T+A PA3100 HV integrated amplifier Review

April 12, 2021 § Leave a comment


The T+A PA 3100 HV integrated amplifier makes a strong, consistent statement about sonic realities and the pathway to pleasure. Its consistently musical presentation, which emphasizes smoothness and ease over strong contrasts and abrupt shifts, renders it a powerful transmitter of musical truth—specifically that delivered farther back in the orchestra sections of many acoustically superior halls I’ve visited as well as in some drier or less-resonant venues.

Anyone wishing to get as much as possible from a single, very solid box will also find its headphone amp, optional phono card, and APM with tone controls and room equalization quite attractive. Put it all together, and you’ve got an excellent, meticulously engineered, beautifully made integrated amplifier that seems tailor-made for many audiophiles.

Audio Research • Reference 6 SE Preamplifier $17,000 Review

March 30, 2021 § Leave a comment


The Reference 6 did an admirable job of reproducing the sound of one of the world’s great halls. But this is a disc that reveals the entirety of the musical benefits of the Reference 6 SE, the walls expanding and the hall boundaries becoming distinct, the dynamic range growing wider and more pronounced at the macro end, the overall resolution an absolute to my ears. I have heard this music reproduced to even greater effect, with a system featuring the Wadax Atlantis Reference DAC and Robert Koda K15 line stage at the 2019 High End show coming to mind; but that’s topping a couple hundred thousand dollars for just those two components. For a tenth of the cost, the combination of Reference 6 SE and Neodio Origine CD player came affordably close to the otherworldly sound produced by

seriously, and seriously expensive, state-of-the-art products.

Icon Audio PS3 MkII Signature Pure Valve Phono Pre-Amplifier Review

March 16, 2021 § Leave a comment


The opening of the Reiner Pictures is always first on the turntable for phono tests. Bud Herseth’s famous trumpet sound perfectly placed in barrel shaped Orchestra Hall, back right, then as the full brass chorale enters, the balance is, like the players’ intonation, flawless. The PS3’s bloom and magical tonal qualities ensured listening was a continuous musical delight. As heard via the very best, I could hear the ppp 4th horn wobble on his muted low Db in bar 4 of ‘Gnomus’. Many phono stages miss that X-ray. Reiner missed it, too. The Allnic, Sutherland and both Icons do not. Quality.

Pass Laboratories XP-32 line preamplifier Review

March 4, 2021 § Leave a comment


I had two high-performance preamplifiers on hand with which to compare the Pass XP-32: the MBL N11 ($14,600) and the Benchmark LA4 ($2599) that had so impressed Kal Rubinson when he reviewed it in January 2020.

First up was the MBL, with sound pressure levels matched within 0.5dB at the listening position. (The N11 was set to its unity gain condition, which limits the maximum gain and which reviewer Jason Victor Serinus had preferred.) With the MBL N31 DAC in front of the preamplifier and the Parasound monoblocks behind it, the back-to-front soundstage on my Mozart Piano Quartet recording was as apparent as it had been on the XP-32, with as much image depth. The tonal balance, however, was a tad warmer and the presentation of acoustic objects within the soundstage was a little more—and how I hate using this word—palpable. For example, toward the end of the Joni Mitchell track, a high tenor voice appears in the center of the stage, floating slightly behind and slightly above Joni The MBL pushed this voice a little farther back than it had been with the Pass Labs, as well as a touch higher. A close-run thing, but like I said, more palpable.


March 1, 2021 § Leave a comment


It would be so easy for a phono stage of this calibre to drift into audiophile hell; making a ‘beauteous’ sound that has all the details and no substance. The Zanden Model 1200 Signature never makes that crossover, staying true to the recording no matter what. When that means Keef Richards [Main Offender, Virgin], it means moving from subtle jazz tones to raucous early live sounding 1990s rock, it can track those changes without softening the blow of either. In truth, however, much of this is going over old ground; the performance of the Zanden Model 1200 Yamada-san liked so much 17 years ago and has been the subject of many column inches in Hi-Fi+ and beyond remains undimmed; it’s just got more dynamic-sounding and a lot more flexible.


January 12, 2021 § Leave a comment

A great reference system truly is a sum of its parts. If you take high-end components, pair them with entry-level speakers, with entry-level sources, and place them in a less than ideal space, you most likely won’t be blown away by what you hear. The McIntosh C2700 Pre-Amplifier and MC462 Power Amplifier are monsters. They are big, expensive, and beautiful slices of high-end audio. They deserve to be paired with reference-level speakers and the best sources and connections possible.

If you’re ever afforded the opportunity, you should give them a listen. Once my kids are older and I have some expendable income. I too will finally pick up my own preamp and power amp combo. My listening room will be sound treated, and my reference speakers will be befitting of the electronics. And McIntosh will be the first brand I audition.

BAT’s REX 3 Preamp Review $30K

December 26, 2020 § Leave a comment

Rotel Michi P5 preamplifier Review

December 3, 2020 § Leave a comment


Schiit Freya+ Preamp and Bifrost 2 DAC $899 Review

November 18, 2020 § Leave a comment


Getting set up was pretty straight forward. I connected my Cambridge Audio CXN v2 to the Bifrost 2 via coax, connected the Bifrost 2 via unbalanced RCA to the Freya+, and ran the Freya+ into my Parasound Halo Integrated 6 in home-theater bypass mode, which essentially turned it into a power amp. Later on, I swapped out the HINT 6 for a more traditional power amp, the Emotiva A-150. However, I actually preferred the sound I got from my HINT 6 over the Emotiva, so all my listening notes will be based on that setup, unless otherwise noted. I also stuck with the supplied 6SN7 JJ tubes, frankly because I don’t feel like tumbling into the tube-rolling money pit again, but rolling is a real thing and worth trying out if you have unlimited cash, patience, and a masochistic streak.

Okay, all of that out of the way, I powered everything up. And my first impressions were very positive. Schiit claims the Freya+’s tube stage is quiet, and it’s definitely right about that. I’ve had some noisy, hissy, angry tubes in my system, but I can hear absolutely nothing at a moderate volume from my listening seat through my fairly sensitive GoldenEar Triton Three+ speakers. 

Rotel Michi P5 preamplifier $3999 Review

November 8, 2020 § Leave a comment


Beck’s Sea Change MQA (Geffen Records 0694935372, 24/384 Tidal MQA stream) rendering via the P5 was an unalloyed delight, each instrument full of tone and super-intimate, his voice dead center and massive in an upfront but rather flat soundstage. Morning Phase (Capitol Records XUNI30711F96, 24/384 Tidal MQA stream) was the best-sounding file of the MQA bunch that I played through the P5, a vast improvement over the 16/44.1 file in depth, impact, clarity, density, and aliveness. The sound was beautiful but also eerie in a way I couldn’t put my finger on.

My conclusion: MQA via the P5’s DAC is allowing me to hear deeper into these recordings for what they actually sound like. Each MQA file sounded very different. Some sounded incredible, some ordinary, a few hard to listen to. The Beck files were incredible on every level.

Overall, MQA files played through the P5 had superior resolution, clarity, weight, intimacy, saturated tones, and a seemingly bottomless noise floor, while also sounding somewhat “treated” and otherworldly.

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