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In your CES report, "Super-Speakers Special," you stated, "Sometimes six figures won't even buy you good sound." I find that statement true based on my experience with some very expensive speakers. But I wonder if that fact is what is killing the high end. If an audiophile spends that amount of money on a set of speakers and then gets poor sound, why would they ever spend even more money to fix it? It is no wonder that high-end audio is dying. I did enjoy your honest reporting. If we had more of it the high end would be better for it.
One thing I've learned through the years is that products don’t exist in vacuums. Whether it's speakers, amplifiers, DACs, whatever, for each one there is a market it has to compete in. As a reviewer, it is incumbent on me to hear products of all sorts and at all price points -- and report honestly on what I hear. That's not the job of the audiophile, however. Audiophiles are consumers who only have to enjoy what they buy. As sad as it is, I know some audiophiles that really love what I know to be poor-performing products! Why? I think it is because they didn’t have the exposure to products that are genuinely better.
So I don't think that bad products are killing the high end. There are tons of great products out there. The encouraging thing is that some of the best products on the market today are priced less than many, many of the expensive statement-type products of yesteryear -- and some of these newer designs are actually much better! . . . Jeff Fritz
My name is Frank Dickens. I am the manufacturer of Silent Source Audio Cables and importer for Viva Audio, Da Vinci Audio Labs, Technical Brain, and Vitus Audio, and adealer for TAD, Berkeley, Koetsu, Walker Audio, Sim2, JVC Pro, and DNP Screens.
I ran across some postings from your website ["Absolute Nonsense," Ultra Audio, June 1, 2010] concerning Technical Brain amplifiers and preamplifiers. The postings were, to say the least, harsh in nature and contained a lot of pure conjecture and absolutely inaccurate statements put forward as fact.
If you do not mind, I would like to set the record straight. First of all, Technical Brain products are definitely not unobtainable. I would be happy to sell you or anyone else whatever they would like. At the current time, due to my desire to keep retail pricing sane and, also, due to the handmade nature of the products and the attendant low volume of production, all sales are direct. Pricing includes installation anywhere in the continental USA. Factory-authorized service is available here in Dallas, Texas.
Technical Brain received some early attention due to the spectacular performance of its amps and preamp. This attention involved two pairs of Japanese-market amplifiers brought to the USA by a gentleman in New York who knew absolutely nothing about high-end audio. These amps had power supplies built for the Japanese domestic market. There were some components in the power supplies that were woefully underrated for the US power grid and with 350 amps of inrush current at turn-on, failure was inevitable. Unfortunately, these failures were made very public, but characterized as reliability issues, instead of what they really were -- misuse of products designed for the power grid of another country. They involved only these two pairs of Japanese-market amps.
I became aware of Technical Brain through Andrew Jones of TAD Audio Labs. Both the legendary Model One and Reference One loudspeakers were voiced using Technical Brain. I obtained the two pairs of Japanese-market amps from New York, checked them out, and discovered the power supply issue. My staff engineered a revision ($30.00 in parts). These two pairs of amps are now bulletproof as are all new production units destined for the USA market.
I contacted Naoto Kurosawa of Technical Brain and worked out North American distribution. A new power supply was designed for the American market and a few other small changes were made to suit American customer tastes. Press coverage has been good and there are a number of reviews forthcoming which will rightly tout Technical Brain as the groundbreaking products they are.
You can contact Joe Cohen (The Lotus Group), Alon Wolf (Magico), Andrew Jones (TAD), Russell Kauffman (Morel), Lloyd Walker (Walker Audio), Ted Denny (Synergistic Research), David Robinson (Positive Feedback) and Robert Harley and Jonathan Valin (The Abso!ute Sound). These gentlemen have all had hands-on experience with Technical Brain in the last few months. I will certainly stand on their opinions.
A forum such as yours is certainly useful to the audio community in a positive way by making information available to help educate audiophiles on products available to them. However, in instances such as the one with Technical Brain, you can also do great harm to a small company such as Technical Brain and a small importer such as Silent Source.
Technical Brain is highly respected in Japan. They are the only company to ever receive the coveted Grand Prix award for every product they have introduced. I have attached the notes for the latest award. We are lucky that these products are available to the US audio community.
Pissing contests between bloggers, reviewers, and other reviewers serve no one and can harm products which do not deserve to be harmed. I would submit that much more care should be used by all for the greater good.
I will be happy to supply product for responsible review at any time.
Silent Source Audio Cables
Technical Brain USA
Thank you for the note. You are absolutely correct that early, negative reports, particularly about issues such as reliability, availability, and so on, can hurt young companies. Ensuring that those issues do not happen in the first place is certainly in the best interest of the companies themselves. But the magazines have a responsibility to other entities also: first, consumers; but also the industry as a whole. Your letter serves to support that point, which I made in my article: "Those that promote dangerous, unreliable, or unsupported products do a disservice to established manufacturers that have worked hard to make rock-solid lineups, and to consumers who spend their hard-earned dollars. They ultimately damage the credibility of the magazines that promote them, and cast a shadow over high-end audio as a whole."
Covering Technical Brain products, which very well could be outstanding, should have been put on hold until all the "issues" noted could be worked out. The fallout you describe simply validates my whole argument. As I said back in June, "I wish Kurosawa the best of luck, but I have no interest in hearing his products, or writing about them, until I can say with certainty that they are a safe bet for the consumer." If that had been the standard of the other magazine, there would be no reason for your letter -- and frustration -- today.
If what you say is true, and I have no reason to believe otherwise, then the products might be ready for formal review. I'd still prefer a much longer track record -- think Ayre Acoustics, Gryphon, Simaudio, Boulder, ARC, and so on -- but a company has to start somewhere. I wish you the best of luck in establishing the Technical Brain brand in the US, and perhaps hearing these promising products in the future if they are in fact reliable, available, and wonderful sounding. . . . Jeff Fritz
I followed your "Super-Speakers Special" with great interest as I could not come to CES this year. I especially liked your candid comments on the Talon speakers and some of the others. You've had some impressive brands through your system through the years. I've read your articles on the various Wilsons, YGs, Egglestons, and, of course, the Rockports. I was therefore glad to see that you would be getting the Magico Q3s in for review. Not many of the reviewers, particularly those that write online, have had the wealth of experience you have compiled with SOTA speakers. I'll be anxious to hear your report. Keep up the great work, and keep those candid comments coming.
I read with great interest your "Comparisons on Paper: B&W 803 Diamond Versus Tidal Contriva Diacera SE" and was very intrigued. You have brought to light exactly why the high end needs better representation from the press in order to get down to the real issues. If there are reasons the Tidal is that much more expensive, then we need someone to bring them to light. You, sir, are asking questions that the other reviewers won’t approach. But you also have the experience to dissect this issue for the rest of us. I surely hope a Tidal review is coming and we get your expert opinion on this subject.
I am speaking with the company presently and will have an answer shortly as to whether a review can be arranged. . . . Jeff Fritz
Your provocative peek at a comparison between these two speakers [B&W 803 Diamond vs. Tidal Contriva Diacera SE] is, well, provocative!
I've listened to the larger-model B&W and Tidal Contriva Diacera. Given the price differences I'm now considering purchasing the Contriva. However, I'm still looking for data points. When will you do this shootout?
Given the wide-ranging interest in this article, I will make a point at CES to speak with the Tidal folks about reviewing a speaker from them in the very near future. . . . Jeff Fritz
An interesting exercise in applied theory [B&W 803 Diamond vs. Tidal Contriva Diacera SE]. As a previous owner, many moons ago, I must confess, of the B&W 801s, that I admire their approach and to some degree their results. On the other hand, the Tidal Contrivas, which I heard at this year’s CES, leave little else to be desired from a midsize full-range speaker. Owning a pair of the Tidal Sunrays sheds an intrinsic light on the rest of Tidal’s models, design, construction, and ultimately their beguiling sound.
This comparison begs the question: would you compare a BMW M3 to a Toyota Corolla SE? Both will get you there; one, though, a lot faster and in greater style and performance.
I like your BMW-Toyota analogy. In some respects, it works for me. The M3 is certainly faster and a much greater chick-magnet than a Corolla. However, the Toyota will be more reliable in the long term (I've owned several BMWs, and after that 50k warranty expires, look out!), have greater resale value, get better gas mileage, and all that for a much better price. So, for many consumers, the more prudent buy is the Toyota based on what it does.
But these aren’t cars. And loudspeakers aren't measured in 0-60 times. You listen to them, of course, and that result determines their intrinsic value. I actually heard the Tidal Piano Diacera speaker at RMAF this year and I have to admit that I was smitten by its ability to throw an astoundingly transparent soundstage. After hearing it, I can reasonably conclude that the Tidal Contriva Diacera SE is a really awesome speaker. But the B&W 803 Diamond I have in my room right now is also very good in its own right -- and it is still one-sixth the price of the Tidal.
So, back to the car analogy: The BMW M3 has a base price of $58,400. The Toyota Corolla starts at $15,450. For most consumers, those looking at the Toyota won't consider the BMW. And since you might not have heard the 803 Diamond, you have to ask yourself: What if, just what if, you got the Corolla on the track and it did do 0-60 in 5 seconds flat because a company with the engineering resources decided to make it so, would you buy it? In the loudspeaker world, that could very easily happen. I could give you so many examples where price does not equate to performance in high-end audio. After all, I know of some train-wreck six-figure loudspeakers out there. That's why we have to ask these questions and that was the real purpose behind the article. . . . Jeff Fritz
To Peter Roth,
I was reading your review of the Vandersteen Seven and your comments were similar to my impressions when I heard the speakers last week at Optimal Enchantment in Santa Monica, California. I currently have the 5As and they almost sounded broken when I got home and listened to my stereo. They sound better now that my memory of the Vandersteen Sevens is fading. I am considering purchasing the Sevens but wanted some suggestions of other competing speakers before pulling the trigger.
My current system is mostly ARC: Ref 5 preamp, Ref Phono, VM220 amps, EMM Labs XDS1 disc player, and Nottingham Dias turntable. I really like the 5As and the system sounds great with the current electronics. Thanks for any suggestions.
I have heard a lot of speaker systems, but none tempted me away from my Vandersteen 5As . . . until the Sevens. I have ordered a pair, which will become my new reference. I know that Randy Cooley at Optimal Enchantment is all about the tubes, and for good reason, but I really think having a great solid-state power amplifier (like the Ayre MX-R monoblocks, which I own -- look for my review on December 1) pairs beautifully with the Vandersteen Seven, the Seven being more demanding on the amplifier than the 5A. Richard Vandersteen also uses the Ayre MX-Rs at home with his Sevens.
If I were to go a different route, the few speakers that have repeatedly impressed me are the Vivid Giya (I especially like the G2), theTAD Reference Ones, and the Rockports. I have not yet had enough time listening to the newest Magico, but I do like that brand quite a bit too. I think the G2 is similarly priced to the Sevens; their US importer, Philip O’Hanlon, lives just down the road in San Juan Capistrano, so you could probably hear them there. In any event, I prefer the Vandersteen Sevens that are a truly a fantastic value, even though expensive, and I can’t wait for my pair to be built , but at the moment there is a several-month queue.
Glad you liked the review, and keep on reading Ultra Audio and the rest of the publications that are part of the SoundStage! Network. . . . Peter Roth
I have read your reviews. I am just wondering if you have had a chance to listen to Burmester's B100 loudspeakers. If you have, what are your impressions of them? How would you rate them or how do you think they compare to other high-end speakers like Rockport's Altair?
I currently run an all-Burmester system, and I am just wondering if I should shop for another set of speakers from other companies.
I have heard numerous Burmester loudspeakers (sorry, don't know all the model numbers) at shows through the years and have, on occasion, been very impressed. Generalizing, they always seem to throw large soundstages and have the ability to fill large rooms easily. However, nothing I've heard at shows leads me to believe that they are in the same league as the Rockport Altair or a number of other speakers such as those from Vivid Audio, TAD, and a few others. To me, these companies are a clear step up when it comes to speakers. I guess the takeaway is this: listen to the Burmesters, by all means, as they may be what you want to match with your electronics, but definitely hear the other contenders for the state of the art in loudspeakers before you buy anything. . . . Jeff Fritz
Great review [of the Weiss DAC202), very commonsense and that is what is needed in reviews!
I am trying to figure out how far up the DAC price-point chain I need to go to hit the peak of the value curve ($2000 up to the $6700 that the DAC202 costs). There are not many dealers where I live so I have no opportunity to go listen to much, let alone make comparisons. I have Gemme Audio speakers, Brinkmann mono amps, and a Simaudio preamp.
Have you heard the Bryston BDA-1? Maybe it is a starting point on the curve, and I am wondering if I need to spend $6700 or if the value-curve peak is somewhere before that and diminishing returns start to take over?
Part of the value proposition of the Weiss is the built-in preamp. It is a state-of-the-art DAC, but when you add in the preamp section the value-per-dollar in a system is increased. If you have a digital-only system it could easily replace your Simaudio, making the purchase easier to swallow. The starting point on the value-performance curve, however, is clearly the Ayre QB-9. At $2750, it represents state-of-the-art sound in a sensible package that is easy to use -- a real no-brainer if you have only a single computer source. I've not heard the Bryston, so can’t comment on that, though their products are almost always well received. . . . Jeff Fritz
Thanks for your review of the Weiss DAC202 on Ultra Audio.
I am struggling between the Weiss DAC202 and the Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC. I will be auditioning the Weiss DAC202 in the coming week or so. I have some friends who have the Berkeley and I enjoy the sonic qualities.
I would like to see if you have also tried the Berkeley and what are your impressions between the DAC202 and Alpha DAC. Thanks and best regards.
I have not heard the Alpha DAC in my system, but Ultra Audio contributor Simeon Sandiford uses one in his reference system and has had nothing but great things to say about it. It has a stellar reputation and features some of the same advantages as the Weiss, namely a digital volume control so that you can bypass a preamp. If you are thinking of setting up a computer-based system, the biggest consideration is what type of digital output you'll use. Although both DACs have a number of input types, only the Weiss has a FireWire input that makes it the perfect partner for a Mac. That was one deciding factor for me -- along with the stunning sound quality, of course. The DAC202 is my reference DAC, and I can’t really find fault with it at this time. . . . Jeff Fritz
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