Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment


Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Some rooms in my house are best suited to speakers that don’t take up much floor space—e.g., in-wall or on-wall speakers. But in-wall speakers require cutting holes in drywall and running cables through walls from amplifier to speakers. Unless you’re handy with home repair, this is tough to do. It’s why I’m a big fan of on-wall speakers, which are easily installed and removed, without requiring in-wall wiring. The problem with many on-wall speakers is that they’re afterthoughts—a way of filling out a manufacturer’s speaker line.

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

Rotel’s A11 Tribute integrated amplifier is a bit of an oddity. That’s not a value judgment, mind you—merely an observation. What makes it a bit weird is that while most integrated amps in its price class ($799, all prices USD) feature built-in digital-to-analog conversion, if not full-blown streaming ecosystems, the A11 Tribute sports nary a coaxial or optical input, nor a USB port of any sort, and there simply isn’t a way to connect it to the Internet. Technically, it features a Texas Instruments DAC chip, but its only digital input is a Bluetooth antenna (with support for AAC and aptX codecs). But that really only adds to the enigma.

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

Reviewers' ChoiceIf you’re a regular reader of the SoundStage! Network websites, you know that we, and especially our founder and publisher, Doug Schneider, are big fans of Purifi Audio’s Eigentakt amplifier technology. Those class-D amp modules provide high power with extremely low distortion and, most important, extremely neutral and musically satisfying sound—as I discovered in September 2020, when I reviewed NAD’s Masters M33 integrated amplifier-DAC, which is based on the Eigentakt amp. The subject of this review is NAD’s Masters M28 multichannel power amplifier ($4999, all prices USD), which boasts seven channels of Purifi Eigentakt technology.

Let’s go ahead and acknowledge the elephant in the room right from the giddy-up: convincing most people that Marantz’s PM-KI Ruby integrated amplifier ($3999, all prices USD) is an affordable audio component might be a tough sell, especially given the number of highly lauded integrated amps available today for $1000 or less. So why are we reviewing the PM-KI Ruby on SoundStage! Access, a site dedicated to “reasonably priced hi-fi & home-theater equipment”?

If you’ve never heard of Paul Hales and his Hales Design Group, you’re probably younger than 40, or weren’t into audio in the 1980s or ’90s. I was in my 20s in the ’90s, and in my budding-audiophile stage. I religiously read Stereophile and other audio magazines, and I lusted after the latest and greatest high-end speakers. Some of those speakers were made by Hales—I remember listening to their Revelation and Transcendence models at audio shows and local audio shops. At the time, their sound quality was some of the best available.

Reviewers' ChoiceFew audio companies have fanbases quite so vociferous as that of Franklin, TN-based Emotiva Audio Corporation. Whenever the company announces a new A/V preamp or high-current monoblock, the Internet chatter that follows resembles nothing so much as the impending birth of a royal spawn or the next big Marvel movie. And yet, for whatever reason, that fervor rarely extends to the company’s subwoofers, although I have a sneaking suspicion its new Airmotiv RS13 Reference subwoofer might represent something of a sea-change in that respect.

In the past, Audio-Technica has made some good low-end turntables, as well as some toward the upper end of entry level—such as the AT-LP7, which I reviewed in March 2020. Some recent additions nicely fill in the gaps in the line: the AT-LPW30TK ($249 USD) and the subject of this review, the AT-LPW40WN ($299). They differ from each other mainly in that the ’40 has a motor with a speed-stabilization circuit, a carbon-fiber tonearm (the ’30’s arm is aluminum), and a better cartridge—Audio-Technica’s AT-VM95E, with elliptical stylus (the ’30 has A-T’s VM95C, with conical stylus). There are cosmetic differences as well: the ’40’s plinth is covered in walnut veneer, and its tonearm and 33⅓/Stop/45 control are black; the ’30 is finished in teak veneer, with silver arm and knob.

My wife walked past the credenza in our bedroom the evening after I installed DALI’s Oberon 5.1-channel home-theater speaker package, ran her hand delicately across the Light Oak vinyl finish of the Vokal center speaker, and confidently proclaimed, “We’re keeping these.” Not a question. Not a request. A statement of fact.

I was introduced to Schiit Audio a few years ago, as I looked for a headphone amp to power my notoriously inefficient HiFiMan HE-500 ’phones. Again and again, one amp kept coming up as a price/performance champ: Schiit’s 1Wpc, class-A Asgard 2 ($249, discontinued, all prices USD). The price was right, so I took a chance. It paid off. Class-A amplification is kind of addictive.

Reviewers' ChoiceFew turntables come with names longer than Pro-Ject Audio Systems Debut Carbon Evo, but much information is encrypted in that long handle. Pro-Ject, of course, is the Austrian firm that makes turntables in its factory in the Czech Republic. Debut indicates that this model is a member of Pro-Ject’s wide entry-level line, Carbon that its tonearm is made of carbon fiber, and Evo that it’s the latest generation of the Carbon arm. Pro-Ject describes the turntable as embodying “the epitome of Pro-Ject’s philosophy: high performance, clean aesthetics, and superb value.” Strong claims -- but Pro-Ject has a long-established rep for making turntables that have all those qualities.