[SoundStage!]Archived Letters
April 2003


Universal A/V players

April 30, 2003


One of the things I missed most about not attending CES this year was not seeing the growing presence of universal players and especially the introduction of McCormack and Teac/Esoteric players. Are you going to run an article on these players, especially the Esoteric DV-50, anytime soon?

Blaine Beveridge

We will be publishing a review of the Esoteric DV-50 on May 15th. We hope to review the McCormack universal player this year too....Marc Mickelson

Home-theater reviews?

April 29, 2003

To Doug Schneider,

I've just finished reading your excellent review of the Anthem MCA 5. Two years ago I purchased both the MCA 5 and its companion preamp/processor, the AVM 2, which you refer to as coming out the fall of 1999. To say I was thrilled with these units would be an understatement.

About six months ago I traded the MCA 5 in for the MCA 50. While the MCA 5 is a remarkable amp, the sound of the MCA 50 just blew me away. I just had to have it. The AVM 2 has been replaced with the AVM 20. This is a seven-channel version of the AVM 2.

It occurred to me that given your enthusiasm for Anthem products, it would be timely to write a review on the AVM 20 and MCA 50. Given their superb performance at such reasonable prices, your readers would surely find your review of these products informative and useful, especially since your last review is now five years old.

Best regards,

Dan Green

Sounds like you have an outstanding system. The review I wrote of the MCA 5 was a few years ago when the "video" section was still part of SoundStage!. Today, we have an entire site devoted to home theater called Home Theater & Sound. Jeff Fritz reviewed the AVM 20 last year and we gave it both Reviewers' Choice and Product of the Year awards. There will be a review forthcoming there in the new few months, too.

As for our enthusiasm for Anthem products, it continues on SoundStage! with a review of the TLP 1 preamp/tuner. Look for a PVA 2 review soon as well. And when Anthem releases the Director and new P-series amplifiers as part of their Statement line, we hope to get those too.

By the way, the easiest way to keep track of all of our sites is through www.soundstagenetwork.com....Doug Schneider

Nice review of the Focus Audio FS-688 but...

April 25, 2003

To Doug Schneider,

I wonder (having not heard them myself) if the Focus Audio FS-688s are eight times (8x$328=$2624) better than my little Ascend Acoustic CBM-170s, which you also recently reviewed. Somehow I doubt it.

I have to say that I'm loving every moment with my CBM-170s. I look forward to hearing the new, not-out-yet CMT-340 center-channel speaker and then matching all of the speakers with a HSU VTF-3 subwoofer.

Good listening,

Scott Fowler

Axiom or Energy or...?

April 24, 2003

To Doug Schneider,

Hello. I'm a huge fan of the SoundStage! Network. Keep up the wonderful work, as your sites provide me with hours of informative and enjoyable reading each evening.

This letter concerns my choice for my main speakers. I'd definitely appreciate any personal input you could give me. Let me tell you what equipment I'm using: Cambridge Audio A300 V2 integrated amplifier, Cambridge Audio D300 SE CD player (not purchased yet), possibly NAD for the amp (input here would also be helpful). I know the Energy C-3 is a forward-sounding speaker, and I feel it would be a good match with the laid-back Cambridge amp.

OK, to my main topic. I've read both your reviews and recommendations on the Axiom M3Ti and the Energy C-3. I'll be using my system in an apartment. I just wonder how much better you think the Energy is than the Axiom. I don't want a sub, and I feel that the bass from the Energy would be appropriate for a standalone, sweet two-way system.

Thank you very much. From a loyal reader and fan,

Jim Tomblin

I'm not too familiar with your electronics, but I can help you with the speakers. In terms of the Axiom and Energy models you mention, both are standout speakers at their price points, but it must be pointed out that the $275 Axiom M3Ti speakers are almost half the price of the $500 Energy C-3s. If you can swing the extra cost, then the Energy C-3 is capable of higher-output capability and deeper bass. At $500 per pair, it is a stunning speaker, really. And just to add a little more fuel to your shopping fire, if you do have up to $500 to spend, why not also check out the $328 Ascend Acoustics CBM-170s and $400 Axiom M22Ti SEs? One thing is for certain: There are some outstanding deals out there for buyers of budget-priced speakers!...Doug Schneider

The perfect complement

April 17, 2003

To Doug Schneider,

Just a quick note to thank you for your excellent review [of the Ascend Acoustics CBM-170 speakers]. These speakers had gone largely unnoticed for too long. I recently discovered the perfect complement for these speakers, in the form of the Energy S8.2 subwoofer. Like the Ascend speakers, this sub is primarily intended for the home-theater crowd and is under-appreciated by audiophiles. It only costs $300, but it is tight and tuneful. A pair of these subwoofers and the Ascend speakers create a nearly full-range sound that, for me, establishes a benchmark for speaker systems under $1000. Thanks again for your fine review.

Surely Holmes

Multichannel to two channel

April 14, 2003


I get the impression from the various reviews of both new SACDs and DVD-As that the industry is focusing on its multichannel mixes and adding a two-channel mix as an afterthought. Certainly the barrage of commentary about Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon SACD on audioasylum.com proclaims the SACD two-channel mix as worse than existing PCM versions, but waxes lyrical about the multichannel mix. And I get the impression that DVD-A frequently does not have a two-channel mix, but rather requires the player to downmix 5.1 to stereo, which often sounds worse than PCM.

Is the painful reality that if I want to go hi-rez that I am going to have to multichannel?

As always, thanks for the help!

Ray Farris

I'm not sure "downmix" is the right term given that most musical content is in two channels to begin with. I listen strictly in stereo right now, and I haven't found a multichannel SACD or DVD-A that sounds odd played back this way. I don't suspect this would hold true for strict multichannel listening, with drums appearing in rear channels and other such amusical sound effects being added to the mix. While I do think that the multichannel experience can, at its very best, be an enhancement to listening, I am certainly enjoying what I hear from multichannel-ready software via good ol' stereo. And I don't worry about what I might be missing -- especially when what's before me suspends disbelief....Marc Mickelson

Some views of his own

April 11, 2003


For a while now I have been reading your reviews of equipment and have found them to be quite articulate, enjoyable, and educational. We both love two great things: music and the equipment used to re-create it. I am a reporter from Boston, lifelong audiophile, and member of the CT Audio Society (www.the-atom.com/cas). I can't help but be a little envious of your current reference system, although I might change a few things. But that's another story. I have often wondered about becoming a reviewer myself, and when I finally have a reference system in place, I may pursue it. I prefer tube amplifiers, vinyl and have Thiel speakers as references (your Wilson WATT/Puppy 7s are fantastic, and David Wilson's designs are among the very few speakers that can approach and perhaps supplant Thiel).

In your recent review of the Lamm ML 1.1s you are not the only reviewer to point out that Vladimir Lamm's designs do things that no others do. The same can be said for the best of all gear. What makes the high end so special is that each designer's vision is clearly played out in the final product. The best of the best certainly seek accuracy of signal and perhaps even neutrality. However "accuracy" and "neutrality" are relative terms.

I detest neutrality. Neutrality is taking a piece of music and turning it into a sterile listening experience -- a set of frequencies to be re-created via loudspeaker without any sense that the recording represents a life moment of the language of music. The Krells of the world may have incredible signal response, but the Goldberg Variations need to sound different than Back in Black and visa versa! That's something I love about this hobby. Tune your individual tastes and system selections to find the musical truths held within. These are different for everyone, but we all seem to want to share our "truth" with other audiophiles and compare notes. That's why I'm writing you.

Since we both love tubes, I'd thought I'd share with you my thoughts about another group of amplifiers that I feel are among the best and to get your viewpoint on the subject, especially in light of the fact that I have never heard Lamm before. I'm not afraid to hear Lamm, but I am skeptical in a healthy way about their presentation but greatly look forward to the opportunity to experience it. And even though a direct comparison would be "unfair," I'm interested in your comparative viewpoint.

VTL is the best modern day tube amp I have ever heard for the following reasons:

(1) They have speed in the treble and bass I never thought possible with a tube design.

(2) Bass is not an afterthought.

(3) They have a soul and presence in the midrange that isn't so much lush but a palpable sense of the ebb and flow of music (Audio Research, to my ears, cannot match this "soul." That's why I avoid ARC amplifiers, but I am greatly enamored of their phono stages and to a lesser extent preamps. The ARC Reference Two really surprised me with its musicality -- almost equals a Conrad-Johnson ART, but not quite.

(4) Their ability to hold their effortless "musicality" at very high power levels.

(5) They have a 3-D presentation that almost all solid-state amplifiers cannot approach.

(6) Most other tube amps either enhance or diminish a portion of the frequency spectrum at the expense of others (Cary Audio, to my ears, does this with midrange and to a lesser extent Audio Research, which can impart a certain leanness to my ears while still giving a more decent presentation than most solid state) while VTLs sound is nearly seamless, full and detailed at once.

(7) Their build quality is damn good. Contrary to earlier generations.

The most neutral amp on the market? Never. Accurate? Yes. And there is a difference between both of those concepts as I pointed out above. Many audiophiles also scoff at the notion that a larger company consisting of more than one person can build a good product. I don't need to say this to you, but many fellow audiophiles seem to forget that if it weren't for the Conrad-Johnsons and, yes, Audio Researches of the world, this tube hobby would be a lot different. And I still feel that the above two companies, with Lamm and VTL of course, set the standard by which equipment should be measured and subjectively reviewed.

I know you will take these comments seriously even if we disagree! And that's why it has been fun composing this letter. I wish you well and always look forward to your articles and comments.

Ian Gordon

Thanks for reading and taking the time to write such a considered letter. Much of what you say I discussed with Doug Schneider and Ross Mantle of Ultra Audio in Montreal while we were covering Son & Image 2003. Ross believes that an audio system's job is to restore the "voluptuousness" that is somehow lost in the recording process. I guess I'm more of a purist -- I want an accurate representation of the signal along with whatever brings about my listening pleasure. Ross and I are both tube guys, so maybe we are arguing for the same thing with different language.

I have not heard any VTL equipment in my system, but I have heard very good things about it from people whose ears I trust. Given your letter, I will have to contact VTL and see if we can't set up a review or two. I am very familiar with ARC and Conrad-Johnson, and I agree that audiophiles owe both companies a tip of the hat for their musical efforts. I don't know where the high-end industry would be without them, but I do think the achievement of companies like VTL and Lamm wouldn't be as recognized....Marc Mickelson

A question of balance

April 10, 2003

To Doug Schneider,

I have enjoyed reading your equipment reviews very much. Your perspective is insightful and self-critical enough to give the reader the sense that you are truly striving for objectivity. I am hoping you can provide me with some insights on an enigmatic sound-system attribute that I have encountered for the first time recently.

My best friend and I have devoted significant time and effort to our audiophile hobby. Our hearing has developed and been refined along with our sound systems over countless hours of critical-listening sessions.

Recent refinements to my friend's system have produced a quality of musical timbre that is so enchanting that it is almost disturbing. Previously I have always found it possible (with only a little effort) for me to focus my attention on any single instrument or voice in a recording to the exclusion of the others. Currently when listening to my friend's system reproduce the better jazz and classical recordings (on CD), I find the tonal qualities of all the (acoustic) instruments so enchanting that I am constantly losing focus on the instrument or voice that I am trying to follow. I find my mind is continuously distracted by the exquisite tone colors of the accompaniment, even when the soloist is brilliant.

I can still hear lots of flaws in his room acoustics, soundstage imaging and system frequency response, but I can't get over how hypnotic the tonal qualities of the acoustic instruments reproduced by his system have become.

Based on your extensive listening experience, has my friend achieved something unusual in sound reproduction, or has he simply achieved a characteristic that is typical of the better high-fidelity systems you have heard?

Best regards,

Cameron MacInnes

While I have not obviously heard your friend's system, I have a feeling what you're getting at. Fellow reviewer Ross Mantle over at Ultra Audio uses a phrase that goes something to the effect, "making the triangle sound perfect at the expense of the rest of the orchestra." What he means in terms of building an audio system is the trap of getting one aspect of performance absolutely right while many other aspects remain sub-par. I've heard systems with a great-sounding midrange, but terrible bass and highs. Other systems I've heard have had outstanding tonal balance, but absolutely no detail and no imaging ability. The trap that some people fall into with a system like this is that the lure of this one aspect of performance may be so great that they get effectively tricked into thinking they're nearing perfection; but, as with almost everything, we tire of individual things over time. I suspect that over time you will tire of the perfect tonal quality and notice the other flaws more readily. Once that happens, the system will require a drastic change. In system building, I believe the most important thing is "balance" -- creating a system that does many great things....Doug Schneider

Power cord for Audio Analogue Puccini SE

April 9, 2003


I always enjoy your reviews. I read that you have an Audio Analogue Puccini SE as the integrated amp in your "budget reference system." I also have one.

Can you recommend a reasonably priced (under $200) AC cord for it?

Ian Mackenzie

The best power cord I've used with my Puccini SE Remote is the Shunyata Diamondback, the cord I use with it now. It costs $175, I believe....Marc Mickelson

Review of universal A/V player

April 7, 2003


I see in your review of the Lamm ML1.1 amplifiers that you have the new Teac/Esoteric universal player as part of your equipment lineup. Like many audiophiles, I have been holding off on purchasing players with the higher resolution format until a good universal player came along. What is your projected date for a review ?

Michael Goldin

The projected publication date for the Esoteric DV-50 review is May 15....Marc Mickelson

The case for better music on SACD

April 5, 2003


As a listener of opera and classical music, I am always interested in new releases in the SACD and DVD-A formats. Despite five-plus years of hype and promotion, the catalogs for high-resolution formats are still all but barren, which is a mystery to me because recording companies have always invested much more in the production of classical and opera recordings with the knowledge that recording quality does not need any explanation to eager listeners like audiophiles. There are a slew of remastered performances (mostly from Sony) coming onto the market, but to what purpose other than to replicate what we already own in the Redbook format?

Unfortunately, finding a decent new recording of a performance on SACD or DVD-A worth adding to my collection still eludes me. Most everything that I have sampled in the classical category is so generic or downright dull in interpretive performance that the showcase of the recording format, not the music, seems to be the real goal. Ultimately, classical listeners like myself want to hear great performances of great music, not just great technology. DVD-A does stand a chance due to the omnipresence of the hardware with its multichannel technology. But until we install DVD players in our cars, a universal format like Redbook will likely hold on for quite awhile.

Until the major classical labels like Polygram, London, DG, BMG, Harmonia Mundi, et al. release in the new formats, SACD and DVD-A will remain a seductive novelty at best. Don't get me wrong -- I love the sound of SACD and DVD-A, though it is still a bit like offering Moet Champagne in a beer market.


Bruce Richardson

Have you heard the PentaTone and FIM classical releases I mention in my editorial: "The Case for SACD"? They may meet your requirements for performance and sound quality....Marc Mickelson

Son & Image 2003

April 2, 2003


Great show, eh?

I heard the Codell room as well. I wasn't as impressed with it as with some other rooms, though.

Expensive rooms:

(1) Tenor-Kharma: Gorgeous, powerful, everything.

(2) Blue Cow Audio: SAP Italian full-range high-efficiency speakers driven by Deja Vu 6Wpc amps, an Audio Note CDT-2 transport, M-8 preamp, and DAC 5 Signature. Choral music was incredibly well layered, complex and lovely (Bach Motets with the RIAS Kammerchor).

(3) Globe Audio Marketing: Quad Braun LE1s, Audio Aero Capitole amp, Capitole Mk II CD player, Capitole preamp.

(4) Lammhorn: Lampipe speakers, Tenor amps, and Audio Aero Capitole Mk II CD player.

(5) My Kind of Music: Orpheus Labs monoblocks, Wilson Benesch Discovery speakers, Audio Aero Capitole Mk II CD player, Wilson Benesch turntable, Foundation Research phono stage and preamp.

(6) GamuT/Gradient: GamuT CD1, C2R, and D200 driving Gradient Revolution speakers with GutWire cables. Stunning neutrality and extremely natural detail retrieval that let me hear deep into the polyphony of the Bach Motets, even in a large room open to a noisy hall. Very impressive equipment with a very interesting design philosophy.

Value rooms:

(1) Reflexion: Gala Solo speakers with Simaudio electronics.

(2) Divergent Technologies: Reference 3A De Capo i speakers with the Copland CDA-822 CD player and a new Copland integrated amp.

(3) Quad: 99-CDP CD player/DAC, 909 amp, 21L speakers.

(4) Fried: Studio Valhalla speakers and Muse electronics. Full-range sound, including transmission-line bass and midrange.

Chris Younkman


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