Celebrating a full decade of serving audiophiles worldwide, it brings me great pleasure to announce our decade awards. The below products were carefully chosen and expect to see many surprises, including quite a few products no longer in current production! For me, awards have always been something truly earned. Anyone can start a magazine and give out many awards. Frankly, kissing the industry's proverbial rear end by handing out as many awards as possible reeks of making manufacturers extremely happy (and probably enhancing their revenue stream) plus seeing said magazine's name mentioned in advertisements. In the past decade Enjoy the Music.com® has presented a grand total of 59 products with an award. Simple math shows that this equates to a mere 5.9 products per year! Very slim pickings considering manufacturers continually desire Enjoy the Music.com® review their gear. During 2004 we reviewed an impressive 80 products!
As a brief background, my love for music commenced when mom was changing my diapers as i sang to her. Learned to soldering at age 5, began my classical training on drums and percussion at 9.... My first 'day job' was working for Heathkit Electronics... eventually working at various electronics stores from low to mid, and high-end audio. Obviously music is more than a hobby, it is a way of life. There are various passions celebrated, with music and high-end audio being amongst them (racing my car on road courses is another).
Below is my personal list of products that deserve to be heralded as something truly special. While not all products have been reviewed, there are a few very special items i have personally owned or enjoyed at great length. This is not to be an 'be-all end-all' list — as any audiophile worthy of their salt knows the LS3/5 or Quad loudspeakers are great products — but more of one that shows which products are held dear to my heart. And with that said, the winners are...
Auto racing enthusiast Guy Adams, who also is very active on the racing scene himself back in the day, decided to manufacture a turntable. Racers know that horsepower look impressive, but it is torque that generally wins races. My guess is that he loved the Linn LP12, but felt there needed to be more torque driving platter. So began the worlds first three-motor turntable that over a decade later began being copied by others. Audio Note bought out Guy Adams about five years ago, and so their latest offerings naturally are an evolution of Guy's brilliance. The power supply that operates the three motors is about the size of a 300 watt stereo amplifier and weights in at about 40 lbs! The Voyd Reference uses a three-spring suspension while the motors drive the lightweight Lexan platter by a flat rubber belt. While the turntable has been out of production for well over seven years, finding one for sale in the used marketplace is nearly impossible, as it appears no one is willing to part with it! Need i say more? As for sound, it has all the boogie of a Linn LP12 yet with the speed stability of a heavy platter turntable. When setup correctly (basic same as a LP12), the sound is phenomenal with impressive soundscape, tonal purity, and glorious highs and deep bass.
Toiling away at my computer nearly eight hours everyday there are two things that bring musical joy. Well, three things if you count loudspeakers as a pair. A pair of Reference 3a monitors and the Linn Classik. Since early 2000 the Linn all-in-one unit provides hour upon hour of musical bliss while continually proving how truly impressive it is at radio reception, CD playback, and feeding the loudspeakers. As a critical reviewer and musician, it takes something magical to satisfy my cravings and the Classik has easily accomplished this for well over five years! The unit also has preamplification output so it can feed another amplifier, should you desire bi-amplification or feeling yet another system within our home.
i shall make no excuses for the extreme pricing of the Audio Note DAC 5 Special as a Ford automobile would surely get you to the store and back, though it is nowhere near the same experience as driving my, er um, a Ferrari for a "leisurely tour" around the countryside. Consider the difference of watching a great love story on television versus living it for oneself. In one situation you do get a bit involved, yet your soul is not fully satisfied whereas the other situation is a deeply satisfying experience...
Let it be said here and now that i make no apologies for choosing the amazing Loth-X Silbatone C-102 vacuum tube pre-amplifier. It completely redefined for me just what a pre-amplifier should, and should not, do. With an amazing amount of custom made parts and 99.999 pure silver used throughout, this MM/MC/line stage is completely battery powered while internals are 100% hand wired on custom made extra thick Teflon. While there are too many other amazing details in the design of this unit to being waxing lyrically here, it is the music that matters. To quote my conclusion (though please read the entire review) "The end result is a unit that reproduces music beyond that of any other pre-amplifier ever heard... and i have heard more than one cares to mention. This is not a subtle improvement... What we have here is something so far beyond what i previously felt possible that the gauntlet has been raised for other designers to step up to the challenge."
Try as I might, I just haven't found anything to complain about to counterbalance the 7.5's cornucopia of sonic and ergonomic virtues. The 7.5 has far more connectivity than I will ever use — but I am unable to perceive any trade-off in musical quality that can be related to this unusually flexible architecture or to the well-thought-out user interface features that make it such a pleasure to use. My advice? Don’t buy any high-priced pre-amplifier without carefully listening to the VTL TL-7.5. it is my new reference preamplifier. — Senior Reviewer & Classical Music Editor Wayne Donnelly
Wavelength Audio cardinal X-1
The Wavelength Audio Cardinal, in its various forms, has been a mainstay within my system for nearly a decade. Now in X-1 version, these pair of 300B-based monoblocks have been relied upon for many thousands of hours driving my reference system. The tubes are easily accessible to facilitate changing and experimentation and have never given me one problem after approximately a decade of use. The only time they have needed to be sent back to the manufacturer is to receive the upgrade from basic status to now X-1, so expect reliability without nary a quirk.
Yes, balanced mode input was a clear improvement over single ended, and the current mode input failed to show any real advantage over the latter, but perhaps would have done had I not been using cables of the calibre of Nordost Valhalla. With the direct input was the clear winner on all counts, the aural results were clear: an unmistakably more immediate, cleaner and more transparent sound. Detail was even better resolved, and the sound had a more tactile feel. Which brings us almost to the bottom line. No excuses here about cost, weight and size. These things go with the territory at the audiophile bleeding edge. If you want practicality, go buy a sack of flour and learn to bake bread. This is hard core audiophile amplification which in most respects does nothing less than define a new state of the art for music reproduction in the home. I can't wait to hear what Halcro does next. — Alvin Gold
The smoothness of the highs combined with amazing midrange clarity and speed are joined by well-defined bass. While some may hint at the obvious comparison, or avoid saying it, allow me to be perfectly clear here. If i was Dave Wilson of Wilson Audio i would be very nervous his over $20,000 Watt/Puppy sales will significantly diminish once word gets our about these loudspeakers. If you are looking to spend from $3,000 to $20,000 on a pair of full range floorstanding loudspeakers, it would be (frankly) stupid not to audition the HPS-938. Yes, they are that impressive!!!
Back in the 1980's KEF was a wonderfully British company making their own drivers with a top-notch team. While their top range model was the 107 that produced deeper bass (down to 20Hz), after careful auditioning the 104/2 was the obvious winner. KEF's 104 model saw various versions and the 104/2 was the final result of the product's evolution. This relatively high sensitivity loudspeaker, at 92dB/W/m at 4 ohms, produced frequencies from 55Hz to 20kHz (+-2dB) with five drivers. The tweeter is KEF's T33 25mm (1") silk dome with slight horn loading. It was flanked above and below by the B110 100mm (5") doped Bextrene midrange cone in a D'Appolito technique. Bass was produced by a pair of coupled cavity B200 200mm (8") paper cone drivers with their center magnets connected by a metal pole.
The midrange/tweeter/tweeter panel (weighting about 25 lbs) is completely removable from the woofer cabinet (at nearly 45 lbs) and both loudspeaker cabinets are very rigid. Each midrange is enclosed in its own sealed section to reduce any interaction while the tweeter is press fit to the cabinet via a rear screw. The internal woofers' output exits via a flanged port the same size as the midrange units. And thus the brilliance! The tricks up the 104/2; proverbial sleeve is that the sound wave of the midrange and the bass drivers is the same size, plus add in the point source-like output from the midrange/tweeter/midrange D'Appolito configuration. On the rear of the cabinet is a pair of binding posts for the upper frequencies and another pair for the woofers so you could bi-wire/bi-amplify.
As for sound, the highs are smooth and midrange is very well presented. Bass down to about 50Hz is excellent and tuneful. Do not use the KEF Kube, an external box said to enhance bass down to lower frequencies, as this clouds the sound. If you need lots of bass below 50Hz get a separate subwoofer. The soundscape thrown by my pair of 104/2 is remarkable! When present, not only is the sound totally enveloping, but you get height information too.
It is not just "another" horn. It is not just "a very good speaker." The Avantgarde Acoustic Uno is something really exceptional among the others. It is the most dynamic, most analytical and the most room compatible (horn) I have met. But most of all plays live music! — Vangelis Lazarou
What i am trying to say here is that beware... these speakers are so transparent that they will, i repeat, will tell you about the synergy of your system or lack thereof. In my listening room the Unos unbelievable all out clarity and immense dynamic capabilities was enough for me to part with my own hard earned cash. The only drawback is the upper bass to midrange merging, though for a few more dollars the Avantgarde Acoustic Duo as reviewed in Superior Audio easily solves this circumstance. Me? These horn loudspeakers have me smitten, and you just might too. — Steven R. Rochlin
The Von Schweikert dB-100 loudspeaker establishes a new category
of high-sensitivity loudspeakers for Single Ended Triode and other low-powered
amplifiers — and a formable alternative to horns. The combination of 100 dB/w/m
sensitivity with fast, deep and powerful bass has until now been virtually a
contradiction in terms for SET devotees.
The dB-100 does everything extremely well — tonality, detail, dynamics, extension, soundscaping, imaging. No horn system I know, with or without subwoofers, matches the smoothness, coherence and dynamics of the dB-100. At $10,000/pair, it's an extraordinary value. Audition it against the speakers at twice the price. — Wayne Donnelly
In one form or another, the Reference loudspeaker has been in my home for nearly a decade! This type of staying power is exceedingly rare given today's digital fave of the month. With well over tens pairs of loudspeakers in my home, the Reference 3A MM De Capo-i are my proverbial "desert island" pick. How shall i say this other than these four words: "i am in love". From top to bottom the sound reproduced from the Royal Reference 3A MM De Capo-i is smooth, clean, clear and very fast. Not as fast as the $15k Avantgarde Acoustic Duo hornspeaker, yet extremely fast and possibly unmatched within this lower priced ($2.5k), non-horn category. If you are considering purchasing loudspeakers from $2,000 to $4,000, these are a must audition.
With fast transient response, tuneful bass, and smooth midrange and highs, the Almarro A318A is a bargain! The slightly recessed highs could be a blessing for those with systems that are a touch tilted upward. As for inner resolution, within this price range i have not heard anything coming close. The high quality construction with point to point wiring in concert with clean layout surely aids in this respect. There is little to dislike and much to admire. The included five year warranty is a show of confidence in the unit's reliability.
Accessory / Tweak
Despite a tumultuous year in South Florida, I managed to review a few remarkable pieces of gear. I liked two pieces enough to want them for myself. One certainly deserves Honorable Mention: Quantum’s RT800 black box power line conditioning magic improves clarity, instrument isolation and - most importantly - dynamics; at a reasonable price. But the "equipment" which noticeably affects every nuance of musical and movie notes, from rumbling bass to squeaky treble, is the full room treatment of the RealTraps' not-so-mini white acoustic panels. "No matter how high a plain upon which your home movie and music reproduction system rests, I am certain the fresh air of MiniTraps can lift any modest or superb A/V system to a new plateau. Strongly recommended for tweaking audiophiles." -- A. Colin Flood
Accessory / Tweak
While various power filtration and conditioning devices have come and gone, Furman Sound has served the highly critical professional audio marketplace for years. In my room with my equipment, a dead quiet back background, beautifully portrayed harmonics, astonishing macro and micro dynamics, gobs of inner resolution, and an overall ease of portrayal. Yes my systems had all the previous in spades, yet using the new unit simply allowed for a tad bit more of the same. This should not be taken as the Furman Sound unit providing small benefits, it should demonstrate that even under the best of circumstances an improvement could be produced. While you (generally) will not find Furman Sound in audiophile stores, it can be purchased from professional audio dealers. In my humble opinion audiophiles should recognize the benefits of certain professional products and not some of the "snake oil" and "black science" that other power device manufacturers proclaim. -- Steven R. Rochlin, Editor
This man knows the technical stuff and explains it extremely well. The book is very well written and well laid-out too. It is a 'must read' audio primer for the serious enthusiast. This book will make it easier to discern good audio engineering from sheer marketing hype. — George Pappas
"The Complete Guide to High End Audio" by Robert Harley and Keith Jarrett is a must read for both the novice and seasoned high-end enthusiast. Everything is covered in the book from basic electronics to the new emerging formats such as SACD and DVD. The authors did an exceptional job in presenting technical issues in an easy to read and easy to understand format even for those of us that are technology challenged. I really recommend the book for those who are contemplating getting involved in the wonderful world of high-end audio. The book will also prove to be a wonderful source for those trying to wring out that last bit of performance out of their systems. Highly recommended. — Rufus Smith
The Complete Guide to High-End Audio gives you a great foundation to start on, or even fills in the gaps for those of us who already have a decent amount of audio mumbo-jumbo in our heads. It is a must for anyone who wants to learn more about audio, and in the long run, get more bang for the buck. For $29.95, it would be false economy not to buy a copy. —Rob Selina