Worldwide Wholesales is my sixteenth company, established over 20 years ago after I sold my previous businesses. I have been evaluating audio products through blind testing and direct A/B comparisons for over 40 years, and in the past 20+ years, I have expanded this process to include a group of individuals with extensive audio experience. This has allowed Worldwide Wholesales to carefully select some of the top audio brands in the world, taking the guesswork out of the purchasing decision for our clients and stores. Personally, my focus is on the quality of the music, rather than the country of origin of the equipment. In my opinion, it is challenging to create a system that not only plays music but also delivers a truly musical experience.
After thoroughly comparing over 500 individual cable models, we have concluded that there are only a few manufacturers that truly invest in cable technology. Many manufacturers simply purchase bulk rolls of cable and add a branded outer sleeve, known as Texflex, without any additional technology. However, creating advanced cables requires significant research and development. Inakustik, a German company with over 40 years of experience and 15-plus million cables sold worldwide, is the best cable manufacturer we have evaluated through A/B testing. The technology behind Inakustik's Reference Air Helix series is unparalleled in the industry, resulting in cables that "disappear" better due to their advanced technology and low capacitance.
For more information, please visit the Inakustik website at https://www.in-akustik.de/en/cables-and-accessories/reference-air/speaker-cable/.
At Worldwide Wholesales, we place a strong emphasis on the pedigree of designers when deciding which audio products to distribute. After evaluating over 100 different digital front ends through A/B testing, including DACs costing up to $120000 USD, we have identified three top designers in the field: Aries Cerat (Cyprus), Rockna Audio (Romania), and Total DAC (France). These companies have exceptional technology and digital design. In particular, the Aries Cerat DACs we tested had a more analog sound than other DACs we evaluated. It is worth noting that the Aries Cerat Kassandra and Helene DACs do not support MQA or DSD, as the manufacturer believes that adding support for these formats can negatively impact the sound. However, it is still possible to play MQA or DSD on these DACs by adjusting the server settings to play at or below a bit rate of 24/384. Rockna Audio, with nearly 40 years of digital experience and a designer who has worked with companies such as MSB, PS Audio, and Goldmund, is a particularly strong choice for digital products in the sub $10000 price range.
Of the many servers/streamers we have had the opportunity to evaluate through A/B testing, our preferred choice is the Pink Faun 2.16 ULTRA server/streamer. The build quality and sound quality of this device are excellent, with a digital front end that approaches the analog sound quality when paired with Aries Cerat DACs. The designer at Pink Faun is a pleasure to work with, offering remote setup assistance using unique techniques specific to their server/streamer. The customer service is exceptional, and Pink Faun is known for being a particularly friendly manufacturer. In my experience, the best DACs and servers/streamers have minimal digital glare and a more analog sound. When listening to top-tier digital manufacturers, you should be able to discern clear, well-defined vocal images with a tangible presence and a sense of ambiance and atmosphere in the recording. The bass attack on instruments such as drums should be impactful and produce energy in the listening room. After testing a wide range of digital front ends, I personally use the Pink Faun 2.16 ULTRA server/streamer with the Inakustik PRE silver Air dielectric USB connection to the Aries Cerat Kassandra DAC. This combination outperformed all other combinations we tested. As a more affordable alternative, our second favorite combination is the Rockna DACs with the matching Rockna WAVEDREAM Net server/streamer. Rockna produces very high-quality digital front ends at very reasonable prices.
The preamp/line stage is an often-overlooked component that can significantly impact the overall performance of a system. A great preamp should have continuous output voltage so that it can drive the system in a similar way to torque driving a car. Most preamplifiers are designed to peak at a voltage output of 2.5 V, which is equivalent to 250 pounds of torque in a car. However, Aries Cerat produces preamplifiers with a higher average voltage output, such as the 5 V continuous output, equivalent to 500 pounds of torque in a car. Aries Cerat also offers preamplifiers with a 10 V output, equivalent to 1000 pounds of torque in a car. This higher output voltage is important for achieving a live, dynamic sound in a home audio system, as it is not solely the wattage of the amplifier that determines the dynamics of the system, but also the output voltage of the preamp. One of our top recommendations is the Aries Cerat Impera 2 reference preamplifier, which we believe is a "game-changer" in the audio world.
One of my personal favorite speaker manufacturers is Wilson Benesch, a company based in the United Kingdom that produces some of the most technologically advanced speakers in the world. In 2018, Wilson Benesch introduced the Eminence, the most ambitious loudspeaker design in the company's 30-year history. The Eminence features the A.C.T. 3Zero Biocomposite Monocoque, Tactic 3.0 drive unit, and Fibonacci Tweeter and received widespread acclaim from industry experts as a landmark achievement in high-end audio design. The Eminence is Wilson Benesch's flagship model and is notable for its seamless integration of ten drive units, which allows it to disappear into the listening space and deliver a stunningly coherent sound. What is also notable and unique, is that Wilson Benesch designed and developed large amounts of its proprietary drive unit and materials technologies, along with its State of the Art manufacturing facilities, through collaborative R&D projects with partners across the United Kingdom and Europe that were in part funded by His Majesty’s Government. Wilson Benesch has been awarded more than £1-million in government grant funding thanks to consistently high-quality grant applications and successful product development outcomes over three decades. In 2023, the company manufactures all drive units, biocomposite monocoque enclosures, and alloy/steel CNC components in-house. The Eminence and the Fibonacci Series to which it belongs, set a new standard for materials and sustainable product design, signaling the company's commitment to renewable and sustainable solutions in the future. I highly recommend considering Wilson Benesch for anyone in search of a world-class speaker manufacturer, though it is important to keep in mind that speaker preference is a personal choice.
Through A/B testing of 74 different conditioning systems, we have determined that the Inakustik 4500P is the best option available. We tested conditioners costing up to $40000 and none of them performed as well musically as the Inakustik 4500P. When amplifiers were plugged directly into the Inakustik 4500P, we observed no loss of dynamics. In fact, we found that when all components were connected to the Inakustik 4500P, the overall dynamics of our reference system improved, the soundstage became more focused, and the music had a greater sense of liveliness and clarity. Importantly, the Inakustik 4500P did not lower the noise floor, unlike other conditioners we tested which tended to reduce dynamics and create a veil over the sound. To properly evaluate the effects of a conditioner, it is necessary to listen to the system with and without the conditioner for an extended period of time. It is worth noting that the only way to effectively lower the noise floor or reduce EMI and RFI at the component level is through the use of a properly designed grounding box. The best-grounding box we have tested is built in California and called Apex.
Through direct A/B testing on six high-end systems ranging in price from $90000 to $750000, we have found that the Akiko brand offers a full range of effective products for fully optimizing a system. While other brands we tested had a few standout products, none were able to match the performance of Akiko's full lineup. It is important to keep in mind that while it can be enjoyable to tweak a system, it is important not to make too many changes that alter the original recording.
In conclusion, it is important for cables to have minimal impact on the sound and not to use them as a means of equalizing the system. The DAC and server should be fully transparent, while the line stage/preamp should act as a volume control with significant output torque rather than a tone control. Amplifiers and speakers are a matter of personal preference and should be chosen based on the type of music, the efficiency of the speakers, and the size of the room. But look for speakers that actually have the technology and R&D money behind the speaker manufacturer rather than someone building a speaker out of their garage. The conditioner should have no effect on the dynamics of the system and should be evaluated based on improved separation and a more precise soundstage. Tweaks should only be used after the rest of the system is properly set up. The "soul" of the system comes from the chemistry between the artists and engineers at the recording studio and can be identified in the home audio system when it produces an immersive listening experience and the ambiance of the recording venue can be discerned. We at Worldwide Wholesales continuously test new audio equipment against our reference standards and make updates as necessary.
Cheers and please remember "it is easy to build a system that can play music but very difficult to build a system that is musical".