Letters • January 2011

Esoteric K-01

January 28, 2011


Thank you for the great coverage of the CES! I noticed your picture and brief description of the new Esoteric K-01, and read from the company's website that this unit will use 32-bit AK4399 DACs, eight per channel; a new VRDS-NEO VMK-3.5-20S transport, claimed to be their most advanced yet; a new apodizing filter; and other refinements.

I remember reading your review of the P-03/D-03 in 2006, and the X-01 Limited before that. If or when you review a K-01, I am very interested in knowing how you feel this compares with the P-03/D-03 separates. It would seem that the more advanced DACs and transport mechanism of the K-01 would give it advantages over the separates, which are now almost five years old. The K-01 would also seem to benefit from lower jitter, as it is a single-box unit.

As much as I love the P-03/D-03, it would be nice to have even better audio performance, and to have this from a single box rather than two. Whether there is an improvement, and the degree, is what I would be most interested in knowing. Also, if the K-01 gives up any performance to the combo, and the impact of using an outboard clock.

Bryan Allen

I'm supposed to get the first K-01 for review -- the unit that was used at CES, in fact -- so you'll get to read my thoughts on it. I'll also ask Esoteric about borrowing a G-0Rb master clock to use with the K-01. -Marc Mickelson

Praise for TAB, Chris Thomas

January 23, 2011


In my book, The Audio Beat is quickly moving up (already there?) toward the top position of the Internet audio magazines, and it’s now my foremost source of Internet high-end-audio coverage. I would like to congratulate you on the many superior reviewers you have now recruited to TAB, especially Chris Thomas, whom I have read with great pleasure and respect since I first came across a review by him in Hi-Fi+. He and I share a fondness of David Berning's electronics. You have also created, without competition, the best-looking Internet magazine in this market. It's very easy to access and has nicely placed advertising, reminding me of the very tasty looks of early Hi-Fi+ issues. I just had to let you know!

Mikael von Schedvin

Thanks for your kind words. We're very happy to have the Hi-Fi+ gang -- Chris Thomas, Dennis Davis, Jason Kennedy and Richard S. Foster -- as part of TAB. They're all quality people, thinkers and writers.

I'm glad the fine points of the site's layout aren't so plain that readers don't notice them. I thought long and hard about how to balance TAB's layout and usability, while not giving over completely to advertising, as some sites have done. A clean look and easy navigation were goals, and I've received several compliments on both, so I guess I hit the mark. -Marc Mickelson

Origins of the Philips Liszt LP

January 20, 2011


Yes, the Philips Liszt Concertos LP is, in reality, a Mercury recording. It was made in Walthamstow Hall, where the Mercury team made many recordings for their own label. The first pressing (which I have) was released by Philips Records, Chicago, Illinois, and was pressed at the Robert Fine Recording facility. I know this because of the stamper, RFR-1, which denotes Robert Fine Recording. This, of course, was where these records were pressed after the Lawrence-Fine-Cozart team switched from the RCA Indianapolis plant, where the FR stampers were all made. Just think what this record would have sounded like if they recorded at Watford Town Hall, where the best of the Mercury records were made.

Thanks for bringing this great recording and performance (Richter is unreal) to our attention.

Lynn Aase

Thiel review?

January 18, 2011


Quick question: I have noticed you have Thiel CS3.7s in your list of associated equipment in your most recent reviews. Does this mean a review of the CS3.7s is forthcoming sometime soon?

Cyril Malak

You have a good eye. Yes, I'm working on a review of the CS3.7. I have two other reviews to finish first, and the CS3.7 review will appear after those, so stay tuned. -Marc Mickelson

Audez'e review and Bose headphones

January 17, 2011


I enjoyed reading your comprehensive review of the Audez'e LCD-2 headphones. The bottom line is: certainly out of my price range.  Because my wife and I occasionally fly out to different destinations, I always notice businessmen wearing Bose 'phones on our flights. Why is that? I would like to buy a new set of headphones that will cut down on all the sound disturbances one is subjected to in the air.

Barry Leonard

I'm glad you enjoyed the review. Don't feel bad -- the Audez'e headphone are out of my price range too -- at least for now. But, darn, they're good.

As far as traveling goes, Bose does a great job marketing its products, which contributes to their popularity. If you don't like wearing full headphones (or carrying them around), look at some of the in-ear models. I use Shure SE535s for my flights and they cut the noise (not through active means, as the Bose headphones do, but by fitting tightly and comfortably in the ear). They're also small, lightweight and great-sounding. -John Crossett

CES & THE Show

January 13, 2011


What a  great job you did covering this huge event.

Charles Murphy

Phono cartridges and gain

January 11, 2011


You and I corresponded back in the spring and you actually published my question and your answer. I still haven't made any changes, but I'm getting close. The SoundSmith Aida cartridge remains on my short list, given that I still enjoy the B&O MMC1 that I've been using. I know that you seem to favor moving coils, so here goes.

I'm considering a Benz Micro Glider S. I'm in a quandary: go with the high-output version or the low? Most moving-coil proponents favor the low, but some immediately say the high-output (2.5mV) has a better signal-to-noise ratio. The Aida MI has an output of 2.3mV, the same as the B&O MMC1. The Benz Glider SL has an output of 0.4mV with an internal impedance of 12 ohms and a load impedance of >120 ohms. The downside of using a low-output cartridge is the added expense and longer signal path involved with adding a step-up transformer and the additional cable.

Someone sent me in the direction of Bob Sattin. He recommends his CineMag step-up transformer at $395. I also became aware that Rothwell in the UK makes a step-up transformer, which I saw some positive comments on. Have you heard either of these? I purchased some Rothwell attenuators for my CD player and they sound great.

Bill Thomas

You are faced with a common dilemma for those who are switching from moving-magnet (or, in your case, moving-iron) to moving-coil cartridges. Low-output moving-coil cartridges are still the gold standard, but they require gain that your phono stage may not possess. You then have to replace your phono stage or add a step-up transformer, among whose issues is impedance matching and signal loss. Also with a step-up, as you point out, you'll be adding interconnects (and their capacitance) to the signal path.

I have no experience with either of the step-up transformers you mention. However, if I were in your position and set on a low-output moving-coil cartridge, I would also begin shopping for a new phono stage to go along with it. While some audiophiles enjoy experimenting with different step-up transformers, there is so much variance among them that trying different models in order to find the right one can be a long, hard process. On the other hand, if your current phono stage has enough gain for a high-output moving coil, that might be the cartridge to buy, simply for the sake of ease. You may come out ahead sonically as well. -Marc Mickelson

Ayre SACD playback

January 3, 2011


You also seem to own an Ayre C-5xeMP. I use this player in my system. Hey, don’t we have much in common? But tell me something -- do you get the impression that C-5xeMP is better with Red Book CDs than SACDs? That’s my impression here. Somehow SACDs sound a bit flat and uninspiring compared to regular CDs, while XRCDs and DVD-As are just mind-blowing excellent. What are your ears telling you?

The other day I read Michael Fremer’s Stereophile review of Ayre DX-5. He tested the DX-5’s stereo playback via the analog balanced outputs. He likes everything except the SACD playback. Well, the C-5xeMP and DX-5 are relatives. Is it simply a coincidence that I don’t like C-5xeMP’s performance with SACDs and Michael doesn’t like DX-5’s performance with SACDs? Could it be that something is wrong with the format itself, not Ayre players?

Alexander Gulidov

I don't find the C-5xeMP to sound "flat and uninspiring" with SACDs in my system (used balanced, that is). I can hear the things that characterize SACD. I do find that goosing the volume is necessary. The player's DACs have four built-in filters, and the best-sounding of them for SACD has the lowest output. So when listening to SACDs on the C-5xe, you have to remember to turn the volume up a few clicks. This is also the case with the DX-5, whose single-ended output while playing SACDs is 1 volt, which is extremely low and could cause audible issues in a system with low gain.

For added context, I asked Charles Hansen of Ayre about your DX-5 question. His response: "As far as the sound of SACD goes, all of the digital signals delivered from the transport in both the C-5xeMP and DX-5 are processed by the exact same circuitry. Same DAC chip, same analog circuits, same power supplies, same master clock, same everything. So the only way that DSD would sound different from PCM is if the transport is delivering the wrong bits somehow." There is one instance with the DX-5 -- if the owner connects it to a monitor that can't handle DSD, the native language of SACD -- whereby DSD is converted to PCM, and that would certainly affect the sound.

Charles also wrote, "SACD does sound soft compared to PCM. Everybody knows that. It's supposed to sound soft compared to PCM. That's what people like about it." I'm not sure I agree regarding SACD's intrinsic sound, but it is the case that CD and SACD do sound different. I will be writing about the DX-5 early this year and will be sure to address its CD and SACD performance separately.

As for XRCD, Joe Harley, producer for the Music Wave series of Blue Note recordings on XRCD, chose XRCD over SACD because he believes it's the best-sounding digital format. I reviewed the first four Music Wave XRCDs and can confirm that these are very special digital renderings of great music. -Marc Mickelson


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