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To Jeff Fritz,

I greatly enjoy reading your writing on Ultra Audio. It has informed several of my purchase decisions for my own system. I am now going to look into auditioning the Ayre KX-R preamplifier due to your glowing recommendation. In your most recent article, "The Super Products I'd Buy Today," there was one line that I need to ask you about. It's about the Magico Q7, when you wrote, "I think the Q7 is the first unlimited-performance loudspeaker ever made because, for the first time ever in 15 years of evaluating speakers, I was unable to find their performance ceiling in my room." I'm bothered by the "unlimited performance" line. How do you justify saying this? Do you really feel the Q7 is that much better than speakers like the Sonus Faber Aida and Wilson XLF? What about the Rockport Arrakis that you had in your room? It just seems a little over the top to me and so I am writing in hopes of getting a further explanation. For what it's worth, I heard the Magico M5 a few years ago and it was one of the best sounds I've ever heard.

Best regards,
Harim

Thanks for writing in and reading my work. I'm glad it has been beneficial to you. Regarding the statement I made about the Q7, let me give you some further explanation. First off, in the Superspeaker realm there are a number of products that purport to be state of the art but that really are just mediocre speaker designs with lots of drivers and huge cabinets that will play loud, but that have no business being called "state of the art." Perhaps the nicest thing I could say about these speakers is that they are big and nicely finished. No need to go into further detail. Clearly above those pretenders are speakers such as the Sonus Faber Aida, which couple good engineering with high style and a luxury feel to produce something many audiophiles covet. I really like the way the Aida sounds and looks -- all in all, a very good product.

The few speakers in the world that can actually lay claim to the mantle "state of the art" with regards to performance are at an altogether different level. The Rockport Arrakis is certainly in that select grouping and in the right environment can challenge for being called the "world's best." Without question, Rockport's Andy Payor is one of the industry's top speaker designers. The Arrakis, ultimately, was not the best fit for my room, however -- my space is vertically challenged and the eight-foot Arrakis needs breathing room up top. As for the Wilson XLF: in my opinion it's not in the conversation . . . I don't think it's even close to state of the art for a number of reasons, so I won’t go into any further explanation here.

The Magico Q7 is a different animal. Here's the scoop on my statement: In my room, for the first time in my audiophile life, I was unable to get a handle on where the stops were. What I mean is that the more I pushed the Q7s, in every direction, the more they kept exceeding all my prior experiences. This is not just in terms of frequency extension, loudness capability, resolving power, speed and dynamic impact -- though those were areas in which the Q7 was the best I've heard. The amazing part was that the speaker was so chameleon-like that I really could not nail down its character. It was that complete lack of sonic character that led me to make the statement about it being the first "unlimited performance" loudspeaker. I'm sure the Q7 does have its limitations -- every product of every type does -- but the Q7's performance ceiling was not something I could lay my hands and ears on, which was a first for me. In that sense, and in my mind, it remains "unlimited." I hope that helps. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Jeff Fritz,

In your recent article, "The Super Products I'd Buy Today," you make some surprising statements about the Ayre KX-R preamplifier. Do you really believe it to be the best preamplifier out there? It is not inexpensive at $18,500, but it is also not the most expensive. I am thinking about the DarTZeel and MBL line stages as examples of preamps that might better it. Can you clarify your comments about the Ayre so I am clear as to what you mean? Thanks for your lucid articles and always interesting insight.

Roger Blanton

One of the problems in high-end audio today is that there is an assumption that performance scales perfectly with price. The fact is that it does not. That is not to say that the best products are not expensive -- generally they are -- but that a high price does not always equate with the superior products. I have not heard the MBL or DarTZeel preamplifiers in my system so I cannot give you a blow-by-blow account of their performance versus the Ayre KX-R. But I can tell you that the Ayre is the best I've heard, and not by a small margin.

My advice would be to not assume that the more expensive preamps are better just because they are more expensive. That would certainly be a mistake. Consider this: If the Ayre were $40,000, would well-to-do audiophiles take it more seriously? I can confidently state that the Ayre is, in my opinion, state of the art. I'd advise you to audition it to see if you agree. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Pete Roth,

First of all, thank you for your reviews! I want to ask you a question about the Ayre KX-R preamp. I know you love it. I'm buying a pair of Boulder 1050 mono amplifiers and I want to know if you think the KX-R will match well with them. Also, I have the chance to buy an Audio Research Reference 5 and a BAT REX, both tube units. Maybe they will be a sweet combination? My speakers are big ProAc Response D100s and all my cables are AudioQuest. My source is a MacBook paired with the MSB Technology DAC IV Diamond. Thank you in advance for your time!

Andreu Estany

Thanks so much for the kind words. I absolutely believe that the Ayre KX-R will be a great match to those Boulder amplifiers. In my opinion, not only is the KX-R one of the finest solid-state preamps available, but it is also a relative bargain compared with other overachieving solid-state alternatives from Vitus, Gryphon, Constellation, and even Boulder. But you don't need to take my word for it, as my editor Jeff Fritz wrote about in his September 1 editorial, "The Super Products I'd Buy Today." He, too, bought a KX-R for his Music Vault listening room.

If you wanted to trade out the Ayre's unparalleled volume controller and utter silence for the huge soundstage and holographic imaging of the Audio Research Reference 5 SE, I couldn't blame you, as it really depends on the priorities you have for that system. Tubes do require a slightly greater commitment, but offer their own rewards, and the Reference 5 SE is a world-class bargain. I am lucky to have separate systems based around the KX-R and the Reference 5 SE. Each system has its own compelling strengths, but each is wonderfully musical and rewarding. The Ayre vs. ARC comparisons I make using their amplifiers in my ARC Reference 250 review have applicability to their top-line preamps.

Either way, you can't go wrong with the KX-R or the REF 5 SE. Let me know which you choose. Thanks. . . . Peter Roth

To Garrett Hongo,

I'm looking for a fine power cord for my Cary 300/303 CD player. Your review of the Siltech SPX-800 [on SoundStage! Hi-Fi] was great reading, even more since the 25th-anniversary edition was launched. Last week I got the chance to compare in my system two Cardas Golden Reference power cords and a few days later a single Cardas Clear M power cord. During my three days of extensive listening to vocal music (classic and jazz) with the Clear power on the Cary, I could easily feel and understand what Georges Cardas calls "the head of the choir or the emotion in the individual voice," speaking about his Clear wires and cords.

My system can be described as mature, neutral, well balanced (tube preamp and solid-state amp), and also enjoyable, but I still miss a more real and palpable soundstage. According to my hi-fi shop, the Clear M cord was not retained by the Cardas representative to be imported here in Switzerland. Siltech is not imported as well, so I am not really sure if I should buy the SPX-800 without advice. Your opinion will be very helpful. Thanks a lot for reading.

Jan

I think it's more than likely the Cardas Clear power cord will work well with your Cary 303/300 CD player. I've used Cardas Golden Reference the past three years with very good results, actually, and had thought about upgrading to Clear before I reviewed the Siltech SPX-800 and Ruby Hill II power cords.

At present, I've a Harmonix Studio Master xDC power cord on my own Cary 303/300, and it's performing very well, with great top-end extension and clarity, terrific resolution and dynamics, as well as dynamic contrasts. It's just a bit livelier and perhaps a touch more resolving than the Siltech SPX-800, which sounds more relaxed, perhaps more balanced, and presents a touch smoother midrange. The question is which sounds "better," I suppose, but they do sound "different." I use an SPX-800 on my Eximus DP-1 DAC, and I love it.

Power cords, though, are interactive, I believe. Gains perhaps increase as you employ a uniformity of AC wires. I mainly use Siltech wires as my reference (power and signal), with the one Harmonix xDC Studio Master on the Cary 303/300 for the sake of experiment and exploration with the effect on the system sound. I also have a Silent Source Signature power cord on my Herron VTPH-2 phono, by the way. Otherwise, it's Siltech Ruby Hill II and SPX-800 on all other components and power distribution. . . . Garrett Hongo

To Jeff Fritz,

I remember in 2010 you wrote an article reviewing the Paradigm Signature S2 v.3 and Sub 2 subwoofer, claiming how it rivaled or outperformed systems costing considerably more. I have a dilemma right now, but I'm looking for user input first before I go and audition. This setup will be primarily home-theater based, with some two-channel music thrown in. Music is important, but home cinema is the main priority. I have a small space, so I want the best possible system I can afford. I've rounded my options to the following:

1) B&W 805 Diamond system
2) Paradigm Signature S2 v.3 system

Have you heard the Diamond series from B&W? How do they compare to the Signature S2? For cinema purposes I'm looking for a speaker that can resolve as much fine information as possible. I want accuracy. I've been told the 805 Diamonds are at the top of the heap in terms of detail resolution and midrange clarity. I've been told how the diamond tweeter is almost unrivaled regardless of cost, etc. I will be high-passing the speakers so the low bass will be sent to a dedicated subwoofer.

I've also heard only great things about the Signature S2 v.3 speaker with its beryllium-dome tweeter. So I'm asking for your input if you have heard both and how you think they compare. I appreciate your help, and thanks!

Regards,
Vaughan

I reviewed the B&W 803 Diamond back in 2011. I found it to be a very fine loudspeaker overall. The diamond tweeter, however, does not pop out of the sonic mix in an obvious way that will make you feel that it is resolving a ton of fine detail. In my review I stated, "Forget spotlit highs or bright sound -- the 803 was the antithesis of all that. I won’t say that the highs were actually subdued -- there were still goodly amounts of detail, sparkle, and life -- but the upper frequencies were neatly tucked into the overall sound and never called attention to themselves." This observation makes me believe the Diamond series might not be the speaker for you, based on your comment that you want a speaker that resolves "as much fine information as possible."

That leads us to the Paradigm Signature S2 v.3. The Be dome in that speaker is at least a sonic match for the B&W diamond, and is a touch more prominent. As I stated in that review, the highs were served up "with an extra dose of precision and supremely textured detail." I think, therefore, the Paradigm will be the best match for your sonic priorities. The fact that they make subwoofers as potent as the Sub 2 and Sub 1 for your home-theater needs is an added bonus you won’t want to pass up. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Jeff Fritz,

I loved reading your Magico Q7 review, and your proclamation that it is the "best loudspeaker available today."

Have you listened to the Focal Grande Utopia EM? I have yet to hear any Magico loudspeaker, but have listened to the B&W 802 Diamond, Revel Ultima Studio2, Quad 2905, Focal Scala Utopia and Focal Grande Utopia EM. Of the bunch, the 802 sounded the most hyper-detailed, the Revel the most pop and synthetic like, the Scala the most chamber-music like, and the Grande Utopia EM the most musical overall.

On the big Focal, I could hear trumpets sounding like actual live trumpets, tenor sax like a real in-room tenor sax (I'm a sax player), and percussion, including tympani, also clear as live in a good room. A first. Luxuriously, old-style big-band recordings transported me to a better-than-jazz dinner-club experience: I could imagine Birdland in its heyday not being so fine, acoustically.

In October, I'm heading to New York with a friend to hear more. How superior is the Q7 to the Focal Grande Utopia EM?

John

The flagship Focals are very good speakers. They play very big, with full, powerful bass, and throw a huge soundstage. They are very dense-sounding speakers that will fill a large space easily. I do think you'd be happy with the Focals if that is the speaker you choose.

The Magico Q7s are on a higher plane, though. They lead a new generation of ultra-high-fidelity superspeakers that take transparency and resolving capability to the extremes. They can also play big, easily filling large spaces with full-range sound, but they do so in a manner that drills down deeper into recordings, shining light on every corner of the recorded event. The Q7s will simply let you hear more, so if that's what you want I certainly recommend an audition. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Jeff Fritz, 

Both the Coda 15.0 and McIntosh MC452 got good reviews from you. I'm actually choosing between them to drive ProAc D40R/K6 loudspeakers. Can you recommend which amp I should go for? Thank you.

Regards,
Kelvin

As you read in my reviews, I think very highly of both brands and each individual model. I feel your dilemma, though, as this would be a very hard choice for me as well. If I needed abundant power, I would probably lean toward the McIntosh. Its power output of 450Wpc will drive the most inefficient speakers to loud levels quite easily. It also has classic looks to match its wonderful sound, the latter of which is thoroughly modern and transparent unlike much older McIntosh amplifiers.

If I did not need the massive output power, however, I would ultimately lean toward the Coda Model 15.0. Its golden class-A sound is seductive and its rock-solid bass control and high resolution are just what today’s best speakers yearn for. So even though it is a can’t-go-wrong proposition, and I could easily live with either amplifier indefinitely without ever looking back, I think the Coda for most applications would edge out the big Mac. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Michael Wright,

I am contacting you from France. I’ve just read your review of the Copland CDA825 CD player, which is very interesting. As a matter of fact, I am contacting you today because I would like to know if you know Copland’s amplifiers too. Have you done other reviews on Copland’s electronics?

I’m looking for a power amplifier (or maybe an integrated) to make a new system. Loudspeakers I have listened to and enjoyed were Tidal's Piano Cera, and Lawrence Audio models, too. What do you think about Copland’s amplifiers, such as the CTA506 stereo power amplifier and CTA405 stereo integrated amplifier?

If you know a little about Tidal Audio or Lawrence Audio loudspeakers, could you tell me what you think about a system comprising Tidal and Copland, or Lawrence Audio and Copland? Thank you.

Best regards,
Marc

The two Copland pieces you referenced are very nice. Copland gear has a reputation for having excellent build quality to go along with their good sound. I do feel that, tonally, the Copland electronics sound a little bit on the warm side of neutral. Some people like that type of sound and, therefore, do a pretty good job of matching it up with their system. But you should be mindful of that warmth when matching Copland electronics to loudspeakers.

I am very familiar with the Tidal Piano Ceras and like them quite a bit (I have no experience with Lawrence speakers). They would make a nice match with the Copland amp. One other amp to consider that would probably work well in your system would be the Hegel H20 amplifier. Just a thought for your consideration. Let me know how it goes. Good luck and good hunting. . . . Michael Wright

To Jeff Fritz,

I read with great interest your review of the Magico Q7 and also about your trip to Rockport Technologies. Could I kindly ask what the room size was in which you listened to the Q7? Also, any thoughts on how the Rockport Altair would compare with the Q5/Q7? My current speakers are Ascendo System M-Ses and my room size is 22' x 16' x 9'. Many thanks for taking the time to read my note. Happy listening.

Kind regards,
Ash

Your question is a very hot topic these days -- everyone seems to be wondering the same thing. I believe this to be the case because these two speaker companies represent perhaps the two top choices in the superspeakers sweepstakes right now. That certainly doesn’t mean they are interchangeable, however, even though I think any audiophile in his right mind could live very happily with any speaker in each respective line.

My room is 23' x 20'. I think your room would work with any of the three speakers you are asking about. As to how they compare, one obvious difference is that the Rockport Altair II will sound fuller and richer in the bass while maintaining excellent fidelity and displaying striking articulation. The Magico Q5, on the other hand, will sound lightning fast and ultra-resolving, while still playing with great depth and power in the low end. The Q7 is simply unmatched, in my experience, with visceral bass power and control married to electrostatic-like speed. (I've yet to hear the Arrakis II with active bass.) The highs will be a matter of taste, with the Rockport sounding extended but meaty and Magico sounding ultra-high-rez yet utterly smooth.

I could go on with general descriptors, but at this level I think it best to listen to these two brands yourself, preferably side by side. You can do that at Goodwin's High End in Boston, Massachusetts, or Ears Nova in New York City, New York. To say you can’t lose with either would be an understatement. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Jeff Fritz,

I wondered if you have had a listening experience with the YG Acoustics Anat III Reference system, and how would it compare to the Rockport Altair?

I'm going to the USA to listen to both of these at their respective factories. I may be able to fit in Wilson Audio, but I don't think they would be in the running from what I've read on your site.

The YG Anat is regarded as one of the best speakers around today; at least this is what I keep reading. Hope to hear from you soon.

Best regards,
David
New Zealand

The large YG Acoustics speaker is a fine product. I've heard it at shows and have been impressed with it. However, the real battle, in my mind, for superspeaker superiority is between Rockport Technologies and Magico (you could also add Vivid Audio to the mix, but the form factor is completely different). The Rockport and Magico brands have both hit their stride as of late, and the products those companies are producing are exceptional by any measure. They are simply the best of the best.

I definitely recommend going to Maine and visiting Andy Payor at Rockport. He will be able to give you a very fine demonstration of the Altair II in his unmatched listening facilities. While you're there, you should also plan into your trip a visit to Goodwin's High End, which is just outside Boston, Massachusetts. They have one of the finest listening rooms of any dealer in the world and carry both Rockport and Magico. As you can read in the article I wrote after my visit there, they are willing to let you A/B the two brands at your leisure. You'll probably want to call ahead, but I am quite sure they can demo the Magico Q5 and Rockport Altair for you in the same system and in the same room. While you're there you'll also want to hear the flagship Magico, the Q7 (I'm sure Andy will play for you his Arrakis II as well).

These listening experiences will give you a baseline knowledge of what state-of-the-art loudspeakers can provide. You'll be richer for the experience and be able to make a truly informed decision regardless of the other brands you choose to listen to afterwards. Trust me when I say the bar will be set very high. Let us know what you end up buying. . . . Jeff Fritz