Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

SoundStage! TV




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To Hans Wetzel,

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

Dion Sanchez
United States

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

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

To Hans Wetzel,

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

Thanks, Hans.

Charles Brehm
United States

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

To SoundStage! Access,

I don’t get the point [of Hans Wetzel’s article]. Instead of buying a new NUC for some $$ more and installing the freely available Roon Optimized Core Kit, the author complaints about crappy hardware and some crappy Windows 7 installation. A comparison in terms of sound quality between a Nucleus and a standard NUC would have been far more interesting.

Christian M.

To Hans Wetzel,

I enjoyed your review of the KEF Q750. I am a music lover and a novice audiophile and wondered if you could answer a question or two for me. I have an Onkyo TX-NR545 receiver that is rated at 65Wpc minimum at 8 ohms and 115Wpc at 6 ohms. Do you feel this would efficiently power the Q750? I am considering the KEF Q750 or Paradigm’s Monitor SE 6000F. Any thoughts or recommendations? Thanks for your time. I will let you get back to more important things.

Wes Moyer
United States

Of the two speakers you mention, I’d opt for the Q750 every day of the week, if only because I know it so well. I don’t think anyone could go wrong with that loudspeaker, though it’s worth noting it doesn’t offer super-deep bass. As for your Onkyo, I think its 65Wpc into 8 ohms should be sufficient for you to push the 88dB-sensitive KEF to play fairly loud. Definitely spend the money on getting the speakers you want, and deal with amplification later, and, even then, only if you are not satisfied with the resulting sound.

If you’re really interested in Paradigm, though, I would recommend considering the Premier 700F. At $1598 per pair, it’s not even $100 per pair more than KEF’s Q750 (which retails for $1499.98 per pair), and is a true three-way design that boasts two dedicated 5.5” woofers; it looks like it’s a real step up from the Monitor SE 6000F. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Paradigm offers notably greater bass response than the KEF, but you’d have to hear it for yourself to know. What I do know is that Roger Kanno has a pair of the larger Premier 800Fs currently in for review and, so far, I’ve only heard good things about them from him. That’s mainly why I think the 700F might be worth checking out at a local dealer, if possible. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I read what I’ll call your glowing review of the KEF Q750s. I currently have KEF LS50s, and I’m thinking of upsizing to floorstanders. I’m hoping for a bit more output and a bit more bass. My system runs half music and half television/movies. I have a Parasound Halo Integrated, and also a sub. I’m curious what your thoughts would be?

I’m also considering Monitor Audio Silver 300s, but I’m concerned with the cabinet height -- I may need to put them on short stands. The Uni-Q driver in my LS50s allows the tweeters to be lower than my ears without any negative consequences. I assume the Q750s would perform similarly even though they are also on the short side. Thoughts? I appreciate your time and opinion!

Chris Gilliland
United States

If you like KEF’s LS50, I think the Q750 is the floorstanding loudspeaker that you’re looking for. The Q750 will no doubt play louder and have greater bass extension than the LS50, while also retaining the qualities that KEF is known for: neutrality, great off-axis performance (thanks to the Uni-Q), and strong stereo imaging. And while I think the Monitor Silver 300 is a great overall speaker, and looks way better than the Q750, in my opinion, it won’t sound like the LS50 or the Q750, for better or worse. I think you should go with what you know.

Regarding tweeter height, I wouldn’t worry about it, as a pair of Q750s should sound fairly consistent even if your ears are a little higher than the tweeters are. Worst case, you could always buy short stands or platforms for the KEFs going forward -- but I doubt you’ll need to. Happy listening. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

First of all, I want to tell you I look forward each month to read your reviews. Ever since Robert Reina who wrote for Stereophile passed away, I felt there was a void on reviews for speakers $1500 USD and below. I love the way he reviewed a speaker and how he compared it to another model. I am happy to say you have filled that void and you are doing a great job. Thank you.

Now for my question. Based on your reviews of the [Dynaudio] Emit M10 and [Definitive Technology] Demand D9, I am really psyched to buy a pair. I would like your opinion on which speaker would be a better choice for rock music. The Dynaudio dealer in my area does not carry the M10 and when I tried to listen to the D9s in Best Buy, they sounded awful. They couldn’t have been set up correctly. Something was very wrong. So, if you can give me your opinion on how you feel about these speakers and which you feel would be a better option, I would appreciate it very much. Note that I will be using an SVS sub in my setup. My room is 20’ x 14’. Thank you again for your wonderful reviews.

Frank Liberman
United States

I think both speakers would work well with rock music. They’re both fairly neutral, yet each also produces an exciting sound: the D9 with a prominent treble, and the M10 with a touch of upper-midrange emphasis. Neither speaker will sound dull by any stretch of the imagination, nor do they teeter into “bright” territory. I have a difficult time recommending one over the other because each is excellent in its own way.

My suggestion, if you can swing it, would be to purchase a pair of D9s from Best Buy and audition them at home with your SVS sub. I’m assuming that Best Buy has a generous return policy, so if you can confirm that there won’t be a restocking fee or something similar, I think it’s a no-risk proposition short of the balance on your credit card. I’d next recommend trusting your first impression of the Demand D9 and auditioning another speaker from the Emit line at your local dealer, providing there is one available, to see if you like the Dynaudio sound. The M10 should sound nearly identical short of SPL output and bass extension. Otherwise, I think the next step would be to order a pair of M10s -- I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

What would be your take on hooking [Dynaudio’s Emit M10 speakers] to either a Yamaha A-S801 integrated amp or an Outlaw Audio RR2160 receiver? Also, [should I use] the Cambridge Audio CXC disc drive with the 32-bit DAC on the Yamaha?

Edward J. Roell
United Kingdom

I think Dynaudio Emit M10s would work well with either the Yamaha receiver or the Outlaw Audio driving them. Both offer more than 100Wpc into 8 ohms, which should be more than enough to drive the Emit M10s loudly and cleanly. As for the CXC, which is a pure CD transport, I think it could work well with the Yamaha via the receiver’s coaxial or TosLink input -- whichever you prefer. It sounds like a sweet little system, Edward. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I read your review [of the Bowers & Wilkins 704 S2] and wanted to ask you if you would recommend another speaker versus this one. I just started looking and am not sure I want to pay the price for these. I am not an audiophile as I don’t follow all the technicalities of the hardware and of sound, but I do like to listen to music and movies with a great sound system. Any other suggestions of speakers to look at? I listened to the B&W through a Marantz receiver. Would appreciate your opinion and suggestions on a receiver, as well.

My old Boston Acoustics [speakers] need a new home.  

Thanks for your time.

Christine Lee
United States

Lucky for you, I’ve reviewed several tower loudspeakers in the past nine months that range in price from $1500 USD/pr. up to the B&W’s $2500/pr., so I definitely have some suggestions for you.

I was bowled over by the sound of KEF’s Q750, which at $1499.98/pr. is a heck of a lot cheaper than the 704 S2, and is probably what I would buy if my money were on the line. It’s not built nearly as well as the 704 S2, mind you, so that partly accounts for its much lower price. You mention that you are looking for something to watch movies with, and so you might want something with deeper, punchier bass than what the KEF can muster -- Monitor Audio’s Silver 300 offers just that, and for only $500 more than the Q750. The Silver 300 looks a lot more handsome than the Q750, too, what with its classy real wood veneer. My dark-horse suggestion for you is Definitive Technology’s BP9060, which retails for $2198/pr., but can probably be had for significantly less than that if you shop around. I have not reviewed the BP9060, but I have heard it and also have quite a bit of experience with other Definitive Technology models, including the Demand D9, which I did just review. The BP9060 doesn’t look particularly fetching, yet it packs a powered 10” subwoofer into its cabinet for maximum slam, and unlike most of its competitors, has speaker drivers on the front and back of its cabinet, helping the BP9060 create a huge, immersive soundstage. I’d see if you could listen to the KEF and Monitor (as well as any competing products in stock) at a local dealer, while the Definitive Technology should be in stock at your closest Best Buy Magnolia location.

As for receivers, they’re not particularly in vogue in hi-fi, so I’d personally check out reviews on Amazon’s website for models that are well regarded, and that produce at least 100Wpc into 8 ohms. If you could sacrifice some receiver features, though, NAD makes some killer affordable integrated amps with built-in Bluetooth that would work well with any of the speakers I’ve suggested above, including the B&Ws if you decide to pull the trigger on those. Happy hunting. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I read your article about the KEF Q750 speakers with great interest. Since you claimed that you have listened to many KEF models over the years, I was curious if you have also heard the Q950 as well as the R900. Here in Germany the R900 costs double the price of the Q950 and I was wondering which one you prefer and if the R900 is worth the extra money.

What made me especially curious about a comparison of the R900 with the Q950 is the fact that they seem similar but have very different approaches. While the R900 has a D’Appolito assembly, the Q950 takes a conventional two-and-a-half-way approach with only one bass driver driven (the other two fulfill the same job as a port). Also, the Q950 has a lot larger coax driver -- 8” [in diameter] compared to the 5” [diameter] of the R900. Some people said that the R700 has a smoother transition between its drivers, especially if you are standing off center, than the R900 due to the wider baffle. I was wondering if KEF tried (and managed) to tackle that problem with a bigger coax driver (or what the reason is for using such a big driver). Also, the R900 has no separate enclosure for the coax, while the Q950 has.


Good questions. I previously owned the R900, and my brother and fellow SoundStage! reviewer, Erich Wetzel, currently owns a pair, so I’m intimately familiar with the design. I can’t say the same for the Q950, but KEF is usually pretty good about maintaining the “voicing” of their speakers across a given product line, so it’s probably safe to assume that the Q950 sounds very similar to the smaller Q750, which I reviewed, albeit with greater bass extension and greater output abilities due to its larger woofer, passive radiators, and cabinet.

Regarding the R900, it does not use a D’Appolito arrangement, as its single midrange cone -- part of KEF’s coaxial Uni-Q, which also incorporates a tweeter in the center of the cone -- sits in between two woofers, as opposed to a traditional D’Appolito setup, which relies on a pair of separate midranges (or midrange-woofers) sandwiching a tweeter. Aside from its coaxial tweeter-midrange drive unit, the R900 is a fairly traditional, ported three-way design. Most of KEF’s three-way loudspeakers, like the R900, use a Uni-Q that is around 5” in diameter. The differences seen in the Q750 and Q950 have more to do with price and design than anything else. As two-and-a-half-way loudspeakers, the Uni-Q in the Q towers is responsible for both midrange and bass frequencies, and KEF has tailored the cabinet, vis-à-vis the separate internal enclosure for the Uni-Q, to balance midrange clarity, bass output, and bass control. Likewise, the use of passive radiators is a function of maximizing bass output and control on a budget. It’s telling that none of KEF’s more expensive loudspeaker designs make use of passive radiators. I am guessing that KEF chose to make the Uni-Q, woofer, and passive radiators in each of their Q towers the same diameter to allow for uniform dispersion and wave-launch behavior.

Is the R900 worth the premium? It depends on what you value. The real-wood veneer on the R900 makes it look far better, in my humble opinion, than the cheaper-looking vinyl veneer on the more affordable Q950. The R900, like the rest of the R models, is also available in high-gloss finishes, but none of the Qs are. With the R900, you’re also getting a true three-way design, with a Uni-Q driver unencumbered by low-frequency responsibilities, and a pair of dedicated 8” woofers per cabinet. In a large room, where visual appeal, super high output, and maximum bass extension are required, the R900 is definitely worth the premium. But if you’re flexible on each of those points, I suspect that the Q950 will offer a very high proportion of the R900’s performance for less than half the cost. I can say with authority that the Q750 is fantastic for $1500 USD/pair. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I am in the market for a pair of affordable, three-way tower speakers to be used primarily for music, with a little TV stereo sound thrown in. And I have a question.

First a little background. My current music setup includes a 1987-vintage Yamaha RX-700U stereo receiver, a pair of 1996-vintage Paradigm Titan V1s, and a Paradigm PDR-10 subwoofer. I use a Chromecast Audio device hooked up to the Yamaha receiver’s CD analog input to stream music from my iPhone. I plan on purchasing a Schiit Modi 2 Uber so that I can play FLAC files stored on my computer through the Yamaha receiver. I also plan on using my Xbox One’s TosLink output, connected to the Modi’s TosLink input, to play the occasional CD, and for TV stereo sound.

Due to the disappearance of the type of audio store where I originally bought my receiver and speakers (you know, the type of place that had a decent listening room and knowledgeable sales staff), I am largely trying to decide on what speakers to purchase by reading reviews. I would like the speakers I buy to have enough low end to make a subwoofer unnecessary for music playback (I am not a bass head). This leads to my question. Is there more to low-frequency extension than is shown by the -3dB low-frequency measurement? I understand one speaker may have muddy, bloated bass, while another can have taut, punchy, fast, accurate, articulate bass (just a few of the adjectives used by audio publication reviewers), all while having the same -3dB roll-off point. But can one of the two speakers “sound” like it has lower bass extension? And what would contribute to this perception? I am a firm believer in the objective/subjective review. Some things are just not measurable with simple frequency and impedance graphs, and everyone has their own personal taste in speaker sound profiles. So, I understand that a reviewer may report a perception of lower bass extension. I am an electrical engineer and have a pretty good understanding what goes into creating sound, and the logarithmic nature of decibel measurements. So, what gives with reviewers saying that a speaker has great low-bass extension? Okay, I guess that was more like four questions.

My contenders [are the following]: Elac’s Debut 2.0 F5.2, [since] Andrew Jones says he likes to give up some efficiency as a tradeoff for low-frequency response; Paradigm’s Monitor SE 3000F, [as] I love the Canadian school of objective design, coupled with subjective listening; and Q Acoustics’ 3050, [which] I know [is] a two-way, but has gotten great reviews. Any other suggestions at this price point are welcome.

P.S., I love your editorials and equipment reviews. You show a passion for helping others to see past the manufacturer marketing and reviewer B.S. Keep up the good work. If I could afford them, I would buy the Monitor Audio Bronze 6 speakers based on your review alone.

Joe Pop
United States

There’s far too much here to adequately cover in a short response, but let me try to broadly address your questions. Loudspeaker manufacturers are often -- how can I put this delicately? -- creative in their listed specifications. The ±3dB points are welcome compared to some manufacturers who will list a frequency response without any qualification whatsoever. But is the frequency response with listed ±3dB points an anechoic measurement or “in-room”? If the latter, how big is the room, what are the dimensions, how was it treated, and where were the speakers set up within the room? While the listed frequency response may be a decent starting point when comparing different loudspeaker models, consumers should pay more attention to cabinet volume and driver radiating area if they’re trying to gauge how much bass extension they’re likely to hear.

As for your “perception” question, psychoacoustics is a complicated thing. Moreover, everyone’s tastes differ, so a more fulsome bottom end may appeal to one listener, while another might prefer bass that’s lower in level, which can sometimes sound faster and tauter. Beauty is in the ear of the beholder. That’s a bit of a cop-out, I know, but when reading professional reviews, it’s more important to get an idea of what a speaker sounds like to see if it agrees with what you like, rather than skipping ahead to a pithy conclusion and noting whether it received something like our Reviewers’ Choice award, or some equivalent.

Regarding your contenders, it’s an interesting bunch, for sure. I haven’t heard any of the speakers you mention in person, but I know that Elac and Paradigm each have a “house sound” of sorts. Elac’s sound errs slightly on the warm, full side of neutral, with a smooth treble extension. Paradigm’s sound is more visceral and dynamic, with a livelier top end. Each company makes very good products and has a great deal of engineering expertise to lean on. Q Acoustics is an interesting choice. I’ve been interested in their products for the past year or two, and your e-mail has prompted me to reach out to them about reviewing something from their newly announced 3000i line. Their US website shows that they have a 30-day risk-free trial, so that may be a great way to audition the 3050, or perhaps the new 3050i. If you’re leery of that, then I’d probably steer you towards the Paradigm Monitor SE 3000F. If you like the way your Titan V1s sound, you’ll probably enjoy one of their newest creations. Good luck! . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

Thank you for your excellent review of Monitor Audio’s Silver 300s. I recently purchased a Walnut pair of these, but I’m wanting to get as much detail and inner resolution out of these speakers as possible. As you recognized in your review of these speakers, it can be one of their weaker points.

What would you do to recommend me “overcoming” this to get as much detail/hidden music out of them as much as possible? Any advice/counsel would be much appreciated. I know I probably need a highly resolving amplifier to accomplish this, but I just wanted to make sure I venture down the right path to get this since it’s something I value very much.

Thanks again!

Doug Banker
United States

You’re right on the money about needing to partner your new Monitor Audio speakers with high-quality associated hardware in order to make them sound their best. If you’re starting from scratch, I’d recommend looking into a high-quality integrated amp with a built-in digital-to-analog converter. Something like NAD’s C 368, which retails for $899 and which my colleague Al Griffin raved about on SoundStage! Simplifi, would be a good starting point on that front. Cambridge Audio’s CXA80, which goes for $999.99, is another option at that price point. If you wanted to consider separates, I would suggest starting with Schiit Audio -- they’re the new big name in affordable hi-fi gear, and with very good reason. You could partner their Vidar amp ($699) with the multibit version of their Bifrost DAC ($599) and have a killer system on your hands. . . . Hans Wetzel