[SoundStage!]Archived Letters
October 2003


Center-channel placement and balance

October 31, 2003

To Jeff Fritz,

I've heard that it's good to avoid putting the front left/right speakers farther back than the center-channel in a multichannel music system. It was impossible for me to avoid that, so I adjusted the front left/right speakers to make them slightly louder than the center. The sound quality is OK, but did I solve the problem? Is there a higher quality that I'm missing?

Michael Conner

I'd imagine that if your center-channel speaker is placed forward of your mains, and you've compensated for that by reducing the output of the center channel, you are close to being level balanced -- you'll need a sound-pressure-level meter to determine that exactly. You'll also need to adjust the delay times for the center in relation to the mains. If this is not correctly set there will be timing errors introduced that you can avoid with proper programming. If there's still a problem, you may want to back off the center-channel level another 3dB. Many installations benefit from this; the result is dialogue that is still anchored to the screen, but a more naturally developing soundstage many will find more to their liking....Jeff Fritz

Orpheus and Avantgarde?

October 29, 2003

To Doug Schneider,

I read your review of the Orpheus Three S amplifier. Great review. I have a pair of very sensitive (107dB) horn-loaded speakers (Avantgarde Trios). I have been looking for a low-power amp for a while, and I came across your review of the Orpheus amp. I would like to know your opinion on the matching of the Orpheus stereo amp and the Avantgarde Trios.

Seyed Mirsepassi

You have an astonishingly sensitive speaker -- if truly 107dB sensitive, just a single watt could cause hearing damage in not that long a time. You certainly don't need much power, and even the Orpheus Three S's 40Wpc would be overkill. However, since that's the lowest-powered amp Orpheus makes, that's the one to consider. I would first see if you could find an impedance plot of the Trio. As I explained in the review, due to the nature of the Three S's design, it will have frequency-response aberrations that correlate with the speaker's impedance. Providing the speaker is compatible, I could, in fact, see this as a very viable amplifier due to its extremely clean sound. Its presentation, at least with the speakers I used it, was absolutely pristine, and I believe it would complement a speaker like the Trio. As with any equipment recommendation, though, please try before you buy. High-end audio is all about the "little" things, and that's often what differentiates the good systems from the great....Doug Schneider

Paradigm advice

October 27, 2003

To Doug Schneider,

I just read "The Traveler" for August 2003 and was quite thrilled to read about the new Studio series by Paradigm.

I was hoping to get your advice regarding a home-theater speaker setup. I currently run a two-channel stereo system with Paradigm 11se mains and a Paradigm PS1000 sub. I am looking at getting the ADP-470 surrounds and the CC-470 center when I upgrade to a 6.1 receiver. I would love to replace my 11se speakers because, although they are great speakers, they lack the detail, broad soundstage, and midrange response that I would like.

I have never owned bookshelf speakers and fear that if I went to the Studio 20 or 40 to replace the 11se, I might really be missing something in the low end even though the PS1000 would stay put. I would love to get the Studio 100s, but as I am building the entire surround sound system right now the cost just breaks me.

That said, however, if the Studio 100s really are the way to go then maybe I should just wait.

And one last question for you, basically a confirmation for what a salesman told me. He said that I could go with just the mains (i.e., the Studio 100s) and have the receiver fake the center. The idea is that the soundstage of the 100s would more than compensate for the missing center, as comparing them to a Studio 40 pair with the CC-470 center. Would you agree with this?

Shawn Carter

What the dealer is talking about in terms of "faking" the center channel is actually setting the receiver to "phantom" center channel (i.e., no center speaker, but the information that should go to the center-channel speaker now gets routed to the left and right main speakers). Phantom center channels do work -- sometimes better than a real center-channel speaker if the center-channel speaker is not tonally matched to the left and right main speakers. I've found, though, that Paradigm usually does a great job of ensuring that the sound you hear from the center is the same as that of the left and right. The disadvantage of a phantom center-channel is that it is usually only suitable for one person, seated directly in the center -- just like standard stereo listening. A center-channel speaker usually broadens the "sweet spot" to a much larger area than just the dead-center position.

If you are set on the Studio 100 v.3 speakers, my advice is this try them with a phantom-center-channel setting and see if you like it. In time you'll undoubtedly have more money you can always add on the CC-470 later....Doug Schneider

Does the VSi55 exist?

October 24, 2003

To Aaron Weiss,

Thanks for your review of the product identified as the Audio Research VSi55. I was excited about this new integrated and went to the Audio Research website referenced at the end of your review, but there was no mention of the VSi55. When is this product going to be introduced to the public? Why would Audio Research allow a review of a product it doesn't yet recognize as on the market?

Joe Franceski

I'm told that Audio Research knows about the omission; apparently they outsource their website, and whoever is in charge has been slow to update it....Aaron Weiss

Transport for Bel Canto DAC2

October 23, 2003


You must get hundreds of e-mails and can't answer them all. I'm new to area of high-end audio, so I have no idea if e-mailing you is inappropriate. Just ignore this if it is. It's just that I have found that I really agree with your reviews. (My book said to find a reviewer whose tastes match you own and keep reading him or her.)

I recently purchased a Bel Canto DAC2, which I first heard about in your review of the Linn Ikemi. We borrowed an Ikemi to decide which we preferred. We thought the Bel Canto was deeper, more transparent, and more detailed. There was more air, while the Ikemi was more intimate and smoother.

The issue is the transport. In testing, we weren't able to tell the difference between our JVC DVD player and our Sony carousel (the entry-level SACD one) with the Bel Canto, but we had no problem telling the Ikemi from the DVD player. Within just two or three A/Bs with each, the difference was easily apparent. The Ikemi was more full-bodied and detailed. I was hoping it wouldn't be the case. Now I have to shop for a transport.

Wouldn't I love to be able to afford the Mark Levinson No.37 you use! I just spent two hours at my dealer trying to hear transports. I ended up fatigued and frustrated. And I can't seem to get any good information online. We were thinking about building a PC-based transport, as someone recommended, but don't really know what effect that will have. We can't spend a fortune. We'd possible be looking to buy used.

Can you give me any recommendations on where to start?

Joy Elyse Greenwald

I do get a lot of e-mail, but that's because I encourage it. I'm glad to help -- if I can.

I have recommended DVD players as transports first with the Bel Canto DAC1 and then with the DAC2. Given that you prefer the Ikemi CD player but probably don't want to spend what it costs, I would suggest looking for something used, perhaps a Theta Data Basic, which is what Doug Schneider uses. I don't know what the going used price of this unit is, but I'm sure it would cost far less than a new Ikemi. On the other hand, you might be able to get a used Ikemi for a good deal off of its list price.

Another option, and a better one in my opinion, is finding a higher-end Sony SACD player, which I have heard from a few people make very good transports. You can then also connect it to your system via its analog outputs and play SACDs, which would open you up to an entirely new kind of software. As good as the DAC2 is, it does not equal the sound of a good SACD, masterings being equal. This option might also allow you to play 24/96 DVDs (the earliest Sony SACD players like the SCD-1 didn't play DVDs), which the DAC2 can decode....Marc Mickelson

Side-by-side-by-side speaker comparison?

October 22, 2003

To Doug Schneider,

First of all, thanks for always offering good advice and opinions in this Letters section. Second, I want to congratulate you and the Soundstage Network staff as I think you have some truly great (if not possibly THE best) audio publications and produce some of the best equipment reviews I've read.

I'm in the market for a pair of speakers under $1500 and was interested in some of the two-way monitors you've reviewed. I had a question regarding your review of the Von Schweikert Audio VR-1 speaker. In the review you raved about them and how good of a bargain they are. Unfortunately (I'm guessing you didn't have all speakers at the same time) you didn't compare them to speakers like the Amphion argon2 or the Polk Audio LSi9, which are close to them in terms of price.

I was wondering if you could tell us about some of the differences between these speakers, and if you happened to like one over the other two. I know you are really high on the argon2, but you also seemed really high on the VR-1 and, well, I'm asking about the LSi9 because it's the only one I've been able to listen to, and I liked it a lot. Also, I own a Perreaux 200iP integrated amp and Analysis Plus Silver Oval speaker cables, and I remember and you said the LSi9 sounded best with that amp, which has me interested in that speaker. Unfortunately, I haven't had a chance to listen to the 200iP/LSi9 combo yet.

Felix M. Fontan

You're right, I didn't get to do comparisons with those three speakers. In terms of the Amphion argon2, you're also right that I'm very "high" on it; however, it is the most expensive of the bunch by quite a large margin -- last I heard, about 50% more expensive than the VR-1 or LSi9. Now, as for those two speakers, I really like the VR-1 for the combination of performance and build quality -- I believe you really do get a lot for the money. The same can be said, though, about the LSi9, a speaker I liked quite a bit for it's big, smooth, seductive sound. The only caveat with the LSi9, though, is it's a little tougher to drive than the other two speakers -- you can see at our www.SpeakerMeasurements.com site that it presents a sub-5-ohm impedance at various frequency points. If people have low-powered amps, or ones that cannot handle an impedance that low, I would normally steer them to something like the VR-1, which is easier to drive. Seeing as you have the 200iP, though, that's a different story. Based on my experiences with that amp, I believe it would have no trouble at all driving the LSi9s. You're options are wide open, then, and for about $1000, I can't see you being unhappy with either the VR-1 or the LSi9....Doug Schneider

Hydra Model-8 for power amps?

October 20, 2003


Would you kindly tell me if you plugged your power amps into the Shunyata Hydra Model-8's analog outlets or if you plugged your power amps into dedicated outlets? The reason I ask this is because I'd like to know the Hydra Model-8's impact on power amps. I want to know if the Model-8 really improves the sound of power amps without any current limiting. Please do let me know as your comments will be the main factor for my decision to purchase the Hydra Model-8!

Erwin Effendi

I used my power amps -- and indeed all of my equipment -- plugged into the Hydra Model-8. The Model-8 has separate digital and analog outlets, so you won't have to worry about your digital gear contaminating the power to your preamp and amps either. The Model-8 is a great product -- better than the original Hydra and cheaper as well....Marc Mickelson

PSB or Paradigm?

October 16, 2003

To Doug Schneider,

Would you recommend the PSB Image 2B loudspeakers over the Paradigm Mini Monitors the front speakers of a home-theater setup? I have an Integra receiver as the brains of the system. I live in Arizona, and there is only one Paradigm dealer, so its hard to compare Paradigm and PSB. Are they about the same?

Jon Weaver

The PSB Image 2B and Paradigm Mini Monitor are roughly identical on paper. They have similar driver configurations and are based on similar design principles. However, speakers make the biggest sonic difference in any system, and I've never heard two speakers, no matter how similar they seem, that sound identical. To the casual listener they may sound similar, but anyone who listens critically at all will easily pick out deviations of one from the other -- it's that way with any two speakers. If you're serious about your sound, I really recommend trying to hear both speakers you mention....Doug Schneider

Hydra or Hydra Model-8?

October 15, 2003


I am considering buying a Shunyata Research Hydra used or a new Hydra Model-8. Do you think a Hydra with a Python power cord will sound as good as the new model with the stock Diamondback? Your opinion would be greatly appreciated. Also, is the Taipan power cord recommended over the Python for this application?

I really enjoy reading your reviews. Most reviewers comment that they like or dislike a product with no comparisons. I find this of little use. I like to read how one product compares to another. This gives a much better understanding of the product.

Steve Roberge

If I were in your shoes, I would go for the Hydra Model-8, even with its stock Daimondback cord. The differences in funcationality and sonic performance make it a wiser choice. I'm not sure the Python is a good choice of power cord for either unit, however. I would recommend a Taipan instead -- or an Anaconda Alpha if you can afford it.

A comparison is a mandatory part of each review we publish -- for the reasons you point out. Knowing what a product sounds like is far more useful than knowing what one reviewer thinks of that sound, which is why we concentrate on conveying sonic characteristics in our reviews....Marc Mickelson

Preferences and differences

October 14, 2003

To Doug Schneider,

I find your speaker reviews quite informative and generally well done, but the more of your reviews I read, the more I'm wondering if you have ever met a speaker you didn't like. Your reviews are so glowing and so positive on every single speaker that I find myself questioning whether I can use your reviews as any guide for purchasing new speakers.

BTW, I'm struggling to decide between Paradigm Studio/20, Von Schweikert VR-1, and B&W 705. In spite of what I said above, currently I'm leaning toward the VR-1, partly based on your review.

Bob Klimek

I suspect that today I review more two-way-type loudspeakers than any other writer in North America. As a result, many people come to our publications for advice and, also, many manufacturers want to send their speakers in for review. In the queue right now, for example, I have four more two-ways, and there are more coming. I most certainly have found speakers that I didn't like; however, manufacturers tend not to send me their mediocre or poor efforts, but rather their very best speakers at all price points. Most manufacturers know the quality of their goods in relation to the marketplace and they're not about to send to me a speaker that will come up short against the quantity of speakers I've reviewed. As well, I don't go out looking for poor speakers just to write about them and slam them to prove something.

So if you read positive reviews that I've written, it's because I feel the product is as good as I say. And if I'm writing about two or more speakers that are all good, then my job isn't just to say each one is good, but rather to describe exactly how each differs so you can figure out what's best for you.

As for the VR-1, I think it's an outstanding two-way speaker for the price it sells. And the Paradigm Studio/20? Don't know yet -- it's currently being measured at the NRC; however, that's one of the four mentioned earlier, and I suspect the review to be complete in early 2004. And the B&W 705? Don't have a clue because B&W never sends me speakers for review. Too bad, but I hope all this information helps give some insight into the reviewing process....Doug Schneider

More Coda 12.0 feedback

October 13, 2003

To Andrew Chasin,

I read your review of the CODA 12.0 amp with great interest. This is one review that will send Lauchli, Dale, and Peterson running to the lab and the (subjective) sound room for some serious re-evaluation. It is hard to believe this talented team, which has been in this game for many years, would come with a dry-, sterile-sounding amp.

But it happens! As an owner of four Aragon amps for years, when I made the unpardonable mistake of selling my beloved 4004 Mk 2, I "upgraded" to the 8008 ST and my Thiel CS1.5s rewarded me with sound so bright, shrill, and unmusical that I ran for cover every time I tried to listen to my system. Two months later, a lucky buyer took it for cents on the dollar (OK, 70 cents for every dollar I paid). I can tell you right away that the Levinsons I have heard for the past 20 years, even though designed by different engineers, are characteristically unmusical!

On the objective side, I can't understand how an amplifier with 56 bipolar devices and two 2kVA (!) transformers only output 120-130 watts into a steady 8-ohm load. This is overkill for the resultant output; the power supply and the transistors are operating at a fraction of total capacity. Odd!

Anyway, not good to have a $6550 amp on the market with this review. Years ago (maybe 15, lost count -- I'm getting old!) Sam Tellig had the big Adcom monoblocks sent back to the factory for re-biasing into a higher class-A operating range. They ran much warmer but sounded much better to his ears. This may be Coda's solution to the sterile sound presented by this not inexpensive solid-state monster.

I am awaiting your review of the sweet, "fat," and musical Blue Circle amp.

Thanks for the straightforward review!

Jaime Ballester

Orpheus cop-out

October 8, 2003

To Doug Schneider,

I think you let the Orpheus Three S amplifier off the hook in two major ways, a 40Wpc amp at $4600 monstrosity notwithstanding:

(1) Their rationalization for the terribly high output impedance and its resultant effects on the transfer function when connected to a real-world load is one of the most preposterous I have heard in my many years in the industry. This amp will add its opinion and sonic coloration to every speaker to which it is attached, unless they inversely load in a manner reminiscent of an inverse RIAA. An amplifier/speaker duo should not be a codec in the 21st century in my opinion. To say "the room is worse" is like justifying that a car with bad suspension is a non-issue because the road is bumpy.

(2) This amp clearly failed in its claims to be a voltage amplifier; that is, it will fail to provide adequate juice to be an analog of the input signal below 8 ohms -- practically any amplifier or receiver can do that.

This is one of those silly boutique components that adopts an eclectic design (I shudder to use the word "engineering") rationale that just does not "make it."

Audio journalism in my view should not be fraught with justifications, rationalizations, and letting the manufacturer off the hook by the usual "careful matching" disclaimer, which in this case is a cop-out.

Glenn O. Strauss

The Three S review was actually one of the most involved that I've written. When I first learned of the company's constant-power technology, I was quite taken aback, as others are. However, armed with the knowledge I had from the company, I set out and talked to other amplifier designers, speaker designers, and engineers about the Three S, and the implications it would have. The research took me many months, and the amplifier actually stayed in my possession for about a year -- far longer that we're accustomed to in terms of turning around a product. The answers ranged wildly, and the conclusions were not that cut and dried -- in fact, sometimes they were contradictory.

In terms of the review, I can't agree that the Orpheus Three S was left "off the hook," for a variety of reasons. First, if the review is read carefully, you will see that in my explanation of the technology, I simply explain what Orpheus claims their amplifier does, along with their rationale for it -- there is not rationalization or justification, just a reiteration of their claims (and that's only fair to the manufacturer). Second, I go to great lengths, including adding a sidebar, that explains the implications of the constant-power technology. I read another review some months ago in a print publication that simply glossed over the constant-power technology without an explanation or the implications. Most likely the reviewer didn't even understand it, but I'm sure if anyone reads my review that person will have a pretty clear understanding of what's involved. Third, we provided a set of objective measurements that, more than anything, lay a component's performance bare and in the open. Finally, I simply described the sound of the amplifier under a variety of conditions, which is important, I believe, given the nature of the design. Could I have done anything more? I don't believe so....Doug Schneider

Coda 12.0 review

October 6, 2003


Hat's off to Andrew Chasin for his honest review of the Coda 12.0 amplifier.

It is so refreshing to read something other than the constant "lovefest" -- "the best I've ever heard," "a real breakthrough product" and the like most -- from most of the other webzines (and print magazines!) out there. Come on! Give me a break! Equipment is surely getting better, but not quite at the quantum leaps and bounds that other less-critical reviewers would have us believe.

Bravo, and keep telling it like it is.

A long time reader of SoundStage!,

Dennis Francis

"All in Your Head"

October 3, 2002


Bravo! It's about time someone has given some print ["All in Your Head"] for those of us who are using headphones (whether by choice or situation). I'm hoping this article will continue with some reviews of not only headphones but headphone amps and cables. Thank you!

Tom Hankins


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