E-mail comments or questions to feedback@soundstagehifi.com.

The Music Matters

To Doug Schneider,

Recently read the GoldenEar Technology Triton Reference review and wanted to offer my thanks and appreciation for the mention of several recordings used in the write-up. Kudos in particular for: Reminding me how much I love Poetic Champions Compose. It’s been too long since I last listened and your comments got the record back on the turntable again. Wonderful music, well recorded, and good for the soul. Turning me on to Glen Hansard. I streamed Rhythm and Repose on Tidal and very much enjoyed it. Will be listening to more of his music and ordering a few records. The mention of Bruce Cockburn’s The Charity of Night. He’s another artist I’ve neglected lately, so I streamed your reference, then pulled Humans off the shelf and enjoyed both so much I ordered four more of his records. While I’m not in the market for a new pair of speakers, I’m always looking for new or renewed musical discoveries and your review provided excellent recommendations.

Thanks again and best regards,

Ray
United States

P.S. If you haven’t heard Lizz Wright’s last release, Grace, you may want to give a listen . . . seems like something you might appreciate.

The equipment is important, but the music is what matters. I’m glad the review helped in that way, because I do often try to pick music that readers might find interesting.

I’m going to check out Lizz Wright immediately after I finish writing this response. As for Bruce Cockburn, I’ve been a fan of his since I was 15. As I mentioned in the review, Poetic Champions Compose is my favorite Van Morrison release. Likewise, Humans is my favorite Cockburn release, although its sound quality isn’t up to that of The Charity of Night. Insofar as Glen Hansard goes, everyone I recommend his music to ends up a fan, though I have yet to pick a favorite album of his. . . . Doug Schneider

Some Impressive MQA Testing

To Doug Schneider,

Thanks for the great article.

I have had an MQA-certified DAC for over six weeks now. Like you, I was skeptical about any comparisons using Tidal and chose to base my judgements on the 2L samples. To be thorough, I downloaded the MQA, hi-res, and CD versions.

My observations:

1) The production on these tracks is excellent and they do sound like they were derived from the same masters.

2) It is indeed hard to hear any differences. To me, the hi-res and MQA do sound slightly better than the CD quality, but only slightly.

3) I heard no discernible difference in the hi-res and MQA versions.

I have revisited these files numerous times and my results are always the same.

I will also point out that I participated in Archimago’s “blind” MQA vs. PCM test and scored three out of three. Each time I preferred the sound of the PCM file. The pseudo-MQA files had slight distortions, which admittedly were minor and took a lot of concentration to pinpoint. The overall presentation (musicality?) of the PCM versions was just a little better. I do not fully understand the process Archimago used to “unfold” the MQA versions to PCM containers, and cannot comment if it is a valid test of MQA. I only mention my “perfect” scoring as a testament to my listening ability.

Mark Brauer
United States

I am impressed by your skepticism about doing comparisons using Tidal masters, as well as the approaches you have taken to determine if MQA is better, worse, or different -- you’ve put more thought into and done more legwork than many audio journalists have. And, yes, it certainly appears you can hear! It also appears that you are not afraid to be honest in your assessments. After someone buys a new piece of equipment (in your case, the MQA-compatible DAC), bias comes in and they do everything in their power to believe it sounds better. It is a hard pill to swallow when it is not. Good for you! Thank you for writing in. . . . Doug Schneider

"The MQA Balloon"

To Doug Schneider,

I read with great enjoyment your newest update on the MQA balloon. Sorry, I couldn’t resist that. I would be worried about the effect of those false high-frequency distortions in my playback system. All of my system was designed before MQA and are we playing with another “comfortable” distortion like we enjoy with tubes? Just wondering.

Regards,
Lloyd
Canada

I certainly enjoy the sound of some tubed gear -- so you could be right! . . . Doug Schneider

What If MQA Succeeds?

To Doug Schneider,

Good analysis without writing a polemic [“Mismatched Masters and False Frequencies -- Is MQA Better, Worse, or Just Different?”]. I’m also suspicious of the DRM possibilities of MQA -- what if it succeeds? Will the record labels get rid of all the non-MQA versions of albums and make hi-res available only in MQA? Will they start to tier pricing and quality of playback according to how much “extra” you are willing to pay? I’m pretty sure the labels aren’t turning their catalogs to MQA out of altruism, so when is the other shoe going to drop? I don’t think streaming MQA hi-res will be “free” vs. CD quality forever.

Thanks,
Danny
Israel

In my opinion, MQA hasn’t made significant enough inroads to guarantee that it will even be around in a few more years, let alone a roaring success. I wouldn’t worry too much about that. Yes, it’s on Tidal, which is where most audiophiles get their files, but you’ll find little elsewhere. Furthermore, I think when people learn more about MQA and how it works, they will see there are likely much better options for true high-resolution playback. . . . Doug Schneider

More Thoughts on Active Loudspeakers

To Doug Schneider,

While they will never appeal to the sort of audiophiles who already own multiple amplifiers and cables and enjoy swapping them around, I believe that self-powered speakers will become an increasingly important market niche, especially among younger enthusiasts who appreciate quality sound but don’t have room for or want to be bothered with a bunch of heavy components. Besides the obvious convenience, I see a couple of reasons for this trend:

Class-D amplification has matured in recent years to the point it is actually capable of sounding decent above the subwoofer range. The modules are compact, light, and run cool -- ideal for installation in speaker cabinets.

DSP-based crossovers offer the designer far more control over both frequency response and phase than either passive circuits or op-amp-based active analog units, again in a compact and cool-running package. Recent active speakers from Dynaudio and Kii, and now a powered version of the KEF LS50, are capable of delivering true time-aligned, transient-perfect performance with ruler-flat frequency response. You can count on one hand the number of passive speakers that do the former, and they are often compromised in both linearity and efficiency.

Brian Pearson
United States

I agree! . . . Doug Schneider

Buying the Best -- "Hard Knocks" Learning

To Doug Schneider,

Excellent article. When I got my first real job, I bought some cheap Polk speakers but I should have waited a few months to get some better ones that would have worked better with my Adcom gear at the time. Generally speaking, I have done a lot of research and invested in one good piece every few years. And I have learned through the “school of hard knocks” experience to only buy from the most established companies.

Lee Scoggins
United States

Revel Performa3 F206 vs. KEF R500

To Doug Schneider,

I’m thinking of replacing my Revel Performa3 M106 loudspeakers with a pair of floorstanders. I’m down to two options: KEF’s R500 or Revel’s Performa3 F206. A few years ago, you reviewed both these speakers. Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible to directly compare them.

My only criterion in my final choice is accuracy and neutrality. The F206 are roughly $1000 more expensive than the R500. In your judgement, is this price difference justified? How would you compare both pairs in terms of sound quality with regards to accuracy and neutrality? Finally, is there a difference in their bass performance with respect to tightness?

Looking forward to reading your thoughts.

Yvon P.
Canada

Two great speaker choices. Hopefully I can help out.

If you like the M106, moving up to the F206 is probably the logical choice -- the F206 will give you essentially the same sound, but deeper bass, due to the larger cabinet size and the two dedicated woofers it has. Insofar as accuracy and neutrality, the F206 is right at the top, so you can’t go wrong in that regard.

KEF’s R500 is another excellent speaker that, as you mentioned, is quite a bit cheaper than the F206. It’s also pretty neutral sounding. Not quite as neutral as the F206, mind you, but close. Would you be happy with it? One thing for sure is that the R500 can play a lot louder than the F206 -- extraordinarily loud given its modest size. If that’s important to you, perhaps. From what I recall, it also sounds fuller in the bass than the F206. However, the bass it delivers isn’t as tight or articulate as what comes out of the F206, which I found lighter sounding, but supertight. As a result, it’s really going to come down to what you prefer and, of course, what your budget will allow. . . . Doug Schneider

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

More Articles ...