Letters • June 2010

Lamm, Audio 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 system.

Dave Neumann

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 stage too.

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.

Harry Joseph

"TAB's Summer Audio Roadtrip"

June 24, 2010


Great article, but Colorado might dispute your claims for Minneapolis being audio headquarters. Avalon, PS Audio, Boulder, Ayre and Jeff Rowland are all there.

William O'Malley

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 bass boominess?

Noli Tan

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. -Marc Mickelson

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.

Scott Douglas

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 reviews.

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 VPI Classic?

Premnath Rajagopalan

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 Mickelson

Thanks for Sinatra

June 15, 2010


The 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 this.

Sheldon Simon

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"

June 4, 2010


I enjoyed the article on swapping Silent Running racks immensely.

Phil Erickson

Speaker quandary

June 1, 2010


I'm 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.)

Dominic Bexon

It 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


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