Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment


Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

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To Hans Wetzel,

I just ran across your article on "old-tech" vacuum tubes. I enjoyed your perspective. I recently started putting a budget stereo system together. Ironically, I just "lost" two different eBay auctions for a Krell KAV-300i. They both went at about the $900 price.

I've recently run across a few articles on solid-state amplification, which had your same evaluation on "tubes." They also went on to say that with low distortion and adequate power/current across the audible frequency range, any two decent-quality class-AB integrated amps will sound the same. One author even stated that the only time you really would hear the difference is if a manufacturer deliberately altered the audible frequency range in order to fool a reviewer.

Sometimes in this industry you have to decipher what's "snake oil" and what's reality. Spending $1000 on a power cord is ridiculous when there is 1000' of cheap 14-guage wire in the wall going to your receptacle.

Well, Krell was out of my budget -- I heard that same amp you mentioned years ago, and would have loved to have gotten my hands on one! Instead, last week I actually purchased a NAD C 316BEE. On a budget, I'm hoping I made a wise choice. Have you ever heard of NAD trying to alter their amplifiers to get a "certain sound"? I assume that would show up as distortion?

If I'm off base on my "thinking" towards amplification, please feel free to let me know. I would appreciate your input. Also, do you have a recommendation for a decent digital source, such as a good-quality DVD player?

Thanks for your time!

Regards,
Dan Musielski

Thanks for writing, Dan. Sorry to hear about the Krells that got away. Unfortunately, I have never heard any of NAD's products, so I cannot speak to whether or not they voice their gear to have a certain sonic character. Based on reputation, however, I am sure that your new NAD C 316BEE will perform pretty well for the money.

Addressing the point on class-AB integrated amplifiers sounding the same, I'll say that while the included components of a randomly selected pair of integrateds may be very similar, the manner of executing a design may differ dramatically. There could be differences in the circuit design, the materials used, and the tolerances of individual components that, when aggregated, have an audible effect on the resultant sound. To the uninitiated, the sonic differences between two integrateds may be negligible or imperceivable, but if you know your music collection well enough and have half-decent accompanying speakers and electronics, a savvy listener can quickly tell the differences. And why not? Just like speaker design, where driver material, cabinet construction, and crossover design all have a profound result on the quality of the final sound, so, too, do the design choices that go into integrated amplifiers. These subtle differences can mean that, since certain manufacturers use certain methodologies and materials throughout their product lines, they have a "house sound" of sorts, but this is not distortion. There is some snake oil in high-end audio, but the bottom line is that almost every aspect of your system has some impact on the final sound, it's just a matter of degree. I think it's fair to say that $1000 power cables belong in some people's systems, but only those that retailed for the price of a new four-door sedan.

On your last question of a decent digital source, there are too many to list. It totally depends on your needs, but since you mention a DVD player, I assume you are looking for a universal player. If so, look for one with a high-quality digital-to-analog converter, which would offer solid performance for both movies and music. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention computer audio, however, where with or without wires, you can get CD-quality sound directly from a computer, smartphone, or tablet to your NAD. It might be worth looking into. . . . Hans Wetzel