Schiit Audio is an irreverent company that builds high quality electronics for headphone listeners entirely made in the USA. The Asgard 2 and Bifrost are Schiit's most popular headphone amp and DAC, and they sound and look far more expensive than they are.
If you've read any of my reviews before, you know I am a fan of Anthony Gallo Acoustics loudspeakers. I reviewed the original Strada loudspeaker and TR-3 subwoofer in 2010 and was so impressed I almost bought them. The only reason I didn't was because I knew the Reference 3.5 was coming. Those? I bought those, and they are still my reference loudspeaker (however, the 3.5 will be discontinued soon). Gallo claims the new Strada 2 loudspeakers are even better than the original Strada, and the TR-3D is an improvement over then TR3. Both new speakers use almost identical technology to that of the Reference 3.5. Another salvo by Gallo has leveled the paying field between the new Strada 2 and the Reference 3.5s even more. The price of the Strada 2 and TR-3D is identical to the earlier models. The complete system cost with stands weighs in at $4,417 (which includes two TR-3D subs). This used to be a lot cheaper than the $5,995 Reference 3.5. Gallo recently reduced the price of the Reference 3.5 to $3,995, plus an additional $749 for the amp. Now, the price of the two systems is almost identical, within less than $400. The question is, which is better? We will see.
I first found out about Crystal Cable's Arabesque speaker line from hifi show reports. Their Glass Master speaker cabinet is actually made from glass panels bonded together. At first this struck me as a gimmick, but then...
Sennheiser is a very well known name in the headphone game. My first good headphones, and the center of my first high end audio system, were the Sennheiser HD580s I had in college. The company has always been known for high quality over the ear headphone, but they also make In Ear Headphones, a.k.a., Earbuds, and that is what we review here, namely the Sennheiser's IE60.
Gallo loudspeakers have had a long history of exceptional sound quality. In both this publication and others, no one has much bad to say about Gallo's reference quality loudspeakers. I like them so much, I've owned several of their speakers, including my current Reference 3.5s. Opinions on styling are a different story.
Computer audio is quickly becoming the source of choice for high-resolution audio playback. A vast number of products focused on computer audio are available today, but most of the attention is paid to hardware: DACs and computer audio interfaces like the Bryston BDA-1 and Halide Design USB to SPDIF Bridge I reviewed last year. In all our reviews, we forget one key component of the playback chain: the software player. I have complained extensively about the difficulty of getting no-compromise audio playback from a computer.
In 2007, I reviewed the Gallo Reference 3.1 speakers along with Gallo's Reference AV center, A'Diva rears and the Reference SA subwoofer amplifier. I liked them so much I bought the entire system. Recently, Gallo has released the new Reference 3.5 speaker, replacing the venerable Reference 3.1.
I have always been a fan of integrated amplifiers, and they were the heart of all my audio systems up until recently. They offer the best value in terms of getting the most performance per dollar, but they take away one thing many audiophiles love: fooling around with their system. Several ultra-high end companies have recently introduced very serious integrated amps, for the audiophile who is done with fooling around.
2009 is a good time to be a headphone fan. The supply of high-end headphones is exploding. At the head of the pack is the new Sennheiser HD-800. This is a cost-no-object assault on the state of the art in headphone listening. They are more than twice as expensive as Sennheiser's previous top of the line, the HD-650.
Room correction technology for audiophiles has existed for over a decade now, but this technology has not yet seen wide adoption. Many audiophiles just can't stomach a processor messing with the signal. Never mind their speakers might have terrible frequency and phase response, at least when compared to their other electronics! On top of that, interaction with the room causes frequency response errors of well over 10 dB in all but the most acoustically perfect rooms. Still think your signal is "pure?"
What do a 30 watt stereo solid-state amplifier and a 500 watt solid-state monoblock have in common? A lot, it turns out. The seemingly diminutive Pass Labs XA30.5 weighs 75 pounds, has an enormous toroidal power transformer, and uses 20 output transistors to deliver 30 watts of pure class A power. It turns out these specs are similar, or in some cases, better than my recently reviewed Emotiva XPA-1 monoblocks. The XA30.5 proves that rated power is by no means everything. In fact, if you have speakers of even moderately high sensitivity, the XA30.5 renders any discussion of power output irrelevant. When paired with the right speakers, this may be one of the best amplifiers there is, regardless of price.
My first "high end" system consisted of Sennheiser HD-580 headphones, an original HeadRoom headphone amplifier, an Audio Alchemy DAC in the Box, and a Sony Discman with an optical digital out. I was a college student at the time, and there was no way of having a real, properly set up hifi system in my dorm room. It was clear to me at the time, listening to both my system and uber high end Hifi in shops, that my little headphone setup blew away many high dollar loudspeaker based systems.
THIEL is one of the most well known and long lived high end loudspeaker companies. Jim Thiel founded Thiel Audio in 1976, building his company's reputation on speakers that are time and phase coherent. All of THIEL's full range loudspeakers have followed this recipe, including the new CS3.7. Where the CS3.7 differs is in its level of execution. The CS3.7 is almost double the price of the older CS3.6 model, and approaches or exceeds the price points of the larger CS5 and CS7 speakers of the past. While the speaker follows the same recipe as past THIEL models, it is reinvented in almost every way. For some (at least those who haven't heard it), the increased price was a big disappointment. I call this sour grapes for people who thought they could afford the CS3.7 but then had to realize they couldn't. The CS3.7 is worth every cent, and is a strong contender versus pretty much any full-range loudspeaker in the under-$20k price category.
ADDENDUM - 4/1/09 I (JEJ) was so impressed with Chris' review of the XPA-1 (published in January, 2009), I asked Emotiva to send me one so I could run some of my own tests. I borrowed a different power amplifier from a friend that cost more than 6 times the price of the XPA-1, which I will call Amplifier "X" here. I ran the same tests on both amplifiers. Click on the photo to see the results (go to Page 4: Emotiva XPA-1 On the Bench, and my results are down near the bottom of the page).
This year was the first time at the Rocky Mountain Audio Festival for secrets writers Chris Groppi and Rick Schmidt. Unlike many of the other trade focused shows, the RMAF is open to the public. Both manufacturers and retailers show products here, and displays are focused on listening demonstrations. This year, there were more than 160 display rooms each usually showing equipment from several manufacturers. Rooms were from both retailers as well as manufacturers and distributors, with a wide range of equipment from around the world. All the big hitters were here, plus many companies we had never heard of.
In addtion to the rooms, seminars on topics ranging from turntable setup to digital recording technologies are offered. This is an intimate show, focused on 2 channel audio, and everyone has a chance to see every room. The show was great fun for both of us!