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Editor,

I just ran across your article boasting "The Best System Ever" or something of that nature. Maybe music servers are the future, but what about good old analog? That's not going away anytime soon, if ever.

Why no turntable or phono stage? How about the $90k Continuum Caliburn turntable, Cobra tonearm, and Castellon turntable stand that Michael Fremer says smokes even Rockport's Sirius lll, and the $30k Boulder 2008 phono stage? I'd be willing to bet this setup would have elevated your "ultimate system" to an even higher level. Just sayin'.

Best,
Chris M.
Chicago

I have no argument with what you are saying. The best solid state and high-resolution digital has been my beat for the longest time and, therefore, it is what I tend to gravitate to. Would a turntable improve "The World's Best Audio System" substantially? My guess is that it would certainly provide an alternative source that would be quite compelling to hear. Ultimately, I think the way to get closest to the original recording is to listen to 24/88.2 or higher digital, but I, too, have heard great analog and agree it can be wonderful. . . . Jeff Fritz

Editor,

I enjoy your reviews and have sought out many items you've liked. I'm Interested in your opinion. I currently use a Weiss Minerva DAC fed by an Apple Mac Mini with Amarra.

I'm looking to upgrade my DAC and was thinking of using the Weiss as a pass-through to the Accustic Arts Reference Tube-DAC II SE. This would cover my Red Book library (99% of my library, CDs ripped as WAV files) and I would use the Weiss for the few hi-rez downloads I have.

I would appreciate your thoughts. Is the AA for Red Book a significant step up from the Minerva or should I be looking at something else (Weiss DAC202, Playback Designs PD5)? Thanks for your time.

Sincerely,
Dan

As much as I enjoyed the AA DAC, I also think very highly of the Minerva. Therefore, if it were my system, I'd look to upgrade to a DAC that has the very latest DAC chips and could handle both Red Book and hi-rez better than what you have now. Personally, I would listen to the Playback Designs and Weiss DAC202 as you mention, but my favorite DAC currently is the dCS Debussy, which is stellar with Red Book and can also handle hi-rez up to 24/192 through its asynchronous USB input. . . . Jeff Fritz

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, and 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 linestage? If it's like the phono stage, sounds like a real winner.

Darrin

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) in my system. I think the VAC Renaissance Mk.3 is terrific, but you must remember it is a high-gain pre 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).

 

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

It depends on the needs of your system. I've moderately sensitive Von Schweikert VR5 HSE speakers (91dB/6 ohm) and a pair of moderate output tubed mono amps -- the deHavilland KE50A (40W) -- 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 pre 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 30W, 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 linestage. 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 Garret Hongo,

Thanks for your review on the VAC Renaissance Mk.3. Very nice. You mentioned listening to many preamps but the VAC Renaissance Mk.3 was the winner. I'm wondering, have you listened to any Shindo preamps? I’ve had a VAC Standard LE preamp for a few years now. However, as I had my preamp for some maintenance, I had a friend's Shindo Aurieges on loan. I must say I was quite impressed. Don’t actually know if it’s better than the Standard LE, but at least it seems to fit my system better. The instruments and voices were definitely more real and vibrant. Then again, some seem to think VAC’s better preamps are comparably a lot better than the Standard LE. So I’m wondering about an upgrade path. Any experience with, say, the Shindo Monbrison or Masseto compared to the VAC Renaissance MK.3 preamplifier?

Regards,
Jukka

Yes, I think the VAC Renaissance Mk.3 is an outstanding preamp. Though I've no experience with either the VAC Standard LE or the Shindo Aurieges you mention, I have had a Shindo Monbrison in my system. I found it tonally saturated, dynamic, and vibrant, particularly as a linestage and with jazz, rock, and blues. The VAC Renaissance (as a linestage) might be more resolving, less tonally dense, but also more nimble and nuanced, particularly at the top end (I listen to opera and Renaissance choral music). I thought their phono stages were comparable. But these auditions were over 18 months apart, so you can take these assessments with a grain of salt. . . . Garrett Hongo

Editor,

First off, thank you for all the great reviews. I am currently looking for an amplifier for my Magico Mini II speakers. I'm considering a number of brands based on reviews, including the Simaudio W-8, Gamut D200i, Boulder 1060, Vitus SS-050, and a Gryphon amp.

I've read both your reviews on the Simaudio W-8 and the Boulder 1060, and would appreciate your thought on whether one of these would mate with the Mini IIs better than the other, unless you think there is something else out there that would do an even better job. I am looking for accuracy and musicality.

Thanks for any thoughts you might have. By the way, I'm looking forward to your Q3 review.

Jeff

First off, there are no losers in your group that I can see. The only brand I have no experience with is Gamut, but I can advise you generally on the others.

All of the amplifiers that you have chosen will drive the Mini IIs with no issues. They are all competent and refined, and all built by solid companies. All are high-current designs with massive power supplies. Still, there are some sonic generalizations I've noted about each brand.

In terms of house sounds, take these comments for what they're worth: my experiences in my system over a period of several years. The Simaudio would likely be the warmest of the bunch, with the ability to produce a huge soundstage. The Boulder is dead neutral, certainly not warm like the Sim, and very transparent across the entire audio band. The Vitus is also dead neutral and extremely well controlled, and has far more drive than the power rating suggests. It is also very refined. The Gryphon will have a wonderful warmth and an analog feel, but also be quite transparent -- it has a wonderful combination of attributes that makes it a joy to live with day to day.

Ultimately all of these amplifiers are winners. If you have the ability to audition each of them, I'm quite sure you'll come away loving one of them the most.

I am due to get the Magico Q3s within about two weeks. . . . Jeff Fritz

Editor,

I have been perusing your coverage of the High End show in Munich.

Solely from the perspective of their price points, it appears that the new Pandora preamplifier and the Mephisto stereo amplifier represent Gryphon's new top-of-the-line products. This notion is further supported by your comments and by those in Gryphon's latest catalog. Is this a valid inference on my part?

Also, did Gryphon allude to making a monoblock version of the Mephisto amplifier? Thank you for your time.

E. Jacobsen.

Yes, the Mephisto and Pandora are Gryphon's new top-of-the-line amplifier and preamplifier, respectively. Essentially, they create a fourth tier in the Gryphon hierarchy. How do they compare with the Colosseum and Mirage? I suppose time will tell.

As for a monoblock version of the Mephisto, yes it does appear that one will be coming soon. When it comes, that will be the top dog in the Gryphon stables. . . . Jeff Fritz

Editor,

I just came across your very interesting and informative website.

I would really like to know your impressions on the Coda 15.0 vs. the Coda 33.0. My speakers are Legacy Whisper XDs (the ones with the built-in bass amplification) and I am looking to buy a good amp to drive them.

What are your impressions of the Legacy Whisper speakers?

Thanks,
Sajid

Since your speakers have built-in amplification for the bass drivers and are rated at a very high 95dB sensitivity, I'd opt for the class-A version of Coda's flagship stereo amp, the 15.0. It should provide more than enough power -- 100Wpc in class A, 150Wpc in class AB (both into 8 ohms) -- to drive your speakers to crazy-loud volume levels. The 33.0 will output 300Wpc into 8 ohms, but you'll miss that special class-A sound that the lower-powered amp was designed to provide.

I've heard the Legacy Whisper speakers at shows and they sound quite good, but I've never had a pair in my listening room. . . . Jeff Fritz

Editor, 

I commend your decision to review the Coda 15.0 power amp. Recently I had a chance to audition one in a pretty awesome system. We compared it to a few different amps -- some whose manufacturers advertise in your pages -- and, I must say, frankly, it blew us away. Its combination of bottomless power, see-through transparency, inner detail, and wall-busting soundstaging impressed the hell out of a bunch of seasoned ears. It didn’t sweep all categories, but even in the ones it didn’t win, it came in almost too close to call. 

I’ve known about Coda for some years now, and have always respected their decision to stay small and out of the limelight. In my opinion, they build some of the best amplifiers in the industry, period. And their value quotient is off the charts. 

I own a CSi-B integrated and modified S12.5 power amp. Both are great amps -- especially the 12.5, which is almost identical sonically to the 15.0 at half the price -- and punch way above their weight classes. They’re not perfect (what amp is?), but their utter balance and close approach to neutrality, with just a pinch of sweetness, made them an easy choice for me. Anyway, I’m looking forward to your review of the 15.0. It’s a fabulous component in all respects. 

Sincerely,
Justin Self

The 15.0 review will be published here on June 15. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Peter Roth,

I’ve just read your most recent review of the Audio Research Reference 5 preamplifier. Well, as a Ref 5 owner, I couldn’t agree more -- you took the words out of my mouth as it were.

Please let me ask you about something completely different. In the Associated Equipment section you mention the Ayre DX-5 as your only digital source. I currently own Ayre's C-5xeMP and have been very happy with it. However, because I want to add Blu-ray playback capability to my system and, also, people tell me it is time to at least start thinking about computer audio, I have been seriously considering replacing my C-5xeMP with the DX-5. I have no doubt whatsoever that with Blu-ray Discs and as a USB DAC the DX-5 is stellar and, perhaps, the best buy under $10k.

So I’m not even asking your opinion about that part of it. However, how does DX-5’s CD, DVD-A and SACD playback compare with the C-5xeMP? Does the DX-5 really outperform the C-5xeMP with CD, DVD-A, and SACD? If you ever had a chance to compare the two machines, could you share your impressions, please? If you haven’t and only can speak for the DX-5, that would be interesting, too. Again, I only care about the DX-5’s performance with CD, DVD-A, and SACD out of the analog outputs.

As always, your honest and impartial opinion will be well appreciated.

Thank you so much!
Alexander

The Ayre C-5xeMP is a fantastic machine and was my disc-spinning reference for almost four years, so I am intimately familiar with it. However, when my QB-9 and Wavelength Crimson came along, I almost completely stopped spinning silver discs. Instead, my listening was either vinyl or computer audio (having ripped my entire CD collection). I do have a handful of SACDs and DVD-As, and those were the only thing I’d listen to through the C-5xeMP. After about a year of keeping the C-5xeMP around to spin only DVD-A/SACDs, and knowing that the DX-5 was coming down the pike, I ended up selling my C-5xeMP. Let me assure you that decision was not folly, as the DX-5 is superior as an audio disc spinner on all three physical formats (and as a USB DAC and Blu-ray player, too). Essentially, it utilizes the exact same engine (same digital filters, same DAC chip, same double-regulated power supply), but because the DX-5 has Ayre’s newest Equilock output stage, the DX-5 paints an even more honest and realistic sonic picture. It also outperforms the QB-9 to a significant degree, due presumably to the double-regulated analog power supply for each circuit (the QB-9’s power supply is not double-regulated) and the use of superior parts (Ayre’s store of NOS Toshiba FETs) in the Equilock output stage.

Finally, the DX-5 trounces my Oppo BD-83SE on the sonic front and exceeds its performance visually as well (in addition, it is a much quieter Blu-ray machine). For me, having the three devices rolled into one (it is an integrated source machine), with only one power cord, one interconnect, and performance in excess of my old C-5xeMP and current QB-9 (which is now in my wife’s system) and the Oppo, its purchase was a no-brainer. Cheers. . . . Pete Roth

Editor,

Many thanks for your advice regarding the Boulder amplifier. At last I have brought both the 2010 preamplifier and the 2060 power amplifier home to drive the Wilson MAXX 2s! I love the combination very much! It's an entire level of sonic performance that I have never experienced before.

I am planning my next upgrade: I am looking at the Avalon speaker series. My listening room is 4.6m wide, 5.5m long, and 2.85m high. With this room size, do you think I can fit in a pair of Avalon Isis speakers? Or do you think the Avalon Time would be a better choice? And do think Avalon will make a better coupling with Boulder than Wilson?

Best Regards,

Eric

I'm glad you're enjoying your Boulder gear. It is wonderful equipment and I'm not surprised it has improved the performance of your system.

Regarding speakers, frankly I think there are much better choices than either the Wilsons or Avalons. If your goal is sonic accuracy, and all the musical joys that higher fidelity can bring, I can think of several speakers you'd be wise to audition. Speakers at the cutting edge of performance today use extremely sophisticated cabinet engineering, super-advanced drivers, and crossovers with innovative slope profiles that simply make for better sound.

For instance, I think the Magico Q5 is a simply stellar loudspeaker. A pair of Q5s will give you laser-like imaging that produces a magically precise soundstage, and will have extension at either end of the audible frequency band that very few speakers can approach. To be blunt, I think speakers like the Q5s are at a completely different level of the game from what you're considering, and at about the same price point. It's a no-brainer.

And this state-of-the-art sound is easy to hear. So I advise you to seek out the Q5s, along with several other brands that you can read about in the pages of Ultra Audio, and really take your system to a higher level. . . . Jeff Fritz