Hi-Fi Crème de la Crème
Those of you who have been reading my audio writing over the years at 6Moons and Positive Feedback Online know that I prefer Hi-Fi systems & gear that are exceptional at being musically expressive, rather than just merely sonically impressive, and these recommendations represent the crème de la crème of what I recommend for music lovers. These recommendations are a work in progress, and are based solely on Hi-Fi I have field tested extensively enough that I feel I can recommend it to my friends without hesitation.
It is my hope that these recommendations for music lovers will provide guidance about buying a system once, a Hi-Fi that will serve you for a lifetime, and one that will allow you to exit the loop of buying and selling gear, so you can settle down and focus on the music and building a musical library.
Tannoy Westminster Royal Special Edition: The big Tannoy Westminster Royal Special Edition loudspeakers are my ultimate loudspeaker recommendation for music lovers. Their only down-side is that their price of $35,000 USD means that not everyone will be able to own a pair. Here’s a link to the review at Positive Feedback Online.
Harbeth Super HL5: The Harbeth Super HL5 is my benchmark for a semi-affordable loudspeaker that gets the music right ($4,850 USD to $5,250 USD depending on the finish). The combination of the Harbeth Super HL5 loudspeaker and the Leben CS600 vacuum tube integrated amplifier caused me to completely reevaluate what I wanted in a Hi-Fi system, and I ended up selling everything I owned at the time, and I’ve never looked back. The only downside of the Super HL5 is that as a monitor-style speaker it has been optimized for use in a fairly small room, and when I’ve used them in rooms much larger than about 3 by 4 meters the bass tends to get overblown. So consider this recommendation to have the caveat of using the Super HL5 in a smaller room, so if you have a larger room you may want to look for another speaker, like the Westminsters. Here’s a link to the review I wrote for Six Moons.
I have no more loudspeaker recommendations at this time.
Leben Hi-Fi Stereo Company: Everything designed and made by the remarkable Mr. Taku Hyodo for his private label Leben line is simply wonderful, you can’t go wrong with any of it as the beating heart of your Hi-Fi system. Very highly recommended. I own quite a lot of Leben gear myself, and I’d like to add more to my collection as I can. I’d particularly like to add some of the discontinued amplifiers to my collection, but they rarely turn up used, which is no surprise considering how delightful they are. See the Hi-Fi Links list for all my Leben reviews.
Loudspeaker Cable, Interconnect, and AC Power Cord Recommendations
Acoustic Revive Single-Core Loudspeaker Cables & Interconnects: What can I say, these are the speaker cables & interconnects I’ve been using in my Review System 1 on a daily basis. Heartily recommended! Read the review here.
Auditorium 23 ‘Green’ Speaker Cables: A really nice speaker cable that complements Leben (and other) gear. Musical, colorful, and wonderful for the money. You can read my review for Six Moons here.
Cardas Golden Cross Loudspeaker Cables & Interconnects: Cardas Golden Cross loudspeaker cables & interconnects are one of my all time favorites, and make for an easy crème de la crème recommendation for music lovers everywhere. Music lovers can’t go wrong with Golden Cross, they get the music right. The only downside is they are pricey, but they are most definitely a buy it once and forget it product, and once you hear a fully broken in set of GCs in your system you’ll break forth in giddy happiness. Not reviewed.
White Lightning Moonshine DIY Cables: Yes they’re ridiculously good, but you do really need to condition them with a cable conditioner if you can, as that gets the best out of them. The WLMs are the best truly inexpensive cables I have ever come across for music lovers on a really tight budget, and I can’t imagine anyone being unhappy with a well broken in set of WLM speaker cables & interconnects in their Hi-Fi system. Read the DIY article here.
Sablon Audio Panatela Interconnects: While I’ve only tried the prototypes of the Panatela interconnects, if the production version maintains this level of sonics and musicality it’s safe to say that designer Mark Coles has hit another one out of the ballpark. The Panatela interconnect has the best combination of high-performance sonics & musicality that I’ve heard in an interconnect. I’ll report on the full story once the production version becomes available.
Sablon Audio Robusto AC Power Cord: The Sablon Audio The Robusto power cord is a remarkable achievement in a power cord design, with performance that puts it right at the very top rung in the super power cord category, and for many, particularly those with equipment that is to the neutral or brighter side of life, it will come as a revelation in the way it improves overall musicality. Like its name implies, the Robusto is rich and full-bodied in its presentation of the music, with superb bass performance and dynamics. The Robusto performs remarkably well both sonically and musically, and particularly serves equipment well that needs to be nudged towards a fuller, richer, more dynamic sound. I can’t imagine a better choice of power cord than the Robusto, and I really can’t imagine anyone being disappointed with its performance, with the caveat that if your system is already sounding laid back, kind of dark, and a bit heavy in the bass, then you would be better off with the Acoustic Revive Power Reference, which will balance out those attributes better. A particularly nice match for Leben electronics. Read the Positive Feedback Online review here.
Acoustic Revive Power Reference AC Power Cord: A super AC power cord that will blow your mind. Works particularly well with Nelson Pass’s electronics. Here’s what my pal Pete Riggle said about it when he heard it on the Pass integrated amp Stephaen reviewed for Six Moons: “Had I been blindfolded I would have been able to guess that the Pass amp was a solid state unit when it was played with the stock power cord. Yes, it was dry in the mid-range, and not fully enjoyable. The bass, which should have been superior to that of the Leben power amp, was maybe a little tighter and dryer, but not more enjoyable than the bass of the Leben. When the Pass amp was played with the Acoustic Revive power cord I would not have recognized it as the same amp played earlier with the stock power cord. Blindfolded, I would have identified it as an excellent tube amp with performance both evenhanded and holistic. When the Pass Labs amp was played with the Acoustic Revive power cord the mid-range went from dry to lush. The bass went from non-musical to musical, and the tautness of the bass, to my senses, was an improvement to the system.” You can read the review at Positive Feedback Online here.
Denon 103 MC Phono Cartridge – $230 USD: The Denon is a true classic, and it is perhaps the best inexpensive phono cartridge for music lovers on Planet Earth. The only downside is that you will need a step-up transformer for it if your phono stage isn’t designed specifically for moving coil (MC) cartridges. Works well with the Auditorium 23 step-up transformer.
Clearaudio Virtuoso Wood MM Phono Cartridge – $750 USD: The Wood is a music lovers delight, and because of its moving-magnet (MM) high output you will not need a step-up tranny like you do with moving-coil cartridges. A lovely sounding cartridge that is flattering to music and non-fussy in general. A wonderful cartridge!
EMT TSD 15 MC Phono Cartridge – $1900 USD: The EMT is a classic cartridge that has a large following in music lover circles. It has a bold, colorful, and dramatic sound that’ll keep you on the edge of your seat. The only caveat I have with the EMT is that you have to be a little careful in matching it to your system, as it can sound a little too brutally honest in forward sounding systems, leaving less than stellar recordings nowhere to hide. Works well with the Auditorium 23 step-up transformer. Imported to North American by Jonathan Halpern at Tone Imports. No review.
Auditorium 23 Step-Up Transformer: The Auditorium 23 step-up transformer is designed and manufactured by German audio icon Keith Aschenbrenner to get the best out of the Denon 103 MC phono cartridge, and I’ve found it to work equally well the EMT TSD 15. Like all Keith’s designs, the A23 tranny is built using the best principles of classic designs to give you the most music for your money. Imported to North American by Jonathan Halpern at Tone Imports. You can read my review of it for Six Moons here.
VPI Classic Turntable: Built solid as a rock, it spins records, and makes wonderful music. It performs at a much higher level than its modest price would suggest. Highly recommended. No review.
Recommendations to come.