Letters • February 2013

Reference 110 vs. Reference 150

February 25, 2013


I have an Audio Research Reference 110 with the KT120 tubes and I like the amp a lot. Do you still think the Reference 150 will sound better?

Ananth Desikacharlu

When I reviewed the Reference 110, it had the 6550C tubes, and I've not heard the Reference 150 at all. Therefore, I don't have experience with the amps you mention. For this reason, I consulted Warren Gehl at Audio Research, who knows both amps better than anyone else. First, the main circuit differences (aside from the switch in output tubes) is that the Reference 150 has double the power-supply capacitance of the Reference 110 and it also uses improved coupling capacitors. According to Warren, all of this translates to a more dynamic and resolved sound with better bass. Warren also described the Reference 150 as "fuller, sweeter and more natural" than the Reference 110 with the same KT120 output tubes.

In my experience, upgrades at Audio Research are not lateral, producing much more than mere changes in sound. The easiest way to discover this for yourself is also the most obvious: borrow a Reference 150 from a dealer. -Marc Mickelson

Allnic or Audio Research?

February 19, 2013


I enjoyed reading your 2011 review of Allnic’s L-3000 line stage. I own Allnic’s H-3000 phono stage, which I use in combination with Audio Research’s Reference 3 line stage. I noticed that you had an Audio Research Reference 5 on hand when reviewing the L-3000. I thought about upgrading my Reference 3 to a Reference 5SE, and I'm trying to understand how the L-3000 compares to these preamps from Audio Research.

I would appreciate your opinion -- Allnic vs. Audio Research. I have heard the L-3000 in a different system and was very impressed (L-3000 and H-3000), but I have never had a chance to hear it in my own system in order to compare it against my Reference 3. I have not had a chance yet to hear the Reference 5.

Boris Nitzsche

There are two paths to consider here. First, the Audio Research Reference 5 (not to mention the Reference 5SE, which is supposed to be a giant step closer to the Reference Anniversary) was an obvious and very worthwhile upgrade from the Reference 3, sounding bigger, quicker and more neutral. I don't think a switch to the Reference 5SE, therefore, would be a misstep for you. Second, the Allnic L-3000 is the natural complement to your H-3000 phono stage, having many of the same qualities, including the H-3000's spooky, holographic presence. For you, the choice comes down to two different versions of better; I don't think you will go wrong with either the Reference 5SE or L-3000, although, as I've counseled in the past, one of them will likely be more right for you. -Marc Mickelson

Subwoofer driver size "overkill"?

February 15, 2013


With my Acoustic Zen Adagio speakers, if I run dual subwoofers in a decent-size room, would your recommend 10" or 12" drivers? Is there a huge difference? I'm running dual B&W ASW650s now, both with 12" drivers. I wonder if that's overkill.

Sheldon Simon

I don't think your subs are overkill per se, although they could be, depending on how they're integrated with your main speakers. Roy Gregory summed up the issue perfectly in his review of the Gryphon Trident: ". . .when it comes to bass output, the one thing worse than too little is definitely too much." With most music, you should be wondering if the subs are on at all, and that's just as possible with units that have smaller drivers. Thus, this is really a matter of setup. Be conservative with the output control especially; the subs should enhance the main speakers, not overshadow them, even with music that has prodigious deep bass. -Marc Mickelson

Atlas vs. Coralstone

February 13, 2013


I read with keen interest your great review of the Lyra Atlas. I notice you also have a Koetsu Coralstone and was therefore wondering how the Atlas compared to the Koetsu in terms of midrange richness and natural timbres. I am guessing that Atlas has a lot more detail than the Koetsu.

Ash Varma

The best way to compare the two cartridges is to think of how the Coralstone stacks up to the differences between the Titan and the Atlas. Either Lyra cartridge conveys more detail than the Koetsu, but with the Titan the richness of the midrange could sometimes seem a bit sterile. Especially on a rich diet of string music, I would switch over to the Koetsu to bathe (or perhaps wallow!) in the lush, romantic sound. One of the strong suits of the Atlas is its marriage of the virtues of the Titan and Coralstone. It combines the litheness of the Titan with the opulence of the Coralstone to great effect. So yes, the Atlas does have a more detailed presentation than the Koetsu, but in my estimation this results in midrange timbres at once more accurate but also as rich as the Coralstone's. -Dennis Davis

Questions about Tube Technology and Nola

February 11, 2013


Here are a couple of questions.

(1) When will Tube Technology be moved to California? Will this move result in any changes to their existing product line -- in particular the Synergy Carbon PPS integrated amplifier you recently reviewed?

(2) I notice that the pairing of Nola and Audio Research received a number very positive comments from around CES 2013. Do you have any personal or recent experience with the Nola loudspeaker brand? I'm curious to know if they're generally easy to drive or if they need lots of power/amperage to get their best performance.

Larry Phillips

I believe Tube Technology's move to California is underway now. Zia Faruqi was spending time in the Manley room at CES, and I know he's anxious to begin manufacturing here in the US. As far as I know, there will be no changes in the product line, although I would think that different suppliers for the chassis parts would be needed in the US, something with which Manley's resources can surely help.

I listened at length to the Nola KOs at the Newport show last year. They were very fine speakers -- amazing even, when you take their price into consideration. I can't recall seeing Nola speakers used with massive monoblocks, and their sensitivity figures hover around 90dB, so as a guess, I would say that they are pretty easy to drive. As evidence, Nola used the 75Wpc Audio Research Reference 75 (a honey of an amp) at CES to drive a pair of the massive Concert Grand References. -Marc Mickelson

VSi60 and Duette?

February 8, 2013


I read somewhere that Audio Research soon will release a new integrated amp, the VSi75. Unfortunately that will be too pricey for me (I'm planning to keep my solid-state amp and use the Audio Research amp during the six winter months here), but I guess I can find a few VSi60s over here on the used market towards the autumn/winter. Do you think a VSi60 would work with my Wilson Duettes? It's only 50Wpc. My room is about 5.6 meters by 4.4 meters. I listen mostly to pop/rock, and the volume is never at nightclub level.

Stefan Lindström

I've also heard about an upcoming new integrated from Audio Research, likely using KT120 output tubes. Your room isn't cavernous and you don't play your music at ear-bleeding levels, so I see no reason why the VSi60 wouldn't drive Wilson Duettes very well (people overestimate how much power they need; with most music, the amp will be delivering just a handful of watts). More than this, Audio Research and Wilson go together especially well, perhaps because Audio Research uses Wilson speakers for testing at the factory. -Marc Mickelson

Zanden and/or Conrad-Johnson?

February 5, 2013


I have been looking into the Zanden Model 9600 monoblocks based on your review some time ago, and I've also heard that one of your editors is familiar with the Conrad-Johnson ART monoblocks. Any guidance for driving Wilson Audio X-1s? I listen to as much classical and jazz as deep house, hip hop and blues. Extreme purity of tonality and midrange beauty come absolutely first for me, and an immediate second is limitless bass. Would the Zanden amps make "The List"? I use both Zanden and Conrad-Johnson elsewhere in my system.

Lee Lewis

It has been four years since I reviewed (and last heard) the Zanden Model 9600s -- too long to know where they would stand among the very best amps I've heard, and therefore impossible for me place on "The List." Nonetheless, I do recall their spaciousness, glorious midrange and power output that would be enough for your speakers, so they seem like a good match for you. The Wilson X-1s are renowned for their bass -- Ken Stevens of CAT still proclaims it to be the best he's ever heard -- but I can't say for sure that you'll be completely satisfied with the Zanden amps in this regard. I called their bass "simply there without drama" in my review. It wasn't weak or anemic, but I also wouldn't say it's "limitless."

I believe Roy Gregory has some experience with the Conrad-Johnson ART amps, although he hasn't reviewed them for The Audio Beat. -Marc Mickelson

CAT and Tidal?

February 1, 2013


I've been doing some research and reading and have come across your reviews of the Convergent Audio Technology (CAT) gear -- SL1 Legend and JL2, particularly. I've been researching gear to match up with a pair of Tidal Piano Contriva Diacera speakers, which, almost completely coincidentally, you also reviewed. I know you suggested Atma-Sphere as a potential good match for the speakers, but I was wondering if you had a top-three that you think might be a spectacular match with those speakers -- and if CAT makes that list.

Scot Hull

Yes, I've reviewed the CAT gear and Tidal speakers you mention, though not together. It has been a very long time since I had a CAT amp in my system (I still have a CAT SL1 Legend preamp here), but I can't imagine too many speakers with which Ken Stevens' electronics wouldn't match well. By chance, I was talking to Ken yesterday, and he mentioned again his amps' ability to drive MBL 101 speakers, which are notoriously insensitive. Thus, power is never an issue with a CAT amp. Sonically, the CAT electronics are among the most refined around, offering a wide tonal palette and notable image dimensionality -- bass power too -- that are rare among tube electronics. Again, it has been a while since I heard a CAT amp in my system, but the CAT preamp is definitely in my top five -- even my top three. -Marc Mickelson


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