Letters • June 2011

"...a few questions..."

June 27, 2011


I have a few questions for you.

Regarding the AudioQuest WEL cables, will you be talking specifically about the interconnects at some point?

Also on the WEL cables, you mention them for use with Audio Research Reference products. Are you meaning the power cords specifically or the interconnects too? If interconnects, did you run them into/out of the Reference 5 and into the Lamm M1.2s? How did that compare to the Shunyata interconnects?

Is a review of the Ayre KX-R forthcoming? Did you find that any particular synergy existed between the MX-Rs and KX-R as compared to using the Reference 5 with the MX-Rs? Sometimes one can get too much of a good thing, thus the mix'n'match consideration.

Have you ever listened to the Ayre KX-R/MX-R combination when powering TAD Reference 1 loudspeakers? Apparently it's quite a splendid pairing. (Separately, I look forward to seeing what Charlie and his angels bring out as a source component for the R series.)

Larry Phillips

I'll answer your questions in sequence.

I don't have a review of the WEL interconnects (and speaker cables) planned, because I have quite a reviewing backlog right now. I did write a follow-up about them at Soundstage.

I have used the WEL interconnects and speaker cables with ARC electronics, but my comments in my review of the power cords applied strictly to the power cords. I consider the WEL cables one of my references, along with the new Shunyata cables, which are very impressive.

I don't plan to write about the KX-R (again, a time thing), but that could change if there's enough interest. My next review will be of the Ayre DX-5. There is definite synergy between the KX-R and MX-Rs, which are both amazingly quiet and composed. I liked the MX-Rs and Reference 5 too, but for different reasons, mostly having to do with what tubes brought to the presentation.

I have only heard the Ayre/TAD combo at CES, where it sounded very detailed, grainless and nimble. I know the people at Ayre think very highly of the TAD speakers, and it was easy to hear why. -Marc Mickelson

LP-to-digital conversion?

June 20, 2011


Your site is excellent. You replied to a few of my questions a year ago, and your insights were appreciated.

I have a handful of long-out-of-print LPs on small labels that no longer exist. I would like to have them converted to digital files [gasp] so I can enjoy them in my office and car, places where I don't have a turntable. I have a low-quality turntable setup, so it is likely that a high-quality transfer job will net me better overall sound in my system through a high-end DAC.

Can you recommend companies that do analog-to-digital transfers of excellent quality? My prepliminary searches have come up with nothing of excellence. There do seem to be a handful of companies that use low- or mid-fi systems -- i.e., $1000-$2000 complete turntable setups and a computer soundcard processor, not even a separate high-quality ADC.

Marc Rolnik

I was in your position a number of years ago. I wanted to have a cherished album converted to digital, and I was willing to pay the going rate (around $75 at that time) to have it done right. (I didn't own an analog rig at the time, or I would have done it myself.) I found a fellow who did a decent job, but I wished I had followed a different route that I devised after the fact.

In hindsight, I would have solicited an audiophile on one of the various chat sites to do the job. My criteria would have been that he use very good hardware and, more important, that he would clean the LP first. Cleaning the LP would have removed ticks and pops, and it also would have ensured that no dust accumulated on the stylus during the transfer. My album was in very good condition, but it could certainly have used a good cleaning.

Given the promise of a few dollars (and the possibility of having a digital copy of my record), I'm sure I could have found someone who would have done a much better job. Many of the vinylphiles online have finely tuned high-quality turntables and cartridges, and some are very adept at digitizing LPs via computer or hard-disk recorder. Many own cleaning machines too. -Marc Mickelson

Thiel and Mark Levinson?

June 16, 2011


I appreciate your review of the Thiel CS3.7s. At the present time, I'm a satisfied owner of Thiel CS3.6es driven by a Mark Levinson No.383 integrated amplifier. The rest of the chain comprises a Mark Levinson No.390S CD player and No.25 phono stage.

I know you have been an admirer of the No.383, as I have read your review  and also your responses to reader letters concerning this amplifier. I have also noticed that you have had in the past the CS3.6es and that you were not much satisfied with their sound, probably because of their position in your small room.

Do you think that my No.383 will drive the CS3.7s more easily than the CS3.6es? Do you think that the change of speaker will be "significant"?

Mauro Congia

As you mention, I am very familar with the Mark Levinson No.383, which remains my personal high-water point for integrated amps. I bought one years ago and used it happily. The CS3.7 is actually more sensitive and a less punishing load than the CS3.6, so your No.383, which is very powerful and able to cope with low-impedance speakers to begin with, won't have any problems with the CS3.7s.

As for whether the CS3.7s will represent "a significant change" for you, the subjectivity of "significant" is the issue. Jim Thiel was not one for hyperbole or replacing models "just because." Hence, I suspect that you'll find the CS3.7s to represent "significant" evolution of his theories and perhaps to be even more than "significant" in terms of the improvement they bring to your audio system. -Marc Mickelson

TTWeights review?

June 13, 2011


Thanks much for the updates to TAB. With the reduction of audio dealers, TAB is about the only way for some of us to stay on top of what’s happening in the audio world.

Do you have any plans on reviewing the turntable offerings from TTWeights? The reason I ask is that I’m taking the plunge and getting one of their Gem 'tables to replace my 20-year-old Well Tempered Reference. I was sold on the fact that Larry Denham, the manufacturer, is in North America and can be called directly for assistance. He’s also a great guy to talk to -- just like Ralph Karsten at Atma-Sphere. Also, I really like the precision bearing and the isolated rim drive -- they seem theoretically sound. Can’t wait to hear the results, which will happen next week. I’ll be using my Well Tempered 'arm with a Zyx Airy Copper cartridge until I can afford a new 'arm.

Steve Motyka

I covered the TTWeights Gem at last year's Rocky Mountain Audio Fest and talked with Larry Denham afterwards about reviewing it. Your message reminds me to follow up with him and perhaps arrange coverage for later in the year or early 2012 (an indication of how busy I am with reviewing duties right now). The Gem looked to offer a great deal of record-playing technology for its price, and the machining was superb. -Marc Mickelson

Differences between Zanden amps, among other questions

June 7, 2011


I appreciate your past reviews of Zanden products. I am right now looking to buy a new preamp and new amps. I am looking at Zanden, Soulution and Tenor. I had a couple of questions for you if you don't mind. I have auditioned the Zanden Model 9500 Mk II monoblocks. I can't seem to find any information on what is different between them and the Model 9600s, except the price. Do you know the changes? They might be obvious, but I'm just not finding the specs anywhere to compare.

I would be using them with a pair of the Kharma Reference 1E Signature speakers. I don't know if you know these, but they are basically the Reference 1E with the Grand Exquisite wiring and casing (they weigh another 75 pounds more than the regular 1E). I don't know why they don't show them, but I think they sound considerably better than the regular 1E.

I have a Zanden preamp, which I think is incredible. Anyway, that is what led me to test the rest of the Zanden equipment. I wasn't necessarily going that way, but I agree that the whole set goes incredibly well together.

My demo of the Soulution equipment (which also works very well as a whole) and the Zanden was with the new Focal Utopia III EM speakers. Unfortunately I haven't been able to hear the equipment with my Kharmas. I say "unfortunately," as I used to be a big JMlab fan, but I don't really care for this release. I'm not sure how to put it into words, but the soundstage wasn't as good as I expected.

My current view is that the Soulution bass and overall performance are very exciting. Like you, I am a tube guy, but the Soulution products could convince me otherwise. But I keep coming back to the midrange. That is why I appreciate your reviews. I get the feeling that I am giving up the midrange with solid state. I also have a Velodyne DD 1812 subwoofer, and I feel like I can get the bass from the sub. I know many people think it is ridiculous for $100,000 speakers to need a sub -- and the reality is they don't. But I am wondering if you can use different equipment to complete a sound -- i.e., if the Zanden amps are awesome everywhere else and the Velodyne can assist in the bass, then maybe we are getting the best of all worlds. I would be interested in your thoughts here.

I have heard the Velodyne and the Kharmas with the Tenors and the whole system is complementary. I am nervous that for some reason the speakers may not work with the Zanden amps -- would you know of a reason for this? I think the Tenor amps do a bit of what the Zanden amps do and a bit of what the Soulution amps do -- maybe a best-of-both-worlds situation. But I also get the feeling that the Zanden-Velodyne-Kharma combination will get me more without losing any of the midrange/treble splendor.

Sorry to ramble, but these are big purchases and I am always interested in other people's perspectives.

Brian Herlihy

The two Zanden amps you mention amps look identical, but the Model 9600 is fully balanced. This allows Zanden to push the output tubes a bit more and increase the power to about 90-100 watts, versus 60 watts for the Model 9500 Mk II. With the Model 9500 Mk II, the first and second stages are single-ended topologies; only the third/output stage is balanced. The Model 9600 also has input transformers that help eliminate noise and are important to the balanced implementation. According to Zanden, "The Model 9600 combines the virtues of the Model 9500 Mk II -- a smooth, detailed, non-fatiguing sound -- with additional power and dynamics."

As for your question about mixing and matching equipment to "complete" your system, the answer is absolutely yes, if it's done carefully. Companies make their electronics to be compatible with each other electrically, matching output and input impedance as well as gain, for instance. This doesn't always happen when you mix products from different companies. There is also the matter of sonic personality, which, with products from the same company, remains uniform -- no compensation for or matching of colorations required. On the other hand, there are different companies whose products work especially well together -- Lamm and Audio Research, for instance -- so you can certainly achieve a fine outcome with products from different makers.

As to your question about Zanden amps not fitting with your speakers, I suspect the amps will have no trouble driving them to loud levels, but I don't know what kind of load the speakers represent. Just the same, when I wrote about the Zanden Model 9600s, I didn't find that they were finicky with speakers, so I don't think you'd have any issues. -Marc Mickelson

High End 2011

June 5, 2011


Wow! Spectacular coverage of Munich's High End show! Very enjoyable reading.

Phil Erickson

Lamm, Tidal and Wilson

June 1, 2011


You reviewed the Tidal Contriva Diacera loudspeakers in July 2010. Did you find your Lamm M1.2 Reference amps to have ample power to drive these speakers? At any time did you find the amps to have inadequate power?

Finally, might you consider this pairing comparable to your more frequent pairing of Lamm and Wilson?

Eli Jacobsen

The Lamm M1.2s are rated to deliver 110 watts each, but they actually output around 150 watts -- more than enough power for the Tidal Contriva Diaceras. I'm using the M1.2s right now to drive Tidal Sunrays, and not only is the power adequate but the sonic outcome is gorgeous. I'll be writing about the Sunrays later in the year.

There is definite synergy between Lamm electronics and Wilson speakers, and I'd say the same is true for Lamm and Tidal. Wilson speakers are stunningly coherent, wide in bandwidth and dynamically agile, while Tidal speakers offer a unique combination of high resolution and ease that is very compelling. However, both pair well with Lamm electronics, and for the same general reason: a strong complementary naturalness. -Marc Mickelson


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