Letters • March 2015

Upgrade to which Wilson?

March 26, 2015


I have read your interesting opinions on the Wilson Audio MAXX 3 and Alexandria Series 2. I am now thinking of upgrading my MAXX 2 to MAXX 3 or the Alexandria 2. Reading your views, I am questioning if the Alexandria 2 warrants the extra cost. While I am able to do it, I would like to ask your opinion: where is the most evident and obvious upgrade -- from MAXX 2 to MAXX 3 or from MAXX 2 to Alexandria 2?

Hemi Raphael

Your question is one that many of us ask ourselves before we upgrade: is it worth it? In your case, you're considering two different speakers, so this upgrade is doubly difficult to evaluate. Moving from the Wilson MAXX 2 to the MAXX 3 or Alexandria 2 will be a big jump upwards in performance, and you will definitely hear what your money has bought. But the move to the Alexandria 2 will be more profound, as that speaker has better focus, greater dynamic prowess and goes lower than the MAXX 3.

In my opinion, however, you should also consider the Wilson Alexia. I actually went from the MAXX 3 (which I owned) to the Alexandria XLF (which I was reviewing) to the Alexia (which I still have), and I have to say that I thought I would greatly miss what the Alexandria XLF did in my system after it was gone, but the Alexia achieved so much of what the larger speaker did, including providing height information, and it sounded a touch more focused as well. I will have more to say in my review of the Alexia, which is coming up, but you may save yourself some serious money, not to mention space in your room, if you audition the Alexia and hear what I'm hearing from it. This suggestion might seem counterintuitive, given the cost of the Alexandria 2, but the Alexia is that special. -Marc Mickelson

Welcoming Sue Kraft

March 18, 2015


Good to see you writing about audio again. Nice review of the B&W speakers. I'm looking forward to reading more soon.

Mark Blackmore

Audio Research's capacitors, integrated amp vs. separates

March 16, 2015


I've been reading your online website for awhile now and I like the job you guys do. I especially like the non-dogmatic, non-absolutist tone of the reviews; it's a breath of fresh air.

Anyway, I have two questions regarding Audio Research equipment. I expect you're really busy turning out the website, but if you have time to answer I'd really appreciate it.

So first, why do the Reference 10 (line stage) and Reference 75 (amplifier) have gold capacitors and the Reference 5 SE, Reference 150 and Reference 250 have gray-blue Teflon capacitors? To me it seems like if one type is preferred from a sound standpoint, then it would stand to reason that it would be included in all the Reference line's products. Perhaps this is not a big deal, but since they went out of their way to tout the Teflon ones in their Reference-line product roll-out about four or five years ago, it seems weird that there is this discrepancy.

Second, I currently have a CD5 and a VSi60. I really like this combination, but I am considering moving up the chain on the amplification side. I have a dealer in the area, so I will audition the VSi75 and various Reference products shortly, and, of course, I will let my ears ultimately decide. But still I'm curious about your opinion on integrated vs. separates. Specifically, if I have the CD5 and a DVD player and no plans to do anything with analog, is it pretty much pure vanity to go with separates? In other words, with my setup, would it be folly to move up past the VSi75? Or is it a case of if the ears say the separates are that are that much better and one is able to pay the freight, then you do as you please?

Nick VanDuzee

The color of the capacitors that Audio Research uses in its products -- whether white or gold -- doesn't necessarily indicate qualitative differences between them. In some cases, it's a matter of different vendors and the outer-wrap materials they use. From ARC: "We have some white and gold caps that are sonically equivalent. That is why some products have been made using both." This is all the information I can get. Audio Research doesn't reveal specific construction details and differences between capacitors because they consider this proprietary information.

Your second question comes down more to your budget than anything else. This is another way of saying that if you move up to separates -- a Reference 5 SE and Reference 75 SE, for instance -- I am confident that you will hear the improvement your money has bought. Audio Research is, however, very good about creating distinct products that perform above their cost. The CD5 is a very good example of this. I've heard that player a few times, and each time I would be hard-pressed to say that CD sound can get any better here and now, even when it is auditioned alongside much more expensive CD players. A CD5 with an Audio Research preamp and amp, all connected balanced, would make for a very synergistic system. -Marc Mickelson

Ayre DX-5 DSD -- "what do you see. . . ?"

March 11, 2015


Congratulations on your DX-5 upgrade to DSD status! I’ve just added a PC to my rig. I have the PC connected to my DX-5 DSD via USB cable, so it now functions purely as an outboard DAC. A weird thing happens, though, when I play .DFF files (i.e., DSD files) on the PC. What I see on DX-5 DSD’s display is "USB 88 kHz." What? Isn’t it supposed to show DSD 2.8mHz, like all other DSD DACs that work with native DSD, without converting it into PCM? What could I be doing wrong? I am totally confused.

Most importantly, what do you see on display of your unit when you play .DFF (or DSD) files?

Alexander Gulidov

Because I've not used my DX-5 DSD to play DSD files, I consulted with the guys at Ayre to ensure that my hunch was correct. The DX-5 DSD can handle DSD natively, so, as I suspected, what's likely happening for you is that your software is converting the DSD files to PCM before sending the data on, so "USB 88kHz" is displaying. You would need to correct this somewhere within your player software -- or ensure that the software can output DSD without converting to PCM to begin with. When your DX-5 DSD receives DSD data, it will display "64." -Marc Mickelson

Amplifier, analog or digital outlets?

March 5, 2015


My main power conditioner is being upgraded. In the meantime, I'm using my spare power conditioner, but it only has one amplifier socket. I have monoblocks. Can I plug my second monoblock into a digital socket on the conditioner? Digital into analog or visa versa -- can that do any harm?

Sheldon Simon

In all likelihood, the digital outlets of your backup power conditioner are more heavily filtered than the analog or amplifier outlets, so your digital gear doesn't send its noise back into the power line. Therefore, while you can plug your mono amp into that outlet, an extra analog one makes more sense. I would also use two analog outlets for your monoblocks, and plug your preamp into the amplifier outlet, so the two amps are being powered the same way. This should lead to a small but discernible difference in sound. -Marc Mickelson

One or two subs?

March 1, 2015


I just picked up a Wilson WATCH Dog subwoofer and already own an Aerial SW12. Does it pay to use both? I read only use multiples of the same item.

Bill Barotti

While low bass is generally nondirectional -- that is, it's almost impossible to tell from which channel it's coming -- there are good reasons to use two subwoofers. However, you'd want to use two identical models in stereo, each adjusted in the same way (unless there's something about your room that you're trying to fix), not two different models in mono. While it would be theoretically possible to make them work together, especially if one has a parametric EQ function, it's hard enough to properly integrate one subwoofer with speakers. Integrating a second with the speakers and an existing subwoofer would almost be a task of Herculean proportions. You'd surely get better sound using just one of them. -Marc Mickelson


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