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To Hans Wetzel,

Prices on Magico speakers have risen dramatically. Have you heard the A1? Is this speaker okay for a 12′ × 15′ room, or does it make sense to buy the A3, which is about 50% more expensive? I listen almost exclusively to classical music. I’d appreciate any advice you could give me.

Also, was the A1 developed primarily for surround-sound or home-theater use, since Magico is also selling a center speaker and subwoofer that can be used with it?

Thanks,
Al Parker
United States

I have not heard the A1, which Doug Schneider reviewed on our sister site SoundStage! Hi-Fi, but I did review the A3 back in 2019. And while the A-series speakers were not designed primarily for surround-sound or home-theater use, any loudspeaker that’s as sonically accomplished as the Magicos should perform well in a home-theater setup.

The solution to your equation turns on two variables. First, do you predominantly play orchestral works, or more of the chamber variety? And second, do you generally play music pretty loudly? If you primarily listen to orchestral works, especially at higher volumes, I think the A3 makes a load of sense. Asking the little A1, which—like all Magicos—doesn’t have a bass-reflex port, to push a ton of air is asking for trouble. On the other hand, if you have a more balanced classical collection and don’t frequently listen at high volume levels, I think you may be very satisfied with the A1, especially since your room is not very large. I would expect that even though it lacks the higher maximum volume and more extended bass, the A1 should otherwise sound almost identical to its larger sibling. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Garrett Hongo,

I’m in the market for a new phono stage and I’m considering the Zanden Audio Systems Model 120, in part because of your excellent and very informative review from 2014. So thank you for that.

I would be really interested in your perspective on the Model 120 versus the Zanden Model 1200, since I’m making a long-term phono stage purchase and would consider the 1200 if it’s much better than the 120. And a quick answer would be much appreciated.

I’m also considering an Allnic but adjusting EQ curves with it is perhaps too cumbersome. With the Zanden it seems so easy. Do you often find yourself using its non-RIAA EQ curve selector to improve the reproduction of records, even now?

Thanks,
Kevin
Vermont, United States

The Zanden 120 is my reference phono stage, and I agree that it’s very easy to use. The new Zanden Model 1200 Signature has just been released, and, though I am very interested in reviewing it, its retail price ($26,765, all prices in USD) is more than twice that of the 120 ($9800), unfortunately.

The 120, therefore, is quite a bargain, in my opinion.

And, yes, I do use the various EQ curves on the Zanden 120. I find the Decca and Teldec curves especially useful for, respectively, Decca/London and DGG (Deutsche Grammophon) LPs. Angel Records LPs also benefit greatly from the EMI curve. . . . Garrett Hongo

To Jeff Fritz,

I’ve followed your writing over the years and found myself gravitating towards tastes similar to those you’ve endorsed in the past. For example, I’ve owned a pair of Devialet 800 monos, and currently own a pair of Vivid Audio Giya G2s (Series 1), both partially on your recommendation, and been a very happy listener for many years. Unfortunately, I recently damaged a driver in one of the Giyas and am contemplating using this as a convenient excuse for an upgrade.

I have loved the open, transparent, and refined sound of the Giyas. My previous speakers (Wilson Audio Sashas), by comparison, had a darker, more forward sound. Currently, my electronics are a Pass Labs X250.8 amp with a dCS Rossini as the digital source. I’m now wondering what would qualify as a speaker upgrade at this point. The new Giya G2 Series 2 seems only to be a comparatively incremental uplift. I’ve been referred to Vimberg loudspeakers and looked at the Tonda, which seems to have garnered excellent reviews; in particular, as an outperformer at its price point. I know you have specific experience with this speaker, although the high-density fiberboard cabinet gives the snob in me pause for thought. Also on the list is the Estelon X Diamond, which I’ve read a lot about and whose design I am warming to. And then, the usual suspects of Magico and Rockport Technologies. I know the price points of these speakers are very variable, but I’m willing to pay a bit more if it’s getting me an appreciable improvement over the Giyas. I feel like your advice here would be invaluable, given the experience you’ve had with my current speakers as well as those I’ve mentioned, and greatly look forward to hearing from you.

Best,
Dav
United States

The first thing to consider is why you want to upgrade your speakers. I’m actually writing an “Opinion” article on this very subject right now. If it’s for sound quality alone, then bettering the Vivids you already own is going to be a tall order. The only way I would be willing to write a check for an upgrade to the Giya G2 would be if I had actually compared the Vivids with their potential replacements in a space I am familiar with. With some products I could easily endorse an upgrade based on what I know of company A versus what I know of company B. But not in this case.

Vivid makes some of the absolute best loudspeakers in the world, period. So do Magico, Rockport, Tidal/Vimberg, and Estelon. Many times when considering which of these brands to purchase, the choice comes down to certain sound characteristics that could be filed under “listener preference.” One model may do some particular thing better than another, but then fall just short in another area. There are many other factors involved as well, such as design aesthetics and just wanting a change to keep the hobby interesting.

My advice would be to fix your current Vivid speakers and see if you can set up some appointments to get out and hear some of the alternatives you are considering. I know that is a tough proposition in our current environment, but hopefully some private auditions are doable for you. Replace those Vivids only when you fall in love with something else, and not a moment before. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Jeff Fritz,

I’ve been following your system developments and was wondering if you can comment on how the Auralic Vega G2 streaming DAC-preamp compares with the MSB Discrete DAC that you ended up purchasing. I know the price difference is significant between the two digital front ends, but would appreciate any generalizations between the products.

Thank you in advance,
Tony
Canada

At $5999 (USD), the Auralic Vega G2 is a tremendous bargain. I could have easily lived with it permanently, and I still stand by everything I said in the review. The MSB Discrete DAC is in another league altogether, though—it is simply a more resolving, more transparent DAC. Granted, in the configuration of the unit I purchased—with the Premier Powerbase and the input options I chose—the price is well over double that of the Vega. But, thankfully, there are times when you get what you pay for in this hobby, and that is particularly true when the products under discussion are all from companies that produce components at or near the top of their class. So, in summary, I like the Auralic a lot, but the MSB is worth the additional outlay and then some. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Jeff Fritz,

I read your review of the Devialet Expert 1000 Pro integrated amp and Hans Wetzel’s review of the Magico A3 speaker with great interest.

I have recently acquired a Devialet L’Original d’Atelier, updated to Devialet 1000 specs, and am considering which speakers to match it with. From various readings, I understand that Devialet and Magico work well together. Before I venture further (as I am based in the UK and in COVID-19 lockdown) to conduct some live tests, I was hoping I could confirm a few things with you.

Based on the review, the Magico A3 seems to compare favorably with more expensive models such as the S range. How would you say the A3 compares to the original Magico S5, which can now be acquired at a similar price to the new A3 in the secondhand market? Do technological improvements in the new A3 make it a more compelling proposition than the old S range?

Going even further, how would you say the A3 compares to the current S3 Mk II? Is the large price difference between the two models justified by performance, assuming a pairing with the Devialet 1000?

Finally, is the A5 just a larger, more powerful A3 with better bass reproduction, or is the large price difference explained by other factors?

Many thanks for your help.

Regards,
Greg
United Kingdom

Each of the Magico speakers you list has a unique character, and all of them are technically proficient speakers capable of excellent sound, given the right partnering equipment and an appropriate listening environment. The Magico brand really does represent a great investment in proper sound no matter which model you choose. So in that sense you really can’t go wrong with any of the speakers you list.

Magico is also a technology company, and as such they invest heavily in new equipment, tooling, and fabrication methods based on the extensive use of measurements and computer modeling. Therefore, their newer models usually contain some advancements over older models. From what I know, this is definitely the case with the new A5, which is newest of the models you mentioned. In fact, some of the features seen in the A5, such as the new cone geometry using an aluminum honeycomb core, will surely inform Magico designs for years to come. If I were you, I’d invest in a pair of A5s and never look back. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Hans Wetzel,

Lovely review of the Linear Tube Audio Z40 integrated amplifier. I have the only one in Australia (so far), coupled with an old Denon turntable and my recently acquired LRS speakers from Magnepan. I clearly understand your comment at the end of your review where you mentioned the amp’s ability to sing. Adjusting the positioning of the LRSes to get the soundstage just right is tricky, but when you do there’s no coloration between you and the vinyl’s grooves, and, providing the final master mixing was done well, the combination of amp and speakers just soars. It is the most divine musical experience I have ever had. If you want “doof, doof, doof” bass in 4/4 time then this is not a system for you. But if you want to hear elastic bass that shrinks and expands infinitely whilst hearing the singer’s lips brush the grille of the microphone, I couldn’t recommend another system more highly.

Regards,
Duncan Jones
Australia

That’s what it’s all about. Congratulations on finding your musical nirvana, Duncan. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Jeff Fritz,

I recall an article that I wrote for SoundStage! Ultra in September 2008 (“The Birth and Life of an Audiophile: A Journey from Entry-Level to McIntosh”) about McIntosh Laboratory and wish to express my opinion that McIntosh Laboratory treats today’s technology tastefully by infusing it with timeless tradition.

My company, Sanch Electronix Ltd., was designated a McIntosh representative in 1982 and although the products became prohibitively expensive after a decade, we still provide service. In my article I described how, as part of my training, I had the experience of a lifetime: witnessing firsthand a demonstration of how the company’s most astute salesman, James Carroll, recruited his disciples.

I was excited to see that in September 2020, ever mindful of its “Rolls-Royce” philosophy, McIntosh launched the MA12000 hybrid integrated stereo amplifier. Its features include ten analog and seven digital inputs and a stereo output of 350Wpc RMS. In my opinion, this is an unequivocally future-proofed “statement” product that may be construed as the company’s aggressive response to COVID-19. Oh, how I would love to hear this colossus of a behemoth, this culmination of decades of selfless dedication to R&D in ergonomics, incorporating both vacuum-tube and solid-state technology.

Sincerely,
Simeon Louis Sandiford
Trinidad and Tobago

To Hans Wetzel,

I’ve just ordered a pair of Sonus Faber Maxima Amators to be paired with a new Accuphase Laboratory E-380 integrated amplifier fed by a Lumin T2 network music player. The Maxima Amators were chosen for their smaller footprint in our room as well as their Old World looks. Do you think the Accuphase will be a good match? Thanks, I really enjoyed your review.

Rick Anderson
Canada

The Accuphase sounds like a terrific choice. I don’t have any personal experience with the company’s gear, but several of my fellow writers here at SoundStage! have sung Accuphase’s praises in terms of both build and sound quality. The E-380 should generate sufficient power for your needs. Enjoy your new system. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Jeff Fritz,

I have been following your hi-fi journey and reviews for some time now and you consistently have utilized a MacBook Air laptop, together with Roon, as your front-end streaming playback system. Do you believe that a specialist streamer solution, i.e., Aurender, Lumin, etc., does not provide you with the necessary upgrade to the sound performance required to warrant the cost of implementing such a system?

I would be interested in reading your thoughts on high-end streamers vs. MacBook Air front-end playback options, as the cost of these streaming solutions can be quite prohibitive. Maybe spending the money on a better DAC would be more effective?

Kind regards,
Bill
Killybegs, Donegal
Ireland

This is a great question, and one I have been asked before. I have also pondered that question many times. On occasion I have had some very well-regarded streamers in my system, and each time, I’ve come away thinking, “Well, that sounds really good.” Then I go back to my MacBook Air and think to myself, “Well, that sounds really good, too!” Based on these experiences, I always conclude that the perceived improvement is not enough to move me to make a purchase and ditch the MacBook Air.

I’m sure this could be system dependent, and, I’d have to think, specifically related to the DAC. Having a really good DAC could obviate the need for a dedicated streamer depending on how that DAC handles the incoming data stream. Could it be that I would appreciate a dedicated streamer more if I had a different DAC? That’s certainly possible, and maybe I’ll discover the answer to that question down the line.

I’m open to hear more streamers, but until I hear something in my system that is demonstrably and repeatedly better than my Apple MacBook Air, I have no plans to change course. A better DAC, better speakers, a better amp . . . personally, I would prioritize all of these over the purchase of a dedicated music streamer. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Hans Wetzel,

I have read with great interest your various reviews of different amps and speakers over the years. My current setup is Dynaudio’s Confidence C1 [loudspeakers] paired with a Hegel Music Systems H360 [integrated amplifier-DAC]. Overall, I am happy with the sound, especially with the Dynaudios because I had their Contour 1.3 SEs in the past and just wanted to take that sound/philosophy to the next level. The Hegel was more a leap of faith, but a fellow hi-fi aficionado recommended them to pair with the Confidence C1, so I followed his recommendation and picked up a used Hegel. I like Hegel’s warm and natural sound and think it pairs well overall with the Dynaudios. Dislikes are that the [Apple] AirPlay connection is not reliable and does not give the best sound quality. I could have bought a streamer but did not feel like incurring the extra expense.

But now, I am looking to make a change and I’m considering these options—I want to stay in the $5000–$6000 range:

  1. Hegel H390 [integrated amplifier-DAC]: I know I will like the sound, but I expect everything to be better, especially connectivity.
  2. NAD M33 [integrated amplifier-DAC]: The NAD Masters Series M32 DirectDigital was a contender three years ago, but I was led to believe Hegel’s sound is superior. I have seen the rave reviews on the M33. I like the design and all the features, but am a little concerned that in terms of pure sound, it won’t hold up to the Hegel H390.
  3. McIntosh MA5300 [integrated amplifier]: I was recommended this by a dealer I talked to yesterday. What to say? McIntosh is iconic, but I’m not sure the entry-level model is up to par for the Dynaudios, and the next one up is too pricy.
  4. Simaudio Moon 700i [integrated amplifier]: I saw a used 700i [at my dealer] for $5444. It seems compelling, but I’m hesitant to buy a model that is a bit dated at this point.
  5. Any other options?

Not in a rush to make a move; I want to make sure it is the right choice. It is tough to audition the equipment, as every dealer has a different setup and equipment available, and it’s next to impossible to test the equipment at home. So, I need to make another decision based on reviews and expert recommendations. At this point, I am leaning towards a Hegel upgrade. For me, vocals, authenticity, and soundstage for classical music rank at the top of the list. Sorry for the long e-mail. It would be super nice to get your take.

Best,
Andreas Biebl
United States

You’ve made some interesting choices, Andreas, and you’ve definitely reached out to the right reviewer! I’ve previously owned the Hegel H360, own a Hegel H590 (which is very similar to the less powerful Hegel H390 you’re considering), reviewed the NAD M32 when it was new, and recently reviewed the successor to the Moon 700i, the 700i v2. Unfortunately, I don’t have any first-hand experience with McIntosh, though I suspect the MA5300 is a solid amp for the money.

I think the Hegel would be a sensible purchase. The built-in DAC, in particular, should prove to be a notable upgrade on the unit built into your H360. The H390 will sound a little different than your H360, however, as Doug Schneider pointed out in his review of the H390, but should still definitely sound familiar to you.

While I obviously like Hegel, I have to say that NAD’s M33 would be my personal suggestion. It uses Purifi’s new Eigentakt amplifier modules, which sound and measure like an absolute dream. You also get a terrific-looking case, a nice touchscreen, Dirac Live room-correction software, and plenty of I/O. I get that it’s a bit of a gamble for you having never heard it, so let me put it this way: As someone who adored my H360 when I owned it, if I were upgrading from an H360 and had roughly $5000 to spend, I’d spring for the M33, as it’s currently the best integrated amp-DAC that you can buy for five grand.

Happy hunting, Andreas. . . . Hans Wetzel