Letters • June 2013

The value of comparisons

June 27, 2013

Marc,

I believe that all of us in the market for a one-box or two-box CD/SACD player and DAC with lots of flexibility, such as the Esoteric K-01, couldn't care less about a comparison with the Ayre DX-5, which is surely in a lower league, regardless how accomplished it might be.

Where are the salient comparisons with the significant competition, such as dCS, Boulder, Playback Designs, et al? There are many accomplished player/DAC components in the $16,000- $28,000 price range, no?

I for one become frustrated reading reviews of equipment -- or even reviews of classical music recordings -- that fail to offer opinions of comparisons with other products in the same league of overall performance and features. Price of course is less important. We all know there are products that perform significantly above their retail prices in some or many of their performance areas.

But really -- a review of the K-01 without any opinion of the differences and similarities of presentation of the performance of the music itself to other lauded players in the same league does little to inform and potentially direct (and educate) us to listen for specific nuances that may have otherwise gone unnoticed even if heard (I make a distinction between the two) in the audition process. I have always looked to your reviews and opinions as a source for continued education regarding the unique character of a components presentation of musical performance in comparison to other similar components. So please do not omit these comparisons. I have no doubt many readers value them highly and seek them out with great interest!

Marc Rolnik

I believe strongly in the value of comparisons, which is why I include them in my reviews. Obviously, the comparison of the Ayre DX-5 and Esoteric K-01 was inadequate in your eyes, but I did not have players or DAC/transport combinations from the companies you mention to compare to the K-01. Unfortunately, it's almost impossible to procure such products specifically for comparison. Aside from having to provide valuable stock, the company would have to provide the products with the knowledge that they won't be covered in a review of their own and they may lose out to the product under review. With such low (or no) benefit as an incentive, a company would never supply its products strictly for comparison, so the writer would need to own them. That's simply not feasible without a trust fund or lottery win to fund such a library of equipment.

So I compared the K-01 to the player I do own, the Ayre DX-5. As for it being "surely in a lower league," it surely costs considerably less than the K-01, but needless to say, in high-end audio a lower price doesn't universally equate to lower performance. Also, the DX-5 is the best player from a well-known manufacturer and the player I know better than any other, so on those grounds alone, I would say that the comparison is certainly relevant, if imperfect.

Finally, I appreciate your feedback, as I know you're giving it constructively, with our producing more useful and informative equipment reviews as the goal. Reviewing audio equipment is not only a solitary venture, it can happen in a perceptual vacuum, so such feedback from readers is particularly valuable. -Marc Mickelson

K-01 versus D-03 and P-03

June 24, 2013

Marc,

Your review of the Esoteric P-03 and D-03 about seven years ago was very influential in my making these a part of my system. I have enjoyed them greatly. The newer P-02 and D-02 would be great to have, but they are extremely expensive, probably prohibitively so. The K-01 may be possible if I can sell or get a favorable trade-in for the -03 units. From what you recall about the -03 units, how would you describe the changes/improvements in sound of moving from those to a K-01? Are there any areas where the separate units would still have advantages that I would miss if I made this change?

As always, your opinions and response are very helpful. Your review of the K-01 certainly makes this seem to be a good move to consider.

Brian Alberts

It has been seven years to the month since I reviewed the Esoteric P-03 and D-03, and that's part of the issue with comparing that DAC and transport to the K-01: I haven't heard them in a very long time. The D-03 uses four Analog Devices stereo DACs, while the K-01 uses eight AKM mono DACs, and just this difference will account for a corresponding change in sound. From memory, I would say that the K-01 has a greater sense of authority in the bass and substance in the mids, and the soundstage is just as immense. I also don't think there is any great difference in tonal balance; that's the sort of thing I would remember. All of this is based purely on what I heard from the K-01, not so much what I recall from the separates. Put another way, I'm relying on memory here, so this is speculation.

I do like the single-box format of the K-01, which makes it easier to place and requires one less power cord, and the fact that it's ready for file playback without some sort of USB-to-S/PDIF converter is also a plus. I also wonder what one of Esoteric's outboard clocks would bring to its presentation. Even with all of the Esoteric digital gear I've reviewed, I've never used one of the separate clocking units.

I'm sorry I can't be more definitive. If you have a good relationship with your dealer (which you should, given that you purchased the D-03 and P-03), an in-home audition would make sense, in which case you can tell me what you're hearing! -Marc Mickelson

New ProAcs?

June 18, 2013

Marc,

I am a longtime ProAc Response Five owner. I am thinking of trading to the more recent Carbon Pro Six. The Carbon Pro Six must be a bit better than the Response K6 you reviewed. Have you heard the Carbon Pro Eight? I haven't heard any of these speakers yet. I assume there will be improvements over my Response Fives.

My Response Fives go down to 20Hz. I'm in a 21-foot-long room. I am told that I probably have never heard 20Hz bass anyhow. The Response K6 and Carbon Pro Six go down to 25Hz. Do you think that I will be missing some bass? I'm a drummer and bass is appealing to me obviously.

You wrote of your longstanding feelings for the ProAc sound, so I thought you would be a good person to ask these questions. Perhaps I should remain satisfied with what I have.

Bill Sweet

First, you earn my respect by being a ProAc owner. Throughout the years, and including the many models that I've heard, ProAc speakers always sound right to me -- and to you too, I guess.

I have heard the Carbon Pro Six at CES a few years ago. In the ProAc line, they would be considered above the Response K6 that I reviewed. I've not heard the Carbon Pro Eight, but I would certainly like to. This is not a speaker choice you make without hearing the model(s) you're considering at length. You may find after such an audition that you should indeed remain satisfied with what you have. However, I suspect you will find that the Carbon Pro models sound like what you have but significantly updated, as ProAc is using vastly different drivers from those in your Response Fives, including a ribbon tweeter that, in their implementation, is a true wonder.

Actual 20Hz bass is a rarity, both because most speakers can't reproduce it (which is true) and it's captured on so few recordings. I suspect that either of the Carbon Pro models will do at least as well as your Response Fives in the low bass, and they will likely display improved impact as well. Again, a comprehensive audition should answer your questions. -Marc Mickelson

Analogue Productions Prestige "must-haves"

June 12, 2013

Marc,

If you have any must-haves from the Analogue Productions Prestige mono and stereo reissues, I would love to know what they are. I do not own many of them in any format.

Jeff Levine

There are many "must-haves" from Prestige mono and stereo series; in fact, a case could be made for any of them based solely on what original pressings and even later repressings cost. But here is a short list of the ones that I'll be buying. Given that we're talking about 50 LPs (25 mono and 25 stereo), I would suggest buying unknown titles that interest you instead of duplicating ones you already have.

Mono
John Coltrane -
Coltrane (which I reviewed), Soultrane and Lush Life
Sonny Rollins -
Saxophone Colossus and Tenor Madness
Miles Davis -
Bags Groove, Cookin', Steamin', and Relaxin'
Tommy Flanagan -
Overseas
Art Taylor -
Taylor's Wailers

Stereo
Kenny Dorham -
Quiet Kenny
Gene Ammons -
Boss Tenor
Booker Ervin -
Exultation, The Freedom Book and The Song Book
Eric Dolphy -
Outward Bound, Out There and At the Five Spot

The stereo series has a few blues titles too, including Lightnin' Hopkins' Goin' Away and Lightnin', and Willie Dixon/Memphis Slim's Willie's Blues.

As vinyl continues to sell briskly, it becomes tempting to cut corners -- or shave them off completely, as is done with some reissues. But these are all created the right way: cut from the original mono or stereo master tapes and pressed at Quality Record Pressings on 200-gram vinyl. Thus, at least in this case, you do get what you pay for. -Marc Mickelson

Speakers and cables

June 6, 2013

Marc,

I know you have a great set of articles on keeping speaker cables and interconnects in the same family if possible, with which I concur. It makes perfect sense. But what about being able to match the cable brand to the speakers themselves? I have Acoustic Zen speakers and currently use Nordost cabling all around. Would there be a sonic benefit if I used Acoustic Zen cables with my Acoustic Zen speakers? In my case it's possible to do that since Acoustic Zen makes both. Any thoughts on this?

Sheldon Simon

Roy Gregory makes just this point in his review of the Crystal Cable Absolute Arabesque, although he takes it one step further: that the use of the same cable within the speaker, right up to the drivers, pays sonic dividends. Of course, in the case of the Absolute Arabesque, those are very good cables themselves, and their use will certainly have positive sonic consequences no matter the speaker with which they are used. However, if you accept the notion that using the same cable throughout a system is worthwhile, it only makes sense that using the same cable within the speakers is a very good idea as well -- and, as you point out, Acoustic Zen is one of the few companies that makes both cables and speakers, so experimentation is possible. -Marc Mickelson

Speaker "alternatives"

June 1, 2013

Marc,

I own a pair of Focus Audio Master 2.5 speakers that I use with a pair of Lamm M1.2 Reference amps, a Zanden Model 3000 preamp, and a Weiss Jason/Medea digital source. I am considering upgrading my speakers, but as I find these speakers to be so wonderfully transparent, it is hard to find speakers that do not oblige me to sacrifice on this transparency. Better, more taut bass and improved treble are what I am seeking. Of course, I haven't heard many speakers yet, but I was hoping, knowing that you listened to the Master 2.5s some years ago, you could direct me to some alternatives I should look consider.

Michel Warlop

As you mention, it has been many years since I heard the Focus Audio Master 2.5 -- when the CES audio exhibits were still at the Alexis Park, I believe. My recommendation, therefore, can't really take into account what those speakers sound like -- it's just been too long for me to remember what I heard.

In your search, I would suggest hearing a broad cross-section of speakers, including the models from ProAc, KEF, Rockport and Wilson Audio that are in your price range. These are brands that consistently impress me either at shows or in my own room, and while each company makes more ambitious and expensive speakers, they also consistently make ones that stand on their own at each price level, becoming destination points within their respective lines. Of special note are the ProAc Response K6, Wilson Sasha W/P, KEF Blade and Rockport Avior. The first two I've heard at home and the last two at CES, the Aviors with equipment I know reasonably well -- VTL. While these speakers are very different in terms of their design and materials (and driver complement), they are all mid-sized and have similar wide-ranging performance that, at least to my ears, represents the best of what speaker makers have to offer here and now at their size and price level. We've reviewed the ProAc, KEF and Wilson speakers here on TAB, and we're hoping to add Rockport to that group at some point in the future. -Marc Mickelson

 

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