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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
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.
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
To Hans Wetzel,
I enjoyed your review of the Rogue Audio Sphinx integrated amp, and I have been debating between that and its bigger brother, the Cronos Magnum. My question is did you ever review the Cronos Magnum anytime in the past for the same publication? And if so, do you remember any marked differences in sound, especially that magic quality called musicality? I would be interested to know. I also think somebody ought to give a listen to both integrated phono stages with a decent turntable and cartridge to get a good idea of the sound quality. Both stages are supposed to be similar in quality to Rogue’s outboard phono stage.
I appreciate your comments.
You're the second person to write in on the Cronus Magnum, and, as I stated before, I don't have any experience with it. And I'm not a vinyl guy, unfortunately, so I can't really speak to that end of things, either. But on the musicality front, I suspect the Cronus Magnum is the one you're after. Musicality means different things to different people, unsurprisingly. In your case, however, the fact that you're (presumably) running a vinyl rig, and have interest in tubes, leads me to believe you crave the euphony and warmth that is so often associated with that kind of setup. In that case, go for the Cronus Magnum. But do understand, the Sphinx is a special piece of gear. If you can get past the stereotypes normally associated with class-D amplification, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by how good it sounds.
If you have specific questions about the phono stages in the two amps, you might want to contact Mark O'Brien at Rogue via the "e-mail" link at the bottom of Rogue Audio's homepage -- I bet he'd be more than happy to answer them. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
Great review on Rogue Audio’s Sphinx integrated amplifier. I just bought a pair of KEF LS50s and this amp sounds like a great match for them. I wanted to solicit your opinion. Also intriguing is Rogue's all-tube integrated, the Cronus. I have the feeling a tube amp/preamp would compliment the punchiness of the KEFs. Alternatively, the gentleman from whom I purchased the KEFs, Steve Monte at Quest for Sound, outside of Philadelphia, recommended one of his amps, such as the Sound Quest SQ-88, a tube integrated rated at 55Wpc. Do you have any suggestions? I like all types of music but need to listen fairly loud due to some hearing loss. Thanks in advance for your suggestions and Happy New Year!
The Sphinx would be a great partner for the LS50s. We measured the LS50 and found the sensitivity to be 84.25dB (2.83V/m), which is a little on the low side. The upside is that the little guys are pretty easy to drive, with a minimum impedance of around 4 ohms at 200Hz. The Cronus could also work, as it produces 100Wpc. The SQ-88’s 55Wpc might not be enough for your needs, however. If pushed hard, as you mention they probably will be, the LS50s might distort as the SQ-88 runs out of power. I would probably rule that one out.
I haven’t heard the Cronus, personally, but I’m sure it’s a quality product -- Rogue does good work. If tubes are your cup of tea, then I say go for it. Personally, I would spring for the Sphinx. At $1395 with the optional remote control, I think it offers terrific performance for the money, and it sounded great with my larger KEF R900s. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I just wanted to ask about Revel's Ultima Studio2 loudspeakers and how they would work with the Musical Fidelity M6 500i integrated amplifier. I like the size and specs of the Studio2s, but heard the larger Salon2s with Mark Levinson gear and hated them. Then I heard the Studio2s with Krell gear and thought it was fantastic. There is a Krell S-550i integrated amplifier, but I am not sure if it is less musical than the Musical Fidelity. Thanks and Happy New Year.
Revel's Ultima Studio2s are nice speakers. I've heard the larger Salons before -- in fact, the SoundStage! Network's founder and publisher, Doug Schneider, calls the Salon2s his reference. As for hearing differences between the Krell and Mark Levinson gear, I can't be sure. One system used the Salon2s, the other Studio2s, and I have no idea what kind of room was used, or source material, or anything else. Also, the meaning of the term "musical," while a popular refrain among reviewers and audiophiles, is difficult to pin down because it's an inherently subjective yardstick.
Here is what I'll say, though: Krell and Levinson used to make pretty cutting-edge electronics back in the '90s, but I'm not convinced they are anymore. This is reinforced by the fact that I saw the Krell S-550i, along with a Mark Levinson No.585 integrated, at CES in January 2012. By CES in January of 2013, each company was demoing the same hardware once again, with neither having come to market in the intervening period. While the S-550i is currently shipping, I believe, I don't have the confidence that it's as cutting edge or innovative as similarly priced gear from companies such as Bryston, Hegel, and Simaudio. The No.585, which had increased in suggested price by $2000 in one year, appears to be vaporware.
Regarding the Musical Fidelity M6 500i, I adore it. It's a brute of an amp, with a bit of a dulcet personality. It has power and current to spare. In that respect, it would suit the Studio2s nicely, since they need a LOT of power behind them to really sing. I don't think the M6 500i is the most neutral amp you can buy for the money -- look to the aforementioned electronics manufacturers for that -- but if "musicality" is your cup of tea, the M6 500i has a certain moxie about it that I find quite alluring. I'm not sure the Krell possesses the same type of character, but it should also be more than sufficient to power the Studio2s. Let me know which direction you go. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
Thanks for recommending the KEF LS50 speakers to me last year. I decided to purchase the KEF R300 and have enjoyed them till my preamp recently started messing up. So now I am researching other options to power my system (which is the same as noted previously except all the cables are now Morrow Audio cables) and I am basing it on the theory of the amplifier and preamplifier being from the same company unless an integrated works better for me. Also a requirement for me is buying from a manufacturer that I can contact, or at least directly contact their distributor in case the unit needs servicing.
My first question is how well do you think the Hegel Music Systems H80 integrated amplifier-DAC would sound driving these speakers? Would you put more power to these speakers than what the specifications of the $2000 Hegel H80 show? If so, what benefit can I expect from a higher-power amp over what I am presuming the quality of this amp will provide? Are there any other recommendations around the $2000 mark you would suggest I consider for an integrated, or around the $3200 mark for a preamplifier and amplifier combo?
Thanks in advance,
Glad the advice was helpful, LaDedric. The R300 is probably the sweet spot of the R-series line from KEF. You get the benefit of a Uni-Q driver, but unlike the less expensive R100, it's supplemented by a dedicated bass driver.
I have yet to hear the H80 in person. I'm hoping to do so at CES 2014 in a few weeks' time (look for my write-up on CES to be published on February 1). I do know, however, that the H80 uses the same preamp circuit as my reference $5500 Hegel H300 integrated-DAC, which I found to be exceptional for the price. If those crafty Norwegians managed to finesse a high proportion of the H300's performance for $2000, then I think it would prove an exceptional partner for your KEFs. The H80 was partnered with Magico’s $12,600/pair S1 loudspeakers at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest show last fall to great effect. That should tell you something.
If you doubled the 75Wpc that the Hegel makes, the only benefit would be 3dB of additional volume. That's really it. Depending on the product, this increase in power may also mean a more sophisticated and robust power supply, which could have an effect on resultant sound quality. But all things being equal short of the power rating, loudness is all you gain. As for other products to check out, on the separates front I'd suggest Parasound's $949 Halo A23 amplifier and $1049 Halo P5 preamplifier-DAC. My brother Erich has them in for review right now, and I was pretty impressed with what I heard of them. You could also check out Simaudio's $2400 Neo 250i integrated amplifier, which is the smaller sibling to the Neo 340i that Erich also has in for review. Or how about NAD's $2599 C 390DD that we reviewed early this year on our sister-site SoundStage! Hi-Fi? All of these are great products from reputable companies, so I don't think you can go wrong. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
My brother is very much into audio and quality music reproduction as I am. He has a nice NAD preamp and power amp with some very nice Mission speakers. But he has purchased mostly iTunes music over the years so he doesn't use his old Mission Cyrus dAD3 CD player anymore, which sounded really good back in the day.
I saw an Arcam drDock for Apple's iDevices. It looks quite good and has an internal digital-to-analog converter as well, so it apparently bypasses the DAC in the iPhone for better sound. Are you familiar with the Arcam drDock? He doesn't want to spend a fortune anymore on hi-fi as he has kids and other priorities, but he still loves good sound if he hears it and doesn't want generic, bland-sounding music coming from his good two-channel home stereo. Would this Arcam drDock be a good choice? Are there any other iPod docks that you think are excellent choices? Any info or feedback would be greatly appreciated.
I don't have much experience with the iPod docks out there, but I do know that Arcam makes terrific, high-value gear. They have some talented engineers on staff, and I would not hesitate to recommend their products. In fact, I'm purchasing their new irDAC, which offers very high performance, as my reference standalone DAC. Your brother could start with a drDock, or the newer rDock-uni (which appears to be the model with the built-in DAC you reference), and if he ever wanted to, could interface that with something like the irDAC to have stupendous sound -- even from his compressed iTunes-based music library. Another option, albeit a more expensive one, would be to just grab the irDAC from the get-go. It features a USB input specifically designed to tap into something like an iPod's or iPhone's digital outputs. While over twice the price of Arcam's docks, it offers performance far beyond its asking price of $699. I guess the question is how much you love your brother. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I have recently been gifted a pair of MartinLogan Aeons. Since I live north of Reno, Nevada, I find myself in an audio desert. Best Buy's Magnolia shop has nothing special. At the other extreme is a Pass Labs dealer. So, I'm sure by now you know what the question is: 50Wpc Arcam A19 with, as you stated, top-to-bottom refinement, or the 100Wpc Rogue Audio Sphinx, with more power and a midrange that excels? I could go on. Will you ponder the thought and advise me?
One heck of a gift, Stefano. The one noteworthy thing about the Aeons, like most electrostatic loudspeakers, is that they're pretty challenging to drive. They have a stated 4-ohm nominal impedance, but drop to a cringeworthy 1.32 ohms at 20kHz. That is downright brutal on any amp. While neither amp is perfectly suited to tackling such a load, I think at reasonable volumes either will get the job done. A doubling of power, which is what the Rogue gives you, only provides you with 3dB more volume. On the other hand, the Sphinx has a slightly more robust power supply, but is also 40 percent more expensive at $1395 (including optional remote) versus the A19's $999 asking price. So pros and cons with both.
If you have the funds, I would spring for the Sphinx -- the extra power and larger power supply are practical improvements, while its exciting midrange should complement the Aeons' lightning-quick electrostatic panels. Honestly, though, you can't go wrong either way. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I just read your impressions on the Hegel Music Systems H300 integrated amplifier-DAC and the Rogue Audio Sphinx/Pharaoh. I am in the midst of the same search, but with a variation to mention: my listening profile and gear.
I have a pair of GoldenEar Technology Triton Two loudspeakers, a Mac Mini for a source, and an Auralic Vega digital-to-analog converter. I listen to a lot of rock, pop, metal, and Latin music, and am trying to figure out if the Hegel H200/300 integrateds could be better than the Rogue Pharaoh, or vice versa. Because I don't need another DAC, I was looking more towards the Hegel H200, but I have been told that the H300 is a lot better sounding than the H200. In my case, I have never had tube gear, but it appeals to me. The only possible issue is that where I live we have a constant temperature of 32°-35° Celsius (90°-95° Fahrenheit). Of course inside the house there is air conditioning and I keep it under 25° Celsius (77° Fahrenheit). I definitely need a HT bypass.
Which one do you consider to fit better in my profile, the H200, the H300, or the Pharaoh? Is the Pharaoh better than the H200?
Nice system, Mike. Having previously reviewed the GoldenEar Triton Three, I imagine the larger Triton Two is quite the mean loudspeaker. Don't have any experience with the Auralic, though.
As for the Hegel and Rogue integrateds you mention, I think all of them would work. I was impressed with what Rogue's Sphinx integrated was able to do for $1395, and so I suspect the more powerful Pharaoh, which has a more sophisticated power supply and analog circuit, will be noticeably better. If you're interested in tubes, then the Pharaoh would be my suggestion. At $3495, it is $2000 less expensive than the H300, $900 less than the H200, offers a HT bypass and 175Wpc (far more than you'll ever need with your powered GoldenEars), and its class-D/tube hybrid design should sound delightful. I'm not sure the Pharaoh will offer quite the same outright performance as either of the Hegel models, particularly the newer and more refined H300, which we have measured on a test bench and found to offer distortion and noise levels well below what you would normally expect at this price range. But don't let that dissuade you. If I were in your shoes, the Pharaoh is what I'd go with. As for the temperature concern, I think it's a non-issue. . . . Hans Wetzel