Letters • June 2012

Shunyata Research versus Siltech

June 28, 2012


You seem to have been very impressed with the Shunyata Zitron Cobra interconnects and speaker cables. How would you rate them compared to the top-of-the-line Siltech offerings that seemed to have impressed you similarly a few years ago?

Jean-Pierre Sarrato

You are correct -- I am very impressed with the Shunyata Zitron cables (I reviewed the Cobra, and I have the Anaconda now), which compete with top cables from other makers that cost far, far more. The Siltech cables I reviewed were from the G6 and Classic Mk 2 series, and at the time I thought they were the best cables I had ever heard. But that was seven years ago, and I haven't heard a Siltech cable since. I hope to rectify that situation soon (I'm scheduled to review the Siltech Explorer cables), but for now it's impossible for me to compare the latest Shunyata cables to those older ones from Siltech, as my sonic memory just isn't that good. Sorry. -Marc Mickelson

H-3000V or Reference Phono 2?

June 25, 2012


I wonder if you can help me. Someone told me that you use both the Allnic H-3000V and Audio Research Reference Phono 2. I am choosing between them and was wondering if the Reference Phono 2 is on a par with the Allnic and how you think they differ.

Over here in the UK, a couple of friends were disappointed with the Reference Phono 2, saying that it was fairly easily matched by a Tom Evans The Groove SRX (which itself is quite an inferior jump down from the Mastergroove). I am a bit cautious with some of the big US brands, but if the performance is good, then I will go with whatever.

Rich Murray

I have firsthand experience with both the Allnic H-3000V as well as the Audio Research Reference Phono 2 SE (and Reference Phono 2 before it). They are the two best phono stages I've heard in my system. In terms of design, both use tubes, offer alternate EQ curves, have multiple inputs, and have enough gain for even the lowest MC cartridges. However, the big differences between them is that the Allnic phono stage uses an LCR EQ network along with step-up transformers, while Audio Research has a remote control (with which you can change loading and EQ from the listening seat) and derives all of its gain from active devices, having no step-up transformers.

There are some broad sonic similarities between them, including tonal purity and weight, and a unique way with space. Both always bring out the best in analog, never adding crispness to enhance the sense of detail or speed. Their fullness (especially from the Allnic) gives musicians a kind of authenticity that I find particularly appealing. The difference in their spatial fingerprints really comes down to the enormity of the Reference Phono 2 SE's soundstage versus the spooky holography of images within the soundscape with the H-3000V. Just when I think I prefer one of these phono stages, I listen to another record on the other and question my conclusion.

I have no experience with the Tom Evans unit you mention, so I can't help you there. But. . . -Marc Mickelson

As a long-time user of the Tom Evans Groove SRX, and having had both the Allnic and the Audio Research phono stages in the system as well, I'm perhaps uniquely placed to comment on the differences between these units. Marc is spot on with his description of the virtues of and contrasts between the two tubed contenders. There is an undoubted sense of solidity and presence with the Allnic, space and dimensionality with the Audio Research. The Tom Evans design is a cat of quite a different color. Unlike the other two phono stages under discussion, the Groove SRX is a solid-state device throughout, with a circuit that features multiple, independent stages of the super-quiet Lithos regulation. The result is a level of detail and dynamic resolution, a blackness to the background and a precision and stability to the placement of images that betters either of the tube designs. The Groove SRX is about transparency and a reach-out-and-touch sense of immediacy. What it lacks is the color, the dimensionality (especially the substance of individual images) and that uncanny "atmosphere" that both the Allnic and Audio Research units possess (although the Master Groove -- that's planned for imminent review -- might extend those properties). It also lacks the ability to switch replay EQ curves -- vital if you listen to older recordings, especially classical and jazz; irrelevant if you only listen to relatively recent rock or pop and 180-gram reissues.

You don't list the rest of your system, so it's impossible to get a steer on where your sonic preferences lie. I'd suggest you ask yourself the following questions: Does the crisp, quick precision and rhythmic drive of the Tom Evans appeal -- or the warmer weight and solidity of the tube designs? Are your record shelves weighed down with early Deccas, DGG pressings and a selection of original Jazz discs? Finally, have you heard any of these phono stages yourself? The answers will tell you what you should be seeking out.

One last consideration; if you don't need the EQ curves but do fancy hearing a tubed alternative to the Groove(s), I'd take a serious listen to the Aesthetix Rhea, a genuinely versatile and highly musical tube design. -Roy Gregory

Buying a Scuttle

June 21, 2012


I'm finally ready to purchase a Silent Running Scuttle rack for my Cary preamp and CD player. Once I get the rack in place, I will start saving for a turntable and phono stage. Tim at Silent Running thought the new Scuttle˛ was best for my purposes, but I know he is busy and I don't want to probe him with questions. Do you know what improvements the second generation made over the first, and more importantly, what the third generation will add? According to a review on Silent Running's site, the Scuttleł will add three times the isolation of the Scuttle˛. If this is really the case, and I am correct that the Scuttle˛ costs $7000 and the Scuttleł costs $9000, then should I pay the extra? (I'm not quite sure where I came up with these prices; I am interested in the three-shelf, six-component double rack -- as pictured in TAB's review.)

I would appreciate any clarification or advice you can give me. This is the last rack I will ever buy, and I want to make the best choice.

Jeff Levine

According to Kevin Tellekamp at Silent Running, the first-generation Scuttle, of which there are "hundreds" in use, is no longer in production. It has been replaced by the Scuttle˛, which features newly designed 1”-thick shelving material similar to that for the Craz rack, along with an improved footer material. The price went up a little more than $300 (from $6667 to $7000 for the three-tier wide Six unit). That $300 covers the difference in material costs only.

Silent Running also has a "hot rod version" of the Scuttle˛ that features the same mass-loaded supports and weight-specific isoPods used for Craz. This is called the Scuttleł. According to Kevin, "These parts are expensive to produce, so this upgrade would tack on another $2000."

Regarding which rack to buy, you can always throw money at the issue, but at some point, you have to set your budget and stick to it. Doing that will make your choice clear. -Marc Mickelson

Reference 75 for Wilson Sashas?

June 17, 2012


My system comprises Wilson Audio Sasha W/P speakers, a Wadia S7i CD player and an Audio Research Reference 5 preamp. I thought of buying the Reference 150 power amp, but I was deterred by the large number of tubes and by too much heat. I eventually bought the Krell 302e. The Krell is good, but I still long for tube sound. From what I heard, the earlier Reference 110 was insufficient for the Wilson speakers. Can you please describe (as much as you can) the difference between the Reference 150 and the Reference 75. What would I lose by using the Reference 75, if anything?

Naseem Yacoub

I have only heard the Reference 150 on a few occasions. The Reference 75 was easily able to drive the Wilson Sashas in my new room (23' x 14' x 9') with powerful orchestral music. The Reference 75's power supply is proportionally identical in storage capacity to the Reference 150's -- same capacity per watt -- and is equal to that of the discontinued Reference 110. The size of your room and your musical tastes will have some effect on the suitability of the Reference 75 for your system, but in a normal-sized room it should be able to handle almost anything you care to play. As I pointed out in my blog, the Reference 75 was designed and voiced primarily on Sasha W/Ps.

If you have any doubts, try to get your dealer to let you audition the '75 at home for a couple of days. -Paul Bolin

Robert Koda K-10 and Lamm LL1 Signature

June 14, 2012


Many thanks for the nice review of the Robert Koda K-10. Very elaborate and soulful. Love your style.

I would kindly ask where you would say the K-10 sits compared to the Lamm LL1 Signature.

From what I could conclude, it seems that the K-10 is one of the finest preamps that has come through your listening room.

Matt Turner

The Robert Koda K-10 and Lamm LL1 Signature are qualitative peers -- both would my make preamp top-five list (along with the Audio Research Reference Anniversary, Zanden Model 3000 and CAT SL-1 Legend). However, they also sound rather different. The Lamm preamp emphasizes the music's forward momentum through the sheer force and punch of its sound. The K-10 is about ease and naturalness throughout the sonic spectrum. It possesses a graceful musicality (for lack of a better term) that integrates detail from recordings instead of parsing the music into its constituent sonic parts. While both approaches will have their adherents, I doubt these people will see eye to eye in terms of which one makes for better listening. -Marc Mickelson

Zanden vs. Stahl-Tek

June 11, 2012


I have (somehow) only recently discovered The Audio Beat and now consider it (by far) my favorite review site. Thank you for such incredibly incisive reviews, which always include comparisons that I find to be some of the most valuable parts to your reviews.

I read in your August 2011 letter that you named the Zanden four-box rig as your favorite CD-playback source. Have you heard the new Stahl-Tek Vekian Opus at CES 2011 or 2012? I own the Zanden Model 5000S DAC and love it. The original Vekian (nearly) convinced me to trade. That is the first time ever (I've heard and passed on dCS Scarlatti, EMM Labs CDSA, Wadis S7i, Audio Research Reference CD8, Krell Evolution 505, Metronome Kalista Reference/C2A, and Meridian 808i.2).

But I have now heard that the Vekian Opus is superior -- from several former Zanden owners who have since moved over. I don't know these owners, so do not know if this is a "buy the new thing" thing or if in fact someone has finally managed to surpass the mighty Zanden.

Many thanks for any guidance. Meanwhile, I look forward to reading more on your great site.

Lloyd Lee

As you know, the hierarchy of digital playback continues to reshuffle at a rapid pace. Judging by the list of equipment you've heard, you may have more experience with digital gear than any reviewer. Within my experience, the Zanden Model 2000P transport/Model 5000S DAC combo still reigns supreme, mostly for how it contrasts with much digital equipment I've heard: its naturalness and ease replicate the sound of very good analog.

I say all this not having heard the Stahl-Tek equipment you mention and about which others have written to me. Time is never on my side when it comes to adding review products to my queue, but I'll inquire just the same about the Stahl-Tek rig and perhaps you'll read about it on TAB at some point in the future. -Marc Mickelson

Room size?

June 6, 2012


I saw the pictures of your Wilson Audio Alexandria XLF installation on Facebook. What are the dimensions of your listening room?

Dan Evert

My room is 20' wide by 29' long and has a 10' ceiling. It's on a cement slab -- no floor movement -- and completely carpeted. It's big enough and lossy enough that the minimal treatments I've tried changed the sound but didn't necessarily improve it. Best of all for a speaker like the Alexandria XLF (and my back), the front door of my house opens directly into my listening room, so heavy gear can be carried or rolled right in. -Marc Mickelson

Furutech or AudioQuest phono cable?

June 2, 2012


I noticed that you use or have used the Furutech Ag-12 and the AudioQuest LeoPard in various reviews. I am debating whether I should purchase the Furutech or the AudioQuest; these are the two I am currently interested in. I could demo the AudioQuest but not the Furutech, so it will not be possible for me to compare the two side by side. Can you give me your opinion of the sound characteristics of each cable, or more specifically the differences between them in the bass, midrange and high frequencies?

I am currently using an Ortofon Cadenza Blue into an Avid Pulsus phono stage with a cheap phono cable, so I know that either one would make a huge difference compared to what I have now.

Paul Loussia

I haven't heard either cable in many months -- even longer for the Furutech -- so I can't really be sure of anything beyond what I've already written about them. Neither cable sounds unforgiving, and both possess clarity, the Furutech just a bit more, as I recall. I do think Furutech's shielding has positive audio effects, perhaps in terms of the cable's overall clarity, but that's only speculation.

While in some cases one product may be more right for you than another, in this case, these two cables are so closely matched that you probably can't go wrong with either of them.

Sorry I can't address your further questions with specifics. FYI: I wrote a full review of the Furutech cable in 2008, when I was editor of Soundstage. You may still be able to find that review online. -Marc Mickelson


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