[SoundStage!]Archived Letters
September 2003


Lamm L2 Reference with remote control?

September 29, 2003


I have enjoyed reading your many reviews over the years, including your comments about the Lamm L2 Reference preamp, but I have one question for you. I own the Lamm ML2 amps and LP2 phono stage, but my current preamp, the Conrad-Johnson Premier 16, is a bit more etched and analytical than I would like. I have heard the Lamm L2 and loved it. Is there any other preamp out there that can come close to matching the L2's organic, effortless sound but comes with remote control?

Henry Sennett

You ask a very good question, but one that's tough for me to answer. I use the Lamm L2 Reference as my reference, so I have yet to hear a preamp that matches it, especially with Lamm amps. Vladimir Lamm doesn't believe in remote controls, calling them "bad for sound." However, there are a couple of remote-controlled tubed preamps that have me intrigued. The Conrad-Johnson ART Series 2 is a unit I would love to hear, but its run of 250 units may be sold out at this point. I also find the the VTL TL-7.5 very interesting; we may be reviewing it in the not-too-distant future. I can't say for sure if either will match the L2's "organic, effortless sound," but both are certainly all-out designs worthy of a serious audition by remote-control-loving potential L2 buyers....Marc Mickelson

In search of John Ötvös

September 26, 2003

To Doug Schneider,

It was kind of sad to read your factory tour feature on Waveform and realize that the company is no more. I visited a friend recently who owns Waveform speakers, and they are incredible. What is John Ötvös doing now? Do you know? Just wondering. Really enjoy your work.

Joe Franceski

I ran into John Ötvös, Waveform's owner, at this year's Son et Image show in Montreal -- he was helping his friend John Meyer of Newform Research. John seemed in very good spirits, was exceedingly proud of his past work with Waveform, and made special note that Waveform never went out of business -- he simply closed up shop. He hinted to me, though, that he might be back with some advanced speaker concepts that he'd been thinking about. Given the exceptional quality of what he's done in the past, these might be something to look forward to....Doug Schneider

Valhalla or Valkyrja?

September 25, 2003


You must field questions like mine constantly. I do not mean to intrude, but I will anyway because I need another voice who has experience. I'm driving myself nuts.

Firstly, I am proud of my system. My speakers are Merlin VSMs. The speaker cables are Cardas Golden Reference (because Bobby Palkovic told me that these are the cables he used to voice the speakers). My amps are Atma-Sphere M-60 Mk IIs with resistor and power-supply upgrades. Short of silver wire, I think that they, like the Merlin speakers, are an evolved and optimized design. I use a single source, a Wadia 860 CD player. I plan to send the Wadia to Steve Huntley of Great Northern Sound, but just as I decide that it should be done, I hear something that says wait for SACD to mature.

Anyway, all of this is prologue to my question. I use two RCA interconnects -- one from the Wadia to Merlin's BAM and another from the BAM to the M60 Mk IIs. Currently I have Quattro Fil, and my choice is whether to move up to Valhalla.

My system seemed lean to me. I was ready to pull the trigger, but before making the cable change, I decided that the Richard Gray's Power Company 400S in my system was the weakest link. Believing that power conditioning is necessary, I sold the RGPC and ordered a unit from Balanced Power Technologies, the BP-2 Max (with Auric caps, silver wire, Bybee filters, HC filter, and stealth cloth). Right now I am in between the sold 400S and the new BP-2 and to my surprise the system sings better than ever. I think my instinct about the 400S was correct. It did limit me. All of that written, would you expect that an interconnect change would add weight or mass to the sound?

You know Nordost cables, and I've read your Valkyrja review. I have found a trade for my Quattro Fil where I can replace both cables with Valhalla (used) for less than what I think it would cost to upgrade to Valkyrja new. Another choice that I am considering is dealing with The Cable Company and auditioning several great cables: Synergistic Research, Siltech, Nirvana, and maybe Purist Audio. Even if I've found them at times lean, I love the detail of the Quattro Fil. Am I right that the Valhalla is everything that drew me to Nordost and extra weight? Am I nuts?

I realize that reviews are subjective and that equipment choices are subjective. But what is your opinion?

Chris Mathes

As I indicated in my Valkyrja review, I haven't heard Nordost Valhalla, so I can't comment on whether or not it will suit you. If you're looking for greater body, I would give Cardas Golden Reference interconnects a try -- a switch of brand may get you closer to the sound you're after than another cable from Nordost. On the other hand, you have some very good equipment, and Nordost cables will excel at getting the most from it because they are so transparent. I'm not sure what I would do in your shoes, not having heard any of the cables you mention. If you can get Valhalla cheap and won't lose money if it doesn't work out and you have to resell, perhaps it's the way to go.

Also, we'll be publishing a second review on our Ultra Audio site that compares Valkyrja to Valhalla. It should appear next month....Marc Mickelson

Alexandria X-2

September 24, 2003

To Jeff Fritz,

I enjoyed your write-up of your visit to the Wilson Audio facilities. I hope you now upgrade to the Alexandrias! I'm excited to read your review. I can afford them (and matching high-quality amplifier(s) -- Mark Levinson No.33s?), but I don't have the space for them, as I live in a nice apartment building on Manhattan's Upper East Side. Someday I'd like to have a house with a dedicated listening room -- then look out! Things sometimes are a compromise when you have a wife and child.

Peter Kuntz

You'll see another article -- not quite a formal review -- on the Alexandria X-2s sometime in early 2004. The article, which will appear on Ultra Audio, will be a detailed account of the setup in my home. Also on hand will be the Australian firm Halcro along with Shunyata Research. Stay tuned for some big fun!...Jeff Fritz

Polk or Axiom?

September 23, 2003

To Doug Schneider,

Let me start out by saying that I enjoy your reviews and respect what you have to say. Now to the nitty-gritty. I am currently looking to buy a pair of speakers for a stereo-only setup. I know that you have reviewed the Polk LSi9s and the Axiom M3Tis. I am looking for a speaker that has good depth, is clear in the mids and highs, and has good imaging. Bass is not an issue. Would you recommend one over the other, and if so could you maybe drop me a line? I would greatly appreciate it if you could. Keep the great reviews coming.

John Michael Basham

Despite being bookshelf-type speakers, the Polk Audio LSi9 and Axiom Audio M3Ti are quite different speakers -- particularly when it comes to price. The list price of the Polk is a hair over $1000; the Axiom is under $300 -- a huge difference. Therefore, we're not really comparing apples to apples at all. The M3Ti is the killer budget-priced speaker -- with great clarity in the midrange and highs, and quite good imaging. Where the M3Ti falls back is its lack of bass, and it can't play all that loud. The LSi9, on the other hand, also has good clarity throughout, but it sounds different than the M3Ti. It's punchier, can go a wee bit deeper in the bass (but not all that much), and it has a more liquid sound, mainly in the mids, where the little Axiom has a certain "crispness" by comparison. In addition, the LSi9 is built a whole lot better, exhibiting a well-braced cabinet and real-wood side panels -- but then again, at more than three-times the price, you should expect things like that. So, in the end, both come highly recommended, but for different reasons. The final judge will be you....Doug Schneider

No. 432 versus No.434

September 22, 2003


Again, another very encouraging review of the Mark Levinson No.434 monoblocks on your website. At only 125W, I'm amazed to find they drove the Revel Studios with such aplomb.

Your findings leave me perplexed, however, in my own pursuit of a solid-state amp for Wilson WATT/Puppy 7s. I had considered the No.432 at 400Wpc, but without the No.434s to compare to, it's a hard call. I've heard the No.432 driving Studios direct through a No.390S (balanced), as you tested yourself, and was impressed. I do wonder, though, whether a one-box stereo amp could really deliver like two smaller monoblocks when the going gets tough.

There's no press at all on the No.432 (let alone comparative), but a little scuttlebutt on Internet chat sites suggests that the No.432 could be better. Whilst the W/P 7s are a sensitive load and easily driveable, there's no doubt from my listening experiences that they relish high-wattage red-blooded solid-state power to make them rumble with the most dynamic of rock pieces -- an experience I savor frequently. As you point out, they also excel with low-power tube amps.

The only difference on paper for both options is that the No.434s double their rated power all the way down to 2 ohms whilst the No.432 only doubles its rated power to 4 ohms (being "stable" into 2 ohms). I know from published tests that the W/P 7s do dip into 2-3 ohm territory. On paper, it's a hard pick to make.

Do you have any experience on the No.432 and whether, despite it's higher power output, it could match the No.434s you so favorably reviewed?

By the way, SoundStage! is the most comprehensive, most current, well-indexed, well-archived, and easily navigable website for audio nuts out there -- bar none! Stereophile and TAS are invariably out of date, with the latter opting to farm out some of their reviews to "avguide." The UK mags (Hi-Fi Choice, HiFi+) are equally as disappointing.

I have become a SoundStage! junkie! Well done.

Graham Wheeler

You ask a tough question for me to answer because while I have obviously heard the No.434 monoblocks, I haven't heard the No.432 stereo amp. Knowing what I do about Mark Levinson amps, I would be very surprised if the No.432 sounded much different from what I heard with the No.434s -- stereo circuitry or not. Mark Levinson amps generally use the same or very similar circuitry and parts -- "these new amplifiers [No.431, No.432, and No.433] incorporate the same attention to detail and technical design elements as our other Mark Levinson amplifiers" is what is on the Mark Levinson website -- with the differences coming in terms of power (125W each for the No.434s and 400Wpc for the No.432). In the No.432, you might have an amp that costs less than a pair of No.434s ($8000 vs. $8800) but offers more power and sounds very similar -- or just the same....Marc Mickelson

Energy C-5?

September 18, 2003

To Doug Schneider,

I really enjoyed your review of the Energy C-3. I know that the C-3 and C-9 got really good reviews.

What is your take on the C-5? It's $300 CDN more per pair than the C-3. Is it worth the jump in price or is the C-3 still a better deal?

Jon Ledezma

I'm a big fan of Energy's Connoisseur-series speakers, of which all of the speakers you mention are a part. In terms of value, I've found that the lower-priced models in the lineup give the best bang for the buck. Essentially, they give you very similar performance to the top speakers, but usually just don't go as low or play as loud. That makes the C-3, for example, a steal -- and why we didn't just give it a Reviewers' Choice nod, we gave it the 2002 Budget Leader end-of-the-year award, too.

However, that's not to say the higher-priced speakers aren't worth the cost. If you want more bass and the ability to play louder, listen to the C-5. In fact, there is one more thing to consider: The C-5 is a floorstander, while the C-3 needs stands, increasing the overall cost of the speaker....Doug Schneider

Wilson Audio speakers in Italy

September 17, 2003


I avidly read your WATT/Puppy 7 review on SoundStage! being that I'm in search of a replacement for my old MartinLogan SL-3 speakers. I focused on small systems with good voicing. I must admit that until a few days ago I didn't know much about Wilson speakers, but after all of my readings on the Internet I surely know more now.

My equipment is an Audio Research CD-3 CD player, SP-16 preamp, VT-100 Mk II amp, and J.A. Michell Orbe SE turntable with SME V tonearm and Benz Ruby 2 cartridge. My phono stage is a Clearaudio Reference.

I went to my local audio shop (I live in Milan, Italy) and they had both WATT/Puppy 7 and Sophia ready to operate, associated with a full Mark Levinson setup (No.390S, No.380S, No.334). I brought my selection of well-known CDs and started my listening session.

I must admit that I am very confused. At first the Sophias sounded easier to my ears, well balanced, good bass response, not as airy as WATT/Puppy 7 but well detailed. In comparison, the WATT/Puppy 7 sounded very dry, too much on the highs -- with guitars it was like a stiletto's hit with almost every note -- without quantity on the bass. I was shocked.

Continuing the listening session, I began to think that the Sophia was a fussy system, pleasing the listener although at the price of some confusion in the sound mass. The WATT/Puppy 7 sounded good only with very well-recorded CDs, but with a lot of presence on the bass side, analytical and dry -- very dry.

In the end I'm not sure if either is the speaker system I want. Yes, they are well built, they image very well, and their soundstage is wide, but there's no real life.

Can you give me your opinion ? Maybe the associated equipment was not the best, or maybe the setup was not correctly made (I don't know anything about that -- the speakers were already placed in the listening room, with the WATT/Puppy 7 on the outside and the Sophias inside). Maybe with my ARC amp they'll show signs of life.

Marco Manieri

Both of the Wilson speakers you mention are neutral enough that they will convey what's fed them upstream. Not all speakers will do this to the same degree. With my Lamm equipment, the Wilson speakers were anything but dry-sounding, but different electronics and rooms/setups make for different sound, and no speaker will please everyone anyway.

If what you heard was too dry for your tastes but the Wilson speakers do interest you, I would recommend taking your amp at the very least to the dealer and use it with the speakers there. People have told me that the ARC VT100 is a great match for the WATT/Puppy 7 especially....Marc Mickelson

Simaudio i-3 break-in

September 15, 2003

To Doug Schneider,

Great review of the Simaudio i-3. It made me just want to go out and buy one -- and I did! During the break-in period, what were your observations? Did the sound change drastically during or after? Was it progressively better, or did the sound only come into its own after the unit had been burned in? The manual states six weeks of burn-in, which is rather long. I thought the i-3 sounded musical out of the box, but a little bass heavy, grainy and slow. But the overall presentation was very right -- vocals and everything else. Yesterday, I detected the sound changing to being more open and bright, and with some recordings too bright. This is the third piece of audio equipment I've bought in a year, and each of them was reviewed by SoundStage!.

Cheers and keep up the great work!

Alvin Kwan

The unit I received for review was already broken in, so I didn't need to do any of that. However, Simaudio's Lionel Goodfield did stress to me the importance of warming the i-3 up, which I did. Before warm-up, the i-3 could sound a little sterile and, well, cold. After it was warmed up, though, it sounded more robust and cleaner. Don't blame the i-3 for being too bright. I found it to be very neutral with a wide variety of speakers. Most likely, it's now showing another component in your system, like your speakers perhaps, to be brighter than you originally thought....Doug Schneider

Hearing damage?

September 12, 2003

To Alison Aulph,

I appreciate your column on loudness ["Getting Technical", September]. I have an SPL meter. I enjoy the music from my audio system up to about 100dB. Any louder seems to cross a threshold. Do you think this is a safe level for long-term (two hours) listening? How loud is safe for two hours?

Bruce McFarland

I am neither a medical doctor nor a hearing specialist and suggest that you consult one for a definite answer. There are many factors that occur with hearing loss -- age, medications -- and a medical professional would be able to best recommend to you safe sound levels. However, literature suggests that hearing damage may occur after two hours at 100 dB, and eight hours at 90dB....Alison Aulph

Preamp for ARC amp

September 11, 2003


I have an Audio Research 100.2 amp [mentioned in review of Mark Levinson No.434 amps], which I am using with Vandersteen speakers. I currently am using a Minimax preamp with some NOS tubes from Sylvania, RCA, Tungscram with the 100.2. I am curious as to any recommendation you might have as to a preamp that you like with the ARC amp, especially any solid-state models you may have tried. My dealer recommended the Minimax over the SP-16 and LS-25 from ARC. I am not sure if there are any other balanced tube models out there.

Joe Mudry

The 100.2 is a very fine amp, and it's worthwhile to run it balanced as it's a fully balanced design. I would first recommend a preamp from ARC, but BAT also makes some very nice balanced preamps. We recently reviewed the Marsh MSD-P2000b, which has balanced inputs and outputs. We named it a Reviewers' Choice as well....Marc Mickelson

Ruark or B&W or...?

September 10, 2003

To Doug Schneider,

I just finished reading your review of the Ruark Acoustics CL10 speaker. Very enjoyable, informative, and helpful. I am at some loss, though, as I do not hear much in the USA of the Ruark brand and its level of quality. Another writer wrote highly of the Ruark brand used in a home-theater application (B&W was second, barely, to the Ruark setup). These were the only two reviews I have read (found).

Would you please inform me of the quality of Ruark as compared to B&W? I have listened to the B&W line, and I am very impressed. I do not like "in your face loud" and believe the B&W is more to my liking. Your article leads me to believe that Ruark may be similar. Is Ruark's quality above or below B&W's? I am looking for a 50/50 music/home-theater 5.1 setup. I went to the Ruark website and could not find the CL10 or CL line.


I had to dig a little bit through Ruark's website to find the CL series -- www.ruark.net -- but there was a reason. According to the information on the site, the CL series, which the CL10 is part of, is being phased out. Ruark says, though, that the "products will continue to be available for a period." Who knows what that period will be. Strangely, though, the CL300 subwoofer will remain unaffected by this and presumably will continue to be made and sold for some time.

As to your question about quality, B&W has a much larger lineup of speakers -- from much less expensive than the CL10 to much more expensive. However, the Ruark speakers that I've seen, including the CL10, that sell for about the same as comparably priced B&W speakers seemed to be of about the same quality. They sound different, though, and that then becomes more a point of preference than which speaker is better. My recommendation would be to not only try to audition both, but listen to more speakers -- you're looking at speakers that cost a fair bit and there are, quite literally, hundreds of competing products....Doug Schneider

Amphion argon2 advice

September 8, 2003

To Doug Schneider,

I enjoyed your review of the Amphion argon2 speakers and would like your advice. I am going to downgrade my system, and I am considering the argon2 as a replacement for my Dynaudio Contour 1.3 SE speakers. I hope you have heard the Dynaudios at some point, because I wanted to know if this swap would be mean a serious degradation in sound or if you think it would just be marginal. I do not know of a retailer in the Denver area that carries the Amphion line, so I cannot compare them to my Dynaudios directly. Any input would be helpful.

Joel Senger

I'm not familiar enough with the 1.3 SE speakers enough to make any meaningful comparison. However, I am familiar enough with Amphion's argon2 to tell you this the argon2 is quite a spectacular two-way speaker, regardless of price. In fact, I believe more strongly than ever that people should forget about price altogether when they buy (within budget constraints, that is) and purchase based simply on sound quality. I've heard a good number of speakers priced less than $2000, $1000, and even $500 per pair that can put to shame speakers costing much more....Doug Schneider

Esoteric DV-50 as a CD player

September 5, 2003


I just read your informative review of the Esoteric DV-50 universal player. I wanted to inquire if the DV-50 sonically competes with CD players such as the Electrocompaniet EMC, Audio Aero Capitole, Audiomeca Mephisto II X, and Mark Levinson No. 390S. I would greatly appreciate your thoughts.

I am intrigued about playing all formats, but the main object of my desire is good two-channel CD sound.

Dennis Wong

Of the players you mention, I have reviewed the Mark Levinson No.390S and have heard the original Audio Aero Capitole. The DV-50 does compete with both of these as a CD player, sounding more easy on the ears than the No.390S and more incisive and lighter than the Capitole. Of course, the DV-50 is also a wonderful SACD and DVD-A player. As I point out in my review, the DV-50 "can be the centerpiece of a multichannel audio/video system as well as a source component for a two-channel rig." Given its sound, functionality and build quality, its a bargain of sorts, even at its $5500 price....Marc Mickelson


[SoundStage!]All Contents
Copyright © SoundStage!
All Rights Reserved