Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment


Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

  • SoundStage! Shorts - Livio Cucuzza on Audio Research's Industrial Design (November 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Audio Research Past, Present, and Future (October 2018)
  • 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)

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 Hans Wetzel,

I intended to write to you before, perhaps as long as nearly two years ago. I just wanted to tell you that I think that you are a great thinker -- and a gifted writer. And no, I’m not about to pull out the rug from under you. You remind me of me in my 20s -- but possessed of notably keener intellect and personal insight. I look forward to your editorials and discuss them with my beloved Alice. After what has happened here, she has read your editorials -- a first for a non-audiophile like her.

Your quest for the “right” speaker and ancillary equipment strikes a familiar chord. I love music: it comforts, stimulates, consoles, lifts one’s soul. But I love wild nature far more. And I also believe in doing what I can for those of my own species who are less fortunate. That was my career and not a glamorous or remunerative choice. [And] so it goes. I would do it again -- in a heartbeat. So how do I justify purchasing “unnecessary” material goods with a varying, but generally ridiculous carbon footprint, and also look in the eyes of the next homeless person I meet when I truthfully tell him that I have no spare cash? And voice my concerns about the fate of our Earth, our island home?

Over the years, I careened between small speakers, decent electronics, and turntables available for little of my income and large expensive speakers and accompanying gear. The sad fact is that in the end -- or nearly the end -- I realized that I was deluded to some degree. My first “real" system arguably was the best I’ve owned -- within limitations primarily imposed by my preference for small living spaces (I recognized long ago that the US lifestyle as promoted in popular culture was toxic for the planet). I purchased a [used] pair of Rogers LS3/5A speakers, Connoisseur BD101 turntable, Grace 707 Mk.II tonearm, Grado MM cartridge, and NAD 3020 [integrated amplifier]. Less than $1100 produced magic -- in 1978 dollars. But I subsequently thought that I needed more bass, greater dynamics, etc. There ensued 38 years of selling this and buying that and always experiencing a sense of severe disappointment after a few weeks, especially when it came to electronics -- promises never fulfilled. Changing up to a Linn did make a difference on vinyl replay (and also drove me spare with its “fussiness”). And all the money could have been put to far better use, especially since my first system reproduced music so well and there are less selfish pursuits when all is said and done. And I recalled that in 1979 a friend brought over his open-reel deck and a tape of some jazz he had recorded in his studio. His jaw dropped when he heard the music through the little LS3/5A speakers. He remarked that he hadn’t heard the recording sound so real since he sat in the studio. That remark was spot on, as I was to learn.

But, your review of the Dynaudio Xeo 2 (and a series of editorials that preceded the review) made me want to seek them for an audition and get off the hamster wheel of decades of “upgrading.” My soulmate, Alice, arrived after the LS3/5A speakers were gone and absolutely couldn’t tolerate any that followed. She claimed that other speakers hurt her ears. No such complaints about the Xeo 2s (hurrah) and no ridiculous carbon footprint. No clutter -- important to someone like Alice who insists that living quarters always must be “ship-shape and Bristol fashion.” No reasonable shortage of dynamics and no reasonable shortage of bass in a 160-square-foot room that is typical of every place that we have lived. And we can just enjoy the music and quit worrying whether things could be a bit better here or there. And the total cost, with a very good disc player, was $1700, much less expensive than my beloved first system. Now we just read editorials and music reviews -- and enjoy the music.

Now if I had started with the little Klipsch speakers and moved up to the Xeos, I would have been spared much [useless] angst. Please stay the course. You are doing more good than you may know.

Peace always,

Walter Mirk
United States

Thank you for the kind words, Walter. It’s comforting to know that my thoughts are not wholly consumed by the Internet’s digital abyss. At the end of the day, it is -- or should be -- all about the music, rather than the equipment. Just this morning I found myself ogling Magico’s new A3 loudspeaker on the company’s website, as gears started turning about how maybe, just maybe, I could possibly grab a pair. As you suggest, though, that (imaginary?) money in my bank account could be put to far more responsible, and arguably better, use. In the meantime, let me see about getting review samples of those Klipsch speakers I wrote about last month. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I do have a question for you. I have Vivid Audio V1.5 loudspeakers connected to a Naim SuperUniti [DAC-integrated amp]. I hear a lot about Hegel [Music Systems] lately. For example, the H160 or the new H190 model [DAC-integrated amp]. What amp would you prefer with the Vivid speakers? Hope to hear from you soon.

Best,
Fonz Vorselaars
Netherlands

Having previously reviewed the Vivid V1.5 for SoundStage! Ultra (due to its fairly high price of $8500 USD/pair), the now-discontinued Hegel H160 and H300 for this site, and as an owner of the current Hegel H360 (which the Hegel H190 borrows from), I feel confident in saying that the Vivid/Hegel tandem is a good one. As a long-time Hegel owner, I’m clearly partial to Hegel’s designs and overall sound. But I take comfort in the fact that I’m not alone in thinking that the Norwegian company is making some top-shelf amps. Al Griffin, who heads up SoundStage! Simplfi, was so taken with the Hegel H190 when he recently reviewed it, it received a Reviewers’ Choice award. Fellow SoundStage! writers Philip Beaudette and Oliver Amnuayphol were also so smitten by Hegel’s H360 and Röst, respectively, when they wrote about them, that those two products also received Reviewers’ Choice awards. Having captured the ear of four writers, I think it’s fair to say that Hegel is the real deal.

Whether you’ll prefer Hegel to your Naim SuperUniti integrated amp is another story. I’ve never heard a Naim amplifier, so I can’t comment on how it might compare to Hegel’s current offerings. If I were in your shoes, though, I’d opt for the H190 and not look back. It’s the company’s newest integrated amp, with a great built-in DAC, and offers 150Wpc into 8 ohms, which should be more than enough for your two-way Vivids to sing without strain. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I enjoyed your review of the Oppo Digital Sonica DAC and in fact I have recently purchased one. My old Arcam integrated amp is not working well and I was going to buy a Parasound A 23 amp. The Sonica DAC does have a volume control. I only intend to play streamed music from Tidal on my Sonica DAC. Do I need a preamp? Would the Sonica DAC's volume control be sufficient? Thank you.

Mani Pashmforoush
United States

You should absolutely try running the Sonica DAC directly into the Parasound A 23 amp -- that could produce the best possible sound, providing you can get a high enough volume level out of it. While you can certainly add a preamplifier into the mix to tailor the sound to your liking, if the output from the Sonica is already sufficient, it might not be necessary and would only add a possible source of noise and distortion into the signal chain. If the output from the Sonica is not sufficient, mind you, that is a different story. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

Aloha from Honolulu, Hawaii. This subject [“The Cheaper the Better”] is one that I’ve been after the guys and gals at Stereophile about for years. You have to remember that 30% of the people in the United States earn less than $25,000 a year (I’m one of them). These people can’t afford $1500/pair speakers. They have a hard enough time saving up for a $1500 system. If you want to save the audio business and get the kids with their iPhones and earbuds into real audio equipment, you have to start with under-$500 CD players, or DACs if you’re so inclined. I’m not, I’m old school. I like shiny silver discs, amps (or receivers), and speakers. And there are many great-sounding choices of all three from many manufacturers, but they don’t get enough coverage here in the United States. They do get covered by the Brits’ What Hi-Fi? magazine, which is why they’re my favorite audio publication. Thanks for reading my latest rant. I really like your reviews a lot, but I fear you’ve been hanging around Doug [Schneider] and Jeff [Fritz] too much, and their opinions have skewed your opinion of what’s affordable. I hope everything’s going well in your new home, and have a great holiday season.

Be well and be safe.

Doug Mencoff
United States

To Hans Wetzel,

I just finished reading your informative NAD M32 review. I’m currently setting up a BluOS multiroom system and would like to incorporate a high-end NAD piece for the listening room. The NAD M32 sounds like the right choice. I wanted to ask you if you could compare the M32 to NAD’s M12 [preamplifier-DAC]/M22 [stereo power amplifier] combination, and if there is any justification to spend the extra money on separates?

Can you also please make a recommendation on in-wall and in-ceiling speakers?

Thank you in advance!
Avrom Gart
United States

Unless you need some of the extra connectivity found on the M12 preamplifier-DAC, I think you’ll be highly satisfied with what the M32 can do on its own. Plus, I’d venture to say that its DirectDigital amplifier section offers higher performance than the M22 stereo amplifier, which our editor, Jeff Fritz, was impressed by when he reviewed it for SoundStage! Ultra in 2015. The M32 is a no-brainer, in my humble opinion.

There are plenty of great brands that sell in-wall and in-ceiling speakers, so I’d feel irresponsible if I only mentioned one. In no particular order: GoldenEar Technology, Definitive Technology, PSB, Paradigm, Focal, and KEF. I know it’s not always easy to listen to speakers before buying, especially on the in-wall/in-ceiling front, but each brand will have its own unique “house sound.” If you like what you hear from a company’s bookshelf or floorstanding loudspeaker models, I’m confident that you'll enjoy their “architectural” offerings. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I am looking for a new integrated amplifier. My Exposure RC-XXV (purchased in 2000; RC = remote control) is an upgraded version of the XX, [but it] has problems and parts are no longer available. These are the amps I’m considering: NAD Masters Series M32 DAC-integrated amplifier (read your review), Hegel Music Systems H160 (read your review), Leema Acoustics Tucana II, Luxman L-505uX, and the Pathos Classic One Mk.III or Classic Remix.

I’m in a large powered wheelchair, which makes it difficult to access most high-end shops in Toronto. I was hoping for some advice, guidance, or anything to aid in my purchase. I have listened to the Hegel H360 for an hour last month, and the Pathos 15 years ago. I owned a NAD integrated amp for 11 years and it won an award back in the early ’80s.

I read the reviews on the Leema over and over for the last several years. It’s pricey, but I like British equipment. Have you ever auditioned this amp? The Hegel H360 seemed to have slightly slower pace (my foot was not tapping) than my Exposure, but could be wrong (as I can’t use mine). It was nice -- soundstage and overall sound. But how does the H160 compare? The major hitch is the lack of analog inputs. As for the others, again any help would be fantastic. My other equipment includes an Audio Aero Prima DAC, Nakamichi MB-10 CD player, Music Hall MMF 2.1 turntable with a Benz-Micro MC20E2-L cartridge, Epos ES22 loudspeakers, and DH Labs Q-10 speaker cables with Revelation interconnects. I listen mainly to classic rock, progressive rock, and blues.

Sincerely,
Edward Holloway (SoundStage! reader since 2001)
Canada

Of the amps on your list, I’ve only heard the ones I’ve reviewed, though I have reviewed another of Luxman’s integrated amplifiers, the L-550AX (more below). No, I’ve never heard any of Leema’s amplifiers. With regards to Hegel, the H160 uses an older circuit design than the H360, but should still sound fairly similar in terms of its overall character, so if you didn’t fancy the H360, I doubt you’ll care for its older, less-powerful sibling.

It’s a little hard to tell what type of sound you like, but I think the fact that you owned an NAD integrated amp for so long means you appreciate a neutral, uncolored sonic profile. The NAD M32 might be the type of amp you’re looking for. It’s incredibly linear and clean sounding. It is also very revealing -- it has a wide-open, super-transparent sound that allows you to hear clear through to the back of a recording. What it does not have is much in the way of midrange body or bloom. There’s little warmth on offer, but I suspect that your turntable will help to richen up the proceedings. If you wanted an amp that’s a little more musically engaging in a traditional sense -- think vacuum tubes and class-A topology -- I’d steer you towards the Luxman. While the Luxman L-550AX I reviewed for SoundStage! Hi-Fi was a class-A design, and the L-505uX that you mention uses a class-AB architecture, I would bet that the Luxman house sound is ever-present. Considering the L-550AX not only won a Reviewers' Choice award, but also a Product of the Year award back in 2015, I’m betting the L-505uX is seriously good as well. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I just want to know what you think about pairing Monitor Audio’s Silver 8 [speakers] and Hegel Music Systems’ H160 [integrated amplifier]? Would it sound too bright when playing rock and metal? The speakers I use today are way too bright with the H160.

Thanks and have a nice day,
Daniel Johansson
Sweden

Having previously owned Monitor’s Silver 10, which is larger but I believe uses an identical tweeter to the Silver 8, I feel confident in saying that I don’t believe the Monitor/Hegel combination will sound bright through the treble. Unlike the company’s less-expensive Bronze line, whose tweeter is a touch edgier and sharper in its delivery, the Silver tweeter is both highly resolving and quite smooth. I partnered my Silver 10s with the larger Hegel H360 DAC-integrated amp and never felt that the pairing’s high-frequency performance was too strident or harsh. Our own Philip Beaudette, who reviewed the smaller Silver 6 a couple years back, described the tweeter as sounding “crisp,” but took pains to explain more by also stating, “using a word like crisp to describe a speaker’s sound might seem to imply that that sound was bright. The S6 was not bright.” In sum, I think a pair of Silver 8s will partner fine with your Hegel H160. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

Currently I’m running an eight-year-old Lyngdorf TDAI 2200 [integrated amplifier] and am looking for something better. As I’ve only digital sources (Aurender X100, satellite radio), Devialet’s Expert 130 Pro and NAD’s Masters Series M32 are on my preference list. What do you think?

Many thanks for your support,
Manfred Benz
Germany

I think that both are excellent products in their own way, and while neither offers room correction like your Lyngdorf amp, I bet that you’ll find each offers immediate sonic improvements over your current setup. Of the Devialet and NAD, I think the Devialet is the amplifier through which you’ll hear more of your digital music. Its stereo imaging and analog-like smoothness are beguiling. If you’re fond of a more traditional “digital” sound -- super clean, super transparent, and highly articulated -- I think the NAD will be more to your liking. In either case, the Devialet and NAD are topflight amplifiers that will serve you well into the future. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I saw you had the Sonus Faber Venere S [loudspeaker in for review] when you reviewed Magico’s S1 Mk.II. How did they compare? I actually have heard the Sonus Faber Olympica III, which I was considering and looking for alternative contenders. I am looking for imaging and soundstaging like Verity Audio’s speakers. (Yes, I know price difference, but . . . ) Which do you consider better at disappearing, the Magico or Sonus Faber? My system is a California Audio Labs CD player, Conrad-Johnson Premier 14 valve preamp, and Perreaux solid-state power amp with 250Wpc, which is a New Zealand-built class-A design. Room size is 30 square meters, mostly [listen to] jazz and female vocal, but also love electronic music like Photek, Groove Armada, etc. Current speaker is the Vandersteen Model 3A Signature; it doesn’t disappear and not so much separation between instruments and voices. Appreciate your help and advice for alternative speakers to consider -- Magico is top of the budget price. Thanks very much.

Best regards,
Nigel Murphy
Indonesia

This is pretty straightforward. Of the two loudspeakers that you mention, the S1 Mk.II will definitely give you more delineated imaging and broader soundstaging. A pair should have no problem “disappearing” in your room. They won’t offer a ton of bass, however, and I wouldn’t recommend cranking them super loud -- a pair of Venere Ses would be the better option in those respects. You might also consider Focal’s Sopra No2 and KEF’s Reference 1 or Reference 3, each of which is a three-way design that will offer more bass when you’re blasting electronic music. While a very good speaker in its own right, the Venere S isn’t quite up to the level of the Magico you inquire about, or the Focal or KEFs that I mention. However, it’s also priced much lower.

While you didn’t specifically ask about this, I’d highly suggest taking a listen to a modern CD player and A-B it with your CAL CD player. CAL definitely made great equipment back in the day. In fact, both of my brothers owned CAL CD players way back when. But digital-to-analog conversion has advanced in leaps and bounds since the early 1990s, and I think you’d be pleasantly surprised how much more detail you’ll hear from your CD collection with a newer player. You might even find that your Vandersteens will have a new lease on life! . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

The NAD M32 is very intriguing to me with its combination of features and cutting-edge technology in a single, attractive, well-integrated component. I want to assemble a modern system and minimize the number of separate components with lots of interconnects. I also listen to a lot of vinyl.

Did you let the M32 break in before you did your extensive listening tests? If it wasn’t broken in for very long, could that have been the cause of the relative reduction of “lifelike” midrange compared to your Hegel H360, which has had plenty of time to break in? I am currently using Revel Performa3 F206es, which are very revealing.

Ira Dankberg
United States

It’s possible that break-in time may have been a contributing factor, Ira. I can’t definitively rule that out. However, I don’t pay much mind to electronics manufacturers’ suggestions about arbitrary 50-, 100-, or 500-hour break-in periods. Loudspeakers have moving parts, and breaking in fresh diaphragms and their stiff, unused surrounds over 10-20 hours of listening makes perfect sense. I don’t necessarily share a similar view on solid-state amplification. So long as the amp is up to operating temperature -- which may admittedly take 15-30 minutes -- there’s no reason it shouldn’t be ready for serious evaluation. Rest assured, though, my NAD M32 review sample had well over 100 hours of listening mileage on it before I sat down to write up my review.

I think the M32 would be a terrific partner for your Revels, which I know to be excellent loudspeakers. For the money, I’m not sure you could buy a more resolving and transparent system. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Al Griffin,

I recently went shopping for a replacement for my Peachtree Audio Nova 125SE integrated amp. I’m still searching and will not have a chance to demo in-person. I’m driving a pair of Tannoy Revolution XT 8F speakers. Do you have any recommendations? I noticed your review of the Hegel Röst [on SoundStage! Simplifi]. Do you think that would be an upgrade over the Peachtree? Are there other products I should consider that would provide a significant sound quality upgrade?

Thanks,
Gerald G.
United States

SoundStage! hasn’t reviewed the Nova 125SE on any site, and I haven’t listened to it personally, so I can’t comment on the performance of Peachtree Audio’s integrated amp. But the fact you’re replacing it clearly means you’re on the lookout for something different and/or better. The specs for your speakers (nominal 8-ohm impedance, 91dB sensitivity) indicate that they’d be compatible with a wide range of integrated amps. My experience with the Röst has been that it makes any speaker sound great. The Röst costs $3000, however -- a big price jump over your Peachtree. If you’re looking for a basic, good-sounding integrated amp that doesn’t provide network/streaming features, I’d suggest the $899 Rotel A12 I recently reviewed on this site. It only puts out 60Wpc, but that should be enough to drive your Tannoy towers. If you do require network/streaming capability and are willing to pony up $3000, then also consider the Röst, since it really does sound great. . . . Al Griffin