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To Garrett Hongo,
I very much enjoyed reading your review of the TW-Acustic Raven 10.5 tonearm. I was particularly interested in the sound comparisons you made with the latest Tri-Planer Mk.VII arm. You also made just a passing reference to the Graham Phantom Supreme. I would be very interested to know if you've had the opportunity to audition the Supreme, and if so, what your impressions were regarding how its sound stacked up against the 10.5s. I'm ready to purchase the Raven One table, but am trying to cobble together any information I can on the sound of the 10.5 and Supreme arms before ultimately deciding which to mate with the Raven One.
My principal concerns are having a sound that can project the kind of resolution and presence that illuminates nicely not just the foreground of the orchestra but also its rear-of-stage instruments. You've pretty much made it clear already to me that the 10.5/Raven combo does just that. I was able to surmise this from your reference to 6th-row sound in comparison to the mid-hall perspective of the Tri-Planar Mk.VII. Having heard the Tri-Planar before, I realized it did not resolve those rear-field instruments in a manner I prefer. It was as if significant information had been absorbed by a sponge, leaving me unsatisfied with its presentation. I'm curious if the Graham Phantom Supreme resolves like the 10.5, and whether or not it compares favorably with it along other lines. One other issue that concerns me is that while I want a somewhat closer, more involving sound that still retains a nice three-dimensional soundstage, I want to avoid an overly vivid, hot, and excessively analytical kind of sound -- I prefer something that's easy to listen to and relax with. I sincerely appreciate any insights or impressions you might be able to offer in the matter of TW-Acustic 10.5 versus Graham Phantom Supreme.
First of all, congratulations on your purchase of the TW-Acustic Raven One. I'm sure you'll be happy with it.
For the kind of help you need regarding comparing other tonearms to the TW-Acustic Raven 10.5 arm, I think you might be better off talking to a dealer about it. I've no experience with the Graham Phantom Supreme, actually, but Jeff Catalano of High Water Sound has. I'd talk to him. He's as knowledgeable as they come where tonearms are concerned.As for your re-characterization of my review comments in reference to the Tri-Planar vs. TW-A Raven -- no, I didn't quite say that, though I do believe the Raven tonearm to be more resolving and dynamically responsive. The Tri-Planar didn't "lose the back row of the orchestra" so much as present the sound as a pleasing, integrated whole. Perhaps I'm revising, but that's how I'd characterize things today. Thanks and good luck. . . . Garrett Hongo
To Jeff Fritz,
I enjoy your reading your reviews and columns at Ultra Audio very much. I've written to you once before, a few years back, and you were kind enough to write a thoughtful answer so I have another question for you concerning speakers.
I currently own the Magico M5 speakers driven by the VTL Siegfried amps and the VTL TL-7.5 Series III preamp. I have a pretty good room acoustically, and fairly large -- 20' wide, 33' long, with 12' ceilings. I enjoy what I hear very much. I am thinking about a speaker upgrade, but to change, it would have to be a real upgrade in sonics and not just a change in sound as I really enjoy what I hear. My question revolves around the new Magico speakers. I've read your Q3 review so I know what you think of that speaker and I read the answer you gave someone concerning purchasing the Q3 versus the M5. It's the same answer I would have given as well (even though I haven't heard the Q3). My questions are:
1. Do you have any thoughts on how the Q3 and Q5 compare in sound quality? And perhaps any other thoughts on how these compare to the M5 other than what you wrote in that letter's response?
2. The last time I could tell, you were using the Rockport Arrakis as your reference speakers. Are you still with the Rockports? If so, what are your thoughts on how the Q3/Q5 speakers compare to them. I know there is a large difference in price, etc., but I am curious what your thoughts are on this.
By the way, I read one of your letters concerning the CH Precision digital front end. I had an opportunity to hear the CH precision gear in my room this past weekend. As a digital front end going through my preamp it was very good and better than what I currently use -- an Esoteric P-03/D-03/G-0s stack. Not better enough to make me change, but it was better. However, given that the C1 box is also a preamp, when we switched to drive my amps via the C1 it was quite amazing to hear. I don't know how CH does what they do, but once you hear it, it's difficult to go back to any other digital front end.
Thanks for your time and I look forward to reading what you can share with me. Thanks again.
Thanks for the note. It sounds as if you have an amazing setup in a room that can comfortably house such a reference system. But I, like you, know that when the upgrade bugs bites, you start looking at ways to improve things, even if what you have is amazing already. I'll address your questions in reverse order.
Regarding CH Precision, I have them scheduled to come in for review in 2012. I have only heard good things about them and your experience confirms what I've heard from others who have used their products. I think any conversation about top-flight digital has to include them at this point. They are certainly a new player on the scene that is shaking things up at the edge of the art!
The current Rockport Arrakis speakers are totally different animals than the models I had. The new ones have beryllium-dome tweeters and an active crossover for the bass section. Their D'Appolito-style configuration and ported design mean that they load a room completely differently than a point-source design does. The Arrakis is a stunning speaker in every respect and I think the current version is a must-audition in the cost-no-object speaker realm if you have a room that can support their size.As for your speaker upgrade, I think you have to be quite careful. What you have now is exceptionally good. I've heard the M5s on several occasions and they are accomplished in many ways. Having said that, I think the Q5s represent a ground-up rethinking from Magico, and are a definite improvement over the M-series speakers you have. If you are considering moving into the Q line, the Q5 is the only logical choice to make. Although I do think the Q3 would improve on the M5 in some ways -- after all, it does have the Q-series cabinet platform and the Be tweeter, both improvements versus the M5 -- in a room the size of the one you have I would want a larger speaker. I have spoken to Alon Wolf about the differences between the Q3 and Q5 (I have not heard the Q5 in my room) and he tells me that the Q5 is more revealing and utterly neutral, and plays louder and deeper. It simply does more of what the Q3 does so well. I feel fairly confident in predicting that the Q5 would improve on what you hear from your M5s in every way. Please do let me know what you decide to do. . . . Jeff Fritz
To Jeff Fritz,
I've some past experience with Rockport speakers and I'm interested in their new Avior. I'm thinking about two possible systems to front the Avior: the first is the new Vitus RCD-100/RI-100 combo; the second is the Gryphon Mikado or Scorpio/Diablo pairing. Both of these pairings are the entry-level amplification from these two great Danes -- both integrated amps run in class A/B as opposed to their bread-and-butter class-A designs.
I recall reading some comment in a forum that Rockport (as a brand) responds best to class-A amplification. But don't most loudspeakers respond to class A favorably? Unfortunately, the next step up the product lines for both Vitus and Gryphon results in a major price jump -- perhaps not in line with the speaker pricing. By that I mean that if I were to move into their higher-end gear, I'd be inclined to do the same with Rockport's speaker offerings.
Given your experience with all three brands, do you have any thoughts or recommendations before I start making tracks to audition these pieces? In general terms, to which of those systems might you lean given the Rockport speakers?
Thanks for your thoughts.
Before I comment on the electronics, let me just say that I think the Rockport Technologies Avior looks incredibly promising. It is, in fact, the first offering from the company with completely in-house-designed and -manufactured Rockport drivers. I recently spoke with Andy Payor at Rockport and he stated that these drivers were quite special and that the Avior is really singing with them. I think you are in for a real treat with those speakers.
As for electronics, your shortlist includes my two favorite brands of amplification. I think the world of both Gryphon and Vitus. Both companies produce products at the very pinnacle of the industry: sound, build quality, reliability, aesthetics . . . it's all there. However, I do think these two brands have their own distinct attributes that make them not quite interchangeable. The Rockport speakers are designed with a number of electronics feeding them up in the factory in Maine, but I do know for a fact that Andy Payor prefers Gryphon over all other brands and that, therefore, there is a certain synergy with the two companies' products. Gryphon electronics somehow seem to walk the fine line between highly resolving and warm/analog/spacious simultaneously. The power reserves are mammoth and the user interface sublime.
But you certainly can’t discount Vitus either. I lived with the Vitus SS-101 and the first-generation Rockport Altairs for over a year. The Vitus gear is some of the most neutral equipment ever made, but it doesn’t ever veer into a "typical" solid-state sound either. It is ultra quiet, yet naturally organic at the same time. And its power reserves are equally mammoth due to the peerless power supplies the company uses.
Ultimately, you can’t go wrong with either brand. Pay no attention that these are their entry-level products -- the brands' house sounds come through regardless. There are subtle differences between them, as I said, but they both will mate perfectly with the Rockport speakers. Whichever you choose, your system will be a keeper. Congrats. . . . Jeff Fritz
To Jeff Fritz,
Just to throw my two cents in on "Comparisons on Paper: B&W 803 Diamond vs. Tidal Contriva Diacera SE," I feel that the Tidal is the better speaker, hands down. At the same time, I could live with the 803s, as they are very nice and do a lot of what I would want my speakers to do. At the same time, the Tidal is just a richer, more fulfilling audio listening experience waiting to happen. I will confess that I reviewed the Contrivas, the non-Diacera model, and it was the best speaker I have had in my house. About 12 other audiophiles who came by to hear them would tell you the same.
I have heard the 803s at one of the local audio salons (Audio Consultants), and though they are a nice speaker, my opinion is that they do not perform to the same level as the Contrivas. I would put the 803s in the same class as the Vienna Acoustics Mahler's, which I would prefer over the 803s. As to your question, in terms of value, six times better? I won’t go as far as to say that, though in my opinion, I would give it at least a five!
Contributor, The SoundStage! Network
To Jeff Fritz,
I just read your Coda Technologies 15.0 review. Two questions:
1) How hot does it get? I have a Levinson No.335 that gets warm to the touch after extended use.
2) Will it drive Magnepan 1.7 or 3.7 speakers or should I consider the Coda 30.0?
For your application, I would get the 30.0. Having the additional headroom offered by the 30.0's 330Wpc into 8 ohms makes the most sense to me for the Magnepans you mention (the 15.0 is 150Wpc). It should also run a tad cooler than the 15.0 due to the lower amount of class-A power it produces (the 15.0 does not get scaldingly hot, but does get quite warm). Ultimately, I think either amplifier would be fine in terms of heat and power output (they are close to the same amp, just biased differently), and both would be a definite sonic improvement over the Mark Levinson 335. I just made the comments about the 30.0 in case it's a huge concern. Either way, you're in for a real treat with the Coda. . . . Jeff Fritz
To Garrett Hongo,
I just finished reading your review of the EAR 868 preamp, as this is a unit I’m considering. I understand it’s transformer coupled and I am not sure about the approach. There are so many preamps to choose from, it’s hard to know what to do. The other unit I’ve been considering is the Cary SLP-05, which is fully balanced and I am wondering if you could comment on how they might compare or if you have any other units you’d recommend.
"Transformer coupled" usually means that the output signal is coupled to a transformer instead of to a capacitor. This is generally a more expensive approach than capacitor-coupling in preamps, and transformer-coupled preamps are sometimes considered a cut above the rest. In the EAR 868, output transformers convert the single-ended circuit to balanced, rejecting common-mode interference and outputing a balanced signal.
However, the 868 doesn't have fully balanced circuits per se. The Cary SLP-05 does. But I have not heard the SLP-05 in my own system -- just at shows. That said, I like both preamps, and I don't think you could go wrong either way. If you can, I recommend that you audition them both and choose the one most sympatico with your ears, system, and budget.
One thing to remember, though, is that the EAR 868 can be had as a full-function preamp with a built-in and impedance-adjustable phono stage. The Cary SLP-05 is a line stage only. . . . Garrett Hongo
To Jeff Fritz,
I just finished reading your review of the Accustic Arts Amp II-AC, as this amp has been recommended to me. Do you still feel the same way about it?
Two things, I guess: Are these available used on the North American market, and if so, what kind of money do they bring in? I understand they run hot and this worries me a bit given that heat tends to shorten the life of electronic gear, and at these prices is a concern. Is it cause for concern?
It's been seven years since I reviewed that amplifier. Honestly, I have almost no recollection of it beyond what is in my review. As to what the value is on the used market, I also have little to offer. The company has had somewhat of a low profile, at least in North America, as of late, and that lack of brand recognition would not seem to bode well for its used value. The products that seem to hold their value the best are the ones that are widely available and that everyone recognizes (see McIntosh as a great example). As to your last question about heat, I don’t remember anything out of the ordinary with regard to the amplifier overheating. Still, most of the large solid-state amplifiers that operate in class A, even to a small fraction of their rated power, will run somewhat hot. I would try to make sure the unit you buy has a decent warranty period left, but do remember it will likely have to be shipped to Germany -- not cheap -- if something goes wrong. . . . Jeff Fritz
To Jeff Fritz,
Given that you've written a review on Paradigm's Reference Signature S6 v.2 (2007), I thought you might be able to answer my question. Would it be silly to purchase a pair of S6 speakers if I were only willing to pair them with, say, an Anthem MRX 500 A/V receiver, an Emotiva XPA-2 amplifier (300Wpc RMS into 8 ohms), and an Emotiva ERC-2 CD player? I worry that if I don't pair the S6es with better audio equipment than this, I won't get the high-end audio for which I'll have paid a hefty amount (according to my pocketbook). If this worry is warranted, perhaps (given the restriction of my funds) I should try to be content with something like Paradigm's Reference Studio 60s. What is your advice?
Your speaker selection will be the largest determinant of the eventual sound quality you attain in your audio system. The speakers are where the electrical signal is converted to the mechanical, and realized in the acoustics of your listening room. To put it bluntly, the speakers are where there is the most chance for error in audio reproduction.
My recommendation is to always buy the best speakers you can given your budget. In your case, if you have the option of purchasing a speaker as good as the Paradigm Reference Signature S6, I think you'd be very happy. The electronics you are going to power them with seem perfectly fine for the job. You'll have plenty of power and up-to-date processing for home theater as well as a dedicated CD player for music. I know the Anthem receiver is quite good and I've heard only good things about the Emotiva electronics as well. Pay close attention to speaker set up and I don’t see how you can go wrong. . . . Jeff Fritz
To Peter Roth,I read your review of the Ayre QB-9 DAC and I am interested in the Wavelength Crimson that was featured in this review. I’m a little confused as I saw your answer to a reader saying that the Ayre QB-9 can be beat and the examples you gave of DACs that can beat it were Ayre's DX-5, Wavelength's Crimson, and the dCS Debussy. However, in your review you said that the Ayre bested the Crimson.
Anyway, I’m just looking for the best DAC I can get for around $10,000 or less. Is there anything else that you would recommend? Any thoughts on the Debussy? Thanks for all the great reviews you’ve done and I look forward to your next one.
Thanks very much!
Digital technology is a constantly moving target that continues to see significant improvements. At the time I reviewed the Ayre QB-9, it routinely beat the then-existing configuration of my Wavelength Crimson (with Numerator 24/96 DAC module) in that particular review system. This was especially true for music files ripped from CDs mastered in the early days of digital (i.e., mid 1980s to early 1990s -- presumably due to its minimum-phase digital filters, I believe). Even then, the Crimson won out for me with certain program material and the mood I happened to be in. Stalwart tube fans may well have preferred the Crimson overall, but I admit to being primarily in the solid-state camp, and the price differential may well have skewed my perspective a bit.
In any event, Gordon Rankin and Wavelength have not stood still. My Crimson has now been upgraded to HS (high speed) status with the new Denominator 32/192 DAC module, which is based on the 32-bit ESS Sabre DAC chip. There is a laundry list of other improvements included in this upgrade (e.g., opto-coupler isolation). I’ve also had the analog volume control option installed, so I can directly drive the amplifiers in my secondary system. I will be reviewing the fully up-to-date Crimson in the coming months. Here is a preview: the improvements are not subtle; it offers fantastic performance, and its musicality not only exceeds that of my QB-9, but it is now in a neck-and-neck race with the USB DAC portion of my Ayre DX-5 (although these are two horses with quite a different flavor, and so picking either as a winner is system and sensibility dependent). Beyond these two, I plan to review the Aesthetix Pandora DAC with volume control in 2012 (it is now in production), but what I’ve just heard at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest is very promising (especially at only $6k for a full-featured DAC with volume control and all the digital inputs covered).
If I were looking for a new DAC today, in addition to looking closely at the DX-5, Crimson, and Pandora, I would audition the Berkeley Alpha DAC Series 2 with Alpha USB (a recently updated combo), the new Meitner MA-1, the dCS Debussy and the Playback Designs MPD-3. Have fun! . . . Peter Roth
To Jeff Fritz,
I just stumbled over your reviews -- they are great! Thanks for articulating so well!
I am having a hard time deciding on what to purchase. I’ve been saving up for a while, and now I’m trying to home in. I loved what little I heard of the Magico Q3s with ARC Ref 250s, but it was at a convention, so I didn’t get to evaluate as well as I would have liked. I wonder if you have had an opportunity to compare to the other two speakers noted below -- your perspective would be greatly appreciated. Can you offer any insight to my selection below? Thanks so much in advance.
In my experience, the speakers need to be decided upon first. Buy what fits your room and tastes -- get what excites you. Although I don’t know your room size, there is no question in my mind that if you can stretch to order Magico Q3s you'll never regret it. It is a phenomenal speaker that will never need replacing. Its transparency, detail retrieval, speed, and resolution are unrivaled at anywhere near the price point. Even if you have to adjust your budget downward on the electronics, in my opinion it would be worth it. In second place would be the KEF, but only if you could get the Blade loudspeaker or some soon-to-be-released variant. I'm quite sure some form of Blade-series speakers will be replacing KEF's Reference series very soon. Based on what I have heard at shows, the Blade takes KEF's Uni-Q technology to another level. Definitely worth seeking out.
As for electronics, I don’t think there is a loser in the bunch that you've picked. Tubes and solid state still do sound different and that is probably the most important decision you face based on your candidates. One thing I would recommend is that you pick the amplifier and preamplifier from the same manufacturer; this will give you the best chance at creating good system synergy and will certainly avoid impedance mismatches. Lastly, many amp-preamp combos these days have added functionality when you use the units together and I think that will enhance your enjoyment of owning them. Specifically, I think the amplifiers from ARC and the Ayre are simply superb, so those would be my first choices based on what you've selected. . . . Jeff Fritz
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