It amuses me when, on audio forums, I read the words of rich, cantankerous old audiophiles defending, for all they’re worth, their five-figure audio systems against other forum members who’ve heard something much cheaper that sounds, to them, better. The latter is audio heresy. I mean, if someone has spent 50 grand on a DAC, or 100+ grand on some amps, isn’t it downright rude to suggest that something much less expensive might sound better? The nerve.
But what if it does?
Here are five audio products that might be better than what you have now. Don’t buy them until you’ve heard them for yourself -- I haven’t had any of them in my system, so, yes, I’m speculating -- but do seriously consider auditioning them, even if your rich audiobuddies scoff at the very concept of a giant killer.
The GoldenEar Technology Triton One is one ambitious speaker. Doug Schneider gave it a great review, but it was the Triton One’s measurements that really caught my attention. Yes, the Triton’s frequency response is admirably flat throughout the audioband, but take a close look at its bass extension. Considering that this is an anechoic measurement -- no room gain involved -- the One should play flat down to 20Hz in your room. Can your five-figure speakers do that? I mean, really? Probably not. You may or may not like the specific tonal balance offered by the One’s High-Velocity Folded Ribbon (HVFR) tweeter, but its bass extension will be hard to beat at any price, let alone $4999.98 USD per pair.
The Benchmark Media Systems AHB2 stereo amplifier costs $2995, and Hans Wetzel’s SoundStage! Access review sits in my Documents folder, ready for June 1 publication. I won’t steal Hans’s thunder here, but I will tell you that he really liked it. This compact, 100Wpc (into 8 ohms) component has -- get this -- a claimed signal/noise ratio of 132dB, A-weighted. Bascom King, SoundStage!’s electronics-measurement guru, said online that the Benchmark had “the lowest output noise level I have seen in any power amplifier I have measured.” Particularly if you have very sensitive speakers that will amplify any upstream noise, the Benchmark just might sound better than your megabuck power amp.
Schiit Audio’s Yggdrasil DAC is so new that I know no one who’s even heard it. Nonetheless, it seems to be a fresh take on a product genre that had gone stale in recent months. Unlike the ubiquitous delta-sigma-based DACs, the Schiit is a multibit ladder DAC that uses the Analog Devices AD5791 chipset. It also uses Schiit’s own “closed-form” digital filter, which “retains all the original samples, performing a true interpolation.” Will it compete with the megabuck DACs? I have no idea, but it might just sound different enough to distinguish itself in a crowded marketplace, and at $2299, it’s surely priced lower than most other ambitious DACs out there. I want to hear this thing.
The Devialet Phantom ($1990 each; Silver variant, $2390) is probably the most controversial product launched in the last five years. Could under five grand for an entire audio system (assuming you want stereo operation) really provide full-range (yes, extension down to 20Hz) sound with low distortion and precise imaging? I’ve heard the Phantom under audio-show conditions, and must admit that I don’t yet have the full measure of this all-in-one sound system. I need to hear it in my room pitted against some really good conventional speakers. It has sounded promising enough, though, to put it in the conversation. Could the Phantom be even more disruptive in the audio community than Devialet’s highly acclaimed integrated amplifier-DACs? Time will tell.
The Oppo BDP-105D Darbee Edition universal Blu-ray player costs $1299. When our esteemed “Keepers” writer, Richard Freed (exclusively on SoundStage! Hi-Fi), asked me to recommend a new disc player to replace his old unit, I knew exactly where to send him. A few days later he received an Oppo BDP-105D, and shortly after that sent me this e-mail: “I’m so happy I asked you about Oppo. Because of the low price, I really was not expecting very much -- but what a fantastic surprise! I’ve had players priced ten times as much that didn’t give me what I heard from the Oppo -- and right out of the box! After a reasonable burn-in, it is simply beyond words. As you know, I listen mostly with headphones, and I think what I heard using the ’phone jack on the ’105D is about as impressive as what I’ve been accustomed to hearing with a serious headphone amplifier. Even the packaging is exceptional, and I was impressed to find that the power cord supplied with this unit is 14-gauge: I don’t recall encountering this particular evidence of solicitude for the user from any other manufacturer. In sum, this turned out to be a great deal more than an emergency replacement, and I couldn’t be happier.”
Next time your rich audiobuddy tells you about his new, more-expensive-than-a-house audio purchase, tell him that you might just have him beat for a small fraction of the price. Then, when he blows up and starts attacking your “naïveté” on an audio forum, buy him the “you mad bro?” T-shirt, turn up the volume on your new audio system, and remember: You heard about it here first.
. . . Jeff Fritz