Buddha: "Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who has said it, not even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense."















The various "Reference Components" files are the accumulated knowledge and judgment of a number of highly experienced audiophiles whose judgments I most respect and trust. However, I, Arthur Salvatore, will be the final arbiter of what is both included and written below.

Our references are based on many decades of listening comparisons with numerous components, in many types of systems and listening rooms, plus countless modifications that regularly led to significant improvements over the stock performance.

While no one person can audition every significant component, I am confident that our group has heard the great majority of serious components from the past and we remain on a constant vigil to discover (or remember) others (new or used) that will improve on the performance of those listed and described below.

Finally, I believe that most readers miss the main point of this file (and website). The audio components that I discuss should not be the primary focus of attention, but instead they should be viewed as “actors” or “props” in an effort to describe and convey ideas, experiences and concepts that I consider important in evaluating and building an audio system. The components are necessary only so that we can share some common points of reference, bound in practical reality, or else everything on this website would only be theory and speculation.


The current policy and procedure for a particular component to earn a place on this list is:

I, or one of my associates, must both:

1. Directly (and properly) audition this component in depth.
2. Compare this component favorably to a component already on this list.


The standards of audio performance are almost always moving forward, though not nearly at the pace that the audio magazines would like you to believe. If these magazines were even 25% correct in their almost pornographic descriptions of these continual "improvements", we would have surpassed "live music" many years ago.

Some component categories (amplifiers) have improved relatively little in the last 40 years, while some others (especially phono cartridges) have made significant strides forward. Those who write, and those who believe, that real audible improvements are being made on a routine basis (monthly or quarterly-when the magazines fortuitously arrive), are indulging in pure fantasy.

Audio is now a mature industry (with the exception of digital), and no mature technology moves ahead as it did when it was just "starting". That is not possible, and no amount of hype, either through advertising or 'reviews', can change that fact.


Just like a photograph, no list of anything can always be "up-to-date", particularly this one. Some of the component categories are quite close to what would be there if every component were a known entity to our group. Other component categories may be "behind the curve" of what is available.

Almost every exceptional component becomes known to the audio world eventually. It is the time period between "now" and "eventually" that we will attempt to minimize, but some "time gap" will always be there. That is the unavoidable nature of audio, and we ask the readers of this extensive list to allow us at least some "slack" in this regard.


Finally, many of the reference components originate from small and relatively unknown manufacturers. To make things simple and clear:

The size, sales figures, history, hype and reputation of an audio manufacturer mean absolutely nothing to us.

Large, popular and well-known manufacturers have no advantage here.


We also do not disqualify or discriminate against any component because it has been discontinued. The performance of a high-quality audio component does not have to deteriorate like an aging, superstar athlete. As long as it is well maintained, it can stay in its "prime" almost forever. Discontinued components are often readily available on the used market, and usually at relatively bargain prices.


Unfortunately, audio reviews have become considerably (and continually) less reliable within the last 25 years or so, and thus have no influence within this website. The reasons for this are simple:

1. The huge increases of (and the financial dependence on) advertising revenues;
2. The growing development of "personal relationships" between "the reviewed" and "the reviewers";
3. And the accumulated, reciprocal "favors" that have now seriously compromised the formerly unbiased reporting.

In effect, most 'reviewers' have become "shills", if not outright cheerleaders, for the companies whose components they are 'reviewing'. At the very least, they are overly kind and "diplomatic" in their descriptions, analysis, comparisons and conclusions.

In short, most magazines are now "Commercial" in nature; concerned more with marketing, promoting and selling audio components, rather than objectively reporting on them for their readers.

Fortunately, there are many other sources of reliable information that are still available, especially when you have been mutually involved in a passion for more than 40 years. And now there is the Internet.


Please allow me to be blunt for the sake of perspective and to prepare you for what is ahead:

1. My standards of inclusion are extremely difficult and my expectations are much higher than those of most 'reviewers'. This is due to both my 40+ years of personal experience and my basic "perfectionist" and hypercritical character.

2. I have no interest in advertising contracts, "perks" and/or free "loans" with audio manufacturers. Accordingly, you will see just two, three and sometimes one (or even no!) component in the highest class, not the regular 50 or more you will see in some 'famous' lists.

3. I am not trying to sell anyone anything with these lists, they are references only, so the short descriptions of most of the listed components will be "matter-of-fact" and a bit "dry", not the advertising copy, romantic prose or the lust inducing "audio pornography" seen elsewhere.

4. I did not create these reference lists to become "popular". This means that the components which are famous and have "followings" are subject to the same degree of scrutiny as all the rest. I don't believe in "sacred cows". Audio components are only inanimate tools, without life, personalities or souls, and nothing more.



The Goal of Non-Bias

It is impossible for this or any other list to be absolutely non-biased, because we are all ultimately human. A combination of serious effort, continual self-appraisal, maximum independence and complete disclosure are the required tools to minimize the bias and maximize the accuracy and usefulness of what is written.

My "Associates" and My Trust of Them

I, Arthur Salvatore, am the Main Contributor and sole editor of this list. However, as I disclosed within the very first paragraph above, I also receive considerable help and input from other audiophiles that I know and trust. This trust is such that a few of the References will be based on their judgment and their experiences alone. I am prepared then, in certain, specific instances, to put my own reputation within their hands. In short, and to be crystal clear, I am accountable, and take full responsibility, for their judgments.

This policy is also consistent with the fact that I have personally purchased components in the past strictly on their word. I feel that it would be inconsistent and hypocritical for me to personally benefit from this information and not share it with others.

The Reasoning behind this Policy

I feel confident with this policy and process. These are my reasons...

1. It allows me to discuss more qualified and worthy components than I ever could on my own.

2. The various "associates" I communicate with have always been very objective, critical and competent observers. Most important, they have been reliable in the past, in some cases for decades. It is also critically important to note that if I feel that they have any "conflict of interest", that will disqualify them in that particular instance.

Who Are these Associates?

These contributing audiophiles have all informed me that they wish to remain "anonymous", so their names will be kept confidential. There are genuine and practical reasons for their request...

Most of my "sources" and "associates" are now, or have been, in the audio business world. They include:

1. Audio Distributors
2. Audio Manufacturers
3. Audio Retailers (with actual stores)
4. Audio "Resellers" (Informal, "moonlighting", casual)
5. Former members of the above groups, who may come back

Their Reasons for Anonymity

These business people don't have the time, nor the patience, to expand on and/or defend their actual thoughts, feelings and experiences with countless audiophiles, and on an ongoing, endless basis. They realize that most of their opinions will be "benign" and rational to most people, but some opinions will be controversial and some might even enrage those hobbyists who are emotionally immature, insecure and/or fanatical about certain concepts or brands.

If that weren't enough, their business relationships with their peers could be compromised if everyone's true feeling and opinions were posted for the entire world to read*. In a few instances, they have even admitted a decided preference for a competitor's product! Imagine the reaction if this were to become "public knowledge"?!

Thus they prefer to remain "off the record". Based on my own continuing experiences, since this website was originally posted in October 1998, I can confirm that their concerns were and are justified. Accordingly, I feel that the "cost" of anonymity is well worth the value of the information I receive from them. Readers who feel otherwise should simply ignore the references from these anonymous sources.

*At the 2004 CES, virtually every person who gave me their direct and unqualified opinion also requested that I "keep it quiet". This even included the people who did NOT know I had this website. Their fear of offending others in the audio business was palpable.

The Others and A Few Newcomers

There are also a number of highly experienced audiophiles that advise me, including some I have discovered through this website. These associates have no business conflicts, but they still wish to remain anonymous. None of these recent advisers has the influence to add or remove a component from this list, but I still feel that the information they provide me is credible enough to post as either "Furthers" or "Caveats" etc.


As I previously wrote in Vinyl Asylum on May 1, 2002: (

"My credibility, in the final analysis, will be judged by the accuracy, reliability and consistency of my (and my associates) observations and conclusions. My policy of using my trusted and anonymous associates stands. It will remain so as long as I decide that the overall benefits to the readers outweigh any potential or actual downsides."


I was also an audio retailer myself for many (20) years, but it is very important that you notice the following:

HIGH-END AUDIO LTD. has now closed, but even when it was operating (1981-2001), it did not represent the vast majority of the components on this list.


To further expose myself (and my associates), there is a special and unique section at the very bottom which is called CHANGES/UPDATES. This means that...

Every single change and update of a Reference Component that I make within these entire lists will be registered there, including the exact month it was made. Readers won't have to second guess, or strain their minds, attempting to remember if a component was once a Reference, and if and when we changed our minds.

We have nothing to hide or fear, and that includes our previous thoughts, for better or worse. It is also meant to be an aid for veteran readers who want to know quickly if any changes were made since their last visit, and for all readers to see how components have evolved over time. Because of the inherent impermanence of the Internet, I feel this section is imperative for accountability and credibility.



For any Reference to be relevant, the reader must know what Standards and Priorities are used to earn the designation "Reference" in the first place. My sonic priorities for this list are exactly the same as I've described in my short essay My Audio Philosophy:


The first and most important priority being that the component must be able to:

Accurately reproduce low-level musical information.

The ultimate effect of this capability is that the component will sound "natural", "musical", "complex", "expressive", "intelligible", "Unpredictable", "alive" and, most of all, "complete" (in contrast to sounding "mechanical", "simple", "dead" and "electronic").

This is the rarest and most elusive quality in the quest for accurate musical reproduction. Most importantly, it is my personal experience that success here allows and even compels the listener to become more "involved" with the music and forget about the system.


The second most important sonic priority is:


This is the gut feeling and sense that there is something actually "present" and/or "alive"; As someone else has already written: "There is a 'there' there."

Whenever low-level information is combined with immediacy, the overall effect will be a primal and sustaining sense of "reality". This should be every audiophile's ultimate goal. Why is "completeness" even more important than "immediacy"?

Ultimately, it is still more "involving", in the long-term, to experience music that is complete, complex, natural, unpredictable and with "life", even when listening to it through a veil, rather than the alternative of listening to something that is "right there", when "what is there" is "dead", monotonous and "incomplete". What is the point of that?

The Likely Connection between these two Highest Priorities

I have found that, generally speaking, as a component's ability to allow more low-level information to be heard is enhanced, so is its sense of immediacy. This correlation is logical, since immediacy is compromised by a high noise level. This is also another reason why reproduction of low-level information is the higher priority of the two, and highest overall as well. This connection (or relationship) is not "Absolute", considering the prime example of the Martin Logan CLS, which is both super-immediate and also somewhat dry sounding.


Other audio parameters, such as "speed", "precision" and "cleanness" are somewhat less important and also much easier to attain. The reproduction of the frequency extremes, especially bass, and the recreation of a "soundstage" are also less important to me in reproducing music.

My lowest priority is the ability of a system to play "extremely loud", which I define as more than 105dB. Though in the final analysis; everything has some importance.


My choice of priorities is not just simple self-indulgence on my part. I’ve noticed numerous audiophiles reacting in a similar manner when hearing improvements in these areas. I've been around long enough in this passion to observe many audiophiles "evolve" (defined by me as an irreversible change in direction) over time in their audio priorities.

There have been some common and predictable trends:

1. The first step above "pure junk" is for more "bass and power"; with most people never "growing" any further.

2. Next comes a taste for superior midrange and high frequencies, but without losing the "bass and power". It is here that "Audiophiles are born". However, most audiophiles stop evolving at this point; being reluctant to take their main focus from "bass and power", and consequently only search for further enhancements. The most expensive and complex components are those "enhancements."

Still, the basics and fundamentals of music reproduction have now been accomplished at this stage, which means the system can now be accurately described as "High-Fidelity". This is the single most important milestone on "the journey".

3. The next step is much more difficult; replacing the past focus on "bass and power", and/or "convenience", for midrange naturalness and low-level information. This "area" is where the vast majority of musical information resides, and it's also where analog software and tube electronics excel.

It is not a mysterious coincidence that those audiophiles who end up preferring tube electronics very rarely go back to solid-state. It is also at this stage that audiophiles will make a final preference for analog over digital.

4. Finally, some of those left may decide to go to radical and extreme lengths to maximize the retrieval of low-level information and minimize the system's inherent, unnatural qualities.

This objective can only be achieved by evolving to a "minimalist" philosophy, along with the resulting components and systems. This is a long and extremely difficult process, with the added hazard that even just one "mistake" will have disastrous results to the final sound quality.

Important- For most audiophiles (and readers), my personal priorities will not match their priorities. Accordingly, they may prefer the reference components in the "lower" classes, or components not even in any category, to those I have placed in the highest class.

Further- I realize that the above "evolution of priorities" is overly simplistic, so I might write about this in more depth at a later date.


The only audiophiles that do not evolve like the rest of us are:

1. Most audio 'reviewers', who claim to like everything equally (at least in public), never evolve, and rarely, if ever, declare a decisive preference for anything.

2. A number of so-called audiophile "scientists"*, who don't believe that there are any real sonic differences (let alone improvements) in components, except speakers, to evolve to and/or with.

*These are the only "scientists" I know, besides anti-evolution Fundamentalists, who don't like to be surprised and also totally lack curiosity. They describe themselves as "Objectivists".


Does this particular choice of sonic priorities favor some types of music over others?

Yes. These priorities favor the reproduction of Acoustical Music, which is the most subtle and difficult to reproduce, meaning Classical, Jazz and Folk/Ethnic.

I have found that music which is primarily Electronic, studio oriented and/or requiring a continuously loud volume to come across, is far easier to reproduce. There are countless components from the past, and present, which will make electronic music lovers very satisfied. Thus, it should be obvious that for those audiophiles who have a different ranking of priorities than described above, this entire list may be virtually useless to them, at least for the present.




Some readers may now want to have a better understanding of what "low-level information" is and why I feel it so important to music reproduction. Fortunately, there is a simple test and demonstration that anyone can perform on any system:

Just play an excellent recording of acoustical music, either CD or LP, where the music has both very soft and very loud passages, at a natural volume level. Then ask yourself this question:

Does the system still sound "just as good" at all volume levels? If it does, that system passes the test!


Any decent system can resolve the pre and post echoes that are audible on some records; mainly those that were recorded in the early days of stereo and/or those with dramatic, dynamic swings directly following relatively soft sections. (One Famous Example-The beginning of the 4th movement of Scheherazade-Reiner/RCA.)

The test involving those "echoes" is extremely simple: the more obvious the echo(es), meaning the more difficult it is to ignore and the more detailed it is, the better that component's (or system's) ability to (generally) reproduce low-level information. While this test is somewhat simplistic, because music is not directly involved, it is an easy first step as a listening exercise and for understanding the general concept.

The Basic Rule is...

The softer in volume a system can play, while retaining ALL of its sonic strengths, the Better that system is in retaining low-level information.

This same test can also be used when auditioning a different component within the same system.

The challenge for this competing component is simple:

A. Does the new component allow the system to sound just as good, or even better, at a lower volume? That is the goal. Or...

B. Does the sound instead start to deteriorate at the same, or even a higher, volume? That is what you don't want.

Always keep in mind:

The relative absence of low-level information is a very serious problem at all volume levels, but it is most easily noticed, and it is most degrading of the music, at softer listening levels.


This same principle applies when the volume is lowered (moderately) with the volume control. The Rule is:

The More you can lower the volume, before the sound of the system begins to "deteriorate", the less of a problem that system has.

However, one must be very careful at this point, because most listening rooms have a very precise, optimized, volume range. Above that range, the music becomes raucous and distorted, while below that range, the music becomes too laid back and starts to sound "dead". So the change in volume must not be large enough to trigger, in either manner, the room's own problems, or the results may be misleading.


What if the system does start to sound increasingly "dead", "dry" and "veiled" as the volume goes down naturally, or with the moderate use of the volume control? If this occurs, there is a problem somewhere in the system.

ALWAYS keep this RULE in mind:

There Must be a (Serious) problem if and when any system (or component) has to play "louder than life" to sound "natural" and "alive".

That is the unmistakable sign that musical information has been lost somewhere, and an unnaturally high volume is then being used as a "compensating device" by the listener, usually without even knowing it. This is the primary problem with most of the high-end systems I have heard over the years, and at all price levels.

Analogy- This is the audio equivalent of eating more "junk food" because it lacks basic nutrition.


Or what exactly should I be listening for?

To "steal" some previous thoughts (and words) from My Audio Philosophy:

Low-level musical information encompasses the widest possible array of musical sounds;

1. The harmonics that identify instruments and enables them to sound natural or "musical";
2. The decay of the individual notes and their harmonics;
3. The subtle, instantaneous shifts of dynamics and their intensity and emphasis (also known as micro-dynamics and dynamic shading) enabling musical "expression" to be sensed, heard and felt;
4. The sense of ambience and space, allowing the listener to both hear and be "there";
5. The complexity and separation, or absence of homogenization, of all of the above, reducing "boredom" and "listener fatigue";
6. and the sense of both continuity and a continual and consistent presence, which has also been described by others as "continuousness".

It is also indispensable that all this musical information be retrieved accurately;

Both in relative level and in phase.

This allows the music to sound "natural" and appear "intelligible". This is especially relevant with speakers, which have the most problems of any component with the accurate reproduction of both musical timbres (relative level) and with relative timing (phase).

This is this musical information that, more than anything else, allows the listener to believe that the music he/she is hearing, and experiencing, is a unique and human event, rather than one that is electronic, mechanical and ultimately contrived, like if "the pod people" from the film "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" had taken over the world.

Low-level information turns "notes", "sounds" and even "noise" into MUSIC.

Finally, if I was to make an analogy with fine food and drink, I would describe low-level musical information as the equivalent of the "Aftertaste". Its very existence and character separate the different qualities of food and drink from each other. This is what also happens with music when its reproduction is "complete".



An Important July 2014 Update on an Extremely Important Subject...

I decided it was time to update the below article because it's now around a decade since it was originally written and posted. Further, I still continually read (annoying) posts using the expression "noise-floor", which are sadly ignorant, if not misleading to other audiophiles, even when the poster is obviously trying to be "helpful".

Why is the "sound-floor" so "extremely" important? If a reader doesn't understand what I mean by the expression "sound-floor", they will not know and fully appreciate my ultimate values and how I evaluate both audio components and even (the sound quality of) musical software. In short, I believe understanding the "sound-floor" is the key to both the reproduction of music and the understanding of this website. To make it as simple as possible...

Audiophiles, from the very beginning, have mainly focused on the "basics" of bass and high frequency extension and how loud the system played cleanly. Smoothness (linearity) has also been a priority for some, though this has been compromised by "taste" and subjective opinions. However, in my conviction, there is another capability just as important for achieving the faithful reproduction of music, and it has been almost completely ignored by the entire audiophile community. To be specific: The capability of an audio system to reproduce "soft sounds" in a convincing manner. Unfortunately, reproducing soft sounds, convincingly, is the most difficult and rarest achievement in audio, which may be the primary reason why it is so neglected and ignored.

If my entire audio life/career, and this website, was to have only one success, my first choice would be that it finally gave "the reproduction of soft musical sounds" the critical priority, attention and focus it deserves. And the "key" to reproducing soft sounds is the sound-floor.


First, a short explanation...

The term I formerly used, "noise-floor", has been in use in the audio world for many years now, but it has never had a precise (and generally accepted) definition. I also felt that the choice of words ("noise-floor") was very unfortunate, because it has proved to be an ambiguous, confusing and misleading term for many audiophiles, even veterans. Why? Actually, it was inevitable, because...

The expression "noise-floor" has Nothing to do with traditional "Noise".

"Traditional" meaning the measurable noises (hum, thermal hiss, mechanical buzzes etc) that emanate from all active, electronic components; such as amplifiers, preamplifiers, motors and even CD players. This is why audiophiles will regularly bring up "black(er) backgrounds" and/or other similar (indirect) descriptions of the "noise-floor", all of which are irrelevant and meaningless (and nonsense as well).

In reality, loudspeakers, which are a passive component, have no "traditional noise". Yet it's also true that all audio components, passive AND active, including loudspeakers, have a "sound-floor". And that is not all...So does the actual software; records, tapes and CDs. And, in this instance, I am, once again, not referring to their background "hiss".
For another perspective, the reader must realize that...

The key word (in any accurate expression) is not "noise", or even "sound", but "Floor". The word "floor", in this specific context, is an indication of the "lower limit" of a particular capability of that component. In my opinion, a much more correct term is: "Sound-Floor". I feel this way because of the ultimate importance and relationship of "sound" to both music reproduction and the word "floor" in this particular context.

Accordingly, the expression "sound-floor" can be best (and most precisely and unambiguously) described as:

The "lower limit" of an audio component's capability to reproduce (or pass) softer and softer (musical) sounds.

Put in another manner, the "sound-floor" can be described as:

The softest sound that can be heard or sensed through that component (or system).

(And that by definition means)

Any sound that is lower (or softer) than the "sound-floor" Must be Inaudible.

Human Analogy- It is the audio component's (or system's) direct equivalent of the listener's ability to sense or hear "soft sounds". In fact, to be consistent, a listener with poor hearing (or with a high sound-floor to be specific), will not be able to hear, let alone appreciate, the extra sounds reproduced by a component with a low sound-floor. This is one reason why some components are much appreciated by some, while other listeners don't understand that appreciation; either by not being able to hear those sounds themselves, or, in reverse, by not hearing what they know should be there, but is now missing.


A component with a high "sound-floor" will remove, obscure and/or mask a large amount of audible sound (music), while a component with a very low "sound-floor" will reveal virtually everything about the sound (music). Unfortunately, "the weakest-link-in-the-chain" rule applies in this case. This means that if even just one component has a high sound-floor, so must the entire system.

This is the reason why systems that have a high sound-floor will be played at a higher volume, usually without conscious awareness, in an attempt to hear what is now missing. More than any other factor in my experience, the "sound-floor" is what separates the mediocre from the good, the good from the excellent and the excellent from the great. And, importantly, there is very little correlation with a component's price and its sound-floor, which is why some budget systems can be more musically satisfying than many truly expensive systems.


Why do certain components have a higher or lower "sound-floor"? That is not entirely known. What is known is that components that use overly complex circuits and layouts, longer signal lengths and poor quality passive components (wire, resistors, inductors, capacitors, speaker drivers and vibrating cabinets etc.) generally have a higher "sound-floor" than those components which avoid their use. Poor execution will also compromise the "sound-floor".

Also, everything being equal, tube preamplifiers and power amplifiers will almost always have a lower "sound-floor" than their transistor equivalents. Ironically, this is true even though their actual "noise" (hiss, hum) will usually be measurably higher (which is why "traditionally measured noise" is irrelevant and even misleading in many instances). Speculation about this phenomena has focused on the greater simplicity of most tube circuits (especially single-ended-triode designs) and the fact that the actual amplification occurs in a vacuum, not silicon or some other material.

So to summarize, there are four requirements in order for a component to have an exceptionally low "sound-floor":
1. A simple, though highly competent, design
2. The use of the best quality parts, both active and passive, within the component
3. The finest execution of the above, both in build quality and in close attention to (small) details
4. The shortest signal length(s) possible

If any of the four requirements are compromised, the "sound-floor" will rise accordingly, and the recorded sounds (and the music) will be permanently lost. Sadly, only a few rare and outstanding components meet all the requirements. Searching for them, and hearing them, one way or the other, should be high on the list of a serious audiophile's priorities.


There is also a relationship between a system's sound-floor and listening FATIGUE.

When a system has a high sound-floor, meaning more of the musical information is missing, the listener will then (automatically) attempt to fill in "the missing parts" with his brain.

This continual effort, usually unconscious, will eventually cause "listening fatigue". The existence, and even the degree, of the fatigue is dependent on the previous experiences, and expectations, of the listener.

For example, digital recordings and sources are known to have a higher sound-floor than good analog. This is the reason why some listeners, who are used to analog, may experience fatigue with digital, despite digital's other sonic advantages over analog.

While other listeners, who are used to primarily digital recordings, do not appear to suffer the same fatigue.


Finally- The first, unavoidable and ultimate rule in high-end audio is:

You can NEVER have it all, so everyone must eventually make choices, and that means choosing priorities.

Anyone who says otherwise is either very ignorant or lying.


Further Thoughts On The Sound-Floor


For as long as I can remember, audiophiles have recognized the varying high-frequency capabilities of listeners, and the implications of such differences. Further, the deleterious effect of the aging process on this same ability has also been long measured and accepted. However, another hearing paramater, maybe even more important, has been continually ignored at the same time... The ability to hear soft sounds. This neglect has been unfortunate, because I believe the importance of (not) hearing soft sounds is profound. Thus, I felt compelled to write this short article.

Different Subjective Descriptions (Of the Exact Same Event)

This audiophile experience is both common and frustrating: Two (or more) people hear the same component, or system, at the same time (!), and describe (and evaluate) it differently. How are we to explain this divergence rationally, assuming the listeners are all honest? There could be multiple reasons of course. However, it should be obvious that the relative ability to hear very soft sounds will profoundly effect a listener's perceptions and judgments of audio components. The listeners evaluations may be all different from each other, but all still correct, from their own perspective!

Some Relevant Examples:

1. One listener, with the capability to hear very soft sounds, will be impressed with components which, in turn, reproduce (pass on) very soft sounds. Meanwhile...

2. A second listener, without the capability to hear very soft sounds, will not be able to distinguish (let alone appreciate) those components with the capability to reproduce very soft sounds, and consequently may believe, based on actual direct experience, that all components, otherwise, sound basically the same.


3. The first listener will dislike and avoid components which do not reproduce very soft sounds. Meanwhile...

4. The second listener will not be able to distinguish (let alone dislike) those components which do not reproduce very soft sounds (that he can not even hear), and again believe, based on actual direct experience, that all components, otherwise, sound basically the same.

Despite this huge divergence, it must be accepted that both listeners are correct "from their perspective" and any reconciliation is probably impossible. However, only the first listener is correct in the absolute meaning of that word (since there is an actual difference between the components), though there is no practical consequence, in being "wrong", for the second listener.

Visual Analogy- It's similar to the difference between one person seeing colors and a second person being color-blind (everything is then "shades of gray"). Both parties are honest in their observations, but only one of them is ultimately correct when stating that the "colors do exist". (Of course, there is one giant difference between these visual and auditory examples: There are no definitive measurements, that I know of, when it comes to illustrating ultra-soft sounds, while such measurements do exist when it comes to colors.)

The Practical Implications of Differing Hearing Capabilities

In my capacity as an audio salesman for two decades, plus in my private life, I have conducted, and been a witness to, tens of thousands of direct comparisons and auditions (mostly for the benefit of other people). It took me many years to figure out why some of the listeners were not able to hear what I (and many other audiophiles) could clearly hear (and highly value). To be specific, the advantages of good tube amplification and analog sources were not heard, or appreciated, by other enthusiasts. Eventually, I realized there was a connection between a preference for tubes and analog and the ability to hear (or, at the very least, to appreciate) soft sounds.

This consistent phenomenon was noticed not only in my store, home and audio shows, but also in audio reviews*, first in print and now on the web. Audio reviewers* who made a big deal about "ambience, natural harmonics, decays, flow, sense-of-space, micro-dynamics" etc (such as myself), generally preferred analog and tubes. Those reviewers who rarely mentioned such words, generally preferred transistor electronics and digital sources, which was logical since tubes and analog offered no sonic advantages that they could perceive.

Bottom Line- All listeners have a personal "sound-floor", just like audio components and systems. Accordingly, serious audiophiles should find out, as precisely as possible, exactly what is their own "personal sound-floor". Audiophiles should also always make the effort to discover if other audiophiles, especially their friends and the reviewers* they respect (if any), can hear (and appreciate) the same soft sounds that they can hear themselves. This can be done over time, with multiple auditions of different equipment and music. Actual hearing measurements can be done as well, but this will usually provide no practical assistance, other than the relief of finding out that there is no biological problem to be concerned about.

*Specific Example- I was highly critical of the original (all-acrylic lightweight platter) version of the VPI HR-X turntable. In stark contrast, Anthony Cordesman (TAS Issue #151), Brian Damkroger (Stereophile) and even (shockingly!) Roy Gregory (Hi-Fi+) all gave that exact same turntable a rave review. What was the one major difference between us? I strongly felt the high sound-floor of the HR-X disqualified it, while not one of the three mentioned reviewers even brought up this issue as a problem.

Addendum: Converting an Audio Objectivist/Sceptic

In my many years as an audio retailer, I had regular visits from hard-core audio sceptics, who only believed in specifications (and almost always loathed tubes and, later, turntables). Most of the time, I just listened, told them I disagreed, and then continued the discussion in a strictly business vein. However, on a few occassions, I decided to try to "convert" them to my perspective, using multiple component comparisons. So what happened? While I was able, in certain circumstances, to demonstrate the existence of low-level information to a few of them, I was never able, even once, to "convert" that person into feeling it was important and to join the "audiophile community".

To be specific, when these objectivists finally admitted hearing the extra information (provided usually by tube electronics), they always went on to say that it was "much too subtle" to be concerned about, and usually further stated that they "couldn't understand how anyone could make such a 'big deal' about almost nothing". These events were rare and tiny "victories" for me, though still quite satisfying. This was because I always had the same last words ready for the objectivist: "It's the love and pursuit of these same audio 'subtleties' that defines an audiophile."


My Hierarchy/Levels of Audible Improvements

This is my best attempt at describing the different levels of improvement an audiophile may hear and observe during a comparison (assuming they actually exist in the first place). I also provide some examples that we (myself and one, or more, of my associates along with me) have experienced in the last decade, which will change over time to keep them recent and relevant.

The actual observations will constitute an objective reality to the listener. However, the listener's reaction to those same observations will, of course, always be personal and subjective, and may differ greatly from my descriptions, and from other audiophiles. In fact, in my experience...

For the most fanatical and enthusiastic audiophiles, a Level 3 observation may still trigger a Level 5 reaction. In stark contrast, some "objectivist" listeners will only acknowledge Level 1 to 4 improvements (at most!) to any component they hear, with the one exception of speakers, and react accordingly.

Important Note - It has been my long-term observation that it's easier to hear an improvement in sonics than to hear a deterioration. This is true, in my experience, for both veteran and novice audiophiles. This general rule is the reason why cartridge and tube deterioration, and many other sonic problems (some temporary), are not quickly recognized. This improvement/deterioration rule is also the foundation of a "Level 1 Improvement" (see below), and why many audiophiles feel uncomfortable with blind tests: Confirmation of what you just heard isn't as obvious or easy as you expected.

Now, from the most subtle to the most profound...

Level 1- The sonic improvement can be subtly, though still consistently, observed when switching to the superior component (A/B). However, the reverse matching deterioration is not heard consistently when switching back (B/A) to the inferior component. (This Level is most commonly experienced with signal cable comparisons.)

Example- Aural Thrills I.C. with Coincident Power Cable Vs. Aural Thrills I.C. with generic power cable

Typical Verbal Reaction: "I believe the improvement exists, but I wouldn't bet my life on it."

Level 2- The sonic improvement can now be heard when both switching A/B and also again when switching back (B/A), but it is no longer specifically heard after a short period of time; sometimes seconds, but almost always less than one minute. This Level almost always requires an active effort, on the part of the listener, to observe the improvement. It is also highly unlikely an "ordinary listener" can ever hear this level of improvement (let alone Level 1).

Example- "The Truth" T4 Transformer Input Vs. "The Truth" T4 Direct Input)

Typical Verbal Reaction: "It definitely exists, but it is still subtle."

Level 3- The sonic improvement can be consistently heard at length, though an effort may still be required, at times, to listen specifically for it, so it is not always "obvious" or inescapable. Only gifted "ordinary listeners" can observe this level of improvement. This improvement is still not significant; meaning it is possible that an audiophile will be able to remove this improvement from their system and still not suffer from its absence.

Example- "The Truth" T3 Line Stage Vs. "The Truth" T1 Line Stage

Typical Verbal Reaction: "It's mainly a nice improvement, but it's still not significant."

Level 4- The sonic improvement can be heard by any serious audiophile all the time, and without any effort. It is now also easily possible, if not even probable, for "ordinary listeners", meaning those people with no interest in sound quality, to observe this improvement. This level of improvement may or may not be "significant", depending on the priorities and the listening ability of the listener. However, regardless of their personal priorities, almost all audiophiles will now suffer if this level of improvement is removed from their system.

Example- Acapella TW 1S Ion Super Tweeters

Typical Verbal Reactions: Audiophile 1: "What I hear is a significant improvement for me." ///Audiophile 2: "I hear exactly what you hear, but it's not a significant improvement for me."

Level 5- The sonic improvement is now so obvious that it is literally impossible to ignore, even by "ordinary listeners". This improvement is now universally "significant", without qualifications; so all serious audiophiles will suffer from its absence. However, this improvement has still not quite reached the important and rare level of being "dramatic" in nature.

Example- ZYX UNIverse II Vs. "Original" ZYX UNIverse

Typical Verbal Reaction: "It's definitely a significant improvement, though I've heard a few improvements which were even larger."

Level 6- This level of sonic improvement is now much more than simply "significant" and/or "obvious", it is now "dramatic" in scale and effect as well. A serious audiophile lives to experience this level of improvement. Thus, it would be absolutely unthinkable for any serious audiophile to live without this improvement. This level of improvement is not uncommon during the early years of an audiophile's life, but it also become increasingly rare as they gain greater experience with a wider variety of components and systems. (Any audio reviewers, and especially those with considerable experience, who claim they hear "dramatic" improvements, on a routine basis, are not credible.)

Example- Coincident Pure Reference Extreme Mk. II Vs. "Original" Pure Reference Extreme

Typical Verbal Reactions: "Wow! Jaw-dropping! I'm blown away! I can't live without it!"

Level 7- The sonic improvement is "transformational"; meaning not only would it be completely impossible to live without it, but the improvement actually alters an audiophile's thinking and perspective on both their particular system and "Audio" in general. This is the rarest level of improvement, only experienced a few times in an audiophile's life. It is the unending desire, and quest, to repeat this intense experience which makes a person an Audiophile. "The stuff that dreams are made of."

Example*- Reference Lenco L-75 Turntable/Graham Phantom (Supreme) Tonearm Vs. Forsell Air Reference Turntable/Tonearm

Typical Verbal Reactions: "I'm in shock! After hearing this, I'll never be the same again. I didn't even think this was possible!"

*For those interested. Just below are, to the best of my memory, the only Level 7 Improvements I've experienced in my entire audio lifetime:

1. Spring 1968 - Dynaco PAS-3/Stereo 70 - Tube Amplification
2. 1971 - Quad ESL-57 - Electrostatic Speakers
3. 1979 - Denon/Supex? - Moving-Coil Cartridges
4. 1992 - Jadis JP-80 (with Line Stage Bypassed) - Direct Connection from the Source to Amplifier
5. 1996 - Golden Tube Audio 300B Mono - Single-Ended-Triode Amplification
6. 2010 - Reference Lenco by Jean Nantais - Idler-Drive Turntables

These six experiences permanently changed both my perspective, and future direction, respecting the highest potential of musical reproduction in the home. Importantly, in each instance, this profound change of perspective initially required me to concede that I had been wrong, or at least ignorant, when previously estimating the ultimate potential of these different types of components.

I also believe that the ability to self-correct, which requires some degree of humility, is a critical factor when it comes to the controversial issue of the relevancy, if any, of "subjective listening tests", which I will discuss, in detail, sometime in the future.

Further Thoughts

These different levels do not correlate exactly with numbers or percentages. Personal preferences and a listener's subjective reaction always trump the listener's analytical judgment of a component's performance and whatever improvement(s) is/are noticeable.

As an example, let's say one component ("A") is noticeably superior to the Reference ("R") in 10 different areas, but only by approximately 1% in each case. In contrast, let's say a third component ("B") sounds the same as "R" in almost every way, but is better in one area by 5%. It is very possible that component "B" will still receive a higher level than "A" to the audiophile, especially if the improved area is more highly valued. In fact, it is not uncommon for some audiophiles to give up 1% of the performance across the board just to get that extra 10% improvement in the one area that really moves them and gets them "involved" with the music.

To make this more personal, I believe if I were to quantify the actual examples that were given above, the Lenco/Graham wouldn't receive the largest number, but I still feel it was "transformative" because it improved areas that broke new ground (for me), and which couldn't be replicated by any other component category (like going from a transistor amp to a good SET amp on the right speaker).

Also, while the first two Levels leave basically no room for "nuance", since they are so subtle and tightly defined to begin with, the higher Levels (4 to 6) do have smaller iterations (or degrees) within them, such as 4.1, 4.2, 5.1, 5.2 etc. In fact, even a "difference in kind" still has some "variety" or a range, since their degree and impact are not all exactly the same, even if the practical end results are the same.

Finally, below is how I used numbers to illustrate why I was so enthusiastic about the Graham Phantom Supreme compared to the earlier II it replaced, when the described differences didn't appear to be that significant...

Let's assume the II is 95% "perfect", while the Supreme is 97% "perfect". Most audiophiles would agree that the difference between the numbers 95 and 97 is marginal. However, the difference between 5% (100-95) and 3% (100-97), which is a 40% reduction in imperfection, can be profound to an audiophile (or any "perfectionist" for that matter). Sometimes a change in perspective clarifies an otherwise confusing subject.



Every magazine that has put together a "Reference Component List" in the past has used a different approach to classify the components. My approach is very simple; there are 3 different classes as described below. The order of the components within the classes is totally irrelevant, while the short descriptions are very relevant.

CLASS A- This is the state of the art, the best there is and ever was! Price is not a consideration. Neither is ease of use, nor the possibly considerable time and expense to locate, modify and improve the units if purchased stock. While the component must obviously be compatible with some other components, compatibility is also not a requirement.

It is these rare components that sound the most "complex" and "alive", and have the most "magic" and "completeness". Why?

In general, the components in this class have the lowest "sound-floor" within their category. These are the only components that may be accurately described as "great" (the single most overused word in audio, sports and politics today).

CLASS B- This class is the closest possible in quality to the above, but usually less expensive, and maybe more compatible. Components in this class will still be "superb", among the best ever made, but lacking the ultimate "magic" of the equipment in Class A. They may either simplify and reduce the natural complexity of the music and/or lose some "immediacy". Generally, this is because their "sound-floor" is somewhat higher.

In a few instances, these are the best available, because no component I am aware of deserves Class A at this time. Within this Class, the cost of the component, new or used, is now relevant. This means there may be other components available, with similar sonic performance, that are not listed because of their extra cost. (This is especially true of numerous contemporary components, which may be grossly overpriced.)

CLASS C- The best value; also known as the cliche, "best bang for the buck". Many, if not most, of these components will be used and/or discontinued. That’s where most of the best audio bargains are found.

Components in this category are still truly "excellent" and much better than the usual mediocrity of the past and present. The level of quality in this class is the minimum required for true "high-end" performance and they should not be confused with "Entry-level" components.

It is extremely important to remember that there are greater sonic differences among these components because they are all less accurate and revealing. The cost of the components within this class, whether new or used, is now extremely relevant.

There may be many alternative components whose sonic performance is essentially equal to those that are listed in this class, but they are disqualified because of their greater cost and/or other negative factors.

CLARIFICATION 1: Because "value" is so important within this category, it must be always kept in mind that:

This List is based on a North American perspective.

Many readers, especially those living in Asia or Europe, may find many other components that are preferable "for the money" invested, particularly those components made "locally".

CLARIFICATION 2: Within a growing number of these groups you will see the headings "UPPER" and "LOWER". This is another method of making fine distinctions among components that are within the same classification. In other words; not all the Class B components within a particular category are equal.



Please read carefully the short, detailed descriptions of these listed components, even if you think you are familiar with them. Many of the references are Conditional; either dependent on modifications (which are sometimes extensive) and/or compatibility with only certain other components.

It is naive to think that any component, no matter what the price, will automatically reach its full potential just out of the box and with any other component.

(For example, consider the Jadis JA-200, which retails for $28,000. It still requires substantial modifications to sound its best, which are both expensive and time consuming; better coupling caps, power supply shunts, conversion to triode operation, diodes replaced etc. These modifications will dramatically improve the stock JA-200, though, sadly, it is still NOT a reference at this time.)

Unfortunately, I can not provide advice, consultation and help with the details and work required in optimizing the performance of these units. Some of the details to modify and optimize these components are very complex, involved and lengthy. They can not be adequately conveyed through simple e-mails or phone calls, and, in some instances, lethal voltages are present. I will not accept such a responsibility.

Fortunately, I have started a "Modification File" within this website. It includes some general tips and instructions concerning modifications, along with some actual detailed examples and experiences that I feel will prove informative to readers. It is still a "work in progress" as this is written.






















Dedicated Reference Component Essay/Reviews

My Most Important, Detailed and Thorough Component & Accessory Evaluations

"Reference" Lenco L 75 Idler-Drive Turntable

"Class A" Phono Stages Review/Essay

Coincident Statement Line Stage

Coincident Frankenstein 300B SET Amplifier

Coincident Pure Reference Extreme Speakers

Bent Audio Silver MC Transformer


Individual & Informational Component Files

Denon Cartridges (Review, Readers Letters & Purchasing Information)

Laser LP Turntable (CES Report, Advice & Readers Letters)

Linn LP-12 Turntable (Review, Readers Letters, Controversy & Economical Upgrades)



YEAR 1999

November- Nirvana "standard" I.C. replaced with dedicated "Phono" version in Phono Cables
November- Benz-Micro and Vandenhul "upgrades" added to Cartridges
November- "Original" Apogees added to Class B Loudspeakers
November- Scott 350C tuner added to Vintage Tuners
December- Stromberg-Carlson AP-428 amplifier added to Vintage Amplifiers
December- Class C Koetsu Cartridges put in Class B Benz-Micro "upgrades"
December- NAD C-540 CD player added to Class C Digital Sources

YEAR 2000

February- Linn Sondek LP-12 (used only) added to Class C Turntables
March- Aesthetix LO added to Class B Phono Stages
April- Day Sequerra Studio Tuner added to Vintage Tuners
May- Coincident I.C. replaces all Wireworld in Line-level Cables except Equinox in Class C
May- Purist Audio Colossus Rev. A. & B. moved up to Class B in Line-level Cables
May- Coincident I.C. replaces Nirvana in Class B Phono Cables
May- CAT demoted to Class C Preamplifiers with Phono
June- Coincident Power Cord added to Accessories
June- Counterpoint Hybrids added to Class C Amplifiers
August- Coincident CST 1 added to Class B Speaker Cables
August- VTL "The Ultimate" added to Class B Preamplifiers with Phono
August- AH! Tjoeb'99 CD Player added to Class C Digital Sources
August- Rockport System III Sirius added to Class A Turntables
August- VPI JMW Memorial 10 & 12 moved up to Class B Tonearms
September- Monster Cable 1000/2000 Power Centers added to Accessories
September- Audiostatics (Since 1990) added to Class C Loudspeakers
September- Grado added to Class C Tonearms
September- Purist Audio Colossus Rev. A removed from Phono Cables and Line-Level Cables
October- Verdier La Platine added to Class A Turntables
November- Overpriced Crown Jewel removed from Class A Cartridges
December- Kinetic Systems 2200 Series Isolation Bases ("Vibraplanes") added to Accessories
December- Nitty Gritty Cleaning Machines added to Accessories

YEAR 2001

January- Assorted Turntables and CD players added to Entry-Level
January- Lyra Helikon added to Class A Cartridges
February- Section on Phono Cables is no longer "in transition"
February- Manley Neos added to Class A Power Amplifiers
March- Klipschorns added to Class B Loudspeakers
March- Various used transistor preamplifiers added to Class C Phono Stages
March- Assorted tube and transistor amplifiers added to Entry-Level
March- Spica TC-50 and Coincident Triumph Series moved to Entry-Level Speakers
March- NAD and Parasound CD Players removed from Class C Digital Sources
April- Maplenoll Ariadne Signature and Apollo added to Class B Turntables
April- Classe N.I.L. added to Class B Step-Up Devices
May- Shelter 901 added to Class A Cartridges, Shelter 501 & Lyra Helikon are demoted to Class B
May- Zeta added to Class C Tonearms
May- Marchand tube electronic crossovers added to Accessories
May- Vandersteen Models 1B & 2C, Dahlquist DQ-10 and Spendor SP-1 added to Entry-Level Speakers
June- Wytech Labs (572) Topaz replaces Wavelength Cardinal in Class A Amplifiers
June- Manley Labs Retro and Neo demoted to Class B Amplifiers
June- Altec 1570/Tutay Modification added to Class B Amplifiers
June- Silversmith Audio added to Class A Phono and Line-Level Cables
June- Coincident demoted to Class B Phono Cables
July- Yamaha CT-7000 Tuner added to Vintage Tuners
August- Michaelson and Austin TVA-1 amplifier added to Vintage Amplifiers
December- VAC PA-90C demoted to Class C Amplifiers

YEAR 2002

January- SME V (Latest Model) added to Class B Tonearms
January- Viva Aurora 572 (Used Only) added to Class B Amplifiers
January- MFA Luminescence (Modified Only) moved up to Class B Preamplifiers
January- Antique Sound Lab "The Wave-8" added to Entry-Level Amplifiers
February- Alphason HR-100S added to Class C Tonearms
February- Convergent Audio Technology (CAT) JL-1 added to Class A Amplifiers
February- Kinergetics subwoofers added to Entry-Level Speakers
February- Michell Gyrodec and Orbe added to Class C Turntables
February- Spica Angelus moved from Class C to Entry Level Speakers
March- Accuphase T-100 Tuner added to Vintage Tuners
May- Sakura "Flat Fish" CD Player moved from Class A to Class B Digital Sources
May- Wadia 861 CD Player added to Class A Digital Sources
May- Antique Sound Lab Hurricane 200 DT added to Class C Amplifiers
June- Manley Steelhead added to Class B Phono Stages
June- ZYX R-100 FS Fuji added to Class A Cartridges
July- Rockport System III Sirius removed from Class A Turntables due to change of "Reference Policy"
October- Coincident TRS added to Class B Speaker Cables, CST 1 demoted to Class C
October- Audible Illusions Uranus I/II and Precision Fidelity C-7 (later models) added to Class C Preamplifiers

YEAR 2003

January- Antique Sound Labs Hurricane 200DT (latest model) moved up to Class B (Lower) Amplifiers
January- Coincident MP 300B Mono added to Class B (Lower) Amplifiers
February- EAR MC-3 Transformer added to Class C Step-ups
February- XLO Signaure 2 Interconnects added to Class A Line-Level Cables
March- DB In-phase 36dB/octave Electronic Crossover added to Accessories
March- McIntosh MX110 (tuner/preamplifier) added to Vintage Tuners
March- Quicksilver added to Class C Preamplifiers
April- Antique Sound Labs Hurricane 200DT (Triode model) moved up to Class B (Upper) Amplifiers
May- Antique Sound Labs AQ1009 845 DT (modified) added to Class B (Upper) Amplifiers
May- Trilogy 958 removed from Class B (Upper) to Interesting Amplifiers due to unavailablity
June- "Commercial" AC Outlets added to Accessories
August- Melco and Micro-Seiki Class B Turntables are separated from each other
September- Well Tempered Record Player added to Entry Level Turntables
September- Precision Fidelity C-4 added to Class C Phono Stages
October- Conrad Johnson Pre-preamplifiers (HV-1/HV-1A/HV-2/Premier 6) added to Class C Moving Coil Step-ups
November- Coincident MP 300B moved up to Class B (Upper) Amplifiers
November- Shelter 901 moved from Class A to Class B (Upper) Cartridges
November- Transfiguration Temper removed from Class A Cartridges due to excessive price
November- Lyra Helikon, VandenHul Grasshoper and Benz-Micro LO.4 all removed from Class B Cartridges due to higher standards and/or uncompetitive prices
November- Benz-micro and VandenHul upgrades moved from Class B to Class C Cartridges due to higher standards
November- Dynavector 17D added to Class B (Lower) Cartridges
November- Bryston (all of their models) added to Entry Level Amplifiers
November- Ars Acoustica La Diva moved from Class B to Class C Loudspeakers due to higher standards and reevaluation

YEAR 2004

January- Acapella Ion TW 1S Tweeter added to Class A Loudspeakers
January- Avantgarde Duo added to Class A Loudspeakers
January- ZYX R-1000 Airy 2 added to Class A Cartridges
February- Bent Audio TX-103 Transformer added to Class B Moving Coil Step-ups
February- Pass Labs Aleph L added to Class B Line Stages
March- VPI TNT HR-X (Special Edition Only) added to Class A Turntables
March- Verdier La Platine moved from Class A to Class B Turntables
April- Ars Acoustica La Diva removed from Class C Loudspeakers due to unavailability
April- Ars Acoustica System Max removed from Class A Loudspeakers due to unavailability
May- Herbie's Tube Dampers added to Accessories
June- "Sandboxes" (custom made) added to Accessories
June- Canary CA-339 added to Class A Amplifiers
June- Wytech Topaz moved from Class A to Class B Amplifiers
July- Stromberg-Carlson AP 55 Mono Blocks added to Vintage Amplifiers
July- Coincident Total Victory II added to Class B Loudspeakers
July- Coincident Eclipse Series moved from Class B to Class C Loudspeakers
September- Atma-Sphere MP-1 MK. II added to Class B Preamplifiers
December- Walker Audio (SST) Contact Enhancer added to Accessories
December- CAIG Pro Gold Wipes added to Accessories

YEAR 2005

April- Coincident Extreme Speaker Cable added to Class A (Lower) Speaker Cables
May- Quicksilver Original 8417/KT-88 Mono Blocks added to Class C Amplifiers
May- Dynavector XV-1S added to Class A Cartridges
June- ZYX R-100 FS Fuji moved from Class A to Class B (Upper) Cartridges
September- Vandersteen Subwoofer added to Entry Level Speakers
September- Manley Labs Reference DAC moved from Class A to Class B Digital Sources due to higher standards
October- Ariston/Systemdek Turntables added to Entry Level Turntables
October- Van Alstine Electronics added to Class C Phono Stages and Entry Level Amplifiers
December- ZYX R-1000 Airy 3 added to Class A Cartridges
December- ZYX R-1000 Airy 2 moved from Class A to Class B (Upper) Cartridges

YEAR 2006

March- Bent Audio TX-103 Silver Transformer added to Class A Moving Coil Step-Ups
March- Amber Stereo 70 added to Entry Level Amplifiers
March- ZYX CPP-1 Pre-Preamplifier added to Class B Moving Coil Step-Ups
April- ZYX UNIverse cartridge (.24mV Copper) added to Class A Cartridges
May- Wyetech Topaz 211 Monos added to Class A Amplifiers
May- Canary CA-339 moved to Class B (Upper) Amplifiers
June- ZYX R-1000 Airy 3 moved from Class A to Class B (Upper) Cartridges
September- Audio Physics removed from Class C Speakers (apparently Chief Designer left)
October- Acoustat Electrostatics added to Class C Speakers (specific models to be listed soon)
November- Conrad Johnson MV-75 (modified) added to Entry-Level Amplifiers
December- Digital Stylus Force Gauge added to Accessories

YEAR 2007

January- Behringer DCX2496 Ultradrive Pro Digital Crossover added to Accessories
February- DB Crossover removed from Accessories
March- Convergent Audio Technology (CAT) JL-1 moved from Class A to Class B (Upper) Amplifiers due to higher standards
March- Coincident Dragon 211PP added to Class A Amplifiers
March- Mark Levinson ML-2 added to Class C Amplifiers
April- Coincident M300B Frankenstein MKII added to Class A Amplifiers
April- Golden Tube 300B (Highly Modified) moved from Class A to Class B (Upper) Amplifiers due to higher standards
June- VPI HR-X "Special Edition" removed from Class A to "Interesting" Turntables due to lack of availability
July- All Phono and Line-Level Interconnects have been removed because of my lack of experience with current models
September- All Class C Digital Sources have been removed due to a price/performance breakthrough in Class B
September- Pacific Valve MHZS CD 66 & 88 CD Players added to Class B Digital Sources
September- Wyetech Topaz 211 Monos moved from Class A to Class B (Upper) Amplifiers
October- Coincident Victory II added to Class C Speakers
October- Wilson WATTS (Modified) moved from Class B to Class C Speakers
October- All references removed and updated in Digital Sources due to "2007 Fall Shootout"
October- All Class B and C references removed from Speaker Cables due to my lack of experience with current models
December- Coincident Pure Reference added to Class A Speakers
December- Coincident Super Eclipse Series removed from Speakers due to higher standards
December- Klipschorn moved from Class B to Class C Speakers due to higher standards

YEAR 2008

February- Vaic/KR VV52B (Modified) added to Class A (Lower) Amplifiers
August- Marantz SA 7S-SACD added to Class B (Upper) Digital Sources
August- Audio Aero Prestige SACD added to Class B (Upper) Digital Sources
September- Coincident Extreme Speaker Cable updated to Class A Speaker Cables
December- Krell SACD Standard Mk. II/III added to Class A (Lower) Digital Sources
December- Marantz SA 7S-SACD, Audio Aero Prestige SACD, MHZS CD 66 & 88 (Stock), Accuphase SACD/CD DP77, AMR 77 & Reimyo DAP777 all removed from Digital Sources due to a higher performance/price ratio standard

YEAR 2009

March- MSB Platinum DAC III and Reference Transport added to Class A (Lower) Digital Sources
March- Doge 8 added to Class B Preamplifiers
April- Aesthetix IO moved up to Class A (Lower) Phono Stages on reevaluation
April- Benchmark DAC & Pre 1 added to Class C Digital Sources
April- Manley Steelhead moved down to Class B "Lower" Phono Stages due to higher standards
May- Esoteric X-03 SE SACD Player added to Class A Digital Sources
June- Esoteric P-05/D-05 Transport and DAC added to Class A Digital Sources
June- Esoteric X-03, Krell Standard Mk. II/III, Doge CD6 and Benchmark DAC & Pre 1 all moved down in Digital Sources due to higher standards
June- Oracle CD 2500 MK II, ARC REF CD 7, MSB Platinum DAC III and Reference Transport and ElectroCompaniet UP SE all removed from Digital Sources due to higher standards and performance/price ratio
June- Esoteric P-03/D-03 Transport and DAC added to Class A (Upper) Digital Sources
August- Kuzma Stabi XL4 and Air Line Tonearm added to Class A (Upper) Turntables
October- Kuzma Air Line added to Class A Tonearms
December- Coincident Pure Reference "Extreme" added to Class A Speakers

YEAR 2010

February- Dynavector XV-1T added to Class A (Upper) Phono Cartridges
May- Lenco L 75 Idler-Drive "Reference" (Rebuilt by Jean Nantais) added to Class A (Upper) Turntables
July- Graham Phantom II added to Class A Tonearms
October- Coincident Statement Transformer added to Class A Moving Coil Step-ups
November- Esoteric SA-10 SACD Player added to Class C Digital Sources
December- Harmonic Resolution Analog Disc Record Clamp added to Accessories

YEAR 2011

January- Esoteric P-01/D-01 Transport and DAC, plus GORb Rubidium Clock added to Class A (Upper) Digital Sources
January- Esoteric P-03/D-03, P-05/D-05, X-03 SE all moved down in Digital Sources due to higher standards
February- Coincident Statement added to Class A Line Stages
June- Coincident Statement added to Class A (Lower) Phono Stages
June- Jadis JP-80 (MC) (Heavily Modified) removed from Class A Preamplifiers due to impracticality
June- Jadis JP-80 (MC) (Heavily Modified) added to Class A (Upper) Phono Stages

YEAR 2012

May- Esoteric K-03 CD/SACD Player added to Class B Digital Sources
May- Esoteric D-03, P-05/D-05 all removed from Digital Sources due to higher standards and performance/price ratio
May- EMIA Volume Control added to Class A Line Stages
June- Esoteric K-01 CD/SACD Player added to Class A (Lower) Digital Sources
June- Esoteric P-03 removed from Digital Sources due to higher standards and performance/price ratio
June- Esoteric X-03 SE, SA-10 and Krell SACD Standard II/III all moved down in Digital Sources due to higher standards
June- Graham Phantom Supreme added to Class A Tonearms
November- Esoteric DV-50S CD/SACD Player added to Class C (Lower) Digital Sources
November- Krell SACD Standard II/III and Esoteric SA-10 removed from Digital Sources due to higher standards and performance/price ratio
November- Clearaudio Double Smart Matrix Record Cleaning Machine added to Accessories
December- Audio Intelligent Record Cleaning Fluids added to Accessories

YEAR 2013

January- Lenco "Reference" MK. II (Rebuilt by Jean Nantais) added to Class A (Upper) Turntables
February- Benz Micro LP-S added to Class A (Upper) Phono Cartridges
February- ZYX UNIverse II X added to Class A (Upper) Phono Cartridges
February- Dynavector XV-1T moved down to Class A (Lower) Phono Cartridges due to higher standards
April- Coincident Total Victory II removed from Class B Speakers due to higher standards
June- Durand Talea II added to Class A Tonearms

YEAR 2014

January- EMIA/Slagle Silver SUT added to Class A Moving Coil Step-ups
May- Sunfire 300X2 added to Class C (Lower) Power Amplifiers
June- Audio Horizons Fuse added to Accessories
July- Lenco "Reference" MK. III (Rebuilt by Jean Nantais) added to Class A (Upper) Turntables

YEAR 2015

January- Coincident Dragon 211PP Mk. II added to Class A Power Amplifiers
January- Coincident Dragon 211PP moved down to Class A (Lower) Power Amplifiers due to higher standards
February- APL NWO-Master (Esoteric UX-1Pi) CD/SACD/DVD-A Player added to Class A (Upper) Digital Sources
May- IsoTek Burn-In Disc added to Accessories
June- Kuzma Stabi DC XL added to Class A (Upper) Turntables
June- Kuzma Stabi XL4 moved down to Class A (Lower) Turntables due to higher standards

YEAR 2016

March- "The Truth" added to Class A Line Stages
March- A "Direct Connection" removed from Class A Line Stages due to a better option
August- Kuzma Ultra Sonic Record Cleaning Kit added to Accessories

YEAR 2017

December- Wyetech Ruby added to Class B (Upper) Phono Stages

YEAR 2018

Nothing added or removed this year!

YEAR 2019

January- Coincident Pure Reference Extreme MK. II added to Class A Speakers
February- Coincident Statement added to Class A Speaker Cables
February- Coincident Extreme moved down to Class B Speaker Cables due to higher standards
April- "The Truth" T3 & T4 added to Class A (Upper) Line Stages
April- "The Truth" T1, EMIA Volume Control & Coincident Statement all moved down to Class A (Lower) Line Stages due to higher standards

YEAR 2020

January- Degritter Ultra Sonic Record Cleaning Machine added to Accessories
March- ZYX UNIverse Premium added to Class A (Upper) Phono Cartridges
July- ZYX UNIverse III added to Class A (Upper) Phono Cartridges
November - Aural Thrills Audio added to Line-Level Interconnects
December- Coincident Statement Mk. II added to Class A Speaker Cables

YEAR 2021

December- Coincident Statement Mk. II and Polk placed in Class A (Upper) Speaker Cables
December- All other previous Class A Speaker Cables moved down to Class A (Lower) due to higher standards

YEAR 2022

March- Ultimate Lenco (by Jean Nantais) placed in Class A (Upper) Turntables
March- All other previous Class A (Upper & Lower) & Class B Turntables moved down one category due to higher standards
October- Kuzma 4Point 14" placed in Class A (Upper) Tonearms
October- All other previous Class A Tonearms moved down to Class A (Lower) due to higher standards


Personal Disclosure

(Why am I doing this? Because someone has to start doing this. See "Reviewing the Reviewers" to observe the inevitable results of NON-disclosure.)

There is no reason why audio journalists should not follow the same rules as all the other journalists. Accordingly, I feel that I too must disclose all my conflicting interests and financial transactions. I am, at once, setting a precedent and also immunizing myself from any future charges of hypocrisy.

Disclosure 1: I formerly owned a (part-time) retail store: High-End Audio Ltd. It closed in October 2001. I have not owned, or shared in the profits of, any other audio business since then, or at this time.

Disclosure 2: I purchased all the components of "My Personal System", except for one currently on loan. There have been no "gifts" or "favors". Many of the components have been purchased "used" or even at the full "retail" price. As for those purchased directly, I'm not able to disclose the actual cost because of confidentiality agreements, but I do disclose those costs in relation to the standard wholesale prices I would normally have paid if they were purchased for my former retail store.

Disclosure 3: As of October 2012, I require a token donation to this website before answering most personal enquiries from readers. I also accept normal donations from appreciative and generous readers.

CLARIFICATION: "Standard Wholesale Cost" is usually 40% off the Retail List Price. So a component with a retail "list price" of $ 1,000, would normally have a "standard wholesale cost" of around $ 600.

In short, as a former audio retailer, anything less than "standard wholesale" was a "deal" for me, and may be construed as a potential "interest" or "perk". This is what I paid for the components within my personal system (year of purchase).

Ultimate Lenco (by Jean Nantais)- Standard Retail Cost/Traded for II/III/Ultimate Upgrades (2010/12/14/21)
Kuzma 4Point 14" Tonearm- "Special Audio Press Price" (2021)
ZYX UNIverse II (.24mV Copper) Cartridge- Traded for a used model with the distributor (2007/13)*
Bent Audio Silver MC SUT- Discontinued Model. On loan from Manufacturer (2006)
Jadis JP-80 Preamplifier- Standard wholesale cost (1989)
APL NWO-Master (Rebuilt Esoteric UX-1Pi) CD/SACD Player- Purchased Used (2013)
Marantz 10B Tuner- Purchased Used (2000)
"The Truth" T3 Line Stage - Standard Retail cost (2016/18)
Coincident M300B Frankenstein MKII Amplifiers- Purchased in packaged deal for 30.42% below standard Retail cost (2006/10)
Coincident Dragon 211PP Mk II (Subwoofer) Amplifiers- Purchased Used (2014)
Coincident Pure Reference Extreme MK. II Speakers "Doubled-Up" - Traded and Purchased in packaged deal for 36% below standard Retail cost (2018/21)**
Acapella TW 1S Ion Super Tweeter- Standard OEM Price from Distributor (2015)

* Two to three thousand dollars worth of ultra rare and sealed records: London "Bluebacks" (Argenta), RCA "Shaded Dogs", "TAS" etc./II Upgrade trade was similar.
** The owner of Coincident, Israel Blume, is a close friend.

Since I've been around for quite a while now, it would not be surprising if some readers may wonder how my hearing is holding up. To alleviate any concerns, I've decided to forward the results of my June 2012 hearing test to any reader sending me a request. I attempted to post the image, but I was unsuccessful. I was retested in October 2019, and the results were almost exactly the same.





The Supreme Recordings

My Audio System


Reviewing the Reviewers

My Audio Philosophy

If you have a question, or want audio advice and/or consultation:

Important Notice- As of October 1, 2012, there is a minimum fee of $ 10 for me to answer a simple enquiry, which means any question that I can answer quickly without research. Anything else will cost more and I will accordingly provide quotes for approval. PayPal is being used for its convenience, universality and security. If interested, click on "Ask Arthur".

There are two exemptions to the payment fees. 1. Those readers who have provided an important service (usually information that was posted) to this website over the years. 2. Those situations where I feel that I overlooked something important and/or was obscure in my post, and thus some necessary clarification is required on my part. That will always be gratis. I don't believe in being unfair or petty, especially to my own readers.

Telephone Conversations- If a reader feels it is necessary to actually talk to me directly, this can be arranged if I also feel it is appropriate. There will be a minimum fee of $ 50. Ask for the details before paying the fee.

Finally, a veteran reader wrote that I "should also have a link for (generic) donations to keep the website going". I replied that the Donation button can also be used by appreciative readers for that purpose. Needless to say, any unsolicited donation from a generous reader receives my sincerest thanks and gratitude.

"Ask Arthur"
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To contact me for any other reason:

Arthur Salvatore