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November 2004
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Best Of 2004 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

 

Source Components



Pro-Ject 1 Xpression And Speed Box
Price: Pro-Ject 1 Xpression $549CDN
Speed Box $129CDN
Click here to read the complete review.

$429 (USD) for a turntable, arm and cartridge seems quite impressive. A five-pound aluminum platter, four shock absorbing feet and a low voltage A/C motor decoupled from the rigid MDF plinth conspire to reduce the effects of vibration. If I told you the arm was of carbon fiber construction, would that spark your interest? And if that arm proved a good match for a Koetsu cartridge, delivering fine tracking and well controlled resonances, would that impress? If you could add an electronic speed control, the Speed Box, for just $99 (USD), wouldn't that be the icing on the cake? All this wouldn't worth a damn without fine sound. Have no fear. You won't find a CD player in this price range to hold a candle to it. Imaging is precise and the acoustic is warm, deep and surprisingly detailed. There is no trace of wow, flutter or rumble. What it lacks is gravitas, and for that you'll need much deeper pockets. How can you resist? -- Phil Gold

 

 

Source Components


Meridian G08 Upsampling CD Player
Price: $3,995
Click here to read the complete review.

If I were in the market for a CD player I would purchase this unit without hesitation. It is well built, the user interface through the remote control or the front panel is exceptional, it looks superb, it fits my cabinet, it offers all the connectivity I could wish for, and it sounds both musical and accurate. -- Phil Gold

 

 

Amplification


Hovland HP-100 Preamplifier & RADIA Power Amplifier
Price: $6,495 and $9,500 respectively
Click here to read the complete review.

Unique in their physical presentation, this is a medium power combination that is the epitome of the high end with its concentration on the engineering essentials in the service of good music making. It also gives confidence in its ability to deliver over the long term. Separately or in combination, the HP-100 and the RADIA are effortlessly natural and organic, exquisitely musical and always consistent in their behavior. This includes during both low land and high volume levels alike. In this context their pricing is very realistic. -- Alvin Gold

 

 

Amplification


deHavilland UltraVerve Line Preamplifier
Price: $2,495
Click here to read the complete review.

The deHavilland UltraVerve is currently my first choice in line amplification. At a retail price of $2,495 it upsets the ultra high-end applecart; the point being that simple, minimalist, well-engineered designs can rise to the top while being quite affordable. Low on parts count, but high on tube magic, the UltraVerve scores big in my book. -- Senior Editor Dick Olsher

 

 

Amplification


VTL TL-7.5 Reference Line Preamplifier
Price: $12,500
Click here to read the complete review.

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 ó 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? Donít 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

 

 

Loudspeakers

   
Hyperion Sound Design HPS-938
Price: $4,000
Click here to read the complete review.

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! -- Editor Steven R. Rochlin

 

 

Loudspeakers


VSM-Millennium Loudspeaker
Price: VSM-M in Studio Black $6,040
VSM-M with B-BAM in Studio Black $7,475
Click here to read the complete review.

The Merlin VSM-M has many things that can be counted and that count. It has a very flat frequency response over its range. It is moderately efficient and quite easy to drive. And it plays the audiogeek games of imaging, staging and inner resolution with consummate skill. But its most significant aspect simply cannot be counted. It is musical soul. And the completeness of that soul takes it from an excellent loudspeaker into the realm of the truly special. -- Todd Warnke

 

 

Loudspeakers


Usher X-708 Monitors
Price: $900 per pair
Click here to read the complete review.

If you are in the market for an affordable stand mounted speaker, I think the Ushers are well worth listening to. Keep in mind that the X-708's are a relatively forward sounding speaker, a (near) front row presentation If you like the sound of Dynaudio's, Paradigm's or any of the other highly detailed sounding loudspeakers on the market, the Ushers will fit right in. They show a fair amount more control and bass extension than others I've heard in its price class. -- Scott Faller

 

 

Loudspeakers


muRata ES103 Super Tweeter
Price: ES-103A $2,250 per pair
ES-103B $2,950 per pair
ES-105 $1,825 per pair
Click here to read the complete review.

the muRata super tweeter effect is addictive and can positively become habit forming. It helps bridge the gap between live and reproduced music. Disconnect the super tweeters, and it feels like someone turned off the lights: the presentation becomes darker and less present; to put it bluntly - boring. Once experienced, it's definitely hard to live without them. -- Senior Editor Dick Olsher

 

 

Budget Beaters!


PSB SubSonic 5i Powered Subwoofer
Price: $499
Click here to read the complete review.

Where once the term subwoofer denoted a driver that authoritatively reproduced the bottom octave - a capability beyond the great majority of full-range loudspeakers - it now describes specialized models whose bass output goes lower than the loudspeakers it is supporting. It is really to this latter group that the SubSonic 5i belongs. In the strictest sense it is a very good woofer. But my experience with it has convinced me that this is a worthwhile kind of product, offering cost-effective bass augmentation for smaller loudspeakers and systems. -- Senior Reviewer & Classical Music Editor Wayne Donnelly

 

 

Budget Beaters!


Almarro A318A Integrated Stereo Amplifier
Price: $1,500
Click here to read the complete review.

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. -- Editor Steven R. Rochlin

 

 

Budget Beaters!


Jolida JD100A CD Player 
Price: $900
Click here to read the complete review.

I have a vision of the ideal JD100A owner. He -- or quite possibly she -- loves listening to music and wants good-looking, good-sounding gear, but is free of the afflictions of audiophilia nervosa and stereo-system-as-status-symbol... He or she is not thrilled at the prospect of dealing with new formats that require buying unfamiliar new components -- especially at the prices the new discs are going for. If any of this strikes a chord with you, I strongly recommend that you check out the Jolida JD100A. It looks good and it's good to the music. For the right listener it's a heckuva value! -- Senior Reviewer & Classical Music Editor Wayne Donnelly

 

 

Accessory / Tweak


RealTraps Mini and Micro
Price: MiniTraps: $180
MicroTraps: $120
Click here to read the complete review.

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: Quantumís 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


V-Caps
Price: $32 to $176 depending on specification
Click here to read the complete review.

After having played with a number of different coupling caps in my tube amps, I personally feel that the Teflon Film and Foil V-Caps offered by Chris Venhaus Audio are the best Iíve heard to date. The clarity and uncolored nature of the V-Caps allow the music to flow effortlessly. Be sure to give them plenty of break in time. Don't be quick to judge otherwise your opinion will be less than favorable. After a solid 200 to 300 hours of active run time, these caps smooth out and sound phenomenal. Simply put, changing the coupling caps in your tube amps to the V-Caps could be the most significant upgrade you could do to your system short of buying new speakers. For that reason, I've nominated the Venhaus Audio V-Caps as my Tweak Product of the Year. -- Scott Faller

 

 

Accessory / Tweak


The audiodharma Cable Cooker Pro Version 2.5 
Price: standard version $649; pro version $779
Click here to read the complete review.

Recommending this product is a no-brainer. It's hard to think of any accessory priced under $1,000 that returns such long-term value for a serious audiophile-grade system... Frankly, I can't imagine attempting to review audio cables without first conditioning them with the Cable Cooker or an equivalent-acting device. -- Wayne Donnelly

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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