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October 2006
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine

Best Audiohpile Products Of 2006 Blue Note Award

Best Of 2006 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 sixth annual audiophile equipment awards. Our Best Of 2006 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 what we found to merit extra special attention. During the past year Enjoy the Music.com has reviewed well over 80 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 2006 our staff found a grand total of only 22 products to receive an award. While no digital disc players made the grade, only a lone turntable was able to suffice as a completely independent source component. The Bolder Modified Squeezebox 2 and 3 do count as a source unit — not is the classic sense — and so the proliferation of networked computer audio enters the fray. We refuse to make compromises, pander to the industry, or to pick an item simply to fill a perceived gap within our awards. If within the past year our staff found no product that deserved an award within a type of product we simply do not list the category. Besides, this industry is filled with mind-numbing lists to cater to nearly every product they review.

And now i, Editor Steven R. Rochlin, with the critically acclaimed staff at Enjoy the Music.com present to you our choices for Best Of 2006 Blue Note Equipment Awards. And the winners are:

 


Source Components


Bolder Modified Squeezebox 2 and 3
Price: Varies depending on upgrades/unit
Click here to read the complete review here and here.

  Turning the audiophile world on its ear (for those that are paying attention), the Bolder modified Squeezebox version 2 and 3, simply put, are some of the best digital you may ever hear. Heed these words... sell your CD players while you can. — Scott Faller

 

 


Source Components


Altmann Micro Machines Attraction DAC
Price: Varies depending on upgrades
Click here to read the complete review.

  The Attraction DAC redefined my expectations of what is possible with the standard CD format — and at a very affordable price. Yes, there's plenty of detail and clarity, and the corpus of each instrument is portrayed with a believable foundation and a purity of harmonic texture. But above all else, the music possessed both body and soul. The music's full palette of emotions is propelled forward with verve, from a whisper to a scream, from a sweet refrain to a touch of the blues — a veritable "soul train" of emotions. Simply put, the AMM Attraction DAC represents a tour de force of digital artistry and is justifiably my current reference. — Dick Olsher

 

 


Source Components


Oracle Delphi MK V Turntable With Oracle/SME 345 Tonearm
Price: $6700
Click here to read the complete review.

  This turntable and arm combination, when used with the Clearaudio Stradivari cartridge and Ray Samuels Emmeline XR-10B phonostage, blew my socks off! From a virtually dead black background came forth both dynamic and rhythmic music. Vocals had that 'in the room' quality as my listening room was envelopes with wonderful sounds. This setup reignited my love of vinyl. — Steven R. Rochlin

 

 


Amplification


Singlepower Audio MPX-3 Headphone Amplifier
Price: $949, as tested: $1170
Click here to read the complete review.

  It is rather difficult to imagine how headphone listening can get much better than it is through the Singlepower MPX-3. That is not to say that I have not heard, for very brief moments, some outstanding headphone-amp combinations. What the MPX-3 does is to convey the emotional content of the music as well and as much as the detail, which tells me that it is doing a thorough job of both capturing all the bits of music as well as avoiding the pitfall of screwing them up, which would of course be much more noticeable through high-quality headphones. The amplifier reproduces music extraordinarily well at an attractive price. — Rick Jensen

 

 


Amplification


GREATech µVAC Stereo Amplifier
Price: €940
Click here to read the complete review.

  Let us get this out of the way right here and now, as this stereo amplifier with volume control produces 1 Watt per channel. As the guy who 'discovered' the 47 Labs Gaincard and Lehmann Audio's Black Cube years ago, here is another one of those amazing products for guys who like flirting with the bleeding edge of "audiophileness" (not a real, though writers take liberties). Sure the GREATech µVAC can easily power headphones, though my preference was in using this unit to power highly efficient loudspeakers. With the appropriate setup, everything from small jazz and orchestra to hardcore Rush and Madonna came through with startling clarity, stunning midrange, deep bass, and smooth highs. The imaging and 3D soundscape is perhaps among the best in the world! Leave it to me to spend vast time and effort in hopes of reaching a niche, of a niche, within a niche market! — Steven R. Rochlin

 

 


Amplification


Welborne DRD 300B
Price: $1732
Click here to read the complete review.

  Personally, the sound (or lack thereof) of this design is truly refreshing. It brings new levels of clarity to the realm of single ended designs. The stunning realism of the music gained by using the Welborne DRD 300B Monoblocks has been a welcome addition to my system. The DRD's 'sound' hasn't been the least bit fatiguing or harsh. The DRD's have given me the ultimate in clarity which has allowed me to dig deeper into the music than ever I have before. — Scott Faller

 

 


Amplification


Spectron Audio Musician III Class D Stereo Power Amplifier
Price: $4995
Click here to read the complete review.

  I closed my March review by announcing my intention to acquire this amplifier, which I believed would be a worthy standard against which to judge other amplifiers. Now, six months later, I fear that I failed to do full justice to it. Since the review appeared, the Musician III, which I had thought was already at its best, has continued to break in and develop. Its sonic presentation has gained in harmonic completeness and spatial depth. The high frequencies have taken on even greater sparkle and delicacy than before, while the low frequencies have gained additional authority without becoming overblown. I now consider the Musician III the most musically accurate and well balanced solid-state amplifier I have reviewed to date. Furthermore, only a small handful of tube amplifiers come close to equaling its musicality. Its audible subtlety, along with massive power and headroom, fine-grained articulation of musical detail, and sheer speed add up to a very special instrument for reproducing music of every kind. At $4995, this remarkable amplifier is a consummate bargain that belongs on the must-hear short list of every serious audiophile. — Wayne Donnelly

 

 


Amplification


KR Audio VA340 Integrated Amplifier
Price: $5,999
Click here to read the complete review.

  Oh, My G-d, this amp almost raises the dead! With the signal path of the preamplifier section being passive, active electronics are used in the switching and volume control. The unit can handle various tubes and emotionally, or perhaps psychologically, my reaction to the 3000BXLS and 842VHD differed. The 300BXLS showered me with music that was so compelling that I could not help but tap my toe, whatever the genre. The music moved me, emotionally, even if I was unfamiliar with it. With the 842VHD the KR invited me to engage the music at a cognitive level by presenting more detail closer to what the recording engineer probably heard when he laid down on the tracks. Listening through the 842VHD is a much more cerebral experience. This is not a case of one tube being right and the other tube wrong. I had different preferences for different types of music. The KR Audio VA340 is among the most transparent windows I've had the pleasure to hear. For overall enjoyment of the music, it is hard to imagine it getting any better than this. As an integrated design, it brings both beauty and simplicity of operation to the system. Maybe they will forget they loaned it to me for a few years. — Rick Becker

 

 


Amplification


Art Audio Vivo Amplifier
Price: $12,500 with standard 300B output tubes
           $13,000 with KR 300BXLS output tubes
Click here to read the complete review.

  Make no mistake, this is a tubed work of art (no pun intended). Those luscious little lifelike even order harmonic hints that people love cause the performers to appear as flesh, and in the Vivo they are there in abundance. The Vivo is a 300B tube amplifier has great resolving power and portrays music with a tangible, Organic quality. Imaging is wide, realistic, and detailed. While it is expensive, the Art Audio Vivo is a connoisseur's amplifier with a unique sound and I don't think there is another like it. Listen long and prosper. — Ron Nagle

 

 


Headphones / Earphones


Ultimate Ears UE-10 Pro Canal Earphones
Price: $900
Click here to read the complete review.

  You can make a case that these are wildly overpriced devices - $900 for these iPod accessories! But look at it another way, many people invest five figures to get loudspeakers that sound this convincing. So you can say they're an audiophile bargain. The bass performance is simply outstanding, the all-important midrange colorful and natural and the top end smooth as silk. Outstanding comfort and 25dB of isolation complete the picture. — Phil Gold

 

 


Loudspeakers


 Axiom Audio EP500 Subwoofer
Price: $1200
Click here to read the complete review.

  The active digital crossover separating both high pass from low pass, integrating satellites with subwoofer is an outstanding achievement. By and large, if my experience is any indication, subwoofers have deservedly garnered a bad reputation because they are, by and large, no good. They boom, they wallow, they stand out and are slow. When a subwoofer, such as the outstanding Axiom Audio EP500, does what it ought to it fill in the bottom line and gets itself the way out. This is what the EP500 accomplishes in spades. It's there, but it's not. From filling out the bottom half of Jacqueline Du Pre's Cello, Eminem's rants against his mother, to those ominous deep bass notes on the SACD of Dark Side of the Moon, all were listenable through the quarter wave pipes in a hallucinatory washing over you. — Jeff Rabin

 

 


Loudspeakers


Reference 3A Veena Loudspeaker
Price: Black $2999 
Click here to read the complete review.

  Internally, this two-driver speaker has no crossover! The midrange driver is directly connected to the output of the power amplifier while the tweeter has a custom flat plate parallel oil and paper low inductance capacitor. Does your mind fill in musical notes in the silence between passages? Can you see a rainbow in a musical composition? Than you most probably have Synesthesia and there is know known cure. The Veena speakers provide a window full of colors for these fortunate few. There are times I am given something to review and it turns out it is something I would rather not do. With the Reference 3A Veena I found something very desirable and am glad to share it with you. And so if for a moment I can suspend my disbelief and will transcend time and space... and become one with the music. Grant me this, than I will ask for nothing more. — Ron Nagle

 

 


Loudspeakers


 Devore Fidelity gibbon SUPER 8
Price: $4000 per pair
Click here to read the complete review.

  John Devore is a modest but direct and intelligent guy. His gibbon SUPER 8 loudspeaker, likewise, is modestly sized — amazingly so for the sound it generates. It is also incredibly real and direct sounding and is the obvious result of hundreds of hours of thought and design time. But the ultimate test of any component is how it moves you and the SUPER 8 moved me every time I used it. Must say that I enjoyed these loudspeakers more than just about anything I have reviewed in the past decade. True, accurate, easy to use to partner gear with, but at root, they just so bloody musical that they establish a new benchmark in the under $7500 price category. — Todd Warnke

 

 


Loudspeakers


Teresonic Ingenium
Price: Black $10,000 
Click here to read the complete review.

  I never would have believed it until I had them in my system but these Lowthers do bass. It isn't the weak, wimpy, lumpy bass you would expect from Lowthers in a typical bass reflex cabinet. These amazing sounding single driver, full range speakers dig deep into the low 30's without the help of a sub, an EQ, notch filters or any other device. It shows that ingenuity coupled with science still reign supreme. — Scott Faller

 

 


Loudspeakers


 Sound Fusion Hyperion Speakers
Price: $18,000 per pair
Click here to read the complete review.

  The Hyperion is a 2-way active speaker system sitting at the top of their range, priced from $18,000 and featuring NuForce amplification. At this price they'd better bring something special to the table. Speed, dynamics, punch, bandwidth, resolution... the list is unending. Partner them with a fine CD player with variable output, like the outstanding Meridian 808 Signature Reference, and you've got yourself an amazing system in the simplest possible configuration. I had more fun auditioning these speakers than any other component I can think of, simply because every CD, even the driest recording, sprang to life and I enjoyed the music so much. Toronto rocks! — Phil Gold

 

 


Loudspeakers


 Analysis Audio Amphitryon Planar / Ribbon Loudspeakers
Price: $24,000
Click here to read the complete review.

  According to my Webster's Dictionary, in Greek mythology Amphitryon was a king of Thebes whose wife was the mother of Hercules. Ol' Herc was fathered by Zeus, who seduced her by taking the form of Amphitryon. Analysis Audio asserts that their proprietary planar bass panel is the only such design featuring a flexible suspension attaching it to the frame. That system eliminates most of the distortions associated with direct membrane clamping, used by other planar builders. As for the music, while these loudspeaker may not be literally perfect, they come closer to it than any loudspeaker this guy has ever encountered — even those six-figure audio fantasies that populate our hobby these days. So, to paraphrase something I said a few months ago, I'm keeping the Amphitryons, and I expect to be listening to them for years to come.  — Wayne Donnelly

 

 


Accessory / Tweak


APC S-15 Power Conditioner 
Price: $1500
Click here to read the complete review.

  While not specifically made for the high-end audio market, the APC S-15 Power Conditioner has beat out any and all high-end AC line noise suppressors that have been in my system. At $1500 list, with markdowns into the $900 range, with four separate circuits for isolating digital from analog, video and amplifiers, and the ability to pass 900 watts continuously and peaks to 1700 watts, it surpasses units costing thousands more for cleaning up the garbage that passes for electricity coming into the average home. — Bill Gaw

 

 


Accessory / Tweak


DACT Dual Connect Precious Metal Audio Cables
Price: DC-I100/RCA 1 meter pair are $1090
Click here to read the complete review.

  In my five cable shootout the winner was the DACT Dual Connects because their improved definition of sound really makes you enjoy the music. The musical qualities of the DACT Dual Connects make them the audiophile's choice of the bunch. With solid gold wires and gold plated silver connectors, these cables had more detail and less chest in male vocals... and were the most lifelike with better imaging and a delicacy to the voices. They also have excellent bass extension. — A. Colin Flood

 

 


Accessory / Tweak


Various Dynamat Resonant Control Sheets
Price: Varies, but very inexpensive
Click here to read the complete review.

  This product was originally reviewed in August 1999, though have decided to break my rule of awarding items from only the past year... and for good reason! Virtually every audiophile knows about the benefits of resonance dampening and here is a no nonsense and inexpensive anti-resonant solution. Basically, resonances can reduce the sound reproduction quality of your audiophile's system and Dynamat provides easy to use solutions that can be applied, and removed as the ever-fickle audiophile may want to experiment. Loudspeaker baskets, equipment top lid, and turntable bases are just a few of the many applications. So highly recommended that i reached back to 1999 and awarding it a 2006 Award — Steven R. Rochlin

 

 


Accessory / Tweak


Harmonix TU-800EXi Tuning Matte & TU-812 Tuning Clamp 
Price: Various
Click here to read the complete review.

  Combak Corporation, makers Harmonix, heard that i have been deeply delving into vinyl and suggested trying their tuning mat and clamp. Harmonix's TU-800EXi Tuning Matte (the small i standing for improved) appears to be made from various layers of material and has a slight upward dishing about it. This means that it does not lay down flat like most others, nor does it have an center label inset. What it does have is a dampened, lightweight construction that appears to be very purpose-built for the task at hand. The Harmonix unit provided a bit sharper, hint of augmented upper register 'sound.' The Harmonix TU-812 clamp successfully flattened those few records in my collection that bow a bit. In fact i can see that the Tuning Clamp, when combined with the Tuning Matte, provide a system approach. The clamp provides, in my system, a slight addition in solidity... a touch more 'thereness' and a touch more depth. — Steven R. Rochlin

 

 


Budget Beaters!


MHDT Paradisea DAC
Price: $500
Click here to read the complete review.

  This little non-oversampling DAC does a fantastic job at resolving detail without becoming the least bit fatiguing. For those of you on a budget or those curious about the sound of a tubed DAC, this little gem sounds like a million bucks. — Scott Faller

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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