Dec. 1996 to March 1997
March 24, 1997
Thanks for the report on the Montreal show. Myself and a friend attended (it was our first show of any kind) and we enjoyed it a great deal. When I saw that you were covering the show I was excited because it would give me the oportunity to "compare notes". I was surprised that my (and my friend's) impressions matched many of yours but I was also shocked about a couple of statements and observations that seemed 180 degrees off of what we heard. For what it's worth, I wanted to mention a couple of the glaring discrepancies.
The first oddity was that you proclaimed the Cliffhanger room was "one of the most pleasant surprises of the show" and one of your favourite rooms. We on the other hand gave this room "worst sound of the show". We tried to give it a chance and sat down for a good listen but it seemed very obvious to us that something was dreadfully wrong with the sound....we just looked at each other and thought...."why did these guys bother showing up...their speakers have some kind of MAJOR flaw in the sound". I couldn't believe this was the case, and, as I had felt in many of the rooms, that we just happened upon the room when some poorly recorder music was playing. So we ventured back into the room later in the day. This time we didn't even get into a chair when we realized that same "odd" sound was coming out of the speakers. We then realized that this was the sound they intended for us to hear. I can't comprehend how this room could make it onto a "best of" room list when there was so much more to offer. In fact I also read another show report that proclaimed the speakers very interesting, but that there was something wrong with the sound. That particular reviewer chalked it up to "show conditions".
My "most pleasant surprise" room was the Royd room, who were showing the Minstrels. We didn't have a clue what they were and with their slightly odd styling I figured they might be quite pricey. Turns out they were CAN$850. We couldn't believe it and I am putting them on the short list for my sister's upcoming budget stereo purchase. Another odd discrepency was the comments about the Alchemist room and the speakers "that really weren't up to the task". I beleive the speakers you are referring to(although you probably ommited the name on purpose) are the Reference 3A speakers. We thought this room was one of the better sounding rooms at the show. Go figure! The Reference 3A speakers never seem to get any exposure by any of the mags except for UHF (Ultra High Fidelity) mag who now has two different sets as the reference in both of their systems. In fact you never even mentioned the UHF room with their new set of Reference 3A speakers. We were very impressed with the sound from their system except their room was simply too busy and overcrowded. I also heard people in a couple of rooms saying "you gotta go hear the UHF room". Funny that you wouldn't have mentioned it. Do you have any theories why the Reference 3A speakers seem to fall through the cracks at these shows. I have seen Stereophile reports on other big shows that I know Reference 3A attended and they never get a mention. Then the UHF guys will proclaim that the 3A people had one of the best sounds of the show. Best and invisible!
Anyways, it was a job very well done and it sure helped me get a better handle on what equipment I had heard over the weekend since we did not stop to inquire about the actual equipment very often....we just went and listened.
Thanks for your response. Judging by the size of the show and the discrepancies you listed, we probably agreed on quite a bit. As for the Cliffhanger room, it remains a 'pleasant surprise' for us. John and I ventured in, sat down for a bit and nodded our head in agreement that it was producing good sound to our ears. Why the discrepancy? I'm not sure. The 'Royd' room was one we missed, but judging by your statements I wish we had found it. In the Alchemist room we did not miss the name of the speakers on purpose - we simply did not know. Rather, we tried to inquire about all the equipment and were, to say the least, blown off by the personnel. We managed to scrounge up as much information as we reported on for that room. Had we actually got the name and price of the speakers we would have printed it. Had the gentleman in the room spent any time concerning himself with any of the attendees (we weren't the only ones treated that way) we may have heard some music to do justice to the system. It is unfortunate because, like you, I have heard good things about the Reference 3A speakers. And finally, like the 'Royd' room, the 'UHF' room was another we missed and subsequently did not report on. Thanks again and we'll be in Montreal in '98....(DAS)
March 17, 1997
I thought that I would throw in my two cents worth regarding recent your aquisition of the Denon table. This is a table that I lived with for a number of years, and I was never really satisfied with its performance. But like you, I purchased it more because I had records to play, and not a lot of loot. However, when I upgraded to my current Sota/Sumiko setup, I stumbled across a tweak that I had not payed much attention to in the past. That tweak was to simply isolate the table.
The design of the DP-23F is inherently flawed for the following reasons 1) As you stated, more attention was spent on servos than musicality, 2) The plastic base absorbs just about every vibration in the room. I had placed some small sorbathane feet under the table, and there was a noticable improvement in the sound, but it still had a ways to go before it would compete with even marginal digital sound.
After ordering my Sota table, I purchased a Target rack that has a fairly decent isolation setup for a turntable. I placed the Denon on this rack, and decided to experiment with it before my new table arrived. Using a set of BIG sorbathane feet, and having the table on the new rack, I played a record that I have always thought to be a good recording, and PRESTO! This thing actually had a soundstage! Bass response was fairly tight. The mid-bass boom I had been living with was gone, and the channel separation was better than I had ever heard on it previously. There were dynamics present that I had not previously heard, as well. Did it sound as good as the Sota when it finally arrived? Nope, but it did convey the music effectively for way less than half the price.
I thought that I would pass this on since isolation tweaks were only mentioned briefly in your "Vinyl on a Budget" article. Isolating ANY turntable, especially the DP-23F, is the key to approaching the dynamics of digital and achieving truly satisfying sound.
Thanks for the tips. I really enjoyed reading the article.
March 16, 1997
Thanks for a great show report. I was surprised that Caztech wasn't represented at the show. Will SoundStage! being doing a review on any of their gear - specifically the SPA-1 preamp??
We did not see Caztech at the show, which is unfortunate because they have some very nice and very well priced gear. We think we got to every room, so I don't believe they were there. Hopefully, though, we'll be able to get some of their equipment for review in the future. I did see and hear the SPA-1 in a complete Swans and Caztech system in Vegas and it has the potential to be budget priced 'giant' killer. Your interest is warranted.
February 23, 1997
Whenever I log onto the internet, one of the first places I stop is SoundStage! It's a great read, and there's lots of advice for the asking. You mentioned in a reply to Ray Seda, that there is a movement afoot in Toronto for an audiophile society. I'm not sure I qualify as an audiophile as such, but I would be interested in hearing more about these groups.
As always, a great site!
February 14, 1997
One of the ideas that my company has strived to come to grips with over the past 12 years is what is it that makes a speaker good in other people's eyes or shall I say ears. If we go back to 1980 when the then Belleville dealer and I put together my first full range contraption, the impression was like calving a new born babe or the equivalent. Look what we did! In retrospect, even though they are still "playing" and I use that term very loosely the homemade "Waveforms" sounded like crap.
In our society, cost, grandeur, rarity or celebrity testimonial, has always been equated with greatness or a higher quality. In high end audio, we as a community of music livers are coming to a crossroads. What are we really purchasing for these extra dollars? Has the business inadvertently built in a structural dysfunctionalism? Are these mega priced products simply for the Asian market? Has the "community" become that cynical to treat newly moneyed yuppies (is that term still current?) this way?
In January for the first time in 12 years, Waveform got to present its new speaker to the Toronto chapter of the AES, Canada's music producing professionals. There, I bumped into Stanley Lipswitz of the University of Waterloo. We were talking about the zoo as it relates to hi-fi right now and he said 'look, anyone can build a speaker, it's not difficult to order drivers and stuff them in a cabinet you built up in your garage and it will work, and someone may like it and someone may even pay money for it, but that doesn't mean that in some objective manner that that speaker is a good product.'
The current trend in the megabuck race for the hearts and minds of the audiophile is to pile on the drivers "sell 'em lots of pistons" (make him think he's buying a higher technology) and put them in refrigerator sized boxes with passive crossovers so that the aud can play with amps. We've had speakers with lots of drivers. Been there and done that as the cliche goes. There is nothing intrinsically better about more drivers other than the speaker will play louder and may have less distortion or fuzz factor. As any serious student of sound propagation knows, more drivers means more interferance patterns and the way you control that is to limit the dispersion or radiation distribution into the room. Whether this is accomplished by first order filters in the highs or by loading the baffle with felt or by more massively channeling the selected wavelengths by shelves, ledges or horns still leads to a timbre which isn't quite natural either in its tone or in its dynamics. If this is so and it is, then how could all the other stuff like depth perception, ambience retrieval or even placement of players upon the stage be true to the signal?
What the reader must ask here, is does the designer have an acoustic theory? What is it? How does the theory, if he has one, deal with the first arrival versus the room's contribution or sound power? Has the theory been tested and subjected to peer review? Both of these aspects of sound reproduction are heard simultaneously by the listener but in different ratios depending on where one sits in the room, the relative loudness levels of the music and by the reverberant quality of the room to begin with. This is the most important aspect of sound reproduction left out of virtually all reviews. How much echo a room has, defines that listening space as a bad,good or great for critical or casual listening. The latter two rooms are not the same. We haven't even mentionned software vagaries.
We then need return to the most fundamental question of all: what is the purpose of listening? Good sound is quantifiable by way of numbers. The objective side, the numbers must directly corelate with the subjective side, the listening. It all begins and ends with a microphone calibrated to be flat, if you are genuinely searching for the truth. The only real hope for high end audio's future is to return to it's roots, it's core values of honesty in discussion and openness to accept new ideas that can be demonstrated so that someone else can hear the difference.
Methinks I should have been an evangelical minister.
February 14, 1997
I am amazed at some of the new products that were announced at the wces that you chose to ignore.
Krell announced a budget preamp for $2000, a 250 watts/ch stereo amp for $3000, and a CD player for $3500, They also announced 250 watt mono block amplifiers, class "A" output for $8500 a pair.
B&W announced the new Silver 30. Floor standing 3 way version of the Silver Signature that should sell for $12,000.
These are just the product that I am aware of.
Also you should have had more pictures of the products being described. A picture is worth a thousand words.
Just my two cents.
There were, unfortunately, many rooms that we did not get a chance to report on. Our only way to rectify this is to promise more coverage for the Hi-Fi '97 show in San Francisco. With most of the exhibits located under one roof, we should have a far easier time scurrying through the show.
As for the pictures, keeping the bandwidth in check is really the problem. Most pictures can come down to about 10k in size and still look respectable (although resolution does get diminished). But even at that size, for example, twenty 10k pictures becomes 200k which in turn becomes painful for slow modem users. I made a 'judgement call' on how many pictures to include to get the entire article loading fairly quickly. Perhaps I left out too many pictures. For the Hi-Fi '97 report I will likely cut the full show article into smaller, more manageable chunks and be able to include more text and pictures with a faster load time. Thanks for your feedback...DAS
January 30, 1997
I'm Ray Seda, Secretary of the S.F.A.S. and the guy that visited Jim at his home/store in paradise. As usual Jim's article was a great read and very humorous; despite the exaggerations and the errors in FACT!
The subject which was central to Jim's article is one near and dear to my heart. What I refer to is the question of NO COST memberships. As you know, SFAS is quite young, 3 years old to be exact. I have been an active member for nearly two of those years. The reason we still exist is mainly due to the generosity of certain high-end audio luminaries such as Steve Hill of Straightwire, Dennis Had of Cary Audio, and a very generous donation from a member and former steering committee member. In addition, the generosity, enthusiasm, and support we get from a member and shop owner, Steve Zipser of Sunshine Stereo, is always appreciated.
Needless to say, the first and second year were a real bonanza. We were able to afford excellent venues for monthly meetings, we acquired our own web domain address, http://www.sfas.org/sfas/ we produced a monthly newsletter which was sent out to our entire mailing list of 130 even though the number of paid members were only about 45 or so. The monthly meetings always included a very generous dinner buffet and in December we were even able to afford a very nice holiday function which included live music.
This past year, unfortunately, was far different. We have had to cut down our monthly newsletter to being bi-monthly. As of this month the mailing list is only to paid members, and former industry guests, and our annual holiday affair was held in a very generous member's home (at no cost to the club).
This is not a letter to solicit pity. On the contrary. Our club is in excellent health and I feel that we are offering to members and to the high-end audio enthusiast at-large, a real service and comeraderie which has always been the lifeblood of the high-end audio societies throughout the US.
So Jim, Doug, SoundStage! readers and high-end enthusiasts, this is your wake-up call. Please support your local high-end audio society even if you perhaps can't attend all of the meetings and programs throughout the year. There is so much more to an audio society than just having a monthly meeting to attend. You are assuring that there will always exist a "high-end enthusiast" in the future....
A challenge if I ever heard one, and a worthy one indeed. I'm a firm believer that we have to expand the market for high-end audio and that means supporting GOOD local dealers and our Local Audio Societies. In future issues of SoundStage! I plan to create a page for listings of Audio Society events, etc. If anyone would like their information presented please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. As well, Canadian audiophiles listen up, I'm going to let you in on a little secret -- there is a movement to form an Audiophile Society in the Toronto Area. I'll keep you posted in these pages...DAS
January 2, 1997
To: Greg Smith
I very much enjoy your contributions to SoundStage! Even though I have progressed to gear beyond the scope of your reviews, I still read them with much interest because many of my friends are not "serious" audiophiles but like to have quality components at reasonable prices. They often ask my advice concerning these matters, and many of your reviews elucidate just these types of components.
I have heard the Gamma and pretty much agree with your conclusions. There is one part of the review with which I cannot agree, however, and that is your "budget cable" recommendations in the "Shack up that coax" section of the review.
In terms of budget cabling, there is really only one choice, CANARE. Believe it or not, my entire system is wired with different CANARE cables. And this is a highly revealing system including an ARC LS-5 mkII preamp, an ARC D-240mkII amplifier for the low frequencies of my biamped system, an ARC D-200 for the high frequencies, a Wadia 25 DAC, a Denon DCD-1520 CD transport, a Panasonic SV-3700 DAT transport, and my pride-and-joy Kinetic Audio Labyrinth speakers.
For all interconnects I use Canare L-4E6S "star-quad" cable terminated with Neutrik gold-tip XLRs. For single-ended interconnects you can use the L-4E6S terminated with CANARE's wonderful F-10 gold-tip RCA. You can get a 1m pair of these cables delivered to your front door from Markertek (1-800-522-2025) for $25-30.
For a coaxial digital interconnect between my CD transport and DAC, I use CANARE LV-61S 75-ohm video cable terminated with the true 75-ohm CANARE RP-C4 gold tip RCA or the BCP-C4B 75-ohm BNC connector (actually I use a RCA->BNC cable between my CD transport and DAC). A 1m cable can be delivered to your front door by Markertek for about $15.
For an AES/EBU digital interconnect between my DAT transport and DAC I use the CANARE DA206 110-ohm AES/EBU cable with Neutrik gold-tip XLRs. A 1m cable can be delivered to your front door by Markertek for about $20.
For speaker cables I use two runs (biamped) of Canare 4S11 (11 AWG) speaker cable that is under $1 per foot from Markertek, although I don't recall the exact price.
I have compared these cables in my system to the XLO Signature 4.1 series, the MIT Terminator3 series, the Illuminati D60 digital series, and the Straightwire Virtuoso series. None have been able to outperform the CANARE in my system, which again I believe to be quite revealing. Now, that is not to say that these other cables didn't EQUAL the performance of the CANARE (actually the MIT did not even equal the CANARE), but for 10 - 50x the cost, the choice is a no brainer. Even in my system with a retail cost of $24K.
I have been touting the CANARE cables on rec.audio.opinion for some time since making these comparisons. I would love to see you do a review of any/all of these cables in your column in SoundStage! They represent an exceptional value with superb performance. PLEASE REVIEW THESE CABLES!!!
Thanks much for reading this Greg!!
Greg is hot on the trail of this one and has some of his own cables ordered. Please look for a review in an upcoming issue. Greg has suggested that we get some of our contributors with higher-priced systems to try it out as well. We'll keep you posted and thanks for the tip...DAS
January 30, 1997
Although SoundStage! has made it clear the 2 channel stereo playback is its primary domain, I would like to know that whether you are going to include Home Theater gear in your review list. The reason I asked is because I am waiting for a good review on the new Von Schweikert home theater speaker system. I was told that they are very good at both audio and home theater application.
Good question, and it is one that other SoundStage! contributors have asked too. Right now we're going to focus on high-end two channel home audio and do that right. Our goal is to find and write about as many good products as we can. But if we hear great music through a multi-channel system, it will be tough for us to ignore...DAS
December 2, 1996
In the November issue of SoundStage!, there is a review of a digital cable (Silver Sonic D-75 Digital Interconnect Cable) manufactured by DH Labs of Palm Beach Gardens Florida. The reviewer likes the digital cable very much and describes it as a terrific value with performance in the league of interconnects costing many times as much. I also found out by contacting DH Labs(through the telephone number provided at the end of the SoundStage! article), that they also manufacture the Silver Sonic Series T-14 Speaker Cable. Upon contacting DH Labs, I had the good fortune of speaking to the owner Darren Hovsepian; a quiet, soft spoken fellow who is happy to tell you all about his cable product lines. Darrel put me in touch with Audio by Caruso, a distributor in my local area who arranged for me to do an in-home audition of the D-75 Digital Interface Cable and a set of the T-14 Speaker Cables in Biwire configuration. At this point I feel compelled to tell you that I have absolutely nothing to gain by sharing this information with you except perhaps, that this information might get out to other fellow audiophiles. I have been using a very well advertised and critically acclaimed brand (read expensive) of speaker cable and digital interconnect for about 9 months. I thought I was pretty happy; alas...ignorance is bliss! After talking to Darrel and my local distributor, I agreed to try out the DH Silver Sonic stuff at "no-risk". If I don't like the cables, they go back...absolutely no obligation.
I received the cables and after breaking them in for about 48 hours, I sat down to listen...OH MY! The difference in the two brands of cable was immediately apparent. This was not a "subtle" difference but a dramatic one. The soundstage was wider, much wider than before. The highs were clearer, crisper and more precise...not grainy or edgy or sharp, just more real. Cymbals were fast, crisp with lots and lots of air and "ride". The decay for all instruments and vocals was incredible. The bottom became tighter and more controlled; much faster. Mids were "spooky-real" with some very, very impressive inner detail. In summary, my system became more musical...isn't that what it's all about? All of this at LESS than one-half the cost of my highly touted, well advertised and fat, ugly cables! I'm never sending these DH cables back.
The reason I'm writing this is in the hopes that you will share this experience with other audiophiles. I believe that whenever we confirm a real "Giant Killer," we owe it to our fellow audiophiles to share the news so that both they, and the manufacturer can benefit.
In conclusion thanks for the DH Labs article in the November issue...without that information, I wouldn't be enjoying these fine cable today.
I take personal pride in your comments because I was the one who evaluated that product. I'm glad to hear about someone giving it a try since it is a steal at well under $100. On the whole, DH Labs should be commended for doing a bang-up job by providing high-quality audio interconnects and speaker cables at affordable prices...DAS
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