Which components knocked you out on first listen?

I've been listening to stereos since 1973 and I am still waiting to be truly knocked out by the sound of a component. I have sat in showrooms across the country and have been pleased by what I have heard but never truly blown away.
The closest I came was when I listened to a Meitner str-55 amp and VTL preamp a few years ago, sourced by a Linn Ikemi and Revel loudspeakers. However, I also have been moved by a
Apple computer cd drive, circa 1994 through a Creek 4040 and RA Lab speakers, estimated cost about $1,200; maybe more so than the Linn,Revel 10K system. How about you?
Original Martin Logan CLS IIs with VTL monoblocks. Yes!!!
Speakers, no particular order:
Soundlab A1
Duntech Crown Prince
Vandersteen 4a
Magneplanar MG12 (small, shouldn't be so good)
Audio Artistry Beethoven
Kharma Exquisite
Crosby Quads

Amplifiers, no particular order:
Tube Research GT400
Atmasphere MA2
Counterpoint SA4
VTL Wotan
Wolcott Presence

Sources, no particular order:
Versa Dynamics
SME 30
Walker Proscenium Signature
Rockport Sirius

Preamps, no particular order:
Counterpoint SA4
McCormack Spatial Coherence
EASE Magnum Opus
Aesthetix Callisto

Phono Cartridges, no particular order:
Breuer Dynamic
Benz Ruby
Koetsu Rosewood Platinum Signature
Clear Audio Insider Reference Gold

The topic says "Knocked out on First Listen." I took it to mean just that. Some were quiet a few years ago, but remain important to my overall audio experience.
I rarely get 'knocked out' by listening to any one product due to the fact whenever i am listening to music, I am listening to the entire system putting out the music, not just one link in the system chain.

However, I will list some audio components that when matched well, have made my jaw drop.

Speakers in no particular order:
- Wilson Watt & Puppies (original) demonstration done by Mr. Wilson himself, Man did they sound GREAT! I was a young audiophile then.

- Magnapan 3.6's were the first planer speaker I ever heard that made me want planer speakers. I got a pair of 3.6's soon therafter.

- Vienna Acoustic Mahlers might not be a speaker that blows folks away at shows, but in my system, I am coaxing sound out of them that makes most audiophiles envious.

Amplifiers (in no order)

- Naim Nait integrated amp was the first integrated amp that I ever heard that made me realize that one does not needs serious power to coax great sound out of certain speakers. This series of integrated amps are some of the best low powered solid state sound one gets from an integrated amp.

- Audio Research CA50 is my favorite tube integrated amp. If you can live with 40wpc or so, this tube amp is insanely good. Used for $2k or so it is a steal.

- Monarchy SE100 monoblocks were the first monoblocks I ever owned. For under $2k it is very hard to beat these in sound quality. When I got them, they were so superior to any other amps I had owned it was amazing.

- Plinius SA100 mk3, these were a serious step up from the Monarchy amps for driving Maggie 3.6's. Two Plinius SA100 mk3's driving Maggies is great. The Maggies without the tweeter resistor helps a lot to cancel out the Plinius' dark top end.

- Gamut D-200 is the amp to end all amps for under $5k. You must hear to believe.

Preamps (in no order)

- Sonic Fronteirs 3SE, I went from digital straight into my amps to the SF3SE preamp and the difference was dramatic.

- Ayre K-3x w/phono stage, Solid state preamps do not get much better than this for linestage and/or phono preamplification. Even the K-1x preamp is not that much better sonically than the K-3x. Sonically they are very close, however, fiscally they are many thousands of dollars apart.

Digital (in no particular order)

- Cary 306/200 was so much better than my Camelot Uther DAC it was not even funny.

- Ayre CDX-7 review to come at Audiogon. This unit sets the standard for one box players under $6k retail. And it only costs $3k retail.


- Rega P9, using the same cartridge with the P9 as my old Basis 1400 turntable, I had to check the first record I played to make sure it was the same recording I was listening to as before on my Basis 1400. The difference was that dramatic.

Polk SDA 2B speakers first real high end audition mesmerized
Rowland model 1 60X2 But 60 amps current output=bass slam
Mirage M1 and its successor M1 Si
XLO type 5A speaker cables
Conrad Johnson premier 8 amplifiers
Dunlavy V
Wadia 27
Audio Aero Capitol both versions
Genesis 201 speakers
The answer to this question would go back to my first exposure to a "high end" system.

Vandersteen 2C speakers
ARC M100 amps
ARC SP-10Mk2 pre-amp
Sota Star Sapphire tt with SME Mk 5 arm and Koetsu cartridge
Recording Earl Wild and Boston Pops "Rhapsody in Blue"

I never knew music could ever sound like that. The first great experience is generally the most memorable. I'll always remember it because it demonstrated to me what was possible to achieve through reproduced audio.

Most recent component in my system over all others that just blew me away is the Berning zh270 quasi OTL amp. After almost a year it still knocks me out.

Beyond the above, I have been impressed by systems more than any individual component bearing in mind that I haven't had the opportunity to have a Rockport Sirius, or Burmeister DAC and transport in the system to compare.
My first "knockout" experience was when I first went to the Linn/Naim dealer that I eventually went to work for. I listened to a Linn LP12/Vallhalla/Ittok/Asak into a Naim32/SNAPS/NAXO/ and 3 NAP 250's driving Linn Isobarik PMS speakers. This system really knocked my socks off in 1982. Really opened my eyes to high-end stuff.

More recently, all the stuff I own now has really knocked my socks off. Agree with Tubegroover that the Berning amps are absolutlely killer. The Teres 245 turntable is a real "shocker" at how good that is. OL Silver Tonearm is way better than it has any right to be for under $800. The same for the Denon DL103R. The Lowther drivers continue to be generally unknown/ignored by large segments of the audiophile world, but provide stunning sound at low power input.
I haven't listened to the more esoteric stuff, just haven't lived in an area that sells it, but in my experience based on my local dealers (Washington DC area), these pieces absolutely floored me on first listen:
Ayre V-3 amp
Goldmund Mimesis 29 amp
ARC VT100 MkIII amp
Van den Hul MC-One cartridge on a full-blown Linn LP12 (circa 1991)
Linn Linto phono stage
Linn 5140 speakers (circa 1998)
ATC Active 50 speakers (circa 1993)
B&W Matrix 801 and 805 speakers (circa 1991)
Spendor BC3 speakers w/British Fidelity A3 amp (circa 1987)
Genesis 500 speakers
Vandersteen 5's
B&O Beogram 3000 turntable (circa 1975)
B&O linear tracking turntable (4004?) (circa 1978)
CAL Tempest II CD player (circa 1991)
Linn CD12 CD player
Transparent Ultra and Reference line of cables (circa 1994)Ensemble line of cables and power conditioning stuff
full on Meridian home theater/music system (circa 2000).
Also want to add to my list two components I am currently using together--agree w/TOK 20000 about the ARC CA-50:
ARC CA-50 integrated paired w/Proac Response 1SC's: I love this sound as much as that of my big "reference" system (Genesis 500's w/ARC VT100 MkIII and BAT VK30SE ). It absolutely floored me when I first hooked it up! And both pieces bought used here on Audiogon, in perfect shape.
This thread should yield some interesting things.
My examples are retrospective:

For speakers, The Revel Ultima Salon on piano playback.

For source material: The first time I heard Red Book CD on a player with upsampling.

For amplifiers: The first time I heard Krell bass make my stomach muscles tighten.

Preamplifiers: CJ tubes on Jazz

Not examples to build a system around, but certainly moments that lifted mine eyes up into the hills ...
Legacy Audio Focus 20/20 loudspeakers
I live for soundstage and there has been nothing better than my first listen to the Audible Illusion 3A tube pre-amp and the JM Labs Daline 6.1 speakers. W-i-d-e, D-e-e-p and T-a-l-l.
There are only two complete systems that knocked me
out: 1984, at Sassafras Audio, the Acoustat 2+2s with
Audio Research SP8 and D115 with VPI HW19(mk1) turntable
Audioquest tonearm and the cartridge...I forget.
1984, at Chestnut Hill Audio, the Acoustat 2+2s with
Spectral DMC-10 and DMA100 with.......not sure. Same
speaker but two incredibly different, but equally
magnificent presentations. I thought I went to heaven
when I heard Linda Ronstadt's voice on What's New, something
that still gives me goose bumps. I feel jaded since then.
The Moscode Super It. It was the first time I'd heard a tubed component, when I was a grad student in the 80s... and I bought it to use on phono with my Harmon Kardon 60 watt receiver (!)....
Audio Note AN/E-SEC speakers...they just shouldn't be able to do what they do.
ART DI/O with Sennheiser headphones driven by a David Berning microZOTL.
These items/combinations came to mind when I read the title of the thread -- i.e. before I read the posts:

2 pairs Quad 63 / 4x Jadis monos (can't remember which).
Genesis 201 speakers in a system that had a Goldmund Ref TT source.
Genesis 1.1 speakers driven by Cello electronics, S. Yorke TT source.
Purist Dominus cables used vs another brand in a Burmester system (digital source).
Symphonic Line Kraft classA/CAT Ultimate combo (using the line section)

Many more come to mind as I write -- but these represent my "spontaneous" reaction!
Mirage M1
At the time, circa eary 80's, Klipschorn, NAD 3020 and Linn Sondek LP12. The guys at the stereo shop hooked up the NAD to test a pair of Klipshorns that were just traded in. I was stunned. Awesome "live" gutsy and dynamic sound. Almost twenty years later this level of dynamics is almost unrivaled with modern equiptment. I wish I had bought that pair of K-horns.
No in store demo system has ever done it for me-- I have to hear the component in my own system to be able to judge its character and worth. But in home, I've heard (and bought) some really good ones:

1. Vandersteen 5 speakers; great mid-range clarity and incredible bass-- bought them.

2. Levinson M360S DAC; very musical, and made average digital sound-- well, not digital-- bought it.

3. Sonic Frontiers SFL2 pre-amp. The best I've ever heard, but didn't buy it because of a hum problem, and instead went with the newer Line 2, which sounds very good, but not quite as good as that SFL2. I had it upgraded to SE level and found some excellent NOS tubes for it, and it now sounds as good as that SFL2 I liked so much. I like some tubes in my system.

4. McCormack DNA2 Dlx amp; quick, natural sounding, and with excellent bass control and PR&T-- bought it and later had it up-graded to Revision A which was a nice improvement.

5. Not a component exactly, but Synergistic Research Sig. #2 speaker cables "wowed" me. These thick high purity copper cables were the first wires that clearly demonstrated to me how important wires could be, and I still use a variation of them today.
Cheers. Craig
There were some electrostatic speakers I listened to back in the 70's made by a man named Harold Beveridge,I think they were just called Beveridge.I think his son is trying to bring back the brand. Some of the best speakers I have listened to.
forgot Telefunken 12 AX 7 tubes simply they have magical qualities. Totally musical. Put pair in my Encore preamp and was totally shocked. Like preamp was a entirely different animal now. Highly recommended.
Levinson 383 with Revel Performa M20's.
Around 1977-78.Walked into my first high end dealer and strolled into their main listening room, and what I heard just blew me away. Out of these tiny speakers, with no subwoofers ( Roger's LS3-5a ) driven by the then top-of-the-line electronics( all tube Audio Research ) with a top turntable(Linn LP-12) and Koetsu Rosewood I heard the most amazing and life-like sound I had ever heard reproduced next to live.Sitting mesmerized in a sound-drunken state, I officially became a true audiophile.
I still miss those.
ProAc Response 3.5's powered by a Spectral DMA 180 and Spectral's CD transport & processor back in 94 I believe. The dealer played Dire Straits Love Over Gold CD for me. I swear Mark Knopfler was in the room with me. Then last year I heard the Avalon Eidolon/Boulder/Accuphase system. The same day I heard the Avantgarde Duos partnered with Hovland/Art Audio. Both were absolutely amazing!
Hi Cody, I will never forget when i combined my system with Audiogon member Jcbtubes. Well tempered reference TT, Spectral DMC 20 preamp, Spectral DMA 180 amp, and MIT best cable at that time through out the system. The speakers were a four panel ELS from Audiostatic. This was over 12 years ago. I have yet to hear a system at any price that gave a me a reproduced sound that sounded anything sounding reproduced. For what ever reason, we were never able to get the magic back of that one incredible night. A real memory maker. Just wish i could get it back.
EMC-1 MkII; Verity Audio Parsifal Encores, front-firing;
Audio Refinement Complete Integrated (simply based on their low price!); Aleph P pre; SPM speaker cables; Earthworks SRO mics.
Two....the first experience was when I was about 17 or 18 years old. I was sent on an erand by my boss to an applience store in downtown New York City, Hines & Boulet. This was 1962-63??? When I walked in the store I heard music (SOUNDS) that I had never before. It was so impressive that that was the day I was determined to follow my quest. I never foumd out what the speakers were, but I believe thay were the AR-1's.
Then in 1974-1975 I wnet over a friends home (apartment) and heard for the very first time the Infinity Servo Static 1-A's. They were driven by ARC 76A's amps on the mids and 51's on the top. The SP 3A-1 was the pre amp with a Linn/Decca arm/Decca Cartridge.......oh my!!!! What a sound!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Herron Audio MC Phono Pre-amp. Goose Bumps!
Jadis JA 200's
Apogee Scintilla. The first time I heard one I was convinced I was hearing the real thing hidden away. I have never heard a more convincing speaker. I was awe struck.
it was 1988 in montreal mirage m1 with classe amp,preamp,dont remember cdp but stil looking for better one
Nestorovic System 12 in Mile's basement. I traveled to Seattle on business last week. While in the area I wanted to stop by Nestorovic Labs and check out their latest speakers. When I arrived I discovered Nestorovic Labs was at Mile Nestorovic's house.

His wife answered the door and I got to meet the man himself. His laboratories and demo rooms are in his basement. Armed with Roger Waters’ album, “Amused to Death” we demoed his System 12. Mile, my son, & I listened together. I don't know if he enjoyed my tunes (he's a classical buff), but I was totally blown away.

For those interested--he had a Sonic Frontiers preamp, an Accuphase CD player, a Sony super-CD unit, a Kyocera turntable, Nestorovic NA-1 tube mono amps running the Type 4's, and a large Nikko power-amp running the Type 8's.

I dropped by his home without an appointment thinking the address was to a business, yet he was a very gracious host. Anyone thinking about an audition probably ought to call first, but it was a treat.
my top 'knocked out on first listen' would have to be a few weeks back with the Rockport Sirius III turntable. i had driven 1800 miles over 36 hours to go pick it up from it's former owner. i purchased it without ever hearing it.....it took 4 hours to disassemble and load into my SUV (all 600 pounds worth) and then after driving back we disassembled my Sirius II and set-up the III. when i first dropped the needle i thought something was wrong....everything had slowed way down....then i realized that there was so much more information in every note that it created the illusion of much more of a look into the musical message. i was literally floored with what it did.

i had anticipated it being good but until i heard what it did i just was not prepared for it.

my top "unexpected" knocked out experience would have to be my first experience with the Tenor amps. i had arrived at a friends home late one evening to return a demo pair of amps i had decieded to buy.....i casually sat down to briefly listen before unloading my car....and whammo! the clarity, resolution and top to bottom coherence just grabbed me. i was very familiar with my friends system so the differences were profound. i was in love at first listen and have lived happily ever after with the Tenors.
Which components knocked me out on the first listen??? Well, in that regard, I can think of several.

And they are the following:

Speaker System:

(01). Vandersteen 2 (first connected to PS Audio Delta Power Amplifier back in 1990, then connected to a McCormack Power Drive DNA-0.5 in 1997 (being controlled by a McCormack TLC-1 Line Stage)) -- 1990, 1992, 1995 and 1997.


(02). KEF Reference 102 (back in 1987..... being driven first by a Mission Integrated Amplifier..... then a Bryston 4B, and then a Nakamichi PA-7 with Stasis Technology..... and was impressed each time I listened to them. I was impressed so much, that I went ahead and bought a pair a year later. Still continue to be impressed by them 14 years later) -- 1986, 1987, and 1988 (eventually purchased).

Power Amplifier:

McCormack Power-Drive DNA-0.5 -- 1997.
Mark Levinson No.20 Class A Mono Power Amplifier -- 1989.
Nakamichi PA-7 (with Stasis Technology) -- 1986.


Adcom GFP-750 Active/Passive Line Stage with Remote Control -- 1998 (purchased in 1999).
McCormack TLC-1 Transparant Line Stage -- 1997.
Mark Levinson No.26 (fully configured) -- 1989.
Audio Research SP-10 MkII -- 1985.
Audio Research SP-11 MkII -- 1988.

Integrated Amplifier:

Classe CAP-151 -- 2000.

Compact Disc Player:

Meridian 506.24 -- 2000.

Super Audio Compact Disc Player:

(01). Sony SCD-1 -- 1999
(02). Sony SCD-777ES -- 1999.

When it comes to being floored on the VERY first listen, the components listed above come to mind. And to be fortunate enough to purchase two of them, and come close to purchasing yet another one says a whole lot about the list that is being listed above. I will be purchasing a DVD player that is capable of playing SACDs (which will either be a Sony DVP-S9000ES or a Sony DVP-NS999ES) shortly.

Over the years I've had many "knocks-me-out" up grades. I guess my first moving coil; Fidelity Research & their step-up device. I think I only slept 3 hrs in 48--from pulling out all my records. That was 1978. Lots of those sessions since-- but not quite at that level. Installing a King Cobra/ then an Audio Magic Stealth was quite an improvement.
Apogee Duettas. In the mid-80's I heard these at a Denver dealer, Listen Up, with the at the time requisite Krell KMA 100's and a CD source. The room was long with the speakers up on an elevated platform; subdued lighting with the speaklers gently spotlit and a hushed ambience implied that something special was going to happen. And it did. Lush, seamless sound issued forth which was powerfully extended on the bottom as well as being extraordinarily delicate and airy on top. And this was on chamber music from my nascent CD collection! The music floated; the huge speakers disappeared; I flipped out.

I scraped up the green to buy these about 18 months later. I used them with a Counterpoint SA-20. I subsequently had Levinson ML-2's and a Rowland 5 on them all of which I felt were inherently better sounding amps than the Krells. I could never duplicate the sound I heard that cold, rainy day in Denver. Setup is everything.
Jeez.. Mike.. you make it sound so appetizing and makes one go rush out and demos these items .. being 2 hrs from Montreal.. I have to go test these Tenors.. I have to also find a pair of those Kharmas !.. but I do not think there are Canadian dealers..

I have to admit.. my big knockout was when I put in my first Mark Levinson Amp .. I had swapped out an ATI amp.. what a revelation.. not that the ATI was a bad amp, on the contrary.. but the ML amp was soo good and detailed.. next was the AA Capitole MK II.. was my first high end CD player that I found was worthy of replacing my ML DAC and transport.

good thread !
Flip, I will second the Nestorovic system. Both the Type 4's and System 12 are wonderful speakers, and the NA-1 tube amps are gorgeous, graceful and powerful. (It is regretable that they are out of production).


Krell power amps way back when with B&W 801's cooking. Also the Hovland HP-100 preamp, sounds like music.
I have to second the Nestorovic Type 4 speakers. Made by Mile Nestorovic who was the main design engineer, I beleive, when Macintosh tube amps were at their zenith.
He started his own company that some feel make the best tube amp, speakers and subwoofers in the business. They are rare and expensive. His subwoofer design is genius. The type 4 are his top of the line speakers. They are a pyramid shaped, time and phase aligned 3 way, with a leaf tweeter, 5 inch domed upper mid, and 8 inch lower mid. In a System 16 they are placed on a 20" stand with anonther pair of type 4 speakers placed on top in a head to head arraingement along with 2 subs. I was on the speaker merry go round at the time I heard these. Had a pair of Maggies that were the best of all I had tried so far including stats and many high end dynamics but I was still searching until I found these. Love at first listen and I knew my search was over (at least for now). These loudspeakers reproduce naturally what is in the music. All frequencies are very well reproduced and balanced.
Another impressive point is the diffusion. You will never believe that there are two columns of loudspeakers. It is a feeling that you are covered in all directions with music. It sounds as close to the real thing that I have heard.
HMS cables
My Meridian 568. Absolutely breathtaking.
I had actually heard the later ones, the 63's first. Unfortunately I was working in a space next to a weapon's elevator at the time and could not appreciate them as my hearing was so badly damaged at the time... Fortunately it was only short term damage....

pair of cary monoblocks driving swan speakers. front end was a high end turntable. I think the preamp was a sonic frontiers.I cant recall the model of any of the equipment,but the sound was astounding. It was if you could reach out and touch the musicans it was so real. instuments hung in the air,breathing life into every note.
Hill Plasmatronics
My first encounter with tubes was with an old Leak Stereo 20 power amp. I picked it up at a garage sale and had all of the caps/resistors etc replaced with audio grade parts.

The sound was unreal, so musical and non-fatiguing. It blew away my Linn LK1 and LK2-75 combo, for a fraction of the price. Although memories fade, my recollection is that it sounded way more natural and musical than my current CJ CAV 50 integrated.
JBL 150A's hooked up to a Hafler 500 power amp and a 110 preamp. I had the JBL's hooked up to some Kenwood separates and though I was in audio nirvana. A friend brought the Hafler gear over alone with a turntable.

Our jaws all dropped. Totally clean and totally clear three dimensional sound emanated from the space in front of us. Still the best I have heard. A system that just plain worked. All my gear went up for sale and was sold the next weekend. Heard the perfect sound, and could of had the perfect sound but nooo I am still searching. That system had perfect synergy by dumb luck. Maggies 3.6's and a bryston 4bsst are next.

Click for pics of components in my system that blew me away.


the first high end system i heard was a sota saphire with a sumiko mdc-800 tonearm (the arm) and a sumiko talisman s cartridge. that was running into a perreaux sm-2 preamp going to a belles class a amp. the speakers were vandersteen 2c's. before this all i had heard was japanese midfi equipment. i knew from this point on, music listening would be different.