Letters • August 2014

Analog Domain monoblocks versus. . . ?

August 26, 2014


I just read your great review of the Analog Domain Artemis amps. I have only recently discovered them, so your review was extremely valuable. They are now on my shortlist. I was wondering if I could ask a few questions.

How close were they to the Audio Research Reference 250s and CAT JL2 in terms of reproducing timbres and microdynamics? For me, instrumental timbres are one of the CAT's major strengths.

How would they compare to Lamm Signature amps or other SETs in terms of overall vibrancy?

I understand that Analog Domain has introduced a new circuit called Excalibur, which is supposed to offer significant improvement. Therefore I was wondering if you were planning to do a follow-up review of a current version with the new circuit?

Any feedback you could provide would be greatly appreciated.

Ashish Varma

Unfortunately, it has been such a long time -- almost two years -- since I heard the Analog Domain amps (not to mention the Audio Research and CAT amps) in my system that I can't really give you specifics about their sound, especially compared to other amps. This is a persistent issue with reviewing audio equipment online: the reviews live on long past the writers' abilities to make sense of the results, especially in light of newer products, which keep on coming.

Luckily, I have reviews from which to draw, so I can make some general comments. The Analog Domain amps were difficult to write about because they were so "not there" in the system. This is a very good thing, because they didn't overlay their personality onto the signal and music. However, it's not the kind of thing that people respond to -- you're paying your money, and in the case of these amps, quite a bit of money, so you want something evident for it. The Audio Research and CAT amps definitely had more of a sound of their own, although, with the CAT stereo amp, that will have changed considerably because Ken Stevens of CAT has not only improved the circuit but is using KT120 output tubes to boot (I heard the JL2 with 6550Cs). The newer and more powerful KT150s may be an option for newer JL2s as well.

As for single-ended triodes, I can't imagine a wider gulf between them and the 1000W Artemis monoblocks. People buy SETs precisely because they like one or more things that they do so well, while the owner of the Analog Domain amps will instead be smitten with their self-effacing lack of a personality.

I know from my many conversations with Analog Domain's Angel Despotov that he's not one to sit still, so I'm not surprised that he's made changes to his amps. I don't have any plans to write about amps with the Excalibur circuit, but I will happily pull that sword from the stone and tell readers what I hear if the new amps are sent my way. -Marc Mickelson

". . .the bamboo treatment"

August 24, 2014


Thank you very much for your article on the IKEA Aptitlig! I grabbed three and have been amazed. The MDF shelves in my rack were preventing me from hearing the best from the Stillpoints Ultra SSes in use under my components.

Yesterday I picked up some bamboo drink coasters from Bed Bath and Beyond. These went under the Ultra SSes under my speakers that had been resting directly on carpet. This was a pretty significant upgrade. I would have never thought of doing this.

I still have to grab some more bamboo, as I don't yet have all my Stillpoints covered. I'm still using the discontinued cones under my turntable, QB-8, and metal boxes on my MIT speaker cables. These will be the next to get the bamboo treatment. This is gonna be fun!

Thank you very much for taking the time to write up such an affordable upgrade.

Ken Bauernfreund

IKEA Aptitlig

August 15, 2014


I just read your article about the IKEA chopping boards. I've been using the previous generation of non-bamboo cutting boards for the last few years. I am heading out to replace those this weekend. Great read!

Vern Ipswich

Which Audio Research preamp?

August 8, 2014


For various reasons I never bought an Audio Research VSi60 (or VSi75) last year to use as a "winter amp." But I bought a Reference 75 last month, in the middle of one of the hottest summers ever here. I know it's strange to consider a "cheap" amp and then buy an expensive one (a Reference 75 is about $13,000 in Sweden!), but I figured I would regret it for the rest of my life if I had two semi-good amps instead of one really good one.

The Reference 75 only has about 400 hours on it, but I just love it! Way, way better than my Bel Canto monoblocks! I can't imagine how nice it will sound when it's fully broken in.

But now I have a question that I hope you can answer for me. I'm sure you get like a zillion letters with this type of question, but I would really appreciate your answer because I trust you. And you have Audio Research, Shunyata, SRA and Wilson, just as I have (smaller versions than you, but still. . .).

I said to myself when I bought the amp that I would not buy a preamp. "My old Weiss will work just fine direct into the Reference 75." And it does, but I can't stop thinking about how good an Audio Research preamp must sound with the Reference 75.

So the question is: Will I be happy and satisfied with an LS17 SE or LS27, or do I have to go for the Reference 5 SE? Considering how expensive these preamps are here in Sweden, I'll save a lot of money if I can go for the LS17 SE or LS27. (The Reference 5 SE is about $18,500, the LS27 about $11,000 and LS17 SE about $8000 here. The upgrade for a Reference 5 to SE status would cost about $4500!) I have read the review of LS17 SE that John Crossett wrote, and it seems nice, but I would really like to have your opinion about this.

I have never heard a Reference 5 SE, LS17 SE or LS27, and I think it's pretty hard to listen to them here where I live. Sure, the store in my town might get them if I really really begged, but trying them in my home for a couple of weeks would be difficult, I'm afraid.

Buried here might be another strange question about buying a product unheard when it comes to this kind of money. But since I have never heard a Reference 5 SE, I don't know what I'm missing if I can do with the LS27 or LS17 SE. At least that is what I keep saying to myself to not feel so silly.

I really hope you can help me with this!

Stefan Lindström

You ask an eternal question: Will I miss what I don't experience? In specific, are the Audio Research LS17 SE and LS27 "good enough" for use with a Reference 75. The easy answer is "yes"; the one in light of the Reference 5 SE is "maybe not."

To explain, the two less expensive Audio Research preamps are voiced just as the Reference 5 SE is, so they are very good mates with any Audio Research amp. However, the Reference equipment is really meant to be used together, and you'll get the most from your amp if you pair it with the Reference 5 SE -- and vice versa. You'll hear more air and low-end power and an even greater sense of space. Given the Reference 75's price, I suspect there are more than a few owners who use it with the LS27 in particular, but like you they almost certainly dream of the Reference 5 SE.

You can't go wrong with any of the choices here. All three preamps are electrical and sonic matches for the Reference 75. Letting your budget guide you may be the smart move, but I wouldn't be surprised if after buying one of the non-Reference preamps you begin thinking about its trade-in value on a Reference 5 SE. Such is the psychology of an audiophile, and to some extent it's a road you've already traveled with your amp purchase. -Marc Mickelson

"Top-tier" CD player?

August 1, 2014


I need to buy a top-tier CD player (in one or two boxes), regardless of price. Can you recommend two or three models that I should audition?

John Michas

My definition of "top-tier" may be different from yours, as the two CD-playback systems (they are not mere CD players) that come to mind both have four chassis, not just one or two.

The first is the Zanden Audio Model 2000P CD transport and Model 5000S digital-to-analog converter -- with their separate power supplies. The second is the dCS Vivaldi system -- transport, DAC, upsampler and clock. The Zanden separates remain the most analog-sounding digital gear I've heard in my system (and I mean that in the very best way), while the dCS system, which I've heard only at shows, has a sense of endless resolution and ease that is addictive. Both are very expensive -- nearly $50,000 for the Zanden separates, over $100,000 for the dCS -- but they are as good as digital gets. The dCS DAC can also take the place of an analog preamp and handle SACDs as well as file playback from computer, so there's functionality beyond mere CD playback. -Marc Mickelson


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