Thursday, April 27, 2017
Paradigm's Flagship
Persona 9H
Sonus Faber
Speaker Debut
SoundStage!
Simplifi
CES
2017
MartinLogan
Advancements
Gryphon's
Story
Devialet's
Phantoms
NAD's
HP50 Headphones
Newsflash:
Merging NADAC ST-2 on SoundStage! Ultra ... Read the review
Onkyo's A-9010 on SoundStage! Access ... Read the review

Sponsors

Aqua - Acoustic Quality La Voce S2Price: $2700

Website: www.aquahifi.com

Michael said: You’d easily need to spend at least $4000 or even $5000 to surpass the level of performance La Voce S2 achieves for $2700. In my book, that makes it great value for the money. With its solid build quality, full feature set, modular design with easy field support -- and, most important, high sound quality -- the Aqua - Acoustic Quality La Voce S2 DAC is easily and highly recommended.

Read the SoundStage! Ultra review.

The gist: Your choice of DAC chips makes this product highly customizable.

Ascendo C6Price: $3990 per pair

Website: www.ascendo.de

Sid said: the Ascendo C6 proved that pleasing appearance, placement flexibility, and great sound need not be mutually exclusive. If you’re looking for a loudspeaker for your family or living room, and need great sound without worrying too much about front-wall proximity, the Ascendo C6 should be at the top of your must-audition list.

Read the SoundStage! Ultra review.

The gist: Slimline German speaker with some unique design traits.

Astell&Kern AK JrPrice: $499

Website: www.AstellnKern.com

Rad said: All in all, listening to Astell&Kern’s AK Jr was pure pleasure.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.

The gist: Littlest brother to the company’s mighty AK380 portable media player.

Audio Research Reference 10Price: $30,000

Website: www.audioresearch.com

Pete said: The ARC Reference 10 is one of the most thrilling, intoxicating, musically engrossing preamplifiers ever made. Congratulations to Audio Research Corporation for their aspirations and their execution. Kudos, too, for the introduction of a superior user interface, more attractive appearance, and tactile luxury.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Ultra review.

The gist: Even better than the Reference Anniversary?

Audio-Technica ATH-MSR7Price: $249.95

Website: www.audio-technica.com

Rad said: Audio-Technica’s ATH-MSR7 headphones blindsided me. I’d expected very good commuter cans that would be good for casual listening. Instead, I discovered a set of audiophile headphones that live up to the Hi-Res Audio badge they wear.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.

The gist: Good sound on the go from a respected source.

AudioQuest CinnamonPrice: $119 per 10’ cable

Website: www.audioquest.com

Aron said: Perhaps the Cinnamon’s greatest attribute is its price. In audio, there are many easy ways to spend $119 (for a 10’ cable) and get less. Throw in AudioQuest’s five-year warranty, and I can’t help but conclude that the Cinnamon is a steal. Highly recommended!

Read the SoundStage! Ultra review.

The gist: You wouldn’t think it would work, but Aron hears otherwise.

AudioQuest JitterBugPrice: $49

Website: www.audioquest.com

Pete said: In a hobby in which chasing down even marginal sonic gains while avoiding deleterious tradeoffs can cost hundreds, thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars, a $49 device -- or, better yet, a $98 pair of them -- that can effect varying degrees of audible improvement is a no-brainer.

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: For a mere $49, it’s worth a try.

AudioQuest NightHawkPrice: $599

Website: www.audioquest.com

Brent said: There’s no contesting that the AudioQuest NightHawks are an extraordinary design with best-in-the-business comfort, and sonic isolation that I didn’t think possible from semi-open-back headphones. They’re also the product of a huge amount of knowledge, research, experimentation, and original thought. I don’t know if you’ll like them, but I do know that they deserve your audition.

Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.

The gist: Controversial voicing in a beautifully conceived package.

Aurender FlowPrice: $1295

Website: www.aurender.com

Brent said: The Flow is an upscale product with excellent sound quality and ergonomics, and impressive versatility. I expect it to be a big hit with headphone enthusiasts whose primary source component is a laptop computer.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.

The gist: Perhaps the coolest headphone amp out there.

Ayre Acoustics KX-5Price: $7950

Website: www.ayre.com

Aron said: The attention to detail, quality, and performance that I have experienced while reviewing the formidable KX-5 preamplifier has reaffirmed my position that Ayre Acoustics makes some of the best audio gear money can buy. Putting aside my quibbles about ergonomics, I found nothing to dislike in the KX-5 -- it performed flawlessly, exhibited outstanding sound quality, and proved to be the quietest preamplifier I have ever heard in my system. Add to this a five-year warranty, and an undeniable dedication to customer service, and I can enthusiastically recommend it not only to you, but also for a Reviewers’ Choice award.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: One of the best sub-$10k preamps.

Ayre Acoustic KX-5 TwentyPrice: $8950

Website: www.ayre.com

Aron said: The KX-5 Twenty strives for purity of sound through purity of signal, and emphasizes that the first step toward true transparency is silence. The levels of build quality, and the close attention paid to selection and implementation of parts and materials, have resulted in what I consider to be the industry benchmark in solid-state preamplification for less than $10,000.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Ultra review.

The gist: Ayre hits another one out of the park.

Ayre Acoustics MX-R TwentyPrice: $29,500 per pair

Website: www.ayre.com

Pete said: With the Twenty-series models, and particularly the MX-R Twenty monoblocks, I’m convinced that Ayre Acoustics has closed the gap between tube sound and solid-state sound.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Ultra review.

The gist: New version of Ayre’s flagship amplifier delivers the goods.

Ayre Acoustics QB-9DSDPrice: $3495

Website: www.ayre.com

Colin said: When a component raises the bar as much as the QB-9DSD did in my system, I think I’d sell a kidney to keep it. So far that hasn’t proved necessary, and at the $700 upgrade price I won’t have to sell even an eyelash.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: One of the original USB DACs gets a makeover.

Benchmark Media Systems AHB2Price: $2995

Website: www.benchmarkmedia.com

Hans said: Benchmark Media Systems’ modest-looking little AHB2 power amp may be hi-fi’s biggest bargain. It is one of the -- if not the -- quietest, most resolving amps I’ve heard. Time and again, without ever having intended to, I wound up hours deep in listening to the fringes of my music collection, thanks to the AHB2’s reference-level transparency and obscene athleticism. If ever there were a giant-killer of an amp, this is it.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: Revolutionary for the price.

Blue CirclePrice: $4495

Website: www.bluecircle.com

Michael said: Those looking to add to or upgrade their PLCs should add the BC60X1 to their short list. The time I spent listening to the BC60X1 was a pleasant assault on the senses, and I can’t imagine allowing my system to take that next step without one. I give it my highest recommendation. And I bought one.

Read the SoundStage! Ultra review.

The gist: Further proof: this company really understands power conditioners.

BluesoundPrice: $999

Website: www.bluesound.com

Kevin said: The Powernode and Duo are simply a dedicated combo of receiver and speakers -- but this “receiver” is a dedicated streaming tuner, and the speakers are three diminutive wonders from Paul Barton. They are elegant reinventions of tried-and-true audio products.

Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.

The gist: Barton-designed 2.1-channel speaker system is compact and attractive.

BluesoundPrice: $699

Website: www.bluesound.com

Kevin said: The Powernode and Duo are simply a dedicated combo of receiver and speakers -- but this “receiver” is a dedicated streaming tuner, and the speakers are three diminutive wonders from Paul Barton. They are elegant reinventions of tried-and-true audio products.

Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.

The gist: Streaming receiver with 50Wpc of NAD-like power.

Bluesound PulsePrice: $699

Website: www.bluesound.com

Kevin said: The Bluesound Pulse is a glorified, high-end, streaming boom box -- it even looks a bit like a boom box. Nonetheless, it streamed flawlessly, with an overall sound quality far superior to and an LF rendering far deeper and more accurate than that of any one-box model I’ve ever heard.

Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.

The gist: Beautiful sound from this one-box solution.

BluesoundPrice: $999

Website: www.bluesound.com

Kevin said: The real gem of the Bluesound line is the Vault, which answers the question, “What on earth am I going to do with all these CDs?”

Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.

The gist: According to Kevin, the standout Bluesound product.

Bowers & Wilkins P5 S2Price: $299.99

Website: www.bowers-wilkins.com

Hans said: If I needed a pair of all-purpose, everyday headphones, Bowers & Wilkins’ P5 Series 2s are exactly what I would buy. Their sumptuous design and luxurious materials make them as much a fashion statement as a declaration of appreciation of high-fidelity sound, while their tailored frequency response delivers easy listening with most any musical genre you can throw at them.

Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.

The gist: Stylish headphones for those with 802s in the living room.

Bryston Middle TPrice: $5400 per pair

Website: www.bryston.com

Jeff said: The Bryston Middle T has a lot going for it. At $5400/pair, it’s an unquestionable value: a big, three-way speaker that will flat-out rock without losing its audiophile street cred. That’s a tough balancing act, but the Middle T handles it well.

Read the SoundStage! Ultra review.

The gist: Beefy floorstander that’s more about sound than glitz.

Bryston Mini APrice: $1200 per pair

Website: www.bryston.com

Philip said: The no-frills Mini A gets on with the business of producing superb sound at a price within the reach of many. Add to this Bryston’s 20-year warranty, and the Mini A seems not only a good investment, but a sensible one.

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Gets all the basic speaker stuff right at an affordable price.

Cabasse Stream 1Price: $900

Website: www.cabasse.com

Kevin said: The Stream 1 is sleek and stylish; it has streaming chops, a plethora of inputs, and clean, sparkling sound. I can imagine you putting it in your rec room or on the pool deck, to use for background music at a party -- or on the back porch.

Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.

The gist: A serious mono Bluetooth speaker from France.

Calyx MPrice: $999

Website: www.calyx.kr

Rad said: The Calyx M is a great-sounding portable player that includes native DSD decoding and works with just about every other format and sampling rate. It has a beautiful OLED screen and an attractive copper finish

Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.

The gist: Viable alternative to Astell&Kern.

Cambridge Audio Aeromax 6Price: $1500 per pair

Website: www.cambridgeaudio.com

Vince said: The cohesiveness of voices and piano through the Aeromax 6 is unmatched in my experience in the price range of $1500-$3000/pair. If you’re looking in that range, and value imaging and soundstaging above all else, look no further: the Aeromax 6 is your answer. It’s pure gold.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: The Balanced Mode Radiator really delivers vocals just right.

Cambridge Audio Azur 651PPrice: $249

Website: www.cambridgeaudio.com

Thom said: It does what all good audio gear should: It gets out of the way and lets the music pour forth. It’s a component any vinyl-playing audiophile will appreciate, and at $249, it’s a steal. If you’re looking to add vinyl capability to your system, listen to an Azur 651P. You can’t do better at anywhere near its price.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: Cheap way to get into good-sounding vinyl.

Cambridge Audio Azur 851NPrice: $1799

Website: www.cambridgeaudio.com

Hans said: The Azur 851N’s DAC section is a real honey, producing the kind of dulcet sound that any audiophile should be able to appreciate. Combined with an intuitive user interface and a raft of digital inputs and outputs, this unassuming streaming DAC should have no shortage of admirers.

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: Incredibly full-featured digital front end.

Cary Audio SL-100Price: $1995

Website: www.caryaudio.com

Erich said: The SL-100 will easily satisfy those who want a comfortable sound that’s relaxed and laid-back, but who don’t want to deal with tubes. Given its reasonable price and fine build quality, the SL-100 is an attractive choice that should garner a warm reception amongst audiophiles.

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: Solid state that sounds like tubes.

Cocktail Audio X40Price: $2695

Website: www.cocktailaudio.com

Sathyan said: I was, on the whole, very impressed with the Cocktail Audio X40. In the X40, one gets a ripper, a server, a renderer, a tuner of both Internet and FM radio, and an excellent DAC, all tied together with a well-thought-out user interface. What’s not to like about that?

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Less-expensive alternative to the Aurenders of the world.

Crystal Cable Arabesque MinissimoPrice: $12,995 per pair

Website: www.crystalcable.com

Doug said: I consider it the king -- or, perhaps, the queen -- of luxury-grade two-way loudspeakers.

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: The little speaker for the jet set.

Cyrus Stereo 200Price: $3499

Website: www.cyrusaudio.com

Roger said: Judging the Cyrus Stereo 200 by looks alone, you might think it would prove a capable but somewhat polite-sounding amplifier in the sub-100Wpc range -- the sort of power amp that many associate with British high-end audio. But after hearing all that fantastic, powerful, natural sound coming from such a small package, you’d probably do a double take -- as I did.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: The Cyrus take on class-D amplification is a smashing success.

Definitive Technology Symphony 1Price: $399

Website: www.definitivetech.com

Brent said: They’re not the perfect noise-canceling headphones -- nothing is, yet -- but they deliver an undeniably appealing mix of sound quality, features, and comfort.

Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.

The gist: Compare these to your Bose headphones and you might be surprised.

Devialet EnsemblePrice: $9995

Website: www.devialet.com

S. Andrea said: The beauty of Devialet’s Ensemble system is that you can have truly excellent sound in a small, décor-friendly package for under $10,000 and with no effort. That’s a unique value proposition that I believe will bring Devialet great success.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: All-in-one Devialet-based audio system for everyman.

DigiBit AriaPrice: $7995

Website: www.ariamusicserver.com

Vade said: I’ve tried many other servers, and have never encountered one so easy to get up and running. But that would be of only academic interest if the Aria didn’t sound good, and it sounds splendid -- its built-in DAC is especially good. And the Aria looks as good as it sounds. For me, the Aria’s features easily justify its cost. It gets my highest recommendation, and is a Reviewers’ Choice.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: In the top tier of today’s best music servers.

Eclipse TD508MK3Price: $1490 per pair

Website: www.eclipse-td.net

Wes said: Would I be happy with the Eclipse TD508MK3s as the main speakers of my nearfield system? Absolutely yes. Try a pair. I think you’ll be happy too.

Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.

The gist: These tiny desktop speakers are imaging champs.

EsotericPrice: $80,000 (combined)

Website: www.esoteric-usa.com

Howard said: For now, the Grandioso P1 and D1 play on a field where the sign outside the stadium says “SOTA.” Remarkably, at this level you can spend even more. However, I’m not certain that, if you do, you’ll see a decent return on your money, if any. Highly recommended for those with deep audiophile pockets and the desire to go from 0 to 60 in 2.2 seconds now.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Ultra review.

The gist: As far as the best digital, in the top three for sure.

Exogal CometPrice: $2500

Website: www.exogal.com

Jeff said: Its sound is where the Comet really shines. My listening gave me the sense that the Comet’s designers didn’t try to balance trade-offs, or make sonic compromises here and there, to tailor the sound to a particular type of listener. The Comet seemed determined to let me hear everything that a recording contained, as if it cost ten times as much as it does. In short, the Comet needs no excuses made for it. It sounds great not only for its price, but regardless of price.

Read the SoundStage! Ultra review.

The gist: Some unique features and great sound set this DAC apart.

Focal Sopra No2Price: $13,999 per pair

Website: www.focal.com

Doug said: I could see living with a pair of Sopra No2s and not wanting more for a very long time. The Sopra No2 more than lives up to its name: It not only goes over and above; it goes above and beyond.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: An instant classic in Focal’s impressive line.

Focus Audio Prestige FP90 BEPrice: $13,800 per pair

Website: www.focusaudio.com

Jason said: For nearly two years now, more often than not, I’ve had a Focus speaker or amp -- or both -- in my system. It’s been an excellent way to while away 700 days, and my time with the FP90 BE has reaffirmed that there’s likely to be a Focus speaker in my future, if and when I get too old or jaded to continue reviewing.

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Another solid effort from Focus Audio.

GoldenEar Technology Triton FivePrice: $1999.98 per pair

Website: www.goldenear.com

Roger said: At $1999.98/pair, the GoldenEar Triton Five is a fantastic performer -- a true high-end speaker at a true entry-level price. It receives my highest recommendation.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: All of these GoldenEar speakers seem like winners.

GoldenEar Technology Triton One Price: $4999.98 per pair

Website: www.goldenear.com

Doug said: The Triton One’s performance across the board is exceptional. I’m sure you can’t find another speaker that offers all it does -- in short, full-range, reference-grade sound -- for a price that any serious audiophile with a decent job can afford: $4999.98/pair. The hi-fi world needs more products like this. That’s why GoldenEar’s Triton One gets my highest recommendation.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Bass: get 20Hz for the price of 40Hz.

Hegel Music Systems H360Price: $3500

Website: www.hegel.com

Hans said: I can’t think of a competing integrated amplifier that comes close to its combination of excellent top-to-bottom sound, fabulous remote control, plentiful power, and one of the most comprehensive ranges of features I’ve seen at the price. What a delightful little amplifier.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: Everybody seems to love this little guy.

Hegel Music Systems H30Price: $15,000

Website: www.hegel.com

Doug said: Although the H30 is the biggest, most expensive product Hegel Music Systems makes, it nonetheless carries on the company’s tradition of high performance and high value -- not because it’s cheap, but because it can stand alongside the best amps made, even those costing much more.

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Super-powerful amp for a vivid musical experience.

Hegel Music SystemsPrice: $1400

Website: www.hegel.com

Jeff said: Hegel Music Systems’ HD12 digital-to-analog converter provides the best sound for the least money of any DAC I’ve had in my system. You might be surprised at just how good it is, and just how uncompromised its sound is on an absolute basis.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Ultra review.

The gist: Strong little performer at exactly the right price point.

Hegel Music Systems HD30Price: $4800

Website: www.hegel.com

Doug said: The HD30’s big selling point is its sound -- and what a sound it is: Its world-class resolution, extreme clarity, and superb refinement let you listen very deeply into recordings, to hear precisely what the musicians and engineers laid down there. And it does so while adding no ill artifacts -- the HD30 sounded incredibly clean in my system, never bright, edgy, or off-putting.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Who knew SOTA digital only costs $4800?

HiFiMan HE1000Price: $2999

Website: www.hifiman.com

Brent said: I don’t know if the HE1000s are the ultimate headphones. But considering their impeccable sound quality and above-average comfort, I think they’re the closest thing I’ve found.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.

The gist: Brent’s favorite high-priced headphones.

Highend-AudioPCPrice: $133

Website: www.highend-audiopc.com

Howard said: In a world in which $133 buys you just a handful of hi-rez downloads, Highend-AudioPC’s AudiophileOptimizer is a stone-cold bargain.

Read the SoundStage! Ultra review.

The gist: Minimalist computer-audio software that puts sound first.

IsoAcoustics ISO-L8R200Price: $149.99 per pair

Website: www.isoacoustics.com

Wes said: If you can’t tell, this, too, is a five-star review. I loved the ISO-L8R200s, and am now a proud owner of a pair. Miss them at your peril!

Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.

The gist: A no-brainer buy if you have desktop speakers.

Jabra MovePrice: $99

Website: www.jabra.com

Rad said: If you’re looking for an inexpensive pair of headphones for daily use, you could scarcely go wrong with the Jabra Moves. They’re lightweight, durable, have great overall sound, and can be used wired or wirelessly.

Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.

The gist: Not bad, but Rad says spend another hundred bucks and get the Jabra Revos.

Jam TransitPrice: $49.99

Website: www.jamaudio.com

Rad said: The Jam Transit headphones have a lot more going for them than you’d think. The clever packaging converts to a carry case, they fit well, they have punchy bass, and they don’t get hot with prolonged use. But the lack of clean, crisp highs limits their appeal. This minus is countered by perhaps the biggest plus: the extremely low price.

Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.

The gist: Poor highs detracts.

JBLPrice: $49.95

Website: www.jbl.com

Rad said: The JBL Clip could never be considered a main speaker, and was never intended to be. But if you need something quick, easy, and lightweight for background music, the Clip can provide decent sound for those purposes, so long as you keep the volume within reasonable limits.

Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.

The gist: Decent little portable, but not much else.

JE Audio Reference 1Price: $9000

Website: www.je-audio.com

Doug said: It’s an incredibly good preamplifier for a reasonable price. Its build quality is excellent, its feature set very good, and its sound is out of this world. It’s my top recommendation for preamplifier pleasure for under ten grand.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Tube preamp that sent Doug over the top.

JL Audio CR-1Price: $3000

Website: www.jlaudio.com

Jeff said: Those who want to perfectly blend a powered subwoofer(s) with topflight main speakers in a high-end stereo system should consider as mandatory JL Audio’s CR-1 Active Subwoofer Crossover. It’s flexible, transparent, and intuitive to use. So grab an audio buddy, spend a few hours with a CR-1 to dial in your system to the nth degree, and you’ll surely be rewarded.

Read the SoundStage! Ultra review.

The gist: The external subwoofer crossover to buy.

KEF R100Price: $1199.99

Website: www.kef.com

Jeff said: The R100s could handle anything I threw at them. With any given track, I was always anxious to hear exactly how they would handle it, how much composure they could muster. But when fed acoustic rock or small-combo jazz recordings, and fueled by an efficient amplifier with some electrical fortitude, the KEF R100s perform with the confidence and poise of a grand master.

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: Great all-’rounder with exceptional coherence.

KEF R400bPrice: $1699.99

Website: www.kef.com

Roger said: The KEF R400b subwoofer’s agility and musicality should nicely complement the sound of high-quality speaker systems, and its modern look and small size will easily blend with the furnishings of fashionably decorated rooms -- not something that can be said of most subs.

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: The perfect complement to your KEF R-series speakers.

Koss BT540iPrice: $199.99

Website: www.koss.com

Rad said: Koss’s BT540is are great over-the-ear headphones for physical activity and for listening at home. One of a growing number of headphone models designed to suit all purposes, they have especially good, nonboomy bass, but their sound is solid from top to bottom.

Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.

The gist: Modern headphones from one of the oldest companies in hi-fi.

Koss BTS1Price: $59.99

Website: www.koss.com

Rad said: It’s good for background listening with music you’re already familiar with from having heard it through bigger, better speakers.

Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.

The gist: Not really hi-fi, but OK for a small portable.

Linn Majik DSMPrice: $4900

Website: www.linn.co.uk

Hans said: What pushes the Majik DSM into a class of its own is Linn’s suite of apps, which turn the Majik into a thoroughly reliable and easy-to-use daily companion. Media from just about any source can find its way through the Majik’s circuitry and into your listening room with consummate ease.

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: Hans liked the sound, but was really impressed by the functionality.

Luxman L-550AXPrice: $4990

Website: www.luxman.com

Hans said: The Luxman L-550AX is the best-sounding integrated amplifier for under $5000. Its classic design and high-quality materials set it well apart from its peers, and grace it with an inherent coolness and sophistication that smack of gear retailing for far, far more.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Who knew 20Wpc could sound so good?

Luxman M-900uPrice: $19,900

Website: www.luxman.com

Doug said: The M-900u is the best-sounding power amp I’ve ever heard. While its price of $19,900 might seem high if you look only at the specs, it isn’t when you examine how the M-900u is built, or -- especially -- when you listen to it. The M-900u is one of the best values in high-end amplifiers.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Doug’s favorite amp.

M2Tech MarleyPrice: $1699

Website: www.m2tech.biz

Uday said: If you don’t need the DAC, and/or have a tube-based system, and/or prefer things on the warmer side of neutrality, the Marley may be what you’re looking for. You should definitely check it out.

Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.

The gist: Good but basic headphone amp (that’s not cheap).

Magico Q7 Mk IIPrice: $229,000 per pair

Website: www.magico.net

Jeff said: What’s not debatable is that, in every area I value as an audiophile and music lover, the Q7 Mk II comes closer to perfection than anything else I’ve ever experienced.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Ultra review.

The gist: The best just got better.

Marshall Mode EQPrice: $99

Website: www.marshallheadphones.com

Brent said: They sound basically neutral overall, and their EQ switch lets you easily tune them to the music you’re listening to without messing up the sound in any way. They also have a great fit and a friendly design.

Read the SoundStage! Xperience review.

The gist: Get your air guitar on with these babies.

MartinLoganPrice: $1199 per pair

Website: www.martinlogan.com

Jeff said: What I look for in a speaker is one that not only makes the full range of music I listen to sound as good as it can, but that also looks good in my home, occupies as little space as the laws of physics allow, and represents supreme value for the money. All of that is offered by the MartinLogan Motion 35XT, in addition to a natural-sounding integration of tight, truthful bass and graceful highs. I believe I’ve found what I’ve been looking for.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Access review.

The gist: High value, exotic touches, and great sound.

Monitor Audio Bronze 6Price: $1099 per pair

Website: www.monitoraudiousa.com

Hans said: To my ears, Monitor Audio’s Bronze 6 is near faultless. Its build quality and appearance punch above the asking price, while its exciting, dynamic sound makes every listening experience memorable.

Reviewers' Choice

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The gist: Forget the small bookshelf speakers you were considering and get Bronze 6es instead.

Monitor Audio Gold 200Price: $4495 per pair

Website: www.monitoraudio.co.uk

Colin said: For smaller floorstanders, the Gold 200s produced both great quantity and quality of bass, and their midrange clarity and ultrawide, holographic soundstaging would make them a good choice for music and home theater. At $4495/pair, it’s not the least expensive speaker in its category, but I don’t think anyone shelling out that sum for these speakers would feel buyer’s remorse.

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The gist: Small floorstander that sports some impressive technology in an elegant package.

Monoprice 10585Price: $89.50

Website: www.monoprice.com

Rad said: The 10585s have killer good looks, fit amazingly well, fold up compactly, can be used wirelessly or wired, come with a nice storage case, run incredibly long on a single battery charge, and are that rare headphone model that can do double duty as a serious listening device and as a portable that can be used anywhere: at the gym, on the bike, at home. And they cost a third of anything comparable.

Reviewers' Choice

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The gist: And you thought Monoprice was only about cheap cabling.

Simaudio Moon Evolution 610LPPrice: $7500

Website: www.simaudio.com

Jason said: So. Bass? Check. Treble? Yep. Imaging? You bet. The 610LP did it all right. But it’s how the Simaudio put it all together that makes this phono stage truly valuable.

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The gist: Not inexpensive, but quite impressive in its capabilities.

Moon by Simaudio Evolution 760APrice: $8000

Website: www.simaudio.com

Aron said: During my time with Simaudio’s Moon Evolution 760A, I was reminded of what an exceptionally well-engineered and -constructed amplifier can provide, aesthetically and sonically. The finesse with which the 760A consistently balanced power, transparency, dynamics, tonal colors, and dimensionality, all against near-silent backgrounds, was spellbinding.

Reviewers' Choice

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The gist: Don't let its compact dimensions fool you -- it’s a powerhouse.

Moon by Simaudio Neo 260DPrice: $2000; $3000 with optional DAC

Website: www.simaudio.com

Oliver said: I’d buy a Moon Neo 260D in a heartbeat. If you’re putting together an audition list for a combo CD player-DAC, Simaudio’s Moon Neo 260D belongs at the top of it.

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The gist: A really good transport for the disc spinners out there.

Moon by Simaudio Neo 280DPrice: $2200

Website: www.simaudio.com

Uday said: The Moon Neo 280D is a well-rounded DAC that handles all musical genres with finesse, but if your tastes lean more toward rock’n’roll and fusion, the Neo 280D may very well be the DAC for you. My default recommendation in this price range has been the Oppo HA-1, but the Neo 280D should be right up there for those looking for other options in that price range or higher.

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The gist: Neo might be closer to Evolution than you think.

Moon by Simaudio Neo 430HAPrice: $3500

Website: www.simaudio.com

Brent said: It can drive any pair of headphones I’ve ever encountered to loud levels; it can handle almost any digital or analog source (assuming its optional DAC module is installed); and despite its high-tech look, it’s a pleasure to use. Most important, though, is the sound, which is a substantial step up from the lower-priced headphone amps that make up the bulk of the market these days.

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The gist: Brent said it: “Maybe it does make sense to spend $4300 on a headphone amp!”

Muraudio Domain Omni PX1Price: $63,000 per pair

Website: www.muraudio.com

Doug said: The Domain Omni PX1s cast the broadest, deepest soundstage ever in my room, all the while maintaining good center fill and sharp image focus. Add to these outstanding build quality and finishwork commensurate with the price, and a distinctive visual style, and you have a top-drawer transducer unlike any other on the planet today.

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The gist: Marries omnidirectional and electrostatic technologies resulting in a unique-sounding speaker.

Musical Fidelity M6siPrice: $2999

Website: www.musicalfidelity.com

Erich said: The M6si’s sound never drew attention to itself, handling all types of music with aplomb, and its performance was evenhanded at any listening level. I enjoyed listening to it because its sound produced no stress in me. That’s how the experience of listening to music should feel, but often doesn't. The M6si struck just the right balance.

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The gist: Flexible, powerful integrated with very nice sound.

NAD C 275BEEPrice: $1299

Website: www.nadelectronics.com

Thom said: I’ve rarely heard an amplifier of such power and such finesse. Throw big rock anthems at it and it handles them with no sweat. Feed it something detailed, and it preserves the delicacy. With their C 275BEE, NAD and Bjørn Erik Edvardsen have hit one out of the park.

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The gist: Classic NAD strengths in a powerful, affordable package.

NAD C 510Price: $1299

Website: www.nadelectronics.com

Thom said: The C 510's reproduction of recorded sound was as nearly perfect as I’ve heard in 50 years of serious listening. And the higher the resolution of the signal fed to it, the better it sounded -- as you’d expect, of course, but even better than you might expect!

Reviewers' Choice

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The gist: The perfect hub for an affordable all-digital system.

NAD Masters Series M12Price: $3499

Website: www.nadelectronics.com

Jeff said: The M12 is, in my opinion, an example of what tomorrow’s preamps will be: they’ll have analog inputs, but with a clear priority given to digital inputs; streaming capability, and a good app for its control (this is absolutely huge in importance); functionality for a 2.1-channel system; even a front-panel USB port.

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The gist: Good-sounding and feature-rich DAC-preamp for an advanced stereo system.

NAD Masters Series M17Price: $5499

Website: www.nadelectronics.com

Roger said: Combined with NAD’s matching Masters Series M27 seven-channel power amplifier -- or, for that matter, any high-quality power amp -- the M17 should provide excellent performance with both multichannel and stereo recordings.

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The gist: Solid pre-pro across the board.

NAD Masters Series M22Price: $2999

Website: www.nadelectronics.com

Jeff said: Although in some areas, such as the midband, [it] can be bettered by far more expensive electronics, the [M22] easily hung in there in such areas as bass tightness and depth.

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The gist: Powerful, solid-sounding Hypex-based stereo amp with great bass. 

NAD Masters Series M27Price: $3999

Website: www.nadelectronics.com

Roger said: In the Masters Series M27, NAD has succeeded in delivering a practical, cost-effective implementation of Hypex’s excellent-sounding Ncore amplifier technology. If you’re looking for a powerful, extremely high-quality, seven-channel amplifier that won’t break the bank, I can’t recommend the M27 highly enough. In fact, I can’t think of a comparable product in this price range.

Reviewers' Choice

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The gist: A whopping seven channels of good sound in this compact amplifier.

NAD Viso HP30Price: $229

Website: www.nadelectronics.com

Brent said: Sonically, the HP30s are quite nice. They’re not for people who want loads of treble, and the apparent detail created by that extra treble. They’re for listeners who crave a natural-sounding midrange, precisely reproduced bass, and fatigue-free sound.

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The gist: For those who crave the most neutral sound.

Nordost Norse 2 Tyr 2Price: starting at $3199.99 per cord

Website: www.nordost.com

Jason said: There’s no question in my mind that the Norse 2 Tyr 2s sound superb. Inserting them in an already great-sounding system previously lashed up with their little brother Freys, I clearly heard consistent gains in all categories of sound.

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The gist: Jason is confident you get your money’s worth.

Nordost Norse 2 Tyr 2Prices: starting at $4799.99/pair (speaker cables) and $2099.99/pair (interconnects)

Website: www.nordost.com

Jason said: There’s no question in my mind that the Norse 2 Tyr 2s sound superb. Inserting them in an already great-sounding system previously lashed up with their little brother Freys, I clearly heard consistent gains in all categories of sound.

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The gist: Handily beats Jason’s references, the original Freys.

NuPrime Audio IDA--8Price: $995

Website: www.nuprimeaudio.com

Roger said: I love the NuPrime IDA-8. It sounds fantastic, has plenty of power to drive any reasonably efficient loudspeaker to room-filling levels, it’s compact, and, best of all, it costs less than $1000.

Reviewers' Choice

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The gist: Considering the excellent built-in DAC, this little gem is great value.

NuPrime IDA-16Price: $2350

Website: www.nuprimeaudio.com

Vince said: The NuPrime IDA-16 is an exemplary integrated amp-DAC with rock-solid imaging, transparent sound, and tight control of bass. It doesn’t impose a sonic signature on the sound -- I was enthralled with every recording I played through it.

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The gist: Lots of good stuff packed into this sub-$2500 integrated-DAC.

Octave Audio Phono EQ.2Price: $1899

Website: www.octave.de

Oliver said: If you’re looking for something that can properly load your cartridge, makes marathon listening a breeze, and -- most important -- never fails to make compelling music, do yourself a solid and check out Octave Audio’s Phono EQ.2. You’ll be happy you did.

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The gist: Nice little phono stage from an iconic German firm.

Octave Audio V 110Price: $8300

Website: www.octave.de

Hans said: Octave Audio’s V 110 is a delight. Thoughtfully engineered and impeccably built, it veers from many of its tubed brethren to chart its own paths in both circuit architecture and sound. The V 110 lacks the tonal colorations one might expect from its seven tubes. Its reproduction of music is as clean and pure as it is supple and vital -- I suggest giving it a listen for its exquisite midband alone.

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The gist: German engineering applied to tubes.

Onkyo CP-1050 Turntable with OC-105Price: $499

Website: www.us.onkyo.com

Thom said: The CP-1050 seemed to have its own sound, and would match well with a slightly better, lively sounding, moderate-cost cartridge with elliptical stylus from Audio-Technica or Ortofon. If you’re in the market to enter or re-enter the Wonderful World of Vinyl, the Onkyo CP-1050 may be just what you need.

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The gist: Competent turntable for a decent price.

OnkyoPrice: $1199

Website: www.onkyousa.com

Sathyan said: For readers mostly interested in video playback that supports the latest audio codecs -- Onkyo has, impressively, delivered Dolby Atmos via a firmware update -- but want to occasionally listen to music, the TX-NR838 is a solid value.

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The gist: One of many good HT receivers on the market.

Oppo Digital HA-2Price: $299

Website: www.oppodigital.com

Hans said: It’s incredibly well designed, with the build quality and feel of a modern iPhone, and the style and flair of something that will look at home in any setting. Factor in ruler-flat neutrality, flexibility of use with a wide variety of devices, and a fast-charge feature that you’ll never want to be without, and I can’t think of one area in which the HA-2 comes up short.

Reviewers' Choice

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The gist: High-style, great-sounding headphone DAC-amp for a very reasonable price.

Oppo Digital PM-2Price: $699

Website: www.oppodigital.com

Hans said: Their build and appearance are beyond reproach -- every detail has been assiduously attended to -- and whatever concessions the PM-2s make to the PM-1s on the luxury front are, to my mind, unimportant. Discriminating consumers take note: Oppo’s PM-2s sound every bit as good as they look and feel -- and they look and feel superlative.

Reviewers' Choice

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The gist: Maybe the sweet spot in Oppo's knockout line of headphones.

Oppo Digital PM-3Price: $399

Website: www.oppodigital.com

Brent said: The Oppo Digital PM-3s are a great alternative to ordinary closed-back headphones, with a more trebly and detailed sound than most, and without the big, somewhat booming bass produced by many, if not most, closed-back ’phones. They’re a great choice for someone looking for a high-quality, high-detail listening experience on the go.

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The gist: Oppo has this headphone stuff figured out!

Optoma NuForce DDA120Price: $699

Website: www.optomausa.com

Roger said: The NuForce DDA120 sounds every bit as good as the DDA-100 that it replaces, which means that it’s a great-sounding integrated amplifier-DAC. Although it costs $150 more than its predecessor, it adds some key conveniences, including Bluetooth connectivity and an analog input.

Reviewers' Choice

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The gist: Flexible connectivity and a great price make this a prime candidate for your next desktop system.

Outdoor Tech Buckshot ProPrice: $79.95

Website: www.outdoortechnology.com

Rad said: Though the Buckshot Pro is flexible as to placement, I think it will mostly be used attached to bicycle handlebars, with the speaker pointed at the rider and the flashlight pointed forward. Then it will keep you marginally safe and modestly entertained, and act as an emergency phone charger if you need it.

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The gist: Sound for the cyclist.

Outdoor Tech. TuisPrice: $129.95

Website: www.outdoortechnology.com

Rad said: I can applaud the Tuis for their visual design, and Outdoor Tech. for trying to break the mold. But considering the Koss BT540i’s and many other headphones out there (Polk and Monoprice come to mind), and adding in the Tuis’ somewhat loose fit and difficult navigation controls, I can’t recommend them.

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The gist: Just not very good.

ParadigmPrice: $4998 per pair

Website: www.paradigm.com

Hans said: The Reference Prestige 95F is a beauty of a loudspeaker, especially in its optional Midnight Cherry finish, the quality of which easily exceeded even my high standards. With a sophisticated, cultured sound and bass extension to die for, the flagship of Paradigm’s new Prestige line is as arresting to listen to as it is to look at. Paradigm appears to have come up with another winner!

Reviewers' Choice

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The gist: This new direction for Paradigm is striking.

Parasound Halo A 31Price: $3295

Website: www.parasound.com

Roger said: The Halo A 31 has a clear, detailed sound that belies its price, combined with just a touch of warmth. This blend of qualities made it a joy to listen to. Add to that its prodigious power output and rock-solid build quality, and I can assure you: It’s the real deal.

Reviewers' Choice

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The gist: Roger was knocked out by the sound.

Pathos Acoustics Lògos MKIIPrice: $6295

Website: www.pathosacoustics.com

Oliver said: It’s a thoroughly accomplished performer that makes music in a natural and wholly believable way. It was compelling enough that even I enjoyed it over the long haul. If you’re looking for a hybrid amp to delight the eyes as much as the ears, I can think of none better than the Pathos Lògos MKII.

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The gist: Style and substance from this Italian beauty.

Phiaton MS 100 BAPrice: $99

Website: www.phiaton.com

Brent said: If you want earphones that deliver great reproduction of voices and exceptional treble detail -- and you want to pay less than $100 to get it -- I think the MS 100 BAs are the best thing going for the price.

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The gist: One of Brent’s favorites.

Philips BT3500BPrice: $79.99

Website: www.usa.philips.com

Rad said: The Philips B3500B is a small speaker that combines Bluetooth connectivity with a slightly retro style that should please many listeners who like a midrange-centric sound.

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The gist: Not bad, but look for it on sale.

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