Based in Florence, Italy, Volumio is best known for its open-source music-management software, which has become very popular with DIYers looking to build a headless music streamer on the cheap. But Volumio also offers three domestically manufactured streaming products: the Rivo streamer, Primo streaming DAC, and Integro streaming integrated amplifier, the subject of this review. With a streamer, a DAC, and an amplifier combined in a single elegant chassis, the Integro needs just a pair of speakers, and it’s ready to play.
Did this heading just make you do a double take? I wouldn’t be surprised if it did because Wi-Fi and turntable are two words you don’t expect to see back-to-back. Indeed, Pro-Ject Audio Systems’ T2 W ($1199; all prices in USD unless noted otherwise) is the first product of its kind: a turntable that can stream audio over a home network to multiple devices.
I think marketing geniuses can sometimes be too smart for the good of the companies they’re trying to promote. Consider the slogan that Klipsch Audio Technologies came up with in 2021 to celebrate the brand’s 75th anniversary: “Pissing off the neighbors since 1946.” The company even created a “Pissing Off the Neighbors” edition of its RB-81 MkII bookshelf loudspeaker (now discontinued).
Note: for the full suite of measurements from the SoundStage! Audio-Electronics Lab, click this link.
From the perspective of a pre-teen in the late 1970s, it seemed as if hi-fi was everywhere, and separate components ruled. In our living room, we had shag-white carpet, a Dual turntable, and a Marantz cassette deck and receiver. I remember the receiver’s gorgeous blue front lighting and joy-to-use Gyro Wheel tuner. A pair of Pioneer speakers with lustrous woodgrain cabinets rounded out the system. But I envied neighbors who had flashier systems from JVC, Sansui, and Technics. One friend had a complete silver Pioneer system at home, including the stunning CT-F1000 cassette deck, which I lusted after but couldn’t possibly afford. So, I compromised. I saved $200 from my allowance and summer jobs and bought a Panasonic all-in-one, which included a turntable, receiver, cassette deck, and matching speakers—my first stereo system.
In early May, a curious factoid popped up in my news feed. According to a 2023 study by Los Angeles–based Luminate, a sales analysis company that specializes in entertainment and media, only half of those who bought vinyl records during the previous year actually owned a turntable. Weird!
When I told SoundStage! Network founder Doug Schneider about the NAD CS1, he asked a simple question: “Who’s this product for?” Lots of people, I responded. My brother, Ian, and his wife, Roberta. My sister-in-law, Petrea, and her husband, Paul. And a whole bunch of other folks. Priced at $349 (all prices in USD), the CS1 is aimed at listeners who want to stream music from their smart devices to a sound system that lacks network connectivity—without having to install special apps.
As I was taking a second pass through my rough draft of the intro for this review, it occurred to me that I was effectively aping the theme song for Cheers. It seems to me that the hardest part of making your way in today’s world of connected, streaming, networked, Bluetoothed, AirPlayed, Chromecasted audio—especially for a traditional hi-fi company—is figuring out how to spin what makes your thing different from any number of other things that do the same thing, not to mention how to compete with the Sonoses, BluOSes, and HEOSes of the world.
What would you expect to pay for a 60Wpc class-D amplifier with a built-in phono stage and Bluetooth receiver? $400? $500? $600? How about $170? That’s the difference in price between a pair of Triangle’s Borea BR03 standmount speakers, which were enthusiastically reviewed by Diego Estan on SoundStage! Access in May 2020, and the Borea BR03 BT, the subject of this review.
When I’m reviewing a hi-fi product, I sometimes ask: “Why do you need to spend more?” More and more these days, iFi Audio is the brand that prompts my rhetorical question. If you’re looking for a good DAC, why would you need to spend more than you’d pay for the brand’s Zen One Signature ($349, all prices in USD)? If you’re simply looking to add audiophile-quality Bluetooth reception to a system that lacks it and you don’t need crazy range or digital outputs, why would you spend a dime more than the cost of the Zen Air Blue? And if you’re looking for a good music streamer that supports everything from Roon and AirPlay to network-attached storage and connected solid-state drives—assuming you don’t mind a few operational quirks—what could you want that the $399 Zen Stream (reviewed last year by Gordon Brockhouse) doesn’t offer? Mind you, I’m not saying there aren’t valid answers to these questions. In fact, in many respects, the Neo Stream network audio streamer ($1299) seems to be iFi’s own answer to that last one.
In audio, as in other pursuits, looks are often deceiving. A case in point is PSB’s new Alpha iQ active loudspeaker system. Priced at $1499 (all prices in USD except where noted), the Alpha iQ looks a lot like PSB’s Alpha AM3 powered speaker system, which costs only $549. The Alpha iQ and Alpha AM3 even have the same driver complement for each speaker: a 4″ polypropylene midrange-woofer with a rubber surround and steel basket, mounted above a 0.75″ ferrofluid-damped, aluminum-dome tweeter with neodymium magnet.
Since COVID-19 arrived in North America three years ago, I’ve been to exactly two audio shows, both in my home city: the 2021 and 2022 editions of the Toronto Audiofest. Fellow SoundStagers Doug Schneider and Jason Thorpe also attended TAF 2022, and as Doug outlined in his show report on SoundStage!Global, they came upon some pretty exotic gear at the show.
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