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Monday, January 19, 2015

Home Recording Review!
PreSonus Sceptre S8 Studio
Active Coaxial Loudspeaker

Price: $1,500 per pair
Likes: accuracy, easy setup
Dislikes: needs a bit more power
Wow Factor: coaxial design hits the mark
More info: Presonus S8

by John Gatski
  Well-designed, coaxial-driver speakers exhibit clean, phase coherent sonic projection which enhances accuracy. Based on my extensive use of the PreSonus Sceptre S8 speakers the company has done a great job synergizing the coaxial drivers and onboard DSP, digital amplification. In fact, the sound is well above the normal DSP/powered speaker I normally audition for studio use.

  The Sceptre series comes in two models: the S6 and the S8 tested here. Both models feature a horn-loaded, compression tweeter mounted in the center of the woofer: a 6-inch bass driver for the S6 and an 8-inch for the S8. For this review, I will focus on the S8, which is priced at $1,500 per pair.
  Both models are based on CoActualTM Speaker Coherence Alignment and TQTM Temporal Equalization Technology from Fulcrum Acoustic. Complementing the coaxial drivers is a 32-bit, floating-point DSP engine that optimizes the drivers’ performance and 180W of digital amplification (90 watts for each driver).
  The Sceptre series was designed by Dave Gunness, vice president of R and D at Fulcrum Acoustics, and the company’s lead product designer. PreSonus also added just enough features/adjustments to make it fit into most placement scenarios. Although I have seen DSP-based speakers that are overly featured and complex, the Sceptre S8 is rather straight forward and easy to set up.

Tuning the  S8 to the room is easy with onboard DSP

  The Sceptre features two balanced analog input choices: XLR and 1⁄4-inch TRS; an Input-level control with 10 dB of gain above unity; a high-frequency driver adjustment (linear, +1 dB, -1.5 dB, -4 dB) above 2 kHz; high-pass filter switch (linear, 60 Hz, 80 Hz, 100 Hz) with -24 dB/octave slope; and acoustic space switch (linear, -1.5 dB, -3 dB, -6 dB) to compensate for bass boost when the speaker is placed near a wall.
  The speakers are fairly compact at 11.4-inches wide (290 mm) x 11.8-inches front to back (300 mm) and 15.75-inches tall (400 mm). Weight for the S8 is just over 24 pounds. Though the cabinet is not as solid feeling as an audiophile speaker, or some of the other high-end powered studio speakers I have used, the Scepter sonic character is not compromised by the cabinet construction. The adequately braced cabinet keeps the mid bass and midrange frequencies audibly clean.
  Spec-wise, the S8 is factory rated from 46 Hz to 20 kHz, plus or minus 3 dB (With an RTA, I measured 48 Hz with the speaker free standing in the middle of the room). Peak SPL is listed at 116 dB. Crossover frequency is centered at 2.4 kHz. The bass extension of the 8-inch driver is enhanced by the slot port mounted on the front of the cabinet. Front ports, in my opinion, have fewer side effects than rear ports, and allow closer-to-wall placement.

  I was impressed with the PreSonus Scepter S8. The phase-coherent, coaxial design, coupled with a good Class-D amp and DSP-processing/digital crossover, this speaker conveys an audiophile accuracy and good bass extension to reasonably loud levels.

  The Sceptre is designed to be used in pro audio/home recording setups, and with the onboard controls, you can place them almost anywhere in a small-to-medium room. Placement options include console/mixer meter bridge, computer workstation desk, as well as stands. You can set the S8s up in a 2.0 — or a 5.1 arrangement on stands, away from boundaries in a listening room.
  I used the S8s in all the above scenarios (except 5.1), and, additionally, as a powered audiophile monitor in my hi-end audiophile room, where they demonstrated a high-end, sonic character normally not heard in a budget-priced powered loudspeakers.

The setup
  I first set up the Sceptre as near-field monitors next to my Oram 16T analog console/Macbook Pro workstation desk setup. I placed the speakers on each side of the console using Raxxcess speaker stands, which put them right at ear height. I angled the speakers in slightly for maximum frontal dispersion.
  I connected a set of the console’s XLR monitor outputs to the S8’s inputs, and did a six-hour break-in, playing hi-res music from the Macbook Pro/Benchmark DAC2-D connected to the console's inputs. I used Wireworld Gold Eclipse7 balanced XLR cables ($700 per pair) for the entire system, and I plugged all components into an Essential Sound Products Essence II power strip.

The audition
  The first audible attribute I noticed on casual play of 24/192 music, was how accurate the Sceptres are. The speakers have an audiophile-class midrange and top-end with a focused, tight bottom end in the 50-Hz to 100 Hz range. Most powered pro speakers that sound this good are well above the $1,000 per speaker. I am impressed.
  My favorite recording tasks are acoustic and jazz guitar. During playback of a new Taylor 810 dreadnaught recording, recorded with two Audix SCA-25A microphones via the the Oram’s mic pre-to-direct-output into a TASCAM DA-3000 recorder in 24/192, the playback through the S8’s was quite revealing.
  The guitar’s stereo width and depth via the pick attack was fantastic. The ultra nuance of room reverb and string “pluck” harmonics came through loud and clear with no aberrations. The S8‘s high frequency range showcased the Audix mics’ slight presence boost without sounding shrill and edgy. The S8 amp’s were just as impressive. I am normally not a Class-D powered speaker kind of guy, but as long as you keep the level in the low 90 dBs on peaks, the smooth factor sticks around. Only when I played really loud pop music, did I notice the Sceptre amp character start to harden.

The S8's back panel

  On a Yamaha U1 upright piano recording using a pair of Audio-Technica AT-4041B and a True P2 microphone preamp and the DA-3000 as the recorder. Again, the Sceptre’s playback sonic scenario was faithful to the instrument. No etched treble bump in the high register keys, good imaging and clean bass, and like my hi-fi passive speaker/amp combo playback, much of the room reverb/reflections could clearly be heard. These monitors are that good.
  In the open room listening scenario, with speakers about eight feet from my listening position, the S8s never labored to produce ample sound level in this medium -size listening room. The S8’s coaxial design and crossover slope also contributes to excellent vocal reproduction — with minimal sibilance and well-balanced tone for male or female voice.
  I even hooked the PreSonus S8 pair into my high-end audiophile system. The audio came from a Pass Labs XP-10 MOSFET line preamplifier and lots of hi-resolution music playback through a Macbook Pro, equipped with Audirvana software player, linked to an Oppo HA-1 audiophile DAC. I played a range of music from 24/96 all the way to 24/384 and double speed DSD.

  The S8 relaysed the cymbals in generous portions, even compared to my expensive reference system. And unlike many powered pro speakers that use metal-dome high-end drivers, there is no exaggerated edginess to the S8’s top-end.

  As with my home recording monitoring sessions, The S8s filled the room with accurate, detailed sound and good bass. That port does a good job of enhancing low bass performance in the 50-Hz range — without loading the mid-bass. Best of all, the small treble sounds, room reverb tails, acoustic guitar harmonics, etc., could clearly be heard through the S8s. No, it does not project the ultimate space of my MartinLogan electrostatics, but then again, the Sceptres are not $10,000. For $1,500, I could hear plenty from these speakers.
  One of my subjective listening benchmarks for a speaker, is the degree of dimensionality presented when playing the Tom Jung-recorded Warren Bernhard — So Real SACD, produced in 2000. On the title cut, the cymbal sound is one of the most accurate capture of that instrument I have ever heard; there is an enveloping presentation of the recording’s drum cymbal when listening from a properly designed speaker.
  I can say with confidence, that the S8 relayed the cymbals in generous portions, even compared to my expensive reference system. And unlike many powered pro speakers that use metal-dome high-end drivers, there is no exaggerated edginess to the S8’s top-end.
  Although I did not have extra S8’s for multichannel listening, I would recommend them for 5.1, 7.1, 9.1 or 11.1 monitor duties when mixing multi-channel music or movie soundtracks. You just need a sub or two for lower-octave bass. And the speaker’s compact size makes them that much easier to place.

The verdict
  As I have said many times, I am, normally, not a powered monitor fan, I like choosing my own amps and speakers, but there are advantages to electronic crossovers and amps incorporated into one package, if done correctly. However, the powered speakers I have raved about usually are on the pricier side of the equation.
  But I was impressed with the PreSonus Scepter S8. The phase-coherent, coaxial design, coupled with a good class D amp and DSP-processing/digital crossover, this speaker conveys an audiophile accuracy and good bass extension to reasonably loud levels.

Front port slot keeps the bass extended and tight

  The only niggle in the review is that I heard a bit of raggedness at the upper power limit of the amp when playing 95 dB+ levels. Of course, I am comparing the S8s to my reference speakers with multi-thousand dollar Class A or A/B audiophile amps. At reasonable levels though, the 90-watt digital amps are pretty darn clean.
  For recording studio tracking, mixing, editing, even mastering, the PreSonus Scepter S8 is an recommended powered speaker. Its quality also should carry over to 5.1-channel audio monitoring as well. A grand per speaker is more than a $300 class powered speaker that pervades the market these days, but the price tag is not unreasonable for a powered speaker this good. Consequently, we have awarded it our Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award.

   John Gatski is publisher/owner of the Everything Audio NetworkArticles on this site are the copyright of the Everything Audio Network©Any unauthorized use, via print or Internet, without written permission is prohibited.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Audiophile Review!
MartinLogan Neolith
Electrostatic Loudspeaker:
“Delaware Demo Impresses EAN”

©Everything Audio Network

Price: starting at $79,995
Likes: deep bass, electrostat' tone
Dislikes: beyond my card limit
Wow Factor: the ultimate ML speaker
More info: MartinLogan Neolith

 by John Gatski
  Last year, Martin Logan released its new flagship Neolith electrostatic speaker and those who appreciate the intricate, spacious, enveloping sound of electrostatic audio transmission (and have $80,000 in their bank accounts) began pining for more information on these high-end transducers.
  Knowing that review samples would be rare, I took up MartinLogan’s offer to do a sampling of the speaker’s audio performance at Overture Ultimate Audio in Wilmington, Delaware — a high-end audio dealer and one of the nicest hi-fi dealers I have had the pleasure of visiting in some time.
  MartinLogan has introduced a new flagship electrostatic loudspeaker. Announced at the 2014 Munich High-End audio show, the Neolith is ML’s new high-end design to showcase the company’s latest electrostatic advances. According to ML, “While (the original) Monolith was our inspiration, Neolith’s technical execution and unrestrained performance evokes MartinLogan’s legendary Statement evolution 2 loudspeaker.”

  The Neolith features a 22-inch x 48-inch electrostatic transducer with a radiating surface 35% larger than that of the previous ML size leader, the Statement e2. As MartinLogan’s largest electrostatic radiating surface to date, Neolith is designed with ML’s proprietary, curvilinear electrostatic transducer technology, implemented into larger panels, to transmit the audio into very large rooms.

Neolith's 48-inch electrostatic panel

  To match the electrostatic's exquisite midrange and treble projection, ML has equipped Neolith with massive, bass power; a 15-inch, rear-firing, ported woofer and a 12-inch, front-firing, sealed, mid-bass woofer to deliver deep, clean bass down to an impressive spec of 23 Hz.
  Unlike models such as Montis, which is designed with an on-board, powered subwoofer, the Neolith subwoofer’s passive design allows audiophiles to single-wire or bi-amp the speaker with their choice of high-performance, audiophile grade, solid state or tube amplifiers.
  To enable clean bass and uncolored sound from the electrostatic panel, Neolith was designed with an extremely dense composite material, creating an “ideal” baffle — with a high-mass design — that reduces vibrations that result from reactive forces of the powerful woofers

Why electrostatic
  Components—stators, a diaphragm, and spars (non-conductive spacers that keep the tall assembly stationary) — assembled as a sandwich. The diaphragm is an ultra-light film impregnated with an electrically conductive material and stretched taut between two stators, which are perforated steel sheets coated with an insulator. When the speaker is operating, the diaphragm is charged with an electrostatic field of fixed positive voltage. The two stators, between which the diaphragm is stretched, are charged with voltages of equal strength but opposite polarity. These charges occur in instantaneous alternating pulses, according the signal received from your audio equipment. When the charge on one stator is positive, the charge on the other is negative.

  The combination of the custom-designed, rear-mounted 15-inch and front-firing, 12-inch passive bass drivers delivered stunningly tight, low bass at a loud level that perfectly matched the electrostatic panel’s balance.

  Because like charges repel and opposite charges attract, the diaphragm's constantly positive charge will force it to move forward or backward depending on the stator charges. With this movement, an electrostatic transducer translates an electrical audio signal into the diaphragm motion that produces sound waves in your room.
  While traditional cone loudspeakers produce sound in response to the separate movements of many small parts (voice coil, former, diaphragm), an electrostatic transducer has only one moving part: the diaphragm. Its movement is instantaneous — with no time lag — enabling the diaphragm to trace even the most delicate sonic details with absolute precision. The diaphragm's surface area is much larger than any cone driver, giving the electrostatic transducer the ability to perform over an exceptionally wide frequency range without having to cross over to another driver.
  MartinLogan engineers have made improvements to the electrostatic design with its own unique innovations. First, the electrostatic panel speaker’s components are fused in a proprietary “Vacuum Bonding” process via an aerospace adhesive with a claimed hold-strength that exceeds welding. Vacuum Bonding ensures uniform diaphragm tensioning, and facilitates the extremely tight tolerances necessary for the construction of such a precision transducer.
  The stators that "sandwich" the diaphragm must be rigid enough to remain absolutely stationary — despite the strong electrostatic forces pushing and pulling them during operation. They must also be perforated to allow sound to pass through. MartinLogan said its MicroPerf design optimizes this tradeoff by reducing the size of the individual stator holes, increasing the effective radiating area of the diaphragm without compromising the structural integrity of the panel.
  Also, MartinLogan's ClearSpar spacers strengthen the assembly across its width, ensuring the consistent tension of the Vacuum Bonded diaphragm between the stators with absolutely no visual or auditory obstructions.
  MartinLogan's icing on the electrostatic cake (so to speak) is its Curvilinear Line Source (CLS) electrostatic panel. MartinLogan CLS electrostatic panels feature a gentle horizontal curve design that significantly changes the speaker's dispersion pattern, radiating a wide, enveloping soundstage, packed with detail.

Neolith earns "EAN Luxury Class Product of the Year"

  These ML design features — as well as the electrostatic speaker’s inherent dipolar radiation pattern — all contribute the “live” space impression while listening in a properly set-up room. According to MartinLogan, a true dipole transducer radiates with equal intensity from the front and back of its diaphragm, with the outputs in opposite phase. As a result, sound waves rippling out toward the sides meet at the speaker's edge and cancel, minimizing side-wall reflections with short relative arrival times.
  This reduction in side-output minimizes interfering side-wall reflections, which can muddy the image. It frees the dipole radiation pattern to produce a generous amount of ambience-enriching late-arriving reflections off the wall behind your loudspeakers. At the same time, electrostatic panels maintain relatively limited vertical dispersion, which minimizes undesirable floor and ceiling reflections.

Behind the bass
  The Neolith’s impressive, subwoofer like bass performance comes from a dual-driver arrangement. The front-firing, 12-inch mid-bass woofer operates from 60 Hz to 250-400 Hz (depending on the speaker’s onboard jumper settings). It has an extremely low moving mass — relative to its size. The low-mass, non-woven carbon fiber cone, mounted in a cast-aluminum alloy frame, is lightweight and rigid, for high efficiency when moved by its 3-inch copper-clad aluminum flat-wire voice coil. The low-inductance, single-layer, edge-wound coil (with copper-cupped pole piece) reduces intermodulation distortion caused by the changing inductance as the woofer's big coil moves back and forth within the gap.
  The massive, 15-inch, rear-mounted, bass woofer supplies sub-60 Hz bass, down to almost 20 Hz (23 Hz, -3 dB). This custom-design, bass driver contains an extended throw assembly, with an efficiently vented, triple-shorting ring motor and quad-layer coil, to eliminate compression and distortion. The woofer also utilizes a rigid, extra-thick, anodized, aluminum-cone design, mounted in a stable cast basket.

Double-vented 15-inch woofer provides sub 25-Hz bass

  Neolith also features the proprietary Vojtko™ Filter crossover section, which is designed to handle massive amounts of external amplifier power, yet provide precise crossover slopes. In the low-pass crossover section, multiple, super-efficient 100V capacitors are placed in series and/or series-parallel to achieve 200V capability. This innovation couples increased voltage-handling with exceptional heat dissipation.
  Aluminum-housed resistors mounted to substantial heat sinks draw off additional heat. Compact toroidal inductors keep large amounts of current flowing and eliminate magnetic interactions between the inductors, according to ML technical specs.
  The high-pass crossover, which controls Neolith's electrostatic panel, features audiophile-quality polypropylene capacitors, chosen for their excellent performance characteristics, and air-core coils for precision inductance. Air-core coils are used to eliminate the hysteresis distortion ("magnetic memory") effects that are common with steel-based inductors.
  Cables connections are made through five-way, audiophile WBT Binding Posts. The connectors’ fine silver filigree is highly conductive and claimed to be free from "eddy current" effects. These posts are fully insulated for shock protection and topped with an impressive, palladium-plated metal cap. The speaker can be operated with single-wire or bi-amp connections.
  Onboard controls include “Deep Bass Adjustment,” reducing output by -4 dB or -8dB, and the Listening Distance Adjustment, which addresses electrostatic room/floor interaction by adjusting output relative to room dimensions; the settings are 3-meters (or less), 4 meters and 5 meters (or larger).
  Spec-wise, the Neolith’s rated frequency response is 23 Hz to 22 kHz; sensitivity is listed at 90 dB/2.83v at 1 meter. Nominal impedance is 4 ohms. As you can tell from the Neolith’s company specifications, this is a big speaker: 74.8 inches tall (a little over six-feet tall) 34.2 inches deep and 30.3-inches wide and a weight of 385 pounds. It weighs as much as some console acoustic pianos.
  Starting at $79,995 for the standard black finish; the upgraded finishes are Rosso Fuoco, a kind of rosewood color; Cordoba Red, Deep Sea Blue, Basalt Black, Desert Silver and Arctic Silver. The speaker is gorgeous when you see it up close.

  The listening session/demo assured me that ML’s new flagship is a winner; it personifies the best in electrostatic design and can easily fill up cavernous rooms with that intricate, textured sound.

  As an owner of the MartinLogan Montis, a midsize electrostatic that utilizes much of the company’s electrostatic design features — in conjunction with a powered, 10-inch bass woofer, I can attest to how well these speakers reveal the space between the instrument tracks of recorded music. The Montis are musically involving, and I expected the Neolith to project that electrostatic sonic character — but convey it in a much larger room — with increased deep bass. The Neolith also gives full amplifier control to the owner. The electrostatic panel, plus the bass drivers are powered by whatever amp the user wants to use from a 20 watts, all the way to 1,300 wpc.

The setup
  For press auditions, MartinLogan sent out the Neolith on a demo road show. I and several other audio journalists did our trial at Overture Ultimate Audio hi-fi dealer in Wilmington, DE. Overture Ultimate Audio is owned by Terry Menacker, and he and his staff are known for their hospitality, as well as their fine lines of audiophile products.
  The speakers were set up in the hi-fi salon’s biggest listening room. The Neoliths were powered by Spectral Synthesis DM-400 mono-block amplifiers, Spectral DMC-30 preamp and a Spectral SDR-4000sl CD player. All cables were MIT.
  The room had been setup and tuned for the Neoliths, and through the various types of music that were played, it was spot on. Although I brought a generous sample of 24 bit, hi-res and DSD music, the dealer’s CD system did not allow for playing of my typical test tracks. Thus, I relied on the “house” playback, which provided some pretty good tunes, nonetheless.

The audition
  Being familiar with the ML sound, courtesy of the Montis, the Neolith’s sonic characteristic was not unexpected — an ultra-open soundstage with spacious layering of the instruments across the front and the dipole reflective radiation that helps focus the reflections to get that much more of the sonic realism out of a loudspeaker. Whether it was Pop, Classical or Jazz, or Acoustic, that ML sound was always recognizable.
  In the large room with the 5-meter setting, the speaker sounded best, to my ears, near the back of the room. My Montis does a good job in a small-to-medium room, but in a large room, it cannot project anywhere close to the Neolith. Not enough panel, not enough bass to fill a big room.
  The Neolith gets you the detail, the space and the deep bass with no problem. The limit is how much amp you want to put into it. With the 15-inch and 12-inch bass drivers, the low end was deep and tight, a very musical bass with not a hint of mid-bass loading or unnatural plumpness. Musically, it is as good as a high-end, separate subwoofer. Complements also to the Spectral amps, with their dynamic bass precision, which also flatters these speakers.
  My favorite cut that I heard during the demo was Shirley Horn’s “You Won’t Forget Me,” the title track from the 1991 jazz CD. That evocative, velvety vocal from the late Ms. Horn, a rich trumpet tone from Miles Davis, the precisely centered bass and Billy Hart’s metronome-like timing on snare rim and cymbals sounded beautiful through the Neolith pair. The cymbals, even via CD resolution, were open and airy with just the right metallic sheen. The double bass was forceful, yet taught, without overhang. All in all, a gorgeous recording rendered in way that only an electrostatic can.

Premium parts are used throughout the Neolith. Note the binding posts.

  I would love to get my ears in front of a pair of Neoliths — with my hi-res music, DACs and a Pass Labs Xs-150 super-Class A or Rogue Audio Medusa hybrid amp and perhaps I will in the near future. But the listening session/demo assured me that ML’s new flagship is a winner; it personifies the best in electrostatic design and can easily fill up cavernous rooms with that intricate, textured sound.
  With a beginning price tag of nearly $80,000 per pair, the Neolith, obviously, is not a budget speaker. There are audio aficionados who can afford and buy these luxury-class hi-fi products. Just like there are car buffs who spend their money on a Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche, etc. The Neolith is proof of how good a speaker you can build when costs is not an obstacle.

The verdict
  In closing this demo/review write up, I would like to thank Terry Menacker, president; and his crew at Overture Ultimate Audio, for their kind hospitality, as well as the MartinLogan product folks and sales/PR staff, for letting me listen to the Neoliths. The demo was well worth my time.
  As an owner of MartinLogan Montis electrostatic, I can personally attest that the much-larger Neolith takes that detailed, sonic layering and dispersion and exponentially increases it by a factor of 10 — especially in a big room. Although my dealer demo was CD-only, the combination of the custom-designed, rear-mounted 15-inch and front-firing, 12-inch passive bass drivers delivered stunningly tight, low bass — to a loud level that perfectly matches the electrostatic panel’s balance. The Neolith’s low end is tight, forceful and imposing.
  If you have the cash and a big-enough room to let the speakers breathe, the MartinLogan Neoliths will reward you with hour after hour of gorgeous music. I can’t wait to hear a pair with hi-res. Based on what I heard at the Delaware demo, it is an honor to give the Neolith the EAN Stellar Sound Award, and I also selected it for the EAN 2014 Luxury Class Audio Product of The Year.

  John Gatski is publisher/owner of the Everything Audio NetworkArticles on this site are the copyright of the Everything Audio Network©Any unauthorized use, via print or Internet, without written permission is prohibited.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

2014 Awards!
EAN Announces
Products of The Year

Audiophile, Home Cinema, Recording, Personal Audio Gear Recognized For Outstanding Performance

by John Gatski
  For 2014, EAN has selected its Product of The Year Award winners. Most audio products reviewed on this site are top-notch audio components, but there is just a bit extra with the products that I chose this year, either in their performance, utility or value or a combination of these factors. Happy Holidays. You may end up buying one of these products — just like I did.

Audiophile Product Of the Year
Oppo HA-1 DAC/HP Amplifier,
Benchmark AHB2 Amplifier
DAC/Headphone Amp
Click Oppo HA-1

  There are two in this category: the Oppo HA-1 DAC/headphone amp and the Benchmark AHB2 amplifier. The Oppo HA-1 gets its award designation because it offers a state-of-the-art DAC that is virtually future proof — with its up to 32 bit/768 kHz PCM decode, as well as quad-speed DSD. The clincher is the way-above-its-price Class-A discrete headphone circuit that is so good I use it for line stage output. It also has plenty of connectivity, (analog I/O and all digital inputs), advanced features (such as digital word length indicator that only a few DACs are equipped with) and it only costs $1,299!
  An audiophile would have to spend four times as much to get significant improvements in audio and match the features set. In my opinion, If you re serious about hi-res via headphones, the Oppo HA-1 is a must buy.

Audiophile Amplifier
Click Benchmark AHB2
  The $2,995 Benchmark AHB2 gets the award because its design pushes the spec envelope of power amplifiers. It is no longer enough to have 100 dB S/N ratio (or worse) spec’d amplifiers when you have the Benchmark measuring in excess of 130 dB! That is better than the majority of DACs can perform. It is digital performance from an analog amp. And the amp sounds great as well — a very neutral analog sound with tight bass and gracious stereo image. Throw in the reasonable price tag, and its award status is a no-brainer.

Home Recording Product of The Year
TASCAM DA-3000 24-bit/DSD Recorder
  The DA-3000 is for those of those who like to record and listen to audio in a pro or an audiophile setting. This combo A/D-D/A recorder/player, priced at $1,299, is the successor to the best buy DVRA-1000HD. The DA-3000, however, adds double speed DSD record/playback, CF card storage, and is about $600 less than the old DVRA-1000-HD.
  The on-board A/D-D/As for PCM and DSD are way better than many separates. Even against high-end separates the audible difference is nearly nil, Plus, it can record and play using CF, SD card as well a USB thumb drive. It is the most-utilized tool in my recording arsenal. Audiophiles can use the DA-3000 just for download playback — up to 24/192 and DSD; it has the right connections (balanced and unbalanced analog, plus SPDIF, TOSlink and AES/EBU digital I/O), and a good headphone amp. Maybe you want to archive your vinyl collection in my guest.

Home Cinema Product of the Year
AudioControl AVR-6 7.1 Channel Receiver
Click AudioControl AVR-6

  We reviewed really nice receivers this year, and they all offered quality sound. I chose the $3,950 AudioControl AVR-6 because of its audiophile-caliber sound quality, The openness and spatial projection is definitely a cut above most receivers. The decoded sound from BDs is impressive. I even played hi-res from an Oppo BD-105, while connecting the AVR-6 with my MartinLogan Montis electrostatics, and came away quite impressed. It does not have many Internet apps, DSD decoding via HDMI, or other features that A/V receivers are equipped with, and it is a bit pricy, but what it does have is ‘the sound.” It is better than many separate pre/pro amps combos I have auditioned.

Personal Audio Product of the Year
USB Audio Player Pro Android Player
Hi-Resolution Player Software For Android
Click USB Audio Player Pro

  Okay, it has not officially been reviewed on EAN yet, but, boy, do I ever use USB Audio Player Pro. This $9.00 Android hi-res player features up to 32-bit/384 sample rate PCM and 2.8 MHz DSD playback when linked to a compatible a USB-input DAC. Plus, it decodes FLAC, WAV, AIFF, MP3, OGG, etc. It works with most noted Android tablets, and its transparent playback to your favorite DAC sounds aces. Rivals the computer player software. USB Audio Player Pro also contains playlist management features, EQ and several tweaks to assure smooth playback with different devices.
  What’s really handy is its portability. USB Audio Player Pro allows you to play super high res, such as 24/384 and DXD), without going through a computer. Thus, it is extremely portable. I have it installed on two Dell tablets and an Android Smartphone. I keep one in my main audiophile rig and one in my recording suite to monitor my home-brew 24/384 PCM guitar recordings. I also use an Android Smartphone and a Resonessence Concero HP for mobile hi-res listening.
  There are a few hi-res audio software players out there for smart devices to output hi-res audio via USB, but none that I have tried can touch USB Audio Player Pro.
"Luxury Audio" Products of the Year
Pass Labs XS-150, MartinLogan Neolith

Click Neolith or Xs-150

  Although they are well above $60,000, I have to acknowledge two ultra high-price products I got the chance to hear this year. The Pass Labs Xs-150 "super Class A" MOSFET monoblock amplifier, at $65,000 per pair, is an exquisite amp that exudes high class all the way. The Xs-150 has a luscious, musical character and the widest soundstage I have ever heard from an amplifier.
  The starts-at-$80,000 MartinLogan Neolith is the company's flagship, top-class electrostatic that I took a few hours to evaluate at an area dealer last November. The Neolith exhibits the same enveloping sonic character of the best ML speakers — only the much-larger transducer fills up big listening rooms with its open, detailed soundstage; its passive, dual-bass driver arrangement kicks out 25-Hz bass as loud and tight as any subwoofer. A more detailed review of my experience with the Neolith is coming shortly.

  John Gatski is publisher/owner of the Everything Audio NetworkArticles on this site are the copyright of the ©Everything Audio NetworkAny unauthorized use, via print or Internet, without written permission is prohibited.