Letters • March 2016

Hydra Triton v2 use

March 22, 2016

Tim,

Thanks for your Shunyata Research Hydra Triton v2 blog from 2015. Does it matter if I connect the Triton v2 directly to wall, where it shares an outlet with a bank of computer gear, or directly to an APC-type suppressor switch?

Paul Chiu

For best operation, the Triton v2 should be connected directly to the wall. Going through your APC-type switch means the Triton’s access to current is limited by that switch (increased reactance.) Given that the computer gear will put noise on the power line (which the Triton largely should filter), there could be a bit of trade-off. You could mitigate the compromise further by using something like a Shunyata Zi-Tron Sigma HC power cord from the wall to the Triton. That cord is ideal for that position because it provides another layer of noise suppression while allowing current throughput. -Tim Aucremann

Hi-fi for "one-percenters"

March 18, 2016

Roy,

It is fascinating to learn that the best CD player you've ever heard costs $40,000 and that an affordable version of the machine, albeit not anywhere near as good (but still pretty good), costs $16,000. Of course, I'm talking about your recent review of the Neodio NR22 HD.

I'm 74 now and have watched for some decades how prices for equipment that provides the liveliest home music production have risen. In the last decade, they have risen logarithmically.

And I admit that they have also risen beyond my budget by a great deal. I can only stand in the dealers' hotel suites at shows and listen now. Nothing is available for purchase by retired college professors.

My hobby world started with me finding great used turntables and arms, $100 phono cartridges, and building copies at home of Audio Research's SP3 preamp and VTL's old 100-watt basic amps. I could range around here in Southern California and find brand-new speakers for sale at $125 each. I spent much more money in the 1990s. I bought a VPI Scoutmaster turntable, Benz phono cartridge, OPPO player, VTL 5.5 preamp, VTL 450 monoblocks, Nola Contender speakers, even a subwoofer at $2000 from JL Audio. Twenty thousand dollars worth of equipment? Seemed okay to me for a system that so outperformed my handmade one. I can afford this.

But now? It's impossible to keep up.

There must be many people like me who would band together to resist the present high end. Why should one-percenters have the state of the art all to themselves in this way? The next frontier is to beat what they've got now but at prices "the people" can afford! New assaults on the state of the art should be double barreled, if you will. New equipment should perform as well as that which the one-percenters purchase, but at ever lower prices. Let us celebrate the Neodio NR22 HD at $16,000 now, but push for Neodio to provide something even better than it, and at the same time at a much lower cost. Reviewers and consumers should push hard for this. "State of the art" ought mean performance at price points, not performance when price is no object.

I call upon you, as a major voice in our hobby world, to take the double-barreled approach. I would ask you not just to identify and push for pretty good sound at a great price, but the very best state-of-the-art performance at what I'd call a state-of-the-art price.

Why not, for instance, compare the NR22 HD to the $1200 OPPO player and never breathe that the comparison is "unfair" because one player costs 13 times more than the other? Just do it right out straight!

Jud Emerick

Your letter lifts the lid on a number of issues that have been looming progressively larger in my thinking recently. The ever-rising price of high-end audio is impossible to ignore, but the reasons behind it are neither particularly obvious nor easily understood.

Firstly, I have to take issue with your definition of the term "state of the art." In performance terms, this is de facto price-blind. Once you introduce price and value as considerations, you change the equation: "best" and "best at the price" or "best bang for the buck" are very different propositions -- although no less valid than each other. As judgments, they inform the debate in different ways. Like any term that enters the audio vocabulary, "state of the art" risks dilution and devaluation as it is used increasingly loosely and widely, entering the worlds of product promotion and marketing. But used properly, the phrase is quite precise in sense and import. It is a shame that its meaning and application have been colonized and undermined so comprehensively.

As to why prices are spiraling so rapidly out of sight and reach of mere mortals, the simple answer is, because they can. If there are even a few people prepared to pay such prices, then there will be manufacturers prepared to offer them products. What is less obvious is the Darwinian impact of our shrinking market sector on those that serve it. Once those prices are out there, they have two significant effects. Firstly, the inevitable equation of price with quality means that unless your products sit within those elevated price bands, they don’t get considered by customers shopping with those budgets. Secondly, look at a company with a $2-million turnover. It used to derive that income from selling 500 units at $4000 each. But as the market shrinks, so do the companies sales -- but while it can reduce overhead and material costs to some degree, it’s probably already operating a pretty lean ship. End result: it needs to generate the same income from fewer sales, signaling new models, fancy casework and higher prices. If their sales have dropped from 500 units to 150 per year, suddenly their ex-works price rises to around $13,500 -- to which you can add a dealer margin and any sales tax. That’s how products that used to sell for less than $10,000 are now costing considerably more than a compact Volkswagen. Mind you, it certainly takes care of the credibility gap.

Before we dismiss all manufacturers as cynical price-gougers, let’s not forget that there are also certain irreducible costs when it comes to manufacturing, especially when you are buying parts from external suppliers and that increasingly network and computer-related technologies mean buying whole circuit blocks or technological input in this way. You want your system to be network capable and run from an iPad app? Someone has to write that app -- and given that it isn’t a core skill for most audio designers, they’ll need to pay somebody to do it.

So a whole host of reasons, internal to the audio market and also external economic pressures, are combining to force prices ever higher. What this means in turn -- and as you correctly observe -- is that price is in increasingly poor indicator of performance. Some of the seriously expensive products out there really do justify their price tags, or at least outperform all more-affordable alternatives. Many don’t! It is beholden on the audio press (and retailers, whose credibility rests on the value they add to the sales they make) to call a spade a spade and identify not just the true musical value represented by a product but also the costs associated with using it. The Neodio Origine you mention is not just a comparatively affordable player; it is also cost-effective in application. It needs one shelf, one power cord and a pair of interconnects. Compare that to the dCS Vivaldi, that needs four shelves, four power cords and something like a dozen individual leads to get it up and running. Price that out in Nordost’s (admittedly fabulous) Odin 2, and it puts the six-figure cost of the four-box Vivaldi seriously in the shade.

Back in the day, things were comparatively simple, with relatively few high-end manufacturers and reasonably localized markets. Well, not any more. For this and many other reasons, you (and we) should never be afraid to call it when the more affordable product doesn’t just make more sense, it sounds better too. It happens -- and it’s happening more and more often. For my part, I’m always more excited by affordable products that deliver than the unaffordable ones that always should. With electronics from the likes of Neodio and Arcam, Icon Audio and Audio Alchemy, with budget speakers from KEF, MartinLogan and Elac, and sources from Project and VPI, it really is genuinely remarkable just how much music can be extracted from a budget system if you really dot the I's and cross the T's. It really is high time, just as you suggest, that we celebrated that achievement and paid it the attention it deserves. -Roy Gregory

Richard Gerberg

March 8, 2016

Marc,

Thanks for publishing your nice remembrance of Richard Gerberg. I got to know him when I lived in Portland and did work with Stereotypes Audio -- my friend Teri Inman's shop and a longtime ProAc dealer. Teri and Richard were close.

Jan Mancuso

Richard Gerberg

March 7, 2016

Marc,

I am not sure how well you knew Richard, but I was "the crazy doctor” in NY who started New York Audio Consultants and Richard was crazy enough to supply me with ProAcs. I quickly became by far his largest dealer during the mid-1980s, until I left for private practice in '87.

Richard was a great guy. I met him often down in Maryland when picking up truckloads of speakers. He will be missed, and he was instrumental in getting me started in this crazy hobby of ours.

Howard Butler

As I wrote, I knew Richard for a long time -- for over 20 years, since before I was in the audio press. Over the last two or three years, we talked semi-regularly about the audio industry and especially music. I really valued those long conversations with him. I will miss him and so will the audio community. -Marc Mickelson

Ayre and Allnic?

March 5, 2016

Marc,

I just read your review of the Ayre MX-R amps. How did the Ayre MX-Rs match with the Allnic L-3000 preamp? It is a combination I am considering in order to drive the Vandersteen Model Sevens.

Mark Johnston

I note that I did use the Allnic L-3000 when I had the Ayre MX-R amps. However, I've not used either product in years, and I don't remember thinking that they were particularly good together. I can say here and now that the solid-state MX-Rs are not amps whose sound you need to rebalance with a tubed preamp. If I owned the amps, I would put the Ayre KX-R at the top of my preamp list; if I wanted tubes, I'd strongly consider the Audio Research Reference 6 and VTL TL-7.5 III, which are fully balanced and work very well with the Ayre amps. They sound rather different too, so chances are good that if one doesn't do it for you, the other one may. -Marc Mickelson

"I would like to read more."

March 1, 2016

Marc,

TAB's article on IKEA chopping boards came across my radar and brought your website to my attention. I would like to read more.

Charlie Raimondi

Easy peasy. Join TAB's join reader e-mail list and find out about new articles first. To join, send a message to rl@theaudiobeat.com.

 

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