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The Worst Value Audiophile HiFi I’ve tried?

VFM means value for money – the context of this article. But the thing is, sometimes HiFi products are shockers. If most reviewers were honest, consumers would truly and consistently see which products are good and which aren’t. This doesn’t mean that most products are bad – the competitive nature of the audio industry make products close, most of the time. In my experience of reviewing products, I wouldn’t have a bad word of 80-90% of them. That’s the context, but what are the relative turkeys when the difference in performance is big, or performance is similar but price is in another world? In other words, the Worst Value Audiophile HiFi. The word relative is important because products are poor when others are much better against them.

And it’s not that you can argue against Joe Bloggs liking his product, for he has an interest to not be wrong, and also the reviewer and manufacturer and PR agent, and distributor, and a whole gravy train of people. To be fair too, how many comparisons have been made? My position is, if I think comparatively it’s poor and it’s obvious it is, with a big gulf to other similar products at lower prices, then a majority will probably think the same. And we aren’t going into the realms of meddling preference with best which is the bain of HiFi reviewing, to explain products as being good because you might prefer them. That’s just an excuse to be able to promote a product and make every product fall into a sea of similarity with goofed up commerciality going on. But preference of similar products with similar sonic qualities….. Preference is narrow in audio and it doesn’t take much for a majority to prefer a product over another, so long as tone and balance is ok. As I’ve said many times, HiFi isn’t like wine as some connoisseur pursuit. People still want VFM, no matter how rich they are.

So brace yourself, here they are…..

Linn Klimax DSM

OK, using a play on words in a brand name, for a sexual biological process, might be a cool and striking thing to do. Take out C and replace it with K too. But at around £15k, sonically this component would have to be the equivalent of the explosive peristaltic motions when celebrity stunner A gets it on with celebrity stunner B.  Sadly, whilst the Klimax is gloriously constructed, in relative audio terms it’s a bit more like struggling with ones flaccidity. Hard to get it up to price performance levels.

Worst Value Audiophile HiFi - Linn Klimax DSM
Worst Value Audiophile HiFi

I sat with a HiFi reviewer and listened to this streamer with a high end system of Chord DAVE DAC, and top PMC speakers – good enough to hear changes, and we both agreed there was little qualitative difference to a £5k Innuos Zenith SE. Sadly his review didn’t reflect that, as you’d expect for an establishment reviewer. Innuos lost out on the true worth of the SE at the same time this review was over inflamed. But this wasn’t a change of preference, but a change, I think, very few would go along with as being sonically *better*.

Worst Value Audiophile HiFi - Linn Klimax DSM Rear

The resale price of these streamers is very good, unsurprisingly with the lush materials used, but again don’t we want the HiFi to look OK and then spend £10k on some artwork or other pursuits? Who spends £10k on a metal box regardless of its quality? Just invest in shares as they won’t depreciate in self worth like HiFi does….a bit like Trump does every time he goes to a White House press conference. I just don’t get who buys this sort of HiFi?

Cyrus Stream X Signature

I’m not going to extend the X in the title to the X rated nature above, but in fairness the Stream X Signature  does use the lovely Cyrus case, if it’s your thing. Old school retro and un-changed for 25 years, like your Granny’s living room has the warm comfy appeal of familiarity. I was an owner, but boy you realize the sound quality is average and pants for a £1500 unit, when you start experimenting with other digital streaming sources. Such a shame as the amplifiers and CD players in the range are good, albeit expensive against say brands like Hegel, as we often find in more established industry players. So too is the One Cast good.

Worst Value Audiophile HiFi

I tried it against an original Node 2 (non i version) and it was on a par in my system, albeit more expansive sounding, which is a trait to the 2i. Not as thickly mid focused to the Cyrus though. Taking this preference out, the two are remarkably similar in performance within their different ways. Also I once did an upgrade from the Stream X2 to the Stream X Signature and for this I got no discernible change. This upgrade constituted adding ballast and a modified power supply. All the more alarming no change was had, because it was used in a full Cyrus signature system it was designed for, comprising very good speakers to boot. I never heard from customers, who proclaimed from the rooftops, that the upgrade was worth it.

But worse is their app called Cadence, which is so third rate it’s like it was designed by a student who flunked his GCSE’s, gave up and couldn’t be bothered. Like KEF have received criticism for the apps in their LS50W and LSX speakers, not connecting.

When you consider the £300 ish case of Cyrus gear is a big “cost contributor”, the fact the streaming board doesn’t appear to be anything special, nor the power supply, one wonders what you get for £1500. Not to mention the original X2 cost a thousand and Cyrus have kept increasing price for the privilege, with small design changes and with an app that should be illegal.

Roon Nucleus / Nucleus+

Roon is a terrific product itself. The granddaddy of HiFi steaming software and interfaces, used by audiophiles. Well worth the subscription, although personally I’d be cautious about a lifetime membership as lots can change in 5+ years. Being able to send all sorts of music to Roon ready devices, Roon radio for suggesting so much music, are terrific features. Music finding credentials is one I’ll be eternally grateful for.

But the Roon Nucleus?….not so much. Roon’s answer to an all in one server for people who don’t want to be bothered to buy a PC and have to install the software themselves. They want a meal in ‘one pot’.

Worst Value Audiophile HiFi - Roon Nucleus

But the argument for Nucleus, which is essentially a £500 ish Intel NUC in a different case, costing £1500 for the Nucleus and £2500 for the Nucleus +, falls into obscurity when you can get a pc firm to build you a NUC, install the Roon software, then support it over the life of the product, for a lower price. You don’t have to subscribe to the ‘I’m loaded, I don’t care’ mantra. The forum goers start trying to find excuses as to how this device makes consumer sense, to anyone. Again the egos of buying decisions….If anything I think the Nucleus offering derides the core Roon software business, and I’d like to see the price of Nucleus come down. A great idea would be to offer different levels of Roon functionality in price tiers, possibly? Or offer the Nucleus as a discounted package with Roon, if not already?

Look at the back of an NUC and a Nucleus and note the same connections – that’s because the Nucleus is essentially an NUC.

Auralic Aries G1

Auralic had me with their original Auralic Aries Mini streamer which was universally adopted and a great bit of kit for around £500, with powerful processing spec and good sound. Not only that but you could add a hard drive internally and turn it into a server. Pimp it with a linear power supply too.

Worst Value Audiophile HiFi - Aries G1
Worst Value Audiophile HiFi

The original space age looking Aries was good at around a grand but this all changed when Auralic ditched these models for the current form factor line up, where the cheapest model is the £1900 G1 streaming Roon ready transport. The sad thing is I saw no discernible performance hike to the Aries LE I reviewed. Also that streamers like the Allo DigiOne signature and Bluesound Node 2i (both of which I currently have) are just so close to the G1. Arguably better. Ok G1 gives you a fancy aluminium case and display but is that important to depart nearly £2k when sonics are decidedly average at price? I just don’t think so as Audiophiles are mostly about sonic quality and there is no getting away from that, unlike Darko et al might miss-guidingly suggest. Katching…

The streaming market is so good nowadays you don’t need to spend thousands on streamers if the DAC is good, even if the HiFi is upwards to £20k. Maybe higher? The DAC, amplification and speakers is so much more important to the old fashioned and no longer relevant ‘junk in junk out’ mantra of well designed digital audio, experience dictates. I often think these streamers like the G1 are over designed because it’s a question of how much do you spend for single percentage point differences? Add in comments of other reviewers saying things like “it neither adds nor subtracts” and I think, reading between the lines of their ‘please manufacturers’ writing, we all know what they probably really think. To the guy who commented I haven’t placed the context of these other reviews – well I disagree – read them and read them between the lines after doing a to b’s yourself and you’ll know what I mean;

Worst Value Audiophile HiFi - Auralic
Worst Value Audiophile HiFi

If you are going to buy this streamer, get yourself a Node 2i on sale and return here, and at least see (or rather hear) if the Aries G1 is as good against it. You won’t regret doing so and at the same time, use it as a experiment to possibly assuage yourself of any bias and snobbishness of ‘expense must be better’. Not always is this the case in Audiophile HiFi and the Node 2i is an abject lesson. What HiFi said “It feels far from out of place in our reference system – including ATC SCM50 speakers” which resonates heavily with my experience. It essentially means for those brave enough to say it, like me, it’s as good as some more expensive sources like the G1.

Chord Electronics Hugo M Scaler

I’d buy a Hugo TT2  in a heartbeat even though I’d resent benefiting Chord. Regardless of what you think, in perhaps a pretentious way, they don’t win, but music does!

But that’s beside the point. The point is M Scaler, an upscaling box, is sold as a ‘one fits all’ upscaler to benefit all DACs. At £3500 it’s an expensive bit of kit and whilst the good ol’ HiFi press implies it’s a one fits all, it isn’t. Used with some modest DACs it does next to nothing for its price tag and you’ve really got to use at least a TT2 to get benefit out of it, and even then the sonic qualities per pound or dollar isn’t anywhere near like what the TT2 can achieve alone.

That’s essentially my problem with M Scaler. Big diminishing returns and if it was sold as a finishing off bit of kit for the TT2 with money no object, then yes, I see its merit. Otherwise you’ll be disappointed. For instance using with a Qutest, you might as well just buy a TT2 alone, which by the way is terrific.

Website Pursuit Perfect System raved about M Scaler, but anything Chord, he always does. But if you don’t think HiFi has diminishing returns, as he said to me once, then just buy it regardless and I’m probably not gonna convert you.

Recently a reader from Mexico contacted me to say the following, which so much ties into my experiences. He is bang on the money ;

“M Scaler is my 3rd chord purchase after mojo and Hugo2, and the first two are amazing in every way, but M scaler has been a disappointment for me. Now I understand why every M Scaler review pairs it with TT2.  I wish Chord was more upfront about it improving the dynamics and sound stage only marginally when paired with Hugo 2.  I even  asked them about the adaptors and they told me to use 2 adaptors but never said a word about its very limited value with Hugo 2.”

Reader opinion

When I talk of the HiFi press inflaming reviews for marketing budgets, it’s opinion like this that doesn’t gander confidence and engender trust. There will be people who rate it, but I often wonder how many against all the biased opinions of buyers eeking tiny performance as audiophiles where they often don’t expect much, or dealers, reviewers and PR agents who WILL say it’s amazing.

Innuos Hard Drives

Innuos offered decent prices, in audiophile terms, with their mk2 music servers, but a better place in the market leads to the inevitable price pushing with their mk3 servers, that besets audiophile gear. How much of a performance hike is there? I doubt much with my pessimist (and not objective reviewer) hat on. But that’s not my gripe here anyway. On the whole if you go for some mk3 Innuos units with small hard drives you get good value – servers, Roon ready, DACs in some models, and CD rippers too. The electrically quiet playing server ideal is a plus too. My problem is with the cost of the solid state hard drives….

The issue is when audiophile firms get hold of computer peripherals they sometimes slap on massive prices, that are at odds with the computer industry, which, with its bigger market and lower price, isn’t equitable. It takes the mick.

For example the Innuos Zenith Mk3 with a 1TB Samsung EVO 860 solid state hard drive costs £3000, but for the 4TB version, Innuos will charge another £1000 for what is a £400 ish hard drive. £600 for your privilege Sir, which is just not value.

One sales guy from Innuos, now departed, told me that “this is the price you pay for the better model in the range” taking to my leading question on the same. But is it? It’s the same model with a different drive. If a Zenith mk 3 with a 1TB costs £3000 and the 4TB is £4000 then surely you ain’t convincing any customer that it’s worth it. In fact if you bought the cheaper one and bunged a bigger drive in yourself, I wonder if Innuos would still support the unit? Probably not, as a ‘case off’!

Expensive Chord Company Cables

Pricey and why I no longer advocate paying lots for cables because the difference from A to B is a sea change to nothing. Like sailing from one ocean to another. You won’t notice it much at all.

Get a cable, demo it and get people hearing *better* up the range, and you are on hook line and sinker to the Chord Company ideal that you are getting better benefits with cables as you go ‘up the range’.  Notwithstanding the fact that change out to any other brand cable which is cheaper and it could be an equal or better fit, or not quite as good but ridiculously small for the change in cash. A lesson I learnt the hard way and being a total convert to the pricey HiFi cable ideal, actually got me asking firms for modest cables for reviews. Something Jay at Audio Bacon should be weary of. I too think most audiophiles really know what is going on with cables here…

Best Value – C-USB

Selling these type of cables isn’t a qualitative pursuit consequently. I ended up selling most of my expensive ones, I think Chord Epic Reference speaker wire is poor value, so too signature ranges and upwards.

Audioquest is much better value down the range, in my opinion. But for most of us, don’t go crazy – Spend your money there and avoid being caught in an upgrading trap with HiFi cables. If you want *better*, my best advice is try a cable of different construction at a similar price. Save the money and put it into bigger upgrades that do more. Don’t try and convince yourself HiFi cables like these are value.


Others….

English Electric 8Switch??? And Fuses???

If we take this article further we could look at the 8switch from English Electric. A firm owned by Chord Cables. Using the name of the firm who produced the Lightning fighter aircraft.

8Switch – £450?

Is anyone gonna really convince us £450 is value here, that it will transport our HiFi? PC type network switches cost £70-£80 and a lot of the time there isn’t any need for switches if you don’t use up all your LAN slots anyway. I just wonder what is in this and are the material costs £450 to warrant paying it on a value for component basis, when development might be as easy as putting one together from buying components at RS?

What about fuses for plugs. Really? As ever please have your wits about you and read as much as you can of opinions online before you buy. Always try at home first, not just in the HiFi shop.


Best Value examples

8 Comments

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  1. I like reviews of this nature. Straight forward. Many struggling audiophiles will benefit Simon’s honest takes on high priced stereo gears. Some hifi companies make traps instead of what music lovers need.

  2. Simon I think you got it wrong here. The Stream X Signature from Cyrus is one of the least expensive and truly high-end sounding streamers for this kind of money – dare I say a small price. The Cadence application just works, indeed has some issues (minor and workable) and indeed is spartan. But from the sq point of view you’ll get a neutral and controlled but at the same time musically coherent sound that’s inexistent on other devices at this price point. As I see it, in practice the Stream X Signature is like an evolved CD player that just sounds great: it’s still much easier to stream your music collection from your NAS than keep loading a bunch of CDs; you even have the possibility to search your collection by artist, album or year and even by bitrate, if you use MinimServer for example; it even displays the album cover for you :).
    All you really need in order to appreciate the Stream X Signature is a carefully set up network rig: two decent ~2 meters LAN cables, a Synology NAS and a cheap switch close by your DAC and amplifier. Last but not least listen to your favourite albums on your local networked NAS and not to that mp3 sounding online ‘lossless’ streaming music services…

    • It is not really the point if it is the least expensive. The way to look at it is how does it compare to other gear. That’s what I’m interested in. I own the cd-t and it performs as well so it is not an evolvement. Cadence does not work well at all – it crashes, it doesn’t do multi-source playlists (from NAS or streaming service that a BluOs or Sonos app will do), you can only save one playlist, it isn’t Roon capable, no airplay, no DSD, no MQA. Hi res only to 24 bit. These things come standard on much cheaper streamers. Also the android version has so many bugs you could be in the bush in Australia. The server allows some tailoring but that is like most UPnP streamers nowadays, almost exclusively. It’s set in the server structure not the Cyrus. The Cyrus also stutters when you play it hi-res over wifi. I found the sound off the cyrus/NAS similar over the network to online services. If you want a better solution for album listening get an innuos as it is a quiet server. Quieter drives, less ethernet noise, less network RFI etc. The Cyrus stream x signature is beset by problems of noise over the network, your noisy switch (which you dont actually need if you have enough sockets – id use less power supplies) and it is easy to see by its design why the cheaper cyrus cd transports sound better. I also can’t help think that you only rate it because you own it. This is the easiest and sure fire way to buy ‘wrong’ in hifi. Btw I’ve got the t-shirt.

  3. Simon,

    I agree wholeheartedly with your summary of the VFM of the MScaler.

    I bought one to pair with my then Hugo 2. It did provide an uplift in SQ, but only on a x2 or x4 upscale from red book (CD rips on a Naim Uniti Core). Beyond that level of upscale I thought the sound was ‘Thinner’. Also having yet another remote control was an irritant.

    So I swapped out the H2 and HMS for a solo HugoTT2 (18 months before reading your viewpoint), after only a short listening trial.

    I am very pleased with the TT2, using it as a pre-amp as well as a DAC; it is currently fed by an AlloDigiOne Signature running MoOde from a network-connected Innuos Zen Mini III or by TOSLINK from my TV.

    On the Zen Mini I run roon server, with the Squeezelite experimental mode for single-room listening, and ‘normal’ roon server mode for daytime mult-room with Naim and Allo endpoints.

    Keep up the balanced reviews at different price-points and value-points in the digital hi-fi world..

    I also agree with your view on the Innuos pricing of their hard disk upgrades.

    • Thanks for words of encouragement. The TT2 is a fantastic DAC alone and other people I know say the same of the M Scaler. OK this type of HiFi is expensive but it doesnt mean we loose all notion of value and it is about opportunity costs too.

  4. Great list! Even though I kind of own two of the components I’m reading it with joy.

    I must say I was thoroughly disappointed in Allo USBridge Signature (w. Shanti psu) compared to my Auralic Aries G2. I bought this streamer for my office thinking Allo is getting such rave reviews. I did expect it to almost be at the level of the Aries G2, since streamers shouldn’t matter that much. It wasn’t, and barely performed better than my old Mac mini. Needless to say it went straight back to Allo (good return policy though!). So in regards of Aries G1 being expensive I’ve only tried Allo and Sonore in comparison. But compared to them the Aries (G2) is one clear level above in my experience.

    I have M-Scaler paired to Chord Dave and I’m happy with it. But I would not sing the praise like some others do. It’s a good piece of kit, but not revolutionary. Gets you a bit further, but only if you have already maxed out on speakers and other more relevant upgrades.

    • Hi Eric, Thanks for comments. I can understand how that happened with the DAVE DAC and if you’ve got really good amplification too. The G1 sits at a price for people where it might make differences in use with such really good DACs like you have, but the thing is people are buying it for systems where the DACs are relatively modest and that’s my gripe with it really. But I still think streamers across most price and performance levels have low extra returns compared to other gear in the chain. I agree about your comments about maxing out as the question is when you do the relevant upgrades.

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Written by Simon Price

I'm an audio lover who likes sharing experiences of faithfully reproduced audio in a CREDIBLE, BALANCED and ENGAGING way. I’m interested in products; their looks, functionality and features, and most importantly how they sound! My reviews keep technicalities easy, as I believe great audio is non exclusive and to be enjoyed by all! It's all about the music!

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