“What should I get?”
This is an odd question to ask, but it’s the one I hear most often. It’s odd because the single most important element in that equation has nothing to do with me — it’s all about you. This is the same thing that can cause 7 reviewers to completely disagree about “best in show”. Ultimately, it’s all relative to your tastes, experiences, expectations and whether or not you have brain damage, hearing loss or some corrosive malady dissolving your innards.
I mean, who really knows what’s going on with you. Not me!
So, anyway, I tend to answer the question by hemming and hawing about what I’d want to get, were it me. I figure it’s almost an answer and it’s possible that such an offering might be at least interesting, even if irrelevant.
So, in keeping with that notion of irrelevancy, since you didn’t ask, here’s what’s on my wishlist currently.
Joseph Audio Pearl 2 loudspeakers. These speakers are insanely good and I have yet to hear a pair of full range speakers that I’d rather own. Unfortunately, they’re hardly in my window of affordability, but trust me, the scheming is still steaming.
Right up there, for me, is a pair of Hørning Hybrid Eufrodite Ultimate Zigma Plus loudspeakers. This is another one of those “aspirational” speaker systems, but still, significantly less than the Pearls. With a crazy-high sensitivity, this Lowther-based speaker does some really tremendously awesome things. Like avoid “Lowther-shout” by crossing over to a tweeter. Like providing real bass by crossing over to an array of bass drivers. This is the best use of a full-range driver that I’ve ever seen — that is, not using as a full range driver where the frequency extremes fuck up the response of the driver. I’ve heard this speaker at 2 or 3 shows now, courtesy of US importer High Water Sound, and I’ve been enthralled every time. Liquid. Powerful. Mine? [sigh].
There’s two picks from the DeVore Fidelity monkey house that I’m particularly hot to own. First up is the outstanding (!!!) Orangutan o/96. I heard that at RMAF this past year and was totally sold. Half the price of the Hornings! If I ever buy another high-end high-sensitivity loudspeaker, this will probably be them. The other speaker I’ve lusted after for years is the Gibbon 3XL. Simply an outstanding monitor. I’m thinking nearfield. Maybe a replacement for my Totem Model 1 Signatures? Hmmm. I don’t really know how John DeVore keeps pulling such magic out of his … ah … hat … but I’m certainly a fan.
Speaking of monitor speakers, I had a chance to pick up a pair of Reference 3A MM De Capo IIs a couple of years ago and passed on them. I really ought to have pulled the trigger! Oh well. I remember loving the big, rich sound of these little speakers, but I’d had my heart set on some new Merlin speakers (which I bought, waited half a year for, got, and promptly sold). Ah, the poignancy of bitter regret. Not sure these would work in the near-field as desktop monitors (I remember them as being bigger than their current specs suggest), but I don’t care. They were delicious and easy to drive.
I’ve always admired dCS. But as far as personal lust goes, I’m all about the dCS Puccini CD/SACD and Puccini U-Clock. I think this is pretty much the ultimate in digital reproduction. Yes, dCS has two product lines above this two-box system, but having heard all four of their product lines with appropriately sorted associated gear, I have to say that while I’d love to have a Scarlatti system, I’m not sure I wouldn’t just rather have the money it’d cost in order to just spend on other shit. The Puccini system, IMO, sounds better than their entry level Debussy DAC (and that thing is awesome), and is so far up the curve of diminishing returns that I’m not convinced that spending more buys you anything real or tangible in terms of performance — just a lot of “maybe”.
My analog system is pretty much the total shit, so I have no interest here at all. My TW Acustic Raven AC-3 is the best there is (or close enough you’ll never be able to tell), and when paired with the matching TW Acustic tonearm, Ortofon Windfeld cartridge, and Thöress-made TW Acustic Raven phono preamp, the analog end of my system is pretty much untouchable. You might be able to do “different” but you won’t be able to do “better”.
Well, okay. There is one thing I’m curious about. That’s a big ol’ Dynavector XV-1t cartridge. That’d be freakin’ awesome. Or maybe one of the new Ortofon Anna cartridges. But then, I’d want a second tonearm, too. Maybe a Durand Telos to go along with that cartridge, then. I mean, while I’m daydreaming — why not?
I want a Luxman integrated. I just do! I was a huge fan of the Luxman L-590aII that I had in to test out with my Merlin VSM-MXR speakers, but the matchup just wasn’t magical. I’ve since come to realize that the amp was better than the speakers, but that was a bit late in the day to help me. Oh well. The Merlins are now sold and the Luxman has gone away. But I still have some seriously fond memories of it! Lucky me, I had an entry level L-505u in not too long ago for playing around with a pair of outstanding Joseph Audio Pulsars — and found myself falling in love with the Luxman “thing” all over again. So, if I could only buy only one [cough], it’d have to be the Luxman L-509u. In my opinionated experience, the Class A/B Lux is pretty much untouchable in the solid state category. And their top-of-the-line integrated amps have a build quality that is not only shocking, it’s totally heirloom. And that L-509u can drive any speaker. LOVE it. While I’m about it, the Luxman SQ-38u looks pretty sweet. Have I mentioned the that I have a thing about integrated amps? Anyway, this tubed amp with the retro look is particularly attractive to me, but while I’ve heard nothing but great things about this amp, sadly, I’ve yet to hear it live and in personable-like. Still, it’s on the list.
In case you missed it, I have a thing for integrated amps. I love the simplicity and elegance! But when it comes to tubes and amps, things get a little complicated. Single-ended topologies have an intrinsic appeal — they’re the classic when it comes to “tube sound”. The problem is, of course, mating them to speakers that can thrive on minimal power delivery. So, speakers aside, what do I want? Well, I’d be absolutely thrilled to have a Sophia Electric 91-05 integrated that sports their top-of-the-line Sophia Royal Princess 300B tubes. Luscious!
Speaking of integrated, tubes, and 300B tubes, I’ve always been curious about the Chinese-made Audio Space Reference 3.1 300B amplifier. I remember having a 3 hour long conversation with Albert von Schweikert (if you’ve ever talked with Albert, you’ll know that this is about average) about his speakers and suddenly veering off into this amazing amp he’d recently heard. He was absolutely over the moon about this amp and his passion was rather convincing — I’ve been curious about this amp ever since. And by curious, I mean, I want it badly.
I’m an acknowledged 6moons fan and a long time reader of the site. While Srajan seems to have given up his low-powered tube amp fetish for solid-state and more high-power designs, a couple of his earlier fascinations still make me very, very curious. One is the Yamamoto A-08s. A 45-based amp has some serious limitations when it comes to speaker matching (ideally, we’re talking >100dB of sensitivity), but it looks so nifty. I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing, much less hearing one, but whatever. Me want!
Here’s another 6moons-inspired want-more-than-is-reasonable: Almarro 318B integrated. This one uses the same tubes used in Russian fighter jets of yore — and are the same as those used to tremendous impact by Joule Electra in their OTLs. To this day, my time with my JE amps remains a high-water mark of audio ear candy and I still can’t get out of my head how ethereally awesome my sound quality was with those amps. Sadly, the fit and finish was not up to snuff for their price, and, well, OTLs generally suck wind in the bass, so keeping them was not possible. Oh, did I mention that they heated the entire basement by an extra 15 degrees? Those tubes run at something like 300 degrees! Each! Anyway, I’ve been wondering if it’d be easier with only 2 of them (instead of a bazillion). And maybe-perhaps adding a big ass transformer would give that tube some real bass — but still not blunt it’s awesome mid range and treble extension. Dunno. Want to know. Hook it up!
Another tube amp that I’ve heard — and loved — is the Thöress F2A11 Integrated. Again, this was a High Water Sound thing, and the combo with the Horning was dynamite. Nice retro look, too. I’ve got a soft spot for Thöress — he made my phono preamp and that thing is awesome. Yep, that’s me, fan boy.
There’s a couple more random amps that I’d like to pick up. No particular reason other than I think they’d make really nice additions to an amplifier stable. Yes, an amplifier stable. Is that weird? Hmm. Anyway, Triode Corp of Japan has a couple of amps that coud fall into that kind of scenario, including the Tri TRV-A300BSE, the Tri TRV-35SE and the Tri TRV-845SE. Now, I’ve heard that Tri amps are just Cayin amps, purchased almost like kits by Triode Corp and assembled in Japan, with some extra bits added in to make them more Japanese than Chinese — and justify the markup in price. Whatever. The amps are still inexpensive — and they’re well reviewed and look great to boot. What’s not to like? I’ve heard the TRV-A300 and the TRV-88SER — and based on those sessions, I have no problems recommending the line. To myself, even!
At RMAF in 2011, I got to hear the DeVore O/96 speakers driven by a different 845-based amp, this one the LM Audio 219IA. This Chinese-made amp is huge, retro, wildly configurable and most importantly, has dials. Oh, the amp + speakers sounded phenomenal, too — both made the list!
I have always wanted a pair of Manley Labs Snapper monoblocks. Personally, I think 100wpc of tube power is pretty much the ideal delivery for just about every speaker currently being made. When I’m feeling my high-sensitivity speaker urges, I start daydreaming about the trying out the Manley Neo-Classic SE/PP 300B monoblock amps and the Manley Neo-Classic 300B RC Preamplifier. And when I say, “try out”, I mean own. Unlike the Snappers, which I’ve heard and quite liked (rich and detailed), the Manley 300B stuff I have not. Now, some have turned their noses up at the aesthetic (I’ve heard it, you snobs!), but I admit freely and openly that I love it. It’s retro. Functional. Purposeful. Even a bit aggressive. Yeah, baby, bring it bring it bring it! Okay, whew. Anyway, the look is only part of it. Another factor is that they’re so proud and loud about the Made in the USA bit over there. In today’s hi-fi business climate, this is really unusual, and personally, I’m totally for locally made anything, so this mentality is something I can totally get behind. Lastly, I’m more than a little bit awed by Eveanna herself. Ever met her? If she’s at a show, you’ll notice. In fact, it’s impossible to miss her. I remember the first time I got a chance to ask her a question, she just focused on me like there was nothing else going on in the room. Zap! It was like a cone of silence descended out of the ceiling. She joked (she’s really funny), she laughed at my jokes (which shows her remarkable good taste), and she started peeling the onion about her designs, her process and thinking behind each piece — not that I had any clue as to what she was talking about. But still. She’s about as open and forthright as you can get, and spending time with her was a treat. And yeah, all of that goes in the hopper. Manley is a great brand — and I want me some amps and stuff.
Getting back to 6moons, Jeff Day has been writing very convincingly about Leben HiFi for some years now and I will admit that his unrelenting enthusiasm has rubbed off. I would really like to bring in a Leben CS-600 integrated and beat the living hell out of it. Err, I mean, listen to it really hard. Or something. It’s got tons of features and some great looks. Looks like the perfect desktop amp, to me.
Obviously, very little of this will ever happen. Unless I hit the Lottery. Well, you can’t win if you don’t play, am I right?
I can’t help think that there’s quite a few products that have slipped my mind. Hmm. Still, I fully expect that this list will change and evolve over time (duh), but for right now, if I had “free money” to throw around, there you go.