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The Luxman M-900u Amplifier -- as Good as Before?

To Doug Schneider,

I just ordered a Luxman M-900u to replace my Audio Research GS150, and realized that you had actually reviewed them both!

In your review of the M-900u, you actually said (at the time) it was the best-sounding power amp you’d heard. That’s quite a statement! You’ve heard a lot since then, so where would you put it now, and how would you compare it to the GS150? How do you compare it to other well-known amps such as the Audio Research Ref 160S, as well as the D’Agostino Momentum (which costs quite a bit more, I know!).

My system is comprised of Esoteric digital, Clearaudio analog, an Audio Research Reference 6 preamp, and Wilson Alexia speakers. My goal for this upgrade is to improve the depth of the bass, uncover a bit more detail, and run cooler. I would like to retain the sound signature that Audio Research is famous for: huge soundstage and a sweet, lifelike midrange.

Do you think I’ll achieve these goals with the M-900u?

I’m also in the queue for the Reference 6 SE upgrade.

Love to get your quick thoughts.

United States

It’s funny you should bring the Luxman M-900u up. Just the other day, I was talking to editor-in-chief Jeff Fritz about this amp, telling him it’s one of the best amplifiers you can buy, regardless of price. It’s built extraordinarily well and sounds spectacular, making it as good as pretty much anything out there. It’s a solid-state amp that has the sweetness of tubes, though you will have to write back to tell me if it provides the soundstage spaciousness of the GS150, which I remember being one of that amp’s strengths -- music really filled the room when played through it. Regardless, I’m even more enthusiastic about the Luxman now than when I reviewed it, because its price is even lower -- it cost $20,000 USD at the time of the review, but is now $15,000. That’s still not cheap, but nothing about the M-900u is cheap, so that new price, in high-end hi-fi terms, actually makes it a steal. The M-900u is an amplifier that I think you’ll be happy with for a long time. . . . Doug Schneider

Get the Totem Kin Monitor In

To Doug Schneider,

I just read your review of the Totem Acoustic Skylight and enjoyed it very much. I am in the early stages of trying to figure out a very nice audio setup for our small desktop (2’ x 4’) in our small home office (6’ x 9’). One of the models that caught my eye was the new Totem Kin Monitor. It was released last September, but I haven’t been able to find a single review on it. Is there any chance you could get your hands on a pair and try them out in a nearfield/desktop setup with a subwoofer? I’d love to read a write-up from you about them, maybe also mentioning how they compare to other speakers you’ve heard in that setting. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks from the mountains of North Carolina.

Dan Suess
United States

Good tip! I saw the Kin Monitor when I last visited Totem Acoustic, but didn’t listen to it or even request a pair for review. We’ll show your e-mail to them and see what they say. . . . Doug Schneider

Thanks for the Schiit

To Doug Schneider,

Thanks for your review of the Schiit Audio Ragnarok 2. I especially appreciated your comparison of the Just An Amp version with an external Bifrost 2 DAC to the Fully Loaded version. Your conclusion confirms my thinking on a Schiit setup I have been looking at, and will now order: a pair of their Vidar amps to run as monoblocks ($699 each) paired with their Gungnir DAC ($899). For about the same price as the Ragnarok/Bifrost configuration you recommended, I’ll have considerably more power in a monoblock configuration and a better DAC. I lose some of the preamp capabilities of the Ragnarok, but I went down the hi-res-streaming rabbit hole and have managed to avoid vinyl for the moment, so an all-digital system suits me. If I had to add something later, I would get their Freya or Freya and preamp. Even with that addition, I’m looking at class-AB monoblocks with 400W each at 8 ohms (doubling to 800W for my 4-ohm Magnepan 3.7s), an excellent DAC, and a separate preamp for around $3000. That sounds like a pretty good deal for this kind of quality.

For the record, I have a Schiit Audio Lyr tube headphone amp paired with the Bifrost 2 DAC you tested and use it as a dedicated headphone system. I like it very much. I also keep a [Schiit Audio] Magni/Modi 3 “stack” next to my bed for headphone listening -- $200 very well spent. I like their headphone products enough to consider moving into speaker amplification. Positive reviews, including your review of the Ragnarok 2, have helped cinch the deal.

Thanks for the write-up.

Jeff Jaffre
United States

I’m glad the review could help. Your plan looks well thought out. . . . Doug Schneider

Schiit Yggdrasil: Analog 1 vs. Analog 2 Upgrade

To Erich Wetzel,

I’ve just read your evaluation of the Schiit Audio Yggdrasil DAC with Analog 1 vs. Analog 2 board comparison, and liked the article a lot because I’m contemplating buying the GS model with the “old” Analog 1 boards installed with updated software. I’m not a musician or audiophile, but wish to have a bit better gear at a more affordable price. I intend to use the “Yggy” to interpret signals from my music server [I keep my CDs ripped in WAV]. I tried Cambridge Audio DACs, but keep searching for a bit better. So, would you say that [an Yggdrasil with] the Analog 1 would be an okay sound investment? And finally, I want gear that was not produced in China, but in the US. Thanks for your time!

Sandor Zsarnoczay

My brother Erich, who wrote the review, is no longer writing for the SoundStage! Network, but I reached out to him for feedback regarding your question. Here’s what he had to say:

“In comparison with the full price of $2449 for the current model with the Analog 2 boards, the Yggdrasil GS at $1599 is something of a steal. Like they say on the product page, ‘Yes, we still think the Analog 2 sounds better. Yes, we're weird.’ I agree that the Analog 2 version does have a more refined sound. However, the greater-than-50% price increase to step up from the Yggdrasil GS to the current model with the Analog 2 boards is a big leap considering the subtlety of the sonic changes. Processing and firmware are identical on the Yggdrasil GS, and the sound is still outstanding with the Analog 1 output. And now the Yggdrasil GS version gets it for you at a bargain price.”

Sounds like a no-brainer to me, Sandor. If I were in your shoes, I’d opt for the Yggdrasil GS, too. Finally, all of Schiit’s products are definitely manufactured in the United States. . . . Hans Wetzel

No Comments?

To Doug Schneider,

I did not see a comments section -- am I blind or have you eschewed soliciting the opinions and observations of your readers as have so many other “forward thinking” websites?

United States

Good question, for which we have an answer. Other than SoundStage! Solo, our headphone site, where readers can comment below each article and review, we’ve never had sections for comments on any of our other sites, and I don’t know if we ever will. The worlds of headphones and two-channel hi-fi are different. Looking at other hi-fi publications’ websites where commenting is allowed, those sections often get full of vitriol and nonsense in no time at all. That stuff doesn’t do anyone any good, so we’ve never wanted to invite that. But we’ve never discouraged getting feedback from our readers, publishing it, and answering if warranted, which we’ve found to be a more valuable asset for our readers. This is precisely why we’ve always made each writer’s e-mail address publicly accessible near the bottom of each article and review. This message from you is evidence of that system working. I hope that explains our stance. . . . Doug Schneider

Q Acoustics 3030i Measurements and $500/Pair Speaker Recommendations

To Doug Schneider,

Will the Q Acoustics 3030i speaker get measured? Also, what would you suggest for bookshelf speakers around $500/pair? Your recommendation list is all crazy expensive. Are there no cheap speakers with measurements?

United States

For my recommendation on speakers that cost around $500/pair, I suggest waiting until May 1, which is when my Q Acoustics 3030i writeup will be published in the “System One” space on this site and Diego Estan’s Triangle Borea BR03 review will be published on SoundStage Access!, our sister site devoted to affordable audio. The BR03 will be accompanied by measurements, but, unfortunately, due to the coronavirus lockdown, we weren’t able to measure the 3030i in time, which we would’ve liked to. But that won’t last forever. I plan to get it and several other speakers measured once we have access to the anechoic chamber again. Finally, if you want measurements of “cheap speakers,” including some from Q Acoustics, you’ll find lots if you visit www.SpeakerMeasurements.com, which will show you all the measurements we’ve done since the year 2000. . . . Doug Schneider

KEF, Focal, Wilson, or Magnepan?

To Doug Schneider,

I just read your review of the Focal Sopra No2 in SoundStage! Hi-Fi. Very nice read, indeed -- very detailed.

I am just getting into the hi-fi game and I am looking to upgrade a little. I was looking at the Sopra No2 loudspeaker and was wondering if you would be kind enough to advise me or point me in the right direction. My room is fairly small, 5m x 4m, but I am going to get some treatment to help. I currently have a Hegel H390 integrated with Harbeth 30.1 speakers. I was looking at the KEF Reference 1 or 3 loudspeakers, or maybe the KEF R5. I then came across the Sopra No2 and thought this sounds like an amazing speaker. How would you say it compares to the KEF Reference speakers, and which is more forgiving in a small, not-so-ideal room?

I will be honest, my budget is fairly limited and would look to pick up second-hand or demo. If you think there’s another cheaper option that represents good value, I’d take a look. I was looking at Magnepan and Wilson Audio also, but the Wilsons are expensive.

I listen to a lot of electronic, EDM, rock, and folk via Roon.

Thanks for a great review all the same. I enjoyed reading it.

Sean F.

I’ll address the last speakers you mentioned first -- you should probably strike Wilson and Magnepan from the list. In hi-fi, price doesn’t always correlate with performance. For me, KEF and Focal make far more accurate and enjoyable speakers than Wilson does, even if the latter costs more. In a nutshell, you can do better for much less money with KEF or Focal.

Magnepan is a different story. I like the sound of many of Magnepan’s speakers, and they’re priced well, but they’re not the best for electronic, EDM, and rock, which represent three of the four music genres you listed. They simply don’t produce the dynamic range or bass weight to be really satisfying.

KEF makes accurate, revealing speakers that suit any musical genre. You might get away with the KEF Reference 1, which is a stand-mounted design, because it can output a high volume level cleanly. Plus, it can produce pretty deep bass. But if you can swing it, I think that the Reference 3 would be a better choice. It’s a floorstander capable of deeper bass and even higher output than the Reference 1. If the 3’s bass becomes too much, it comes with port plugs to tame the low-end output (it has two ports on the back, so you can plug both or just one). I personally like the Reference 3, but it’s also almost five times the price of the R5, which you also mentioned, so that’s obviously something to consider. If the Reference 1 and 3 don’t work out, then definitely look to the R5, but try to hear all three if you can, then you’ll really know for sure.

You’re right about the Sopra No2 -- it’s an amazing speaker, and, like the Reference 3 and R5, is also a floorstander. I reviewed both the Reference 3 and Sopra No2 in roughly the same timeframe. When I reviewed them, I found the No2 had a much livelier sound than the Reference 3, but its bass output wasn’t nearly as deep. In that regard, it was more like the Reference 1. Still, I found the No2 really fun to listen to, so it could thrill you as much as it did me. In fact, just thinking about the Reference 3 and Sopra No2, I’m not sure which I’d choose right now -- but do keep in touch and tell me what you ultimately do. . . . Doug Schneider

"After 25 Years . . ." Feedback

To Doug Schneider,

Well written, sir. And to be honest, the fact that you are returning the equipment is astounding and worthy of praise.

Huzzah, indeed!

I have been thinking of giving Roon a chance, especially now that Denon has sent me a code for a two-month trial. Alas, I primarily listen to my CDs, records, and online music via SiriusXM, Pandora One, and Amazon Ultra HD.

I have roughly 14,000 or so songs on my laptops but just don’t bother. Besides, I have to either renew on a yearly basis or pay up a (to me) large amount of moolah. So, I probably will pass on the free trial period. Besides, many of my songs are unknown until I play them (i.e., no title, artist, or whatever, LOL!)

Anyhoo, I digress. Well written. You and Ken Kessler are among my top five favorite writers in audio.

Be well,
Scott S.
United States

Thanks for the feedback on the article. Insofar as Roon goes, give it a try, since you have nothing to lose. If nothing else, you’ll learn long before the two free months are over if it’s worth it to you. . . . Doug Schneider

From the KEF LS50 Wireless to . . . ?

To Doug Schneider,

For the past few years, I’ve been mostly listening to Spotify on my KEF LS50 Wireless loudspeakers. I have a second bedroom in my apartment now, which I’ve converted into an office (roughly 12’ x 12’). Rather than get a second pair of the same speakers, would you have a recommended upgrade pick for, say, $5000 for the speakers alone? I don’t need them to be active or wireless. I promise to get what you recommend.

Thank you so much!

Doug F.
United States

I will give you some advice, but I definitely don’t recommend that you simply go out and purchase anything based on what I say here. No two speakers sound alike, which makes choosing difficult enough. What makes it even more difficult, however, is that everyone’s tastes are different, so what speaker I might like or love, it’s possible that someone could dislike or hate. As a result, take this as rough guidance only.

I also want to caution you that, in your situation, making an upgrade is not as easy as simply plunking more money down. The LS50 Wireless and the LS50 it’s based on are both exceptional speakers capable of competing against designs costing much more. As a result, it’s not that hard to find speakers that retail for $5000 or even $10,000 per pair, active or passive, that you won’t like as much as what you have right now. That’s not to say you can’t or won’t find something you like the sound of better -- it’s just that it might take some searching, as well as serious listening.

I’m going to assume that because you’re in an apartment, you want bookshelf-type speakers again, since they’re smaller and oftentimes easier to place. I know you said the speakers don’t have to be active, but one active speaker I do want to recommend looking at is the DALI Rubicon 2 C. It retails for $5799/pair, which is, of course, a little above your budget, but it doesn’t need an external amplifier, so you might be able to swing it. My recommendations for passive speakers are a little more plentiful, but I’m going to keep it to the three that immediately popped into my mind when I read your question. The first recommendation is the KEF R3 ($1999.99/pair), mostly because you have KEF speakers already and seem to like what you have. For the price, it’s really a steal of a deal. The second is the Revel PerformaBe M126Be ($4000/pair), which is really a sonic benchmark for bookshelf-type speaker designs. The third one I’d suggest looking at is the Sonus Faber Minima Amator II ($4000/pair). There are two reasons for this model. One reason is the sound -- Sonus Faber has a distinctive sonic signature that many find pleasing, including me. I heard this speaker at High End 2019, in Munich, and really liked what I heard. The other reason has to do with appearance. Like all Sonus Faber speakers, the Minima Amator II, with its real-wood cabinet and great styling, is like a work of art. I guarantee that if someone walked into your office and saw a pair, they’d immediately ask about them.

I hope that helps, but, as I said, don’t take my word and buy something you can’t hear first. All of these speakers sound as different as they look and only careful auditioning will allow you to find something that’s truly special, as well as better than what you already have. . . . Doug Schneider

Wharfedale Linton Heritage or KEF LS50?

To Doug Schneider,

I read your review about the Wharfedale Linton Heritage. I am considering buying the Heritage, but I can’t decide between the KEF LS50 or it. Can you compare them side by side?

Ambrus Seban

It’s not surprising that you’re looking at these two speakers -- their retail prices are similar, though I have seen the LS50 greatly discounted lately, as if they’re being blown out by KEF. I don’t know if price is a factor in your decision, but since that can have an effect, I wanted to mention it.

Insofar as sound quality goes, I can’t give you a side-by-side comparison of the two speakers because both models have been returned to the companies, but I can tell you some general things. The most obvious is that the Linton Heritage is a much larger speaker than the LS50 is. The Linton Heritage is also a three-way design, while the LS50 is a two-way. What’s more, the Linton Heritage has an 8” driver dedicated to the bass, while the LS50 has a 6.5” driver for the bass and midrange frequencies. Combined, the Linton Heritage can play louder and generate deeper bass than the LS50 can. In fact, I found that the Linton Heritage can play louder and cleaner than many speakers priced much higher. If those things are important to you, that should sway you toward the Linton Heritage.

If higher output capability and deeper bass aren’t everything to you, then the LS50 should definitely still be in the running. One thing I like about the LS50 its midrange presentation -- it has an uncanny way with vocals that can make them sound very real. The KEF design team really hit the nail on the head in that regard. I also like the way the Uni-Q disperses its sound so evenly in all directions, as well as how it makes the imaging very precise.

Outside of those sonic attributes, I can’t really tell you much more. What I can say is they’re both excellent designs that warrant consideration. Which speaker is better for you, however, is up to your discretion. Good luck with the search. . . . Doug Schneider

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