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I am currently shopping for an integrated amplifier and am considering Bryston, Musical Fidelity, and NAD. Do you have any firsthand experience with these? Are there any other brands I should be looking at? Your guidance is appreciated.
I don't think you can go wrong with any of these brands. I recently toured Bryston's Canadian factory, and can attest to the care and expertise that they lavish on their products. Their 20-year warranty is, I believe, the longest in the industry. While their older lines had a slightly cool sound to them (think Krell), their newest lines are supposed to be pretty neutral, and objectively very, very good. I recently reviewed two Musical Fidelity products, the M1DAC and M6 500i integrated amp. I found both to be pretty good, especially the integrated. I can't be sure of your price range, but if you like warmer-sounding gear that provides a good deal of ambience to a recording, you can't go wrong with their well-built products. As for NAD, Sathyan Sundaram recently reviewed their C 375DAC integrated amplifier-DAC. Based on his detailed review, my suggestion would be to try and listen to the NAD if at all possible, since it is likely the least expensive, yet most fully-featured integrated amplifier you could by from any of these three companies. If that doesn't strike your fancy, I'd then suggest Bryston's B135 integrated, or Musical Fidelity's M6i. . . . Hans Wetzel
Does it matter if I use spades or bananas on my speaker cables? I am ordering some new wires and I have a choice. My preference is for bananas.
We've answered this several times before -- the shape of the connectors makes zero difference. Go with what you prefer, or what works best for the binding posts on your speakers or amplifier. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I have a general question about in-ceiling speakers. I just moved into a new house that is already wired for them and I'm having issues picking a decent set due to the amount of options in the marketplace, as well differentiating between paying for a brand vs. real quality. With a budget of around $500, can you guide me and give me your opinion on the topic? Maybe I'm being too cheap as well. Thank you very much!
We don't really cover architectural speakers here at GoodSound!, so I'm not in the best position to offer advice on specific models. That said, many of the brands that we review also happen to have in-ceiling models, and since many of the same or similar drivers are utilized for such products, the overall sound quality is likely very similar. As for being too cheap, I can't be sure of how many in-ceiling speakers you're looking to buy, or of the size of the room where they will be used.
Aperion Audio, Axiom Audio, Definitive Technology, GoldenEar Technology, MartinLogan, Paradigm, PSB -- these are but a few companies to explore, and by no means comprise an exhaustive list. If you can, try to hear at least one of these brands at a local dealer, and compare the sound quality to the other brands on offer. I suspect you'll wind up with something that sounds pretty good. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I have read many of your reviews and I'm wondering what your thoughts are on USB cables. Have you tried many? Do you feel they make a difference? What do you recommend for less than $100?
Thanks for the kind words, Ryan. Contrary to common sense, USB cables do seem to make an audible difference in a signal chain. I have experience with four different USB cables: DH Labs' Silver Sonic, Dynamique Audio's Firelight, Nordost's Blue Heaven LS, and Ridge Street Audio's Poiema!!! R-v3 Digital Master. Each allowed for subtle improvements in sound, with the latter three offering slightly better performance than the DH Labs Silver Sonic cable. The Silver Sonic USB, which I own, is a fraction of the price of the Dynamique, Nordost and Ridge Street cables, however, and available for under $100. You could also check out some of AudioQuest's offerings.
With that said, I would only recommend investing in a USB cable if you are happy with the rest of your system. The improvements in sound that you will hear with a reasonably priced USB cable, such as the one from DH Labs, or even the several-times-more-expensive Ridge Street cable, are modest. In my experience, an upgraded cable will be slightly more resolving and sound a little cleaner than a basic USB cable. But again, it's a subtlety. If you're currently using a digital-to-analog converter that is more than a few years old, my suggestion would be to put your money there. In terms of performance per dollar spent, that is a far better investment. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I have a question about the Musical Fidelity M1DAC that you reviewed in April. That's a long time ago. Do you still like the M1DAC? Are there any other DACs that you would recommend that are about the same price? Thanks for your help.
I do like the M1DAC. For the money, it offers solid performance, and is very easy to listen to over the long run, as it has a warm and laid-back sound. I doubt you would be unhappy with the Musical Fidelity if you decided to purchase it. The only other DAC that I would suggest you consider is the Cambridge Audio Azur DacMagic Plus that Vince Hanada reviewed earlier this year. For $100 less, it offers additional connectivity, a volume control, headphone jack, and perhaps most important, three digital filters that will allow you to tailor the DAC's sound to suit your personal preferences. Either of the DACs would be a good purchase, in my opinion. . . . Hans Wetzel
I am starting to upgrade my 15-year-old stereo. I have some Polks, a Yamaha receiver, and a CD player from Denon. I want to upgrade my speakers first. Is Polk Audio still a good name? What other brands should I be shopping for? I'm not sure about my budget yet. I might be willing to spend $1000.
You can get quite good speakers for $1000. Polk is still reputable, and you might have seen that we recently reviewed the smaller of their two flagship-model speakers, the LSiM705. There are other manufacturers who are pushing the boundaries of what to expect at that price point, however. GoldenEar Technologies' Aon 3 very much impressed Doug Schneider not only for its overall sound quality, but also for its bass output, which was excellent for a bookshelf. Having spent a good deal of time with GoldenEar's larger Triton Three, I suspect the $1000 Aon 3 is the proverbial chip off the old block. Slightly above your $1000 price range is Definitive Technologies' $1198 BP-8020ST, a bipolar tower speaker with a powered bass driver. I am due to receive a pair for review any day now, and on paper, at least, they look promising. Fittingly, each of the three companies mentioned here was founded by the same individual, Sandy Gross, and it's no surprise that each brand has a loyal following. Whether you stick with Polks, perhaps something like the RTiA7, or follow up on either of my other suggestions, I think you'll be happy you upgraded. Speaker design, and resultant sound quality, has come a long way in the past 15 years. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I'm in the market for a new digital-to-analog converter (DAC). The Benchmark Media Systems DAC1 seems like a safe bet. Is it? Any others you'd recommend for $1000?
As an owner of Benchmark's DAC1 USB, I am probably biased in agreeing with you. The original DAC1 (sans USB input) is getting a bit old, but despite its age, it's still a terrific product that will reveal more detail in your music collection than you'd expect for the price. That said, it's interesting that you framed it as a "safe bet." As it's aged, a raft of competing, less-expensive DACs have flooded the market, and many of them are very competent designs. If the competition hasn't caught up to the high standards of the Benchmark, they have substantially closed the gap, and the DAC1's "personality" is now more of a consideration to buyers. This personality, a kind of shockingly clean and wide-open sound, marked by a slight tonal coolness and a slight hardness in the high-frequency range, stands in contrast to most other DACs I've heard. Without further information about your system, I'd have a few suggestions that should run the gamut. Musical Fidelity's M1DAC, which I reviewed earlier this year, offers a far more relaxed and easygoing sound, standing in stark contrast to the DAC1, and at $749, is cheaper, though ultimately less resolving than the Benchmark. I'd also suggest looking at AudioEngine's D2 wireless DAC, Cambridge Audio's Azur DacMagic Plus, and Peachtree Audio's iDac, each of which offers features that you might find appealing. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
Thanks for the great reviews. I read somewhere that you own the Mirage OMD-28s, but that you have the GoldenEar Triton Threes in for review. When is that review being published? I can buy some OMD-28s used, but I want to know what you have to say about the Threes. Anything you can tell me?
I have only had the Triton Threes for a month, so I don't want to say too much without further listening. Generally, I think they offer very high performance for their $2000 asking price. Their High Velocity Folded Ribbon tweeter is both smooth and revealing, and the powered bass section opens the door to potentially using low-powered amplifiers. I think they would work best in small to medium-sized rooms. Look for a review in October.
The Mirages are lovely, both in appearance and performance, but very high maintenance. In order to sing, they require at least 2-4' from the front wall, and ideally need to be placed equally far from the sidewalls, due to their omnidirectional dispersion pattern. As a result, they are best suited to a larger listening room. They also demand a fair bit of power and current. I found that the bass section, which is very near full range, will sound noticeably tighter when there is a lot of power behind it. Having recently spent a half hour or so with GoldenEar's larger Triton Two loudspeakers, I think they compare more favorably to the Mirages than the Triton Threes, which in comparison don't produce quite as much sonic size or deep bass. In a smaller room, I would suggest either of the GoldenEar models over the Mirages, as their bass output can be adjusted via a knob on their rear panels, and the Three's smaller enclosure and less powerful amplifier won't be pushed beyond its limits. In a larger room with proper positioning, however, the Mirages should shine, and I suspect only the Triton Twos would be able to offer a comparable experience in terms of outright volume, soundstage scale, and bass extension. . . . Hans Wetzel
I am in the market for a pair of floorstanding speakers in the $2000-$2500 range and, after quite a bit of Internet research, I have narrowed my choices down to Aperion's Verus Grand Tower and KEF's R500. I have a large room (22' x 22', with a vaulted ceiling) and intend to drive them with an integrated amp in the 120-160W range. My top considerations are currently Cambridge Audio's new Azur 851A and NAD's C 390DD. Any plans to review either of these amps in the near future?
I was initially sold on the Aperions based on many top reviews, most namely GoodSound!'s, and their no-hassle return policy. However, the latest review of the KEFs in SoundStage! Hi-Fi has me strongly considering them. I prefer the looks of the KEFs and was raised on my father's 104/2s, a sound I loved. Unfortunately, there are no KEF dealers in my state and their direct-buy return policy would cost me shipping both ways, plus a 15% restocking fee if I decide not to keep them. So I'm hoping you can shed some light on the sound-quality differences I might find between the two speakers. Are the KEFs worth the extra $800? I primarily listen to rock and some classic jazz.
Thanks for your help!
You've narrowed your search down to two excellent speakers, which have been reviewed by two of our most experienced reviewers, with Jeff Fritz having written on the Aperions, and Doug Schneider on the KEFs. Jeff's Music Vault is usually occupied by state-of-the-art speakers, and Doug's reference Revel Salon2s were considered state-of-the-art performers when they were released a few years ago.
Your large room and fondness for rock possibly complicates your decision, as 120-160W will likely be necessary to fill your room with loud, distortion-free music. (Colin Smith currently has the C 390DD in for review, but we don't have Cambridge's 851A, at least not yet.) Both speakers look to play clean and loud, which certainly counts in your favor, but I suspect the Aperions, with their bigger bass drivers and lower-specified bass response, will give you a slightly deeper and more robust bottom-end. I don't think the difference will be profound, however.
What an additional $800 gets you in the R500 is a trickle-down pedigree from KEF's $30,000/pair Blade loudspeaker. I recently heard the Blade at an audio show, and it's a deeply impressive design, with superlative imaging capabilities thanks in large part to its Uni-Q coaxial driver. Doug does not often wax poetic about a piece of audio equipment, nor is he prone to being casually hyperbolic, so his comparing the $2600 KEF R500s to his almost ten-times more expensive Revel Salon2 reference speakers is noteworthy to say the least.
In light of your affinity for the R500's appearance and house sound, per your growing up with the 104/2s, I would suggest moving for the KEFs, which, as Doug says, are "great sounding speaker[s] by any measure." Odds are you will be highly satisfied with them. If the worry of not liking them is too great, however, why not exercise Aperion's no-risk guarantee, with shipping charges being covered both ways? If you keep them, you save $800, and if not, you won't spend a dime. Either way, you're assuredly getting a terrific pair of loudspeakers. . . . Hans Wetzel
I have a bit of a predicament in trying to choose a pair of front speakers. My setup combines home theater and PC, so my center-channel speaker must be a size that won't inhibit my workspace and view. I have chosen the MartinLogan Motion 8 center speaker, so naturally I chose the MartinLogan Motion 40s for the front and MartinLogan Motion 4s for the rears.
Complicating things, I have the opportunity to purchase a pair of Dynaudio Excite X32s at a very attractive price, for much less than the MartinLogan Motion 40s. I know they are better quality and at this price it is silly not to go with the Dynaudios.
My question is: Will having the MartinLogan Motions inhibit the quality of the Dynaudios by not being voice matched?
Unfortunately, I don't have personal experience with either the MartinLogan Motion 40s or the Dynaudio Excite X32s. However, I currently have in for review a pair of GoldenEar Technology Triton Threes which have a High-Velocity Folded Ribbon (HVFR) tweeter, a driver that is very similar to MartinLogan's Folded Motion Tweeter. I also used to own a pair of Dynaudio Contour floorstanders that had a very similar design to the Excite X32s that you mention. If MartinLogan's Folded Motion Tweeter is anything like the GoldenEars' HVFR tweeter, I think you could be very happy with the MartinLogan system that you've chosen.
Regarding the Dynaudios, you're right to question if it's wise to have the soft-dome tweeters of the Excite X32s flanking the Folded Ribbon tweeter of the MartinLogan Motion 8 center speaker. It wouldn't be a terrible-sounding mix, but it also wouldn't be uniform. An all-Dynaudio or all-MartinLogan setup would probably be the wiser choice in the long run. There's no wrong answer here in terms of quality, so the question then becomes which set of speakers you like better. Good luck! . . . Hans Wetzel
I just bought an Anthem Integrated 225. Could you please suggest some "ideal" floorstanding speakers that will complement this? My budget is around $2000 for a pair.
The Dali IKON 7 MK2 was recommended to me. Would Dali IKON 6 and their sub be a better option? Any other suggestions? It's for my residence. The room size is about 18' x 15'.
I unfortunately do not have any experience with Dali's products, but they may well be very good. Considering your room size and the listed specifications for the IKON 7 MK2, they seem like suitable partners to your Anthem integrated, which is powerful enough to drive just about anything to an uncomfortably loud degree. One aspect of the Dali that gives me pause would be the use of both a ribbon and a traditional dome tweeter in the same design. Each has a different set of geometric, material, and dispersion characteristics that, at least on paper, make me wonder how uniform its high-frequency reproduction is. They may be superb, but I thought it worth mentioning. As for the IKON 6 and subwoofer combination, I would probably forgo such a setup unless you have specific room or furniture issues to consider. While it's a way to get good sound with potentially deep bass, the extra few hertz at the bottom end often come at the expense of compromised linearity, directionality, and dispersion issues.
Aside from the IKON 7 MK2, I would have a few suggestions. Aperion Audio's Verus Grand Tower is around $1,800/pair and comes with a 30-day money-back-guarantee, which is a convenient and risk-free option. Reviewer Jeff Fritz's listening room is often occupied by speakers that cost an order of magnitude higher than $2000, and he was very fond of the Aperions. You might also check out Paradigm's Studio 60, as Anthem and Paradigm are sister companies. The 60s should be within your budget. Lastly, I would suggest looking at GoldenEar Technology's Triton Three, which sells for $999.99/each. I recently got a pair in for review, and while they may not have the attractive, lacquered finish of the other speakers discussed here, they offer a lot of performance for the money. Look for a full review of this speaker in the future. . . . Hans Wetzel