The Best (8)
Active crossovers means the system has to have an amplifier for each driver.
Many people have been amazed and delighted with the Behringer DCX2496. Its capabilities are truly incredible and the flexibility and ease of configuration (once you get on top of the steep learning curve) have been a joy to many audiophiles and more than a few speaker designers. With pricing under $300 its price/capability ratio is off the scale. Somewhat spotty QC and problematic distribution policies have been the flies in the ointment. However, quality may be improving over the past few years and the price hasn't budged. Note that several companies upgrade the Behringers for improved sound quality.
There are other similar products. Here is a summary of the crossovers we know of. Most are from the pro world and require XLR connectors but Marchand is a well-known audiophile supplier.
DBX DriveRack PA - Complete EQ And Loudspeaker Management System
Stereo 3 way xover, one source analog only inputs, parametric capability, pink noise generator, gain control on inputs and outputs, phase adjustment
Peavey VSX 26
Stereo 3 way xover, 3 inputs analog and digital, parametric eq capability, pink, white noise, sine generator, crossover types fully adjustable Butterworth, Bessel, Linkwitz-Riley, 5 degree phase adjustment, Real Time Analyzer
Stereo 4 way xover, 4 inputs analog and digital, parametric eq capability, pink, white noise, sine generator, crossover types fully adjustable Butterworth, Bessel, Linkwitz-Riley, 5 degree phase adjustment Input and output gain control
Stereo 2 way xover, 1 inputs analog only, parametric eq capability, pink noise generator, crossover types fully adjustable Butterworth, Bessel, Linkwitz-Riley, 5 degree phase adjustment Input and Output gain control
Real Time Analyzer
Completely variable configurations in analog only with solid state and tube options. Custom crossover cards, Newform crossover cards readily available.
DBX DriveRack PA
Stereo 3 way xover, 1 input analog and digital, parametric eq capability, crossover types fully adjustable Butterworth, Bessel, Linkwitz-Riley, 5 degree phase adjustment.
DEQX offers both digital crossovers and room correction with pre-amp capabilities.
Tact / Lyngdorf
Tact may be gone but there is a large overlap of capability with Lyngdorf. Peter Lyngdorf was a principal in the Tact startup so there is no lack of experience in the design of Lyngdorf products which feature digital crossovers and room correction.
Hypex produces a broad range of amplifiers, some of which incorporate fairly sophisticated crossovers.
Onkyo is now building some basic crossover capability into several of it's receivers. Combined with the quite sophisticated Audyssey room correction, it can produce superb results.
GREAT ROOM CORRECTION
The companies that do room correction the best are the companies that have been at it the longest with the most expensive gear. Lyngdorf, Meridian, Tact, DEQX and Rives are about it for the elite of the resonance tamers.
But there has been a great deal of progress in this field in mass market products. Courtesy of Audyssey room correction, this capability can be installed in mid-fi receivers for just a few dollars. This greatly lowers the bar for admission to the benefits of room correction. Not only is the basic capability accessible, it is now of a very high sonic quality with no perceptible loss in transparency to offset the gain in smooth response and phase correction.
Room correction will not make up for a terrible room or a very poor placement of speakers or bad speakers but it can make a well thought out system sound excellent.
At this point in time, room correction has crossed the threshold from being a costly crutch for a bad stereo system to being an asset to any high fidelity sound system regardless of cost.
Receivers are the Swiss army knives of audio components. They do almost everything except move air. Long shunned by audiophiles for their inferior sonic quality, receivers of late have been gaining ground on their separate component cousins.
One large reason for this is the increasing prevalence of digital in the audio chain. Receivers are typically made by large companies with the resources to take on digital engineering and do it right. Getting it right in digital in a mass produced product does not cost nearly as much as it does in analog.
Conversely, the smaller high end companies are typically well grounded in the analog domain and making the switch to, or integrating digital research and engineering into their operations is virtually impossible on an economic basis. How much it cost Texas Instruments to develop their digital amp chips isn't known but but Donald Trump could probably retire on it. Other chip companies have spent upwards of $30 million with no marketable result.
The Panasonic receivers use the TI chipset resulting in the sound quality/price ratio we were trumpeting several years ago. Once the chipset has been developed, it still takes a major player (Panasonic/Matsushita with over 250,000 employees) to incorporate a complete digital product offering.
Other large companies such as Sony and Yamaha now have digital amp receivers with digital chipsets of their own while some companies use Tripath or ICE (by B&O amplifier modules. The net effect is to give them a big boost in closing the huge gap in sound quality between themselves and the best of the separate component manufacturers. Pioneer has chosen to stay with analog amps and upped it’s game by sensing the temperature of each output transistor and adjusting the bias accordingly.
Onkyo (and Integra) has long been the standard by which receiver amplifier sections have been measured but the truth is the top end models of many brands sound extremely good.
Besides the fidelity of the basic signal, the other well developed area of interest for audiophiles is room correction. Taking the major room problems out of the equation is a huge step forward for overall audio performance. There has been a price to pay for this in terms of transparency in the past but with each new implementation, this seems to fade more into the distance. The Audyssey system now incorporated in many receivers has worked extremely well in the systems we've worked with and there has been no sacrifice in transparency.
Good room correction has been very expensive to do in the past and perhaps the top end systems are better but any improvement will cost a great deal more. Lyngdorf, Meridian, Tact, DEQX and Rives are about it for the high end and going with any of these equipment makers will add many thousands of dollars on to the total cost of your system.
Small note. The greatest benefits of room correction have always been in small to medium sized rooms. In very large rooms or rooms with large openings, any room correction system has increasing trouble with the increasingly long reverberation times. This is the case with most systems but the Pioneer does address this in their system - allowing for time sensitivity to be varied.
Edge Audio Hyperion 12 Super performance for $599US. Buy it direct.
HSU Great reputation for quality bang (or boom) for the buck - buy them factory direct
Vandersteen Three 8" drivers in this sub make it a design that we really like. Buy it from their dealer base.
Paradigm Buy any Paradigm sub over $600 and you have excellent performance guaranteed and great value. Buy it through their dealer base.
Atak subs - simple cabinets, killer drivers and cheap enough to go with a distributed subwoofer system.
CD AND DVD PLAYERS
Being square in the digital domain, advances here are coming at a furious pace and prices are dropping. A little Panasonic DVD player with 192kHz/24 bit upsampling DACs sounds awfully good. Don't pay attention to model names as product life span is fleeting, such is the pace of improvement. In cd, dvd and bluray players, audio quality is just about the same in the digital domain. The difference is in the analog outputs. If you don't use analog, stick with a $100 player and know you are getting a digital input to your pre-pro or receiver as good as any $10,000 player can deliver.
Completely in the digital domain, processors can only go down in price and up in performance. Don't spend a lot up front unless you can afford it.
Nobody has said anything sounds better than the SP1.7. Expensive. We sell it.
Good by all accounts and certainly great value. Buy it factory direct.
Excellent by all accounts. Pretty expensive. Buy through their dealer base.
HIGH END AUDIO AMPLIFIERS
Bryston, Tact, Spectron and Hypex Audio are the best amplifiers we’ve encountered over the past decade but for some very different reasons.
The amplifiers most would recommend without hesitation for anyone for anything would be Bryston. They sound great, they’re extremely well built and reliable and they have the best warranty in the business. If this sounds like “no one ever went wrong buying a Honda”, it is a little bit. But it’s no backhanded compliment. Have you taken a look at the 2013 Accord lately?
Brystons are the amplifiers for audio connoisseurs too practically minded to be fanatics. Simply a great company to deal with.
True fanatics can step up to Spectron. Loved by both tube and transistor enthusiasts, the Spectron amps produce huge amounts of power with an incredible level of transparency and detail. If you want to be able to read every last note on the page, Spectron will deliver them in large black print. Just make sure you have a backup amp in the garage. That John Ulrick and Spectron have not flooded the world with D1 amps is one of the great tragedies of hifi history.
The Tact amps have been just super clean and powerful and we used them because of their built-in crossovers. ALL AMPS SHOULD HAVE THESE. But I digress. An extremely well built product with extremely refined, detailed sound and lots of power. Doesn’t grab me quite the way the Spectrons do but a great amp with unique capability. When plugged into their preamp with room correction, in a nice correctable room, the bottom end is unsurpassed. A steep learning curve.
For the diy crowd, the Hypex amps are superb and come in a large number of configurations, some with built in crossovers. Great stuff to work with.
Crown amplifiers have long been a mainstay of the pro sound industry but (as with most sound reinforcement gear) the sound quality has been improving dramatically. If you are looking to drive your subwoofers with clean, cheap, abundant and reliable power check out the new digital Crown XLS amps.
Receivers are another category but don't dismiss their audiophile credentials. The top end receivers from a number of manufacturers will raise a sweat on the brows of a good many audiophile amplifier designers. Onkyo in particular has a history of building really sweet amp sections into its receivers. We used the Onkyo 818 in one of our demo rooms at the Axpona Chicago Audio show in March, 2013 and the system (under $10,000 complete) drew raves and a lot of listening time from people who spent the weekend evaluating 6 figure and up ultra audio packages.
NEWFORM RIBBON LOUDSPEAKERS
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