Letters • February 2012

What plugged in where?

February 24, 2012


This question may be from the neurotic side of the fence, but I imagine others have had similar issues.

My Audience line conditioner has six outlets. I currently have plugged in two subs, my amp, my preamp, my DAC and my CD player, so all of the outlets are in use. The issue is, I may be selling my Cary amp in order to buy a pair of monoblocks, so I would be one outlet short for the second amplifier. If I disconnected one of the two subs and just plugged it directly into the wall (a dedicated outlet that the line conditioner is also plugged into) and plugged the second amp into the line conditioner, would the sub in the wall mitigate the effect of the line conditioner in any way? Any sonic loss by having just one sub in the line conditioner and second in the wall? I have a spare line conditioner -- an old Chang unit --that I could use to accommodate the second sub if that would be a better option.

Sheldon Simon

I think you're right -- many audiophiles run out of outlets for new purchases. How unfortunate! In your case, I would experiment with the various possibilities you have available to you: subs into the wall, subs into both power conditioners, and other products into your Chang unit or the wall. You may hit upon one that's best in sonic terms. My feeling is that the best combination you have is using both subs with the Chang unit, leaving you with one open outlet in your Audience power conditioner. As for using one sub into the Audience unit and one into the wall, that may work just fine, although I would want both protected from surges and spikes, as subs are easy to leave on when not in use (I know how forgetful I can be, and I'd leave them on). Therefore, I'd use both into your Chang unit before I'd use just one into the wall. -Marc Mickelson

RIP Mr. Brier

February 21, 2012


I came across your article on burning in tonearm cables. I agree 100%, and I recently experienced a rather long (about two weeks) burning-in period with a Goldmund T3F 'arm that hasn't been used in about 15 years.

However, I was horrified to see you destroy a Goldbug Mr. Brier for your burning-in device! Surely, any cheap, crappy cartridge could have been utilized. These bring a lot of money these days, even with no stylus. Had I known that you had one, I would have made a decent offer for it!

Mark Black

Sadly, it had already been destroyed. An ill-advised retip attempt (and I use the term loosely) not only unilaterally removed the cantilever and replaced it with a boron rod, it managed to take the coils on one channel OC, resulting in a very pretty but completely useless piece of audio junk jewelry. Just thinking about it still makes my blood boil, and if I ever meet the perpetrator in person it will probably result in actions described as "non-adult" in sociological or behavioral-science terms. -Roy Gregory

H-3000V or Reference Phono 2 SE?

February 16, 2012


I understand you have both the Allnic H-3000 and the Audio Research Reference Phono 2 phono stages. Can you compare these two units' relative strengths and weaknesses? I'm in the market for a phono stage and trying to decide between these two well-regarded units. The rest of my system includes Magico M5 speakers, Soulution 721/710 preamp/amp combo and a modded Technics SP-10 Mk II turntable with Air Tight PC-1 cartridge.

Carlos Marin

I had the Allnic H-3000 and Audio Research Reference Phono 2. I now have the H-3000V and Reference Phono 2 SE. Both are top-flight phono stages that always remind me why analog is such a sonic wonder. The Reference Phono 2 SE has a big soundstage, which is one element of Audio Research's house sound, and potent bottom end, which is an improvement over that of the Reference Phono 2. It derives all of its gain from active devices, so there is no step-up transformer, which can color the sound. The H-3000V has the most spookily real imaging I've ever heard -- a bodily presence coupled with copious air that makes listening to records thrilling.

Both phono stages have provision for multiple EQ curves; the Allnic is far more flexible in this regard, while the Audio Research is much easier to use -- just push a button. Both also have multiple inputs. While it isn't necessary, Allnic makes a companion head amp, the HA-3000, that allows you to bypass the H-3000V's step-up transformer for the purest sound possible. -Marc Mickelson

Which Wilson?

February 13, 2012


I read all your reviews of Wilson Audio speakers with great interest. Most recently, I was able to hear a used pair of Sophia 2s at a dealer hear in Berlin, Germany, and I liked them the more listening time I had with them. But I did not have much time, and the dealer had them playing with Gamut electronics and some pricey analog. Nevertheless, I liked the sound. The room was very large and far from optimal.

Now, I bought an amp and preamp -- a pair of Nuforce Reference 9V3 SEs together with their P9. I have doubts whether my current speakers -- Dynaudio Focus 360s -- are the right choice for the Nuforce gear. And I think I want some Wilsons.

So, right now I have the chance to buy a very nice pair of used WATT/Puppy 6es for something like €6000 or a pair of Sophia 2s for €9.000 or the new Sophia 3s for €15.000. After having bought the Nuforce gear and cables and power cords, money is an issue, although I could stretch to Sophia 3s if I really wanted to.

But, reading about your time with the WATT/Puppy 6es, I might be fine with buying a pair of those, especially because the only thing that bothered me while hearing the Sophia 2s was a lack of bass.

My preferences in music is jazz, but I also listen to sophisticated electronic music and some older rock -- not always high-end recordings. I tend to buy from HDtracks, which I play via my Linn Majik DS from my NAS drive. My listening room is quite big -- fifty square meters with not much furniture in it.

I love music and musicality with a lifelike character, but I also like to discover detail in the recordings. I don't like boomy bass, but there should be substantial body, if it is on the recording. I absolutely don't like harsh highs.

I would be very thankful if you could comment on my issues. Is it a stupid idea to start with the WATT/Puppy 6es, or are the newer Sophia 2s or 3s far better speakers with their newer technology?

Tom Zivik

You ask a question that many people buying used products ask: Is newer better, and how much better? In this case, I think the newer speakers are better and by quite a margin. The WATT/Puppy 6, which I reviewed more than a decade ago, was the first Wilson speaker I liked -- and I liked it enough to buy it. Since that time, Wilson Audio has made more progress than most towards a better-realized version of its sound. The Sophia 2 and especially the Sophia 3 will outperform the WATT/Puppy 6 in a number of important ways, especially the midrange. With the Sophia 3, this comes courtesy of a version of the Wilson Audio midrange driver used first for the Alexandria X-2 Series 2. This translates to better articulation and increased "animation" in the speakers' most vital range.

However, I can also understand your desire to save money. In this regard, the Sophia 2 would be the best buy, although if you covet the Sophia 3 and will want to upgrade to it in short order, you will come out ahead if you simply go that route from the beginning. -Marc Mickelson

Jazz piano and guitar

February 9, 2012


I admit from the start that I don’t know much about jazz, but I know what I like when I hear it. I was wondering if you could point me in the right direction. I know I like the Wynton Kelly Trio's Piano and Hampton Hawes' The Trio Volume 1, plus Dave Brubeck's Time Out. I also like Wes Montgomery and Kenny Burrell. Do you have recommendations that I should look for that are in this same style? My system is sounding really good, and I plan a few upgrades in the near future, so I a doing my best to expand my musical horizons.

Mike Doukas

Thanks for sending a question that I can sink my teeth into! It seems to me that you have two routes you can follow: discover jazz pianists and guitarists you don't already know, and explore further the catalogs of the musicians you mention.

In terms of the former, you should investigate the two giants of 20th-century jazz piano: Thelonious Monk and Bill Evans. They represent very different but equally important "schools" of playing. Monk was a rhythmic and harmonic innovator (in addition to being an important composer of original music), while Evans played in a more internal and lyrical style. Monk's greatest recordings are those on the Prestige label, especially Brilliant Corners (1957) and Monk's Music (1957). Evans' best work was on Riverside and includes Sunday at the Village Vanguard (1961), the well-known Waltz for Debby (1961), and Moonbeams (1962). However, any of Monk's or Evans' later works will also tell you a great deal about their playing and influence.

In regard to guitarists, you've hit upon two of the biggies. I also suggest that you investigate Grant Green, who recorded throughout the '50s and '60s for Blue Note. His recordings with Larry Young on organ and Elvin Jones on drums are truly great. They include Green's Talkin' About (1964) and Young's Unity (1965), although Idle Moments (1965) is Green's best-known recording.

I am a big fan of Hampton Hawes, an under-appreciated West Coast pianist who played in a sunnier Evansesque style. I really like his trio of All Night Session! LPs (1956-1959), along with For Real! (1958) and Four! (1958). There are also two more "Trio" LPs that follow the one you mention. Wynton Kelly's Kelly Blue (1959) is definitely worth finding, as are two of the "time" LPs that followed Dave Brubeck's monumentally popular and important Time Out: Time Further Out (1961) and Time Changes (1966). As for Kenny Burrell, his simply titled date with John Coltrane (1958) is necessary, as are two Wes Montgomery live recordings: Full House (1962, with the Wynton Kelly Trio) and Smokin' at the Half Note (1965).

As you may have noticed, all of the recordings I've mentioned were released in the seven-year period from 1958 to 1965, when bop was giving way to hard bop and experimentation with modality and free jazz. This was a particularly fertile time, and the music produced during it was ample proof of this. -Marc Mickelson

A first look at the Reference 750s

February 6, 2012


I had a wonderful experience with the new Audio Research Reference 750 amps and would like to share with you some pictures I took.

I am still waiting to read your full review of Reference 250s. Although my dealer will bring them to my home and let me try them with my Revel Salon2 and Wilson Sophia 3 speakers at the end of this month, I would like to read a professional review as well. I don't think I will go as far as 750, however. I can't deal with such an amount of tubes.

Wiratorn Ruk

Thank you for the very nice pictures. I've heard about this new amp, which costs $55,000 per pair, but I hadn't seen it -- until now.

Audio Research has confirmed that the Reference 250s will be shipping to me within a week, so my review will be in the works very soon. -Marc Mickelson

Zanden not in top five?

February 3, 2012


You did not put the Zanden Model 9500 monoblocks on your list of the best amps, although you mentioned in your review from some years back -- comparing them to the big and very expensive Lamm amps -- that in a full Zanden setup the Zanden amps are very hard to beat. Could please inform me why you think the Zanden amps are not impressive enough to make it on your list? Do you think that they are too colored or nice-sounding in the midrange or not in some other way as good as some other amps? I am asking this because I getting closer to a full Zanden setup. I will use the Model 9500 Mk III amps.

David Rudolph

The Zanden Model 9500 amps aren't on my top-five list not because of anything they do or do not accomplish sonically. Rather, it's a matter of the other amps on the list: Atma-Sphere MA-2 Mk 3.1 monoblocks, Lamm ML3 Signature monoblocks, Convergent Audio Technology JL2 Signature Mk 2 stereo amp, Ayre MX-R monoblocks, and Luxman B-1000f monoblocks . This is a tough group to crack, and that's by design. However, the Zanden Model 9500s would be in the next five, along with the Lamm M1.2s, which are my personal reference amps, and ML2.2s, which I recently reviewed.

There will likely be some shuffling among the top five this year, as I receive a couple of very promising contenders. -Marc Mickelson

Lamm and Tidal?

February 1, 2012


I live in the most northeastern Brazilian city. I have a system with Merlin VSM-MXe speakers, an Audio Aero power amplifier and a Joule-Electra Marianne 300 preamplifier. My source is an Esoteric X-01 D2. My room is 7 meters by 3.8 meters.

The Merlin speakers are fantastic, with so many good reviews, but after listening to the Tidal Contriva Diaceras, I am in process of buying them. I have one doubt about the amplifier I should use. You know we have Audiopax in Brazil, and I have been talking with the company about the new Magiore 100 (which I heard last year at the Munich show). I previously owned the Model 88 SET monoblocks -- 30 watts, a pristine, transparent and musical sound -- and the Magiore is also a SET amp, but class A at 100 watts.

Lamm has one dealer in Brazil, and I know this person. I began to think of the Lamm ML2.2s. They have only 18 watts, but I know this is another kind of SET amp that can drive some big speakers. The price of Lamm amps is lower than the price of the Audiopax. (Maybe I am wrong, because after the tax of importation, the price maybe equivalent.) After years of changing amplifiers, I want one that will stay!

I saw your review of the Lamm ML2.2s. You wrote that the Tidal Sunray is not right for the amps, and that's not the speaker I will buy. But every time I see the specifications of the Contriva Diacera, I can't tell if the Lamm ML2.2s would be a good choice to drive these speakers.

Francisco George

I don't think the speakers you're considering are a good match for the Lamm SET amps. While I greatly admire the Tidal speakers I've heard, including the Contriva Diacera SE and Sunray, as well as the Lamm ML2.2s, the speakers aren't sensitive enough to work well with the amps' 18 (wonderful) watts. Luckily, you have a very viable alternative to the ML2.2s within the Lamm line: the 110-watt M1.2 Reference monoblocks. These drove the Tidal speakers very well in my large room; Jörn Janczak of Tidal remarked when he was here that the combination sounded especially good. The M1.2s are also far less expensive than the ML2.2s. -Marc Mickelson


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