[SoundStage!]Archived Letters
March 2003


The audio workout

March 24, 2003


I laughed reading your editorial. It's so true -- we love this hobby so much that we do things we would never do to quell that anticipation of hearing the piece of equipment in question. I rarely hurt myself moving equipment because I get LOT of friends to help me, always key. But when I'm alone or with one friend, I do the craziest things to get it done.

I think the only time I do hurt myself is when working on my rack handling cables. I always pull something in my back or shoulders. I end up telling people it was due to a hockey game or something!

Matt Nalbandian

A weighty subject

March 21, 2003


[Regarding this month's editorial], you haven't lived until you have to figure out how to get two 600-pound Kharma Exquisite Reference 1Bs into your second-floor listening room. I live on a steep hillside in the mountains of Colorado. Going up the stairs from the ground floor below was impossible. An assault from above was the only logical way. Six burly guys, a heavy-duty appliance dolly, a truck with a winch, and a tapestry woven of colorful profanities got the job done to the fascination of the neighbors. They didn't get a chance, though, to see the wrestling match inside -- getting the beasts out of their crates and on to their stands. (There are no conveniently placed handholds -- only smooth, slippery rounded surfaces.) When I move in a couple of years, I hope that the six burlies will have forgotten the agony and not look past the challenge to their manhood that worked the first time. As a famous American used to say, "I feel your pain."

I agree with your comments about Wes Phillips. He truly has the ears and "the gift."

Kerry St. James

Seeking Denon

March 20, 2003


The Denon DV2900 DVD player was one of the Jimmy Award winners for 2003, yet I can't find it anywhere. Is it possible that the model number was misprinted, or is this model just not yet released? If not, when is it due out? I want a good DVD player for my anticipated HD plasma TV. Denon is a good manufacturer, so I am interested in this model.

Bob Champion

Jim let me know that the Denon DV2900 won't be released until June. Sorry for the confusion....Marc Mickelson

More questions on the No.390S

March 19, 2003


I have three questions following on from your excellent review of the Mark Levinson No.390S CD player.

(1) Have you ever heard the Electrompaniet ECD1 player? If so, what comparisons with the Mark Levinson No.390S would you make?

(2) If you couldn't run this CD player with balanced outputs, would your view change much?

(3) Does it really make sense to spend $6700 on a new CD player given likes of Linn, Bel Canto, and Esoteric producing multiformat players at the same price or slightly more (Bel Canto and Linn to come later this year)?

Ray Farris

Unfortunately, I haven't heard the Electrocompaniet CD player, so I can't make any comparisons to the Mark Levinson No.390S. Regarding using the No.390S balanced or single ended, as I stated in the review, the No.390S retains all of its sonic goodness used single ended, but you will get the most from the player when used via its balanced outputs. Finally, an expensive CD-only player is not an easy sell these days, with SACDs and DVD-As becoming more and more prevalent and a fair number of universal players available too. I'll soon be writing about the Esoteric DV-50 and be able to address this question more directly then....Marc Mickelson

Wait or buy now? Direct or with a preamp?

March 18, 2003


Great review of the Mark Levinson No.390S CD player! Very practical and down to earth. I've been considering getting one for the past six months to complement my existing Mark Levinson gear (No.380S preamp and No.332 power amp). I can't help but raise the following issues that have been bugging me. I hope you can help.

(1) The price of the No.390S ($6700) is still quite steep given that the digital technology is unstable. Yes, I agree that it can give the best playback for Redbook CD, and that most of our collections are CDs. But moving forward, a new technology is underway. Something's telling me to hang on a bit longer for an SACD/CD player that can give the best of both worlds.

(2) My No.380S preamp is quite new (three months old). Before purchasing it, I seriously considered of getting the No.390S CD player to use as a preamp as well. My friends who have both (No.380S and No.390S) still rave of the superiority (not only flexibility) of having an external preamp. They say that even if the No.390S direct to power amp gives a cleaner sound, having the No.380S gives more ambiance and weight to the music. Your findings stating "to get the most from the No.390S, you need to use it directly into your power amps" is very interesting and quite contrary to my friends' findings.

Dennis S. Gatuslao

My view on buying a CD player now versus waiting is that if you have found a CD-only player that you really like and you have a large CD collection to make use of it, buying it is not a mistake. Preamps have more than one set of inputs, so if you decide to add an SACD player later, you can. I will be able to address this topic more directly in my upcoming review of the Esoteric DV-50 universal A/V player.

Regarding the use of a preamp with the No.390S, Madrigal made the same point you did, touting its own preamps as better-sounding alternatives to using the No.390S direct. This makes sense as the circuit in the No.380S, for instance, is certainly a refinement of that used in the No.390S. However, as I noted in the review, with the Lamm and Audio Research preamps I had here, the No.390S sounded its best direct (and balanced), and the remote control was a nice addition....Marc Mickelson

Chesky C-1 speaker

March 17, 2003

To Doug Schneider,

I have been enjoying reading your hi-fi articles. One of your articles regarding Talon Audio especially caught my eye, as much due to my admiration of the Talon products as my interest in the Chesky C-1 speaker. I'm currently exploring the possibility of getting new loudspeakers (my current loudspeakers are the Meadowlark Heron-i) and the Chesky C-1s certainly seem to fit the one of the criteria, which is compact size.

Would it be possible for you to give me a summary of the Chesky speakers' sonic attributes? The disadvantage of products being sold direct by the factory is that "you" don't get to audition them in a store.

Chris M. Nguyen

You likely read my tour of Talon Audio , in which I mentioned the Talon-manufactured Chesky C-1 loudspeakers. Unfortunately, I only heard a pre-production prototype of the product and not the final version. I know the final version differed somewhat, so any impressions I have are not valid. Although the C-1 is not in our review queue, this could always change.

In terms of buying factory-direct, certainly it doesn't afford the luxury of listening to the product until you have it; however, it does mean you can listen to the product in your house, and the Chesky website mentioned a 21-day money-back return policy, less the amount of shipping....Doug Schneider

Revel subwoofer setup

March 11, 2003

To Doug Schneider,

I read your article [on the Revel Performa B15 subwoofer], and it is excellent. However, I'm still confused. Could you possibly make a recommendation for me? I'm using an LFE out from a Meridian processor, and my input is via one RCA. For a simple starting point, what should I adjust each setting to? I'm really confused with the three equalization settings on top; they seem to offer the same options. I guess I need to read up on EQ, but where? Finally, I have e-mailed Revel for help and also requested the software for advance setup, with no reply.

I know I have asked a lot, but yours is the most informative article I have seen. Is there any Internet-based discussion on the B15?

Willie Shaw

As I mentioned in my review, the back panel of the B15 can be pretty confusing at first. What's important to know is that the equalizer section at the top is separate from the inputs and outputs at the bottom. First, it's important to know that your Meridian processor is most likely handling most of the bass management. So, according the the B15 owner's manual, you would simply route the single RCA (or XLR) cable from your processor to the left or right LFE input on the subwoofer back panel and turn the Low Pass Filter switch to off. By doing this you are disabling the B15's own crossover, simply because your processor should be handling all that. If you try to use the sub's controller and the B15's, you could run into conflicts. You'll still have to adjust the subwoofer level, though. As for the equalizer at the top, this allows you to adjust the subwoofer's response in the room at three discrete points -- however, you should probably work with that in conjunction with Revel's software. We'll pass your request on to our contact with Revel and hopefully they can get you some information. As well, try visiting their website at www.revelspeakers.com; you can download the software directly and also access the owner's manual....Doug Schneider

New Anthem electronics

March 10, 2003

To Doug Schneider,

I really enjoyed the recent "Traveler" article, "Paradigm's Renovation: Part Two," pertaining to your trip to the new Paradigm facilities. It mentioned the new Anthem Statement P2 and P5 amplifiers along with the D1 SSP. Are all Anthem electronics manufactured onsite in Ottawa? I know that most companies have electronics manufactured in other countries for cost issues. Does the engineering for the new Anthem amplifiers occur right onsite, or are services from other top-name designs rendered offsite and manufactured in Ottawa? Many companies tout collaboration with well-known amplifier designers for amp designs. Does Anthem have any well-known designers for the new Anthem amplifiers? It is interesting that they do all the work/design/manufacturing onsite for themselves -- this seems fairly rare.

Also, soundstagelive.com reported earlier from the CEDIA that the Anthem Channel 5 (now supposedly the P5) was a 325Wpc amplifier that required two power cords. Is there any more specific info on the amplifier at this time that you are aware of? With release in June/July, is any more "finalized" info available? Any would be appreciated. I know that Anthem/Paradigm doesn't always offer info before actual production. Any idea of when production starts on the new Anthem line?

Steve Holen

All the Anthem electronics are designed at the Paradigm Advanced Research Center (PARC) in Ottawa, Canada. In terms of top-name designers, I've visited PARC and Paradigm's main facility a number of times and know that their in-house design team, which includes a good number of electrical engineers and others, is topnotch. As far as I know, they didn't recruit any outside staff, nor did they need to. The company has actually been building amplifiers for years -- first in subwoofers, then in their Active-series speakers, and now with Anthem. As for building the amplifiers, as far as I know, all that happens in Toronto in their new facility. The article mentions that Paradigm/Anthem's resources are exhaustive, and it's true. In fact, if you look closely at the pictures in the first part, you'll see amplifiers running off the line -- and that photo was taken by me. Finally, indeed, the Channel 5 is now called the P5. The new Statement amps will be 325Wpc. As for the exact release date, Paradigm says that mid-2003 is still targeted, but they don't yet have an exact date....Doug Schneider

Six-channel recommendation

March 8, 2003

To Jeff Fritz,

I read your September 2000 "Surrounded" on six-channel preamps and wonder what your current recommendation is. I don't care about a tuner. I think component-video in/out would simplify things. I saw the Marantz AV9000; was that only five channels? Anyway, I'm using the Marantz monoblocks. Help.

Tom Driscoll

There is a distinction to be made between a six-channel preamp and a receiver/processor with six-channel inputs. The preamp alone is a rather simple product with little or no home-theater processing (such as Dolby Digital or DTS). Most any processor or receiver, conversely, will have myriad processing options and will have six-channel analog inputs as just one feature. These are fully compatible with DVD-A and SACD, as well as home theater. Since you are concerned about component-video switching, this is the type of product you're after. A six-channel preamp will not have this facility.

I'm not familiar with the Marantz unit you speak of, but since you have Marantz mono amplifiers, and if the preamp has the features you're looking for, I'm sure it will pair well with your system....Jeff Fritz

DVD player as transport

March 6, 2003


I read your review of the Bel Canto DAC 2. I know it is a DAC review and not a transport review; however, as I'm looking for such a DAC but have no intention of buying a pricey transport, I was wondering about the differences you heard, if any, between using the DAC2 with a DVD player and a Mark Levinson No.39 as a transport.

Shmulik Akerman

More than most DACs, the Bel Canto DAC2 (and DAC1) seems to lessen the differences among transports, perhaps because it handles jitter better. I wrote a follow-up review to my DAC1 review that explains some of the differences. You can see it here....Marc Mickelson

Plinius SA-102 review

March 5, 2003

To John Leosco,

Thanks for the nice review. I'm surprised that the Plinius amp didn't get a SoundStage! Reviewers' Choice accolade. The SA-102 is one of the best bargains in high-end amps today.

Sherif Elkady

Reviewers' Choice recognizes products that are either state of the art or perform far beyond their price. As John's review illustrates, we couldn't be sure that either of these criteria were met, although it's clear the Plinius SA-102 is a very good amplifier....Marc Mickelson

High-sensitivity speakers

March 4, 2003

To Doug Schneider,

I am about to buy new speakers to use with a SET amp (15Wpc, using KR 300BXLS tubes). I first started looking at high-sensitivity speakers, but the choice is limited. Therefore, the choice is widened a bit and at the moment narrowed down to Verity Audio Fidelio, JMlab Mezzo Utopia, ProAc 3.8, and Kharma Ceramique. Which would you choose? My room is of moderate size.

Kind regards,

Matthijs Dekker

Indeed, the choice of "true" high-sensitivity speakers is very limited -- more limited than people think. Although there are some conventional speaker designs -- pretty normal enclosures with a regular set of drivers -- trumpeting themselves as high-sensitivity speakers (sucking in consumers, reviewers, and even entire magazines in some cases), very few designs really are. Unfortunately, in many cases you cannot trust the manufacturer's specifications.

That said, all the designs you are mentioning I certainly wouldn't classify as "high sensitivity." Now, that does not make them bad -- sensitivity is not really an indicator of sound quality, only an indicator of how loud the speakers will play with certain input power -- but it does become a real concern with the type of amp your want to use. For example, the Verity Audio Fidelio is an excellent speaker, but its measurements indicate its sensitivity is only about 85dB, and its impedance curve (another measurement that indicates the "load" presented to the amplifier) does not show it to be any more "tube friendly" than the majority of speakers on the market. We have not measured the others you mention, but we have measured JMlabs' Mini Utopia, which is quite a bit more sensitive than the Fidelio and seems to present an easier load to the amplifier. This should indicate the kind of things to look for when trying to shop for speakers.

In the end, my advice to you is that if you are set on using a lower-powered SET amplifier, then do some research into the loudspeakers you are buying and, most of all, try to find accurate, independent measurements that will tell you if a loudspeaker is truly "high sensitivity" and presents a "friendly" load to your amplifier....Doug Schneider

Magneplanars and horizontal dispersion

March 3, 2003

To John Potis,

I enjoyed reading your review of the Magnepan MGMC1 speakers, but unless I missed it, there was one thing curiously omitted from both articles: how well the aforementioned disperse horizontally into the upper-most octave. I realize this is placement and room dependent; nonetheless, it is helpful to have a sounding board from which to experiment. As dedicated home-theater rooms and distributed seating arrangements within those rooms are becoming more popular, it is then very important for everyone in the audience to sit within the sweet spot generated by each speaker, thus the increasing popularity of Mirage’s new OMNI series.

As much as I enjoy my MartinLogan Sequel Is, they’re just too beamy (and not as coherent as I’d like) to use in a four-column three-row, 24’L x 20’W home theater, so I’m naturally looking for better alternatives, which brought me to your articles. As these particular MartinLogans are not a true line-source and the Maggies are, it would be helpful to know if they’re any better in horizontal coverage than the MartinLogans of your acquaintance.

On top of that, it is quite important for readers to have insight into just how well the Magnepans (or any speaker destined for possible home-theater use) do in a seating arrangement such as I described; this then helps them to better understand if the speakers in question might be right for their needs. After all, why use highly resolving speakers in a dedicated home theater that only a select few seated in the room will fully enjoy? Though I understand that the final proof of comes through personally auditioning any gear, it is crucial to include in reviews whether or not the speakers in question can fulfill a very important aspect of this hobby.

C.J. Grossmeyer

The reason I didn't make a bigger issue of horizontal dispersion is because it is absolutely not an issue with any of the Magneplanars I've heard. As a former owner of a pair of MartinLogan Sequel IIs, I know well the limitations in dispersion, not only in the horizontal but more seriously in the vertical plane (see my sidebar in the Magnepan 3.6 review), and the Magnepan speakers are in a different league. As you know, the larger the radiating surface relative to the frequency produced, the more directional it will be. Both Magnepan's ribbon and quasi-ribbon tweeters are much narrower than an electrostatic panel and therefore offer much better dispersion -- very good dispersion, in fact.

By the way, that increased dispersion holds true for the rear-radiated wave as well and makes a large difference in the speaker's power response into the room, making the difference between the Maggies and the MartinLogans even more pronounced....John Potis


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