What’s a reference?

It’s an excellent question, isn’t it? Glad you agree. So, lemme explain where I’m coming from. What I’m not saying about a reference is that this product is the be-all, end-all of its type or in its class. What I am saying is, rather, that a particular product is familiar and one that I can use as a reliable barometer to judge other products.

My targets for references tend to be high-performers, but I’m under no illusions that they couldn’t be bettered. In some cases, bettered significantly. Just wanted to put that out there.

Some of this stuff is very expensive. I get that. Some of it may be too expensive. I get that too. But this is the stuff I’m most familiar with because, well, this is also my stuff. Yes, I own it all. I think it’s important for a review to own his reference gear.

Note that this is different from my Most Wanted List. There’s stuff on both, to be sure, but if I had the dough, the lists would be closer to “unified”.



Amplifiers/Integrated amplifiers

  • BorderPatrol S10 EXS stereo amplifier ($20k+)
  • Luxman L-505u ($4,100)
  • Rogue Audio Cronus Magnum integrated ($2,195)
  • Vitus Audio RS-100 stereo amplifier


  • BorderPatrol Control Unit EXT-1 ($12,250)
  • Wyred4Sound STP SE preamplifier ($1,995)
  • TW-Acustic Raven phono pre-amp ($9,000)
  • Manley Labs Steelhead v2 RC ($8,000)
  • Rogue Audio Ares phono pre w/ Cinemag Blue step ups
  • Vitus Audio RD-100 DAC/pre




Rack, Isolation, Platforms, &c




  • Noble Audio Kaiser K-10 custom in-ear monitor


  • Abyss AB-1266: best bass from a headphone, ever.
  • Sennheiser HD-800: best detail retrieval of any high-end audio system, headphone or not.
  • MrSpeakers Alpha Dog: my default recommendation for reference-quality headphones, and one of the best values in audio’s high-end.
  • Focal Spirit Pro closed-back headphones: my new “affordable” reference headphone for real-world use and listening.


  • Astell & Kern AK240 digital audio player: expensive as all hell, but for “portable audio”, it does it all with no extra amp or DAC required.


  • Double Helix Cables Complement² headphone cables: takes my reference headphones to 11.