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January 2004
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine

Best of 2003 Awards
By Editor, Steven R. Rochlin
As Chosen By The Staff At Enjoy the Music.com
Click here to e-mail the staff



Source Components

Ayre CX-7 CD Player
Price: $2,950
Click here to read the complete review.

No multi-format player I have heard, even at twice the price, makes Redbook CD sound this wonderful. If I had a budget of five or even ten thousand dollars for a digital front-end my choice would be to spend three thousand of it right here and put the rest toward hi-rez. The SACD/DVD-A battle is not going to resolve tomorrow, nor is either format about to breakthrough or establishes a dominant market position. CD lives on, and will live on for many years to come as the primary method of music delivery. To hear all that music at its best you need a CD player this good. The CX-7 is most highly recommended, especially if you absolutely love music.



Source Components

Dodson DA-218 DAC
Price: $8,800
Click here to read the complete review.

Ralph Dodson is throwing down the gauntlet to…SACD and DVD-A. He asserts that standard 44.1 KHz CDs reproduced through the DA-218 are sonically at least equivalent to the newer formats.... All input digital signals — 32, 44.1, 48 or 88.2 KHz — are upsampled to 96 kHz and the oversampled to 768 kHz and 24-bit word length... a signal-to-noise ratio of -117dB. The music emerges out of infinite 'blackness'. There is none of the slight bleaching of harmonics that signals my subconscious that I am listening to CD... I am filled with admiration for its phenomenal sound and uncompromising execution. The DA-218 has enough processing power and parts upgradeability to accommodate high-bit-rate digital formats in the future. The thing is addictive, and I am [loving] the sonic refurbishing of my CDs. -- Wayne Donnelly



Source Components

The Ah! Super Tjoeb CD Player
Price: $849
Click here to read the complete review.

The Super Tjoeb represents a quantum leap in performance relative to the stock Njoe Tjoeb player and a Godsend for music lovers on a budget. It makes clear the sonic advantage of a properly implemented upsampling digital filter in linearizing the performance of even a good DAC. A super linear DAC translates into less digital artifacts and a smoother, more analog-like sound quality. In a world of high-end Goliaths, this David slays every player I've heard to date in the under $3K price range. At its sub $1K asking price, its price/performance ratio is simply out of this world. The Super Tjoeb gets my vote for digital product of the year. -- Dick Olsher




Vacuum State DPA Amplifier
Price: €8,800
Click here to read the complete review.

I first heard of Allen Wright, the designer, about six years ago when I was evaluating cables, and found his Cable Cookbook, which espoused the use of very thin silver foil and minimal dielectric to allow minimal skin effect and maximize signal transfer purity. The unit has three inputs and outputs, is self biasing, can be used with just about any output tube, triode or pentode, with the possibility of paralleling a pair of tubes per side for more power, and he has already designed units for 300B, and single or doubled KT-88 tubes. I had him build mine using VV-32 tubes set for about 18 watts output. You will remember that I had been using the Electraprint DRD 300 B amplifiers since I gave them "Best Product of the Year" award last year. They had the clearest cleanest mid-range production that I had heard, but the Wright's beat them out. The imaging became more 3-dimensional with greater depth and width and fullness to the soundstage, filling out even more the space between the instruments. The Wright's were actually letting more information through. -- Bill Gaw




EAR 890 Stereo Power Amplifier
Price: $4,995
Click here to read the complete review.

This is a great amplifier! It is extremely easy to set up and sounds good with little or no tweaking. It is about enjoying the music and not a finicky or touchy piece of gear. It is very cohesive and the tonality is excellent and very well integrated from highs to lows. There is a slight boom in the bass that is noticeable, yet not very obtrusive and may be a benefit with most modern loudspeakers. I found it very enjoyable to have a well-rounded, fuller sound to create a proper foundation to the music. Resolution and detail are excellent and they are presented in a relaxed, smooth manner. This EAR will not likely make "detail above all" types happy. The detail and nuances are there; they're not thrown at you, but are, more appropriately, part of the music's tapestry. Sound staging and imaging are terrific. The music, when thus recorded, extends beyond the edges of the loudspeakers with good depth and extension. This includes "throwing" sounds well in front of the loudspeakers and find this very engaging as one gets swept into the energy and mood of the music. True stress relief served here. -- George Papadimitriou (Pappas)




Parasound Halo JC 1 Monoblock Amplifier
Price: $6,000 per pair
Click here to read the complete review.

They pump out seemingly effortless power with never any sense of strain. Capable of wondrous delicacy, and the kind of transparency that makes you feel that you're hearing every instrument, every voice, but never at the expense of the musical whole. The bass presentation is flawless -- all the transient speed and slam I could ask for, coupled with a revelatory degree of subtle instrumental differentiation. To be able to buy these robust, delicate, emotionally involving, brilliantly conceived and executed music recreators for $6,000 seems to me little short of a miracle. -- Wayne Donnelly




Halcro dm10 Pre-Amplifier
dm68 Power Amplifier
Price: dm10 $15,990 / dm68 $37,990
Click here to read the complete review.

Yes, balanced mode input was a clear improvement over single ended, and the current mode input failed to show any real advantage over the latter, but perhaps would have done had I not been using cables of the calibre of Nordost Valhalla. With the direct input was the clear winner on all counts, the aural results were clear: an unmistakably more immediate, cleaner and more transparent sound. Detail was even better resolved, and the sound had a more tactile feel. Which brings us almost to the bottom line. No excuses here about cost, weight and size. These things go with the territory at the audiophile bleeding edge. If you want practicality, go buy a sack of flour and learn to bake bread. This is hard core audiophile amplification which in most respects does nothing less than define a new state of the art for music reproduction in the home. I can't wait to hear what Halcro does next. -- Alvin Gold




Reference 3A MM De Capo-i
Price: 2,250 per pair
Click here to read the complete review.

In one form or another, the Reference loudspeaker has been in my home for nearly eight years. This type of staying power is exceedingly rare given today's digital fave of the month. With well over tens pairs of loudspeakers in my home, the Reference 3A MM De Capo-i are my proverbial "desert island" pick. How shall i say this other than these four words: "i am in love". From top to bottom the sound reproduced from the Royal Reference 3A MM De Capo-i is smooth, clean, clear and very fast. Not as fast as the $15k Avantgarde Acoustic Duo hornspeaker, yet extremely fast and possibly unmatched within this lower priced ($2.5k), non-horn category. If you are considering purchasing loudspeakers from $2,000 to $4,000, these are a must audition.




Acarian System's
Alón Napoleon
Price: Two channel system $2,295 
Three channel system $2,595
Four channel system $2,895
Five channel system $2,995
Click here to read the complete review.

Alón's Napoleon loudspeaker system continues to impress (yes, I purchased the review system) after many months. Remember it is specifically designed as a system; there is no added fullness with the small Napoleons pretending to be full range even well into the bass end. They roll off at the bottom end naturally and require no other crossover or protection -- a real advantage. However a really good subwoofer (and the partnered Thunderbolt is much better than just really good!) with truly clean and low distortion response up into area around 100Hz and even a bit above is a necessity. If a lack of fullness is perceived, carefully select complementary loudspeaker cables, move them a couple of inches closer to the wall behind, or double up with two of the small Napoleons for the central channel. For stereo use, double up right and left channels if desired for an even fuller, richer quality. Use them vertically oriented, even when doubling up. It will surprise you how small they are, so double check those physical measurements again while being pleasantly surprised at the high level of their sound performance. Still warmly recommend for a stereo system or as a multichannel home theater loudspeaker system. Remember the "system" part of the Napoleon loudspeaker system phrase. That outstanding subwoofer (Thunderbolt) is an integral and necessary part of the Napoleon System. Definitely one of my 2003 affirmative votes. -- Karl Lozier




Classic Audio Reproductions
Cinema Ensemble Loudspeakers
Price: $2,250 per pair
Click here to read the complete review.

With either my old solid-state amplifier or the Bottlehead 2A3 Paramours, the Cinema Ensembles provide a clean, low-powered, crisp and generous slice of the audio nirvana pie. They make music better than ice cream. As Sarah sings, "I believe this is heaven to no one else but me" (Elsewhere). More than any other loudspeaker I have auditioned for Enjoy the Music.com™, these big white boxes with wide black horns, make music and movies seem effortless, natural and alive. -- A. Colin Flood



Budget Beaters!

Spendor SR5 Loudspeaker
Price: $1,000 to $1,250 per pair
Click here to read the complete review.

The SR5s are a two-way sealed monitor using a very high quality 140mm bass/midrange and 25mm coated fabric dome tweeter. The speaker is relatively easy to drive at 88dB, 8 ohms, and really only needs about 25 watts to really fill this room up with sound. Not only did Spendor build a loudspeaker that blends perfectly with almost any décor, but they gave it the soul of its more expensive "Classic" range and I can't think of a scenario where this product wouldn't work. Five SR5s combined with a subwoofer of equal quality might be the surround sound system of choice for discerning audiophiles in 2004. The only remaining question is...how did they pack so much great sound into something so affordable? -- Ian White



Budget Beaters!

Cain & Cain Abby Loudspeaker
Price: $1,499 per pair 
Click here to read the complete review.

If you are prepared to open up your ears and forgive the absence of any meaningful bass output below 75Hz, the Cain and Cain Abby are one of the most expressive, open, transparent speakers around. Terry Cain's entry-level product is beautifully finished both inside and out and a downright steal at $1,500. While designed primarily to satisfy the cravings of the single-ended crowd, the general consensus is that they sound equally as good, if not better with push-pull designs and solid-state gear on the warm side of the force. For those with smaller rooms, the "nearfield" version offers a warmer, more intimate sound that might even be preferable to some. -- Ian White



Accessory / Tweak

Bright Star Audio's IsoNode
Price: $12.50 to $19.99 for set of 4
Click here to read the complete review.

Bright Star Audio's very moderately priced IsoNode feet isolation devices continue to impress. Here again, I have purchased the review products. As noted in the review article there were some other fine close competitors. However the scales were very decisively tipped in Bright Star's favor with the addition of either or both of their moderately priced bases or case top vibration dampers. All three of these products earn my 2003 affirmative votes as does Bright Star's more expensive products as reviewed by Steven Rochlin earlier in the year. -- Karl Lozier



Accessory / Tweak

Shakti Hallograph
Price: $1,000 per pair
Click here to read the complete review.

On virtually any recording the soundscape is appropriately broader, deeper and more layered, notably taller and seemingly unconnected to the loudspeakers. Scale and focus are maintained-a string quartet is not as wide as an orchestra, and there is no 10-foot-wide solo guitar. Bass gets quicker and tighter, with better pitch definition.... Images are more dimensional and stable. Previously unnoticed low-level details emerge, and the entire presentation takes on a more relaxed and naturally musical quality that is hard to describe, but easy to love.

The Hallograph [is one of] the most significant performance enhancements I have encountered in more than three decades. I'm spoiled now -- I really don't enjoy the system without the Hallographs." -- Wayne Donnelly



Accessory / Tweak

ERS Paper
Price: $19.95 or $29.95 with adhesive backing
Click here to read the complete review.

ERS paper is unique, in that it creates a new product category, and virtually eliminates competition with its patent. The ERS paper tackles RFI and EMI generated inside the box, as well as outside the box when wrapped around cables or placed on top of power supplies, loudspeakers, or even free-standing between tube monoblock amplifiers. It is a product that is easily used by OEM companies and hobbyists alike without the need of special tools or skills. At $20 per sheet, it is a gift to audiophiles who can improve their existing systems without having to spend thousands of dollars to upgrade a single component. Moreover, its use is completely reversible, unless you use the self-adhesive version of the paper. Should you decide to upgrade a component in the future, simply remove the ERS from your old CD player, DAC, tuner, pre-amp, and try it in the new one. Never have I experienced a product that made such a huge impact on my system that cost so little. It doesn't make the music; it makes the music better. -- Rick Becker



Accessory / Tweak

Furman Sound IT-Reference
Price: $3,250
Click here to read the complete review.

While various power filtration and conditioning devices have come and gone, Furman Sound has served the highly critical professional audio marketplace for years. In my room with my equipment, a dead quiet back background, beautifully portrayed harmonics, astonishing macro and micro dynamics, gobs of inner resolution, and an overall ease of portrayal. Yes my systems had all the previous in spades, yet using the new unit simply allowed for a tad bit more of the same. This should not be taken as the Furman Sound unit providing small benefits, it should demonstrate that even under the best of circumstances an improvement could be produced. While you (generally) will not find Furman Sound in audiophile stores, it can be purchased from professional audio dealers. In my humble opinion audiophiles should recognize the benefits of certain professional products and not some of the "snake oil" and "black science" that other power device manufacturers proclaim. -- Steven R. Rochlin, Editor













































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