Double Trouble—Rotel’s RA-1572MKII Amp and Sonus Faber's Lumina III Loudspeaker Enter the Mix

In December 2018, I wrote the first article to appear under the “System One” column name. In that article I explained: “The title means someone’s first system, or someone’s only system—or something else, depending on what’s covered that month. What won’t change is the theme around which I wrote the first two pieces: cost-effective, high-performing equipment that many people can afford.”

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High-Value Surprise—the Music Hall a15.3 Integrated Amplifier

Originally, I had no intention of writing about Music Hall’s a15.3 integrated amplifier for this column, even though its price (only $549, all prices in USD) makes it ideally suited. In December 2020, the a15.3 was sent to us by Music Hall’s Canadian distributor, Motet Distribution, for James Hale to review, which he did in February 2021 in his SoundStage! Xperience “Art+Tech” column—and that should’ve been that.

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Inexpensive Outboard Alternatives: Bellari VP549 and NAD PP 2e Phono Stages

In August 2020, I reviewed the Hegel Music Systems H95 integrated amplifier-DAC for this site. If you read that review, you’ll know that the H95, which is priced at $2000 (all prices in USD), is a good performer and good value, but you’ll also see it’s not as feature-rich as some other integrated amps on the market. For example, like all of Hegel’s integrated amplifiers, it has a built-in DAC but lacks a phono stage. Vinyl playback is a pretty big thing for hi-fi buyers across all price ranges, and many lower-priced integrated amps answer that demand, so I intended to criticize this omission in the review.

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IsoAcoustics' zaZen I Isolation Platform -- Is It Worth a Budget-Conscious Audiophile's While?

If you’ve ever seen a Zen Buddhist sitting cross-legged in quiet meditation, what he or she might have been doing is called zazen -- “a means of insight into the nature of existence,” per Wikipedia, which goes on to say: “The aim of zazen is just sitting, that is, suspending all judgmental thinking and letting words, ideas, images and thoughts pass by without getting involved in them.”

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Perfection from Pro-Ject for Under $1000? X1 Turntable with Pick it S2 Cartridge

Pro-Ject Audio Systems currently makes over 50 turntable models spread across 12 lines. The X1, from their X Line, stands out from that crowd for its lineage -- it’s essentially an update of Pro-Ject’s very first turntable, the 1 (aka P1), which debuted in 1991. The 1, Pro-Ject’s first product of any kind, was successful enough to give the company the kick-start it needed to eventually become the hi-fi manufacturing juggernaut it is today.

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Triangle's Borea BR03 Loudspeaker Sounds (Mostly) Spectacular

Of the reviews we’ve recently published, I was most intrigued by Diego Estan’s May 1 writeup of Triangle’s Borea BR03 loudspeaker, on SoundStage! Access. Of particular appeal was what he described as an “open, airy, lively midrange that was smooth yet rich, and with inviting tonality.” He concluded: “In these ways, the BR03’s midrange reminded me of that of my reference Focal Sopra No1s.” That’s high praise for a speaker costing just $549/pair (all prices USD) -- his Focals cost $9990/pair, more than 18 times the Triangles’ price -- and makes the Borea BR03 a perfect candidate for “System One,” my column devoted to budget gear.

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Pro-Ject Audio Systems VC-E Record Cleaner -- More Stuff to Wash

This month I try out the new VC-E record-cleaning machine from Pro-Ject Audio Systems, one of the world’s largest makers of turntables. At $499 (all prices USD), the VC-E isn’t the cheapest record cleaner out there, but it’s far from the most expensive, and costs less than Pro-Ject’s VC-S2 ALU ($649), on which the VC-E is based.

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The Q Acoustics 3030i Loudspeaker -- 18Hz-lower Bass Makes a Big Difference

In January, for this site, Diego Estan reviewed Q Acoustics’ Concept 300 loudspeaker ($4499/pair including stands; all prices USD). Last year, Roger Kanno reviewed Q’s diminutive 3020i minimonitor ($314.99/pair) for this site, and Hans Wetzel reviewed Q’s big 3050i floorstander ($839.99/pair) for SoundStage! Access. Preceding Roger’s and Hans’s reviews was my column about the 3020i and 3050i. So two months ago, when Q Acoustics asked if they could send me samples of their newest 3000 model, the 3030i minimonitor ($399/pair), I declined -- I felt that we and our readers were maybe a bit Q’d out.

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A Schiit-Hot Integrated Amplifier -- The Ragnarok 2

What’s in a name? For Schiit Audio, established in 2010 in Valencia, California, by Jason Stoddard and Mike Moffat, it’s been a schiitload of marketing opportunities. From the beginning, they’ve delighted in playing with their company’s name in ads and other marketing materials, and it’s given them strong name recognition in the audiophile marketplace. It’s also given birth to their own retail store, The Schiitr, and a book written by Stoddard: Schiit Happened: The Story of the World’s Most Improbable Start-Up.

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First and Final Impressions -- Totem Acoustic’s Skylight Loudspeakers

When I look for products to write about in this column, I often search the Internet. Go to Google.com, type in “speakers $1000 bookshelf” or “complete turntables $500,” and you get a boatload of results. That’s how I found the U-Turn Audio Orbit Plus and Fluance RT83 turntables, which I respectively wrote about in late 2018 and early 2019, and the Monoprice Monolith speaker stands I highlighted last month. But to find this month’s subject, Totem Acoustic’s Skylight loudspeaker, I went straight to the source.

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