|SoundStage! Feedback: October 2000
October 26, 2000
To Neil Walker,
I very much enjoyed your review of the Paradigm Atoms. I'm considering buying Atoms and/or Titans along with Paradigm's CC170 center-channel speaker and the PDR-10 subwoofer. I'm not sure if I'd be better off with the also highly rated Titans as the fronts or Atoms all the way around. The Titans are only $30 more, but bigger isn't always better. I'd appreciate your thoughts as some owner reviews on Titans have mentioned "boominess." Thanks in advance. Also, would you consider the Energy Exl series (16s) to be similar in performance quality to the Paradigms?
Thanks for your message. I am not personally familiar with the Titans, but a friend of mine purchased them because they have a slightly larger woofer (6.5" vs. 5.5"). For his application, this was fine because he did not want to buy the subwoofer. Having used the PDR-10 with the Atoms, I am not at all sure that I would give up the convenience of the Atom's size for the few extra Hz at the bottom end, given that you are going to add the PDR-10. Try to audition the Titans in combination with the PDR-10 and let your ears guide you. I think the Titans use the same tweeter as the Atom. If it is a user review talking about boominess, you really have to know the source feeding the speakers as well as the placement in the room. Almost any speaker can be made to sound either thin or boomy depending on where you place it. Titans or Atoms? Either way, I suspect that you will be happy. Just try to listen to both of them before you decide. My prejudice is that I like the Atoms' combination: little speaker, big sound.
Unfortunately, I know the Energy speakers only by name, so I do not feel that my opinion on them would be worth very much. If it is of any interest, another friend bought the Atoms and the PDR-10 and thinks they are great together. Now he is trying to upgrade his amp to take full advantage of the Atoms' capabilities....Neil Walker
October 24, 2000
I just read that Greg Weaver has left! Bummer! Where did he go, and what's he doing, if I may ask? I'm going to miss him.
Greg has moved on to do other things in audio. "Synergizing," however, will live on, as you'll see on November 1st....Marc Mickelson
October 23, 2000
To Doug Schneider,
I am shopping for speakers and considering the Cliffhanger CHS-2/W-2 combo. I heard these a while back at Alternative Audio in Dundas, Ontario and was very impressed. More recently, I used the Internet search engines to search for "Cliffhanger CHS." After noticing that you own a set yourself and after seeing the many comments/comparisons in your various reviews, I cannot wait to try these puppies at home! I will be borrowing a broken-in set from Mike Oddi at Alternative Audio next week for a week-long audition.
I only have one concern. Do you find these speakers to be more "room dependent" than others? I have an odd-shaped audio room, and my current speakers (PSB Stratus Gold i) sound boomy and the imaging is awful. I will be renovating the room in the spring to try and remedy this, but success is not guaranteed. I will be removing cheap wood paneling, repairing the plaster walls beneath and adding room treatments. The room is 11' x 22' with a 9' ceiling. The 11' end walls incorporate part of the slope of the roof (I am told this is a good thing).
Also, can you recommend some electronics that might compliment these speakers? I have a certain amount budgeted for spring 2001. I already have my CD player, the Audio Aero Capitole (not the 24/192 version). I will be looking at the Simaudio P-5/W-3 combo, but I have been told that this would be a lateral move since I already own and was planning to sell my Simaudio I-5 integrated amp. Do you agree with this?
Other speakers that I plan to audition are Meadowlark Heron Hot Rod, Heron and Shearwater. I have already auditioned ProAc 2.5s, which were very nice, but very expensive.
Anyway, I know you probably get tons of mail like this, but if you could offer advice on any of this, it would be greatly appreciated.
I think you are making a wise choice auditioning the Cliffhanger speakers (we gave them a Reviewers' Choice award in 1999) and I'm glad to hear you will be able to audition them for a time in your own room. As for room "sensitivity," I have not found these to have any real issues. There are some speakers that are highly sensitive, and this has largely to do with the off-axis dispersion characteristics of them, but such anomalies I didn't note with the CHS-2/W-2. As for the boominess and poor imaging, this may not be a problem with your speakers as much as it could be a problem with the placement of the speakers, as well at the construction of the room itself. You mention that you have wood paneling. I've noticed that these thin boards tend to have a hollow, echoey sound in a room and is not nearly as good as some much thicker and stiffer wall construction. Obviously, renovations are expensive, but the room is one of the most important aspects when trying to achieve top-notch sound.
It also sounds like you have plenty in your budget for some fine electronics. Is the P-5/W-3 a lateral move? Well, consider this. The I-5 is a simply outstanding integrated amplifier, and no doubt it shares similar sonic attributes with the other Simaudio Moon-series products. Is this a bad thing? Not in my books! One thing for sure, though, the W-3 is a much more powerful amplifier, so you may get better bass and dynamics. Finally, I see that you have the outstanding Audio Aero Capitole CD player -- this player is one of my favorites. I don't know if you have other components in your system, but if not, have you considered running the output of the Capitole directly into a power amplifier, like the W-3, or even your I-5 (the I-5 has a "direct" input that bypasses the preamplifier stage)? I found that by doing so you can make a very big gain in transparency -- so big, in fact, that I would say it surpasses that of a component upgrade.
If you want to try something other than Simaudio, watch out for Redgum, a very interesting Australian brand that you will see reviewed here in the next month -- it seems like very good stuff! Blue Circle also makes some good solid-state components that drive that speaker nicely, and I believe that the store you are dealing with sells that too. Perhaps you can borrow it at the same time and let us know what you hear. Happy shopping and renovating....Doug Schneider
October 21, 2000
To Marc Mickelson,
I read your 1997 review on the Genesis
Digital Lens and wonder if you think
I still think highly of the Digital Lens, but as you note, you can use it only for CD playback. Given this, I would look at either of the other units you mention, which will also pass the 24/96 signal (I believe). We will be reviewing the Monarchy DIP sometime soon. Also, if you have a 24/96 DAC that doesn't upsample, the Assemblage D2D-1 is worth listening to. It'll do the de-jitter thing and also upsample your CDs to 24/96....Marc Mickelson
October 20, 2000
I'm in the market for a new set of speakers. I'm in a wheelchair and have trouble getting to dealers, so in an effort minimize the stress of travel, I was wondering if I could get your feedback and any other models.
My budget is about $3000 CDN. I use an Exposure RC25 integrated amp (50 to 60Wpc) and Jamo 477a speakers ($1100 CDN; updated version is the 7.5 with new drivers).
My new candidates are: B&W CDM NT7, JMlab Colbalt 815, PMC FB1, and Soliloquy 5.3. I listen to rock and blues (e.g., Jan Arden, Coors, Clapton to ZZ Top, BB King, Son Seals, etc.).Other considerations due to my apartment size: The speaker placement is 1' off rear wall, 16" from right side wall, and 30" from left side wall.
I consulted with a couple of our writers on your question, which is tricky given your placement limitations -- near your walls. I would think that minimonitors would be your best bet because their bass would have less of a chance of causing problems given the speakers' close placement to the front wall.
One specific choice is a pair of surround speakers meant to be mounted on a wall, which should be balanced to work well in such a spot. Also, we published a review of the Norwex B-2 Nisse speakers, which sound very good used on a bookshelf, where they are meant to be placed....Marc Mickelson
October 19, 2000
I am new to the audio world, and I have been wondering recently about something on which I have been unable to find any material to date. I am wondering, in the opinion of the professionals, which I view you to be, which is the better overall choice for most applications: passive speakers or active speakers? I currently employ passive speakers (as do most, I assume), but I have really begun to wonder about the benefits of active speakers in my system. For background, I use Onkyo Intregra products for the system, namely the DTR-6, and the Integra DVD player (I don't know the model number off the top of my head). I have Paradigm Reference speakers (Studio 80s, CC center, and Studio 20s for surround) and the M&K v125THX sub. The question is becoming important to me because I am planning to upgrade by the end of the year to a preamp/processor and amplifier combination and sell the DTR-6. Since the pre/pro and amps I have narrowed down to will cost a minimum of $7000, this is no small investment. If I went with the Krell preamp and 250a and 250a3 amps, the preamp alone would be $7000, not to mention the cost of the amps. So, as an alternative, I can just upgrade the speakers for now to Paradigm's Active 40 design and use the DTR-6 basically as a preamp. Eventually, I would want to upgrade to a preamp that gave the needed flexibility for really good sound, but one thing at a time.
Having said all that, my question, simply put, is which is the best move in your opinion. I'm not asking you to judge my speaker selection, just whether it's better to go with active speakers and a good preamp (eventually) or to stick with passive speakers and unload for a solid amp. Just for discussion, the amps I'm considering are the Sunfire signature, the Krell mentioned above, the Theta Dreadnaught, and the Proceed products, although I haven't auditioned anything from Proceed yet, although they sound like good products in the reviews. Clearly, money is a factor, as upgrading the speakers is at least $4000 cheaper than the cheapest amp alternative I'm considering.
I don't know if you will respond to my e-mail or not, but I'm hoping you will. I don't live in a large city, my dealers are not very helpful on the subject (all they want to do is custom installs), none of my friends are into music or home theater as a hobby, and as I said, I haven't been able to find any good articles on the subject. Anything you can help me out with would be very much appreciated. Thanks.
Of course we'll answer your e-mail! The question you ask, about passive vs. active speakers, is one that I would first think to answer "It depends on the speakers" and then let you know that I haven't heard any active speakers in my system -- although I have heard them, to very good effect, at shows. There are, however, some inherent advantages to the active approach. First, the crossover can operate at line level, producing less efficiency loss -- and more efficient speakers. Also, the amplifiers can be more precisely mated to the individual drivers, which can produce better sound.
Ultimately, I would let your ear, wallet, and system needs dictate your choice. I have to admit to being more than a little interested in the active approach, but like most audiophiles, I have separate amps and speakers....Marc Mickelson
October 18, 2000
Having read all of your minimonitor reviews during my year-long search for a new system, I've got to get you to add the Talon Khites to your review schedule. I know all the talk online is about the big brother Khorus, but at $14k, what's that leave for us mortals? The Talon Khorus is getting all the attention, but the Khites are the real deal.
After a lot of e-mails with owners and an online research, I took the risk and ordered a pair of Khites. I thought they'd have the sound I was looking for because of how often I found the entire Talon Audio line described as having a very common sound/style. So I haven't heard the Khorus, but after 80 hours of break-in, I can say these Khites slay all the floorstanding speakers I auditioned anywhere near their price range.
You get deeper, faster, more articulate bass than floorstanding speakers with the single-voice coherence that monitors provide. I've listened to smooth realistic midrange on trumpet solos, and the high notes are starting to open up now. The Khites go to 35Hz flat, and they can sound like there must be a sub somewhere in the room. I'm using a Bel Canto EVo 200.2 amp and First Sound Presence Deluxe Mk II preamp.
Most amazing of all, these babies can play really loud without distortion. I kid you not. I crank the system all the way and they just sit there and make beautiful music. They fill my 16' x 24' living room (with cathedral ceiling) that opens into two other rooms. My wife has near-perfect hearing, but she is not a great home-stereo lover because of the distortion she hears. The first thing she said, with the Khites right out of the box, was how clean and coherent they were, even when I played them loud. Check it out -- whether you like YoYo Ma or Pink Floyd or Buena Vista Social Club.
Consider a review of the little brother Khites (maybe a review of the Khites and a Talon ROC subwoofer).
October 17, 2000
Is there any way for someone at the SoundStage! to brief me on your impressions of the Legend Audio Starlet, Simaudio Eclipse CD player, and Audio Aero Capitole CD player with upsampling? I trust you folks implicitly, and I am close to consummating a deal. I don't want to make a mistake, and I need your input. Thanks for your expert feedback!
It is our policy that we don't talk about review products with anyone until the reviews have appeared. Sorry. I can say that the Starlet review should be appearing within the next couple of months, with the Audio Aero upsampling CD player review to come shortly after that....Marc Mickelson
October 16, 2000
Do you have any knowledge about which tube is best for the Sonic Frontiers Line 2? I've been told that the NOS Siemens 7308s are excellent, but they are very pricey at $400 USD for a set. Sonic Frontiers recommends Valvo tubes at $45 Canadian each for the Line 3, but relatively cheap Sovteks for the Line 2. I don't get it. Can you clarify any of this? Yes, I have contacted Sonic Frontiers, but I would like another opinion.
We don't have any direct experience with replacement tubes for the Line 2, but I suspect that Kevin Deal at Upscale Audio would. You can write him at email@example.com. He's very friendly and helpful....Marc Mickelson
October 13, 2000
To Marc Mickelson,
I enjoyed your Linn Majik review, and I am considering the Majik as a purchase. One question for you, as you mention in your review, "Two special connections on the back are marked Pre Out, for using the Majik as a preamp or for bi-amping with a Linn power amp, and Power In, for using the Majik as strictly a power amp with no switching or volume functions." I am considering actively bi-amping my speakers, using the pre outs from an integrated to a Bryston active crossover. I would then feed the treble signal back through main inputs to the integrated, and the bass to a separate power amp. Would this work with the Linn? It would with a traditional "main-amp in," but the way you worded the description in your article confused me. Could the Majik be used as the preamp and then also as the power section for a partial signal?
I would very much appreciate your input!
I see no reason why it wouldn't work given that the Majik can function as both a preamp and power amp. The folks at Linn could answer your question for sure; if you can't find an e-mail address on their website, let me know and I'll write them for you....Marc Mickelson
October 10, 2000
To Doug Schneider,
In a recent communication, I understand from Marc Mickelson that soon a review by you on the Resolution Audio CD55 will be online. I believe you already have some initial impressions of this CD player. Presently I use a Mark Levinson No.39, and I am seriously considering buying a second CD player, which would be the CD55, with an expectation that it will perform somewhat close to the No.39. I would appreciate your response and detailed comments because I am in a kind of haste to decide on the CD55. Do you recommend any other CD player in the price range of $3000 to $5000 USD that is capable of driving the power amp directly?
Thanks and regards,
Yes, the CD55 is in my house and performing very well. We hope to have the review online by January 1 at the latest. I have not heard the Levinson No.39 in my own system, so I don't know exactly how that would compare. However, you may wish to read my review of the Audio Aero Capitole CD player that I reviewed some months back. That player is one of my favorites in terms of overall sound quality. Certain aspects of its performance are truly magical, and its price falls in the range you mention. As well, in the future we are supposed to have the new 24/192 version of the Capitole (it also has many other internal changes, not just the upsampling). If that player arrives here, you will definitely see a review on SoundStage!...Doug Schneider
October 9, 2000
To Srajan Ebaen,
I've enjoyed many of your well-written reviews and musings on all things audio, but it wasn't until you made the sermon analogy in your most recent "Aural Compass" tome that I realized you are indeed the High Priest of Hi-Fi and your writing does inspire thought and reflection like only the very best ministers, probably two maximum, that I have actually enjoyed listening to on that very rare Sunday that has seen me in attendance at a house of worship. What you're saying makes such perfect sense, and I appreciate your sharing it.
October 7, 2000
Just thought I'd drop you a line to let you know about a recently released series of remastered Miles Davis. Led by Kind of Blue, the Japanese imports [SRCS 9701-9723] feature Sony's DSD mastering, which Sony uses for their SACD format. But for the standard CD releases, they use SBM for the final downsampling to 16-bit/44.1. Check out the listing of the series at www.wam.umd.edu/~losinp/music/mastersound.html.
As far as Kind of Blue goes, I have three of the domestic releases: the original (yuck), the gold 20-bit SBM Mastersound (my previous favorite), and the mass-market aluminum SBM release. The new DSD releases are all better than the domestic SBM releases, and not by a subtle margin. The improvement in piano and trumpet on KOB is so substantial that I wonder if the session was somehow remixed or reprocessed.
The series is tough to find, but some discs are still available as a special order from Amazon at $26-$30.49 USD list. I also bought Sketches of Spain, Miles Ahead and Someday My Prince Will Come from the same series. These are outstanding and the best releases I've heard.
KOB and Prince would be my first two picks, but even Sketches is enjoyable with this remastering. I bought Sketches in the SBM 20-bit format and gave it away after one listening because it was so bad on my system. I haven't heard any 24/96 source material, but let me tell you if the DSD mastering is any indication of the potential of SACD, I think 24/96 is in for a battle.
If you already have these or have heard them, let
me know what you think. If
October 6, 2000
To Neil Walker,
I've just read your review of the Reference 3A MM De Capo speakers and have come away very happy! Not because I have the De Capos and happy someone has reviewed them; nor is it because I've decided to buy them. What really thrilled me with this review is the music selection. After reading a million reviews about how good Beethoven or Mozart sounds, it's refreshing to read the phrase, "Kid Koala's turntable masterpiece..." in a review! I'm certainly not discrediting the genius of either composer, but I just don't listen to them often. I don't have the Kid Koala album either, but I definitely listen to that genre. Mentioning the Photek album was even more awesome! I've often imagined what it would be like to audition a pair of Wilson X-1s or Revel Ultimas and bring out some really good D&B. I think the attack and intensity of the bass would be unbelievable to hear on reference equipment. I have not a lick of hi-fi equipment, much less mid-fi, and I am only dreaming of the day I can hear such things. Hopefully I'll get the chance to hear the music I love on credible equipment soon.
October 5, 2000
I have been awaiting the planned review of the Birdland Odéon-lite DAC, especially as it would have been possible to compare it to the already reviewed Bel Canto and Assemblage DACs. But I see that it is no longer listed in the column of "upcoming reviews." Does this indicate that the review will be forthcoming, or that the planned review has been canceled? If it has been canceled, I would appreciate it if you would please tell me the reason for this (it malfunctioned, bad product , reviewer is on Survivor II and took it with him, etc.).
The Birdland review is still in the queue; we had thought we were going to publish it this month, but we ran into a glitch that delayed things. We hope to have it online for 11/1....Marc Mickelson
October 4, 2000
To Marc Mickelson,
Presently I am using a McIntosh MC500 power amp, which is directly driven by a Mark Levinson No.39 CD player and a pair of Paradigm Studio/100 version 2 loudspeakers. The interconnects between the CD player and the power amp are AudioQuest Quartz (balanced). Speaker cables are simple but good-quality (brand unknown) nine-gauge copper wire in bi-wire mode. I feel that upgrading some components in this system will improve the sound further. Please suggest on the following points:
1. What brand(s) / model(s) of bi-wire speaker cables (price approximately $1200 USD / 8-foot pair) and balanced interconnects (price approximately $300 to $500 / one-meter pair) would be ideal for this system?
2. As much I like the overall sound quality of the Paradigm Studio/100 version 2 loudspeakers, should I change them? If yes, what brand(s) / model(s) ($7000 / pair approximately)?
3. What other change / or upgrade / or addition should be made?
4. I would like to buy a second CD player, which is the Resolution Audio CD55. How is it in sound quality compared to the Levinson No.39? When will the review on the CD55 be published online at SoundStage!?
I guess my first question would be if there is some specific ill you're trying to cure by upgrading. If so, I can make a few recommendations, but you should still hear the equipment I recommend in your system to determine if it meets your sonic needs.
I really like the JPS Labs cables -- interconnects and speaker cables. The new Superconductor+, which I haven't heard, would fall into your price range. DH Labs has just come out with new interconnects and speaker cables that are very good too.
Upgrading from your Paradigm speakers would probably run you something like $7000 USD -- the Paradigms are very high-value products. Models to consider would be the Merlin VSM-Millennium, Verity Audio Fidelio, and Silverline Sonatina II and Sonata II. Your amp will have no trouble driving these speakers, which sound terrific with tubes too.
In terms of the Resolution Audio and Mark Levinson No.39 CD players, I haven't heard the CD55, but the Levinson No.39 is a terrific piece of equipment, especially run direct and balanced. Doug Schneider will be reviewing the CD55 sometime soon (can't say when exactly at this point), and perhaps after that review we can arrange for a follow-up so I can compare it with the No.39....Marc Mickelson
October 3, 2000
To Todd Warnke,
Last year you had the pleasure to review two amps
that I am currently interested in, the Ayre V-1 and Conrad-Johnson MF2500. I
will not have the luxury to home audition or even compare A vs.B, as they are shown by
different dealers. Strictly off the record, could you comment on what you might remember
as sonic differences or personal preferences? Thank you for
First, I am very sorry to hear that your local dealers will not allow a home audition. For the chunk of change you're laying out, a couple of weeknights home audition with the demo unit seems the bare minimum they should be offering.
As for the amps themselves, I really liked them both. They share a powerful, dynamic presentation. Both have superb articulation and very good extension, with the Ayre reaching slightly deeper in the bass and the C-J slightly higher in the treble, at least in my system. The C-J was the more spectacular stager. In fact, I have yet to hear a more fantastic stage, width and depth, using any other amp. The Ayre was the most natural-sounding solid-state amp I've had in my house. Detailed, but not etched. Laid-back, but not passive. Between the two I would probably go with the Ayre, but not because the C-J is bad, but rather because the Ayre seemed to match my sensibilities and system better....Todd Warnke
October 2, 2000
I was browsing the Web and came across your site. I love it, especially the articles. I am glad to see that SoundStage! has a no e-commerce policy; it makes your website more trustworthy if you are not selling what you are talking about. If you sold products, your site would just be another of a million sales sites and I would not have bookmarked it!