A Visit to Audio Research


Audio Research is one of the oldest continually operating manufacturers in American audio. I have been following their progress since the mid 70’s when tube-based Hi-Fi started to surge across my radar. Solid state offerings were dominating the scene in the late 60’s. In 1970, Audio Research was born based on the efforts of Bill Johnson, the founder. Clearly, I was excited at the opportunity of visiting their newest facility in Minnesota.

There is a palpable sense of history that permeates every aspect of what the current group of individuals is working towards …better sound. Seems simple, but it certainly requires enormous effort in each and every aspect of engineering and manufacturing. I was struck by the attention to detail and the sheer determination to get everything “just right.” The timing was fortunate due to the announcement of their newest power amplifier, the REF160S:

“Following the example of the internationally-acclaimed 160M monaural power amplifier introduced in 2018, the Reference 160S (REF160S) is a vacuum-tube design with dual transparent power meters that float in front of the eight KT150 output power tubes.

The 160S continues the feature set introduced in the 160M, including a proprietary auto-bias circuit, switchable Triode or Ultralinear modes of operation, balanced and single-ended inputs, and an output tube monitoring mode. Additionally, the 160S offers a four-layer circuit board, allowing music to emanate from a jet-black background.”

When I first arrived, they were still fine tuning this product. By the second day, I was fortunate to hear what was thought to be the final voicing of this great amp. The primary listening room is a marvel and I could’ve spent days simply listening to CD’s and vinyl offerings that Warren (chief consistent ears …not his official title) kept on tap. This room was truly “dialed in!” For me, an absolute audiophile nirvana.

I toured the factory and learned that even the small clips used to keep wiring harnesses in place were chosen for their sonic attributes. At every turn, I heard “…we do this because it SOUNDS BETTER.” Clearly, there were the appropriate graphs and attention was given to measurements. However, the fact that human ears were the final determination of what worked, and didn’t, was a delight. I came away feeling hopeful about the state of high-end audio. It really is wonderful to have options in a world where many industries only offer product lines that are simply studies in mediocrity.

Another exceptional benefit for anyone purchasing these sonic marvels is that Audio Research technicians can still repair, refurbish and restore to original performance standards most products manufactured during the company’s almost 50-year history. They celebrate the half century mark next year!

Many companies are doing good work at hitting price points and covering the market demands with high value products. It was very gratifying to see this American company taking the time to produce reference products using modern engineering combined with absolute commitment to proven manufacturing methods such as hand soldering. Each product is essentially hand made to the highest standard. They, in fact, do SOUND BETTER. Bravo!


Wilson Audio Sasha DAW


In the years since the release of the Sasha Series 2, there have been some major developments within the Wilson Audio lineup; most significantly of which was the WAMM Master Chronosonic, Wilson's flagship creation. Flagships such as the WAMM serve a dual purpose in the audio world. Firstly, they are a phenomenal product in their own right upon completion. Beyond this, the development of a true flagship product acts as a testing bed for designers, freeing them to push the boundaries of what is thought possible. Often this process brings about new techniques or methods to make improvements and solve problems. With the latest technology and knowledge gained from the development of the WAMM, Daryl Wilson, son of David Wilson, decided it was time for an overhaul of the Sasha Series 2. For those unfamiliar with the history of Wilson Audio, the Sasha is the re-imagination of the first majorly successful Wilson Audio speaker, the WATT/Puppy, starting with the Sasha Series 1 in 2009, followed by the Series 2 and now the DAW.

The WATT/Puppy was originally the combination of a complete speaker; a mini monitor with its own crossover, and a woofer module with an independent crossover. The Sasha became a single speaker with a unified crossover shared between all of the drivers. This approach enabled much better integration between the individual components and has carried on with the DAW. A development from the WAMM which has made its way to the Sasha DAW is the upgraded umbilical connections. Looking at the back of the DAW, you can see the new air-tight connectors in use, allowing for both a better seal and less wasted internal volume and materials. The connections used in previous versions took up notably more internal air space, which means a bigger box is needed for the same internal volume.


With the complete overhaul of the Sasha series came a redesigned woofer module. While the overall shape of the cabinet remains fairly similar to previous generations, there are a number of updates beyond what can be seen. The new drivers utilized in the woofer module are based on the 8" drivers found in the Alexia series 2, yet customized for their use in the Sasha. In addition to this change, the internal volume has been increased by 13.3%, to better match these new drivers. With the additional volume, you gain both efficiency and extension. The gained authority in the bottom octave paired with lower distortion brings about a true effortlessness to the bass region. A feature that can't really be seen outwardly is the new design of the walls of the cabinet. The X-material of the cabinets has been thickened overall, helping reduce panel resonances, but in addition to being thicker, the material is of inconsistent thickness. Having all tapered panels helps spread any possible energy storage across a range of frequencies and energy states, further reducing any possibility of coloration through the speaker's response range. The new shaping was able to be applied in a beautiful fashion, with an elegant sculpted shape carved into the side of the cabinets, a similar design as featured on the WAMM.

Additional parts were taken from the flagship WAMM for the Sasha DAW; the tweeter and midrange drivers! In the upper module, the internal volume was again increased, partially to allow better control of internal reflections from the midrange, but also to increase efficiency and dynamic expression. Controlling the back wave of the midrange helps to improve on one of Wilson's major focuses, the silence between the notes. They achieve this by treating the inside walls of this chamber with machined facets which help reduce internal reflections, as well as specific shaping which greatly reduces the possibility of standing waves. As a result, the noise floor and distortion of the midrange are vanishingly low, allowing the original source signal to dance along an extremely quiet background. The tweeter in use on the DAW, as in the WAMM, is the Convergent Synergy Mark V. In their development process, they had access to any and every tweeter material available. They found that in carefully conducted measurement and empirical listening that the doped silk dome tweeter in use was the most musically authentic and satisfying tweeter tested. This tweeter in its use in the DAW expresses itself very well, never calling undue attention to itself while presenting all of the musical detail in the original source.

One small feature often overlooked in a loudspeaker is the binding post. Traditionally, Wilson speakers only allowed for spade connections. The reasoning behind this was that Wilson found through their listening tests that spade terminals, given their larger surface area and ability to clamp the mating faces together with some force, were the best sounding. With the Sasha DAW, they have developed a completely new binding post, allowing for even better contact area when using spades. The new posts are now much easier to use with your hands rather than a tool, which can be convenient during initial setup. The largest change with the new binding post is the addition of holes in which banana cables can be used! No longer might consumers be inconvenienced in upgrading to Wilsons because they require all new speaker cabling. With the ability to use both spade and banana connections, almost any cable on the market can safely be used.

Analyzing a speaker as a series of individual pieces and developments is a great exercise, but does little to describe how these elements come together. In seeking excellence in every individual part and piece, Wilson Audio gives themselves a phenomenal foundation of components which combine into these speakers. The Wilson Audio Sasha DAW, given everything that goes into it, performs to a level that is difficult to comprehend until it is heard. It has such an effortless sound character to it, never seeming to strain at any reasonable output. Their low-end is fantastic, providing lifelike dynamics in the bass region without compression. They remain spatially resolving into the bass region as well, which is difficult for many speakers given the propensity for rising distortion and energy storage in this important foundational range. The sound stage scale is amazingly realistic, and well defined in both width and depth, giving a sense of space that seems holographic at times; you often forget that there are speakers in the room when you close your eyes. The ability to express dynamics effortlessly, from resolving the finest of details in space and unleashing the crescendo without any strain is really what makes these speakers exceptional.

The only way to fully appreciate this incredible speaker system is in person. We invite you to schedule a demonstration of our in-store reference system featuring the Wilson Audio Sasha DAW at your convenience!

Rogue Audio Cronus Magnum 3

One of our shop favorites has a fresh update! The Rogue Audio Cronus Magnum 3 integrated tube amplifier is the latest in the series, with a wonderful list of upgrades. Hand built in Pennsylvania, the Rogue CM3 is a fantastic combination of musicality and bold looks. If you haven’t had the opportunity to experiment with tube electronics, you’re in for a treat with this unit.

The first thing you will notice coming from the CM2 to the 3 is the return of the all-metal remote, it’s simple, great looking, and feels delightful in your hand. Additionally, they have completely redesigned the phono-stage of the Cronus Magnum 3. Rather than a fixed moving magnet phono stage, the unit now has an adjustable gain-stage with varying loading options, opening the availability for moving coil cartridges in addition to moving magnet. 

For headphone users, the headphone section has been redesigned as well from the CM2. Now, the CM3 features a dedicated headphone circuit based closely off of the circuit designed for Rogue’s RH-5 Headphone Amplifier, featuring massively improved current capabilities for improving dynamics as well as providing proper power for harder to drive headphones.

One of the most impactful changes with the new CM3 is the completely redesigned internal circuit layout, also known as the line-stage. The line-stage redesign has two major benefits, first and foremost, the CM3 has a much lower noise floor than the CM2. A quieter noise floor brings about many benefits; revealing more dynamics and microdynamics, better tonality and resolution of instruments, better soundstage depth and width, and generally better musicality as a whole. In addition to this, the new line-stage brought with it the ability to switch between different operating modes on the tubes. Traditionally, the Rogue Cronus Magnum operated in Ultralinear mode, which provided great bass control and more power, coming in at 100 watts per channel. With the new design in the CM3, they have added a switch to the rear allowing you to switch between Ultralinear operation to Triode operation on the fly. Switching over to Triode mode often provides a slightly softer sound, some might call it 'tubey' or more romantic, with slightly less output at 60 watts per channel.

At the time of this writing, our Cronus Magnum 3 is paired with a pair of Dynaudio Excite X34. If you’d like to hear other combinations, we’re more than happy to pair our other speakers, or we invite you to schedule a time to bring your speakers in to try out!

In combination with the right speakers, the Rogue Cronus Magnum 3 is the heart of an amazingly musical stereo and an amazing value performer at $2995.

Sony Walkman Gold


Sony's flagship Walkman, the NW-WM1Z, features many of the best technologies Sony has developed in all of their years developing mobile media players. Every part of this player is optimized, from the individual electronic components, the kimber kable made wiring, the incredible DACs built in; all adding up to fantastic sound quality in a mobile form factor. All of this tech is housed in a machined copper housing, which is then gold plated, giving the unit a substantial feel with amazing fit and finish. In our testing we have found this unit capable of powering even hard to drive headphones with great results. At $3199, the NW-WM1Z comes in at the top of Sony's mobile players, a premium price that is echoed in its construction and sound quality.

Naim Uniti Atom

The Naim Uniti Atom is the smallest of Naim’s new family of all-in-one players. The feature list on the Atom is huge, including internet radio streaming, tidal, spotify, chromecast, airplay, Roon ready, and even more. Setup on the unit is a breeze, being available on-screen or through Naim’s excellent ios/Android apps; all you need to do is add speakers and you’ve got great sound. The full-color screen is beautiful, showing the controls as well as the album art of what is playing. One of our favorite features of the Uniti Atom is its oversized aluminum volume knob on the top, which gives a great and unique tactile feel to the unit. With a great sounding Class A/B amplifier, the Naim Uniti Atom is a great sounding and looking heart to any Hi-Fi system. Available for $2995

Dynaudio Special 40

Dynaudio's Special Forties are a celebration of 40 years of loudspeaker design and innovation. Featuring a combination of their latest and greatest driver technologies, including adaptations on their flagship Confidence C1 bookshelf speaker, the Special Forties show off some of the best features of Dynaudio's lineup. On display in the store in a gorgeous laminated gray birch finish, they're also available in a bold laminated red birch. Thanks to their focus on hand-made drivers with wide dispersion and remarkably low distortion, the Special Forties are capable of presenting an amazingly wide and deep soundstage, while still maintaining excellent detail which is true to the music. The Dynaudio Special 40s are available for $3000.