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To Howard Kneller,
I haven’t seen much discussion on the Esoteric C-02 [preamplifier] online. I saw the piece at AXPONA 2014 and have been intrigued, yet nobody seems to be talking about it. Yours seems to have been the only published review, at least that I can find, so I thought I’d reach out for your opinion.
I’m considering buying one of these to replace a McIntosh C2300. The Esoteric would be mated between an EMM Labs XDS1 V2 and a McIntosh MC402, driving Avalon Eidolons. I’m wondering whether the Esoteric would add a bit of liveliness to the high frequencies, some transparency, and punch. The C2300 is very neutral and quiet, but maybe a bit boring and uninvolving. Or maybe it’s just me!
Anyway, I’d welcome any thoughts you might have as to the benefits that the Esoteric might bring me.
Thanks for writing. I think the Esoteric would be a significant trade-up from the McIntosh. The C-02 is not hot in the high frequencies, nor does it have the most absolute slam out there, so I am not sure if it will give you what you are looking for or not. I can tell you that it should certainly add transparency, and maybe even a more quiet background. Also, it is extremely involving to listening to and and a bit romantic sounding.
The best thing would be to see if a dealer can arrange a loan. I definitely think it is worth giving it a shot. I hope that helps, even a bit. . . . Howard Kneller
To Jeff Fritz,
I've been listening to my Devialet 400 for about a week now. I totally agree with your review. I traded in two McIntosh mono tube amps (MC2301) and a McIntosh MC2300 preamp. I was quite fond of them, but the monolithic weight got to be too much for my 70-year-old body.
Anyway, my dilemma now is what to do with my PS Audio DSD DAC. The internal 400 DAC is really amazing, as is the PSA DAC when used in a conventional way. Same problem with my PS Audio NuWave converter.
The SAM has breathed new life into my Sonus Faber Cremona M speakers. I'm using a Mac Mini via USB for my iTunes streaming since the 400 is just inches away. I've tried the Wi-Fi and Ethernet connections as well, but I like the Amarra DSP results, so I'm keeping that in the loop. The technology of the 400 is superb as is the quality.
Hope it stands the test of time. Thanks for the great review. I actually read it before and after I purchased the 400. Helped me buy it, made me glad I did.
Congrats on your Devialet 400. I imagine your system sounds superb, especially with SAM processing helping out those Sonus Fabers. As for your PS Audio DACs, two words: sell them. You can use the money to fund your Tidal music streaming service for a long, long time. Nothing left to do but enjoy! . . . Jeff Fritz
To Jeff Fritz,
As I've said in the past, I greatly respect your views, and your courage to tell it as it is. I was thus really excited to read your impressions about the [Devialet] Phantom at CES 2015. From what I can tell, the bottom line from your article is: 1) The Phantom is not only beautifully packaged and very feature-rich, it also sounds better than anything at its price point; 2) still, on absolute terms, the Phantom's sound is not quite at the level of a Magico Q3/S5-plus-Devialet 200 combo. At least, that's what I think it means when you say, "No, it won't replace your Magicos -- but then the company has to have a home for its standalone amps."
Allowing for the fact that you heard the Phantoms in the not-so-great acoustics of a hotel room, where would you say the Phantom falls short relative to a Q3/S5 in terms of sound, and by how much? Also, do you know why Devialet demoed the Phantoms on top of clumsy boxes rather than the dedicated stands, which they had at hand on the main floor? The stands not only look more elegant, they would have likely provided a much cleaner wave launch.
You've basically summarized my position on the Phantom well, at least based on the audition that I had at CES 2015. I do believe that more listening is warranted, and the Phantom could prove to be even better than what we know now, particularly when optimized on their own stands and in an acoustically treated listening room. But then the Phantom is not meant just for that purpose, but as a speaker that can fit most any environment and listener, which is likely why the company chose a tabletop installation in Las Vegas -- to show just what the Devialet Phantom can do in a more "normal" setup.
As to just how much better a Magico Q3/S5-plus-Devialet 200 setup would be, I can tell you that those listeners who yearn for the quality of sound that a system of that pedigree can provide -- and most audiophile systems are not of that quality! -- will not be satisfied with anything less, so no mater how good a pair of Phantoms might be, they'll still want their big speakers and separate amp(s). But that in no way detracts from the Phantom's accomplishments, which are nothing short of groundbreaking. . . . Jeff Fritz
To Jeff Fritz,
I have a question for you based on your experiences reviewing the Devialet 120 and 400. I recently auditioned a pair of Vivid Giya G2s driven by a Devialet 200 and also by Tenor 350M monoblocks with an MSB DAC. Both combinations used an MSB transport. The audition was in a room similar to my own listening room. (I also heard G3s driven by a Devialet 120, which sounded spectacular, but in a very different type of room.) The G2s driven by the Tenor and MSB front end was easily the best sounding system I have ever heard. The G2s driven by the Devialet 200 sounded anemic in comparison. They had far less bass control or impact. Unfortunately, the Tenor and MSB front end is well beyond my price range. The G2 with Devialet 200 is in my price range and I might be able to stretch to a Devialet 400.
I was wondering if you could provide some thoughts comparing the Devialet 120 and 400. What improvements beyond dead silence and spectacularly low IMD does the 400 provide? How much more control does the 400 have on drive units, particularly in the bass regions? How much improvement is there in bass impact and control moving from the 120 to 400?
Unfortunately, auditioning the G2 and Devialet 400 is a problem as the dealer is over 1000 miles from where I live. So before asking a dealer to spend hundreds shipping items to me to try out I want a pretty good idea of what I’m likely to hear.
In my experience, the basic sounds of the Devialet 120 and the 400 are very, very similar. Bass control, transparency, and overall purity are close to indistinguishable from each other. It really is only in the areas of headroom that the 400 is clearly superior. Now, the monos do have better distortion specs, and I do think with the right music and the right speakers you might hear that, but the 120 is so low in distortion itself that it is likely to be better than anything else you might have heard in that regard. So, in short, I found the 120 and 400 very close to each other in terms of sound.
So the bottom line is that if you truly did not like the Vivids as driven by the 200, you probably won’t like them driven by the 400. There may be something to the tube sound in the Tenor amps that attracts you, and that's perfectly legitimate. So if I were you I would try to replicate that as closely as you can. . . . Jeff Fritz
To Jeff Fritz,
I just wanted to say a quick "thank you" for your fabulous articles on SoundStage! Ultra. I find most coverage of high-end audio out of touch with my needs and perspective. In contrast, your articles resonate, are fun to read, and are genuinely enlightening. Thank you!
And now a quick question (please feel free to ignore this, as I know you can't make a living by giving free advice): I've read your coverage of Devialet and SAM carefully. I'm in the market for a new system, and am considering a Devialet 120 and floorstanding speakers costing up to $15k/pair. Out of the SAM-ready speakers, which would you most recommend? I listen to rock and a lot of female vocals, and my room is medium-sized.
If you do decide to answer, a big "thank you" in advance.
Thank you so much for the kind words! I just had a quick glance at the Devialet SAM database and it has grown since I last checked. There are a number of speakers on the list that would fit the bill nicely. What jumped out to me, though, based on your criteria for rock music, was the KEF Reference 3. At $13,000/pair, they are right in your price range. I know from our measurements of the Reference 1, reviewed recently on SoundStage! Hi-Fi, that these new Reference models can play loud and clean, and the Devialet 120 with SAM enabled would only enhance the 3's ability to play low bass. Like I said, there are a number of fine models you could choose from, but KEF is a no-brainer recommendation these days -- their most recent products are just fantastic. . . . Jeff Fritz
To Jeff Fritz,
I have purchased Magico S5 speakers and am now going to audition a Devialet 200. My room is large, at 6500 cubic feet, so a question to be answered is whether it can pressurize the room. Cables: Will you give me a recommendation? I’m hoping to find a mid-tier speaker cable that will not insult my speakers.
Any discussion of amplifier power for a particular speaker should give some consideration to how loud the owner listens to his system and how large the room is. Given that your room is sizeable, and knowing that the Magico S5s at least have the ability to play quite loud without strain, having ample amplifier power is a must in your application. Fortunately, the Devialet 200 is quite the capable amplifier. One great thing about the Devialet amplifiers, which I found when auditioning the 120 earlier this year, is that they are as clean as a whistle right up until their maximum output. Most amps have a sweet spot, over which they start to sound brittle or hard. That's just not the case with Devialets. So the short answer is that, yes, the Devialet 200 should suit your needs well. That's not to say that the Devialet 400 -- a pair of 200s bridged to deliver double the power -- would not be an awesome partner when paired with the S5s. It would. But I suspect that the Devialet 400 would offer more of a peace-of-mind power-output cushion than any substantial audible improvement that you would notice daily. So I say go for it -- you'll have a wonderful, state-of-the-art setup. And you can always add a second Devialet 200 later -- to create a 400 (it's upgradeable that way) -- if you yearn for more power down the line.
As for cables: Since you are considering Devialet, I'd have to recommend that you give Crystal Cable a try. They seem to have a particular synergy with the Devialet products (Devialet ships a Crystal Cable digital interconnect with their 400). They should sound fast and open, which will complement your components quite nicely. . . . Jeff Fritz
To Jeff Fritz,
First of all, I would like to express my appreciation for your writing and insights into the audio world. I love reading your articles and find that I often learn something that helps me to more deeply enjoy my music. I would love to ask your advice about upgrading my Magico S1 speakers to either the Magico S3 or the Magico Q3. (I currently have a VTL S-200 amp, VTL TL5.5 preamp, a Luxman DA-06 DAC, Synergistic Research Tungsten interconnects and Organic speaker cables).
I want more bass in my system and have listened to both the Magico S3s and the Magico Q3s at my dealer. The limiting factor is that my room is 10’ x 12’ with a slightly vaulted ceiling. I absolutely loved, loved, loved the Magico Q3s playing with my same equipment at the dealer, but worry about the bass and size of the speaker overwhelming the room. I also loved the S3 -- simply amazing speakers, but they are not anywhere near the Q3 [in terms of performance]. If I had a larger room I would get the Q3, but I worry that even with acoustic treatments the Q3 will overwhelm the small space.
I trust your opinion and know that you are familiar with the S1, S3, and the Q3, and so thought my question worth asking. Which would you recommend?
Thank you so much for the kind words! They are very nice to hear.
In your case the easy answer is the Q3, and here's why: First, as you have heard, the Q3 is a superior loudspeaker in comparison to the S3. It has a better tweeter and full-on Magico Nano-Tec bass drivers; the S3 has a less-advanced tweeter and hybrid bass drivers that are not fully Magico creations. Of course, there is also the better cabinet, higher-grade crossover, and on and on . . . all in favor of the Q3. Bottom line: The Q3 is a clear step-up from the S3.
The other significant reason to go with the Q3 versus the S3 is the bass voicing of each model. The Q3 is actually more linear, whereas the S3 has a more pronounced bass signature. I believe this will actually benefit you in your room because the Q3 should load it more linearly. Ultimately the more linear bass and the more resolving loudspeaker should prove to yield longer-term satisfaction. So, short answer, get the Q3. . . . Jeff Fritz
To Jeff Fritz,
I have enjoyed your articles about speakers and I share your admiration for Magico speakers. I currently own the V3s and may be looking to upgrade. In a classic case of yesterday’s heroes being forgotten, prices on the “wood” Magicos have descended to downright affordable levels; particularly, the big M5s can be had for reasonable money in my opinion. Would you choose a new S3 or used Q3 over an M5, assuming I have the amplification to make each one work? I have to say that I have heard the Q3s and think they are great -- but I really like the treble balance of the V3s and I am a little skeptical of the beryllium tweeter in the Qs being unkind to LPs and surface noise. I definitely would like additional bass extension. Thanks in advance for your thoughts.
I would go with a new set of S3s, and here’s why: First, a new set of speakers ensures you do not inherit any prior issues. You’ll get a mint, quality-controlled product -- in short, what you pay for. That peace of mind is important when spending large sums of money, in my opinion. Second, a new set of S3s will get you the latest technology from Magico, which includes a tweeter and midrange several generations ahead of what the M5 has to offer. Magico has certainly improved their speakers over the past few years. And third, the bass voicing of the S3 sounds right up your alley. Remember, it’s not the beryllium tweeter that determines tonal balance -- that thing is clean and virtually distortionless -- it is the balance of bass to the rest of the spectrum. The S3 will give you a slightly warm tonal balance, because of its increased bass relative the mids and highs. The Q3 will be dead neutral by comparison, which may not be your cup of tea.
So, all signs point to a new set of S3s. I think they’ll be a huge upgrade over your V3s. . . . Jeff Fritz
To Jeff Fritz,
You've endorsed the Boulder products, specifically the 1060 and 2060 amplifiers, in the past. I've not seen you comment on any of the current products, but I'm wondering if you know if there is any specification improvement from the older amps to the newer ones. I am trying to discern why the 2100 series might, or might not, sound better than what the company produced in past years. Thank you for your insight.
I have no experience with the newer Boulder 2100 Series components, so I forwarded your question to Rich Maez, Boulder's director of sales and marketing for North America and South America. Below is his response:
First and foremost, the components in the 2000 Series were at least 17 years old -- if you think about it, that's five generations of some other companies' products. Many, many things changed over the years, including better parts, better understanding of what we were doing, plus the refinement and introduction of changes to our core design ideas. Everything is now implemented with surface-mount technology, meaning that we have much better control of the layout of each board, including our new 99H2 gain stages that also feature other technical improvements. New grounding and planing has been implemented to reduce noise. In the preamp, the volume control is now balanced instead of operating as a summing point. Input switching circuits are quieter. The amp gain stages run at a higher voltage for improved signal-to-noise ratio and have better bias injection. Plus, all protection circuitry has been improved.
From a sonic standpoint, the overall neutrality or transparency of our stuff is the same, though maybe it's a little more so -- listening to the 2000 vs. 2100, the 2000 sounds a little on the dark side. Resolution and transient/dynamic speed are vastly improved with the new stuff. It's just faster and clearer. Soundstaging has spread out and images are better separated. Low-frequency response is surprisingly different. There's just as much power and weight in the bass response, but it's much tighter and faster than it was in the previous gen. Tightening things up hasn't made it cold or sterile, but it's much better at resolving low-frequency melody or, for lack of a better way to put it, it delineates a bunch of different bass notes better. It's cleaner in the lows, much better damped, so it not only separates the notes, but provides texture rather than just tone.
Hope that helps. . . . Jeff Fritz
To Jeff Fritz,
In August, I corresponded with you regarding the Coda 15.5 class-A amplifier and the Devialet [products]. You asked me to stay in touch when I had made my decision. However, I have not yet made any decision since it has become a bit more difficult than I first thought.
I have now had time to listen more carefully to the Devialet 200 with the Magico S3 among other speakers. I agree with you in basically everything you wrote in your article about the Devialet. I have never heard a better amplifier, and if I purchased a Devialet I could live happily with it as my last amplifier. There is really no parameter of the Devialet that I can point to that could be improved. However, and here comes the part where your experience and input would be very interesting and of great value, after several long demos of the Devialet I also demoed another combination, just to compare with.
Firstly, we ran my Benchmark DAC2 HGC directly into the new Pass Labs X250.8 [amplifier] model. It sounded rather good, but it could not compare with the Devialet 200. But then something very interesting and a bit puzzling occurred. My dealer suggested that he should insert a Parasound Halo JC 2 preamplifier between my DAC and the Pass Labs X250.8. I had been very skeptical regarding what improvement a preamplifier could bring since the Benchmark DAC is extremely transparent, detailed, and well balanced, and also completely void of harsh treble (I do not use a preamplifier at home). However, after a few minutes when the JC 2 had been warmed up a little, something really special occurred. I heard exactly what you described in your review of the Coda 15.0: the golden magic of really good class-A amplification (the Pass Labs runs in class A up to about 16Wpc and the JC 2 is pure class A). The difference between this combination and running the Benchmark directly into the Pass Labs was, to say the least, huge. It was simply magic.
I have switched between this combination and the Devialet at two later demos and I have arrived at the same result both times. The Devialet is more transparent, detailed, and has better bass than the Benchmark/Parasound/Pass Labs combination, and it has a similar imaging ability. But, the Devialet does not produce (what I think is) the golden glow that you mention in your Coda 15.0 review to the same extent as the Pass Labs combination. This is especially apparent with female voices. There is also a fullness introduced with the Pass Labs combination that is very appealing. Hence, I am very torn in this decision, a traditional class-A/AB amplifier or the all-in-one solution of Devialet? In the end I think that my observations stem from the Pass Labs combination adding something to the output while the Devialet is absolutely transparent. I therefore would like to ask if you think that my conclusion about the Pass Labs combination adding something that is not there is valid? If so, I guess that I have to accept that maybe I have preferences for some types of "ear-pleasing" distortion.
Finally, I would like to say once again that your articles pointing to what is really important in the hi-fi industry are truly refreshing and thoroughly enlightening!
Welcome to being an audiophile in 2014. Your experiences are not at all surprising and, actually, refreshing for me to hear. Why? Because what you are hearing is so similar to what I have heard, that I could have just as easily been the author of your letter! In fact, in the end, there is very little that I can add to your conclusions. I believe that your assessment that the Devialet is dead neutral, while the separates combination you heard is pleasing in what it adds to the signal, is spot on. (I believe you prefer the Parasound's analog volume control to the digital volume control in the Benchmark.)
And your dilemma about which to choose and for what reasons is the same dilemma that I suspect many audiophiles will have all across the world, including me! But not only do you have to decide on the sound-quality issue -- what sound do you ultimately prefer? -- but the form-factor question: Do you want separates that you can play around with, or an all-in-one that is a set-it-and-forget-it solution that Devialet provides? That in and of itself could cause you lots of procrastination.
Which product(s) would I advise you to buy? I just can't say. I guess the best advice I can give to you is to go with your gut feeling on what will provide you the most long-term satisfaction. I'm certainly interested in your ultimate decision, mind you. It may help inform all of us when we face the same dilemma. . . . Jeff Fritz
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