Usher Be-718

January 30, 2009

To Doug Schneider,

I just reread your review of the Usher Be-718 speaker, which I have been considering purchasing since your review. I am now ready to buy and was wondering if you still feel the same way about this speaker in terms of it being a reference in its price range, or have you happened across other worthy alternatives since this review? My requirement is for a minimonitor/bookshelf speaker.

Dave Paraschuk

My feelings on products I review rarely change. If I felt it was a great speaker then, more than likely it's a great speaker now. If I was in the market, I'd certainly have the Be-718 on my list. However, over time, other contenders come on the scene, and they should be considered, too. Since then, I really enjoyed the Paradigm Signature S1 v.2, a small hyper-accurate monitor with some of the best high-frequency performance that I've experienced from any speaker at any price. The current retail is price is just over $1500 per pair, depending on finish. Its only downfall is that because it's very small and a sealed-box design, bass is limited -- it rolls off very rapidly below about 80Hz. Another speaker I'd look at is the Esoteric MG-10, a favorite of fellow reviewer S. Andrea Sundaram. When S. Andrea reviewed them, they were $6000 per pair. Recently, Esoteric dropped the list price to $3000. I was talking to S. Andrea about them the other day, and he feels that with the price drop they're an absolute steal....Doug Schneider

Jazz pianists and SACDs

January 28, 2009



I see from your reviews that you are a bit of a jazz freak. I am becoming very interested in the genre, being an '80s rock freak for the most part. Could you recommend CDs with really good performances and recording quality for the music of Bud Powell, Hampton Hawes and Bill Evans? Also, what SACD jazz titles would you recommend?

Bill Barotti

With Bud Powell and Hampton Hawes, the places to start are with series of recordings with similar titles. Blue Note released five The Amazing Bud Powell collections from 1949 to 1958, and they are all worth owning. Hampton Hawes' The Trio Vols. 1-3 were released in 1955 and 1956, and they are wonderful, with the nod going to the first one. Bill Evans is trickier because he played at such a high level for much longer than Bud Powell or Hampton Hawes. His classic trio was with Scott Lafaro on bass and Paul Motian on drums, and this was the lineup responsible for the classics Waltz for Debby (1961) and Sunday at the Village Vanguard (1961) along with the less renowned Explorations (also 1961). Evans also recorded later albums for Verve with bassist Eddie Gomez, such as A Simple Matter of Conviction (1966), and they are terrific as well.

Many of Evans' Riverside recordings are available as JVC XRCDs, as is Hampton Hawes' The Trio Vol. 1. Some of the Evans recordings may be available as SACDs, though I don't know of any Bud Powell or Hampton Hawes SACDs. Classics such as Miles Davis's Kind of Blue (which includes Bill Evans on piano, 1959) and Dave Brubeck's Time Out (1959) are available on SACD, but if you want to get off the well-worn path a bit look for two Louis Armstrong SACDs: Plays W.C. Handy (1954) and Satch Plays Fats (1955). ("Fats" is Fats Waller.)...Marc Mickelson

Ubuntu "better than Windows"

January 26, 2009

To Colin Smith,

In your latest "Digital Domain" column, you wrote: "Ubuntu, that popular and fun-loving variant of Linux, sounds just awful and should be avoided."

What happened to make you reach this conclusion? I earn a living by writing software for Microsoft operating systems using their .Net framework and certainly wouldn't have installed an Ubuntu system if it did not sound better than Windows. Prior to installing my Ubuntu system, I used Windows XP Professional running Foobar2k and ASIO4All. I was not expecting Ubuntu to sound better than my previous setup, but I try a live CD boot of Linux every year or two to see the progress. During my latest test (about three months ago), I decided to try playing some music while I was playing with the system. I was shocked that it sounded better than I was used to.

I soon built a new system for my audio workshop based on an MSI Wind PC (low power, low noise). I use MPD Snd Sonata for playback via USB to an AMB Laboratories Gamma1 DAC, feeding a HeadRoom Maxxed Out Millet Hybrid headphone amplifier and Denon AH-D2000 headphones.

Ubuntu definitely sounded better than Windows XP. Don't know why. My playback in Ubuntu is using Alsa but bypassing the mixer (you can verify this by the fact that the system volume control has no effect on the volume).

Scott Serl

Admittedly I haven't tried Ubuntu in a while, but when I last did I found Vista to be far better. YMMV! You've got me intrigued, though, so I'll download the latest version and listen for improvements and perhaps report on that in the future....Colin Smith

CAT preamp with...?

January 22, 2009


I read your June 2007 review of the CAT SL1 Ultimate Mk 2 -- really very helpful. I was hoping you might have a comment about its use for me (with phono stage), as opposed to, say, the VTL TL-6.5 with a phono stage.

I run Quad 989s. I have used Quads since the early '70s, and I am partial to them. I currently have the latest Genesis Reference amp (single-ended version, 26dB of gain) with expanded headroom, a VTL '5.5 preamp and an Esoteric X-01 CD/SACD player, but I am thinking of going to the Esoteric P-03 transport in combination with the Weiss Medea DAC. I also have a recent Conrad-Johnson amp -- 55Wpc, I think. However, I have found the detail of the Genesis amp is really very compelling.

I am a lifelong musician (French horn), and my hearing is pretty acute.

Warren Smith

The issue with matching a CAT preamp with amps from other makers is gain, specifically whether there's too much of it and if it causes obtrusive background hiss. The new CAT SL-1 Renaissance solves this problem: It has a switch to adjust the preamp's gain from 26dB to 15dB, which will make it usable with essentially any amplifier. Earlier versions of the SL-1, including the one I reviewed, don't have this switching, so I would recommend that you consider a new preamp over an older one unless you have experience with a certain version and know it will work with your amps.

In sonic terms, it's hard to improve on a CAT SL-1, because of its very balanced performance and high resolution. I also understand that it has a terrific phono stage, a feature that I couldn't test when I reviewed the SL-1 Ultimate Mk 2....Marc Mickelson

"The Digital Domain"

January 20, 2009

To Colin Smith,

I just read your article about Windows-based digital playback and think it's great. I look forward to future installments of "The Digital Domain" on SoundStage! 

Chris Connaker

"Long live vinyl!"

January 14, 2009


Thanks so much for your exceIlent vinyl reviews. I am new to vinyl, and I find your reviews and tips very helpful. Keep up the great work. Long live vinyl!

Drew Turner

LP reviews?

January 12, 2009


Where are the January LP reviews?

Tony Yerian

We don't publish new music reviews on January 1. Instead we name our best recordings of the preceding year. You'll see our usual group of CD, SACD and LP reviews on February 1 and following....Marc Mickelson

Speakers, and one person who wrote about them

January 9, 2009


I first wanted to commend you on your comments about the untimely passing of John Potis. To those of us who consumed his reviews and thought highly of him, it was nice to see acknowledgement of his work, even by those who had had disagreements with him in the past, such as yourself.

I am writing you as I had corresponded with you in the past to see if you were going to review the Thiel CS 3.7s. My quest for a speaker upgrade continues, and the only change to my system is that I have upgraded my preamp from the Audio Research LS26 to the Reference 3. I also have an ARC Reference 110 amp and Reference CD7 CD player, Thiel CS2.4 speakers, a Shunyata Hydra Model-8 for power conditioning, and Nordost Heimdall interconnects and speaker cables. At the time, you suggested Wilson Sophia 2s or WATT/Puppy 8s, or ProAc D38s as possible parings. I did not have any dealers who carried either brand of speakers in my immediate area at the time. I have since discovered that there is a dealer about an hour and a half away from me that carries the Wilson speaker line (as well as ARC electronics), and I was planning on auditioning both the Sophia 2s and the WATT/Puppy 8s (although the Sophia 2's price is more in the range of what I am likely to entertain at this point), but before I did that I wanted to make sure that neither set of speakers is too much for my rather small listening room, which measures 14' wide, 19' long and 8.5' high. Is my listening room too small (i.e., would it be overloaded by either speaker)? I’d rather not trek over to the dealer, which is not too close, if that were going to be the case, and since it will be likely difficult for me to set up an in-home audition given the distance and lack of a relationship with this dealer. If the answer is yes, are there other speakers that you have since heard that would mate well with my system and room?

Cyril Malak

I'm glad to hear that people are reading the short article I wrote about John Potis. He and I were probably better friends than either of us acknowledged, given the fact that we didn't have a problem disagreeing with each other, sometimes feverishly, but were able to reacquaint ourselves with the simple truth that we liked and respected each other. It still seems improbable that he's gone.

The Thiel CS3.7 is a speaker that I know John wanted to write about. Thiel promised me a pair as well, but it never materialized, so I'm not sure you will see a review of the CS3.7 on SoundStage! I can tell you that probably the best system I've ever heard at a show used your Audio Research Reference electronics in front of Wilson Audio Sophia 2s. I don't think those speakers or WATT/Puppy 8s would be too big for your 14' W x, 19'L x 8.5'H room -- just right is more like it. I do recommend auditioning both of them at length, preferably with your ARC electronics. Of course, this is the best way to find out if they are what you're after. They would be the speakers I'd suggest first, followed by the ProAc D38s and possibly the D80s, with which I have no direct experience but have heard very good things about. ARC and ProAc used to demo together at CES every year, so the two brands have some synergy....Marc Mickelson

Where to buy...?

January 6, 2009


Where to buy the Classic Records DVDs? I have owned an Ayre C-5xe for over two years now and would love to hear what the Classic Records DVDs sound like.

John Tann

You can buy them directly from Classic Records through its shop. Here is a link to all of the Classic Records high-resolution digital software sells....Marc Mickelson

Thiel or ProAc?

January 5, 2009


I have read some of your reviews and thank you for the information in them. I have a YBA Passion 300 Intégré integrated amp and YBA Passion 400 CD player. I am undecided between two speakers: Thiel CS2.4SE and ProAc Response D38. In your experience, which do you think is the best? Currently, I have Thiel CS1.6es. They are very good, but sometimes the tweeter screams a bit. I fear the ProAcs might be too slow. Which do you think is the best match for my system?

Francesco Cretella Lombardo

I think the ProAc Response D38s would sing in your system. They sounded their best in my system with solid-state power -- the more neutral the better. I've thought about those speakers a number of times since I reviewed them in early 2004. They were the first products I reviewed in my current listening room, and I'd like to hear them again to check my earlier findings. Given what you don't like about your CS1.6es, the silky treble of the ProAcs might be the perfect antidote.

Thiel speakers strive for absolute fidelity and thus are not voiced to be forgiving in any way. I have no experience with the new Thiel CS2.4SE speakers, but I thought the standard CS2.4s were very good, though you may have the same problem with the 'SE's you're having with your CS1.6es....Marc Mickelson

"I've got to get a 'table again."

January 3, 2009


I just finished reading your latest editorial on the Music Matters series of LPs as well as the review of the first two releases. Very cool. I've got to get a 'table again. I've put it off long enough.

John Germain