Review: Ken Kessler

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jul 24, 2020  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingPrimaLuna's minimalist, valve-equipped EVO 100 DAC may seem a throwback to the time when digital only meant CD, but the sonic performance is truly 21st century

Two words spring to mind when examining PrimaLuna's EvoLution series EVO 100 DAC: 'old school'. Yes, a genre as seemingly new as digital has been around long enough to qualify for that mode of thinking. This unit is, I have been told emphatically, 'a DAC for purists', so £2888 gets you no wireless connections, no pandering to streaming, no headphone output, no level control. It is strictly a DAC in the original sense – a D/A converter-only and not one that doubles as a preamp or headphone amp.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jun 25, 2020  |  0 comments
hfncommendedIt's all there in the suffix 'Play', which transforms Quad's Vena II from a comprehensive all-in-one amp/DAC solution into something with wired and wireless future-proofing

Is Editor PM simply testing me, or coaxing me? I'm not merely uninterested in streaming, Wi-Fi, et al to the point of virulent loathing, I'm actually reverting to decades-old formats for daily listening: CDs, tapes and LPs. That said, I am not unaware of DTS Play-F, having used it for many months for the wireless speakers on my kitchen counter – though with no more concern than I show a spatula or potato peeler. Yet here I am faced with Quad's update to the Vena II, its entire raison d'être being the full-on wireless experience.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jun 05, 2020  |  0 comments
hfncommendedAn artisan brand with its own take on Hypex's tried-and-tested Class D amp module offers both tube and transistor variants to taste. Here's the low-down on the latter

Hybrid amps have always amused me. I still dream of Radford's TT100. This hi-fi equivalent of grafting two plant species hopes – ideally – to combine the best of a brace of disparate technologies. Too often, they marry the worst. Extraudio's X250T represents a first for me in that it promises to take efficient, compact Class D amplification and endow it with the sonic virtues of Class A, hence Class AD. Which made me think of playing with Krells way back in 1985.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  May 21, 2020  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingWhile we await the Relentless Preamp the 'HD' remains D'Agostino's top model, with its Bluetooth remote and raft of subtle enhancements culled from the MLife integrated

Ordinarily, I prefer to ignore the vexing topic of prices. My attitude is simple: if I can't afford something, I don't take it out on the world. I can't afford a Bugatti T57SC Atlantic, but I don't hate Ralph Lauren for owning one. So let's get two things out of the way, the first being that the D'Agostino Momentum HD Preamplifier costs £47,998, making it one of the most expensive control units on the planet.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  May 14, 2020  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingContinuing its modern take on traditional Japanese purist amplification, Luxman finally offers a MM/MC phono/line preamp partner for its ultra-retro MQ-300 valve amplifier

Just over three years ago I had my first taste of cost-no-object Luxman [HFN Nov '16] in an achingly long time. The company has had its ups-and-downs, but fortunately its new owners – IAG, home to Quad, Wharfedale, Audiolab and Castle Acoustics – realise what a plum brand Luxman is, so it was expected that the flagship MQ-300 power amplifier which so charmed me would be followed by a worthy preamp. Enter the alluring CL-1000, at £16,000 a grand more than the power amp and looking every penny of its price.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  May 12, 2020  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingWith input from the designer behind MoFi's cutting lathes, the UltraPhono (and StudioPhono) were conceived as high value partners for its affordable turntables

Are we in the midst of a Golden Age of Analogue? If you're returning to, or just discovering the vinyl LP, then yes, we are. Mobile Fidelity's UltraPhono is an example of what the industry can deliver when inspired, and clearly this is a response to the need for affordable phono stages to render suitable 30 years' worth of post-CD integrated amplifiers without phono stages. At £499, it's not for the impoverished analogue neophyte, but neither is it horrendously expensive by any measure.

Review and Lab: Keith Howard, Review: Ken Kessler  |  May 08, 2020  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingIf you have an expectation of Audeze circumaural headphones that they are large and heavy and not something you'd want to schlep around, the LCD-1 is a mould-breaker

When we reviewed the LCD-2 [HFN Mar '13], Audeze was in the vanguard of what was to become the rebirth of isodynamic driver technology, more commonly known today as 'planar magnetic'. To those of us who'd lived through the high-profile launch of the original PM headphone, the futuristic looking Wharfedale Isodynamic, 40 years earlier, it came as a surprise.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Apr 28, 2020  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingThe REF160M monoblocks were a radical change for the venerable Reference Series, and now they have been 'cut 'n pasted' into a single, spectacular stereo chassis

This should have been the simplest, swiftest review for me to undertake: I would simply drop the stereo version of the Audio Research Reference 160M [HFN Aug '18] into my system in place of the Reference 75SE. Double the number of KT150s and double the power, a price tag of two quid shy of twenty grand, fond memories of the monoblocks still tugging at me after 18 months: the Audio Research Reference 160S should have been a doddle, easy to anticipate. But it wasn't.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Mar 13, 2020  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingMobile Fidelity, champion of audiophile vinyl, has now wrapped up an EISA Award for its flagship UltraDeck – does the more affordable StudioDeck give much away?

It might seem that we played this one in reverse, reviewing Mobile Fidelity's dearer UltraDeck turntable first [HFN Jul '19], before working backward. A buzz in the underground, however, suggested that MoFi's less-costly, entry-level StudioDeck might be something of a 'sweet spot' candidate, so what could have been an anti-climax is anything but.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Mar 05, 2020  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingHigh-end headphone amps for connoisseurs of cans require total adjustability – has Manley Laboratories delivered the goods with the Absolute Headphone Amplifier?

Veteran makers of headphone amplifiers for studios, Manley Laboratories is taking on the extreme high-end of the domestic genre with a £4500 unit – the Absolute – that marries audiophiles' sonic requirements with the total control demanded of professionals. Company CEO Eveanna Manley says, bluntly, 'Our goal was simply to produce the most awesome-sounding and sonically flexible vacuum tube headphone amplifier!'.

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