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To Jeff Fritz,
My name is Jason Li. I’m a reader of your articles and I have a question that I hope you can answer. I’m about to purchase a set of Gryphon Mephisto Solo amplifiers. I’m hesitant regarding the choice of preamplifier. I have heard the Ayre KX-R Twenty preamplifier in a different setting and really liked what I heard. However, I have always preferred to buy amplifier and preamplifier from the same manufacturer for obvious reasons. But there is not a lot of info about the Gryphon Pandora preamplifier, and Gryphon is known more for their power amplifiers, not their preamplifiers, so I’m very tempted to go with the KX-R Twenty. But since this is a considerable monetary investment, I would like to have as much information as possible. I remember reading a review of the Gryphon Mephisto by you, and you had a KX-R preamplifier if I’m not mistaken. Could you please tell me a bit more about your impressions of the Gryphon and Ayre combination? Have you perhaps heard the Pandora/Mephisto combo?
I’m grateful for whatever information you can give me. Thank you.
With kind regards,
I did pair the Gryphon Mephisto stereo amplifier with the Ayre KX-R preamplifier. In fact, this was the primary way in which I auditioned the Gryphon, and you’ve obviously read my very positive impressions. I have no doubt that the combination of Gryphon Mephisto Solo monos and Ayre KX-R Twenty would be outstanding, likely eclipsing what I heard with the stereo Gryphon and original Ayre KX-R. If you choose to go this route I’m sure you'll be thrilled.
Still, I am of the school of thought that great manufacturers -- and make no mistake, Gryphon is one -- optimize their amplifiers and preamplifiers to perform best when used together. I have heard of several audiophiles around the world who have Mephistos and Pandoras and seem to love their systems. There is a predictability to the sound when the preamp and power amp are produced by the same company.
Of course, the expected answer is to “go hear them for yourself,” but I realize this could be difficult if Gryphon is not sold near you. For example, Gryphon is not sold in the United States, where I live. I am not sure of your situation in South Korea. If you cannot listen, I would advise you to buy the Gryphon set and be done with it. Good luck and let me know how it works out. . . . Jeff Fritz
To Jeff Fritz,
I enjoyed reading your article addressing Doug’s concern about the future for audio, let alone high-end audio. I have been an audiophile since high school. I have worked at a large university since graduating college. The reason why the future is grim is because the current generation of college kids, for the most part, are not collectors of physical mediums. Remember when you were in college in the ’70s or ’80s and went to a party? Your host would not only have an audio system, but also books and records in his or her living room. This is not the case anymore with college-age students. Everything is online and most listening is personal through earbuds.
However, there is a future for audio in general with those small groups of music lovers that are LP or CD collectors. It will be much smaller than previous generations, but they will ensure the future of audio. Indeed, it is these groups of young people that have embraced the LP once again. Those college-age students who do collect CDs and LPs will be those people who will get into high-end audio. Remember, however, this is a smaller group than previous generations. Companies like Rotel and Pro-Ject, among others, are catering to this market with their very reasonable prices for the quality of sound.
Dr. Ross Scimeca, Head Librarian
To Jeff Fritz,
Just the other day you responded to a letter from Ilona from Switzerland about upgrading from Dynaudio Confidence C2 speakers to Magico S3 speakers. If possible I’d like to expand on that question simply because I am also planning to upgrade from my Confidence C2 loudspeakers in the spring, but want to upgrade a little higher than the S3.
I recently started the audition process, having spent one-and-a-half hours this past Saturday playing my music (LPs and CDs), listening to the Rockport Technology Avior speakers (Boulder electronics, Feickert Woodpecker turntable, Ortofon Cadenza Bronze cartridge). The other brands I plan to audition include the Magico S5 Mk.II (I recently heard the new S7 at a Colorado Audio Society meeting and thought they sounded absolutely tremendous), the Kharma Elegance dB9-S (heard them at RMAF last year and was very impressed with their musicality), the new Wilson Audio Specialties Yvette (yes, I know Wilson is not your favorite brand and I think I understand why), and have decided to include the Vivid Audio B1 Decade (largely based on Doug Schneider’s extremely positive review). These all seem to be in the same relative price range.
My first takeaway after listening to the Aviors is that they might be a little bass heavy in my room (but then again my reference point is the Dynaudios, which I’ve owned for seven years and they tend to emphasize the mids, which I have become very accustomed to). That the sound from the Aviors was so much fuller than what I hear from the C2s leads me to know that I am on the right track. The Aviors’ soundstage was far broader and deeper than what I am used to, but I am wondering if I can get that and even more resolution and clarity with another brand.
I do plan to carefully listen and make my buying decision based on what sounds best to both me and my wife, but I have tremendous respect for your practiced and critical listening ear, so consequently, I’d love to get your thoughts about how these speakers might compare with one another and possibly how one or two might fare when paired with what I own -- I guess what I’m really asking is if you think there’s a clear winner. And, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask if there is a brand I’ve neglected to include in my search that should also be considered.
In terms of electronics, the new speakers will be paired with the new Ayre KX-5 Twenty preamp and VX-5 Twenty amplifier, combined with assorted other mid-level sources (EAT C-Major turntable, Ortofon Cadenza Bronze cartridge, Parasound phono and CD player). My room is fairly small (approx. 13.5’ x 14’) but does yield a pretty good sound when the speakers are well positioned.
Again, your view on these alternatives will be greatly appreciated,
My biggest concern with most of the speakers you’ve chosen is that several of them might overload your room in the bass. All of the speakers you mention are capable of very-low-frequency response, some right down to 20Hz. Although you may get proper integration in your room, you might also get a boomy mess of a sound that is hard to live with. I’ve been there and done that. About 15 years ago I had a room approximately the size of the one you have. Despite my best efforts, I could never reliably predict how a speaker would sound in the bass in that room. For instance, EgglestonWorks Rosas and Wilson Audio WITTs completely overloaded the room, yielding an unlistenable sound. Some even larger speakers I had in there sounded terrific, however. Like I said, hard to predict.
As for the brands and the specific models, of course I like most of them. I think the Avior is a terrific buy and offers tremendous full-range sound and build quality to die for. If you’re set on a Rockport, you should also listen to the Atria to see if that is a better fit for your room. The Kharmas are fresh on my mind after my recent very positive review; however, the dB9-S has the most pronounced bass of the bunch, so that might be especially problematic in your room. The Vivids would likely be a pretty good match for your space, as they are on the smallish side compared with the other candidates you mention. The Magicos might also work well due to their sealed design and, in my experience, the very linear way that they load a room in the low frequencies. I have no experience with the Wilsons, though I have heard others say the Yvette sounds good.
Overall, I like the speakers on your list and could see you liking them, too. Of course, you will have to listen to each to really know. It has been my experience that once you do that, one of the models will appeal to you more than the others and it will make the buying decision relatively easy. Window-shopping online rarely offers clarity on a purchase of this magnitude. Good luck with your decision and please do let me know how it works out. . . . Jeff Fritz
To Jeff Fritz,
I would like to get your opinion about a possible speaker upgrade. I found a couple of useful articles on SoundStage! Ultra regarding the comparison between the Dynaudio C2 and Magico S1, but unfortunately not the S3.
I own a pair Dynaudio Confidence C2 speakers in combination with a Vitus RI-100 integrated amplifier. Overall, I really like the sound of my speakers. The only thing that I miss a little bit is the punch of the bass.
My question to you is: If I upgrade from my two-way Dynaudio C2 to the three-way Magico S3, would I gain deeper bass and more dynamics, but still get the lovely vocals that I hear from my Dynaudio C2?
I mostly listen to female vocals, jazz, and folk.
The biggest advantage of going from the Dynaudio C2 to the Magico S3 is the fact that you are upgrading from a two-way design to a three-way loudspeaker. Moving to a three-way from a two-way generally means deeper bass and more dynamic range, all other things being equal.
In this particular case, however, you are also dealing with two very differently voiced loudspeakers. The Dynaudios have a soft-dome tweeter and a sound that will be slightly more forgiving, whereas the Magicos, with their beryllium dome, will be more resolving, displaying more apparent detail in the upper registers. While I would expect the Magico to play lower in the bass than the Dynaudio C2, I am not sure it will be punchier in the midbass; the ported Dynaudio will sound very different in the bass versus the sealed Magico.
Although I think the Magico is an upgrade over the Dynaudio in this case, you really should try to hear a pair of S3s before you make your decision. The Dynaudio speakers that you own are no slouches, and the Magicos you are considering will give you a totally new sound. How will that shake out in your room, with your gear, and your musical preferences? You will simply have to try it to find out. . . . Jeff Fritz
To Jeff Fritz,
What are your thoughts on pairing the Magico S7 with the Devialet 800? I mostly enjoy indie rock like Grizzly Bear, and electronic music like Lorn. I definitely want full-range sound with plenty of slam, wide and deep soundstage, and low-end extension that overall is not fatiguing. Also, do you think it would be a huge difference between pairing the amp with the S5 Mk.II?
Unless you are buying used, the new Devialet you would be looking at would be the Expert 1000 Pro. This model replaces the previous 800.
As for paring the Devialet monos with the Magico S7, I think it would be a stunning combination. Not only would you have full-range response with plenty of slam, but you’d have a system that is incredibly low in distortion, too, which should lead to the fatigue-free sound you’re looking for.
As for the S7 versus the S5 Mk.II, I think the larger model just offers a bit more of the things that make the S5 Mk.II a really popular choice. It’ll likely play a little louder and a little lower in the bass, attributes that, based on the music you’ve cited, might make the S7 the better choice for you. Let me know what you choose and how it sounds once you get it set up! . . . Jeff Fritz
To Jeff Fritz,
I’m a reader of your SoundStage! reviews and opinions.
I wonder the following: You are using a MacBook and an Oppo as your sources. Do you consider them to be good enough for your system of Soulution and Magico?
I’m using a MacBook Pro with Roon, and it sounds fine, but I was wondering if a dedicated music server would be a better source. What are your findings regarding dedicated music servers versus the MacBook?
I’ve reviewed a number of music servers through the years and have auditioned others that I did not write about. What I have found over and over is that dedicated music servers can sound fantastic. But so can MacBooks. And therein lies the rub: Each time I’ve returned to my MacBook (also equipped with Roon), I’ve not wanted for something else. The Oppo BDP-103 universal BD player is used more for convenience than for critical listening -- I rely on the MacBook for that -- but even it can sound really good.
Although I have no empirical evidence to support this theory, I believe that the choice of digital-to-analog converter has a lot to do with the differences some hear with servers versus computers. Some DACs just seem to be better equipped to reject noise and jitter than others, either minimizing or nullifying the differences in the digital delivery device.
There are other reasons that an audiophile might want to purchase a dedicated music server. Some simply don’t want a laptop in their listening room, preferring something that looks and functions more like a traditional audiophile component. There are several music-server brands -- Aurender and Lumin come to mind -- that are beautifully built and look right at home on a rack next to an ARC preamp or D’Agostino integrated amp. In my book, that’s a legit reason to purchase one if that is important to you.
You’ll have to decide if the MacBook is your ultimate solution or if a music server is in your future. To simply answer your question, though: Yes, I absolutely believe my MacBook is good enough for my system. . . . Jeff Fritz
To Jeff Fritz,
Regarding “Sound Quality Isn’t the Only Thing,” that is why I purchased a new McIntosh MC452 power amp this summer. It sounds great, is made in America, and the manufacturer backs their product. It looks awesome, too. I also got to see one built on a factory tour (your review helped also). For the money it’s hard to beat for an amp to drive my Magnepan 3.7i loudspeakers.
To Jeff Fritz,
It’s always a pleasure for me to read your insightful articles, reviews, and answers to letters from readers, especially when you compare different devices you have or had under review. And like you, I think two of the most impressive companies at the moment are Magico and Devialet (not to forget YG Acoustics and Vivid Audio).
My stereo consists of an EMM Labs DAC2X/TSDX [digital combo], Audio Research Reference 6 [preamp], Soulution 710 [power amplifier], and a pair of Magnepan 3.7 [loudspeakers] with modified speaker terminals. Interconnects are from Tara Labs, speaker cables are from Siltech, and power cables are from Stealth. The room isn’t ideal (16’W x 18’L x 11.5’H). And with the help of Stillpoints, Cerapucs, and a Symposium Isis rack and amp stand with Rollerblocks and Ultra platforms, the sound is pretty amazing to my ears. The music I listen to goes from pop/rock to electropop, but also classical and especially old music and, rarely, jazz.
Magico and Devialet got me thinking about whether these devices would be a real upgrade to my system. In the area I live it’s not easy for me to hear Magico or Devialet in my home, so I’m hoping for your experienced thoughts and advice.
I have lived with dipole speakers for nearly 20 years now, beginning with the open-baffle Triangle Octant, then Magnepan 1.6, and now for some years with Magnepan 3.7. And I still like the soundstage, speed, timbre, layers, and especially voices, along with the dipole openness with my Maggies. The only drawback is the loss of really deep bass. I know Magico is a specialist with deep and tight bass, but do you think they are overall better than my 3.7 speakers? And I fear I will miss the open-baffle sound.
Which Magico model would you suggest for my room? My favorite model would be the new S5 Mk.II. The S7 is surely better, but I think it would be too much for my rather small room (and it costs a lot more). I think due to the new midrange and tweeter in the S5 Mk.II and S7, the older Q3 is out of consideration, but I don’t know really. I know from older letters that the Q3 is more refined than the first-generation S5. From another article or answer to a letter I know that you have the S5 Mk.II under review at the moment, so I’m hoping you can share a point or two from your findings of the new S5 in comparison to the S7 and Q3.
My Magico dream speaker would be the all new M3, but to afford these amazing speakers I have to sell my gear. This leads to the next point.
Do you think a Devialet 400 is, sound-wise, nearly equal to or even better than my system? (I know the Devialet is clearly more versatile.) If you think yes, this would be an opportunity for me to sell my amp, preamp, DAC, and interconnects and buy a Devialet, and then I could afford the M3 or S7 speakers.
I don’t know if you had the chance to compare the Devialet 400 to the top model, the 800. But do you think besides more power with the 800 (and double the price) that the sound quality is also better? I don’t listen to music very loud, but the Magicos are power hungry; maybe the 800 plays with more ease and intensity with double the power.
Many thanks in advance and best regards,
Michael, you’ve asked a number of questions here, so I am going to jump right in. First, generally, I do think the Magico brand would be a good upgrade possibility for you. You’ve no doubt heard about its “electrostatic-like” bass, and I do believe it is the one dynamic-driver loudspeaker brand that would most satisfy those audiophiles who love electrostats, ribbons, and the like. Its “quick” sound mimics that of those types of speakers and, as you say, adds deep, taut bass.
As for which Magico, that is a great question. First, I don’t have the new S5 Mk.II in for review. When the new M3 was announced, the plans changed. I’ll get the new M3 this fall if all goes well. Do understand that I have not heard the M3, but have heard the S5 Mk.II and S7. I also own the Q7 Mk.II. Before I answer your question you should know this: I believe the loudspeaker is, by far, the most dominant component in the chain in terms of dictating the ultimate sound quality one can achieve. Yes, the loudspeaker should mate well with the room, and you need a proper amplifier to drive it, and you need to feed it good signal -- but ultimately the speaker is what you hear literally everything else filtered through. So having said that, I would always buy speakers first, and get the best ones you can get your hands on.
So, although it might be considered by some to be audiophile heresy (I don’t care), I would buy the M3 based on the fact that it has a thoroughly updated Q3-like size and form factor (good for your room, I think) with M Project technology throughout (midrange, tweeter, carbon fiber, etc.). I have heard the M Project many times and know it to be light years beyond the original Q3. So as good as the Magico S speakers are, and as good as the Q3 was when I reviewed it, I would bet the farm that the M3 will be significantly better than any of them.
Some more audiophile heresy: If buying the M3 means you have to sell your electronics and go Devialet, I’d say do it. The Expert-line amplifiers from Devialet are superb and, although you could go with a full Soulution or Boulder or Gryphon setup and likely better them, for the money nothing else is close. Important: look out for an announcement from Devialet before you place your order, though. I can’t say any more than that at the moment.
So there you go. Get the Magico/Devialet combo and be done with it. That’s what I’d do if I were in your shoes. Let me know what you decide to do and how it works out. . . . Jeff Fritz
To Jeff Fritz,
I enjoy reading your reviews because your sense of “audio reality” is close to mine. My favorite systems have been very revealing with quick reflexes while offering full-range sound. My home system matches this ethos with Spectral and MBL, which have quite a bit in common with your Soulution and Magico system. That makes your comments and insight especially valuable to me.
I’m guessing you have had a chance to hear the MQA demos at a trade show, so I’m curious to get your impressions. I know it’s early days because almost all the coverage has been based on demos in carefully controlled conditions that clearly show a benefit (at least in the minds of trade publications). With the same carefully controlled circumstances, one could demonstrate that vinyl is superior to digital or the other way around, so the initial impression should be taken with a very large grain or grains of salt (perhaps on the side of a margarita or two). Any MQA reviews planned?
Since you are very happy with your current, non-MQA digital front end with Tidal streaming, you have no reason to get excited about a new technology unless it is truly a step forward.
History has shown that price doesn’t impress you and that a component at any price point must offer value, so if “the emperor has no clothes,” you will see it for what it is.
First, Jon, let me thank you for the very kind words about my writing. It’s a great joy when my opinions resonate with another audiophile. I imagine Spectral and MBL get along splendidly together. Congrats on a fine system.
As for MQA, I do have a few thoughts. First, though, you should read what my colleagues had to say about it: Doug Schneider’s “Myriad Questions About MQA,” and Brent Butterworth’s “BACCH-SP and MQA -- A Great Demo and a Not-So-Great Demo” and “T.H.E. Show Newport 2016: I Finally Got a Decent MQA Demo!” are pertinent articles.
As for me, I’m a bit indifferent. On the one hand, the sound seems nice enough. But DSD and HDCD sound nice enough, too. And though I am an avid Tidal user, and fully understand how MQA could enable higher-resolution streaming than what we have now, I just have a hard time seeing it happen. If it were as easy as flipping a switch and the entire Tidal catalog was MQA’d, then OK, we’d really have something. But knowing that Tidal’s vast catalog of music will not be remastered in the foreseeable future for purposes of offering the audiophile hi-rez streaming, I can’t say that I see the path forward. A Tidal/Roon-based setup such as what I am enjoying at home is a far more exciting proposition to me. Unlike MQA, this setup has fundamentally increased my enjoyment of music. That’s exciting.
I know Robert Harley and Michael Fremer have gotten all impressed by MQA. Maybe those guys are seeing and hearing something I don’t. Or maybe they understand the industry better than I do. Or maybe not. I guess we’ll see. . . . Jeff Fritz
To Jeff Fritz,
It’s been several years since you reviewed the Coda 15.0 stereo amplifier. I was wondering if you could tell me if you have any news from the company? From the information available at Coda’s website, it appears that the 15.5 is the latest of the class-A designs. Can you shed any light on this model or if there is anything newer?
It has been some time since I was in contact with the folks at Coda. I was able to speak with Doug Dale, one of Coda’s founders, and did find out that there is some news from the company. Although you are correct that I reviewed the 15.0 very positively, I was excited to hear about the new Coda amplifiers; my favorite Coda of all time was the System 100, which I owned for a number of years, but is now discontinued. Here is what Dale said about the new models in a follow-up email:
Those who are familiar with Coda likely remember the System Architecture amps, the System 100 and System 200, that we manufactured from our inception until the early 2000s. These amplifiers split voltage gain and current gain into different chassis and were exceptional performers. Initially we had designed them for difficult speakers like the Apogee Scintillas. They proved over time to be more than just amps for tough loads and we continue to have requests for them today. We had stopped making them only because the output devices became unavailable.
In recent years, On Semi (formerly a division of Motorola) began producing ThermalTrak transistor output devices. After designing several amps using these components, we decided to build new amps using the System Architecture with these devices. We now have the System 150 ($17,500 USD, 100W class A/150W max) and the System 250 ($28,000, 200W class A/250W max), which have the same low noise inherent in the early Systems and the incredibly precise control of bias of the current stable of Coda amps. The advances over time in other components have allowed us to incorporate these into the design as well and produce amps that are truly spectacular.
As a result, I hope to be getting one of these babies in for review as soon as they are ready. I can’t wait! . . . Jeff Fritz
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