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Gryphon Diablo 300

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To Jeff Fritz,

I always enjoy your perspectives and understand the closure on this aspect of your reviews ["Closing the Curtain on TWBAS"]. I can just imagine some of the challenges of getting those large speakers into your home. What I have enjoyed in your commentary is the insight on the design, manufacturing, and quality aspects of the various companies you have visited and reviewed. I am on my own personal quest for some new speakers such as the Rockports, Magicos, Veritys, Egglestons, or Acoustic Zens. What I have learned is to trust my ears to find the best musical connection. I was really excited about your Devialet review since it confirmed my suspicion that great equipment can be found for a reasonable price. Maybe that’s the next adventure: "I can’t believe this sounds that good for the money." I look forward to your next adventure!

Randy Gossard
United States

To Jeff Fritz,

I just bought a dCS Vivaldi DAC. Your review of the Devialet makes it look spectacular. So, to listen to the Vivaldi I would play digital, then connect the analog output of the DAC to the input of the Devialet, which would convert the signal back to digital and then again to analog. Would that much conversion somehow degrade the sound from the Vivaldi or any high-end DAC? Lately I've been thinking of selling my Spectral DMA-260 amp and getting the Spectral DMA-400, but your description of the Devialet system gives me pause.

United States

If you just purchased a dCS Vivaldi, which by all accounts is spectacular, you've committed to a system model that just won’t benefit from the Devialet approach. The Devialets are designed as all-in-one systems -- the preamplifier, DAC, and power-amplifier sections are all housed inside, so you don’t need other ones. Besides those components being integrated into one box, I personally believe that part of the magic of the Devialet approach is in the super-short signal path it offers -- according to the company, 2” is about it. On the other hand, sending your digital output to a DAC, and then into the Devialet as an analog signal -- with the conversions you describe -- would not only defeat the purpose of the Devialet signal-path length, but it would also render the Vivaldi almost meaningless in your system.

If you're committed to the Vivaldi DAC (since you've just purchased it, I assume you are), then your best bet is to optimize the components around it in a more conventional way -- a better power amp, better speakers, or a better source that feeds it. I’m not going to try to convince you otherwise. High-end audio is fraught with buyer's remorse. Don’t let that bug bite you. In the Vivaldi you have a spectacular component -- enjoy it and don’t look back. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Jeff Fritz,

Sometime last October I read your "What I'd Buy: Integrated Amplifiers" column, being in the market for a new sound system. I followed some of your recommendations. I first bought a Bel Canto C5i and a pair of KEF LS50 speakers. I loved that little setup, but decided pretty early on that I needed more (a classic case of high-end-audio fever). Fast-forward six months later: I tried the following integrateds you recommended: NAD C 390DD, Hegel Music Systems H300, and the Ayre Acoustics AX-5 (I also made a little tube detour with a PrimaLuna Dialogue Premium integrated).

I’m currently using the H300, a one-box solution that offers an excellent balance between great sound and convenience (fantastic remote!). The AX-5 would still be in my living room if it had a great internal DAC (and a better remote!). Talking about one-box solutions, I just read your latest column about the Devialet and I'm getting that urge to upgrade again. Question: Do you think the 120 will be enough for my Magnepan 1.7 (a notoriously power-hungry speaker)? Or should I buy the 200 or the 250? Thanks again and keep up the great work.

United States

You've had some fine components in your system, Alex. I obviously agree with the selection of integrated amplifiers that you've chosen to audition or own. Even though I would be happy with any of the products you mention in your letter, there is no doubt that the Devialets are the next step if you're looking for the ultimate in sound quality.

If I were you, I think I'd opt for the Devialet 200. It strikes a fine balance between power and price: The 120 retails for $6495, whereas the 200 is $9495, and the 250 jumps all the way to $17,495. If you do want to spend more, and want to make absolutely sure that you will never run out of power, then look at the 400 monos instead of the 250. The 400s cost the same as a single 250, at $17,495 for the pair, but offer substantially more power.

Whichever Devialet you buy, assuming you have enough power to drive your speakers, you'll be at the end of the upgrade merry-go-round. In my opinion, there is nowhere to go after Devialet, even if you spend multiples of its price. Good luck with your purchase and your system. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Jeff Fritz,

I have been in the process of upgrading my current two-channel home system and have been referencing your reviews on SoundStage! Ultra a great deal. Currently, I have the following setup and I am looking to upgrade my speakers next:

McIntosh MC501 mono amplifiers
McIntosh C42 preamplifier
PSB Stratus Gold loudspeakers
Copeland CDA 266 CD/HDCD player
Dual record player
Audio Art cables and power cords

I have loved the PSB speakers since the first day I bought them back in '98. I have been thinking of upgrading to the Synchrony Ones (without even having the opportunity to give them a proper audition) until I heard the Dynaudio Focus 380. You highly recommended both speakers in your article on speakers under $15,000. I am looking to gain detail without being bright, and warmth without appearing loose and muddled. As mentioned, I have not been able to find anyone in the Los Angeles area who has the Synchrony One on the floor to hear in person. In your professional opinion, will I be getting that much more speaker for five grand more in the Dynaudio? Is it that much better than the PSB? You have had the rare opportunity to compare both, and I seek your opinion. My most sincere appreciation for your time and consideration to this inquiry.

Kind regards,
Brian Faudoa
United States

This is a no-lose proposition. As you mentioned, I think highly of both of the speakers you are considering. To be frank, they have more in common than they are different, and that is because of the similarities between the companies themselves. Both Dynaudio and PSB design and manufacture very neutral loudspeakers (they actually both use anechoic chambers in their R&D). If you examine the frequency responses of models from each brand they'll be impressively flat with excellent off-axis dispersion characteristics. Therefore, the house sounds of both PSB and Dynaudio do not have the tonal anomalies or colorations found in many competing products.

Still, there are differences. Probably the main one has to do with the tweeters. Whereas Dynaudio uses a soft dome in the Focus 380, PSB uses an aluminum dome in the Synchrony One. Even though both are excellent in their own regard, it has been my experience that listeners gravitate toward either one or the other tweeter design. Although it is a generalization that won't apply globally, soft domes are many times a touch forgiving whereas metal domes are more ruthlessly revealing. You'll have to decide which type you prefer.

The second important difference is that the Dynaudio Focus 380 is physically the much larger loudspeaker: 3" taller and 2" deeper. You'll have to decide whether your room is capable of housing the larger speaker. I expect that the bass extension would be about the same for both models: strong 30Hz in-room.

Good luck with your decision. You certainly have two fine products to choose from. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Jeff Fritz,

Please let me begin by saying that your reviews are a joy to read, especially those in the "TWBAS" column, even if the products are currently out of my price range.

I'm about to move from audio mixing into a basic but functional audio mastering setup, but I'm quite budget-conscious at this early stage. Since I live in the UK, it was actually your 2010 "TWBAS" article on the Paradigm S2 that first alerted me to this brand, and all the reviews seem very positive. I know you're a fan of Paradigm so I thought you might be able to aid in my decision.

It looks as if Paradigms are pretty much unbeatable in their price bracket. I'm very interested in the S2. I have a sub that would be sufficient to highlight any errors in the 20-50Hz range for the time being, and so I was hoping to hear your opinion on the Paradigm S2 for entry-level mastering.

Please don't worry about responding if you don't have the time, Jeff, I just thought it would be nice to hear from the man that made me aware of Paradigm in the first place.

All the best,

Paradigm’s loudspeakers do offer a tremendous value, and I think that statement holds true across all of their lines. The company enjoys an advantage in manufacturing efficiency -- they make virtually all of their parts and subassemblies in-house -- that enables them to offer advanced technologies at still reasonable prices. It also helps that they have an excellent staff of engineers who work within what the company calls its Paradigm Advanced Research Center (PARC). The bottom line is that there is a lot of in-house capability at Paradigm.

Specifically to your question about the S2, I can't imagine that it would not suit your needs. I've been thoroughly impressed by the accuracy of the beryllium tweeter that they use in that model, and I believe it would be highly informative in a mastering setup like the one you propose. Also, the bass-midrange driver is 7", which translates into more low-frequency extension than you might expect from a stand-mounted two-way. I do not believe you will have any issues listening to this speaker in the nearfield -- Paradigm's crossovers have always been seamless. Lastly, I know that these speakers will play quite loud and clean, so for a workstation that might feed them all types of music, they could be ideal. I think you'll be able to make an honest assessment of whatever you put into them. The one caveat I'll give you is to remember that these are passive speakers that you'll need to power, so make sure you have an amplifier that is clean and sufficiently powerful in order to experience all that these speakers have to offer. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Jeff Fritz,

Your article ["Can Someone Please Answer These Questions?!"] strongly resonated with me because I have asked myself the same questions recently.

As context, my criteria for purchasing audio equipment are based equally on engineering excellence, build quality, sound quality and aesthetics -- and each piece of my current system represents a fine balance of those values. As an audiophile for almost 30 years and a trained engineer, the relatively recent exponential increase in audio-gear prices with the increasingly prevalent lack of corresponding improvement in engineering excellence and build quality is baffling.

Admittedly, I have no experience or beef with FM Acoustics -- but pictures of their internal construction begs the question for the justification of the price tag. As a contrast, simply have a look at the internals of the less-than-half-the-cost Boulder 2160 amplifier.

Yeah, I was also surprised at the step-down in apparent build quality for Krell’s Duo series. The original "built as a brick outhouse" Krell KSA-50 is what got me hooked on high-end gear going back 28 years!

I dismissed Devialet until I recently demoed them on the notoriously current-hungry B&W 800-series loudspeakers. I was blown away -- not only by the clean, warm, full sound quality, but that it came from an elegantly chromed box that will pass muster with the most pernickety house-proud mother.

The agonizing fade from glory for the Mark Levinson brand has been a blow to those with an eye for beautifully styled equipment outside and inside.

So, here are my best guesses to your questions:

Why do FM Acoustics' products cost so much? Because the dramatic increase in the top 1% of wealth has made the price of gear that cost more than the average salary a non-issue and they are the target market. The focus of the traditional and shrinking middle class have shifted elsewhere (like survival!).

Why isn’t Krell building real power amps anymore? What happened to the Mark Levinson brand? They both lost their way when the vision and passion of their founder was no longer their guide.

Is Devialet really, really better than everything else? Not sure. But I do agree with the previous letter -- "Devialet is . . . Utterly Disruptive" -- not only for the potential to deliver the audiophile fix at a lower price point, but that it delivers the goods in a package that can be easily moved, oohed and ahhed over by the latest smartphone brigade, or blissfully ignored because it is visually unobtrusive.

Mark Venter
New Zealand

To Jeff Fritz,

It was a pleasure reading your response to Devialet's SAM technology, which sounds utterly disruptive. That's really, really exciting for consumers, and kind of scary for manufacturers. If $7000 can drive the highest-end speakers in that fashion, then much of the high-end audio electronics industry may be near its demise. What happens in a few years when someone -- probably someone big like Sony or a Harman brand -- offers a $2000 knock-off that gets you 90% of the way there? The industry and hobby will be changed forever. Ordinary folks will become "audiophiles" without even knowing it. If it's really that good for that price, then it almost seems silly to review luxe equipment other than turntables and speakers until someone comes close to Devialet quality for less money, or does better for similar money.

Just some musings. I'd love to hear one of these things.

Brad Potthoff
United States

To Jeff Fritz,

I was wondering if you have a review written about the sonic differences between the Magico Q3 and Q7 speakers. I'm looking for that bass and slam [that you discuss in your Q7 review] as well. I wonder if the Q3 and the QSub-15 would do the trick also. Any thoughts? Thanks Jeff.

Aaron Barnes
United States

Although I have written separate reviews on the Q3 and Q7, I have not specifically compared them in an article, and I have never heard a QSub in my system. Still, from my experiences with Magico products and other fine subwoofers I do think I can lend an opinion. As far as the Q3/QSub-15 combo, I think you could get outstanding sound. The key would be to seamlessly integrate the subwoofer into the system in a way that allows it to do its work without drawing undue attention to its output. This can be done, no question, though it will take some effort. This combination could provide world-class sound without breaking into the six figures if everything is done right.

Having said that, I think the Q7 would be far superior. Firstly, you do not have to worry about subwoofer integration because that's already been done for you. The Q7 is full range in the purest sense, and it will give you subwoofer-type bass depth and power in the context of a single-tower design. Although you will not get the flexibility to move the subwoofer to an optimum location for bass as you would a QSub-15 (or any other subwoofer for that matter), I think the seamless integration in this case from all of the Q7's drivers is even more important. Secondly, with the Q7, also consider that the entire frequency band except for the highs is reproduced with Magico's Nano-Tec drivers. I don't think the importance of this can be overstated when talking about a world-class loudspeaker. This characteristic of the Q7 makes for a sound that is truly state of the art from top to bottom. In short, I've still heard nothing that can compare with the Q7. If you can afford a pair of Q7s, get them. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Jeff Fritz,

I very much like the sound of well-constructed class-A amplifiers. Reading your reviews of the Coda 15.0 and, more recently, the Gryphon Audio Designs Mephisto, I understand that you also like class-A amplification.

I have a large listening room and 8-ohm-rated speakers with a sensitivity of 85dB, so I would like to purchase a class-A amplifier with a continuous power rating of at least 100Wpc into 8 ohms. Unfortunately, such class-A amplifiers tend to be very expensive; the only exception I have found is the Coda 15.0 that you reviewed (it is now upgraded to 15.5 if I understand correctly).

If I purchase the Coda, how much will I give up in performance compared to the significantly more expensive Gryphon Mephisto or a Pass Labs class-A amplifier like the XA160.5 or XA160.8?

Thank you for your insightful and interesting reviews and columns on SoundStage! Ultra!

Best regards,
Kari Lampinen

I was just speaking with one of my reviewer colleagues, Randall Smith, about the Coda 15.0 the other day. He was telling me that the high point in his personal audiophile experience was when he had the Coda 15.0 connected to his Rockport Technologies Mira loudspeakers. The sonic authority that that combination provided, along with the golden-glow type of sound that only class-A amplification seems to be able to provide, was simply stunning.

Although I do not think there is any question that the Gryphon Mephisto is in a class of its own, I also think the Coda amplifiers are absolute steals when you consider the hardware that goes into them and the knowhow that was expended in designing them. You're paying a very fair price for the Codas and getting an heirloom-quality amplifier in return. So I would say that if the Coda looks like the right brand for you, then go for it. It's a very good buy on an even better amplifier. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Jeff Fritz,

You asked about the Mark Levinson engineers from the Madrigal Audio Labs days. Harman cleaned house years ago and rumor is that all of the current Levinson product is actually being designed in India. Perhaps someone can verify.

With respect to the Madrigal guys they started their own company called AeVee Labs. They are working very closely with Bricasti Designs. The two owners of Bricasti are also former Harman employees that worked with the Lexicon brand. The Bricasti M1 DAC and the upcoming Bricasti M28 monoblocks all have classic Mark Levinson DNA -- on the exterior and interior.

You should review the Bricasti M1. Compared to dCS it's relatively inexpensive but can sonically compete without giving up any ground.

Ken Golden
United States