Holiday Gift Guides 2023 – Audio

Holiday Gift Guides 2023 – Audio

We love audio gifts for the holidays, especially products that combine cutting edge technology, rich feature sets, and affordable pricing. The Rogersound Labs RSL ia255.1 is a great, entry level Class D amplifier, with solid features. The SVS 3000 Micro is an amazing, small footprint subwoofer, whose small size belies its powerful output. The iFi Neo Stream, is an amazing product, with extraordinary audiophile chops at a reasonable price. The Vera-Fi Audio Vera-Link AMP is a small, powerful, Class D amplifier that turns every speaker into an almost instantly ready-to-go Bluetooth speaker. All are some superb products for a great holiday season!

Rogersound RSL ia255.1

Last year the Fosi TB-10D was one of our top picks for our Holiday Gift Guide. Class D should probably start to stand for “Desirable” as it presents a delightful new world for audiophiles and music lovers. Small, powerful, and musical – and at under $100 it was a bargain. This year, not to be outdone, much-loved Southern California audio pioneers Rogersound Labs brought forth into this great nation the RSL ia255.1. Configured differently than most Chi-Fi products, the new amp is affordable, portable, incorporates Bluetooth, tone controls, an all-important sub-woofer output, USB input with DAC, and a line level input. I’ve been putting it through the paces, and it’s just great.

The ia255.1 has the sort of logical and useful controls and inputs that other similarly priced amplifiers lack. Along with Bass, Treble, and Volume controls, there is switch for USB, Bluetooth, and Line inputs. A selectable 90Hz high-pass filter, (and my favorite addition) stereo pre-out / subwoofer-outputs, heavy duty gold plated speaker binding posts, and a USB Type-C port adorns the back of the unit. Digital duties are handled by a 16 bit DAC, capable of up to a 48kHz sampling rate.

It is powerful enough to power most speakers to high audio levels without distortion. And most importantly, the company that Howard Rogers founded all those years ago is still going strong, led by his son Joe and family. More and more audiophile grade-amplifiers using Class D are being created, at lower price points but with great sound quality. Combined with GaN technology in their power supplies, we are witnessing a revolution in audio, ironically just as we see tubes increased popularity. Who’d have thought that? What’s next? Rotary phones redux? Till then, we think the Rogersound RSL ia255.1 is a great holiday pick.

For more information on the Rogersound RSL ia255.1 visit:


SVS 3000 Micro Subwoofer

We have had subwoofers in our lives for years, from excellent ones from Wharfedale, to Andrew Jones’ budget wonders he created for Pioneer. All had one thing in common – lots of clean additional low-level bass. Over the years, however, the letters SVS have stood for one thing for many music and home theater lovers: subwoofers. Sure, they make an excellent set of speakers, perfect for stereo or home theater use, but you can hear sound coming out of their suites at audio shows from a couple of floors away. Why? Lots of powerful bass! I was interested in testing their subwoofers for a slightly different purpose, for music.

After I spoke with the fine folks at SVS, they offered to send out one of their new 3000 Micro Subwoofers, which are small, dual-driver, Class D-driven, and software-controlled subwoofers. Tiny, at around ten inches square, they are unique in that their cabinets didn’t seem to vibrate at all, due to their unique design. It’s not for lack of power, but 800 watts RMS with 2500+ watts at peak, you won’t have any issues with running out of power or headroom. Normally we use Norman Varney’s EVP products to reduce vibration, but with the 3000 Micro, there wasn’t a need for any resonance or vibration reduction. It’s somewhat astonishing actually, to have that much low-frequency bass emerge with no cabinet or floor resonance. We found that while listening to music we needed to dial down the volume pretty dramatically, and tweak the crossover frequency. Having that ability in the palm of your hands with an app, on the fly, was a tremendous step forward to our usual crawl-behind-the-speaker adjustment technique. It’s actually quite interesting to play with the app. Most of our past experience was with simple subwoofer adjustments consisting primarily of only volume and crossover adjustments.

This begs the questions, “How did they sound, and how did they look?” I can answer one of the most pressing question: “Will they stand up to my cats?” with a resounding “Perfectly!” They are virtually cat-proof, courtesy their metal speaker grills. As much as I’d like to say that was a facetious question, any pet owner knows that traditional cloth speaker grills can’t hold up to an inquisitive pup or curious feline. We are actually quite keen when products are all the more pet proof, whether intentional or accidental. Subwoofers with their floor-level position are in prime cat scratching territory, so we are fans of the more durable metal grills. We have been putting them through the paces, moving them from room to room, and changing configurations. To be honest, we are a bit blown away at how much bass such small systems can produce. In a stereo configuration, they provide a punch with tightly controlled musicality. The app which we tested on both Android and iOS worked well, allowing listeners to control every aspect of their operation. We think most folks will be happy with a single unit, but it has been fun to experiment and learn from a stereo implementation. What makes them cook? Dual opposing 8-inch active drivers designed acoustically and electrically in parallel, coupled to a 800-watt RMS, 2,500-watt peak Sledge STA-800D amplifier with fully discrete MOSFET output, is the answer.

I mentioned that while I’d heard dual subs for stereo operation at audio shows, I’d never actually lived with them, so I was curious whether they were necessary, or all that important. Part of this question sprang out of a release from PS Audio’s Octave Records, “The Loudspeaker,” and the last four tracks have gorgeously recorded drums, bass, and percussion, ending with a hot jazz band. I wondered if having two subs would make a difference, and a week later two 3000 Micro Subwoofers in beautiful Black Piano Gloss finish arrived, and I was busy running cables, power cords, and trying to figure out the SVS App. I can say that with carefully recorded percussion, the dual system did provide separation of different drums, and more. Using the app was a little bit tricky, as each speaker is treated separately, so you have to copy the settings and presets to make both match. But once you master that, the reward is excellence.

When I realized that the iFi Neo Streamer didn’t have any subwoofer outputs, I dropped SVS a line, and they sent out a couple of nicely made SVS audio cables and a dual-into-single RCA adapter, all shiny and gold-plated. I ended up having to use those adapters on the inputs to the amplifiers, so I could route duplicate signals to the Micros. It’s a shame that more components don’t include stereo subwoofer outputs on their equipment.

Either way, it was an easy fix, and the 3000 Micro’s didn’t disappoint. They are powerful, don’t let their diminutive size fool you. Do they move the massive amounts of air in a large room as other more traditional and larger SVS models for home theater use? Probably not. But in our tests, they were plenty powerful using a single speaker for just about anything we threw at them, and were more precise and controlled than the larger Wharfedale that was used to compare with. When dialed in properly, they can provide musical subtle bass in a stereo system, or serious thundering bass with the most explosive home theater title in modest room. Our conclusion is that the 3000 Micros are a superb choice for someone seeking a solid, well-built and -designed subwoofer for either home theater or music use. The SVS App provides an extraordinary amount of control over the output, crossover settings, and volume. Lastly, few companies have the reputation for customer service as does SVS. Highly recommended!

For more information on the SVS 3000 Micro Subwoofers visit:

For more information on PS Audio Octave Records release “The Loudspeaker” visit:


iFi NEO Stream Network Audio Streamer

iFi has garnered an impressive reputation for its DACs, and the iFi NEO Stream is a network streamer built for discerning audiophiles. Its feature set checks just about every possible box for those seeking no-compromise streaming. It even has a unique fiber optic isolator for the ethernet port to insure no noise transmission from wired sources. It can stand vertically with the included optional stand, or horizontally. As expected, it’s controlled via your phone. We tested it with both Android and iOS. The iFi Streamer app worked splendidly on the iOS devices, but we had some hiccups on Android. Specifically, the interface cut off file names, and the top row of choices was not visible, but with a bit of messing about, we found we could use it just fine, even though the app could use some attention. 

Using Qobuz required a workaround, as the native iFi Streamer app works with with Tidal and Spotify but not Qobuz. Fortunately there is the mconnectLite app, which streams from Qobuz, and then plays through the iFi Streamer app so it all works out. We’d still love to see Qobuz integrated into the iFi Streamer app in the future. One other quirk was that the iFi Streamer app is designed to allow flexibility in your listening position, as is the norm. Most of the time it works great, until you enter the big bad world of higher bitrate DSD, which the app can’t handle for some reason. You can still listen to those huge files (I used Jim Anderson’s recordings from Native DSD), but you lose the handheld flexibility. You then will need to actually get out of your listening chair, walk over the unit, and adjust volume manually. This wasn’t a huge problem, but if you were reviewing different tracks, as I was, trying to ascertain differences between bitrate versions became slightly inconvenient.

Audio-wise, it’s a superb performer. There was absolutely nothing we could find to complain about. No matter the source or bit rate, all sounded wonderful, clean, and no noise. It’s an audio component that does exactly what’s it’s advertised to do. The build quality is solid, not overly pretentious but well made with a high level of fit and finish. It only weighs a couple of pounds, so it’s not one of those giant milled blocks of aluminum. Rather, it’s an appropriate design that will complement any system it is added to. The feature set is detailed on the website, so listing it here will just be a repeat. We tested it with every genre of music, streamed via our Wi-Fi network, using our hard-wired Ethernet connections, and on our NAS servers using DNLA. It has a wide variety of inputs and outputs, and the only ports we found missing were subwoofer outputs.

To test the SVS 3000 Micro subwoofers with it, we needed to use a pair of RCA splitters, which worked fine, although not the most elegant implementation. At first we put the adapters for four cables at the back of the Neo, but then realized this placed a lot of stress and weight there, so moved the adapters to the amplifier inputs. It’s curious, but we’ve noticed quite a few components that are either missing a subwoofer output, or they only feature a single mono jack. With the rise of dual stereo subwoofer systems, it’s probably time that more folks include dual jacks for those systems. Although we are cognizant that many listeners feel that having two subs is overkill, especially for music-only systems, our experience with well-recorded percussion has shown the advantages of considering the dual sub approach.

Once we figured out the setup, which is controlled through a minimal set of buttons and a rotary dial, it worked perfectly. One aspect of the Neo is that it can handle seriously high-resolution files. Jim Anderson encouraged me to play the highest res DSDs available which I did. They sounded fabulous, but to be honest, as we brought the bit rates down to more common levels, we couldn’t ascertain much of a difference. To be fair, we weren’t using it with a “cost is no object” system, but even with the superb Audeze MM-500 Professional Planar Magnetic Headphones and a variety of good DACs, we could still barely make out a difference. The musicality was so incredibly lovely that we wonder what the sweet spot for DSD and PCM really is. To learn for yourself, you need a high-quality streamer.

With Roon, DNLA/UPnP, Tidal Connect, Spotify Connect, Apple Airplay 2, NAA, and NAS connectivity, the iFi Neo Streamer is a first-class device and flawlessly capable of streaming high quality music to your system. We think the iFi Neo Stream will make a great holiday choice for the music lover in your life.

For more information on the iFi Neo Stream visit:

Vera-Fi Audio Vera-Link AMP

One of the most interesting products this year, barely made it in time for us to review it. Many of us have speakers around the house, office, or workshop, that we’d love to use with our phones or computers, but alas that’s all we have, speakers. The solution has arrived in a tiny playing card sized package, the new Vera-Link AMP from Mark L. Schifter, creator of Vera-Fi, is a small, inconspicuous bit of audio joy. It’s affordable, under two hundred dollars for a pair, ridiculously easy to use, and gets out of your way. Installation took under two minutes, and half of that was crawling on the floor trying to find a plug for the power supply. Seriously, plug the adapter’s speaker output cables to your speaker, plug in the power supply, and turn on Bluetooth on your phone. 30 seconds later, Mick Jagger and Lady Gaga singing “Sweet Sounds of Heaven” through a Dynaudio speaker were filling the room.

Bass was solid, mid-tones and treble were well-defined without fatigue. Working as mono amplifiers channel separation was absolute, and I cranked the volume high enough that even I thought were too loud, yet distortion free, and that particular Dynaudio speaker isn’t all that efficient. I ran it for a day and a half constantly without a dropped connection, sound was great, the small little Class-D amp generated almost no heat, and I thought that it was perfect for so many uses. My only suggestion was to add a decal or sticker on the power supplies, as having lots of almost identical power supply bricks without any identification as to what they go to, drives me nuts. The amp modules are just a smidge larger than a pack of playing cards, only weigh a few ounces, and have two strips of self-adhesive Velcro should you want to attach them to the back of your speakers. All components are well-built, solid, no rattles, and high quality parts. The speaker cables have gold plated jacks that were constructed and fit our terminals firmly and securely. The Vera-Link AMP carry a 5 Years Parts and Labor Warranty, and are conservatively rated at 50W into 4 ohms, Bluetooth 5.0 compliant, with the TI TPA 3116 chipset at the core.

Another reviewer mentioned using it in his garage with some speakers he had laying around, perfect. My son Thomas (and occasional reviewer) said that college students would love it paired with small set of bookshelf speakers, since most dorm rooms had no space for much else, plus he said it was absolutely loud enough for the best parties, and easy to use, and everyone uses their phones for playback. Far better sound than even the best bluetooth speakers, without any of the hassle of setting up a stereo, running speaker cables, and then most likely needing to have a Bluetooth adapter handy. We also think it’s a great solution for businesses that want high-quality audio, but with a minimal amount of fuss. One other advantage is their flexibility. Having a party in another room, no problem. Just bring the speakers, plug in the power supply, and instant music. It’s a serious product, designed by audiophiles, at an affordable price, with unlimited uses. We love the Vera-Fi Audio Vera-Link AMP and know it would make an audio lover happy this holiday season.

For more information the Vera-Fi Audio Vera-Link AMP visit:

Harris Fogel, Nancy Burlan, and Frank Schramm, Posted 12/05/2023