unlike a truly full-range speaker, the UB5.2 can’t always follow and define every midbass cue or rhythm. Thus, the deepest low-end excursions were only partly suggested or approximated at times, enough to permit the listener to contentedly fill in the rest. 

The art of loudspeaker design is producing a product with a Uni-Fied and refined voice that sounds like music, not a patchwork of sonic criteria. I think Elac’s success in this regard is, in part, the reason for the sonic leap I hear in this next generation of Uni-Fi. Elac’s UB5.2 has taken the well-deserved success of its immediate predecessor, ratcheted up the sonic positives, and, where they merited attention, minimized the shortcomings. In my book, there’s nothing better than witnessing a maturation process that improves the breed—and all for an extra hundred bucks. A terrific speaker that I can recommend without reservation. 

Specs & Pricing

Type: Three-way bass-reflex
Drivers: Concentric 1″ soft-dome tweeter/4″ aluminum midrange; 5.25″ aluminum woofer
Crossover: 200Hz, 2kHz
Frequency response: 46Hz–35kHz
Nominal impedance: 6 ohms
Sensitivity: 85dB
Dimensions: 7.28″ x 13.62″ x 10.83″
Weight: 18.26 lbs.
Price: $599/pr.

11145 Knott Avenue, Suite E & F
Cypress, CA 90630

Associated Equipment

Front End, Sota Cosmos Series IV turntable; SME V tonearm; Cartridges, Clearaudio Charisma, Sumiko Palo Santos; Phono Stage, Parasound JC 3+, Pass Labs XP-17; Media Player/DAC, dCS Bartok DAC; dCS Puccini (SACD); Lumin S1 Music Player; Synology NAS; MacBook Pro/Pure Music; Integrated Amplifiers, Aesthetix Mimas, MBL Corona C51; Preamplifier, Pass Labs XP-12; Loudspeakers, ATC SCM50T, SCM20SL; Cables & Power Cords, Wireworld Silver Eclipse 8 interconnect & speaker, Audience Au24SX cables and power cords, Synergistic Atmosphere Level Four; Shunyata Venom NR power cords. Audience USB, AudioQuest Carbon firewire; Wireworld Starlight Cat 8 Ethernet; Power Conditioners, Audience aR6-T4, Shunyata Hydra conditioners; Accessories, VooDoo Cable Iso-Pod

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Original Resource is Articles – The Absolute Sound

The Technics SL-G700 digital player

Tracking through the recent SACD remaster of Todd Rundgren’s Something/Anything, it’s easy to see the validity of the concept album – listening to a series of tracks precisely as the artist intended. Sure you can do that with your favorite streaming service, but for some, the act of putting a disc in the tray, pressing play and easing into the music for approximately 45 minutes is wonderful.

With the Technics SL-G700, you don’t have to choose – it offers the option to play SACDs as well as CDs, along with the ability to stream from your NAS, or a number of music services.

There are still a high number of music lovers with an emphasis on playing physical media, yet are making their way into the current world of streaming. As a few dedicated imprints like Mobile Fidelity are still pressing high quality SACDs, this is a definite niche that has been left unfulfilled outside of a handful of very expensive players.

Thanks to their extensive design and manufacturing capabilities, and much like their current SL-1200 turntable, Technics offers world class products at down to Earth price points. The SL-G700 SACD player/DAC/Streamer is yet another example of something you’d easily pay five figures for from a boutique manufacturer. Reminiscent of the preacher on the radio when driving through Texas one long day, “now here’s some good news.” The SL-G700 will only set you back $2,999.99. This is one of the greatest values in disc playback we’ve encountered in forever.

Instant gratification

Anyone enjoying the unboxing ritual will really enjoy this aspect of the SL-G700. It is carefully packaged, and removing the protective covering, you find a heavy player that is finished to exacting standards. This is a deck you will feel proud to own and display in your system. All of the controls are damped and easy to access, and the disc tray glides in and out with a luxurious ease. Sonics aside, this is one of the most elegant players we’ve used.

You probably won’t remove the cover of your SL-G700, but if you do, you can see how densely packed, and mechanically robust this player is, with all of the various sections electrically and mechanically isolated. In the day of components with more air than circuitry, this is a true treat. The spec sheet reveals that the SL-G700 is almost 30 pounds.

Around back, there are RCA and XLR/balanced analog outputs, along with optical and coax SPDIF inputs for the DAC section. (there are also digital outputs, in the event you’d like to use this as a transport and streamer) You can connect to the SL-G700 to stream wirelessly, or via the Ethernet jack. We still feel a cabled connection provides top fidelity, especially when streaming high resolution files, but it is very nice that Technics has included this functionality. Finally, there is a USB input for an external HD, but you can not connect a computer here. An additional USB port is on the front with identical function, which is great for plugging in a memory stick or small portable drive. This player offers an epic level of accessibility.

Those wanting to hear music instantly need do no more than insert a disc and push play. Should you want to stream Tidal, Deezer, Spotify or music from a NAS drive, can do so via the on-screen menus, accessed by the control on the left. To their credit, Technics has made all control functions available from the front panel, though it will take you some time to get through all of them. For easier access, using their app will streamline the process.

The only thing the SL-G700 doesn’t do, at least not directly, is offer the option of being a ROON endpoint, but you can’t have everything for three grand. However, because it does offer Air Play and Chromecast options, you can still use this player within a ROON ecosystem, just at 16/44 resolution. As we are heavily invested into this playback workflow at TONE, it was simple to stream CD quality selections via Chromecast, and access high res files via NAS. At the end of the day, the SL-G700 ticks all the boxes.

Technics has, however, added a few cool things to the mix. For those of you using Tidal/Deezer, you can fully decode MQA master/studio files, via disc, streaming and USB. When playing CD or SACD discs, they offer a Pure Disc Playback Mode, which shuts off all networking completely, eliminating any network related noise. When streaming DSD files, or listening to SACD discs, there is a DSD Native mode, optimized for these files, eliminating the DSD to PCM conversion that many other (much more expensive) players rely on.

Podcast and internet radio listeners can also program this functionality with the SL-G700, making it an extremely well rounded digital hub. Should you have a matching Technics amplifier, the unified handheld remote can control both devices. This is an extremely well thought out machine from a human interface standpoint.

The sound

Form and function are lovely things – and the SL-G700 is at the top of the class in this respect, but the level of music it reveals is stunningly good too. You can read all about the engineering excellence behind this player on the Technics site. They go into great detail about the tech under the hood. Again, you’d swear you were reading about a thirty thousand dollar player.

You’ll forget all the tech the instant you press play. Perhaps dated, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong’s “Isn’t This a Lovely Day” gives an instant read on tonality and dynamic scale. When Mr. Armstrong chimes in, his voice is big and bold in comparison to Ms. Fitzgeralds’s creamy soft voice. Not every player can reproduce the dynamic contrast going on here – yet the Technics succeeds brilliantly, providing a highly convincing reproduction. Tonality is neither warm nor cold – Technics strikes an excellent balance, providing a natural sound, that will integrate with any system.

A long suite of acoustic and vocal tracks merely confirm what Ella and Louis reveals immediately. Moving on to more electronic, heavy rock, and such, this player wades heavily in the level of sonic involvement that the world’s best players provide. Whether listening to the notes fade to black with a solo violin piece, or the delicate, atmospheric bits in a Brian Eno album, this is the level of musicality that makes you forget you are listening to digital. And that’s just with 16/44 tracks. Well mastered high-res files and SACD provides an even bigger helping.

The line of demarcation

Like computational ability, digital audio has advanced tremendously in the last five years, and performance that you could only dream of for the price of this player didn’t exist. The Technics SL-G700 hits the mark of a great digital player by being understatedly excellent. If you have to have a ROON streamer onboard, this might be a deal breaker. But for everyone else, and especially music enthusiasts that are more into disc playback, it’s a perfect destination. Unless you are willing to spend the five-figure sum for a dCS, Esoteric, MSB, or one of the stratospheric players, there’s no need to go any further. It’s that good.

The Technics SL-G700



Amplifier Technics SU-G700, Boulder 866, Luxman L-550AXII, Octave VT-110SE

Speakers Dynaudio Confidence 20 with six pack of REL S/510 subwoofers

Cable Cardas Clear

Original article: The Technics SL-G700 digital player

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

Brinkmann Taurus Turntable

Writing this at the end of the summer 2020, and without spilling any political blood, let’s just collectively agree that this year has been at the very least, well, stressful. So how about something we could all use in the midst of this crazy rollercoaster? In the words of the above-quoted Joan Armatrading, how about the opportunity to really laugh? To really love. No 1967 Haight-Ashbury, Summer of Love type of thing. What we could really use is a simple, personal, mental pause where we can instinctively throw our heads back and feel something. Trust something. We need a lover, not just a friend.

In our world where down is seamlessly (shamelessly?) argued as up, this review will acknowledge our dystopia and put the listening/use impressions before any description of the product under review. If I were braver, I’d leave these opening introductory paragraphs till last and throw the conclusion up front, but all those who skip a review body to read the final few paragraphs would have their heads implode. I don’t want that on my public record, even though I’d be secretly pleased.

In Listening: Immediate Relief

Stress is really your CPU (that would be your brain) being overworked. It’s at max capacity. No buffer left. If you’ve felt that way (you’re human—you have), you know the way I feel about audio gear in general, but especially at this time in history. I don’t have the extra processing and time available to figure you out. If you’re damaged or complicated, high maintenance, or in any way a “project,” I’m quickly moving on with my life…without you (audio equipment that is). 

The Brinkmann Taurus turntable reviewed here ($14,990 plus tonearm) gets right to the musical point. There is no delayed gratification. Let’s call that immediacy. On most occasions, I found myself snapping my fingers, slapping my thigh, or doing whatever the music called for within 10 seconds of the needle hitting the groove (and frequently before I had a chance to sit down in the listening chair!). I put this characteristic of immediacy very high on my “needs to have” list, and I lead with it here because of our times, and because the Taurus checks that really big box without sacrificing the technical merits one would expect from a ’table in this category. Less stress. More music. Love at first listen. Just what we need. Just what I need!


Paul Bley is one of my favorite jazz pianists, and about as “free” as I get. There is something in his artistic and technical creativity that strikes me as thoughtful. Bley manages to connect with me as a listener. The Taurus (especially with the RöNt II tube power supply) brought me into Bley’s Open, to Love (1973, ECM) in a way that only great, substantial ’tables can. Really good turntables create a believable picture. They paint with engaging yet recognizable color and brushstrokes. But the very best open a wormhole into the recording’s reality. They bring you into the there rather than setting up an “observer/observed” opposition. And on this album I felt privy to every aspect of Bley’s creative thoughtfulness. Long, resonant decays played against a massive yet silent background. Beautifully delicate sounds of fingers reaching inside the instrument to directly brush strings. The weight and impact of hammers. Even the awareness of Bley’s Jarrett/Gould-like humming as a fellow participant in the experience. The Taurus had me into the silence (thanks ECM!). Believing it. Trusting it. Loving it.


A turntable is a mechano-electronic device (I think I just made that up). It converts little vibrations into an electric signal. We find its opposite in the loudspeaker at the other end of the chain, an electro-mechanical device that converts the electrical signal into physical movements that excite the air and create the soundwaves we hear, hopefully as music. The thing about the Taurus is that it presents itself more like a purely electronic device in the middle of the reproduction chain that anything (usually more colorful) at either end. It reminded me more of the Esoteric E-02 phonostage, for instance, than any other piece of equipment I’ve reviewed. As with the Esoteric, I consistently had the very reassuring feeling that I was getting the most out of the groove. Balanced and brilliant. Deeply refined and quiet. Giant yet invisible.

This uncommon balance and stability here served all music, all the time. Tom Waits’ brilliant concept of a “live/studio” album Nighthawks at the Diner (1975, Asylum) was reproduced with an eye-opening sense of the audience and space. My notes regarding the BSO’s performance of Debussy’s La Mer (1958, RCA) were embarrassingly complimentary: “Complicated rhythmic lines easily, joyfully unfolded.” “All that density without feeling heavy. All the cues. All the texture. No after taste or residual damage.” “Spectacular brass!” “A complete, colorful, dimensional, living soundscape.” It’s almost as though I was enjoying myself.

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Original Resource is Articles – The Absolute Sound

Sonus faber Lumina I Loudspeakers Review

Sonus faber Lumina I: Sanctuary in a Small Package I’ll bet that I’m not the only music lover who has lusted after a pair of Sonus faber’s reference speakers. My love-at-first-sight moment came at the 2010 Montreal audio show when I encountered Cremona Elipsas. Never had I seen such physical elegance, gorgeous cabinetry and craftsmanship [...]

Original Resource is NOVO Audio and Technology Magazine

2021 Editors’ Choice Awards: Digital-to-Analog Converters Under $1,000

AudioQuest DragonFly Black/Red/Cobalt


AudioQuest’s thumb-drive-sized DragonFly series has been wildly successful—and for good reason. Inside this diminutive, plug-and-play package resides both a hi-res DAC (up to 96/24) and a surprisingly good headphone amp. Now the Black and Red models, which remain in the line, are joined by a new flagship, the Cobalt, and it’s the best DragonFly yet. Cobalt sports upgraded DAC, processor, and USB receiver chips, as well as new jitter-reduction technology. AudioQuest also revised the digital filter. While preserving what made the previous DragonFlies such winners—plug-and-play installation, analog volume control, full MQA decoding, and, most importantly, a thoroughly enjoyable listening experience—Cobalt improves upon their sonics in subtle but meaningful ways. 


iFi Zen 


The Zen DAC offers a lot of features and high sound quality at an entry-level price. When it is mated with other high-performance components, SS found the results reference or near-reference level, though the Zen does require careful system-matching and quality cables that will likely cost far more than the DAC itself. Ideal users for the Zen DAC fall into two groups: younger, newly minted audiophiles looking for good sound on a budget for nearfield listening; and older ones looking for an inexpensive way to add MQA DAC capabilities and a decent headphone amplifier to their room-based reference systems. The former will use all of the Zen DAC’s features, while a majority of the latter will set it on fixed output and use it as a basic DAC. Both win. 

modius front silver

Schiit Modius 


In the bad old days, between 1980 and 2000, decent-sounding digital devices were almost universally expensive, to the point that it was generally assumed and often stated by audio experts that inexpensive digital products were garbage unless heavily modified. The Modius balanced-output DAC is one of the latest of the new-generation DACs that challenge that old assumption. It delivers great sound from PCM files and has enough digital input options for most systems, but it does not support MQA or DSD files and has no user-alterable digital filter settings. However, if you want a simple and simply great just-the-facts DAC, Modius fills the bill.

iFi xDSD


Steven Stone saw two quite different “types” of audiophiles as the primary customers for the xDSD portable/desktop DAC/headphone amplifier. First, younger, more mobile-oriented audiophiles with smartphones and portable computers, who might find the xDSD to be the perfect “step-up” audio device to improve sound from all sources. And second, longtime audiophiles (the ones with the 25-year-old DACs that they still love for Red Book), who could add an xDSD to their system as an auxiliary digital device that would give them access to all the newest high-resolution files, streams, and digital codecs for a fraction of the price they paid for their “main squeeze.” Both types of audiophiles will be pleased and impressed by the xDSD’s flexibility, utility, performance level, and overall value. Steven certainly was. 

Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 Digital


The Pre Box S2 Digital offers audiophiles a very high-value DAC/digital preamp at an almost ridiculously low price. Not only does it include a plethora of important features and capabilities; it also sounds good, has an elegantly designed control surface, and is expandable. As an audiophile’s needs grow, Pro-Ject micro-systems have the components to support nearly every potential input source and format available through various accessory units designed to perform specific functions. While not quite bespoke audio, the Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 is one small part of an elegant system that gives even audiophiles with limited means a way to assemble a first-class system. One of TAS’ 2018 DACs of the Year. 

Bluesound Node 2i 


The Node 2i from Bluesound is a music server, streamer, and DAC that accesses most of the popular streaming services and Internet radio, as well as music files off hard drives and NAS drives, all sans computer, while offering full MQA unfolding and rendering (but no DSD). Consistent with its NAD provenance, the Node 2i sounds really, really good—so far above its size and price that it almost makes you feel you’ve stolen something. On many digital sources it often took the most concentrated and critical listening to distinguish the Node 2i from considerably higher-priced competition, even in direct A/B comparisons. 

Schiit Audio Bifrost 2 


The Bifrost 2 is a “True Multibit” DAC, combined with Schiit’s custom in-house digital filter. It includes Schiit’s new Unison USB, which is its proprietary custom USB input. Schiit took the original Bifrost and gave it some custom upgrades: a new power supply, a new 18-bit Analog Devices AD5781ARUZ D/A converter, and its new custom USB. The Bitfrost 2 accepts formats up to 24/192 for all inputs (USB, coax, optical). Reviewer DK found it was dynamically tight, rhythmically appealing, and absolutely honest when it came to source files. It had an unrelenting edge that rewarded quality and revealed every little flaw. Highly recommended for anyone in search of an accurate, laser-focused DAC. 


Soekris dac1421


Built in Denmark and designed by Søren Kristensen, this DAC serves as a prime example of the adage that good things come in small packages. It is switchable between line and headphone output and includes a digital volume control. All Soekris DACs feature discrete R-2R sign-magnitude resistive ladders. The DAC can accommodate up to DoP128 and DSD256 data on the USB input. Four anti-aliasing filters may be selected, giving the user enormous flexibility in tailoring the DAC’s sonic signature to particular tastes. With the digital filter set to soft Butterworth, the Soekris equals or exceeds the performance of TDA1543-based DACs in terms of analog-like sound quality, offering better imaging, enhanced transient clarity, and superior resolution.

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Original Resource is Articles – The Absolute Sound