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Lindemann Musicbook Source II and Power II

From the Lindemann press release

Following the recently announced Musicbook POWER II, the Musicbook SOURCE is now available from LINDEMANN in its second generation as well. Both models have been carefully revised and now, as a team, offer even more musical information together with an amazing sense for timing and interplay. Sound quality at the limits of technical feasibility! 

Important to know: despite considerable bottlenecks of the electronics market LINDEMANN continues to manufacture the musicbooks in series. The production is secured for the upcoming years! This works not least owing to 100% made in Germany. 

POWER II 

In its current version, the Musicbook POWER II has become some kind of hybrid amplifier: The voltage amplification is largely provided by an ultra quality analogue J-FET gain stage; the adaptation to the speakers is handled by proven N-Core circuit technology which is used as a power buffer. The result is impressive: sparkling verve and a wealth of detail, combined with total control over the loudspeaker. 

Prices: Musicbook POWER II 500 = EUR 2,690.– / Musicbook POWER II 1000 = 3,590.– 

SOURCE II 

Likewise, the Musicbook SOURCE II has been systematically developed further – with a focus on the analogue preamp. The headphone output sounds even better now and can also drive 16-ohm headphones. 

Even more effort was put by LINDEMANN into the further development of the firmware where initial bug fixes and patches have finally turned into a completely new stack. The most important novelties are the implementation of Spotify Connect and TIDAL Connect. Moreover, there are minor and major new features such as the elimination of the lipsync problem when connecting a TV set, network standby, fixed-level line output with analogue volume control bypass, dB-linear volume control in 80 incremental steps, sampling rate display for the digital inputs, Spotify selection via remote control without using the app and many others. 

Lindemann Musicbook Source II
Lindemann’s latest preamplifier in the Musicbook line: Source II

Owing to 1-bit re-sampling, the great-sounding AKM converter modules and the upgraded preamp, the new Musicbook SOURCE II once again raises the sound benchmark for the best streaming DACs. By the way: despite worldwide supply shortages LINDEMANN will also in the future relies on the probably best converter modules from AKM and the already legendary 1-bit re-sampling process for the SOURCE II! 

Prices: Musicbook SOURCE II = EUR 3,590.– / Musicbook SOURCE II CD = 3,890.— 

LAST BUT NOT LEAST 

As you may well expect from LINDEMANN, “ancient“ models – as far as possible – can always be kept up to date. Since early November existing users of the Limetree BRIDGE, Limetree NETWORK and Musicbook SOURCE I models can also enjoy almost all features of the SOURCE II with a general and, as usual, free firmware update (if not already present)! 

For more information see www.lindemann-audio.com 

 

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Rogers LS3/5A SE stand-mount loudspeakers

To say the classic BBC LS3/5A is ‘iconic’ is something of an understatement. Even though the design is older than many of the people who buy a pair today, despite the BBC having long since moved on to other loudspeakers for speech monitoring in small spaces, and the age of the design notwithstanding, the LS3/5A still pulls in the kind of cult following that few other products can match.

As such, the LS3/5A’s specification sheet is functionally sacrosanct. Which means that Rogers making an ‘SE’ version could be the stuff of pitchforks and burning torches (OK, angry posts on internet forums and Twitter feeds… but that is merely the 21st Century version of the angry mob). In fairness, Rogers is one of the few brands that could make a souped-up LS3/5A, as most of those original era BBC-designed loudspeakers sold in the domestic market had a Rogers badge. But that brand equity would be eaten up fast if the SE version of the LS3/5A was more an ‘homage’ to the speaker than the speaker itself.

Rogers already makes standard 15-ohm versions of the LS3/5A, using new versions of the 19mm Mylar dome tweeter and 110mm Bextrene mid-bass cone originally made by KEF. Everything about those standard Rogers LS3/5A is as per the original LS3/5A; an outstanding mini-monitor of its time that still sets a high bar in terms of transparency, especially in the mid-range. However, if we are being truly honest about the LS3/5A, its dynamic range is somewhat ‘muted’ in its standard guise. In an effort to not be burned at the stake for my heretical stance, that is set against modern loudspeaker designs, many of which trade tonality and accuracy for excitability, and that’s one of the big reasons why the LS3/5A deserves its cult status.

The whole SE version project actually started out as trying to find a way to make the LS3/5A more dynamic without changing the speaker itself. Rogers experimented with the loudspeaker stand and found Panzerholtz (a.k.a. ‘Tankwood’) to be a perfect, if costly, partner. Panzerholtz is a mix of hardwood and phenolic resin, prized both for its acoustic properties and the fact it’s literally bulletproof! It ends up being about the densest material this side of making the stand of solid metal, but without the hysteresis issues or the problem of making a stand into a kind of 24” tuning fork you can get with solid metal stands. It wasn’t too much of a step from there to seeing what impact Panzerholtz would make when replacing one or more of the thin walls of the LS3/5A’s cabinet. Listening tests followed fast.

Line Magnetic LM-512 CA preamp/LM-845 Premium integrated/power amp

Greg Chapman at VAL Hi-Fi is a brave man. He became a dealer and distributor when the industry is thick with others doing the same thing and took on a marque sold directly by the manufacturer at prices a distributor/dealer could not hope to match. Line Magnetic is a Chinese company specialising in valve amplification. It has a substantial range of products on the market, many of which are also available on eBay at what appear to be silly prices. There is at least one catch with such apparent bargains, and that’s the line in the small print that goes, “International postage of items may be subject to customs processing and additional charges.” And that is on top of pretty steep postage prices. As anyone buying from Europe has discovered this year, “customs processing and additional charges” can add up significantly, with both VAT and import duties adding in the region of 40% to the cost at your door.

What Greg has in his favour is the ability to demonstrate the product; a bargain isn’t a bargain if it doesn’t work with your system. He also offers a two-year warranty (six months on the tubes); saving a few quid importing an amplifier from the other side of the world doesn’t seem like quite the bargain if it comes with a whole heap of grief should something go wrong with it. On top of that, you’ve got to hope that what you buy isn’t counterfeit, something that Line Magnetic warn about on their site. These factors favour buying from the official source, and all of which add up to buying added peace of mind.

The LM-512 CA preamplifier is the top model in Line Magnetic’s range, and it’s a substantial beast with a very distinctive volume pointer that can be used as a knob or controlled with up/down buttons. In most instances, you will use the neat aluminium remote for this and input selection. It’s essentially a tube preamplifier with an RCA 22DE4 for rectification, 6922 (ECC88 equivalent) valves in the driver stage and Mullard 6KZ8 triode/pentodes providing gain. It counts Jensen and Mundorf MCap capacitors among its components and includes a solid-state bridge rectifier, a job done with tubes in some preamplifiers. Construction internally uses point-to-point wiring. Although a circuit board is exposed when you lift the tube cover, this is mounted on springs to provide a degree of isolation to the smaller tubes. There are large rectifier tubes fixed to the main chassis below. External build and finish are to a high standard, and only the styling gives away this preamplifier’s geographic origins. I like using chunky connectors and switches on the back panel where there are three RCA inputs and one pair on XLR, the latter provided with a rare hot pin switch to suit different arrangements within the connecting cable. Output is on both connectors, although the XLR connections do not provide a balanced signal that requires extra transformers.

Amphion Argon 3S stand-mount loudspeaker

Having spent a fair amount of time with the floorstanding Amphion Argon 7LS for the system piece in issue 181, I ended up buying the review pair for my own use because I think they represent a significant benchmark as to what is available in the sub-£4k price range. Plus, they seem to suit the size of my listening/living room quite well. There’s lots that I think the Argon 7LS gets right and that many similarly priced speakers don’t, but it’s also interesting to note that the Amphions’ presentation is a little different to many of their peers. So it’s a thought-provoking exercise in what is important, and what is simply nice to have if it can be costed-in; and conversely, what might seem initially attractive but turns out to be not necessary, important or, ultimately, desirable.

And following on from that thinking, there’s a conversation to be had as to whether the ‘right’ choice for my situation is automatically going to be a floorstanding design. What would I lose if I moved to a standmount design, and would it matter? Might there even be gains? [Looks down to see a small, neat standmounting loudspeaker pointedly tugging at his ankle and looking meaningfully at the space currently occupied by the 7LSs].

The Argon 3S is the largest of the three standmount designs in Amphion’s Argon range, sitting above the dinky Argon 1 and the positively cute Argon 0. It has much in common with the floorstanding Argon 7LS, utilising the same titanium tweeter and aluminium main drive unit, same crossover point, and the cabinet is the same width and depth, just shorter and with fewer drivers. It also uses the same approach of the sealed box with rear-mounted, passive auxiliary bass radiator as used in the Argon 7LS, whereas the smaller Argon 0 and Argon 1 are both ported designs. It’s not by any means a large standmounter either, being a little taller but no wider than the classic ‘BBC’ mini-monitor designs, and about twice as deep, so around twice the internal volume of that famous 5 litre box. (There’s an Argon 5 centre channel speaker, too, which could conceivably be stood on its end and paired to make a larger standmounter than the Argon 3S, but this is another ported design using the same, slightly smaller, main drivers as the Argon 0 and Argon 1). So from a technical standpoint, the Argon 3S looks to be the closest match to the Argon 7LS, just rather more compact.

Amphion market the Argon 3S as a ‘bookshelf’ design and they don’t offer dedicated stands, so I set them up on the pair of curvaceous MusicWorks acrylic stands that I have on hand, and hooked up to my Accuphase E-480 integrated amp via Nordost Tyr 2 cables. If you think that’s a bit OTT for a pair of small, £2,000 loudspeakers, something about the Amphion philosophy suggested this wouldn’t be wasted. The review pair came in the other standard finish Amphion offer: nominally black, it’s really a dark charcoal grey and in the same slightly chalky, silky finish of my white (a gentle, soft white) Argon LS7s. Both these finishes are a little different to the normal run of things, and I like the attractive, slightly understated vibe that seems to speak to that low-key Amphion approach.

Young Shakespeare by Neil Young

Young’s latest release in the Neil Young Archives Performance Series is Young Shakespeare, a live solo acoustic performance recorded on January 22, 1971 at the Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, Connecticut. It was a part of the Journey Through The Past tour, recorded just three days after the Toronto, Canada concert released in 2007 as Live At Massey Hall 1971 and only a couple of months after release of Young’s third album After The Gold Rush. This concert was recorded on film for German television broadcast and is being release simultaneously as a single LP and a package with the LP, a CD and a DVD of the concert film. This is the first official release of the music, little of which has found its way to bootlegs. A short while ago, in advance of the release, Young posted to his blog that in his opinion the concert was superior to the Massey Hall recording, “I say this is the best ever. Young Shakespeare is the performance of that era. Personal and emotional, for me, it defines that time.”

The 12-song set list is shorter than Massey Hall’s 17 songs, and eleven of the songs overlap. Half the songs were new to the audience, having not yet been released on an album. And what a song list! Twelve songs drawn from Young’s most creative period. ‘Tell Me Why’, ‘Old Man’, ‘The Needle And The Damage Done’, ‘A Man Needs a Maid/Heart Of Gold (Medley)’ – you get the picture. A collection of greatest hits performed before anyone had ever heard most of them. And when they were officially released, they were built up with a band, produced in a studio with most of the warts burned off. Here, the songs are stripped down both acoustically and sometimes lyrically. Even more than in the Massey Hall concert, this is a more intimate Neil Young, more fragile and introspective. Part of that effect is the way the two recordings document the crowd noise—Massey Hall’s audience response up front and loud compared to the distant and more muted crowd noise in the barn like Shakespeare Theatre. Part of that fragile impression comes from the more out of tune piano used in Connecticut and the greater number of wrong notes struck there, as though Young was searching for a sound he had not quite identified. Notwithstanding these more technical explanations, Young seems to have shifted his approach and squeezed more angst from the lyrics. The biggest surprise is ‘A Man Needs A Maid’. The song, first appearing as a studio release on Harvest previously left me cold, with Young coming off a bit of a misogynist, a lazy bastard unable to pick up after himself. With slightly expanded lyrics and a more contemplative mood here, he presents as a likeable guy struggling with insecurity. On ‘The Needle And The Damage Done’ Young’s stage banter has been refined and his sincerity carries over into the diffident performance. In ‘Old Man’ Young seems to have wiped the earlier sneer off his face referring to the 70-year-old caretaker of his ranch, a sentiment he probably feels more comfortable with now that he is past that mark.

The recording was made by a German television crew, and the recording engineer was Dutch counterculture photographer and film and television director Wim van der Linden. It is a very well recorded concert, but not the equal of the Massey Hall concert. Or even the UCLA concert eight days later, used to pull ‘Needle And The Damage Done’ for Harvest. Much of the blame goes to the venue, with a Shakespeare Theatre being an inferior place for recording music. The voice is a little thin by comparison. The guitar lacks the three dimensional ‘you are there’ fullness found on the Massey Hall recording, but that is a tough comparison.

Unlike so much of Young’s output, this is not all analogue. Chris Bellman of Bernie Grundman used 192/24 bit Plangent-processed masters, a fact refreshingly disclosed on the back cover and record label. The 150‑gram pressing from Record Industry in The Netherlands was flat and quiet. This is an essential part of any Neil Young collection. Even if you have the Massey Hall LP set, this concert packs a more distilled punch. If it falls short of the Massey Hall acoustics, it shows Young growing up quick over just three days!

Børresen Acoustics 01 Silver Supreme Edition stand‑mount loudspeaker

It’s hard not to think of the development of Børresen Acoustics loudspeakers without falling into the classic voice-over speak mode of those late, lamented and much-copied vocal talents, Hal Douglas and Don LaFontaine: “In a world where loudspeakers are boring, in a time where people are held captive at home. One man, a renegade speaker designer, can change everything. Now. More. Than. Ever… Børresen: Rise of the Silver Supreme.”

You see, that’s kind of the whole thing about Børresen; it’s built around the brain of Michael Børresen, a designer with more than his fair share of hits under his belt; not only with the current Aavik, Ansuz and Børresen lines, but with a string of notable prior works in the audio business. A maverick in the truest sense, he’s more directed toward looking forward and building up the brand that bears his name than raking over the past, but let’s just say if you haven’t run into an aspect of Børresen’s design input in some form in the 21st Century high-end audio world, you’ve been leading a very cloistered life.

It’s also hard not to view the Børresen line as the distillation of all that he’s had input on. However, it’s also worth looking at those three different product lines, because they are still relatively new to the world and the distinctions might seem blurry to those who haven’t been keeping up. Aavik is the electronics brand, Ansuz is the cable, power, network infrastructure, and resonance control products, and Børresen is the speaker brand.

From here, Børresen has two ranges in its line-up; the lower-cost Z-series and the four models in the ‘0’ series, of which the ‘01’ is the smallest model, the others being ever larger 2.5-way designs, culminating in the seven-driver slimline Børresen 05 tower. They all share a common design brief, combining a large ribbon tweeter with a 115mm mid-bass unit that both uses a specially-created membrane for its diaphragm and features a unique iron-free motor unit. In each speaker in the line, there are three options; the 01, a cryogenic-treated version, and a model where the copper pole ring is replaced with a ring of solid silver, which also benefits from cryogenic treatment.

The removal of iron from the magnetic motor of a driver is not an easy task, which might explain why practically every dynamic transducer made in the last 90 years sports an iron core. But it is the only practical solution if you want to reduce a drive unit’s inherent inductance. With the company’s standard iron-free drivers, that inductance was already cut about 12-fold, but by swapping out the copper pole ring for silver, the conductivity of that component increases, and the inductance decreases still further, and because that component is also subjected to the cold shoulder treatment, the cryogenic silver pole ring reduces further inductance by somewhere between 12-16%.

We decided on the Børresen 01 Silver Supreme Edition because in a very real way it’s the purest of the pure. A two-way stand-mount design has effectively nowhere to hide. It also puts the other technologies in the Børresen design front and centre; you have a much closer working relationship with the Darkz decouplers – for example – in the 01, because you use them to decouple the speaker from the stand.

Linn Klimax DSM network streaming preamplifier

Perhaps the strangest turn in 21st Century music replay is this: how did the UK get so damn good at streaming? This isn’t simply flying the flag for Britain; UK companies were early adopters to the benefits of streaming, and while others have caught up, that commanding early lead has long kept paying out dividend in terms of high-performance streaming audio. So perhaps it should be no surprise that a brand that has been in pole position since 2007 – Linn Products – has reworked its flagship Klimax DSM streaming player to produce an identically-named replacement.

In fact, the name is one of the few things this Klimax DSM shares with its predecessor. This is an entirely different streamer for a market that has become ever more discerning and wanting to extract the best possible from networked audio. Although Linn itself might argue that the point of transition – from physical digital media to local networked and ultimately online streamed music – occurred more than a decade ago (hifiplus.com/articles/linn-products-announce-the-death-of-cd/), it took some time for the rest of the world to catch up. However, catch up it did, and the world has largely moved from considering streaming as the poor relation in digital music replay to being the primary source of music, and with that comes a desire to hear that music in its best possible context. While that has meant a whole new sub-set of the audio world has sprung up producing audiophile-chummy versions of domestic network audio devices and cables, the need for a damn good streamer remains. And in the case of the Linn Klimax DSM at least, that damn good streamer now becomes the damn good heart of a damn good system too.

I don’t want to focus on the styling, as there is a whole lot of tech going on under the hood that makes the Klimax DSM just so advanced when put against its peers, but you just can’t help be drawn to those looks. Klimax DSM is one of those products where the images look great, and yet still don’t do the product justice when compared in the flesh. It’s a bold departure from the ‘smiley-face shiny pizza box’ styling of its predecessor – and with its top dial is clearly designed more to sit on its own rather than in a rack full of shiny toys, but it does ‘understated elegance’ supremely well. It’s full of those clever touches like a screwless case, a front display that blends invisibly into the front panel, a set of configurable buttons that wouldn’t feel out of place in the passenger compartment of a Rolls-Royce, and a central top-mounted dial that is so tactile, and makes such a bold-as-brass statement about Linn’s Clydesdale home, you can’t help but be drawn to it. The nearest to criticism I’ve heard here is it looks as if it is made for someone in a Huf Haus full of Ercol furniture; in other words, it’s too elegantly designed for audio!

Then there’s the grooved top panel, designed specifically to remind users that Linn is both a music-led company and that it cut its teeth on record-players. Remarkably, it’s getting close to half a century of Linn Sondek LP12 turntable production, and the venerable, continually-amended design still shows no sign of aging; not even greying round the p-clips! Those with an LP12 in its current top-spec will view the Klimax DSM as its visual and sonic peer; those without a record player will like the grooves as a nice flourish, and those with another brand of high-end turntable might reconsider their options.

Audience Au24SE and Au24SX headphone cables

John McDonald has been designing and building top-quality high end audio components and cables for many years. His zeal for innovation and passion for music have garnered praise from industry peers and audiophiles alike. McDonald met the late Richard Smith (fellow designer and music lover) in 1972, and the two formed Sidereal Akustic Audio Systems in 1979. In 1997 they teamed up with design engineer Roger Sheker and founded Audience. McDonald has also gained a reputation for bucking trends and resisting features serving only as marketing fodder, opting instead for highly researched scientific methodologies.

The Au24SE is the upgrade to Audience’s acclaimed Au24e cable series. The cable uses continuous cast high-purity OCC copper and Audience’s proprietary geometry configuration, which seemingly aides in its remarkable detail retrieval capabilities. Au24SX offers further advancements over SE, and, “represents the biggest transformation in cable performance ever achieved by Audience.” These are strong words, which SX’s sonic performance backs up with gusto.

SX incorporates purer OCC copper, “now six nines” according to Audience, as well as higher quality insulation, via an XLPE dielectric. Additionally, SX is cryogenically treated in Audience’s in-house cryo lab. Both cables are fantastically resolving and fast. Transients ping across the soundstage with speed and precision. Their handling of harmonic subtleties and sense of finesse is exquisite. SX outshines SE in this regard, producing a level of transparency that is absolutely window-like (and large windows at that).

Musical details, both micro and macro, are clearly rendered and colourful. SE and SX both reproduce natural, believable timbres and tonalities, with SX going a step further, offering an even more organic presentation. There’s warmth here, but not so much that it masks or overly shades the audio signal. Audience has two winners on its hands with its Au24SE and SX headphone cables. Bravo.

Price: From £1,300/1.5m (Au24SE), from £1,699/1.5m (Au24SX)

audience-av.com

Reproduced from Issue 166

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Moon by Simaudio 680D streaming DAC

Over the years I have had many opportunities to enjoy some quality equipment from Moon, made by Simaudio of Boucherville Quebec, Canada. Now in its fortieth year, Moon has become one of the world’s premier audio brands. I have always been impressed by their products fit and finish and the ten-year warranty. There is a clear sense of pride in their work, and it shows in all of their products.

There is a good range of Moon digital products for an audio fan to consider, covering all the bases from traditional disc spinners and headphone amps with built-in DACs, through add-on streaming devices and network streaming DACs in preamps and integrated amps right up to cost-no-object flagship designs. The new 680D streaming DAC is second in line to the throne currently occupied by the 780D v2 flagship. And, from experience, the wide range fits all well, because this isn’t my first Moon rodeo. I have been using the Moon 430HAD Headphone Amp/DAC for many years and it is a reference piece for me; we reviewers can be a fickle lot (continual exposure to all the new toys can do that), so anything that resists the urge to swap boxes bespeaks of high quality and high-performance products. The 680D streaming DAC exudes that same quality, albeit to an even higher degree as befits a DAC of its class.

The 680D is a streaming DAC and therefore removes the need for a computer in your network audio chain. Plug your ethernet cable into the unit and you get access to Qobuz Sublime+, Tidal Masters, Deezer HiFi and Spotify Connect. Or you can stream from your own NAS or Apple Airplay 2 via Moon’s excellent MiND2 streaming hardware. All of which can be controlled using Moon’s MiND2 App or through Roon if you so subscribe. I used both during the review period and found each to be easy and intuitive to use with the 680D. One specific benefit of using the MiND2 App is if you are connecting the 680D to another piece of Moon gear like the 740P Preamplifier, the Simlink cable (included) allows you to control system volume (amongst other features) both from within the MiND2 app and from within Roon. A nice feature for system building, especially in a multi-room context.

Physically, the 680D occupies a full shelf in your rack, but although exceptionally well-built, doesn’t have the imposing ‘I’ve got a Man Badge’ over-the-top build of some more showy digital products. With three finish choices (Silver, Silver/Black or Black) you can select your preferred look. All three are handsome options. My review sample was their classic Silver and Black. It looked great on my rack. The large red LED’s provided playback information such as file bit rates and track time. You have three light brightness levels to choose from. The DAC will process to PCM 32/384 and DSD to DSD256. The unit is fully MQA certified and Roon Ready. At its core, there beats a heart of pure digital royalty: the ESS Sabre 9028pro DAC chip. This is one of the most highly respected converter systems available at this time

Atlas Element achromatic RCA analogue interconnect cable

If you want to polarise the room (assuming it’s a room full of music and/or hi-fi enthusiasts, anyway), tell them analogue interconnects can profoundly affect the way their system sounds. Then retire to a safe distance. The way some people carry on, you’d think they were being forced to spend money on analogue stereo interconnects at gunpoint.

If you can’t hear the difference between cable ‘A’ and cable ‘B’ (and ignore for a moment whether or not you think ‘A’ sounds better or worse than ‘B’ – let’s just aim for establishing whether or not they sound different), in some ways that is good news. You’ve saved yourself a lot of time auditioning cables, a lot of money upgrading cables, and an awful lot of patience listening to hi-fi ‘experts’ bang on about the apparent differences.

If you discern a difference, though, in a few ways, you’re making a rod for your own back. Take this new Atlas Element pair of RCA analogue interconnects – are you satisfied they sound different to the cables you’re currently using in your system? And if you are, do you enjoy the difference they make?

Given that you’ve read this far into an analogue interconnect review in the pages of a venerable hi-fi magazine, I’m going to go ahead and assume that you are, at the very least, open-minded on this subject. And if you’re looking to make a difference to your system’s sound without spending authentically big money on hardware upgrades, something like this Element interconnect could be just the ticket.

£80 may not seem like ‘entry-level’ money, but this is where the Atlas range of analogue interconnects starts. And if you have got a system that justifies this sort of outlay, there’s no denying the Element is capable of affecting its sound in a pretty unambiguous way.

Some science first, though – hi-fi cables seem to be second only to hair-care products in laying on the terminology with a trowel.

The Element features Atlas’ ‘achromatic’ non-magnetic RCA plug. It’s a low-mass, solder-free connector, cold-welded to create a coherent, uncompromised signal path. The signal conductor itself is of fully shielded continuous casting copper, intended to offer maximum radio frequency interference resistance. A foamed polyethene dielectric surrounds the conductor, and this all sits within a circular conducting screen that acts as the signal return path.

Gryphon StandArt Rack System

Some parts of your system that are somehow inherently less sexy than those big boxes or spinning platters – and chief amongst them is probably your rack. It’s not that what supports your equipment doesn’t matter or make a difference. I’d argue quite the opposite, with many an audiophile underestimating the importance of and under-investing in their system’s supports. It’s just that most of us simply want to make a one-time decision, preferably without spending too much time on it. Instead, we can get on with the serious business of listening to music whilst angst-ing about whether that new pre-amp you just read about would be the answer to all your system’s woes? Oddly enough, very few of us ever stop to consider that a decent rack might just answer a whole host of questions – but then I guess that’s my point.

Take that mindset a bit further, and it’s not hard to extrapolate an almost tick-box list of the desirable attributes required by any serious audio rack – before you even get to its sonic contribution. It needs to be sturdy enough to support increasingly heavy components (just in case we ever manage to afford those monster amps we really, really want). It needs to be adjustable/configurable (to make space for those monster amps we really, really want). It should be modular (just in case those monster amp are mono-blocs) and it should look good loaded with audio equipment. It’s incredible how many racks fail on this last criterion. They might look great when you see them empty but pack them with audio equipment, and they don’t look as good. The same applies to modularity and adjustability: changing stuff about in theory isn’t the same as actually doing it in practice. All too often it’s a case of fiddle and faff to get the thing put together and then leave well alone. I’ve often wondered whether the Quadraspire racks’ longevity owes as much to the fact that they work (in the mechanical sense) as it does to their sonic virtues.

Of course, the bigger and heavier the equipment you make, the more pressure it exerts on your support solution (literally and figuratively). So perhaps it should come as no surprise that those practised purveyors of hideously heavy amplifiers, Gryphon Audio Design, have finally turned their attention to creating a rack system capable of accommodating, well… those monster amps that we all really, really want. Nor perhaps should it be any surprise, given that the company seems to be on something of a new product roll right now, that the rack they’ve come up with doesn’t just tick all the boxes, it does it in bold after adding a few extra boxes of its own. When you build something like the Mephisto – an amplifier that would bring the average audio rack out in a cold, shivering sweat – it tends to help you focus on the priorities.

Astell&Kern announce ACRO BE100 Bluetooth wireless loudspeaker

From the Astell&Kern UK press release

 

Astell&Kern, the global leader in premium high-resolution audio devices debuts the ACRO BE100 Bluetooth wireless speaker. The result of Astell&Kern’s advances in audio technology evolved over decades, this speaker delivers superior room-filling, hi-fi calibre stereo sound that belies it compact profile. Boasting a dedicated 32-bit DAC and support for the latest 24-bit hi-res quality wireless streaming codecs, the ACRO BE100 is the Bluetooth speaker of choice for audiophiles and music enthusiasts alike.

Astell&Kern ACRO BE100 key features include:

  • Unique light and shadow effect design.
  • Dedicated 32-bit hi-fi grade DAC.
  • Support for 24-bit hi-res codecs aptX™HD and LDAC.
  • Superior stereo sound from a custom 4″ Kevlar woofer and 1.5″ silk dome tweeters.
  • Onboard Class-D amplifier with 55W of total power.
  • Ability to adjust treble and bass sound settings.
  • Arrives in stylish white or black finishes to fit into any interior space.

Design for life

Sporting Astell&Kern’s recognisable signature angled design, influenced by the reflective interplay of shadow and light, the ACRO BE100 makes a striking design statement that can seamlessly fit into any living space. The triangular shapes on front metal-grille mesh compliments the premium faux leather finish of main unit, while the top aluminium-hewn knurling-patterned knob allows accurate fine tuning of the volume, level-by-level, with a gentle touch.

The area below the volume control illuminates and acts as an indicator, flashing different colours for each mode or volume level, helping users to easily identify the speaker status and control it intuitively.

Dedicated DAC

Declaring its hi-fi sound credentials, the BE100 arrives with an onboard 32-bit high-quality DAC (digital-to-analogue converter). Where most common Bluetooth speakers rely on the limited DAC embedded into the Bluetooth chipset, the BE100’s dedicated DAC is based on the technology from Astell&Kern award-winning portable digital audio players. The separate internal circuitry ensures it has the capabilities to deliver a superior and detailed audio performance beyond its rivals.

Stereo sound

To help realise this class-leading sonic performance, the mid/bass driver and 2x tweeters have been custom-built. The 4-inch mid-bass cone is made from ultra-durable yet lightweight Kevlar fabric to improve response speed and timing and provide a more accurate bass sound. Furthermore, the rear port is installed to extend the speaker’s bass response. The two silk dome tweeters produce crystal clear high-frequencies, while sound-absorbing material inside the wooden cabinet reduces resonance by completely sealing the interior, enabling a full, rich fidelity.

Classy amp

Poorly designed amplifiers can produce clipping sounds at maximum volume. Employing its renowned expertise in amp design technology, Astell&Kern has developed a Class-D amplifier that guarantees consistent sound quality without distortion even at top volume.

The amp’s onboard digital crossover also ensures a clear and precisely timed sound by splitting the audio signal into different frequency range. In addition, dynamic range control (DRC) is used to protect the speaker unit as it hits maximum output power. To minimise jitter – the undesired deviation in time from the transmitted signal – the Bluetooth chipset is equipped with a 50ps clock to enable incredibly accurate sound.

High-definition connectivity

The latest high-definition wireless connectivity options are covered with the ACRO BE100 boasting Bluetooth® 5.0, providing greater range and a more stable wireless connection when streaming from a compatible device such as a smartphone, tablet or laptop. Support for 24-bit aptX™ HD (48khz) and LDAC (96khz) codecs, offers the best possible wireless sound quality.

Elsewhere, music fans can tweak the sound with the onboard five-level treble and bass settings, while a 3.5mm AUX input allows the connection of Astell&Kern’s portable digital audio players and similar devices.

Please note a version of the ACRO BE100 featuring FM radio is available in selected countries.

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

Mid/Bass driver: 1x 4-inch

Tweeter: 2x 1.5-inch

Amplifier output: 55W (1x 25W + 2x 15W)

Frequency response: 50 – 20kHz

Maximum sound level: 94dB [email protected]

Bluetooth version: 5.0

Bluetooth codecs: SBC, AAC, aptX™HD, LDAC

Power input: 19V / 3,43A

AUX: 3.5mm stereo

Dimensions: 261 x 164 x 171mm

Weight: about 3.2kg

Price: £449 / €529 / $380

URL: astellkern.co.uk

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