Review: Ken Kessler

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jan 20, 2022  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingFew brands can wrestle the combination of performance and adaptability from tube circuits with the flair of Manley Labs, and those skills are at the fore in the Chinook

It may be hard to believe, but I'm certain that the 2020s will be regarded as the golden age of standalone phono stages. How so? Simply by virtue of their plenitude, especially when you consider that this is vinyl's second time around. Manley's Chinook, continually refined during its near-decade in production, creates a phono amp sweet spot at £2699, blending fine sound with broad compatibility.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Dec 06, 2021  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingExposure returns to its roots with a full-width integrated inspired by the improved circuit design of the recent 5010 monoblock power amps. Does 'old school' still cut it?

Nostalgia doesn't come any better than this: an integrated amplifier that looks like it escaped from the 1980s, all minimalist and line-level and 440mm wide. But Exposure has been around for close to 50 years, so this isn't some exercise in retro from an arriviste brand with cod heritage. Rather, the 3510 is a device for reminding people like me of (hi-fi) life in simpler times.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Nov 24, 2021  |  0 comments
hfncommendedSince its birth, devotees of the LS3/5A have craved more bass – does the answer lie in Rogers' active AB3a sub?

Delayed because of the pandemic, Rogers' AB3a subwoofer is one year off being able to claim it's the 25th anniversary celebration of its passive predecessor, 1995's AB1. Yes, the gap between them has been that long. The postponement doesn't, however, diminish the delight LS3/5A users will show for the arrival of a dedicated active subwoofer for one of the most celebrated small monitors in the history of hi-fi. It's here, and it's a honey.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Nov 04, 2021  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingWith the DS 003, DS Audio delivers its 3rd generation technology in a system one-tenth the price of its flagship Grand Master. Can it hope to offer a taste of its authority?

Attesting to what I firmly believe is a 'hi-fi truth' – that differing technologies have innate sonic traits, eg, valve vs transistor – is this latest DS Audio 'optical' cartridge, the £4995 DS 003 with matching energiser. It replaces the £5050 DS 002 [HFN Jun '17], so there's even a slight price reduction.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Oct 25, 2021  |  0 comments
Dubbed the 'most audiophile' Debut turntable yet, this deck/arm/cartridge solution takes over from last year's Debut Carbon model with a host of detail refinements

Like the Land Rover and Ray-Ban sunglasses, the Pro-Ject Debut comes in many flavours. What started as a pure entry-level product has been joined by enough siblings over the last 20 years that the new Debut PRO reviewed here can be regarded as the range's flagship and crowning glory. The numerous improvements elevate the price to £699, but even that hasn't undermined this record deck's bargain status.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Oct 04, 2021  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingFrom California via London comes the shapely form of Zesto's Andros phono preamp – all tubes and transformers and now, courtesy of an uprated PSU, in 'Deluxe II' guise

If you demand full control over your cartridges, an all-singing/all-dancing phono preamp like the Zesto Andros Deluxe II is the only thing that will suffice. At £7500, it occupies the lower reaches of the extreme phono stage market – there are £40k-plus units if you're inspired to go further – but one should still be hyper-critical when the market is awash with exceptional, fully-adjustable phono amps for under £1000.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Sep 20, 2021  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingHot on the heels of VAC's flagship separates stack on our March '21 cover comes the more affordable derivative, the integrated VAC Sigma 170i – is it a true Mini-Me?

If I wasn't averse to tattoos, I'd have one that says, 'Always Read The Owner's Manual First'. I spent so much time trying to illuminate the VAC Sigma 170i's iQ warning lights that I was wondering if the review sample was a dud. Doh: in this application, the £10,000 single-chassis alternative to the Signature stack [HFN Mar '21], they don't light up at switch-on. Here they only work when something is amiss. Blast it! I never did see them in action.

Review: Ken Kessler, Review and Lab: Paul Miller  |  Sep 13, 2021  |  0 comments
hfncommendedInfineon Technologies' Class D solutions have been seen before in audiophile amps, but this is the first to feature gallium nitride FETs. The 'tubes', however, are pure decoration!

Unlike its meaning as a show of arrogance, in a design context a 'conceit' is, variously, 'an ingenious or fanciful comparison or metaphor', 'an artistic effect or device', or 'a fanciful notion'. AGD's £18,000-per-pair Gran Vivace is all three. To understand the utterly bizarre use of a valve's glass envelope as a housing for a solid-state amplifier, think of a similar conceit in another field: smart watches which, instead of emulating Apple's genre-defining rectangle, look like analogue timepieces.

Review: Ken Kessler, Review and Lab: Paul Miller  |  Aug 05, 2021  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingAn homage to the legendary TD 124 that reigned supreme from 1957-67, this latter-day derivative looks the part but trades an idler-drive for a custom direct-drive motor

As occasionally backward-looking as hi-fi is – if no worse than cars, fashion or watches – one needs to raise the dead with care. McIntosh, for example, has dazzled enthusiasts with its continuing evolution of the revered MC275 power amp [HFN Nov '93 & Feb '13], updating it through six generations without losing the spirit of the original. JBL, Klipsch, Tannoy – all revisited past successes with panache. Thorens, then, had a raised bar to address because, among historic turntables, Technics recently revived the SP10 as the SL-1000R [HFN Jun '18] to universal acclaim. This begged a question: how should Thorens update the adored TD 124?

Review: Ken Kessler, Review and Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jul 09, 2021  |  0 comments
hfnoutstandingAfter nearly a decade in production, KEF's iconic LS50 compact monitor has been comprehensively updated. We compare the original with the latest 'Meta' variant

Hardly a curse, but it's still a massive challenge for any manufacturer to improve on a smash hit. I don't care if you're talking about cars, cameras or cookers – whatever the classic, the follow-up is metaphorically referred to as 'that difficult second album'. KEF faced this with the LS50 which (terrifyingly) will be ten years old in 2022. In the interim, there have been active and wireless versions of the speaker, but the passive original [HFN Jul '12] is a much-loved default purchase in the under-£1000 sector. The new LS50 with the Meta suffix (£999) is KEF's The Godfather Part II. Yes, it's really that good.

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