Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Many of the records in my collection date back to the pre-CD days—some back to the 1960s. Most of them have been played a lot over the years. And until 1972 or so, I regret to say, I didn’t have anything with which to clean them. So some are a bit grungy.

Note: for the full suite of measurements from the SoundStage! Audio-Electronics Lab, click this link.

Reviewers' ChoiceI don’t think I’ve ever prejudiced a review as much as this one. It started with an editorial in which I questioned the need for external digital-to-analog converters outside of specific use cases, such as adding digital connectivity to an all-analog setup, or adding support for formats not handled natively by the internal DAC of a beloved piece of gear. Brent Butterworth and I followed that up with a discussion on the SoundStage! Audiophile Podcast, in which we basically concluded that DACs have become a commodity, which is an increasingly common sentiment in the industry. But as I said in my unboxing blog post for iFi Audio’s Zen One Signature, if there’s one DAC that I think has the potential to address all of the relevant use-cases listed above while also being reasonably priced, it’s this one.

Personally, I’ve always liked automatic turntables. Automatic refers to the way they work with records. On most manual turntables, you have to pick up the arm and manually place it in the lead-in groove, hence the name. A semi-automatic will either stop rotating at the end of a side, or in some cases, stop rotating and lift the arm from the disc, but starting the record is still a manual operation.

Note: for the full suite of measurements from the SoundStage! Audio-Electronics Lab, click this link.

Reviewers' ChoiceI should probably state right from the giddy-up that there’s going to be a lot of overlap between my review of Rotel’s new A12MKII integrated amplifier-DAC ($1099.99, all prices USD) and that of the company’s A11 Tribute ($799.99) from around this time last year. There are, after all, a lot of similarities in terms of aesthetics, ergonomics, design, and of course sound. But don’t get lulled into a trance by the repetition; there are some significant differences between the A11 Tribute and A12MKII that may or may not be relevant given your needs, preferences, and the rest of your stereo setup.

Note: measurements taken in the anechoic chamber at Canada's National Research Council can be found through this link.

It’s getting to the point where even the most elitist high-end audio enthusiasts have to admit that the performance delta between affordable and aspirational audio gear is shrinking at an ever-increasing rate. More and more these days, the things that separate budget components from the spendy stuff are styling, materials, finishes, pedigree, exclusivity, and so forth. All valid, mind you. I’m not discounting any of them. But there’s also a good argument to be made that at the upper end of the value scale—meaning the lower end of the price scale—there aren’t a whole lot of speakers that can peel your face straight off your skull in a really large room while also being refined and balanced at lower listening levels. I’d say my go-to in this category is GoldenEar Technology’s Triton Two+, but at $4500/pair (all prices USD), that one is still quite out of reach for a lot of people. All of which makes Paradigm’s new Monitor SE 8000F—a $1699.98/pair beast of a loudspeaker that promises to fit this niche—potentially very exciting.

Note: for the full suite of measurements from the SoundStage! Audio-Electronics Lab, click this link.

Reviewers' ChoiceNAD’s new C 399 (with or without its BluOS-D expansion module) is a fascinating integrated amp straight out of the box. Fascinating because, despite claiming the top spot in the company’s Classic Series lineup and sharing that family’s aesthetic and naming conventions, it is in a lot of ways a bridge between the Classic and Masters Series, employing as it does the Ncore amplifier technology previously used in the latter, as well as the same 32-bit/384kHz ESS Sabre DAC chip used in the Masters M10 and M33.

I started collecting LPs and singles back in my blushing youth, about a million years ago. At first, I admit, I didn’t care for them very well. But when the Discwasher first came out in 1972, I took the leap and bought one. While it didn’t deep clean really dirty records, it was great for new purchases and kept them pretty much like new.

Note: Measurements taken in the anechoic chamber at Canada's National Research Council can be found through this link.

Reviewers' ChoiceWhat metrics should we use to evaluate the success of a loudspeaker, or even a full speaker lineup? Longevity? Value? Pure sales numbers? Customer satisfaction? Brand recognition? Glowing subjective reviews? Objective measurements? Ultimately, when it comes to Monitor Audio’s Silver series, it sort of doesn’t matter. No matter your preferred criteria, the Silver line has, since its introduction in 1999, represented a Goldilocks zone of performance and price for oodles of audio enthusiasts, largely due to its understated but elegant design, commonsense engineering, attractive MSRP, and overall lack of silliness.

Reviewers' ChoiceWhen I first removed the Music Hall Stealth turntable from its box, all I could say to myself was “Boy—is that ever BLACK!” Music Hall “President for Life” Roy Hall has appropriately christened this latest Music Hall turntable Stealth, as it presents a relentlessly black countenance, except for five inconspicuous points: a trim ring where the headshell meets the tonearm, parts of the arm lift mechanism, the bottom of the vertical tracking angle tower, the center spindle, and the Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge. The dust cover, made from velveteen cloth rather than clear plastic, is deep black. Even the bolts holding the cartridge in the headshell are black! Opinions on the Stealth’s overall aesthetic are sure to be polarized.

Reviewers' ChoiceIn September 2020, SoundStage! publisher Doug Schneider wrote about the Pro-Ject Audio Systems X1 turntable in his “System One” column on SoundStage! Hi-Fi. His headline posed the following question: “Perfection from Pro-Ject for under $1000?” His review never quite answered that, but he liked the X1 so much he recommended that another SoundStage! reviewer buy one.