Winter is coming and that should bring a smile to your face. Unless you happen to live in Western New York where the snow has piled up higher than a pair of MoFi SourcePoint 10 Loudspeakers on completely unstable 28″ stands. We don’t advise trying that at home. With Thanksgiving only days away and the Black Friday & Record Store Day: BF orgy on the docket as well — we wanted to direct your attention to 3 products that are probably not on sale this week but should definitely be on your radar. The Andover Audio SpinStage, Meze Audio 109 Pro, and Triangle BOREA BR03 BT are 3 relatively new products that will be making some serious snow drifts in 2023.

Vinyl Me This

Raise your hand if you thought vinyl would be the best-selling physical music format in 2022? Michael Fremer and Chad Kassem can lower their hands in the back of the room.

The 22% increase in new record sales was a rather steady number in the H1 2022 RIAA Report — but it was also a rather steep decline from the same period in 2021.

That 22% increase might pale in comparison to the 97% increase during the same period in 2021, but the circumstances were very different. With the pandemic still raging, record stores were mostly still shuttered, but still thriving from rather brisk online sales and 4 Record Store Day events.

With live music venues still closed, limitations on theater capacity for films, and pro sports teams limited to 50% or less in terms of attendance, recorded music and streaming were the two safest options for consumers. 

Fast forward 12 months, the pandemic is officially over, and consumers are traveling in record numbers and spending on other activities that were prohibited during the pandemic. 

Inflation and supply chain issues have also impacted how much consumers are willing and able to spend on non-essential goods.

Let’s be honest here — $40 records are not exactly essential items when you’re spending an additional $400 to $500 per month on food and you are not earning $4,000 to $5,000 more at the same time after-tax.

Having spoken to a number of manufacturers, the market for high-end turntables is definitely getting rather soft. When some of the bigger brands have to discount new tables by almost 20% to create sales — you know that consumers are having second thoughts.

Entry-level tables are certainly doing better and having just spent some time with the lovely people at Audio-Technica, Grado Labs, and Pro-Ject — that end of the market is more stable…for now.

Andover Audio has had a really busy 36 months and for the simple reason that some of their products like the Andover Audio SpinDeck Max and SpinStage MM/MC phono preamplifier overachieve at rather affordable prices.

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Andover Audio SpinStage Rear

You SpinStage Me Round…

$250 for a rather high quality MM/MC phono preamplifier?

While turntable and cartridge options have been rather plentiful, the affordable MM/MC phono stage category below $400 has been dominated by only a few models from Schiit Audio, U-Turn, Cambridge Audio, and Rega. Andover Audio sells a lot of SpinDeck and SpinDeck Max turntables but they’ve never offered a dedicated and affordable MM/MC phono pre-amplifier until now.

The Andover Audio SpinStage has two key features not commonly found in budget phono preamplifiers. First, by adding a separate MC gain stage with ultra-low-noise discrete transistors in a type of transconductance topology usually found only in more expensive designs, the SpinStage benefits from providing the necessary gain without added noise. 

Andover Audio SpinStage Bottom

Second, the addition of an Auxiliary input restores the input used by the SpinStage when it’s connected to an amplifier that has only a few inputs. For example, a system that includes a CD player or other device may need the input used by the SpinStage.

The MM section adds 40dB of gain, whilst the MC section offers 66.5dB for low output moving coil cartridges.

I’ve only been listening for the past 24 hours with the Goldring E3 and Grado Labs Prestige Red3 cartridges and they might have a winner here. Especially when combined with the warmer sounding Grado cartridge and their SpinDeck Max turntable.

It is a somewhat lively presentation but it’s far superior to any internal MM stage in most $400 to $500 integrated amplifiers. Detail retrieval and clarity are not what you normally expect at $250. Look for a more detailed review in the coming weeks.

Meze 99 Classics Over-ear Headphones in Walnut and Gold
Meze 99 Classics

From Romania With Love

Having used the Meze Audio 99 Classics as my daily driver for the past 5 years, it would be accurate to say that I put a lot of trust In their headphones. They are not perfect, but I’ve yet to find a single pair of headphones that would make me dump the other 24 in my collection.

I will take a slightly darker sounding pair of headphones 99 times out of 100 because most of the desktop headphone amplifiers and Dongle DACs currently available in the $100 to $500 price range are on the more neutral side.

Nothing gets used as much as the Meze 99 Classics. Not even close. 

The only issue after 5 years of listening, is that I would love an open-back version of the 99 Classics with slightly less bass impact and a much larger sounding soundstage. 

Antonio Meze must have read my mind.

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Meze Audio 109 Pro Headphones in hand headband
Meze Audio 109 Pro

One significant difference between the 99 Classics and Meze Audio 109 Pro is that the 109 Pro are not as easy to drive; my since retired iPhone 6s could drive the 99 Classics and when I started using Dongle DACs — power was never an issue. 

The Meze 109 Pro need something like the Helm BoltQuestyle M15, or iFi GO Bar to really let you hear what they are capable of.

My early take on them after two weeks of listening is that they really don’t sound like an open-back version of the 99 Classics at all. Maybe a tad in the tonal balance department but they are so much more open sounding and detailed.

The top end has greater extension and energy but it never gets out of control.

In some respects, they are closer to the Empyrean in their ethereal clarity than any other headphone in the Meze Audio lineup.

The midrange is open, detailed, and a lot more impressive with vocals compared to the 99 Classics; female vocals are clearer and still very full of body and texture.

Horns have more bite and texture as well. These are excellent headphones for jazz listeners; the 99 Classics are rather good in the pacing department, but the 109 Pro’s do a better job of keeping up with the timing and speed of the music.

The open-back design does sound a lot more spacious and the soundstage extends outside of your head and that’s definitely a noticeable difference between the two models.

Meze Audio 109 Pro Headphones in hand
Meze Audio 109 Pro

The build quality of the 109 Pro headphones is superb and everyone keeps asking me at Starbucks who makes them. Antonio Meze really has the industrial design element down to perfection.

I do have two complaints; the weight is definitely more than I expected but it’s not a deal breaker for me. It is a matter of perspective — I’ve become spoiled by lighter headphones over the past few years and while the headband is amazingly comfortable and strong, the 109 Pro feel heavier on my head.

The clamping force is also not strong enough for me. When I shake my head, the headphones shift around too much. I have to move around a lot working from home and I do take headphones with me attached to a Dongle DAC and my iPhone 12 from room to room.

If you’re sitting down and just listening, it’s not an issue but it could be slightly tighter.

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My review is forthcoming after Thanksgiving. Would I replace the 99 Classics with these if the $799 asking price was in the budget?

They are quickly becoming my favorite Meze Audio design because of the transparency, resolution, and spacious presentation.

First, we have: Frawnch fries…and…Frawnch dressing…and…Frawnch bread…and to drink, Ta-da! Peru.

The French part of my DNA secretly loves our superior wine, cheese, bread, and culinary excellence. It’s just the rest of French culture that I’ve never warmed to very much.

I should have been born an Italian Jew. Would have solved many problems.

Having owned Focal, YBA, and Audiomeca over the past 25 years, I have more than dabbled in the French high-end audio scene; the products have always been visually arresting and rather minimalist in their design. They were also not the most reliable when it comes to CD players, turntables, and amplifiers.

Focal might be the lone exception in that regard; their loudspeakers are very well made and with great attention to technical performance using state-of-the-art drivers and components.

The tonal balance has always been on the more neutral side with more top end energy in the case of the loudspeakers. The YBA amplifiers were a tad loose in the low end but the midrange resolution was superb and they never really offended with any type of recording.

Pacing and energy were never really on the same level as their British counterparts across the English Channel; I’ve yet to listen to any French audio components that made me sit up and really dig into the music in the same manner as KEF, Spendor, Croft, Q Acoustics, ProAc, Naim, Rega, Harbeth, or Exposure.

Until now.

Triangle Borea Br03 Bluetooth Speaker Pair in light oak and blue

If the wireless loudspeaker category really appeals to your music listening priorities in 2022; a combination of digital streaming and vinyl playback, connectivity options, and a budget of $1,000 USD for loudspeakers and amplification — you really need to audition the TRIANGLE BOREA BR03 BT Wireless Loudspeakers.

Consumers want the ability to stream from their smartphone or network player, listen to their turntable, and watch television and movies through the same system. 

That doesn’t require a rack filled with components or a huge wiring mess behind their media unit. 

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Give people a compelling reason to spend $1,000 on a pair of high-end loudspeakers as opposed to buying a cheap plastic soundbar.

Products like the TRIANGLE BOREA BR03 BT accomplish that goal in a rather attractive looking package.

Dynaudio and KEF have already successfully proven that it can be accomplished at the high-end for under $10,000 USD and there is clearly a lot of room in the $1,000 to $1,500 range for products like the TRIANGLE BOREA BR03 BT, KEF LSX II, and the new PSB Alpha IQ.

It really needs to be asked — why can’t a pair of high-end wireless loudspeakers with multiple connectivity options and a subwoofer output work for 99% of the population?

These are really, really good.

Review in early-January.

For more information: TRIANGLE BOREA BR03 BT



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