An awesome small room/high-end stereo system

One of the most important factors in selecting the right hi-fi components is room size. If you're lucky enough to have a big living space (over 500 square feet), I'd recommend floor-standing speakers. Big rooms also soak up amplifier power; smaller rooms need a lot less. Here in NYC, most folks live in small apartments, and they'll get terrific sound with midsize bookshelf speakers and small amps.

I was thinking about the stereo/room size ratio question during a recent visit to In Living Stereo, one of my favorite NYC hi-fi shops. I was listening to a … Read more

How small can a bona fide high-end headphone amplifier be?

Meridian Audio may be one of Britain's oldest high-end audio brands. It was founded in the late 1970s, but it was always exploring new technologies. It introduced the world's first high-end CD player in 1984, advanced the state of the art in self-powered speakers, and pioneered digital loudspeakers. The company also developed the lossless compression technology used in many Blu-ray Discs.

So when I heard Meridian was introducing a high-end headphone amplifier, I immediately requested a review sample. When the box arrived, I thought they had sent the wrong piece, it was too small to be a contender, … Read more

HiFiMan's advanced headphone tech at CES 2014 improves sound quality

HiFiMan is premiering two new models of audiophile headphones at CES 2014. At first glance the new models resemble HiFiMan's HE-400 and HE-500 full-size planar magnetic headphones, but closer inspection reveals an entirely new headband design, and these two models are considerably lighter and more comfortable than the headphones they replace.

Catch CNET's complete coverage of CES 2014

I was treated to an advance preview in NYC and auditioned the headphones at home. The sound is more open and clearer than ever before. Some experienced audiophiles may think these two new HiFiMans' sound is close to what you … Read more

Raising the performance bar: Centrance HiFi-M8 digital converter/headphone amplifier

The Centrance Hi-Fi M8 is a rather unusual product on a number of counts, starting with the fact that it's offered in eight different connectivity configurations that were proposed by potential buyers who responded to a crowdsourced thread on the Head-Fi Web site. I admire Centrance's willingness to accept consumer opinions, but as it turns out most consumers opt for the configuration I have for review, the HiFi-M8 XL4, which features 3.5mm, 6.3mm and four-pin XLR headphone output jacks on the front panel. Some of the other versions are directed to pro users with headphones that … Read more

Ex-IBM engineer builds innovative phono cartridges

Peter Ledermann is one of just a handful of highly skilled people on the planet who designs and hand-builds phono cartridges. These tiny electro-mechanical devices are usually machine made, but Ledermann builds world-class cartridges with his hands and a microscope. His company, Soundsmith, also manufactures speakers and amplifiers, and services vintage Bang & Olufsen and Tandberg products.

Ledermann's resume is impressive: He was the director of Engineering for Bozak, one of America's leading speaker manufacturers in the 1960s. And for 10 years, starting in 1980, he was an IBM senior research engineer and is credited as the primary … Read more

Audiophiliac speaker of the year: Zu Druid V

The very first Zu speaker I ever heard was a Druid IV, and it bowled me over! There was a rare vitality to the sound. That was back in 2007, and every Zu speaker I've tested since then has been remarkable. The Druid V is not only a significant advance over any Zu I've tested, it's the best speaker I've heard at home this year.

The Druid V is a 50-inch-tall floor-standing loudspeaker, and it's bolted to an immaculately finished, machined aluminum base. The speaker sports the latest version of Zu's 10.3-inch full-range … Read more

On becoming an audiophile

I've always had a lot of audiophile friends, based in part on our shared common fascination with the sound of music. Sound appreciation and owning a great hi-fi definitely aren't essential to enjoy tunes, but the connection to music can feel stronger when you focus on the sound, the sound the musicians worked on for weeks or months to get just right.

Beau R. is a kindred spirit; we met a few months ago and I was impressed with his relaxed attitude. Over the years he'd assembled a hi-fi that made music sound the way he wanted … Read more

Crave giveaway: HiFiMan HE-400 headphones

Congrats to a very lucky Stace B. of Tempe, Ariz., for winning a 50-inch Seiki 4K/Ultra High Definition TV in last week's giveaway. We'll all be meeting at Stace's place Monday night to root for Bill Nye on "Dancing with the Stars," OK? If you'd rather tune that ruckus out, you can do so using this week's prize.

We're giving away a pair of full-size over-ear HE-400 headphones from HiFiMan. While most headphones of this sort have drivers that work like miniature cone or dome speaker drivers, the HE-400s use thin-film, flat "planar magnetic" drivers that produce clearer and more dynamically alive sound. Those drivers do add a bit of weight to the headphones, making them better-suited for at-home use with a receiver or headphone amplifier than for portable music players or phones. … Read more

Brooklyn's treasure trove of used high-end audio

I visited Stereo Buyers' Brooklyn headquarters to get a first-hand look at their gear. Located in Red Hook, the facility was flooded by Hurricane Sandy last summer, and most of the inventory was literally underwater. Stereo Buyers' Adam Wexler did his best to prepare before the storm hit, but his best line in recalling the disaster was, "I bet you didn't know that Wilson Audio Watt/Puppy 5 speakers (that weigh over 100 pounds) can float, but they can. It was crazy and depressing; the financial losses were a bummer." He didn't have flood insurance, but … Read more

The edge of the art of headphone amplifier design

I've heard a lot of, but far from most of the world's best headphone amps, but even in that heady territory the Auralic Taurus MKII shines. I've used a wide range of my very best headphones, in-ears and full-size, and they're all sounding better than I've heard them before.

The $6,475 Mal Valve amp is right up there, but it's been a few months since I heard it, and I never had it at home so my experience was more limited. I had the luxury of living with the Taurus MKII for weeks, … Read more