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    Equipment and Product Reviews

    • Rowan S
      The Emotiva TA-100 is an interesting, well-featured and surprisingly capable stereo receiver considering its low profile and sub-$1000 price. It includes almost all the inputs one could ever need both from the past, in the form of a phono input, along with newer features such as streaming USB audio and SPDIF digital ins. I like it a lot, and found it to be a seriously impressive unit, so read on for the full details and to find out just how good it sounds for so little cash.
      FEATURES
      When Emotiva were designing this stereo amp (with a tuner thrown in), the conversation probably went something like, “We want it to have every damn feature you can imagine, sell for almost nothing, and it must sound spectacularly good as well!”. No doubt the engineers responsible said it couldn't be done, but they sure came close.
      Inputs-wise it has a switchable phono input for either moving magnet or moving coil cartridges. It has a couple of line inputs for old-school analogue such as a CD player or even a tape deck (well, they are cool with the kids these days). It has digital inputs (one each) for coaxial, optical and USB streaming up to 24/96. It has another USB connector for a Bluetooth dongle and an antenna connection for the built-in FM radio, making it a receiver rather than an integrated amplifier.
      Output-wise there's a 3.5mm headphone socket on the front panel, and the rear is home to a pair of RCA outs for a subwoofer, another pair of RCA preamp outs for connection to a power amp, along with a trigger connection to power it up. Of course, there's also a pair of binding posts that accept bare wire, spades and banana plugs to attach a pair of loudspeakers.

      Also on the rear is a figure eight-style connector for mains power and a mains switch that, when turned off, completely disconnects power from the unit's internals.
      Inside is a very proficient DAC supporting the latest high resolutions up to 24/192, along with a surprisingly grunty 50w per channel into eight ohm power amp. There's also a pre amp section that offers not just volume and input switching but also balance and tone controls, which are hidden but easy to use, in a menu operated by the volume control and input selector buttons. FM tuner capability is also built in with the ability to store 50 of your favourite stations as presets.
      There's a few other handy things it offers such as tone controls, the ability to remember headphone volume independently of the level of the speakers, and a remote for muting those annoying ads if it's connected to your TV, as it can be thanks to its optical digital audio in.
      INTERNALS AND BUILD QUALITY
      I prised the lid off the TA-100 to reveal a very smartly laid out and tidy interior. Straight away I spied the class A/B output stage, decent quality components throughout, a hefty toroidal mains transformer, a switch mode standby power supply and a construction that a technician could work on fairly easily if the occasion ever arose. It's obvious that a bit of thought and care has been put into the design of the internals.

      Build quality of the casework is perhaps typical of a Chinese-made product that sells for this price, but the standard of the electronics is a cut above the average at this price. With minimal venting in the lid this receiver should also resist salty air corrosion better than many.
      All in all, I was quite impressed by the quality of what's on offer, and it really feels like Emotiva have put a lot of effort into providing the best components possible. They haven't cut corners and the results are remarkable. Many parts feel like they should belong to a more expensive product, and I've got no doubt that it'll prove to be a reliable amp.

      DESIGN
      The whole Emotiva range looks a bit like pro audio gear, but I can't help thinking that if they spent a little extra on the front panel and made it look like a classy bit of high end kit, the TA-100 might well sell a whole lot better at $999 than it will now at $849. I think this would certainly be the case in Australia, but it seems like the aesthetics are aimed squarely at the American market, where these units are designed and the upper range models are manufactured.
      Regardless of this, I can live with the looks knowing how good it sounds. The feature set is particularly impressive for a sub-$1000 receiver, leaving little missing except a network connection and the streaming features that come with that.
      Clearly the designers were aiming for a simple look, though, and I think they've pulled it off. There's quite a bit of complexity hidden away behind the few front panel controls that are simple to use and have a good feel. Sure the volume control, being a continuous rotary encoder type, needs quite a few twists to turn it from loud to quiet unlike a proper 'pot', but I can live with that.  
      SETTING IT UP
      The TA-100 comes very well packed in a sturdy carton with plenty of foam packaging. Once I had removed all the bits and pieces I didn't need to flip open the instruction manual to get the system up and running, because it's all fairly straightforward. I encountered no surprises during set up and had it all organised in no time. Sure, you'll need the manual to glean some understanding of the menus hidden away for the tuner functions and tone etc, but it's not rocket science.
      Interestingly, not having any network capability pretty much removes any operational frustration. Even digitally, the coax input worked fine with the coaxial out of the Naim CD player that I couldn't get to work with the previously reviewed Yamaha R-N303D network receiver. There were also no issues getting hi rez audio from a PC through the USB in. It was all smooth sailing!
      SOUND QUALITY
      Sometimes you switch on a piece of gear and say to yourself, "Yup, it definitely makes a noise". Other times you turn on the power, sit back and enjoy music as you hope and expect a quality HiFi system should present it. The Emotiva TA-100 is definitely from the latter group, and I found myself completely forgetting that I was conducting a review as I flipped from CD to CD and record to record to see how the combination handled particular aspects of my favourite songs.
      I tried it with a few different loudspeakers, with the best results from the warmer-sounding speakers such as an older pair of Neats I had kicking around. Possibly even a match made in heaven, the pairing just made music. Employing the previously reviewed Elac B5.2 for a while, I also enjoyed a well-balanced, pleasing and enjoyable sound.
      The character of the amplifier can best be described as lively. It's seemingly fast down low with a decent amount of weight, and distinctly alive up top - mostly in a good and exciting way. I really liked it but I suspect with the wrong speakers or room this could become fatiguing. This is certainly no half-asleep tube amp! Lots of detail is also on offer, but because it's coupled with a clean, sweet mid, I didn't find vocal performances tiring. In fact it was the opposite – I wanted more!
      There is a catch, though. I'm not entirely convinced of just how good the built-in DAC is. It's far from poor but there's a trace of hardness to the sound, and sometimes I felt the bass was a bit recessed compared with a high quality analogue input. It's subtle, though. The phono stage is pretty good but also just swings slightly on the bright side of neutral. Frankly I would prefer that than for it to be dull and uninteresting. Seriously, though, a decent phono stage can easily cost more than this whole receiver, so don't take my comment as a complaint.
      It's a quiet amplifier, it images nicely and as I've said a few times now, it just makes music. You might think that's a given with a new amp that sells for nearly $1000, but it's not the case with quite a few products that have been released recently. Unfortunately many AV receivers in this price range are awful. The TA-100 once again reminds us that if you only have two speakers, please buy a stereo amp of some sort. Don't spend your hard earned money on something of which you'll only use two channels out of seven, as well as little of the digital processing.
      I highly recommend listening to this amp (really, it's a receiver) if you're on a tightish budget, need phono and a DAC capability, and are after a great-sounding system in a slim enclosure. It does a lot for relatively little money, and it sounds fantastic.

      ACCESSORIES AND WARRANTY
      The infrared remote included is small and unusually shaped, but is ergonomically rather good. The range is fine and the buttons are nice and responsive. The manual is perfect for me as it's easy to read, with a thorough description of the various functions that even an absolute beginner could understand. A simple, and rather lengthy, wire antenna is included for FM reception. There's also an RCA lead, power lead and a trigger lead which you'll need when you add the A-300 power amp for real neighbour-awakening volume levels.
      The card in the box from the local importer Audio Active suggests the warranty is 12 months. In the back of the manual, three years is spoken of. The Audio Active inserted card also states that, “Audio Active will honour warranty claims within this term or in accordance with the product manufacturer's stated warranty term if that provides for a longer period.” I'll take it that the TA-100 has a full three year warranty, which is quite generous.

      FINAL THOUGHTS
      The vast majority of the time I spent working on this review involved little more than sitting back and enjoying the music. I forgot about specs and stats and got lost in the sound - and that's a good thing. Yes, it has a slightly brighter tonal balance than neutral, but this Emotiva goes about its business in a very musical and sweet way.
      The sweetness is somewhat obscured by the just noticeable upper mid and treble exaggeration, but it's there. It's a low distortion, clean sounding amp that doesn't become dirty when pushed hard, and has a giant swag of features. It doesn't cost a gazillion and everything works! The TA-100 was designed and built to be uncomplicated and enjoyable, and that's exactly what it is. I like it a lot - very highly recommended!
      SCORE: 70.5/100
      FEATURES: 10.5/15
      INTERNALS AND BUILD QUALITY: 7.5/10
      DESIGN: 5/10
      SOUND QUALITY: 21/30
      EASE OF SETUP: 8.5/10
      MANUAL AND ACCESSORIES: 3.5/5
      REMOTE CONTROL / APP: 2.5/5       
      WARRANTY: 3.5/5
      VALUE FOR MONEY: 5/5
      EXCITEMENT FACTOR: 3.5/5
      PROS: 
      Exciting and enjoyable sound quality
      Every feature works as advertised, with little need to reference the instruction manual
      Almost every connection type is available
      Plenty of power, and it doesn't clip in a nasty way
      Agile and tuneful bass, slight sweetness or even warmth in the vocal region
      Runs quite cool
      CONS: 
      Modestly bright sounding with the wrong speakers
      Internal DAC and phono stage sound very good, but not great
      For those trapped in the 60s – no AM radio
      SPECIFICATIONS
      POWER OUTPUT: 2 x 50W with a frequency range of 20Hz to 20Hz at .02% THD into 8 ohms
      INPUTS: Optical, Streaming USB and coax inputs supporting audio sample rates up to 192kHz, FM 75 ohm antenna, RCA inputs for CD, AUX and Phono.
      OUTPUTS: Speaker pair via 4 binding posts, Pre outs and Sub outs (both RCA), trigger out.
      DIMENSIONS: 43.2 x 8 x 34.5cm without antenna
      WEIGHT: 6.8kg
      RRP: $AU849
      Imported by Audio Active
      THE TEST SYSTEM
      Included Elac B5.2 loudspeakers, Neat Motive One loudspeakers, windows computer with a few 24/96 HD files, Naim CD5XS CD player and a Rega P1 with AT VM95E cartridge.
      NOTES ON OUR SCORING SYSTEM
      We do not give away high marks on a whim. Each section is scored separately and without regard to the cost of the equipment. Each product is scored solely relative to other units in the category, no matter their cost. In theory, a more expensive unit should usually outscore a cheaper one, but that's not always the case, and we'll never shy away from calling a spade a spade. Our reviews are conducted by lifelong HiFi enthusiasts who are just as passionate about new equipment as you are, and who are determined to provide you with the best information possible.


    • Patrick R
      The AT LPW40 turntable is housed in retro stylings yet paired with forward thinking performance.
      Read on for the highs and the lows of this brand new record player.

      FEATURES
      Draped in stylish teak exterior with the look and feel like real wood veneer, this new Audio Technica turntable is off to a great and somewhat vintage start. In a move upward from its mostly 'convenience' orientated fellow models though, the '40' does not offer any auto style features. Its a fully manual turntable which is probably where the retro tale ends. Although it is belt driven as the vast majority of turntables in the '70s were. What is definitely modern though is having a built in switchable phono pre amp stage and an included brand new VM95E cartridge as recently listened to by Phil in his affordable Rega P1 upgrade article. Couple these features with the apparent carbon fibre tonearm, the slim profile of the timber clad plinth and the outboard wall wart power supply (so its a DC low voltage motor not 240 volt AC) and really the only retro feature is in fact the wood. 
      To summarise: this record player offers a detachable headshell, a hinged lid, detachable signal leads, the built in amp stage mentioned above, 33 and a third and 45 rpm speeds, a cueing lever on the arm, a rubber mounted DC motor, adjustable tracking and anti skating force adjustments and rubber feet. The platter is made from aluminium and has an appropriate rubber platter mat that is best for dampening the ringy nature of the aluminium. Frankly everything you might be entitled to expect for $649 but don't always get (the Rega P1 has a fixed headshell, fixed anti skating adjustment and more rigid feet). The Rega is cheaper though.

      INTERNALS AND BUILD QUALITY
      I didn't take this unit apart as really there is nothing to take apart as per the Rega P8 review but overall its very nicely crafted for Chinese made turntable of this price. The platter is cast from aluminium as mentioned above so will run true forever, the centre bearing seemed of good quality as does the tonearm and its bearings. Not amazing but good enough. The detachable headshell fitting is a precision piece, the lid and hinges work nicely. The timber plinth, whether real or faux wood certainly looks admirable and overall I would say, considering the price, there is nothing at fault.
      I tested the speed of the unit and it was by the tiniest measure, slightly slow on 33 and a 1/3 and somewhat fast on 45. Close enough but no reference for speed accuracy.
      The earth terminal on the rear came loose when I was trying to attach the supplied signal lead. A bit disappointing but the performance was hum free so clearly it was still connected inside.


      DESIGN
      Well.. A good old belt drive manual turntable design keeping things simple with little to go wrong now or many years into the future. As I have alluded to its a little olde worlde looking with the teak finish on the plinth but due to its slim height I suspect it will fool few who are looking for a true 1970s style record player. If Audio Technica had made the plinth 3 times the height that it is in the LPW40 it would have satisfied many who want the retro look without the retro hassles of failing technology from the last millennium. From my perspective though I rather like the timber finish so maybe it will attract a few buyers away from Projects and Regas as I'm not sure they or any other brand offers a timber finish for under $1000.

       
      SETTING IT UP
      If packing a turntable into as many different pieces as possible was an Olympic sport, Audio Technica just won Gold. The signal lead unplugs, the headshell is separate, the power lead/wall wart is separate, the platter is off, the lid is off the hinges are in their own bag, the counter weight is separate etc. When compared to say the Rega Planar One which only requires the removal of one piece of cardboard, sliding on the counter weight to the fully home position and removing the stylus protector to play a record this is indeed the opposite way of going about packaging a turntable for shipment. This lack of assembly coupled with the confused instructions mentioned below means for the beginner this will be a project of similar proportions to a black belt afternoon of IKEA assembly. 
      Despite this, I had it up and running in minutes though so my suggestion would be to buy the this Audio Technica turntable from a specialist HiFi shop and have them assemble it for you prior to departing their store. The real concern is that you just won't get the best from your purchase unless its properly set up and frankly the hieroglyphic instructions will fail you.
      Once assembled, sit it down on a sturdy level platform as per any other turntable and then plug it in either to a phono input, if your amp has one, and if it does set the internal amp switch on the rear to 'phono'. If your amp is sans phono input use any other analogue input and switch the slide switch on the back to 'line.
      Enjoy the music!

      SOUND QUALITY
      After all the excitement and perhaps stress of assembly, the result is worth it as this turntable sounds very pleasing. I played quite a few familiar pieces and very much enjoyed the music. The bass quality is very surprising and for my money is slightly superior to the benchmark Rega P1. This is of course in part due to the VM95E cartridge being better in the bottom end to the Rega Carbon that comes gratis with the P1, which Phil revealed in an earlier article. It may also be due to the stiffer ali platter? I'm not sure but the bass is very pleasing indeed. The midrange and top end replicates largely my experiences with the much too often mentioned Rega cheapy. More to the point perhaps this Audio Technica trounces any turntable I have heard in this price range outside of Project and Regas offerings.
      This listening was facilitated using an external but inbuilt phono stage in a UK built amp we will be reviewing soon. Like I say, it sounded thoroughly enjoyable, exciting, musical, very neutral, imaging was ok and really I could not fault the performance for the bucks. But then I thought I would give the internal phono stage a twirl....
      Oh dear! Rarely have I heard such an obvious difference between two phono amplification alternatives. The in built phono stage in the LPW40 is indeed very ordinary. Weak, slow and mono sounding bass with no improvement in the upper areas of the frequency spectrum. Lifeless, lacking in detail and generally unmusical. Avoid at all costs. It is strictly an interim solution till you buy a better amp with a phono input or obtain a serious outboard phono stage. Its a shame as those who use the internal stage are hearing perhaps only 50 – 75% of the potential quality of this rather good turntable.
      Speaking of upgrading or at least making the most of what you have, the use of the new VM95E cartridge allows very simple upgrading to another higher level of performance by just swapping the stylus. Read our P1 Rega upgrade article for some thoughts on the differences between these VM95 range options.
      In summary: if you use a quality external phono amp or a good quality stage inbuilt to your amplifier you will be very pleased with the full rich and well focused sound on offer. Not quite in Rega Planar two levels of sophistication but I think slightly better in some ways to the entry level Rega. The minor speed inaccuracies were not audible to me but they were quite small. As mentioned above do not use the inbuilt phono stage unless you really have to, it may actually make your ears cry.

      ACCESSORIES AND WARRANTY
      The instruction manual is lacking, at least the supplied quick start guide. There is a suggested URL where you presumably can download a full manual but I couldn't find one on the Audio Technica website but I did find the warranty term which is 12 months. There is no warranty card in the box or any mention of anything to do with a warranty in fact. All the accessories were well packed and complete. In fact the turntable is very well packed full stop but there are no instructions on how to repack it so you may need to do the degree course first if you are repacking it for a house move as clearly the Audio Technica staff do prior to working on the assembly line. The point is.. It's rather complicated.


      FINAL THOUGHTS
      I was a bit surprised with just how clean and tight the sound was from this simple and good looking turntable. A very musical performance as long as you avoid the internal phono amp. Fit and finish is very good and its a pleasure to operate. You do pay a little more than its perceived opposition, probably for the walnut (as Audio Technica describe it, I still think it looks like teak) styled plinth. Overall this LPW40 is a serious alternative to the veterans of the class and is well worth an audition.
      SCORE: 60.5/100
      FEATURES: 10.5/15
      INTERNALS AND BUILD QUALITY: 6.5/10
      DESIGN: 6.5/10
      SOUND QUALITY: 18/30
      EASE OF SETUP: 5/10
      MANUAL AND ACCESSORIES: 1.5/5     
      WARRANTY: 1.5/5
      VALUE FOR MONEY: 8/10
      EXCITEMENT FACTOR: 3/5
      PROS: 
      Sound quality is very competitive at the price
      A welcome change of appearance in this class.
      Overall its quite well made.
      Enjoyable to use and listen to.
      CONS: 
      With its slight retro look you might think it would be auto return but it isn't
      Mediocre sound quality from built in phono stage.
      Complicated to assemble for newbies.
      Earth terminal came loose during set up.
      Speed a bit off (only just on 33 but somewhat fast on 45)
      Instructions are probably going to a be a mystery to the uninitiated.
      Only 1 year warranty.
      SPECIFICATIONS – (Courtesy of Audio Technica)
      Type - 2-speed, fully manual operation
      Motor - DC servo motor w/speed stability control
      Drive Method - Belt drive
      Speeds - 33-1/3 RPM, 45 RPM
      Turntable Platter - Die-cast aluminium
      Wow and Flutter - 0.15% (WTD) @ 3 kHz (JIS)
      Signal-to-Noise Ratio - >60dB
      Output Level - 
      Pre-amp “PHONO”: 4 mV nominal at 1 kHz, 5 cm/sec
      Pre-amp “LINE”: 200 mV nominal at 1 kHz, 5 cm/sec
      Phono Pre-Amp Gain - 35 dB nominal, RIAA equalized
      Power Supply Requirements - 100-240V AC, 60 Hz
      Power Consumption - 1 W
      Dimensions -    
      420.0mm W x 340.0mm D x 116.9mm H
      Weight    
      4.7kg
      Accessories Included    
      AT-VM95E phono cartridge; AT-HS4 headshell; dual RCA (male) to dual RCA (male) cable with ground wire; counterweight; rubber mat; dust cover; 45 RPM adapter
      Tonearm type - Balanced straight tonearm with detachable headshell
      Effective arm length - 223.6mm
      Overhang - 18.6mm
      Tracking error angle - <2 degrees
      Applicable cartridge weight - 12-17g
      Anti-skating range - 0-3g
      Imported by TAG Audio
      RRP: $649
      THE TEST SYSTEM
      Included Spendor A6R, and KEF L50 loudspeakers. Exposure 2010S2D integrated amp with built in MM phono stage.

      NOTES ON OUR SCORING SYSTEM
      We do not give away high marks on a whim. Each section is scored separately and without regard to the cost of the equipment. Each product is scored solely relative to other units in the category, no matter their cost. In theory, a more expensive unit should usually outscore a cheaper one, but that's not always the case, and we'll never shy away from calling a spade a spade. Our reviews are conducted by lifelong HiFi enthusiasts who are just as passionate about new equipment as you are, and who are determined to provide you with the best information possible.
       


    • Phil Fi
      THE IDEA -
      The Planar 1 Rega is widely considered to be a very good entry level 'serious' turntable. Some would say it is the best choice for a beginner with aspirations of excellent sound on a shoe string. Out of the box though it is supplied with a Rega branded cartridge (Carbon) with a fairly familiar appearance. It looks like a Audio Technica AT91 but with a white coloured stylus rather than the normal yellow or red. I'm not sure what the total of the differences between the AT91 and the Rega Carbon cartridges but Rega does state the cantilever is made from Carbon. Audio Technica state their standard AT91 has a “aluminium pipe” as a cantilever. If compared with the naked eye they look the same? Whatever the tech differences I prefer the sound of the Rega version. Maybe I am imagining it but it seems cleaner, sweeter and rather good considering its a freebie on an inexpensive turntable.
      As good as it is though it lacks a bit of resolution and is a bit bloated and slow in the bass. All in a rather enjoyable way but for those looking for more performance and perhaps not being sure whether the step to the P2 is a step too far, maybe a cartridge upgrade is in order. Here I test the new VM95 cartridges on the Planar 1 in an attempt to discover whether an improved cartridge can help the P1 to rise above its entry level status. Although in some ways I am just going to try different styli as the new VM95 range uses the same electromagnetic engine-body in each model. I only have to fit one of the new VM95 series cartridges and then quickly swap styli after that to hear (or possibly not) the improvement offered by a superior diamond tip.
      I have chosen 2 from the range to compare. The VM95E which sells for $80 and the VM95EN which in the context of the realitively inexpensive Rega record player in question, is substantially more at $220. The difference is really only that one is an elliptical tip (good) and the more expensive one a nude elliptical (really good). The difference is outwardly marginal being that a nude is a whole diamond attached to the cantilever (the tiny rod poking out of the body of the cartridge that is forced to wobble in the groove by the diamond tip). The standard elliptical consists of a tiny diamond (being the angled tip part only) which is glued to a non diamond shank made from an unknown material in this case. There is clearly a saving in diamond purchases for AT using a non diamond shank and hence the green tip (VM95E) is cheaper.
      WILL IT WORK - 
      The Planar One Rega isn't the most adjustable of turntables with a fixed anti skating force (at one assumes approx 2 grammes to suit the original Rega Carbon cartridge) and a minimum cartridge mass of about 5 grammes. This is the case because out of the box you just slide the counterweight fully home and that coincides with the correct tracking weight for the previously mentioned original fitment cart. So if we are going to fiddle with the original recipe we need a cartridge that weighs in excess of 5g and has similar overhang (as the cartridge mounting slots are not terribly long) and the potential new cartridge needs to track optimally at about 2 gramess. The new Audio Technica VM95 range does all of this!

      SO DOES IT SOUND BETTER? - 
      Before fitting the fancy new VM95 I re listened to a few tracks I am familiar with using the standard arrangement. Wow it's a great sounding machine straight out of the box. It really plays music!. Its fun to listen to and does most things really well, but falls short in a couple of areas that may or may not be caused by the super budget nature of the supplied cartridge. The two key areas I noticed again during the reappraisal is the distinct fuzz in the midrange. Perhaps most noticeable as a sybillance on some vocals and just a general slight dirtiness, particularly on higher frequency notes. Not awful but its there. I would put this down to the cartridge. The second thing I was reminded of was the slightly bloated and bit 'one note' nature of the bass. This maybe mostly a good thing in the context of what kind of equipment this turntable will be generally partnered with and who the listener might be and their preferences for tonal balance. I would prefer a quicker bass though, but I would have thought this characteristic would be mostly down to the turntable itself.

      First I bolted on the green VM95E (effectively the replacement for the very long lived AT95E). Alignment and balance wise its dead simple. Slide the cartridge all the way forward for correct alignment and slide the counterweight back the thickness of a 10c piece for correct tracking weight. There is nothing else to do other than of course connect the wires in the correct spots which is the same physical location as for the original cartridge. On another note the threaded holes in this new VM95 series makes for super easy bolting up (no nuts to mess with) and the Rega supplied internal hex headed bolts are the same thread as required by the cartridge. Win win as long as you have a 2mm allen key hanging around. Oh and don't over tighten them. Just use the short end of the allen wrench to grip, don't attempt to tighten them up like a cylinder head on an old Holden.


      Now to enjoy some music, hopefully improved thereby making this whole article worthwhile! Audio Technica have definitely made some advances here. The bass is tighter and more tuneful and slightly bigger sounding. The sybillance and slight sizzle the AT91 based Rega Carbon produces has gone! A smoother overall sound that's just as earthy and musical as before but now with a degree of cleanliness that I missed. Stereo imaging qualities are improved too. Mainly just a bit more accuracy of placement across the stage. I'm liking this improvement. Not expensive and much more enjoyable. Now to very easily and quickly swap styli to the nude elliptical.

      The differences between the green and the orange are somewhat more subtle. Interestingly the more expensive solution to extracting vibrations from the records grooves actually sounds a bit lighter on in the bass. I would say its a touch more agile though, but distinctly produces less output in the bass region. In the vocal ranges its slightly cleaner and overall extracts tiny amounts of extra details in the recording without increasing clicks, pops or surface noise levels. In fact I felt surface noise was very slightly less apparent with the nude elliptical (orange one). I then refitted the Carbon. Sure enough the slightly gruff nature of that cartridge is back again. I then do a lap back to the VM95 series just to make sure of what I am hearing and yes its cleaner and of course slightly sweeter due to the rough edges being removed. The new designs also seem to have slightly more output so signal to noise ratio will be somewhat improved too.
      SUM UP -
      There is a lot to like here. I can only describe the VM95E green styli version as a bargain at $80!! The $220 orange version with nude 100% diamond styli is great value and a definite step up from the standard elliptical. If you are chasing a more tuneful bass and a cleaner mid and high end from your P1 Rega either are an improvement. The VM95EN is the one I would pick though as sweeter cleaner highs with greater detail are what I want and that slightly lighter but more tuneful and less coloured bass would get me to part with a bit of extra cash.
      Both are highly recommended and represent one of the few mods that makes sense to retro fit to a Rega Planar One.
      Audio Technica Cartridges are imported into and distributed throughout Australia by - TAG Audio Group


    • Patrick R
      The Rega P8 turntable is indeed a striking looking machine.  I can tell you now, before we get down to the nitty gritty, it also sounds just as striking. Definitely a step forward.
      FEATURES
      Coming in at around $1500 above the model beneath it in Rega's range of simple, value for money turntables, you may expect a couple of extra features for your ever so precious dollar, but no... In fact you actually get slightly less. The P8 doesn't have any lid hinges or in fact, even a lid in the traditional sense. What it does have is a refined version of most of what the P3 and P6 offer. For instance the output cable is of a higher quality and is terminated with upmarket lockable RCA connectors. The drive system may employ the same motor as the lessor model (although the 8's is mounted differently) but the Planar 8 sports twin belts (of the black variety, but apparently improved). Sitting atop the solid alloy sub platter driven by this twin belt arrangement is a new triple layer glass platter which improves the flywheel effect (and therefore speed stability) by adding mass at the outer edges of the 12” platter and none in the middle. The design goal being maximum flywheel effect for minimal mass increase. The tonearm is also improved, being the RB880 with superior bearing quality to the one used on the P6. The bearing assembly/arm mount braces are improved and of course the plinth is extremely light and stiff. This reduction of mass in the part that holds the entire object together is perhaps key to the turntable's sound, but more on that later. 
      The power supply, Regas latest “Neo” has some adjustability for speed as it does when offered with the P6. Check the 'Setting Up' section below for my thoughts and experience on that 'feature'.
      In summary the Planar 8 offers many improvements over its less expensive sibling except perhaps the lidless ability of your record collection to gather dust during playback which could be regarded as a step backwards.


      INTERNALS AND BUILD QUALITY
      I didn't take this unit apart as really there is nothing to take apart. In regard to build quality though it is quite formulaic. Finely crafted and very functional but frankly not very slick! Well, at least not in your usual chrome plated, blinged up, pimp my 12” fantasies kind of way. I do like the clarity of design but maybe its not for everyone. An analogy from the car world would be indeed that the P8 is an F1 chassis versus others in the same price range which look like a BMW or an SRT Jeep... As I mentioned above the function over form ideal appeals to me and aligns with my interest in maximum performance for minimum cost. I also like the simplicity for the expected long term reliability that basic but high quality mechanical engineering brings. This turntable is made in the UK as I think all open wheeler formula chassis are these days. Simple, light, stiff and fast is something the Brits seem to do very well indeed.
       
      SOUND QUALITY
      Onto the critical bit, how does all this Formula tech actually sound? Well, not like a high revving race engine. In fact it is particularly quiet. Not just the actual mechanical spinning of the platter at 33 and a third revolutions per minute but the background to the music just seemed a fraction quieter. The inert nature of the plinth may well be helping this. Tonally its impressively neutral I would say. It certainly isn't fat or slow in the bass but it also isn't shy in the bottom regions at all. Can I say its just right? Authoritive but agile. Bass notes are pitch perfect, weighty but start and stop just as I would expect and hope, in a way that lessor record players don't match. Perhaps the overriding personality of this turntable for me though is the stability of the stereo imaging, which is rock solid and accurately placed, combined with the cleanness of the mid and higher regions of the frequency spectrum. I guess the plinth is helping here again. My favoured affordable moving coil, the Audio Technica OC9III has never sounded sweeter or better balanced. There is a real lack of colour on offer here, the P8 sounds like the original master tape, an analog master tape of course. There were times when I forgot I was listening to a record. For nostalgia chasers who enjoy the weakness's of the format, they may not approve but I rather enjoyed listening to say John Klemmer on the album 'Touch' (an album that I don't think ever made it to CD although I note it is available on Tidal) and hearing it presented cleanly and clearly, without the dirtiness of his tenor sax that some poorer turntables deliver. Imaging quality on Dire Straits, “Dire Straights” was a surprise and the whispers of Rickie Lee Jones on her “Pirates” album more intelligible and sweeter than I remember. I very much enjoyed listening to this turntable and would suggest it is an open window to cartridge choice as I feel it's just an honest and neutral platform waiting for you to discover the real hidden quality that already exists in the grooves of your record collection. I could go on but really this may well be the best sub $10,000 turntable I've heard. Particularly if you demand an accurate picture of what's in the recording coupled with a musicality and pleasantness, avoiding sounding clinical which I felt its predecessor, the RP8 could do. As I said in the opening, this is a step forward for Rega.


      DESIGN
      Hey, what's not to love? but the skeletal appearance of this cutting edge design, which is the result of the key engineering decision, might not be for everyone. Its all about reducing mass and increasing rigidity. To quote Rega themselves “Mass absorbs energy – lost energy equals lost music”. Other than the above mentioned improvements in arm bearing quality, the two other areas Rega have bumped up in an attempt to capture your record collection's undivided attention is the plinth and the arm/bearing assembly braces. The plinth is is so light because it is made from two layers of high pressure laminate with a polyurethane foam core. This all weighs the grand total of almost nothing but is incredibly stiff. Its the kind of material employed in some areas of high performance race cars, space shuttles and the Boeing 787 etc. Combined with the improved braces tying the arm base and bearing assembly together, all this avoids any significant amount of energy being stored in the plinth, allowing more vibration of the cantilever in the cartridge and in turn more music. This is what we want right? Yes indeed. A cheaper mounting between the arm and the bearing for the platter, for example a plastic moulding is a guaranteed way for information to be lost through vibrating the plastic base rather than the pickup in the cartridge and thus, an inferior musical experience. An undeniable consequence of the laws of physics colliding with budget economic decisions. And of course space age aeronautical technology doesn't come cheap, hence bargain basement turntables will never offer the impressive transparency of a turntable of this calibre.
      Okay so it doesn't have a lid... Some say you should remove the lid from your turntable while playing it anyway, due to reasons outlined in the aforementioned physics lecture. The P8 Rega saves you that concern. The RP8 stuck with a traditional lid arrangement but with the P8 Rega have stuck rigidly to their philosophy and dispensed with it. Well almost, as when the player is not in use you can protect it from dust with the supplied piece of neatly folded acrylic.
      The edges of this space shuttle material are on display, yes they are. I feel there must be a sound mechanical engineering reasons for this and again I don't mind it but Rega does warn you with a leaflet inserted in the box that care should be taken to avoid damaging this edge/foam. You will have to form your own opinion on whether this is a bit sloppy in the fit and finish department. My estimate is when you start listening to it you will soon forget about this possible shortcoming.

       
      SETTING IT UP
      In most cases the dealer who sells you this turntable will be skilled at setting this kind of player up. You shouldn't need to worry about much more than slipping the platter into position on the sub platter and plugging in a few connections. Siting it on a stable, level surface that doesn't have the loudspeakers also sitting on it (such as a long low style cabinet that flat panels TVs are often set up on) is important for performance but the same dealer should make you aware of that too. If you live a long way away from a decent HiFi store that might sell a record player of this pedigree then do not fear assembly as it is definitely a task anyone can handle. With the possible exception of fitting the cartridge. I see no reason why the dealer you do purchase it from couldn't fit the cartridge of choice before shipping it to you or you could order a version that Rega will have already bolted on one of their own (Exact, Ania or Apheta). As mentioned below the instructions are clear and concise but although cartridge fitting may not be an art, things can quickly go wrong (damage to cantilever or tip). Not to mention careful and correct alignment of the cartridge and appropriate arm balance. All very important to get the best sound quality from this machine.
      In the below mentioned instructions there is a section on speed adjustment on the new Neo Power Supply. It suggests playing with these tweaks only if necessary... I was very much enjoying the sweet sounds of this deck until I popped my stroboscope test disc on the platter and found it was running almost imperceptibly slow! Now the fun began. The instructions are certainly accurate in the way they describe manual adjustment of speed but I had all sorts of fun getting the speed just right. I eventually did and then I excitedly re listened to the turntable. My lack of perfect pitch meant I couldn't hear one bit of difference though. It was only very slightly out in the first place and the most important aspect of speed control related to sound quality is consistency and in that regard the P8 has negligible wow or flutter (long and short variations in speed). Those with perfect pitch way want to fiddle, I would suggest those that don't can leave well alone.
      The instructions mention perhaps using an app called RPM to help with speed adjustment. Rega don't guarantee accurate results though which is a good thing as I tried it and it read slow compared with my, I presume high quality strobe disc. Once again you may have a different experience but I wouldn't consider the RPM app to be a reference for the speed your turntable is playing at.
      There were only two negative things I discovered during set up. One was a slight mechanical noise from the motor which disappeared within probably an hour of use. 'Running in' perhaps? I'm not sure but it has gone now leaving a particularly silent transport in its wake. The other issue though, won't go away. that being the need to almost poke your finger through the front panel to get the 33/45 speed switch to latch on to 45. You'll know what I mean when you try it. End of the world? Not at all. Italian car makers of the 70s would call it 'character', I would call it in this millennia of CNC and CAD a mistake and a bit of an irritation. I guess the thing is that all of the performance related design and functionality of this very enjoyable vinyl spinner is done right. Who listens to 45's anyway? Lots of people who buy expensive remastered double album on 45 releases I suppose... Not the end of the world but a noticeable oversight.


      ACCESSORIES AND WARRANTY
      I enjoyed reading the manual (very attractive looking printed paper). It answers all the likely questions a new owner might have. It does a nice job of explaining the simple enough set up that's required and the warranty terms. The warranty being particularly generous in that it is a lifetime warranty against manufacturing defects. How long is a lifetime? Well if it was an insect not long but a turntables life is surely closer to 20 years? As warranty goes this is a very good one, especially considering its being offered by a company thats been around since the 70s. 

       
      FINAL THOUGHTS
      There is little not to love here. It's such an easy choice for those who have tasted the Rega range before to buy this as a long term solution to record playing happiness. For those who own turntables outside of the Rega fold you may find the appearance and finish a bit too functional. My suggestion is to have a listen as that's what this design is all about (well actually that's what all Regas are all about in my opinion). A particularly honest and beguiling sound is on offer and at a price that is entirely reasonable considering the real quality engineering included in the design. Very high marks from me.
       
      SCORE: 76.5/100
      FEATURES: 8/15
      INTERNALS AND BUILD QUALITY: 8/10
      DESIGN: 8/10
      SOUND QUALITY: 25/30
      EASE OF SETUP: 8/10
      MANUAL AND ACCESSORIES: 3/5     
      WARRANTY: 5/5
      VALUE FOR MONEY: 7.5/10
      EXCITEMENT FACTOR: 4/5
       
      PROS: 
      Sound quality is a step forward for Rega and very competitive and possibly even reference level sound quality at the price
      Stylish cutting edge look.
      Obvious high quality engineering and the likelihood of great longevity
      Above average warranty
      Ease of set up and quite good value for money.
      CONS: 
      Speed and power switch difficult to operate for those with blunt fat fingers.
      No traditional style lid.

      SPECIFICATIONS
      Dimensions : Turntable (with dustcover fitted)
      Width 420mm
      Depth 315mm
      Height 125mm
      Weight 4.2Kg
      Dimensions : Neo PSU
      Width 180mm
      Depth 155m
      Height 50mm
      Weight 0.6Kg
      RRP: $3499
      Further information - Rega Website
      The Australian Distributor of Rega Products - Synergy Audio
      THE TEST SYSTEM
      Included Spendor A6R, and KEF L50 loudspeakers. Naim XS2 integrated amp with Rega Fono MC pre amp. Audio Technica OC9III cartridge.

      NOTES ON OUR SCORING SYSTEM
      We do not give away high marks on a whim. Each section is scored separately and without regard to the cost of the equipment. Each product is scored solely relative to other units in the category, no matter their cost. In theory, a more expensive unit should usually outscore a cheaper one, but that's not always the case, and we'll never shy away from calling a spade a spade. Our reviews are conducted by lifelong HiFi enthusiasts who are just as passionate about new equipment as you are, and who are determined to provide you with the best information possible.
       

       

    • Patrick R
      In recent history I cannot recall an affordable loudspeaker range generating so much hype online. The Elacs (the 5.2 the subject of this review and the 6.2, it's bigger brother) have been covered both in low end consumer circles through to the most chin stroking of high end corners of the internet. So. Is the hype justified? Is it due to the heavy marketing, the influence of the well known designer, Mr Andrew Jones or is it simply due to the the amazing sound quality on offer at an affordable price point. Lets find out!
      FEATURES -
      According to Elac's press on their website, these entry level transducers offer amazing sound at the price. A 5 1/4” mid bass drive unit employing an Aramid fibre cone, a cloth dome tweeter, a flared port and a box built from CARB2 medium density fibreboard. As HiFi products go, this isn't breaking any rules.
      It also has a modern grille made with plastic moulding & cloth material stretched over and attached to the front baffle by pins on the frame housed by rubber lined holes in the front of the loudspeaker.
      The enclosure is not only made from MDF that fits with California Air Resources Board standards but is also covered by some impressive looking vinyl.
      The binding posts are a 5 way design and look suitably modern.
      INTERNALS AND BUILD QUALITY -
      I attempted to open and inspect the mid bass unit but erred on the side of caution, thinking that task requires a professional touch.. Instead I had a peek inside through the terminal cup aperture in the rear baffle and saw largely what I expected but at a standard slightly above what we have seen in other speakers selling at a similar price. The crossover looks tidy and well thought out employing reasonable quality components, the bass unit is a pressed steel frame with a particularly large looking magnet assembly. There is an internal brace running through the centre of the cabinet effectively dampening resonances between the two largest side panels of MDF by joining them together with a short length of MDF. There is a piece of polyester wool style absorbent material installed into the enclosure as well. Although I have some minor concerns about the life span of the exterior vinyl wrap finish (I would rate it as adequate) but I have a feeling that money saved here might have been spent in other areas that directly effect sound quality. Overall there is nothing disappointing inside and perhaps a little better than others I have seen in this price range, especially the impressive scale of the motor assembly hanging of the mid bass drive units frame.
      DESIGN - The Elacs are indeed quite a smart looking pair. They offer the kind of high level industrial design a small manufacturer with limited resources simply cannot offer. They also clearly need to be manufactured in China to offer this relatively high level of fit, finish and cool at this low price point. The drivers and port are flush fitted into the front baffle and have a real mark of quality. The port and tweeter are also let into the apparent frame, really just a plastic trim piece, of the mid bass unit. Overall impressions are quite high. A touch on the plastic side of things but expertly executed.

      SOUND QUALITY - Now to the fun stuff, because this speaker is indeed fun to listen to. There is a lot to like about the way the loudspeaker presents music. Tonally it is reasonably neutral with, if anything at all, things being just very slightly on the bright side but maybe its just the lack of a lot of low bass as some other cabinets in this size seem to produce. Either way its far from 'bright' so I just sat back and enjoyed the music. Some easy stuff first from Maria Muldaur and her Louisiana Love Call album. The final track sounds very impressive on the Elacs indeed. The clean piano and her clean voice sounded, well.. clean. When she reaches for a higher note, a louder note, the quality remains. Its a simple track though, so I flicked across to the crazy Sympathy for the Devil by Rickie Lee Jones off her recent 'The Devil You Know' album. I say crazy because she sounds like you have never heard her before. There is the normal dry, slightly woody nature to her voice but it is heavily inflected with what the devil may well sound like on this track. The Elacs still hung together really well here too but with just the occasional overcrowding in the upper mid on some notes. At this stage they have not really given away their thoroughly affordable roots other than perhaps the slightly cardboard sounding tone of the whole performance. I won't over state that though as its fairly subtle. The Rickie Lee track is still a very simple piece of music and as demanding as her vocal style is on a HiFi system, my next choice of artist is even more so... Van Morrison. The Healing Game album, the track being 'This Weight'. So we have now found the limits of the Elac 5.2... Unfortunately Van the Man's husky Irish voice has asked too much of the mid range of this otherwise very competent transducer.
      I went on to enjoy a reasonably weighted but well lit mid and top sound on many other tracks. Tracks that were in the vast majority of cases performed beautifully, in a bold and accurate way and at times I genuinely found myself lost  listening to the music, not judging the unit's performance. They get a big tick for distracting me from what is effectively work. To sum up there is a lot to like here. They really do offer the vast majority of the sound quality you can expect from a much more costly loudspeaker but these differences are the things you will ultimately lust after and will have you trading these Elacs in on a significantly more expensive product. In the meantime while you save up, I doubt there is a speaker in the price range that actually performs noticeably better. These may well be the best all rounders at $549pr.
      EASE OF SETUP - I sat them on a pair of quality 600mm high speaker stands on which they sounded excellent. I couldn't test them on top of a low line cabinet, each side of a TV, like many may, but assuming the cabinet is sturdy and rattle free that location should function adequately. You could expect a little bass reinforcement versus what I heard here under test conditions which might be a good thing. The slightly lean balance I experienced may neutralise completely when installed on a cabinet closer to a wall. Clever guy that Andrew Jones, thinking through where most likely his design will be used and allowing for it.
      MANUAL AND ACCESSORIES - Not much to discuss here as there are no accessories but the manual is paper and quite informative. Suggesting the speakers be located reasonably close to a wall so maybe my guess above is a correct.
      PACKAGING - Not very recyclable but the cardboard is very sturdy and with that amount of styrene foam I doubt the loudspeakers could ever be damaged in transit. Both speakers are packed in the one carton.
      WARRANTY - An almost unbeatable 10 year warranty on manufacturing faults, including parts and labour, is offered on all Elac speakers Australia wide.
      VALUE FOR MONEY -This is one area the Elac debut 2.0 entry levels models clearly excel at. 9 out of 10 for value (nothing or no one is perfect!)
      EXCITEMENT FACTOR - A somewhat subjective area of scoring but I thoroughly enjoyed music played through these guys. Long term listening sessions might be a bit taxing due to the slightly 'in your face' balance and generally dynamic way about them but this is what generates the excitement factor when the track being played meshed with their area of expertise.
      SUM UP - Hey they can't be the best loudspeaker in the world at this price but I can understand where some of the  overhyped levels of praise on the internet come from. At first blush they are sensationally neutral and musical given the budget Andrew Jones had to work with. They may well be as mentioned above the best thing out there at the price but they do not replace $2000 speakers as some have implied. If they do for you then you have been listening to the wrong $2000 loudspeakers. At the price or even in the sub $1000 market I would have them on your short list and don't be surprised if you prefer them to many closer to the thousand dollar mark. Very highly recommended!

      SCORE: 62/100
      FEATURES: 3/5
      INTERNALS AND BUILD QUALITY: 5/10
      DESIGN: 6.5/10
      SOUND QUALITY: 16/30
      EASE OF SETUP: 8/10
      MANUAL AND ACCESSORIES: 2/5
      PACKAGING QUALITY: 2.5/5
      WARRANTY: 4/5
      VALUE FOR MONEY: 9/10
      EXCITEMENT FACTOR: 6/10
      SPECIFICATIONS
      Enclosure Type : 2- Way Bass Reflex
      Frequency Response: 46Hz – 35000Hz
      Nominal Impedance: 6 Ohms
      Sensitivity: 86db @2.83v/1m
      Crossover Frequency: 2200Hz
      Max Power Input: 120 Watts
      Tweeter: 1″ Cloth Dome
      Woofer: 5-1/4″ Aramid Fiber
      Cabinet: CARB2 Rated MDF
      Cabinet Finish: Black Ash Vinyl
      Port: Dual Flared
      Binding Posts: 5 – Way Metal
      Dimensions (WxHxD) : 180mm x 341mm x 234mm

      TEST SYSTEM - Naim Atom (being reviewed soon), older Yamaha CD Player, Yamaha R-N303D receiver, (previously reviewed and still kicking around) sand filled tall speaker stands and some older QED speaker cable. I enjoyed the Elacs on the Atom but it was also a great match with the less expensive Yamaha. Tidal was used for most of the listening except a few CDs just to make sure (I still think CDs sound marginally warmer than Tidal...)


      NOTES ON OUR SCORING SYSTEM
      We do not give away high marks on a whim. Each section is scored separately and without regard to the cost of the equipment. Each product is scored solely relative to other units in the category, no matter their cost. In theory, a more expensive unit should usually outscore a cheaper one, but that's not always the case, and we'll never shy away from calling a spade a spade. Our reviews are conducted by lifelong HiFi enthusiasts who are just as passionate about new equipment as you are, and who are determined to provide you with the best information possible.

    • Rowan S
      YAMAHA R-N303D NETWORK STEREO RECEIVER
      The Yamaha R-N303D Stereo Receiver boasts great specs and a range of features, and with an RRP of $699 proves that affordable HiFi gear doesn't have to be weighed down by compromise. Very good sound quality coupled with the ability to connect wirelessly through Bluetooth, WiFi, and most analogue options means that this will be the centrepiece of many living rooms in the future.
      There are a few quirks that take some getting used to, but overall it's a budget-friendly receiver that's well worth checking out. Read on to find out more about this seriously impressive unit.
      FEATURES
      Despite the low price point, the R-N303 boasts many of the attributes seen in more expensive models, and they're implemented surprisingly well. This is a well-rounded package that offers a whole lot more than a simple FM radio, some input choices and a volume dial and a power switch.
      All the key features you could expect from a receiver in this price range are present and easy to access. Music can be played from both digital and analogue sources, as well as from FM and digital radio, but the real selling point of the R-N303D is its ability to connect to a home network, and therefore to a computer, NAS drive or streaming services such as Spotify. While I had a few issues during the network set-up, it did the job admirably. I keep the majority of my music in FLAC format on a NAS drive, and the R-N303 had no problems with streaming my collection.
      The receiver has both optical and coaxial digital-in, allowing many options for your home set-up. I plugged my living room TV in through the optical, and my CD player into the coaxial - and that's where I ran into a fairly major problem. For some reason I couldn't make my Naim CD player work on the coaxial input. The Naim locks and plays on other DACs without a problem, and other digital sources work on the Yamaha, but the two wouldn't play ball together. I spent a fair amount of time trying to sort out this weird situation and decided in the end that both parties are at fault. The Naim obviously has a slightly non-PCM aspect to its signal and the Yamaha will only lock on to an official PCM signal. It even rates a mention in the instruction manual as a potential reason for a 'no sound' fault. It's something to check before you make your purchase, but I doubt it'll affect many CD players. When I connected an old Yamaha CDP, it ran fine.
      The Yamaha also sports a pair of old-school analogue inputs, but does not include a phono input which is mildy surprising considering the massive upsurge in interest in vinyl. There's also an ethernet connection which is best used when streaming high bitrate files. Also on the rear panel is an F connector for DAB/FM radio. There are no input sockets on the front panel, with Yamaha obviously giving preference to a clean look.
      It's worth noting that this receiver doesn't have a USB socket. Plenty of consumers like to load up a USB stick or hard drive with hours of music, but that possibility is not on offer here.
      On the output side, there are binding posts that accept banana plugs, along with bare wires for two pairs of loudspeakers and a line out that could presumably be used for recording. There's a headphone socket on the front panel, so it's easy to plug into if you want to listen to music late at night. Interestingly, there's no preamp out or subwoofer out, which I feel might be a problem for some.
      Spotify, Tidal and Deezer are also integrated into the downloadable MusicCast app, and all are easily accessible from the well-designed remote control. Everything worked well for me, and I was especially impressed by some of the useful minor features hidden away in the menu. Nice touches such as being able to tweak different sources to play at the same volume go a long way to increasing the sense of value. I was also impressed by the ability to set the maximum volume and initial volume, which comes in handy if you share your living room with a curious toddler who likes spinning the volume control or - even worse - a technically illiterate teenager who likes to blast your system while you're not present. There are a handful of other smart settings to go along with MusicCast, which allows this receiver to form part of a multi room whole-house system.
      This is a very impressive tuner/amp, especially for the price, and is missing only a small handful of items that the next model up delivers. For most people, however, it will be a step up in features and performance.
      INTERNALS AND BUILD QUALITY
      A quick look under the hood reveals a set of typical modern electronics that are really compact, considering the functionality they offer. The quality of the components is very good, especially for a system as budget-friendly as this, as has become typical of Yamaha. Despite being built in Malaysia, the innards look largely the same as those of older units that were built in Japan, which is certainly reassuring.
      This system is a great choice for those who live near the coast because, unlike more complex Yamahas, it's largely resistant to corrosion. There are no horizontally-laid circuit boards with the track side up to collect moisture, which has been known to cause problems in other receivers - with very expensive results. It's not uncommon for corrosion in other systems to require a complete replacement of the board, so the fact that's not a problem with the R-N303 is certainly welcome.
      Whilst hardly a high-end receiver, it's reliable and well-built, and has obviously been carefully engineered. The only concern I have is in regards to the switch mode standby power supply. The standby current of this kind of high speed switching design is extraordinarily low, but I'm never sure whether this small saving offsets the possibility of early failure. It's entirely possible that it will keep running for over a decade, but if you're not going to use the receiver for an extended period I'd unplug it from the wall whenever possible. On the other hand, the old-school discrete class A/B output stage is better than expected.
      The R-N303 doesn't match the quality of premium receivers, but you wouldn't expect it to. For this price, it's as good as anything in the game and certainly likely to be reliable.
       

      SOUND QUALITY
      I dropped the Yamaha into my current reference system, one that includes an all-in-one network player from a top brand that's known for building fast, tight-sounding separates. The Yamaha R-N303 fit right in, and I was surprised that it actually stacks up pretty well compared to considerably more expensive opposition. It sounds very good considering its meagre cost.
      The bass is full and well controlled. It's loud and clean, as can be expected of a system with these specs (100W RMS per ch into 8 ohms). Honestly, I expected less from this receiver because it's so light. I was impressed from the moment I switched it on. Sure, I've heard bigger sounding 100w amps but they also cost much, much more.
      The streaming sound quality is excellent, as is the Bluetooth - important factors because that's the way the majority of new owners will consume their media, and a major reason to pick the R-N303.
      The midrange is pleasant, vocals at all ranges are enjoyable to listen to and the top end sounds extended and quite detailed. But it just lacks that something special, and it's a bit one dimensional. The whole performance sounds a little computer generated and doesn't draw you in. The sound stage is a little narrower than other amplifiers I've had in my system and there's a slight lack of air, which no doubt leads to the somewhat robotic sound. The limiting factor is no doubt mostly in the digital section as all the inputs, including the analogue ones, are routed through the onboard DACs. It's a let down in an otherwise great experience.
      There were times while testing the R-N303 that I was genuinely surprised by how well it handled certain tracks, but there weren't any times where I smiled to myself in a "Wow-wee, that's amazing" kind of way. This is a great all-rounder, but if you're used to first class stereo systems (as I am), it won't impress you to the degree you might like. This unit is more in the Mazda 3 get-the-job-done camp, whereas a top level system could be compared to the soaring excitement and sound of a Alfa Romeo GTV. Of course while the Alfa is getting fixed you could still be listening to the sweet sounds of this Yamaha!
      It almost feels like nitpicking to bring up these negatives, because the system offers so much bang for your buck and does almost everything anyone could want or expect from a lower end stereo receiver. I can hardly expect it to sound like a $6000 device because it isn't one. It's a great starter system for someone dipping their toe into the vast ocean of HiFi receivers, and will be a big step up for most people. The sound of the R-N303 is very competent but not striking, but way above many competitors. Partner it with a decent set of speakers that it gels with and you may well be in budget stereo heaven for a long time.

      DESIGN
      The R-N303 is noticeably lighter than the more expensive Yamahas, but at 7.2kg is still a sturdy unit with a classy appearance. It's available in both silver and black to match your decor, and despite the price, it has a quality look to it.
      A few dollars have been saved by removing the rotary tone controls and balance adjustment of the more expensive model 602, but it's not a big deal because I never felt the need to adjust them anyway. Their exclusion lowers the retro cool factor a bit, but if your main concern is performance, then you won't miss them at all.
      The connections at there rear are all of a decent quality, and certainly what you would expect from a mid-priced unit like this. The volume control and other switches all feel fine, and not light or tacky like some competing systems. Once again everything is excellent for the price, but in the fancy world of HiFi this remains at the lower end of what's possible.
      It's a quality bit of kit, and really has been put together well. Unless you really like trashing your gear, it'll last, and the aesthetics will remain popular for years.
       
      SETTING IT UP
      For a full-featured stereo receiver, the R-N303 is easy to set up, and I managed to get everything - including the network, after a bit of work - up and running without opening the manual. Sure, I took a guess here and there, but it's a simple process and I never felt lost whilst putting everything in place. For most things network related, the app is there to lead you through the process anyway.
      Having said that, the process of connecting to the network was more of a hassle than it should've been, with the receiver rarely joining on the first attempt. I tried a few different networks, with the same result every time. It's something that the team at Yamaha should look into. Unfortunately, that's not where the trouble ends.
      Using the remote to select a WiFi network and then input the password is anything but intuitive, and I had trouble entering anything but the most basic passwords. Sure, the average user will likely only need to trudge through this process once, but it could have so easily been fixed. The tech heads definitely reigned over the design of this section of the menu.
      The R-N303 is designed to be used in conjunction with the Yamaha MusicCast app, which I found it a bit hit-and-miss. The design is clunky and runs slower than I'd like, but other than that it gets the job done and offers a variety of features, such as the ability to adjust the tone. Once you work out the kinks, the app makes it simple to stream content from your smart phone, PC, NAS or other device. It's by far the easiest way to connect to your home network and send your content to multiple rooms, but I do hope Yamaha upgrade the app in the future. The potential's there, but the execution leaves something to be desired. 
      The sound quality that MusicCast offers is great, though, and honestly that's the most important thing because everything else will hopefully be sorted out in future updates. It's not the nicest music streaming app I've used, but it's integrated well into the system. Once set up, it works just fine, and is a joy to play. The annoying aspects of the setup will be forgotten as soon as the tunes start blasting out of your speakers.

      ACCESSORIES AND WARRANTY
      The infrared remote included with the system boasts a good range and angle of operation, and I never had to get up off the lounge to get it working. The controls are simple to use and the buttons are big enough that I could do whatever I needed, even in low light. All up, it's a good addition to the system - and yes, there's a set of batteries included!
       
      The instructions can often be overlooked, but I like the fact this system comes with a paper manual rather than a link to a website. They're easy to read, cover all the features, and make the set-up a breeze if you need help. It's a small thing, but goes a long way to increasing the feeling of quality.
      Also in the box is a short antenna with an 'F' connector at one end, and a set of papers outlining the various streaming options available to R-N303 owners. It's best to ignore the promotional material for Pandora, though - it stopped being available in Australia nearly two years ago!
      Rounding out the package is Yamaha's two-year warranty. The build quality makes me confident that few buyers will have need for this, but it's great to have it there just the same. Yamaha's support is also generally excellent.
      FINAL THOUGHTS
      You'll struggle to find a 2 channel receiver in this price range that can match the Yamaha R-N303. With clear, clean sound, advanced network features and digital inputs, it's great for anyone who wants the features of a top-line system, without spending a small fortune for it. There are similarly-priced amplifiers that sound more interesting, but they forsake at least the network capabilities and of course the FM radio.
      The MusicCast app is incorporated well into the system, making it an easy way to expand your sound system throughout the house, or just to control everything from the comfort of your lounge or even in another room. It's a very complete package, and offers enough to appeal to a wide range of music lovers.
      If you really don't want to move into the world of Tidal, Spotify and playing your CD rips from your computer or NAS hard drive then the R-N303 probably isn't for you, but if you want the maximum music sources for the least cash, then this terrific all-rounder is an excellent choice.
      SCORE: 64.5/100
      FEATURES: 11.5/15
      INTERNALS AND BUILD QUALITY: 6.5/10
      DESIGN: 5/10
      SOUND QUALITY: 18/30
      EASE OF SETUP: 7/10
      MANUAL AND ACCESSORIES: 3/5
      REMOTE CONTROL / APP: 3.5/5       
      WARRANTY: 3/5
      VALUE FOR MONEY: 5/5
      EXCITEMENT FACTOR: 2/5
      PROS: Brilliant specs for the price
      Sound quality is, for the most part, very good
      Robust and handsome look
      Wide range of connection options
      The MusicCast app is handy
      CONS: Lack of sub out and phono input mildly surprising.
      Can have problems connecting to networks
      Sound stage is a little narrow.
      No USB connection
      MusicCast can be slow at times
      For those trapped in the 60s – no AM radio
      SPECIFICATIONS
      POWER OUTPUT: 2 x 100W with a frequency range of 40Hz to 20Hz at 02.% THD into 8ohms
      INPUTS: Optical and coax inputs supporting audio sample rates up to 192kHz, FM 75ohm antenna, RCA inputs for CD and two other line level sources
      WIRELESS CONNECTIVITY: Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity through MusicCast and Apple AirPlay
      DIMENSIONS: 43.5 x 13.97 x 33.97cm without antenna
      WEIGHT: 7.2kg
      IMPORTED BY - Yamaha Australia
      RRP: $AU699
      THE TEST SYSTEM
      Included Elac Uni-Fi UF5 loudspeakers, and a Naim CD5XS CD player (and an older Yamaha CDP for the digital audio test as the Naim wouldn't lock with the Yamaha).

      NOTES ON OUR SCORING SYSTEM
      We do not give away high marks on a whim. Each section is scored separately and without regard to the cost of the equipment. Each product is scored solely relative to other units in the category, no matter their cost. In theory, a more expensive unit should usually outscore a cheaper one, but that's not always the case, and we'll never shy away from calling a spade a spade. Our reviews are conducted by lifelong HiFi enthusiasts who are just as passionate about new equipment as you are, and who are determined to provide you with the best information possible.


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