December 31, 2003
To Wes Phillips,
I enjoyed your review of the new Magnepan MMG W/MMG C system, especially the price; its just right for people without a lot of money.
I was wondering, since you have experience with Magnepan speakers, is there a major difference in the rest of the audio spectrum (excluding the bass -- a subwoofer will be used) in the MMG W, MMG or the MG12? A pair of MMG Ws will be use as back surround in each setup and the MMG C as center. Would there be any major audible differences to upgrade the front end of a MMG W/MMG C surround-sound system? I dont listen to my music or movies too loud, so volume is not that important to me.
It's hard to answer your question for a couple of reasons.
First, while I am familiar with Magnepan speakers, I didn't have any of the company's other speakers on hand to directly compare the MGM W/MGM C system with. I can make a few guesses about how such a direct comparison might have gone (and will do so in a moment), but they're just that: guesses.
The real problem lies with the sticky issue of preference. I'm sure the MMG has tonal differences from the MGM W, even when a subwoofer is employed, but will I prefer the MMG enough more to re-evaluate my budget or (even) will I prefer it at all? These are issues that each listener has to determine individually.
I don't tend to listen to music all that loud either, but larger speakers (and larger diaphragms, in the case of the Maggies) tend to have a more relaxed sound -- by which I mean the drivers strain less producing the same loudness levels. A great deal of the time, this probably doesn't make much audible difference, but music is made up of dynamic changes (the differences between loud and soft) and tonal changes (the differences between low and high pitches). At the extremes, both kinds of change are harder to reproduce and that's where the larger speakers generally perform better -- even when they are playing softly by and large.
And then there's the placement issue. No matter how much better the MMG is than the MGM W, if you don't have the floor space to let the MMG breathe, you're compromising its optimal performance -- perhaps enough to cancel its theoretical superiority over a MGM W, which is designed to work near a boundary.
If I had the money and the floor space, I'm pretty sure I'd prefer the MMGs, but the great thing about the MGM W is that it exists for those of us who have to make compromises that put the bigger models out of our reach. That the speaker is so good for the money is almost icing on the cake.
If this answer seems too much on the one hand/on the other hand, it is primarily because there aren't any bad choices in the question you asked, just different horses for different courses....Wes Phillips
The video-ization of audio
December 30, 2003
[Regarding this month's editorial, "Video for Audio,"] I, too, have seen Norah Jones and Diana Krall on DVD, and I have to admit, it's nice. But if I owned those DVDs, they'd be played once or twice and filed away for years before being played again, just like all the videotaped movies I own and now record over whenever I can't find a blank. CDs, on the other hand, I play all the time.
As far as DVD-Audio goes, the other day I was in a Virgin Megastore in Times Square, which I assume is one of their biggest, and I asked a salesperson where DVD-Audio was kept. After following her instructions, I wound up in the music-video section of the DVD-movie department. They don't even know what the hell DVD-Audio is! If it isn't doomed to failure, I don't know what is.
What I don't understand about this whole death-of-two-channel thing is why a stereo shop must naturally convert to a TV store instead of, say, a shoe store or a restaurant-supply warehouse. What does one have to do with the other? I often wear shoes while listening to music.
In my defense, I didn't choose anything from Norah Jones or Diane Krall to highlight in my editorial, and in the case of Blues Story, I picked a very creative and educational movie about the blues. My DVDs sit in a box in a closet, while my CDs are played just about every day.
Also, the transition from stereo shop to home-theater/TV store is more easily made than to a shoe store -- completely different "technology" and suppliers. So many audio dealers have turned to home theater to save their businesses, with varying degrees of success....Marc Mickelson
December 29, 2003
Hi Doug Schneider,
What is the difference between the Zanden Model 5000 Mk III and Mk IV DACs?
The differences between the Mk III and Mk IV are similar to the differences between the Mk II and Mk III. According to discussions I had with Hideo Kitazawa, the distributor for Zanden, there have been some circuit refinements in the digital section that resulted in a reduction in noise. Zanden had thought they had improved the DAC in that area when they produced the Mk III, but some additional thinking resulted in similar further improvements that warranted a Mk IV version. Cosmetically and functionally the two models are identical, and as I show in my "Traveler" column this month, a Mk III can be upgraded to Mk IV....Doug Schneider
Gallo or Magnepan?
December 24, 2003
To Wes Phillips,
Just a note to say I thoroughly enjoyed your review of the new Magnepan MMG W/MMG C system. It had me drooling over my keyboard, although I will have to mop it up and bite my tongue when I see my wife this evening! I don't think my wife would appreciate any replacements or upgrades anytime soon, yet I can only imagine the fabulous sound this new Maggie system delivers. I have two interesting point of references. My tiny two-channel-audio room upstairs in our house has a pair of Maggie MG1.6/QRs coupled with a REL Storm sub (which I've happily not upgraded for five years now). It has extremely satisfying sound that I have grown to love and have never really felt the urge to change. Sure, I'd love to make that system multichannel, but I suspect that the 14' x11' room would perhaps make this an unreasonable proposition -- it's just too small to support properly positioned rear channels. Besides, the cost of even adding the MMG C and MMG Ws plus a new preamp and amp is a bit daunting for my wallet! If I had a bigger room, the first thing on tap would be to upgrade to the MG3.6/Rs, which I know sound fabulous.
The reason I'm really drooling is that I wish the reviewed system existed two years ago when I assembled our "budget" home theater downstairs, which is based on Gallo Nucleus Micros. That system is about the same price as the Maggies: (stainless steel spheres are $200 each and the subwoofer (which, despite its size, is incredible, IMHO) is $750. This is a great system -- not as extended as some other speakers (it rolls off above 18kHz) -- but it images superbly and offers a seamless sound for movies and casual listening. I can only imagine what the Maggies could have done in this setup, as they would have fit in fine with our decor. Sigh.
Anyway, I have two follow-up questions to your insightful (and covet-inducing!) review.
(1) How sensitive are the new Maggies? I would say the one place where they would lose to my Gallos are the amount of amplification required -- the Micros are an easy 93dB/m 8-ohm load for my mid-fi Marantz receiver. I would guess one would need a set of separates (or a really good receiver) to drive the Maggies.
(2) In a less-ideal setup, with "rear channels" to the side of the listener, how would the Maggies sound? Horrible? Our current home theater is not the ideal equidistant setup recommended for multichannel music. The rear channels are about six feet apart and only a foot or so behind the listener (the front channels are 14' away).
Maybe in another lifetime (or many years from now) I can justify redoing our living-room setup (which is decidedly décor-friendly with a high WAF -- which I don't mind and have no right to complain about, since my wife let me have my dedicated two-channel room upstairs).
Anyway, as usual, I enjoyed reading your comments. You certainly have a fun job!
P.S.: One can go a cheaper route with the Gallo system and get the black or white Micros for only $300 per pair (saving $50 per speaker). But the bottom line is that I can't believe Magnepan is selling something like this for so little!
Yeah, that is the bottom line -- it is hard to believe that Magnepan is selling anything at that price, much less such a stellar little system. Of course, I also think the same thing about the Gallo system, which I have never lived with but which has always impressed me.
The two systems approach the problem of getting the speakers to disappear from completely different starting points -- the Gallos by simulating a point source, the Maggies through dipolar radiation. They both succeed, which just goes to show that theory is less important than results.
I'm with you all the way in your analysis of where to go with your two-channel rig -- I'd step up to the MG3.6/Rs in a heartbeat rather than spend the same amount on adding additional channels to your current system.
As to how the MMG Ws would sound in a small room with less-than-ideal placement, that's exactly where I suspect they'd shine. The problem with many direct-radiating speakers in a surround context is that you hear them not the sounds they deliver.
In other words, you don't get the diffusion from direct-radiators -- unless, that is, you work at it. That means getting them up above your head and (most importantly) turning 'em down. The Gallos, thanks to their small size, probably work superbly as surrounds, even when less than optimally placed.
Thanks to their dipolar radiation pattern, which creates a null directly at the edge of the panel, the MGM W should work extremely well when mounted near the listener -- even right next to him (or her). I don't recommend this, but it's an option.
Again, if you have to mount them near your listening position, go high. In fact, I'd say that's always good advice for surrounds and rear channels.
I have no idea what the MGM W's sensitivity is. Unlike the big Maggies (your MG1.6/QRs or the MG3.6/Rs), they don't seem power-hungry. I wouldn't drive them with a low-output receiver, but most A/V receivers these days deliver at least 85Wpc, and I suspect that would be sufficient for the MGM Ws. I look forward to seeing the specs when Magnepan gets around to posting them on their website.
Thanks for telling us all how well your Gallo system works. When a product remains stable, as the Micros have, it doesn't get the coverage that "new" and "improved" systems do -- but that doesn't mean it stops being a great deal or delivering great sound....Wes Phillips
Esoteric's one-year warranty
December 23, 2003
I enjoyed reading your review of the Esoteric P-70 and D-70. I realize that as a reviewer you use various criteria when comparing products -- foremost, sonic virtues. However, I was surprised to learn that TEAC provides a one-year warranty on such expensive products as those from Esoteric, while Mark Levinson provides five years and Zanden two years.
As a consumer, I know the warranty is a consideration in terms of making a purchasing decision.
December 22, 2003
To Wes Phillips,
Until I read your review of the new Magnepan MMG C and MMG W system, I was considering a 5.1 system for music and movies based on the Outlaw Audio 950/755 combination, a Magnepan CC3, four Magnepan MGMC1s, and a subwoofer. The CC3/MGMC1 set costs $1400 more than the MMG C/MMG W set, but you seem to indicate they are very similar.
You reviewed both. How different or how much better is the CC3/MGMC1 system than the MMG C/ MMG W? I am primarily interested in music. The five-channel pass-through mode of the Outlaw 950 crosses over analog sources (DVD-A and SACD) to the sub at a fixed 80Hz, which matches the CC3/MGMC1 well. Would this be a problem or leave a hole for the MMG C/ MMG Ws, which are rated down to only 100Hz?
While I have reviewed both systems, it was at different times, with different equipment, and in different rooms (I recently moved), so I can't really compare and contrast the two. However, I have never regretted spending the extra money for more speaker -- and the MGMC1 is more speaker. It goes lower (as you point out) and it plays louder. Its two-way design undoubtedly allows both its tweeter and midrange/woofer panels to operate more comfortably as well, which generally translates into better sound as well.
In a multichannel context, especially one employing a well-integrated subwoofer, these differences probably won't be day and night. If I could only afford the MGM W/MGM C system, I'd never have a regret about purchasing it, but if I could afford the MGMC1/CC3 system and opted for the less expensive system, I'd probably forever be second-guessing my decision.
In theory, the Outlaw electronics should sound better with the larger speakers, but subwoofer/speaker interface is one of those areas where careful setup and placement tend to trump specifications. In some rooms, the reduced output of the MMG-based system would cause a "hole" in the response; in others, you'd probably never notice anything.
If you have the resources, buy the MGMC1/CC3 system. I doubt you'll ever feel you deserved less....Wes Phillips
Music page too narrow
December 16, 2003
Your website and additional sites are wonderful -- very informative and relevant reading for someone on the search for audio equipment. I am also pleased to see a music page that covers CD reviews. However, I find this the most difficult page to read as the window is so narrow, about an inch tall. Why is this section not like all other pages on your website -- a full window scroll-down page? Or is it my computer that does not adapt to the music-page setup?
Our music page is unlike our other pages because we wanted to give it something of a different personality . If your screen resolution is set to 640 x 480, the page that lists the music reviews will look odd -- not much text showing. However, the reviews themselves should show up on their own pages and therefore be much easier to read. If you want to see more of the listing, try changing your resolution to 800 x 600 or better yet, 1024 x 768....Marc Mickelson
Praise for Von Schweikert Audio
December 12, 2003
To Doug Schneider,
I want to thank you for your review of the Von Schweikert Audio VR-1 speakers and ask about your plans to review other VSA products. I first began looking at Von Schweikert based in part on your review and a description that you wrote years ago about a visit to the Von Schweikert Research factory. In general, I find SoundStage! reviews to be very down to earth and a good match with my listening tastes and priorities. In your review, you mentioned conversations with Albert Von Schweikert. I didn't think it was at all unusual for the founder and head of a speaker company to talk to the publisher of an audiophile magazine; however, I did not expect the same treatment myself.
When Paul, VSA's regional sales rep, sensed he wasn't answering all my questions, he asked if it was OK for Albert to call me. (As if I would say no to that offer!) Albert spent an hour on the phone with me on a Sunday evening, giving me a peek into the development process for the VR-5 and the VR-2 and talking to me about his philosophy and company. This, combined with things like VSA's inexpensive upgrade paths for current customers, told me immediately that I was dealing with a company that really values its customers.
I ended up going with a pair of VR-2s as my mains, a pair of VRS-1 subs, an LCR-15 center-channel speaker, and a pair of VR-1s for my surrounds. Though I don't consider the break-in process complete, I am impressed with the detail and transparency I'm hearing and the seamless transition between the speakers and the highly musical subs. I feel like my system rivals many high-priced systems I've heard.
I look forward to hearing more about what you think about this exceptional company and their products. I hope you will review more of their product line soon.
Joy Elyse Greenwald
P.S.: Do you have a favorite way to break in speakers?
For break-in, I do nothing all that special. I simply let the speakers play normally while not listening to them critically. When I feel they've had sufficient time on them, I settle in for serious listening....Doug Schneider
Oversampling and the Nyquist limit
December 11, 2003
To Alison Aulph,
I read your excellent column on oversampling versus. upsampling. Very informative!
I do have a question about oversampling. Seems the Nyquist limit only applies to analog-to-digital sampling, so only in the CD-recording process. A CD player, on the other hand, only picks up the digital bits and send them to digital-to-analog converter. Where and how in CD player does the oversampling happen then?
For an answer to your question, I turned to Thierry Heeb of Anagram, who replied:
"The Nyquist limit applies to both digital-to-analog and analog-to-digital converters. However, it gets more attention with analog-to-digital conversion because there, when the incoming frequencies are above the Nyquist limit and not filtered at the input, the frequencies will fold back into the audible band. In the digital-to-analog converter the input is a digital signal and, as such, it cannot contain any frequency above the Nyquist limit.
"In CD players, if a signal is sent to the digital-to-analog converter without oversampling, the sound suffers because the digital signal basically produces a stairway-like signal instead of the smooth wave signal that we would expect from the reconstruction of an original analog signal.
"Therefore, alias images of the baseband signal (analog signal) are produced. In order to remove those alias images, analog filtering (reconstruction filtering) must be performed with a very sharp edge around 20-22kHz. This sharp edge at a frequency just above the audio pass band introduces serious problems such as phase rotation and limited high-frequency response, to name a few.
"Oversampling interpolates the baseband signal to a higher sampling frequency. For the sake of example, let's consider we have an 8x oversampler. Thus the Nyquist limit will move to 22.05 x 8 = 176.4kHz and the sampling frequency to 352.8kHz. As the baseband signal has about 20kHz bandwidth, the alias images that will occur will only map down to about 330kHz (about = 352.8 - 22kHz). Thus the whole band of frequencies between 22kHz and 330kHz is free from aliases. This wide transition band allows for the implementation of reconstruction filters that do not affect the phase and frequency response of the signal in the pass band, and the CD player's final sound is greatly improved."
December 10, 2003
I love your site, and maybe I am just a dolt for overlooking it, but I can't find a search function at the site. It would make using SoundStage! a lot easier if I could just search for reviews and tips, and I hope I am overlooking something that is there now. If you don't have one, please consider this a vote to add one.
Thanks for making your publication available without charge, by the way. Much appreciated.
We've had others ask for a search feature, but because SoundStage! has grown to be so large and span multiple directories and domains, we can't implement this easily. We have, however, a very complete archive that spans all of our sites -- www.audiovideoreviews.com -- and we update this regularly....Marc Mickelson
Carl Sigman - Songs
December 9, 2003
To Joseph Taylor,
[Your review of Carl Sigman's Songs] is absolutely wonderful! Thank you so much. And you're right -- my dad thought of himself as merely a craftsman, but he knew he was a very good one! And even he acknowledged that "Ebb Tide" and a few others were works of inspiration.
Bias and headphones
December 8, 2003
To Doug Paratore,
I enjoyed reading your ["All in Your Head"] column on SoundStage!. It was fun and informative at the same time. While I was there I also checked out your previous column. It's always nice to read about other people's journeys and adventures. I don't think you are biased in your article. If you are, it's in regard to your insistence that people need to figure out what they want from their music. I am beginning to preach the same idea. Thanks to you, I think that that kind of bias is very important because it ensures satisfaction in everyone's pursuit of better sound.
Paradigm Studio v.2 versus v.3
December 5, 2003
To Jeff Fritz,
I read your ["Surrounded"] column on of the Paradigm Studio 100 v.3. Nice -- thanks for letting us know more about them. But like everybody else, what I wonder is if there is a big difference between the Studio 100 v.2 and v.3. Will you also do a review that discusses this? Do you think the v.3 is a definite improvement over v.2?
The Studio 100 v.3 was actually the first Paradigm speaker I've had in my home. So I really couldn't make the comparison you've mentioned. My take was specifically how the Studio v.3s sound in a multichannel setup. But don't despair! We have a full two-channel review of the Studio 100 v.3 coming with measurements from another writer, as well as a home-theater review on www.hometheatersound.com. So stay tuned and we'll see if we can give you the information you need....Jeff Fritz
More respect for Belles 21A, please
December 3, 2003
I just got done reading the review of the Belles 21A preamp, which was compared against "budget" equipment -- an entry-level Audio Research preamp on the entry-level Belles amplifier. This preamp was designed to complement the much higher-end 350A and the even more refined and brand-new 150 Reference amp. This preamp should be heard with the caliber of equipment it was meant for.
To give you an idea of what I'm using these products with, it is the $13,000 Meadowlark Blue Heron 2s, driven by Belles 350A monoblocks or a pair of 150 Reference amps in monoblock mode, which are putting out about 1600 and 800 watts respectively into each 4-ohm speaker (power does corrupt), an Electrocompaniet EMC-1 CD player, and JPS Labs Superconductor 2 NC or Audience AU-24 speaker cables. This system has a high enough level of resolution that using it as a demonstration platform for showing differences in power cords is a total no-brainer. You can hear major differences. I am using the $3500 JPS Labs Aluminatas on the monoblocks and the 21A for component-comparison purposes. These cords bring out the finest nuances of what a preamp is doing (or not), as is the case with the Belles products. Both the amps and preamp are the best definition of neutral I know of. It seems a bit out of perspective to use a $3500 power cord on a $3000 preamp, but I use it with the $10,000 preamp I'm comparing it to, so the same power cord has to be used to be fair. This cord is fantastic on the preamp by the way.
I have put the 21A preamp up against my former reference $9500 tube preamp and a $5500 solid-state unit with upgraded capacitance in side by side comparisons for customers and have not failed to sell it yet. There are already many people who have traded $10,000 reference preamps for a 21A. It has the ability to get even better with a set of audiophile-grade Mullard or Bugle Boy AU-27 tubes.
Please get some of your other reviewers who lean toward higher-end reference products to give the 21A a whirl in their systems with their cables and accessories (also a 150 Reference amp) as it is truly amazing not just for the money but at any price. The 21A is capable of seeming to flip open switches, controlling dynamics and detail when popped into reference-grade systems. I hated seeing it reviewed in a budget system when I'm selling it with extreme reference products. It's time for Dave Belles to get the recognition he deserves with his new products, which set the standard of what their prices will get you in terms of high-end products.
My guess is that both the 21-A preamp and the new 150 Reference amplifier will make many of your other reviewers' best-component short lists. Dave will undoubtedly be willing to send you a 150 Reference amp to try with the 21A, and it is probable that neither will make it back to him. Someone will want to pay for and keep them.
Simaudio or Sugden
December 2, 2003
To Doug Schneider,
I just wanted to thank you for your excellent review on the Simaudio Moon Nova CD player. I have been waiting patiently for a CD player to partner with my Simaudio i-5 integrated. I also compared the Nova with the new Simaudio Equinox, and the Nova was the winner in the "chills and tears" factor (chills up the spine, tears in the eyes). I am in total agreement with you concerning that FRM remote control. I hate it, and that has been one of the reasons I have delayed purchase. So I contacted Simaudio, and they kindly responded that I can order the player with the standard remote that comes with the Equinox and save $150!
However, before I take the $2800 plunge, I would like to know if you have ever listened to the Sugden CD-21 player. I've seen photos and a few short complimentary reviews, and I like the simplicity of its design. But I would really appreciate your opinions before I make a 100-mile trip to the only dealer in my area.
Your comments regarding the Nova versus the Equinox are interesting, and what I expected. Both players come from the same company and there's normally a progression as you move up the product line. The Nova is quite a bit more expensive than the Equinox. Unfortunately, though, I have not heard the Sugden products. The North American distributors have unfortunately never sent us any review samples, so I cannot help you there....Doug Schneider
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