Hi-Fi+ Awards 2016: Analogue Audio

Audio Research Reference Phono 3,
DS Audio DS-W1,
Kuzma 4POINT 14,
Origin Live Sovereign

Cartridge of the Year

DS Audio DS-W1

Undoubtedly the most exciting development in phono cartridge design since the invention of the moving coil, Japanese audiophile brand DS Audio’s unique DS-W1 consists of an optical cartridge and matching equaliser. Although it uses a conventional stylus and cantilever, the cartridge itself uses a tiny plate and slot arrangement to allow a photoelectric cell to measure the amount of movement in the groove, in place of coils and magnets. While the DS Audio cartridge is exacting to set-up and match to an arm, Roy Gregory felt it was worth the effort, saying “Never have I heard a cartridge that can capture instrumental textures or vocal nuance, the skin of a drum and the air inside it, or the rasp of bow on strings as naturally and effortlessly as this.”

Reviewed in Hi-Fi+ Issue 136

Phono Stage of the Year

Audio Research Reference Phono 3

Audio Research has long been a fixture in the high-performance phono stage sweepstakes, but even in reflection of the firm’s 46-year run at the top of the of the phono stage game, the performance of the Reference Phono 3 took us by surprise. Perhaps it really shouldn’t have; Audio Research has been on a roll for the last few years, and product after product has come out that shifts the goal posts to show what records are capable of, plus the existing Reference Phono  2SE was a big hitter. Just how much can this new model improve upon what went before?

It turns out, there was a significant chunk of ‘better’ to be had. If anything, the Reference Phono 3 owes more to the two box, cost-no-object Reference Phono 10 equaliser, and the Reference Phono 3 features six 6H30 valves in the analogue stage, plus a further 6550 in the power supply. It retains the clever Audio Research hybrid circuit, using input FETs to maintain authority over the cartridge itself, while the valves in the analogue stage maintain linearity and a sense of warmth and air in the mid and top. In test, Alan Sircom praised the phono stage for a sound that, “combines the texture, soundstage spaciousness, and richness of valve phono stages with the detail and silent backgrounds of solid state. This is a balance, but it’s both a dynamic one, and one that will appeal to many, many listeners. This sense of balance makes for a presentation that is extremely realistic, irrespective of the music played.”

Reviewed in Hi-Fi+ Issue 136

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