[SoundStage!]Archived Letters
June 2007


"What say you?"

June 25, 2007

To Doug Schneider,

I'm just after your opinion on the following setup: NOS DAC, Simaudio Moon i-3 integrated amp, and Axiom M80 v2 speakers.

I'm after an amp/speaker combo that will be transparent in reproducing whatever my DAC outputs because I think the NOS DAC gives a nice, full, natural sound (with holographic imaging!). You and others have commented that the i-3 is pretty darn honest, especially for the money, and the M80 v2s give reasonably uncolored frequency response, which should show everything the DAC/amp combo can produce.

In general, I think that slightly warm (the DAC) + honest/nimble (the amp) + honest/clean (the speakers) would be a good combo. I also like the fact that the speakers are so sensitive. The only thing is, I live in Australia, so I can't audition the speakers without buying them, and, due to their price, I'm concerned I might be selling the DAC/amp combination slightly short. I aim to not have to upgrade the speakers again due to lack of “finesse” or a similar shortcoming. For some reason, I'm also kind of adverse to the usual B&W stuff that my local dealers push (all two of them, in a city of 300,000!) with no apparent consideration for other models.

What say you?

Ben Bordiss

The Simaudio Moon i-3 integrated amp and Axiom M80 v2 speakers are outstanding products, and neither should sell anything short. However, I think there’s a real danger in setting up a system as a thought experiment rather than really trying it before you buy. While reviews and measurements can tell you quite a lot about components, knowing exactly how all these things will actually work as a system is different. You might put it all together and have it sound like a dream. On the other hand, it might not….Doug Schneider

Timbre TT-1 versus today's DACs

June 21, 2007


I am a relative new-comer to high-end audio. I am looking to upgrade from my Audio Refinement CD Complete CD player to separates, and I have the opportunity to purchase a Timbre TT-1 DAC at a decent price. I read your review of it, but I am wondering how you think it compares today.

Dan Authier

Even though my review is over ten years old, I suspect that the Timbre TT-1 would compare very well with today's DAC's. Its gentle, analog-like sound certainly hasn't gone out of favor with audiophiles, and it would still be made very well by today's standards. I'd love to give one a listen again....Marc Mickelson

PA amp at home?

June 18, 2007


Just curious - is there any particular reason I couldn't/shouldn't mate a product like this, which only costs $2850 AUD, with a nice preamp from any manufacturer I care to choose?

The connections are still XLR, just Speakon type, and cables can be reterminated with whatever wire I like. I have a friend who uses an old Crown disco amp, and although he says that particular model/brand has a "hard" sound (it's also pretty old now), he got it for free, and says there are many other modern PA models that are much better. The one above has very low THD from 20Hz-20kHz. I asked an audio/install engineer friend of mine what the EIA and FTC specs mean (since they look rather high), and he said they are just quoted to conform to standards, and that I only need pay attention to the "distortion" section.

It seems that after retermination of the cabling, these kind of amps appear to be a comparatively very cheap way to get oodles and oodles of power on tap. And although I haven't read widely on the topic of power amp "characteristics" just yet, I'd hazard a guess that as long as they are decent quality, they should have the least impact on the sound of all the components, compared to source, speakers and preamp.

Heck, for this cheap, I could buy two, bridge each and have 1000 watts per channel, enough to drive any speaker currently in production from Thiel or Wilson! I expect the ideal use of these amps would be to set their gain to maximum (or maybe the 3/4 "ideal" position for amps in general.), then use an external preamp to control everything else like input selection and volume.

The only problem I can think of is that you don't get to choose a fancy power cable with this particular amp (I'm sure you can with others though).

Ben Bord

The only specification that leaps out at me as a possible issue is the gain, which is 35dB at the 3/4 position, where you said you'd use the amp. That's a lot of gain. If you use a high-gain tube preamp, you might hear hiss through your speakers. However, the amp has lower gain settings that could reduce such a problem considerably.

Back in the 1970s, mainstream audio manufacturers often one-upped each other's distortion and power specifications because doing so made for good ad copy. It also made for bad-sounding amps and a paradigm that helped high-end audio bloom. SoundStage! and other audio publications are built on the idea of sound quality being more important than sound quantity. The fact that this amp has very low distortion and is tremendously powerful doesn't mean that it will also sound great. I've heard PA amps sound good and awful when used at home. They often make good bass amps, where steely highs and a recessed midrange don't matter.

In the end, you have to live with whatever you buy. I would just caution you to let your ears guide you instead of the specification page....Marc Mickelson

Connecting to the B&W CM1s

June 11, 2007


I stumbled upon your favorable review of B&W's excellent CM1 speakers just a few weeks after investing in two pairs of these speakers and the matching CM-Center for use in my "audio-centric" multichannel/home-theater setup.

I am an audiophile on a (fatherhood induced!) downgrade path from a two-channel system which included £4400 Living Voice speakers, so the B&W CM1s had a very hard act to follow. But for their price they have been a very pleasant surprise, and your recent recent review does good justice to their strengths and very well-judged limitations.

I would, however, like to point out that your review and summary sidebar both suggest that "...if you have banana-plug-terminated speaker cables you're out of luck." This assertion may unfortunately deter some potential buyers. In fact, it is simplicity itself to remove the small plastic "protective caps," thereby allowing full banana connectivity.

Since the legal fallout when some idiot inserted a banana plug into a mains outlet, I've seen such protective caps installed on the binding posts of many speakers and indeed amplifiers too. But nine (or more) times out of ten they can be easily removed, revealing a standard 4mm aperture.

Otherwise a great review!

Angus Eason

Solid-state power amp for MAXX 2?

June 6, 2007


I`m Zoltan from Budapest, Hungary, and I need your help. My English is not good, but I nevertheless read everything from you.

You have played a large role -- I have bought Wilson Audio MAXX 2s. (They cost a lot of money in Hungary; you can buy apartments for this kind of money here!) And now I have a big problem -- finding the best possible power amp for my speakers. In a few months my new house will be ready and I would like to complete my system before I move.

At this time I use a pair of NuForce Reference 9 SE monoblocks (unbelievably good for the money!). I don´t have any chance of testing amps locally, and I would like not to make a mistake.

I like a very natural, fast and powerful sound. I don’t like the tube amps; they run very hot and are very power hungry. Maybe the best of solid state with the best tube quality?

Zoltan Kovacs

Given that you want a solid-state amp with "tube quality," there are two models to consider: the Conrad-Johnson Premier 350 stereo amp, which is my favorite solid-state amp among those I've heard, and the Lamm M1.2 Reference mono amps, which are hybrids but use only one tube per amp -- a 6922 that lasts for many years (I've never replaced one). Both will give you what you seek, and both sound terrific with the MAXX 2s....Marc Mickelson


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