[SoundStage!]Archived Letters
June 2005


The meaning of "better"

June 30, 2005

To Doug Schneider,

In your own personal opinion, is the Von Schweikert VR-1 better than the Paradigm Reference Studio 20 v.3? I have listened to the Studio 20 v.3, but I don't have any access to the VR-1. I have read one consumer review, though, saying that the VR-1 performed better than the Studio 20 v.3. I would really appreciate your thoughts on this.

Al Camaya

"Better" is a subjective term, and not all that specific. When someone says one product is simply "better" than another and offers no other detail, I usually dismiss the conclusion. It's like a judge saying, "not guilty," but then offering no reason as to why.

That said, given that I have extensive experience with both speakers, as well as a whole lot of others, I can tell you that both the VR-1 and Studio 20 v.3 speakers are excellent, and each offers its own set of strengths and weaknesses that will likely make each appeal to different buyers. They're also both not perfect, which is exactly what you'd expect given their modest prices. You seem serious about sound and appear to be looking to buy one of these, or perhaps some other speakers, so I would do what I can to audition both and then make a final decision. You will be the person living with your choice, quite likely a long, long time. Don't let anyone else make the decision for you....Doug Schneider

Still contenders?

June 27, 2005

To Doug Schneider,

I enjoyed your review of the MasterSource Audio 20M loudspeakers. Would you still consider these speakers to be top contenders in their price range? Are there any other speakers you have auditioned since the review that equals or exceeds the performance of the 20Ms?

Tom Farrell

Since my review of the 20M loudspeakers back in 2001 there have been plenty of new competitors that have hit the market in the same price range. Off the top of my head, I can think of the Paradigm Reference Signature S2, PSB Platinum M2, and Focus Audio FS-688, for example, all of which I've reviewed. Waiting in the wings for future review are the Focus Audio FS-68se, Ascendo C5, and ACI Sapphire XL. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't consider the 20M, just that today there are even more options than there were just a few years ago....Doug Schneider

"A misconception that permeates too much of the audiophile community"

June 15, 2005


[Regarding this month's editorial, "iPods and Old Fogeys"], I'm sure this isn't going to be received very well, but the signal doesn't have to be compressed.

I know plenty of people who care greatly about the quality of their music and revel in the use of their iPods for carrying ripped CDs from their collection in Apple Lossless. Now, the analog output of the iPod itself can be called into question, but listening through one with a good pair of Etymotic earphones or the like isn't half bad. In fact, I would venture to say that the iPod and its abundance has potentially brought more people to listening to music than ever before.

It just doesn't seem logical to suggest that the use of an iPod requires one to go "backwards" in terms of sound quality. How many other portable mass-storage music systems do you know of that allow one to have uncompressed quality? I guess carrying a Discman and a bunch of CDs is an option. Now that seems "backwards."

Further, having your collection in iTunes (Apple Lossless), sending through 802.11 to your Airport Express, and then to your DAC is definitely not backwards and is something I recommend highly. I can't remember where, but I think someone even published an article in which they tested the Airport Express output for jitter and it was remarkably low. That being said, if you buy music from iTunes, then, yes, the file is compressed and there would be a perceived loss of sound quality.

Bottom line: I think there is plenty of proof to suggest that this doesn't have to be a step down in quality, and I think it's a misconception that permeates too much of the audiophile community.

Kevin Merritt

I understand that you don't have to listen to music on an iPod in a compressed format, but that is the way the iPod is used by the vast majority of owners. They trade storage space for sound quality, thereby diminishing the experience of listening to music. Being an audiophile means reveling in the experience. That was the point to which I was trying to call attention, along with the notion that high-end sound will be an especially great improvement to those used hearing music on an iPod....Marc Mickelson

S2 or M2 redux

June 13, 2005

To Doug Schneider

I'm trying to decide between the Paradigm Signature S2 or PSB Platinum M2 and read with great interest your reviews of these speakers. Basically, I conclude that you think they are both great speakers, which doesn't make my task any easier. Unfortunately I don't know any dealers that carry both speakers, so I can't audition them side by side with the same source material and amps.

I intend to use them for two-channel sound as well as home theater (50/50). Is there any further insight that you can share with me that will help me decide? My preference is for a neutral-sounding speaker with lots of detail. All things being equal, I think the Paradigm name is more well-known, so they may have better resale value. I'm leaning toward the Paradigm S2s. On the other, hand the PSB M2s look very attractive.

Michael Chung

I actually addressed this same question a few months ago. My answer now likely won't make your decision any easier. Yes, both are outstanding two-way speakers that prospective buyers will have to listen to themselves to figure out which one is best for them. I don't want to steer anyone in the wrong direction. Furthermore, with both companies having a full complement of home-theater speakers in their products lines, both will fit your needs that way, too. I don't know how you'll end up making your final decision; however, one good thing is that either way that you go you'll end up with a very good set of speakers....Doug Schneider

"iPods and Old Fogeys"

June 10, 2005


I consider myself an audiophile, and I submit my checkbook as proof of my addiction. The point in telling you this is to say that while you do not need to join the crowd and buy an iPod, you are underestimating the sound quality and aesthetic experience it offers [in your editorial "iPods and Old Fogeys"]. Just as a traditional playback system improves with some care in placement and component choice, an iPod improves noticeably with an upgraded pair of headphones and some attention paid to the way the music is encoded. I recommend Etymotic headphones and Apple's Lossless with error correction. In terms of sound for the dollar, even with the upgrades, the iPod is a tremendous value with unmatched portability and convenience. I grant you that listening through headphones is different than the seat in the sweet spot, but it is not necessarily less of an aesthetic experience.

The million iPod units sold are an indicator of popular thinking, and I believe this means a great deal to high-end audio. It interests me that unlike with failing higher-resolution digital formats, my acquaintances who are not audiophiles are enthusiastically accumulating audio files. It reminds me of Napster's heyday, but this time it is legal. It seems to me that a hard drive has the potential to be a terrific music source. Couple good minds and the enthusiasm of our high-end audio community with steadily improving computer products and the sky is the limit. When quality CD players easily cost $5000 to $8000, I welcome the new blood.

Chris Mathes

Made in China

June 7, 2005

To Doug Schneider,

I'm considering purchasing Von Schweikert VR-1 speakers. Does the fact that they are made in China concern you? It's disappointing that the company does not clearly state on the back of the speaker "Made in China." What are your thoughts?

Michael Campton

I suppose I would be most upset if a product was marked as made somewhere and was actually made somewhere else. For example, recently I had the opportunity to see the new speaker lineup from an extremely well-known American high-end manufacturer. On the back of their speakers was a plate that said, "Designed and Assembled in the USA." Which is more misleading, a company that says nothing about the origin of a product, or one that says something about the product but in the end doesn't really say where it was actually "made"? To me, saying nothing seems less deceptive than saying one thing in a "beating around the bush" way in order to say another.

My understanding is that the VR-1 is made in China, as are many other products now. From what I know, though, that's never really been a secret and, frankly, I never noticed that the speaker didn't say where it was made until you brought it up. Companies are making these products in China for one reason -- cost. For a variety of reasons, it's possible to build quite an accomplished loudspeaker and offer it for a very affordable price. The VR-1, at about $1000, is quite a deal. Would you be considering it if, for example, it sold for 50% more, or even twice that price?...Doug Schneider


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