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To Jeff Fritz,
It’s Neil from Everest Audio, a long-time dealer in Regina, SK, Canada.
I just read your latest article on SoundStage! Ultra and found it quite interesting. Two of your candidates for a new DAC are ones that we use in our demo systems daily, the Hegel HD30 and the T+A DAC 8 DSD. Excellent pieces. However, if you don’t mind, I’d like to address one area that in my opinion would be a large improvement for you. I also have used an Oppo BDP-103 in the past, and while certainly a fine piece feeding coax to one of these DACs, it can be easily outperformed. That also goes for the MacBook Pro. After the BDP-103, my next move up was the Bluesound Node 2 and I preferred it in terms of sound quality for Tidal streaming as well as accessing files on my NAS. However, the Bluesound Node 2 still easily takes a back seat to my current Melco N1A/2 digital music library feeding USB to an excellent DAC. The Oppo or the MacBook just won’t touch the Melco in terms of Tidal or digital file playback. Other customers of mine are in complete agreement as well. I haven’t heard this quality of digital playback in any of our systems until we got Melco. Now, I’m not here to just play up the Melco, but just letting you know that, in my opinion, you’re leaving a lot of performance on the table by staying with the Oppo and MacBook. With either of these DACs, the Melco N1A/2 and a high-quality USB cable such as the GutWire USBe-1, you’re still well below your $10k USD limit. The Melco also gives 4TB total storage or 2X2TB of Raid 1 storage.
There are a number of alternatives to Melco out there that will also give you a step up in performance as well, but Melco is one of the leaders right now in performance for the money. If you want more info, you can check it out on our site.
Keep up the great work. I’ve been a fan of SoundStage! for many years now.
To Garrett Hongo,
Great review of the Zanden 3100 [preamplifier]. As a psychologist once told me, want what you have. Anyway, I was wondering what a good preamp might do in my system. The system is: Aurender N100H, Kimber Kable USB, UpTone Regen, PS Audio DirectStream DAC, Siltech Classic Anniversary 770i XLRs direct to Oasis Audio S-200 monoblocks (200W class A), AudioQuest Redwood speaker cables, Magico S5 speakers.
I listen to exactly the kind of music as you mentioned in your review of the 3100. If you asked me what I don’t care for in my system, I could not tell you. Perhaps a more defined soundstage and placement of the instruments?
When I tried a Coda Technologies CSiB integrated in the system, it was tiring. Too much on the top end. When I tried an Ayre Acoustics VX-R Twenty, same thing.
I had thought of perhaps a VAC Renaissance like you mentioned, but only saw a Mk.2. I buy used. Someone mentioned an Ayre KX-5 Twenty. Great review by one of your associates.
A friend has an Audio Research Reference 6 between his Berkeley Reference DAC and his Pass Labs X350.8 with Magico S5 Mk.IIs and is selling it because he likes the sound direct from the Berkeley to the Pass.
I am seeing a used/mint 3100 for sale at $7500. Would be a costly mistake and maybe not gain anything?
Thank you for the compliment on my review of the Zanden 3100 preamp. Much appreciated. And glad you found it interesting as a possible choice for your own system.
My editor at SoundStage! Ultra, Jeff Fritz, has recently come to prefer driving his amps directly from a DAC and forgoing a pre. See his recent columns.
That said, I myself like a good preamp as I listen to a good deal of vinyl as well as to CDs. It’s not only convenient to be able switch sources, but I’m very fond of the sound of the Zanden 3100. I used it with a Zanden 8100 stereo amp as well as a VAC Signature 200iQ that I just reviewed. The sound is excellent, particularly with soundstaging and imaging -- a kind of Zanden trademark, if you will.
Regarding your situation, though, it’s very hard for me to recommend which course to take. I’ve not heard the Nagra Jazz in my own system and only passingly heard it in a demo at a show some time ago now. I was impressed but took no notes. Furthermore, I am also unfamiliar with your amps, though descriptions I’ve found suggest they’ve a warm and natural sound not unlike Threshold or later Pass Labs class-A amplifiers.
In general, I prefer matching brands of electronics to each other, especially amp(s) and pre. But I’ve no idea if Oasis produced a comparable preamp. I can say that, in solid-state preamps, I really like the Pass Labs three-box XP-30 and the current Esoteric line of preamps. For tube preamps, I love the Zanden 3100, but you might require more drive than its 8dB gain. Among other tubed, balanced preamps, an excellent value is the VAC Ren. Mk.3 you mention. I’ve owned it and there hasn't been a pre with more drive (22dB gain, as I recall). For another publication, I’ve also reviewed the VAC Signature Mk.2 and found it struck a great balance between drive and finesse. Finally, the Lamm LL2.1 Deluxe is another excellent value (18dB gain). I’ve owned one and still regret letting it go. But it isn’t balanced, unlike the VAC and Zanden brands.
I believe your best recommendations may come from other owners of the Oasis S-200 monoblock amplifiers. Is there an owner’s forum or hobbyist’s forum you can participate in?
But I’d be cautious about “jumping” at anything just because you’ve seen it advertised for a good price on a used website. It is an expensive way to audition gear.
By the way, I know your Magico S5 speakers and think they are among the best at their price point available. I’ve heard them driven by all-Zanden electronics (8100 amp, 3100 pre, 120 phono) and thought the sound superb. I’ve also heard them driven by Pass Labs, Soulution, and Constellation electronics and, each time, I heard superior sound. Good luck! . . . Garrett Hongo
To Jeff Fritz,
I need your opinion on my intended speaker upgrade, if it can be called that. I’m currently driving my Wilson Benesch Cardinals and their Torus subwoofer with my Gryphon Audio Designs Mephisto stereo amp and their Pandora preamp. Reading about the Rockport Technologies Cygnus intrigues me. Unfortunately, I’m unable to audition it and am solely relying on reviews and customer comments on the web to make an informed decision. Having had experiences with both, do you feel that the Cygnus would be a real upgrade from the Cardinal? If it was your decision, which path would you take? Appreciate your sincerest reply. Thank you.
I have not heard the Wilson Benesch Cardinal speaker, and have only heard other Wilson Benesch speakers at audio shows such as High End, in Munich, Germany. Even still, I have managed to wrap my ears around what seems to be the company’s basic house sound. I know the Rockport sound really well, though, so here’s my best shot at giving you some advice, with the caveat that hearing the Rockport for yourself is surely the best way to go if at all possible.
In a nutshell, I think the Cygnus would have deeper bass and the speaker in general would sound warmer and fuller. My recollection of Wilson Benesch speakers that I’ve heard is that they can sound airy and quick, but are not generally rich and full. You don’t say in your letter whether or not you plan to keep the Torus subwoofer, but I can say that you likely won’t need it with the Cygnus. Rockport speakers always sport deep, articulate bass, and the Cygnus -- with two of Rockport’s largest woofers -- has plenty of deep bass. Rockport speakers have typically been characterized by warmth, although I will say that the Cygnus is more open sounding than previous Rockports of my experience. Still, I believe the Wilson Benesch speakers are voiced with a touch more treble energy and might not play as prodigiously in the bass, yielding a lighter overall tonal balance.
I guess you could take most of this with a grain of salt, considering I have not heard the Wilson Benesch speakers in my room (we’ve asked many times but no review samples ever show). I hope you can hear the Rockports before making a decision. . . . Jeff Fritz
To Jeff Fritz,
Thanks for all the great articles and reviews. I have been following your series on rethinking and rebuilding your stereo system. Fascinating. Just wanted to suggest you take a listen to the Totem Element speakers. I don’t own Totem, I’m happy with my Focals, but if I were looking I’d definitely consider the Totems. I heard one of the Element bookshelf speakers set up with Devialet. Pretty stunning. I thought the Elements, small or large, should be on your list.
All the best,
To Hans Wetzel,
I read your wonderful review on the amazing Gryphon Diablo 300 on your website.
I have read a lot of reviews about it and it’s always praised highly. I have decided to actually buy it! But I have a question about its compatibility. Usually these integrated amps should be paired up with the correct loudspeaker to sound really high end.
I am about to buy the Bowers & Wilkins 800 D3, which is an amazing high-end speaker. I am wondering if you have any experience with that? It has two 10” bass elements in each speaker, and its impedance is usually 8 ohms, but dips as low as 3 ohms, meaning it requires a lot of current and power. I am wondering whether the Diablo 300 will be able to run these beasts? I know that the Diablo 300 delivers 300Wpc @ 8 ohms, 600Wpc @ 4 ohms, 950Wpc @ 2 ohms, and has a power supply with 136,000μF of capacitance.
But it is well known that B&W speakers are very difficult to drive. They usually require a lot of watts and are often paired up with monoblocks at high-end showrooms. They will sound too forward and “thin” if they aren’t driven well. B&W speakers are known to be slightly light on the bass if not provided with enough current. For me, the biggest speakers aren’t necessary, but the ones that can be driven well by the Diablo 300. The next alternative is the B&W 802 D3, the little brother of the 800 D3. It has only two 8” bass elements per speaker, and thus probably a bit easier to drive, I think.
So what are your thoughts? Do you think the Gryphon Diablo 300 has enough power to drive B&W 800 D3, or should I go with the smaller 802 D3? Thank you in advance for your time!
I think Gryphon’s Diablo 300 is a terrific choice for either of the B&W speakers that you mention. I have heard the 800 D3s in person and enjoyed their sound. While, admittedly, they were driven by monoblock amplifiers when I heard them, I do not think monoblocks are a prerequisite. Both the 800 D3 and the 802 D3 are listed as being 90dB-efficient, with a nominal 8-ohm impedance that dips down to 3 ohms. Any decent class-AB amp with a robust power supply should be able to handle that with ease. And the Gryphon is hardly just “decent” with a “robust” power supply -- it’s a brute, with a monster amount of both power and current on offer. Provided you can offer the 800 D3s sufficient breathing room away from your front and side walls, I think they’d be a great match for the Diablo 300. I’m confident that they’ll sound anything but thin. It sounds like you’ve got an epic system in your future! . . . Hans Wetzel
To Jeff Fritz,
I am following your articles about establishing a new system with huge interest. I’m facing, actually, a similar challenge. For the first time reading your articles or statements I am unable to follow your logic, however. The selection of the loudspeakers presented has in common a design of having several drivers distributed over the whole baffle from bottom to top. Thus the listener is confronted with distinct sound sources more or less apart from each other and the surrounding surfaces including the floor! Knowing the incredible precision of our ears in detecting the localization of sound sources and phase shifts, I cannot understand the omission of a D’Appolito design or a point-source (coaxial design) speaker. And if you look to the recording situation microphones are simply the inversion of a point source. Why is group delay not an issue in selecting an authentic loudspeaker?
This is an excellent question. The first thing I’ll point out is that the TAD ME-1 that I reviewed this month and mentioned in the article you cite is indeed based on a coaxial driver: a 1” tweeter mounted within a 3.5” midrange. As for D’Appolito designs, I’ve reviewed many of them -- even owned a few -- through the years and have not in practice found that they offered any acoustical advantage, at least in my room. In fact, the taller versions of those designs have not fared well in my listening space at all. I will, however, concede that I probably should branch out a little more and add at least an electrostat -- all the sound produced by one driver -- such as the MartinLogan CLX.
As for hearing individual drivers from a multiway cone-and-dome loudspeaker, I agree that it can be a problem. It can also be a complete non-issue. The result really comes down to the skill of the designer in specifying a crossover that mates the drive units precisely. There is no question that a poorly designed crossover and mismatched drivers can produce terrible sound. But some of the best-imaging speakers I’ve ever heard have been ones with tweeters and midranges and woofers mounted from top to bottom on a front baffle. The proof is in the pudding, as they say. . . . Jeff Fritz
To Jeff Fritz,
I rarely comment on reviews, but this is really an excellent and accurate review of the [Dynaudio] Contour 60s. I have owned them now for about six months. While not inexpensive [$10,000/pr.], it is truly an incredible speaker for the money and I agree it is awfully close to a true full-range speaker. I typically have run a sub with my speakers, even towers, but do not find the need to with the Contour 60s. There is plenty of bass and though I tend to run bass a little hot, I use the half port plug in the lower ports. These speakers can pound, yet remain very coherent from top to bottom. I found your description of a “bit left to right” to be dead on. I hate bright speakers, but at the same time I do like snap to my snare drums and crunch in my guitar. They may not be the best speaker I’ve ever heard, but for $10k/pr. retail it is an excellent speaker. I have also found them to be very revealing of upstream electronics -- I heard very clear differences between different preamps and amps with these speakers.
An excellent and accurate review. Nice Job!
To Jeff Fritz,
Just read this review [Dynaudio Contour 60] and really enjoyed it. I also read your article concerning the Coda [Model 11] amp. For this speaker, would a Bryston 4B3 amp be a smart move or would a Coda S5.5 be better? I used to have a Bryston 4B-ST amp driving a pair of Aerial 8 speakers with a Resolution Audio CD-55 transport-DAC-preamp. I ran this balanced with biwire Cardas Neutral Reference interconnects. I really liked the system, but soundstage depth was lacking, which was my only beef.
Any thoughts concerning the Audio Physic Codex four-way tower speakers? These are roughly $14,995/pr. Any chance you could review the Coda S5.5 amp, as there are no current reviews out that I could find? Thanking you in advance,
Regarding the Audio Physics Codex loudspeakers, I’d suggest you read the review that Aron Garrecht wrote right here on SoundStage! Ultra. I’ve not personally heard that speaker but trust Aron’s assessment.
As for Bryston vs. Coda, I think that’s a can’t-go-wrong proposition. Both brands have been around forever and, as far as my experience goes, build bulletproof amplifiers that sound simply terrific. In fact, I think both brands -- when compared to many that they are typically in competition with – score extremely high on the value/performance scale. Lastly, although I don’t have an S5.5 in for review presently, I’m in discussions with Coda about a review in the near future. Keep an eye on SoundStage! Ultra in the coming months. Thanks for writing. . . . Jeff Fritz
To Jeff Fritz,
Not quite a year ago I was privileged to have some back-and-forth dialogue with you (via e-mail) regarding the assembly of my new system. You may recall that I had initially written for your opinion on a select list of loudspeakers (Vivid, Magico, Kharma) that had each received some pretty good reviews in the general audio press, as well as in the SoundStage! family of publications. In the end I chose to acquire the YG Acoustics Hailey 1.2 ($42,800 USD per pair). After living with the speaker now for the past six months I can confidently say how happy I am with this selection and that I have not experienced the “what if” scenarios that can usually accompany this kind of expenditure (high dollars for me anyway).
As your thoughts and reviews progress through the speakers you’ve written about in your October post [“Jeff’s Getting a New Stereo System: Part Four”], I’d like to suggest that you consider the Haileys as well. They are priced just a nudge above your stated dollar limit, but truly provide a sound quality well above their price point.
Yes, I’m sure you’ll receive lots of emails from fanboys like me, urging you to include their preferred brand as you go about your search, but in this instance I honestly believe the Hailey provides all of the desired loudspeaker virtues that you’ve written about over the years, and as such could surprise you during an audition.
Thanks again for the best audio thoughts in the hi-fi space, and the best of luck to you as you try to do what so many of us try to do and stay within our means.
To Jeff Fritz,
I learned the hard way that it is difficult to go backward on so many things -- a BMW M-series back to a Honda Accord, involvement with three growing children so back to dedicated listening time. With me, as my listening time dwindled (I would rather spend the time with the kids -- it goes by fast), I decided to scale back my system. As I begin to regain some audio time, I find my system far less enjoyable than I remembered.
Keep this in mind when you start shopping. This is what I have learned; sit down as many may feel it is audiophile sacrilege. Priority 1: the room, which you have totally covered and I feel this takes care of 45% of your audio needs. Priority 2: the speakers, and this is where I sacrificed too much and I would say is another 45% of the equation. Depending on your new budget, there are so many options for speakers. True innovators and enthusiastic novices alike have saturated the high-end market. Since you may want to support your advertisers, let us start there.
Dynaudio: I find it is unlikely you will be satisfied with the Dynaudio Contour 60s compared to your old Magicos. The price point is attractive, but you may find the fidelity gap too large. These are great speakers, but you may want to aim higher depending on your system’s price (or perhaps you may reach higher via Audiogon or your connections to the industry). Options: the Gryphon Mojos with subs could be an interesting option; I would love to see a real review now that they are available in the US. Lower-cost, mostly full-range Magicos with subs could be a great option given their similarities to the sound you’ve grown accustomed to. Bowers & Wilkins, the 802 D3 and 800 D3, do not really do it for me, but many like them. With Monitor Audio, I personally do not like the directionality of their ribbon tweeters. Then there’s KEF with their off-axis response and laid-back sound; I personally would write them off. They would have quite the contrast to the Magicos. Paradigms, which I have heard many times, sound too bright and overly (unrealistically) revealing. The measurements in Sound & Vision seem to confirm this. Vivid speakers do seem to be a great option -- maybe a new pair of G2S2s or B1 Decades with subs. Outside of your advertising circle there is always Rockport, TAD, Focal’s new Maestro/Scala Utopia Evos, Legacy (Aegis and V), JBL 4376/M2, and hopefully the forthcoming Revel Ultima3 Salon3, all with substantial engineering prowess behind them.
Electronics: If you were sitting, you may want to lay down for this one. I believe you can get 99% of the state of the art in performance with well-made mainstream electronics rather than the mega-priced/showcase gear. Check the specs to ensure they truly measure up, then perhaps try some blind testing. Tell me the Anthem Statement P2 for $4500 does not sound the same as (or damn close to) the extremely high-priced showpiece amps. The same argument can be made for preamp, cables, DACs, etc. I will stop here to prevent hate mail. My point is money spent here is better allocated to speakers. Yes, you may give up a little, very little, but the budget allocation to better speakers certainly offsets that.
One man’s opinion!
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