[SoundStage!]Archived Letters
May 2003


Lacking time alignment and bass management

May 29, 2003


I was wondering what your opinion(s) were regarding the common limitation of SACD players that they don't support time alignment and DVD-A players that don't support bass management. This includes the recent releases like the Esoteric DV-50 you have reviewed and the Lexicon RT-10.

In my opinion, lack of time alignment is a significant flaw. I have yet to see a home-theater (whether dedicated or not) that has all speakers equidistant from the listener. I know from experience that even a minor mismatch in time alignment can ruin the integration of the soundfield, and Canadian research from two decades ago showed that a mismatch on the order of microseconds (not milliseconds) can affect the sound quality.

I also think lack of bass management for DVD-A is a problem, though not as serious as time alignment. Many home theaters where DVD-A players are going to be used have speakers that are not full range. An audiophile who is purchasing a high-end player is more likely to have full-range speakers, but that is only a small segment of the market. Personally, I can live without bass management given time alignment. I can't imagine spending more than a couple of hundred dollars on a universal or SACD player without time alignment. This leads me to my main question: How can a high-end manufacturer justify building a flawed product that costs thousands of dollars which will only be able to be used by a handful of potential customers?

Both time alignment and bass management are well-known issues. Solutions have been provided for other multichannel formats. Manufacturers need to be pressured to solve these problems for SACD and DVD-A. Speaking as a software and mathematics expert, I can say that this is not a complex problem to solve. The complexities of building a DVD-A or SACD player are far higher than solving these problems.

I would like to see publications like yours highlighting these problems and pressuring manufacturers to solve them. I believe that your review of the DV-50 was too glowing in light of the machine having these problems and I think you should have highlighted the problems much more in the review, rather than leaving it as a "by the way" comment in a sidebar.

Yes, I am aware that Sony have announced (and possibly delivered) one SACD player they claim provides time alignment. This is welcome, but I still strongly question the value of high-end machines without this ability.

Then once you've solved this you can solve the digital connection issue for SACD and DVD-A!

Richard Thomas

Regarding the DV-50's lack of bass management and time alignment, SoundStage! is a primarily two-channel publication, and in the context of stereo listening, which is how I reviewed the player, neither bass management nor time alignment is an issue. However, to make the review somewhat complete, we did want include a few words on using the player in a multichannel setup, which is what's covered in the sidebar.

Your points are very valid, however. If this player will be used as the centerpiece of an audio/video system, its owner will run into some setup problems. Bass management can be added by use of the Outlaw Audio ICBM, but while some A/V receivers can adjust time alignment, not all can....Marc Mickelson

The state of high-rez digital

May 28, 2003


Regarding your last two editorials on high-rez recordings, as a long-term audiophile critical of standard Red Book CD and as a reckless consumer, I have watched the recent SACD vs. DVD-A battle with a mixture of excitement, repulsion, and boredom. I don t know what is more disturbing, the fact that real quality sound for the average consumer can now be had for a pittance or that the average consumer doesn't even seem to be aware of the dispute. Your last two editorials have sparked me to finally speak out and throw my hat fully in the SACD camp -- a position I think SoundStage! should advocate a bit more strenuously.

More specifically, while the two editorials summed up the current high-rez status quite well, you should have been more critical of the DVD-A camp. Ignoring for the moment the poor marketing, ergonomics, and surround-sound issues, the bottom line for your readers is that DVD-A simply does not sound as good as SACD. Stated otherwise, while good DVD-A titles offer increased detail, a better low end and improved transparency, the discs that I have heard do not tame the last bit of irritating artificiality still lingering 20 years after the advent of digital sound. Let's call it the edge.

This edge most usually reveals itself in the upper midrange when sound-pressure levels increase on a certain track. Accordingly, with stereo DVD-A (like Red Book) the listener (consciously or not) remains exposed to a smack of glare just at the point when the music should either move, transport, or allow one to completely relax. In fact, I'll coin a new phrase and take full credit for this annoying byproduct -- call it the digital alarm clock. DVD-A may put the edge on snooze sometimes, but it still hits you just when you get back to the comfort zone.

I am incapable of discussing the engineering or technical merits of DSD vs. DVD-A/MLP. But I can say with some confidence, however, that even if DSD is technically inferior, SACD --like any basic analog rig -- will allow you relax and wallow in the music. And isn't this what all this nonsense is about?

A tired, shopworn and very Stereophile-like cliché best sums up this situation. My wife, who has great ears among other assets, is not a Creedence Clearwater Revival fan. However, recently while I was enjoying the new SACD of Willie and the Poorboys, she came into the room and remarked, "Wow that's much better than the usual Creedence #$#%# ." And I think that says it all.

Doug Milch

We at SoundStage! will be reviewing more SACDs and the hardware on which to play them. However, while the average SACD may sound better than the average DVD-A, I have heard a few DVD-As that rival the best-sounding SACDs, so absolutes are not so absolute when it comes to high-resolution digital....Marc Mickelson

Axiom agreement

May 27, 2003

To Doug Schneider,

I have read your articles over the years, and based on your recommendations, I have purchased a lot of audio products. After some hesitation, I did   purchase some Axiom speakers, and for the money they are "killer" speakers!

Thank you for your valuable insight!

Tim Zdrale

Tripath amps?

May 24, 2003


Nice review of the Bel Canto eVo amp from awhile ago. What other companies are currently offering Tripath amps right now?

FYI, we built some Tripath amps here at San Diego State, and they all sound wonderful. We've used five different Tripath chipsets. It seems the chip itself is the prime source of wonderful sound. I have a little 10Wpc amp parked on a piece of MDF, driving an NHT passive and a pair of Axiom M40ti speakers (themselves wonderful speakers). It sounds very high end, very much like a low-power tube unit. Except for lack of audiophile cosmetics, this little project amp really does a great job.

Thanks for any input and keep up the good work!

Angela Dando

Two companies whose products I believe use the Tripath chipset are Audio Research and Rowland. I also remember that Onkyo used it for an all-in-one home-theater receiver/DVD player. I'm sure there are others too -- although there is no mention on the Tripath website. Of course, Bel Canto's new amps use Tripath chips.

It sounds like you have a nice system there in sunny San Diego!...Marc Mickelson

Retubing story

May 22, 2003


I had written you a year or so ago regarding the Transparent cables I had used with my home system. At the time I had purchased Transparent Reference XL interconnects for my system, which consists of Kharma Ceramique 1.0 speakers, Audio Research VTM-200 amps, Audio Research Reference II Mk II preamp, and Jadis JD-1/JS-1 front end. The interconnects were a huge improvement, so I purchased the Transparent speaker cables. But I was pretty disappointed with the speaker cables, so I put my Kharma cables back in as they were richer and more musical.

So a year went by, and I noticed it was time to retube my amps, as the bias was changing in shorter intervals. So retubing was a terrific change. I thought to try the Transparent Reference XL cables again (at the time I was trying to sell them on Audiogon). Wow, what a difference! They transformed the way the system performed -- cleaner, clearer, tighter bass, you name it. Everything was better, and acoustic performances were very warm.

Anyway I thought you might like to hear about it and remind readers to retube more often. By the way, I ordered the tubes from the Internet for about one-quarter of what ARC wanted.

Will Watson

Esoteric DV-50 available in the US?

May 21, 2003


I enjoyed, as usual, your review of the Esoteric DV-50. Do you happen to know if there is a legend or sticker on the rear that indicates the voltage? I'm sleuthing around here in the US and can only find 100Hz (probably Japanese gray-market) DV-50s for sale.

I'm not encouraged by my e-mails to Teac USA that we'll be seeing a North American Esoteric DV-50 for sale here soon, and I'm curious if the review unit was supplied with the proper voltage -- or if that even matters.

Great review. I'm seduced enough by your prose to buy the DV-50 sight unseen (or should that be sound unheard?), but I am held back by that sticky voltage problem. Do you have any thoughts or knowledge on the subject, having reviewed so many Japanese items not typically seen in the US (e.g., the incredible Zanden Model 5000 Mk III DAC, which has never yet been sighted here on the East Coast)? Perhaps you've been happily listening to Japanese versions with nary an electrical hiccup.

John Kelly


Do you know if your DV-50 review unit was made for the US? I am buying a Japanese one, and I am told it will run fine at 120Hz. This issue leaves me a bit suspicious though. I also know it is region-less for DVD. Do you have any indication that your unit was different from a Japanese unit?

Adam Kimball

I have been deluged with e-mail about the Esoteric DV-50 and its availability, so hopefully I'll clear up some of the confusion here.

First, the DV-50 I reviewed was a European model (with the TEAC name on the front but Esoteric serial-number plate on the rear) and not the Esoteric-badged unit that will be sold in the US. I didn't mention this because TEAC USA indicated that they would have units for sale by now. The unit I have is marked 120V 50-60Hz, and I've had no problems with it.

Regarding availability, I contacted TEAC USA and was told that they are now getting their first production units in from Japan. These are now beginning to ship to dealers this week. Initially TEAC USA is only planning to have a few dozen Esoteric dealers around the country, so distribution will be limited. TEAC USA is working on the Esoteric area of its website, and this should be completed the first week in June. This area will include an Esoteric dealer locator.

I hope this helps!...Marc Mickelson

"Amazing" cable review

May 19, 2003


Do you really, I mean honestly, believe that you can say you hear differences in cables? I have these [MIT Oracle v2.1] cables because they look very impressive. However, I would never claim that they do anything other than carry a signal. Do MIT and other companies give you some sort of remuneration? I am sure you are aware of the famous DBT with the straightened-out coat hanger as a speaker cable. It is just amazing to see words describing sonic qualities of cables. Amazing.

Thomas Williamson

I do hear differences among cables, and I'm not alone. However, the differences are not nearly as profound as with speakers, for instance, but in describing them, I still have to talk in terms used for speakers -- it's all about sound. I suspect that if I were to take two very different-sounding cables (MIT and Nordost, for instance) and subject you to a blind test, you would hear differences too, although only if your mind is open to the possibility, which it may not be. Hey, I don't discern great differences among various Merlots, but I'm open to the idea that they're there.

And as for your suggestion that I'm being paid off to write what I do, this is such an easy accusation to make that I won't even justify it with an answer. But here's a question for you: How much money is your reputation worth?...Marc Mickelson

Esoteric DV-50 or...?

May 18, 2003


Thanks for this review [of the Esoteric DV-50]. I've eagerly awaited for this for the last couple of months. Unfortunately, I'm left with a few difficult questions for you.

(1) If you had to choose between the Mark Levinson No.390S and the DV-50 for CD playback, which would you choose? Your review suggests that the DV-50 is a bit smoother, more relaxed than the Levinson, but not necessarily better.

(2) If you had to choose between a Sony SCD-1 and the DV-50 for SACD, which would you choose?

Your review is a strong recommendation for this player. It sounds like a great component. But it does have the problems of a first generation player: no bass management, no time alignment, and no digital output for SACD/DVD-A. (I recognize that for the latter I may have to wait for much longer for an industry standard to emerge, so maybe this is not a valid criticism.)

Your point that this machine costs roughly $2500 less than the Linn UNIDISK 1.1 and Bel Canto players that are still not available is strong. However, I'm still quite tempted to just buy a Philips DVD-963SA (which does not play DVD-A) and just tough out another year for second-generation players. Am I correct to say that your view is that this player is good enough to justify the risk of regret from not having the players that will be coming out over the next six months?

Many thanks for the review and your help!

Ray Farris

Some good, but tough, questions here. Given my choice among the Levinson No.390S, Sony SCD-1 (which I have only a little experience with), and the Esoteric DV-50, I would choose the DV-50 without flinching. It plays everything the other two do, and in a way I enjoy as much or more. As for it being a first-generation player, SACD and DVD-A players have been out for some time, so while the DV-50 is the first Esoteric universal player, the high-rez formats that it plays are not new. Also keep in mind that the Esoteric brand name has been synonymous with cutting-edge digital playback for many years.

We hope to get the Linn UNIDISK 1.1 and Bel Canto players in for review at some point. I don't see the Esoteric as a risk at all -- I'm using it as my reference, and so is Jeff Fritz.

Also, the UNIDISK 1.1 costs $11,000. Here's a link to our news story....Marc Mickelson

Which pin is hot for the Esoteric DV-50?

May 16, 2003


First, thanks for the review of the Esoteric DV-50. I appreciate it. I have a DV-50 on the way, which brings me to my question. For the balanced outputs, does TEAC say which pin is hot? I know the Japanese usually have pin 3 hot (e.g., Stax). Do you remember if your normal balanced cables were OK with the DV-50?

Adam Kimball

This is covered in the DV-50's very comprehensive manual. Pin 2 is hot....Marc Mickelson

Solid state or tubes with WATT/Puppy 7?

May 12, 2003


I own a pair of Wilson WATT/Puppy 7 speakers. My system includes following: Mark Levinson No.335 amp, Conrad-Johnson 16LS preamp, Mark Levinson No.360S DAC, Mark Levinson No.37 transport, and Siletch cables. I'm looking into possibly switching to monoblock amps. Would you go with solid state or tubes with this speaker? Any recommendations?

Vito Racanelli

I am a tube guy, so I always recommend tubes over solid state, while others will do the exact opposite. Given that you have a solid-state amp now, perhaps you can go part of the way and investigate Lamm's M1.1 hybrid amps. I've found some real synergy (to my ears) between Lamm and Wilson Audio. Lamm also makes two different tube amps, the ML1.1 and ML2, that sound wonderful with the WATT/Puppy 7s. I've also heard good things about various VTL amps, the Audio Research Reference 300s, and Atma-Sphere's MA-2 monoblocks. I've heard the Tenor Audio OTL amps with the Wilsons and enjoyed the combo greatly....Marc Mickelson

"A beaver leaning proudly against a vinyl-veneer-clad two-way speaker..."

May 10, 2003

To Doug Schneider,

The first paragraph of your Von Schweikert Audio VR-1 review completely cracked me up. I had recently read a list of "politically correct oxymorons," and one was "Canadian Nationalism." Your analogy reminded me of that.

The review was very well written. I concur, and I own a pair of the speaker, which suit these ears fantastically used with a Carver Pro ZR1000 class-T amp, Blue Circle preamp, and Toshiba DV9200 source. Actually, thoroughly run-in, the little VR-1 has big balls and does really well with full-scale orchestra. It also rocked hard with the new DVD-A of Yes's Fragile.

Dan Mason

How about reviews of...?

May 9, 2003


As always, best reviews on the Web!

Do you have a review planned of the Simaudio i-3 integrated amp? How about the Meadowlark Kestrel2 or Swift speakers?

Don Cooper


I've noticed that you've not reviewed any MartinLogan products. I am interested in their home-theater offerings, including the Descent subwoofer. Also, the new Aerial 20T looks like an interesting speaker to review.

Troy A. Richards

We have the Simaudio i-3 in for review, and I wrote Meadowlark this week about reviewing one of their new speakers. And we've been in contact with both MartinLogan and Aerial Acoustics numerous times and have not yet received any review products. We will keep trying, however....Marc Mickelson

Saying thanks

May 8, 2003


I am taking the opportunity to thank John Crossett and SoundStage! for reviewing our record I'm Crazy 'Bout My Baby by The Tom Loncaric Orchestra [in "The Vinyl Word," May 2003]. It is not easy to get music reviewed when you are not part of a big corporation. But John, upon my initial contact with him through the posting of his review, was always honest, straightforward, and encouraging. For those of you who might be interested in purchasing the record, you may order from either redtrumpet.com or directly from us by visiting our website, www.tomloncaric.com.

In today's musical environment, I believe it is very important that music comes from many sources, not just the huge conglomerates. Again, I thank SoundStage! and John Crossett for contributing to that sentiment.


Andrew Conlin

Finally heard the WATT/Puppy 7s

May 6, 2003


I finally got to hear the Wilson Audio WATT/Puppy 7 speakers with my wife and a buddy. Extended listening sessions over two days made us realize what a good speaker this is. It offers imaging and dynamics in spades coupled with a neutral demeanor that really made fans out of us. And resolution was top notch -- it was possible to hear differences between CD players easily. We also heard the Sophia, which for almost half the money is a very good deal. This all really made us a fan of yours as well. I have respected your ears for a while, and this experience just consolidated that view.

We first heard the WATT/Puppy 7s with a BAT stereo amplifier (as my friend owns VTLs). Later in the auditioning we switched to Spectral amplification. The essential qualities remained, but the magic pretty much disappeared. The speakers sounded very much like my speakers at that point. The heightened sense of space and resolution was reduced significantly.

My question to you is this: I know that you use Lamm electronics with the WATT/Puppy 7s, and I am sure it all sounds great. What is your experience with the WATT/Puppy 7s and solid-state versus tube amps, especially in the areas of transparency, soundstaging, high-frequency extension and getting the sense of "thereness" right?

My friend ended up buying the speakers, and the first listen is scheduled at his place soon. I can't wait to hear them with his big VTLs. FYI, I own Waveform Mach 17 speakers.

Vivin Oberoi

Of course, you don't have to convince me of the WATT/Puppy 7s' charms. In terms of amplification, I'm a tube guy, and the various tube amps I've had here have mated very well with the speakers, to the point that I would recommend tubes before solid state. However, some listeners prefer the greater power and low-end control of solid-state amplification. In either case, if you find an amp you really like (and it offers sufficient power), I can't imagine it won't sound really good with the WATT/Puppy 7s. You certainly will find out what it sounds like when paired with this speaker....Marc Mickelson

VR-2 review?

May 5, 2003

To Doug Schneider,

Nice review of the Von Schweikert VR-1s. I've auditioned them several times and concur that they are very, very good speakers for the money. I did not, however, hear the splash and tinge that you mentioned. Perhaps the associated electronics solved this. I have found them to work excellently with Naim gear.

Anyway, I am considering purchasing the VR-2s. Have you heard them, and do you have any plans to review in the future?

Steve McAuley

I have only seen the VR-2 on the Von Schweikert Audio website. We have talked with the company a number of times, and they are going to be sending more products for review. However, right now the VR-2 is not on the list. I agree, though, that it looks like an interesting speaker....Doug Schneider

Von Schweikert Audio VR-1 review

May 3, 2003

To Doug Schneider,

I wanted to let you know that I thought your review of the Von Schweikert Audio VR-1 was excellent. In particular, the manner in which you discussed the special "design features" of the product was appropriate (far too many reviewers merely "parrot" the manufacturer without stating that these are the claims of the manufacturer and thus, in essence, validate the terminology/claims). Yet, you still were able to give an excellent appraisal of the sound and the positive attributes of the speaker. Kudos.

Shayne Tenace
Fried Products

No RC for No.390S

May 2, 2003


Why wasn't the Mark Levinson No.390S CD player named a Reviewers' Choice?

James Smith

A very good question, one that I pondered while I wrote the review. Reviewers' Choice components are recognized either for performing far beyond their price or offering state-of-the-art performance regardless of price. On the one hand, the No.390S plays only CDs, so I can't say that it offers outstanding value (although its built-in volume control is a wonderful feature). On the other hand, I found that while its sound is terrific, the Zanden Model 5000 Mk III DAC sounds even better, albeit with some sonic tradeoffs. The No.390S is unique in that it addresses both Reviewers' Choice criteria to some extent, but it doesn't quite succeed fully with either (although it may have in the CD-only days of yore). It's still one heck of a CD player....Marc Mickelson


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