The Best of the Best 2003: Audio/Video

  • Ken Kessler

However enveloping surround sound feels, the pinnacle for pure music playback resolutely remains stereo. Purists believe that the only way to listen to music is with the venerable vinyl LP.

With more than 40 years of experience manufacturing tonearms, England’s SME is unparalleled in LP playback. The SME 30/2 turntable, fitted with the Series V arm, is an example of superb engineering that packs nearly 100 pounds of technology into an 18-by-14-inch footprint. At the business end of the SME tonearm is the Koetsu Jade Itoigawa cartridge. Completing the analog section is Boulder’s 2008 phono stage, which can accommodate and optimize any type of cartridge.

For digital recordings, the Linn Unidisk universal player can handle every 5-inch disc: CD, DVD, DVD-Audio, SACD, and the assorted formats used in at-home burners. Why choose a multichannel player for a stereo system? Because there are billions of stereo CDs, and because the vast number of SACDs and DVD-As include stereo versions.

The analog and digital sources are fed into Audio Research’s Reference 2 Mk II all-tube preamplifier—the model numerous manufacturers have chosen to complement their own systems. The preamp drives a pair of the massive and powerful Halcro 68 monoblock amplifiers, a product of the vertical school of amplifier design—tall, not wide. The end of the chain finds Wilson Audio’s WATT Puppy System 7, the finest example of a product evolving over the decades and truly becoming better each time. Connecting all of the components are wires from Transparent Cable’s Opus range, and a custom stand by Rix Rax elevates the system to a higher standard in audiophile furniture.

Halcro, www.halcro.com
Koetsu, www.musicalsurroundings.com
Linn, www.linnusa.com
Rix Rax, www.rixrax.com
SME, www.sumikoaudio.net
Transparent Cable, www.transparentcable.com
Wilson Audio, www.wilsonaudio.com

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