Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment


Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

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 ran across your review of the Parasound Halo Integrated [integrated amplifier-DAC] from a while back (so sorry for having to refresh your memory!) -- as I’m really debating between [purchasing] it or the Hegel Music Systems H160. I currently have a pair of Dynaudio Focus 160 [loudspeakers] paired with a Peachtree Audio nova220SE [integrated amplifier-DAC]. The sound is a little dull for me, to be honest. I’d like something a little more upfront with the voices and more expansive (I’m playing with speaker setup too, but limited in what I can do at the moment). I’m leaning toward the Hegel based on the reviews -- but the Parasound has so many features that it’s hard to overlook. Just wanted to get your opinion since your column on the Halo was one of the best I’d read, and you actually used music like the Lumineers that I had heard of and not some random track I’d never listened to! I mainly stream Spotify and Pandora via a Roku and Oppo Digital BDP-103D and listen to a lot of vinyl. Everything else is normal TV.

My complete system [consists of]: Rega Planar 3 turntable with an Audio-Technica AT33PTG/II cartridge, Parks Audio Puffin phono preamp, Roku wired via HDMI to an Oppo Digital BDP-103D Blu-ray player, Peachtree Audio nova220SE acting as the DAC (via a coaxial connection from the Oppo), Dynaudio Focus 160 loudspeakers, and an SVS SB-2000 subwoofer (running from the nova220SE’s preamp outputs. The problem is, if I add an external DAC -- say something warmish like the Rega DAC -- the nova220SE only has one set of RCA inputs so I couldn’t run the turntable as well unless I use a switch or something.

I think I like the idea of the Halo Integrated with all the inputs and sub stuff, but also think that the Hegel would be better for me sound-wise with the Dynaudios. I kinda feel like the speakers are a little more relaxed than I would like -- not sure if an external DAC or different amp or a combo of the two would help. I don’t have an option to test anything around here so I buy based on reviews, tons of research, and what I can hear at friends’ homes. I know it’s a stretch, but you heard both amps, so thought I’d reach out. I’d be buying both used so the price is similar for each. The last option would be to completely change the setup -- speakers and all -- but I’m growing fond of the Dynaudio sound (came from some KEFs). Thank you so much for your input -- it’s greatly appreciated!

Stewart Joyner
United States

Not only have I heard both of the amplifiers about which you’re writing in, I’ve reviewed each of them as well. I definitely appreciate your conundrum. The Parasound’s I/O options would be incredibly useful for your setup, while I agree with you that the Hegel’s sound will almost certainly be more to your liking. If you like your Dynaudio Focus 160s, I wouldn’t get rid of them -- Dynaudio makes some great speakers and they should serve you well for years to come.

Personally, I’d opt for the Hegel. Its more lively and forward sound should get you far closer to the desired “upfront” and “expansive” sound that you’re looking for. As flexible as the Parasound is, and as neutral as it sounds, I think you’ll find yourself second-guessing about whether you made the wrong choice if you went that route. The H160’s dual RCA inputs, fixed RCA line-level output, and variable RCA line-level output, should slot into your system without an issue, allowing you to keep your analog setup intact, and your subwoofer in play. I’d grab the Hegel and not look back. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Diego Estan,

I read your review on the new Paradigm Defiance V12. I’m torn on purchasing the V12 at $650 vs. the SVS SB-2000 at $1049 (both Canadian dollars). I was looking at purchasing two V12s. I just bought the Paradigm Monitor SE 6000Fs in Gloss White and they sound amazing. I’m running a Marantz SR7013 receiver. Just wondered if you highly recommend the V12 sub or should I be looking at others?

Thanks,
Art
Canada

I haven’t yet had the opportunity to listen to the SB-2000, although I should be receiving a sample of it from SVS shortly. I do own the SVS SB-3000 and SB-4000, and they are both stellar performers.

My general advice will depend on whether you plan on using the subs primarily for music or home theater. If you’re using the subs primarily for music, a good sealed sub, like the SB-2000, will give you a slight advantage compared to the V12, which is ported. You’ll likely get slightly better transient response, which will translate to quicker and more nimble bass. But I should stress that when I compared the V12 against my SB-4000, which is sealed and is more than twice the price, the differences were fairly subtle. When I listened to the V12 in isolation in my two-channel music system, I was completely satisfied with its performance. If you’re using the V12s in a home theater, you’ll likely get a bit more output in the lowest octaves with a ported sub, which may come in handy for movie soundtracks. So, for the price, in a home theater, two V12s are a no brainer -- and they might be a no-brainer for only music playback, too. . . . Diego Estan

To Diego Estan,

Great review of the Monitor Audio Gold 100 loudspeakers, and I liked the fact that you compare speakers, but I don’t understand why you told us that you like the Bowers & Wilkins more. I want to read about the differences, but the reviewer shouldn’t have preferences or shouldn’t express them. I want a review to be as objective as possible. Just how I feel, but I love your work.

Best regards,
Geoff
Belgium

I really appreciate your feedback, and I’m glad you liked the review.

I guess the only way I can address your comment is to say that I respect your opinion, and I’m sure many others would agree with you. But also, many others would disagree, and that’s ok.

I can only speak for myself here. As a reader, I actually agree with you in some ways, but not in others. I’m definitely an objectively leaning audiophile and a scientifically minded person. I’m a graphs-and-charts kind of guy. The perfect review for me would have a short intro, then description/specs, then set up and any observations with respect to use, then measurements, and finally objective comparisons to similarly priced products (preferably in bullet form in a table) -- that’s it.

But, I'm afraid my opinion is not shared by the majority of readers out there. Most readers likely want to see detailed descriptions of the reviewer’s experience of the sound through music examples, as well as the reviewer’s preference of one product over another, or a certain attribute of a product over another, as long as the differences are explained and the reasons for the preference are given. This way, readers get to learn what type of sound a given reviewer likes or is drawn to.

There's also the concept of Reviewers’ Choice for reviewed products across the SoundStage! Network. The only way to ascertain this is for the reviewer to convey through writing how much he/she liked the product, including when stacked up against the competition.

Thank you for taking the time to write me. . . . Diego Estan

To Thom moon,

I loved your review of the Onkyo A-9110 amp. I am planning to buy it ASAP and would appreciate if you could help me sort out a few audio-related issues. I am fairly new to this hobby. First, how do I connect my Windows 10 Acer laptop running JRiver Media Center to the amp?

Second, I am demoing the Elac Debut 2.0 B6.2 speakers to pair with the amp. Is this the right pairing in terms of impedance/ohms/power?

Third, I have an iFi Micro iDSD Black Label DAC-amp and iBasso DX120 DAP. Can I use them to connect to the amp? What interconnects (AmazonBasics!) do I need to buy?

Thanks for your help and your time.

Regards,
Ranjit Kumar
India

Glad you enjoyed the review. The A-9110 is a very capable amplifier if one observes its limits. For instance, the Elac speakers should be a fine match assuming three things: you don’t like listening at earth-shattering levels, your room is not too large (like more than 12’ x 16’), and you don’t mind listening fairly close to the speakers. The usual problem with small speakers is their low efficiency -- the Elacs are rated at 87dB/1V/1m, which is average efficiency.

Your iFi Micro iDSD Black Label DAC, Acer laptop, and iBasso DX120 digital audio player will be nice companions to your system. Just find the proper USB cable(s) for the iFi to the iBasso and Acer, and stereo RCA cables for the iFi to Onkyo, and you should be set. AmazonBasics cabling should work great.

Good luck with your new system and keep on listening! . . . Thom Moon

To Hans Wetzel,

I read your review of PSB’s Alpha P5 [bookshelf speaker] and want to consult. Do you think it would be a good partnership between these speakers and the NAD C 328 [integrated amplifier-DAC]? Would it not be possible that such a duet would be too flat, dead, and inexpressive in sound?

Best Regards,
Mikhail Fominykh
Russia

As you can probably tell from my writeup, I really loved the Alpha P5 speaker; it’s phenomenal for the money. And based on my review of NAD’s D 3045 integrated amplifier-DAC, I was also very fond of not just the amp itself, but of the D 3045 paired with the Alpha P5s. I don’t know how alike the D 3045 is to the C 328 you mention, but I’d have to assume the two amps are similarly voiced given that they each use NAD’s Hybrid Digital platform. If that’s the case, I can’t imagine anyone describing a P5/C 328 tandem as sounding “flat” or “inexpressive.” In fact, if I had around $900 USD to spend on a system (excluding cables and a source), it’s probably the system that I’d buy for myself. As ever, though, a system that sounds fun and neutral to me might not thrill you to the same extent. Try and listen to each component locally, if possible, or perhaps there’s a Russian retailer with a generous return policy that would allow you to try one or both components in your own listening space. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I read your review of the Bowers & Wilkins 704 S2 with interest. However, I am a neophyte and much of what you were writing about went over my head. I am curious what you think of the following speakers, as compared to the 704: SVS Prime Pinnacle, Klipsch RP-8000F, NHT C4 Tower, and the MartinLogan Motion 40i.

Other details: Onkyo TX-NR801 receiver, 75% music and 25% movies, I like my music loud (Rolling Stones, rock, blues), and the tower has to be piano black, high-gloss! If there is another speaker I should consider, please advise. Many thanks.

William B.
United States

Loud, high-gloss piano-black finish -- got it. Well, the Klipsch is the only two-way design here, but that’s offset by being extremely efficient (98dB!) and boasting a pair of 8” woofers -- I'm confident they’ll hit pretty hard. That said, I think that if you’re willing to spend $1500-$2000/pair and want something that you can crank, a three-way tower is an absolute must.

I can’t speak to NHT, unfortunately. I know they had a great reputation 15 years ago, but speaker design has come a long way in the interim. In checking out their website, it looks like they might have a no-hassle, no-cost, 30-day refund policy, so I would check on the fine print before going that direction.

The MartinLogan Motion 40i looks pretty tasty for the money. I haven’t heard the Motion line in person, but my colleague Gordon Brockhouse recently attended the launch event for the refreshed Motion line and most certainly has -- check out his impressions on SoundStage! Global. On paper, the 40i’s three-way design, pair of 6.5” woofers, and Folded Motion tweeter look amenable to strong dynamics and nice midbass punch, though its 4-ohm nominal impedance might not be a great match for your Onkyo receiver. This neatly leads me to the SVS Prime Pinnacle tower: I think it’s a great choice. It’s a three-way with a nominal 8-ohm impedance, so an easy load on your receiver, plus it has a trio of 6.5” woofers for big bass. SVS also has a 45-day return policy with shipping covered both ways, which is generous and reduces risk tremendously.

The only speaker that I would throw into the mix would be Monitor Audio’s Silver 300, which I reviewed last year. At $2000/pair, it looks great and handles dynamics with ease. As I noted in my review of the pair, "These things can seriously rock out.”

If I were in your shoes, though, I’d start with SVS, since there is no risk involved, and only check out the Monitor Audio, MartinLogan, or Klipsch speakers if a pair of Pinnacle Primes aren’t to your liking. . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I just read your review on the Bowers & Wilkins 704 S2, which I will be auditioning [soon]. I noted what you liked and did note your comment: “Bowers & Wilkins’ 704 S2 loudspeaker doesn’t offer the ruler-flat frequency response boasted by some of its competitors.”

I’m looking to spend approximately $3000-$3500/pr. on the front [speakers in my home theater] and am finding so many options -- my head is spinning. I listen to music from my youth, like Supertramp, Phil Collins, Genesis, etc. Mostly the fronts will be used in my 4K surround environment with a center and subs. I am replacing my old Paradigm Monitor 7 floorstanders, CC-300 center-channel speaker, and PDR-10 subwoofer. I was also considering the Paradigm 75F floorstanders.

If you were me with my budget what speakers, would you recommend I go listen to? If it matters, I have a Marantz SR7013 receiver.

Bill Maynard
United States

Prog rock, eh? Well, I don’t blame you for getting lost in the sheer number of options available to you, as there are a LOT of good speakers at the price point that you’re exploring. Let me say it up front: If you like the way the 704 S2s sound, buy a pair and don’t look back. Your hearing and personal preferences matter far more than mine. Just make sure to buy the matching center speaker, as you no doubt intend. Regarding Paradigm’s Prestige 75F, I would hold off -- they’re a little long in the tooth, and I think there are better options out there.

As for other speakers to explore, there are several. Revel’s Performa3 F206 isn’t exactly a looker, and it’s in no way new, but it’s one of the best-measuring and best-sounding speakers we’ve seen at (or near) its price point. KEF’s new R5 is a far newer design that should combine textbook engineering principles and advanced technology, while imaging something fierce due largely to its Uni-Q driver array. GoldenEar Technology’s Triton Two+ tower offers a pretty much full-range sound courtesy of its powered bass section, allowing you to dial in however much bottom-end slam you prefer. Finally, two speakers that might offer a similarly vibrant sound to your outgoing Paradigms: Dynaudio’s new Evoke 30 and MartinLogan’s recently updated Motion 60XTi. The former is only a two-and-a-half-way design -- the only one in this list that isn’t a three-way -- but Dynaudio makes great, great speakers, and their recent designs have an exciting tonal balance. The latter’s Folded Motion tweeter and dual 8” woofers should complement your copy of Invisible Touch nicely. Happy listening . . . Hans Wetzel

To Roger Kanno,

My staff and I always appreciate your continued interest in Parasound. In a recent review you grouped Parasound with other brands who source their products in China. We do not build any products in China.

Our products are designed [then] built by three specialized OEM contract manufacturers in Taiwan, one of which we’ve collaborated with continuously since 1982, the second since 1989, and the third since 2005 (I knew the factory owner when she worked at the first factory). The longevity of our factory relationships is unique in the audio business.

Here are our reasons for manufacturing products in Taiwan instead of in China:

  1. Most Chinese electronics factories offer lower prices because they are structured for high-volume production. However, for a small company being “a minnow in an ocean” is precarious and a huge disadvantage. A new audio product could be in development for several years in a Chinese factory but when they run into a problem and decide it’s too difficult and inconvenient for them to solve it they simply drop the project and leave you hanging. What was supposed to enable higher profit turns into a financial disaster.
  1. Parasound is a “big fish in a small pond.” As the largest customer of our three OEM contract manufacturers in Taiwan we have leverage. Additionally, the Taiwan engineers do whatever it takes to solve complex problems as a matter of personal responsibility and pride as well as respect and loyalty to their largest customer -- Parasound.
  1. The quality and consistency of anodized aluminum parts made in Taiwan is superior to China (and often North America). The front panel of a Parasound Halo product built in 2019 will match the front panel of a Halo product built in 2003.
  1. Taiwan is a democracy.

In addition very few of the component parts used in the manufacture of audio components are actually made in the US. Some companies that label their products “Made in USA” or do not mention any country of origin are in violation of law as well as taking advantage of the trust of their customers.

Kind regards,
Richard Schram
President & CEO
Parasound Products, Inc.

My apologies to you, Richard, and the entire team at Parasound, and thank you for taking the time to provide this clarification for us and our readers . . . Roger Kanno

To Diego Estan,

If you have a pair of Bowers & Wilkins 685 S2 loudspeakers already, is it worth the upgrade to the 606 model?

Steven O’Connor
United States

OK, short answer: I would not upgrade.

Long answer: I do feel the 606 is worth the price increase over the 685 S2. The 606 bests or equals the 685 S2 in every category. The one caveat is the hotter-sounding tweeter on the 606. For recordings that are prone to sounding very bright or sibilant, I’d rather listen to the 685 S2; in fact I’d rather listen to the original 685 over the 606.

But there’s a difference between justifying a price difference from one model to another, and actually going through the process of selling a pair of speakers, likely taking a loss, then buying a new pair. Yes, the 606 loudspeaker sounds better, but only marginally so in the grand scheme of things, which is why I said I wouldn’t upgrade. If you want to really upgrade, consider waiting, saving, and making a bigger jump, where the differences in sound will be more obvious, particularly in regards to transparency. Let me know if you have any other questions. . . . Diego Estan

To Hans Wetzel,

It’s hard to take seriously specs like -3dB at 35Hz and 92dB sensitivity in a small, closed box like the KLH Albany bookshelf speaker. It denies Hofmann’s Law, the “H” in KLH, from the early ’70s, relating box volume, sensitivity, and bass extension.

Allen Edelstein
United States

It’s an interesting point, Allen. KLH cofounder Josef Anton Hofmann’s “law” that loudspeaker engineers could only ever implement two of the three elements that you note in their designs still broadly holds true. As I noted in my most recent editorial, as impressed as I am with many aspects of KLH’s new loudspeaker lineup, I have my own doubts about their speakers’ stated low-frequency limits and sensitivity figures.

Regarding the Albany, I think there was a reason that KLH elected to pair the bookshelf model with one of their subwoofers during the dealer event I attended -- it needed more bass. I’ll reserve any further judgment since I am not formally reviewing the Albany. I am reviewing the flagship Kendall, however, a ported, floorstanding model the company boasts as having 96dB sensitivity and a -3dB limit of 25Hz. KLH told me the former specification is measured in-room, not anechoically, and I’m assuming the latter is, too. It may be that KLH is -- let’s call it liberal -- with their specs, but then again, so are many other manufacturers. No matter. We will be measuring the Kendall in the anechoic chamber at Canada’s National Research Council and our findings will accompany my review. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I read your review about the KEF Q750 speakers! My question is, do you know if another amp [other] than my NAD C 375BEE will deliver more enjoyable hours of listening? If so, which one? I read a lot about the Yamaha A-S2100.

Hans IJsselstijn
The Netherlands

That’s a difficult question to answer, Hans. There are an awful lot of amps out there, and many of them are quite good. Given that the Q750 is a pretty easy speaker to drive, optimizing sound quality would really come down to what your personal preferences are.

NAD makes great, no-nonsense amplifiers, and your C 375BEE generates 150Wpc into 8- or 4-ohm loads, which is more than enough power for the KEFs. The NAD is getting on in age, but truth be told, class-AB amps haven’t changed a whole lot in the past decade. If I were in your shoes and I was looking to invest in my system, I’d hold onto your NAD. Depending on how you listen to music, I might consider a new DAC or CD player, as digital front ends have not only improved dramatically in recent years, they’ve also become far more affordable. I can’t speak to the Yamaha integrated amp that you mention, unfortunately. If you wanted to swing for the fences and splurge, however, I would suggest NAD’s own M32 DirectDigital integrated amplifier-DAC, which I reviewed back in 2017. It’ll give you a cutting-edge digital source and latest-generation class-D amplification all in one box. It’s expensive, for sure, but it offers reference-level transparency and 180Wpc into 8 or 4 ohms. That should be all the amp you’ll ever need for your KEF Q750s and well beyond. . . . Hans Wetzel