Review: Ken Kessler

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Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Mar 05, 2019  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingReplacing the inaugural DS-W1 while benefiting from a host of trickle-down tech from the brand's flagship Master 1, the new DS-W2 'optical' pick-up is firmly in the limelight

When I first heard about DS Audio's optical cartridges, I wrote them off as 'dreamware' unlikely to end up chez Kessler. As it turns out, the audio gods smiled on me and I have, to my surprise and delight, managed to review just about all of them, watching the series evolve while using the Master 1 as my reference. Now, with the DS-W2 selling for £9995 with the equaliser/phono stage, the brand is delivering nearly all the performance of its flagship at half the price.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Dec 01, 2018  |  0 comments
hfnoutstanding.pngFollowing its ever-descending prices for its high-value turntables, EAT (European Audio Team) has issued the Jo No5 moving-coil cartridge to do the same for phono pick-ups

As if to answer my continued pleas for sane price tags, and my continued dismay at the fees charged for some MC cartridges, the inclusively named European Audio Team (EAT) has delivered what may be a game-changer. It was the talk of 2018's High End Show in Munich, not least because it looks unlike nearly any cartridge ever seen before. And another thing: the EAT Jo No5 sells for £999.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Keith Howard  |  Dec 01, 2018  |  0 comments
hfnoutstanding.pngMeze Audio turns up the heat in the hotly-contested high-end headphone sector with the radical Empyrean, claiming the first 'Isodynamic Hybrid Array Headphone'

Yes, £2700. For headphones. Ulp!… Meze Audio isn't messing around with its assault on the state-of-the-art and, thankfully, its new Empyrean model goes to great lengths to justify that price. These ooze with innovation, the construction is impeccable – all the better to convey immediate perceived value – and, thanks in no small part to the impressive packaging, an air of luxury rare in hi-fi. Which is what I have been screaming about for years: these tell you that you're getting what you pay for, and in spades.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Keith Howard  |  Nov 01, 2018  |  0 comments
hfnoutstanding.pngWith the minuscule TuneTot, Wilson Audio returns to the speaker format that established the brand's appeal beyond the massive WAMM: the small true monitor

There is an inescapable poignancy permeating Wilson Audio's latest speaker, the TuneTot. According to Daryl Wilson, now responsible for design with the passing of his father this year, 'The TuneTot was the last product in development that Dad listened to in the R&D department and he loved it. There is a pair of TuneTots in my parents' bedroom and my Mom listens to them every day'.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Nov 01, 2018  |  0 comments
hfnoutstanding.pngNagra’s monumental HD amplifier series reaches completion as its monoblock power amps are joined by this sensational, two-chassis, fully-balanced HD PREAMP

Nagra has, with the exception of the now-best-forgotten Pyramid amplifiers [HFN Feb ’05], a near-faultless track record. When you consider that the company leapt from professional tape decks to audiophile-grade valve electronics 20 years ago, the transition has been remarkable. With the second of its HD models, the HD PREAMP (joined by the HD DAC), one witnesses the completion of ‘Phase One’ of Nagra 2.0.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Nov 01, 2018  |  0 comments
A dedicated stack that forms one of the most expensive digital playback systems on the market, Esoteric’s Grandioso P1/D1 is aimed squarely at fans of the SACD format

Let’s not beat about the bush: alongside the top-of-the-range, multi-chassis dCS Vivaldi pile [HFN Feb ’13] – I can think of no others in this category – the Esoteric P1/D1 combination SACD transport/mono DACs package will lighten your Amex by a worrying £49,500. That breaks down to £33,000 for the two-chassis player/power supply and £16,500 for the mono DACs. Oh, and if you really want to go the whole hog then the Grandioso G1 Master Clock, not supplied here, adds another £23,000.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Nov 01, 2018  |  0 comments
Streaming – schmeaming: for many audiophiles CD still rules the high-end digital roost and Métronome’s Kalista division has a champion in the new DreamPlay ONE

Despite being an SACD-phile, I am also a realist: in my library, CDs outnumber SACDs by greater than 100-to-1. In the real world, I suspect that CD players outnumber SACD players by a higher ratio still. So, when Métronome brings out a new integrated model – the Kalista DreamPlay ONE with a price of £32,000 – CD-only capability is par for the course.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Sep 01, 2018  |  0 comments
hfncommended.pngLuxman’s update of its fully-loaded, flagship headphone amplifier has resulted in the heavyweight P-750u – is this incarnation a contender for the best of the breed?

Decades on from the likes of the EarMax, AudioValve RKV and other pioneering headphone amps, born before cans became a ‘thing’, we are now spoiled for choice. Luxman, which has been on dazzling form of late, has upgraded its no-compromise champ to produce the P-750u, and it just may be the go-to unit if you’re 1) crazy for cans, 2) use various models and 3) love added fine-tuning control.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Keith Howard  |  Aug 01, 2018  |  0 comments
hfncommended.pngEighty-two years after its founding and 61 years after the ESL-57, Quad delivers its first headphone, the ERA-1, and it's a planar design... but not an electrostatic!

For Quad devotees, the ERA-1 headphone has been a long time coming. One suspects that the company – like B&W, KEF and so many other traditional British brands – saw the writing on the wall. And what did this say? 'Headphones are now the only growth area in audio.' Disagree or concur, that's the reality check in the post-iPod era, and Quad has wisely chosen to deliver a model costing £599.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Aug 01, 2018  |  0 comments
hfnoutstanding.pngNot just a new model but a radical change for the venerable Reference Series, the REF160M mono power amp heralds a fresh direction in both looks and performance

A genius mix of both rebellion and restraint, Audio Research's latest chapter in the Reference saga, the REF160M monoblock power amplifier, is one of the biggest departures in the much-lauded series' evolution. Most obvious is the new look, which takes its cues from the G-Series, bringing with it a cool oversized meter, but the rest of the amplifier has been redeveloped, too, not least to incorporate features that will improve system matching, reliability, ease-of-use and initial set-up.

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