Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment


Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

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To Thom moon,

I loved your review of the Onkyo A-9110 amp. I am planning to buy it ASAP and would appreciate if you could help me sort out a few audio-related issues. I am fairly new to this hobby. First, how do I connect my Windows 10 Acer laptop running JRiver Media Center to the amp?

Second, I am demoing the Elac Debut 2.0 B6.2 speakers to pair with the amp. Is this the right pairing in terms of impedance/ohms/power?

Third, I have an iFi Micro iDSD Black Label DAC-amp and iBasso DX120 DAP. Can I use them to connect to the amp? What interconnects (AmazonBasics!) do I need to buy?

Thanks for your help and your time.

Regards,
Ranjit Kumar
India

Glad you enjoyed the review. The A-9110 is a very capable amplifier if one observes its limits. For instance, the Elac speakers should be a fine match assuming three things: you don’t like listening at earth-shattering levels, your room is not too large (like more than 12’ x 16’), and you don’t mind listening fairly close to the speakers. The usual problem with small speakers is their low efficiency -- the Elacs are rated at 87dB/1V/1m, which is average efficiency.

Your iFi Micro iDSD Black Label DAC, Acer laptop, and iBasso DX120 digital audio player will be nice companions to your system. Just find the proper USB cable(s) for the iFi to the iBasso and Acer, and stereo RCA cables for the iFi to Onkyo, and you should be set. AmazonBasics cabling should work great.

Good luck with your new system and keep on listening! . . . Thom Moon

To Hans Wetzel,

I read your review of PSB’s Alpha P5 [bookshelf speaker] and want to consult. Do you think it would be a good partnership between these speakers and the NAD C 328 [integrated amplifier-DAC]? Would it not be possible that such a duet would be too flat, dead, and inexpressive in sound?

Best Regards,
Mikhail Fominykh
Russia

As you can probably tell from my writeup, I really loved the Alpha P5 speaker; it’s phenomenal for the money. And based on my review of NAD’s D 3045 integrated amplifier-DAC, I was also very fond of not just the amp itself, but of the D 3045 paired with the Alpha P5s. I don’t know how alike the D 3045 is to the C 328 you mention, but I’d have to assume the two amps are similarly voiced given that they each use NAD’s Hybrid Digital platform. If that’s the case, I can’t imagine anyone describing a P5/C 328 tandem as sounding “flat” or “inexpressive.” In fact, if I had around $900 USD to spend on a system (excluding cables and a source), it’s probably the system that I’d buy for myself. As ever, though, a system that sounds fun and neutral to me might not thrill you to the same extent. Try and listen to each component locally, if possible, or perhaps there’s a Russian retailer with a generous return policy that would allow you to try one or both components in your own listening space. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I read your review of the Bowers & Wilkins 704 S2 with interest. However, I am a neophyte and much of what you were writing about went over my head. I am curious what you think of the following speakers, as compared to the 704: SVS Prime Pinnacle, Klipsch RP-8000F, NHT C4 Tower, and the MartinLogan Motion 40i.

Other details: Onkyo TX-NR801 receiver, 75% music and 25% movies, I like my music loud (Rolling Stones, rock, blues), and the tower has to be piano black, high-gloss! If there is another speaker I should consider, please advise. Many thanks.

William B.
United States

Loud, high-gloss piano-black finish -- got it. Well, the Klipsch is the only two-way design here, but that’s offset by being extremely efficient (98dB!) and boasting a pair of 8” woofers -- I'm confident they’ll hit pretty hard. That said, I think that if you’re willing to spend $1500-$2000/pair and want something that you can crank, a three-way tower is an absolute must.

I can’t speak to NHT, unfortunately. I know they had a great reputation 15 years ago, but speaker design has come a long way in the interim. In checking out their website, it looks like they might have a no-hassle, no-cost, 30-day refund policy, so I would check on the fine print before going that direction.

The MartinLogan Motion 40i looks pretty tasty for the money. I haven’t heard the Motion line in person, but my colleague Gordon Brockhouse recently attended the launch event for the refreshed Motion line and most certainly has -- check out his impressions on SoundStage! Global. On paper, the 40i’s three-way design, pair of 6.5” woofers, and Folded Motion tweeter look amenable to strong dynamics and nice midbass punch, though its 4-ohm nominal impedance might not be a great match for your Onkyo receiver. This neatly leads me to the SVS Prime Pinnacle tower: I think it’s a great choice. It’s a three-way with a nominal 8-ohm impedance, so an easy load on your receiver, plus it has a trio of 6.5” woofers for big bass. SVS also has a 45-day return policy with shipping covered both ways, which is generous and reduces risk tremendously.

The only speaker that I would throw into the mix would be Monitor Audio’s Silver 300, which I reviewed last year. At $2000/pair, it looks great and handles dynamics with ease. As I noted in my review of the pair, "These things can seriously rock out.”

If I were in your shoes, though, I’d start with SVS, since there is no risk involved, and only check out the Monitor Audio, MartinLogan, or Klipsch speakers if a pair of Pinnacle Primes aren’t to your liking. . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I just read your review on the Bowers & Wilkins 704 S2, which I will be auditioning [soon]. I noted what you liked and did note your comment: “Bowers & Wilkins’ 704 S2 loudspeaker doesn’t offer the ruler-flat frequency response boasted by some of its competitors.”

I’m looking to spend approximately $3000-$3500/pr. on the front [speakers in my home theater] and am finding so many options -- my head is spinning. I listen to music from my youth, like Supertramp, Phil Collins, Genesis, etc. Mostly the fronts will be used in my 4K surround environment with a center and subs. I am replacing my old Paradigm Monitor 7 floorstanders, CC-300 center-channel speaker, and PDR-10 subwoofer. I was also considering the Paradigm 75F floorstanders.

If you were me with my budget what speakers, would you recommend I go listen to? If it matters, I have a Marantz SR7013 receiver.

Bill Maynard
United States

Prog rock, eh? Well, I don’t blame you for getting lost in the sheer number of options available to you, as there are a LOT of good speakers at the price point that you’re exploring. Let me say it up front: If you like the way the 704 S2s sound, buy a pair and don’t look back. Your hearing and personal preferences matter far more than mine. Just make sure to buy the matching center speaker, as you no doubt intend. Regarding Paradigm’s Prestige 75F, I would hold off -- they’re a little long in the tooth, and I think there are better options out there.

As for other speakers to explore, there are several. Revel’s Performa3 F206 isn’t exactly a looker, and it’s in no way new, but it’s one of the best-measuring and best-sounding speakers we’ve seen at (or near) its price point. KEF’s new R5 is a far newer design that should combine textbook engineering principles and advanced technology, while imaging something fierce due largely to its Uni-Q driver array. GoldenEar Technology’s Triton Two+ tower offers a pretty much full-range sound courtesy of its powered bass section, allowing you to dial in however much bottom-end slam you prefer. Finally, two speakers that might offer a similarly vibrant sound to your outgoing Paradigms: Dynaudio’s new Evoke 30 and MartinLogan’s recently updated Motion 60XTi. The former is only a two-and-a-half-way design -- the only one in this list that isn’t a three-way -- but Dynaudio makes great, great speakers, and their recent designs have an exciting tonal balance. The latter’s Folded Motion tweeter and dual 8” woofers should complement your copy of Invisible Touch nicely. Happy listening . . . Hans Wetzel

To Roger Kanno,

My staff and I always appreciate your continued interest in Parasound. In a recent review you grouped Parasound with other brands who source their products in China. We do not build any products in China.

Our products are designed [then] built by three specialized OEM contract manufacturers in Taiwan, one of which we’ve collaborated with continuously since 1982, the second since 1989, and the third since 2005 (I knew the factory owner when she worked at the first factory). The longevity of our factory relationships is unique in the audio business.

Here are our reasons for manufacturing products in Taiwan instead of in China:

  1. Most Chinese electronics factories offer lower prices because they are structured for high-volume production. However, for a small company being “a minnow in an ocean” is precarious and a huge disadvantage. A new audio product could be in development for several years in a Chinese factory but when they run into a problem and decide it’s too difficult and inconvenient for them to solve it they simply drop the project and leave you hanging. What was supposed to enable higher profit turns into a financial disaster.
  1. Parasound is a “big fish in a small pond.” As the largest customer of our three OEM contract manufacturers in Taiwan we have leverage. Additionally, the Taiwan engineers do whatever it takes to solve complex problems as a matter of personal responsibility and pride as well as respect and loyalty to their largest customer -- Parasound.
  1. The quality and consistency of anodized aluminum parts made in Taiwan is superior to China (and often North America). The front panel of a Parasound Halo product built in 2019 will match the front panel of a Halo product built in 2003.
  1. Taiwan is a democracy.

In addition very few of the component parts used in the manufacture of audio components are actually made in the US. Some companies that label their products “Made in USA” or do not mention any country of origin are in violation of law as well as taking advantage of the trust of their customers.

Kind regards,
Richard Schram
President & CEO
Parasound Products, Inc.

My apologies to you, Richard, and the entire team at Parasound, and thank you for taking the time to provide this clarification for us and our readers . . . Roger Kanno

To Diego Estan,

If you have a pair of Bowers & Wilkins 685 S2 loudspeakers already, is it worth the upgrade to the 606 model?

Steven O’Connor
United States

OK, short answer: I would not upgrade.

Long answer: I do feel the 606 is worth the price increase over the 685 S2. The 606 bests or equals the 685 S2 in every category. The one caveat is the hotter-sounding tweeter on the 606. For recordings that are prone to sounding very bright or sibilant, I’d rather listen to the 685 S2; in fact I’d rather listen to the original 685 over the 606.

But there’s a difference between justifying a price difference from one model to another, and actually going through the process of selling a pair of speakers, likely taking a loss, then buying a new pair. Yes, the 606 loudspeaker sounds better, but only marginally so in the grand scheme of things, which is why I said I wouldn’t upgrade. If you want to really upgrade, consider waiting, saving, and making a bigger jump, where the differences in sound will be more obvious, particularly in regards to transparency. Let me know if you have any other questions. . . . Diego Estan

To Hans Wetzel,

It’s hard to take seriously specs like -3dB at 35Hz and 92dB sensitivity in a small, closed box like the KLH Albany bookshelf speaker. It denies Hofmann’s Law, the “H” in KLH, from the early ’70s, relating box volume, sensitivity, and bass extension.

Allen Edelstein
United States

It’s an interesting point, Allen. KLH cofounder Josef Anton Hofmann’s “law” that loudspeaker engineers could only ever implement two of the three elements that you note in their designs still broadly holds true. As I noted in my most recent editorial, as impressed as I am with many aspects of KLH’s new loudspeaker lineup, I have my own doubts about their speakers’ stated low-frequency limits and sensitivity figures.

Regarding the Albany, I think there was a reason that KLH elected to pair the bookshelf model with one of their subwoofers during the dealer event I attended -- it needed more bass. I’ll reserve any further judgment since I am not formally reviewing the Albany. I am reviewing the flagship Kendall, however, a ported, floorstanding model the company boasts as having 96dB sensitivity and a -3dB limit of 25Hz. KLH told me the former specification is measured in-room, not anechoically, and I’m assuming the latter is, too. It may be that KLH is -- let’s call it liberal -- with their specs, but then again, so are many other manufacturers. No matter. We will be measuring the Kendall in the anechoic chamber at Canada’s National Research Council and our findings will accompany my review. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I read your review about the KEF Q750 speakers! My question is, do you know if another amp [other] than my NAD C 375BEE will deliver more enjoyable hours of listening? If so, which one? I read a lot about the Yamaha A-S2100.

Hans IJsselstijn
The Netherlands

That’s a difficult question to answer, Hans. There are an awful lot of amps out there, and many of them are quite good. Given that the Q750 is a pretty easy speaker to drive, optimizing sound quality would really come down to what your personal preferences are.

NAD makes great, no-nonsense amplifiers, and your C 375BEE generates 150Wpc into 8- or 4-ohm loads, which is more than enough power for the KEFs. The NAD is getting on in age, but truth be told, class-AB amps haven’t changed a whole lot in the past decade. If I were in your shoes and I was looking to invest in my system, I’d hold onto your NAD. Depending on how you listen to music, I might consider a new DAC or CD player, as digital front ends have not only improved dramatically in recent years, they’ve also become far more affordable. I can’t speak to the Yamaha integrated amp that you mention, unfortunately. If you wanted to swing for the fences and splurge, however, I would suggest NAD’s own M32 DirectDigital integrated amplifier-DAC, which I reviewed back in 2017. It’ll give you a cutting-edge digital source and latest-generation class-D amplification all in one box. It’s expensive, for sure, but it offers reference-level transparency and 180Wpc into 8 or 4 ohms. That should be all the amp you’ll ever need for your KEF Q750s and well beyond. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I’ve just read your excellent review of the Dynaudio Xeo 2 loudspeakers (which I own). I noticed prices have gone down since your review. For example, now you can buy a pair of Xeo 4s with the Connect [wireless transmitter] for $999 USD on Amazon. I guess you would think it’s a really good deal? In any case, thank you for your valuable review.

Max Malossini
United States

Having never reviewed the Xeo 4, and knowing that it came out before the Xeo 2, I can’t speak to whether or not the Xeo 4 is as good as -- or better than -- the Xeo 2. But if it is better, then, yes, I’d have to think that’s a pretty good deal. If you love your Xeo 2s and how they sound, then a pair of Xeo 4s is probably a no-brainer.

That said, Dynaudio’s Xeo range has a lot more competition than it used to when it comes to active and powered loudspeakers. SoundStage! Simplifi senior editor Gordon Brockhouse recently reviewed both the Totem Acoustic Kin Play and the KEF LSX speakers, and though they each have strengths and weaknesses, you might find that one of those newer models better meet your needs. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

[Quoting your latest feature, “CES is Dead: An Obligatory Missive”]: “My fancy new Hegel Music Systems H590 integrated amp-DAC ($11,000) is sitting idle as a $349/pair of bookshelf speakers, a $549 app-controlled subwoofer, and a $699 integrated amp-DAC occupy my time. Hand on heart, I am not missing my Hegel.”

Wow! Hans, this is very encouraging coming from somebody that owns components that I can only dream of owning. If you can honestly say you are not missing your $11,000 integrated amp-DAC, then I can feel that, just maybe, I can be happy with a modest system without constantly wondering what I’m missing. And isn’t part of the fun of putting together a modest system, the discovery of how good the sound can be? We live in exciting times where the use of computer-aided design and manufacturing processes help in producing real high-fidelity products at affordable prices.

And to add to the perspective of who the “audiophile and/or home-theater geek on a budget” is, it’s not just those living on or below the median United States salary. As an electrical engineer working for a large automobile manufacturer, I have a salary that is well above the national average. However, my wife stayed home to raise our daughter, and only just recently started working again. Meanwhile, we have been paying for private high school tuition, saving for retirement, investing money to pay for college for my daughter, and taking family trips, not to mention all the everyday expenses of being a homeowner. So, while I could conceivably spend more on audio equipment, it is hard to justify spending over a thousand dollars on a single component. I’d rather retire earlier with a modest system, than work longer to have my dream system (yeah, I’m in my 50s. You’ll probably talk the same way when you get there). It’s why I drive a 2003 Dodge Neon and am happy living in my modest, mortgage-free home.

I really like the direction you and the SoundStage! Network are going with the Access site. There are quite enough audio publications that follow and review high-end audio; we need some balance. The whole SoundStage! Network can be akin to picking up the latest issue of Car and Driver, or Road & Track. Yes, there are reviews of drool-worthy six-figure sports cars, but there are also reviews of vehicles for the average Joe to read, that if done well, can help a person decide which vehicle to consider for purchase. Looking forward to seeing what this year brings. Keep up the good work.

Joe Pop
United States

To Hans Wetzel,

Hi from Tarragona, Spain. You wrote [in your KEF Q750 review]: “KEF’s Q750 is a superb loudspeaker. It’s one of the most neutral transducers I’ve ever heard, and for the money offers staggeringly transparent sound” [emphasis added]. But [per the measurements from www.hifitest.de‘s review, here and here], I can see a valley at 1.2kHz. I have commented about this issue in GR Research, and in DIYAudio, too. I think it is intentional, [with KEF] looking for a soft “V” response.

Maty
Spain

The measurements you link to do, indeed, note a roughly -3dB dip around 1.2kHz. Since you seem to be measurement-oriented, it’s worth exploring what we’re looking at. Let’s focus on the frequency-response graph. Are these measurements taken in-room, or in an anechoic chamber? Are the three curves on-axis, 15 degrees off-axis, and 30 degrees off-axis, or something else? Was it measured at 1m, 2m, or some other distance? Without any offered methodology to accompany the graph, you’re extrapolating an awful lot from three curves. That is one very narrow snapshot that is certainly better than nothing, but doesn’t offer anywhere near a complete picture of how the Q750 might sound in your average room.

Take a look at some of our measurements on www.speakermeasurements.com, which we perform in an anechoic chamber at Canada’s National Research Council, where some of the early hi-fi pioneers did their acoustic research, including Dr. Floyd Toole (of Harman International), who quite literally wrote the book on modern loudspeaker design (see below). I’ll point you to the measurements of Revel’s Performa3 F206 loudspeaker. Numerous writers on our staff agree that the Revel (which is a division of the aforementioned Harman International) F206 is the most neutral loudspeaker at its $3500 USD price point, and its measurements are about as “textbook” as you can get for that kind of money, as evidenced by the “Listening Window,” which averages five measurements into one neat plot that is both commendably smooth and flat, with a 2-3dB tilt from left to right. There is nothing amiss between 1kHz-1.5kHz. Chart A, however, which includes on-axis, 15-degree off-axis, and 30-degree off-axis curves, shows a “valley” centered at around 1.2kHz–1.3kHz; surely not neutral!

Hi-fi measurements, like everything else in life, must be placed in context. If you were to only hear direct sound from the Revel, then a deviation like that “valley” would surely be problematic. But we don’t hear like that. What our ears hear is a combination of direct sound from the speaker drivers, along with a variety of reflections that arrive at our ears at slightly different times, which our mind interpolates into something recognizable. The takeaway is that on-axis and near-on-axis measurements like the ones you mentioned in your e-mail only paint part of the picture and have the potential to be misleading if taken in isolation. I’d encourage you to take a look at some of our other measurements, which includes several KEF models. I’ll note that the Q750 is a two-and-a-half-way design that uses passive radiators in lieu of a bass-reflex port (or two). These kind of fundamental design choices may well have contributed to idiosyncrasies in the Q750’s frequency response curve that wouldn’t appear in a two-way or three-way bass-reflex design.

We try to measure as many speakers as we can, but with writers all over North America, shipping large speakers often proves expensive and impractical, so it’s not always possible. Just so you know, I actually wanted the Q750 measured, but we couldn’t make it work logistically -- sorry about that.

To answer your question above in a terribly longwinded fashion, yes, I think KEF purposely designed the Q750 to have the “valley” around 1.2kHz in its on-axis and near-off-axis frequency response curves. I am confident, however, that KEF did not intend for that to be audible, in-room, at the listening position. I suspect that if we were to run our usual battery of measurements on the Q750, the “Listening Window” plot would bear that out, and also confirm my subjective listening impressions.

I recommend Dr. Floyd Toole’s book, Sound Reproduction: The Acoustics and Psychoacoustics of Loudspeakers and Rooms. I think you’ll find it highly educational. . . . Hans Wetzel