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)

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 Doug Schneider,

Who makes the best-sounding floorstanding speakers for under $1000 a pair, under $2000 a pair, under $3000 a pair, and under $4000 a pair?

Thanks,
Tim S.

If that question could be answered easily, we wouldn’t have any need for websites such as this one. Unfortunately, it can’t be answered simply, or even at all. The fact of the matter is that there are many companies that make outstanding floorstanding speakers in and around those prices, and which ones are the best will largely depend on who you talk to. Even our reviewers’ opinions differ. The only thing I can do is give you the brand names of the companies that I would look at if I were shopping in those price ranges (in no particular order): Paradigm, PSB, Axiom Audio, Definitive Technology, Aperion Audio, Amphion, and Polk Audio. Frankly, I probably missed quite a few companies, but these are the brands that come to mind first and have strong reputations for consistently putting out good-sounding, affordably priced floorstanding speakers. . . . Doug Schneider

To Doug Schneider,

I very much enjoy reading GoodSound! and would appreciate your input. I have B&W CDM 7SE loudspeakers and a MartinLogan Grotto i subwoofer. I also have a Pioneer Elite SC-25 receiver and an Oppo BDP-83 universal player. My listening room is approximately 20’ x 15’ x 8’. Do you think replacing the B&W speakers with Aperion Verus Grand Tower speakers would be an improvement? I listen to many types of music, though primarily rock.

I realize this may be one of those unanswerable questions, but again, I’d appreciate your opinion.
 
Thank you,
Richard Miller

The question is answerable, but it might not be the answer you’re looking for.

The Aperion Verus Grand Towers are certainly newer speakers that are very well regarded for their looks as well as their sound, but whether you’ll find them “better” than your B&Ws is another story. Aperion makes very good loudspeakers, but so does B&W, and even though the CDM 7SE is an older design, it was also very well regarded in its day. Good speakers back then tend to be good speakers today. How do they compare? You’d have to evaluate them directly to really know.

Luckily, there’s a way to do that, since the buying options available to consumers have definitely improved over the years. Aperion Audio sells their speakers factory direct with a 30-day money-back guarantee. My suggestion would be to take them up on that offer if you’re truly serious about knowing what kind of improvement might be heard. Simply buy the Aperion speakers and put them side by side with your B&Ws and listen to determine which you think are better for the types of music you listen to. . . . Doug Schneider

To Jeff Fritz,

I appreciated your review of the Aperion Audio Verus Grand speakers. I have never heard them, but I have heard the B&W 803s. I own the Legacy Focus HDs that are about 15 years old. I am shopping for another set of mains for a basement system or to replace the Focus and move them to the basement. I love the Focus but won't pay their new, much higher price tag. I have been studying the Aperion line and the Swans line. Do you have experience with the Swans speakers and do you have an opinion or recommendation? Thanks so much and I look forward to your reply.

Greg Martinette

Yours is an interesting position. Your older Legacy speakers were highly regarded in their day and the new ones also look quite good. But, yes, they are more expensive than they were back then and are also quite a bit more expensive than the most expensive Aperion loudspeaker.

Loudspeaker design -- particularly as applied to the drive units -- has undergone an evolutionary improvement process over the last 15 years of which the Aperion speakers are a fine example. For instance, their new tweeter design (the Axially Stabilized Radiator) is certainly quite a bit better than the tweeter in the old Focus you have. So I have no doubt that the Verus Grand can better your Focus in the high frequencies, and maybe mids too. My concern would be the bass. The Focus is a much larger speaker with multiple large-diameter drivers. The Aperion is still a relatively compact floorstander. I don’t think the Aperion would have the oomph in the bass that you would want. However, there is a secret weapon at Aperion: their Bravus line of subwoofers that were designed to mate well with their loudspeakers.

I'd put the Aperion Versus Grands and a well-integrated Bravus sub (or better yet, two) against the old Legacy Focus speakers any day and expect a wipe-out. If you can swing it, I think the Aperion combo will make you very happy. I have no experience with the Swans line. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Doug Schneider,

I've been looking at changing my two-channel setup (NAD 3400 integrated amp with Snell J-III speakers) to a home-theater setup. The common thought out there is that the three front speakers (left, center and right) should be the same make and model to be tonally correct. Is this really the case? I would like to keep my current speakers and add a new center. Will there be a noticeable sound difference if the center-channel differs from the left and right?

Jerry

This is a topic I’ve been writing about for years and feel is quite important for high-quality movie-soundtrack playback. In my opinion, it’s imperative that the center speaker tonally matches the left and right speakers if you want to get full enjoyment from a well-produced soundtrack. If the center doesn’t match completely, then what’s radiated from the center speaker will sound distinctly different from the left and rights and you will lose the cohesive sound that a well-integrated three-speaker setup produces. The difference between a well-matched three-speaker setup and a poorly matched one isn't subtle. In fact, in the past I’ve often recommended that if someone can’t find a center-channel that integrates well with their left and right speakers, then they’re better off sticking with just the left and right speakers and setting up their receiver or processor to produce a phantom center-channel image (basically, the center-channel information is sent to the left and right speakers). A phantom center doesn’t have nearly the same image focus outside the sweet spot that a real center-channel speaker does, but it’s a lot more natural sounding than a poorly matched center speaker is. . . . Doug Schneider

To Doug Schneider,

I have not kept up with the latest in hi-fi, but I would like to put together a new system, primarily for music. (The system I currently use consists of a vintage Yamaha CR-2020 receiver and a pair of Celestion SL600s.) My question is: Can a system achieve audiophile-quality musical performance and double as a home-theater system? It seems to me that the purposes of each are very different and the equipment should be, too. Am I in the dark ages on this point? If so, can you recommend what equipment might address both needs?

Thanks,
Steve

You can definitely set up a system that plays back music and movies equally well, but you have to select your components from companies that produce products that perform this double-duty task. Not all companies produce products that do both things well, which is where the confusion about whether music and movies can co-exist in one system comes in.

I would imagine that you don’t have an unlimited budget, so I would steer you to the following electronics brands first: Anthem and NAD. There are other brands, but that’s a good start, since their products are generally good and their prices are reasonable. With speaker systems, there are many more brands to look at. These are the ones at the top of my list: Paradigm, Axiom, Aperion, PSB, Definitive Technology, and Revel. I hope that helps. Start shopping! . . . Doug Schneider

To Doug Schneider,

I recently purchased a Yamaha RX-A1010 A/V receiver and am connecting my legacy components to it, but I do not see an input/output for my Yamaha KX-W321 dual cassette deck.  Does this mean that I can no longer play my old cassettes as this technology has been bypassed in these new A/V receivers?

Thanks,
John

You should have no trouble connecting your cassette deck or any other analog source to the RX-A1010. In fact, the RX-A1010 appears to have a phono stage, so it will accommodate a turntable if you have one. The RX-A1010 doesn’t have an analog input specifically marked Tape, but it has several other analog inputs that should work fine with your cassette deck. From the RX-A1010 back-panel shot I found online, it looks to be Audio 3 or Audio 4, but consult the manual just to make sure. . . . Doug Schneider

To Thom Moon,

I have a 7.1 Sony home-theater speaker system, Sony STR-DN 1000 A/V receiver, and want to install a good FM antenna in my attic above the receiver. I live about 25 miles northwest of midtown Manhattan. Do you have any suggestions and reviews?

Steve Wolff

So long as you don’t have foil-faced insulation in your attic, that will be a good place to install it. However, before you mount the antenna permanently, move the antenna around the attic (both vertically and horizontally) to find the best reception -- FM signals are odd creatures that can vary in strength by 50 percent or more over the distance of two or three feet. Multipath interference also can vary greatly over a short distance.

At your distance from Manhattan, you have a number of choices. You probably can get away with a simple omni-directional antenna such as Winegard’s HD-6010 or Antennacraft’s FMSS. You'll need about 5.5'-diameter clear to mount either unit. Each antenna is between $25-$30 plus another $10-$20 for mounting hardware. With these, you'll also need to purchase some RG-6 coax and F connectors.

If your space is limited on the horizontal plane, but you have a rather tall attic, you could go with one of the vertical omni antennas such as the Magnum Dynalab ST-2 or Fanfare FM-2G. Both require little room around them; they do need some vertical space, though, as both are about 56" high. However, each runs about $110, so they are a lot more expensive. On the plus side, both appear to come with 25' lengths of terminated RG-6 coax.

Less satisfactory than either of the above types is the passive “antenna in a box,” typified by the Godar FM-1A. Its trapezoidal shape is compact: 17” x 9.5” x 1”. It’s not as sensitive as the dipole or vertical types but it takes up very little room. According to the map, you location seems to be about 140’ above sea level and appears to have a shot to the transmitting antennae on the Empire State without any obstruction, so the Godar might work. It costs about $60; you'll also need RG-6 coax. . . . Thom Moon

To Doug Schneider,

Which do you feel are the superior speakers: the Aperion Verus Forte Towers or the Axiom M60s? The price is about the same but there is 14% duty to import the Aperions to Ontario. Does it just come down to ordering both and keeping whichever sounds better to me? (Wood veneer over vinyl for sure.) Expert reviewers and owners say both of these speaker brands are excellent. I’m considering the Paradigm Monitor 9s also.

Thank you!

Don Newhook

Aperion, Axiom, and Paradigm are all excellent brands, and the speaker models you’ve chosen are great ones in their lines. But here’s the thing: they all have their pluses and minuses and the one that’s best for you is something you’ll have to ultimately decide. Luckily, picking won’t be that hard. Aperion and Axiom are both factory-direct sellers that offer money-back guarantees. Obviously, that greatly reduces the chances of making a mistake. Paradigm is one of the best-known speaker brands in the world with a huge dealer base. I don’t think you’ll have any trouble finding a dealer that’s quite close by that will allow you to listen.

My advice at this point is to put any reviews aside and let your own ears (and eyes, since the appearance of the speakers you have to live with is important as well) decide. . . . Doug Schneider

To Doug Schneider,

I am about to invest in a new, moderate home-theater system and would like to ask your opinion on the quality and value of this purchase.

  • Yamaha BD-A1010 Blu-ray player
  • Yamaha RX-A810 receiver
  • Paradigm SE 1 left/right front speakers and SE Center speaker

Approximately $2400 for all. Is there any other recommendation you might have for similar components in a similar price range?

Thank you for any advice/opinion you may offer.

Patrick J. Diskin

I think you could be happy with that system, but I did notice that it’s missing surround speakers and I don’t know if that is deliberate or not. If you are planning to get surrounds, I would suggest SE speakers for the rears so you have a timbre-matched system, something that’s important for the highest-quality sound. If the reason you left out the surrounds was due to cost, I suggest looking at Paradigm’s new Monitor v.7 series that were just released. You won’t get the real-wood veneer cabinets of the SE models, but you will get Paradigm's latest technology that results in spectacular sound at a lower price.

One other thing I would suggest is to look at other receivers. Yamaha has a strong reputation for producing feature-rich receivers for reasonable prices, but they don’t have a good reputation for high sound quality. On the other hand, Anthem, which is a sister company of Paradigm, has gained a reputation for including a modest number of features but providing excellent sound. Of the features they do include, one stands tall: Anthem Room Correction (ARC). You can read a review of the Anthem MRX 500 receiver here. . . . Doug Schneider

To S. Andrea Sundaram,

I was about to buy the Furutech Alpha Design Labs GT40 for digitizing my record collection when I read your lucid review and realized the GT40 wasn't suitable for my application.

I'm a bit new to ADCs. Do you have any reviews for ADCs for high-quality LP and cassette tape conversion to digital? Or could you point me in the direction of some info on digitizing LPs and old 4-track mixdowns?

I have a collection of old analog music (4-track guitar and bass recording mixes and 50-100 LPs) that I would like to make digital. I would like to record it at reasonably high quality (24-bit and 96kHz) for archiving, but most tracks will end up burned to a CD or for use on an MP3 player for everyday use. I use computers daily but this application is new to me, so I'm a bit lost. What, for example, should I consider in terms of power and soundcard quality when buying an ADC? I am eventually willing to spend up to $600, but might start out by familiarizing myself with something in the $100 range.

I interpreted your review to mean that the GT40 was built more as a DAC (whose applications I would not be able to name) than an ADC. Also, there was some tech talk about needing a preamp in addition to the GT40. I'm looking for something with all necessary components: preamp, power amp, high-quality soundcard (I don't really know what this is, but suspect it's the heart of the ADC process), and USB connection. I want this all to sit between a turntable (a whole other story, I know) and my computer. I also want the option of cleaning up hisses and pops using software like Audacity, so don't want the all-in-one department store LP-to-CD conversion devices like the one by TEAC.

Sincerely,
Kevin Ryan

My review of the GT40 focused on its use as a DAC and headphone amplifier, because we believed those to be the features of greatest interest to our typical readers. We actually cut a significant portion of my original draft where I had gone further in-depth on using the GT40 as an analog-to-digital converter. (It would have made the review too long.) The GT40 incorporates a fairly decent phono preamplifier and passable ADC into a convenient-to-use package. That said, if you aren't interested in the very nice-sounding headphone amplifier that Furutech put in there, you may be able to get the same, or higher, quality level on the input side or greater flexibility for less money.

By far the cheapest option is the Sound Blaster X-Fi HD ($99), which even incorporates a phono preamplifier with RIAA correction. The specifications look promising, but I have no idea how it sounds. If you already have a phono preamplifier, you should probably consider one of the many USB digital audio interfaces targeted at the home studio market. Many of these devices operate at 24/96. They will all handle at least stereo inputs, and many of them could even accept the four individual channels on your tapes -- no down mixing required. I have experience with products from M-Audio and EMU in this price range, but there are many other brands as well. If your stereo is not located in the same room as your computer, you may want to consider a standalone hard-drive recorder from TASCAM or Fostex. These provide the same ease-of-use as an old tape deck, but you could then back up or edit the resulting digital files on your computer. We haven't done reviews on these sorts of products in the past, but we may consider doing so in the future. . . . S. Andrea Sundaram

To Doug Schneider,

I have one pre-out from my Denon AVR-4311 and two inputs on my sub. Should I use a single mono cable or a “Y” cable to connect to the sub? What's the difference between them?

Thanks,
Ilham

Providing they’re both inputs of the subwoofer (and one is not an output for connecting one subwoofer to another in series), chances are they are for the left and right channels, which is irrelevant in your case because your AVR-4311 has one mono subwoofer output. Where left and right inputs would be relevant is if you’re connecting the sub to, say, the left and right line-level outputs of a stereo preamplifier.

Insofar as connecting your receiver to the sub, you’d be better off to look at what the owner’s manual says first. They might recommend using a specific input or there might be suggestions on how best to hook up a single-output receiver -- not every subwoofer out there is the same, and the configurations of some of them can vary quite substantially. But if you don’t have access to the manual, or it doesn’t say explicitly how to hook it up, I suggest running just a single wire and see how that works. Chances are you’ll probably have to put the sub’s volume control about 3dB higher because only one input is active and not two, but that shouldn’t degrade sound quality. . . . Doug Schneider