[SoundStage!]Archived Letters
February 2007


Integrated upgrade

February 20, 2007

To Philip Beaudette,

I've enjoyed your recent reviews of some of the integrated amps I've been interested in. I am a composer at a music studio, and I am quite pleased with the older Bryston 4Bs (powering Westlake LC-8.1s), at least for the professional studio application. Lately I've been wanting to upgrade my personal home stereo, not for critical mixing like in the studio, but for enjoyment. So far my home setup is:

NAD C521BEE CD player
Dynaudio Focus 140 speakers
Rotel preamp (old, don't know model)
Samson Servo 260 (cheap home-studio power amp that makes my speakers, which I know have the potential to sound full, detailed, and rich, sound lifeless)

So I'm in obvious need of a good preamp and power amp. I desire simplicity, so I began searching for an integrated amp (under $3000). My setup is in a relatively small room (12' x 14').

I've been quite interested in the Bryston B100 SST (with the DAC), and your review was quite glowing. I was wondering how the B100 stands up against the Flying Mole CA-S10, Krell KAV-400xi, Simaudio Moon i5.3, and the Musical Fidelity A5 (or any others that you might recommend in my price range). The idea of going to a tube amp excites me a bit, but I don't think there are any within my budget.

As far as my taste goes (and not having the audiophile vocabulary), I want my sound to be clean and accurate without being clinical and extended without being hyped. I want the image to have depth, where I can close my eyes and "see" the musicians just behind the speakers. I don't really like forward, edgy presence. All this is probably related to the way I prefer 2" tape recording to hard-disk recording, where the highs are true without being harsh and the lows are fat without being hyped and the image is cohesive without being clinical.

I wish I could audition all of these in my room, but in the meantime I would appreciate any advice you can give.

Paul Bessenbacher

First off, the only time I heard the Musical Fidelity A5 was in a dealer's showroom with everything unfamiliar to me. However, I've reviewed all of the others you mention and I can assure you that all of them have at least some of the sonic attributes you describe as being important to yourself. I imagine you'd be able to appreciate aspects of each one. But which one would you love? Impossible to say for sure, but I'll reiterate what I wrote to another reader: the Bryston B100 SST has left the biggest impression on me so far. I've made no secret of the fact that the Bryston has engaged me like no other, but I've also never had the chance to compare it to the Flying Mole, Krell and Simaudio units all at the same time. The fact of the matter is that all of these integrated amplifiers perform remarkably well. They all have power, clarity, presence and much more. But do seek out the Bryston with the DAC. It's a good starting point since you are already familiar with the sound and you can consider how far they've come since the 4B. It seems like you have some enjoyable auditioning time in your future. Take your time. This is one of the best parts.

"In your opinion, does the Opera M12 fit this niche?"

February 14, 2007

To Vade Forrester,

I enjoyed your review of the Opera Consonance M12 speaker. I'm outside of Miami,and according to the distributor, there's no dealer in the southeast that has these (or the M15s) on display. As such, I'm contemplating a purchase "ear unheard," so-to-speak.

I've tried just about every technology, and I have yet to find a system that equals horns when it comes to dynamics, speed, impact and that "you are there" presentation. Sure, the other technologies excel in some areas, but when you look at the general balance, all seem very "hi-fi" in their presentation.

I haven't listened to a horn system in over a decade, but the one area that I felt they were weak was in the retrieval of detail. This is an area that I have come to enjoy, being able to hear the fine detail deep within a recording. Now if I could find a system that combined the excitement (dynamics, speed and impact) of a horn system, with the fine detail of a conventional system, I'd be set!

In your opinion, does the Opera M12 fit this niche'?

Reese Conrad

I'd say if detail is your goal, the M12s may not be your best choice. They are very good but not great at depicting detail. They are great at dynamics and sound very sweet. Unlike many horn speakers, they have robust bass. Of course, the lower section uses a bass-reflex cabinet, not a horn. The horn tweeter doesn't exhibit the resonances you find in some metal horn tweeters, like those from Klipsch.

If you want a horn with a lot of detail, consider the ReTHM Saadhana speaker, just shown at THE Show in Las Vegas. It uses a Lowther DX55 driver and adds a powered horn subwoofer in a separate but matching enclosure. That speaker has oodles of detail and bass going into the mid-30Hz range. Doesn't look too bad either. On some material, I liked it better than the $89,500-per-pair Rockport Altair speakers down the hall. The price for the Saadhana is $6500 per pair -- in the same ballpark as the M12 -- not bad considering what you're getting. If your budget is higher, consider the Aspara Acoustics HL1 two-way speaker with horn loading on both bass and treble. It's imported by High Water Sound, and Jeffrey Catalano there is definitely a horn enthusiast. They're about $10,000 a pair. I heard these at the Denver show in October and was very impressed.

If you're set on the M12, I suggest you call Stephen Monte at NAT Distribution, who imports the Opera Consonance products and see if he can arrange an audition for you. He's a great guy to work with....Vade Forrester

Manley vs. Audio Research

February 7, 2007

To Vade Forrester,

I read your review of the Manley Labs Mahi monoblocks from 2005. Very informative. In Sweden were I live, Manley is not well known, but Audio Research is. I have a capable solid-state system of Naim equipment, but I am in the process of changing to tube amplification. May I ask you what you think of the differences between Manley and Audio Research in general, and especially the Mahi monoblocks compared to VS55 stereo amp? Sorry if this e-mail is a bit far-fetched, but it is hard to get this kind of information where I live.

Olof Hallböök

Your question is not at all far-fetched. Unfortunately, I have not heard a VS55 in my system, so I cannot say how it would compare to the Mahis. Based on my Mahi experience and experience with Audio Research gear, I would expect the VS55 to be a quieter amp. Audio Research equipment is usually very quiet, while the Mahis were a bit noisy in my system. But my speakers were of very high sensitivity, and any noise will get played back fairly loudly. In a system with lower-sensitivity speakers, noise considerations might not matter. Of course, factors to consider are what speakers you are going to drive, what type of music you listen to, and what preamp you will use. Both amps are somewhat limited in power. I would also consider the matter of support; if the amp breaks, how hard is it to get service? Is there a local service agency, or would you have to ship it back to the manufacturer? The Mahis use a driver tube, the 6414, that's not in production, although Manley Labs has plenty for its customers. The VS55 tubes are all very common and in current production....Vade Forrester

Bryston, Flying Mole or Simaudio?

February 5, 2007

To Philip Beaudette,

I enjoyed your reviews of both the Bryston B100 SST and the Flying Mole CA-S10 integrated amps and was hoping I'd be lucky enough to see a caparison of the two in the review of the Flying Mole. I know you speak very highly of the Bryston and was wondering how the Flying Mole or even the Simaudio i5.3 stack up. Your candid thoughts would be very much appreciated.

Murray Hutchins

Unfortunately the Bryston B100 SST was already returned to the company before I received the Flying Mole CA-S10 or Simaudio i5.3. Therefore I couldn't many any comparisons without having all three on hand at the same time. However, you've asked me to be candid and I will do so by first reiterating that I've never directly compared all three integrateds.

As you've noted I hold the Bryston B100 SST in the highest regard. Listening to it was the first time I'd ever heard anything perform to such a high standard. Everything that came after had to live up to the expectations it had set. If I had to choose the one integrated I would most like to hear again it would be the Bryston.

If I were to select a runner-up I'd pick the Simaudio i5.3. It would be very interesting to compare the two side by side. However, I do not say this to discredit the Flying Mole CA-S10. It produces sound with such extraordinary clarity that you owe it to yourself to check it out. It sounds and looks remarkably good. My advice: If you're looking and you have the chance, listen to all three. I wish I could name a single piece that would be all things to all people. If only it were that easy....Philip Beaudette


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