Rega Research Aethos Integrated Amplifier

British firm Rega Research is known for one product category above all: turntables. But the Rega Aethos is not one of those. It’s an integrated amplifier. Indeed, it doesn’t even have a phono input. But even so, the Rega Aethos is definitely an amplifier for the lover of analogue music.

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MSB Technology Premier Digital-to-Analogue Converter

Once much maligned, digital audio is now the most likely to be at the vanguard of advancing the state of the art in high-end audio. In this endeavour, there can be few companies with as distinguished and successful a pedigree as MSB Technology. Since its DIY beginnings in the 1980s and still family owned the company has continued to grow, stunning the competition with stratospherically priced fare like the Reference and Select line of Digital-to-Analogue Converters. Hearing the flagship Select in unfamiliar territory at recent audio shows and demonstrations, it took me no time at all to appreciate that I was in the presence of sonic greatness. For most of us, however, no matter how incredible the sound quality of these exalted devices, they remain the realm of aspirational fantasy. When MSB recently introduced the more affordable Discrete DAC and its bigger brother (sister?), the Premier DAC, I jumped at the chance to experience in my own system MSB’s trickle down technology in action.

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Fischer & Fischer SN/SL 370AMT Loudspeakers

It was with some trepidation that I awaited delivery of the Fischer & Fischer SN/SL 370AMT loudspeakers. While many old and new audio delicacies have graced my room (with many now tucked away in cupboards and corners, awaiting that day), I can honestly say I'd never had a pair of Rock speakers through the door. I say "Rock" with a capital "R", because I'm not referring to the musical genre, but rather to the construction of the cabinets. Yes folks, just when you thought this hobby couldn't get any more esoteric, along comes German boutique manufacturer Fischer & Fischer with a pair of floorstanding speakers made of slate! Half a billion year old slate in fact, although what acoustic benefits the age of the slate may impart remains unknown. But do read on…

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Mark Levinson N° 526 Preamplifier with DAC & N° 534 Power Amplifier

It’s near-winter mid-May and the Blue Mountains are now splashed with hues of red and covered in brittle tree-fall. It’s conducive to calm, cosy music listening. In able assistance is the latest Mark Levinson pre/power combo in for review. I’m immersed in its analysis. Through that time, I ponder on the genesis of high-end audio, what products and personalities were responsible for its most forceful bloom in the early 1970s. Also in my thoughts are the joys of my own experiences with the brand and, just as joyfully, my many engaging conversations with Mark Levinson the man so many years ago now. Then, as I conclude an engaging four hour listening session, in as unexpected a way as fate could muster, a WhatsApp notice pops up on my iPhone. After so many years, the man himself, Mark Levinson is on the line…

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EGM Audio Black ML Reference AC Power Cable

I once had the attitude – not that long ago – that life was too short to compare, let alone strictly A/B, AC power cables. After all, given a well-designed cable featuring good amounts of copper and appropriate shielding, AC power should be delivered to your device in a way that would suit its function. Especially in the case of good amplification where astute engineering makes full use of inherent elements such as extensive filtering, regulation and massive supporting power supplies. But in fact, it may be because of these design elements that I subsequently discovered (after finally spending some time comparing AC cables) the sonic differences AC power cables can make. Yes, often subtle but present nevertheless. Sharing the point of view that AC cables can indeed make a noticeable difference is Australian cable specialist EGM Audio. We take a look at the company’s high value flagship offerings in the new Black ML Reference AC cables.

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Stax SRM-700S Electrostatic Headphone Amplifier

If I had one Hi-Fi story to pass on to the new generations, it would go something like this: “Dear young people, we live in a world full of magical devices. They let us do wonderful things and if our grand-grand-grandparents saw us they’d think we’re all wizards. But looks can be deceptive. Long ago people could only listen to the music with their own ears, but although these days we can play any song, sonata or symphony by just tapping on a screen, the real sound of a guitar, violin or any other instrument is a mystery to many of us. We hear reproduced approximation of the sound and we’re happy with it. We seldom hear “the real thing”, live and vibrant! The best example of this are the headphones you use. There are so many of them… earbuds, over-the-ear, wireless, noise-cancelling, what have you. Some are cheap, some cost quite a bit, some sound nice, some sound better, some are ugly, some look good… but 99% of them are not even close to the real thing!

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SB Acoustics Rinjani BE Loudspeaker Kit

It’s been my experience that audio sees very rare true bargains. Yes, there’s gear that presents varying degrees of value-for-money for different reasons. It may be due to an unexpectedly high build and parts quality at the asking price. Sometimes, components may be widely perceived to perform beyond expectations. There may be reasons attached to a company’s reputation or a given product’s legacy which may automatically bestow added worth. But a genuine bargain from a product that offers most of the above, and considerably more in a number of important areas, is akin to the sighting of Bigfoot… or if in the Aussie bush, the spotting of the mythical Yowie. The SB Acoustics Rinjani BE debunks the myth – Yowies do exist after all.

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Simaudio Moon 680D Network Player/DAC

What do you want from your audio gear? Usability and convenience? An absence of aggravation? Or supreme audio quality? The magic that can sometimes be realised in a fine stereo system? Sometimes these two considerations can be at odds. But not, it seems, with Canadian Hi-Fi maker Simaudio. I’ve now put two of its Moon-branded products through their paces and both have been glorious in their acoustic performance while being delights to use. The first was merely a straightforward DAC. But achieving similar effectiveness in a combined DAC and Network Streamer is a harder ask. Yet the Moon 680D has achieved just that.

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Gryphon Audio Designs Ethos CD Player/DAC

How can an audio component, which is effectively a device with a specific function, stray as far away as possible, design-wise, from the ubiquitous plain rectangular box and still fulfil its purpose? What’s more, as an industrial designer, how to free yourself, how to deviate from constraints enforced by the rigours of architecture, functionality, usability, performance? Irrefutably, Gryphon Audio Design’s new Ethos CD player is proof-of-concept. It eschews design convention, seemingly tossing away the rule book…

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Vermouth Audio Reference Cables

Since its ‘Big Bang’ in the 1970s the vast universe of cable manufacturers has been in constant expansion. How does a nascent ‘Alpha’ star differentiate itself from the countless supernovas permeating the audiophile cable galaxies? Well, Vermouth Audio’s budding brightness combines high materials quality, exemplary build, intelligent design and an ambition to create a neutral and simultaneously engaging sonic presentation.

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432EVO High-End Music Server

432EVO is an imaginative and inventive audiophile music server brand founded in Belgium in 2013 by parent company Klinkt Beter. It was considered that music servers of the era were inadequate – Klinkt Beter wanted to do… better. 432EVO products are designed by Frederic Vanden Poel who was intrigued by 432 Hz tuning, so he decided to create a better music server with that tuning in mind. Frederic has been researching, designing and improving 432EVO’s range of dedicated music servers since 2015. 432EVO claims that 90% of listeners prefer music playing in the 432 Hz tuning over the tuning all other music servers use (much more on this later). Listeners felt it gave a more relaxed and natural presentation.

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Audio Research Reference 160S Stereo Power Amplifier

While a number of American audio brands reached iconic status in what some have described as high-end audio’s ‘Golden Age’ from the late 1970s through to the early 1990s, many others have either disappeared altogether or have lost much of their former gravitas. The world moves on… potent and innovative new players have joined the fray. Having said that, Audio Research (like its sibling McIntosh Laboratory) remains a powerhouse in high-end audio. In fact, 2020 marks Audio Research’s 50th Anniversary. Yes, it’s half a century since founder William Z. Johnson formed the Audio Research Corporation. Today, a skilled team of engineers and designers continues to boldly propel the company onwards, producing superb electronics while mindfully respecting the iconic American brand’s heritage and stature. In the Reference series, Audio Research presents its most powerful design statements. Here, we look at the just-released Reference 160S stereo power amplifier.

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