Hi-Fi Systems Reviews

nOrh ACA2b Preamplifier

nOrh ACA2b Preamplifier

What does nOrh mean? The company is based out of Thailand, so my original thought was that it must be Thai for “Wonderful Audio Bargain.” But it turns out that it is a clue, referring to their signature product, the horn shaped loudspeaker. So to answer the question, nOrh simply is an anagram for horn. I have also heard these speakers and I have to agree that if I built them, I would name my company after them, too. Unfortunately, I don’t have a pair on hand to review, but I do have the certified bargain all-tube ACA2b preamp. Through a bizarre set of circumstances, I stumbled across this preamp in a pawn shop for a bargain-of-the-century used price, but at $399 shipped from Thailand to the US, this product is more than just affordable.

 Specifications:

  • 3 inputs, 1 Record Output, 2 Main
  • Outputs
  • 90 second delay warm up (soft start) Frequency Response at 2 Volts RMS
  • 10 – 100,000 Hz
  • Gain 11dB THD ~ 0.07%
  • Input Impedance 100,000
  • Output Impedance 10,000
  • Tube Complement: 6922 x 2 – Sovtek or equivalent
  • Power Consumption 30 watts Dimensions H 3.5 x W 15 x D 8 inches Weight ~11 lbs (5kg)

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Searching For Used Gear

Searching For Used Gear

Audio enthusiasts with limited financial resources can turn to the used marketplace in order to build a high quality stereo system. At one time, the used market was largely comprised the newspaper want ads and the traded-in equipment found at local audio stores. With the increasing popularity of the Internet as an additional resource for used audio, the market opportunities have exploded. Learning which sites to visit can make it possible to browse through thousands of different pieces of audio gear. The real trick to navigating the used market successfully is to know the benefits and risks associated with various avenues from the websites offering used audio equipment. read more…

Vintage Corner: Carver C-9 Sonic Hologram Generator

Vintage Corner: Carver C-9 Sonic Hologram Generator

The 1980s were an interesting time in audio. The integrated chip, for better or worse, became the standard piece on the motherboard. To some, this was the point at which audio began what they believe was the death spiral. To others, the IC allowed the industry to try new things. One area in which many saw potential was the area of sound shaping. Up to this time, audio fans were pretty much limited to the “advanced” controls of the equalizer. A new term sprung up, sonic holography, the idea that two speakers could, in fact, create a three-dimensional sound spot somewhere in front of the speakers. A couple of approaches to this concept sprung forth. Matthew Polk believed that using actual signals from the speakers to cancel out crosstalk was the way to go. He brought his ideas to life in his SDA speaker series.

Specifications:

  • Built from: 1981-89
  • Measurements: 17.25w X 4d X 1.75h
  • Used pricing: $50-100
  • Made in the USA read more…
Audio Magic Illusion 4D Speaker Cable

Audio Magic Illusion 4D Speaker Cable

Audio Magic has earned a reputation for being one of the premier cable manufacturers in the world of audio. Jerry Ramsey started this company in the early 1990’s, and has specialized in the development of silver ribbon cables. Over the years upstart cable builders have made a dramatic entrance into the audio world, but slowly fade away as the hype of their new design dies down. Yet Jerry stays the course with Audio Magic, and continues to refine his silver wire designs long after other companies have moved on. The majority of Audio Magic cables are hand crafted, and the assembly process requires a large investment of time. Jerry chooses to forego high volume manufacturing and instead concentrate on producing a high performance product that is at the forefront of his field. This has been a successful strategy, noted by the fact that Audio Magic cables have always been highly regarded by discriminating audio enthusiasts.

Specifications:

  • Massive 1 1/2″ ultra-pure silver conductors.
  • Screw-on banana or spade plugs. Air dielectrics.
  • Cryo treated with ultra MST treatment. Price: $2300 4ft
  • Photo credit: michael kh ng@ Flickr

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Promitheus Non-Upsampling DAC

Promitheus Non-Upsampling DAC

The K.I.S. philosophy is a reminder that as our world becomes more complex, the best solution is still the simplest. In the world of digital audio converters, that isn’t always easy, especially considering how young the concept of DACs is to the audio community. The medium is still young enough that designs are quite original. The standardization of the category hasn’t yet forced creativity to the trash heap.

One of the more original audio designer/manufacturers is Nicholas Chua of Promitheus Audio. Located in Malaysia, Nicholas has assembled a highly-skilled crew to hand-build each piece of equipment. Last March, Affordable$$Audio writer Brad raved about Promitheus’ flagship product, the TVC passive pre-amp. Not a surprise, as various forums have proclaimed the TVC one of the best thought of components in audio circles.

Specifications: 

  • Non-oversampling TDA 1545A DAC Chip
  • Asynchronious Relocking Passive IV Stage Dimensions:12.25w x 8.5d x 3h
  • Price: $405 USD, add $20 for the silver pulse transformer read more…
Emotiva XPA-5: Wow! to the 5th Power

Emotiva XPA-5: Wow! to the 5th Power

Several months ago I decided to sell off my 2-channel system and invest most of the proceeds in my home theater system by replacing the receiver with separates. This decision was based on simple mathematics. I asked myself -“How much time do you spend watching movies and listening to music?” The answer was quite revealing, and so I invested the money accordingly.

I had always wanted to try home theater separates, but didn’t pull the trigger because of the high costs of the components. That is – until I learned about Emotiva Audio. After doing some research, I purchased the Emotiva Ultra Theater series package (LMC-1 pre/pro and LPA-1 multi-channel amp) since it appeared to be a ridiculously incredible value.

My thought was to use the Emotiva gear temporarily as a 2-channel system until I purchased a preamp/amp combo or integrated amp later this year. I’m in no hurry, though, because I have been extremely impressed with 2-channel playback. In fact, it rivals my previous 2-channel system. So no more upgrades, I thought to myself, until I read about the forthcoming Emotiva XPA-5. More power, more weight, XLR connections, and higher quality binding posts for only $799? You had me at more power. read more…

Aperion Audio Intimus 533-T Speakers

Aperion Audio Intimus 533-T Speakers

I’ve been looking forward to writing this piece for just under a year now. Last winter, when I was visiting Aperion Audio’s headquarters, John Wanderscheid showed me, in confidence, an early, non-veneered mock up of the 533-T’s. At the time, John bragged that these slim columns would be a big hit. I told him I looked forward to getting an opportunity once they were in production.

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Totem Acoustic Forest Towers

Totem Acoustic Forest Towers

We Open in Montreal, Canada…

….where for the past twenty years, Totem Acoustic has been crafting high quality loudspeakers that reflect their passion and dedication towards fine music and design. Totem’s trademark has always been the ability to extract glorious tonality, scale, and a holographic sound from a reasonably priced two-way slim line cabinet.

Vince Bruzzese’s recipe perked my ears years ago when I brought home my first set of Totems –the Sttaf. To date, the Sttaf has been the only piece of hi-fi that’s remained a permanent resident at my abode. The reason, you may ask? Aside from their addictive musical mojo, they do certain things that no speaker in their class has a right to do. So when the three chiefs at Totem Acoustic, Vince, Nico, and Lucy, sent a pair of Forests for my evaluation, I felt it was only right to honor their decree.

I know, it’s a tough gig – but someone’s gotta do it.

Product Specifications

  • Break in time: 100-150 hours
  • Frequency Response: 33 Hz to 20 kHz +/- 2db
  • Impedance: 8 ohms (6.4 minimum)
  • Sensitivity: 87 dB
  • Crossover Frequency: 2.5 kHz compensated 2nd order
  • Tweeter: 1” aluminum dome
  • Woofer:6 ½”
  • Dimensions: w 8 x d 10.5 x h 36
  • Designed and Manufactured in Canada read more…
tec-on audio SE34i Integrated Amplifier

tec-on audio SE34i Integrated Amplifier

Who doesn’t absolutely love the idea of an integrated tube amp for under a grand? What I don’t love is what you usually end up with when you get an integrated tube amp for under a grand. I know the price point is a hard one to hit, especially if you plan to run a business at the same time. So when I was asked to do a review on the tec-on audio SE34i, a $499 integrated amp, I was both excited and a little frightened. In the usual fashion I contacted the manufacturer and coordinated the delivery of the amp. Because of signature and delivery issues, I usually have things like this delivered to work. A couple of days later there was a larger than expected box at my desk clearly labeled “tec-on audio”. Right away, I was impressed by the box, nice heavy weight cardboard with plastic straps (good for lifting the box in to the car). Speaking of lifting, I was surprised to find the box of an 8 watt integrated weighing in at 35 pounds. read more…

Dignity Audio DA08SE SET Tube Amplifier

Dignity Audio DA08SE SET Tube Amplifier

Since its inception, Monarchy Audio has developed a strong relationship with manufacturers in Asia. Several Monarchy components are built in modern Chinese facilities, and benefit from the advances made in their latest generation of factories.1 The strong ties that Mr. Poon has developed with overseas companies gives him exposure to many different brands of equipment that are not exported to the US market. From time to time, Monarchy Audio imports a product built by an Asian manufacturer that Mr. Poon believes offers an exceptional value. Recently, Mr. Poon has been quite enthusiastic about a pair of 300B-based amplifiers that are built by Dignity Audio. read more…

Mark & Daniel Maximus Mini Monitors

Mark & Daniel Maximus Mini Monitors

If there is one thing that will always be true in audio, it is that renegades do exist. Renegades look at the traditional way equipment is made, then turn tradition on its ear. Sometimes it can be the physical esthetics, such as Bang & Olufsen’s elegant Beogram design of the 1970’s and 80’s. Then, a product whose scientific design principles initially cause a groundswell of puzzled comments or looks, e.g. ACI’s Sapphire XLs, goes on to impress positively with its tremendous sound reproduction. Whatever the case may be, the industry needs these manufacturers to push the industry forward and keep things fresh.

Specifications:

  • Frequency Response: 50Hz -35KHz Two-way Crossover: 1400 Hz Nominal Impedance: 4-8 Ohms
  • Average Efficiency: 82.5 dB/2.83V/1m Power Handling: ≧ 60 Watts per channel Enclosure Material: C.A. Marble
  • Size (H x W x D): 25.4 x14.2 x17.9 cm
  • 10.0” x5.6” x7.0” Weight (each): 6.3 Kg (14 lb)
  • Finishes: Several colors in Composite Marble
  • Price: $1200 pair Manufactured in Shanghai

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Blue Circle DAR Integrated Amplifier

Blue Circle DAR Integrated Amplifier

I’ve always gravitated towards people who approach life from an unconventional perspective. Upon strumming up the first conversation with Gilbert, the head (blue) cheese of Blue Circle Audio, it was apparent that we would get along very well. Although I’ve only been in this reviewing gig for just over a year, I can guarantee that I will never again have a phone conversation with a manufacturer in a make-believe language, or “Chingalish”, as Gilbert likes to call it. “It vewy fun ting. U shud try sumtym.”

As much as I enjoy an eccentric free spirit who, like me, casts blatant disregard for cavalier hi-fi attitude, I wouldn’t be writing this thing if it weren’t for Gilbert’s reputation of creating award-winning, high performance stereo components. Blue Circle Audio has been churning out amps, pre amps, and accessories for well over a decade. More recently, Blue Circle has begun to offer DACs and even nearly-full-range loudspeakers.

As Blue Circle’s palette of goodies continues to expand, the ever-increasing cost of raw materials and a shaky exchange rate have resulted in the discontinuation of a few well-respected pieces. Not too unlike the cycle of life, the death of one creature often bestows life onto another. And so the DAR was born. read more…

Zingo Cables

Zingo Cables

Introduction:

Anyone who frequents audio forums knows they are bound to find a cable debate of some sort at any given time. For me, I can only try to ignore what people say about specific cables and try them for myself, provided they are in my budget. Having used Viper cables and KnuKonceptz cables with much success,I decided it was time to try something new for my 2-channel system that I was building for dedicated music listening. My goal was to keep the entire rig under $1,200,so that didn’t budget much for cables. I ended up seeing these cables posted on the Polk Audio forums by Zingo himself, and decided that at the price of $85 for the 5 foot pair,they were going to be the cables for my rig.

A week after I placed my order with Jake Montzingo, the cables arrived from Washington, priority mail. My first thought was wow, extremely fast turnaround for custom cables. Upon opening the box, I saw they were packaged nicely and after a quick comparison, that they were exactly the same length, not even half an inch off, no wrinkles in the heat shrink, they had nice tight connectors on the ends, and the black-on-black really looked nice. read more…

Cheap Tweaks Part V: Acoustics: Sonex Classic 2

Before telling you more about Sonex, you need to know the basic principles of acoustics if you ever want to achieve any good sound with your hard earned system. First basic rule of acoustics is getting the proper speaker location. This can be a challenge, a real good one.

In order to guide you the basics, the famous golden rule ratio will normally get you in the ballpark. The distance from the center of the woofer face to the side wall is room width x 0.276. The distance from the center of the woofer face to the wall behind the speakers is room width x 0.447. This gives you numbers that will help reduce unison or near unison room nodes. In plain English: having the least probability to interfere (augment or subtract) on volume depending on frequency. read more…

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