Sonus Faber Sonetto II

As Reviewed by Part-Time Audiophile

Should audio components always be 100% truthful to the source? Ahhh, that’s one of those questions that has resulted in untold audiophile angst, much like the supposed supremacy of analog over digital, or tubes vs. solid state. In the end, it’s ultimately up to the ear of the listener, and nothing else. If it sounds good to you, then it’s probably good.

Me? I’m an unabashed truth guy. That’s perhaps why I tend to gravitate toward pro audio DACs and speakers for instance, which are purposely designed to tell the truth: nothing more and nothing less. I prefer resolution and purity of timbre, even if it’s not always pretty. Even so, I can appreciate that many audiophiles (and music lovers…) like a bit of embellishment, maybe as a filter to guard against less than stellar recordings of music they nevertheless enjoy. Perhaps a bit of distortion here or there is just the thing to help transport us to the venue itself, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing!

Just the other day, amplifier legend Nelson Pass sent me a little gizmo to try out. It’s a second-order harmonic distortion generator. Yep, you read that correctly — a device that intentionally adds distortion to recorded music while on its way through the playback chain. Why? It’s quite well-known that many folks appreciate a bit of that kind of sonic fuzz tossed their way. It helps make the music sound more real, or so they say. Just ask anyone who’s been smitten by low power single ended triode tube amps. They’ll tell you all about it, and maybe even ask you over for a listen. If so, take them up on the invite and judge for yourself.

So yeah, Nelson’s little device made the music sound different. As in more fleshed out, phasey, and dimensional. It was a fun experiment, but I tired of it somewhat quickly. I took the thing over to Scot Hull’s place for him to try out. We’ll see what he thinks, but I suppose I may be too much of a purist to fully appreciate it, though I’m certain that others will...continue reading here

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January 30, 2019 — Michael Babb

Sonus Faber Sonetto III Review

As Reviewed by Home Theatre Review

Italy is internationally recognized for its rich culture of craftsmanship and artisanal skills. Brands like Ferrari, Ducati, Gucci, and Armani immediately come to mind. And in the world of high-end loudspeakers, it is Sonus faber that should be first and foremost in your thoughts in this regard. Since being acquired by the McIntosh Group about ten years ago, the Italian loudspeaker manufacturer has been branching out with its product offerings, evolving from its former reputation as a boutique ultra-high-end speaker manufacturer as it attempts to reach a broader audience.

Sonus_faber-SONETTO_III_4.jpgThis year represents the 35th year in business for Sonus faber, and to mark the milestone, the company recently introduced the Sonetto line of loudspeakers. Designed as an affordable alternative to the more expensive Olympica line, and as a replacement for the Venere line (which was manufactured in China), Sonetto is now the least expensive Sonus faber speaker line, yet it's still made in Vicenza, Italy. And that "Made in Italy" label is protected by Italian law to include only products that are totally made within the borders of the country, including the planning, manufacturing, and packaging of the product. publisher Jerry Del Colliano was invited to preview the Sonetto collection at a unique launch event hosted by Sonus faber and its parent company in Kansas City this summer. He came away impressed enough to line up review samples of the Sonetto III floorstander and asked me if I was interested...continue reading here

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January 30, 2019 — Michael Babb
Brigadier Mu2 Timber - The Miranda Review

Brigadier Mu2 Timber - The Miranda Review

The Rebel Alliance sits upon a knife edge.  In a briefing room, every last available pilot stands to attention, trying hard to look anything other than panicked.  A moon-sized space station is moving silently through space, orbiting the gas giant Yavin, waiting for the moon identified as Yavin IV, the Rebel Home Base, to rise on its horizon.  When that moment approaches... boom.  The pilots, though barely able to realise it, have a sliver of hope.  The briefing comes to the critical point:
"The target area is only two meters wide. It's a small thermal exhaust port, right below the main port. The shaft leads directly to the reactor system."
A young farmer from Tatooine, evidently a talented and capable pilot, wasn't phased.  A whole two meters?  Easy.  "Like bullseyeing Womp Rats in Beggar's Canyon."  Never mind that the two meters was somewhere on the surface of a moon-sized station, buried in a trench littered with auto-cannons all programmed to blow him and his small ship to oblivion.  That two meters was all he'd need.
Brad Serhan (along with his Obi Wan, Morris Swift) is, in a handful of ways, a lot like Luke Skywalker.  He doesn't need a vast canvas to paint his acoustic masterpiece; he doesn't need more than two meters to destroy the Death Star; just a compact little bookshelf speaker and a good ear for tuning phenomenal crossovers.
The newest version of Serhan + Swift's formidable Brigadier Mu2 is the ultimate expression of the design.  It combines a timber exterior with a new point-to-point wiring crossover.  The new timber exterior adds not only a cleaner, prettier look, but opens up the bass to a surprising degree.  It almost defies explanation how much of a change in sound can be put down to changing the last centimeter or so of material in the cabinet, yet here we are.
A true side-by-side comparison with the standard (black) Mu2 would be very, very interesting.  I had to make do with a very brief changeover period and a more serious listen to the new timber model over the following days.
The initial impression was, honestly, amazement.  Brad had blown up the Death Star.  A pair of diminutive cabinets were producing sound across a massive frequency range with an ease and fidelity I just didn't expect.  I knew in my heart of hearts that there was a little extra bass at the bottom that these little drivers weren't quite getting to, but I just didn't care. Even having heard the Mu2 in its standard finish with the "Hotrod" crossover upgrade, I felt as though the change to timber granted the speakers a more engaging sound that drew me into the music and held me there, transfixed.
I couldn't help but try a broad spectrum of songs. From the solemn vocal and perfect mic placement of The Decemberists' "Carolina Low" to the finger-clicks and driving bass line of Arcade Fire's "Porno"; from the sparse and gorgeous instrumental soundscape of Jon Hopkins' "Immunity" to the noisy, despairing horns of Apparat's "PV".  I threw on some current favourites: Miya Folick's "Thingamajig" and Archie Faulks' "It Rains" to round out the listen, and could find no fault.  Nothing that pulled me out of that excellent soundstage.
The treble is present but never cutting or jarring.  At any volume, I never felt the need to back off or change track, even when a piece was rife with sybilant hiss on the vocal due to cheap microphones or a deaf engineer.  The mid tones are rich and involved and have a real sweetness that is a strength of the crossover.  Voice was precise and the guitar, bass, piano and breadth of other instruments always fell behind the speakers, as though the stage was laid out before me.  The bass (oh, the bass!) was realised with an ease and clarity that made you crave more music to try.  It was both surprising in its depth (they really are a small speaker) and powerful but not boomy in the delivery. The porting is absolutely spot on - give them some breathing room and let them run free.
A handful of customers having an afternoon stickybeak tried and failed to "Guess which speakers are playing!", almost all believing larger, more expensive neighbours must have been responsible for the sound.  It confirmed my suspicion that I wasn't alone in becoming an immediate fan of the Mu2 at first listen.  There were more than a few converts to the Rebel Alliance on that day, and the several days that have followed.
The Mu2 is available now, made to order, in timber for $6,999 and the standard black gloss for $5,999.
January 18, 2019 — Angus Perry
Denon AVR-X8500H Review

Denon AVR-X8500H Review

Brought to you by Home Theatre Review


AV technology has been changing so fast lately that many receivers become obsolete just a year after they're introduced. Far fewer are designed with the ability to remain relevant for multiple years. So, when a company introduces a new flagship, like Denon's AVR-X8500H, which debuted at CES 2018, one can't help but wonder if it's the receiver of the moment or if it might have the goods to remain relevant into the future.

If nothing else, Denon has certainly raised the bar with the AVR-X8500H when it comes to amplification. Right off the bat, this new Denon flagship represents the world's first 13.2 channel AV receiver with 13 channels of amplification, adding four additional amp channels compared to the AVR-X7200WA I reviewed a couple of years ago (and two more channels than the 11.2 channel AVR-X6400H released last year), with control for up to three separate zones of both audio and video. The amp section keeps the R and L channel signal paths separate from each other for improved performance

Denon also includes support for all three immersive surround sound formats, and also covers its bases in terms of High Dynamic Range (HDR10, Dolby Vision, and HLG standards are all supported), so you're good to go on all the latest audio and video formats. In the previous flagship, Auro-3D was a $199 upgrade option; with the AVR-X8500H, Auro-3D is included in the receiver purchase price, as it is in all Denon's latest receivers above $1,000 (Auro-3D became available via a firmware download in late May for early purchasers of the receiver)...continue reading here

August 31, 2018 — Michael Babb

SVS SB-16 Ultra Review

Brought to you by Stereophile

Yacoubian's infomercial on YouTube about the SB16-Ultra ($1999.99) lists the three design features that enabled SVS to build a subwoofer with so large a cone and still meet the design goals of extended, low-distortion bass output and fast transient response: an 8" edge-wound voice-coil in a new motor, a 1500W RMS (>5kW peak) Sledge amplifier with fully discrete MOSFET output (each output device is rated at 200V and 64A), and control and bass management via a smartphone app.

Yacoubian claims that the SB16-Ultra's 8" voice-coil is the largest used to date in a consumer subwoofer. Most large subs have voice-coils 2" to 4" in diameter that sit inside the permanent magnets; the SB16's 8" coil sits outside the magnets. SVS found so large a coil necessary in order to: avoid the cone flexing and the resultant boomy bass produced in and by subwoofers that have cones 15" to 18" in diameter but voice-coils of only 2" to 4"; maintain linear control over so large a cone; better dissipate heat, which lessens thermal compression and so increases a sub's power handling; provide better centering of the voice-coil, with less tilting during large excursions; and to use the permanent magnets most efficiently. The SB16-Ultra's voice-coil is wound with copper-clad aluminum wire (CCAW); CCAW has a number of advantages: it's lighter than pure copper, for lower moving mass; it's stronger than pure aluminum; has higher electrical conductivity; and is more easily soldered, for more durable and reliable connections...continue reading here

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June 12, 2018 — Michael Babb
Stemfoort SF-200 Review

Stemfoort SF-200 Review

Brought to you by Hifipig

Stemfoort may not be a name that immediately trips off the tongue when speaking about amplifiers, but the companies heritage goes back to the mid eighties and they are owned by J.E.Sugden, who many will know for their Class A amplifiers. Lionel Payne takes a listen to their SF-200 Passive Line Amplifier costing £2135 for Hifi Pig.

I have to admit that I hadn’t heard of Stemfoort Audio before being asked to review this integrated amplifier. Stemfoort began life way back in 1985 in Holland and was a partnership between a recording engineer and a group of enthusiasts and audio designers. J.E.Sugden & Co. acquired the company in 1988 and, interestingly, the original founder still remains an active and valued technical director with Sugden and was the designer of the SF-200’s unique circuits

The SF-200 is a passive line amplifier, often referred to as a straight line amplifier. This means that the basic configuration is a volume pot directly coupled to the power amplifier section, i.e. the preamplifier is passive ensuring the most direct signal path from your source to your loudspeakers. Handmade by a team of dedicated audio enthusiasts, the SF-200 is a wide bandwidth design reaching frequency extremes of 6Hz to 120kHz making it an ideal partner for hi-resolution formats...continue reading here

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June 05, 2018 — Michael Babb

Chord Dave Review

Brought to you buy Hifi Pig

I remember being at the High-End Show in Munich a couple of years ago and John Franks the MD and Chief designer from Chord Electronics announcing the launch of their new DAC, DAVE in a hail of superlatives which frankly I greeted with a degree of caution. Indeed, the name alone screams overkill, with DAVE standing for Digital to Analogue Veritas in Extremis…digital to analogue truthful in the extreme. I needn’t have been so concerned and I’m going to do this review, to use the vernacular of my home town, a bit arse about tit and say that Chord Electronics’ DAVE is indeed the most accurate DAC I have had the pleasure of using in our system – you can, if you like stop right there. My current reference, the fully loaded Lampizator Big 7, is certainly no slouch in terms of sheer musical enjoyment, but when it comes to accuracy and High-fidelity it is left somewhat in DAVE’s wake…but more on that in a short while... continue reading here

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May 08, 2018 — Michael Babb

Polk Signature S55 Review

Brought to you by Home Theatre Review

The name Polk invokes a certain brand promise--one of quality and value built over a long history of fine products in home audio and beyond. My own personal history with Polk dates back to my first after-market car audio system, put together with Polk dB speakers back in the early 2000s. And for the home, the Polk LSi 707s (precursor to the current LSiM series) were part of my first foray into quality hi-fi audio. So, when I was offered the opportunity to review the S55 tower speakers from Polk's new Signature line, I jumped at the chance.

The Signature line is one step up from the company's entry-level T-series speakers. There are three tower speakers in the Signature line. The S55 is the middle one in the range; it uses the same tweeter as the other two models, mated with dual 6.5-inch midrange woofers. The S50 features two 5.25-inch woofers, while the S60 carries three 6.5-inch woofers...Continue reading here

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March 29, 2018 — Michael Babb

Bowers & Wilkins 804 D3 Review

Brought to you by Home Theatre Review

In some ways, the 804 D3 (and the rest of the new D3 Series) are the speakers I've long wished that Bowers & Wilkins would make. Previous 800 Series speakers have relied on midrange drivers made with woven Kevlar cones. Most other speaker makers that have flirted with Kevlar seem to have moved on to other (and, to my ears, better) cone materials, and I've long suspected that B&W was sticking with Kevlar because the yellow fabric had become such an iconic part of the company's branding. The 804 D3 and the other models in the D3 Series now use a silver-colored synthetic fabric named Continuum, which according to B&W has better break-up (high-frequency distortion) behavior than Kevlar. I've reviewed at least one speaker from every 800 Series since the original, so I was curious to hear what Continuum sounds like.

Although the 804 D3 resembles past 804s in concept--it's a tower speaker with two 6.5-inch woofers, a five-inch midrange, and a one-inch tweeter--it shares almost no parts with previous 804s. The woofer cone is also made of a new material; B&W swapped out its old Rohacell composite sandwich diaphragm for a new formulation called Aerofoil. The thickness of the Aerofoil material varies in order to reduce resonance and to concentrate stiffness where it's most needed...Continue reading here

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March 29, 2018 — Michael Babb

Rotel RA-1592 Review

Brought to you by The Absolute Sound

I’ve encountered some great amplifiers over the years, but few have left the enduring impression that the Rotel RB-1090 did back in 2000. A looming and intimidating object, it weighed in at a spine-fracturing 100 pounds and stood an imposing 10 inches tall. Armored in a battle-ready black enclosure it was a powerhouse rated at 380Wpc of Class AB power and capable of 1kW peaks at 2 ohms. Its transformer was the size of a spaghetti pot, allowing it to laugh off difficult loads. It pursued deep bass like a high-voltage posse from hell, leaving even the lowest sensitivity speakers trembling in its wake. Yet it wasn’t all brute force. It could also tap dance around delicate transients and low-level musical cues with ease. Why the trip down memory lane? Well, the legacy of that big amp was never far from my mind as I delved into listening sessions with Rotel’s latest high-power integrated amp, the RA-1592. Would it summon favorable comparisons?

The $2499 RA-1592 is actually based on two current Rotel separates, the RC-1590 preamp and RB-1582 mk2 amplifier. It operates in Class AB mode and outputs a hefty 200Wpc into 8 ohms. Although it bears some physical resemblance to the smaller RA-1570 integrated, the RA-1592’s output capability is much greater and it has a much higher damping factor. Per Rotel tradition, the heart of the amp section sports a rugged power supply with an oversized toroidal transformer, coupled to select T-network, slit-foil capacitors...Continue reading here

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March 29, 2018 — Michael Babb

Definitive Technology Demand 11 Review

Brought to you by SoundStageAustralia

While on a personal level I have a vibrant zeal for high-end audio and the results from the creativity and imagination of talented designers with less restrictions in production budgets, I’m also fascinated by what is possible to achieve when boundaries are tightly set on products aimed at the entry level. There have been many occasions where budget fare has impressed me with a sonic performance that is way above the expected. I found myself in such a scenario when I popped-in to Audio Connection, one of Sydney’s most respected and longest-established high-end audio retailers, while there to collect a Gryphon amplifier (Diablo 120 soon-to-be-reviewed). A zigzagging multi-dimensional conversation with affable proprietor Josef Riedeger on all things audio somehow wound up in the following scenario…

“Hey, while you’re here Edgar, have a listen to these speakers that have just arrived…” says a teasingly enthused ‘Joe’ Riedeger.

“Really Joe? My review schedule is busting. My writers and I have commitments for months!”

“C’mon, let’s have some fun” hints he, a mischievous grin pulling from the corner of his mouth.

We walk into the large open space that is the main showroom upstairs. Casually set-up among the extensively spread out audio is an inconspicuous system featuring a pair of mid-sized standmounts – modestly attractive yet unassuming enough. He fires up a track. I listen… and I reach up to support my dropping jaw...Continue reading here

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March 28, 2018 — Michael Babb

Bowers & Wilkins 705s2 Review

Brought to you by The Ear

When you make as many loudspeakers as Bowers & Wilkins do it must occasionally get difficult thinking up new range names. Before the 700 series there was the CM or compact monitor series that sat between the 600 and 800 ranges, a range that grew out of one model in a distinctly organic fashion. So by replacing CM with 700 S2 the UK’s biggest speaker maker has pulled things back on track and given us a clear path through the various options, well almost, the biggest 700 model is the 702 and the smallest is the 707, so things are still a little upside down.

The 705 S2 is therefore somewhere near the middle of the range yet it’s one of only two out of six that has a separate tweeter pod sitting on top. This marks it out as having a clear connection with the 805 from the significantly more ambitious range above which costs £4,500, this is less than half of that at £1,799, yet they share a main driver and most of the tweeter The 705 has a carbon rather than diamond dome but is otherwise very similar indeed. This model looks therefore like something of a bargain and, spoiler alert, it is. While it doesn’t have the capabilities of an 805 it is an exceptionally revealing and entertaining loudspeaker that performs way above the level usually encountered at this price...Continue reading here

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March 28, 2018 — Michael Babb