Parasound Halo JC 5 Stereo/Mono Amplifier

Note: Measurements can be found through this link.

Reviewers' ChoiceLike its designer, John Curl, the recently discontinued Parasound Halo JC 1 mono amplifier is something of a legend. Introduced in 2003, the JC 1 was still considered one of the best values in a high-end, solid-state power amplifier when the last production unit rolled off the line in 2018, at $4495 USD each. Since the introduction of the JC 1, Curl has designed many other highly regarded amplifiers and preamplifiers for Parasound, including the less expensive Halo A 1 series of power amplifiers, of which I reviewed the three-channel Halo A 31. I loved its big, rich sound -- and with the stereo version, the A 21+ ($3150), the A 1 series has received universal acclaim for providing exceptional performance at real-world prices.

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Boulder Amplifiers 508 Phono Stage

When I started out in audio, hi-fi gear from Boulder Amplifiers always seemed like so much mythical unobtanium to this perennially cash-strapped, wide-eyed teen. It wasn’t just the five-figure prices that put their gear out of my reach: No dealers in my neck of the woods carried the line, thereby making auditioning impossible. Still, neither of those high hurdles kept me from salivating over Boulder’s visually arresting, no-compromise wares, including its now legendary, dual-chassis, model 2008 phono preamplifier, which, on its debut almost 20 years ago, sold for the almost unheard-of sum of $29,000 USD.

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T+A Elektroakustik MP 8 Multi Source Player

T+A Elektroakustik has applied scientific rigor to its formulation of audio equipment since the company was founded in 1978, in Herford, Germany. The 40-year-old, family-owned business designs and manufactures all of their equipment locally and ships worldwide. T+A’s product lines span nearly all aspects of the audio reproduction chain, from wall outlet to the listener’s ears. Their Series 8 range includes the MP 8 Multi Source Player ($4750 USD), the DAC 8 DSD digital-to-analog converter ($4450), and the AMP 8 amplifier ($3150).

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EMM Labs MTRX2 Mono Amplifiers

Reviewers' ChoiceFirst, the elephant in the room: EMM Labs’ MTRX2 mono amplifier sells for $85,000 USD per pair. What’s more, it’s the baby elephant of the two power amps EMM makes -- the MTRX Reference costs $130,000/pair. Those prices are so high that, for the vast majority of audiophiles, including me, these amps are impossible to buy new.

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Cambridge Audio CXN (V2) Network Streamer

Call them network players, music servers, or, as London-based Cambridge Audio does, network streamers -- these devices have become an almost essential source in home audio systems, whether as a separate box or integrated into another component, particularly integrated amplifiers and CD players. In the last few years I’ve bought far more music as files than as spinning discs, and I don’t think I’m alone -- with the likes of Spotify, Tidal, and Primephonic, streaming services are becoming ever more important. All we need are elegant and effective ways to integrate these services into home audio, and having a computer in the listening room is less than ideal.

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Bryston Middle T Active Loudspeaker System

Around five years ago, established Canadian electronics manufacturer Bryston began making loudspeakers. This began as a pet project of James Tanner, VP of Sales and Marketing, who wanted a reference speaker for his own use. To achieve the level of performance he desired, the speaker developed was a fully active design. The performance of that speaker was so good that Bryston decided to bring it to market. However, because of the complexity and added cost of active speakers, they decided to first offer it as a passive model. Now that Bryston has been producing their full range of loudspeakers for a while, they’ve introduced fully active versions of their top models, the T series.

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Totem Acoustic Sky Tower Loudspeakers

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

Vince Bruzzese founded Totem Acoustic in 1987, in Montreal, Quebec. Last year, to celebrate the company’s 30th anniversary, Totem released the Signature One, successor to Totem’s very first speaker, the Model One. Jason Thorpe reviewed the Signature One on this site in April 2018.

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Studio Electric M4 Loudspeakers

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

Although Studio Electric LLC was established in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 2006, founder David MacPherson can trace his career as a speaker designer back 20 years before that. In 1985, he began making speakers for the professional market under the brand name MacPherson, Inc., which he remained involved with until 2005.

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Hegel Music Systems H590 Integrated Amplifier-DAC

Note: Measurements can be found through this link.

Reviewers' ChoiceMy relationship with Hegel Music Systems has now spanned six years -- almost all of my admittedly brief reviewing career. While the Norwegian company has been around since 1997, its dramatic uptick in popularity seems to have coincided with my own introduction to the brand in 2012, through their H300 integrated amplifier-DAC ($5500 USD, discontinued). Integrated amplifiers with built-in digital-to-analog converters are now commonplace, but it’s fair to say that in 2012 Hegel was one of the first to make one. At the time, $5500 was no more chump change than it is now -- but cramming a top-shelf DAC, a high-quality preamp, and a 250Wpc (into 8 ohms) amplifier into a minimalist box of standard size (17”W x 4.7”H x 15”D) and including a nice, all-metal remote control was genuinely good value -- so much value that I bought one for myself.

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Pro-Ject Audio Systems Classic SB Turntable

Pro-Ject Audio Systems, of Vienna, Austria, makes a turntable model for everyone. Their lower-priced models range from the Essential ($299 USD) through the Debut Carbon ($449, the model I bought) to the Esprit ($599) and beyond. The features and bundles vary -- claimed improvements in motors, platters, and cartridges account for the rises in price. Visually, however, many of Pro-Ject’s turntables look similar, with 8.6” tonearms (though of varying materials), and glossy, rectangular plinths of MDF, the latter sometimes available in colors other than red, black, and white (as in the Debut). Many models come with the same dustcover.

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