CH Precision C1 DAC ($37,500), D1 Disc Player ($38,000) and X1 External Power Supply ($20,500): This combo possesses an uncanny ability to convey music with transparency, resolution with tons of detail, and yet it is natural sounding. CH Precision is the one of the best digital set ups I have heard in my system. The addition of the X1 power supply upgrades both the C1 and the D1 to new levels of performance. Simply put, this system sounded fabulous. (Key Kim)
Meridian Explorer 2 DAC ($300): Both low-end and high-end laptops are limited in the sound quality that they can reproduce. Thankfully, you can equip your computer with an arsenal that conquers audio limitations. The Explorer 2 is a USB-dongle that will give you an unadulterated listening experience. Drums on Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” are tighter than ever before on the Hi-Res track ($17.98, hdtracks.com) (Mark Abell)
Oppo UDP-205 Universal Player ($1,299.00); with Upgrade Company Signature Edition Upgrade ($2,499.00): To call this player “great value for the money” is to do it an injustice. The UDP-205 is a truly high-end unit that will play virtually any digital disc, download, or stream in existence, including 4K video. It contains two cutting-edge ESS9038 Sabre Pro DACs, with a choice of seven(!) digital filters, and will output stereo or multichannel. Especially notable are the Oppo’s bass and detail. $1,299 too pedestrian for you? Add David Schulte’s Signature Edition upgrade and receive an extra helping of drive and finesse. The upgraded UDP-205 will compete with the five-figure “big boys.” Don’t call me crazy unless you’ve heard it! (Dave Allison)
PS Audio DirectStream Memory Player ($5,999.00 reviewed here): PS Audio’s latest DirectStream Memory player is a universal disc transport that will even play HD selections from a thumb drive, although its navigation of the drive will be somewhat limited/slow. Used as a CD or DVD transport it is superior to any other transport in my experience and it is the first transport to provide a digital SACD output. The quality of sound it can bring from a standard Redbook CD is nothing short of spectacular! When mated with PS Audio’s highly lauded DirectStream DAC, with its latest Red Cloud firmware, the resulting combination is world-class and an audiophile’s fantastic dream. (Frank Alles)
Schiit Audio JIL analog to digital converter ($199.00): The Schiit JIL is simply styled like their other components, in a small, but solid, package. With a pair of unbalanced inputs and a USB out, the JIL rips at 48, 96 and 192kHz, (no multiples of 44.1), the JIL has two front-mounted selectors for rip resolution and input volume, along with two peak level LED lights. Setting the gain level takes a little time but insures your rip max headroom. The dynamics with the Schiit JIL were good and the rip depth noticeable compared to a unit of similar cost. The JIL’s 24-192 presentation was surprisingly closer to the vinyl, with the Schiit JIL delivering a bit more sparkle, vocal sweetness, image resolution and more effervescence to the percussion fills. Schiit says it offers a 15-day trial period (the equipment must be returned within the 15 days). A couple hundred clams isn’t much to pay for the ability to make your own higher than Redbook resolution rips, not to mention those of the 24–bit 192 variety.
Thrax Audio Maximinus DAC ($30,600): The Maximinus is an exquisitely crafted state-of–the–art DAC. It’s based on a universal DSP controlled discrete resistor ladder 32bit/384kHz audio DAC. It features no I/V conversion with no reconstruction filter at the DAC output, providing the cleanest possible output signal. The Maximinus’s ability to resolve subtle musical information is superlative. The strings had a beautiful lushness and richness, and took on a more sophisticated feel that imbued fan intense realism. In the end, the highest praise I can give to a digital component is to describe it as “analog-like.” (Key Kim)
Titans Audio Lab Helen jitter unit ($1,499): This small and unassuming device appears to heighten resolution, while creating a greater sense of depth and dimensionality through its correction of digital jitter. Very reminiscent of the Genesis Digital Lens of two decades ago. Very impressed thus far. Review in the works. (Clement Perry)
Bache Audio Sonata Monitor ($2,750.00 reviewed here): Bache Audio’s Sonata Monitors produce a crisp, strong, bass energy that belies their size. It was stronger and more present than that of similar monitors rated to go lower with their larger woofers. With this monitor’s 4-way design, which utilizes widebander wide range mid range speakers, music appeared more immediate, more intense, with great imaging and soundstage. These monitors reproducing a rawness in music that made listening more enjoyable, delivering more punch and coherence than you’d expect from a monitor of this size. The Bache Sonata-001 Monitors are a seriously “fun to listen to” pair – they convey immediacy, speed and drive in program material quite well and I like how small they are and how big they appear. Highly recommended if you’re in the market for an over-performing monitor. (Greg Voth)
Bache Audio Passive 3-Way Tribeca loudspeakers ($6950.00): The Bache Audio Passive 3-Way Tribeca Floorstanders debuted at the New York Audio Show 2017. I reviewed that same prototype prior to it’s final finish being applied. The Tribeca shares the same tweeter and bamboo-coned midrange wiidebander as Bache Audio’s more expensive 002AB floor stander. Designed by Bache Audio owner, Gregory Belman, this wide range does a beautiful job rendering a greater range of musicality than a traditional midrange, delivering rich and dynamically powerful textures. Each of these wide range mid drivers costs considerably more than the usual fare but the resulting quality of sound demanded the added investment. The crossover point for the tweeter is 10,000Hz, second order, so the Syper tweeter Reference type limited edition FT96-EX-2 is working as a supertweeter, reproducing high frequencies with greater realism and accuracy. Also, the wide range mid driver is working without a crossover – Belman points to this as the reason for the huge soundstage the Tribeca’s present.
There’s something wonderful about this smaller passive pair. The Tribeca’s present a lovely wide and deep soundstage and really deliver in the mids and mid bass areas. Give them a listen, I think you’ll really love what Gregory’s been up to. Belman can finish them in any color. (Greg Voth)
Kii Audio Three Monitors ($12,900 reviewed here) ..to enjoy your favorite music directly from your source in such an uncomplicated manner was the manufacturer's main objective. And as far as I can tell, the company has surpassed this goal. Just imagine, being able to plug your CD player directly into a loudspeaker? Well, the Kii Audio Three allows you to do just that. (Clement Perry)
King Sound-KS-17 Full Range Electrostatic loudspeakers ($22,000 pair reviewed here): The King KS-17’s capacity to deliver such a wide range of musicality should be applauded. The resolving abilities of these speakers were impressive. The King’s have a wider sweet spot than most ESL’s, which tend to be beamy. They were a lot of fun to hang with and jazz sounds particularly great through them. The KS-17 ESL’s played quite loud, but not at aggressive volumes without a bit of compression and some distortion, as do most ESL’s. Still, you won’t feel slighted – I didn’t, and we have a good-sized space. The King’s go down impressively and most satisfyingly low, with bass impact more akin to a dynamic speaker. If you’e in a market for a full range speaker, ESL, dynamic or a hybrid of the two, at this or a higher price point, the King Audio LTD Model KS-17 Full Range Electrostatic Loudspeakers should be on you short list. (Greg Voth)
Soltanus Acoustics ESL Virtuoso Loudspeakers ($12,500.00/pair reviewed here): The Soltanus Acoustics ESL Virtuosos simply did some things to live music that my longtime reference Maggie MG20s couldn’t quite match, as long as I was listening from the sweet spot, that is. These days, the ability to have access to an entire library of music without leaving your sweet spot makes this a non-issue. While my MG20s can play slightly louder and deeper, the way the Virtuosos render music from the lower midrange up more than makes up for it. As for now, the MG20s will remain as my reference speaker. It’s only been a week since I had to send the Virtuosos back, but I miss them already. More to the point; I miss that sweet spot. (Dave Thomas)
Tekton Design Brilliance Loudspeakers ($3,000.00/pair reviewed here) Tekton Design has recently marketed several new loudspeakers under a new US Patent, which they’ve called “revolutionary.” The Brilliance is one such model and I found it a joy to listen to and evaluate. For their very modest $3k price tag, no other speaker in my experience can outdo their overall performance. The Brilliance is a true audiophile speaker that will sound best in medium to large size rooms (depending on how loud you play them). That said, they could be problematic in small rooms due to their powerful bass performance and the fact that their woofers sit close to the floor. If you are looking for a home theater speaker, these can fill the bill, but Tekton also makes models using the same patented technology that may be better suited to high-output HT applications, namely, the “Electron” and the “Double Impact” models, which use more drivers and are a bit more efficient. (Frank Alles)
Tekton Designs Double Impact Loudspeakers ($3,000.00 reviewed here): Two words that come to mind regarding these speakers are “amazing” and “polarizing.” The Double Impacts are amazing from the standpoint that they give you full-range, unsurpassed performance, particularly in the midrange. They compete with speakers costing $30K+. What’s polarizing is that they only cost $3K! This is one of those rare products that makes you ask the question: “Why should I spend more?” All the parameters by which you would “objectively” judge speakers are checked off. Highs on the Double Impacts are open, detailed and extended, while the low end, depending on your amplifier, speaks with a voice that has good pitch differentiation and goes deep enough to pressurize the room. But it’s the midrange performance that is magical. It is so “you are there” with an ability to “see into” the music with the ease of a horn and the clarity of a planar. No matter how much I fought my feelings and conclusions about this speaker, my ears keep telling me that my conclusions are correct. (Clement Perry/Mike Wright)