Letters • December 2013

CD better than LP?

December 30, 2013


A happy new year to you and yours, perhaps in spite of the B.M.C. review in which you mention that a CD sounded better than its vinyl equivalent. I'd no idea you're suicidal.

Mike Silverton

It was "a CD," not "all CDs." I do have ears, after all. And in this case, the CD does sound better than the vinyl, and as I pointed out in my review, it may be the case that the source for the vinyl was the CD. It happens, and more often than we know. -Marc Mickelson

How quiet. . . ?

December 25, 2013


How quiet was the Tube Technology Synergy Carbon integrated amp? The speakers with which it will be used would be 94dB sensitive. I like my music to come from a very black background.

Marko Kettunen

I can only say that the Tube Technology Synergy Carbon seemed quiet when it was here -- the last time I heard it was a year ago. If it had been noisy, I would have mentioned it in my review. It does provide a healthy amount of gain, however, and this will amplify any noise from sources, so you should keep that in mind if you audition one. -Marc Mickelson

". . .the best high-res format"

December 18, 2013


I loved your comment at the end of the Hartvig Signature TT review:

“. . .in a fast-moving world of computer-based, downloadable, high-res digital audio formats, many an audiophile is seeking serious, solid musical energy and dynamics from a high-resolution source, one that offers a huge range of affordable and readily available software. Isn’t it ironic that that is exactly what’s on offer here?

"Either way, if you really want high-res musical and audio performance, believe me when I say that this is it!”

I have to say that I am really happy that somebody is trying to push a high-res format other than DSD. I find it interesting, having worked in a high-end recording studio, that people in our industry still don’t realize that most all (99%) of the mastering tools in all the studios, and then of course in a huge number of home studios, are PCM. So how do we get digital to sound better than PCM if that is what was used to master? Recording in PCM, mastering in PCM -- and of course it;s Sony again. Oh, well. My rant. Maybe I'm wrong, but for now I agree: Vinyl is the best high-res format to invest in.

Antonio Smith

Discwasher or. . . ?

December 12, 2013


I was putzing via Google and looking for the old Discwasher D4+ Record Care System. I thought I would either get a new one or a replacement head. Alas, all good things come to an end. There are no replacement heads available, or so it seems, and the D4 fluid appears to have alcohol in it.

I'm really enjoying my turntable, but I but thought a replacement head and a new stylus cleaner would be good. I can't find my stylus cleaner. Ughhh. Any suggestions?

Tom Germanson

The Discwasher is nothing special (it mostly moves dust around), and I'm not a fan of manual cleaning in general (a good cleaning machine, like the VPI 16.5 will do a much better job, but also cost you some money). There are alternatives to the Discwasher. Mobile Fidelity's one-step cleaner and brush will do a better job, and the brush pads are replaceable. You can buy them through Music Direct. Music Direct also sells a very good stylus cleaner, called LP-9, complete with a small, stiff brush. It's what I use, so I definitely recommend it. If what you want to do is remove dust from the record surface, a carbon-fiber brush like this one will do the job without fluid.

Record cleaning is not optional, and the more you spend on it -- in terms of time and money (for a cleaning machine) -- the better your results will be. -Marc Mickelson

Paradigm or Focal?

December 6, 2013


Marc Mickelson and I have corresponded by e-mail from time to time. Marc suggested I reach out to you with a question about Focal speakers. Marc said that you are familiar with the company and its products and will likely have some helpful insights and suggestions.

I currently own Paradigm Signature S8 v3 speakers, driven by an Audio Research Reference 150. I've been giving some thought to checking out Focal Electra 1038 BE IIs. Any thoughts? Would the Focals be a move up or a lateral change?

Other speakers I have in mind are the Revel Ultima Studio 2s and the Wilson Sophia 3s. If you have any thoughts, feel free to share. It’s really the same question -- would a switch be a move up or a lateral move? As you may know, Marc has a soft spot “in his ears” for the Signature S8 v3s and doesn’t think there’s a lot out there that can really best the S8 v3s at anywhere near its price point -- actually many multiples of it. That’s why I ask if the other speakers I mentioned, while maybe a different “sonic flavor,” are not necessarily worth the additional investment for the incremental benefits (if any).

I read some excerpts of the article in which you expressed the view that AC “quality and quantity” should be the first thing to sort out. I happen to agree. But I have one simple problem -- my wife. I wanted to run a couple of dedicated Romex circuits from the panel for my gear. Nothing doing. Right now, my gear is sucking tons of juice off one circuit. My poor amp (400 watts at idle, 800 watts when cranking) and sub (1500 watts if “busy,” 4500 watts if cranking) are on oxygen. So far, I’ve been lucky -- the house lights dimmed and the main breakers tripped only once, when my son was rocking with Rosetta (whatever that is).

Bruce Feinstein

I'm afraid you are caught between two stools here -- Marc doesn't know the Focals and I don't know the Paradigms. Having said that, a brief look at the Paradigm specs suggests that if the S8 v3 and 1038 BE weren't exactly separated at birth, they are definitely first cousins!

I'd describe the 1038s (a speaker I really enjoy) as "meaty, beaty, big and bouncy." It's not that they lack refinement -- they just enjoy getting down and getting dirty. The sensitivity and drive requirements are more than met by your Reference 150 -- which might almost be overkill! So the question is, what do they bring to the party that the S8 v3s don't? I'm guessing that it could be summed up as "more of the same - possibly."

To put this in a different context, I think it might be helpful to look at it from a European perspective. Over here, the 1038s definitely fit into the "that's a lot of speaker for the money" category. They cost around 8000/pair (including tax). In contrast, the Sophia 3 costs around 17,000/pair, while the Focal Scala Utopia costs 19,000/pair. We wouldn't see the 1038 as an alternative to the Sophia; we'd stack the Wilson up against the equivalently priced, sized and equipped Scala. In other words, I suspect that for us, the 1038 -- qualitatively speaking -- occupies much the same position as the Paradigm S8 v3s do in the US. Shipping across the Atlantic makes the 1038 a more expensive speaker. It doesn't make it a better one!

So I think I'm with Marc on this one. Swapping to the 1038 would definitely be different; it might be (a little) better -- or worse - but given the cost involved, I really don't think that it would be a sensible use of funds.

There's also another consideration. The problem with speakers like the 1038 or S8 v3, that punch so far above their weight, is that what they are delivering is scale and dynamics when compared to the competition. Pricier speakers -- like the Sophia 3 -- will offer more refinement and detail, transparency and tonal accuracy, but they'll struggle to match the scale and dynamic range -- the sheer musical weight, impact and drama of the S8 v3 or 1038 -- qualities you are going to miss if you go that route. Instead you'll need a speaker that does all the refined things and all the animal energy too -- and that gets expensive.

For what it's worth, if I was spending money on your system I'd be looking at a new cartridge -- a step up from the Kleos would be transformational, although it does depend how many records you play.

As to the AC supply, I'm a little surprised by the domestic response. A new ring (or even two) to run the system on is invisible, effective and incredibly cheap, especially when compared to swapping out equipment! -Roy Gregory

"Reference" amp for Paradigm speakers

December 1, 2013


I hope all is well in audioland. I'm writing to pass along that I finally upgraded my amp to the Audio Research Reference 150. You may recall that my old amp was the Audio Research VS115. It took a little while, but I was able to sell it for $4000, which is more than I expected. It demonstrates the long-term value of Audio Research gear.

I think my electronics are pretty balanced now. The line stage is the Audio Research Reference 5 SE, which works hand-in-glove with the Reference 150. My CD player is the Audio Research Reference CD8 and phono stage is the Audio Research PH8. Still running the Paradigm Signature S8 v3s as my fronts.

I'm sure you're already very familiar with the Reference 150, so I'll keep my comments to a bare minimum. The Reference 150 mates beautifully with the rest of my Audio Research gear. In my opinion, the combo renders music as far more open and three-dimensional. I think the 1000-joule power supply and upgraded everything else permits the amp to muscle its way through some of the tough low-end impedance and phase-angle loads presented by the S8 v.3s. Dynamic range is excellent, especially notable during classical renderings presenting dynamic swings in loudness. Music is clearly less congested.

On a different topic, have you had a chance to do any serious listening to the Focal Electra 1038 BE IIs? Any reactions? The Focal 1038s also use a beryllium tweeter and have the same number of drivers as the S8 v.3s, although very different technology. I couldn't find any test reports, but I gather that the Focals may present an easier load than the Paradigms.

That's all the news that's fit to report. Right now I'm enjoying a Red Book CD rendering of a medley of familiar Mozart overtures. Perhaps I should say rediscovering because for the first time the orchestral presentation is open and not compressed, thanks to the Reference 150.

Bruce Feinstein

You've assembled an exceptional system. I can say this because I've heard almost all of the individual pieces in my room, and I suspect it sounds glorious together. Regarding the Focal speakers, I've not heard them, even at a show. However, you might want to write Roy Gregory, as he has a good relationship with Focal and may have heard these speakers at some point or other. -Marc Mickelson


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