[SoundStage!]Archived Letters
April 2007


"I'm glad to see you had the courage to speak up...."

April 26, 2007

To Doug Schneider,

I have to congratulate you on your commentary in your Festival Son & Image coverage regarding the dearth of new product and abundance of high prices.

For the past few years, I've looked at the coverage of all the major shows from all of the major e-zines and have noticed the steep decline of new, progressive products. There is a huge number of retro-products coming out sold at hideously high prices, but very little in the way of new design approaches sold at reasonable prices. Value engineering has (mostly) gone the way of the dodo. Basically, very little interests me in these reports. I see speakers being better designed (with, ahem, more ribbons) and more-intelligent cabinet construction, but once the state of the art becomes digital, few high-end companies can participate, so they regress.

This is a function, I suppose, of the collapse of the high-end market, where interested and knowledgeable audiophiles put together their own systems and depend on their own expertise to make decisions. Today, the only area that seems to be drawing interest and ink is the high-priced market, where a few wealthy people walk into stores and order "the works" plus installation. I think the dedicated, self-sufficient hobbyist is largely out of it now.

As someone who runs a struggling high-end company, I recognize the allure of developing very expensive products. If your sales are low and/or declining, it would be really nice to get a few big-ticket hits. Virtually every company I know has done at least some of this. As the China syndrome crushes those at the bottom of the price range, the only direction to go is up. With custom installers making decisions for many consumers, the relevant product considerations are high prices and high margins.

Anyway, I'm glad to see you had the courage to speak up, and I hope you don't pay too much of a price for doing so.

John Meyer
Newform Research

"What is the point?"

April 23, 2007


I often wonder what the SoundStage! reviewer qualifications/obligations are when it comes to confirming manufacturers' claims. After all, you do have the benefit of performing a battery of measurements on the equipment you review. Isn’t there a value to testing manufacturers' claims? If you simply run with companies' PR material and do not confirm their claims methodically, what is your added value?

Take, for example, the review of the YG Acoustics speakers. Here is a company that builds its name on accuracy and scientifically sound approach to loudspeaker design. “The best loudspeakers on earth. Period.” A good pitch indeed. But when one examines the measurements posted, aside from the flat frequency response (a rather simple achievement with today's speaker CAD design tools), the first thing that jumps out is an unusually high level of harmonic distortion. A closer look reveals fundamental design faults that should challenge YG Acoustics' claims. These are not subtle things. Shouldn’t you point them out? How would your readers know about them? After all, not everyone can actually understand these measurements. So if you do not explain them, why are the measurements published? What is the point?

H. Chuang

Of course, we do test manufacturers' claims -- that's why we measure equipment and provide general explanations of the measurements. Claims such as "The best loudspeakers on earth. Period." are purely subjective and not something we can confirm or refute in any substantive way, but at least we publish measurements done by one of the most prestigious scientific bodies in the world so you can see the YG Acoustics speaker's flat frequency response and harmonic-distortion characteristics.

There is often an easily discernible line between what you call "PR materials" and explanations of legitimate design goals and construction details of any product. What we do is present the latter to the best of our ability and augment the subjective evaluation of the product with objective measurements. The two parts of the review are purposely kept separate so the line between the subjective and objective isn't blurred and both approaches are respected equally....Marc Mickelson

"...still as enthusiastic...?"

April 18, 2007

To Vade Forrester,

Thanks for the review of the AKG K701 headphones. Now that you've lived with the AKG K701s, are you still as enthusiastic about their musicality? It seems that some criticize the K701s for being too analytical, even "lifeless," and not as "musical" as, say, the Sennheiser HD600s or HD650s. I was curious if your opinion has changed any.

Peter Lange

As with anything audio, personal preference is a big factor -- with headphones, speakers, just about anything. My view of the K701s hasn't changed, and I've heard the 'phones through more amplifiers now. I can see how someone who favors the (in my view) colored sound of a Sennheiser headphone might regard the K701s as analytical, but I call them accurate. I listen to a lot of live unamplified music, and what I hear through the AKGs sounds pretty close to that....Vade Forrester

DK still RC?

April 11, 2007

To Doug Schneider,

I was wondering if you still consider the DK Design VS.1 Mk II a good value, worthy of the Reviewers’ Choice award it received in 2005. A local dealer is selling his last unit for about $2050, and I was considering it after I read your review from February 2005. Or are there other options in that price range that would be just as good or better now that two years have passed?

Also, I realize I could get it cheaper used, but I prefer to get it from the local dealer (if we don’t support them, then they will disappear and that won’t help anyone). My other gear is Revel Concerta F-12 speakers (got them brand new for half price from another local dealer), Benchmark DAC-1, Cambridge Audio Azur 640 CD player, and a Slim Devices Squeezbox. Currently my electronics are the Anthem Amp 1 and Pre 2L.

Sanjay Chugh

For that price, I’d still consider the VS.1 Mk II a good value. In fact, at its original asking price of about $3000 it’s still a decent deal, even though there’s a little more competition today than there was a couple years ago. For example, at the $3000 price point, I’d certainly have Simaudio’s Moon i5.3 on my list today – Philip Beaudette reviewed it in February. However, $3000 is a whole lot more than the $2050 that you can get the VS.1 Mk II for.

As well, I understand your desire to shop with your local dealer. Price is important, but it isn’t everything. Supporting your local dealer is imperative so that they can offer service to you. It’s a good attitude to have….Doug Schneider

Replacing a stolen system

April 9, 2007

To S. Andrea Sundaram,

I just finished reading your review of the the Energy RC-10 loudspeakers, and I'm just about ready to buy a pair. Before I do I wanted to ask you a few questions, if you have the time and can remember the RC-10s from February 2006.

I'm away at college and today I got a call from my parents informing me that our house had been burglarized and my stereo was stolen. Luckily we had specified it under homeowners insurance, so I will get most of the cost back. It was a pretty basic stereo that I put together my freshman year of high school: a pair of Axiom M2i speakers, a basic Yamaha receiver, a Pioneer SACD player, and a cheap Velodyne subwoofer. I've been considering waiting until summer and spending a bit more money this time around to get a better-sounding system, which is where the RC-10s come in.

Basically I'm just wondering if you could make any component recommendations to complement the RC-10s. Did you use a subwoofer when you tested them, and do you think much added benefit would come from the addition of one? The Velodyne sub I had with my previous system was the very cheapest offering, and I was never happy with the way it sounded. It was very boomy and lacking in detail, although I think some of this was probably caused by the acoustics in my room, which I plan on trying to remedy this summer. My total budget for this stereo will likely be in the $1200-$1500 range, leaving me with $650-$950 to play with if I went with the Energy speakers. I will likely stick with a solid-state amp, and I have no need for anything but a Red Book CD player.

I'd greatly appreciate any suggestions you could make, or even if you could point me in a direction where I might find some ideas.

Josh Hutchinson

The only thing more distressing than your stereo being stolen is that the thieves probably have no idea what a great little pair of speakers they got their hands on.

I didn't use a subwoofer with the RC-10s, and didn't really feel that I needed one, though your musical tastes may differ from mine, and so you may be happier with a sub. The difficulty is finding one that will not upset what is an extremely well-balanced minimonitor. I would recommend that you put off buying a subwoofer until you know whether or not you need one. If your room is not large, you may get all the bass you care to have from the RC-10s alone. Our GoodSound! website has just published a number of articles on sub-sat systems that you may want to read if you haven't already.

As for electronics in your price range, I would check out some of the offerings from Cambridge Audio and NAD. NAD has a single-box unit, the L53, which is in your budget and may work very well for you. Its multichannel sibling, the L73, was reviewed on our Home Theater & Sound site....S. Andrea Sundaram

Which Esoteric?

April 5, 2007


I'm an audiophile living in Egypt. I need your advice. I've been reading about Esoteric products for years now, and I've hoped that one day I would own one of their audio-only players. Now I can afford one of two: the SA-60 or the SA-10. Both are new; the SA-10 is still unavailable. I believe the SA-60 should be superior to the DV-60 due to the absence of any video circuits. However, this is my opinion, and I've never auditioned any Esoteric products before.

I am being offered good prices for both, but I can't make up my mind because, as usual, money is a concern, even if I can afford one of them by a narrow margin.

So what do you think? I have a third option: Sony's SCD-XA9000ES (I have the SCD-555ES and the older magnificent CDP-X7ESD) is easy to get here in Egypt, and it is full of features for excellent price. I'm just looking for a new sound other than Sony, and I want either of those two Esoteric players, but which one of them should I go for? Sorry to bother you, but I have no way of listening to either of them, so I'll depend on experts like you. I know you've never heard either of of these two models, but I want to know how Esoteric players differ from those of any other company, and if you can listen to either of these two, give me your opinion.

Yasser Sharaf

Unfortunately, I haven't heard either of the models you mention, but we will be publishing a review of the SA-60 next month and likely a review of the SA-10 sometime this summer. I don't know if you want to wait until either of those reviews appears, but they would certainly give you the information you seek. I've enjoyed all of the Esoteric products I have heard, and I doubt the two models you mention would be disappointing. Maybe the less expensive SA-10 is the place to start, with the idea of moving up to the SA-60 if you like the SA-10....Marc Mickelson

"First Episode at Hienton"

April 2, 2007

To David J. Cantor,

Thanks very much for that great piece on Elton John's “First Episode at Hienton.” Wonderful to read. That first US album is still as strong today as it was 37 years ago. I’m a big Elton John fan. I got to work at Eastern Sound in Toronto when I was a kid. That’s where Elton recorded Blue Moves. I just missed him! Ugh!

Again, thanks for the great read about a great song.

Mike Bell


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