Readers have from time to time requested a list of the "test" tracks I use to evaluate gear. It's a long list, mostly recordings I've used for many years and heard on hundreds of products, and recordings I made myself or from sessions I attended. They work for me, but wouldn't necessarily help you. More than any specific tracks, I recommend starting with music you know best, favorite tunes you've listened to for years, and then listen to how the speaker, headphones, etc., you're considering changes, improves, or degrades the sound of your … Read more
The Hsu Research VTF-1 MK2 is, hands down, the best-sounding affordable subwoofer I've heard to date.
It was designed by Poh Hsu and I have fond memories of the first time I met him, at a Consumer Electronics Show in the late 1990s. He had a room filled with subs and a single pair of tiny speakers hooked up to an inexpensive receiver. He played a short series of music pieces with thundering bass drums, mighty organs, and hard-hitting rock bands, and those baby speakers sounded like heavyweight towers. It was a great 2-minute demo, and when it was … Read more
People love sound bars for a lot of good reasons: they eliminate most of the wiring and setup hassles associated with traditional 5.1-channel home theaters, they don't take up a lot of space, they are less expensive than subwoofer/satellite packages, and since most sound bars are self-powered, you don't need to buy an AV receiver. A skinny sound bar positioned under a sleek display is certainly a more appealing solution than a 5.1 or even stereo pair of speakers. There's just one problem: sound bars can't fill a room with sound nearly as well as separate speakers can.… Read more
Frankly, I was a little disappointed when I first unboxed the new ALO Pan Am tube headphone amp. It looked so cute and tiny; how could it possibly deliver the goods? The dainty 4.6-inch-by-3.8-inch footprint makes it easy to place anywhere. The amp's rear end houses three inputs: stereo RCA and 3.5mm analog inputs and a USB connection. The built-in digital-to-analog converter accommodates up to 24-bit/96-kHz audio. The amp is available in anodized silver or black finishes.
I started listening with my trusty Grado RS-1 headphones and loved the clarity. The Pan Am has the … Read more
With most speakers or headphones, you're stuck with the designer's sound, but with the Logitech UE Personal Reference Monitors (PRM) you get to play headphone designer and dial in exactly the sound you want.
Each pair is totally unique; they're built with the individually designed equalization curves you selected. My PRMs sound absolutely amazing, but I'm a little biased, I designed them to please my ears! Every PRM buyer will do the same, and if they totally screw up and hate the result, Ultimate Ears will give them another try. Each PRM set is handmade in UE's facilities in California.
The price for this level of customization doesn't come cheap, though; the Personal Reference Monitors sell for $1,999. That's extreme, but so are $285,000 luxury cars. I cover the full gamut of audio, from affordable to the craziest expensive gear. … Read more
America may not design world-class cars anymore. We don't build TVs, phones, tablets, cameras, or all that much consumer technology, but we're still at the top of the heap in high-end audio! That's why the White House should have an American engineered and built hi-fi system for use by the president and his invited guests.
I'll volunteer my services to coordinate and help assemble such a system (presumably donated by the manufacturers). On a leap of faith, I'm assuming the president still plays LPs, so I'd recommend the Spiral Groove turntable and tonearm from … Read more
A well-calibrated Panasonic TC-PVT50 TV will look exactly the same in almost any room with the lights turned down. Video performance is reliable and predictable, but audio is the exact opposite. Speakers will sound very different in different rooms, sometimes to a frightening degree. AV receivers' speaker calibration systems might help a little bit, but they can never eliminate the problems created by sound reflecting off a room's walls, floor and ceiling. The size and shape of the room, furniture, floor covering, mirrors, windows, and drapes all play their parts in the sound environment.
When I was a hi-fi … Read more
I'm a lucky guy, I've heard most of the world's very best headphones: Sennheiser's HD 800 and their legendary Orpheus, the Audeze LCD 2 and 3, the Stax SR-007 ($2,600), SR-009 ($5,200), and now I'm spending quality time with Hifiman's flagship HE-6 planar magnetic headphones. I've long admired Hifiman's designs, starting with their very first model, the HE-5 back in 2009. The HE-6 looks nearly identical to Hifiman's current HE-4, HE-400, HE-5LE, and HE-500 headphones, but the HE-6 is heavier (502 grams), and it feels like it's built … Read more
I love little speakers, especially when they're as fine as the Music Hall Marimbas I wrote about recently, but the best little ones can't touch the big guys for sheer power. If you've only heard little speakers at home, you have no idea what you've been missing. Big speakers sound, well, bigger, and more like live music.
That's why I'm so jazzed by the Tekton M-Lore. This 34-inch high tower sports an American-made 8-inch natural fiber woofer and a European-designed 1-inch silk dome tweeter, so the M-Lores can really belt out a big sound. … Read more
Spunk, that's what Music Hall's Marimba speaker has lots of. No measurements are needed to confirm this is an exceptional speaker. Its low-key looks are deceiving; it's just a nicely finished "wood" grain black medium-density fiberboard box, measuring 6.6 inches by 8.7 inches by 11 inches, with rounded corners. There's a 1-inch silk dome tweeter and a 5.25-inch woofer lurking behind a removable black cloth grille. The internally braced cabinet feels solid; there's nothing exotic about the design, but the box feels more expensive than you usually get in a $… Read more