Letters • December 2012

Old layout vs. new

December 28, 2012


One semi-coherent man's opinion: I prefer the old format (where the leading review appears on the Home page). It looks tidier. I've always held a high opinion of your e-mag's appearance. This new format I see as a notch below.

Mike Silverton

Thanks for your feedback. Because I got rid of the "Latest Reviews" listing at the bottom of four of the navigation pages but still wanted that information to be somewhere, I came up with putting it on the Home page. If others tell me they feel the way you do, I can easily change it back, but perhaps the new Home-page layout will grow on you. -Marc Mickelson

BMC review -- when?

December 24, 2012


Do you have any idea when you'll be reviewing the BMC gear? I'm particularly interested in the DAC1 Pre as both preamp and DAC, compared to my MSB DAC IV and Bel Canto PRE3vb.

Bob Siegel

I am reviewing the entire BMC system -- everything but the company's speakers -- and, as you can probably imagine, this takes quite a bit of time and listening. I had hoped to have the review online before CES, but I won't make that deadline. So you'll see the review sometime in early 2013. I don't have any experience with the MSB and Be Canto units you mention, but I will offer some insights into the BMC DAC1 Pre. -Marc Mickelson

Zanden or CAT?

December 18, 2012


I read your review of the Zanden Audio Model 3000 and your comparison to the Convergent Audio Technology (CAT) SL1 Legend. I have the Legend at home and I have decided to move toward the Zanden. I'm searching for a more transparent sound, but I do not want to lose the CAT low-end extension and control. Do you think I'm going in the right direction with Zanden?

Giuseppe D'Agata

You ask a tough question for me to answer, because I haven't had the Zanden Model 3000 in my system for a very long time. I have a CAT SL-1 Legend here and listen to it as often as I can, given reviews I'm working on. It's a rarity among tube preamps because of its rhythmic drive and low-end weight with control. Looking at my Zanden review, in which I compare the CAT and Zanden preamps, I note that the SL1 Legend's bass "has honest heft, not a false perception of such caused by midbass bloat." I don't remember the Model 3000's bass in the same terms, saying it "was quick off the mark and very well controlled. . . , though with digital. . .I did note a touch of leanness in the midbass that reduced the bouncy power." While the SL1 Legend is more likely to give you the "low-end extension" you seek, I don't think you'll find the Model 3000's bass lacking in control, though you likely will find it to be leaner, which may or may not be an issue for you.

Let me add another variable for you to consider, given all that you're seeking: the VTL TL-7.5 III, which Paul Bolin is reviewing right now. I have one of these preamps in my system as well, and it's both highly transparent and possessing bass that may be all that you're after. I don't want to give too much away in advance of Paul's review, but the '7.5 is definitely worth investigating as well. -Marc Mickelson

Cable believers and nonbelievers

December 12, 2012


I know I keep asking this question, but why do people not see cables as a component? Is it because they say, "All it has to do is pass power or signal"? I mean, I just read a something where people could not tell the difference between a coat hanger and Monster Cable, and they use that as proof that cables don’t make a difference. My friends know that I spend money on cables, and I know they think I am probably ill-informed for doing so. It’s also not like my friends don’t have good systems, because they do. One has a full Triad setup and the other has a full Legacy Audio setup. Plus, the first knows a lot about audio and the second is a drummer, so they both know music.

I keep on thinking about a line from one of Matrix movies: "Not everyone believes what you believe, Morpheus." His answer: “My beliefs do not require them to." That’s how I feel. If they don’t believe that cables matter, that is fine. I do. I don’t think it’s all in my head, but we cable believers are getting more rare, I think, and we have to be careful who we talk to about this stuff. When it comes to power cords, forget it. Don’t even start on that. The thought is, power is power and delivery is delivery. If it comes to your house, what possible difference could a special power cord make? They think it is all snake oil and one big, fat conspiracy.

I just needed to talk to someone who does not think I am crazy for thinking cables make a difference.

Mike Doukas

Here is a slightly different spin on the issue. As much as we say that being an audiophile is "about the music," for some of us it clearly is not. I've crossed paths with more than a few self-professed audiophiles who rely more on a priori theories -- like "cables make no difference" -- than their ears. Clearly, some of these people can't hear the difference between a coat hanger and an audiophile cable, and because they can't hear it, they presume that you can't as well -- and that you're fooling yourself by saying that you do. But perception is not a constant. Some people are more aware, more perceptive, than others, and I suspect we're among them, at least where sound is concerned, as I can clearly hear differences -- often big differences -- between cables, and so do others whose ears I trust. Naysayers can sometimes offer interesting and useful opinion, but don't let them convince you that you don't hear what you know you do -- and don't expect that your enjoyment of music is also what they derive from this hobby. -Marc Mickelson

". . .how does one meaningfully A/B speakers?"

December 7, 2012


I posted a thread on Audiogon that asked the question whether a person can really compare two speakers, even if the comparison is at the same dealer, in the same sound room, with the same equipment and the same source material. My point was that every speaker has its own electronic signature -- efficiency, impedance, capacitance, phase angle, and so forth -- that changes over the entire frequency range. So even if two speakers are being A/Bed with all variables being the same, I question whether the comparison is valid. Some speakers will simply match better with a tube amp, others with solid state. I've read many posts that complained that the Paradigm Signature S8 v3s were "hot." Could be the poster was right. But what amp was he using? I drive my S8s with an Audio Research VS115 tube amp. I do not detect any top-end tipping at all. So my question really is, if my thesis is valid, how does one meaningfully A/B speakers?

Bruce Feinstein

I understand what you're contending in theory about comparing speakers, but in practice it can be done -- either one after another or even side by side, as Wilson Audio often does it. There are amplifiers whose electrical properties make them suitable to drive most (and perhaps all) speakers on the market. Sonically, they may not be each audiophile's first choice for long-term listening, but electrically they can do the job. Therefore, it is possible for the "variables," as you refer to them, to be inconsequential or nearly so. Yes, an amp with razory highs will make a speaker sound that way, but this would be a constant for all speakers used with it (barring a serious impedance mismatch, that is, in which case the amp isn't right for the job).

Frankly, greater variables than the electronics are placement and positioning within the room. If they're ideal for one speaker (in terms of distance from boundaries and toe-in) and less so for another, the results can be wildly different -- and misleading. And simply putting the speakers in the same spots with the same toe-in won't solve this issue, as speaker size and porting may require different placement for each. -Marc Mickelson

Wilson Alexandria XLFs and room size

December 4, 2012


I've just read your review of the Wilson Audio Alexandria XLF. Thanks for covering this statement product. A few questions and a few observations. First, what are the dimensions of your room and how is it oriented, meaning do you have the speakers on the longer or shorter wall? Was the bass port set to fire front or back in the final setup? How are the speakers placed in your room, meaning how far from the boundaries?

I have been a Wilson owner for several years: Sophia 2 followed by WATT/Puppy 8. The W/P 8 have been in my system for almost four years. The rest of the system consists of an Audio Research Reference Anniversary and Reference 210s that have been upgraded to the KT120 tubes, Esoteric P-03/D-03/G-0s digital rig, Kimber Select 1126 and 3038 cables, Shunyata Research Anaconda and King Cobra power cords, eight 20-amp isolated circuits fed by a 5KVA isolation transformer.

I've heard the XLF twice now: once in NYC (at Innovative Audio) and once in San Francisco (at Music Lovers). I should mention that both of these high-end audio retailers are outstanding representatives of their products and are prime examples of the few remaining specialty stores that "do it right." I have an outstanding dealer of my own in Dallas, TX: Audio Concepts. The XLF characteristics that I noticed were, first, how quiet the background was. Reviewers often write about "black backgrounds," but this trait is noticeable with the XLF in my opinion. The noise floor was so much lower and I heard more detail in familiar recordings than ever before. All of the points you made about the bass reproduction were easily evident, and the smoothness of the high frequencies was astounding. The speaker was, as you said, seamless -- not at all sounding like a collection of various drivers. At Innovative, I had the opportunity to quickly take the CD we were listening to on the XLF system and run next door to hear the same recording on a system featuring Sasha W/Ps. Yes, the rooms, electronics, and cabling were all different, but the Sasha sounded broken in direct comparison. Both systems were put together with top-end components.

I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Alexia at my local dealer. I'm hoping it sounds something close to the XLF, with the same characteristics. I'm interested in the answers to the questions above because I think the perfect-size platform for my room is something like the Alexia, but I'm curious to know if the XLF would work in a room that is 21' x 16' x 9'. Our speakers are on the long wall, so the listening position is about 9' from the front plane of the speakers.

Thanks for your time. I enjoy your website and reviews, and I visit often.

Ralph Sorrentino

First things first. My room is 20 feet wide by 29 feet long, with a 10-foot ceiling, and it opens on one side to our kitchen and on the other to a short hallway, so it's a large space. The speakers are on the shorter wall -- right in front of a set of French doors. You can get an idea of this here.

With the Alexandria XLFs, the port is firing to the rear. The speakers, as set up by John Giolas of Wilson Audio (who has set up many speakers in my room), are roughly 55" from the side walls and 57" from the front wall (the wall behind them). Interestingly, as I mentioned in my review, we recarpeted our house, and I positioned the speakers afterwards myself. I had them within a few inches of where John put them on his recent visit, but the sonic difference was vast. Where I had right, left and center channels, John achieved a soundscape continuous in all dimensions that simply occupies that end of my room. It's spectacular.

As for your room, I am sure that the Alexandria XLFs would sing in it. Because of their copious adjustability, as well as the front-or-rear-firing port, they can be make to work sonically in many rooms that they overwhelm visually. Your room is actually generous, so I'm sure they would work better than "pretty well" there. -Marc Mickelson

Amplifier power for the Alexandria XLF

December 1, 2012


In your review of the Wilson Alexandria XLF, you said that an amplifier of 20 watts could drive these speakers. My perception would be that an amplifier in the commonly used range of 100-200Wpc would therefore have enough reserve to provide even more musical satisfaction. Yet your choices were 600- and 1000-watt amplifiers. So my question is, what do these large amplifiers give you musically that the 100-200Wpc amplifiers did not with a speaker that is reasonably efficient?

Michael Goldin

Once a workable power threshold has been reached with a given speaker -- enough to power the speakers to a volume level, without clipping, where I wouldn't want to listen for an extended period of time -- amplifier sound quality becomes important, and this is the product of so many things, including the amp's overall design and the parts used. All of the amps I mentioned in my Alexandria XLF review, including the 18W Lamm ML2.2 monoblocks, were a good match for the speakers, and they all sounded distinct. However, given the speakers' monumental capabilities, especially in terms of dynamics and bass, the Analog Domain and VTL amps matched best to my ears, bringing out the most in the speakers, including a sense of effortlessness at all volumes. Perhaps this was due to the amps' power reserves (the designer of the Analog Domain amps would say that such power is a prerequisite for realistic sound), or perhaps simply to their inherent overbuilt nature. It could also be purely subjective, although I suspect anyone would hear what I mentioned in my review, even if reactions would differ. No matter the cause, while the XLFs responded well with any of the amps I mentioned in my review, the Analog Domain and VTL amps were truly first among near equals here. -Marc Mickelson


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