Audio Research Foundation VT80 Stereo Amplifier

Note: Measurements can be found through this link.

Audio Research Corporation (ARC) and its reputation for high-quality audio equipment are well known to audiophiles. The company was founded in 1970 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, by William Z. Johnson, who had a plan to forward the state of the art of music reproduction. ARC was sold in 2008 to Fine Sounds SpA (since renamed the McIntosh Group), which owns other well-known audio brands, including McIntosh Laboratory, Sonus Faber, and Wadia.

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Aurender A10 Music Server

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been nine years since I last regularly used the CD player in my main system. I took my first tentative steps toward computer audio in 2008, when I laboriously ripped my very large collection of CDs to lossless files stored on my iMac’s 1TB internal hard drive. Originally, I used these files strictly for headphone listening, but later patched them into my main system through the addition of a Logitech Transporter ($2000 USD) and a Halide Design USB-S/PDIF bridge ($450), both since discontinued.

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JE Audio HP10 Phono Stage

There’s a whole world -- a universe, even -- of hi-fi that exists and thrives out of sight of most North American and European audiophiles. We often bandy about the cliché that globalization has made the world smaller, but we fail to take into account that the world is actually really big -- for every audio company we’re familiar with, there are five others operating at the periphery of our Internet-enhanced consciousness.

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EMM Labs DA2 Reference Digital-to-Analog Converter

Reviewers' ChoiceEdmund Meitner’s experience in audio long predates EMM Labs, the company he founded in 1998. Briefly, in the 1970s and early ’80s, Meitner designed audio signal generators and a distortion analyzer for Amber Electro Design, and was also the chief audio designer at Olive Electrodynamics, for a team that developed the world’s first automated multitrack recording console. Every time I measure speakers at Canada’s National Research Council, I see an Amber analyzer he helped create, still in use in the lab adjoining the NRC’s anechoic chamber. Meitner’s first shot at consumer audio was with Meitner Audio, which he founded in 1982, and where he developed the PA-6 preamplifier, STR-50 stereo amplifier, MTR-100 mono amplifier, and CD-3 CD player. I remember these products well -- they were true high-end hi-fi components in small, compact cases, and were all reasonably priced. Ed Meitner was designing affordable lifestyle products before most others had thought much about it.

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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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