MartinLogan Masterpiece Classic ESL 9 Loudspeakers

Reviewers' ChoiceThe last two MartinLogan components reviewed by the SoundStage! Network were the BalancedForce 212 subwoofer, on this site, and the relatively conventional Motion 35XT loudspeaker, on SoundStage! Access. They proved so good that each received a Product of the Year award. However, as most audio enthusiasts know, MartinLogan is best known for their electrostatic loudspeaker (ESL) models, most of which are hybrid designs that combine an electrostatic panel for the high- and midrange frequencies with a conventional dynamic woofer.

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KEF Reference 3 Loudspeakers

Note: Measurements taken in the anechoic chamber at Canada's National Research Council can be found through this link.

Reviewers' ChoiceAfter I’d listened to KEF’s Blade Two loudspeaker ($24,999.99 USD per pair) for my April 2016 review of them, I sent back the review samples. KEF couldn’t have had them more than a day when they sent me an e-mail confirming receipt -- and asking if I’d like to review the Reference 3.

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PS Audio BHK Signature 300 Mono Amplifiers

Opportunity, creativity, and experience must each play a role in the creation of a great power amplifier. Paul McGowan, head of PS Audio, created an opportunity in 2014 when he wanted his company, based in Boulder, Colorado, to develop “one of the top five power amplifiers in the world, regardless of price.” Creativity arrived when longtime reviewer and audio designer Bascom H. King -- who measures audio components for the SoundStage! Network -- agreed to lead the project, provided he’d be able to design the amplifier without restriction. Together, McGowan, King, and Arnie Nudell -- founder of Infinity Systems, who collaborated with King on the first hybrid tubes-and-solid-state amplifier -- brought more than 150 years’ worth of experience to the voicing of the final designs.

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Audio Research Foundation LS28 Preamplifier

Reviewers' ChoiceThe LS28 tubed line-stage preamplifier is part of Audio Research’s new Foundation series. Other models in the series include the DAC9 digital-to-analog converter, PH9 phono preamplifier, and VT80 power amplifier, most of which the SoundStage! Network will eventually review. While the Foundations are now ARC’s least expensive models, they’re hardly cheap -- the LS28, DAC9, and PH9 each cost $7500 USD, the VT80 $8000.

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Exogal Ion PowerDAC

Note: Measurements can be found through this link.

It’s not often that I ask questions of a manufacturer about their product and don’t get detailed answers, and it’s downright rare that questions about technical details are met with the equivalent of, “I’m not going to answer that.” I understand that the high end is a competitive space full of companies big and small, all trying to appeal to a fairly small pool of buyers. But asking someone to part with several thousand of their hard-earned dollars for an audio component while refusing to tell him or her what’s inside it is a bit nervy. If Elon Musk debuted a new Tesla automobile but refused to give any details about its motor or batteries, I can’t imagine that consumers -- let alone Tesla’s shareholders -- would respond warmly.

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Audio Research G Series GS150 Stereo Amplifier

Audio Research’s GS150 stereo power amplifier ($20,000 USD) debuted in 2014 as part of the company’s G Series, which includes the GSi75 integrated amplifier ($16,000) and GSPre preamplifier ($15,000). Though the GSPre and GS150 can be considered companion models, as I pointed out last December in my review of the GSPre, I assessed them separately in my reference system, to hear how each sounded. The GS150 ended up mating so well with so many speakers that I could see many audiophiles seeking it out for its neutrality, its generous power output -- and a special aspect of its sound that bettered all my other amps.

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Hegel Music Systems Mohican CD Player

Call me old school, retro, and just a stubborn kind of fellow, but I flat love playing plain old Red Book CDs on a dedicated CD player. Through the years, I’ve auditioned and owned a few multiformat players -- models capable of playing CDs, SACDs, and DVDs -- but I’ve felt disappointed enough in their playback of CDs that I’ve always let them go. I have a library of approximately 2500 CDs, only about 20 SACD/CDs, and DVDs I spin via computer. So, what most matters to me is a unit’s playback of 16-bit/44.1kHz signals. And while I now also have a perfectly fine computer-DAC combo, CDs still sound to me more liquid and flowing and less sterile than files played from a computer.

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PS Audio BHK Signature Preamplifier

Reviewers' ChoiceThe more than 50 years in audio of Bascom H. King, the BHK behind PS Audio’s BHK Signature preamplifier, extend back past the entire 43 years of PS Audio itself. King has been a reviewer, designer, and technical consultant -- and, in that last role (full disclosure here), measures preamplifiers and power amplifiers for SoundStage!. (Check out PS Audio’s website for videos of Bascom King’s thoughts on his creations and on the high end in general.)

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Audio Research G Series GSPre Preamplifier

When I bought my first stereo, in 1981, most preamplifiers and integrated amplifiers had phono stages because the LP was then still the primary playback format. It would be another two years before the Compact Disc was introduced to Europe and North America. When it became apparent that the CD would eventually replace the LP (1988 was the first year in which CDs outsold LPs) and turntable sales would quickly diminish, manufacturers began omitting phono stages from their preamps. Without phono functionality, these preamps were simply line-stage preamplifiers, because they accepted only line-level signals from CD players, tape decks, etc. Still, they were mostly called preamplifiers. But the LP didn’t go away, and by now the vinyl resurgence has gained such momentum that manufacturers are beginning to include phono stages again, in turn bringing back the full-featured preamps of decades past.

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Moon by Simaudio Neo ACE Integrated Amplifier-DAC-Streamer

In 1979, my father spent an ungodly amount of money -- $3500 USD -- on a stereo system for me and my two siblings. That sum, equivalent to more than $12,000 in today’s dollars, bought us a turntable, a tape deck, a stereo receiver, and a pair of full-range loudspeakers. It was serious dough, and even in today’s dollars it can buy you an excellent system. Until recently, however, most of those systems would have been limited to a single source, an integrated amp or receiver, and speakers.

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