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To Jeff Fritz,

I’ve been following your system developments and was wondering if you can comment on how the Auralic Vega G2 streaming DAC-preamp compares with the MSB Discrete DAC that you ended up purchasing. I know the price difference is significant between the two digital front ends, but would appreciate any generalizations between the products.

Thank you in advance,
Tony
Canada

At $5999 (USD), the Auralic Vega G2 is a tremendous bargain. I could have easily lived with it permanently, and I still stand by everything I said in the review. The MSB Discrete DAC is in another league altogether, though—it is simply a more resolving, more transparent DAC. Granted, in the configuration of the unit I purchased—with the Premier Powerbase and the input options I chose—the price is well over double that of the Vega. But, thankfully, there are times when you get what you pay for in this hobby, and that is particularly true when the products under discussion are all from companies that produce components at or near the top of their class. So, in summary, I like the Auralic a lot, but the MSB is worth the additional outlay and then some. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Jeff Fritz,

I read your review of the Devialet Expert 1000 Pro integrated amp and Hans Wetzel’s review of the Magico A3 speaker with great interest.

I have recently acquired a Devialet L’Original d’Atelier, updated to Devialet 1000 specs, and am considering which speakers to match it with. From various readings, I understand that Devialet and Magico work well together. Before I venture further (as I am based in the UK and in COVID-19 lockdown) to conduct some live tests, I was hoping I could confirm a few things with you.

Based on the review, the Magico A3 seems to compare favorably with more expensive models such as the S range. How would you say the A3 compares to the original Magico S5, which can now be acquired at a similar price to the new A3 in the secondhand market? Do technological improvements in the new A3 make it a more compelling proposition than the old S range?

Going even further, how would you say the A3 compares to the current S3 Mk II? Is the large price difference between the two models justified by performance, assuming a pairing with the Devialet 1000?

Finally, is the A5 just a larger, more powerful A3 with better bass reproduction, or is the large price difference explained by other factors?

Many thanks for your help.

Regards,
Greg
United Kingdom

Each of the Magico speakers you list has a unique character, and all of them are technically proficient speakers capable of excellent sound, given the right partnering equipment and an appropriate listening environment. The Magico brand really does represent a great investment in proper sound no matter which model you choose. So in that sense you really can’t go wrong with any of the speakers you list.

Magico is also a technology company, and as such they invest heavily in new equipment, tooling, and fabrication methods based on the extensive use of measurements and computer modeling. Therefore, their newer models usually contain some advancements over older models. From what I know, this is definitely the case with the new A5, which is newest of the models you mentioned. In fact, some of the features seen in the A5, such as the new cone geometry using an aluminum honeycomb core, will surely inform Magico designs for years to come. If I were you, I’d invest in a pair of A5s and never look back. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Hans Wetzel,

Lovely review of the Linear Tube Audio Z40 integrated amplifier. I have the only one in Australia (so far), coupled with an old Denon turntable and my recently acquired LRS speakers from Magnepan. I clearly understand your comment at the end of your review where you mentioned the amp’s ability to sing. Adjusting the positioning of the LRSes to get the soundstage just right is tricky, but when you do there’s no coloration between you and the vinyl’s grooves, and, providing the final master mixing was done well, the combination of amp and speakers just soars. It is the most divine musical experience I have ever had. If you want “doof, doof, doof” bass in 4/4 time then this is not a system for you. But if you want to hear elastic bass that shrinks and expands infinitely whilst hearing the singer’s lips brush the grille of the microphone, I couldn’t recommend another system more highly.

Regards,
Duncan Jones
Australia

That’s what it’s all about. Congratulations on finding your musical nirvana, Duncan. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Jeff Fritz,

I recall an article that I wrote for SoundStage! Ultra in September 2008 (“The Birth and Life of an Audiophile: A Journey from Entry-Level to McIntosh”) about McIntosh Laboratory and wish to express my opinion that McIntosh Laboratory treats today’s technology tastefully by infusing it with timeless tradition.

My company, Sanch Electronix Ltd., was designated a McIntosh representative in 1982 and although the products became prohibitively expensive after a decade, we still provide service. In my article I described how, as part of my training, I had the experience of a lifetime: witnessing firsthand a demonstration of how the company’s most astute salesman, James Carroll, recruited his disciples.

I was excited to see that in September 2020, ever mindful of its “Rolls-Royce” philosophy, McIntosh launched the MA12000 hybrid integrated stereo amplifier. Its features include ten analog and seven digital inputs and a stereo output of 350Wpc RMS. In my opinion, this is an unequivocally future-proofed “statement” product that may be construed as the company’s aggressive response to COVID-19. Oh, how I would love to hear this colossus of a behemoth, this culmination of decades of selfless dedication to R&D in ergonomics, incorporating both vacuum-tube and solid-state technology.

Sincerely,
Simeon Louis Sandiford
Trinidad and Tobago

To Hans Wetzel,

I’ve just ordered a pair of Sonus Faber Maxima Amators to be paired with a new Accuphase Laboratory E-380 integrated amplifier fed by a Lumin T2 network music player. The Maxima Amators were chosen for their smaller footprint in our room as well as their Old World looks. Do you think the Accuphase will be a good match? Thanks, I really enjoyed your review.

Rick Anderson
Canada

The Accuphase sounds like a terrific choice. I don’t have any personal experience with the company’s gear, but several of my fellow writers here at SoundStage! have sung Accuphase’s praises in terms of both build and sound quality. The E-380 should generate sufficient power for your needs. Enjoy your new system. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Jeff Fritz,

I have been following your hi-fi journey and reviews for some time now and you consistently have utilized a MacBook Air laptop, together with Roon, as your front-end streaming playback system. Do you believe that a specialist streamer solution, i.e., Aurender, Lumin, etc., does not provide you with the necessary upgrade to the sound performance required to warrant the cost of implementing such a system?

I would be interested in reading your thoughts on high-end streamers vs. MacBook Air front-end playback options, as the cost of these streaming solutions can be quite prohibitive. Maybe spending the money on a better DAC would be more effective?

Kind regards,
Bill
Killybegs, Donegal
Ireland

This is a great question, and one I have been asked before. I have also pondered that question many times. On occasion I have had some very well-regarded streamers in my system, and each time, I’ve come away thinking, “Well, that sounds really good.” Then I go back to my MacBook Air and think to myself, “Well, that sounds really good, too!” Based on these experiences, I always conclude that the perceived improvement is not enough to move me to make a purchase and ditch the MacBook Air.

I’m sure this could be system dependent, and, I’d have to think, specifically related to the DAC. Having a really good DAC could obviate the need for a dedicated streamer depending on how that DAC handles the incoming data stream. Could it be that I would appreciate a dedicated streamer more if I had a different DAC? That’s certainly possible, and maybe I’ll discover the answer to that question down the line.

I’m open to hear more streamers, but until I hear something in my system that is demonstrably and repeatedly better than my Apple MacBook Air, I have no plans to change course. A better DAC, better speakers, a better amp . . . personally, I would prioritize all of these over the purchase of a dedicated music streamer. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Hans Wetzel,

I have read with great interest your various reviews of different amps and speakers over the years. My current setup is Dynaudio’s Confidence C1 [loudspeakers] paired with a Hegel Music Systems H360 [integrated amplifier-DAC]. Overall, I am happy with the sound, especially with the Dynaudios because I had their Contour 1.3 SEs in the past and just wanted to take that sound/philosophy to the next level. The Hegel was more a leap of faith, but a fellow hi-fi aficionado recommended them to pair with the Confidence C1, so I followed his recommendation and picked up a used Hegel. I like Hegel’s warm and natural sound and think it pairs well overall with the Dynaudios. Dislikes are that the [Apple] AirPlay connection is not reliable and does not give the best sound quality. I could have bought a streamer but did not feel like incurring the extra expense.

But now, I am looking to make a change and I’m considering these options—I want to stay in the $5000–$6000 range:

  1. Hegel H390 [integrated amplifier-DAC]: I know I will like the sound, but I expect everything to be better, especially connectivity.
  2. NAD M33 [integrated amplifier-DAC]: The NAD Masters Series M32 DirectDigital was a contender three years ago, but I was led to believe Hegel’s sound is superior. I have seen the rave reviews on the M33. I like the design and all the features, but am a little concerned that in terms of pure sound, it won’t hold up to the Hegel H390.
  3. McIntosh MA5300 [integrated amplifier]: I was recommended this by a dealer I talked to yesterday. What to say? McIntosh is iconic, but I’m not sure the entry-level model is up to par for the Dynaudios, and the next one up is too pricy.
  4. Simaudio Moon 700i [integrated amplifier]: I saw a used 700i [at my dealer] for $5444. It seems compelling, but I’m hesitant to buy a model that is a bit dated at this point.
  5. Any other options?

Not in a rush to make a move; I want to make sure it is the right choice. It is tough to audition the equipment, as every dealer has a different setup and equipment available, and it’s next to impossible to test the equipment at home. So, I need to make another decision based on reviews and expert recommendations. At this point, I am leaning towards a Hegel upgrade. For me, vocals, authenticity, and soundstage for classical music rank at the top of the list. Sorry for the long e-mail. It would be super nice to get your take.

Best,
Andreas Biebl
United States

You’ve made some interesting choices, Andreas, and you’ve definitely reached out to the right reviewer! I’ve previously owned the Hegel H360, own a Hegel H590 (which is very similar to the less powerful Hegel H390 you’re considering), reviewed the NAD M32 when it was new, and recently reviewed the successor to the Moon 700i, the 700i v2. Unfortunately, I don’t have any first-hand experience with McIntosh, though I suspect the MA5300 is a solid amp for the money.

I think the Hegel would be a sensible purchase. The built-in DAC, in particular, should prove to be a notable upgrade on the unit built into your H360. The H390 will sound a little different than your H360, however, as Doug Schneider pointed out in his review of the H390, but should still definitely sound familiar to you.

While I obviously like Hegel, I have to say that NAD’s M33 would be my personal suggestion. It uses Purifi’s new Eigentakt amplifier modules, which sound and measure like an absolute dream. You also get a terrific-looking case, a nice touchscreen, Dirac Live room-correction software, and plenty of I/O. I get that it’s a bit of a gamble for you having never heard it, so let me put it this way: As someone who adored my H360 when I owned it, if I were upgrading from an H360 and had roughly $5000 to spend, I’d spring for the M33, as it’s currently the best integrated amp-DAC that you can buy for five grand.

Happy hunting, Andreas. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Jeff Fritz,

As someone who owns a Gryphon Antileon Evo stereo amp, the dCS Vivaldi DAC, and Rockport Cygnus speakers, I obviously agree with your tastes. Two things I might add/change: I do believe that a good preamp adds something significant to sound quality, and I don’t believe the small difference in sound quality of the Antileon Monos justifies doubling the cost. In keeping with some of your more recent articles regarding value and opportunity cost, I would use the money saved on the Monos and put it into a good preamp, or into the listening room if you really want to run direct. As crazy high as these prices are I actually do think the dCS, Gryphon, and Rockport represent value in this crazy hobby.

I really enjoyed your articles about finding value and downsizing a bit. Avoiding the chase for bragging-rights gear that added very little. That took real courage. Don’t reverse course, Jeff. You’re the only one we can count on for telling the truth as you see it irrespective of the industry.

Jim
United States

To Garrett Hongo,

I am looking into the Luxman D-380 CD player as a replacement for a vintage California Audio Labs Icon Mk II player. I will be using it with a Leben CS-600 amplifier and DeVore Fidelity Orangutan O/93 speakers. I am looking for a more organic and less harsh sound. My listening room is a tad on the bright side, so a sweeter sound is a must. I wonder if you have had any experience with the lower-priced Luxman CD players, as my wife is having a case of sticker shock.

From your review, it sounds like the D-380 is quite a gem in this digital audio world.

Thanks,
Mike
United States

Thanks for your question about the Luxman D-380. I loved its sound, frankly, and wished I could splurge on it for my own family-room system. Along with Lector and Ayon players, I’ve got a venerable California Audio Labs CL-15 there, so I’m familiar with the CAL house sound. It was, in fact, my first high-end piece. But I’d always heard the CAL Icon Mk II was extra special.

I also know the rest of your system pretty well—the Leben integrated and DeVore Orangutan speakers. Terrific setup!

My feeling, fairly strong, actually, is you’ll be extremely happy with the D-380, which will be a great match with the rest of your system. The style of this player will shine and its sound will really bloom with your Leben/DeVore gear.

When thinking about the D-380 for myself, I also researched a lower-priced player from Luxman, the D-N150—a compact, half-size unit. Much more “affordable,” it has the same transport as the D-380 but with a different DAC and no tube output. I anticipated that I might be disappointed in its sound by comparison to the D-380.

The D-N150 also lacks the D-380’s retro wooden case. I’d say the D-N150’s style is more “swanky utilitarian,” if you don’t mind the contradiction, and better suited for a desktop system. But the D-380, with its gorgeous walnut case, would look fabulous with your DeVore 0/93s (assuming they’re in walnut too), both echoing and accenting their cabinets.

If I had to choose one player for my family-room system, it would be the Luxman D-380. Basically, I’d go for it if I were you, man. . . . Garrett Hongo

To Jeff Fritz,

I just purchased a pre-owned Gryphon Antileon Evo [amplifier]. Much of my decision was based on your reviews of the Antileon and Mephisto. The Antileon should arrive today or tomorrow. Now I have two of your favorite amps, the Antileon Evo and a Boulder 2060. I’ll let you know my impressions of the Antileon in a few weeks.

Regards,
Brian
United States