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Gryphon Diablo 300

Ultra Audio's site platform was changed in August 2010. For equipment reviews previous to that, use this link to transfer to the old site.

Hardly any other name in the history of high-end digital audio components is as storied as Wadia Digital. If you’ve been around high-end circles for any number of years, you’ve no doubt known an owner of a Wadia DAC, transport, or player. Maybe you’ve owned one yourself.

These are interesting times for an aficionado of high-end audio gear. Consider this: ESS Technology’s Sabre Reference ES9018 DAC chip can be found in products costing over $30,000 that are claimed to be the state of the art -- and just may be. You can find the same chip in products costing under $1000.

Last summer, Sharath Chandran, the highly knowledgeable proprietor of audio dealership Audire, in Chennai, India, where I live, invited me to attend an audition of the flagship loudspeaker made by German manufacturer Ascendo GmbH, which Audire distributes in India: the M-S Special Edition, with external crossovers. These humongous, man-sized speakers were impeccably finished and visually arresting. I was spellbound by their superb transparency and dynamic capability, and would rank them among the top few speakers that I have heard. They cost a staggering $74,880 USD per pair, and their girth means that they’ll work well only in larger listening rooms. However, as with any other manufacturer, technologies from these vanguard products ultimately trickle down to smaller, more affordable models, and it was one of those -- the Ascendo C6 -- that Sharath Chandran recommended that I review.

Hegel HD12Reviewers' ChoiceNowadays, to get noticed in the entertainment industry, you have to do something flashy or downright bizarre. At least, that’s how it looks from the outside. Take, for instance, the antics of pop-music stars, whose behavior seems to find new lows each week. The argument goes that any press is good press, so these people seem to fabricate ways to get a Yahoo! story written about them -- often ways that most of us would find humiliating and degrading. The interesting thing is that these people seem to revel in the attention, making no distinction between whether their actions are considered positive, negative, or just plain stupid.

Esoteric P1/D1Reviewers' ChoiceAlmost every month, I hear about a new, midpriced digital-to-analog converter that’s supposedly taking the audiophile world by storm. These flavors of the month typically include the latest, greatest conversion chips and cost $2000-$3500 USD -- sometimes much less. They almost always come with a story about a guy who bought one, got better sound than he was getting with his $125,000 multibox digital stack, sold the latter, and laughed all the way to the bank.

It was just after I’d had a conversation with an audiophile friend about a $500 flavor-of-the-month DAC that Scott Sefton, Esoteric’s marketing specialist, offered to send me for review samples of the company’s new statement models. At the time, the Grandioso line comprised the M1 monoblock amplifier ($21,000 each), the two-box P1 SACD/CD transport ($40,000), and the D1 mono DAC ($20,000 each). There is also, now, the Grandioso C1, a two-box preamplifier ($40,000).

Blue Circle Audio BC60X1I considered myself lucky. I’d finished reviewing Blue Circle Audio’s PLC Thingee FX-2 six-outlet power conditioner with XOe low-frequency filter module (affectionately known as the 3PO), which enlightened me as to what a well-designed, well-thought-out $500 power conditioner could do. The FX-2 cleaned up the incoming power and made the very best of what I had to plug into it sound better than it had any right to. This at a time when I was having trouble getting my money’s worth after having invested so much of it, and time, in power-line conditioners (PLCs) of various prices but never finding anything that performed to my total satisfaction. I was all set to buy the FX-2 -- I saw no reason not to spend $500 USD for a PLC that performed as well as it did. (See my review of the Blue Circle Audio PLC Thingee FX-2 for a description, and for everything I had to say about its sound.)

Octave Audio V 110I am, in general, no fan of vacuum tubes, and said as much a few years ago in an editorial that earned me scornful e-mails from readers. I have been guided to that conclusion by a philosophical stance and by sonic taste. While I greatly respect the multitude of people who prefer tubed to solid-state amplification, and welcome their presence in the marketplace, tubes have just never held my interest. Earlier this year, I resolved to review a tubed integrated amplifier and give this archaic technology a fair and impartial perspective. Enter Octave Audio’s V 110 integrated amplifier.

JL Audio CR-1Usually, within a given line of loudspeakers made by a given company, as the models increase in cost, the aspect of their sounds that sees the most change is the bass response. Look at a speaker line from almost any brand and you’ll see, at the bottom of the price hierarchy, a smallish bookshelf speaker, usually a two-way. Above that will be, perhaps, a bigger bookshelf model, followed by two or three floorstanders, the largest being three- or four-way models. Often, all of these speakers will use the same model of tweeter and similar if not identical models of midrange drivers; it’s the woofers that grow in size and number as you ascend the ladder of price and size.

fo.QLike many audiophiles, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with tweaks. I’ve gone from being crazy about tweaks to being anti-tweak to somewhere between those positions. Presently, I use only those tweaks that significantly improve the sound of my system, as opposed to merely change the sound.

However, despite my substantial history of tweaking, I’ve only rarely experimented with the many products that are claimed to control electromagnetic fields and/or resonances when wrapped around or covering cables, connectors, component circuits and interiors, and speaker cabinets. There are several reasons for this.

First, since there is virtually nowhere such products can’t be placed, they can sometimes enable astonishing levels of audiophile neurosis. A friend and I once visited a guy who had covered literally his entire system -- components, speakers, cables, fuse box -- with a product said to diffuse EMI and RFI. When I saw that system, I told my friend that, if I ever did that, he should, regardless of any sonic benefit, shoot me.

Devialet 400Reviewers' ChoiceAlthough he didn’t found Devialet until 2007, Pierre-Emmanuel Calmel, a Nortel Networks engineer, dreamed up what would become the heart of the company’s products in 2003: the Analog Digital Hybrid (ADH) amplifier. The ADH concept is elegant: an analog amplifier provides the output voltage, in parallel with a digital amplifier that supplies most of the current. This hybrid approach to amplification, Calmel surmised, would use the best attributes of each amplifier type in a package that would exceed the performance of either configuration on its own. Although this sounds simple enough, the implementation of ADH in the company’s original product, the D-Premier, was anything but easy. According to the company’s press materials, it took 100,000 lines of code and “many sleepless nights” to realize the goal of ADH.