Letters • August 2011

Lamm M1.1s "still viable?"

August 28, 2011


We've corresponded in time past, and your input helped me make some very significant audio decisions. Out of the volumes of audio reviewers, I've gravitated to a very small few who I believe offer honest and impartial reviews. You are at the top of that very short list. Thanks for all you do.

When we spoke last, I had an all-Mark Levinson system -- No.390S CD player/preamp and No.33H monoblocks -- along with Revel Salons. I have since switched gears altogether. I'm now running a dCS digital combo -- Delius and Purcell -- into PBN Denali amps, which are fully differential monoblocks that produce 900 watts each. The Denalis are feeding Wilson Audio WATT/Puppy 8s in Mercedes Silver. I love the sound of the new system over the old, but I am looking to upgrade the amp to a reference-quality amp like those from Lamm. I'm not sure I can afford the M1.2 Reference monoblocks, which I know you herald. Will the M1.1s, which I also know you were impressed with, be added to the short list? I know the amp might be a bit dated, but is it still viable? I like the idea of the hybrid approach.

Ray Hendrickson

The differences between the Lamm M1.1 and M1.2 Reference are not profuse, and the heart of both amps is the same hybrid circuit. While I know firsthand that the M1.2 is an upgrade sonically, the M1.1s are competitive with most amplifiers produced today, especially at a deeply discounted used price. I would still counsel you to hold out for the M1.2s, which also show up used, but the M1.1s are about as good a compromise as you can make if you covet the M1.2s but want to save some money. Lamm amps are also a synergistic match with Wilson Audio speakers. -Marc Mickelson

Zanden DAC and USB

August 22, 2011


How would you rate the Zanden Model 5000S DAC? Is it able to hold its own with the march of time? I would like to set up a server-based front-end and was looking at options.

Is it a prerequisite that a DAC today should have a USB input? Is that the future interface or will a standard AES/EBU or S/PDIF suffice? I just want to ensure that if I am investing in a DAC today it will continue to hold its own tomorrow.

Arshad Fudukin

I still consider the Zanden Model 5000S to be half of the best CD-playback rig I've heard. Of course, the other half is the Model 2000P transport, and the two units must be connected via I2S. I see no reason you shouldn't be able to achieve similar results using a computer as the source, provided you connect via I2S, which may be possible with M2Tech's HiFace EVO. This appears to be (perhaps among other things) an input/output converter. It may allow you to take in digital data from USB and output to I2S. I say "may" because Zanden hasn't tested this with its I2S implementation but should sometime soon. FYI: Esoteric distributes M2Tech products in the US.

The Model 5000S can handle only CD-resolution data, so you'll need another DAC for listening to 24-bit/96kHz and 24-bit/192kHz music files. However, most of what you play will likely be from CDs you rip, and here the Model 5000S will shine.

For DACs sold today, a USB input is mandatory, as computer use is really what's driving the sale of these units. I can't imagine any producer of a new DAC not including a USB input. How does Zanden get away with not including USB for the Model 5000S? It was introduced before connecting a computer was a common practice. It's also only for CD-resolution data and intended for use with the Model 2000P transport. It's an anachronism and happily so.

It is possible, however, to use a non-USB DAC with a computer, either via a soundcard that has S/PDIF output or one of the USB-to-S/PDIF converters available. Perhaps the best of these is the Halide Design S/PDIF Bridge, which is an integrated digital-to-digital converter and USB-to-S/PDIF digital cable that implements Gordon Rankin's Streamlength asynchronous technology for sending the digital stream from a computer with the least amount of jitter. It's very worthwhile sonically and it's easy to install, as I noted in my blog, "Over the Bridge: A Shortcut to Computer Audio". -Marc Mickelson

Timbre TT-1 tips

August 16, 2011


I came across your article "Over the Bridge: A Shortcut to Computer Audio"  from last December and couldn't help but be interested. I have a Timbre TT-1 2000 DAC that I picked up a couple of years ago and purchased a Halide S/PDIF Bridge BNC version when it came out. Back around December, I ordered a dB Audio Labs Tranquility DAC with Essential USB cable. The Tranquility and subsequent Signature Edition have been getting very positive reviews. However, and a big "however" at that, I preferred the sound of the Timbre so much more. It just had an amazing richness to the sound and brought out so much from voices. So I returned the Tranquility, less the restocking fee. Fine, I lost money, but I gained more respect and appreciation for what I had. I was previously using a Unico integrated, which I really liked, but I bought a Simaudio PW-5000. I found that the Simaudio really complemented the Timbre, and its neutrality allowed me to hear what the DAC could really do.

All of my music is 16-bit/44.1kHz so despite the temptations, I don't think I will be parting with my Timbre unless something goes wrong. I do find it is somewhat picky in that the optical doesn't work and the BNC has to be installed just right for it to work. Given your extensive experience and knowledge, I was interested if you had any recommendations or tips on how to better use the Timbre or how to get the most out of it. I use a Mac Mini for my server, so my system is 100% computer based. I was an early adopter, first using a Roku Soundbridge, then Squeezebox, before moving on to a Mac.

Umayr Allem

Another fan of the Timbre DAC! I first bought a TT-1 in the early 1990s, and like you, I owned one of the rare TT-1 2000s sometime after that, selling it to move to something else. About a year ago, I purchased a standard TT-1 again, and I've enjoyed using it as you are -- with a computer as the source. In the rush to computer audio, people have overlooked great-sounding pre-USB DACs like the TT-1. Their loss.

In terms of getting the most out of your DAC, you are already doing an important thing (as far as I've been told by Gordon Rankin and others): using it with a Mac instead of a PC. Beyond that, you may want to have yours repaired, so connection isn't so finicky. When I last spoke to David Goldstein, one of the principals of Timbre, a year ago, he mentioned that the people at Rainbow Electronics/Shoreline in California have the jigs needed to open the DAC (as you know, it has a unique rounded chassis that doesn't allow easy internal access) in order to do repairs and updates. You can get contact information through the Shoreline website. Your TT-1 2000 must have had BNC added (I know that some DACs did). That makes it a particularly rare unit, as my earlier TT-1 2000 didn't have that. From my experience, this should be the best-sounding way to connect computer and DAC.

I also recommend experimenting with the Genesis Digital Lens, if you can find one used -- they are very sought after. I have always found it to offer noticeable improvement, especially with the Timbre DAC. You will have to add a digital cable to use the Digital Lens, and the DH Labs D-75 is both inexpensive and very, very good. -Marc Mickelson

Lamm hybrid amps, Magico speakers

August 13, 2011


What is the best model of Lamm hybrid monoblock? I've asked my dealer to bring in the D'Agostino Momentum and Audio Research Reference 250 to try with both of my speakers. I'm curious if the 110-watt Lamms will be sufficient for my Revel Salon2s. To get the Momentums, I will have to keep only a pair of speakers. I must sell either my Wilson Sophia 3s or the Salon2s.

Oh, and now the talk of the town is the Magico Q3. How do you feel about the Magico sound? In your opinion, why do some reviewers seems to love it so much?

Wiratorn Ruk

The Lamm M1.2 Reference is fully class A, while the M2.2 runs in class A for the first 40 watts or so and then class A/B after that. The M2.2 is roughly twice as powerful, therefore, than the M1.2. The two amps sound very similar, but the M1.2 sounds slightly better -- fuller through the midrange, sweeter in the treble and more spacious -- at higher levels. Vladimir Lamm will tell you the same thing.

The power output of the M1.2 is actually around 150 watts, and a pair of the amps will drive all but the most insensitive speakers. You should have no issues with your speakers. The M2.2s are for the few speakers that the M1.2s won't drive.

As for Magico, I haven't heard any Magico speakers in over two years, and that includes at the shows I've attended, so I'm not the person to comment on their sound. -Marc Mickelson

Amp for Focal speakers

August 9, 2011


I read with great interest your review of the Focal Electra 1008 Be speakers posted in January 2011. I'm building a new system from scratch that will be primarily for audio only (music lover), not cinema. These are speakers I am very interested in purchasing, but I want to make sure I do not go too short on the amplification for them -- as you stressed, they need decent amplification.

At present I'm looking at integrated amps from Arcam and Cambridge. Are these products adequate to bring out the best in the Focals, or should I be looking at higher-end separates? Specifically, amps I'm looking at are the Cambridge Azur 740A and the Arcam FMJ A38, which are about 100Wpc, as well as CD players from both companies. I am also looking at Blu-ray players from Oppo and Cambridge, although I am likely to use those with other speakers in the music-theater area (looking at Paradigm speakers for that system).

Rick Hill

I think that one of the situations Focal owners need to confront on a regular basis is that of the inadequate amplifier. I have had the 1008 Be working superbly on the end of a 25,000 amplifier combination. My point being that their potential is high, and though I don't necessarily see this as completely valid, they can and do respond to this level of amplification. Not all speakers do, regardless of cost.

So, to answer your question as to whether the integrated amplifiers you mention will " bring out the best" in the Focals, I would have to offer a definite "no." I am not criticizing the amps, you understand, but rather, praising the speakers. I should add that you will get a thoroughly decent sound with either amp and the Focals, but I like to view components in terms of their musical potential, and the 1008 Be has lots of that.

So, with my uncompromising hat on, I would gently suggest that you try to push the quality of both the CD player and the amplifiers as far as you can. I don't want to give you specific suggestions at this stage, but I would certainly nudge you gently towards a lengthy listening session before you buy, if this is possible. -Chris Thomas

Comparing ARC and CAT amps

August 4, 2011


I just read with great interest your report on the new Audio Research Reference 250 monoblocks. Very interesting indeed. These amps are very high on my list at present. I know this wasn't a detailed review, but I was wondering if you had any thoughts or comments on how the amps would compare with the Convergent Audio Technology JL2 Signature amp you reviewed a while back, especially in terms of low-level detail, transparency and bass control. I live in Ireland and it's impossible for me to have side-by-side comparison of the two amps. Any feedback you can provide would be appreciated.

Ash Varma

As I sat listening to the Reference 250s, I honestly thought that the amps they remind me of the most are those from CAT, which pair sheer power with many of the more refined aspects of musical reproduction. It's been such a long time since I heard any CAT amp in my system, however, and I've never heard the Reference 250s here, so unfortunately I can't speculate on how the two might be alike (or different) except in the broad way I mention above. It would be tricky to do a head-to-head comparison of the amps, because the Reference 250s have only balanced inputs, while CAT amps are single ended, and many fully balanced preamps sound slightly different from their XLR and RCA outputs. -Marc Mickelson

Phono cables

August 1, 2011


Great article -- as always -- on phono cables.

I'm a tad confused. When you refer to "phono cables," are you referring to the interconnects between the turntable and phono preamp? I'm using regular TARA Labs interconnects from my turntable to phono stage and the same from my phono stage to preamp. It sounds OK. Am I using the right type of interconnects? I'm still a tad green on analog, so bear with me.

By the way, your articles beat everyone else's out there. Keep up the incredible work.

Sheldon Simon

Yes, by "phono cable" I mean the run of wire from the turntable to the phono stage or phono input of your preamp. (After the phono stage, the signal is at line level, so standard interconnects are fine here.) You are ultimately connecting your phono cartridge with this cable, and its tiny signal has special needs. As you've discovered, if your tonearm is not hard-wired and you have terminations with RCA jacks (or, in the rare case, XLRs), then you can use a run of interconnect. However, you will likely achieve better performance with a dedicated phono cable whose electrical properties and, moreover, way of addressing noise will allow your phono cartridge to sound its best. Both of the Furutech phono cables I wrote about are available with RCAs as well as straight and angled DIN connectors on the upstream end. -Marc Mickelson


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