What's in a power rating?
December 31, 2004
To Doug Schneider,
I have been a fan of your reviews for a number of years. I recently had the opportunity to listen to a Simaudio i-3 integrated amplifier at a friend's home. I was impressed, and surprised that its power rating (100Wpc into 8 ohms) is apparently higher than that of the i-5 (70Wpc into 8 ohms). Is there a reason for this?
With amplifiers, power output is something, but it isn't everything. An amplifier manufacturer once said to me, "It's pretty easy to make a high-powered solid-state amplifier, but it's not that easy to make one sound good." Therefore, with high-end amplifiers from specialty manufacturers, power and price don't always correlate. Take Lamm Industries, for example, whose most expensive amplifier is their lowest-powered one!
There are number differences between the i-3 and i-5. Cosmetically -- perhaps some will say "superficially" -- the i-3 is not as nice looking in my opinion because it doesn't have the "legs" that jut out to the side, giving the i-5 a more elegant appearance and a firmer footing than the i-3's simple rubber feet. You'll also notice that the i-5 has the round volume knob on the front panel, which the i-3 doesn't have. These things cost money. Inside, from the pictures Simaudio supplies on its website, it's quite easy to see that the circuit designs are quite a bit different. How this will translate to sound quality and your listening enjoyment, though, is what you'll need to determine....Doug Schneider
"...the Holy Grail among relatively reasonably priced solid-state products..."
December 30, 2004
To Jeff Fritz,
I just read your excellent review of the Classé CA-2200 stereo amplifier and thought I'd mention that I recently purchased Simaudio's fully balanced, fully differential Moon Limited Edition (LE) system, which includes the W-5 LE dual-mono power amp, P-5 LE dual-mono preamp, and Eclipse LE CD player. I would love to see a review of this Moon LE gear in the pages of SoundStage!. If you haven't yet had the pleasure of hearing this Moon LE gear, I would urge you to do so, because I believe this is among the best-sounding, hand-built, solid-state gear one can buy at their price points.
Until I heard the Moon LE gear at Archive Audio in Bexley, OH, I was planning to buy tube electronics. This Moon LE gear sounds far better to my ears than the overpriced offerings from Krell, Levinson, and Edge. I also prefer my Moon LE gear to the rather lean and sometimes overly analytical sound of Spectral, and I find that it sounds just as magical as tubes but without the maintenance and upkeep.
In summary, for those looking for the Holy Grail among relatively reasonably priced solid-state products, the Moon LE line deserves serious attention. (I have no business affiliations with either Simaudio or Archive Audio. I'm merely an enthusiastic owner of the Simaudio gear mentioned above.)
I heard the Simaudio W-5 amp a few years back, and it was a fine amplifier. I'm sure the LE version is even better. Sounds like you're enjoying yourself and your new gear, and that's what it's all about....Jeff Fritz
Cables for Signature S8s
December 28, 2004
After reading your very well-written and accurate review of the Paradigm Signature 8 speakers, I auditioned them. You wrote with enthusiasm, which I experienced while listening to these superb price-for-performance speakers.
In your review, I noticed that you used several different brands of interconnects, speaker cables and power cords. I was wondering what your thoughts were on the cables you liked and why you liked them. I have decided to go with Anthem's Statement P5 amp due to the capability of the amp and the package that I am being offered from my dealer.
Since you reviewed the speakers and know their characteristics, your opinion on cables would be greatly appreciated. Most dealers either do not have experience with these speakers or only sell certain cable brands.
If I were an owner of the Paradigm Signature S8s, I would look for cables that are similarly sonically refined and reasonably priced. This would point me toward two brands that I recommend quite often: Analysis Plus and DH Labs. Both have interconnects, speaker cables and power cords at various prices points, and all perform far above their asking prices. I could be very happy with Analysis Plus Solo Crystal Oval or DH Labs Revelation and Q-10. Both are well designed, offer detailed sound, and don't cost a fortune. The Signature S8s deserve as much....Marc Mickelson
M2 or S2, part 2
December 27, 2004
To Doug Schneider,
Superb review of the PSB Platinum M2 speakers, as always. It was full of meaningful information for a potential buyer such as a direct comparison with a competitive model from a different brand.
I have one question. Given that I won't be able to compare the two speakers, did you notice any difference in the stage height as reproduced by the M2 and the Paradigm Signature S2? Sometimes the tweeter position makes a difference there, but not always. (I remember the original EgglestonWorks Andra, a shortish speaker but with a tall stage height versus the original Merlin VSM, same excellent tweeter but less stage height.)
And by the way, Paradigm also offers dedicated stands that do screw to the bottom of the S2. I find them a bit too tall at 29".
Indeed, Paradigm does sell speaker stands suitable for the Signature S2. They're marketed under the Premier A/V Modular Furniture banner. These still aren't quite the same as what PSB is doing for the M2, though. PSB's stands are for the M2s only, and they can't be used with any other speaker, whereas Premier stands, while compatible, aren't specific to just one model. That's more the point I was trying to make in the review. As for the stand height of 29", I agree that it does seem a little high -- I prefer the S2s on 26" stands. Finally, in terms of soundstage height, in my room I never noticed any real discernible difference. The M2, with the tweeter down low, didn't "sound low"; the S2, with the tweeter on top, didn't "sound high."...Doug Schneider
Wilson Audio XS details
December 23, 2004
To Jeff Fritz,
I'm interested in a Wilson Audio XS subwoofer and have wondered about the crossover. I am hoping to get a pair of MAXX 2s to go with the XS. Do you think a crossover is best for that combo? Do you know if Wilson makes an adjustable crossover, or am I stuck with a 35Hz setting? I was also wondering about the physical size of the crossover you used with the XS. Did you place it on the floor, or can it fit on a rack? Thanks in advance, and thanks also for your informative and humorous reviews in SoundStage!.
The Wilson Audio crossover is used in a low-pass configuration for the XS, but I'd not recommend that you use the crossover for the MAXX 2s. Run them full range, and simply use the XS for the extreme bottom end. Wilson Audio specifies a 35Hz setting because the XS excels at the very deepest bass; remember that the MAXX 2 has usable output down to 20Hz itself, a truly full-range speaker. It's only in the very lowest bass that the XS can contribute, but, boy, can it play low. The only exception to this preferred setup would be if you are using the system for home theater. In that case I'd use your processor's crossover in place of the Wilson Audio crossover and let the XS reproduce the LFE channel alone. The Wilson crossover can easily fit on a rack....Jeff Fritz
Improving the Benchmark DAC1
December 22, 2004
To Doug Schneider,
I'm a Benchmark DAC1 owner as well as a speaker manufacturer, and I wanted to share with you a few observations in regard to your review of the DAC1.
You didn't mention in your review the sonic improvements achieved when you switch from Variable (volume control active) to Calibrated (volume control out). We've tried both positions with and without preamps, and using the Calibrated position with a good preamp in the circuit was better every time than going through the very mediocre onboard pot straight into an amp. I agree generally that the ability to lose a component with its cabling is a plus. But with this DAC this wasn't the case -- the onboard pot is very average. An interesting side note, however, is that when switching to the Calibrated position the output level decreases slightly. But the sonic virtues of the Calibrated position are a bigger soundstage, more analog-like sound with better flow and pace, tighter and more natural bass, smoother sound, and better focus and clarity. In other words, it's better in every way.
DK Design Group review?
December 21, 2004
To Doug Schneider,
I'm in the process of changing my current Simaudio Moon I-5 integrated amplifier. One of the products I'm contemplating is the VS-1 Reference Mk II from DK Design Group. May I have an idea of when your evaluation of this unit will be published?
I'm currently evaluating the VS-1 Reference Mk II in my new, massive listening room. I think this is a product you'll definitely want to check out. Our goal is to have the review with measurements online in February 2005....Doug Schneider
Raspy surround sound
December 20, 2004
To Jeff Fritz,
I have been reading your "Surrounded" columns for a while and really appreciate your insight. I have a question about which playback mode is best for DVD concert videos. It seems I am getting low, raspy sounds no matter what mode I put my Sony STR-597 receiver in. Any suggestions? I am using a 6.1 setup with Cambridge SoundWorks Newton Series 300 speakers and a Polk Audio PSW-202 subwoofer. (By the way, music CDs sound great). Thanks for your response.
The default mode for concert DVDs is Dolby Digital, and you should not be getting raspy sound with that format. I suspect that the problem has nothing to do with the playback mode you're using, but instead a problem elsewhere in the receiver. Here's a test: With all channels driven, using Pro Logic mode and a CD, you can easily determine if the problem is strictly limited to concert DVDs and Dolby Digital. If the raspiness is present with this Pro Logic/CD arrangement there's likely a problem with your receiver's amplifier section and you'd need to have it looked at. The only other possible diagnosis I can think of is that you have a blown driver somewhere in your speaker system and you're hearing this as the volume increases. Check out these possible explanations and let me know what you come up with....Jeff Fritz
Arcam CD23T "a good purchase two years later?"
December 17, 2004
To Doug Schneider,
I've recently been looking to replace my existing digital front-end, and I came across your excellent review of the Arcam FMJ CD23T CD player. I've had the opportunity to audition this wonderful player in my home, and I am seriously considering purchasing it even though it is now discontinued and replaced by the FMJ CD33.
But I'm not just writing you to tell you that. I'm actually curious about why you didn't name this player a Reviewers' Choice considering your very favorable review and the fact that you put the CD23T up against the Audio Aero Capitole CD player and the Zanden Audio Model 5000 DAC, which both were named Reviewers' Choice and are much more expensive. Shouldn't the Arcam player have been considered given that it held its own with these other units and because of its much lower price?
How do you feel about this player today? Would you still consider it a good purchase two years later?
Our Reviewers' Choice designation recognizes products in two categories: exceptional value and/or state-of-the-art performance. In terms of the Arcam FMJ CD23T, I can't say that it's state of the art because, as I mentioned in the review, the units from Audio Aero and Zanden Audio are "better" -- even if only by a little bit. An argument could be made for exceptional value because the CD23T did approach state-of-the-art sound, but at a fraction of the cost of SOTA units. Still, at about $2500 when reviewed, the CD23T could hardly be called a "steal" in the same way that Benchmark Media's DAC1 and Stello's DA220 digital-to-analog converters are today. If the CD23T at the time was, say, $1500, yeah, I would consider it a steal, too. If a component doesn't get our Reviewers' Choice nod, for the reasons I outlined, this doesn't mean it's not a good product. The CD23T was an outstanding product when I reviewed it, and I suspect that it would still hold its own today. I also suspect that on the used market it would sell for far less than the asking price, which may well make it a great purchase....Doug Schneider
Classé amplifier -- "sound unheard"
December 16, 2004
To Jeff Fritz,
I just purchased a Classé Delta CA-2200 amplifier -- sound unheard -- based on your review. I'm going to pair it with my Sonic Frontiers Line 3 preamp and my Sony SS M9ED speakers (Sony's reference floorstanders from a couple years back -- awesome speakers). I'm excited about this amp, although it's not here yet. Is it as good as you say? I was looking for near reference quality without spending twice as much and my sound preferences are clear, fast, open, neutral, detailed, resolving sound, with a low noise floor and extended top end. Did I pick a good amp? I hope so; it sure seemed as if you liked it based on your review.
By the way, you really have a nice system!
I hope the CA-2200 is as good as I say, or I'm in trouble! Seriously, you'll love it. I've heard that those Sony speakers are really good, and the Sonic Frontiers preamp has been a favorite among audiophiles for many years. With your list of hot buttons, I have no doubt you'll be pleased with the addition of the Classé amp. Let me know how it works out. Also, be sure to check out Ultra Audio on December 15th for a review of the Classé Audio Delta CDP-100 CD player....Jeff Fritz
Esoteric or Zanden?
December 15, 2004
I find your reviews always to be careful and insightful, and smartly written. Thus, I use them as a guide for my purchases.
I am currently in the process of buying a DAC and transport. I was inclined toward the new Zanden Signature DAC and the 2000P transport. However, your review of the Esoteric P-70 and D-70 leads me to believe that this combination might be right at the front of the pack. At the least, you seemed to prefer the Esoteric equipment to the Zanden 5000 Mk III / Levinson No.37 combo. Have you had an opportunity to listen to the latest Zanden products, and, if so, do you think they outperform the P-70/D-70? The problem for most of us, of course, is that we don't have an opportunity to audition every product.
As I point out in my review, the Esoteric and Zanden / Levinson combos are rather different in terms of sound, and your choice between them will likely be dictated by that (if you don't need a preamp, the Esoteric combo adds volume control as well). I doubt if any digital combination or single-box player will purely outperform the P-70/D-70, but I'm sure that personal preference will push listeners toward it or the Zanden combo. Price is also a consideration. The latest iteration of the Zanden Model 5000 DAC costs more by itself than the P-70/D-70 together.
In 2005 I will be able to report on the Zanden Model 5000 Mk III DAC used with the Model 2000P transport, which I will be receiving for review after CES. I don't have the P-70/D-70 any longer, but I do have the Esoteric X-01 for comparison, as well as the Audio Research CD 3 Mk II. So stay tuned....Marc Mickelson
M22, M2 or S2?
December 14, 2004
To Doug Schneider,
I've read your speaker reviews over the years, and I really like them. I wonder if you can give me expert advice regarding minimonitors for a small room. I listen 70% of the time to rock, and to blues, jazz and trance 30% of the time. I am considering the Revel Performa M22 (or M20), Paradigm Signature S2 and the PSB Platinum M2. Which one do you think is best for a small room? Maybe you have other suggestions.
I reviewed the Performa M20, Signature S2 and Platinum M2, but not Revel's new Performa M22 that replaced the M20. All three are excellent speakers, and they've all received our Reviewers' Choice nod based on exceptional value and state-of-the-art performance. They're not equal in terms of sound, mind you. I do like both the S2 and M2 over the now-discontinued M20. However, you should read my current review of the M2, which contrasts it and the S2, and then, before you make any final decision, hear both speakers. Which one is better to you will come down to personal preference more than anything....Doug Schneider
"...more of the best reviews on stuff I can actually buy"
December 13, 2004
There is a lot of equipment out there designed to fit in a "working man's" budget. However, I feel like oftentimes (almost always) it is more fun for reviewers to write about premier equipment. I just wanted to say that for many of us, all we can do is read and dream about such gear. I'm a student, and I want to put together a great-sounding system, but I am working with a very limited budget. I guess I'm asking for more reviews of affordably priced equipment. You guys are the best reviewers. I just want more of the best reviews on stuff I can actually buy.
The SoundStage! Network has an entire site that's dedicated to high-performance audio on a budget, www.goodsound.com. You'll find many reviews of interesting products there. SoundStage! certainly has no boundaries in terms of the price of products we review, and I'm sure you'll see reviews of more components in your price range in 2005....Marc Mickelson
"Gotta go now -- the family room is free"
December 10, 2004
What a great editorial this month ["Your Audio System for a Horse"]. We truly live in the Golden Age of audio reviewing. As you noted, every audiophile with a PC and a broadband connection can while away his lunch hour or late evening cruising audio sites. It's so easy and addictive -- especially when serious listening is either inconvenient or just unacceptable.
Here's my schedule: the 1st and 15th belong to SoundStage! -- not just the mother site but Ultra Audio and the incomparable Wes Phillips. Every Monday is Stereophile -- I love the soapbox and weekly vote comments. Throughout the month, Positive Feedback and Six Moons with an occasional trip to Secrets of Home Theater and Ultra High Fi. Can anyone resist a weekly visit to Audiogon? Of course, when I need to read about music there's Amazon and Music Angle.
Gotta go now -- the family room is free.
Wilson Audio Alexandria X-2 coverage
December 9, 2004
To Jeff Fritz,
You're a fortunate soul to receive a first-hand demonstration of the Wilson Audio Alexandria X-2 by none other than David Wilson himself. And in his home no less! I found your feature on the X-2 just recently and have read it over twice -- it's the kind of article that makes an audiophile dream of owning such a beauty. Thanks for your (ahem) hard work! I really enjoy your writing about the Wilson products (I read your WATCH Dog II article in "Surrounded" as well).
Paradigm Reference Active/40 follow-up
December 8, 2004
To Doug Schneider,
Thanks for the prompt answers to my questions regarding the Paradigm Reference Active/40 speakers. I found a local dealer who demoed a used pair for me through his Benchmark DAC1, and it was the most transparent, musical sound I've ever heard (even Bach himself would find the cello reproduction remarkably accurate). The jump from my PSB Image 5T to the Active/40s is even greater than the upgrade from the NAD 521BEE CD player to the DAC1. It's akin to upgrading from a Honda Civic to the Audi RS6 (which is an upgrade I recently indulged in)! I bought the Paradigms right there and then for $1500 (the wood veneer was enchanting enough to please my fiancée). Thanks again for the advice, Doug.
December 7, 2004
To Joseph Taylor,
I have started collecting classical music on vinyl along with other genres. But my concern is for which record labels I should look for in terms of overall quality. Is this something you can advise on or point me toward a resource that discusses record-label quality past and present?
Check out Ron Penndorf's website. It has a lot of information about how label designs changed over the years, so you can recognize when a record was pressed. You should also check his "Fine Vintage LPs" links, since his descriptions are a good reference point for collecting those titles. His prices seem reasonable, too....Joseph Taylor
Anthem Statement review?
December 6, 2004
Do you know when Jason Thorpe's review of the Anthem Statement P2 amplifier will be published? I am a little surprised at how few reviews there have been of the new Statement gear. I'm very anxious to read something about it.
I can't say for sure when our review of the Anthem Statement P2 amp will appear, but I do know it won't be before CES....Marc Mickelson
Paradigm Reference Active/40
December 3, 2004
To Doug Schneider,
I hope you can spare several moments and offer some advice. Paradigm Active/40 speakers sound like the solution for me. I'm using the Benchmark DAC1 and I want to output its XLR directly into the Active/40s, but I have some questions regarding these legendary gems. What do you recommend regarding stands (height, composition, sand and/or shot-filled, material)? Does XLR really make a difference over S/E output? Where can I find these beauties?
Thank you for any information you can provide.
The Active/40s are rather tall speakers and, as a result, generally need shorter stands. A stand height of 20" is about right. The decision to use balanced connections (XLR) depends on a number of things. In general, balanced connections are superior to single-ended connections for very, very long cable runs and where noise can become an issue. Unless you are in an extremely noisy environment I doubt you'll hear any difference if your cables are less than 10'. If you are using very long cable runs -- 20' feet or longer -- a balanced connection is likely the way to go. Finally, the Active/40 was one of Paradigm's best-ever speakers, but unfortunately the company discontinued it because, well, the home market still doesn't seem to want to accept the idea of powered loudspeakers. At their retail price of $2000/pair, they were an absolute steal. I can only suggest shopping around on the used market to find a pair....Doug Schneider
What about the CUB II?
December 2, 2004
To remind you of our previous correspondence, I had asked you what your favorite speaker and amp combinations were a few weeks back. You kindly recommended Lamm and Atma-Sphere amplifiers with Wilson Audio speakers. Looking back over your reviews of the Wilson speakers, I noticed that you have reviewed the Watt/Puppy 6 and 7, Sophia and MAXX 2. Have you ever considered reviewing the CUB II?
I don't know much about it, but after looking over the Wilson Audio website per your suggestion, it struck me as quite possibly the entry-level speaker for Wilson's take on the "state of the art." Maybe these stand-mounted speakers are not of the same sound quality as the more famous models, but if they were it could be rather interesting to see how much one gets in the smaller package and at the lower price. Those who cannot afford the CUB II's bigger brethren might still gain admittance to the show sans the prime seats, as it were. I also observed that the CUB II's sensitivity is rated by Wilson as 94dB, which would appear to make it an even more copacetic match to such amplifiers as the Lamm ML2s than the already very sensitive Watt/Puppy 7s. Got an itch?
A very good recommendation. I'll see what I can do. You'll want to follow our Las Vegas 2005 coverage -- something new is coming from Wilson Audio, and we'll find out what it is in Las Vegas....Marc Mickelson
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