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Recommended Audio Stuff


What's best of the best in 1997


(And is still great even in 2004)

AMPLIFIERS & PREAMPS
CD PLAYERS
ANALOG PLAYBACK SYSTEMS
LOUDSPEAKERS
CABLES, STANDS, & TWEAKS


AMPLIFIERS and PREAMPS


The Graaf 200 Watt OTL tube amplifier and GM 13.5b tube preamp

This tube gear from Modena, Italy is the stuff dreams are made of, like Ferraris and Maseratis, both of which also hail from this same Italian region. Like these auto exotics, all the Graaf gear is beautifully designed. More important, it is exquisite to listen to. The GM 200 watt OTL (output transformerless) amplifier is something very special in the audio universe. It has power, guts, and glory. Francis and Gordana even tried it on a pair of current famished Apogee Studio ribbons, and it worked wonderfully. There is a musical rightness to this amp that is very hard to explain. You simply have to listen to it. The GM200 will drive most anything on the planet, and it will drive you to ecstasy. If you can afford its $12,500 price tag (still way cheaper than a Ferrari, if you need a rationalization), then the GM 200 is a MUST HAVE. And its 40 or so tubes will make your room -- and your heart -- glow ever so nicely.

The $5,500, Graaf GM 13.5b tube preamp is a wonderful companion piece to the GM200. It has delicacy, air, and refinement. A winning combo all the way around.

U.S. importer, Sonic Signatures, San Rafael, CA Tel. 415-456-1632

Graaf GM 200 Stereo Amplifier Specifications

Type: Tube, Output Transformerless, Output Capacitorless

Power output, 200 watts + 200 watts
Output Impedance: 4 to 16 ohms
Input sensitivity, rated output: 850 mV
Input Impedance: 100 Kohms
Total Harmonic Distortion: <1%
I.M. Distortion: 1%
Signal/Noise Ration: 87dB, unweighted
Frequency response: 7 Hz to 350 kHz (-3dB)
Slew Rate: 123 V/u sec
Rise Time: 0.8 u sec.
Damping Factor: 12
Negative Feedback: 17.5 dB
Power Requirements: At rest, 800 W; at rated output, 1,600 W
Dimensions: 17.5" (w) x 8.2" (h) x 16.3" (d)
Weight: 66 pounds
Price: $12,500

Graaf 13.5b Preamplifier Specifications

Type: Tube, Line Level
Gain: 13.5 dB
Input Impedance: 47 Kohms
Maximum Output Voltage: 20 V RMS
Output impedance: 600 ohms
Total Harmonic Distortion: < 0.6%
Signal/Noise Ration: 100 dB A
Frequency Response: 7 Hz to 450 kHz (-3dB)
Slew Rate: 32 V/u sec.
Power Requirements: 35 W
Dimensions 16" (w) x 4" (h) x 12.6" D
Weight: 16.5 pounds
Price: $5,500


Sunfire Cinema Grand, Five channel amplifier

Forget about using this powerhouse as a five channel surround amp (although you certainly can, if you want to). This unique design of Bob Carver allows you to easily vertically biamp your speakers, with 200 watts (at 8 ohms) going to the bass, and 200 watts going to the treble/mid. In other words, you now have 400 watts being pumped into each speaker. Best yet, the center channel's 200 watts don't go to waste as the amp's unique tracking downconverter and common power supply will dynamically allocate all that unused juice to whatever part of your speaker(s) need it. This beast has brawn, as each channel can deliver, on a time limited basis, 800 watts per channel into two ohms. Thus, the Cinema Grand puts out anywhere from 1,000 to 4,000 watts! Even more unbelievably, this seemingly bottomless well of power is wrapped up in a cool running, fan-less package weighing a scant 45 pounds. The Cinema Grand offers great refinement and delicacy, in addition to iron fisted control. If you are a ribbon panel owner, especially, you will be amazed at its iron grip. Francis and Gordana could bring their large Analysis Omega ribbon speakers all the way down to 20 cycles without the big bass panels taking wing. In sum, the Cinema Grand provides a huge soundstage, thunderous bass, glorious tonal color, and effortless musical precision, all in one relatively lightweight box. Before you spring for an expensive backbreaking Krell, you must check out this $2,375 audio miracle.

Sunfire Cinema Grand Specifications:

Manufacturer: Sunfire Corporation
Snohomish, WA Tel 206 335 4748, fax 206 335 4748

Number of speaker output channels: Five

Power Output:
200 watts continuous, per channel, all five channels driven into eight ohms from 20Hz to 20kHz, with no more than 0.5% T.H.D.

Power at clipping, minimum:
400 watts per channel into four ohms
800 watts per channel into two ohms-time limited basis

Hum and Noise:
-100dB, A-Weighted

Absolute Maximum Output Current:
80 amperes peak to peak per channel

Absolute Maximum Output Voltage:
43 volts RMS

Output Impedance, Front Left and Front Right Channels:
Voltage Source: Approximately zero
Current Source: Approximately one ohm

Impedance Normal Input:
24,000 ohms

Input Sensitivity for Rated Output:
1.3 volts RMS

Balanced:
15,000 each leg balanced to ground

Dimensions:
19 inches wide
6.5 inches high
15.75 inches deep (including connections)

Weight:
45 pounds

Finish:
Brushed aluminum and black anodize

Price: $2,375.00


AudioSource AMP Two

What we have here is one of those bargain wunderkind that happen to come along from time to time in high end audio This diminutive, 80 watt per channel device is a basic amp. But, it also has twin line level controls. If your CD player or other content source can deliver the .8V input voltage required to drive the AMP Two to its full rated power, then you can do without a budget eating preamp. This $299 unit will give amp/preamp combos costing several times that a run for the money. Its bass output is prodigious; a real surprise, in fact. Yes, it does have a touch of transitory sound, especially on female vocals. But what the heck, we are not talking about a $10,000 SE tube unit, are we? The AMP Two also has great flexibility, with a 1/4" stereo headphone jack on its front, a pair of wide eyed glowing power meters, and switches for running one or two pairs of speakers. There is also a switch that lets you internally bridge it, making it a 200 watt monoblock. Most important, the AMP Two is surprisingly musical, which is what gave it such a special place in Francis and Gordana's hearts. The AMP Two is the little amp that could.

AMP Two Specifications

Manufacturer: AudioSource (tel 415-348-8114)

Amplifier Power Output: 80 Watts per channel, both channels driven
(200 watts Mono; bridged mode)

Total Harmonic Distortion: 0.04%
Intermodulation Distortion: 0.04%
Frequency Response: 20Hz to 20K Hz, plus/minus 0.5dB
Signal to Noise Ratio: 110 dB
Input sensitivity: 0.8 V (line)
Input Impedance 30K ohms (line)
Headroom: 2 dB
Dimensions: 16 1/2"W x 2 3/8"H x 11 5/8"D
Weight: 14 lbs., 5 oz.
Price: $299.00

 


ANALOG PLAYBACK SYSTEMS


Wilson Benesch System

If you still don't believe that analog LPs are audibly superior to CDs, then you haven't listened to the Wilson Benesch turntable and Act One/Two tonearm. Moreover, when the complete WB system includes the TT, Carbon One cartridge, Act Two arm, and Stage One phono preamp, vinyl playback is raised to yet another level of high performance. All using carbon fiber materials in one way or another, the Wilson Benesch system defines state of the art in analog reproduction. A complete Wilson Benesch system will set you back around $10,000 or so, but then again, this kind of stunning sonic performance never comes cheap. LPs are remarkably silent on this system, almost as quiet as a CD in many cases. And out of the black background silence will emerge music as it should be heard, in all its "live" glory. One of Francis and Gordana's favorite past times is playing LPs for non-audiophile people, most all of whom have come to buy into the "CD, Perfect Sound Forever" hype. It's always amazing to watch their jaws drop when the black disc starts going round and round on the Wilson Benesch. The Wilson Benesch is also remarkably simple to set up. (Note for analog purists: The WB tone arm does not have a VTA adjustment that will prompt you to jump up and down every time you play a different cut). Wilson Benesch has also just come out with a `budget" turntable system, The Circle. With the also just released WB ACT 0.5 tone arm, the Circle will set you back $3,000. Although Francis and Gordana haven't auditioned the Circle yet, if past WB performance is any guide, it should be an outstanding product..

U.S. Importer: Pro Audio, Barrington, IL Tel. 847 526 1660, Fax 847 526 1669


LOUDSPEAKERS

Impulse Ta'us

The Impulse Ta'us horn-loaded loudspeaker is a 48" high floor standing marvel. Designed to go up against the wall, it is a godsend for people who live in apartments and don't have the space to place a speaker 3 feet out into a room. The beautiful looking Ta'us breaks every misconception you may have about horns. Many a time, Francis and Gordana would play the speaker for knowledgeable audiophiles, only to watch the look of surprise on their faces when the grille was removed, revealing the mid-range horn mouth. They never guessed it was a horn speaker! So much for all those horn coloration horror stories. Like all well designed horns, the Ta'us offers up a sense of musical immediacy that is hard to find in almost any other design. Moreover, its horn loaded bass (which vents out the speaker's bottom) is powerful and solid, down to about 40 Hz or so. At 94dB, they are easily driven by low power tube amps. (But the 200 watt Graaf GM 200 tube amp is a match made in heaven with the Ta'us.) Powerful, authoritative, tremendously musical, and emotionally involving, the Impulse Ta'us ranks among the world's best. Just recently, the manufacturer, Impulse UK, went into the kit supplying business for its offshore distributors. This approach saves money for everyone, and gives the country distributor much better margins. So if you want to go into the high end audio importing and distribution business, here is your chance. The Ta'us is easily a $6,000 retail speaker in the U.S. market.

Impulse Loudspeakers, United Kingdom

Contact: Mahesh Patel 1 81 76 97 629


Analysis Omega All Ribbon Panel Speakers

The Greek-made (!) Analysis Omega speakers are full range (20Hz to 20Khz) all-ribbon panels. They are, if you will, "Apogee Divas" in the sense that they are big (72" high, 24" wide), and powerful. Francis and Gordana seem to have one of the few sets of Omegas in the U.S. The extremely well made Omegas use two external passive cross-over boxes, with both crossovers and speakers sporting separate pairs of tweeter/mid, and bass connections. These handsome, six foot tall, all ribbon planars uniquely combine the delicacy of an electrostatic with the piston punch of conventional domes. No matter how loud you drive them, they won't break up. Remarkably, as the volume is increased, the sound doesn't change its tonal character. For a full range ribbon, the Analysis Omega's are quite easy to drive, as they have an 87dB efficiency. However, using the very powerful Sunfire Cinema Grand amp in its vertical bi-amp mode with the Omegas is a staggering combination. By Francis 's and Gordana's reckoning, these speakers stand among the world's very best reproducers, bar none. Many golden-eared audiophile have listened to these speakers in Francis and Gordana's home, and have come to the same conclusion. The Omega is the top of the Analysis speaker line, and would probably retail for about $10,000 if imported into the U.S., which they really should be by some enterprising distributor (anyone listening?).

Contact Stefan Venetos in the United Kingdom for more information: 1 752-822-560


Eminent Technology LFT-11 PC Multimedia Speaker System

The LFT-11 PC multimedia speaker system is the best there is in this product genre. Like most other high quality multimedia systems, the $899 LFT-11 is a three piece affair, with two small shielded satellites that go next to the PC, and a floor standing box that does all the woofing. But unlike every other multimedia speaker on the planet, the LFT-11 satellites are super thin, specially shielded, push-pull, magnetic planars! (LFT="linear field transducer.) You can place these 9.5" tall, 6.25" wide, by just 3/4" thick panels right next to your computer monitor, and not have it go into Technicolor spasms.. The entire LFT-11 system, including the passive woofer box with its two 6.5" Audax conventional voice coil speakers (crossed over at 200Hz), is claimed to have a frequency response that stretches from 35Hz to 20Khz, +/- 4dB. Usually, the LFT-11 is shipped with a Radio Shack-sourced Optimus STA-300, a 15 watt/Ch. integrated amp. But do it right, and spring instead for the $299 AudioSource AMP Two amplifier (deleting the Rat Shack amp also reduces the LFT-11 system price to $750). When used with a good outboard CD/CD ROM player, or the one in your PC (outboard players are always better sounding, though, as they don't live in that electrical hell known as a PC), this system will give your Quake playing state of the art sound effects. The only drawback is that when driven WAY LOUD, the diaphragms in the little panels will harmlessly slap about. Regardless, the LFT-11, under most all conditions, can't be beat. Transparent, focused, highly detailed, and eminently musical, it can also serve as a super little system for casual listening in your dorm, den, or bedroom.

Manufacturer: Eminent Technology is located in Tallahassee, FL Tel. 904-575-5655.


CABLES, STANDS, AND TWEAKS

Cables & Wires

For speaker cables and component interconnects, Francis and Gordana have happily settled down on one outfit's make: Nordost. The company's "Red Dawn" wires, until we upgraded to their top of the line "SPM" series, were our reference. These .999999 OFC silver-plated speaker wires ($699.99, per 2.0 M pair) and OFC extruded silver interconnects ($399.99, per 1.0 M pair) are silvery flat ribbons. Easy to handle (plus easily hidden under carpets), and as clear and clean in appearance as in their sound, the Red Dawn cables are a price/performance steal when compared to the other wiry exotica out there. Top octave to bottom, these flat cables are excellent. The Nordost wires blew away the water-hose-thick cables we had been using. Perhaps our biggest surprise came with the speakers' improved bass response. The same lowly thing also happened when the Red Dawn wires were connected to our Hsu subwoofer. All kinds of sub-51 Hz information suddenly appeared, courtesy of Nordost. Even more unexpected was the sudden change in Gordana's tune from "Cables, schmables--they don't make any difference," to "These are never going out the door." Chalk up one more for tweako husbands. The top of the line Nordost SPM cables, are even more smooth, detailed, and musically open. But either way, you wont go wrong with these wires.
But for the very best, go for the balls to the wall Valhalla's!

Manufacturer: Nordost is in Ashland, MA, Tel. 508 881-1116


Power Cords

Who would have thunk it. Francis and Gordana certainly didn't. Power cords making a difference, that is, and in particular, the Aurora cords from Wireworld. When these big, heavy set power cords were plugged into the Graaf GM 200 watt tube amp, Mama Mia! An annoying squealer was unceremoniously rubbed out. Not only did the GM200's overall noise floor drop precipitously, but the soundstage opened up even more, the bass became stronger and tauter, and so on right down the audiophile check list. The Aurora also scored great sonic results with the Meridian 508.20. At a mere $230 for a three meter run (smaller lengths at lower cost are also available), the Aurora power cord is a must have system addition.

Manufacturer: Wireworld is in Fort Lauderdale, FL Tel. 954-962-2650


Equipment Stands

Francis and Gordana have gone through their share of equipment stands, but one is "standout." It is the I Beam rack from Billy Bags Design. Looking far better in real life than its pictures, this very handsome rack comes in a variety of configurations, including an extended version for holding a TV. This incredibly rigid design reaps huge sonic benefits. When the Wilson Benesch turntable system, which is already very quiet, was placed on the top shelf of the I Beam, the noise floor dropped even more. If you need a rack, this is probably the one to get. A five shelf configuration will set you back about $950.

Manufacturer: Billy Bags Design is in Ventura, CA Tel. 805 644 2185


Tweaks

What can Francis and Gordana say? Anything. that carbon-meister D.J. Casser makes, they are sure to love. And so will you. His Black Diamond Racing company should be renamed Black Magic Audio. All of his stuff, from the $500+ equipment Shelf to the $60 for a set of three Cones, to his itty bitty shelf cum cone contraptions called Those Things will work incredible sonic and musical wonders on your system. Bass, detail, transparency, soundstage, you name it, they all get better with these remarkable products. In fact, if you want the ultimate equipment rack, use The Shelf instead of the standard glass shelf that comes with Billy Bags I Beam stand. Five Black Diamond Shelves, an assortment of Those Things, plus the I Beam, will set you back about $3,500 or so. Big bucks, but if you want the ultimate rack rig, then look no further. Even if you don't use an I Beam, these DJ doodads will still make a huge difference in what you are hearing. A must have.

Manufacturer: Black Diamond Racing is in Milwaukee, WI, Tel. 414 747 8733, Fax 414 747 8743

21st, The VXM Network, http://www.vxm.com

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