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September 2010
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Best Audiohpile Product Of 2010 Blue Note Award
Best Of 2010 Blue Note Equipment Awards
As Chosen By Editor Steven R. Rochlin
And The Staff At Enjoy the Music.com

Click here to e-mail the staff


  Welcome to our tenth annual audiophile equipment awards! Our Best Of 2010 Blue Note Award marks a decade of celebrating the very best products we have reviewed during the previous year. Recipients have been carefully chosen after much debate and consideration. It is a very rare occurrence that we bestow such accolades towards a products. While there are many great pieces of equipment now available in the marketplace, the below list is compiled from products we reviewed within the past 12 months of what we found to merit extra special attention. During the past year, Enjoy the Music.com has reviewed many products, including those covered within our Viewpoint articles and our sister publication Superior Audio. Items from Superior Audio are awarded here, so they do indeed count as items to be recognized as earning special recognition.

As always, let is be said here and now that we make no apologies that in 2010 our staff found only 17 products to receive an award. Sure well over 100 products have been reviewed, with quite a few being world premieres, yet that does not mean everyone gets an award or some grade like in elementary school. This is not to say that other products do not merit your attention, it is simply that only the very best of the bunch should stand out and be recognized as such clearly and concisely. Take note that we do not carry over products from our previous year's award or include items that were never officially reviewed to fatten up the list. We do not add products in hopes of satisfying advertisers, so conspiracy theorists can look elsewhere to quench their blood-thirst desire.

Our staff here at Enjoy the Music.com, with hundreds of years in combined expertise, now presents to you our choices for Best Of 2010 Blue Note Equipment Award. And the winners are:


Source Components

Kuzma Stogi Reference 313 VTA Tonearm
Price: $3800
Click here to read the complete review.

  The Ref 313 VTA is a 12-inch version of the Stogi Reference but fits a standard mounting hole for 9-inch arms. The 313 VTA's distinguishing difference is its VTA tower which enables cartridge VTA adjustments during playback. Raising or lowering of the arm pivot by a few millimeters is possible by simply rotating a dial. The dial is calibrated in steps of 0.1 mm, so that it is possible to lower or raise the arm in a repeatable and precise way. Even smaller increments can be judged visually between lines on the dial. All of the Kuzma arms share the same low-friction, zero-play, gimbals bearing design and cable. However, for the Stogi reference line, a conical arm tube is used and an azimuth adjustment is provided. The arm tube is internally damped and subdivided into two compartments to further enhance its damping properties. Although the arm features the convenience of a detachable headshell, neither mechanical rigidity nor signal connection are compromised. That's because the wiring is continuous from the cartridge pins to the RCA output jacks and the headshell is held down snugly in the arm wand and fastened by means of a set screw. Partnering top-notch MC cartridges, the Stogi Reference digs deep in the bass, and in general reproduces bass lines tightly and pitch perfect. Vocals soar without a hint of distortion. Its dynamic range is nothing short of explosive reports Dick Olsher (DO). Being a 12-inch arm, it holds an unfair advantage over all previous 9-inch arms DO had experienced. It simply blows away those shorter arms in terms of reduced inner-groove tracing distortion. With the Kuzma there is far less difference in textural purity between the cartridge alignment's sweet spots and other positions on the record. In a nutshell, control resonances, eliminate bearing chatter, facilitate dynamic VTA adjustment and you have the Kuzma 313 VTA arm. It sounds as superb as it is looks. --- Dick Olsher


Source Components

EMM Labs XDS1 CD/SACD Reference Player/Converter
Price: $25,000
Click here to read the complete review.

  Ed Meitner's masterpiece is this one box SACD stereo player, which also serves as a DAC of the very highest caliber. At $25,000 it is the stuff dreams are made of, and competes with even more expensive players from Esoteric and dCS for the digital crown. For the first time Meitner has incorporated an Esoteric drive mechanism, radically improving responsiveness to the control, a bugbear on previous EMM Labs players. Simply put, this drive gets us as close to the digital master tapes as I have yet encountered, with full blooded high resolution performance on SACD and Redbook performance to set alongside the impressive results Meridian have been demonstrating in their top end machines. It's the sound I've been looking for since the introduction of digital recording. --- Phil Gold


Source Components

VPI Rim Drive & Classic Platter Upgrade
Price: See original review for pricing and trade-in options.
Click here to read the complete review.

  This masterly re-thinking of how best to accurately turn a platter delivers major performance enhancements for my Aries 3, itself a 2009 Blue Note Award winner. The Rim Drive delivers greater rhythmic excitement and improved dynamic transients, especially when teamed with the Classic aluminum platter originally developed for the VPI Classic turntable. This upgrade is also available for other VPI tables, and the company offers some very reasonable trade-in possibilities. Check with VPI for details. --- Wayne Donnelly



Pass Laboratories XP-15 Phono Preamplifier 
Price: $3800
Click here to read the complete review.

  In my review I said that "its excellent transient response, natural portrayal of instrument textures, expansive yet appropriately scaled soundstage, tight and deep bass response, modern tube-like midrange qualities, glistening highs, solid bass, and excellent separation of instruments and sounds -- did I leave anything out? -- all without ever drawing attention to the gear that was performing the task, and fairly priced". The fact that this outstanding component is lacking multiple inputs will be a deal breaker for only a small number of vinyl aficionados, as well as the inconvenience of accessing the rear panel to set the load and gain settings on small DIP switches. But how many times are most listeners going to have to make these adjustments? Not often, I suppose. Of course the cliché "the best of tubes and solid-state" applies here, but with this component it is much more than the this oversimplification - the solid-state Pass Labs XP-15 lets the music pass through not only unedited, but with a lifelike aura around each instrument or group of instruments, and reproduces the signal that with an almost indescribable physicality. No, I'm not saying that this is the best phono-stage one is ever going to hear, but one is going to have to spend much more money to come even close to this level of performance. --- Tom Lyle



Coincident Statement Line Stage
Price: $4999
Click here to read the complete review.

  While Coincident Speaker Technology built its outstanding reputation on loudspeakers, Israel Blume was not content with the electronics used to drive them and set his sights first on power amplifiers, and now on line stage and phono preamplifier. Built around the 101D tube developed and sequestered by Western Electric for a couple of generations, his Statement Line Stage is a no holds barred assault on state of the art with point to point wiring and a massive power supply. Being a truly balanced design it will optimize both source components and amplifiers that are also truly balanced, yet it will accept RCA inputs and it is set up for bi-amplifying in the unbalanced mode. So, while it has limitations, it also has flexibility. With extended frequency response, neutrality with just a touch of warmth, excellent dynamics and focus, it features transparency like someone threw a brick through your window. The Statement is designed for the most golden of ears but more importantly it delivers music with a heart of gold. I not only bought the Line Stage review sample, I added the Statement Phono Preamplifier on faith. --- Rick Becker



Einstein The Tube Mk 2 Line Preamplifier
Price: $18,400
Click here to read the complete review.

  This brilliantly designed, fully balanced, single-chassis, 19-tube line stage is undeniably expensive, but it's easy to see and hear where the money went. The Tube Mk 2 i the most explosively dynamic, tonally beautiful, harmonically complete, realistically spacious and spookily quiet preamplifier this reviewer has ever experienced. And it's gorgeous! It is now my reference preamplifier. --- Wayne Donnelly



Diy HiFi Supply Tram Mk2 DHT OTL Preamplifier
Price: $2,000 for assembled version, price varies depending on tube choice
          $1,395 as a kit without tubes
Click here to read the complete review.

  Directly Heated Triode (DHT) preamps such as the Tram Mk2 are tricky to implement, hence they are rare. Likewise preamps are rarely as good Tram Mk2. With careful placement and setup within a system context the results are stunning. The preamp can operate with 45 or 2A3 DHTs, it is fully remote controllable. Available fully assembled and as a DIY kit. You can expect a wonderful harmonically rich sound laid out in front of you. This is a component for enthusiasts who are prepared for optimize it for their system to gain the greatest rewards. Magnificent, punching far above its weight. --- Clive Meakins



Pass Labs XA30.5 Stereo Power Amplifier
Price: $5500
Click here to read the complete review.

  At 30 wpc (into 8 Ohm) the XA30.5 is officially the baby in Pass Labs' XA.5 lineup which culminates with the XA200.5 monoblocks. Nominally this a push-pull amp, n-channel and p-channel MOSFETs do the pushing and pulling. However, the trick here is coaxing the first watt in single-ended mode. The first watt is king. It sets the stage, so who cares about the other zillion watts if they're no better than the first. According to Nelson Pass, the n-channel is biased at a higher level than the p, so that at very low power levels the output is effectively that of the n-channel functioning in single-ended mode. At higher levels, both n and p devices contribute to the output as a push-pull pair. This is not the sort of amp to impose a particular personality over the soundstage; it maintains a neutral balance. Yet is reveals itself as being in the room Zen-like -- by the things it does not do. It does not limit bandwidth, obscure detail, veil the soundstage, or mellow harmonic textures. The XA30.5 dazzles with its transient speed - a function of its wide bandwidth and excellent slew rate. A high damping factor is responsible for marvelous bass control. It also scores high in the categories of timbre accuracy, textural purity, and microdynamic conviction. There is no grit, grain, or electronic glaze to interfere with the ebb and flow of harmonic textures. DO is basically a tube guy but tries to stay amplification agnostic, keeping an open mind about what sounds best in a particular application. The Pass Labs XA30.5 won him over in several system contexts. It's one of only a handful of solid-state amps with musical heart and soul. It represents excellent value at its asking price. A mandatory audition for anyone shopping around for a power amplifier under $10,000. --- Dick Olsher


Integrated Amplifier

Audio Note UK Ongaku Integrated Amplifier
Price: $95,000
Click here to read the complete review.

  As a car enthusiast and for those who enjoy BBC television programs, i can sum this up by saying the Audio Note UK Ongaku integrated amplifier would be at the top of the board in the Sub Zero category on Top Gear. For non-automobile enthusiasts, the Ongaku sets a new standard other manufacturers will have to work quite hard to come close in achieving. So visually it leaves much to be desired, yet when you fire her up and take this unit for a 'ride' she has it where it counts. PRAT, harmonics, ease of presentation, transparency... and so much more. Since i am perhaps the only reviewer in the world who has put their wallet where their mount is, as have owned the Japanese version for many years, this new UK version furthers the previous Japanese excellence yet with far better lower frequency support and extended upper registers. The midrange has such sheer beauty and truth that it reminds me of why i got into high-end audio in the first place. Simply put, there is the Audio Note UK Ongaku and then there are other units that may only provide a glimpse to the try audiophile possibilities. Then again with an entry price of $95,000 and offered by a man who throws caution to the wind... Am still debating buying the new UK Ongaku version, yet with the current state of the world economy, insane central bankers and geo-political situations plus other (insane) world affairs, am playing a wait and see game for now. --- Steven R. Rochlin, editor



i-Fi Chair
Price: $4000
Click here to read the complete review.

  This is no gimmick. Simply put, this is the most involving system I've ever experienced…and I've heard a bunch. Think what you might about the concept but after about a half hour in the I-Fi Chair you will see first hand Jeff Ostler's brainchild can be a serious contender for any moderately priced system. Then again at $4000, some may look at the I-Fi Chair as an additional accessory for their existing system…a tweak that allows you to experience your favorite music in a completely new realm. And quite the experience it is. The visceral impact and shear magnitude of presentation is like nothing you've ever experienced in the past. And no, this isn't hype, its fact. Oh... this thing goes to 11 too... might even be 12!!! --- Scott Faller


Budget Component

Ray Samuels Audio F-117 "Nighthawk" Photo Preamplifier
Price: $795
Click here to read the complete review.

  This astonishing, ground-breaking little phono stage would have made my list for sonic excellence even if it were priced at thousands of dollars -- that is how good it sounds! Add to the great performance its rechargeable lithium-ion battery and front-panel rotary settings for load and gain, and the F-117 truly is, as I dubbed it originally, a game changer in the very competitive phono preamplifier category. --- Wayne Donnelly



Sennheiser HD800 Headphones
Price: $1400
Click here to read the complete review.

  Whilst $1400 may seem like a lot of money for headphones, but when they sound this good and are comfortable enough for long listening sessions, you can forgive a lot. Sennheiser has wrestled the prize for best performing dynamic headphones away from AKG whose fabled K1000 has finally gone out of production. Most satisfying to me is the elimination the head clamp that kept me from loving Sennheiser's previous attempts at the sate of the art, the HD600 and HD650. Highlights are the high level of both resolution and dynamic range, while the off the ear drivers give a spacious feel to the music. Unfortunately the stock cables are not capable of revealing the full range of the HD800's capabilities. For that you'll need aftermarket cords. I can safely recommend the Cardas Headphone Cable for the HD800, which retails for $286 for a 10ft length. --- Phil Gold


Accessory / Tweak

Pure Power PP2000 AC Regenerator
Price: $2995
Click here to read the complete review.

  I've had the honor of reviewing at least 20 new products over the past year, and have had great difficulty picking one that was the best. Since I'm allowed to pick only one, I'll have to go with the Pure Power PP 2000 AC Regenerator. This unit has at last freed me from the AC gremlins that intrude on the enjoyment of music. It has worked so well, that I've actually purchased three using my own funds, and they are happily ensconced in my music room now, giving me the best sound I've had in 35 years. When I first got into audio, the big debate was what piece of equipment was the most important, and the debate usually centered around whether the source, usually a turntable back then, or the speaker was most important. Usually the garbage in = garbage out crud... won the debate. Well, back then that was probably the case, as the electricity was infinitely better than today. Times have changed, and today we have to go back to the true source for the garbage; the AC entering the home. Kudos to Pure Power for finally figuring out how to get rid of most of it. --- Dr. Bill Gaw


Accessory / Tweak

Audience aR2p-T Power Conditioner
Price: $1600
Click here to read the complete review.

  The Audience aR2p-T Power Conditioner With New Aura-Teflon Capacitors was an unexpected pleasure to review. While knowing changes would occur with the insertion of a power conditioner, the aR2p-T gave me far more in the way of an audio improvement than I had at first imagined would take place. Audience LLC is based out of San Marcos California and run by its current President and CEO John McDonald, a remarkable and very knowledgeable man who I have had the good fortune to recently meet in person at the California Audio Show. This product was designed the way audio gear should be, with the goal of producing something made for a particular job rather than to meet a price point/budget. Build it right, than price it accordingly. Inside the aR2p-T you will find a hand built product with premium parts, made without the use of circuit boards or clip on connections. You get two Hubbell high conductivity power receptacles and a Marinco high conductivity power plug. All this is located inside of a smooth white plastic enclosure giving it a nice high tech look. Its surge suppression is a claimed 20,000 Amperes and to even further enhance performance the entire electrical circuit is cryogenically treated. This power conditioner is a champion at low level retrieval as it very clearly unveiled a natural sounding timbre as both music or vocals was played through it. Even though there were only two outlets it of course was still possible to run more equipment through it by way of using a power strip with multiple outlets. Next time you attend an audio show look around and do not be surprised if you see other manufactures using various Audience power conditioners. As for me what higher recommendation can I give the aR2p-T then to have bought the review sample. --- Anthony Nicosia


Accessory / Tweak

Synergistic Research Acoustic ART (Analog Room Treatment)
Price: See original review for prices
Click here to read the complete review.

  This most unusual room-tuning system, using resonating carbon steel bowls inspired by Tibetan prayer bowls, has generated considerable criticism, especially by hobbyists who have never actually heard the system but "know" instinctively that it must be snake oil. Too bad, say I -- a more open mind might help those folks attain a far better-sounding listening environment without the clutter of baffles and traps. The improved in-room performance I have experienced after installing those little resonating bowls is as significant as any component upgrade I have made, and I urge any listener searching for significant aural refinement to audition this unique approach to room treatment. (BTW, Synergistic now also offers a low-priced ($500) starter set. I have not heard it, but it strikes me as a low-risk alternative that might well establish proof of concept.) --- Wayne Donnelly


Accessory / Tweak

Feickert Universal Protractor
Price: $250
Click here to read the complete review.

  This is an absolute must-have for anyone serious about making sure their turntable is properly set up. Sure, you can use one of the many downloadable protractors to align your cartridge or set overhang but they can be a pain to use. The Dr. Feickert Universal Protractor gives you a quick, simple and very accurate way to dial in your table for a reasonable price. For me and my ever growing cartridge collection, it's an indispensable tool. --- Scott Faller



Harmonic Technology Photon Digital Cable With the AC/DC i-Pure Power Supply 
Price: Photon Cable is $1,300; AC/DC i-Pure Power Supply is $600. Total is $1900
Click here to read the complete review.

  The Harmonic Technology Photon Digital Cable brought such sonic purity to CD playback that it challenged my belief that I needed to upgrade my vintage Muse DAC. Quick on the attack as well as the decay, the space between the notes was silent except for the micro-dynamics of low level room tone when present on the recording. Being used with Class A tube preamp and monoblocks, the Photon created a large and transparent soundscape with exquisite detail and delineation of position. Perhaps because it breaks the electrical ground between the transport and the DAC, the Photon seems to divide and conquer the noise generated in each of those components. It placed me a little further back from the stage than I'm accustomed, but I could hear more of the music and I was more engaged by it. Though it is completely neutral, it caters particularly well to left brain analytical type listeners. However, if the rest of your system is equally high in quality, the music will likely be enjoyed by all. I don't normally endorse such expensive cables, but Jim Wang's Photon Digital, with it's extraordinary application of opto-electrical isolation technology, forces me to break my own rule. Read the full review and if at all possible listen for yourself. --- Rick Becker














































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