Review: Ken Kessler

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Dec 31, 2020  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingFive years on and Wilson Audio's Sabrina earns its 'X' – an overhaul that raises the bar for compact floorstanders

Five years – that's how long ago the Sabrina was launched and five years seems about right before making a new version of any model as good as the original was – and remains [HFN Aug '15]. Rightly, the upgrade is comprehensive, not a mere facelift, which is reassuring if you're wondering why a £15k per pair model is now priced at £21,500-£23,000. As for the price span, it covers three standard or three deluxe 'WilsonGloss' paint finishes, which can be co-ordinated with five grille colours. Our review sample is pictured here in the 'upgraded' gloss Ivory.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Dec 21, 2020  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingBy extreme high-end standards, it's almost an 'entry level' product – so is Dan D'Agostino's Progression Integrated amplifier the perfect introduction to the brand?

After nearly four decades' worth of using Dan D'Agostino's designs, from Krells in the 1980s through to his more recent, eponymous models (I use a Momentum Stereo as my solid-state reference and love it to bits), I thought I knew what to expect. Silly me: surprise No 1 provided by the D'Agostino Progression Integrated was that I could lift it without any assistance. Surprise No 2 was a price under £20k.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Dec 11, 2020  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingSynonymous with top-end turntables for two decades, AVID has extended its 'Very Interesting Design' portfolio to include MC pick-ups. Here's its open-bodied flagship

Irrespective of having installed what must be thousands of cartridges in my life, AVID's Reference Ruby moving-coil brought me out in a cold sweat. The top model in a trio that also includes the £4000 Boron and the £2000 Ionic, its £6000 sticker price, allied to a completely exposed cantilever, reminded me of the first cartridge I ever destroyed. The irony was not lost on me: that honour goes to the Dynavector 23R, the first-ever cartridge with a ruby cantilever. But unlike AVID's ruby rod, it was also one of the shortest at just 2.3mm.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Nov 20, 2020  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingOne of a trio of small but substantial add-ons, the MX-DAC joins Musical Fidelity's partnering MX-HPA headphone amp and MX-Vynl phono stage. Is this another steal?

Imagine the dilemma when Pro-Ject acquired Musical Fidelity: the overlap with the former's Box range and the latter's MX models created an in-house rivalry in the 'affordable audiophile' sector. Both produce pint-sized ranges with matching phono stages, headphone amps and – of relevance here – beer-budget DACs. Musical Fidelity's MX-DAC, at £499, is a direct challenge to Pro-Ject's Pre Box DS2 Digital [HFN Nov '17] and a few others in the family, but the lineups are distinctive enough to cause no sleepless nights.

Review: Ken Kessler  |  Nov 02, 2020  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingThe extension of EAT's E-Glo range of valve phono stages into something bigger was inevitable, but not hurried – enter EAT's first integrated all-tube amplifier, the E-Glo i

Regular readers will already know that I use two of EAT's cartridges [HFN Dec '18 and '19], two of its phono stages [HFN Mar '17 and Feb '19] and a B-Sharp turntable [HFN Jul '20]. The E-Glo i is thus among family members and there's every chance I was going to be predisposed…

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Oct 01, 2020  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingAs boutique Italian brand Franco Serblin prepares to boost its range we look at the iconic flagship

Franco Serblin, who passed away in 2013, first unveiled his flagship Ktêma in 2010. He had left Sonus faber, which he founded in 1983, in 2006, so the Ktêma was in development for nearly five years before he felt it was ready to be sold by the new company bearing his name. I remember the tension during its gestation, and Franco's elation at being able to produce a no-compromise system – not that he was ever restrained at Sonus faber. Think of the phenomenal Extrema, Guarneri and Stradivarius. The wait for the Ktêma proved worth it – as did the anticipation lasting a decade to hear a pair in my own system.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Sep 10, 2020  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingIn what is looking like it might be a trend – tube hybrid integrated amplifiers – Copland joins in with a Danish beauty at a sensible price, the all-singing, all-dancing CSA100

Three thoughts hit me as soon as I switched on the Copland CSA100 integrated amplifier. The first was that it was an all-embracing, do-everything tube/transistor hybrid like the Vinnie Rossi L2i-SE [HFN Jul '20], rated at a similar 100W/8ohm if at a fraction of the price, at £3498. The second was that I want it to kick off a fashion for cool, fully-loaded integrated hybrids because they are the smartest option for offering the best of the tube/solid-state worlds. The third is the realisation that I need to look deeper into hi-fi system building.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Sep 04, 2020  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingAn air-bearing turntable and a parallel-tracking, air-bearing tonearm in a single, easy-to-use package for under £7000? Devotees of both will love the Holbo Airbearing

Every product type has its following, however focused. I am sure, for example, that there are devotees of hybrid amps with tube front-ends and solid-state output stages just as, among the niches in LP playback, audiophiles are tempted by air-bearing turntables and parallel-tracking tonearms. Made in Slovenia by Bostjan Holc, the Holbo Airbearing combines those two, and does so for an almost-inexplicable £6500.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Aug 18, 2020  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingAlongside its range of turntables, Pro-Ject's diverse Box series of hi-fi separates – from streamers to phono preamps – has come to define the 'world vision' of its founder

One of the nicest by-products of the vinyl revival is the constant flow of affordable phono stages, essential to allow newcomers to adapt to LP playback the line-level-only integrated amps that have proliferated since 1983. Thorens, Mobile Fidelity, Musical Fidelity, NAD, Cambridge – there are too many to list, but the go-to brand for me is the one that also 'owns' the entry-level turntable market: Pro-Ject.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Aug 13, 2020  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingDespite shedding all 'non-essential cosmetic adornments' EAT's B-Sharp still cuts a dash in the world of plug-and-play turntable solutions. Does it sound as slick as it looks?

Conditioning has, I believe, led the cynics among us to assume that 'plug 'n' play' is a sexy euphemism for 'lowest common denominator' or 'user-friendly-enough for anyone to appreciate'. After all, this is what freed normal souls from going crazy with pre-USB computer peripherals. Today, it welcomes newcomers to vinyl, referring almost exclusively, in a hi-fi context, to turnkey turntable/arm/cartridge packages, because every other audio source has always been plug 'n' play.

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