[SoundStage!]Archived Letters
March 2006


Thanks for the measurements

March 27, 2006


I just wanted to drop you a quick note to express my gratitude with your Speaker Measurements page. It has been a refreshing breath of objectivity in an industry saturated by subjectivity. I would also like to encourage you to continue to test loudspeakers (especially the current rave, Anthony Gallo's Reference 3.1). Many thanks.

Benjamin Zivan

"How does the Magnepan MMG rate...?"

March 21, 2006

To Doug Schneider,

I have read your reviews and comments regarding speakers in the $400-$800 range. The same names come up: Energy, B&W, Paradigm, Axiom, Ascend, and Revel. How does the Magnepan MMG rate among these? It is in the same price range, but never gets mentioned. Is it on par with these other speakers or superior such that it should be compared with more expensive models?

Steven Stone

The only reason that the MMGs don't come up in my reviews is because I haven't reviewed them (actually, I haven't reviewed B&W speakers either, so that name also wouldn't come up in any of my reviews). However, I have heard the MMGs and thought that they sounded very good, and other SoundStage! Network reviewers have written about them and thought highly of them. They're in our Reviewers' Choice listing, which recognizes products that can be considered state of the art and/or of exceptional value. In fact, they are the longest-running Reviewers' Choice product, having been reviewed back in 1996! Based on that, you can be certain that the MMGs deserve to be included among the speaker brands you mention....Doug Schneider

Desert-island minimonitor

March 20, 2006

To Doug Schneider,

I write to you from Singapore, as I value your views and all the write-ups on SoundStage! over the rest.

In my final quest for a stand-mounted speaker, or "minimonitor" as some call it, I have run into the problem of choice, as there have been many reviews of highly recommended models, some enticing and some encouraging, whilst others leave me with the uncertainty of whether to read between the lines or literally accept the reviews as they are.

The speakers on my short list are:

Merlin TSM-MM
Escalante Design Juniper
Tyler Acoustics Taylo Reference
Focus Audio FS-688
Totem Acoustics Mani-2
ProAc Tablette Reference 8

I have not had the opportunity to audition any of the above models except for Focus and ProAc speakers, but the equipment setup during those listening tests was rather extravagant. Some models are not marketed here.

I am about to exhaust part of my savings, in anticipation of retirement, and thus my choice would undoubtedly be my desert-island speaker choice. My listening room is small, 12'W x 18'L x 8'H, with no treatment except heavy curtains and bookshelves on either side.

My preference is for excellent transparency, a wide and deep soundstage, pinpoint 3-D imaging, excellent timbre/tonal characteristics, a warm and musical sound. If dynamics and speed could blend with said attributes, so much the better.

The equipment setup will be modest. I shall be partnering the speakers with a Simaudio I-5 (not sure whether the latest I-5.3 would be better choice) and Marantz CD7300 as transport with a Benchmark or Bel Canto DAC. The wires are Nirvana S-L for speakers and Harmonic Technology Truthlink as interconnects.

I would be truly grateful if you could assist me in my choice.

Anwar Bin Saadan

Since this is your "desert-island speaker choice," the final choice is really going to have to come from you. Frankly, you could pick any number of "good" speakers that would satisfy a great many listeners, but they’d all be a little different and most likely different ones would still appeal to different listeners.

Of the speakers you mention, the only one I’ve reviewed is the FS-688, which I think is outstanding in terms of sound and build quality. The only problem, though, is that it’s a little bit expensive. However, you might be interested to know that a review of the FS68SE, which is very, very close to the FS-688 in terms of the performance and much cheaper in terms of price, was published on SoundStage! A/V on March 15. Other good small speakers that I have used and reviewed but you don’t mention are the Paradigm Reference Signature S2 and the PSB Platinum M2....Doug Schneider

"Asian goods with pitiful owner's manuals"

March 17, 2006


In your review of the Ayre C-5xe you offer a dictum about "Asian goods with pitiful owner's manuals." As an importer of Asian goods, I can attest that the owner’s manuals of a major Chinese manufacturer are sparely written, but contain all the information essential to setting up and using the equipment. The manuals also include a comprehensive list of specifications, including signal-to-noise ratios of both balanced and single-ended outputs, if offered. This is a specification that at least one major US manufacturer omits.

I have found that lengthy owner’s manuals usually contain an excess of promotional copy with only a few pages of pertinent setup information. Full specifications require at most half a page. For me, a short, incisive owner’s manual is much more user-friendly than an ad-man’s version that pads the pages with an excess flowery verbiage. I for one prefer the simplicity of the Chinese manuals.

Jim Saxon

"The better buy?"

March 16, 2006

To Doug Schneider

I read your review of the Revel Concerta M12 speakers with great interest, but your comparison with the Energy Reference Connoisseur RC-10 made my curiosity even greater for the RC-10.

I'm from the Netherlands. The RC-10 and M12 both have the same price in Holland (400 euros). I've only heard the Revel and really enjoyed it. But the shop that sells the RC-10 has no sound room. In fact, they hardly know what they sell. What do you, from your personal point of view, consider as the better buy? High volumes are not the most important for me. More important is good sound in combination with moderate or even lower volume levels. My room is approximately 5m x 5m.

Frank Ho

The better buy? Easy. The RC-10 -- exactly the reason it got a Reviewers’ Choice nod. Quite simply, the RC-10 sets a new standard for what consumers can expect to spend for great sound and build quality. When you combine those factors you realize there are few speakers on the market right now quite like the RC-10, and perhaps none at all.

But that’s not to say the M12 is not in the same sonic class -- it is. However, the M12 is all about good sound, and not so much about appearance and build factors, such as the real-wood veneer on the RC-10. That, frankly, is what held the M12 back from getting a Reviewers’ Choice nod, too. However, the M12, while not quite the looker that the RC-10 is, sounds great, and it does go deeper in the bass and can play quite a bit louder without strain than the RC-10.

Based on what you’re telling me, high SPLs aren’t that important. Therefore, I’d definitely check the RC-10 out, and perhaps even one of the larger, floorstanding Reference Connoisseur speakers, which also look very interesting. With those you don’t need stands....Doug Schneider

Zanden amps?

March 13, 2006

To Doug Schneider,

Have you written any reviews of Zanden amps? I have read many reviews of the DAC and transport, but none of the amplifiers.

Craig Gaglia

Good question. The only Zanden amp we’ve reviewed to date is the Model 600, which is actually an integrated amplifier. It’s an excellent unit. However, we haven’t reviewed any Zanden power amps -- at least not yet….Doug Schneider

Meaningful measurements

March 9, 2006


I recently came upon your website and wish to tell you what a great job you do. I am especially impressed by the NRC speaker measurements. The FAQ on what the measurements actually mean was very clear and educational.

You report frequency response, sensitivity, and distortion. Are there any other objective measurements of a speaker's performance that affect perception?

Richard Whitten

You ask a very good question. Research done at the NRC, where we measure speakers, proved that not only can people hear things that can be measured, but they prefer certain measurable parameters to others, flat on-axis frequency response, wide dispersion, and low distortion among them. Nay-sayers will argue that there is little or no correlation between measurements and how pleasing a speaker sounds, often to defend preference for a speaker that measures poorly. I've heard speakers with prominent dips in frequency response, and while those dips may not have been fatal flaws, they were obvious deviations from fidelity.

I think one of the most important reasons to publish speaker measurements, which cost us a fair amount of money, is simply to uphold or refute manufacturer claims. A claim of high sensitivity, for instance, can entice people who like the sound of low-power single-ended amps, but if the speaker actually has below-normal sensitivity, a consumer can get stuck with a speaker his amps can't drive.

I'm surprised by how hostile and defensive some audiophiles can get over measurements. It's as though they would rather know less about products than more. A purchase is always a matter of preference, but truthful information is never a bad thing to be armed with while shopping....Marc Mickelson

"I certainly agree..."

March 8, 2006


I certainly agree with your editorial ["A Question of Balanced"] regarding the use of balanced circuitry and connections. With my electronics coming basically from Mark Levinson and Audio Research, I have found when making the comparison (single ended versus balanced) that balanced sounds better according to my tastes and expectations. Very nice soundstaging and air, and lots of more energy. Yet, you are completely right: Conrad-Johnson and others make great-sounding single-ended components as well. I have always wondered what would happen if C-J added a balanced alternative.

Gerardo E. Ortuño

Ascend vs. Energy

March 7, 2006

To Doug Schneider,

I am looking for a pair of speakers in the $400-$600 range and read the SoundStage! reviews of the Ascend Acoustics CBM-170 and Energy Reference Connoisseur RC-10 loudspeakers with great interest. Have you considered reviewing the Ascend CMT-340 SE? At $568, it is almost exactly the same price as the RC-10. The thing that seemed to stand out about the RC-10 was its tweeter, and Ascend's Signature Edition models have an improved tweeter compared to the one used in the CBM-170 that you favorably reviewed in 2003. It would be very interesting to see how the CMT-340 SE compared to the RC-10, but no one seems to have reviewed the Signature Edition models yet. Could SoundStage! readers possibly see a comparison such as this in the months to come?

Chip Williams

I was very impressed by Ascend's CBM-170 when I reviewed it. At the time, and even today, I consider that little inexpensive speaker an absolute steal for someone who is seeking sonic neutrality and refinement at a rock-bottom price. Obviously, then, we'd also welcome other Ascend products; we're always on the lookout for great high-end finds. So far, though, Ascend Acoustics hasn't formally sent us another model for review. However, that can change at any time, and hopefully if they see this letter we can get other speakers models in for review and see how they stack up....Doug Schneider

"Reference" products

March 6, 2006


Thank you for your wonderful insight into the Audio Research Reference 3. I too have a VTL TL-7.5 Reference preamp and Lamm M1.2 Reference amps together. The hiss is so loud I can hear it at the listening position. I just bought the Reference 3 and the Reference 210 amps. This is a stellar combo. Very quiet and so musical. I would like to thank you for your help once again. I have great respect for your opinion, because I use it when I make my buying decisions. Thank you for your recommendation of the Shunyata products. I bought them all and they made a huge difference, especially the Orion speaker cable and the Hydra Model-8 and Model-2.

Let me know if you have a chance to use the Reference 210s and what you think. Again, thank you for all your invaluable insight and information. Any advice you could give me about the VTL TL-7.5 would be appreciated.

David Zucker

I heard the Reference 3 and Reference 210s at ARC last year and again at CES. They impressed me greatly both times (along with the Reference CD7, which is proving to be a remarkable digital source here). I envy you for having Reference amps. I hope to write about the 210s at some point.

As you have discovered, the TL-7.5 is not a good match noise-wise with the Lamm M1.2 Reference amps. The Lamm amps will certainly work very well with the Reference 3, however. Do you need two preamps -- that is, do you have two audio systems? If so, you'll want mate to mate the '7.5 with an amp like the Lamm ML2.1, VTL Siegfried or S400, or one of the Blue Circle BC200-series models, which all have low enough voltage gain that hiss isn't an issue. I'd love to be able to afford a '7.5 to use strictly with Lamm ML2.1s, although the cost of such a pairing would be prohibitive as a "second system."

I hope this helps. Enjoy your ARC Reference products....Marc Mickelson

Identifying CDs

March 3, 2006

To Rad Bennett,

I enjoy reading your website. I am an audio enthusiast (no surprise) and have a large collection of CDs. On vinyl I know what to look for when it comes to lacquer and stamper numbers. But on CDs I can't find a primer or really even a pattern. Do you have an ideas/experience with this?

Andrew Briggs

The stamper numbers are not on the label side of the CD, but on the other side, the side that contains the program. Remember that CDs, unlike vinyl discs, are read from underneath. In the early days of CD, there was a lot of interest in the country of origin for a CD pressing. U S pressings were generally regarded as inferior. All of that has changed now, and I seldom hear anyone questioning a particular country of origin or stamper number when buying a CD....Rad Bennett

"A three-way battle of two-ways..."

March 2, 2006

To Doug Schneider,

You were kind enough to reprint two of my questions in your Letters section recently. As I mentioned in my first letter, I'm in the market for a small two-way loudspeaker. Monitor Audio has released fairly recently a stunning little design called the Silver RS1. I had the pleasure of auditioning it -- it's stunningly fast and accurate, and considering its small size, the bass is more than adequate. It's an easy 6-ohm load to drive also with a sensitivity of 90dB. The retail is somewhere between the Energy Reference Connoisseur RC-10 and Revel Concerta M12. This is more of a comment than a question, but this would make for a great three-way speaker comparison.

Steve Anders

A three-way battle of two-ways, I guess! Unfortunately, Monitor Audio, although pretty well known worldwide, only rarely sends us speakers for review. It’s too bad, actually, because we’re always on the lookout for good two-ways; however, even though we’re on the lookout, there’s no real shortage of them in-house. For example, on March 15th you’ll see a review of Focus Audio’s FS68SE in the "On Hi-Fi" section of SoundStage! A/V, and I just received NHT’s Xd system and set it up. The Xd appears to be pushing the boundaries of what’s possible today with two-way designs….Doug Schneider


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