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Srajan Ebaen
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Smoking one's own cashish. Reviewers are often accused of voting with your rather than their dosh. Call it the slippery slope of feasting on loaners of ever-increasing cost. Those might soon eclipse the writer's own budget. That doesn't disable him from honest sonic observations. It simply tends to blur value assessments when one pronounces $60.000/pr speakers a steal. Would reviewers do so if asked to fork over that amount in long green?

Yet we do add new gear to our hardware inventory with hard-earned scratch, admittedly not at full pop but accommodation just like employees of car dealerships don't pay sticker. It's par for this course and how the ongoing itch for the hobby manifests. Blame it also on the endless parade of gear which wiggles its seductive asses in front of our ears and eyes. In case you were curious how my hifi coins were spent this year, I present you with my most noteworthy acquisitions of 2012 as a short list of recommendations I obviously feel strongly about.

Let's start with the physically biggest, the Lithuanian AudioSolutions Rhapsody 200 speakers. As a twin-ported 5-driver 3-way with a slightly underdamped bass alignment appreciative of high damping factors (cough), this truly full-range big speaker is far more representative of the status quo in current speaker design than my Boenicke B10 or Aries Cerat Gladius. I'd wanted a more 'normal' speaker for all the obvious reasons for quite a while. My trouble was finding one I truly loved. In the Rhapsody 200 I finally did.

I ordered my pair in RAL 9001 or crème white as mocked up at left. The only alteration from stock I asked for are spike receptacles on the actual base rather than add-on plinth. The latter is too big for where my speakers tuck out of sight when a review has another pair on the floor. I simply couldn't see myself unbolting that plinth repeatedly. Designer Gediminas proved amenable since he knew I'd still use his tall frontal spikes which are mandatory for proper driver alignment and to lean the speaker back.

Nelson Pass and FirstWatt amps have been no strangers to these pages. With the SIT1 monos and their twice-unobtainium parts, my interest in coupling power tubes to speakers via transformers has been extinguished for good. Consequently my in-house valve amps have been sold (one last pair still looks for a new owner). As a single-stage single-ended zero feedback circuit, the SIT1 is simpler and 'purer' than any SET amp yet exhibits the same triode curves and even has adjustable bias. Bandwidth is far more extended, noise is lower and the sound in toto superior to any valve amps I've had through though not the same. What the SIT1 also shares with SETs is low power (10/8wpc into 8/4 ohms) and higher output impedance.

'Twice unobtainium' referred to the custom silicon-carbide power Jfets Nelson commissioned from SemiSouth. Not only is he the only one with the part, SemiSouth since closed its doors to terminate any future builds. Fortunately Nelson acquired plenty of stock for ongoing SIT production and new products using the SiC transistor. Zu Audio's Sean Casey too got sic from the SIT bug to put his Yamamoto A-08s up for sale. With the right speakers, this mono amp is arguably one of the very finest transistor amps currently made.

For the SITs the Lithuanians sadly aren't the right but left speakers. At 92dB they play plenty loud but their prodigious bass booms. Even my 100wpc Mosfet-based ModWright KWA-100SE doesn't get the best from that loading. A truly superlative showing meanwhile came from the Acoustic Imagery Atsah monos based on Bruno Putzeys' stock Hypex Ncore 1200 modules with SMPS.

I've thus laid eyes on Bruno's own version due out after CES 2013 under his new Mola-Mola brand. At 400wpc per side with unbelievably low full-bandwidth output impedance, this is a polar opposite design to the SIT1. But it took hold of the Rhapsody's twin woofers like a drowning man to make silly-good sound. Though really a planned year 2013 expense, my choice of the Lithuanian speakers committed me to a matching pair of truly drive-anything amps. It's thus only fair that I mention this consequence of necessity here.

My final bigger office equipment addition to the hard-working team this year was the Bakoon AMP-11R. It since has taken up solid residence in the bedside headfi rig where it powers Audez'e LCD-2 or Beyerdynamic T5p. For folks who want SIT2-type performance with integral volume control and headphone drive (the latter with three gain-jumper settings), this Korean marvel is the one. And there you have it, the main guilty parties which took food off our table this year to put real calories at my ears where they do far more good. After all, who really complains of fat ears? Expect this gear to make repeat appearances in various upcoming reviews. The SIT1 has already done so regularly...