Best of 2002 Awards
My search for a definitive analog front end and a personal reference is over. While the Kuzma isn't the most expensive, exotic, or prestigious table out there, it is extremely well-built, reliable, and does exactly what a turntable should do. An extremely quiet bearing, coupled with an excellent drive system, and effective suspension and isolation give the Kuzma a real-world edge over other turntables I've lived with. The record clamp may not appear as sophisticated as a vacuum hold-down system, but it works well enough to satisfy my requirements. The upgraded pivot system of the Graham Model 2.2 gives better bass precision versus the Model 2.0 and nudges the spatial and detail resolution capabilities of this design to its full potential. -- Dick Olsher, Senior Editor
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. " -- Steven R. Rochlin, Editor
The Aleph 30 represents an upgraded version of the much praised Aleph 3, and is arguably Nelson Pass' finest implementation of his vision of single-ended Class A topology. Forget the ideology of tubes versus transistors, and don't let its "plain Jane" looks fool you: this is one amazing little amplifier. It weaves a magical musical carpet better than any solid-state amp I've auditioned to date. A delicious blend of solid-state and tube virtues, and at its asking price, is is undeniably a gift to music lovers. -- Dick Olsher, Senior Editor
This amplifier is a jewel, a treat to the eye and ear. It is not only an extraordinarily
beautiful piece of audio art, but also the best 300B amplifier I have heard. Engineering, parts and construction are superb, so good that the $20,000 price tag does not seem exorbitant.
The patented circuit employs Inverted Interstage Transformer Coupling (I ITC) to feed an optimized signal to the 300B tubes. A special circuit adaptation cancels DC magnetization in the I ITC transformer, enhancing bass and harmonic richness. The EC-300B contains one power, two I ITC and two output transformers.
Last year, along with Dick Olsher I nominated the Manley Labs Stingray integrated amplifier for a product of the year award, which makes this year's choice harder as I am returning to Manley Labs and nominating the Neo-Classic SE/PP 300B. Perhaps it is their roots and continuing endeavors in the pro-audio world that allows Manley to create products that are unfailingly musical. Their experience in the pro market would also explain their sophisticated and yet bulletproof engineering as one thing a working musician or studio simply cannot accept is downtime due to equipment. But nothing except for the sheer joy with which they approach their work explains both the whimsy and the fanatical attention they lavish on everything that leaves their hands. The Neo-Classic SE/PP 300B fits every last one of those descriptions.
Musical? It is the most musical amplifier I have had in my house. It is switchable from single-ended to push-pull on the fly, and allows for feedback adjustment from 0 to 10 dB, in one dB steps, also on the fly, which adds up to a pretty sophisticated design to me. Easy to setup, bias and operate, it is as bulletproof as tubes get. And the design! Neo-Classic hardly begins to get it right. The narrow, deep chassis, suspended on integral cones is as lovely as gear gets. Best of all, it sounds better than it looks. The Manley Neo-Classic 300B is as good as audio gets. -- Todd Warnke
This amplifier is so deceptive and yet so rewarding. With a tube complement of three 12AX7 and four EL34EH, it looks as if it could be any of a dozen amplifiers. But it stands out from the others, way out. It is dead-quiet at all volume levels from complete to nil attenuation. It offers bass slam and fast mids and highs which take you unaware - can you really believe the 30 watt specification it shares with other, similar amplifiers? The Audiomat Prélude Reference is the perfect demonstration of why specifications give only the roughest guide to evaluating audio gear. It pulls so much from your source that you may find yourself suddenly either much more contented or much more dissatisfied with your existing gear.
Above all, you appreciate the magic this amplifier creates. It has the precise resolution and accuracy to give you the tactile satisfaction of hearing the abrasion or brushes on drum, the metal of the cymbal, the tugging of the rosined bow at the violin's string, the muttering of the bass viols, the snap of the bari sax's reed. It also provides a pleasant visual experience. Its aluminum face plate and cover carry two equally sized knobs, two tiny switches, two lights and an infra red sensor (for its minimal remote control) When you remove the cover, the build quality and the simplicity of layout add another level entirely to its visual aesthetics. -- Neil Walker
The Blue Heron's speed, tonal accuracy, spatial resolution and top-to-bottom coherence seem improbable in a front-firing box loudspeaker, and its startling bass and dynamic capabilities belie its compact dimensions. Priced at $8800/pair -- more for some of the many gorgeous, exotic available veneers, this beautifully constructed and finished loudspeaker stands up comfortably to comparisons with far more expensive competitors.
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
I doubt there is a better all-around loudspeaker for domestic use in the world than the Monitor 40. It transcends all talk of warm, cool, analytic, sensuous and very simply reproduces an utterly convincing version of what live music sounds like in a live venue. It needs some space and it needs a minimum of 100-125 watts into 6 ohms. It will reward a high quality front end, excellent electronics, and fine cabling; but it will perform extremely well on less than reference quality equipment. To my ears, it is the standard by which all high-end loudspeakers are judged. -- Bob Neill
There must be a good reason the Nirvana Audio S-X Ltd. loudspeaker cable is the only one to make Enjoy the Music.com™'s Best Of 2002 Awards. While not inexpensive, it is far less than many of the competition. With a solid background in engineering concerning the physics of transferring signals through cabling, the Chief designer and owner of Nirvana Audio (Stephen Creamer) has improved his already well received and critically acclaimed SL series with the new S-X Ltd. While the design is far beyond my complete understanding (see specification within the review for details), the S-X Ltd loudspeaker cable thoroughly and easily unseated all other loudspeaker cables due to the sheer speed, accuracy, and incredible definition. Those looking for the proverbial rose-color glasses in cables should seek other alternatives. Music lovers who seek the truth may find it with this loudspeaker cable. i would easily put the S-X Ltd. against loudspeaker wire costing a multiple of times their price (including the all silver jobbies). -- Steven R. Rochlin, Editor
I don't even like the idea that A.C. power cords can affect the sound quality of the components we use to enjoy the music. In fact they do and as often is the case, the better your sound system the more noticeable the differences. Yes, some A.C. power cords sound just about the same and cost has little to do with that! Yes, just replacing the power cord has little to do with all that A.C. wiring in your wall and from out in the street and back to the closest transformer to your home.
It may be heresy, but I do not think that the materials in power cords, how they are or are not configured or how excellent the connectors are constructed are the most important or only things, in power cord design; there is more than one way to "skin that cat".
The first A.C. power cord to demonstrate this sweeter or less added brightness to me, was the Purist Audio Dominus A.C. cord about three years ago; it is a very expensive power cord and extremely good. For two years, I had not heard its equal at any price. This past year I auditioned two other A.C. power cords that are its equal: the merely expensive Kimber PK10 Palladian and the bargain priced Harmonic Technology Fantasy 10. In the top half of the audible range, the three are almost identical in sound quality and lack of harshness or edginess with my components in my listening room. Read the complete comparison reviews as listed below and find out about this Kimber product's added bonus, reducing standing wave reflections resulting in a more solid, cleaner or tighter bass range reproduction. So far that is unique. Yes, the audio world may seem strange when A.C. power cords can be top products, but remember they can affect every other product. In addition, the effects are usually cumulative and can alter the sound of anything or everything from power conditioner to CD player, pre-amplifier and power amplifiers! Not all are affected to the same extent. -- Karl Lozier