Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

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To Hans Wetzel,

First of all, I wanted to say thank you very much for the time you invest replying to our questions. It really means a lot for us who can barely afford the financial luxury to have a decent sound system and who are not able to demo equipment on the fly with ease.

A while back, I sent an e-mail about my existing system: a Marantz SR7005 [receiver], Marantz CD5004 [CD player], Marantz TT-15S1 [turntable] (a recent add-on in the family), Bowers & Wilkins CM8 loudspeakers, matching CM Centre [center-channel], and an REL T7 subwoofer. When I sent you an e-mail last year, I had an opportunity to demo the KEF R700 [speakers] with my Marantz SR7005, but I was not able to find synergy with my Marantz, at least sonically. Sorry, I might be totally wrong, as well, because I know KEF's R-series speakers have very good reviews, which is why I demoed the R700 in the first place.

You recommended a Hegel Music Systems H80 integrated amplifier-DAC, or better yet, H300. But I accidentally read your reply a year after I submitted the upgrade question and it so happened that I was in with my local vendor trying the Parasound A 21 amplifier to drive my CM8 speakers. I put a hold on the Parasound order after reading your reply and I was excited and astounded about the Hegel integrateds you mentioned.

My local vendor is willing to loan me a Parasound integrated, which I am very grateful for, and I will be buying a Hegel system (if I decide to choose Hegel) blindfolded, since it seems hard to demo them here in California.

The Parasound's retail cost is $2500, while the H80 is $2000, and the H300 is $5500, the latter of which will be over my budget. I will bite the bullet and sacrifice some of my other expenses if the Hegel will become my ultimate reference system for the long haul. I still want to keep my Marantz SR7005 for surround and movie watching. I plan to upgrade my speakers maybe in the next 2-3 years.

I am totally confused since there are so many out there, but your good judgment, unbiased recommendations, and expertise will be greatly appreciated. I dearly love my local Parasound dealer and I believe in Parasound products being some of the best, but if Hegel has an edge and is worth the extra $3000, so be it. And the big final question: Will there be a night-and-day difference between the Parasound A 21's 250Wpc, the Hegel H80's 75Wpc, or the H300's 250Wpc? Kudos to you and your staff!

United States

Thanks for the kind words, Emmanuel. While I am a big fan of Hegel's equipment and sound, I think it would be a step too far to say that their equipment is clearly better than Parasound's. If you are unable to audition the Norwegian company's wares at your local dealer, I wouldn't worry too much about it. Parasound makes excellent equipment, as my brother Erich found out earlier this year after reviewing their A 23 amplifier and P 5 preamplifier-DAC. Moreover, the A 21 is a dedicated amplifier, unlike the H80 and H300 integrated amplifier-DACs, which have preamps and full-fledged DACs built-in. If your only need is for a powerful and highly resolving amplifier, the A 21 sounds like a fine choice, and I don't think you should have a single regret over either the H80 or H300. If you like the Marantz sound, I think the Parasound will suit your tastes better than Hegel's sonic profile, anyway.

As for your big question of power, remember that each doubling of amplifier power yields an additional 3dB of output at the speakers. If you're going to play your system LOUD, that pretty well rules out the H80. The 250Wpc on offer from either the A 21 or H300 should be more than sufficient for your needs, though. And with the A 21 being less than half the price of the Hegel, I think your wallet will thank you by going with the A 21, and you'll be able to start saving immediately for your speaker upgrade in the coming years. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I have bugged you before about Musical Fidelity's M6 500i integrated amplifier, but I have given serious consideration to switching integrated components. I would like to ask you about the Wadia Intuition 01 and the Devialet 250, and the benefits into the two speakers I have on my short list and if this is a good way to go. I have Wilson Audio's Sophia 3 or Sasha as one choice, and Revel's Ultima Studio2 as the other choice. Will the power delivered by these two products make these speakers sing?

Thank you, Hans.

Sean Spong

I can't imagine you going wrong with either the Wadia Intuition 01 or Devialet 250. Both should have more than enough power to drive the Revel Studio2 or either of the Wilsons. In fact, you could probably get away with the Devialet 200 -- unless you're listening at obscenely high volumes, I doubt you'll need the extra 50Wpc.

I think you'll find the Intuition sounds more like the Musical Fidelity than the Devialet does. In either event, I believe the two integrated amplifier-DACs will be a step up in resolving ability and transparency from the M6 500i, despite how much I like that monster of an amp. I'd audition both options before pulling the trigger, however, as each has a distinctive sound. . . . Hans Wetzel

To S. Andrea Sundaram,

Thank you so much for your enlightening and thorough review of the ADL GT40 way back in 2011. I have been using the GT40 since about that time, and your review hit on all the reasons why it has been the perfect component in my simple, modern vinyl/digital system for over three years. I haven't seen any other components that offer the GT40's combination of DAC and ADC to allow the ripping of vinyl to hi-res WAV files. I think I'm looking to upgrade, and I wondered if you had knowledge of any similar products?

I say "I think" because I have been very happy with my system but am wondering what would be a logical upgrade. I rarely pay attention to the 80,000+ MP3s in my iTunes library, and instead only listen to vinyl LPs, usually ripping them as I listen. I only listen to WAV files ripped to 16-bit/48kHz in my iPhone 6 Plus and on the iPod in my car. The vinyl leans towards classic rock, jazz, and some classical. I'm collecting Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab records, vintage vinyl, and new pressings of contemporary bands.

My setup is simple: Rega P3-24-> Ortofon Bronze cartridge-> Bellari VP130 preamp-> ADL GT40-> Mackie HR824 MK2 powered monitors. Accessories: Spin-Clean MKII; Zerostat Milty 3; Primacoustic Recoil Stabilizers; HiFiMan HE-400 headphones.

I'm wondering if you thought the system would be most improved by better powered monitors (Genelec?); or with an improved turntable (Well Tempered Lab?); or an upgrade from the ADL GT40, if there is one.

United States

When it came out, the GT40’s combination of features might not have been quite unique, but it certainly was rare. However, given that you are using an external phono stage, you do have other options. For A/D/A duties, you could look to professional or home-studio equipment, but the headphone amp will probably not have been a design priority, if it even works when you’re not connected to the computer.

The first similar product that comes to mind is also by Furutech -- the Esprit. Fellow SoundStage! writer Vince Hanada favorably reviewed the Esprit in 2013. In particular, he found it to be very quiet, which was one of my complaints about the GT40. It also has greater flexibility in setting recording levels, and gives an indication of clipping. For those reasons, it may be worth an audition. Furutech has also announced the Stratos, which appears to be an upgraded version of the GT40. No one I know has heard it, so I can’t offer any guidance on that product.

I haven’t heard the monitors you own, but they have a good reputation. Besides, it makes more sense to me to improve the front end, so that the recordings you have made from your LPs won’t let you down, if you eventually upgrade speakers or headphones. All of the equipment you’ve listed offers very solid performance. It may be worth looking into upgrading the phono stage, or adding structural modifications to the turntable/tonearm -- there are lots of these available for Rega turntables. The best way to start is to think about where your current system isn’t entirely satisfying: noise performance, neutrality, drive, etc. Then think about which component is most likely to affect that performance parameter. I hope that helps, and good luck. . . . S. Andrea Sundaram

To Hans Wetzel,

That was a nice piece you wrote on the relative affordability of great headphones and matching USB amplification. I concur. However, I just can't get as excited about head-fi as many do, even though I want to. To me, I've discovered that live and recorded music is just as much about the visceral experience of the sound waves hitting the skin as it is about them hitting the eardrum. Without the subtle feel of the plucked guitar string or the not-so-subtle thump of the drum, headphones seem never to be loud enough for me . . . and that's very, very bad. I do head-fi in a pinch or when travelling, but my preferred listening method at home has become nearfield monitors on my desk, which to me offers the best of both worlds. This arrangement provides much of the intimacy and detail of headphones but with the physical impact of a conventional stereo. Oh, and the price is very much in the portable audio realm. Now, if only I could take them on the airplane!

Brad Potthoff
United States

I know what you mean, Brad. I agree that headphones, no matter how good they are, simply can't recreate the experience of musical reproduction in quite the same fashion as a proper stereo system. But I was, and continue to be, deeply impressed by just how far you can hear into a recording with a few-hundred-dollar pair of headphones.

Regarding your desktop monitors, I'm going to be exploring that in depth for the first time in the very near future. I've invested in my first adult desk, which should not only be large enough to accommodate my work laptop and external monitor, but also my personal laptop, NuForce's DDA-100, and a pair of monitors like Amphion's Ion+. That should make quite the formidable desktop system, and I'm eager to hear how well that combination works over the long term. I suspect that it will offer much of the same experience as a regular stereo system, and at a great discount in price, too. Will it offer the same “physical impact,” as you say, of my reference KEF R900 loudspeakers? I admit, I'm a bit dubious on that front. But I think it's a very interesting middle ground between the traditional stereo and this headphone culture we find ourselves in. Don't be surprised if I start writing about my experience with it in the future. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

Greetings. I'm considering a Rogue Audio Sphinx integrated amplifier for a pair of Totem Dreamcatchers. Would the Sphinx be a good match for the Totems? My source at the moment is a Marantz CD6004. Looking forward to your advice. Thanks in advance.

Puerto Rico

I don't see why not, Rafael. At 100Wpc into 8 ohms, the Sphinx comfortably exceeds the 20-80Wpc that Totem calls for to power the little Dreamcatchers. Though the bookshelf speakers are rated at 4 ohms, according to Totem, I don't think this will trouble the Sphinx. I do wonder if the Sphinx's slightly lively character -- a trait of its class-D Hypex amp module -- will combine with the Totem's titanium tweeter to sound a little bright. There is no question, however, that the Sphinx is a terrific hand-made integrated that sounds quite resolving. In fact, it's probably my top choice for integrated amps for under $1500. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I really enjoyed your BS article. Your article inspired me to do my own audiophile activism by writing a comment on the Sound & Vision website ( Most audio review publications make me feel so jaded. Articles written on the SoundStage! Network, on the other hand, makes me feel excited to be an audiophile. Keep up the fantastic work.


Dear Hans:

Honestly after reading your post, the point you were trying to make was not particularly clear to me and wouldn't have been even had my name not been involved.

What "Bullshit" are you calling?

Was it a piece about measurements versus performance? Price versus measurements? Inept reviewers? Inept editor assignments?

Differences of opinion between what a reader hears and a reviewer hears?

So far I don't smell any bullshit.

Was it a piece about the "rise of the Internet" and the ability to instantly respond to a review instead of having to wait for publication of a letter to the editor?

Interesting topics but so far I don't smell any bullshit.

Then comes mention of the "$200,000 speakers" that while you don't name, the name of which is obvious to anyone who knows my name, which you do mention.

Then you call me classless by sarcastically calling me "classy" for insulting readers.

A small turd but still no "bullshit".

So what is it you are calling "bullshit"?

Answer: Wilson XLFs and my so-called "rave" review because the speakers don't meet your supposedly "objective" definition of good measurements and your

"firm conviction that the very best sounding products boast exemplary measurements".

I don't consider my review a "rave". I didn't "rave".

Rather, I set out a very clear definition of what a very expensive speaker should be capable of doing sonically. And then I made the case for why the XLFs met the standard. That is not my definition of "raving".

Your post defines "rave" the secondary definition of which is "to speak wildly and incoherently".

You claim the XLFs didn't produce "exemplary" measurements but you don't bother to define "exemplary".

That's the second bit of "bullshit" in the post, but that one is a large stinking pile of it!

You claim the XLF's measurements are "mediocre"—a pretty stinging accusation—but you are too busy "raving" to make a case for why the XLF's measurements don't meet your "standards" or in what ways they are, in your opinion, "mediocre" or even what you heard when you listened to them—something you don't bother telling your readers you actually did.

That's more "bullshit".

They might be interested to know how the speakers sounded to you or in what ways the measurements you read correlated (or didn't) with what you heard.

That omission is the post's next bit of "bullshit".

Then you state without bothering to explain why and how, that a two-way design's measurements indicate it was "relatively competitive" with the $200,000 speaker and the "relatively small difference in the two model's technical performance"—leaving aside bass response and limitations inherent in any two way speaker.

More "bullshit". Laughable bullshit.

That is like saying "Between 40mph and 65mph on a straightaway there's little difference in the performance between a Lamborghini and a KIA" and they both get you to the supermarket and have seats. How they handle on curves or off the line or in braking speed etc. is off the table. Or in your case not even mentioned.

You write that few readers commented on the two way review but even there you don't bother to explain your point.

The point Hans is that readers react strongly and negatively more often than not to reviews of expensive products regardless of how they measure mostly out of envy and they are incentivized to look for deviations from "perfection" in expensive products as a shield to assert their envy.

You point out that readers tried to "grasp how the speakers' retail price in any way reflected the manufacturer's cost to build them". Perhaps there you could have pointed out how ignorant readers can be about costs of doing business and how the "parts cost" of a product is an imbecilic measure that fails to take into account the true costs involved in running a business.

It was your choice to mention the unsubstantiated and untrue charge by a reader that Michael Fremer was "likely charged a deeply discounted price for his review samples".


Every product regardless of price has flaws both measured and heard. I have heard many expensive products that measured well but contained sonic flaws or better, sonic "characteristics" that I found unacceptable to my ears. These are still good products.

There's a reason why all of the very expensive and well-engineered, designed and built speakers out there--many costing more than the XLFs—all sound different from one another and measure differently: the designers chose different trade-offs, used different materials, etc.

That is a fact of audio life you failed to mention. A discussion of that would have made for a far more interesting piece. There are no perfectly measuring products. There are no sonically transparent products either—especially transducers. All have colorations. Chose your favorite.

Are there overpriced products out there? Of course. If you think the XLFs are overpriced you should make that case instead of an irresponsible insinuation.

Then you commit the laughable: "My intention is not to single out Michael Fremer or Stereophile...."

YES IT WAS! Because you did!

If your intention was really to not single out Michael Fremer, or Stereophile or Wilson, you could have written the piece without mentioning my name, Stereophile's or the price of the expensive speaker, which by mentioning the price and my name makes obvious "WIlson XLF"

More "bullshit"!

I for one am always happy to have my findings "flagrantly challenged". That's been my lot since I began advocating for vinyl and writing, starting in the 1980s, that compact disc sound was awful despite the "perfect" measurements. However, I was correct: the early players and discs sounded poorly because what was causing the sound was not being measured, yet the mesmerized continued their "blind veneration" because the measurements were "perfect".

CDs still measure better than vinyl but vinyl sounds more life-like whether or not the cause is "euphonic colorations" or yet to be measured flaws in digitization or simply that they are two different technologies. Ultimately we listen, even after measuring.

You make this charge: "I was, and frequently am, bemused by the blind veneration some readers lavish on products like Fremer’s loudspeakers, presumably because of how exclusive the club of ownership must be. It is certainly not predicated on measured performance."

You "lavish praise" on readers who blindly lash out at products they've not heard and who make insinuations about manufacturer/reviewer transactions to which they are not a party, and then you criticize "some readers" who you fail to identify, who you "presume" have "blind veneration" for "products like Fremer's loudspeakers" because of "how exclusive the club ownership must be."


To quote a Motown song made popular by The Rolling Stones: that's "just your imagination running away with you".

Actually, without knowing their motivations I've accepted many reader requests to visit and hear my system for themselves. I guess when they say leave saying it's the best system they've ever heard or one of the best systems they've ever heard (the best I've ever heard was a gigantic horn system in Greece) I guess in your opinion I duped them or maybe they felt they'd gained "exclusive club ownership."

Finally Hans, after reading your piece I'm moved to leave you with your own words, which, for me, best sum up what you've written:

I have zero interest in the vacuous musings of Hans Wetzel whose proverbial 2¢ offer nothing to the greater discourse.

Rest assured that my intention in writing that was not to single out Hans Wetzel.

Michael Fremer
United States
Senior Contributing Editor, Stereophile

Thanks for reading, Michael. This really illustrates the stated point of my article, mainly that reader criticism of audio writers should be encouraged! Much appreciated. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

What a great article you penned! I've often fantasized about opening just such an audio shop with just the kind of gear you propose. I think it might have legs if the shop were oriented toward music and fun and situated in the right place. It needs coffee, too.

Imagine an ad something like this:

Groove Grove 

Headphone - Computer Sound - Living Room Audio
Affordable audio. Insanely awesome sound.
Bring your tunes and see. We're groovin' right now!

Naturally, the ad needs a huge graphic equating music with cool headphones and a high-tech bookshelf speaker and dancing/fun. 

The shop needs big street-facing windows and a hip feel with big music-oriented art on the walls. Music must be playing! Maybe hire some people to dance during high-traffic times to draw attention. Shoot, you could probably stock some current vinyl, too.

Brad Potthoff
United States

Brad, that's not far off what I had in mind, though the dancing . . . may or may not attract the type of clientele a store like this would be catering to! As for the coffee, in an urban setting, the better bet would be to open up next to or down the street from a coffee shop. I know there are tons of people, both students and professional types, who frequent and linger in the coffee shop on the corner of my street, and I can certainly picture folks wandering from there into a hi-fi store on a nice Saturday afternoon. The same could be said for vinyl -- better to leave vinyl sales to a dedicated music shop and focus on doing one thing well. How about near art galleries, though? In Philadelphia, we have free monthly events where people litter the streets, take in all types of art, and drink decent alcohol. Not only is that the type of crowd who might have interest in a nice little stereo system, but you could also partner with local folks for events like this to demo equipment. This is to say nothing of the various types of events an urban store like this could host, with musicians and industry folks making brief presentations that are more approachable and laid back than the stodgy ones we're all used to seeing at local dealers.

Do I think this type of store would "blow up" and become insanely profitable? Nope. But I do think it could be cool and sustainable, and help to spread the good word about high-fidelity sound. As with anything else, however, the key is "location, location, location." . . . Hans Wetzel

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