Exogal Ion PowerDAC

Note: Measurements can be found through this link.

It’s not often that I ask questions of a manufacturer about their product and don’t get detailed answers, and it’s downright rare that questions about technical details are met with the equivalent of, “I’m not going to answer that.” I understand that the high end is a competitive space full of companies big and small, all trying to appeal to a fairly small pool of buyers. But asking someone to part with several thousand of their hard-earned dollars for an audio component while refusing to tell him or her what’s inside it is a bit nervy. If Elon Musk debuted a new Tesla automobile but refused to give any details about its motor or batteries, I can’t imagine that consumers -- let alone Tesla’s shareholders -- would respond warmly.

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Audio Research G Series GS150 Stereo Amplifier

Audio Research’s GS150 stereo power amplifier ($20,000 USD) debuted in 2014 as part of the company’s G Series, which includes the GSi75 integrated amplifier ($16,000) and GSPre preamplifier ($15,000). Though the GSPre and GS150 can be considered companion models, as I pointed out last December in my review of the GSPre, I assessed them separately in my reference system, to hear how each sounded. The GS150 ended up mating so well with so many speakers that I could see many audiophiles seeking it out for its neutrality, its generous power output -- and a special aspect of its sound that bettered all my other amps.

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Hegel Music Systems Mohican CD Player

Call me old school, retro, and just a stubborn kind of fellow, but I flat love playing plain old Red Book CDs on a dedicated CD player. Through the years, I’ve auditioned and owned a few multiformat players -- models capable of playing CDs, SACDs, and DVDs -- but I’ve felt disappointed enough in their playback of CDs that I’ve always let them go. I have a library of approximately 2500 CDs, only about 20 SACD/CDs, and DVDs I spin via computer. So, what most matters to me is a unit’s playback of 16-bit/44.1kHz signals. And while I now also have a perfectly fine computer-DAC combo, CDs still sound to me more liquid and flowing and less sterile than files played from a computer.

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PS Audio BHK Signature Preamplifier

Reviewers' ChoiceThe more than 50 years in audio of Bascom H. King, the BHK behind PS Audio’s BHK Signature preamplifier, extend back past the entire 43 years of PS Audio itself. King has been a reviewer, designer, and technical consultant -- and, in that last role (full disclosure here), measures preamplifiers and power amplifiers for SoundStage!. (Check out PS Audio’s website for videos of Bascom King’s thoughts on his creations and on the high end in general.)

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Audio Research G Series GSPre Preamplifier

When I bought my first stereo, in 1981, most preamplifiers and integrated amplifiers had phono stages because the LP was then still the primary playback format. It would be another two years before the Compact Disc was introduced to Europe and North America. When it became apparent that the CD would eventually replace the LP (1988 was the first year in which CDs outsold LPs) and turntable sales would quickly diminish, manufacturers began omitting phono stages from their preamps. Without phono functionality, these preamps were simply line-stage preamplifiers, because they accepted only line-level signals from CD players, tape decks, etc. Still, they were mostly called preamplifiers. But the LP didn’t go away, and by now the vinyl resurgence has gained such momentum that manufacturers are beginning to include phono stages again, in turn bringing back the full-featured preamps of decades past.

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Moon by Simaudio Neo ACE Integrated Amplifier-DAC-Streamer

In 1979, my father spent an ungodly amount of money -- $3500 USD -- on a stereo system for me and my two siblings. That sum, equivalent to more than $12,000 in today’s dollars, bought us a turntable, a tape deck, a stereo receiver, and a pair of full-range loudspeakers. It was serious dough, and even in today’s dollars it can buy you an excellent system. Until recently, however, most of those systems would have been limited to a single source, an integrated amp or receiver, and speakers.

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European Audio Team C-Major Turntable

Take stock of your modern, electrical, possibly connected home: These days, very few devices require true, dedicated manual input, and even fewer require actual care and feeding. You may be able to control your TV with voice commands. Your thermostat detects when you’re home, and seems to want to make you feel comfortable. Refrigerators no longer require defrosting, and feature Internet connections so that they can assist with . . . whatever odd tasks their manufacturers can dream up.

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Wadia a315 Stereo Amplifier

Note: Measurements can be found through this link.

Wadia came into being in Minnesota, in 1988, because several engineers who then worked for 3M were unhappy with the quality of the sound of early digital audio and CD players. They wanted to improve that sound quality by applying the more sophisticated technologies they’d worked with in their research into digital telecommunications.

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PS Audio PerfectWave DirectStream Junior Digital-to-Analog Converter

Reviewers' ChoiceDirect Stream Digital (DSD) is the trade name Sony and Philips chose for the encoding scheme of pulse-density modulation (PDM) used for their Super Audio CD (SACD) optical-disc format, introduced in 1999. In contrast to pulse-code modulation (PCM), the original low-sample-rate, multibit format used for the Compact Disc (introduced in 1982), PDM is a high-sample-rate, single-bit format. However, SACD failed to win mainstream acceptance outside the audiophile community. Part of the problem was that few non-classical record labels ever adopted SACD, so few recordings were available to take advantage of it. Furthermore, while many SACDs were hybrid SACD/CDs containing both PCM and DSD layers, if you wanted to hear the DSD layer, you needed an SACD player. The combination of a small number of titles and the need for special hardware to play them helped ensure that SACD remained a niche format.

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T+A Elektroakustik MP 2000 R Multi-Source Digital Player

With the maturation of computer-based and streaming audio over the past half-decade, it’s been almost as interesting to watch the philosophical choices made by manufacturers as it has the rapid gains in sound quality and connectivity. At first, many opted for pure digital-to-analog converters, the only luxuries being an asynchronous USB input and balanced analog outputs. From there, however, the decision tree became a far murkier affair.

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