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Introducing the V7 Burson Opamp: A Revolution in Sound Quality!

February 29, 2024 – After two decades of relentless research and development, we’re thrilled to unveil the 7th generation Burson opamps. They are a testament to our commitment to excellence, safety, and user-friendliness.

The Burson V7 discrete opamps set a new benchmark in sound quality, earning the trust of leading industry partners like Union Audio and SAL, as well as recording engineers and DIY audio enthusiasts worldwide.

The V7 combines cutting-edge circuitry and craftsmanship, offering not just superior sound but also an impressive aesthetic. Its compact size (15mm x 13mm x 19mm) ensures versatility across various applications, from computer soundcards to car amplifiers. Unique features like reverse voltage protection make the V7 not only more durable but also safer than ever before.

Our meticulous eight-layer PCB design optimizes signal paths and shields against interference, ensuring pristine sound quality. The high-density aluminum shell of the V7 effectively dissipates heat, allowing it to operate at higher currents for improved audio quality and stability.

Whether you choose the V7 Vivid for its clarity and precision or the V7 Classic for its warm vocals and sparkling highs, you’re guaranteed an unparalleled audio experience. We’re also proud to offer the V7 with a lifetime warranty, a commitment unmatched in the opamp industry.

Pre-Order Opens Now with 10% off any orders.  Shipping starts on the 15th of March.

Bristol Hi-Fi Show 2024

The names may have changed a few times, but the 35th Bristol Hi-Fi Show took place last weekend. It’s no longer the Bristol Sound & Vision Show. The hotel is now the Delta by Marriott, but it’s the same brutalist concrete box perpetually covered in scaffolding. But a line snakes around the hotel yearly, with people braving February weather to be the first through the doors.

This year, several big names representing a significant part of the Bristol audio ‘experience’ did not attend the show. Bowers & Wilkins, KEF, Henley (Cabasse, Hi-Fi Rose, Musical Fidelity, Pro-Ject) and Monitor Audio were among the no-shows. However, neither this nor the almost perpetual rain dampened people’s enthusiasm for high-quality audio. The show filled the basement and ground floor conference spaces, the mezzanine (where we exhibited) and four floors of rooms.

SCV stand

Absent the usual suspects, many companies were more than happy to step up. For example, SCV Distribution took a very large stand in the main hall, with sound booths to show off IsoTek and IsoAcoustics products, as well as an open plan headphone and new brand showcase. Impressive.

Acoustic Energy

Acoustic Energy

The Corinium is the latest flagship from Acoustic Energy. The three-way, four-driver design is a hefty yet mid-sized floorstander, resulting from three years of engineering by the brand. Given the original Latin name for its Cirencester base, Acoustic Energy’s Corinium is available in four finishes, including a custom British Racing Green gloss. Prices start at £6,000 per pair.

Anthos Acoustics

Anthos Acoustics

Perhaps the most ambitious active loudspeaker at the show came from start-up Anthos Audio. The £100,000 system comprises a single-ended 2A3 triode amplifier with digital filtering to power the large two-way horn/bass horn system. The main horn loudspeaker uses a thirteen-leaf ‘flower horn’ using wooden laminations finished in the style of Cremonese instrument makers. The looks of this loudspeaker may be uniquely ‘anatomical’, but it sounded terrific.

Chord Company/English Electric

Chord Company launched a BurndyX cable designed to replace and improve the cables made for Naim Audio power supplies. They feature better insulation and shielding and are cheaper than the brand’s first Burndy T designs. Prices start at £1,772.50. The brand’s new entry-level power block is the £600 Powerhaus P6. This eschews the bus-bar conductors of the larger Powerhaus models but features heavy-grade cable using the brand’s Aray technology and high-end sockets.

Meanwhile sister brand English Electric has added to its range of network products. The new £250 EE1 network isolator joins the latest trend in keeping Ethernet noise nasties from the door.

Chord Electronics

Chord Electronics Ultima

The £8,500 Chord Electronics Ultima integrated amplifier was shown in early form at Munich High-End 2023, but production was delayed. This is the first time it has been shown now in full production. At the show, it was played with the Qutest DAC beefed up by the M Scaler upscaler and played into ATC loudspeakers. Simple, yet effective.

Cyrus Audio

Audio Physic

Now distributing Audio Physic, Cyrus Audio showed the latest £8,495 Avanti loudspeaker from the brand. This tall tower loudspeaker features an ‘invisible’ subwoofer built into the base. 2023 saw the Avanti given a complete redesign and it looks and sounds promising.

Cyrus Audio

It was driven by a full Cyrus XR system, complete with the £4,295 TTP turntable launched late last year. This belt-drive, DC-motor, deck and arm can be upgraded with the PSX-R2 power supply, and is designed to keep resonance vanishingly low. An impressive start to Cyrus’ 40th Anniversary.

DALI

DALI

We tend not to discuss existing products in a show report, as there’s always lots of new product launches. The DALI Minuet SE is a deluxe finish and refined version of a loudspeaker that has been in production in various guises for decades. Nevertheless, coupled with Lyngdorf’s Room Perfect amplification, the diminutive £1,50o two-way stand-mount sang like a little angel!

Decent Audio

Advance Paris

UK distributor Decent Audio is forever adding to its range. The latest sees the return of Advance Paris, a French audio electronics company with a wide range of affordable, performance-driven products. One of the show’s highlights was the diminutive £500 WTX-StreamTubes, an Ethernet-based streamer with built-in tubes to help shape the sound.

Epos

Epos

Sadly, I didn’t get to speak to designer Karl-Heinz Fink on the creation of his new Epos ES-7n, but the £1,890 compact loudspeaker uses the same drive units as seen on his Epos ES-14n but in a smaller front-ported cabinet. They sounded excellent played through a T+A all-in-one system.

English Acoustics

Alongside its Stereo 21c and Stereo 41c, English Acoustics has been promising a matching preamplifer. At Bristol, it delivered on that promise in the shape of the £5,670 Downton. This three line-input amplifier also features a MM phono stage, has a motorised volume potentiometer and separate power supplies for the high and low current rails.

Exposure

Exposure

Alongside the new £1,300 360 turntable announced just before the show, Exposure also released its new 3510 CD player, priced at £2,500. The top-loading player is designed to match the company’s 3510 range, but also its 5010 line. Not a lot is known about the player as yet, save that it has a magnetic clamp and a sliding lid, and sounded really good in Exposure’s effortless-sounding, yet dynamic room.

FiiO

One of the first ‘off-piste’ events held at Bristol, FiiO showed its CP13 Portable Stereo Cassette player. This USB-charged machine is perhaps the ultimate retro audio device, finished in a neat 1980s pastel blue. FiiO remains unclear about where it gets its cassette tape drives. Regardless, couple this with a set of Koss Porta Pro headphones and this £100 cassette portable will roll back the years.

Fyne Audio

Fyne Audio

If this was the year of active loudspeakers, then dual concentric loudspeakers weren’t far behind. Fyne Audio added the £3,499 Supertrax supertweeter to its Vintage range. The 360° radiation pattern SuperTrax sits directly above the acoustic centre of the drive units (easier with dual concentrics). Fyne Audio also showed its new £12,000 F702SP (or Special Production) and £15,000 F703SP loudspeaker, a cryo-treated version with upgraded components, a different plinth and elements taken from its flagship F1 range. We’ve secured an exclusive test of the F702SP in the next issue of hi-fi+, too!

Harbeth

No matter how often I tried, the Harbeth rooms were always full. Surely a good sign. Harbeth launched the new NLE system at the show; an active DSP-based loudspeaker system shown in ‘skunkworks’ form last year. The company highlighted the flexibility of the DSP active system by using Quad valve amps for the midrange and treble, and Class D amps for the bass. The total cost – including loudspeakers, DSP module, and a set of Class D amps – comes in at over £40,000.

Hegel Music Systems

A long time ago, Hegel said it would never make a phono stage. Then it made one. Then it said it would never put a phono stage in an integrated amplifier. At Bristol, the company showed its £3,250 H190v integrated amplifier… with MM phono stage. This is built on the powerful 150W Class AB H190 integrated amplifier chassis.

Kanto Audio

Kanto Audio

Ren is the first loudspeaker from Kanto Audio to feature HDMI eARC. This means it can be controlled by a TV based system effortlessly, even doing without its own remote control. Using the best of Kanto’s components to create something special, the new Ren will be available later in the year.

Kudos Audio

Kudos Audio

Kudos Audio unveiled its unpowered active Sigao Drive crossover in prototype form. The company’s Titan range of loudspeakers have long benefitted from active operation. However, active crossover options proved limited after Naim Audio took its SNAXO out of production in 2022. Two famous Naim names have designed this unique, Kudos-dedicated device; Roy George and Trevor Wilson. The Sigao Drive will be formally launched at this year’s Munich High-End and expect it to cost around £6,000.

Leema Acoustics

Leema Acoustics

The new Particle range of electronics from Leema Acoustics forms the brand’s new entry-level. Comprising the Electron CD player, Neutron DAC/Preamp and Graviton power amplifier, each component costs £1,400 and looks set to dominate the UK first audio system world this year!

Linn

Linn

Linn is traditionally the company most likely to promote active loudspeaker systems in home audio. This time, though, while others were showcasing active loudspeaker systems, Linn was playing its new Klimax 800 mono power amps. This cool-running, drive-anything cubes (Kubes?) of power deliver 800W and cost an equally cool £37,500 per channel. The Klimax 800 were played in the context of a full Linn system weighing in at a shade under £200,000. This made it the most expensive system in the show.

Naim/Focal

Naim

First seen at CES 2024, the Bristol Show was the first public showing for the new Naim Uniti Nova PE (or Power Edition). Looking almost identical to the original Uniti Nova, the £8,599 PE delivers 150W per channel, running in Class D, a boost from the 80W of the previous model.

Orange

Orange

Guitar amp specialist Orange has made a range of Bluetooth active loudspeakers and headphones, arguably following in the footsteps of fellow UK guitar amp brand Marshall. However, the more exciting device for the tube-based enthusiast is the £850 Valve Tester Mk II from the brand. The standard tester covers many preamp and power amp tubes as standard and has plug-in modules to test an extensive range of power and rectifier tubes.

Origin Live

Origin Live

The £295 Strata mat from Origin Live brings a stripped-down version of the company’s platter to other turntables. The three-layer mat is 5mm thick, and represents an ideal point of contact between LP and platter, according to Mark Baker.

Pearl Acoustics

Pearl Acoustics

Known for the clever Sibelius loudspeaker, Pearl Acoustics’ second product is its £8,500 170 power amplifier. Delivering a mighty 18W per channel from its KT170 power tubes (running in single-ended operation), the amplifier is designed for maximum linearity and speed… and is designed for far more than just a matching amp to the Sibelius. We’ve secured an exclusive review of this amplifier in an upcoming issue of hi-fi+.

PMC

PMC

This was the year of active loudspeakers. The big talking point of the show was PMC’s active versions of the four two-way loudspeakers in the twenty5i range. Both treble and midrange drivers are matched with their own 100W amplifier and include balanced and single-ended inputs.

PMC

Existing owners of passive versions of twenty5 and twenty5i two-way stand-mounts and floorstanders can also upgrade their loudspeakers. The upgrade kit is a simple rear panel swap. Prices start at £3,975 for the Twenty5.21i Active and top out at £7,975 for the Twenty5.24i Active. The price of a pair of active modules is £1,795.

Rega

Rega

Rega was showing its new Nd7 moving magnet cartridge. With a fineline stylus and smaller coils than most MM designs, the Nd7 delivers the sort of higher frequency and channel balance performance normally associated with moving coil cartridges. The cartridge is expected to cost around £450.

 

Further down the line, Rega showed off its forthcoming high-end pre/power system, the line only Mercury and 165W Solis. Both are expected to cost about £6,000, but currently are still in the development stage.

Russell K.

Russell K.

The pocket rocket in the Russell K. range is the RED 50. The rear-ported two-way stand-mount now comes in a more up-scale RED 50Se, with improved tweeter, crossover and an additional sub-plinth. The result is a cleaner, and more controlled, design over the standard RED 50. The new RED 50Se costs £3,950, £1,700 more than the RED 50.

Silence

A new Croatian turntable company, featuring the skills of AMG and Clearaudio designer Marko Borovac, the Silence Alpha TT-1 is a unique turntable and arm combination, featuring a Baltic Birch ply and aluminium composite plinth, an inverted bearing and a 19mm aluminium platter. The AC motor drives the platter via a non-pulsing sinewave and a large silicone belt made in-house. It’s joined by a 10” magnetically stabilised unipivot arm. The company has made this turntable as a proof of concept, and at £999, it’s a concept worth snapping up before they know how much it should cost!

Tannoy

Tannoy re-surfaced in style at Bristol. The brand took both a room to demonstrate its product and had a large display in the show’s main hall. In the room, it was making a particularly good sound with the £11,995 Stirling III LZ Special Edition, playing through AURALiC digital source and Western Electric amplification. This classic 10inch dual concentric design originally dates back to 1967 and features an Alnico magnet system.

Telegrapher

Telegrapher

Telegrapher is a new active loudspeaker brand, with a strong studio vibe. It combines high-quality build and finishes with two and three-way active drive. There is also a matching powered subwoofer. Prices start at £4,500 for the two-way Fox loudspeaker.

Ultrafide

One of several pro-meets-domestic brands, UK based Ultrafide is the domestic offshoot of pro-audio amp maker MC2 (MC squared, like Einstein’s equation). Its first products are the £4,500 U4PRE audiophile quad output preamp, designed for biamping, and the matching £4,500 500W U500DC, which uses Class D power modules with a large linear power supply.

Wharfedale

Wharfedale

It might just be the smallest three-way loudspeaker on the market. The Wharfedale Super Denton is an addition to the company’s Heritage series. The £1,000 three-way design features a dome tweeter, offset midrange dome, and a cone mid-bass, all crammed into a box not much larger than most two-way designs. Further information on this loudspeaker is still to be confirmed, even though they ship in early March!

Wilson Benesch

Wilson Benesch

Representing the high-end at Bristol, Wilson Benesch teamed up with Computer Audio Design and Trilogy Audio Systems to create a really engaging sound. The company was playing its £18,995 Discovery 3zero stand-mount loudspeakers, with the equipment resting on its £6,000 R1 Hi-Fi Rack. The company was also showcasing its new £23,995 IGx Infrasonic Generator, an 18in upward-firing carbon fibre cone with a 500W Class D amplifier.

Meanwhile Computer Audio Designs was showcasing its latest £1,950 GC1.1 and £4,950 GC3.1 Ground Control devices as well as its new £1,250 Ethernet Control, and £1,500 USB IIR cable and £350 GC Cable. All played through a £12,500 CAD 1543 MkII DAC.

This room also marked the return of Trilogy Audio Systems. The company showed its £12,500 914 Balanced Valve Preamplifier and the new £10,000 994 Mono Hybrid power amps that deliver 20W in Class A and 140W in class AB.

 

There was a lot more. Some of these appear on our YouTube channel. Others, such as Lyngdorf and Innuos (also using Lyngdorf amplifiers… I’m sensing a pattern here), were great-sounding rooms that didn’t have new products this time.

 

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Innuos PULSAR streamer

Being at the cutting edge of ripping music could be a double-edged sword for Innuos. The ZEN range and the outstanding Statement (with or without its Next-Gen power supply) make the company one of the biggest names in music servers. This is particularly true for those who rip music from CD to hard disc. Which is great… until people stop using CDs as their go-to music carrier. All the servers in the Innuos range act as extremely good streamers and high-resolution file servers. However, that little voice still says, “I’m paying for something I don’t need.” The Innuos PULSAR from the PULSE range silences that voice.

Non-Ripping Yarns

Like the ZEN series, the PULSE line of streamers and servers comprises three models; PULSEmini, PULSE and PULSAR, tested here. The ‘good, better, best’ epithets fit well. The products meet the budgetary constraints of the user, with each successive model piling on improvements over the last.

The spec sheet gets pretty packed when you get to the Innuos PULSAR. PULSAR uses Innuos’ active rectification capacitor (ARC) board, a scaled-down version of the ARC6 present on Statement NG. This is a custom module containing more than 130,000µF Mundorf capacitors. This is well met by a 300VA toroidal transformer, which goes some way to explain why a streamer weighs almost as much as a small stereo power amplifier. It’s all designed in collaboration with power supply expert Dr Sean Jacobs. The centre of this magnetically screened toroidal transformer is filled with epoxy resin. 

This analogue power supply is uncommon in streamers and servers; even stepping away from essentially re-tasked computers, most server-side products use switch-mode power supplies. These might be light, cheap, plentiful and easy to implement, but if you take your server project seriously, including something that produces RFI and EMI inside the case of your source component is ‘not a good look’. 

Lite, but heavy

Isolation from interference is a big thing for Innuos, and PULSAR includes a ‘Lite’ version of its PhoenixUSB reclocker (tested in Issue 184), powered by a custom regulator module. This is a replaceable Digital Output Module with Innuos working on further modules like AES/EBU and i2s. By treating noise like The Enemy (whether an invading force trying to breach the Innuos PULSAR through its connectors or the fifth column of internal power supplies), it approaches many of the performance parameters of Innuos’ Statement product. Granted, the two-box masterwork takes these concepts as far as Innuos can, but the PULSAR is a chip off the ol’ Statement block.

 Even the feet are arranged asymmetrically to support the player and help dampen vibration. The strategic placement of feet sounds like the start of an exceptionally boring dance movie. Still, it is understandable when you think about the unequal load caused by a big transformer and the fact that many parts are potentially resonating at very high frequencies. 

Not just a pretty face

Innuos PULSAR has the asymmetric front panel common to all the brand’s products but subtly redesigned for the PULSE range. This includes the logo and product name inset into the top plate. It’s not a product designed for front panel displays (most servers are ‘plant room’ fodder), but I think it looks elegant and understated on the shelf. 

Innuos PULSAR

 More importantly, the PULSAR is designed to be extremely easy to install and use. Its operating system is held on Single-level Cell SSD (PULSE and PULSEmini house this on a Triple-Level Cell module, with concomitant higher noise). It is designed to allow the PULSAR to run either in Standalone mode (where it acts as a music server) or Endpoint (where an existing server is already established, often in a multi-room system). Aside from downloading the Innuos App and plugging the PULSAR into a network switch, switching between Standalone and Endpoint is the most challenging part of the installation. 

PULSAR can reach out to your preferred online music streaming services (through the App itself) or hook up to local NAS (network-attached storage) boxes full of your own music. It does this effortlessly. Whichever way you configure the Innuos PULSAR and irrespective of whether you have local or online streamed files, the PULSAR works best when outputting to a USB DAC, as it supports 32bit/768kHz PCM and up to DSD512 through that pathway. It also supports MQA Core Decoding (this requires the latest version of the innuOS operating system).

Roon Tune

The PULSE series are streamers and they are currently undergoing Roon-Ready certification. They can be used now as a generic Roon Endpoint, but being a streamer, they are not designed to be used as Roon Core, not least because they don’t have onboard storage. Roon-Ready is a programme for streamers only, not servers. 

However, having used Innuos’ Statement for some time without Roon, I’m not missing it too much. The Sense App keeps improving, and the latest version, coupled with innuOS 2.3, makes for a very rich musical experience. It’s intuitive, and I find myself flipping from a local disc to stream to internet radio quickly and effortlessly. This means the added value Roon brings to the party isn’t quite as vital as it once was. However, Roon’s curation and that feeling of swimming through the entire musical canon is still a heady wine.

There are so many USB and Ethernet ports on the rear of the Innuos PULSAR (five USB ports and two LAN sockets) that you might think you could go a little wild, installing multiple USB drives, USB DACs in multiple ways and even a NAS drive. However, it doesn’t work that way. The PULSAR has a dedicated LAN input for connection to the network; it uses Network Attached Storage for streaming local files and a dedicated USB for output to a DAC (with the promise of equally high-performance digital outputs later). The quartet of USB ports connect a backup drive for future expansion. It’s all in the simple yet deceptively thorough quick-start guide. As such, I used the PULSAR (and the Statement) in Standalone mode, using my Synology NAS, into the outstanding Allnic Audio D-10000 (tested in Issue 221) through USB.

Tough tasks

Innuos PULSAR has a challenging set of tasks to achieve. It has to be extremely good in its own right, justifying its place against both pared-down PCs or even Raspberry Pi computers acting as servers. Then, it needs to be distinctly better than the PULSE and PULSEmini. But not so good that it potentially cannibalises sales of the Statement. It gets that balance near perfect.

If anything, the first is the hardest to crack because those who think any server is just a glorified PC will likely discount any claim to improved sonic performance as so much ‘fluff’. However, the Sense App pays attention to that argument. It’s so easy to use and intuitive that arguing a more ‘homespun’ approach is hard. Not having a PULSE or PULSEmini to hand makes testing its sonic improvements harder. However, having compared them in settings beyond my listening room, I know that the ‘good, better, best’ hierarchy remains in good order.

There is a definite performance jump across all three models, with the Innuos PULSAR sounding considerably more open and with more potent, full bass than the other two. And then there’s the Statement, which I know well. In this setting, the PULSAR gives a surprisingly adept performance and acquits itself very well. The Statement has more space and depth to the sound and is considerably more rhythmically adept. However, the PULSAR gets closer to the Statement’s stellar performance than it has any right to expect.

A lot to deal with

Comparisons over, how does it sound? It gives the DAC a lot to deal with in a good way. Sure, the DAC itself will shape the sound of a USB streaming server. However, the DAC can only process what it’s fed, and the feed from the PULSAR is excellent.

As mentioned before, the strength and depth of the bass is the first thing you notice. It’s a powerful bass sound, yet not one that comes at the expense of the rest of the frequency range. My usual bass-test track [Trentmøller’s ‘Chameleon’, from The Last Resort, Poker Flat Records] can sound strident and with an exaggerated top-end when streamed poorly. Still, here, the depth and intensity of the bass give you those atavistic thrills. Meanwhile, the mids and top-end remain unforced and precise.

Innuos PULSAR

The more you listen to the PULSAR, the more other aspects of performance unpack themselves. The vocal projection and articulation are first-rate (of course, having a DAC that also excels in those parameters helps). I wrote ‘undigital’ on the pad several times because the fluid and articulate vocals were more ‘there’ than one usually hears on streamed sources. 

Detail levels are also extremely good but without the edginess that often plagues streamed digital performances. That degree of information on tap is not always good. There is often too much going on in the high frequencies and not enough taking place in the bass. Innuos has a good sense of balance, making streamed digital richer than usual.

The beat goes on

Then there’s the beat. I’m always taken aback at how a packetised data source played through a USB output can have such profound differences in the rhythmic quality of a recording. I know the differences are more due to the isolation of signal between two devices than changes to the datastream per se. Still, whatever the reasons behind it, the PULSAR is incredibly taut and bouncy sounding.

This isn’t just a rock music thing. The Yo-Yo Ma/Chris Thile/Edgar Meyer Bach Trios [Nonesuch] has such a delicate sense of meter that it can so easily sound bland and drab. Here, it comes alive. The interplay between cello and mandolin, underpinned by bass, makes you understand why most musicians view Bach as the father of modern music. You can hear how he’s the precursor to everything from jazz to metal. All of that’s here in this recording, and the PULSAR renders it beautifully.

There is a caveat here. Or rather, an observation. The Innuos PULSAR sounds good, but you must thoroughly understand your network connection to hear its potential. Like its bigger Statement-shaped brother, the PULSAR takes a big step forward with a well-designed network switch and a set of Ethernet cables designed with audio in mind. The PULSAR is good at keeping RFI and EMI at bay. However, a helping hand from the switch onwards makes for an even more potent sound quality and authoritative bass. Hundreds of options are open to the listener, including a switch from Innuos called PhoenixNET (tested in Issue 194).  

Saying nothing with style!

The best reviews often say the least. The Innuos PULSAR is a fantastic streamer for those who have left CD ripping behind. It integrates so well with the Sense App that it’s almost impossible to separate their performance. The two make accessing both your own music and that of the outside world effortless and easy. Everything works out of the box. While it sounds good in almost any setting, it works best when care is paid to the cabling and switch. At this point, it can sound like excellent music-making, regardless of where that music comes from.

I do ‘get’ why many think spinning discs remain the best way of extracting digital audio. But, it’s an old-fashioned idea. However, this ‘CD sounds better’ view is convincing when listening to online streamed recordings against ripped CDs. It’s one of the reasons devices like the Innuos Statement sound so good. But even the most strident streaming holdout will find something positive to say about the Innuos PULSAR. This Innuos streaming server can show you just how far streaming has come. 

Technical specifications

  • Streaming Inputs: LAN
  • Native streaming services: Qobuz, Tidal, TuneIn internet radio
  • Digital outputs: USB, Ethernet
  • Supported Digital Formats: Up to 32-bit/768kHz PCM and up to DSD256 Native DSD via USB output
  • Control Software: Innuos Sense, RoonReady
  • Dimensions (W×H×D): 42 × 7.6 × 29cm
  • Weight: 10.17kg
  • Price: £4,949, €5,499, US$6,899, CAN$8,949

Manufacturer

Innuos

www.innuos.com

+351 (308) 800 826

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Album Review: Young Fathers – Heavy Heavy

Where do you go next when your debut album wins the prestigious Mercury Prize? Not that winning the Mercury first time of asking is a rarity, looking back through past winners it seems to almost be the norm with the likes of Franz Ferdinand, Artic Monkeys and Dave all winning with the first full-length releases, while last year’s win for Little Simz’s fourth album bucked this trend and was rather tardy by comparison. But still, the question remains: where do you go next when your debut album wins the prestigious Mercury Prize?

In the case of Young Fathers, the answer was to decamp from their native Edinburgh and move to Berlin, switch record labels and record the excellent, but less successful, White Men Are Black Men Too. The equally good Cocoa Sugar followed in 2018, and saw Young Fathers return to the top of some of the more cutting-edge ‘album of the year’ lists. It was also their biggest chart success in the UK. 

That was five years ago; before the Pandemic. And now it is 2023. The trio may have switched labels a few times, but Heavy Heavy is their second outing on the legendary Ninja Tune, which is also the current home of the likes of Sampa The Great and Kae Tempest. It’s a label that seems to suit Young Fathers and their eclectic style, which fuses elements of American Hip-Hop, electronic chicanery, and the noisier, more experimental end of the Pop spectrum. 

Start listening to Heavy Heavy and before you know quite what’s going on you are four tracks in. Not that the album starts slow, quite the opposite in fact, because the opener ‘Rice’ is an absolute banger and the following ‘I Saw’ has all the multi-layered swagger we’ve come to expect from Young Fathers over the last decade. 

It speeds by because this is a Formula 1 race car of an album, and things are moving at a frenetic pace throughout. With 10 tacks spanning just 33 minutes, the three-piece have stuck to the tried-and-tested cliché of the three-minute pop song. Thankfully this is one of those clichés that exist because they are true – three minutes is the ideal length for a slice of pop music.

‘Geronimo’ and ‘Shoot Me Down’ slow proceedings down a little in the middle, both featuring rich bass lines and breathy vocals, before the fantastic ‘Ululation’ gets the party started again. But ‘Holy Moly’ is the stand-put track for me, the final moment of jubilation before the lower key ending of ‘Be Your Lady’. It’s dark, rapid-fire beat is the perfect partner for both the rather menacing vocal delivery on the verses and the more upbeat chorus. 

As you can tell, Heavy Heavy is an album full of light and shade, and one that we can imagine translating well to the band’s raucous live shows, with plenty of singalong hooks and the kind of call-and-response moments that their audience will go mad for.

We’d go as far as saying that this is Young Father’s best album yet. Perhaps the elongated gestation period did them a favour, allowing them to hone the tracks more precisely than previous offerings. Whatever the reason, we are thankful for it, and it bodes well for the future. 

Finally, this is another album with multiple vinyl versions available out there – looking at Rough Trade revealed five different versions on LP! However, all of them are 140g vinyl, with only a change of colour between black and white marking any differences to the physical product – the other variations are to do with covers and fold-out posters. Personally, I would add a full-on 180g pressing in black vinyl. But perhaps I’m showing my age here, because as is often the way nowadays, there’s also a cassette offering to sit alongside the LP and CD versions. It’s ironic that the format that was pillaried by the music business for its negative impact on sales (“Home Taping Is Killing Music”) is now the format of choice to avoid the endless and easy duplication of digital music files. Regardless of format though, Heavy Heavy is perfect for the truly hip. 

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Music Interview: Jenny Don’t and the Spurs

It’s a miracle that Fire On The Ridge, the latest album from Portland’s alt-country-Americana-garage-rock-punk outlaws, Jenny Don’t and the Spurs, was ever made.

Named after a forest fire that forced the band to make a detour when they were playing a local show, the record was held up when the studio sessions were interrupted by singer/rhythm guitarist Jenny Don’t needing surgery on her vocal cords.

When recording recommenced, the hard drive containing these tracks crashed, so the group had to start all over again. Then the studio caught fire, flooded and needed to be rebuilt. 

Just as everything seemed to be back on track, COVID-19 struck, which put a stop to any in-person mixing of the album. 

Unbelievably, when the record was finally completed, things sadly took an even darker turn – the band’s drummer, Sam Henry, died of cancer.

“Every summer in Oregon there’s either a deluge of biblical proportions with crazy flooding, or there’s a drought and everything dries out and gets really combustible – we have massive forest fires every year,” says bassist Kelly Halliburton. “We had to drive through one, but we got diverted. It was terrifying.”

Jenny Don't and the Spurs

Adds Don’t: “The sky was bright red and people were being evacuated – it was crazy. It was hard for it not to have a lasting impression on you. The fire was started by a kid with fireworks.”

Says Halliburton: “We did a detour to escape the fire but by the time we’d played the show and were driving back, at three or four in the morning, it was pitch black and the road was open because it was safe, but there were still glowing embers all over the hillside – it was like driving through hell or a lava field. It was the most incredible thing we’d ever seen.”

hi-fi+ is talking to Halliburton and his wife, Don’t, backstage at the UK-based Americana festival, The Ramblin’ Roots Revue, in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, where the band have just played an incendiary show on their first ever tour of the UK. 

SH: So, you had a rough time making the album?

JD: We had been touring and my voice was getting worse, but we got all the music done and it was time to do the vocals. Kelly and the engineer were like, ‘This isn’t how it should sound – it doesn’t sound like you.’ 

So, we decided to postpone the vocals and I got some surgery – it was about 12 weeks’ recovery. Then the hard drive crashed – we thought we’d recovered everything but ours was the only stuff that got totally lost. It was kind of a silver lining…

KH: It forced us to redo it. 

JD: The recording we have now has more energy – it’s better and much brighter. When we were in the writing process, I had no inflections in my voice – I lost a lot of octaves and I sounded tired. 

And then the studio got hit by fire and a flood…

JD: We recorded in the basement – we had pizza in the kitchen.

When we went to do the mixing, a dog had gotten onto the stove, turned it on and a pizza box caught fire – the kitchen was on fire.

KH: It was an inferno – we were trapped in the basement. There was fire and water in the studio. 

JD: Then COVID-19 happened and everything shut down – we didn’t mix together – and a water heater exploded and flooded the studio.

Your drummer, Sam, who played on the record, died after it was finished… 

KH: We got to tour that album with Sam – we did most of the summer of 2021 with him and played a bunch of shows with Charley Crockett. 

The songs on the 12in EP that’s just come out [Lovesick Crawl] are his last recordings with us – he recorded the six songs and then we took him to the hospital the next day. 

They gave him three months and he didn’t even last three weeks. It was terrible – one of the most traumatic things we’ve ever been through. He was family to us – we loved him.

This is the first time you’ve toured the UK. How’s it going?

KH: It’s going great – we’re doing seven shows and this is our fourth. I used to come over here in the ‘90s and play with punk bands. The last time I toured the UK was in 2003, and my band, Pierced Arrows, played All Tomorrow’s Parties in 2010. We played solid, garage-rock stuff.

Jenny Don't and the Spurs
Photo: Lisa Dibbern

 

[To KH]: How did you meet Jenny?

KH: She started coming to Pierced Arrows shows and she noticed me…

JD: I was standing upfront at one of the shows and I thought, ‘I want to know him,’ so I wrote him a message on Myspace. Remember Myspace?

I do. 

KH: It kind of developed from there – it’s a rock ‘n’ roll love story. We got married last year – we got together in 2009. We took our time.

JD: Do you know the band Poison Idea from Portland? The singer, Jerry A., married us…

KH: He’s an ordained minister – he officiated. Portland’s a pretty tight-knit scene and Poison Idea are a prominent band – we’ve been friends for ever.

[To JD]: So, what were you doing before you formed Jenny Don’t and the Spurs?

JD: I had a punk-rock band called Don’t, with our drummer, Sam, from the Spurs, who passed away recently. Him and I also did acoustic stuff at restaurants for fun. The Spurs are more natural to me – Don’t was fun, but I like the Spurs better.

KH: We wanted to shake it up a little – we were in loud bands that were touring the punk and the garage circuit, but we wanted to do something that was a little more laid-back. It started off with just the two of us.

So, have you always been into country music?

KH: Yeah – when I grew up, in the ‘80s, in America, roots music was very popular – the old stuff, like Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash. It was always around. If you like music, it’s good music and you recognise that, regardless. Even though I was into punk rock and garage, at a certain point in the night, a Patsy Cline record would go on. 

Very late in the evening…

KH: Exactly.

JD: I grew up listening to that and I used to do rodeo – my mom was the Central Wyoming rodeo queen. I was born in New Mexico, but I grew up in Washington and then I moved to Portland to play music. I met Kelly and Sam Henry pretty much within a month of moving there – we linked up and have been together ever since. 

Do you write songs together?

JD: Yeah – a lot of the time I’ll have an idea, but I won’t know if it’s good, and Kelly’s really good at encouraging the song to move to the next stage. He’ll introduce it to the band and we’ll build it from there. Sometimes I’ll have a whole song written, but we’ll piece it together to be a little more dynamic. I write on an acoustic a lot of the time.

KH: She comes up with the basic structure and I help a lot with the arrangements and sometimes the lyrics.

Let’s talk about some of the songs on the album. I love the title track – it’s a galloping garage-country-rock song – but ‘California Cowboy’ and ‘Restless Moon’ have an old school country feel, and ‘Friday Night’, which is one of my favourites, is like a Patsy Cline song…

JD: It’s funny – ‘California Cowboy’ was my least favourite, but it’s Kelly’s favourite. That’s the most requested song… I should’ve listened to him. 

There’s a good mix of country and rock ‘n’ roll on the record…

JD: The songs are different, but they’re all cohesive. That’s why I like this band – we can do that and not be pigeonholed. We like all kinds of music and it’s fun to try and incorporate all our influences.

‘Trouble On My Mind’ is the heaviest track – full-on garage-rock-country-punk…

KH: We wanted to shake it up a little…

‘Queen of the Desert’ and ‘Johnny Vagabond’ are also two of my favourites. I love the mysterious, cinematic Western noir / Ennio Morricone feel, with twangy guitar… 

JD: Yeah. So many artists are like, ‘I’m the queen of blah-blah-blah, this or that…’ I want to be the queen of random stuff – the queen of the flies, buzzing around me, or the queen of the cactus, or the queen of all of it. How about that?

KH: ‘Johnny Vagabond’ is a cover song – it’s by Bonnie Guitar. She was one of the only prominent female country artists in the Pacific North West in the ‘40s and ‘50s and co-founded the Dolton Records label. She was really prolific but no one really knows her.

So, is there a new album planned? I guess you’re hoping for better luck with the next one…

JD: Yeah – the only thing that’s holding it back is that we’ve been touring so much. We’re not at home long enough to record it. 

We’re trying to do two albums – we want to do a trail songs album and a follow up to Fire On The Ridge at the same time. We’re working on it. 

Fire On The Ridge is out now on Fluff & Gravy Records – vinyl, CD and digital.

Jenny Don't and the Spurs

www.jennydontandthespurs.com

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WK Audio TheRed power cord

WK Audio is a Polish brand making power cords and equipment-support platforms. The company’s TheRed is the top model in its line of power cords. Components of the highest calibre are the natural home for TheRed. But, WK Audio TheRed power cord also has game-raising properties. As a result, it brings out the best in any audio product.

According to Witold ‘Witek’ Kamiñski, the architect-turned-audiophile behind WK Audio, TheRed is the product of a year spent designing and listening to the cable, testing and rejecting many solutions. Because of this, I’d class TheRed as one of the more successful lockdown projects.

Our chief weapon is surprise!

I will struggle not to channel the Spanish Inquisition sketch by Monty Python’s Flying Circus here. WK Audio TheRed’s chief weapon is its structure. Structure and geometry. Its two main weapons are structure, geometry, and well-chosen materials… among its arsenal are such diverse weapons as mechanical structure, geometry, materials, socketry, and nice red jackets.

WK Audio TheRed power cord

Joking aside, this hand-made cable is most easily recognised by those red jackets and three aluminium spacer beams that help entirely separate live, neutral, and earth conductors. WK Audio TheRed’s spacers add a degree of vibration damping to the whole power cord. In creating three separated and parallel conductors, the cable’s basic electrical parameters – resistance, capacitance, and inductance – are less prone to variation due to layout when compared to conductors coiled around one another. Of course, using high-purity copper conductors with an 18mm2 gauge (roughly five gauge in Imperial measurements) dramatically helps.

Parallel Lines

The parallel conductors only connect at the terminations. As a result, if you live outside of the UK, that means high-grade Furutech connectors at each cable end. Regrettably, Furutech doesn’t make a UK equivalent to the FI-E50 used in the EU or the FI-50M used in the US, but Witek has sourced a fairly good alternative. But that plug represents a sonic log jam, and the EU or US versions of WK Audio TheRed sounds even better!  

That must make the EU version of this cable damn special, because – even with the UK plug in place – the biggest criticism of WK Audio TheRed is grammatical. Do I call it ‘The TheRed’ or just ‘TheRed’? Regardless, it’s a cable that combines all the elements of a power cord. Many power cords are best used with big power amps or smaller streamers or preamps; TheRed is best used with ‘audio equipment’ of any kind. That’s rare at this level of performance.

It’s among the least ‘hi-fi’ sounding power cords around. However, WK Audio TheRed also retains all those key aspects audiophiles crave. We want that articulate detail, good soundstaging, and large-scale and small-scale dynamic range and shade from our systems. But by not drawing attention to itself or to the product to which it’s connected, it makes that product seem more natural and musical. 

The flair for no glare

What I like about WK Audio TheRed sound is its absence of glare or high-frequency emphasis. It won’t tame bright-sounding systems; after all, it’s a cable, not a tone control. However, it will bring out bass depth and energy with freedom and effortlessness. And that reflects how music sounds in the wild. 

WK Audio TheRed power cord

That richness to the sound of WK Audio TheRed shines through as a sense of harmonic structure to the sound. It’s as if the musicians rehearsed more and tuned up more accurately!

Good power cords show their worth, even outside their comfort zone. The best WK Audio power cord works with equipment costing a King’s Ransom or cheaper than TheRed because it shines regardless. Excellent! 

Price and contact details

Price (as reviewed): €4,500/1.5 m

Manufacturer

WK Audio

www.wkaudio.com

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Computer Audio Design launches new Ethernet Control

February 22, 2024 – Computer Audio Design (CAD) firmly believes that reducing unwanted high frequency noise in a hi-fi system audibly improves the system’s sound quality.  To that end, the company has pioneered a portfolio of highly effective solutions to the problem, and now adds the new Ethernet Control, designed to enable a significant advancement of the musical performance of streaming-based and file-replay systems.

Underpinning the design of the new Ethernet Control is CAD’s 14 years’ experience in developing their multi-award winning 1543 DAC, CAD Audio Transport, USB Cables, USB Control and Ground Control products, along with company founder Scott Berry’s in-depth knowledge of computer-based audio as a whole.

The Ethernet Control is engineered to reduce unwanted high frequency noise on the Ethernet network connection in audio and video equipment. It will deliver audible results with both streaming services (Spotify, TIDAL, Qobuz, etc) and with locally stored music files.  Appealingly, the device is small, unobtrusive and simple to use.

The Ethernet Control effectively addresses noise on the differential Ethernet signals, and additionally on the signal ground and the Ethernet interface, of your networked audio device. This is achieved by way of custom CAD noise reduction technology borrowed from the company’s successful Ground Controls and USB Control. CAD’s own proprietary transformers deliver galvanic isolation along with greater reduction of noise over a larger frequency spectrum than standard Ethernet transformers. In addition, a directly connected custom-built, ultra-thick gold-plated RJ45 plug minimizes impedance between the server/computer or DAC/streamer and the noise reduction technology inside the Ethernet Control. The unit’s non-conductive outer acrylic case is designed to offer an attractive compact enclosure with vibration dampening.

The Ethernet Control is intended for use with audio source components such as servers, computers, streamers and DACs, and also with amplifiers and other analogue components with RJ45 connections for service, control or configuration.

It could not be more simple to add to your system: just plug your network Ethernet cable into the RJ45 socket of the Ethernet Control, and then insert the Ethernet Control RJ45 plug into your server/computer or DAC/streamer.

CAD recommends placing the Ethernet Control at the final termination of the Ethernet cable as it enters your audio system.  However, additional units can also be located at multiple connection points on the network to give further sound quality improvement. For example, try a second Ethernet Control on the input or output of a network switch, router and/or server/computer.

The Ethernet Control is hand-assembled and individually tested in the UK.

Pricing and availability

The new CAD Ethernet Control is available now, priced as follows:

UK (inc VAT):    £1,250
USA:                $1,250

 

Computer Audio Design products are sold through specialist dealers in the UK and worldwide. For more information:

www.computeraudiodesign.com

[email protected]

UK: 0203 397 0334 (+44 203 397 0334 if calling from outside the UK)

USA: 541 728 3199 (+1 541 728 3199 if calling from outside the USA)

Album Review: Bennett Wilson Poole – I Saw A Star Behind Your Eyes, Don’t Let It Die Away

It’s been five years since British trio Bennett Wilson Poole – Robin Bennett (Goldrush, Dreaming Spires), Danny Wilson (Grand Drive, Danny and the Champions of the World), and Tony Poole (Starry Eyed and Laughing) – hit the UK Americana scene like a hurricane with their brilliant, self-titled debut album.

The band picked up UK Artist of the Year at the 2019 UK Americana Awards – they collected their trophy in front of an audience that included Graham Nash himself – and soon established a loyal fanbase, as they became a live tour de force and a firm festival favourite. 

Their first album was intended to be a one-off collaborative project, but Bennett and Wilson soon found themselves working on new material. Sadly, due to Covid restrictions and also Poole suffering from health issues, album number two was delayed, but the good news is that he is now fighting fit and the record is out this spring – and, what’s more, it’s even better than its predecessor.

It doesn’t mess around. “Are you ready to rumble?” asks Wilson, before opening song, ‘I Saw Love’ kicks in – which is life-affirming and harmonic power pop, like The Byrds and The Beatles.

Poole, who as well as being a studio wizard – his inventive and playful production techniques transform Bennett and Wilson’s songs into gloriously rich pocket symphonies – is also king of the jangly, electric 12-string Rickenbacker guitar, which features prominently in the band’s sound, as does their superb vocal harmonies and arrangements.

Poole takes great delight in telling us that the ending of ‘I Saw Love’ features a sixth note harmony like The Beatles’ ‘She Loves You’. It’s just one of many moments on the album that reference classic rock and pop songs – listeners will have fun trying to spot them all. 

Anyone for a game of Bennett Wilson Poole bingo? I’ll start you off – ‘Tie-Dye T-Shirt’ has an intro that pays homage to The Who’s ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ and features a vocal refrain of ‘open up your eyes,’ which echoes ‘Everlasting Love’ by ‘60s British pop band Love Affair.

“When Danny and Robin first laid down the basic voice and acoustic guitar track, they’d envisaged it as a Gram Parsons-type country song – little did they know,” says Poole. “I’d already somehow been inspired to reference The Who, but I don’t know where that came from – no special pills were involved.”

Bennett Wilson Poole’s first album was in love with the vintage sounds of America’s West Coast, but this collection of songs owes more to British ‘60s psych-pop like The Beatles and The Zombies. 

Ironically, though, ‘I Wanna Love You (But I Can’t Right Now)’ is about having a love/hate relationship with the USA – how the country’s dark political situation over the past few years has overshadowed all the great culture and art it has produced throughout history.

It’s an irresistible and infectious song and one of the album’s few country rock moments. 

The other is the gorgeous and nostalgic ‘Cry At The Movies’. Written about an old man who was born at the start of World War II and fell in love with the silver screen, it sounds like Neil Young teaming up with The Byrds circa Sweetheart of the Rodeo.

Album closer, the dream-like ‘The Sea and The Shore’, is a heartfelt and moving plea for unity, which started off with Bennett at his piano.

“I played everything else on it,” explains Poole. “It was a bit like Jeff Lynne working on John Lennon’s home recordings to create ‘Free As A Bird’ and ‘Real Love’. Danny put some harmonies on the verses too.”

He adds: “As a final reminder, I extended the last chord in the way that ‘A Day In The Life’ does. It just seemed that the song’s sentiments should still be playing for ever, long after the record was over.”

This is a fab album; all old-fashioned pop music, and classic rock ‘n’ roll. What’s not to love about that?

Back to Music

Bristol Hi-Fi Show 2024: See You There!

Now celebrating its 35th year, the Bristol Hi-Fi Show 2024 looks set to be better than ever. Starting on Friday 23rd of February and running until Sunday 25th February, the show returns to the now-revised and refreshed Delta Hotels by Marriott Bristol City Centre, in Lower Castle Street, Bristol, BS1 3AD.

Set across seven floors, the show brings together the best in hi-fi and home cinema systems from the UK and beyond. Big names in UK audio such as Arcam, Linn, Naim, and PMC rub shoulders with the finest international brands, including Dynaudio, GoldenEar, and Innuos.

We will be at the show with our regular stand (Conservatory 8), bringing you the latest issue, exclusive subscription offers, and back issues… so you never miss a hi-fi+ review!

Things to look out for…

The Bristol Hi-Fi Show has become a launchpad for many new products from the UK audio scene. Here are some of the highlights we know are coming, that you can see for the first time in Bristol:

Chord Electronics Ultima Integrated: The new £8,500 125 watt integrated amplifier from Chord Electronics uses the Ultima circuitry seen in its latest power amplifiers, but in a single-box. It might just be all the amp you need…

New ULTIMA INTEGRATED available globally

 

Exposure 360: Exposure is best known for its amplifiers and digital source components, but now it looks set to make a striking new £1,300 turntable with power supply made in collaboration with a ‘leading British turntable manufacturer’. Find out more this weekend.

Exposure Electronics 360

Fyne Audio: Something new is coming from Fyne Audio. We know what it is but if we tell anyone, they’ll drown us in whisky. That might take some time, so you might as well nip over to their exhibit at the Bristol Hi-Fi Show and find out more…

Innuos PULSAR, innuOs 2.6: Innuos will be showing its PULSAR network music player for the first time in the UK and the company has just updated its innuOs software for its players and servers. Find out more at the company’s immersive AB demonstrations at the show.

Leema Quantum: The new Neutron DAC/Preamp and Graviton power amplifier will be launched at the show. The duo offer 13 inputs including a MM/MC stage, a 150W Class A amplifier, and weigh in at just £1,500 each, or £2,800 for the pair. Find out more this weekend.

Linn Klimax Solo 800: The latest flagship mono power amplifier from the Scottish audio legend looks set to take the high-end by storm. The powerful, cool running amplifier bristles with technology and comes from a brand that knows how to make a good sound. We expect a lot from this £37,500 powerhouse!

Pearl Acoustics 170: The British audio company best known for its loudspeakers has been working on something special behind the scenes: the new 170 power amplifier. We’ve been lucky to get one for the first review coming soon on the pages of hi-fi+ but you get to hear it first this weekend!

Plus much, much more…

The show is more than just a place to see and hear the best. Audio T, the store behind the show, offer spectacular deals on the day. You hear it, you buy it… and buy it for a great price!

The Bristol Hi-Fi Show 2024

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Zeiler Audio PR-01 and PA-01

The audio reviewer as an explorer? No one is going to believe that. Granted, sitting at home listening to music all day doesn’t make you the Neil Armstrong of hi-fi, but bear with me. A part of the modern audio reviewer’s role is to explore new products and put the best of them in front of the buying public. Such is the case with the excellent Zeiler Audio PR-01 preamplifier and its new matching PA-01 power amplifier.

The days of reviewers as ‘kingmakers’ are – hopefully – behind us all, but there is an understandable conservatism about new product purchases. Because of the price tags involved, buyers gravitate toward established names, thinking the brand is more likely to be around and more commonly known should repairs be needed and that it will have good residuals on the second-hand market. However, this often results in an overly conservative market, where just a handful of big-name brands sell to the same buyers time after time. The problem with this is two-fold; the big-name brand is tied to the requirements of an increasingly ageing community of buyers, and newcomers (either as manufacturers or new buyers) are left out of the equation.

When one amp became two

The Swiss-made Zeiler Audio is a perfect example of how we must collectively think beyond those big, well-established names. The company began with just one product – the PR-01 preamplifier – but quickly added a matching PA-01 power amplifier. Ralf Zeiler designed both products to disappear from the audio chain functionally, leaving just music behind. It’s a goal expressed by many but achieved by few… but I think Zeiler might have nailed it. 

Zeiler Audio PR-01

Zeiler’s first product, the PR-01, is a four-input valve preamplifier with four ECC83 valves accessed through two heavy top panels. The three line-level and one MM phono input are all RCA connections. Two of the line-level inputs have Lundahl input transformers, while the third one is 6dB more sensitive than the others. This fourth input helps accommodate older audio electronics (which might have an output voltage of around 1V), where more modern designs like streamers (that can have outputs in the 2.5V range or higher).

The preamp output has a source/tape output for tape monitoring or to connect external headphone amplifiers. There are also ‘direct’ and unbalanced RCA and XLRs with a balanced or unbalanced operation. Direct, as the name suggests, is the high-purity link for those who can keep a short distance between the preamp and power amp. At the same time, the two last connections include an additional output stage for driving super-low impedance power amps or long interconnect cables. The balanced outputs are fed through Lundahl output transformers, with different taps for each option.

Similar style

The newer PA-1 is styled similarly but with fewer controls than the three-knob PR-01. The two 12AX7/ECC83 input valves and the pair of KT150 power valves used to develop the amp’s 10-watt output are cleverly hidden in the side cheeks of the amp itself, allowing for easy, tool-free access and replacement. The amp can take its power on and off instructions from the preamp. Biasing and adjustment aren’t issues with just one power valve per side. The amp is choke regulated and is filled with paper-in-oil capacitors and custom-made Lundahl C-core transformers.

Ralf Zeiler is a hand-wired, point-to-point designer of the old school, and it shows throughout!

Zeiler Audio PA-01

Let’s talk about build quality. Swiss-made usually means expensive and well-made, but even by those standards, Zeiler stands apart. Both are built to an impeccable standard, CNC machined out of solid billets of aluminium and then glass-bead-blasted and treated to an ceramic form of anodising… all combine to give this velvety-feeling “none, none more black” amplifier duo the kind of solidity of build and finish that few can match. 

Girthy

The only way it could get any more ‘girthy’ would be if it were built out of bits of Swiss Alp, and to damage that finish would require a chisel, which would be a crime against quality construction! 

The internal construction and parts list is equally impressively solid. Nothing’s left to chance here, and as a result, this feels like a pair of ‘deep time’ products. They are the kind of products you might put in a time capsule to play music of today to future generations. Although why future generations would want to listen to ‘I Am Free’ by Tones And I or ‘Cowboys And Angels’ by Jessie Murph escapes me.

Ralf Zeiler is a big fan of classic Tannoy studio monitors, which goes some way to understanding the genesis of the PA-01. When you are used to the effortless efficiency and scale of big Tannoy designs (or similar), powerful amplifiers become less of a requirement and more of a millstone around the neck of the loudspeakers. You become aware that, in many cases, the higher the power, the less ‘dynamic’ the dynamic range. 

Quality and quantity

Once you begin to parse this design process, your respect for the Zeiler amps goes through the roof. These are simultaneously some of the most cultured and refined-sounding amplifiers and can also give the dynamic force and energy needed to place you in the room with the musicians. Usually, amplifiers that are this refined sounding are ‘beauteous’ with all the raw edges smoothed off. And, equally usually, amplifiers that do this much dynamic energy and excitement are a little too ‘edge of the seat’ for all kinds of musical listening. The Zeiler Audio duo are rare for doing both equally well.

A perfect example of this double-handed approach is the recent Bach Trios on Nonesuch, featuring Yo Yo Ma on Cello, Chris Thile on mandolin and Edgar Meyer on bass. These are pieces of raw energy, and the mandolin gives the recordings a freshness and vibrancy that makes them sound new. Too much ‘gloss’ and the recording becomes too sanitised; too much ‘zing’ and the recording loses its music integrity and flow. But on the Zeiler pairing, this trio sounds magical.

Zeiler Audio PA-01

This is, in part, a divine balance, with the sublime elegance of the preamp being the perfect foil for the excitement and dynamism of the power amp. But, such combinations often don’t balance as well as these two do, suggesting that – beyond all things – their shared goals of performing a musical disappearing act drive the Zeiler Audio performance. 

Zen and the art of sound quality

I could get very Zen koan in all this – what is the sound of no sound? – but these amps are more about the realisation than the soul-searching. I played the live version of Donny Hathaway’s ‘The Ghetto’ followed by the studio version of his cover of ‘Misty’, then the live versions of his covers of ‘Jealous Guy’ and ‘You’ve Got A Friend.’ Most other amps do ‘detail’ or ‘sounstage’ or ‘vocal articulation’ well, and the Zeiler duo are no exception in this, but it was the Zeiler duo that made me think how sad it was that Hathaway died so young, and how wonderful that voice was. For someone who has been playing those albums for decades, it is profound to get past the surface listening and go for a deep dive into why I enjoy them so much. 

Zeiler Audio PR-01

Granted, the low power output of the PA-01 shapes your options for loudspeakers in a way an amplifier with 20x the power doesn’t. But I’d struggle to find a more powerful amplifier that interacts quite as directly with your music. It’s like getting all the good parts of a single-ended triode design – that sense of effortless, dynamic ‘thereness’ of putting you in the room with the musicians – without the drawbacks of increased distortion (even if it’s benign even-order harmonic distortion, it still adds thickening to the sound) and noise. In fact, with the right loudspeakers, it’s the best of all worlds. And even with not-so-right loudspeakers, as so often your sound is defined by that first watt, the PA-01 makes a very fair case for itself.

The best and worst of us

The shortcomings of both Zeiler Audio amps are more about ‘us’ than the products. The degree of minimalism here might be too much for some to swallow. ‘Shiny, flashy bling’ in Zeiler speak is everyone else’s ‘dark and brooding looking’. This isn’t detracting from the performance or operation; the build quality is fantastic. But if you want indicator lights, Zeiler isn’t for you.

I also suspect the ‘us’ part will extend to that 10W power output. No amount of saying “it doesn’t matter” will reach those who seem set on measuring their ‘audio cred points’ by their amplifier’s output. It’s incredibly frustrating to say how dynamic, powerful, and effortless and how clean an amplifier like the PA-01 sounds, only to have any such sentences excised by someone who has probably never been within 20 miles of the amp. However, that has never stopped people from making their decisions and shouting loudly to defend them.

Self-interest

There is another thing, and it’s pure self-interest on my part. I think the prospective Zeiler Audio buyer isn’t going to come back a few years later to buy a new amp. This is their “I’m done” product that will stop the audiophilia nervosa. And, as an audio reviewer, I don’t want people to do that. I want people to keep returning and buying the magazine or reading the website. 

Zeiler Audio PA-01

So I’m talking to the adults here. The ones who aren’t swayed by displays, famous names or on-paper specifications. The ones who appreciate a product that is made to be as uncompromising in sound as in build. The ones prepared to make changes and even sacrifices for the best in sound. It is for them that the Zeiler Audio PR-01 and PA-01 are made. Let the ‘little ones’ play with their shiny toys, changing them with the wind as they get bored; that’s not for you. You want to hear the music as it was meant to be played, without the imposition of a sonic signature from the electronics. And as such, the Zeiler Audio PR-01 and PA-01 are for you. Start saving! 

Technical specifications

PR-01 preamp and phono stage

  • Design: Single-Ended Class A Pure Triode
  • Inputs: 1 × Phono MM, 2 × AUX / Line Level, 1 × AUX / high sensitivity (for vintage equipment) 
  • Input Impedance: 47 kOhm (Phono MM), 1 MOhm (all other inputs)
  • Outputs: 1 × Direct Output, 1 × Balanced / XLR, 1 × Unbalanced / RCA, 1 × Source / Tape Output
  • Tubes: 4× 12AX7 / ECC83 / ECC803S / E83CC / 7025
  • Power Consumption: 16 W in operation, no stand-by
  • Dimensions (W×D×H): 37.3 × 36 × 11.3cm
  • Weight: 11.6kg
  • Price: £29,950

PA-01 power amplifier

  • Design: Single-ended pure class A power amplifier
  • Power output: 2 × 10 Watt
  • Mode: Triode connected, no feedback
  • Input Impedance: 470 kOhms
  • Output Impedance: 4/8 Ohms or 8/16 Ohms option
  • Tubes: 2 × KT150, 2 × 12AX7 / ECC83
  • Power Consumption: 180W in operation, no stand-by
  • Dimensions (W×D×H): 48 × 36 × 11.3 cm
  • Weight: 22.2 kg
  • Price: £29,950

Manufacturer

Zeiler Audio

www.zeiler.audio

UK distributor

Digital Audio Consultancy Services

+44(0)7776 511691

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Exposure VXN

External phono stages are a relatively recent development for Exposure. The company still produces (rather good) internal moving magnet and moving coil phono cards for many of their integrated amps and preamps and this will be entirely sufficient for many customers. Nevertheless, the option of appealing to people whose compulsions will only be settled by having their phono circuitry in a separate box and competing for the attention of people who own amps without internal phono cards has resulted in the arrival of standalone models of which the VXN is the new flagship.

The VXN might be seen as ‘expediently new’ in that it is a refinement of some existing thinking and makes use of a device that is already in the range. The phono circuit is a development of the one in the XM3; the other Exposure standalone phono stage which has been in the range for some years. The VXN has the same combination of a dedicated moving magnet input and a separate moving coil input that is configured via dip switches on the back. I’ve never been a huge fan of this arrangement and as I become older and more myopic I am still less keen but the ones that Exposure has selected are reasonably tactile. If you are relatively sane and have one cartridge to play records, you will set the VXN once and be done but it might be less appealing to those of you with a few on the go. 

Good range

Furthermore, the range of adjustment is pretty good. The moving magnet input fixes impedance at 47kOhms but allows for gain to be adjusted between 40 and 55dB which is handy for high output moving coil designs which will work into moving magnet inputs but tend to work just that little bit better with a bit more gain on hand. Moving coil gain is adjustable between 54 and 66dB which should also handle most gain requirements pretty well. The range of load adjustment for the moving coil section is also very good. Multiple increments are available between 32 and 1,000 ohms, the latter being very useful as one of the resident cartridges here is a Vertere Mystic which requires 1kOhm to sound its best. 

Exposure VXN

While the circuit is the same as the XM3, the VXN refines the process. There are more components in the moving coil stage and these are higher quality devices made of polystyrene, polypropylene and metallised polypropylene. The biggest revision though is that the internal power supply of the XM3 is removed and replaced with a pair of power supply inputs. This is potentially going to be a source of some confusion because you can technically purchase a VXN Phono on its own and be the proud owner of a well finished paperweight. 

The VXN Power Supply is required to run the phono stage and this has been around for some time as the power source for the exceptionally talented active crossover system that can be used with Kudos Titan speakers. It supplies two 30v DC outputs via the same locking connection as found on the phono stage. Technically, it’s possible to add a second VXN Power Supply so each channel has its own independent power feed but Exposure only supplied one for testing and I suspect the notion of a two plug phono stage is going to be a bit ‘full on’ for most people. 

Any Colour You Like

Both phono stage and PSU are in half width ‘XM’ style casework that is available in black only. Barring their brief foray into out and out design with the MCX Series a few years ago, Exposure has generally gone in for fairly sober looking devices and the VXN Phono is no exception. It’s well made though and in a time when LEDs can come in all manner of arresting colours, there’s something comforting about the red ones used here. Something else that’s worthy of note is that when I first installed the VXN, I kept power supply and phono a shelf apart but the arrival of other things meant they’ve also been tested stacked on top of one another and this hasn’t had any significant effect on noise levels. 

Exposure VXN-PS

In fact, the absence of noise full stop is notable. Even running at the 64dB gain level, the Exposure is seriously quiet and this has attendant benefits to absolutely everything else that it does. Listening initially via Vertere MG-1 MkII turntable, SG-1 HB arm and Mystic cartridge, the manner in which it handles the slow build up of Quail Poppy Ackroyd’s Resolve [One Little Indian] speaks to the fundamental engineering of the Exposure being absolutely correct. This is a deceptively simple piece of music- there’s nothing terribly complex about the melody but the unique technique both Ackroyd and Jo Quail bring to playing their instruments leaves it laden with micro detail that the VXN makes apparent. 

Tonal realism is also consistently good. The various instruments that make up the bluegrass rework of Sturgill Simpson’s All Around You on Cuttin’ Grass Vol I [High Top Mountain Records] are all captured in a manner that is unforced, natural and completely believable. Simpson himself is in good voice too with this distinctive tone and annunciation sounding as it should. Compared to some other phono stages I’ve tested at this sort of price point, the soundstage that the Exposure creates is smaller and it tends to sit between the speakers rather than extending beyond them but this is achieved without it tipping over into sounding congested. 

This also gives narrower recordings a focus that really benefits them and this does mean that the VXN is truly sensational when it comes to unpicking Indie rock LPs. The dense and potent In This Light and on This Evening by Editors [PIAS] is a case in point. The sweeping urgency of the synth line at the start of the title track that opens into the full fury of the band is something that the VXN delivers with an effortless combination of speed and control that also helps to ensure that bass is usefully deep but impeccably controlled at same time. It undersells the capabilities of the Exposure to say it’s a bit of a rocker but, if you’ve got a library of angsty guys and girls with guitars it’s not going to struggle. 

Admirable transparency

There’s an admirable transparency to the way that the VXN goes about its business too. It does a fine job of maintaining the Vertere’s ability to largely not be there (a skill that made it a pig to review but did result in me buying it) and when the MG-1 was used to review the Platanus 3.0S, it was the Exposure that highlighted its imperious ability to be unforced but incredibly involving at the same time (and that had the choice of low loading settings that really benefitted it). Switching to a Michell GyroDec, SME309 and Vertere DDT-II saw the Exposure capture the more propulsive nature of this combination and also benefit slightly from the near cinematic width that the Michell tends to bring to any record that you play on it. The reality is that there are unlikely to be any mainstream turntable arm and cartridge combinations that upset the VXN.

Exposure VXN-PS

There’s also an indefinable quality to the way that the VXN makes music that I’ve experienced in a few different Exposure devices of late. I’ve often felt that lumping the brand in with the ‘flat earth’ contingent did it something of a disservice. Sure, it times well but other priorities to the performance, particularly around tonal qualities and detail retrieval that are beyond reproach,  too. For every ballistic edge it can demonstrate, there was also effortless musicality it delivers so effusively and is no less arresting. 

The result is a formidable all rounder. Some people will want something more ornate and the VXN isn’t the best choice for multiple cartridge setups. The musical joy that the VXN brings to pretty much everything you play on it and the spread of equipment that it will work happily with at the same time makes this a tremendous device that continues Exposure’s tremendous recent run of form. 

Technical specifications

  • Type: MM/MC phono preamplifier
  • MM Input: Sensitivity 5mV for 500mV output, 40dB gain setting
  • S/N ratio (ref 1kHz and 500mV, A-weighted): >82dB
  • MC Input Sensitivity: 500mV for 500mV output, 60dB gain setting
  • S/N ratio (ref 1kHz and 500mV, A-weighted) >72dB
  • Nominal output 00mV (depending on gain setting)
  • Maximum Output: 7.8V @1kHz
  • Output Impedance: 50Ω
  • THD @ 1kHz ref 500mV output: <0.005%
  • Frequency response: 30Hz–20kHz ±0.25dB ref 1kHz with LF roll-off below 30Hz
  • Weight: 2kg
  • Dimensions (H×W×D): 9.9 × 21.8 × 34.8cm
  • Price £1,790 (PSU £1,090)

Manufacturer

Exposure

www.exposurehifi.com

+44(0)1273 423877

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Allnic Audio D-10000 DAC

There are several ways to crack the ‘Big DAC’ nut. You can eschew conventional DACs in favour of making your own design; Chord Electronics and dCS being prime examples. Or, taking the DAC as a given, you can engineer the bejesus out of the rest of the circuit. It’s this second route that Allnic Audio has taken with its D-10000 DAC. In auditioning, the results more than pay dividends. The full name of this device is the ‘Allnic Audio D-10000 OTL/OCL DAC’. Those extra six letters mark this converter out for greatness.

Those who like their valve/tube amps might recognise ‘OTL’ or ‘output transformer-less’. As the name suggests, OTL designs remove the transformer from the output stage of valve/tube circuits. Removing much of the iron and wire in the process. OTL designs feature in amplifiers like David Berning, Linear Tube, and Atma-Sphere. However, Allnic uses an OTL in the output stage of its DAC.  

The other three-letter acronym (OCL) is short for ‘output capacitor-less’. This means Allnic also does away with any capacitors in the signal path of the DAC’s output stage. Once again, this is unheard of in most amplifier circuits and is unique in DAC designs.

Why is this important? Two of the biggest sources of audio electronic coloration are the output transformers and capacitors in the signal path. They put several large sources of distortion between the digital conversion and the amplifier. Some might like that distortion, but it’s still a distortion.

Breed traits 

However, those who have had first-hand experience with OTL designs point to the immediacy and lack of coloration as characteristics of the breed. The D-10000 does nothing to change that observation. Also, designers strive to limit the impact of capacitors in any output stage. Once again, in listening to the D-10000, the signature dynamic freedom and grain-free high-frequency performance of low-or-no capacitor output stages shines through and more than applies here.

Were the Allnic Audio D-10000 simply a basic digital circuit with a ‘pimped out’ output stage sporting two pentode/triode 7258 tubes, two twin-triode 12AU7 tubes, and four 6C19P triodes, we’d be happy. However, Allnic Audio didn’t leave the digital part alone, either. And this could be one of those parts where things go very wrong, very fast, because people with years of experience in analogue engineering are not automatically gifted with digital audio smarts. Fortunately, Allnic’s founder and designer Kang Su Park called on the digital skills of fellow Korean audio experts, Waversa Systems. Waversa’s stamp on the D-10000 means the DAC can convert PCM signals to DSD or upsample PCM in multiples up to 352kHz or 384kHz.

Exceptional Standards

Like all Allnic designs, the D-10000 is finished to an exceptional standard throughout and reminiscent of classic valve/tube amp designs of the Golden Age of the late 1950s/early 1960s. The two glowing meters for biasing and tube health aid that look, but aside from a few orange LEDs, you could be mistaken for thinking it a new-old-stock Scott or Marantz tuner from 60 or more years ago. 

Allnic Audio also makes several OTL/OCL line-stage preamplifiers, but don’t think you need to use that degree of sonic performance to hear what the D-10000 can do; you can hear its character shining through on even the humblest amplifiers. 

Allnic Audio D-10000 DAC

We’ve already touched on a few of the ‘breed characteristics’ common to OTL/OCL designs (low coloration, unobstructed dynamic range), but there’s one important consideration that perhaps defines everything about the D-10000; the way it represents an ideal line-level load for an amplifier. It’s practically an impedance archetype that comes across as an exceptionally low-noise, powerfully engaging sound from the first bars of the first piece of music you play. It doesn’t matter whether that is Barber’s Adagio or Justin Bieber’s ‘Love Yourself’; those first bars come as something of a shock, and the rest follow suit.

Big and bold

Throughout, the sound could be described as big and bold. Not in an overblown way, just in that full and rich way of open-reel or good vinyl. It doesn’t try to replicate the sound of older formats – it still has that clean and direct sound full of detail and information that the format does so well. However, it’s also got that cogent scale and size that vinyl does so well. What I mean is when listening to a small orchestral piece, moving down to a small jazz combo or string quartet, then trading up to something with maximum bombast (usually Mahler), the size and scale of the music changes, but has a sense of body that is often missing from digital replay. 

Allnic’s D-10000 DAC points to an interesting dichotomy in digital audio reviewing. The vocabulary used to write about digital and analogue are often very different. But with the Allnic, I found my words tended more toward the analogue. As I said, not in an artificial way; more that the music sounded more vivid and ‘real’; full-bodied and enjoyable rather than cool. Unless you are at the very top of the digital audio tree, this will make a lot of digital audio move from ‘cool’ to ‘sterile’ sounding, and a lot of its rivals that go for a more organic sound do so at the expense of detail, which the D-10000 never does.

I Got Tone

Some of this comes down to its frankly lovely presentation. Guitarists often talk about ‘tone’ and spend a small fortune on pickups, pedals and power to try and create the right tone. Often, tone comes down as much to the player’s style as to the electronics, but the D-10000 is a natural at this tone thing; I think it’s something to do with the harmonic structure of its sound, or maybe the gain and output impedance being so good a match to preamplifier stages. 

Still, you find yourself smiling along to wry vocals and playing air guitar along with the music that bit more. This is a hard and abstract thing to describe but immediately understandable on audition.

Allnic’s only DAC demands the best in music, however. And that might sound odd coming from someone who cited Justin Bieber a few paragraphs ago but stay with me on this. It showed the Justin Bieber track as surprisingly dynamic if incredibly forward and close-mic’d. What the Allnic D-10000 cannot abide are thin and compressed-sounding recordings. The tracks where there’s no harmonic joy to be had – such as ‘Californication’ by the Red Hot Chili Peppers from the album of the same name [Warners] – is thrown into sharp accent. Fortunately, the worst excesses of the Loudness War are behind us, but the Allnic D-10000 doesn’t suffer these musical fools gladly.

One of the best

It feels somehow wrong to criticise the Allnic D-1000 for the worst excesses of badly produced albums. In fairness, that was about as close as this gets to criticism. In almost every musical case it brought out the best of the music. It didn’t matter whether it was fed from a Hegel Mohican CD through S/PDIF, or via USB from an Innuos Statement Next Gen streamer. It gives music a structure and dimensionality that is hard to beat at any price.

There will always be those who claim a top-class DAC must always have a custom digital converter at its heart. But Allnic Audio’s D-10000 shows the importance of a well-produced output stage. It helps make one of the best DACs in the world. And that’s outside of matching OTL/OCL preamps and power amps. That could raise the game still further and perhaps be the best digital audio sound ever. 

Technical specifications

  • Type: OTL/OCL DAC
  • Tubes/Valves used: 2 × 7258, 2 × 12AU7, 4 × 6C19P
  • Digital inputs: 1 Optical (“Toslink”), 1 USB, 1 AES/EBU digital (XLR), 2 coaxial digital (RCA). Can be configured at factory as 2 COAX, 1 COAX/1 BNC, or 2 BNC
  • Analogue outputs: One pair unbalanced (RCA), One pair  balanced (XLR)
  • DAC:Dual mono ES9018K2M SABRE 32 Reference Audio DACs
  • Formats supported: DoP SD 64, DSD 128, PCM 44.1 KHz, 48 KHz, 88.2 KHz, 96 KHz, 176.4 KHz, 192 KHz, 352.8 KHz and 384 KHz.
  • Output voltage: 4V RMS (can be fixed at 1.6V RMS at factory)
  • Output impedance: 50Ω 
  • Finishes: Black, natural aluminium
  • Dimensions (W×D×H): 43 × 32 × 17cm
  • Weight: 13.06kg
  • Price: $19,000

Manufacturer

Allnic Audio

www.allnicaudio.com

International distributor

Kevalin Audio

www.kevalinaudio.com

+1 503-292-5592

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