Hi-Fi Systems Reviews

Swan D3.2F+ Speakers

Swan D3.2F+ Speakers

Specifications

  • Frequency Response: 34Hz – 20kHz (-6dB) Sensitivity: (2.83v/1m) 90 dB
  • Nominal Impedance: 4 ohms Crossover Frequencies: 3KHz Connection inputs: Bi-Wire
  • Dimensions (H x W x D): 42.7″ x 9.4″ x 13.4″ Weight (each): 57.3 lb
  • Component Retail: $1827 / pair (Luxurious Walnut Finish)

When I was a kid, I had a set of little plastic cars that had “Made In China” molded into the bottom of them. They were fun to play with, but pretty cheaply made and not nearly the quality of the much more expensive Hot Wheels. Now I haven’t been able to find a “Made In China” sticker anywhere on the Swan D3.2F+, but they are made by our Chinese friends over seas and there is nothing cheaply made about these speakers. The quality is top-notch top to bottom, and inside to out. read more…

Polk Audio Instant Home Theater

Polk Audio Instant Home Theater

Specifications

  • System Power: 130 Watts total
  • Dimensions:
  • SurroundBar SDA – 3 7/8″ H x 31 3/4″ W x 4 5/8″ D
  • Subwoofer – 10″ H x 10 1/4″ W x 10 1/4″ D
  • Weight:
  • SurroundBar SDA – 8.7 lbs
  • Subwoofer – 9.1 lbs
  • Power Rating:
  • SurroundBar SDA – 24 Vdc, 2.7 A
  • Wireless Subwoofer – 100-240 Vac, 50/60 Hz, 1A MSRP: $499.95

As much as I have always loved a home theater, it is significantly more work and more equipment than I want to deal with at times. For a long time however, the only options available to a consumer were piecing together a quality home theater from a company like Polk Audio, or buying a “home theater in a box”; which has never been the first choice of audiophile for many reasons. In the last few years, Polk Audio has pioneered another option for the sound enthusiast in the form of the SurroundBar. Their first offering was the original SurroundBar which consisted of seven 3.5″ composite cone drivers with three 0.75-inch silk/polymer composite dome tweeters packed into 42″ of simulated surround sound goodness. Since then, Polk Audio has released three more varieties of SurroundBars including the IHT (Instant Home Theater). Down sized a little from the original model, the stereo IHT has one 2.5″ Composite Midrange, one 2.5″ Composite Dimensional Bass Driver, and one 0.5″ Silk Dome Tweeter per channel. Couple this with the wireless 6.5″ Dynamic Balance long throw subwoofer, and you have the makings of a one of a kind home theater experience. Polk seems to have created a successful new piece of the home theater market. read more…

Tweaking the Vibes: Herbie’s Audio Labs Component Feet and Stabilizers

Tweaking the Vibes: Herbie’s Audio Labs Component Feet and Stabilizers

Specification

  • Component feet: 4 x Tall Tenderfeet, 16 x Tenderfeet,
  • Speaker decoupling feet: 8 x Large decouplers Stabilizers x 2 component top weights
  • Interconnect stabilizers, 2 pairs XLR and 2 pairs RCA HAL-) Jrs.
  • Various prices, $12.38 to $22.95 each, discounted for multiple purchases.

There is a large number of after-market footers, weights, clamps and treatments for the serious audiophile to tweak a system, each aimed at reducing or removing the incessant and pernicious vibrations that diminish the performance of those specialized audio circuits you paid for with your hard earned cash. To reduce this product niche to its basic philosophical camps there are two extremes: the incredibly costly or the more affordable types; those based on engineering we can appreciate or on some voodoo or ‘special proprietary process’ that nobody can adequately explain; those that produce marked effects instantly and those that you have to strain to hear, and if like me, you give up on quickly. The only such tweaks I’ve bothered with since my early steps into audiophilia were Vibrapods, which are cheap, seem to be based on simple principles of isolation, and proved their worth to me by curing a stalling CD transport that seemed always to get upset when the volume of the necessarily nearby speakers reached a certain level. I had sent the transport back to the (major) manufacturer whose engineer replied that the symptoms I reported were “impossible”, so presumably I was just imagining it! So much for customer service. Popping two pairs of ‘pods under the returned and still stalling transport allowed it to play on where it had previously halted, presumably due to the Vibrapods delivering on their promise to give the player improved isolation from its surroundings, and all for under $25 the set. Since then, I’ve added a very few treatments only when I was comfortable that my system was sounding pretty good already and I had no money for a major component upgrade. Most recently, after the repeated testimony of other owners on their virtues, I’ve added Aurios bearings under my amps to great effect. Even then, it still took a special sale price and return privileges on these to tempt me. Now, knowing that such additions can cure problems or just enhance a system to the point that my ears miss them when they are not there, I decided to explore further what was out there for the more economically-sensitive audiophile, and that is how I discovered Herbies Audio Lab (HAL). read more…

Assembling A Simple $1000 System

Assembling A Simple $1000 System

So, what is Flat Earth? Contrary to what some would have you believe, Flat Earth is not restricted to either Naim or Linn. This isn’t a concept defined by brand. Rather, it is a reflection of how people listen to music from their systems more a value judgement of what’s important in music reproduction. That is, dispense with the aspects of reproduction that you can not be sure of (e.g. soundstage, imaging & reproduction of the recording environment) and instead concentrate on the construction of the music. Is the bass in time with the percussion? Does the piece hang together as a whole? This, of course, is not to decry the ’rounder’ aspects of reproduction. Aspects such as soundstage etc. can enhance the experience. The Flat Earth approach simply gives primacy to the tune …

‒ From the Pink Fish Media web forum FAQ

Novelists must usually decide what degree of slavish accuracy would make their stories more alive, and what degree would make them less.” – Michael Cunningham

The term “flat earth” may be new to many readers. It is a somewhat obscure segment of audio whose philosophies contrast those of the “round earth” mainstream, whose foci is frequency balance, soundstaging, resolution and tonality. Not to denigrate the importance of those ideals. Flat earth’s ascension paralleled those of Linn and Naim. I consider myself a flat earther to the extent that I place more emphasis on the “big picture” derived through the timing, architecture and message, rather than the individual elements. read more…

Bose L1 Model II Portable Line-Array System

Bose L1 Model II Portable Line-Array System

OK, I’ll admit it; I’m a control freak. Aside from lugging around my Mesa Boogie and a Les Paul, lack of control is what turned me off to live playing and mixing years ago (we won’t get into the economics).

But sometimes the artists I work with ask me to help get “the studio sound” during live shows: never an easy task. Recently, I had a few pleasant experiences using Bose’s L1 Model II system that I’d like to share with you. read more…

Blue Circle Audio’s Peed Al Sea Thingee a.k.a. PLC Thingee

Blue Circle Audio’s Peed Al Sea Thingee a.k.a. PLC Thingee

Specifications:

  • Industry standard IEC power input
  • All outlets are Industrial grade
  • Thick wall 4” PVC pipe with 16awg standard power cord
  • Dimensions:
  • four outlets: 4.5” diameter x 3.5” long
  • Price $199
  • six outlets: 4.5” diameter x 4.25” long
  • Price $229
  • Company Information
  • Blue Circle Audio
  • Telephone +1 (519) 469-3215
  • Fax +1 (519) 469-3782

Those of you who have read my earlier reviews know that I am a fan of Gilbert Yeung and his audio products. One thing I particularly like is that he designs equipment not just for high end patrons but also for those on a much smaller budget as well. While it is true that this Canadian based company makes a power amplifier, the BC208, which retails for $28,995 (US dollars), they also sell a more affordable integrated amplifier called the GDC for $1795. Looking at the company’s website you will find a wide range of equipment varying in price from extremely affordable to quite expensive. It’s good to see a manufacturer designing products for the budget-minded masses and not solely for the select few for whom money is no object. In my experience, even the products made for the budget-minded consumer are all held to the same high standards. Therefore, you are still buying a quality product even if you pay a much lower price.

In this article I will be taking a look at the PLC Thingee, which retails at only $199 for the four outlet model and $229 for the six outlet version. The only difference between the two being the amount of outlets available and a more than reasonable increase of thirty dollars in the price. On the physical side, the six outlet version is three quarters of an
inch longer with two extra outlets, but retains the same 4.5 inch diameter. Even though it looks like the Thingee will roll around on the floor, once you lay it down on its side and plug in the power cords it settles and remains in one spot. As Mr Yeung states on his web site, “It’s not going to go anywhere.” Liking bargains myself, I would opt for the six outlet design and pay the extra thirty dollars. You might think that you do not need the extra two outlets now, but you never know where your system might grow, or if you eventually sell it, what the new owner might need. For the extra thirty dollars, I am in. read more…

AV123 x-statik Floorstanding Speakers

AV123 x-statik Floorstanding Speakers

Specifications:

  • System: Three way, five driver open baffle/sealed hybrid system
  • Drivers: 1″ Peerless India treated fabric dome with dual custom Peerless India 6.5″ curvilinear shaped treated paper cone woofer with polymer chassis for midange and another pair for bass.
  • Crossover: 200Hz & 1800Hz, 3rd order electrical slope on the tweeter, midrange low pass is 3rd order electrical and high pass is 1st order electrical. The woofer low pass slope is 2nd order electrical. Acoustically they all match.
  • Frequency Response: ± 2dB to 20KHz and -3dB at 65Hz
  • Impedance: 8 Ohms nominal Efficiency: 90.5 dB (@ 1 watt / 1 meter) Grills: Metal; removable
  • Video Shielding: No (matters only for tube TV’s) Dimensions: 48.3″ H x 13.8″ W (w/base) x 17.5″ D (w/ base) Weight: 56 lbs each; ship weight = 156 lbs (shipped in pairs) Price: $999pr.

What happens when you give a manufacturer a well-deserved great review? You get sent more gear to listen to! In Issue 41 I honestly smiled my way through the review of the x-omni mini-towers by AV123. They broke the rules of loudspeaker design, something I enjoy seeing, which makes me somewhat of a rebel especially being an engineer by trade. Fittingly, on 65th anniversary of D-Day I got my first listen of another rebel, the Mark L. Schifter/Danny Richie designed x-statik open baffle floorstanders.

Now, open baffle isn’t anything new in audio, but in the under $1000 price range, it has few cousins. The concept is simple, why let the cabinet dictate sound, especially in the mid and upper frequency range. Let the drivers breathe the wide-open spaces of the room in which they are placed. read more…

Polk Audio SDA-2 Loudspeakers

Polk Audio SDA-2 Loudspeakers

SPECIFICATIONS:

  • Dimensions: 39 1/2″ H BY 16″ W BY 12″ D Shipping Weight: 80 lbs. each
  • Drivers: 1″ Soft Dome tweeter; 6 1/2″ mid-woofers; 12″ passive radiator speaker
  • Mirror imaged pairs
  • Tweeter is fused-protected
  • Frequency Response: 16-26,000 Hz. (no tolerance given)
  • Sensitivity: 92 dB / w / m Nominal Impedence: 4 ohms Suggested Amplification: 10-500 watts continuous;common ground amplifiers only
  • Price: $1,200.00 (1984 Cost) ~$300.00 (Current Used Cost)

Polk Audio speakers have a long-standing reputation for providing very good sound quality at very reasonable prices. They may lack a certain “cache” in the high-end audio press but their owners are as passionately enthusiastic as any I’ve encountered surfing the various web sites. The wildest enthusiasm is reserved for the SDA models, the subject of this review. read more…

Tweak City Audio Gizmo V1.0M Integrated mini-amplifier

Tweak City Audio Gizmo V1.0M Integrated mini-amplifier

Specifications

  • Output Connections: L/R channel speakers
  • Subwoofer out (RCA connection) Power Rating: 25WPC x 2 @ 4 ohms Class D amplifier
  • Voltage: 110V/220V
  • Shipping weight: 7 lbs (approx) Dimensions: 8″D x 2.5″H x 4.5″W Additional Features:
  • Digital Display
  • Separate Bass and Treble Controls
  • Subwoofer out
  • Rosewood cap
  • True 100 Hz crossover built-in
  • Volume +/-, Mute, Standby and Bass/Treble controls
  • Price: $119

Class D amplification has, in all honesty, a love/hate relationship in the audio community. On one hand, it is admired for what it can do with subwoofers, and in spaces where room is at a premium, i.e. the office. At the same time it is ripped by those who feel that power from a silicon chip has all the subtlety of a redneck neighbor. I’ll be the first to admit, that I don’t have a preference either way, I just want to hear the best sound possible for the dollars that have been exchanged. A month ago, I was presented with one of the more unique-looking integrated amps on the market, the Gizmo V1.0M. The amp is collaboration between Craig Chase and designer Doug Goldberg. It is the first product for Craig’s new company, Tweak City Audio. Some of you may recognize the screen moniker “Craigsub” on various forums, yes, it’s the same guy. Long time readers of A$$A may remember Craig as the guest writer and host of the blind speaker shootout printed some two years ago in the October issue. read more…

Kimber Kable Interconnects and Speaker Cables

Kimber Kable Interconnects and Speaker Cables

Specifications:

Tonik 1.0 meter Interconnect with Ultratike RCA type connectors:

  • Varistrand(Trademark) Ultra-pure copper
  • Tri-braid geometry
  • PE dielectric
  • (Cp) parallel capacitance: 52.0 pF @ 20kHz
  • (LS) series inductance: 0.772 micro henry @ 20kHz
  • (Rdc) dc resistance: 0.055 ohms
  • (Xt) total reactance: 0.098 ohms @ 20kHz Frequency response + /- 0.5 db dc-2.8 MHz price: $74

Hero 1.0 meter Interconnect with WBT 0144 RCA type connectors:

  • Varistrand(Trademark) Hyper-pure copper
  • GyroQuadratic(Trademark) geometry
  • Dual Teflon ® dielectric
  • (Cp) parallel capacitance: 76.5 pF @ 20kHz
  • (LS) series inductance: 0.401 micro henry @ 20kHz
  • (Rdc) dc resistance: 0.033 ohms
  • (Xt) total reactance: 0.051 ohms @ 20kHz Frequency response + /- 0.5 db dc-8 MHz price: $262

4PR Loudspeaker Cables 2.5 meter bare wire ends:

  • High purity copper
  • 2 x 14 AWG conductors
  • Special formula PE dielectric
  • (Cp) parallel capacitance: 312.0 pF @ 20kHz
  • (LS) series inductance: 0.654 micro henry @ 20kHz
  • (Rdc) dc resistance: 0.041 ohms
  • (Xt) total reactance: 0.0825 ohms @ 20kHz Frequency response + /- 0.5 db dc-100 kHz price: $76.40
  • price as reviewed: 4.5 meter banana-spade (SBAN-SPD) $149 optional six inch 4PR Bi-Wire binding-post jumpers: $75.80

4TC Loudspeaker Cables 2.5 meter bare wire ends:

  • Varistrand Hyper-pure copper
  • 2 X 13 AWG conductors
  • Clear & white Teflon ® dielectric
  • (Cp) parallel capacitance: 362.0 pF @ 20kHz
  • (LS) series inductance: 0.715 micro henry @ 20kHz
  • (Rdc) dc resistance: 0.038 ohms
  • (Xt) total reactance: 0.071 ohms @ 20kHz Frequency response + /- 0.5 db dc-500 kHz price: $206
  • price as reviewed: 4.5 meter banana -spade (SBAN-SPD) $360 optional six inch 4TC -Wire binding-post jumpers: $92

Company Information:

  • 2752 South 1900 West
  • Ogden, UT 84401
  • Telephone: 801-621-5530
  • Fax: 801-627-6980

Ray Kimber, the founder and developer of Kimber Kable products, first brought his cables to market in 1979. The very first product was the Kimber Kable 4PR loudspeaker cable which is one of the pieces up for review today. Kimber Kable products are designed using what they term the OSCaR(TM) engineering process, which stands for Objective, Subjective, Correlation and Results. The theory here is to not only use scientific measurements but also listening impressions to aide in the development of the final overall product. They quite proudly state their simple philosophy, “develop and manufacture cables that offer the highest correlation of performance and price”. Back when the first Kimber Kable product was released there was not a great deal of cable manufactures on the market like there are today. I remember when I first purchased high-end cables only to have my friends laugh at the very thought of spending that type of money on something so simple as a cable. I wish I could say I had bought the 4PR back then but I did not yet hear of Ray Kimber. Later however when the very first Kimber Kable PBJ interconnects hit the market I was one of the first to purchase them. In fact I bought two pair with their basic RCA connectors that I still proudly own and use in my dedicated home theater room today. I have gone through quite a few cables in my years but have never seen the need to replace the PBJ’s from Kimber as I found them that good. Brett Terry over at Kimber Kable informed me that the basic PBJ unshielded interconnects I bought back then are the same as the product the company produces today. There is something to be said for consistency especially if a product is made right the first time. They makes interconnects, plus cables for both loudspeakers and subwoofers as well as power cords. Kimber products also include various optical, HDMI cables, an HDMI Switcher box, phono cables, some DIY hobbyist kits (for those so inclined) and more. When you look at their thirty-five page price book you realize just how big of a company they really are. read more…

Wyred 4 Sound SX-500 Mono Amplifiers

Wyred 4 Sound SX-500 Mono Amplifiers

Specifications

  • MONO AMPLIFIERS SX-500
  • Typical THD+N 8Ω (10W out) 0.0027%
  • Power Output 8Ω @ 0.2% THD+N 250W
  • Power Output 8Ω @ 1.0% THD+N 330W
  • Output Idle Noise 80uV
  • Efficiency 4Ω 81% @ 500W Efficiency 8Ω 78% @ 200W
  • Frequency Response 20Hz–20kHz ± 0.3db
  • Lower Bandwidth 3.3Hz all loads
  • Balanced Input Impedance 60.4kΩ
  • Unbalanced Input Impedance 60.4kΩ
  • Dynamic Range 115db
  • Gain 27db
  • Sensitivity 2.1V
  • Output Impedance 5mΩ
  • Min Load 2Ω
  • Damping Factor (100Hz 8Ω) 2000
  • Max Output Current 35A
  • Price: $899.00 (Each mono)

A consensus is a relatively rare thing among audiophiles. Every now and then, reviewers actually agree about a given product. For example, the latest Magico (Model 6) speakers seem to be universally adored. Personally, I find that rather boring. Sure, I would happily take delivery on a pair, but as an audio journalist, reviewing such a product is not particularly interesting. The price tag alone ($160K!) means that review better be a rave! Anything short of that would be a huge disappointment.

In contrast, I find products that are both controversial and affordable to be very interesting. The new line of Wyred-4-Sound amplifiers meets both criteria nicely. By high-end standards, they are certainly affordable. At the bottom of their range, the ST-250 stereo amplifier delivers 125WPC into 8 ohms, with a retail price of $999 USD. For twice the money ($1999 USD), you can 4.5x as much power, 570 WPC! The current monoblock amplifiers offer 250 WPC, priced at $899/each. The dollar/watt ratio is impressive, all throughout the line. Even more appealing than that, the amps use the same Class-D switching module (the B&O Ice module) as many much more expensive products, such as those made my Jeff Rowland Design Group, Bel Canto, Red Dragon Audio, H2O audio, Acoustic Reality…and the list goes on. read more…

Trends Audio PA-10 Hybrid Tube Headphone Amplifier

Trends Audio PA-10 Hybrid Tube Headphone Amplifier

Specifications:

  • Vacuum Tube: 6DJ8/6922 series or 12AU7 series (exchangeable) Output Stage: MOSFET x 2
  • Amplification Gain: x3 (for Audio CD/DAC IN) x20 (for Audio PC/iPod IN) Signal-to-Noise Ratio: (SNR) 92dB
  • Power Output: 3.0 Watts per channel on 33 Ohm Headphone
  • Frequency response: 15 Hz -100 kHz -1db
  • Input Impedance: 100k Ohms
  • THD+Noise: 0.05% @ 10k ohm0.15% @ 33 ohm
  • Input: CD/DAC IN RCA (Left/Right) x 1 [3Vpp max.] PC/iPod IN RCA (Left/Right) x 1 [0.55Vpp max.]
  • Output Audio OUT RCA (Left/Right) x 1
  • Headphone OUT (3.5mm) x 1
  • Power Socket: (5.5mm/2.1mm) x 1
  • Power Supply: DC 24V-26.5V (max.) Dimensions: (W) 3” x (H) 1.70” x (D) 4.50” Weight: 13.4 oz
  • Price: $225

Having had a positive experience with the Trends Audio TA 10.1 amplifier, I was anxious to review the Trends Audio PA-10 Tube headphone amplifier when the opportunity presented itself. With a limited budget, building a respectable headphone system is the most economical way to enter the world of true high fidelity. Just add a Zune, an iPod, or a CD player, some quality headphones and you can assemble a nice sounding affordable audio system for just a few hundred dollars. read more…

Beresford TC-7520 DAC/Preamp/Headamp

Beresford TC-7520 DAC/Preamp/Headamp

Specifications:

  • 24-Bit/96-kHz DAC (Digital to Analog Converter)

Inputs:

  • USB 1.1/2.0 Port
  • Digital Coaxial Ports (RCA x2-SPDIF) Digital Optical Port (TOSLINK)

Outputs:

  • Line (Fixed) Analog RCA Output Amp Analog RCA Output Headphone Jack
  • Dimensions: 9.5” W x 4.5” D x 1.5” H Weight: 2.5 lbs
  • Price: $249.00 (US delivery included)

There is an audiophile rule being broken here. We all know that the more functions you cram into a little box, the less impressive the performance from that box will become. Just look at the lowly AV receiver (combining preamp, amplifier, tuner, and sometimes a DAC) that has become ubiquitous, and so rarely satisfying. It is kind of like the minivan equivalent in the audiophile world. You can have the handling of a truck with the cargo capacity of a car…or was that supposed to be the other way around? read more…

McIntosh Model MR67 FM Stereophonic Tube Tuner

McIntosh Model MR67 FM Stereophonic Tube Tuner

Specifications:

  • Manufactured from 1963-1968
  • Original retail price: $299
  • Weight: twenty-four and one half pounds Dimensions: 16 inches wide, 13 inches deep and 5 7/16 inches high without the cabinet.
  • Tubes: 6DS4,12AT7, 6AB4, 6AU6(3),
  • 6CS6, 6AV6, 6BL8(2), 6U8, 12AU7
  • Sensitivity:2.5uV
  • Audio Frequency Response:20-20kHz
  • Distortion: less than 0.5%
  • Image Rejection:60 dB or greater
  • Capture Ratio: 1.7 dB Stereo Separation: 30dB Limiters: two stages
  • IF Amplifiers: four stages
  • Due to it being discontinued please check with McIntosh for the accuracy of the above specifications

Manufacturer:

  • McIntosh Laboratory Inc.
  • 2 Chambers street
  • Binghamton, New York 13903-2699
  • Phone: 607-723-3512
  • Fax: 800-538-6576

A Look Into The Past

McIntosh has long been known for its tube audio gear. Collectors from all over the world, especially in Japan, have sought out their products. They have restored them and enjoy them to this very day. For a while here in America when McIntosh stopped making tube gear, in favor of the newer popular solid-state transistor designs of the 1970’s, most of us abandoned these tube pieces only to later discover what we had been missing. By that time a lot of McIntosh equipment had been bought by audiophiles in other countries and the prices were driven upwards as the supply dwindled. Today McIntosh tube gear will bring considerable money even if it is in need of professional restoration. Fortunately for us there are cottage industries in the United States that do specialize in restoring our McIntosh heritage gear to almost new condition. So we can once again begin to enjoy their physical beauty as well as their musical qualities.

Having owned a few pieces of McIntosh gear during my long journey as an audiophile I must say I do love the equipment. My only regret about them was in the selling of some older pieces I had collected. One thing that stands out about most McIntosh, gear whether old or new is the timeless beauty of the design that has helped many of their pieces to retain their value. It is not uncommon to pay more for an older McIntosh tube unit today then the original retail price over forty years ago. Of course today’s dollar is worth less than yesterdays and that must also be taken into consideration. Nevertheless, McIntosh tube audio gear tends to bring top dollar just look at EBAY and other places to see for yourself. Today I still own a classic McIntosh MC275 Tube amplifier, in excellent condition for its age. Of course I also own the MR67 Tube Tuner that is up for a nostalgic review today. read more…

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