Research, Tron...or Allnic?
June 28, 2010
I have read your reviews and blogs on TAB with
great interest over the last several months. Your and Paul Bolin's articles have been a
big help to me in putting together a wonderful reference system. I only have one more
piece to get, and that's a phono stage. Here's my gear: Wilson Sasha W/P speakers, Lamm
ML1.2 Reference amps, Lamm LL2.1 Deluxe preamp, TW-Acustic Raven One turntable, Graham
Phantom II tonearm, Dynavector XX2 cartridge, Cardas Golden Reference cabling, and
Audience Adept Response power conditioner.
My short list of phono preamps includes: Audio Research
PH7, Lamm LP2 Deluxe, Tron Seven, and Manley Steelhead. I love the "organic" and
"human" quality the Lamm gear has given to my Sashas, and I want to continue in
that vein with the phono preamp, so the Lamm is a natural choice. But I live in
Louisville, KY, and all purchases have to be made without auditioning in my system. Other
than the Lamm, I like the versatility of the PH7 and Steelhead in terms of loading, remote
mute, etc. I will probably stay with a moving-coil cartridge, with perhaps a Dynavector
XV-1s or Air Tight PC-1 upgrade next year.
You have mentioned that Audio Research is coming out with
a PH6, so that may be a contender as well. What other guidance can you give me in the
sub-$7000 range? I would appreciate any thoughts or advice on helping me to finish out my
You've hit upon most of the phono-stage contenders in
your price range. They should all give you the sound you're after as well, with some
differences, of course. The Lamm LP2 Deluxe is the obvious choice, given that you own
other Lamm electronics. The Tron Seven is what the distributor of your TW-Acustic
turntable uses and recommends. I owned an Audio Research PH7, and it along with the Manley
Steelhead offer terrific flexibility.
Let me add one more phono stage to your list: the
Allnic H1500P, which costs $5700. I have the top-of-the-line Allnic H3000 in for review,
and it's among the very best phono stages I've heard, and better than any other in a
couple of ways. The H1500P shares most of the H3000's design and user features, including
LCR phono EQ, custom-wound transformers, tube regulation, isolated tube sockets,
adjustable loading and gain, and multiple inputs. It also has a separate power supply. I
suspect that it will fit in sonically in your system; the H3000 certainly has in mine. Its
hefty gain -- up to 73dB -- will accommodate even the lowest of the low-output moving-coil
cartridges, so if you upgrade your Dynavector XX2, you won't have to replace your phono
Which one of the phono stages mentioned should you
buy? I don't think you'll go wrong with any of them, but I'm sure you'll find one or two
to be a little more right than the others. -Marc Mickelson
Jazz at the Philharmonic in Europe
June 26, 2010
Thanks for the
tip on the Jazz at the Philharmonic in Europe box set, which I just received.
I would have missed this had I not seen your review.
"TAB's Summer Audio Roadtrip"
June 24, 2010
article, but Colorado might dispute your claims for Minneapolis being audio
headquarters. Avalon, PS Audio, Boulder, Ayre and Jeff Rowland are all there.
I honestly thought about Colorado, which I visited a
few years ago, when I wrote the opening to my "TAB's Summer Roadtrip"
article. There is certainly a great number of audio manufacturers in the state --
including three you didn't name: YG Acoustics, Audio Magic and Gran Prix Audio. However,
the companies are spread out -- from Boulder to Colorado Springs, with stops in between --
instead of concentrated in one metro area, as they are in the Twin Cities. Either way, the
Twin Cities and all of Colorado have certainly done more than their share to advance
high-end audio. -Marc Mickelson
Sophia 3s in a "small" room?
June 23, 2010
I'm thinking of biting on a pair of Wilson Audio Sophia
3s, hopefully soon. I will be replacing my Harbeths. Do you think the Sophia 3s can work
in a small room? Mine is 19 1/2' x 16' x 9'. I'm worried about the more potent bass
response of the Sophia 3s. My Harbeths' bass doesn't go to the 20Hz region. I have read
that Wilsons have fast bass and no overhang. Will that be a factor in terms of avoiding
Your room is not all that small, and I don't think it
would pose a problem for the Sophia 3s, even in the bass. You may experience bass
boominess if your room helps create it somehow, but I suspect you'd know that by now.
There's nothing about the Sophia 3s that will create it in your room -- or any other.
Response Fours and toe-in
June 20, 2010
I know you used to own ProAc Response Fours. I was
wondering if you could tell me if you pointed your speakers directly at your listening
position or had them facing straight into your room without any toe-in.
I'm just trying to get the best out of my pair, but I am
having trouble finding the right positioning.
I am just now going through your site. It's really great!
I only found it last night when I was Googling you.
My ProAc Response Fours have been gone for more than
a decade, so I can only go by recollection. I'm rather sure I didn't point them straight
ahead, which would probably have made them sound too mellow. Experiment with toe-in,
therefore, until you get the right amount of high-frequency information and an even
overall balance. When the US ProAc distributor set up the company's latest speaker at CES,
he certainly used some toe-in. Perhaps you can use what's shown in this
picture of that setup as a good starting point.
Thank goodness for Google. -Marc Mickelson
Upgrading digital, adding analog
June 18, 2010
I am based in India and have been regularly reading your
At present, my system is:
Esoteric P-70 transport
Esoteric D-70 DAC
Rethm Saadhana speakers
Rethm Gaanam SET integrated amp with separate power supply
All cabling is Acoustic System Liveline. Everything is on
a Silent Running Audio Craz rack with individual components on their own VR isoBases.
I only have CDs in my collection. I was wondering if it
was time to upgrade my Esoteric rig. Because you are very familiar with my rig as also
other Esoteric units, is there anything you would recommend that would be an upgrade?
Ideally I would like my new player to retain all the strengths of the Esoteric and be a
bit more analog-like. It could be another brand.
Also, I am planning to get into vinyl. Would the VPI Classic
turntable be a good choice? I know vinyl is a different medium, but would I get about
80-85% of the sound quality that I am getting from the Esoteric separates when I go with a
I reviewed the Esoteric P-70/D-70 combo back in 2003
and was very impressed with it. Since then, I've also reviewed other Esoteric products,
and I believe the performance of the company's digital players and separates has improved.
Therefore, your best choice may be a new unit from Esoteric, perhaps the X-01 D2, which
Paul Bolin has now and will be writing about soon. It plays SACDs in addition to CDs, so
you'll be able to explore high-resolution digital with it. For a CD-only player, I'm very
fond of the Audio Research Reference CD8, which I reviewed a few months ago. It's
considerably less expensive than the X-01 D2. The most analog-like digital gear I've heard
is from Zanden Audio -- the Model 2000P CD transport and Model 5000S digital-to-analog
converter. This is also the most expensive of the options I mention, but when you hear it
the cost may be a distant concern.
I think you can expect a different and in many ways
better listening experience from analog than from digital -- even compared to the Zanden
separates. The VPI Classic is a terrific, reasonably priced choice. It can bring out the
best in the best, and most expensive, cartridges and phono stages, but there are very good
reasonably priced choices too, like the Audio-Technica AT33EV and soon-to-be-available
Audio Research PH6, which replaces the PH5. You'll also want to budget for a record
cleaner and good fluids, like those from Audio Intelligent Vinyl Solutions, which can
improve listening to vinyl in ways that no turntable or phono stage can. -Marc
Thanks for Sinatra
June 15, 2010
review of Sinatra and Sextet: Live in Paris was dead on. It's an absolutely
fantastic recording -- intimate, musical, clear as a bell. Thanks for doing a review on
Full-function balanced preamps
June 7, 2010
I currently have an Ayre K-1xe preamp with the phono
boards. Analog reigns supreme in my system! I have owned the K-1xe for six or seven years,
and I like it quite a bit. But it is starting to get older (as am I unfortunately!), and I
am thinking about moving on.
I currently run my cartridge balanced (using XLR
terminations on the tonearm wires). In fact, I run most of my system balanced. I would
like to continue doing this, so my choice of full-function preamp is rather limited. One
preamp I have read good things about is the Halcro DM 10. It will allow the phono input to
be run balanced.
I recall that you had reviewed both the Ayre and Halcro
preamps. In fact, your original review of the Ayre preamp caught my eye, and was one more
reason I ended up buying it. Will the Halcro DM 10 be an upgrade to the Ayre K-1xe,
especially the phono stage, or will it be more of a lateral move?
As a side note, I have heard the ASR Basis Exclusive,
which is one of the finest (and quietest) phono stages I have ever heard. This phono stage
is better than the phono stage in the Ayre, albeit not by a huge amount. How does the
phono stage in the Halcro compare to the ASR Basis Exclusive?
Mark A. Helton
Back in the day, I reviewed the K-1x at The
Abso!ute Sound and did a follow-up on the K-1xe for Stereophile. It's a fine
preamp, and I always thought the phono stage was a huge bargain. I thought very highly of
the Halcro DM10, and its phono stage impressed me about as much as anything I had at the
time. Just a tad cool as a line stage, but the phono stage's lack of noise and abundant
dynamics remain, I suspect, world class.
I haven't heard the ASR phono stage, but I have heard
the Audio Research Reference Phono 2, and at this moment it takes the cake as a
stand-alone phono stage.
If the rest of your system isn't lean, it would be
hard not to recommend a pre-owned DM10 if it can be had at a reasonable price. The ARC
phono stage is $12,000 all by itself, and if you could land the DM10 for less than that
figure, in my opinion, it would be a great deal. -Paul Bolin
"Chess Boxing with a Craz²"
enjoyed the article
on swapping Silent Running racks immensely.
waiting to see if some low-mileage Wilson Sophia 2s fall out of the trees as Sophia 3 arrives.
However, I just read your
review of Paradigm's latest offering, the Signature S8 v3. Is this something that I
should consider with my Audio Research equipment, or would this be a mismatch not
particularly in price but in terms of the quiet sound signatures obvious of ProAc and
Wilson speakers? How would you rate Sophia 2 versus the Signature S8 v3? (I know you
mention Sashas in your review.)
has been a very long time since I heard the Sophia 2, but I have very fond memories of it.
In some ways, the Sophia is Wilson Audio's most impressive speaker -- not its best
overall, but one whose combination of performance and price seems especially remarkable. I
think this same thing about the Paradigm Signature S8 v3, though for different reasons.
Its sound is unlike that of the Sophia 2 -- more about digging into the recording to
re-create its sense of space than placing the musicians in the listening room. The Wilson
and ProAc speakers will sound more full and robust, the Paradigm speakers leaner and more
lively through the treble region. Your Audio Research electronics will mate well with any
of them, although the sonic outcome will reflect the speakers' differences. As I pointed
out in my review of the Signature S8 v3s, I hope that some well-known electronics
manufacturer, like Audio Research, will demonstrate with the speakers at CES, so everyone
gets to hear them with music. -Marc Mickelson