TNT-Audio Readers' Corner
Monthly section devoted to your letters, positive and negative feedback about everything related to Audio and HiFi.

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November 2003

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Odyssey amps
Dear Scott,
What do you think about Odyssey pre and amps?
Regards,
Roberto Intrieri - E-mail: rintrier@tin.it

SF
Hi Roberto,
I listened to the Stratos amp and the prototype of Klaus's new Etesian, transformer based, passive pre at MAF. I haven't had them in my room but from what I heard at the show, I was really impressed. Very clean, very affordable (in audiophile terms). Best yet, if you check his website, Klaus is introducing a new, lessor priced amp called the Khartago (110 wpc). Klaus swears it sounds better than the Stratos. We'll find out soon, he's supposed to be sending me one for review.
Regards,
Scott Faller

SME arms
Hi Geoff,
I used and liked an SME-IV-Vi for about a year. I am now using the Origin Live Illustrious which is notably better than the SME. The O.R. has tighter bass and better dynamics.and sounds more natural and musical. Also, the Illustrious retails for $ 1000.00 less. Even the less expensive O.R. Encounter out performed the SME.
Best wishes,
Don Kenney - E-mail: donken@visi.com

GH
Hi Don,
My personal feeling is that the big SME's are incredibly rigid and so dump a huge amount of energy into the turntable (more than any other arm?). That makes them very turntable dependent - the Orbe cannot cope as standard as it just winds up the sing-a-long chassis (this applies to a lot of turntables...). See next week's TNT for a possible solution.
As for the Origin Live arms I will be chasing for a review sample in the next few months, though I've heard, and been impressed by, their "Silver".
Cheers,
Geoff Husband

Cairn Fog
Dear Lucio,
it was a pleasure to read your review about the Cairn Fog. I made the same experiences with this product.My left RCA plug is slightly smaller than the right one for example. Fortunately no switch is broken till yet. But I like the look and the sound. My favorite source is my Oracle record player. But now I have a question: what is the "default" digital filter? In my believing it is switched on when the little sinewave is on the right hand position. Is that right?
I cannot find anything about it in the "manual" and I had not gotten any answer from EZO.
Thanks in advance.
Best regards from Germany
Andreas Winter - E-mail: andreas.winter@imail.de

LC
Dear Andreas,
the standard digital filter should be the one which is selected by default when switching on the CD player.
Anyway, choose the one which you like most, it is a no-mistake procedure :-)
Not a surprise EZO didn't reply to you...I'm still waiting for an answer after the review has been published.... ;-) [can you spell...customer care?]
Lucio Cadeddu

Monsoon speakers
Hey,
I was looking on ebay for some speakers for my room and I came across the Monsoon FPF 1000's. So I decided to search for some reviews of them and came upon yours. I'm not a home theatre person...I am college student looking to set up a nasty set of speakers in my room in my franternity. I will primarily be playing music with lots of bass (rock and rap) so I was wondering if you thought these speakers would be a good purchase, and if not what speakers would you reccommend?
I'm not looking to spend a lot of money...they are on ebay for like $200...but I would be willing to pay up to 400 probably.
Thanks for your help.
Dan Eagan - E-mail: daneagan@yahoo.com

SF
Hi Dan,
I really wouldn't recommend the Monsoon speakers to anybody. I've heard better speakers at Radio Shack (specifically their big box 3 ways) which are much cheaper (that wasn't a recommendation of the RS speakers, just an observation).
Since you are in a frat room I'd look for some killer bookshelves or mini-monitors. The latest speakers I reviewed I think will come close to suiting your needs. The Odissey Audio Epiphony.
These things rock and rap (yep thats right I listen to some rap too) really well. They are a bit more than your budget but if you can sell a few quarts of blood (20 or so), they too can be yours :-) You might get lucky and find a pair on eBay or Audiogon.
Oh, don't even think about the Axiom M22's (in any form). I had them here and they won't work for you. Another one that comes to mind that IS in your budget are the Acoustic Energy Ones (AE-1's) . I think they are about $350 new in the box. These things rock pretty good too. Very comparable to the DynAudio 42's.
If you can go the extra few bucks, I'd really recommend the Odysseys, otherwise give the AE's a try. You may like those just as well. You can find a list of dealers at http://www.aslgroup.com/
Hope that helps some,
Scott Faller

Cartridge and stylus wear
Dear TNT gang,
I have some comments to make on cartridge life and a question on CD player performance. First my comments: Geoff Husband in his November review of the Dynavector DRT-1s made some comments on cartridge life that I find very disturbing.
He states "1000 hours is, sadly par for the course for any decent cartridge" which at a pretty conservative playing time of 16-20 hours a week means that the cartridge will need replacing or rebuilding at between 12-15 months! His own experience of going through two (other) cartridges in 18 months, even if they were abused in testing, makes the picture even worse. And what is even more worrying is that Geoff's comments refer to one of the most expensive cartridges you can buy. What does this imply for cartridges that cost only 20% of the price of the Dynavector, or even less. Will such cartridges only last a few months playing time?
Surely the consumer has a right to expect a much better service life than this. How often do we need to replace our CD laser or all the switches and moveable controls on our equipment. I think cartridge reviews should include information on service life, whether the stylus can be replaced and at what cost. I would certainly stick to buying a cartridge that has a replaceable stylus.
And secondly my question on CD players. My present set-up is a Creek CD43, Creek P43 pre-amp and Creek S52 amp, and on the vinyl side a Dual 455 turntable and Creek phono amp, all being listened to on a pair of Epos ES15 speakers. I am generally very pleased with the performance of this relatively low-priced equipment. But I am least happy with the performance of the CD in comparison with the turntable. Maybe I am one of those that just prefers vinyl to CD but I would like to improve the output from my CD. Would it give me better performance to use the CD43 as a drive only and to add a DAC and in which case what are the ayternatives that would match my CD in price/performance ratio?
I don't want to get onto the carousell of replacing one piece of equipment and then starting to replace all the others as the first replacement may be a class better then all the other components.
I continue to enjoy TNT and look forward to opening a new edition every Monday morning, and I'm backing "True Stereo". Keep up the good work!
Yours sincerely,
Michael Shanahan - E-mail: mshanah2@volvocars.com

GH
Hi Michael,
Cartridge life expectancy is the one statistic you'll find manufacturers go quiet over. It varies with cartridges and systems, a high resolution system will pick up signs of distress many hundreds of hours before a low resolution system. Stylus profile makes some difference, and dirty records accelerate wear, but 1000 hours is par for the course for any cartridge regardless of cost.
It's not the manufacturers fault, just the inevitable wearing of the diamond. So yes it's an expensive affair to run a top cartridge, but then anyone who is willing to spend 5000 € on a cartridge is either rich, or obsessed or both, and so the cost will be immaterial. In the real world (the place that I occupy when I'm not playing with hi-cost review cartridges) someone with a turntable/arm cartridge such as mine (Orbe/SME4) is really missing quite a lot if he/she sticks with a low cost cartridge with replaceable stylus. The minimum here would be something like a V15 and if you look at the cost of the stylus replacement it isn't cheap... Personally if I was "buying my own" now I'd probably go for the Music Maker which costs about 900e and can be rebuilt for 500e, though the SME isn't the perfect partner.
The other thing is to remember that there are third-party retipping services such as the 'Cartridge Man' who will retip an exotic for about 400e which then starts to make much more sense all round. As for comparisons with CD lets assume you run a 5000e front end. A CD player of that price will be worth 1000e if you are lucky in 5 years time, and if it goes wrong it's quite likely to be worth no more than scrap. A 5000e vinyl front end (say 2500e turntable, 1000e arm, 1500e cartridge) with 2 retips in the 5 year period (say 1000e) will be worth 2000e+ at a guess.
Thus the running costs will be similar, but more importantly the vinyl front end is likely to be very reliable with none of the 'worth scrap' risk of the CD player. Extend this to 10 years when perhaps a majority of CD players will be scrap and the sums still add up. Repeat the process with a 1000e CD/LP comparison and the sums will be much the same.
And of course as you've found the vinyl will sound better than the CD. As for improving the sound of your CD player to match the Dual, I'd consider an offboard DAC but play the second hand market as there's lots around, and unlike some CD mechanisms they are pretty reliable. I'd look at Micromega and Meridian to start with as they are common, remember you'll always be able to sell them on for much the same as you paid for them which makes it a very safe way to try equipment.
Good luck,
Geoff Husband

Another step from HT to stereo
Dear Lucio,
Another statement on my way from multichannel to stereo (cfr last September Readers' corner "from HT to pure stereo") I listened to the amps you listed, and to the ones I listed, and many, many, many more. (Densen Beat 100, Primare I20, Thule IA60, Naim Nait 3, Cyrus 5, Roksan Kandy, creek 5350, Arcam A80 & A85, Atoll IN 100 , Audio analogue Puccini SE, Rotel RA1070,...). Some had punch. Some had delicacy. Few made me shiver. ("Les gouts et les couleurs...") Nothing could make me forget the first amp I listened to. The 4808 class-A delivers such a smooth, delicate, detailed and deep sound. It could at the same time deliver Lisa Ekhdal with intimacy or Massive Attack with authority.
The 30 watt's of the Cairn would do fine in a small room. But it definitely lacks steam for a 60m2 living room. It would have been the perfect companion for late evening intimate jazz listening sessions but no way to shake the basement when you're home alone - well, alone with a grand orchestra - on a winter afternoon. You think you need to chose for a trade-off ? You think Sam Tellig is right when he says "the lower the power of an amp the better it sounds" ? I don't. I came across a piece of equipment that combines most of the virtues of the Cairn (not the aesthetics, not some fine details in microdynamics but ...), backed up with 3 times as much power. If it was a wine, it would be a Pommerol (dixit my wife). It weighs a massive 25kg, most of it going to the monstrous toroidal supply transformer. It combines the delicacy of its tubed input stage with the effortless power of the class-A biased transistor output stage (~30W class-A, 100W rms). Still wonder what it is ? It is a Vincent SV 236 (www.vincent-tac.de).
You MUST give it an audition. And guess how much it cost...Wrong ! it's cheaper ! Just about 1300 EUR.
It sits now home, paired with the Cairn FOG 2 + upsampler CD player and driving a pair of Proac Studio 125. This speakers seems to me to be the unlikely child of french monitor and an english floorstander. I looks as edgy as the Queen Elisabeth but sounds glamorous and spicy like an evening in Montmartre.
Well, I realize how long my post already is. So the story of the Proac's will be for next time.
Musical regards,
Olivier Latte - E-mail: olivier.latte@skynet.be

LC
Dear Olivier,
what a coincidence, our Stefano is currently reviewing the bigger brother of your 236, the SV 238. He seems enthusiastic about the sound of this amp, as well. Let's wait for a complete listening test soon on these pages (a couple of months to go, at least).
In the meanwhile, happy listening!
Lucio Cadeddu

Revox B226 review
Dear Lucio,
Hello from a sunny and warm Singapore. Thank you for writing up on the Revox B226 CD player. Last week, I acquired one of these players and the Revox 252 pre-amp and the Revox 242 Power amp. This is hooked up to a Martin Logan Quest z speakers. And Yes, they are all pretty old.
I have two questions. This setup doesn't seem to resolve as much detail as another system I have been accustomed to, albeit a very different setup YBA Integra CD player, YBA Integra DT integrated amp, and Martin Logan Odyssey speakers.
This is of course a brand new set and there is more detail and clarity to it. Do you think it could be the capacitors in the B226 which you mentioned in your article?
Secondly, in the same article, you mentioned 3 different variations of the B226 the S, the black and the Signature. How can I tell which of the units I have? It is not black so that leaves only the S and the Signature model.
Thank you and you have a wonderful and informative web site.
With best regards,
Terence Yong - E-mail: yong.terence@mtu-asiapacific.com

LC
Dear Terence,
if it is not black it should be a standard B226 model. As for the "loss of detail" you mention, perhaps even the preamp and the power amp play a role there. Recapping the three units should be a clear improvement. Anyway, don't expect the same kind of sound you get from the YBA gear. Revox and YBA have very different "goals" in mind, you can't honestly compare them!
Try swapping the speakers, if you can.
Let me know,
Lucio Cadeddu

Entry-level HiFi?
Dear Sir:
I'm a beginner of hi-fi from Canada. Your website, tnt-audio.com was the first hifi site I ever viewed and has been a great help for me to get into this fantastic world! I read almost every article there and really appreciate your professional way in hifi and music!
Now, as a student, I intend to buy an entry-level system with the tight budget of about CAD$1000 - $1350. However, as a perfectionist, I'm still hesitating about choosing the different components. So I will appreciate it very much if you could provide some suggestions! The followings are the components available (in Montreal) and my point of view:

Speakers: Acoustic Energy EVO one ($494, never had a chance of listening, but its I like its reputation, and would like to choose this one). B&W DM303 ($400. I like the highs, but not the bass). PSB Alpha B ($300. very good bass, NAD 320Bee used, actually very good to me. maybe a little tight(?)). PSB Image 2B (never listened)

Integrated Amplifiers: NAD C320BEE ($500), NAD C350 ($500), Rotel Ra971 MKII ($425), CAMBRIDGE A300 ($450)

CD Players: NAD C521i ($450), Sony CDP CE275 ($180), Yamaha CDC506 ($220), RCA RP8070 ($120),. There maybe some other cheap CD players within $300

I listen to all kinds of music, but maybe not much rock. I like the sould to be overall balanced, which means there should be no major drawbacks in the highs, midrange and bass. Also, I would like the three parts to be in the same level. I prefer a cheaper CD Player for the budget and for the beginner's ears, sure, if it won't damage the whole picture.
Could you please give me some advice of the combination, hopefully, from the above list?
Also, do you think it's better to have the same brand of amp and CD Player (such as NAD)?
Thank you very much!
Henry - E-mail: omniwhb@yahoo.com

LC
Dear Henry,
I'd choose the NAD C521 and the C320 as CD and integrated amp, respectively. It makes no sense to save too much on the source.
If you find a good deal, try locating these on the second hand market (CD and amp). You should be able to save 40% of the sum, at least.
As for speakers, I'm no big fan of B&W's so I'd suggest the Acoustic Energy Evo's or the PSB's. Ask for a comparison test between these (matched to the chosen amp and CD combo).
Happy listening!
Lucio Cadeddu

Advice on DAC CAL Sigma II
Dear Lucio,
As you kindly offered your advice in your answer to my letter in October, i would be grateful to know your opinion on California Audio Labs Sigma II tube DAC.
I have been offered a s/h unit, from an hi-fi store here in Madrid for 300 euros. Easier than buying outside Spain through the Internet.
It has the original chinese tubes, but i have been told that changing them later would be neither difficult nor expensive. Please note I only want to buy a really great DAC, and I am not in a hurry to buy it.
The reason is that I bought two weeks ago a Harman Kardon DVD25 and I like the CD sound. Less spectacular, but more musical and enjoyable "to my ears" than other dedicated CDP under 500-600 eur I have listened to recently. I payed 300 eur for it, new, and it will be my transport to start with.
I have returned, at last!, the borrowed luxman 357 cdp and Philips DVD612 I was using as sources. I will wait for a good opportunity of a Musical Fidelity, Wadia 32, Numerik, MSB, Bel Canto, North Star, Audio Note if you don't think this CAL DAC sound is good enough.
I am dazzled about the abundant s/h offer in DACs in the Internet. It will take me some time to learn more and tread with confidence: for example, I still can't tell if a Micromega Duo BS or a Parasound 1000, it seems that formerly among the great, are a good option at 200-300 eur respectively.
I have taken seriously this offer and dared to ask for your time and advice because someone in a forum compared the sound of this CAL Sigma to the Chord 64 DAC, currently an expensive aristocrat. Maybe I am stretching your kindness, but I would be grateful if you helped me also with my next upgrade: (from now on, maybe the question and answer may be of interest to other TNT readers, so please feel free to edit this message).
In my (3big+2small) setup I have a NAD T760 A/V receiver, claimed to be designed to high stereo standards. It has pre-out connections. I admire NAD as a firm, and right now I like the sound. But as I am upgrading my source, I wonder if this amp will be adequate for a budget high-end stereo system (if that exists). What would you recommend as the upgrade path for the future? A quality budget power amp?
Please note I have neither room nor money for separate stereo/AV setups (and I listen to concerts and operas on DVD). I value sound beauty and naturalness over watts and brilliance.
As a hot s/h offer, I await anxiously for your answer about the DAC.
Thanks a lot for your time and advice.
Best regards,
Anibal Archi - E-mail: anibalsesentayseis@yahoo.es

LC
Dear Anibal,
I'm not too familiar with the CAL Sigma sound so I'm afraid I can't comment any further. Considering the CAL reputation in building very good sounding CD player and DACs I assume it should be a good buy. Price seems right, too. Since it is a S/H item, you can ASK for a test into your system.
The other DACs you mentioned are much more expensive than this one so it is impossible to make a fair comparison.
As for your AV NAD receiver... it should be adequate for your upgraded source. Adding a power amp is not an option. Most of the quality and refinement of the sound depends on the preamp section.
Hope this helped,
Lucio Cadeddu

Siri's Svale Band
I've owned "Blackbird" now for six years when I purchased it at the 1997 Stereopliile show in New York and it is a killer cd. Since then I have been longing to purchase the LP/ Now you come up with another of Siri Svale cd but you don't mention where I can buy it here in the USA.
Does the Sonor label have a web site? Can I send for it at the address you listed and how much are the vynil's?. How much would S&H add to the cost of the cd and LP's. I would appreciate whatever information you can give me. Thank you. Great music.
Regards,
Herbert Quiles - E-mail: odilon13@worldnet.att.net

LC
Dear Herbert,
no matter how I extensively searched the Internet I haven't been able to find a website for Sonor or for Siri's Svale Band. On the other hand, it is is quite easy to find their CDs and LPs. Just put "Siri Svale Band" on Google and browse through the results! You may need to read some basic Norwegian and German, though (Babelfish may lend a hand).
Happy listening!
Lucio Cadeddu

Re: Speaker choice dilemma
Hi Lucio!
I hereby would like to thank you for your recent advice. Only last week, I was able to lay my hands on a 2nd hand Naim Nac72/Nap140 combination, one of the amps you suggested. I must say that I am impressed with the results. This is my Sugden A21 plus something extra, the bottom half I had been missing and then some! Thanks again!
Kind regards,
Peter Inghels - E-mail: pinghels@xs4all.nl

LC
Dear Peter,
glad to hear my advice worked for you! I was almost 100% sure your Tannoys HAD to stay :-)
Happy listening!
Lucio Cadeddu

XRCD
Dear Mr. Lucio,
Did you hear a format or lets say method to create red book CDs called "XRCD" (extended resolution CD). I found it on internet: http://205.231.187.178/press/xrcd_24bit_digital.doc and http://205.231.187.178/shopping/
It will be nice if you test one for us.
Sincerely yours,
Koray Pars - E-mail: kpars@ford.com.tr

LC
Dear Koray,
JVC's XRCDs is pretty old news as they've been around for a long while. I've listened to quite a few of these CDs and found them generally very good. These CDs do not require any kind of software or proprietary chip (like Pacific Microsonic's HDCD) and can be played on every CD player in the market.
Somehow, the XRCD format (not a format, actually!!!) never took off really and it's a shame, considering the overall quality. If you read the infos on the www.xrcd.com site you'll discover these CDs can be produced only in one plant at JVC facilities in Japan. This fact certainly guarantees high quality but NOT worldwide availability.
Lucio Cadeddu

Re: New multichannel stuff
I'm not sure if this has been said before, but there is a reason why some magazines like multichannel. Apart from the usual conspiracy theories, the reviewers don't ever have to pay for hifi, so don't really get that everybody apart from the Sultan of Brunei is on a budget.
At any given budget two speakers will sound a lot better than five speakers costing the same amount in total. The same goes for amps.
I do own a DVD player, because I like to watch films as well as listen to music. The best way to get decent sound out of a DVD player is to send standard PCM to a standard DAC and run it into a two channel valve amp. Forget multichannel for music, multichannel for films doesn't even work.
Stephen Axcell - E-mail: steveaxcell@yahoo.co.uk

LC
Dear Stephen,
I 100% agree with your "vision" (pun intended) of multichannel. Just a remark on HiFi reviewers. It is unfair, to say the least, to say that reviewers don't pay for their HiFi. This is - most of the times - false. It is true, on the other hand, that reviewers may get a discount if they decide to buy an equipment they have reviewed (and liked, of course). That's quite standard and it is not any different than buying discounted ex-demo products from dealers.
Actually, test samples are nothing else than ex-demo products. The very same unit may be sent to different reviewers and/or used on HiFi Shows demos, making it become a real ex-demo (let's say USED!) product.
Of course - and obviously enough - reviewers do not pay for accessories that wear over time. For example, sample bottles of treatment fluids or so. You can't send them back (being almost empty) and you may not like those enough to justify payment in full :-)
Hope this clarifies things a bit,
Lucio Cadeddu

Old CD players
Dear Lucio
I am wondering if the comments you made about the Revox 226 in your recent and very interesting review could similarly apply to my Kenwood DP-990SG.
I bought this machine in a junkshop almost on a dare. I just felt that the player had integrity. And when I got home and lifted the hood it was evident that I was right, at least in regards the build quality which showed attention to stuff like dampening, isolation, board layout and electronic components. Tiny print on the bezel announces "diecast pickup frame", and "oversampling". And It could be a half decade older than your Revox!
Compared to today's more usual players it is heavy and massive about the size of a Sansui X-1 tuner. So what does it sound like?
Well, it is at least one rung up on my stock Marantz 6000 OSE. There is more detail, more bloom, more base, and cleaner, less flustered treble. It has a sharper tooth than my mid 90's NAD 502 but then what doesn't among the consumer class rigs of that period? Maybe you can say it is honest, dynamic and ... er ... unforgiving. But overall, it is a surprise coming from the era in which it was produced. It is my player of choice except when it comes to compilations that I burn to CD. It won't read them, even in Mac's OS X AIFF protocol import to burn. (No problem in the NAD or Marantz).

So far, my searches have yielded very little information about this machine except for some mention that two or three recording studios are listing one as being in their equipment lineup.
What other surprises may be sitting out there unappreciated? I hope that you will continue to update us on any orphaned gems from the past as you discover them.
Lorne Spry - E-mail: marilorn@abeam.ocn.ne.jp

LC
Dear Lorne,
unluckly I have no infos on your player but you can be sure I'll keep you dear readers updated on good "gems" from the past I may find from time to time. Buying previous "top of the line" equipment of the past may be a very clever choice, indeed. At a fraction of the original cost you can still enjoy damn good tunes.
Best regards,
Lucio Cadeddu

Mapletree Audio preamp review
Hi Scott,
Just a note to say how much I enjoyed your review of the Mapletree Audio preamp, your thoughts about the epistemology/aesthetics of the listening experience and your sense of humour. Your words articulate so well the experience I've had with a Mapletree Audio Ear++ line preamp/headphone amp: get off the equipment merry-go-round and enjoy musical involvement with non-audiophile recordings which, "accurate" or not, is a lot more fun than listening to spider farts - and affordable.
Audiophilia can still be accommodated with relatively affordable and easy upgrades like tube rolling, power cords and caps . I am very grateful to Dr. Lloyd for making all this possible, and looking forward to a phono preamp from Mapletree.
Cheers,
Christian Keresztes - E-mail: ck12@post.queensu.ca

SF
Hi Christian,
Thank you very much for your kind words. I really enjoyed my time with the Mapletree Ultra. As we have both said, sometimes this audiophile merry-go-round gets to be too much and you just have to get back into enjoying music. Doc's creation allows you to do that.
Since you enjoy the Ear, I think you are really going to like his phono stage.
Regards,
Scott Faller

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