As high-end audio shifts its focus to products costing four, five, or even six figures, we forget how great a simple, affordable system can sound. A basic integrated amplifier or stereo receiver hooked up to a good pair of bookshelf speakers can deliver realistic and satisfying reproduction of music, which is most -- perhaps even all -- of what most people want from an audio system. People who are just now getting into traditional stereo audio because of their interest in vinyl understand this, and it’s for them that NAD has produced the C 316BEE V2 ($399 USD), an integrated amp designed to deliver all the power and options a basic stereo system needs.
Sumiko, a longtime importer and distributor of high-quality audio equipment, is now owned by the McIntosh Group, formerly the Fine Sounds Group and owner of McIntosh Laboratory, Audio Research, Sonus Faber, Pryma, and Wadia. For years, Sumiko’s Oyster and Pearl moving-magnet and Blue Point moving-coil cartridges have been considered great values by many reviewers and audiophiles. Recently, they added three new low-priced MM models to their Oyster line, to fill the price gap between the Pearl (MM, $119 USD) and the Blue Point No.2 (MC, $449). The new models are the Rainier ($149), the Olympia ($199), and the Moonstone ($299), and Sumiko recently gave me the opportunity to check out all three. This review is of the least expensive, the Rainier.
I don’t believe that Definitive Technology gets the audiophile street cred that it deserves. In some respects, they were one of the first companies whose reputation was predicated on designing speakers that allowed folks living on real-world budgets to get a taste of genuine hi-fi sound. Short of iconic designs like the Mythos ST and Mythos STS, Definitive was always more concerned about the sound of their creations than about their looks. Their best-known speakers, their bipolar tower models, were clad not in veneered cabinets but in simple black fabric socks that made them look like obelisks. They were distinctive, if not exactly stylish. The fact that they can be purchased from Best Buy and Crutchfield lends the brand more of a consumer feel, rather than the holier-than-thou audiophile patina. Just because you can buy a speaker online rather than through a bricks-and-mortar dealer doesn’t mean it can’t sound great.
Elac Adante SUB3070 subwoofer measurements can be found by clicking this link.
For the past couple of years, the Andrew Jones-designed speakers from Elac have ranked among the most discussed products in audio -- as were the Pioneer speakers designed by Jones in the years before that. What haven’t been talked about as much are the subwoofers Jones has come up with -- from the low-budget favorite, Pioneer’s SW-8MK2, to the technically advanced Elac Debut S12EQ. Elac’s new Adante SUB3070 may be the subwoofer that at long last draws attention to Jones’s work in the bottom two octaves of the audioband.
In my 20-plus years of reviewing audio equipment, I think I’ve auditioned more models from NAD than any other two brands combined. Amplifiers, tuners, CD players, receivers, and soon a turntable -- I’ve covered the waterfront with the Canada-based brand. And I’m glad. Most often, I’ve found NAD gear to be honestly designed with excellent sound quality, a lack of flash or trash “features” that do nothing to enhance one’s listening, and build quality that’s up there with some of the best budget-priced gear. I believe that NAD prices their products to be affordable for any audiophile.
SVS has firmly established itself as an online retailer of loudspeakers, first with its highly acclaimed subwoofers, and then through its Ultra and Prime speaker lines. The Ultra line comprises its higher-end speakers, the Prime line its more budget-friendly models. I first became acquainted with SVS through my review of the Prime Tower speaker, which I thought punched well above its price.
One of the traditional problems in standard loudspeaker design has been the placement of a speaker’s different drivers at different points on the speaker’s baffle. A solution is to superimpose a tweeter on a midrange cone -- basically, the tweeter is nested within the cone -- to create a single point source for the wavefronts of the soundwaves produced by both drivers. This sort of arrangement is called coincident because the two drivers that comprise it share the same axis. Coincident drivers have been around for 60 years -- Cabasse made them for movie theaters in the 1950s -- and have mainly been used in recording-studio monitor and car speakers. In 1991, speaker maker KEF adapted the concept to create the first truly hi-fi coincident driver intended for use in home audio, calling it the Uni-Q. KEF’s Q150 bookshelf model is the eighth and latest evolution of the Uni-Q.
MartinLogan is best known for its electrostatic tower speakers, which range from the ElectroMotion ESL ($2500 USD/pair) up to their flagship model, the Neolith ($80,000/pair). While I’m a longtime fan of their electrostatic designs, the MartinLogan models I’m more likely to recommend to friends are found in its budget-leaning Motion Series, which includes a trio of floorstanders: the 60XT ($3000/pair), the 40 ($1999/pair), and the 20 ($1599/pair). Philip Beaudette reviewed the Motion 40 for SoundStage! Hi-Fi in October 2012. Here I listen to ML’s entry-level floorstander, the Motion 20.
Norway’s Hegel Music Systems makes CD players, DACs, and amplifiers -- integrated, pre-, and power -- and since its founding has focused on solving the problems that plague contemporary amplifiers, such as harmonic distortion. In fact, harmonic distortion so intrigued founder Bent Holter that, in the late 1980s, he wrote his thesis on the subject. Among the technologies to come from this research has been Hegel’s patented SoundEngine circuitry -- now reincarnated as SoundEngine2 -- which seeks to retain the original detail and dynamic range of the signal with error-correction technology. The various stages of an amplifier -- input, gain, output -- are usually connected in series. The trouble with this is that any distortion produced in one of these stages is then sent on to the next stage to be amplified, along with the signal. At the end of this series, this cumulative distortion is then, hopefully, minimized by a global feedback loop.
I’ve become well acquainted with Monitor Audio in the past few years, having visited their offices in Rayleigh, just east of London in the UK, in 2014. I reviewed their Bronze 6 loudspeaker in 2016, and recently I used as my reference loudspeaker the flagship model of their previous generation of Silver models, the Silver 10 floorstander. I respect Monitor’s no-nonsense approach to loudspeaker design: not much pomp and circumstance, just sound engineering and modestly attractive looks.