[SoundStage!]Archived Letters
May 2006

 

"...the Energy Reference Connoisseur RC-10 or the PSB Platinum M2"?

May 26, 2006

To Doug Schneider,

I have been reading your wonderful reviews of bookshelf speakers. I have narrowed my choice down to the Energy Reference Connoisseur RC-10 or the PSB Platinum M2. The PSBs are three to four times the price of the Energy speakers, so I would like to know if I will hear a dramatic difference that would make the M2s worth the much higher price. I will be using the speakers with a JoLida 502B amp.

Jim Nickel

If you want to know what’s flat out the better speaker, it’s the PSB Platinum M2. It will play louder and cleaner, and will deliver far more and far better bass. On the other hand, it’s not an across-the-board slam dunk by any stretch of the imagination. The RC-10s are remarkably good for the price, and their top end I find a little sweeter and airier than the M2s'.

If someone was simply going to give me either speaker, I’d take the M2. However, that’s not the case for me or you, and the PSB Platinum M2s, despite being generally better, are four times the price. While I can certainly say they’re better, they’re certainly not four times better. Perhaps a comparison with one of the more expensive Reference Connoisseur speakers would be better (the RC-series floorstanders all play louder and cleaner and deliver more bass than the RC-10). However, if you only want a bookshelf speaker, you’ll have to decide yourself if the M2 is worth the extra cost….Doug Schneider


Amphion Argon2 in the studio?

May 23, 2006

To Doug Schneider,

After reading your review, I'd like to ask if you consider the Amphion Argon2 speaker good for mastering music. I'm searching a good minimonitor for mixing and mastering.

Juanjose Gonzalez

I believe that a suitable monitor for mixing and mastering should have flat on-axis response and very controlled off-axis response. This makes for a neutral-sounding speaker, which is precisely what you want for studio work. Based on our measurements of the Argon2, it is precisely what you want, and my own listening impressions uphold the neutrality that the measurements show. Undoubtedly, it would be a good choice....Doug Schneider


"Fortunately, there are audio magazines that do perform measurements..."

May 18, 2006

Editor,

Regarding this month's editorial, what most, if not all, audiophiles seem to forget is that playback equipment is supposed to be faithful to the original event. That, and that alone, is what hi-fi stands for. While measurements cannot tell you how a component sounds, with particular loudspeakers, they may well tell you how great the potential of a given speaker is to reproduce the event faithfully.

In the case of loudspeakers, it should be the task of the manufacturer/designer to provide measurements, simply because measurements do belong to the tools necessary for designing a faithful speaker. The fact that almost no manufacturers provide such measurements on their website -- or on request -- admits that measurements are not performed at all and highlights the spirit of at least that part of the audio industry with regard to faithful reproduction.

Measurements are an important piece of information because subjective judgment, as well-intended as it may be, is almost of no relevance to the reader. It comes from a different person (with different hearing and perception thresholds, and different tastes and biases), and is based on a different room and a different audio system. A speaker in a different location in the same room will sound different, so imagine what the same speaker in a different room will sound like (you just need to read the work of Dr. Floyd Toole and Sean Olive).

Fortunately, there are audio magazines that do perform measurements, and there the truth is revealed. And there are not many speakers that can be classified as truly high fidelity. Maybe a kind of ranking system based on measurements should be established.

Klaus Rampelmann


Praise for Axiom M3

May 17, 2006

To Doug Schneider,

I feel compelled to send you a brief follow-up note on Axiom's incredible M3 bookshelf speakers, which I recently bought. I advised you last month that this purchase was wholly based on your review of a few years ago. You also did one on the Axiom M2i. I am now just understanding the passion true audiophiles have. It's downright addicting -- such that I had to upgrade my A/V receiver from a modest RCA Professional Series to a Denon AVR-1906.

The M3s are just blowing me out of the water. Folk, classical and most rock do well, but these beauties just seem to excel with high-energy techno, at least to my ears. They've got adequate (not boomy) bass (I do run a sub); just fantastic mids; and extraordinary, crisp highs. None of the frequencies run into each other -- unbelievable. I have yet to hear any distortion (are you kidding me?) as I gradually increase the volume. I'd love to hear where these guys max out, but the room size won't allow it. It's scary to think that I could have spent over $1000 for this sound quality.

I was of the "Bose generation" (please forgive me) and have finally seen the bigger audio picture. The Axiom M3s don't sound like bookshelf speakers; I'm still in awe of their overall performance.

Thanks to you and your review I got a great product for a great price. My next test will be to hook them up to my vintage Pioneer SX-850 receiver and Pioneer PL-550 turntable.

Please trust me when I say, "I look forward to hearing these hidden jewels every day"!

Rich DeVries

I take it you’re now getting a true taste of what high-end audio can be about. You couldn’t have picked a better speaker to do it with.

When I reviewed the original M3ti, I was astounded at how good it sounded for its price. At the time, it was $275 per pair, and although it couldn’t knock the crap out of every speaker around in terms of sound quality, it was laying waste to a good number of them, even up to $6000/pair! On the other hand, it wasn’t perfect. I could tax it to its limits, hearing audible distortion and port chuffing if I pushed it too hard. On the other hand, within its limits -- wow!

Today the design has been tweaked and is called the M3 v2; it’s now priced at $320 per pair, and that’s still a great deal. Axiom appears to now have the speakers available in optional real-wood-veneers; they’re calling this the VaSSallo series, which appears to be starting at $470 per pair for this model depending on the veneer and finish you select...Doug Schneider


Speaker for NAD C372?

May 15, 2006

To Philip Beaudette,

I am writing to you about your review of the NAD C372 integrated amp. I have the same amp in my home. I use it with a pair of Jamo Classic 8 speakers, but, as you may know, Jamo speakers are so smooth, and I do not like the sonic outcome. I plan to buy a new pair of speakers, and I listened to different models, including Dali Concept 8, Wharfedale 9.6, Monitor Audio RS8, and Tannoy Saturn S10. I mainly listen to pop and rock (Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart, Shania Twain) and then instrumental music and jazz. My room is 25 square meters.

I loved the Dali Concept 8 because it plays loud and also has good midrange performance (unlike the JBL E90), but some of my friends said that it is an entry-level speaker and it is possible to find better. Now I am confused. Can you please help me? Do you think Concept 8 is a good speaker? I like speakers that have a broad soundstage, tight bass, open mids and highs (especially  for vocals), and also a powerful sound.

Fikret Yildirim

Unfortunately I have not listened to any of the speakers you mention, so I cannot comment on how well suited they would be to the NAD C372. However I visited Dali's website and, based on the specs they provide for the Concept 8, it appears to be a sensitive speaker that the C372 would easily drive. Furthermore, if you like the sound of this speaker, then it seems like you've already made up your mind. As for your friends who argue that the Dali speaker is entry-level and thus you should consider something else, my only response is "So what?" You are making the investment, so it is imperative that you find something that suits your preference in sound. Of course, there are more expensive options out there (Dali makes these also), but if you like the Concept 8, then trust your ears.

That being said, the Revel Concerta F12 or the PSB Image T45 would also likely appeal to you, based on the description you've given me. I have listened extensively to both of these speakers and think they sound great with all types of music, provided the recording itself is well done....Philip Beaudette


Vintage speakers to new?

May 11, 2006

To Doug Schneider,

I'm thinking of replacing my vintage Dynaco A-25 speakers with the Energy RC-10s, or perhaps speakers from Axiom or Revel. What would you say would be gained, and what lost, in the trade? Unfortunately, most of these speakers are not available in New York, so I was considering ordering them without hearing them.

I'm also tempted to try the Magnepan MMGs, but I wonder whether you thought it would be pointless to try driving them with a non-audiophile receiver like the Harman Kardon HK 3480.

Bruce Novack

While the A-25s have gained "legendary" status in audiophile circles (and I’d recommend keeping them as a collector’s item instead of selling them), I think you might be surprised at what progress has been made in speaker design since the A-25s were born. Speakers today -- particularly the brands you mentioned -- tend to be more linear-sounding (i.e., neutral), have lower distortion, and have drivers and crossover components that don’t deteriorate like those in older speakers. Today’s speakers are also finished quite a bit better. In contrast, even the biggest fans of A-25s probably won’t say that they look good.

As for those brands not being available in New York, I’m surprised. Energy and Revel have quite a few dealers; perhaps you just have to look a little harder. In terms of Axiom, though, all sales are Internet-based and direct from the factory. However, even though you won’t find Axiom speakers at a dealer, I know for a fact that many people have bought Axiom speakers over the ‘Net, had them shipped to their doors, and have come away very satisfied. And for those who aren’t, Axiom has a return policy that’s detailed on their website. It’s hard to go wrong, really.

As for your HK 3480, I’m not sure where you got the idea that it’s a "non-audiophile" piece of equipment. Something that’s "non-audiophile" to me is something that sounds bad, and I’ve found the Harman Kardon equipment to sound quite good for the money. I’d give it a try with any speakers you buy before you go and shop for anything else....Doug Schneider


Praise for Monitor Audio Radius R90

May 8, 2006

To Doug Schneider,

This is a follow-up to my November 2005 letter that you were kind enough to respond to and publish on your website. At that time, I was contemplating changing my Paradigm Atom speakers for NSM Model 5s. After auditioning the Model 5s, I was disappointed that they didn't work within the context of our listening environment (I placed them on top of our armoire) and electronics. The bass was very limited, and at normal listening levels, the overall sound generated wasn't enough to fill my 18' by 12' listening room.

After reading a positive review of the Monitor Audio Radius R90 from one of the British hi-fi magazines, I decided to get a pair. After a month of listening, I have to say that these speakers are very good considering their size and price. At $400 a pair, the fit and finish of these speakers are simply remarkable. The absence of any box coloration, coupled with a very natural-sounding midrange, a revealing-but-smooth top end, and decent bass make them an excellent all-around performer. These speakers are easy to miss as they are sold as satellite speakers in a home-theater package, but for the few who experience them, it might spell the end game for the pursuit of good sound in a small package. They also have the bonus of adding a sleek-looking piece of furniture in your listening area that your significant other will surely approve of.

Ron Narciso


2002 vs. 2006

May 5, 2006

To Doug Schneider,

I have a very high regard for your reviews. The Polk LSi15 article that was published on onhifi.com in 2002 caught my attention. This makes the Polk LSi15 a four-year-old design. While it earned onhifi.com's nod as Product of the Year in 2002, I am interested to know how it compares to more recent offerings in the same price category (more or less) like Axiom's M80 v2 floorstanders, which you wrote very positively about in December 2005.

Daniel Ronquillo

You know, I had to look at Polk’s website because I didn’t think that they made that series anymore. However, you’re right -- they do. Today, the LSi15s sell for $1849.95, whereas when Wes Phillips reviewed them on onhifi.com in 2002, they were about $1740. However, a $110 price increase in four years isn’t much at all. And when Wes raved about them he got it right. They sound really good and they’re build really well.

As for the M80, in 2002 I believe that speaker was about $1100 per pair. Today, its $1300. Proportionally, that’s a bigger price increase; however, I think that the original M80 (called the M80ti) was woefully underpriced, making it an amazing deal. Today, improved and a little higher in price, I’d still say it’s a great deal.

So, in terms of the two speakers you’re looking at, they are very good speakers, but also very different, and obviously priced quite differently. You’ll have to decide how much you want to spend. As for the LSi15’s age, don’t let that get to you because speaker design hasn't changed all that much in four years. In fact, the M80 design was first released in 2000, and Axiom has steadily tweaked and improved it to sound better and better. The LSi15 debuted in 2002, and although I don’t know if any improvements have been made to the original design, I also don’t know if any really needed to be made. It was a great-sounding design then, and although there seem to be more competitors today, I’d still say it’s a formidable design that you should check out because it still offers a whole lot of performance for the money….Doug Schneider


"...the value of objective measurements"

May 3, 2006

Editor,

Thank you for this month's insightful commentary on the value of objective audio measurements. I, for one, do not believe that measuring is a good way to evaluate the performance of an audio component. There are two fundamental problems with audio measurements: the tools they use and "the brain factor." This latter point refers to the fact that measurements will never be as advanced in analyzing sounds as the human brain. This piece of matter is actually a highly advanced spectrum analyzer that can hear timing differences down to .00000000001 second! (That's 10 picoseconds, in case you're wondering.)

As for the first issue, measurements frequently use single-frequency test tones to judge technical performance. Music is not test tones. It is, as you know, much more dynamic and complicated. To make matters worse, test-bench measurements attempt to quantify a variety of two-dimensional phenomena (distortion, frequency response, etc.); but music listening is a three-dimensional experience, vastly different from listening in a "vacuum."

More problems. Audio testing assumes that previous conditions of the component or test signal have no effect on the component's present behavior. In other words, we assume that the component will exhibit identical performance from moment to moment, no matter what the component has been "doing" (sitting idle or processing high-power signals). But audio gear can remember the past: musical transients produce inertial effects in the form of thermal "tails," overshoot and ringing. Semiconductors can behave differently in the milliseconds after passing a high-level transient signal. A great example of this is the power amp that outputs no signal (100% distortion) because its rail fuse had been previously blown by high-level signals.

All in all, audio measurements are riddled with problems. I laugh at the number of times a component measures poorly but sounds noticeably better than a perfect-measuring opponent. This is especially true in loudspeakers. In my view, measurements are analogous to baking a cake: You need to measure the ingredients, no doubt, but you can't measure the final product.

Lastly, as I alluded to earlier, our brains are far more advanced than any computer ever made, let alone a simple test-bench processor.

Enough said.

John Harnick

I think your argument has a serious flaw. No one advocates "measuring [as] a good way to evaluate the performance of an audio component." The data gleaned from well-done measurements and a product's performance are at theoretical odds. One is objective information, the other subjective interpretation of sound, which includes factors such as other equipment used along with the product in question, the room, and the listener's preferences.

Just the same, objective data can tell us things that are important about audio equipment, not the least of which being whether the person who made the equipment knows what it does or is willing to be truthful. We've measured many amps that don't make their power specifications; it's important for potential buyers to know this, especially if they plan to mate a particular under-powered amp with a speaker that needs lots of power. There is also the matter of gross frequency-response aberrations; as you point out, the human brain is very good at analyzing sounds, so, I suspect, you would agree that you can hear a 5dB trough centered around 3.5kHz like the one I mention in my editorial.

In the end, we publish both subjective reviews and objective data, and we do this on purpose. We value both ways of presenting information about audio products. In light of this, as I asked in my editorial, "Isn't objective information a good thing?" If we measured products you owned or were thinking of buying, wouldn't you look at the results?...Marc Mickelson


No RC for Parsifal Ovation?

May 2, 2006

To Jason Thorpe,

I just read your review of the Verity Parsifal Ovations, and I enjoyed and concurred with your observations. Iam seriously considering purchasing a pair, but I am wondering with such a positive review, why the speakers did not merit a Reviewers' Choice award. I currently own a pair of B&W Nautilus 802s and have enjoyed them over the years, but I have found them to be a bit too forward. They are driven by tube amps at 100 watts. I am also looking for better bass definition and tightness, and I am amazed that the small Verity speakers can go to 25Hz. In this price range, have you heard any better?

Scott Kinzy

Reviewers' Choice is, by definition, limited to those components that are absolute "edge of the art" or a stark, raving bargain. Because Verity has two models that are of a higher pedigree than the Parsifal Ovations, that makes it difficult to argue for "edge of the art" status. Further, as good as the Parsifal Ovations are, at close to $20,000, I think it would be a stretch to describe them as a bargain.

In the same price range, I'd also be sure to listen to the Ascendo System Z-f3, which I reviewed a couple of years back. It's also a fabulous speaker....Jason Thorpe

 

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