[SoundStage!]Archived Letters
November 2003


Clayton Audio?

November 29, 2003


It's been quite a few years since you reviewed amplifiers from Clayton Audio. Since then Clayton's Wilson Shen has enlarged the M-70 into the M-100, and launched a preamp, a 300W stereo amplifier, and his flagship 500W monoblockss, and yet none of these products has had a published review.

I admit to a huge bias for Clayton Audio amps. I own one of the very first pairs of upgraded M-100s. With my Arial 10Ts, they are a significant power improvement over the M-70s without any cost in grace. Your crew did a superb job reviewing the S-40 and M-70 amps, enough for me to hunt down, audition and buy the M-70s. I think it only right that you check out the newest models.

Andrew Pearce

I talked with Clayton Audio representatives at the last two CESes about reviewing their new amps, but we have yet to solidify anything. We'll keep trying -- I was very impressed with previous models -- but the ball is in their court at this point....Marc Mickelson

Better value?

November 28, 2003

To Doug Schneider,

I've read a few of your reviews, especially the ones on the Axiom M3ti and the Energy Connoisseur C-3. I know there is a fair difference in price, but I was wondering, in your opinion, what would be the better value for money?

David Brown

When comparing two good-sounding loudspeakers, the lower-priced one will always be the better value. The M3ti retails for just $275 USD per pair, while the C-3 is $500 per pair. In that regard, the M3ti wins, and that's what makes it such a flat-out bargain for someone wanting really great sound for a rock-bottom price.

However, there's good reason that the C-3 costs a little more: It goes deeper in the bass, it can play louder, and it's a little more neutral-sounding from top to bottom. It's also finished with a nicer veneer, has that nifty baffle and magnet-attached grilles. So if you have the extra money and want those extra things, the C-3 is worth every cent too....Doug Schneider

Nine-inch speakers

November 26, 2003

To Doug Schneider,

I was hoping you could point me in the proper direction. I am looking for a pair of bookshelf speakers that can be no taller than nine inches -- it's for my upstairs stereo (my true listening system is downstairs). It's mainly for dinner music; I want the sound to fill the room -- you know what I mean. I have an NAD C730 receiver and a Nakamichi CD player -- pretty-good stuff -- and I am looking to match it with some sweet, small speakers. My thinking is to lay a pair on their sides. Do you know of any that work this way? Or a smoking-good pair that are less than nine inches tall?

Ian Hudson

In terms of lying a pair of bookshelf speakers on their sides, that's possible, but the key to it will be dispersion -- how the loudspeakers disperse their sound on the horizontal and vertical planes. This means that you want a speaker that is not highly directional, doesn't do wonky things to the frequency response the moment you go off-axis, and that it attenuates the frequencies evenly as you get further and further off-axis in all directions. Essentially, speakers that sound pretty much the same over a very wide listening area -- not all do. Off the top of my head, companies that come to mind who have front-firing bookshelf-type speakers that do this include Paradigm, Axiom, Energy, Von Schweikert Audio, and Amphion. You should be able to find something quite cost effective that can do the trick.

Another option is to look at something more omnidirectional -- one possibility there is Mirage's Omnisat, although they are a small speaker and I worry about the size of your room. However, if you room isn't too big, a pair of Omnisats can really deliver a spacious and smooth sound. I use five of them augmented with a subwoofer in a second system that is multichannel based and I love it....Doug Schneider

Benefits of ExactPower EP15A

November 25, 2003

To Doug Schneider,

In your review of the Simaudio Nova CD player, you mention that you hooked it up to the ExactPower EP15A power conditioner. Can you summarize the benefits of this addition? I have the Shunyata Research Hydra. Sould I expect additional benefits if the ExactPower unit were added to my system?

Michael Goldin

When I added the EP15A, I used it with both the Simaudio Nova CD player and the Zanden Audio Model 600 tube-based integrated amplifier. It's important to keep in mind, then, that my comments apply to both units, and not to each in isolation. Nevertheless, what I experienced was impressive -- a slightly more detailed presentation with an increase in soundstage depth. I attribute most of this to a decrease in the noise floor, which allowed me to hear into the recording more.

As for your other question, although Marc Mickelson has raved about the Hydra Model-8 and I've done the same regarding the EP15A, neither of us has used both units in our system, and obviously, then, neither together. Therefore, I can't tell you how the two would work together, but I can speculate that using both could be beneficial if you have voltage-related problems and your components are susceptible to them. The Hydra is a passive-type product and cannot correct voltage the way the EP15A can.

If you do try both of them together, both Marc and I would like to hear about your experience....Doug Schneider

More "Reference Discs"

November 24, 2003


Your column titled "Reference Discs" indicates that the list is updated regularly. Sadly, that doesn't appear to be the case. I'm a sucker for a well-recorded CD, and I've purchased a number of the CDs on the list. Overall, I've been quite satisfied. So I'd really like the list to be updated.

Howard Small

Good point. Thanks for the reminder. I have a couple that I've been meaning to write up and add to that list, and I'm sure our writers have others to add as well....Marc Mickelson

The Rule of Fives

November 21, 2003

To Doug Schneider,

As wonderful as your review of the Simaudio Moon Nova CD player was, the most interesting part of the article to me was the Rule of Fives. This honest, direct statement is the most thought-provoking and controversial comment I've ever read in an audio review.

I would love to see a whole column devoted to the rule -- including a side-by-side comparison of, for example, a $10,000 pair of speakers versus a $2000 pair. I only wonder how the manufacturers who lend you the products will react when you advise readers to pocket the $8000 difference or spend it elsewhere (on power cords or CDs).

Thank you and keep up the good work!

Jay Valancy

"Best" or "matter of taste"?

November 20, 2003

To Doug Schneider,

I have been reading your articles and find them both entertaining and educational, though I have been left baffled on what set of speakers to purchase. I live in a rural community and don't have the opportunity to audition a variety of speakers. I currently own a set of Klipsch 4 speakers (about 20 years old now) that have been good, but a lot has changed in that time span. I did have a chance to hear several Paradigm speakers and felt the Monitor 3 best suited my tastes. The larger Legend wasn't as articulate as the smaller Monitor 3, so I derive that my preference is a clean, very detail-orientated speaker over a boomy sound. SoundStage! (you) gave several glowing recommendations of comparable speakers, and I am sure that any of those speakers would satisfy my tastes.

Between the Axiom M22ti, Paradigm Monitor 3, Ascend CBM-170, and the Energy C-3, which one is the best speaker? It seems that each of these speakers could compete in a much higher price bracket, although they are in the same. Is there a clear winner, or is the sound produced just a matter of taste?

On a side note, I am going to purchase a new receiver and would highly value your recommendation. I am comparing the Onkyo 600, Denon 1804, Harman/Kardon 230, and Marantz 5300. I am leaning toward the Denon because of the price-per-watts equation and very solid reviews, but I would like to know if there is one that you would recommend.

Mike Brungo

You are right about the speakers you mentioned: They are more a matter of "taste" versus "which one is better." Today you can get a startling good speaker for next to nothing -- hence, the reason all of those speakers compete against others costing quite a bit more. Those are all excellent speakers you've narrowed your choices down to, but they're still different in key ways. And although all those you mentioned do have quite a clean and detail-oriented sound, just like you want, they'll differ in areas like bass and high-frequency extension, and midrange fullness. In the end, that means you have to try to listen to them all if you can. Luckily, Paradigm and Energy do have quite a few dealers, and I suspect you'll find one. Both Axiom and Ascend are factory-direct.

In terms of the amplifier, I would not buy an amplifier based on "watts per dollar" -- above all, the amp must sound good regardless of the power rating. On the other hand, providing all those amplifiers have ample power for your speakers, I suspect you'll find far less difference among them than among the four speakers you're looking at -- well-designed, amply powered solid-state amplifiers sound quite similar. However, since you appear to hang on to your gear for a long time, try to listen to each at a dealer who has a well-equipped and comfortable listening room....Doug Schneider

Ascend Acoustics vs. Bose

November 19, 2003

To Doug Schneider,

I read your review of the Ascend Acoustics CBM-170 loudspeakers. I recently purchased a Bose Acoustimass 15 Series II package as part of an overall HDTV deal. Investigating my home-theater options, I have found that the Bose Acoustimass seems to be very overpriced for its performance (it appears that Bose markets size dimension over true audio quality when factoring the pricing). I am curious of your opinion between the two and if you have any other highly recommended surround speaker sets that would be competitively priced with Bose and Ascend Acoustics.

Steve Yocum

I don' t have any reviewing experience with Bose products, so I cannot comment on their quality. I do, though, have plenty of experience with Ascend Acoustics, among many other good speakers, and, yes, you can get fabulous performance for ridiculously low price these days. One system that jumps to mind is Axiom Audio's Epic Grand Master home-theater system that Wes Phillips reviewed on onhometheater.com. He thought it was so good he chose it as product of the year for 2002, and it only costs about $1500. Wes also just reviewed Athena Technologies' new Micra home-theater speaker system priced at -- get this -- just $549. That's $549 for everything, including a small subwoofer! You'll find that review on onhometheater.com, too. In my own house I use Mirage's Omnisat 6 home-theater speaker system. That whole system, with subwoofer, costs $1700, and it not only sounds great, it's small and very futuristic-looking. In fact, that system so bowled me over that it not only received Reviewers' Choice recognition, it was awarded product of the year on Home Theater & Sound. So while I'm not sure exactly what you paid for your current system, I do hope that I gave you a good number of options to use while shopping....Doug Schneider

Cairn review?

November 17, 2004


Any chance you'll be reviewing the Cairn Mea monoblocks anytime soon? Cairn seems to provide serious price-to-performance ratios for their gear, and the Mea appears to be extremely well built.

You all are doing wonderful work there, and I, like many others, look forward to the next installments from your publication.

Keep up the good work!

Lange Johnson

We don't have a review of these amps in the works currently, but that can change quickly. Just keep an eye on our coming soon listing to see what's in the works for the coming months....Marc Mickelson

Buying a new bed, part 2

November 7, 2003


[Regarding your editorial this month, "The Audiophile Way"], shopping for a bed online or by catalog will be the biggest mistake you ever make in your life. Buying a pair of speakers from a catalog would give you a better chance of winding up with a satisfactory product. There is only one way to buy a bed -- go to a store that carries high-end mattresses and lie down on them. I used to call Dial-a-Mattress, and I was sleeping in hell for 30 years. Then I slept at the home of a fairly wealthy person, woke up feeling like a million bucks, and pulled off the sheets to look at the brand name: Chattam & Wells. I found a local dealer, tried out all six they had in stock, and picked out my favorite. It cost me close to four grand, but even so, it was one of the best buying decisions of my life. And I won't be upgrading next year, either.

Sal D'Agostino

Buying a new bed

November 5, 2003


I enjoyed your editorial this month. I felt the same when I went shopping for appliances. But before you go out and buy your bed over the Internet, I just thought I would share with you my experience of recently buying a bed. My wife and I went into our local Sleep Country in BC. We were encouraged to lie down on any and all the beds they had in their showroom. The saleperson asked us about things like back problems, allergies, whether we wanted a firm or soft mattress, and price range we were considering. He also asked what we currently had, age of mattress, and other pertinent stuff.

Then after spending about an hour with him, he gave us his card and told us let him know what we decide. About ten minutes later, he came back with some documentation telling us that there was a sale coming up in a couple of weeks on that higher-end mattress that would bring the price down to our price range and to keep that on our shortlist. If we decided anytime between now and the sale, he could give it to us at the sale price. We came back a few weeks later after shopping around and bought the mattress. The store also gave us a 60-day comfort guarantee that if we could not get comfortable in the mattress, we could return it for credit toward another one. The bed was delivered on appointment and set up by people who brought along their own slippers to wear into my house.

I don't think I would get that kind of service over the Internet. Oh, I do expect and sometimes get this kind of service when I'm out looking for higher-quality audio equipment also.

Kenneth So


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