Prices: $11,000 (Tube-DAC II SE), $12,000 (Drive II)
Michael said: The Accustic Arts Reference Tube-DAC II SE and Reference Drive II are easy to recommend to anyone who can afford this level of performance and has a large CD collection. As a pair, they’re right up there with the best I’ve heard.
Read the Ultra Audio review.
The gist: Perhaps the ultimate combo for your CD collection.
Price: $7000 per pair
Jeff said: What I can unequivocally say is that the Anthem Statement M1 is darn near the ideal of a straight wire with gain, and at 1000W, that gain is almost unlimited. Is that enough for you? I suspect that, for many listeners, the answer will be an emphatic yes.
The gist: Awesome power, great sound quality, reasonable price.
Roger said: It’s solidly built, its operation during the review period was straightforward and without fault, and, most important, it sounded simply fantastic.
The gist: Unassuming package, unexpected sound quality.
Price: $6950 per pair
Vade said: Atma-Sphere has improved the input circuit to reduce distortion, which has resulted in a sweeter, less mechanical sound. I like it a lot. If I didn’t already own Atma-Sphere’s S-30 Mk.3, I’d be sorely tempted to send in a check for the M-60 Mk.3.1s.
Read the Ultra Audioreview.
The gist: Nothing between you and the music -- not even a transformer.
Price: $5000 with 6’ powerChord e AC cord; $4500 without AC cord
Doug said: Going from no power conditioner to the aR6-TS was such a revelation that it was difficult to believe that a mere power conditioner could make such a huge improvement. If you think your system already sounds as good as it can, you might find it hard to believe what an Audience aR6-TS can do for it.
The gist: One of the best passive power conditioners.
Price: $25,990 per pair.
Peter said: Ultimately, and as good as I know the sound of my reference amplifiers to be, I must conclude that the sound of Audio Research’s Reference 250s is finer. If I had air-conditioning, and if my primary reference system were dedicated solely to me and my music, I would have been more than tempted to buy them.
The gist: Peter was smitten.
Pete said: The Reference 5 is a superlative musical investment, an indisputable high-end bargain, and a fortification for another 40 years of audio excellence from Audio Research.
The gist: Should be on your shortlist for the best preamps extant.
Price: $9950 in silver (add $250 for black)
Pete said: Digital audio has never sounded better in my system than when I use Ayre Acoustics’ DX-5 as the source. Refined, resolving, musical, and engaging, the DX-5 is exactly what the doctor ordered: an electrifying performer and an unequivocal bargain, despite its price of nearly $10,000. The folks at Ayre have outdone themselves -- the DX-5 is better than their C-5xeMP at spinning audio discs, leagues ahead of their QB-9 for computer audio, and provides 2D images of unequaled quality, without the ailments typically inflicted on an audio system by the inclusion of video.
The gist: Maybe he best universal player yet.
Peter said: As for the KX-R, I can’t say enough good things. I believe it to be the most complete product Ayre has ever made -- a defining achievement for a company known for its string of audio achievements. The KX-R is an ideal reference tool for my life as a reviewer, and an ideal instrument for my audiophile passions.
The gist: One of the best preamps in the world, period.
Price: $18,500 per pair
Peter said: The MX-R monoblock amplifiers signified the dawning of a new era at Ayre. With their prodigious power capabilities, they can drive the difficult loads of low-sensitivity speakers with aplomb. Most important, however, they deliver the sonic goods, possessing that very rare ability to communicate in captivating fashion even the music on less-than-stellar recordings. That multiple tube fanatics of my acquaintance have ditched their tube power amps in favor of MX-Rs says it all.
The gist: Compact design, reference sound.
Peter said: . . . I’m sure that many thousands of QB-9s will soon be enhancing the lives of many thousands of computer audiophiles.
The gist: Awesome asynchronous audio à la Ayre.
Price:$58,000 as configured ($30,000 base price).
Jeff said:It can work wonders, and it won’t be outclassed by anyother single component in the equation. The Behold APU768 is the most advanced piece of high-end electronics I’ve ever used.
The gist: The future of ultra-high-end preamps?
Prices: $2695 (DAC3VB), $1495 (VBS1)
Tim said: . . . you simply have to try the e.One DAC3VB with VBS1 power supply to see if the dramatic differences I experienced are possible in your home as well. The DAC3VB significantly and substantially improved the best digital sound I’ve had in my system.
The gist: Competes with the best, but at a reasonable cost.
Jeff said: As for sound, the Bel Canto stack stacks up well against the DACs that many feel are among the best available, and at less than Arab-sheik prices. They’re sonically very well balanced across the board, but are simply superb in the midrange, where lots of music needs it most. Although the Bel Cantos won’t beat every competing product in every sonic area -- what high-end component does? -- they can stand toe to toe with the best of them, and offer their owner a beautiful view into the heart of the music.
The gist: Modular digital front end that gets the midrange just about perfect.
Michael said: I can say with confidence that if you have speakers that it can drive, the NSL will be a revelation of just how wonderful music can sound, rewarding you with making your music sound special in ways you probably haven’t heard from your system. The NSL was one of the best-sounding power amplifiers I have ever heard. I give it my highest recommendation.
The gist: One look and you know this thing is different.
Jeff said: Blue Smoke Entertainment Systems espouses the benefits of listening and technical tests for their products, an approach that has always seemed to me the most balanced and most correct. Both litmus tests are very much parts of TWBAS 2009.
Read Ultra Audio’s TWBAS 2009: The Arrival and The Event .
The gist: Now there are high-end audio computers, too.
Price: $25,000 per pair
Jeff said: But if you want the best sound that transistors can produce, you just better go out and invest in some Classé Omega Omicron Monos before their ilk disappears altogether.
The gist: Canadian powerhouse flexes its muscle.
Jeff said: The Coda Technologies 15.0 is one heckuva piece of US-made hardware. I would confidently put the 15.0 in any system at any price and feel certain that it would hold its own. It’s that good. It has plenty of brute-force drive, as well as that golden tone that only class-A amps seem to deliver. It is ultra-resolving of fine detail, yet can handle huge dynamic swings without breaking a sweat. And it’s evenhanded across the audioband, but can also sound magical in specific areas, based on the recording.
The gist:The Coda 15.0 is a great amp. Period.
Price: $41,700 per pair
Albert said: The outstanding achievement of CAE is that, in the Conspiracy, they have found a way to get the engineering and the music right.
Read the Ultra Audio review.
The gist: The consensus? A conspiracy of quality.
Price: $65,000 per pair
Jason said: But I can imagine a music lover who values great sound, who has more money than God, watching his wife go gaga over the Arabesques as she visualizes these two massive Swarovski crystals perched in the middle of her living room making wonderful music.
The gist: A genuine jewel of a loudspeaker.
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