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Effect Audio Ares II & II+ : Recommended

INTRO:

If you are browsing this page you have encountered some good quality audio products and own a few IEMs at least. Most of us like to extract the best out of our headphones and earphones. To achieve this we look into a few options like ear tips, ear pads but one of the most intriguing one is the cable. All of us would like to have a more premium and better looking cable for our IEM since most of the top of line brands like Vision Ears, Campfire Audio and Shure do not do enough justice with the cables. These IEMs with $300+ price tag ship with cables which are reasonable at best and deserve an upgrade cable with better aesthetics.

When we think of aftermarket cables there are a few top of the line brands come to our imagination and Effect Audio is one of them. Hailing from Singapore, Effect Audio has a full array of cables under their belt starting at $100 to $3399. If you want a cable, Effect audio has one for you if you have the budget. All of these cables can be ordered with all of the popular terminations to fit 99% of the IEMs in the market.

If you own a few IEMs and all of them have same connector type then it’s well and good but what if both 2pin and MMCX goodness are in the inventory? Most of us end up buying multiple cables. Being a pioneer in cable market Effect audio has a solution for this. Con-X, with this one can easily swap terminations at the earphone end and instead of buying a totally new cable one can do away with one excellent cable for most of the IEMs with a small price of $50 for the modules.

For those who want to a bit conservative still safe with their cable purchases, Effect Audio has their Ares 2 and 2+ equipped with UPOCC litz upgrade cables. Ares II is priced at $149 while the II+ is priced at $229. I will compare both these cables with the Penon Orbit.

Get one for yourself from these links:

Ares II:

https://www.effectaudio.com/iem-premium-series/standard/ares-ii-903.html

Ares II+:

https://www.effectaudio.com/ares-ii-983.html

Ares II Technical Specifications:

  • 26 AWG
  • UPOCC Litz Copper
  • Proprietary Multi-Size Stranded design within a single encapsulation
  • Flexible Insulation (same as Leonidas)
  • NEW EA CF connectors and Y-Split

Ares II+ Technical Specifications:

  • 22 AWG
  • UPOCC Litz Copper
  • Proprietary Multi-Size Stranded design within single encapsulation
  • Flexible insulation (same as Leonidas)
  • New EA CF connectors and Y-Split

P.S. I would like to thank Nic from Effect Audio for these cables. I am not affiliated or paid for this review.

Accessories and Packaging:-

Both these cables ship with a well protected hard sided cardboard boxes. The cables is securely placed inside a foam cutout but guess what.. Except the cables there is no other useable accessory in the box. While Penon Audio ships their similarly priced cables with a handful of accessories. I would like to see a carry pouch of any type but if we take into account that most of the IEMs come with their own case and pouches, this is not a necessity.

Build quality and comfort:-

Effect audio have been making cables since 2009 and know a thing or two about cables for sure. In their words:

“Past experiences have taught us that even though sound quality is a critical factor in determining an upgrade cable’s worth, the tensile strength and flexibility matters too. The reworked insulation features high tensile strength and flexibility, while adding as little weight as possible.”

In my experience, both these cables strike a very good balance being supple and strong at the same time. Both of these could have been suppler but the slightly thicker layer of coating on the cables make these marginally stiff. While that doesn’t make much of an impact on memory, taking various shapes take slight bit of work, especially for the thinner Ares II. On the other hand both these cables can take fair bit of abuse without giving up much of their integrity. Ares II+ has a stronger and thicker profile with slightly less memory.

Both these cables use very good quality components. Let it be the y splitter, source connectors or the pins at the earpiece end. All of these are either metal or made with premium material. The splitter has carbon fiber on it. I love the way the wire don’t interact with the jack’s jacket leading to peace of mind. Cable guides on both the cables are comfortable and do not have any comfort issues.

CON-X:

Con-X can be regarded as the next revolution. If swappable connector jacks gives the versatility with various sources Con-X does the exactly opposite. Why buy two cables for two different types of earpiece sockets. If you have an IEM with 2pin and one with MMCX connectors, most of the time you need two cables. But with Con-X one can use their Effect Audio cables with a variety of IEMs without much problem. Use the wrench in the Con-X box to remove and install connectors. It simple and easy and

HOW DOES IT SOUNDS:-

It is well know that oxygen free copper cables are slightly tilted towards a more bass favoring sound with some warmth and that is what we get out of these cables here, delivering a more fun and less fatiguing sound. These cables make the lower end meaty, weightier and rumbles more realistic.

Ares II:

It has been one of the most popular cables in the market bringing calmer and less sharp notes with more capable lower compared to stock SPC cables. Ares II does not have the best sub-bass extension or rumble but has bigger thumpier mid bass body. This added body brings pleasing amount of extra weight but do not make things go over the head. Ares II also brings very good texture and layered feeling without slowing down the decay speed. The upper bass too gains a bit of energy but manages to stay clear of any agitation.

This copper cable do introduce a bit of V shape to the sound but unlike cheaper copper cables like the DUNU DUW-02 this is more balanced with better energy. I do feel the instruments are slightly less forward than the similarly priced Penon Orbit. This lacks slight bit of notes height and finishing energy. If the desired Output is a calmer mid range than the Ares II will do wonders. Ares II does favor the upper mid than the vocals. Vocals gain a bit more throaty feel and exhibit better nuance. Upper mid has a bit of extra energy and guitars and banjos sounds more transparent.

The treble region is where the Ares II sounds calm and very composed. It helps with slight reduction of sharpness which helps a lot if the IEM is a bit jittery or over energetic. It does lose a chunk of energy at the later part of upper treble region but this dip is further enough to give it any darkness. Yes, this does limit the extension. Layering and separation is slightly less defined compared to the SPC cables.

Stage size gained by this cable is much better than the DUNU DUW-02 and smoky Litz cables. It has bigger expansion is every direction but a bit more height and Z axis depth than X-axis width.

PAIRINGS:

Campfire Audio Holocene ($649): (8.5/10)

What’s better than a BA based flat sound IEM to test a cable. The Ares II brings much better mid-bass body and weight to the notes while having slightly better sub-bass presence. This added body does slow the natural decay down. The mid range is a bit less forward and the vocals are equally affected by this dip in energy. It does retains the excellent decay and after note effect. Ares II does dial the instruments around the vocal region down creating a vessel shape. Upper mid instruments and lower treble region gain some energy making them lively. The gradual drop in energy from the mid treble does restrict the otherwise better balanced and slightly more extended Holocene.

Ares 2 brings much better sense of space to the otherwise intimate and clumsy sounding Holocene. Vocals starts to project out of the head and the X axis has much better depth to it.

Shanling ME700 Lite ($499): (9/10)

Slightly energetic nature of the ME700 lite makes it pair nicely with the calming Ares II. If you felt the ME700 lite has a bit more energy than you desire Ares II makes it more comfortable without taking out sparkle or crispiness. The lower end gains tiny bit of body and sub-bass rumble without adding anything else. But the mid range and treble region are calmer with a bit less attack and aggression. It brings a bit of poise to the otherwise aggressive and excited 700 lite. Notes do shed off a bit of depth but this does not hamper the experience.

Ares 2 brings much taller stage. There X-axis gain is not significant while the depth is unchanged.

DUNU EST112 ($485): (9.5/10)

Ares II is much improved cable than the similarly equipped DUW-02. Ares II brings much better balance and details to the already excellent EST112. Notes have better definition and resolution across the spectrum. The bass is slightly tighter with similar body and a bit more sub-bass rumble. Textures and details are improved. Mid range now is a bit more forward with better transparency and cleaner intricate details. The treble is slightly more defined with excellent sparkle and crispiness.

Ares II makes the EST112 sound a lot more open. It has expansion in every direction giving it a more immersive stage. Much better than the DUW-02.

ARES 2+:

In simpler words this is Ares II on steroids. It has thicker cores with a bigger and heavier profile. It simply is superior to the Ares II in every aspect. It has better details and slightly better sub-bass reach too and retain better treble transparency and extension. The mid range is not a V shaped like the non+ version. The treble region is much more extended while retaining better accuracy and details without giving up sparkle or transparency. It does restrict a bit of notes height making the treble region more tolerable.

The biggest improvement is with the stage. It has nearly 50% bigger stage than the Ares II exhibiting one of the biggest hollow graphic spaces under $300. If you want one of the best copper cables under $300, Ares 2+ has my stamp of approval.

PAIRINGS:

DUNU EST112: (10.5/10)

Yes, I have given this pairing more than 100% approval. It clearly feels like the EST112 is performing in a different level with the Ares II+. It really goes on to show the potential of the IEM too. It essentially brings out the best from this IEM. It just simply amplifies the abilities of the EST112. It brings better sub-bass reach, cleaner notes better texture and more rounded bass. Mid range is even less suppressed with much cleaner separation between instruments. Vocals are a bit more organic with a more vibrant timber. It picks up a bit more transparency for background instruments. Treble region is a more improved too. Let it be extension, layering or separation the + variant does better. It does very well to bring out a bit more texture and resolution without making notes sharp or aggressive. Change in stage size is kind of an eye opener. The expansion is huge compared to the DUW-02. It has much more air while maintaining uniform density.

Unique Melody MEST 2: (9/10)

This is a pairing I was looking forward to. The MEST 2 too comes with a pure copper cable from another reputable brand. The pairing shows the limitations of the Ares II+ cable. It does bring out very good details and clarity while delivering overall fuller notes. The biggest improvement is with the lower end. It gains a bit of sub-bass rumble and a bit more mid bass volume without sacrificing decay speed or texture. Mid range takes a bit of energy and note depth away making it sound calmer and slightly less aggressive. Treble region is where the Ares II+ loses some upper treble resolution. Stage size is not affected much but the Ares II+ does have slightly better X-axis depth.

Yes, the stock cable of the MEST 2 is very good but the Ares II+ holds up nicely giving it a bit warmer and less aggressive feel.

CONCLUSION:

If you need a proper upgrade cable for your IEM and if you keep changing your IEMs frequently these Effect Audio Ares II and II+ cables should be your top picks around $200 and $300 respectively.

Ares II is much more improved and mature sounding when compared to the DUNU DUW-02 and Campfire Audio Smokey LITZ cables. The II+ broadens the horizon, bringing better air, and bigger stage while delivering a more balanced mid range. No one can complain about the build quality either.

Lovely looking lovely sounding cables. Recommended.

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Original Resource is The Headphone List

Kinera Norn : Looks beautiful, sounds okay

INTRODUCTION:

Kinera, one the most prominent Chi-fi brands in the market has been making some excellent IEMs lately. They have been making plenty of waves. I hadn’t been able to get my hands on Kinera IEMs but thanks to a good friend of mine took me in his review tour.

The Norn I am reviewing here is priced at $449 at the time of writing. It pairs a 7mm dynamic driver with 4BA drivers. Even when Kinera has been tight lipped about the crossovers I think we have at least 2 here.

I am comparing it with DUNU EST112 and Shanling ME700 lite in this review.

Get one for yourself from here: https://hifigo.com/products/kinera-norn-1dd-4ba-iems

PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES:-

Even when I did not got the retail package because of the tour nature of the IEM, I would like to believe that the IEM ships with a good looking cardboard box with fancy designs on it and some promotion material on it with an interesting unboxing experience.

In addition to the earpieces and cable, I did receive a flap carry pouch, a pair of Final audio tip and couple of cable adapters for the 2.5mm cable.

HOW IS THE CABLE:-

I usually rant about cable but I find the Norn cable to be one of the most supple I have seen on a $500 IEM. It has the aesthetic too. It complements the IEM nicely. In technicality it is an 8 core high purity silver plated copper cable with 192 strands of 26awg SPC wires inside and PVC insulation on the outside. The cable slider looks elegant.

Thanks to the supple nature it barely has any microphonics to worry about and winding the cable is easy since it does not have any memory problem. It has metal jackets on the 3.5mm jack, Y splitter and 2pins giving it a more premium feel. The cable guides are supple and has no problem holding on to the ear and I didn’t have to adjust it every now and then.

BUILD AND ERGONOMIC:-

To start things off, I like the fit of the Norn. It is comfortable and slightly smaller than both EST112 and Shanling ME700 lite. The all resin build is very confidence inspiring. Do not drop it on hard floors and these earpieces will survive. The main attraction of the Norn is its hand painted face plate. It is an eye candy for sure. It is one of the most beautiful looking IEMs for sure.

The nozzle is slghtly on the wider side and I am not sure if the Final tips as default are a wise decision since it has a T400 size tip. Thankfully the nozzle has nice depth giving it an aptly deep and secure fit. It has a nicely contoured body with a slightly aggressive wing on the inner side providing reasonable traction inside the ear. A small pressure releasing vent can be found on the side of the body.

SOUND QUALITY:

Kinera Norn houses a single 7mm dynamic driver aided by 1.5 Tesla magnetic flux, Japan imported Daikoku pure copper coil and Titanium-plated composite high-poly fibre diaphragm material and it is paired with 4BA drivers. Out of these 4, 2 are custom Kinera drivers and the other two are Knowles drivers.

With all these thing inside, it has a V shaped signature with a voluminous lower end, pushed back mid range, and a bit elevated treble region. I love the way it presents a fun and musical side. It does have a bit of gloominess across the spectrum which restricts some dynamics and body.

BASS:

Most impressive part of Norn is its exquisite lower end. The single 7mm dynamic driver delivers a fuller and rumbly lower end. Sub-bass extension is good but the body or volume at this region is not the best. Some BA IEMs like the Audiosense T800 and Fibae 3 are better with sub-bass but when it comes to mid bass body and rumble Norn is miles ahead. The impact is not hard or dry, it is more pleasing and on the softer side which makes it fairly satisfying. The day speed is not slow or anything but is not the fastest. This slight slowness lets the note precipitate better giving it nice body and weight. It has no upper mid hump or anything to talk about, it nicely blends into the lower mid region. All in all the Norn has very good control over the lower end.

MID RANGE:

Things get moody here. The transition from the single DD to the dual BA drivers is aptly consistent but the dip of energy is perceivable. The crossover region can be indentified without much problem. It doesn’t need a trained ear. Thankfully the lack of energy doesn’t translate into lack of transparency, details or relevance.

It has no problem with micro details and separation, the whole mid range enjoys very good clarity and transparency and even after delivering very good details it does not sound sharp or aggressive. It lacks a bit of body and weight with instruments. Norn does not have the added depth and extra weight of EST112 and Shanling ME700 lite, limiting its dynamics. It is on the dry and slightly less jolly side. Both male and female vocals sound crisp and clear with a natural tonality, it does not emulate an organic or warmer tonality like Fibae 4 or EST112. Texture and emotions portrayed by the Norn is slightly less engaging due to the thin body. It does like to keep things as neutral and colorless as possible. Norn has no problems with the upper mid energy, in fact it has a dip just before the treble region which keeps any kind of aggression at bay.

I have to mention that layering and separation is very good and does not lack much air in between instruments.

HIGHS:

BA drivers used here have done their job. Even when Norn carries a bit of dryness and lack of body into the treble region it has much better notes height providing more relevance. All this can be attributed to more energy and it leads into better dynamics and a cleaner feel.

Norn has very good treble extension and maintains good energy till the end but does dip just after the mid treble region. It has very good details retrieval and doesn’t miss out on anything while keeping the timber neutral. Cymbals and pianos have very good transparency, don’t expect it to sound very organic or loaded with texture but manage to deliver reasonable engagement. Separation and layering is up to the mark with good air and space between instruments. The treble stage is well spread, assisted by good sonicality. If you like tingly instruments, Norn will not disappoint.

STAGE AND IMAGING:-

Norn’s stage size is more intimate even with balanced out. It does have very good height, nice depth but it’s the X-axis width which makes things more intimate. If you prefer a more closed in sound, it should be good. Most of the instruments are placed inside the head while some treble instruments have out of the head projection. There are no anomalies to worry about here since density of instrument distribution and is even without any hollow feeling.

COMPARISONS:

VS EST112 and Shanling ME700 lite:

CONCLUSION:-

Norn is good for the price. If this is the only IEM you have, you won’t mind anything, it has the details and everything but once you switch to something more capable like DUNU EST112 or Shnaling ME700 lite things get tricky for Kinera Norn.

Norn has a good lower end and even though it lacks a bit of dynamics in the mid range its sonicality in the treble region is very good. It’s the mid range which needs work. The lack of notes body and dry feeling is not helping the experience. A bit more juice and fullness will make it loveable.

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Original Resource is The Headphone List

Goldmund Telos 590 Nextgen II Integrated Amplifier

Let me be honest. Right up until this very review I haven’t been much of a fan of integrated amplifiers. Cramming a preamp, a power amp, and, nowadays, a digital source component into a single box just never seemed like the wisest engineering choice to me. Not only does doing so greatly increase the risk of electro-mechanical interactions among the three different circuits; it also makes coping with the vastly different power-supply, shielding, and grounding requirements of each component section a much tougher proposition. There are sound reasons (excuse the pun) why most of the manufacturers who make integrated amplifiers also make large stereo and monoblock amplifiers, preamps with outboard (physically and electronically isolated) power supplies, and stand-alone DACs and phonostages (many of them also with outboard power supplies).

Thus, my review of the Goldmund Telos 590 Nextgen II—a 215Wpc (into 8 ohms) Class A/B integrated with built-in 384k/32-bit DAC (no phonostage, alas)—is something of an experiment. Having read in these pages about the strides made in integrated amplification—and having a genuine curiosity about the sonic merits of today’s finest compact components (polar opposites of my sonically incomparable, but also incomparably large, complex, and expensive MBL system)—I decided to take the plunge with a company whose products I’m familiar with and like.

To say that I’m glad I did this would be, perhaps, one of the bigger understatements I’ve committed to print. As you will see, the Telos 590 Nextgen II is a standard-setter. This isn’t to say that I have no reservations about Goldmund’s integrated (I will come to them in due course). What I am saying is that in direct comparison with first-rate separates that, collectively, cost more than four times what the $29,750 Telos 590 Nextgen II costs, the Goldmund unit didn’t just hold its own; it excelled, particularly in the bass and power range (but also, in some respects, in the mids and treble). And it did so without provoking the big reservations about soundstage dimensions, dynamic range and impact, detail retrieval, and noise levels that, in the not-too-distant past, inevitably popped up in reviews of integrated amplifiers.

On the outside, the Telos 590 Nextgen II looks identical to its predecessor, the highly praised Nextgen I—a stout, 45-pound, rectangular aluminum-and-steel box with an LED display in the center of its front panel. The display reads out exactly three metrics: on the left, the number of the input that has been selected (ranging from “1” through “8,” and all stops in between); on the right, the volume level (ranging from “00” to “99”); and dead center, the power status of the unit (a lighted pair of horizontal bars confirms that power is on and the integrated is ready to make music). There are metal knobs on either side of the LED display (two total). Rotating the one on the left changes the input; rotating the one on the right changes the volume. The knobs are relatively lightweight for a unit of this price, and show next-to-no resistance when turned.

Though input and volume adjustments can be made directly via the two front-panel controls, Goldmund also includes a small metal remote, which allows you to do these same things (and several others) via pushbuttons. In addition to changing input and volume level, the remote allows you to mute the preamp (which also turns off the volume light on the right side of the LED panel) or to put the unit in standby mode (which also dims the entire display).

On the back of the Telos 590 Nextgen II are eight inputs and exactly one set of output binding posts for the amp’s left and right channels. Though these posts are said, by Goldmund, to have been structurally improved, they are the first of my very few reservations about the Nextgen II. 

The post Goldmund Telos 590 Nextgen II Integrated Amplifier appeared first on The Absolute Sound.

Original Resource is Articles – The Absolute Sound

iFi iPhono 3 Black Label and Chord Electronics Huei Phonostages

In any vinyl-based audio chain, the phonostage is one of the most important components. It takes the teeny, tiny signal from the cartridge and boosts it enough for the preamp and the amp to make sweet music. It’s an extremely sensitive component, doing multiple, insanely important jobs, and I’m picky about my phonostage. Thus, I was very excited to receive two new compact black boxes to play around with, the iFi iPhono 3 Black Label ($999) and the Chord Electronics Huei ($1495).

The iFi iPhono 3 is a long, relatively thin and compact rectangle, with small dipswitches on the bottom. There is no power switch—it remains on at all times. Little green lights glow to let me know it is working. The input connections are at one end of the rectangle, and the outputs at the other. It isn’t the sort of thing I’d keep out on a desk. I love a big shiny silver box, but sometimes it’s nice to declutter. 

The Chord Electronics Huei is also very compact, and it is also black, but it prominently features four glowing lights bumped up along the front with a translucent plastic bit on the top that shows off the guts. While small, the Huei is definitely meant to be shown off. There is a small power switch on the Huei’s back, along with the inputs and outputs, but otherwise it is fairly simple.

Despite their small sizes, both phonostages are incredibly versatile. That is the first thing I look for in a phonostage, especially in this price range—most folks spending $999 or $1499 probably need the ability to run some low-output mc cartridges. Since carts come in all shapes and sizes, most phonostages have multiple loading options to maximize their compatibility. If you only plan on using an mm cartridge or a high-output mc, then great, congratulations, you’re a fully self-actualized human being, who knows exactly what you want forever and will never change, and I’m jealous. But for the rest of us, flexibility is an asset in itself—part of the joy of high-end audio is trying a wide range of equipment, and both of these phonostages will allow for a ton of variation.

Setup was relatively easy, once I understood how the two different phonostages changed their load settings. Starting with the iFi iPhono 3 Black Label, I attached the RCA cables, then plugged it into mains with the iPower X, which was an upgraded power supply and came standard. Easy enough—but next was the slightly complicated part. The bottom of the iPhono is filled with little baby switches and a ton of options. Fortunately, iFi had a super handy online calculator that essentially did all the work after I input my cartridge specs. The iPhono featured loading options from 22 ohms on up to 47k ohms, with six stops between, and either 36, 48, 60, or 72dB of gain. For my Zu DL-103, I chose 60dB of gain with a load of 330 ohms. The online calculator showed me the dipswitch layout and made executing it totally brainless, which is sort of necessary for me, although there is also a physical chart for anyone without access to the website.

Next up, I plugged in the Chord Electronics Huei, fired it up, and took a moment to marvel at the pretty lights. I’m a simple man and I like shiny things. However, the lights did more than make me happy—they were also buttons that changed the settings. Each color corresponded to a different load, and switching between them was as easy as tapping and watching the colors change. A nice, glossy chart explained how it all worked, and I settled on purple for the load, which was 320 ohms, and blue for the gain, which was 60dB. The Huei included a bunch of different gain steps—from 49dB on up to 70dB, with six total stops in between for the mc section, and 21dB on up to 42dB with six stops for the mm section. The impedance can be adjusted from 100 ohms up to 3.7k ohms for mc’s, and is a strict 47k ohms for mm’s. The Chord Electronics also included XLR outputs, which changed the gain slightly, allowing for up to 76dB max with an mc, and 48dB max with an mm. Overall, the Huei was the easier of the two to get set up, and had slightly more loading options—but neither was particularly difficult to use, and both were extremely versatile.

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Original Resource is Articles – The Absolute Sound

The ZuAudio Omen Dirty Weekend

So, it’s time to shop for new speakers.

You set up your wish list of characteristics; Something that can sound great at both high and low volumes, Crystal clear high’s, solid low end, midrange with excellent clarity and accuracy, something that images like crazy, build quality that can last a lifetime, no sun fade, a speaker that can rock out for any party, a speaker that will let high rez files shine through for critical listening and, oh yes, your budget tops out at around $1,000, maybe a little more. Nice wish list. How close can you get these days to a speaker giving you everything you wished for?

Well, you must be quick on the order button and pay attention four days per year. The speaker is the Zu Audio Omen Dirty Weekend. Available to order only four days a year on the first day of each quarter, they sell out fast. Within a day kind of fast. But as I found out, it was worth the wait.

Get out the checkbook

Zu Audio does not provide review samples for the reviewer to request. Get in line with everyone else and wait. After attending numerous after hours events at various audio shows, I was willing to get in line. My choice of upgraded capacitors and Sangria Maple finish meant the final cost would be closer to $1,700 and a three month wait. Keep in mind the base hickory finish and standard caps will run you about $1,100 USD. The Dirty Weekends get about 600 hours of break in at the factory, so when they arrive, the heavy lifting is done. Unboxing and setup are straightforward – installing the footers is an easy task and necessary to provide breathing room for the downward ported main driver. Don’t skip this vital part of setting the Zu’s up.

Build quality on the Dirty Weekends is exemplary. This is furniture grade woodworking and finishing. Sean Casey, Zu Audio’s Founder, indicates they are built for a lifetime of use. You may need to swap out capacitors after a decade or two, but they are indeed built for the long haul. Amazing craftsmanship for $10k, but remember these start at $1,100/pair. Adding them into the system I hooked them up the Audio Research REF160S and REF6SE amp and preamp that were in for review. Source was the PS Audio DirectStream DAC and Memory Player. Vinyl was courtesy of the VPI Prime Signature with Ortofon Cadenza Bronze MC cartridge and the Moon 610LP Phono-Pre. Speaker Cables were the Silversmith Audio Fidelium’s. The DW’s are an easy load to drive at 12 Ohms so the Audio Research REF160S at 140 Wpc was way more than necessary to power them. Now you may ask do you need audiophile reference level electronics to pair with these speakers. No, but it was fun to try the combination!

Queueing up Fleetwood Mac’s Tango in the Night on vinyl, the first track, “Big Love,” the first thing I noticed was how crisp and precise the presentation was. Lindsey Buckingham’s finger style guitar work was direct and immediate. Fingers on strings were tight with the pluck of the string being clear with a delicious sense of realism. Mick Fleetwood’s drums had the well-defined attack you expect from a live performance. The song displayed excellent imaging and spatial boundary. It was a beautiful experience that presaged good times ahead with the Omen Dirty Weekends.

Moving to a digital source I chose The Talking Heads Stop Making Sense soundtrack and “Life During Wartime.” This was a specific choice as I had heard the song at one of the after-show parties as well as having heard the song live at Northrup Auditorium on the University of Minnesota campus in 1982. That was a great concert and while there I expected the balcony to come down as everyone was jumping during that song. The DW’s rocked the man-cave as I cranked the song and let the live recording loose. The energy was powerful, and the song soared. The jumping afro polyrhythms filled the room with a dynamic syncopation framing David Byrne’s vocal. It was a total blast and revealed the trade secret that Zu Audio brings to your listening room, fun! These speakers are flat out fun. Three cubic feet of party in a box.

So, I was now convinced that the DW’s would not embarrass themselves connected to $75k of gear. I had disconnected my Vandersteen Quatro CT’s to move the DW’s in. I now changed out the reference electronics for something closer to the Zu’s price point. I added in a Luxman CL-38uC tube preamp and MQ-88uC class AB tube amplifier that ran 25 Wpc. At $6k USD each these mid-level Luxman pieces are outstanding, and boy did the Zu’s like them! Staying in the vein of fun, I went to Roon and called up Oingo Boingo’s 1985 song, “Dead Man’s Party”. If this song does not get you dancing around the room at high volume, I don’t know what will.  This song has great guitar and a solid bass line that drives the tune on. It also features a great brass section. I love brass, however, at volume on a stereo they can be harsh and strident with poor quality speakers that are being pushed. The DW’s offered up high volume trumpet and trombone with the clear and correct ring of brass. At no point were the instruments distorted or harsh. Peals of tone were strong and clear. It was a great display of sonic execution that I greatly appreciated.

So, what about vocals? I moved on to Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds Live at Luther College. “Deed is Done” has the boys’ guitars working a brilliant tandem while Dave sings. His vocals are clear and immediate as a live album should be. Imaged perfectly not only centered but with a three dimensionality that gave life to the live recording. Guitar strings are plucked and strummed and offered up that live performance feel that separates a studio recording from an event. This is a key point with the Omen Dirty Weekend speakers. If the recording has in it the ability to convey real, the DW’s will bring it. When I first heard “it” (That real sound) during some additional break in time, I did a double take. I have never heard a speaker at this price point nail “Real” the way these do.

Female vocals are also superb. An afternoon listening to Dominique Fils-Aime’s Nameless album proved the Dirty Weekends were more than up to lower volume and nuance.  Critical listener’s will be well served with these astonishing speakers. Everything I tried with them worked. You get the idea from the Zu Audio website, but I spoke to Sean Casey directly about the “entry drug” purpose of the Dirty Weekends. He agreed the hope is after experiencing them you will want to see how far down the Zu Audio rabbit hole you may want to go. Zu Audio will give the buyer a full year full value on trade-in to move up the line. The fact that a company will stand so proudly behind its entry product speaks volumes about what the customer will receive up the line. I encourage anyone in the market for new speakers to take a chance and place an order. At 36” high and 12” square they are easy to place and very forgiving on placement. At 54 lbs they are easy to move and at $1100 they will not break the bank. What is not to like? I recommend getting in line for a pair asap. You will be glad you did.

Additional Listening: Jeff Dorgay

A funny thing happened in the checkout isle. Eric had originally purchased the DWs above, but in the course of his excellent review, decided to make a change in his listening room priorities. We’ve all done it. Being that his pair already had the upgraded finish and caps, I was more than happy to take them off his hands, and back to Washington, the Zu’s flew.

Eric has done a fantastic job describing his experience with the Zu’s and I concur. However, don’t think you need mega gear to enjoy these. While I’m currently using them with the Line Magnetic 805 amplifier we reviewed here, these speakers are one of the most accessible ways to a great system, period, end of story. Going the complete budget route, four highly accessible amplifiers did a cracking job with these speakers. Adding your favorite turntable, DAC, or streamer will have you styling for under $2,500.

Going the vintage receiver route is my first choice. A Pioneer SX-525, Marantz 2215/2220, or Harmon/Kardon 330 will give you 15 or 20 great watts per channel, and that’s all you need to rock with these speakers. Most of these can be picked up for a couple hundred bucks, and re-capped by a pro for a couple hundred bucks more. If you’re a DIY kind of audio enthusiast, way less.

Those wanting a vintage tube sound need look no further than a Dynaco SCA-35 integrated. 18 watts per channel of EL84 power and a decent on-board phono stage (not to mention a tape head preamp) also will provide an incredibly rich musical experience. A nice one, even with a full refresh can still be had for under a thousand bucks.

In the 60s a number of Japanese auto executives came to America to see how we built cars. You know the rest of the story. Perhaps some of the big speaker manufacturers should visit Zu. They do it right. The level of excellence that Zu offers at this price (and I realize that they are making precious little on DWs) is unbelievable. Nothing else I’ve experienced in 40 years of hifi offers up this much music. For many, this is the only speaker you’ll ever need. It’s beyond cool that Zu makes these available four times a year.

A few months later, I’m still totally flabbergasted with these speakers. Big thanks to Bill Griffin, creator of my favorite existential pinhead for conveying my thoughts perfectly!

www.zuaudio.com

Original article: The ZuAudio Omen Dirty Weekend

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KEF LS50 Meta Loudspeaker

Does this speaker look familiar? It should. The popular LS50 compact appears as fresh as it did the day it first rolled off the production line in 2011, in celebration of KEF’s 50th anniversary (founded 1961). You simply couldn’t beat the looks of this squarish two-way, bass-reflex design. Plus, the superb fit and finish of its enclosure made an ideal platform for the space-saving Uni-Q, KEF’s proprietary coincident driver. A decade later, the success of this Editor’s Choice/Golden Ear/Product of the Year recipient has morphed into a full-blown collection that now includes center channels and active/wireless versions.

But ten years is still ten years and a lifetime in the world of audio-product cycles. KEF engineers were aware that its competitors haven’t stood still, either. Rather than taking a winning formula and starting from scratch, KEF chose to innovate its way to a better LS50. To go beyond, and thus, Meta. 

First, let’s revisit the pre-Meta original. Per KEF tradition, the focus of the LS50 revolves around its iconic rose-gold, Uni-Q, coincident tweeter/woofer, a driver that was specifically designed for duty in the LS50. Now in its twelfth generation, it’s positioned dead center in a sensuously curved one-piece front baffle. The mid/bass diaphragm of Uni-Q measures 5.25″ and is made from a magnesium-aluminum alloy. It is installed with aluminum magnet rings to reduce flux modulation, a source of distortion. The 1″, vented aluminum-dome tweeter first seen in the vaunted KEF Blade series uses a similar waveguide design, known as “optimal dome waveguide geometry,” to extend high-frequency response over a wider axis. According to KEF, the distinctive segmented or “tangerine” waveguide uses “radial air channels to produce spherical waves up to the highest frequencies—and this allows for a deeper ‘stiffened dome’ diaphragm, which raises the first resonance, culminating in response that extends beyond 40kHz.” Collectively, these technologies enhance dispersion while reducing driver interference. The crossover point is 2.1kHz and impedance (nominally 8 ohms) never dips beneath a reasonable 3.2 ohms. Still, this is an 85dB-sensitive speaker and benefits from robust amplification with solid power reserves. 

Cabinet construction, as non-resonant as any knuckle rap will tell you, is all MDF, bolstered by optimized internal bracing and constrained-layer damping placed between the struts and the inner walls of the cabinet. The novel curvature and composition of the baffle reduce diffraction effects and reflections.  The elliptical reflex port is offset in the upper corner of the rear panel. The taper of its profile reduces turbulence at high levels, sources of compression and distortion. 

So, what exactly is up with Meta? Acoustic analysis directed KEF engineers to focus their attention on improving the damping characteristics of the LS50. Typically, loudspeaker interiors are lined with absorptive materials (bracing, woolen stuffing, etc.) that damp the cabinet in order to reduce resonances in key frequency ranges and smooth mid and treble frequencies.  KEF rethought this concept and came up with something unique—Meta or Metamaterial Absorption Technology (MAT). Visually, it appears as a disc of a few inches in diameter with a maze-like uneven surface. At a thickness of only 11mm it sits directly behind the Uni-Q basket and magnet surface, to reduce the back wave output from the driver that would otherwise cause—in KEF’s words—“undesirable” cabinet resonances. According to the company’s white paper, the “key aspect of the successful implementation is the optimal coupling between the loudspeaker diaphragm and the metastructure through a specific conical duct.” Meta’s tuned channels absorb 99% of the unwanted sound from the rear of the driver, “achieving almost a near-perfect absorption spectrum starting at 620Hz,” compared to around 60% absorption from loudspeakers using different approaches. Thus, it far exceeds the damping properties of conventional designs. 

Partnering with the room for low-frequency reinforcement is part and parcel of the set-up experience, perhaps most particularly for compact monitors. As most audio enthusiasts are aware, careful positioning is crucial to achieving wide-spectrum musicality. As it happened, I set up the Meta in a different listening room than the last time I reviewed the LS50. Ceilings are taller at ten feet, and overall dimensions are larger; so, the LS50 Meta was being challenged to fill a room of considerably higher volume. Fortunately, this difference only required placement a few inches closer to the back wall. Once that was done, I recouped the sound signature that I remembered from my initial foray with the LS50—a midrange on the warmish romantic side, and a weighty midbass that provides room-filling energy. 

The post KEF LS50 Meta Loudspeaker appeared first on The Absolute Sound.

Original Resource is Articles – The Absolute Sound

Soft Ears RSV Review – Mastering Versatility

Pros –

Flawless gloss finish, Comfortable and well-isolating design, Quality stock cable, Highly refined and versatile tuning, Excellent dynamics for a BA design, Jack of all trades master of many, Easy to drive

Cons –

Treble extension and sub-bass definition could be improved, Soundstage depth just above average in-class

Verdict –

The RSV is one of the most well-rounded and instantly likeable earphones I’ve tested, representing an excellent value proposition even at its elevated price tag.


Introduction –

Soft Ears are the luxury division of the now widely renowned Moondrop, seeking to offer a more refined experience at more premium price tiers. Their product portfolio is more focused and mostly high-end focused. This starts at their all-out co-flagships, the 10x BA driver RS10 reference monitor and their Tribrid Cerberus. Alternatively, the Turii offers a high-end single-DD configuration that has become more popularised in recent years. The RSV is their cheapest model if not a cheap earphone in isolation. The team spent 1 year honing it to perfection, aiming to offer a scaled back version of the RS10 experience with the same technologies and engineering on a simplified and easier to drive 5-BA platform. Compared to the flat out reference RS10, the RSV has been slightly reworked to provide a heavier emphasis on dynamics. Its engaging yet immaculately clean sound, ease of driving and more accessible price point makes it a great choice for audio enthusiasts.

The RSV comes in at $729.99 USD. You can read all about it and treat yourself to a unit here.

Disclaimer –

I would like to thank the team at Soft Ears very much for their quick communication and for providing me with the RSV, RS10 and Cerberus for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. I paid a slightly reduced cost for the earphones in return for honest evaluation and will attempt to be as objective as possible.

Contents –

Specifications –

  • Drivers: 5x BA
  • Crossover: 6-Component, 3-way
  • Sensitivity: 125dB @ 1kHz
  • Impedance: 8 Ohms
  • Frequency Response: 5Hz – 40kHz
  • Socket: 0.78mm, 2-pin

Behind the Design –

Tuned Acoustics & Crossovers

The combination of electronic crossover and passive filters has enabled Soft Ears to achieve their desired note presentation in addition to their ideal frequency response. Using a 3rd order LRC filter for bass, impedance + low-pass for the midrange and film capacitors for the high-end, the company was able to achieve both whilst maintaining almost linear phase. This is aided by the 3D-printed shell and internal acoustics, leading to maximised extension, resolution and sharper imaging.

VDSF Tuning

Moondrop pioneered the VDSF tuning curve which is a combination of the diffuse field neutral and Harman Curves which have become industry standards as of late. Every model lies on a spectrum between both. The Moondrop sound has become hugely popular with users and critics alike due to its combination of timbral accuracy, balance and improved listenability over time compared to the vanilla Harman and DF Neutral curves. The RSV represents one of the most refined takes on it yet.

Unboxing –

The RSV has the most exclusive unboxing of the Soft Ears line-up with a large magnetic box that folds open to reveal the leather carrying case and accessories within a separate box. The case contains the earphones and cable. Each earpiece comes protected within a fabric pouch that prevent scratches during shipping. The accessories include 3 pairs of silicone tips in addition to 3 pairs of memory foam tips that offer a warmer, softer sound. In addition, a cleaning tool is provided alongside a metal Soft Ears card. Of note, the tips have an especially large bore size which can limit aftermarket pairings. The stock tips also have a seat promoting a more homogenous fit depth, likely in order to provide a more consistent sound between listeners. As there was such a heavy emphasis on tonality on this earphone, I decided to stick with the stock ear tips, of course, experiment for your preference if this is not to your liking.

Design –

As a huge car fanatic, the RSV invoked some primal instinct in me. From the sleek, smooth yet symmetrical styling to the gold foil inlay atop carbon fibre faceplates, the RSV advertises its sporty, high-performance nature. I am a huge fan of the combination of texture and simple yet flawlessly finished 3D printed piano black that oozes quality even in the absence of metal and its associated density in the hand. With its solid 3D-printed design, the RSV feels far more substantial than your average acrylic monitor. If I had one complaint, perhaps the nozzle could have a small ridge to help tips stay attached as those with wet wax may find themselves having to clean them frequently.   

Up top are 2-pin 0.78mm recessed connectors compatible with a wide range of aftermarket options. The stock cable leaves little to be desired, with a smooth matte jacket and very sturdy yet minimally cumbersome construction. The wires are a little springy though it is supple enough to coil without issue and microphonic noise isn’t exacerbated either. The pre-moulded ear guides are comfortable and the connectors complete the aesthetic with their clean matte black finish. Altogether a well-considered package, perhaps a modular or balanced termination could have been employed. Arguably, their use of the widely adopted 3.5mm standard is in line with the company’s intentions that this monitor should be enjoyed from almost any source.

Fit & Isolation –

This is a medium-sized earphone and its fit will be reminiscent to anyone familiar with faux-custom style monitors. It sits comfortably in the outer ear and its rounded design is devoid of features that may cause hotspot formation over time. It protrudes slightly, meaning they won’t be suitable for sleeping on, but the RSV isn’t especially bulky either. For my ears, they were comfortable for hours on end and I achieved a strong, consistent seal. Due to its fully sealed design and well-shaped body, the RSV is very stable and forms a great seal with its slightly deeper fit. Those sensitive to wearing pressure will have a similar experience here to other sealed in-ears that said. In addition, wind noise isn’t an issue and isolation is strong, great for commute and even travel, especially with foam tips installed. This also means the earphones don’t require huge bass emphasis to sound great in louder listening environments.

Next Page: Sound Breakdown & Source Pairings

The post Soft Ears RSV Review – Mastering Versatility first appeared on The Headphone List.

Original Resource is The Headphone List

Rega Planar 10 Turntable

My love for Rega turntables goes back a long way. In 1980, when I was looking to upgrade my Thorens TD160 turntable, a good friend and audio buddy provided me with a recommendation: “You should check out this new company, Rega. I hear it is doing really good things. 

Shortly thereafter, I purchased the original Rega Planar 3, and, as low-tracking-force cartridges were then the rage, put the new SME Series III tonearm on it. If memory serves, I used a Frank Van Alstine-modified Sonus Gold cartridge. I took the rig over to another audio buddy, who was then using the Kenwood KD-500 granite turntable and Infinity Black Widow tonearm, which, at the time, comprised one of the “hot” turntable setups recommended by TAS’ founder, Harry Pearson. 

Much to our mutual surprise, the Rega Planar 3 blew the Kenwood into the weeds. We did multiple comparisons that evening, back and forth, with our best reference LPs played on both decks. Every single time, the Rega sounded better, hands down. My friend went out the next week and bought a Linn Sondek LP12, which he owns to this day. And I kept my Planar 3 for the next 30 years, using it exclusively as my music source during the years when my involvement with high-end audio waxed and waned. In 1987, I put a Grace Ruby on the SME, and then in 2009, Peter Ledermann of Soundsmith re-tipped the Grace with one of his ruby-cantilevered styli, which took the cartridge to another level. Eventually, I passed my Planar 3 on to my brother-in-law as a Christmas gift when his ’table died.

PL10 RB3000 bias housing detail 

When I got seriously back into high-end audio in 2010, and was looking for a newer turntable, my Linn-owning friend offered me his like-new SME V tonearm for a great price (the SME wasn’t a good match for his Linn), and I bought a Michell Gyro SE turntable for it. About a year later, I snagged a very lightly used Koetsu Urushi Vermilion moving-coil cartridge. This setup became my reference (the Vermilion has since been re-tipped and fully re-built by Koetsu), but I never forgot how much I enjoyed Rega turntables, and in 2012, bought a lightly used Rega P5 with external power supply from a friend. I put a Sumiko Pearwood Celebration II cartridge on it, and was surprised at how good it sounded, performing way above its price point. The P5 had excellent detail and resolution, and had a punchy, energetic quality with real drive. It really “kicked out the jams,” great for rock, 80s New Wave, and blues. For 20% of the cost, I estimate the P5 performed at 80% of the level of my reference setup. That’s an excellent value proposition and, in my opinion, the P5 is still a great ’table, even today. 

Cut to the present. The better part of a decade has passed, and time and turntable development have not stood still. While Rega still advocates using light, stiff, low-mass plinths coupled to tonearms of superior engineering, since the legendary P9 it has been extending the classic Rega ethos with new designs that utilize innovative materials and manufacturing technologies. 

The post Rega Planar 10 Turntable appeared first on The Absolute Sound.

Original Resource is Articles – The Absolute Sound

IKKO OH10 and OH1 review: Still have it

INTRODUCTION:

IKKO is one of those brands which exploded into the audiophile scene. They did not come up with a lot under their belt but has two very good IEMs with consumer oriented tunings. Both the OH10 and OH1 have done exceptionally well all across the world and is one of the hottest selling earphone in their price segments but of the two it’s the more premium OH10 which reigns supreme. IKKO seems calm about their strategies. They are not launching products left and right but are trying to time their launches. IKKO’s portfolio is not a very busy one, after the huge success of their IEMs they introduced a couple of DAC/Amps (and a refresh to the OH1, OH1S very recently) too.

Both the IEMs I have here have the exactly same driver configuration. Both have a single 10mm polymer composite titanium film dynamic drive paired with single Knowles 33518.

These IEMs were launched at $199 and $140 for OH10 and OH1 respectively but to make these IEMs more competent IKKO has reduced their prices. OH10 is $40 cheaper taking the price down to $159 while the OH1 can be bought for $100 from Drop. Both these IEMs do not have many color options. The OH10 comes in metal grey color with chrome finish on it while the OH1 gas a matte blue paint on it.

I have had a few good IEMs under $200, BQEYZ Spring 2, Summer and TRN BA8 and will bring the Campfire Audio Honeydew occasionally for comparisons.

Get one for yourself from these links:

https://audio46.com/blogs/headphones/ikko-oh10-obsidian-hybrid-iem-review

PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES:-

IKKO has implemented exactly same packaging for both the OH10 and OH1. They come in a colorful outer paper package with a cardboard box in it. These IEMs have an elegant yet simple unboxing experience. Upon opening the flap an envelope greets is. It has some product details and warranty details on it. Below that the ear pieces and a cufflink are stuffed inside a foam pad while the all leather carry pouch is placed aside it. Under the carry pouch 3 pair dark grey and 3 pair of smoke white tips with black flanges can be found.

HOW ARE THE CABLES:-

I am not a fan of this kind of cables being packed with IEMs over $100 but since this cable has its own aesthetical appeal due to use of metal parts in the 3.5mm jack, Y splitter and 2pins. Both the IEMs ship with the same 4 core OFC silver plated copper cable but have different color to them. The OH10 ships with black and the OH1 ships with a grey cable.

Both the cables have exactly same profile and feel to them. These cable are supple and do not have much memory to them. The braiding is slightly on the stiffer side but it doesn’t make the cable stiff. The 90 degree 3.5mm jack is convenient when gaming and the cable guides are very comfortable on the ear. I found the lack of cable slider to be a bit bothering since the cable up from Y splitter is thin and can tangle easily.

BUILD AND ERGONOMICS:-

Both the IEMs have exactly same design, the triangular back plate have similar dented pattern but different finishing and housing material. The OH10 has heavier body with titanium coating on the outside of a copper shell. There is platinum coating on the inside.

The cheaper OH1 has aerospace alloy hosing and is much lighter than the OH10 at just 6g.

Both the IEMs do not have a semi custom type shell. These nozzles are 5.7mm wide but are deep enough for a secure and stable fit. Protection on the 2.5mm socket give these earpieces an unique character. Both the IEMs have two pressure releasing vents, one can be found aside the 2pin socket while the other is near the nozzle’s base.

PAIRING WITH SOURCES:-

Both the IEMs have exactly same specifications too.

Impedance: 18 ohms.

Sensitivity: 106dB.

Frequency Response Range: 20Hz-40kHz.

Thanks to the highly sensitivity of 106db and source friendly impedance of 18ohm both these Ikko IEMs are very easy to drive from most of the mobile phones. But obviously providing these IEMs a bit of power yields better stage and details. No need to worry, it is very good with decent mid range mobile phones too.

The post IKKO OH10 and OH1 review: Still have it first appeared on The Headphone List.

Original Resource is The Headphone List

The Stenheim Alumine 2 Speakers

The guy that used to work on my Alfa Romeos in Scottsdale had a sign up behind his desk that said, “We appreciate perfection, as long as it’s real good.” That statement might apply to many things, but it does not apply to the Stenheim Alumine 2 Speakers.

You might say these are “Built to perfection by perfectionists.”

Many people often confuse bigger for better, and they’d rather have a gallon of mediocre instead of a pint of awesome. If that’s your perspective, that’s ok, but you won’t want these speakers. The $11,800 price the Alumine 2s command will also buy many excellent floor standing full-range speakers. Unfortunately, none of them have the level of resolution that the Alumine 2s possess.

Think that’s crazy? Oddly enough, the original Wilson Audio WATT was $5,200 when they introduced them at the 1988 CES show. They had no bass to speak of, had an impedance that dipped below 1-ohm at about 2200hz, and looked like a woodshop project. Guess what $5,200 in 1988 dollars translates into in 2021 dollars? $11,832.75. $5,200 would buy you a nice, used Alfa Spider too, but I digress.

However, what the WATTs did (resolution and soundstaging), they did incredibly well if you had a massive solid-state amplifier that could drive them. And once you heard what they could do, it was tough to un-hear it. Which is just how the Stenheims are, with none of the limitations of those early WATTs. Just under 12 grand for a pair of highly resolving, dynamic monitors that are tube friendly and built like your favorite Swiss watch? Sign me up. Perspective is everything.

The relatively high sensitivity that these speakers have (93db/1-watt) allows a wide range of amplification choices that plays well to the detail these speakers offer. A few amplifiers on hand made for some exciting listening sessions.

This two-way design utilizes a 6.5-inch woofer and a 1-inch fabric dome tweeter in a bass-reflex cabinet. All the pictures that Stenheim shows on their website showcase top-quality components, yet they offer a Special Edition SE version with “ultimate” components. Considering how much detail these speakers can muster, it’s hard to imagine more.

First: Pass Labs/First Watt SIT 2

If you aren’t familiar with the First Watt amplifiers, these “kitchen table creations” of amplifier genius Nelson Pass are the essence of simplicity. Much like an SET, they can produce magic, but they are highly speaker sensitive. The Pass SIT either works brilliantly or not at all, but in this case, the matchup with the Alumine 2s is nearly psychedelic.

Anyone craving pinpoint imaging and a large, three-dimensional ball of sound in a modest-sized room (in this case, 11 x 13 feet) will be rewarded. Moving the comfy chair in a bit towards the speakers in a nearfield configuration truly feels like snuggling up inside a massive pair of headphones. Stenheim talks about the speed and clarity of their speakers on the website, and this amplifier personifies this approach. If you can live with less than thunderous volume levels, this combination offers a fine-grained look into your music’s most intimate details.

Next: Line Magnetic LM-805iA

Somehow, getting an SET into the mix with efficient speakers just begs to be done. Though not quite as delicate as a 300B amplifier, the Line Magnetic amplifier benefits from 48 watts per channel and serious dynamic ability – perhaps the most we’ve ever heard from an SET. Just as a well-executed two-way speaker system has a level of coherence that few speakers can match for all their foibles, SET amplifiers offer a lovely perspective thanks to no crossover notch distortion.

Those loving more intimate recordings will be drawn to this combination. Listening to the new, remastered (and bonus tracks) of the 25th Anniversary of Buena Vista Social Club is full of texture and nuance. Particularly the piano and bongos throughout the album take on a new level of delicacy. While the presentation is not quite as precise as when using the First Watt, the Line Magnetic amplifier adds a certain charm that you’ll either love or not. It’s not unlike the feeling you get when pairing a tube preamplifier with a big, solid-state power amplifier kind of thing. A lot of soul, and a lot of control.

Back to Nelson’s court: Pass Labs INT 25

The Pass Labs INT 25 has about 90% of the fine detail and inner resolution of the First Watt, but with more low-frequency control and more dynamics. There’s something about Class-A operation that feels a lot like an SET without worrying over tubes. In the context of the smaller room, this amplifier’s 25 watts per channel is more than necessary to light up the Alumine 2s.

As these speakers don’t have a lot of extension to begin with, the extra grip provided with this amplifier gives bass-heavy tracks better authority and control. At least the bass fundamentals come through clearly. If you can achieve a perfect setup balance in your room, taking advantage of some of the room gain without overshadowing the mid-bass response, you will be greatly rewarded.

More glowing bottles: McIntosh MC1502 and PrimaLuna EVO400

Still, a different effect is realized with the McIntosh MC1502 and PrimaLuna EVO400 amplifiers. On some levels, it might be the best combination of all worlds. With both of these amplifiers having more power (150wpc for the Mac and about 90wpc for the PL) the Stenheims can rock out a bit more, despite the high sensitivity.

Home court advantage: Nagra Classic Pre and Classic Amp

Honestly, this proved the best combination of everything we tried. Swiss precision from top to bottom. If I were looking for a super high-performance, yet compact system, this would be the hands down choice. (of course, I’d add a Nagra DAC and Classic Phono to the mix) the sheer power, resolution and immersive quality of this system in a small room is the bomb. Considering how much correspondence we receive from quality minded music listeners in cities like London, Tokyo, and NYC – craving the highest of high-end sound but lacking a big room, this is the combo to beat. The Nagra amp and pre give it all – dynamics, tonality, and delicacy.

Notes on setup

As with anything built to precision, attention to details during setup is critical. Just as you wouldn’t take your Porsche GT3RS to any old tire store for a four-wheel alignment, the Alumine 2s can not be placed in your listening room arbitrarily. These need care and probably a solid day of moving them a fraction of an inch to and fro,once you find your sweet spot.

Thanks to room nodes and reflections, I’m guessing your room only has one or two optimum spots. Still, because we are dealing with a speaker offering precise imaging and not an abundance of bass, extra care spent setting up will reward you with a speaker that goes from ok but possibly overpriced to amazing. I’ve heard these speakers give a slightly overpowering presentation that can be mistaken for “too bright,” yet much like my Focals, if they are bright, you’ve set em up wrong.

More than most monitors, get some massive stands (Stenheim offers a set for $1,750/pair, probably a good bet), stick them down, and adjust toe-in with care. Also, depending on your room size, finding the precise spot where no aspect of the frequency spectrum overwhelms the other is critical. It’s like setting VTA on a cartridge with a touchy stylus profile – when it locks into perfection, the heavens part. Once the 2s were fully optimized, I was able to enjoy bass-heavy tracks a lot more.

Stenheim does offer their own subwoofer, should you want more extension or are playing these speakers in a large room. While one was not available at review time, using the Alumine 2s in concert with a six-pack of REL S/510 subs proved interesting. Whether you want a pair of 2s with sub or full range larger pair will be your ultimate choice, but the idea of buying the 2s first and adding a sub later certainly is a nice way to grow with Stenheim, and keep the family sound/look going.

As enticing to look at as to hear

The all-aluminum enclosure is beautiful to behold, and the level of execution is terrific. If you are a qualityphile and an audiophile, you will completely geek out on the absence of fasteners and the perfectly seamless assembly of the enclosure. The textures and finsh on both the front baffle and the rest of the case is equally flawless. Stenheim’s Jean-Pascal Panchard tells me that even though it looks like anodizing, they use a fine-structure powder coating process. This is an incredibly durable way to coat aluminum, assuring that these speakers will look like new 30 years from now.

Stenheim is a worthy competitor to the other “aluminum cabinet premium speakers” in sound and finish. No disrespect to Magico and YG, but Stenheim is playing at their level without question.

If the concept, and all the benefits that come with a high-performance two-way monitor appeal to you, Stenheim’s Alumine 2 speakers are fantastic. They offer excellent sound, meticulous execution, and a density of thought approached by very few similarly priced speakers. Highly recommended.

https://www.stenheim.com/alumine-two


Peripherals

Digital Source dCS Vivaldi ONE

Analog Source AVID Volvere SP/SME 309/HyperEminent EX cart

Preamp Pass Labs XS Preamp/XS Phono Preamp

Power Amp Pass XA200.8 monos (and others in review)

Cable Cardas Clear, Tellurium Q Black Diamond

Original article: The Stenheim Alumine 2 Speakers

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