You can think of this as a toolbox, but that’s more than a little boring. I mean, I use this stuff. For fun, even.
So I prefer to think of it as my bestiary.
I can and do use quite a lot of this stuff as a sort of mix-and-match-to-taste, depending on what I’ve got in for review.
I’ve starred my “references”, or things that I have that I use most often, or consider as a high water mark in performance in my home system.
My current audio preferences are for low-power tubes and high-sensitivity speakers, driven by digital because it’s easy and fun. I like big bass, I cannot lie, but I also really like great imaging and detail, layered right in there with gorgeous tone. We all have our preferences.
Anyway, here’s where mine have left me. At least of late.
- TIDAL Audio Contriva Diacera SE ($64,190/pair): these are the crazy speakers that I refurbished. They are, in a word, un-flippin’-be-lee-va-bull. And they sound pretty good, too.
- DeVore Fidelity Orangutan O/96 ($12,000): high sensitivity, full range, gorgeous in looks and sound — and not the size of a house. My current reference (Review).
- *Living Voice OBX-RW ($12k): freakishly, unexpectedly, absolutely wonderful. Absolutely stunning in the near- to mid-field. Another current reference.
- ELAC Debut Series F5 and B6. These are my new reference for “affordable audio”.
- Pioneer SP-BS22-LR and SP-FS52-LR. My “old” reference for affordable audio.
- Altec Model 17 w/ 604-8g drivers (vintage, circa 1972).
- Micca MB42X bookshelf speakers.
- Dayton Audio B652-AIR bookshelf loudspeakers.
- Rythmik Audio F12G subwoofers (pair) ($650 each).
- Audioengine A5+ active bookshelf loudspeakers.
- Peachtree Audio DeepBlue Bluetooth loudspeaker.
- Vitus Audio Reference RD100 DAC/pre and RS-100 stereo amplifier ($14k each): Elegance and class.
- Border Patrol S10 with EXS package ($26k): best SET ever? My reference amplifier. Dual-mono PSU with 100lbs of copper and iron per channel. Oh. My. Lawd.
- *Border Patrol P20 with EXS package ($26k): for when the S10 just won’t do. The extra watts (and slightly different architecture) are more than enough to drive all but the most absurdly “modern” loudspeakers to deafening levels. (Review).
- Luxman L-505u ($4,100) stereo integrated amplifier.
- Rogue Audio Cronus Magnum integrated ($2,195) v1 stereo integrated amplifier.
- Rogue Audio Sphinx stereo integrated amplifier ($1,200).
- Lepai LP-2020A+ Tripath TA2020 stereo integrated amplifier.
- Dayton DTA-120 stereo integrated amplifier.
- Trends Audio TA-10.2 stereo integrated amplifier.
- *BorderPatrol Control Unit EXT-1 ($12,250). Best tube preamplifier I’ve heard.
- Emia Passive AVP (varies). Never been a particular fan of passives, but this was easily the best at-low-volume attenuator I’ve ever heard. If you have a DAC that you’re using as a preamplifier (tsk, tsk), this might be just the thing to try. (Review).
- Rogue Audio Ares phono pre w/ Cinemag Blue step ups (~$2,200)
- *TW-Acustic Raven phono pre-amp ($9,000)
- Bricasti M1 ($10k). Established a new reference-level for sound quality. Review forthcoming.
- Berkeley Audio Designs Alpha Series 2 DAC with Alpha USB converter ($7000, including the Alpha USB): astonishingly good bass and competes with everything out there. My first DAC reference and still a truly incredible-sounding converter (review).
- BorderPatrol DAC (varies, ~$1,000). NOS chips and tube power supplies equal the best digital audio I’ve heard. Yes. Even including the ones in the list, above. Just pure, natural, effortless sound. Redbook only, however.
- Aurender W20 Music Server ($17k): state of the art in computer audio. The W20 is full-featured and is sonically stunning.
- Oppo BDP-105 with ModWright “Truth Mod”.
- LampizatOr Atlantic DAC.
- *TW Acustic Raven AC-3 turntable ($~20k with triple-motor/controller). Astonishing turntable — with the new outboard three-motor pod, we’re talking a powerful, driving and utterly quiet sound. Not cheap (ha!), but this may be the cheapest turntable at this level. [Updated, January 2015: the triple-motor controller can support the new 3-motor pod, and that is a significant upgrade. Don’t forget the new mat, either!]. Opt for the additional TW Acustic Raven 10.5 tonearm to complete the set up, and put to bed your analog upgrade itch — forever. Well, aside from still needing a cartridge.
- Kuzma 4Point tonearm ($6,500): my second tonearm.
- Lyra Etna cartridge ($6k). My new reference, mounted on the 4Point.
- Ortofon Windfeld cartridge ($4k). My reference for several years.
- Miyajima Madake cartridge ($6,500). My other new reference, mounted on the Raven tonearm.
- UHA Phase 9 reel to reel tape deck. Yes, reel to reel. It’s awesome.
- *Abyss AB-1266 headphones, ($5,500) (review).
- Sennheiser HD-800 headphones ($1,200).
- MrSpeakers Alpha Prime headphones ($800).
- Focal Audio Spirit Professional headphones ($350) (review).
- Fostex TH-900 flagship headphones ($1,300).
- Massdrop/Fostex TH-X00 headphones ($400).
- Massdrop/AKG K-7XX headphones ($200).
- Noble Audio: *Kaiser K10 custom in-ear monitor (video, review), 5c and Savant custom in-ear monitors.
- Ultimate Ears UERM and UE18Pro (v1) custom in-ear monitors.
- RHA T20 and T10 universal in-ear monitors.
Headphone Amplification/Portable Audio
- *Cavalli Audio Liquid Gold headphone amplifier ($4k) (review).
- Chord Hugo DAC/amplifier ($2,500).
- LH Labs Geek Pulse Infinity ($?): Crowd-funded, two-box, SOTA headphone/desktop DAC+amp.
- Calyx M digital audio player (review).
- Pono Player (review).
- LH Labs Geek Out 1000 USB headphone DAC/amplifier USB dongle.
- WyWires. Diamond Series cables are my current reference.
- MG Audio Design. Planus III speaker cables and Planus AG interconnects. Great recommendation for tube gear. Extreme bass extension and top-end clarity. Note that both models have been dramatically revised recently.
- Triode Wire Labs (review). The power cords approach the very best and easily outclass power cords 10x their price. Digital American power cords are my current reference for my digital products. Signal cables are exceptional in quality, tone and price. My default recommendation; TWL provide excellent value.
- *TelWire. Best power cords on the market. Boom.
- Double Helix Headphone Cables (review).
- Silver Circle Audio Tchaik 6, ($10k — review here).
- *Shunyata Research Hydra Triton ($5,000)
- Daedalus/WyWires Power Broker ($2,500)
- *TelWire Power Block ($4,000).