[SoundStage!]Archived Letters
December 2007

Vinyl archives

December 26, 2007


I would like to suggest a music archive for vinyl reviews. These could be taken from the column "The Vinyl Word" and upcoming vinyl reviews like this month's Jethro Tull and Janis Joplin.  Also, more vinyl reviews would be great. A lot of us prefer vinyl over CDs, and your reviews can sometimes determine whether we buy the vinyl or not. Like CDs, some LPs are great and some can be duds.

Tony Yerian

You've read our minds! We'll be covering more vinyl and creating a separate part of our archives for LP reviews. Stay tuned....Marc Mickelson

Focus or Usher?

December 20, 2007

To Doug Schneider,

How would you compare the FS-688 from Focus Audio with the Usher Audio Be-718? You seemed to rave over the sound of both of these speakers, and I was interested in how you felt they stack up against each other.

Fred Sechan

What I find interesting is how much interest there is lately in Focus Audio's lineup of speakers. We just published a letter about them a few days ago, and I have a lot more e-mail in my inbox asking about them. Is Focus a hot topic on a forum somewhere right now?

In any event, I really like Focus speakers, as I do Usher speakers, but it's been far to long since I've heard a speaker like the FS-688 in my room to compare it to something like the Be-718. However, with all this interest in Focus, I think the prudent thing to do is call up the company and see what they have cooking that I can review in the near future....Doug Schneider

KEF or Usher?

December 18, 2007

To Doug Schneider,

I'm in the desperate position of trying to decide on a new pair of minimonitors for my two-channel rig. After reading reviews of the Usher Be-718, I was about to pull the trigger on a pair, but something didn't feel quite right. What I mean by "quite right" is one of those weird feelings that you can't quite explain that stops you from doing something you will probably regret later. Then along came your review of the KEF Reference 201/2. I've owned both Usher and KEF speakers in the past -- most recently, the Usher CP-6381 and many years ago the KEF Reference 3 -- and generally liked both, but they are now gone and I need a replacement. You’re probably saying to yourself that those are floorstanders and this guy is wanting to replace them with minimonitors. Well, yes I am, but I also run stereo subs.

I know of no one on the face of this earth who has listened to more minimonitors than you. Even way back when you liked the Von Schweikert VS-1 so much, I followed your advice and found it to to be a solid value. There have been many that I passed on -- Paradigm Signature S2 and the PSB M2 -- knowing that they were getting a little long it the tooth and I should bide my time. Then came the Be-718s, and I thought these are it. Well, as providence would have it, you just had to come out with the KEF review. If you would have waited another month, I would have been just fine in my ignorance and none the wiser, but you just had to rush out that KEF review, didn't you?

OK. This is way too long so to cut to the chase. The Ushers are being snapped up like they will never make another pair and commanding close to full retail price. The KEFs are much less of an "item" (go figure at $5000) and can be had for about $4000. What do you think?

David Hawk

What do I think? I love the 201/2s and for $4000, that’s 25% off of list – not that bad at all. However, that said, two things to point out: (1) never buy anything unless you’ve heard it yourself and like it, and (2) understand that there’s always going to be something new coming out to spend your money on, so there’s never any rush. For example, on December 15, we published my review of the Paradigm Reference Signature S1 v.2. At $1500, it’s quite the bargain. Yes, there’s another one….Doug Schneider

"How do the FS-688s stand up...?"

December 14, 2007

To Doug Schneider,

I would first like to say that I greatly appreciate the reviews you do for SoundStage!, particularly your dedication to the speaker art.

I am e-mailing you after reading many, many reviews of speakers, including your own, and have come down to a short list of speakers that I will have to hear or if possible buy used. The speaker that tips the scales right now is the Focus Audio Signature FS-688. I love the look and the description of its performance sounds amazing. I have not had a chance to audition them in Vancouver, and wish I could. Second in line would probably be the latest incarnation of the Amphion Argon2.

What I'm seeking is a lush, layered and detailed upper range, which brings me to my question. How do the FS-688s stand up after these years to the competition? I know they weren't a Reviewers' Choice, probably because of cost. But really against all the competition, are they still in a league of their own? Crazy question? Well I'm a bit crazy these days!

Sean Lawson

The FS-688s aren’t in a league of their own, but no speaker is. Today, every speaker at every price faces intense competition, which is certainly good for the consumer.

As for how the FS-688s stack up, I suspect quite well. If anything, I shortchanged that speaker a little bit in my review. I say that because after the review was written I’d heard it a few more times. On each subsequent listen, I liked it more. Therefore, if I wrote the review again, more than likely it might be even stronger.

Crazy question? Hardly. The Focus Audio FS-688 is still a speaker that you should check out….Doug Schneider

"...still in business?"

December 11, 2007


I read your review of the Odyssey Khartago amp from a few years ago. I've looked at Odyssey Audio's website a number of times over the last couple of years and nothing seems to change. Promises to update, complete a specific area, or "pictures coming soon" never get done. I called them about a year ago and was forwarded to a cell phone and received a message. Seems like an odd way of doing business. What gives with them? Any idea if they're still in business?

Robin Porter

As far as I know, Odyssey Audio is still in business. The company is a current advertiser on SoundStage! I know that Klaus Bunge, who runs Odyssey, moved his business to another state a while back. Perhaps he's still buried under that as well as the need to ship orders....Marc Mickelson

"...bringing the soundstage closer"

December 7, 2007


Based on my reading of several of your reviews, I believe you might be able to provide me with some helpful information. I would certainly appreciate that very much.

In particular, I've been interested in bringing the soundstage closer. Many components seem to place the full image too far back for my tastes. I like to feel as if I'm in row one of the concert hall, or that I'm virtually on the stage with the instrumentalists, and I like to hear back-row musicians as clearly as those seated more closely, all the while maintaining front-to-back layering.

So I'm looking for an involving, you-are-there presence, with a more powerful, dense sound. You touched on some of this character in your review of Einstein's The Tube preamp, but, for me, the price of that unit is out of sight. Albeit, my primary interest, though, is with a phono stage, since over 90% of my listening is with vinyl LPs and classical music. So far, I've not been able to find the sound I want with a full-function (phono and line stages) unit, which I would prefer over separates. I did own previously a Supratek Cortese preamp, and it gave me the sound I sought, but it also threw in glare with the bargain. The trick is to get the great, up-front imaging without the glare, aggressiveness or brightness.

Aside from preamp considerations, I'm looking to find cables that might do it. Years ago, I had the original Synergistic Research Resolution Reference interconnects, into which their designer, Ted Denney, built a forward bump. But Synergistic has superceded the earlier cables with their new Tesla series -- superb, but no forward-sounding orientation. Are there any other cables (presently available) that you have had the experience of hearing that tend to provide that bigger, more forward sound (like the effect one gets by looking through a magnifying glass)?

Jeffrey Lee

Given what you say you're after sonically, the first products I would tell you to consider are those from Belles. I've heard both the company's amps and preamps, and they have the sort of magnifying presence you seek. I also understand that Dave Belles makes a very good phono stage. For cables, you should give a listen to whatever is in the Nordost line that's in your price range. They are very vivid-sound cables and will certainly not darken or recess the sound of your electronics or speakers....Marc Mickelson

Small speakers with good bass?

December 5, 2007

To Doug Schneider,

I enjoyed your review of the Usher Be-718 speakers. They measure very well, and you report that they sound excellent. It is good to see a proliferation of excellent speakers for fairly reasonable prices.

Our main stereo system uses the Paradigm Signature S2 speakers, which work wonderfully with a wide variety of mostly classical recordings. These have good bass for small speakers, but the NRC measurements indicate they don't go as low as the Usher speakers. However, we use them with a large subwoofer, so the system has good response to below 20Hz.

In our family room, we have a pair of PSB Stratus Minis, now discontinued. They are still quite good and they have useful bass to the mid-30Hz range. We use a small subwoofer with them for movie effects. Though they are not in the same class as the Paradigm S2 in overall smoothness, the Stratus Minis work very well for TV and movies, ballets, and so on. They are very nice and clear on voice and are very easy to listen to. Comparing Stereophile's measurements for the Stratus Minis with the NRC measurements for the Usher Be-718, their bass extension is very similar. Now, I know Stereophile's measurements are not quite as accurate as those done by the NRC, but their results usually seem quite close in the bass.

A friend of mine has the very fine Totem Mani-2 speakers, and they have considerably deeper bass response, flat down to 30Hz. Of course, they also cost more than the Usher speakers, too. I'm not convinced the Totems are better than the Paradigm Signature S2s, but they are very fine.

So there are other small speakers with pretty good bass response?

Pat Daley

In my experience, most small speakers don’t go as low in the bass as the Be-718s. But notice that I said “most,” not “all.” Indeed, there are some stand-mounted speakers that can reach as low, and perhaps even lower. However, one must look at how that bass response is achieved -- it’s more than a function of woofer diameter and box size. In particular, sensitivity comes into play, as does the shape of the response curve in the bass region.

For example, we determined the Be-718’s sensitivity to be 83dB. That’s fairly low, and it’s obvious to me that the Be-718’s designers likely pulled the level of the midrange and highs downward so that the range from about 50Hz to 20kHz was flatter. In turn, the -10dB point ends up at about 35Hz. But, that lower sensitivity means you need more power to drive the speakers to the same volume level as higher-sensitivity speakers. Likewise, if you look the Mani-2 measurements that you point out, John Atkinson estimates the sensitivity to be less than 81dB -- very low. In turn, however, the range ends up flatter from around 40Hz through to the highs. But, again, you need more power to get appreciable output levels. On the other hand, with the Signature S2, the sensitivity is 88.5dB, fairly high for a small speaker. Likewise, though, the -10dB point in the bass region is higher than both the Be-718 and the Mani-2. But, had Paradigm decided to pull that sensitivity downward by up to 5dB, then the line would appear much flatter through the bass region. Of course, you’d need much more power to drive them if they did that.

That said, sensitivity is still not all that matters here, as there are many other things involved. But the reason I wanted to point it out is that when looking at measurements, one has to compare apples to apples -- or at least look closely at the measurements to see what’s all happening.

Now, back to my original point. I can confidently state that the majority of today’s small speakers don’t go as low in the bass as the Be-718s, but certainly some do, particularly the Mani-2. On the other hand, most small speakers today have higher sensitivity than the Be-718s and these other speakers. It’s a “balance of compromises” in the design process….Doug Schneider


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