I bet there are loads of people who would love to have a good audio system in a room where it’s impractical to deploy a pair of freestanding loudspeakers. I also bet there are many others whose living space can accommodate freestanding speakers but whose significant other won’t.
Based in Florence, Italy, Volumio is best known for its open-source music-management software, which has become very popular with DIYers looking to build a headless music streamer on the cheap. But Volumio also offers three domestically manufactured streaming products: the Rivo streamer, Primo streaming DAC, and Integro streaming integrated amplifier, the subject of this review. With a streamer, a DAC, and an amplifier combined in a single elegant chassis, the Integro needs just a pair of speakers, and it’s ready to play.
Did this heading just make you do a double take? I wouldn’t be surprised if it did because Wi-Fi and turntable are two words you don’t expect to see back-to-back. Indeed, Pro-Ject Audio Systems’ T2 W ($1199; all prices in USD unless noted otherwise) is the first product of its kind: a turntable that can stream audio over a home network to multiple devices.
I think marketing geniuses can sometimes be too smart for the good of the companies they’re trying to promote. Consider the slogan that Klipsch Audio Technologies came up with in 2021 to celebrate the brand’s 75th anniversary: “Pissing off the neighbors since 1946.” The company even created a “Pissing Off the Neighbors” edition of its RB-81 MkII bookshelf loudspeaker (now discontinued).
Sometimes when things don’t work out the way you’d planned, it’s all for the best. This article is a case in point. In my June 1 feature, “Lakeside Streaming,” I explained how I’ve made it simple for guests to stream video and music to the various TVs and smart speakers in our vacation home. In the conclusion of that article, I noted that I use Roon for music playback at home and explained how the Roon ARC app lets me access my Roon library when I’m away from home. “But Roon ARC is a subject all of its own,” I added, “which I’ll tackle later this summer.” That time has now come.
Note: for the full suite of measurements from the SoundStage! Audio-Electronics Lab, click this link.
From the perspective of a pre-teen in the late 1970s, it seemed as if hi-fi was everywhere, and separate components ruled. In our living room, we had shag-white carpet, a Dual turntable, and a Marantz cassette deck and receiver. I remember the receiver’s gorgeous blue front lighting and joy-to-use Gyro Wheel tuner. A pair of Pioneer speakers with lustrous woodgrain cabinets rounded out the system. But I envied neighbors who had flashier systems from JVC, Sansui, and Technics. One friend had a complete silver Pioneer system at home, including the stunning CT-F1000 cassette deck, which I lusted after but couldn’t possibly afford. So, I compromised. I saved $200 from my allowance and summer jobs and bought a Panasonic all-in-one, which included a turntable, receiver, cassette deck, and matching speakers—my first stereo system.
In early May, a curious factoid popped up in my news feed. According to a 2023 study by Los Angeles–based Luminate, a sales analysis company that specializes in entertainment and media, only half of those who bought vinyl records during the previous year actually owned a turntable. Weird!
Among my better half’s innumerable gifts is an acute nose for real estate. I experienced this firsthand seven years ago, when we were enjoying a two-week holiday in Southampton, Ontario—a funky little Canadian beach town on Lake Huron. In addition to its lovely beaches, Southampton has some excellent restaurants, good shopping, an interesting history, and glorious sunsets.
When I told SoundStage! Network founder Doug Schneider about the NAD CS1, he asked a simple question: “Who’s this product for?” Lots of people, I responded. My brother, Ian, and his wife, Roberta. My sister-in-law, Petrea, and her husband, Paul. And a whole bunch of other folks. Priced at $349 (all prices in USD), the CS1 is aimed at listeners who want to stream music from their smart devices to a sound system that lacks network connectivity—without having to install special apps.
As I was taking a second pass through my rough draft of the intro for this review, it occurred to me that I was effectively aping the theme song for Cheers. It seems to me that the hardest part of making your way in today’s world of connected, streaming, networked, Bluetoothed, AirPlayed, Chromecasted audio—especially for a traditional hi-fi company—is figuring out how to spin what makes your thing different from any number of other things that do the same thing, not to mention how to compete with the Sonoses, BluOSes, and HEOSes of the world.
Making predictions is a risky business. You can look like a genius if things work out the way you say they will, or a doofus if they don’t. In my annual “State of Streaming” feature, which was published February 15 on Simplifi, I made four predictions: Spotify would finally launch its lossless music service; Apple would release its long-awaited classical-music app; Apple might introduce an enhanced version of AirPlay that supports hi-rez audio (and possibly spatial audio as well); and Tidal might make it easier for subscribers to listen to Atmos-encoded multichannel music. I was quite confident about the first two predictions, moderately confident about the third, and only mildly so for the last one.
What would you expect to pay for a 60Wpc class-D amplifier with a built-in phono stage and Bluetooth receiver? $400? $500? $600? How about $170? That’s the difference in price between a pair of Triangle’s Borea BR03 standmount speakers, which were enthusiastically reviewed by Diego Estan on SoundStage! Access in May 2020, and the Borea BR03 BT, the subject of this review.
When I’m reviewing a hi-fi product, I sometimes ask: “Why do you need to spend more?” More and more these days, iFi Audio is the brand that prompts my rhetorical question. If you’re looking for a good DAC, why would you need to spend more than you’d pay for the brand’s Zen One Signature ($349, all prices in USD)? If you’re simply looking to add audiophile-quality Bluetooth reception to a system that lacks it and you don’t need crazy range or digital outputs, why would you spend a dime more than the cost of the Zen Air Blue? And if you’re looking for a good music streamer that supports everything from Roon and AirPlay to network-attached storage and connected solid-state drives—assuming you don’t mind a few operational quirks—what could you want that the $399 Zen Stream (reviewed last year by Gordon Brockhouse) doesn’t offer? Mind you, I’m not saying there aren’t valid answers to these questions. In fact, in many respects, the Neo Stream network audio streamer ($1299) seems to be iFi’s own answer to that last one.
Canada’s PSB Speakers was founded in 1972 by Paul Barton. PSB celebrated its 50th anniversary on July 1 (Canada Day) last year with the release of the Passif 50 ($2499/pair, all prices in USD): a retro-inspired design that evokes PSB’s Passif I and Passif II models from the 1970s.
In audio, as in other pursuits, looks are often deceiving. A case in point is PSB’s new Alpha iQ active loudspeaker system. Priced at $1499 (all prices in USD except where noted), the Alpha iQ looks a lot like PSB’s Alpha AM3 powered speaker system, which costs only $549. The Alpha iQ and Alpha AM3 even have the same driver complement for each speaker: a 4″ polypropylene midrange-woofer with a rubber surround and steel basket, mounted above a 0.75″ ferrofluid-damped, aluminum-dome tweeter with neodymium magnet.
Since COVID-19 arrived in North America three years ago, I’ve been to exactly two audio shows, both in my home city: the 2021 and 2022 editions of the Toronto Audiofest. Fellow SoundStagers Doug Schneider and Jason Thorpe also attended TAF 2022, and as Doug outlined in his show report on SoundStage!Global, they came upon some pretty exotic gear at the show.
Typically, articles predicting developments for the coming year come out in early January, or even late December. But here we are, two weeks into February, and Simplifi finally has a feature outlining what we can expect from music streaming in 2023. Do I feel badly about this delay? Not in the least. Because when it comes to lateness, I have nothing on Spotify and Apple Music. Those streaming giants have both missed self-imposed deadlines by well over a year. With that excuse out of the way, here are three streaming stories I’ll be watching in 2023.
To purists and zealots, compromise is a dirty word; but for most of us, compromising is how we get along in life. This is as true of audio as any other pursuit. We can daydream about our ultimate systems, but we have to reconcile those dreams with reality—with our budgets, our living spaces, and the people who share those spaces.
Sometime last spring, it became clear to me that I’d be upgrading my hi-fi setup before the year was out. Not that I was dissatisfied with the gear I already owned—quite the contrary. I loved listening to that system, which comprised an NAD C 658 streaming DAC-preamp ($1999, all prices in USD), a pair of Elac Navis ARF-51 active floorstanding speakers ($3999.96/pair), and an SVS Micro 3000 subwoofer ($899.99). That system has provided countless hours of listening pleasure for me, my music-loving missus, and visitors to our home.
Inspired by a SoundStage! Audiophile Podcast episode, I posed a rhetorical question in a Simplifi feature published a few months ago: “Is Component Hi-Fi Dead?” During that podcast episode, Brent Butterworth, senior editor of SoundStage! Solo, had asked if we really need amplifiers anymore, given the growing acceptance of powered and active speakers with built-in amplification. “Amps are never going to die,” Brent opined, “but are amps kind of dead?” Dennis Burger, senior editor of SoundStage! Access, replied: “I don’t know if they’re dead. I just think they are unnecessary.”
Since the 1970s, record labels and audio manufacturers have been trying to convince music lovers to move beyond two-channel stereo. Music doesn’t just happen in front of us, argue proponents of surround music; it happens all around us. We could get a better experience if we added speakers beside and/or behind the listening position.
I’ve had a soft spot for Dynaudio for many years. For one thing, the Danish brand practically invented high-performance Simplifi’d hi-fi. When Dynaudio launched its Xeo range of active speakers in 2012, there were many excellent tabletop music systems on the market. But Dynaudio’s Xeo 3 standmount and Xeo 5 floorstanding speaker systems were different: they delivered real stereo from two discrete enclosures. Other than two-prong power inlets, the enclosures had no connectors of any kind. Instead, they received 16-bit/48kHz PCM audio from a companion wireless transmitter, which had mini-USB, optical (TosLink) S/PDIF, and line-level analog inputs (RCA and 3.5mm). The Xeo speaker systems made it possible to get serious stereo sound in multipurpose living spaces without cluttering them up with gear and cables.
Quite often, when a manufacturer updates a popular product, the new model offers only incremental improvements over the one it replaces. But sometimes, the new product represents a major upgrade over the original; and that is the case with SVS’s Prime Wireless Pro active loudspeaker system ($899.99, all prices in USD). The Prime Wireless Pro costs 50% more than the company’s Prime Wireless active speaker system (discontinued, $599.99 when available), but it contains a host of improvements.
This year, Canada’s Totem Acoustic celebrates its 35th anniversary. Since its founding in 1987, Totem has released an impressive range of passive loudspeakers, including standmount and floorstanding models, soundbars, on-wall speakers, and in-wall and in-ceiling speakers aimed at the custom integration channel.
Life gets in the way of a lot of things, and sometimes it gets in the way of hi-fi. Audiophiles who have dedicated listening rooms are lucky in this respect; audiophiles who must set up their sound systems in multipurpose spaces can find their hobby conflicts with other activities that go on in those rooms. The speaker locations that might deliver the best tonal balance and soundstaging might be occupied by an armchair or end table. Freestanding speakers might present a tipping hazard for households with rambunctious toddlers or pets.
Note: for the full suite of measurements from the SoundStage! Audio-Electronics Lab, click this link.
It’s almost ten years since Lenbrook Industries launched its Bluesound range of multiroom audio components. At the heart of those products is the BluOS software platform, developed in-house by the Canadian company. Lenbrook, which also owns the NAD and PSB brands, later added BluOS streaming capability to several NAD components. More recently, Lenbrook has licensed BluOS technology to several third-party brands, including Cyrus Audio, DALI, Peachtree Audio, Monitor Audio, and Roksan.
Nostalgia is huge in hi-fi right now. Just look at all those retro-styled speakers from brands like JBL, KLH, Klipsch, Mission, PSB, and Wharfedale. JBL, for instance, offers standmount speakers that evoke the legendary L100, which made its debut in 1970. Like the original L100, the L52 Classic ($1000/pair, all prices in USD unless noted otherwise), L82 Classic ($2750/pair), and L100 Classic ($4400/pair) all feature walnut veneer enclosures and JBL’s iconic Quadrex foam grilles.
Lately, I’ve been enjoying the SoundStage! Audiophile Podcast, which is hosted by Brent Butterworth, senior editor of SoundStage! Solo, and Dennis Burger, senior editor of SoundStage! Access. Brent and Dennis tackle a wide range of topics and do a ton of preparation for each episode. The production is polished, the discussions are well-informed and thought-provoking, and the presentation is casual and inviting.
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