My first system review for the HifiAudio.Guru was my first venture into a complete HiFi system review in over 15 years. Selecting new components for this review was exciting and brought back memories of when I had a dedicated listening room.
When my middle daughter moved out to attend medical school, I saw the opportunity to maximize utility and use the room on the second floor for our new dedicated listening room. The room, measuring 14.5′ X 20′, is perfect for listening to music. Sound treatment consisting of one GIK room acoustic panel and a nice Monet tapestry on the rear wall helped in achieving great room acoustics. The use of vinyl window treatments and heavy curtains provided an excellent venue for me to listen critically and socially. After the room was painted and furnished with an Eikon 84 inch reclining leather sofa and matching chair to the left, I was also able to set up a nice headphone listening station in the room using the Eikon recliner for use with headphones.
Selecting components for this review I had two goals I wanted to achieve. I wanted to keep the cost affordable and get the best performance from the system for under $6000. Many headphone enthusiasts spend more on a headphones system, but I was also eager to get a system in place that could be exciting, dynamic and offer the listener the experience of what is now available in high-quality high-end components in the new world of streaming music and creating the ultimate experience while listening to music.
Starting with the components that were going to be able to drive speakers and included outputs for subwoofers, I also wanted a good powerful receiver that had a built-in phono stage and tuner and I wanted it to have bass management. I selected the Outlaw RR2160 Receiver.
The Outlaw RR2160 Retro Receiver $849
The Outlaw RR2160 has 110 Watts of class AB power into 8 Ohms and is rated at 165 Watts per channel into 4 Ohms. The receiver is loaded with features and comes in one color, silver. The FM tuner included is an excellent feature for people who listen to FM music and desire a high-quality tuner.
The bass management built into the Outlaw RR2160 has outputs to handle two subwoofers with internal bass management and allows you to bypass the sub’s internal crossovers and integrates easily with a wide variety of different brand subwoofers to make the listening seamless. The control set integrates the crossover seamlessly and the RR2160 has full control of the subwoofers being used for volume control as well as bass management.
A USB B input allows for high-resolution music from computers and a USB A port is included to connect thumb drives directly to the receiver. The built-in 24-bit/96kHz DAC gives the listener a choice of using the internal DAC or bypassing it and using a separate source component. Furthermore, the RR2160 is equipped with 2 coaxial digital inputs and 2 optical digital inputs allowing for easy connectivity.
A bass boost feature, designed for using bookshelf speakers, allows for selectable frequency setting (55Hz, 65Hz, and 80z) to boost 6 dB of bass to provide satisfactory bass performance from smaller speakers.
The Outlaw RR2160 also has a built-in phono stage that can handle both moving magnet and moving coil cartridges for people who may want to add a turntable to this system. For Personal Audio fans, a headphone amplifier is built-in and has separate volume control for easy listening.
Outlaw’s RR2160 has a tone control defeat switch and AB speaker output allowing for multiple speaker connections. The volume control is precision and includes a remote control that can select and control all of the receiver’s features. The design is built with a heavy retro aluminum chassis and is well thought out and is future proof.
The Bluesound NODE 2i $549
The Bluesound NODE 2i is a wireless music server that can stream music to multiple rooms. Connectable to any AV receiver or powered device it makes music listening easy to control with any computer, phone or tablet.
At its heart Bluesound’s NODE 2i has a 24-bit/192kHz DAC built-in with an MQA decoder and makes listening easy using the well thought out BluOS app that can be downloaded from the internet. The Bluesound NODE 2i also works with apple play and other Bluetooth devices. The streaming is easy while using Roon as a library and offers other options including radio, Spotify, and the high-resolution formats of Tidal and Qobuz.
A high-quality headphone amplifier is included in Bluesound NODE 2i and also allows for using other speakers throughout your home or office with selectable zones and works seamlessly with WiFi to stream music to different room zones all at once. The high-quality sound of the NODE 2i is excellent and works seamlessly once installed into the system.
Bluesound also allows connectivity to turntables with built-in phono stages as well. The well thought out system is an amazing product and unbeatable for the price.
Focal Chora 826 3 Way Tower Speakers $2000
Focal has been building high-quality speakers for over 40 years. Located in France, the new exciting Chora line is built in France, by European craftsmen, with furniture grade wood and high-quality parts, and is available from our good friends at Moon Audio. The beautifully designed cabinets are beautiful to look at and offer amazing sound quality.
An aluminum/magnesium inverted dome tweeter is used in this design for the high-frequency musical reproduction. The twin 6.5 slatefiber woofers handle the bass and there is a single 6.5 slatefiber driver for the midrange. The 8-ohm nominal impedance is an easy load to drive and efficient with a 91 dB sensitivity. Focal recommends amplifiers with 40-250W maximum to achieve the best sound.
Impressively, the frequency response for the Focal Chora is 48Hz-28kHz. The speakers sent for the review are the light wood and weigh 52.9 pounds each and include a sitting stand that allows the speaker to tilt back slightly. Meticulous packaging and design work and contemporary beautiful design make it an attractive proposition in any listening room.
SVS Subwoofers SB-2000 Pro $799 each and two 5m Subwoofer cables $80. Total cost $1680
The new SB-2000 Pro employs a small closed encasing finished in a black piano finish. The 12-inch driver in each box is driven by an individual 550 Watt RMS amplifier, which is a hybrid of Mosfet and Class D amplifier, that allows for massive and easy flowing power to the driver.
A redesigned SVS high excursion driver with a dual ferrite magnet motor that effortlessly extends below 20Hz without distortion is employed in the SB-2000 Pro. Designed with a rigid aluminum cone dust cap, it can reach room-shaking audiophile-quality bass and does not lose control of the driver and integrates with any receiver or amplifier seamlessly.
The Sledge STA-550D amplifier built-in is a combination of MOSFET design with Class D amplification that maximizes the 12-inch driver’s performance. The built-in 50MHz Analog Devices DSP, according to SVS, is one of the most advanced digital processors used in any subwoofer, with powerful DSP controls and in-room tuning. The SB-2000 using the DSP takes control of the room and provides thunderous bass with definition and uncompromised musicality.
Using two 5 meter SVS interconnects added $80.00 to the cost and made connection to the RR2160 easy.
The smart app SVS developed, allows you to use your phone or tablet to adjust each unit for frequency response and volume. The app also has a variety of other features designed to make your listening experience complete and totally satisfying. The downloaded app makes all adjustments easy to perform from your listening position.
Kimber Kable 12 ft 4VS and 1.5M Timbre interconnect total cost $392
The cables I selected for this review were from Ray Kimber’s company Kimber Kable. Kimber has a long track record of providing high-quality cables at affordable prices, that are exceptionally built and improve the sound in a system. Listed below are the interconnects used in this review and specifically for this system.
For speaker cables a 12-foot pair of Kimber 4 VS braided pair copper cables with banana connectors that retail for $198/pair and incorporates Polyethylene dielectric, 8 wire counter opposed helix VariStrand copper conductors, and Nitrogen assisted hand soldered termination for optimum sound quality were used.
The interconnect used to connect the Outlaw RR2160 receiver to the Bluesound NODE 2i was 1.5-meter Timbre braided copper cable, a classic Kimber copper braided nonshielded design employing low loss fluorocarbon dielectric, 3 wire braid, VariStrand copper conductors, and Nitrogen assisted hand soldered termination for the best musicality. $192 1.5m pr.
Once I set up the system in the room I positioned the Focal Chora 826 speakers 8 feet apart and about 3 feet from the back wall and 3 feet from each sidewall. The SVS SB-2000 Pro subwoofers were located behind the speakers, one in each corner connected with SVS 5-meter interconnects to the Outlaw RR2160 individual sub outputs bypassing the SVS SB-2000 Pro internal crossover and using the Outlaw’s bass management.
Setting up Roon I started playing music on continuous play for over 100 hours before I sat down to critically listen and evaluate the system. My listening seat was 8 feet from the speakers.
Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy” is an excellent track to check both vocals and bass response from a system. Sitting in the sweet spot on the sofa in the listening room I hit play on my iPad. I was impressed at once with the vocal presentation and imaging of the Focal Chora.
The center image of Billie was in focus with excellent air and separation within the soundstage. Closing my eyes while listening I could visualize her on the stage in the center with outstanding imaging and he vocal was vivid and transparent.
The dynamic bass was impactful yet had an amazing texture. The SB-2000 Pro pairing integrated seamlessly with the RR2160 and the bass had a thunderous impact with excellent texture and made the music come to life.
Shutting off the SB-2000 Pro I wanted to see how well the Chora bass sounded without the subwoofers. The Chora bass extends down to 48Hz and is high-quality bass that could work well in a small room bypassing subwoofers.
The bass of the subs had integrated so well that once it was not there in the room I missed it during the tracks that had deep bass and switching them back on brought a smile to my face and made me enjoy the extra bass with the outstanding midrange and treble extension the Chora was providing. The Chora, in my large room, were significantly better with the SB-2000 Pro subwoofers.
The Outlaw RR2160 is an amazing receiver and is a giant killer in amplification. The sound was spectacular. The fast AB powerful beast was driving the Chora easily and what kept impressing me was the outstanding bass management it was providing to the SB-2000 Pro subwoofers.
The 550 Watt amplifier in each sub was fully integrated with the RR2160 in the room and the sound was amazing with articulate vocal delivery. The soundstage was both wide and deep and had each musician in their own space and the imaging was spectacular.
Pat Metheny and Charlie Haden’s classic “Beyond the Missouri Sky” once again showcased the amazing imaging. I could feel Pat’s emotion while playing the acoustic guitar on “Waltz for Ruth”. Charlie was behind Pat and had air and spacing yet his bass once again was tuneful and had a tremendous and live feeling. I could hear his hand plucking the strings and the texture was amazing and fully integrated on the stage.
If you want to hear acoustic music that is soothing and sounds lyrical these two artists playing in unison made the music come to life and is a sensational journey into your soul and sounds so real. Beautifully written song and played masterfully.
Halsey’s new album “Manic” is another musical adventure. The new album has a little of everything to listen to in this exceptional work. Her first album in over 3 years, it is destined to become a classic and this may be her best effort to date.
The modern tune “Ashley” had her vocal in the center with excellent bass lines throughout the track and had an electronic sound with excellent dynamics. The Chora imaging capability did not disappoint and once again I was impressed with the soundstage and the Outlaw and Bluesound NODE 2i’s ability to dig deep into the recording was astonishing. The inner detail of the recording was all evident and again imaging was sensational.
The disc is recorded using MQA and the Bluesound NODE 2i was able to extract detail and was silent in the background but always musical. The streaming, using Roon and Tidal MQA recording, was seamless and the music once again was quiet, detailed and had excellent center imaging that made this track both enjoyable and continued to impress me.
“Clementine” was also a personal lyrical journey and Halsey once again was articulate and her vocal was centered and had a clear sound in the center of the soundstage.
“Suga’s Interlude” had a hip hop rap beat in the tune and was fantastic with the help of BTS and Suga was a terrific vocal with dynamic toe taping hip hop beat and combined Halsey’s pop vocal seamlessly and the new song continued to impress me.
The system with the Bluesound NODE 2i kept me focused on the music and streamed flawlessly and the internal MQA decoder and DAC were amazing. The Bluesound created a spectacular journey into what is now possible in digital music. The sound was musical and always impressive with musicality and outstanding tonality of instruments.
Little Big Town’s new MQA recording on Tidal, “Nightfall”, once again streaming on the Bluesound NODE 2i was another experience I won’t soon forget. The acoustic and tuneful sound had amazing vocal transparency and the band was fantastic and in synch with each other.
“Next to You” is a well-written composition with excellent lyrics and the vocals were masterfully reproduced with excellent articulate vocals that were beautiful to listen to with vocal harmonies reminiscent of past vocal groups like Fleetwood Mac and the Mamas and Papas. The sound on the Focal Chora once again had my toes tapping and the sound was quiet and seamless.
I found myself listening long into the night with the door closed at a low listening level and the music Little Big Town was making on this album played back on this system was both enjoyable and believable. The sound had the vocals center stage but the harmonies and air and space between the performers were amazing.
The drum kit with this system and SB-2000 Pros once again impactful and musical. I felt the kick drum and the skins had a clear and amazing clarity, where you could hear the sticks hitting the drum skins, and on “Nightfall” were perfectly reproduced with outstanding detail and musicality.
Van Morrison’s new album “Three Chords and the Truth” is perhaps his best work since “Astral Weeks”. The refreshing sound of the 24-bit/96kHz FLAC recording streaming from Qobuz, “March Winds in February” had the Irish legendary singer at his best.
The song had Van in the middle, centered on the stage, with his band all around in their own defined space. Imaging was spectacular and while listening to this exceptionally dynamic track I could visualize Van in the room as the imaging once again was exceptional.
“Fame Will Eat the Soul” was dynamic and portrayed the system’s dynamic capability with the two vocals separated and the organ was tuneful and musical. The sound was special and the tune had an excellent rhythm and blues feeling, but the entire system was in unison and the musical experience while listening to this track was pure magic. The dynamic sound and speed of the system made this tune come to life and sounded like they were performing for me in my room.
Copland’s “Fanfare For The Common Man” on the Eiji Que Reference Recordings release is my ultimate system torture test for any system or component. Over the years, using this recording, I have seen many amplifiers and speakers fail to reproduce it correctly. Many speakers collapsed and some even were damaged playing this track. Turning up the volume would be the ultimate test with the massive dynamic swings that are evident in this recording.
Once I hit the play button, the massive bass was evident when I felt he massive tympani whacks in my chest. The SB-2000 Pros delivered thunderous bass and speed I have rarely seen in any subwoofer used in my systems. The RR2160 easily handled the entire system and the Focal Chora was able to deliver the performance without any compromise.
The sound was exceptionally reproduced especially in the finale. I could feel the speed of the Chora with the thunderous impact of the tympani whacks the SB-2000 Pros and Outlaw RR2160 were reproducing and it sailed effortlessly through this track and created an exceptional listening experience that will not soon be forgotten.
“Appalachian Spring” is another composition on the same album that is beautifully composed. The soundstage was layered, and the musicality of the Minnesota Orchestra was exceptionally recreated, I could hear each section of this orchestra in a defined soundstage with excellent air and space.
The speed of the system and the transparency of the Bluesound NODE 2i once again was spectacular. The tonality of instruments was outstanding and inner detail retrieval was impressive. I kept listening and continued to forget about anything except how beautiful this composition was playing.
The extension in bass and treble was exceptional and always tuneful and musical. Never once did I feel as if there was anything missing in the performance and continued to be amazed by how good this system was with speed and transparency. The Focal Chora completely disappeared in the room and I could visualize each section of the orchestra and it made the listening experience special.
When I was picking the components for this system review, I had a lot of fun reminiscing about the days when I had big systems and how much fun it could be to have one that was affordable and cost-effective. The room design was also a major consideration once I decided we were going to launch HiFiAudio.Guru.
I had a nice large room upstairs in my home in addition to my downstairs space that is being used for personal audio systems. I am excited to have a dedicated listening room for listening to music, and with the new streaming through Roon, I can leave music on continuously and use different zones in all of my rooms.
Outlaw’s RR2160 is a fantastic choice as the heart and soul of the system because of what you can do with one receiver that’s does everything well. The midrange, bass, and treble are all pristine and offer top-flight sound at an affordable price. The RR2160 eliminated the need for a preamplifier and other cables that clutter the system and follow the principle that less is more in the case of sound quality.
The RR2160 is one powerful amplifier that has outstanding performance and is one of the best values in high-end audio today. The sound it delivers is a giant killer and really has no shortcomings except the internal DAC which I chose not to use in this system review.
The NODE 2i was a much better solution that offered so much for the money and also included MQA and 24-bit/192kHz decoding for the high-resolution formats which are part of my daily listening sessions.
The Bass Management of the RR2160 is outstanding and was able to easily integrate the pair of SB-2000 Pro subwoofers seamlessly. The built-in phono stage allowed for future system growth for the vinyl enthusiast who may want to listen to a record. The FM tuner is also a welcomed addition for listening to music or any other program on the airwaves.
The SB-2000 Pro is designed by SVS and is the best subwoofer I have experience using in any of my systems during my life since I entered the hobby in 1979. The price for the pair is $1680 with cabling and make this an outstanding addition to any system looking for full-range musical bass. The bass performance is exceptional and the delivery and integration in this system were flawless.
I continue to be impressed at how easy the integration was with the exceptional application SVS has and the DSP took care of the room adjustments. When I raised the Outlaw’s volume control to high levels for evaluation purposes, the SB-2000 Pro never faltered. The performance was in unison with the RR2160 volume control. If I raised the volume the bass was as integrated as it was if I lowered the volume.
The SB-2000 Pro was easy to use and the amazing hybrid MOSFET and Class D amplification built into the subwoofer provided deep bass extension that was musical and alive and always had my chest pumping. I keep thinking about the loud tympani whacks coming from the Copland recording and the fast and dynamic finale on how the bass never faltered and created a listening experience that is still memorable.
The Bluesound NODE 2i is a spectacular product at any price. The music server has a world-class DAC as well as an analog input, which was not used for this review to keep our cost for this total system under my goal price, but also leaves the listener who has vinyl the option to add a turntable to the system.
Whether you use Roon or any other music service this incredible server will present the music flawlessly and never cheat you. The MQA decoder is a welcomed feature that makes listening to MQA recordings fun and offers another level of musicality. The DAC will decode 24-bit/192kHz that is available on both Tidal and Qobuz. If you love music and want to listen anywhere in your home or office the NODE 2i will let you set up individual zones and works well with Alexa devices as well as Apple devices. I have played music on the system upstairs while playing the downstairs headphones and speaker systems all at once seamlessly.
The Focal Chora is another amazing product built by a world-class company that makes outstanding speakers. Beautifully constructed the three-way design on its own is a terrific floor-standing speaker that had excellent performance.
The speaker has excellent bass down to 48hz which in smaller rooms would eliminate the need for a subwoofer. Adding subwoofers in larger rooms makes the Chora a full-range speaker with full range bass extension. The wood finish was beautiful to look at and the sound of the speakers was exceptional in overall performance.
The midrange was spectacular with a wide soundstage that always had excellent staging with pinpoint and precise imaging which at times was spooky. I felt they disappeared and never called attention to anything other than the music.
The treble was fully extended and never had any bright or nasty sound that was noticeable. The neutral presentation was exciting and dynamic. Priced at $2000 pair and made in France, the Chora delivers exceptional musicality and nails the tone of instruments. I think finding another speaker in this price range built from the finest materials would be challenging. The Chora is a terrific speaker and one of the best values in HiFi today.
I used Kimber Kable’s introductory cables back in 1979 when I started in Hifi. Ray Kimber’s company is known for building quality products at affordable prices and the 4 VS speaker cables with Timbre interconnects delivered the music clearly and articulately and never had me thinking of swapping out the cables. They were a terrific match for this system and reproduced music articulately and without grain.
HiFiAudio.Guru is a sister publication to Headphone.Guru and this is our first HiFi system review. I am thankful for the readers and sponsors who have supported Headphone.Guru and we will continue to grow that business.
If you’re looking to build your first dedicated audio system, this system as composed will give you transparency, soundstage, and bass that is exceptional and allow for you to upgrade as your needs change. It is also for listeners looking to downsize or get off the merry-go-round, who want to listen to rewarding transparent music that can create a magical listening experience. This system is a fantastic journey into the world of HiFi and makes listening to music a rewarding experience, Big thumbs up and recommended for anyone who wants an affordable system that offers exceptional musicality. Under $5550 and a fantastic system. The total package is a worthy system that achieves all I look for in any HiFi system regardless of price.