[SoundStage!]Archived Letters
October 2007

Blue Sky review?

October 22, 2007

To Doug Schneider,

I regard your reviews very highly and they are an essential factor in my decision-making process when it comes to audio.

I was bitten by the active-speaker bug after I read your views on the subject. You particularly mentioned Paradigm's now-discontinued powered monitor. Unfortunately, it seems like the only place to find active speakers these days is the professional side of the industry. And I have not seen any SoundStage! review involving a pro monitor.

I am right now looking at Blue Sky's System One. It is a fully active design. However, before making a decision, I really would like to see a comment coming from you. That's how much I depend on your reviews.

Would it then be possible for you to review the Blue Sky System One? This will also help open up the option of using professional gear to the consumer side.

Dan Roquillo

You’re right -- it’s very difficult to find active speakers on the consumer side. And when you do, they’re often very expensive. Still, the expense can be worth it. Paradigm’s Active/40 was an amazing loudspeaker. I still own a pair. The Aurum Acoustics Integris Active 300B is the best loudspeaker system I’ve heard, but it will set you back $30,000. Then there’s the Janszen Model One, an electrostatic/dynamic hybrid that’s also $30,000 and in my room right now. You’ll see a review from me in the future. However, Blue Sky’s products do look interesting, and I’ll contact the owner of the company as you suggest....Doug Schneider

Usher follow-up?

October 16, 2007

To Doug Schneider,

Thanks for the brilliant review of the Usher Be-718s, but it would have been nice to try the speakers closer to walls. I've been looking for ideal full(ish)-range speakers for a small room -- 2.5 by 5 meters. I'm currently using subs with B&W 805s without full satisfaction.

Therefore, if you still have the speakers, maybe a follow-up would be much appreciated because I think this may be the answer to my problem. I'm in the UK and struggling for a home demo.

Ayo Akande

I’m not sure how much help it would be for me to simply revisit the speakers in a much smaller room. Room characteristics play a huge role in the sound quality you attain; therefore, if I use the speakers in a small room, it might tell you a little bit about how they perform in a small space, but, more than likely, it’s going to mostly tell you how it performs in MY small space, not yours. Really, to get a good idea how a speaker will perform in your small room, you’re going to have to get a pair in there yourself -- there’s no real way around that. Now, I realize the problem with doing that, but here’s the bright side: Usher is a Taiwanese company making excellent loudspeakers that sell worldwide. I can’t imagine that it will be too long before they’re available where you are. The thing is, though, you’d still have to find a dealer who will allow you a home audition….Doug Schneider

Other minimonitors to review

October 11, 2007

To Doug Schneider,

I enjoyed your review of the Usher Audio Be-718 -- well written as always. I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to hear this speaker; unfortunately, family business will keep me away from the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest this week. If I had to make a blind choice of a minimonitor, I’d probably take the Harbeth 7ES-3, having heard the 7ES-2. The other minimonitors I’d really like to hear are the WLM Diva and Aura. The reviews are beyond raves, and I’ve heard the WLM floorstanders. Then there’s the Merlin TSM -- outstanding by any account. You should probably have one in your quiver. I guess I’m just suggesting other review possibilities.

Dave Sturdevant

Interesting choices. They are now on our radar....Doug Schneider

Seven years later

October 9, 2007

To Doug Schneider,

Back in 2000, you reviewed the Axiom M3Ti (now the M3 v2). I currently own a pair of the M3 v2s powered by an Onkyo A9555 integrated amp. This is the second pair of M3s that I have owned, and they continue to impress, especially combined with the Onkyo amp. My setup is in a very large room, and I am not running a sub, yet the Axioms sound full and much larger than their small size would indicate. The Onkyo amp has ever so slightly subdued treble, which seems to be a perfect match with the M3s. I’m at a point where I truly enjoy the music and I am not looking for the “next” hardware upgrade; which is quite a statement considering the modest cost of my system.

Seven years later, I’m curious as to your thoughts now on the Axiom M3s. How do you see them comparing with some of the newer budget bookshelf speakers?

Rob Huntrods

I actually still own a few pairs of M3s, and find that they’re still competitive with the bookshelf models on the market today. So, what was a good speaker seven years ago can still be considered good today. What’s changed, though, is that the market has become far more competitive. Whereas at the time I had a hard time finding speakers that were as good as the M3s at their price, today there are actually quite a few, which is not really all that surprising. When one manufacturer makes what can be considered something of a landmark product, others are bound to try and catch up….Doug Schneider


October 4, 2007


I have to differ with you on how important vertical tracking force (VTF) is to cartridge performance, though I can understand how it appears that fine VTF adjustment changes the sound of a pickup, since it does. But years ago, George Bischoff (of Melos, Nova Physics, Scaena Speakers, etc.) taught me it's not the VTF that's important (as long as the VTF is in the proper range); it's the subtle changes in vertical tracking angle (VTA) that are changing the cartridge's performance. Every time you change the VTA you change the VTF, and if you don't optimize the VTA every time you alter the VTF, you don't have a valid sonic comparison of VTF change.

Allen Edelstein

As I wrote the first sentence of my review of the CanRong stylus-force gauge, I thought to myself, "Someone is definitely going to disagree with me." I will stick by vertical tracking force as being the most critical adjustment because it affects not only sound quality but also the condition of your LPs. A different VTF can throw your vertical tracking angle off as well. There's one thing I bet we can agree on: There are many important interrelationships in analog playback. I find these very interesting from a writer's perspective....Marc Mickelson

Stello or Benchmark?

October 2, 2007

To Doug Schneider,

Over the years you have given me some good advice regarding small speakers. I just started looking into D/A converters and noticed that you have reviewed a couple that I am considering. It will be for used primarily with the Slim Devices SqueezeBox as a source, and secondly from a Marantz transport.

The two that I am considering are the Stello DA220 Mk II and the Benchmark Media DAC1. I know that they are quite similar in sound from your reviews. I am not concerned with looks, and both have adequate features. I thought you might have some advice or candid thoughts given the application – i.e., one might be a better match for the SqueezeBox. Of course other recommendations in the price range are very welcome.

As a point of reference, I picked up a Bel Canto DAC2 based on a number of great reviews and, honestly, I am a little let down. In my system, the sound is a little soft, distant and overly warm in the upper bass/lower mids. Unless I really crank it up, the music loses its energy. I don't necessarily like edgy sound, but an up-front, "live" sound is more to my taste. That's what has me considering the Stello and Benchmark units instead.

Murray Hutchins

I reviewed the original versions of the Stello DA220 and the Benchmark Media DAC1. At the time, I found them to sound quite similar, although they had quite different cosmetics and features. However, over time, I grew to prefer the DA220 more – I found it to be a touch more refined in the top end. Since then, both companies have released new versions of these DACs, but I’ve only reviewed the new Stello DA220 Mk II. I actually found it to sound a bit different from the first-generation DAC and still admire certain strengths that it had -- like more bloom and warmth. Overall, though, I found the Mk II version better in terms of midrange and bass clarity along with even more refinement in the top end. I still use it – and still love it….Doug Schneider


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