Review: Ken Kessler

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.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Aug 10, 2020  |  0 comments
hfnedchoiceCan't choose between tubes and transistors? Vinnie Rossi may have the answer with the L2i-SE integrated amplifier, which deals with that conundrum in a unique manner

So overwhelming is the matter of choice when putting together a system that it can cause as much anguish as pose a fun challenge. What type of speakers? MM or MC pick-up? Integrated or separates? These usually sort themselves out due to space or budget, but 'tubes versus transistors' almost calls for a leap of faith – unlike 'digital versus analogue' because most enthusiasts can manage two sources. The valve/solid-state conflict, though, may find a cure in the Vinnie Rossi L2i-SE integrated amplifier, the 'SE' standing for 'Signature Edition'.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jul 24, 2020  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingPrimaLuna's minimalist, valve-equipped EVO 100 DAC may seem a throwback to the time when digital only meant CD, but the sonic performance is truly 21st century

Two words spring to mind when examining PrimaLuna's EvoLution series EVO 100 DAC: 'old school'. Yes, a genre as seemingly new as digital has been around long enough to qualify for that mode of thinking. This unit is, I have been told emphatically, 'a DAC for purists', so £2888 gets you no wireless connections, no pandering to streaming, no headphone output, no level control. It is strictly a DAC in the original sense – a D/A converter-only and not one that doubles as a preamp or headphone amp.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jun 25, 2020  |  0 comments
hfncommendedIt's all there in the suffix 'Play', which transforms Quad's Vena II from a comprehensive all-in-one amp/DAC solution into something with wired and wireless future-proofing

Is Editor PM simply testing me, or coaxing me? I'm not merely uninterested in streaming, Wi-Fi, et al to the point of virulent loathing, I'm actually reverting to decades-old formats for daily listening: CDs, tapes and LPs. That said, I am not unaware of DTS Play-F, having used it for many months for the wireless speakers on my kitchen counter – though with no more concern than I show a spatula or potato peeler. Yet here I am faced with Quad's update to the Vena II, its entire raison d'être being the full-on wireless experience.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jun 05, 2020  |  0 comments
hfncommendedAn artisan brand with its own take on Hypex's tried-and-tested Class D amp module offers both tube and transistor variants to taste. Here's the low-down on the latter

Hybrid amps have always amused me. I still dream of Radford's TT100. This hi-fi equivalent of grafting two plant species hopes – ideally – to combine the best of a brace of disparate technologies. Too often, they marry the worst. Extraudio's X250T represents a first for me in that it promises to take efficient, compact Class D amplification and endow it with the sonic virtues of Class A, hence Class AD. Which made me think of playing with Krells way back in 1985.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  May 21, 2020  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingWhile we await the Relentless Preamp the 'HD' remains D'Agostino's top model, with its Bluetooth remote and raft of subtle enhancements culled from the MLife integrated

Ordinarily, I prefer to ignore the vexing topic of prices. My attitude is simple: if I can't afford something, I don't take it out on the world. I can't afford a Bugatti T57SC Atlantic, but I don't hate Ralph Lauren for owning one. So let's get two things out of the way, the first being that the D'Agostino Momentum HD Preamplifier costs £47,998, making it one of the most expensive control units on the planet.

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