[SoundStage!]Archived Letters
November 2002


Merlin TSM-Millennium info?

November 27, 2002

To Doug Schneider,

I'll try to keep this short, as I am betting that you are very busy. I just wanted to drop you a note saying that I really enjoy your work and reviews -- especially reviews of bookshelf loudspeakers. I am almost always both entertained and informed by your insights and analysis of various speakers. I especially appreciate the fact that you always seem to do a great job of conveying a particular component's sonic signature or character and also compare that sound to other components to really help the reader know what a particular piece of equipment sounds like. I believe that we all hear -- at least a little bit -- differently. But, through a lot of what you have to say, one can definitely get a pretty good reference point and perspective through which he can make his own determination -- at least to rule out a particular item, or to put it on their audition list. To digress just a touch, my perspective is a little fluid. I feel that I have not heard a great all-around system at this point. I haven t heard one that sounds great with both electronica/rock and classical/acoustic. In your reviews, you seem to convey the component's flexibility, or lack thereof, to assist the reader in determining the component's best application or its compatibility toward a particular goal.

OK, I've already gone a bit too much here. But if you could please offer up a suggestion (I'm not too sure why I want to know this, but for some odd sense of curiosity): What is your opinion about the Merlin TSM-Millennium? I am curious not necessarily as a TSM-M owner, as I am pretty much already sure that I'm going to upgrade to the VSM-Ms as soon as finances allow.

I guess that I'm just looking for your personal opinion about where it fits in with the overall scheme and how the TSM-M stacks up to some of the other bookshelf speakers that you have reviewed. I especially am curious as to how you think that it compares to the Revel M20. I have heard the Revel M20 in the shop, but haven't brought it home. Part of the issue is that if I upgrade, it will be to a floorstander and not to another bookshelf. But I am most curious; if you would compare them, I know that I would get a good sense of what they sound like. I know that you reviewed the TSM-SE and have probably found it to be a step down, or at least, a different sonic character than the Revel M20. But I am curious if you think that the improvements in TSM-M from the TSM-SE are as significant as what everyone says (I have never heard the TSM-SE). I am hoping that you would have the time to review these speakers some time and what your thoughts were.

Anyway, I've gone on too long here.

Thanks again, and I wanted to let you know mainly that I enjoy your work.

Jim Gordon

I'm sorry, but I won't be able to offer much insight into the Merlins because I have very little direct experience with the Millennium series of speakers -- both the TSM-M and the VSM-M. But I have reviewed the TSM-SEes and even have a set on hand. In comparison to the Revel M20s, the TSM-SEs are somewhat brighter-sounding and don't go nearly as low in the bass. How the TSM-SEes differ from the TSM-Ms, I don't know.

But because you are shopping, particularly for floorstanders, I will point you in the direction of the Finnish company Amphion. Their argon2 speaker, which I reviewed, is a knockout. Forget that it costs less than its competition -- it outclasses many pricier speakers. And I've heard a number of Amphion's other speakers and have been very impressed too. Amphion seems to be using some highly innovative technology in their designs -- and, more importantly, the speakers don't cost an arm and a leg....Doug Schneider

New old Quads

November 25, 2002


I recently heard Quad ESL57s and stacked ESL63s from a guy in Montreal who can repair them. I was really surprised. This owner was using a cheap Sony portable CD player, a Quad preamp, and a Quad 606 power amp to drive the stacked ESL63s. I thought the system would sound bright and irritating, but it didn't. The sound was realistic and effortless. The soundstage, height of the instruments -- my God! The Quads sounded unlike anything I have heard from dynamic speakers (mind you, I haven't heard all). The ESL57 wasn't shabby either -- and the owner's stacked ESL63s were used in a surround setup too. Holy cow -- 1957 technology! I need a time machine!

And therein lies the dilemma: the upgrade bug. I am getting frustrated in my search for used ESL63s or ESL57s, even on eBay. I don't know who I am dealing with. I realized that Globe Audio Marketing in Ontario is selling new ESL57s (from Germany). Are they any good? I know they are expensive, but I am willing to overlook the expense for frustration's sake. If a Sony portable sounds good with the Quads, maybe I can delay my purchase of the Linn Ikemi and get the ESL57s. Any thoughts?

Ren Barroga

The guys at Globe Audio are great to work with, and they would be the only source for ESL57s that I personally would consider. Buying used for something like a vintage pair of ESL57s would require knowing exactly what you're getting -- rebuilt or original -- and from whom you're getting them. According to Jody Hickson at Globe Audio, some of his customers with original Quads buy new speakers from him because the new ELS57s sound considerably better than even rebuilt Quads....Marc Mickelson

Mark Levinson and Dynaudio

November 21, 2002


I read your review of the Mark Levinson No.383 integrated amp with much interest, and having auditioned the unit over the weekend (with the new No.390S CD player/transport), I believe you have captured everything in words that I believe I heard with my own ears. A cracking review -- thanks.

I auditioned the No.383/No.390S pair through some Revel Ultima Studios and some Revel Performa 50s -- both 6-ohm units and perhaps too big for the No.383's power but impressive nonetheless. I detected that both needed more power to drive them properly.

My letter relates to perhaps an opinion you can offer me on speaker selection. I have for a long time been a big fan of Dynaudio speakers, and I am currently looking at either the Contour 3.3, Confidence C2 or Confidence C4 to mate with the No.383. They're all 4-ohm speakers, so I'd expect to see the No.383 drive 200Wpc through them. Sensitivity (at 2.83V/1m) for the Contour 3.3 comes in at 89dB, the C2 at 89dB, and the C4 at 90dB -- all quite reasonable and suggesting a low-powered amp could cope. Dynaudio's own website would suggest that 200Wpc is adequate for all three speakers. I do not have the facility to audition all three models, so I was seeking your view on whether the No.383 could drive all these units and still deliver great sound.

Thanks and best regards,

Graham Wheeler

The Mark Levinson No.383 is still the best integrated amp I've heard, and unless your room is huge or you listen at nearly deafening levels, it should drive the speakers you're considering easily and be the heart of a very fine audio system. If you can afford the No.383, I doubt it will disappoint you....Marc Mickelson

Recommended upgrades?

November 19, 2002


I enjoy your reviews and appreciate your attention to sound along with specs. I was especially interested in your reviews of the Bel Canto DAC1 and DAC2. I was intrigued by the description of the "organic" sound. I was hoping you would not mind giving me some input and suggestions on the upgrading of my system.

I currently have Thiel CS2.3 speakers, Cardas Cross interconnects and speaker cables. I need to replace a Kyocera A-710 integrated amp and Onkyo Integra R-1 CD changer.

I love the sound of my existing system, but the Onkyo is old and lacks detail. However, it is musical and has harmonics to match the best (the Audio Research CD2 beat it in harmonics, but not much in overall warmth). The Kyocera is under-powered for the Thiels and, again, old and probably not delivering the original power. So, as I replace these components, I want to improve the detail but keep and even improve the warmth I currently enjoy. I believe that for the amount I am budgeting ($7000-$8000), I should be able to bring greater harmonics and musicality into the whole system while improving the detail. I purchased the Thiel's four years ago and continue to prize them above all my possessions. I love choral and acoustic music and especially want the women's high voices to keep their tonal quality and harmonics instead of becoming a sharp file in my ears. I find so many CD players burn my ears with their detail and upper frequency sharpness. I have also just turned 50 and guess that older ears may have something to do with the ear pain of extended listening.

I am putting up a lot larger budget for this upgrade than I originally expected to, but I am driven to get the sound I dream of: detailed bass and midrange with soaring highs that meld into a rounded harmonious sound that draws me into the music, versus repelling my ears. Even the Audio Research CD2, which I auditioned at home with my Thiels four years ago, still hurt my ears, but this could partly have been from the sheer time and volume of listening I put in while selecting the speakers and wire. I am hoping to cut some of the sharpness of newer CD players and warm up the sound by replacing the ceramic/solid-state Kyocera with a tube VAC Avatar. Do you have any thoughts on this? I also believe this will bring out more of the musical nature of my CDs. I have not heard it, but it is highly thought of by Thiel and many reviewers. I also have a strong intuition that high-quality tube amplification is for me.

As for a CD player, I have listened to the new McIntosh changer at a local  dealer, and although not blown away with its intimacy, it was certainly not a bright monster. I absolutely require a changer as I listen for 4-6 hours at a sitting and do not like to find the music has stopped. It disrupts my mental wanderings. The McIntosh had nice detail and rounded highs, but it did not draw me into the music. I know that for me the Thiels make a big difference in drawing me into the music, so I am going to audition the McIntosh at home this weekend.

But, I am still intrigued by the Bel Canto DAC2 as a partial alternative to the McIntosh. With my budget, there is just not enough left to use both it and the McIntosh as a transport. I wonder, based on your review, if the DAC2 will deliver the warmth of music I wish in my system. I am willing to do a mail-order thing with them to try it out. There are no local dealers. But, with it I need to select a changer. Except for the McIntosh, I have found no quality changer transports that seem viable, but have never connected to a DAC before, either. My Onkyo, besides its age and lack of detail, is not a candidate for transport because it is mechanically wearing out.

I was thinking of trying a Nakamichi MB10, with the music bank changer, as it is the same changer and transport used by McIntosh. I know Nakamichi has financial problems, but I am willing to take the chance. I was wondering if you think it is a high-enough-quality option to feed a DAC2. So do you have any thoughts on a changer that will be of acceptable quality from my aspirations of sound and not a flaw to this system?

I realize I have gone on a bit, but I am very excited about the prospect of getting the sound I dream of. I would appreciate any thoughts you have on the amp or a transport for the DAC2.

Candy Thompson

Given the description of the sound you seek, the Bel Canto DAC2 would be a very good choice. As you mention, you'll want to find a decent transport for it; I usually recommend a good DVD player, but you want a changer. You'll want to look for one with a coaxial digital output, as TosLink from my experience doesn't sound as good. I can't recommend any models, however, because I haven't used any. Pick one with the features you want and you'll be OK, I think. As for a digital cable, the X-60 from i2digital.com is a great choice.

As for an integrated amp, I haven't heard the VAC Avatar, but I know it's supposed to have a good reputation. If the folks at Thiel recommended it, it's worth a listen. In general, though, Thiel speakers sound their best with solid-state amplification, so another I would suggest for its probable richness is the Audio Analogue Maestro, which you can see here.

I own an Audio Analogue Pucinni SE Remote integrated and love it -- it sounds like a good EL34-based tube amp. If you can live with its 50Wpc, it's worth considering -- and listening to. The suspect the Maestro will offer very similar sound along with solid-state control and drive. It should mate well with your speakers, and it's built like a tank....Marc Mickelson


November 15, 2002


I heard the Wilson Audio Sophia and WATT/Puppy 7 speakers with Lamm amps, and you were right on target in your reviews. However, I am told, having never used Wilson speakers before, that they impress on first hearing but over time can be fatiguing. Does this apply to the earlier Wilson Audio models only, or do the Sophias carry the same hangover?

Dinakar Sethuraman

Given that I have lived with a Wilson Audio speaker -- either the WATT/Puppy 6 or Sophia -- for over two years, I can't agree with the statement that they impress only on first hearing them. If anything, I grow to admire these speakers more and more each time I listen to them. Earlier WATT/Puppy models did have a tendency to sound analytical, but not the 6 and especially not the Sophia, which is a special speaker....Marc Mickelson

A new distraction?

November 14, 2002

To Jim Saxon,

[Regarding this month's "Hi-Fi in Paradise,"] brilliant concept. Will I be able to upgrade and get at least a fifth of the original cost towards my purchase? And what about tweaking? Those new pattern-enhancing buttons for a mere $700 per set of four. Solid-core silk -- not stranded for those analog-like neckties. Digitally enhanced polyester -- real wool is definitely an outdated technology. Besides can anyone really feel the difference? I must be in heaven -- a new interest to neurotically obsess over and throw insane amounts of money at!

Thanks, Jim. I am now very happy with my sound and was looking for a new distraction.

Charlie Varrone

Acoustic Reality amp?

November 13, 2002


I had seen the Acoustic Reality eAR stereo amp on your "Coming Soon" list, and now it's gone. I was thinking about get the amp myself and was wondering why the it's been pulled.

Mark Hampton

We pulled the Acoustic Reality amp because the manufacturer is sending us a new unit for review. The unit he sent worked fine, but he made some changes, and we will only review current products. You will see the amp reappear on our "Coming Soon" list when we receive the new unit....Marc Mickelson

Ensemble Figura

November 12, 2002


Thanks for the great review of the Ensemble Figura speakers. By your comments I understand you haven't listened to Ensemble's Elysia speakers, the best (and most expensive) two-way minimonitor I have ever heard. I suppose Audio Advisor still sells them. They used a famous proprietary aluminum/polyester honeycomb sandwich woofer similar but more modern than the old 1960s Leak sandwich, another of my historical favorites. I am pretty sure the Figura crossover is a semi-second order like the one on the Elysias (6dB then steeped up to 12dB/octave) that Ensemble was also proud of.

Vladimir Dorta

Transports worthwhile?

November 11, 2002

To Doug Schneider,

I bought the Zanden Model 5000 Mk II DAC after reading your review, and your words rang true after I heard the unit. I currently use a Bow ZZ8 CD player as transport. I plan to go in for a dedicated transport, but what concerns me is the multiplicity of emerging formats, making it difficult to pick a transport. I find that SoundStage! has reviewed few if any of the available transports on the market. Does this mean that you don't find it worthwhile to review existing CD transports, or does a dedicated transport not make a huge difference compared to the cost? Or does SoundStage! suggest we wait for a universal transport?

Dinakar Sethuraman

You certainly own an outstanding D/A converter, and I can understand your concern when choosing the right transport. As for our own experiences with transports, the real reason we don't review all that many is that there just aren't that many on the market. Unlike a few years ago when an abundance of companies were producing transports and/or DACs, comparatively few are today. So in our review queue, we currently have none. Then again, there is the whole thing about how much of a difference transports make. I know people who use low-cost DVD players and are very happy. I also own an Assemblage D2D-1 digital interface (discontinued) and it renders most transport differences extraordinarily subtle at best. The only new piece of digital equipment I've found lately that makes a nice difference at a relatively low price is the i2Digital X-60 S/PDIF cable. It works very nicely....Doug Schneider

Please review...

November 8, 2002

To Doug Schneider,

I am the happiest owner of the Audio Aero Capitole 24/192 CD player, which drives my Conrad-Johnson Premier 11A amp. You did a wonderful review of the Audio Aero player -- you are the best!

Please, please try to do a review on the best interconnects in the world -- Shunyata Research's Aries! I have them in my system, and they outperform everything I've used in my 25 years of audio experience.

Sean Croatia

We have a review of the Shunyata Aries interconnects and Lyra speaker cables in the works....Doug Schneider

Choosing speakers

November 7, 2002

To Jeff Fritz,

I read your article on smaller listening areas and how you ended up selecting the Dynaudio Confidence C2s. I am in a similar position in an apartment of 2060 square feet and the listening area or living room is around 1000 square feet -- open space as you described, but irregularly shaped.

I am currently considering the Dynaudio Confidence C2s, Dynaudio Special Twenty Fives (which I haven't heard) and the Sonus Faber Cremonas (which I found too boomy in the demo room). I am upgrading from Acoustic Energy AE-1s, which I am now finding do not have sufficient low bass -- driven by a Krell FPB-200C power amp.

I'm just wondering if you have heard the other speakers on my shortlist compared to the Confidence C2s and your impression of them. Also, the local Dynaudio dealer tells me that the Special Twenty Five has larger woofers and go lower than the C2s, which he described as "neither here nor there" compared to the C4s and was wondering if this is true as far as your experience with them goes. This was a surprising comment as I thought floorstanders by nature would have lower bass.

Do you think the Confidence C2s would be a decent match for the FPB-200C and are they placement fussy? My question about the placement is due to the fact that I intend to place them in the living room and cannot afford to place them too far out from the back walls -- I can only manage about 25 inches from the back wall and 90 inches between the speakers, with another 166 inches of space to the right speaker, which has furniture and other decorations. The left speaker actually follows the entrance doorway, and my listening spot is actually 100 inches to the front of the speakers. This is the current placement of my existing speakers, which I cannot really change dramatically regardless of which speakers I end up purchasing.

Sorry for going on but I would really appreciate your advice given that you have experience owning the Confidence C2s in a similar listening environment -- or at least that it what it sounds like in your article. I look forward to hearing from you on the above.


Yeong Aun

I have found the Confidence C2s to be remarkably flexible. In fact, this is a hallmark of the design (see Dynaudio's website for information on DDC -- Dynaudio Directivity Control). I've found their bass to be quite good also. Dynaudio specs the C2 much lower in the bass department than the Special Twenty Five, and with twice the driver complement, I'd bet it plays much louder too, and would therefore be better in a larger, open space. This is just conjecture, though, and you would have to hear both models to really get a sense of what you're buying. I also think the Krell and the Dynaudios would be a marriage made in heaven. I have not heard the Sonus Fabers so can't comment on them....Jeff Fritz

Wool in "Paradise"

November 6, 2002

To Jim Saxon

I have enjoyed your SoundStage! columns for quite a while -- also, a belated welcome back.

As an ex-custom tailor apprentice (don't ask), I really laughed at your experiences with the gentleman at Saks. His type hasn't changed in 30 years. Unfortunately, they aren't making many new ones like him either, as few people today know fine tailoring. Most "clothing" is made with glue and such, not the real interfacings of the past.

One minor correction about the numerical ratings given to wool. The gold standard always use to be Lumb's Island Tasmania 100s used by Huddersfield mills. Then the Italians wanted even finer worsteds and on came the 120s. The number does not refer to thread count, as it is assigned when the wool is raw fleece.

All the best, and keep writing.

Joel F. Blom

Your e-mail comes as a breath of fresh air! I suspected that my understanding about fabric ratings wasn't quite right and hoped that someone among our readers would be able to supply the correct data. Glad you called me on it....Jim Saxon

Analysis Plus terminations

November 2, 2002


Some Analysis Plus cables are described as having crimped-on terminations. These types of connections degrade rapidly as the contact forces relax over a relatively short time due to material creep and corrosion. Do the Solo Crystal Oval cables have crimped-on connections?

Bruce McFarland

I wrote Mark Markel at Analysis Plus regarding your letter. He said:

"We use different types of connectors on the Solo Crystal Oval cables. We use crimp, compression and soldering depending on the connector. I wish speakers had a standard binding post, but that is not the case. So we have to use many different connectors.

"We have done testing for GM and Ford on connectors, and I would not agree with his comments. I have a pair of Monster Cables from a long time ago with crimped-on connectors and they test fine (as far as contact resistance). I bought the cables in college, and I would not call that a short time."

...Marc Mickelson


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