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To Hans Wetzel,
I just discovered your columns a few weeks ago and have enjoyed them. Do you know if SoundStage! Access has plans to review the Billie Amp from Heaven 11 Audio? I took a chance and funded the Kickstarter, and have been waiting a while. They are close to shipping (over a year late -- boo!) and I’m curious how it will stack up. Does SoundStage! Access have a policy or an opinion on Kickstarter hi-fi attempts, perhaps encouraging attempts to innovate, or have you found the products from crowdfunding sites lacking in quality? I’d be interested either way.
This is an interesting question, Ron. As a general rule, we don’t review products that exist only on Kickstarter. The product, and potentially the entire “company” behind it, may or may not exist within a year or two after the Kickstarter project ends. Furthermore, how can we be sure that there is infrastructure and support in case something goes wrong with a product like this? It could well be that a first run of products gets shipped to consumers and then the company folds -- what then for the guy who just shelled out quite a bit of money?
In the instant case, I just did a quick online search for the cofounders, Itai Azerad and Andre Keilani, to see what I came up with. According to LinkedIn, the former has a bachelor’s degree in environmental design, while the latter describes himself as an “object & interior designer.” While they may be “[A]ward-winning product designers with a lifelong passion for music,” as the Kickstarter listing mentions, it doesn’t appear on the surface that either has any background in electronics.
It’s certainly possible that the Billie Amp, if and when it ships, will be a very good component. Class-D power married to a tubed preamp and an ESS Technology DAC definitely sounds interesting. Until a working amp makes it into the hands of each and every backer, however, the Billie Amp is not a product that we would consider reviewing on any of our SoundStage! Network websites. There is already too much reputable gear out there that we do not have the bandwidth to review, so reviewing potential vaporware simply isn’t very high on our to-do list. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I am trying to decide between the [Bowers & Wilkins] 704 S2, which you recently reviewed, and the KEF R500. Given that the R500 was chosen as a Recommended Reference Component [by SoundStage! Hi-Fi], I am assuming it is the better speaker. However, having heard a lot about the new Continuum midrange material [on the 704 S2], I wanted to hear your thoughts on the same.
While I didn’t review the R500, Doug Schneider did, I currently own R700s, and previously owned R900s, so I’m very familiar with KEF’s R series.
I always hesitate when I’m asked about which of two speakers is “better.” As always, what’s better for one person might be terrible for another, so it’s all relative to each listener’s sonic preferences. That said, the R500 was chosen as one of our Recommended Reference Components for a reason. As you can see from the measurements that accompany the R500 review, it’s a very well-designed, neutral transducer. If you’re into a neutral sound, with no part of a musical performance over- or under-emphasized, then I’m not sure you can do much better for the price than the R500. But -- and this is a substantial but -- if you prefer an exciting sound, one where instruments sound ultra-vibrant, voices pop from recordings, and recording spaces sound cavernous, then the 704 S2 is absolutely worth considering. If you take a look at the 704’s accompanying measurements, particularly the “Listening Window” chart, you’ll see that the 704 S2’s averaged frequency response peaks at 1kHz, and then again at 4kHz and 9kHz. Those peaks (and corresponding troughs) aren’t inherently a bad thing -- there's a reason so many people like messing with an equalizer when listening to music -- but they’re absolutely audible, and you should be well aware of that approaching a potential purchase. My strong suggestion would be to listen to a pair of 704 S2s in person. I suspect that you’ll hear much of what I did during my review process. As for whether or not you’ll like what you hear -- only you can decide that. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I have recently purchased a pair of B&W 704 S2s and found your review helpful, because I have found dialing in the 704s difficult to avoid either a bright edge or overblown bass when too close to the front wall. Thank you. I wonder if you could provide some more details on the size of your test room and the final distance from the front wall and the toe-in angle you used: this would be helpful to compare my results.
I am in love with the midrange and level of detail, but getting the balance right is proving a challenge; nonetheless, these are impressive speakers. Did you have plinths on and did you biwire? Thank you for any advice.
Ah, someone else feels my pain. I, too, found myself very frustrated with setting up the 704 S2s. I did use the included plinths, but did not biwire the speakers, and I’m dubious that biwiring would rectify this issue. You should be able to find workable bass balance by pulling the speakers away from your front wall by 3-4” at a time, as well as experimenting with plugging the 704 S2s’ ports. My room’s dimensions and exact setup won’t help you there.
The “bright edge” you reference is a different kettle of fish. As you probably read in my review, I was unable to determine an optimal setup that allowed the B&W’s talented midrange to shine without sounding bright or etched on some material. Placing the speakers so they pointed straight ahead lost me too much in the stereo imaging department to be worthwhile, though perhaps you’ll have better luck. Ultimately, I did toe-out the speakers a few degrees more than I normally do with review samples, which “took the edge off,” so to speak, resulting in the 704s sounding better, if not ideal.
I bid you good luck, Alan. With the right listening material, Mercury in retrograde, and the winds blowing briskly from the southeast, I thought the 704 S2s sounded genuinely sensational much of the time. The rest of the time, I found myself chasing those ephemeral moments, praying I could recreate them. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
Great review [of the KEF Q750 loudspeaker]. I will go listen to the Q750 today. It’s the Q350 I want to hear. Amazing how trickle-down technology can pay off. Look forward to the Q350 review from you, if possible.
Given the number of KEF products that I reviewed over the past few years, I doubt that I’ll be reviewing another one soon. But based on how accomplished the Q750 is, I have little doubt that the Q350 is a peach. Maybe going forward another writer will review one of the Q bookshelf models. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I just read your article about streaming and Tidal and AirPlay. I agree wholeheartedly about the predicament many would be in if Tidal were to go bankrupt or something else, but for now I’m enjoying lossless streaming all day, every day in my job at a hi-fi store here in Trondheim in Norway.
I’m sure it’s been suggested to you already, but have you tried Bluesound’s products? Specifically, I would recommend the Bluesound Node 2 for your streaming needs in the main system. I bought one this autumn and have been using it every day since. Just thought I’d give you a tip. Hope it helps, although I’m probably far from the first to suggest this to you. I really like the SoundStage! webpages, by the way, and especially SoundStage! Access, since I’m not really in a position to buy really expensive gear. Keep up the good work!
Med venleg helsing [kind regards],
Thanks for the kind words. As for Bluesound, no, I haven’t had the opportunity to try their products, but we reviewed the Node 2 (along with the Vault 2 and Pulse Mini) back in 2016 on our sister-site SoundStage! Xperience. It looks super convenient for streaming from online services and local computers or NAS device. In my case, though, I have local media on an external hard disk drive -- not a local computer or a NAS device -- and my old computer with Roon would effectively fill this role, albeit in a less-streamlined fashion than the Node 2. Unfortunately, the Node 2’s $499 retail price would get me a full-fledged computer that could fit my needs almost as well, so I don’t think I would gain much from it. That said, I appreciate the suggestion! . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
Attributes like USB audio, minimalistic, Tidal streaming (MQA), server storage, and cheap do not go together in the audiophile world. Unless we are talking about the Auralic Aries Mini. I have had mine for a while and in my humble opinion, there is absolutely nothing on the market right now that surpasses it for $500. I currently use it with its own interface app (Lightning DS) to stream Tidal to my Parasound Halo Integrated via USB (FLAC, DSD, Tidal MQA). It also supports an internal storage drive, should you wish to add your own. About two years ago I asked you [via e-mail] to give it a try. You said that you were given no response from Auralic. You may want to give them another call (or e-mail). Really cool group, and the president himself answers the support messages every time I have a question. I hope you find what you are looking for!
We’ve been looking to review Auralic’s products for several years now, but for a variety of reasons it’s never worked out. On your advice, I’ve reached out directly to Auralic’s CEO, Xuanqian Wang, and to my surprise he responded. I’m hoping that we’ll soon be able to see (and hear) first-hand what Auralic’s products can do in the form of a review sample or two. Unfortunately, he did confirm that the Aries Mini is no longer sold in the North American market. That probably rules out my purchasing one unless I find a used example. That said, many thanks for nudging me via e-mail. In the meantime, I may just buy a cheap Windows laptop or used Mac Mini and start using Roon again. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I read your review [of Dynaudio’s Emit M10] and as a lover and longtime owner of Dynaudio speakers I wanted to fill you in a few aspects of the design. I have had [Dynaudio’s] Audience 40 in my surround for over ten years. It is a great little speaker, sort of like what the Rogers LS3/5a could have been: an extremely accurate small speaker, but without the mid-bass hump. One of the things that it lacks, as opposed to its big brother Contour 1.8 MK II, which was my main speaker for many years, is a beveled edge to the baffle. It is not there for cosmetics, it is there to reduce diffraction at the baffles edge. I don’t know why more manufacturers don’t pay attention to that detail, as it should be a part of Speaker Design 101. There is also a good reason to have the bolt heads accessible on the face of the speakers. These can loosen over time, so it is good to periodically check that they are snug. Thanks for reviewing the Emit. I am glad that it continues in the spirit of their motto: Danes don’t lie.
To Hans Wetzel,
I intended to write to you before, perhaps as long as nearly two years ago. I just wanted to tell you that I think that you are a great thinker -- and a gifted writer. And no, I’m not about to pull out the rug from under you. You remind me of me in my 20s -- but possessed of notably keener intellect and personal insight. I look forward to your editorials and discuss them with my beloved Alice. After what has happened here, she has read your editorials -- a first for a non-audiophile like her.
Your quest for the “right” speaker and ancillary equipment strikes a familiar chord. I love music: it comforts, stimulates, consoles, lifts one’s soul. But I love wild nature far more. And I also believe in doing what I can for those of my own species who are less fortunate. That was my career and not a glamorous or remunerative choice. [And] so it goes. I would do it again -- in a heartbeat. So how do I justify purchasing “unnecessary” material goods with a varying, but generally ridiculous carbon footprint, and also look in the eyes of the next homeless person I meet when I truthfully tell him that I have no spare cash? And voice my concerns about the fate of our Earth, our island home?
Over the years, I careened between small speakers, decent electronics, and turntables available for little of my income and large expensive speakers and accompanying gear. The sad fact is that in the end -- or nearly the end -- I realized that I was deluded to some degree. My first “real" system arguably was the best I’ve owned -- within limitations primarily imposed by my preference for small living spaces (I recognized long ago that the US lifestyle as promoted in popular culture was toxic for the planet). I purchased a [used] pair of Rogers LS3/5A speakers, Connoisseur BD101 turntable, Grace 707 Mk.II tonearm, Grado MM cartridge, and NAD 3020 [integrated amplifier]. Less than $1100 produced magic -- in 1978 dollars. But I subsequently thought that I needed more bass, greater dynamics, etc. There ensued 38 years of selling this and buying that and always experiencing a sense of severe disappointment after a few weeks, especially when it came to electronics -- promises never fulfilled. Changing up to a Linn did make a difference on vinyl replay (and also drove me spare with its “fussiness”). And all the money could have been put to far better use, especially since my first system reproduced music so well and there are less selfish pursuits when all is said and done. And I recalled that in 1979 a friend brought over his open-reel deck and a tape of some jazz he had recorded in his studio. His jaw dropped when he heard the music through the little LS3/5A speakers. He remarked that he hadn’t heard the recording sound so real since he sat in the studio. That remark was spot on, as I was to learn.
But, your review of the Dynaudio Xeo 2 (and a series of editorials that preceded the review) made me want to seek them for an audition and get off the hamster wheel of decades of “upgrading.” My soulmate, Alice, arrived after the LS3/5A speakers were gone and absolutely couldn’t tolerate any that followed. She claimed that other speakers hurt her ears. No such complaints about the Xeo 2s (hurrah) and no ridiculous carbon footprint. No clutter -- important to someone like Alice who insists that living quarters always must be “ship-shape and Bristol fashion.” No reasonable shortage of dynamics and no reasonable shortage of bass in a 160-square-foot room that is typical of every place that we have lived. And we can just enjoy the music and quit worrying whether things could be a bit better here or there. And the total cost, with a very good disc player, was $1700, much less expensive than my beloved first system. Now we just read editorials and music reviews -- and enjoy the music.
Now if I had started with the little Klipsch speakers and moved up to the Xeos, I would have been spared much [useless] angst. Please stay the course. You are doing more good than you may know.
Thank you for the kind words, Walter. It’s comforting to know that my thoughts are not wholly consumed by the Internet’s digital abyss. At the end of the day, it is -- or should be -- all about the music, rather than the equipment. Just this morning I found myself ogling Magico’s new A3 loudspeaker on the company’s website, as gears started turning about how maybe, just maybe, I could possibly grab a pair. As you suggest, though, that (imaginary?) money in my bank account could be put to far more responsible, and arguably better, use. In the meantime, let me see about getting review samples of those Klipsch speakers I wrote about last month. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I do have a question for you. I have Vivid Audio V1.5 loudspeakers connected to a Naim SuperUniti [DAC-integrated amp]. I hear a lot about Hegel [Music Systems] lately. For example, the H160 or the new H190 model [DAC-integrated amp]. What amp would you prefer with the Vivid speakers? Hope to hear from you soon.
Having previously reviewed the Vivid V1.5 for SoundStage! Ultra (due to its fairly high price of $8500 USD/pair), the now-discontinued Hegel H160 and H300 for this site, and as an owner of the current Hegel H360 (which the Hegel H190 borrows from), I feel confident in saying that the Vivid/Hegel tandem is a good one. As a long-time Hegel owner, I’m clearly partial to Hegel’s designs and overall sound. But I take comfort in the fact that I’m not alone in thinking that the Norwegian company is making some top-shelf amps. Al Griffin, who heads up SoundStage! Simplfi, was so taken with the Hegel H190 when he recently reviewed it, it received a Reviewers’ Choice award. Fellow SoundStage! writers Philip Beaudette and Oliver Amnuayphol were also so smitten by Hegel’s H360 and Röst, respectively, when they wrote about them, that those two products also received Reviewers’ Choice awards. Having captured the ear of four writers, I think it’s fair to say that Hegel is the real deal.
Whether you’ll prefer Hegel to your Naim SuperUniti integrated amp is another story. I’ve never heard a Naim amplifier, so I can’t comment on how it might compare to Hegel’s current offerings. If I were in your shoes, though, I’d opt for the H190 and not look back. It’s the company’s newest integrated amp, with a great built-in DAC, and offers 150Wpc into 8 ohms, which should be more than enough for your two-way Vivids to sing without strain. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I enjoyed your review of the Oppo Digital Sonica DAC and in fact I have recently purchased one. My old Arcam integrated amp is not working well and I was going to buy a Parasound A 23 amp. The Sonica DAC does have a volume control. I only intend to play streamed music from Tidal on my Sonica DAC. Do I need a preamp? Would the Sonica DAC's volume control be sufficient? Thank you.
You should absolutely try running the Sonica DAC directly into the Parasound A 23 amp -- that could produce the best possible sound, providing you can get a high enough volume level out of it. While you can certainly add a preamplifier into the mix to tailor the sound to your liking, if the output from the Sonica is already sufficient, it might not be necessary and would only add a possible source of noise and distortion into the signal chain. If the output from the Sonica is not sufficient, mind you, that is a different story. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
Aloha from Honolulu, Hawaii. This subject [“The Cheaper the Better”] is one that I’ve been after the guys and gals at Stereophile about for years. You have to remember that 30% of the people in the United States earn less than $25,000 a year (I’m one of them). These people can’t afford $1500/pair speakers. They have a hard enough time saving up for a $1500 system. If you want to save the audio business and get the kids with their iPhones and earbuds into real audio equipment, you have to start with under-$500 CD players, or DACs if you’re so inclined. I’m not, I’m old school. I like shiny silver discs, amps (or receivers), and speakers. And there are many great-sounding choices of all three from many manufacturers, but they don’t get enough coverage here in the United States. They do get covered by the Brits’ What Hi-Fi? magazine, which is why they’re my favorite audio publication. Thanks for reading my latest rant. I really like your reviews a lot, but I fear you’ve been hanging around Doug [Schneider] and Jeff [Fritz] too much, and their opinions have skewed your opinion of what’s affordable. I hope everything’s going well in your new home, and have a great holiday season.
Be well and be safe.