Review: Ken Kessler

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jun 27, 2022  |  0 comments
hfncommendedAustria's vinyl juggernaut has leveraged German expertise to launch a series of fully-automatic turntables. The range starts spinning with the A1, inc. a built-in phono stage            

Decades ago, along with tone controls, the automatic turntable was relegated to 'amateur' status because audiophiles revel in masochism. 'What? The arm lifts up at the end of the side?'. As lies were told about CD, so were falsehoods spread about how triggering the arm lift would snap your cantilever. It was a load of tosh, and as many new to LP want convenience, Pro-Ject has responded with the A1 at only £369.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jun 02, 2022  |  0 comments
hfncommendedThe foundation of AVID's MC pick-up range, beneath the Ruby and Boron, is the Ionic (not the 'Alloy'!), and featuring more than a little artisan wizardry in its construction

No rest for the wicked, I feared, as PM assigned me another AVID MC cartridge. But I worried needlessly, thinking I might be reduced to comparing cantilevers once more. Not so. The dynamic was different here because the time had arrived to deal with the entry-level model in the Brit brand's range. Both stylus and cantilever differ from those in its siblings, the £6000 Reference Ruby [HFN Nov '20] and £4000 Boron [HFN Apr '21], so the £2000 Ionic blazes its own trail despite all three sharing the same magnet, coils and body design.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  May 20, 2022  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingTiny, solidly made, UK-built and now even more capable, is this compact USB DAC/headphone amp from Chord Electronics still the one to beat below £500?

Inundated as we are with pocket-money portable headphone amp/DACs, Chord's Mojo 2 asks the question: why drop £449 on a portable headphone DAC? Once you hear it, you'll understand, especially if top-quality sound on the move matters to you. The Mojo 2 is an upgrade on the top-drawer Mojo [HFN Jan '16], the battery-powered, smaller-than-a-deck-of-cards DAC/headphone amp. It arrives with only a £50 price increase that doesn't even correspond to real-world inflation. Even without the Mojo 2 improvements, the original Mojo should retail for £470 in 2022 just for the inflation, so Chord has somehow managed to squeeze in a host of upgrades with but a nominal price hike.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  May 19, 2022  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingFans of the brand know that when Audio Research adds an 'SE' suffix, the changes go beyond the cosmetic. The latest to earn this upgrade is the Reference Phono 3

Let's talk about names. Audio Research's abiding Reference range has long been subject to shorthand – even the factory calls the models 'REF' for brevity – while updated (mk2) components are now defined by 'SE'. And that now applies to the £17,500 Reference Phono 3SE. In this case the revisions are retrofittable and, at £3500 and given my delight with every SE model I've tried, especially with the REF 6 and REF 75, I suspect most existing owners will want the upgrade. My optimism was fuelled by Audio Research's CEO Dave Gordon who told us, 'The SE changes incorporated in both the REF 6 and the REF Phono 3 are almost identical, involving many of the same passive component upgrades'.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  May 12, 2022  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingLaunched to mark Sumiko's 40th, this latest version of the 'Celebration' moving-coil takes its cues from the mkII Pearwood, albeit with Plumwood to invoke a unique hue...

This celebratory model, marking 40 years, recalls a bygone time, its perfectly apt wooden box and body inadvertently honouring a specific Japanese MC cartridge with the greatest claim to establishing the genre in the West: the original Koetsu [HFN Nov '80]. What doesn't evoke the 1980s is the £3199 price tag, although this is perhaps not so forbidding when we can list a dozen £10,000-plus cartridges, aimed at those who quaff Petrus at every meal…

Review: Ken Kessler  |  Apr 15, 2022  |  Published: Mar 01, 2003  |  0 comments
hfnvintageThe British company has unveiled a system with the same stunning livery as its highly successful DAC64. Ken Kessler reaches for the blue yonder

Sometimes manufacturers do listen! After Chord Electronics' DAC64 proved to be such an immediate hit, the company decided to figure out why everyone fell in love with it. Sure, it sounded wonderful. Yes, it had neat features like balanced and single-ended operation and its three-setting, user-adjustable RAM buffering. But that wasn't it.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Apr 14, 2022  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingA handful of turntable brands lay claim to the first suspended subchassis model, but few, unlike Thorens' TD 150 from 1965, were mass produced. Here's its great grandson

Thorens CEO Gunter Kürten is true to his word: when we first met at the Tokyo High End Show in 2019, he hinted that the hugely-important, wildly-popular three-point suspended-subchassis, belt-drive TD 150 of 1965 might make a return in updated form. This wasn't your typical case of just exploiting retro because the TD 150 was more than a best-seller for Thorens. It was a breakthrough in the evolution of turntables.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Apr 07, 2022  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingPrecision manufacturing, state-of-the-art materials and magnet technologies combine in this new addition to the 'Exclusives' MC range – the ultimate blend of art and science?

Talk about alpha to omega: we've looked at two Ortofon cartridges this month, the £295 2M Bronze supplied with Thorens' TD 1500 and now the MC Verismo moving-coil, at £5349. It's the latest MC in Ortofon's 'Exclusives' series, which already includes the £6999 MC Anna Diamond [HFN Oct '19] and £3799 MC Windfeld Ti [HFN Jan '18], but with an open body shape first pioneered in this Danish brand's MC A90 [HFN Sep '09].

Review: Ken Kessler, Review and Lab: Paul Miller  |  Apr 04, 2022  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingIt's taken three years, but it was worth the wait: D'Agostino's Relentless Preamplifier has arrived, and it's as much of a revelation as the matching power amplifiers

You gotta love items with absolutely perfect names: 'Land Rover Defender', 'Rolex Explorer', 'Fender Jazzmaster'. When founder and chief engineer, Dan D'Agostino, dubbed his assault on the high-end 'Relentless', with cost-no-object flagship monoblock power amps [HFN Mar '20], he might have been referring to himself, as that is how he approached the task. With this matching three-chassis Relentless Preamplifier (£159,500), he's raised the bar once more.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Mar 22, 2022  |  0 comments
hfncommendedStateside tube specialist, ModWright, trickles down tech from its Reference PH 150 into a more affordable all-valve MM/MC phono preamp, featuring an outboard PSU

Nothing yet has convinced me that we have seen any period, since hi-fi separates became a 'thing', when there were more phono stages than we have right now. I say this because the ModWright PH 9.0's price of £2900 puts it smack in the middle of an inordinately crowded sector. I'm obviously being naïve here, or just pretending that you can still go into any number of hi-fi shops and ask, 'Can I compare a few phono stages?'.

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