[SoundStage!]Archived Letters
April 2002


WATCH Dog placement

April 28, 2002


I thoroughly enjoyed your review of the Wilson Audio WATCH Dog, in particular because I use Watt/Puppy 6es (I hear soon to be replaced by 7s that are not upgradeable from 6es) and have just ordered a WATCH Dog. While my dealer will help with the setup, I'd like to find out your opinion on placement in my room given you had some trouble with your W/P 6/WATCH Dog setup.

My room is 19' wide by 23' long. My Watt/Puppy 6es sit 30" from front wall and 42" from side walls (furthest back and outside corner of Puppy) and toed in to just behind the seating position (which is just under ten feet from the tweeters). This means that if I put the WATCH Dog in a corner facing toward the center, it will be within a few inches of this back/outside corner of the Puppy. I've tried moving the W/P 6es further out into the room, but I didn't care as much for the sound. Will I have to move them out to get the WATCH Dog to interface properly? I'm concerned that because the port of the Puppy fires back it will fire right into the WATCH Dog and cause a problem.

Any help would be appreciated.

Roger Fukai

Your room is almost as long as mine and considerably wider, so in theory you should have less of a problem placing the WATCH Dog. However, your speakers are far closer to the front wall than mine -- 30" versus 55" -- and from what I can visualize, your problem lies there. Do you have room between the speakers and your equipment (presuming that your equipment is positioned like mine -- on racks behind the speakers)? If so, you can probably move the WATCH Dog closer to your equipment and angle it more toward the opposite wall so it doesn't fire directly at your listening position, and the WATT/Puppy 6's rear port doesn't fire into the subwoofer.

One other thing to keep in mind is that the WATCH Dog's great flexibility makes placement just about anywhere in the room possible (important because of its great size), even behind your listening seat if need be. Your dealer should be able to get subwoofer and speakers to work together no matter where the WATCH Dog ends up in your room. John Giolas of Wilson Audio made short work of it here....Marc Mickelson

Subwoofer context

April 25, 2002


One point that was not, to my knowledge, articulated by anyone responding in the [SoundStage! Interactive] thread is that the Wilson Audio WATCH Dog (discounting the gratuitously expensive Krell MRS) is, to a large degree, a pioneering effort. Just as we did with the WAMM, the X-1, and even the WATT/Puppy, the WATCH Dog is an exploration in what could be achieved (in this case) with a powered subwoofer. So, just as you might ask with the WAMM, what exactly would the WATCH Dog be relevantly compared to?

We have conducted experiments and comparisons with other less ambitious (and less expensive) subs, which you partially experienced in our demonstration at CES 2001. The differences are quite profound. There is, however, a pervasive skepticism about the differences that subwoofers make. Perhaps this is because subwoofers on the one hand have been poo-pooed by serious audiophiles, and on the other have been used as earthquake machines in home theaters. Since subwoofers produce such a small percentage of the frequency spectrum, the importance of quality and differences between subwoofers have been minimized. This is quite contrary to my own experience with lesser subs, not only the difference in the sound of the subs themselves (i.e., what they do within the spectrum they are intended to play) but also on the deleterious effect they have on the midrange when these products are used in conjunction with high-end music systems.

John Giolas
Marketing Director
Wilson Audio Specialties

DVD sound

April 23, 2002


I am in the process of buying a DVD player to incorporate with my stereo system. I have looked at both the Marantz and Harmon/Kardon products. Which brand would you recommend? Most dealers recommend I should go for Marantz.

One technical question. I have a DVD video and CD of The Corrs Unplugged. Yet the DVD's sound quality is slightly superior. Could that be due to the different sample rates (44.1kHz for CD and 96kHz for DVD)?

Johannes Nel

I know Marantz and Harmon/Kardon are both reliable brands. The best-sounding DVD player I've heard so far is the Onkyo DV-S939, which is also rather pricey at $1800. I don't think you can go wrong with Marantz, Harmon/Kardon or Onkyo. Choose the player that has the feature set you want and costs what you can afford.

As for your question about the sound of a DVD vs. CD, if the audio portion of the DVD was mastered and plays at the 96kHz sampling frequency, the sound should be better, as you've noted. However, you'll need to check any front-panel indicators on your player to confirm this. Often DVDs of concerts won't play back at 96kHz and thereby downsample to 48kHz, which still may provide some improvement in sound....Marc Mickelson

Wilson Audio WATCH Dog

April 18, 2002

To Marc Mickelson,

[Regarding your review of the Wilson Audio WATCH Dog subwoofer], I'm not sure of Wilson's design rationale, other than those four-digit price tags. Why not reduce size, weight, and cost (and optimize distortion/transient response) with an active servo? The real heavy hitters of bass (Velodyne, Paradigm Reference) and small but awesome innovators (Velogyne HGS-10, Sunfire (well, no servo)) have already figured that one out. You did not measure bass distortion, or maximum SPL, but I am willing to bet the Wilson subwoofer sets no new standards in either. I do not get it. Below the midbass, I suggest bass is entirely deterministic, based on Don Keele's ground-breaking and universally accepted nearfield measurement technique. Ten thousand dollars for a  vented 12" subwoofer, no matter how good, does not stack up against what can be achieved for less. I know you guys are enamored of Wilson Audio, but frankly I admire the art of achieving great results without Bentley design fetishes and Lamborghini prices. Wilson uses upper-mid-quality drivers for the most part, and putting a good driver in a wonderful box does not even match putting a great driver (and network) in an OK box. The frequency response curves of Wilson's designs are not what they should be, and either represent concessions in driver response (as in the fat upper bass of that Scan-Speak? carbon-fiber-laced bass driver they like, or the peaky Focal tweeter with a resonance in the high treble) or deliberate audiophile "voicing" decisions. I think many prefer the comfort that flat amplitude response provides, giving at least some assurance in a well-treated room that the speaker will, at least in the amplitude domain, be reduced in its editorializing of the sound.

And it looks like the space heater in my garage! Probably less so in person.

Of course, I could be wrong.

Glenn Strauss

As for being "enamored of Wilson Audio," so far, I've been enamored of their results, the WATCH Dog included. I remember the demo of this subwoofer done at the 2001 CES. David Wilson used a signal generator to drive the WATCH Dog and top-of-the-line subs from two other companies. By a great margin, the WATCH Dog not only produced the highest SPL, but the quality of what it produced was highest too. Listening to music during that same demo confirmed this -- as did listening to the WATCH Dog in my system. Yes, this subwoofer is not for everyone, and I discuss the reasons for this in my review, but owners of Wilson speakers as well as others who need a subwoofer that integrates well with full-range speakers need to check it out.

And I agree wholeheartedly with your admiration for "the art of achieving great results without Bentley design fetishes, and Lamborghini prices." Good way to put it -- and it describes perfectly what companies like Paradigm are doing. Wilson Audio occupies a different niche, the one that Bentley and Lamborghini do in the automobile world....Marc Mickelson

Magneplanar sweet spot

April 17, 2002

To John Potis,

I very much enjoyed your two Magnepan reviews, and I hope you wont mind if I ask a question regarding the "music" system that was not covered in the reviews. It's regarding the infamous very small sweet spot that all Magneplanars seem to have.

Does the MGCC2 center-channel and four MGMC1s, with their rather unique mounting scheme, have the same problem? The SoundStage! review hinted otherwise. In the review summary, under Sound, you said, "make the room come alive." Does this mean that listeners can spread out more in the room and listen to music or watch home theater and enjoy the qualities of these speakers?

I look forward to your comments.

Wade Anderson

I don't find Magneplanars to have any smaller a sweet spot than many other top-notch speakers. For matters of good soundstaging, all speakers require careful positioning of the listening seat. That's a given.

Regarding tonality, the Maggies are not like many other planar speakers, such as electrostatics, which suffer significant changes in timbre with movements of the head of only a few inches. The relatively narrow quasi-ribbon driver is MUCH more narrow than the diaphragms of electrostatics (which propagate all frequencies including treble) and only about twice that of a dome tweeter. Therefore, this driver does a pretty good job of dispersion on the horizontal plane. It doesn't beam nearly as much as many people may assume.

It would be interesting to see what the dispersion characteristics of the MGMC1 are. I suspect that it is indeed better than that of larger Maggies due to its still more narrow radiation area (as you know, the larger the radiating surface relative to the signal it produces, the more directional the sound will be). Of course, the mounting scheme for the MGMC1s allows you to aim the speaker for the best radiation into the room.

Of course, the MGCC2 is the most important speaker in this regard, and indeed it does as credible job as any that I've had here. Its curved diaphragm increases radiation in the horizontal plane, and the speaker has remarkable radiation in the vertical plane too. Many center-channel speakers suffer changes of timbre as you stand up and sit down, and I'm not bothered by this with the Maggies. And neither does MGCC2 suffer comb-filter effects that plague many center-channel speakers.

As for making the room "come alive," this is really a different ball of wax. What I was referring to was the way the speakers completely disappear, leaving only a landscape of sound. Further, as the speakers are dipolar with excellent dispersion (even out the rear), they radiate sound differently than most other dipoles, and that delayed and reflected sound really does add significantly to the presentation by giving you a much larger and fuller window on the performance. This may well be something that needs to be experienced in order to be fully understood, but think of a "wall of sound" with very good image specificity and you are just about there....John Potis

Audio woes

April 16, 2002


I own a pair of older Magnepan IIIA speakers. They are maybe ten years old. Well, my girlfriend cut the tweeters (I cried) and threw my Krell amp out the window. Should I order new tweeters, which with grille cloth would cost about $300, or has Magnepan made enough changes to warrant me buying a new pair of speakers? What would be the best amp for the speakers, and would using a Denon A/V receiver hurt the speakers or the Denon?

Carew Ross

Sorry to hear about your situation! Speaker technology has changed so much in the past ten years that I suspect you'll not only get a better speaker from Magnepan today, but also one that would cost you less than it would have ten years ago. If your receiver has enough power to drive the relatively insensitive Magneplanar speakers (a minimum of 75Wpc, I'd say), it should work fine, although a more stout amp would work even better. Is that Krell amp repairable?...Marc Mickelson

Digital theory

April 15, 2002


I have a brother with a Ph.D in Physics from Cornell. He's taken a number of courses in electrical engineering and circuitry during his studies. He's trying to convince me that any low-priced CD player will produce the identical sound to an expensive CD player if connected to the same system via the digital connection. He says that (to paraphrase) as long as there isn't some very cheap component in the buffer or sending the signal to the digital output, the result will be identical because the very nature of digital sound is perfection (either there is a signal or there isn't, since the sound wave is approximated by discrete units instead of an analog wave that can easily be compromised). He said this is the whole reason why digital took off. Now you can have the ultimate consistency, and the sound of a $200 player will be identical to a $2000 player. Is this true? He said that he's written a e-mails before asking if there was a measured difference in the result. The reply was not that there were no measurement differences possible, but rather that the music just "sounded different." Of course, as you can imagine, this answer will never please a scientist whose life is based on actual measurable evidence. If there actually is a difference in the music, then it certainly can be measured. Otherwise we have a similar scenario as people impressed by the emperor's new clothes. Could you please give me your feedback on this?

On a related issue, I have the Anthem AVM20, and I am looking for a CD player. My brother tells me that it would be a waste of money for me to buy a tubed CD player since the digital-to-analog conversion process of the $850 CD player (Heart CD6000) surely won't be as good as that of the AVM 20. What's the point of having an expensive processor with a great conversion process if I am bypassing it with a CD player? All I need is a CD player with a digital output, and the AVM 20 will create that "warm, smooth analog-like sound." Is this also true -- that a tubed CD player is a waste of money with a tubed processor?

I hope you have the time to reply. I thank you for your consideration and response.

Michael Weilmeier

In theory, your brother is correct. A digital signal should be identical no matter what device delivers it. However, in practice, things like power supplies, analog output stages, and jitter (digital timing errors) all affect the sound of a CD player, even when used as a transport. How do I know this? I've heard it over and over again. In many cases, the differences aren't huge, but they are audible.

As for your Anthem AVM 20, which certainly has high-quality DACs but no tubes, I would connect your DVD player to it and use it as a transport before buying anything else. And if you do begin shopping around, try before you buy, and let your ears make your decision, not theory....Marc Mickelson

Amphion argon2

April 14, 2002

To Doug Schneider,

I enjoyed your review of the Amphion argon2 speakers. However, after raising the possible concern about distortion and power-handling problems with a crossover point of 1200Hz, you didn't address it in your subsequent assessment, unless your comment that "...the main drawback came on orchestral climaxes..." pertained to this issue. But I think not. I would love to know what you think. Was distortion really a concern, or was the problem designed out of the way?

Fermon Jones

You're right in your assessment that when I referred to the orchestral climaxes it was not in relation to the distortion issue. It was purely in relation to the fact that the argon2 is a small speaker and, as such, can only move so much air in comparison to a larger one. As for the distortion at the crossover point, I heard none and I played these speakers quite loud. A more telling example in this situation is our THD+N measurements of the loudspeaker done at Canada's National Research Council. You can see a small amount of distortion around and just below the crossover point. However, even at extremely high SPLs (95dB measured anechoically at two meters, which equates to more than 100dB in a typical room) the distortion is impressively low, particularly when compared to that of some other similarly sized designs that have higher crossover points and much higher distortion at that level. Given this, in my opinion, Amphion has indeed accomplished their goal admirably....Doug Schneider


April 9, 2002

To Doug Schneider

I've been following SoundStage! for the last two and a half years -- great stuff. Your site's articles helped me assemble my system. Currently I have an NAD T761 surround receiver, Paradigm Studio/60 mains and Studio/20s for rears in my main room. I use a Pioneer DVD-343 for transport and let the NAD do the DAC. I've been considering adding a pair of small "nearfield" monitors for my desk setup. I would run the new monitors from the B speaker output of the NAD receiver.

Audio performance is critical for me given that I live Canada. I auditioned mainly Canadian speakers (Paradigm, Mirage, PSB, Totem) when I assembled my system. B&W, NHT, and Missions were nice, but they didn't present a great a value -- probably a reflection of our weak dollar. Unfortunately, Canadian electronics (Bryston, Anthem) are well-regarded but were above my budget. Anyway, I am curious how the Athena Technologies Audition AS-B1, Axiom M3Ti SE, and the Paradigm Atom loudspeakers would compare against each other. I was a little surprised that the Atoms weren't the ones compared to the Athenas in the review.

I listen to mainly classical music, opera, electric blues and some pop (Pink Floyd, Enya, soundtracks).

Alex Ho

One of the problems in running a large magazine like SoundStage! is that although all the reviews appear in one place, the reviewers are dispersed throughout North America. Roger Kanno reviewed the AS-B1 and also has a personal pair of M3Ti SEs; however, he does not have Paradigm Atoms -- that's why they weren't in the review. I have the M3Ti SEs and Atoms, but I don't have the AS-B1s. However, all these speakers have now been reviewed favorably in our publication, and we hope that you can derive very useful information from the reviews. What they should really tell you is to put all of the speakers on your shopping list and try to hear them before buying -- which is the Golden Rule for any equipment purchase....Doug Schneider

Paradigm Monitor 5 review

April 8, 2002

To Doug Schneider,

Great review on the Monitor 5 speakers, Doug [Vol.3, No.1 of the E-Mag]. It's nice to know that you don't have to mortgage the house to get some half-decent sound. We all have many other things to spend money on as well. I just purchased a pair of Paradigm Atoms and was totally amazed at the quality of sound that, instead of putting them in my guitar room, I've hooked them up to my main system along with my AR sub. Now I still intend to put these in my practice room, but only after I get some new fronts. I'm very interested in Axiom's M22Ti SE and wonder how they compare to the Monitor 5s. I can audition the Paradigms, but we don't have an Axiom retailer nearby. The M22Ti SE seems a much more comparable speaker than the M3Ti SE or the M40Ti SE.

Once again, thanks for the great review on a speaker that mortals would actually purchase.

John Dolce

It is amazing what these, and some other, companies are doing with low-cost speakers. In terms of the M22Ti SE, Axiom has a 30-day money-back guarantee if you purchase online....Doug Schneider

Surround-sound routing

April 7, 2002

To Jeff Fritz,

Your "Surrounded" column is great! I have a question about DTS DVD movie soundtracks. My understanding is that the 5.1 format is downmixed during playback to accommodate the number of channels in a user's system. I have only four speakers in my system.

If I am understanding correctly, with Dolby Digital 5.1 material, the LFE .1 track is routed to all my speakers, as I have my subwoofer output disabled, and the center-channel information is split among the front mains. Does the same thing happen for DTS tracks? I often prefer the DTS track on movies/music as there seems to be greater high-frequency detail and a more convincing "sonic space."

Alex Ho

Thank you for your kind words about "Surrounded." Your processor, whether built into your receiver or DVD player, will downmix for the number of channels you are using in your system. The center channel is routed to your left and right main speakers when turned off (in the processor's menu), as is the LFE channel when the subwoofer is omitted. This is true for both Dolby Digital and DTS. While I find my preference for DTS or Dolby Digital soundtrack-specific, I do tend to lean more towards DTS most of the time too...Jeff Fritz


April 5, 2002


Can you accept overseas subscriptions? I live in Belém, State of Pará, Brazil. If possible, I would like to pay by credit card. Please inform me of the price for a one-year subscription, delivery by airmail. Thank you for your attention.

Hildeberto Bitar

Good news! As long-time readers know, we are fully on the Internet and free, so you need no subscription. Just point your browser to SoundStage! on the 1st and 15th every month to see our new content. To see all of the sites that belong to the SoundStage! Network, visit www.soundstagenetwork.com.

Back issues of the E-Mag, Paradigm Mini Monitor

April 4, 2002


I love reading your publication, but I have two questions:

(1) I know that you did a blind listening test at the NRC, and that it was published in a previous E-Mag. I would really like to somehow get a copy of this article.

(2) I have seen numerous reviews of Paradigm speakers on the website, yet you have never reviewed the Mini Monitors. I was wondering if you could do a review of them of them, or a comparison with the B&W DM303 and the Axiom M3Ti SE.

John Smith

We are not able to make past issues of our E-Mag available for download due to bandwidth and space limitations. We may in the future distribute them on CD-ROM.

Also, we don't currently have a review of the Paradigm Mini Monitor in the works, but we'll ask Paradigm about reviewing the speakers....Marc Mickelson

Praise for the Shunyata Hydra

April 3, 2002


One of my audiophile friends recently bought a Shunyata Hydra, and he was kind enough to bring it to my place. Wow, what an amazing improvement in the soundstage! It was like gaining two feet of soundstage in all directions. I think I will start with a Hydra in my next upgrade process. Music does not sound richer and smoother with the Hydra, but the improvements in soundstaging and detail are well worth the price. This box is simply magical. It will be the biggest upgrade to my system.

Alexandre Hebert


April 2, 2002


I read your reviews on Audio Aero CD players. Excellent reviews, and they sound like great CD players. The Capitole is now in the price range of a YBA CD1. I could not find any reviews of the YBA CD players on your site, nor could I find them in the list of players that you compare with the Audio Aero units. I've heard YBA, and I love the sound. Unfortunately, if going with Audio Aero, I'd have to buy it without hearing it first. I was wondering if you've compared YBA to Audio Aero. If so, what were the results? If not, do you plan to review the YBA CD1 in the future?

Thanks so very much!

David Prazak

We haven't reviewed any YBA products, but we will ask the distributor about a CD player....Marc Mickelson


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