Letters • April 2013

Ayre DX-5, Blue Train, SHM-SACDs, and computer audio

April 29, 2013


Your review of the Ayre DX-5 (which I own, as you might remember) is right on the money. If I had your writer’s talent, I’d write something very similar. So, I just wanted to complement you on the very thorough research you conducted before writing your review. Thank you for a job superbly done!

Don’t throw stones at me, but your collection of Coltrane’s Blue Train is not complete until you get the 24-bit/192kHz DVD-A version by Classic Records. I also owned the Analogue Productions SACD at one time and sold it after comparing it to the Classic Records HDAD. It is uncanny and mind-boggling. The smoothness, the presence, the darkness of it needs to be heard to be believed. Amazingly, it is still available from most decent retailers at only $25. You might end up selling all of your other versions of this album when and if you get this one.

Could you please tell me what SHM-SACDs you currently own and which ones turned out to be disappointments to be avoided? I currently own seven and only one (Innuendo by Queen) fell short of my expectations. I think I’d like to buy more, but would like to avoid mistakes, as at $60 apiece, such mistakes are a bit costly.

Last but not least, I was surprised by your rather lukewarm stance on computer audio generally and with DX-5 in particular. I haven’t taken the plunge yet, but almost everyone keeps telling me, that a Mac Mini (with Amarra or Pure Music on board) plus the AudioQuest PSS silver USB cable plus the Ayre DX-5’s DAC leaves disk spinning - even SACD spinning - far behind, what with the need to continuously correct disc-reading errors and so on. I was wondering if, since reviewing DX-5, you had a chance to play around with computer audio playback in your system and, if so, has your stance changed at all?

Alexander Guilidov

I'm glad you found the DX-5 review accurate, especially because you own one. As you note, I don't own the 24-bit/192kHz DVD-A of Blue Train, although I do have Classic Records' earlier 24-bit/96kHz DVD-V. While I don't really need another copy of this great music, I'll probably pick up the HDAD at the next show I attend, just because you've planted the seed in my head.

As for SHM-SACDs, I've not come across any that I would call a "mistake," even Steely Dan's Aja, which some people have expressed displeasure with. (I don't own Queen's Innuendo, by the way.) I will say that I'm not sure the SHM-SACD of the Rolling Stones' Beggars Banquet is worth the premium in price over the ABKCO SACD from a few years earlier. On the other hand, I do think the various Bill Evans Riverside titles and Sonny Rollins' Way Out West and Saxophone Colossus are well worth the cost, and I also own multiple copies of them all. Also, as your DX-5 can play Blu-ray music discs, you should look into the Deluxe Edition of Rush's Moving Pictures and the UK release of the Stones' GRRR! greatest-hits compilation. Be sure to get the Blu-ray edition of the Rush package, not the DVD; Rush's 2112 is also available the same way.

Finally, as I stated in the answer to another recent reader letter, computer audio remains a curiosity for me, one whose potential, I believe, has still not been reached. As much I would like to believe that file playback from computer is better than it is from a spinning disc, my ears have so far indicated otherwise. I am interested in evaluating DSD archiving and file playback, and one of the Bryston units that allow file playback from a thumb drive, no computer needed. I guess you could say that I'm on the fence, although I will admit that I've not fully investigated computer audio, probably because I'm playing and enjoying more CDs, SACDs and LPs more than ever. -Marc Mickelson

No need to upgrade when playing "only" LPs?

April 23, 2013


I have the greatest confidence in your reviews. I purchased the Audio Research Reference 75 after your coverage to replace the Reference 110.

For over 40 years I have been collecting classical LPs and have over 2500 records. I do not listen to CDs at all and consider my Decca LPs of operas to be gems! I use a Clearaudio turntable with linear-tracking 'arm together with Audio Research electronics and Sonus faber Stradivari speakers.

I use an Audio Research Reference 3 preamp. My audio friend states that since I only use the volume control of my preamp, I need not upgrade. Would you agree?

Regards and many thanks for the good you are doing for audio lovers!

Thrity Shroff

Your friend makes a reasonable point, given your single-input system, but I don't agree with it based on experience. I've owned both the Reference 3 and Reference 5, and the difference between them was completely in the Reference 5's favor. You actually need the gain of an active line stage even more with analog than digital, and I am sure that if you upgraded to the Reference 5 SE, for instance, you'd hear the difference, even "only" playing LPs. -Marc Mickelson

"Cabling Your System"

April 18, 2013


Nice job on the last Tech InSite case study. Thanks.

Brent Rody

We're glad you like this area of the site. There are actually two other Tech InSites in the works, and we're anxious to get them online. -Marc Mickelson

"Best" with Ayre MX-Rs?

April 11, 2013


I'm still an avid fan of the The Audio Beat. Can I please pick you brain and ask you a question about a review you wrote of long ago? Do you remember the Ayre MR-X review? Especially with which preamp you tested the power amps? Did the amps sound their best with the Ayre KX-R or with the Audio Research Reference 5?

Patrick Vancompernolle

Your question is a good one, but also one that I can't answer definitely. First, I reviewed the MX-Rs two and a half years ago, and second, both the Reference 5 and KX-R worked especially well with the MX-Rs, although they certainly didn't sound identical, as I recall. Not surprisingly, the Reference 5 moved the sound more toward what tubes do well: space, fuller images, ease. The KX-R was rather like the MX-Rs -- possessing superior transient fidelity and dynamics, along with what's best termed as unforced resolution.

"Best" in this case is relative. I would say that if you love your MX-Rs, the KX-R is the easiest choice for partnering preamp. However, it would be impossible for me to say that it was better than the Reference 5 -- perhaps because that's the preamp I owned at the time, perhaps because I just like tubes. -Marc Mickelson

"Pet-free environment"

April 8, 2013


Tomorrow I welcome a new dog to the household. I’ve had dogs before, but not since I’ve been in to the high-end audio hobby. How concerned should I be regarding shedding dog hair and my speakers and electronics? I usually keep the speaker grills off. Should I readdress that?

I don’t think the Boston terrier is a huge shedder -- but not too sure. Should I keep the grilles on or am I being crazy here? I just recall so many for-sale ads specifically mentioning "pet-free environment." I'm wondering what your thoughts are.

Sheldon Simon

I think "pet-free environment" in for sale-ads is a further reassurance of good condition, not a proclamation of anything in particular. The ultimate condition of any item you try to sell overrides your owning a pet -- or not owning a pet. We have three cats, all well behaved, and they've never damaged any audio item I've owned -- and I've never felt the need to proclaim this when I sold a preamp, for instance. Smoking is a different matter, as it can leave a residual odor that may bother some people. I remember buying a piece of electronics with that issue, and I took it back.

My advice is to enjoy your new dog. -Marc Mickelson

Preamp choices

April 5, 2013


We've traded e-mail every so often. I really love The Audio Beat! I am curious about buying a new preamp. My sources are the dCS Scarlatti stack, a Nagra VPS with EAR MC step-up transformer, Lyra Atlas cartridge / Triplanar tonearm / Grand Prix Monoco turntable analog rig. My amps are the Ayre MX-Rs, which you reviewed a while back. My current preamp is a Nagra PLL. Speakers are Wilson MAXX 3s, but I have Rockport Altair 2s on order.

Did you listen to the Ayre KX-R at all? Any thoughts you can share? I am also considering the Audio Research Reference 5 SE (I could also find a Reference Anniversary used or buy a Reference 10 if I love the 5 SE) and maybe maybe the Robert Koda K-10. I don't want to nudge my system in any way toward something more lean. This has me a bit nervous with the 6H30 tubes in the Audio Research preamp as well as the solid-state Ayre KX-R.

Robert Koch of Robert Koda and I did trade e-mails. I'm pretty sure I'll be able to try the K-10 as well as the Audio Research and Ayre preamps in my system over the next month.

John Frech

Given the preamps you've mentioned, I don't think any of them would be a poor choice, and I suspect you'd find, as I have, that they all have their strengths. I did, in fact, listen to the Ayre KX-R when I reviewed the MX-Rs, and it deserves to be in your lineup of possibilities. I don't think it, or any of the preamps you've mentioned, will nudge your system toward a lean sound, although the KX-R might give that impression, depending on what you're used to. Before I heard the KX-R, I was told that it's a better preamp than the MX-Rs are amps -- very high praise indeed. I didn't audition it long enough to confirm this, but I can say that it's a very fine preamp.

Reading between the lines of your message, I think a tube unit may suit you best. You've identified all of the balanced suspects here, except for one: the VTL TL-7.5 III, which would make for an especially interesting match with the MX-Rs, the two of them imparting some thrilling transients and dynamics. The Robert Koda K-10 is all solid state, but it possesses the greatest unforced detail and ease of the preamps you mention, so it is another one for you to investigate. -Marc Mickelson

"The Objectivity of Subjectivity"

April 1, 2013


I have to admit that when I read the title of your essay (okay, blog), I nearly did not go on to read it. I feared another of the endless discussions (okay, rants) about objectivity and subjectivity you refer to in your piece. However, I care deeply about this subject and have tried many times to explain it to non-audiophiles, so I read on.

Instead, I was very pleasantly surprised to find a rational explanation of the terms, and how they applied to these discussions, without much of a trace of the usual rancor accompanying such discussions. It may still have been a little bit pedantic, but I think you pretty much avoided sounding that way, and it was illuminating. It may very well help me to explain this phenomenon in the future.

I also like to use the analogy to wine appreciation very often to explain the phenomenon of "learning to hear" or training your ears, or more likely, brain, to appreciate the differences we pay so dearly to make. I think it is probably the most apt comparison one can make about our hobby.

Thanks for this.

Paul Sairio


The Audio Beat • Nothing on this site may be reprinted or reused without permission.