This is a review and detailed measurements of the Crown XLi 800 pro Power Amplifier. It is on kind loan from a member. The XLi 800 costs just US $269 including free shipping. Hard to imagine so much electronics from a brand name company selling for so little.
NOTE: my company (Madrona Digital) is a dealer for Harman and sells a lot of Crown amplifiers.
EDIT: I left out the letter "B" out of class AB below. I don't know anyone who is building class B audio amplifiers.
Unlike some of the switching amplifiers from Crown, this is a class AB amplifier with seemingly linear power supply as it is quite heavy. From the outside though, it look like countless other commercial amplifiers:
There are two gain controls in addition to very useful clipping indicators. Speaking of clipping, there is a compressor in there that limits power output to maximum no matter how much you increase its input. It is a nice feature that is surely...
This is a review and detailed measurements of the Pyle Pro PP444 phono preamplifier. It is on kind loan from a local member. The PP444 costs US $12.99 from Amazon with free shipping. No, you didn't misread it. It is actually just $13 including free shipping.
If you are not familiar with Pyle brand, it is the name that goes on cheapest of cheap audio products. I associate it with junk and to-avoid but let's find out if the PP444 is an exception.
From the outside, the PP444 looks like other bargain audio products:
The box is solid enough given the price range.
One look at the external switching power supply though tells you corners were cut. There is no regulatory/safety marks on it whatsoever. Worse yet, as I tried to unplug it once, one side actually caved in. So they even skimped on glue to mate the two halves. As the line in Adams Family goes: "be afraid, be very afraid" when using this power supply. Your life could...
This is a review and detailed measurements of the Focusrite Scarlett 18i8 Version 2 Audio Interface (analog to digital converter). It is on kind loan from a member. The current version seems to have moved to version 3. Assuming its cost has not changed, it goes for US $297 with free shipping on Amazon.
Matching the name of the unit, this is one bright box:
Power is provided through an external power supply. There are a lot of inputs and outputs. I limited my testing to line inputs you see in the back:
Let me tell you that I have been to hell and back on this device. I have had it for a few months trying every which way to get it working on my Windows 10 desktop. On my old system, I tried every trick in the book: multiple install/uninstall of the drivers. Different drivers. Booting, rebooting, installing, rebooting, etc. I literally spent days trying to get it work given the...
This is a review and detailed measurements of the Musical Fidelity M2si integrated stereo amplifier. It was kindly sent in by a member. I think the list price is US $999. However I see it selling for just US $599 from the outfit the owner purchased it. Other places have it as high as US $700.
From the pictures, the M2si looked very elegant and high-end. In person in black, it looks a bit less so and somewhat industrial:
Still, head and shoulders above DIY enclosures or budget products. To wit, it came wrapped in thick velvet and even came with white gloves!
The back panel shows what you would expect:
Sadly no balanced inputs. but we do get preamplifier out. I did not see that until this morning when I took pictures of it. So I put it back on the bench and took a quick snapshot of that too.
The unit is heavy being a class AB amplifier with toroidal transformer and such. In use...
This is a review and measurements of the iBasso DX200 Digital Audio Player (DAP). It is on kind loan from a member who has been waiting a while for its review. I see on Amazon that DX200 costs US $1,199 but Amazon is selling it for US $799 including free shipping. Either way, it is the price of a smartphone!
The DX200 is quite a bit larger, thicker and heavier than a phone though:
The DX200 runs Android OS and has a responsive touchscreen. Not as fast as a modern smartphone but quite a bit faster than some other cheaper DAPs.
The volume control has no acceleration and has 150 steps making it very tedious to make large volume changes.
When a DAP supports a DAC mode using a USB cable, I try to test its DAC that way since my analyzer can be fully in charge allowing me to run all the tests I want. Alas, that was not meant to be. I killed at least 3 hours trying to figure out how to enable this. The manual says to pull down the...
I tested a Hugo 2 a while back but it was with my old analyzer. So a member kindly sent me an original Hugo DAC and headphone amplifier to remeasure. I wa shocked to find out that the Hugo cost US $2,500 when it came out!!! Man that is expensive for a portable DAC and Amp.
Here is a shot of it if you have not seen it:
I can't stand the lights you have to have a decoder ring to decipher. The tiny power slider. General lack of labeling, etc.
For this testing, I took advantage of putting the RCA out at fixed level so there is no complaints about using volume control. Speaking of volume control, the rotary plastic knob is super stiff to turn. Not sure if they degrade to this or came this way. Definitely does not feel good. But I guess if you put it in your pocket it won't change on its own easily.
Anyway, the purpose is the measurements so let's get into that.
DAC Audio Measurements
I tested the DAC portion by feeding...
This is a review and detailed measurements of the Violectric HPA V281 headphone amplifier and preamplifier. It is on kind loan from a member who has been waiting a while for its review. The V281 comes in different versions with the bass unit costing US $1,999. The version I have has remote control with stepped attenuator, raising the cost to US $2,500.
The V281 has a look which would be at home in a recording studio:
I like the massive volume control but it is a bit loose. The rest of the controls all feel good and bring you think you bought a quality product.
The back panel shows fair bit of control and connectivity:
For my testing, I used the XLR connections. I am not a fan of dip switches for gain control. You have to keep messing with them if you use different headphones that require different gain. That said, once you read the measurements you will see that the standard...
This is a review and measurements of the Schiit Aegir stereo Power (speaker) amplifier. It is on kind loan from a member who has been patiently waiting since August for its review! The Aegir is sold direct by Schiit and costs US $799 plus shipping.
The Aegir is very heavy, substantial and serious looking piece of audio gear in black:
What I don't like is the extra sharp edges of the heatsinks on each side where you naturally want to grab it. But I understand extruded aluminum comes this way and having the corners marchined would be expensive.
Here is the back panel:
At first I was super excited to see the XLR input but became puzzled why a stereo amp only has one of them. Then I realized that it is only for driving the unit in bridged mode. So for most of my testing I used RCA and then used XLR for bridged power testing.
I can't quite tell what type of amplifier this is from...
This is a review and detailed measurements of the PS Audio Stellar S300 Stereo Power Amplifier. It is on kind loan from a member. The S300 costs US $1,499 from the company.
Fitting the design language of the rest of the PS Audio and using similar enclosure, the S300 is quite hefty considering that it uses class-D amplification:
There is just a power switch and light that indicates whether the unit is on, or has shut down due to protection circuit kicking in.
The back panel shows very high quality and beefy connectors:
As you see, there are redundant pairs of speaker sockets which I assume is an invitation to use bi-wiring. Or feed the subwoofer using them as Paul McGowan advocates although a warning tells you to be careful as these are floating signals, not ground referenced.
XLR inputs are nicely provided which I used for all of my testing.
This is a review and detailed measurements of Furutech ADL GT40 DAC, preamplifier and phono stage. It is on kind loan from a member. The GT40 came out back in 2011 I think and cost US $525. There is a GT40a which seems to have replaced it now with almost the same look.
I know of the Furutech as a company that makes expensive aftermarket audiophile AC outlets and such. Until the member contacted me, I did not know they had a group that produced electronics.
The GT40 is rather attractive for a desktop product:
The volume control feels nice. There is a headphone jack which I did not test.
As you can tell, this is an unusual DAC with analog input that can be switched to be phono stage:
There is even a selector for moving magnet cartridge in addition to moving coil.
Power is provided in the form of external power supply.
This is a review and detailed measurements of the PS Audio Stellar Gain Cell DAC. It is on kind loan from someone who read my review of PS Audio DirectStream DAC and wanted to know how this model of PS Audio DAC performs. The Stellar Gain Cell costs US $1,699 which as high-end audio DACs go is a "bit of a bargain."
The industrial design is good:
There is quite a lot of heft to the unit. Not a great fan of blue OLED display with tiny font for sample rate and filtering. Then again, I take this over blinking/color LEDs you are meant to interpret yourself on some other units. Volume control and associated display value is responsive which I appreciated.
This is a (brief) review and detailed measurements of the Bryston BDA-2 DAC. It is kindly loaned to me by a local audiophile member. I tested the BDA-2 using my old analyzer a while back but he was interested to see how it measures with my new tests. The BDA-2 came out back in 2014 I think and cost US $2,795. Typical of Bryston gear it comes with 20 year warranty! This should preserve its resale price very well.
It is a serious, business looking product like the rest of Bryston line:
I like the clear set of LEDs indicating what is what as far as inputs and sampling rates.
Tons of inputs on the back:
For my testing I only used USB In and XLR out.
DAC Audio Measurements
As usual, we start with our dashboard view:
I wish the one channel was not much worse than the other. If I average the two, the SINAD is competent but not in the top bracket...
This is a review and detailed measurements of the SMSL SP200 THX technology headphone amplifier. It was recently announced and company was kind enough to send me a sample. SMSL tells me the retail cost will be US $289.99. This would place it in the middle of the pack of our reference quality headphone amplifiers. The JDS Labs Atom costs US 99. The recently announced and reviewed Monoprice Monolith THX costs US $400. And the one that started it all, Drop THX AAA 789 also costs US $400.
The SP200 came in a generic box which tells me final packaging is not yet available. From the outside, it is larger than JSD Labs Atom but smaller than the other two:
This is a review and detailed measurements of the Emotiva XMC-1 Generation 2 Home Theater Processor. It is on kind loan from a member and that is looking to upgrade it to the XMC-2 (they apparently have an attractive trade up program). The XMC-1 came out in 2015 I think. Not sure when the Gen 2 version came out. The XMC-1 costs US $2,499 so not cheap.
I like the display on the XMC-1 as far as the wealth of information it shows:
Otherwise the look and feel is ordinary.
The menu system drove me crazy. Every button press takes 2 seconds or more to take hold. I don't know how such a slower processor would have passed any kind of review in a high-end processor.
The back panel shows excellent connectivity in the form of both XLR Output and (one) analog input:
Routing my PC desktop through it resulted in UHD resolution but at just 30 Hz. Older HDMI chipset takes the blame.
This is a review and detailed measurements of the NAD T777 V3 Home Theater Audio/Video Receiver (AVR). It is on kind loan from a generous member who has loaned me a bunch of other gear. The T777 is a high-end offering from NAD and costs US $2,750.
The front panel and controls have some of the best look and feel of any AVR I have tested so far:
The volume control actually feels like a volume control and not some stiff knob as is common in likes of Pioneer. The 4-way selector on the left is very responsive but I still find it odd that it doesn't have a click in the middle. The menus are more to the point although still obscure as other AVRs. What does PCM Surround mean? That I sent it multiple channels of PCM or that it is simulating surround?
The front panel "Display" button was great in getting insight into audio and video formats being fed to the unit. It cycles through different aspects of the input signal from audio to...
This is a review and detailed measurements of the PS Audio NuWave DAC. It is on kind loan from a member. Looks like the NuWave DAC came out back in 2012 and it is now discontinued. The original cost was US $999. Strangely, I found two of them used on ebay selling for US $1,500! So the price has gone up since release.
From feel and heft point of view, the NuWave leaves a positive impression:
You can't tell from this picture due compression of the image using my 100 mm macro lens. In reality, it is a very deep unit, twice as deep as a typical desktop DAC.
The top is high gloss and picks up fingerprint oil instantly.
There are only two switches on the front: one controls the input and the other, forces a resample to 192 kHz or not. I performed all my testing in "Native" mode which doesn't resample. PS Audio manual recommends this mode. I was there were indicators for sample rate in the front panel.
This is a review and detailed measurements of the B&K Components AV30.2 Power Amplifier. It is on kind loan from a member. The AV30.2 is discontinued but is available on the used market for low price I am told. I found one listing with asking price of $175 but not others. The good news is that it uses the ICEPOWER 50ASX2SE class-D amplifier module so the review should be relevant to other amplifiers in the market now.
The B&K amp is targeted the CI (custom integration) market meaning it is usually installed in home and businesses by a dealer/installer as part of a larger system. This amp for example could be hidden behind a flat panel TV powering a couple of speakers. For this reason, the form-factor and connectivity follows the requirements for this market.
Here is the front panel:
The "business end" is on the back:
As you can tell, there is fair amount of connectivity for home...
This is a review and detailed measurements of the REL Acoustics Wireless Subwoofer and Transmitter. I purchased it from Amazon and it costs US $98 including Prime shipping.
As the name indicates, this is a transmitter and associated receiver to allow you to locate the subwoofer for your home theater anywhere you wish. The pair of boxes are rather high quality:
The external power supplies are small and provide 5 volt at 500 milliamps. As such, it could have used a USB charger as some of its competitors use (e.g. SVS). That way, you could power the transmitted by the USB port in your AVR.
There are a ton of these products in the market but from what I can tell, many are using Bluetooth. The REL does not and hence advertises low latency. This is good as while you can delay your main channels to match any delay, you may lose lip sync.
The two units paired automatically on power up although there is also a manual process for...
This is a review and detailed measurements of the EVGA NU Audio PC Audio card. It includes stereo output, stereo mic and line in, in addition to headphone output. This is a collaboration with UK audio company Audio Note so expectations are high as far as its performance. As it should be as the cost was US $250 when I purchased it. I see a US $60 discount now on both Amazon and EVGA website bringing the price down to US $190 including shipping. That is still more money than Creative labs sound cards but hopefully the NU Audio performs better.
The card is still in my machine so sorry about the dark image:
The lights are RGB and nicely fade from one color to the other. You almost want to sit there and watch them. So on that front, they are nicely catering to typing PC/gaming enthusiast.
I can't crawl on the floor to take a picture of the connectors so here is a shot from EVGA website:
This is a review and detailed measurements of the Creative Labs Sound Blaster Z PCI Express Gaming and Surround Audio interface card. It is on kind loan from a member. The Blaster Z costs US $100 on Amazon with prime shipping.
The card is still in my machine so here is a stock picture of the unit:
It has some red LEDs that come on when powered on. Alas, that didn't help me much in getting it working. Despite said lights on first install, Windows did not recognize it and the 150 megabyte package of crapware from Creative refused to install anything saying there is no hardware. I almost gave up but decided to re-seat the board and try again. This time Windows did recognize it.
Installation of the crapware package was not smooth. It installed a bunch of stuff with yet another interface than their other boards. It added an auto-update which immediately told me there were critical updates available even though I just downloaded...