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Gryphon Diablo 300

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To Jason Thorpe,

I just wanted to thank you for your thorough review of both the Pro-Ject RPM 9.1 and the 10. It really helped to make my decision between the two for my husband's birthday.

He has been really getting into listening to music in the evenings and has done a phenomenal amount of work to his "man room" with wall treatments and improvements in his speakers, system, and "where" his chair is located. I'll admit I don't know much about turntables (and I hope you don't roll your eyes at this), but we both loved the look of the record player in the movie The Mechanic with Jason Statham. I did some research and came across your review. I wanted to make sure it also sounded great.

We live in Mississauga so I'm going to e-mail the Canadian distributor you listed (Essential Audio Corporation) to see what they have available.

If you have any other recommendations (including recommendations of some great albums I can pick up to go along with his gift), please let me know and thank you again!

Sarah

Thanks for the note. It's always gratifying to hear from people who've read my articles, and even more so when I find out that I've managed to help.

The 9.1 and 10 are great 'tables, and I'll be the first to admit that a TT's gotta look cool, so you'll get no eye-rolling from me. I still have my RPM 10, and I think it'll be in residence for a while yet.

You'll need a cartridge for that baby, and I know from personal experience that Ortofon carts make a great match-up. Kurt at Essential Audio can certainly point you in the right direction when it comes to a match.

Music? Well, that's another story, and the choices -- and my recommendations -- could go on for pages. I suggest starting with some classic jazz: Coltrane's Blue Train, and Cannonball's Somethin' Else. And you've got to have some Tom Waits in there: why not start with Real Gone?

Your husband's a lucky guy. Tell him I told you that! . . . Jason Thorpe

To Jeff Fritz,

I've just read with tremendous interest your review of the Vitus Audio SS-101 stereo amplifier as I am looking to upgrade my gear. The alternative that I'm considering is the widely acclaimed Burmester 911 Mk.III stereo amplifier, as both are retailing for around the same price. I would like to know your thoughts and views in respect to how these two amplifiers compare to each other.

My current system consists of the Meridian 808.3 CD player, Parasound JC 2 preamp, and JC 1 monoblocks driving the Thiel CS3.7 loudspeakers. I am leaning towards the SS-101 since it has an onboard preamp, but I'm concerned whether 50W of class-A power is sufficient to drive my Thiel CS3.7 speakers, which are known to have a wickedly low impedance (even down to 2 ohms). Your input is thus greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance!

Warm regards,
Joseph Loh

As you know, I've always thought highly of the Vitus gear and I would have no concern at all about the SS-101 being able to drive the Thiels. I think it could do so quite easily, in fact. As for how it compares to the Burmester, I am afraid I can offer no opinion. The company has never sent review samples so I have not been able to compare the two brands' offerings. Knowing how important power supplies are to great amplifiers, though, I would say that I am a little more impressed by the Vitus amplifier's weight advantage of 100 pounds -- the power transformer accounting for the majority of that poundage. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Pete Roth,

I find your reviews on Ultra Audio to be excellent and quite fun to read. They are very insightful, and always full of careful analysis.

There has been quite a bit of hype recently with regards to Magico speakers, and when they failed to disclose the electronics paired with the Q7 at CES, it made me wonder if there was something funny going on. Having just read your piece on the Q7, and your favorable thoughts on the Q1, I'd like to ask you your opinion of how the Magico lineup compares versus Vandersteen's top-three speakers. I believe you had the 5As prior to the Sevens. How does the Q1 stack up against the 5A? How about the Vandy Seven versus the Q7? I ask about the Q1 because you and your colleagues were quite amazed at its performance. It's priced the same as the Vandersteen 5A Carbon. Which would you choose? Also, are the Vandy Sevens better sounding than the Q5s? How about versus the Q7s?

Thank you in advance for your time and thoughts. I appreciate you taking the time to read through my e-mail. I look forward to reading your reviews. Please, keep up the great work!

Kind Regards,
Ed

I’m so glad you find my reviews to be fun (as well as, hopefully, informational and thought provoking). With world-class amplification from Vitus Audio, the Magico Q7 speakers were spectacular at TWBAS 2012 (look for my further thoughts on the event on May 1 in Ultra Audio).

While my written review of the Magico Q1 won’t be published for a few months yet, I can certainly divulge a little without spoiling that review. Comparing the Magico Q1 and the Vandersteen 5A Carbon is an exercise in examining differences; different goals and different strengths.

The Q1 is without question an amazing little speaker, fully capable of producing in-room bass down to the 30Hz region. They also have that magic often attributed to two-way stand-mount monitors -- they image like the dickens, and because the drivers are so closely placed, and with only a single crossover point, they are a very effective point source. The drivers are certainly state of the art. The Q1 is very much an "ultimate" studio monitor that plays way deeper than it has any right to do (it can really "rock out," while remaining exceedingly refined for almost any type of music). They do, however, require first-class power, and quite a lot of it. Coupled to the Ayre MX-R monoblocks and Ayre KX-R preamplifier in my small reference system, no other audio product has had my colleagues shaking their heads in amazement or mouths agape like the Q1s. It defies expectations.

The Vandersteen 5A Carbon, on the other hand, is truly a full-range speaker -- nothing "almost" full range about it. With its built-in subwoofer system and innovative bass crossover and room-tuning ability (it’s the same subwoofer system used in the Model Seven), the in-room response is flat to 20Hz, can be tailored specifically to the room from 20Hz to 120Hz, and never runs out of steam. The Vandersteens also require a decent amount of power (like Magico speakers, they are on the less-efficient side of the spectrum), but are rather more forgiving in this respect than the Magicos. I lived with the Model 5A for many years before upgrading to the Model Seven, and according to Richard Vandersteen the 5A Carbon gets a little over half-way there (covering the difference between the performance envelope of the original 5A and the Model Seven), which makes it a true audiophile bargain. The Model 5A Carbon is also time-and-phase correct, as a review of its impulse and step responses will show, which is a performance aspect that really lights my fire.

If you really love what minimonitors can do, but only wished they could go deeper in the bass, then the Magico Q1 is probably for you. If you love a full-range speaker that can play anything very well, but especially classical, jazz and live recordings, then I’d steer you toward the Vandersteens.

Comparing the Vandersteen Model Seven with the Magico Q5 is more of an exercise in personal taste, as they are both multi-driver speakers, utilizing pistonic drivers within incredibly high-tech cabinets. Both require powerful and refined amplifiers, with the Q5 being especially current hungry (because of its powered subwoofer system, the Vandersteen Model Seven doesn’t really need the current so much as refined power from 100Hz on up). Properly driven, I would say that the Q5 can produce a bit more "pop" or "drive," but the Model Seven is all about the waveform re-creation that is central to Richard Vandersteen’s philosophy of sound reproduction. My buddy Lynn has a simply astounding record collection, has been going to see live orchestral and operatic performances for decades, and has never heard anything closer to the live event than what he obtains through his Vandersteen Sevens (and associated Aesthetix Io preamp and Atlas Signature mono amps).

While the choice between these two speakers will ultimately come down to what you listen to, the room in which you listen, and the nature of the associated equipment, I would also throw one of the Vivid Audio Giya models into the mix. I love how the Vivid Audio Giyas totally disappear sonically and physically, and how the music seems to simply explode from them -- a very honest yet exciting speaker. In any event, I consider the Magico Q5, Vivid Audio Giyas (G1, G2, and G3), and the Vandersteen Model 5A Carbon and Model Seven to be among the very best speakers available at any price (and part of a very select few expensive speaker systems to combine exceptional engineering, unique purpose-built drivers, world-class performance and exceptional value, as opposed to snake oil).

Good luck in the hunt and have fun. . . . Pete Roth

To Jeff Fritz,

I have, for the past five-plus years, owned the Esoteric P-01/D-01 (stereo, dual-mono units). I recently read your very well documented article on my units (obviously, many years after you wrote it!). I wondered if you have any opinion on the new P-02/D-02 units. I would be interested in replacing my units with them if they were an improvement. I am aware that Esoteric still considers my units as flagships; however, if you are acquainted with the new units I would be very grateful to know your opinion! Thank you for your time.

All the best,
Craig

There is perhaps no other area of sound-reproduction equipment that has improved at a faster rate than in digital sources. Although I have not directly compared the P-01/D-01 with the newer P-02/D-02, I'd be quite surprised if the newer units were not at least marginally better. And maybe quite a bit better. Esoteric, like any forward-thinking company, is keen to always improve on past performance -- their competitors are certainly doing just that. In a best-case scenario you could do a side-by-side comparison so that you would know for sure. I'd certainly put my money on the newer Esoterics.

We do have a full review of the P-02/D-02 combo in the works, but that is still a few months away. Nonetheless, please watch for the article this summer on Ultra Audio if you can wait that long. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Jeff Fritz,

Do you have any experience matching Focal Utopia speakers with electronics? I have a pair of Maestro Utopias and I know that they are rather demanding about electronics matching. I am thinking Pass Labs or Boulder. I tried Electrocompaniet, but it was just too soft for my tastes. I know Vitus is splendid, but because of budgetary constraints and the need for more than 100Wpc, I think that is a non-starter. Any suggestions are much appreciated.

Regards,
Peter R.
Dallas, TX

I do not have direct experience with Focal Utopia loudspeakers, but I have reviewed Pass Labs amplifiers and reviewed and owned Boulder electronics. Personally, I think either would match well with the large Focals, but I think I would lean toward Boulder if forced to choose because of its extremely quiet nature. The Boulder noise floor is so low and the amplifiers are so neutral that they make a surefire pairing with almost any high-performance loudspeaker.

I assume you are probably looking at a Boulder 1010 preamplifier and 1060 amplifier. It is a splendid combination. Regarding Pass Labs, I have no experience with their latest amplifiers and preamplifiers, but Nelson Pass is surely one of the great designers. I just don’t know enough about their newest products to offer an opinion. The older X600.5s were quite good, however. Still, Boulder is a hard one to beat. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Jeff Fritz,

I just read your review of the Sonus faber Amati Futura and noticed that you failed to criticize them in terms of sound compared to the Magico Q3. After having spent around $25,000 too much last year on dinners and dates, I thought this year I would invest instead in some new loudspeakers. The following are contenders:

  • Sanders Sound Systems Model 11 with Magtech amps and digital crossover: sensible design, solid specifications!
  • Bowers & Wilkins 802 Diamond: heard with Classé CA-M600 in an all-Classé-based system; solid look and almost powered-subwoofer-like bass, but grainy mids and highs.
  • Focal Scala Utopia: heard with Bryston 28B SST2 in an all-Bryston system; gorgeous architectural look and decent piano reproduction in the midrange.
  • Sonus faber Amati Futura: unheard, gorgeous thing-of-luxury beauty; looks like an impulse purchase for the home.
  • Magico Q5: unheard, pricey and weighty. Is the Q3 as good?

Speaker-wise, in this Honda Fit-to-BMW 3-series price category, what would you recommend? Can the 802 Diamond sound as good as the rest?

John

The Sonus faber Amati Futura leaves little to criticize, even up against the Magico Q3. The Sonus has a very specific sound, as does the Magico, and I tried to describe both accurately in my article. Which speaker you'll prefer will depend, as I said in the review, on your tastes in sonics and aesthetics. I've not heard the Sanders Sound Systems speakers or the Focals, but I do not believe the Bowers & Wilkins would be competitive with either the Sonus or Magico, based on living with the 803 Diamonds for a number of months. The Diamonds are good speakers but just not as refined as the Sonus fabers or Magicos. The Magico Q5 is, of course, much more expensive than the Q3 or the Amati Futura and requires an extremely powerful amplifier but should outperform any other speaker on your list. If you can make the investment in electronics and have the space, I'm sure you'd be thrilled with them.

Ultimately, your choice of speakers should come down to what makes you super excited and musically satisfied, based on personal auditioning in a good room. With the type of investment you are considering, I'd start looking for dealers where you can audition these products and plan a road trip (or some short flights, hopefully). The last thing you want to have happen is to purchase something that you regret. I've been down that road and it's no fun. Good luck with your search. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Jeff Fritz,

You have included the Gryphon Colosseum as one of your Select Components. It is a wonderful amp, but I have recently switched from that to the Mephisto and I can report that Flemming Rasmussen and his team have outdone themselves. My analogy is that one is a Golf GTI and one a Porsche 911 (same family). No disrespect to the GTI, but you know which amp is which. 

My current system is the most musical that I have assembled in 25 years of being an audiophile and loving every minute of it. You owe it to yourself to listen to it and be the judge. You will be doing your readership a service.

Current system:

Magico Q5
VAC Signature IIa
Gryphon Mephisto
CH Precision C1 DAC with AudioQuest Diamond USB
Apple MacBook Pro with solid-state drive and Pure Music
Kubala Elation cables on all except Gryphon Reference power cords on Mephisto

Cheers,
Benjamin

That sounds like it would be an incredible system. Congrats! Regarding the new Mephisto, we hope to hear it in just a few weeks in Munich, Germany, at High End 2012. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Jeff Fritz,

Good afternoon. I just read your article about TWBAS 2012 ("TWBAS 2012: Why I Chose These Components") in which you mentioned you listened to the Magico Q3 in your room.

Can you tell me what the size of your room is? I just listened to the same speaker at the Montreal Salon Son & Image last weekend and they had to kick me out of the room! I just couldn't stop listening to them. The Constellation Audio guy told me he once set them up in a room 11' x 13', seriously. I was a bit surprised. But still.

Thanks for your answer,
André

My room is roughly 20' x 23'. You can read my full review (linked above) to see how they sounded. As for room size, I definitely think that the Q3s would excel in a smaller room than mine. They have very linear, articulate bass with zero boom or bloat. This bodes well, I think, for small-room integration where too much bass can really ruin the sound. Now, 11' x 13' does sound small. I'd try the stand-mounted Q1 in that room first. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Jeff Fritz,  

Given your experience with both brands, I can't think of anyone in a better position to give a brief comparison of the speakers' "house sounds." 

In particular, I am interested in the TAD CR-1 as compared to the Rockport Mira II or Ankaa/Avior. I realize the CR-1s are not full-range speakers; however, this point aside, could you give just some brief top-line differences between these two amazing lines of loudspeakers? Thanks in advance for any insight you are willing to provide! 

Regards,
Joost (from The Netherlands)

The main difference in the design is obviously the coaxial driver that TAD uses to reproduce the highs and mids. There is no question that this beryllium wonder is world class -- great high-end extension, beautiful dispersion, and the ability to play loud with low distortion. Anyone who has heard it can attest to its pedigree.

The Rockport that you would be comparing is the new Avior ($29,500/pr.), which is in the same general price range as the CR-1 ($37,000/pr.) and features all of Rockport’s latest technology. It, too, has world-class drivers up top: the excellent beryllium-dome tweeter from Scan-Speak along with the brand-new carbon-fiber midrange driver developed by Andy Payor at Rockport. So in terms of the top end, there may be more similarities than differences. Both are top shelf. 

But the real answer here concerns the one point you are asking me to set aside (which I just can’t do!). The Avior is a 225-pound floorstander with a huge internal air volume and two 9” Rockport-designed bass drivers. Anyone who has ever heard a Rockport knows that the company "does bass" as well as anyone in the world. The low-frequency reproduction of a Rockport speaker is incredibly well integrated into the whole and makes the entire speaker more adept at reproducing whatever it is fed. It would be sort of like asking me to describe a Ferrari without taking into consideration the motor -- it cannot be done!  

If you are asking about a buying decision, my money would be on the Rockport. Time after time they have proved capable of producing world-class sound. And I just love deep, articulate bass. . . . Jeff Fritz

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?!?

Thanks!
John

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