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This Month's Featured Equipment Reviews
Denon AVR-X3100W Home Theater Receiver Review
Tisbury Audio Mini Passive Review
Denon AVR-S700W& Envaya Bluetooth Speaker Reviews
CLONES Audio 25p Power Amplifier Review
Audioengine A2+ Desktop Speakers Review
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Thursday, 08 December 2011 ,  Written by Andre Marc
Musical Fidelity V-DAC II Review
Legendary British HiFi firm, Musical Fidelity, has been at it for about 25 years now. They have been widely praised for decades for their amplifiers, hybrid tube designs, and digital source components. Musical Fidelity’s head honcho, Antony Michaelson, is very well respected as a designer, engineer, and is even a professional musician. It's fair to say that many Musical Fidelity products set new standards of performance and value.Musical Fidelity has produced products at a wide range of price points, but they have always been known for value. In the last few years, they have produced entry-level products that are well designed, extremely affordable, and by all accounts, perform beautifully. The current crop of products in this category includes the second generation V Series. There is the 24/96 V-Link II USB converter (also available with 192 Khz capability), the V-LPS II ...
Tuesday, 21 December 2010 ,  Written by Andre Marc
Marantz AV7005 AV Processor/Preamp / MM7055 Power Amplifier Review
The ability to replicate the movie theater experience in the home would have been a dream just ten years ago. Multi-channel components and large screen televisions and projectors were expensive and heavy. Add to that the fact there was little multi-channel content available. Today along with DVDs and Blu-ray discs all mixed in 7.1, plus High Definition digital cable boxes that allow broadcasters to offer 5.1 surround sound, it is a whole new ballgame. The advancements in home theater components have been dizzying, especially in the past two years, with network and internet connectivity, iPod streaming, HDMI switching, software based room correction and speaker set up all being thrown into the mix of features offered by most major manufacturers. More powerful multichannel receivers and power amps have also brought the home experience closer to the real thing. Almost every major speaker company ...
Monday, 18 October 2010 ,  Written by Michael Palmer
Marantz AV7005 Networking 7.2 AV Preamp/Processor Preview
The sleek, elegant Marantz AV7005 is a 7.2 channel A/V Preamp/Processor component with six HDMI 1.4a inputs (one on the front), two outputs with Audio Return Channel and 3D support, and balanced XLR outputs for amplifiers and subs.  Though simple at first glance with just two knobs, a drop-down door hides a vacuum fluorescent display along with secondary controls and connectors.And boy does this component have them.  In addition to the six HDMI 1.4a inputs, vinyl-philes will find an MM phono input being protected by current feedback technology along with six other stereo RCA inputs, four RGB component video inputs, four composite video inputs two coax digital audio inputs, as well as two optical digital audio inputs.Added to these are networked and Bluetooth streaming capabilities.  The AV7005 is DNLA 1.5 and Windows 7 compliant for access to your PC's music ...
Wednesday, 12 May 2010 ,  Written by Andre Marc
Benchmark DAC1 HDR Converter - Preamplifier Review
Benchmark Media has hit the 25 year mark, and has been an established name in broadcasting, pro audio, and more recently, in the home audiophile market. Audio engineers swear by their reliable, compact, and great sounding gear that works well in a variety of listening environments. Their products have included microphone preamps, DAC's, headphone amplifiers, and many other essential tools used in critical professional applications such as recording and mastering studios.Benchmark is based in Syracuse, New York, and their products are designed and built there.  Benchmark is committed to keeping it that way, unlike some of their competitors, who have gone offshore. They are known for customer service, employee and customer loyalty, as well as solid and fairly priced products. What sometimes gets overlooked is Benchmark's reputation for cutting edge technology.Benchmark DAC1: An EvolutionFor years, Benchmark was essentially a manufactuer ...
Tuesday, 07 April 2009 ,  Written by Robert Mead
Rotel RSP-1570 7.1 Processor/Preamplifier
The multi-functionality of any decent a/v receiver on the market today must be the most prominent and fundamental element when a consumer considers purchasing an a/v receiver for their living room or bedroom. Some consumers want a great 7.1 surround processor that will replicate the exact and precise DTS theater sound found at the local multiplex. But some others might want to purchase an a/v receiver that replicates the delicate nuances of pure stereo sound only, not wanting to listen to any surround mode whatsoever that would corrupt the pure audio that the original studio engineer that worked on the CD wanted to capture for prosperity. That kind of “audio purist” that puts 2-channel clear stereo sound ahead of the latest DTS surround mode when looking for a new a/v receiver is what Rotel’s sound engineers are always striving to ...
Monday, 02 February 2009 ,  Written by Julianne Stilson
Audio Research Reference 3 Preamplifier
The Basics:Coming from audio equipment designer and manufacturer Audio Research, the Reference 3 Preamplifier is high-end, high-performance equipment whose internal components were designed from the ground up. This new design is characterized by an innovative, unique circuitry that features a tube-regulated power supply and uses four 6H30 twin triode tubes. This means the Reference 3 provides twice the energy storage than older models. As a result, this valve-powered, line-level preamplifier can offer some truly powerful capabilities.Its standout design includes a large, green vacuum-fluorescent display with enhanced functionally that surpasses LED readings in older models. A combination of text, numbers, and graphical scales deliver alerts like channel balance, tube life, volume, and more. In addition, the front panel is laid out cleanly with spring-loaded switches for input selection and volume on either side of the generous display. Below the display is ...
Saturday, 01 November 2008 ,  Written by Brian Kahn
Marantz AV8003 AV Preamplifier
The Basics The AV8003 signals Marantz’s re-emergence into the ultra-competitive AV separates market.  At $2,599, the AV8003 is one of the less expensive surround sound processors, positioned to attract those on the verge of buying separates or considering one of today’s uber-receivers, but who prioritize sound quality over bells and whistles.  Utilizing a separate processor and amplifier allows the user to improve the quality of equipment over that offered by most receivers.  An added benefit is that when the processing technologies change so much that a new processor is needed, you can still keep your amplifier.  This theoretically reduces the cost and waste associated with upgrading your equipment. The AV8003 is housed in an aesthetically pleasing chassis, with rounded corners and a clean front panel that features a large display window above a drop-down door.  The window is flanked by a pair ...
Friday, 01 August 2008 ,  Written by Ken Taraszka, MD
Benchmark DAC1 PRE D/A Converter - Preamplifier
Introduction While most AV enthusiasts at the very high end of the market strive to achieve the best audiophile grade surround sound system, many of us still hold to the merits of two-channel audio for its breadth of content, ease of install, overall simplicity and pure sound.  Personally, my sources have evolved from LPs to CDs to the now-defunct DVD-Audio and SACD discs to the current full-resolution, uncompressed AIFF files stored on an Apple Mac Pro’s internal terabyte hard drive.  Thanks to the commercial death of the higher-resolution audiophile formats, I find myself more and more drawn to files on my computer for my dedicated theater and my audiophile system, as well as for my network devices.  This said, I am still an audiophile and the urge to make these CD quality files sound better is in my blood.  Enter the ...
Tuesday, 01 July 2008 ,  Written by Ken Taraszka, MD
Denon AVP-A1HDCi AV Preamplifier
Introduction The AV world has undergone an unheard-of number of changes in the past few years and, while many companies have been slow to adapt, Denon just released an AV preamp more up-to-date and with more features than ever before imaginable. The new Denon AVP-A1HDCI is described as an “Ultra Reference 12-Channel A/V Home Theater/Multimedia Preamplifier with Network Streaming and Wi-Fi” and that just starts to define what this piece can do. The Denon AVP-A1HDCI is designed to be the hub of an advanced AV system and can easily control two independent home theaters or one with up to three accessory zones. This AV preamp offers any feature you could dream of and has more flexibility than a Cirque de Soleil contortionist. Retailing for an even $7,000, it aspires to be the last AV preamp you’ll ever buy. We started with composite ...
Sunday, 01 June 2008 ,  Written by Ken Taraszka, MD
Anthem Statement D2 w Room Correction
IntroductionThe most frequently overlooked aspect of a great-sounding audiophile or dedicated home theater system is the room itself. No matter how good your components are, you can’t beat the physics of a badly designed and/or optimized room without a little help. While there are many devices to control reflections such as diffusers and bass traps, in the real world, most of us have our systems installed in multi-use rooms of our homes, like the living room, that are subject to significant wife acceptance factor. We can’t treat all the corners with traps and pad the walls. In fact, our wives would think we needed to live in padded rooms just for making the suggestion. Even in multi-use rooms, getting professional acoustical advice is always the best bet, but the cost, aesthetics and effort often leaves us looking for other, more ...
Thursday, 01 May 2008 ,  Written by Andrew Robinson
Lexicon MC-12 HD Music and Cinema Processor
Introduction If you’ve contemplated building a home theater with the utmost performance in mind, you’ve no doubt considered the Harman International brand Lexicon. When it comes to outfitting true performance-based home theaters that rival some of the best movie houses in the business, Lexicon has to rest somewhere near the summit. No other brand, save maybe Genelec and JBL, has such a storied history in professional cinema and mastering applications as Lexicon. However, in recent years, rapid evolution surrounding video formats and connection options, mainly high-definition video and HDMI, have given companies like Lexicon a moment of pause. This has allowed large, mass-producing giants from Japan to muscle their way into the playing field and even briefly take it over. However, with the arrival of the Lexicon MC-12 HD processor, the once mighty king of home theater has returned and is ...
Thursday, 01 May 2008 ,  Written by Brian Kahn
McIntosh Laboratory MX-136 AV Preamplifier
Introduction McIntosh has been nothing short of an American institution in the world of high-end audio for over 50 years. While McIntosh is best known for their stereo gear from the tube era, they have kept their line current with modern components such as music servers and multi-zone audio-video preamps, or “controllers,” as McIntosh calls them. McIntosh’s newest such controller is their MX-136, which at $9,500 (as configured with TM-1 tuner) occupies the top position in the tier of McIntosh AV preamps. Opening the MX-136, I found that McIntosh eschewed trendiness in favor of tradition. While most of the new A/V preamps I have seen at recent trade shows are small to medium in size, with either TFT screens or multi–line LCD and rows of same-sized buttons. The MX-136 is a full-sized unit with a nine-inch-tall by 17-and-three-quarter-inch-wide faceplate on an 18-and-three-quarter-inch-deep ...
Tuesday, 01 April 2008 ,  Written by Andrew Robinson
Integra DTC 9.8 AV Preamp/Processor
Introduction High-end home theater processors are quickly becoming the hot topic amongst home theater enthusiasts, and not because they’re the best. No. Home theater processors, the once-touted peak of all things audio/video, have taken a hit in recent years, largely due to the ever-changing HD landscape and a little thing called HDMI. When HD was in its infancy, component cable was king and 720p/1080i seemed to be the best anyone could hope for – for a while, it was. Even when 1080p reared its head, it took some time before it became the norm. However, the HDMI cable inevitably became the chink in HD’s armor, causing massive amounts of confusion and frustration among manufacturers and consumers alike, forcing many high-end brands to simply wait out the storm. It was during this time that many larger, mid-fi foreign brands took up the ...
Tuesday, 01 May 2007 ,  Written by Matthew Evert
Outlaw Audio Model 990 AV Preamplifier
Introduction A growing trend in high-value audio video retail sales is to actually remove the physical retail store from the buying process. In recent years, speaker companies like Aperion and Orb Audio have made headway against the brick and mortar entrenched brands, leaving their customers with a glowing feeling when they open the boxes to realize just how much speaker they got for the money. On the electronics side, Outlaw Audio has become an AVRev.com staff favorite, with their powerful yet affordable amps, truly competitive subwoofers, feature-packed receivers and, in the case of this review, a $999 flagship AV preamp that comes loaded with many of the latest bells and whistles found on state of the art AV preamps, at one-tenth the price. Among factors tempting consumers to buy are an in-home 30-day guarantee, a five-year warranty, 800-number tech support and ...
Thursday, 01 March 2007 ,  Written by Ken Taraszka, MD
Sunfire Theater Grand Processor V
Introduction Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. I pull out all the stops by fully decorating the house, buying enough candy to put a normally healthy adult into diabetic shock and generally reveling in the fun of dispensing goodies to those in need. It is possible Bob Carver felt the same emotions when he designed the Sunfire Theater Grand Processor 5. Available in a black or silver finish, the TGP-5 is designed to be the hub of a high-end, high-performance home theater, providing all the flexibility and connections you could need. Offering HDMI switching, video transcoding, an integrated AM/FM tuner, the ability to handle seemingly any surround sound format and direct stereo bypass for two-channel listening, as well as extensive options for controlling an independent second zone, few processors in the world of home theater offer what this one does, especially for its modest retail price of $3,499. The TGP-5 provides both single-ended and balanced outputs ...
Friday, 01 December 2006 ,  Written by Matthew Evert
Anthem Statement D2 AV Preamplifier
Introduction Anthem, known for value-priced audiophile-grade electronics, quickly established itself in the high roller market with their D1 AV preamp. With surprisingly good sound, at a price lower than you might expect from the big boys, Anthem quickly became the value leader in the home theater industry. With many market changes, specifically a fast-changing HDMI switching space, Anthem is back with a new flagship AV preamp called the Statement D2. Its goal is clear: to dominate and conquer the world of high-end AV preamps. The Anthem D2 is priced in with some heavyweights with a retail tag of $6,699. Description Visually, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between the Anthem Statement D2 and the now discontinued D1 unless you are looking for the fine details up close. They both are five-and-seven-eighths inches tall by 17-and-a-quarter inches wide by 15-and-one-quarter inches deep. The same elegantly simple brushed aluminum faceplate houses the same buttons and layouts for both. ...
Wednesday, 01 November 2006 ,  Written by Brian Kahn
Halcro SSP-100 AV Preamplifier/Processor
Introduction The Halcro SSP-100 is one of the most technologically advanced, full-featured audio video preamp-processors in the world. At $9,900, it is a relative bargain compared to other lofty competitors such as the Meridian 800 or Theta Casablanca, but it costs significantly more than the vast majority of processors currently on the market. The SSP-100 does everything you would expect of a full-featured audio/video processor and adds a video scaler, making it one of a few units in the world with this range of capabilities. I am not surprised that Halcro is one of the first manufacturers to offer this combination of features. Halcro, an Australian company, has long been known for their excellent amplifiers and cutting-edge digital amplification circuits. The SSP-100 shares industrial design cues that run throughout the Halcro line, namely the use of ovals. If you view the unit from above, there is a prominent oval cap that extends approximately a half ...
Sunday, 01 October 2006 ,  Written by Tim Hart
Classé SSP-600 AV Preamplifier/Processor
Introduction The idea of having it all is something the world of audiophiles never seemed to understand. You could have the warmth of tubes, but not get the impact and power of a great solid state amp. Stereo preamps offered the best sound, but couldn’t control the increasing number of inputs, most of which also were attached to video components. From now on, no matter how hardcore an audiophile you are or may have been, I want you to know – after extensive testing, listening, watching and drooling, you can in fact have it all. Thus begins the review of the Classe SSP-600 Delta Series preamp/processor ($6,500), which offers even the most critical listener the ability to have the control and flexibility that you need to run, manage and enjoy the most sophisticated of today’s surround sound audio and home theater systems. The Classe SSP-600 is built with striking corners and the vertical black anodized ...
Monday, 01 May 2006 ,  Written by Brian Kahn
Sherwood Newcastle P-965 AV Preamplifier
Introduction The Sherwood P-965 is a full-featured AV preamplifier that can serve as the centerpiece of a multi-room theater system without blowing even modest budgets. This piece is at the tops of the Sherwood Newcastle line and has just about every feature one could ask for in a high-end AV preamp, yet it is smartly designed to leave out many superfluous features that you don’t need but often pay for in more expensive components. The P-965 is priced at $1,495 and is indicative of Sherwood’s longtime philosophy of foregoing frills in order to keep its pricing competitive. When I received the P-965, I found it well packaged inside a box within a box. When I removed the box, I noted that the unit was standard in size at 17-and-three-eighths by seven-and-three-quarters inches by 17-and-three-quarters inches deep and weighed a respectable 26 pounds. The front panel was attractively finished in aluminum, with two large knobs that ...
Wednesday, 01 February 2006 ,  Written by Tim Hart
Linn Kisto System Controller
Introduction The proliferation of home theaters has been the driving force and market growth area for the audio industry for the last decade or so and has inspired the design of some really great gear for home theater components. As AV manufacturers gained more practical knowledge on how their products are used, the integration of audio and video control has gotten much better and far simpler to use. In the case of the preamp/processor, never has it been more critical that this component in your rig pull everything else together. It used to be that you wouldn’t dare run a video signal to anything other than your display for fear that it would be adulterated by the less than awe-inspiring video section of older preamps/processors. And if your audio requirements are for CD, DVD-Audio or SACD, are you always sure that the set-up for each format is correct? It’s not always obvious or straightforward. Audio ...
Sunday, 01 January 2006 ,  Written by Andrew Robinson
Outlaw Audio Model 970 AV Preamplifier/Processor
Introduction Comedian Dane Cook recently said, “More than sex, every man would rather be part of a heist.” While many of us will opt not to knock off our local Wells Fargo, we do still take a little pleasure in sticking it to the Man. Well, the folks over at Outlaw Audio wouldn’t want it any other way. For years, the men and women at Outlaw Audio have been designing and manufacturing world class home theater electronics and offering them direct to the consumer at low prices by selling them exclusively through their website. Don’t let the “Internet business” moniker fool you; they’ve earned countless awards, as well as a very loyal following from budget-minded consumers worldwide. Even though their products may cost less than the competition, don’t call them “budget” when it comes to performance. Now, with the release of their new 970 7.1 Pre/Processor and 7075 multi-channel amp, Outlaw is poised and ...
Sunday, 01 May 2005 ,  Written by Bryan Southard
Meridian G68 Digital Surround Controller
Introduction There is no piece more important to your home theater than your AV preamp. It is the brains, the heart and the soul of your entire AV system. It’s your system’s interface, switching unit and arguably the piece of gear that is more responsible for the sound of your system than any other. If your surround controller is easy to use and sounds great, your system will sing – anything less than that and you could be riddled with frustration and/or stuck with sound that doesn’t meet the standards you should expect when making a significant investment in high-performance audio/video electronics. I have had most of today’s best surround preamps in my system and have determined that this is the area where you least want to short yourself. At first glance, all comparably-priced surround controllers appear similar, yet when you are able to live with them for an extended period, you’ll find specific likes ...
Friday, 01 April 2005 ,  Written by Tim Hart
Anthem AVM 30 AV Preamplifier
Introduction For decades, manufacturers have produced high-end stereo components that deliver music playback so real that you can practically reach out and touch your favorite musician. Although home theatres with multi-channel surround systems have been commonplace since the early 1990s, there have been few options for the ultimate level in multi-channel reproduction. Such systems came at a price that invoked shrieks from even the wealthiest consumers. Many are familiar with the likes of the Mark Levinson No. 40, priced at over $30,000 and the Meridian G68 and Reference 861, at $8,000 and $20,000 respectively, just to mention a few. In the growing group of sub-$5,000 processors, can the Anthem AVM30 bring on the highest level of performance at a fraction of the cost of these mega-processors? One glance at the feature list and the $3,000 price tag tells me the Anthem AVM30 preamp/processor/tuner may well be the brightest contender on the price and performance landscape. This ...
Monday, 01 November 2004 ,  Written by Christopher Zell, Ph.D.
Anthem Statement D1 AV Preamplifier
Introduction There are a variety of corporate philosophies among audio component manufacturers, from the budget end with gobs of features and extras, usually at the expense of sonics, through those with bare bones features and somewhat utilitarian cosmetics, focusing on quality, sound and value. At the extreme opposite end of the spectrum are the manufacturers who design and offer components without cost as a primary concern. Anthem, which is part of Sonic Frontiers International under the Paradigm Corporation, has historically placed itself in an interesting position between these two philosophies. They have earned a reputation for excellent sonics at relatively affordable price points positioned well below the absolute high end. Typically, they have not reduced their feature set in the process and have gone one step further in their new Statement series of electronics. The Statement component line is designed to compete toe-to-toe with anything else on the market, regardless of price. In fact, Anthem welcomes ...
Friday, 01 October 2004 ,  Written by Tim Hart
Sunfire Theater Grand IV AV Preamplifier/Processor
Introduction Technology for home theater preamp/processors and receivers is fairly mature now that the addition of new surround sound formats has settled down somewhat. The risk of buying a preamp/processor that doesn’t have the latest decoding scheme has definitely diminished. At a certain price point, most components have all of the necessary capabilities to handle the different surround sound and high-resolution formats. The surround sound speaker format discussion, i.e., how many channels do we really need, has seemingly run its course. There was a time when DTS-ES and Dolby Digital EX clouded the consumer’s view as to which processing option was best, as well as raising the question of how best to enjoy it. These two options have been around long enough that most savvy consumers understand what they represent. Then another question was which high resolution format was going to be the clear winner: SACD or DVD-Audio? Well, the equipment manufacturers settled that by providing ...
Saturday, 01 May 2004 ,  Written by Bryan Dailey
Adcom GTP-880 AV Preamplifier
Introduction Value-oriented high end - this is how Adcom has long branded their products and their latest series of home theater separates is no exception. Built to be a perfect match for the recently reviewed Adcom GDV-850 progressive scan DVD-Audio/Video player, Adcom’s new GTP-880 7.1 preamp/tuner is chock full of goodies and very competitively priced at $2,400. Features including multiple 5.1 analog inputs, six assignable digital inputs, “Pure Path” component video switching featuring three inputs and one output via BNC connectors with 100MHz of bandwidth for high-definition sources and Adcom’s proprietary 7.1m2 algorithm, to name just a few. This is a serious piece of AV gear, yet simple enough for almost any user to set up and operate. The GTP-880 has a fit and finish that is as beautiful as the Adcom GDV-850 DVD player. The two are so similar that they might be mistaken for one large component when stacked on top of each ...
Thursday, 01 April 2004 ,  Written by Jerry Del Colliano
Meridian 861 Version 4 AV Preamplifier
Introduction A lot of promises are made by high end audio-video companies. The highest performance, the best value, the latest features and best of all products that are “future-proof.” I hate to break it to the industry, but there is no such concept as a future-proof AV component in any category – preamps, speakers, sources, etc. The closest I have found to something future-proof so far is Meridian’s flagship AV preamp, the 861. Now in its fourth version, Meridian’s 861 boasts even more features in its single chassis, including automated room correction and a direct, proprietary digital connection between their DVD-Audio/Video players and the preamp. The Meridian 861 is a vastly powerful AV preamp that can be configured any number of ways. It has balanced outputs, unbalanced inputs, component video cards, digital input cards and a powerfull new DSP card that facilitates Meridian Room Correction in conjunction with the new version 4 Meridian software. The pricing ...
Monday, 01 September 2003 ,  Written by Bryan Southard
Meridian 568.2 Digital Surround Processor
Introduction There’s no more important nor complicated component in your A/V system than that of the surround-sound preamp. It is the controls, processor and distribution center of your entire music and movie playback system. A high-performance A/V preamp can make your system sound like an audiophile’s most racy dream while controlling the increasingly complex sources of your system with ease. A poor sounding AV preamp, and they are out there on the market, can make music sound like cats scratching on an aluminum door. A poorly thought-out AV preamp will leave you wishing you had the inputs needed to allow you to keep up with the latest in AV technology like DVD-Audio, SACD, HDTV, component video switching and beyond. Meridian Audio is renowned for manufacturing audio/video components that perform at the very highest levels, competing directly with the likes of Mark Levinson, Krell, Lexicon, Theta and others that aspire to make the finest AV gear on ...
Sunday, 01 June 2003 ,  Written by Thomas Garcia
Lexicon MC-12B Music and Cinema Processor
Introduction As a music and home theater enthusiast, I frequently find myself upgrading or modifying my system, either through improvements to the acoustics of the listening environment, or the replacement and/or augmentation of various pieces of equipment. Most of the time, these changes result in small to moderate levels of improvement that are not always monumental, generally more evolutionary rather than revolutionary. But every now and then, a rare piece of equipment crosses my path, making me reevaluate my overall approach to my system configuration and setup. One such recent addition has been the Lexicon MC-12B Music and Cinema Controller. Lexicon, a member of the Harman International conglomerate, has been a highly respected producer of both professional and consumer electronics over the past few decades. The MC-12B represents the current pinnacle achievement in music and cinema controllers offered by Lexicon. The MC-12B’s pedigree can be traced back to the original CP-1, which was in introduced in ...
Sunday, 01 June 2003 ,  Written by Jerry Del Colliano
Mark Levinson No. 40 AV Preamplifier
Introduction Since the glory days of high-end audio in the late 1970s, the Mark Levinson brand has been associated with the world’s finest and most expensive preamps. Back in the day, the Mark Levinson brand was established on stereo preamps like the Mark Levinson JC1, which cost easily three times more than its closest competitor and yet sold like hotcakes. In today’s market, Harman International’s Madrigal, the parent company of the Mark Levinson brand, resisted releasing a high-end AV preamp to the market until years after other competitors had launched their products. Until now, Madrigal AV preamps were pretty much limited to the Proceed AVP, which was a very effective component but didn’t have the all-out high-end approach of a Mark Levinson product. Today there is the Mark Levinson No. 40, which is a $30,000, dual-chassis AV preamp with a no-compromises design approach that takes the best Madrigal knows about stereo preamps, DACs, video switching ...
Thursday, 01 May 2003 ,  Written by Ed Masterson
Conrad Johnson Premier 18LS AV Preamplifier
Introduction Over the last 25 years, Conrad-Johnson has earned a reputation for its mastery of the art of tube-based amplifier design. Many of their amplifiers and preamplifiers have received considerable praise from music lovers and AV industry professionals alike. As a statement piece, Conrad-Johnson’s ultra-expensive ART preamplifier has earned its way into some of the world’s absolute finest music playback systems. Until now, if you wanted a reference quality preamplifier from CJ, you had no choice but to deal with the maintenance and cost associated with tubes. Conrad-Johnson has released a new solid-state preamplifier, the Premier 18LS, in an attempt to satisfy those in love with CJ’s sound who simply are not willing and/or able to deal with the unavoidable hassles associated with owning a high-performance tube component. At $3,495, the Premier 18LS is the least expensive preamplifier in the Premier series. Even so, CJ spared no expense. As with all of the Premier preamplifiers, CJ ...
Tuesday, 01 April 2003 ,  Written by Ed Masterson
Classé SSP 30 MKII AV Preamplifier/Processor
Introduction Classé Audio has been producing high-performance audio/video electronics for more than 20 years. From their factory in Quebec, Canada, they have produced gear that has arguably performed among the absolute best of its kind, oftentimes at a much-reduced price when compared directly to its competition. For many years, I used the Classe’ CA-150 amplifier in my reference system and have long respected Classé for both value, performance and their simple yet tasteful aesthetics and exceptional build quality. The SSP 30 MKII A/V preamp represents the entry level in preamplification and theater processing from Classé. The original SSP 30 had all of the latest features in theater processing at the time of its release. Since then, several new formats have been developed, so the SSP 30 needed a major update to stay competitive in this quickly evolving market. The SSP 30 MKII is currently available at a price of $3,000. With the MKII, in addition to ...
Wednesday, 01 January 2003 ,  Written by Ed Masterson
Aragon Stage One AV Preamplifier
Introduction Aragon has a long and well-respected reputation for producing high-value, high-end two-channel music preamplifiers and, more specifically, power amplifiers. Today, under the ownership of Klipsch, they are expanding into the highly competitive market of multi-channel music reproduction and home theater. Aragon is not attempting to compete with the inexpensive mass-market products but instead going head-to-head with the best in the mid- to high-performance class, such as Sunfire and Anthem. The Stage One is a full-featured theater/multi-channel music processor, AM/FM tuner, two-channel analog preamplifier and video switcher, built into a single chassis. The Stage One measures 17 inches wide, five-and-one-half inches tall and 15 inches deep and retails for $4,000. It has seven inputs for A/V sources, all of which accommodate composite video, s-video, analog audio, and digital audio. Component video inputs are available on three of the inputs. Three toslink digital inputs are available, as well as a toslink output for high-quality digital recording. The analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog ...
Friday, 01 November 2002 ,  Written by Thomas Garcia
Sunfire Theater Grand Processor III
Introduction In the ever-changing home entertainment industry, it has become increasingly difficult for entry-level consumers and high-level enthusiasts alike to keep pace with the rapid development of new technologies and the changes that are ushered in by these advances. Nowhere is this more evident than with the audio/video preamp/processor. With continually changing formats and encoding schemes, it is all too easy to find that your new piece of equipment is outdated a relatively short time after you purchase it. There will always be innovative new speaker systems being released and impressive power amps appearing on a regular basis. But in the grand scheme of things, you can get by for quite a while if you choose wisely and invest in quality loudspeakers and amplifiers in the beginning. However, if your processor can’t decode the newest formats or take advantage of the latest algorithms and surround processing techniques, you may spend more time regretting your purchase than ...
Saturday, 01 June 2002 ,  Written by Brian Kahn
Krell Home Theater Standard 7.1 AV Preamplifier
Introduction Just as I finished reviewing the Krell TAS 5 channel power amplifier, Krell released their newest home theater product, the Home Theater Standard 7.1 AV preamp. The $8,000 Home Theater Standard 7.1 is the big brother to the Home Theater Standard 2 AV preamp, which I used in my review of the Theater Amplifier Standard. Owners of the Home Theater Standard 2 who bought one new from an authorized dealer can upgrade their units to the Home Theater Standard 7.1 at the Krell factory for $1,500. People who bought and HTS2 secondhand will need to pay $2,500 for upgrades. The new Home Theater Standard 7.1 is Krell’s third-generation AV preamp, designed with the hopes of being both "future proof" and true to Krell’s high standards for audio and video performance. While unpacking the Krell Home Theater Standard 7.1, I noted that, from the front, the new Krell looks almost identical to its predecessor, ...
Friday, 01 March 2002 ,  Written by Bryan Southard
Anthem AVM 20 AV Preamplifier/Processor
Introduction It was only a few years ago that a great separation was drawn between those who indulged in the passions of music reproduction, and those with a passion for video and movies. Rarely did the hardware for the two combine at a level of ultimate performance. The new millennium has ushered in a whole new breed of consumer electronics enthusiasts, passionate about watching movies or listening to music, but also enjoying the prodigious world of complete home entertainment including video games, music in multiple formats and more. At the core of any multi-channel audio/video system is the Surround Sound Processor (SSP) or AV preamp, responsible for providing digital signal processing for multi-channel movies, music and games. The Anthem AVM20 is a high-performance Surround Sound processor, preamplifier and tuner that retails for a competitively priced $3,199, available in either silver or black finished front plates. The most typical configuration for surround processing comes in the form ...
Thursday, 01 November 2001 ,  Written by Brian Kahn
Adcom GTP-830 AV Preamplifier/Processor
Introduction The GTP-830 ($1,200) is the latest home theater processor from Adcom, and their first to offer 7.1 processing. The GTP-830 surprisingly features a RDS (Radio Data Systems) AM/FM tuner in addition to its preamplifier and processor section. The preamplifier-processor section of the unit has five video inputs (three with S-video), a CD input and a tape loop. There are also three digital inputs, one toslink and two coaxial, which are linked to the first three video inputs. Lastly, there is also a 5.1 input for multi-channel SACD or DVD-Audio. The Adcom comes with a variant of the Theatermaster learning remote and also features a 12v trigger to aid in integrating with the rest of your theater system. The Adcom is a full-featured processor with both Dolby Digital and DTS capabilities. 24-bit 96kHz digital to analog converters are used throughout as well as true 24-bit signal processing for sources at that level of resolution. The 5.1 input ...
Thursday, 01 February 2001 ,  Written by Brian Kahn
B&K Reference 30 AV Preamplifier
Introduction The B&K Reference 30 ($2,800) is the replacement to the Reference 20 reviewed on AudioRevolution.com in 2000. The Reference 30 incorporates the features of the Reference 20 and expands upon them, this article will focus mainly on the differences between the two units. Features new to the Reference 30 include THX and THX EX processing, 5.1 inputs, 7.1 outputs, 96k/24bit A/D and D/A converters and processing, selectable subwoofer crossover frequency and slope, room equalization and last but not least, a IEEE 1394 port. The IEEE 1394 port will need a controller upgrade to become operational and I expect that soon after the IEEE 1394 standards are implemented B&K will provide the upgrade. The Asaho-Kasei 192 kHz 24 bit ADC’s and DAC’s share the same pin format with their 192 kHz 24 bit counterparts allowing for an easy upgrade path after the new 192 kHz 24 bit standards are implemented. Setting up the Reference 30 ...
Wednesday, 01 November 2000 ,  Written by Brian Kahn
B&K Components PT-3 AV Preamplifier
Introduction The $598 B&K PT-3 is the latest pre-amp/tuner from B&K. The PT-3 is a full-featured line level remote controlled pre-amp and tuner. The AM/FM tuner has 40 preset memories that recall not only the station but can also recall volume and tone control settings. The pre-amp features six inputs, a tape loop, tone controls, a 12-volt trigger and IR relay capabilities. The six presets can be custom-labeled to match your sources. The remote that comes with the PT-3 is well thought out and does not appear to be an off-the-shelf model, but rather one developed by B&K. The Music I utilized the PT-3 in my reference music system, which at this time consists of Martin Logan Scenarios, a Sunfire Subwoofer Jr., a Pioneer Elite PDR-19RW and a B&K ST1400II (125wpc), connected with Audio Analysis cabling. In addition to listening to the PT-3 at home, I brought it with me to my office to see how well ...
Thursday, 01 June 2000 ,  Written by Kim Wilson
Sunfire Theater Grand Processor II
Introduction It’s fairly common practice for manufacturers to re-issue an existing model with additional features. However, it doesn’t always make for an interesting or more enlightened review. Fortunately, there are exceptions, such as Sunfire’s Theater Grand II. Perhaps what is most extraordinary about this upgrade is that the driving force behind the new version was Sunfire’s determination to extend the sonic performance well beyond that of the first-generation product. This is evidenced in the increased dynamic range and reduced noise floor that was a direct result of revisions made to the internal circuitry and board design. Dolby Digital and DTS encoders, along with basic DSP modes, are essential elements to the $3,295 TG II, though it is two analog features that distinguishes this processor from the pack. The inclusion of an AM/FM tuner with 40 presets and a phono preamp is a rare find these days on high-end digital preamps. Moving forward technologically is fine, but ...
Wednesday, 01 March 2000 ,  Written by Brian Kahn
B&K Components Reference 20 AV Preamplifier/Processor
Introduction The $2,500 B&K Reference 20 is the latest and greatest in B&K's line of Dolby Digital, DTS Surround Processors. Keeping with tradition, this unit is built with the future in mind and allows for easy upgrades due to its modular design. This means that if and when a new surround format is announced, you should be able to easily upgrade the Reference 20 to accommodate it. The Reference 20 is designed to handle switching and surround sound processing for your entire system. In addition to acting as a preamp/processor, it also has a built-in tuner. Other features include two-zone capability, seven inputs, RS232 port, IR and 12-volt control capabilities, as well as a learning remote. Setting everything up was fairly easy, thanks to a clear and complete owner's manual. I was even able to make custom labels for the various inputs, so instead of the display saying "V2," it reads "Laser" -- a very handy ...
Monday, 01 November 1999 ,  Written by Jerry Del Colliano
Proceed AVP AV Preamplifier
Introduction The Proceed AVP is a full function audio/video preamp that combines audio preamplification, digital conversion, broadcast-quality video switching and surround sound decoding into a highly refined high-end gem. Priced at $4,995 (S-Video version), the Proceed AVP comes equipped with DTS, AC3, Pro Logic, THX and numerous other surround fields for both music and video playback. The digital section of the AVP uses Burr Brown 1702 20-bit Multibit DACs for the left and right channels and 1-bit, 24-bit compatible AKM Delta-Sigma DACs for the center, surround, aux and subwoofer channels. A dealer-provided software update will be available in the near future to get your AVP ready for the 24-bit 96 kHz performance. The AVP comes equipped with seven digital and eight analog highly flexible, assignable inputs. A special version of the AVP can be ordered in order to take up to four S-VHS inputs, as well as four composite inputs. A standard AVP comes with six composite ...
Saturday, 01 May 1999 ,  Written by Kim Wilson
Audio Design Associates Cinema Reference AV Preamplifier/Processor
Introduction A home theater’s central nervous system is the digital processor, serving as preamp, digital surround decoder, D-to-A converter (DAC) and switcher. Audio Design Associates (ADA), a company that specializes in custom installation, manufactures a line of high performance components and the Cinema Reference is their most comprehensive and versatile processor to date, incorporating both Dolby Digital and DTS decoders along with THX enhancements. As manufacturers firmly entrench themselves in the DVD revolution, Laserdiscs are already virtually a footnote in A/V history. While the majority of processors require the purchase of additional outboard gear to play Dolby-encoded Laserdiscs, the Cinema Reference actually houses the often-elusive RF Demodulator. Functioning as a sophisticated preamp/switcher, this processor is loaded with a wide assortment of inputs and outputs, insuring future expandability as digital products continue to emerge. High-quality components, superior sonic performance and advanced features tend to drive the price up on processors, and so it is with the Cinema Reference. At ...
Monday, 01 February 1999 ,  Written by Kim Wilson
Sunfire Theater Grand Processor/AV Preamplifier
Introduction Along with both Dolby Digital and DTS decoders, the Theater Grand from Sunfire is the only high-end digital processor/preamp I've reviewed with a 40 preset AM/FM Tuner and phono stage. When you consider that the Sunfire offers many more features than many heralded (and ultra-expensive) processors, it may surprise you that its price tag is well below the competition at $2,995. Proof that it doesn't require a second mortgage (just a good credit line) to have a terrific sound system. Interfacing Details When it comes to I/O connections, the Theater Grand is extremely well equipped. There is a total of five digital inputs (5 coax, 2 Toslink) and nine analog audio inputs (including the five grouped with composite and S-video connectors). There are two pairs of component inputs and a single set of component outputs. This is smart. If you have both a DVD and a DSS, you'll need a switcher, since most TVs equipped with component ...
Tuesday, 01 December 1998 ,  Written by Kim Wilson
Enlightened Audio Designs Theater Master Digital Processor
Introduction Enlightened Audio Designs (EAD) has re-invented their popular Theater Master digital processor with three distinct versions (Encore, Ovation, Signature). Each incorporates Dolby Digital, DTS and MPEG decoders ensuring worldwide compatibility with any audio format. The Ovation ($4,449), like the one I was sent, is an upgrade from the basic Encore ($2,995). It includes an HDCD circuit and balanced outputs along with upgraded 20-bit DACs. Packaged with the Theater Master is a programmable touch screen remote with layouts of essential components like Laserdisc, DSS, DVD, CD and VCR. Teaching the Theater Master commands from other remotes is quite simple. The unit fits comfortably in the palm of your hand and is far more intuitive than remotes with multi-function buttons. The new slimmer chassis unveils a bold new diamond fly-cut faceted faceplate. The attractiveness of the unit is highlighted by the elimination of controls. Only a bright blue display panel and a power switch adorn the front ...
Sunday, 01 March 1998 ,  Written by Kim Wilson
Theta Casablanca AV Preamplifier
Introduction Your next preamp, digital-to-analog converter and surround processor are most likely going to be housed in one chassis thanks to the trend set by the Theta Casablanca. For ten years, Theta Digital has been setting high end performance standards by designing digital processors and transports capable of the highest level of performance. The Theta Casablanca is a high end audio-video preamp which can execute all of the most cutting edge music and film playback formats of 1998 while maintaining an open architecture for growth into future technologies. The Theta Casablanca is a PC-inspired high end audio-video preamp. Physically, the Casablanca is quite tall; and you'll need all eight inches of height to accommodate all the cards you'll want to elicit the best from your 5.1 surround formats and future upgrades. Available in either silver or black anodized aluminum, no one will miss the that fact you've invested in a dramatic new addition to your ...
Wednesday, 01 October 1997 ,  Written by Kim Wilson
Lexicon DC-1 AV Preamplifier/Processor
Introduction The DC-1 is the flagship digital controller from Lexicon, a long time leader in digital processing technology. It is a combination preamplifier, A/V switcher, D-to-A converter (24-bit Delta Sigma) and digital processor whose design makes it possible to come in a variety of configurations. A fully loaded DC-1 incorporates Dolby Digital, DTS and THX processes. The DC-1 continues to provide Pro Logic along with other surround processes for videotapes, TV programming and other source materials without DTS or Dolby Digital encoding. Several DSP (digital signal processing) modes are provided for adding ambience to stereo and monaural sources. All signal processing, including filters, EQ and crossovers, are performed in the digital domain. The DC-1 also employs Lexicon's patented Logic 7 technology, which takes as low as a two-channel signal and digitally processes it to produce a discreet, multi-channel, full bandwidth surround signal. Logic 7 is included on many of the DC-1's surround parameters and can be enjoyed by listeners ...
Tuesday, 01 April 1997 ,  Written by Kim Wilson
Millennium DTS Decoder/AV Preamplifier
Introduction The Millennium DTS Decoder/Preamp is a simple black box, offering an upgrade path for most multi-channel sound systems. Using the Millennium's multi-channel preamp inputs and outputs, you send the signal from your current A/V preamp through the Millennium for decoding and back again. The Millennium offers two digital inputs, coax and optical (Toslink). A digital output is also provided, which I used to feed a Theta 396 D-to-A converter (DAC). In the event you don't have a full five speaker plus subwoofer system, there are dip switches for down converting the DTS bitstream into a configuration that matches your system, be it 5.1, 4, or 2 channel. A set-up CD, with white noise for calibrating each channel, is included in the packaging. While there is nothing difficult about the set-up, the manual-only controls mean you have to continually get up from your listening position to adjust the levels until they are right. Additionally, the Millennium ...
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