Letters • March 2010

ESP Concert Grand?

March 28, 2010


I auditioned used ESP Concert Grand speakers and liked the performance. I am looking to replace my Paradigm Signature S8s. What are your views on this speaker?

Ananth Desikacharlu

I have some experience listening to the ESP Concert Grand at shows, where it has sounded both spectacular and not very good. I believe in Paul Bolin's approach to show sound: if it's good, the product probably is too; if it's bad, I know basically nothing about the product with which to make any assessment. What I did hear from the ESP speakers was a spacious soundstage that had great depth, and an overall naturalness that was detailed but not clinical.

FYI: I have a pair of Paradigm Signature S8 v3s here for review, so you'll read about those later on. My memory of your speakers, which I reviewed quite some time ago, is fading, but the v3s are undeniably excellent, and I'll have a lot to say about them. -Marc Mickelson

"Welcome Michael!"; Sasha comments when?

March 25, 2010

Welcome Michael! You are one of two people whom I credit for getting me back into vinyl, and I can't thank you enough! (The other person is a good buddy who owns over 10,000 records.) My first 'table was the Music Hall MMF-7, which I bought based on your recommendation.

Marc, when are we going to read your impressions of the Wilson Sasha W/P? While I have already purchased a pair and have been enjoying them greatly, it is always interesting to hear professional reviewers' views, setup observations, and associated-gear interactions.

Thanks for creating TAB.

Dave Neumann

I plan to post my comments on the Wilson Audio Sasha W/Ps sometime before tax day -- April 15. I'm working on a couple of full-length reviews, and after I've finished those, I'll put together my thoughts and notes on the Sashas. You'll find the article under TABlog. If you're on our reader list, you'll be alerted as soon as it goes live. -Marc Mickelson

More "congratulations"

March 22, 2010


Congratulations on adding Michael Fremer to your staff.  Over the years, he has provided me with a lot of good advice on audio issues.

Patrick Vancompernolle

"I like reading everything Mikey writes"

March 20, 2010


Congratulations on adding Michael Fremer to your staff! I like reading everything Mikey writes.

Eric Hudgens

Lamm vs. CAT

March 18, 2010


Great review of the Lamm LL1 Signature! Imagine the LL1, ML3s, and the upcoming phono stage -- 11 chassis and enough heat to consider moving to someplace where you would have tundra for a front yard.

If you do not mind my asking, how do you feel the LL1 compares with the CAT SL1 Legend driving the ML3 amps?

Alan Farris

Putting aside the differences in their prices and physical configurations, I can say that the CAT SL1 Legend worked very well with the Lamm ML3 Signature monoblocks. It worked as well as the LL1 Signature, though the two preamps did not sound alike. In contrast to the LL1 and its directness, the CAT Legend sounds fuller and more three-dimensional, offering a juicier midrange and greater low-end weight. Neither preamp sounded more dynamic than the other, but the Legend definitely sounded more colorful throughout its range, and it unearthed musical detail and spatial cues with rare ability. The Legend also has a world-class phono stage that is among the most quiet I've ever heard.

It has been the case in the past that potential owners of CAT preamps had to match their amps' gain to that of the CAT preamp or they would hear excess hiss through the speakers, but the Legend, along with the new SL1 Renaissance, has a gain-reduction switch that makes it usable with basically all amplifiers. The ML3s have rather low gain, so you can use the Legend at its high-gain setting, where it sounds its very best.

I would say that if you want to replicate the sound of the ML3s, paying close attention to warm-up and power delivery, the LL1 Signature is the way to go. If, however, you want to augment and complement the amps' sound, the CAT SL1 Legend is a worthy choice, and you won't have to consider where to put that three-chassis Lamm Signature phono stage down the road. -Marc Mickelson

Which DAC -- Benchmark or PS Audio?

March 14, 2010


Have you reviewed the Benchmark DAC1 USB or PS Audio Digital Link III? I'm deciding which one to go with. Any thoughts would be helpful. I should mention that it's not for computer audio -- just straight digital-to-analog conversion.

Sheldon Simon

I have no experience with either DAC you mention, so I can't help you there. However, let me plug an older DAC that I do own and admire greatly: the Timbre TT-1, which sounds amazingly analoglike and, I'm sure, will compete with many new DACs, even though it's more than a decade old. Because so many people need USB input for use with a computer, DACs like the TT-1 have lost a great deal of their value. It cost $4000 new, but I bought one for $700 used. I owned a TT-1 when it was new, and I was shocked, after all these years, by how good the used unit sounded, competing favorably with current digital sources that cost what its list price was. This DAC isn't easy to find, which means that if you buy one, you shouldn't have a hard time reselling it if you don't like it. -Marc Mickelson

No.15 "That good?"

March 12, 2010


I read your article on Audio Intelligent Vinyl Solutions Formula No.15. That good? Reason I ask is that I am considering switching from my (old) Record Research Labs and (new) VPI fluids in my VPI 16.5 cleaning machine. The AIVS products have garnered very good comments all around, but your article strikes a chord with me, as I like the ease of a two-step versus a three- or a four-step process, as in the case of Walker products.

I tracked down a Canadian distributor, and I am thinking of picking up a few 32oz bottles of this. But wanted to see if you had any additional thoughts on it.

Al Monroe

Like you, I am put off by three- and four-step cleaning regimens because of the time they take, although I do admit that they are effective. I am on my second 32oz bottle of Audio Intelligent Vinyl Solutions Formula No.15, and it continues to impress me. I use the fluid as a general cleaner for new LPs and ones in good shape and for deep-cleaning especially dirty ones. Along with a water rinse, it handles both roles as well as any combination of cleaning fluids I've used. AIVS also has a one-step fluid, Formula No.6, and it may work just as well as No.15 for new LPs. However, for now and the foreseeable future, two steps seem ideal to get LPs really clean, and I'll continue using No.15. -Marc Mickelson

Inline attenuators for output reduction?

March 8, 2010


I would like some input on the pros and cons of inline attenuators (from Rothwell). My new CD player, a Meridian G08.2, is overloading my preamp, a McIntosh C32. From what I see on the Internet, this is not uncommon when new CD players are interfaced with older solid-state electronics. My previous CD player (a Meridian 207) had the option of variable output, which the G08.2 omits. Your thoughts or additional questions would be appreciated.

Bill Thomas

I have experience with adjustable EVS inline attenuators, which I used directly into amplifiers for volume control. Sonically, they were as transparent as the very best preamp, although a bit awkward to use, because I had them connected to mono amps that were placed far apart, which meant walking up to each amp simply to change volume. You would be using the Rothwell attenuators for a different duty: reducing the output of your CD player (2.3V, which is a little above average) so the volume control of your preamp has greater range, and the lowest setting isn't too loud for normal listening. The Rothwell attenuators are constructed like the EVS -- resistors are put in the signal path to reduce the output of what's immediately upstream. Theoretically and practically, this is the best way to effect this, short of having a switch on your CD player to do it. The 10dB reduction of the Rothwell attenuators is quite substantial and should have the desired effect. However, I would also experiment with them between your preamp and amp, as your preamp might have substantial gain, and the attenuators may work better in sonic terms there, because you'll gain 10dB in signal-to-noise ratio. -Marc Mickelson

Sasha W/P vs. MAXX 2

March 1, 2010


I'm an owner of Wilson MAXX 2s -- speakers you owned yourself before the MAXX 3s. For a few years now, I've been enjoying them tremendously, and while the industry keeps manufacturing new sets of speakers, declaring them "the best of the best" with stratospheric prices, I do believe that the MAXX 2's capabilities stand high against them and make me wonder what there is to justify the new kings' asking prices. The MAXX 2s may not deserve the title "the worlds best," but I do believe their ability to reproduce music that is sometimes very close to live music still makes them contenders among the very best. While audiophiles tend to consider a new set of speakers as better than their predecessor, you often find that the case is mere "different," not necessarily "better."

I read all of your reviews of Wilson Audio speakers, including the one of Alexandria X-2 Series 2, where you wrote that the MAXX 2, if manufactured by others, may viably be declared as competition for the Alexandria X-2 Series 2. That being said, I do admit my own weakness (as a former owner of WATT/Puppy 6es and 7s -- often not being persuaded by their reproduction of music), and I wonder how you find the new-generation Sasha W/P versus the MAXX 2. I have not had the chance to hear the Sashas yet, so I'm curious. Are they a step toward the MAXX 2, or is it time for me to open my wallet again? [sigh]

Mike Cohen

A pair of Sasha W/Ps were set up in my listening room two weeks ago, and I've been listening to them since. I will be writing at some length about the speakers, but I can certainly tell you a few things about them now.

It has been a long time since I heard the MAXX 2 in my room, but I am very familiar with the significantly updated MAXX 3. The latest MAXX is really the one to which the Sasha W/P most easily compares. Like the MAXX 3, the Sasha W/P is astoundingly coherent, with no frequency range, or driver, clumsily indicating that it is a multi-way speaker. Along with this, it offers great dynamic coherence -- the ability to scale up and down in volume smoothly and realistically. It displays much of the MAXX 3's midrange texture and buoyancy, and it throws a very wide, surprisingly tall, and especially deep soundstage. Wilson calls it "intimate," meaning that it sounds close-up and vivid. This is not a frequency-response characteristic but a spatial one. The performers may be closer, but the ultimate depth of each recording remains intact -- and, along with the intimacy, can make for thrilling listening.

I think in some important ways -- including throughout the midrange -- the Sasha W/P is an improvement over the MAXX 2, a judgment I make, once again, from memory. I am sure you would still achieve greater large-scale dynamic abilities and deeper bass from the MAXX 2, and that speaker is also exceedingly coherent. If you want the best of both worlds, the MAXX 3 is the way to go. Short of that, and taking price into consideration, the Sasha W/P is special -- an expensive speaker that also represents terrific value. Replacing a renowned product with one that's markedly better and costs less is one of David Wilson's greatest achievements -- in a career that's abundant with them. -Marc Mickelson


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