Recommended Reference Component: Audio-Technica ATH-ADX5000 Headphones

Recommended Reference ComponentWhen Brent Butterworth began listening to the Audio-Technica ATH-ADX5000 headphones for SoundStage! Solo (the review was published July 10), he was “skeptical” about them: “At first glance, they don’t really seem all that different from their stablemates,” he wrote -- and while he’d liked the sound of A-T’s previous open-back headphones, he hadn’t thought any were “world-class.” Also, at $1999 USD, the ATH-ADX5000s are more than three times the price of A-T’s next-most-expensive open-back headphones, the ATH-AD1000s, which “seems a stretch.” By the end of his review, Brent’s skepticism had vanished.

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Recommended Reference Component: Anthem STR Integrated Amplifier-DAC

Recommended Reference ComponentVinyl isn’t the only audio sector that’s resurging these days -- integrated amplifiers, too, are back in style. But today, those who demand integrateds want much more than a preamp and power amp in a single box. They want not only the high power and sound quality of separate components, but also lots of features, digital and analog.

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Recommended Reference Component: T+A Elektroakustik PA 3100 HV Integrated Amplifier

Recommended Reference ComponentAs Jeff Fritz pointed out in in his May 2018 review of T+A Elektroakustik’s PA 3100 HV for SoundStage! Ultra, it bucks the current trend of including in an integrated amplifier such features as digital-to-analog conversion, network connectivity, and streaming. The stock PA 3100 HV ($23,500 USD) doesn’t even have a phono stage -- though you can add an optional internal moving-magnet/moving-coil stage ($1600). As Jeff stated in his review, “The PA 3100 HV focuses on preamplifying and amplifying, period.” And those things it does extraordinarily well.

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Recommended Reference Component: Constellation Audio Revelation Taurus Mono Amplifiers

Recommended Reference ComponentWith its ability to output more than 500W into 8 ohms, and so stable it can be used to drive almost any speaker load, Constellation Audio’s Revelation Taurus Mono amplifier ($39,000 USD per pair) would impress many with its muscle alone. But it wasn’t its prodigious power-output capabilities that most impressed Doug Schneider when he reviewed the Taurus Monos for SoundStage! Hi-Fi in December 2017; instead, it was the superbness of their sound at volume levels of very low to very high, as well as how they “took hold” of each of the three pairs of speakers he used them with -- GoldenEar Technology Triton Reference, Dynaudio Special Forty, and Revel Ultima2 Salon2 -- and “made them sound their best.”

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Recommended Reference Component: Klipsch Heritage HP-3 Headphones

Recommended Reference ComponentIn his review of the Klipsch Heritage HP-3 headphones ($1199 USD), published in March 2018 on SoundStage! Xperience, Brent Butterworth wrote that “The Heritage HP-3s are Klipsch’s best headphones ever, and serious competitors for any headphones in the $1000-$1600 range,” and that they look “like something Paul Klipsch himself might have designed back in the 1950s.”

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Recommended Reference Component: KEF Q750 Loudspeakers

Recommended Reference ComponentUntil now, the lowest-priced floorstanding speaker in our list of Recommended Reference Components was the KEF R500 ($2599.98 USD/pair), reviewed in August 2012, and added to the list the following month. Hans Wetzel’s review of the KEF Q750 loudspeaker ($1499.98/pair), published in February 2018 on SoundStage! Access, changes that. In his review, Hans wrote of the Q750: “It’s one of the most neutral transducers I’ve ever heard, and for the money offers staggeringly transparent sound.” The Q750 is the middle of three floorstanding models in KEF’s newest range, the Q Series, now in its eighth generation -- above it is the larger Q950 ($1799.98/pair), below it the smaller Q550 ($1099.98/pair).

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Recommended Reference Component: Acoustic Research AR-H1 Headphones

Recommended Reference ComponentThe Acoustic Research name is a legend in hi-fi circles. As Brent Butterworth pointed out in his January 2018 review of the AR-H1 headphones ($599.99 USD) on SoundStage! Xperience, “Audiophiles know AR as the pioneer of the acoustic-suspension loudspeaker, in 1952.” That’s a big deal. Today, however, AR’s name lacks cachet among audiophiles, as Brent pointed out: “[F]or the last 15 years or so the AR brand has been applied mostly to accessories, such as inexpensive cables and Bluetooth speakers.” He never expected to see from AR headphones of such high sound quality as the AR-H1s.

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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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