The Affordable All-in-One Streaming Solution that Surprises—Bluesound’s New Powernode

I’m often the last stop for products that are sent to the SoundStage! Network for review. Normally, a review product is shipped direct to the assigned reviewer, who listens to it and writes it up, and then it gets shipped to me for photography and/or measurements. Typically, I also listen to a product before it goes back to the manufacturer or distributor, so I can get a feel for how it sounds.

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Back to Inexpensive Basics—KLH Albany II Loudspeakers

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

In my previous “System One” installment, in May, I wrote about Rotel’s RA-1572MKII integrated amplifier and Sonus Faber’s Lumina III loudspeaker. The Rotel sells for $2099.99 (all prices in USD), while the Sonus Fabers are $2199 for the pair. Their prices are a little more than twice what I thought to be an upper limit—around $1000—for each component when I launched this column.

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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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