Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment


Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

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Reviewers' ChoiceI recently reviewed Paradigm’s Premier 100B minimonitor loudspeaker, and came away very impressed by it for its price of $798/pair USD -- though I thought the little speaker’s 5.5” midrange-woofer could have used some help with the lower octaves. What should happen next, before I’d even packed up the Premier 100Bs to send them back, but Doug Schneider asking me to review Paradigm’s Defiance V12 subwoofer ($649) -- a happy coincidence.

When I was a mere cub, I yearned for a mono “hi-fi” (on my budget, stereo was out of the question). I saved up my allowance and paper-route bucks, bought a 15W mono integrated amplifier and a basic FM tuner from RadioShack, and was given a 12” full-range speaker from a neighbor, a hi-fi fan. My final purchase was a Voice of Music (aka V-M) record changer. It came with a dopey ceramic cartridge that I, in all my teen wisdom, was determined to replace with a grown-up magnetic cartridge. At a local hi-fi emporium I found a used Empire 880P, which actually fit the arm’s headshell (though the vertical tracking angle must have been horrendous).

Reviewers' ChoiceSensaSound USA, which has been around for seven years or so, specializes in making THX-certified speakers and amplifiers. On their website, SensaSound says that their products, designed and engineered at their headquarters in Warren, New Jersey, and manufactured in China, are designed to provide best-in-class performance at affordable prices. Their two amplifier models are the five-channel TPO-5300 and the subject of this review, the seven-channel TPO-7300, each specified to deliver 200Wpc. I was surprised to learn that these amps are respectively priced at $3900 and $4900 USD -- not inexpensive, and well above the prices of entry-level multichannel amplifiers. In fact, those prices put the SensaSounds in the company of some excellent amplifiers from some long-established manufacturers, and makes their claim of best-in-class performance a bold statement.

Note: Measurements taken in the anechoic chamber at Canada's National Research Council can be found through this link.

Reviewers' ChoiceAmerican hi-fi brand KLH, best known for its electrostatic designs of the 1960s, was acquired in 2017 by longtime Klipsch executive David Kelley, who is now KLH’s president. Under Kelley’s brief stewardship, the company has set up shop in Noblesville, Indiana, just outside Indianapolis, and rolled out no fewer than 20 product models newly designed from scratch, ranging from a flagship electrostatic speaker to headphones, in-ear monitors, in-wall speakers -- even a tabletop digital radio that harks back to the original KLH Model Eight, of 1962. In an article about a promotional event for KLH’s new line of speakers that I attended last February, I wrote about those speakers and KLH’s rebirth. I’d come away impressed, but with questions. The new owners of many once-storied brands have hoped to exploit name recognition and an enduring legacy only for a quick buck. Is that the case here?

Reviewers' ChoiceThere was a time when rock recording engineers would bury the bass guitar in the sound of the bass drum. While bass was and is a musical necessity, it was then felt necessary only to feel the bass -- to tickle the sense of touch, not hearing, with the notion that there was a unified foundation to whatever was going on up front; you know, the stars of the show -- everything but the bass and drums. A rock recording without bass sounds thin, weightless, incomplete. Listen to any of the early White Stripes albums. Regardless of what you think of the band’s music and musicianship, these recordings lack depth and low-frequency resolution. Still, for the longest time, many sound engineers didn’t know how to properly mix the bass into the rest of a recording’s sound. It wasn’t until skilled musicians -- Paul McCartney, Jack Bruce, Bill Wyman, Jack Casady, James Jamerson, Stanley Clarke, Jaco Pastorius, and so on -- gave the bass a voice that producers and engineers were forced to give it its own space in the mix.

A subwoofer is a necessary part of any home-theater system -- when you’re watching a blockbuster movie, the impact a sub provides is undeniable. But if you were to ask anyone if they really like having a subwoofer in their home, I’d guess that most would say no. Who wants an extra box cluttering up the place? It takes up space, needs another power outlet and another interconnect, and can be difficult to set up.

Note: Measurements can be found through this link.

Reviewers' ChoiceParasound Products was founded in 1981, in San Francisco, by Richard Schram, whose mission was to provide value for the money to his customers. As Parasound defines it, value begins to decline when additional cost provides only marginal and diminishing returns, and increases when a product is reliably functional over decades. Parasound serves both the consumer and professional markets; their products have been used by multiple Oscar-winning sound designers, from such studios as Lucasfilm, Pixar, Sony Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Universal Pictures, and Warner Bros.

Reviewers' ChoiceOn March 1, 2016, I enthusiastically reviewed Onkyo’s A-9010 integrated amplifier-DAC, calling it “a screaming bargain.” My opinion of the A-9010 amplifier hadn’t changed since then, so I was very pleased when editor-in-chief Jeff Fritz suggested I review the A-9010’s successor, the A-9110, which costs precisely what the A-9010 cost three years ago: $349 USD.

Note: Measurements taken in the anechoic chamber at Canada's National Research Council can be found through this link.

Reviewers' ChoiceI recently reviewed Paradigm’s Monitor SE 3000F floorstanding loudspeaker, and though it had shortcomings, I was impressed by what its price of $698/pair (all prices USD) bought in terms of physical quantity of speaker and audible quality of sound. Now I’ve got my hands on Paradigm’s Premier 100B minimonitors, which are tiny in comparison but cost $100 more per pair. I expected less bass output from the Premier 100Bs, of course -- but other than that, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

When I think of Sonus Faber, I think first of their ultra-high-end speakers -- for example, the Aida, which retails for $130,000 USD per pair. However, their speaker line spans a huge range of prices, and is one of the most comprehensive I’ve seen. My second thought is usually of the exquisite Italian craftsmanship evident in every Sonus Faber speaker, and their extensive use of cabinets shaped like works of art.