Raven Audio Avian Nighthawk MK3 Integrated Amplifier

Reviewers' ChoiceRaven Audio has been in business for some time, but had completely escaped my awareness until early 2019, when the SoundStage! editors hipped me to them. The Texas-based manufacturer (they have an office in Shreveport, Louisiana) sells all its products direct to the consumer with a one-year trade-up policy, a three-year warranty, and 45 days of free in-home trial. As a former engineer for a consumer-direct loudspeaker company, I’m familiar with both the value proposition and the challenges inherent in this business model.

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Monitor Audio Gold 200 Loudspeakers

In my years as an audiophile, I’ve encountered a few products that have left indelible marks on my memory because they offered something I’d never heard before. One such experience that stands out is the night I unboxed a Bryston B100 SST integrated amplifier and played Tori Amos’s Boys for Pele through it. From the first notes of her concert grand piano, I realized that while my NAD C 372 integrated was pretty good, the Bryston sounded much better -- even before I’d engaged its onboard DAC, which further improved its sound quality. I also remember the first time I heard a pair of Amphion’s Argon3 speakers. I was amazed that such clarity could be accompanied by so much warm bass.

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NAD Masters M33 Integrated Amplifier-DAC

Reviewers' ChoiceNAD’s Masters M33 integrated amplifier-DAC, announced last January in Las Vegas at the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show, is the first commercially available product to implement NAD’s Hybrid Digital Purifi Eigentakt technology. This consists of Purifi Audio’s 1ET400A monaural, class-D power-amplifier technology, about which SoundStage! Network founder and publisher Doug Schneider wrote in June. Purifi Audio, founded in Denmark by entrepreneur Peter Lyngdorf and electronics designers Bruno Putzeys and Lars Risbo, was at first devoted to pure research. Later, after it had become a commercial enterprise, Purifi sent Doug an “engineering evaluation” version of the first Eigentakt amp. This comprised two 1ET400A modules, a Purifi-designed gain board, and a Hypex power supply, all housed in a DIY-style case. Doug was enthusiastic: “I was bowled over by the Purifi Eigentakt’s sound and operation. It turned on silently, made almost no noise, provided more than enough power while generating hardly any heat, and passed music through so transparently, at volume levels from low to high, that it left me in near disbelief that so small a box could accomplish so much.”

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Naim Audio Supernait 3 Integrated Amplifier

In January 2014, in Las Vegas, I saw and heard Naim’s Statement NAC S1 preamplifier and NAP S1 power amplifier at the Consumer Electronics Show. I was blown away by their sound quality, visual design, and construction, all of which were breathtaking -- even at a total price of $200,000 (all prices USD). Together, the NAC S1 and NAP S1 make a large, unique-looking, floorstanding amplification tower with gorgeously curved side-panel heatsinks. They looked totally unlike any other Naim product I’d seen, and their build quality, visible in a caseless display sample was extreme and uncompromising. Their sound quality was equally impressive. Even under difficult show conditions, they drove a pair of Focal’s very large Stella Utopia floorstanding speakers to great effect.

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Hegel Music Systems H95 Integrated Amplifier-DAC

Norway’s Hegel Music Systems makes preamplifiers, power amplifiers, digital-to-analog converters (DACs), and what they’re best known for these days: integrated amplifiers with built-in DACs. All of their products are designed in Norway by a team led by founder Bent Holter, and all are manufactured in China.

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Dr. Feickert Analogue Volare Turntable

Right now, two turntables sit side by each on my custom double-wide equipment rack. On the right is my VPI Prime Signature, and to the left is a newcomer, Dr. Feickert Analogue’s Volare. Each is illuminated by its own 3000K potlight. They look quite dramatic.

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PMC Fact.8 Signature Loudspeakers

Here in Toronto, Ontario, we live in a small community of nine townhouses set back from the main road in a private cul-de-sac. We each have our own parking spots, and from our kitchen table I have an unobstructed view of our courtyard. The cars out front are mostly what you’d expect to see: a couple of Honda CR-Vs, three Subarus, a Hyundai, an Audi, a BMW -- with one outlier. One day last summer, my next-door neighbor Felix pulled in driving an Aston Martin Vantage. Just like that, our cul-de-sac’s property values went up by 15% -- or so I like to think. Felix has put an abrupt stop to any attempts at one-upmanship in the car department. He’s trumped us all.

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Vivid Audio Giya G2 Series 2 Loudspeakers

Reviewers' ChoiceOn a recent trip to the UK, I interviewed Laurence Dickie, Vivid Audio’s cofounder and chief designer. He told me that every Vivid loudspeaker is an extension of his work at Bowers & Wilkins, where he was employed from the early 1980s to the mid-1990s. His work there culminated, in 1993, with B&W’s revolutionary Nautilus loudspeaker, which Dickie had begun designing in the late ’80s. As a testament to how advanced the Nautilus was in its day, consider this: B&W still makes it.

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Lyngdorf Audio TDAI-3400 Integrated Amplifier-DAC

Reviewers' ChoiceAt Audio Video Show 2019, in Warsaw, Poland, Peter Lyngdorf sat down to chat with Doug Schneider, publisher of the SoundStage! Network websites. Of the many audio brands he’s been associated with over the years, Lyngdorf is probably best known for having founded TacT Audio and, in 2005, Lyngdorf Audio. Both companies produced the Millennium, an amplifier that was ahead of its time when it was launched in the late 1990s. Throughout its long production life the Millennium featured two proprietary Lyngdorf technologies: Equibit pulse-width modulation (PWM), RCS speaker equalization, and, later, the RoomPerfect room-correction system.

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Hegel Music Systems H120 Integrated Amplifier-DAC

Hegel Music Systems, of Norway, does things a little differently from many audio manufacturers. They make pre- and power amplifiers, standalone D/A converters, even a CD player, but they’re best known for their integrated amplifier-DACs, of which they currently have five models in production. Their SoundEngine technology uses feed-forward correction, a type of circuitry quite unlike the negative feedback used in most class-AB amplifiers. And since long before the practice was as common as it is today, every Hegel integrated has included an internal DAC.

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