Letters • July 2015

The importance of height

July 27, 2015


I am a 76-year-old audiophile (since the mid-'70s!). Therefore I have heard, seen and read a lot since Holt and Pearson, and I am also a fan of The Audio Beat. I like your squeaky-clean website and presentations. I loved this from you today because it told me that you are one of the few good ones!

"A test I like to do is put on music I know well that has a strong single center image -- a singer or horn player -- close my eyes, point to the source of the sound, then open my eyes. With the Sabrinas, I am regularly pointing at a spot above the top shelf of my SRA rack, which will give you some idea of how much height information these speakers convey. Full-sized images? Oh, yeah."

I send something similar to this message to speaker reviewers who at least say something about soundstage height. And of course I hate speaker reviewers (almost all) who only talk about image width and depth. Are they really that two-dimensional? In my long audiophile life I have discovered that height is just as important as anything else we say about soundstaging because it helps you believe in and enjoy the full stereo illusion, and it also helps separate the men from the boys in speaker design (what you say about the Sabrinas, which I haven’t heard, is just as true of Sasha 2s and Alexias). I always tell audiophile friends that I remember listening to Vandersteen 5s and 7s several times in different venues, and the image was consistently low to the ground -- at the speakers’ tweeter height. It was like listening to opera in a theater from a low balcony! I remember a highly rated reviewer (I think Robert Harley, if I remember well) excuse Vandersteens 7s on this for not being tower speakers, but, as an example of the opposite, many years ago I was very familiar with the first EgglestonWorks Andras, short floorstanding speakers that nevertheless threw a huge soundstage with height up to the ceiling! I think this is a very important factor most reviewers pass by, not only because they aren’t paying attention but also because so many highly valued speakers are in reality not very good.

Vladimir Dorta

I'm especially glad to know that someone else appreciates the importance of height information. I once described a person's system, which had no height information at all, as "like listening to the Beatles in the upper deck of Shea Stadium." The performers sounded like they were the size of ants. The Wilson XLFs and Alexias (which I own) portray full-sized images, and the Sasha 2s and Sabrinas are certainly from the same sonic family. Height is underappreciated, perhaps because it's so rare. -Marc Mickelson

Audio Research to replace Esoteric?

July 21, 2015


My Esoteric X-01 LE is still making very nice (albeit a little lean) music in my BAT/Wilson system. Would going to an Audio Research Reference CD7 or Reference CD8 give me more of an analog-like balance with a little more warmth than the Esoteric player? I enjoyed your insight into the Reference CD8 and wondered your opinion as it relates to the X-01 LE. Some have also recommended I look into the Audio Research DAC8 with its USB connection for streaming.

Bill Barotti

"Analog-like" is one of those terms like "neutral" that has lost much of its meaning, because it has been overused to the point that it means so many things. I know what you're getting at, however, and I think both the Audio Research Reference CD8 and CD7 will give you an easy, liquid, full sound, the CD7 more so than the CD8, as I recall. However, if you're not sure if you want a CD player or DAC, the product to buy is the Audio Research Reference CD9, which is both, so you can play your CDs and files with it. It's also the latest digital player in the Reference line. If you end up with any of these players, make sure you use it balanced to hear it as its best. -Marc Mickelson

Audio Research, DEQX reviews?

July 14, 2015


Is The Audio Beat planning on reviewing an Audio Research Reference SE amp powered with KT150 tubes? Audio Research did the SE upgrade on my Reference 150 amp a few months ago. Though the upgrade was a bit pricey, in my opinion, the improvement was quite considerable.

As you may recall, I bought a DEQX PreMATE last year. The PreMATE did a great job of taming my Paradigm Signature S8 v3 speakers and room. Is TAB giving any thought to reviewing a DEQX product?

Bruce Feinstein

We are planning coverage of the Audio Research Reference SE amps -- probably a blog but perhaps a full review. We're still sorting that out, so stay tuned.

I recall that you're a fan of the DEQX devices. I don't make assignments per se, so for us it's not so much a matter of taking on such a product for review but having the right person to write about it -- one who's interested in the concepts and sonic outcome. If one of the writers expresses interest, we'll pursue it. -Marc Mickelson

Blue Circle NSL and "body"

July 10, 2015


Your review of the Blue Circle NSL amplifier was one of the best audio reviews I've ever read. As a potential owner of the amp (I'll have one here for audition in a while), I have read and reread your piece, looking for the details that would tell me what I wanted to know ahead of time. They'll all there, though one is sort of between the lines. You are one of the very best reviewers I know of and am happy you appreciate Blue Circle gear so Gilbert gets the benefits of your writing skills -- and ears.

What I prize most in Gilbert's amps (contrasted with Crimson solid-state amps, which I also like a lot) is a sense of body, which I don't equate with bass, though I expect it's involved. His gear can give even violins body, their real body, not an add-on. From your review I sense that that may be where the NSL gives away a little to achieve its other extraordinary virtues. That said, when I moved from his 1022 amp to the NSP, which I now own, I had the same impression initially, then got over it. Hearing depends so much on what one has just heard that we need time to break away from what an amp is not doing (what we just heard or are used to) in order to hear what it is doing!

My first Blue Circle product was a BC3 preamp and that had to have been around 1997 or 1998. BC2 amps soon followed. Aural memory, as you know, is pretty untrustworthy, but I remember that combination with great affection and respect. I foolishly abandoned the amps when they couldn't drive my latest speakers, though we did get tired of overheating our room with them in the summers.

Bob Neill

Thanks for your kind words. It's nice to know that what I write connects with people. As for reviews of Blue Circle products, I'm finishing up one of the BC307 preamp now, and it will be live soon.

Every one of Gilbert Yeung's products that I've written about has had body -- dimensional density, even from violins, as you note. It has been a while since I heard the NSL, but I am sure the body is there in abundance, although perhaps not as much as with some of Gilbert's earlier amps. Gilbert's products run counter to so many electronics that trade body for space and so-called neutrality, sounding lean and sterile in the end. Or, as I wrote in my NSL review, Gilbert's electronics don't "so much unravel the music as put it back together, aiding with engagement and comprehension." -Marc Mickelson

Bamboo cones?

July 1, 2015


Family and bills have meant that parts of my music system have had to be DIY or cheap. A recent change has meant that I have been able to revisit and enjoy both vinyl and CD, but the expiration of the phono cartridge meant some unplanned spending. The means my support consists of an IKEA Besta A/V cabinet with isolation shelves made from Lack table tops supported on wooden cones. The other pastime is woodturning, so the cones are homemade.

Which leads to my question. Having a pile of chopping boards, and ready-to-cut-to-form isolation blocks, then thinking of the cones and the cutaway pictures I managed to find of Stillpoints, what is your opinion? Should the blocks remain just that to maximize the contact area or is it worth turning bamboo cones? I know I could experiment and the cost of a board is low, but my to-do list is closely monitored and I would rather sneak extra listening in as opposed to workshop time.

Alan Wood

You raise an interesting question. I'm inclined to the view that blocks are likely to work better, simply because I'm not sure how well the fibrous nature of the bamboo will hold a point. If the two materials were different, aluminum cones for example, I'd definitely use those point down to maximize contact area and security at both ends, but I've had great results using simple hardwood or bamboo blocks with the IKEA Aptitlig, so my inclination is to keep things simple. If you get bored one day and decide to spin up some bamboo cones, I'd love to hear how they sound. -Roy Gregory


The Audio Beat • Nothing on this site may be reprinted or reused without permission.