[SoundStage!]Archived Letters
January 2006


Alexandria X-2s and "possibilities"

January 27, 2006


Greetings from Costa Rica. I have read your three-part review of the Wilson Audio Alexandria X-2s, and I enjoyed it very much. Please don't be concerned regarding the gentleman you mention in your editorial this month. I am an audiophile, and I play some piano and organ as well. For people like me, and especially for me, who I don't have the access to the equipment you people in US do, it is really a blessing to have articles such as yours.

The idea is very simple: one wants to have the best possible audio equipment, but one has to be realistic. I don't have the money to buy all that I want, so reviews help me be selective and focus on what will fit my system and budget. This is a country where we have a fiscal deficit as well as a trade deficit, so we have daily devaluation against the dollar.

The Alexandrias are out of my budget, but it is still nice to learn about possibilities available in the marketplace. I want to be informed, in order to make the best possible choice when upgrading audio equipment.

Good job. Please keep it up.

Gerardo E. Ortuño

Zanden vs. MBL

January 23, 2006


First, thank you for your work on Soundstage! I love your website. It's an excellent source of things audio-related, and you and your crew are doing a great job.

I want to ask, if possible, for you to do a shootout of the upper end of high-end digital systems. Jonathan Valin proclaimed, in the last issue of The Abso!ute Sound, the MBL 1621/1611E combo to be the best he's heard. I'm curious as to how the Zanden combo compares to the MBL. (Perhaps you've even heard them at CES or RMAF.)

Yohanes Rolland

I haven't compared the Zanden and MBL digital combos in my system, and one can't make meaningful comparisons under show conditions: the systems and rooms are completely different, so there are too many variables to account for. I do have other comparisons to the Zanden combo in the works for 2006, however, and you'll want to keep checking back for those. It remains the best CD playback that I've heard....Marc Mickelson

"...license the SACD spec for little or no money"

January 20, 2006


It is interesting to note that the specifications for the new Mark Levinson No.51 as well as the new Classé Delta-series DVD (media) player do not include any SACD provisions. I own only a dozen or so hybrid SACDs, but to my ears they sound far superior to anything currently on the market. I play them on a Denon player and I am constantly blown away by the musical sound they conjure up without any effort at all.

Because the SACD/DVD-A format fiasco has effectively sunk both ships, Sony and Philips should just license the SACD spec for little or no money. It is truly too good to be wasted. They have lost anyway; they might as well muddy the waters a bit. If licensing were effectively free, it's possible that SACD would become the new music-only carrier of choice. If not, we wait while some other DVD-based PCM scheme is created. With the new HD disc format wars just beginning, that could be a long wait.

Don Tyler

Revel vs. B&W

January 19, 2006

To Doug Schneider,

How would you rate Revel Performa M20 speakers compared to the B&W 705s?

David Marnalse

I’ve likely reviewed more minimonitors than anyone in North America -- some of them the best available at any price -- but, ironically, I’ve never reviewed a B&W speaker despite the fact that before my reviewing days I owned three different pairs of B&Ws. None of those were the 705s, however.

B&W doesn’t send speakers to us for review in any regular fashion, so, with regard to your question, I can’t really give you a good answer. The only thing I can say is that the M20 has long since been discontinued and has been replaced by the M22. As well, the M20, or the M22 for that matter, isn’t the only speaker you should consider. If you visit the Audio/Video Reviews section of SoundStage! A/V, you’ll find an abundance of speaker reviews -- just very few of B&Ws….Doug Schneider


January 18, 2006

To Doug Schneider,

Firstly, thank you for your insightful review of Energy's Connoisseur C-3 bookshelf speaker. I've enjoyed them for the last few weeks, with a Denon DCD-755AR. I have tried the following integrated amps: Denon PMA-1055 and a NAD 320BEE. The NAD sounded OK, but the Denon added a little more detail, with more grace at higher volumes in my approximately 3-meter x 4.5-meter bedroom; however, the midrange was "missing." So, I'm wanting to spend more money on an amp.

I gleaned from your review that these speakers perform better with components costing considerably more. As I need a new amp and probably CD player, I am considering buying better ancillaries than those above to bring out the C-3's full potential (i.e., Denon DCD-1500AE/ PMA-1500AE).

Interestingly, Energy Reference Connoisseur RC-10s have just been released here. These are reported to be improved models over the Connoisseurs (let's face it, products are always being updated!). Somehow it doesn't seem sensible to upgrade to them, considering the C-3s are already very good, just in order to match any better ancillaries I buy. What are your thoughts on this?

In summary, have you had experiences whereby you can spend less money on speakers, putting more of the budget towards more expensive upstream components, being of equal or even better quality? If I were to purchase "better" ancillaries, I guess I'm just concerned that the speakers may then become the "weakest link" in my system. I don't then want to upgrade them later for the sake of achieving a balanced system.

Ben Ryan

You’ll get different opinions in terms of where to spend your money. I remember about 25 years ago that Linn was saying to put it all in the front-end -- turntables at the time. Of course, Linn produced mostly turntables then. Others, however, said that most of the money should be put in the speakers. Still others pushed for a more balanced approached. I’m into balance, although that doesn’t mean spending the same amount of money on each component. What it means is simply finding components that work well with each other.

In terms of your problem, I’m not sure a different amp and preamp will solve what you are hearing. Providing that the Denon and NAD amps you describe are operating comfortably with the C-3s -- in other words, they’re able to drive the speakers properly -- I’m not so sure you’ll hear much of a difference going to the higher-priced Denon equipment. That missing midrange will still most likely be missing.

What is it about the midrange that you think is missing? When I read "missing," I think "recessed." What I know about the C-3 is that they’re not recessed, or forward for that matter. They’re remarkably neutral through the mids. However, despite their neutrality, some listeners favor a midrange presentation that’s more forward -- more pumped up. Some manufacturers deliberately do this, in fact, to give their speakers a more "present" sound.

So, before you go and spend more money, I’d first determine what it is you’d like to hear. Is it that the midrange isn’t as forward as you’d like? If so, don’t buy a new amp thinking that might fix it....Doug Schneider

Wilson Audio X-1 upgrade?

January 17, 2006


I am considering an upgrade of my Wilson Audio X-1 Series 3 speakers to Series 5. I have read your August 2005 review of the Alexandria X-2s in which you discuss this upgrade. Prior to making a decision, I would appreciate any insight on the improvements. The estimated cost of the upgrade is $25,000 and the improvement would have to be significant.

As a reference I am familiar with the Sophias Series 1, the WATT/Puppy 7, and, of course, my X-1s. I have not dared listen to the X-2s, which I understand are truly amazing.

Ron Guzas

The upgrade for the X-1 brings that speaker much closer to the X-2; I thought the difference was significant and all for the better. The only question to consider, in my opinion, is whether to upgrade or sell your speakers and buy MAXX 2s, which leapt over the X-1 Series III. I would personally opt for the MAXX 2s, but then I have only heard the X-1 Series 5s once and I have lived with the MAXX 2s. The guys at Wilson Audio could tell you about the differences in detail, I'm sure....Marc Mickelson

Vinyl odyssey

January 16, 2006

To John Crossett,

I just ran across your recent "Found on Vinyl" article, and it made me smile. I still have most of the original albums that you wrote about.

Here's my vinyl story. My brother and I had about 800 albums together when we were students. I don't remember exactly how it happened, but he ended up with the entire collection when he married. I was always a nomad, so I guess I figured that they would be safe with him. Wrong! I came back from the "post-university trip to Europe to find myself" to discover that Bro and his wife had separated. She ended up with the stereo system and albums. I begged and pleaded and eventually ended up getting all of two albums back. They were my very first two albums: David Clayton-Thomas and the Shays a Go-Go and Jimmy Smith's The Cat. So I rebuilt slowly over the years.

All of my re-collected vinyl albums were stolen in a house break-in in October 1982. It took me over a year and a half of fighting with the insurance company for replacement value, then scouring Sam's, A&A and every other store around to replace them. If you remember, this was the pre-CD era. In December of 1984, I was transferred overseas where I remained until my return in October 2005 (reverse culture shock is still creeping me out).

I was posted briefly in Denver in 1994, so the entire audio system (plus albums) was all in one place for the first time. Then, in 1996, it was back to Asia for me and storage for the system.

So my vinyl is old and pristine, having been stored in a cool, dry environment for a long time (you have to love your mom forever). Most of my albums have only been played a few times, and in some cases, not at all. I have about 500 in my collection. Most are complete sets of various artists from the '60s, '70s and early '80s (Cream, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Pink Floyd, Alan Parsons Project). I am now in the process of designing an Access database to make sense of it all.

As far as my system goes, I can only remember what it sounds like. The last time it was running on all cylinders was 1996, before it went into storage. I have only one channel at the moment. The Ohms have Hoovered six coats of lemon oil so far, but, man, are they looking good. A part for the preamp should be here from Singapore in a week or so.

You are making me recall some pretty funny memories with all this storytelling.

Jean-Paul Theroux

I appreciate the sentiments. I just got back from CES in Las Vegas and was out scoring all the new and used vinyl I could safely carry home (and you'd be surprise just how strong one's arms can get lugging sixty pounds of records through airports; I wouldn't trust my precious vinyl to those gorilla's in baggage handling). Hope you get you system up and running very soon so you can get to enjoying those albums. Pristine Cream, Hendrix, The Doors, Pink Floyd, huh? You lucky dog....John Crossett

Status of XRCDs

January 13, 2006


In your show diary, you indicated that JVC is intending to stop US sales of XRCDs later this year. The Abso!ute Sound also reported this -- several issues ago -- but since has reversed its statement, saying that JVC "is in no way planning to do this." Maybe something has happened since this statement, but I haven't heard officially otherwise.

John Harnick

I finally tracked down the blurb in TAS that you mention. JVC is not discontinuing XRCDs, but they are ceasing to sell them in the US through JVC America, Inc., which they set up for US sales of XRCDs. These are the people normally at CES selling XRCDs, and they were not present this year....Marc Mickelson

Narrowing down

January 11, 2006

To Doug Schneider,

Greetings from Massachusetts!

I have narrowed my speaker selection to Sonus Faber Concertinos (unfortunately the "originals" that I heard three years ago are no longer available -- the version I’m comparing is from the Domus series -- a bit "smaller, tighter" sound, as my ear can recollect) versus the Amphion Argon2 loudspeakers.

I found the Concertinos to be crystal clear and bright on the vocals -- with nice, crisp detail. The Argon2s were also pleasing -- a bit more "even" in representation/blend of vocals and instruments. My impression at this point is that I’m "wowed" by the crispness of voice on the Sonus Fabers -- the vocals on the Argon2s are not as clear and "forward." Although listening preferences are subjective, I’d like your thoughts on this.

Suzanne Robitaille

Although I’ve never heard the Sonus Faber speakers you’re referring to, I have heard numerous Sonus Faber speakers over the years. While none of the models I’ve heard have sounded "neutral," some have sounded quite good. On the other hand, the Amphion Argon2s I reviewed some time back did sound very neutral.

Now, which one is right for you will depend more on your personal preferences. No one says that a speaker "must" be neutral for you to enjoy it. There are actually plenty of good-sounding speakers on the market that stray, sometimes quite significantly, from neutrality, and quite a few people like them, even reviewers. Still, my own personal preference is toward speakers that are more neutral -- and one of the reasons for this is what you point out: the "wow" factor.

I’ve found that some speakers with, say, a "pushed-forward" midrange, or sometimes "boosted bass," will be "ear-catching" -- at least for a while. However, over time that coloration, while pleasing at first, often wears thin, and I start longing again for a speaker without all the pyrotechnics. Therefore, that’s why I like speakers like the Argon2, as well as my two current bookshelf references: Paradigm’s Reference Signature S2 and PSB’s Platinum M2….Doug Schneider


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