Recommended Reference Component: Paradigm Founder Series 100F Loudspeakers

Recommended Reference ComponentParadigm’s 100F floorstanding loudspeaker, which Doug Schneider reviewed on this site in July, is part of the company’s new Founder Series line. As Doug detailed in the review, the Founder models—there are two more floorstanders, a stand-mounted design, a center-channel, and an LCR (left/center/right) model—are the first to be released “since Scott Bagby, one of the company’s two cofounders, and his son John, bought back full ownership of Paradigm from Shoreview Industries, which had come in as a partner in 2005, when cofounder Jerry VanderMarel left.” Scott Bagby was instrumental in leading the design of the line, and even delayed its release for about a year until he was satisfied with the results. It seems that he made the right call—in his review, Doug declared the 100F to be a “bona-fide hit” and “a high-water mark for Paradigm.”

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Recommended Reference Component: Magico A5 Loudspeakers

Recommended Reference ComponentMagico’s cost-no-object approach to loudspeaker building means that the company’s products are not inexpensive—for example, Magico’s current top-of-the-line loudspeaker, the M9, costs a whopping $750,000 per pair (all prices in USD). But with its “entry-level” A-series models, Magico has been able to bring costs down to appeal to a broader audience, yet still offer outstanding sound quality. The Bay Area loudspeaker manufacturer has achieved this by using a conventional flat-sided cabinet design, less expensive parts, and trickle-down technology from the costlier M and S lines.

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Recommended Reference Component: Bryston B135 Cubed Integrated Amplifier

Recommended Reference ComponentPhilip Beaudette reviewed the Bryston B1353 on this site on May 15 and concluded that this amp, aka B135 Cubed, “is the best integrated amplifier yet from the venerable Canadian firm.” Philip’s words carry weight because he’s the owner of the B1353’s predecessor, the B135 SST2, aka B135 SST Squared, and before that he owned the B100 SST, which the B135 SST2 replaced. The B135 SST2 earned a Recommended Reference Component award in February 2014.

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Recommended Reference Component: iFi Audio iPhono3 Black Label Phono Stage

Recommended Reference ComponentiFi Audio’s iPhono3 Black Label phono stage doesn’t look like an audiophile hi-fi component—it measures only 2.3ʺW × 1.1ʺH × 6.2ʺD, with a set of inputs on one end and a set of outputs on the other (all single-ended RCA), and weighs just over half a pound (265g, to be precise). At $999 (all prices in USD), it’s also relatively inexpensive. But despite its smallness and unusual shape, light weight, and reasonable price, the iPhono3’s feature set is exceedingly rich, and its sound quality compares favorably with phono stages priced much higher. In Jason Thorpe’s review of the iPhono3 Black Label on this site last month, he called it a “devastating bargain.”

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Recommended Reference Component: Karan Acoustics Master Collection LINEb Preamplifier

Recommended Reference ComponentKaran Acoustics’ Master Collection LINEb is priced at $28,000 (all prices in USD), but it isn’t the most expensive preamplifier the company makes—that distinction belongs to the $41,000 Master Collection LINEa. But according to Doug Schneider in his April 15 review of the LINEb, anyone who is able to afford the LINEb will have purchased “one of the very best preamplifiers now available at any price.”

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Recommended Reference Component: NAD C 298 Stereo/Mono Amplifier

Recommended Reference ComponentOnly a few years ago it was difficult, if not impossible, to find a stereo amplifier with extremely low distortion and low noise and with enough power to drive most loudspeakers and not have it cost several thousand dollars. With NAD’s recent introduction of the C 298 amplifier, which can be used as a stereo amp to deliver over 185Wpc or as a monoblock to output more than 620W (both into 8 ohms), the price for such an amp has dropped to just $1999 (all prices in USD). Evan McCosham reviewed the C 298 for this site last month.

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Recommended Reference Component: Audeze Euclid Earphones

Recommended Reference ComponentAudeze’s new Euclid earphones ($1299, in USD) have earpieces made from aluminum and carbon fiber, each containing a single, bespoke 18mm planar-magnetic driver. Because of the high price, unique driver, and high-quality materials, the Euclids might seem targeted mostly at serious enthusiasts simply looking for the best possible sound. But as Brent pointed out in his February 2021 review on SoundStage! Solo, with their reasonably high sensitivity and what he called the “the outward normality of the design,” these earphones are “also for well-heeled people who just want a good set of earphones they can plug into their Android phone, their tablet, or their computer.” Brent used his Samsung Galaxy S10 as well as an AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt DAC-headphone amp for the review and found that the 105dB (1mW input) sensitivity of these headphones meant they could be driven to high sound-pressure levels (SPLs) with not that much power.

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Recommended Reference Component: Pro-Ject Audio Systems RPM 10 Carbon Turntable with 10cc Evolution Tonearm

Recommended Reference ComponentSoundStage! founder Doug Schneider and senior contributor Aron Garrecht both went turntable shopping in January. Independently and physically distanced, of course. They each wanted to find a top-tier turntable that would allow them to review the ever-increasing number of turntable-related products on the market, such as phono stages, whether standalone or built into a preamplifier or integrated amplifier, and other components and accessories. For advice, they consulted SoundStage! vinyl guru, Jason Thorpe, who told them both to buy a Pro-Ject Audio Systems RPM 10 Carbon turntable with 10cc Evolution tonearm, which he’d reviewed for SoundStage! Ultra on December 15, 2017. Jason had owned a Pro-Ject RPM 10 before reviewing the RPM 10 Carbon, its successor, and immediately sold it and replaced it with the newer model for the improvements in sound and build.

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Recommended Reference Component: Technics EAH-TZ700 Earphones

Recommended Reference ComponentIn Brent Butterworth’s review of the Technics EAH-TZ700 earphones, which appeared on SoundStage! Solo in October, he highlighted that they “employ an unusual design that almost no one uses, and that’s for very good reason. From an engineering standpoint, it makes a lot of sense. But from a marketing standpoint . . . not so much.” Brent went on to explain how “the design packs a single driver into a tiny enclosure made from highly non-resonant material,” which, he said, “adds no significant resonance of its own” and, due to its small size, negates the “need for a long or twisty soundtube between the driver and your eardrum.” The result, Brent summed up, has the listener “hearing the driver and almost nothing else.”

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Recommended Reference Component: KEF LS50 Meta Loudspeakers

Recommended Reference ComponentIn 2012, UK loudspeaker manufacturer KEF released the LS50 loudspeaker, which Doug Schneider reviewed for this site in April 2013. The LS50 received a Reviewers’ Choice award at the time of the review, was further recognized as a Recommended Reference Component in August 2013, and was one of 2013’s Products of the Year. In October 2020, KEF released the LS50’s successor, the LS50 Meta. Doug reviewed it last month, and it too received a Reviewers’ Choice award. The LS50 Meta is priced the same as the original LS50 was in 2012 ($1499.99 per pair, all prices USD), and, according to Doug’s review, deserves similar praise.

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