My advice to speaker shoppers who prioritize sound quality is go for a good set of big speakers. They conjure the sound of music more realistically than tiny ones. I know all too well that most folks settle for something smaller, and usually it's a case of the smaller, the better. That's why designers are always trying to get bigger sounds out of smaller speakers. Enter the Vanatoo Transparent One, a 10-inch-tall powerhouse armed with a 5.25-inch aluminum woofer, a separate rear-mounted 5.25-inch passive radiator, and a 1-inch silk dome tweeter. This little speaker made a … Read more
I was smitten with the Coffman Labs G1-A stereo preamplifier, even before I heard it make a sound. I'd seen pictures of the preamp online and it looked fine, but once I saw it in person I knew it was one of the most beautiful audio components on the market. The feel of the control knobs and the metalwork's fit and finish are state of the art. Granted, the G1-A is priced accordingly, but just as with high-end cars, watches or cameras, with purist audio design build quality is just as important as performance.
Still, I wouldn't … Read more
When I first spotted the Sony MDR SA5000 headphones at a local Head-Fi meeting in Bayside, Queens, my first impression was that it was eerily similar to Sennheiser's HD 800 headphones. The MDR SA5000 is clearly derived from Sony's old flagship $3,000 Qualia Q10 headphones; both Sonys were first announced in 2004. The HD 800 was introduced in 2009.
The magnesium-framed, open-back MDR-SA5000 is superlight (260 grams) and remarkably comfortable. The real leather earpads' head-clamping pressure is oh-so-gentle, and the sound is remarkably detailed, spacious, and open -- I found the MDR-SA5000 extraordinary in those regards. I … Read more
I've always had a soft spot for great-sounding big speakers, like the SVS Ultra Tower. It stands 45 inches tall, and the cabinet has a unique, aggressively styled trapezoidal shape. Decked out in a gleaming piano-black finish or black oak veneer, the Ultra Tower projects a distinctly high-end aura; it looks a lot more expensive than it really is. The three-way design features a 1-inch aluminum dome tweeter sitting between twin 6.5-inch composite glass-fiber midrange drivers, and mounted on the lower side flanks, a pair of 8-inch woofers. All three drivers are proprietary SVS designs. The speaker weighs … Read more
The House of Marley Liberate headphones don't look or feel like any other $100 pair. Most are flimsy plastic things, while the Liberate's metal, wood, hemp cloth, and vinyl construction gives it the feel of a more expensive design. The Liberate features 40mm drivers and an unusually flexible cable with an iPhone/iPad-compatible mic and inline controls. The headband isn't hinged and the earcups don't fold flat, but the upside to those design choices is the Liberate will probably withstand rough treatment better than most hinged models. Then again, the Liberate's cable isn't user-replaceable, … Read more
Like anyone who regularly reviews headphones, I've noticed that the majority of them have no unique features or qualities. So for example, it's rare to find headphones in the T 51 P's price class that aren't made in China, but this little $289 Beyerdynamic is made in Germany. The lightweight, 174 gram, mostly metal design doesn't have a hinged headband, but the ear cups fold flat for easy storage in the supplied, beautifully designed carry case. The headphone lacks a mic or inline controls, marking it as a design intended for the serious audiophile who … Read more
Apple has two new iPads, and they've never been more similar.
The iPad Air and iPad Mini with Retina Display are both out in stores, but unlike a year ago, the large and small are, under the hood, more alike than different. Both have Retina displays, in the same resolution no less. Both have A7 processors. Both come in storage sizes up to 128GB. Both come in cellular versions. One starts at $399, the other starts at $499.
So, which iPad should you get?
Let's assume you're already reading this article because you want to buy … Read more
As a die-hard magazine fan, I've enjoyed having Next Issue on my iPad. It's a subscription service that brings me unlimited periodicals for a flat monthly rate ($9.99 or $14.99 depending on whether you want weeklies as well).
However, I've bemoaned some fairly major shortcomings in the app, such as no Retina support, text-view mode, bookmarking, article sharing or printing, and more. The folks at Next Issue seem more concerned with adding titles to the library (which now includes an impressive 120-plus) rather than improving the user experience.
So I was hopeful that the just-released … Read more
It wasn't that long ago that desktop "computer" audio was synonymous with awful-sounding, cheap 'n' cheerful plastic speakers, but over the last few years Audioengine, Emotiva, Adam Audio, and many others started making seriously good high-quality monitors, with prices starting around $200 a pair.
I mostly focus on desktop speakers a la carte, but this time out I'm checking out PSB Speakers' ultracompact Alpha PS1 monitors paired with the almost-as-small SubSeries 100 sub. This three-piece system reaches lower into the bass than any of the aforementioned monitors without breaking the bank. Alpha PS1s run $299 per … Read more
The ALO Island is a USB-powered digital audio converter/headphone amplifier, and it's a honey! Functionally, it's not so different than many of the other USB digital converter/amps I've covered on this blog, but it's a bit bigger. The others are about the size of a thumbdrive; the Island is a 1.25x1.25x3.25-inch aluminum "brick," but it's still small enough to be considered a portable device. It handles low- and high-resolution files, up to 192kHz/24-bit. The Island sells for $299 in the US direct from the ALO Web site, … Read more