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 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,

Thanks for the Devialet 120 review. I was wondering if you experienced it at very low volume, and, if so: what is/was your take on it?

I am asking because I read two reviews (glowing, as usual, with Devialet) about a real weakness with very low-volume listening where the music loses its momentum. What Hi-Fi? goes as far as to not recommend it if very low-volume listening is regular, which is my case. Hence my question to you, Monsieur.

I heard the Devialet twice and was very impressed with it as a concept, but ultimately it had that elusive so-called musicality (whatever that means) that makes or breaks a product, in my opinion. I must admit I pretty much felt the same about the Hegel Music Systems H300 you mention in the review, thinking: why pay more when it does everything so right and sounds so great? But the Devialet is soooo sexy, clever, and foward-thinking compared to, well, anything really.

Also, it was great to read the Devialet 120 and Wadia Intuition 01 reviews back-to-back, although at first I thought you should have compared and contrasted more these two pieces, as they are quite similar products aimed at the same clientele. Then again, re-reading both reviews, one got an award and a rave, but the other didn't. Chris Connaker at pretty much said the same as you.

Anyway, thanks for the reviews; you've been read, and if you have anything to add to the low-volume thing, I would like to know.

Thanks again Monsieur.


I have read about the low-volume complaint, but I feel confident in saying that I heard nothing of the sort. Neither did our editor-in-chief, Jeff Fritz, who is currently testing the 120's SAM feature. What this could be ascribed to, perhaps, is what I mentioned about the Devialet's treble in my review. Because it does not have quite the zest and air of a traditional class-AB amp, it may sound a hair turned down, or muted, by comparison, at low volumes. But I cannot emphasize enough, that this is by comparison only. I was thoroughly, deeply, hugely impressed with every aspect of the Devialet 120's sonic performance, and firmly believe it punches far, far beyond its price point. I do not think it a stretch to say that it offers truly reference-level sound. It sounds like you heard what I did in your two auditions with the piece and that is hardly a surprise.

As for the Hegel H300, which I referenced in the review and use as a reference integrated amplifier-DAC, I maintain that it's a standard bearer at its price point of $5500. Competing designs from Bryston and Simaudio should also be mentioned in the same breath, but the Hegel takes it for me. If you're using a pair of inefficient loudspeakers in a very large room, then the Hegel would make a great deal of sense. Make no mistake about it, however: The Devialet 120 is bluntly the better amp, and the very best I have heard. Doug Schneider, founder and publisher of SoundStage!, agrees, as does Jeff Fritz. I can't fathom a stronger endorsement. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

Thanks for a very nicely written review of the Devialet 120.

I have some input to your comment on the treble. The class-A and class-D output stages work in parallel. To avoid the switching noise normally associated with class-D and skip the low-pass filter often used, if I understand this correctly, the class-A section has a DSP controlled “correction” output that cancels high-frequency noise from the class-D stage. Very neat.

I own a D-Premier and have used many firmware revisions. The correction output is clearly a real balancing act for Devialet developers. Some firmware versions have more “lively” treble while others can seem to control too much. The current version 7.1 is marginally on the controlled side. For example, the early version 6.xx was quite bright in my opinion.

Best regards,
Olav Sunde

Hi Olav, thanks for reading. It's interesting to hear that you've heard differences in the D-Premier's treble response with various firmware updates. I can't say whether that is a tailoring of sorts on the French company's part, or whether it was an unintentional side effect of some other change they made. All I know is that the treble in the Devialet sounds markedly different from anything else I've heard. I suspect this contributes to the folks out there who say that the Devialet doesn't sound as good at low volumes. With a less "lively" sound than most every other class-AB or class-D amp out there, it may well sound different, but I never found it problematic. As you can tell from my review, firmware version 7.1 worked splendidly during the review period. I wouldn't prefer the treble any other way. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Sathyan Sundaram,

I read your review [of the NAD D 1050]. I am curious to know if you can help with a question. How does this DAC compare to the Cambridge Audio DacMagic?

Ron P.

Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity to hear the DacMagic, but we awarded the DacMagic Plus a Great Buy when we reviewed it. Cambridge Audio has DacMagic products at two price points bookending the NAD D 1050 ($499): the DacMagic 100 ($399) and the DacMagic Plus ($650). The feature sets are reflective of the price points with the DacMagic 100 missing balanced outputs, a second optical input, and a headphone-amp output. The DacMagic Plus includes the upmarket features of upsampling and selectable filters, and of the three is the only one useable as a preamp with its variable output. Different DAC chips are used as well: Wolfson WM8742 for the DacMagic 100, Cirrus Logic CS4398 for the D 1050, and Wolfson WM8740 for the DacMagic Plus. In terms of sound, my recommendation is to audition each product of interest with your own system. . . . Sathyan Sundaram

To Hans Wetzel,

Spencer from The Abso!ute Sound here.

I read your article and I must agree with you that my December, 2013 article was hastily written, a little rambling, and might not have been your target audience. It was meant mainly for vinyl-philes who dislike sharing their systems because “everyone is so damn stupid and can’t possibly understand my hobby.”

It might surprise you that I’m younger than you are.

Maybe I live in an insular world, namely Austin, TX, where everyone fetishizes vinyl for myriad reasons. When people come over to my house, they go crazy for the thousands of vinyl records and all the stereo gear that fills the shelves and house. Dance parties ensue, all-night vinyl benders, iPod DJ parties, CD parties, et cetera. It’s less the medium that matters, rather the experience with a great stereo system. When my partner and I throw parties (she couldn't care less about stereo gear), the first thing her friends and my friends want is to play the latest vinyl from the latest release of band XYZ. In general, our friends are less interested in digital, though sometimes it’s more convenient (and safe) when too much drinking has occurred; don’t want drunk friends or myself making any careless mistakes.

I think I mention in my article that an acquaintance once left a record on my tube amp, and melted it into a Dali sculpture.

Anyway, good follow-up to my article. I will have a much better, more thorough version for 2014. You made good points, and I will take it to heart.

I will fully admit that I want more people to invest in quality stereo systems. It’s not about job security (though it would be nice to keep my job at TAS), it’s an attempt to help people realize the joy of music appreciation. $1000 buys a lot better sound these days, compared to even a decade ago. People can afford high-end audio; what keeps them away is the snobbery, not the price.

Nobody makes fun of the welder who saved for 10 years to build his hot rod. If he spent $45,000 on a stereo, they would think that was crazy. Again, it’s not the dollar amount spent on the stereo, but rather the sense of elitism that is associated with such stereos. We as audiophiles -- young audiophiles -- need to address this issue and make it clear that high-end audio isn’t about being rich, but rather passionate. My passion began when I rebuilt my first tube amp, a vintage Harman Kardon A500 tube integrated. By the time I was 20, I had spent well over $15,000 on my stereo (driving forklifts and working in the Texas heat and snow of Colorado paid for it), but nobody ever thought I was crazy, because I shared my passion with each and every individual who came to my place. Not once did I exclude anyone, but rather showed them the proper techniques, and then gave them free rein to play with the best system they had ever heard. Car guys take their friends for rides; we stereo enthusiasts should do the same thing. This was the point of my article.

Anyway, let’s work together toward a common goal. I’m here to change the audiophile world, not perpetuate the exclusivity so many people associate with the audiophiles of yesteryear.

Thanks, Hans. Your article was honest, well written, and full of great ideas.

Spencer Holbert
United States

To Erich Wetzel,

I read your review of the Rotel RB-1582 MkII power amp with much interest. When will the review of the matching RC-1570 preamp be published? I am interested in the DAC of this preamp for my Sonos Connect. How will its DAC compare to DAC separates such as the Rega DAC, Arcam irDac, or Audiolab M-DAC?

Currently I have the Rotel RA-1062 preamp and the RB-1080 power amp driving my B&W 805S bookshelf speakers.


I obtained an Arcam irDAC to listen to in comparison with the RC-1570 (the review will publish soon). I found that the Arcam would be a superior DAC to that in the RC-1570 if you are looking at simply getting a DAC. However, if you are in the mood to upgrade your preamp to something newer, the RC-1570 will absolutely be compatible with your amplifier and B&W speakers. The RC-1570 will definitely be more current as an integrated preamp-DAC combo, but I am not sure that the sound of the preamp section itself will be better than what you have now. As a result, I would definitely listen to the RC-1570 to confirm that you will be upgrading your system's sound and not just changing it. The Arcam as a standalone DAC will absolutely do a great job with the equipment you have in place already and will give you more accuracy and precision to your system’s sound without being harsh or sharp sounding.

Unfortunately, I cannot speak about the Rega or the Audiolab as I do not have sufficient experience with them to fairly comment. . . . Erich Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I'm building a modest stereo system and for now I bought an NAD C 316BEE amp. I have no idea which speakers will be good with this amp, so any recommendation will help me. I know there are a lot of factors that affect the choice (music and room, for instance) and the best way is to hear many combinations, but I do not know where to start. Some recommendations that I have found on the Internet: Wharfedale Diamond 121, Mordaunt-Short Mezzo 1, Monitor Audio BX2, Q Acoustics 2020i, and PSB Image B6. Thoughts? Thank you in advance!

Best regards,

The NAD is a great start. As for the speaker end of things, you've touched on some great companies. All have good reputations, even if I haven't heard many of the individual models you mention. I know and like PSB's work, as well as Monitor Audio's. What I would do is add in two more suggestions for you to consider: Cambridge Audio's Aero 2, which we recently reviewed on sister site SoundStage! HiFi, and Paradigm's Atom v.7, which was also reviewed on Hi-Fi. Doug Schneider was bowled over by the Cambridges, and given the pedigree of loudspeaker that commonly occupies his listening room -- frequently in excess of $10,000 per pair -- his deep praise should not be taken lightly. The darker, intimate Cambridges are offset by the Paradigms, which, for the price point, have a livelier complexion, including a zest and zing to the treble that I happen to fancy, while remaining remarkably coherent through the midrange. PSB's Image B6 likely falls somewhere in between the two on the tonal front, and may well be the most neutral of the three.

Bottom line? You likely can't go wrong with any of these, but the Cambridge is the design that has most impressed us in the past few months. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I just read your reviews of the GoldenEar Technology Triton Three and MartinLogan ElectroMotion ESL speakers with great interest. I'm in the market for a pair of two-channel speakers in this price range. Which of these would you buy? Any other speakers in this price range you would prefer? Thanks.

United States

Ken, you've picked two good speakers, but they're rather different. The ESL is -- bear with me here -- a polarizing design. An electrostatic panel can produce some really compelling sound, but it's idiosyncratic in terms of its dispersion. I've found that it's a love-it-or-hate-it kind of thing. If you, personally, love it, there isn't really an argument here. Grab the ESLs. If you don't, however, then the GoldenEar is an excellent choice at the $2000/pair price point. Its powered bass section and relatively high efficiency mean that it will be a relatively easy load to drive, even for modest electronics. The High Velocity Folded Ribbon (HVFR) tweeter is a real honey, as it's both smooth and extended in operation, contributing to an overall sound that is broad and expansive. The Triton also gives you the option to dial in the bass as you see fit, which is a nice option to have. As I said in the review, it offers a great deal of performance for the money.

As for other speakers that I might consider? Definitive Technology's BP8060-ST SuperTowers, floorstanding models from Canadian firms Paradigm and PSB, and KEF's R300s and R500s all come to mind. This is hardly exhaustive, but I know each of these is a competent design, and should serve you quite well. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

Interesting article [about power-DACs], and it is a trend among more experienced audiophiles. I see this kind of product being more oriented to people who have already had too much of the high end and just want to set up something simple and excellent sounding and forget about it all. Curiously, I see newer audiophiles going the opposite way, wanting to try separates, choosing tested and trusted products and trying to match them themselves.

P.S. How would you connect an active speaker to a power-DAC? Aren't there too many amps in your dream system?


That is an interesting observation, Ayrton, and most certainly curious. Speaking rhetorically, why would neophytes elect to go the complicated route over a more consolidated, less-expensive one? It seems counterintuitive. I suspect part of it may have to do with the way in which some dealers market their gear to listeners. Sure, this one-box solution sounds really good, they might say, but if you want really good sound, you need these expensive wires, and separate components. The truth, I think, is in the listening, and I believe both of the power-DACs I mentioned in the article can hold their heads up high when compared to significantly more expensive separates.

As for the active-speaker comment (referencing the Definitive Technology Mythos ST-Ls being what I would buy right now), there's something to be said for a partially active speaker in any system. When the bass section of a speaker such as the ST-L uses a built-in class-D amp, and the passive midrange and tweeters are fed by whichever amplifier (or power-DAC!) one chooses to use, the argument would proceed that you effectively have two different circuits running the same pair of speakers. No, I would agree with the implication that it's not exactly ideal. However, at the end of the day, it's a loudspeaker with a very small footprint, thanks to the DSP-inspired bass section obviating the need for a large cabinet. It's also tunable, and basically full-range, despite being really manageable in size. A Devialet or Wadia, then, with the ST-Ls, is what I'd buy because I don't have interest in fiddling with my system all the time. I would set it all up, take some care with positioning, and then forget about it and simply listen to my music. To me, if not to a lot of listeners, the music is more interesting than the equipment and how it's set up. .  . . Hans Wetzel

Dear Hans,

I very much enjoy your observations and critique of the hi-fi world. You are the best writer in the business.

I wish you every success.

Jim Pratt (an enthusiast since '73)

Many thanks for reading, and my deepest, most sincere appreciation for your kind words. We all work hard at SoundStage! Network to produce quality writing, and we strive to offer practical appraisals of the equipment we review, as we think that is most beneficial to the listeners and buyers out there. It's genuinely gratifying to hear it hasn't gone unnoticed, though on a personal level, I still have quite a lot to learn. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I have just discovered your website and I really appreciate your point of view regarding ultra-high-priced audio stuff, especially ridiculously priced speaker and interconnect cables. I love following audio news and discovering new, innovative, and realistically priced equipment.

I myself use an Apple TV to channel audio files to my Harman Kardon receiver and Totem Rainmaker speakers, along with an Oppo disc player. The whole system is worth less than $3000, and to me sounds great. Since I have lost my high-frequency hearing due to age, the audiophiles touting music up to 80kHz must be crazy. I don't have a great big room for equipment as I live in a two-bedroom condo, but even if I did, I would not spend much more than I have right now. Maybe I would upgrade the receiver to a nice integrated amp with both digital and analog inputs.

Keep up the good work; there are more of us out there than you think. Looking forward to your next posting.

Dave Akers
Whitby, Ontario

Thanks for reading, Dave. I think you might appreciate my next article, where I touch on my journey from modest equipment to the state of the art. At the end of the day, you have to pay dearly for the finest gear available, but on the electronics side of things, at least, it's pretty silly how good reasonably priced equipment can sound. And even though I've heard the "best," I won't lose any sleep once it comes time to send it back. Getting pretty close for a fraction of the cost is a far more interesting, and challenging, endeavor, and one that I intend to keep pursuing. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I saw your review of Rogue Audio's Sphinx. I was quite amazed when doing an audition of it in my country. It's quite nice when listening with Sonus Faber Venere 1.5s and Harbeth Compact 7ES-3 loudspeakers. I was planning to set up my hi-fi system in the following way: Rogue Audio Sphinx, Rega Apollo-R CD player, Rega RP6 with Exact MM cartridge, and Sonus Faber Venere 1.5 speakers. I listen to all types of music, whether it's vocal, jazz, rock, classical, pop, etc.

My question is which brand and model of speaker cables, RCA interconnects, power cables, and power conditioner will best suit this hi-fi setup? Any other suggestions or further advice would be appreciated. Thanks for replying.


That's a great setup, Kumar. I can imagine that the Sphinx and Veneres will do well with one another. As for cables, it really depends what you're looking for. Many folks use cables as tone controls, to tailor the sound they're getting from their system. For instance, there are some brands that are known for having a lot of bass, or perhaps tipped-up highs, and they are purposely designed that way. In a given setup, that potentially works well. The issue, though, is that it's fundamentally non-neutral, and not true to the source material. In the long term, I think having a nice set of neutral cables would be a great investment for you. While there are probably a number of other brands that make equally good stuff, the brands that immediately come to mind are: AudioQuest, DH Labs, and Analysis Plus. The brand that I happen to use is Dynamique Audio, based out of the UK. These handmade cables use copious amounts of high-purity conductors, high-quality brand-name connectors, and sound terrific. Whichever brand you go with, I would suggest starting with speaker cables and interconnects only. While some people have success with power cables and line conditioners, I don't think it's a pressing need for you. Should you feel compelled, though, you can always explore that avenue going forward. . . . Hans Wetzel