Hi-Fi Systems Reviews

Vandersteen 2CI Loudspeaker System

A short while ago I was reading a series of comments under general expectations and came across a comment I had written in May. It has been my long held belief that larger speakers can be hard to afford, setup and power adequately. I have always believed that a good pair of monitor speakers properly placed on suitable stands with help from room boundaries can provide very high quality accurate sound. This leads me to the purpose of this review several people commented that you can’t really have accurate sound without full range capability. I gave the matter some thought and decided to look for a suitable “large” speaker for review, one that is affordable and is relatively efficient. read more…

Audio Art Power 1 Cord

Audio Art Power 1 Cord

As a kid growing up, debates varied by age, first it was sports, from baseball cards and players, to football teams (it was hard being a Bronco fan in the 60’s and early 70’s). My saving grace in debates with those evil Raider and Chief fans, was one Rich “Tombstone” Jackson, one of the NFL’s all-time great pass rushers, and the man many consider to be the reason the head slap was outlawed. As I entered high school, cars and cheerleaders became the center of our debates. What was the faster car, and better engine. As for the cheerleaders, best legs and most inspiring jiggle. Ok, enough said, the imagination is powerful enough.

Nowadays, debating involves much more mundane topics, as I try to stay away from Iraq and politics. One other area I avoid debating about is cabling. Opinions are so strong that on the forum boards that many have outlawed the topic as discussions have become so heated that rational posting just isn’t possible. One possible reason is that the method used to form an opinion is based on the most subjective element, our own hearing.

In the process of reviewing the Audio Art cable Power 1 cord, I ended up in a discussion with the owner of a Canadian website www.cdnav.com, (great free music links page by the way). In our very polite conversation, he revealed that he is of the scientific proof mindset, and challenged me to do a review based on some sort of quantifiable principle, whether it involves A/B blind testing or scientific measurement.

After some contemplation, I decided to make this review of the Audio Art Power1 my contribution to science, for better or worse. Instead of writing a review based upon my auditory perceptions. I am dedicating most of the review to measurements using my decibel meter reader. I want to make it clear that this is not perfect science. I did try to eliminate certain variables to give a reasonable accurate average measurement. read more…

Ascend Acoustics Sierra-1

Ascend Acoustics Sierra-1

Ascend Acoustics took the consumer direct market by storm at the turn of this century with a brilliant, yet subtle two way stand mount loudspeaker dubbed the CBM-170. Founder and owner, David Fabrikant, took a path rarely traveled with his company. Instead of tipping the scales of production costs in favor of cosmetic appeal, David chose to invest his cash in quality components that make for an excellent transducer. The results speak for themselves; Soundstage! magazine gave the CBM-170 their coveted 2003 Product of the Year award along with the Budget Leader award the following year in 2004. The CBM-170 is still one of the highest rated loudspeakers at audioreview.com, a website which gives every audio enthusiast the opportunity to rate audio products. At the time of this review, there are currently 88 consumer reviews that average an astounding 4.92 score out of a possible perfect 5. That’s the kinda approval rating politician’s dream of folks. Even our own Clarke Robinson found himself smitten by the larger CMT-340 SE towers earlier this year. read more…

Slim Devices Squeezebox & Bolder Power Supply

Slim Devices Squeezebox & Bolder Power Supply

On the right hand corner of my computer desk rests a 250-gigabyte external hard drive. Every once in awhile the face of the hard drive lights up, and the unit makes a soft whirring noise. At the same time, Allison Krause’s delicate voice fills the front room of my house. Sitting astride an Audio Magic Kukama digital to analog converter is a diminutive black box, with a large LED readout on the faceplate. To a casual observer this device could easily be mistaken for an everyday household item, such as an alarm clock. Upon closer inspection, this person would notice that the little black box displays the artist and song title of the music being played upon the stereo. This unobtrusive piece of electronics is called the Squeezebox, which is one the easiest ways to enter the world of computer based music storage. read more…

KEF iQ7 Speakers

KEF iQ7 Speakers

KEF has a long history, as far as I can remember they where there. In the 80’s you mostly got 4 choices of speakers (at least in Canada): KEF, B&W, Quads and Paradigm. A lot of friends of mine bought the reference line at this time (mainly on the used market but who cares). I have a vivid memory when I bought a pair, this was the time they introduced the coaxial driver; tweeter in the centre of the midrange driver. I’ve listened to a lot of speakers at that time and bring home a pair of C25/SW200 mini-monitor & passive subs package. They had the dynamics I was looking for at that time and their coaxial drivers were not fine tuned. I was 15, worked hard to buy them but still have them today although heavily modified. To my amazement, I haven’t found anything below 2000$ that sound better.

Specifications :

  • 6th Generation Uni-Q array with Neodymium magnets
  • Improved “Titanium” finish, “long throw”160mm (6.5in) Uni-Q driver with redesigned 19mm (0.75in)
  • Aluminium dome tweeter.
  • Full 3 way floorstanding design
  • Reference Series inspired (fully curved cabinet design)
  • Improved Crossover design and Bi-Wire terminal panel.
  • OFC cable terminal links
  • Magnetically shielded.
  • Closed box loaded midrange

read more…

JBL VRX900 Series Line Array

JBL VRX900 Series Line Array

Road-proven VerTec Series components help propel this small, affordable Constant Curvature Line Array range.
Whether introducing new self-powered or passive components, JBL refuses to rest on its loudspeaker laurels while continually expanding the company’s product line to fulfill yet another pro audio niche. I recently had the opportunity to put the new VRX Series Line Array through a gauntlet of sound jobs and it came out the other side with naught a blemish. read more…

Pro-Ject 1.2 Budget Turntable

Pro-Ject 1.2 Budget Turntable

Around my household music is enjoyed by everyone, but like me, my eldest son takes his music very seriously. To be sure, many of us start out like my son, taking hand-me down components and adding something new occasionally to build a system. My son’s system consists of a pair Sound Dynamics R-65 two way bookshelf speakers, an Onkyo TX-8211, 50 watt AM/FM stereo receiver and a Music Hall MMF-2.1 turntable with a Goldring Tracker MM cartridge. Most of his CDs are played through a JVC portable or through my old Sony CDP-C50 disc changer and hence he does most of his critical listening by spinning vinyl. A good sounding budget turntable costing less than $200.00 would certainly be a welcomed revelation for those looking to spin records on the cheap. So I began my search in earnest for a great budget table. After several weeks of looking I purchased this Pro-ject 1.2 review sample in good condition on Audiogon for $165.00. read more…

Audio Furniture: A Wife Approved Bargain Version

Audio Furniture: A Wife Approved Bargain Version

One of the least discussed areas of audio and the dreaded WAF (Wife Approval Factor) is the rig cabinet. If you’re one lucky enough to have a dedicated man-cave, then you’re not likely to be worried about such matters. However, most of us are blessed with having to share rooms with our feminine life partner, which means compromise. Add to that a limited budget, and the choices shrink tremendously.

Solutions to this pressing dilemma can be simple “You married me for better, or worse”, which usually leads to a prolonged artic vacation without leaving the house. A second choice, bribery, “Ok, you can redecorate the bedroom in pinks/ lavenders.” That usually leads to endless teasing by family and friends over lost spheres of manhood. A third option, not usually employed by the male species involves taking a standard piece of furniture, and making it work as the rig stand. read more…

Totem Acoustic Storm Subwoofer

Totem Acoustic Storm Subwoofer

Specifications:

  • Freq. Response: 26 Hz to 350 Hz (in room). Amplification: 300 watts. Specially designed low noise/distortion unit.
  • Driver: 20cm (8”) cast frame unit, special concave cone and dust cap.
  • Passive Radiators: 2 x 8” (20 cm) cast frames, special concave cone and dust cap.
  • Height: 30.5cm/ 12″ Width: 28cm/11
  • Depth: 35.5cm/14
  • Component Retail: $1000.00 (Black Ash and Mahogany) $1100 (Cherry and Maple)
  • Designed and Manufactured in Canada

My introduction to subwoofers came from my very first set of speakers; a pair of Polk Audio RT2000p powered towers. They were monsters, tipping the scales at 90lbs per tower. Each speaker had a bottom section that housed a power amplifier pushing two efficient eight-inch woofers. Between the pair, there were four active eight-inch drivers belting out the low end. From cinema to rock and roll, they never failed to deliver the full-range goods. Yet, things change, and it wasn’t long before I found myself with other speakers that, while exceptional, could not even begin to deliver visceral impact of bass that I had once known and felt. Yes, Virginia, in the real world – bass is a fundamental part of music that is rarely ever polite and reserve. Interestingly enough, many audiophiles have come to not only live without this crucial part of the reproduction chain, but have come to loathe just the thought of using a powered woofer in their two channel stereo system. While there are a few affordable speaker systems capable of delivering solid response covering the 20khz-20hz range, most are of the vintage variety. To pull off the same trick with something that has a new-car smell, its going to end up costing you quite a bit of green. Unless you are fortunate to have either/or, the odds are very likely that your system could gain from a bit of low-end reinforcement. After all, there is no replacement for displacement. read more…

Monarchy NM24 DAC/Line Stage

Monarchy NM24 DAC/Line Stage

The January issue contained a review of the Monarchy Audio M24, which is essentially a DAC and an active line-stage that is built on a single chassis. After a couple of months of listening to the M24, I concluded that that this piece offered audio enthusiasts a true taste of high-end audio reproduction. The M24 is not inexpensive by any stretch of the imagination, however it’s design allows the cost conscious audio enthusiast to replace two components, and associated cabling with one unit which is capable of holding it’s own with other comparably priced audio components. After the review of the M24 was completed I contacted Monarchy Audio in order to make shipping arrangements to return this piece. During this conversation Mr. Poon informed me that a successor to the M24 has just become available; and would I be interested in listening to it? Since I enjoyed my time with the M24 quite immensely, I was more than interested in hearing an updated version. Within a week the UPS driver dropped off a package from Monarchy Audio, which contained the NM24 DAC/Line stage. read more…

Role Audio Sampan FTL Speakers

Role Audio Sampan FTL Speakers

Specifications

Drivers:

  • Single, crossover-less driver per speaker
  • 3.5-inch cast frame transducer
  • (MLSSA matched)
  • Cast-aluminum frame with neodymium magnet
  • Magnetically shielded
  • Frequency Response: 40-20,000 Hz ±3db (-6dB reference to 1 kHz @ 35 Hz) Sensitivity: 87 dB 1 watt/m
  • Rated Impedance: 8 ohms Minimum impedance: 7 ohms Nominal impedance: 9 ohms Recommended Power: 2 – 100 watts Binding Posts: five-way terminals
  • Dimensions: 8” x 4” x 9.5” (H x W x D) Actual Weight: 4 pounds per speaker Shipping Weight: 9 pounds per pair 10 year limited warranty
  • Price per pair: $895 (satin black), $995 (creamy white or white birch)

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to hear a pair of Role Audio’s Sampan FTL speakers at the ’07 AudioKarma Fest. I was mightily impressed by the big, full sound these tiny bantamweights generated during my brief encounter (see the April ‘07 issue of Affordable$$Audio). They seemed to be the ideal speaker for such a venue and, given their size, a perfect travel companion. But how would they perform in a real listening space instead of a small hotel room? read more…

Harman Kardon PM665VXi Integrated Amplifier

Harman Kardon PM665VXi Integrated Amplifier

Specifications

Stereo Mode:

  • Continuous Average Power
  • (FTC) per Channel : 150 wpc @ < 0.08% THD into 8 ohms 150 wpc@ < 0.1% THD into 4 ohms
  • High Instantaneous Current Capability (HCC) : +/-80A 

Power Bandwidth:

  • HALF POWER – < 10Hz to 100kHz @ 8 ohms
  • Frequency Response : 0.2Hz to 150kHz (at 1Watt output, +0, -3dB)
  • Damping Factor: 65dB Signal-to-Noise Ratio : PHONOmm – 80dB PHONO MC – 76dB VIDEO & CD – 98dB MAIN-IN – 110dB
  • Input Level/Impedance: PHONOmm – 2.2mV/47k ohms, 125-425pF
  • PHONO MC – 120uV/56ohms VIDEO & CD – 135mV/22k ohms MAIN-IN – 0.8V/22k ohms
  • Phono Overload: MM – 220mV
  • MC – 12mV
  • Tone Control BASS: BASS TURNOVER – 200Hz/400Hz Tone Control TREBLE: TREBLE TURNOVER – 2kHz/6kHz Filter:
  • SUBSONIC – 15Hz, 6dB/octave HIGHCUT – 6Hz, 6dB/octave Loudness Control: +10dB @ 50Hz
  • Phase Shift: <5 degrees (300 – 20kHz) Power Supply: AC 220/240V, 50/60Hz Power Consumption: 350 watts

I’ve always been a bit partial to Harman/Kardon products. My very first decent piece of audio was their well-regarded HK680i receiver that I bought from all my Christmas earnings from working at LaBelle’s Catalogue Showroom. I remember reading over the brochure so many times that I had to tape the center crease to keep the thing together. That receiver survived many dorm stereo wars, winning all but one in beer infused voice votes. A little over a year ago I was looking for a vintage high-power integrated on a generic beer budget. Surfing thru eBay I spotted a black HK PM665VXi that was on auction with a midweek/midday ending time that coincided with a day off from work. I watch the auction and made a last second bid and thankfully won the amp. read more…

Zebra ZC-SP14DBI Bi-wire Speaker Cables

Zebra ZC-SP14DBI Bi-wire Speaker Cables

Every once in a while the budding audiophile is treated to a product that sounds so good for the money its like having a Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse Filet for the price of a Denny’s Chicken Fried Steak. I believe that the ZC-SP14DBI is a great cable if you want to give bi-wiring a try without laying down some long green on the really expensive stuff. The thing is that most of the expensive stuff isn’t made any better, but name brand producers have a much higher overhead so the cost is passed on to the consumer. Scott Burns the proprietor of Zebra Cables will whip you up a set of well built custom cables using high quality Belden OFC wire and Vampire connectors. Sure the cable designs are straight forward, nothing too exotic, but just like the girl next door there is a lot to like without having to put up with the high maintenance cost of the debutant we cannot afford. read more…

Your Basic Guide to PC Audio Making sense of the basics so you can get started

Your Basic Guide to PC Audio Making sense of the basics so you can get started

If you search long enough, you will uncover a trove of information regarding the many ways your desktop or laptop can be turned into a first-rate music making machine. There’s just one problem; finding all of that information and then making sense of it all! This guide is designed to be your one-stop reference that will cover the bare essentials necessary to get you started in using your computer as a source. read more…

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