Note: measurements taken in the anechoic chamber at Canada's National Research Council can be found through this link.
It was a snap decision. Back in May, at the 2023 High End show in Munich, Germany, I found myself sitting in YG Acoustics’ room getting the cobwebs of a hangover blasted out of my skull by the Denver, Colorado, company’s new Ascent speakers. The room was populated by a bunch of young folks, all wearing YG Acoustics polo shirts, all extremely enthusiastic, all ready to talk about the company’s speakers, and all more than ready to take musical requests. It was a fun visit, and I was exceptionally keen to get in a pair of these new speakers for review. So I put a bug in the ear of CEO Matthew Webster, and followed up several times via email to make it so.
The phono cable is the most critical piece of wire in your audio system. I make this statement with certainty. In North America, power cords carry an alternating current at 120V. Speaker cables may need to carry a few dozen volts. Line-level interconnects throw up to about 2V. But the phono cable? A low-output moving coil squeaks out somewhere around 0.5mV. Spin that number up to a value in volts and you get 0.0005V.
If you haven’t already, please nip over to SoundStage! Access and read Dennis Burger’s January editorial, where he explains that he’s a simple guy who would be happiest with a simple (albeit high-quality) system. However, as a reviewer, he needs a bunch of gear hanging around so that he can evaluate separates such as DACs, amps, and speakers. Then check out Dennis’s podcast on the same subject.
Audionet’s Humboldt integrated amplifier ($58,750, all prices USD) is one of the most imposing amplifiers I’ve ever reviewed. For starters, it’s the most expensive product that’s taken up residence in my listening room by quite some margin. The Humboldt is also physically imposing, weighing in at just over 134 pounds and measuring 12.6″H × 17.8″W × 19.9″D. To put it mildly, it’s a brute.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record (see what I did there?), I’d like to tell you about a new optical cartridge from DS Audio—the DS-W3. As some of you may know, I’ve spent the last year or so listening to the DS 003 optical cartridge, which is mounted on my VPI Prime Signature turntable. I’ve written extensively about this technology, which, while it isn’t exactly new, has recently surfaced as the Next Big Thing in analog playback. I’ll lay my cards on the table right now—I’ve been smitten by these cartridges.
Now we’re getting to the nut of it. In my November editorial, I recounted the first step in adding digital playback to my main review system, which is in the basement listening room of my Toronto townhouse. Until then, that system had been analog only (or mostly analog). The first step was getting my Roon ROCK to pump out music through a Logitech Squeezebox Touch streamer to the secondary system on the main floor. Then in December, I started a deep dive into Roon and also added the Meitner Audio MA3 streaming DAC, which now sits defiantly next to my VPI Prime Signature turntable.
Design and technology
Wales isn’t well known for its audio manufacturers, but Leema Acoustics and subwoofer specialist REL Acoustics are doing their best to change all that. Leema can trace its origins back to 1998, when its two founders, ex-BBC engineers Lee Taylor and Mallory Nicholls, came together to design their first loudspeaker, the Xen. This project took four years of intensive and innovative development, resulting in a small loudspeaker that—the company claims—can outperform speaker systems many times its size. The Xen was squarely aimed at the professional audio market for mixing and related applications, but the firm soon realized it had a product that hi-fi enthusiasts desired, too.
About 35 years ago, via a mutual friend, I became acquainted with Matthew, an aspiring poet and keen dabbler in psychedelic drugs. At that point in my life, I’d basically finished with psychedelics, as the transition from carefree student to aspiring systems programmer had siphoned much of the fun out of that form of recreation.
When last we met, I described my experience of building a Roon ROCK (Roon Optimized Core Kit) server and setting up Roon as my music-streaming software in my home. I got as far as installing the ROCK and Roon clients on my laptop and phone, attaching an external drive and cataloging my music, and getting the thing working with my Logitech Squeezebox Touch streamer.
Tokyo-based Technical Audio Devices Laboratories (a.k.a. TAD) is a company I’ve long admired. My first exposure to the brand occurred over a decade ago at CES in Las Vegas, Nevada—the first electronics show I ever covered. TAD’s room in the Venetian Hotel, where the high-end audio exhibits were housed, featured their Reference One mk2 flagship loudspeaker, finished in gorgeous Beryl Red. I was gobsmacked by the outstanding clarity of its beryllium tweeter, which was nestled in the middle of a beryllium midrange in a coaxial configuration. Because I was mainly covering budget gear back then, the notion of reviewing a pair of TAD speakers seemed as remote as Pluto. But the seed had been planted. This year, when TAD demoed their new Compact Evolution One TX ($32,500 per pair, all prices in USD) at the Florida International Audio Expo in February, I got to meet the TAD team, including CEO Shinji Tarutani. Several months later, a pair landed on my doorstep. Game on.
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