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To Jeff Fritz,
Jeff, I enjoy SoundStage! Ultra’s strong opinions and clear editorial voice; thank you for producing a fine publication.
That said, I was disappointed by your review of the Simaudio 850P preamplifier. The review started with an interesting, very timely premise: the fact that a modern, high-quality, relatively moderately priced DAC (Wadia di322, $3500) makes the traditional preamplifier almost obsolete. Pretty soon, the only people who will truly need a traditional preamplifier are those with LP-based systems, especially true as new-generation DACs now accept HDMI output from universal disc players and cablevision controllers (Bryston BDA-3, for example, although I believe it lacks volume control.)
You mention in the review introduction that you now use your DAC as a substitute for a preamplifier, and wanted to see if the Simaudio could sway you back to the traditional approach. I felt like you punted on this interesting question, as very few of your comments directly compared the sound of the Simaudio vs. the Wadia DAC. During your discussion of Enya’s Dark Sky Island album, you indicated, “My room sounded and felt larger, more cavernous with the 850P than without it.” Fair enough, the Simaudio is better, but it also costs about nine times as much as the Wadia. Did the Simaudio improve the sound commensurate with its $30,000 price tag? Was the improvement created by the Simaudio roughly 5 to 10%, or more like 30 to 40%? How would these percentages fluctuate in a more “modest” priced system, one whose total cost is maybe 25 to 50 thousand dollars (which probably represents the majority of your audience, and a reasonable home for a $3500 DAC)? What does this say about the value proposition of a traditional preamplifier that costs almost as much as a nice, new car?
To my way of thinking, these are exponentially more interesting questions than how does a world-class traditional preamplifier costing $30,000 (Simaudio) compare to another world-class traditional preamplifier “only” costing $27,500 (Ayre), which earned three paragraphs of discussion. Candidly, the Simaudio/Ayre comparison was probably truly useful to a mere handful of people seriously considering this extravagant purchase and these two items, in particular. In contrast, DAC evolution, and a DAC’s ability to supersede a traditional preamplifier in even the loftiest of music reproduction systems, is of interest to almost ALL of your readers.
You’ve never shied away from politically charged debate before. I hope this rather milquetoast review is not indicative of a shift in editorial direction for the remainder of 2016.
Carey, thanks for reading, and the kind words. I’m happy to address your questions.
First, did the Simaudio sway me back to wanting a traditional preamplifier in my system? No, it did not. Without creating a blow-by-blow comparison in this response, suffice it to say that the Wadia directly driving my power amplifier was at least as satisfying as having the Simaudio inserted into the chain, all things considered. If the DAC can properly drive the power amp, and has a relatively transparent volume control -- like the Wadia -- inserting more circuitry and cabling into the system is not likely to improve things. That was the case here. I’m sticking to the DAC-direct approach, 100%.
As for the Ayre section, this was the most apples-to-apples comparison I could make. To a reader who is actually considering a preamp purchase of this magnitude, he’s probably also looked at the Ayre as well -- they are two of the best, both from topflight companies, etc. If someone needs a preamp with analog inputs, and is willing to spend $30,000 on the proposition, are they really also considering forgoing that purchase and buying a $3500 DAC instead? Not likely, hence the comparison I chose. The question of whether the reader would be better off with a DAC-based system is more the subject of an “Opinion” article. Thanks for the idea to write one of those.
Hope that fully answers your questions, but if not, please let me know. . . . Jeff Fritz
To Jeff Fritz,
I'm an audiophile from Hong Kong, and also a Magico Q7 user. I've tried several amps with the Magicos, and all of them failed to bring out the real muscle of the speaker. Recently, I began to pay attention to Gryphon Audio Designs products and I suddenly found your article! Now a Mephisto is my number-one choice among three brands: they are Boulder, Constellation, and Gryphon. A true class-A Gryphon might be the real engine for the Q7. If money is not an issue, do you agree that the Mephisto Solo would be the perfect end choice? With my warmest regards and Merry Christmas!
You are definitely on the right track. Although I think really highly of Boulder and Constellation, I have not had either brand powering the Q7s in my room. I have heard Constellation match well with Magico at shows, however.
My top two choices based on what I've actually heard in the Music Vault would be the Gryphon Mephisto and the Soulution 711, which are stereo amps. The mono variants of those models would presumably work even better. Still, both the Mephisto and 711 supercharged the Q7s in ways that astounded me. They do not sound the same, but did share one common trait worth mentioning: bringing the subterranean bass of the Magicos to life. Lesser amplifiers that I have used on the Q7s sounded anemic by comparison, with the bass response suffering the most, and not by a small amount.
The bottom line for me is that a super-high-current amplifier from one of the brands mentioned above is what you need. Anything less and you simply will not hear what your Magicos are capable of. . . . Jeff Fritz
To Jeff Fritz,
After basking in Gryphon’s pleasures -- I recently upgraded to Mephisto Solo amplifiers -- I have come to believe my system needs an upgrade in another area to bring out the best from these amps. So next in line is the DAC. Presently I have the Burmester 113, a small DAC.
Since I trust your views, what would be the most detailed DAC that you have auditioned with extreme transparency, extreme detail retrieval, and with extended frequency extremes?
Warm regards and happy holidays,
You have plenty of options, of course. The natural choices for a system with the pedigree of yours are the top models from companies like MSB and dCS. These will cost you in the neighborhood of a hundred grand. Lots of folks would choose one of these, just to make sure the DAC matched the other components in terms of price.
Personally, even if I could afford to spend that kind of money on a single component, I would not sink six figures into a digital device. The state of digital moves too fast. So I’ve got a couple of other options that might give you the performance you are looking for, for much less money.
The first candidate would, of course, be the Gryphon Kalliope, which costs €19,800. Sonically, it would match the amplifiers that you’ve purchased and would of course be a perfect cosmetic match to your system. This Sabre-based DAC looks quire appealing, particularly for a Gryphon-based system.
For much less money, though, you can get a DAC that you can read about on December 15 on SoundStage! Hi-Fi. The Hegel HD30 retails for only $4800, but is without question an assault on the state of the art. Read Doug Schneider’s description of the sound in a few days, and examine the noise specs of this unit, and see if it doesn’t offer just what you're looking for.
Lastly, I’d personally take a look at the Merging Technologies NADAC ($10,500). I’ve heard nothing but great things about this Swiss Ethernet-capable DAC. I expect one in for review anytime now. I hope one of these suggestions will work for you. Please do let me know what you choose. . . . Jeff Fritz
To Jeff Fritz,
I am one of your many fans and I wanted to take a second of your time to say thank you for your reviews and advice. I won’t tell you I have a favorite review or article, but I can truly say you have a lot of great information in the archives: the Paradigm bookshelf and subwoofer article, Jeff’s way to assemble a system (I needed the reminder), and the Aperion Audio Verus Grand Tower review (you singlehandedly verified them for many people and I almost purchased a pair). Oh, and I can’t forget about the "Benchmark Systems" -- a great series in itself. Like I said, a lot of great articles in the archives. Please keep up the great work and pass on the same sentiments to Doug Schneider and Hans Wetzel. Happy Holidays SoundStage! Network team.
To Jeff Fritz,
I have usually been pretty much simpatico with your tastes and choices in equipment and music. And ah! . . . the Music Vault . . . that qualifies as high porn in my book. (If I ever show up by your territories do not let me in the Vault. I will barricade myself in it and never come out!)
I did, however, notice that maybe you are buying a bit too much in the fallacy of the in-house-designed-and-made drivers. I am not sure we should assume that because a driver is made in-house it is intrinsically better that one from Morel or Accuton or [brand] x. Those companies have probably more expertise, capital, means, and research than do Mr. "Legend Designer.” I was going to suggest a standardized battery of measurements, but then I thought about the standardized testing and the state of our educational system and then the first margarita hit, so forget opening that Pandora’s box.
One thing that I wonder is why no one has never approached the matter of blown [drive] units. I sent my old Magnepan 1.6 for a full refurbish three years ago after my pup attacked it to get the Stereophile CD dog out. I can get a replacement tweeter for my Duevel speaker, but I was out of luck with Talon (my brother-in-law bought those pieces of %$^T). The company was unable to provide a woofer for their first-generation speaker -- and they were supposed to be built in-house. I had a friend that had problems with other elite manufacturers that could not really support their products. So, it would be interesting to know if these rarified manufacturers are able to provide a replacement tweeter or whatever for all their models, going all the way back to their first model. Notice I said replacement. I did not say they will not fix the speaker with the latest upgrade to newer drivers, crossovers, etc., costing $$$$˛ and as you said succinctly: “There should be no shortcomings."
Well, the second Prickly Pear margarita is hitting hard so I will play a mix of Cash, Callas, Harris, Merchant, Zeppelin, etc., and pretend I am in the Music Vault! Cheers and happy listening.
Let me clarify why in-house-made drivers are important. Here’s the shocker: It has nothing to do with the drivers themselves. I agree with you that we should not assume that a driver made by a company that sells finished loudspeakers would necessarily be any better than those drivers that could be purchased from any number of specialist driver manufacturers, such as Accuton and Morel. The key, in my mind, is that the company can actually make their own drivers. This means there is sufficient engineering resources within the company to do the not-uncomplicated task of designing a loudspeaker drive unit from the ground up. This task is, arguably, more complex than building the finished product. If that engineering acumen is present in a firm, it leads me to surmise that the company can also design a finished speaker with a high level of expertise. If a company can’t make, for example, their own midrange drive unit, just how skilled are they in the finer points of finished-loudspeaker design?
The other consideration is getting exactly the driver that’s best for the job. Companies such as Accuton and Scan-Speak will make custom drive units and can modify existing types to suit the needs of many speaker makers. But when a company such as Magico, Vivid, KEF, Rockport, or TAD can make exactly the driver they need for the product they’re designing, they have a fundamental advantage of not having to rely on a third party to meet their very specific needs. Which may not happen anyway.
So, ultimately, whether the driver that, for instance, Vivid Audio makes for their Giya G1 is better than a comparably sized model from Scan-Speak, is irrelevant. The Vivid driver was designed precisely for that Giya loudspeaker, and that exact driver could not have been bought from, literally, any other company in the world.
I agree fully that companies need to be able to replace a drive unit when one fails. You’re spot-on with that one. . . . Jeff Fritz
To Jeff Fritz,
First off, I just wanted to let you know that I am a big fan of yours. I've been following your reviews for years, but this is my first correspondence to you.
I just read your "Opinion" article, "Superspeaker Analysis: My Current Take on the Top Brands," and was wondering why the 180 on Wilson Audio? The last few articles you had stated that that brand was a far cry from the current SOTA [state of the art]. Thanks in advance for your time and hopefully a response.
I haven't made a 180 per se. But I have come to realize that, truly, it's not all about the sound when buying gear. Of course, great sound quality is critical, but to discount factors such as after-sales support is shortsighted. Would I buy the best-sounding loudspeaker in the world if I knew there were no replacement parts and no one could repair it in the case of a component failure? No, I wouldn't. Although you don't buy a superspeaker strictly as a financial investment, there is no denying that an owner is quite invested in the product -- financially and otherwise. I just happen to think that Wilson Audio is one of the safer brands to buy from -- they have been around for a long time and have an excellent track record for supporting their products worldwide. I still prefer the sound of speakers from several other brands to that of any Wilson speaker I have heard, but can easily understand why one would buy a Wilson product considering all the factors that go into a buying decision of the superspeaker magnitude. . . . Jeff Fritz
To SoundStage! Ultra,
I would like to thank Peter Roth for his informative review of the Ayre MX-R Twenty mono amps. It was excellent. However, I would like to ask for Jeff Fritz's opinion of the Ayre MX-R Twenty monos on their own and when coupled with the KX-R Twenty. I ask this as Jeff has stated he felt the Soulution 711 was the best-sounding amp he has heard to date. As I am interested in the Ayre R-series components, I would like to know his thoughts as compared to Soulution (and Devialet). I am considering this kit to pair with my [Rockport Technologies] Altair 2 speakers.
As it is difficult for me to compare products against each other, providing this comparison information is invaluable. Thank you for the informative reading.
I have not heard the MX-R Twenty amplifiers, so I cannot provide you with that information. I have lived with the KX-R Twenty and the original MX-Rs, however, and the Soulution and Devialet products, as you state. To begin with, I believe you can assemble a state-of-the-art stereo system around any of these three electronics brands. Each will provide a different sound: in short, the Ayres are defined by their midband purity and overall liquid sound; the Soulution products have tremendous resolution and unmatched control across the audioband; the Devialet amplifiers I have heard have a tomb-like silence and profound bass response. What does that mean for you?
The Rockport Technologies Altair 2 is a very high-resolution, full-range speaker. It is rated at 4 ohms, and has bass response down to 20Hz. You will therefore require a stout amplifier to get the best sound out of a pair of them. In short, I think you're looking in the right direction, because all three of the contenders you mention can drive that loudspeaker load and are quiet enough to allow the resolution potential of the Altair 2 to shine through. So you have a good list.
I realize that the descriptions I provided are generalizations, and are not likely to provide you with enough information to make a buying decision. There are other factors besides sound, of course, to consider as well: a Soulution 711-based system with the matching preamp plus source will cost north of $100,000. An Ayre R-series setup will be about half of that. A Devialet 400-based system will cost half again still. Big difference in prices. There are tremendous functional differences, too, especially with the Devialet products. These are not cut-and-dried, apples-to-apples comparisons.
You'll have to weigh all of these factors when making this decision. What I can say for sure is that, regardless of which way you go, you'll have an outstanding stereo system. . . . Jeff Fritz
To Jeff Fritz,
I observed the latest comments on Devialet with a big smile, having now a pair of Phantom speakers for some months. I guess the problem that arises with the concept of this active point-source speaker is based on the fact that this design approach challenges the classical business model of hi-fi manufacturers. This old-fashioned business model is focused on the status and image aspects resulting in "the bigger the better," meaning "the more expensive the better" or "only size matters."
This marketing concept allows for an endless path for upgrading/modifying a system, including any kind of tweaks. The cable hype is a good example here. Or the power regenerators and filters.
Looking now to Devialet's concept there is only one way for sound improvement: software updates! A similar concept was the laser turntable from Final, today produced by ELP Corp., Japan.
If this concept ever convinced the reviewers it would have ruined the manufacturers of turntables and tonearms/pick-ups. No distributor or dealer would be interested! Thus, barriers against market entrance have to be built! As you might already assume, I also own an ELP laser turntable.
But I also favor the idea of “chacun à son goût” and everybody should follow his hobby as he likes!
To Jeff Fritz,
I was taken aback with your comments that the new [Magico] S7 is much better than the Q5 ["Sampling High End 2015's Best Loudspeakers"]. I haven't listened to the S7, but I'm in the market, potentially, for a Q5 and have my eye on one.
I thought the Q was kind of superior to the S in general. I also like the relatively smaller dimensions of the Q5, but your comment is making me think twice.
Have you listened to the S7 and Q5 back to back?
Thanks for your help,
I think most listeners will prefer the S7, and here's why: first, the new tweeter. If the diamond-coated beryllium tweeter in the Q7 Mk II is any indication, the new dome profile and material advances incorporated in the S7 will provide a clear upgrade over the older Q5's tweeter. When I heard the S7s in Munich, there was an ease in the treble that, when coupled with the incredible resolution, was impossible not to love. Second, three 10" woofers. The S7 will no doubt play lower and louder in the bass than the Q5 (which has 9" drivers). As I said in my article, the S7 had bass that started and stopped on a dime. The Q5 does that, too, but the S7 can simply move more air. Then there's the new midrange material . . . and the greater sensitivity . . . and on and on.
All told, the S7 represents the latest thinking from Magico. When you consider the aforementioned material advances, as well as their latest crossover technology, in this case newer is definitely better. The Q5 was a great speaker five years ago, but in the world of Magico it's yesterday's news. And, no, I have not heard them back-to-back in the same system. . . . Jeff Fritz
To Jeff Fritz,
I read your piece with interest about Devialet and Tidal in which you questioned whether they had lost their high-end way. Please allow me to share my perspective.
The jury is not only not out on the newest Devialet product, it hasn't even heard the evidence. (Actually a few have heard it, albeit at Devialet or at shows and were impressed, but they have not published formal reviews so far.) Even if the Phantom is merely a "lifestyle" product, if it allows Devialet to remain profitable and supplies R&D money for new hi-fi technology or expansion of the SAM program, then that's not a bad thing. All it has really to do is look and sound like at least a $4500 stereo. I have little doubt it does. "One day, everyone will own a Devialet" they say. Well, maybe they really do want it to be possible for anyone of at least moderate means to own one of their products and be pleased. Will the 200 become any less attractive if its maker also offers technologically advanced products that are not the highest of high fidelity? I would hope that people with their egos in check wouldn't feel that way. Has Devialet perhaps declined to provide reviews samples to audiophile journals in favor of publications with much larger readership? I could understand that strategy if they already know that their latest kit might not pass muster for whatever reason, valid or not, with some of the pickiest of the picky but would be an object of desire and admiration for a far larger part of the population. On the other hand, maybe the Phantom can play in much of the audiophile and lifestyle populations just fine. Time will tell, as you say. And I hope you get a review sample, soon.
Tidal faced a predicament. On the vast majority of stereos and ears, the distinction between 16/44.1 and 320kbps is neither detectable nor relevant. An arguably modest delta in sound quality is a hard thing to sell when it resonates with too few people to matter. Tidal needs millions or tens of millions of subscribers to ensure its future. If focusing on music-biz personalities makes the company viable while it continues to offer CD-quality streaming, then audiophiles will win, too. If Tidal focuses on audiophiles primarily, it will vanish and perhaps almost did.
The lesson here is that those at the top of the food chain still need the food chain.
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