Markaudio-Sota Viotti One Loudspeakers

Note: Measurements taken in the anechoic chamber at Canada's National Research Council can be found through this link.

Some audio companies have a close association with a specific place: Linn and Glasgow, Scotland; Bang & Olufsen and Struer, Denmark; McIntosh Labs and Binghamton, New York. Like other industries, however, audio manufacturing has become increasingly international. Loudspeaker maker Markaudio-Sota is one example of a firm drawing on expertise from various parts of the globe to produce its products. The Mark in Markaudio is British speaker designer Mark Fenlon. Sota is Sota Acoustics, a manufacturing entity based in Hong Kong. And Giovanni Battista Viotti (1755-1824) was an Italian violin virtuoso and composer who lived for a few years in England -- a nod to the Italianate design of the Viotti One loudspeaker ($2495 USD per pair).

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Bryston 4B3 Stereo/Mono Amplifier

Note: Measurements can be found through this link.

Reviewers' ChoiceBryston Ltd., of Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, produces not only amplifiers, preamplifiers, and digital source components, but also power conditioners, speakers, and cables; recently, they added a turntable to their product line. But for me, Bryston will always be, first and foremost, a maker of high-quality amplifiers. The company has been manufacturing power amps since the mid-1970s, and the subject of this review, the 4B3, has been in continuous production in various versions since 1976, when it debuted as the 4B.

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Devialet Expert 130 Pro DAC-Integrated Amplifier

Note: Measurements can be found through this link.

Reviewers' ChoiceAn unflinching commitment to iterative improvement is what sets “the best” apart from everything else, and in that respect, Devialet of France is competing only with itself. With a recent infusion of €100 million from a consortium of investors including Foxconn, Renault, and Sharp, Devialet’s aims clearly reach far beyond the listening rooms of audiophiles like you and me. Yet that show of confidence is predicated, in large part, on the success of Devialet’s Analog Digital Hybrid (ADH) amplifier, a patented circuit that earned its reputation for state-of-the-art performance in their line of Expert amplifiers, such as the 120, which I called “the single most impressive audio product I’ve ever spent time with” when I reviewed it in July 2014. Devialet claims that the newest iteration of the 120, the Expert 130 Pro ($7690 USD), is even better.

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Ayre Acoustics QX-5 Twenty Digital-to-Analog Converter

Reviewers' ChoiceAs I sat down to write this review, I thought about how much digital-audio playback has evolved in the 11 years since I wrote my first article for the SoundStage! Network. In 2006, my friends were already well versed in using file sharing to populate their computers with, generally, highly compressed MP3 files. They owned CDs, but many had already copied them to their computers and were playing them from their hard drives. I was still listening almost exclusively to CDs, either through an NAD CD player or a Panasonic Shockwave portable, and I think that players such as the NAD were then still common practice for most audiophiles. Although standalone DACs were again beginning to feature more prominently in the marketplace, many serious high-end manufacturers were still introducing topflight CD players for a consumer base that had only begun to transition to computer playback.

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MartinLogan Masterpiece Classic ESL 9 Loudspeakers

Reviewers' ChoiceThe last two MartinLogan components reviewed by the SoundStage! Network were the BalancedForce 212 subwoofer, on this site, and the relatively conventional Motion 35XT loudspeaker, on SoundStage! Access. They proved so good that each received a Product of the Year award. However, as most audio enthusiasts know, MartinLogan is best known for their electrostatic loudspeaker (ESL) models, most of which are hybrid designs that combine an electrostatic panel for the high- and midrange frequencies with a conventional dynamic woofer.

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KEF Reference 3 Loudspeakers

Note: Measurements taken in the anechoic chamber at Canada's National Research Council can be found through this link.

Reviewers' ChoiceAfter I’d listened to KEF’s Blade Two loudspeaker ($24,999.99 USD per pair) for my April 2016 review of them, I sent back the review samples. KEF couldn’t have had them more than a day when they sent me an e-mail confirming receipt -- and asking if I’d like to review the Reference 3.

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PS Audio BHK Signature 300 Mono Amplifiers

Opportunity, creativity, and experience must each play a role in the creation of a great power amplifier. Paul McGowan, head of PS Audio, created an opportunity in 2014 when he wanted his company, based in Boulder, Colorado, to develop “one of the top five power amplifiers in the world, regardless of price.” Creativity arrived when longtime reviewer and audio designer Bascom H. King -- who measures audio components for the SoundStage! Network -- agreed to lead the project, provided he’d be able to design the amplifier without restriction. Together, McGowan, King, and Arnie Nudell -- founder of Infinity Systems, who collaborated with King on the first hybrid tubes-and-solid-state amplifier -- brought more than 150 years’ worth of experience to the voicing of the final designs.

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Audio Research Foundation LS28 Preamplifier

Reviewers' ChoiceThe LS28 tubed line-stage preamplifier is part of Audio Research’s new Foundation series. Other models in the series include the DAC9 digital-to-analog converter, PH9 phono preamplifier, and VT80 power amplifier, most of which the SoundStage! Network will eventually review. While the Foundations are now ARC’s least expensive models, they’re hardly cheap -- the LS28, DAC9, and PH9 each cost $7500 USD, the VT80 $8000.

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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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