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To Jeff Fritz,
It is always a pleasure to read your reviews and your opinion columns. I noticed recently that you have been going through what I would gently call a midlife audio crisis ["Jeff’s Getting a New Stereo System: Part One"], partly caused by your family responsibilities; there’s nothing like family to bring perspective in life!
As usual, you are raising excellent questions and challenging some of the notions and prejudices that have plagued the high-end audio community for years. This is a good thing and I think that most audio writers should go through this phase because, as you pointed out, there is a lot of BS out there! Spewed by manufacturers, distributors, retailers, and most sadly the audiophile community. I remember before buying my Simaudio Moon 600i amplifier, reading a forum where a reader found that The Abso!ute Sound’s review of the component was too effusive for an “$8000” integrated amp. Yup, $8000 is obviously chump change for some people and there is no way such a “cheap” amp can sound that good.
Your editorials on prices and continuous improvements are bang-on! I understand that it may be frustrating to feel that your latest purchase may be surpassed by the latest, shiniest version a year or two after your acquisition. It’s like computers and cars: there will always be something better. But in audio, is it always something much better? I don’t think so. I had the opportunity to ask this question to two respected manufacturers (for my CD player and speakers) at shows and they were honest in confirming that the newer models that replaced my gear only brought slight improvements and that the upgrade was not worth it. In my experience, a significant jump within the same product line is likely to bring improvements (my ears can attest), but with the laws of diminishing returns in full force in high-end audio (e.g., 30% improvement for 200% increase in cost), thanks but no thanks. I also think that in many cases audiophiles confuse “sounding different” with “sounding better,” especially when you compare products from different manufacturers. This I think is due to the different technology implementation philosophies and voicing of components.
Regarding the fixation on ultra-expensive gear, a manufacturer told me more or less the same thing you mentioned: a fancy audio store in New York told that company that he had trouble selling their products because consumers found they were not expensive enough. Well, enough said indeed!!
Five years ago I reached the stage where I became very satisfied with my gear and home setup. I am fortunate to have a dedicated listening room built with soundproofing, acoustic treatment, and a dedicated power line; I think this has provided the biggest sonic upgrade over the years. Yes, I could upgrade the digital front end, especially the streamer, but for my needs it serves me well. My next upgrade will be a new power conditioner and I will go for a reasonably priced ($1000-$2000) unit probably from Torus, a Canadian company that has been in business for years and that also makes components for Bryston. As a Canadian, nothing wrong in encouraging the local industry, eh!? There you go, my patriotic bit for our 150th anniversary celebrations.
Sorry for the long letter, keep up the good work. Happy 4th of July!!
I love the comment about the midlife crisis! Except, instead of buying the Porsche, I’m selling it. Perhaps I should have titled my opinion “Jeff Finally Grows Up.” . . . Jeff Fritz
To Jeff Fritz,
I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your cogitations over the years. Your honesty and candor are quite refreshing. May I suggest you investigate the Manger S1 active floorstander? The Manger driver has the least distorted wavelaunch of any speaker. I have owned a pair of passive speakers (Coincident Odysseys) that use the Manger driver for many years, and their naturalness is uncanny.
To Jeff Fritz,
I want to let you know that the industry needs plain speaking, technical, and authentic reviewers like you. You are doing a fabulous job!
Reviews nowadays are propaganda, great dealers are rare, and improving your own self-knowledge isn’t for the fainthearted. In fact, high-end audio in my view means “high-end struggle and toil.” Thanks for your truthfulness -- it’s priceless!
We are going to witness unimaginable advances in technology in the next decade: exciting times with artificial intelligence, deep learning, and data science. It’s going to impact many things. I was disturbed recently because most of the deep-learning Stanford/MIT professors on advanced technologies are young and not one has white hair!
Your article on the Vivid Audio Giya G1 Spirit stirred my interest and so I auditioned the G1 a few days ago -- you are spot on in the review! Currently, I am enjoying the Soulution 711/725, Magico S7, Double Helix and Gobel cables at the home -- peppered with my own persistent tweaking for the perfect digital source.
To Jeff Fritz,
I trust you are keeping well. I read your comments in [“The Failure to Compare”]. Very well written to say the least. I enjoyed reading it and above all respect your candidness about reviewer objectivity. All these point to the fact that buyers must do their homework and not just rely on reviews, especially ones which don’t have any reference points and comparisons.
To Jeff Fritz,
I find you have some of the best insight and knowledge in the business and would appreciate your advice in my own pursuit of purist sound.
My system is built around Magico Q3 speakers driven by Bryston’s 14B ST. The preamp is the Bryston BP25, and sources include the Weiss DAC202 using Amarra on a MacBook Pro, and a Rega Jupiter. Interconnects are Shunyata Aries and Cardas Neutral Reference, and speaker cables are Nordost Heimdalls.
What would you choose for the next step to provide the most improvement to my system? I am considering either an Ayre KX-R to replace the BP25 preamp or a Boulder 2060 amplifier to replace the 14B ST. I hope to eventually get both but can’t afford to do both at the same time.
You’re in a place where your system is already pretty high level, and improving upon it will require some careful considerations, though I do think you are on the right track. As for the amp, the Bryston you have is plenty powerful; however, I do believe the Boulder 2060 is a better amplifier. It should be for the massive difference in list price, and its 600Wpc into 8 ohms will provide plenty of thrust for the Q3s. I feel the same way about the preamplifier: Your Bryston is fine as far as basic preamps go, although you should expect better from the Ayre -- the KX-R is a true cost-no-object design. I have had both the Ayre KX-R and KX-R Twenty preamps and Boulder 2060 amplifier in my system and I think very highly of those components.
There is the notion of component synergy to consider, too. The Brystons no doubt work great together, but the Ayre/Boulder combo is a little less predictable. I’d be more inclined to find a used Boulder 2010 preamp to use with the 2060, for instance, to ameliorate the synergy consideration. I’ve always found that you get the most reliable results when you pick the preamp and power amp from the same manufacturer. I think your speakers and sources are good to go.
Perhaps a strategy is to get the amp first and then see if you can get an Ayre preamp in your system on loan to assess how they sound together. . . . Jeff Fritz
To Jeff Fritz,
I’ve been an avid follower of your reviews for years. Thanks for your insights, and thoughtful and informative reviews.
I’m writing to seek your opinion on a potential purchase I’m considering. I have an eye out for a Simaudio Moon 880M/850P pair matched to the new Magico M3 loudspeakers. So here is my question: Is this combo a good match if I’m looking for the most lifelike sound I can get in a relatively small 15’ x 16’ x 9’ room?
Thanks for your very kind consideration,
I can’t imagine the system you propose not sounding fantastic. I think the Magicos, with their three 7” woofers per side, are ideal for a small- to medium-sized room. The Simaudios are exceptionally transparent, while providing plenty of stable power to get the best out of the M3s. As long as you pay careful attention to the setup, which your dealer should of course provide, I think you’ll be in audiophile heaven. Good luck and let me know how it turns out. . . . Jeff Fritz
To Jeff Fritz,
I love your magazine, articles, and reviews of products.
I ordered a pair of new Rockport Technologies Avior speakers to replace my Thiel CS3.7s. Andy Payor said they shipped and should be here this week.
My current system is as follows:
ARC Reference 75 SE amp
ARC LS17 SE preamp
Boulder 1008 phono stage
Feickert Woodpecker turntable with Jelco tonearm and Ortofon Cadenza Bronze cartridge
Simaudio Moon Neo 280D DAC with MiND unit for digital and streaming
I am looking at upgrading my amp and preamp to get more out of the speakers. I was considering the following: ARC Ref 250 SEs with ARC Ref 5 SE or 6 preamp; Ayre MX-R (used) or MX-R Twenty monoblocks and KX-R (used) or KX-R Twenty preamp; VTL MB-450s with VTL TL-6.5 preamp; and if I can find a used Boulder 2060, maybe a Boulder (the new Boulder is too expensive).
I would greatly appreciate any thoughts you have on what you think would sound best with my system. My room is pretty big (it’s a living room that also opens into the dining room and kitchen with no walls in between, so about 35’ long and 20’ wide).
As much as I like the Audio Research electronics, I’m not sure they are the best match for your new Rockport speakers, since they tend to be a little difficult to drive. After living with many models of Rockport loudspeakers over the years, I can tell you that they like powerful, stable solid-state amplification. With that being said, I have paired Ayre amplification with Rockport speakers with great success. The Ayres, particularly the Twenty models, would be terrific choices.
Another possibility, but one I have not yet heard, would be the newest Boulder electronics: the 1160 stereo amplifier and 1110 preamplifier. These models should be shipping by early summer and, since you already have a 1008 phono stage, might provide you with some synergy on the electronics front.
Congrats on the new Rockports. They will be much better than your older Thiels, I can assure you. Enjoy! . . . Jeff Fritz
To Jeff Fritz,
I loved the conundrum you set up [“Will the Real Ultra Products Please Stand Up?”]. You have hit it right on the head with what is wrong with the industry. The Paradigm Persona should be one of the most discussed products on the forums, and all you hear are the same things about people shopping for the same old names.
People can’t come to grips with the fact that Paradigm has vaulted themselves into the über speaker category with this new line of remarkable speakers, which says a lot about how established the old vanguard high-end-audio companies are.
We have the 9H set up with the remarkable T+A electronics, which are also in the über class of performance, technology, and build quality, yet cost considerably less [than their competition].
If you are in our neck of the woods -- the NYC area -- I would love to have you hear our reference setup. It is pretty special. Thanks again. Love SoundStage! Ultra.
To Jeff Fritz,
I just reread your 1998 review of these speakers [Wisdom Audio Adrenaline Dipole 75 on SoundStage! Hi-Fi], which I have owned since before your review.
Could you be so kind as to tell me if you ever heard the later monopole version of this speaker?
I have enjoyed the dipole for almost 20 years, and wonder if I am missing much. Tom Bohlender [then of Wisdom Audio] told me that he only manufactured 30 pairs of the dipoles, and was sticking to monopoles.
Thanks for your help, Jack United States
That was actually my very first audio equipment review! What a blast from the past. Although I’ve not heard that speaker in many years, I still have fond memories of it. I never did hear the monopole version, at least not outside of possibly a brief listen at CES many years ago, so I can’t help you with that comparison.
As to newer speakers, there have definitely been some real advances: materials, modeling software, more advanced manufacturing techniques, not to mention the engineering improvements seen at so many companies. There is no question you could improve your stereo in the areas of neutrality and transparency, to name just two areas, by buying new speakers.
On the other hand, the longer I’ve been in this hobby the more I realize that being happy with what you have is far more rewarding than coveting the newest component. The fact that you have been satisfied for 20 years is not only a testament to your Wisdom speakers, but also to your ability to simply appreciate what’s in front of you. My advice would be to go out and hear some new speakers. If that drives you to upgrade, so be it. It might just drive you back to your listening seat in front of your Wisdom speakers. . . . Jeff Fritz
To Jeff Fritz,
[How do you choose] which of your sites to place a product in? Seems to me to be a no-brainer. Review the product and then decide, based on PERFORMANCE, where it slots in. Then publish the review accordingly. Making price the major qualifying aspect for Ultra is simply a matter of practicing elitism.
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