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NAD D 3045 or C 338?

To Doug Schneider,

Both the NAD D 3045 and the NAD C 338 are very similar and are only $50 difference in price. The D 3045 is 10Wpc more powerful and has two-way Bluetooth with aptX. The C 338 has Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and Chromecast Built-in. What do you think is the future of amplifiers with Chromecast Built-in now that Google has discontinued Chromecast Audio? I’ve been thinking of getting the C 338, but now I’m more inclined to purchase the D 3045.

Thanks,
Ron
United States

As far as I know, Google isn’t abandoning their Chromecast technology -- they only abandoned the Chromecast Audio streaming device, which originally sold for $35, but they blew out for $15-$20 a few weeks ago and have now officially discontinued. It’s unfortunate. With the addition of the optional TosLink cable, the Chromecast Audio dongle was a godsend for streaming bit-perfect digital audio at resolutions up to 24-bit/96kHz to any component with a TosLink input. It was also an inexpensive way to set up multiroom audio in a home. In fact, it’s in use in my system that forms the “System One” column on this site. Shortly after the announcement, I went shopping to buy additional Chromecast Audio streamers, but they seem to be sold out everywhere. Google now only sells the Chromecast and Chromecast Ultra devices, which, with their HDMI connectors, are meant mainly for video streaming.

Looking at the D 3045’s and C 338’s spec sheets, the inclusion of Chromecast Built-in on the C 338 is the only upside to that component. Admittedly, that’s a nice upside, too. As far as everything else goes, the D 3045 has it all over the C 338 -- it delivers more power and has more features. Unless having Chromecast technology built right into the C 338 is mandatory for what you’re setting up, the D 3045 is definitely what I’d recommend purchasing. Perhaps you’ll also get lucky and find some store that has those little Chromecast Audio streamers still in stock -- if so, buy a few, and also let me know where you found them so I can buy more. . . . Doug Schneider

An A/V Receiver or a Preamplifier and Power Amplifier for KEF Blade Twos?

To Doug Schneider,

I have a question about what equipment [I need] to power a pair of KEF Blade Twos.

Would I really be able to hear a difference if I powered the Blade Twos using a class-D3 receiver (e.g., Pioneer SC-LX901), compared to if I used a preamp and amplifier (components)? In other words, spending about $2000 on a receiver versus spending $20,000 on a preamp and amp setup?

You can assume the music being played is modern rock/pop/R&B (e.g., Top 40), so I assume we’re dealing with stuff that’s been digitally compressed (low dynamic range). In other words, source material that isn’t musically demanding to playback on a speaker system. You can also assume it won’t be played at very high volumes (e.g., >100dB).

Given the above listening conditions, would using a high-end receiver be more than enough to power the Blade Twos?

Mike
United States

I hate to brand an entire product category as poor performing, but to the get to the nuts and bolts of my answer quickly, that’s what I feel I have to do. So here goes -- while all-in-one receivers, such as the one you mentioned, are impressive in terms of how many features they have and the number of channels of amplification they pack into a single box, all the ones I’ve heard come up short on sound quality, as well as power output. I think that it simply comes from jamming too much stuff into that box -- everything gets compromised.

For instance, let’s take a look the SC-LX901 you mentioned: On Pioneer’s website, they claim that its power output into a 6-ohm load is 200W, but they’re also honest enough to say that’s with only one channel being driven and the test is not even across the audioband -- it’s for a 1kHz test signal. You can be sure that if they used 20Hz to 20kHz as their bandwidth and drove two channels, the power output would be considerably lower. What’s more, they say that its distortion level is 0.9% for that 1kHz test, which is high for a modern solid-state amplifier. I wouldn’t assume that the music you play will mask any of those deficiencies -- rock, pop, and R&B can be pretty demanding, particularly in the bass. Those musical genres also tend to sound best played fairly loud. Given that the Blade Two has a nominal impedance of about 4 ohms, I suspect that this receiver will not only have trouble driving a pair of Blade Twos to any decent volume level, its distortion will be rather high as well, so you won’t be getting the clean sound that you can get from better-quality amplification.

Have I talked you out of that receiver for the Blade Twos yet? I hope so. But before I finish, I don’t want to leave you thinking that you have to spend $20,000, as you mentioned, or that you even need separate components. If you do want separates, though, you might be surprised that companies such as Bryston, McIntosh Laboratory, and Parasound all have outstanding amplifier/preamplifier combos that would work that are priced under $10,000. You can spend more if you want to, but you really don’t need to. Alternatively, there are some super-high-performing integrated amplifiers to consider as well. For example, you could go with the Hegel H590 integrated amplifier-DAC, which Hans Wetzel reviewed for this site in October 2018 -- it is priced at $11,000 and more than surpasses it’s power rating of 301Wpc (8 ohms), with very low distortion. KEF used the H590 to power a pair of Blades at the 2018 High End show, in Munich, and the sound was great, even in a very big room. If it can power the Blades that well, it can power the Blade Twos. McIntosh has the 300Wpc (8 ohms) MA9000 integrated-amplifier DAC, which retails for $10,000. Jeff Fritz reviewed the MA9000 on SoundStage! Ultra one year ago and loved it. Those integrateds are at the high end of the price spectrum, so you could also get something suitable priced quite a bit lower -- even as low as the Pioneer receiver you are considering -- though they are not likely to have that kind of power output that the H590 and MA9000 have. All told, what I want to really stress is that if you’re going to the expense of getting KEF Blade Twos, get all you can from them with a proper amplification setup. . . . Doug Schneider

GoldenEar Triton Reference or KEF Reference 3?

To Doug Schneider,

A couple of years back I bought the KEF Reference 1s blindly based upon your review, and I sure have been pleased with the speakers, but I am eager to try a full-range speaker. I am considering the Reference 3 or the GoldenEar Technology Triton Reference. What I am wanting is a clean, fully transparent sound, with a fantastic soundstage. My room is only 200 square feet, and the speakers will be powered with an Anthem STR Integrated Amplifier. Do you have a recommendation?

Thanks,
Jared
United States

That’s an outstanding integrated amplifier you have that will work well with either speaker, particularly since it has Anthem Room Correction (ARC) built in, which helps mate any speakers to any room. The thing is, I can’t tell you which speaker to buy exactly, but I can give you some guidance since I have reviewed both.

I am sure that if you love your Reference 1s, you’ll love a pair of Reference 3s just as much. Within a series, but even from series to series, KEF’s speakers sound similar. What you normally get as you go up in price from one model to the next is deeper bass, as well as slightly higher sensitivity and output capability. With your small room, the increased sensitivity and output capability won’t matter much, but the deeper bass that the Reference 3s deliver will definitely flesh out the bottom end. Insofar as soundstaging goes, I suspect the Reference 3s will perform similarly to the Reference 1s, but with the deeper bass they can give, you might find that gives you a sense of larger soundstage spaces and a more enveloping overall sound.

GoldenEar Technology’s Triton Reference is an outstanding loudspeaker that, at about $9000/pair, is something of a bargain as far as full-range speakers go. Right now, I’m actually reviewing the new Triton One.R, which, at about $6000/pair, might be an even greater bargain, so you could also consider that model, particularly since your room isn’t that big.

With its three woofers driven by a high-powered, internal amplifier and augmented by four passive radiators, the Triton Reference will go much deeper in the bass than the Reference 3 can -- or probably even what the larger Reference 5 can. You’ll be getting true full-range sound. Thankfully, with ARC and the Reference’s own control to adjust its bass output, you shouldn’t overload your room if all that bass energy proves to be too much -- you can turn it all down. All GoldenEar speakers are known for producing wide, deep soundstages, so that shouldn’t disappoint should you go with a pair of References. The Reference is very neutral sounding and with fairly low distortion, so that should help provide the clean and transparent sound you desire. But a pair of Triton References won’t sound exactly like KEF Reference 1s or 3s, so it’s impossible for me to say if you will like the move to GoldenEar as much. Only you can decide that -- unlike with your Reference 1s, I suggest you listen before you decide. . . . Doug Schneider

Can You Direct Connect a USB Drive to the NAD D 3045?

To Doug Schneider,

I have over 2TB of high-res FLAC and MQA files on a USB drive that won’t fit on my PC anymore.

I prefer a minimal stereo system (no separate DAC, amp, preamp, network player, NAS, PC, etc.) and wondered if the versatile NAD D 3045 with speakers is the solution I am looking for. Can the NAD D 3045’s USB input read my portable drive’s music files, with a mobile app as a remote?

I prefer not to power up so many components (esp. a PC) just to hear a song.

Thanks and regards

David,
Canada

I hear you on wanting to keep components to a minimum. Unfortunately, the USB Type-A port on the NAD D 3045’s backside won’t allow you to hook a portable hard drive to it and play music. Instead, that connector is labeled Service and is used to apply firmware updates to the D 3045. As a result, you’re going to need some sort of computer-type device (e.g., a desktop or laptop computer, or a standalone music server) that the drive can attach to and can decode the files and deliver them to the D 3045, probably via the USB Type-B connector that’s there for that purpose, or through one of the other digital connectors. The D 3045 can do a lot, but not everything.

If you are willing to look at a computer, don’t think you need something big and cumbersome. Hans Wetzel, who runs our SoundStage! Access site, took the plunge and bought an Intel NUC computer as a music server -- he wrote about it last September. NUCs are small, fast, and relatively inexpensive (really inexpensive if you buy one used, like he did, though if I were buying, I would get something new). In my opinion, that’s a really good way to go if space and speed are your concerns. . . . Doug Schneider

Vivid Audio or Rockport Technologies or Magico?

To Doug Schneider,

If I can ask you your professional opinion on the Vivid Giya G1 or G2 versus the Rockport Cygnus/Avior II versus the Magico S5 Mk.II, as these are the three top contenders for my next speaker. I’ve heard the Vivids, which I absolutely love, and have heard Rockport Arrakis many times over at a friend’s and the Rockport Atria at RMAF. While I love the resolution and bass, I find the Rockports a bit dry, for lack of a better descriptor. The Magicos sound great but sounded a bit warm, which can be addictive, but I wish they were a bit less so. Thanks in advance for your thoughts and I hope you are having a great holiday!

Sincerely
Steve B.
United States

Of the speakers you mentioned, and putting price aside, I’d personally go for one of the two Vivids first, then the Magico S5 Mk.II, then one of the Rockports. The reason is pretty simple -- the Vivid Audio Giya G2 is still the best overall speaker I’ve ever heard. Surprisingly, I actually like it a little more than the G1 because of its smaller size. I also like the Vivid sound -- transparent, incisive, and extremely precise.

As for what you should do, I think you’ve answered it in your own letter, since the Vivids are the ones you “absolutely love.” Now you just have decide if you want the G1 or G2. Don’t automatically think the G1 is better -- the G2 could be what works better in your room, which is what matters the most. Please write me back after you’ve purchased and tell me what you’ve done. . . . Doug Schneider

Luxman or Pass Labs for Revel Salon2 Speakers?

Doug Schneider,

I just recently purchased a pair of Revel Salon2 speakers, new. I also realize they require 300W or more to operate at peak efficiency. I have been thinking maybe the Pass Labs X350.8 may be a good choice for revealing the sonic qualities of the Salon2. But, I’ve also done a bit of inquiry and have been told to look into the Luxman M-900u amp and C-900u preamp as an even better-sounding option. My concern is the lower wattage output of the M-900u (150Wpc) not driving the Salon2 to its full dynamic capacity. Also, I’ve been led to believe that it produces more class-A wattage, and therefore will have “no problem” driving those Salon2s with even more clarity than the X-350.8. I want these speakers to sound their best at moderate volumes, but also sound clean if pushed a bit. Listening room is 23’ x 29’ with an 11’ ceiling. I listen to jazz and classical. Your opinion would be appreciated.

Thanks,
Gerry
United States

The Salon2 was released in 2007, but it keeps coming up with people writing in! Obviously, this speaker is still really popular. I’ll try to answer your questions the best I can and at least guide you in the right direction.

The reason that the M-900u would have no trouble driving the Salon2 has nothing to do with how much class-A power it provides -- watts are watts. Instead, the reason is that it’s more powerful than its specs indicate. Luxman rates the M-900u as outputting up to 150Wpc into 8 ohms, but our own measurements of it indicate that it can actually put out more than 200Wpc into 8 ohms. I’ve seen other measurements as well that corroborate ours. I have no idea why they rated it as 150Wpc into 8 ohms instead of 200Wpc.

The X350.8 is rated at 350Wpc into 8 ohms. To make this example easier, we’ll just say that’s about double the power of the M-900u. Here’s why that’s important: For every doubling of amplifier power, you only get a 3dB increase in volume out of a loudspeaker. That’s not much, but it could be significant if you need that little bit of extra headroom. It could also be the difference between one amplifier being driven into clipping and the other not.

Still, it’s not all that simple. Another factor that comes into play is room size. In general, speakers in smaller rooms need less power than the same speakers in bigger rooms. Your room is actually pretty big -- quite a bit bigger than mine, in fact, which could be a make-or-break situation with the Luxman. I know that the Luxman amp could power the Salon2s sufficiently in my room, but whether or not it can in yours is another story -- a lot will depend on how loud you want the speakers to play. That’s really all the advice I can give. To know for sure, you’re really going try it out. . . . Doug Schneider

Loudspeakers: Tried-and-True Revel Salon2 or Unknown Verity Audio Amadis S?

To Doug Schneider,

I highly value your opinion. I just purchased Revel Salon2s partially based on your past review of the speakers (at a hugely discounted price). They are sitting in my garage unopened. An audiophile dealer friend (living far away from me in Canada) whose views I almost always share told me that he had just heard the Amadis S (recently updated from the first version of Amadis) from Verity Audio. He claimed that they were the most amazing speakers he had ever heard in his 40 years as an audiophile. He has heard lots of speakers and is not easily excited. According to him, the Amadis S loudspeakers produced sound that was so transparent (but not bright in any way), as if they were not there in the room. He marveled at their speed -- other speakers produced sound as if they were in slow motion (in his words). He has never sounded so excited -- he is buying a pair for himself. Those speakers are made to order and it may take nine weeks for them to deliver a pair.

The Revel Salon2 (86dB efficiency) has a reputation of being a hard-to-drive speaker (usually driven by mega solid-state amps of 600Wpc upward). My amps are 250W (each) monoblocks: Rogue Audio Apollo Dark (tube). I will not change my amps for any speakers. Amadis S is rated at 93dB efficiency and would be much easier to drive. I listen exclusively to classical music, ranging from colossal orchestral symphonies of Mahler, Bruckner, and Shostakovich, to chamber music, solo piano, operas, and art songs. I suspect that the Amadis S may be a better fit for me. If so, it would be easy for me to resell the unused brand new Salon2 speakers. Amadis S is, however, much more expensive, retailing at $34,000 per pair. My room is relatively small, 16’ by 17’, with an uneven shape (Amadis S can be placed about 16" from the front wall; right speaker about 13” from the right wall; 1/3 of the room extends and curves around the left speaker). Please have no reservation sharing your candid opinion. I am fully responsible for my own decision and will use others’ opinions only for reference.

Thanks,
Ray
United States

Don’t worry, I’ll be candid. As a Salon2 user, I can tell you that a pair can take a lot of power -- up to 500Wpc or so -- but you don’t absolutely need to provide them with that much juice. I’ve run the ones I have here successfully with a 100Wpc integrated amp, though, admittedly, that was a little low. My recommendation is an amplifier of about 200Wpc for an average-sized listening room. Maybe 300Wpc. Your room is actually pretty small, so your 250W Rogue monoblocks should be just fine.

I have not heard the Amadis S, but I’m always suspicious when someone is over-the-top with enthusiasm when it comes to a rather conventional loudspeaker design. The reason for my suspicion is that loudspeaker technology hasn’t changed all that much over the years. Therefore, unless someone has invented a new type of driver or is doing something so radically different than anyone else, at best you get incremental improvements -- not night-and-day ones.

From what it appears on Verity’s website, the Amadis S is a three-way design based on what looks like good, but not revolutionary, dynamic drivers. Can that kind of configuration possibly eclipse every speaker made in the last four decades, including the Salon2? Perhaps, but I think the odds are stacked against it. Plus, I’m wary of the 93dB spec for sensitivity. We’ve measured many loudspeakers and most dynamic-driver-based ones don’t exceed 90dB unless they have horn loading for one or more drivers. Take that part with a grain of salt.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t consider the Amadis S -- maybe you’ll like it more than the Salon2. Maybe it is a really fine-sounding speaker. Maybe it is the best in the world. What I am saying is that you should proceed with caution. I also feel that you should listen to a pair for yourself before laying down that much money. The Salon2 is a tried-and-tested design and it sounds like you got your pair for a song. On the other hand, the jury is still out on the Amadis S. . . . Doug Schneider

MQA to the NAD D 3045

To Doug Schneider,

Just wanted to say the [NAD D 3045] article is awesome. Amazing job. I have a question: Did you use the Tidal iOS iPhone app to stream Tidal MQA to the D 3045 via the Chromecast Audio puck? If not, how did you stream Tidal MQA to it?

Chris
United States

That’s a good question that I think many might want to know the answer to. I played the Tidal MQA songs via Roon, which works nicely because it sees any Chromecast Audio device on your network as what they call an Endpoint. Your question intrigued me, though, as to what the native Tidal app would do. I have a Samsung S8, not an iPhone, so I just opened the Android app up and, lo and behold, couldn’t find a way to play Tidal’s MQA files using it. I then went on Tidal’s website and found this statement: “Please note: Masters (MQA) will be available on TIDAL’s mobile and web applications at a later date.” Presumably that includes iOS. I’m not sure what’s taking them so long to implement it. . . . Doug Schneider

The Best $2500-Per-Pair Stand-Mounted Speaker

To Doug Schneider,

So, for up to $2500 USD, what would be your ideal stand-mount speaker? I like the Studio Electric M4, but was told that the Philharmonic Audio BMR Philharmonitor and KEF R3 are just as good if not better. Up to a 100W amp and a small room.

Dave Furon
Canada

My ideal stand-mounted speaker would be one that reproduces the entire audioband, which means bass down to 20Hz, and play as loudly as I could ever want it to with absolutely no compression or distortion. Of course, no stand-mounted speaker like that exists for $2500 per pair -- or even $25,000 per pair! -- so what we’re left with, regardless of price, are compromises and no “ideal” one to recommend. What’s more, they differ, sometimes by a little, sometimes by a lot. For example, with the Revel Performa3 M106 that I pitted against the Studio Electric M4 in the M4 review, they both had strengths and very few weaknesses, but they were fairly different sounding. If push came to shove on those two and I was forced to live with just one, I would probably pick the M4 because of its fuller-sounding bass. On the other hand, someone else might take the M106 because it sounds a little more neutral and precise, something I couldn’t argue with. If you threw the BMR Philharmonitor and KEF R3 you mentioned into the mix, each one might also stand out in a certain way and someone might choose one of those. So that’s really the thing -- I can’t tell you which one is ideal or what will work best in your setup. Neither can anyone else. The only thing I or any reviewer can do is lead you in a direction by providing a selection to choose from, then let you decide which best suits your room, associated equipment, listening taste, and, of course, budget. . . . Doug Schneider

CDs Instead of Streaming

To Doug Schneider,

I’m a strong advocate of you guys covering more entry-level gear, so the article on the under $1000 system was cool. However, including a turntable, but not a CD player (because you consider them obsolete), is rather ridiculous. Not everyone is into streaming. I don’t use any streaming service, and never will. And I don’t own a handheld god, looking at it every waking moment. I have a CD player, cable TV, a land line, and an Ethernet cable connected to my laptop, which runs on AC power, not batteries. I do finally have a flat-screen TV, ’cause my set with a CRT died. I spend as little time as possible connected, and have NO desire to become more so. And I’m glad that Hans [Wetzel] did a separate review of the [Paradigm Monitor SE] Atom, which is the least-expensive Atom in quite a while.

Doug M.
United States

I was just watching a YouTube video with Schiit Audio’s Mike Moffat, who described streaming services as sounding “like ass” compared to CDs. He thinks that there will be a CD resurgence because of that. I’m not sure I agree with him entirely, but I do recognize that there are still many people who prefer silver discs over streamed music files. Still, I believe that modern music listeners are mostly interested in streaming and vinyl, which is why I headed that way with the system. But your objection is certainly noted.

I am completely with you on Hans’s Atom review on SoundStage! Access. I have the pair here and I can tell you that this latest iteration of the Atom is a screaming bargain. In fact, the other day Hans admitted to me that he probably should have been more enthusiastic in his review. Do you remember Eeyore? Hans tends to express himself in a similar way. In hindsight, he thinks the Atom is even better than the review lets on. . . . Doug Schneider

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