I've covered a lot of great sounding budget gear this year, but the very best audio is far from cheap. That's hardly unique to high-end audio; the best cars, cameras, and clothes are always pricey, so it shouldn't surprise anyone that cutting-edge audio can be crazy expensive. What follows is a list of most astonishing gear I listened to this year. I love my job!
Sound bar buyers' performance expectations are pretty low; all the 'bar has to do is sound better than the lousy speakers that are built into their TVs. So if that's all you need, a sound bar will get the job done -- but there are better-sounding alternatives, starting with a pair of self-powered Audioengine A2 ($199) speakers. The A2s are terrific, but the Paradigm Millenia CT ($700) is a 2.1-channel subwoofer/satellite system, and it sounds better than the Audioengines. A lot better, and it's really pretty amazing.
Spread 64 inches apart, the Millenia sats produced a … Read more
A great-sounding recording will sound its best only when it's properly mastered to LP, SACD, DVD-Audio, or a high-resolution file. Those formats will reveal the full glory of the music in ways that lower-resolution formats like MP3 or analog cassette always miss. But if you didn't have access to the high-resolution file to compare it with, a great recording will still sound pretty terrific as an AAC, M4A, or 320kbps MP3 file, because the recording's innate quality would shine through. On the other hand, a heavily compressed, processed and crude recording will always sound heavily compressed, processed … Read more
The best I can say about most cheap subwoofers is they make bass. The bass won't be the deepest, most powerful, or the clearest, or blend all that well with most speakers, but all subs make bass. Better subs, like the $449 Hsu Research VTF-1 MK2, generate deeper, less distorted sound, so you can actually hear distinct bass notes, and can play louder and fill larger rooms better than most cheap subs.
I've long admired Aperion Audio's Intimus speakers, but for one reason or another, I never auditioned the company's higher-end Verus speakers. The line starts with the $350-per-pair Verus Forte satellite speakers, but I went for the bigger Verus Grand bookshelf speakers that run $598 a pair. The speaker has a 1-inch dome tweeter and 5-inch woven Kevlar woofer. It measures 13 by 7.5 by 9 inches, weighs 14 pounds, and the curved sided cabinet feels like it's well put together.
Aperion Intimus speakers' satin real cherry wood or high-gloss black finishes are superb, but the … Read more
While audiophile gear can be quite expensive, picking out a selection of terrific gift ideas that won't break the bank is still doable. Here you'll find books, music, gear, and even a free download that will put a smile on any audiophile's, or music lover's, face. The Audiophiliac had a self-imposed price limit of $100 max and easily met that goal. Seven of the 10 gift ideas are under $50!
Lucky me -- I get to play with lots of headphones, but I sometimes wonder if they're all made in the same factory, and their mostly plastic construction, similar features, and designs feel interchangeable. So when CNET's David Carnoy put the Meze 88 Classics in my hands I was intrigued. The beautifully finished, hand-carved ebony wood ear cups gave a high-end sheen to the design, and a quick audition proved the 88 Classics' beauty was more than skin deep.
Build quality is a step up from what you get with Beats by Dr. Dre 'phones, and I liked … Read more
Every now and then, I like to report on the best new discs that have come my way. Let's get started!
Amy Winehouse: "At the BBC" (CD/DVD) Fourteen stunning performances from 2004 to 2009 showcase aspects of her talent that the studio recordings gloss over. The DVD, "The Day She Came to Dingle," is a documentary featuring Winehouse at the height of her powers in December 2006 in a tiny church in Ireland. She's backed up with just guitar and bass, so her voice, in all its glory, is upfront and clear. Awesome!… Read more
I recently wrote about a Hsu Research subwoofer, "Shaken & stirred: The Hsu VTF-1 MK2," but today I'll cover a complete Hsu 5.1 channel sub/satellite system. There are four HB-1 MK2 sats, one HC-1 MK2 center channel speaker, and the VTF-1 MK2 sub. The six pieces sell for $1,159, and the sound is truly astonishing for the money. A Denon AVR-1912 receiver and an Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray player completed the test system.
The Hsu system has extraordinary power and dynamic oomph. It also sounds sweet at late-night listening levels, but it can rock with … Read more
I don't know how I missed Kudos Audio before, but the company has been in business for more than 20 years. When I heard Kudos' little X2 speaker at Sound by Singer in NYC I knew it was a serious high-end contender, but one that can easily fit in the most cramped apartments. Andrew Singer knows his market, and even fairly wealthy New Yorkers live in small spaces. The X2 is a mere 31 inches high, unusually petite for a tower speaker.
Though the speakers are made in England, the X2's 6-inch woofer and 1-inch tweeter are manufactured … Read more