If you think all high-end products are stupid expensive or mammoth monstrosities, the MiniWatt vacuum tube integrated amplifier should change your mind. What differentiates high-end gear from mass market technology is performance; mainstream manufacturers know sound quality isn't much of a priority for most buyers, so they build their products to sound just good enough.
By high-end standards at least, the MiniWatt is dirt cheap, just $229 (shipping is $40). And measuring just 5 by 4 inches, the little guy can fit anywhere. Powerful it's not, just 2.5 watts for each channel, but that should be plenty … Read more
High-end audio can be expensive, but there are deals to be had.
Take a gander at EMP Tek's nifty Limited Edition System that goes for $595. It's a three-piece affair with a stereo tube integrated amplifier and a pair of sweet-looking bookshelf speakers.
Call me jaded, but I've heard a bunch of iPod speaker systems in that price range that sounded like glorified boom boxes. And since most of them are single-box systems they don't do much in the way of stereo separation. Yes, they make bass, but it's always bloated, thick, and boomy bass. Impressive to some at first, but its not what you'd call hi-fi sound. These iPod systems' power amp wattage is rarely specified or it's wildly exaggerated. For $600 you should be able to get a decent sounding system, and there's no such thing as a decent sounding iPod speaker for that kind of money.
The EMP Tek Limited Edition System is something else again. Its 40-watt-per-channel rating seems about right. Small enough to fit on a desktop, it's just 6.6 inches wide, 4.5 high, and 10.25 deep, and the amp has three inputs. Two are minijacks, so you can plug your iPod/MP3 player in, and there's a stereo RCA input you might use to pump the sound of your DVD or Blu-ray player through the system. The amp's two tubes are backlit with blue LEDs, which look extra cool. The amp weighs 8 pounds.… Read more
Lucky me, I've reviewed most of the world's very best headphones, including the Audio Technica ATH-W5000, Denon AH-D7000, and Sennheiser HD 800. But now there's something even better: the Woo Audio WES headphone amplifier ($4,500) and Stax SR-007Mk2 headphone ($2,410). The complete review can be found on the Home Entertainment Web site.
Yeah, it's a lot of dough, but the Woo/Stax combo creams the other contenders for world's best headphone sound, and the pair goes for less than the price of a world class, high-end camera, like the Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III. The camera's great now, but in a couple of years it'll be hopelessly out of date. Great audio is simply a better long-term investment.
Stax headphones use a very different operating principle than dynamic headphones (pretty much every headphone from lowly earbuds to full-size headphones are dynamic designs). Stax has been making electrostatic headphones since 1960 in Japan, and the company's current flagship model, the SR-007Mk2, is what I'm using with the Woo WES amplifier. The Stax is a big and comfy design.
The Woo WES is an all-triode tube drive, fully balanced design; the prototype unit I'm reviewing has a total of 10 tubes (four EL34 power tubes, four 6SL7 drive tubes, and two 5AR4 rectifier tubes), but production models will have 11 tubes. It works with Stax and Sennheiser electrostatic headphones only. The machined, all-metal dual chassis is beautifully crafted.
The WES, like all Woo amps, was designed by Wei Wu, and handcrafted in Woo Audio's factory in New York City. Each WES will be built to order over a four-day period; it's slated for release in October 2009. The preintroduction price is $4,500, and full retail is expected to be $4,990. Woo prices start at $470 for the WA 3. All Woo Audio electronics are sold direct from the factory, the waiting list is three to four weeks.
A look inside reveals no circuit boards; all wiring will be "point to point." That's a very expensive way to manufacture amplifiers, but Woo Audio thinks point-to-point wiring makes for better-sounding amps. The amp also features handmade inductors, and even the machined cone feet are designed specifically for the WES.
The clarity of the Woo/Stax combo with acoustic jazz mimics the way live, unamplified music sounds in a good concert hall or club. The Woo/Stax is the closest thing to being there I've heard to date.… Read more
CNET official Audiophiliac Steve Guttenberg guest hosts today's ball-busting show. Steve brings his usual brand of random topics to the table today that include the most bizarre festival you'll never want to visit and the world's largest ketchup bottle. We also introduce another awesome band in our Becks/Last.FM semiweekly audio draft!
Today's show is very important, for three reasons. First, we're stoked to welcome Audiophiliac Steve Guttenberg who brings his expertise to answer all your high-end audio questions on the second half of the show, but not before introducing us to the most horrid festival that you'll never, ever want to visit. Let's just say that the subject matter of this food fair leaves room for plenty of punny jokes to be made, and we take that opportunity every chance we get (see:show title)--too funny!
Second, it's also a very important day because it's the first time we actually get a few bottles of Beck's Beer into the studio to sip on during the show! Don't worry though, we take things in moderation here at The 404 (yeah...), but no amount of self-control can prevent Wilson and me from getting the classic Asian glow.
Finally, all of us are caught offguard when Wilson Tang, infamous for literally feeling indifferent about any music made after 1791, makes an executive decision and chooses Grizzly Bear for today's Semi-Weekly Audio Draft Pick, sponsored by Beck's Beer in conjunction with Last.FM.
Grizzly Bear is a four-piece band out of Brooklyn here in New York that has been slowly gaining popularity for its dusty mix of folk piano and a mix of other instruments including whistles and an intermittent banjo. After releasing several albums in the past few years, Grizzly Bear just released a new one called "Veckatimest," which includes today's song, "Two Weeks." The album retains Grizzly Bear's unique low-fi sound--mixing airy vocals with refreshingly creative arrangements that are rare to find in today's soundstage. We hope you'll enjoy Grizzly Bear as much as we do!
(Last.fm is a part of CBS Interactive, which also publishes CNET News and Reviews.)
One more thing: We'd like to congratulate newlyweds Elizabeth and Ian for getting hitched recently. They're both avid 404 listeners and while we doubt that Elizabeth walked down the aisle to our theme music, we're swooning with you and wish you guys the best of love.EPISODE 379 Download today's podcast Subscribe in iTunes audio | Suscribe to iTunes (video) | Subscribe in RSS Audio | Subscribe in RSS Video… Read more
NAD is a lesser well-known brand than Denon, Marantz, Onkyo, Pioneer, or Sony, but in my opinion NAD makes better-sounding electronics.
Introduced in the late 1970s, NAD's 3020 quickly became one of the best-selling integrated stereo amplifiers of all time. Not just because it sounded better than anything going for two or three times its humble MSRP, the 3020 had that special something that made it, well, lovable. Over the years NAD maintained its leadership position by consistently designing great-sounding, unpretentious products.
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending an advance preview of NAD's upcoming Master Series M2 Direct Digital Amplifier ($5,999). Yikes, the price was a lot higher than I expected, but don't worry, NAD still makes affordable electronics. Its 40 watt per channel C 315BEE stereo integrated amp goes for $349. It's impossible to beat for the price.
But the M2 is something else again. NAD claims it's not just another digital amplifier, and that's a good thing. I've heard some really nice digital amps over the years, but most don't cut it for serious audiophiles. It's not so much that they sound bad, just kind of bland. They gloss over detail and make everything sound the same.
So the first thing I noticed about the M2 was its resolution and clarity. In other words if I didn't know it was digital, I wouldn't have guessed. It's right up there with the better high-end amplifiers. The M2 is a 250 watt per channel stereo integrated amp.… Read more
Today's receivers are jam-packed with features, but the one thing they lack is power.
In fact, most $500 receivers never come close to delivering their rated power into all channels.
Some can barely manage a third of their claimed wattage. Right now, your 100 watt per channel receiver might be pumping out only 30 something watts.
People ask me about this stuff all the time--"Steve, Denon, Onkyo, Pioneer, Sony and Yamaha receivers all boast up to the nanosecond surround processing modes, connectivity options up the whazoo, and fancy shamncy remotes--so what exactly would a brawny multichannel amplifier get me?" My answer to these queries is always the same: "Just two things, the power and the glory."
The problem: Receivers, even big ticket, $2,000+ models can't spare enough internal real estate to house humongous transformers and hefty power supply capacitors--the compromises inevitably start there. Separate power amplifiers have room for all of that good stuff.
Enter Emotiva Audio's XPA 200 watt, five-channel amplifier ($799), 1,000 watts total. It's actually a lot more powerful than just double your average 100 watt per channel receiver; the XPA amplifier can deliver up to 350 watts to each of its five channels with four-ohm speaker loads. You'll look far and wide to find a receiver that can drive low-impedance speakers like a separate power amp can. And it'll cost a whole lot more than the Emotiva XPA will.
Oh, and please don't worry that the XPA is too powerful for your speakers. Too much power doesn't harm speakers, playing them too loud with an underpowered receiver is far more likely to do your speakers in. … Read more
Let's face it, headphones always sound like headphones--that is--they never really sound like speakers.
Headphones "squirt" sound directly into your ears, but the new AKG K 702's much-larger-than-average earcups allow the drivers to be placed farther away from your ears, so the sound seems less direct. This headphone was designed for recording engineers and studio use, and the sound quality is right up there with some of the best headphones ever made. Priced at $540, it's not cheap, but it's not at all out of line for what you get. This blog is a preview of my upcoming full CNET review.
I found the K 702's expansive sound hugely appealing; that's why it sounds less like a headphone and more like speakers in a room. Not the same as, but less headphone-like than most.
The AKG K 702 is, in fact, the professional version of the consumer K 701 model that came out a couple of years ago. That one received raves from the audiophile press, including me, so naturally I had even higher hopes for the K 702, but it's essentially the same design as the K 701. The K 702 is matte dark blue (looks black to me) instead of gloss white and features a detachable cable.
Thanks to the way the K 702's real leather/metal wire headband distributes the weight of the 'phones evenly across your head, and those large, extra soft velour covered cushions, you can wear these headphones for hours at a time and they'll remain nice and comfy. Build quality, durability, fit and finish are all first rate.
I've made the point in previous blogs, but to get the best sound from high-end headphones plug them into a high-quality headphone amplifier. Sure, the K 702 sounded fine plugged into my Onkyo SR-TX 805 AV receiver, but the headphone was sweeter and prettier sounding with my Woo Audio WA6 SE tube amp ($1,050). Then again, the K 702's sound over my ancient 15GB iPod wasn't too shabby. … Read more
Sure, most AV receivers have "good enough" built-in headphone amplifiers, which are fine for occasional listening.
But if you regularly listen to a decent set of headphones over your home theater system or computer, I recommend moving up to a high-quality headphone amplifier, like Benchmark's DAC1 USB ($1,275).
AV receivers' headphone amps, even on $1,000+ models either sound anemic, with little or no bass, or they're muffled sounding things. Whenever I review high-end headphones, I always plug them into an iPod, AV receiver, and a dedicated headphone amplifier, just to see how they perform in different contexts. But headphones always do their best when plugged into a good headphone amp.
Benchmark is one of the few manufacturers of professional audio gear that has consistently wowed audiophiles. The company offers a range of headphone amplifiers, and I reviewed the Benchmark DAC1 USB when I tested the Denon AH-D5000, Grado GS-1000, and Ultrasone Edition 9 luxury headphones for Home Entertainment magazine. … Read more