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September 2007
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Best Audiohpile Products Of 2007 Blue Note Award
Best Of 2007 Blue Note Equipment Awards
As Chosen By Editor Steven R. Rochlin
And The Staff At Enjoy the Music.com

Click here to e-mail the staff

 

  Welcome to our seventh annual audiophile equipment awards! Our Best Of 2007 Blue Note Award recipients have been carefully chosen after much debate and consideration. It is a very rare occurrence that we bestow such accolades towards a products. While there are many great pieces of equipment now available in the marketplace, the below list is compiled from products we reviewed within the past 12 months of what we found to merit extra special attention. During the past year Enjoy the Music.com has reviewed approximately 100 products, including those covered within our Viewpoint articles and our sister publication Superior Audio. Items from Superior Audio are awarded here within our Review Magazine, so they do indeed count as items to be recognized as earning special recognition.

As always, let is be said here and now that we make no apologies that in 2007 our staff found only a small fraction of products to receive an award. We do not carry over products from the previous year's award or include products that were never officially reviewed to fatten up the list. We do not add products in hopes of satisfying an advertiser, so conspiracy theorists can look elsewhere to satisfy their desire. Only one analog and two digital source, not including the complete Naim X system, have been awarded this year. We must a be a very picky bunch here at Enjoy the Music.com and i would have have it no other way!

And now the critically acclaimed staff at Enjoy the Music.com presents to you our choices for Best Of 2007 Blue Note Equipment And Music Awards. And the winners are:

 

Source Components

Van den Hul The Frog MC Phono Cartridge
Price: $2895
Click here to read the complete review here.

  Get off the upgrade-itus game and enjoy this cartridge i nickname 'The Gentleman's Choice.' So why would anyone review a cartridge that has been reviewed many times before and now stands at over a decade old? Easy, because newer is not always better! A.J. van den Hul's The Frog is perhaps one of the perfect examples of a nearly legendary design still in production today and easily holds its own. While it may not be the very last word for extension and innermost resolution, and there are upper line VDH models to fill that gap, this is one cartridge i could easily live with for many years to come. There is so much right that the very small errors of omission could easily be forgotten about.It saddens me to be critical of this turntable/arm/cartridge setup, as it is so wonderfully enjoyable that it makes me sit back and want to enjoy the music for the next decade... and beyond. And, my friends, that is precisely what it is all about. — Steven R. Rochlin

 

Source Components

EMM Labs CDSA SE Stereo SACD Player
Price: $9995
Click here to read the complete review here.

  In a year full of interesting and musical sounding review equipment, one piece of kit really stands out, forcing me to break open the piggy bank and cut back on booze and candy to support my addiction. This 2 channel CD/SACD player is actually a bargain at $9,995. It's not slick, it has no digital input or 5-channel analog output, and the ergonomics will take some getting used to. But the sound is everything you've always wanted from a digital player but never expected to hear. CD performance yields only to the Meridian 800 Signature Reference CD Player, while SACD sounds far better, offering vanishingly low distortion, an even frequency response across a very wide bandwidth, superlative resolution, realistic tonal color and a realistic soundspace. Reference quality! — Phil Gold

 

 

Source Components
Teac Esoteric SA-60 (or DV-60) Audio (Video) Disc Player
Teac Esoteric SA-60 (or DV-60) Audio (Video) Disc Player
Price: Varies depending on upgrades/unit
Click here to read the complete review here.

  Whether you purchase the SA-60 six channel Audio Disc player at $4600, or the DV-60 Audio/DVD Video unit at $5600, you'll be amazed at how good regular CD's, DVD-A's and SACD's can sound. I've been an analog fanatic, owning an Ampex 351 modded tape deck with second generation master tapes in the past, and a $50,000 turntable setup at present, but the sound I can get on my system now with this unit comes very close. I'd love to hear how their $26,000 P-03 D-03 unit sounds as I'd probably lust after that as well. — Bill Gaw

 

 

Preamplifier / Processing

Lexicon MC-12 Music & Cinema Processor
Price: $4500 (street)
Click here to read the complete review.

  If you want the best in surround sound in a maximum of 9.1 channels with some of the best room and speaker correction available, the Lexicon is the way to go. You haven't heard your system at its best unless you have room correction. And right now, as they have now come out with an HDMI equipped unit, the videophiles are selling these at garage sale rates. I picked up a Level 4 unit that originally cost $14,000 for south of $4500. While it won't do HDMI or decode the new Dolby and DTS high definition audio, it will decode everything else, including 2 channel DVD-A especially well using the Lexicon algorithms, and pass through all previously decoded to analog digital with or without room correction. — Bill Gaw

 

 

Preamplifier / Processing
Antique Sound Lab Flora EX DT Line Preamplifier
Antique Sound Lab Flora EX DT Line Preamplifier
Price: $3000
Click here to read the complete review.

  This all-out purist line stage incorporates a lot of off-the-beaten-path ideas, from the autoformer-based volume control to the transformer-coupled output. Its sonic presentation is tonally accurate, harmonically complete, and outstanding in creating a broad, deep spatial rendering of the recording, with a startling degree of palpability and precise location of voices and instruments within the soundscape. Remote volume and polarity control add even greater value to what is, at $3,000, the best-sounding preamplifier this writer has heard. In fact, much of the Flora's real competition comes from top models in the five-figure price range. — Wayne Donnelly

 

 

Preamplifier / Processing

conrad-johnson CA200 Stereo Control Amplifier
Price: $6500
Click here to read the complete review.

  After listening deeply, intently and enjoyably to the CA200 I have come to this conclusion — if the audio world were filled with sane people, the CA200 would take over the high-end portion of that planet. It has all the input and output options any rational person could ever use, it looks superb, is solidly built and is backed by one of the true iconic audio firms. It has a nicely flat and truly broadband frequency response, dynamic power, a solid stage, and offers up a deeply satisfying, subtle and detail rich inner view. Put another way, when that inevitable day comes that my long-suffering wife says, "Enough! Walk away from the stereo and spend time with the family!," I'm calling C-J as the CA200 will satisfy the sane Robin, and the (slightly) insane me. — Todd Warnke

 

 

Amplification

Bella EXtreme 3205 Signature Vacuum Tube Power Amplifier
Price: $1550 with EL34 tubes, $1600 with 6550 tubes 
Click here to read the complete review.

  The Bella Extreme 3205 vacuum tube power amplifier produces a level of performance that exceeds the relatively modest cost of admission. I have listened to it almost exclusively since its arrival and do not find myself continually longing for something better. With high reliability, I continue to be impressed with its performance. It is a good value, and can satisfy critical listeners. Can easily recommend it to both the newbie and well-seasoned tube audio aficionado. — Nels Ferre

 

 

Amplification

Silbatone Ji-300MKII Integrated Tube Amplifier
Price: $15,000
Click here to read the complete review.

  Without a doubt the Silbatone Ji-300MKII far exceeds that of virtually all other integrated amplifiers offered at any price, and i have heard $90,000 units! Imagine, soundscape, harmonics, inner detail... you get it all. Output transformers have been upgraded from the previous version and now use semisilverfoil to semisilverfoil nickel core. Silver mica capacitors and all silver internal wiring are just a few of the super high-end parts within this design. Will make no apology concerning the price. If you want to enjoy the performance of a Lamborghini the price comes naturally. Until you hear the Silbatone Ji-300MKII for yourself, you may never know what is genuinely possible. — Steven R. Rochlin

 

 

Naim Audio X System

NAC-122x Remote Preamplifier
Stageline Phono Preamplifier
NAP-150x Power Amplifier
Flatcap 2x Power Supply
Price: $8844
Click here to read the complete review.

  A music lover can invest in a single brand system and be guaranteed compatibility, as the components from a single manufacturer are designed to work together. The Naim Audio X system is tonally as neutral as one could hope for, with tight and tuneful bass. My favorite aspect of the system was it's smoothness combined with excellent resolution. To say that I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Naim system would be a massive understatement. I found the gear to be quite attractive, intuitive in use, and excellent performance. This is a system that could please both the "Hi-Fi Nut" as well as those not similarly afflicted who want a great sounding system that looks both elegant and non-intrusive at the same time. Very highly recommended. — Nels Ferre

 

 

Loudspeakers

 Micropure Kotaro (CZ302ES) Minimonitor Loudspeaker
Price: $2800 per pair
Click here to read the complete review.

  Think of the Kotaro as a full-range design augmented by a super tweeter. A 4-inch coated paper cone essentially reproduces the entire musical spectrum, with frequency extension to about 15kHz. There are no crossover networks in the critical midband. The Murata spherical piezoelectric super tweeter fills in the extreme treble and extends the response into the ultrasonic range. The Kotaro redefined my expectations of what minimonitor sound is all about. It is without a doubt the most engaging, enjoyable minimonitor I've had the pleasure of auditioning in a lifetime of musical pursuit. When properly deployed within a system the Kotaro is capable of ascending to sonic heaven and singing like a little angel. — Dick Olsher

 

 

Loudspeakers
Bastanis Altas
 Bastanis Altas
Price: 1,300€ for the Atlas wood kit
5,200€ for fully assembled loudspeakers
3,400€ / $4,590for the Atlas kit (excluding baffles & cabinets)
Click here to read the complete review.

  Selecting optimal loudspeakers to match match low-watt amplifiers is crucial if you are to achieve the best results. This is especially true where the low-watt amplifier is based on a single-ended triode. The Bastanis Altas produce huge images and convey emotion to such an extent that they are my reference in this category. Bass from their 15 inch actively powered bass drivers perfectly integrates with the open baffles equipped with twin 12-inch widebands and dipole tweeter. Use your imagination to design the finish of these loudspeakers to according to your preferences, then listen to musical performances that thrill and deeply satisfy. — Clive Meakins 

 

 

Loudspeakers
AV123 Rocket Strata Mini Loudspeaker
 AV123 Rocket Strata Mini Loudspeaker
Price: $1995 per pair
Click here to read the complete review.

  If we look at the big picture you will find many hundreds of speakers ranging up to this $2000 Dollar price point. You will also find that the full range (27Hz to 35KHz) Strata Minis clearly dominate. There is one more fact I can add to punctuate my conclusions. I expected these speakers to follow an industry wide cost cutting trend and use a cheaper class D digital bass amplifier. What I found was a very respectable Class AB 350 watt solid-state power pusher. I should have figured that out the minuet I saw the big black heat sink bolted to the back panel. Echoing the strong encouragement of some of my friends that have sat in my listening chair, I am going to buy them! — Ron Nagle

 

 

Loudspeakers
Role Audio Sampan Loudspeakers
 Role Audio Sampan Loudspeakers
Price: $1995
Click here to read the complete review.

  Rarely do I have the opportunity to walk around the sound stage, inspect Norah Jones from behind, check the rivets on the drum kit to confirm that Keith Moon's 1965 Drums really was a Premier single-bass, or otherwise wax pedantically on correct microphone placement. Never for me has a sound-stage indicated to me the different heights of the horns of John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley and Miles Davis's during the glory days of Kind of Blue. All that changed for me with the Sampans. — Dr. Jeff Rabin

 

 

Accessory / Tweak

Furutech Cables (Various) 
Price: Varies, see review.
Click here to read the complete review.

  Overall I found that I totally enjoyed my time with the Furutech Evolution cable system (digital, analog, loudspeaker and power cable). If I had to sum up the most notable part of my evaluation, I would have to say it excels in control. I might have heard cables that were able to do more with certain aspects of playback, but can't remember any that had the control these had without some sort of penalty in other areas. I would wholeheartedly recommend these cables to someone looking for more from their present system. — Brett Rudolph 

 

 

Accessory / Tweak

Walker Audio Prelude Record Cleaning 
Price: $80
Click here to read the complete review.

  By far the best record cleaning solution this reviewer has tried. While it has three steps which take about 6 to 10 minutes per disc using the Loricraft Record Cleaner, your recordings will be pristine and reveal never-before-heard details with next to digital quietness if the surfaces don't have any scratches. The kit costs $80 and will do about 100 discs, the limiting factor being the amount of Step 2 fluid. With enough distilled water for about 200 discs and enough enzyme powder for several hundred, I would suggest getting an extra bottle or two of Step 2 to minimize the cost per disc. — Bill Gaw

 

 

Budget Beaters!
Factory Modified Jolida 102B
Factory Modified Jolida 102B
Price: $750
Click here to read the complete review.

  As you read the article on this little gem, you'll see that I rated it very high when compared to similar EL84 amps. If I had to rate this amp again, I think I might tick a few of the ratings upward. The longer I live with this amp, the more I love it (and I don't fall in love with much gear at all). The factory modified JoLida 102B does so much right and makes such good music, I simply can't live without it in at least one of my systems. At a puny 25 watts of tube power, you wouldn't think that it could handle low efficiency speakers…but it does, and quite admirably by the way. This amp has found its way into each and every article I've written since it showed up…and that is saying something. Let me put it this way, if Editor Steve would let me hand out two Blue Note Awards for a single piece of gear, the factory modified JoLida 102B would get them. This integrated is insanely good for the money. — Scott Faller

 

 

Budget Beaters!

Aperion Audio 632LR Mini Monitors
Price: $598
Click here to read the complete review.

  These are just fun little speakers. If you are an audiophile on a budget, you owe it to yourself to give the Aperion line of loudspeakers a try. They are very solid performers with a deep, clean presentation. They give you that down front presentation without having that 'in your face' character and fatiguing sound that so many inexpensive monitors do. The Aperion's perform equally well on aggressive music or something more laid back. Toss in a 30-day in home, risk free audition and these are a no brainer. — Scott Faller

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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