One of the most important factors in selecting the right hi-fi components is room size. If you're lucky enough to have a big living space (over 500 square feet), I'd recommend floor-standing speakers. Big rooms also soak up amplifier power; smaller rooms need a lot less. Here in NYC, most folks live in small apartments, and they'll get terrific sound with midsize bookshelf speakers and small amps.
The vinyl boom isn't slowing. Here in NYC, Rough Trade opened a new 15,000-square-foot record store, and the display space is evenly split between LPs and CDs. Vinyl sales were up 18 percent in 2012, and that growth continued in 2013.
To get the best sound from an LP, you need a decent turntable, and the $179 U Turn Orbit I reviewed a few months ago would be a great place to start. The $449 Rega RP1 turntable will get you even closer to audiophile nirvana.
After you buy a nice 'table the next question will be, how … Read more
Rega may have started out as an audiophile turntable company in 1973, but it now offers a full line of amplifiers, CD players, digital converters, phono cartridges, and speakers.
They're all good, but to me Rega has always set the standard for affordable turntables. Most companies venturing into that market owe a lot to Rega's aesthetics and simple-is-better, functional design ethic. Take a look at the new U-Turn Orbit turntable reviewed just a few weeks ago and you'll see what I mean. I wouldn't go so far as to call it a clone, but the Rega … Read more
Wharfedale is an 80-year-old speaker company, not to mention one of the oldest names in British audio. They make high-end and affordable speakers with prices starting at around $300 a pair. I recently checked out the Wharfedale Diamond 10.5 towers; their curvy cabinets cut a nice figure in the sound room at the In Living Stereo store in NYC. I listened to a few LPs on the stunning new Rega RP8 turntable. The tower speakers sell for $950 a pair.
The Diamond 10.5 is a three-way design with a 6.5-inch woofer, a 2-inch dome midrange, and a … Read more
Records, aka LPs, have been around since the 1950s, so there are lots of them out there. I've bought great records for a buck or two at thrift shops and yard sales, and found them on the street for free, but records aren't yesterday's news; lots of young bands are releasing LPs. The way things are going, the LP will probably outlast the CD as a mainstream format.
Speaking of yard sales and thrift shops, you can probably find dirt cheap turntables in those places, but the chances of finding a turntable in good working condition there … Read more
The iPhone and iPad are truly elegant designs, but they are the rare exceptions in the rather drab world of consumer electronics. Most cameras, printers, computers, home theater receivers, and speakers are pretty sedate, but there is one product category that stands out: turntables. I've picked a choice selection that represents remarkable achievements in industrial design, and they're highly functional, exquisitely engineered products.
The Redpoint Model A turntable has an aluminum and composite Teflon platter, damped by silicone oil, and the turntable features a battery-powered 12-volt DC motor with precious metal brushes. The turntable weighs 90 pounds.… Read more
Panasonic Technics' direct-drive (no belt) turntables have been DJ favorites since the 1970s. The blogs are abuzz with the news that Panasonic will cease Technics production this year. If it's true that Panasonic is completely out of the turntable business, that would be a shame.
That said, direct-drive turntables never really caught on with the audiophile crowd; we prefer belt-drive models. You see, the direct-drive motor's high torque instantly gets the platter up to speed from a dead stop, which is why Technics 'tables were prized by DJs.
But the powerful motors transmit whatever noise and vibration they … Read more
You might think turntables have an easy job: just spin the platter supporting the record. Hold on, spinning at exactly thirty-three and a third revolutions per minute, without the slightest variance and flutter is a surprisingly difficult task to pull off.
Remember, too that the phono cartridge's stylus tracing the LP's groove is a remarkably sensitive device; it "reads" groove wiggles that can be smaller than a wavelength of light. But the stylus tracing the groove can't distinguish between groove wiggles and other vibrations, such as those from the turntable's extraneous motor noise, or the sound coming out of the speakers in the room with the turntable. The bearing the platter rests upon, and the tonearm's bearings also make noise, which are also picked up by the stylus.
A perfect turntable's platter would spin at the exact right speed; its motor and bearings would produce absolutely no noise, and the turntable/platter system would be completely isolated from its environment. No such turntable exists, but high-end turntables get a lot closer to that ideal than budget contenders.
That's why the very best turntables seem quite a bit quieter than lesser turntables; they produce less rumble and groove noise, and clicks and pops seem less intrusive. Cheap, poorly designed turntables exacerbate groove noise and tend to sound screechy. Most budget 'tables have limited bass power and poor bass definition. … Read more
Sound & Vision magazine's Michael Trei recently tested three turntables: the Rega Research P1 ($395), Music Hall mmf 2.2 ($449), and Technics SL-1200MK2 ($699). And guess what: the most expensive turntable wasn't the best-sounding one!
Mike's an old friend and a major turntable guru in his own right. His knowledge of all things analog runs deep, and he regularly sets up finicky high-end turntables for the rich and famous, including the president of a major record company, here in NYC. Mike set up the VPI Classic turntable I bought last year.
The three turntables covered in his report, the Rega, Music Hall, and Technics are all excellent, but I was more interested in the belt vs. direct-drive aspect of the reviews. The Technics is a long standing DJ favorite, for its powerful, direct-drive motor, which is a big plus when you're back cueing and scratching records. Direct-drive 'tables never wowed the high-end crowd, they favor belt-drive turntables. The appeal is mostly based on the fact that the belt "decouples" the motor from the platter. So whatever noise and vibration the motor makes as it spins aren't directly transmitted to the platter, and therefore to the record. No wonder the vast majority of turntables sold to audiophiles are belt-drive designs.
Mike may be a hard-core audiophile, but he's not closed-minded about direct-drive turntables, and in fact owns a Technics direct-drive turntable (and many belt-drives as well).… Read more
"Good enough" audio is the order of the day, but here at The Audiophiliac it's all about great sounding gear, which can get really expensive. Usually, but not always, so here's a Top 10 list of great gear that won't break the bank. Prices run from $8 to $1,995, and seven of the ten are under $650. All are truly exceptional performers, affordably priced. (Just note that these are my personal picks; see CNET's list of best home audio products for the editors' official recommendations.)
Grado SR60i headphones ($79). Grado long ago set the standard for unbelievably great-sounding, full-size budget headphones with the original SR60. The SR60's sound had weight, detail and punch far beyond the capabilities of most under $100 'phones. Jim Austin, over at Stereophile magazine, recently reviewed the SR60i, and he thinks Grado's upgraded design surpasses the original SR60.
Ikea Lack hi-fi component stand ($7.99) It's made of particleboard and ABS plastic, and it comes in a variety of painted colors (and "birch effect"); it's 21.3 inches wide and deep, and 17.75 inches high. Ikea doesn't present the Lack as audio furniture; it's a side table, but audiophiles all over the world have used it to support their prized possessions. Build quality is surprisingly sturdy.
Sony XDR-F1HD HD Radio ($100). I guess most of you don't listen to radio anymore, but if you're lucky enough to still have a great NPR or college station nearby, you gotta hear this radio. Plug it into your computer or hi-fi and it'll sound better than Internet radio by a long shot.
Samsung HT-C6500 home theater in a box system ($649, pictured at top). I've probably reviewed more HTIBs than anybody, but this new Blu-ray Samsung HTIB really stood out from the crowd. First because it doesn't have the feeble, thin sound I associate with the petite speakers that come with most HTIBs. The sound is rich, full, and thanks to the HT-C6500's potent subwoofer, powerful.
Altec Lansing Expressionist Ultra MX6021 PC speaker-subwoofer system ($200). I checked out Altec's mighty PC sound system when David Carnoy was working on his CNET review. Wow, this thing rocks! It's remarkably clean-sounding, and the subwoofer goes really deep, without the boom and bloat so common to computer speaker systems. Face it, you're never going to get great sound out of pipsqueak speakers, the Altec system's subwoofer is 15.8 inches tall by 15.1 inches wide by 10.2 inches deep, and the satellites sport 3-inch midrange drivers and 1-inch neodymium tweeters. It's easily the best sounding $200 speaker/subwoofer package on the planet! … Read more