Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment


Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

  • SoundStage! Shorts - KEF's New R Series for 2018 (September 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Simaudio Moon 390 Digital/Analog Preamplifier and Streamer (September 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - EISA 2018-2019 Awards Introduction (August 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Simaudio's $118,888 Moon 888 Mono Amplifiers (June 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Totem's Tribe Tower (May 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Amphion's Three Newest Argon Loudspeakers (April 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Making the Hegel Mohican CD Player (March 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Estelon Lynx Wireless Intelligent Loudspeaker (March 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh's Five New Solid-State Integrated Amplifiers (January 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Amphion's Krypton Loudspeaker (January 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Anthem STR Preamplifier and Power Amplifier (December 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - McIntosh Laboratory MA252 Integrated Amplifier (November 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Hegel H90 and H190 Integrated Amplifiers (October 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - How Hegel's SoundEngine Works (October 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight  - Estelon History and YB and Extreme Loudspeakers (September 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - What Makes Hegel Different? (August 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Estelon Extreme Legacy Edition Loudspeaker (July 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Amphion Overview and Technologies (July 2017)
  • SoundStage! Insight - Totem Acoustic Signature One Loudspeaker (June 2017)
  • SoundStage! Encore - The Cowboy Junkies'
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Anthem's STR Integrated Amplifier (May 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Paradigm's Perforated Phase Alignment (PPA) Lenses (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Paradigm's Persona 9H Loudspeaker (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Contrasts: Dynaudio's Contour and Focus XD Speaker Lines (February 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - New Technologies in MartinLogan's Masterpiece Series
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Dynaudio/Volkswagen Car Audio (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Gryphon Philosophy and the Kodo and Mojo S Speakers (January 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- What's a Tonmeister? (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - AxiomAir N3 Wireless Speaker System (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Bang & Olufsen BeoLab 90 (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Gryphon Diablo 120 Integrated Amplifier (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Dynaudio History and Driver Technology (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - The Story How Gryphon Began (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Devialet History, ADH Technology, and Expert 1000 Pro (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Devialet's Phantom Loudspeakers (August 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh Home Theater and Streaming Audio (July 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - McIntosh MC275 Stereo Amplifier (June 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh History and Autoformer Technology (June 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - NAD Viso HP50 Headphones (May 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - GoldenEar Technology's Anechoic Chamber (May 2016)

Please send all questions to feedback@soundstageaccess.com. All questions sent to this e-mail address will be replied to online. If you do not wish to share your e-mail with other readers, please do not send it. But if you have a question, chances are others are wondering the same thing. Therefore, you will be helping not only yourself, but other readers as well when your question gets answered here.

To SoundStage! Access,

I don’t get the point [of Hans Wetzel’s article]. Instead of buying a new NUC for some $$ more and installing the freely available Roon Optimized Core Kit, the author complaints about crappy hardware and some crappy Windows 7 installation. A comparison in terms of sound quality between a Nucleus and a standard NUC would have been far more interesting.

Christian M.
Germany

To Hans Wetzel,

I enjoyed your review of the KEF Q750. I am a music lover and a novice audiophile and wondered if you could answer a question or two for me. I have an Onkyo TX-NR545 receiver that is rated at 65Wpc minimum at 8 ohms and 115Wpc at 6 ohms. Do you feel this would efficiently power the Q750? I am considering the KEF Q750 or Paradigm’s Monitor SE 6000F. Any thoughts or recommendations? Thanks for your time. I will let you get back to more important things.

Wes Moyer
United States

Of the two speakers you mention, I’d opt for the Q750 every day of the week, if only because I know it so well. I don’t think anyone could go wrong with that loudspeaker, though it’s worth noting it doesn’t offer super-deep bass. As for your Onkyo, I think its 65Wpc into 8 ohms should be sufficient for you to push the 88dB-sensitive KEF to play fairly loud. Definitely spend the money on getting the speakers you want, and deal with amplification later, and, even then, only if you are not satisfied with the resulting sound.

If you’re really interested in Paradigm, though, I would recommend considering the Premier 700F. At $1598 per pair, it’s not even $100 per pair more than KEF’s Q750 (which retails for $1499.98 per pair), and is a true three-way design that boasts two dedicated 5.5” woofers; it looks like it’s a real step up from the Monitor SE 6000F. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Paradigm offers notably greater bass response than the KEF, but you’d have to hear it for yourself to know. What I do know is that Roger Kanno has a pair of the larger Premier 800Fs currently in for review and, so far, I’ve only heard good things about them from him. That’s mainly why I think the 700F might be worth checking out at a local dealer, if possible. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I read what I’ll call your glowing review of the KEF Q750s. I currently have KEF LS50s, and I’m thinking of upsizing to floorstanders. I’m hoping for a bit more output and a bit more bass. My system runs half music and half television/movies. I have a Parasound Halo Integrated, and also a sub. I’m curious what your thoughts would be?

I’m also considering Monitor Audio Silver 300s, but I’m concerned with the cabinet height -- I may need to put them on short stands. The Uni-Q driver in my LS50s allows the tweeters to be lower than my ears without any negative consequences. I assume the Q750s would perform similarly even though they are also on the short side. Thoughts? I appreciate your time and opinion!

Chris Gilliland
United States

If you like KEF’s LS50, I think the Q750 is the floorstanding loudspeaker that you’re looking for. The Q750 will no doubt play louder and have greater bass extension than the LS50, while also retaining the qualities that KEF is known for: neutrality, great off-axis performance (thanks to the Uni-Q), and strong stereo imaging. And while I think the Monitor Silver 300 is a great overall speaker, and looks way better than the Q750, in my opinion, it won’t sound like the LS50 or the Q750, for better or worse. I think you should go with what you know.

Regarding tweeter height, I wouldn’t worry about it, as a pair of Q750s should sound fairly consistent even if your ears are a little higher than the tweeters are. Worst case, you could always buy short stands or platforms for the KEFs going forward -- but I doubt you’ll need to. Happy listening. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

First of all, I want to tell you I look forward each month to read your reviews. Ever since Robert Reina who wrote for Stereophile passed away, I felt there was a void on reviews for speakers $1500 USD and below. I love the way he reviewed a speaker and how he compared it to another model. I am happy to say you have filled that void and you are doing a great job. Thank you.

Now for my question. Based on your reviews of the [Dynaudio] Emit M10 and [Definitive Technology] Demand D9, I am really psyched to buy a pair. I would like your opinion on which speaker would be a better choice for rock music. The Dynaudio dealer in my area does not carry the M10 and when I tried to listen to the D9s in Best Buy, they sounded awful. They couldn’t have been set up correctly. Something was very wrong. So, if you can give me your opinion on how you feel about these speakers and which you feel would be a better option, I would appreciate it very much. Note that I will be using an SVS sub in my setup. My room is 20’ x 14’. Thank you again for your wonderful reviews.

Frank Liberman
United States

I think both speakers would work well with rock music. They’re both fairly neutral, yet each also produces an exciting sound: the D9 with a prominent treble, and the M10 with a touch of upper-midrange emphasis. Neither speaker will sound dull by any stretch of the imagination, nor do they teeter into “bright” territory. I have a difficult time recommending one over the other because each is excellent in its own way.

My suggestion, if you can swing it, would be to purchase a pair of D9s from Best Buy and audition them at home with your SVS sub. I’m assuming that Best Buy has a generous return policy, so if you can confirm that there won’t be a restocking fee or something similar, I think it’s a no-risk proposition short of the balance on your credit card. I’d next recommend trusting your first impression of the Demand D9 and auditioning another speaker from the Emit line at your local dealer, providing there is one available, to see if you like the Dynaudio sound. The M10 should sound nearly identical short of SPL output and bass extension. Otherwise, I think the next step would be to order a pair of M10s -- I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

What would be your take on hooking [Dynaudio’s Emit M10 speakers] to either a Yamaha A-S801 integrated amp or an Outlaw Audio RR2160 receiver? Also, [should I use] the Cambridge Audio CXC disc drive with the 32-bit DAC on the Yamaha?

Edward J. Roell
United Kingdom

I think Dynaudio Emit M10s would work well with either the Yamaha receiver or the Outlaw Audio driving them. Both offer more than 100Wpc into 8 ohms, which should be more than enough to drive the Emit M10s loudly and cleanly. As for the CXC, which is a pure CD transport, I think it could work well with the Yamaha via the receiver’s coaxial or TosLink input -- whichever you prefer. It sounds like a sweet little system, Edward. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I read your review [of the Bowers & Wilkins 704 S2] and wanted to ask you if you would recommend another speaker versus this one. I just started looking and am not sure I want to pay the price for these. I am not an audiophile as I don’t follow all the technicalities of the hardware and of sound, but I do like to listen to music and movies with a great sound system. Any other suggestions of speakers to look at? I listened to the B&W through a Marantz receiver. Would appreciate your opinion and suggestions on a receiver, as well.

My old Boston Acoustics [speakers] need a new home.  

Thanks for your time.

Christine Lee
United States

Lucky for you, I’ve reviewed several tower loudspeakers in the past nine months that range in price from $1500 USD/pr. up to the B&W’s $2500/pr., so I definitely have some suggestions for you.

I was bowled over by the sound of KEF’s Q750, which at $1499.98/pr. is a heck of a lot cheaper than the 704 S2, and is probably what I would buy if my money were on the line. It’s not built nearly as well as the 704 S2, mind you, so that partly accounts for its much lower price. You mention that you are looking for something to watch movies with, and so you might want something with deeper, punchier bass than what the KEF can muster -- Monitor Audio’s Silver 300 offers just that, and for only $500 more than the Q750. The Silver 300 looks a lot more handsome than the Q750, too, what with its classy real wood veneer. My dark-horse suggestion for you is Definitive Technology’s BP9060, which retails for $2198/pr., but can probably be had for significantly less than that if you shop around. I have not reviewed the BP9060, but I have heard it and also have quite a bit of experience with other Definitive Technology models, including the Demand D9, which I did just review. The BP9060 doesn’t look particularly fetching, yet it packs a powered 10” subwoofer into its cabinet for maximum slam, and unlike most of its competitors, has speaker drivers on the front and back of its cabinet, helping the BP9060 create a huge, immersive soundstage. I’d see if you could listen to the KEF and Monitor (as well as any competing products in stock) at a local dealer, while the Definitive Technology should be in stock at your closest Best Buy Magnolia location.

As for receivers, they’re not particularly in vogue in hi-fi, so I’d personally check out reviews on Amazon’s website for models that are well regarded, and that produce at least 100Wpc into 8 ohms. If you could sacrifice some receiver features, though, NAD makes some killer affordable integrated amps with built-in Bluetooth that would work well with any of the speakers I’ve suggested above, including the B&Ws if you decide to pull the trigger on those. Happy hunting. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I read your article about the KEF Q750 speakers with great interest. Since you claimed that you have listened to many KEF models over the years, I was curious if you have also heard the Q950 as well as the R900. Here in Germany the R900 costs double the price of the Q950 and I was wondering which one you prefer and if the R900 is worth the extra money.

What made me especially curious about a comparison of the R900 with the Q950 is the fact that they seem similar but have very different approaches. While the R900 has a D’Appolito assembly, the Q950 takes a conventional two-and-a-half-way approach with only one bass driver driven (the other two fulfill the same job as a port). Also, the Q950 has a lot larger coax driver -- 8” [in diameter] compared to the 5” [diameter] of the R900. Some people said that the R700 has a smoother transition between its drivers, especially if you are standing off center, than the R900 due to the wider baffle. I was wondering if KEF tried (and managed) to tackle that problem with a bigger coax driver (or what the reason is for using such a big driver). Also, the R900 has no separate enclosure for the coax, while the Q950 has.

Greetings,
Michael
Germany

Good questions. I previously owned the R900, and my brother and fellow SoundStage! reviewer, Erich Wetzel, currently owns a pair, so I’m intimately familiar with the design. I can’t say the same for the Q950, but KEF is usually pretty good about maintaining the “voicing” of their speakers across a given product line, so it’s probably safe to assume that the Q950 sounds very similar to the smaller Q750, which I reviewed, albeit with greater bass extension and greater output abilities due to its larger woofer, passive radiators, and cabinet.

Regarding the R900, it does not use a D’Appolito arrangement, as its single midrange cone -- part of KEF’s coaxial Uni-Q, which also incorporates a tweeter in the center of the cone -- sits in between two woofers, as opposed to a traditional D’Appolito setup, which relies on a pair of separate midranges (or midrange-woofers) sandwiching a tweeter. Aside from its coaxial tweeter-midrange drive unit, the R900 is a fairly traditional, ported three-way design. Most of KEF’s three-way loudspeakers, like the R900, use a Uni-Q that is around 5” in diameter. The differences seen in the Q750 and Q950 have more to do with price and design than anything else. As two-and-a-half-way loudspeakers, the Uni-Q in the Q towers is responsible for both midrange and bass frequencies, and KEF has tailored the cabinet, vis-à-vis the separate internal enclosure for the Uni-Q, to balance midrange clarity, bass output, and bass control. Likewise, the use of passive radiators is a function of maximizing bass output and control on a budget. It’s telling that none of KEF’s more expensive loudspeaker designs make use of passive radiators. I am guessing that KEF chose to make the Uni-Q, woofer, and passive radiators in each of their Q towers the same diameter to allow for uniform dispersion and wave-launch behavior.

Is the R900 worth the premium? It depends on what you value. The real-wood veneer on the R900 makes it look far better, in my humble opinion, than the cheaper-looking vinyl veneer on the more affordable Q950. The R900, like the rest of the R models, is also available in high-gloss finishes, but none of the Qs are. With the R900, you’re also getting a true three-way design, with a Uni-Q driver unencumbered by low-frequency responsibilities, and a pair of dedicated 8” woofers per cabinet. In a large room, where visual appeal, super high output, and maximum bass extension are required, the R900 is definitely worth the premium. But if you’re flexible on each of those points, I suspect that the Q950 will offer a very high proportion of the R900’s performance for less than half the cost. I can say with authority that the Q750 is fantastic for $1500 USD/pair. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I am in the market for a pair of affordable, three-way tower speakers to be used primarily for music, with a little TV stereo sound thrown in. And I have a question.

First a little background. My current music setup includes a 1987-vintage Yamaha RX-700U stereo receiver, a pair of 1996-vintage Paradigm Titan V1s, and a Paradigm PDR-10 subwoofer. I use a Chromecast Audio device hooked up to the Yamaha receiver’s CD analog input to stream music from my iPhone. I plan on purchasing a Schiit Modi 2 Uber so that I can play FLAC files stored on my computer through the Yamaha receiver. I also plan on using my Xbox One’s TosLink output, connected to the Modi’s TosLink input, to play the occasional CD, and for TV stereo sound.

Due to the disappearance of the type of audio store where I originally bought my receiver and speakers (you know, the type of place that had a decent listening room and knowledgeable sales staff), I am largely trying to decide on what speakers to purchase by reading reviews. I would like the speakers I buy to have enough low end to make a subwoofer unnecessary for music playback (I am not a bass head). This leads to my question. Is there more to low-frequency extension than is shown by the -3dB low-frequency measurement? I understand one speaker may have muddy, bloated bass, while another can have taut, punchy, fast, accurate, articulate bass (just a few of the adjectives used by audio publication reviewers), all while having the same -3dB roll-off point. But can one of the two speakers “sound” like it has lower bass extension? And what would contribute to this perception? I am a firm believer in the objective/subjective review. Some things are just not measurable with simple frequency and impedance graphs, and everyone has their own personal taste in speaker sound profiles. So, I understand that a reviewer may report a perception of lower bass extension. I am an electrical engineer and have a pretty good understanding what goes into creating sound, and the logarithmic nature of decibel measurements. So, what gives with reviewers saying that a speaker has great low-bass extension? Okay, I guess that was more like four questions.

My contenders [are the following]: Elac’s Debut 2.0 F5.2, [since] Andrew Jones says he likes to give up some efficiency as a tradeoff for low-frequency response; Paradigm’s Monitor SE 3000F, [as] I love the Canadian school of objective design, coupled with subjective listening; and Q Acoustics’ 3050, [which] I know [is] a two-way, but has gotten great reviews. Any other suggestions at this price point are welcome.

P.S., I love your editorials and equipment reviews. You show a passion for helping others to see past the manufacturer marketing and reviewer B.S. Keep up the good work. If I could afford them, I would buy the Monitor Audio Bronze 6 speakers based on your review alone.

Joe Pop
United States

There’s far too much here to adequately cover in a short response, but let me try to broadly address your questions. Loudspeaker manufacturers are often -- how can I put this delicately? -- creative in their listed specifications. The ±3dB points are welcome compared to some manufacturers who will list a frequency response without any qualification whatsoever. But is the frequency response with listed ±3dB points an anechoic measurement or “in-room”? If the latter, how big is the room, what are the dimensions, how was it treated, and where were the speakers set up within the room? While the listed frequency response may be a decent starting point when comparing different loudspeaker models, consumers should pay more attention to cabinet volume and driver radiating area if they’re trying to gauge how much bass extension they’re likely to hear.

As for your “perception” question, psychoacoustics is a complicated thing. Moreover, everyone’s tastes differ, so a more fulsome bottom end may appeal to one listener, while another might prefer bass that’s lower in level, which can sometimes sound faster and tauter. Beauty is in the ear of the beholder. That’s a bit of a cop-out, I know, but when reading professional reviews, it’s more important to get an idea of what a speaker sounds like to see if it agrees with what you like, rather than skipping ahead to a pithy conclusion and noting whether it received something like our Reviewers’ Choice award, or some equivalent.

Regarding your contenders, it’s an interesting bunch, for sure. I haven’t heard any of the speakers you mention in person, but I know that Elac and Paradigm each have a “house sound” of sorts. Elac’s sound errs slightly on the warm, full side of neutral, with a smooth treble extension. Paradigm’s sound is more visceral and dynamic, with a livelier top end. Each company makes very good products and has a great deal of engineering expertise to lean on. Q Acoustics is an interesting choice. I’ve been interested in their products for the past year or two, and your e-mail has prompted me to reach out to them about reviewing something from their newly announced 3000i line. Their US website shows that they have a 30-day risk-free trial, so that may be a great way to audition the 3050, or perhaps the new 3050i. If you’re leery of that, then I’d probably steer you towards the Paradigm Monitor SE 3000F. If you like the way your Titan V1s sound, you’ll probably enjoy one of their newest creations. Good luck! . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

Thank you for your excellent review of Monitor Audio’s Silver 300s. I recently purchased a Walnut pair of these, but I’m wanting to get as much detail and inner resolution out of these speakers as possible. As you recognized in your review of these speakers, it can be one of their weaker points.

What would you do to recommend me “overcoming” this to get as much detail/hidden music out of them as much as possible? Any advice/counsel would be much appreciated. I know I probably need a highly resolving amplifier to accomplish this, but I just wanted to make sure I venture down the right path to get this since it’s something I value very much.

Thanks again!

Doug Banker
United States

You’re right on the money about needing to partner your new Monitor Audio speakers with high-quality associated hardware in order to make them sound their best. If you’re starting from scratch, I’d recommend looking into a high-quality integrated amp with a built-in digital-to-analog converter. Something like NAD’s C 368, which retails for $899 and which my colleague Al Griffin raved about on SoundStage! Simplifi, would be a good starting point on that front. Cambridge Audio’s CXA80, which goes for $999.99, is another option at that price point. If you wanted to consider separates, I would suggest starting with Schiit Audio -- they’re the new big name in affordable hi-fi gear, and with very good reason. You could partner their Vidar amp ($699) with the multibit version of their Bifrost DAC ($599) and have a killer system on your hands. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

My name is Florian. I just read your review of the KEF Q750, and I’m looking to buy a home cinema based on these speakers. [Possibly the] Q750 or the Q950 [floorstanding speakers] -- I haven’t decided yet -- and the Q650C [center-channel], and Q150/Q350 [bookshelf speakers]. I would like to know what [five-channel power] amplifier (€1000-€1500) I should buy for this system. Could you help?

Best regards,
Florian
France

I am not familiar with many five-channel power amplifiers, as opposed to the far-more-common multichannel audio/video receivers (AVRs). That said, I was able to come up with a number of suggestions that might be available to you in France. Take note that all prices quoted are in US dollars and the power outputs are into 8 ohms.

Marantz makes a killer-looking five-channel power amp called the MM7055. It retails for $1199 and purports to put out 140Wpc, which should be more than enough for your application. Anthem makes an amp called the PVA 5, which generates 125Wpc, but it retails for $1999. Finally, Rotel offers the RMB-1555, which makes 120Wpc, and retails for around $1700 here in the United States, though it may be more affordable in Europe.

If you’re not limited to pure five-channel power amps, though, you may want to consider a five-channel AVR, as they’re much more widely available, and they can be quite good. Anthem makes the MRX 520, priced at $1399, while NAD offers the T 758 V3, for $1299, which would both be good options for you and well within your budget. Plenty to consider. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I’m a new reader and my wife and I just pulled the trigger on three [Devialet] Gold Phantoms for a [New York City] apartment, with the additional Devialet equipment. Two are for the main space and one for the bedroom. They’re coming in a few days. Quite an upgrade compared to a paired UE Boom 2 speaker setup we currently use (occasionally) or [our] phone speaker (I’m a sinner, I know). Basically, just want to ask if we did the right thing vs. other options. Thoughts?

Thank you!

Don
United States

Two initial thoughts for you, Don. Using your phone’s speaker is nearly inexcusable in this day and age. Second, and lastly, your pricy display of penitence more than makes up for such an offense.

If I were to stop reviewing hi-fi gear today, I’d buy a pair of Gold Phantoms with all of their matching accessories (stands, Dialog, and Remote) and not look back. I’m not sure I can pay Devialet, or the Gold Phantom, any higher of a compliment. Rest assured, you’re making strong life choices these days. . . . Hans Wetzel