[SoundStage!]Archived Letters
July 2005


"Hotel California"?

July 29, 2005

To David Cantor,

I came just came across your "For a Song" article "Outside the Box: Talking Heads' 'Psycho Killer'" after doing a search on Google for the meaning of this song. Yours was the first if not only explanation I came across and thought it was great. After seeing that this was written for this month, July 2005, coincidentally enough, I wanted to search for other similar articles but didn't find a search function on the website nor did Google pull up what I was looking for. If you haven't already written on it, may I suggest "Hotel California" by the Eagles? That one would be interesting to read in terms of analogies and the "real" or referenced Hotel California that was in mind when the song was written. Again, thanks for a great article!

David L. Chen

The article you read is only the second in the new "For a Song" column, which comes out monthly. As you can imagine, there are many songs to consider, and we want to be highly varied in the songs we pick. The first was "Blowin' in the Wind." The third will be Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides, Now." I anticipate it will be posted August 1.

At the moment, a fourth song hasn't been selected, but I imagine it will differ significantly from the acoustic singer-songwriters represented by Dylan and Mitchell -- possibly another New Wave song or maybe something by an earlier band. We'll probably also discuss some traditional ballads. Wherever we go, I hope you'll enjoy the columns. And please feel welcome to offer further comments....David Cantor

"Why do audio writers find the concept of honesty so hard to grasp?"

July 26, 2005


I don't know if you visit Audio Asylum, but you should today as there's a discussion on there about negative reviews, specifically Srajan Ebaen's view that justifies being less than truly critical of audio products. Why do audio writers find the concept of honesty so hard to grasp? People read reviews because they want to know about the equipment in question. That's it. We don't care about your agendas, hidden or otherwise. We care about what you can tell us about the equipment. Being a longtime SoundStage! reader, I suspect that you believe the same.

Dave Wallace

You are correct -- we agree with you on the importance of information. Heck, we pay more for the measurements we publish along with our reviews than other online publications pay their writers.

I looked at the thread on Audio Asylum, and I also scratch my head, especially when it comes to the notion that negative comments, once tested and justified, need to be cloaked in the aura of some higher purpose to be expressed. Any audio publication, whether online or print, exists because people want to read it. As you point out, people read to gain information about products -- what we reviewers hear from them. Honest audio reviewers who care about their readers know this; others, who have reasons other than honesty for writing about audio, bury this notion in all manner of pseudo-philosophy, which only clouds a very simple issue and makes the jobs of honest reviewers harder. It's what the mainstream media call "spin," pure and simple, and it's what marketing people do, not journalists.

I noticed in the thread on Audio Asylum that Jonathan Tinn responded in defense of "reasonable standards." We reviewed one of the products he distributes, the darTZeel NHB-108 Model One amplifier, and he was none too pleased with the outcome of that review, which concluded that the amp sounded very good but "simply costs too much money for what it offers." My response to him following that review pretty much sums up what we believe.


First, the review was seen by the manufacturer prior to publication. I traded cordial e-mail with Hervé [Delatraz, the amp's designer] and told him he could submit a manufacturer's response that would be published with the review. He declined. He also provided me with your cell number, which I called three times and got no answer. At the point where the man who made the amplifier sees the review and checks it for factual and technical errors (exactly what you would have been asked to do), we have done what we need to in order to assure accuracy, and the review was published.

As to what Jeff [Fritz] wrote about the amp, you will have to explain where any mismatch with Jeff's speakers (which are a claimed 95dB sensitive and a nominal 8-ohm load) occurred. The vast majority of the review praises the amplifier's sound, and discusses in acute detail exactly what Jeff heard, using music as the arbiter. At no point did I state or imply that Jeff would only write positive things about the amp. Jeff has listened to much of the best solid-state equipment made, and in his opinion, the darTZeel amp bettered some less expensive competition but didn't compare with two amps in its considerable price range. This is the sort of thing that happens in an honest review.

Finally, Jeff is in Germany right now but will return early in the week. When he returns, he will let you know that the amp is ready for pickup. I've copied him on this message so he can elaborate.


…Marc Mickelson

Why no Reviewers' Choice for BC204?

July 22, 2005


Thank you for taking the time to review the Blue Circle BC204. I am a Blue Circle fan and owner myself.

However, I was wondering why the BC204 did not make the Reviewers' Choice list. You seemed to really like it, and it compared very favorably to your much more expensive Lamm amplifiers. I read your point about it being too expensive or not SOTA, but I am not sure I understand.

Please let me explain. As far as cost goes, there have been other items to make the list this year that are much more expensive. The VTL preamp, Zanden DAC and transport, all reviewed by you, made the list. So I wonder why cost would rule the BC204 out.

As far as SOTA goes, I not sure I follow this either. Is that to mean that a Ferrari 360 is not SOTA because it's not a F60? Is not a Ferrari still SOTA even though Ferrari makes a more expensive product? I seem to remember last year the Paradigm S2 making the list when it's not the best in the line.

Please don't take me the wrong way. I am not trying to make trouble. I just read the review, which seemed very positive. Then, at the end of the review, you cite the above points for the BC204 not making the Reviewers' Choice list, neither of which I understood.

Nick Wright

Why the BC204 wasn't named Reviewers' Choice seems to be the hot topic right now -- I've gotten a few e-mail messages on it. Reviewers' Choice is reserved for two kinds of products: ones that are terrific bargains, and ones that are state of the art regardless of price. The BC204 costs almost $8000, so tough to call a "terrific bargain," and Blue Circle makes amps that are better, so the BC204 is not state of the art either. Still, it is a fine amp and worthy of anyone's consideration.

Of course, there is a big gap between bargains and the state of the art, and products like the BC204 and Wilson Audio Sophia fall into it. Such a list has to be exclusive to be relevant. The Zanden digital separates and VTL preamp made the RC list both as state-of- the-art products. The Paradigm Signature S2 speakers are state-of-the-art minimonitors and a tremendous value...Marc Mickelson

"Most want convenience"

July 20, 2005


[Regarding this month's editorial, "A Bright Future"], while I agree with your thesis that improvements in technology are improving the quality of music reproduction, I do not think this ensures the relevance of high-end audio today and tomorrow.

First, the products you cite in the editorial are probably unknown to the general public. While the iPod is arguably the most well-marketed and widely recognized audio product today, I doubt many people are familiar with Wilson Audio or Zanden Audio. Furthermore, I suspect that despite the increasing sales of Wilson Audio's Alexandria X-2s, this is insignificant when one considers the fact that Apple sold its 500,000,000 song last week on iTunes (to say nothing of the money it makes from the sales of the players themselves).

Although high-end audio may be improving through strong research, innovative design and engineering, it cannot be relevant if it is inaccessible (and the products you cite in your editorial are inaccessible by most of our standards).

Additionally, many people under the age of 30 own iPods. If the high-end-audio industry wants to continue to be profitable, it would do well to entice young buyers and get them interested in our hobby.

I do not own an iPod, though I have a modest NAD/PSB/AudioQuest system that I thoroughly enjoy. I agree with your comment that listening to music through an iPod (or any MP3 player) cannot duplicate the experience of listening on a nice system. But I also feel that most people do not desire that experience. Most want convenience. That being said, a friend of mine who recently bought an iPod told me he is listening to music more than he has in a long time. I cannot think of a better reason to invest in this product.

Philip Beaudette

Aperion or Paradigm?

July 18, 2005

To Doug Schneider,

I found your review of the Paradigm Reference Studio 20 v.3 loudspeakers very informative and helpful.

I have narrowed my search for bookshelf speakers to the Studio 20 v.3 and the Aperion 632-LR. Both are in my price range. I am curious if you've had the chance to compare these two speakers. I've not heard the Aperions, but I have been impressed with their reviews.

These will mainly be used for music only. I would prefer not to put a sub in the room. The room is 24 x  14 with a vaulted ceiling. I've got young daughters, so the speakers will be used for everything from background music at parties to blasting Lindsay Lohan (sorry).

I will power the system with a Yamaha RX-V557 unless you can make a suggestion in the $400 range.

Thanks for your help and direction. To me this is a substantial investment for the family and I don't want to make the wrong choice.

Jim Azzarello

I've not heard the Aperion speaker you refer to, but I have obviously heard the Studio 20 v.3 at length and like it a lot. In reading your letter, though, two things jump out at me: the fact that you want to use a bookshelf speaker without a sub in a reasonably large room, and you don't want to make the wrong choice because this is a substantial investment.

Because I can't tell you anything about the Aperion speakers but can say that Paradigm Reference Studio 20 v.3 is extremely good, I encourage you to trust your ears and get some sort of money-back guarantee with any speaker that you decide to buy, so you can try it in your room. I'm confident that the Studio 20 v.3 will work well for you -- it spins through any type of music with ease and can play very, very loud for its size. But there's nothing like the peace of mind derived from trying a speaker yourself and seeing if it works well in your room....Doug Schneider

A public "thank you"

July 15, 2005


I am a reader of SoundStage! reviews because they are so informative. I know that I will get the full story on a product. Recently I bought an Esoteric DV-50S to use as a CD player. I read all of your reviews on this product. Your reviews helped to reassure me that the DV-50S was the correct direction.

I wrote Anthony Di Marco and Jeff Fritz with specific questions, and I was impressed that they replied to every message I sent with detailed answers and explanations. Their replies helped me understand a number items that aided my set setup. It was your review of the DV-50 that I stumbled onto first, and it was so good that I knew that the Esoteric would be a top contender.

I just wanted to thank SoundStage! publicly for doing such a fantastic job.

Michael Doukas

Sub-$500 speakers

July 11, 2005

To Doug Schneider,

I read your review of the Ascend Acoustics CBM-170 -- it sounds like an amazing little speaker. I am very seriously considering purchasing it.

However, you did mention that it did not produce very deep bass. I will eventually be purchasing a subwoofer, but not immediately. I am wondering if you could recommend another speaker, within $150 of the CBM-170, that performs as well as it does and reproduces low frequencies well.

I am looking to buy three pairs of the speakers that I ultimately choose, for a wide variety of music and home-theater applications, in a small-to-average-sized room.

Another speaker that I am very seriously considering is the PSB Image B25, about which Robert Reina concluded that he "could not think of a better speaker under $500" in his review of it in Stereophile. Would you kindly tell me what you know about this speaker? Other speakers that I am considering are B&W DM601 S3 and B&W DM602 S3.

I do not live in an area with any hi-fi shops -- only Best Buy and Circuit City -- and so I am basically relying on professional opinions and reviews, such as yours, to make the most informed decision possible.

Tim Dannenhoffer

The Ascend Acoustics CBM-170 is an outstanding speaker that has a very neutral, refined presentation and sells for an amazingly low price -- $328 per pair. Is it the only good speaker near this price? Certainly not. I often find it comical that reviewers will discover a great speaker in this price range and then single it out as the only one worth buying. What this shows, really, is that the reviewer hasn't heard all that many speakers in the same price range.

In the under-$500 price category there are an astonishing number of loudspeakers, and I doubt any consumer, or any reviewer for that matter, could hear even a fraction of them. For example, I review more small speakers than any other North American reviewer, yet I haven't heard the B&W models you mention at any great length. I haven't reviewed the PSB Image B25 (although I have reviewed the Image 2B and the top-of-the-line two-way, the Platinum M2, both of which I found to be very good).

That said, it would be as foolish of me to try and name off a select number of speakers for you to audition as it is for a reviewer to tell you there is just one speaker below $500 that's worth your time. However, I can offer you this advice: at under $500 per pair you're not going to find any speaker that's perfect, or even close to it. To sell speakers at this price point manufacturers must make compromises to get the most sound into a cost-effective package. Some, like Ascend Acoustics, sacrifice deep bass to offer high performance in other areas. In the end, although I recommend that you keep on reading reviews, I also recommend trying to shop around yourself and hear as many speakers as you can. You might be surprised -- in not too long a time you can listen to far more speakers than any reviewer can....Doug Schneider

Uses for the iPod

July 8, 2005


[Regarding last month's editorial on the iPod], I held off too long, and now I kick myself.

I use the iPod on the treadmill and other cardio machines. Now I have a rip-roaring concert every time I exercise. I'm sorry when it's over. It has changed my life and vastly improved my waistline and my health.

As for high-end audio, there is a lossless   compression that is rumored to sound as good as CD. I own a very nice high-end system (Cary CD player and integrated, Silverline speakers, and two turntables), but the iPod has made a bigger difference in my life than any stereo system I've ever owned.

Art Altman

Yes, the iPod is useful for taking your mind off something you might be doing, but iPod listening doesn't capture the intensity of the experience of listening to music on a high-end-audio system. That was my point.

Incidentally, I am also a runner, and I can't use an iPod or AM/FM radio while I run. I like to take in my surroundings (it helps that I run in a beautiful place), and I also need to watch my footing because I run through a rocky, forested area. So I guess I'm on the outside looking in on this use of the iPod as well....Marc Mickelson

From an "Audio Research fan"

July 7, 2005


I am a regular reader of SoundStage! and value your comments as well as your colleagues' very highly. I am an Audio Research fan and would like to know when you're going to review the VM220 monoblocks. You and your fellow reviewers are making the life of people like us much simpler and hugely enjoyable by such accurate and unbiased reviews.

Keep up the good work!

Jocy Varkey

I will talk with Audio Research about reviewing the VM220 monoblocks. Perhaps we can write about them along with the Reference 3 preamp....Marc Mickelson

From Bose to Paradigm

July 5, 2005

To Doug Schneider,

I've been doing some research on speakers to determine if I want to upgrade and then how much to spend. I read your review of the Paradigm Reference Signature S2 loudspeakers. Of all the myriad reviews I've read (and there are a lot of them out there!), yours was the most understandable (informative without dependence on jargon and specs).

So, I hope you don't mind my writing to you for a bit of advice. My current system is not hugely sophisticated: Bose 901 Series IV speakers, Denon DRA-685 amp, Sony DVR and widescreen LCD TV. I am not particularly interested in surround sound, and I am not interested in things that have to be tweaked and tweaked and tweaked. I just want to sit back and enjoy high-fidelity stereo sound.

Some of the speakers I have been reading up on are from Paradigm, Tetra, and Totem. In moving from the Bose 901s to a high-end product of this ilk, should I be expecting a night-and-day difference in listening quality? Is it just a subjective difference or are we talking significant?

Zal Davar

I suspect you will hear quite a significant difference between your current speakers and, say, the Paradigm Reference Signature S2 loudspeakers. First, the Signature S2 is one of the very best small speakers you can buy today, and that alone will make them quite a listening experience for you. As well, though, your 901 speakers and the S2s have quite different technology, which, I believe, will translate into quite a different listening experience in your room. Your 901s have a unique driver array that uses the room's boundaries by reflecting sound off of them as well as sending the sound straight at you. Bose calls this "Direct/Reflecting®" technology. Paradigm, on the other hand, is more traditionally styled and is what we refer to as a "direct radiator," because the drivers are mounted on the front panel and fire straight at you. Comparing speakers that use such differing technologies often results in a "night-and-day" difference for listeners....Doug Schneider

Road trip!

July 2, 2005

To Doug Schneider,

I know this is a matter of one's personal taste, but the Focus Audio speakers are not available in the Montreal area, so I'm wondering if you can help me.

I'm in the process of purchasing speakers, and so far the ones I like the most are the Von Schweikert VR-4jrs, but I'm really curious about the Focus Audio FS-788s. I'd like to know if you've heard the VR-4jr and how you would characterize the differences between it and the FS-788.

Bruno St. Onge

I've heard many Von Schweikert speakers, and reviewed a couple, but I've never heard the VR-4jr at length. I can't really tell you anything meaningful in terms of how it would compare to the FS-788. However, I can offer this piece of advice. If you really want to hear the FS-788, Focus Audio is located in Toronto, and I know they also have at least one dealer there. From Montreal, Toronto is a reasonable drive -- five to six hours, depending on traffic. A little traveling, even with expenses, to seek out a product can be well worth the cost in the overall scheme of things. Both of these speakers cost thousands of dollars, not hundreds, so you may wish to factor that into your final cost....Doug Schneider


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