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To Jeff Fritz,

You’ve commented several times in both articles and letters that the Ayre KX-R is the finest preamplifier you have ever heard. Now that the new model -- the KX-R Twenty -- has been released, I am wondering what your thoughts are on the upgrade. I’m sure there are quite a few Ayre owners and potential owners who would like to know. Thanks for any thoughts you might have.

Regards,
Rodney Lam
United States

Funny you should ask. I’ve just now begun formal listening to the new Ayre KX-R Twenty (it’s been sitting for a couple of weeks while I’ve been finishing some other reviews). What I can tell you so far is that the improvement is easy to hear even without much break-in. Just last night I noticed some very specific characteristics that I’ve not heard in my system in terms of tonal density and bloom. The changes were actually quite dramatic. I’ve still got a lot of listening to do to this new model but if my initial impressions hold, I think Ayre owners should seriously contemplate the upgrade. I’ll certainly have a lot more to say on this subject but you’ll have to wait until my formal review appears in June . . . . Jeff Fritz

To Jeff Fritz,

I very much appreciate your reviews, but I am in search of a dream speaker. I have listened to several models and I have chosen seven for [further] evaluation:

Marten Coltrane Tenor
Rockport Technologies Avior
TAD E-1 or Compact Reference
Magico Q3
Wilson Audio Alexia
YG Acoustics Hailey

Right now I have Infinity speakers with Karan Acoustics electronics in a room that is 40 square meters.

Best Regards,
J.C.
Portugal

The world of superspeakers is fraught with potential disaster for consumers, as there is simply so much variability between products at what are sometimes crazy price points. I therefore appreciate your letter and the fact that you are trying to narrow down your choices to a reasonable few. I'll start by saying that your list is pretty good, overall.

Those who have read this site for any period of time know full well that I am partial to Rockport and Magico. I won’t rehash all the reasons here, but suffice to say that I believe those brands offer a unique combination of super-high performance and outstanding build quality that combines in products that truly live up to their exalted prices. You can't go wrong with either.

I also think listening to the TADs and YGs would be a good idea. I think those brands have some good things to offer, though I would put them below the other two mentioned above by a couple of notches. I'm not partial to Wilson or Marten, so I would subtract them from the list.

I would also add Vivid Audio to your list. Their speakers, though they look quite different, are all about great sound quality. I also know the brand is very, very reputable. If you like the visual design of the speakers, they are worthy of an audition along with the others. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Jeff Fritz,

I continue to really enjoy your wonderful site with wonderful insights!

This is more of a general question with regards to what driver arrangement allows for an easier-to-share sweetspot for either multiple listeners or for just walking around the house while listening to music on your two-channel stereo.

Some dynamic speaker manufacturers go with a single tweeter (point source?), while others opt for an MTM (D'Appolito) arrangement. From what I've read so far, it appears that you've had experience with at least one brand that features both arrangements: Rockport -- the Avior and the Altair as point sources, and the Arrakis as a D'Appolito of sorts.

Perhaps you've experienced the Arrakis at Andy Payor's studio in Maine, but if I'm not mistaken, you had the Altairs as references for a while.

Do you have an impression of which approach gives a little less of a "head in a vice" type of room loading? While the Arrakis may give a huge sense of scale, does one have to be paying a little bit more attention to it and sitting in the sweet spot to "get it" or is it the opposite? Does more "air filling up the space" or a more realistic "live" feeling go to one arrangement over the other?

And finally, I've read rave reviews of the little Atria. Does the next step up, the Avior, also with its new Andy Payor-created drivers, come close to the Altair in overall feel, power, and music making?

With many thanks for an eminently enjoyable site (love the letters section!)!

David
Canada

Precise imaging -- regardless of where you sit -- is a function of many variables. One of the most important is the off-axis linearity of the loudspeaker. What you want is for the off-axis output to be a fairly close approximation of the on-axis output -- assuming, of course, that the on-axis output is fairly linear to begin with. When this happens, all of the reflected sound winds up arriving at the listening seat without huge response aberrations that can cause that dreaded diffuse imaging and soundstaging. Of course, other variables come into play as well, like pair matching between a set of stereo loudspeakers. Are both the right and the left speakers putting sound into the room identically, or are there acoustical differences in the audioband that could lead to a shift in the soundstage that should not be there? And of course room acoustics play a pivotal role in all of this.

So the short answer is that there are many variables involved. Speakers that are designed to have smooth on- and off-axis output, when put into a symmetrical room with good acoustical properties, will have the clear advantage when it comes to sounding good no matter where you are in the listening space. I have had point-source speakers and various forms of MTM designs in my room that have all imaged and soundstaged quite well. Still, I can say that in my particular room the most precise-sounding speakers have been from point-source-type designs. I believe this to be the case at least partially due to my room design, which has a sloped ceiling that interacts with really tall loudspeakers (as MTMs can be).

Regarding your specific Rockport question, I've experienced almost all of the Rockport line (though not all second-generation models) and I can tell you that they all image and soundstage with the best of them. As to how each would sound in your room, of course I have no clue. I'm sure Andy Payor can guide you on this better than I can. As to whether the Avior is close to the Altair II, that's hard for me to say as well, because I have not had either speaker in my room. I believe the Avior to be an extremely capable speaker at what I feel is a fair price given the build quality, engineering, and technology that have gone into it. (The same can be said of the Atria, which I did review.) The Altair, with its composite cabinet and larger woofer arrangement, would certainly have some advantages that would be quite important to some listeners in some rooms. Altair II vs. Avior: It's certainly a good question that I know many Rockport fans have pondered. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Jeff Fritz,

I thoroughly enjoy your writing and the way you keep it real and honest.

I am in search of my dream amplification to power my Vivid B1 speakers. I used to be a tube guy but have migrated to solid state. Currently I'm using a DarTZeel NHB-108 or Herron M1As, each of which has its own remarkable virtues despite the price-tag difference. I have read with interest your review of the Coda 15.0. Do you think it could straddle the difference and come out ahead? And have you heard Coda's matching 07x preamp?

Thanks,
S.P.
France

It appears that the Herrons now sell for $6850 per pair in the United States, while the current price of the DarTZeel NHB-108 seems to be approaching $30,000 from what I can see online (I'm not sure what they're priced at where you live). That is quite a discrepancy in price, though, and we should all know by now that price does not always equate with sound quality.

Still, from what I remember of the DarTZeel and with my limited experience with Herron, both of these brands have a lot to offer. I know audiophiles who have found homes in both brands' camps and are quite happy with the results. If you are still searching, though, then it means there is something that you still seek that you feel you are not getting with those aforementioned products.

The Coda 15.0 would, I believe, improve upon the DarTZeel and Herrons in terms of bass power and slam. Do you feel that is what you are missing? The Coda amplifiers have massive power supplies and can deliver tons of current -- speakers that have prodigious bass capabilities oftentimes require that. The Codas have a knack for grabbing hold of and controlling bass drivers, and that leads to a very visceral yet controlled sound in the low frequencies. The Vivid B1s are capable of physical bass pop and surprising depth (though the B1s cannot play as deep or loud as the larger Giyas, obviously); therefore, I believe they would benefit from Coda amplification in that regard. As for the rest of the sound spectrum, the 15.0 is certainly no slouch in any area. I've not heard the 07x preamp. So I say go for it, and see if you don’t think the Coda is a perfect match for your Vivid speakers. . . . Jeff Fritz

Most companies have a best value or "best bang for the buck" product in their lineup and I'm wondering if you feel that it might be the Avior in Rockport's case, assuming for a moment one's room has enough volume for any of them. Even though you have ranked the Magicos and Rockports in the very top tier of "speakerdom," when it comes to my eventual purchase, the Rockports are going to be an easy winner. That's mainly because Andy Payor has adhered to a basic tenet in engineering when it comes to his enclosures -- the KISS principle. As for the Q7s, I’m sorry, but I'm going to have to go on a rant here: Wasn't it Einstein who said "Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler"? Just one. Just one errant bolt among the literally hundreds of fasteners that go into assembling a Magico speaker is all it would take to make a perfectly great-sounding speaker like the Q7 into a veritable cabasa (a musical instrument that sounds like ball bearings rattling inside a tin can). Of course Magico surely must use Loctite or similar products to secure their fasteners but I feel that it’s just a matter of time before we hear about issues related to their overly complex structures and joining techniques, if there aren't some already. Given the Q7's evident success, it might give one pause to argue with Alon Wolf's approach -- the proof-is-in-the-pudding sort of thing. But how long will the pudding taste good is what I'm wondering about and not willing to take a chance on.

Returning to the Rockports: If I am not mistaken the Altair and Arrakis do not yet enjoy the use of the latest Andy Payor-designed drivers, do they? Do you think that Mr. Payor might eventually develop his new drivers for his two top-of-the-line speakers or do you think that they are just fine the way they are? I think that there is a second version of the Arrakis already. Finally, there seems to be no real consensus among audiophiles about the use of subwoofers. Would using two good ones like REL Gibraltars along with the Aviors be almost as good as having a pair of Altairs or Arrakis?

Many thanks,
David

You’ve asked a number of good questions and I’ll try to answer all of them. To address Rockport first: I certainly think the Avior is one of the highest-value loudspeakers Andy Payor has yet designed. The performance capabilities of that product are sky high, and compared with a lot of other speakers on the market that sell for the Avior’s price, or even considerably more, there is no question that the Avior represents a terrific buy that can be considered a “last purchase” for many audiophiles. I personally would not use a subwoofer with the Avior and would not suggest that you consider it either -- at least not at the start. The Avior is capable of very deep bass and I think it would be a mistake to assume that it needs help in the low frequencies. Integration issues with a sub could ruin the sound, in fact. If my experience with the smaller Atria is any indication, the Avior should be more than sufficient in the bass department for most any listener. Give it a shot. Would an Avior with subs equal an Arrakis? Most definitely not -- the Arrakis would be better across the board.

As to whether the Altair and Arrakis use Payor’s latest drivers, I know that the Avior and Atria use “ground-up” Rockport-designed drivers whereas the Altair and Arrakis use a hybrid design: Rockport cones coupled with Audiotechnology motor systems. I’m not aware that any changes are afoot in that regard.

As for Magico and the Q7 specifically, this answer will be longer because there are many implications not just for that brand but for the industry at large. The first thing that I will tell you is that you cannot look at the apparent complexity of a product and determine whether it will or will not have problems. Obviously, in terms of manufacturing, exceedingly complex products like automobiles and jumbo jets can be made to operate near flawlessly. By the same token, I’ve unboxed a kid’s bicycle -- certainly a simpler form of transportation than a plane or car -- and had issues with it right from the start that precluded its use. Why? It all comes down to the processes that are in place to ensure that when the product is manufactured there are consistent assembly and quality-control measures. The company must simply have a commitment to a very rigorous testing and QC protocol in order to ensure the consistently excellent results high-end buyers are paying for.

I’ve been a reviewer now for about 16 years and have experience with a huge cross section of products at virtually every price point. I can’t tell you how many times I have been excited to review a new product only to have my enthusiasm deflated once the item is actually in my room. Specs are great, photos and press releases can be instructive, but until you examine the actual thing in person you really don’t know what you’re getting. Many times I’ve been appalled by the lack of quality control in high-end audio, even from products that seem relatively simple to put together. From an expensive speaker with a dead driver right out of the box to cracked finishes and missing bolts, I’ve seen a ton of issues, even from some of the high-profile brands that many people know.

Back to Magico and the Q7: Do you realize that Magico has a Klippel system in their factory for the purposes of quality control? I can count on one hand the number of loudspeaker companies in the upper end of the market that go to that length to ensure that their speakers’ acoustic outputs are nigh-on perfect before they leave the factory. If Magico attends to even the smallest flaws that a system like the Klippel will expose, you can rest assured that they tighten all the bolts precisely and use methods to guarantee that the structural integrity of the product is sound. I can tell you that I’ve never heard of a bolt coming loose in a Magico speaker nor have I had any issues at all related to the quality of Magico’s products that have been through my room. Here’s a challenge: Call some of the luxury speaker brands and ask them all the same question: “Do you acoustically test every speaker that leaves your factory?” Prepare for gasps as they try to answer. You’ll suffer no issue like that with Magico. They do it the right way.

In summary, I do obviously hold Magico and Rockport at the top of my personal superspeaker hierarchy, and I could see listeners gravitating strongly toward one or the other brand depending on sonic preferences, aesthetic considerations, etc. But either way, what I can also tell you is that in terms of quality control, these two companies are as good as it gets in our industry. Let’s put that one to rest for once and for all. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Howard Kneller,

I must say your review of the Esoteric C-02 preamp really got me thinking. I am currently using the Esoteric C-03 preamp and the A-02 amplifier and I feel they are one formidable combination. On the other hand, about six months ago I upgraded my DAC from the Esoteric D-07X to the D-02. Nothing, and I mean nothing, could have prepared me for the difference this upgrade provided. It was undoubtedly the single most significant upgrade I have ever made. Along with the Aurender S10, the digital section of my system is remarkable. For speakers I have KEF Blades, and all cables, interconnects, and power cords are either Nordost Valhalla 2 or Odin. Based on these components, will an upgrade to the C-02 really be a transformational thing? I realize this is a very difficult question for you to answer but I’d appreciate any thoughts you might have.

Regards,
Paul

That is a nice system that you have put together. Yes, the jump from the D-07X to the D-02 is quite remarkable.

With your components, I would recommend the C-02. If the components were of a significantly lower level of performance, you likely would not get as large a benefit in trading up. I think that the C-02 would be particularly beneficial for you if you like symphonic music, as the C-02 is really a timbre-delineating machine.

I will note that I have not heard the C-03X. At substantially less cost than the C-02, that unit may be worth looking into. Whether the C-02 will give you that transformational performance increase that you are looking for is something that only you can determine. But the improvement in refinement, noise reduction, and presence will be very substantial and I would go for it if you have the means. There are, of course, many ways to spend your audio dollar in order to improve performance, but one of the maxims I have found true is to never underestimate the benefits of a great preamp.

By the way, I am not sure if you ever considered the A-03 class-A amplifier. I think you will find that, while the A-02 has rock-solid grip over the drivers and a microdynamic sparkle that benefits many speakers, the A-03 has a sweeter and more open sound than does the A-03. I can't say that one is better than the other, just that there are different strengths and compromises associated with each. Assuming you are comfortable with 50Wpc (a interesting question as the KEFs are benign on paper, but a bit less so in practice), you may want to look into the A-03, depending on what type of sound you prefer. I hope this helps. . . . Howard Kneller

To Jeff Fritz,

I have been keenly following your views on Rockport speakers in general and, specifically, the Avior. I am currently running a full Burmester system with the mid-range Burmester B50 speakers driven by Burmester 911 MK3 monos. I love a wide range of music and am particularly fond of rock music, especially cranked up to deafening levels -- I fear that I might overdrive the B50 given it has only one 8" woofer per side.

I have been, lately, doing a lot of reading on Rockport designs and am more than just intrigued and interested. In fact, I am quite keen to look at buying the Avior. My room is 22' long, 15' wide, and 11' high. The 911 monos are brilliant and can pump out over 700 clean watts per channel. I will be very interested to hear your views on two counts:

1) Have you had any experience with the Rockports being driven by the 911s and how do they match up?
2) Will the Aviors overpower my room? Also, if I move back to Asia into a smaller apartment, will the Aviors be unsuitable in a smaller room?

I know you must be a busy man but I will be grateful for your advice. Many thanks in advance.

Best regards,
Sujay

I think the Burmester amplifiers will be just peachy with the Rockport speakers. Andy Payor uses a number of high-current, solid-state amplifiers when designing the Rockport loudspeakers, so they do quite well when fed that type of muscular signal. I have zero reservations about that pairing.

As for your current room, I also think that it would work quite well with the Aviors. Due to your high ceiling, your room has quite a bit of volume and that will allow it to support full, deep bass reproduction. When you take all that power you have on tap into consideration as well, I think rock music will be served quite faithfully in your proposed system. As to your future room, which you say will be smaller, I really have no idea there. There is always the possibility that a large, full-range speaker will simply overwhelm a smaller-sized space. You'll simply have to decide if that is a risk you are willing to take in order to get the type of sound you want in your current room. So all in all, I think you'll have a top-flight system with the Aviors and the Burmester monos. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Jason Thorpe,

I enjoyed your review of the Verity Audio Amadis and am contemplating selling my Dynaudio Confidence C1 Mk. II speakers in order to buy a demo pair. Understanding that my minimonitors are only $8k/pr. versus a $32k/pr. speaker, will the Amadis blow away the Dyns in their operating range from 45Hz-20kHz? The C1s have been called world class within their realm of operation. I would be running the Veritys with the Conrad-Johnson GAT preamp and LP140 monoblock amps, along with a McCormack transport and SMc Audio Ultra DAC. All cabling is Magnan Signature. My Dyn dealer is trying to talk me into Wilson Sashas instead, but my C-J amps only put out 140W, which may not quite drive the Sashas. They would certainly drive the 93dB, 8-ohm Veritys nicely. Hoping the pairing will be spectacular!

Regards,
John

First off, I have no experience with the Dynaudios, so I can't address that area of your query.

However, Your C-J amps would most likely be an incredible match for the Amadis speakers. The Veritys just love tube power, and I think that the C-J amps' character would match in the best possible way with these speakers.

With regard to the Sashas as a possible competitor, you couldn't be looking at two more diametrically opposed sounds and camps. If you like the Amadis sound, you'd hate the Wilsons, and vice versa. Personally, I've never really heard a pair of Wilsons that I've liked. They seem to me to be very bright and spitty, and in all of my shows and auditions it seems like people are very busily talking themselves into liking the sound because they're Wilsons. But maybe that's just me.

At any rate, if I could afford my own pair of Amadis speakers, let me assure you that they would be in the top three of my retirement choices. They're speakers you won't get tired of. . . . Jason Thorpe

To Jeff Fritz, 

I read with much interest your excellent article on the Rockport Atria. I have a dedicated and well-treated listening room that measures 17.7' deep by 14.4' wide by 7.9' high, in which I listen to Focus Audio Master  2.5 (sporting an 11” woofer, but the bass is not very fast) speakers that have given me years of joy. However, they don’t go far enough in refinement and seem to limit the improvements I get in the rest of the system (Totaldac server and DAC directly connected to Lamm M1.2 Reference amplifiers, with everything cabled with Analysis Plus Golden Oval XLRs).

I listen to 95-percent classical music, from Mahler symphonies to Buxtehude cantatas to Bach violin solos or his organ trios.

I had a chance to listen to the Avior and found that speaker would be a considerable upgrade from my current one. But, given my taste and the treated room, I wonder if I should go for the Atria instead (I haven’t had the opportunity to audition them). 

I love the sound of the Avior, but to what degree am I going to miss out with the Atria, given my taste and treated room?

Michel

I've wondered the very same thing, especially since my review of the Atria. I spoke to Andy Payor about this subject and what he says may or may not surprise you. On the surface, the Atria seems simply like a smaller Avior in just about every respect. The Atria is a three-way design with a 1" beryllium tweeter and a 6" Rockport-designed midrange. The Avior has the same basic driver arrangement. The difference is that the Avior has a pair of 9" woofers and the Atria has a single 9" woofer. It stands to reason that the Avior would have deeper, more powerful bass than the Atria. Payor confirms this.

But I'm also told that the Avior is superior in other areas as well, and is just an overall better speaker from top to bottom. This is surprising given just a cursory look at the driver configuration. But the Avior has a much more substantial cabinet too, and I'm sure this plays a part in its claimed sonic superiority. So what does this mean for you? Given your mid-size room dimensions and the fact that your room is treated, I think the Atria would be more than enough to suit your needs. It is certainly high on refinement and will likely be a great upgrade in transparency for you. Would the Avior go even further in this regard? Perhaps. I think it would be a tight fit for your room, but if you are able to get reasonably smooth bass response, it would certainly be all the speaker I think you'd ever want or need. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Jeff Fritz,

I read your “What I’d Buy: Loudspeakers Over $15,000” with pleasure. As we are looking for a new set of speakers we would like to know where you would put the Magico Q5 on this list. Thanks in advance.

With kind regards,
Paul

The Magico Q5 ($65,000 USD/pr. in M-Cast finish) is currently the oldest loudspeaker design that the company makes, as it was introduced in 2010. I was super impressed by it when it was launched and it is still a formidable loudspeaker capable of very transparent sound even when compared with today's best designs. The main caveat with the Q5 is that you need a very powerful partnering power amplifier. I would want at least 500W into its 4-ohm load along with excellent drive capability in terms of minimum impedance. Given that prerequisite, I think the Q5 could easily be the heart of a state-of-the-art system.

The counter to that advice is that the newer Magico designs are less expensive and more approachable. The Q3, for example, is $38,950/pr. and is quite a bit more efficient, meaning it will require less amplifier power. I think that model would provide most of the refinement of the Q5 and bass that's almost as deep. The Q3, being a more recent design, also has a greater helping of Magico's current driver technology -- in this case, newer is better. Obviously, it is much less expensive too. Would that model satisfy you? I'm not sure. Only you can answer that question. I feel that if you are hooked on the sound of a Q-series speaker, one of the S-series speakers like the S5 will just not do it for you. If you want a Q, get a Q.

So, to sum up, the Q5 is still a great choice if your wallet and amplification are up to the challenge. But if you want to save some money and open up your amplification possibilities, then the Q3 would certainly make a fine choice. Either way you go, you really can't lose. . . . Jeff Fritz