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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.

Dynaudio Confidence C2One of the questions readers often ask is how I choose what to review. My answers vary: What’s new that readers might be interested in? What products are creating buzz in the audiophile community? What looks promising in terms of sound? Over the years, I’ve gotten a pretty good handle on what products will ultimately lead to reviews -- positive or negative or somewhere in between -- that lots of folks will want to read, and that knowledge informs my decisions. A Dynaudio speaker is always a good bet for review, and the reasons are as clear as day.

Some companies can be counted on, and Dynaudio is one of them. This Danish manufacturer produces high-performing loudspeakers in a wide range of prices, and has a devoted following built up through years of success. From examining acoustical measurements, both our own and those of other magazines, I know that Dynaudio speakers are technically excellent, as they should be -- the company is one of the few speaker manufacturers to have its own anechoic chamber. They also make all their own drivers. Also, I’ve rarely heard a Dynaudio speaker, at an audio show or elsewhere, sound anything less than very good, and more often than not it sounds better than that. All of this is to say that I felt that Dynaudio’s Confidence C2 Signature ($15,000 USD per pair) would be a good candidate for a review: something that would be likely to perform well, and that readers would thus be interested in.

First Watt J2Pass Labs amplifiers have inspired more than a few moments of lust in the hearts of veteran audiophiles. Big, beautiful, powerful, and expensive, their sound, according to some, has advanced the state of the art. But audiophiles may not know about designer Nelson Pass’s second company, First Watt, which produces a line of electronics smaller, cheaper, but possibly even more innovative than the mighty Pass Labs models. The First Watt amps give Nelson Pass an opportunity to try new circuit-design technology on a limited scale. The first FW products were unusual amplifiers designed to work well with single-cone drivers such as the legendary Lowthers, but over the years the line has been expanded to include preamps and crossovers.

Illusion is the first of all pleasures.
-- Oscar Wilde

Moon 810LPSelect ComponentReference. The word has been trotted out and flounced so shamelessly by so many audio manufacturers and appended to the names of so many products that, as with cat dander and country music, I’ve managed to build up an immunity to it. However, with the right associations the word still carries impact -- as, for instance, when an industry name as well respected as Simaudio produces an “R”-word product like the Moon Evolution 810LP dual-mono reference phono preamplifier, which the manufacturer describes as “an all-out assault on phono preamplification” engineered and built without consideration of cost. As you might expect, the 810LP is a serious piece of kit in terms of engineering, build quality, and, alas, price. At $12,000 USD, it’s not for the faint of heart or wallet, though by high-end standards $12k is by no means stratospheric. Still, I shy away from calling it a “bargain.”

Boulder 1060Boulder has been making amplifiers since 1984, and the model 1060 stereo amplifier, the subject of this review, has been in continuous production since 1999 -- in stark contrast to the upgrade cycle of three to four years that some manufacturers have made part of their business strategy. While the name Boulder comes from the company’s site of operations, in Colorado, I think most folks would assume it reflects their products’ weight -- the 1060 closes in on 140 pounds (with no handles to assist in positioning it . . . ugh!). 

SMc Audio VRE-1C ReferenceThe high-end audio industry is a niche market; always has been, and I suspect it always will be. Annual production runs for kilobuck CD players can be measured in dozens of units, in stark contrast to the thousands or tens of thousands made by a Sony or a Bose. But those industry monsters have marketing departments and distribution systems that span the globe. Contrast that with high-end audio, where many products are the results of efforts by a single driven person.

Select ComponentLast fall, I was talking to Gilbert Yeung, Blue Circle Audio’s founder and chief designer, about an amplifier he was working on. He felt it was something special. He told me he’d soon be in my area, and asked if I’d like to hear it.

Blue Circle Audio NSLYeung came by with an unnamed prototype. When he told me that it generated only 18-20Wpc, I told him I didn’t believe it, and that even if it were true, I didn’t want to damage the amp by overdriving it. He invited me to give it my best shot. I smirked and thought, So be it.

Select ComponentIt’s said that a boy does not truly become a man until his father dies. I can’t confirm the truth of that adage -- my own father is alive and well -- but I’ve found that certain life-altering experiences have triggered new levels of responsibility, capability, and growth. I felt more a man after marrying my wife 15 years ago, and even more when my children were born. I suspect that when my parents shuffle off this mortal coil, another era of manhood will begin for me. 

ARC Reference 250Having been imbued with a set of core characteristics by founder William Zane Johnson, Audio Research Corporation was raised well, and was ready to live on its own when its progenitor approached his end. Many hi-fi manufacturers -- even some industry stalwarts -- begin, thrive, and ultimately die while still riding on the shoulders of their founders. Not so ARC. Few companies in high-performance audio have a longer history or a greater pedigree. Johnson retired in 2008, handed over the reins, and set ARC free. He died in late 2011.

Select ComponentVSA VR-35I’m the envy of all my audiophile/home-theater buddies because I have my own dedicated sound room. It may not reach the heights of Jeff Fritz’s Music Vault, but it’s a great-sounding room and I don’t have to share it with anyone. Most audiophiles have to deal with the Wife Acceptance Factor (sorry, ladies, but almost all of us are guys), or settle for a system that does both audio and home-theater duties. Unless you have built-in, wall-mounted speakers, there’s going to have to be some compromise with speaker placement in the name of marital harmony. While Albert Von Schweikert may not have had the WAF primarily in mind, he did bring all his technical expertise to bear on the issue of a less obtrusive, against-the-wall type of speaker that would satisfy audiophile and spouse.

Vitus SM-010Vitus Audio electronics have impressed me at every trade-show exhibit at which I’ve heard them. VA always shows its strengths and sonic character while allowing the associated loudspeakers, cables, and ancillaries to shine. Typically, I would saunter into the room, get a first impression of the sound, then anchor myself and thoroughly enjoy the music as I worked out fantastic schemes to get the Vitus gear into my system. Cost or logistics didn’t matter -- I had to have them. Luckily, I didn’t have to follow through on my plots; I got my wish, at least for as long as it takes me to prepare this review: I’m listening to Vitus Audio’s SM-010 monoblock amplifiers ($45,000 USD per pair) in my home system.

YG Acoustics Kipod II SignatureSelect ComponentIf you fancy the audiophile rags (and if you're reading this, you likely do), chances are you've heard of high-end speaker maker YG Acoustics. A while back, YGA caused a stir with an ad campaign that proclaimed its speakers "The best . . . on Earth. Period."

That's a brash statement from any manufacturer, let alone one that's extremely small (YGA currently employs only about ten people) and is barely ten years old. Not surprisingly, lots of people, including many reviewers, were taken aback. However, after listening to the company's wares, more than a few people have concluded that the statement isn't entirely hype.