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Hall of Fame

     Tact Audio     2.2X Room Correction Preamplifier

Winners at a Glance

Analog

Digital

 Pre + amplification

Loudspeakers

Cabling

Accessories

 

 

The Stereo Times 2006
ďMost Wanted ComponentsĒ

 

A message to our winners: Thank you for your limitless craftsmanship. Thank you for continuing the advancement of this sacred art. Thank you for allowing our cherished music to live through your celebrated efforts.

The Stereo Times Staff

                                                                           

Hall of Fame

Tact 2.2XP Room Correction/preamplifier ($5,997). The only high end component to have remained constant in an ever changing and evolving environment since 1998. In a world where brainiac designers attempt to replace products with theirs, none has showed me a better solution than room correction. Whenever I listen to my system without room correction I realize why it remains intact (pun intended). The fact that it also serves as a full fledged digital preamplifier with parametric equalization makes it that much harder to replace.

The XP version just released this year takes the Tact 2.2 to still loftier heights with Dynamic Room Correction. This feature in short, offers the ability to dynamically adjust the low end for low volume settings. The ability to use room correction on the fly, right from the front panel, without the use of a personal computer will certainly make it favorable to those formally intimidated by PCs linked to their hi-end rigs.



Analogue

 

Clearaudio Smart Phono ($395). The great thing about the advances in analog music reproduction is that you can gain an astonishing level of performance for very little money. The Clearaudio Smart Phono is a classic example. Itís built in a solid silver brushed aluminum chassis and offers the flexibility of MC and MM cartridge use and is dead quiet in operation. Partnered with the likes of the Benz Micro Ace cartridge it can provide the analog lover with even a beer-budget analog rig many years of happy listening [Dave Thomas].

 

The Cartridge Manís THE ISOLATOR Phono Cartridge De-coupler
From the ever fertile and music-centric mind of Leonard Gregory (aka The Cartridge Man), comes this terrific little $150 device (less if purchased with his legendary MusicMaker III phono cartridge). It fits between the phono cartridge and the tonearm headshell and breaks up the feedback of mechanical energy into the tonearm and back again. The result? The elimination of residual mechanical resonances that gives LP playback the smoothness and coherence of Open Reel tape without any trade-offs. Requires a phono cartridge with a flat top (to adhere to the adhesive plate to which the cartridge attaches) and the ability to raise the tonearm sufficiently to make up for The Isolatorís thickness. After listening to The Isolator, musical LP life without it becomes impossible [Paul Szabady].

 

                        Digital

Wadia 270SE ($10K) A monster of a transport both sonically and physically. This extremely well-built transport showed me exactly why its built solely as a transport only. What it does for dynamic swing has been historically noted in the press but what it did in this, its latest iteration, for overall smoothness and richness left a few of us dumbfounded. The best mechanical drive I've yet to hear though I wouldn't be too far off the mark to announce the day of mechanical drives superiority over computer based drives is slowly coming to a screeching halt. 

 

Esoteric G25U Upsampler/Word Clock ($2800)

       

After being exposed to some great digital front ends - that featured external word clock synchronization outputs - it gives me great pleasure to find that Esoteric has finally launched an affordable alternative to their super-sophisticated $13k G0 series Universal Word Clock with the $2800 G25U. What's more impressive is their knowledge of how external clocks work at such levels as in the G0, then use that same expertise in creating this wonderfully thought-out product. Sonically, it wasn't in the same league as the G0 which we had go toe to toe with this new upstart. But the G25U did outpoint the  Apogee Big Ben ($1,800) in overall sound quality. In addition to its master world clock feature, it will also upsample to a near-analogue type quality. Intriguing because it worked wonders with the Reimyo CDP 777 while it wouldn't make music with the Wadia 270SE. Interesting nonetheless.

 

Nova Physics Group Memory Player (starting at $10K depending on options)

From the near demented minds of George Bischoff and Mark Porzilli, the same dynamic duo that bought you the Pipedreams and the Melos SHA Gold, comes a product that is sure to bring ire from the competition and absolute pleasure for music lovers. I'll say that since serving as the sacrificial lamb, and being the first reviewer to hear this latest offering from Bischoff, Porzilli, and Rod Handley life hasn't been the same for standard 16/44 playback.

The short and sweet of this player is: serving as a computer based design the Memory Player is capable of disabling error correction coding with its patent-pending ďRead Until RightĒ (RUR) trademarked software. Moreover, it stores songs on memory-based solid state, akin to using flash, which the guys from Nova state "induces nearly zero jitter and certainly less than a hard drive." Yeah, I know. You're going to say you know of some other devices that also do the same. Well, not quite. Sonically speaking, there's nothing that I've heard that comes close to the performance of this computer based transport playing back uncompressed WAV files. And I've taken it around and tried it against the very best available including the Reimyo and the Wadia. They both fall short. I can go on and on detailing its sonic qualities but will save that for my upcoming review. For more info visit their website at www.novaphysicsgroup.com
 


Classť Audio CDP 102 ($4000).  

Visually and sonically splendid, in the Classť tradition, the CDP 102 delivers wonderful music reproduction and surprisingly good DVD playback. A clear step ahead of my long-time reference Electrocompaniet EMC-1, the CDP 102 also features a touch screen display for easy front panel operation and video preview! Far too many features to get into here, but could very well be one of the best values in high-end audio. Review to come [Dave Thomas].

 

Rega Apollo CD Player
The new $995 Apollo incorporates a new Rega-developed CD drive and disc operating software system that optimizes disc reading and performance to a level that Rega claims finally allows data to enter the DAC without compromise. Coupled with the latest Wolfson DACs and a Class A output stage, the Apollo organizes sound into meaningful musical patterns, particularly timing, rhythm, and phrasing, that begins to approach analogue LP. A musical breakthrough in CD players [Paul Szabady].

 

C.E.C. TL-51XZ BELT DRIVE CD PLAYER ($1,590. TL-51X transport: $1,290)
This player produces music with an uncanny sense of ease and natural flow, allowing one to explore the inner details of favorite recordings while also simply enjoying the entire fabric and meaning of favorite pieces of music. Its spaciousness, natural presentation and new perspectives offered on favorite recordings are without peer in its price range in my listening experience. It is of exceptional value and build quality and represents the cornerstone of my favorite listening system [Nelson Brill].

 

Esoteric UX-3 Universal Disc Player ($8,500)
Plainly stated, the UX-3 is the best CD player I have had in my system, bar none. Esotericís DV50 broke new ground in the realm of openness, detail and an ability to draw you into the music, but the UX-3 was a big improvement over that, giving you an even greater view into the performance. Music contained on your discs emanates from such a dark background that it sounds eerily lifelike and natural, making you forget youíre listening to a recording. Dynamics and bass response from this player are exemplary. The UX-3 is sure to do the folks at Esoteric very proud [Mike Wright].


 

MARANTZ SA-11S1 SACD Player ($3499)
The SA-11S1, one of the products in Marantzís coveted Reference Series, is beautifully finished in a satin gold tone, similar to Saul Marantzís products of forty or so years ago. It is capable of exemplary Red Book CD reproduction. And, were it only a hi-end CD player, its outstanding performance and near tube-like sound belies its reasonable price. But Marantz didnít just throw in SACD as an extra inducement. Its SACD reproduction is among the very best Iíve heard Ė mind boggling resolution and detail, extended and satisfying bass, glorious mid-range, smooth treble, and an exceptional sense of depth and width. Iím confident that reproduction of SACD on the Marantz can hold its own among (and in my humble opinion, probably better than) the few excellent units available Ė add to that, reproduction of Red Book CD playback just short of the best reference CD players [Lew Lanese].


 

Opera Audio Consonance CD-120 Linear ($995). Made in China. We all know what that means. Thatís right ó quality. Whatíd you think I was going to say? At long last companies such as Prima Luna, Hyperion Sound and Opera Audio are proving thatís what that once ignominious phrase should mean to us audiophiles. It is in this auspicious new tradition that I hereby proclaim the Opera Audio Consonance CD-120 Linear CD player the finest sub-kilobuck CD player Iíve ever heard. I donít know whether to attribute this playerís particular specialness to its Kusonoki non-oversampling DAC, its simple circuit layout or what, but this player is un-digital in the best sense. Possessed of right-on tonality, superb timing and a certain organic flow which is addictive, it lacks only the fine detail, refinement of tone and tank-like construction that are the hallmarks of a few much pricier players Iíve heard [David Abramson].

                                 

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