[SoundStage!]Archived Letters
August 2007

"...out of your cotton-pickin' mind..."

August 24, 2007


I very much enjoy your writing and SoundStage! in general. But, with all due respect, you've got to be out of your cotton-pickin' mind if you think someone should really go out and spend $4000 on a Crystal Cable Ultra power cord. Come on! Is the difference in sound equal to $4000? Why not just put the money into upgraded electronics? I think it's ludicrous, if not insane, to waste money on something like this, which no doubt costs maybe $50 to manufacture. How can you so easily fall prey to this trap?

Ken Sternberg

My neighbors are positively addicted to motorized things -- especially four-wheelers. I've seen what they cost and think they're a complete waste of money. You can't drive four-wheelers on the road, and they are dangerous on trails, where they can roll and crush the rider. They're loud and put out a lot of exhaust. Yet, my neighbors love theirs. I'm glad that everyone around us has a couple of acres, so I have a buffer against all the noise.

My point, of course, is that ultimate value is a concept that resides in the mind of the buyer. While I can report that the Crystal Cable power cords definitely do have more than $50 in parts -- the Furutech plug and IEC connector cost more than that -- I can't say for sure how much the raw materials cost. High-end audio is not subject to laws of mass consumption. With each audio product, you pay for a great share of the R&D, materials-development, and construction costs that go into the product because millions aren't sold. Imagine how much an iPod would cost if Apple could only sell a few hundred of them.

My job as an audio reviewer is to report on the sonic performance of a product, and I did that with the Crystal Cable Ultra power cords. I certainly wouldn't suggest that someone with a $10,000 budget should spend $4000 of it on a power cord. I think it's obvious that such a product is really for listeners who have the means to buy whatever they want and see the Crystal Cable power cord as being the cherry on top of their sundae. I'll leave it up to you to decide what you can or cannot afford and are willing to tolerate....Marc Mickelson

NAD integrated or separates?

August 22, 2007

To Philip Beaudette,

I was wondering if I would be better off buying an NAD C372 integrated amp or separates consisting of the NAD C162 preamp and C272 amp. I enjoy jazz and other music very much. It seems to me that I just may get the most for my money going with some NAD components. I value your input on this matter very much. If you have other suggestions, I would love to hear them.

Mike Hittle

I've heard the NAD separates but never in my own system. Is it possible for you to listen to both side-by-side so you can make a comparison? My guess is that the C372 shares a very similar sound to the C162/C272 combo. I know the C162 comes with a phono stage, but NAD makes an outboard phono stage so if you decide on the C372 you still have that option. My biggest reason for leaning towards an integrated amplifier in this situation is that it will save you a few hundred dollars that you could put toward another part of your system (source, speakers, cables). If you hear a difference that favors the separates over the integrated and it substantially favors the separates, then that's your best choice. My goal is to see you get the best value for your money.

As for alternatives, there are many in this price range, most of which I have little or no experience with. Cambridge Audio, Rega and Rotel come to mind, but there are many other makers. If you consider the used market the number of options increases even further. The point is that you have plenty of choices. Have fun on your search and please let me know what you decide....Philip Beaudette

Which cables?

August 17, 2007


I just read your "Config.Sys" article on your recent visits to ARC's and Wilson Audio's facilities. You did not mention which interconnects and speaker cables both companies used in their corresponding reference systems. To my ears, the selection of these can definitely affect the sound of a system.  Do you remember which cables each company was using?

Oscar Bermudez

You have sharp eyes and ask a good question! I didn't mention the interconnects and speaker cables because there were various brands in use and I didn't want to dull the focus of the article, which was on Audio Research and Wilson Audio. ARC used Shunyata Research Antares Helix interconnects and their own speaker cables, while John Giolas used Transparent Opus MM interconnects and speaker cables. I believe that ARC is now using a full set of Shunyata Research cables....Marc Mickelson

CAT or ARC or VTL?

August 15, 2007


Thank you for your review of the CAT JL2 Signature Mk 2. It has spiked my interest in purchasing one of these amps. I am considering either the Audio Research Reference 110 amp with the ARC Reference 3 line-stage preamp or a CAT JL2 Signature Mk 2 with the VTL TL-7.5 preamp. After listening to the ARC reference equipment, I felt that it sounded a touch slow, hence the move toward the VTL preamp. Will the VTL preamp have too much gain (20dB balanced) for use with the CAT amp? Also, the JL2 Signature Mk 2 has single-ended connections only. I will using be an Ayre C-5xe connected balanced to the VTL preamp. Will using the TL-7.5 with balanced inputs and single-ended outputs be detrimental to the performance? There is no CAT dealer in my area, so I hope you can provide some expert advice.

Mark Dafter

The new VTL TL-7.5 Series II preamp has lower voltage gain than the original unit I reviewed, and it's 6dB lower still through the single-ended outputs. Therefore, I don't think you'd have any issues with the CAT amp. One thing I didn't mention in my review is that CAT can lower the gain of the amp if you need it. They generally do this only for customers with high-sensitivity speakers and the CAT preamp, which has high gain. I suspect you're looking at the VTL preamp because you want remote control, but the CAT preamp would be just as good a choice sonically (even better if you listen to analog -- it's supposed to have a great phono stage) and would cost you far less money.

Regarding balanced use of your C-5xe, then single-ended connection to the amp, in theory the signal is not staying balanced all the way to the speakers, which should negate the advantage of the balanced circuit. However, in practice, doing just what you are proposing, I didn't notice any sonic difference, although I used the Aurum Integris CDP and ARC Reference 3 and not the VTL preamp. Balanced connection out of the C-5xe, or any fully balanced source, seems to be the most crucial connection, and you'd be preserving that. Still, the C-5xe sounded very good single ended; Ken Stevens of CAT used the player this way at CES in January....Marc Mickelson

Energy or Thiel?

August 10, 2007

To Philip Beaudette,

I am looking at buying new speakers. The following will be powered with a Pioneer Elite VSX-72TXS receiver.

(1) Energy Reference Connoisseur RC-70s with matching center and surrounds.

(2) Thiel CS 1.6es with SCS4 center.

I would purchase Thiel surrounds and a subwoofer in future. I'm mostly an audiophile, but I like great sound for movies.

Barry Martin

First off, I've never heard the Thiel CS1.6 and therefore don't know how it compares to the Energy RC-70. Furthermore, my own system is two-channel only, so I'm not experienced with various center-channel/surround combinations. However I do have a couple of suggestions in terms of what you might consider before taking the plunge.

I assume you've listened to both the Thiel and Energy designs. If you haven't, you need to. The RC-70 is nearly full range, while the Thiel CS 1.6 is rated to 48Hz, so I would expect the Energy speaker to sound bigger and fuller given that its drivers move a lot more air. But this brings me to my second point, which is in regard to your room. The Energy and Thiel speakers are vastly different in size, and depending on how big your space is, room size and shape will dictate to a large extent which ones you should buy. In my own medium-sized room I prefer a smaller speaker, because a large floorstander would play with too much energy in the bass.

Finally, your Pioneer receiver is rated to 130Wpc, but I've never owned a Pioneer and have no idea how they handle difficult speaker loads. This applies more to the Thiel, which is rated at 4-ohm impedance (dipping to a 3 ohms minimum). Having said that, its 90dB sensitivity should also mean that only a handful of quality watts are necessary for listening at reasonable levels. Ideally, you can try your receiver (or something similar) with each speaker when you go to audition them....Philip Beaudette

Biamping with Lamm ML2.1s

August 8, 2007


I own Lamm ML 2.1 amps. I am interested in biamping -- i.e., putting the Lamm amps on top (midrange/treble) and a solid-state amp on the woofers. Do you have any suggestions as to what solid-state amp would match well with the Lamm tube amps? I was thinking Dartzeel solid-state or Lamm hybrid amps, but I would like input from you if you have experience with a good match. I would like a stereo amp. Any suggestions or tips?

Robert Baker

Probably the easiest thing for you to do would be to use a second pair of ML2.1s (with outputs from your preamp that will supply the same gain; I believe the amps' inputs are wired in parallel, so you could simply run an interconnects from one amp to the other, which would carry the signal from your preamp to both amps). Having the amps only drive the woofers will likely improve their bass capabilities.

However, the best match sonically would likely be a pair of Lamm's hybrid amps -- the M1.2 Reference especially. But there is an issue with this: The gain of the hybrid amps is much higher than that of the SET amps, which means the bass will be far louder than the mids and treble at any given volume setting. I called Vladimir Lamm about this, and he said that you can use the M1.2 Reference with the ML2.1 as long as you use the single-ended input of the M1.2, which drops the gain by approximately 6dB and should equalize the output of the two amps....Marc Mickelson

Heat wave?

August 6, 2007


I very much enjoyed reading the CAT JL2 Signature Mk 2 amp review, but one thing I (and I trust many readers) found missing is an evaluation of heat output. Lots o' 'philes are forced to relegate their systems to spare bedrooms, and high heat output from electronics can make for an unpleasant hobby. Can you comment on the CAT amp in this regard, and all such electronics in the future?

Richard Cox

I do talk about the heat a component produces when there is enough of it draw my attention (as with the Tenor OTL amps I reviewed a few years ago, for instance). This happens less now than it has in the past because my listening room is very large. No amp short of a pair of fan-cooled ARC Reference 210s will raise the temperature in my 20'W x 29'L x 10'H listening room to a noticeable degree.

The CAT amp certainly radiates some heat, but less than the ARC Reference 110. However, it's so physically large that stuffing it and a pair of appropriate speakers into a smallish spare bedroom will make for tight quarters, not to mention compromised sound....Marc Mickelson

CAT JL2 Signature Mk 2 versus...?

August 3, 2007


Great review [of the CAT JL2 Signature Mk 2 amplifier].

Did you compare the JL2 to the Lamm ML2.1 SETs? If so, what did it give up, if anything, in the midrange?

Neville Taylor

I own the Lamm ML2.1s, but in my review I chose to compare the JL2 Signature Mk 2 to two tube amps I reviewed earlier this year: the Audio Research Reference 110 and Atma-Sphere MA-2 Mk III. The JL2 Signature Mk 2 doesn't cede much, if anything, to the ML2.1s in terms of midrange fullness and presence. The ML2.1s don't sound like so many SET amps because they use tubes that are not common to such amps -- 6C33Cs -- whereas the JL2 Signature Mk 2 looks on paper to be rather conventional, but it sounds extraordinary....Marc Mickelson


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