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To Jeff Fritz
I can fully agree with your statements in your recent article “TWBAS Is Back! (Not Really).” However, I missed some information about the most crucial component of a stereo system: the listening room (and the quality of the mains power supply, of course)! Can you give us an idea about your listening room that serves for evaluating the speakers? And some comments on basic requirements and room treatment? I have had some of the finest speakers in my listening room, but the sound quality never did reach the quality heard in the dealer’s giant demo room. However, some smaller and near-point-source speakers performed fantastic.
The easiest way to learn about my Music Vault listening room (23’ 6” wide x 20’ 1” long) is to read “Music Vault 2.0 and the Value of a Reference Listening Room.” In that article you will see three links to articles that detail the original construction, which was back in 2005. The room was professionally acoustically engineered by Terry Montlick (retired) of Terry Montlick Labs. In the three articles mentioned, you will see photos of the room as it is being built; the CAD drawings, which show the acoustic design as modeled by Terry; and measurements and listening impressions of the finished product. In 2012, I made some modest adjustments that improved some small details -- these are also explained in the article linked above. You will also see a photo of the Torus Power WM100 BAL, which is a 100A transformer-based power-conditioning unit that is wall-mounted in my room. This supplies two 20A outlets and four 15A outlets.
Suffice it to say that I agree with you on the value of a proper room. Everything you put in the room is colored by it; a neutral space with which to evaluate gear adds a significant dose of credibility to the findings. If you have any other questions after reading the article above, please do not hesitate to ask. . . . Jeff Fritz
To Garrett Hongo,
I just read your review of the Zanden Audio Systems Model 120 phono stage. If I read it right, if one is only going to listen to LPs that are cut with the RIAA curve, then the Herron VTPH-2 is actually the better phono stage. Am I correct?
I ask this because I am in the market for a phono stage and I was considering the 120. A large number of my LPs are cut with RIAA so I am more concerned about the sonics with RIAA than the flexibility of switching to other curves. Moreover, even if the Herron is in the same league as the Zanden in terms of resolution, dynamics, and overall musicality, I can still save a lot of money going with Herron. Kindly advise.
If all you need is an RIAA phono, the Herron VTPH-2 is an excellent one. I reviewed it for SoundStage! Ultra some years ago and it still remains a reference for that application. . . . Garrett Hongo
To Jeff Fritz,
I read your interesting review of the Wadia di322 digital-to-analog converter because I want to buy it. I just have doubts about the digital volume, which I would like to exclude from my system. Can this be done with internal dip switches? Or, must it simply be put at the maximum level? But, in this mode, it comes out to be 8V volts, instead of the normal 4V of many XLR outputs. This is too high for my amp. Can you explain better? This seems like a big problem.
I sent your question to my contact at Wadia and the lead engineer responded: "[The] di322’s analog output is variable. Both balanced and unbalanced outputs can be set to any output level. Maximum balanced output is 8V and maximum unbalanced output is 4V. The desired output level can be set by the digital volume control and the output level remains until the output level is changed again." I hope this helps, Alessandro. . . . Jeff Fritz
To Jeff Fritz,
Does the new Rockport Technologies Cygnus replace the Altair II on your desert island?
That is a thought-provoking question! I guess the answer might depend on the configuration of the cave on my desert island. In many ways, the answer would be yes, I’d choose the Cygnus -- I think it is the more revealing, more high-resolution loudspeaker. It still has the authoritative Rockport bass and the inviting Rockport sound, but is more open and transparent than Rockports past, including the Altair II.
On the other hand, the Altair II is no slouch in any of these above-mentioned areas, and also brings more low-bass weight and absolute extension to the party; these are not insignificant attributes, depending on the music you listen to. I suspect that in the largest of rooms (or caves), the Altair II would be the more commanding presence. Its physical depth is also a consideration -- front to back, it is far deeper than the Cygnus, so be careful with that.
Ultimately, whichever Rockport model you choose, you’ll get a super set of loudspeakers. Hopefully there is a dealer somewhere that has both models for you to listen to. . . . Jeff Fritz
To Jeff Fritz,
A most interesting approach [“Comparisons on Paper: Bowers & Wilkins 802 Diamond D3 vs. Magico S5 Mk II”]. I am looking forward to reading “Part 2” of this theoretical comparison, which certainly will deal with parameters being most relevant for the audible performance -- especially when seeing that you selected two most different design concepts for this comparison.
Isn’t it most strange that both companies offer a totally different concept concerning the shape of the baffle? Another crucial point should be the concepts implemented for getting a coherent wave front from the four drivers at the intended (which distance?) listening spot. Are there any data from the manufacturers? What about the inherent drivers’ phase shifts due to the design of the crossover for these three-way topologies?
What about the appropriate amps for best matching? They should not differ from the amps the manufacturers used for voicing their speakers! And what about the best room size depending on the room modes that should differ due to the closed cabinet and bass-reflex design?
When evaluating speakers from such renowned companies I expect getting these data from the spec sheets!
Ah, the spec sheets. Yes, I have several wishes with regards to spec sheets. One would be that they are more complete, as you say. More data is better, and in the age of Internet shopping more and more buyers are relying on manufacturers’ published specifications to aid in their purchasing decisions. For this data to be useful, however, we would need for the specifications to be standardized in some way, so that the buyer is comparing apples to apples. I do not think that will ever happen, however.
Getting some of the other information you seek is not incumbent upon the manufacturer to provide. One would be room size for an intended speaker. It has been my experience that it is almost impossible to correlate available speaker specifications with appropriate room size. I do not think enough data is available, and even if it were, you would have to be able to interpret this data and convert it into a useful metric. You could make the case that low-frequency extension would be an exception, but I can’t tell you how many times I have seen large speakers work in medium-sized rooms and medium-sized speakers overload a largish room.
As for predicting wave launches and the ensuing phase shifts for a given speaker based on baffle size and shape, as well as crossover topologies, there is a far more reliable method to get this information than simple conjecture. Although a trained eye can easily spot areas where diffraction might occur due to hard edges and sharp corners on a baffle, you can view exactly what is going on when you look at the measurements we do at Canada’s National Research Council, in their anechoic chamber. It’s a shame we can’t measure every speaker we write about.
Ultimately, I agree with you -- the more information the better. Just don’t hold your breath for it. . . . Jeff Fritz
To Jeff Fritz,
The part [of the story] I find most difficult to understand about the fresh approach being taken by the new Thiel owners is their dumping of the CS3.7 speakers. These represented the zenith of Jim’s design principles, and that’s the way they sounded, too! To my ears at least, they successfully surpassed any other speaker I’d previously heard in many key respects (transparency and timing being two.)
Now, I’m guessing they didn’t sell particularly well (although the pricing was actually very reasonable . . . maybe too reasonable), and maybe the aesthetics were a little out of the mainstream, but the money the new management has spent in commissioning clean-slate designs would surely have been better spent on marketing more successfully the amazing legacy they had purchased.
When you have gold dust in the palm of your hand, why blow it away?
Glasgow, United Kingdom
To Jeff Fritz,
I really enjoy reading your articles about the best speakers in the world, even though hardly anybody who is really interested in the ultimate will ever be able to afford any of the equipment you write about. For that reason, I have long turned to building my own speakers to get near that elusive live quality. However, not being able to afford any of the top manufacturers’ equipment has not kept me from enjoying this hobby of ours. I have, for example, visited quite a few of the last installments of the Munich High End [show]. I play the drums myself, and I regularly visit live orchestral performances in our beautiful concert hall in Eindhoven. When I do, I prefer to sit above the orchestra, as that is the way such performances are recorded. Having said all this I must tell you that I feel that all the brands you prefer don’t even come close to a live performance. The reason for this, I feel, is that they all energize the room completely differently than do live instruments.
Most live instruments “throw” their sound more upward and in all directions than exclusively to the front, as do all of the superspeakers you seem to prefer. To me, the only speakers that remind me of attending a live concert of (unamplified) live music are the MBL 101 X-tremes. They come really close to live in terms of real dynamics, a feeling of being able to reach out and touch the instruments, and a feeling of space that is so typical of live music. Their only flaw, I feel, is that sometimes you still hear a bit of a metallic coloration. Then again, that is also what you hear live sometimes, and this coloration may also be attributable to the equipment driving the speakers or the recording process. Please keep up the good work.
Nico van der Sande
To Jeff Fritz,
First off, Jeff, let me congratulate you for being willing to buck the system and make a comparison between two darlings of the audiophile press. In my opinion you will gain readers, because, let’s face it, most reviewers will not make pointed comparisons between competing products. It is clear to me from the response you have received that there are more than a few audiophiles out there that are trying to make a choice between the Magico S7 and Rockport Technologies Cygnus speakers and, now, they have a solid data point in which to gain useful knowledge about these two apparently fine loudspeakers (I have not heard either, but am a fan of the Magico S5). I think Goodwin’s [High End] owes you a debt of gratitude as well, as I believe you have stoked increased interest in both models, and are driving traffic to their store where people can make their own comparisons. Please keep up the great work, and I’ll keep reading your valued opinions.
To Jeff Fritz,
Thank you for having the guts to directly compare two speakers (S7/Cygnus) from two different manufacturers in the same price range. There are lots of “fans” on each side, not to mention two heavyweight manufacturers. These happen to be the two speakers I am interested in as well. Identifying strengths based upon design choices and how they affect sound is what reviewers (in my mind) should be doing. No “winners” or “losers,” just different preferences for sound enjoyment. Sounds like two great choices for people with different tastes to choose from. No losers, only winners. Listen for yourself. Guess I’m going to Goodwin’s when it warms up. Thank you again.
To Jeff Fritz,
I’m very close to pulling the trigger on a new rig. I was ready to dive in with the Soulution amp/preamp combo and the [Magico] S7s. After your endorsement, I flew out to RMAF and was blown away by the Magico/Soulution connection. Now I’m getting a vibe that I should listen to the latest Rockports. I definitely will make my way to Goodwin’s High End, but wondering what your thoughts are. Which did you prefer overall, the S7s or the Cygnuses? I look forward to hearing from you.
I’m surprised this question did not come in on February 1, the day my review of the Rockport Technologies Cygnus loudspeakers posted. I received your email on February 2.
OK, the usual disclaimers: I have not heard the Magico S7s in my room or with exactly the same electronics that were used in my Cygnus review. Let me be clear: I did not -- in my room or anyone else's room -- directly compare these two products. So the best thing -- by far -- that you can do is to go directly to Goodwin’s, where they will put each set of speakers into place one pair at a time in an excellent listening room and let you do back-to-back comparisons until your heart’s content. That’s the easy answer, but I’m not going to duck your question, so . . .
The best place to start is with the basic differences between the tonal balances of Rockport and Magico loudspeakers. To put it succinctly, the Rockports will sound more bass-centric to most listeners than the Magicos. I often describe this sound as one with a left-to-right-slanted tonal balance (what I imagine the frequency-response graph would look like). The Cygnus has full, articulate bass just like all Rockports I’ve heard, although it does have more midrange and treble energy than Rockports of days gone by. Still, the Cygnus has more prominent bass than the S7. There will certainly be listeners who will gravitate toward the Rockport sound. You may be one of them.
The Magico S7, however, should not be mistaken for a speaker that is bass shy. On the contrary, the triple 10” woofers on the S7 will deliver super-low bass, and will do so with uncommon linearity. And the S7s will, in my experience, sound even more linear than the Cygnuses. The Cygnus certainly does not have that classic bass hump of the old Wilsons (I don’t know about the current ones), or nothing remotely close to it, but it does have a smoothly rising response down to the low bass, at least to my ears. The S7 counters with an incredibly resolving sound, without ever veering into harshness. Magico speakers really do possess that ideal combination of electrostatic-like speed with dynamic-driver punch, with an extra helping of extreme transparency. It is an addicting sound.
You will also have to consider the aesthetics and the material design. The MDF/aluminum-hybrid Cygnus has the curvature and sleek lines that many will find visually alluring. The S7, on the other hand, has that military-grade build quality that seems to eclipse everything else out there in terms of tank-like solidity. It’s a Magico hallmark.
In terms of electronics, I can confidently say that the Soulution products will get the best out of either speaker. Both speaker models like clean, powerful solid-state, and the Soulution amplification fits that description in spades.
I can’t choose the S7 or Cygnus for you. However, I will say this: I would be overjoyed to own the Rockport Technologies Cygnus loudspeakers. The Cygnus can be considered a true reference-grade, full-range model. It also eclipses -- in terms of my own musical enjoyment -- most any other loudspeaker I could name. At the end of the day, though, I chose Magico as my personal reference, several years ago, based on many hours of listening, and I’ve not yet been convinced to change that. I find the Magico sound singularly honest, and the company’s Q7 MK II is still the best loudspeaker I’ve ever heard. . . . Jeff Fritz
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