There have been so many truly wonderful products reaching my doorstep that Review-O-Rama might become a monthly article! It is time to give rave praise to those inexpensive products and tweaks that are easily a cut above the rest... at real-world prices! When there are this many killer cheap products to spill cyberspace ink on it is only fair to deliver the good news to web surfers worldwide. If you know of other great bang for the buck products or are a manufacture of such products please send me an e-mail as we would love to review it for possible inclusion into our upcoming Review-O-Rama articles. And now our Review-O-Rama theme song:
and gentlemen welcome to the main event!
First up is the product i am proud to say first reached America due to my review in another webzine. It all started when my German internet friends tipped me off to this jewel called the Black Cube phono stage. Well i took the bait hook, line and sinker. The owner of Lehmann Audio, Norbert Lehmann, took a big chance and sent his first 120 volt unit to me as Germany uses the 220 volt standard. Can you imagine sending your German product to some American for a review on the internet? Why on earth would a manufacturer do that? Ahhh, read on!
After the obligatory 10-day burn-in time it was sounding absolutely incredible! In fact it was the undisputed best phono stage my ears have heard for under $1500 and the Black Cube would retail for about half that! How was this possible? i took the Black Cube apart and inside i saw premium-grade parts and top quality construction. Nothing smelled of downgraded el cheapo rubbish. In fact after looking at the parts and construction quality i was even more amazed how Lehmann Audio could make such a product for so little money! So without telling Mr. Lehmann my opinion of the product i started to put the heat on him. What was his background? How long had he been in business? How many of these units could be built each month? On and on went with my questions until i was sure that if my rave review of this unit was to reach the public, the public would not yell at me about lack of availability or a high defective product rate. Once all was satisfied it was time to release this jewel to the world-wide internet.
All the above happened a long time ago. Ok, so it was December 1997 which in Internet time is about ten years ago (one year equals five Internet years it seems). Within the past ten years, er, um, two years virtually every major magazine has positively raved about the Black Cube. So what is all this foreplay leading up to? Well my friends it is time for me to tell you about the newest version!
Enter Black Cube, new, improved and kicking booty in a town near you! This newer version uses a circuit board with checkered grounding plane versus solid. On the phono board itself the older Analog Devices chip has been replaced with a better Burr Brown unit. There were also some minor parts change in the power supply while the latest big change is the usage of a non-magnetic aluminum chassis instead of steel. The use of a non-magnetic chassis has long been used to improve the sound quality of various electronic devices. So how does it sound?
More transparency than my original unit, tighter bass, greater soundscape depth with more precise imaging. Not imaging as in all smaller pinpoints but proper better imaging as in the size and shape of the image with it's surrounding ambience better defined while also being more delicate. Is it a huge monstrous difference? Not really, yet one that is perceptible in my mega-buck $10,000 Clearaudio Insider Gold Reference wood body cartridge wielding system. i am not sure how much is due to the simple chip swap versus how much due to the chassis. i would rather spend my time simply enjoying the music than trying part swapping. And enjoy the music i did! For those looking for possibly the worlds best phono stage for under $1500 or even $2000 i can proudly again recommend the Lehmann Audio Black Cube. Your music and your wallet will thank you.
Hailing from the land of fruits and nuts (California) come balls in black, silver and white. The whites ones are easily paintable to match most decors. Pictured to the right are the main mid/upper frequency Gallo Micro units which are small enough to fit comfortable in the hand! Included in their standard stereo setup are two of the upper frequency balls and a single 8" dual-voice coil Peerless driver woofer in an approximate 10" diameter matching color ball. The crossover is located in the bass ball so wiring is a simple wire to the big ball and then to you two other balls. The frequency response is claimed as 32Hz to 18kHz and i'd say that is about right with a -6dB tolerance. The really great thing about the Micros are their impedance which is an easy to drive 8 ohms and offer a high sensitivity of 92dB. i used my balls with everything from the previously raved 47 Labs Gaincard to my little 8 watt Wavelength Audio Cardinals. In fact they are right now in my living room connected directly to the Mitsubishi 40" TV speaker outputs and sounding very good! Let's really get to the ball breaking sound shall we.
Looking good is one thing. Having visitors commenting how the Gallo Micros on matching stands are killer cool looking is another. Do they deliver the sonic goods? In two words "You bet!". The first thing i noticed is how the Micro balls simply disappear leaving a full stereo spread of music between them. Even while sitting off-axis they easily throw a credible soundscape. My guess is that because of the very even degree of lateral and vertical sound dispersion due to the round cabinet there is nothing to hinder a super spread virtually full spectrum of sound. This is turn allows for greater imaging over a wider area including the previously mentioned off-axis listening. Ok, so the staging is first-rate, but what about tonality and harmonics?
Like most things in life there are some compromises to be made. This can be said about all things audio as there is no perfect system regardless of price, let alone a speaker system that retails at $699. i will not beat around the bush here. A road trip to hear quite a few other speakers from the old famous Bose to those super bass rumbling raved about computer multimedia speakers were auditioned. Not one of them had the balance of sound like the Micros. Of course i was not surprised how lackluster sounding the Bose were as most true audiophiles with a good ear will tell you the truth about Bose. The highly raved by the computer industry Monsoon speakers were here for review a short time ago. As much as they were good and (rightly) well regarded, the Gallo Micro speaker are in a much higher league of their own! These babies are probably the best little computer monitor speaker around! Ok, the frequency extremes lack a bit, though man-o-man what a glorious middle-frequency! After all, that is where the heart of most music exists. You do get some nice smooth highs and nice tight bass, albeit a bit rolled-off at the frequency extremes. All this good music for only $699 and a totally cool factor of 9.5 on a scale to 10. What more can you ask for?
The balls are easily more visually appealing than the usual fake wood or basic black rectangular box! Before i forget, color-matched stands are also available! These are seriously lovely stands that have a sensually-curved shaft to mount your ball on. In the photo to the right you can see the black Micro speakers on matching stand with the woofer stashed away on the left. Speaker wire is also included by the way which Gallo claims sounds best for their speakers. i did try a few speaker cables and will say that the best combination was with using the Nirvana S-L all copper stuff, but then the wire would cost over three times more than the speakers!
In the end i can happily say to my ears the Gallo Micro speakers are a seriously good deal and better than the equivalent Bose, KLH, Monsoon, Altec, JBL and other smallish designs plus they are more visually appealing to boot! For only $699 they could be easily considered a real-world bargain and with the addition of a small amplifier could be used for your computer system. For those shopping for "hide and seek" speakers or if you have limited space (no dorm room dominatrix these) the Gallo Micro speakers should be on your short list of speakers to audition. i said it before and i will say it again, sometimes in life you gotta have balls.
What can be said about the Vibrapods that have not been said already. Well, how about using the Pods under your CD-RW drive? i do! Just think about anything that needs vibrations isolation. Your camera tripod tips when using the cable release. Sure! How about your computer scanner? Absolutely! Ok, so this is not audiophile, but we all know about the great benefits of using Pods under our CD/DVD Transports, DACs, tube amplifiers and the likes. It is time to graduate the Pods to other duties. Did you know Pods can be used to hold your cables above the ground? i do not personally hear any benefit in raising my cables off the ground but i know guys (it is always guys) who swear they heard differences. Oh, before i forget, that Zip drive could use a few Pods too. Just please be careful about various woods, acrylics, and painted surfaces. The Pods rarely but might dissolve the paint (especially lacquered). This is easily remedied by using a piece of wax or plastic wrap between the device and the Pod. Simple, easy and above all else fun.
Well, maybe not kid-like fun, but then again you are reading an article by a died in the wool music lover so i like to have fun with great tweaks like the Vibrapods and i have a feeling you will too! Go out and buy a few sets of them and have at it. There is nothing like trying this inexpensive (about $6 each) tweak and hearing great benefits with higher musical enjoyment as a result. Have a Pod day!
That Up Young Man!
The new R5 Power Booster comes in the usual sprays and liquids in various sizes. This way you can get the amount you need for whatever job you are doing. Pictured above is their K-R5 complete kit ($19.95) that includes the 5% solution mini-spray and the R5100L 2ml squeeze dispenser. So what does R5 Power Booster do? It is a nonflammable, safe on plastics formulation that deoxidizes, cleans and preserves metal surfaces and improves conductivity! Furthermore, like ProGold it helps reduce arcing too. So when do you use DeoxIT GOLD versus R5? You use the R5 on your basic metal contacts while DeoxIT GOLD on plated contacts. It is that easy. DeoxIT GOLD will condition plating to reduce wear and abrasion and then penetrates the root of the plating and molecularly bonds to the base metal to leave a protective seal. R5 on the other hand lifts oxides off of base metal itself. Now for the really good news.
Readers of the Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine can get their own free 2ml squeeze sample of CAIG's new R5 Power Booster!!! We are always on the lookout to bring better musical enjoyment to our readership and the R5 should easily help bring your contacts back into excellent condition! So how do you get your very own free sample? Simply fill out the form at (link removed as this offer ended July 2000) and let them know you heard about on the Enjoy the Music.com website. In a relatively short time your mailbox should be filled with your very own free sample of CAIG's R5 liquid goodness. Once you find out how good this stuff really is you will be seeking out one of their world-wide distributors to buy even more of the R5... and probably the DeoxIT GOLD too. Like a junkie looking for your next fix you too will find yourself like me putting R5 or DeoxIT GOLD on virtually all connections.
So until next month my Review-O-Rama friends keep your connections clean and avoid insertion loss, your balls well mounted (on Vibrapods), and your vinyl Cubed. As always...