Review: Ken Kessler

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Sep 20, 2021  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingHot on the heels of VAC's flagship separates stack on our March '21 cover comes the more affordable derivative, the integrated VAC Sigma 170i – is it a true Mini-Me?

If I wasn't averse to tattoos, I'd have one that says, 'Always Read The Owner's Manual First'. I spent so much time trying to illuminate the VAC Sigma 170i's iQ warning lights that I was wondering if the review sample was a dud. Doh: in this application, the £10,000 single-chassis alternative to the Signature stack [HFN Mar '21], they don't light up at switch-on. Here they only work when something is amiss. Blast it! I never did see them in action.

Review: Ken Kessler, Review and Lab: Paul Miller  |  Sep 13, 2021  |  0 comments
hfncommendedInfineon Technologies' Class D solutions have been seen before in audiophile amps, but this is the first to feature gallium nitride FETs. The 'tubes', however, are pure decoration!

Unlike its meaning as a show of arrogance, in a design context a 'conceit' is, variously, 'an ingenious or fanciful comparison or metaphor', 'an artistic effect or device', or 'a fanciful notion'. AGD's £18,000-per-pair Gran Vivace is all three. To understand the utterly bizarre use of a valve's glass envelope as a housing for a solid-state amplifier, think of a similar conceit in another field: smart watches which, instead of emulating Apple's genre-defining rectangle, look like analogue timepieces.

Review: Ken Kessler, Review and Lab: Paul Miller  |  Aug 05, 2021  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingAn homage to the legendary TD 124 that reigned supreme from 1957-67, this latter-day derivative looks the part but trades an idler-drive for a custom direct-drive motor

As occasionally backward-looking as hi-fi is – if no worse than cars, fashion or watches – one needs to raise the dead with care. McIntosh, for example, has dazzled enthusiasts with its continuing evolution of the revered MC275 power amp [HFN Nov '93 & Feb '13], updating it through six generations without losing the spirit of the original. JBL, Klipsch, Tannoy – all revisited past successes with panache. Thorens, then, had a raised bar to address because, among historic turntables, Technics recently revived the SP10 as the SL-1000R [HFN Jun '18] to universal acclaim. This begged a question: how should Thorens update the adored TD 124?

Review: Ken Kessler, Review and Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jul 09, 2021  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingAfter nearly a decade in production, KEF's iconic LS50 compact monitor has been comprehensively updated. We compare the original with the latest 'Meta' variant

Hardly a curse, but it's still a massive challenge for any manufacturer to improve on a smash hit. I don't care if you're talking about cars, cameras or cookers – whatever the classic, the follow-up is metaphorically referred to as 'that difficult second album'. KEF faced this with the LS50 which (terrifyingly) will be ten years old in 2022. In the interim, there have been active and wireless versions of the speaker, but the passive original [HFN Jul '12] is a much-loved default purchase in the under-£1000 sector. The new LS50 with the Meta suffix (£999) is KEF's The Godfather Part II. Yes, it's really that good.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jul 06, 2021  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingThe most popular range of MMs on the planet – Ortofon's 2M series – has just got a new chief. All hail the Black LVB 250, anointed by none other than Beethoven himself

One body and 'motor', but different styli or cantilevers: I'm not sure which of the latter two choices is more important if a manufacturer wants to create a range from a primary design with an upgrade path. Ortofon has no such doubts and is taking no chances with the 2M Black LVB 250. While it looks like the circa-£95 2M Red I have been using for years as my reference entry-level MM cartridge, save for the colour, this new flagship for the 2M moving-magnet family comes in at a heady £829. That, however, accounts for the top-of-the-range 2M magnet and coils, new suspension and cantilever.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jun 24, 2021  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingJoining the M3scd CD player/DAC and M3si amplifier, the new M3x Vinyl represents the brand's 'entry-level' MM/MC phono preamp. We lift the lid on a novel design

Scratching my head, I remain amazed at the plethora of affordable phono stages now on offer, as if to prophesy that the LP's return has no end in sight. Either that or it's sheer opportunism, but hey, that's all good news for hi-fi users. What these phono preamps do is ensure that LPs are accessible to a wider audience than high-end devices serve, while filling the gap between the costly stuff and those £99 USB-equipped decks which probably chew up more LPs than they actually play. Musical Fidelity's M3x Vinyl, however, begs a different sort of question.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jun 21, 2021  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingSingular driving force behind the revival of the strain gauge generator system first seen in phono pick-ups from the '60-70s, Soundsmith's latest offering is nothing if not flexible

Hardly scientific, I know, but I am predisposed toward components that cause binge-listening. Not knowing what to expect of the Soundsmith Strain Gauge cartridge and the accompanying SG-230 preamp/energiser at a pound shy of £16,000, I will declare my surprise upon discovering that it was so engaging, I listened to 14 LPs in a row in their entirety. I repeat: fourteen.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jun 08, 2021  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingOne time staple of BBC monitoring, and with feet in both professional and consumer camps, this large standmount has been resurrected and refreshed by a master of the art

One cannot but think of the notion that 'Once is chance, twice is coincidence, third time is a pattern'. Following the revived 1970s JBLs and Rogers' return to LS3/5A manufacture [HFN Jul '19], the arrival of a dead-accurate, reborn BBC LS5/9 as part of Rogers' 'Classic' range is further proof that a trend is under way. All those Instagram images of systems made up of 50-year-old components tell us the past is back with a vengeance.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  May 17, 2021  |  0 comments
hfncommendedStalwart of Germany's single-ended tube scene, Octave Audio also produces hybrid and push-pull amplifiers, including the 'Class A' V70 integrated featured here

Which are you? The minimalist who wants an integrated valve amp bearing only clearly-labelled inputs, source selector, volume control and speaker terminals? Or do you prefer a 'fully loaded' device with total flexibility? The former is intuitive, and any experienced hi-fi user thinks of such units as virtually 'plug 'n' play'. Germany's 30-year-veteran brand Octave Audio has, in its V70 Class A, an amp that sits between both camps and yet I was compelled to digest its 36-page manual.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  May 13, 2021  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingAVID's trio of MCs are distinguished, principally, by choice of cantilever. The mid-range model uses boron in place of ruby, saving a whopping £2000. Is this the sweet-spot?

Here we go again: a moving-coil cartridge that costs more than I paid for a near-mint, limited-edition Series 2 Mazda MX-5. With the rare hardtop. That said, I am sure AVID priced the Boron at £4000 for good reason, but let's skip over the entirely moot concept of 'value for money' and deal, instead, with sound quality. So the AVID Boron is the middle model in a three-cartridge lineup, and thus sells for a substantial £2000 less than the flagship Reference Ruby [HFN Nov '20].

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