Daniel Kumin

Daniel Kumin  |  Jun 30, 2016  |  8 comments

Audio Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,600

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Latest-gen audio and video processing
Fine-performing nine-channel Class D power
Cooler-than-ever free phone/tablet apps
Extensive proprietary auto-setup/EQ
Minus
Uninspired supplied remote
Occasional streaming audio glitches

THE VERDICT
All the good stuff—including Dolby Atmos/DTS:X, 4K/HDR with upscaling, and HD-remote-room ability—in a nicely usable, fine-sounding, fairly priced package.

It has been more than two years since Onkyo bought—or merged with, depending on your financial-accounting philosophy—Pioneer’s home-audio unit, but so far there has been no sign of their brands melding into a single entity. (Piokyo? Onkioneer?) And in all seriousness, we’ve no such expectation. For its part, Pioneer still retains two more or less discrete A/V receiver lines, the more quotidian VSX range and the higher-end SC models. More or less: All of the SCs reside in the brand’s specialist-oriented Elite series, while most of the VSXs remain in the “regular” Pioneer lineup. Yet a few sub-$1,000 VSXs, including two new ones, nestle in among the SCs on the Elite side of the ledger.

Daniel Kumin  |  Apr 14, 2016  |  0 comments

Cinema M6 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

SUB 1X12 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $5,494 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Very dynamically capable, with high power handling, high output
Solidly integrated front stage
Impressive subwoofer output and extension
Flexible “tripole” surround speakers
Minus
Slightly forward tonal balance (but perfect for behind-screen placement)
Pricey

THE VERDICT
Reference performance for movie playback, from some unusual speaker designs.

Complete the sentence with the most appropriate choice: “Yah, I sure do love those Swedish…”

A) meatballs.
B) supermodels.
C) interior designs.
D) loudspeakers.

If you chose D), congratulations, you’re a winner! Because while Swedish loudspeakers may not be a household word, or available at IKEAs everywhere (yet), the examples before us here just might be a winner in your home theater.

XTZ defines itself as much pan-Scandinavian as Swedish per se, but the company’s home base is in the blue-with-yellow-cross zone. The speakers themselves, like so many others today, are made in China, though XTZ points out that they employ high-quality drivers from fellow Scandinavian manufacturers such as SEAS and Scan-Speak, and the drivers are housed in unusually heavy, non-resonant cabinets. (XTZ offers a wide range of other speakers, as well as Dirac DSP and measurement systems, on its Website.)

Daniel Kumin  |  Mar 17, 2016  |  13 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,599

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Equipped with Dolby Atmos, primed for DTS:X
Abundant clean, dynamic power
AirPlay, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi all on board
Versatile, usable, hi-res-ready streaming options
Minus
Only two height channels, whether powered or line
Failed to stream DSD recordings

THE VERDICT
Plenty of performance and features, and solid human factors, with an emphasis on core audio quality, at fair “flagship” pricing.

Producing a test report on a “flagship” A/V receiver is always a bit of a high-wire act. On one hand, the receiver represents the top of the line: Maximum power, maximum features, and maximum performance are all expected—and generally delivered. On the other hand, cruiser-class designs rarely offer much of real importance that a model two or three jumps down any given maker’s line doesn’t also do quite competently—and for roughly half the price, which means it’s the model that most folks eventually buy. This leaves the hapless reviewer with the unenviable choice of either damning with faint praise or condemning excellence for its expense.

Daniel Kumin  |  Dec 23, 2015  |  0 comments

Debut F5 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

S10EQ Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $1,470 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Superb sonics, neutral tonal balance
Decently finished, simple look
Unapproachable value
Minus
Some off-axis center-channel tonal shift
Audible thump on sub’s auto turn-off

THE VERDICT
Elac’s Debut series reintroduces a near-forgotten brand with a design by a well-known name—Andrew Jones—and a value/performance factor to be reckoned with.

As longtime S&V readers have doubtless come to understand, I believe that cheap, as Gordon Gekko definitely did not say, is good. Any $10,000 pair of loudspeakers makes me vaguely uneasy, while a $50,000 pair leaves me ready to join the Che Guevara Brigade and start lining up oligarchs. So the arrival of a new family of cheap—err, high-value—serious loudspeakers from Elac U.S., designed by tech’lebrity engineer Andrew Jones, caused a certain amount of excitement hereabouts. (For more on Elac and Jones, see “Man on a Mission”.)

Daniel Kumin  |  Nov 18, 2015  |  1 comments
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $999

AT A GLANCE
Plus
True bass from truly tiny sub
Highly flexible setup, including wireless option
Beautifully made and finished
Minus
Finite upper-volume limits
Display too small to discern easily

THE VERDICT
If you demand real bass from a really small subwoofer (and you have $1,000 to pay for it), Artison’s got your micro-sub.

Ever since the first hominid bashed another hominid over the head (with the femur of a third hominid), humankind has pursued one arms race or another. From the atlatl to the AR-15, man’s competitive genius always finds a way to up the ante. One rather more constructive expression of this innate drive can be seen in the long-standing contest to extract more and more bass out of smaller and smaller boxes.

Daniel Kumin  |  Oct 02, 2015  |  0 comments
Performance
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $3,447 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Very honest, very capable reproduction
Unusual, and unusually attractive, cosmetics
Excellent center-channel off-axis consistency
Minus
Ever so slightly warm balance may not please more analytical listeners

THE VERDICT
Wide-range towers and solid tonal matching make for a system that will fulfill many, even without a subwoofer.

Italian technology doesn’t get a lot of respect. (There’s a version of the old joke where in heaven the police are British, the cooks French, and the engineers German; in hell the police are German, the cooks British, and the engineers— you guessed it—Italian.) But think only of Ferrari. Or Lamborghini. Better still, think of supercar maker Pagani, for which today’s examinee, Sonus Faber, provides premium audio systems.

Daniel Kumin  |  Aug 11, 2015  |  3 comments

Zensor 5 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

VTF-1 MK2 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $2,244 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Neutral balance
Excellent center-L/R tonal match
Superb “small”-sub output and extension
Minus
Zensor 5 mini-towers are rather short

THE VERDICT
Combining DALI’s fine-performing, high-value two-way line with one of the best inexpensive 10-inch subwoofers available creates an affordable system that competes well with the many contenders in its price class.

DALI is a company that has nothing to do with surrealist art or Tibetan Buddhism. The acronym is for Danish Audiophile Loudspeaker Industries, which over some 30 years has grown from a home-market specialist to a respected international brand. Despite this success, I had never gotten up close and personal with any DALI designs (trade-show demos excepted) until they shipped us a representative selection of their new Zensor entry-level series. Since the Zensor-ship currently lacks a subwoofer, we tapped one of the best size- and price-appropriate designs we know, Hsu Research’s affordable VTF-1 MK2.

Daniel Kumin  |  Jul 14, 2015  |  1 comments

T3 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value
SubSeries 300 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $11,855

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Reference-class sound reproduction
Near-perfect center- channel matching
Versatile dipole/bipole/double-monopole surrounds
Excellent finish quality
A bargain—for high-end speakers
Minus
Surround-mode change requires rewiring
Cheap for high end—but not cheap

THE VERDICT
A superb loudspeaker system from top to bottom—surely one of the best affordable high-end options available.

When you hook up a PSB speaker—pretty much any PSB speaker—you have a very good idea of what you’re going to get. To wit: balanced octave-to-octave response that fits a tight decibel window from the design’s lower limit to its upper; off-axis curves that are similarly smooth and “well bundled,” rolling off higher frequencies progressively at more extreme angles but without sudden discontinuities; impressive-for-size low-end extension without any enhanced, bass-sweetening pre-rolloff response hump; a reasonably unchallenging impedance curve for easy-to-drive amp-friendliness, and coherent, strong stereo imaging promulgated by carefully derived driver locations and spacings and by a diffraction-free cabinet design.

Daniel Kumin  |  Jul 10, 2015  |  0 comments

PS Audio Sprout
Performance
Features
Value

Teac AI-301DA
Performance
Features
Value
PRICE PS Audio: $799/TEAC: $549

AT A GLANCE: PS Audio
Plus
Phono input
Line input and output
Warm, engaging sound
Minus
No remote control
No direct DSD decoding

AT A GLANCE: Teac
Plus
Six source inputs
Dedicated sub output
Remote control
Dynamic and transparent
Minus
No stereo line out

THE VERDICT
These compact, versatile, and affordable combos will drive good bookshelf speakers or headphones to audiophile heights, each with its own sense of style.

It’s certainly a thing. It may be a trend. Or possibly even a wave—a new-wave, high-res groundswell sweeping over the nation’s small but growing (we hope!) cadre of youthful audio fans.

I’m talking about ultra-compact integrated-amplifier/digital-to-analog converters: “ampDACs,” I’m calling them. The newly evolved species combines a two-channel integrated amplifier (usually of modest power), a headphone output (usually), and high-resolution audio digital-to-analog conversion, all engineered to meet audiophile expectations of quality, and all packaged into a single, paperback-sized unit conceived for versatility. (Most models, including the two under review here, add today’s ubiquitous Bluetooth wireless capability.)

Daniel Kumin  |  Jun 23, 2015  |  23 comments

Audio Performance
Video Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $2,499

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Dirac Live speaker/room EQ
Highly flexible setup and automation options
Division I sound quality
Async-USB DAC input for streaming playback
Minus
Only one Dirac curve-set at a time can be loaded
Requires personal computer for setup; no onboard auto calibration

THE VERDICT
A noteworthy addition to the high-end preamp/processor ranks, with Dirac Live a fascinating, must-hear plus.

Talar du svenska? Emotiva does. Enough Swedish, at any rate, for the Tennessee tenderer of direct-to-consumer A/V gear to bake Swedish firm Dirac’s speaker/room-correction DSP into its new preamp/processor, the long-awaited XMC-1.

If you’ll forgive a Miller analogy, Dirac is to Uppsala University as Audyssey is to USC: Dirac, too, evolved out of original academic electroacoustics research—although USC’s weather is better, and I’m pretty sure the Trojans could take the Swedes on the gridiron.

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