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To Doug Blackburn,
I read your FireWire article on Ultra Audio a few days ago and ordered an AudioQuest Diamond FireWire cable for use between my dCS Scarlatti transport and dCS Scarlatti DAC. Oh my gosh and wow, it's like a preamp upgrade or new speakers! Now it has me wondering if there are even better FireWire cables out there! Thanks for taking the time to write about something different and possibly controversial. My wife even heard this one! I only have about seven hours playing time on it and I wonder if it'll break-in and get even better?!?
Glad to hear the review motivated you to try the Diamond cable. I doubt you'll hear much with added use since the Dielectric Bias System seems to do more than break-in does. Unless the battery goes dead, the cable will stay sounding perfectly broken-in all the time even if you disconnect it and leave it sitting for months before putting it back in the system. The AudioQuest Dielectric Bias System is really something special. I'd be pretty darn surprised if there's a better FireWire cable out there, but you never know. . . . Doug Blackburn
To Jeff Fritz,
I recently read your 2005 review of the Boulder 1060/1010 amplifier and preamplifier and I know that you liked them. I recently was offered an opportunity to buy a used set for half of retail price. What do you think of this equipment? It has been around awhile and I'm wondering if anything has come along in the past six years at those price points that might trump the Boulder.
Thanks and kind regards,
The Boulder 1010 and 1060 are still very fine components, without question. At the prices you're considering purchasing, I don’t think you could go wrong. However, you also ask if there are any products that might trump the Boulders and the answer is yes. Specifically, these days I'm most partial to electronics from two Danish firms, Vitus Audio and Gryphon Audio Designs. Both of these companies are making products at the state of the art, though the top offerings are not cheap and not as easy to find in North America as I wish they were. I'm also listening to the Ayre KX-R preamplifier right now and can tell you without question that it is better than the Boulder 1010 in every conceivable way. You may want to hear it with the company’s MX-R or VX-R amplifiers before you make a decision. . . . Jeff Fritz
To Garrett Hongo,
I am interested in Keith Herron's equipment but there are not a lot of direct evaluations of his gear available so I'm sort of forced to e-mail people who have it. I have not been happy with any of the gear that I've heard locally so I thought I'd take a chance and buy something (possibly used) unheard. I was wondering what your thoughts were about the Herron M1s. I'm debating between the Herron VTSP-3a and the Aesthetix Calypso (with or without the Signature upgrade) as a preamp and the Herron M1s or the Bob Carver Cherry 180s as monoblocks. Most of the reviews out there have focused on the preamp section. Those of the M1s (or the prior version) are favorable but don't sound enthusiastically so. If you don't mind, can I have your thoughts on the M1 monoblocks? Any input is really appreciated. Thank you for your time.
The Herron M1 monoblock amps are my reference, particularly during the summer when it's too hot to run tube amps in my study, which doubles as my listening room. I find their sonic signature very close to the 40Wpc deHavilland KE50A tube monoblocks that are my other reference amps. The M1 sound has, to my ears and in my system, a fairly flat frequency response, superb timbral contrasts, great timing, and superior dynamic contrasts for things like opera and orchestral music. I find the M1 amps particularly terrific for the human voice, as I listen to a tremendous amount of opera and Renaissance choral music. This ability to render the human voice properly is what defeats most electronics, to my mind, particularly solid-state components, as they tip up the treble, overemphasize leading-edge transients, and lose the ability to render microdetails of vocal performance like tremolo, vibrato, glissando, melisma, etc. -- all stock-in-trade for operatic singers. The M1s do all this exceedingly well. Moreover, with massed strings like the violin section of an orchestra and with numerous choral voices singing several parts, the M1 amps keep all open, clear, and airy -- something a lot of electronics cannot do. In short, they are perfect for me.
As for the Herron VTSP-3a, I have only heard it in Keith Herron's rooms at audio shows, where it has sounded terrific with the M1 monos and Keith's own speakers. Moreover, given Keith Herron's superb ears, quality service, and years of engineering experience, I'd assume the Herron pre to be a solid choice and matched perfectly with the M1s. I also admire the VTSP-3a for its multiplicity of features -- switchable gain, balance control, remote control for volume and component selection, easy-to-read control panel, switchable absolute and AC polarity, etc.
I can't comment decisively on the other electronics you mention to compare the Herron M1s and Herron VTSP-3a with, as I've not had them in the system. I have heard Aesthetix gear at shows, however, and have always come away impressed with their sound and flexibility (balanced and single-ended hookups both).
As for the new iteration of the M1 amps, I have them, as I've upgraded my own pair to the current version, but I have not yet had a chance to run them in my system because I'm reviewing other electronics right now. I hope to place them in the system and give them a good listen in the next two weeks or so. You might ask me again later what I think. Malama. . . . Garrett Hongo
To Garrett Hongo,
Outstanding review! Would you consider the sound of the VAC Phi 200 much better than the Herron VTSP-3A and M1 mono amps? From your review the Herron appears to be laidback and doesn't capture the full harmonic structure of notes. Do you think the VAC is more revolving, and have you heard the VAC 160i integrated yet?
Thanks for the kind remarks. About comparing the VAC Phi 200 to the Herron VTSP-3A and M1 monoblocks, well, I haven't had the VTSP-3A in my system, so I can't tell you much about how it would be with the Herron M1s vs. the VAC Phi 200 and Renaissance Mk.3 preamp, say. Both are very good companies with owners who have great ears. I like all these products, but I am actually least familiar with the VTSP-3A. I'd like to know, myself, how it would be with my Herron M1 monoblocks. But I suspect it would perform perfectly well, given the designer is Keith Herron.
And the M1s are no slackers by any means. They are reference pieces for me, and I like them because they have a similar sonic signature to my deHavilland KE50A tube monoblocks. The Herron M1s are essentially my summer amps when it gets too hot to run tubes in my study, which doubles as my listening room. They're not only the solid-state amps I like the best for operatic voice, choirs, and orchestras, but, when I use them, I don't have to switch anything else around in my system. I keep either the Lamm LL2.1 preamp or deHavilland Mercury 3 preamp in, along with all attendant wires, etc. As for "getting the full harmonic structure of notes," that's exactly why I like them! They get that!
The Phi 200 is, in many ways, much more "solid-state" sounding than the Herron M1s! The bass is tight, transients are fleet, and extension superb at both extremes. I think, though, it works best with VAC preamps, as I've tried both the VAC Renaissance Mk.3 and VAC Signature IIa preamps with excellent results. The Renaissance Mk.3 is the more dynamic pre, while the Signature IIa has more finesse.
And I have heard the new VAC 160i integrated, which I think superb. I spent over an hour at CES '12 listening to it with Tannoy Glenair speakers and a Clearaudio Ovation turntable with a Talisman MM cartridge as the source and I was completely enthralled. What a rich and lavish and yet sophisticated sound with great delicacy and spaciousness! I could have listened to it all day and all night. I think it is a fantastic product and I'm tempted to ask for it for review, actually. It's the best integrated I've ever heard at a show. And its looks are an achievement as well. Have you noticed it has only two pots in the back for transformers? One rectangular one on the left and one squarish on the right? The secret is that Kevin Hayes found that the output transformers were quieter with both on the far left, away from the inboard phono stage, so he placed them side-by-side and potted them together instead of having them outside each edge of the power supply transformer. This made for a distinctive look. It's a great piece. . . . Garrett Hongo
To Jeff Fritz,
I just read your Magico Q3 review with great interest. I have Shindo F2a Sinhonia monoblock amps (generating about 40) and a Shindo Giscours preamp connected via Auditorium 23 cables to DeVore Silverback speakers. I will eventually go the turntable route, but CDs are thoroughly enjoyable played through my Bel Canto stack (DAC and CD player) and I am in no rush. I have terrible room acoustics: speakers about 9’ to the listening position and I have them about 20’ apart (don’t ask me why . . . it's complicated). The room is large: probably 24' x 35' and replete with floor-to-ceiling glass on three walls, wood-planked ceiling and stone floors. Alas, it’s truly horrible for a music room, but there is nothing I can do. Even when I put the system together three or four years ago I always intended to get bigger speakers someday and miss my old 8’ electrostats from my previous setup.
I have researched the new stuff out now and several products seem to be large improvements over "traditional" gear:
1. Vivid Giya G2
2. Wilson Audio MAXX 3 (even the Sasha)
3. Magico Q3 or Q5
My simple question is, how do you think something like the Magicos would work within my system and, if you are familiar with the DeVore Silverbacks, can I expect enough improvement to be worth it to me to change? Many thanks for your help.
Jeffrey V. Langdon
You have several issues that you will need to address if you want really spectacular sound (and it seems that you do). First, with a room that size I think you need more powerful amplifiers no matter what speakers you choose from your shortlist. You simply have a lot of volume to fill (I'm guessing much greater than-8' ceilings) and it will take a substantial amount of clean power to do that with any of your chosen speaker candidates. And is there anything you can do to address room acoustics? There are some really nifty sound-treatment products these days that blend into décors rather than dominate them. Something to think about . . .
Regarding speakers, there is no question that Magico and Vivid occupy top positions in terms of what can be done in 2012 with dynamic-driver-based loudspeakers. Both brands are striving to perfect the linear, low-distortion, minimal-box-signature loudspeaker, and it seems they are coming ever closer to that goal with each new product. Frankly, I love the sound of both companies' speakers. On the other hand, I don't think the Wilsons are competitive with either brand. As to which one on your shortlist to pick? I'd get the Magico first and Vivid second, but I know our publisher, Doug Schneider, would reverse that order. The Magicos really come closest to the ideal of the "full-range, dynamic-driver electrostat" of any speaker I've heard. Either way you go, you'll be treated with state-of-the-art, full-range sound. I am actually quite fond of the DeVore speakers (from my short auditions at shows), but I don't think they are pushing the boundaries of what's possible the way Magico and Vivid are.
As for power-amplifier brands, you could easily drive any speaker with a pair of McIntosh MC601 or Simaudio Moon Evolution 880M monoblock amplifiers. The Vitus, Soulution, and Gryphon amplifiers of the world are available at much higher costs still. I do realize that my suggestions are somewhat radical in terms of investment and domestic feasibility, but the products you are considering have the potential to produce state-of-the-art sound and if you make that last push, I believe you will be eminently satisfied. . . . Jeff Fritz
To Garrett Hongo,
I've been researching mono cartridges and came across your reviews in Ultra Audio. They are informative, excellent reviews!
I'm trying to build a system around SPUs and an SME 3012-R tonearm. My goal is to be able to easily change cartridges to play all the stereo, mono, and 78s in my collection with a one-tonearm system. SPUs seemed perfect for this. The problem I'm having is finding a transformer that would work with the lower outputs of the stereo cartridges and the higher outputs of the mono and 78 cartridges.
I read in your review of the EAR MC 4 transformer that you used with the SPU mono. Did you have any problems with the high output of the SPU mono overloading your phono stage? Do you prefer the sound of the SPU mono straight into your 47k input on your phono stage or loaded by a transformer?
Thank you for any advice you can give.
I love the EAR MC 4 and am purchasing one for myself! I found there were no issues with using its 6-ohm/X24 setting with my Ortofon SPU Mono GM MkII SPU (3.0mV/100 ohms). I run the phono cables to the MC 4 first and then Auditorium 23 interconnects into the MM inputs of my Herron VTPH-2 phono without any issues. No overloading. And, using mainly the 6-ohm inputs on the MC 4, I also use a half-inch MC and another SPU of much lower output -- the Ortofon Cadenza Mono (0.45mV/5 ohms) and the Ortofon SPU 90th Anniversary (0.3mV/2 ohms). For all of these, I prefer using the EAR step-up rather than running into the MC input of the Herron phono.
I will say, however, that when I play classical music or opera recordings, I prefer running my Zyx Airy 3 (0.24mV) cartridge into either the MC inputs of the Herron phono or else via the Music First step-up into the MM inputs rather than through the EAR MC 4. I mention this in my review as well.
I've not tried 78s, however, but I know Dan Meinwald of EAR USA plays them using the EAR 834P phono, which, for its MC function, has a far lesser step-up in it than the MC 4. The MC 4 should be even better. I've visited his home on a couple of occasions -- once just to listen to 78s and they sounded great!
Finally, I know Ortofon has recently released a step-up designed to be used with its the classic SPU-type mono cartridges, the CG 25 DI MKII and CG 65 DI MKII -- the ST-M25 Mono. I haven't heard it yet, but Jeffrey Catalano of High Water Sound in New York City, a dealer and distributor of great expertise, recommends it highly. If you bought it, you'd also buy one of the "classic" Ortofon SPUs. Likewise, you'd buy a dedicated step-up for each of your other MC cartridges. I've friends -- in the category of analog purists -- who do this with great results and say there is no other way for optimum performance.
So there are basically two ways to go here -- the EAR MC 4 or its like with multiple gain/impedance settings; or a small array of various "dedicated" step-ups designed to work precisely with any given cartridge. I chose the EAR MC 4 and done! . . . Garrett Hongo
To Jeff Fritz,
I wanted to say bravo for your choices of components for your TWBAS 2012 project. I do know that you could have picked some "safer" alternatives, ones that the establishment has already conceded as being great. And some of them undoubtedly are. But what you did was choose products that seem to really appeal to your sense of what's best in high-end audio. Anyone that has read your writing on Ultra Audio (as I have for years) would know immediately that you were true to your convictions. I think that will make reading about TWBAS 2012 even more exciting: I know it's genuine. Although I would have liked to see an analog source -- like a Clearaudio turntable! -- there isn’t much I personally would change. Thank you, Jeff Fritz.
To Garrett Hongo,
Your review of the VAC Phi 200 was spot-on across the board. You are so right about it. It is startling and amazing. It is the best amplifier that I have had in the house. (Of course, it's the first $10,000 amplifier I've listened to here!) So my Music Reference and the VAC PA-100/100 will be up for sale. I also had a chance to listen to the Quicksilver V4s. Anyway, thanks for all of your input.
A quick question: I see that in your system list you are using the Cardas Golden Reference power cord. Is that a cord that you think is particularly good?
A friend was over yesterday and brought NOS 6550 tubes that sounded really nice in the Phi. I'd guess that Kevin would say that they wouldn't be a good choice, but have you tried any different tubes from stock in the Phi?
No, I haven't tried any output tubes other than stock with the Phi 200, but I have rolled NOS signal tubes into it -- extensively. Sylvania '52 Bad Boys, Tung-Sol roundplates, Brimar CV1988, Sylvania chrometops, etc., and found, in the end, that VAC's stock tubes do as fine a job as any in my system, to my ears. Not to say there wasn't any difference, but that the differences were more fine and tonal than major.
I've TS 6550 greyplates from the '70s I could try in the Phi 200, but, again, the amp sounds splendid stock and I've little motivation to roll output tubes into it.
Kevin uses Shuguang 6SN7s as input and driver tubes and, he tells me, he's started experimenting with the Psvane 6SN7s that are getting so much attention nowadays. I've tried Psvane EL84s, 12AX7s, and KT88s with very good success. I like them all and prefer them to NOS for being more affordable and replaceable!
As for the Cardas Golden Reference power cords -- yes, they are indeed very good, especially given the price point. But I'm now reviewing other power cords from another manufacturer -- established, European, and more expensive -- that I think are even better. Look for the review soon on Ultra Audio! . . . Garrett Hongo
To Jeff Fritz,
Thanks for the article on the Coda 15.0. I am a Coda fan and owner of their CSi integrated amp as well as their 06p phono preamp. I like everything about those guys and their approach. I am happy with my CSi integrated, but I can’t help wondering just how much better the new 15.0 would sound. I suppose that I would add to it Coda's 05x preamp, or wait for their upcoming 07 preamp.
Question: Have you compared the CSi with the 15.0? I would like to hear from someone who has heard both. Thanks for any feedback.
I have not had the opportunity to hear the CSi, though I am sure it is a very good unit based on my experience with many Coda products over the years. I think, however, that you're really comparing apples to oranges, as you are looking at a major investment upgrade for your system. An integrated amplifier, even one as ambitious as the CSi, is still compromised in terms of power supply, circuit sophistication, output stage, component choice and isolation, etc. The 15.0 is an all-out monster class-A amplifier that, when paired with a really good preamp such as Coda makes can produce world-class sound quality. The CSi, in my estimation, won't be able to compete at all. The only caveat I would offer is that you would want to have appropriately revealing loudspeakers coupled to a good room, and a good source, to really be able to appreciate the differences that the more expensive Coda electronics will provide.You will be spending a lot of money if you commit to this upgrade, and if there is any way for you to compare for yourself, that's always wise. But, personally, I think the improvement will be substantial. . . . Jeff Fritz
To Garrett Hongo,
I just read your review of the VAC Renaissance Mk.3 preamp. I love your hi-fi reviews. Have you ever considered collecting them, or writing a love story about the art of listening, and music? It could be fabulous. I don't know of anyone who listens as broadly and deeply as you seem to.
Do you have any experience with McIntosh integrated amps? I am dreaming a bit about a serious upgrade but can only stretch so far, and beyond a certain point an upgrade might be wasted on speakers, etc., that aren't at the same level; you must know what I mean. At any rate, many of the higher-end retail shops around here and in Boston push these McIntosh components; and sitting in the rooms, they sound pretty good, at least compared to my NAD/B&W system here on my desk. My speakers are simple: just B&W 600-series bookshelf speakers, set up along with my components right in front of me on my desk. I have an NAD C 515BEE CD player and an old JVC JL-A20 turntable with a signet AM10S cartridge with Audio-Technica stylus. Current integrated is an NAD 314.
Thanks. Actually, I've a contract with Pantheon Books to do something like that, a kind of "audiobiography." Glad for your encouragement!
McIntosh is good but there are numerous others with more bang-for-the-buck in my opinion. Still, Mac has high resale and that can be a consideration.
As for integrateds, as your NAD 314 is 30Wpc, I suggest the Electrcompaniet ECI-3 I think, as at 70Wpc it's double the output of your NAD. The EC-5 is 120Wpc and more current for orchestral and opera. I had the ECI-3 and it sounded very good, though there wasn't quite enough juice for my speakers at the time, which were 89dB/4-ohm models. The B&W 600-series speakers are nominally 8-ohm speakers, if I'm not mistaken, and 70Wpc should be plenty.
Unison Unico or Secondo are also excellent. Made in Italy. Highly recommended. See http://www.soundstagehifi.com/traveler/traveler200804.htm.
If you want tubes, I suggest you look at PrimaLuna -- either the One or the Two.But you must match the amp to your speakers. That is the main thing. For headroom and a possible upgrade in speakers, I'd go with amps of higher wattage -- at least 70Wpc. . . . Garrett Hongo
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