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To Hans Wetzel,
I was very happy to learn of your upcoming review of the [Devialet Silver] Phantom. I’ve been following the product since I first heard about it, but, as you say, all the reviews have been of a single Phantom, and not by audiophiles. It seems it could be just what I’m looking for, but I was reluctant to take a chance on it because, as you also say, there’s nothing else like it, so I just didn’t know what to expect. When a local dealer finally got a pair, the audition didn’t go well because of problems with the Spark app. So I’m very eager to read your review, particularly because you plan to make it so thorough.
Regarding thoroughness, could I please ask you to address some issues that are very important for me (and, I suspect, other readers)? First, I’m interested in reducing cables and boxes, so what’s the simplest way to store, connect, and play local files? Second, I want to use Roon to integrate my local files with Tidal, but I’ve heard it isn’t compatible with the Spark app, which is required to use the Dialog. Is there a way to make it work? Finally, how’s the sound quality at low volume? I live in an apartment, so I can’t listen at loud levels.
Another point while I have your attention: I’m happy to see a site dedicated to reasonably priced gear. I consider $5000 a lot to spend (two Phantoms, Dialog, and two Branch stands), so I’m grateful for your site’s focus. Fewer boxes and cables reduce clutter and complexity, but can also lower prices, and it looks like we’re seeing more of those options -- active speakers paired with minimalist sources, wireless systems, etc., so please keep us informed of their quality.
Thanks for your consideration. I look forward to reading your review.
My review will be thorough, but I am happy to answer some of your questions now.
Regarding the reduction of cables and boxes, and what the easiest way is to store local files, Devialet promises NAS support at some indeterminate point in the future. Long term, that seems like the best solution.
Given the Phantom’s (and Silver Phantom’s) current functionality, you’re limited to whatever compatible content currently resides on devices that can run the company’s Spark app. Currently, there are Mac, PC, iOS, and Android applications available. In my case, that meant that when Spark was up and running on all of my devices, I could wirelessly access and play all local content on my iPhone 6, iPad Air 2, older MacBook Pro with external USB HDD, and my newer MacBook Pro. In short, if there is content on (or attached to) a computer or mobile device, you should be able to seamlessly see and play such content through the Spark app. At one point during the review period, I was sitting on my couch playing music off the laptop in my hands, and within the Spark app on that computer, able to queue up and play content from my iPhone, iPad, and older MacBook Pro, all from the original Spark client. I have heard that Spark was buggy when it was initially released, and it was not quite perfect during my time with it, but after the latest firmware update, I can confirm I haven’t run into a single issue with it. I found it to be an intuitive, competent, and reliable software client.
Roon might be an issue. I can’t be 100% certain, but I don’t think Roon and Spark will play nicely together. That said, with Spark it was easy to navigate between local content on my networked devices, and my Tidal subscription. With a single, unified playlist across all Spark clients, it was a breeze to add songs from multiple sources. Spark does not offer the complete integration of Tidal content with local content the way that Roon does, but going back and forth between the built-in Tidal interface and local content was a one-step process. I’m generally highly critical of a product’s user interface and the end-user experience. To me, Spark is not quite perfect, but I have happily lived with it on a daily basis for the last few months. The thing to remember, though, is that Devialet releases software and firmware updates on a consistent basis, so I would expect continual, iterative improvement on that front.
Low-volume sound quality is excellent. Broadly speaking, I think the Phantom or Silver Phantom is most at home as a stereo pair attached to a television (and its associated devices, such as a cable box, Blu-ray player, or game console) in up to a moderately large living space. When your neighbors are royally annoying you, however, rest assured, two Phantoms or Silver Phantoms are up to the challenge of keeping them wide awake into the early morning hours. Like you, I value consolidation, minimalism, and high-performance products that are plausibly attainable by the average, hard-working audiophile. To my mind, Devialet is definitely heading in the right direction – more to come. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
Great review on the [Monitor Audio] Bronze 6! Since you mentioned the [Parasound] Halo Integrated, can we expect a review soon? I have mine matched with the [KEF] LS50s as well, and cannot go past quarter volume without my wife giving me a dirty look. Looking into the Auralic Aries Mini to complete my system, too. Have you had a chance to play with that one? Keep up the good work!
Thanks for the kind words on the Bronze 6 review; it is a heck of a speaker for the money! As for the Halo Integrated, my review will go live here on January 1. I have inquired about a review sample of the Auralic Aries Mini, but didn’t get a response from their North American distributor -- tough crowd. Can't win ’em all! . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I’m from Thailand and have read your reviews of speakers on SoundStage! Access. Right now I’m looking to buy [a pair of] speakers and it comes down to Magnepan’s 1.7, or MartinLogan’s ElectroMotion ESL. Which one do you think is a better speaker? Or if it’s not clear cut, at least please help tell me in what area one does better than the other so I can decide which one to get.
That’s a tough call, Kitipat. I have reviewed the MartinLogans and admired the Maggies at a show a few years back. While I generally liked the ElectroMotion ESL, I do recall that the dynamic bass driver was not as well integrated with the electrostatic panel as I hoped that it would be. Unlike the larger MartinLogan electrostatic designs that make use of built-in bass amplification and digital signal processing, the ElectroMotion ESL’s 8” bass driver is passive, and sounded a little loose and disconnected from the main panel. I only heard Magnepan 1.7s for around ten minutes, but I was very impressed with what I heard. As a matter of fact, I recall being particularly enamored with the bass performance, which is handled by a large ribbon, not a dynamic driver. A ten-minute listen in a crowded hotel room, however, is no substitute for a proper review. Based on what I’ve heard, though, I'd grab a pair of Maggie 1.7s. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I just bought a Hegel Music Systems H360 integrated amplifier-DAC, which for the time being will be connected to an Arcam CD37 (doing transport duties) via a Nordost coaxial cable. I understand that you own a Hegel H300, which may be an H360 by now. Here’s the question: I’m looking for speakers to pair to this and before I go on an extended search, I thought I’d ask you about possible matches. I’ve got the following list so far: Revel Performa3 F206 and F208, Focal Aria 936 and 948, Dynaudio Focus 340, and at a higher price (at least here in Canada), the Aerial Acoustics 6T. Any of these strike you as having any particular synergy with the Hegel? Any other recommendations at a comparable price point? Thanks for your time.
As you suggest, I have made the jump from the H300 to the H360, so I am going on greater than three years with a Hegel product as my reference amplifier. During that time, I have partnered the Hegel amps with a wide variety of speakers. Given the H360’s output of 250Wpc into 8 ohms, and substantial power supplies, I think the number of speakers that wouldn’t work well are few.
That said, I believe you have compiled a great list here. The Revel Performa3s, for instance, are superb, and a couple of our writers use the F206es as their reference loudspeakers. I haven't heard the Dynaudios or Focals that you reference, but other SoundStage! writers have reviewed products from the Focus and Aria ranges, respectively, and Reviewers’ Choice awards were bestowed on each of them. Aerial Acoustics also has a very good reputation.
I do have several suggestions to add to your list, however. GoldenEar Technology’s Triton One is a monster of a loudspeaker for the money, and truly full-range, if you can get past its somewhat pedestrian appearance. KEF’s R700 and R900 offer the top-to-bottom neutrality and high performance akin to Revel’s Performa3 line, via a slightly different approach and design aesthetic. Finally, Monitor Audio’s Gold 300 and Paradigm's Reference Prestige 85F and 95F are all solid options from two companies with decades of experience between them.
The takeaway is that you have many options in the price range that you are looking at, and each of them is excellent in their own way. Try and listen to as many of these as you can and trust your ears. I assure you, there is no wrong choice here. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
Based on, among other things, your test of Hegel Music Systems’ H300, and also after listening to it, I bought the H300 shortly after it came on the market. And I do agree with you, it was indeed a good amplifier, although a bit clinical sounding on my Anthony Gallo Acoustics Reference 3.5 loudspeakers.
The H300 has now been changed in favor of the new H360. And what an amplifier this is. I would say it outclasses the old H300 in absolutely every possible way: it has a much more easy, floating sound; and its high frequencies are absolutely glass-clear. And the bass it produces is just fantastic. The overall sound is warmer from the H360 compared to the H300, which makes the H360 more enjoyable to listen to for a longer time.
I am running the H360 together with Hegel's HD25 DAC (using the Hegel’s DAC-Loop feature, the same way as with the H300). The sound this combo is producing is just fantastic, so open and spacious, it is a pure joy to listen to. I do look forward to your or one of your colleague's test of the Hegel H360. You are the professionals in this area of testing sound equipment, so I am eager to see if you value the H360 the same way as I do.
Since I wrote reviews on both the H300, and its little brother, the H160, Philip Beaudette will be handling the upcoming review of the H360. Seeing as his reference system includes Bryston’s excellent B135 SST2 integrated amp and BDA-2 DAC, I am very curious to hear Philip’s impressions. That said, I replaced my H300 with an H360 in the last few weeks, and have zero regrets. I generally agree with your comments about the H360’s sound. I never had an issue with the H300’s performance -- I loved it, actually -- but the H360 does sound like a clear step forward. I don’t want to say more since Philip’s review will be published in the next couple of months. I am glad to hear that you are enjoying the H360 as much I am, however! . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
Thanks for your interesting reviews of the Hegel Music Systems H160 and Benchmark Media Systems AHB2. Reading between the lines, I think you will soon be replacing your Hegel H300 with the H360. But, your reply to Pohan’s query (“Benchmark AHB2 or Hegel H160”) places the latter "a cut above" the Hegel and others. Does this mean that you might be rethinking your H360 upgrade and instead decide to buy the AHB2 as your reference gear?
I’m in somewhat of a dilemma, too. I was actually intent on the H160 -- until I read your reply, and now I don’t quite know which way to go! Buying decisions are either vindicated or condemned with the passage of time! How often have I bought the lauded “best” in haste, only to find that the “close but second best” would have been a more prudent decision, with the test of time? I don’t want to buy something that is the rave, only to find that it quickly loses its appeal once you’ve spent more time living with it, while the “sleeper” would have turned out to be the better buy and long-term keeper! Could you help me with my dilemma?
I totally appreciate the quandary that you find yourself in. Let me preface my response by repeating that hated audiophile adage, “Try to listen to [fill in the blank] before buying it.” There is no true substitute for making your own determination about whether one amp is better than another. You are going to be the one who has to live with your purchase, after all, and not some clown of a reviewer who has the ability to play with a review sample for months on end without any financial interest in play. Of course, the reality is that it is difficult to track down a dealer that carries either Hegel or Benchmark products, let alone both!
To get right to it, yes, I recently replaced my reference Hegel H300 with its replacement, the H360. I think it is quite good, but Philip Beaudette will actually be reviewing the H360 for us later in the year, so watch out for that. What I will say is that I have no regrets about my purchase. As an integrated solution with plenty of power and built-in AirPlay support, it fits my needs perfectly. Bluntly, the H160 would equally fit my needs, though I don’t think its sound is quite as refined as the H360's is -- you get what you pay for in that respect.
Deciding between the $3500 Hegel H160 and the $2995 Benchmark is difficult. The former is a full-on integrated amp-DAC, with built-in AirPlay, while the latter is just an amplifier. If you went with the AHB2, you would then need a preamp and a DAC, a combined preamp-DAC, or just a DAC with a built-in volume control. Trying Benchmark’s matching DAC2 DX, for instance, brings your outlay to about $5000, which is quite a bit more than Hegel’s one-box solution, to say nothing of fancy interconnects and/or power cords, if you are into that kind of thing. Perhaps the first question you need to answer is, "Do I want the best possible sound, or do I want something that’s really good, convenient, and comfortably within my allotted budget?"
For $3500 or less, the Hegel is excellent, and I’m not sure how much better you can do for the money, short of Parasound's $2500 Halo Integrated, which is an integrated amplifier and DAC (expect my review on this site in December), so roughly comparable, short of a few features. My new H360 is a bit better, but, in my opinion, there are only two amps that offer true reference-level sound for under $10,000: Benchmark’s AHB2 and the $6495 Devialet 120. They’re both on another level, Siew. But $5000 for the Benchmark tandem, and $6495 is a heck of a lot more money than the H160 costs, to say nothing of their looks and functionality, which are quite different than the Hegel.
Personally, I went with the H360 over both of those options because it fits my needs as a reviewer; I like the way it looks, feels, and works; and I like the way it sounds, even if it’s not “the best.” You won’t have any buyer’s remorse here. Hand to heart, I could happily live with the H160 on a daily basis. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
Thank you for your well-thought-out and equally well-written reviews. I would like your take on some integrated amps.
First, I will give you a few details. I am using Bryston Middle T speakers and have an Apple MacBook Pro with Audirvana as a source running through a Chord Chordette Qute EX DAC. I listen to/enjoy all types of music, leaning mostly to rock, pop, jazz, blues, and some classical. I like to listen at loud levels; however, it’s mostly moderate and just above. Listening space is acoustically treated and approximately 14’x 20’.
I am enjoying the Hegel Music Systems H160 a lot. So if it wasn’t about cost, would you take the Hegel H160 or the H300? Also what do you think of the Naim Supernait 2 and the Moon by Simaudio Evolution 600i? Please keep in mind money is not THE most important factor. I imagine all of them are near the same price. I realize it is figurative, but I highly regard your experience and time spent evaluating these products. Your opinion would be greatly appreciated. Thank you, Hans, and good day, sir!
That is a good position to be in, Brad! Of the two Hegel integrated amplifier-DACs you mention, I would take the H160. It is awfully close to the H300 in terms of transparency and resolving ability, for about $2000 less. You might also have interest in its native AirPlay functionality, which I found to be faultless. You should know, however, that Hegel is just now beginning to ship its replacement for the H300, the H360, which Doug Schneider recently wrote about on our sister-site SoundStage! Global, and which Philip Beaudette currently has in for review. It is a mere $200 more expensive than the outgoing H300, but is alleged to be a massive improvement over my old reference amp.
I can’t speak to the Naim integrated, but I do note that your Bryston speakers are 88dB efficient, and the Naim only puts out 80Wpc into 8 ohms. While that is certainly enough for moderately loud playback, with certain rock and classical pieces, you might find the Naim running out of steam during the most dynamic passages. I have only briefly heard the Moon Evolution 600i, but Philip Beaudette has gone on record -- albeit five years ago -- saying, “If audio reproduction gets any better than this, I haven’t heard it.” I spent time with the Canadian company’s less expensive Moon Neo 340i and found it to be excellent, so I have little doubt that the 600i is a top-flight integrated.
Overall, I’d say that Hegel’s new H360 and the Simaudio should be at the top of your list. Insofar as sub-$10,000 class-AB integrated amps go, they are likely the cream of the crop. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I’ve been following your audio journey lately since we share some of the same equipment. My current system is: NAD M51 DAC-preamp, PrimaLuna Prologue One [integrated amplifier], KEF LS50 [speakers], a Consonance CD player, Hegel Music Systems H80 [integrated amplifier-DAC], and PMC GB1i loudspeakers. My latest purchase was the Hegel, and I was so very impressed by it that I initially looked at buying the H160 until I read about the Benchmark AHB2. I would like to ask your opinion, purely on the basis of sound quality (no doubt the Hegel H160 has very attractive features), which would you pick between the two? If going with the Benchmark, I’m thinking of the following pairings: NAD M51 DAC-preamp, Benchmark AHB2, PMC GB1i (i.e., using no preamp). Thank you.
You’re probably expecting me to go with the Benchmark, here, and you’d be right. The AHB2 is a power amplifier only, so you need to use a preamplifier with it. When I did, I found it a cut above every integrated amplifier I’ve reviewed, a list that includes: Hegel’s H160 and H300, Linn's Majik DSM, Musical Fidelity's M6 500i, and Luxman's L-550AX. Devialet's 120, which is more appropriately classified as a power DAC, is the only thing I’ve heard that comes close to the Benchmark’s noise floor, resolving ability, transparency, and ease.
For the purposes of your question, that pretty well rules the H160 out of contention. I do think you’ll find great synergy between the Benchmark and your NAD M51 DAC-preamp, and I’m betting you'll hear pretty quickly why I rate the little amplifier so highly. If you do follow through with purchasing the Benchmark, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I just read your excellent review of the Benchmark Media Systems AHB2 amplifier, and l am impressed enough with your conclusions (and those killer specs you listed) to seriously consider buying this little “giant killer” of an amp. But I am also interested in the Parasound Halo Integrated amp as a purchase. However, I have seen no reviews of this new amp yet. Maybe you should take a shot at reviewing this amp; I would love to hear your thoughts on it. Keep up the good work. You’re one of the best young audio reviewers out there doing thoughtful, honest reviews on audio equipment affordably priced for working stiffs like me.
Many thanks for the kind words, Eric, though I still have quite a bit to improve on! The Benchmark, frankly, is ridiculous. The $3000 it costs is hardly chump change, but I maintain that it is a true giant killer. Provided your loudspeakers are not too demanding, I cannot imagine that anyone would dislike the sound it produces, unless they favor the bloom or warmth of a tubed or class-A amplifier. That leads me to the Parasound Halo Integrated. I’ve been eyeing that thing since it was announced, but have not had the opportunity to follow up with Parasound about a review sample -- I'll see what I can do for you about that.
While I have not heard the Halo Integrated, my brother Erich reviewed their Halo A 23 amplifier and Halo P 5 preamplifier last year and loved both of them. For $2495, I am betting that the Halo Integrated is just killer, what with its 160Wpc into 8 ohms, Sabre Reference DAC, DSD compatibility, and raft of rear-panel connectivity. As a one-box solution for under $2500, I struggle to come up with anything that can compete with it. That said, I am equally confident that the Benchmark amplifier blows it, and every other class-AB integrated I have heard over the past few years, away. Yes, it is $500 more, and you are only getting a power amplifier for your money, but you are also getting one of the best-sounding amps I have ever heard. It’s that good. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I enjoyed your thorough review of the Rogue Audio Sphinx. Wondering if you’ve spent any time with the Peachtree nova220SE? The latter recently fell into the price range of the Sphinx and getting them side by side is futile. I think I understand the technical differences, which keeps me leaning towards the Sphinx as I plan on using it primarily for record playing. I have a pair of decade-old Vienna Acoustics Mozarts (I understand their current model is far more advanced) and Pro-Ject's Debut Carbon [turntable]. Currently using an old Denon AVR-3802, which we can both agree is fueling my desperate search (I’m in audio resurrection mode). Any insight is appreciated. Cheers.
The Rogue definitely has a phono input, while the Peachtree requires an external phono preamp to be record-friendly. That alone might swing your decision. Certainly, you'll get a lot more power out of the Peachtree (220Wpc into 8 ohms for the Peachtree compared to 100Wpc out of the Rogue into the same load), and that current might be required for those Mozarts of yours, which, at a glance, do not look to be the most efficient speakers out there. But provided you're not going to pound your speakers to outrageous volume levels, I suspect that the Sphinx will have no trouble keeping up with you. Should you require an external DAC, there is a litany of them between $300-$500 that should more than suit your needs. The Rogue is certainly a bit utilitarian, but, as you can tell, I loved its sound. Accordingly, the Sphinx seems an easy answer here. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I so enjoyed your article “One Step Forward . . .” that I laughed so hard. It mirrors my life “to a T.” We even shared the Krell! I was lucky, however, to have been able to put anything wherever I wanted. I would have those Mythos [ST-L speakers] by the entry door facing the kitchen and you would have seen me sitting uncomfortably on a tiny stool while hoping no one would come in the front door and knock the speakers off. When I ended up in a so-called “relationship,” I had to adapt and I actually searched for speakers designed to be placed against walls. Did I end up with a system that sounded like I had envisioned my system would sound? No, but I did have a very good sound system that impressed most people. The speakers back then were Allisons. Try some current modern boundary speakers.
In any event, there is one more joke awaiting for you -- your ears. I now have a living room that is 22’ x 37’ with insane vaulted ceilings. A dream, but, although I kept my hearing clean to 17kHz all the way to age 48, now I have one ear that can go to 16kHz and one that is down to only 14k, so you guessed it, the cymbals are shifting to the left once again like 30 years ago. Damn it! Enjoy your listening!
So much to look forward to, Nick! Well, thanks for reading. I can only hope that one day I will have a dedicated listening room the way most of my SoundStage! colleagues have. Perchance to dream. . . . Hans Wetzel