Letters • April 2011

Too much reclocking bad?

April 27, 2011


Do you still recommend the Sensory Power Active Digital Cable? I have an Empirical Audio Pace Car that also reclocks and would like to know if you think too much reclocking to be detrimental.

Howard Lindo

Even though I haven't had the SensoryPower Active Digital Cable in my system for quite some time, I remember it well and do recommend it for use with the very best digital front-ends (although I can't say it was a definitive improvement over I2S connection with the wonderful Zanden separates).

Whether too much reclocking is potentially detrimental is a question I can't answer. I can say from experience that cascading jitter-reduction devices into each other created some noticeable improvement. However, your Empirical Audio Pace Car appears to be much more than a simple reclocking unit, so adding hardware and hoping to improve its performance seems like a long shot, at least with today's technology. -Marc Mickelson

Plates or Stones?

April 21, 2011


I'm contacting you because I'm looking for some accessories. I'm interested in HRS Damping Plates and Shakti Stones, but I need your help because I really don't understand if they are similar products or where they should be used. I saw that many people use Shakti Stones on top of electronics with large transformers and that others use HRS Plates with electronics and on top of CD players. Still others use Shakti Stones on top of speakers. The more I read, the more confused I become. I have only three components, and I want to know if you recommend the Shakti Stones or the HRS Plates for use with them: an Audio Aero Capitole Classic SE CD player, a Silvaweld tube preamplifier, and PMC AML-1 powered monitors.

I appreciate your recommendations.

Pablo Hoffman

The HRS Damping Plates, which I use, and Shakti Stones are different products with some overlap in what they were designed to accomplish. As their name suggests, the Damping Plates are used to damp vibration in the chassis of audio components. They do this through the use of different materials, including a special dense polymer, and they work well. Shakti Stones may also provide some damping, but their claimed main purpose is to absorb and dissipate electromagnetic interference (EMI). This is likely why people recommend their use with electronics, especially power amplifiers with robust transformers. I have no firsthand experience with Shakti Stones, but EMI can certainly have deleterious effects on audio performance, and anything that dissipates it should improve sound.

In your case, I can only recommend experimentation. A Damping Plate on your CD player makes the most sense because of the player's moving parts, with perhaps Shakti Stones on your preamp and active speakers. Both the HRS Damping Plates and Shakti Stones should work best at certain spots on a product's chassis. Luckily, experimentation is easy. -Marc Mickelson

Opus 21 vs. Valve Isis

April 18, 2011


I would like to thank you for and compliment you on a very useful and informative review of the Rega Isis CD players. I currently own a Resolution Audio Opus 21 that has the Statement Mod from Great Northern Sound Company. I have used this player for several years and feel that for its price ($5500) it is an excellent performer. I am ready for an upgrade. I noticed in your review that the Opus 21 was listed as associated equipment, and I was curious if you would be so kind as to compare it to the Valve Isis. I am not a wealthy man, nor do I have a dealer near me, so due diligence is necessary before upgrading.

Darrin Turner

I used the Opus 21 as my reference player until last year and have to say that the choice between it and the Valve Isis comes down to taste. The Rega player isn't as dynamic nor as open as the Opus 21, but it has a better sense of timing and a rather more substantial sound. In a very analytical system, the Rega player is preferable, but if you like the balance you have now, it's hard to say whether the Rega player will represent an upgrade for you. But it is different from the Opus 21 in a positive way, and that's very appealing. -Jason Kennedy

Going mono with VPI?

April 14, 2011


I want to clarify something. Is a VPI turntable a great fit for someone who wants to play both stereo and mono LPs without having to purchase two turntables or switch the headshell, because one can just switch armwands, which is the easiest way? I suppose that while cheaper than purchasing two turntables, one still has a considerable expense owning not only a second cartridge but also a second tonearm.

I own a VPI Classic, but I will sell it soon (along with my EAR 324 phono stage) to be able to afford the basics of a new system I am building. Hopefully, in the next few years, I will be able to purchase another turntable, and I will consider the VPI Classic 3 if you think it is much better than the original and will work well if I decide to try mono.

Jeff Levine

Yes, a VPI 'table (more specifically, a VPI tonearm) is great for someone who needs to change cartridges. If you look at the 'arm, you see that everything on the pivot swaps out, which means you don't have to readjust VTF or azimuth. You only have to account for VTA, which may be the same (if you use two very similar cartridges) or can be easily dialed in if the 'arm has a graduated VTA tower (I think the Classic 3 does). Aside from a second 'table or tonearm, this is the easiest way to alternate between stereo and mono cartridges. -Marc Mickelson

Ayre MX-R break-in

April 9, 2011


My Ayre MX-Rs arrived the other day. I’ve already hooked them up to begin breaking them in. Strangely, jazz already sounds a little better than with my previous amps, but rock sounds worse. The MX-R owner’s manual says 100 to 500 hours of break-in are necessary, so I’m bracing myself for a long, long wait for the magic to come about. I’ve got enough jazz CDs to last me a month, and rock, I suppose, will have to wait until May or so.

Did you experience similar out-of-the-box genre selectivity with MX-Rs (or, for that matter, with any other power amps)? Just curious.

John Roberts

The MX-Rs I reviewed were well-used demos, so they had many hundreds of hours on them before they reached me. Still, they needed some warm-up before sounding their best; I pretty much left them on constantly. However, at no point did they favor jazz over rock, for instance.

Ayre sells a "System Enhancement Disc" that may help you get your MX-Rs into playing shape faster. It's certainly worth a try, although you will want to play its five-minute glide tone while you're out of the room, as it will drive you a little buggy if you listen to it often. -Marc Mickelson

Amps for Thiel speakers?

April 6, 2011


I read your review of the Ayre MX-R amps with great interest, mainly because I see that among your review speakers was the Thiel CS3.7. I live in the UK and have not yet had to chance to hear these, but one thing I have wondered is how Ayre amps would sound partnered with Thiels, as they are known to be bright. I own a pair of Thiel CS2.3s and like them very much, but they need a good amp to drive them, which I don’t have as yet. I’ve previously considered getting a pair of used Mark Levinson No.33H monoblocks, as their tone seems to suit Thiels very well.

Damian Kennaby

Yes, I did use the MX-Rs with Thiel CS3.7s, the review of which I'm finishing right now. Thiel speakers need stout, powerful amps, and the MX-Rs qualify. The MX-Rs and CS3.7s were a very good combination -- highly resolving and spacious, light and lithe -- and certainly not bright. It has been a number of years since I reviewed a Mark Levinson amp, and I've never heard the No.33H monoblocks in my system, so I can't give you any worthwhile feedback there. A solid-state amp I have heard and admired greatly is the Conrad-Johnson Premier 350, which has been discontinued. I suspect it would be a great match with Thiel speakers. -Marc Mickelson

Reviewing an opera review

April 4, 2011


Leonard Bloom's review of Puccini's Tosca and La Bohème is terrific -- informed, helpful, judicious. He talks about the performances, the historical significance, and the quality of the recordings completely convincingly, efficiently, without fuss or indulgence. A really great review.

Now, I have to get out and try to find these, not only on CD but LP!

Garrett Hongo

Analog "importance ladder"

April 1, 2011


I have a question for you. It has to do with turntables and the importance ladder, so to speak. The way I see it, there are several things that contribute to a fine-sounding analog playback system: the turntable itself, the tonearm, the cartridge, isolation products, clean source material and the phono stage. My system is the following. I have a Well Tempered Amadeus GTA turntable with its integrated tonearm. I am using a Dynavector XX2 Mk II cartridge. I have the turntable on the top shelf of a Grand Prix Audio Monaco rack. The phono stage I am using is the Dynavector DV-P75 Mk II. I also use a VPI 16.5 cleaning machine.

With a good source material, it an amazing setup. All I hear is the music -- no snap, crackle or pop at all. I know that relatively speaking it is not an expensive analog rig, but I really like it. I do see myself keeping it for a long time. I have read where people have put cartridges on this 'table that cost way more than the one I am using, and they all say that they really shine.

Sorry for the long intro to the question, but here it is. How important to the overall sound is the phono stage? What would I gain if I step up to a “better" phono stage?

Mike Doukas

The phono stage is vitally important to the sonic outcome of an analog rig, and for a few reasons. First, it provides the electrical interface between the cartridge and line stage, providing the gain the cartridge requires along with proper loading. Without these, the sound suffers in ways that are easy to hear. Without enough gain, records won't play at sufficient level and lack dynamics. With improper loading, the music's spectral balance will be skewed. Second, like any source electronics, the phono stage has its own sonic personality that, when things are right, enhances the performance of the turntable and cartridge.

What you will gain with a "better" preamp is likely more options for loading, perhaps more gain without an increase in noise, and a personality that will work better with your system. The upside is potentially immense. -Marc Mickelson


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