Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment


Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

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.

Thorens is an old company given new life by CEO Gunter Kürten, once with Denon and a former CEO of Elac. Founded in 1883, Thorens made its first record player in 1903, its first electrically driven turntable in 1928, and its iconic TD 124 turntable in 1957. The TD 124 became a standard in its time as a result of its many innovations. First, it used an unusual belt/idler drive: the motor drove the belt, which drove the idler, which caused the platter to spin; this system reduced rumble. An unusual suspension system made it nearly impervious to shock, and it had a built-in stroboscope, which, in conjunction with a ±6% pitch control, gave it outstanding speed control. It also came with a spirit level on its top plate that made leveling easier. And it had a unique clutch assembly that provided nearly instantaneous start and stop, which made the TD 124 popular with radio stations, where tight cueing was critical.

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

I should state right up front that I have absolutely no experience in marketing or product branding, so take everything that follows in this and the next paragraph with the appropriate dosage of salt. Hear me out, though. Imagine if Apple or Amazon or Roku—or any consumer electronics company whose name rolls off the tongue of your average consumer—developed a product like Emotiva’s “BasX TA1 Stereo Preamp/DAC/Tuner with Integrated Amplifier” ($549, all prices USD).

Between the 1960s and the CD’s short-lived conquest of recorded media, Dual turntables were a key component of many stereo systems. Duals were well constructed, sharp looking, and did a credible job of transferring sound from the record groove. For decades, Duals have been my turntable of choice, starting with the entry-level automatic 1212 in 1970 and running through to my current reference, a Dual CS5000 semi-automatic (it lifts the arm when it gets to the end of the side) that I bought used in the 1990s.

It’s been nearly nine years since SVS introduced its beloved PB-1000 subwoofer, a beefy little overachiever that exemplified the company’s approach to bass, and in many ways served as the template for all the bigger and pricier models that followed. Loathe as I am to lean on clichés of this sort, that model’s popularity and longevity indicate that there was nothing fundamentally broken about it. Far from it. So what was fixed in the upgrade from PB-1000 to the new PB-1000 Pro?

Theory Audio Design is the latest venture by audio engineer Paul Hales. Hales was a prominent name in the 1980s and ’90s, with successful speaker lines marketed under his Hales Design Group brand. I remember lusting after the Transcendence Five, a three-way floorstanding speaker that offered beautiful, full-range sound. It featured a heavily built, sealed cabinet with a contoured front baffle for excellent soundstaging. After Hales Design Group, Hales became director of research and development for QSC Audio, a company well known for its commercial cinema systems. From there, he started Pro Audio Technology, which features professional-level home-theater speaker systems designed for the most demanding applications. To complement Pro Audio Technology, in 2018, Hales started Theory Audio Design, a company specializing in residential speaker systems that can be placed wherever flexibility is required.

Reviewers' ChoiceAccording to Wikipedia, “Cliffwood is an unincorporated community located within Aberdeen Township in Monmouth County, New Jersey, United States.” As of the 2010 US Census, the population of Cliffwood’s ZIP Code Tabulation Area, 07721, was 2974.

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

Let’s go ahead and get one thing out of the way, right from the giddy-up. If you’re perfectly well-served by and happy with a wireless multiroom speaker ecosystem around your house—something like a Sonos speaker system, or even a gaggle of Amazon Echo or Google Nest smart speakers—you probably don’t need an amp like AudioControl’s The Director Model M4800. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a truly audiophile-quality distributed-audio solution that can be used with practically any speakers you can imagine, let’s talk. Because the M4800 may be exactly the amp you didn’t know you needed. And shockingly enough, it’s not stupid expensive.

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

Recently I’ve been reviewing a lot of DACs, and I’ve noticed that two of the biggest differentiators among them are the type and quality of digital filter used. I have yet to hear a DAC from, say, Chord or dCS, so this is only a hypothesis, but I believe that the digital filter is at least as important as most other technical aspects of a DAC.

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

Longtime readers of SoundStage! Access with particularly good memories may be feeling some déjà vu right about now. Didn’t we already review the Musical Fidelity M6si integrated amplifier-DAC some years back, much closer to its release in 2014? We did.