[SoundStage!]Archived Letters
November 2005


PSB or Paradigm?

November 28, 2005

To Doug Schneider,

I'm looking for an upgrade to my Acoustic Energy Aegis One speaker (circa 1994), and I'm leaning toward the PSB Image T45 or Paradigm Reference Studio 20 v.3. The speakers will be located in the living room, so the space will be a bit larger -- about 30 square meters. Amplification is a Musical Fidelity A2. Which one would be the better speaker in your opinion?

Jason Villanueva

If you're defining "better" as "able to fill the space of your room," then, based on just a cursory look at each speakers’ size and driver configuration, it would likely be the PSB Image T45. This is just basing it on the fact that the T45 has a substantially larger cabinet and an additional woofer that would no doubt help fill the bass out better. In contrast, the Paradigm Studio 20 v.3 is a two-way, bookshelf-sized speaker more in line with what you have, I suspect.

On the other hand, if "better" doesn’t just mean "greater output capability," then this decision deserves more consideration. This is where the intrinsic sound of the speaker is of concern, not just its output capability. I’ve heard both the T45 and Studio 20 and liked them both. However, despite the fact that I found them both to be good speakers, they’re different-sounding to a degree, and this is where someone could definitely like one over the other. My advice to you, then, is not to take anyone’s word for it and try to hear both speakers so that you can decide...Doug Schneider

"Merlins compared to all the other top-notch performers..."

November 22, 2005

To Doug Schneider,

Have you been able to hear the latest Merlin TSM-MMs yet? Marc Mickelson says in his review, "Doug Schneider has reviewed more minimonitors than all SoundStage! writers combined, so he's the person who could determine where the TSM-MM fits in the current hierarchy."

I am looking forward to your expert opinion on the Merlins compared to all the other top-notch performers you have reviewed lately in their price range.

Mike Finnedt

I owned a pair of TSM-SEs several years ago, but they’re long gone, and I haven’t heard the TSM-MM or the TSM-MX, the latter of which is a super-deluxe version of this design. As it stands, then, although I have reviewed more minimonitors than anyone at the SoundStage! Network, the latest Merlin TSM is one that I haven't reviewed….Doug Schneider

Amphion speakers and subwoofer?

November 21, 2005

To Doug Schneider,

I've enjoyed reading your articles over the years, and we share similarities in our audio and musical tastes.

My two-channel room includes Ayre components (preamp, power amp, and CD player) and Aerial Acoustics Model 5 speakers. I have three kids, so I feel very fortunate just to have my own dedicated room.

The room is 9' x 13'; the speakers are out about 12" from the front wall on each side of the fireplace (the only possible location in this room); the sofa is 6" from the back wall, placing me 6' to 7' from the speakers.

I recently replaced the Aerial speakers with the Amphion Argon2s. The Argon2s have eliminated the "hole in the middle" syndrome that I've noticed with so many speakers. I know the fireplace and proximity to the back wall are to blame.

Should I add a Vandersteen or REL sub, or upgrade to something like the Creon? My dealer has a upgrade program, but it runs out in two weeks. I can't easily audition the speakers as he is seven hours away in Montreal. BTW, I'm from Canada and there are only two Amphion dealers in all of Canada, the other being in Vancouver.

Steve Graham

The similarities aren’t just in audio and musical tastes – I live in Canada, too. As for your dilemma about whether to add a sub or go to a floorstander, there’s not an easy answer. For example, using a separate sub allows you to extend the bass range substantially, and it allows you to put your main speakers in the best possible place for their sound and for imaging; however, integrating that sub can be difficult. Oftentimes the "handoff" between sub and speakers isn’t done right, and there’s either a peak or a valley in the crossover region, or the subwoofer just sounds different altogether. Other times, though, it’s dead on and the blend is seamless. I’ve heard sub-based systems sound great, and I’ve heard them sound terrible, too.

I guess people could say that I’m a little lazy in that regard and I actually avoid using subs where possible. If I want more bass than a bookshelf-sized speaker can provide, I set up floorstanders that have good bass extension, for the very reasons I outlined. I give up the placement flexibility that a sub can provide, but I get top-to-bottom integration just the way the designer intended. Some may argue with me that it’s not the best way, but few will differ with me that it’s not the easiest way.

That said, I’ve given you no easy solution. Essentially, you’re going to have to try it for yourself, if you can. In terms of the Amphion speakers, they’re excellent, aren’t they? If I was to move up from the Argon2, though, I’d probably go to the Xenon, which seems to sound a whole lot like the Argon2, but with deeper bass....Doug Schneider

From PSB Alphas to...?

November 18, 2005

To Doug Schneider,

First, thank you for an informative website and for your thoughtful insight. I would like your advice regarding a speaker upgrade. My current speakers are a pair of original PSB Alphas. I have been using the Alphas exclusively since I sold a pair of PSB 400i bookshelf speakers I used to have as my main speakers. I use a Harman/Kardon receiver to power the speakers, and I use the system for both music and movies. I sold the larger 400i speakers because I thought there was a cloudiness to the midrange, especially in the portrayal of the human voice. I always felt as if there was a veil over the singer's or performer's mouth. The Alphas give me a much cleaner presentation in the midrange, but they are not without their own faults. I sorely miss the bass and dynamic capabilities of the larger speakers. I often listen off-axis, either from another room in the house while doing chores or even from outside the house (windows open) while playing with the kids or washing the car. The little Alphas just don't hold up with the louder volumes required in these situations. My listening-room dimensions are 16'x 14’. The carpeted room has a curtained window on one side and the other side opens to the dining room.

I am intrigued by your reviews of the Ascend Acoustics CBM-170 (though you say it has limited output capabilities) and the Energy Connoisseur C-3. Perhaps one of these plus a sub would to the trick for me. Maybe I need to spend a bit more and go with...what? A higher-end bookshelf? A small tower?

It seems either the PSB Platinum M2 or the Paradigm Reference Signature S2 may have the performance characteristics I am looking for, but they are well out of my comfortable spending range. I can get the Ascend or Energy speakers for about $300, but I would comfortably double that amount by your recommendation.

David Mandich

What a coincidence! Today I was talking to Paul Barton, the designer of your PSB speakers.

Frankly, it sounds like your needs are for a speaker with greater output capabilities than what the Alpha can provide. Your room, while not huge, is fairly large, and you need speakers that can move some air. PSB’s Alpha series features great, cost-effective designs, but they tend to be better-suited to smaller-sized rooms. As you found out, they strain, as any small speaker that’s being pushed beyond its limits will.

However, these days you can get quite a lot of speaker for up to $600. As well, if you like the sound of PSB, the company has quite a wide range that can likely satisfy you.

I can understand, though, that you probably can’t afford the Platinum M2. It’s a fantastic speaker, but it costs $1999 per pair without stands, and $2499 with stands. On the other hand, Barton told me that the Image series delivers a lot of the performance of the Platinum series, but at a fraction of the price. Their B15 bookshelf-sized speaker retails for $349 per pair, and the B25, a larger bookshelf more in line with the M2, retails for $449 per pair. I’d start there. And if you want to try a tower, the T45, which I’ve seen, heard and think highly of, sells for $749 per pair...Doug Schneider

"...a very interesting combination": CUB 2 and WATCH Dog 2

November 16, 2005


I've noticed that you review a lot of Wilson Audio speakers and often get to review them earlier than many other mags or e-mags. I assume this implies you have a good relationship with the company.

I was just looking at the Wilson Audio speaker listing in the latest Stereophile Buyer's Guide and it hit me that a combination of the CUB 2 and two WATCH Dog 2 subwoofers could make a very interesting combination that would be slightly more costly than the WATT/Puppy 7 and much less costly than the MAXX 2. Also since the WATCH Dog is a powered device, it would allow great flexibility in amplifier selection for the CUB 2. I have never seen this combination discussed before, but I would love to audition it myself. Failing this, a review in your e-mag, especially with NRC measurements, could be an illuminating alternative.

Hopefully your relationship with Wilson Audio could lead to a very interesting and unique review that probably would be a very good combination (and if you are simply too busy, as an ex-Stereophile reviewer, I'd be happy to volunteer for the job). All joking aside, I do believe it would be a fascinating combination.

Allen Edelstein

Thanks for your suggestion. However, there's one hitch in your plan: With the introduction of the new Duette, Wilson Audio will likely discontinue the CUB 2 sometime soon. We will be reviewing the Duette -- and measuring it -- so stay tuned....Marc Mickelson

Which one?

November 14, 2005

To Doug Schneider,

I was just wondering if you can give me your honest opinion regarding the Von Schweikert VR-1 and Paradigm Reference Studio 20 v.3. I know you have reviewed both speakers, but which one did you like better?

Al Camaya

Honestly, I like both -- but for different reasons. For example, I like the VR-1’s real-wood veneer, overall build quality, and big, rich, robust sound. On the other hand, although the Studio 20 v.3 doesn’t have a real-wood veneer, it has a very good-looking vinyl finish, and a little more pizzazz with its styling. Sonically, I prefer the top end of this speaker, and the smooth, relaxed midrange presentation. Bass is pretty good for this speaker, too.

So if you’re looking for an either/or answer, I can't give it. These are both moderately priced, high-performing loudspeakers, and they’re both not perfect, meaning that they each have strengths and weaknesses. Now, if you asked me about Paradigm’s Reference Signature S2, which is at least double the price (about $2000 per pair, depending on finish), well, that’s a different story. But, as I said, they’re a lot more money -- a lot! -- and at that price point you can expect something closer to perfection....Doug Schneider

Atoms to Studio 20 v.3s?

November 11, 2005

To Doug Schneider,

I use Paradigm Atoms for main speakers in my home-theater system, but I use this system more for stereo music listening. What I am wondering is how much difference there is sonically between Studio 20 v.3s and Atoms. Is it worth it to upgrade in my situation (large room)?

Ian Carr

I find that all of Paradigm’s speakers share a similar sort of sound in terms of overall tonal balance. However, the Studio 20 v.3s are quite a bit larger than the Atoms (and about four times as expensive), so they’re able deliver deeper bass, and with their larger, better-quality drivers they can play louder and cleaner without strain. Is an upgrade worth it for you? I think the Studio 20 v.3s are better in every way -- I reviewed the speaker in May of 2004 and thought it fabulous -- but, of course, "worth it" also means that you’ll have to justify the cost difference, which is what only you can decide….Doug Schneider

Paradigm or NSM?

November 8, 2005

To Doug Schneider,

I've enjoyed your many reviews of budget bookshelf speakers over the years. I'm considering purchasing the NSM Model 5 speakers. I love minimonitors and don't mind sacrificing bass over midrange clarity and speed. I'm currently using a Rega CD player and amplifier with Paradigm Atoms in our small living room. I feel the top end of the Atoms is slightly muted, and I'm missing some sparkle. The speaker can sound dry at times. Do you think the NSM Model 5 will deliver what is lacking with the Atoms?

Ron Narciso

The Atom and the Model 5 are both good small speakers. As for the lack of sparkle from the Atom, I believe I know just what you’re hearing. I’ve always thought of the Atom as outstanding-sounding given its price, but a touch forgiving in the top end, which to some might make it sound too reticent, but for others that character can help it to work really well with inexpensive electronics that are often hashy and grainy in the highs. Will the Model 5 give you just want you want? That’s hard to say since you really have to try these speakers in your own room with your own equipment to know. Luckily, NSM Audio has a 30-day return policy with their speakers which can probably help you figure that out….Doug Schneider

"The solution? A good dealer!"

November 7, 2005


[Regarding this month's editorial, "Bumper-Sticker Wisdom"], you're so right about confusion turning away anyone new to our audiophile world. And the negativity in the forums clinches it for them. The solution? A good dealer! When a newbie gets a chance to hear a great system -- or even a half-decent one -- you have a convert. It's interesting that the smaller the dealer, the more accessible and patient he seems to be.

Thanks for your reviews. I read them all and learn.

Joe Banel

PMC vs. Madisound

November 4, 2005


I read the PMC GB1 review, and after looking at the NRC measurements I wasn't terribly impressed. The response was far from smooth, and the bass, as shown by the impedance curve, doesn't go terribly deep, as noted in the review, and probably isn't very well damped. I know this isn't a fair comparison, but the Madisound D'Appolito Thor transmission line kit is available for under $2000 with the deluxe crossover. It should be possible for any reasonably handy audiophile to assemble a pair in a couple of hours. I think you would find that is has wider bandwidth; cleaner, better damped bass; and greater dynamics. Reviewing a kit would be an interesting variation in your review section, and the Thor should be an interesting review subject for audiophiles looking to save a couple of bucks and still obtain impressive reproduction.

Allen Edelstein

It's tough to get kits for review, likely because the outcome depends so much on how skilled the person completing the kit is, as well as the fact that after the review, a kit is no longer a kit. We'll look into the Madisound product you mention, however....Marc Mickelson

Magnan cables

November 2, 2005

To Doug Schneider,

In 2001, you reviewed the Magnan Signature speaker cables. Do you think they compare with newer designs available today and are you still using them? I am looking at a pair of these as well as Silver Audio Symphony 48. Any comments would be appreciated.

Dan Yarin

I no longer use Magnan cables, although I did end up purchasing the review samples and using them for a time. Over the long term, though, even though I was impressed by their performance, their large, bulky construction became something of a hindrance with all the equipment swaps I have to do. As for the Silver Audio cables you mention, I haven’t tried them.

That said, my real goal in answering your question is to put across the idea of being careful in soliciting opinions about cabling. I’ve found that cables can make a difference; however, in order to know if a cable is going to be good for you, you really have to try it in your own system. Cables are not independent items; they’re system dependent, and their performance will depend in part on the equipment they’re used with. There’s just no way around that...Doug Schneider


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