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.
NAD’s M10 BluOS streaming amplifier is nigh-on ideal to form the engine of your main-room listening experience. It wants to be a bit of everything: stereo amplifier, high-resolution audio streamer, incorporate a bit of home cinema functionality and look like a superior bit of industrial design while it does so. So under the hood there’s 100 watts of Hypex nCore Class D amplification, an ESS Sabre 9028 digital-to-analogue converter capable up to a heady 32bit/384kHz resolution and aptX HD Bluetooth connectivity. On the rear panel are a couple of stereo RCA analogue inputs alongside digital coaxial and digital optical alternatives, along with stereo RCA pre-outs and a couple (!) of pre-outs for subwoofers. There’s also a LAN connection for ultimate network stability (naturally enough there’s wi-fi on board too) and an HDMI ARC socket for connection to an appropriately specified TV. At the front there’s a hi-res TFT touchscreen with plenty of options for customisation of input name, icons and what-have-you, as well as the option of virtual VU meters. This is all wrapped in a smooth glass-and-aluminium chassis that’s a discreet 10 × 22 × 26cm.
The NAD is connected to a pair of PSB Alpha T20 loudspeakers which are fully deserving of the description ‘modest’. Another Lenbrook International brand, PSB is in the process of overhauling its ‘Alpha’ range for the first time in several decades – and as well as being modestly priced, the Alpha T20s are an unassuming 83cm high. Nevertheless, PSB has found room for a 19mm aluminium dome tweeter behind a shallow wave-guide and a pair of 13cm textured polypropylene mid/bass drivers up front, and a 64mm tuned reflex port above biwire speaker binding posts at the rear.
The ‘multiroom’ aspect of this particular system is represented by Bluesound’s Pulse Mini 2i wireless speaker. Like the PSB speakers, the Pulse Mini 2i is a rather utilitarian looker – but, like the PSB speakers, it has it where it counts. A total of four drivers (two tweeters, two mid/bass drivers) are angled out from the front of the enclosure to deliver a convincingly wide spread of sound, and they’re powered by a total of 100 watts of Class D amplification. It’s able to handle high-resolution audio formats like FLAC and MQA without alarms, and as well as operating via BluOS it’s packing aptX HD Bluetooth connectivity (in both directions – so it can be used with wireless headphones as well as its 3.5mm headphone output) as well as a combination digital optical/analogue 3.5mm input. There are touch-control on its top surface, and voice control is available via Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.
As a stand-alone, second-room option, the Pulse Mini 2i is hard to argue with. It’s not the most discreet wireless speaker you can buy, but the sound it serves up is considerably larger the enclosure it emanates from – Marvin Gaye’s Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) [Tamla] as an MQA file occupies an expansive, strictly defined soundstage. Detail levels are high, bass reach is considerable, midrange communication is torrential… the Pulse Mini 2i is way more capable than its configuration (if not its price) might suggest. It’s a poised and authoritative listen – and while some alternatives may have a little more rhythmic certainty to the sound, none can combine the Bluesound’s sheer scale of sound with its extensive functionality and specification.
There’s no arguing with the NAD/PSB combination where rhythm management is concerned, though. They prove to be a surefooted and sympathetic combination, as a pass through a 24bit file of Thee Oh Sees’ The Master’s Bedroom is Worth Spending a Night In [Castle Face] proves in short order. The PSBs have no problem integrating the frequency range smoothly through their multiple drivers, and they deliver every scrap of the considerable quantity of information the M10 provides them with. Other amp/speakers combinations are rather more willing to give the bug-eyed, grimy dynamism of this recording full expression – I get the strong impression the NAD considers this pin-headed garage-rock nonsense a little beneath it – but it’s arguable that no other similarly priced pairing exercises quite such control or exhibits such straight-edged low-frequency presence.
Precisely what is ‘the whole exercise’ then? There are many components in modern audio that go for an unbalanced form of dynamic expression. They are often very good – make that ‘excellent’ – at determining the intensity of the upper registers and the slam of the lower frequencies but are less direct in the all-important midrange. This isn’t a ‘scooped out’ sound per se, but it can sound forthright and forward in these regions; equipment often described as ‘detailed’ and especially ‘candid’. In some cases, that’s described as ‘zing’. It might be exciting and attention-grabbing, but it isn’t necessarily ‘honest’. The Kuzma PLATIS/Damper ‘whole exercise’ is to control that youthful exuberance and replace it with some more mature elegance and expression.
This brings a sense of order to the sound of a system. It doesn’t try to boost the mids, but instead tames the highs and lows to bring them into equilibrium. This makes for a sound that is more even-handed and capable of playing more and different kinds of music. Like many of the best things in life, it takes a little time to parse that more elegant presentation, especially if you are used to more ‘excited’ sounds. Pretty soon you’ll be finding that sound has become more refined and easy to listen to, and appreciate how dynamic range is often more about ‘shade’ and ‘texture’ rather than ‘sturm und drang’.
The caveat here is systems that are already well-crafted in this sense can sometimes sound a touch dynamically-restrained when the Kuzma equipment supports are brought into the mix. The ‘damped’ sound that is so beguiling can prove ‘over-damped’ in systems that don’t have that commonplace forward balance. Yes, there are also those who hear that forward and excitable sound and want more of it; the Kuzma platform concept is not for them. That being said, the Kuzma presentation is very similar to that of Townshend Audio’s equipment systems, with potentially even more control within the midband and upper registers. Many crave the performance that control brings to audio, so maybe the number of people who seek refinement overexcitability is greater than anticipated.
Finally, there’s an interesting hurdle that needs overcoming here. Because Kuzma has a track record for making turntables, it’s understandable that people associate this form of damping and vibration control with vinyl, or at most with vinyl and valves. However, when you hear either the feet or the PLATIS in place, you realise the same rules apply to everything in audio. If you have a good system and want to make it more elegant sounding, the Kuzma PLATIS and Dampers are a great place to start… regardless of whether or not you play LP.
Prices and Contact Details
PLATIS 54: £2,225
PLATIS 65: £2,675
Damping feet: £160 each, £430 for three, £550 for four
For all the thoroughness of the engineering that’s on display here, though, it’s on the inside that the RAI Solo are arguably at their most impressive. Meze Audio is vocal in its disdain for the common-or-garden electrodynamic driver with voice coil attached – it reckons this arrangement invariably results in unbalanced vibration. And, let’s be honest, it may well be on to something. So instead, Meze Audio takes a different approach: it uses an electrically conductive driver membrane which, consequently, has no wires attached. The idea is that this 9.2mm driver produces a symmetrical, unified pistonic motion which, in turn, promises extremely low total harmonic distortion.
Given that any worthwhile smartphone goes without a headphone socket (that’s the ‘mainstream’ for you), the Meze Audio RAI Solo are connected to a 128GB iPod Touch 7th Generation and a Naim Uniti Star (which for some inexplicable reason has a 3.5mm headphone socket rather than the altogether more serious 6.3mm alternative). Between them, they serve up audio from streaming services, from solid-state storage, from a Cambridge Audio Alva TT turntable and from a Cyrus CDt CD transport.
Every test has to start somewhere – and in an effort to leave all subsequent directions open, this test starts with a bog-standard Spotify-derived stream of The Fall’s Who Makes The Nazis? [Kamera]. It almost goes without saying that this recording is determinedly on the rough-and-ready side, but despite the gimpy rhythm and ruthlessly forward midrange, the RAI Solo have sufficient powers of resolution to bring a little order to bear. There’s a significant amount of background noise on this recording, but even when dealing with this 320kbps facsimile the Meze Audio are poised and detailed enough to make its origin apparent. Lesser in-ear monitors may just attempt to pass it off as tape hiss, but the RAI Solo make it apparent that rather than plugging directly into the desk, at least one of these musicians is playing into a mic’d amplifier – and an overdriven amplifier at that.
Elsewhere, midrange fidelity is sufficient to extract some perceptible meaning from the inimitable stream-of-consciousness ‘vocalising’ that was always Mark E Smith’s stock in trade. There’s even a degree of air around his voice, the suggestion of an area of security even as the ramshackle musical arrangement threatens to engulf him.
One grinding gear-change later and we’re listening to a 16bit/44.1kHz CD copy of Jackson Browne’s For a Dancer [Asylum]. There isn’t a pair of headphones in the world that wouldn’t be more at home with this material, and sure enough the relative lack of provocation gives the RAI Solo a chance to properly express themselves. Low frequencies prove deep (perhaps not the 18Hz deep Meze Audio is claiming, but deep nevertheless) and agile, with plenty of detail regarding texture revealed and nice straight edges leading into and out of individual notes. Integration with the rest of the frequency range is adept, yet bass information keeps a respectful distance from the midrange, which has plenty of room to stretch out as a result.
Browne doesn’t have the world’s strongest or most expressive voice, but there’s character in there and the RAI Solo do a fine job of revealing it. The finest details and subtle harmonic variations in pitch and timbre are all served up.
The top of the frequency range is given an even more thorough examination by a vinyl copy of Grouper’s AIA Alien Observer [Kranky]. This is a hazy, gauzy and altogether opiated album, but the Meze Audio freights treble sounds with ample substance and lets them glint through the drone. They stay properly defined around the edges, too, even when the overall sonic signature of the recording gets especially vague and amorphous. What attack is summoned through the course of the LP is given proper expression, and when it becomes stripped back to just multi-tracked harmony vocals (as it does on the almost-title track) there’s just enough bite to the upper register to offer proper drive.
In fact, the RAI Solo want for virtually nothing where drive and attack is concerned. An MQA file of The Comet Is Coming’s Summon the Fire [Impulse!] absolutely powers forward, grinding horns and squelching analogue synthesiser sounds to the fore. It’s a dynamic, wide-screen presentation with enough competing elements to pose a stern test – but the Meze Audio remain unarguably in charge. Their wide, deep soundstage is properly defined, and the dynamic peaks and troughs of the tune are tracked faithfully. No matter if it squeals from the back of the stage or honks from the front, the RAI Solo give it precisely the space and emphasis it requires.
Charleston’s specifications, though impressive in their own right, do not prepare you for the performance these speaker cables can muster. Naturally – given the dance-inspired name – they impart an excellent sense of rhythm to the sound, but the overarching impression is that of a detailed, precise and expressive performance, one that draws out the dynamic range in any system that would be commensurate with cables of the Charleston’s quality (and price point). The abiding sense of accuracy and balance to the sound is also evident from the first note played through the system.
There is a fine sense of precision to the overall performance of Charleston. Sounds are well presented in a three-dimensional space with excellent solidity. They rise out of a stillness that the Black Rhodium cable seems to impart over the sound. This contrasts well with some of the more overtly bright and forward sounding cables that can prove initially attractive, and yet, the cable is not so dark and brooding that it turns music into a dirge.
The overarching tales are ones of detail and rhythm, though. The depth and richness of the presentation is one thing, but it is underpinned by a solid core of detail and rhythm. As you delve deeper into the performance of Charleston (it’s complex enough to make that process like peeling an onion, revealing layer upon layer of extra information), you become made aware just how good the cable is at the everyday stuff of music, in most part because it deals with the harder stuff so well. It gives bass a freedom to play at powerful levels, yet is neither overblown nor too restrained. Similarly, the midrange is extremely clear and the treble clean, detailed and extended.
Oddly given the name, the rhythmic qualities of the cable are more ‘majestic’ and ‘precise’ than they are ‘danceable’. In other words, Charleston is exceptionally good at coping with the more complex rhythmic structures and difficult tempo of even the most ‘gnarly’ piece of music – the multiple time signatures of that most audiophile of jazz albums (Time Out by the Dave Brubeck Quartet on Coumbia) are given full attention here… making toe-tapping almost impossible given tracks in 9/8 and 5/4 time. A number of cables do not have the same ‘temporal clarity’ as Charleston and you can ‘stutter-tap’ your foot through the album. The fact it becomes more difficult here is a good thing… honest!
Returning to good, beaty 4/4 time and Black Rhodium’s Charleston aces it, and its deep bass detail helps define and underpin basslines and drumbeats. That’s when the dynamic range hits, too. In short, yes Charleston does live up to its dance-oriented name… but only when the music is inviting you to dance. In other words, this loudspeaker cable is one hell of a good communicator of detail!
In a very real way, the M6’s more room-chummy appeal is a recognition of how the audio world has changed recently. The age of the ‘man cave’ seems to be coming to an end, as the next generation of well-heeled audiophiles move inexorably eastwards. The space and aesthetic concerns of a market that supplied wealthy dentists in the mid-West of America are increasingly being challenged by the demands of merchant bankers and high-ranking executives in places like Singapore. Where the M6 scores highly is it works well in both settings, and those in between, without compromise or sacrifice. Sure, there will be those who think no loudspeaker is complete unless it looks like a late 19th Century wardrobe, and there will be those who think the M6 is too understated, but in the most part I think it’s got the balance just about right, for both existing and newly minted music lovers.
However, the advantage to taking a more modular approach to loudspeaker design at this level is a greater degree of installation flexibility. Loudspeakers that allow the installer to fine-tune the baffle alignment and then lock that alignment in place do afford the user a greater degree of control over the loudspeaker design’s interaction with the room. The counter to this is that it also allows a greater degree of messing that interaction up, and unless the installer is a 10th degree black belt in audio installation, that adjustable alignment has the potential for causing more harm than good. The M6, by way of contrast, still places demands on installation, but these are more universally-understood installation concerns such as placement of speaker and listening position, room treatment and eventual fine tuning of all three. That’s not to say the M6 should just be ‘plonked’ down in the room, but it does mean should your installer be more ‘piano mover’ than ‘audio ninja’ you can get still good performance.
We’ve concentrated on the enclosure because it’s such a major step-change for Magico, and Magico itself also focuses on the ‘box’ a lot in its literature, but let’s not forget the other key links in the chain. Magico’s own 2.8cm diamond-coated beryllium dome tweeter, partnered with a 15.2cm midrange cone and three 26.7cm bass cone (all using Magico’s latest XG Nanographine cone material) are fed using the company’s own ‘Elliptical Symmetry’ crossover. The move to XG Nanographine does for Magico’s drivers what the monocoque chassis does for the enclosure; less weight, more stiffness (the cone is 30% lighter and three-times stiffer than its predecessor). Meanwhile the crossover uses high-grade components throughout (you’d expect nothing less at this price, of course, but it’s perhaps reassuring to know there are Mundorf components in the crossover that cost as much as a pretty good watch in and of themselves). Finally, the three point base incorporates built-in MPOD constrained layer damping floor-coupling pods.
All of which makes the M6 ‘the friendly flagship’ loudspeaker. It’s a more sensitive and easier to drive loudspeaker than some of its peers, meaning that there is more flexibility in up-stream electronics. While not a true ‘platform agnostic’ loudspeaker (I imagine most M6 will be partnered with high-grade solid-state electronics), the design is far more comfortable with lower-powered valve amplification than previous designs from the Magico stable.
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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