- Avantgarde Uno Nano speakers
German ultra-high-efficiency speaker with full dynamic range. The active-design approach and ideal sensitivity maximize dynamic headroom in the most natural and logical way possible. The result is music is never lost in translation. It's the most incredible sound I've ever heard from a speaker. So alive and so clear! They make most other speakers sound like "cones-in-a-box" by comparison. Having the lowest possible distortion allows the personalities of each amp to shine through like no other speakers in my experience. Avantgarde manufactures everything either in-house or locally for their speakers. This has become a rare thing these days, but it's critical when making top-level equipment since it allows them to fully optimize every component, as well as the sum total. And not only that - they offer impeccable customer service too. Their entire business model achieves the goal of combining precision engineering with a wholistic understanding of gestalt and purpose. The end result is priceless.
Finally got a subwoofer. Ever since I'd left my little room at my old house, I'd noticed my bass wasn't as fleshed out or as deep since I now have insignificant room reinforcement. But the Nanos were good enough that I was able to overlook it until the right deal fell from the sky. And now it has. Bought a Velodyne Direct Digital 15" with a 1250W switching amplifier and man what a difference it has made! Everything is better, all the way up to the treble. It is a terrific addition. The Nanos have two "subwoofers" already but the speakers are designed to sound "of a piece" rather than "two horns with a sub." This is to preserve the speed needed to have a smooth midrange transition. So now the DD15 does the heavy lifting and its graphical interface for optimization of the sub is brilliant. My response is perfectly integrated, and it sounds like it.
- Tom Evans Audio Design Vibe preamplifier
TEAD's preamp, considered to be the world's best by a couple 6moons reviewers. All I can say is that after going through 16 preamps, the Vibe is the only solid-state piece I've fallen in love with. The TEAD Lithos regulators allow for huge bandwidth and huge dynamic range that yield equally superlative sound. It's an amazing design that only Tom Evans seems able to come up with in a simple and elegant way. Mega-detailed, mega-transparent, and mega-musical. It's so good that it sounds completely different with each amplifier I hook up to it. I've never had a preamp like this before.
- Tom Evans Audio Design Pulse power supply
Optional power supply for the TEAD Vibe preamp. One box houses Lithos regulators and capacitor banks while the other box houses a custom-made 70VA transformer that Tom and his team designed for this preamp. I've opened it up and was surprised to see so many parts in both boxes! Very very complex for what is badged as a "simple" power supply. It's no wonder it costs so much. I also think it looks much nicer than the new Pulse 2 supply.
- Kora Electronics Crescendo tube preamplifier
French-made, fully-balanced, single-gain-stage vacuum tube preamplifier. It was designed for use with Aries monoblocks, and what a wonderful combo they are, but this preamplifier is unbelievably good with all my amps, whether run balanced or single-ended (a rarity). The Vibe is killer solid state, but there is something very special about the sound of this preamp. It balances extreme clarity and resolution with a friendliness and sophistication that is unique in my experience. It's such a shame that so few people will ever get to know this design. This is the second one I've owned - I kicked myself for years for selling my first one, and I thank my lucky stars I found another! Current tubes: pair of 1957 Raytheon black plate 12BH7
- Kora Electronics Aries hybrid monoblocks
Totally unique French design using a 12BH7 to feed 2 HEXFETs in single-ended parallel. On paper, it looks like it'd never work, but in fact these little amps sound magical. What is special about these amps is their wonderful coherence and the accuracy of their timing. They have an ease about them and yet the treble information is all there. Jazz suits them perfectly. I call it "Kora Coherence" because all the Koras exhibit this trait no matter how different the design - and Kora has made quite a range of designs, unlike 95% of hifi companies. They were true hifi artisans and these little monoblocks make that imminently clear. Current tubes: 1960 GE gray plate 12BH7A.
After a bad experience with the MC452, I decided to give McIntosh one last chance. It is hard for me to get by without blue eyes after all these years, and I will forever remember the sound of my MC7200. I came to the conclusion that the phase irregularities of the 452 might be due to the fact the circuit is optimized for a power level above what my speakers require. After all, it's very hard to perfectly balance so many transistors, especially at low-power outputs.
It turns out that reducing the transistor count by 75% does the trick! The 152 is by far the finest solid-state amp I've had in my system. It's incredible. It's smooth and rich, yet fast and delicate. It's really rare to find an amp that can combine such clear resolution with enveloping musicality, but this one does it better than any I've experienced so far. The 7200 has been resurrected - and this time with autoformers! I'm in love with this little amp.
Italian single-ended pentode amp using EL34 tubes. I recently recapped the entire thing with upgraded capacitors, and optimized the operating point for even better performance. It basically runs as a "mostly-triode" amplifier with lower plate current. The sound has gotten even more musical, without hurting resolution whatsoever, and as a bonus my tubes will last much longer. Downside is that now it only makes about 4W (instead of 10), but my speakers don't care.
This amp loves to boogie! Tons of fun to listen to and get this - it has the most potent bass of any of my amps! It can shake the walls if the recording has enough extension. It often feels like my favorite amp since it is unfailingly musical with terrific detail and a deliciously smooth presentation. It's similar to the F138FFX but with an even bigger soundstage and more nuanced image separation. I want to point out too that it has foil-wound output transformers - the cheap transformers in the new versions of this amp don't even come close to this level of quality. Current tubes: Psvane 6CA7 TII, NOS Philips 6189W.
- Rogue Audio Model 88 amplifier
I recently stumbled upon this most incredible amplifier. It is actually a Tempest integrated but I'm running it in "preamp bypass" mode so it acts like a regular amplifier (Stereo 88 version 4) since the preamp is passive. It sounds phenomenal with my solid-state TEAD Vibe preamp (it doesn't really get along with the Crescendo for some reason).
It clearly sounds best in triode mode, 30 Wpc, and I'm currently using my preferred EH KT88 in it, and 8 Ohm taps. My comments relate only to this arrangement. The pentode mode lacks microdynamics, and the treble is crude in comparison. It's a completely different amp in triode.
Simply put, this is the only amp that truly rivals the 152. Resolution is as good, though restitution is not, but then dynamics are surprisingly similar, and it makes everything sound so alive! Not the finest in soundstaging, but everything else is superb. One of the cheapest amps I've ever owned, and yet in terms of "hifi," it's nearly the best. What a find!
PS, I tried a Rogue Stereo 90 just to see, and even after I had optimized the circuit and run in a new set of tubes, it just didn't have the magic of the 88. It runs the tubes too hard and everything falls on its face in the vain attempt of making it barely more powerful. The 88 is way better.
- McIntosh MC240 push-pull amp
The classic 1961 MC240 needs no introduction. After 50 years of use, it naturally needed a complete overhaul so I spent two solid weeks rebuilding it to perfection by replacing all the capacitors, diodes, rectifiers and bias resistors with proper parts, and tweaking all the voltages to exactly match specification. It is no surprise this amplifier is a legend when you hear it play music. It's warm and relaxed with tremendous inner detail. Full tube sound at its finest. Current tubes: quad of TAD 6L6GC-STR, pair of GE gray 12BH7s, pair of clear-top RCA 12AU7s, trio of Electro-Harmonix 12AX7s
This amp uses one EL84 per channel in pentode mode with tube rectification, pure Class A. I have optimized its design for my speakers to get unbelievable performance gains over the stock design. In this new configuration, it only puts out about 3W (instead of 6) but sounds like 500W - its bass can shake the walls! It sounds the way I'd hoped my McIntosh MC452 would have sounded.
I got a full suite of fancy Hashimoto magnetics because the heart of a tube amp is its transformers. It's so coherent, so rich, so detailed, so musical - it really has zero drawbacks now that I've modified it. Forget SET - SEP is where it's at. It doesn't quite have the resolution of the Tempest/88 or 152, but it has wonderful musicality similar to the S2 that's augmented by the clean treble extension the EL84 is famous for.
Currently using: 6P14P-EV, EH 12AX7, 1969 Mullard Blackburn GZ34 rectifier.
- Electrocompaniet AW60 FTT
Giving solid-state another try, this time a 60W amp from Norway. It is very revealing and exposes the different recording styles in a very clear way. The highs aren't quite as nuanced as my tube amps, but for solid-state, it has a very impressive soundstage and liquid midrange that isn't easy to find at any price. It's no wonder their flagship models are so revered - these designers really know what they are doing.
- McIntosh MCD301 sacd player
The CD player that has it all: body, dynamics, tone, subtlety, extension, potent bass, natural midrange and airy highs. It allows the performance of the music being played to come alive like no other sources I've heard, whether vinyl or CD based. It has psychedelic imaging and a walk-in soundstage that I still can't believe to this day. I recently A/B tested it against an Ayre C5xemp and it was no contest. I don't understand why the C5xe is so loved by reviewers because in my system it sounds constricted and small in comparison to my 301.
- Audioengine D2 wireless DAC
This is the way to stream music!! Great DAC, great signal strength, and way-better sound than the Airport Express. I cannot believe how good this thing sounds for only $600. There is nothing out there with this amount of simplicity and ease of use for the money. I feel this product is highly underrated based on its features/abilities and it's superlative sound. I feel lucky to have come across it!
- DIY tube amp for iPhone/Macbook using 6N6P
A lot of people feel the aural inadequacies of music files are because of inferior DACs. This, in fact, isn't the big problem. Even expensive DACs are actually cheap parts. The big problem is a weak power supply in the device that makes the sound anemic. Making high-current drive is big, bulky and expensive - 3 things that are not conducive to MP3 players. So I took advantage of knowing this to improve the sound of my Audioengine D2. I designed a tube output stage for it based on the rare (i.e., cheap) Russian 6N6P, as a cathode-follower buffer. This circuit makes it a transconductance amplifier which does nothing to the voltage (it's already sufficient) but boosts current drive a huge amount to correct this characteristic inadequacy. It took a good bit of tweaking to get the most of the design but the outcome is shocking. The amount of microdynamic detail and decay of the notes that was 'restored,' or whatever, is really amazing. Downloaded music files have gone from terrible to sublime. It's made a believer out of me and my friends (for whom I've had to build similar ones :).
- Piega P-4L mkII ribbon speakers
Fantastic Swiss speakers that have an aluminum cabinet. Effortless sound and shockingly powerful bass from such a small tower, which makes it perfect for TV room use. It's very hard to beat a ribbon tweeter when it comes to articulate highs. These little speakers revolutionized the TV watching experience. I've placed them near the back wall so the bass is just right - I've had people ask where the subwoofer is, but there isn't one!
- Emotiva Stealth DC-1 DAC preamp
Really slick design with analog input and fully-balanced circuitry to match the Cairn KO2. I use its built-in DAC for iTunes, Bluray, and DirectTV. Warm and inviting sound that is clear and composed. Hope to score a Cairn Nitro with DAC board eventually to replace it.
- Cairn KO2 Class A/AB solid-state amp
French-made fully-balanced solid-state amp that now drives the Piegas in the TV room. Super powerful, fantastic build quality, terrific soundstaging, a bargain on the used market, can be switched between Class A and AB (10W versus 100W), and has an "auto-on" feature that is super handy for the TV room.
- I.C.E. Model 473-3 AC line filter
CM and DM noise filter. None of the audiophile frills and hooplah - this is electrical engineering at its finest. It filters out a massive bandwidth and cannot restrict current flow. $4,000 performance for $80. Everyone should have one of these. I have one feeding each system.
- MIT Z-strip with circuit breakers
8 outlets with single-cap parallel filtering and circuit breaker protection. I really have this for the circuit breaker as the filtering is minimal compared to the ICE.
- van den Hul, Blue Circle, and MIT power cords
A variety, each with a job and purpose. I particularly love the BC power cords and want to get more of them.
- van den Hul and Cardas interconnects
AJ van den Hul and George Cardas are the cable wizards of the world, in my opinion. They truly understand what they are doing.
It's really hard to beat George's cables, but eventually I want to get van den Hul speaker cables - if I can ever figure out which one to get!
- DIY rubber eraser cable lifters
Found these very-soft erasers at a craft store for $2 each. One thing is for sure about their performance - I can't feel the vibration on the cables with my hand anymore!
- Dedicated power circuit with hospital outlets
it makes a difference...
- VTI BL503 and BL404 audio racks
My audio racks, super nice for the money. They are the best deal going, hands down. I got the silver poles, silver caps and black shelves. Price is for both racks.