Balanced Audio Technology VK-3500 Integrated Amplifier REVIEW

October 25, 2021 § Leave a comment

It can be difficult to stand in out in the crowd when it comes to full-featured integrated amplifiers from well-known high-end audio manufacturers, high-performance units that claim to offer the sound quality of most separates at any given price point. It becomes more difficult once we cross the five-figure threshold like the Balanced Audio Technology VK-3500. You want more than a box with lots of lights and knobs for that kind of money. You want great sound.

Even the marketing copy on the BAT website suggests that you try finding separates for the same price as the VK-3500—we’re talking $6000 preamps and $6000 power amps—that can out-perform it. I’d accept that challenge, but my enthusiasm would immediately wane once you bring that phono stage into the contest. I’m not sure how much I would pay for this phono stage in an outboard version, with a presumably nice chassis and a separate power supply and perhaps with more access to gain and loading options, but it would be enough to qualify the VK-3500 as a superb value.

I’ll probably look back on my experience with the Balanced Audio Technology VK-3500 integrated amplifier and first remember the quirky phono stage, and how it qualifies as one of the finest inboard phono stages I’ve heard. But I’ll also remember how the BAT handled everything else, with extraordinary poise and just a shade of velvet.

Boulder 1110/1160 Pre/Power Amplifier Review

October 23, 2021 § Leave a comment

Play Iiro Rantala’s take on ‘Caravan’, from My History Of Jazz [ACT 9531-2], and the dense mix is punctuated, illuminated even, by the attack of the violin pushing the instruments forward, sounding large and confident. Stick with jazz and another favourite tester, the Espen Eriksen Trio’s ‘In The Mountains’, from Never Ending January [Rune Grammofon RCD 2173], and the sound is initially slightly claustrophobic, the opening drums deep and ponderous, before Eriksen’s spritely piano brings light to the scene and, once again, the ‘big picture’ is revealed.

Without doubt, what the Boulder 1110/1160 does well, it does very well indeed. Even with orchestral works such as the testing, but superbly recorded and mastered, Britten ‘Young Person’s Guide To The Orchestra’ [Reference Recordings RR-120SACD] there’s just no denying the sense of orchestral scale and weight on offer.

The 1160 is a big amplifier that begs for big loudspeakers. So, yes, in tandem this amplifier combination is insightful almost to the point of being idiosyncratic at times. But if you like the way they do what they do, and have a penchant for playing your music at adventurous levels, chances are you’ll love them.

NAD Previews Compact BluOS Streaming Amplifier

October 22, 2021 § Leave a comment

The latest addition to its “just add speakers” category, the C 700 ($1,499) aims to honor NAD’s founding mission of delivering excellent sound quality at affordable prices through an integrated amp built around the company’s app-based BluOS multiroom music-management platform. BluOS provides ready access hi-res music (up to 24-bit/92kHz) from a personal library or through streaming services including Tidal, Qobuz, Amazon Music HD, Spotify, and Deezer, to name a few.

Power is provided by a “highly efficient” HybridDigital UcD amplifier, rated to deliver 2 x 80 watts of continuous power into 4 or 8 ohms with less than 0.04% noise and distortion across its frequency range. The C 700 supports streaming via aptX HD Bluetooth and AirPlay 2 in addition to MQA decoding, and is compatible with Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri, and Google Assistant voice control.

Everything is housed in a compact, 8.6-inch-wide aluminum chassis featuring a minimalist front panel with a 5-inch color display that shows album artwork, track status, and system settings. Connections include two sets of RCA analog inputs, coaxial and optical digital inputs, a USB Type A port, and an eARC (enhanced Audio Return Channel)-enabled HDMI port for use with a compatible TV, which allows volume to be adjusted from the TV’s remote.

Cambridge Audio CXA61 $999 Review

October 21, 2021 § Leave a comment

It has a nicely judged tonal balance that walks that delicate path between attack and refinement. This is the kind of presentation that works well across a wide range of speakers and musical genres. There’s spaciousness here too, and the kind of outright clarity that sets a high bar for the price.

Stereo imaging is impressive, with the amp able to place sounds and instruments with precision and stability. It’s an expansive soundfield and one that’s nicely layered, provided the rest of your system is suitably talented.

Once we spend a decent amount of time listening, it becomes clear that few rivals have the resolution to challenge the CXA61. It digs up low level details with ease and renders them with care and conviction. 

This is made clear when we listen to the Olafur Arnalds set, which relies on the system having a high degree of subtlety. It’s easy for an amplifier to sound ham-fisted when playing this recording, but it’s a trap that the Cambridge avoids. Instead it is confident and composed, but never overplays its hand.Advertisement

This Cambridge is a rhythmic performer too, delivering Prince’s 3121 with verve. There’s plenty of entertainment to be had here from thumping basslines to intricately shifting rhythms with Prince’s distinctive vocals at the centre. The CXA61 ticks all the hi-fi boxes without forgetting that all the detail and tonal neutrality in the world doesn’t matter if the emotional content of the music is ignored.


October 20, 2021 § Leave a comment

The audio industry is broadly divided into two main camps; ‘change for change’s sake’ companies that revise every product in their line-ups on a regular basis, and ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ brands who keep their products developmentally frozen for years. Norma is one of the rare exceptions, that keeps making ever better products, but doesn’t shout about it. Looking back on our review from 90 issues ago, Norma didn’t reinvent the wheel here and the sound of the Revo IPA-140 is tonally unchanged, but it builds on its strengths and strips back on its few vices still further. In other words, it’s every bit as damn good as it ever was; “if it ain’t broke, make it better!” This integrated amplifier is one of the audio world’s best-kept secrets. 

Rotel RA-1572MKII Integrated Amplifier $2,099 Review

October 18, 2021 § Leave a comment

And that brings me to the Rotel’s streaming features, which are limited to USB-audio (excellent, but of limited flexibility) and Bluetooth (meh). An obvious advantage would be built-in wired/wireless audio streaming such as many integrated amplifiers of similar cost already include, or a standalone network music player sitting on the shelf next to the RA-1572MKII, though Rotel does not offer one. The absence of both Wi-Fi and Airplay, which Roon among many other popular music-player/integrator/distribution applications employs as a pathway of last resort along with Chromecast built-in, only exacerbates this lack. And while the snootier level of audio snobs may scoff at Apple’s AirPlay as being “only” CD-quality-capable, in my experience it works just fine for serious listening. But to be clear, the RA-1572 MKII is certified as Roon Tested, and it worked flawlessly with Roon in my system via its USB input.

Audio Research • Reference 160S Stereo Amplifier $22,000 Review

October 16, 2021 § Leave a comment

But the improvements found in the Reference 160S are not limited to the lower regions. Two further aspects stood out. First, the reorganization of the lower bits carried along the rest of the frequency ranges, no doubt because the improvements in the foundation work like a pyramid. If the bottom layer is not level and steady, what rests above it wastes precious energy trying to find its footing. Second, the Reference 160S, mated in my system with ARC’s Reference 6 SE preamplifier and Reference Phono 3 SE, really showed the advantages that come with genuine synergy of components. Each of these products has the same new capacitors and wiring changes; these are significant in isolation, but when added together they result in improvement that exceeds the sum of the parts. The preamplifier and phono stage each opened up the soundstage and better defined the space between notes. Adding the Reference 160S to the mix added pitch stability and speed, inching the sound of the combination bit by bit closer to the best that solid state has to offer, while at the same time maintaining and improving upon the bloom and grace that define ARC’s tube sound. Symphonic recordings kept getting better with the addition of each piece of ARC’s latest-generation equipment, the addition of the Reference 160S adding the powerful tone of the amp’s bottom end to the nuanced sound of the front-end components. Hearing Kleiber’s famous (and familiar) rendition of Beethoven’s Fifth [Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft 2530 516] through this amplifier convinced me that this recording, even after countless plays, still has layers of detail previously submerged and dynamics tamped down awaiting excavation.

PrimaLuna EVO 300 Tube Power Amp Review 

October 16, 2021 § Leave a comment

Parasound jc1 Monoblocks Review

October 15, 2021 § Leave a comment

However, I have met a number of music lovers that have experienced those systems, and while equally passionate, would love a system in the $100k – $200k range offering as much of the sonic benefits that these no holds barred systems render, but with more realistic budgets. If you are someone with this priority list, and want solid-state amplification, the JC 1+ monos should be at the top of your list. I have yet to hear a pair of solid-state amplifiers that offer anywhere near this much sonic excellence and sheer power for anywhere near the asking price of these amplifiers. Should you be on the way up in your audiophile journey, assembling a mega but sensibly priced system, these could also be your first major anchor as you build that system. With this much power on tap, you certainly won’t have any limits with your speaker choices.

Finally, one other aspect of these amplifiers that rarely gets mentioned in the context of a hifi review is long term value and durability. I’ve never seen a complaint about Parasound on the internet anywhere. In a world where all the internet pundits complain about everything on a regular basis, I looked for a few days to see if anyone had any kind of problems with Parasound, either in terms of disappointment with the purchase, to lack of support, or problems with repairs. For that matter, I couldn’t find a single horror story about a Parasound product croaking, anywhere. And I have my share of horror stories about a few brands that cost 2-5x what these amplifiers do, that took months (and in one instance years) to be repaired. Parasound’s stellar reputation for build quality should weigh heavily into your matrix when thinking about dropping this kind of cash.


October 14, 2021 § Leave a comment

Our cottage is on the smaller side. Cozy, but not the best place to visually showcase an amplifier of the Rotel’s caliber. My setup would have to be tucked away into a corner and brought out for listening sessions. Listening at high volumes for long periods wasn’t going to happen either as our cottage doesn’t really have the space. I gave it the old college try mind you but all I succeeded in doing was damaging my hearing and knocking things off shelves.

The benefit of our cottage is that it’s quiet. I mean, I knew that it was quiet, but I didn’t realize how quiet it was until I started reviewing the Rotel A14 MkII. Compared to our former home in the city, there was a lack of noise pollution. Construction, cars, people talking (or yelling in our old neighborhood). Making listening much more insightful and subtleties more apparent. It got me thinking of a future renovation of our cottage to make room for a proper listening area.

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