SoundStage! Feedback: December 1999

December 31, 1999

Editor,

I have a cable modem at home and a T-1 at the office. Who cares about large files? Bring 'em on, baby!

I just downloaded E-Mag issue 2; any idea where I can find issue 1?

...Joe Hays

We haven't been able to keep past issues of the E-Mag online and available for download because of bandwidth problems on our end. We are looking into ways of archiving them, including on CD-ROM....Marc Mickelson


December 30, 1999

Hola Editor,

I discovered your website through the MSB site -- Doug Blackburn's review specifically -- and I recommend to everyone I know to visit your site. Doug was instrumental in my decision to buy my MSB Link and Monolithic HC-2 . I have been asking him questions for some time, and he has been very kind to address my audio doubts.

So CONGRATULATIONS on doing a great job and best wishes for the coming year.

...Jose Garcia


December 30, 1999

Editor,

I've read both issues of the SoundStage! E-Mag, and they are both very well done. But I must admit that I simply don't understand the E-Mag concept.

These are print publications which are distributed online. However, I suspect that the vast majority of readers will read them on a computer instead of printing them out (indeed, few people own high-quality color printers that can do full justice to the graphics). Reading the E-Mags on Acrobat is awkward at best -- the pages were formatted for presentation on printed paper (e.g., usage of two-column format).

Thus you have created a high-quality print magazine, but that is not the way it will be used most of the time (at least this is my intuition), so your efforts will not make the full impact that you intended. Clearly you had wanted to create a publication with good layout and typography. I think you have done a good job, but I have a nagging feeling that something just doesn't feel right about the overall concept. I'd be delighted if I were proven wrong, and I look forward to seeing how this endeavor evolves.

...Richard Williams


December 29, 1999

The article entitled "Star Wars Not Coming to DVD Anytime Soon" on AudioVideoNews gives the impression that George Lucas has attempted to snub the DVD format (I am all for snubbing DVD-Audio). Do you have any idea as to why he doesn't want his films on DVD? Do you think it is a fear of people dubbing them from a nearly film-like source?

Thanks and keep up the good work,

...Michael Marcellas

It's been said that George Lucas will only release Star Wars on DVD once all segments are done. For those counting, this means two more in the series and likely quite a few more years. By then, likely, DVD as we know it will be replaced with a more advanced system compatible with HDTV. Why does George Lucas appear to be snubbing the DVD format, at least for these movies? One can only speculate, but there are some clues that may indicate his intentions. Lucas has been championing digital film production for quite some time, even to the point of digital projection for movies. In fact, The Phantom Menace was shown digitally in select theaters and critical response was mixed -- at best, some said, it equaled film, but most indicated that it did not even come close. The quality of projection does not seem to be the concern, though. Instead, with digital projection you can have digital distribution of movies and that, some say, can slash costs up to 90%. Of course, if this happens, Lucas' film companies would have a share of that pie. Perhaps Lucas is holding on to his prized possessions like the Star Wars series to see if evolving film and video formats will better fit his business strategy....Doug Schneider


December 24, 1999

Editor,

Happy holidays! There are two topics I would like to see addressed in your CES 2000 coverage:

1. Dolby-ES/EX, DTS-ES
2. The future of two-channel vis--vis multichannel audio.

Keep up the excellent work!

Best Regards,

...John Lettieri


December 23, 1999

Editor,

I would love to see a review of Legacy Audio products. It would be nice to get an objective view point instead of the love/hate shouting matches that occur in discussion groups.

...Roderick Shephard


December 17, 1999

Editor,

The SoundStage! site seems to be missing the articles and the second issue of E-Mag that were supposed to be published on December 15th. I have been eagerly waiting for the second issue of the SoundStage! E-Mag to read the review on the Silverline Sonatinas. Could you give me any pointers on when these will be put online? I can't wait to get my bi-monthly dose of the excellent articles/reviews that you publish. Keep up the good work. Keep us informed.

Thanks,

...Jay Raja

There will be no mid-month update for December, but the E-Mag will be online. We're putting the finishing touches on it right now and will have it ready this weekend. The Silverline Sonatinas are reviewed in it....Marc Mickelson


December 15, 1999

Editor,

I must admit that due to a lack of present financial capability (read: poor law student), I have been unable to even think about upgrading my gear. This leads to my question: Where are the columns this month? I really enjoy reading the columns every month, as reading reviews tends to depress me (see beginning of question). I understand that every once in a while one of the staff members falls behind and cannot post a column, but there are three missing columns this month. What gives?

...Dave Orwick

Our columnists took the same month off, which makes their absence even more conspicuous. All should be back for January 1....Marc Mickelson


December 11, 1999

Editor,

Albert Von Schweikert is back! His VR-5 and VR-7 are to be released this January. It would be great if you could do a review as they are sure to be very worthy of praise.

Thanks.

...Keith Cloward


December 10, 1999

Editor,

I read your review and follow-up of the Bel Canto DAC1 and Pioneer DV-414 DVD player with keen interest. Over the past year, I have heard a couple of "bastard Pioneers" and have been continually surprised at the resultant musicality that can be wrought from this low-end product. Two such products in particular are the Melos DVT and the Pioneer DV-414/MSB/ABA DAC combo.

I currently have a Melos DVT DVD player. This player is basically a Pioneer DV-414 with a heavy faceplate, balanced outputs, and a full Melos SHA vacuum tubed analog stage. This player's performance is stunning -- not just for the $1895 list price but actually in a price-independent analysis.

In your review you state that, "First things first: the Pioneer player is a reasonably good transport. It sounds a bit thin and transistory and is not the sonic equal of the Mark Levinson No.39 or Linn Ikemi I have here, both of which sound more naturally resolving and powerful. The DV-414 is not a giant-killer transport, but it's not awful either, doing its job respectably. I suspect that it would compete with various lower-priced CD players as a transport."

Normally, I would have come to the same conclusion regarding the apparent
quality of the Pioneer's transport. However, my experience with the Melos version seems to have proven the contrary. The way the Melos is designed, the analog output of the DAC chip is tapped directly into the tube analog section. This means that the resultant audio signal uses the stock Pioneer transport signal as well as the stock Pioneer DAC signal. The resultant sound is far from thin and transistory. In fact, it is truly among the best I have heard. This impression has also carried through to another system I heard very recently. This system was an all-out high-end system that included the largest Nearfield PipeDreams speaker, Melos Music Director preamp, two Bryston amps (subwoofers), two Melos MAT-1000 amps (full range). The resolution of this system is absolutely in a class by itself, and the digital front-end was the same Melos DVT!

For your reference, my system is quite a bit more modest and it is comprised of a Sunfire Signature Amp, Melos Music Director Preamp, MartinLogan Quests, and Melos DVT. Obviously, my system does not compete with the one detailed above, but nevertheless the DVT in my system trounced my previous digital front-end, which included the Parasound belt-drive transport, Audio Alchemy/Channel Islands/Monolithic 3.0 DAC AA/Channel Islands DTI Pro 32. I am very happy to report that I managed to buy the DVT, improve my system, and pocket the excess $800 or so in cash from reselling the various components and cables that it replaced!

Since your comments on the Bel Canto combo so closely resemble my impressions of the Melos, I think it would be great to see a comparison of these two products. After all, all things being equal, the Melos should have the edge just by virtue of being a one-box solution. The colorations and jitter introduced by the digital cable is eliminated. I think that either of the two represent a great example of a digital "band-aid" while the future of digital audio standards sorts itself out.

Regards,

...Ray Seda


December 7, 1999

Editor,

The review of the SimAudio P-5 unit is a good example of all the things that are discouraging about product reviews today. A manufacturer should not be able to expressly request that the review be done by a particular reviewer. The review should be assigned reasonably randomly to a reviewer in your organization, maybe taking into account that some reviewers are probably better suited for certain gear, etc. If the manufacturer is particularly interested in your opinion, you should do this as a follow up or an addendum to the main review.

As it is the trend of all reviewers today to rearrange all the usual buzzwords and pad with anecdotes without providing any real insight, I was not surprised that I found this review also lacking. I feel that since you are admittedly at a loss when comparing to similarly priced solid-state gear, you should allow someone else in your organization capable of making such a comparison do a follow-up.

Further, as a P-5 owner, I know that there are some things that were not highlighted that deserve to be mentioned in fairness to the manufacturer, the product (an excellent one), and your readership. One is the break-in period, which is one of the longest I have encountered.

Being a practicing audio enthusiast, I appreciate the information provided by your site, and I commend you on one of the best audio websites on the Internet today, one which I visit regularly. However, more and more seasoned audiophiles are becoming disillusioned with the review process, and are relying more on discussion groups, consumer comments. This would not be a problem if it were always possible to audition equipment before purchase, but you have an audience in several countries that rely almost completely on reviews, and you need to provide relevant information and comparisons.

...Raymond Kelly

In terms of this review, although SimAudio did ask me explicitly about reviewing the P-5 (and W-5), we by no means gave in simply because they asked. Given the price of both units, I would certainly be one person with SoundStage! to conduct such a review, and I happened to have room in my schedule too (we have an internal guideline to turn products into reviews in four months or less, so we don't tie up stock). Yes, I could have hidden the fact that I had talked with SimAudio, but the truth is not all the damning in this case.

In terms of break-in, I noticed no abnormalities. The P-5 sounded good from the very beginning, as I expected. Why? Because the unit I received came from another reviewer (and another reviewer before him), so it was already broken in.

Our goal at SoundStage! with each review is to get the sound of a unit right. This is the kind of information we want as audiophiles, and so we insist on it in our reviews. With due respect to SOME of the newsgroups, I heard what I heard, and expressed this, so I'm at peace with my review, although I acknowledge that some people, like yourself, won't be. It's inevitable. You will probably be happy to know, however, that the W-5 amp is on its way to another reviewer for his comments, which will be added to my review when it is published....Marc Mickelson


December 5, 1999

To Marc Mickelson,

I had written to you a few months ago regarding your very enthusiastic review about the Onix A-60. Due in large part to your review, I purchased the A-120. The thing ROCKS, and I ran a crummy portable CD player through it, driving two speakers, one that I've since found out is damaged. It was still amazing. What I have found (fortunately or unfortunately depending on your perspective) is that my stereo system needs to be re-built around it. The loudspeakers are 12 years old. One of them is "blown," to use a generic term. It sounds really dull and fuzzy compared to the other one. They are Polk Audio speakers: Monitor 1-Bs I think. I don't think that the one is worth repairing considering the state of speaker technology now as opposed to in 1986. That applies for just about all of the old equipment I have that has outlived its usefulness.

Question: Who is making really excellent loudspeakers these days for the dollar? I think the British refer to it as "value for money." I visited Polk Audio's website and they have some pretty impressive stuff. But I'm baffled. There are so many manufacturers out there, and I'm sure that they're ALL good for one reason or another. I want speakers that are going to be a good match with this Onix. Until I had read your review, I had never even HEARD of Onix. I'm glad now that I did. I'm looking to replace cables too. The speaker cables I have I'm sure are pretty cheesy, and I could easily upgrade.

Essentially I write to you asking for some guidance and suggestions from a very informed individual. I like the Polks, but I'm not necessarily a slave to their name. I'm on a bit of a journey here to immerse myself in a good, LOUD, reasonably faithful and reliable stereo setup. I think that purchasing the Onix has been a good place to start. I just don't really know where to go
from here.

Grateful for any help you might give,

...Charlie Hollis

In terms of speakers, your budget will dictate which speakers you ultimately consider and purchase. We reviewed some Polk speakers a few months ago, and our reviewer liked them a lot. Paradigm and PSB also make very good, high-value speakers that we have been very impressed with. The Meadowlark Kestrels at $1250 per pair are floorstanders that I liked a lot when I reviewed them. In addition, Clements makes speakers that are relatively inexpensive and offer very good sound. In terms of cable on a budget, two come to mind -- DH Labs and JPS Labs -- but others exist.

I would look through our review archives for information on speakers we've reviewed and liked. Additionally, our Reviewers' Choice site has information on all kinds of components, including speakers, that we feel offer tremendous sound and value....Marc Mickelson


December 4, 1999

Dear SoundStage!,

Regarding "BackStage!" this month, I for one (of thousands?) am very glad you didn't listen to all those who told you that SoundStage! wouldn't work. I'm also glad you're some of those who make something happen, not among those who watch and say "what happened?"

I've enjoyed SoundStage! for a few years now and look forward to its continued improvement.

...John Crossett


December 4, 1999

To Marc Mickelson,

As always with SoundStage!, a great review of the SimAudio P-5. I hope your coming review of the W-5 amp checks on its supposedly extraordinary ability to control woofers, especially planar woofers. I am considering it for purchase.

Thanks,

...Vladimir Dorta

Our P-5 review will appear in January or February 2000....Marc Mickelson


December 3, 1999

Editor,

My congratulations on the excellent job you do with SoundStage!. It's very well laid out, has excellent reviews, and is a very accessible and up-to-date information source. I think the reviews would be enhanced by the inclusion of a detailed list of reference-system components used by all the reviewers. Mini biographies would also be a nice addition. It is always interesting to have some knowledge of the person's background and experience.

I would like to compliment the outstanding review work by Grant Samuelsen. His technical background and appreciation of music, combined with his excellent writing skills, make him a candidate for one of the top reviewers in the business. I would like to see more from him. Thanks for a great online magazine.

...John Thayer

Every review we publish does include a list of components used, although in some cases, you will have to discern which components are each reviewer's references. Staff biographies are on the way, and you will see more from Grant -- he has a couple of reviews he's working on now....Marc Mickelson


December 1, 1999

Editor,

I always look forward to the start of each month and the new SoundStage!. This month was particularly solid and informative. Well done. Speaking as a former English teacher, I can say that you guys write very well. You have fun with the topic, do your homework, and never take yourselves too seriously. I like that.

Have a good holiday and enjoy listening to some great music.

Cheers and thanks! Your efforts are appreciated.

...James May