Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

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To Hans Wetzel,

I read your review of the Devialet 120 since I was thinking of buying one. When I was auditioning a pair of Harbeth speakers I heard this amp and thought it was one of the most amazing I’d ever heard, especially in terms of soundstage. What really interested me about your review was that you paired it with [KEF] R900s. These are the speakers I have and I am underwhelmed with [them], but that is probably due to my Cambridge Audio amplifier. Before I change my speakers, I’ll change the amp. Did you think that the KEFs were a good match for the 120?

Patrick Weldon

To be pretty direct, the Devialet 120, which has now been replaced by the Expert 130 Pro, remains the best amplifier I’ve ever heard. The 130 Pro purportedly cuts the already-low distortion rating of the 120 in half. I agree that you should change the amp before your speakers, especially since you know how good the Devialet amps are.

Regarding the R900s, I regret ever having sold them, and they remain my loudspeaker of choice for $5000/pair or less. I also recall being completely enamored with the Devialet/KEF tandem when I had the 120 in for review. Obviously, you may not feel the same way that I do about the KEFs, but I would consider holding onto them and trying them with Devialet’s SAM functionality, as they have a profile available for the R900. If they still don't strike your fancy, then at worst you'll have a “most amazing” amp to partner with whatever loudspeakers you wind up pivoting to next. Bottom line, grab a Devialet amp and don’t look back. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

Aloha from Honolulu, Hawaii, Hans. I found your “Out and About” article extremely intelligent and insightful, and a real breath of fresh air (especially compared to Ken Kessler’s snarky diatribes). It was as much about life and the modern world as about audio, and I agreed with all of it. I don’t know if I’ve grown or you have or we both have, but I always really enjoy your writing now, but when I first started reading your articles you struck me as somewhat smug, self-centered and arrogant. And you seem nothing like that now. You’re fast approaching the quality of Doug Schneider’s reviewing (and that’s saying a lot, as I consider him the best in the business). But please don’t forget about the budget end of the market, because you have to first convince newbies of the value of NAD C 316BEEs and PSB Alphas or Wharfedale Diamonds in competition for their iPhone dollars before they’re going to buy Hegels or even [Monitor Audio] Silvers.

I have a pair of Wharfedale Diamond 9.1s, which are perfect for my small room. I can’t imagine getting a better-sounding speaker without spending a lot more money. Anyway, keep up the good work. I really enjoy every one of Doug’s and your articles.

Doug Mencoff
United States

To Hans Wetzel,

I am considering upgrading my existing Rogue Audio Pharaoh integrated amplifier. The two models I am looking at are Hegel Music Systems’ H360 integrated amplifier-DAC and Musical Fidelity’s M6 500i integrated amplifier. I am also considering a third option: a PrimaLuna DiaLogue preamp with either a Hegel H20 or Musical Fidelity M8-500s power amp. Your thoughts? System as follows: Rogue Pharaoh with CIFTE NOS vacuum tubes, ModWright-modified Oppo Digital BDP-105, Clearaudio Concept turntable with Satisfy tonearm and Maestro V2 cartridge, Musical Surroundings Nova II phono preamplifier, Bowers & Wilkins 803 D2 loudspeakers, Velodyne DD-15 subwoofer, Audience power cords, Transparent Audio MusicWave Super analog interconnects and biwire speaker cables


You have suggested some quality alternatives to your Rogue Pharaoh, Edwin. While I’m sure the PrimaLuna preamp allied with either the Hegel or MF amp you mention would be really nice, I don’t think you’ll gain much on the performance end of things when compared to the two integrated amps that you reference. I reviewed the M6 500i a few years back, and currently use the H360 as my reference, so I definitely feel comfortable in suggesting that either would be a good choice for you. Judging by your current setup, I’m guessing that your preferences lean towards the fuller, warmer, richer end of the sonic spectrum. While I adore the Hegel’s resolving ability, clarity, and precision, it might be a little too “clean sounding” for your tastes. I’d highly suggest taking a listen to it nonetheless – it’s killer for the money.

I’d think the Musical Fidelity M6 500i would be similar in presentation to your Rogue Pharaoh, with an involving, velvety midrange that is imbued with a touch of warmth. It’s also a monster, with more than enough power and current to maximize your B&W speakers’ bottom end. I’d happily live with that amp today if the price was right -- I love everything about it, short of its cheap, plasticky remote control. You might also consider MF’s new Nu-Vista 600 integrated amp. It retails for £4999 in the UK (or roughly $6200 USD at current exchange rates, though I’m not sure what the pricing would be in Bermuda), and is a hybrid solid-state/tubed design like your Rogue Pharaoh. If my review queue wasn’t so healthily stocked, I’d have already inquired about a review sample. In all, then, I would steer you towards one of the Musical Fidelity integrateds. Good luck with your search! . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I was wondering if you could make a recommendation between the Parasound Halo Integrated integrated amplifier, Hegel Music Systems H160 integrated amplifier-DAC, and the Parasound A 23 and P 5 separates. I think there are a lot of us out there looking for this sweet spot of a $2500-$3500 system, but find it impossible to find a location with multiple products to listen to. Consider the question asked from a reader who is using Zu Audio Omen Mk.II loudspeakers, and lossless files from a MacBook as the primary source, with no intention of expanding to records.

Thank you for your thoughts and keep up the great work.

United States

I totally understand your predicament, Jared. I’m an integrated guy, so between the Parasound separates and the Halo Integrated, I’d lean towards the latter. Not only is it one less box you need to deal with and find an outlet for, but the Halo actually makes more power than the A 23 does -- 160Wpc into 8 ohms vs. 125Wpc into the same load. I expect the two setups sound almost identical to one another seeing as their internal components are roughly the same.

As for whether I’d go with the Parasound over the Hegel, it’s hard to say. Here’s why: Hegel’s electronics seem to have a distinctive sound profile, and I love it. They sound super clean and clear, with a vibrant, slightly forward presentation. They “pop” really well. While that’s not tonal coloration or a clear lack of neutrality, per se, that is a definite sonic signature. The Parasound, by contrast, is a total chameleon -- it’s silly neutral, and not just for the money. It’s signal in, signal out, full stop.

Because I like the Hegel sound, as well as their industrial design, and the H160’s built-in Apple AirPlay functionality, I’d personally spring for the H160. For anyone who hasn’t heard a Hegel product in person, though, I’d heartily recommend the Halo Integrated. It may not “excite” in the way that the Hegel does, but the Parasound is $1000 cheaper. For $2500 or less, it’s the easiest recommendation I could ever make on the electronics front -- no-brainer.

I do have two other suggestions for you to consider, though. NuPrime Audio’s $2600 IDA-16 integrated amplifier-DAC sports 200Wpc (into 8 ohms); a sleek, modern form factor; and no frills, such as a headphone jack, bass management, or analog preamplifier. It’s a PWM-based switching amplifier, built with digital playback principally in mind. Along the same lines, you should also consider NAD’s upcoming M32 integrated amplifier-DAC, which will retail for $3499. It looks to have the build quality of a $5000 integrated amp, 150Wpc of NAD's Direct Digital amplification (it’s not a traditional class-D circuit -- the signal remains in the digital domain almost right up until the speaker terminals), and a gravitas about it that would shame both the Parasound and the Hegel integrateds. I’m expecting a review sample at some point in September, and I am VERY excited to hear what NAD's come up with. Hope this helps. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I just read your article and I must say that it felt like déjà vu. Like you, I was one click away from buying a pair of KEF Reference 1s and half a click from buying a Devialet 200. What stopped me was the price and the question to myself of how happy I would be with the purchase compared to what I already have. Both factors acted as an albatross, always hovering hauntingly above, causing me to question the need for another purchase.

My current system is composed of an Anthem MRX 710 receiver; Paradigm Signature S6, C1, S1 speakers (all v.3); and a Definitive Technology SuperCube 4000 subwoofer. My source is a 2008 MacBook Pro with Audirvana, and an Apple TV for when I stream from my iPhone. As you know both the Devialet and Reference 1s are a considerable amount of money, and while I can afford them, there is no doubt I would have to make a few sacrifices for a few months to pay for them. Do I want to make those financial sacrifices? For both products the answer is always a 95% yes.

The second question is always what gets me. How will it compare to what I already have? I know the Devialet will sound better than my Anthem without room correction, but it may not when I have my room correction on. As you have written before from personal experience, I have also purchased speakers too large for my room. I live in a 600-square-foot condo and bought the largest speakers that I could without going too crazy. The S6es sound mostly fantastic! Imaging, highs, and mids are great. But the bass is like trying to contain a raging bull; in this case, the bull cage is the volume control. Playing an R&B track at any decent volume without room correction overloads my room with heavy bass that takes away all the enjoyment from listening to my speakers. Once I turn on the room correction, everything sounds as it should, or at least as I think it should.

Considering all of this I thought to myself, well, if I want to enjoy a Devialet then I should buy smaller speakers; hence, the urging sensation of wanting to buy a pair of Reference 1s. But wait, then those two questions come back to haunt me and have kept me in check. Anyways, I just wanted to tell you that same damn albatross that haunts me probably haunts you and many others. Do I want to shoot the albatross? Will it make me happy after I do?

Keep up the great writing.

Chester W.

Misery loves company, Chester! Come on in, the water’s warm. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I just read your review of the Arcam FMJ A19 integrated amplifier. I have Sonus Faber Venere 2.5 loudspeakers and a Pro-Ject 1XPression III turntable. Would you choose the Arcam (with its lack of digital inputs, but with a good MM stage) or would you choose the Peachtree nova65SE (with its limited [number of] digital inputs and lack of phono stage)?

Thank you,
Jason Burkett
United States

That is an interesting question. For a few reasons, I would lean towards the Arcam. You don’t mention having a digital source, and the Pro-Ject would obviously link up nicely with the A19. Further, having just reviewed the Sonus Faber Venere S, which I’m guessing is voiced pretty similarly to the rest of the Venere line, I think the Peachtree might not be the best option. I admittedly haven’t heard the nova65SE, but I have heard multiple other Peachtree products and found their sound to teeter towards the lively, vibrant end of the spectrum -- so much so that some might find the sound bright. The Arcam, meanwhile, is a bit more cultured sounding, with a fuller midrange and a touch of warmth to it. Moreover, a good digital-to-analog converter (DAC) can be had very cheaply these days, so adding an external DAC in the future would be quite easy. For these reasons, and a few others, I’d take the Arcam and not look back. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I read your latest article on the matching of speakers and listening room and I recognize much of what you write regarding bass problems. I have a rather large listening space, but it is our living room so I am constrained by this; i.e., I cannot place the speakers in an optimal position. The speakers have to be close to the wall behind, and one of them is in a corner as well, which of course is not optimal for good bass reproduction. Like you, I do not want to give up the bass since it is a vital part of the musical experience, so for a long time I lived with bass-related problems. My PMC speakers’ in-room response is down to 20Hz, but my main problem has been the 80-120Hz region. Therefore (while skeptical), I finally purchased the Amarra-based license for Dirac Live room correction and I now stream music through Amarra from Tidal, and watch TV and Netflix using Amarra SQ+. Both of these applications have the Dirac room correction integrated.

After doing the room measurement and activating the correction filter, I followed up with about two weeks of rather difficult habituation to the new sound. The Dirac room correction involves both amplitude and impulse-response correction, so a lot happens when the correction filter is activated. At first I did not like what happened and I felt that I missed something. Actually, I did according to the measurements: two 15-20dB nodes at 70Hz and 90Hz, and one 12dB suck-out at 100Hz. I simply missed the exaggerated bass and the time smearing of bass transients that made the bass sound really powerful. I was almost ready to give up the room correction. However, after about two weeks of habituation and making a slight change of the target frequency curve by smoothly increasing the bass from flat to +5dB below 100Hz and back to 0dB at 20Hz, my impressions have changed fundamentally. Everything is dramatically improved, while I no longer have the exaggerated bass around 100Hz, I can hear and feel the really deep bass below 30Hz clearly for the first time, and the cleaning up of the impulse response has a significant effect on the audibility of bass lines that previously were diffuse and smeared. And there is no boominess whatsoever. If I turn off the correction filter now, after getting used to how it should sound, I can really hear how bad things were previously. Interestingly, I have compared the corrected sound from my speakers to the sound I get when plugging my wife’s B&W P5 Series 2 headphones directly into my Benchmark Media Systems DAC2 HGC and it sounds VERY similar, which I interpret as the room-correction filter doing exactly what it should do.

Regarding good speakers for smaller rooms, I can, by my own experience, recommend PMC’s smallest floorstanding model, the twenty.23. While rather small and only having a 5.5” midrange-bass woofer, they have real deep bass (below 30Hz) thanks to the transmission line. Really worth an audition . . .

Best regards,
Ake G.

Misery loves company, Ake. I am glad to hear that I am not the only one with a less-than-ideal listening setup, and equally glad to hear you’ve found a successful solution. Using room-correction software would, I think, complicate my ability to fairly evaluate loudspeakers in my listening space, but it certainly sounds promising as a long-term solution. As for your happiness with the PMCs, that doesn’t surprise me. We reviewed the larger twenty.24 on our sister-site SoundStage! Hi-Fi in 2012, and reviewer Doug Schneider seemed enchanted by them. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I have read your review of [Monitor Audio’s] Bronze 6 loudspeakers and I wonder [if they] are they too big for my listening room. I know that it is not so easy to answer, but, in short, [my room] is 22 square meters. My dilemma is [whether to purchase the] Bronze 5 or Bronze 6.

Best regards,
Sime Lovric

Great question. I did some quick math, and 22 square meters equates to about 236 square feet, or roughly a 15’ x 15’ room. As you seem to suggest, that’s not the biggest of listening rooms around, but you can certainly justify a floorstanding speaker in such a space. The Bronze 5s will certainly be no problem, but I think you can get away with trying the 6es. When I reviewed the Bronze 6es, I had them set up roughly 18” away from my front wall without much of an issue. I did use the included port bungs to seal the rear-facing ports, which decreased ultimate bass output, but still allowed me to enjoy clean, solid bass extension down to 40-45Hz without overloading my room. I suspect that you would also need to use the port bungs for the Bronze 6es to work best in your room. I say spring for the Bronze 6es -- I loved those things. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Roger Kanno,

I am writing to ask for your professional advice as I am in the market for a new 5.2-channel speaker system. Below are my options and I need you to select the best one based on your experience:

Option 1: Definitive Technology Mythos ST-L (four towers plus CS-8080HD)
Option 2: KEF R900 (four towers plus R600c)
Option 3: Paradigm Reference Prestige 95F (four towers plus 55C)

Any of the selections will be combined with SVS PB13-Ultra, SB13-Ultra, or GoldenEar SuperSub XXL subwoofers. (I will also need your advice on that.)

As for my home setup, it will be mainly for home theater (80%) and less for music listening (20%).

Kind regards,
Hany Kabeel

In my opinion, each one of the systems you mentioned would be excellent for both movies and music. Of course, a lot of that will depend on the electronics that you use, but I’ll assume that you are using at least a very high-end receiver or good separates. That being said, there is no “best one,” as they are all excellent, but there will be differences between them.

The Definitive Technology system has the advantage of having built-in subwoofers, which will make that system more forgiving of lower-powered receivers and amplifiers. They are also very slim towers that should be easier to place and, in my opinion, look the best of the ones you mentioned (even better than the Paradigm Prestige in its gorgeous Midnight Cherry finish). One of the disadvantages is that the CS-8080HD won’t be a perfect match as a center-channel since it uses midrange drivers more similar to those in their BP series of speakers.

On the other hand, the KEF system has a very nicely matched center-channel speaker and a very smooth sound overall, but the R900 lacks some of the bass of the Mythos ST-L, especially if you do not have a powerful amp (an advantage of the Mythos ST-L self-powered bass section). The R900 is not super power hungry, but does require an amp that can ably control the bass.

I have not had the Paradigm Prestige system in for review, but have really liked what I have heard from them at shows. I suspect that the 95F is not that hard to drive either, but again would require good amplification to deliver the best peformance.

As for subwoofers, the ones that you have mentioned are excellent and have impressed me at shows and demos, but I have not spent any time with them in my own system, so it would be difficult for me to comment more directly on any model. I would also add JL Audio subs to that mix since they now have their reasonably priced E-Sub and Dominion models available. Also, a system based on the Revel Performa3 F208s, with the excellent matching C208 center-channel speaker, would be at the same high level of performance as the other systems you mention, for around the same price.

Sorry I could not give you a more definitive recommendation, but these are all great systems and you will have to be the one who ultimately decides. . . . Roger Kanno

To Hans Wetzel,

I am replacing my old system and can use a hand in narrowing the field of amp and speaker pairings for my situation. My room is about 20’ x 25’ with a 12’ ceiling. Due to the room arrangements, I am limited to a speaker of 12” in height or less. Yes, not ideal, hence the request for some guidance.

My listening tastes run from jazz to vocals to classical to blues, as well as some rock’n’roll. I enjoy a warm, non-fatiguing sound; perhaps more musical than the ultimate in detail (heart or head?). At this point, I’ve narrowed the speakers to two; however, I am open to suggestions. The two: Harbeth P3ESR and Dynaudio Excite X14.

As for integrated amps, I am a bit all [over] the map. The ones I am considering include: Rega Brio-R, Hegel Music Systems H80, Bel Canto Design C5i, Rogue Audio Sphinx, and NuPrime Audio IDA-8. I’ve enjoyed reading the reviews of some of these on the SoundStage! sites, but would like a few suggestions as to pairings best suited for my situation.

Jim King
United States

Lot of variables there, Jim. Let’s start with your requirement for a “warm, non-fatiguing sound.” I like the idea of potentially one of your two components sounding a bit warm, but the other being as neutral as possible. Of the two speakers you mention, the Dynaudio will be the more neutral, faithful transducer, while the Harbeth will err on the warm, natural side of the spectrum. Both loudspeakers have a great reputation. Another no-brainer to consider would be KEF’s LS50 -- it is exceptional for the money, with a broadly neutral profile, and a flash of musicality in the midrange and upper bass.

I’m not entirely sure where to start with your amp suggestions, as two are analog-based integrated amp-DACs, two are pure analog integrated amps, and one is a digital-only integrated amp-DAC. Each comes from a manufacturer with a sterling reputation (NuPrime excepted, if only because it’s such a young company with a limited track record), and I don’t think there’s a “wrong” choice here.

That said, fellow reviewer Roger Kanno raved about the NuPrime IDA-8, and I have been eager to get my hands on one. If you can live without analog connectivity, that looks to be THE amp to have for under $1000, and would constitute my starting point for you. Rogue Audio’s Sphinx has a pair of Russian tubes in it, but they don’t manifest themselves in the way you might expect, with a really rich, warm, liquid midrange. Actually, the Sphinx has a livelier, exciting sound to it. Rather, the tubes offer the Sphinx a certain three-dimensionality that is difficult to find at its sub-$1500 price point. And you can’t go wrong with Hegel’s H80, but at $2000, I’m not sure it is twice as good as the NuPrime. I’m not familiar enough with the Rega or Bel Canto Design amps to offer meaningful advice on those models. The only other integrated amp I’d suggest in your price range that might meet your requirements is Arcam’s A19. It’s a sweet little amp with a dense, hearty sonic profile to it.

All that said, I’ll offer two suggestions. First, I’d try the NuPrime IDA-8 and partner it with the Harbeths (or alternatively, the KEFs). That combination should get you the warmth you’re looking for, with an abundance of resolving ability and power. If you’re leaning toward the Dynaudio, however, I’d partner it with the Rogue Audio Sphinx or Arcam’s A19. The Rogue isn’t exactly tonally warm, but it has a lovely sense of midrange presence. The Arcam, on the other hand, offers that velvety tonal density, which should complement the Dynaudio’s neutral sound. Good luck! . . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I enjoyed reading your reviews on the Rogue Audio Sphinx and the Parasound Hint [Halo Integrated] integrated amps. Those are the two amps I am most strongly considering purchasing. You didn’t mention one vs. the other in your reviews, so I was wondering how you thought they stack up? The Parasound is a complete system, but the Sphinx coupled with a high-end external DAC (probably the Arcam irDAC II for around $800) comes out to nearly the same price. Given the near price parity, would you give the edge to one of these setups in terms of sonics and longevity?

United States

I really enjoyed my time with the Rogue Audio Sphinx, back in 2013. It was, and to my mind still is, a great integrated amp for the money. Your suggestion of partnering it with Arcam's irDAC II is also interesting, as I use the original irDAC as my standalone digital-to-analog converter of choice. I think the tandem would have terrific synergy together. The Sphinx has a lively, dynamic sound, but with a touch of midrange bloom and dimensionality that I can readily attribute to its pair of Russian vacuum tubes. And Arcam’s DAC (at least my original irDAC) is excellent for the money.

Here’s the rub, though. As I suggested in my review, Parasound’s Halo Integrated is THE integrated package to have for around $2500. Compared to the Sphinx, the Halo offers greater power, superior connectivity, balanced inputs, bass management, tone controls, and a headphone amplifier, among other features. It is also dead-neutral sounding and should be bulletproof when compared to the Sphinx, since its solid-state innards don’t have a limited lifespan like the Sphinx’s tubed preamp section does. In terms of resolving ability, I’d say the two options are broadly similar, but I’d ultimately give the nod to the Parasound.

Now, it could well be that you don’t fancy a dead-neutral sound, in which case, the Sphinx-Arcam pairing may well tickle your fancy -- that would be a seriously engaging midrange. But if you’re looking for a “set it and forget it” package, the Parasound is an easy choice. . . . Hans Wetzel