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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.

Part of the fun of being an audio reviewer is to discover new gear unknown to the general public. Such a device is this DAC from Waversa Systems, a Korean manufacturer previously unknown to me. Their founder, CEO, and lead design engineer, Dr. Collin Shin, draws on 30 years’ experience in developing low-noise, jitter-canceling chips for precision medical and military applications, to design circuits that will allow the listener to be enveloped by digitally encoded music. In designing this version of the WDAC3, Shin was assisted by legendary American audio engineer and SoundStage! Network equipment-measurement engineer Bascom H. King.

Reviewers' ChoiceRethm’s polymath founder, CEO, and designer, Jacob George, is based in Cochin, in southwest India. He brings to loudspeaker design a nontraditional vision informed by his love of wide-frequency-band, high-efficiency, single-driver speakers, vacuum tubes, his trainings as an architect and engineer, and a musician’s ear. His passions for audio and speaker design were driven by his pursuit of a type of sound reproduction that existed in his imagination: fast, coherent, highly detailed, yet nonfatiguing. The products of that pursuit have been steadily refined, and have culminated in the latest Rethm loudspeaker, the Maarga ($9750 USD per pair).

Reviewers' ChoiceOver Thanksgiving and the ensuing week, I flew down from Oregon, where I live, to spend time at a retreat for artists (I write poetry) in northern California near the Bay Area. Because I also had friends to visit, I rented a car when I landed at the Norman Y. Mineta San José International Airport, splurging on a full-size vehicle: a silver Chevrolet Malibu sedan. It was big and stable, gave good mileage, and had lots of features. It got me around -- to Berkeley and Lafayette, to San Francisco and Santa Cruz. But it didn’t have savoir faire. It lacked that je ne sais quoi that aging guys like me crave on getaways from our humdrum lives.

Reviewers' ChoiceIntegrated amplifiers have often been touted as space savers. Combining two components into one, the typical integrated amplifier also does away with a set of interconnects, and results in a smaller package than would be possible with separates. This saves not only on real estate, but on price as well. You’ve heard all this before.

Forget it.

Last year, at the Montréal Audio Fest, I did a solid for Mat Weisfeld, president of VPI Industries. Throughout that weekend I’d been in and out of various rooms that featured VPI turntables, and during those visits Weisfeld and I had struck up brief conversations. Close to the end of the show’s final day, as we discussed VPI’s MW-1 Cyclone record-cleaning machine, as I was picking his brain about the finer points of the Cyclone’s design, Weisfeld asked if I’d mind taking the display unit home with me. “We’ve got enough to transport back to the States -- it’d be a great help if you could look after this for us.”

I received review samples of Esoteric’s Grandioso K1 SACD/CD player and DAC ($31,000 USD) and G1 master clock generator ($26,000) at the same time. Figuring that not everyone would plunk down $57,000 all at once, I first reviewed the Grandioso K1 alone. Now it’s the Grandioso G1’s turn.

Reviewers' ChoiceCall me shallow, but I believe that in order to fully perform its job, a turntable must look good. Turntables aren’t like other components. They require constant interaction, for setup, fine-tuning, and daily use. Speakers just sit there, lump-like, and CD players can eject a disc with a push of a button. And don’t get me started on preamplifiers -- in this remote-controlled age, you need never touch a preamp again, and many of them don’t even have knobs. But this inveterate knob twiddler enjoys interacting with his audio gear. I take inordinate and vaguely inappropriate sensual pleasure in gently rocking a tube from its socket and then -- gently, s-l-o-w-l-y -- pushing in its replacement.

Reviewers' ChoiceIn February 2015, I reviewed Esoteric’s Grandioso P1 SACD/CD transport, D1 mono digital-to-analog converters, and G-01 master clock generator. At a total cost of $91,000 USD, these state-of-the-art components in five hefty cases of aircraft-grade aluminum are not for the faint of checkbook or rack space.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw a Sonus Faber loudspeaker. It was 2002, and I was fresh out of college, broke, and hungry to put the last four years of educational purgatory to good use. I was also in the market for a new apartment. Like many early nesters, when I wasn’t out exploring potential residences, I was window-shopping for potential décor.

Reviewers' ChoiceI sauntered into the display room of Technical Audio Devices Laboratories (aka TAD) at Munich’s High End in May of this year, hoping to see something big and awesome from the venerable Japanese company -- maybe an update of the Reference One Mk.2, their flagship loudspeaker, or some new model of cutting-edge electronics built to impossibly precise standards. Instead, I saw the littlest speaker the company makes.