The StereoTimes Most Wanted Components - 2001
Tim Shea
1 July 2001

DIGITAL

Publisherís Choice 2001 Award! Perpetual Technologies P-1A/P-3A $1099/$799

Although I havenít heard the P1 or P3 separately, the combo sure is up there with the better digital front ends Iíve experienced. Now thereís also the hot-rodded ModWright Signature version and a room correction module coming in the near future that should make this package even tougher to beat.

Budget: Electronic Visionary Systems Millennium DAC 1 $600

Reviewed 3/1/01. I know, I know. The DAC 1 is no longer available, but at an initial price of $600 (I incorrectly quoted the price at $750 in my review) it is unbeatable, and I bring it up because it may be available used and even cheaper now that the DAC II is shipping. Iíll take this opportunity to mention the DAC II, which at a little over $1,000 offers dual Burr Browns and upsampling and is said to be "way better" than the DAC 1. If thatís true weíre in for something very special. Keep your eyes peeled for a review in the not-too-distant future.

PREAMP

Publisherís Choice 2001 Award! Tact RCS 2.0AA $2950

Iíve only heard this digital preamp in the context of Clement Perryís system (his the 2.2 model), but it sounded great and offers room correction, which in my opinion has almost as big a positive impact on the resulting sound as the quality of the preamp itself. A couple years from now weíll all be wondering how we lived without room correction capabilities. Mainly because of this incredibly important and useful feature it gets my top vote.

Budget: Adcom GFA-750 $1395

This preamp gets you into the big leagues for a street price of a little over a grand and can be run passive or active-always nice to have options. In addition, it has some nice convenience features like a remote control and a home theater processor loop that allows you to seamlessly integrate high-end, two-channel listening with your existing pre/pro or a/v receiver. In my opinion there arenít enough stereo preamps that offer this helpful feature as most of us donít have the room/budget/spouse that allows for two separate systems, and you get an incredibly clean- and open-sounding preamp in the bargain.

AMPLIFIER: Publisherís Choice 2001 Award! Bel Canto EVo 200.2 $2395

Although this could also easily be my budget pick as well, itís so good Iím choosing it as my overall favorite when run in monoblock form, which doubles the power supplies and gives it the juice to handle most speakers. I also take my hat off to Bel Canto for taking what is a relatively new technology and executing so incredibly well their first time out. Iíve heard this amp in a couple high-end systems and it always let the music come through in a clear, effortless manner that just made you want to listen. Does the future look bright or what?

Budget: McCormack DNA-125 $1695

Iíve been living with a DNA 0.5 Rev.A in my system for about a year now and am very glad to see the emergence of a new line bearing the McCormack name. Since being absorbed into Conrad-Johnson, Steve McCormack has been freed financially to incorporate many of his popular revisions into his current line of amplifiers and it shows in the DNA-125. Although my time with this amp was limited it was immediately obvious that it is woven from the same sonic cloth as my 0.5 Rev.A. This is an extremely quiet amplifier with a very dynamic, clear, and neutral sound that yields an open window on the music and everything around it. You also get extended highs and lots of detail without the harshness frequently associated with solid state, which is why McCormack amps have won the admiration of many a tube lover. Itís also a much better-looking amp in person than it is in pictures, so itís definitely worth a trip to go take a look-and a listen.

LOUDSPEAKERS: Publisherís Choice 2001 Award! Talon Khorus $14,000/pr.

Effortless musicality. Striking dynamics. Utter transparency. Rock-solid and tuneful bass. Full and uncolored mids. Extended and clear highs. Total coherence. Razor-sharp imaging and detail. Lightning quickness. Lifelike soundstage. Beautiful craftsmanship. All these fragments come together to create some of the most natural and realistic sound youíll ever hear. What really sets these speakers apart for me is that absolutely nothing stood out that required individual attention or criticism. Every aspect of the sound just blended together to create a seamless sonic fabric that you could sit and watch for hours, not even cognizant that youíre listening to audio equipment. In my opinion, this is the reference for a complete and balanced speaker.

Budget: Soliloquy 5.3 $1995/pr.

These are not the easiest speakers to work with. They are very heavy for a relatively small floorstander (80 lbs. each) and have a large rear port, which means that placement close to walls/corners is not an option. They are also very sensitive to room shape and placement in general, so if they are not properly set up they will sound much less than impressive. Basically, it takes some doing to get them to sound right. Why am I telling you this? Because if you have the time/patience/desire to get it right, you will be rewarded with an incredibly lifelike performance in your listening room. Performance is a key word. These speakers have the ability to be an open window on the performance as well as the music, which is not easy to find at this price point in my experience. If you want warm and lush, look elsewhere. If you want transparent, full, detailed, and accurate with a holographic soundstage this could be your boy. They may not be perfect and there are limits to what a speaker this size can do, but you will get a serious glimpse into the high end on the cheap with the 5.3s.

SPEAKER CABLES

Overall: Publisherís Choice 2001 Award! Acoustic Zen Satori $598/8 ft. pr.

Although I consider speaker cables to be a critical component to getting the most out of a system, I have to confess they fall low on my list of priorities. Iíve heard much bigger differences changing components or interconnects to this point than I have with switching cables. That said, I have been using the Satoris recently and have found them to be very neutral, which is all Iím asking of a speaker cable given my system. If youíre not looking to tone something down or up, I think these cables are a great choice.

Budget: DH Labs T-14 $104/8 ft. pr.

I had these in my system in bi-wire configuration for a short time and found them to be very neutral and competitive with much more expensive cables I had tried. If nothing else theyíre a great midpoint between Radio Shack and the mega-dollar cables that will yield great value and performance.

INTERCONNECTS Budget: DH Labs BL-1 $99/1.0m.

I have not yet tried high-dollar interconnects in my system so Iím just going to make a budget recommendation here. I pitted the DH Labs BL-1 against a couple other well-known and similarly-priced cables and found it to be the most detailed and neutral in my system. If you have a bright-sounding system or prefer a more warm, laid-back sound these may not be appropriate, but if youíre looking for truthful and revealing interconnects the BL-1s were the best I tried in this price range.

DIGITAL INTERCONNECTS Budget: Apogee Wydeye $37.95/0.5m.

As with interconnects, I have not tried the more expensive digital cables in my system so Iím just making a budget recommendation on this one too. I started with low-priced stuff I had on hand between my Pioneer DVD transport and my EVS Millennium DAC 1 and then tried some video cable before stopping by my local music store to pick up the Wydeye for about $26 (with true 75-ohm RCA connectors no less). In a rush to see the results, I installed the cable backwards as the directional markings were rather faint. It was both a big disappointment and a lesson in how directionality in cables matters. Pay attention. Once I got it installed correctly, the level of detail increased sharply, the background got quieter, and the soundstage opened up dramatically. Iím going to try some of the pricier stuff but the Wydeye is a huge step up from basic audio/video cables and highly recommended for the price.