May 2019
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Pass Laboratories XP-22 line preamplifier

By | May 17th, 2019|Categories: Stereophile|

For those who listen with their ears and not their brain, perfectionist hi-fi offers many surprises.

A friend called me up a few weeks ago and asked if the DAC we both own had received an automatic firmware update he hadn’t heard about; something had changed, it wasn’t good, and he couldn’t figure out what it was. His system’s sound was suddenly pale and unfocused.

There had been no firmware update.

The next morning, he called me again. He’d remembered that, earlier the day before, he’d swapped out a meter or so of the standard Ethernet cable connecting his network switch to his DAC with an expensive, audiophile one.… Read the full article

Pro-Ject Audio Systems Stream Box S2 Ultra network bridge

By | May 17th, 2019|Categories: Stereophile|

I have reviewed several network-connected music servers in recent years, from Antipodes, Aurender, and NAD. All performed well but are relatively expensive, and their associated player apps didn’t equal Roon’s user friendliness in terms of interface, organization of the library, and inclusion and updating of metadata. So when Roon Labs introduced their own server, the Nucleus+, I first reviewed and then purchased it, along with a lifetime subscription to Roon. But at $2498 without an internal drive for storing music files, the Nucleus+ is still relatively expensive, and even Roon’s less-powerful Nucleus costs $1398.… Read the full article

Meze Audio 99 Classic headphones

By | May 17th, 2019|Categories: Stereophile|

I have on hand a number of pairs of headphones. And I admit that I’ve lusted after the heavenly sounding, medieval-looking Abyss AB-1266 Phi headphones, and considered the MrSpeakers Aeon closed-back headphones. (I prefer the isolation from outside sounds provided by closed-back ‘phones.) But from the moments I saw—and then heard—Meze Audio’s 99 Classics, with their graceful style, balanced sound, and natural wood-grained glory, they had me.

Generally, I’m not a headphone guy. I prefer to experience recorded music at full scale and full dynamic range, with lifelike aural images dancing before me in my gritty Manhattan crib.… Read the full article

Von Schweikert Ultra Reference 9 Loudspeaker, VAC 450iQ Integrated Amplifier, Acoustic Signature Invictus Jr. Turntable, and Esoteric N-01 Network Audio Player

By | May 16th, 2019|Categories: Stereophile|

For sheer scale, perhaps the most impressive system I heard at the Munich High End show was in the room shared by Von Schweikert and VAC. The star of the show was—perhaps—the Von Schweikert Ultra Reference 9 loudspeaker, which sells for an impressive $200,000/pair. The Ultra series is, Von Schweikert says, a cost-no-object line. So far there are three speakers in the line: The 9, the $300,000 11, and the $90,000 55. Von Schweikert, of course, also sells more modestly priced loudspeakers; their VR-22 is under $3000 / pair.… Read the full article

Parasound Halo Hint 6 integrated amplifier

By | May 16th, 2019|Categories: Stereophile|

In his review in the November 2015 issue, Herb Reichert wrote that Parasound’s Halo Integrated amplifier “has a recognizable sonic personality: easy flowing, mostly smooth, and decidedly mellow. . . . But don’t worry—it’s not milquetoast mellow or unwashed-hippy-stoner mellow. It is, instead, an everything’s-under-control, don’t-worry-now mellow.”

I hoped to hear the Halo Integrated for myself. So when, for the March 2019 issue, I reviewed the Spendor Audio Systems A7 loudspeaker, which requires more power than my 20Wpc Shindo Laboratory Haut-Brion amp can muster, I requested a loaner.… Read the full article

Recording of June 2019: Carnival: The Sound of a People, Vol 1

By | May 16th, 2019|Categories: Stereophile|

Etienne Charles: Carnival: The Sound of a People, Vol 1
Etienne Charles, trumpet, percussion; Brian Hogans, Godwin Louis, alto saxophone; David Sánchez, tenor saxophone; Sullivan Fortner, James Francies, piano, Fender Rhodes; Alex Wintz, guitar; Luques Curtis, Russell Hall, Ben Williams, bass; Obed Calvaire, drums; D’Achee, congas. With: Claxton Bay Tamboo Bamboo, Laventille Rhythm Section, other percussionists.
Culture Shock EC007 (2 LPs). 2019. Etienne Charles, prod.; Glenn Brown, Christian Burkett, David Darlington, Mark Wilder, engs. DDA. TT: 67:20
Performance ****
Sonics ****

Etienne Charles, the Trinidadian trumpeter, percussionist, and Guggenheim fellow, has a knack for album concepts.… Read the full article

Exposure XVII preamplifier

By | May 16th, 2019|Categories: Stereophile|

Thomas R. Marshall’s famous phrase, “What this country needs is a good five-cent cigar,” should be modified for the 1990s to be “What this world needs is a good $1500 preamplifier.”

It’s hard to find a good full-function preamp (ie, one that includes a phono stage) at a reasonable price these days. There are plenty of great preamps on the market, but they tend to be expensive or line-stage only—or expensive line stages. Moreover, many manufacturers are omitting phono stages altogether, on the assumption that people don’t listen to LPs anymore.… Read the full article

Totem Element Metal v.2, VTL TL 2.5i Preamplifier and ST-150 Amplifier, YBA Signature CD Player

By | May 15th, 2019|Categories: Stereophile|

It had been years since I last checked in with Totem Acoustic, the Canada-based loudspeaker manufacturer. When I showed up at the Totem room and was greeted by company president and longtime chief designer Vince Bruzzese, I didn’t know what to expect. In the event, what I got was some excellent sound from two compact towers placed very close to the front wall, and a short introduction to what appeared to be some interesting technology behind those impressive loudspeakers.

The compact towers I was hearing were the new, v.2 version of the Element Metal (€16,999/pair), which come in basic black and basic white.… Read the full article

Continuum Audio Labs Obsidian 'Table w/Viper Tonearm; Constellation Audio Cygnus Media Player/DAC, Andromeda Phono Stage, Pictor Preamp, and Taurus Monoblocks; Magico M2 Speakers

By | May 15th, 2019|Categories: Stereophile|

In Munich, audio electronics company Constellation Audio was demoing with Magico M2 loudspeakers ($63,000/pair with M-Pod footers). Spinning vinyl was the Continuum Audio Labs Obsidian turntable ($35,000) w/Viper Tonearm ($10,000) and Ortofon A-95 Cartridge ($6,000). Phono preamplification was, of course, by Constellation—their Andromeda phono stage ($18,000). On the digital side, the source was Constellation’s Cygnus Media Player/DAC ($38,000). Constellation’s Pictor preamp was in use ($18,000), as was a pair of their Taurus monoblocks ($39,000/pair). The sound was fast, 3D, well-balanced, articulate—and much bigger than I’ve heard from these Magicos at other shows.

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Focal, Naim, isoAcoustics, and the Damnedest Audio Demo I've Ever Experienced

By | May 15th, 2019|Categories: Stereophile|

Playing in Room F210 on the top level atrium of Hall 4: Two pair of Focal Scala Utopia EVO loudspeakers ($39,995/pair) with lots of Naim electronics and cabling. Also in the system was a VPI Prime Signature turntable, but it wasn’t in use when I was in the room. The key items in this room, though, were some footers: specifically, IsoAcoustics GAIA-Titan Theis isolators—not so humble after all, on second thought, since they cost $899.99 for a set of four. The loudspeakers—white and green—were arranged in alternate pairs, their acoustical centers shifted by a few degrees.… Read the full article