Recommended Reference Component: Magico S1 Mk.II Loudspeakers

Recommended Reference ComponentWith a slender cabinet measuring 43”H x 9.8”W x 8.5”D and made entirely of aluminum, and a price per pair ranging from $16,500 (in standard M-Cast finish) to $20,295 USD (in painted M-Coat), Magico’s S1 Mk.II is very expensive for a two-way loudspeaker, even if it doesn’t need stands. But the S1 Mk.II wasn’t designed to be affordable, or even to look good, despite the high quality of its materials and finishes. In Hans Wetzel’s review of the S1 Mk.II for this site in June 2016, he wrote: “In any usual sense, the S1 is not beautiful. . . . For [Magico founder Alon] Wolf, flourishes of design and creative expression solely for the sake of appearance are ultimately at odds with an audio device’s intended purpose. . . . the S1 Mk.II is a tool designed for one thing: the delivery of brutal, uninhibited musical candor.”

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Recommended Reference Component: EMM Labs DA2 Reference Digital-to-Analog Converter

Recommended Reference ComponentAlthough EMM Labs was founded only in 2007, chief designer Ed Meitner has been designing audio electronics of all types for more than 40 years. When he was part of Museatex, in the late 1980s and early ’90s, he even designed a turntable -- the platterless AT-2. Yet despite the breadth of his design work, Meitner is best known to audiophiles for his cutting-edge work in digital playback, which began in the 1980s with the development of Meitner Audio’s CD-3, and continues today at EMM Labs. The culmination of his work to date is the DA2 Reference DAC, EMM’s flagship, filled with bespoke Meitner technologies and parts developed over the years, and priced at $25,000 USD. Doug Schneider reviewed the DA2 Reference for this site in July.

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Recommended Reference Component: Paradigm Persona 7F Loudspeakers

Recommended Reference ComponentParadigm was founded in 1982, and spent its first two decades establishing itself as one of the world’s premier makers of affordable loudspeakers. Even by 2000, most of their speakers cost less than $1000 USD per pair, and their top model that year, the Studio/100 v.2, cost $1900/pair in a standard finish, $2200/pair with wood-veneer side panels. The introduction of the Signature series, in 2003, pushed their prices up to $6000/pair for the top model, the S8 v.1, in a premium finish. Yet just before the series was discontinued, the S8 v.3, in premium high-gloss black finish cost $9998/pair -- by high-end standards, still reasonable.

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Recommended Reference Component: Oppo Digital UDP-205 4K Ultra HD Universal BD Player

Recommended Reference ComponentAs Roger Kanno wrote in August 2017, in his SoundStage! Access review of the Oppo Digital UDP-205 4K Ultra HD universal Blu-ray player, “Oppo has consistently provided near-state-of-the-art performance in disc players that cost little more than you’d pay for most budget audio gear, and each new model has raised the expectations of their many followers.” Roger was well qualified to evaluate the UDP-205 -- in June 2013 he reviewed the BDP-105 BD player ($1199, introduced in 2012, now discontinued) for SoundStage! Xperience, and since then it’s been part of his reference system. He’s also familiar with many of the Oppo models that preceded the BDP-105.

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Recommended Reference Component: Bryston 4B3 Stereo/Mono Amplifier

Recommended Reference ComponentIn Roger Kanno’s review of the Bryston 4B3 stereo/mono amplifier, published in June 2017 on SoundStage! Hi-Fi, he described its sound as “virtually faultless,” praised its “ability to drive just about any speaker with ease,” and declared that it “may well be the best value today in a high-end, high-powered, solid-state amplifier. . . . If I were in the market for a new amp, I’d buy the Bryston 4B3 without hesitation.”

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Recommended Reference Component: HiFiMan Susvara Headphones

Recommended Reference ComponentOutrageously expensive at $6000 USD, and so insensitive that you need a high-powered amplifier to drive them to appreciable volume levels, HiFiMan’s Susvara headphones were designed for -- well, who, precisely? In his July 2017 review of the Susvaras on SoundStage! Xperience, Brent Butterworth at first wondered if they were just another of the many audio products that are claimed to bring you “closer to the music,” a phrase he’d thought was “meaningless marketing” -- until the Susvaras came along.

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Recommended Reference Component: Devialet Expert 130 Pro DAC-Integrated Amplifier

Recommended Reference ComponentIn 2009, the French manufacturer Devialet set the audio world on its ear with the introduction of the D-Premier DAC-integrated amplifier. Priced at $15,999 USD, this unique component housed in its slim, shiny case many features, including: a digital preamplifier section that could accept digital as well as line- and phono-level analog signals via an onboard analog-to-digital converter (ADC); a high-powered digital signal processor (DSP) that could perform real-time processing of digital music signals, for things like equalization and room and speaker correction; the Magic Wire, a combined digital-to-analog converter (DAC) and gain stage; and an innovative amplifier topology named Analog Digital Hybrid (ADH).

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Recommended Reference Component: Ayre Acoustics QX-5 Twenty Digital-to-Analog Converter

Recommended Reference ComponentIn his review of the Ayre Acoustics QX-5 Twenty digital-to-analog converter (DAC), published on May 1, 2017, Philip Beaudette acknowledged that its price of $8950 USD “isn’t exactly affordable.” However, he also stated that that price “isn’t unreasonable” -- partly because it includes a headphone amplifier as well as a volume control, the latter allowing it to also function as a preamplifier, but mostly because it sounded better than any other DAC he’s had in his system.

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Recommended Reference Component: KEF Reference 3 Loudspeakers

Recommended Reference ComponentIncluding its outrigger base, conical feet, and protruding binding posts, KEF’s Reference 3 measures 47.3”H x 13.7”W x 18.5”D and weighs 113.1 pounds. At $13,999.99 USD per pair, it’s the smaller and cheaper of the two floorstanders in the Reference series -- above it is the Reference 5 ($18,999.99/pair). And yet, as Doug Schneider found while listening to it for his April 2017 review on SoundStage! Hi-Fi, the Reference 3 can be compared to some of the best speakers he’s heard, even at twice the price.

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Recommended Reference Component: Audeze iSine10 Earphones

Recommended Reference ComponentWe’d never seen Brent Butterworth so enthusiastic about a set of earphones as he was about the Audeze iSine10s in his March 2017 review for SoundStage! Xperience. He felt that this idiosyncratic design offers such high performance and value that, as he declared in his review’s final sentence, “This is $4000 worth of sound for $400.”

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