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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,
Lee
UK

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.

Regards,
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
Finland

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.

Best,
Ken Golden
United States

To Jeff Fritz,

Unfortunately, I'm not sure I'll be able to adequately answer your question about how Devialet might compare to the likes of Gryphon or Soulution. However, your question about whether it was better than the best prompted me to head over to our local retailer and listen to the D-Premier that they still have in stock. While I know that it is an older design and (from what I've heard) not on the same level as the newest models, I wanted to give my impressions of the unit.

First, a disclaimer: I am not a particularly critical audiophile. I am not someone who is likely to ever purchase any of the units you review. I'm 27 and quite happy with my modest system (Magnepan 1.7s, Peachtree novaPre/220, Marantz SA8005 and TT-15S1 with a Vincent PHO-8 phono stage). Do I think a $10,000 set of speaker cables sounds better than a $100 set of speaker cables? Yes. Do I think they sound 100 times better? Nope, but I also don't think that should stop anyone from buying what they want. I prefer to listen and look; if I like it and can afford it I'll buy it. However, I digress . . .

I was able to listen to the D-Premier with B&W 802 Diamond and 805 Diamond, Sonus Faber Olympica III and Stradivari, and Magnepan 3.7i speakers. Across the board, I found it interesting how each of these speakers simply sounded more like themselves. It was as if an amplifier simply wasn't present.

Sources varied from LPs on a Pro-ject Xtension 10 to 24/192 PCM recordings of artists such as Ilya and Jesca Hoop played via USB through my Ubuntu-based laptop. We also listened to some Beethoven sonatas on SACD through Oppo BDP-105 and Marantz SA8005 players. Again, I could tell the difference between, for example, the Oppo and the Marantz, but it was almost like they were plugged directly into the speakers. I was able to hear exactly what the Xtension sounded like, if that makes sense.

This was my first experience with that kind of neutrality (the closest I've gotten to it was a set of Magico S5s on Constellation monoblocks, but it was at an audio show and, while still the best system I've ever heard, I doubt it was showcased as well as it could have been). It was highly revealing.

A note about form factor: As much as I love the idea of having a set of Gryphon Colosseum Solos standing proudly next to some Q7s -- so heavy that once they're in place that is their permanent resting spot -- it's quite nice to be able to pick up an amplifier and take it with you from speaker to speaker, hook it up, and audition a variety of equipment without the use of a forklift.

Anyway, there's my two cents.

Thanks,
Brett
United States

To Jeff Fritz,

I thought I would take you up on your question challenge:

FM Acoustics: I haven’t heard anything from them for 20 years. The phono stage I heard was pretty good, if I remember correctly. They are perceived as a “luxury” company. I would answer that companies like FM Acoustics are exempt from the cost/value relationship because that’s what their customers expect. This isn’t confined to audio, as you may know. We have all heard the stories of "good" being priced at, say, $10k and not selling much, then when the same product is priced at $50k it sells better. Reminds me of the joke about the Russian oligarchs: One says to the other, "I bought this watch for $100k." The other answers, "That’s too bad, I know where you could have bought it for a million!”

Krell/Levinson: While they made good products in their day, this to me involves the “cult of personality.” Both lines were founded by driven, passionate men who, while making good products, sold themselves as well. Now that each is not involved, the brands are dying as they don’t have a promoter and may not have as good an innovator at the helm. Also, how much can you really do with the house sounds of each? Both are now selling to a market instead of driving that market. I can speak about Levinson directly as my dad purchased one of their CD players. It was one of the more troublesome pieces of audio equipment.

Devialet: Again, limited exposure to this but what I heard intrigued me. Definitely a product for the lifestyle-conscious audiophile. Could be a feeder product to those able to afford high end but not wanting to tweak around with the setup just yet. Devialet could bring them into high-quality reproduction from their Bose and Sonos systems.

Beau
United States

To Jeff Fritz,

Those are four really good questions ["Can Someone Please Answer These Questions?!"] and, unfortunately, not being privy to any inside information, I can only speculate and then only as regards the first and last ones. It seems rather apparent that both Krell and Mark Levinson are producing significantly gutted designs as regards parts quality and casework, etc., and hoping to continue to trade on the names alone and what those used to imply. As the saying goes, they are simply “shells” of their former selves. I’m sure the audio savant will run from them in the opposite direction in droves, leaving just a few high-end newbs who have only heard the names but not followed the descent of these brands in the last several years.

Your comments on the FM Acoustics brand took me by surprise. Is there any marque in the high end more shrouded in mystery and reverence? I know no one who’s ever owned, seen, or heard any of their gear. The casework seems to be crammed full of all manner of parts like Vitus, Soulution, Boulder, and the like, but as far as I know it’s just another another solid-state class-AB design with maybe one rather unique implementation they refer to as Feed Forward (I guess in contrast to negative feedback). However, none of these things would, ipso facto, prevent their gear from delivering the Holy Grail of musical messages. At least you’ve been able to dip your toes in the water of that which is FM Acoustics. Which brings us to Devialet.

Another brand that begs the question “What is it that’s so special about its design/build as to place it in the firmament of the best out there?”. Again, no exposure to these ears but I’m willing to allow that all that’s been said isn’t just smoke. Based on your audio references, I’ll be very interested to hear your take once they’ve graced your audio portal.

Good listening,
Alan Trahern
United States

To Jeff Fritz,

I enjoy all your thoughtful reviews and would appreciate some insight/suggestions.

My system is somewhat similar to the one in your Aurender X100L review: currently Ayre KX-R preamp (which has just been sent to Ayre for the Twenty upgrade), Classé CA-M600 monoblocks, Nordost Odin speaker cables, Berkeley Alpha DAC Series 2 (already purchased the new Berkeley Alpha DAC Reference and awaiting its delivery), Magico Q3 speakers, Harmonic Technology cables in most other places, Ayre CX-7e MP CD player used as a transport, and Shunyata Research power cables.

Music server: I love my Sonos-system connectivity so much I embarrassingly find myself streaming music frequently, having it generate fun, random playlists, and listening to music I don't even own. But I need a better music server for critical listening. It seems really expensive to me to buy the top Aurender W20 player, which doesn't even have a CD drawer to rip CDs. If the Aurender X100L compromises sound quality in comparison then I wouldn't buy the X100L. Have you tested other music servers? It has been suggested to me to try the Aria music server. Any experience with Aria or other music servers? What's your "buy this music server" suggestion?

Interconnects: I'm thinking of upgrading to Nordost Odin all around, and I'm willing to but that will be a really expensive upgrade. Thoughts?

Speakers: As nice as the Q3s are, their bass just doesn't "punch" and lets me down when I listen to more outgoing bands like Muse, etc. My last speakers were the current B&W 800 Diamonds, which have marvelous bass, which I miss. Their highs were just a bit too etchy (wow that violin almost sounded like a piece of paper tearing) and I found them tedious to listen to for some types of music or for extended sessions. My system is in a custom-designed move theater so there are two adjacent JL Audio Fathom f112 subwoofers that I could use to augment the Q3. But my experience has been that sonic matching with subs is difficult. I'm toying with moving up to the Magico Q7s, but, again, it's a very expensive step. I'm concerned that while the room was designed and built by an audio engineer, the speakers really cannot be moved more than a few inches either way so I might be making a really pricey step without being able to idealize the sound. Even though it would still likely be great. Help!

Amplifiers: I like the Classé amps, but think upgrading to the new Ayre MX-R Twenty monoblocks would be a potentially harmonious step. Thoughts?

I appreciate your input. As you can tell I like to make changes! I have always found audio to be fun and wonder what to do next. I would appreciate your help!

Gregory D. Searcy
United States

Greg, thanks so much for the kind comments. Your system sounds phenomenal and I'm sure it brings you great enjoyment. You've asked a number of questions and I'll be glad to tackle them one at a time. You are considering some significant upgrades and they are not to be taken lightly!

First, the music server. I did really like the Aurender X100L. Really liked it. So if I were buying a music server today, I would probably go for the X100L, because I believe it to offer outstanding performance while the cost is still somewhat reasonable. In short, I think it would be a nice addition to your system.

As for the cables, Nordost's Odins are, I'm sure, quite something. As to how much difference it would make in your system, I can't really say. In this instance, I would see if your dealer has some cables he will loan you so that you can decide for yourself. This is the most prudent step, I think. It won’t surprise me if you end up liking what you hear.

There is absolutely no question that the Magico Q7 loudspeakers are vastly more capable in the bass than the Q3. If you like the Magico sound -- and your room can handle the size -- then I can hardly imagine that you would not find tremendous satisfaction with the Q7s. Bass will definitely not be an issue if the room placement works and you have the power to drive them satisfactorily.

As for your last question about the amplifiers: I have not heard the new Ayre MX-R Twentys in my system. I can tell you that the original Ayre MX-Rs have been a wonderful match for numerous speakers I've had in for review -- everything from Rockport, Sonus Faber, Kaiser, and on and on. The one speaker they don’t match well with in my experience is the Magico Q7. The sound is thin and light. Might that change with the introduction of the Twenty upgrade? Time will tell. Big congrats on the KX-R Twenty -- you'll be thrilled with that one, I'm sure. It's a real gem.

Do keep me informed as your auditioning process continues and you zero-in on your upgrade strategy. I think you're in for one heck of a ride. . . . Jeff Fritz