Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment


Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment


Reviewers' ChoiceAt one time—in the 1970s and into the 1980s—Dual automatic turntables were in probably half the entry-level stereo systems in the US. But when the CD came along, and turntables became yesterday’s story, Dual went through some very rough times.

The automatic turntable, absent from audio dealers’ offerings for years, is definitely making a comeback. The first unit I reviewed was the Andover Audio SpinDeck Max ($599, all prices USD). There are at least three more automatic turntables coming to me for review, and many more I haven’t reviewed or arranged to review. In this article, I’m looking at the Thorens TD 102 A ($1099), a fully automatic unit from the renowned Swiss/German company.

Note: for the full suite of measurements from the SoundStage! Audio-Electronics Lab, click this link.

There’s this pervasive notion in the world of hi-fi that if a box does more than one thing, it simply must perform worse at its multiple functions than separate boxes performing the same tasks. In other words, there are people who argue that a separate amplifier and preamp will by definition sound better than an integrated amplifier with identical specifications, and that an integrated amp and standalone DAC will certainly sound better than an integrated amp with a DAC built in. The argument, as I understand it, is effectively: “something’s gotta give somewhere.”

Note: for the full suite of measurements from the SoundStage! Audio-Electronics Lab, click this link.

Reviewers' ChoiceSomehow or another, I keep accidentally undermining my own arguments here on SoundStage! Access. First I questioned the need for standalone D-to-A converters in most modern audio systems. Then I found a standalone DAC compelling enough to add to my own reference system. Last month I took modern hi-fi manufacturers to task for not making affordable audio gear with anything resembling the sense of style or design found in vintage audio gear. Then—almost as if in response—Marantz dropped its new Model 40n integrated amp in my lap as if to say, “Hey, we’ve been rocking this high-style design for over a year now, since the launch of the Model 30.”

Back in 2008, I reviewed Rotel’s RCD-1072 CD player for GoodSound!, the predecessor to SoundStage! Access. At that time, I wrote: “Twenty-five years after the CD’s introduction and its promoters’ promise of ‘perfect sound forever,’ the little silver disc appears to be spinning out of our lives. CD sales are in a tailspin, superseded by downloads from websites such as iTunes and Rhapsody. Some people are as appalled by this situation as vinyl stalwarts were in 1983. I’m one of them.”

Reviewers' ChoiceBack in 2018, Sumiko expanded its well-known Oyster line of moving-magnet/fixed-coil phono cartridges with four new entrants. Three of these are the Rainier ($149, all prices in USD), the Olympia ($199), and the Moonstone ($299). The only difference between these models is the stylus, which is upgradeable. For example, you can upgrade a Rainier to a Moonstone just by substituting the stylus. The lineup also includes the related but only partially interchangeable Amethyst cartridge ($599). Very recently the company filled a gap in this lineup with the new Sumiko Oyster Wellfleet cartridge, which lists for $449. The extra $150 you’ll pay over the price of the Moonstone gets you an elliptical 0.3 mil × 0.7 mil stylus, nude-mounted on a 0.5mm aluminum pipe.

Many of the records in my collection date back to the pre-CD days—some back to the 1960s. Most of them have been played a lot over the years. And until 1972 or so, I regret to say, I didn’t have anything with which to clean them. So some are a bit grungy.

Note: for the full suite of measurements from the SoundStage! Audio-Electronics Lab, click this link.

Reviewers' ChoiceI don’t think I’ve ever prejudiced a review as much as this one. It started with an editorial in which I questioned the need for external digital-to-analog converters outside of specific use cases, such as adding digital connectivity to an all-analog setup, or adding support for formats not handled natively by the internal DAC of a beloved piece of gear. Brent Butterworth and I followed that up with a discussion on the SoundStage! Audiophile Podcast, in which we basically concluded that DACs have become a commodity, which is an increasingly common sentiment in the industry. But as I said in my unboxing blog post for iFi Audio’s Zen One Signature, if there’s one DAC that I think has the potential to address all of the relevant use-cases listed above while also being reasonably priced, it’s this one.

Personally, I’ve always liked automatic turntables. Automatic refers to the way they work with records. On most manual turntables, you have to pick up the arm and manually place it in the lead-in groove, hence the name. A semi-automatic will either stop rotating at the end of a side, or in some cases, stop rotating and lift the arm from the disc, but starting the record is still a manual operation.

Note: for the full suite of measurements from the SoundStage! Audio-Electronics Lab, click this link.

Reviewers' ChoiceI should probably state right from the giddy-up that there’s going to be a lot of overlap between my review of Rotel’s new A12MKII integrated amplifier-DAC ($1099.99, all prices USD) and that of the company’s A11 Tribute ($799.99) from around this time last year. There are, after all, a lot of similarities in terms of aesthetics, ergonomics, design, and of course sound. But don’t get lulled into a trance by the repetition; there are some significant differences between the A11 Tribute and A12MKII that may or may not be relevant given your needs, preferences, and the rest of your stereo setup.