Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

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To Hans Wetzel,

Spencer from The Abso!ute Sound here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spencer Holbert
United States

To Erich Wetzel,

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

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


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

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

To Hans Wetzel,

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

Best regards,

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

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

To Hans Wetzel,

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

United States

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

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

To Hans Wetzel,

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

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


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

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

Dear Hans,

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

I wish you every success.

Jim Pratt (an enthusiast since '73)

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

To Hans Wetzel,

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

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

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

Dave Akers
Whitby, Ontario

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

To Hans Wetzel,

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

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


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

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.

Thank you,
Larry Novelli

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!

Best regards,
Robert Segal

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.

Sean Spong

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