Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

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To Hans Wetzel,

I sincerely enjoyed your piece on Schiit Audio, but I’m afraid you’ve opened a can of worms! Do you have any idea when we can expect to see the Aegir and especially the Sol? Maybe about the same time we’ll see a Valhalla 3? Any idea what sort of price/performance range the Sol is targeting? And we’re totally on the same page re: a more flexible integrated. If they could do a platform (it’s gotta have tubes) that has an option for a multibit DAC (with Gen 5 USB), plus the same phono capabilities as their outboard product, that would be killer. An additional analog input is also a must. $999 is the perfect price point, but if it was special, I’d pay more. Add main outs (or a pair of main outputs, so biamping is possible . . . the $699 Vidar or $799 Aegir is a very affordable option for either biamping or bridging). Wow!

I’ve been an audio guy since the mid-’80s. Was a DJ in high school (1988 grad), so I had the pleasure of owning a current generation of the Technics SL-1200MK2. Boy, do I wish I kept it! Also wish I kept my Dunlavy Audio Labs SC-I loudspeakers from the mid-’90s and the Meadowlark Audio Kestrel 2s I sold a few years ago. I even worked in a high-end shop in 1994 and a mid-fi shop in 1995. But lately it’s been headphone gear, and I’m just now fleshing out another two-channel system.

My headphone system is the Schiit Valhalla with a Schiit Bifrost Uber. I use the Musical Fidelity V-Link192 USB-to-S/PDIF converter to decrapify my USB, and I’ve got cables that significantly exceed the typical budget for (roughly) $1000 in electronics. Source is a MacBook Air running iTunes. My headphones are [Sennheiser] HD 600s with an upgraded cable. I had a Cardas upgrade, but the ’phones-end terminations weren’t making a good connection, so I sold it. The one I have now isn’t a brand name or expensive. There might be a Nordost Blue Heaven upgrade cable in my future, but I’m waiting to decide if I’m going to jump to the [Sennheiser] HD 800 [headphones] first.

Anyway, after reading the Wharfedale Diamond 225 article on your site (along with the articles on the Stereophile and The Abso!ute Sound sites), I decided to grab a pair with the matching stands. They’ll be here Saturday. Can’t wait to hear them based on everyone’s love for them. This will be the first speakers I’ve ever purchased on word of mouth alone, but at $349 per pair, I didn’t feel like I had a whole lot to lose.

My current vinyl [setup] is a Music Hall Audio MMF-2.2LE with the acrylic platter upgrade. Considering an eventual step up to the [Music Hall] MMF-7.3 with the [Ortofon] 2M Bronze [phono cartridge]. The $1500 price range is a very crowded space -- way too many options out there!

I’d eventually also like to have a Rogue Audio Sphinx and a Schiit Ragnarok (or the mythical integrated outlined above), and I’d also like to get my hands on a pair of Dunlavy SC-II or SC-III [loudspeakers]. That would just about do it for me as far as flexibility while still being real-world in terms of dollars.

I’m keeping your site bookmarked, and I’ll return frequently to see the new reviews, etc. In the meantime, if there’s anything you’ve seen that sounds like it may fit within the gear I’ve outlined, I’m always looking for (and grateful for) input from professionals.

David Mizer
United States

Unfortunately, I don’t have any greater insight than you do on Schiit’s future products, but I’m sure hoping we can land a couple review samples from them this year. Since they’re a direct-to-consumer outfit with a really strong customer base, they tend to put reviews on the backburner, but maybe that will change this year.

As for your hi-fi journey, I love that you’ve disc jockeyed, worked for a dealer, owned both popular and more obscure hi-fi gear, and are interested in both vinyl and headphone playback. Hopefully Schiit can oblige us with multiple product introductions this year. Thanks for bookmarking us! . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I read your review of [the] KEF Q750 loudspeakers. Since a year ago, I have Q350s [that] are powered by a Rega Brio amplifier. I find the Q350s to be excellent speakers. Yes, sometimes the treble can be a bit too dominant, but otherwise I am very satisfied with them, very clear and airy. About the treble, I also found a review with the same opinion. But it’s tempting to get floorstanders and I have considered Q750s for a while. You say that 50Wpc should be sufficient for [the] Q750 and that’s exactly what [my] Rega Brio is capable [of providing into an 8-ohm load]. In my apartment I cannot play extremely high volumes anyway. Have you any experience [with the] Q350 and, if so, what level of difference would you describe I will get by replacing them with the Q750? Will it be similar but just with a bit better bass?

By the way, KEF’s R500 is [on] sale now for about the same price as the Q750. That is also interesting. Do you have experience of how the R-series models are compared to the Q-series [speakers]?

Patric Johansson

While I haven’t heard the Q350 in person, I know that KEF tries to voice all the products in a given line identically, so I think it’s safe to assume that the Q750 will sound very much like your Q350, just with greater bass extension and impact. Accordingly, if you’re happy with the way that your Q350s sound with your Rega amp, you should be happy with the Q750s. The Q750’s slightly greater sensitivity (88dB vs. the Q350’s 87dB rating), should also allow it to play slightly louder within the Rega’s 50Wpc power limits.

Regarding your question about the R500, you might have noted that I compared the Q750 to the larger R700 in my review. If the R500 is priced similarly to the Q750 in Sweden, I would spring for the R500 every day of the week. While the R500 won’t be dramatically more resolving than your Q350, you should still hear more low-level detail through the R-series model. Furthermore, the R500 is a true three-way design, which should produce deeper and more robust bass. Finally, the R500 is, to my eyes, a far better-looking speaker than any Q model, with a more solid and inert cabinet. The cumulative improvements over your Q350 should be significant. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I just saw your latest post on SoundStage! Access. I’ve had a pair of KEF R7s since mid-October (I think I got one of the first pair in the US from KEF Direct), and I think you will love them. Mine are driven by a Hegel Music Systems H160, by the way. [They’re] my first KEFs, so I don’t know how they compare to the R700s, but I will tell you my experience. They take a while to break in. Out of the box they were pretty hollow/forward, not what I’d call “bright,” because [they’re] not harsh, just a bit lean in the upper bass/lower mids. I’ve come to conclude that this is apparently consistent with KEFs “house” sound and is how they accomplish the whole “transparency and detail” thing without any excess midbass muddying things up. My previous speakers were Sonus Faber Venere 3.0s, which, of course, lean (too heavily, perhaps) to the warmer side of things, so it was a bit of an adjustment for my ears/brain. But, now that they’ve run in (100+ hours) and I’ve gotten used to them, I am very happy with the R7s. I kept the Veneres just for the hell of it, and am looking forward to putting them back into the system in a few months to see if they sound slow and syrupy in comparison to the KEFs. If so, I will sell them. I love reading all your reviews and comments, as most of your systems are in my preferred price range. Cheers!!!!

Lon Thompson
United States

Thanks for reading, Lon, and I appreciate your feedback. I’m not surprised that you enjoy the R7s so much, as KEF knows what they’re doing. That said, your Sonus Fabers are no slouches, and certainly look the business even though they’re several years old. I’m not sure when we’ll be able to get in speakers to review from KEF’s updated R series, but we’re going to try and line up our samples with other writers. I think I’ve developed the reputation of being “The KEF Guy,” and the fact is that there are tons of other companies -- Sonus Faber included -- that are making excellent loudspeakers. I’m hoping that in 2019 I can gain exposure to new brands and loudspeakers that our readers might appreciate. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I’m not sure if you respond to readers’ questions, but thank you for your detailed reviews on Def Tech’s [Demand] D9 loudspeaker and for the KEF Q750 floorstanding loudspeaker on SoundStage! Access. I hope you have the time to answer some questions as I am in the market for surround sound and I am building from scratch with the aim for [a] 5.1.4 [surround-sound system] for music and movies.

You reviewed the Def Tech D9s later in the year and mentioned at the end of the review (paraphrasing) that you emphatically recommend them, that they are nearly as good as the LS50 for less money. At the end of the KEF review you mentioned that you would buy the Q750s for $1500 and couldn’t pay them a higher compliment. You compared both speakers to your KEF R700 and said that you never considered swapping the R900 for the Def Tech. For the KEF Q750, you mentioned that they were nearly as good as the R900. Could you please compare the Q750 to the Def Tech D9? I am uncertain which you rate higher.

Should I consider having the Def Tech D9s as the [rear speakers] with KEF Q750s as the [front speakers]? Which speaker, for the cost, do you prefer more? Which speaker without regards to cost do you prefer more? I am also going to be living in a small 13’ x 15’ living room, but want to be able for the speakers to accommodate a larger 20’ x 20’ living room in the future.

Furthermore, I recently listened to the new KEF R11 at a Magnolia, but I do not have any reference for the sound as I never heard the KEF Q series or Def Tech [D9], but I do very much like the R11s’ sound, except that [their] $5000/pair [retail price] is not within my budget. The Magnolia representative completely ignored my budget and desired to up-sell me. I’ll be honest: I am tempted by the new R series. Ideally, my budget is under $3000 for a 5.1 system, and $5000 for a 5.1.4 system, but I am flexible and can wait on adding Dolby Atmos. Def Tech’s D9 is much cheaper and currently on sale for $600/pair at Crutchfield. I do not see a sale for KEF’s Q series yet. KEF’s old R series is on sale.

Eric Cushing
United States

There is a lot to cover here, but broadly speaking, you should try and stick with one brand of speakers for a home-theater system. That gives you a decent shot at the speakers -- even if they’re from different lines or product generations -- producing a consistent and coherent 360-degree soundstage. Buying from the same product line is obviously ideal, as everything is, or at least should be, voiced in the same manner.

With that in mind, and the fact that you listened to the new R11s and liked what you heard, I think that KEF’s Q series is the right choice for you, as KEF’s voicing is pretty consistent from product to product and from line to line. While the Demand D9s were seriously impressive on a variety of levels, I didn’t love their performance below 100Hz. The Q750s, meanwhile, were pretty much flawless from top to bottom, albeit with limits on bass extension and overall output. Given that you’ll have a surround-sound system, with a sub, in a fairly small room, I don’t think those considerations will be an issue for you.

I want to recommend the discounted, outgoing R series to you, as I owned both the R900 and the R700 over the years and really loved each model, but I worry that puts you well beyond your price targets for the system. If I were in your shoes, I’d opt for a pair of Q750s up front, a Q650c center-channel, a pair of Q150s in the rear, and two sets of Q50a Atmos modules. This means you can enjoy 5.1.4 Atmos immediately and have around $1000-1500 to drop on a monster sub of your choice. Perhaps the outgoing KEF R400b sub, which KEF looks to be discounting for Black Friday, would be a good choice. Or maybe something from SVS, JL Audio, or GoldenEar Technology? Whatever sub you’d go with, you’d be one and done, and have a killer home-theater setup that won a 2018-2019 EISA Best Product Award in the Home Theater Speaker System category. EISA stands for Expert Imaging and Sound Association, of which sister-site SoundStage! Hi-Fi is a member. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

Hope all is well. [After my previous letter to you], I ended up buying the Q Acoustics 3050i loudspeakers and I am very happy with them. To my ears, their performance rivals speakers that cost a lot more. I sent the Outlaw Audio stereo receiver back as it was bright-sounding and lacked bass. I paired the Q Acoustics [speakers] with a Yamaha A-S701 amp and together they fill my family room and part of my kitchen with high-fidelity sound. I enjoyed reading your reviews and learning more about speakers and other audio components. Take care.

Wes Moyer
United States

I’m glad to hear that you found the right loudspeaker, Wes. You can read my review of the 3050i on this site in a month or two. I think you’ll find that I quite enjoyed my time with the English floorstanders. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I need advice. I am torn between the Bowers and Wilkins 603 and Elac’s Uni-Fi UF5. I’ve been able to listen to the 603, but no one carries Elac in Houston to listen to. What are your suggestions? My wife liked [the 603’s] sound, but I worry about price and “listening fatigue.” Big price difference [between the two speakers]. I’m using an old Acurus A250 amp.

Dion Sanchez
United States

While I reviewed the “Slim” version of the Elac you mention, I haven’t yet heard any models from Bowers and Wilkins’ new 600-series line. I did, however, review the more expensive 704 S2 model, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the 704 S2 and 603 are voiced similarly. If that is the case, then I agree that listener fatigue could be an issue, as the upper midrange and treble of the 704 S2 was prominent, to say the least. Certainly, that sound profile works for some people, and perhaps you and your wife fall into that category. The Elac, on the other hand, is not a speaker with which listener fatigue would be an issue, I don’t think.

I would suggest giving the 603 another listen with some different material, including singer-songwriter-type music, as well as a “hot” recording or two, one at least where there is plenty of sibilance, or brass and percussion. If you like what you hear, I’d suggest pulling the trigger. But if you’re still not sure, I would consider adding one more speaker to your list: Q Acoustics’ 3050i. My review is forthcoming, but in many ways, I think it somewhat splits the difference between Bowers and Wilkins’ über-dynamic house sound and the Elac’s smooth, somewhat forgiving profile. It also has a 30-day money-back guarantee. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I just came across “The Lonely Audiophile” and can certainly relate to my wife’s tolerance of my hobby and the overall rejuvenation a session can provide. I appreciated your advice in the past and am hoping I can again elicit an opinion if possible. I am considering replacing my Hegel Music Systems H200 with the H300. My question is will I notice much improvement in my setup? The amp is connected to an Oppo UDP-205 via XLR [analog interconnects] and Dynaudio Focus 260 [loudspeakers] via a Nordost Frey loom. [I have a] 20’ x 20’ listening area. Any insights would be much appreciated.

Thanks, Hans.

Charles Brehm
United States

I have never heard the H200 integrated amp, unfortunately. After reviewing an H300, owning an H360, and having recently completed the review of Hegel’s new flagship integrated, the H590, which will be published on SoundStage! Hi-Fi on October 15, I will say that Hegel’s integrated amps have definitely improved over the years. However, if you plan to keep using the Oppo as your digital source, I’m not sure how much improvement you’ll see from swapping out your H200 for an H300, since you’ll be foregoing the H300’s built-in DAC. I can really only recommend making the jump up to the H360, as it uses Hegel’s SoundEngine2 error-correction circuit, as compared to the H200 and H300, which each have the original SoundEngine circuitry. That, combined with its improved built-in DAC -- which may well better the performance of your Oppo -- and secondary power supply (which the H300 does not benefit from) make the H360 a bigger jump up in performance, to my thinking. . . . Hans Wetzel

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.

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