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To Hans Wetzel,
I enjoyed your review of the Rogue Audio Sphinx integrated amp, and I have been debating between that and its bigger brother, the Cronos Magnum. My question is did you ever review the Cronos Magnum anytime in the past for the same publication? And if so, do you remember any marked differences in sound, especially that magic quality called musicality? I would be interested to know. I also think somebody ought to give a listen to both integrated phono stages with a decent turntable and cartridge to get a good idea of the sound quality. Both stages are supposed to be similar in quality to Rogue’s outboard phono stage.
I appreciate your comments.
You're the second person to write in on the Cronus Magnum, and, as I stated before, I don't have any experience with it. And I'm not a vinyl guy, unfortunately, so I can't really speak to that end of things, either. But on the musicality front, I suspect the Cronus Magnum is the one you're after. Musicality means different things to different people, unsurprisingly. In your case, however, the fact that you're (presumably) running a vinyl rig, and have interest in tubes, leads me to believe you crave the euphony and warmth that is so often associated with that kind of setup. In that case, go for the Cronus Magnum. But do understand, the Sphinx is a special piece of gear. If you can get past the stereotypes normally associated with class-D amplification, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by how good it sounds.
If you have specific questions about the phono stages in the two amps, you might want to contact Mark O'Brien at Rogue via the "e-mail" link at the bottom of Rogue Audio's homepage -- I bet he'd be more than happy to answer them. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
Great review on Rogue Audio’s Sphinx integrated amplifier. I just bought a pair of KEF LS50s and this amp sounds like a great match for them. I wanted to solicit your opinion. Also intriguing is Rogue's all-tube integrated, the Cronus. I have the feeling a tube amp/preamp would compliment the punchiness of the KEFs. Alternatively, the gentleman from whom I purchased the KEFs, Steve Monte at Quest for Sound, outside of Philadelphia, recommended one of his amps, such as the Sound Quest SQ-88, a tube integrated rated at 55Wpc. Do you have any suggestions? I like all types of music but need to listen fairly loud due to some hearing loss. Thanks in advance for your suggestions and Happy New Year!
The Sphinx would be a great partner for the LS50s. We measured the LS50 and found the sensitivity to be 84.25dB (2.83V/m), which is a little on the low side. The upside is that the little guys are pretty easy to drive, with a minimum impedance of around 4 ohms at 200Hz. The Cronus could also work, as it produces 100Wpc. The SQ-88’s 55Wpc might not be enough for your needs, however. If pushed hard, as you mention they probably will be, the LS50s might distort as the SQ-88 runs out of power. I would probably rule that one out.
I haven’t heard the Cronus, personally, but I’m sure it’s a quality product -- Rogue does good work. If tubes are your cup of tea, then I say go for it. Personally, I would spring for the Sphinx. At $1395 with the optional remote control, I think it offers terrific performance for the money, and it sounded great with my larger KEF R900s. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I just wanted to ask about Revel's Ultima Studio2 loudspeakers and how they would work with the Musical Fidelity M6 500i integrated amplifier. I like the size and specs of the Studio2s, but heard the larger Salon2s with Mark Levinson gear and hated them. Then I heard the Studio2s with Krell gear and thought it was fantastic. There is a Krell S-550i integrated amplifier, but I am not sure if it is less musical than the Musical Fidelity. Thanks and Happy New Year.
Revel's Ultima Studio2s are nice speakers. I've heard the larger Salons before -- in fact, the SoundStage! Network's founder and publisher, Doug Schneider, calls the Salon2s his reference. As for hearing differences between the Krell and Mark Levinson gear, I can't be sure. One system used the Salon2s, the other Studio2s, and I have no idea what kind of room was used, or source material, or anything else. Also, the meaning of the term "musical," while a popular refrain among reviewers and audiophiles, is difficult to pin down because it's an inherently subjective yardstick.
Here is what I'll say, though: Krell and Levinson used to make pretty cutting-edge electronics back in the '90s, but I'm not convinced they are anymore. This is reinforced by the fact that I saw the Krell S-550i, along with a Mark Levinson No.585 integrated, at CES in January 2012. By CES in January of 2013, each company was demoing the same hardware once again, with neither having come to market in the intervening period. While the S-550i is currently shipping, I believe, I don't have the confidence that it's as cutting edge or innovative as similarly priced gear from companies such as Bryston, Hegel, and Simaudio. The No.585, which had increased in suggested price by $2000 in one year, appears to be vaporware.
Regarding the Musical Fidelity M6 500i, I adore it. It's a brute of an amp, with a bit of a dulcet personality. It has power and current to spare. In that respect, it would suit the Studio2s nicely, since they need a LOT of power behind them to really sing. I don't think the M6 500i is the most neutral amp you can buy for the money -- look to the aforementioned electronics manufacturers for that -- but if "musicality" is your cup of tea, the M6 500i has a certain moxie about it that I find quite alluring. I'm not sure the Krell possesses the same type of character, but it should also be more than sufficient to power the Studio2s. Let me know which direction you go. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
Thanks for recommending the KEF LS50 speakers to me last year. I decided to purchase the KEF R300 and have enjoyed them till my preamp recently started messing up. So now I am researching other options to power my system (which is the same as noted previously except all the cables are now Morrow Audio cables) and I am basing it on the theory of the amplifier and preamplifier being from the same company unless an integrated works better for me. Also a requirement for me is buying from a manufacturer that I can contact, or at least directly contact their distributor in case the unit needs servicing.
My first question is how well do you think the Hegel Music Systems H80 integrated amplifier-DAC would sound driving these speakers? Would you put more power to these speakers than what the specifications of the $2000 Hegel H80 show? If so, what benefit can I expect from a higher-power amp over what I am presuming the quality of this amp will provide? Are there any other recommendations around the $2000 mark you would suggest I consider for an integrated, or around the $3200 mark for a preamplifier and amplifier combo?
Thanks in advance,
Glad the advice was helpful, LaDedric. The R300 is probably the sweet spot of the R-series line from KEF. You get the benefit of a Uni-Q driver, but unlike the less expensive R100, it's supplemented by a dedicated bass driver.
I have yet to hear the H80 in person. I'm hoping to do so at CES 2014 in a few weeks' time (look for my write-up on CES to be published on February 1). I do know, however, that the H80 uses the same preamp circuit as my reference $5500 Hegel H300 integrated-DAC, which I found to be exceptional for the price. If those crafty Norwegians managed to finesse a high proportion of the H300's performance for $2000, then I think it would prove an exceptional partner for your KEFs. The H80 was partnered with Magico’s $12,600/pair S1 loudspeakers at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest show last fall to great effect. That should tell you something.
If you doubled the 75Wpc that the Hegel makes, the only benefit would be 3dB of additional volume. That's really it. Depending on the product, this increase in power may also mean a more sophisticated and robust power supply, which could have an effect on resultant sound quality. But all things being equal short of the power rating, loudness is all you gain. As for other products to check out, on the separates front I'd suggest Parasound's $949 Halo A23 amplifier and $1049 Halo P5 preamplifier-DAC. My brother Erich has them in for review right now, and I was pretty impressed with what I heard of them. You could also check out Simaudio's $2400 Neo 250i integrated amplifier, which is the smaller sibling to the Neo 340i that Erich also has in for review. Or how about NAD's $2599 C 390DD that we reviewed early this year on our sister-site SoundStage! Hi-Fi? All of these are great products from reputable companies, so I don't think you can go wrong. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
My brother is very much into audio and quality music reproduction as I am. He has a nice NAD preamp and power amp with some very nice Mission speakers. But he has purchased mostly iTunes music over the years so he doesn't use his old Mission Cyrus dAD3 CD player anymore, which sounded really good back in the day.
I saw an Arcam drDock for Apple's iDevices. It looks quite good and has an internal digital-to-analog converter as well, so it apparently bypasses the DAC in the iPhone for better sound. Are you familiar with the Arcam drDock? He doesn't want to spend a fortune anymore on hi-fi as he has kids and other priorities, but he still loves good sound if he hears it and doesn't want generic, bland-sounding music coming from his good two-channel home stereo. Would this Arcam drDock be a good choice? Are there any other iPod docks that you think are excellent choices? Any info or feedback would be greatly appreciated.
I don't have much experience with the iPod docks out there, but I do know that Arcam makes terrific, high-value gear. They have some talented engineers on staff, and I would not hesitate to recommend their products. In fact, I'm purchasing their new irDAC, which offers very high performance, as my reference standalone DAC. Your brother could start with a drDock, or the newer rDock-uni (which appears to be the model with the built-in DAC you reference), and if he ever wanted to, could interface that with something like the irDAC to have stupendous sound -- even from his compressed iTunes-based music library. Another option, albeit a more expensive one, would be to just grab the irDAC from the get-go. It features a USB input specifically designed to tap into something like an iPod's or iPhone's digital outputs. While over twice the price of Arcam's docks, it offers performance far beyond its asking price of $699. I guess the question is how much you love your brother. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I have recently been gifted a pair of MartinLogan Aeons. Since I live north of Reno, Nevada, I find myself in an audio desert. Best Buy's Magnolia shop has nothing special. At the other extreme is a Pass Labs dealer. So, I'm sure by now you know what the question is: 50Wpc Arcam A19 with, as you stated, top-to-bottom refinement, or the 100Wpc Rogue Audio Sphinx, with more power and a midrange that excels? I could go on. Will you ponder the thought and advise me?
One heck of a gift, Stefano. The one noteworthy thing about the Aeons, like most electrostatic loudspeakers, is that they're pretty challenging to drive. They have a stated 4-ohm nominal impedance, but drop to a cringeworthy 1.32 ohms at 20kHz. That is downright brutal on any amp. While neither amp is perfectly suited to tackling such a load, I think at reasonable volumes either will get the job done. A doubling of power, which is what the Rogue gives you, only provides you with 3dB more volume. On the other hand, the Sphinx has a slightly more robust power supply, but is also 40 percent more expensive at $1395 (including optional remote) versus the A19's $999 asking price. So pros and cons with both.
If you have the funds, I would spring for the Sphinx -- the extra power and larger power supply are practical improvements, while its exciting midrange should complement the Aeons' lightning-quick electrostatic panels. Honestly, though, you can't go wrong either way. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I just read your impressions on the Hegel Music Systems H300 integrated amplifier-DAC and the Rogue Audio Sphinx/Pharaoh. I am in the midst of the same search, but with a variation to mention: my listening profile and gear.
I have a pair of GoldenEar Technology Triton Two loudspeakers, a Mac Mini for a source, and an Auralic Vega digital-to-analog converter. I listen to a lot of rock, pop, metal, and Latin music, and am trying to figure out if the Hegel H200/300 integrateds could be better than the Rogue Pharaoh, or vice versa. Because I don't need another DAC, I was looking more towards the Hegel H200, but I have been told that the H300 is a lot better sounding than the H200. In my case, I have never had tube gear, but it appeals to me. The only possible issue is that where I live we have a constant temperature of 32°-35° Celsius (90°-95° Fahrenheit). Of course inside the house there is air conditioning and I keep it under 25° Celsius (77° Fahrenheit). I definitely need a HT bypass.
Which one do you consider to fit better in my profile, the H200, the H300, or the Pharaoh? Is the Pharaoh better than the H200?
Nice system, Mike. Having previously reviewed the GoldenEar Triton Three, I imagine the larger Triton Two is quite the mean loudspeaker. Don't have any experience with the Auralic, though.
As for the Hegel and Rogue integrateds you mention, I think all of them would work. I was impressed with what Rogue's Sphinx integrated was able to do for $1395, and so I suspect the more powerful Pharaoh, which has a more sophisticated power supply and analog circuit, will be noticeably better. If you're interested in tubes, then the Pharaoh would be my suggestion. At $3495, it is $2000 less expensive than the H300, $900 less than the H200, offers a HT bypass and 175Wpc (far more than you'll ever need with your powered GoldenEars), and its class-D/tube hybrid design should sound delightful. I'm not sure the Pharaoh will offer quite the same outright performance as either of the Hegel models, particularly the newer and more refined H300, which we have measured on a test bench and found to offer distortion and noise levels well below what you would normally expect at this price range. But don't let that dissuade you. If I were in your shoes, the Pharaoh is what I'd go with. As for the temperature concern, I think it's a non-issue. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I read your review of the Musical Fidelity M6 500i and wanted your advice on whether this amp will work well with the Bowers & Wilkins 802 Diamond loudspeakers. Also, will the matching Musical Fidelity M6DAC be much better than the M6CD, which has a DAC built-in? Is it night-and-day, or worth looking into? My goal is to put together an easy system that is easy to use for my wife. I have Focal Electra 1027 Be speakers, but have lusted for the 802s. I also considered the newer Electra 1038 Be by Focal, but like the looks of the 802 Diamond. Can you give a good opinion of the M6 500i with both speakers?
Thank you. If I dream, I will get the Focal Scala V2 Utopia -- will the M6 500i be good enough for that speaker if I was to get them?
The M6 500i is a peach of a product, short of the remote. It has more power than you should ever need, and would be just fine when paired with any of the speakers you mention -- Scala V2 Utopia included. It has an inviting yet expansive sound that I think anyone would appreciate. It isn't the last word in resolving ability, but it's still quite good. It's also worth noting that just because you have an expensive pair of speakers, you shouldn't feel compelled to spend a lot on the rest of your system so that it's somehow "balanced" in terms of component cost. Cost frequently does not correlate with sound quality in the high end. That said, the M6 500i is an easy recommendation, and despite not having listened to it in over a year, I found myself just last week fondly thinking about it.
As for the sound quality of the M6DAC versus the M6CD, I can't really say. I'm not familiar enough with Musical Fidelity's line to comment with any authority. What I can say is that they have a reputation for producing equipment that falls on the warm-sounding side, electronics included. I would bet both products are resolving, but so are a litany of others these days. Digital has come a long way, and one can get crazy high performance for not much money. There are plenty of other companies who offer startlingly good sound for around the same price. Arcam's FMJ D33 comes to mind, as does Ayre's QB-9, Hegel's HD25, and Benchmark's DAC2-series products -- though there are many more that probably warrant consideration. If you're set on staying with Musical Fidelity, and can forgo a Compact Disc player, my recommendation would be to just grab the M6DAC.
On the 802 front. They're splendid looking speakers. They sound great. And back in the day, they were one of the best speakers you could buy for the price. I'm not so sure that the current version is as resolving as some of its competitors in the marketplace. Regardless, you know exactly what you're getting when you buy a pair. Given that, your strong affinity for them, and the fact that they will produce quite the sonorous sound when paired with the Musical Fidelity amp, I say make the jump and don't pay a second thought to the Electra 1038. While I'm confident the Focals are at least as revealing as the 802s -- possibly more so -- they don't have the same pomp and circumstance. The Musical Fidelity / Bowers & Wilkins tandem will look and sound great 25 years from now. Go for it. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
Your review of KEF's R900 speakers was very informative and full of good information. I am interested in your room size as I am being advised that the R900s are too big for my room. My room is 5.6 meters wide where the speakers will be located, and the back wall is 7.15 meters wide. Length is 7 meters. It is about 45 square meters in area. I'm told I should get the smaller R500 but didn't really like the sound coming from them.
I live in Moscow, Russia, and have limited choices but have been looking at the Bowers & Wilkins CM10/CM9 surround-sound speaker system and Sonus Faber's Venere 3.0. These are available in gloss white as my wife is insisting on this color for our apartment. All the speakers will be used in a surround-sound system but I listen to a lot to music and will possibly get an amp that delivers good music as well as movies. At some stage I may get a separate amp and processor just for playing music. So maybe the movies would be the priority for the new amp.
The A/V receivers I am looking at are the NAD T 787, Marantz SR7008, Denon AVR-X4000 or AVR-4520CI, Integra DHC-9.9 or DTR-50.2, and finally, the Pioneer SC-LX87. Pioneer seems to have all the bells and whistles for the latest movie surround-sound system, but I don't know about the music side of it.
Any advice would be appreciated, and again I really like your reviews. I have not yet seen a review on the Bowers & Wilkins CM10s.
So let's start with the room. Converted to feet -- because Americans find the metric system too inconvenient -- it looks like your room is about 18’ by 23’. That is decidedly not a small room. Accordingly, I think the R500s, while certainly capable speakers, as our own Doug Schneider believed when he reviewed them, might not work as well as the larger R700s, or even the R900s as a stereo pair. A few months ago, I would have said without reservation that you should spring for the R900s. They are a 90+% loudspeaker in every parameter of their performance, and, along with PSB's Synchrony Ones, really are the benchmarks at about the $5000 USD price point.
Here's the thing, though. After having spent a goodly amount of time with some top-quality, narrow, two-way speakers recently, like Vivid Audio's Oval V1.5s and Sonus Faber's Olympica I, I'm now keenly aware of how giant cabinets can affect a speaker's presentation. My room is huge, with about 12’ ceilings, and floor dimensions of around 20’ by 30’. Unfortunately, my setup is really hamstrung due to my living in a city apartment, so their placement is far from ideal, sitting about 7-8’ apart, and non-equidistant from my sidewalls. The result is still impressive, but I now have a strong sense that the large cabinets of the R900s necessitate their being placed much further apart -- I'd say 10-12’, which means you'd want to sit equally far from them. Spaced, as I currently have them, the sound is a little confined or boxy. In retrospect, I should have sprung for the R700s, I think.
If you can afford to give them that much space, I say go for the R900s -- they're a large-room speaker, and properly set up, I'm confident you'll find them superior to the Bowers & Wilkins speakers, as well as the Sonus Fabers you mention. If you can't give them that much space, I would suggest either the R700s, which dig nearly as deep in the bass, or the R500s with KEF's matching R400b subwoofer. If you're building a home theater, and it sounds like you are, then go the R500/R400b route. The towers can play obscenely loud, and they use an uni-Q driver identical to their larger R700 and R900 siblings. As such, you are losing nothing in the sound-quality department, are getting significantly smaller cabinets (which will mean they image a bit cleaner), and will get even deeper bass (courtesy of the R400b) for less money than the R900s. Going with the R900s in a home-theater setup in a room with your dimensions is overkill, in my mind.
Both Bowers & Wilkins and Sonus Faber manufacture great-looking speakers, arguably better looking than the KEFs, but I have some reservations. I suspect the CM10s will have a warm, non-neutral tonal character, as well as a contoured frequency response that makes the speaker sound pleasing, if not ultimately faithful to your recorded music. As for the Venere 3.0s, I would bet they are quite neutral, and I know they're just crazy good-looking in person. But are they as resolving as KEF's R-seriess speakers? I doubt it. The Olympica Is that I have in for review are likely the prettiest speakers I've ever seen, but I do not think they are any more revealing than my R900s, which would seem to suggest that the Veneres would not be either.
On the AVR front, I admit to being wholly ignorant -- I am a two-channel guy through and through, unfortunately. That said, I might be able to give you a little bit of help. I know that NAD and Marantz make great-sounding stuff. I would also add to your list Anthem, whose R&D facility I visited last year, as well as Arcam, whose headquarters I toured a few weeks back. Both companies have highly competent engineers, and they are as concerned about outright sound quality as they are with connectivity.
On the Arcam front, I spent some quality time with their AVRs, as I explained here. Their AVR450 is terrific for its $3500 asking price, which looks to be within your budget. No need, to my ears, to purchase a separate amp or processor. Their $6000 AVR750, however, is on another level. If there's an "ultimate" AVR to be had, I think it's that one. Even through modest loudspeakers, the difference in sound quality between the two models was profound. Good luck with your search, and let me know if I can be of further assistance. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Aron Garrecht,
I read your excellent review of the Bel Canto REF150S and agree with it 100 percent, as I have one of these in my system. I was thinking of getting another for my second home.
You alluded to the REF500S. Do you think the REF500S is that much better than the REF150S if one doesn't plan to drive large speakers hard?
In comparing the REF150S to the REF500S, I'd have to say that there are more similarities than differences. The most noticeable difference I heard, other than an increase in power and dynamic headroom, was the added control and articulation in the bottom end. I remember low frequencies sounding more resolved and a bit more authoritative overall. The differences in the midrange and higher frequencies were subtle at best. If you are running efficient speakers, say, 89dB or better, and don't run them at really high volume levels, I think you can easily get away with going with the REF150S. I remember that amp sounding more powerful than its specifications would suggest.
That said, if your speakers require a bit more power to drive them properly, or you crave arresting dynamic swings partnered with improved control in the bottom end, you may want to explore the REF500S. My recommendation to you is to see if your dealer will let you take home a REF500S so that you can do a direct A/B comparison in your system, driving your speakers, in your room.
I hope this helps, and let me know which way you decide to go. . . . Aron Garrecht
To Hans Wetzel,
I enjoyed ["A Pilgrimage"]. What do you think of the Ascend Asoustics Sierra Tower, MartinLogan Motion 40, and Tekton Design Pendragon speakers? Keep the reviews coming.
If I'm being honest with you, I have to say that I don't have personal experience with any of the speakers that you mention. Still, I might be able to offer advice.
About ten years ago we reviewed one of Ascend Acoustics' bookshelf speakers on the SoundStage! Network, which appears to still be on sale today. Beyond that, I can only advise based on what I see from their website. It's promising though. Their Sierra Tower speakers have a seven-year warranty, are level matched within ±1dB of one another, and come with an individualized frequency-response plot for the speakers you order. Combined with the fact that they're made in the U.S.A., that's pretty impressive. For around $2000/pair, that sounds reasonable, and certainly worth considering for a tower speaker.
The MartinLogan Motion 40 was actually reviewed on our sister site SoundStage Hi-Fi last year. It looks like a lively speaker with some definite virtues, but you might take a look at the measurements included in the review. Between 400Hz and 800Hz, there is a massive 10dB swing, and that is smack dead in the midrange, where you're likely to hear most vocals. The reviewer characterized the midrange as being "lean" and the bass as "beefy," and the Listening Window graph in the measurements bears this out. Relative to the lower midrange, where male vocals would be, the bass is 5-6dB up. So unquestionably, the Motion 40 is going to have a sonic personality.
The Tekton Design Pendragon is interesting. Doug Schneider is finishing up a review of a Finnish speaker called the Aurelia XO Cerica, which, like the Pendragon, uses three tweeters in its design. Intrinsically, there are both benefits and drawbacks to doing so, but Doug found the Cericas, which are $7100/pair, unbelievable sounding. I've heard some good things about the Pendragon, and the three-tweeter design may help to explain why.
Something that gives me pause about them is that they're a two-way design in which the three tweeters are crossed directly over to a pair of massive 10" midrange-bass drivers. That's pretty unusual. Asking a 10" driver to handle both the mids and the bass in a design is demanding. Speaking of the word handle, the product's page on their website has it spelled "handel," in addition to spelling the word triple, "tripple." I have to say that if a company is going to ask me to part with $2500 for a pair of loudspeakers, I'd want to see that they pay attention to how the product is presented. The company does offer a 30-day "Risk-Free" trial for their speakers, but should you return them to Tekton, you are responsible for return shipping costs of a massive pair of speakers, as well as a 15% restocking fee -- that's $375! Hardly risk free. But that doesn't have any bearing on the sound of the speakers of course. We'll look into this company and see if we can review something of theirs.
So that's what I think. Around the same price range, I believe there are other models worthy of consideration. How about Aperion Audio's Verus Grand Tower at $2000/pair? Aperion ACTUALLY has a risk-free 30-day guarantee. Or how about Definitive Technology's $2000/pair BP-8060ST, or GoldenEar Technologies' $2000/pair Triton Three? These are just a few examples. There are a goodly number of competent speakers out there that could fit your bill for around $2000. Let us know if we can be of further assistance. . . . Hans Wetzel