Review: Ken Kessler

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Oct 09, 2019  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingLess of a 'Special Edition' than a cosmetic refresh, six years of continuous production has still brought changes to bear in ARC's flagship digital offering. We investigate...

At this stage in the decline of Compact Disc's popularity, is there still a demand for CD players like the Audio Research REF CD9 SE at a heady £14,500? Apparently so, as the original REF CD9 [HFN May '13] remains popular enough to warrant an update. The addition of the esteemed 'SE' suffix on this occasion, however, does not signal as radical a change as seen, for example, in the move from the REF 75 power amp to the REF 75SE. But what Audio Research has done makes it just different enough to warrant the new badge.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Oct 04, 2019  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingTraditional 'resistor ladder' DACs are rarely seen these days but California-based MSB has made the technology its own and elevated performance to an entirely new level

Despite persistent rumours of the standalone DAC's demise, the industry continues to provide us with converters with capabilities far in excess of any digital sources commonly available. MSB's DACs fall into this category, and given the sheer brilliance of the Premier we're reviewing here, it's hard to fathom that this isn't even the top rung of the MSB family, coming in below the flagship Select and the Reference, and above the Discrete. That said, the bare-bones version is £19,500. Ulp.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Keith Howard  |  Sep 25, 2019  |  0 comments
hfnoutstanding35 years on from Sonus faber's birth, a blessed return to the values on which it was founded: the Electa Amator III

Two blasts from the past in one month, both small two-way monitors, both with a massive presence in my hi-fi history, but so dissimilar that loving both seems like a case of schizophrenia. As with the LS3/5a, I have been a devotee of Sonus faber for over 30 years, though of late the passion has cooled. But something tells me that the company has again found its mojo, and the Electa Amator III is its herald.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Keith Howard  |  Sep 12, 2019  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingLike buses, you wait and wait for genuine LS3/5as and then two come along – now Rogers is back with a re-engineered version of the milestone, to our reviewer's delight

Throughout my hi-fi career, I have manifested three fixations: valves, Decca cartridges and BBC LS3/5as, all of which faced sell-by dates 40 years ago. My pessimism was unfounded. Valves have never been stronger, and London maintained the Deccas. But LS3/5as? Aside from occasional facsimiles using non-KEF drivers, the LS3/5a was history. Yet now we have two new proper LS3/5as, a rebirth I never anticipated.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Sep 04, 2019  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingMobile Fidelity, champion of audiophile vinyl, has succumbed to the lure of producing its own turntables, like record labels of the past: enter the MoFi UltraDeck

Back in the early days of audio, numerous record labels had electronics divisions, or vice versa. You would see the logos of EMI, Philips, RCA, Decca, JVC and others on both LPs sleeves and hardware. The logic was that they originated the material and could also control the entire chain, from artist to listener. So, who better to introduce its own turntables than Mobile Fidelity, for decades the most prolific source of audiophile LPs? Now you can spin its platters on, well, its platters.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Aug 20, 2019  |  0 comments
hfncommendedGorgeous looks, superlative build quality, and hailing from Serbia, the Nirvana is a headphone amplifier that oozes luxury. We find out if the sonics match the styling

Having followed Auris Audio from show to show since its 2013 founding, I leapt at the chance to review its stylish Nirvana two-chassis headphone amplifier. I'm no longer shocked by the cost of high-end headphone amps, especially not at a time when £3000 headphones are common, so its £4900 price tag earned a mere 'Meh' from me. After all, I'd be putting it through its paces with, among others, the Audeze LCD-4Z, which sells for £3600.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Aug 13, 2019  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingTechDAS' Air Force III gets the Premium treatment, with upgrades throughout the design, a heavier platter and revised 'Air Condenser' – does it punch above its weight?

Positioned in the 'lower half' of the burgeoning TechDAS catalogue, the original Air Force III [HFN Sep '16] delivered more compact dimensions, the capability to handle up to four tonearms and a substantial saving over the One [HFN Jun '13] and Two [HFN Apr '15] turntables. Even with its new, performance-gap-closing fitments in Premium guise, the price is two quid shy of £29,000 – roughly a tenth the estimated cost of the forthcoming Air Force Zero flagship and £17,000 less than the Two Premium. A bargain, then?

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jul 24, 2019  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingFollowing a flow of revolutionary, hugely desirable but astronomically-priced 'optical' cartridges, DS Audio introduces the DS-E1 – could 'E' stand for 'Everyman'?

This is the second review this month that's been tough for me to write if, in this instance, for entirely positive reasons. You see, the DS Audio DS-E1 is actually too good, and the asking price of £2295 is the reason. I do not want to inflict any hardship upon DS Audio, which offers three models above this, but, like an entry-level Rolex, Leica CL camera or Porsche Cayman, it begs the question: why pay more?

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jul 16, 2019  |  0 comments
hfnedchoiceAffordable German turntables are looking set to repeat their dominance of the market they owned 50 years ago. Can Dual's top-of-the-range CS 600 raise the stakes?

A tough review for me to write, at least objectively: I'm rooting for the CS 600 to be something special because my first turntable was a Dual and I recall it with fondness. I want the CS 600 to be a champ like the all-conquering '505 was back in the days of the NAD 3020-based systems. But this new deck costs £1199 in black, or another £200 in gloss black or white (as reviewed), and the competition for turntables with tonearms is fierce around this price point.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jun 12, 2019  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingA modern integrated amp with the valve du jour, Copland's CTA408 leaves nothing out and delivers the lot – could this be the biggest bargain in high-end audio?

Of late, I have been banging on, to the dismay of many, about how high-end audio has priced itself beyond any regard for reality. That said, context is everything. So, if I tell you a burger can cost £18 in a London restaurant and that Copland's CTA408 integrated tube amp is actually a bit of a bargain at £6398, please accept that I'm painfully aware the latter sum is a fortune to many, but the former is highway robbery. Eighteen quid for a burger!

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