Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment


Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

  • 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)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - PSB's M4U 4 Earphones (April 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - GoldenEar Technology's Triton Two+ and Three+ Loudspeakers (March 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- KEF's LS50 (February 2016)

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To Hans Wetzel,

I enjoyed your review of the Hegel H300 integrated amplifier, and its comparison to the new Musical Fidelity M6 500i. I own Amphion Argon2 and Argon3L speakers, and am looking for a second integrated in addition to my Musical Fidelity A5, whose sound I like very much with both sets of speakers.

Do you know how the above two amps would do with my Amphions? Do you know how the Musical Fidelity M6i or the M6 separates would compare? I care about both large orchestrations -- like Mahler -- which tend to challenge amps under 200Wpc, and human vocals, both singer-songwriters and classical (never mind my Louis Armstrong and other jazz).

Thank you in advance,
Christian

It's funny that you mention Amphion, as I am due to review one of their products in the coming months. As for the two integrated amplifiers that you mention, I really enjoyed my time with both, though they are rather different. You sound fond of your current Musical Fidelity A5 integrated. I briefly heard that model a few years ago, and I would imagine you'd be very happy with something like the M6 500i. It looks like it is around $1000 more than the M6PRX and M6PRE separates that Musical Fidelity offers, and that money buys you an integrated chassis, almost double the power, and no need for a pair of interconnects. It also looks like the M6 500i is built to a higher standard than the "regular" M6 line. $6999 is certainly a lot of money to spend, but I can almost guarantee your satisfaction with the British "Super Integrated," as Musical Fidelity calls them.

However, if you have a Hegel dealer within driving distance, I highly suggest making the drive to listen to the H300. It's $1500 less, includes a terrific DAC, and, to my ears, is the slightly more resolving of the two amps. I actually purchased one myself in the last few days, to use as my reference for the near future. It offers a different sound than the Musical Fidelity, for sure, as it's not quite as sweet or warm sounding. It also has half the power rating and a less robust chassis. But remember that doubling power only earns you an extra 3dB of headroom as you crank up the volume. Unless you like listening at deafening levels, the 250Wpc that the H300 provides should more than suffice.

Bottom line, you can't go wrong either way. They're both terrific products. But do try to listen to the Hegel, and let me know in  what direction you wind up going. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

Interesting read on your choice of a new reference speaker. I, too, find myself in the same situation as I want to upgrade my speakers. I currently have Axiom M80 V2s with an Axiom center and surround speakers.

I jumped on a set of Energy RC-70s that once sold for $2200/pr., and got them for $800. I have had them for 30 days. Before I decide to keep them, I must say that they are not as bright as the Axioms and I find them three-dimensional. The Axioms are really forward-sounding, with the Energy on the recessed side. I could have gotten the GoldenEar Technology Triton 3 for $2000/pr., as well. I know the Energy speaker is around 2007 technology, and I'll have to live with this upgrade for a while. I also got the Energy Veritas center speaker, regular price $1000, for $500, and the Veritas mini-bookshelf speakers for $250/pr. What's your opinion on this particular upgrade? Sometimes when I listen to both of these models they sound similar and I'm afraid that over the long haul that there's not enough differences to consider the Energy as a huge upgrade.

Gerald Greene

I don't think you went wrong in your purchases, Gerald. Energy makes some good speakers, just as Axiom does. You may be right that the move from Axioms to Energys was more lateral than anything else, but both companies make overachieving value-oriented products, so it's hardly a damning assessment.

Yes, something like the GoldenEar would probably offer a noticeable upgrade, as would a few other speakers that are newer and incorporate more modern materials. But if it were me, for the moment, I would enjoy the good deals that you got on your Energy speakers. I was able to purchase my now-departed Mirage OMD-28 loudspeakers for $2300/pr., a steal considering they once retailed for $7500/pr. I knew that there were better speakers out there, but I thoroughly enjoyed their company for the two years that I owned them. If you decide in the future that you'd like to go a different direction, GoldenEar Technology would offer a good starting point. You might also check out -- in no particular order -- Paradigm, KEF, Definitive Technology, Aperion Audio, PSB or Sonus Faber. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I have an older NAD CD changer and it's starting to produce static in one channel. I am thinking of replacing it with another changer to keep the harmony in the house. A while back, I connected a Peachtree DAC to the digital output of the NAD and neither my friend nor I heard much of a difference, if any. We were using the same Kimber Hero analog interconnect into my preamp.

All the CD changers I have seen are entry level at best. I was wondering if you could direct me toward good-sounding player around $1000 CDN.

René

I'm not sure many companies make CD changers anymore, as Compact Discs are falling out of favor these days. Marantz makes a five-disc changer, the $399.99 CC4403, that could well suit your needs. For what it's worth, while Peachtree makes some pretty good stuff, they wouldn't be my first suggestion for a reasonably priced DAC, and it may well be that if you tried a different DAC, say from Benchmark Media Systems or Musical Fidelity, you'd hear a more substantial difference in the resultant sound. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I'm French and I will try to write the best English that I can. I'm about to buy one of these amplifiers: Hegel's H300 or Musical Fidelity's M6 500i. I have just read your H300 review on the GoodSound! website.

Their prices are quite close in France, but still very expensive, and the products are a bit different.

The Musical Fidelity is very powerful, while the Hegel has a DAC inside (a very good one?), but with a less powerful 250Wpc power rating. My speakers are Dynaudio's C2. If you had to choose between these two amplifiers, which would you buy? Why? Thanks.

Best regards,
Bruno

Bruno, if you've narrowed down your search to these two integrated amplifiers, you are in a very fortunate predicament. Both the Musical Fidelity and the Hegel are terrific, albeit different, products.

The $6999 Musical Fidelity M6 500i is a bit of a monster. Weighing in at more than 70 pounds, with a solid, overbuilt chassis, it's the kind of component that should last for more than a decade without any issues. It has a sonic personality that is not quite neutral, and errs on the warm side. While it does not have tube-like warmth, it's on the same continuum. Personally, I found it very engaging, and almost purchased my review sample. With 500W on tap, it's also highly doubtful that you would ever have need of a more powerful amplifier.

The Hegel has a different feature set and personality. Costing $1500 less than the M6 500i, at $5500, the Hegel H300 doesn't look or feel quite as substantial as its British counterpart. It's more sparse and utilitarian than the Musical Fidelity integrated in terms of its design, but also includes a high-quality built-in DAC. It also sounds a bit Scandinavian, in the sense that it's forward, and a little more honest and neutral. At 250Wpc, it sounds like it would be significantly less powerful than 500i, but in reality, doubling power only gets you 3dB in actual output. Unless you like to really pound out music through your Dynaudios, I doubt you'd need the overhead.

In the end, it comes down to what you prefer. The Dynaudio C2s are excellent, and pretty neutral, meaning you'll hear the coloration of the Musical Fidelity as much as you'll hear the forward nature of the Hegel. Personally, I'd lean towards the Hegel, but in an ideal world, I'd own both. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I have read your review about Musical Fidelity's M6 500i integrated amplifier [on SoundStage! Hi-Fi] and it sounds really good to me. Would you recommend this amp to go with Spendor's A9 loudspeaker? Also, what CD player would be good to partner with the Musical Fidelity?

Thank you for your time.

Henrieta

I very much enjoyed my time with the M6 500i. Its build quality is terrific, and its sound is as revealing as it is sweet. Its huge power reserves mean that you can push the Spendor A9s -- a speaker I've not had the pleasure to hear before -- to very high SPLs without distortion. I can't imagine the Musical Fidelity being a bad match for any speaker, really. One thing to note, however, is that the M6 500i is not dead neutral. It has a slight warmth and relaxed quality about its sound that I happen to really appreciate. It's not quite as colored as a vacuum tube amp would be, but it’s along the same lines.

If you wanted something that's more neutral, check out Hegel's H300 integrated, which is perhaps slightly more resolving, while also costing less, and includes a built-in digital-to-analog converter. But you cannot go wrong with the Musical Fidelity. I seriously considered purchasing my review sample, and I think it'll be a classic.

As for your question about CD players, there are plenty of good ones available for reasonable money. I'm not sure what your budget is, but I would start my search with Oppo. Their BDP-95 looks to be a great value at around $1000, as it would allow you to use your CD collection with a top-quality Sabre 9018 Reference DAC. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

Nice review of the Hegel H300. But for that price wouldn't I be better off buying separates?

Philip J.

The $5500 USD price of the Hegel H300 is a substantial investment, no doubt. But given that it's an amplifier, preamplifier, and digital-to-analog converter in one chassis, the price becomes more understandable. Buying separates means that you're paying for three chassis and possibly two remote controls, to say nothing of the cabling that you will need to wire everything together. That's not to say that you couldn't buy separates and have a terrific system. But I highly, highly doubt that you could spend $5500 on separates and come close to the Hegel's overall performance and flexibility. If you're the type of listener who enjoys consistently altering aspects of your system, then maybe separates make sense. But if you're looking for an endgame solution, I can't recommend the Hegel highly enough. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I am making the transition to using my Apple Macintosh as my primary audio source, but want to keep that CD-quality sound. I have a pair of ADS L990 loudspeakers, and like the compartmentalized quality of NAD's C 375DAC, but covet the extra power of Anthem's Integrated 225. I am also thinking of acquiring the KEF 201/2 Reference Series speakers later on. What will be a better investment when it comes to these two amps? I do like my sound on the warmer side, but also with a little kick to it, too.

N.D.

Congratulations on making the jump to computer-based audio. I think you'll be surprised by just how good it can be. As for the amps that you're suggesting, I have a few comments.

The NAD that Sathyan Sundaram recently reviewed generates 150Wpc into 8 ohms, whereas the Anthem puts out 225Wpc into 8 ohms. They’re both priced about the same. However, the NAD also comes with a digital-to-analog converter built in, whereas the Anthem does not. The DAC would be a welcome feature for you as you transition your Mac to music duties. While more power is often a good thing, I'm not sure you'd really miss the extra power of the Anthem with the speakers you have now. NADs have always sounded a little on the warm side, to me at least, and so that might be another point in its favor.

If you do wind up with the KEFs, mind you, its sensitivity rating of 86dB might make power a more important consideration for you, especially if you enjoy cranking up the volume. In that case, the Integrated 225 might be the wiser choice. If you do wind up with the more powerful Anthem, however, just make sure to invest in a DAC as well, which will allow you to maximize your sound quality. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I enjoy your reviews and insights into this hobby very much, but today I am seeking advice on an upgrade of a highly reviewed product. The Audiolab 8200CDQ is a CD player with a built-in preamp, and can be used as a standalone DAC in a computer-based audio system. The question of differences in sound quality of higher-end players versus cheaper ones is the debate, as I currently use a Yamaha DVD-S657 SACD player that I purchased back in 2005 for $350.

The Audiolab 8200CDQ retails for $1600 CAD. How much of an upgrade can I expect with a higher-end CD player/DAC, and, of course, the preamp? My current system is made up of an NAD C 272 amplifier, NAD C 162 preamplifier, and Axiom M80 speakers.

Gerald

Thanks for emailing, Gerald. Unfortunately, I do not have any experience with Audiolab's products. It does appear that the 8200CDQ has earned some very positive reviews, however. I also noticed that the unit uses ESS Technology's Sabre 9018 Reference chipset. While a chipset is only as good as its implementation into a given design, I am currently reviewing Benchmark Media Systems' DAC2 HGC, which, like the 8200CDQ, is a digital-to-analog converter, as well as a preamp. It, too, uses the 9018 chipset, and in my early listening tests, I think it's seriously good. If the 8200CDQ comes close to the Benchmark's implementation of the 9018 chip, I would bet that the Audiolab 8200CDQ could work well as a replacement for both your NAD preamp and your current Yamaha SACD player.

As for how much of an upgrade it will be from your current setup, I can only speculate. I know that digital-to-analog conversion has come a long way since 2005, when you purchased your Yamaha. Sound quality has improved, both in terms of resolution and musicality, and prices have fallen dramatically too. It's a good time to upgrade, and I suspect that it won't take you long to appreciate the Audiolab if you wind up purchasing it. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I read your write-up on the KEF LS50. What kind of amplifier were they using? Do you have any amplifier suggestions for them? I am looking for an integrated amplifier to use with this speaker, but will consider separates if the price is right.

Todd L.

The Audio Excellence folks at TAVES partnered the LS50s with Cary Audio Designs' 120S MKII tube amplifier, which develops 60Wpc in Triode mode and 120Wpc in Ultralinear mode. The reason I mention its power ratings is that the KEFs are pretty inefficient speakers, with a sensitivity of 85dB (2.83V/1m). Combined with a minimum impedance of 3.2 ohms, they're not going to be the easiest speaker to drive. I'd recommend an amp that can produce at least 100Wpc into 8 ohms and is stable into a load that drops below 4 ohms.

With that said, I don't think there's a need to invest in separates. There are a lot of terrific integrated amplifiers out there, and without knowing more about your preferences and budget, I'd suggest starting your search with Peachtree Audio's new $1499 nova125. With 125Wpc, a tube buffer, and a built-in Sabre digital-to-analog converter, you get your money's worth. For $1599, you could also check out NAD's C 375DAC. If you choose either of these, you'll have a really terrific $3000 system -- the KEFs are that good. . . . Hans Wetzel

Hi GoodSound!,

I liked your article on the three best speakers. Do you have any of these in for review? I also have another question: Is it okay to buy factory direct? Everything I read says to listen first. I can't do that if I order them online. Any advice is appreciated.

Yours truly,
Jim C.

Doug Schneider currently has the KEF LS50 in for review, and early signs point to their performance mirroring what he and I heard at TAVES. The review will appear on SoundStage! Hi-Fi. We inquired about the Cabasse 2.1 system, but have instead lined up another of their products for review. As for the Magnepan 1.7s, they are a few years old at this point, so it is unlikely that we'll get those in. I would be very curious to hear the company's future products, however.

As for factory direct, it's not an issue as far as I'm concerned. But if there's any opportunity to hear a product that you're interested in, or even another of the same company's products, I'd highly recommend it. When buying an audio product that you're going to have to live with in the long term, it's probably worth the extra effort to determine if you like it. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I noticed in some of your recent responses to readers that you mention GoldenEar Technology's Triton Threes and Definitive Technology's BP-8020STs. Will there be reviews of these? If so, when?

Dave P.

I'm in the midst of writing up a review of the Triton Three, and the BP-8020ST is next in my queue. The reviews will likely be posted in the next six or eight weeks, and both will be worth the read. . . . Hans Wetzel