The Cartridge Man MusicMaker Classic Phono Cartridge ($1750: price includes the New Isolator.) There is only one word to describe Leonard Gregory’s newest variable-reluctance phono cartridge: Masterpiece. The MusicMaker Classic allows uncorrupted access to the deepest artistic intent of all music and does it without any sonic peccadilloes and anomalies. Its portrayal of the timbre and tonal colors of acoustic instruments – the toughest task for all hi-fi gear - is standard-settingly natural and believable: one wastes no energy trying to identify the instruments playing and thus can focus on what they are playing.

And it is the MusicMaker Classic’s exemplary depiction of what the instruments are playing, and how they are playing it which leads to its direct communication of the artistic intent of the music. It does this with all musical styles, thus opening all music to the adventurous listener.

Since it is not a moving-coil, one is spared the artificial colorations of most of the breed, the expense and search for a truly neutral moving-coil pre-preamp, and the ultra cartridge pricing too. The Classic’s fine detail and resolution demand a superior phono stage and tonearm. The $1240 Graham Slee Reflex phono stage was used in the development of the cartridge and is a superb match. Inclusion of the New Isolator in its price makes a supremely natural sounding cartridge even more natural.

The MusicMaker Classic is a ‘final destination’ phono cartridge, one of the few truly aesthetically satisfying phono products I’ve heard in my 35 years of analogue LP listening [Paul Szabady]. 
 

                    
The Origin Live Silver MKII Tonearm ($1000)
Origin Live’s Mark Baker continues his world-wide dominance of tonearm design with this extensive re-working of the already superb Silver arm. Retaining the original’s superb timing, rhythm, bass control, and articulation, the new Silver MKII adds a substantially more neutral and error-free mid-band and top-end, able to integrate the typical rising high-frequency response of moving-coil cartridges coherently and without edge. Capable of great nuance and extreme subtlety, the Silver MKII also has great authority, drive and control, yielding an exceptionally deep communication of all music’s meaning. [Paul Szabady]

The Cartridge Man’s New Isolator ($150)
Leonard Gregory’s new iteration of his ingenious and supremely effective phono cartridge Isolator adds exotic micro-spiralex to the filtering sandwich, significantly improving an already excellent product (and past winner of our Most Wanted Component Award.) The New Isolator requires a phono cartridge with a flat top surface for the New Isolator’s breakable adhesive to adhere to, and the ability to raise tonearm height to compensate for its added height. The result makes analogue LP sound like the master tape, reducing any mechanical distortions far into the subliminal zone. Considering the amount of musical and sonic improvement (even on already very good arms) the New Isolator offers, it’s an absolute steal. Try this before you even think about an arm or cartridge upgrade. [Paul Szabady]

                                     

The Graham Slee Reflex Phono Preamplifier ($1240)
UK phono stage guru Graham Slee’s wide bandwidth design philosophy reaches an apex with the Reflex, offering exceptional neutrality, transparency, and resolution of the entire frequency bandwidth. The Reflex’s terrific sonics are mated to an equally terrific rendering of musical technique, leading to deep comprehension of the artistic intent of even the most complex music. Couple the Reflex to the transcendent Cartridge Man MusicMaker Classic phono cartridge ($1750) and your analogue odyssey is over. [Paul Szabady]

 

                               

                         

Behold Gentile G192 Integrated amplifier (starts at $11,500) Sporting as many features as its big and ultra-expensive siblings, the newest addition to the Behold family holds true to the trickle-down theory by offering nearly 90% of Behold's technical wizardry and sound for a fraction of the cost. Boasting a huge 7-inch LCD touch-screen display, a plethora of digital ins and outs (8 analogue, 6 digital), and a 6-channel FireWire support, this little techno-tyke sung its way into my heart at the most recent Munich High End. The Gentile employs four discrete channels of amplification (two 80-watt analogue and two 160-watt switching), while room correction and digital crossover options are also available. Yep, I've a unit coming my way so stay tuned. [Clement Perry]                              

Bel Canto e.One Ref1000 mono amps ($4200 pair) Bel Canto’s switch to ICE power—in addition to their compact new look—surprised me by their incredible control of my new (and frighteningly massive) Sunny Cable Technologies subwoofers. After finally getting a chance to spend some extended time with them, I was convinced that overall, they beat out my previous reference ICE powered amps from Acoustic Reality. While the AR amps cost nearly $10k, the Bel Canto amps cost only $4200/pair, making them a silly-good bargain and a top performer with super-low-end power, control and finesse [Clement Perry].

Bel Canto Design Pre3 Preamp ($1995.00). Bel Canto Design is no stranger to excellent performance in a small package with the highly coveted Ref 1000 monoblock amplifiers and proprietor John Stronzer has struck gold again with the addition of the Pre3 preamp to the lineup. Compact in stature, the Pre3 uses the same case as the Ref 1000’s and has five inputs (four RCA’s and one XLR), three outputs (one tape, one RCA and one XLR), and comes with a remote control. I used the Pre3 with a number of amplifiers from four thousand dollars to twenty thousand dollars and each time the performance was exceptional. Just goes to show that great things can come in small packages. [Craig Fitzpatrick].

                                

Blue Circle Audio BC208 Amplifier ($28,000)
The flagship amplifier in the Blue Circle line was sheer joy to review, both from a sonic standpoint and from their size and beauty. They were consistently given the three “Oh yeahs” (those are big, those are beautiful, those sound good) from almost everyone that came by and heard them. The BC208s have lifelike stage dimensions, dynamics, and performers had a seemingly palpable existence in my listening room. The BC208s are truly a work of art. [Michael Wright]
 

Blue Circle BC3000 MKII Preamp w/GZpz power supply ($6,895 - $12,500 depending on options)
I’ve kidded the iconoclastic Gilbert Yeung about his quirky sense of style and predilection for non-conforming aesthetics in his component designs, but what I can’t kid him about is the peerless quality of sound they reproduce. The BC3000 is as musical a preamp as I’ve heard and comes with more options than a salad bar. One option that should be considered a must, is the beefy GZpz power supply. It helps get to the best of what this preamp has to offer. [Dave Thomas]

Chapter Précis Integrated Amplifier ($6500)
Without a doubt the most musically satisfying amplifier I've ever had in my system. Prodigious, clean, speedy and taut bass, pristine extended highs and an oh so glorious midrange along with seemingly limitless dynamics that made me listen 'til the chickens would crow! Cymbals sounded the most realistic ever through the Précis but its most captivating rendering was that of both the male and female human voice. Most of the record dates I've done sounded their best played back through the Précis and on top of that its a beautiful looking piece of equipment. Unfortunately shortly after my review Chapter's US distributor exited the market and thus Chapter is currently not being distributed in stateside. [Alvester Garnett]

Dignity Audio DA08SE 300B Monoblock Amplifier ($800 per amplifier)
I found these engaging 8-watt, 300B amplifiers to be extremely musical, delivering quick, clear, shimmering highs and surprisingly robust lows. Monarchy Audio’s C.C. Poon claims the Permalloy output transformers provide much more power at the frequency extremes than the typical, lower-grade transformers commonly used in competing amplifiers. The Dignity monoblocks were exceedingly seductive in my system without sounding artificially colored or overtly glamorous [Frank Alles].

     

   

 

       

 

                                          

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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