The key to being a professional in the audio business is to maintain objectivity in the selection Of components. Even so, being human, one cannot avoid having a preference for one component over another even if they are equally matched. One calls to you more and appeals to your emotions more than the other. That is what this list is all about –A grouping of standout amps, cd players, phono stages speakers, etc. which come to mind when I muse about what I LIKE BEST.
LFD LE VI - perhaps the most musical integrated amp in its class. For luddites only. No remote control !
Luxman D-05 –One of the great bargains in CD/SACD Player DACS. Always musical and eloquent.
Harbeth Speakers - when in doubt pick a Harbeth ! From tiny to quite substantial every model is musical detailed and harmonically just right and will perform wonderfully in any listening environment. My personal favorites : the a Monitor 30.2 - 40th Anniversary Edition and The P3ESR 40th Anniversary Edition in olive wood
Ypsilon PST-100- my favorite phono stage which has:
” the high-frequency clarity, air, and extension of the best solid-state phono preamps, as well as the harmonic expression and musical flow of the best tube phono preamps, with none of the negatives of either". - Michael Fremer ,
Stereophile Class A+ Component: Aug. 2009
CH Precision L1- Best solid state line stage bar none
CH Precision M1 Best solid state amplifier, period!
MSB Technology Reference DAC and Transport- The ne plus ultra of digital playback
Aurender Music Servers - Any of them .Most reliable and intuitive to use of anything currently on the market with flawless sound.
VAC 200 Signature 200IQ- A triumph of tube audio reproduction. Self biasing ,stereo or mono at the flick of a switch and punches way above its weight.
Endeavor E 3 II – some of the most satisfying all around floor standing speakers made. Excellent on an absolute scale . Pretty much impossible to beat at the price.
CHORD THE DAVE- Simply the most musical DAC/Pre under 20k-add the CHORD BLU II transport and upsample all CDS to 24/192 !
Tom Evans The Groove Anniversary : Like all Tom Evans phono stages from the Micro Groove on up this baby allows your system to extract the maximum information from your records with the lowest noise imaginable. Superb harmonic retrieval.
Zanden 120 Phono Stage-Detailed and versatile
Vac Renaissance Signature Phono stage- Luscious and highly detailed at the same time
Norma REV IPA-140 integrated amp. There is nothing solid state close to its price which is as good.
PS AUDIO Direct Stream DAC And Direct Stream Jr. – Beats the hell out of any DACs I know of south of 10K
BAT VK 33 Preamp and Bat VK-56 –detailed and harmonically rich Tubed preamp and amp.
Rogue Rp-1 Preamp -Best preamp made under 2k
Rogue Cronus Magnum - How they make a tube integrated this good for $2500.00 I’ll never know.
Rogue Sphinx- Hybrid integrated too good for its cost!
Luxman L 505 UXII- all around best sounding full featured integrated amp under $5000.00
Feickert Woodpecker-an unsung killer of a turntable at a respectable price.
Kaiser kawero-if this is not the most musical speaker on the planet I will eat my hat.
Kronos Pro le – Best turntable made.
Absolare Integrated- the magic of Tubes with punch and power of solid state.
Absolare Push Pull 845 Amps - May be the best 845 tube amp in the business.
Audionet Sam g2 An integrated amp with detail galore
Audionet AMP mono power amps the most competent solid state amp I have heard under 20K
Tone trager Stands. I knew that speaker stands made a difference but not this much –Absolutely Awesome!
Raidho C 1.2 and the Raidho D-1.1 -unequivocally two of the best small speakers in the world. So transparent, they simply disappear and all you have left is the music !
Following several years of careful preparation, Absolare has brought to market a new perspective in Push-Pull amplification with its introduction of an 85 watt Push-Pull amplifier. The Absolare Push-Pull amplifier combines the finesse, delicacy and midrange magic of a Single Ended Triode amplifier with the capability of driving an even wider range of speakers.
The Absolare Push-Pull Amplifier has two chassis monoblock construction. Laser cut and welded 3mm aluminum chassis are enclosed in a high density fiber cover to minimize the mechanical resonances. Power supply and speaker output transformers are in epoxy filled metal cans to minimize vibration and magnetic interference. 5mm thick aluminum bottom cover provides a stable base for the feet. Internal components are mounted on a thick aluminum plate which is bolted to chassis. With the painted top layer, overall thickness of aluminum where the components are mounted is more than half inch (14mm). This is a much better option than to have a very thick front plate just to support single power indicator LED and mount all the signal components on thin PCB's.
All signal connectors are gold/silver plated tellurium copper. Binding posts are silver coated copper with polyethylene barrels to decrease conductor mass. All tube sockets are made of pure teflon with gold plated copper contacts. The power supply for B+ voltage contains a three stage capacitor-inductor double-pi filter which employs highest grade ultra-low ESR Mundorf capacitors to obtain maximum levels of dynamics and detail in the output signal. Power by-pass capacitors are placed at every tube's supply pin to further increase dynamics and lower the noise. All tube heaters are DC regulated and heavily filtered. All internal cabling is done with Echole family alloys. A timer circuit enables a smooth start-up operation to protect the tubes from imbalanced power-up voltages. Power resistors are oversized for safety in the case of tube failures.
All tube signal section has transformer coupling between driver and output stages, ensuring perfectly symmetrical signal for push-pull operation. EL34 tubes provide a powerful drive for 845 output tubes. Phase splitting is done via a high current 12AT7 tube. Separate power filters for each stage eliminate modulation distortions. Signal components are directly mounted on the underside of the tube sockets with point-to-point soldering. Custom winding of output transformer maintains perfect symmetry and low distortion at every level.
The sonic objective is to allow the Push-Pull topology to deliver a natural, musically involving listener experience without a discernible sonic signature and with a new level of dynamic contrast and harmonic resolution unprecedented in today’s Push-Pull designs.
Words can hardly convey what the new SAM G2 is capable of achieving. With a spacious yet subtle sound, it plays transparently and spatially, sleekly and most powerfully. Reproducing every single note naturally and effortlessly. The new SAM G2 is even more committed and passionate than its predecessor. Indeed, its richness of information and tone, power and authority as well as its musical coherence has audiophile critics clapping their writing hands everywhere on the globe.
Such quality is scarce on the market, making this device ideally suited for domestic use and tonally convincing musical reproduction. The SAM G2 masters all the tasks set to it with dedication, captivating its listeners with breathtaking authenticity. Its sound is characterized by speed, purpose and honesty, yet at the same time is full of charm, finesse and the utmost care to detail. With its catching enthusiasm, this lively device produces a surprisingly realistic sound experience.
Blockbusters for Demanding Listeners
The new Audionet AMP high performance power amplifiers are true mono-blocks that combine remarkable sound potential with high-end technical possibilities. A pair of blockbusters for real connoisseurs.
Air plays a key role in regard to our AMP mono-blocks. For one thing, the pair needs some air around them in order to permit the diffusion of the heat either block generates. And for another, air is part of the sound experience they offer: every fragment of a beat, every acoustic detail is offered to the listener in transparent spatiality, as if encapsulated in the purest air. Weighing in at 22 kilograms, the two mono outputs deliver a maximum of airiness and vivid rendition, and may well bring tears of joy to the eyes of more sensitive listeners. The AMPs play with fascinating ease, impressing us with acoustic permeability, tonal accuracy and striking macro- and micro-dynamical precision. The musical reproduction is transparent, airy and colorful, but remains agreeably relaxed at the same time.
Designed to be used with high performance digital-to-analog converters, the Aurender N10 – the penultimate server is the only Music Player to support on-the-fly precision DSD to PCM conversion by FPGA.
With 8TB of (4TBx2) internal hard disk drives and one 240GB solid-state drive cache for playback, the N10 is the perfect solution for even the most extensive high resolution music collections.
If you own a computer audio system, you know that time spent fussing is time lost listening.
Consider the alternative - the Aurender N100H or N100C seamlessly replaces your aging computer. Your music will now be stored on the N100’s internal hard drive, available in either 2TB or 4TB capacity with a 120GB solid state (SSD) caching drive performing all file playback for superior fidelity and reliability. Management of your digital music library and Tidal lossless streaming service is simple and intuitive, thanks to our award-winning Aurender Conductor app. And all major digital file formats are supported at native bit and sampling rates.
Housed in beautiful machined aluminum casework, either N100 version will compliment your existing system components and deliver a new level of musicality you have to hear to believe.
With its new transformer-coupled outputs and superb user interface, the VK-33SE offers both extremely dynamic, transparent renditions of musical events and the industry’s best ease-of-use versatility. The result of intense research, each of the preamplifier’s transformer-coupled outputs is encapsulated within a mu-metal shield, a design substantially superior to any capacitor in maintaining purity of signal transmission. True to its heritage, the VK-33SE uses the 6H30 SuperTube to form a high-current, low-impedance gain stage. For extra convenience, the fully balanced VK-33SE even incorporates a mix of balanced and single-ended inputs as well as outputs The VK-33SE preamplifier is truly an outstanding performer in Balanced Audio Technology’s line of Special Edition vacuum tube preamplifiers. At BAT, they don’t look over our shoulders to see what the competition is doing. Their toughest competition comes from within.
With its new transformer-coupled outputs, the VK-33SE simply offers a far more dynamic and transparent rendition of the musical event than previously thought possible. Available with or without MM/MC Phono Stage.
Known for its use of Unique Tubes and Circuits BAT recently introduced one of the great bargains in amplification : the VK 56Compact Chassis, Outstanding Performance, Stunning Affordability
The Balanced Audio Technology VK-56 represents the meticulous application of modern design principles to the development of a compact, affordable, and supremely easy-to-use vacuum-tube power amplifier that sets a new standard for musicality in its class. The result is a unique combination of fully balanced, all-triode design topology, automatic biasing of individual output tubes, and a marvelously simple upgrade path to monoblock operation—all in a chassis more compact than any previous BAT tube amplifier design. In addition, VK-56 is available with a silver color option that incorporates a silver front faceplate and matching rear arch. By using the same high-current dual-triode 6C33C-B tube employed in BAT’s flagship REX II power amplifier, VK-56 (55Wpc stereo, 110Wpc monoblock configuration) delivers the high-current kick required to drive even difficult low-impedance speaker loads. You can simply choose the stereo or monoblock version based upon your choice of speaker and room size. VK-56 can be upgraded to VK-56SE status at any time.
Chord’s most advanced DAC to date is the DAVE. Frankly, I did not know what to expect when it arrived and even more frankly did not actually much care as I was blessed by an over abundance of nominally similar converters. Then I set it up and played a few Hi Res files through it. It took about 5 minutes for me to realize that DAVE was not only playing rings around competitively priced DACS but was putting components which sold for twice it price to shame. Today , the next step up from DAVE which we offer is 2.5 times its price. That says it all !
DAVE is not just a highly advanced reference-grade DAC. It is also a superb digital preamp and headphone amplifier. British in the tradition of an Alan Turing , DAVE employs a new (and in electronics terms, huge) LX75 version of the Spartan 6 Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA). The FPGA''s amazing capacity results in significantly improved timing and the best noise-shaper performance of any known DAC. DAVE''s technology delivers music with unparalleled veracity and musicality, with an unrivalled timing response.
USB B-style: 44 kHz to 768 kHz - DXD and Quad DSD
2x optical: 44kHz to 192kHz
1 x AES: 44kHz to 192kHz
4 x Coax: 44kHz to 384kHz
Dual-data mode available
2x ultra-high-speed coax 768kHz dual-data mode for use with future-unannounced Chord Electronics products.
Maximum output voltage: 6 volts RMS
THD and noise at 2.5 volts: RMS 0.000015 %
THD and noise at 2.5 volts: 127dBA Awt (124dBA into 33 ohms)
Dynamic range at -60 dBFS 1kHz -127 dBA A wt
(No measurable noise floor modulation, no a harmonic distortion)
(Analogue distortion characteristic: no distortion for small signals)
Power requirements: mains power 80 volts to 260 volts; AC 20 watts
“It doesn’t take more than a few seconds of listening to realise that the DAVE is something special. It just sounds so right from the beginning that it genuinely takes effort to even try to deconstruct its performance. When we did, we found a formidable array of talents with no discernable weaknesses. Orff’s Carmina Burana is one of the most demanding pieces of music we know. It has savage dynamics coupled to complex instrumentation and varies from outright frenzy to angelic harmonies in the space of just a few seconds. The DAVE takes it all in stride.
This DAC renders a convincing acoustic – a believable space populated by the choir and instruments. Sound staging is excellent. It is precise, layered and neatly arranged. More than that it’s stable, even when the music turns demanding. The tonal balance is similarly impressive being even-handed and utterly convincing. No part of the frequency range gets undue preference and there’s a lovely balance between attack and refinement.”
WHAT* HIFI - 27th June 2016
If someone had asked me a couple of years ago what kind of speaker the world could use given the abundance of models available , I would have said
" How about a REALLY NEUTRAL SOUNDING moderately sized floorstander which can play any kind of music soft or loud which can work in small and large rooms alike presented in an attractive package which sells under 10K made right here in the States ." Then we would have both smiled and sighed because there was no such thing. Then almost like a wish coming true ENDEAVOR AUDIO ENGINEERING INTRODUCED THE AMAZING E-3II .
Endeavor Audio is the alter ego of the very talented Leif Swanson who has for a number of years now has been an integral part of the design team at Von Schweickert Audio. This past year the two companies merged bringing together two of the most talented speaker guys in the USA Leif and Albert Von Schweickert under one roof. The result has been most salutory.
In addition to the E3 Endeavor produces the E5 , which looks a little like an E3 on growth hormones and provides the scale and dynamics one would expect of a speaker its size and price without ever losing the charm and intimacy characteristic of the its little sibling.
To date I have heard no speaker system under 10k which can outplay the E3 II
and few which come close . Considering the ease with which they can navigate any and all genres of music and their uncanny ability to bring out the best of the music in any environment the E-3 mk II certainly are the speaker to beat.
“When I first heard the E3 this year, I was blown away. I don’t say that lightly, either – the flippin’ system was loud enough to fracture drywall. But the sound I heard was extended, dynamic, and detailed – even when stuffed into a tiny shoebox of a hotel room.”
- SCOTT HULL,
The Woodpecker is an entirely new turntable design in which timeless elegance meets excellence in sound. Dr. Feickert Analogue refined its already well-proven bearing design adding a new high-inertia platter driven by a new high-torque motor. The motor is then further enhanced by a newly developed motor electronics package. Why the emphasis on new? Because this ground-up development has resulted in an extremely balanced and inherently musical turntable with an appealing compact chassis – the new base-line of excellence in turntable design.
The Woodpecker turntable is available by itself or as part of a complete package that includes a 12" Jelco tonearm .
"The Woodpecker Package has proven itself to be a very capable platform for vinyl playback. Its High Inertia Platter, updated drive system, redesigned bearing, quick-release sliding-tonearm mounting system, and Acoustical Systems Arché headshell combine to give the turntable solid and steady playback capabilities. The gorgeous VANA-specified finish adds beauty to solid baseline performance. If you are in the market for a turntable in this price range, you owe it to yourself to include the Woodpecker in that search. Given the Woodpecker’s ability to work well with cartridges far more expensive and capable than what would normally be installed, it could possibly serve its owner far into the future." by Andre Jennings
• Dimensions: 19" x 15" x 5.5"
• Armboard: 205–300 mm pivot-spindle (9–12 inch effective length)
• Weight: 40lbs• Warranty: 2 years, with 5 years on the bearing
MSB’s Reference DAC is just one step below the Select DAC when it comes to performance. However, when tricked out, it produces a sound that is virtually indistinguishable from the Select model.
The MSB Reference DAC includes:
optical/coaxial input module
base output module
Femto 140 clock
stock colors: silver and black (custom colors available with extended manufacturing time and custom color charge)
The MSB Reference DAC upgrade options are the same as on the Select
The PS Audio Direct Stream DAC will change the way you think about digital to analog converters. When used as a companion to the PS Audio Perfectwave Transport memory player, it produces sound quality typically associated with DACs costing as much as three times the price. With its network bridge, the Direct Stream DAC accesses high-resolution digital audio data from multiple sources, including a computer, network, or the Internet, and converts the data to the most natural sounding analog audio ever produced. It can convert any digital input format, such as PCM or DSD, to a pure DSD stream and produces a near-perfect analog directly to your power amplifier or preamp. Whatever the format or sample rate the PS Audio DirectStream DAC is a pure DSD based solution that fulfills the promise of a high-resolution analog performance standard that compact discs were meant to produce.
The PS Audio DirectStream Junior, also known as the DSJ, is an affordable, state-of-the-art DAC that has been called a “technological wonder,” awarded Product of the Year in Stereophile and TAS, and received a Darko Knock-Out award, as well as Editors’ Choice and Golden Ear awards. The DSJ is an extraordinary performance instrument that manages to uncover all of the missing information long hidden in your audio library, from both PCM and DSD sources. CD’s, high-resolution PCM, or DSD based media, are expertly up-sampled to a 20x DSD rate with pure analog outputs delivered directly into your amplifier or preamp. DSJ is one of the few, true, full-analog DSD devices, setting the industry on its ear and reshaping the landscape of music and high-end audio.
Now, the DSJ is MQA, Tidal (including Masters), Spotify, Qobuz, VTuner, and Roon ready.
Imagine going to a recording studio and listening to a master tape of any recording ever made. This is the experience DSJ affords its owners who enjoy a renewed sense of enjoyment and discovery when listening to everything to their library: CD’s, downloads, DSD.
The Raidho Acoustics D-1.1 is a compact 2-way stand-mounted loudspeaker featuring the Raidho Diamond Driver and the Raidho Ribbon Tweeter that proves that less is more. By minimizing and virtually removing resonances, the listener’s mind is free to enjoy crisp musical reproduction on a whole new level. The D-1 offers endless performance in all respects.
The Raidho C1.2 is the direct descendant of the legendary Raidho C1.1, the original model that started it all. The C-1.2 is the smallest loudspeaker in the C-series, but has quickly earned a reputation as an instant Raidho classic winning awards and gaining accolades from all over the globe. The C-1.2 is built around the Raidho Ribbon Tweeter and the unique Raidho Ceramix Driver. It is an incredible speaker that, like the rest of the items in the Raidho catalogue, over performs.
Elegantly simple, yet technically sophisticated, the Rogue RP-1 is offered at 1/3 the price of the RP-7 and is the best sounding preamp you can buy less than $2000. Based on the innovative RP-X platform, it is stunning in both performance and design. With all of the features needed for a true high-end system, boasting outstanding specs and remarkable sonics, the RP-1 sets a new benchmark in affordability, performance, and functionality.
The remarkably musical onboard MM/MC phono has user-adjustable gain settings of 43 and 58 dB to accommodate most popular cartridge and, with a wide variety of loading options your favorite cartridge can be configured to sound its very best. The discrete 1w headphone amplifier will thrill you with its smooth and refined sound.
This Rogue offering, now in its third iteration, like so many others, seems too good to be true. This 80w per channel tube amp, integrated with MM phono stage, sounds so convincing for so little outlay it has competitors scratching their heads. It will drive almost anything, sounds great, and is extremely reliable.
The new MasterGroove mkII is a performance reality that no other solid state manufacturer understands how to equal.
Creating a ne plus ultra phono stage for $20,000.00 while a spectacular achievement is perhaps less surprising than what Tom Evans does in the moderately priced arena. His MicroGroove XII and Microgroove+xII simply stand head and shoulder above all phono stages in the sub $2500.00 range. They are the only MC stages we recommend in this performance class.
This 100 watt per channel stereo, 200 watt monoblock powerhouse features the exclusive patented VAC iQ Continuous Automatic Bias System, the only system that has the ability to hold each power tube's true underlying idle current steady at all times, resulting in more detail, increased subjective power, greater stability, lower noise, less distortion, and no more runaway tubes.
It will even tell you when it's time to replace weak tubes.
Conventional wisdom would suggest that the most critical part of a preamplifier is the active circuit design. Ypsilon, however, believes that the means of signal attenuation (the volume control) is most critical to the overall sound. Most designers use resistor attenuators for volume control, while Ypsilon long used resistor attenuators with high quality resistors, but that was before they developed their own transformer as the means of attenuation.
Unfortunately, even the best resistors can sound grainy and discontinuous. The materials used in resistors are far from ideal as conductors and sound much worse than pure copper or silver, doing harm to the signal. In a transformer, however, the magnetic circuit can be ultra-linear when the very best core materials are used creating a sound that is more musical and detailed compared with the best resistors. That’s why Ypsilon produced, in-house, a special transformer attenuator with 31 taps.
The maximum attenuation is 52db and maximum gain is 12db. The output impedance is 150 Ω max. The PST is the pinnacle in pre-amplification and a must have component for building a “no holds” system.
The only solid-state component which Zanden makes is it’s model 120 phono preamp . The 120 has two inputs either of which can be designated as high or low impedance. It continues the tradition of offering multiple phono equalization curves as in the 3002. While not as luxurious as it’s big brother the model 120, it is and exceptional performer in its own right.
The uttermost quality of a preamplifier is its transparency. The source is selected and the volume is applied, however the original audio characteristics and signal dynamics are fully retained. The L1, a dual monaural analog line level preamplifier, was developed using this approach. It is a pure class A, ultra low noise, high bandwidth, fully balanced transistor based design. It provides the shortest path between input and output, maintaining the highest speed, transparency and musicality, allowing the L1 to become a truly exceptional preamplifier.
Being able to truthfully and accurately reproduce today’s highest quality recordings has never been more challenging. Only when each element of the reproduction chain is able to precisely recreate the music’s time and level information can a genuine emotion be felt.
The M1, CH Precision 1 Series’ most powerful amplifier was developed with this in mind. The leading-edge technological advancements implemented on the A1 were further refined, among others is the ExactBias circuitry and a finer loudspeaker matching.
Specified at 200W RMS into 8Ω in monaural mode, 2x 200W RMS into 8Ω in bi-amplification / Stereo modes and 700W RMS into 8Ω in bridge mode, the M1 houses a dedicated 2200VA power transformer providing the amplifier output stage with ample energy to accurately and effortlessly drive the most demanding loudspeakers.
“As classically correct as solid state gets yet as musically engaging and expressive as the best electronics I’ve used, the CH Precision L1, P1 and M1 come awfully close to the "nothing added, nothing taken away" ideal of high-end replay. Yes, they have a character to go with their astonishing levels of resolution and organization, but they never allow sonic obsession to obstruct their musical purpose. No, they don’t match the rich body and sheer presence of the best -- the very best -- tube electronics. Listening to them, am I aware that I’m listening to solid-state designs? Yes, but only if I actually stop to think about it -- and that’s the key. What CH Precision has achieved is to bend solid-state technology and combine it with sophisticated microprocessor control to produce purely musical ends. Like all truly great designs -- and make no mistake about their greatness -- these products exploit their chosen technology and materials and ameliorate their flaws. The result is capable, poised and polished performance that still manages to shock, surprise and amuse. The musical message is so central and so articulate that the medium becomes utterly secondary.
The M1 power amp is simply the most musically accomplished, high-powered solid-state piece it has been my pleasure to use. I love its configurable nature and I love the idea of adding additional amps along the way, even if the cost of just one of these is beyond my means. One M1 or two A1s? Definitely the M1. It has a confidence and stability, a freedom from constraint at either end of the musical range that is rare indeed. Which leaves us with the L1, the least outwardly special but, quietly, the most impressive and fundamentally musical product here.
Used individually, any of these units will, by turns, astonish, beguile, impress and entertain. Used together, I have no doubt that this is one of the finest and most musically complete electronic chains currently available. It is also by its nature, one of the most musically consistent. The cost of ownership is horribly and unattainably high and, given the ability to seemingly expand each and every component ever further, almost without limit, but for those who can afford it, the performance will -- and will always -- justify the price.”
THE AUDIO BEAT
by Roy Gregory | May 11, 2018