The 18 Greatest Bargains in High-End Audio (TAS 197)

1. Naim Nait 5i integrated amplifier ($1450)

One of the great bargains in high-end audio, this new version of the Nait 5i brings more than a taste of expensive separates to a mid-priced integrated amplifier. The Nait is sweet without sounding rolled-off, presents a huge sense of space and tremendous separation of images, and, most importantly, sounds like music. What really distinguishes the Nait from similarly priced integrated amps is its soundstage dimensionality and highly refined rendering of detail. In production in various forms for more than 26 years, the Nait is the classic British integrated amp—no frills, just great sound. The Nait has won more Editors’ Choice, Golden Ear, and Product of the Year Awards than any other component in TAS’s history. Its power rating of 50Wpc might not be sufficient for low-sensitivity speakers or large rooms. It’s also not the last word in bottom-end impact and authority. (Reviewed in TAS 183)


2. Rega P1 Turntable ($395)

It’s notable that Rega’s entry-level ’table today sells for roughly the same price it did some 20 years ago. That doesn’t mean the P1 performs at exactly the same level as did the original P(lanar) 2 or 3, but it does mean that Rega’s commitment to value remains paramount and its knowledge of materials and manufacturing techniques has deepened. Perhaps even more remarkably, Rega is able to achieve this while keeping all manufacturing in the U.K.—no outsourcing for these guys! Building on success, the P1 uses the classic Rega motor, drive system, and main bearing, but instead of a glass platter this one is made of MDF. The arm is the new RB100, which comes pre-mounted with Ortofon’s OM5e moving-magnet cartridge. You won’t get much frequency extension or wide dynamics here, but what you do get are the pace, musical interplay, and involvement that make analog special. (Reviewed in TAS 171)



3. Magnepan MMG and 4. MG 1.6 planar-magnetic loudspeakers ($599 and $1895)

Magnepan’s smallest planar-magnetic (available factory-direct only), the Product of the Year award-winning MMG, and the multiple award-winning MG 1.6 quasi-ribbon are the best buys in the Maggie line, and two of the best buys in all high-end audio. If you have enough space and amplifier, you will be hard-pressed to find more realistic speakers than these slim, boxless Maggies. Though neither plumbs the depths in the bottom end and the MMG is a bit limited in the top treble, they are models of lifelike presence, tone color, texture, and imaging where they play. From about 40Hz up, the 1.6, in particular, challenges the best money can buy. (Reviewed in TAS 121, 177)




5. Transparent Audio The Link interconnect and The Wave speaker cable ($85/$200)

Although we have experience only with Transparent’s lower-priced offerings (at the moment), what we’ve heard has been extremely impressive. The $85 The Link interconnect brings more than a taste of high-end interconnects to an entry-level price. Similarly, the $200 The Wave speaker cable is a bargain, offering superior tonality, wider dynamics, and a more open soundstage. The $105 High-Performance Powerlink AC cable is a vast improvement over stock AC cords, and just might be the most cost-effective upgrade possible in an entry-level system. The Powerwave 8 conditioner is also an extremely cost-effective upgrade, rendering wider dynamics, smoother timbres, and a greater sense of musical involvement.


6. Odyssey Khartago power amplifier ($795)

Although the 130Wpc Odyssey Khartago solid-state stereo amp has been around for better than a decade, it was new to JV until amp-connoisseur Alon Wolf (of Magico) told him he used it in his shop and it was excellent. The Wolfman was right. Although the Khartago doesn’t have all the articulation and transparency of the standard-setting $40k Soulution 710 stereo amplifier, it has a shockingly similar balance (albeit a bit warmer and less transparent), no discernible grain, high resolution, and a deep, wide soundstage. Positively, the best budget amp JV has heard (and the $2k Odyssey Stratos monoblocks are great, too). (Reviewed in TAS 194)


dl (not verified) -- Fri, 11/13/2009 - 12:31

 Amazingly, these look like genuine bargains, not overpriced voodoo things that are cheaper than $5,000 amplifiers, but not much.  Even the cables look reasonable.

Yawolloh (not verified) -- Fri, 11/13/2009 - 14:15

Yes indeedy. Though more than happy with my current stuff - I want to run out and spend surprisingly little money on the very cheapest of this stuff. Just so that i can feel smug at the great sound per buck. 

Darius (not verified) -- Tue, 11/17/2009 - 18:43

I feel the Moon i-1 is very good for the price. I considered it and purchased an i-3 because I wanted even more power. The unit sounds great and is very engaging. It is not dry sounding or cheap in any regard. Repspect. 

Lungo (not verified) -- Fri, 11/20/2009 - 19:36

Quad CDP-2 CD player and 6 input digital pre amp and DAC (3 TosLink + 3 coax S/PDIF inputs) + Quad 909 power amp is in my opinion the best bargain in high end audio today and will be for a long time to come ... pure genius!

Dr. Jekill (not verified) -- Mon, 04/05/2010 - 21:59

I agree with you. I really like Quad CD Player. And some electronics has been amazing too.

Jerry T (not verified) -- Fri, 12/25/2009 - 18:41

Cambridge sounds like S...t for my opinion or you guys under heavy drugs or somethin'....

Most of your choices not really crear and look like oiled up.

phoenix (not verified) -- Sat, 01/09/2010 - 16:13

The Berkely Alpha DAC sounds like a winner, now if they would just add the capabilty of USB to it and Room and Speaker Correction Software all in the same sized box, all updatable over the internet as firmware, they would have a monster value on their hands, can believe it would need to sell for a lot more than the current list either. C'mon Berkley make my last front end!

Sam -- Fri, 01/15/2010 - 01:01

you must be one of those audiophiles difficult to satisfy. If an entire system was built in one box including speakers at a cheap cheap price that would be fantastic? The Berkeley doesn't sound like a winner it is a winner. If you have been following through...the USB technology is faaaaar far away from the current state of the art connections. Why would a company like Berkeley and former members of Pacific Microsonics model 2 bother including such a thing at this stage of audio technology. USB has long ways to go. USB, room and Speaker correction, preamp, poweramp, cd transport and speakers in the same price would be the last end for sure......... and with the purchase of my car: gasoline, car wash, life time repairs while calling someone over the internet to come to my house to do it would also be great. I wish Toyota would come out with the last car I ever buy.

gb -- Sun, 03/07/2010 - 00:12

...want to try again???

gb -- Sun, 03/07/2010 - 00:25

The Odyssey Khartago is NOT reviewed in issue 194. Have it in my hot little hands and wsa looking for the review.

artk -- Sat, 06/05/2010 - 17:53

The Berkely DAC would be a winner if it cost $500, not $5,000. It's cost of goods can't be more then a hundred dollars or so. It's most expensive single component is a DAC, you can't spend more the $15.00 for one of them if you tried. I am constatly amazed how the high end audio market as managed to isolate itself from the price decreases and performance increases of the computer and semiconductor industries.

gbdrummerguy -- Mon, 11/07/2011 - 17:23

I'm so glad to see the "Audio Space Ref 3.1" included in "The 18 Greatest Bargains in High End Audio". I have the Ref 3.1 KT-88 version ( which is the pentode version ) and looks the same except with KT-88's in place of the 300 B's. It produces 22 watts in triode mode or 44 watts in pentode and is selectable on the fly along with low or no feedback. Go with no feedback! An incredible sounding and extremely well built integrated with a built in phono section and more than enough power for my Maggie 1.7's. My listening room is not huge, 10'x12' with 9 1/2' ceilings. In triode mode with 22 watts the sound is smooth with a little greater depth - good for edgier CD's. In pentode mode (which I use 90% of the time) the sound is a bit more detailed, dynamic along with a bit tighter bass. It is a very musical match with the 1.7's with their incredible openess and speed. Having spent countless hours in recording studios as a professional muscian I greatly appreciate this. I'm also using a Shanling CD 300 ( CD 3000 in the US ) tubed cd player which has balanced outs along with RCA outs. Upsampling to 24/192 if desired. A very smooth and dynamic player well worth a listen (and built like a tank! ). As mentioned earlier the Audio Space has a very good built in mm phono section. I'm using a Klyne SK-1 mc step up device which is extremely quiet as is the tubed phono section and mates well with the Benz Ace low output cartridge and my Rega P5 with TT power supply. "Anti-Cables" speaker cable have replaced the very good Kimber 8 TC + 4 TC which I was using and is a definite improvement in openess and speed and are EXREMELY affordable around $80 for a bi-wired 6' pair! A glimpse of the "True High End" is attainable for a "reasonable" amount of money, the Audio Space Ref 3.1 with either 300 B's or Kt-88's is a definite "must audition" if you're looking in the $3500.00 and up catagory, highly recommended!
Greg B.

gbdrummerguy -- Mon, 11/07/2011 - 18:04

When I was looking for a new CD player a few years ago I had the Cambridge Azur 840 and the Shanling CD 300 (CD 3000 in the US) at home for a week to do an extensive A-B comparison. After letting both players "burn in" for a few days it became very obvious that the Shanling was the more natural and real sounding player of the duo. I suppose it's the tubes in the unit that make this possible. I was taken aback after reading all the hype about the 840 - "equals players 3 to 4 times it's price" and fully expected the 840 to easily trump the Shanling. Unfortunately it couldn't equal a player of the SAME price! The build quality also appears to be much more robust, the proverbial "brick out house". If you're in the market for a player in and around the $1500 range do yourself a favour and audition the Shanling you won't be dissapointed, I wasn't.
Greg B.

Powell -- Wed, 10/24/2012 - 04:53

This shows me two equipment that if an singer really felt that his song would be injured commercially by it's broadminded use of vulgarity then he or she will tender a 'clean' version in organize to have his song played on more stations and sell to more viewers.

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