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To Jeff Fritz,
Benchmark Media Systems has a new amplifier out, in a similar vein [insofar as disruption is concerned] as Devialet, Soulution, NAD’s Ncore [implementation], etc. The major difference [with Devialet] is that it only amplifies -- no sound processing, correction, or DAC. It is described as the "quietest, cleanest amplifier on the planet." Bold claim, but it just might be true! It has tiny size, high efficiency, and amazing specs (greater than 130dB S/N ratio). It’s also made in the USA and has a five-year warranty, all for $2995. So, how does it sound?
I appreciate your open-mindedness to review new technology and products as the industry evolves -- and to embrace the disruption!
The Benchmark amplifier you are referring to is the AHB2. It does appear to be a measurement wonder. As for how it sounds, our own Hans Wetzel, who also happens to be the charter member of the Philadelphians for Kanye fan club, has one in for review currently. You’ll see that article on our sister site SoundStage! Access very soon.
As for embracing the disruption, here’s how I look at it: You can either embrace it, or you can bury your head in the sand and pretend it isn’t happening. Frankly, I’m enjoying it. . . . Jeff Fritz
To Jeff Fritz,
I hope this email finds you well. Just a quick question: I purchased a pair of Sonus Faber Venere 3.0 speakers and really like them. It's a lot of speaker for the money. I know you are pretty familiar with this speaker. I currently have Aragon separates (8008BB amp and 28K preamp). I was thinking about upgrading to either a Parasound Halo A 21/P 5 combination or a Hegel H160 integrated.
What are your thoughts? Thank you in advance.
Congrats on your new speakers! I'm sure you'll find many years of enjoyment with them. Regarding electronics, your Aragons are certainly getting a bit long in the tooth. They must be, what, at least 15 years old? Age not withstanding, the Aragon equipment of that vintage was always considered really good by everyone who heard it. Although it would seem logical that the newer Parasound and Hegel electronics would eclipse the Aragons -- and they very well might -- I'd have to know for sure before buying either. What I can tell you is that you've chosen two good brands to consider. I think Hegel and Parasound are really knocking it out of the park these days. So my advice is to see if you can get a home audition and then make up your mind. . . . Jeff Fritz
To Jeff Fritz,
I just got my [new] Rockport Atrias delivered. I have them set up with my Cardas Clear cables.
After setting up my speakers, which sound fabulous, my dealer thinks I should move onto Transparent cables. The Transparent Ultra MM2 is around the same price as my Clear, but I am hesitant to make more changes for a modest improvement. Do you think it is worthwhile, or am I going sideways from Cardas Clear to the Transparent Ultra MM2?
Any input would be sincerely appreciated. Thank you in advance.
There is certainly some synergy with Rockport speakers and Transparent cables. I know Andy Payor, Rockport's owner and resident speaker designer, uses Transparent at his facility. However, I'd hold off a bit on making more changes. First, you need to make absolutely sure that your speaker positioning is locked in. Finding the perfect locations for your new speakers in your room will optimize the sound of your system more than any other single thing you can do. Second, you need to allow the Atrias to break-in properly. As the suspensions loosen on the drivers, the sound will change to a small degree. Only after break-in and positioning are complete, would I assess the system and consider further upgrades. Maybe it take a month or two, but better that than spending more money only to realize you had exactly what you wanted to begin with. . . . Jeff Fritz
To Jeff Fritz,
What are your thoughts on pairing the Magico S5 speaker with the Magico QSub-15 vs. the Magico Q3 with the QSub-15?
Since the only area of sound reproduction that the S5 has, arguably, an advantage in is in the bass, I think the Q3 would easily be my choice for your proposition. With the low bass reproduced by the QSub-15, the S5’s slightly fuller bass voicing would be rendered almost meaningless. And with the added transparency in the mids and highs that is part and parcel of the Q-series sound, the ultimate performance ceiling with the Q3/QSub-15 pairing would be higher. Bottom line for me would be to go all Q. . . . Jeff Fritz
To Howard Kneller,
I enjoyed reading your review of the new Esoteric [Grandioso] separates, in part because I own the K-01 player and have been fascinated with the build quality of Esoteric transports. Having foolishly jumped on the SACD bandwagon early, I soon discovered the long-term effects of Philips transport issues and the massive failures all the machines that used them wrought. This drove me to Esoteric. Ironically, most of my listening with the K-01 today is with standard CDs. I am continually blown away by this player’s sound on just Red Book.
A few things I’m curious about with your experiences: Did you experiment with the clock both on and off? I’m just wondering what role the clock made overall. And for the DAC? Just wondering what role, for example, the DAC by itself would have made, or the transport mated to another DAC. If I were to slowly upgrade my K-01, would first adding the D1 make a difference? Or the clock? Or using the P1 transport with the internal DAC in the K-01? I’m trying to do this incrementally, but the nature of these beasts does not make it easy. Thanks again for a very insightful review.
There are very few transport mechanisms, if any, like the Esoteric VRDS units. They are simply in a class by themselves. Also, I agree, Red Book over the K-01 is absolutely ravishing. In fact, if you ask me to grab my best-sounding discs, I am going to primarily go for Red Book, not the many SACDs that I have here. I have the K-01X in house now. It will be interesting to play DSD downloads though that unit, and see how they fit into the picture. I am breaking it in now.
The G-01 clock made a very substantial improvement when connected to the Grandioso gear. If you are spending that kind of money to begin with, it would be a wise choice to spend a bit more and get the clock.
But maybe the way to go is to start with the D1. The K-01 can be used as a transport with a pair of D1s, although that player won't perform as well as the P1. This is because there is so much more data that passes through Esoteric's new transmission format, ES-Link4.
If you upgrade your system incrementally, starting with the D1 makes sense. Then you could add the P1 and/or G-01. Or if you primarily listen to computer audio, you may decide to just stick with the K-01, adding just the D1 and G-01.
Please let me know how it goes. Thanks. . . . Howard Kneller
To Howard Kneller,
I haven’t seen much discussion on the Esoteric C-02 [preamplifier] online. I saw the piece at AXPONA 2014 and have been intrigued, yet nobody seems to be talking about it. Yours seems to have been the only published review, at least that I can find, so I thought I’d reach out for your opinion.
I’m considering buying one of these to replace a McIntosh C2300. The Esoteric would be mated between an EMM Labs XDS1 V2 and a McIntosh MC402, driving Avalon Eidolons. I’m wondering whether the Esoteric would add a bit of liveliness to the high frequencies, some transparency, and punch. The C2300 is very neutral and quiet, but maybe a bit boring and uninvolving. Or maybe it’s just me!
Anyway, I’d welcome any thoughts you might have as to the benefits that the Esoteric might bring me.
Thanks for writing. I think the Esoteric would be a significant trade-up from the McIntosh. The C-02 is not hot in the high frequencies, nor does it have the most absolute slam out there, so I am not sure if it will give you what you are looking for or not. I can tell you that it should certainly add transparency, and maybe even a more quiet background. Also, it is extremely involving to listening to and and a bit romantic sounding.
The best thing would be to see if a dealer can arrange a loan. I definitely think it is worth giving it a shot. I hope that helps, even a bit. . . . Howard Kneller
To Jeff Fritz,
I've been listening to my Devialet 400 for about a week now. I totally agree with your review. I traded in two McIntosh mono tube amps (MC2301) and a McIntosh MC2300 preamp. I was quite fond of them, but the monolithic weight got to be too much for my 70-year-old body.
Anyway, my dilemma now is what to do with my PS Audio DSD DAC. The internal 400 DAC is really amazing, as is the PSA DAC when used in a conventional way. Same problem with my PS Audio NuWave converter.
The SAM has breathed new life into my Sonus Faber Cremona M speakers. I'm using a Mac Mini via USB for my iTunes streaming since the 400 is just inches away. I've tried the Wi-Fi and Ethernet connections as well, but I like the Amarra DSP results, so I'm keeping that in the loop. The technology of the 400 is superb as is the quality.
Hope it stands the test of time. Thanks for the great review. I actually read it before and after I purchased the 400. Helped me buy it, made me glad I did.
Congrats on your Devialet 400. I imagine your system sounds superb, especially with SAM processing helping out those Sonus Fabers. As for your PS Audio DACs, two words: sell them. You can use the money to fund your Tidal music streaming service for a long, long time. Nothing left to do but enjoy! . . . Jeff Fritz
To Jeff Fritz,
As I've said in the past, I greatly respect your views, and your courage to tell it as it is. I was thus really excited to read your impressions about the [Devialet] Phantom at CES 2015. From what I can tell, the bottom line from your article is: 1) The Phantom is not only beautifully packaged and very feature-rich, it also sounds better than anything at its price point; 2) still, on absolute terms, the Phantom's sound is not quite at the level of a Magico Q3/S5-plus-Devialet 200 combo. At least, that's what I think it means when you say, "No, it won't replace your Magicos -- but then the company has to have a home for its standalone amps."
Allowing for the fact that you heard the Phantoms in the not-so-great acoustics of a hotel room, where would you say the Phantom falls short relative to a Q3/S5 in terms of sound, and by how much? Also, do you know why Devialet demoed the Phantoms on top of clumsy boxes rather than the dedicated stands, which they had at hand on the main floor? The stands not only look more elegant, they would have likely provided a much cleaner wave launch.
You've basically summarized my position on the Phantom well, at least based on the audition that I had at CES 2015. I do believe that more listening is warranted, and the Phantom could prove to be even better than what we know now, particularly when optimized on their own stands and in an acoustically treated listening room. But then the Phantom is not meant just for that purpose, but as a speaker that can fit most any environment and listener, which is likely why the company chose a tabletop installation in Las Vegas -- to show just what the Devialet Phantom can do in a more "normal" setup.
As to just how much better a Magico Q3/S5-plus-Devialet 200 setup would be, I can tell you that those listeners who yearn for the quality of sound that a system of that pedigree can provide -- and most audiophile systems are not of that quality! -- will not be satisfied with anything less, so no mater how good a pair of Phantoms might be, they'll still want their big speakers and separate amp(s). But that in no way detracts from the Phantom's accomplishments, which are nothing short of groundbreaking. . . . Jeff Fritz
To Jeff Fritz,
I have a question for you based on your experiences reviewing the Devialet 120 and 400. I recently auditioned a pair of Vivid Giya G2s driven by a Devialet 200 and also by Tenor 350M monoblocks with an MSB DAC. Both combinations used an MSB transport. The audition was in a room similar to my own listening room. (I also heard G3s driven by a Devialet 120, which sounded spectacular, but in a very different type of room.) The G2s driven by the Tenor and MSB front end was easily the best sounding system I have ever heard. The G2s driven by the Devialet 200 sounded anemic in comparison. They had far less bass control or impact. Unfortunately, the Tenor and MSB front end is well beyond my price range. The G2 with Devialet 200 is in my price range and I might be able to stretch to a Devialet 400.
I was wondering if you could provide some thoughts comparing the Devialet 120 and 400. What improvements beyond dead silence and spectacularly low IMD does the 400 provide? How much more control does the 400 have on drive units, particularly in the bass regions? How much improvement is there in bass impact and control moving from the 120 to 400?
Unfortunately, auditioning the G2 and Devialet 400 is a problem as the dealer is over 1000 miles from where I live. So before asking a dealer to spend hundreds shipping items to me to try out I want a pretty good idea of what I’m likely to hear.
In my experience, the basic sounds of the Devialet 120 and the 400 are very, very similar. Bass control, transparency, and overall purity are close to indistinguishable from each other. It really is only in the areas of headroom that the 400 is clearly superior. Now, the monos do have better distortion specs, and I do think with the right music and the right speakers you might hear that, but the 120 is so low in distortion itself that it is likely to be better than anything else you might have heard in that regard. So, in short, I found the 120 and 400 very close to each other in terms of sound.
So the bottom line is that if you truly did not like the Vivids as driven by the 200, you probably won’t like them driven by the 400. There may be something to the tube sound in the Tenor amps that attracts you, and that's perfectly legitimate. So if I were you I would try to replicate that as closely as you can. . . . Jeff Fritz
To Jeff Fritz,
I just wanted to say a quick "thank you" for your fabulous articles on SoundStage! Ultra. I find most coverage of high-end audio out of touch with my needs and perspective. In contrast, your articles resonate, are fun to read, and are genuinely enlightening. Thank you!
And now a quick question (please feel free to ignore this, as I know you can't make a living by giving free advice): I've read your coverage of Devialet and SAM carefully. I'm in the market for a new system, and am considering a Devialet 120 and floorstanding speakers costing up to $15k/pair. Out of the SAM-ready speakers, which would you most recommend? I listen to rock and a lot of female vocals, and my room is medium-sized.
If you do decide to answer, a big "thank you" in advance.
Thank you so much for the kind words! I just had a quick glance at the Devialet SAM database and it has grown since I last checked. There are a number of speakers on the list that would fit the bill nicely. What jumped out to me, though, based on your criteria for rock music, was the KEF Reference 3. At $13,000/pair, they are right in your price range. I know from our measurements of the Reference 1, reviewed recently on SoundStage! Hi-Fi, that these new Reference models can play loud and clean, and the Devialet 120 with SAM enabled would only enhance the 3's ability to play low bass. Like I said, there are a number of fine models you could choose from, but KEF is a no-brainer recommendation these days -- their most recent products are just fantastic. . . . Jeff Fritz
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