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To Pete Roth,

I am a Vandersteen enthusiast in South Africa who owns a pair of Quatros and who read your [Vandersteen Audio Model Seven] review. I was moved to tears for the genuine warmth of your review as you shared what you experienced in your soul. I am developing a major new source of energy, and if this comes off, I intend on ordering a handmade pair of Sevens and will also approach you for advice on the rest of the equipment. Thank you.

Most sincerely,

Thanks so much for the kind words. I certainly tried to convey the passion evoked in me by my experience with the Model Sevens. They certainly moved my soul, and I am currently captured by the anticipation of delivery of my very own pair in about three weeks. Obviously it is a big expense but, based on my time with the review pair last spring, it will be worth it. In any event, it took me a long time to settle on a color (I chose an Audi R8 color, Phantom Black Pearl Effect) and then had to wait for my "build slot." Really, I can't wait. . . . Pete Roth


I really have enjoyed your articles over the years, particularly your speaker reviews and articles on subwoofers. I am very interested in your take on the Magico Q3 -- it looks like a good option for my 21' x 27' room (also thinking of Sashas). But I do have a question: In a recent letter on Ultra Audio you stated, regarding speakers, "Although I've admired many of the designs I've had contact with, there are always a few nagging issues, or the speaker hasn't really set itself apart to a great degree in terms of its engineering, build, and of course ultimately, its sound." But you have positively reviewed many speakers. If I read you right, you should have only positively reviewed a small handful. Can you clarify that? Thanks again for some really honest writing.

Bill Caswell

Thanks for the note, Bill, and for reading. Specifically, I was referring to speakers that I would personally own. That list is indeed very short. To say I'm ultra-picky when it comes to what I would spend my money on is an understatement. I know that I've been spoiled by years of reviewing simply the best gear in the world, and this has had quite the effect on my admittedly type-A personality. There are times when little, nagging issues with regards to sound just drive me crazy. I also freely admit that I want basically perfect build quality and extremely advanced engineering along with sound to die for. That doesn’t mean that I can’t admire and recommend lots of different gear for lots of different people. I realize that I'm quite extreme when it comes to high-end audio! And lastly, those Q3s should be here soon for audition, so hang tight. . . . Jeff Fritz


I read your article ["How Close Can I Get for Half the Price or Less? -- Paradigm Reference Signature S2 v.3 Loudspeakers"] regarding the Signature S2 speakers and the Sub 2 subwoofer combo. How would the Sub 25 or Velodyne DD subwoofers compare with the Sub 2 if paired with the Signature S2s? I am looking for the cheapest deal, but still want great quality. I just can't afford to spend $7000 on a subwoofer. I am looking to spend between $2000 and $3000 on a subwoofer. Plus, what finish would you recommend getting for the S2?

Rick Bajwa

The subwoofers I recommend without hesitation are those from Paradigm and JL Audio. I've had direct experience with both and think very highly of them -- rock-solid build; deep, deep bass; very loud output levels; very good linearity; audibly low distortion. Given that you're looking for a sub to augment a pair of Paradigm Reference Signature S2s, the Paradigm sub is a natural choice. As for the Sub 25 specifically, I have heard that unit and it is really, really nice. I'm quite sure you'd be very happy with it (the Maple finish would be my choice). . . . Jeff Fritz


I read your CES report and am glad to know that you'll be reviewing the Q3 speakers from Magico. I read in a previous letter that you do not have the speakers yet, but my question is more general in nature.  Anyone that has paid attention to your writing over the past five years or so has seen you gravitate toward certain brands -- Rockport, and now Magico most obviously -- but I've also seen where you've said good things about a few other brands as well. Over that time I've seen you steer away from certain brands that are still somewhat loved by many others in the audio press. Can you enlighten me on why that is the case? For the record, I agree with our choices. I'm just curious as to whether your reasoning is similar to mine. And for the record, I'm considering the Q3s for purchase myself.

John Boyd

I've reviewed many speakers over the past five years and, although you might assume that the sphere of loudspeakers that I admire, or would own, would have expanded in that time, the truth is that it has contracted. Don't get me wrong, there are many really good speakers on the market, but there have been very few that I would personally consider owning. Although I've admired many of the designs I've had contact with, there are always a few nagging issues, or the speaker hasn't really set itself apart to a great degree in terms of its engineering, build, and of course ultimately, its sound. Being merely really good just isn't enough anymore.

The brands you allude to -- Rockport, Magico, TAD, Vivid, a couple of others -- have set themselves apart in my eyes and to my ears. They are all highly engineered, expertly built products. And they perform at a higher level than similar speakers from other brands.

As to the Q3s, I'm very excited to get them in. I'd be happy to review them if they were priced at $49,500. I don’t think many audiophiles would blink an eye had they been introduced at that price. But at $34,000 per pair, they have the potential to offer great value at their asking price. The same can't be said for many speakers costing 34 large these days. . . . Jeff Fritz


I was excited to see the review of the Gryphon Colosseum and Mirage. I wish they had distribution here in the States. I'll just have to keep watching and hoping a Diablo shows up on Audiogon at a price I can afford when the cash is available for once!

I would love to see you guys investigate Gryphon's new integrated, the Atilla, as well.



Did I read that you're in the process of reviewing the Magico Q3s? If so, any idea when you might be issuing the review?

I'm trying to choose among the Sonus Faber Elipsa (crazy low price right now), Amati Futura (going to Montreal to hear them at the show), and the Q3s (because they sounded so good at CES). I'm leaning toward the Q3s, my only concern being all the reviewers who have said Magicos are "picky" about matching electronics. I'm hoping they're more efficient than the Q5s, but I think you're the first reviewer, so I'm waiting with bated breath. I'd like to hold onto my Simaudio W-7 to drive them rather than switching to all Spectral and all MIT cabling, or Soulution if I win the lottery, like you always see at the shows.

And SF is only offering the sales price until April 1, so I have to decide fairly soon.

Thank you,
Jon Lewis

As I understand it, the Q3s are gearing up for production very soon. I opted to wait for the first production pair for my review as opposed to receiving the pre-production prototypes. I understand that the production version will include some improvements that Magico felt were necessary to make the speaker the best it could be.

Regarding electronics, I think the "picky" thing has been largely overblown. I also don’t think there is a need for these very expensive esoteric components that you see at shows. Remember, those companies are there to sell gear too. My gut feeling tells me that the Q3s and your Simaudio would mate just fine. I'd definitely hang tight for the Q3s. At CES they were really something special. . . . Jeff Fritz


I've read your article "Benchmark Systems, Part 3: The $5000 Full-Ranger," and I'm pretty curious about the Bel Canto C5i integrated amplifier/DAC you recommend. What are your impressions of it? Have you tried the headphone output with a decent set of headphones? Are you writing a review of it? Have you compared it to other combinations of amps and DACs?

I have already preordered a C5i to use with my Dynaudio Excite X12 speakers, but it seems it's not going to be out at least until mid March. Thanks for your article and hope to hear more from you.


I only had the Bel Canto C5i in for a short time, and only used it in the configuration described in the article. However, in that short time I was very impressed with it, driving the Aperion Verus Grand Tower speakers quite easily and with excellent fidelity. But, of course, that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know, so we do have a full review underway. Our own Roger Kanno has a C5i in currently and his review will appear on a SoundStage! Network site in the near future. . . . Jeff Fritz


Very nice review of the Gryphon Colosseum stereo amplifier and Mirage preamplifier. I couldn’t have said it any better!

Gryphon is indeed a very special line of products that deserves a great deal of respect and auditioning. The Colosseum+Mirage combo has a certain invisible sonic footprint that is just so pleasant and organic to listen to music through. Couple that with their sheer good looks and presence and you got there a complete Viking package.

And by the way, the High bias happens to be my favorite setting as well -- it allows the amps to tightly grip (or shall I say gryph?) the speakers and convey a total tonal message. Congrats again!

My best,
Oded Zyssman

To Garrett Hongo,

I'm a fan of your articles and writing style. I also like the format of Ultra Audio -- personal, to the point, and coverage of the type of products I'm interested in. You are one of the few high-end-audio reviewers I track, and your informative, trusted insights have helped guide some of my purchases, including my most recent decision to buy a VAC Phi 300.1a amplifier. I was close to buying the Esoteric A-100, but for long-term flexibility and to support companies headed by folks like Kevin Hayes, I decided on the VAC. I'm also encouraged to read your comments about the Herron VTPH-2. I upgraded from the VTPH-1MC and love my Herron phono preamp. Your comments confirm that the Herron phono preamp is one to keep and hand down to my children just like the VAC, and Keith Herron is another super-capable and talented gentleman in the industry. I especially liked your article on the VAC Renaissance Mk.3 -- puts it on the short list of components I want to acquire. Any experience or point of view on the Herron VTSP-3a line stage? If it's like the phono stage, sounds like a real winner.


Thank you for the support!

The Herron VTSP-3a and VAC Renaissance Mk.3 are both high-quality preamps and I've just had the VAC in my system and listened to the Herron VTSP-3 (the immediate predecessor to the 3a). I think the VAC Renaissance Mk.3 is terrific, but you must remember it is a high-gain preamp with 22dB of gain. I'm sure the new Herron VTSP-3a is likewise terrific, but it is a moderate-gain preamp with 12dB of gain switchable to 6dB. To me, besides the bells and whistles that give tremendous flexibility to the Herron (switchable H/L gain, switchable absolute polarity, stereo/mono switch, stepped and reproducible volume control, etc.) and that the VAC Renaissance Mk.3 has a phono option (with two sets of inputs), the difference in overall gain is the major thing that distinguishes one from the other. Output impedance is close enough, with the VAC being 300 ohms via RCA jacks and the Herron 100 ohms (RCA only).

For me, the switchable gain of the Herron VTSP-3a isn't as significant as that the preamps have very different gains -- the VTSP-3a being 12dB/6dB (switchable) and the Renaissance Mk.3 having 22dB. Again, the Herron is moderate/low gain and the VAC most definitely high gain. If you have high-sensitivity speakers, I don't think the Renaissance Mk.3 would be appropriate.

It depends on the needs of your system. I have moderately sensitive Von Schweikert VR5 HSE speakers (91dB/6 ohm) and a pair of moderate-output tubed mono amps -- the deHavilland KE50A (40Wpc) -- as my reference, and they benefit greatly from the higher gain capability of the VAC Renaissance Mk.3. And with your VAC Phi 300.1a stereo amp, a VAC preamp should be optimal. That said, the Herron VTSP-3a is perfect for the Herron M1 monos, of course, and an extremely versatile piece too -- in features and compatibility with other amps. One veteran reviewer I know uses the VTSP-3a with a pair of deHavilland Aries 845-G monoblocks that output only 30Wpc, but he has VMPS RM 30 speakers with a VMPS Large subwoofer.

As far as "sonic signature" is concerned, I can't say, as it's been too long since I've listened to the Herron line stage. Perhaps I'll be lucky enough to review it soon! I've the Herron M1 mono amps and VTPH-2 phono stage, so why not? Good luck. . . . Garrett Hongo

To Garrett Hongo,

I recently purchased the EAR 890 amplifier and I am not using a preamp. The EAR preamp lists for almost $7500 and I was really wondering if it is worth purchasing. At that price I could purchase another amp and run them as monoblocks. I’ve been told by the salesperson at the retailer that the EAR preamp would complement the EAR 890 and give it a warmer, enhanced sound. What are your thoughts?


Thanks for your question -- a very good one. Although it's hard to answer without factoring in your source component(s) and though I never ran the EAR 890 without a preamp, I can say that, in general, I much prefer the sound of amps driven by a good preamp and that the EAR 868 is a superb one.


A good preamp should give you a much more sophisticated, nuanced sound, in my opinion, and better and more convenient control over the volume, particularly if it has a remote. Finally, there is also the benefit of the preamp being able to connect to multiple sources -- CD, tape, phono, USB DAC -- and further complicating your listening pleasure. The 868 comes with a built-in phono option, by the way.


I liked the EAR 890 with the EAR 868 quite well and see them as a winning combination. . . . Garrett Hongo