Stello still "a top buy"?
April 30, 2009
To Doug Schneider,
I am in the process of buying a Stello DA220 Mk II, and
having read your expert review, I wonder if you still recommend this as a top buy at
this price level new or used.
I think that the DA220 is still an excellent DAC, but
it's certainly not the only DAC to look at. In that price range, I would also consider the
Benchmark Media products, which I've had some experience with and think highly of....Doug
April 29, 2009
I realize to the outside world that we audiophiles are
nuts. But this is really nuts. I just read where people replace the standard record
sleeves with some sort of plastic sleeve. I mean, come on now. Some of the
records I will be playing have been in their sleeves for 15-20 years. Do I really need to
budget for new sleeves at some point?
Consider me one of those who are "really nuts."
There are very good reasons to replace the inner
sleeves of your LPs, especially if you own and use a good vacuum cleaning machine. Paper
inner sleeves shed bits of themselves over time, and these are left on the record, or are
even ground into the record's surface, causing noise. Replacing the sleeves with ones that
have no paper means you will avoid that shed of material. Also, paper sleeves can be
abrasive to your albums when you remove and insert them, and "plastic"
(actually, polypropylene) sleeves are not.
Once you've cleaned a record and resleeved it in a poly
sleeve, if you store it right (away from sources of dust), you probably won't have to
clean it again. With a paper sleeve, you will see residue each time you remove the record
from its sleeve, and you risk scratching its surface.
I also go one step further -- storing each album in a
poly outer sleeve as well to protect the cover. These also accumulate dust that the cover
All of this amounts to several cents per LP -- often
more than I pay for the LP and about what it costs to clean it with a vacuum machine. But
each one of my clean LPs stays that way and only requires a light brushing -- or nothing
at all -- before play.
You won't regret taking good care of your albums.
You'll preserve their cleaned state, their sonics, and their value....Marc Mickelson
Audio Research or Lamm?
April 27, 2009
As always, I enjoy very much reading your reviews. They,
and your answers to my question from time to time, have helped me build my current system,
which I enjoy in a way that sometimes connects my two ears with the line of my smile. Just
lately I've ordered the TW-Acustic Raven AC-3 turntable with a Graham Phantom 2 tonearm and
added the new Hydra V-Ray Version II with an Anaconda CX Series power cord based mainly on
your reviews and answers to some readers, and since I already own Wilson Audio MAXX 2s, an
Reference 3 preamp and a Reference CD7 CD player, I see your preferences are close to
mine. For me, now is the time to consider the next step -- the amps -- and there is no
recommendation I appreciate more than yours, and I mean it!
I'm considering the Audio
Research Reference 110 or Reference 210s and from Lamm the M1.2
Reference or ML2.1, which all seem to have great synergy with the Wilson speakers. I
would consider any of them for the long run since I'm not the usual restless audiophile.
I don't like a dark character, but bright sound is not the
other option. I look for realism and musicality without the suffering from the modern
audiophile illness of excessive resolution. I'm thrilled when I'm exposed to clear
soundstaging and richness of the tonal colors when performed realistically, and I do want
to get excited when the music calls for slamming bass and I get a notion of it.
The problem is that I can't audition any of the amps I
mention, so as usual I tried gathering some information on the Internet and from reviews.
Confusion is still my situation. Some owners say the ML2.1 is too weak for the MAXX 2, at
least when considering bass control and slam. Some consider the M1.2 to be too anemic and
even unmusical. And then, on the other hand, there are rave reviews for the both. In
relation to the ARC Reference 210s, some say they have a "cold" character and
maybe only the Reference 110 seems to get away with more high praise, but then only
"limited" to the $10,000 range, implying you can do much better for higher
I saw that you enjoy the Reference 110 in your system and
even sold the ML2.1s. You have recommended the Reference 110 over the 210 to me. Should I
consider the Reference 110 or the M1.2? Only you can say.
So my confusion is again waiting for your solution. Which
amp would be the best (dare I say "ultimate"?), with no "pits and
holes" excuses, for the long run.
The four amps you've chosen for consideration are all
very good, but I think one doesn't make sense for your system and the other three do to a
similar degree. The Lamm ML2.1 is, under prime circumstances, my favorite amp of the
bunch, but I don't recommend it for use with the Reference 3 preamp. I speculate that the
two of them together don't possess enough gain to make the music come alive, so even with
sensitive speakers like yours the sound is soft and lacking in dynamic agility. With a
Lamm, CAT or VTL preamp, however, the ML2.1 is wonderful driving MAXX 2s.
That leaves us with the two Audio Research amps and the
Lamm M1.2 Reference monoblocks. In terms of the Reference 110 and Reference 210s, the
circuit is the same and so is the sound for most part at lower levels. Where the 210s will
have an advantage is when you want to goose the volume some, or your music is especially
dynamic and the extra power is needed. I'm also sure that the difference in power-supply
energy storage between the amps translates to a more resolute and forceful sound for the
210s, especially into the bass. Of course, either amp works very well with the Reference
3, and adding the Reference CD7 only extends the sonic signature from the source to the
The Lamm M1.2 Reference monoblocks also work very well
with the Reference 3 -- they are what I own. They have an abundance of gain, and their
power output is actually greater than Lamm indicates: more than 150 watts. Their sound is
not quite as smooth and big as that of the ARC Reference amps, but it's certainly as
natural and neutral -- truly neutral, sounding rich and full like life itself. Their bass
is more powerful and very well defined overall, and their treble is a touch more crisp,
which leads to better leading-edge definition of many instruments. They are probably a
hair lighter in overall character than the ARC amps, but certainly abundant in
"musicality and realism."
Which should you choose? Without the possibility of an
audition, either of the Audio Research amps is the safest bet, given your use of other ARC
Reference products. However, the Lamm M1.2s are just as compelling. You honestly can't go
wrong with any of these amps, so much do they overlap sonically, so well will they fit
into your system and align with your professed tastes....Marc Mickelson
Belles 21A or...?
April 24, 2009
Are complete strangers allowed to ask reviewers questions?
I don't know -- let me try. I read your great
review of the Belles 21A with Auricap upgrade. Would you have any thoughts on a
comparison of the Eastern Electric Minimax and the Belles preamp? Would recommend any good
comparison products for either preamp? I'm sure you are busy, so I thank you in advance
for your reply.
"Allowed to ask reviewers questions?"
Absolutely! I answer e-mail from readers daily. With your letter, however, I don't have
much to say. I obviously think very highly of the Belles 21A with the Auricap upgrade,
which we named a Reviewers'
Choice, but I haven't heard the Eastern Electric preamp you mention, so I can't give
you any feedback there. Two other preamps I can suggest are the Audio Research SP17 or
LS17 (depending on if you need a phono stage or not) and the Lamm LL2.1. All of them are
tubed units, like the Belles and Eastern Electric preamps, and made by companies whose
reputations for sonic purity are well established....Marc Mickelson
Harbeth Monitor 30 Domestic woofer size, stands
April 22, 2009
To Doug Schneider,
Thanks for the Harbeth
review. As a happy Monitor 30 user, I enjoyed reading it. I just wanted to mention
that I'm pretty sure the RADIAL driver is 8" and not 6 1/2" as quoted in the
Also, on a personal note, I also found that using a much
more solid speaker stand, in my case the excellent Skylan 24" four-pillar design,
worked much better than the lightweight and rather unstable Foundation design, which I
tried recently (both of which were 24" tall).
Good call on the driver size. I'm not sure why I put 6
1/2" without checking closely; however, I've since looked around an it's been
described numerous times as being an 8-incher. Therefore, by the time you read this
letter, the review will no longer say 6 1/2".
You're the second person to write me and mention the
stands. Stands can make some difference with speakers, but in this case I wanted to
evaluate the speakers with the Foundation stands, which are what the Harbeth distributor
here recommended. Interesting comments on the Skylan stands, a brand I do know fairly
well, having owned a Skylan equipment rack in the past....Doug Schneider
Amplifier for MAXX 3s?
April 20, 2009
I have read your review
of the Lamm M1.2 Reference amps, and, as you say, it seems like Vladimir Lamm designs
his products for use with Wilson Audio speakers. I spoke with him yesterday and he is
using MAXX 2s. I have gone from WATT/Puppy 7s to MAXX 2s and now to MAXX 3s, which are
great speakers. All the while I have been using the same amps: Mark Levinson No.336 for
the MAXXes and a No.334 for the WATCH center-channel speaker. I am a diehard multichannel
I have no reservations that I will like the M1.2s. My
question to you is, will the Lamm amps be a big step up over the Mark Levinson amps or am
I looking at more of a sideways move -- that the Lamms will just sound different? If your
answer is no, the Lamm amps will not be a big step up, then would you recommend either a
hybrid or solid-state amp that would move the MAXX 3s to the next level?
Based on many years of experience using Lamm amps with
Wilson Audio speakers (a great combination), I would say that the difference between the
M1.2 Reference hybrid amps and your Mark Levinson amps will be profound in many ways. You
will certainly realize more natural timbres, along with a more relaxed and
multi-dimensional spatial presentation. The M1.2 Reference amps offer realistically
weighty bass, though it may not be as tight as with your Mark Levinson amps, which, based
on my experience with other Mark Levinson models, will sound tonally dryer as well. I
think the M1.2 Reference amps would represent a major step up, but if you're wanting or
needing the bigger power output of the Mark Levinson amps (the M1.2s are certainly not
deficient here; our measurements show that their output is in excess of 150W at 8 ohms,
which will make for very loud listening with your MAXX 3 speakers), perhaps another
solid-state amp, like a pair of the big Luxman B-1000f monoblocks, would be a better
choice -- at almost three times the cost of the Lamm amps, however. In most ways, the M1.2
Reference amps represent a deft combination of solid-state power and drive along with the
naturalness of tubes. If that's what you're hoping for with a change of amplifier, you
will likely find none better than the M1.2 Reference....Marc Mickelson
Harbeth Monitor 30 Domestic
April 17, 2009
To Doug Schneider,
You did describe the Harbeth
Monitor 30 Domestic correctly. This speaker seems to have a certain optimized
nearfield listening position. I noted that you put the speakers on Foundation stands, and
these have a very small surface area. At maximum volume, the Monitor 30 would shake
violently, and this could contribute to the poor bass. Using Blu Tack to affix the
speakers to the stands may help a little, though you may lose some bass definition. If you
do not use Blu Tack, the speakers could fall off the stands when you play the music loud.
You are correct that I used stands from Foundation, a
company owned by Planet of Sound Distribution, which handles Harbeth in Canada. This was
the company's recommendation for the speakers. I did not use any Blu Tack or a
similar substance; however, I never found that the speakers would shake, nor was there
ever any fear of them falling of the stands. There was a resonant quality, but it was
never extreme. I'm glad you found the description of the sound accurate, though....Doug
"Which speaker do you think is better for pure
April 15, 2009
I took your advice after our last chat and replaced my
Anthem Statement P2 amp with an Audio Research VS115, and I am very happy with the result.
My ARC LS26 preamp is the perfect match for the amp. I currently have Paradigm Signature
S8 speakers, and I am not very happy with them. I am considering replacing them too. I am
considering the Magnepan MG20.1, which I can demo. I see you gave a good review to
the Thiel CS2.4. Which speaker do you think is better for pure two-channel listening?
As always, love your reviews.
Congratulations on your new amp. If you end up with
Magnepan MG20.1s, you'll have even more congratulations coming your way. They are
$13,000-per-pair speakers masquerading as $50,000 statement models. Even at their
five-figure price, they are one of the bargains of high-end audio. Your VS115 will drive
them well and should fill just about any room in which your system would be situated. The
Thiel CS2.4s are very different from the MG20.1s, presenting the music with great detail
and pinpoint soundstage specificity. The MG20.1s are no slouches when it comes to these
things, but they present the music with a more realistic sense of scale and a unique kind
of immediacy that brings the musicians into your listening space. Of course, the '20.1s
are very large, and you'll need a room that can accommodate their size, but when all
things are right, you will be hard-pressed to find a better speaker for many multiples of
their price....Marc Mickelson
Solid-state amp for WATT/Puppy 6 speakers
April 13, 2009
I have read your reviews of the Lamm ML1.1 and ML2.1
together with Wilson Audio WATT/Puppy 7 speakers with great interest and pleasure. I am
looking for some advice in the process of selecting an amplifier for my WATT/Puppy 6
speakers. As the Danish market for high-end hi-fi is very small, it is difficult to get at
lot of firsthand experience with different products. Therefore, I would be very grateful
if you could help me with a couple of recommendations. My own experience with my speakers
is with the Lamm M1.1, and I am considering purchase of either a pair of ML1.1s or ML2.1s,
but my wife and I have agreed to find a more child-friendly and living-room-friendly
solution. Therefore we need a couple of recommendations for a solid-state solution that
size wise is not too dominant in our living room. We primarily listen to jazz and folk
music. I am looking in the range up to $25,000.
Given that you are interested in the Lamm sound but
want solid-state amps instead of ones that use lots of tubes, one obvious choice is a pair
M1.2 monoblocks, which are hybrids that use only one tube per amplifier, and it is
hidden away inside the chassis, so probing fingers can't reach it. These are fully class-A
amps that will provide more than enough power (110 watts each) for your WATT/Puppy 6
speakers, and they certainly display the characteristic Lamm naturalness. A fully
solid-state amp that I can enthusiastically recommend is the Conrad-Johnson
Premier 350, which offers 350Wpc and sounds very sweet. I understand that this amp has
been discontinued, but you may be able to find a dealer-demo or used unit. One final
suggestion that's not based on firsthand experience is a pair of Ayre M-XR monoblocks. I
have heard these amps only at shows, where they have impressed me greatly. They are rather
small, so you could probably tuck them in an out-of-the-way spot....Marc Mickelson
Electronics for MG3.6es
April 10, 2009
I have read your SoundStage! reviews for years and
enjoy your feedback on different equipment. I am considering some Magnepan MG3.6 speakers
to go with one of your Reviewers'
Choice amps: Monarchy Audio SE-Deluxe 100 monoblocks. I am using a basic DVD player
for playing CDs, but I was curious if you thought the Magnepans required a
high-performance DAC to make full use of their strengths. I have read that Maggies are
often demo'ed using only basic audio gear like Pioneer receivers and DVD players and sound
fantastic with only that level of associated gear. It seems to be a strange paradox that
such high-performing speakers don't require high-performance upstream equipment. Is this
the case? Any thoughts from your experience with these planar-magnetic speakers would be
I've heard Magnepan speakers at the company's factory
and at shows driven by rather inexpensive electronics from NAD and Parasound, by mid-level
Bryston electronics, and with some of the best products that Audio Research makes. As I
can attest from my time with MG3.6es, which I drove with Lamm mono amps that cost five
times what the speakers did, even the very best electronics are not wasted on these
speakers. Their speed and the refined treble from the company's ribbon tweeter will reveal
whatever is in front of them. However, you don't have to spend a fortune to obtain very
good sound; just pick products that do not sound lean or have ragged upper-midrange and
treble regions. The Monarchy amps you're considering should mate very well with the '3.6es
in sonic terms, and they will certainly have enough power for the speakers....Marc
CAT and Lamm preamps
April 9, 2009
What a wonderful review of the
CAT SL1 Legend preamplifier. I will have place that preamp on my short wish list. I
see where you have an upcoming review of the Lamm LL1 Signature preamplifier. Will this be
a replacement of the L2 or an additional Lamm preamplifier that will complement the ML3
Signature amps? Do you have an idea where it will be priced?
The Lamm LL1 Signature is a new product -- Vladimir
Lamm's best preamp yet and a match to the ML3 mono amps. It comprises four separate
chassis: a control unit and power supply per channel. It costs $42,690....Marc Mickelson
New preamp or CD player?
April 7, 2009
My current system consists of a Mark Levinson No.390S CD
player, an Audio Research Reference 3 preamp and Lamm M1.2 Reference mono amplifiers, with
a CAT JL2 Signature Mk 2 amp as alternate, driving Peak Consult Speakers. The system is
wired with Stereovox Reference cabling, which is also the internal wiring of the speakers.
While I enjoy the sound a lot, I always felt that the
system was somewhat dark, with all the components sharing a similar sonic signature of
slightly rolled-off highs. The soundstaging and timbres have been always top notch and to
my liking. In my quest for a perfect sound, I was looking for either a replacement for the
preamp or the CD player. I recently tried a Dartzeel 18 preamp with excellent results. My
system opened up in the highs significantly without losing the timbre and soundstaging
characteristics. Another component I am looking at is the CAT SL1
Legend preamp that you recently reviewed. For a CD player, my short list is the Audio
Research Reference CD8, the Mark Levinson No.512, the Ayre C-5xeMP and the Nagra CDP.
I wanted to hear your views (since you have intimate
experience with most of components I use) on whether the preamp change or the CD
change would be more crucial in achieving my goals. Also, your experience of synergy with
the CAT SL1 Legend and Lamm M1.2 amps (and the CAT JL2 Signature Mk 2) would be greatly
"Somewhat dark" is what I've always thought
about Peak Consult speakers. The always sound full-bodied and powerful but subdued in the
high frequencies. You might want to audition some different speakers to see if they give
you what you're after.
In terms of a preamp and CD player, the CAT Legend is a
great choice, especially if you are also playing LPs or think you might begin. In terms of
a CD player for use with it, among the ones you mention, the Nagra CDP would be my first
choice. First, its sound would complement the CAT preamp's and be consistent with what
you're seeking. Second, it's not fully balanced, like the others you mention, which would
sound best used that way. The CAT SL1 Legend is single-ended only, and you'd be paying for
extra circuitry you wouldn't take advantage of by using those other players with the CAT.
The Legend will work well with both of your amps; however, you will have to adjust its
gain downward when you use it with the Lamm M1.2s because of their very high voltage gain.
If you don't do this, you'll undoubtedly hear background hiss through your
"Perhaps you need to set the record
April 6, 2009
To Doug Schneider,
I read your article on TWBAS 2009, where you claim that
this is the "first" TWBAS, whereas, in reality, Jeff did the very same
TWBAS several years ago using Wilson X-2 speakers. I am somewhat surprised by the fact
that you infer this to be the "first" of many, whereas, in fact, it was the
second. Perhaps you need to set the record straight.
Stephen A. Williams
Ever heard the saying: "the same but
different"? It applies here. In 2004, Jeff hosted a similar kind of get-together that
brought together a number of companies and created a similar kind of "super
system." That's the "same" part. Where it's "different" is that
while this was structured as a get-together like that, the intention is for it to lay the
groundwork for an ongoing event. Therefore, things were much different this year in how it
was covered (multiple articles as well as video, which is forthcoming), and the kind of
planning that went into it that not only applies in 2009 but also beyond.
So, while the 2004 version was the first get-together,
mostly to kick off Jeff's original "The World's Best Audio System" column, this
one was the first planned event that we'll see more of in the years to come....Doug
April 3, 2009
I read your review of the
Thiel CS2.4s. I just bought a pair of the '2.4SEs. I'll power them with the new Krell
S300i integrated amp and use a Linn Unidisk 1.1 as the source. When you positioned the
'2.4s for your review, I understand that the distance from the speakers is important. As
long as you achieve that distance (say, 8-10 feet), how much does the distance from the
speakers to the wall behind them matter? I have heard they need to be at least three feet
from the wall, and that is not possible in my listening room. Please share your thoughts.
The CS2.4SEs are not rear ported -- or ported at all --
and that means the distance to the wall behind the speakers is less critical than it would
be if there was output coming from a port located on the back of each cabinet. The
distance you sit from a pair of Thiel speakers is more important to the ultimate sonic
outcome than the distance to the wall behind. The drivers' output needs some distance to
integrate at your listening position. I used the CS2.4s in two very different rooms,
having to put them near a wall in one, and the distance to the listening seat was clearly
the more critical. You have to work with what you have, and I suspect that you will
achieve very good sound with your speakers in your room....Marc Mickelson
Energy speaker distortion
April 2, 2009
To S. Andrea Sundaram,
About the measurements for your Energy RC-10
review, I can see that the speaker has quite high THD between about 400Hz and 1kHz.
But the RC-70
measurements demonstrate that it doesn't have such a distortion at all, even though it
uses the same driver for those frequencies.
So I wanted to ask you if you think that the RC-10 midrange
distortion is caused by very low frequencies (maybe that small bookshelf speaker can't
handle the low frequencies perfectly), as the RC-70 has different (and bigger) drivers for
the low frequencies.
Do you think that adding a subwoofer to the RC-10 (with the
crossover set at 80Hz) would lower the distortion at very low and midrange frequencies?
There are a number of difference in the measured
performance of these two speaker designs, even though, as you point out, the midrange
driver is the same. In the 400Hz to 1kHz frequency range, you'll see a little unevenness
with the RC-10 that is not present with the RC-70. The impedance plots show the same. Such
differences may be cabinet resonances. They may also result from the crossover in the
RC-70 being at 600Hz -- though crossovers more often create wrinkles than eliminate them.
Our frequency and impedance measurements are done with a swept tone, so other frequencies
have no affect on what you see in a particular range.
Examining your specific question about THD, if you read
"How We Test Loudspeakers," you will find that THD is
calculated in discrete frequency steps. I am investigating more specifics about that test,
but it suggests that lower frequencies should not be affecting the measurements of higher
ones. Putting a subwoofer crossover in front of the RC-10s will, therefore, not likely
change their distortion characteristics. I must stress that these measurements are taken
at 90dB, which is very loud indeed. At normal listening levels, distortion will be far
less....S. Andrea Sundaram