hi-fi systems review

Bellari VP129 Vacuum Tube Phono Stage

Bellari VP129 Vacuum Tube Phono Stage

Specifications:

  • Input Connectors: RCA
  • Output Connectors: RCA & 1/4″ TRS Stereo
  • Input Sensitivity: 30 dB gain @ 1kHz, 47k W Input Z Input Impedance: 50k Ohms
  • Output Impedance: 8 Ohms Headphone, 100 Ohms RCA
  • Max Output Level: >10dB @ 1kHz at.1% dist. Equalization: RIAA +/- 1.5 dB, 20Hz to 20kHz Rumble Filter: 20Hz
  • THD: .02% @ 1KHz
  • S/N Ratio: >80 dB unweighted
  • PWR: 12 – 18 VDC
  • Size: 6″w x 2.5″h x 5.4″d
  • Weight: 1 lb (2Lbs shipped)

I have grown up loving to listen to music, so as I have matured I now enjoy multiple genres of music, where I only used to enjoy rock and roll. My earliest recollection of recorded music go back to when my older sister would pull out her Beatles and Rolling Stones albums to play on her GE record player. From that moment on, vinyl playback has always held a special place in heart. My son is now getting into the act, having recently graduated to a Music Hall MMF-2.1 turntable from an old Technics turntable that I found for him at a swap meet.

That brings me to the Bellari VP129 vacuum tube moving magnet phono preamplifier. All of my stereo amplifiers and preamplifiers are vacuum tube models. Some years ago I discovered the magic of vacuum tubes and have never looked back. Listening to my son’s new turntable peaked my curiosity, how would a vacuum tube phono stage sound compared to the solid state phono stage in his Onkyo receiver? I decided to try the Bellari VP129 in his moderately priced system before installing it in my reference system for this review. read more…

Promitheus Transformer Volume Control (TVC): The Epitome of Transparency

Promitheus Transformer Volume Control (TVC): The Epitome of Transparency

Specifications:

  • REV3 single ended transformers
  • Improved chassis rigidity by using a top and bottom stainless steel plates
  • 4 inputs of RCA and 2 outputs RCA
  • Single Stereo 23 pole switch for volume selection
  • Pure 4N silver wiring used for internal wiring

Simplicity. That’s what I wanted. With only one source (CD player) and one amplifier on my two-channel system, I basically needed a mechanism to volume control and serve as gatekeeper for my source and amp. That’s when I began a search for a non-traditional preamplifier. My search ended when I read a very lengthy thread on the AudioCircle forum about the Promitheus Transformer Volume Control (TVC). read more…

Era Sub 8 Powered Subwoofer

Era Sub 8 Powered Subwoofer

Specifications: 

  • Dimensions: 12″ x 11″ x 15″ Weight: 55 lbs.
  • Amp Power (Continuous): 200 Watts
  • Amp Power (Maximum): 240 Watts
  • Driver: heavily dampened 8” woofer, down-firing. Frequency Response: 35 Hz to 140 Hz,
  • Low Pass Crossover: Variable from 30-140 Hz, 4th order
  • Phase Adjustment:, Switchable 0 or 180 degrees
  • Warranty: 3 years
  • Finishes: Rosewood, Cherry veneer, and black lacquer. Price: $800
  • Designed in USA, manufactured in China

Mention the word “subwoofer” to adults and immediately the conversation turns into an attack on the youth of today and their booming car stereos. Despite that scourge (ok, I’m showing my age a bit), subwoofers have become a rather intrical part of many audio-only rigs, especially with fans of classical recordings. I, myself, have been late in appreciating their value as I held onto the bias of deep bass being boomy. read more…

Monarchy AC Regenerator

Monarchy AC Regenerator

Specifications

  • M150 Dual Isolation AC Supply Monarchy Audio AC-Regenerator Power Handling: 100 Watt
  • Output Frequency: 50Hz, 60Hz, 120Hz, 400Hz. Output Voltage: (a)110 to 120 Volt Adjustable in 1-Volt steps
  • (b)200 to 240 Volt Adjustable in 2-volt steps
  • 17″Wx12”Dx4”H Net Weight: 24 lbs Shipping weight: 30 lbs.
  • Price: $750

Several months ago, the UPS driver dropped off several boxes from Monarchy Audio. The first piece to go into my system was the M24 digital to analog converter, which was reviewed in the January issue. There were a few other products in that delivery that have proven to be quite interesting. One package contained the Monarchy AC Regenerator. Mr. Poon sent this piece to be used in conjunction with a pair of Dignity Audio mono-blocks that his company imports. The Dignity pieces have been in and out of my system a few times, and HighFidelityReview readers can expect to see a write up on them in the next couple of months. However, my curiosity got the best of me in regards to the Monarchy AC Regenerator. I decided to install it in my current system because I wanted to see what improvements have been made in the arena of reasonably priced power conditioners.

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Hemp Acoustics FR-8.0 DIY HQ Full Range Drivers.

Hemp Acoustics FR-8.0 DIY HQ Full Range Drivers.

It’s been sometime since I’ve sat down to write a review. I’ve been so looking forward to reviewing these drivers for such a long time. I had made the decision to purchase these full rangers about a year ago. They seemed reasonably priced, well built and “green”. Their stated efficiency is 96.5 dB, so even mini amp users can get reasonable levels of volume for their listening pleasure.

I’ve recently become enamored with “mini amps”, low-powered , but wonderful sounding little things after hearing a friend’s 2A3 based DIY amp. So much so that I have encouraged my eldest brother to buy himself a Decware 1.5 watt SE triode amp. Not having the depth of pockets that he has, I decided to try to emulate a low powered, but good sounding system. I think I’ve come pretty close. read more…

Initial Impressions: Onix Strata Mini

Initial Impressions: Onix Strata Mini

Introduction: I have owned various AV123/Onix products over the past several years. Recently had the honor and distinct pleasure of meeting Mark Schifter, President, CEO and founder of AV123 when I hosted an AV123 Chicago Get Together (GTG) in December 2006, where the Mini was brought in for the GTG as one of the featured items. I was also lucky enough to have the Mini’s for the evening after the GTG was over for some one-on-one extended listening time before they had to be returned to their rightful owner. read more…

Sia Rothschilde A2 vs. ACI Sapphire XL The Comprehensive Review Part 2

Sia Rothschilde A2 vs. ACI Sapphire XL The Comprehensive Review Part 2

PROLOGUE – My Soap Box

The notion of venturing beyond our comfort zone can be a downright scary proposal. For many audiophiles, it is simply easier to accept common aberrations stumbled across through a path only semi traveled. With heads in the sand and rear’s to the wind, true comprehension is forfeit to empty familiar assumptions; tube watts are more powerful than solid state. Ribbons cannot rock. A good piece of electronics requires a massive power supply. You get the idea. Through our journey we all develop a core of beliefs and subsequent bias. What separates the lazy from the curious are those that embrace possibility, vice standing defiant against it through selfappointed knowledge. Anyone willing to give possibility a chance may end up discovering something unique that is a pleasant departure from ho-hum hi-fi. For those daring enough to depart familiar waters to enter un-chartered territory, I present to you two shinning diamonds.

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Hsu Research HB-1 Bookshelf Speaker System

Hsu Research HB-1 Bookshelf Speaker System

Specifications:

  • Frequency range: 60Hz – 20kHz Sensitivity: 92 dB / 1m / 2.83V in half space Recommended Power: 10-250W RMS per channel Woofer size: 6 ½
  • Enclosure type: vented ; ¾” MDF
  • Impedance: 6 ohms nominal; minimum 4 ohms
  • Dimensions: 15” H X 8”W X 8”D Weight : 14.5 lbs
  • Warranty: 7 years
  • Available in black or maple MDF Price: $125 each

“All that sound’s coming out of THOSE?” the wife wanted to know. It was a good question; the latest offering from Dr. Poh Ser Hsu and his Southern California based Hsu Research is definitely a little guy.

At a mere 15 inches high and 8 inches wide and deep, the HB-1 bookshelves are about as unobtrusive as speakers come. But, while they might be small, they are actually big news: They’re NOT a subwoofer, which is Dr. Hsu’s normal (and decidedly legendary) stock in trade. read more…

A Review of the Lite Audio DAC-62

A Review of the Lite Audio DAC-62

In the past, buying high quality, 2-channel separates, especially tube gear was easily attainable by those audiophiles with significantly higher disposable incomes. Fortunately, due largely to the Chinese invasion of lower cost audio gear onto the American shores, most of us are now able to sip from the fine wine of high end separates.

Specifications:

  • Sovtek 6922 tube output
  • Pair of 24-bit PCM1704U-K converters (offers true 24 bit) Sampling to 96kHz.
  • VCO for low jitter
  • Optical and coaxial input selectable with input frequency display.
  • Input sampling rate from 16KHz to 192KHz and from 16 bit to 24 bit.
  • Dynamic range 144dB.
  • The volume control is digital domain full balance using discrete transistor components (four LPF)Two R-core power transformers
  • 16 7/8 x 10 3/8 x 4 with a 3/8” thick face plate
  • Approx. 16 lbs.

If you’re ready to make the plunge, you’ll likely begin by exploring the virtues of a separate digital analog converter (DAC). In most CD players, the components used in converting the digital signal to analog contain cheap parts. The main purpose of buying a separate DAC is to improve the sound of your source by taking advantage of higher quality parts which, in turn, are more likely to produce better sound.

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Era Design 5 Mini-Monitors

Era Design 5 Mini-Monitors

In the past few months I’ve been lucky enough to audition one fine monitor after another. In each case, the manufacturer has been able to create a somewhat unique/signature sound that is fairly easy to recognize. What impresses me is that even though the cabinets are small, if not diminuitive, there is a great deal of originality. That would have been much rarer some 20 years ago, but thanks to computer modeling and trial and error, the box has become anything but four square sides. After my review of the Era Design 4’s, David Solomon of Signal Path decided to test my auditory skills once again and sent out the bigger brother, the Design 5’s in a handsome rosewood veneer.

Specifications:

  • HWD dimensions: 11″ X 7.1″ X 10.4″ .
  • Power requirements: 50-200Watts. Nominal Rating: 6 Ohms
  • Sensitivity: 88db
  • Weight 15.8 lbs.
  • Finishes: Cherry, Piano Black, Rosewood, Sycamore.
  • Design USA, Manufactured in China Price: $899

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Music Hall cd25.2 CD Player

Music Hall cd25.2 CD Player

Twenty-two years ago I bought my first cd player, it was a Fisher, its claim to fame, a Yamaha chip. Eager to get in on the new technology, I fell for the sales job and bought one. It performed well for 13 months, and then died. After a futile search for a repair shop with a manual, I moved on and bought a Harman Kardon, which served me well for many years.

Specifications:

  • Burr-Brown PCM 1738 24-bit/192kHz DAC Philips VAM1202/19 transport
  • Frequency Response: 20hz-20khz(+/-0.5db) Harmonic Distortion: 0.003(1khz)
  • Signal to Noise: 120db
  • Channel Separation: 110db
  • Thick brushed-aluminum front plate and solid chassis Two digital outputs; 1 x coaxial and 1 x optical Standard analog output
  • Detachable power cord
  • Dimensions: W17 x D14.5 x H3 in.
  • Weight: 15 lbs. pkg.
  • Manufactured in China Price: $599

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Music Hall a25.2 Integrated Amplifier

Music Hall a25.2 Integrated Amplifier

One of my favorite trends in audio is the return of the silver faceplate. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the time of the gorgeous silver and wood side era, when form was as important as function. I can remember one of the reasons I bought my first piece of decent audio gear, a Harman Kardon HK680i receiver had the classic h/k champagne finish. Whatever the case may be, it was with disappointment when the 1980’s and 1990’s became synonymous with black faceplates. Luckily, the twenty-first century opened with a return to visual sanity and silver was back in vogue.

Specifications:

  • Digitally controlled analogue audio volume control IC by
  • Texas Instruments, PGA 2311
  • 50 wpc @ 8 Ohms, 100 wpc @ 4 Ohms
  • Signal to Noise: 101db
  • Frequency Response: 10hz-50khz +0.5db
  • Distortion (THD+N): 0.002(1khz) Toroidal transformer
  • Pre-amp out/Subwoofer connection
  • 4 analog inputs, 1 tape loop, 1 headphone input
  • Slim-line system remote control
  • Thick-brushed aluminum fascia
  • Readable and dimmable florescent display
  • Detachable power cord
  • Dimensions: W17 x D14.5 x H3.5 in. Weight: 24 lbs. pkg.
  • Assembled in China
  • Price $599

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Audio Nirvana Super 8

Audio Nirvana Super 8

Specifications:

  • Cabinet style: Woodstyle WS803
  • Driver type: Audio Nirvana Super 8”
  • Power Requirements: 5-30
  • Watts Frequency Response: 38-20k
  • Sensitivity: 95db
  • HWD:
  • Price: DIY $340

Within the last decade the audio world has rediscovered the simple beauty of music reproduced through single driver speakers. While full range driver manufacturers were always available, only a handful of audio enthusiasts were aware of the benefits of this type of speaker. A few companies, such as Lowther and Fostex stayed the course, and continued to advance the development of full range drivers. The offerings of these companies found enthusiastic followers in Europe and the Far East; while the majority of the U.S. market preferred traditional multidriver speaker system. However, adventurous American audio enthusiasts chose to follow a road less traveled, and began to explore this alternative philosophy of music reproduction. Tube amplifiers were commonly used with this type of speaker, primarily due too the high sensitivity ratings of these drivers. Audio enthusiasts found that single driver speakers matched up quite well with vintage tube amplifiers, such as classic units from Fisher, Marantz, or Heathkit. Advocates of lower powered solid-state gear also discovered that a full range driver works well within their types of systems. Only recently has the full range driver registered on the radar screen of the mainstream audio community. This success has created an opportunity for audio enthusiasts to experience the unique benefits of single driver speaker systems. read more…

Speaker Comparison: Audio Concepts Sapphire XL vs. Stone Image Audio Rothschilde A2 Part 1

Speaker Comparison: Audio Concepts Sapphire XL vs. Stone Image Audio Rothschilde A2 Part 1

Specifications:

ACI Sapphire XL

  • FR (anechoic) 48-20khz (-3db) Impedance 6 ohm Sensitivity 85.5 db
  • Tweeter 1” Silk Dome
  • Woofer 5.5” Long Throw Paper Cone
  • Dimensions: 12”H, 8.5”W, 12”D Bi Wire capable: No
  • Weight 22 lbs
  • Price $ 1500pr

Stone Image Audio Rothschilde A2

  • FR (anechoic) 45-30khz (-3db) Impedance 8 ohm Sensitivity 88.2 db
  • Tweeter 1.12” Titanium
  • Woofer 5.5” Long-throw Poly Cone
  • Dimensions: 12”H, 7”W, 9.5”D Bi Wire capable: Yes
  • Weight 19 lbs
  • Price $1335pr

A Short Intro

Lately I’ve had a massive grin on my face. No, it’s not from spiked egg nog. Nor is it because I just saved a ton of money by switching to Geico. It’s because I have been smitten with two very special minimonitors; the Sapphire XL from Audio Concepts, Inc, and the Rothschilde A2 from Stone Image Audio. I often find myself attracted to products that carry an exotic pedigree which stray far from the pack of casual garden variety hi-fi. For yours truly, part of the allure hides within the thrill of the venturing out into the wilds unknown – shuffling around in hopes of securing a lovingly crafted piece that few others have laid eyes or ears on. While I love sundry exotica, I also love components that are able to convey the fundamental spirit and soul of the music. I could care less whether or not a product can satisfy measured standards. For these non-golden ears, all that matters is the rhythm – and baby do these two have it.

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