SoundStage! Feedback: January 2000

January 28, 2000


Your review of the Balanced Audio Technology VK-3i preamp was the final kick I needed to go out and buy one. I am really happy with this preamp, and I am now wondering about the VK-200 amp. Will you be doing a review of it also? I really depend on reviews to get me headed in the right direction. A trip to the audio store takes 3-4 hours, and I hate to waste a day going to hear something that I know nothing about.

...Todd Reitz

We don't have a review of the BAT VK-200 amp in the works, but we will ask about reviewing it....Marc Mickelson

January 27, 2000


Are you planning to do reviews of:

First Sound preamp (Paramount or Ultimate),
Art Audio phono stage,
Wolcott P220M amplifier,
Verdier, SME, Immedia, Eurokit/Amazon turntables.

Please consider this my request and vote for reviews.

I really enjoy your site. Keep up the great work.

...Bill Leoniy

We will have a review of the Art Audio phono stage online on 2/1. We will also be reviewing the First Sound preamp. We'll see what we can do in regard to the others....Marc Mickelson

January 25, 2000


I just visited your site for the first time and was very impressed. Of particular interest was your mentioning the "Best Audiophile Recording of 1999," that being Roy Gaines' I Got the T-Bone Walker Blues. It will be the next recording I purchase.

The reason I have contacted you was to inquire as to where I might find a listing of your prior "Best Audiophile Recordings." The runners-up would be nice to know as well.

Thank you,

...Richard Hudson

Last year was the first that we honored our "Best of..." picks, but you can find other recordings that we like in our Music Online archives and our "Bustin' Out Our Best" feature articles....Marc Mickelson

January 24, 2000


The comments noted in the CES panel discussion are interesting, but leave out one key point (which may or may not have been made during the discussion): The high-end market -- particularly in the States -- is small first and foremost due to the extremely high economic barrier to entry facing most music lovers. This, however, is not enough in and of itself, to stunt the market completely. The guarantee that most people will never devote much of their dispensable or indispensable income (the latter being what I spend on high-end equipment) to these products comes early in the lives of most Americans, in the form of a total lack of regard for quality in the listening experience.

At the risk of overstating the cosmic importance of this problem, it is one that can be seen as a fundamental flaw in our educational system. This country has never been one that revered its true artists and worthwhile cultural institutions -- not, at least, in the way that such individuals and groups are regarded in, say, Europe. For years, arts education in the schools has been in decline, if not dead altogether, as is the case in the worst inner-city schools and fundamentalist parochial schools. And the teaching of music appreciation is all but gone. Even in my primary schooling (which was only 20+ years ago), in an affluent public school district, our exposure to the orchestra, for example, was a rarity and dropped off completely before I was finished with grade school. And many of us were raised by parents with no cultivated appreciation for such things either.

What we were ALL exposed to -- at toxic levels, I might add -- was terrible
FM radio pabulum, followed by MTV (which emerged from the conflicted morass of commerce and mainstream entertainment industries when I was in the sixth grade). And this is the foundation upon which most listeners' "tastes" and standards of quality find their basis. Critical listening through expensive, high-quality equipment makes little sense to people whose appetites are for music that is so fleeting and transient, so fundamentally bad. Most "artists" selling the largest quantity of albums these days (e.g., Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Kenny G., Michael Bolton, "Puffy" Combs, etc., etc., etc.) are producing music that is uninspired, unoriginal, and utterly forgettable -- almost as if by design. They (or the new "diva" or "bad boy" of the moment) will be replaced in six months by new hacks and more bad music, which a large segment of the public (especially teenage kids) will then purchase and enjoy for a couple of weeks, and so on, ad infinitum. It is wallpaper and bubblegum -- aging gracelessly and losing quickly whatever dubious flavor and appeal it may have had for a moment -- in short, fundamentally valueless.

And there are few challengers that can penetrate the demographic currently sustaining these charlatans -- it is too late, the die has been cast. Instead, it would make sense to focus our energies on exposing our kids to some real talent and art -- as a foil to, if not a wholesale substitution for, mainstream music. And we don't do this to sell more $20,000 amplifiers and $80,000 speakers; we do it to give our kids richer lives and but one way of appreciating the human spirit and potential. We can be reasonably sure, however, that as a better-educated and more rounded group of consumers comes into the marketplace, its standards for musical reproduction will be consequently higher. High-end designers: Do it for the children -- they are your future!

...Gile R. Downes, Jr.

January 23, 2000

To Doug Schneider,

I enjoyed reading your review of the Audio Aero Prima CD player as I have recently both reviewed it myself for the Norwegian magazine Audio as well as bought it for my own personal setup. I have since then modified it somewhat, making it climb another step or two on the stairway to audio heaven.

I thought you might be interested in hearing a thought or two on this lovely player. There have been some changes made to the player since I bought mine. I had Audio Aero send me a toroidal transformer instead of the original "square" type, which was buzzing a lot. I notice from your test that this is now implemented in all models. I have also replaced the tube with a Siemens E88CC 1969 NOS, and I replaced the capacitors with the better MCAP Supreme. I have learned from the Norwegian distributor that these two upgrades are now offered as a "standard upgrade kit" from Audio Aero (although with Kimber caps.) for about $150.

As for your review, I fully agree on all points except that I find the depth of the soundstage actually to be very good. The upgrades stated above have resulted in a deeper soundstage, greater resolution and a more extended and tighter bass. You should really give yourself the opportunity to try them.

Ultimately I have also replaced the clock with the one used in the more expensive Audio Aero Capitole CD player. This most of all resulted in a great improvement in the resolution and more authority in the mid and low frequencies. At a total cost of approx.$2000, the player is simply stunning and to my ears only matched by the (in Norway $2000) Electrocompaniet EMC1, which again betters players like the Theta Miles and Meridian 508.24. I still prefer the tubish Prima's sound though.

I would appreciate it if you care to comment. I would also like to congratulate you on your excellent website!

Kind regards,

...Vidar Moerch

Thanks for your response to the Prima CD player review, and I'm glad to hear that you have found it to be an outstanding player. At SoundStage! it is our policy to review a unit as "stock" in order that the consumer understands the sound characteristics of the product as supplied by the manufacturer. It's interesting to note the improvements you describe through various upgrades to the player (whether from Audio Aero or by yourself). From your description of the player the upgrades seem to overcome most of the deficiencies I noted in my review. While we do not generally evaluate modifications or include that information as part of our reviews, I am glad you wrote in since potential buyers will be interested to know that the Prima can be improved. We are now being sent an Audio Aero Capitole CD player -- please watch for a review in a future issue....Doug Schneider

January 21, 2000


I greatly enjoy reading SoundStage! and really enjoy the products you review. However, I have a bone to pick with the Quantum Products Symphony. It is made out to seem to make video and audio in the whole house better. This means the benefits are not even confined to one circuit loop in the house. No, this product works on the whole house.

Thus, when you connect one or two Symphonies to your main system, every other video display in the house looks better than you are used to seeing. The difference isn't huge, and many will not notice it without consciously looking for it. But if you know what the images on your computer monitor look like or on the TV in your bedroom, both will get better when you connect the Symphony. Likewise, audio elsewhere in the house improves also; the kitchen radio sounds a little better, the TV sound in the family room is a little better, the rap coming from your 13-year-old's room sounds better (as if that were possible!) -- you name it. QRT is indiscriminate, it seems. Whatever it does that makes the sound and/or image improve in your reference system, the same improvements happen everywhere around your house. Like in the main system, the improvements aren't massively obvious, but if you are paying attention, they aren't hard to notice either.

If this is the case, why not just buy one Quantum Products Symphony for your whole block, and all can enjoy this incredible product. Heck, maybe it's so powerful, it can drive entire power grids into symphonic resonance. Wa-hoo! One Symphony for the entire western grid! What a bargain!



...Eric Ajimine

Your argument was used years ago when people who knew nothing about quantum physics made fun of Tice's TPT effect. The realities of the behavior of subatomic particles are massively more complex and strange than any amount of knowledge of classical physics could ever prepare you for.

One FM transmitter outputting 2 watts cannot blanket North America with a signal that can be received and listened to. Why would you assume that one little box without much power behind it could do much beyond the small radius of where it was plugged in? If you lived in an apartment building and an immediate neighbor installed a Symphony or two, you might gain as much of an improvement as he does (depending on distances and the amount of wire and its routing). But if you are in a home with any significant distance between it and neighboring homes, the distances involved and amount of wiring involved are just too much for the small Symphony box to be able to sustain the resonance that Quantum Products claims causes the quantum effect that results in improving the sound and image quality of audio and video components. It may very well be possible for someone to build a gigantic Symphony that could radiate its effect over many square miles, but it would have to have tens of thousands of watts of power, just like a radio station....Doug Blackburn

January 20, 2000


Just a question for you guys: Why do you post only at the middle and beginning of the month? I thought one of the advantages of not being tethered to print media was the freedom to do things differently. Instead of just publishing a bi-monthly magazine, why can't the articles be posted as they are approved? I know it would keep me coming back way more often than just twice a month if there were new reviews and columns posted either randomly (appealing to the anarchist in me) or at the very least weekly (probably more reasonable).

Thanks for your time; just wanted to give some feedback.

...Oren Teich

We post twice a month for three main reasons. First, so we can keep a regular publication schedule, like a magazine. Readers seem to like to come to our site and know that there will be more than just one article -- and know exactly when our content will be there. Also, we work very hard to get our reviews ready, and posting at defined times gives us time to work on other things too and not just be editing and proofing all the time. Finally, posting on the 1st and 15th allows us to move articles into our archives in a somewhat logical manner and not clutter up our main index pages with older material....Marc Mickelson

January 20, 2000


I discovered your site about a month ago as I am interested in moving toward high-end products. After reading several reviews on speaker cables, I did purchase a set of AudioQuest Type 4, which you've reviewed several times. Of course, your information was right on, and I am delighted with the improvement in sound. Now after going through your archives I am considering either Green Mountain or Thiel speakers, ones I had never heard about until reading your fine reviews. Thank you for your wonderful technical reviews, which have taught me more in a month than many years of reading several newsstand publications.

...Jim Lanard

January 19, 2000


I just read your great reviews on the Panasonic and Pioneer DVD players. They were interesting and very informative! So much so that I took a closer  look at the Sony S330 DVD player I just bought and found that the optical  outputs also downgrade the signal from 96kHz to 48kHz. How in the world can I take advantage of the 24/96 Burr-Brown chips that are in my Denon AV1700 receiver? Help! Now I'm thinking of returning the player and getting another -- but which one?

Thanks for helping me be a better consumer. Please keep up the great work!

...Ric Teano

As far as I know, only Pioneer and Denon (of the mass-market manufacturers) make players that enable the 24/96 digital outs. Therefore, your Sony player will not pass 24/96 data, but it still may have 24/96 DACs inside, making the use of an outboard DAC perhaps no improvement at all anyway. I would recommend experimenting -- using your Sony as a standalone player....Marc Mickelson

January 19, 2000

To Marc Mickelson,

I read your review of Roy Gaines' I Got the T-Bone Walker Blues. I looked for that CD this weekend and noticed that it is available in regular aluminum CD ($13.85 at one store) or in gold CD, both from Groove Note. The gold CD is a good bit pricier ($24.95). I was wondering which version your high praises of the sound quality were based on. Do you think the gold CD version offers significantly better sonics? Thanks.

...Craig Zastera

I reviewed the aluminum CD. I personally wouldn't spring for the gold disc, but maybe it sounds even better. I know Groove Note's first recording from Jacintha, Here's to Ben, is also available in XRCD2 format, in aluminum. Confusing, eh?...Marc Mickelson

January 19, 2000


Is the Sony SCD-1 SACD player scheduled for review anytime soon?

...Tom Pho

We have been trying for months to get a Sony SCD-1 for review because our readers have been asking us about it. We have the contacts at Sony, but unfortunately have gotten little response to our requests. We will keep trying because readers keep asking, and sooner or later, we will get a player from Sony to write about and compare....Marc Mickelson

January 18, 2000


Just so you know that downloading the E-Mag isn't everyone's nuisance, it took me 18 seconds to download the whole thing on my university computer (averaging about 300kbs). It's a real bummer to have to go back home to the 28.8!

...Bill Thomas

January 18, 2000


Finally got around to reading about your tour of Thiel. Nice job, and it confirmed my long-standing conclusion that Thiel is one of the class acts in high-end audio. I replaced my ancient CS2s with a pair of Hales Revelation 3s some months ago. I really like the Rev 3s a lot -- particularly the astounding quality of bass at the price -- but I still miss the total coherence of the Thiels. I predict that I'll return to the Thiel fold before too many years pass.

At some point, someone needs to write a study of the business side of Thiel. I think that Kathy Gornik's track record of establishing a very high-quality, customer-oriented, reliable dealer network stands as one of the major success stories in the industry. There's a Harvard Business School case study
in how she has managed so successful a company in such a niche market.

...Jim Shaw

January 17, 2000

I just wanted to let you guys know that SoundStage! is the best site on the Internet, bar none. Your reviews/feedback have been instrumental in helping me put together my system.

I do have two questions/comments. Request #1: Please do an interview/factory tour with Gershman Acoustics. You guys have reviewed many of their products, and have awarded them with due praise, but I can't say enough about the people behind their products (Eli and Ofra). They are so pleasant and knowledgeable that I would love to see an in-depth interview with people that represent the beauty of the industry. Question #1: Why is it that audio products cannot be reviewed as soon as they come out? It seems that there is a larger turnaround time in terms of reviews for this industry compared to others. Why is that? Rarely do I see a review of a product within the first six months of its introduction.

Thank you very much for your time. Sincerely,

...Michael Javenes

We'll certainly try to accommodate regarding the Gershmans. As you point out, they are very nice people and make very good products. In terms of quicker reviews, at the very earliest, we get a product for review shortly after it has been sent to dealers. Because it takes a while to get to know a piece of equipment before writing about it, we start out behind. The Internet and its fast publishing can equalize this a bit, but not completely....Marc Mickelson

January 16, 2000


I was wondering if you guys are going to be reviewing the new Speaker Art speaker, the Proklaim II? I have owned the Super Clefs and found them to be fantastic and capable of embarrassing some much costlier speakers. I am therefore very excited about this new unit, which I've heard does wonders on only 1 watt of power. Please let me know if you will be doing a review of this speaker anytime soon.

Thanks in advance,

...Mike Marcellas

No word from Speaker Art yet about a review, but this could change anytime....Marc Mickelson

January 14, 2000


I attended the CES and T.H.E. Show last week, and I came upon a room that I thought for sure you would be discussing. The speakers were from Speaker Art and the preamp from Placette Audio. I have placed orders with both companies, as I was floored by the transparency of the sound in that room. Are you going to be covering these guys on your site?

It's amazing how magical the audio experience can become. I'm an audiophile, but not a fanatic. But when I meet such unassuming guys like the ones I met in the room I mention, who have created something so special, it makes attending an audio show worthwhile. I thank you for the support you give these guys.

Yours truly,

...Michael Steiner

January 13, 2000


I have been a reader for years (literally), and I have a request: review the Theta Dreadnaught. If you could even do a brief review on it, that would be great because I seldom have time to drop into the shop anymore for a good few hours. Also, if you do get a chance to play with it, could you tell me how you think it would interface with my Von Schweikert VR-4 Gen. II speakers? Thanks, and keep up the great mag.

Best regards,

...Orion Hindawi

January 11, 2000


I'm amazed at the way you are covering this year's CES on a 24-hour basis. I can't wait each morning to see what is happening, and your photos are fantastic. If this is in advance of a complete post-CES report, I can't imagine what else you will post.

I subscribe to various print magazines, and I have never seen coverage like yours. Thanks for all the hard work. Your coverage is the next best thing to being there.

...Jose Garcia

January 2, 2000


Interesting how Doug Blackburn's vision of the future of digital audio in his column this month translates to the audio consumer. More processors, more converters, more speakers, more amplification components, and lots more cables to connect it all together.. more more more...profits for companies... but more music? I don't know about that. I am an audio minimalist. Sometimes, folks, less IS more.

...Karl Fattig

January 1, 2000

To Doug Schneider,

I was just reading your piece about why you need a headphone system.

I'm listening to a Panasonic SL-S332C CD player to Musical Fidelity X10D to a Creek OBH-11 headphone amp to a pair of Grado SR-200 headphones. On special occasions, I  substitue a Linn LP-12/Rega RB300/Sumiko Blue Point to a Creek phono stage as source. There's  something perversely amusing about listening to vinyl while surfing the Internet at midnight.

Sweet dreams, wife and kiddies, it's Dad's time!

...Dave Cope