McIntosh Labs C53 Preamplifier $8,000 Review

March 22, 2020 § Leave a comment

“While my digital sources in form of AURALiC’s Vega G2 or Playback Design’s MPS-8 generally held court during the review period of the C53, I did spend quite some time with the built in, rather high quality, DA2 digital board input. Here, my MacBook Pro delivered the C53s data in both Redbook, high-res PCM and DSD variants. Did the DA2 board hold its own against the pricier DAC alternatives I have on hand? Yes, but unlike the genuinely far higher than the suggested price class performing preamplifier, the differences to my two references were a bit more pronounced. On a recent discovery, Earthtones – Bahamas, the last cut, Any Place, is a perfect example of how a modern release can in fact be recorded well and mastered in such a way as to bring out the full excitement of the track, without the need for you to hit your head against a brick wall. Streamed via Tidal within Roon, the C53’s digital input was correctly identified and all settings automatically applied, giving you the experience of genuine plug-and-play. Here, the all new DA2 model was able to flex its muscle, offering up prodigious, if a bit less articulate bass than what my two reference DACs are capable of. Clearly audible is the overall Gestalt of the preamp section, which is extended, dynamic and clear of hash. Cueing up Steely Dan’s SACD rip of Gaucho, the DSD64 file yet again performed at levels above the all-inclusive asking price of $8000 McIntosh charges for the C53. A little less definition here, a little more warmth there, the DA2 module will undoubtedly delight you. If you are coming from an older DAC or even CD/SACD player, I would venture to guess that the DA2 module will in fact outperform even a top of the line DAC from just a decade ago. “

BEST Phono Preamps Under $500!

March 5, 2020 § Leave a comment

NAD C 658 Network Audio Player/Preamplifier $1,649 Review

March 4, 2020 § Leave a comment

“I hooked the C 658 up in a system consisting of a NAD C 268 stereo amplifier that the company sent along for use during testing and Polk Audio L800 tower speakers. While the C 268 is conservatively rated for 80 watts continuous output into 8 and 4 ohms (20 Hz-20 kHz at 0.03 percent THD, both channels driven), it easily drove the full-range Polk Audio towers to a satisfactory listening level. Sources included a Panasonic DMP-UB900 Ultra HD Blu-ray player for CD playback and a Pro-Ject Debut turntable with Clearaudio Aurum Beta/S moving magnet cartridge for vinyl. The music streaming services I used for my testing were Tidal Hi-Fi, Qobuz Studio, and Amazon Music HD.”

Gryphon Audio Designs Zena Preamplifier Review

March 4, 2020 § Leave a comment

The Zena’s visual design and build quality, the beauty of its display, the attractive owner’s manual, the inclusion of gloves and polishing cloth, and the quality of its packaging all indicate that Gryphon Audio Designs is more concerned with delivering a premium customer experience than with wringing the last dollar of profit from its products.

Per Gryphon, each sample of the Zena is burned in at the factory for 48 hours; they say that the sound quality further improves after 40-50 more hours of use. The Zena comes with a three-year, nontransferrable warranty on parts and labor. That’s common for high-end audio components, but in my opinion, anything less than five years is too short.

Dan D’Agostino Master Audio Systems Momentum HD line preamplifier $40,000 Review

March 3, 2020 § Leave a comment

“I briefly switched DACs and used a single S/PDIF cable from the dCS Network Bridge to convey signals from the Roon Nucleus+ to the EMM Labs DV2. With the Momentum HD preamp controlling volume, I heard more air around Cassandra Wilson and Rickie Lee Jones’s voices and accompaniment, but a bit less midrange profundity. After realizing that the comparison was flawed due to setup constraints—I’ve since moved equipment around on my eight-shelf double rack so I don’t run into this problem in the future and sent the DV2 back for a major upgrade—I acknowledged that a valid comparison between the two DACs would have to wait.

When I returned to the Rossini DAC/Momentum HD preamp combo, revisiting Cassandra Wilson’s performance revealed a complexity of string tone, deep bass grind, and increased color contrast and depth that, compared to what I heard from either DAC alone, left me in awe. Adding the preamp delivered Rickie Lee’s creepy vocals with much more subtlety and intimacy, and markedly greater dynamics, even at low volume. I didn’t want the music to end.”

Primare PRE35/A35.2 Networked Pre/Power Amp

February 24, 2020 § Leave a comment

“When you first connect up the PRE35, having first screwed in its rear-mounted twin Wi-Fi antennae, it enters set-up mode. Give it your wireless router details – or plug in an Ethernet cable – and you’re all ready to go. The app lets you to play music via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, AirPlay, Spotify Connect and Chromecast quickly and easily, as well as offering multi-room/multi-zone control. Available on both iOS and Android platforms, it looks elegant and confers great flexibility thanks, in part, to its Roon functionality. Meanwhile, the fascia controls feel silky and its white-on-black OLED display is clean and crisp. The pressed-steel casework is well finished and less resonant than that of many rivals.

Those going for more traditional source options will be pleased to see that the rear panel is crammed with sockets. There are twin analogue XLR inputs and outputs, three pairs of RCA inputs, four Toslink optical digital inputs and two coaxial digital ins, plus a USB input. These feed a sophisticated AK4497 DAC, working at up to 768kHz/32-bit PCM and DSD256 resolution. Fixed and variable analogue outputs, a coaxial digital output and IR in/outs complete the picture, along with an RS232 service port.

Dan D’Agostino Master Audio Systems Momentum HD line preamplifier Jason Victor Serinus Review

February 22, 2020 § Leave a comment

“Sticking with Shostakovich, Rickie Lee Jones, and Cassandra Wilson, we switched preamps and discovered that the contrast between the D’Agostino Momentum HD and the Audio Research Ref 6 was profound. While timbres were actually more neutral through the Ref 6 and air was quite fine, highs were noisier, midrange less full, and bass less astounding albeit excellent in its own right. On Yello’s “Electrified II” from Toy (24/48 WAV, Polydor 4782160/ HDtracks) and’s “#thatPOWER” (featuring Justin Bieber) from #willpower (16/44.1 MQA.FLAC, Interscope Records UICS-9136/7), the Ref 6 preamp couldn’t deliver the same degree of bass impact, midrange fullness, extended evenness on top, and wall-to-wall sound as the Momentum HD. Which isn’t surprising, given the $25,000 price difference. With the Ref 6, my system still sounded like the system I knew inside out; with the Momentum HD, a new window opened, and every recording became a source of wonder.

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