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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30 January, 2019 by 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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30 January, 2019 by Michael Babb

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.
18 January, 2019 by Angus Perry

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

31 August, 2018 by 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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12 June, 2018 by Michael Babb

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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05 June, 2018 by Michael Babb

Martin Logan ESL 15A

I prefer and have owned electrostatic speakers for most of my audiophile life. Depending on your point of view, this makes me either the most qualified or the least appropriate writer to review MartinLogan's new electrostatic loudspeaker, the Masterpiece Renaissance ESL 15A.

Oh, I've flirted with dynamic speakers. I've owned and loved—and ultimately, when I was an audio retailer, sold—models from Revel, Thiel, Vandersteen, and many others, while my long-term choice has been electrostats. And while I've spent plenty of time with electrostatic speakers from Acoustat and Quad, I've ended up owning MartinLogans: Sequels, Quests, ReQuests, and, currently, Prodigys.

What attracts me to electrostatic speakers are the clarity, neutrality, and sense of "thereness" I hear from them, along with the natural cohesiveness of the imaging and midrange reproduction of tall, dipolar, line-source designs. The dispersion characteristics of electrostatic panels minimize sidewall reflections, and their lack of crossover electronics in the critical mid and high frequencies has always been a selling point for me. And I find the simplicity of electrostatic speaker design appealing...continue reading here

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24 May, 2018 by Michael Babb

Martin Logan ESL 13A Review

Brought to you by Home Theatre Review

MartinLogan introduced its Masterpiece electrostatic line about two years ago with the flagship $80,000/pair Neolith speaker. A year or so ago, the Masterpiece line expanded with the $25,000/pair Renaissance ESL 15A. Just a few months ago, MartinLogan introduced the two latest models in the Masterpiece series: the $15,000/pair Expression ESL 13A and the $10,000/pair Impression ESL 11A. While the $10,000 Impressions would technically be the closest model to my MartinLogan Summits (which had a base price of that same amount a decade ago), I opted to review the Expression ESL 13A instead.

"ESL" stands for electrostatic. Electrostatic transducers are what MartinLogan is best known for, and the current Masterpiece ESL lineup is the pinnacle of many years of ESL development. The speakers are technically hybrids, as everything below 300 Hz is handled by more traditional cone woofers--in the case of the ESL 13A, a pair of powered 10-inch aluminum cone woofers handles the lower frequencies...continue reading here

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24 May, 2018 by Michael Babb

Martin Logan ESL 11A Review

24 May, 2018 by Michael Babb

Martin Logan ESL 9 Review

Brought to you by SoundStage! Hifi

The last two MartinLogan components reviewed by the SoundStage! Network were the BalancedForce 212 subwoofer, on this site, and the relatively conventional Motion 35XT loudspeaker, on SoundStage! Access. They proved so good that each received a Product of the Year award. However, as most audio enthusiasts know, MartinLogan is best known for their electrostatic loudspeaker (ESL) models, most of which are hybrid designs that combine an electrostatic panel for the high- and midrange frequencies with a conventional dynamic woofer.

I’ve long admired MartinLogan ESLs for their elegant sound and equally elegant looks, but when ML introduced their economical Motion line of dynamic speakers with Folded Motion tweeters, I worried that the days of high-end ESLs from MartinLogan might be numbered. I needn’t have -- they continue to produce several lines of hybrid ESLs, including their current flagship, the Neolith, which costs $79,995 USD per pair...continue reading here

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24 May, 2018 by Michael Babb
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