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I read with great interest your "Comparisons on Paper: B&W 803 Diamond Versus Tidal Contriva Diacera SE" and was very intrigued. You have brought to light exactly why the high end needs better representation from the press in order to get down to the real issues. If there are reasons the Tidal is that much more expensive, then we need someone to bring them to light. You, sir, are asking questions that the other reviewers won’t approach. But you also have the experience to dissect this issue for the rest of us. I surely hope a Tidal review is coming and we get your expert opinion on this subject.
I am speaking with the company presently and will have an answer shortly as to whether a review can be arranged. . . . Jeff Fritz
Your provocative peek at a comparison between these two speakers [B&W 803 Diamond vs. Tidal Contriva Diacera SE] is, well, provocative!
I've listened to the larger-model B&W and Tidal Contriva Diacera. Given the price differences I'm now considering purchasing the Contriva. However, I'm still looking for data points. When will you do this shootout?
Given the wide-ranging interest in this article, I will make a point at CES to speak with the Tidal folks about reviewing a speaker from them in the very near future. . . . Jeff Fritz
An interesting exercise in applied theory [B&W 803 Diamond vs. Tidal Contriva Diacera SE]. As a previous owner, many moons ago, I must confess, of the B&W 801s, that I admire their approach and to some degree their results. On the other hand, the Tidal Contrivas, which I heard at this year’s CES, leave little else to be desired from a midsize full-range speaker. Owning a pair of the Tidal Sunrays sheds an intrinsic light on the rest of Tidal’s models, design, construction, and ultimately their beguiling sound.
This comparison begs the question: would you compare a BMW M3 to a Toyota Corolla SE? Both will get you there; one, though, a lot faster and in greater style and performance.
I like your BMW-Toyota analogy. In some respects, it works for me. The M3 is certainly faster and a much greater chick-magnet than a Corolla. However, the Toyota will be more reliable in the long term (I've owned several BMWs, and after that 50k warranty expires, look out!), have greater resale value, get better gas mileage, and all that for a much better price. So, for many consumers, the more prudent buy is the Toyota based on what it does.
But these aren’t cars. And loudspeakers aren't measured in 0-60 times. You listen to them, of course, and that result determines their intrinsic value. I actually heard the Tidal Piano Diacera speaker at RMAF this year and I have to admit that I was smitten by its ability to throw an astoundingly transparent soundstage. After hearing it, I can reasonably conclude that the Tidal Contriva Diacera SE is a really awesome speaker. But the B&W 803 Diamond I have in my room right now is also very good in its own right -- and it is still one-sixth the price of the Tidal.
So, back to the car analogy: The BMW M3 has a base price of $58,400. The Toyota Corolla starts at $15,450. For most consumers, those looking at the Toyota won't consider the BMW. And since you might not have heard the 803 Diamond, you have to ask yourself: What if, just what if, you got the Corolla on the track and it did do 0-60 in 5 seconds flat because a company with the engineering resources decided to make it so, would you buy it? In the loudspeaker world, that could very easily happen. I could give you so many examples where price does not equate to performance in high-end audio. After all, I know of some train-wreck six-figure loudspeakers out there. That's why we have to ask these questions and that was the real purpose behind the article. . . . Jeff Fritz
To Peter Roth,
I was reading your review of the Vandersteen Seven and your comments were similar to my impressions when I heard the speakers last week at Optimal Enchantment in Santa Monica, California. I currently have the 5As and they almost sounded broken when I got home and listened to my stereo. They sound better now that my memory of the Vandersteen Sevens is fading. I am considering purchasing the Sevens but wanted some suggestions of other competing speakers before pulling the trigger.
My current system is mostly ARC: Ref 5 preamp, Ref Phono, VM220 amps, EMM Labs XDS1 disc player, and Nottingham Dias turntable. I really like the 5As and the system sounds great with the current electronics. Thanks for any suggestions.
I have heard a lot of speaker systems, but none tempted me away from my Vandersteen 5As . . . until the Sevens. I have ordered a pair, which will become my new reference. I know that Randy Cooley at Optimal Enchantment is all about the tubes, and for good reason, but I really think having a great solid-state power amplifier (like the Ayre MX-R monoblocks, which I own -- look for my review on December 1) pairs beautifully with the Vandersteen Seven, the Seven being more demanding on the amplifier than the 5A. Richard Vandersteen also uses the Ayre MX-Rs at home with his Sevens.
If I were to go a different route, the few speakers that have repeatedly impressed me are the Vivid Giya (I especially like the G2), theTAD Reference Ones, and the Rockports. I have not yet had enough time listening to the newest Magico, but I do like that brand quite a bit too. I think the G2 is similarly priced to the Sevens; their US importer, Philip O’Hanlon, lives just down the road in San Juan Capistrano, so you could probably hear them there. In any event, I prefer the Vandersteen Sevens that are a truly a fantastic value, even though expensive, and I can’t wait for my pair to be built , but at the moment there is a several-month queue.
Glad you liked the review, and keep on reading Ultra Audio and the rest of the publications that are part of the SoundStage! Network. . . . Peter Roth
I have read your reviews. I am just wondering if you have had a chance to listen to Burmester's B100 loudspeakers. If you have, what are your impressions of them? How would you rate them or how do you think they compare to other high-end speakers like Rockport's Altair?
I currently run an all-Burmester system, and I am just wondering if I should shop for another set of speakers from other companies.
I have heard numerous Burmester loudspeakers (sorry, don't know all the model numbers) at shows through the years and have, on occasion, been very impressed. Generalizing, they always seem to throw large soundstages and have the ability to fill large rooms easily. However, nothing I've heard at shows leads me to believe that they are in the same league as the Rockport Altair or a number of other speakers such as those from Vivid Audio, TAD, and a few others. To me, these companies are a clear step up when it comes to speakers. I guess the takeaway is this: listen to the Burmesters, by all means, as they may be what you want to match with your electronics, but definitely hear the other contenders for the state of the art in loudspeakers before you buy anything. . . . Jeff Fritz
Great review [of the Weiss DAC202), very commonsense and that is what is needed in reviews!
I am trying to figure out how far up the DAC price-point chain I need to go to hit the peak of the value curve ($2000 up to the $6700 that the DAC202 costs). There are not many dealers where I live so I have no opportunity to go listen to much, let alone make comparisons. I have Gemme Audio speakers, Brinkmann mono amps, and a Simaudio preamp.
Have you heard the Bryston BDA-1? Maybe it is a starting point on the curve, and I am wondering if I need to spend $6700 or if the value-curve peak is somewhere before that and diminishing returns start to take over?
Part of the value proposition of the Weiss is the built-in preamp. It is a state-of-the-art DAC, but when you add in the preamp section the value-per-dollar in a system is increased. If you have a digital-only system it could easily replace your Simaudio, making the purchase easier to swallow. The starting point on the value-performance curve, however, is clearly the Ayre QB-9. At $2750, it represents state-of-the-art sound in a sensible package that is easy to use -- a real no-brainer if you have only a single computer source. I've not heard the Bryston, so can’t comment on that, though their products are almost always well received. . . . Jeff Fritz
Thanks for your review of the Weiss DAC202 on Ultra Audio.
I am struggling between the Weiss DAC202 and the Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC. I will be auditioning the Weiss DAC202 in the coming week or so. I have some friends who have the Berkeley and I enjoy the sonic qualities.
I would like to see if you have also tried the Berkeley and what are your impressions between the DAC202 and Alpha DAC. Thanks and best regards.
I have not heard the Alpha DAC in my system, but Ultra Audio contributor Simeon Sandiford uses one in his reference system and has had nothing but great things to say about it. It has a stellar reputation and features some of the same advantages as the Weiss, namely a digital volume control so that you can bypass a preamp. If you are thinking of setting up a computer-based system, the biggest consideration is what type of digital output you'll use. Although both DACs have a number of input types, only the Weiss has a FireWire input that makes it the perfect partner for a Mac. That was one deciding factor for me -- along with the stunning sound quality, of course. The DAC202 is my reference DAC, and I can’t really find fault with it at this time. . . . Jeff Fritz
I'm always following your articles and I thought I might shoot you a question for my new project.
At the moment I have the Vienna Acoustics The Music speakers matched up with the Krell Evo 402e amplifier and 202 preamp. And to be honest, when I heard these speakers in the store I didn't even bother looking at anything else -- that's how good I think they are. I'm now in a position to better my current setup so I thought I might ask you for your expert opinion, advice, and recommendation. Let me give you some info first: I have a large room and my budget allows me on the order of about $100k (AUD). Given the parity now with the USD I thought it would be a great time to do the project now. And if it makes a difference I can even stretch that a little further -- say $120k. I'm looking at the following speakers and amplifiers (and will match the source according to amp):
Speakers: Sonus Faber Stradivari Homage, Focal Scala Utopia, Rockport Aquila (Altair, but out of my price range), Magico Q5, or maybe even Kharma
Amplifiers: Halcro DM88/DM10 with DCS Puccini CD; Boulder 1060 or even 2060; other brands I have looked at but not too keen on are Pass, Mark Levinson, and Lamm
Which would you suggest? Thanks in advance for any advice and recommendation.
I just answered a similar question in which I recommended Rockport Technologies, TAD, and Vivid loudspeakers. These, to me, are the top speaker brands to consider if you are putting together a state-of-the-art system. Certainly the others you mention might also be contenders, but you have to narrow the field somehow and the ones I listed are simply beyond reproach in all the areas that I consider important.
I am a big fan of the Boulder electronics, particularly the 2060 amp, though at lower price points I'd certainly consider the Pass gear. Boulder and Pass both have great reputations for excellent sound and tremendous reliability, as well as great service after the sale. . . . Jeff Fritz
I've read your articles and reviews for years and I respect the fact that you've always purchased the equipment you review with. It is a refreshing change of pace in a time when some "personalities" in the industry seem to demand that their gear be paid for by someone else. You've always struck me as a straight-shooter.
My question involves a speaker search I am lucky enough to be embarking on. Basically, considering your experience, what speaker systems would you listen to if you were going for a state-of-the-art system? The budget is $100k and my room is 29' x 25' with 12' ceilings. I'll be using Boulder amplification like you. Thank you in advance for your advice.
Thank you for the kind words. You are in an enviable position to be considering such a purchase. It is certainly an exciting undertaking. While there are many speakers that would qualify as candidates, probably the easiest way for me to narrow them down for you is to consider what I'd purchase if it were me in your place. With that mindset, three speaker systems stand out as candidates:
The Rockport Technologies Altair Series II with the beryllium tweeter and revised bass driver would rank right up there at the top. My previous ownership of the original Altair was a magical experience for me and if the new one is even better, well . . .
I'd also listen to the Vivid Giya-series loudspeakers. I heard the G2 at the most recent Rocky Mountain Audio Fest and was transfixed by the sound. It is lightning fast, single-driver coherent, and has dynamic range that is startling.
Lastly, I'd listen to the TAD Reference Ones. These have always, year after year, impressed me greatly. If they can be set up to sound poor, I haven't heard it. They're full sounding and tonally beautiful -- essentially, impossible for me to find fault with after a handful of show auditions.
All three of these speakers have one thing in common: world-class engineering. This translates into sound that, although different with each one, is utterly true to the music in the end. Any one of them would make me happy as a "last purchase" and a way off the high-end merry-go-round forever. . . . Jeff Fritz
I've been a longtime fan of your reviews. I remember reading your DarTZeel amplifier review (SoundStage!, May 2005) in which you noted it might be a bit overpriced compared to its peers. A very honest opinion and a first for me when reading a review where typically you have to dig through the innuendo to try to figure out how the reviewer really felt.
My question is regarding the Weiss DAC202. I am interested in the DAC202 not only for its D/A conversion but also the ability to use it as a preamplifier. I have always been curious whether DACs with the built-in preamp capability benefited from a top-tier preamplifier, such as the Boulder preamplifier that is part of your reference system. I know the typical answer is that no preamp is the best preamp, but I rarely have seen comparisons where this was carried out with a top-of-the-line preamplifier. Did you get a chance to compare the DAC202 connected directly to your amplifiers versus through the preamplifier? If so, what were your impressions? Thank you.
Although I did not listen extensively to the Weiss DAC202 as a preamp during the formal review, I have had a chance to do so in subsequent months (I bought the DAC202 to use as a reference). I've found the volume control in the Weiss to sound better than any other source-implemented volume control that I've used. In fact, it is basically a wash with my Boulder 1010 preamp that I also use as a reference. They are both utterly transparent, and I'd have a hard time picking one out over the other in a blind test. Ultimately, I need a neutral preamp for reviewing sources with analog outputs, such as DACs, and the Boulder is a fine choice in that regard because it is neutral and extremely transparent. But if I was a digital-only audiophile and not in the review business, I could easily see myself bypassing the expense of owning an analog preamp and going with the Weiss exclusively. . . . Jeff Fritz
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