The first question is, what do you want from your hi-fi? Do you want to play LPs, CDs, or an occasional movie? Next, where will you put the speakers, and how large or small do they need to be? I'm writing this blog post for folks trying to put together the best-sounding hi-fi they can on a fixed budget. That's why I won't be covering wireless systems, because dollar for dollar, the better wired speakers always sound better than wireless models.
I've been listening to Jerry Harvey's custom-molded in-ear headphones for years. The very first one, the UE10, was a game changer; in 2006 it was the best sounding in-ear headphone I'd heard. Now with his new Freqphase JH13 and JH16 in-ears, Harvey's done it again. The performance gains in clarity, detail, resolution, and stereo imaging are huge -- the adrenaline-pumping sound of the music you love over a set of Harvey's headphones can't be matched by any other in-ear 'phones.
Years before he made headphones, Harvey mixed stage monitor sound for Kiss, Van Halen, … Read more
Tech startup Coleridge Design Associates is trying to raise $45,000 on Kickstarter to manufacture a sleek-looking and transparent-sounding desktop speaker system, the aCube BMR. I've covered Kickstarter projects before, but this time I had a chance to listen to the product, and the sound definitely piqued my interest.
The aCube uses an advanced 4.5-inch BMR (Balanced Mode Radiator) driver mounted in handmade clear-cast acrylic 6.5-inch cube enclosures. The $180 speaker houses a stereo 20-watt Class-D amplifier, but if you want stereo sound, you have to buy a second speaker (without the amp) for $120. Optional at … Read more
Schiit Audio's very first product, the Asgard headphone amplifier, left me shaken and stirred back in 2010. It sold for $249, looked and sounded amazing, and to top things off, it was made in the U.S. -- not just assembled here. Most of the Asgard's parts are sourced from U.S. companies.
The Asgard is still in company's product line, and it's still $249. But Schiit has grown since then, and now offers a full line of more expensive headphone amps and USB digital-to-analog converters (DACs) -- which is great. But the company's most recent offerings sell for just $99 each! The Magni headphone amp and the Modi DAC are also made in America, and they sound spectacular. … Read more
Alex Chorine built his very first amplifier when he was 15, and one amp led to the next. He kept building amps for friends and friends of friends. This was in the Soviet Union, where there was no established high-end audio industry. Chorine went on to earn an electrical engineering degree from the Moscow Institute of Technology, and started working with TVs, but audio was his passion. He took on side projects building guitar and bass amplifiers and pro sound systems. He modified European VCRs to work with Russian TVs. He came to the U.S. in 1992, and a … Read more
Wharfedale is an 80-year-old speaker company, not to mention one of the oldest names in British audio. They make high-end and affordable speakers with prices starting at around $300 a pair. I recently checked out the Wharfedale Diamond 10.5 towers; their curvy cabinets cut a nice figure in the sound room at the In Living Stereo store in NYC. I listened to a few LPs on the stunning new Rega RP8 turntable. The tower speakers sell for $950 a pair.
The Diamond 10.5 is a three-way design with a 6.5-inch woofer, a 2-inch dome midrange, and a … Read more
I worked as a high-end audio salesman for 16 years and spent another 16 reviewing audio products. Here's what I learned: The very best gear is always expensive. Sure, there are occasional examples of affordable products that are remarkable, but they never get remotely close to what true high-end gear can offer. Beyond price the main thing that separates high-end companies from mass-market brands is high-end designers are all about maximizing performance. Mainstream audio companies rarely try to make the best possible sounding gear. They know that features, wireless connectivity, styling, compact size, cheap pricing, marketing, distribution, etc. -- … Read more
I had my first glimpse of the Raidho Acoustics' sound at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest in Denver in October, but the Denmark-based company's demo didn't click for me. That's not uncommon; show conditions and hotel rooms may not be the best environments to hear state-of-the-art sound.
Then just last week I heard a pair of Raidho C 3.1 speakers ($39,000) at a friend's home in New York, and the sound was a revelation. We played an unreleased and 100 percent uncompressed audiophile recording of a solo piano, and the purity and clarity were … Read more
Even before you hear KEF's new LS50 speaker, there's no doubt it's a unique design. The speaker's single "rose"-color driver sports radial fins, and the cabinet has a swept-back front baffle. I've never seen anything quite like it before. The speaker stands 11.9 inches tall, 7.9 inches wide, 10.9 inches deep, and weighs 15.8 pounds. The MDF cabinet has the build quality of a very high-end design. The sound is just as extraordinary as the look, and the LS50 can be used as a desktop monitor or as … Read more
Most audiophiles don't self identify as audiophiles. I suppose that's because audio is something of a guilty pleasure, best enjoyed solo, and that's part of the problem. Wine aficionados or guys that collect Corvettes aren't shy about their pursuits, but audiophiles have a hard time admitting they love gear.
Audiophiles are the other "one percent." We might be the only people listening -- really listening -- to music at home; the other 99 percent don't. They have music "on," in the background. To me, owning expensive gear doesn't make you … Read more