James & Linda Darby


Category 1

Price No Object

Best Source

Basis "The Work of Art" Turntable

In two hotels full of state-of-the-art digital sources, this was the most engaging,

natural, dynamic, fast and detailed source we've ever heard. At a cost no object price, "best" doesn't come cheap. $179,000


Best Digital Source

It's the Rubicon Atomic AD/DA Pre am.
World's first 384 kHz converter, phono stage preamp and headphone amplifier with an integrated atomic clock.

It showed us just how far digital playback has come. At a price.


Best Amplifiers

Ayon Titons

Maybe the best 100 watts per side we've ever heard.

At a mind melting quarter million a pair, these had better sound incredible.

They did. Cost no object, indeed. But your audio buddy probably won't have them.



Vapor Nimbus by Ryan Scott. A "cost no object" best new speaker

for only $8,000?  Well, it was new. And it was the best new speaker we heard.

At any price. In fact, it was better than many other models at many times its price.

The room acoustics kinda sucked, but the rigid yet tuneful and vast bass

was profound at this or any price. The rest of it was excellent as well,

but high quality bass is very hard to reproduce.


Best Speaker


We admit, we are a little biased with this one because a pair of these are sitting in Listening Room A at home.

Honestly, they sound way better at home than they did at the show, but that is always the case.

We've never heard anything that sounds better at a show than it sounds at home. And that's a lot of stuff.

Still, on a comparative basis, we didn't hear anything at any price that sounded better. Different, yes. Better, no.

Oh yeah, they look even more expensive than they are, and much better than the picture reveals.

More expensive? Yes. Even at $18,000/pr, no.


Category 2

Best value

Best value Integrated Amplier

Luxman A550Ax Class A integrated amp at $5,400.

Many small amp makers (Peachtree and Odyssey come to mind) weren't there.

We didn't see many Stereo for Cheap Bastards ($1,000 or under) category.

Luxman is our go-to, one size fits all integrated when people ask what integrated to get when they want to downsize or downprice

from their big, complex system but still want first class sound. Luxman integrateds are it and

this one that's pure Class A - no switching between class A and B - sounds the best of the lot. And it will last forever.


Best Value Analog Source

Looks great. Sounds greater.

It's only $4,500 AND that includes a Moth Arm2 Incognito-wired tone arm.

Just add cartridge and you got great sound.


We might have missed Mytek if they were there, but this Exasound e20 DAC for $2,499 it is bleeding edge pure DSD playback technology.

It won't be obsolete, at least in the no marketing hype real world, for a long time.


Best Value Small Speaker under $1,000

Calling al Cheap Bastards! $499/ pair and they are powered. Multiple input sources - digital and analog - a built-in AC-power port for use with an AirPort Express Base Station, subwoofer auto-sensing, wireless and direct connection. So small you can hide and your wife, kids and pets will never know they're there. Leaps tall buildings...Add a Hsu subwoofer and you got real entry level high-end, buster.



Best Value Small Speaker


Magnaplanar Super MMG

The Maggie MMG is one of the best values in the high-end kingdom

at a beer budget $599. We can't say THEE best because no one of anything can be THEE best - there are too many variables.

The MMG's are pretty room and amp dependant. But still...

Now comes the killer combo - the Super MMG. This combo comes in two flavors: 

A. The MMG plus ONE bass panel - $1,199

Just barely out of Cheap Bastard territory but worth the stretch.

B: The MMG plus with TWO bass panels for $1,750

Mr. Maggie, Wendell Diller, was playing the Super 2 setup at his pantented,

standing room only, admittance by special whispered password, dark room demo.

Really. Getting in to one of his "1 every 15 minutes" demos is like getting past

Al Capone  standing at the door of a speakeasy during Prohibition.

But once you do you getgain entrance, you taste that sweet nectar that is better than any Cuban rum. He plays his carefully selected demo tracks.

You listen quietly, reverently, not daring to move for fear you might make a noise. Don't even think of coughing.

A couple of small Wallmart uplights on the floor provide the only stream of light in the room,

looking for all the world like votive candles in front of a high altar.

You expect a column of black robed and hooded figures to enter chanting any minute

in anticipation of some sort of sacrificial ceremony. Will there be blood?

No, the only thing sacrificed at this conclave is every other speaker anywhere near the price.

You want to lean forward; greedily taking in the sparkling fluidity of the "Mag"ninificent

aural "chocolate coated strawberries with champagne" that is the Magnaplanar sound.

Notice: the above was created as proof that Stereomojo can,

when desired, spew Stereophile or The Absolute Sound hyperbole.

Now back to our regular programming...

What you hear is crispness, speed, outstanding transparency, a high degree of delicacy,

unexaagerated, uncolored midrange and a well layered soundstage. No sense of music propagated by two speakers. Or two bass panels.

In short, this is mid high-end sound for sub-mid-fi level bucks.

You get every bang out of every buck here. Don't put a cheesy source, amp or cables in front of them

or they will cut them to pieces. No, you don't need to spend a fortune to feed them, but loving care is required to get their optimum.

Pope Wendell has done it again. When the demo is complete, no applause is allowed. Please file out silentely in a single line and leave your tithe in the offering plate.


And now....

Our Final Category...


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