[SoundStage!]Archived Letters
September 2002


Finding what I want to hear

September 23, 2002


I know this is gonna come off as a "bitch" session but it isn't -- really. I think I'm frustrated. Is it me or do manufacturers of audio equipment deliberately (or unintentionally as the case may be) omit such key information as distributors, and retail dealers from their websites?

Let's take Audio Research as an example. Lots of product info which is great -- they even provide telephone and fax numbers to contact their customer-service department (in Minnesota) and this little gem "...so we encourage you to contact your local authorized Audio Research retailer to arrange a personal audition." I'd love to, Mr. Johnson, but there's this matter of time zones and such, and by the way, how do I go about finding out who is my local authorized Audio Research retailer without combing the telephone book, or visiting every audio store in town? Try as I could, I searched that website from one side to the other. No retailer information anywhere. Nada. Zilch. Zippo.

I'm not singling out Audio Research. They are not alone in this regard. I realize these guys aren't professional web designers. They're promoting their products. But the consumer can't buy what the consumer can't find, no matter how interested he is in the product.

It's not entirely the audio manufacturers faults, with the exception of their so-called marketing gurus who could say, " Gee, ya think we need to give them some idea where they can buy our products?" No, some of us live in weird markets like Sacramento, California where finding some items is a challenge. So most folks end up going to the San Francisco Bay area seeking what they want (so long as they know where to look).

What's my point? I've had to eliminate audio gear from my wish list without the benefit of an audition simply because I can't find a retailer who carries the product line I'm interested in auditioning. And store-front retailers wonder why people turn to the Internet to buy audio gear. Personally, I can't do that. When it come to audio gear, I need to hear what I'm eventually going to buy.

Who knows? Maybe I'll get lucky and find that authorized Audio Research retailer.

Dwain Barefield

Sound Application XE-12S vs. Shunyata Hydra

September 20, 2002


In comparing these two pieces of equipment in your review, I think you left out one significant observation. The Sound Application unit offers a large measure of surge and spike protection, while the Hydra is designed only as a sonic enhancer. It's fair to make sonic-only comparisons, but this difference should also be noted. A Sound Application CFX saved my system when lightning hit my house last year, so I am particularly aware of how valuable this kind of protection is.

David Zigas

Good point. I made reference to the XE-12S's surge/spike protection in the review, but not in the direct comparison of the two units. In your case and others, surge protection would prove very valuable....Marc Mickelson

Decision time

September 19, 2002

To Doug Schneider,

I just wanted to say you wrote a great review of the Axiom M40Ti speaker. Between your review and John Potis' of the M22Ti SE, I have decided to buy some Axiom speakers. I never would have heard of them had it not been for your reviews.

Now my choice gets really hard -- M40Ti or M22Ti? I listen to all types of music, but mainly guitar-driven rock'n'roll for me, and jazz piano music for my wife. It makes choosing a speaker tough!

Anyway, thanks again. Great reviews!

Tony Cavallo

1998 vs. today

September 18, 2002


I am going to purchase a new CD player. My current player is a modified Rotel 855. The player that I am considering is the Copland CDA 288. This player received a favorable review in July 1998. The asking price for the Copland is $1500 Canadian. Have current CD players improved to the point where the Copland would be dated? Do you think I should be looking at a new player in the $1500 price range?

George Donovan

Although 1998 is not all that long ago, there have been advances in PCM playback between then and now, the most significant of which are 24-bit/96kHz processing/software and upsampling. I would be looking for a CD player or DAC/transport that makes use of these. The Bel Canto DAC2 along with a DVD player that outputs the 24/96 datastream is a very good option, but there are also upsampling CD players from Cairn and Audio Analogue, among other makers, that are worth looking at and listening to. Another important advancement is SACD; Sony and Philips make units that can play CDs, DVDs, and both stereo and multichannel SACDs....Marc Mickelson

Power cord for PS Audio HCA-2?

September 10, 2002

To Tom Lyle,

I thought I'd take a moment to comment on one aspect of your review of the PS Audio HCA-2. You simply cannot give a well-rounded review of this amp without following the manufacturer's advice to use a better power cord. It really makes a difference. Having been a long-time SoundStage! reader, I know your writers generally follow up on such advice. An adequate review of this amp's capabilities would warrant an addendum after trying a power cord.

Will Lytch

Your comments are not without merit. Yet a follow up simply to add a different power cord to a unit that was not shipped with any special power cord is unjustified. If the manufacturer felt so strongly about the cord, one would have been shipped before the review was finished.

The amp was also plugged into the PS Audio P-600 Power Plant, which I feel does quite an adequate job of providing pure power to any component, let alone one that cost less than it does. I would rather not speculate on the benefits of adding a PS Audio power cord to the unit as reviewed with the P-600, although I would guess it would not be a night-and-day difference. Yes, there could very well be an improvement, but not one to warrant another review....Tom Lyle

Upgrade DAC1?

September 9, 2002


Greetings from New Orleans.

I just read your comparison of the Bel Canto DAC1 and DAC2 in your August 2002 SoundStage! review and was impressed with your candor and independence of thought.

I'm trying to decide if the upgrade is worth the cost, and maybe you could help me out here. I've paired the DAC1 with the transport section of the Pioneer Elite PD-65. Recently, though, I had an IEC connection (and ferrite choke) added to the PD-65, which did wonders for the combo, but also, incidentally, made the stand-alone PD-65 marginally preferable to the DAC1, owing to better midrange vocals. Both configurations are still VERY good. The only improvement I could seek from either the PD-65 or PD-65/DAC1 is considerably more punch in the bass and maybe a little more presence in the vocals in the DAC1. For identical recordings, the treble and imaging in either arrangement are as good, IF NOT BETTER, than with my analog setup (VPI Mk III/AQ PT6/Benz Glider).

Keeping in mind your own comparative evaluation, I was wondering if you think the upgrade would give me what I'm looking for and would be significant enough to warrant.


Keven Lovetro

As I state in my review, "I'm not sure there's a more sure-fire way to get real improvements in the sound of your system than having Bel Canto do surgery on your DAC." However, the cost is steep, and the DAC1 is still a fine performer. I haven't heard the Pioneer CD player you have, so I can't comment on how the DAC2 might improve on it. However, if you are after better sound at the frequency extremes than what you hear from your DAC1, go for the upgrade....Marc Mickelson

New DAC or CD player

September 6, 2002


I know that you can't possibly answer all the e-mail you must receive, and yet I write in hope that something in my letter will cause you to answer this particular one. Hey, where would we be without hope (and stubbornness)? At least, if nothing else, you'll know that you're having a positive effect on my equipment considerations.

I've read so many of your articles over the years that I feel as if you're an old and dear friend. I write to you on this occasion for two reasons. First, I've come to believe that we share some similar tastes in equipment -- and I've come to respect your opinion. Second, I've written due to your recent experience with, and positive comments on, a number of upsampling DACs/CD players.

My wife and I are currently building our "dream home," and I will finally have a dedicated music room/theater. The room will be 18.5' wide, 23' long, and will have an 8' ceiling. The house is an English country cottage, and the theater will be done in an Art Deco style reminiscent of the early American theaters such as the Fox here in Spokane.

I want my system to be highly musical first and do movies and surround sound second. Once my new home is completed, I plan to add a Magnepan center channel (MGCC1), surrounds (MGMC1), and a Vandersteen 2Wq subwoofer (it's one of the few I've heard that can keep up with he speed of the Maggies). I'll probably be going with the Rotel 1066 pre/pro, although if I can stretch my budget to get the B&K Signature 30 or the Anthem AVM-20 I may do so.

I am currently using a Citation 22 main amp and Citation 21 pre to drive a set of Magnepan MG1.6/QR speakers. Until recently, my front-end has been an older Harman/Kardon 7500 CD player, which has given me many years of enjoyment. However, recently it quit working and parts are no longer available for it. Now I'm stuck using my Sony DVP-S7700 DVD player. It does very well with DVDs, but ultimately does not satisfy for CD. I'd like both greater clarity/transparency and less grain/fatigue. I'd also like to experience the emotion of the music once again.

My tastes in music are quite eclectic: jazz, blues, classic rock, folk/Americana, classical, country, Celtic, world music, pop, urban. I really want to upgrade the quality of sound from my CDs, which I have hundreds of, but I'm not entirely sure which of the many options available would be the most suitable for my particular situation.

I'm looking for the proper balance between clarity/transparency, and musicality. I want a sound that is musically exciting and conveys the emotion of the music, but doesn't make me want to run from the room after an album or so and search out my earplugs. I've heard and liked the Linn Genki and Rega Planet 2000 players. They both sound much better than either my present player or my old H/K -- smoother and more listenable -- but they also seem to lack a little sparkle or energy. The music just seemed to lack a bit of life. I was also impressed with the Rotel RCD-991, which had more "life" but didn't seem as transparent. I absolutely fell in love with the Mark Levinson No.360S DAC and No.390S CD player; they had the balance of smoothness, musicality and life I'm looking for. But at around $8,000, they're WAY out of my league.

If I could find a player or DAC that provided the smooth delivery and musicality of the Linn and Rega with just a touch more excitement and clarity into the music, I think I'd be in heaven. If I could find such a unit for under $1500, I know I would be. Is there truly something that approaches the Mark Levinson for only 20% of the price?

I could either purchase a new CD player, or buy an outboard DAC to use with the Sony DVD player. I'd happily go either way depending on what got me the most bang for my buck. The problem I'm having is that there are no dealers here in Spokane that stock upsampling players/DACs, and the few dealers in Seattle (265 miles away) only stock a single brand -- thus direct comparisons are impossible. Other brands I'm interested in I can't even find here in Washington state.

I'm considering these alternatives: replacing my aged H/K 7200 with an Arcam FMJ-23, Linn Ikemi, or Rega Jupiter CD player; or adding a Musical Fidelity A3-24,Bel Canto DAC2, or Perpetual Technologies P-1A & P-3 outboard combo to the Sony 7700.

If you were in my shoes (and be glad you're not -- they're size 14!) what would you do?

Any information or recommendation you could supply would be greatly appreciated.


John Mannix

If I were in your shoes, I would first have a listen to the Bel Canto DAC2 (with your DVD player as a transport), which seems by what I heard to fit your criteria for "smooth delivery" and "excitement." Get a good digital cable like DH Labs' D-75 too, which works well with the DAC2.

After this, there are a couple of CD players I would recommend: the Linn Ikemi for sure; and two players that I've never heard but have intrigued me, the Audio Analogue and Paganini and Maestro, which retail for $1295 and $2500 respectively. Both have 24/96 DACs, and I suspect that they would meet your sonic criteria too given what I've heard from other products in the company's line.

I actually do answer all e-mail I receive. It takes time for sure, but it's one way we're able to stay in touch with our readers' needs....Marc Mickelson

Axiom M2i

To Doug Schneider,

First-time e-mailer here, but an avid follower of the SoundStage! Network. Thanks for the informative review and NRC measurements on the Axiom Audio M2i. Marc's point in his editorial this month ["Once Again," September 2002] on Internet-based media and reviews and their advantages is well demonstrated by your review.

The review leads to a question -- especially pertinent for me as I am in the throes of deciding on new loudspeakers (mains, center, surrounds and sub). Use would be 80/20 in favor of music. My family room is 20' x 12' with standard 8' ceilings. Walls on three sides, half wall on the fourth side open to kitchen (about 18' x 12'). Primary listening would be in the family room, also some non-critical (background, entertainment) music to flow over to the kitchen.

You mention that the prime advantage of the M2i is integration with a subwoofer vs. either the M22Ti SE or M3Ti SE. I plan to use a sub with my new setup -- possibly a 10" Axiom, HSU VTF2, or maybe even RBH Sound 10". I was originally thinking about the M22s, but they are kind of tall, even on short stands. The M2i would be better aesthetically, but I'm not sure it has the dynamic range for a room this size, especially in the non-critical mode.

Any thoughts would be appreciated. I really want to stay with the monitors and avoid tower speakers if possible.

Jack Deal

Based on your supplied measurements, I would classify your room as medium-sized. If you were to use the M2i on its own, I would definitely say it is not sufficient, but as you mention, you want to partner it with a subwoofer. Dynamic range will largely depend on how loud you like to play your music. However, I can add this advice to get the most output from the M2is: You will not want to run them full range, and you will want to cross them over at a higher point than their natural roll-off frequency. The reason for this is that most speakers distort most obviously in the bass, and by eliminating some of the bass frequencies, the speaker can play more loudly in the critical range you want to use it. If you are using the M2is with a surround-sound receiver, those often allow you to set the front speakers to "Small" and that will restrict the bass frequencies sent to the speakers and instead route them to the sub. Alternatively, you can do as I mentioned in the review -- use the subwoofer's internal crossover in conjunction with the speakers (a setting of about 90Hz with a steep filter should suffice). I suspect that this should give you the type of output that you need. However, you also have a safety net: Axiom sells its speakers factory-direct with a 30-day money-back guarantee....Doug Schneider

Setting up Wilson Audio speakers

September 3, 2002


I am looking to buy new loudspeakers, and the Wilson Audio WATT/Puppy 6 and 5.1 systems are on my list. I, however, must buy used to afford these speakers, and since you have the 6es, I ask you this: Can these be set up in a large room properly by your average guy with a decent ear and some experience and common sense, or are they best left to those who can professionally install equipment because I would never really get them dialed in right? I'd very much appreciate a response. Thank you, and I like your reviews.

Michael Bratrud

Wilson Audio speakers can be set up satisfactorily by their owners. They are loudspeakers like any other, and as long as you pay attention to the angle at which you position of the WATT for the system 6 (no concern here for system 5.1), you'll do a good job. However, as I've discovered through reviewing Wilson Audio products, the company's own setup regime really optimizes the sound of the speakers in terms of bass and dynamics. If you have a Wilson Audio dealer near you, it might make sense to enlist his help after you've done everything you can, especially if you are not happy with the results....Marc Mickelson

Internet and audio

September 2, 2002


Based on your current editorial ["Once Again," September 2002], I felt urged to tell you that I bought all of my audio setup by doing Internet research, and SoundStage! played a crucial role. It is really impossible to appreciate the virtues of hi-fi equipment solely by going to brick-and-mortar stores. You always feel the pressure of the salesman trying to close the deal. As to Internet information, you still have to sort through a maze of contradictory or conflicting opinions, so I had to study quite a good deal to understand the rules of the game and picture the best story for me. Yet, I am very happy with my initial setup!


Pierre Jacomet


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