Articles, Reviews and Measurements of Audio Products

Yamaha R-N803 Smart Receiver Review

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the Yamaha R-N803 Receiver, amplifier, and streamer. It was purchased by a member (b-stock?) and drop shipped to me. The R-N803 costs US $750 from amazon including Prime shipping.

The R-N803 has AV-style features such as Room EQ but with only two channels of amplification. It has a retro look which is quite a bit nicer than an AVR though:

Yamaha R-N803  Hi-Fi Audio Component Receiver Audio Review.jpg

Alas, beauty is only skin deep. Those nice vertical controls are loose and have nowhere near the great feel of the 1970s gear with their solid mechanical selectors.

The back panel shows how the video features have been stripped away:

Yamaha R-N803  Hi-Fi Audio Component Receiver back panel inputs and outputs Audio Review.jpg

As a package, it is much more appealing than the monster size of typical AVR. So not a bad effort.

Internally there are decent size heat sinks, one for each channel. This is a huge step up from a shared flimsy heat sinks we see in modern AVRs with many channels. This...

Audioengine A5+ Powered Speaker Review

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the Audioengine A5+ powered bookshelf speaker. It is the one without the bluetooth which seems to have slightly different design (centered tweeter versus not). It was kindly loaned to me by a member and costs US $399 including Prime shipping from Amazon.

The A5+ is a hefty little speaker with very nice gloss finish:

Audioengine A5+ Powered desktop monitor speaker Audio review.jpg


A remote control is included for simple functions (volume, mute, etc.). The business end is in the back:

Audioengine A5+ Powered desktop monitor speaker back panel connectors inputs outputs usb Audio...jpg


Unlike many budget powered monitors, the A5+ uses a linear power supply internally (as opposed to a laptop sized external power supply) which I appreciated it. It also eschews class D amps for traditional class AB amplification, hence the large heat sink in the back.

The crossover is passive by the way. This may be responsible for total lack of noise/hiss from the tweeter even when I put my ear next to it. A great benefit compared to a number of monitors...

Schiit Modius Balanced DAC Review

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the Schiit Modius Balanced USB DAC. It was kindly sent to me by the company for testing. The Modius costs just US $199 which is quite cheap for a balanced DAC from a western company.

The design language is Schiit all the way (sorry, could not resist :) ), which I tend to like in wider form factor:

Schiit Modius Balanced USB DAC Audio Review.jpg

I am not a fan of symbols for input selection but I guess if you don't switch DACs all the time like I do, it is fine. There is no other input here so you can't change filters and such. No power switch either.

The back panel is as you expect except USB and power connections:

Schiit Modius Balanced USB DAC Back Panel Inputs and Outputs Audio Review.jpg

A micro-USB jack is used both for USB connection and independent power input. A phone charger adapter comes which I used for all of my testing. But reading the manual after the fact, seems like this is optional and the unit works from USB port alone if there is sufficient...

Follow Up: Puffin Phono DSP Preamp

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1591040146903.png

Image shamelessly stolen from Amir

@JPJ kindly sent me his Puffin stage for some further measurements following the brief review by Amir. After an unconscionable delay, here we go.

First, the basics. First, I flashed the ROM with the latest firmware version (1.20), which got rid of some of the anomalies I'd seen in earlier measurements. This is done via a USB cable to a module on the circuit board. I set the gain to 40dB (since that's right for most MMs I have on hand), load to 47k (ditto). Input capacitance measured slightly over the 50pF spec, which is suitable, accounting for typical cable capacitances, for MMs like the Audio Technica I use. For other cartridges, either use higher capacitance cables or make use of the extensive EQ functions built into this unit.

Gain measured 40.1 dB, almost exactly as advertised.

Note that I used a 100:1 attenuator at the input to allow the generator to run closer to its sweet spot and to feed...

Elac BS U5 Slim 3-way Coaxial Speaker Review

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the Elac BS U5 "slim" 3-way coaxial speaker. It is on kind loan from a member. The U5 costs US US $856/pair everywhere so must have price control. I have read that it is designed for the European market with slimmer face and "modern" colors (black and white).

The feel, finish and looks are quite nice:

Elac BS U5 Slim 3-way bookshelf speaker Coaxial Andrew Jones Review.jpg


The coaxial driver above plays mid-range and woofer (or mid-woofer through mid-range and tweeter).

Nothing exciting on the back:
Elac BS U5 Slim 3-way bookshelf speaker Coaxial Andrew Jones Back Panel Binding Posts Review.jpg


Measurements that you are about to see were performed using the Klippel Near-field Scanner (NFS). This is a robotic measurement system that analyzes the speaker all around and is able (using advanced mathematics and dual scan) to subtract room reflections (so where I measure it doesn't matter). It also measures the speaker at close distance ("near-field") which...

SMSL M400 Balanced USB MQA DAC Review

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the SMSL M400 balanced and unbalanced DAC. It was kindly sent to me by the company. The M400 costs US $810 from prices I see online.

The M400 design has been upgraded with a larger, more clear display and a Plexiglas upper cover:

SMSL M400 USB DAC XLR Balanced Audio Review.jpg
There is the usual remote control you see across a wide range of products from China. I like it normally but in this instance, it did not have proper key debounce and as such, it would repeat the key someones making it harder to make selections.

The back panel is as you expect with the exception of missing AES/EBU balanced digital XLR input:

SMSL M400 USB DAC XLR Balanced Back Panel Inputs Outputs XLR RCA Audio Review.jpg

There is good bit of heft to the unit, giving a feeling of quality.

As you see there is also bluetooth input which I did not test.

MQA decoding is included although I did not test that.

DAC Audio Measurements
As usual we start with our dashboard of 1 kHz and to be...

Vanatoo Transparent Zero Speaker Review

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the Vanatoo Transparent Zero (T0) active speaker. It was kindly sent to me by the company. The T0 costs US $359 pair including free shipping from Amazon.

Little is ordinary about the shape and feature set of the T0:

Vanatoo T0 Powered Monitor Speaker DAC Audio Review.jpg


You can't see the difference in the above shot but you can with the rear view:

Vanatoo T0 Powered Monitor Speaker DAC Back Panel Connectors USB Audio Review.jpg


By default the unit has an acute tilt up angle but by reversing that handle, you can level it. I can't do justice to myriad of features in this speaker from built-in DAC to subwoofer filtering and DSP control for target curve and bass and treble. As usual my focus is on the performance of the unit.

For testing I used the above sample as you see, driving it through its 3.5mm analog input. It was a challenge to stand up the T0 on my measurement rig as the platform was not large enough for the handle to provide support. I did my best but I think the speaker was still titled back a...

Arcam AVR10 Review

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the Arcam AVR10 7.2 channel Audio/Video Receiver (AVR). It was purchased by a member and kindly drop shipped to me. AVR10 costs US $2,500.

Notes: our company Madrona Digital is a dealer for Harman which owns Arcam so feel free to read any level of bias in my review. As a courtesy, I sent a copy of my measurements to Harman/Arcam engineering a week ago. Alas, I have received no feedback. Meanwhile I had to return the unit to its owner.

The AVR10 has a solid and attractive look like rest of the line:

Arcam AVR10 AV Receiver Home Theater Doly Atmos UHD HDMI Audio Review.jpg


A large, informative display lets you easily navigate the user interface. Sadly the same is not replicated on the display output of the unit which is strange. Usually the AV receiver is less accessible in a home theater application so it is highly desirable to be able to navigate its menu on TV/Projector.

The back panel is as you expect with only modern inputs and outputs...

EarMen Donald DAC Review

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the EarMen Donald MQA DAC USB stereo DAC. Yes, that is its real name with a play on Donald Duck. :) It was sent to me by the company and costs US $99 from the company direct. Unlike most DACs out there, the Donald DAC uses Crystal Semiconductor/Cirrus Logic CS43198 DAC chip.

The enclosure is quite a departure form typical DAC box:

Earmen Donald USB DAC MQA Decoder Audio Review.jpg


The little stand can be slid forward or back and provides a few degrees of tilt. You can set it up to point the DAC up or down.

The back panel is minimalistic which is fine by me:
Earmen Donald USB DAC MQA Decoder Back Panel Inputs and Outputs USB-C Audio Review.jpg


Two USB-C connectors are provided. If you use the bottom one, it both powers the unit and provides data. However, you have the option of providing just power using the upper USB-C connector in which case the front LED nicely changes from blue to red color. I tested it both ways as you see below.

USB DAC Audio Measurements
When I first started testing the...

Affordable Accuracy Monitor Review

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This is a detailed measurements of a modified Pioneer SP-BS22-LR speaker by @Dennis Murphy called Affordable Accuracy Monitor (AAM). He was kind enough to send me a sample. I let him explain the mods but basically the tweeter was replace with a higher quality one and a new modified crossover was put in place. Some padding was also added to the cabinet. He sold the modified pair for US $168 plus shipping. He no longer does this and has put his modifications in public domain.

The Pioneer BS22 was obviously designed to fit a ridiculously low manufacturing cost point of view especially considering the nice touches such as the curved cabinets and such. I liked the sample I tested in near-field. In this review I will be testing Dennis' speaker in far field.

Visually the speaker doesn't look much different:

Dennis Murphy Affordable Accuracy Monitor Speaker Pioneer Review.jpg
...

Topping A90 Headphone Amplifier Review

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This is a review and detailed measurements the Topping A90 Balanced and Unbalanced Headphone Amplifier. It was kindly sent to me by the company. The A90 is available for ordering and I am told ships by end of this month. It costs US $499.

The A90 is one of the best executions of the Topping series of products:

Topping A90 Headphone Amplifier Balanced Review.jpg

It is elegant without going overboard. The switches on the left have long handles and throws that give them much better feel than tiny ones we usually see.

The volume control feels good despite requiring light amount of effort to turn. The latter is good in that it is rather shallow even for my narrow fingers to comfortably grab and rotate around. But because it requires little effort to turn, you can using the chamfer on the knob and rotate it that way.

Three gain settings are provided with the lowest one being under one which should come in handy with very sensitive IEMs. Using this, you can operate the volume control...

Sony SS-CS5 3-way Speaker Review

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the Sony SS-CS5 3-way bookshelf speaker. Yes, you read that right. It is a 3-way speaker with a mid-range driver in a space where 99% of speakers are 2-way. I purchased it from Amazon for US $149. Bad for me but for those of you shopping for bargains, the SS-CS5 cost just US $78 including shipping for a pair!!! I can't sell you my used socks for that price and still come out whole.

Note: I used to work for Sony and our company Madrona Digital is a dealer for Sony so read as much bias as you want into this review.

While rather light, the SS-CS5 doesn't look particularly cheap or bad:

Sony SS-CS5 three-way 3-way bookshelf speaker audio review.jpg


Here is the back side:

Sony SS-CS5 three-way 3-way bookshelf speaker back panel binding post port audio review.jpg


Is that Cyrillic translation I see for the word "manufactured?"
1590267170478.png

Speaker is made in Malaysia so why Russian language translation for that one word?

Measurements that you are about to see were performed using the...

IOTAVX SA3 Stereo Amplifier Review

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the IOTAVX SA3 integrated stereo amplifier with built-in DAC and subwoofer output. It was kindly purchased by a member and drop shipped to me. It costs £399.00 (on sale from £449.00) on company's website. Hard to find it on sale in US but found one ebay listing for $498.

SA3 nails the industry design with svelte chassis, dot matrix display and judicious use of backlighting for the logo:

IOTAVX SA3 AUDIOPHILE INTEGRATED STEREO AMPLIFIER Line In Audio Review.jpg

I left the plastic on the display as otherwise it looks nicer than it does in the picture. A reassuring power button is the left and a nice feeling rotary control handles the volume. If you press it, it becomes an input selector. Very nicely done.

Back panel shows a lot of inputs:

IOTAVX SA3 AUDIOPHILE INTEGRATED STEREO AMPLIFIER Back Panel Inputs and Outputs DAC Toslink Au...jpg

There is phono input which I did not test. I did test both analog input and Toslink digital input. Sadly there is no USB input. There is bluetooth but no streaming support...

KEF Q350 Speaker Review

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the KEF Q350 Bookshelf/stand-mount speaker. It was purchased new by a member and kindly drop shipped to me for testing. The Q350 costs US $700 on Amazon including prime shipping.

As with other KEF coaxial speakers, the look is unique and quite attractive:

KEF Q350 Bookshelf Speaker Review.jpg


Gone are the curves of the LS50 but replaced with a rectangular box with larger woofer which should spell better bass output.

There is a port in the back and a foam plug is provided with an insert to play with level of exhaust there:

KEF Q350 Bookshelf Speaker Back Panel Port Binding Posts Review.jpg


Measurements that you are about to see were performed using the Klippel Near-field Scanner (NFS). This is a robotic measurement system that analyzes the speaker all around and is able (using advanced mathematics and dual scan) to subtract room reflections (so where I measure it doesn't matter). It also...

Soncoz LA-QXD1 Balanced DAC Review

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the LA-QXD1 balanced (XLR) USB DAC. It was kindly sent to me by the company. It costs US $199 and is already shipping in small quantities (I am told they will have a lot for sale in a week or two).

The case on this DAC is quite high-end and not at all proportional to its price:

SONCOZ LA-QXD1 USB DAC Audio Review.jpg

It is heavy, and very nicely machined. The former is nice because the cords don't pull it around.

The back shows the typical DAC connectors and inputs/outputs:

SONCOZ LA-QXD1 USB DAC Back Panel Inputs and Outputs Audio Review.jpg

You need independent power input from USB bus. I tried powering it with a normal USB jack on the computer but it would not power on and Windows complained that too much power was being requested. So I used a Samsung phone charger for the measurements you are about to see. I did try other supplies including my audiophile power supply but it made no difference. So use a branded good quality phone...

JBL XPL90 Speaker Review

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This is a review of the JBL XPL90 bookshelf/stand-mount speaker. It was purchased by a member and kindly had it shipped to me from Japan. He is an expert on these older JBL speakers so I am sure he will fill us in better than I can. Form a bit of research I did, I think the speaker came out in late 1980s and cost US $699. It is of course discontinued now but apparently the series is sought after.

I must say, this an attractive looking speaker with its grill off:

JBL XPL90 two-way bookshelf speaker audio review.jpg


There is some kind of fabric/valuer material that surrounds the tweeter area. It looks better in person than the picture above, giving a feeling of professional but nice attention to detail.

The back panel is interesting:

JBL XPL90 two-way bookshelf speaker rear connectors binding post monster cable audio review.jpg


Can you see it? Let me zoom in:

JBL XPL90 two-way bookshelf speaker Back Panel.jpg


Yes, they used monster cable inside! Given the popularity of monster cable then, it kind of makes sense given JBL's aim to sell these as hifi speakers.

Speaker is quite dense...

PreSonus E5 XT Active Speaker Review

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This a review and detailed measurements of the PreSonus Eris E5 XT powered "studio monitor." I purchased it from Amazon back in January of this year. It currently costs US $150 (each) on Amazon including Prime shipping.

The look and feel of the E5 is quite nice despite its budget price:

Presonus Eris E5 XT Powered active monitor speakers Studio Review.jpg


A fully formed waveguide a very nice touch and should create a proper hand off to the woofer at crossover frequencies, resulting in similar off-axis and on-axis response (measurements to confirm). Amplification is quite anemic at 20/30 (?) watts but that is to be expected in this price range.

Lots of controls are provided which indicated it is using analog active crossover:

Presonus Eris E5 XT Powered active monitor speakers Studio Back Panel Inputs Controls Review.jpg


I tested the E5 as pictured. I rotated the gain settings until they clicked on the detente.

Measurements that you are about to see were performed using the Klippel Near-field...

RME ADI-2 FS Version 2 DAC and Headphone Amp Review

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the updated version 2 of the RME ADI-2 FS DAC and headphone amplifier. It was kindly sent to me by the company. The cost us US $1,149.

The ADI-2 looks very nice in black with a bright, super responsive display (doesn't come out as well in the picture):

RME ADI-2 DAC FS Version 2 USB Headphone Amplifier Review.jpg


I usually only focus on performance of audio products and DACs don't have much to talk about anyway. Not so with RME products. There are tons and tons of features including two different headphone outputs with automatic detection and settings. There is a built-in parametric EQ which can help you optimize your room or headphones. And on and on.

The display is highly informative which I appreciate. I like to know what my settings are, sample rate, volume, etc. at a glance and they are all here and then some.

Soft white LEDs surround the power button, the main rotary controller and backlight for the switches.

A nice reassuring set of relays click on...

NHT SB2 Speaker Review

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the NHT SB2 bookshelf speaker. It is kindly sent to me by a member. I think the SB2 came out back in 2002 when NHT was a different company than it is now (it closed and re-opened as a direct to consumer company). At the time, the SB2 cost US $400 for a pair.

The fit and finish of the SB2 is quite nice:

NHT SB2 Bookshelf Speaker Audio Review.jpg


This is a super sturdy cabinet with no ports. It has a "piano black" coating which gives it a higher-end feel. The tweeter is a bit cheesy looking though and lacks a waveguide for good integration with the woofer.

Measurements that you are about to see were performed using the Klippel Near-field Scanner (NFS). This is a robotic measurement system that analyzes the speaker all around and is able (using advanced mathematics and dual scan) to subtract room reflections (so where I measure it doesn't matter). It also...

Arcam AV40 AV Processor Review

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the Arcam AV40 AV Processor. It was purchased by a member as "z-stock" and kindly loaned to me for testing. He said that unit arrived brand new with even the plastics undisturbed. I saw nothing in my testing that would indicate it being broken. He had it upgraded to the latest version of the firmware (1.28) before giving it to me.

Note: our company Madrona Digital is a dealer for Harman company which acquired Arcam a few years ago. So feel free to read as much bias as you like into this review.

The AV40 managed to differentiate itself in a see of similar looking products with a unique configuration and attractive design:

Arcam AV40 AV Processor Home Theater Dolby Audio Review.jpg

The display is large with good resolution and excellent contrast. More so, it lets you fully navigate the unit just like you are used to seeing on the display which is great for manipulating the unit when standing in front of it. Oddly the on-screen display...
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