Hi-Fi Systems Reviews

Underwood Modified PS Audio Trio C-100 Control Amplifier

Underwood Modified PS Audio Trio C-100 Control Amplifier

Audio modifications have a love/hate relationship in audio. The results are usually stunning, however, because of the early history of homebrew modifications that on occasion left the units vulnerable to all sorts of problems a shadow of suspicion hangs over units to this day. This is no longer the case as there are a handful of reputable audio modifiers out there. At the forefront is the relationship between Underwood Hifi and several manufacturers. It begins with the willingness of manufacturers to support Underwood HiFi by sticking with the original warranty. In the case of the Underwood modified PS Audio Trio C100, the original creator, Rick Cullen, designed the modifications.

Before I get into the modifications, it’s best to spend some time describing the Trio C-100 in its stock form. This integrated amp is a combination of PS Audio’s unique Gain Cell technology and ICE amplification. Developed by PS Audio founder Paul McGowan, Gain Cell allows each input signal to be handled individually no matter what the strength. This allows for a consistent output and minute adjustment capabilities. As for the ICE amplification the biggest advantage the ICE circuit has over other topologies is its great power efficiency, which is whopping 90%. This means that in order to produce say, 100 watts – it will only draw 110 from the outlet. read more…

Space the Final Frontier: Virtual Dynamics Cables

Space the Final Frontier: Virtual Dynamics Cables

I like equipment. I really do. But I’m foremost a music lover. My point of view is that when you buy something, it should last for a long time. I also try to avoid any ‘parallel’ upgrades when you change one piece of equipment for another in the same price bracket or category. Basically, I try to avoid losing too much money.

About 10 years ago, I did a painstaking comparison of audio cables. My system was modest, and a bit on the bright side. I did sample what the high end had to offer (6 interconnects and speaker cables in the $500 to $2000 range, from established companies). I did settle for Discovery Signature interconnects and speaker cables because of their smooth sound, and never regretted this move. Cables should last you a very long time. I consider them an investment in time.

Fast forward 2007, my editor (hello Mark) strongly discourages me about the process of evaluating cables. They are a pain in the… Minute details, system variant, not sure you can hear the same thing twice; I think you get the picture. After discussions, I wasn’t optimistic about evaluating cables, even though I’ve already done this in this magazine. But a heavy box came to my house, it was too late to have second thoughts. read more…

Grant Fidelity CD-327A

Grant Fidelity CD-327A

The Grant Fidelity CD-327A is a high quality CD player that is manufactured in China for Grant Fidelity which is based in Canada. Grant Fidelity is headed by Ian Grant a Senior Systems Designer and Engineer with an extensive multifaceted background in construction, audio, mechanical design and project management. Although Grant Fidelity is only one of his many endeavors, this company is an outgrowth of his love of music as recording engineer and musician. Grant was also a member of the AES and NAMM and has worked extensively to develop new music technologies with Seer Systems using advanced Midi Technology. The list of Ian’s accomplishments goes on and on, suffice it to say that Ian Grant is entering into the high end audio field in the same way that he does everything else with an all out effort.

Specifications

  • Frequency Response: 20Hz~20KHz (+-0.5dB) Harmonic Distortion : <0.005%
  • Dynamic range : 100dB Input Voltage : 110V Dimensions: 430 x 330 x 95 (mm)
  • Weight: 28 lbs. Price: $849

read more…

An Amplifier Comparison: Monarchy Audio SE-250 mono block amplifier VS H2O Audio Signature 100 stereo amplifier

An Amplifier Comparison: Monarchy Audio SE-250 mono block amplifier VS H2O Audio Signature 100 stereo amplifier

The following review is designed to simultaneously evaluate two components that use vastly different circuit to pologies. This is an effort to showcase their respective strengths, weaknesses and where they fit into the market. Please note that this article is not a shootout. There will be no winner at the end of the review. read more…

Audiosmile Modified Behringer SRC2496

Audiosmile Modified Behringer SRC2496

Audio enthusiasts with limited financial resources face serious obstacles in their search for high quality music reproduction. Many audiophiles search the used market on the Internet in order to obtain equipment within their price range. While this can be a viable solution, there is another alternative open to cash-strapped audio enthusiasts. There is a group of independent-thinking music lovers who believe that high quality sound can be achieved for a reasonable price by carefully selecting electronic components from the offerings of professional audio companies. The majority of pro-audio components are used for sound reinforcement applications, and do not work well in the home audio environment. However, the electronics that are designed for use in the recording studio are viable candidates for crossing over into the high-end home audio arena. read more…

Swan HiVi 2.1SE Monitor

Swan HiVi 2.1SE Monitor

Last October I published a speaker monitor shootout. Of the two finalists, we have already reviewed the Ascend Acoustics Sierra 1’s in the September issue. Therefore, I thought it was time to take an in-depth listen at the Swans. The US distributor is The Audio Insider, run by Jon Lane. TAI personnel have been involved with Swan since 1994, and we acquired exclusive rights to market Swan in the ID channel in 2003. TAI, virtually the sole North American Swan supplier, specified the D2.1se and upcoming siblings back in 2004. Lane’s been in high-end since 1980. His direct sales experience goes back to the early Eighties, some twenty years, and he was on the Diva design team for them[TAI?] in late 1999. read more…

Aperion Audio Intimus 422 Harmony 5.1 System

Aperion Audio Intimus 422 Harmony 5.1 System

I’ve had a personal curiosity about home theater (HT) speakers systems for 20 plus years. In the late 1980’s with the advent hifi vcrs the concept of rear channel surround sound became possible in homes. I first tried the setup using a Technics Dolby surround processor amp with two rear speakers. The results were pretty spotty. With movies such as Top Gun and Runaway Train, the results were impressive. But on most videos the sound appeared and left on a whim. Eventually, I packed away the setup for 18 years until I sold it on eBay. Within the past year, I’ve been asked to assist the father’s of a couple of students in setting up their 5.1 home theater rigs.

Over the past years I would receive the occasional email requesting A$$A review HT speaker systems as a music system. I usually replied that we were focused on two channel only. Then two things happened, the first was the unbelievable run by the Colorado Rockies in reaching the World Series. The second was a review I saw of a wellknown audio company’s HT speaker line, which looked suspiciously similar to the Aperion Audio 422 Harmony 5.1 system. With these two thoughts in mind I fired off an email to John Wanderscheid of Aperion, and within a week I picked up the 422 Intimus Harmony 5.1 system. read more…

Budget Power Cord Comparison

Budget Power Cord Comparison

The Lineup:

  • 3ft Audio Art Cable Power 1 terminated with Furutech FI-11G ends ($145)
  • 5ft Audio Art Cable Power 1 terminated with Wattgate 5266i/ IEC320i ends ($125)
  • 5ft Zebra Cable ZC-PWR10 terminated with standard Marinco ends ($58)
  • 5ft Zebra Cable ZC-PWR12 terminated with standard Marinco ends ($77)
  • 6ft Soundstring Tricormaxial High Current Draw Power Supply Cord ($304)
  • 6ft Soundstring Low Amperage Digital Power Supply Cord ($34)
  • 5ft Signal Cable MagicPower Power Cord with standard termination ($69)
  • 5ft Signal Cable Magic Power Digital Reference with standard termination ($83)

As I recently had a complete overhaul of my main system, I spent some time thinking of my next move. We’re all familiar with the hi-fi game by this point, upgrade, upgrade, upgrade in search of our personal audio nirvana. However, with summer purchases of Quad’s well regarded 12L2 monitors and an Underwood Hifi modified Onix CD-5, I was just breaking in my new gear, not mention giving my savings CPR. The previous year I had treated myself to some high end speaker cable and some nice interconnects, but the thought of upgrading power cables never crossed my mind. Hell, at that point I had no idea hi-fi power cables even existed. Well, with all my new gear, I needed something to protect my system so I looked into a PS Audio Duet power conditioner. And so began my excursion into the realms of hi-fi power. It became a summer obsession; I spent many nights cooped up and reading forums, e-magazines, and our very own Affordable$$Audio. Finally acknowledging that there must be something to this high end power cable business, I rationalized to myself that it was the final tweak for my system, the cherry on top if you will. Disregarding the $1000+/m behemoths, I scoured in search of the highest regarded budget power cords. Anyone familiar with AudioKarma surely knows the name Signal Cable… and through similar comparisons I came across the names Zebra and Soundstring. Audio Art, on the other hand, was due to a link in Affordable Audio and a quick inquiry to the owner. After a month of saving up and searching, I had found numerous options to supply my new gear, and simply couldn’t decide. So why not get them all and have an in house comparison? Genius… they all have a standard 30-day money back guarantee, and in some instances extended the trial period for the comparison. Without further delay, I present to you my impressions. read more…

Cheap Tweaks Part 6: Kill EMI & RFI? Kitagawa RFC-10 Specs Clamps

Cheap Tweaks Part 6: Kill EMI & RFI? Kitagawa RFC-10 Specs Clamps

You know, I’ll try everything for you, dear reader, especially if it’s cheap. I’ve heard that some audiophiles’ use EMI RFI (Electro-Magnetic Interference and Radio-Frequencies Interference) clamps that attach to power cords to upgrade their system, so what can I do but try them? I brought mine on Ebay at $20 for 10 clamps including transport. Here’s their claim: read more…

Usher S520 Monitors

Usher S520 Monitors

The Usher S520 is a nice high quality bookshelf monitor that is manufactured in Taiwan. These speakers were designed by Ushers’s Tsai Lien Shui, in collaboration with Dr. Joseph D’Appolito, who is based in the United States. This modestly priced speaker caught my eye when I was looking for a high quality speaker to audition that is a little out of the ordinary. By that I mean a speaker that is not available everywhere, which will reward the discerning listener for the extra effort required to find a stocking dealer. Fortunately I was able to locate a dealer close to Seattle and was able to secure a pair for an extended visit. read more…

Onix Rocket RS450 Towers

Onix Rocket RS450 Towers

One of the best parts of reviewing equipment is getting to know the various manufacturers. In conversations and reading their emails and posts, one truly gets the sense of how much work and emotional equity is placed in their product. They talk of the hundreds of hours in matching components. Then comes the endless listening sessions, followed by debates and tweakings. In the end comes not just a product, but more importantly, a dream fulfilled. read more…

ETY Plugs (Etymotic ER20 High Fidelity Earplugs)

ETY Plugs (Etymotic ER20 High Fidelity Earplugs)

 Specifications

  • Ready-fit earplugs (one size fits most) Reduces sound approximately 20 dB at all frequencies
  • Replicates the ear’s natural response
  • Available in various colors
  • Price per pair: $12 with case or $12.95 with case and neck cord (quantity pricing available) read more…
Arena X-3 Integrated SET Tube Amplifier

Arena X-3 Integrated SET Tube Amplifier

The Arena tube amplifier looks like something Darth Vader would keep in his apartment onboard the Death Star. The front faceplate is made of One of the great misnomers in audio is that power trumps all. Those who have delved into the SET amplifier world are more than happy to prove otherwise. They will argue that it’s all about matching impedance efficiency, electronic matching and speaker cabinet design. Over the summer I had my experience with low wattage high fidelity amplification. The general result, I’m fascinated to say the least. read more…

NAD C555 Turntable

NAD C555 Turntable

Since vinyl continues to make a comeback in the United States I decided to present another budget turntable for your consideration. I recently reviewed the Czech made Pro-ject 1.2 budget turntable and for comparison I decided to double the budget so to speak and ordered a NAD C555 Turntable for review. The NAD has a clean, pleasing utilitarian design that is heavily based on the Rega P2 turntable it is manufactured with a solid MDF plinth and comes with a nice smoke colored dust cover that is easily removable for listening sessions. This little table has a machined MDF platter, a very quiet asynchronous motor and a RB250 tonearm with a pre-mounted Goldring Elektra MM phono cartridge. The Rega RB250 tonearm on this turntable can be highly modified with the addition of upgraded tonearm wire and a dropped counter weight to provide an even better performance than in stock configuration. Speed selection is made by removing the platter and moving the belt from the larger 45RPM pulley to the smaller 331/3 RPM pulley or vise versa. The power switch is on the left top hand side of the two tone gray plinth.

Specifications

  • Drive system: Belt drive
  • Motor: High torque
  • Speeds: 33.3 and 45.1 rpm
  • Suspension system: 3 energy absorbent synthetic rubber feet Tonearm
  • Operation: Manual
  • Length: 244mm total length Effective mass: 9 grams Overhang: 19.1mm cartridge weight: 4.2 grams
  • Vertical tracking force: 1.7 grams nominal
  • Cable capacitance: 150pF
  • Cartridge Specification: Transducer Characteristics
  • Frequency response: 20Hz – 20kHz ±3dB
  • Channel balance: 2dB at 1kHz
  • Channel separation: 20dB at 1kHz
  • Output level: 5mV ±2dB at 1kHz at 5cm/s
  • Static compliance: 16mm/N Equivalent tip mass: 0.7g
  • Vertical tracking angle: 26 degrees
  • Stylus radius: Elliptical 0.00072 in x 0.0003 in (18µ x 7µ)
  • Cartridge Specification: Electrical Characteristics
  • Load resistance: 47k ohms
  • Load capacitance: 150-400pF
  • Internal inductance: 560mH
  • Internal resistance: 700 ohms

NAD C555 review

Once the NAD arrived I decided to play it through my bedroom system to allow it a chance to breakin before evaluating it in my reference system. The first thing I wanted to see was how this more expensive Rega derivative would sound when compared side by side with my son’s fairly new Czech made Music Hall MMF-2.1. For this portion of the review I mounted my Usher S520 speakers on a pair of 24” high Plateau speaker stands securing them with DAP “Fun Tak” which is similar to, but much less expensive than “Blue Tak”. The stands are filled with lead shot and sand for mass loading and were placed 2 feet from the back wall and 6 feet apart. I toed the speakers in slightly towards the listening position, which placed my ears 6 feet back from the front plane of the speakers. For the speaker connections I used a 10 foot pair of Zebra ZC SP14 DBI speaker cables to connect to my Rega Brio 2000 integrated amplifier.

Listening NAD C555

I warmed up the system by listening to my usual vinyl jazz standards used for review purposes, first up was Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers Blue Note 4003. The first cut on the second side is actually 3 jazz tunes called “The Drum Thunder Suite”, which is a dynamic recording when played through my reference system, however it was not nearly as detailed or energetic when played through the MMF 2.1. Switching to the NAD C555 increased the palpability and realism of the recording. Benny Golson’s sax sounded much smoother and the drums were conveyed in a much more powerful manner. The depth and width of the soundstage were also much greater than when I listened to the MMF 2.1. I switched recordings again, this time cueing up Meet Betty Carter and Ray Bryant Epic Reissue LN3202. My favorite track is “Moonlight in Vermont”, Betty Carter’s excellent performance of this jazz standard was more thoroughly conveyed by the NAD C555, I was treated to a much better sonic picture of her rich and smooth voice. Ray Bryant’s performance on the piano was top notch as well, sounding round, full and dynamic. The NAD was truly in a different league than the Music Hall.

One of my favorite Tom Petty albums is Southern Accents. I especially enjoy track one on the album, “Rebels”, which is very well recorded when compared to most of the rock music produced in the eighties. When assessing the performance of both turntables that I have on hand you become much more engaged when listening to the NAD C555. It produces a sound like rock should sound, more dynamic, powerful and musical. Tom Petty’s vocals were clear and concise and centrally placed in the soundstage.

On all recordings the Music Hall MMF 2.1 was thinner sounding and had less air around the vocalist than the NAD C555. When comparing the NAD C555 to the Music Hall MMF-2.1 and extrapolating these results to assess how it would compare to the Pro-ject 2.1, it became readily apparent that the NAD is so much better than the MMF 2.1 that there is no question that the NAD C555 is head and shoulders above the Music Hall MMF 2.1 and the Proj-ect 1.2.

Next I set up the NAD C555 through my Audio Research SP16 reference system phono stage. My reference system consists of a VPI HW-19 MKIV turntable, Audio Research SP16 vacuum tube preamplifier, Conrad Johnson MV60SE vacuum tube amplifier, Paradigm Signature S2 monitors mounted on Target, lead and sand filled stands. The Speaker Cables of choice are a 10 foot pair of Discovery Cables Essential speaker cables and I also use Discovery Essence interconnects throughout the system. I have my reference turntable set up using a Rega RB600 tone arm and a Clearaudio Beta S MM Cartridge. Presently my listening room is located in our basement it is 13’ X 18’ with 7’8” ceilings. I have positioned the speakers out from the rear wall 32” and away from the side walls about a foot, toed in sharply, on axis to the listening position.

The NAD C555 performed very well when played through my reference system. It didn’t have the air and sparkle of the VPI HW-19 but it did have a wide and deep soundstage with good bass response. I played a copy of the Blue Note 1590 reissue of Candy by Lee Morgan on both tables. The VPI HW-19 had a blacker background, which allowed the finer details of the music to come through as when compared to the NAD. While listening to the VPI, Lee Morgan’s Trumpet had a more detailed presence and Doug Watkin’s bass was more solid and rhythmic; additionally you could hear that Sonny Clark’s piano had more clarity and Art Taylor’s drums were presented more precision and accuracy. The NAD still did a fine job, allowing the listener to be drawn into the music.

I always like to play Sunday at the Village Vanguard by the Bill Evans Trio when evaluating turntables, there is a magic in this recording that can only be conveyed properly on an accurate sonic transducer. The NAD C555 with the RB250 tonearm did an exceptional job of presenting the performance in a lively, enjoyable manner. Bill Evan’s piano and Paul Motian’s drums filled the soundstage while Scott LaFaro’s bass lines quickly and cleanly kept pace. The background noise from the nightclub patrons in this live performance sounded like they were almost in the room with you. This recording is truly an exceptional performance that is beautifully rendered by the NAD C555.

Conclusion

Yes, the VPI yields better detail, weight, presence and musicality across the listening spectrum than the NAD C555 but the NAD is a fine table overall, especially when taking the cost into account. When you can purchase this complete package at a price that is less than my Clearaudio Beta S phono cartridge, you come to realize it is a really nice piece of work. Based on my experience listening to the NAD C555 along with the Music Hall MMF 2.1 as a benchmark, it is clearly superior to either the Music Hall MMF 2.1 or the Proj-ect 2.1. And even though it costs twice the price of either of the above mentioned turntables, I think that the performance is well worth the price of admission. If you are in the market for a good turntable at reasonable price the NAD C555 deserves your consideration.

Review Equipment.

  • Audio Research SP16 Preamplifier
  • Conrad Johnson MV60SE
  • Rega Brio 2000 Intgrated Amplifier
  • Primare D30.2 CD Player
  • Oppo DV970HD Universal Player Music Hall MMF 2.1 Turntable Shure M97XE MM Cartridge Sumiko Oyster MM Cartridge
  • VPI HW19 MKIV Turntable Rega RB 600 Tonearm Clearaudio Beta S MM Cartridge Paradigm S2 Signiture Monitors Usher S520 Monitors
  • Discovery Essence Interconnects
  • Discovery Essential Speaker Cables
  • Eichmann Express Six Interconnects
  • Zebra ZC SP12SD Speaker Cables
  • Zebra ZC SP14DBI Speaker Cables

from affordableaudio,  By Todd Arthur

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