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Gryphon Diablo 300

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To Jeff Fritz,

I trust you are doing well.

I must confess that I never run out of steam extolling the virtues of the Rockport Technologies Aviors. They are absolutely unflappable. In fact, some of my friends remarked that they had heard the best-ever rendition of "YYZ" from Rush recreated through my system at near-concert-level volume -- the stability of the soundstage and the integrity of the system at deafening levels is astounding and moving!

This is clearly one of my finest and wisest equipment purchases to date. By the way, I continue to closely follow your articles and I have the utmost respect for your opinion.

Best regards,
Sujay
South Africa

To Jeff Fritz,

I have settled on buying Magico speakers to replace my aging Wilson Audio Specialties Sophias, but I am torn as to which model. My room is small-to-mid-sized at 14' x 17', so I know I don’t want a speaker that overwhelms it. The issue is that I still want good bass extension, so a stand-mount model is out (so no Q1). I have heard that the Q3 is superior to the S3 in terms of resolution, but what about bass extension? Both speakers are rated down to 26Hz so I don’t know what to think. Since you seem to know a lot about the Magico products, your help would be much appreciated.

Donald M.
United States

The Magico Q3 ($38,950/pr.) is almost double the price of the S3 ($22,600/pr.), so in that respect these products are not direct competitors. But in terms of size, driver complement, and bass extension, they are somewhat similar. As you have pointed out, the Q3 is the more resolving speaker not only due to its cabinet construction, but also its drivers -- the Q3 has all Nano-Tec drivers, whereas the S3 has Scan-Speak-derived hybrid bass drivers. The Q3 also has a better tweeter.

In terms of bass extension, if we take Magico's specifications at their word, then both speakers will have strong bass response to below 30Hz in-room. I suspect you will get very similar results in terms of bass depth and slam with either speaker. However, I think the bass-quality advantage would be firmly in the Q3's favor -- the better drivers and cabinet are just too much for the S3 to overcome in that regard. Ultimately, I believe either speaker -- the S3 or the Q3 -- will be a significant upgrade over what you currently have. The issue is really how far you want to go. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Jeff Fritz,

I read your comments in "What I'd Buy: Loudspeakers Over $15,000" with great interest. In the more-or-less $30k/pair point there seem to be some great options. Unfortunately, my hometown of Houston, Texas, has become something of a hi-fi desert, so auditioning is hard.

My room is 23' by 30' with a ceiling that starts at 9' and slopes up. It is my living room, and except for rugs/furniture, it won't have any sound deadening. I plan to use a Trinnov for a preamp/room-correction device.

What I am really trying to ask is do you have any suggestions on how to sort through the options remotely? I am specifically asking about the TAD Evolution One, KEF Blade, Magico S5, and Rockport Avior.

Thanks,
David

This is clearly one of those can't-lose propositions. In fact, from my perspective, you've made exactly the shortlist I would have made if shopping at that price point. You're right that the $30k/pr. mark is stacked with great loudspeakers. I would go as far as to say that it is one of the most competitive price points in all of high end. The companies you've mentioned have all found ways to instil a good portion of their more expensive offerings into their $30k/pr. products, creating speakers that not only compete fiercely against one another, but, surprisingly, with more expensive models within the same companies' lines.

Unfortunately, there is no way for me to know which speaker -- out of the models you've chosen -- that you might like best. If you won’t have the ability to travel and hear them, you'll have to rely on reviews and advice from friends and perhaps a good dealer. One thing you could do is call a dealer(s) that carries two or more of the brands and ask them for their opinion. You might get some insight that way. Otherwise, just read all you can and try to ascertain which brand your sonic priorities most align with. It would be hard for me to imagine that you would be unhappy with any of the models you've chosen. The four speakers you've written me about are all winners and each would be a fine centerpiece for a very ambitious audio system. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Hans Wetzel,

I enjoyed reading your glowing review of the Sonus Faber Olympica I speakers. I own the Olympica III model and use the Hegel Music Systems H300 integrated amplifier-DAC, which is a very good match since the Hegel puts out 430Wpc into 4 ohms. Although I’m enjoying my speakers, I find on occasion they become somewhat bright at the top. I read somewhere that the speaker hook-up is important and that if one is using a standard cable setup, connecting to the top two terminals is recommended by Sonus Faber. I can’t seem to verify this but wonder if you know the preferred method: either bottom terminals with jumpers to the top, or top terminals with jumpers running to the bottom? These are excellent speakers, but do require lots of current to get the best from them.

Chris Chamberlin
Canada

That's a terrific system, Chris. As a fellow owner of Hegel's H300, I know that the Norwegian amp is not only very accomplished, but also powerful enough to keep up with the great majority of speakers out there. I have to say that I did not experience any brightness in the treble when I paired the Hegel with the Sonus Faber Olympica Is. I did not find the soft-dome SF tweeter to exhibit much of the sparkle or crystalline quality that one would expect to find with a metal-based tweeter. What I can say, however, is that the Hegel is, in my experience, a pretty forward-sounding amplifier. It has this quite visceral and überclean sound that distinguishes it from most other amps that I have heard. I can definitely see how this could be interpreted as bright on occasion.

As for the wiring methods you mention, SF's manual for the Olympica III seems to suggest, via illustration, that a single run of cables should be attached to the bottom pair of binding posts, not the top, as you suggest. In either event, I can't see what difference it would make so long as the included "bridges" are in place connecting the two pairs of posts -- the signal will still ultimately be routed through both sets. The only other thing I can think of is that you might be using cables that do not have a neutral disposition. The Hegel, I suspect, is the cause for the perceived occasional brightness.

Regardless, enjoy the Olympica IIIs. They are seriously some of the most beautiful speakers I've ever seen in terms of their craftsmanship and design. Combined with their resolving but easygoing sound, and generous bass output, I imagine that you derive some serious enjoyment from your system! You can expect Doug Schneider's review of the Olympica III to be posted in the coming months on SoundStage! Hi-Fi. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Jeff Fritz,

I always enjoy your perspectives and understand the closure on this aspect of your reviews ["Closing the Curtain on TWBAS"]. I can just imagine some of the challenges of getting those large speakers into your home. What I have enjoyed in your commentary is the insight on the design, manufacturing, and quality aspects of the various companies you have visited and reviewed. I am on my own personal quest for some new speakers such as the Rockports, Magicos, Veritys, Egglestons, or Acoustic Zens. What I have learned is to trust my ears to find the best musical connection. I was really excited about your Devialet review since it confirmed my suspicion that great equipment can be found for a reasonable price. Maybe that’s the next adventure: "I can’t believe this sounds that good for the money." I look forward to your next adventure!

Regards,
Randy Gossard
United States

To Jeff Fritz,

I just bought a dCS Vivaldi DAC. Your review of the Devialet makes it look spectacular. So, to listen to the Vivaldi I would play digital, then connect the analog output of the DAC to the input of the Devialet, which would convert the signal back to digital and then again to analog. Would that much conversion somehow degrade the sound from the Vivaldi or any high-end DAC? Lately I've been thinking of selling my Spectral DMA-260 amp and getting the Spectral DMA-400, but your description of the Devialet system gives me pause.

Steve
United States

If you just purchased a dCS Vivaldi, which by all accounts is spectacular, you've committed to a system model that just won’t benefit from the Devialet approach. The Devialets are designed as all-in-one systems -- the preamplifier, DAC, and power-amplifier sections are all housed inside, so you don’t need other ones. Besides those components being integrated into one box, I personally believe that part of the magic of the Devialet approach is in the super-short signal path it offers -- according to the company, 2” is about it. On the other hand, sending your digital output to a DAC, and then into the Devialet as an analog signal -- with the conversions you describe -- would not only defeat the purpose of the Devialet signal-path length, but it would also render the Vivaldi almost meaningless in your system.

If you're committed to the Vivaldi DAC (since you've just purchased it, I assume you are), then your best bet is to optimize the components around it in a more conventional way -- a better power amp, better speakers, or a better source that feeds it. I’m not going to try to convince you otherwise. High-end audio is fraught with buyer's remorse. Don’t let that bug bite you. In the Vivaldi you have a spectacular component -- enjoy it and don’t look back. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Jeff Fritz,

Sometime last October I read your "What I'd Buy: Integrated Amplifiers" column, being in the market for a new sound system. I followed some of your recommendations. I first bought a Bel Canto C5i and a pair of KEF LS50 speakers. I loved that little setup, but decided pretty early on that I needed more (a classic case of high-end-audio fever). Fast-forward six months later: I tried the following integrateds you recommended: NAD C 390DD, Hegel Music Systems H300, and the Ayre Acoustics AX-5 (I also made a little tube detour with a PrimaLuna Dialogue Premium integrated).

I’m currently using the H300, a one-box solution that offers an excellent balance between great sound and convenience (fantastic remote!). The AX-5 would still be in my living room if it had a great internal DAC (and a better remote!). Talking about one-box solutions, I just read your latest column about the Devialet and I'm getting that urge to upgrade again. Question: Do you think the 120 will be enough for my Magnepan 1.7 (a notoriously power-hungry speaker)? Or should I buy the 200 or the 250? Thanks again and keep up the great work.

Cheers,
Alex
United States

You've had some fine components in your system, Alex. I obviously agree with the selection of integrated amplifiers that you've chosen to audition or own. Even though I would be happy with any of the products you mention in your letter, there is no doubt that the Devialets are the next step if you're looking for the ultimate in sound quality.

If I were you, I think I'd opt for the Devialet 200. It strikes a fine balance between power and price: The 120 retails for $6495, whereas the 200 is $9495, and the 250 jumps all the way to $17,495. If you do want to spend more, and want to make absolutely sure that you will never run out of power, then look at the 400 monos instead of the 250. The 400s cost the same as a single 250, at $17,495 for the pair, but offer substantially more power.

Whichever Devialet you buy, assuming you have enough power to drive your speakers, you'll be at the end of the upgrade merry-go-round. In my opinion, there is nowhere to go after Devialet, even if you spend multiples of its price. Good luck with your purchase and your system. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Jeff Fritz,

I have been in the process of upgrading my current two-channel home system and have been referencing your reviews on SoundStage! Ultra a great deal. Currently, I have the following setup and I am looking to upgrade my speakers next:

McIntosh MC501 mono amplifiers
McIntosh C42 preamplifier
PSB Stratus Gold loudspeakers
Copeland CDA 266 CD/HDCD player
Dual record player
Audio Art cables and power cords

I have loved the PSB speakers since the first day I bought them back in '98. I have been thinking of upgrading to the Synchrony Ones (without even having the opportunity to give them a proper audition) until I heard the Dynaudio Focus 380. You highly recommended both speakers in your article on speakers under $15,000. I am looking to gain detail without being bright, and warmth without appearing loose and muddled. As mentioned, I have not been able to find anyone in the Los Angeles area who has the Synchrony One on the floor to hear in person. In your professional opinion, will I be getting that much more speaker for five grand more in the Dynaudio? Is it that much better than the PSB? You have had the rare opportunity to compare both, and I seek your opinion. My most sincere appreciation for your time and consideration to this inquiry.

Kind regards,
Brian Faudoa
United States

This is a no-lose proposition. As you mentioned, I think highly of both of the speakers you are considering. To be frank, they have more in common than they are different, and that is because of the similarities between the companies themselves. Both Dynaudio and PSB design and manufacture very neutral loudspeakers (they actually both use anechoic chambers in their R&D). If you examine the frequency responses of models from each brand they'll be impressively flat with excellent off-axis dispersion characteristics. Therefore, the house sounds of both PSB and Dynaudio do not have the tonal anomalies or colorations found in many competing products.

Still, there are differences. Probably the main one has to do with the tweeters. Whereas Dynaudio uses a soft dome in the Focus 380, PSB uses an aluminum dome in the Synchrony One. Even though both are excellent in their own regard, it has been my experience that listeners gravitate toward either one or the other tweeter design. Although it is a generalization that won't apply globally, soft domes are many times a touch forgiving whereas metal domes are more ruthlessly revealing. You'll have to decide which type you prefer.

The second important difference is that the Dynaudio Focus 380 is physically the much larger loudspeaker: 3" taller and 2" deeper. You'll have to decide whether your room is capable of housing the larger speaker. I expect that the bass extension would be about the same for both models: strong 30Hz in-room.

Good luck with your decision. You certainly have two fine products to choose from. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Jeff Fritz,

Please let me begin by saying that your reviews are a joy to read, especially those in the "TWBAS" column, even if the products are currently out of my price range.

I'm about to move from audio mixing into a basic but functional audio mastering setup, but I'm quite budget-conscious at this early stage. Since I live in the UK, it was actually your 2010 "TWBAS" article on the Paradigm S2 that first alerted me to this brand, and all the reviews seem very positive. I know you're a fan of Paradigm so I thought you might be able to aid in my decision.

It looks as if Paradigms are pretty much unbeatable in their price bracket. I'm very interested in the S2. I have a sub that would be sufficient to highlight any errors in the 20-50Hz range for the time being, and so I was hoping to hear your opinion on the Paradigm S2 for entry-level mastering.

Please don't worry about responding if you don't have the time, Jeff, I just thought it would be nice to hear from the man that made me aware of Paradigm in the first place.

All the best,
Lee
UK

Paradigm’s loudspeakers do offer a tremendous value, and I think that statement holds true across all of their lines. The company enjoys an advantage in manufacturing efficiency -- they make virtually all of their parts and subassemblies in-house -- that enables them to offer advanced technologies at still reasonable prices. It also helps that they have an excellent staff of engineers who work within what the company calls its Paradigm Advanced Research Center (PARC). The bottom line is that there is a lot of in-house capability at Paradigm.

Specifically to your question about the S2, I can't imagine that it would not suit your needs. I've been thoroughly impressed by the accuracy of the beryllium tweeter that they use in that model, and I believe it would be highly informative in a mastering setup like the one you propose. Also, the bass-midrange driver is 7", which translates into more low-frequency extension than you might expect from a stand-mounted two-way. I do not believe you will have any issues listening to this speaker in the nearfield -- Paradigm's crossovers have always been seamless. Lastly, I know that these speakers will play quite loud and clean, so for a workstation that might feed them all types of music, they could be ideal. I think you'll be able to make an honest assessment of whatever you put into them. The one caveat I'll give you is to remember that these are passive speakers that you'll need to power, so make sure you have an amplifier that is clean and sufficiently powerful in order to experience all that these speakers have to offer. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Jeff Fritz,

Your article ["Can Someone Please Answer These Questions?!"] strongly resonated with me because I have asked myself the same questions recently.

As context, my criteria for purchasing audio equipment are based equally on engineering excellence, build quality, sound quality and aesthetics -- and each piece of my current system represents a fine balance of those values. As an audiophile for almost 30 years and a trained engineer, the relatively recent exponential increase in audio-gear prices with the increasingly prevalent lack of corresponding improvement in engineering excellence and build quality is baffling.

Admittedly, I have no experience or beef with FM Acoustics -- but pictures of their internal construction begs the question for the justification of the price tag. As a contrast, simply have a look at the internals of the less-than-half-the-cost Boulder 2160 amplifier.

Yeah, I was also surprised at the step-down in apparent build quality for Krell’s Duo series. The original "built as a brick outhouse" Krell KSA-50 is what got me hooked on high-end gear going back 28 years!

I dismissed Devialet until I recently demoed them on the notoriously current-hungry B&W 800-series loudspeakers. I was blown away -- not only by the clean, warm, full sound quality, but that it came from an elegantly chromed box that will pass muster with the most pernickety house-proud mother.

The agonizing fade from glory for the Mark Levinson brand has been a blow to those with an eye for beautifully styled equipment outside and inside.

So, here are my best guesses to your questions:

Why do FM Acoustics' products cost so much? Because the dramatic increase in the top 1% of wealth has made the price of gear that cost more than the average salary a non-issue and they are the target market. The focus of the traditional and shrinking middle class have shifted elsewhere (like survival!).

Why isn’t Krell building real power amps anymore? What happened to the Mark Levinson brand? They both lost their way when the vision and passion of their founder was no longer their guide.

Is Devialet really, really better than everything else? Not sure. But I do agree with the previous letter -- "Devialet is . . . Utterly Disruptive" -- not only for the potential to deliver the audiophile fix at a lower price point, but that it delivers the goods in a package that can be easily moved, oohed and ahhed over by the latest smartphone brigade, or blissfully ignored because it is visually unobtrusive.

Regards,
Mark Venter
New Zealand