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To Garrett Hongo,

It's amazing -- time and time again you review the pieces I'm most interested in. After I e-mailed you about wanting to add a Miyajima mono cartridge to my Clearaudio Innovation Wood turntable, I hit on the main link to Ultra Audio and just read your review on the very same Miyajima! I've been researching the Miyajima Premium BE mono for a few weeks -- sounds like a winner. Your review was very helpful. I will stay away from Fantasy reissues, and stick with vintage or other label mono recordings. I keep reading that the Miyajima mono is the best out there and will make me spend less time on stereo recordings. I know you are a big fan of mono -- was wondering what your favorite mono recordings are? By the way, I'm still loving and using my Herron VTPH-2 phono preamp, which I note is still your reference.

Take care, and thanks for reporting on the stuff I'm most interested in! As always, I really appreciate the exact manner in which you write your reviews. Great combination of set-up observations, listening observations, comparisons, the positives and negatives, etc.


Glad the review was encouraging to you! As for which mono recordings are my faves, that's a long, long list. You might start with reissues from Cisco, Classic Records, Music Matters, Sundazed, and Speakers Corner. Or you could search the thrifts and retail outlets in your area for vintage mono. There's lots around. . . . Garrett Hongo


I enjoyed your recent article on the Coda 15.0 and will be checking it out myself.

I currently own Wilson Audio WATT/Puppy 6es and am thinking of moving up. I’m in a heavily treated (ten 16" Tube Traps, lots of panels and diffusers) but small room (15' x 11' x 8'), which performs very, very well for nearfield listening. The WP6es work very well in this room. I’m thinking about a used set of Rockports . . . likely Merak/Sheritans. Side-firing woofers, and per Andy Payor, are very good for nearfield listening (as are the Wilsons). Or I could go with Wilson WP8s, Sashas, or Sophia 3s.

Question for you: I listen mostly to rock. How did you like the Altairs for rock versus the WP8s? Did the speaker lead you to a listening preference? Any comments you can provide here would be welcome on the companies’ respective "house sounds" and what music they can, and cannot, do as well. Mahalo, Jeff.


In my opinion, there is simply no comparison. The Rockports are some of the most highly engineered speakers in the world and, as such, have no preference when it comes to input material: they will simply play what you put in them. As well, they have deep, full bass that serves rock music just perfectly. The drivers also integrate very quickly off the front baffle making them excellent choices for nearfield listening. The Wilsons, in my opinion, just can't compete with the fidelity to the source that the Rockports accomplish by their very nature.

If you have an opportunity to buy a set of Rockports you should take advantage of it and not look back. It will be quite an upgrade for you. . . . Jeff Fritz


Thanks for your insightful review of the Coda 15.0 power amplifier. As someone who owns several Coda amps and who's heard the 15.0 a number of times, I can attest to the inherent brilliance of their design. The first thing that strikes you about their products is their transparency. They have a window-free quality that few amps at any price can better, but it’s matched by a warmth and fluidity that really bring the music alive. And their bass is among the most tightly controlled I’ve heard. Considering how much they deliver sonically, and how favorably they compare with today’s über amps, their prices are a bargain. The 15.0 is truly a wonderful product, but I’d like to see future reviews of some of the other amps in the line; especially the S12.5, which I also think is reference grade.

Andy Claps

Thanks for the note. And I agree with your comments! Make sure you check out our Coda Technologies factory tour as well. . . . Jeff Fritz


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'.

Chris M.

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


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.


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.


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?


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


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.


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


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


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?


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