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Mercer’s Winning Combo: Astell & Kern, ALO and Audeze

mercer-audeze-alo-ak By Michael Mercer Armed with Astell&Kern's AK100 Hi Rez player, an ALO Audio International headphone amp and a pair of Audeze LCD3's.... I never thought portable could sound this good.  Nor did I ever imagine I would have the majority of attendees at a high-end audio store, packed with middle-aged dudes connected through their love of the recorded arts (and members of the Los Angeles and Orange County Audio Society) saying the portable system in my hands was "as good" as some of their “home systems"; which cost in upwards of a hundred grand! It blew my mind.  I think it blew everyones' minds.  What was at the heart of the wonder?  The truth is, who cares what I think.  This is all subjective, and I'm sure there were attendees that would've hated the portable system - but they didn't show up!  I may not know the key to this systems magic, but I do know one thing based on my personal experience: After living with all the components for months, I can say it's the closest I've come to carrying a portable high-end stereo system with me: To the beach, golf club, on a boat, doctors offices, where ever!

The point is: I got head-bobs everywhere I went from those who gave this system a listen.  Here’s my dear friend Russ Stratton (a live sound engineer) who came up with a great line  quickly describing his experience: He said it scored very high on the “goosebump factor” while listening to Beck’s Sea Change in 24-bit/192k resolution (purchased from HDTracks) in the palm of his hand.  OK, so it’s still essentially a small pancake of Hi-fi gear rubber-banded together at the end of the day.  However, this pancake doesn’t look like a rubber-banded brick of eighties mini-cassette recorders like some high end portable headphones rigs do!

The Player

Astell & Kern AK100 MQS (Mastering Quality Sound) Portable System: $699.00

The Astell&Kern AK100 is a slick music player that supports all sorts of file types: FLAC, WAV, AIFF, etc.  It also supports data rates up to 192k/24-bit!  Since 24-bit is a standard in mastering houses across the globe, Astell & Kern set up the AK100 so that any high-resolution file you drag into the player gets placed into their “Mastering Quality Sound” folder.  Finally, a small, sleek portable solution for high rez files!  With a small brushed black aluminum housing (no sharp edges – a solid choice from the Apple playbook of industrial design) and sensitive touch-screen interface, operation is not just a pleasure, it’s a welcome one!  The whole tactile experience with the AK100 is both engaging in execution and first-class in presentation.  It just feels great in your hand.  Now, I was not a fan of the outty volume control initially; placed on the side of the chassis.  I thought it would snag on pockets and such.  So far I haven’t had any problems with it, but I’m often using the AK100 with The International so it’s not an issue.  Its far more stylish than an iPod Classic (still the choice of many Head-Fi devotees, including myself – as it’s still produced with a Wolfson DAC).  Once you get used to the touch screen navigation of the AK100 however, it’s a rough transition back to the scrolling dials of the iPod.  They’ve built a player that feels like quality in your hand and performs like quality to your ears.  I bought my review sample immediately.  And no: There were no big discounts this time, but it was worth it.

Firstly, for Mac users things couldn’t get simpler, just drag-n-drop your music files.  I didn’t use mine with a Windows-based machine, but I know Astell&Kern provide software that acts as an import/export suite so you’ll be well taken care of.  The player organizes your music into folders after you’re done transferring files.  You can search by artist, album, and you can also build your own playlists.  The AK100 also comes with an optical output, in case you need to use it as a player and DAC.  It’s pretty self-explanatory and you can get the specs off their website: http://www.astellnkern.com/.  This has become my favorite portable player of late.

The Amplifier

ALO Audio’s The International: $599.00

The International by ALO Audio is a true “giant-killer”.  Unfortunately that phrase is getting played out faster than “dubstep” but it applies perfectly here.  The amp is diminutive in physical size compared to the dynamic punch of its sonics.  The amplifier is also slightly thicker than an iPod Classic but shorter.  Can you imagine an amplifier this small driving a pair of Audeze LCD3 magnetic planar headphones?  If you don’t already know about the LCD3: They’re open-back headphones, and their magnetically-charged drivers are circular and large, making the LCD3 bigger than your average headphones.  Now, they’re my favorite headphones on the planet, hands down, but you do look a bit like Mighty Mouse when you wear them.  As I’ve said before: Is it really such a bad thing, looking like Mighty Mouse? I don’t think so.  Anyway, ALO’s International drives the 45 Ohm LCD3’s with ease.  As a matter of fact, I’ve never had to turn The International amp up all the way in order to drive the LCD3 to levels I’m uncomfortable with.  The most important attribute of this sonic pairing doesn’t lie in power ratings or specifications.  It’s about how their sonic signatures compliment each other: Reproducing a great overall experience.  I’m happy to report the match is the perfect pairing, which means, almost by default, that The International will be great for easy-to-drive headphones as well as IEMs.  To be sure of that however, I took a listen with my modestly-priced Sennheiser HD 25-1 II’s (a Head-Fi staple and favorite, mine too) and my JH Audio JH-13 Freqphase IEMs (not so moderately priced, but the only choice for me) and I found out I could use The International an all-purpose portable headphone amp.  That’s very cool.  It becomes a pain in the ass, having to remember which amps can drive certain headphones and not others.  I’m psyched to see more amps coming that are designed to drive a variety of headphones.  I think that’s becoming a key element, as many personal audio devotees have vastly different tastes, like in any other hobby.

The International drives a variety of cans very well and has a decent running time too: 14-16 hours (8-10 if using the internal DAC).  It’s the musical swiss army knife of portable headphone amps.  It’s also packed with a 96k/24-bit USB DAC for PC’s, so when you connect to a computer you get the warmth and dynamics of the amplifier, and the clarity of the DAC as well.  There’s a toggle on the rear allowing you to switch between DAC/amp and just amp.  It’s also very sturdily built.  The first time I had it in my hands I looked down and noticed how beefy it was.  Then I noticed the tiny toggle switches (high/low gain, DAC+headphone amp/headphone amp) and thought “these are gonna get wasted.”  Well, I’m psyched to report I’ve been proven wrong.  Many months and lots of miles traversed, all functions are working like brand new.  I’d love to be able to describe the sonic signature of this headphone amplifier for you, but to be brutally honest, I haven’t detected anything that warrants my commentary on the signature of the amplifier itself, because I’ve listened to it with so many different pairs of headphones and sources.  So far I haven’t heard anything greatly exaggerated (or sucked-out) from one album to another, frequency-wise, to the point where I started saying to myself “ah ha, this is the magic frequency-range of this amplifier” or anything like that.  I guess I could say this: I believe The International is accurate enough where I would feel perfectly comfortable buying this for an artist friend of mine who needs a tight traveling system for monitoring their mixes on the road.  No problem.  I know, you should take that with a grain of salt.  However, I played my own record through it and the amp was spot on in its representation of the three tracks on my first EP.  That’s typically my ultimate sonic test: Throw my own record at the amp and see how she does.

The Headphones

Audeze LCD3: $1,945.00

Audeze’s LCD3 magnetic planar headphones changed everything for me regarding what I thought the possibilities were for personal audio!  They have been critically acclaimed by all the major high-end bibles (including The Absolute Sound) and have been my reference for two years.  Now, digging deeply into personal audio culture over the last four years I can say this: For me, at the end of the day, nothing can beat an incredible sound system in a room, a hall, an outdoor festival, or the dance club.  There’s just something about the sensation of the sound waves washing over my body that I just can’t get with headphones no matter how loudly I play them and blow my ear drums to pieces.  However, considering the level of performance I get from the Audeze LCD3; their insane resolution, dynamics, SPL levels, believability, and overall musical presentation, well: You’d have to spend, in my opinion, at least five to ten grand on loudspeakers to get the same overall sense of realism you get from the Audeze’s.  It’s like putting a small pair of Maggies on my head!  As Grammy-Award winning producer/engineer Frank Filipetti said of his LCD3’s, “to call these the best headphones on the planet would be doing a disservice to Audeze, because these are not headphones at all. They’re head-speakers”!  My official review to come soon here at Part-Time Audiophile.

So imagine walking around with these killer cans, a player capable of reading files with data-rates up to 192k/24-bit, that’s fun to use and a kick-ass headphone amplifier that fits in the palm of your hand.  Sounds pretty cool doesn’t it.  Technology is insane.  Sometimes when I’m using this system I think about my old Sony Sports Discman (the ugly yellow one with the neon water-proofing) and how cutting edge that felt back in 1989!  Can you believe it?  We had to carry around those awful silver discs and we equated that with convenience.  It also makes you realize the things we take for granted today.

Given the overall musical performance of this little system I’d say it’s nothing short of spectacular.  The air around strings and other instruments is sublime.  The soundstaging is so unbelievable you have to hear it to believe it, and it also squeezes every drop of emotion out of the recordings for you to interpret.  That’s what’s most important to me – whether or not I can relate to the emotive power of the music through a system.  This one has actually brought me to tears on three occasions.  That says more than any fruitless words of mine could express.  If you’re looking for a portable, high res solution I can think of none at the moment that I would choose over this stack.  It delivers the sonic goods in spades, and keeps me listening until the power lights fade (which is hours of listening).  Sounds like a winning combination to me!

The latest from Part-Time Audiophile

41 Comments on Mercer’s Winning Combo: Astell & Kern, ALO and Audeze

  1. Great review, and thread! thanks!! I’m just getting into this space, after years without any audiophile gear. This seems like a great place to start.

  2. I too have an AK100 mk2 paired with an ALO International. Connected via a Green Line mini>mini. Outstanding in my mind ( uh…ears?) so far. My question, what volume control mix are you using with this combo? Do u max out the volume on the AK then use the ALO? Or do you max out the ALO and control output with the AK? Maybe a mixture of the two? Simply trying to get the best quality sound output possible. I really love ths combo with my Senn HD650’s w/ moon audio SD v3 cable, Shure se425 w/ moon audio SD v1 IEM balance connection cable and even a pair of Bose qc20i noise canceling phones (mostly used while flying). Planning on getting some JH phones in the near future! Really looking forward to a reply to this post. Thanks!

    • jk:

      I guess better late than never!
      If you get this response:

      Crank the gain on your AK player – and use the ALO to control your volume. Mine doesn’t distort when pegged all the way to 75 (its max setting) but if you happen to experience any distortion – back the gain back on the AK to about 65 and then continue to use the ALO for your system volume!

  3. Hey Stamp: Yes that was an ALO mini-to-mini adapter I used in this configuration!

    Dave:
    Congratulations on your portable rig!! Sounds like it’s a winner for sure!
    I only have a stock AK100, not a modded 100, though I’ve heard great things about the modded version. I use either Moon Audio Silver Dragon or ALO Green Line cables (both w/ interchangeable tips) for my portable rigs!!

  4. Hi Michael
    Thanks so much for this article. I’ve recently purchased a similar sort of setup with the AK100+ALO International+LCD2s and I’m seriously enjoying my music more than ever before.
    I, too, was wondering what sort of cables do you use for your portable setup? Also, I noticed that you recommended the JH13pro as a good pairing with the AK100. I was wondering if you meant the stock AK100 or the modded AK100? Do you believe there is a difference in sound quality between the two when using the JH13pros? I’m very keen on getting a pair of JH13pros to go with my stock AK100 but I’m a bit hesitant because of much talk about impedance issues. Unfortunately, here in Australia, I don’t have a chance to audition before buying, so I would really appreciate your opinion on this.
    Many thanks!

    • hey Dave!!
      SO sorry for the damn delay in responding!
      I don’t get pinged when somebody responds (I should sign-in with Disqus).

      Anyway:
      I use ALO Green Line cables in my portable rig, with some Moon
      Audio (Moon-Audio, not Sim Audio Moon) LOD cables and adapters!

      The Green takes a beating and sounds clear and coherent.

      I still love my JH-13 Freqphase w/ my stock AK100 (and have an AK120
      now as well) without issue. But, if I needed it, I’d get the modded 100.
      In also love the Cardas EM5813 Ear Speakers IEMs! Not customs like the JH-!3’s, but they’re only $400 bucks and have more air than any other IEM I’ve heard.

      Good luck!!

  5. Edward Lang // July 21, 2013 at 1:27 AM //

    Hi Michael, I’m in the process of ordering the LCD3’s, International & AK120, would you mind letting me know what Cables etc I need to get this all strung together ??

    I had been sitting on the sidelines with the LCD3’s, trying to work out how to make them more Mobile, until I read your review of the Mobile set up, looking forward to getting it all working and seeing how well it all works.

  6. My wife put the LCD-2s on, after inspecting them and giving me the look, you know the look…like hey buddy you’re an idiot, these look expensive. She listened to some Zeppelin at 16 bit, then Jackson Brown from HDtracks at high res, and then popped a can off the side of her ear and said, “how much did you pay for these?” And the look again. I told her the truth totally preparing for grief (cringe)…Then she went back to listening. I asked for them back a few mins later, but she was not giving them up. She said, “well you better buck up and get me a pair of these, cause these are amazing. I’ve heard this album more times than I can count and it sounds like its a totally new experience.” CONVERT! That’s priceless my man, absolutely priceless. And up until now she thought I was nuts buying this stuff. Ha-HA. It’s game on now. License to buy more gear, and grief mitigated. How cool is that!?

  7. Michael,

    I have now passed away some blissful hours of listening on the AK100 and ALO international combo using my trusty ety ER4s, and you are so right. It’s good. It’s really good. There’s magic in these little aluminum boxes. So, now the LCD-2s are on the way. I wanted the LCD-3 but opted to save some coin and put it towards a balanced cable to get the most out of the International. I didn’t think I could ever afford this kind of sound. Thank you for the review.

  8. Justin Bowles // June 27, 2013 at 8:45 PM //

    I also talked to Josh at ALO and guess what I have on the way? An AK100 and International combo. I did some searching after I got off the phone with Josh and found this essay and man am I pumped now! I am just getting into this whole head-fi thing and simply asked for the best setup I could get, and this was the recommendation. I have custom IEMs, but I think some LCD2’s are in my (near) future. Oooooooo weeeee am I going to be a happy camper this weekend. I have the SXC 18 mini to mini to round it out. I think my tube system in my home will be collecting some dust for a few weeks 😉

  9. Raymond // June 5, 2013 at 2:47 AM //

    Hi Mike, I am beginning to think reading your article is seriously detrimental to my disposable income :). Thoroughly enjoyed your article, but I must ask you this, ie, does it mean you think the AK100 by itself is well probably not as good as driving big cans like LCD3s? Do you still use, or prefer to use this combo to drive your JH13? Also does the AK100 have fixed output setting? If not, how do you set volume on the AK100, considering it is driving the ALO as well, ie, variable output? Lots of questions I know, but thanks.

    • hey Raymond!
      NO worries.
      One: You can drive the Audeze LCD3’s with the new AK120, and the AK100, but they really come alive dynamically when you paid this amazing player with an amp.
      Two: When driving the ALO International with the AK100, crank the gain! Surprisingly, unlike many portable players, it will not distort (or should not, mine does not).

      How are you liking the portable rig altogether??

  10. Bernhard // June 1, 2013 at 8:39 AM //

    Hi Michael,

    Great article, just what I needed.

    I have recently purchased the AK100 and I currently use it with my Shure SE535 (Happy days!). Having now experienced the difference in sound quality compared to an Ipod, I am ready to take the next step an upgrade my “phones”. The AK100/LCD3 combo is great without a doubt but I am looking for mobility, therefore I am considering the JH13, and was wondering if you can give some feedback on the following:

    1. Are the JH13 a big step-up from the Shure SE535 in terms of sound quality, sound stage and instrument separation or would it be a difference of 10-15% like between the LCD2/LCD3 (sorry if the question sounds silly)?

    2. Do they sound good right out of the AK100 or do they need an amp like the ALO international?

    Your advice would be much appreciated.

    Thank you and greetings from germany,

    Bernhard

    • hey Bernard!
      SO sorry for the delay!
      THE JH Audio JH-13 Pros are driven nicely by the AK100!
      However, the cool thing here is, if you need more gain – then you can expand on that.
      But I would start with the JH-13 Pro Freqphase and AK100 FIRST, to see if that gives you enough. Lemme know!! Thanks for your support!

  11. Michael Faoro:

    I’m psyched you’re going with the International! Using the Meridian Explorer as a DAC ahead of that unit will be a killer combo (it’s also got its own USB DAC thankfully). IF you can, see about trying the HRT microStreamer – I use that combo frequently and it never ceases to amaze me!!

    • Got the International this morning but havent had a chance to listen to it yet. Question for you: what gain setting did you prefer? From the images above it looks like medium.

      Michael

      • hey Michael! Actually my gain preference completely depends on the style of music I’m playing at the time! But, yes, I’m a medium – to slightly over kinda guy. I like it loud enough to be dynamic, but not kill me ears. Congrats on The International!!

  12. Hey Tim! Thanks for the kind words! My full review of the Audeze LCD3’s will be published in The Daily Swarm (dot com) next week. Unfortunately you are correct; any open-back design like the LCD3 is far from ideal for traveling – though I do it! I’m such a music and sound addict I take my airplane cans and hotel cans w/ me – NOT practical and I don’t recommend it – SMILE

    As far as great travel cans: My favorite are in fact my JH Audio JH-13 Freqphase IEMs! I was lucky enough to get the jump on reviewing those years ago for Positive Feedback (I knew Jerry Harvey from my Atlantic Records days) – before them I hated all IEMs! I never liked the sensation of a headphone in my ears for an extended period of time. The JH Audio’s however, don’t bother me at all, and of course their noise-canceling is not active. They are the only IEM I’ve heard that can sound so big – their dynamics are mind-blowing! Sometimes they don’t sound like IEMs at all. I also recommend Etymotic HF3’s. I bought a set for my wife, and I think they have a very sweet midrange.

    As for over-ear noise-canceling cans – My dear friend Jude Mansilla (founder of Head-Fi and my headphone guru) recommends the Bose 15s. I haven’t heard them, but I trust him wholeheartedly (and I’m not a fan of Bose). I just got the Polk Ultra Focus 8000’s in for review (active like the Bose) and they are the first pair of active noise-canceling headphones that don’t both me physically. I’m not a fan of the vacuum-like sensation I experience with active noise cancellation – but with the Polks I’m totally comfortable. I plan on using them when I fly to Denver for RMAF this year! I got a pair because Tyll Hertsens (founder of Headroom and lead writer for Inner Fidelity) liked them when he tried them at CES. Give those 2 a shot – AND, if you can, the JH Audio’s!

    Happy Listening!

  13. Michael- Great article. I travel a lot and am interested in headphones suitable for use on the plane. IEM’s seem fatiguing on long international flights. I am guessing that open-back phones like the LCD3 would allow to much sound outside the phones. Is that the case? Are there any high end closed-back headphones that you might suggest for audition? I am allergic to thin sounding headphones that lots of people seem to enjoy, but don’t care for overdone bass either.

  14. Michael // May 11, 2013 at 11:53 AM //

    I have enjoyed your site for some time after finding looking for information on Magnepans – thank you :).

    I finally had the opportunity to listen to some LCD3s on Tuesday night and went home with a pair.

    Two questions:

    1. I was wondering if you have tried the A&K with ALO’s RX MK3-b? Trying to understand how they compare since I am interested in the A&K and would not use the DAC in the International. I am getting ready for a many-month trip to Russia and trying to figure out how to take a little hifi with me.

    2. I have a Maggie (1.7) and Audio Research (DSi200, DAC8, PH6) system with Transparent Cables. I love its sound. I feel like I am there. Never hurts my abused ears. Does this headphone setup lean in the direction of this kind of ‘sound?’

    Thanks for the insights.

    • Hey Michael.
      Thanks for taking the time to read and writing in! So glad you got to hear a pair of LCD3’s! I wish I could say I could envision the sonic signature of your system (1.7 + AR DS1200. DAC8, & Ph6): Heard it all cept the PH6. But it doesn’t matter. Your room is different, and there or loads of variables that also contribute to a stereo’s overal representation. But I can imagine it’s character, believe me. Plus: I am the proud owner of an ALO RxMK3-B!! That’s what I used to use (iPod Classic w/ Wolfson DAC + RxMK3-B) before this rig! I think both amps drive the LCD3’s wonderfully. I prefer the International, because, while I genuinely enjoy the sound of RxMK3-B, the International has, to my ears and w/ my LCD3’s – more definition. I can connect to music even faster, emotionally – and I took the RxMK3-B everywhere I went! I would say go for that – because then you get a DAC too. You never know. Good luck!!

      • Michael Faoro // May 14, 2013 at 6:15 PM //

        Thanks! After talking to Josh at ALO and reading your reply I think I will go with the International. Initially I think I will feed it with a Meridian Explorer and perhaps an A&K 120 when they come out. Should be a pretty great ‘mobile’ setup.

        At some point I want to audition some home headamps to see what the LCDs can really do. At least in my part of the country (Seattle), none of the hifi shops carry much in the way of headphone amps. Hopefully that will change as this seems like an exploding sector of the market.

        Thanks again,
        Michael

  15. Hey Martin. Wow! I’m pumped you’re enjoying the AK100! Isn’t it a pleasure, just dragging and dropping high rez files into that badboy, and then cranking it up? It also means everything to me that you put that much faith in my words Martin. Though I know it couldn’t have been my words alone that convinced you – I must admit you made my week already. Helping anybody get more enjoyment out of their music system is what I’m all about. I do not take that responsibility lightly, and considering who I learned from, I owe much of that to them. I try to share how how these products make me feel when I listen. Does this component’s musical presentation excite me and engage me? Or does it put me to sleep (and hey, there’s even a time and place for that)! Warms my heart to know you’re having fun packin’ your own AK!!

  16. Martin // May 6, 2013 at 1:56 PM //

    Hi Michael. Thanks for your quick reply and advice. It’s good to know that I will not be missing out much, taking into account the price difference. I would like to let you know that I’ve made the first step and upgraded my ipod classic to the Astell & Kern AK100 player! Words cannot describe how phenomenal it sounds with my Shure SE 535’s! I did some A/B testing with the Ipod using the same looseless albums and my Shure IEM’s and the AK100 shines in every possible way…I can’t even imagine I could get any better and hope that the ALO International + LCD2 combo will prove me wrong! While doing my testing I discovered an album that I love to bits now and would really like to recommend to you: Karizma – “Perfect Harmony”. Let me know if you liked it! I will report back in few weeks and give you my impressions of the ALO+Audeze+AK100 combo! Enjoy the music!

  17. Hi Martin! Thank you so very much for your kind words! If you cannot do the Audeze LCD3’s, the LCD2’s are also a terrific mate with this system! I’ve tried them with this rig on many occasions. The LCD3’s faster Lotus diaphragm has certain advantages ( transient speed and attack for example) but I could happily live with the LCD2 as the headphones in this rig, given their musicality and transparency. Put it this way: I don’t think, with the LCD2’s, you’ll ever think to yourself: Oh, I’m missing something! When you decide to get the rig please report back! I love to hear readers feedback! Happy Listening

  18. Hi Michael. I am so happy i came across your site, i have been looking for a hi-end portable solution for a very long time and now (thanks to you) I know what to get. The only thing from this magnificent combo that I unfortunately have to give up duo to lack of financing are the LCD3’s. I was thinking about getting the LCD2’s instead (almost $1000 cheaper), can you please tell me how do they compare to the LCD3’s…would you recommend them at all or are there better headphones in the same price range? Tanks in advance. Martin

  19. I’m not sure why enthusiasm has to be viewed as shilling. I’ve been in this industry, as well as the music biz, for over 20 years now, and I’ve never been a shill for ANYBODY. I work on my own, and not attached to any one publication, because I know its tough to deal with the necessary world of ads = income. But I learned from Hp, and one of the great tenants of Harry Pearson’s editorial philosophy (as stated in the now famous “How to Read The Absolute Sound” essay) is you must keep editorial and ad sales completely separate. I don’t even think any of the companies in this particular system are advertisers here on PTA. If they are, or were, I didn’t know that – so if I’m “shilling” something I believe in, as much as I love this little system, in your eyes, I can happily live with that!

  20. Hmmm…all that and I get better sound quality from my Rockboxed Clip+ and Brainwavz B2. And yes…I have have heard Mercer’s rig.

    A small, affordable and very neutral rig compared to an overpriced colored “show off” rig. Talk about shilling…

  21. I don’t think anybody can tell anyone else what is “best” when you’re discussing the arts, and audio is an art-form. Even if people don’t see it that way, we’re using these tools to playback music, which is art, and therefore the result will always be in the eyes of the beholder! I say in all my reviews for various publications: Let our experience and our words act as guides, but trust your own ears! Harry Pearson taught me that. My “best” wil not be your “best.” Or maybe it will, but they are both valid “bests” if we feel that way.

    The reason I got into Hi-fi as a kid (and how I ended up at The Absolute Sound as a teenager actually) was because I LOVED listening to music, and the second I bought an old pair of Polks at a garage sale and an old pair of McIntosh tube amps, I was HOOKED. NOT because of the gear, but because the music just took on a more three dimensional feel, and I was able to connect on a deeper level to the music. The experience became as visual as it was audible.

    Therefore, the gear is the conduit, so that’s why, typically when I review a product (this was an essay on my personal favorite high res portable rig) I describe the sound of the music played through the componentry I’m reviewing. I never say “this pre-amp or this amp sounds like this” because you’re always listening to a complete system. Therefore you don’t know actually which element is doing what precisely – but you can judge and describe the music that’s reproduced! Bottom line: This is my favorite rig, currently, for portable high resolution file playback. I would never make a blanked statement and say it’s the best…

  22. Is this the best portable system there is?

  23. ThanX fellas! Russ: It does seem odd that a guy married for 16 years loves that album too. SMILE

  24. Russ Stratton // April 25, 2013 at 12:47 PM //

    That is one sweet sounding headphone rig. Great job putting this together, Michael.

    P.S. Why is that guy smiling after listening to the most devastating break-up album of all time? Must be one sick dude…

  25. Jon Reichbach // April 25, 2013 at 1:29 AM //

    Love the LCD-3, hope to check out the A&K someday… good work!

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