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To Garrett Hongo,

My name is Dave and I am down in Louisiana. I always enjoy your reviews. They are the most useful reviews I run across because you always tie it back to the music. After reading your review of the deHavilland KE Model 50As, I contacted Kara Chaffee [of deHavilland] and spent some time discussing the 50As vs. other amps I was familiar with and got comfortable that the deHavilland amps are very special. I've had my pair for almost a year and have enjoyed them immensely.

The reason I am contacting you is that I am considering adding a preamp to my system, which currently is set up with my MSB DAC handling preamp-switching and volume-control duties directly into my pair of deHavilland KE Model 50A amps. While the MSB DAC is specifically designed to be used in this direct setup, several knowledgeable audio experts have suggested that a preamp could improve the overall sound of the system. So I am investigating that and have an Aesthetix Calypso Signature line stage coming to me as a loaner to see what it does for the system's overall sound.

My purpose in writing to you relates to the other three preamps I am considering: Kara Chaffee's Mercury III, the VAC Renaissance Mk.3, and the Herron VTSP-3A. I know from your reviews that you have used the Mercury 3 for a good while and that you have used a number of pieces of Herron equipment in your system. In the 2010/11 time frame you also were very positive on your experiences with various VAC preamps and power amps. In fact, for a bit I thought the deHavilland equipment would be replaced with VAC equipment as your reference. But when I started looking at preamps, I went back [to 2013] to see what you listed as your reference system and the deHavilland Mercury 3 and KE Model 50As were listed, but no mention of the VAC amps. So I'm curious:

Are you still as positive on the VAC Renaissance preamp as when you reviewed it? Have you concluded that the deHavilland is simply overall more musical than the VAC? Do you have any thoughts on the Herron VTSP-3A?

Thanks for your time reading through this.

Best Wishes,
Dave
United States

First of all, thank you for getting in touch and for the kind words about my reviews. I'm glad to hear that they speak to you, especially regarding my descriptions of the music as played back by the various equipment I've had in my system. It's the pleasure of the hobby for me and the real fun in getting to use different gear is to bring out different aspects of the music I love.

I don't know the Aesthetix Calypso line stage very well except for having heard it at the shows, where it's sounded fine with Aesthetix amps and Vandersteen, Nola, and other speakers I can't offhand recall.

I'm still a big fan of VAC preamps, however, and especially of the VAC Signature IIa, with or without phono. The same goes for Herron Audio gear. The Herron M1 monoblocks have been my solid-state reference amps and VTPH-2 phono my analog reference for years.

That said, I most prefer the deHavilland Mercury 3 with the dH KE Model 50A tubed monoblocks, as I believe in system synergy. The dH electronics are my main reference equipment.

I adore the VAC preamps with the VAC Phi 200 stereo amp and I'm very intrigued by the new VAC Master preamp. And, though this was before I had the Herron M1 monos, I've had the Herron VTSP-3A preamp in my system, where it performed admirably with the KE 50As. Again, I most preferred the dH Mercury 3 with the dH KE Model 50As, however. Had I owned the Herron M1s then, I might now also own the Herron VTSP-3A right now.

The dH Mercury 3 is a very special line stage to my ears. It handles high frequencies in a supremely refined and nuanced manner, registering the sound of violins and choral and operatic singers with a special touch that I have not found bettered. The midrange is also good, and the bass definition and punch are terrific, particularly with orchestral music. It does dynamic scaling very well.

I think there are line stages with more richness in the midrange -- the Lamm LL2.1 comes to mind (which I also own) -- and likely many, many others quicker on the uptake, especially with rock bass and drumming (perhaps the Herron VTSP-3A?), but I love the synergy, slam, and sophistication of the deHavilland Mercury 3 in combination with the deHavilland KE Model 50A monoblocks. Again, these are my reference electronics. Good luck in your decision! . . . Garrett Hongo

To Jeff Fritz,

Some time ago you were kind enough to respond to a letter that I wrote regarding my experience with the Devialet D-Premier, and I was wondering if you could provide your input on another experience that I had last week. I live in Colorado and decided to attend the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest this past weekend. It was such an exciting opportunity to get to hear and see products from companies like Lansche, Wilson Audio, Soulution, YG Acoustics, Ypsilon, Transrotor, Constellation Audio, and Raidho (among the many others)!

As a relative newcomer to the audio community, I've enjoyed how accessible information about these beautiful products is and have truly appreciated the services that are springing up as offshoots of the industry; the high-resolution download sites such as Society of Sound are some of my favorite ways to discover new music now. Unfortunately, as with any online community, the audio community has its fair share of trolls. Scrolling through the comments sections on The Absolute Sound's or Stereophile's websites is always a depressing experience and one of the reasons I like the SoundStage! websites is that there aren't comment threads attached to the articles. Whether it's the question of manufacturers "ripping off" the consumers, whether cables do or don't make a difference, whether analog is inherently better than digital, whether people can hear the difference between amplifiers or whether they're just rubes being sold an expensive placebo, we have to sift through the obnoxious opinions of people far too invested in indulging their own intellectual vanity to enjoy their stated hobby on any level in order to discuss products designed to enhance our lives!

It was my assumption that this attitude was largely confined to a vocal minority that hangs out online, and that it was not representative of the industry as a whole -- call me naive, I guess. Unfortunately I did not find that to be the case while walking around RMAF. Speaking with dealers, it seems like they all hate their customers. Speaking with reviewers, it seems like they all hate the reps. Speaking with consumers, it seems like they all have their list of manufacturers that are overpriced or overhyped, and these manufacturers are apparently conspiring to rob them blind. I understand that people become jaded with experience, but this is simply going too far.

So, recognizing that there is a problem within the industry, what steps can we take to reverse it? I like that you decided to put an end to TWBAS. I think that removing some of the elitism from the discussion of these products is an excellent way to start and that promoting a willingness to compare products across a variety of price points in order to establish value is a reasonable step as well.

One thing that I believe would be beneficial, and that you may be in a position to facilitate, would be a broader dialog with the manufacturers themselves. Let's get rid of this "good ol' boys" mentality and start talking a little more about what goes into manufacturing these products, the philosophy behind their design, and their ultimate purpose: the reproduction of beautiful music. A prime example would be the head of R&D for the SAM project at Devialet: his enthusiasm for his own product is infectious and speaking with him was the most enjoyable experience I had all day yesterday. I believe that a series of well-publicized and open conversations with individuals like him would really help to re-focus people on why we love these products.

Perhaps I'm off target, but I would appreciate your opinion on these sentiments.

Thanks,
Brett
United States

Man, you're on point. And you've made some excellent points that I can add little to. I do think that in any hobby there will always be some banter, even bickering, regarding this brand versus that brand and so on. It is human nature. What we have to do as press is shed light on issues such as value and absolute performance. That has the potential to cut through the noise, and is my focus in my own writing.

Ultimately what will help this industry survive are guys like you who are thoughtful in their approach to the hobby and ultimately willing to expend considerable resources to have great music reproduction in the home. From the sound of your letter, you're not likely to simply follow along with the fads of the day, which would make you eventually burn out on the high end. My advice is to keep listening, keep learning, and keep talking to folks. I certainly invite you to keep in touch with me. I look forward to hearing your ruminations as your audio journey continues. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Jeff Fritz,

I trust you are doing well.

I must confess that I never run out of steam extolling the virtues of the Rockport Technologies Aviors. They are absolutely unflappable. In fact, some of my friends remarked that they had heard the best-ever rendition of "YYZ" from Rush recreated through my system at near-concert-level volume -- the stability of the soundstage and the integrity of the system at deafening levels is astounding and moving!

This is clearly one of my finest and wisest equipment purchases to date. By the way, I continue to closely follow your articles and I have the utmost respect for your opinion.

Best regards,
Sujay
South Africa

To Jeff Fritz,

I have settled on buying Magico speakers to replace my aging Wilson Audio Specialties Sophias, but I am torn as to which model. My room is small-to-mid-sized at 14' x 17', so I know I don’t want a speaker that overwhelms it. The issue is that I still want good bass extension, so a stand-mount model is out (so no Q1). I have heard that the Q3 is superior to the S3 in terms of resolution, but what about bass extension? Both speakers are rated down to 26Hz so I don’t know what to think. Since you seem to know a lot about the Magico products, your help would be much appreciated.

Donald M.
United States

The Magico Q3 ($38,950/pr.) is almost double the price of the S3 ($22,600/pr.), so in that respect these products are not direct competitors. But in terms of size, driver complement, and bass extension, they are somewhat similar. As you have pointed out, the Q3 is the more resolving speaker not only due to its cabinet construction, but also its drivers -- the Q3 has all Nano-Tec drivers, whereas the S3 has Scan-Speak-derived hybrid bass drivers. The Q3 also has a better tweeter.

In terms of bass extension, if we take Magico's specifications at their word, then both speakers will have strong bass response to below 30Hz in-room. I suspect you will get very similar results in terms of bass depth and slam with either speaker. However, I think the bass-quality advantage would be firmly in the Q3's favor -- the better drivers and cabinet are just too much for the S3 to overcome in that regard. Ultimately, I believe either speaker -- the S3 or the Q3 -- will be a significant upgrade over what you currently have. The issue is really how far you want to go. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Jeff Fritz,

I read your comments in "What I'd Buy: Loudspeakers Over $15,000" with great interest. In the more-or-less $30k/pair point there seem to be some great options. Unfortunately, my hometown of Houston, Texas, has become something of a hi-fi desert, so auditioning is hard.

My room is 23' by 30' with a ceiling that starts at 9' and slopes up. It is my living room, and except for rugs/furniture, it won't have any sound deadening. I plan to use a Trinnov for a preamp/room-correction device.

What I am really trying to ask is do you have any suggestions on how to sort through the options remotely? I am specifically asking about the TAD Evolution One, KEF Blade, Magico S5, and Rockport Avior.

Thanks,
David

This is clearly one of those can't-lose propositions. In fact, from my perspective, you've made exactly the shortlist I would have made if shopping at that price point. You're right that the $30k/pr. mark is stacked with great loudspeakers. I would go as far as to say that it is one of the most competitive price points in all of high end. The companies you've mentioned have all found ways to instil a good portion of their more expensive offerings into their $30k/pr. products, creating speakers that not only compete fiercely against one another, but, surprisingly, with more expensive models within the same companies' lines.

Unfortunately, there is no way for me to know which speaker -- out of the models you've chosen -- that you might like best. If you won’t have the ability to travel and hear them, you'll have to rely on reviews and advice from friends and perhaps a good dealer. One thing you could do is call a dealer(s) that carries two or more of the brands and ask them for their opinion. You might get some insight that way. Otherwise, just read all you can and try to ascertain which brand your sonic priorities most align with. It would be hard for me to imagine that you would be unhappy with any of the models you've chosen. The four speakers you've written me about are all winners and each would be a fine centerpiece for a very ambitious audio system. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Hans Wetzel,

I enjoyed reading your glowing review of the Sonus Faber Olympica I speakers. I own the Olympica III model and use the Hegel Music Systems H300 integrated amplifier-DAC, which is a very good match since the Hegel puts out 430Wpc into 4 ohms. Although I’m enjoying my speakers, I find on occasion they become somewhat bright at the top. I read somewhere that the speaker hook-up is important and that if one is using a standard cable setup, connecting to the top two terminals is recommended by Sonus Faber. I can’t seem to verify this but wonder if you know the preferred method: either bottom terminals with jumpers to the top, or top terminals with jumpers running to the bottom? These are excellent speakers, but do require lots of current to get the best from them.

Chris Chamberlin
Canada

That's a terrific system, Chris. As a fellow owner of Hegel's H300, I know that the Norwegian amp is not only very accomplished, but also powerful enough to keep up with the great majority of speakers out there. I have to say that I did not experience any brightness in the treble when I paired the Hegel with the Sonus Faber Olympica Is. I did not find the soft-dome SF tweeter to exhibit much of the sparkle or crystalline quality that one would expect to find with a metal-based tweeter. What I can say, however, is that the Hegel is, in my experience, a pretty forward-sounding amplifier. It has this quite visceral and überclean sound that distinguishes it from most other amps that I have heard. I can definitely see how this could be interpreted as bright on occasion.

As for the wiring methods you mention, SF's manual for the Olympica III seems to suggest, via illustration, that a single run of cables should be attached to the bottom pair of binding posts, not the top, as you suggest. In either event, I can't see what difference it would make so long as the included "bridges" are in place connecting the two pairs of posts -- the signal will still ultimately be routed through both sets. The only other thing I can think of is that you might be using cables that do not have a neutral disposition. The Hegel, I suspect, is the cause for the perceived occasional brightness.

Regardless, enjoy the Olympica IIIs. They are seriously some of the most beautiful speakers I've ever seen in terms of their craftsmanship and design. Combined with their resolving but easygoing sound, and generous bass output, I imagine that you derive some serious enjoyment from your system! You can expect Doug Schneider's review of the Olympica III to be posted in the coming months on SoundStage! Hi-Fi. . . . Hans Wetzel

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!

Regards,
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.

Steve
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.

Cheers,
Alex
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