All things considered, the Studio 20 v.3 is very nicely balanced, capable of doing great justice to a wide range of recordings. Fans of every genre owe it to themselves to give this speaker an audition, especially those with tight equipment budgets and/or domestic constraints that won’t allow for larger loudspeakers. Sonically and visually pleasing, the Paradigm Studio 20 v.3 should perform well in almost every situation it encounters. Its musicality would win it a recommendation at any price—at $800 it’s a stunningly good value.
Introduced this past summer, Onkyo’s A-9555 integrated amp and DX-7555 CD player are in some ways throwbacks to the past. In style, size, and purpose, they would not have looked out of place in any hi-fi shop in the mid-1980s. Superficially, they don’t seem much different from dozens of similar-looking products issued from Japan over the past two decades, but lurking beneath their black or silver exteriors is cutting-edge technology that lifts them into a realm of performance quite beyond their price niche.
The $700 A-9555, for example, is surprisingly lightweight for its power rating (100Wpc into 8 ohms, 200Wpc into 4 ohms), thanks to what Onkyo calls “hybrid Class D” switching-amplifier technology. The phrase “digital amplifier” is one that can provoke allergic reactions in many audiophiles, conjuring up images of doorrattling car audio and nasty, ear-splitting surround-sound demonstrations. Such misgivings are well founded, but switching amplifiers have retained their abilities to deliver huge amounts of peak current (i.e., ability to control loudspeakers) while undergoing great advancements in their abilities to convey sonic nuances.
The current generation of switching amps can reveal subtle textures and delicate harmonics in an almost tube-like fashion, without tubes’ heat or noise. Among the sonic benefits of something like Onkyo’s “wide range amplifier technology” (WRAT) are an extremely low noise floor, fantastic dynamics, and precise details. The company plans to incorporate the A-9555’s “Vector Linear” (VL) switching-amplification technology in its next-generation hometheater receivers and audio amplifiers. The technology, which modulates a high-speed switching power supply with an analog input signal and amplification in the switching domain, is claimed by Onkyo to yield “a remarkable decrease in jitter…comparable to most Class AB analog amplifiers.” Its rigid chassis makes the amp less prone to vibration-induced distortion, a refinement borrowed from high-end designs.
Defeatable analog tone controls include bass, treble, and loudness—potentially useful features that I tried briefly to make surethey worked, but the amp’s “pure direct” mode was too enjoyable to besmirch. Inputs accommodate six line-level stereo sources plus a turntable, via the amp’s “discrete phono equalizer,” a circuit claimed to offer the advantages of two common types of phonostages. My old Rega 2 with Sumiko Blue Point cartridge sounded fine through it. In a nod to the ubiquity of the iPod, the A- 9555 is compatible with the Onkyo’s DS-A1 iPod dock, allowing a listener to play an iPod through the system, charge its battery while playing, and control its basic functions with the A-9555’s remote.
Other amenities: The A-9555’s large volume control is a joy to use—it feels nice in the hand and responds nicely to small impulses on the logically arrayed remote control. Onkyo says the volume control function uses an “an intermediate, variable gain stage to maintain the audio signal well above the noise floor, for significant improvements in S/N ratio and output clarity, especially at low listening levels.” In real-world use, the A-9555 is both transparent and dynamic at all listening levels, and a musical joy.
Onkyo’s DX-7555 is a single-disc twochannel CD player with advancements once found only in the priciest products—a highisolation/ anti-resonant chassis, a low-jitter clock circuit, and a Wolfson Microelectronics digital-to-analog converter capable of 192kHz/24-bit resolution. Unusual features include two user-selectable output filters, either the factory-default “sharp” setting, claimed to be flat to 20kHz, or a gradual highfrequency roll-off. The “direct digital” coaxial output (via a dedicated cable instead of circuit board traces) can be shut off while using the analog outputs; the analog output’s phase can be reversed “on the fly” using the remote; and the display can be dimmed in four steps.
An extremely unusual feature allows some alteration of the clock frequency, faster or slower than the factory setting. Onkyo claims this can affect the clarity of sound or the size of the acoustic image. I have many doubts about the wisdom of giving users easy access to precision settings—especially one hyped as accurate within ±1.5ppm—and didn’t experiment with the clock. On the other hand, it does give tweak-obsessed audiophiles something to play with.