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Wise Men From the East, Bearing Gifts! Part 2

01-06-2017 | By John Marks | Issue 89

Part 2 of John Marks' Christmas recommendations:  This time, the hardware. Like the wise men's gifts, in a set of three.

Simple. Affordable. And each clearly excellent at its price point.

Very helpful, friend John!

Dr. David W. Robinson, Ye Olde Editor

Part 1 covered recorded media (CD boxed sets, and an SACD/CD hybrid). Part 2, concerning recommendable hardware gifts, will be short and sweet… three buy-them-once-and-buy-them-right pieces of audio gear.

To learn their identities, see below.

Merry Christmas!

Grace Design m920 Digital-to-Analog Converter, Headphone Amplifier, and Line Stage

At under $2000, it is very hard to beat the Grace m920's combination of virtues. For me, chief among the m920's virtues is that its digital-filter options include a Minimum Phase filter. When I was asked to specify compact stereos for some executive offices at Steinway & Sons' Global Headquarters in NYC, the m920 was an easy pick. My previous coverage is here. And if the Steinway connection is not enough, Grace Design microphone preamplifiers and analog-to-digital converters were used in recording the Boston Symphony/Andris Nelsons Shostakovich symphony 10 release that won the Grammy® for Best Orchestral Performance last time around.

Luxman M-200 Stereo Power Amplifier

This lovely amplifier's form factor was a bit large for the office systems at Steinway's offices, but, at $2000, the sweet, petite M-200 is a great bargain that will easily fit into most home listening setups. My previous comments here.

Harbeth P3ESR Monitor Loudspeakers

Hardly an unendurable surprise. Starting at $2000 the pair (with upcharges for premium wood veneers), I think that this is the most successful descendant of the 1970s BBC remote location monitoring speaker the LS3/5A. Still made in the UK, with furniture-grade woodworking, and fatigue-free (but detailed) listening. My previous comments here.

I know that $6000 for a home system is a non-trivial amount of money. But, that figure is also only about a third of what the average reader of Stereophile magazine has spent on a home stereo system.

I also understand that a system needs cables and perhaps loudspeaker stands, and that some people might want a CD player as a disc transport, and/or want a wifi connection. So, we are then talking about more like $7500 total—but that is still less than half the average. I have great confidence that these are buy-them-once-and-buy-them-right bits of audio gear, from long-established companies with enviable track records of standing behind their products.

Any questions, please start the process by leaving a comment below.