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Samsung UBD-M9500 Ultra HD Blu-ray Player Review
David Vaughn | Nov 13, 2017
Performance Features Ergonomics Value PRICE $400 AT A GLANCE Plus Plethora of streaming options Outstanding picture quality Dual HDMI outputs Minus No 3D support Flimsy disc tray No Dolby Vision support THE VERDICT This second-generation Ultra HD Blu-ray player delivers exceptional performance and value, especially for heavy Netflix or Amazon users. I’m in my 13th year of reviewing consumer electronics, and I’m continually amazed at the industry’s pace of innovation. In the span of about 20 years, we’ve gone from bulky, backbreaking CRT displays to flat-panel TVs that hang on the wall, as well as projectors that are smaller than the base of a vacuum cleaner—all at prices that the middle class can easily afford.
Retro Elegance: Klipsch Three Wireless Music System
Bob Ankosko | May 25, 2017
Performance Features Build Quality Value PRICE $400 AT A GLANCE Plus Impeccable fit and finish Streaming via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Excellent sound Solid bass Remote control Minus App could be more intuitive Wish there was a display window THE VERDICT The Three melds retro style with modern sound in a beautifully crafted tabletop stereo. I’m not gonna lie. When I first saw a press photo of the Three, I was immediately taken with its elegant retro styling—the wraparound grille, the walnut top…those copper control knobs. I wanted one. Evoking what Klipsch calls the “mid-century” design legacy of its late founder Paul W. Klipsch, the Three boasts impeccably finished walnut panels, a knit grille, and a copper strip with two knobs—one for volume, the other for source selection—plus something you don’t expect to see on modern gear: a toggle switch. Positively retro. Behind the classic façade is a stereo pair of 2.25-inch drivers that flank a 5.25-inch woofer. Klipsch has also incorporated two 5.25-inch passive radiators—one on each end of the enclosure—to boost bass output.
Sony UBP-X800 Ultra HD Blu-ray Player Review
Al Griffin | May 24, 2017
Performance Features Ergonomics Value PRICE $300 AT A GLANCE Plus High-quality video upconversion of standard Blu-rays Plays SACDs, DVD-Audio discs, and native DSD files Inexpensive Minus No announced Dolby Vision support No analog audio outputs THE VERDICT Sony’s ultra-affordable Ultra HD Blu-ray player offers solid video performance, and it also plays SACDs and DVD-Audio discs. Call it nostalgia, but the launch of an audio or video format strikes me as an opportunity to reflect on what came before it—especially now, with the sun threatening to set on physical media. When the Blu-ray Disc first appeared a little more than a decade ago, Sony was among its main flagwavers. Not only that, but the company’s PlayStation 3 console was considered by many to be the top-performing player in the Blu-ray format’s primitive days. Samsung and Panasonic were quick to push out standalone Blu-ray players, but the folks at Sony took their sweet time bringing their own model to market. When the BDP-S1 did arrive, it was well received for its picture quality—though it had design quirks, including an inability to play CDs.
Oppo UDP-203 Ultra HD Blu-ray Player Review
Thomas J. Norton | Apr 14, 2017
Performance Features Ergonomics Value PRICE $549 AT A GLANCE Plus Outstanding overall performance Detailed info screen Plays virtually everything Minus No headphone output No support for HDCD THE VERDICT Oppo’s first Ultra HD Blu-ray player has been eagerly anticipated by UHD enthusiasts everywhere. The wait was worth it. We’re now into the second year of the Ultra HD Blu-ray era, but up to this past January, Samsung, Philips, and Panasonic pretty much had the UHD player market all to themselves. That month’s Consumer Electronics Show, however, saw the introduction of models from LG and Sony, together with new ones from Samsung and Panasonic.
Sony TA-ZH1ES Headphone Amp/DAC
Steve Guttenberg | Mar 07, 2017
Performance Features Ergonomics Value PRICE $2,200 AT A GLANCE Plus Solid as a brick build quality Handles ultra-high resolution 768-kHz/32-bit PCM, and DSD native (up to 22.4 MHz) files Variety of single-ended and balanced headphone outputs Minus Not the most transparent sounding headphone amp THE VERDICT The Sony TA-ZH1ES is beautifully designed and built, though it doesn’t quite bring the MDR-Z1R headphone to its full potential. Not content with just launching a new flagship headphone in the MDR-Z1R, Sony simultaneously launched the TA-ZH1ES headphone amplifier/DAC; like the MDR-Z1R, it’s intended to be a statement of Sony’s best technology.
Russound MCA-88X Whole-House Audio Streamer Review
John Sciacca | Mar 01, 2017
Performance Features Ergonomics Value PRICE $3,499 ($4,477 as reviewed) AT A GLANCE Plus Fast setup/programming Supports modern and legacy sources Integrates with many third-party systems AirPlay gives virtually unlimited access Minus NAS streaming has quirks Native app support is fairly limited THE VERDICT Russound delivers whole-home audio entertainment in a single, massively expandable chassis, allowing you to enjoy legacy analog/digital sources or modern streaming. Streaming and app-based control may be all the rage for music listening, but they ignore the fact that many people still have older, legacy gear they want to enjoy around their homes. Sometimes, whether it’s a CD player, turntable, or cable/satellite set-top box, “stream it from the cloud” isn’t a workable solution. Also, most modern wireless streaming music systems, such as Sonos and Play-Fi, eschew any type of wall-based control, relying solely on a smartphone or tablet interface.
Going Wireless with Google's Chromecast Audio
Al Griffin | Feb 17, 2017
Google?s Chromecast Audio media streamer represents perhaps the least expensive way to add wireless streaming to legacy speakers and audio systems. But is it the best option for everyone?
HiFiMan SuperMini Music Player Review
Mark Fleischmann | Feb 08, 2017
Performance Features Ergonomics Value PRICE $399 AT A GLANCE Plus Balanced and unbalanced output Drives moderately demanding headphones Hi-res capable, including DSD Minus No album art No fancy DAC chip No user-accessible internal RAM THE VERDICT The HiFiMan SuperMini combines the sonics of a gentle top end and luscious mids with light weight, long battery life, and enough power to drive slightly less efficient headphones. HiFiMan was founded in New York by Dr. Fang Bian. The company now operates from China but does not outsource either manufacturing or design. Headphones come from a factory in Dongguan. Music players come from another factory in Kunshan. R&D runs in Shanghai, software is developed in Shenzhen, and headquarters are in Tianjin. Unlike so many storied audio brands that have cut loose from their original motivation, 11-year-old HiFiMan continues to reflect the vision of Dr. Fang.
LP Records as Art
Leslie Shapiro | Jan 22, 2017
Those who grew up in the age of vinyl LP records remember that preparing for the listening experience was an artform in itself. Ceremoniously removing the LP from the sleeve, while gently grasping the edge of the album, fingertips kept oh-so-carefully away from the surface lest a fingerprint mar the surface. The precise application of disc-washing solution to the luxurious velvet of the cleaning pad, followed by the virtuoso swipe of the pad across the grooves. The placement of the stylus on the record required finesse - a person was judged by how silently and gently the needle was placed on the disc.
Panasonic DMP-UB900 Ultra HD Blu-ray Player
Al Griffin | Jan 18, 2017
Performance Features Ergonomics Value PRICE $600 AT A GLANCE Plus High-quality upconversion of Blu-rays and DVDs Effective detail enhancement and noise reduction Full-featured remote control Minus Doesn’t support YouTube 4K video streaming No Vudu app No Dolby Vision disc support Pricey next to competition THE VERDICT Panasonic’s first Ultra HD Blu-ray player’s excellent performance and solid build quality make it an easy choice for enthusiasts. Looking back at format launches over the past two decades, it becomes clear that most first-gen players were clunkers, and pricey ones at that. Dig deep through the Sound & Vision archives (on the web, or in your personal print library—you have one of those, right?), and you’ll unearth reviews of the first Blu-ray player, Samsung’s BDP-1000. Priced at $1,000, this ungainly machine took about one minute to load a disc, did quirky stuff (like first converting progressive-scan signals to an interlaced format before outputting them as 1080p), and delivered pictures that looked soft in comparison with those delivered by the HD-DVD format Blu-ray was aggressively warring with at the time.