9/4/2018 - Apologies for lack of updates - have had severe issue with hosting mob and my uploads have been knobbled for quite a while!

23/01/2018 - Burmester 100 Phono Pre-amp

The hifi world, like the car world, can throw products at you at ever-increasing prices, until your eyes water! This phono pre-amp is no mere "phono stage", which can be as simple as the little NAD ones for a couple of hundred dollars, or more intermediate components from a variety of hifi manufacturers like Denon or Sony for "intermediate" prices of a thousand or two.

The Burmester clocks in at Stg.8,840 ($A15,425) and is right up there with some of the esoteric, expensive, high-end artifacts. I'm not in that "whatever it takes" class of audiophile, but if you are, or just like reading about such things, there's more info on this lovely thing at WHAT HIFI's website.

3/10/2017 - Pioneer's New High-end SACD Player

This is proper high-definition audio, not just that portable stuff they are all flogging. Probably around $A4k if it gets here, which may not happen given that Pioneer's distribution has been a bit low profile in recent years.

Details at What*HIFI's page.

20/9/2017 - Yamaha's Receiver R-N803

Not being a dyed-in-the-wool audiophile means I've always had a soft spot for the stereo receiver species, even though I also run some heavy duty pre-power setups in the home as well. It's a sensible arrangement for your average user to combne the AM/FM with the amplifier and often achieve better results than a surround receiver.

But now the included extras are much more advanced and take the humble receiver into the 21st Century, with streaming and YPAO room correction facilities. Read more on Yamaha's page.

7/9/2017 - B&W 700 series

With B&W's track record, particularly over the last twenty years, you'd have to be very confident that the new 700 Series will be pretty amazing. Here's their new ad, (scroll down) with exploding views of each driver type.

Three floorstanders and one standmount speaker model make up the range now, but they'll probably do matching add-ons for home theatre application.

5/9/2017 - Technics Does It Again!

Having rebirthed the SL-1200 direct drive turntable last year, this year sees Technics rebirth the SP-10 and claim world's best performance in rotational stability (wow & flutter?) and signal-to-noise capability. Eh? It comes without a tonearm, so what s/n it achieves in practise remains to be measured. But the rotational stability should be spot on. Cost? Don't ask.

I have to declare an interest here as a long-time fan of the old SL-110 (also sold without tonearm) and the SL-1100 (sold with a Technics tonearm). I prefer these to the more lightweight SL-1200 and SL120 of old, as they were built to a bigger and better format for audio quality, not aimed at the DJ market. Not that there's much wrong with the DJ-style direct drives, two of which I also own in clone form - one Gemini XL-1800Q IV, and one Audio Technica LP120-USB.

My SL-110 is fitted with a Dynavector DV501 arm, which has been my favourite type of arm for many years. It combines lateral stability with the sub-arm's vertical flexibility and achieves a rock-solid image. Best not fitted to turntables with delicate suspended sub-chassis, as they weigh quite a lot compared to most of your common arms.

I've listened to friends in the hifi business (where I worked for some 24+ years) bag direct drives and laud the belt drive most of the time. There have been awful turntables made in both forms, and excellent ones in both. One of the highest quality manufacturers, Goldmund, made a very good direct drive t/t, and some may know that Dual used much the same motor in their 701 models.

There's a bit more at What*HIFI on the new SP-10R.

25/8/2017 - NAD 338 Amplifier

Apart from the streaming features, What HIFI says this amp lacks detail, dynamic expression and rhythmic ability. That's not so good.


8/8/2017 - Schiit Keeps On Growing

"The little company that could" keeps on releasing new and cost-effective componentry. Computer Audiophile has all the latest.

"It's now possible to have an entire Schiit Audio system, not just an audio system, but a no-excuses, built for sound quality, system for $3,697 or $4,396 if using the amps as mono blocks. Seriously, that's less than the sales tax on many of our audio systems."

Full range of products can be seen at their own site:

5/2/2017 - An All-New Reel To Reel!

Cue the theme from "Goldfinger". The resurgence of interest in LP and reel-to-reel tape recorders is seeing some strange things happening. At our News page I've linked to a new manufacturing process for LP, while this new product from (wait for it) Ballfinger is getting instant attention around the world.

Jez Ford of Next Media was quick off the mark with an item at AVHUB. If you must ask the price, here it is - Eu27,000.

22/11/2016 - Magnetic Levitation Turntable

I have some doubts about the efficacy of and the need for this, particularly if it costs a lot, but there you go.

I suspect it will go the way of the laser-reading t/t, but some may enjoy it. You can already get good performance from LP with good gear. Its limitations are partly in the medium itself, which cannot be altered without changing the medium - perhaps increasing the spin speed and spreading the data over more sides is a better idea.

I note that this has already been done (as far as extra spread is concerned) with some 33rpm releases across four sides instead of two! This gives more bandwidth, important for extra bass response due to the larger excursions. Dynamic range is the achilles heel of LP, along with noise.


The (mooted) Resurgence of Reel-to-Reel

Will these tape machines make a comeback? I've heard reports of them being used in recent years at hifi shows, and there are still secondhand buyers out there for decks and tapes, but how likely is this resurgence?

Look, I accept that a well-recorded tape on a good machine actually has less limitations than LP. However, we are still talking about a very old technology with (a) a lot of moving parts, and (b) so many tapes of indifferent quality due to either age or the fact that they were not made off a good sub-master in the first place. Really, the stereo hifi VCR rendered the reel-to-reel obsolete long before digital recording came along.

I also accept that owning and using a lovely reel-to-reel is an experience. But to tell the truth I disposed of mine because it was so fiddly and the hard fact is that there are superior ways to make recordings and to listen to professionally recorded music by great artists. I thought I'd better move on in the interests of saving space, recycling the cash, and better to do it before more maintenance costs came along.

Last time I was chatting to Joe at Audio Connection, however, he showed me a box full of Decca master tapes he had - they came from Europe somewhere, not directly from Decca UK. These should give you the closest approach to the original recording possible in an analogue format. Check with him if you're wanting that ultimate experience.

Just getting back to the resurgence for a moment, as the linked article from Sound & Image says, there needs to be new manufacture of decks if this is to go anywhere in any larger numbers. I have outlined previously the exorbitant cost of new LP pressing plants, and the scarcity of working ones if a huge volume of sales were ever to happen again.

The same goes for reel recorders. The one brand that's said to be gearing up to do new decks is Revox. They're a premium brand, one that still attracts buyers in the secondhand market at very healthy prices. Seeing the new Technics turntable come along at $4500, you have to wonder what a new Revox Reel Recorder will retail at.

Anyway, I started out jotting down some thoughts on this subject in order to give you a link to the Sound & Image article on the resurgimento del reel. Have a read, it's very instructive!

7/8/2016 - New Pioneer Turntable

What*HIFI say that the new Pioneer PLX-500 turntable looks like the Technics SL-1200G. I think it looks more like the Audio Technica AT-LP-120, which is an excellent DD turntable, also with some Technics looks! Having the three-speed selector buttons in exactly the same place and activated in the same way (ie both 45& 33 together) is one obvious giveaway.

The same model can sometimes be seen in Lenco form. I covered these previously, see down the page.

1/7/2016 - Preview of Yamaha NS-5000 Speakers

Sound & Image have this interview with the lead Yamaha engineer who was invloved in the development of the NS-5000, which refers back to the classic NS-1000 but is a modrn reinterpretation of that style.

Marble-ous new Turntable from TEAC

There have been some marble-plinth turntables before, but this TN-570 is very stylish indeed, and it's not at all ashamed of the very retro S-shaped arm! Optical scanning ensures that rotational speed is "as good as direct drive". Note: I'm still very happy with my old Technics SL110/Dynavector 501 direct drive!

7/6/2016 - B&W&Burberry&Bluetooth Speaker!

A very stylish new take on the portable speaker, with a dash of retro traveller's luggage. B&W have outdone Geneva with this one.

The zip case comes in black leather or tan suede.

2/6/2016 - Bryston Turntable?

This is a bit of a leap for a company that has been so focussed on amplifiers for so long, but such is the marketing power of the vinyl revival that they just had to do it. More from What*HIFI here.

21/5/2016 - Classic Turntable from Pro-Ject

Those of us who love the retro-style in hifi will warm to this turntable from Pro-Ject, which harks back to the 1960s/1970s and has a goodly dash of Linn Sondek simplicity at the same time.

Under the skin there's a double chassis for vibration isolation and a new tonearm - that's an important item! To be released in June at 799 Pounds in the UK.

14/4/2016 - Yamaha's Streaming Product Range Continues with Small Amps

Coming this August, Yamaha brings you a new way to turn any pair of wired speakers into a powerful wireless streaming audio system. A compact, high-performance stereo amp, the MusicCast Wireless Streaming Amplifier (WXA-50) connects to your home Wi-Fi network and gives you access to all of your music from a simple app.

It's perfect for bringing new life to your favorite bookshelf or tower speakers and also great for use with outdoor and in-ceiling speakers throughout your home.

Also this August, Yamaha introduces the MusicCast Wireless Streaming Preamplifier (WXC-50) which connects to your existing home theater or Hi-Fi system, bringing the power of MusicCast to your favorite AV receiver or amplifier.

Both models can also be used with other MusicCast wireless speakers, sound bars or AV receivers to bring music to every room of your home.


14/4/2016 - LG's OLED TV Range Imminent

Just when large screen TVs have become cheap enough for anyone to buy, the manufacturers have found a new way to make them more expensive again! Well, sort of new. OLED has been talked about for a long time, and has been slow to actually come to market.

The foodgates are about to open as LG releases details of their quite extensive range of OLED TVs, priced from around $6000 to $50,000 and due to hit the shops by mid year.

16/3/2016 - Audio Technica Turntable AT-LP5

I regard the more DJ-looking model AT-LP-120 (see down the page) as a great beginner's turntable for around $500, and now the AT-LP5 adds another flavour to the AT stable. It's very simple in appearance, which has never been an issue for turntables, and it gets a top review in the March/April 2016 issue of Australian Hifi.

Under the skin is excellent engineering, spot-on speeds (33.33 and 45 rpm) which pass the lab tests with flying colours. There's also the ability to take a signal in analogue or digital form, the latter by USB. The analogue output can be either standard phono or via an inbuilt pre-amp which enables it to be connected to any line level input on your amplifier.

At $799 it's a little above some other entry-level models, such as ProJect and the AT-LP-120, but given the build quality and included facilities it's a good buy.

2/2/2016 - Bristol AV and Audio Show

What*HIFI has a good roundup of products making their debut at the 29th annual Bristol Show. Some of the turntable products have me wondering!

I see turntable being marketed with Bluetooth capability. Let's assume these new buyers are getting into LP because it "sounds better than CD" as the old canard goes. Why do you then turn it into something inferior, which Bluetooth is. It's a convenience thing. You might as well still be using CD or a good quality streaming service.

The Sony PS-HX500 goes one better, as it "can turn vinyl into hi-res files". Great, but since vinyl was necessarily mastered to less than highest resolution because of the limitations of the LP system, this seems a bit wrong-headed. If an original master tape has already been properly mastered for CD or SACD, your copy made off vinyl will not be better. It'll just sound a bit different.

2/2/2016 - Yamaha's MusicCast Advances Further with Control App

The reborn MusicCast system from Yamaha has taken another big step with the new controller app! This is starting to look like a real contender.

See my piece on this system at the Custom Install page.

19/1/2016 New Quad Valve Amp!

Here's a very cute little stereo amplifier from Quad, the VA-One, which uses three different types of valves (not yet defined), will remain essentially a fairly low powered (20w x 2) but charming amplifier. More details at What*HIFI. Price around 1400 pounds in UK, to be released soon.

Also this from - "The VA-One integrated amplifier follows founder Peter Walker's approach to sound quality, using carefully selected hi-fi amplifier valves to drive life-like excitement into every track you play. However, what sets the VA-One apart is it?s ability to bring such excitement to a multitude of sources, both analogue and digital. RCA, Optical and Coaxial inputs are available, with also a 6.3mm jack headphone output on the front panel. Furthering its digital connections, provisions for use of computers, tablet devices and mobile phones have been made with a USB-B input and a Bluetooth connection utilising the aptX codec."

8/1/2016: Naim Muso-Qb Arriving Soon

This looks like being a pretty serious one-box music system. "Its advanced yet simple to use connectivity includes Airplay, Bluetooth®/aptX®, Spotify Connect®, TIDAL, UPnP™ (access your stored music), Internet Radio, USB, analogue and digital inputs, Apple iOS and Android App for complete control."

Naim has the expertise to produce high quality audio, and the Muso-Qb packs plenty of power, speaker drivers and versatility in sourcing to make it very attractive as a compact setup. See full details at their page.

It has also proven to be one of the star turns at the 2016 CES!

6/1/2016 - The Return of The SL-1200 Turntable!

Being a proud user of Technics direct drive myself (an SL110/1100 but with a Dynavector 501 tonearm) I welcome the return of this famous DD classic t/t. Of course, calling it an "audiophile" model is a bit off the target. For some reason audiophiles tarred all DD with the same brush and preferred belt drives for the most part.

The more audiophile models would be the one I have, and the SL10. The SL-1200 was the obligatory DJ machine, with more pitch control than the SL110/SL1100, but the latter is a heavier build and I find it excellent.

But wait, there's more: exciting as the appearance of the turntable is, the really big news is that Technics are back in the two-channel business with their Grand Class G30 components, which will start to appear soon.

15/12/2015 - Yamaha's little Amplifier/DAC A-U671

In the post-disc world, where music is streamed into your amplifier by digital means from your own library or from the web, the construction of the amp may be quite simple to look at. Yamaha's new A-U671 integrated with ESS DAC has just two inputs on the back: a USB and a line level analogue. There's a subwoofer out, and speaker connections, but this is as simple a back panel as you'll find on an integrated amplifier.

The front looks more complete, with tone controls, source selection, volume and LEDs to indicate what the internal DAC is up to - it can handle quality of to and including DSD 2.8/5.6MHz - and there's a headphone socket too. Power is quoted at 70w x 2 into 6 ohms.

Sells for $699 in Australia.

22/10/2015 Cute streaming stereo receiver from Denon - CEOL Piccolo

There have been some excellent products of this type from Marantz, but at higher prices. This one from Denon (it's the second version) looks like a good entry level unit - What*HIFI certainly like it.

26/9/2015 - NAD MT2 Streamer

This looks like a good value item at $A389, to plug into any existing stereo system and bring it up to speed for things like Internet Radio (which I use a lot via Sonos) and online music libraries like Spotify. Waiting on some reviews however.

Outputs optical or analogue, and controllable via free app for iOS orAndroid.

12/9/2015 - B&W Do It Again!

The 800 series (often referred to as the Nautilus series) was introduced in 1998 and has been upgraded a number of times. Well, they've done it again and this time it's a really concerted overhaul, a redesign of everything.

Read all about it.

Karri Acoustics - Unconventional Speakers

Being a fan of speakers that don't just radiate in a forward direction, I was interested to see that Karri Acoustic have taken this theme up, and added some individual touches of their own.

The Nullaki speakers have a similar approach to my main speakers, the Alon V. Both the midrange and the tweeters are organised into a separate mounting above the bass module. They are both allowed to radiate forward and back, just like the Alon.

The bass sections differ. Alon use one 10" woofer in a sealed box, while Karri have opted for two bass drivers in a ported cabinet. The other signature feature is the timber finishes which look totally gorgeous. Timber has always been around, but not as luxurious as these! In fact it has more often been done as vinyl wrap recently, to cut costs.

I haven't heard these speakers yet, but the look and the design suggests that they have put a lot of thought and effort into them, so I expect good results! More details (including price) about the Nullaki and others at their site.

24/8/2015 FiiO X5 2nd Gen Gets Good Review

Steve Guttenberg of CNET says this portable player beats the Sony, but is shaded by the Astell & Kern Jr. But then again, it's noticeably cheaper, so as usual it's horses for courses.

I'm still using the iPod Classic 80GB as my portable player, or the iPad. Steve also uses the iPod Classic and if you have your music on that with Apple Lossless (and you can go higher if you want to), that's as good as it needs to be, really, for portable purposes.

23/8/2015 Yamaha's Musicast Returns

Musicast is back. It was launched originally as a group of dedicated products to achieve a wireless music distribution system, back in 2003. You had to have the server and the client systems. The reborn Musicast is more like "home sharing".

Instead of having to buy particular server and client modules, Yamaha will fit various audio components (said to number 23 in this first year) with the Musicast capability. You'll be able to share a source from (say) your main surround system receiver to the mini-system in another room. As well, all the Musicast items will be Bluetooth capable, and all will have an AUX input.

Apps to control Musicast will be available for iOS and Android devices.

Audio Technica Turntable AT-LP-120

These have been around for a while, so not a new product, but I'm giving it a mention as I've got a similar one branded Gemini, bought secondhand years ago, and it performs very well - even better since I upgraded the cartridge, but it was quite presentable already. It's used down in the theatre room/ man cave, not my main system.

They look like a clone of a Technics SL-1200 (weighs in at 10.5kg), and have all the usual features of a DJ turntable, like pitch adjustment and even reverse rotation! Comes with an Audio Technica cartridge too. I've upgraded my cartridge to a Moving Coil model and the sound is pretty damn good.

You can sometimes* (but not right now!)find these quite cheaply on ebay, so I'm saying quite confidently that it's the best thing around for under $600, and then some.The full owners manual can be seen here.

Also available as a Lenco ex UK at an a competitive price!

(* may still be available at Sydney Hifi Castle Hill for $499)

4/6/2015 - Denon's 2015 Range of AV Receivers

Interesting to note that all of these new receivers display prominently that they have Spotify integration onboard. What used to be purely a stereo thing is now a selling point on AV amps. Apart from that, it's now obligatory to offer Dolby Atmos (5.1.2 and 7.1.2 channels, depending on model) and DTS:X for those oberhead sounds!

This is the UK release notification, so Australia will probably be a bit later.

2/6/2015 - New Onkyo Dolby Atmos & DTS:X Receivers

Onkyo has released two new 7.2 channel AV receivers as part of its 2015 line-up. Unique to Onkyo's current line-up, the new models offer both Dolby Atmos® and DTS:X™ object-based surround sound technologies. the TX-NR646 ($1499) and TX-NR747 ($1899) - are an extension to their Onkyo Dolby Atmos® range of AV receivers.

Other advanced audio features include high-current amplification, allowing the TX-NR646 and TX-NR747 to produce soundtracks with maximum impact at 160 watts per channel and 175 watts per channel, respectively.

Both models support 4K UltraHD video at 60 frames per second for spectacular image quality. These models each offer eight HDMI terminals including dedicated HDCP 2.2* compatible inputs for premium 4K content, and two HDMI inputs for video in separate rooms.

Bluetooth and built-in Wi-Fi connectivity allows users to stream music wirelessly through the included Onkyo remote app. In addition, users gain access to an extensive selection of high quality tunes from a range of internet streaming services such as Spotify Connect™, Tune-in™ and Deezer™. Users can also play music from compatible iOS devices using AirPlay™ and its free dedicated app.

29/5/2015 - French Triangle Speakers

French products used to take a back seat (if any seat at all) to English and American ones in our hifi market. That was until Len Wallis gave Focal a big kick along during the nineties and the early part of this century. Classy French speaker manufacturer Triangle is now to gain a higher profile here through Len Wallis Audio, and other outlets in due course. Import company Audio Marketing will handle the distribution. This fills the gap caused by Focal's migration away to the Naim importer.

20/5/2015 - New NAD Masters Pre/Power

Stereo lives on. It just changes its sources over time. This new pairing from NAD are the M12 preamp (that you can plug almost anything into, including a turntable) and the M22 power amp, a hybrid digital design (something NAD have done a lot of work on) which should run cool.

There's a report and a video tour from Crutchfield, a USA dealer who often have the gen on gear new and old.

Pricing there too, looks like $US6500 for the pair, $US3500 just for the preamp.

16/5/2015 - New Speaker range from Focal

Also revealed at the Munich Show was the new Focal Sopra speakers. There's a bit of Utopia in the looks, and you'd expect it in the sound as well, since these are premium priced products.

At an expected £8000 for the standmount and £12000 for the floor stander when released in the UK soon, they are going to be nearly as expensive as Utopias by the time they get here.


16/5/2015 - Munich Hifi Show Highlights

Here's a quick roundup of some of the glamour products on show, courtesy of What*HIFI.

22/4/2015 - Computer Audiophile Welcomes Bluesound

Good design and the ability to do up to 24 bit 192kHz makes Bluesound a firm favourite for audiophiles, as this review of the Pulse and Vault by CA shows. The NAD connection the company has helps with the technical side too.

19/4/2015 - Wireless Multiroom Systems

Sound & Image's April/May edition is out, and has the most comprehensive survey of all the major players in the wireless multiroom market: Sonos, Bluesound, HEOS, Bose, Definitive Technology, LG, Panasonic, and Pure Jongo.

Depending on your planned usage, some system may be more suitable than others. It's all there, so I recommend you get hold of a copy if you're thinking of investing in this sort of gear.

Sonos continues to suit me very well. I use the Connect and Connect:Amps mainly, and it does everything I need to do, but you may have other priorities, and Jez Ford has done a very good job of explaining the pluses and minuses of each system.

13/3/2015 - McIntosh Does It Again!

These were made for the 60th Anniversary of the company in 2009, and reflect the style of the original models, made during the 1960s. This is a new production run, pricing here to be determined, but back in 2009 they were priced at $15,000US for the set of pre and two mono amps.

Back by popular demand, the MC75 mono vacuum tube power amplifier (half of a MC275 stereo power amp, so you'll need two!) delivers modern performance standards in a classic design. It has all the features to meet the needs of today's music enthusiast. As with all McIntosh mono amplifiers, the MC75 will provide ultimate stereo separation and imaging as the two stereo channels are completely separate. 75 Watts of power is output into a 2, 4 or 8 Ohm speaker with less than 0.5% distortion. McIntosh's patented Unity Coupled Circuit design provides low distortion, extended frequency response and long tube life. The MC75's large, oversize power transformer provides unusually high power and dynamic response from a single pair of KT88 output tubes, once again setting the performance benchmark for tube amplification.

Featuring a cool, 1960s retro design, the C22 vacuum tube preamp has been updated to modern standards to deliver a performance on par with any other McIntosh preamp. Electromagnetic input switching provides reliable, noiseless and distortion free operation. Low distortion levels of all types are less than 0.08%, allowing music to be presented with total transparency and accuracy. A total of 10 inputs include 2 balanced and 6 unbalanced along with Moving Coil and Moving Magnet phono input sections with selectable resistance and capacitive loading. Outputs are comprised of 1 set of balanced and 3 sets of unbalanced connections. Bass and Treble tone controls with bypass feature allow you to listen to your favorite songs at your preferred tonal balance. Power control outputs will turn a complete McIntosh system on or off using the front panel or remote control.

With retro looks and timeless McIntosh design cues, the MC75 and C22 seamlessly blend in with contemporary McIntosh components to create one cohesive system. Both are must-haves for any music lover with a fondness for nostalgic hi-fi.

More about these amps from a 2009 review by

5/3/2015 - NAD C510 Pre-amp

Selling for £999 in the UK and $1799 here, this new all-digital-input pre will suit the modern user (that is those who do not use any analogue inputs!) while missing out on a few features such as DSD capability and digital out. It's essentially a DAC with multiple inputs and a clever volume control which doesn't degrade the sound at any level despite being in the digital domain. The sound quality according to this HiFi Choice review is superb.

Brochure/Data Sheet can be downloaded from Qualifi's page.

3/3/2015 - New Products are Simply Phab

I resisted getting a smartphone for years for two or three reasons. First, most of them are too small to be useful as browsers, and second, the cost of a monthly plan was too high. Third, a lot of them simply cost too much for the use I was going to put them to. But now I have a Moto G and a Telstra-cloned monthly access package for $20 via C-mobile, and all's well.

Bit I still don't have much joy in looking at websites on the phone. That's why the idea of a bigger-than-phone phone-tablet or phablet has some allure. That brings me to the recent release of a couple of Chinese products that are getting good reviews and are not excessively espensivo, although not dirt cheap either. A lot less than some uppity phones, however.

Have a look at the Xiaomi Mi Note and the Huawei Media Pad X2.

Of course, putting them in your pocket is more of a challenge, but I'd say they are more use to me than the phone is, and easier to cart around than my iPad. I may have to try one for real!

15/2/2015 - PS Audio DirectStream DAC + Sonore Signature Series Rendu - Killer Combo

Fresh on the heels of a new DAC costing £6,000 (see Leema below) I came across a review of the PS Audio DirectStream DAC ($US5999) which reads ok (lots of new tech in it) until the reviewer at Computer Audiophile teamed it up with the Sonore Signature Rendu ($2899). Then it became like nothing he'd ever heard Read it all.

15/2/2015 - More About Devialet from Computer Audiophile

Scroll down the page - I said back in December that this was a French Company to Watch Out For, and that their wireless Phantom might be the high-end wireless killer product. Here's more on test, the Devialet amplifier, which is reconfigurable in many ways.

14/1/2015 - Leema DAC £6000

The Leema Libra-LIPS DAC will hit the market soon at a premium price of 6000 Pounds Stg.

Phew! That's pushing the envelope for a DAC.More details at What*HIFI.

11/2/2015 - Samsun's NX1 DSLR Lookalike

This new model has pretty good performance in both still and video modes (including 4k) but isn't really a DSLR - it uses an electronic viewing screen of 2360 dots resolution. At $US1500 for body only, this is serious money in a field that has heavy hitters like Canon and Nikon to compete with.

Engadget has a detailed article on it.

3/2/2015 - Technics Integrated Fails To Impress

The upside-down look of the Technics SU-C700 (unfortunate acronym right there) is the first off-note with this one, and those beaut big VU meters that Technics is wisely adding to their range can't save this one. According to the What*HIFI review the class D amplification just doesn't cut it. That's despite having smart circuitry which assesses the charateristics of the speaker and adjust accordingly.

This is unfortunate, but class D has to be very well implmented if it's to work well. Having plenty of digital inputs is the modern way, but like the VU meters, it won't save the day if the performance doesn't match the price.

30/1/2015 - The Battle of the Multi-Room Bands

Multi-room wireless streaming music systems have suddenly broken out of the "Sonos or nothing" situation we've been experiencing for years. Not that it was bad - Sonos did and still does such a good job. It has continued to evolve. They set the bar pretty high, and it has taken ages for other manufacturers to catch up, and in one instance maybe pass the original. But I wouldn't be surprised if Sonos had more tricks up their collective sleeve. They are a smart lot. But here's a quick run across the scene as it stands.

The main players are Sonos, Denon's HEOS, and Bluesound. All of them have as their basic set of items (i) a streamer that connects into any existing sound system, (ii) a streamer with inbuilt amplifier,so just add speakers, and (ii) some self-powered speakers which stream the same range of content as the main components. These vary a bit, but once again there'll be at least two sizes of powered speaker, and in Bluesound's case there's also a sat/sub offering. Sonos have three speakers, a soundbar and a subwoofer.

What's going to make you choose one instead of another? If pricing is critical, have a look at Lenco. Their Play C Connect comes in at less than half the cost of the others, a mere $249 for a streaming device to connect to your stereo or home theatre system. They do powered speakers as well, at very competitive prices - see the range at Amber Technology.

Pricing is higher than Lenco but much the same for both Sonos and HEOS, a little more again for Bluesound. All have control apps that will run on Apple or Android. There are a couple of things that you can use to make this choice.

For audiophiles the Bluesound may be worth extra because it handles all the hi-res formats. It also claims 100w/channel for the PowerNode streamer/amplifier, same for HEOS, while Sonos is rated at 55w. You'll pay extra for the hi-res Bluesound, at $999; $849 for the Sonos Connect:Amp, and $799 for the HEOS amp. Unless you're fairly fussy about sound quality all these brands do a good job. I've been using Sonos for quite a while, and have no complaints about sound, which depends on (a) what you connect it to, or what sources you're using for music. Perhaps I'm easy to please, using a lot of streams at 256k or 320k, and Apple Lossless from my iTunes library. The biggest variables I notice are the amps and speakers that the Sonos Connects are running into. If these are good, the results are very good indeed.

More info including basic specs and pricing can be researched via the Len Wallis Audio website, which has the "big three" brands, with Sonos and HEOS on this page, and Bluesound here.

More detailed specification on Bluesound can be found at Convoy's site. The Australian HEOS site is here. Sonos products are here.

23/1/2015 - More New McIntosh Amps

I like the look of the MC152 stereo power amplifier. The lower profile harks back to some of the vintage glass-fronted amps they used to make, like the MC2105 which was my first encounter of a close, ownership kind. Being 150w x 2 in McIntoshese means it will blow away other brands which have vastly higher ratings on paper. My current vintage MC2100 (2 x 100w) sounds more powerful than the 2 x 200w power amps I've had in the past, including Phase Linear, Bryston and Luxman.

Then there's the MC-301 300w Monoblock! Both of these are, according to them, "lower power options". Unfortunately I can only afford the older secondhand models, but the good news it that they still kick butt big time!

More info on these and other McIntosh products at the local importer's site, Synergy Audio Visual

Awaiting info on Australian rrps, but the MC152 goes for $US4500 in the states.

An Affordable Vacuum LP Cleaning Machine

The title says it all. The Record Doctor Series V costs just $297 from Len Wallis Audio. For years you may have, like me, shied away from cleaning machines costing the best part of $1000. This puts a new spin on it, in a manner of speaking. Read about it on the LWA site, and more details from Analog Planet.

13/1/2015 - Ultra HD Blu-ray to do 4k Movies

While many of us thought that blu-ray would be the last physical format, it is going to be stretched a bit further to accommodate 4k UHD movies. This will require bigger capacity 2-layer discs and a new player.

Before we get too excited, there remain a number of issues. Firstly, the licensing by Hollywood. Secondly, it goes against the increasing trend for movies to be accessed by streaming, and this makes it a marginal product from the start.

Then we have the awful truth that unless you're watching on a screen larger than 50"/125cm and probably as much as 65-70" and beyond, the benefits of the extra resolution may not justify the cost of upgrading the screen, the player and the discs - for a lot of people.

But as usual, there will be demand from those with larger screens who want the best they can get and are happy to pay. Initial reports on UHD Blu-ray can be found at Engadget and cnet.

9/1/2015 - Lampizator Is Not An Energy Drink

For some reason that name smacks of Gatorade and similar things. But no, we are talking about a boutique company in Poland that makes DACs and other things, and they love tubes. The word is a play on Polish Lampa (vacuum tube) and Terminator. It is designer Lukasz Fikus’ nick name that stuck to the product.

They make, to custom order, high end equipment with vacuum tubes. "Handcrafted by true music lovers for true music lovers." The Australian distributor is Audio Salon of Bulleen in Victoria.

What brought them to my attention? Computer Audiophile has this article by Steven Rowan which you need to read to get the picture. If what he says is right, this brand is going to become one of those Golden Ticket To Audio Nirvana things, at least for a while. There's no doubt that adding a valve output stage is a good thing, but I'm sure there's more to it than that.

Lampizator's original web page is a good place to go on to after reading the Computer Audiophile item. It has links to various things including their new sales page for products. I couldn't go past one link he has there, one about Saba radios. It appears both he and I are big fans of these; I have a couple of the larger Saba valve models, a Meersburg Automatic and a Wildbad Stereo, plus a solid state Meersburg Stereo.

Stay Tuned. In the meantime you might check out the Retro Page!

8/1/2015 - Musical Fidelity's Nu Vista 800 Arrives

With styling echoing that of their huge 1000w x 2 Titan power amplifier that had one of the Stereophile reviewers almost falling out of his chair (I'm being a bit coy here, his description was more scatological), the new integrated amplifier from MF has a large supply of power (300w x 2) packed into a very luxurious chassis and heavy-duty front panel.

It's available from Len Wallis Audio - see details here - for $15,999.

8/1/2015 - Very Affordable HD Audio Player

Steve Guttenberg of cnet reviews the FiiO X1, which sells here for $129, but you'll need to add a memory card to that cost. It'll take up to 128GB though.

While the player performs well, I was actually more interested in the comments section, where some recording engineers discuss the relative merits of recordings, bit rates, down conversions, and (ahem!) the weaknesses of vinyl!

I have to confess I'm not yet into HD audio except insofar as I have some SACD and the ability to play them. So many of the items for sale are just portables, and it's not that I'm unhappy with CD or my better LPs, or even Spotify Premium!

Luddite, I know. I really should get involved.

8/1/2015 - New Digital Pre-amp from McIntosh

Just emailed from Mc HQ, an announcement of their digital pre-amp, the D150. Distributor Synergy Audio will advise in due course the local availability and price.

See also the Stereonet Report.

French Company To Watch Out For

Computer Audiophile has visited the Devialet HQ in Paris and says this is a serious hifi technology company to keep an eye on.

So what do they do? Amplifiers - but not just any amplifiers, these are smart, software updateable amps with special powers, such as the ability to adapt their performance to whatever speaker you use. Tall order? Yes, but it looks like these guys are the latest form of a company based on advanced technology, starting out like Meridian but with a towering ambition to be in every home!

They were at the Melbourne Audio & AV show in October, 2014, and AVHUb has an interview with their Asia region General Manager, Andy Kennard. He talks about their SAM system, or speaker correction. This is done in concert with the speaker manufacturer, and as he says, it's purely about time domain correction, not graphic equalisers or changing the characteristic sound of the speaker.

This ties right in to what Ralph Waters discusses in our major section The Truth About Loudspeakers. If you haven't read through that, it's a goldmine of information about all the trade-offs that have to be negotiated in designing speakers. The time delays caused by some of the components of crossovers are just one problem area, and there are quite a few.

The local distributor is Avation.

17/12/2014 - Is This The High-end Wireless Killer Product?

Not dial-a-valet, Devialet! Above you'll see the previous news item (now bumped up) on Devialet, truly a company to keep an eye on. Computer Audiophile were able to get a sneak preview of the Phantom, a one-piece technological tour de force that should deliver the combination of convenience and audio quality that a lot of enthusiasts have been waiting for.

"The sound of Phantom was absolutely terrific. It’s hard to believe these units go down to 16 Hz. After hearing a couple demo tracks I streamed a little Leonard Cohen via Qobuz though a pair of Phantoms. Leonard’s deep baritone vocal sounded as if it was emanating from a large ported loudspeaker and the soft background violin contrasted beautifully. It was hard to believe Phantom’s a sealed enclosure could produce what I was hearing."

The widespread success of wireless multi-room devices form Sonos and others has been phenomenal, only lacking the endorsement of those with higher quality demands. True, you can get some classy gear from companies like Naim. Devialet have come up with something quite different in look, build quality and audio capability to all the "one-piece" producers. It may not be as affordable, but high-end products have always been at a premium.

You can find the CA story on their website, with further links to the Press Release and White Paper.

The Charge of the Android Brigades

Tablets are addictive, being so useful, convenient, portable and powerful. About four years ago I bought an iPad when they were still new and exciting. My wife liked it so much I had to buy another. Apple have made plenty by charging more for their products, but until recently they remained so far ahead that they could get away with that tactic.

But we are at a crossroads. I'm a bit cross about the fact that only four years down the track our two iPads are not capable of doing something as simple as running the new Sonos controller, or even the latest newspaper apps. The original iPad has run out of currency due to the evolution of operating systems (and apps) beyond their capability.

I've bought one Android 10" tablet to try out, and while it's not as good as an iPad, it does run all those new apps. And it cost only $100, plus $20 for a 32GB SD card memory upgrade. And it came with a plug-in keyboard! And, wouldn't you know, the wife has already snaffled it, so I'll have to buy another. But at $120 that's no great worry. (There are also some $100 Windows 8 tablets aimed at competing with the Android cheapies.)

For similar reasons, my latest phone is also Android, a Moto G. This performs beautifully at half the cost of an Apple - and various other brands. I have to add, however, that my previous Samsung Galaxy Ace was rubbish - don't know how they've built such a good reputation with dogs like that in the kennel.

Quantum Dot TV Screens

Samsung is planning to introduce this technology, and LG has also got something happening. But is this going to make a heap of difference to you and I? No, says Cnet's David Katzmaier: "We don't expect a revolutionary improvement in image quality."

They probably wanted something new to talk about at CES, which is almost upon us again.


Lenco's Wireless Multiroom Arrives

There seems to be a new player in this area every second week at present. Sonos had it to itself for years, and unless you do something either better or cheaper, they will still be the one to beat. The new kid on the block here in Australia is Lenco. Not that the company is new, they've been making turntables for a long time, but they're new in this area of multi-room.

Lenco have pricing which appears attractive, with powered speakers at $359 for the PlayLink4 (40w, 210x102x129 wdh) and $549 for the PlayLink6 (80w, 280x124x172 wdh). Both of these undercut Sonos and Denon's HEOS, if they have comparable performance. The real fox in the multi-room henhouse however could be their PlayConnect (135x102x60 wdh), which at $249 is less than half the Sonos Connect's $549 price.

Features: Play music wirelessly from stored media or nine (currently) internet streaming services; Wireless connectivity includes Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Near Field Communication (NFC) (PlayLink4 and PlayLink6 only); Qualcomm® AllPlay™ Smart Media Platform delivers multi room wireless functionality; Woofer: extended range bass reflex system delivers superior results when playing low frequency tunes (PlayLink speakers only); Mid-range / Tweeter: These High performance speakers deliver clear, delicate and detailed sound. (PlayLink speakers only); High power D-class digital amplifiers with DSP; Supports high resolution audio up to 192 KHz and 24-bit output; Pair up to 20 users; 3.5mm aux input for connecting your heritage equipment; DLNA compatible; Quick connect Wi-Fi and Protected Setup support.

VU Meters Are Back - but Exxy!

Technics has followed the lead given by Yamaha and is putting big VU meters back onto its premium amplifiers. See report at What*HIFI. The SE-R1 power amp looks gorgeous, and at £11,999 (that's Pounds Stg.) it makes the Yamahas look cheap! There's some consolation in the SU-C700 integrated however, at £1.249.

Of course both of these companies are only doing what others like Accuphase and McIntosh have done consistently over the years. They know that this is a winning look. My MC2100 doesn't have them, but it does resemble the earlier and still very characterful valve models from the big Mc!

Panasonic Blu-ray/HDD Recorder 2TB/4k

The new Panasonic DMR-BWT945GL recorder/player shows how these things just go on getting better and stacking more and more into the same sort of component. This one has three HD tuners, can soak up 2 Terabytes of new recordings, copy to Blu-ray, and do some multi-room tricks as well. Follow the link for more info.


Sonance Outdoor Speaker Array

Outdoor entertaining is more popular than ever, with the modern, upmarket BBQs, designer outdoor furniture and all the flair that architects bring to bear on al fresco living. We love to include music in the mix, and the majority of multi-zone sound systems sold for the past 20 years have included a pair or more for the outdoors. The only thing that might hold you back is "what about the neighbours?"

Sonance have a new speaker package that solves this problem. By distributing the audio output between more speakers, placed around the area, you ensure that everyone can hear the music without having to turn it up to neighbour-annoying levels. The SonArray SR1 has everything covered.

Purpose-built to withstand the elements, the SonArray SR1 has a durable and waterproof design, making it the perfect party companion in rain, hail or shine. Finished to a neutral earth tone, the SonArray SR1 is easy to blend seamlessly in garden beds and among plants.

The SonArray SR1 delivers high quality and consistent sound coverage of up to 186 square metres*.

Other key features: Includes eight satellite speakers and one in-ground subwoofer; Easy to use and install; Compatible with a standard AV receiver; 8 ohm system: Frequency response 40Hz-20kHz +/-3dB; RRP $3695

Sonos Boost Released

Looks like a stronger form of the Bridge, and is said to enhance your wireless connectivity and reduce the incidence of dropouts.


Naim Does Wireless Soundbar!

A seriously good audio company has released a serious contender for your wireless music needs. The Muso comes with a lot of good things under the bonnet. There are six speaker drivers and multiple 75w digital amplifiers in a very well constructed enclosure. Price here: seen at $1699.

Reviewed now by What*Hifi. Update: What*HIFI have named it as 2014 Wireless Speaker Product of the Year.

Available from Len Wallis Audio.

Denon's HEOS Shadows Sonos

We've been waiting some time for a serious rival to Sonos to appear. Denon's HEOS closely follows the Sonos formula, having three powered speakers, a plug-in for any existing system, and a stand-alone amplifier. Incidentally, the amp is listed as 100w x 2, which is almost double the Sonos Connect Amp's power.

There's a quick overview at AVHub, with some background on how the technology evolved, including an Australian connection in the R&D phase. Other manufacturers have headed in this general direction, usualy a little half-heartedly, and none to date have upset Sonos, which has a lot of years start, has evolved, and has a fairly comprehensive set of products. My main reservation about Sonos is the new control interface, which I find ok but a bit try-hard to look modern at the expense of ease-of-use. The older control interface was fine and didn't need to be reinvented. HEOS appears to have a much more straightforward look, which is important when winning new customers. This issue was always a bugbear with German TVs, which had too-clever-by-half remotes compared to the mainstream Japanese ones.

Apart from the ease-of-use, the main bug in wireless systems comes in the form of dropouts or outright failure to find and play your music. How HEOS goes on this score remains to be seen. Sonos has not been without blemish on this front, but I have to say the telephone backup from Playback Systems has been excellent - in fact the best I've encountered.

A HEOS of a different colour? Black, White or Silver.


Yamaha Amplifiers Go Digital

It has taken the mainstream manufacturers a while to catch on to having digital inputs for their stereo amps, but at last it seems to be happening more often. Yamaha's new series of integrateds (soon to replace the A-S'00 series with 01 series) will add digital inputs while preserving phono in for LP turntables. That's something NAD should have done too, rather than make it an optional extra at $150 or more.

Interesting to note that back in the 1990s Luxman had a model with optical digital in. But now that digitally stored music is everywhere, it is beyond time that it became a normal feature and not left solely to boutique brands like Peachtree.

Kyron Audio's "Kronos" - High End Speakers, and they're Australian!

Back when I was in my own hifi and music store, I was keen to promote Australian speakers. Over the ten years it was in existence we sold many of them: Richter, Orpheus, Axis, Duntech, Audio Definition and Sonique. As good as they all were, there was nothing like the amazing Kyron Audio Gaia and Kronos models.

Apart from their startling appearance and hi-tec build, you'll notice that they utilise the dipole effect, that is to say, radiating forward and aft. I haven't had the chance to hear them yet, but they may be at the Australian Audio & AV Show in October (Update: yes they were, and they made a very big impression; see special page here)

The Kyron Audio website.

Love Axis Voicebox

Good to see that the Axis Voicebox speaker (Designer: Brad Serhan, Manufacturer: John Reilly) at last has a mainstream retailer in Sydney, namely Len Wallis Audio. Their blog on the product is here.

I wrote the first brochure for the Voicebox a few years ago after having a session at home with it. They took it overseas first and have a had a very good reception in Asia and the USA. This compact two-way monitor-style speaker is sensationally good, and deserves to be the modern replacement for the (now very old but still popular) LS3/5a BBC monitor. But it's more than that.

Yamaha Joins The Atmos Sphere

I'd been wondering about the lack of news on Yamaha's new series of Aventage, the V series, all ending in 040. Suddenly the dam has burst, and it's all happening over the next month or so. The first few models will be appearing in stores late in July, with the biggest ones a month or so later.

Only the top two, the RX-A2040 and 3040 will have the Atmos option for additional overhead channels, and it will initially be by firmware upgrade.

Like everything these days, wireless capabilities will be expanded; upscaling and DAC quality will be paramount, and (good news) pricing will remain pretty much as per the previous 030 models. However, if you are in need of a more modern receiver but want to save a bit, and don't care about the Atmos, it's a good time to grab a reduced price on those 030 models as they are cleared out.

2014 The Year of Atmos?

Onkyo have been quick off the mark with their Dolby Atmos capable models of surround receivers, and others will have to follow. Denon and Pioneer are tipped to be on the trail, and I'm wondering what the next Yamaha Aventage has up its sleeve, due to appear in a month or two - but precious little info to date on what they're offering.

Receivers with 11 channels of amplification have been around for some years, but you could say they'll be put to full use if you have a 5.1 channel surround system "topped up" with some front & rear height speakers, plus in-ceilings for the "voice of God" overhead channel. Cinemas will be able to go for more speakers - there's no limit to how many you need to do full 3D sound, but practicalities will limit the number for home use.

How many channels can Atmos cope with? It depends on your processing and your number of power amps! There are already 12 and 16 channel processors on the pro market.

Good Skinny Speakers

Sometimes you discover a product almost by accident. Or in this case it was the necessity to find something to fit a specific space. The requirement from a family member was for a speaker to fit into a TV cabinet that has very limited width, so the space available for the speakers was a maximum of 139mm by about 900mm, depth no problem!

Mission Impossible, I thought, as those skinny speakers that come as part of modern surround systems are (i) not much good, and (ii) come as part of a package. Speakercraft Tantra come in at 169mm, otherwise they'd be a contender. B&W's VM1 would fit, but they are discontinued, so finding a secondhand pair in white would be a challenge.

I mentioned the requirement to Joe Salamanca of Qualifi, and he thought for a while then came up with the Mordaunt-Short Alumni 8. Measuring 800x118x122 (hwd) they are exactly right for the space. But what about the sound? They use two mid-bass 3.5" (long throw) and a 1" tweeter, but then down the length of the speaker are four passive bass reflectors of the same diameter as the mid-bass drivers. This gives a satisfactory bass component, while the midrange and treble are smooth, not at all edgy, which was my main fear in selecting such a small speaker. Frequency response is quoted at 49Hz-20kHz.

Impedance ranges from 4-8 ohms depending on the frequency being produced. Efficiency is not great at 86dB, but with 15-100w power handling, there's scope to overcome that. They come in Gloss White too, so that clinched the deal. The black grille is not so good from a décor sense, but leave it off and you get a very presentable silver front baffle. The people who'll be using them are not audiophiles, but being used to Focal speakers, it was going to be something of a letdown if we couldn't get a fairly good speaker to fit. These will do very well, and there are matching speakers and a sub available if you want to do a full surround system.

They are supplied with wall brackets and currently are reduced to $799/pair. There are floor stands available as an optional extra.

KEF's New Range

I have in the past used KEF Reference 105 Mk2, and am presently revisiting the brand with some Q55 and Q75 speakers around the house. I've also had for a short time (and resold) a pair of Reference 104.2 speakers, and years ago traded in and resold some Reference 107s. These and the subsequent Reference models from the old firm (Kent Engineering & Foundries was the old, old name, abbreviated to KEF) will strike the modern ear as reserved, verging on dull. But this is misleading. Giving them the right amplification is critical, and you'll be rewarded with a sumptuous soundstage and a loving rendition of all instruments and voices.

KEF has changed hands since then, but they are apparently still committed to good design, even some rather avan guard design with the Blade, now there's the Blade 2, and the improved Muon. Their little LS50 which will cost you in the order of $1400-1800 are a modern take on the LS3/5a of old, but with much bigger sound, and are an absolute stunner. The new Reference series looks much plainer than previous ones, reverting to a straight-up-and-down cabinet housing a d'appolito (symmetrical) array with centrally located tweeter and midrange in concentric form. The specs are pretty impressive though.

What*HIFI has a roundup of the latest versions as displayed at the High End Show.

This Really Is A Headphone Amp!

The old joke from Crocodile Dundee about "That's not a knife, this is a knife" rings true for this headphone amp from McIntosh.

The damn thing's built like a brick outhouse, just as most of their full-fledged amplifiers are, and it can drive not just a set of headphones but a pair of speakers too.

Read more at What*HIFI's page.

Pono Express Raises a Trot

There's a lot of chatter about Neil Young's Pono player now that the ball is rolling, at least the funding ball. But some questions remain unanswered in what I've read to date.

The concept is for hi-res audio to be stored and played back in a portable device. The quality will be higher than CD, which Young never liked, although he did say DVD-Audio sounded good. So it's going to be similar to the best HD audio around, which is 24bit/192kHz, and as close to if not an actual copy of the master tape.

First question: since an album in HD audio requires around 9GB of storage, how many albums are you going to be able to carry around on Pono? When it gets the 128gb storage that will allow about 14 albums. Can't see how that helps, as you'll be changing the lineup pretty regularly. Using FLAC would help, but is that "the nearesst thing to the master tape" that is being promised?

By contrast, an iPod Classic 160gb can hold up to 200 uncompressed CD quality albums, in WAV or AIFF.

Second: Young isn't short of cash, one would think, after this many years of successful recording and performing. Is crowd funding for $5m or so really required to get this thing off the ground? Does that mean that he's (a) short of money, (b) not wanting to risk (pony up?) any, or (c) is it that he is actually more of a figurehead - or in the words he used in one interview, a "hood ornament" for the project, which is being business-managed by others.

Third: the size and shape of the Pono is not your typical, pocketable, portable music player thing. He said it was sized to fit some bits in. Fine, but it still looks a bit awkward.

And last (for now): high definition audio should be played back on decent equipment, not just portables with headphones. Is this project aimed at a market that's not really audiophile enough to want to live with the limitations of storage and available content? One of the limiting factors for HD audio is the availability of material. There is nothing remotely like Spotify's huge library of great stuff in HD format. But if there was, you are still limited by the internal storage of the gadget. Am I missing something here?

UPDATE: more on this subject from Steve Guttenberg of, and a lot of argument in the comments too! Worth reading.

Update 15/1/2015: More discussion of HD Audio and how necessary it is (or isn't) on the Hifi & Home Theatre page.


Soundbars R Us

As Len Wallis said in a recent blog, the hifi industry is no longer just about audio quality, which used to be paramount. It is also about having fun. Focal, who make a large range of speakers which, it's fair to say, strive for audio quality, are not so single-minded as to ignore the fun aspect. They have plenty of products which are good, affordable, and are in that "every home should have one" category.

Their new Dimension soundbar will take Focal audio quality to the masses and allow TV to be even more fun by being more rivetting due to the much better sound. More details as they come to hand.

Samsung's Multi-room Wireless Speakers

It looks like Samsung's out to take some market share from Sonos, or anyone else in the wireless streaming business. And they have proven that they can marshall modern technology and neat design as well as anybody, and better than most. My advice is to wait and see, however, as some big names have entered this market and falled flat for the simple reason that their stuiff just isn't as well thought out and as easy to make work as Sonos.

Nikon's D4s Super Digital SLR

The race to have more megapixels in cheaper and cheaper cameras has always amused me, in a cynical way. I recall many years ago that advertising execs decided that to sell a ghetto blaster you had to say it had "metal tape capability". As if most GB users were going to spring for the cost of metal tapes!

The modern equivalent is the proclamation in the case of every cheap junk digital camera "it has all these megapixels". Yeah, right. But the fact that it has a cheap and very nasty lens, no optical zoom to speak of, and produces unwatchable pictures in low light conditions due to distortions in the procesing goes unmentioned.

OK, so we're now looking at the forthcoming Nikon D4s. Nikon do this from time to time, add an S to their model number, which usually means it's much the same but faster. Good, but faster at what? Back when I got my F801s film camera it meant just faster auto focussing (AF).

The new D4s has the same number of pixels as the D4. So what does it do? For around $6500 it better do something ... better. What do you know about ISO numbers? Back in film days, your ISO 100 film had (still does) finer grain (smaller silver crystals) than a ISO 200 or 400 film. If you wanted the faster speed film for lower light photography, you had to put up with the larger crystals. They are more visible in the film the print,and particularly the enlarged print. This is the parallel. Faster digital ISO gives you more distortion artifacts too.Here's the thing. The D4s offers incredibly faster speeds (ISO) but reduces the distortion. They reckon a D4s gives you at ISO1600 only as much distortion as a D4 at ISO800. Which means this new model, with an upper limit ISO of 400,000 or so, should be able to capture way more than the proverbial teeth and whites of the eyes in the dark.

I have to admit, it looks an awful lot like the F5, which I've said elsewhere is not my camera-cheesecake look. Just love the look of my old film cameras (Pentax Spotmatic, Nikon FM2, F2, F4, F801) for their handsome-ness. Even my current DSLR the D80 is a nice piece.

Ruark R7 - The Modern-retro Radiogram

This has been creating a lot of interest wherever shown, and it's partly down to styling, partly the fact that it covers a lot of bases. CD, DAB+, Internet Radio, Bluetooth. You can have it on retro legs, or as a benchtop unit. More info and pictures at the Ruark site.

B&W 600 Series Going To S2

It's now public knowledge that B&W will soon release the second series, the "S2" versions, of their popular DM600 line of speakers. This was done before, and they even went to an S3 with the old 601/602/603 etc.

The most obvious improvement will be the upgrade of the tweeter to something more like the one used in the CM series, which will help the 600 range a great deal. Some of those models suffer from a bit too much roll-off on the top. One thing we can be confident of is that they will cost more than the current version, so you might like to grab the S1 you've been thinking of now at the lower price before stock runs out.

More info here from the people at WHAT*HIFI.

Lenovo To Be The Next Apple?

Rob Enderle, writing for Tech News World, has an interesting story line this week. He reckons that Lenovo is putting the pieces in place to become the next Apple-type company, just as Steve Jobs positioned Apple to be a combination of attributes he saw in Sony and Porsche. I thought B&O was likely to be an inspiration to Jobs as well, but I digress.

This theory is based on the way Lenovo is acquiring companies like Motorola and IBM's server business. Enderle maintains that they are putting in place all the pieces they need to present to the public a full suite of products. And they have possibly the best PR man to do the ads - Aston Kutcher, who played Jobs in the movie.

The Neat Freak 4k Projector from Sony

Sony's proposed new short-throw 4k projection system is a dream for minimalists. The long, low console houses the projector and speakers, and can be placed close to the wall it is to project onto. Just how the optics work at that range is beyond me for now, but it has been demonstrated at CES and is due for release in the USA later in 2014.

The convenience of installation and the neatness of the concept will win many over, but the entry price will be high, in the $30-40k region, so maybe just a rich person's show-off toy for now - or is that too cruel? When they get the next version below $20k it might start to sell in larger numbers, but around $10k would be more mass-market level.

What*HiFi's Pick of DAB+ Radios

This list is derived from the UK market, but I think a fair number of them are available here too. I'd have expected Sangean to get more of a look in: my DDR-63 table model has very good sound and does DAB+/FM/Streaming/CD/Dock/SD card, aux, USB, and even copies from one format to another! The burning question about DAB+ in Australia is when the bloody hell is it going to go to the Regions?

The Years 2013, 2014

This year has seen action at both ends of the HiFi audio spectrum. Yamaha went for the high end with a $10k stereo integrated amplifier (A-S3000) and a $7k pre-processor/surround sound power amplifer combination (CX-5000/MX-5000) that really kicks butt. That company remains a force to be reckoned with, making a huge array of products, all of which do an excellent job, are reliable and value for money at whatever level they arrive at. We haven't seen their NX-P100 portable speaker yet (see down the page), but there have been a lot of entrants in that race.

Without a doubt, the biggest growth area in audio apart from things like Sonos is the portable powered speaker with Bluetooth. This year has seen a multitude of these devices launched, suggesting that convenience remains dominant - people love to take their music with them to just about anywhere. Cramming improved performance into things the size of a paperback book is where the challenge lies.

Larger units such as the B&W A5 and A7 have no problem generating a healthy output. But when you get down to the diminutive Geneva XS, Bose Soundlink Mini Bluetooth and the JBL Flip and Charge models, you really are squeezing the physical parameters down to next to nothing. We haven't seen the foxL DASH7 here yet, but it's highly regarded by Computer Audiophile, so I'll be keen to hear it too.

So far my favourite travel-weights are the Geneva XS for smallness (it folds to travel-clock size, and the Bose Mini for sheer oomph in a small package. The Bose is also very solidly made. Smarthouse gave their award to the JBL Charge. Update: I see Sony have entered the fray with the SRS-BTX300, on offer for $US130 in the states.

Naim staked out a quality corner in the new hifi environment - combining audio streaming with amplifier. It has emerged that their systems work best with their own servers, and that from time to time Mac users might run into a few minor waves while setting up. But once you get all the pieces in place, Naim deliver great sound plus convenience in accessing music from all over.

Sonos continue to sell heaps, and their new Play 1 (smaller portable speaker) at $299 hits the add-on market, such as for kids' rooms, with great accuracy. It is for certain that the only problem area with Sonos stems from what modem/wifi router you're using. A robust network cures all. I use it every day, and just yesterday was amazed at the engaging sound I got running a little pair of "Carlsson Cubes - Sonab OA12" from a ZP100 zone player-amp, with 256k feed from coming through beautifully.

TVs have continued to grow larger, and now they're moving to higher definition again as 4k takes off. Soundbars also continue to be popular, and are a neat solution for those who want that, not cluttering up the room with a full surround system, or just to get better sound from the TV. Bose kick in at $549 with the Solo TV, Yamaha fill in the middle ground from $999 to $2999 including subwoofer, while B&W do a refined job with their Panorama II at $2499 (plus whatever you spend on a subwoofer). Smarthouse magazine gave its award this year for best soundbar to the B&W Panorama 2, while their "best value" soundbar was Samsung's HW-F751. CNET Australia agree that it's a pretty cool item, coming with subwoofer and even sporting a valve! RRP is $799, but of course you'll find it for considerably less, hence the value tag.

UPDATE: Streaming 4k TV is said to be one of the hot topics in the upcoming CES context, with Netflix talking about using algorithms which don't require super-fast broadband.

Looking To 2014.

CES sets the scene early in the year. Last year they started to show Ultra-HD TV, and these are now available here, with many more to follow. This will have a more lasting run than 3D. Why? Because it'll look more realistic and won't need glasses! The remaining fly in that ointment is the lack of a UHD format for sale or rent. The only contender (hypothetically) might be multi-layer discs that squeeze a lot more info onto a Blu-ray sized disc. Apart from that we'll have to download the UHD material, which will be a slow process given the file sizes. Once again it supports the theory that the NBN is really about entertainment! It will, if quick enough, serve this purpose.

So what will CES 2014 be about? I hope it's about freeing up the direct-delivery TV market! Apart from TV screens, it seems to me that the hifi and home theatre scene is being eroded. What we're getting is more gadgets and less of the exciting stuff. 3D printers, smart watches, Google glasses, phones, phablets, tablets and all manner of cunning little things that are amusing, even amazing, but they are not hifi or home theatre.

Yamaha did surprise us this year, however, with their big-hitters mentioned above, so here's hoping for more great products even if they don't appear at CES. As usual we have our CES page for links to various sites as the show proceeds, and some afterwards - which is often where you get the best product photos. Stereophile as usual have the most comprehensive overview of the audio show.

A retro note: I believe quite a few exhibitors went through a stage two years ago of using reel to reel recorders as sources - wonder if that will still happen. Another unusual report I saw recently was a photographer capturing a whole show on film - not just any film either, but medium format 120 roll film. Black and white, of course.

A New LP System!

Teac have mainlined into the Retro market with a new LP music system, the LP-P1000. It has a three-speed turntable (33/45/78, hard to find these days) with an old-school ceramic pickup cartridge (not sure why it isn't Moving Magnet) with a sapphire stylus tip - should be diamond.

There's a CD player and a tuner (AM/FM) and Bluetooth, with two additional Aux inputs. Speakers come with it, and the amplifier is 25w x 2. Retails in UK for 450 Stg. So probably around $A900-1000 if it gets here.

foxL DASH7 Speaker

Small battery powered portable speakers that perform way above expectations are on the increase too. Adding to things like the Bose Mini Soundlink Bluetooth and Geneva GXS, we might soon get the foxl Dash7, reviewed by Computer Audiophile in glowing terms, and selling in the states for $US219.

In its category the DASH7 is the best speaker I've ever heard. Its sound is excellent. Sure I want more from the $219 DASH7 loudspeaker but I also want more from my TAD CR1 loudspeakers with an MSRP of over $40,000. Once in a while getting good music to locations where one wants to listen is most important. Moving one's main two channel system to an office, kitchen, or bicycle handlebars isn't going to happen for most of us. Spending a bit over two hundred bucks for the foxL DASH7 is likely in reach for all but the poorest college student computer audiophile.

Meridian's Prime Headphone Amp

Following on from the success of their Explorer and Director DAC/headphone amp products, Meridian will move up another notch with the Prime headphone amp, reviewed in detail here at Computer Audiophile. The Prime should drive just about any headphone, and the proven skills of Meridian in the DAC area will ensure that if you're feeding this beats with a computer-source via USB, the sound will be excellent. There are also two analogue inputs. Pricing here? Not sure yet but $US2000 gives you a clue.

Stereo Receivers Go Modern

It's taken a while, but two mainstream manufacturers now have good, plain vanilla stereo receivers that can handle just about everything: digital inputs (coaxial and optical), network connection for streaming locally or from the net, FM radio, analogue inputs - there's even a phono input for turntable!

Yamaha's R-N500 stereo receiver ($899) and a pair of speakers is pretty much all most people will need to make a modern sound system - although one that doesn't ignore the past. You can control it with a nifty app that shows you your hard drives and the music on them - and even has a round volume control knob - very cool. If you get the matching CD player CD-N500 it'll control that as well. At 80w x 2 it should drive most speakers well.

Marantz's MCR-610 ($1170) has one or two less physical inputs (optical but no coaxial digital) but makes up for it in other ways. It has the inbuilt CD player and in addition to the network connection - making internet radio and other things available - it has DAB+ as well as FM. This compact unit has 60w x 2 and will sit very happily with a range of possible speakers.

The MCR-610 has picked up awards already in the UK, and I suspect that Yamaha will get a few too, once it's virtues become appreciated.

Not quite a receiver is the NAD D7050 ($1299), although it can do internet radio. It has a long list of useful connections: Ethernet, Wifi, USB, Coax x 2, Optical x 2, Airplay, and Bluetooth.

B&W Add Flagship Model To CM Series

The new CM10 builds on the base of the floor standing CM9, adding to the formula a separate tweeter housing atop the cabinet (as B&W have done many times before), an extra bass driver, and some refinements to driver construction derived from their supreme 800 Series.

Result? A very substantial floor standing speaker which has all the good points of the CM series and then some. I have appreciated that series from the outset, since it's head and shoulders above the 600 series while being much more affordable than the 800 series. The new CM10 is in effect a poor man's 804 Diamond (perhaps!) at $5500 a pair.

A substantial plinth is supplied (around 370x460mm) which adds stability to the cabinet, but whether you bolt it on or not is left to the individual purchaser. There are four finishes - Gloss Black, Satin White, Rosenut and Wenge.

For more details go to the B&W website here.

NAD's Digital Tribe Grows

NAD have taken another step along the digital path, not so much technologically - they've done a lot of R&D before and produced some definitive amplifiers and DACs - but in the affordable, average consumer end of the market.

The three new products are as follows. First, the D3020 ($699), an integrated amplifier that bears the name of the amp that made NAD famous. Well, made them famous in audio circles anyway. I still get asked who they are by customers fairly regularly! The D3020 has coaxial and digital inputs, USB and Bluetooth, and only one regular analogue input. It's the "3020" for today's music sources.

If you're happy with your existing amplifier but want to add more digital inputs, the D1050 DAC ($699) gives you USB (with asynchronous link and up to 192kHz capability) plus 2 x coaxial and 2 x optical inputs. It also has a choice of analogue output types, RCA or XLR.

The big number in this release is the D7050 Network Amplifier ($1299) which has Ethernet, Wifi, USB, Coax x 2, Optical x 2, Airplay, and Bluetooth. At 50w x 2 it's not huge, but quite adequate for most speakers provided they're efficient.

The distinctive styling of all three allows for use upright, perhaps on a desk. This might help or might, for some, just look odd - like the Viso series. Time will tell. I'm sure the performance for the dollars will be good, though.

Yamaha NX-P100 - Coming Soon

I have to admit that I own a fair amount of Yamaha product, but then again my house is full to the brim with all sorts of stuff,new and very old. But in the Yamaha corner we have a surround receiver, Blu-ray player, a tuner, some vintage stereo gear, and several things which come under the heading of "potentially portable music".

This time I'm focussing on the portable stuff. I have a pair of the little powered speakers NX-50, which have two inputs, so you can have them connected to a dock or a computer plus one other source. They sound remarkably good, and for multi-media speakers at $179 the pair are a great buy. The other sort of portable one i have is the single powered speaker PDX-50 (discontinued) which has a little dongle you can connect to an iPod, iPad or iPhone and send music wirelessly, and very completely, to the speaker. It's damned good!

I had an email about another nifty little portable speaker that Yamaha are about to release. The NX-P100 is close in concept to the Bose Mini Bluetooth speaker (see below). Rugged, small, and battery powered (plus able to recharge your phone!) I reckon at $199 it'll be quite popular.

Since we're talking about portable audio gear, I'll also put in another good mention for the tiny Geneva XS - not much bigger than the folding clock/radios of old, but able to do Bluetooth, Aux in, or FM.

Sonos Play:1 - New Possibilities

The little Play:1 offers an even lower entry price for those who haven't been roped in already to the world of Sonos wireless streaming music to anywhere in the home! At 170 quid in the UK ($299 here, with free Bridge!) it should win new friends. But it also opens up other usage patterns.

A pair of these and a Sonos SUB will make a good Satellite/Subwoofer stereo system, or a Playbar, Sub and two of these can be a 5.1 channel system for TV sound. The Play:3 can be used this way as well, and an added bonus is that the "rears" can be first set up as one or two zones, whatever suits, and named, but can be drafted into the surround set tremporarily as rears, then back to their main role afterwards without much mucking around!What*HIFI have their review ready for us here, and our local distributor Playback Systems has info and video here.

A software update will add more track control functions and sharing with portable devices.

Bose Multi-room Wireless Launched

Bose are going into the multi-room wireless music area with the launch of their SoundTouch products. For the moment these are three models of self-powered speaker which, once set up to access your home wireless network can play your own stored music or get more from online sources like Pandora. Other online services will become available over time, and other Bose systems will gradually be modified and reissued with the SoundTouch capability.

This renders all the current V Series surround systems obsolete to a degree, although this only affects people who want to utilise SoundTouch. There's no difficulty with any music or surround system in attaching a Sonos Connect and getting the same functionality, in fact a bit more as things stand now. The new systems will have the ability to accept a small connected module to do the SoundTouch functions.

Control apps for Android and Apple will make controlling the new system easy, and they've also gone one step further in the "ease of use" mode, having six preset buttons which can be determined as directly accessing a playlist or a radio station, avoiding the issue of having to go into menus to find them.

Costs will be similar to the competing Sonos products. To begin with, there are three stand-alone powered speakers, with one model being portable. Sonos has advantages in terms of overall range of choice of product type, and also in access to various online services like Spotify, Mog, and so on. But Bose will be expanding their range of enabled products over the coming 12 months, and I expect more online services will be added too. Bose are a force to be reckoned with when it comes to product recognition, and their promotion will be full-on. Items should start to appear in-store within weeks.

Yamaha's New Compact Surround Receiver

Yamaha are releasing a new compact 5.1 surround receiver, the RX-S600D at $949. This has been a fairly limited field for some time, although there are plenty of people who would like a full surround setup powered by a proper receiver instead of the other alternative for compactness, the one-brand package where the amplifier is in the subwoofer. The Yamaha will have Network capabilities and DAB+ digital radio (although a cheaper "chain store" version of it will not).

Marantz have been active in this space for several years, and their current NR1604 model has a lot going for it as well. These days a good surround sound receiver can't stop at doing the surround plus a bit of radio, it has to do network/internet things as well, and other wireless tricks like Bluetooth, Spotify Connect, or Airplay. It's early days with Spotify Connect, but it will appear on at least the Yamaha Aventage models quite soon, via firmware upgrade, we're told.

The will to make good surround sound and make it smaller has been around before, and various ones from Linn to NAD have had a go, but they fell short in reliability. That may have been partly down to including a disc player in the chassis, but heat dissipation in a smaller case will always pose problems unless you go the Class D route - digital amps, very efficient and cool running. Designs for these have improved a lot, and several top manufacturers produce digital amplifiers with high-end performance. They also find a happy home in subwoofers, where heat build-up in a sealed box is an issue.

Marantz's offerings like the NR1604 (which is 7.1 channel so can do zone 2) have been very successful and not madly expensive at $1150. Yamaha's new one will, I expect, also have the reliability issues sorted and be a good value purchase.

NAD's DAC Attack

NAD are releasing a new version of the C356BEE amp which incorporates a DAC, hence it will be the C356BEE DAC. This has been achieved by using their existing MDC DAC module. It has an asynchronous USB input and an optical digital, but no coaxial. Given the way the industry is headed, all manufacturers now need to consider having at least one decent model which has this ability. See down the page here, Marantz's DAC equipped PM6005.

More info at NAD's main website here.

More Travellers Audio

I'm always on the lookout for small speakers which you can take on a trip and play music at an acceptable level from your other portable devices. Not that I travel a lot, but last time we went on holidays the wife and I had a pretty basic setup that I vowed to improve on next time. The little Geneva XS is what I thought might do the job, but there are two contenders now from Bose which require serious assessment. The Geneva remains the smallest one with quality sound, however.

The Bose Mini Bluetooth speaker (not that much bigger the Geneva - wider but slightly less tall) is battery powered, can run via directly connected 3.5mm aux or via Bluetooth. It has (as you'd expect from Bose) a far bigger sound than its size would indicate - if anything a little more bass than I need, but that can be corrected through the EQ in your phone or iTouch/iPad. At $249 it's not dirt cheap, but competitive with the Geneva and has a bigger sound.

For an extra $100 you can get the Bose Bluetooth Soundlink II, which is still only the size of a hardback book, and to my ear has a pleasing balance of sound too. It will be working a little less hard to do good sound at higher volumes, and may suit you better. It also has one of those cute magnetic covers that flip into place and automatically shut down the speaker, or fold back to make a sort of prop-stand. Once again you can use 3.5mm aux or the wireless link.

I see from ads online that a company called Foxl is also into this small but sound big game, but I haven't heard them at all. Another one to watch out for.

Flood of New Releases

The second half of 2013 is beginning to see a rush of new releases, in fact a veritable tsunami of them. Yamaha's new Aventage series of five premium surround receivers is starting to arrive, and their new top-of-the-line surround pre-power pair will be out soon, Then there's the new super-integrated stereo amplifier which we foreshadowed (down the page), also due soon.

It has been a big year for Naim, who have trumped just about everyone in the transition to quality streaming embedded in amplifiers. Their Uniti series has been selling well, not just because of the streaming component; the amplifiers themselves are pretty sensational performers too - don't be fooled by the relatively modest wattages - these amps really kick!

Focal have built up their profile over 30 years or more and are now a force to be reckoned with in both domestic and car audio. They also have some high-end professional active speakers. In terms of technology, large range, and in some cases large size (with prices to match!) they are vying for the mantle of biggest and best in the world. Their alliance with Naim was a good move, and a system using both brands is guaranteed to be good.

Apart from the obvious kudos of the "made in France" label, Focal have proven that their manufacture of all parts (cabinets, drivers, crossovers) enables them to control quality and to innovate at all levels. I think the most exciting news on the speaker front this year is the new Chorus 800VW range, starting to arrive now.

This is an upgrade to the previous 800V series, and what an upgrade it is. Following on from their 30th Anniversary Limited Edition 826W speaker, which made it to Australia in limited quantities and at a premium price, they have done what only a very successful company can do. They've taken the 826W approach right across the entire new 800VW series. This means a serious upgrade to all the drivers, using the special "W" sandwich cone (as used in the 1000Be and Utopia ranges) in all 800VW series woofers and midranges, and an updated Aluminium/Magnesium alloy inverted dome tweeter. Crossovers are also upgraded, another area that Focal have put a lot of work into over the years. They have done away with the old bi-wiring approach, declaring it no longer required due to the new designs capabilities! The best news for buyers is that these upgrades to the 800 series come at no additional cost!

(to be continued)

Marantz PM6005 Amp/DAC

Yes, the rumours were spot on. Here's the complete product spec sheet, with front and rear photos, and it seems it will debut - at least overseas - in August/Sept 2013 at around £380 in the UK. It's a "something old, something new" package. Inputs include the coaxial and optical digital ones, an analogue stereo one called Network, and Phono!

The DAC is the 24bit/192khz CS4398, already used in a number of their premium series components. Speakers A and B are still there, something that NAD don't do on their smaller integrateds, along with no phono - it costs $150 extra with them. So this is looking like a value proposition for good entry level hifi.

Stereophile's Recommended Components 2013

Stereophile's 2013 Recommended components are now online, and make interesting reading. The range of products represented is vast, from individual components costing over $100,000 down to some entry-level ones at under $500.

It's always fascinating to see the price variations within class A or B, which are both high-falutin stuff. For example, a Musical Fidelity M6 PRX in the USA costs just $3495 and makes Class A. Other amps in this class can be 30k, 50k or even in one case $145k.

The turntable section also covers a lot of engineering standards, from simple and effective through to incredibly complex and probably a tad overdone in some cases. They have a special class A+ for the Continuum Caliburn, which is priced at $150k in the USA. Continuum use awesome engineering but without the excessive "look at me" styling that some makers feel is necessary.

Integrated amplifiers include some real esoterica like the BMC Audio C1, but down in class C you'll find the little NAD 316BEE. Over all in amplifiers it's interesting to see repeated appearances by Musical Fidelity, and a couple by Peachtree.

Yamaha's 2013 Aventage Receivers

Released in the UK, the new "030" series of receivers, RX-A830 upwards, will apear here in a couple of months. Details from What HIFI. Among the improvements I note that they are switching to ESS Sabre DACs, which are becoming the standard high-end device these days. Peachtree have been using them for quite a while too.

Pre-Amp, DAC, Headphone amp, ADC

The new Musical Fidelity M1S DAC ($1599) is a lot more than a DAC. It can also operate around the other way, converting analogue signals into digital. It can be used as a pre-amp to feed a power amplifier, and a headphone amplifier to raise the performance level of any headphones up to the highest quality ones. About the only thing they left out was streaming, but it does accept input via bluetooth as well as the various other inputs - two analogue, USB, coaxial, optical, and AES Balanced (XLR).

Quad Amps Revived!

If only car manufacturers could do a retro design job as convincing as this. These beauties would be an adornment to the Retro page as well. The original design was a mere 15w, but with the reworking done by Tim de Paravicini (who's also responsible for a number of Luxman's classic products) these lovely monoblocks chuff out 80w each.

Follow the links for the full story. Not just the first one, but subsequent review links too.

CD Player and Streamer?

Would you like to add some network streaming capability and Internet Radio to your basic stereo system, but keep the whole thing simple? This "under-the-radar" item from Yamaha sneaked past me some months back, but it's too good to let go through to the keeper.

The Yamaha CD-N500 looks like any CD player from their current range. But on the back there's an Ethernet socket in addition to the usual analogue and digital connections. The front panel also has a USB input suitable for ipod players & iphones - in direct digital. So it's equipped to do quite a few things, apart from play discs. You can stream wirelessly to it, and the onboard DAC can handle FLAC 192khz!

The network connection allows you to stream your hard drive stored music, or go onto the web and bring in any of the many Internet Radio stations, which might seem a bit daunting at forst, because there are literally thousands of them. But once you find the ones you like and can go back to them at will, they become a valuable part of your listening. Regular readers will know my liking for with its 28 channel of assorted jazz flavours - Gypsy jazz is currently our dinner music favourite. More details of CD-N500 here. Priced at $799.

Yamaha Retro Comeback!

Yamaha will have quite a few new releases in the second half of this year, but the one which has me excited is the really retro amplifier that's on the way, probably arriving in September /October. They are about to start an advertising campaign to get people interested, and will invite you to register for email updates on the new S3000 series amplifier and matching SACD/CD player as the next few months of anticipatory enthusiasm builds.

So, here it is, the A-S3000 Integrated stereo amplifier! Look at that front panel, and bathe in the glow of the golden VU meters. Why so many have abandoned the come-hither looks of such things is beyond me - blame the accountants I guess. Companies like Accuphase, McIntosh and Luxman have for a long time told the accountants to butt out, and all have VU meters on their amps. All have a solid following despite premium prices.

That brings us to the critical part for many aspiring high-enders: what is this going to cost? Hard to be adamant about this while the dollar is fluctuating, mainly down, but we might take a look at the A-S2000 amplifier that this new one is to sit above. It was priced at $3000+, so I'm guessing this newcomer will be $4000 - $5000. We'll have to wait a couple of months to see the actual price. But it's a safe bet that it will be lower than those brands mentioned above!

Have a look at the internal shot as well. Looks pretty substantial, so power shouldn't be an issue. The A-S2000 is 90w x 2, and conservatively rated. It's a heavy build standard for that rating. The new one I'm thinking will be around 120w x 2, but that remains to be seen as well. When it comes to pricing and power, they'll need to watch Musical Fidelity's excellent offerings. The M6i is rated at 200w x 2 and is priced at just $4295. If Yamaha strays too far above that price, the MF heavy-hitter is waiting there: the M6500i, a 500w x 2 giant priced at $6995.

But of course, the MF amps have no VU Meters!

So let's hope for a good price/power relationship along with the gorgeous looks. They've certainly got my attention with those.

UPDATE: More here at What HIFI as they cover the announcement. Note that the CD/SACD player has inputs for USB/Optical/Coaxial digital as well, making it a useful DAC for your system. Their separate tweet about rectangular switches making a comeback isn't strictly correct - they've been revived for years, on the AS-2000/1000 and other stereo amplifiers , not to mention the stereo receiver line RS300/500/700.

Do You Need Pre & Power?

I hear that Yamaha will be adding a preamp/processor and multi-channel power amplifier to their lineup this year. More details will emerge closer to the launch date, but it raises the question in some consumers' minds "why have separates"?

What are pre and power amps needed for? Why can't we have it all in one chassis? Well, you can - those are called "integrated" amplifiers because they have the pre-amp section (source switching, volume controls, probably tone controls as well) and the power amp section (transformer, capacitors, output transistors) in the one box. This works well, usually, but it is not the ultimate solution.

So what are the improvements you get from separating the two? Firstly, there's more room to maximise the power amp's capability, so you'll usually hear a more dynamic, spacious, nicely detailed and "you are there" style of performance, even from a pre-power that's around the same rated wattage as its integrated brother.

Secondly, the pre-amps versions will have more attention paid to the low-level signal paths, use better components, and have completely separate power supplies to the power section. Some models may also offer premium features such as better Phono stages, with both MM and MC circuitry, and adjustable loadings for impedance. In short, the pre-amp will be of a more "premium" nature.

How about in surround sound amplifiers? The same arguments apply, but here we have even more circuitry being crammed into the one chassis of what we call a "surround receiver". This one box contains the preamplifier, usually a tuner as well (hence the term receiver), and then a swag of digital processing to handle the very advanced audio and video processing that we have all come to expect and enjoy these days. Then we have at least seven channels, sometimes nine channels, in the power amplifier section. That's a lot of stuff to cram into one chassis.

So, you could argue that the separation of the pre-processor and power amplifier becomes even more desirable in the surround context. All that digital processing sitting in amongst the low-level signals has to be treated carefully to avoid "digital radiation" interference, and cramming it plus the power section all into one chassis necessarily limits the amount of amplifier hardware you can add to the mix.

The downside? There are two factors - cost and size. If the gear is of a good standard, it will tend to cost about double the price of a good surround receiver. For example, in Marantz's lineup you can get a substantial SR7007 surround receiver for $2750, while their AV7701 pre and MM7055 power amplifier will set you back the best part of $5k. But for that you get a high standard of construction, including the option of balanced XLR connections between pre and power, something rarely seen on anything at this level - it's usually only found in the very high priced exotica. The pair will take up double the space on your shelves as well, although this is a lesser problem in most cases. NAD's offering (the T187 pre plus T975 power at 7x140w) is also up there, at $6498. Krell kicks in at the next level from around the $23k (and upwards point for the S-1200 pre (there are several variants) and S-1500 power combos.

The third advantage of pre-power setups is the "Mix & Match" factor, which again applies to stereo or surround. You can change either piece if a better one comes along, or it's time for an upgrade to keep up with new technology. This will always be an important factor for those audio enthusiasts who like to try different pre or power sections, and will be of particular appeal to those who see an advantage in getting an up-to-date pre to go with a much loved power section, or for those who see the benefit of grabbing a great deal on a superior power amplifier that's on special or traded in.

The Other Way Ahead: many of us already own good surround receivers, and these usually have multi-channel pre-outs. An upgrade path, therefore, is to use the existing surround receiver as the pre-amp-processor, and get a better power amplifier to attach to it. This can have transformative effects, particularly if you're running speakers that appreciate the extra drive, and many do.

Why 4k Won't Be The Magic Bullet

Andrew Everard has an article on the woes facing the big screen manufacturers. It has become depressingly hard to make money in this market, and each year we see a new package of goodies which try to add value to the items.

Have a read of Andrew's piece, which goes through the various things that have been, or are about to be offered, and see if you agree with his assessment of the potential, or lack of it, to generate profits. The joker in the pack is a big Chinese compnay.

Product Of The Week

There is no manufacturer of quality audio with more obvious dedication to digital audio and streaming than Naim. Their range of products has grown to such an extent that they can rightfully claim to be on target as The Future Of Hifi.

As I noted in another item The End Of Physical Media, they are hosting with Len Wallis Audio (for whom I also write) a special evening presentation of their range this coming Wednesday evening at 6pm, at the shop, 64 Burns Bay Road, Lane Cove. Bookings 02 94276755, or email "".

Full details of their range are on their website, with pricing from $2000 for the UnitiQute Amp/Streamer/Radio.

Fully Modern Shelf System Amp/HDD/Network $599

We're used to iPods becoming smaller every year, but this product has such a long list of capabilities that it beggars belief. To start at the everyday level, it's a CD/DVD player that can also burn a disc. It's a hard drive storage unit with 500GB capacity (upgradeable to 2TB), which will hold a truckload of program material. It's internet connectable, so can access Internet Radio.

Being a networked device, it can stream from your other storage, stream from the internet, and act as a server to send its own stored audio elsewhere. Control is via the touch-screen, or the supplied remote control. It can also be controlled via web interface from your PC or smartphone.

Having analogue “line in” means you can even record to it from LP or other analogue sources.

Supports HD FLAC / HD WAV and various audio codecs. Unlike a traditional Hi-Fi system, X10 supports various audio format such as Hi-Res WAV, Hi-Res FLAC, MP3, FLAC, WAV, WMA, AAC, M4A, PCM, OGG, M3U, PLS, AIFF, AIF, Apple Lossless Audio Codec(ALAC).

The inbuilt 2 x 30w amplifier means it can function as a shelf system, making it the most advanced system of its type! Connections: apart from speakers out, there’s a digital optical out which can run into a DAC or another digitally enabled amplifier. There’s Ethernet, and three USBs, of which one is dedicated to PC feeds. There are analogue Line In and Line Out (3.5mm stereo), plus a headphone out, same size. It can be used purely as a source for another stereo system too.

The Disappearing DACs

No, we aren't quite at the stage of "seeing the world in a grain of sand" yet (thanks, William Blake), and DACs are not literally disappearing, but they are becoming so small as to be almost lost in your pocket. A while back the AudioQuest Dragonfly $A299) appeared, and was the first high quality and inexpensive "USB Key Drive" sized DAC, complete with asynchronous link.

Now Meridian have entered this race as well, with their Explorer DAC, priced at $A385.

If you look closely at the picture, the big components are the capacitors for the analogue section. The DAC chip is tiny! This is why we are seeing a flood of components hitting the market which deal very well with digitally stored music. There are DACs, Streamers, Servers with companion amp/streamer/DAB+ radio, and many now include network capability to add media streaming off the net.

We are now seriously entering the next exciting phase of the hifi continuum. And "nasty digital" quality is no longer the bugbear issue. Hallelujah! It's been such a boring argument for so long.

Not Remotely Possible?

The new wave of soundbars (see the 4TV and Sonos Playbar below) have adopted a new approach to remote control. They can both learn your TV's Volume Up/Down and On/Off commands, so can be controlled in a basic way with just that.

So, what's the problem with this? Unless the TV can have its own speakers muted, you're going to be turning them up and down too, which is going to result in two lots of sound, probably out of sync, but at the very least blurring the clarity.

How many TVs allow this? You'd think these days it should be possible with most of them, given the vast menu systems they have. But a quick check of one major brand yesterday revealed no such control function, and I suspect that the majority of sets will fail this one.

What next? Does the insertion of a headphone jack turn them off? That's another way around it, if it works. But it won't always be the case.

Solution? Use two buttons, such as the coloured buttons, that are inactive most of the time and usually don't make the TV do anything unless it's in "TV Guide" or setup of some sort. Make Red up and green down, or whatever you like.

Soundbars have to be easy, to pass the Granny test if they are to sell on the basis of being a simple solution. A separate remote might still sometimes be the best option.

At least with the Sonos Playbar you can control it with the App. Not that the use of a phone/iTouch/iPad is going to cut it with Granny, but it will help for quite a few people.

Arcam Locks Onto Sonos

Sonos is a success, and the typical Hifi industry response to any success is to look at it and then either imitate it (if possible) work the angles around it. One angle begging to be worked is the DAC side of things, as the Cullen Mod series of ZP90/CONNECT components pointed to.

Arcam have jumped on this rather cleverly, coming out with a tailor-made Sonolink DAC that fits beautifully under the CONNECT and costs just $299. It's a great idea for those who want to wring a bit more quality out of Sonos at the right price. Available in March 2013.

Canton Duo Wireless

The Canton Duo speakers are nicely finished in gloss white or gloss black, and are a bookshelf - sized two-way design (approx 245x140x160mm-hwd), each with its own 50w inbuilt amplifier. Power is via a step-down transformer. On the back panel you'll find a Zone Switch (1,2,3) and a Channel Button, which controls selection of the Red, Green or Blue channel - this has to correspond with the colour selected on the transmitting dongle called the "Stick".

The Stick can accept signals via USB or 3.5mm analogue stereo jack. Once you have the speakers connected and channel selected, signal flowing from your computer or other source, you can then adjust the volume via the IR remote control, which also has iPod controls on it.

I connected the Stick to my computer via USB, and it fairly quickly found the software to install it. I pressed the button on it to get blue indictated (to match the display on the speakers), and started a track from iTunes. That's all it took.

The sound from the Canton Duo is rich and easy-listening, but lacks a bit of top end sparkle. It's a pleasant but not arresting sound, and there's no obvious EQ adjustment. If using a source with EQ, you could go for it that way, but some adjustment in the system itself would be preferable.

An alternate use for these speakers would be as wireless rear effects in a surround sound setup, with the added benefit that you can easily relocate them at short notice and use them as music speakers in another area. To make the rear effects usage happen, simply connect the rear effects pre-out L+R from your surround receiver to the Stick via an adaptor (2RCA >> 3.5mm) and away you go.

All products of this type will inevitably be measured against the Sonos alternative. At $799 a pair, the Cantons are about the same as two PLAY:3 powered speakers from Sonos. Given the wider range of sources immediately available to the Sonos, and the audio being slightly in the favour of the PLAY:3 pair (complete with EQ adjustments) I'd say the best bet for Canton would be to look at pricing. Apart from those considerations, they're a good item. Perhaps they've arrived here just a bit late to be cutting edge. Pricing in the UK can be as low as £400 (say $600 here) and I'd say that would tip the balance in the right direction for them.

Audio Entertainment Console?

I attended the new release showing of a new type of ("don't call it a soundbar") Soundbar - the 4TV2112 2.1 Channel, by AudioXperts. Priced at $1999, no different to most quality units on the market, it has some very attractive aspects. The principal ones are that it sounds excellent, even on music - without any separate subwoofer - while being marvelously compact. Wives and interior decorators will be thrilled. It has four high excursion drivers handling the bass, two low profile rectangular midranges per channel as well as one 20mm fabric dome tweeter per channel. Amplification is super-efficient class D and generates very little heat.

The flat, black gloss glass enclosure is a mere 60mm in height, plus or minus a bit depending on whether you add the included "lazy Susan" turntable base. Ideally this goes under your flat screen on a black glass TV stand, and the whole thing then virtually disappears. Sound is brought into it by the various inputs: Optical from your TV, or coaxial from anywhere, USB, analogue (RCAs or 3.5mm), and last but not least, Bluetooth.

This means that apart from doing the sound from your TV, it can be your music stereo as well, with material sourced from pretty much any source you care to connect. It wins on so many levels that I can see it being a popular alternative to a conventional component stereo solution - useful in any room where you have a TV.

There's a touch-panel for controls on the top, but no remote supplied - it can learn your TV's remote codes for on/off and volume and be controlled from that remote.

There's another model coming soon, the 4TV 5122 5.1 channel, to be priced at $3999.

UPDATE: Sonos have just announced a new product too - PLAYBAR

Details here

What Sonos have ben clever about is ... pretty much everything they've done. For a while people surmised that they'd have to get into wireless video, because being just audio was an incomplete package. What they've done with PLAYBAR is say to us "get the picture and soundtrack into your TV by whatever means you like, we'll then make it sound good for the right price and in a compact form".

So, have they trumped AudioXperts 4TV? To a degree, yes. But the 4TV still has the low-profile shape that was missing from the marketplace, as well as excellent sound. The PLAYBAR really needs the SUB to sound good, so the two products are the same price, effectively. Where Sonos still has the edge is in the ease of integration into your multi-room music distribution system, and the additional advantage of presenting a total 5.1 channel solution for $2800 with the two PLAY:3 as rears. Not bad going for a company that was "just audio".

Everything OD-11 Is New Again

It was only last week that I was writing about some cool older speakers for the Retro Page. Among them were the Sonab OA5 Mk2, and the little OD-11 cubes, designed by Stig Carlsson in the 1970s.

Then lo and behold, I came across a mention of this company called Teenage Engineering, who make things like the small OP-1 synthesizer/drum machine. They are at CES Las Vegas right now with another "new" product, which turns out to be exactly the OD-11 but updated to become an active, wireless, streaming music system. They've built in all the electronics required, and added a disc-shaped remote control that you touch to turn on and rotate to adjust volume. You can see a video presentation here. It's a bit slow loading at first so pause it for a while.

But the OD-11 looks exactly as it did. The company rep, or maybe he's even the designer, said they chose the OD-11 for its timeless design and great audio quality. How about that?

I guess it's only a matter of time before someone at CES shows a B&O record player with internet streaming. Incidentally, I'm going to have to get a drum app for my iPad, and see if I can come up with some drumming to accompany my piano practice. The Clavinova has a built in metronome, but it's not the same! I want some subtle drumming and some of that nice tish! sound.

The Digital High End - NAD Master Series

OK, so the average price per piece is not that high in Audiophile terms, unless you add one of their big amps. But that's a good thing, right? There are, of course, pricier DACs and players out there, but these ones will be within the reach of more people. Officially announced at the 2012 CES, NADs Master Series Digital Suite is here in Australia in a fairly timely fashion. It is still being taken on a roadshow tour around the UK, so we've not been left dangling for too long. Pricing in Australia is very fair.

The suite consists of the M51 DAC, M52 Music Storage Vault and M50 Digital Player - which plays discs, or streams from storage.Whether you add the NAD M2 Digital Amplifier, or their M3 Amplifier, or something else, is a secondary issue.

The appearance of such a group of carefully matched and digitally dedicated components is another pointer to where enthusiasts' hifi is headed, as if we didn't know! Demand for the M51 DAC outstripped supply for the past six months, it's such a good performer for the money, and is a great price here, $1499, compared to other products in this higher quality field, and even better priced than overseas.

NAD and Peachtree are leading the push towards a disc-less future, putting the emphasis on digitally sourced music stored on your home network. As broadband becomes quicker and online services with higher quality downloads appear, we might see a High Definition version of the current crop of online music libraries. At present they are few, and it's a pay-for-download rather than a streaming service.


Audiophiliac's Speaker of The Year

Steve Guttenberg at cnet has selected the KEF LS50 as his speaker of the year. It's a two-way concentric, using a ribbed metal woofer. He gives it a good rap, but at $US1499/pair this is no cheapie, so you'd expect pretty amazing performance.

Many Oppotunities

We tend to think of Oppo in the context of its excellent Blu-ray/Universal Disc Players. Overseas they're also into phones and tablets. Here's a link to all the Engadget pages on Oppo products.

iPod Dock On Death Row

"The day the music died, I started singing … bye, bye Miss America Pie."

When did the music "die"? Was it when Buddy Holly went? Otis Redding, or Elvis? Or John Lennon? Lennon famously said that Elvis died when he went into the army.

For others it was when CD took over from LP, or when MP3 blitzed all other forms and fitted your entire collection of favourite tracks into your pocket. Not possible in my case; I have way too many favourite "tracks", some of them symphonic in length. Since I prefer to store at Apple Lossless level or higher, that also restricts the pocket idea. But I digress already.

The musical artifact that is in the process of dying before our very eyes is the iPod Dock. Having created the wave of enthusiasm for their format, which blew away all the other contenders and had every man and his manufacturing dog making the one type of coupling for docks, Apple signed the death warrant for the dock as we've known it by changing to the new smaller Lightning connection on all new product from late this year.

So, all those docks we have at home or in the car, or in portable gear, become useless as soon as we either buy a new device with the new connection, or the iPod we use ceases to function for some reason. What next? No biggie, all those phones and new models of iPod can do wireless linkage via either AirPlay or Bluetooth. Buying a new B&W A7 powered speaker system, or even a new surround sound receiver these days, means you're buying a system that accepts wireless connection. The dock will henceforth wither on the vine, and go the way of the Compact Cassette - for which it's hard to buy a new player any more.

Not that wireless is all beer and skittles; not by a long way. Yesterday I found that joining my kitchen music player to the network via the "push button on modem/router" method had done something mysterious whereby the household Apple devices and Android phone had all lost their connection - which I had only set up two weeks ago when I had to replace the cable modem/router!

I tried everything before asking for help from son Matthew, who come into the computer remotely and made some changes to the security settings in the Netgear CG3100 and he eventually got it back on the air - but the fix was not obvious even then, took a little while to nut out when all the usual ones failed. So, as is increasingly the case these days, the solution has to be pretty bulletproof if you're going to sell it to the mums and dads.

Computer based equipment can do amazing things, and the world of entertainment is turning into a smorgasbord of treats. But when computing solutions fall over, they go from very smart to very dumb in a hurry, and can stay dumb to the point of catatonic and comatose until brain surgery by a skilled operator revives them. Be warned. Our friend the dock has a smarter brother, the wireless connection, but he's somewhat unstable.

New Spin On Gramophone

Many moons ago, I was involved in a classical record and CD shop. It became also a hifi shop then added surround sound as well. But at the heart of the business was the music. We were more classical than pop, with a variety of jazz, ethnic and folk in the mix too.

If there was one magazine that was essential reading every month it was Gramophone, from the UK. The spin-off publications like the Penguin Guide to Classical Recordings and to Jazz recordings, were our bibles. They were produced by the same sort of characters who did the reviews for Gramophone, and our buying public would happily take their advice and buy something we stocked if it got three stars, or better still a Rosette! The people at ABC Classic FM would have kept a close eye on Gramophone too, and the annual Gramophone Awards were eagerly followed, the equivalent of the Oscars and a guarantee of sales. The magazine also had a section for equipment reviews, and they were pretty reliable if a bit UK product oriented - to be expected I guess.

One of my earliest customers was a kindly man, and when he downsized his collection of records he gave me all his 78s (several hundred, in pristine condition) and all his Gramophone mags going back to 1947! There's no doubt that we had the biggest archive of Gramophone in any shop in Australia, and we kept the collection up to date until we closed in 1999. It was a sad fact of life at that point that all those magazines had to go into a skip since nobody wanted to take them on, and we had a shop to strip back to bare walls. The internet was just starting to be useful at that time, but I didn't reckon then on what has happened since, and particularly what has happened with Gramophone.

Now, for an annual subscription of 40 Stg., you get a year's worth of Gramophone magazine in electronic form to read on your computer or iPad, plus access to every edition of the magazine going back to 1923, some 90 years worth of archival material! I have to admit I'm tempted, just for old time's sake, to get it again and stay abreast of the new performers and the reviews of new recordings.

You can go to this page online for a short video presentation. The magazines can be accessed via a zinio-like format, easy to flick through, and there's a search engine too, so you can look for any performer or subject. This is just one more example of what's been done with other large projects like digitizing the Encyclopedia Brittanica, or all the National Geographics. There's no doubt about it, we have never had access to so much information so easily, and at such a small price.