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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
To Garrett Hongo,
I really appreciated your descriptive review of the deHavilland KE50A mono amps. So much so that I’m considering their purchase. The system I’d like to finalize by next year centers around the Legacy Whisper XD speakers. The amps I’m considering are the Ayon Titan, EAR 890, or the DH 50As (plus Mercury 3 preamp). The one area I’m a stickler about is the noise of the tube amps. I know the Ayons are reputedly very quiet. Would you be so kind as to offer your perspective on how quiet the amp is, and with the Mercury pre as well? Looking forward to your upcoming reviews.
Regards and thanks,
Thank you for your comments! They're gratifying to hear.
The deHavilland KE50A monoblocks are extremely quiet, particularly with the deHavilland Mercury preamp -- my own reference electronics. However, I'm not familiar with the Legacy Whisper speakers you mention, though I've heard other Legacy speakers. I'm somewhat familiar with the Ayon line of amps, as I own a "relative" of sorts made by VAIC/Mastersound in Italy. Of course, Ayon has its own designs and has created some fine amps, exceptionally engineered. But I'm not familiar with one called the Titan. There is an Ayon KT88 amp called the Triton.
I've also reviewed the EAR 890 stereo amp and think highly of it.
It might boil down to a question of power and matching with your speakers. The KE50As are about 40W of output, the EAR 890 70W, and the Ayon Triton 125W.
The KE50As drive my Von Schweikert Audio VR5 HSE speakers (91dB/6 ohm) very well in a smallish 12' x 15' x 8.5' room. If your room isn't too large, I should think this would be an excellent match. Why not contact Kara Chaffee, owner and chief engineer of deHavilland? She's extremely affable, wants her clients to be completely happy, and can perhaps advise you in even better detail than I.
However, if your room is medium to large, you might look at the EAR 890 or Ayon Triton as alternatives. The 890 has plenty of giddyup. I haven't heard the Triton, but I like most all Ayon electronics. Good luck! . . . Garrett Hongo
To Garrett Hongo,
I read your most thoughtful reviews and think you got the EAR sound right and did a very good job delineating the 868 and 890. However, the comments on changing tubes in the 890 make it sound far more difficult than it is and I think you scared people off unnecessarily. While not convenient to remove/replace the cages, it isn't that tough and can readily be done in 20 minutes -- hardly a deal breaker, especially considering the sound. Of course, with the cages off, it's virtually instantaneous to change tubes.
What I think makes the 868 and 890 really special is their ability to put a very real image of a performance in the room with awesome tonality and dynamics. More than audiophile traits like being the airiest or most finessed, they get to the heart of the matter by being no-nonsense reproduction machines. They sound like real music and lots and lots of people really love this.
Thanks for bothering to read and comment. Appreciate the feedback.
Regarding tube changing on the 890 stereo amp, I just quoted Dan Meinwald (EAR distributor), pretty much. Maybe I shouldn't have included it, but, since I'd first gotten the amp with KT90 tubes . . .
In my review of the EAR 868 preamp, I pointed out that the Mercury preamp versus the 868 was airier, but that I preferred it on very specific, likely idiosyncratic music -- opera and choral -- while the 868's character was more suited to jazz and rock than the Mercury. I think readers might easily figure out for themselves which preamp might better appeal to them based on this comparison. Mahalo. . . . Garrett Hongo
I read your JL Audio Gotham review and you were using TrueRTA software with the Behringer ECM8000 microphone for frequency-response data collection. I have purchased the ECM8000 and it requires a phantom power supply. Do you use a preamp or the Behringer PS400 to provide phantom power to the ECM8000? As of now, I am using the RadioShack SPL meter with TrueRTA and I would like to set up the ECM8000 to get better results.
I am looking forward to your reply.
I use an MXL Mic Mate line-level XLR-to-USB adapter. It provides the phantom power supply for the microphone and interfaces with your computer without any additional drivers required. It is dead simple to use, and is also fairly inexpensive. . . . Jeff Fritz
Thank you for your excellent article on integrating Paradigm S2 v.3 speakers with Paradigm's top-of-the-line subwoofer. This was of particular interest to me as I am about to purchase two S2s, which I intend to integrate with my JL Audio Fathom f113 subwoofer.
I would suggest that you arrange to get a loaner Statement D2V from Anthem and run ARC on your setup. I am an electrical engineer, and before I tried ARC, I would make the same kinds of statements as you regarding speaker optimization using a room-correction program versus manual adjustment. What I found when I ran ARC was that while I was able to remove low-frequency room resonances as well as the ARC system, I could not produce anywhere near the precision and clarity in the frequency range existing for several octaves around the cutoff between my speakers and the Fathom. This difference was not insignificant, but rather took my existing system to a new level of performance. As an aside, I consider the Anthem D1 and its successor D2V the finest, most adaptable, and usable pieces of audio equipment that I have ever owned.
I am glad to see that someone else is extolling the virtues of audio-only linear PCM recordings made at 24-bit/96kHz and 192kHz. I have also purchased all of the Blu-ray 2L audio recordings and found that they are the highest-quality recordings that I have heard on any medium, be it CD, SACD, or vinyl.
Keep up the good work.
Nice article you had -- very interesting ("JL Audio Gotham g213: Integrating Super Subwoofers into an Ultra System"). I am in the process of integrating subs and I would appreciate some of your insight.
My mains are Klipsch LaScalas. My subs to be are RCF L18S801s. I will have two separate subs, and I have two different locations that are possible: either together mono between the mains, or stereo overlapping and with the mains.
Your article on how you filled in that 100Hz dip was interesting. I have a dbx DriveRack, so I can choose any slope up to 24dB/octave and any frequency, as well as time align. I am in the midst of getting REW (Room EQ Wizard from HomeTheaterShack.com) as well, and this will be the tool to make it happen.
Once REW is up and running, I think I should be OK. Any advice you have would be appreciated. By the way, I liked that trick of reversing polarity at 50Hz until the dip is most severe.
I'd definitely go mono, and close to your mains, and concentrate on getting a smoothly rising response down to 20Hz. Experimenting, measuring, and listening are the keys, and having the patience to stick with a monotonous process until your subwoofers are optimized will determine whether you are ultimately satisfied with the sound of your system. I know that seems quite obvious and simplistic, but the dialing-in process takes time and effort to get that last 5 percent of performance, and that last 5 percent can be the difference between acceptable sound and truly special sound. . . . Jeff Fritz
I came across your excellent room exploits ("Part One", "Part Two", and "Part Three") from a link of a link, which was started by some research on the Anthem processor you reviewed (I'm collecting my new D2v today!). I am very intrigued by the treatments you have installed and would love to see some more pictures of your room. Is there a link you can point me to where more pictures are available?
I am particularly interested in your Masonite cylindrical diffusers. Are they a hollow cavity behind the Masonite? Are they capped at the ends?
As for speaker positioning, do you find that ideal positioning needs to change from speaker to speaker? I assume your personal speakers are the Alexandrias? How do they differ to other smaller speakers with regard to positioning? My guess would be not much, as the ideal placement in the room will always be the ideal placement! I also see that your speakers are quite close to the wall behind them. Do you subscribe to ratios, i.e., rule of 3rds or 5ths?
My name is Phil and I'm in Melbourne, Australia, and I'm pretty addicted to this hobby. I have a dedicated music room that has many acoustical issues. I am currently using RealTraps to help its performance. There does not seem to be many acoustic experts down here, but then maybe I have not looked in the right places. I'd appreciate any info you care to share.
The diffusers are braced in three places behind the Masonite. This keeps them fairly stiff. If you don’t have an acoustic engineer handy, your best bet is to contact Terry Montlick Labs and have them do an e-mail consultation. It will be the best money you ever spent on your audio system and Terry can design your room treatments from common materials available at your local home store, making the service extremely good value.
As for speaker placement, there is a general set of dimensions within the room where most speakers sound best. Within that area, though, there are placement differences from speaker to speaker. Speakers vary with regard to radiation patterns, port placements, not to mention numerous design idiosyncrasies, so that placement for each set takes experimentation and experience. Rather than rely on rules, I've found the best method is to actually take acoustical measurements in my room. This is a far more effective method for fine-tuning placement and results in the best speaker placement each time out. As for more photos, check out the TWBAS 2009 articles here: http://ultraaudio.com/twbas.html.
As far as speakers go, no, I do not own the Wilson Alexandrias. I now have Rockport Technologies Arrakis loudspeakers, which are more neutral, transparent, and resolving than any other speaker I've heard, including the Wilsons. . . . Jeff Fritz
Good morning Mr. Fritz. I am an avid reader of Ultra Audio. May I ask you a question? I am about to buy a new set of speakers. My first choice is the Rockport Technologies Altair. Do you think I can proceed with my current amp, a Vitus Audio SS-101? Is the Vitus able to drive the Altair with 50Wpc? Would I have a greater chance of success with other amps? Thank you in advance for your answer.
Nice to hear from you, Ciro. I've had some wonderful times on vacation with my wife in Italy and your letter makes me want to return! Regarding the Vitus SS-101 and the Rockport Altair: It is a wonderful combination that I lived with for about a year. The Vitus SS-101, which I reviewed in January of 2007, although only rated for 50Wpc into 8 ohms, actually produces closer to 100Wpc. It has a massive power supply that virtually ensures that it doesn't run out of steam when playing music. The Rockport Altair, with its 91dB sensitivity rating and 4-ohm impedance, is a perfect match for the Vitus. You'll likely be able to play the combination as loud as you'll ever need. In my room, the bass control was simply astounding. The system was completely at ease at all times and a real sonic treat in every parameter. In fact, if you read my Altair review, all of those comments were generated using the Vitus exclusively. So to sum up, since I had that exact combination in my room, I can wholeheartedly recommend that Vitus/Rockport combination for the most demanding music lover. . . . Jeff Fritz
To Garrett Hongo,
I own a Leben RS28CX preamplifier and have been thinking of auditioning an EAR 868 preamp for a listening test soon. I read your SoundStage! review of the EAR 868 and liked it a lot.
Anyway, the thing is, I also have been thinking about buying the deHavilland KE50A amplifier, but it is impossible to listen to before buying in my area (Finland). But EAR products are easily available here, so: Have you yet listened to the EAR 890? If so, do you have any musings about how it compares to the deHavilland KE50A?
I've heard very good things about the Leben line of electronics, but I've had no experience with them myself.
Since you are seriously considering purchasing the EAR 868 preamp, you might be interested in my recent review of the EAR 890 amplifier in which I compare it to the deHavilland KE50A monoblock amps.
Both are great products and operate in class A. The EAR 890 has more power and a glorious midrange sophistication. The KE50As have a top-to-bottom balance and sparkle and resolution at the top. Both are extremely well-built. The EAR 868 preamp worked very well with both amps, but I found it to be better with the EAR 890 stereo amp.
One tip I have, though, especially as you are in Scandinavia. Dan Meinwald, distributor of EAR in the US, always uses cables from Jorma Design in his systems. I've just visited him (article forthcoming) and heard two different EAR systems with Jorma Design cables and found them utterly wonderful and revealing. I've been in his demo rooms several times over the years and always find his sound among the best. I think the cabling has much to do with it -- along with the EAR electronics. Good luck and good listening! . . . Garrett Hongo
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