Letters • February 2010

Lamm or Audio Research?

February 24, 2010


I've followed your writing with SoundStage! and now your new venture. I've always appreciated your writing style as well as your honesty in reporting what you hear. It's so hard to describe the sound of a product. I sometimes assist friends with building systems and have to describe differences in products that they cannot listen to prior to buying, so I have to describe the sound. It's always difficult. In addition to enjoying your reviews over the years, I've come to believe that your audio preferences are probably closer to mine than anyone at Stereophile, TAS or Hi-Fi+ (not that there are not many greats there as well). When I was looking for new cabling (and listening to a few, including Shunyata Stratos), I noticed that the Stratos sounded more natural but perhaps slightly less incisive and dynamic (flip side -- sometimes edgy) than other cables. You hit the nail on the head when you described the Auroras as "self-effacing." Well put.

But, as you may have heard, with great talent come great responsibilities. So I wonder if I could ask for your thoughts based on your firsthand experience with the Audio Research Reference equipment and Lamm amps. I have a VPI HRX rim-drive turntable, a Bel Canto PL-1 CD player (will switch in a year or two after music servers and interface standards shake out), which I use with an Audio Research Reference Phono 2 phono stage, Reference 5 preamp and Reference 110 amp. Cabling is Stealth Indra and Shunyata. I have Wilson WATT/Puppy 7s (having previously had Sophias). I have recently heard the Sasha W/Ps and I am hoping to trade up. However, I am mindful that they have an impedance dip and high phase angle in the midbass, as did the WATT/Puppy 7s.

Although I love the Audio Research sound, I believe that the Reference 110 just doesn't grab the bottom of the WATT/Puppy 7s and provide power in the upper-bass/lower-midrange region as much as I'd like. Then again, I can live with it. I will probably try the Reference 210s in my system in the next month or so to evaluate the impact of the extra wattage and monoblock configuration. However, my understanding is that you and Peter McGrath (another golden-eared guy) both use the Lamm M1.2s in your systems. What do the Lamm amps bring to the party that Audio Research amp does not? As in everything, there is also usually a downside. I assume some separation of instruments or soundstaging differences?

Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated. Continued success with The Audio Beat, which I will continue to follow closely.

R. Wade

Not only do Peter McGrath of Wilson Audio and I both use Lamm M1.2 Reference monoblocks, so do Paul Bolin, my colleague here at The Audio Beat, and Trent Workman, who handles Asian sales for Wilson Audio. There are general similarities between the M1.2s and the Audio Research Reference 110 (a very fine amp, by the way) and specific differences. What you'll hear foremost from the M1.2s is greater bass depth and control and a less rounded and physical midrange. The Reference 110 can cast an immense soundstage, both in terms of width and depth, and while the Lamm amps are very good in this regard, they aren't as adept as the Reference 110. The Lamm amps are a bit more incisive on transients than the Reference 110, and they sound a bit drier in the treble, though they are not inherently dry-sounding. The Lamm amps work very well with the Reference 5, both sonically and electrically, strength combining with strength to create a very compelling presentation. And, of course, the amps are very compatible with Wilson Audio speakers. -Marc Mickelson

Reader list

February 21, 2010


Please include me in your article-distribution list. I love your new online magazine. Thanks for producing it!

Dave Neumann

To add your e-mail address to our reader list -- and thereby be alerted to every site update -- e-mail rl@theaudiobeat.com. -Marc Mickelson

Speaker upgrade -- Marten or Raidho?

February 17, 2010


I'm in search of a speaker upgrade and have short-listed the Marten Audio Bird and the Raidho Ayra C3. I see that you have experienced the C3. Any input would be appreciated.

Arshad Fakruddin

I've been leery of speakers that use ceramic-cone drivers, because of what I've consistently heard from them at shows: a overly damped, uptight quality, especially in the bass. The woofers of the Raidho Ayra C3 look like they are ceramic (they are called "Ceramix"), but they are actually a composite of an aluminum substrate with an aluminum oxide layer. Those speakers didn't have the quality I mention. A speaker I heard recently that was even more impressive was the Tidal Contriva Diacera, which does use ceramic drivers but sounds open and bloomy. I heard these speakers first at the 2009 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, and I brought a pair home with me from CES. I'll be writing about them soon. I don't want to scoop my upcoming review, so I'll just say that the Tidal speakers are worth your consideration as well, given the speakers you're auditioning. The pair I have costs around $70,000, but Tidal makes smaller models that would be more competitive with the Marten and Raidho speakers you mention. The former US distributor for Raidho, Aaudio Imports, now carries Tidal and could give you some feedback on both brands. -Marc Mickelson

"...is this a significant upgrade?"

February 13, 2010


I just read your review of the VPI Classic. I enjoyed it, well written.

I don't have much extra money to spare right now, but I'm wondering if my turntable is my weak link. I have Legacy Focus SE speakers, an EAR 324 phono stage, an LFD NCSE 70Wpc solid-state hand-built amp, and an Audience Ar6T power conditioner. I think all of this equipment is of very high quality, but I'm wondering if my VPI Scoutmaster turntable and Dynavector DV 20X HO cartridge are of a similar vein. The people at Music Direct recommended I upgrade to a VPI Classic with Dynavector DV 17D3 cartridge. They say that the Classic is even better than the much more costly Super Scoutmaster.

I don't want to do anything unless it is a substantial upgrade, and this recommendation is very appealing -- but is this a significant upgrade?

Jeff Levine

I have no firsthand experience with any VPI turntable beyond the Classic, but as I reported in my review, Harry Weisfeld of VPI thinks the world of his $2500 turntable, ranking it with his very best. I trust the people at Music Direct, but your Scoutmaster isn't exactly an entry-level 'table. My first piece of upgrade advice regarding your analog rig would be to get a new and better cartridge. You'll definitely improve your system that way, and perhaps substantially. I think a Dynavector DV XX2 Mk II or Te Kaitora Rua would be a definitive step upward. -Marc Mickelson

HÝrning or Teresonic?

February 10, 2010


If I remember well, you were quite smitten with the HÝrning Eufrodites during the show in Denver of last fall, whereas in Las Vegas the Teresonics were among your favorites.

Which ones did you like best? Which ones are best for all kinds of music (rock and classical especially)? Difficult questions to answer, I know, but I would like to limit my listening trips abroad to one of these speakers, and perhaps you can help.

Patrick Vancompernolle

These are very difficult questions to answer because they refer to single components in systems and rooms I didn't know at all before sitting down to listen, and didn't listen to for very long. I also heard both systems with completely different music, although via analog and not digital in both cases. Given all this, if I had to guess and pick between the two, I would choose the HÝrning Eufrodite, as it was more full-range and involving. I'm sure the TW-Acustic Black Night turntable with Dynavector XV-1t cartridge in that system didn't hurt matters a bit. I would also guess that the HÝrning speakers would be better with a wide variety of music, as they had deeper and weightier bass than the Teresonic speakers. -Marc Mickelson

Audio Research DS450

February 6, 2010


Both you and Paul Bolin had a chance to listen to Audio Research's new DS450 amp, which is their take on class-D solid-state designs, at CES. I know you are intimately familiar with Audio Research's tube-based Reference-series amps. I would love your initial impressions on how you compare the sonic attributes of the Reference tube-based amps with the new class-D design, especially when pared with the Reference 5 preamp and digital offerings.

Cyril Malak

While I do have a lot of experience with Audio Research tubed gear, I am also familiar with the company's solid-state equipment. I lived with a 100.2 stereo amp a number of years ago and never forgot the experience. Its sound was pellucid and airy, similar to Audio Research's tube amps in this regard, and there was an immediate rightness to it -- something hard to define in a few quick seconds but very easy to hear. I had the same feeling while listening first to the DSi200 integrated amp in Audio Research's large demo room and then to the DS450 at CES. In both cases, the speakers were Sonus Faber Cremona Elipsas -- the exact same pair, in fact. The clarity and musical rightness were undeniable. Both the DSi200 and DS450 are based on the same Audio Research-developed circuit, so they are unlike other class-D amps that use off-the-shelf modules. The DS450 seems to be a very worthy successor to the 100.2, which still commands good prices on the used market -- when you can find one, that is. -Marc Mickelson

Lamm ML2.1s "still viable"?

February 1, 2010


Do you think the Lamm ML2.1 amps are still viable these days? I've got a pair of Kharma 3.2 FE speakers in the closet that would hold me until I can find a suitable high-sensitivity speaker to use with these amps. I made the mistake of attending CES this year and left the Lamm ML3/Wilson MAXX 3 room quite disturbed.

Lyle Hobby

Is your question, Are the Lamm ML2.1s still good amps in light of the ML3s? Absolutely. The huge difference in price aside, and the difference in power as well, the ML2.1s remain top-rung SET amps. Yes, the ML3s are magnificent, especially driving the big Wilson Audio speakers, but they don't make the ML2.1s obsolete. In fact, at less than a quarter of the price of the ML3s, the ML2.1s are a way to experience the glory of Lamm all-tube SET sound without paying in excess of six figures. They can also drive a much wider range of speakers than SET amps with single-digit power outputs. I'd say all this makes them "viable" indeed. -Marc Mickelson


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