Cerwin-Vega speakers for classic rock?

October 30, 2008

To Vade Forrester,

I recently read your review of the Cerwin-Vega CLS-215, an excellent review. I cannot seem to find speakers I can live with. I listen to '60s and '70s rock and pop 99% of the time. This music is generally not recorded very well and is typically bass shy. I now own a new pair of Dynaudio Contour S5.4 speakers, which are great as long as you feed them a great-sounding recording. According to your review of the Cerwin-Vega speakers, they seem to have plenty of bass. Is the treble forward at all? I am trying to find a speaker that has a warm top end with good dynamics and a ton of bass.The one thing about the Cerwin-Vega speakers I don't like is the cheap finish and metal grilles, but I would sacrifice for the sound I am looking for. I paid $11,400 CDN for the Dynaudio speakers, and I am not satisfied at all. Any suggestions for other speakers, or I will have a go with the Cerwin-Vegas? My budget is approximately $12,000 CDN.

Barry Borza

I wouldn't characterize the CLS-215s' treble as forward; I found it pretty neutral. I agree about the CLS-215s' finish -- kind of shabby. If you want bass, the CLS-215s have it, and it's pretty tight. The CLS-215s aren't great speakers, but for their price they are quite a remarkable value. However, I would expect your Dynaudio speakers to be much better than the CLS-215s. Dynaudio makes superb speakers with quite good bass. Have you tried other amplifiers to see if you can get the type of sound you want that way? Or if it's more bass you want, have you tried adding a subwoofer?...Vade Forrester

USB Monica DAC with NAD CD player?

October 27, 2008

To Colin Smith,

In the last paragraph of your article on the DIY Paradise USB Monica DAC, you mentioned that you tested this DAC with an NAD C521i CD player as transport. Would you please tell me your opinion about connecting this DAC to a ten-year-old NAD C514?

Wolf Rosenlechner

You will likely hear an improvement using the USB Monica or any other modern DAC with your NAD player. The USB Monica and its peers use more refined designs and, significantly, more developed components than were available ten years ago. For instance, a great many CD players used the 5532 op amp (which is probably used in your player; it is in mine) in their analog output stage. The old 5532 has a poor reputation among audiophiles (though current-production versions are said to be much better), so taking it out of the equation is a good thing. Also, clocking circuits are much more accurate these days, and many current DACs feature very low jitter. A contemporary DAC may also allow you to try upsampling your player's output so you can tune the sound to your tastes. Based on my trials with my NAD C521i and the USB Monica, an Audio Note Kits DAC 2.1 and a Benchmark DAC1 Pre, I think you'll be happy with the improvements any of those DACs will offer....Colin Smith

Which MAXX?

October 24, 2008


I am a fan of SoundStage! and interested in Wilson Audio's MAXX. As you have great experience with this speaker, may I ask you some questions regarding it?

Prices for the MAXX in my country vary a lot: between the MAXX 1, MAXX 2, and MAXX 3, a used MAXX 1 costs $24,000, a new MAXX 2 $42,000, and a new MAXX 3 $68,000. What would be your choice based on the price difference above? I've read somewhere that the MAXX is like the world's largest headphone, due to its super-narrow sweet spot both vertically and horizontally. It produces unlistenable sound when you stand up or are offset to the left or right from the center sitting position, Do you think this is true? I want to have great speakers for family movie time or sharing music with friends. With such nature, the MAXX doesn't seem suitable for me.

I've also heard that the greatest dynamic capability of MAXX is due to large bass transducers, and that the midrange drivers and tweeters are not up to the same task. Hence, at high volume, the mids and highs become distorted. The loudness sweet spot is also narrow, as there is only a narrow range of loudness that the speakers show coherence.

Do you think these criticisms are true based on your experience? I really love to see the MAXX in my room, but the criticism of one reviewer makes me worried. Unfortunately, there are no demo units for listening tests at my local dealer.

Wiratorn Ruk

The person giving you advice on the MAXX, of any generation, seems to have a few axes to grind, or perhaps hasn't heard the speaker properly set up. My lengthy experience with the MAXX 2 is very different from everything you describe. More than with most speakers, proper setup is vitally important with the MAXX. Once the speakers are configured and positioned correctly, the MAXX 2s, and indeed all Wilson Audio Speakers, cast a large soundstage that is the antithesis of "narrow...both vertically and horizontally." I'm not quite sure what you're saying regarding the dynamics of the woofer and output of the midrange drivers and tweeter, but I can tell you that the MAXX 2s are one of the most coherent large speakers I've heard -- the equal of the X-2s Series 2s in this regard. This isn't volume-dependent either. At low or high volume, the MAXX 2s display acute spectral balance and all of the detail buried in the music.

As for which version to buy, you can upgrade original MAXXes to MAXX 2s, but you can't upgrade MAXX 2s to MAXX 3s. I am very intrigued by the MAXX 3, which looks less like an upgraded MAXX 2 and more like a scaled-down Alexandria X-2. I should be writing about it sometime soon. Until that time, I can enthusiastically recommend the MAXX 2, which may be an especially good buy right now because of the MAXX 3's introduction....Marc Mickelson

Chitose Okashiro

October 22, 2008

To John Crossett,

I just read your fabulous review of a Chitose Okashiro CD. Do you happen to know anything about whom she studied with and where? I think one of her teachers was the son of Artur Schnabel, but I am interested in knowing more about her background. She is a dynamic force; we just listened to her performing Scriabin, and anyone who can play and interpret this composer's work demands respect.

Wilma Monlouis

Wow, you've dug up one of the earliest music reviews I wrote for SoundStage! Amazing how the Internet can preserve one's work for eternity.

I'm glad you liked the review and Ms. Okashiro's amazing piano work in particular. About the only information I have in regard to her education is taken from the liner notes of one her CDs on ProPiano Records. She was born in Japan and graduated from Toho Gakuen High School and the University in Tokyo. After graduation, she went on to perform in a number of venues. In Aspen, she met Herbert Stessin with whom she would study at the Julliard School of Music in NYC. After graduating with a Masters Degree from Julliard, she completed the Professional Studies Program at The Manhattan School of Music, where she studied under Karl Ulrich Schnabel (son of Artur Schnabel)....John Crossett

Power conditioning?

October 20, 2008


What's your take on the power conditioning? Right now I have a Shunyata Hydra Model-4 with a Shunyata Python power cord and a Shunyata Guardian 4 with a Voodoo Mirage power cord. I plug my CD player, DAC and preamp into the Hydra 4 and my Lamm 2.2 amps go into the Guardian 4. It sounds fine, but I'm thinking of one of two options: sell the Hydra 4 and buy a Hydra Model-8 and plug all of my components in there, or sell the Guardian 4 and buy another Hydra 4. I would use the new Hydra 4 for the Lamm monoblocks along with the same Voodoo power cord.

Is there a big difference between the Hydra 4 and Hydra 8? My outlets are not dedicated ones.

Noli Tan

My "take" is that power conditioning is important to the final sonic outcome of a well-put-together audio system (and properly implemented surge/spike protection is vital for protecting your investment). Regarding your specific questions about Shunyata products, buying a Hydra Model-8 would be the better of your proposed scenarios. The Model-8 is a more robust implementation of the Hydra philosophy, with a greater amount of internal compound and better isolation between outlets. It's also made for situations such as yours, where you need to plug everything into one unit that's on a non-dedicated AC line. I use the Hydra Model-8 (and Hydra V-Ray) with Lamm amps here, and they are a great match sonically....Marc Mickelson

Site redesign, Energy speakers

October 15, 2008


I really like your newly designed site. It's refreshing and different.

I just purchased Energy RC-10s. They're the best small speakers I have encountered.

Nigel Marsh

"...a down-to-earth, honest review"

October 10, 2008


Your review of the TW-Acustic Raven AC turntable was enlightening in the sense that you seem to like music instead of -- as seems the case with many reviewers -- yourself. I am serious, so please just don't click to delete this e-mail!

The reason I looked at the review is that I have a 20-year-old Basis Debut turntable, which, in terms of upgrades, only uses the latest micro-thin drive belt A,J, Conti has produced and it is still going very strong with a new SME V tonearm and a specially made version of the van den Hul Colibri MC cartridge. But I am getting that itch to get something new, probably not as a replacement but as an addition to the system -- a 'table with more silent bearings and more quiet motor.

In spite of many "reviews" that I have seen so far, I have never had sleepless nights about potential problems like "variable pitch" because of the "titanic resistance" that the cartridge should experience due to the "heavy modulation" in the LP's groove, as opposed to the superior pitch and timing (isn't that the same?) due to the use of idler wheels rather than drive belts. This business is full of audio voodoo, and although I attend at least two classical concerts per month, I don't hear any of these "problems," at least not with my audio gear.

Apparently you don't either, and I'd like to thank you for a down-to-earth, honest review that gives me a fair-minded idea of what music on this product sounds like. A breath of fresh air, as opposed to other reviewers' blabbering away about what sort of miraculous phenomena they may dream up, as a reviewer apparently should these days.

I have consulted you once before a couple of years ago when you were all digital, but I am glad to see that you are back among the analog crowd!

Ronald Dunki

Cables for use with professional monitors

October 7, 2008


I've contacted you because I want to know if you have any experience with professional powered monitors like those from Genelec, ATC, PMC and Adams. I am a high-end enthusiast, and right now I am listening with professional powered monitors. I bought a pair of Genelec 8050A two-way monitors, and I want to buy balanced interconnects and power cords for them. I usually consult the Audiogon forums, but unfortunately powered monitors are not so popular in the high-end world.

Pablo Hoffman

I have some distant experience with powered monitors, which have some inherent advantages over passive speakers, including the matching of the amplification to the crossover/driver combination and the crossovers' use of a line-level signal. In terms of cables to use with such speakers, two high-end brands come quickly to mind because these companies' products are used by musicians and in studios: Analysis Plus and Shunyata Research. Have a look at their product lines and pick the cables that fit your budget. I have used both companies' products with great success....Marc Mickelson

Arcam & B&W?

October 6, 2008

To Doug Schneider,

I have just read your review of the Arcam FMJ A32 integrated amp. I found it excellent in terms of your detail and comparisons. I have been hanging on the balance for a little while now as to which way to go, and after reading your review I have opted for the A32. As in your review, I will be using the FMJ CD23 as my main amplifier. I wondered, though, if you have ever reviewed the B&W CDM9NT speakers. These are the speakers I will be using along with Nordost's Super Flatline Gold speaker cables. What do you think of this combination?

Steve Dryden

What continues to impress me most about the Internet is how often older reviews still get read. I wrote the review of the A32 over five years ago, and it's as easy to find now as it was when it was first published. You certainly don't have that luxury with print magazines. However, we don't write about everything -- and the B&W CDM9NT speakers fall into this category. In fact, to me, we don't have nearly enough reviews of the products, something that will change quite soon.

However, I can't see any reason why the A32 couldn't work well with the CDM9NTs. The current specs on the amp are that it can deliver 100Wpc into 8 ohms and 170Wpc into 4 ohms, and there's nothing untoward in the CDM9NT's design that would suggest a problem. The A32 should be able to drive those speakers quite well. Plus, one thing I recall about the A32 is how neutral and transparent it is -- basically, a clear view into the recording. Therefore, it shouldn't impart any sonic signature of its own and simply let the speakers do the talking -- er, "singing" is perhaps a better word.

That said, there's no guarantee that you're going to like the A32 -- everyone has his own tastes. But you should at least try it. If and when you do, please write back and let me know how it turned out....Doug Schneider

MP-3 Mk III phono loading

October 2, 2008


In Vade Forrester's review of the Atma-Sphere MP-3 Mk III, he states: "The default input impedance is 47k ohms, but if you screw resistors onto the terminal strip, they will replace the standard load."

Unless Ralph Karsten has started adding relays to the phono stage, these load resistors will not "replace" the 47K but rather parallel it. Given the relative low values of load resistors (for argument's sake, below 1K), this has the effect of reducing the input impedance to a value close to the load resistor.     The math is  Load=((47000 * load resistor value) / (47000 + load resistor value)).  The 47k ohms is always in the circuit.

Otherwise, thanks for another great issue.

Bob Rex

Thanks for pointing this out. You are correct -- the resistors are in parallel to the 47k-ohm load, which changes their actual value so little that this is essentially what the phono cartridge "sees." As Vade Forrester put it, "The important point is that you don't need to make any calculations; you should just pick a load resistor you want to use with the cartridge and the actual resistance won't be meaningfully different."...Marc Mickelson