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I am a veteran/newbie in our industry, having started my audio adventure in 1976 while working at the eponymous Lyric HiFi under Mike Kaye. In 2001 I purchased Innersound and worked with Roger Sanders to build some great electrostatic speakers and amplifiers. In late 2020 I returned to the industry I love by founding Hear This, a high-end audio importer of products from younger designers who are cutting a new path forward with technology and forward-thinking ideas. What I love most about our industry is that it is a small fraternity of like-minded people who continually strive to improve the experience of listening to recorded music. Unfortunately, the thing I like least is some of the backbiting and jealousy, which IMHO comes from fear and the feeling that there is not enough business to go around.
So here’s to you for reminding everyone that we are in this together and that being a decent human begets far more success than the alternative. This is a great message and a reminder that we need positivity now more than ever. Peace and continued success in the year ahead!
Thank you so much for your thorough review of the Meitner MA3 DAC on SoundStage! Ultra.
I also currently have the PS Audio DirectStream DAC and Bridge II with the Sunlight firmware, and I enjoy it very much. However, it’s now EOL, and PSA is not going to support network streaming and MQA in its next DAC, so I am in the early stages of looking at options.
After I read your review, I put the Meitner on my list. Could you add any additional commentary on how the MA3 sonically compares to your DirectStream? Would you be happy upgrading to the MA3 permanently?
Unfortunately, I don’t have a dealer nearby to demo the Meitner. For what it’s worth, the other gear in my system includes a pair of Focal Sopra No2s, Bryston BP-17³ preamp, and a Bryston 4B³ amp, along with High Fidelity Cables Reveal balanced interconnects and speaker cables.
Thanks so much for your thoughts.
Thank you for your email. I think I covered the ergonomic advantages the MA3 has to offer pretty well in my review, but in terms of sound, the primary advantage the MA3 has over the PSA is body: music consistently sounded fuller, richer, and a hint warmer than with the PSA, but without lacking any detail. The MA3 isn’t what I would call a “holographic” sounding DAC—it’s just the opposite, really—yet it does very well with casting expansive soundstages and fleshing out images accurately on stage. I mentioned this in the review, but the MA3 is a far superior-sounding player when used as a digital preamp-DAC. Changes in sound quality when using the MA3 as a preamp as well as a DAC were minimal at best, but when I used the PSA in the same way, the sound quality was noticeably poorer across the board, especially at lower volumes. I found that the PSA sounded thin and vapid by comparison.
Would I be happy upgrading to the MA3? Absolutely. In fact, I still have the review sample here on long-term loan, as I was considering buying it as my new reference. In the end, I decided I wanted something that could play SACDs, so I went in a different direction. But I honestly could not recommend the MA3 more, particularly with your setup. I think the slight warmth and body inherent in the MA3 will complement your Bryston amp very well, and having recently reviewed the Focal Scala Utopia Evo, which shares some of its driver tech with your Sopra, I’d be shocked if that combo didn’t pair well, too. While I will always try to recommend listening before buying, I don’t think you would be disappointed if you decided to pull the trigger on the MA3, Alan.
Good luck, and let me know which way you decide to go.
I hope you are well.
My good news is that I’ve just purchased my last pair of speakers (I hope). Like many audiophiles, I’ve owned dozens of pairs of this and that—high-end electrostatics, ribbons, you name it (and the same goes for amps and other components)—and I’ve decided I’ve had enough. I have purchased, new in the box, a pair of Sonus Faber’s Maxima Amators, and I want your opinion on an amp for them.
I’ve had valve amps before, and I’m not going down that path again. I’m thinking about a Pass Labs INT-60 integrated amp. What are your thoughts? Your views would greatly be appreciated.
Well, Clint, you’ve got great taste, my man. I absolutely love my Sonus Faber Maxima Amators. And they definitely fall into the Never Gonna Sell These category. Maybe more than any other high-end product I’ve owned, these speakers are as much art pieces as they are music makers. They enhance whatever space they are in, in a multitude of ways. So congrats!
As for the right amplifier: I’ve never heard a Pass Labs integrated amp, and it’s been at least a decade since I’ve had any Pass Labs products in my system. So I just can’t speak to the potential pairing of Sonus Faber and Pass Labs.
I do like the choice of a beefy integrated amp to pair with your Maxima Amators. Truthfully, there are a lot ways you can go. Five brands that come to mind initially are McIntosh Laboratory (sister brand to Sonus Faber), Luxman, Vitus Audio, Accuphase Laboratory, and Simaudio. All five of these companies make integrated amps that I am sure would work beautifully.
Enjoy those fine speakers, Clint, and be sure to write back and let me know which amp you end up with. Thanks for writing.
I wrote to you a while back, and I have a new question.
I am again considering an upgrade for my two-channel system consisting of Magico Q3 speakers driven by a Bryston 14B SST amp and a Bryston BP-25 preamp. My source is a Weiss DAC202 fed from Amarra running on a MacBook Pro, and the system is cabled with Nordost speaker cables and Shunyata interconnects. The listening area has proven to be a good one, and I have enjoyed many hours over the past seven years with what I have currently, but dreams of upgrades are part of this hobby.
I want to stay with the Q3s, and I’m considering either a simple update to Bryston 28B3 mono amps or going all-out for my dream system, which would include an MSB S202 amp in hopes of being able to add an MSB DAC at a later date.
The question is, since you have listened to some of these components and perhaps given similar systems a listen, what will I be missing in going with the Bryston preamp and 28B3 amps versus the Bryston preamp with the MSB S202 amp? A Magico M2/MSB combo is my dream system.
Thanks again for your kind advice. Your SoundStage! Ultra columns are always an informative and entertaining read.
Talk about a can’t-lose situation. First of all, your current system contains some amazing products, and I have no doubt that, since you say you have a good room, the sonic performance you are experiencing is extremely good. The fact that you’ve lived with this system for seven years is a testament to that. Still, I understand—believe me!—the desire to upgrade, and I think you are looking at some great options.
Moving up to a larger Bryston amplifier—in this case going from an older 14B SST stereo amplifier to a set of the company’s most current monoblocks—is likely to yield a nice improvement. The more advanced circuitry of the later design and the higher amount of power should translate nicely into sonic gains. I have to say I have not heard any of these Bryston amps in my system, though the company’s reputation for terrific amplifiers is well known.
I have heard the MSB S202, and it is truly an exquisite amplifier. How it would fare in the same system versus the largest Bryston monos is anyone’s guess. However, the real clue as to what you should do is when you say you want to add an MSB DAC eventually. Any MSB DAC paired with any MSB amplifier is going to give you a unique synergy, which I explained in detail in the S202 review linked above. If an MSB DAC is in your future, then my advice is to stretch for the S202 now.
As for your dream setup of the above-mentioned MSB components and a pair of Magico’s fantastic M2 loudspeakers, I’m with you there. I can’t think of a compact system that would outperform it, frankly. The amazing sonics, when coupled with the exemplary build quality of these products, mean you’d be in rare air in terms of the overall high-end experience. Truly an endgame system.
Good luck, and please let me know what you settle on.
I enjoyed reading about your new reference system in the April 15 update. The Apple MacBook Air as a music server intrigued me. Are you using Roon, or are you using another music player? I saw the “A” app next to the Roon logo and was wondering. This might be a nice chance to talk more about using the MacBook Air USB connection to the MSB DAC and why you selected that as the server. Another neat, newer option is using an iPad Pro to stream via USB out,and you can then use Apple Music in Hi-Res Lossless mode to serve the DAC. By the way, I love the new equipment rack—the SGR.
Thanks for the note. I do use both Roon and Audirvāna music players on the MacBook Air. Your suggestion of using an iPad Pro with USB-C output and Apple Music is an intriguing one! I like the SGR too—is it too superficial to enjoy the aesthetic match to the Apple? LOL!
I always enjoy reading your comments and points of view. I just watched your YouTube video on Gryphon Audio Designs’ Apex amplifier—it was very interesting.
I have the Gryphon Mephisto [amplifier] and Pandora [preamplifier]. Do you think the Commander [preamplifier] will provide a substantial improvement over the Pandora? Perhaps, eventually, I could see myself going down the Apex amplifier road, too. Any input on this will be most appreciated.
Well, John, you are in an enviable position. Your Gryphon Mephisto class-A power amplifier (which I assume is the Mephisto Stereo) and Pandora preamplifier are amazing performers. In fact, these products are surely in the conversation when discussing the best available if cost is no object.
And then along comes the Apex Stereo and Mono amplifiers, and Commander preamplifier. These new Gryphon flagships, from what I can gather (I’ve not heard them—yet) and from the information I’ve received from Gryphon personnel, are not just incremental improvements on the existing next-best Gryphons. Many companies state in their marketing materials that this or that product was conceived without cost or practicality as considerations, but I actually believe it in this case. Not only do you have the very latest thinking on amplification from a very mature design team at Gryphon, but you also have improved parts—like a new type of bipolar transistor. I am speculating, but my gut tells me the new Gryphons are beyond amazing.
So what does this all mean for your specific upgrade question? I guess I’d say this: if you have the means, and it’s not keeping your kid from going to college or anything else of the sort, well then, you only live once. Go get ’em both and let me know how your system sounds once you’ve got them installed.
Great review of [Alta Audio’s] Alec speaker—you captured its strengths and weaknesses. The midbass dip, to me, is a result of the dip in the frequency-response curve shown in the graph you provided. Please keep up the great reviews and the lab testing that helps to explain a product’s performance.
I also want to mention that your article on Stereophile and D’Agostino was excellent! Too many reviewers just provide subjective assessments without doing the lab work. As consumers we want products that also test decently (or outstandingly); lab measurements can help point out problems, which may, at times, be audible and may impact the product’s functioning and longevity.
I own Harbeth Audio M30.2 XD speakers and value their flat frequency response—no deep bass, though. I’m using the Boulder Amplifiers 866 integrated amplifier, a Bluesound streamer, and a Shunyata Hydra Delta power conditioner. Your reviews and comments about Boulder products made me confident about my purchase.
All the best for 2022!
To Jeff Fritz,
Jeff, in reference to your article on the Dan D’Agostino Master Audio Systems Progression series, I noticed the following when the company announced its new S350/M550 amplifiers: the power specifications, dimensions, and prices increased, but according to the specs, the weight decreased by ten pounds, perhaps due to a decrease in robustness of the power supply (3000VA transformer to 2000VA; 400,000µF capacitance to 100,000µF). This seems to be consistent with the thrust of your article. It’s not often that we see an audio writer take a stand such as yours.
Please keep up the good work.
I’ve been following and enjoying your hi-fi adventures for years but was surprised and a little shocked to read you have “moved on from the Vimberg Tondas.”
I understand your feelings about the Sonus Faber Maxima Amators, but after having invested so much time, energy, emotion, and money in the Tondas, I’m curious what caused you to leave them behind. I haven’t read anything about your reasons but I may have missed it.
Your experience with the Amators is refreshing to read, considering the quality of the speakers you have had, and to be honest, it touches a chord with me in a way you may find interesting.
Besides many others, I’ve had speakers from Wilson Audio, Avalon Acoustics, Revel, Sonus Faber (the standmounted Electa Amator II), MartinLogin, and Quad HiFi, and even a pair of Hales Transcendence 8s in their short-lived heyday. I loved them all, but recently I picked up—purely on spec and for fun—a 20-year-old pair of Audiovector M3 Avantgardes with ribbon tweeters.
These unassuming speakers are utterly stunning and have taken me closer to the emotion and fun of music than anything I’ve ever had. How can that be possible?
But, and this is why I’m writing, even though I love the music the Audiovectors make I still want to go after the “big” names. What I have is more than good enough yet I’m being pulled back to Wilsons or possibly Magicos. Why?
It would be nice if you could explain why you moved on from the Tondas. Did you wrestle with a similar dilemma, or was your reasoning not hi-fi related?
Keep up the good work.
Gosh, why do we audiophiles do what we do? I know lots of hi-fi manufacturers that have been trying to figure that one out for years and I’m not sure we are any closer to understanding the whys and why nots.
As for my ownership of the Vimberg Tondas, I have nothing but great things to say about those speakers. There were no disappointments whatsoever, and I’d heartily recommend them today if someone were to ask my opinion. I could have lived with them, happily, for many more years.
I decided to sell the Vimbergs and move on to the Sonus Faber Maxima Amators for a simple reason: when the SFs were released, something about them spoke to me—I guess you could say I needed them. I described this in my first article about the Italian speakers—“Material Obsession: Sonus Faber’s Maxima Amator”—and I have not regretted my decision for a second. Was it a rational decision? I can’t tell you that, but then we exist in a hobby where rational thinking does not need to be factored into every decision! I wanted the SFs, I got the SFs, and I’m thrilled with the SFs. That’s really the gist of it.
To Jeff Fritz,
I really wish you hadn’t reviewed the SF Maxima Amator speakers. I’m an audiophile and an avid woodworker and those speakers have really put a spell on me, and I haven’t even heard them yet! But after your great review I must audition a pair.
Question: did you part ways with your Vimbergs in favor of the SFs?
Keep up the great work.
Thanks for the note. The Sonus Faber Maxima Amator article you mention is not a formal review. It’s actually part of a series of three articles, recounting my ownership experience—I bought a pair of Maxima Amators for myself—from selection through setup to my listening experience. If you like beautiful wood and great sound, then gosh, I can’t imagine a better speaker than a Sonus Faber!
To answer your question: yes, I have moved on from the Vimberg Tondas that formerly inhabited my listening room.
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