The D1 CD/SACD player/transport was CH Precision’s first ever product, a discrete multi-channel capable machine that established the Company’s now familiar, user configurable, upgradable, card-cage construction. For over a decade, along with the C1 DAC, it has set the standard for high-resolution disc replay, even though, these days the focus for many listeners has switched to high-res streaming.
Yet, with the constant development of new production techniques, materials and even formats, optical disc has never sounded so good. The emergence of Glass CD, SHM discs, UHQCD and new formats such as MQA-CD, has improved performance, giving disc replay a renewed relevance – while millions of existing discs still offer superb performance(s). But at the same time, the quality of replay hardware has diminished significantly, undermining those advances and masking their real value.
Time to revisit disc replay – Swiss style
To match improving digital standards we have developed our own, mechanically damped, high-mass MORSe transport mechanism. We have revised the optional on-board upsampling, updating it with our proprietary PEtER spline filter algorithm. We have added MQA replay capability, while also allowing users the choice of optimized MQA digital output when connected to an external, MQA capable DAC, avoiding on-the-fly sample-rate switching.
Meet the D1.5: same face; same precision engineering and flawless finish; same versatile, configurable, upgradable character; still the foundation stone of the CH digital eco-system – but now delivering a whole new level of performance! Owners could start with a single-box D1.5 player and grow it by stages and without cost penalty, all the way up to a nine-chassis, state-of-the-art digital front-end! Of course, they can also stop at two-boxes, three-boxes or any number of boxes up to nine – the ultimate example of upgradability.
Features and Functionality
With an almost identical form-factor and operational interface, the D1.5 continues the established CH aesthetic, fitting in perfectly with existing and future systems. However, internally it is a completely different machine, based around our own, all-new, proprietary transport mechanism.
That means that existing D1s cannot be physically upgraded to D1.5 status – but in keeping with CH Precision’s upgradable/future-proof ethos, a factory trade-in scheme and compatibility with all existing CH digital products ensures existing owners a cost-effective path to the substantially improved performance offered by the D1.5.
In-house designed and built Mechanically Optimized Reading System (MORSe) disc transport.
Optical pick-up and motor are precision mounted on a machined brass ‘sled that weighs almost 1kg, which is in turn isolated on a sophisticated alpha-gel suspension, fine-tuned to filter vibration down to AC Mains frequencies. This prevents vibrations generated by the spinning of the disc from reaching sensitive electronic boards, as well as low frequency vibrations originating in the power supply or chassis disturbing the accurate tracking of the laser mechanism.
Massive, ultra rigid support frame, constructed from almost 2kg of machined billet aluminum and direct coupled to the chassis base plate, with its improved four-point mechanical grounding and levelling system.
Fully compatible with SACD, CD and MQA-CD discs.
CH Link HD, AES/EBU, S/PDIF and TosLink digital outputs mounted as standard.
Optional dual mono DACs and Sync IO board allow users to specify or adapt unit for uses as a transport or player, with or without external clocking.
On-board upsampling employs state-of-the-art PEtER spline filter algorithm for CD replay.
Users can configure digital outputs to optimize replay of MQA-CDs with an MQA capable DAC, avoiding on-the-fly sample-rate switching.
Fully compatible with CH Precision’s C1 and C1 Mono DACs, the I1 integrated amplifier, as well as the T1 Time Reference master clock and X1 External Power Supply
Prices vary with country, but the US dollar and Euro prices are as follows:
Southport, England – Launched in 2018, the xDSD is among the most popular portable DAC/headphone amps in iFi’s range – a feature-packed model that has earned a stellar reputation and a plethora of awards thanks to its supremely judged blend of convenience, versatility and performance.
Soon after its launch, the xDSD was joined by the xCAN to complete iFi’s mid-level ‘x-series’ of portable devices. Housed in the same distinctive contoured case with ‘dark titanium’ finish, the xDSD and xCAN perform differing functions – the former is a portable DAC/headphone amp for digital sources, with USB, S/PDIF and Bluetooth connectivity; the latter is a headphone amp with purely analogue inputs, plus the added convenience of Bluetooth reception for smartphones and so on. The xCAN also includes a balanced output stage – the smallest iFi amp to do so at the time of its launch.
This autumn, iFi launches its next-generation x-series device, the xDSD Gryphon – iFi’s most ambitious portable DAC/amp yet. It replaces not only the xDSD but also the xCAN, combining the functionality of both with redesigned circuitry that elevates performance to another level. In the world of portable DACs, headphone amps and ‘head-fi’ in general, the xDSD Gryphon is destined to become a legend.
One DAC/amp to rule them all
Retaining the contoured design of its antecedents, the xDSD Gryphon is clearly an x-series device. Although a little larger, measuring 123x75x19mm, it remains sufficiently compact to stow away in a small bag. (Those who want a more eminently pocketable go-anywhere DAC/headphone amp will find iFi’s recently launched GO blu and hip-dac 2 fit the bill.) At 215g, it is not an overly hefty device thanks to its lightweight yet robust alloy enclosure, and its gunmetal grey finish is less prone to fingerprints than the glossy dark titanium of the original xDSD and xCAN. The extra space provided by the xDSD Gryphon’s larger chassis is fully utilised by the entirely re-engineered tech within, harnessing iFi’s latest technical developments to deliver extreme versatility and performance in a compact, portable form.
Key to the xDSD Gryphon’s flexibility is the sheer breadth of equipment to which it can be connected. Digital and analogue cable inputs are provided – the former in USB and S/PDIF flavours, and the latter via balanced 4.4mm Pentaconn and single-ended 3.5mm sockets. High-definition Bluetooth reception is also provided, enabling smartphones, tablets and more to connect wirelessly with blissful simplicity and optimal sound quality.
This flexibility makes the xDSD Gryphon the ultimate ‘swiss army knife’ of the portable DAC/amp scene, delivering fabulous sound across a host of possible applications – a headphone amp to use with digital and analogue sources; a pure DAC or DAC/preamp to connect to an amp and speakers; the heart of a home audio system; and a mobile music lover’s dream. The xDSD Gryphon is the high-end audio system you can take with you wherever you go.
Built into the top surface is an OLED display strip, showing a range of useful information including input selection, volume level, battery level, digital audio format and sample rate, along with various other settings. This combines with crisply engineered controls and front-panel LED lighting to ensure the xDSD Gryphon is a pleasure to use, despite the complexity inherent in such a versatile device.
Ultra-resolution digital engine
The xDSD Gryphon’s ‘digital engine’ is based around a Burr-Brown DAC chipset that iFi uses extensively, selected for its natural-sounding ‘musicality’ and True Native architecture. iFi’s experience with this IC means it knows how to make the most of it; but whilst intrinsic to the resulting sound, the creation of an exemplary DAC stage involves much more than the selection of a particular DAC chip.
One such critical component is the XMOS chip that processes the audio data received via the USB and S/PDIF digital inputs. The xDSD Gryphon uses a low-latency, 16-core XMOS microcontroller delivering enhanced processing power; iFi’s in-house digital development team has programmed the XMOS firmware to optimise sound quality and ensure a perfect partnership with the Burr-Brown DAC. Extensive jitter-eradication technologies are also applied to the digital stage, including the latest generation of iFi’s GMT (Global Master Timing) femto-precision clock and intelligent memory buffer.
Every music format at the highest quality
Hi-res audio support is state-of-the-art, handling PCM data to 32-bit/768kHz, all levels of DSD to DSD512, and single- and double-speed DXD. Thanks to the Burr-Brown DAC chip’s four-channel True Native design, PCM and DSD take separate pathways – this enables DSD, as well as PCM, to remain ‘bit-perfect’ in its native form right through to analogue conversion.
MQA – the hi-res streaming codec, as used by Tidal’s ‘Masters’ tier – is also supported through the USB and S/PDIF inputs, with full decoding of MQA files up to 384kHz. This means that the full ‘three unfold’ decoding process is performed internally, as opposed to only the final unfold in the manner of an MQA ‘renderer’. Globally, MQA has become an important consideration for any comprehensively equipped DAC; for Tidal Masters subscribers, the xDSD Gryphon is a great way to make the most of the superior sound of which this streaming service is capable.
Bluetooth done better
While Bluetooth’s convenience and wide device compatibility is well recognised, many people don’t realise how good Bluetooth audio can sound because they’ve only experienced it at base-level quality via rudimentary SoC (System on Chip) implementations. iFi has gone to great lengths to ensure its Bluetooth technology is state-of-the-art, earning it a class-leading reputation.
Making full use of Qualcomm’s latest four-core QCC5100 Bluetooth processing chip, every current high-definition Bluetooth audio format is supported, including aptX Adaptive and aptX HD, LDAC and HWA/LHDC. Other codecs covered include regular aptX and aptX Low Latency, AAC and SBC (the ‘plain vanilla’ Bluetooth codec). This means that every possible source device is handled at the highest audio resolution its Bluetooth specification allows.
The xDSD Gryphon is Bluetooth v5.1-compliant, ensuring the best possible range, stability and performance. Up to seven paired Bluetooth source devices can be stored in memory, making it easy to switch from one device to another.
PureWave – fully balanced circuit design for the purest sound
The digital stage is only half the story in any DAC/headphone amp; when it comes to the crucial analogue circuitry, many such devices fall short. Balanced, differential analogue circuit design has long been championed for its ability to reduce noise and crosstalk within the signal path by fully separating the left and right channels. However, this is more complex and costly than single-ended circuitry, and so has traditionally remained the preserve of high-end hi-fi components.
iFi has gradually introduced fully balanced circuit design across its range – first in the flagship Pro Series components, then in the entry-level ZEN Series devices – with varying levels of sophistication. PureWave is the name iFi has given to the advanced, symmetrical dual-mono circuit topologies found in its latest premium-level devices, such as the NEO and Diablo DAC/amps. The name refers to the sonic purity these designs achieve, thanks to exceptional linearity and infinitesimally low levels of noise and distortion; the xDSD Gryphon is the smallest and most affordable device to feature PureWave design.
High-quality components are used throughout, including custom ultra-low-distortion op-amps, multilayer ceramic TDK C0G capacitors, MELF thin-film resistors and inductors from Murata and Taiyo Yuden. These are more costly than common equivalents, but class-leading qualities such as low ESR (Equivalent Series Resistance), high linearity and low noise pay great dividends in terms of sound quality.
The headphone amp stage maintains an engaging balance between sonic power and poise, no matter what it is tasked to drive – from high-sensitivity in-ear monitors to current-hungry planar headphones – with a continuous power output of more than 1000mW into a 32-ohm load available through the balanced headphone socket.
OptimaLoop – negative feedback that is purely positive
‘Negative feedback’ is often used in amplifier circuits to compare the output signal with the input signal and correct errors, in order to control gain and reduce distortion. This has a positive effect on sound quality, at least on paper. But commonly applied, one-size-fits-all ‘global negative feedback’ can create problems while it solves others – corruption of the error signal, phase shifts and group delay can all have a negative impact on sound.
Recognising that different parts of a circuit benefit from specifically optimised feedback loops, iFi has developed a negative feedback system that is much more accurate than the usual approach. This incorporates multiple feedback paths instead of one global loop, each path optimised for a particular function and working synergistically with the others to deliver optimal overall performance. iFi calls this new configuration OptimaLoop.
CyberSync volume control – superior sound and a better user experience
iFi has long championed high-quality analogue volume controls over digital volume adjustment, from a sound quality perspective. The xDSD Gryphon features a new iFi innovation called CyberSync, a redesign of the CyberDrive volume control featured in the original xDSD. CyberSync is a software-driven volume control that operates in the analogue domain – this is not a new concept, but the way it synchronises with any digital source to which the xDSD Gryphon is connected is distinctly different.
With most DACs, the volume control on the source device acts independently of the volume control on the DAC, which may lead to a frustrating user experience and adversely affect sound quality – it may be necessary to set the source device’s digital volume to maximum and adjust only the DAC’s volume control, so as not to lose resolution. In other cases, the source’s software-based volume control may override the DAC’s control; a slicker user experience perhaps, but not ideal for sound quality.
Uniquely, iFi’s CyberSync volume control provides perfect volume synchronisation between the source and the DAC. It detects which operating system (OS) the DAC is connected to – iOS, Android, Windows, Mac OS or Linux – and instructs the source’s OS to bypass its software volume control. Whether volume is adjusted using the xDSD Gryphon’s rotary control or on the source device, CyberSync ensures the change is performed purely by the Gryphon’s superior analogue control chip, while also displaying the adjustment on the source device’s screen. Volume curves differ between operating systems and apps, but CyberSync ensures perfect synchronisation between the source device and the DAC every time.
Kill the noise
Every element of the xDSD Gryphon’s electronic design has been painstakingly considered to prevent distortion and raise the signal-to-noise ratio to class-leading levels. Its low-noise, high-bandwidth power supply circuitry sports linear regulation and delivers excellent PSRR (Power Supply Rejection Ratio) performance. The dimmable OLED display’s SilentLine design ensures there is no electrical noise to interfere with the audio signal. Even the way the xDSD Gryphon switches between settings has been engineered to ensure sonic transparency – FET-based switching is handled by a microcontroller, which only ‘wakes up’ when the user changes a setting, thus eradicating any sonically deleterious interference. To the ear, all this painstaking attention to detail translates as more clarity and texture, and a more dynamic and engaging performance – you hear more of the music, just as the artist intended.
Sonic tailoring to suit you
With differing digital and analogue sources, contrasting headphone/earphone types, multiple music styles and variable recording quality, not to mention personal sonic preferences, the ‘one size fits all’ approach of many devices may be found wanting in one area or another. iFi’s expertly engineered sonic tailoring options ensure the user can calibrate the xDSD Gryphon’s sound to suit their specific preferences, delivering more flexibility to get the sound just right.
With digital sources, users can choose between three bespoke digital filters via the on-screen menu: Bit-Perfect, Standard and GTO (Gibbs Transient Optimised), each having a fine-tuning effect on sound.
Further sonic tuning is provided by iFi’s proprietary analogue processing. Familiar to users of other iFi DAC/amps is XBass – a sophisticated form of ‘bass boost’ that enhances low frequencies without muddying the midrange, useful with earphones and open-back headphones that may lack deep bass. Like the xCAN before it, the xDSD Gryphon sports an expanded version called XBass II, offering three separate headphone EQ options: ‘Bass’ (which targets low frequencies), ‘Presence’ (which focuses on the upper midrange) and ‘Bass + Presence’ (which implements both together).
XSpace is another user-selectable mode, designed to compensate for the ‘in-head localisation’ effect that can occur when using headphones to listen to music that was mixed using a pair of speakers, effectively widening the headphone soundstage to deliver a more spacious and speaker-like experience. Both XBass II and XSpace operate entirely in the analogue domain, rather than messing with the digital signal via DSP, and may be switched in or out of the signal path.
A further switch on the base of the xDSD Gryphon engages IEMatch, another proprietary iFi circuit that attenuates the headphone output to better suit high-sensitivity headphones and in-ear monitors, removing potential background noise and increasing the usable volume range.
Clever configuration enables the sheer variety of devices that can be connected to the xDSD Gryphon whilst maintaining its compact form. At the rear, two USB–C ports are provided – one input for digital audio, handled asynchronously, and the other for charging, thus keeping the audio and power lines separate for reasons both practical and sonic. Next to these lies the S/PDIF digital input, which allows both optical and electrical (3.5mm) connections.
3.5mm and 4.4mm Pentaconn analogue sockets are also supplied at the back, for single-ended and balanced connections respectively. These double as both inputs and outputs – inputs when the xDSD Gryphon is being used as an analogue headphone amp; outputs to enable its use as a DAC/preamp in a home audio system, with fixed and variable options to connect to an amp and speakers.
At the front, a pair of headphone outputs are provided – a 3.5mm socket for headphones with a single-ended cable/connector, and a 4.4mm Pentaconn output enabling headphones equipped with balanced connectivity to take full advantage of the xDSD Gryphon’s balanced amp design. The 3.5mm output benefits from iFi’s S-Balanced circuitry, cutting crosstalk and related distortion in half when used with regular, single-ended headphone connections.
In keeping with its mythical namesake, the xDSD Gryphon is fabulously talented fusion of iFi’s latest digital and analogue technologies. Fantastic beasts? iFi is where to find them! Available from mid-November at an RRP of £599.
iFi is the sister-brand of Abbingdon Music Research (AMR) and is headquartered in Southport, UK. The two brands respectively design and manufacture portable, desktop and lifestyle audio products and high-end hi-fi components. Combined in-house hardware and software development teams and a ‘music first’ approach enable iFi and AMR to create advanced audio products that deliver new levels of design, functionality and performance at their respective price points. Since iFi’s formation in 2012, its products have earned many awards around the world, helping it to become one of the fastest-growing brands in its field.
Fife, Scotland, November 2nd: Fine Sounds UK, the country’s McIntosh, Sonus faber, Bassocontinuo and IsoTek distributor, has expanded its UK dealer network adding one of the biggest names in hi-fi retailing, Audio T.
Starting in the South West, Audio T Bristol, Swindon and Cardiff are now offering Sonus faber loudspeakers and IsoTek power-cleaning systems. The Swindon store is also offering McIntosh Laboratory’s portfolio of high-end electronics; Southampton is also an IsoTek stockist.
The addition of Audio T marks the first time McIntosh and Sonus faber have been available via a national store network, making it easier than ever to experience the brands’ offerings.
Audio T Bristol will offer the new Sonus faber Lumina range, Sonetto I, II and III, plus the Olympica Nova I and III. Cardiff profiles Lumina II, plus Sonetto I and III, and Olympica Nova I and II. Audio T Swindon carries the McIntosh MA5300 and MA7200, plus Sonetto I & III.
Audio T’s Sales and Marketing Director Kevin Starkie said, “We are very proud to add another quality brand to our portfolio, Sonus faber has a long and illustrious history of creating exciting and quality-built products giving our customers even greater choice when selecting the right products for their home system. We are also very excited about adding Mcintosh to our Swindon store: the product has an Iconic feel and sound, and we feel it’s a great addition to the top electronics we offer.”
Marketing Director, Andy Oattes added, “Working with Audio T reaffirms our commitment to our top-down strategy building a strong network of dealers throughout the UK. We are long-time admirers of Audio T and their positive impact on the industry, and we are looking forward to strengthening our relationship together. It brings exciting times with the introduction of the electronics we offer.”
Audio T Bristol’s Max Revelle said, “At Audio T Bristol, we are excited and proud to be on board with Sonus faber. The brand itself offers ranges of highly competent loudspeakers which are beautifully crafted to look like the music is coming from an actual musical instrument. They offer a serious sound, exceptional beauty and are surprisingly competitively priced.”
Additional Audio T stores are expected to be added in the coming months.
Fine Sounds UK is the British high-performance audio distributor behind some of the world’s most iconic hi-fi brands, including the legendary US home entertainment specialist McIntosh (1949) and world-renowned Italian luxury loudspeaker extraordinaire, Sonus faber (1983). The company is committed to supplying UK retailers with the finest A/V equipment on the planet.
The company is a joint venture between McIntosh Group (USA) and McIntosh Laboratory’s previous distributor of 15 years, Jordan Acoustics (UK). Fine Sounds UK brings nearly a century of high-end audio expertise to the UK market, providing unrivalled experience, knowledge and service to specialist audio dealers in Great Britain.
As with the majority of brave new worlds, establishing a wireless multiroom audio system initially required quite serious compromises. Though there were minor compromises to be accommodated where ergonomics and operability were concerned, the most significant compromises centred around sound quality – and consequently multiroom audio was deemed a non-starter by anyone who fancied themselves an audiophile.
Happily, the simple convenience and arousing modernity of wireless multiroom audio proved an irresistible lure to many a consumer – and as result the wireless multiroom audio sector can confidently be characterised as ‘oversubscribed’. Any number of electronics brands, from the venerable to the no-profile, from the long-established hi-fi stalwarts to vendors of beard-trimmers and toothbrushes, are ready to help you into the brave new(ish) world of simple, straightforward wireless multiroom audio. And it’s true: some of them deliver extremely acceptable sound while they’re doing it.
Bluesound was far from first out of the blocks with its range of wireless multiroom audio products. But it understood both the lure and the shortcomings of the already-ubiquitous Sonos streaming system – rock-solid stability, ease of use and entirely humdrum sound – and with its own extensive range of products attempted to replicate the Sonos strengths while addressing its weaknesses. The Bluesound ecosystem remains the only one able to support uncompressed 24bit/192kHz digital audio files on every player in a wireless system – and that’s true even if you’re running 64 players on the same network. Which is extremely good news for boutique hoteliers if no one else.
Bluesound uses a bespoke operating system called BluOS to control its products. And, as Bluesound is a part of Canada’s Lenbrook International (a wholly owned subsidiary of the Lenbook Group), other Lenbrook-owned companies like NAD Electronics (as well as an increasing number of non-Lenbrook brands like DALI) can be grouped, administered and otherwise controlled using BluOS too.
The importance of the user interface where wireless multiroom audio is concerned can’t really be overstated. It needs to be stable, logical, ergonomically impeccable and easy to operate – and, as anyone who’s ever used a control app from a company without the necessary development resources knows, that’s not especially easy to achieve. One of the reasons ‘Sonos’ is well on its way to becoming a generic term in wireless multiroom audio is because of its absolutely flawless, completely reliable and stunningly straightforward user interface. So while Bluesound products have the audio capability to make them a pretty compelling option, if BluOS doesn’t measure up then Bluesound’s sonic prowess becomes an irrelevance.
Building a modest wireless multiroom system using Lenbrook International brands couldn’t be more straightforward. And I use the word ‘modest’ only to describe the extensiveness of the set-up – there’s nothing modest about the way the system assembled here performs.
Some products are called ‘dampers’ and in use have little to do with the term. Not here. Taken separately or in combination, Kuzma’s PLATIS equipment platform and the Damper Feet are truly damping down vibration, whether that’s from the environment trying to gain access to your most sensitive audio parts or keeping the vibration of components themselves in check.
PLATIS 54 (and larger PLATIS 65) are passive isolation platforms. They feature a base frame made from solid aluminium, which is supported by adjustable damping feet. The top supporting plate is made of a hard laminate, reinforced with solid aluminium (you can also just purchase the top plate on its own). The lower plate connects with supplied damping feet, and you can effectively ‘dial in’ or fine tune the amount of damping by the number of pods relative to the weight of the product sitting on the platform. There is some wiggle room here, but typically you need enough pod-ness to account for the weight but not so much as to over-damp the system. Given that the platform can handle up to 100kg (at which point you have gone to five pods per platform) it’s an extremely flexible option. I ended up using it mostly with three pods (not in the ‘three feet good, four feet bad’ mantra of the audio woomeisters; just that using it with heavier turntables and sources – such as the Gryphon Ethos tested in issue 191 – is the correct weight-range match).
Meanwhile the Damper isolation feet can be used under any audio component without the need for platforms in order to filter structural vibrations as well as also acting as noise filter suppressors for vibrations generated by the component itself.
It’s something like a large aluminium Oreo with top and bottom cups slotting into an aluminium hoop… but it’s what’s underneath that counts. The top and bottom cups are machined from a solid aluminium plate. These cups are separated with multi layered silicone and aluminium dampers and are said to filter vibrations up to as high as 3kHz. Dampers are simply positioned under any audio component, under the metal chassis itself, spike or under rubber feet. Some personal experimentation is recommended here.
They are sold in sets of three or four, and once again choice largely comes down to weight management. Each damper can cope with a load of up to 20kg so most electronics will only need a trio of Dampers. However, if an audio component has a skewed centre of gravity (such as having a heavy transformer on one side of the case, reposition dampers accordingly and in extreme cases you might need to think about using four dampers in place of three (sonically speaking, use three and reposition unless that is absolutely impossible). There is no levelling adjustment in these Dampers, although the cup has a rubber ring inserted to minimise slipping and this can be removed.
For higher loads just add more dampers. This might seem like over-egging the pudding, but as they are intended to be used universally across audio, it’s conceivable that you might end up putting them under some 100kg or more power amps or loudspeakers, and you might conceivably end up with five or more Dampers spread evenly across the base of your product. Just remember that in most cases there’s no point in adding just one more damper for the sake of it, as their performance is so effective that could undermine the whole exercise.
It’s very nearly a decade since Antonio Meze founded Meze Audio in Baia Mare, Romania – and it’s safe to say that his company has prioritised quality over quantity ever since.
Just have a look at the model line-up on the company’s website and you’ll see what I mean. Meze Audio’s entire product range runs to two variations on its Model 99 over-ear headphones (the ‘Classics’ and the ‘Neo’), a properly expensive (€3k) planar magnetic ‘Empyrean’ over-ear design, and the RAI Penta five-driver in-ear monitors that Mr Editor Sircom enthused about so fulsomely in issue #181.
And now there’s a fifth Meze Audio model: the RAI Solo. At roughly a quarter of the price of the RAI Penta, the RAI Solo is the in-ear monitor with which Meze Audio intends to engage with the mainstream.
Of course, one man’s ‘mainstream’ is another’s ‘disturbingly esoteric’ – and it’s safe to say the RAI Solo may not be the in-ear monitor the mainstream (which, let’s face it, is a fairly disparate group of people at the best of times) thinks it’s waiting for. It’s not wireless, it doesn’t have any active noise-cancellation, and there’s no sign of a control app. It rather looks like the mainstream is going to have to come to Meze Audio, rather than the other way around, after all.
RAI Solo may have been designed to sell at a price that can reasonably confidently be described as ‘mainstream’, but that doesn’t mean Meze Audio has sacrificed any of its increasingly obvious principles. RAI Solo is a combination of some pleasantly original thinking and the sort of rigorous engineering with which Meze Audio is becoming synonymous.
The housing of RAI Solo is a two-piece injection moulded stainless steel arrangement. It’s durable, extremely low-resonance, lends itself happily to mass production and – let’s not be coy – looks pretty good in its raw, brushed state. Meze Audio has achieved an agreeably anatomic fit with the RAI Solo – so while they’re far from the most lightweight earbuds around, they prove easy to wear for hours on end. In combination with the generous selection of eartip options Meze Audio provides, the RAI Solo are among the most comfortable in-ear monitors around.
Each earbud is joined to a 1.3m silver-plated cable using micro-miniature coaxial connectors. The RAI Solo are supplied with a cable terminating in a rhodium-plated 3.5mm jack, but the cable’s detachable nature means a switch to cable terminating in either a rhodium-plated 2.5mm jack or a gold-plated 4.4mm jack is possible. It’ll cost you, mind. The cable itself is ‘tangle-resistant’ – and if ever there was a piece of overtly disingenuous marketing-speak, ‘tangle-resistant’ might well be it.
Black Rhodium’s head honcho, Graham Nalty, has been making audio cables seemingly forever. I still have a pair of his interconnects (Silver Pink, if I recall correctly) from his Sonic Link days… and that’s at least 30 years ago. But, despite those decades at the craft bench, Black Rhodium has never been one of those brands you associated with esoteric prices; esoteric materials in the manufacture of cables and terminations… sure. High-end approaches to aspects of design like cryogenic treatment of conductors… absolutely. But, swimming in the gold-leave strewn waters of the high-end cable world? It’s just not Graham Nalty’s style.
So, when Black Rhodium released its Charleston loudspeaker cable, the £4,800 price for a 3m pair caused a bit of a sharp intake of breath. A seasoned railway enthusiast, was Nalty planning on buying his own train? In fact, Charleston – full name ‘Charleston DCT++ CS’ – remains resolutely down-to-earth in true Black Rhodium style. It’s simply a difficult cable to build and treat, and that means it ends up being ‘spendy’… although by true top-end standards, Charleston barely makes it to the middle tier in price terms.
Those letters after Charleston’s name are not simply there as ballast. They stand for ‘ultra, ultra deep cryogenic treatment to the silver-plated copper strands’ In addition, Black Rhodium’s never-ending search for the ideal material for each use has led to the use of rhodium-plated connectors throughout, a fully vibration-damped screen along its entire length and large RFI-busting ferrite rings in its construction.
Charleston is also stated to be rooted in science, as the press release states that ‘all cables obey the laws of physics.’ While this is good to know (I don’t want my interconnects to open up a portal to some kind of eldritch Lovecraftean nightmare universe… for now), Black Rhodium’s take here is that the molecular structure of different metals imposes an effect on the sound of a system, and both impurities in the metal itself and the dielectric can deleteriously affect the performance of a good system. The choice of materials and the use of cryogenic treatment helps the electrons to flow!
This ‘led by the science’ drive by Black Rhodium results in the cryogenic treatment of Charleston’s silver-plated copper conductors, but it also means the braided screen has been ‘vibration damped’ along its whole length, the speaker plugs themselves have been carefully coated (given the company name, the fact they are rhodium-coated shoudn’t come as too big a surprise) and are available as either locking banana plugs or spade lugs, or any combination of the same. The cables also feature ferrite rings, held in place with colour-coded heatshrink to denote channel (remember: red on the right, what’s left is ‘left’).
I used Charleston with a variety of integrated and power amplifiers, but most notably with the excellent Audio Research Reference 160S stereo power amplifier and (latterly) the Primare I35 Prisma as a more down-to-earth – if somewhat cable-oriented, given the cables cost as much as the amp –system. Loudspeakers were either the recently discontinued WIlson Duette Series 2 or the excellent Audiovector R1 Arreté stand-mount loudspeakers. In each case, Charleston did itself proud and did so consistently, which bespeaks of quality.
Even by Magico’s own big-boned approach to high-end audio, the M6 sets a high bar. While there is an M9 flagship that eclipses even this model, the M6 is by most reckoning a loudspeaker of the highest standard, and a cost-no-object interpretation of what goes into making a floorstanding loudspeaker.
Magico’s M6 is ostensibly a three-way, five driver design in a 1cm thick six-sided carbon fibre monocoque, which is made yet more rigid by thick aerospace-grade aluminium front and rear baffles, top plate and inner baffle, all tensioned with aluminium rods. The drivers feature a diamond-coated beryllium dome (in the tweeter) and graphene in the midrange and bass units. If that sounds familiar, it’s not too dissimilar from Magico’s 2014 limited run ‘thank you’ M-Project loudspeaker. The M-Project, built to celebrate Magico’s ten years as a speaker maker and sold to its most loyal followers, both set a high performance bar for subsequent Magico loudspeakers to achieve, but also was a launch-pad, instigating design concepts and criteria that the company has used to this day. The M6 is very much a child of the M-Project.
One of the first big outcomes of the M-Project was a radical change to the way big-hitter Magicos looked, but for reasons that were predicated on sonics as much as aesthetics. The slab-sided black aluminium monolith was gone, and the aluminium matrix frame that helped define projects like the Q-series (which still exists in the shape of the Q7 and Q Sub) was replaced by the aforementioned carbon monocoque. Perhaps the best way of looking at this sea-change is it requires a shift in analogies; the previous matrix frame worked best with the inevitable motoring analogy (reminding you of the space-frames of classic 1960s F1 racing cars) where the designs that came from the M-Project require higher-tolerance aerospace analogies (think the monocoque build of a modern F35 fighters) One of the results of this was a loudspeaker that was both more domestically acceptable and integrated in room better than before. Better performance from the enclosure was the outcome; a better-looking enclosure was the happy by-product.
As opposed to the normal statement piece loudspeakers at this level, where the sheer size of the loudspeaker physically dominates the room, the Magico M6 is positively understated. It’s still a big loudspeaker, both in size and weight, but the M6 still looks like a floorstanding loudspeaker and not an exercise in mechanical engineering or, as in the case of the M9, a house Dalek. However, let’s not back away from the fact a loudspeaker that stands 143cm tall, weighs in at 177kg, and is finished in contrasting shades of anodised matt black aluminium and a shinier – but still black – sculpted carbon fibre monocoque still cuts an imposing figure in a listening room. But it’s a ‘loudspeaker, but bigger’ rather than ‘an exploded diagram of what makes up a loudspeaker’ and that will make the M6 a more attractive prospect in many high-end listening rooms.
Let’s talk about the new Hi-Fi+ website. Until recently, both The Absolute Sound and Hi-Fi+ had the same, unchanging website template for the last decade. The polite way of describing the Hi-Fi+ website was “tired”, but let’s be brutally honest here; our previous website sucked! It was outdated looking, hard to navigate and even harder to port over to mobile devices.
Our new site, rolled out last week, fixes those issues.
We have made the site easier to navigate. Tabs covering key sections of the site allow faster access to everything you need to see on the Hi-Fi+ website. Those sections allow greater ‘granularity’ than before, allowing you to search for specific types of products under reviews. Our search engine is also improved, making it easier to find that important review.
We have also integrated our store into the site itself. We have several special offers in the store, including hand-chosen CDs and books. More will follow.
Our music section is also significantly revamped. We have reintroduced our record reviews, including star ratings for music and sound that match those published in Hi-Fi+ magazine. More importantly, we have included links to music streaming services such as Tidal, Qobuz or Primephonic. You can now listen to the album as you read the review.
We have already moved reviews from the old site into our new website, updating links and details where possible. However, our archive has some older and smaller images and we cannot find bigger and better ones in all cases. Newer reviews will include larger images.
Our news section will continue to point to the latest stories from around the audio world. We hope the Hi-Fi+ website will be your one-stop-shop for all things audio.
The future of the new Hi-Fi+ website
Going forward, you will see new show reports; audio events are still rare, but we expect more in 2022. We will include more interviews with people in the audio industry. We also plan to embed videos and podcasts as soon as we find the right end of the microphone. As before, our site also supports blogging, but we often found our blogs were underperforming on our old site. We want blogging as a vibrant part of the Hi-Fi+ website and are actively monitoring what works… and what doesn’t.
It’s still early days, and we are still learning our way around the functions of our new site. We think the site already looks good and performs well, but we don’t want to sit still. As we add more to the Hi-Fi+ website, we hope to improve and refine over time.
We’re really excited about the changes to Hi-Fi+’s web presence today and tomorrow. If nothing else, it’s good to have a website that doesn’t run on 1970s time! There are a lot of changes taking place in audio and we’re looking forward to what tomorrow will bring. And we hope that the Hi-Fi+ website will be an important part of those changes. In the meantime… I hope you like and enjoy our new site.
Karma-AV is delighted to announce that the revised version of Primare’s popular NP5 Prisma network player, the NP5 Prisma Mk2, has begun shipping.
The development of the new model was necessitated primarily by the AKM chip factory fire, causing long-term disruption of the supply of the critical sample rate converter (SRC) chip at the heart of the NP5 Prisma design, which allowed for the selection of output sampling frequencies.
To continue to make available one of Primare’s most popular models with the minimum of disruption, the company has sourced a readily available SRC chip and redesigned the circuit to maintain the performance of the original NP5 Prisma while allowing for:
DoP (DSD over PCM) output as an available setting option when using Roon Ready and a DoP ready DAC.
MQA passthrough allowing for Tidal Master and MQA files from a NAS to passthrough for higher resolution processing by a connected MQA capable DAC.
All other features and functionality remain the same as in the original version, with connection and control features that include AirPlay 2, Bluetooth, Chromecast built-in, Roon Ready, Spotify Connect (including Spotify HiFi when available), and a host of other features – making the NP5 Prisma Mk2 more than ever the network player for everyone.
All future updates will be applicable to both the original NP5 Prisma and the new NP5 Prisma Mk2 models, including much anticipated playback of Tidal Master files and Qobuz at full 24/192 kHz resolution.
And while Primare works toward full Roon Ready certification of all its Prisma models, the company is keen to emphasise that Chromecast can be used as a Roon endpoint providing full features and functionality, including Tidal Master file and gapless playback, the only limitation being that file resolution is capped at 24/96 kHz.
Finally, to celebrate NP5 Prisma MK2 availability, Primare will provide a complimentary sixty-day introductory Roon subscription to all Primare Prisma customers writing to [email protected] with their model’s name and serial number.
Worcester, Massachusetts | In a world filled with the ordinary and conventional, Vinnie Rossi has been driven by a passion for engineering the finest sounding two-channel audio components marked by truly innovative design. After 17 years of honing his craft with a series of commercially successful and critically acclaimed products, Vinnie Rossi is proud to introduce the Brama Collection [In Italian, the word “Brama” means a strong craving or desire].
After an arduous 2-year research and development process, Rossi states “Brama opens a new chapter for our brand and demonstrates to the world our strong commitment to designing and manufacturing innovative, reference-grade audio components at the highest level.”
For the Brama Collection (Integrated Amplifier, Preamplifier, and Stereo Power Amplifier), Rossi teamed with Montreal-based industrial designer Olivier Raymond (Porsche Design, Mercedes-Benz) to achieve what Raymond describes as “a timeless design statement that is positively unadorned and sheltered from passing trends – redefining indulgence in the most elegant and enduring fashion.”
Mark Sossa, Director of Sales and Marketing for Vinnie Rossi, adds “With Brama, we are confident that we will compete with the finest home audio products on the market. It has taken our team significant time and resources to get where we currently are, and Brama will pave our path forward for many years to come. We are very proud of what we have accomplished and can’t wait to share it with the world.”
Independent, Class A, 300B directly-heated triode and solid-state linestage sections, with the ability to switch between them via a press of a button on the Brama Remote.
350Wrms per channel into 4-ohm (Brama Integrated Amplifier). 500Wrms per channel into 4-ohm (Brama Stereo Power Amplifier).
100-step precision resistor ladder volume control, fully balanced input/outputs, home-theater bypass, as well as memory inputs that save independent settings for each input, including Gain, Triode %, Balance, Phase, and Stereo/Mono listening mode
Brama Remote, which offers an intuitive menu structure, high-resolution display with adjustable backlighting, Bluetooth communication, ambient light sensing, accelerometer, USB-C connectivity for battery charging and firmware updates, and a body machined from a solid block of aluminium
Bespoke analogue gauges with precision air core movements, machined aluminium hands, and adjustable backlighting. Sapphire glass and highly-polished stainless steel bezels seamlessly integrate the gauges to the front panel
Swiss-made, precision-stepped rotary switches that give manual control an incredibly satisfying feel
Custom designed 1750VA, shielded power supply transformer with dual secondary windings that feed independent, dual-mono linear power supply PCBs for both the preamplifier and power amplifier sections. Ultrafast soft recovery diodes, massive filter capacitors, and super-regulated outputs deliver vanishingly low noise and superb dynamics
Protection against over-voltage, under-voltage, over-temperature, and over-current on all outputs. Diagnostics are sent to the Brama Remote for easy viewing
Chassis is machined from solid aluminum-6063R billet that is finely bead-blasted, anodized and laser engraved for a spectacular finish that feels as premium as it looks
Availability and Pricing
All three Brama components will be available for order November 2021, and will begin to ship to authorized Vinnie Rossi distributors and dealers late 2021 / early 2022.
Glasgow, Scotland: Linn announces the latest iteration of their flagship turntable, Klimax LP12. It will make its public debut at the Dutch Audio Event, Eindhoven, this Saturday 30th October.
Klimax LP12 now features new Radikal, comprising hyper-accurate speed management technology, a whisper-quiet power supply, and state-of-the-art motor design. Additionally, this turntable scales new heights of fidelity thanks to extensive experimentation in material science – culminating in the breakthrough that is the all-new flagship cartridge, Ekstatik.
This marks the conquest of a new summit of performance, at the top of the industry-leading Sondek LP12 range. With new Klimax LP12, listeners will experience their favourite albums – both cherished classics and those freshly unwrapped – as if it were for the first time.
New Klimax LP12 sustains rotation closer to 33⅓rpm than any turntable; and thus produces the most musical, pitch-perfect performance from a Sondek LP12 ever.
Linn has designed, manufactured, and released more than forty upgrades for Sondek LP12 in the course of its forty-eight year history; with each consecutive upgrade improving its performance, and keeping it ahead.
Gilad Tiefenbrun, Linn’s Managing Director, said: “Announcing Sondek LP12 upgrades is always an exciting time at Linn; but when they improve our very best version, the Klimax LP12, it’s doubly exciting. Between our new Radikal motor, motor control unit, and power supply – and our new reference cartridge, Ekstatik – we’ve achieved an astonishing leap in performance.”
New Klimax LP12 is an equally exciting prospect for existing Sondek LP12 owners. Its announcement heralds the arrival of two new components, available to order as upgrades to existing decks from today thanks to our peerless, modular turntable platform, established almost five decades ago.
33.3333333 is the magic number
Even minor speed changes from a turntable’s motor will result in the music’s pitch deviating from the original performance.
Linn’s new, reference turntable power supply features hyper-accurate speed management technology; generating sustained, uniform rotation closer to 33⅓rpm than any turntable.
Customers will experience even more of their music, in perfect pitch, thanks to a digitally (FPGA) managed motor control, and the latest, precision-engineered motor technology.
Accurate to five times tighter tolerance than its predecessor, new Radikal’s persistent auto-calibration makes for more consistent and accurate speed management than ever before – rendering its performance hyper-accurate and faithful to the recording.
The improved board design at the heart of new Radikal incorporates whisper-quiet power supply rails, coupled with the use of smaller, more modern components – yielding the all-time lowest noise floor in a Sondek LP12.
An all-new, 6-layer board – designed and manufactured in-house – facilitates shorter signal paths, smaller componentry, and minimal overall noise, via dedicated ground and power planes.
These quieter, regulated supply rails not only provide impeccably pure power to the motor, but have the added halo effect of making Linn’s Urika phono stages sound even better.
What’s more, new Radikal has migrated to a precision reference voltage, served up by a new DAC derived from technology found in Linn’s network streamer range.
New Radikal’s cutting-edge motor design generates negligible electromagnetic interference, effectively eliminating it as a source of distortion. To make things mechanically quieter than ever, an all-new acoustic housing decouples the motor from the deck more effectively. The motor itself features smaller, lower-noise components, making everything electrically quieter than ever too.
All-new flagship moving coil cartridge
In order to make its best cartridge ever, Linn needed to look further afield, and at more varied materials. They conducted extensive experiments; auditioning different materials and configurations for the body, inserts, cantilever, suspension, windings and leads. The result is Ekstatik – the new jewel in the crown of the Linn cartridge range.
Setting a new bar for arm/cartridge synergy; Ekstatik’s unique construction forges an harmonious synergy with the Ekos SE tonearm; wicking away more unwanted resonances along the arm, and out through the suspended sub-chassis.
In the search for ever better materials, Linn’s experiments led them to the implementation of aluminium-bronze inserts. Now a feature of Ekstatik, these inserts allow listeners to reap the sonic benefits this alloy possesses.
With a custom honeycomb cut into the cartridge body, Ekstatik is skeletonised so that overall mass is reduced to Linn’s preferred sweet spot of close to 7g.
A micro-ridge stylus on a sapphire cantilever makes for an extraordinarily responsive cartridge. The sapphire cantilever is far stiffer than boron or aluminium, resulting in less loss between the stylus and the generator.
Ekstatik is an agile, responsive cartridge, with the added performance yielded from specifying these materials; masterfully matched in unique configurations.
Pricing & Availability
New orders of Klimax LP12 placed from today will ship with new Radikal and Ekstatik fitted as standard, providing an astonishing performance boost for new customers. New Radikal and Ekstatik are also available to order from today as upgrades to existing Sondek LP12s.
New Klimax LP12 (Complete Turntable) £21,795
New Radikal (Machined Enclosure) £6,500
New Radikal (Standard Enclosure) £4,250
New Radikal (Upgrade) £1,750
Ekstatik (MC Cartridge) £5,500
Supported trade-in offer
Existing Linn customers can part-exchange their Kandid, Akiva, Krystal, Klyde or Adikt cartridges, or their existing previous-generation Radikal or Lingo power supply, at their local Linn specialist.
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