Review: Ken Kessler

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Nov 01, 2022  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingA new dawn? Audio Research's first fresh integrated amp in seven years shows a change of direction while still maintaining a grip on the brand's sonic virtues. Enter the I/50...

Few companies have been as resistant to styling changes as Audio Research. Even after a decade-plus under the ownership of fashion-conscious Italians, ARC products still suggest they belong in studios or government laboratories. Can you imagine the shock, then, when news releases arrived showing a swoopy integrated amplifier available in six colourways?

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Oct 27, 2022  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingMoving-coil pick-ups are inherently 'balanced' and Pro-Ject is determined to reveal them at their best with this balanced-wired version of the X2 deck and phono preamp

One burning question is begged by the arrival of Pro-Ject's X2 B turntable and Phono Box S3 B phono stage: why did it take so long for the industry to simplify a balanced vinyl-playing front-end? It's not like balanced operation wasn't adopted by high-end listeners decades ago as superior to single-ended for both line-level sources – DACs and top-flight CD players – and pre-to-power amp connections. MC cartridges are inherently balanced. So why the wait?

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Oct 13, 2022  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingNot all Wilson Audio's loudspeakers are man-sized floorstanders and its most compact models have been crying out for a partnering, flexible active subwoofer. Meet LōKē...

Wilson Audio's product naming strategy has always raised eyebrows, but the new LōKē reinforces its love for puns. This £9500 powered subwoofer's moniker either shows that it's the baby sister to Wilson's gigantic Thor's Hammer, or it's a play on 'Low Key'. Or maybe not. Whatever the rationale, its pronunciation is helped by diacritical marks to ensure we do not rhyme its name with 'woke'…

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Sep 12, 2022  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingBased on Vertere's flagship RG-1 Reference Groove turntable, and differing only in the bearing and platter, there's a host of innovation in the brand's SG-1 Super Groove...

Anyone who has followed Vertere's founder Touraj Moghaddam, all the way back to the early days of Roksan, cannot fail to have been impressed with his iconoclasm. A lifetime later, he's still making cutting-edge turntables from left-field. I knew he hadn't mellowed as soon as he dissuaded me from using a clamp or a weight on the LP, before removing the spindle with a flourish. That was my introduction to the SG-1 Super Groove, one model below the flagship RG-1 Reference Groove.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Sep 02, 2022  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingA bigger PSU, more power transistors and a new input/driver stage – all inspired by the 'Relentless experience' – gives D'Agostino's M400MxV monoblocks more Momentum!

Avoirdupois aside, Dan D'Agostino Master Audio Systems' Momentum M400MxV monoblock just may be the least fussy or fiddly power amp one can aspire to in the extreme high-end. Of course, something cute and tiny like a PS Audio Sprout [HFN Feb '15] or Quad Vena [HFN Jan '15] can be lifted with one hand and requires no degrees in electronics, but that's 'real world' gear. At £90,000 per pair, the M400MxVs are as exclusive as it gets, and such a strong physical presence is de rigueur.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Aug 18, 2022  |  0 comments
hfncommendedAurorasound's VIDA (Vinyl Disk Amplifier), launched in 2011, has marked its first decade with a number of revisions to merit MkII status. How does it stack up in 2022?

Small Japanese specialist brands always fascinate me, due in part to my delight that they can co-exist with the Sony- and Panasonic-sized manufacturers. While every nation has its bijou marques, there's an uncanny aura to the likes of 47Lab, Shindo, Air Tight and Kondo, plus countless MC cartridge makers, that differentiates them from equally exotic producers from the UK, USA, Italy, Germany and beyond. Aurorasound could also only be Japanese, its VIDA MkII, an evolution of the VIDA [HFN Jul '13], ticking every box.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jul 18, 2022  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingFlagship of this Italian brand's trilogy of tube amps, the Metropolis NYC 200i occupies a huge footprint and mercilessly sucks power from the wall. But the music is magic...

Is it unkind to suggest some Italian brand names do not carry convincingly into English? Who keeps a straight face with a cooker called 'SMEG'? As for Synthesis – which also has the appropriately named Roma range – choosing to dub its Metropolis integrated amplifiers 'NYC', because New York is a Metropolis, actually makes sense, I suppose.

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.

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