March 17th, 2017
By: Carlin "Rick" Smith
Two magainzes we are partial to at Sound Lab are Stereophile and The Absolute Sound. Each yearly publishes a list of what they feel are the best gear. We wanted to highlight a few of items available from Sound Lab. Don't hesistate to contact us regarding this great list of audio gear.
First a word from Stereophile as to how they determine products eligible for their list (The Absolute Sound is similar).
Components listed here have been formally reviewed in Stereophile and have been found to be among the best available in each of four or five quality classes. Whether a component is listed in Class A or Class E, we highly recommend its purchase.
Each listing—in alphabetical order within classes—is followed by a brief description of the product's sonic characteristics and a code indicating the Stereophile Volume and Issue in which that product's report appeared. Thus the May 2016 issue is indicated as "Vol.39 No.5."
Some products listed have not yet been reported on; these are marked (NR), for "Not Reviewed." We recommend that you read any product's entire review before seriously contemplating a purchase (products without reviews should therefore be treated with more caution)—many salient characteristics, peculiarities, and caveats appear in the reviews, but not here. To obtain back issues of the magazine, visit our website: www.stereophile.com. We regret that we cannot supply photocopies or e-mail copies of individual reviews. All full reviews are reprinted in our website "Archives" section: these are marked "WWW." More are added each week, so check the on-line listing.
In general, components do not remain listed for more than three years unless at least one of the magazine's writers and editors has had continued experience with them. Discontinuation of a model also precludes its appearance. In addition, though professional components—recorders, amplifiers, monitor speaker systems—can be obtained secondhand and can sometimes offer performance that would otherwise guarantee inclusion, we do not generally do so. Stereophile's "Recommended Components" listing is almost exclusively concerned with products currently available in the US through the usual hi-fi retail outlets.
Bel Canto Design e.One REF600M monoblock $4990/pair
Bel Canto's REF600 monoblock is similar in size to the company's REF1000M, which KR reviewed in the March 2009 Stereophile, but the newer amp trades the older amp's ICEpower-based class-D output section for the recently ubiquitous Hypex NCore class-D module, which develops 300W into 8 ohms and 600W into 4 ohms—specs identical to those of the MPS1 power-amp section of the Bel Canto Black (described elsewhere in this edition of "Recommended Components"). Writing of his experience with the REF600Ms driving his Bowers & Wilkins 802 D3 speakers, KR observed that the monoblocks "never ran out of steam with any sort of music at any listening level, and remained absolutely consistent in tonal balance and clarity." Kal also described the amp's price as "eye-openingly" low. JA's measurements uncovered a remarkably high (109.9dB) unweighted signal/noise ratio, power output higher than the manufacturer's spec, and "impressively low levels of distortion and noise." (Vol.39 No.10 WWW).
Parasound Halo JC 1 monoblock: $8990/pair $$$ ★
MF heard exactly what this high-power—400Wpc specified, 586W at clipping!—John Curl-designed amp's specs showed: "ultra-wide bandwidth, high-current capability, low, low noise, a high S/N ratio, and a fast slew rate, among many other indicators of outstanding amplifier performance . . . .There was an honesty to the overall tonal and harmonic presentation that transcended technological stereotypes." MF found the overall sound to be powerful, refined, smooth, organized, dynamic, transparent, and rhythmically supple, if a little on the subtly warm and rich side of the sonic spectrum, but decided that this not at the expense of transient speed and resolution of detail. "Perhaps some listeners will find the JC 1 too refined and perhaps a tad polite, but I didn't." "Rocks for sure," says ST, adding that with the amp driving the Triangle Magellans, he found the "bass firmed up, the sound wasn't strained in any way, and there was an overall sense of ease. Dynamic ease. Listening ease. Just ease. Compared to the Halcros, the Parasound JC 1s brought the soundstage forward. Tonally, the Parasounds were magnificent . . . with no trace of solid-state hardness. And the amps weren't even broken in." "The Parasound JC 1 is one of the finest high-powered solid-state amps I've heard," said ST. "Think of it as a 25W class-A amp that does 400W class-AB when pushed." Matched with the JC 2 preamp, the JC 1s presented even greater holographic detail and transparency. The Parasound Halo JC 1 traded the Moscode 402Au's snappy, vivid tonality and larger soundstage for "quiet precision," clarity, and focus, said WP. The Halo JC 1 traded the Aesthetix Atlas's creamy midrange for greater bottom-end heft and top-end extension, said WP. Compared to the Bryston 7B SST2, the Parasound had deeper bass, tighter images, faster transients, and greater low-level resolution and microdynamic delicacy, said MF. A favorite of JA's, who was equally impressed by how the JC 1 performed on the test bench: "This is excellent measured performance. The Halo JC 1 is not only the best amplifier to come from Parasound, it ranks up there with the best high-end heavyweights," though WP felt that while the Halo JC 1 exhibited grace and delicacy compared with the much more expensive Luxman B-1000f, it lacked some impact, drive, resolution, and detail. Stereophile's—and Sam Tellig's—"Joint Amplification Component" for 2003. (Vol.26 Nos.2, 6, & 12, Vol.30 No.12, Vol.31 No.3, Vol.32 No.9, Vol.33 No.1, Vol.34 No.2 WWW; see also JA's review of the YG Carmel 2 in Vol.38 No.12 WWW)
Aurender N10: $7999 with 4TB storage
Designed in California and manufactured in South Korea, Aurender's N10 is a computer running a modified version of the open-source Linux operating system, and is dedicated to retrieving audio files from an external NAS drive, or a drive plugged into one of its USB ports, or its internal storage, and sending the data to its Class 2 USB output port or to one of its serial digital audio ports. Internal storage comprises two 2TB Western Digital Green hard drives, along with a 240GB solid-state disk (SSD) that is used to cache files before playback. Superb sound quality, decided JA, but DSD files were reproduced with a drop in volume when transcoded to PCM to play via a serial digital port. (Native DSD playback was okay.) "This server is a keeper," he summed up. (Vol.39 No.4 WWW)
Monitor Audio Platinum PL300 II: $14,495/pair
A functional—but not cosmetic—update of their original PL300, Monitor Audio's latest speaker is a three-way, four-driver floorstander with two reflex-loaded 8" woofers, a 4" midrange cone, and a Heil-style air-motion tweeter bearing the Monitor Audio trademark MPD, for Micro-Pleated Diaphragm. The PL300 II's curved, multilayer cabinet is made of a mineral-loaded thermoset polymer. After extended listening, RD felt that the PL300 II deserved comparison with the legendarily non–boxy-sounding Quad ESL, ultimately finding that the Monitor "had less 'speaker sound' than any loudspeaker I've reviewed." According to RD, "Monitor Audio has managed to reduce distortion and nonmusical resonances to a degree that made it easier to imagine that I was listening to live singers," and concluded by naming the PL300 II "my new reference." Apart from uncovering a lower sensitivity than specified (87 vs 90dB), JA gave the PL300 II a clean bill of health: "I am not surprised that RD was impressed . . . so was I." (Vol.39 No.11 WWW)
Monitor Audio Silver 8: $2000/pair $$$
The British-designed, Chinese-made Monitor Silver 8 is three-way floorstander using a 1" vented-diaphragm dome tweeter, a 4" midrange driver, and two 6" woofers—all with diaphragms made of C-CAM, Monitor Audio's ceramic-coated aluminum-magnesium material. The MDF cabinet has separate chambers for the woofers, which are reflex-loaded. KR lauded the Silver 8 for having a "fit and finish that are probably impossible to achieve at the price without production in the Far East." He also commented on its midrange clarity, and a bottom end that, if not stygian, "was in good balance" and "remarkably solid and satisfying." And as for spatial performance, multichannel enthusiast KR wrote, "I can't say that listening in stereo via the Silver 8s was anything less than delightful." According to JA's measurements, "other than [a] slight excess of energy in the tweeter's passband, the response is impressively even and flat." He praised the Silver 8's "superb measured performance at a very competitive price." "The midrange is of reference quality," adds KR. Black or White gloss finish adds $200/pair. (Vol.38 Nos.1 & 11 WWW)
JL Audio f212v2: $7000
Blessed with a model designation that has nothing up its sleeve—this is the second version of a Fathom-series powered subwoofer that contains two 12" drive-units—the f212v2 is the second-most-expensive subwoofer made by Miramar, Florida–based JL Audio, exceeded in that regard only by the Gotham v2 ($15,000). The Fathom f212v2, which stands only 32" tall yet weighs 224 lbs, incorporates the company's DARO "cut-only correction" equalizer, each of whose 18 bands is DSP controlled. Its internal class-D amplifier is capable of outputting 3600W short-term. LG, who praised the f212v2's build quality as "outstanding," used the new sub with JLA's CR-1 standalone electronic crossover ($3000), which is designed for use in music-only systems whose preamps or integrated amps lack built-in crossovers. He praised the DARO system for increasing "the precision and reliability of the sub's setup," and concluded that the "beautifully made, sonically transparent" f212v2 is "exceptionally powerful" and "strongly recommended." (Vol.39 No.11 WWW)
JL Audio Fathom f113v2: $4500
Descended from the JL Audio Fathom f113—a Class A subwoofer in previous editions of "Recommended Components"—the recent f113v2 is a compact subwoofer with a single 13.5" driver and an internal amplifier boasting 3000W RMS (compared with the f113's 2500W). Other refinements include the rerouting of audio signals away from the v2's control panel and, perhaps most notably, an upgrade from the original's Automatic Room Optimization (ARO) to JL Audio's new Digital Automatic Room Optimization (DARO, a name that caught us totally off guard). In contrast to ARO's single filter, DARO provides 18 bands of (cut-only) correction. According to KR, who declared DARO easier to operate than ARO, "the v2's improvement over the v1 was the complete disappearance, from my conscious awareness, of the subwoofer's existence." KR's conclusion: "JL Audio's Fathom f113v2 is everything good from the Fathom f113 and more." (Vol.39 No.1 WWW)
Kimber Kable PK10 BASE PowerKord: $320/6 ft, other lengths are available at $26/ft. ★
ST used Kimber Kords throughout his system, and noted tremendous differences with a Jadis Defy-7. But try before you buy, he warns. (NR)
Nordost Qbase QB8: $1599.99
Of this AC strip's eight outlet sockets, only the one at the center of the strip goes straight to ground. For the remaining seven, resistors are inserted between the sockets and the ground in an attempt to reduce the noisy currents that can come from having multiple ground points of differing potentials within the system. (Vol.32 No.12 WWW)
Nordost Valhalla 2 AC power cord: $4999.99/1m
Kimber Kable Hero: $329/1m pair with WBT-0114 ★
The "strong, silent type" when it comes to cables, says the inestimable JM. "And reasonably priced, into the bargain." (NR, but see "The Fifth Element" in Vol.33 No.6 WWW)
Kimber Kable PBJ: $117/1m pair, as reviewed ★
Originally released in the late 1980s, PBJ is a minimalist design comprising three high-quality, multistrand wires in individual Teflon jackets, braided together and terminated with Kimber's Ultraplate connectors. With the PBJs in his system, SM heard greater clarity, detail, depth, and presence. Compared to AudioQuest's Sidewinder, the PBJ lacked body and warmth but was more muscular, insistent, and precise, said SM. (Vol.35 No.6 WWW)
Kimber Kable Tonik: $84/1m pair
Kimber's most affordable interconnect uses three stranded copper wires neatly braided in a noise-canceling pattern. Though they lacked the resolution of much more expensive interconnects, the Toniks "offered clarity without brightness, and reasonably good amounts of color, texture, and touch. For $80, that was A-okay with me," said AD. Price includes Kimber's Ultratike connectors. (Vol.34 No.11 WWW)
Nordost Valhalla 2 interconnect: $7599.99/1m pair
Characterized by the inclusion of Nordost's Dual-Mono-Filament spacing between conductor and dielectric, as well as of Nordost's new Holo:Plug connectors, the analog interconnects, speaker cables, phono cables, and power cords in the company's Valhalla 2 Reference series impressed BD, whose system had been wired with Nordost's original Valhalla-series cables. With the new cables in place, BD heard gains in a number of areas—especially improved transparency and resolution, greater clarity in the reproduction of spatial information, and greater timbral warmth and richness—compared with his ca-2001 Valhallas. BD added that, of all the cable products in the new Valhalla 2 Reference series, "it was the 1m interconnect with RCAs ($7599.99) that had the greatest effect on the sound of my system." (Vol.39 No.7 WWW)
Kimber 4PR: $137/10ft pair, as reviewed
Practically unchanged since its introduction in 1979, the 4PR is Kimber's most affordable speaker cable. It employs the same braided geometry found in the company's more expensive 8VS, but instead of the 8VS's eight gray and eight black conductors, the 4PR has four pairs each of black and brown conductors in an apparently looser braid. Compared to RadioShack's inexpensive 16-gauge zip cord, the 4PR offered greater nuance, detail, clarity, and bass control, said SM. Price is $90/10ft pair without connectors. (Vol.35 No.7 WWW)
Kimber 8TC: $505/10ft pair w/o connectors ★
(NR, but see "The Fifth Element" in Vol.33 No.6 WWW)
Kimber 8VS: $271/10ft pair, as reviewed ★
Kimber's 8VS is made up of eight gray and eight black conductors in individual polyethylene jackets, braided together and terminated in a choice of high-quality spade lugs or banana plugs. Compared to AudioQuest's Rocket 33, the 8VS lacked body and warmth but offered greater clarity and control, said SM. Compared to Kimber's 4PR, the 8VS offered similar tonal qualities but presented music with even greater urgency, drama, and purpose, said SM. Price is $231/10ft pair without connectors, $271/10ft pair with bananas. (Vol.35 Nos.6 & 7 WWW)
Nordost Valhalla 2 loudspeaker cable, $9599.99/1m
Nordost Qx4: $2699.99 ★
Roughly the size of a cigar box, this surprisingly heavy aluminum block has a pair of AC outlets and an on/off switch. Quantum RT describes the Qx4 as a "scalar field generator" that's supposed to emit an energy wave, the beat of which is calculated to react in specific ways with stray electromagnetic radiation. So they say. Though AD was dismayed by the technological explanation for the Qx4's effects, he could not deny the positive influence it had on his system. With a Qx4 placed atop each of his Audio Note AN-E speakers, Art's system sounded richer, more dramatic, and more involving. A Qx4 placed between preamp and power strip, however, had no consistently discernible effect. (Vol.32 No.12, Vol.33 No.1 WWW)
Some highlights from The Absolute Sound
Parasound Halo JC 1
The collaboration between legendary designer John Curl and Parasound has resulted in the Halo JC 1 monoblock, which SK called “silky-smooth, crystal clear, and abundantly detailed. An amp to listen to all day.”
Kimber Kable Hero
Yielding only a tiny bit in sheer control, ultimate top-end transparency, and inner detailing to PS’ reference Kimber Select KS-1021, Hero’s bass lives up to its name, prodigious in amplitude and definition (rather better even than its pricier brother). This interconnect is either dead neutral or tilts a notch to the yang, with dynamics at once powerful yet finely resolved in an essentially grain-free presentation.
Nordost Purple Flare
$259/1m pr. interconnect ($26 per addl. half-meter pr.) ; $439/1m pr. speaker ($52 per addl. half-meter pr.)
Featuring Nordost’s classic flatline configuration the Purple Flare is a rung below the current incarnation of Blue Heaven, yet it’s a little trip to heaven on its own. It really shines in the midband with a driving, slightly forward energy that imparts dynamic liveliness to all genres of music.
Monitor Audio Silver S 10
The three-way, four-driver, dual-ported Silver S 10s may look like typical box speakers, but they are a lot better than their plain-Jane exteriors might suggest: great voicing, solid bass when properly spaced from the rear walls, an engag- ing soundstage, and an ability to sound great with a wide range of music. Really, what more could you want from an affordable speaker? SHo, 248 '
Monitor Audio Platinum PL500 II
The esteemed UK-based com- pany Monitor Audio has been in business for more than four decades, and with Technical Director Dean Hartley on board, it’s been enjoying a kind of R&D renaissance resulting in a plethora of proprietary new technologies. These in- novations have paid off, as the PL500 IIs have proven in nitely enjoyable in their layers of depth and detail, de- lightful musicality, and overall coherence. They can also rock out and supply slam with the best of them, offering superb build-quality, advanced tech- nologies, and value far exceed- ing their price. JM, 268
JL Audio e110/e112
Before he got the hefty little e110 with 10" driver (the e112 comes with a 12" woof), JV was anything but a fan of sub- woofers, which always seemed to take more away in midrange transparency, tone color, and resolution than they paid back in bass-range extension, detail, and power. Crossed over at the right frequency—which
is easy to do with the instruc- tions that JL Audio provides and the unit’s manifold built-in controls—the e110 is the very rst sub he’s heard that doesn’t screw up the sound of the main speaker. Rather it seemed to extend that sound into the bottom octaves, producing the highest low-level resolution of bass timbres and textures from any transducer of his experi- ence. Paired with something like a Raidho D-1 stand-mount it will give you everything (save for overall impact) that you pay the big, big money for in a massive multiway oorstander, anditwilldosoforamere $1700. JV, 244; RH, 252
Bel Canto Ref600M
To SS’ ears Bel Canto’s 15.4-pound, 300W (600W into 4 ohms) Ref600M Class D monoblock is good enough to qualify as the best all-around power ampli er he’s heard to date, regardless of technology or circuit topology. Its combination of extremely low noise that makes it suitable to drive even highly ef cient loud- speakers, precision three-di- mensional imaging, relaxed and natural harmonic balance, and power capability, makes for a potent package. Couple all its sonic achievements with its relatively modest price and you have a power ampli er that could well be a benchmark reference for many audiophiles for years to come. SS, 269
Parasound Halo JC 1
The collaboration between leg- endary designer John Curl and Parasound has resulted in the Halo JC 1 monoblock, which SK called “silky-smooth, crystal clear, and abundantly detailed. An amp to listen to all day.” SK, 141
Parasound Halo JC 2 BP
The JC 2 BP is that extreme rarity—a near-reference-quality product that many of us can actually afford. Neutral and natural, transparent-to-sources, quick and delicately detailed (though not as hard-hitting and detailed as the higher-priced spreads), here is one solid-state preamp that doesn’t trade
away key parts of the baby (air, bloom, color, three-dimension- ality) for the bathwater of ra- zor-cut imaging and iron- sted control. (The BP version of the JC 2 adds a home-theater bypass.) JV, 182
Kimber 8TC and12TC
$453/8' pr. interconnect; $688/8' pr. speaker with SBAN banana plugs
Tilting a tad toward the yin, the 8TC has that elusive ability to remain musical no matter what is happening fore or aft, ideally mediating detail, liveliness, tonal neutrality, and dynamic contrasts within a very realistic, holographic soundstage. PS, 138, 146, 206
Kimber Kable PK-10 Ascent
Years ago, Kimber Kable’s original PK10 Palladian was a jaw-dropper, with revelatory soundstaging, dimensionality, and openness. The PK-10AG picks up where the Palladian left off, but in a more mal- leable, far less costly package. It has a rich dense midrange with an emphasis on sound- stage depth. Bass extension and sustain earn high marks.
It provides a rich, heavy, even slightly overripe (depending on your system) beat, but is nicely detailed and uncompressed. NG, 208
Nordost Frey 2
Interconnect $1459/1m; speaker $2924/2m
Occupying the sweetspot of Nordost’s mid-priced Norse 2 line, the radically up- dated Frey 2 combines the high perfor- mance macro- and micro-dynamics that Nordost is famous for with richer mids and a brawnier, meatier bottom end that gives orchestral music more discernable ambience and weight. Of course, tran- sient speed is on hand, but the Frey 2’s are also a bit more controlled in the mid- bass and able to land a tighter, dynamic punch than most of the competition. In a word, the Frey 2s deliver at out more delity to the live event. NG, 265
Nordost Odin 2
$22,499/1m pr. inter- connect ($2499 per ad- ditional half-meter pair); $29,999/1m pr. speaker ($3999 per additional half-meter pair)
With the Odin 2, Nordost has taken an already formi- dable cable and pushed it into the stratosphere where it achieves dizzying levels of performance. Any lingering sense of aggressiveness and excessive friskiness in the treble region that existed with Odin 1 has been utterly effaced by Nordost’s latest effort. What emerges with the new construction of this cable, which includes different terminations of the plugs and connectors, is a marvelously dynamic and pellucid sound that most of its competitors would be quite hard-pressed to surpass, let alone equal. Add tautness of the bass and solidity of imaging, and you have a real winner. This is an immensely impressive cable that will take the nest audio systems to another level of sound reproduction. JHb, 270
Nordost Heimdall 2 USB
Nordost’s mid-line Heimdall 2 USB cable is capable of great detail, body, texture, and spatial resolution. The Heimdall 2 is also characterized by very low levels of grain, with smooth instrumental and vocal tex- tures. KM, 261