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Did I read that you're in the process of reviewing the Magico Q3s? If so, any idea when you might be issuing the review?

I'm trying to choose among the Sonus Faber Elipsa (crazy low price right now), Amati Futura (going to Montreal to hear them at the show), and the Q3s (because they sounded so good at CES). I'm leaning toward the Q3s, my only concern being all the reviewers who have said Magicos are "picky" about matching electronics. I'm hoping they're more efficient than the Q5s, but I think you're the first reviewer, so I'm waiting with bated breath. I'd like to hold onto my Simaudio W-7 to drive them rather than switching to all Spectral and all MIT cabling, or Soulution if I win the lottery, like you always see at the shows.

And SF is only offering the sales price until April 1, so I have to decide fairly soon.

Thank you,
Jon Lewis

As I understand it, the Q3s are gearing up for production very soon. I opted to wait for the first production pair for my review as opposed to receiving the pre-production prototypes. I understand that the production version will include some improvements that Magico felt were necessary to make the speaker the best it could be.

Regarding electronics, I think the "picky" thing has been largely overblown. I also don’t think there is a need for these very expensive esoteric components that you see at shows. Remember, those companies are there to sell gear too. My gut feeling tells me that the Q3s and your Simaudio would mate just fine. I'd definitely hang tight for the Q3s. At CES they were really something special. . . . Jeff Fritz


I've read your article "Benchmark Systems, Part 3: The $5000 Full-Ranger," and I'm pretty curious about the Bel Canto C5i integrated amplifier/DAC you recommend. What are your impressions of it? Have you tried the headphone output with a decent set of headphones? Are you writing a review of it? Have you compared it to other combinations of amps and DACs?

I have already preordered a C5i to use with my Dynaudio Excite X12 speakers, but it seems it's not going to be out at least until mid March. Thanks for your article and hope to hear more from you.


I only had the Bel Canto C5i in for a short time, and only used it in the configuration described in the article. However, in that short time I was very impressed with it, driving the Aperion Verus Grand Tower speakers quite easily and with excellent fidelity. But, of course, that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know, so we do have a full review underway. Our own Roger Kanno has a C5i in currently and his review will appear on a SoundStage! Network site in the near future. . . . Jeff Fritz


Very nice review of the Gryphon Colosseum stereo amplifier and Mirage preamplifier. I couldn’t have said it any better!

Gryphon is indeed a very special line of products that deserves a great deal of respect and auditioning. The Colosseum+Mirage combo has a certain invisible sonic footprint that is just so pleasant and organic to listen to music through. Couple that with their sheer good looks and presence and you got there a complete Viking package.

And by the way, the High bias happens to be my favorite setting as well -- it allows the amps to tightly grip (or shall I say gryph?) the speakers and convey a total tonal message. Congrats again!

My best,
Oded Zyssman

To Garrett Hongo,

I'm a fan of your articles and writing style. I also like the format of Ultra Audio -- personal, to the point, and coverage of the type of products I'm interested in. You are one of the few high-end-audio reviewers I track, and your informative, trusted insights have helped guide some of my purchases, including my most recent decision to buy a VAC Phi 300.1a amplifier. I was close to buying the Esoteric A-100, but for long-term flexibility and to support companies headed by folks like Kevin Hayes, I decided on the VAC. I'm also encouraged to read your comments about the Herron VTPH-2. I upgraded from the VTPH-1MC and love my Herron phono preamp. Your comments confirm that the Herron phono preamp is one to keep and hand down to my children just like the VAC, and Keith Herron is another super-capable and talented gentleman in the industry. I especially liked your article on the VAC Renaissance Mk.3 -- puts it on the short list of components I want to acquire. Any experience or point of view on the Herron VTSP-3a line stage? If it's like the phono stage, sounds like a real winner.


Thank you for the support!

The Herron VTSP-3a and VAC Renaissance Mk.3 are both high-quality preamps and I've just had the VAC in my system and listened to the Herron VTSP-3 (the immediate predecessor to the 3a). I think the VAC Renaissance Mk.3 is terrific, but you must remember it is a high-gain preamp with 22dB of gain. I'm sure the new Herron VTSP-3a is likewise terrific, but it is a moderate-gain preamp with 12dB of gain switchable to 6dB. To me, besides the bells and whistles that give tremendous flexibility to the Herron (switchable H/L gain, switchable absolute polarity, stereo/mono switch, stepped and reproducible volume control, etc.) and that the VAC Renaissance Mk.3 has a phono option (with two sets of inputs), the difference in overall gain is the major thing that distinguishes one from the other. Output impedance is close enough, with the VAC being 300 ohms via RCA jacks and the Herron 100 ohms (RCA only).

For me, the switchable gain of the Herron VTSP-3a isn't as significant as that the preamps have very different gains -- the VTSP-3a being 12dB/6dB (switchable) and the Renaissance Mk.3 having 22dB. Again, the Herron is moderate/low gain and the VAC most definitely high gain. If you have high-sensitivity speakers, I don't think the Renaissance Mk.3 would be appropriate.

It depends on the needs of your system. I have moderately sensitive Von Schweikert VR5 HSE speakers (91dB/6 ohm) and a pair of moderate-output tubed mono amps -- the deHavilland KE50A (40Wpc) -- as my reference, and they benefit greatly from the higher gain capability of the VAC Renaissance Mk.3. And with your VAC Phi 300.1a stereo amp, a VAC preamp should be optimal. That said, the Herron VTSP-3a is perfect for the Herron M1 monos, of course, and an extremely versatile piece too -- in features and compatibility with other amps. One veteran reviewer I know uses the VTSP-3a with a pair of deHavilland Aries 845-G monoblocks that output only 30Wpc, but he has VMPS RM 30 speakers with a VMPS Large subwoofer.

As far as "sonic signature" is concerned, I can't say, as it's been too long since I've listened to the Herron line stage. Perhaps I'll be lucky enough to review it soon! I've the Herron M1 mono amps and VTPH-2 phono stage, so why not? Good luck. . . . Garrett Hongo

To Garrett Hongo,

I recently purchased the EAR 890 amplifier and I am not using a preamp. The EAR preamp lists for almost $7500 and I was really wondering if it is worth purchasing. At that price I could purchase another amp and run them as monoblocks. I’ve been told by the salesperson at the retailer that the EAR preamp would complement the EAR 890 and give it a warmer, enhanced sound. What are your thoughts?


Thanks for your question -- a very good one. Although it's hard to answer without factoring in your source component(s) and though I never ran the EAR 890 without a preamp, I can say that, in general, I much prefer the sound of amps driven by a good preamp and that the EAR 868 is a superb one.


A good preamp should give you a much more sophisticated, nuanced sound, in my opinion, and better and more convenient control over the volume, particularly if it has a remote. Finally, there is also the benefit of the preamp being able to connect to multiple sources -- CD, tape, phono, USB DAC -- and further complicating your listening pleasure. The 868 comes with a built-in phono option, by the way.


I liked the EAR 890 with the EAR 868 quite well and see them as a winning combination. . . . Garrett Hongo


I have a pair of Wilson MAXX 2s driven by Krell Evolution 400 monoblocks and a Mark Levinson 32 preamp with a Weiss Jason/DAC202 as the source. I auditioned the Boulder 1010/1060 combo at local dealer and quite liked the overall performance!

I would like to see if you have any idea what the differences are between the 1010/1060 and 2010/2060. The dealer says the 1000 series has a more modern, "faster" sound than the 2000 series. What would be your comment?

Assuming money is not a concern, would you suggest the 1060 or 2060 to power MAXX 2s? Looking forward to hearing from you!

Best Regards,

In my listening tests, the 2000-series components were clearly superior to the 1000 series. The 2060 would do a much better job on the MAXX 2s than the 1060, no question. However, on March 1 in my "TWBAS" column you can read about an amplifier/preamplifier combination I like even better than the Boulders (which I still like a lot!). . . . Jeff Fritz

To Pete Roth,

I read with great interest your review of the Vandersteen Model Seven and see that you are buying a pair as your new reference. How exciting. While I can't afford the Model Seven, I've been considering the Vandersteen Quatro Wood loudspeakers, especially since I had the chance to audition them during a recent trip to Southern California. If I understand it correctly, the Quatro Wood has the same type of active bass unit and equalization that is in Vandersteen's 5A and Seven. Even though the dealer was very accommodating and knowledgeable, I'm a little bit nervous to buy a pair since I don't have a Vandersteen dealer closer to home. Even if he were to set up a pair of Quatros in my room using the built-in equalization, I don't want to be a slave to any dealer over the life of the speaker (I would hope to own and enjoy them for decades). What if I need to move the speakers, or don't want to pay to have the dealer fly/drive to reset them (or if he retires and closes his shop)? I yearn to have the sound I experienced in the dealer's showroom, but don't want my investment to turn into expensive door stops. What do you think?


Thanks for your e-mail, Eric. I have been in audiophile withdrawal ever since the blue review pair of Vandersteen Sevens left my listening room to continue their world tour. While it took me a while to settle on a color (choices, choices . . . I settled on Phantom Black Pearl Effect, an Audi A8 color), my pair are being painted next week and, if all goes according to plan, they should be in my system by the time Spring arrives. I'm very excited.

Your question regarding the set up of the Quatro Wood speakers resonates with me. In fact, my father-in-law asked essentially the same question before he bought a pair. He was afraid that if they weren't set up correctly, they wouldn't sound any good. He couldn't have been more wrong. The bass-equalization control available in the Quatro, Quatro Wood, 5A and Seven is an "extra" tool available to extract the best possible performance from the speaker-room interface (this affects only bass frequencies below 100Hz or so). However, it should be understood that while this feature is available (and differentiates these speakers from the competition), it need not be used. With all the controls set to neutral (which is how the speakers ship, and which is simple to reset), these speakers are flat throughout the bass region and, therefore, act just like any other speaker without such controls. Because my father-in-law uses his speakers in a very large room without any dedicated listening chair, he has chosen to leave the controls in the neutral position for now and he couldn't be happier. If and when he decides to select a prime listening area, I will be able to dial in the controls, but until then they still sound fantastic.

I'm no dealer, but I've adjusted my own 5A speakers on several occasions (family matters have forced system reconfiguration occasionally). It does not take a rocket scientist (or dealer) to dial them in. What it takes is a RadioShack analog sound-pressure-level meter (available for under $50 at almost any RadioShack) and a test disc with warble tones from 20Hz to 110Hz (several such test discs are readily available). The tracks on the disc are arranged to alternate between left and right channels, with tones at the proper frequencies to take the readings necessary to adjust the controls. At the end of the day, the controls allow the room-induced "peaks" to be fairly well flattened, and room-mode "valleys" to be somewhat filled in. The result is a much flatter in-room (at the listener's ears) frequency response (with a little more work, the results can be averaged for two or three listening positions). Rest assured, however, while my system is optimized for my sweet spot it continues to sound great everywhere (just not as great as it does in my sweet spot).

While Vandersteen speakers may not be for everyone, it would be a horrible mistake for someone who likes how they sound to pass by the opportunity for ownership and enjoyment because of confusion over the optional room-control toolset, which is built-in and available, but optional to utilize. Given my own experiences with the Quatro Wood, 5A and Sevens, you have nothing to fear but fear itself and you won't be disappointed if you buy the Quatro Woods. I hope this helps. . . . Pete Roth


In your CES report, "Super-Speakers Special," you stated, "Sometimes six figures won't even buy you good sound." I find that statement true based on my experience with some very expensive speakers. But I wonder if that fact is what is killing the high end. If an audiophile spends that amount of money on a set of speakers and then gets poor sound, why would they ever spend even more money to fix it? It is no wonder that high-end audio is dying. I did enjoy your honest reporting. If we had more of it the high end would be better for it.

Peter Jacobs

One thing I've learned through the years is that products don’t exist in vacuums. Whether it's speakers, amplifiers, DACs, whatever, for each one there is a market it has to compete in. As a reviewer, it is incumbent on me to hear products of all sorts and at all price points -- and report honestly on what I hear. That's not the job of the audiophile, however. Audiophiles are consumers who only have to enjoy what they buy. As sad as it is, I know some audiophiles that really love what I know to be poor-performing products! Why? I think it is because they didn’t have the exposure to products that are genuinely better. 

So I don't think that bad products are killing the high end. There are tons of great products out there. The encouraging thing is that some of the best products on the market today are priced less than many, many of the expensive statement-type products of yesteryear -- and some of these newer designs are actually much better! . . . Jeff Fritz


My name is Frank Dickens. I am the manufacturer of Silent Source Audio Cables and importer for Viva Audio, Da Vinci Audio Labs, Technical Brain, and Vitus Audio, and adealer for TAD, Berkeley, Koetsu, Walker Audio, Sim2, JVC Pro, and DNP Screens.

I ran across some postings from your website ["Absolute Nonsense," Ultra Audio, June 1, 2010] concerning Technical Brain amplifiers and preamplifiers. The postings were, to say the least, harsh in nature and contained a lot of pure conjecture and absolutely inaccurate statements put forward as fact.

If you do not mind, I would like to set the record straight. First of all, Technical Brain products are definitely not unobtainable. I would be happy to sell you or anyone else whatever they would like. At the current time, due to my desire to keep retail pricing sane and, also, due to the handmade nature of the products and the attendant low volume of production, all sales are direct. Pricing includes installation anywhere in the continental USA. Factory-authorized service is available here in Dallas, Texas.

Technical Brain received some early attention due to the spectacular performance of its amps and preamp. This attention involved two pairs of Japanese-market amplifiers brought to the USA by a gentleman in New York who knew absolutely nothing about high-end audio. These amps had power supplies built for the Japanese domestic market. There were some components in the power supplies that were woefully underrated for the US power grid and with 350 amps of inrush current at turn-on, failure was inevitable. Unfortunately, these failures were made very public, but characterized as reliability issues, instead of what they really were -- misuse of products designed for the power grid of another country. They involved only these two pairs of Japanese-market amps.

I became aware of Technical Brain through Andrew Jones of TAD Audio Labs. Both the legendary Model One and Reference One loudspeakers were voiced using Technical Brain. I obtained the two pairs of Japanese-market amps from New York, checked them out, and discovered the power supply issue. My staff engineered a revision ($30.00 in parts). These two pairs of amps are now bulletproof as are all new production units destined for the USA market.

I contacted Naoto Kurosawa of Technical Brain and worked out North American distribution. A new power supply was designed for the American market and a few other small changes were made to suit American customer tastes. Press coverage has been good and there are a number of reviews forthcoming which will rightly tout Technical Brain as the groundbreaking products they are.

You can contact Joe Cohen (The Lotus Group), Alon Wolf (Magico), Andrew Jones (TAD), Russell Kauffman (Morel), Lloyd Walker (Walker Audio), Ted Denny (Synergistic Research), David Robinson (Positive Feedback) and Robert Harley and Jonathan Valin (The Abso!ute Sound). These gentlemen have all had hands-on experience with Technical Brain in the last few months. I will certainly stand on their opinions.

A forum such as yours is certainly useful to the audio community in a positive way by making information available to help educate audiophiles on products available to them. However, in instances such as the one with Technical Brain, you can also do great harm to a small company such as Technical Brain and a small importer such as Silent Source.

Technical Brain is highly respected in Japan. They are the only company to ever receive the coveted Grand Prix award for every product they have introduced. I have attached the notes for the latest award. We are lucky that these products are available to the US audio community.

Pissing contests between bloggers, reviewers, and other reviewers serve no one and can harm products which do not deserve to be harmed. I would submit that much more care should be used by all for the greater good.

I will be happy to supply product for responsible review at any time.

Frank Dickens
Managing Director
Silent Source Audio Cables
Technical Brain USA

Thank you for the note. You are absolutely correct that early, negative reports, particularly about issues such as reliability, availability, and so on, can hurt young companies. Ensuring that those issues do not happen in the first place is certainly in the best interest of the companies themselves. But the magazines have a responsibility to other entities also: first, consumers; but also the industry as a whole. Your letter serves to support that point, which I made in my article: "Those that promote dangerous, unreliable, or unsupported products do a disservice to established manufacturers that have worked hard to make rock-solid lineups, and to consumers who spend their hard-earned dollars. They ultimately damage the credibility of the magazines that promote them, and cast a shadow over high-end audio as a whole."

Covering Technical Brain products, which very well could be outstanding, should have been put on hold until all the "issues" noted could be worked out. The fallout you describe simply validates my whole argument. As I said back in June, "I wish Kurosawa the best of luck, but I have no interest in hearing his products, or writing about them, until I can say with certainty that they are a safe bet for the consumer." If that had been the standard of the other magazine, there would be no reason for your letter -- and frustration -- today.

If what you say is true, and I have no reason to believe otherwise, then the products might be ready for formal review. I'd still prefer a much longer track record -- think Ayre Acoustics, Gryphon, Simaudio, Boulder, ARC, and so on -- but a company has to start somewhere. I wish you the best of luck in establishing the Technical Brain brand in the US, and perhaps hearing these promising products in the future if they are in fact reliable, available, and wonderful sounding. . . . Jeff Fritz


I followed your "Super-Speakers Special" with great interest as I could not come to CES this year. I especially liked your candid comments on the Talon speakers and some of the others. You've had some impressive brands through your system through the years. I've read your articles on the various Wilsons, YGs, Egglestons, and, of course, the Rockports. I was therefore glad to see that you would be getting the Magico Q3s in for review. Not many of the reviewers, particularly those that write online, have had the wealth of experience you have compiled with SOTA speakers. I'll be anxious to hear your report. Keep up the great work, and keep those candid comments coming.

Nolan Cessini