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

Integrated Amps: Anthem STR vs. NAD Masters M33

To Roger Kanno,

I’m in the market to upgrade my electronics, and I believe you have reviewed both of these units. I would much appreciate your thoughts on how they compare and which might be the better choice for me.

My listening room is 14.5′ × 12.5′ and 8′ high, opening to a 9′ × 10.5′ dining area on the left. My speakers (Revel Performa3 F206 floorstanders) are along the 14.5′ wall. I currently have Adcom’s GFA-555II amp and GFP-565 preamp fed by a Marantz SA8004 SACD player. I have a Bluesound Node 2 connected via coax into the Marantz, and I’m using Kimber Kable’s 8TC speaker wire and Hero interconnects. Primarily, I listen to jazz, classical music, blues, and pop/rock on CD or via Qobuz lossless/hi-rez streams (usually at 80dB or less). I don’t have a turntable and only occasionally use headphones (HiFiMan HE4XX).

I’m more concerned about sound quality and reliability, and less about aesthetics and cosmetics. I am also considering just replacing the Adcoms with Audio by Van Alstine’s Vision SET 400 amp and Fet Valve CF RB preamp. Any comments and recommendations you could provide would be a huge help.

Regards,
Michael Kowalski
United States

Yes, I reviewed the Anthem STR and the NAD Masters M33 and can recommend both as state-of-the-art integrated amps. However, the NAD utilizes Purifi’s Eigentakt amplifier technology, which I think is the real deal—and our publisher and founder, Doug Schneider, agrees. Your Revels are excellent speakers and both amps would drive them very well, but, to my ears, the powerful, neutral sound of the NAD’s Eigentakt amplification cannot be bettered for the price.

Both amps have excellent room-correction systems: ARC Genesis on the Anthem and Dirac Live on the NAD, and although I slightly prefer ARC, I could happily live with Dirac. They also have very good built-in DACs so you could just use your Marantz SACD to play optical discs with either one. The NAD M33 supports BluOS so you wouldn’t need your Bluesound Node 2. The Anthem STR doesn’t provide BluOS support or streaming, but does have a USB-B input for digital audio, while NAD only offers USB input via an optional MDC module. Only the NAD has a headphone output, and while the Anthem and NAD each have a phono stage, you said that you don’t have a turntable and only occasionally use headphones, so these features won’t really be a consideration for you.

If you desire a warmer, more tube-y sound, then the Audio by Van Alstine separates may be what you are looking for, but if you want a more neutral and linear sound, then the Anthem or, better still, the NAD would be the way to go. . . . Roger Kanno

Disagreement with Doug's Opinion Piece

To Doug Schneider,

Although I respect your opinions and certainly those of Floyd Toole and others like him, your recent piece on SoundStage! Hi-Fi is not entirely accurate. As a scientist who has studied the human auditory system, I can say that audiophiles do not fully appreciate that the major determinants of an individual’s appreciation of reproduced sound quality are innate features, such as genetics, and trained listening. Most auditory scientists agree that human variance in sensory perception and central components of the nervous system are the primary variables that impact one’s ability to resolve sound frequencies and other features important for musical appreciation. Age-related deafness or other hearing damage is not responsible for the majority of this variation.

I do agree with you that web discussions on social media, even among audiophiles, are often filled with vitriol and bizarre behavior that is inappropriate, and I doubt these same people would behave like this during face-to-face discussions.

Thank you,
Gerry H.
United States

On Measurements, Buying Decisions, and YouTube's Zero Fidelity

To Doug Schneider,

I learned a lot from this article—probably one of the best on any of your excellent websites to date—and agree with 90% of what you said.

I would only add that PERSONALLY I don’t buy gear based on measurements, good or bad, nor do I buy based solely on what reviewers say; although your publications’ reviews are among the best, they are only part of what influences my buying decisions.

Apart from your stable of contributors, one reviewer I have found reliable—relatively speaking—is this YouTuber, Sean. His channel, Zero Fidelity, is a tongue-in-cheek attempt at objectivity, but without the measurements angle. He doesn’t discount measurements or downplay their importance within the industry; he just doesn’t seem to think they are necessary for his purposes.

I have found Sean’s reviews more useful than any of those from Stereophile, for example, though I respect John Atkinson [the magazine’s technical editor] immensely.

Best,
Mike
Canada

Pseudoscience, Company Claims, and Real Audio Advancements

To Doug Schneider,

I frequently appreciate your thoughtful reviews. Your recent piece about measurements and the reviewers who basically deny reality with their biases and self-serving opinions is a sad comment on the current state of our society. As a former molecular biologist, I am distraught to observe how governments, most of the medical community, and the majority of the general public have no understanding of scientific facts and established knowledge, and therefore make irrational decisions when dealing with COVID-19. But that also applies to almost anything relevant to our future, like climate change.

In audio, the consequence of this is more of an annoyance than something which has a real impact on our lives. (Maybe just a little, in how we enjoy them.) One thing that frequently mystifies me is the invention of completely fictitious scientific “facts” supported by acronyms by audio marketers—most significantly, but not exclusively, in the cabling sector. I often notice that these “facts” are repeated by reviewers as if they are real, new scientific insights, thus promoting pseudoscience and “justifying” the pricing of these products. As far as I can see, no real research has been done. Lack of research and real innovation is quite common in the audio industry, but there are some quite notable exceptions which should be highlighted more often (just thinking of Børresen ironless woofers and Purifi Audio).

I would like to hear your thoughts on this!

Jakob B.
United States

It is definitely beyond my scope to comment on COVID-19 or climate change, but I know a thing or two about the way audio companies market their products with fancy phrases that wind up as impressive-sounding acronyms in their marketing literature, and morph into facts in equipment reviews. I certainly don’t blame the marketers for doing this—they’re trying to appeal to their customers, after all—but I do blame the reviewers who don’t look more critically at the claims companies make. And I lay more blame on reviewers who propagate this misinformation, using the phrases and acronyms as if they’ve been independently verified. I could cite quite a few examples, but suffice it to say that I think you and I are on the same page with regard to the frequency at which this occurs.

Like you, I also believe this process hurts real advancements in audio. I don’t know anything about Børresen’s woofers, but I do know quite a bit about Purifi Audio’s amplifier and driver technologies, which are making their way into a number of products from a variety of manufacturers now. Purifi’s tech is something I’ve written about and subjected to measurements, so I know that what they’re doing is the real deal. But, unfortunately, I’ve seen too many reviewers turn a blind eye to it and, instead, endorse the dubious claims of companies promoting products that seem to have no research behind them. This cycle of misinformation is discouraging, but not everyone’s headed in that direction—my goal is to find the real stuff and report on that. . . . Doug Schneider

Exposing the "Anti-Measurement Brigade"

To Doug Schneider,

Bravo!! Just read your post on the anti-measurement brigade. It’s about time someone exposed this lot for what they really are. Keep up the good work.

Best regards,
A.L.
United States

Port Noise with Totem Skylight and Paradigm Premier 100B Speakers

To Doug Schneider,

I live in a high-rise condo building and I’m in the market for a new pair of speakers. I can’t play music really loud or have a subwoofer, but I think a pair of small bookshelf speakers would be great. My listening room is small—approximately 12′ by 12′. I listen to music like Blue Rodeo, the Eagles, Bon Jovi, etc. I hope you don’t mind getting this e-mail—I got your name from the article you wrote about the Totem Acoustic Skylight speaker.

I’m looking at this speaker, and the Paradigm Premier 100B. My question is this: Do you know about the Stereophile review on the Skylight, where there were some comments made by readers about the rear port causing a problem with the sound? They kind of downgraded this model. I don’t know the technical part of what they were talking about, but I thought maybe you would know. I would be running these speakers with a recapped NAD 7250PE receiver from the late ’80s (50Wpc). I only play CDs and vinyl.

I’m only going to listen to the 100Bs and Skylights as I don’t want to listen to a lot of speakers. Don’t want to get confused, LOL. Anyways, if you’ve got this far, thanks for reading this. I’d appreciate your thoughts.

Thanks,
Steve M.
Canada

Thanks for writing in. I’m always happy to hear from our readers. I haven’t looked at what was written in Stereophile about the Totem Skylight, but, if I have to guess from what you’re describing, it probably has something to do with port noise. This is a potential issue with any speaker that has a port—and most of them do, including the Skylight I reviewed and Paradigm’s Premier 100B, which Diego Estan reviewed for SoundStage! Access in 2019.

A ported speaker is also known as a bass-reflex speaker. Some people also call them vented speakers. These ports, vents, or whatever you want to call them help to deliver more bass output. This also allows the designer to make the speaker more sensitive than a sealed-box design (one with no port or vent); in other words, so it can play louder with the same or even less power.

Basically, there’s an opening in the cabinet that allows air to escape when the bass driver is moving rearward. It’s tuned to a specific bass frequency so that the escaping air augments the output the bass driver produces when it moves forward. This results in more bass output around certain frequencies compared to a similarly size sealed-box speaker. The trade-off is that the air passing through the port or vent is subject to friction, which can cause turbulence and noise. This effect is often more noticeable at higher volumes. As a result, designers do all kinds of things to reduce the turbulence and noise, such as shaping the ports in innovative ways and using special materials. Making the opening on the back of the speaker so it faces away from the listening position also helps to reduce the apparent noise, because that way you can’t hear it so easily. The Skylight and 100B are rear-ported designs.

Port noise from the Skylights didn’t bother me. As far as I know, Diego wasn’t bothered by it with the 100Bs, either. But that’s just me and Diego. What I’m glad to see is that you’re going to audition both speakers and make your own decision. That’s really the only way to do it because you’re the one who ultimately has to live with whatever speakers you choose. When you do audition them, listen in front of the speakers, obviously, but also go behind one speaker as it’s playing the music you’re familiar with. Listen for any port noise and determine if you think it will bother you. The proof of the speaker is always in the listening. . . . Doug Schneider

Noise and the Luxman M-900u Measurements

To Doug Schneider,

I read your measurements of the Luxman M-900u amplifier and found the output noise values for the unbalanced and balanced inputs to be strange. The value for unbalanced was so much better than the balanced (up to -10dB). Was this a feature of the Luxman M-900u or did you mistype the values, and the values for the balanced and unbalanced inputs have been swapped?

Thank you,
Hieu Nguyen
Vietnam

It’s been a long time since the M-900u review was published (in April 2015) but the values are correct, as far as I can recall. While balanced connections and circuitry can have reduced noise compared to single-ended connections and circuits, that’s not always the case. It all depends on implementation. The M-900u isn’t the first product to show that behavior, and it definitely won’t be the last. It’s possible that the extra circuitry for balanced connection in the M-900u bumps up the noise. That doesn’t negate the benefits of a balanced connection, however—if common-mode noise is picked up on the cable coming into the amplifier, the balanced input will cancel it out while the unbalanced one won’t. So there still could be a benefit from using the amp’s balanced inputs.

Regardless, I wouldn’t allow that to deter you from buying the amplifier, even if you’re going to use a balanced connection. When I reviewed the M-900u amplifier, I used it with the companion C-900u preamplifier, which I also reviewed and wrote about the previous year. I used balanced interconnects to connect them and found the setup to be quiet, so whatever noise that exists in the balanced input is not significant. In fact, that’s still one of my favorite preamplifier and amplifier combinations. . . . Doug Schneider

Evan's Great NAD C 298 Review

To Doug Schneider,

What a great review by Evan McCosham. He’s a keeper. Speaking for myself, I guess, he’s listening for the sort of things I listen for—which is one major hurdle—but he also shows a good comprehension of the product and what other consumers will look for. Good on him, and on you for not setting him up with dumb comparisons. For me, something like a $4k class-AB amp from a prestigious-but-not-unattainable manufacturer would be *exactly* right, as was the Purifi demo unit. Honestly, all of this shouldn’t be as rare as it is, but damn, that’s the truth.

Your new measurements: you guys have outdone yourselves. Just a total leap in sophistication, depth, and explanation. I guess there’s some AudioScienceReview.com issue with you guys using up to 90kHz for THD+N, but I have no idea about any of that. All I know is that I now understand way more about the amp than I ever could have hoped, or would have gained elsewhere.

Kudos, and all the best,

Tony A.
United States

I agree—Evan did a great job. And this was his first review! I also agree with you about having an appropriate equipment comparison; otherwise, what’s the use?

As for the AudioScienceReview.com “issue,” I looked through their forum and found the comments I think you’re referring to, which I’ve linked here. It mostly has to do with the bandwidth used for our amplifier measurements, which we report on our SoundStageNetwork.com site; specifically, in the chart labeled “THD+N ratio (unweighted) vs. output power at 1kHz into 4/8 ohms” that we presented on the measurements page for the NAD C 298.

When Diego Estan measured the C 298, he used a bandwidth of 10Hz to 90kHz for most of the measurements he produced. It’s the default bandwidth that he’s used for other amplifiers, but when someone on AudioScienceReview.com measured the C 298, they used a 22kHz upper limit for the measurements. (I’m not sure what the lower limit was, but that’s not important in this case.) The significance of the bandwidth has to do with the nature of class-D amplifiers, a category that the C 298 falls into.

Class-D amplifiers typically have elevated noise levels above 20kHz, which is above the audioband—in other words, beyond what we can hear. Therefore, setting the bandwidth limit to 22kHz filters that high-frequency noise out of the measurement, resulting in lower THD+N (total harmonic distortion plus noise) figures within the audioband. Extending the bandwidth to 90kHz allows that high-frequency noise to creep into the measurements, resulting in higher overall THD+N figures.

The issue, then, is what bandwidth to use. Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer. Some authorities feel that the inaudible noise above 20kHz doesn’t matter, so it shouldn’t be included in the measurements, and, therefore, a 22kHz (or similar) filter should be used. Others feel that the high-frequency noise is relevant and should be included in the measurements, hence the necessity to increase the bandwidth to capture it.

We had considered all of this before we began our measurements program. When the issue was brought up for this amp on AudioScienceReview.com, we revisited it and, as a result, will slightly revise the way we present the THD+N data for class-D amplifiers we measure in the future. We will still use the 90kHz bandwidth for the chart that shows THD+N versus output power, but we will show an additional chart that also uses the 90kHz upper limit, but applies what’s called “A-weighting” to the resulting THD+N figures. This isn’t quite the same as setting the upper-limit filter to 22kHz, which we could easily do, but does attain more or less the same result. We believe this should satisfy those people who want to see what the THD+N looks like with the high-frequency noise omitted.

The purpose of A-weighting is to account for the relative loudness perceived by the human ear, as the ear is less sensitive to low frequencies and very high frequencies. A-weighting puts the emphasis on the frequencies we are most sensitive to, rather than those close to and beyond the normal limits of the audioband, which includes the high-frequency noise above 20kHz. A-weighting is very commonly used in published audio specifications that relate to noise. In fact, in our table of what we call “primary measurements” in each measurement suite, we have already been doing this by showing both full-bandwidth and A-weighted measurements for signal-to-noise ratio, noise level, and THD+N. So we’ll simply include one more chart.

As I said before, there doesn’t appear to be a right or wrong answer for this issue in terms of the “correct” bandwidth to use, so adding more information seems to be the best solution. . . . Doug Schneider

Two Excellent Articles!

To Ken Kessler and Doug Schneider,

Now then, these two articles were an excellent read! I am of an “age” when I still can’t afford the things I lusted after in my youth, simply because the sellers of said equipment are asking too much. They know all too well the premium one’s memories put on stereophonic WayBack machines!

Still, I do have several nice ’70s-era receivers and a few turntables, and recently purchased a—GASP!!!!!—Grace Link music streamer, from Grace Digital. It’s affordable. When I buy audio equipment, music is the only attribute that’s important to me. I’m NEVER influenced by my ego, just my wallet, ergo my choice. Thus, I added a streamer to my headphone and rotating retro receiver setup.

I still listen to records and CDs, but never to terrestrial radio. I subscribe to SiriusXM and Pandora Premium (or whatever they’re calling it now), and I still have Amazon Music Unlimited (but no longer in HD because I decided it wasn’t worth the money). My favorite Internet stations are The Great American Songbook, Crystal Radio (“Beautiful Music,” from Toronto, Canada), and The Breeze, out of Crown Point, Indiana. The two latter stations play what is often called “elevator music,” but I like it as it was one of the favorite genres of my parents while I was growing up.

“Sir” Doug, your lead photo made me smile. I am handi-capable (!) and would trip over your nest of neat stuff, but I’m envious of your equipment nevertheless. Well done, sire, well done indeed. I was never a skateboarder but one of my brothers was, so memories of those times flooded over me while I read your article.

And Ken? Familiarity breeds comfort, not contempt. Retro styling can do that and it seems to me that the so-called baby boomers will be the last generation to have memories worth recalling and building upon.

You gentlemen are good people. Thanks for the smiles.

Scott S.
United States

On Offending Ottawans and Recommending Technics

To Doug Schneider,

Thanks for the great article on The Record Centre. Coincidentally, I was on the phone with John Thompson earlier in the day before reading your article in the evening. As a 35-year career public servant, the only thing I take offense to (and a mild one at that) is the suggestion that most of us are performing mind-numbing work and have lost our enthusiasm for the work. I guess it depends on where you work and most importantly, on your manager(s)!

On a more serious note, I am glad to see that The Record Centre has become the latest high-end hi-fi shop in the city, while also keeping the average audio consumer in mind. I have not visited the store for some time and I only discovered they were selling Technics Grand Class gear while I was researching the SL-G700 CD/SACD player. I am mostly interested in this model because of its streaming capabilities. The disc playback is a nice bonus, making it a valid upgrade for my venerable, still-functioning Simaudio Moon Eclipse CD player. Online reviews have been quite positive on the overall performance of the SL-G700 and I was wondering if at $3800 it competes with standalone streamers or DAC/streamers (like the Moon 280D) in that price range.

Sincerely,
Pierre
Canada

You’re not alone in taking offense to my comments about Ottawa and a lot of the work that goes on here—writer Diego Estan, who also lives in Ottawa, was a little upset. But only a little.

With that out of the way, I’ll jump straight to the Technics player to answer your questions as best as I can. I can’t guarantee you’ll like the sound. I haven’t listened to the Technics SL-G700, but looking at the information that Technics provides for it, I’d imagine it sounds very good—it’s based on the newest AKM DAC chipset design and the designers appear to have taken great care with the analog circuitry and power supply. In addition, it plays both SACDs and CDs, which might be handy because playback of both disc types is still popular with audiophiles. It also should provide an upgrade on your Simaudio Moon Eclipse, which must be close to 20 years old! The Eclipse was a great CD player when it came out, but digital playback technology has advanced a lot since then.

As you pointed out, the SL-G700 also has a built-in streamer, although I’m not sure how well it will work for you. For any streaming component, a lot depends on the usability of the software that has been implemented. To know how enjoyable it will be to use, you really have to try it out. But I do recommend you try the SL-G700—it looks like a very good digital component for the price, and I am sure John Thompson can find a way to make that happen for you. . . . Doug Schneider

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