hi-fi systems review

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…

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…

Neko Audio D100 Stereo Digital to Analog Converter

Neko Audio D100 Stereo Digital to Analog Converter

Specifications

  • Inputs: optical and coaxial S/PDIF
  • Outputs: balanced XLR to XLR, or unbalanced XLR to RCA Frequency Response: 20Hz – 20kHz (+0 -0.10dB); 3Hz – 22kHz
  • (-3dB) @ 44.1kHz
  • (-3dB) @ 96kHz
  • 20Hz – 20kHz (+0 -0.05dB); 3Hz – 31kHz
  • THD+N: <0.020% @ 20Hz -0dBFS
  • <0.005% typical -0dBFS
  • 16-bit and 24-bit, 44.1kHz – 192kHz audio. Optical and transformer isolated coaxial inputs. Dual PCM1794 chips in mono configuration. Passive transformer-based analog output stage. Tantalum capacitors, 0.1% output resistors.
  • Gold plated input and output connectors. High quality steel enclosure.
  • Toroidal power transformer in separate shielded compartment. Price: $1295

The World of DAC

In an ideal world, the digital to analog converter that you have connected to your digital source would not matter. Since digital information can ideally be read as perfectly as it was written, all it takes is a little converter to read the information and turn the stream into something more than a protocol droid can understand. In fact, since some protocol droids are fluent in over six-million forms of communication, getting one might be the ideal DAC; but that is for a different article. However, we all know that nothing is perfect in this world, high-fidelity audio included. There are little things called jitter, distortion, etc, and all of these nuisances can make the read digital data not true to the source. This is one reason that we have literally a boat load of different DACs on the market, each one reading and interpreting that digital data a little differently. As this truly is a nuisance, it also make the sampling and use of digital audio equipment fun as you try different units and decide what subtleties and sound best fit you and your rig. Neko Audio now offers one of those pieces of equipment that is worth trying. read more…

Zebra XLR Interconnect Cables

Zebra XLR Interconnect Cables

Specifications

  • AES/EBU Digital Audio Cable Specifications: Made from Belden’s 1800F Cable
  • Total Number of Conductors: 2
  • 24 AWG .024″ stranded bare copper conductor
  • FHDPE -Foam High Density Polyethylene
  • 95% tinned copper french braid shield, PVC jacket
  • Nom. Impedance: 110 Ohms
  • Nom. Inductance: 0.18 µH/ft Nom. Capacitance: 12 pF/ft Connector Choices: Vampire Wire XLR Male and XLR Female connectors
  • Price: $37.50 for 3ft, with XLR terminantions, $2.75 each additional foot. NOTE: Pricing is per cable; if you need pairs, you must order two.

I recently purchased a Krell KAV 400xi integrated amplifier and had for the first time the opportunity to utilize a set of balanced interconnects to run between my Krell and Primare D30.2 CD player. Having been pleased with the performance of my Zebra SP14 DBI speaker cables I decided to try a pair of Zebra Cables XLR interconnects. So shot off an e-mail to Scott Burns the proprietor of Zebra Cables, he promised to make me a set of interconnects using Belden OFC wire and Vampire connectors and send them to me ASAP. Within a few days I received the XLR interconnects and upon opening the package I was pleased to find the well made pair of cables nicely packaged for safe shipment. read more…

Grant Fidelity SPT-100 Super Tweeter

Grant Fidelity SPT-100 Super Tweeter

Specifications:

  • Crossover options: 12kHz and 15kHz
  • Frequency Response range: 10kHz -40kHz (by theory it will go up to
  • 100kHz)
  • Sensitivity option: 86dB or 92dB Finish: Silver or Gold.
  • Weight: 3.6kg per pair Net.
  • Optional connection 5N copper speaker cables -5 ft in length at extra cost.
  • Comes with a rigid aluminum carrying case. Weight: 9 lb
  • Price: $749

Over time I had begun to notice that my pair of Polk LSi9 monitors were lacking the top end that so many of the review speakers I was getting in had. Part of the difference was due to the Vifa tweeter being a low noise/hiss emitter. I had no problem with that, but the more I listened the more obvious it became that in Polk’s attempts to control the tweeter, they had constrained the sonics. The balance of the monitor’s sound was impressive, therefore, I began to seek out options. After some searching, I remembered that Grant Fidelity had a high quality super tweeter that might just be the solution. A return email from Ian Grant contained both good and bad news; yes, he’d be happy to send me out a sample of their SPT-100, but they were currently out of stock and it may be 6-8 weeks before he’d have a pair to send me. I told him I’d happily wait. read more…

Emotiva ERM-1 and ERD-1 Loudspeakers

Emotiva ERM-1 and ERD-1 Loudspeakers

Specifications:

ERM-1

  • Speaker type: Sealed MTM Bookshelf Frequency Range: 80-20Khz +/-2db Sensitivity: 89dB
  • Dimensions: 13.5”h X 7.75”w X 9.5”d
  • Woofer: 2 – 5¼”
  • Tweeter: 1 – 1” Silk Dome
  • Weight 21 lbs Each (Boxed in felt bag) Enclosure: MDF -Braced and highly damped
  • Non-reflective black satin lacquer finish
  • Price: $199.00 (Each 3 Reviewed)

ERD-1

  • Speaker type: Sealed Bipole/Dipole Switching
  • Frequency Range: Frequency response: 80-20Khz +/-2db
  • Sensitivity: 89dB
  • Dimensions: 9.5”h X 13”w X 4.25” d
  • Woofer: 1- 5¼”
  • Tweeter: 1 – 1” Silk Dome
  • Weight: 11 Pounds Each (Unboxed)
  • Enclosure: MDF – Braced and highly damped
  • Non-reflective black satin lacquer finish
  • Price: $249.00 (Per Pair)
  • Package total price: $846.00 (3 ERM-1 and 1 pair ERD-1)

Everyone you meet changes your life in some way. Some people make small changes that last only moments and others make changes that last a lifetime. I never guessed that the pretty blonde I met in a small coffee house would someday be my wife, just like I never guessed that friendly coworker would suck me into a hobby that could take over my life. Well the coworker has passed now but this crazy hobby lives on. I came to this hobby sort of through the back door. Starting with a nice pair of speakers that grew in to a spectacular home theater. My first lesson in audio (taught by said coworker) was that there isn’t another piece of equipment that the listener actually hears other then the loudspeakers. With that in mind I’ve always been picky about loudspeakers. read more…

AV123 x-omni Mini-tower: The Offbeat Cousin

AV123 x-omni Mini-tower: The Offbeat Cousin

Specifications

  • System: Two way, two driver direct-radiating system, vented enclosure with rearfiring flared port
  • Drivers: 1″ treated fabric dome and two custom 6.5″ curvilinear shaped treated paper cone woofers with polymer chassis
  • Frequency response is 45 -20khz +/- 2dB Low freq -3dB at 40 hz 8 Ohms
  • Efficiency-86 dB.
  • Dimensions: 38.5 inches H (with grill and base) x 8 inches wide, x 8 inches deep
  • Weight: Coming Soon!
  • Finishes: Satin Black, Cherry veneer, Natural Moho veneer
  • Price: $549 pr.

Last month I got a call from our publisher, Mark Marcantonio. “You up for some fun, Dan?” Well, when comes to audio gear, I’m always ready for being entertained. But a little voice in the back of my head told me that Mark had something up his sleeve and I should prepare myself for anything. In the living room stood a pair of black mini-towers with the oddest-looking grill. Since the sunlight was streaming in behind the speakers a back lighting effect took place keeping me from being able to accurately figure out the design. A wire mesh grill came down the front just 5 inches from the front, but at the top bent 90 degrees to cover the entire top. The music from Journey’s Greatest Hits was playing and I could feel the forward push of the quite impressive sound. Yet I could not see where the driver was located. And there, under the mesh facing the ceiling was 6.5 inch driver. I was truly intrigued and knew I had to pry these satin black sentinels away from Mark. read more…

Rega Apollo CD Player

Rega Apollo CD Player

Specifications:

  • Laser : Semiconductor Laser
  • Wavelength: 780nm
  • Line Output Maximum Level: 2V-(load impedance minimum10k-ohm)
  • Digital Output Maximum Level: 0.5V (load impedance 75-ohm)
  • Digital Sampling Frequency: 44.1kHz
  • Mains Voltages: 230V (minimum190V maximum 250V) @50/60Hz
  • 115V (minimum 95V maximum 125V) @50/60Hz
  • Power Consumption: 2W
  • Dimensions: 435(mm)Wx100(mm)Hx270(mm)D
  • Required Space for Operation: 435W(mm)x180(mm)Hx315(mm)D Weight: Eight pounds
  • Mains Fuses: 230V @250mA
  • 115V @500mA
  • CDP Remote Batteries: AAA (1.5) x 2
  • Price: $995

Rega Research Ltd was founded in 1973 by Tony Relph and Roy Gandy. Take the first two letters of each of their last names, put them together and you have Re & ga or Rega, the company name. Rega is based in the United Kingdom where it makes high-end audio equipment and was initially recognized for its production of quality turntables. Starting in the 1990’s Rega expanded its line to become a full range audio company. Looking at their website you can see they now make turntables, loudspeakers, amplifiers, tuners, cartridges, tonearms, a phono stage, plus a host of other accessories as well as two cd players. Their first cd player called the Planet went into production in 1996 for $995 and received rave reviews from the audio press. The Apollo, the subject for todays review, is the company’s new entry level player. Their top of the line cd player,the Saturn, retails for $2595. When first introduced Rega initially priced the Apollo at $995. Later the price inched up to $1195 as costs rose, but now has recently been reduced back to the original $995 mark. This price reduction was made by their US Distributor, The Sound Organization, in an effort to make it extremely competitive in today’s high-end audio Cd player market and to reflect the current exchange rate. read more…

JBL Control 2P Powered Desktop Monitors

JBL Control 2P Powered Desktop Monitors

JBL has hit the sweet spot with the versatile Control 2P ($249 list), a compact powered monitor that fits multiple applications from audio production to AV, electronic instruments, and home entertainment. read more…

Budget DAC Comparison: Zhaolu D2.5, CityPulse 7.2X, Musiland MD10

Budget DAC Comparison: Zhaolu D2.5, CityPulse 7.2X, Musiland MD10

Being an audiophile certainly has its joys, but the hobby also comes with its share of frustrations. I am sure many of you have made the mistakeof talking to a friend or family member about your system, and instead of focusing only on the music (as you probably should have), you tried to walk them through the various components. Most of the pieces might appear sensible enough to the uninitiated. Speakers, amplifiers…blah blah blah. As long as you stayed away from a discussion of the aftermarket power cords, you should escape unscathed, right?

No. Try to explain a benefit of an external DAC to someone who is just pretending to be interested in your hobby. Instead of connecting the computer/CD player/music server directly to the amplifier (which of course, you can do), you first run the signal to this little box over here (after buying additional jewelry…er, cables), and that makes everything sound better! Even if your victim is paying close attention, you run the risk of him or her noticing that the computer/CD player/music server has its own DAC! Yes, but an external one is usually better, right?

I certainly think so. Despite the debates that rage in audio forms (presumably populated by enthusiasts/converts instead of incredulous friends and relatives of audiophiles), most of us agree that a $250 external DAC can usually provide a substantial improvement in sound quality when connected to the digital output of a computer, budget DVD player, or music streaming device (Squeezebox or Sonos or similar). Even older CD players (or transports to us audio hobbyists) can be given new life by using a good external DAC, saving the trouble and expense of replacing the entire player.

Modifying CD players with replacement parts used to be quite popular before these inexpensive outboard DACs became so common. However, rejuvenating old CD players is not the primary reason why the DAC segment of the audio marketplace is red hot right now. Instead, it has been fueled by the emergence of good music serving hardware and software. Perhaps even more interesting than the DAC market itself is a subcategory of DAC that is becoming increasingly popular. DAC/preamp combinations that add a volume control (and possibility input switching) to the party make for a real revolution. Allowing the user to bridge the gap between digital sources and a poweramp buys tremendous flexibility, and can be a really inexpensive way to build a very musical system.

And that brings us to this mini-shootout between three similarly priced, similarly endowed DACs; the Zhaolu D2.5 (it is apparently pronounced “Chow-loo”), the CityPulse 7.2X, and the Musiland MD-10 (previously reviewed by A$$A’s Mark Marcantonio in issue 29 last May). All three units upsample, accommodate multiple digital inputs and provide both line-level and variable analogue output to headphones and power amplifiers, effectively making them DAC/ preamp (or more accurately but less colloquially, DAC/linestage) combinations. All three of the little boxes hail from China, all three are available in North America through on-line retailers, and all three are also readily available on eBay directly from China. read more…

ACI Emerald XL mini-monitors

ACI Emerald XL mini-monitors

Specifications:

  • Frequency Response: 70-20kHz ± 3db anechoic,
  • Nominal Impedance: 8 ohms, minimum impedance 7 ohms, low reactance
  • Sensitivity: 86db 1 watt/1 meter Dimensions: 10″ H x 5 7/8″ W x 8 1/4″ D Weight: 11 lbs each
  • Tweeter: 1″ silk dome with ferro-fluid and aperiodic second chamber
  • Bass-Midrange: 4″ cast-frame with paper cone, rubber surround; long throw, low distortion motor system with vented pole piece
  • Recommended RMS Power: 20 to 150 watts per channel
  • Bass-loading: Fourth order, low Q, rear ported system. May also be used as second order sealed system.
  • Cabinet: Full 3/4″” MDF with extensive interlocking bracing structure. Finishes: Satin Black, Piano Black, Inlaid Cherry
  • Price: $700 or $800

Sometimes I just wish that every manufacturer in audio set their design goal to follow the definition of “seductive”. It’s one of the few words that is a part of the goal of every audio fanatic. We crave hearing the sound that transports us away from the realities of such insanity as the panicked herd mentality now driving Wall Street. As a reviewer, it’s a bit easy to become focused on the minutia and forget about finding the bliss in listening. But every once in a while, a product arrives on my doorstep that forces me to let go and just enjoy. The ACI Emerald XL mini monitors are such a package and belong in Webster’s as an example of seductive. read more…

Acoustic Revive: RGC-24 Ground Conditioner SIP-8F, BSIP-2F Short Pins IP-2F Vibration Protect Pins CS2F Outlet Stabilizer

Acoustic Revive: RGC-24 Ground Conditioner SIP-8F, BSIP-2F Short Pins IP-2F Vibration Protect Pins CS2F Outlet Stabilizer

Specifications:

RGC-24 Ground Conditioner

  • Dimensions: 88 X 18mm (main body) Weight: 384g
  • Length of cable: 50cm
  • RCA plug connection adapter included
  • Price: $450 each

SIP-8F, BSIP-2F, IP-2F Pins

  • Length: 32mm (including hot pin) X Dimension 11.5mm
  • Weight: 9.2g
  • Eight SIP-8F short pins to a package (for RCA
  • input terminals)
  • Two BSIP-2F short pins to a package (for XLR input terminals)
  • Two IP-2F vibration protect pins to a package (for RCA output terminals)
  • Price: $225 per package each

CS2F Outlet Stabilizer

  • none given at the website Price: $175 each
  • Manufacturer: SEKIGUCHI MACHINE SALES CO., LTD

The components from Acoustic Revive that I am about to review today can either be looked upon as a system used in unison, or individually if your budget or needs do not allow. Those of you who have been reading my reviews, starting with my initial introduction to Acoustic Revive products in the September 2008 issue of “Affordable Audio”, will by now know something about the company. For those of you who are new to Acoustic Revive products let me sum a few things up rather quickly. This company is very well know in Japan, where it is located, and word of its products have now spread worldwide as reviews continue to come forth telling of their excellence. Acoustic Revive makes audio accessories that continue to amaze me with their positive effects on my audio system and their relatively modest pricing on most products. When you look at the world of high-end audio and what people are charging Acoustic Revive is quite reasonable indeed. For what they do and the quality of the product, versus what they charge I consider them a bargain. No, they are not “inexpensive” in terms of the bottom of the rung pricing in audio, but when you look at them in the context of being high-end products, they appear to me a relative bargain. read more…

Eficion Ficion S20 Loudspeaker System

Eficion Ficion S20 Loudspeaker System

Specification:

  • Design: 2-way vented-box. Frequency Response: 65Hz-40kHz. Sensitivity: 88dB/2.83V/1m.
  • Impedance: 8 ohms (minimum 7.5 ohms). Power Requirement: 50-100W recommended.
  • Tweeter: Purified aluminum ribbon tweeter with pleated structure.
  • Woofer: 5.2″ polymer compound cone. Enclosure: MDF with real wood veneer.
  • Loudspeaker Dimensions (HWD): 13.8″ X 7.4″ X 7.5″. Price: $650 pr.

The Eficion Ficion S20 is a two way high quality speaker system that Eficion sells as a surround speaker. Fortunately Eficion recently opened a showroom in the Redmond Town Center in Redmond Washington just a short 16 mile drive from my home and Peigen Jiang the owner and designer of Eficion loudspeakers was able to meet with me and supply a set speakers for evaluation. I initially went to visit Peigen and hear his incredible sounding Eficion Ficion F300s (which are worth a visit to his shop if you are anywhere near Redmond Washington) but I was impressed when I heard these little speakers so I decided to do a review for A$$A. read more…

Audio Horizons TB5.0n Tube Buffer

Audio Horizons TB5.0n Tube Buffer

Specifications:

  • Frequency Response: 20 Hz to 100kHz
  • Total Harmonic Distortion THD): 0.05% @-20dBV Dynamic Range: Better than 110 dB
  • Signal to Noise Ratio: 117 dBv
  • Channel Separation: 90 dB @ 1 kHz
  • 65 dB @ 10 kHz
  • Gain -1 dB Price: $725

“Tube buffer or not tube buffer? That is the question”

read more…

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