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Gryphon Diablo 300

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To Jeff Fritz,

I have read many of your excellent audio reviews on SoundStage! Ultra, mainly DACs and those rather special Esoteric VRDS-NEO transports, which I also hold in high regard.

My audio experience and product research is firmly based on the studio side of the industry, but I am also an audiophile like you at heart. I have been looking at a couple of DACs recently, which you have reviewed and possibly even owned: the Weiss DAC202 and Hegel HD30 -- these two DACs are about the same price now used.

Now I know the Hegel HD30 is a newer DAC, and has more features compared to the Weiss DAC202, but if you were to select one or the other, taking into account the quality of both volume controls and purely on the overall sound quality (i.e., which converter mirrors the best analogue sound and reveals the room acoustics/instrument echo trails the clearest), which would you choose?

The only other converter I will be trying to get my hands on will be the Bakoon DAC-21 battery-powered DAC. I have a soft spot for certain high-quality battery DACs, having owned a LessLoss DAC 2004, which was completely handmade, hand-soldered, and hand-assembled -- a great DAC with those now out-of-production Burr-Brown PCM1704K chips.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Paul
United States

I have not used the Weiss DAC202 in a great while, so my memory of it is sketchy at best. I know that when I reviewed it years ago I was super impressed, but that was a long time ago, so I can’t be sure of where it stands now. On the other hand, I know the Hegel HD30 really well, having used it for months now. So my initial reaction would be to tell you to go with the Hegel. It is a really fine DAC with clear, precise sound quality. The one hesitation I have with that recommendation is knowing that Hegel recently released the new H590 integrated amplifier-DAC, with reportedly a better-sounding DAC inside than the standalone HD30. Could a new Hegel flagship DAC be too far away? Probably not.

I have no experience with the Bakoon DAC that you mention. I will give you one bit of advice, though: although I am a huge proponent of buying some products used -- amplifiers and preamps come to mind -- I don’t think buying a used DAC is necessarily the best way to go. DAC chips have gotten way better over the years. A newer DAC might outperform an older one that retailed for twice the price. In other words, DACs are always getting cheaper and better. The bottom line from my perspective is to buy as current as you can when it comes to digital. Good luck in your search. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Garrett Hongo,

I have been in this hobby for 65 years and have grown up with classical music, and your wonderful review of the Esoteric K-05X SACD/CD player painted a wonderful word picture of what you heard in your listening to classical music. Unfortunately, it is a little more expensive than I can spend [unless the wife can loosen the purse strings]. Thus, the reason for my e-mail: Would you, if you have heard the K-07X Esoteric SACD/CD player, be able to give me your impressions of its presentation of large orchestral classical music, especially its string sound?

I have read extensively on its technical merits, the transport, and the power supply. Can you make some general descriptions of how these technical differences translate into transparency, bass definition, frequency extension, lack of steeliness, presentation of soundstage, [and whether it has] sweetness like tubes?

I would appreciate so much your insights. It was a great review.

Highest regards,
Tony
United States

Thanks for your question and your appreciation of my review of the Esoteric K-05X player. I’ve only heard the older K-07 player and that was at a show long ago now, so I can’t give you a useful view of the new K-07X player, though our own Tom Mathew did review it in January 2016, so I do recommend reading what he wrote. But, in general, I find Esoteric players quite superior to others in their price range, a lot because of the attention to the rigidity and reinforcement of the proprietary transport assemblies. However, that said, the K-07X player uses a different transport mechanism than the K-05X.

I think the Esoteric K-05X transport has a lot to do with bass response, extension, and refinement (what you may hear as transparency). As far as sweetness and lack of steeliness go, I attribute that to the DAC. I had a Cary 303/300 tube-output player I’d kept for years (because of finesse and sweetness of string sound) before the K-05X. I found the Esoteric was comparable in sweetness, but even better with resolution. A better DAC does wonders for string sound, depth/layering, and resolution.

Mind you, I’m not endorsing the K-07X as I’ve not heard it. My recommendation is to audition a K-07X and judge for yourself with attention for what concerns you and what I’ve pointed out about the K-05X. . . . Garrett Hongo

To Jeff Fritz,

That [“Jeff’s New Room”] bump-out might not be a bad thing. I feel like sometimes symmetry creates its own problems with lower-frequency hotspots.

Will you have the bathroom/closest doors open or closed? I think it’d be interesting to try both. Your new listening room may have two tunable bass ports.

Congrats on the new house. Looking forward to reading about the set-up process.

Yuan Lu
United States

I am sitting here wondering how I could have missed such an interesting proposition! I can easily imagine that you are right, and that the closet and bathroom, being essentially enclosed in the overall structural envelope of my room, would have a significant impact on the sound depending on whether the doors to those spaces are opened or closed. I will check that out, and also measure the differences acoustically (if there are in fact differences to measure). I am slowly learning about the new room’s sonic signature, and this adds one more variable I will have to take into consideration. Thanks for pointing it out. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Jeff Fritz,

I’m maybe too late to contribute to this point as it was some time ago, but I’ve just came across your conundrum on defining what gear is appropriate to cover in SoundStage! Ultra from your March 2017 “Opinion” column [“Will the Real Ultra Products Please Stand Up?”], in reference to Paradigm speakers. I wanted to suggest an answer, which also touches on the ultra-high-end-price vs. no-guarantee-of-quality-sound debate. Put simply, I love reading about ultra-expensive gear, but what I really want to read about is ultra-sounding gear, even if it doesn’t fit with the ultra-expensive moniker. So just go for it and focus on ultra sound and if it’s also ultra expensive too, brilliant.

Keep up the good work and enjoy your new music room discovering and rediscovering great sounds.

Bill McCardle
United Kingdom

To Aron Garrecht,

All very good [regarding the Simaudio Moon 888 mono amplifiers], but where is the comparison to other non-Simaudio gear? A review in isolation tells the reader very little and at $118k-plus [per pair], the least we should expect is for you and SoundStage! Ultra to go that extra mile and do some comparisons. Otherwise, why don’t you just print the press release and brochure? Or was it a condition of your review that there would be no comparison, especially if fewer dollars could buy comparable or better sound? So come on SoundStage! Ultra, tell us what we really need to know -- where does the 888 stand in comparison to the competition?

Regards,
Bill McCardle
United Kingdom

Thanks for your feedback. You bring up a valid point that I am happy to address. I will start by saying that it is not always possible to perform A/B comparisons with other similar products for a number of reasons. In this case, the 888s were compared to the W-7Ms because I own the W-7Ms as my reference amps, and using another Simaudio product for the point of comparison offered a unique opportunity to outline the advancements made in the 888 over a previous flagship model, and describe where the additional resources were allocated. Next, there simply aren’t that many comparable products on the market, and, as such, there weren’t any other “direct competitor” products available at the time of this review to use as a point of comparison. Additionally, the cost, complexity, and associated shipping arrangements required of a product like a pair of 888s, and other amplifiers of similar size, makes lining up parallel reviews very difficult. Sometimes this can be done if there is an overlap in the review period, or, the manufacturer happens to be close to a reviewer’s home, which can ease these arrangements, but, unfortunately, this wasn’t the case here. Finally, there are very few pairs of these amplifiers (I believe three worldwide) available for various audio shows and for reviewers, and, as a result, the window of time I had with them was very specific. I did not have any other amplifiers of any kind arriving within that window for additional points of comparison, and there wasn’t enough time to make arrangements to have other products here during the review. I want to stress, however, that never was there any condition of any kind placed by Simaudio on the review and whether or not a comparison could be made to a competing product. I was free to do what I wanted to.

I hope this helps shed some light on why the W-7Ms were used for this review as the sole point of comparison, Bill. We try our best to offer direct comparisons of competing manufacturers, but it just isn’t always possible, particularly for product as exclusive as this one. . . . Aron Garrecht

To Hans Wetzel,

I enjoyed reading your review of the Vivid Audio Giya G4. It was one of the few that tried the Giya G4 in a smallish space. I am thinking of getting the Giya G4 for my home office, away from my toddler’s little hands, and also where I can listen the most. I will move into a new home soon (not determined where yet). My estimation is that my future office will have dimensions around 14’W x 16’L x 9’H. From your experience with the G4s, do you think that the speakers would work in such a space? If not, what would you guess would be the smallest possible dimensions?

Regards,
Manoj Cooray
United States

I’m jealous that you’re able to realistically consider grabbing a pair of Giya G4s, Manoj. Despite more than four years having passed since I reviewed the G4, it remains one of the finest loudspeakers I’ve ever heard. I’m confident that despite the G4’s diminutive stature, a pair will have no problem pressurizing a room with the dimensions you’ve specified. Before you rush out and buy, though, I would suggest checking out Vivid’s new Kaya line, which was introduced at Munich’s High End 2018. I bet the Kaya 45 would be a mighty fine alternative to the Giya G4 for a little more than half the price -- $18,000/pair. Yes, it’s a three-way design rather than the Giya G4’s four-way architecture, and looks a bit unusual; however, I’m betting you’d come awfully close to Giya-esque performance with an extra $12,000 to spare. Irrespective of which Vivid model you get, though, I think you’ll love the sound. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Garrett Hongo,

I’m looking to replace my much beloved CAT SL1 Ultimate preamp, which I’ve now owned for over 12 years, with something even better. My research led me to your review of the VAC Renaissance Mk.3. I was almost convinced that this would be the right choice for me till I came to this sentence when comparing it to the DeHavilland Mercury 3, “With soprano recital and Renaissance choral CDs, the VAC was less refined than the Mercury.”

That something costing half as much could be better in any area of music reproduction would indicate a failure of design of the VAC. Saying it was less refined is a serious charge. For those of us who like soprano and Renaissance choral music, your review would suggest we’d be better off buying the DeHavilland and pocketing the $5000 difference. Am I wrong to conclude that? Of course, I listen to other music as well, but still . . .

My system consists of the following:

Speakers: Verity Audio Parsifal Encore
Amp: Music Reference RM-9 SE
Preamp: CAT SL1 Ultimate
DAC: Concert Fidelity DAC-040
Music server: Specially built by Mike Powell of Verastarr Audio
All cables and power cords are Verastarr Audio Grand Illusion series and everything is plugged into the PS Audio power regenerator.

This system is extremely musical and involving and that’s how I like it. My research led me to two potential choices, the VAC Renaissance and the Shindo Monbrison or Allegro, as they seem to satisfy my needs (judging by the reviews).

The price of the CAT Renaissance [preamp] is going up from $15k to $20k. Unfortunately, price is an issue for me as I’m on a budget and don’t want to spend more the $10k.

Thank you ever so much. I’d like to read your future reviews.

Regards,
Tariq
United States

You raise a complex question! Thanks for asking it and for your appreciation of a review I wrote some years ago now.

The answer? As is often the case, the answer is “system dependent.” Luckily, I know the gear in your system very well!

Of the preamp targets you list, I know and highly recommend the Shindo Monbrison (have had it in my system). Yet, the Monbrison can be critiqued as being on the soft side, though rich in tone and texture. It’s fine with blues and jazz, but may lack the kind of powerful drive for rock and orchestral music the VAC Ren Mk.3 has. Drive and slam to beat the band has the Ren 3. Perhaps more than any pre I’ve tried.

But if a remote and built-in phono aren’t an issue, have you thought of the Lamm LL2.1 linestage? I owned one for several years and, next to the Ren Mk.3, it had the best dynamics, drive, and slam. Plus tone and refinement too (though not as refined as Monbrison or deHavilland Mercury 3). I loved its retro looks. Good luck! . . . Garrett Hongo

To Jeff Fritz,

I rarely if ever send notes to audio reviewers and usually trust my own ears. However, I read your recent “Jeff’s Getting a New Stereo System” and found that you and I are going through a similar situation. I have decided to focus on one single system rather than have two very good, albeit smaller, systems -- one in my family room and one in my library.

This all started because I have always wanted a Boulder 1060 and have been considering an 1160. So I have decided to sell my Boulder 865 and Viva Solista [integrated amplifiers] and put the money into a great power amplifier. My source is a Vitus DAC-preamplifier, although I may move to a tube front end at some point in the future. I use Wilson Audio Sasha Series 2 speakers.

I am weighing three [amplifier] options right now: Boulder 1160, Boulder 1060, and a Coda (either 15.5 or System 150).

I know very little about Coda, other than the fact that some seriously well regarded audiophiles love the product, think that it is the best deal in audio, and, well, you. So rather than guess, what I wanted to get your direct feedback and thoughts on was the Coda 15.5 or System 150 and how they might compare to Boulder. Is the quality on the same level or is Coda a tier below Boulder?

Warmest regards,
Jonathan L.
United States

Brace yourself for one of those truly unsatisfying answers because I can’t tell you exactly what you should buy.

Coda is a brand that flies under the radar, but shouldn’t. Doug Dale and his staff know power amplifiers as well as any, and have building great amps for decades. I have an older Model 11 that I just love and believe that the newer System 150 would compete with most anything made today. I base this opinion on the fact that I owned a System 100, the model in which the 150 is based on, and it was spectacular -- one of my favorite all-time amps.

Boulder is also a favorite brand, albeit a higher-profile one. Their products are built to a higher standard than anything I’ve ever seen in hi-fi electronics and the sound quality is among the most neutral and resolving you’ll ever hear. I owned a 1060 and thought it was fantastic, and would imagine the 1160 would be better still. This gear is expensive, but unlike a lot in high-end audio, you get what you pay for with Boulder.

Whichever way you go, I think you’ll be happy. No, thrilled. Since you read my article on amplification you know that these two brands are ones that I am considering as well. I can’t guide you to one specific product, but can tell you there is no wrong answer among your choices. Let me know what you decide to do. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Jeff Fritz,

The series of articles you’ve written regarding your change in direction with respect to audio [“Jeff's Getting a New Stereo System”] has been very insightful and interesting. Far more so than TWBAS [The World’s Best Audio System] could ever be.

I agree, for many this hobby is about the gear and not its ability to satisfy one’s ear for music.

I’m guilty of letting myself get caught up in the vortex of collecting the most expensive gear I could afford. However, in the past couple of years I’ve been divesting myself of it all. Somehow it feels a bit easier to enjoy the music.

Good luck with it.

Laurence Phillips
Canada

To Garrett Hongo,

I read your review dated October 1, 2009, and thought I should ask you few questions and hope you do not mind.

I have a Finite Elemente Signature rack. I have six pieces of [Finite Elemente] Cerapuc feet, which I used three under my CD player and three under my preamplifier. I have a Linn LP12 turntable and recently I tried three Cerapucs under it and the sound was much better. I moved the ones under my CD player to my turntable, [so my] preamp still had Cerapucs underneath. I decided to use Cerapucs under my CD player and turntable and buy more feet for my preamplifier, which is a VTL 5.5 Series II.

Considering all the support equipment I have is Finite Elemente, would it make more sense to buy three or four Cerapucs or HRS Nimbus feet to use under my preamp? It is a valve preamp and has a grille underneath too, although it does not get very hot. Considering that the Nimbus is larger and would cover some of the grille area underneath the amp, do you think it is not a good idea? If you recommend HRS Nimbus, then should I also buy [HRS] Damping Plates?

I would really appreciate your advice.

Many thanks and kind regards.

Mahmut
United Kingdom

My strong advice is to stick with the Finite Elemente Cerapucs and be consistent with the system you have, especially as the HRS Nimbus footers would cover part of the venting system under your preamp.

I like Finite Elemente products, by the way, and think they make sense and control extraneous vibrations very well. I once owned a Finite Elemente rack and Cerapucs myself, in fact.

The HRS Nimbus footers and Damping Plates make the most sense when used in conjunction with the entire HRS racking system, although the Damping Plates can be used with just about any kind of gear. I use them even though I’ve not the HRS racking system. . . . Garrett Hongo