McIntosh C2600 Tubed Preamplifier Review

February 19, 2019 § Leave a comment

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“Delicate, signal-centric analog and digital sections are kept separate thanks to an internal, two layer dual-chassis design which according to the company was developed to prevent signal corruption, shielding intricate circuitry from RF and EMI interference. Analog inputs consist of three balanced (XLR), four unbalanced (RCA – gold plated, solid brass) and dedicated MM and MC phono stages (40dB/60dB voltage gain respectively). Digital inputs include one asynchronous USB Type-B, two coaxial, three optical and one proprietary McIntosh MCT (DIN) which offers a secure DSD connection for McIntosh SACD/CD transports. A headphone amplifier featuring McIntosh’s Headphone Crossfeed Director (HXD) is built-in as well “to allow high quality recordings to image like conventional speakers in your headphones” according to the company (A claim I can attest to after extensive listening sessions, the sensation is less ‘in the centre of your head’ if I had to briefly describe it). You can utilize or bypass Tone controls and all inputs can be individually named to custom tailor them to your specific gear or nomenclature and be input level-matched to +/-6dB, bass and treble settings can also be adjusted on a per-input basis. The unit also has a Home Theatre PassThru, Power Control Output (one main, four trigger), RS232 Control Input and a rear panel IR sensor input.”

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MBL Noble Line N11 Preamplifier $14,600 and N15 Monoblock Amplifier$35,200

January 28, 2019 § Leave a comment

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“The Noble Line N11 and N15 certainly bring out the 101s’ virtues without being hamstrung by their peculiarities. You might think that a speaker with a sensitivity of 81dB (or less), like the 101 E Mk.II, would be a challenge for any amp short of a behemoth, but the N15 (like the even more powerful MBL Reference 9011) never seemed fazed by the Radialstrahlers’ hunger for watts, volts, and amps. While I wouldn’t say that the N15s had quite the overall resolution or sensational treble snap and extension of the 9011s, they effortlessly reproduced hard-hitting bar-band rock ’n’ roll like Lake Street Dive’s “Shame, Shame, Shame” from Free Yourself Up [Nonesuch] at lifelike levels (ca. 95–96dB average SPLs), and they did this without sacrificing one of the very things that makes Radialstrahlers such a pleasure to listen to—their ability to play at very very high volumes without turning the slightest bit rough, bright, or annoying. (According to MBL’s literature, the N15 has a “soft-clipping” feature that, I assume, makes it sound even less rough and bright at very high levels, though this feature may also be partly responsible for the amp’s slight reduction in treble-range brilliance).”

McIntosh C2600 Tubed Preamplifier Review

January 19, 2019 § Leave a comment

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“McIntosh’s proprietary HXD Circuitry for the built-in headphone amplifier put me in mind of SPL’s Phonitor X and its Matrix system, which is similar to McIntosh’s in that it is about experiencing headphone playback more as though listening – in the 3D-presentation sense – to a pair of stereo loudspeakers. Imbued with a wide and high sound stage that, like well-placed loudspeakers in a room, created a sense of extreme breadth in playback that like the Phonitor X, reminded me that headphone amplifiers not utilizing this type of circuitry can sound spatially smaller in comparison. The C2600’s headphone output can have HXD turned either on or off, so if this isn’t your cup of tea, you can get a more familiar headphone listening experience without it enabled. Utilizing a number of headphones of various impedance loads (from the Sennheiser 820 HD @300 Ohms, to the LCD-4z @15 Ohms) there was never any intimation of lack of drive or dynamics from the C2600. Resolution was outstanding without ever straying into etched, or sharp and pointy territory.”

Chord Electronics Symphonic MC Phono Preamplifier $4495 Review

January 11, 2019 § Leave a comment

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“What I heard when spinning records while the Chord Electronics Symphonic MC phono preamp was in my system was music, with nothing added, nothing subtracted, and was as if I was hearing a direct connection to the potential of my analog set-up. This is because this phono preamplifier is obviously made by those who put a value not on any sonic exhibitionism, but only on the music. At the same time Chord Electronics also has on staff some very creative designers, because while the Symphonic is performing its job of expertly transferring the small signal from the phono cartridge to the linestage, it looks extremely good while doing it. To all those who use MC cartridges in their analog set ups, I highly recommend this phono preamp.”

Boulder 1100 Series Preamplifier $21,000 and Power Amplifier $28,000 Review

January 5, 2019 § Leave a comment

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“As best I tried, no matter which musical genre I played, I couldn’t detect a “signature” Boulder sound; put succinctly, this combo is about as neutral as it gets. Good recordings sounded good; great recordings sounded great; crappy recordings sounded, well, crappy. Therein lies the audiophile’s conundrum: be careful what you wish for. A fundamentally neutral sounding combination like the Boulder duo will give you exactly what’s on the recording, not more, not less. Your only choice to tune the sound more or less to your liking is to play with cables, different analog decks and cartridge combos, that’s about it. The preamplifier and power amplifier do what they ought to in first place: get out of the sound.”

MBL Noble Line N11 Preamplifier $14,600 and N15 Monoblock Amplifier $35,200/pr.

December 31, 2018 § Leave a comment

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“Another thing that the Noble electronics do not short-shrift is three dimensionality. Of course, an omnidirectional loudspeaker like the 101 E Mk.II, with 360-degree dispersion (and no enclosure), is a paragon of 3-D sound—to the extent that it is the one transducer I’m familiar with capable of making digital seem as if it’s got nearly as much bloom as analog. Already notably three-dimensional with the other speakers I used, the Noble amp and preamp made the Radialstrahlers sound, as I once said about their big brothers, the X-Tremes, like the sonic equivalent of going to a stage play rather than watching a movie. Indeed, the 101 omnis’ inherent ability to project musical energy in all directions rather than merely forward (or forward and back) is highly realistic—and a large part of the reason the Radialstrahlers sound so thrilling and real with the right sources and electronics. The Noble Line gear did them proud in this regard.

I could go on about the 101 E Mk.IIs—about their incredibly lifelike power-range weight and impact, about their bottommost octaves (which are said to extend to 22Hz), about their uncannily natural reproduction of voices, brasses, and strings, about their boxless openness and vast soundstage—and even though some of these things would also be to the credit of the Noble Line electronics driving them, the Radialstrahlers are not the subject of this review. It is the N11 and N15 that I’m focusing on, and the bottom line here is plain. Neither the amp nor the preamp is the last word in high-end electronics (even in the MBL lines), but then they don’t cost anything close to what that last word costs. What they are, like the MBL Radialstrahlers they pair up with so beautifully, is thrilling to listen to—a little dark, a little soft and sweet on top, a little lower in top-end extension and resolution than their $100k+ competition, but always enjoyable, powerful, and musical, and, given the right source and pairing, fully capable of a realism that raises goosebumps and of a soundfield of head-slapping breadth, width, and depth. In sum, these are components I can recommend to every kind of listener, and particularly to those with Magneplanar or MBL loudspeakers.”

AVM Ovation SD 6.2 Preamplifier-DAC-Streamer $9990

December 24, 2018 § Leave a comment

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‘As I listened more, I began to concentrate less on the performance of the SD 6.2 within specific frequency bands. For instance, when I tried to focus on what the AVM was doing in the bass, I realized I was assessing more the sound of the speakers than of the electronics. This became obvious when I swapped out the EgglestonWorks Kivas, which are fairly large, three-way floorstanders, for Monitor Audio’s smallish, two-way, Studio stand-mounts, then swapped the Kivas back in again. My takeaway from all of that was that the Ovation SD 6.2 had no problem of bass lightness or heavy-handedness. Its sound seemed perfectly neutral, feeding each pair of speakers exactly what it needed to produce excellent bass within that model’s capabilities.

Eventually, as I began to focus more on soundstaging, I came to find out that this largely depended on how the SD 6.2 handled high-frequency subtleties. Basically, the AVM’s reproduction of the treble was so delicate and precise that its re-creations of the subtle cues of the acoustics of live venues were stunningly realistic. Concert recordings took on a more holographic nature in terms of soundstage depth, and my perception of the AVM’s ability to reproduce the ambience that placed me at the center of a soundfield — as opposed to looking in at it from a distance, from the outside — also increased.”

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