|SoundStage! Feedback: December 2000
December 27, 2000
I wanted to offer my own impressions of the Bel Canto DAC1 and Birdland Odéon-lite DACs to counterbalance Ken Micallef's views as expressed in his recent review of the Odéon-lite DAC. I have owned both units, and kept the Odéon-lite. Ken said the dominant adjective that Odéon-lite brought to mind was "creamy." I know we all have different rooms, systems, etc., but creamy is the last word I would use to describe its character. (My system: Accuphase DP90 transport, Odéon-lite DAC, Emotive Audio Sira preamp, Wavelength Duetto amp, Silverline Sonatina speakers, Acoustic Zen wire).
Without resorting to clichés about neutrality, I suspect the Odéon-lite is revealing the "cream" from Ken's Cary amps. I don't have any new adjectives for the Odéon-lite -- just transparent, revealing, extended, resolving, and an unfailing servant of the music.
In my book, both units are excellent. I urge potential buyers of a DAC in their price range (especially if you need multiple inputs and a volume control) not to dismiss the Odéon-lite based solely on Ken's observations.
December 24, 2000
Really enjoy your site -- has a very authoritative feel to it. Well done. Find the reviews very interesting! Any chance of seeing the Joseph Audio RM22si or RM25si reviewed? I would be most interested to read if either of these is a go with either Bryston or Odyssey Audio Stratos amplification (and which preamp works well too).
We have talked with Jeff Joseph about reviewing one of his speakers, and your letter should provide more motivation for him to send us one of his products....Marc Mickelson
December 22, 2000
First of all, I would like to congratulate you on having a very fine online publication like SoundStage!. I have read many articles that have been helpful in selecting my audio equipment.
I'm in the process of selecting a pair of speakers that would match up well with my existing equipment. I currently have a 40Wpc Kora Mercury tube integrated amp that uses dual EL84s in a push-pull configuration, and it sounds exceptional with my pair of Acoustic Energy Aegis Ones. The Ones are great speakers, but I would like something that goes deeper in the bass region. Based on much research, including at your SoundStage! site, I have come down to a couple of speakers: Coincident Speaker Technology Conquest and Super Conquest, and the Silverline Audio Sonatina.
My room is approximately 14' by 12' with 8.5' ceiling. I listen to a variety of music: '70s rock, blues, jazz and classical. I seem to prefer the higher-quality recordings from Reference Recordings, Mobile Fidelity, DCC and Telarc, but don't we all? I listen at moderate levels, but do like to crank it for certain kinds of music.
My existing Aegis Ones are very accurate and stage well, but they are a bit limited in dynamics and bass. Based on my equipment, room, and musical genre could you provide me with any feedback? Right now I can buy in-store demos of the Super Conquest for under $2k, the Conquest for a little over $1k, and the Sonatinas for a little over $2k. Also, is the older style of the Sonatina preferred over the new style?
Thanks much and keep up the great work.
I have only heard the Coincident speakers at shows, so I can't comment on them. Bill Cowen has a few things to say below, however. I have heard the Silverline Sonatinas, and they would have no trouble in your room and with your electronics, I think. However, we will have a review of the Sonatina Mk II online on 1/1/2001, in which our writer will compare the original Sonatina with the new version, so you may want to wait for that. In any case, you can't go wrong even with the original Sonatina....Marc Mickelson
I haven't heard the Conquest or Super Conquest, nor have I heard either the old or new Sonatina (except at shows). However, based on what I have heard of the (old) Sonatina and the (old) Sonata, and two different Coincident speakers (the Super and Total Eclipses), I would say that the Silverlines tend to be quicker, lighter balanced, and are less room/setup fussy than the Coincidents. The Coincidents have a "meatier" sound, with more fullness and bloom (more balls in the lower-mids, upper bass). Personally, I prefer the tonal presentation of the Coincidents, but that is a very subjective and personal preference. The Conquest and Sonatina will probably have similar bass extension -- I think Silverline is a bit optimistic in their low-frequency spec, and the Conquests go down into the low 30s, which is probably less optimistic. I have never heard the AE speakers, so I'm at a loss as to what type of tonal presentation they offer. Your Kora amp should have no problems driving either the Silverlines or Coincidents, especially with your room size....Bill Cowen
December 21, 2000
I am a big fan of your online magazine and crave every issue. I have a question. How do you pick the equipment you review, from the thousands of available choices? There are pieces I would love to see reviewed, but never do, anywhere.
We choose equipment based on what we perceive as reader interest. This is not always easy to gauge, however, so we also follow up on the leads that readers send us directly, often arranging reviews from these....Marc Mickelson
December 20, 2000
To Srajan Ebaen,
I just read your column on Red Rose Music. What a great article!
What I am actually writing about, and it is more of a funny nature, is the title of one of your sections, "The Red Rose of Austin." What's so funny? Well, for many years, there was indeed a Red Rose of Austin, and it was a rather notorious -- ah, how shall I say it? -- well, it was a full-blown strip bar, with nice, buxom, red-blooded topless dancers! I bet that Brian Kurtz wishes he could get the same amount of good publicity for his business that the old Red Rose got in negative publicity.
People didn't go there for great music, needless to say.... I am glad that the new Red Rose of Austin is a much nicer place.
Thanks and happy holidays!
December 20, 2000
A longtime reader of SoundStage!, I just wanted to make a point of clarification. In a recent search for speaker stands I came across the SoundStage! reviews of the Osiris Audionics stands, and although you tested them with Merlins, I caught a reference to the ProAc Response 2s:
"The Osiris speaker stands have been a great success when used with the Merlin TSMs, and I suspect that they won't disappoint with other speakers as well -- the ProAc Response 2S and 1SC models come quickly to mind."
I picked up a pair of these stands from Signature Sound in Syracuse, NY and they are definitely well-made, as you state -- but, after some dissatisfaction with thin bass response and some further research, it seems that ProAc and ProAc dealers recommend 21" stands for the Response 2 and 2S, not 24" stands. Osiris did not make a 21" stand.
Presumably I'll be able to sell the Osiris', but I did want to communicate that caveat, respectfully.
My apologies for the bad advice. I should have mentioned that the height of your listening seat will probably be the greatest factor in determining the height of the stands you use, the stands raising or lowering the speaker to coincide with the height of your ears when you are seated. I've found that 24" stands are more widely applicable than other heights, but they're not universal, as you have found out. Also, it seems to me the the smallish ProAc Response 1SC would need a stand higher than 21" to raise their tweeter to the proper height -- unless the listening seat is very low....Marc Mickelson
December 19, 2000
Do you guys know anything about these Diva by Swans speakers available from www.AV123.com? I am just starting to put together a new system and have been exhausting the speakers in the up to $2000/pair range. Is AV123.com a reputable dealer and has anyone heard the speakers at any shows?
We encountered the Swan speakers at last year's CES. You can see the pictures we took of them here. We will be talking with Mark Schifter and company at the CES this year about reviewing the speakers, so stay tuned....Marc Mickelson
December 18, 2000
To Doug Schneider,
I like you guys. I've turned to SoundStage! writers for guidance over the years and have always gotten long, considered, helpful responses. I am grateful. If any of you are ever in northern California, give me a call, stop by, I'll make coffee with organic half and half, and the best damned (organic) scrambled eggs west of the Pecos and south of Saskatoon. You can relax and listen to my Newform Ribbons do their stuff.
However, I feel there is a certain sense of naiveté, in general, in SoundStage! articles. Maybe I'm just an objectivist cynic, but I do believe we can never be too cautious about not losing sight of what we are and how we work. Take Mr. Gray's power conditioner. It has a proprietary choke in parallel with the AC, and an MOV. It costs $700. Aren't MOVs those little ceramic gadgets found in power-strip surge supressors costing ten bucks that lose effectiveness or self-destruct when hit by a strong transient? Doesn't an isolation transformer do a much better job handling transients? Doesn't a high-isolation transformer do an even better job? Isn't the "power storage" capability of a parallel inductor equally true of the primary and secondary windings of the power transformer contained in every single component in your audio system? Is the "current limiting" of other power conditioning devices a theoretical rather than a practical fact? Is it fact at all? Lastly, isn't it empirically true that any change is perceived as an improvement? Even if you don't "believe" in double-blind testing, what about the placebo phenomenon in which listeners clearly hear expected differences when no change has been made?
I know reviewing is hard work, but I'd find it more informative if some of these tough questions were occasionally raised.
You make some valid points here and I hope to answer them at all. As for the price of a piece of equipment, there are a number of ways a company can price their goods. They can base cost strictly on manufacturing costs; on some sort of return that would include estimates of future demand, sunk costs, marketing, R&D, manufacturing, etc.; on perceived value or perhaps what the market will accept; or another of other combinations. A CD itself is worth only a few cents. A speaker is usually simply MDF, veneer, a few components in the crossover and drivers, the raw cost of which is very low. A mass-market CD player has an extraordinarily low manufacturing cost based on economies of scale. Our RGPC review attempted to point out that given the scale of improvement (and in that review it was tried in high- and low-priced systems), it can be considered a good value based on the type of improvement one may find in comparison to other upgrades. Do other products do a better job? Perhaps, but that is too extensive to go into here and beyond the scope of my expertise.
However, I will tackle the issue of blind listening. First off, you are right that many do automatically attribute differences to improvements. When a difference is heard, it is often thought to be an improvement, and that's why listening for the longer term, and understanding exactly what the difference is is so important -- not an easy task. Furthermore, some do even identify differences when there is seemingly no difference. Then there is the controversial aspect of break-in. Is it actually component break-in or conditioning of the listener? I believe in many instances it may well be the latter. Which brings us finally to blind listening. I personally believe in blind listening and take part in it. If a reviewer can hear such vast differences in equipment, as so many claim to, he should be able to do it with his eyes closed -- and that's all that blind listening really is. In E-Mag issue 4 we produced an article about our first blinding-listening experience. You will see more of this type of listening here, as well as on the www.mastersonaudio.com site, in the future....Doug Schneider
December 15, 2000
John's out of retirement, but only long enough to admit that he's a user. Yes at Waveform, we utilized the NRC facilities since May of 1985, and I'm completely horrified at three speaker reviews you boys have posted:
The frequency-response and distortion curves simply don't match the glowing reports from the three reviewers. This is a disservice to potential purchasers of not only these speakers but any other speakers that you might "review." If as reviewers you are unable to correlate the sound with the measured response, then you should relinquish the duty to those who can. Otherwise, why even pay the money to the Government of Canada and post the measurements? Do you realize how foolish you now appear? Most of all, this is an insult to the proud NRC tradition of matching the subjective comments to the measured results. Lets be frank, these speakers are dogs! None of the three are flat, and one has considerable distortion in the crucial midrange.
When I heard that SoundStage! was going to measure speakers at the NRC, I welcomed this news and the tell-all technique that would be portrayed. With proven theory, motherhood values like low distortion, broad bandwidth and of course the Sistine Chapel value of FFF -- or flat frequency forever -- its entirely possible to design speakers without listening. This is exactly what all our now "defunct" models represented and one of the reasons why the measurement methodology was developed.
You must see the long-range implications of all this subjective nonsense given the published measurements? You now look as transparently insincere as Stereophile and their speaker of the year for 1997, the EgglestonWorks Andra. This just chases good people away. Thats why Waveform is closing, because the true music lovers have had enough of this type of audio journalism. Look at the closing of High Fidelity, then Canadas Sound & Vision, and last year Audio. The pattern is old and established. Very sad indeed! What kind of legacy do you think you will be leaving? These reviews are nothing more than unsupported glowing praise for speakers that measure worse than the 20-year-old $500 PSBs I've been using for a radio in my shop.
I hope Ian Masters shakes things up a whole lot at SoundStage! because there is a tradition of journalism that is part of his baggage. In philosophy 101 when I attended school, the profs referred to it as ethics. Time out. I'm now back in my hole, resuming the role of private citizen, until my intelligence feels sufficiently insulted to type again.
Your message reminds me of the story Ian Paisely, no stranger to the NRC, conveyed about a very flat speaker he designed that sounded awful. If the limited number of measurements we do could tell the whole story, no one would have to publish reviews (as you know, we would need to produce many more measurements than we do currently for them to give a complete picture of each speaker). We produce both reviews and measurements to round out the coverage of the products we want to tell our readers about. For now this means only some speakers are measured, but eventually we would like to measure every speaker and electronic product we review.
In terms of the Wilson WATT/Puppy 6 measurements, I'm not sure what you're seeing that's having you believe they are poor. The spike at around 18kHz is a known anomaly of the Focal tweeter used and beyond the hearing of most people (and obviously me). The bump centered around 100Hz certainly makes the speaker deviate from perfectly flat, but I didn't find it problematic in my room. The distortion measurements at our standard 90dB were so low that we did a second measurement at 95dB....Marc Mickelson
December 13, 2000
To Bill Cowen,
I enjoyed reading your review of the Assemblage SET-300B amp. As far as bargains in high fidelity go, I think your readers might be interested in Steve Deckert's SET SE84C ZEN amp (www.decware.com/tubes.htm). At $500, it includes all tubes and a volume pot. The real bargain is that it can be retubed for about $30! I am stunned at what I hear from mine.
In your article, you also touched on a class of speakers that do not seem to receive much attention in the high-end-audio press: SET-friendly speakers that are efficient enough (usually over 95dB) to allow the amp's first watt to work its magic.
December 9, 2000
To Doug Schneider,
I just read your rave review of the Redgum RGi120 integrated amp. Since it uses MOSFET's, does it sound close to Pass Labs amps, which also sound neutral?. If the amp came close to Blue Circle, it must be good. Does it run in class A/B mode or what? Also, any dealers in the Toronto area? How does the Redgum integrated compare to the Simaudio I-5 integrated or the Belles 150A Hot Rod? Have you any plans to review the Rogue 150 monoblocks?
I think buying amps is the hardest part of the process. You want what you buy to be the mainstay in your system for a few years.
Sincerely waiting for your reply,
...Ivan de Beky
I'll try to answer all your questions, but not necessarily in order presented. As the review states, I am extremely impressed with the Redgum RGi120 integrated. As far as I understand, it does run class A/B. As for any comparison to the Pass Labs amps, it has been far too long since I've heard those amps to make any meaningful comparison. We don't have any Rogue products in house; however, as you know, we have reviewed the Belles and Simaudio amps. All of these amplifiers are outstanding, yet different in their own ways. The Belles, though, is a power amp and would need a preamplifier, where the Simaudio and Redgum are integrateds, eliminating the need for the extra component and cables. As with anything, it is best to try before you buy. As far as I know, Redgum is readily available in Toronto (and throughout Canada). The distributor for North America is Canadian-based NuView Audio. Their contact information can be found through their website at www.nuviewaudio.com...Doug Schneider
December 8, 2000
My first trip to your site and I was amazed to find NO mention of the Arcici Air-Suspense stand -- the best I've used in the past 30 years! You must get someone to listen to this miracle.
Similarly, could see no review of what I consider, after balancing the inevitable pros and cons, to be the most "realistic" speaker, if non-amplified acoustic instruments playing in a concert hall is taken as the criterion -- that is the Quad 57 (also Mr. de Paravicini's favorite) or 63 (mine). Haven't heard the new version yet.
But interesting site; I shall return.
We have tried to get one of the new Quad models for review, with no luck so far. We'll keep on the trail. We'll have a look at the Arcici stand too....Marc Mickelson
December 7, 2000
To Marc Mickelson,
Just read your report on Wilson Audio's WATT/Puppy 6 speaker system. I own a pair and concur on every point. It is as good a speaker as you say it is. As tangential point of interest, while I don't share your experience of or enthusiasm for tubed amplification, I do concur that Nordost's SPM speaker cables and Quattro-Fil interconnects work wonderfully well with this speaker. I've had even greater success with Robert Lee's Acoustic Zen Technologies interconnects, speaker cables, and a real surprise, power cords. I've also tweaked the system with line enchancers -- Bill Stierhout's Quantum Symphonies and a nest of Richard Gray's Power Companies -- and a filter of sorts downstream from my Mark Levinson No.39 CD player. It's a Japanese device called the Ortho Spectrum AR-2000 Analogue Reconstructor. Finally, Bright Star Audio's Big Rock, Air Mass and Little Rock acoustic-isolation systems. Nice work, Marc. Best regards,
December 6, 2000
To Srajan Ebaen,
Nice column on Red Rose Music. I stumbled into their NYC store last spring was completely bowled over. Mr. Levinson kindly offered to let us audition the Reference 1, even though we were not going to buy anything (he had to take us to an apartment a couple of blocks from the store). It was everything you described. The amount of musical information coming through was amazing. The Reference 1 is the first hyper-expensive speaker I would wish to own (having been disgusted at others).
I am glad you gave Red Rose Music the press that it deserves. To ice the cake, their no-pressure sales pitch is among the best I have ever seen.
December 3, 2000
To Marc Mickelson,
I loved your review of the Wilson WATT/Puppy 6es. I just finished reading it and thought you caught the essence of the speakers quite well.
December 1, 2000
When will you guys actually publish the Simaudio Eclipse review? It looks like it has been on the upcoming review list for almost a year now (I have lost track).
Is the Eclipse so bad that you are hesitant about releasing the review?
We hope to have the Eclipse review online in the next couple of months. However, you, like many, have asked why it has taken so long. Well, I personally had the Eclipse here for a couple of weeks when the company wanted to get it back to the factory for a demonstration. We were to have it back in a few weeks following to finish the review. However, another magazine was also in the queue to review it, and the player went there! However, Simaudio promises that it will be coming back here soon. As soon as it has returned, the review will be completed and published...Doug Schneider