|SoundStage! Feedback: March 2000
March 27, 2000
I have to agree with your assessment that the Matisse, Verity, Theta, etc. room was a Standout at the Montreal show. However, you missed the PS Audio Power Plant, a P300 model, that powered the front-end equipment. The Power Plant was virtually hidden behind one of the Matisse monoblocks.
March 21, 2000
To Marc Mickelson,
I purchased a Bel Canto DAC1 and Pioneer DV-525 DVD player based largely upon your glowing reviews and am amazed at the sound that I am now hearing from my Apogee Centaur Minor speakers.
However, I have a question regarding the changing of the AUDIO 1 setting for the Pioneer DV-525, which allows for the transmission of 96kHz data. When I press the Setup key on the remote, all I get is a GUI reading on the front panel of the player and not the menu that is supposed to allow me to change the factory 96kHz>48kHz setting to 96kHz.
Any help would be greatly appreciated. Keep up the great work as I really enjoy reading your online equipment reviews.
I was just readjusting this on my DV-525. Of course, you should have the player connected to a TV to make the adjustment (so you can see the parameter you're changing). You can then power off the player and put it into your audio system, and the 96kHz output will stay selected.
All you need to do is press Setup on the remote, then use the arrow keys to scroll down to the setting and press Enter. As you note, you want to set it to 96kHz and NOT 96kHz>48kHz, which means the player will downsample....Marc Mickelson
March 18, 2000
As an authorized consultant for Blue Circle Audio, let me be up front about my biases. I have known Gilbert Yeung personally for several years and consider him to be a very gifted designer at the leading edge of audio. My demo BC22/BC21 is arriving today, so you should also know I have not as yet auditioned this amplifier and my comments are not concerning James Causey's evaluation of it.
James stated correctly at the outset that this piece is part of a "system hybrid." Since this concept was at the very heart of the design philosophy, why was the review not done on this basis? In all fairness, should not a follow-up review be considered?
Secondly, I think it's a disservice to a fine Canadian audiophile manufacturer to do a comparison with products costing 50% more. I'm sure if James had sent his BC22 off to Blue Circle with a check for $1200, the resulting modifications would improve the sound significantly as well. One would only expect this to be the case!
I would like to address a couple of points you make. First, as James Causey mentions in his review, he did use his McCormack amp before it was modified, in which case the price of it and the BC22 are almost identical. Second, our reviewers cannot keep a library of equipment around, and so the match of a particular piece of review equipment and a reviewer's system is not always made in heaven. In this particular case, given James' speakers and the cost of the products he reviews for us, the context is certainly not grossly out of order.
Finally, have I missed something? I found James' review to be perceptive and positive. Although I have not heard the amp, I doubt that it is perfect in every way -- Blue Circle does make more expensive amps too. So therefore shouldn't there be some room for improvement beyond the BC22?...Marc Mickelson
March 17, 2000
The stage of SoundStage! has become so cluttered with advertisements, it has become the Stereo Review of online magazines. If online high-fidelity magazines are to work, you need to find another way to do it. I'm removing this site from my bookmarks.
March 16, 2000
I'm going to audition the Blue Circle BC22 amp in a week or so for my 30- something children, but thought I'd offer a word before firsthand experience intrudes on my reactions to the Jim Causey review. It was going great until it got to the comparison, and then it lost me. We all have a tendency to compare what we're auditioning to what's on hand or what we're used to; but in this case the comparison wasn't very helpful. If I'm in the market for a $2000 power amp, I'm not much interested in a $3000 amp -- unless the $2000 is dramatically better, and then I'm VERY interested! If I could spend $3000 or more (which I can't), I'd sure as hell be auditioning the BC6, Plinius SA-50 III (or 8150i) and a few others anyway.
Also, I didn't get the sense from the review whether or not the McCormack amp was designed to do or could do what the BC22 was obviously designed for: enabling a (relatively) budget-oriented system to sound its best. More resolution and soundstaging are great, but not if especially the former is going to expose the limitations of a $1500 digital front-end! As I say, up to the point of the odd comparison, the reviewer seemed to be telling me the BC22 was the ideal $2000 amp. Then in walks an amp which may edge it out in this or that regard, but could well be a bad fit in budget-oriented system, isn't a $2000 amp at all, and which could well be destroyed by a Plinius or BC6. So I have no complaints about the McCormack, but it sure as hell doesn't help me evaluate the BC22!
I hope there's to be a follow-up review which examines the BC22 on its merits (which Mr. Causey seems to have done very well, incidentally -- although I don't know because I haven't heard it yet) and which, if comparisons are to be made, makes appropriate ones. Aaron Marshall reviewed the amp recently for Audio Ideas Guide Online and compared it with the Bryston 3B-ST. Now THAT makes sense. And the comparison was enlightening to boot.
A comparison is a required element of each SS! review, but we can't always compare pieces of equipment that cost exactly the same amount of money. We do our best, however, given the limitation that our reviewers can't afford to have a library of equipment around for comparison....Marc Mickelson
March 15, 2000
OK, I ordered the Audience Auric Illuminator, looked at the felt pen and thought, Oh, yeah -- not again. Well I've got to tell you that the earth may be flat. For me, the Auric Illuminator was about the same improvement as adding a good power-line conditioner. Small things behind loud notes are more apparent, there's more bass power, and everything has more air and ease. Now I have to clean the Finyl off all my treated discs and use this stuff instead. Finally, a CD tweak that is very noticeably better, not just different. Highly recommended. Doug Blackburn was right -- duh, a no-brainer. Just do it, Lloyd. And I thought the earth was round. Hmmm.
March 14, 2000
I just read your "Graceland" editorial in this month's issue of SS!. I thought you'd like to know that I totally agree with you, and that this is coming from an undergrad, not even a grad student.
I got into audio just a year ago when I was taking a break from college. I've a neat system now (MSB Link DAC being the backbone), but one that could use a lot more work. However, the funny thing is I've been preaching to my very financially secure, hidebound parents about the joys of audio -- trying to get them to loosen up.
So I've been dragging them to audition high-end gear (so far Cary Audio/Soliloquy, Monarchy, Krell/MartinLogan), and I think they're sold on the idea. However, they don't really show much passion themselves; it's almost as though I'm bullying them into it, which isn't my intent. How in the heck can you force people to enjoy themselves?
They're rather conservative Chinese people, so it's been a struggle. Anyway, they may soon be investing in a very decent system. My next struggle will be to introduce them to music stores (online and otherwise). So far the music they've been listening to has mainly been the classical recordings in my (and my brother's) collection. Would that they would get their own music. And hell would freeze over when my mom buys herself, say, a Sarah McLachlan CD and starts singing along. Hahahahah!
Anyway, yeah, music is a lovely thing. I'm hoping it'll help my parents get more in touch with their emotions. An audiophile system may just be the catalyst needed.
March 10, 2000
Congrats on a super Web magazine! As someone planning a move into true high-end audio, I've found it a solid source of guidance. Can you tell me when the next issue gets published?
We publish our issues on the 1st of every month, and update on the 15th too. We also publish our E-Mag quarterly. Show reports appear as the events occur....Marc Mickelson
March 10, 2000
To Doug Schneider,
I'm not real sure who you are, but I suspect you aren't an expert. I thought your comments on Sheryl Crow's The Globe Sessions were, well, a bunch of doody.
Got any albums out yourself? I'd love to check YOU out!
March 9, 2000
To Marc Mickelson,
I bought a Bel Canto DAC1 mostly on the basis of your review in SoundStage!; now I'm enjoying it with my former Arcam Alpha 9 as a transport, but much controversy is now taking place as to whether or not a Pioneer DVD player is the best transport for the DAC1. Many think it is, and many think a good dedicated CD player or transport will do the work better. So I'm trying to decide which is better. What do you think?
I own a Pioneer DV-525, and although the Levinson No.39 is a better-sounding transport, it's also many times the cost of the DV-525. So I think that you can do better, but at a higher cost, which, of course, is no great surprise. I still think the DV-525 sounds more than fine as a transport, and you can play 24/96 discs with it as well, and these sound really exceptional....Marc Mickelson
March 9, 2000
To Srajan Ebaen,
As someone who recently bought a Spectron amplifier for the enhancement in the pleasure I get from my stereo, I find myself interested in the Bel Canto EVo 200.2 amplifier. Doubtless many other amplifiers using Tripath chips are on the horizon, and perhaps these will offer audible improvement to PWM amplifiers, and at lower cost than current offerings. However, your column on the EVo states: "Class-D pulse-width-modulated amplifiers feature a fixed, 100-200kHz clock frequency that requires steep filtering to extract the massive switching noise from the audio signal and pass low electromagnetic emission inspections."
In fairness to John Ulrick, who is a pioneer in developing digital switching amplifiers, you ought to correct this statement, none of which applies to the Spectron. I realize that the Tripath literature makes similar statements about "typical" Class-D amplifiers, but this is nothing short of misleading. As for the Spectron, the sample rate in the Digital One is 500kHz, and to the best of my knowledge a gentle output filter is used, consisting of a single inductor and capacitor.
March 8, 2000
I would love to see SoundStage! do more speaker-stand reviews. Every bookshelf speaker review I have ever read (on this site and others) contains a phrase such as, "Every dollar spent on good stands equals X dollars spent on loudspeakers, blah blah blah." Yet in scouring your site for some stand reviews, I found TWO reviews (and, to be fair, one follow-up). If speakers need good stands, we the populace need to know how to find good stands. I ended up searching manufacturer websites (with little information on what to look for in a stand) and enlisting the aid of two audio dealers (who evidently don't get many requests for good stands), until I ended up with a pair of Lovan Jazz 1800s to support my B&W 602s. The story does have a happy ending, though. I got lucky and happened upon a great set of stands for under $250. However, I'm sure that there are readers out there who, unlike me, may not get as lucky. Enter the wonderful reviewers at SoundStage!. Please help.
You'll be happy to know that we have a speaker-stand review coming on 4/1....Marc Mickelson
March 8, 2000
To Doug Schneider,
I read with great interest the enthusiastic review last November of the Audiomat Arpège integrated amp by Mike Masztal. In fact, I e-mailed Mr. Masztal to ask him to elaborate on some of the points he made in the review, and he was kind enough to respond.
However, I must admit to being a little worried when I found out that Mr. Masztal is also a dealer (Sounds Right Audio in Roswell, Georgia) and that he carries the Audiomat line. I don't know if he was already a dealer when he wrote the SoundStage! review, but the timing does seem a little awkward.
So I guess my questions are:
1) Do you think I should be worried about a possible conflict of interest?
2) Do you or any other member of the SoundStage! staff have an opinion about the Arpège? If so, I'd be very interested in hearing it.
Thanks for your help.
We have discovered that Mike Masztal has indeed moved into retail and started www.soundsrightaudio.com located in Georgia. He believes wholeheartedly in the products he sells and that is likely what spurred him on to become a retailer. We do have a policy, though, requiring that any writers with industry affiliations not review audio equipment. As a result, Mike will not be reviewing equipment for us anymore. As for the quality of the Audiomat Arpège itself, both Ian White and I have heard the unit and were greatly impressed. To read Ian White's perspective on it, please see the February Standout Systems column. As well, we are bringing on a new writer, to be announced in the upcoming months, who was so impressed with the Arpège that he went out and bought one for his own system. We will be publishing a follow-up review on the product from this reviewer in an upcoming issue....Doug Schneider
March 7, 2000
I have been reading SoundStage! for about two years now, and I must say that it has become my favorite audio publication. Like most hi-fi-interested people, I read a lot of audio magazines (Stereophile, Hi-Fi News & Record Review, Hi-Fi+, Audio (Norway), High Fidelity (Sweden), Hi-Fi & Musik (Sweden), Planet Hi-Fi, Stereo Times, etc.), and I can only say that you are in the front.
Big points for your show coverage. The main advantage that I see is that you are faster than most regular audio publications; anyone who still doesn't understand that Internet publishing is the way of the future is going to have real trouble soon.
Finally, just a couple of questions.
1. When will James Saxon be back with some new columns?
2. When will the Analysis Plus review be up (please, as fast as possible)?
Keep up the good work .
To answer your questions, the Analysis Plus review is in the works now and so will not be online for a few months yet. Jim Saxon has this to offer about his hiatus:
"Please tell anyone who might ask that I'm in the process of refocusing my business from two-channel stereo to multichannel audio/video and the work is a lot harder than I anticipated, but hopefully at the end of it, I'll have more grist for the humor mill."...Marc Mickelson
March 3, 2000
To Doug Schneider:
Thanks for your review of the Simaudio HT-5. When the right moment presents itself (i.e., when my wife is not paying attention), I want to upgrade my home theater by purchasing a high-quality amp. Your review suggests that the HT-5 would be an excellent choice.
When you're spending $3500-$4000, even for five channels of amplification, quite a few options are available. For example, Bryston's five-channel 9B, at about the same price as the HT-5, is one possible alternative. Have you listened to the 9B? Which amp gets the nod?
In addition to watching movies, I use my home theater to listen to music as well. To that end, would a better approach to obtaining five channels of amplification be to go with a creme-de-la-creme three-channel amp for the LCR speakers (I think Krell has one for about $3000 or so) and use a high-, but somewhat lesser-quality two-channel amp for the surrounds (e.g., Anthem's MCA 2 for around $700)?
Thanks for your words of wisdom.
You bring up some very interesting points about home theater and power amplification. At lower price levels (less than $2000 or so), you have very few options, and most people opt for a receiver-based system that can offer plenty of performance for the dollars spent. Above that point, though, many other options start creeping up. The outstanding Anthem MCA 5 is priced at $1399 and it allows you to have a separate power amplifier to mate with a surround-sound preamplifier at a very reasonable price (the combination of price and performance with the MCA 5 is why it received our prestigious Reviewers' Choice designation). Above $3000, many more options surface, including, as you point out, using multiple amplifiers. You can use a high-quality, all-in-one unit such as the five-channel Simaudio HT-5, but you may also be able to look at using three- and two-channel amplifiers, as well as mono amplifiers.
The question really becomes: Which is better? My experience has shown that there is no easy answer. There are some outstanding five-channel amplifiers that will compete with the best available. Likewise, combinations of amplifiers with less channels make work as well, or better (or perhaps worse). My best advice is to seek out and listen to as many amplifier combinations as possible and don't be swayed by any one configuration (e.g., mono, stereo, or five-channel amps). Instead, pick the one that supplies the power you need at the price you can afford that sounds the best to your ears.
In terms of specific power amplifiers, the Anthem MCA 5 and Simaudio HT-5 are excellent points to start at to determine what you get at given price points. Listen to the Bryston as well (I have not auditioned that amplifier in my own system). After than, listen to as much as you can. For a slightly different perspective from my own on this topic, I would like to also recommend reading Doug Blackburn's January, 2000 article in our Video Online section titled "Home Theater Sound: Amplifier Setup Basics."...Doug Schneider