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Gryphon Diablo 300

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To Jeff Fritz,

I just read your piece on integrated amps on Ultra Audio and wanted to get your thoughts on the Krell S300i. Also, they have a new model, the S550i, coming out as well. I was just curious on your thoughts and how Krells compare in the marketplace. Another one I’m looking at is the ModWright KWI 200. I look forward to hearing back from you. Thank you in advance.

Andrew

I have never heard a ModWright component in my system, nor have any SoundStage! Network writers reviewed one that I can remember. We’d love to, but the company has to send it to us.

I have a lot of experience with Krell. Back in the day, I had a Krell KSA-250, and I’ve heard most every generation of Krell after that in my system at one time or another. I’ve always loved the brand and have felt that they’ve challenged the state of the art, especially with amplifiers, for years. These days, however, I’m just not sure what the company is up to. They seem to keep a low profile overall and I’ve not had a recent Krell in my system. I’d like that to change, and will reach out to the company to see if we can rectify the situation. I’d really like to see where the current Krells stack up against the competition. I’d be hopeful but cautious.

On the other hand, the products I recommended in my article are, to my mind, surefire bets. I’d take an Ayre or Simaudio or any of the others and not look back. So as of right now, I would pick those brands over the Krells and ModWrights. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Jeff Fritz,

I have an Antelope Zodiac Gold [DAC] with Voltikus [power supply] into a pair of Genesis M60 monos driving Von Schweikert UniField 3s.

Do you think replacing the Gold and the Genesis monos with the Hegel H300 would make any improvements to my system?

Jeff

Hard to say. The Hegel Music Systems H300 is one heck of an amplifier and the built-in DAC section is really stellar from what I've been told by GoodSound! senior editor Hans Wetzel. The Hegel has the advantage of being designed as a DAC/preamp/amp "system" and there are definitely some advantages to that type of approach. On the other hand, the electronics that you currently have do indeed enjoy a fine reputation as well. If they had a lesser pedigree I would, no doubt, be fairly quick to tell you to go for the Hegel. But in this case what you have is really, really good. So, in my mind the proposition is a toss-up. I could see it being a very close comparison and the outcome going either way depending on the speakers and your personal tastes. Sorry I could not be more definitive for you. . . . Jeff Fritz

To S. Andrea Sundaram,

I enjoyed your well-written article about digital volume controls. I run a Wyred 4 Sound DAC-2 (a 32-bit DAC) directly into a pair of Wyred 4 Sound mAMPs. I cannot hear any loss of resolution over a large range of attenuation (0 to -40dB). And it sounds superior in every way compared to using a very high-quality analog preamp.

I would like to point out that 24-bit and 32-bit DACs are more marketing than reality. The intermediate processing may be done in 24 or 32 bits, but the final resolution of a DAC is only around 22 bits due to the S/N ratio of about 130dB (thermal noise issues). The best of the DACs today can achieve only 21 or maybe 22 bits of resolution. That still gives about 6 bits of attenuation before any theoretical resolution loss occurs with 16-bit material. That is quite a range: 36dB. In practice, I don't hear any resolution loss until I drop below -45dB.

I am thrilled by the advances in digital audio (DACs, class-D amps) during the 21st century. Digital is no longer a dirty word. Modern DACs and class-D amps are closing the gap with analog playback and class-A amps, respectively, and at a huge savings in cost and power consumption!

Cheers,
Gautam

Since most modern DACs perform some mathematical manipulations of the audio signal -- and must do so, if you are using digital volume control -- a 24- or 32-bit data path means that those calculations will be done to greater precision than if the DAC used fewer bits. Ultimately, the result is higher fidelity -- even though it doesn't show up in simple numbers like dynamic range or signal-to-noise ratio. The title of the article -- "What's Wrong with Digital Volume Controls?" -- was chosen to generate interest. The conclusion -- as you read, and as your experience suggests, is that there is nothing wrong with them -- provided they are properly implemented on a DAC with suitably high SNR. I still find that analog and class A have the edge, but I agree that digital technologies have made tremendous strides toward closing that gap. . . . S. Andrea Sundaram

To Garrett Hongo,

I hope that this finds you well. I am about to get a pair of deHavilland GM70 amplifiers, and I currently have a VAC Renaissance Mk.I preamp. I seem to remember reading in one of your articles that this is potentially going to be a mismatch.

On the subject of dH preamps, what is your sense of the difference between the Mercury and the UltraVerve? From what I read they both have different strengths. I'd appreciate your thoughts.

Thanks,
David

First of all, congratulations on your acquisition of the deHavilland GM70s, an outstanding pair of mono amps. Though I don't recall any specific warnings regarding the VAC Renaissance Mk.I being a mismatch for any dH amps, I do have some thoughts regarding the Renaissance Signature Mk.I and its high gain.

The Renaissance Signature Mk.I, as you probably know, is the first VAC pre in the Signature line. It is direct-coupled through three tube gain stages and has zero negative feedback, a 120-ohm output impedance, and about 35dB of gain. That last spec is the one that may cause you issues. Gain is very high and adjustments can be extremely touchy. This may have been what you remembered as a concerning thought from one of my reviews.

If that's the preamp you have (you can tell by the power supply -- a lacquered front is the Signature version, a plain matte-black front is the Ren Mk.I), here's my suggestion beyond switching to a deHavilland line stage (which may be optimum), as the VAC Ren Sig Mk.I is so valuable a piece. Why not send it to VAC and have Kevin Hayes and his techs upgrade the pre to a Sig IIa? Gain will be lowered to about 12dB and, among other improvements, finesse will increase to a spectacular level (I've reviewed the Sig IIa). I think the price of the upgrade is around $4000. It's in the ballpark of a new pre from some other companies, but I think you might just like it even better. The VAC Sig IIa is truly an exceptional pre.

If it's the Renaissance Mk.I that you have, its gain is a more normal 12dB and not at all difficult to use with various amplifiers. Nor is it upgradable to a Sig IIa, unfortunately.

You could certainly try the Ren Mk.I with the GM70s and listen for how you like the sound, but I'd not make any definitive judgments in reference to the deHavilland amps until you've heard them with a dH line stage. It's not only questions of relative gain and/or impedance matching, but synergy in general. The dH amps are definitely voiced with a dH pre in mind. As are the VAC amps with a VAC pre. I have found that dH amps perform best with dH preamps -- the Mercury 3 or UltraVerve.

Regarding the dH line stages, there are indeed different strengths.

The UltraVerve is the more popular pre for those who want a more "classic" SET sound. It's saturated, bold -- a tonemeister. Note it uses the 6SN7 tube. Kara Chaffee, chief engineer, really loves the NOS Tung-Sol roundplate 6SN7 for that dark, velvety texture. But you can change its tone with others -- Sylvania chrome top and Sylvania '56 "Bad Boy" have more sparkle, resolution, and extension.

The Mercury 3 has tremendous finesse and ease, especially with choral music. It's my reference and, to me, has a most sophisticated, resolving, and airy quality with voices, operatic and choral. It captures more of the microdynamics of vocal performance than any other line stage I've tried, especially in combination with my dH KE50A monoblocks. It's fine for orchestral as well, as it's tremendously resolving and dynamic with large-scale music. Quick, refined, light-footed.

Those who listen to combo jazz and rock might prefer the UltraVerve, if I can generalize a bit. Those who listen to classical, opera, and choral music might just love the Mercury 3 more.

I have both dH (KE50A monos) and VAC (Phi 200 and PA 100/100) amps, likewise VAC preamps (Ren Mk.III and Sig IIa) and a dH pre (Mercury 3). I tend to use a VAC with a VAC, a dH with a dH. I've tried mixing them, but the results are inevitably superior keeping the electronics consistently matched by brand with each other. . . . Garrett Hongo

To Jeff Fritz,

After many superb reviews and a few listening sessions I have decided to buy Magico Q7s.

I'm curious: What, in your opinion, is the best amp to match with the Q7s? In reviews there is no clear answer to this question. I'm thinking about D'Agostino's Momentum with the dCS Vivaldi as the source, but maybe there is something better. What do you think?

Regards,
Lucas

I don't think there actually is a clear answer to this question because there are many outstanding directions in which you could go. I've thought about how the D'Agostino amplifiers (Momentum Mono and Stereo) would mate with the Q7s myself, and my gut tells me it might be an excellent combination, though I have little to support that opinion. As for dCS, there is no question that the Vivaldi is a wonderful front-end setup and has a state-of-the-art pedigree. Do you need to spend that much money for a really killer digital rig? Not in my opinion, but I could hardly criticize the decision to purchase one if cost were truly no concern and you wanted to be assured of getting something at least close to the very best -- if not the outright best.

Other brands I'd seriously consider would be Gryphon, Boulder, Simaudio, and Ayre. These are brands I have a lot of experience with and I've found them to match quite well with most any neutral, well-designed loudspeaker you care to name. The Magico Q7, being perhaps the most revealing speaker extant, will lay bare the sonic characters of each of these brands' products. Ultimately that's what you want: the ability to choose exactly how your system will sound. The high sensitivity of the Q7 will also give you more options than you might have with some of the super speakers. Please do let me know what you end up buying. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Jeff Fritz,

I like to read your reviews about different brands of loudspeakers and hi-fi equipment. I'm a starter in hi-fi from The Netherlands. I wonder what your thought is about the brand Kharma? Hope to hear from you.

Greetings,
Derk Jan

I've never had the opportunity to review a Kharma speaker or electronic component, but I'd sure love to. Specifically, the new Elegance series from Kharma looks very promising. I know that they are using some of their very own drivers in these speakers and it appears that they've upped the technology quotient by quite a bit as compared to their older models. How would these speakers rate against my perennial favorites such as Magico and Rockport? I can’t say, but I'd really like to find out. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Peter Roth,

Based on your wording in reviews and the depth of them, I purchased the Ayre KX-R and the MX-Rs. Not totally on your review, but it helped.

Now I see that you use AudioQuest Wild Blue Yonder cables in your system and I would like to know if you have an opinion on AQ Wild Blue vs. WEL Signature. Your thoughts would be good.

Jeff Gossett

Since you're coming back for more advice, may I assume you are as happy as I am with your acquisition of the KX-R/MX-R combination? It is difficult not to be impressed by Ayre's R-class electronics. In fact, SoundStage! Network editor-in-chief Jeff Fritz loves this combination so much he also bought the pairing for his reference system.

With regard to your cable question, I find AudioQuest cables to be very well engineered and to offer high performance at all price points. They definitely offer incremental, yet substantive, gains as one climbs the rungs of AQ offerings. My positive experiences with AudioQuest cables has been true across various systems and equipment types, which I suspect is a result of the bypass-testing protocols that AudioQuest incorporates into the design process. As a result, I don't consider AudioQuest cables as "system tuning" devices the way many cables can be (and which is a legitimate, alternative perspective on cables), but more neutral in nature.

I especially like AQ's 100% Perfect Surface Silver cables, notwithstanding the associated cost. To maintain a pure AQ silver signal cable loom through my system, I chose to purchase Wild Blue Yonder interconnects (for all but the very last bit of performance WEL Signature offers at much less cost) to pair with WEL Signature speaker cables (Wild Wood speaker cables utilize a combination of PSS and PSC+ conductors). Obviously, one of the big benefits of monoblock amplifiers is the ability to run very short speaker cables, given the per-foot cost of state-of-the-art cables, which has made it possible for me to step up to WEL Sig on the speaker cable side. On the power cable side of the fence, I found that NRG-Wild power cords offer significant gains in clarity and neutrality over NRG-100 (so much so that I couldn't help but purchase a few for key components). Frankly, with the power cables, I determined that "ignorance is bliss" and declined to audition WEL Signature (I'd rather not feel the urge to aspire to even more expensive PCs).

At the end of the day, there are two sweet spots in AudioQuest's lineup. In the true price-vs.-performance curve, I find the high point to be the best, all-copper (PCS+) offerings in their various categories (e.g., Colorado ICs, Castle Rock and Oak speaker cables, etc.; NRG-100 PCs, etc.). However, with the performance on tap with Ayre R-class electronics, and the higher budget those components suggest, the pure performance sweet spots reside in the Wild Blue Yonder ICs and PCs, and when short runs will work, WEL Signature speaker cable. Please let us know what you ultimately choose. . . . Pete Roth

To Jeff Fritz,

Hope you're well. I really appreciate your advice on speakers. I'm auditioning the Rockport Technologies Altairs this summer in Boston, and hopefully the Q7s per your advice.

How much difference is there, in your opinion, between the Arrakis and Altair models you've heard? Is the Altair 95% of the Arrakis unless I live in an airport hangar . . . or more like 80%?

Your insights are appreciated!

Lloyd

You are going to Goodwin's High End, I presume, which is a great store. The room there that houses the large speakers is acoustically very good and I know they will have some of the finest electronics available to showcase the speakers at their best. And speaking of best, I assume you will hear both the Q7 and Altair (now in its second iteration) in the same room -- it will be an educational experience. A trip to the north just a few hours would land you at the Rockport factory, where you could also hear the Arrakis in what may be the best listening room of any manufacturer. I highly recommend the experience.

My take on your question is this: it is not a simple matter of percentages when discussing the differences between these two speakers. This isn’t a waffling reviewer answer, but simply a matter of the way the speakers are designed. The Arrakis is a D'Appolito-type configuration in terms of driver complement and positioning (excluding the side-firing woofers), and will therefore have a different dispersion pattern than the Altair, which is a quasi-point-source array. My sense is that the Arrakis will work in a room with higher ceilings and much greater overall volume, whereas the Altair will work in smaller rooms as well as larger ones. It is true that they both use very similar drivers and Rockport's composite-cabinet material -- so there are a number of similarities to be sure. However, in addition to the aforementioned driver-array differences, you also have the active crossover in the Arrakis, which will give you further room-tuning options. So ultimately, though I do believe there would be some definite qualitative differences between the Altair and Arrakis, I think perhaps the even greater difference is the way the two speaker models load the room in which they are housed. If you are auditioning the Altairs, you are certainly going to hear one of the finest speaker models on the planet, and one of my all-time favorites. They will most certainly trounce the speakers you own now, in every way. And they are surprisingly room friendly given their size.

The Magico Q7 is still the finest speaker I've heard to date. It is the most transparent, resolving transducer that I believe has yet been developed, though it is true that you must adjust your sense of what is "right" due to the extreme neutrality of the Magico design philosophy as applied to their statement speaker. You'll simply be shocked at the speaker's ability to articulate every sound. I suspect that the Goodwin's High End room and team will showcase the Q7 at its best -- they know the Magico brand very well.

Are these the top-two ultra-high-end loudspeaker brands? In my world, given my preferences for extreme neutrality and unrelenting attention to detail both in engineering and build quality, yes, they are. Ultimately, what you hear and experience will also determine your thoughts on these speakers. There's nothing I'd rather own. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Garrett Hongo,

I am wondering if you think the deHavilland KE50As would be a good match with the Quad ESL-63 speakers. The speaker's sensitivity is about 86dB. Would the VAC Phi 200 be a better choice for the Quads? Do you have any experience with the Quicksilver Silver 88 mono amps, which the manufacturer says work well with low-impedance speakers? Thanks for your time and insights.

Rick

Nice to hear from you. I've no direct experience with Quad ESL-63s myself, but I've heard from Kara Chaffee, chief engineer of deHavilland Electronics, that she has a client who drives Quad 988s, a 63-derived Quad, with deHavilland KE50As with very good results. The KE50As output 40W-45W and have a unique feature in an interstage transformer (in addition to the main power and output transformers) that maintains output at peak current levels. I just love their sound myself and am completely happy with them in my system with speakers different from yours.

You might write Chaffee directly and ask to get in touch with her client with the Quad ESL-988s, as well as refer to a prior correspondence of mine on this same issue.

Regarding the VAC Phi 200, I reviewed it too. The Phi 200 differs from the KE50A not only in output power (twice that of the KE50A), but also in character of sound. I'd say that, in my system, the Phi 200 is very resolving, sparkles, and is punchy in the bass, whereas the KE50A is very finely balanced through the frequency range. The Phi 200 is leaner sounding, whereas the KE50A is richer in the midrange. Not to say that one is "better" than the other, but that their spectral balances differ. The shorthand tekkie answer is that, though they both use the KT88 output tube, the Phi 200 is more toward the ultralinear style of sound, whereas the KE50A is with the triode sound. I use them both.

As for Quicksilver 88 mono amps, I do have some acquaintance with them, as I've a good friend in town who owns them and drives Cary Silver Oak speakers (88dB/6 ohms) with them. I do like their sound quite a bit and find them reliable with moderate-impedance speakers, but I can't say I'm confident how they'd work with speakers of low impedance. You'd have to take the manufacturer's word on that. I like Quicksilver a lot, but it's not in the same league as VAC or deHavilland. The sound is good but the build quality isn't the same, nor the reliability. That matters if you run equipment a lot, as I do. If you don't, then it's not as much a factor. I'd say Quicksilver is a value product and has a long-standing and solid reputation, whereas VAC and deHavilland are true high-end components. Let me know what happens! . . . Garrett Hongo

To Michael Wright,

I am looking for the perfect preamp to go with my monoblocks, the KR Audio DX models. With your good experience, could you tell me some reference preamps I should hear? I mostly listen to vinyl. Thank you in advance for your help

JPierre Aubert

The KR amplifiers are very nice. I spent some time listening to both the DX and VA910s at this year’s CES and came away very impressed with KR Audio and their products. I am currently reviewing the VA910s, which are 160W monoblocks using four KT120s per amp. I spent a limited amount of time listening to the DX at CES, so my experience with it is less than ideal. In terms of the VA910s, I have been using my Purity Audio Silver Statement preamp to good effect and friends who have stopped by to see and hear the amps came away impressed with that combination.

A couple of other preamps I feel may work well with the KR Audio DX would be one of the Convergent Audio or Wyetech Labs preamps. You can find CATs with built-in phonos and Wyetech’s Ruby phono preamp is quite nice. In terms of solid-state preamps, the Blue Circle BC109 and several offerings from Ayre Acoustics would do nicely as well, in my opinion. Be sure to check with manufacturers to make sure there aren’t any impedance mismatches. Let me know how it goes or if you have any other questions. Good luck and good hunting. . . . Michael Wright