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To Change for the Better

To SoundStage! Hi-Fi,

First off and as always, another excellent article from your site [“Embracing the Change”]. Ken is a writer, not a typist. A rarity in the world of high-end audio. Having said that I shall now address, or rather add to, the final words of his article.

Of late, I have begun to return to my favorite time for audio, the ’70s. I have started to purchase vintage receivers, so far, from Sony, Pioneer, and Kenwood. I am actively seeking a Sansui G-5700 for my older brother as it is his favorite. Which brings us to the question of: “Why?”

Because within the word “classic” resides the word “class.” And class is timeless, endless, and like the last item to spring from Pandora’s Box, gives hope. I am what I would call an objectivist with a touch of subjectivism. My subjectivist side leans toward the visual end of audio, something many seem to eschew but, unlike so many aural subjectivists, do not force my tastes upon others and when they don’t agree with them, neither do I call those people “blind” or “stupid” or what-have-you. But they do so enjoy calling such as I “deaf,” stupid, or what-have-you.

Ken speaks of change and embracing it. My mother taught me that anyone can change, but she said what is needed is change for the better. Call his latest column a sign post pointing the way. Only those blinded by their own ego will miss it.

Scott S.
United States

PrimaLuna, Devialet, Hegel Music Systems, NAD -- Integrated Amp Shootout

To Hans Wetzel,

I have just read your review for the Devialet Expert 130 Pro. I am currently building a system and I haven’t decided which way to go for the integrated amplifier. My speakers are GoldenEar Technology’s Triton 2+, sources are a Rega Planar 3 turntable, a MacBook Pro, and a Bluesound Node 2 (strictly for the streaming function, will get a better DAC if not in the integrated).

I demoed a PrimaLuna DiaLogue Premium vs. a Simaudio Moon Neo 340i. The PL came out the winner because of the “flow,” the sensation of being live, in front of a band and not in a studio where everything is detailed but not blended (340i). Less details with the PL, but way more feeling. I am demoing a Devialet 200 vs. the PrimaLuna right now and I must say that I like the Devialet a lot, even though it is slightly brighter with rock/punk/pop. I can have both for the same price.

The last three [integrated] amplifiers on my list are the Hegel Music Systems H360 (I have an H80; don’t like it), a Bryston B135 SST2 (could go for a B135 SST3, but great deal on the older one), and a NAD Masters Series M32. I heard an NAD M32 at a dealer with Focal Aria 926 loudspeakers and I wasn’t impressed. My question is: Since you have heard the Devialet, Hegel, Bryston, and NAD M32, which one would you recommend for my speakers and a lot of rock, punk, electronica, metal, etc.? If it was your money?

Thanks and keep up the good work!

Guillaume Bouillon
Canada

I haven’t heard either of the Bryston integrated amps that you mention, though I admit to having wanted to for quite some time. Of the others that you mention, I think each is excellent in their own way, but as you allude to, there are different sonic profiles on offer that may appeal to some listeners more than others.

Based on your affinity for the PrimaLuna integrated amp over the Simaudio Neo 340i, I can rule out the NAD, Hegel, and Bryston amps that you mention. All are solid-state designs that, while objectively excellent, I’m betting won’t tug at your heartstrings -- that "flow" you reference will probably be missing. The Devialet 200 would be my suggestion of the amps you mention, though I think the newer Pro models, such as the Expert 130 Pro I reviewed, won’t sound quite as bright on the top end, while also retaining the signature Devialet sound.

I would make one other suggestion, though. Luxman’s L-550AX is a 20Wpc-into-8-ohms, class-A integrated amplifier that I reviewed several years ago. Don’t let the power rating fool you -- the Luxman has plenty of current, and I know for a fact that the stated power output is very conservative. Not only would it have no trouble with your partially active GoldenEar loudspeakers, but it’s a really cool amp. Between the retro look and feel, the front-mounted VU meters, and the gorgeous, totally holographic midrange presentation, I think it’d be a great foundation for your system. You get solid-state reliability, combined with the smooth, rich, engaging qualities of a class-A design. Luxman has recently updated the L-550AX, which is now called the L-550AXII, and I bet it’s terrific. Good luck in your search! . . . Hans Wetzel

 

The Luxman's League

To Doug Schneider,

Read your reviews on the Luxman M-900u and the Audio Research GS150 amps. I currently have a Vitus SIA-025 integrated. I still miss the extra dimension that tubes add, but don’t miss the tubes.

You speak highly of both amps above. Is the Luxman in the same league as the GS150?

Appreciate your sharing your opinion.

Thanks,
Dan
United States

If you want tube-like smoothness without the tubes, definitely check the M-900u out. If I were in the market for a power amp today, that’s the one I’d buy -- it’s definitely in the same league as the best amps of today. . . . Doug Schneider

He Says Ken Is Correct!

To SoundStage! Hi-Fi,

It is not the fault of the shark if people slash their own wrists while standing in the ocean.

The so-called “High End” is fast becoming the butt end of the reality side of audio. Ken is, as usual, correct.

Cables . . . cables (!) that cost as much as a nicely equipped car is but one facet of the Cubic Zirconia of frAudio™ and the world of High End frAudio™ is a multi-facted lump of Zirconia, my friend.

Some frAudiophiles™ squeal like piggies (a tip o’ the fedora to George Harrison and the Beatles) when they claim they are being “insulted” by realists. The truth of the matter is this: They do not deserve to lay claim to a point of view when all they see is their ego reflected in the mirror of their minds.

Scott S.
United States

Meitner Upgrade Worth It?

To Doug Schneider,

I own a Meitner Audio MA-1 [digital-to-analog converter], which I have so far enjoyed. I’ve done the first software update of the MDAT, but am now considering the new, larger, and more expensive Meitner upgrade option, which is about $2k.

In your experience or the experience of your staff, is that a worthwhile change or for that expense should I really be looking at some of the newer DACs on the market?

Thanks,
Ray Farris
Singapore

I checked with the people at EMM Labs (the parent company behind the Meitner Audio brand) and the upgrade you’re likely talking about involves both hardware and software -- it’s what they’re calling their V2 upgrade. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you how much of a difference it makes to what you have, because I’ve never experienced the update with that DAC. The only thing I can tell you is that I’ve just finished reviewing their flagship DAC, the EMM Labs DA2, and thought it was fabulous (though you’ll have to wait until July 1 to get the full details, because that’s when the review will be published). From what I know, the new V2 upgrades for your DAC and the EMM Labs DAC2X were based on the work that went into the DA2 -- so I bet if you do the upgrade, it will sound good.

Should you take the plunge? My only piece of advice is to decide how much you like the MA-1 right now and make your decision based on that. I know you said you’ve enjoyed it so far, but that doesn’t tell me how enthralled you really are with it. To me, if you really like what you’re hearing and are eager to hear if the upgrade can improve it further, then I have no doubt that spending the money is a good way to go since Meitner-designed DACs are always competitive with the best ones out there. But if you’re not that hot on it and you’re itching to try something new, then it might be better to look at a different brand. That’s all I can say -- now it’s time for you to decide. . . . Doug Schneider

Accolades for Active Speakers

To Doug Schneider,

Back when the $1600/pair [Paradigm] Active/20 was available, I A/B’d it against the then-current $800/pair [Paradigm] Studio 20 -- no comparison: much more dynamic, flatter frequency response (a revelation in itself), and incredibly deeper/fuller bass. Passersby thought we were listening to the $2000/pair floorstanding Studio 100s (but the Actives had better imaging).

I understand Paradigm’s actives had reliability issues that I’m sure hurt the cause.

It was an epiphany for me and I moved on to another form of active -- single-driver speakers (active by default) and commissioned transmission-line floorstanders using the now-discontinued Fostex F200A driver (a mighty Alnico magnet that on its own reaches 30Hz).

But last year I scored a pair of Dynaudio BM5 Mk.IIIs for $850/pair before they were discontinued. They’re from Dynaudio’s professional studio monitor range and represent a step up from the Excite X14A without wood veneer. I like them very much. More analytical but less bass than my single-drivers.

Another reason active hasn’t sold in the audiophile realm is the inevitable comparison of studio work to home enjoyment. I’ve never understood why audiophiles poo-poo the studios that produce what we listen to. But I see the two coming closer together as home listeners tolerate less colorations and as you mentioned, clutter.

Anyway, keep up the good work.

Jeff McManus
United States

A Paradigm Active/40 Owner on Active Speakers

To Doug Schneider,

Just a few quick comments.

First of all, great insight on the historic perspective of active speakers. I still own the Paradigm Active/40s, and have been very reluctant to give those up. They serve as a second system, but remain a solid pair of speakers.

It looks like the age of active speakers has finally come. I may consider a purchase down the road, now that there are potentially a lot more options on the market.

Thanks for the write up.

Will
United States

I am not surprised you’re reluctant to part with your Active/40s -- Paradigm was on the right path when they designed the series that model was part of. It’s really too bad they discontinued them. As to whether active speakers will finally catch on, there’s never been a better time than now, but we’ll still have to wait and see what actually happens. Thank you for writing in! . . . Doug Schneider

Ayre's Laid-Back Sound

To Doug Schneider,

I have no place to listen and was reading your review of the Ayre [Acoustics] VX-5. My question is about how you describe the amp as laid-back [sounding]. Is that referring to the soundstage where I may feel further back in the venue or to the transients and immediacy of the amp?

I listen to a wide variety of music, including rock, so transients are important as well as transparency. Sounds like the musicality is covered. If you wouldn’t mind commenting in these areas of the amp.

Thanks,
Bryan Hudson
United States

In my room, the VX-5 presented a very wide and deep soundstage with my reference recordings, but the front of the stage was consistently set back a little more than I heard with amps from Hegel Music Systems, Bryston, or Blue Circle. Likewise, I found that the VX-5 is not as immediate or visceral sounding as those brands’ amps, either. Instead, the VX-5’s sonic strengths are smoothness and liquidity, qualities that make it easy to listen to for hours on end without risking listening fatigue. Because of those attributes, some have likened the sound of Ayre’s amps, which are solid-state designs, to being a bit like tubed amps, particularly in the seductive way they present the midrange and highs. As a result, if you’re looking for an amplifier that sounds fast, immediate, and a little bit in-your-face, which is what usually best suits rock, the VX-5 might not be the best choice -- though you’d really have to listen for yourself to know for sure. . . . Doug Schneider

MQA: The Emperor's New Clothes?

To Doug Schneider,

Has it not occurred to any within the audio industry that something as “revolutionary” as MQA purports to be should be plainly obvious to everyone and not just those who claim to have listening powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men?

If you have to STRAIN to hear “something” then it is indisputable that “it,” whatever MQA claims “it” is, is not there at all. Kinda sorta like the Emperor's New Clothes. Bob Stuart is the tailor, no . . . it is more truthful to state he is the costumer of this wardrobe.

I am an adult and as such do not desire to sit at the table with the “cool kids” that lay claim to being possessed of the hearing of the gods. Like the Pharisees of old, they strain at a digital bit but swallow the camel that is MQA. Music should bring forth memories. It should make us smile. It should take us back in time and make the present all the more pleasant. It should NOT make us strain to hear the soundtrack of our life. Where is the pleasure in so-called “critical” listening?

It is said that love is friendship set to music. What a beautiful thought.

No one needs to buy the White Album again and, even more importantly, no one needs to be MADE to. To paraphrase a certain company, I want equipment that plays the music I have, not the music I’m being forced to buy.

Follow the money. MQA is naught but the lie of the ENC all over again. I can find my own tailor and BS (Bob Stuart) can stick his needles and digital thread where the sun don’t shine.

In all ways and for always, be well.

Scott S.
United States

I agree, something as sonically revolutionary as some have said that MQA is shouldn’t have us straining to hear the tiniest of differences -- if they are even there at all. Without question, if it’s that good, it should bowl you over. In my opinion, this is likely why the folks at MQA appear to be reluctant to do meaningful comparisons in public. . . . Doug Schneider

MQA: Smoke and Mirrors?

To Doug Schneider,

A great article [on MQA], Doug. Thank you for posting this informative read. It troubles me that a simple MQA encoding of “offered” music has not been done. It truly makes me wonder: Is MQA becoming “smoke and mirrors”? We’ll wait and see how it goes. But you’re not alone in questioning MQA.

Cheers,
Lloyd
Canada

I think it’s safe to say that MQA’s reluctance to do A/B comparisons with properly vetted source material casts a lot of suspicion on exactly what it is they’re claiming and doing. It’s possible that what they’re offering is a real benefit to audio enthusiasts, but it’s also possible that it is, as you say, smoke and mirrors. Until we can do those comparisons, we won’t really know. . . . Doug Schneider

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