Review: Ken Kessler

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jun 08, 2021  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingOne time staple of BBC monitoring, and with feet in both professional and consumer camps, this large standmount has been resurrected and refreshed by a master of the art

One cannot but think of the notion that 'Once is chance, twice is coincidence, third time is a pattern'. Following the revived 1970s JBLs and Rogers' return to LS3/5A manufacture [HFN Jul '19], the arrival of a dead-accurate, reborn BBC LS5/9 as part of Rogers' 'Classic' range is further proof that a trend is under way. All those Instagram images of systems made up of 50-year-old components tell us the past is back with a vengeance.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  May 17, 2021  |  0 comments
hfncommendedStalwart of Germany's single-ended tube scene, Octave Audio also produces hybrid and push-pull amplifiers, including the 'Class A' V70 integrated featured here

Which are you? The minimalist who wants an integrated valve amp bearing only clearly-labelled inputs, source selector, volume control and speaker terminals? Or do you prefer a 'fully loaded' device with total flexibility? The former is intuitive, and any experienced hi-fi user thinks of such units as virtually 'plug 'n' play'. Germany's 30-year-veteran brand Octave Audio has, in its V70 Class A, an amp that sits between both camps and yet I was compelled to digest its 36-page manual.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  May 13, 2021  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingAVID's trio of MCs are distinguished, principally, by choice of cantilever. The mid-range model uses boron in place of ruby, saving a whopping £2000. Is this the sweet-spot?

Here we go again: a moving-coil cartridge that costs more than I paid for a near-mint, limited-edition Series 2 Mazda MX-5. With the rare hardtop. That said, I am sure AVID priced the Boron at £4000 for good reason, but let's skip over the entirely moot concept of 'value for money' and deal, instead, with sound quality. So the AVID Boron is the middle model in a three-cartridge lineup, and thus sells for a substantial £2000 less than the flagship Reference Ruby [HFN Nov '20].

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Apr 23, 2021  |  0 comments
hfncommendedStill in production since 1964, and instantly recognisable to audiophiles across the globe, Denon's classic DL-103 moving-coil pick-up gets the Anniversary treatment

Don't let the model name confuse you if our pictures assault your memory bank: this £499 Denon DL-A110 phono cartridge is the best-selling, much-loved sexagenarian DL-103, only with a slick headshell and packaging plush enough for a wristwatch. This anniversary offering joins Denon's AVC-A110 AV amp, PMA-A110 integrated amplifier and DCD-A110 SACD player [HFN Dec '20], the quartet marking the company's first-century-plus-10. (Oddly, there's no record deck…)

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Apr 20, 2021  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingFor the inveterate enthusiast, PrimaLuna continues its tradition of user-tweakable amplifiers with the EVO 300, an ode to tube traditions – but with modern surprises

It's important to accept how language evolves, particularly when reviewing an amplifier with a name that is a contraction of 'evolution'. PrimaLuna calls its current lineup EVO, as it represents the next step in the advancement of its valve amps, and the 40W-rated £3798 EVO 300 integrated represents the mid-point in a 13-model range.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Apr 02, 2021  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingSteeped in valve lore, this iconic tube brand extends the 'voicing' of its products right down to the choice of passive components and hand-wiring. We test a stack of VAC!

With the Valve Amplification Company, aka VAC, now 30 years old, it qualifies as a stalwart of the 'third wave'. The first was, of course, the original golden age generation of Marantz, Quad, McIntosh and others of the 1940s and 1950s, while the second wave hit in the early 1970s with Audio Research, EAR and other tube revivalists. VAC arrived at the point when tubes were demonstrably here to stay, Kevin Hayes founding the company with his father in 1990. He was, and remains, resolutely focused on the high-end, as this pairing's £69,000 cost attests.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Mar 05, 2021  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingWho better than a legendary turntable maker to offer a go-to, affordable, universal phono stage? The Thorens MM-008 looks set to shake up the entry-level sector

If anyone still doubts the extent of the LP renaissance, beyond the use of turntables as a trope for cool ads aimed at hipsters, the plethora of affordable gear coming from purist brands known for high-end price points should convince them otherwise. Forget those £69, all-plastic 'record players' sold online to snare newbies: when a company such as Thorens brings out a phono stage like this £220 MM-008, it indicates that renewed LP usage is not the sole province of seasoned audiophiles. Or, indeed, wealthy ones.

Review: Ken Kessler, Review and Lab: Paul Miller  |  Mar 04, 2021  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingFollowing its groundbreaking Master 1 optical cartridge, DS Audio introduces the Grand Master, and a two-box energiser/equaliser, to up the ante even further

In every field, not just 'hypercars' and luxury wristwatches, there's an extreme, cost-no-object pinnacle. From chefs' knives to sunglasses to fishing reels, there are items which push engineering and price limits, a phenomenon we are used to in high-end audio. Thus, with shaking hands (not a desirable state with this item), I installed the DS Audio Grand Master cartridge, at £11,995 surely the most expensive pick-up I have ever reviewed, if not the most expensive on the planet.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Feb 04, 2021  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingAccordo standmount gains a dedicated woofer and larger, floorstanding cabinet. Hey presto: the Essence

No kidding: when I first fired up the Franco Serblin Accordo Essence, I figured it sold for around £20,000, somehow forgetting that the loudspeaker above it – the flagship Ktêma [HFN Sep '20] – cost £25k. Surely they wouldn't price two models so closely? Equally, I failed to recall that the standmount Accordo [HFN Jan '18] from which it is derived sells for only £7500. The pricing, however, illustrates how Massimiliano Favella is sticking to a plan where each model fills a sonic and fiscal gap: the Accordo Essence will set you back £12,998 per pair.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Feb 01, 2021  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingMark Levinson's second turntable, the No5105, has been designed to be a painless, all-in-one, 'turnkey' affair – but does it still tick all the high-end boxes?

Like that 'difficult second album', any sequel to the Mark Levinson No515 [HFN Oct '17] has to live up to a heady precedent. At £5799 less cartridge, or £6499 with Ortofon's Quintet Black S MC pick-up installed, the No5105 sells for just over half the price of the No515. While the inclusion of the cartridge does not save any money – certainly not always the case when buying a package – it does remove any set-up worries by being factory-fitted.

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