Review Types Archives: Audio Hardware

Audio Hardware Review

ELAC B4 Speaker Review

When we looked at the ELAC B6, it offered better performance for its price than any other bookshelf speaker we had heard. They do well with all genres of music, from classic rock to alternative, classical to pop. The ELAC B4 is the newest member of the Debut line, only with a 4” woofer instead of the 6.5” woofer of the B6. Otherwise the speakers seem almost identical: same binding posts, same vinyl wrap, same grill only smaller. The B4 also performs very well, only it isn’t a speaker I’d likely recommend to most people except in specific cases. (more…)

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Marantz AV7702mkII Processor Review

It’s hard to find the point of diminishing returns correctly. If you aim for too low of a price point on a product, you might leave off a feature that is too important to be without. Of course if you can’t decide when to stop adding features, the price escalates out of control. Knowing what is essential and what to cut is how you wind up with a product that works great for most people. The Marantz AV7702mkII preamp manages to find that sweet spot. It has every feature most people will need, but sacrifices the ones you don’t want. (more…)

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Denon AVR-X2200W Review

Every well known receiver company has an offering around $800. I’ve always found this to be a sweet spot for a receiver–you gain a more refined piece than entry level, but at a point that doesn’t sting as much as flagship models. As we have written before, receivers in this range sound quite similar, so comparisons come down to features and usability. What sets the Denon AVR-X2200W apart and why do I now have one installed in our bedroom system? A robust platform, second to-none guided set-up and some key differentiating features make the AVR-X2200W an easy recommendation. (more…)

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JL Audio f112v2 Review

The JL Audio Fathom f112 has been highly praised in the audio community and the new version 2 arrives with some solid updates. Chief among them is the updated room calibration system. The Fathom subwoofers have a built-in system called D.A.R.O. or Digital Automatic Room Optimization. The previous models employed an analog system known as A.R.O. which is limited to a single frequency. Moving to the digital domain has allowed the JL Audio engineers the ability to equalize with 18 bands. The new version also employs an updated driver and better amp capable of more output with lower distortion.

These are some of the best subwoofers money can buy. They are compact, especially given the amount of bass they output, and beautifully constructed. Bass output is clean with tons of impact. The new D.A.R.O. is easy to run and does an excellent job at smoothing out bass response. If you are looking to build a reference quality home theater, a pair of JL Audio Fathom f112v2’s should be your foundation. (more…)

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Denon AVR-S710W Review

Trying to pick a future-proof receiver in 2014 was a challenge. You had to pick between full bandwidth HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2 copy protection, and DTS:X didn’t even exist yet. No matter what option you picked, you knew that in the next year or two you might need to replace it if you got a new TV. By mid-2015 that had changed and it was not hard to find receivers with full HDMI 2.0a and HDCP 2.2 support for UltraHD along with DTS:X and Dolby Atmos support. One of the more affordable options with those features is the Denon AVR-S710W.

For $480 the Denon AVR-S710W has 6 HDMI inputs, Dolby Atmos and DTS:X with 7 channels, HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2, Bluetooth, AirPlay, WiFi, Audyssey MultEQ, and the best setup routine of any receiver. Best of all, I can crank it to reference levels with my KEF Atmos system and it sounds wonderful. For most people, the Denon AVR-S710W offers everything you need in a receiver today and is ready for tomorrow as well. (more…)

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ELAC B6 Speaker Review

Andrew Jones is quite the name in speaker circles. Some know him from his work at TAD, producing some of the best speakers on the market regardless of price. Many more know him from his affordable line of speakers for Pioneer. I got to know him with his line of Dolby Atmos speakers for Pioneer that feature concentric drivers. Now, he is working with ELAC and has produced a brand new line of speakers for them.

The Debut line from ELAC is very affordable, and with the $280 a pair B6 bookshelf it does better than any speaker I’ve heard for the price. The exterior might be a bit plain, but the sound out-performs any bookshelf speaker I’ve heard from the $400 price range and below. Unless you’re willing to spend twice as much money per speaker, you aren’t going to do better than the ELAC B6 today. (more…)

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Yamaha CX-A5100 Processor Review

After a period of massive changes, it looks like things will slow down a bit on the AV receiver and preamp front. In the past two years we’ve seen Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, HDMI 2.0a with HDR and Wide Color Gamut become available. These new standards, along with a push to better implement wireless audio streaming, have caused many people to have outdated receivers and processors. Like myself, many of them have been waiting for these standards to be final before upgrading so as to not be left behind. The Yamaha CX-A5100 updates the CX-A5000 that I have previously reviewed and is set for 2015 and beyond.

Adding DTS:X support along with WiFi and HDMI 2.0a makes it as future-proof as almost any processor can be today. By using the ESS Sabre 9016 DAC, it offers better performance than competitors using less advanced DACs and room correction that sounds much improved over prior versions. The $2,500 preamp market is more competitive than ever before but the Yamaha CX-A5100 makes a solid claim for your dollars here. (more…)

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KEF R300 Speaker Review

This year I had the chance to compare over 20 pairs of bookshelf speakers to each other. Some were good, some were bad, and some stood out. The SVS Ultra Bookshelf offered the best bass of any speaker, bar none. But the speakers that won me over were the KEF models with their Uni-Q driver. The coherence and clarity they offered over the other speakers was huge. The LS50, acclaimed by everyone in the press, offered the most relaxed yet detailed sound of any speaker in my testing.

I wanted to combine that tweeter and midrange clarity with the bass response of the SVS Ultra. I ordered a surround system made up of four of the KEF R300 bookshelves and the matching R600C center channel. Compared to my previous system of Mythos STS speaker, the KEFs are superior. The STS had the lead in bass, but the KEFs blow them away in soundstage, detail, timing and clarity. From the $300 Q100’s to the $1,800 R300s all the way up to the $32,000 Blades, the KEF speakers offered a superior sound that I’m glad I invested in. (more…)

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Sonos PLAY:5 (2015) Review

Despite holding a commanding lead in the whole home audio market, Sonos has not been content to rest on its laurels. This is good for them, as the recent CEDIA Expo showed that everyone is out to try to take over a piece of this market. Everyone from DTS to Yamaha and Denon has their own solution coming out to challenge Sonos. The newly updated Sonos PLAY:5 shows what they are going to do to stay on top of the market.

From the packaging to setup and listening, the Sonos experience is as elegant an experience as you’ll find in home audio. The PLAY:5 is impeccably designed, feeling both incredibly rugged while looking stylish on a shelf. The new Trueplay room correction technology makes it easy to eliminate excessive bass often caused by speaker placement and improves the overall sound. While $500 for a speaker is getting to be expensive for many people, the Sonos PLAY:5 is the best sounding wireless speaker I’ve used to date. (more…)

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Denon HEOS 1 & GO Pack Review

Earlier this year we tested Denon’s entry into the fairly crowded multi-room home audio market. We like the Heos system, albeit with a few caveats. Denon has expanded the Heos line and I had the opportunity to test the compact Denon HEOS 1 speaker coupled with the optional GO Pack. While a little pricey at $300 for the set, I found the HEOS 1/GO Pack package to be an incredibly capable little speaker offering good sound in the right set-up, and great flexibility for moving around to wherever you need music. (more…)

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