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To Jeff Fritz,

I was indeed surprised and elated that you have voted the Gryphon Mephisto as the most expensive amp you would like to own. I can't agree with you more. Match it with its preamp, the Pandora, and you would be even more surprised at how good it can get.

I am writing to you to also suggest that you have a listen to the CH Precision C1 and D1; they have appointed a new distributor in the US. I would like to hear your views on that pair.

System:
Magico Q5
CH Precision C1 and D1
Gryphon Mephisto and Pandora
Kubala Elation interconnects and speaker cables
Gryphon VIP power cables on Gryphon equipment

Cheers,
Benjamin

I have indeed heard very good things about the CH Precision equipment. Doug Schneider and I will be covering the Munich High End show next week and will see if we can track this company down to have a chat with them about potential reviews. Although I would love to hear their equipment in my system, the products seem a bit elusive at this point, at least in North America. Hopefully they will be at the show.

Regarding Gryphon, I did get word last week that I will be receiving a Mephisto for review. Look for an article to appear in late summer in my "The World's Best Audio System" column. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Jeff Fritz,

Thanks in advance for reading and responding to this email. I’m looking to make a major purchase of a set of speakers to replace my Energy Veritas 2.8s. I’d love to get your opinion on the following candidates:

1. Rockport Aquila (used)
2. Revel Salon2 (used)
3. Rockport Avior (new/demo)
4. Gershman Black Swan (used)

I want a highly respected and great-sounding, neutral speaker with a flat frequency range that extends to 20Hz and has great measurements to back it up. I also want to know what the -dB point will be for each speaker at 20Hz (-3 to -5dB, preferably).

My room is 21' x 18' x 8' and my amp pushes 300W into 8 ohms and 600W into 4 ohms. I hope to move the equipment into a slightly larger listening room this year.

I like the Revel Salon2‘s deep bass and flat frequency response, but I read it's power hungry.

I like the Avior because it incorporates Andy Payor’s newest drivers and technology. On the other hand, I don’t know if its frequency response will be flat or how many dB it will be down at 20Hz. No one has reviewed or provided measurements on the Avior and I don’t want to read a Stereophile measurement six months from now that looks like a roller-coaster track.

I read good things about the Aquila and Black Swan, but I have the same reservations as I have with the Avior. Based on the info I provided, in what order would you place these on your purchase list and for what reasons? Thanks again.

Ray Knight

There is no question in my mind that I would buy the Rockport Technologies Avior. There are several factors. You've hit upon the fact that the Avior has the latest Rockport drivers, and I think this is a key point. But I think there is an even better reason, given your criteria: each and every Avior is measured and tuned for flat response by the designer himself, Andy Payor. Payor believes strongly in the highest level of quality control -- and flat frequency response -- and therefore he personally measures each and every speaker before it leaves his shop. The crossovers are adjusted until the speaker meets his stringent standards for acoustic output. I've seen this process myself and it is impressive how detail-oriented Payor is. This process ensures that the customers are truly getting what they paid for. I suspect that if you asked, he'd be happy to tell you how your personal pair of Aviors measures, should you order a new set.

One other reason I'd buy new is that you just don’t know what's happened to a used speaker throughout its lifetime. Being mechanical devices, speakers are prone to all types of damage due to shipping issues and environmental factors, not to mention being overdriven and abused by previous owners. I'd feel safer buying a new set. And in my book the Rockport Avior is tops, given the list that you provided. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Garrett Hongo,

I regret not having met you this last AXPONA, but I didn't want to disturb you as were deep in enjoyment in the Border Patrol room. I see you have upgraded to the Von Schweikert VR-44 from your VR-5HSEs. I may just follow suit. I have acquired a pair of YG Acoustics Carmels and find them to be the best speaker I have had, within their limitations.

I was hoping to tap into your experience regarding the TW-Acustic table. I own a Raven AC and 10.5 arm (based on your review). I have ordered a set of Black Knight feet from Jeff Catalano. He felt these are the best, but let's face it, he is a little biased. Have you heard these footers on your 'table? And how do they compare to the Stillpoints? I was wondering where you purchased your Stillpoints feet, so I could try them as well for comparison.

Are those the Stillpoints SS and Mini-SS on the motor that you are using? Do you recall the adapters that were needed.

I'm currently using a Dynavector XV-1S and perhaps will try a Lyra Titan i, or maybe even an Atlas -- if the analog gods are willing. The system is all Manley: Steelhead, 300B preamp, and 250 monoblock amps.

Thank you kindly for your help,

PK Das

Nice to hear from you again. And, my, how your system has grown!

I myself do like the Von Schweikert VR-44 Aktives very much. They are excellent for me.

As for the TW-Acustic 'table and its feet, I have the new Stillpoints Ultra and like them. They were a nice upgrade from the old Stillpoints, focusing images within the soundstage much better, creating nice upticks in resolution, soundstage depth, and adding cleanness and precision in attack transients, lengthening decay transients. In short, the Ultras increased dimensionality and clarity all around. As a reviewer, I purchased mine directly from Stillpoints. The Black Knight footers I haven't tried, but Jeff Catalano of High Water Sound, the TW-Acustic importer, absolutely knows what he is doing. But I haven't tried the Black Knight footers in my own rig, so I can't compare them with the Stillpoints Ultras.

I am using the Stillpoints Mini-SS on the motor. The size of the Mini-SS adapters was M4. The size of the Ultra adapters was 1/4-20.

You've made excellent choices regarding your system. For a cartridge, I think the Dynavector XV-1S is pretty near the top of the heap. And I like the Manley electronics too, especially the Steelhead and Neo-Classic 250 monos. I'm not as familiar with the 300B preamp. . . . Garrett Hongo

To Jeff Fritz,

I've read your articles on the Magico speakers and am considering replacing my YG Acoustics Carmels with Magico Q3s or Q5s. My question is: Do you consider the Q3s or Q5s a good speaker for a smaller room? My room is 10' x 12', and I'm considering moving to a room 12' x 15' -- larger but still pretty small. I'm looking for a little more bass, and it sounds like the Q3s or Q5s would offer more bass, but possibly not worth the extra expense considering the room size. Any thoughts on this? Thanks for any advice you can give, and I really enjoy your articles -- keep them coming!

Barry Frazelle

Two definite advantages that the Q-series speakers have when discussing how they might interact with a given room is their sealed-box bass loading and their very neutral design. They have, in my experience, very linear response in the low frequencies without the typical bass hump that many speakers have. The result is that they don’t tend to sound boomy or thick in the bass at all, but lithe and articulate, yet still deep and powerful. That being said, I still think the Q5 would be too large for your new space. It is a four-way design and I think it might be pushing things to get the proper distance from the speakers to the listening position without imposing on the room boundaries too much. It would be too tight a squeeze in my opinion.

The Q3, on the other hand, might just work perfectly. It is a three-way speaker and significantly smaller than the Q5. It doesn't have the 20Hz bass extension that the Q5 has but will play appreciably lower than the two-way Carmel. My opinion is that it will work quite well in a smaller space. I also think you should get increased resolution and transparency as bonuses. All in all, a very fine sonic upgrade from your current speaker. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Jeff Fritz,

I just read your piece on integrated amps on Ultra Audio and wanted to get your thoughts on the Krell S300i. Also, they have a new model, the S550i, coming out as well. I was just curious on your thoughts and how Krells compare in the marketplace. Another one I’m looking at is the ModWright KWI 200. I look forward to hearing back from you. Thank you in advance.

Andrew

I have never heard a ModWright component in my system, nor have any SoundStage! Network writers reviewed one that I can remember. We’d love to, but the company has to send it to us.

I have a lot of experience with Krell. Back in the day, I had a Krell KSA-250, and I’ve heard most every generation of Krell after that in my system at one time or another. I’ve always loved the brand and have felt that they’ve challenged the state of the art, especially with amplifiers, for years. These days, however, I’m just not sure what the company is up to. They seem to keep a low profile overall and I’ve not had a recent Krell in my system. I’d like that to change, and will reach out to the company to see if we can rectify the situation. I’d really like to see where the current Krells stack up against the competition. I’d be hopeful but cautious.

On the other hand, the products I recommended in my article are, to my mind, surefire bets. I’d take an Ayre or Simaudio or any of the others and not look back. So as of right now, I would pick those brands over the Krells and ModWrights. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Jeff Fritz,

I have an Antelope Zodiac Gold [DAC] with Voltikus [power supply] into a pair of Genesis M60 monos driving Von Schweikert UniField 3s.

Do you think replacing the Gold and the Genesis monos with the Hegel H300 would make any improvements to my system?

Jeff

Hard to say. The Hegel Music Systems H300 is one heck of an amplifier and the built-in DAC section is really stellar from what I've been told by GoodSound! senior editor Hans Wetzel. The Hegel has the advantage of being designed as a DAC/preamp/amp "system" and there are definitely some advantages to that type of approach. On the other hand, the electronics that you currently have do indeed enjoy a fine reputation as well. If they had a lesser pedigree I would, no doubt, be fairly quick to tell you to go for the Hegel. But in this case what you have is really, really good. So, in my mind the proposition is a toss-up. I could see it being a very close comparison and the outcome going either way depending on the speakers and your personal tastes. Sorry I could not be more definitive for you. . . . Jeff Fritz

To S. Andrea Sundaram,

I enjoyed your well-written article about digital volume controls. I run a Wyred 4 Sound DAC-2 (a 32-bit DAC) directly into a pair of Wyred 4 Sound mAMPs. I cannot hear any loss of resolution over a large range of attenuation (0 to -40dB). And it sounds superior in every way compared to using a very high-quality analog preamp.

I would like to point out that 24-bit and 32-bit DACs are more marketing than reality. The intermediate processing may be done in 24 or 32 bits, but the final resolution of a DAC is only around 22 bits due to the S/N ratio of about 130dB (thermal noise issues). The best of the DACs today can achieve only 21 or maybe 22 bits of resolution. That still gives about 6 bits of attenuation before any theoretical resolution loss occurs with 16-bit material. That is quite a range: 36dB. In practice, I don't hear any resolution loss until I drop below -45dB.

I am thrilled by the advances in digital audio (DACs, class-D amps) during the 21st century. Digital is no longer a dirty word. Modern DACs and class-D amps are closing the gap with analog playback and class-A amps, respectively, and at a huge savings in cost and power consumption!

Cheers,
Gautam

Since most modern DACs perform some mathematical manipulations of the audio signal -- and must do so, if you are using digital volume control -- a 24- or 32-bit data path means that those calculations will be done to greater precision than if the DAC used fewer bits. Ultimately, the result is higher fidelity -- even though it doesn't show up in simple numbers like dynamic range or signal-to-noise ratio. The title of the article -- "What's Wrong with Digital Volume Controls?" -- was chosen to generate interest. The conclusion -- as you read, and as your experience suggests, is that there is nothing wrong with them -- provided they are properly implemented on a DAC with suitably high SNR. I still find that analog and class A have the edge, but I agree that digital technologies have made tremendous strides toward closing that gap. . . . S. Andrea Sundaram

To Garrett Hongo,

I hope that this finds you well. I am about to get a pair of deHavilland GM70 amplifiers, and I currently have a VAC Renaissance Mk.I preamp. I seem to remember reading in one of your articles that this is potentially going to be a mismatch.

On the subject of dH preamps, what is your sense of the difference between the Mercury and the UltraVerve? From what I read they both have different strengths. I'd appreciate your thoughts.

Thanks,
David

First of all, congratulations on your acquisition of the deHavilland GM70s, an outstanding pair of mono amps. Though I don't recall any specific warnings regarding the VAC Renaissance Mk.I being a mismatch for any dH amps, I do have some thoughts regarding the Renaissance Signature Mk.I and its high gain.

The Renaissance Signature Mk.I, as you probably know, is the first VAC pre in the Signature line. It is direct-coupled through three tube gain stages and has zero negative feedback, a 120-ohm output impedance, and about 35dB of gain. That last spec is the one that may cause you issues. Gain is very high and adjustments can be extremely touchy. This may have been what you remembered as a concerning thought from one of my reviews.

If that's the preamp you have (you can tell by the power supply -- a lacquered front is the Signature version, a plain matte-black front is the Ren Mk.I), here's my suggestion beyond switching to a deHavilland line stage (which may be optimum), as the VAC Ren Sig Mk.I is so valuable a piece. Why not send it to VAC and have Kevin Hayes and his techs upgrade the pre to a Sig IIa? Gain will be lowered to about 12dB and, among other improvements, finesse will increase to a spectacular level (I've reviewed the Sig IIa). I think the price of the upgrade is around $4000. It's in the ballpark of a new pre from some other companies, but I think you might just like it even better. The VAC Sig IIa is truly an exceptional pre.

If it's the Renaissance Mk.I that you have, its gain is a more normal 12dB and not at all difficult to use with various amplifiers. Nor is it upgradable to a Sig IIa, unfortunately.

You could certainly try the Ren Mk.I with the GM70s and listen for how you like the sound, but I'd not make any definitive judgments in reference to the deHavilland amps until you've heard them with a dH line stage. It's not only questions of relative gain and/or impedance matching, but synergy in general. The dH amps are definitely voiced with a dH pre in mind. As are the VAC amps with a VAC pre. I have found that dH amps perform best with dH preamps -- the Mercury 3 or UltraVerve.

Regarding the dH line stages, there are indeed different strengths.

The UltraVerve is the more popular pre for those who want a more "classic" SET sound. It's saturated, bold -- a tonemeister. Note it uses the 6SN7 tube. Kara Chaffee, chief engineer, really loves the NOS Tung-Sol roundplate 6SN7 for that dark, velvety texture. But you can change its tone with others -- Sylvania chrome top and Sylvania '56 "Bad Boy" have more sparkle, resolution, and extension.

The Mercury 3 has tremendous finesse and ease, especially with choral music. It's my reference and, to me, has a most sophisticated, resolving, and airy quality with voices, operatic and choral. It captures more of the microdynamics of vocal performance than any other line stage I've tried, especially in combination with my dH KE50A monoblocks. It's fine for orchestral as well, as it's tremendously resolving and dynamic with large-scale music. Quick, refined, light-footed.

Those who listen to combo jazz and rock might prefer the UltraVerve, if I can generalize a bit. Those who listen to classical, opera, and choral music might just love the Mercury 3 more.

I have both dH (KE50A monos) and VAC (Phi 200 and PA 100/100) amps, likewise VAC preamps (Ren Mk.III and Sig IIa) and a dH pre (Mercury 3). I tend to use a VAC with a VAC, a dH with a dH. I've tried mixing them, but the results are inevitably superior keeping the electronics consistently matched by brand with each other. . . . Garrett Hongo

To Jeff Fritz,

After many superb reviews and a few listening sessions I have decided to buy Magico Q7s.

I'm curious: What, in your opinion, is the best amp to match with the Q7s? In reviews there is no clear answer to this question. I'm thinking about D'Agostino's Momentum with the dCS Vivaldi as the source, but maybe there is something better. What do you think?

Regards,
Lucas

I don't think there actually is a clear answer to this question because there are many outstanding directions in which you could go. I've thought about how the D'Agostino amplifiers (Momentum Mono and Stereo) would mate with the Q7s myself, and my gut tells me it might be an excellent combination, though I have little to support that opinion. As for dCS, there is no question that the Vivaldi is a wonderful front-end setup and has a state-of-the-art pedigree. Do you need to spend that much money for a really killer digital rig? Not in my opinion, but I could hardly criticize the decision to purchase one if cost were truly no concern and you wanted to be assured of getting something at least close to the very best -- if not the outright best.

Other brands I'd seriously consider would be Gryphon, Boulder, Simaudio, and Ayre. These are brands I have a lot of experience with and I've found them to match quite well with most any neutral, well-designed loudspeaker you care to name. The Magico Q7, being perhaps the most revealing speaker extant, will lay bare the sonic characters of each of these brands' products. Ultimately that's what you want: the ability to choose exactly how your system will sound. The high sensitivity of the Q7 will also give you more options than you might have with some of the super speakers. Please do let me know what you end up buying. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Jeff Fritz,

I like to read your reviews about different brands of loudspeakers and hi-fi equipment. I'm a starter in hi-fi from The Netherlands. I wonder what your thought is about the brand Kharma? Hope to hear from you.

Greetings,
Derk Jan

I've never had the opportunity to review a Kharma speaker or electronic component, but I'd sure love to. Specifically, the new Elegance series from Kharma looks very promising. I know that they are using some of their very own drivers in these speakers and it appears that they've upped the technology quotient by quite a bit as compared to their older models. How would these speakers rate against my perennial favorites such as Magico and Rockport? I can’t say, but I'd really like to find out. . . . Jeff Fritz