Expertise and audio dealers
May 29, 2004
I visit your site often and have learned a lot from your reviews. I much appreciate your efforts.
While I generally agree with your current editorial ["Supporting Expertise"], I would point out two major issues that many high-end consumers face. First, some of us live in areas without access to dealers with products we would like to hear. In-home auditions would be great, but most dealers will not provide such an option, or establish creative ways to do so while not putting themselves at risk. It's often been a "too bad, visit us when you travel, through" response. Second, I have found that the pervasive arrogance of some reviewers in the two major print high-end rags to be reproduced by a significant number of retailers -- I have perhaps found two or three dealers over my travels who are truly experts and are considerate. These places I patronize, but I think you would be fair to point out that the high-end suffers as much from lousy dealers as it does from challenges from Internet direct sales. I have been in enough places that have staff that seems to not care much whether you are there or not. Integrity is a vanishing value in our society, and if a dealer with a high-end portfolio is not professional and respectful, folks won't go there despite the arguments you make in your editorial. I guess I would want it recognized that reputable and decent dealers are also an important part of the equation to make this a success for all.
Paradigm Studio 20 v.3s and home theater
May 28, 2004
To Doug Schneider,
I was captivated by your review of the Paradigm Reference Studio 20 v.3s. I am the proud owner of a pair that I've thoroughly enjoyed for just audio, but I'm building a home theater out of the v.3 line. I have the 20s and the CC-470 center-channel, but I'm wrestling with what to do about the surrounds for a 5.1 setup. I'd love to know your thoughts on possibly moving the 20s to surrounds, bumping up to Studio 40 v.3 for mains, or could I do well to go with another set of 20s? I doubt I could really "go wrong" with either option from the v.3 Paradigm Reference speakers, but the 40s appear to be quite a nice upgrade. On the other hand, I'm definitely not opposed to running four 20s with my 470 center speaker, matched all around. I'd rather go with stand-mounted speakers for surrounds, due to wiring constraints, so I've looked at either the 40s or two more 20s. Power will hopefully be supplied by an Arcam AVR300 receiver, budget permitting.
As I read your note something struck me as missing in your choices: Paradigm's Reference ADP-470. These are, of course, Paradigm's intended "surround" speakers using Adaptive Dipole technology. This doesn't mean, though, that it's you're only choice. I'm guessing that you're leaning toward front-firing speakers for surrounds -- such as the Studio 20 and 40 v.3, which give a more focused soundfield. My experience with Paradigm's ADP surround speakers is that they tend to be more enveloping and diffuse. Given that, and assuming that's the way you want to go, I see no reason why you cannot put the 20s up front, providing you're planning to use a sub, or the 40s -- or even the 80s or 100s. The advantage of the latter two is that they're floorstanders and don't need stands, along with the expense that goes with that. The 60s and 100s are also fairly generous in the bass, meaning you could get away with no sub.
You can see where I'm leaning, but of course, it's your money. The real beauty of Paradigm's designs is that within a series they're tonally matched quite nicely and you can mix'n'match the different speakers quite easily. In the end, how you go will likely depend most on your budget....Doug Schneider
High-value reviews, CD player with volume control
May 25, 2004
I'm glad to see that the Bryston 4B SST amp has finally made it to the on-deck circle. I hope you'll be able to compare it to the Simaudio W-6 monoblocks and maybe Portal Audio's new monoblocks.
I must tell you, I really enjoy and value the excellent reviews you provide on your site. I also read Stereophile and occasionally check out TAS and Stereo Times, but for consistent, high-value and current information, I've found that SoundStage! is the best. Your recent review of the ProAc Response D38 is a solid example of a high-value review, and it sounds like these speakers really like the Simaudio W-6es.
I'm also wondering if there's a one-box CD/universal player or transport/DAC combo with built-in volume control in price between the Resolution Audio Opus 21 ($3500) and Theta Digital Generation VIII ($10,000) that I may be overlooking or is about to come to market?
There aren't a lot of digital components with built-in volume control, but Linn's new Unidisk SC universal player ($4995) has this feature -- and many others. Here's a link to a news story about the Unidisk SC.
We'll try to get one of these for review. Wish us luck!...Marc Mickelson
Paradigm Studio 20 v.3 or Active/40?
May 19, 2004
To Doug Schneider,
I enjoyed your review of the Paradigm Reference Studio 20 v.3s. How would you compare them to the older Reference Active/40s? Which would you find more neutral? I currently own a pair of Active/40s and I am wondering if moving to the Studio 20 v.3s would be a worthwhile upgrade.
Although the Studio 20 v.3s are excellent, I don't feel that the moving from your Active/40s to them would be a worthwhile upgrade. The Active/40s, although older, are simply outstanding and do things that the Studio 20 v.3s can't. What might be worth your while is to consider the new Signature S2s, if bookshelf-sized speakers are your thing. My review of them will be published June 1....Doug Schneider
Silverline Bolero review
May 17, 2004
To Wes Phillips,
Great review of the Silverline Boleros. I definitely keep company with your friend Randy mentioned in the review. For over 25 years I had stacked Quad 57s, but I could never get CDs to sound good on them, however, and a move finally prompted their sale. Since then, after much listening, I was reluctantly contemplating returning to electrostatics. All dynamic speakers sounded some combination of edgy, glaring, glitzy, cold, analytical -- you get the picture. Yes, they were dynamic and detailed, but what was the point if they drove me from the room? But your review makes the Bolero a speaker I must audition.
By the way, say hello to Randy.
I'm glad you found the review illuminating. The Boleros weren't my cup of tea, but I respect the unique vision of Alan Yun -- and it sounds as though the Boleros might well be the dynamic speaker you have been looking for....Wes Phillips
"Exploring the Unique Sound of Tube Amplifiers"
May 12, 2004
To Alison Aulph,
Just dropping a note to let you know that I enjoyed your "Getting Technical" column on tube and solid-state amps. This is one of those fascinating topics that people will be debating for years to come. I've always been interested in the differences, and your article shed some light on some of the basics between the two.
Interestingly, for instrument amplifiers (guitars in particular), tubes are preferred by many because of their "warmth" and the natural distortion they produce. There is a noticeable difference in the harmonics produced by a tube amp over the distortion circuit from a solid-state amp. The way the sound decays and the feedback you get with a tube amp also adds to the characteristic sound. It's funny how people move to newer technology in the hopes of more accurate sound reproduction, only to realize that they preferred the older version.
It must be difficult writing articles that provide the right balance of in-depth technical information, while keeping the article short and making it easy to read. Keep it up.
Transport for Zanden DAC?
May 11, 2004
Earlier we exchanged several e-mail messages about the Zanden Model 5000 DAC. I want to let you know that I finally acquired the Mk IV version of this DAC. You certainly influenced my decision, and I certainly do not regret it. Thank you for all your precious comments. The DAC has run for about 150 hours now, and although I am not listening to it with the best transport (I am using the Orpheus Zero or Electrocompaniet EMC-1 CD player), I cant go back to my EMC-1 CD player alone. I love this DAC! Beyond the very pure and extended upper midrange it produces and its stunning ability to separate the instruments, I am most charmed by the impression of naturalness this DAC imparts. The only slight drawback I can think of is the bass, which is not as powerful and deep as with the Electrocompaniet player or the Orpheus Zero/One duo, although what the Model 5000 does in my system and room is quite enough for me. However, because of that and of its low output voltage, I think this DAC will not work in just any system. For example, I brought it to a friends house. He owns the Pass Aleph 1.2 amp and Pass Aleph P preamp combo and the result was catastrophic -- no bass at all and a rather dull, lifeless performance. Nothing comparable in my system, fortunately.
Anyhow, now I realize the huge importance of having a good transport upstream. I noticed that you were using a PiTracer from 47 Lab with the Zanden DAC in your recent review of the ProAc D38 speakers. I would have expected you to use the Zanden 2000 transport instead. Have you heard the Zanden transport already -- I mean carefully, not at a show like CES? Not that I am ready to put so much money into a transport (I heard it costs $25,000! Do you confirm?). I just want to know if it really represents a breakthrough with respect to the competition. Do you plan to review it for SoundStage!? Have you ever heard the Chord Blue transport? Also, someone near me is selling a used CEC TL-1x for 2950. Do you think this is a transport at the level of the Zanden DAC?
Of course, I greatly admire the Zanden Model 5000 DAC -- I use it in my reference system with a Mark Levinson No.37 transport, which works very well with it. I wouldn't write off the Orpheus transport so quickly -- those Orpheus guys know what they're doing when it comes to digital. Compare it against others before you decide to move on.
Other transports to consider? You will read about the 47 Labs PiTracer on SoundStage! this month. Of course, Zanden's Model 2000 transport is worth considering if you can afford it (pricing wasn't set at CES, but it's rumored to be around $20,000). I talked with Mr. Yamada of Zanden at CES about reviewing the Model 2000, and I suspect it will happen at some point. Ensemble's Dirondo is worth considering as well, and it's far less expensive than the 47 Lab and Zanden transports. I am not familiar with the Chord and CEC transports you mention. At the top of the list of features for a transport to pair with the Model 5000 DAC should be BNC connection, with which the DAC sounds its best. All of the models I mention above have it....Marc Mickelson
May 10, 2004
To Doug Schneider,
Great review of the Paradigm Reference Studio 20 v.3! I've been waiting for your review for some time now as this speaker is high on my list of speakers to buy as mains. The other one under consideration is its bigger brother -- the Studio 40 v.3.
One question, please, which was not addressed in your review: Given adequate power, will the Studio 20 V.3s be sufficient for a larger room, say 3900 cubic feet (18 x 18 x 12 with some upholstered furniture, some carpet, and drapes), or should I lean toward the Studio 40 v.3s? I listen to music 40%, home theater 60%, neither terribly loud.
Based on my experience with the Studio 20 v.3s, they could be adequate in your situation - but barely. Im guessing that they could be borderline because your room is, with a 12 ceiling and those other dimensions, quite large. The 20 v.3 are robust-sounding and can play quite loud, but theyre still a small speaker. The fact that you say you don't play terribly loud helps, but, still, I think it's better to plan for any circumstance.
I would say that you have two options. One would be to get the Studio 20 v.3s, see how they work, and if they are not suitable to fill that large space alone, add a subwoofer. Actually, this is an appealing way to go because you have the flexibility of placing the speakers where they work best and the subwoofer where it works best. The second option would be to go with the Studio 40 v.3s, which are larger speakers and have greater output capability, or even the Studio 60 v.3s, which are similar to the Studio 40 v.3s, but are floorstanders and therefore dont require stands....Doug Schneider
Bass management and the Mark Levinson No.40
May 7, 2004
To Jeff Fritz,
In view of your reply (May 4, 2004) on analog or digital bass management, I am interested in your opinion on the Mark Levinson No.40, which indeed converts all analog signals to digital, does the bass management, and then reconverts them to analog to be sent to the amplifier(s). Mark Levinson claims that there is no degradation in sonic quality. I wonder if an analog pass-through would be a better solution.
I'd prefer a pass-through, but then bass management would have to be performed in the analog domain. The Denon AVR-5803 did this and the downside was that, according to Denon, there was less flexibility in the crossover frequency and the way the signal could be manipulated. Even the Outlaw Audio ICBM, a standalone component solely for bass management, operates in the analog domain and does not have infinitely variable controls. I guess Levinson's point is that if you want truly flexible bass management you must do it in the digital domain. And to get DSD to that component it must be sent via an analog signal. Not a perfect solution. Again, the best bet is to have bass management performed in the source player before the signal is sent to a pass-through within a preamp-processor or multichannel preamp....Jeff Fritz
Best ProAc value?
May 6, 2004
I've been intrigued by the ProAc line of loudspeakers for some time now, and I've only heard them once (Response D15) for a very limited time. Maybe this is because I own Naim electronics (NAP140 amp/NAC72 pre/CD-3) and assume they would be a good match. Looking at the current line of ProAcs (Response D15, D38, etc.), do you have an opinion about which might provide the best value (i.e., where/if the added expense is worth it for the musicality gained) as you move up the line from D15 to D38 and beyond? Obviously, I'll need to listen for myself before making a decision. Maybe you haven't heard the others but have a general opinion about where to obtain best value when looking at a family of loudspeakers.
A very good question. Given that I used to own ProAc's flagship speaker, the Response Four, I obviously believe that as you pay more in the ProAc product line, you get more. But you are looking for the point at which sound quality is maximized for the cost involved. I would say that the D38 is that point. The next step up, to the Response D80, is very steep (almost double the price), and with the D38 in particular, you get a nearly full-range speaker that offers the refinement of the larger models and greater bass extension than the smaller ones. It's a terrific speaker.
With other speaker lines, it's not always the model in the middle that represents the best value. In general, look for the model that uses drivers similar or identical to those in the company's flagship, and in a similar configuration. When drivers/configurations start changing radically (smaller cabinets are a given as you move downward in a speaker line), you know that cost considerations are having their effect....Marc Mickelson
Why no Bryston reviews?
May 5, 2004
I was curious as to why you have not done any reviews of Bryston equipment. Specifically, the 875 HT or 6B SST. I am in the process of upgrading my home theater and like the flexibility offered by the 875 HT.
We reviewed a Bryston 4B-ST amplifier five years ago, and have inquired a few times more recently, but we haven't yet been able to arrange anything with the company. We will keep trying -- we get e-mail every other month or so asking us to review something from Bryston....Marc Mickelson
Analog or digital bass management?
May 4, 2004
To Jeff Fritz,
I stumbled across your review of the Outlaw Audio ICBM bass management unit -- very informative, thank you -- because I'm researching whether or not bass management is performed in the "analog domain" on most current universal players that offer bass management. I just bought a Sony DVP-NC685V because with its digital out off, the manual states that "The influence of the digital circuit upon the analog circuit is minimal." But if I change any of the default speaker settings, "bass-redirection circuitry will be activated." Please tell me that this isn't PCM manipulation that will compromise the high-resolution signal. I appreciate your response if you have time; I hope the above is enough information.
Most if not all bass management that is performed in current universal players is done in the digital domain. Theoretically this is the best place to keep it, as opposed to converting the signal to analog, sending it to a processor, converting it back to digital to manipulate it, then back to analog before going out to your amplifiers. Remember that if you are using a digital output (from one of a few companies that have this feature) for high-resolution audio the signal is still manipulated in the digital domain, just not in the source player. The other option is an analog bass manager like the Outlaw unit. All other things being equal, I prefer the processing to be in the player....Jeff Fritz
May 3, 2004
I noticed that you visited the Avalon Acoustics factory earlier this year. Do you have any plans to review any of their speakers in the near future, the Opus Ceramic for example? I am currently thinking about replacing my Sonus Faber Guarneris with them, but it's proving very difficult to do a proper audition with my electronics, which are the CAT JL-2 amp and SL-1 preamp. The standard Opus was reviewed by Robert Harley, but the Ceramic version has not been reviewed yet, and they are very different according to Lucien Pichette of Avalon.
Actually, Jeff Fritz and I visited Avalon Acoustics late last year; we didn't get the time to write about it until this year, however.
We have talked with Avalon about reviewing their speakers, but nothing has been arranged at this point. I will certainly keep trying....Marc Mickelson
Further thoughts on DV-50?
May 1, 2004
I was wondering if you'd had any further thoughts or feedback on the Esoteric DV-50? I've read some mild disgruntlement in various forums and would like to be sure before making a decision.
"Disgruntlement" and "forums" often go hand in hand. I've used the DV-50 since my review, and I think as much about it now as I did when I reviewed it. It's a wonderful product -- not that it can't be bettered. You'll see coverage of the Esoteric UX-1 and X-01 soon....Marc Mickelson
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