Welcome to our Products of the Year for 2010.
It may be of interest to you that there are 15 products represented here.
Of those 15, 14 either were or will be World's First Reviews.
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Many of these reviews were specifically requested by our readers. We listen to your comments and return your email quickly, usually within 24 hours.
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ACCESSORY OF THE YEAR
BYBEE EL RCA BULLETS SIGNAL PURIFIERS
$895 PER PAIR
BYBEE MAGIC BULLET II MINI INTERCONNECT BULLETS
$395 PER PAIR
At the end of my time listening to the Bullet II, a friend from Minnesota visited and we stayed up very late listening to music.
His words,"It can't be, it just can't be!
So there you have it folks, hyperbole and the truth...and unusual as it may be, the hype equals the effect. I am convinced that this is as much of an improvement as a new amp, preamp or speakers. I'm bewitched, bothered, and bewildered. Less than $400 for a very significant improvement to your sound? The lower priced bullets deliver about 80% of what the more expensive models do. That seems like a no-brainer to me. If you have a more upscale, even higher resolution system, you should investigate the Bybee EL's. People often pay much more for much less improvement in their sound. Give Mike at Tweak Geek a call; you have a 30 day money-back guarantee to prove me wrong ~ Mike Peshkin
BEST VALUE CABLES
Virtue Audio Nirvana Speaker Cables
List Price $119 for 2 meter pair, $159 3 meter pair as tested
Virtue Audio Nirvana Shielded Quad Conductor Interconnects
List price $64 1 meter pair
Virtue Audio Speed Freak 5% Silver Digital Interconnect
List Price: $39 1 meter
The Virtue Audio Nirvana speaker cable should be on everybody's audition list, regardless of budget. They sound that good and are my new reference speaker cable to beat. They're a great deal for those on a budget but might just surprise those would can afford far more. I'll be recommending these to friends and family for the foreseeable future. This is Maximum Mojo in spades. They're also pretty to look at or at least easy to ignore.
The Virtue Audio interconnects are also a great deal, besting the Audioquest Diamondbacks and trouncing the Bluejeans cables I have in house. Whether one might choose the Nordost Blue Heaven is still up for debate depending on system synergy. They operate at a similar level with the Virtue costing less than half as much. Will the Nirvana interconnects beat a set of $500 MIT cables? No, they won't but at $64 for a meter set, one could wire an entire system for far less than one set of MIT cables. Food for thought. I'm now using the Virtue Audio Nirvana interconnects as my reference as justifying a $500 cable to my wife is a fool's errand.
How about that old Speed Freak digital coax? These are a no-brainer over the Bluejeans cable I was using before. They won't match the far more expensive MIT digital interconnect but it comes down to price. Some may shell out some serious change for the MIT for that slight uptick. I know I will at some point The difference was very subtle unless I upclocked the transport from 44.1 to 88.2Khz.
At $39, this cable is simply amazing ~ BILL SCHUCHARD
VIRTUE AUDIO CABLES REVIEW
BEST VALUE PHONO PREAMP
EDWARDS AUDIO MC1 PHONO PREAMPLIFIER
PSU1 POWER SUPPLY
COMBO Price: $849
There are several phono stages at this price level, many of them superb. There are less that include BOTH a moving magnet AND moving coil section. The Edwards Audio MC1 is not kind to poor recordings, no government cover-ups here, but it embraces quality LP's like a new mother embraces her child. It delivers music; the sound is good, the musicality (if you allow) is much better. For its Cheap Bastards $495 price, it's a jewel. But adding the the dedicated power supply for an additional $400, which still keeps it well within our S4CB limit of a thousand bucks, is a must do to take the package to a much greater level.
From the most entry level turntable of at around $400 up to, say, $1,500 with either a moving magnet or moving coil, the MC1 & PS is a great fit.
EDWARDS AUDIO REVIEW
BEST VALUE DAC
EASTERN ELECTRIC MINIMAX DAC
We never use the phrase "highly recommended" like most others because no single product can ever be recommended for everyone, there are too many variables. However, it seems three different Stereomojo reviewers who evaluated this DAC have decided to buy it; something that has never happened before.
Who should be in the market for the new EE Minimax DAC? We suppose if you already have a megabuck DAC, you might want to hang onto it, though you could sell it and buy one of these, probably be just as happy and come out way ahead. For a paltry $750, this is really as close to the state of the art as 99.9 % of us will probably ever need to be. Native playback of up to 24/192 resolution, tube or solid state modes and XLR input along with four other types.
Yes, technology will march onward, and digital reproduction will continue to get better, but why worry? This thing makes music and should keep us music lovers satisfied for some time to come! ~ James Darby, Dr. John Richardson & Mike Peshkin
EASTERN ELECTRIC REVIEW
BEST VALUE PREAMPLIFIER
DOGE 8 TUBE PREAMPLFIER
I cannot think of another preamp that offers the quality sound, build and appearance of the Doge 8 at such a remarkable price of $1,300. And that does not include the bonuses of the balanced features and a high quality phono preamp. And a full function remote control. While we think you can spend more and get better absolute performance, we are convinced that the Doge 8 presents a very substantial bargain as a complete package. If you are a "cost-no-object" audiophile, go ahead and spend more. If you are looking to build a system that will give you legit high-end performance at almost mid-fi prices, the Doge should be high on your list ~ James Darby
DOGE 8 PREAMPLIFIER REVIEW
BEST SMALL SPEAKER VALUE
FRITZ CARBON 7 SPEAKER
List Price: $1,750/pr
Do you remember when speakers were touted as “ready for digital” as if a CD (for instance) would and should sound differently through a speaker that was not ready for digital sound? Did people really fall for that? Well, this speaker is ready for beautiful sound, however presented. Is this speaker perfect? I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that if you had them in a smaller room (not miniscule) and matched to an equally fine subwoofer, then yes, they may just be the perfect speaker…but only if the amp is an amp that matches these speakers as beautifully as the AVA Insight+ 240. Whether that proves to be easy or not is up to the audio gods, not I, but the 7's were a worthy match to several different types of amps, so they appear to be an easy speaker to drive. You will need some power to drive them since their sensitivity rating is only 88dB, so probably no miniwatt SET amps need apply, Fritz recommends at least 30 wpc which might be adequate with a tube amp with a good power supply, but double that with solid state.
While they go unusually low (39Hz) for a speaker this size, they cannot be called "full range", but we believe that the addition of a good subwoofer from Hsu for a few hundred dollars could be an even more outstanding bargain.
If you are looking for a gorgeously made, great sounding mini-monitor you need look any farther than the Fritz speaker website. There are some beautiful speakers out there in the +/- $1700 price range. Few as well made; fewer still that sound as good. Available in Oak, Cherry, Maple, Walnut, & Mahogany and can be ordered in a wide variety of other woods & finishes to match your decor $2300 list, $1750 special price.
Fritz sells direct, so you won't hear them in a dealer's showroom, but you can audition them at home; Fritz Speakers offers a full money-back guarantee should a purchaser prove to be unhappy with them ~ Mike Peshkin
FRITZ SPEAKER REVIEW
BEST VALUE CD PLAYER
VIRTUE AUDIO PIANO M1
Reference CD Player
If you are looking for a CD player at or anywhere near the $600 price range, do yourself a favor and give the Virtue Audio Piano M1 a try as there is a 30 day money back guarantee. Every Piano is assembled to order and since each unit is “built for you” there is a $50 restock fee. But if you are like me, you won't be sending it back.
Seth, check, money order or paypal? This one is mine, James. Please add it to my Reference System list from now on. When Virtue calls this a "Reference CD Player", they aren't just flappin' their gums.
P.S. There are no tubes...See?
Just be aware that as good as the Piano is, it does one thing: play CD's extremely well. No MP3's, no DVD's or SACD's. If you read other audio publications (why?!), it's all too common for them to proclaim that a certain product "punches above its weight" or sounds better than much more expensive gear. But they never mention that "much more expensive gear" which makes the statement pretty empty. We do mention the other gear. It only makes sense ~ Marvin Bolden
VIRTUE PIANO M1 REVIEW
BEST VALUE TURNTABLE
HANSS T 30 TURNTABLE
PRICE: $4,600 turntable only
At the show where this debuted, when they told us the price, we thought they meant 46 THOUSAND dollars - it looks that impressive. Magnetic levitating platter and feet. You can knock on the plinth and hear nothing through the speakers, near perfect isolation. Two motors, two custom belts, real time digital speed readout, outboard speed controller, capacity for two arms - this table has it all. At $4,600 it's a steal ~ James Darby
review coming soon
VIRTUE AUDIO SENSATION M451 & M901
Price: $799 & $949
plus additional options
We reviewed both models of the Sensation from Virtue. We also reviewed all of the additional options that allow you to improve the performance of them from the start or over time. No one has ever done that.
We know of no other amp that gives you as many options to tailor it to your personal taste, sonically as well as visually. In this economy, there are also no other integrated amps that allow you to start with a minimum expense without sacrificing major sonic or functional, um, virtues. Both amps offer the same internal chip, same number of inputs, subwoofer bypass, remote control ability and color/wood options. The basic 451 model offers outstanding performance for the money and you can only go up from there, easily adding options as your wallet, ears and maybe your wife see fit.
Each option is reasonably priced (especially the $300 tube option – Gary gets $1,000 for his own version) and makes significant improvements. Even at the $2,000 level that includes the Red Wine Black Lightening, the degree of transparency and the overall sound quality is well worth the money. One of the best sounds at the 2010 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest was the Sensation driving big Holographic Audio H1’s.
The Sensations are also very DIY and tweaker friendly, well documented by a large and vocal following on places like Audio Circle who enthusiastically tell of their adventures in tube rolling and even installing different caps. Seth regularly visits and comments as well, providing free support and encouragement. All the Virtue amps have almost achieved a cult following and, we think for good reason. These guys know a great thing when they see and hear it. If you are interested in trying your own ideas, you should start with the cheaper 451 and work your magic from there.
Most audiophiles would be more than happy with the base 451 in their MAIN system, especially if they are coming from mid-if amps/receivers they’d gotten at Best Buy, or an older solid -state entry-level high-end amp they’d owned for several years. Others would love the 451 in an office or second system. Perfect for the college student or teen ~ James Darby
INTEGRATED AMPLIFIER OF THE YEAR
BEYOND FRONTIERS AUDIO
TULIPD HYBRID TUBE/SOLID STATE INTEGRATED AMP w/INTERNAL DAC
This new Serbian company and made-in-America amp is the brainchild of Zdenko Zivkovic who designed the earth shaking Sonic Frontiers preamp decades ago. This amp is an all out assault on the state-of-the art with it's high-tech circuitry and astounding build quality and design. Puts out a conservative 200 watts per channel. I have never heard an upsampling DAC that sounding good until I heard this that upsamples everything to 24/192. This is a total game changer ~ James Darby
- Gold plated PCB
- tubes JJ Tesla 1x ECC83S and 1x E88CC Gold pins, cryogenically treated
- silver-gold-oil capacitors (2x) and electrolytic 4 x 47000uF Mundorf
- dual-mono, current output amplifier with Sanken bipolar transistors
- 100% tube gain with servo control of operation
- pure silver Mundorf and Kimber wire PTFE insulation
- output terminals WBT and input Cardas, Neutrik USB
- built-in 24bit/192kHz resampling DAC (all audio data always plays on 24bit/192kHz)
- accepts both COAX(SPDIF) and USB digital signal transport
- click-less (in sound path) Relay Volume Control - Patent Pending
- vfd display Noritake - Japan
- full remote control, in house patented remote protocol, 100% stable operation
- toroidal transformer 1600W
- inputs: 4 x LINE, 2 x COAX and 1 x USB
- output: 2 x 200W/8ohm, 2 x 400W/4ohm, capable to drive speakers down to 2ohm
BEST VALUE POWER AMPLIFIER
Audio by Van Alstine Insight+ 240 Power Amp Review
List Price: $999
It didn’t matter which speakers I matched up with this amp, it sounded wonderful…not wonderful for a 1000 dollar amp; just plain WONDERFUL. The tonal structure of the deep stringed instruments is very tough to get right, even tougher to aurally see an image of those instruments. The Insight+240 does it with every speaker I tried. I know I have a habit of hyperbole, but when 1000 dollars delivers what this amp does, hyperbole doesn’t seem like such a bad thing.
That is why I am so enthralled with the AVA amp. It showed everything a music lover and an audiophile wants from an amp. It is versatile enough to work extremely well with a number of different speakers and obviously with different preamps and is
revealing enough to show off a great recording with great playback equipment attached to it.
There is a lot of competition in the world of $1000-$2000 amps, but Frank Van Alstine’s amps, utilitarian looking rather than paying for gorgeous faceplates, etc. are definitely among the very best ~ Mike Peshkin
Audio by Van Alstine Insight+ 240 Power Amp Review
BEST VALUE INTEGRATED AMP
EKCO EV55SE Valve Integrated Amplifier
This British amp with Class AB Push-Pull amplifier design offers a choice between 25Watts RMS per channel at Triode mode and 55Watts RMS per channel at Ultra-linear mode, but it sounds even more powerful that that. It also give you the option to adjust the amount of feedback via a toggle switch on the front. It comes with Five (5) RCA Inputs and A/B option selective loudspeaker outputs into 8 Ohms, controlled via an included remote control. Its chassis is made of protective grilles finished with high-temp black paint protect the valve tubes while the sides of the chassis are fitted with matched pairs of handcrafted solid wood panels (deep Louro Preto) in piano gloss finish adding to the classy and elegant feel of the valve amplifier.
REVIEW COMING SOON
BEST VALUE SPEAKER
VON SCHWEIKERT VR-33
$3,750/pr Factory Direct price in the USA only
QUICK - name a pair of speakers with a legit frequency response of 25Hz to 30,000Hz, +/- 3dB. I can think of a few. Now name a pair of speakers with a legit frequency response of 25Hz to 30,000Hz, +/- 3dB for under $4,000! Yes? Anyone? Oh yes...90db sensitive too, so they work well with medium powered tube amps.
Designed to sit close to the back wall, Albert saved money by not using an enclosing cabinet which can add 50% to the price of a speaker. Then he only sells them factory direct, saving another 40% (at least) markup. The result is the VR33 that, in his own words, sounds like a $15,000 speaker. After spending a month with these, he wasn't lying. This speaker is one of the best bargains we've heard in a long time ~ James Darby
REVIEW COMING SOON
BEST VALUE SPEAKER
HOLISTIC AUDIO ARTS H1 SPEAKER
Price: $2,250 base price
Various DSP Options available
No, you're not seeing double and we didn't make a mistake. For the first time ever, there is a tie for a Product of the Year category.
The Von Schweikert and the Holistic are two very different speakers, yet they both produce music in an exceedingly musical way for prices that are staggeringly low.
I think that anyone, from the music lover to the dyed-in-the-wool audiophile, would do well to listen to Holistic Audio Arts’ H1 speakers. They are tonally correct and engaging, and I can’t think of another speaker near the price that reproduces recorded space as well. Besides, as Jack Caldwell continues to tinker with and develop new digital holographic filters and implementations, I can only see the design improving with time.
You DO need a computer available to get the fullest from these speakers unless you order the Behringer option, factory loaded with all the DSP goodies. That's $1,200. If you Google the company or check Audio Circle, Caldwell often runs significant discounts, or just call him and tell him you read the review in Stereomojo and you want great deal!
Worried about the complexity of the digital filter settings themselves? Don’t, as Holistic Audio Arts will provide them already installed on the customer’s computer, thus making the H1 system, in whatever configuration one decides upon, utterly plug ‘n’ play (and infinitely customizable). No worries.
Holistic Audio Arts’ new H1 speaker system is a great all-around performer. It specializes in presenting a realistic, coherent presentation of music by virtue of its omnidirectional design and specialized digital filters. Do you relish the idea properly reproduced space and lifelike holographic imaging when you nestle in for a listening session? Then you must check this speaker out. An added bonus is the well-defined upgrade path that employs more sophisticated digital filters at each level, thus providing different levels of refinement as the user desires.
Still another bonus is the ability for the owner to customize the plain white finish any way they can imagine. You can do-it-yourself, call a local professional artist of graphics service or Holistic will do it for you.
We don't know of any speaker that gives you all those options ~ Dr. John Richardson
SPEAKER OF THE YEAR
LEGACY AUDIO WHISPER XD SPEAKERS
First, I want to thank our readers for leading us to the Legacy line of speakers. If you are new to Stereomojo, we are unique in many ways, one being that we actively encourage our readers to send us requests for reviews of anything having to do with stereo audio. Whether they own something that they think is so good others should know about it, or they’ve seen or heard about something they think needs an honest professional review. As publisher I can say that over the last year or two, Legacy is by far the most requested speaker brand by our readers, so it is you who spurred us to aggressively pursue this review. We think we have the best, most informed readers anywhere ~ Publisher
For a speaker of this size, we’d normally recommend them only for larger rooms, but the fact is they are being used in rooms as small as 10x10. Of course, Legacy does make smaller speakers, but these, according to Bill, are the best he makes, even though he does make a more expensive model. It’s easy to be misled by how these speakers look and it's difficult to imagine who might not benefit from owning these speakers, even those who already own speakers close to or above their $20,000 price. Legacy recommends amp power from 60 watts to 600 per channel. They are rated at a very easy to drive 95db sensitivity which puts them squarely in reach of many tube amps. The Ayon Triton is a great match. If you’re using solid state, I’d suggested at least 100 wpc, more for really big rooms. If you think DSP is a bad thing, just listen to these. In fact, if you love music of any genre and want to hear it about as well as it can be reproduced, you should seek out the Legacy Whisper XD’s.
We know. A $20,000 speaker that's a bargain? Understand, we regularly hear and see speakers that costs as much as a house, well up into 6 figures. We have heard stereo systems, just stereo - no video or surround - that retail for $1,000,000. There are many speakers these days that retail for well over $40,000. It is our opinion, and that of many show goers and other industry professionals that the Legacy Whisper XD in terms of build quality, versatility, technology and overall sound quality competes with speakers that are far more costly. And that does not include the added value of having the designer of the speaker come to your home and custom tailor the sound to your individual listening space. We don't know of any other speaker at or near this pricepoint that gives you so much ~ James Darby
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