Letters • May 2011

Analog upgrading

May 26, 2011


I'm looking to upgrade my analog front-end. Budget-wise, I can't do both phono stage and cartridge at the same time. I currently have the Opera Consonance PM-6 phono stage and a Goldring GL 2200 cartridge, which came with my Music Hall 5.1 turntable. This is pretty entry-level stuff, but honestly not bad-sounding at all.

Would I be best off starting with a new turntable, a new phono stage or new cartridge? I can only do one at a time, unfortunately.

Sheldon Simon

Of the three components you want to upgrade, it makes the most sense to begin with the phono cartridge. Once you've settled on a new cartridge, you'll then be able to pick a phono stage with sufficient gain for it, and a turntable whose tonearm suits it best. This assumes, however, that you are absolutely going to upgrade all three parts of your analog-playback rig. If you're planning on keeping your phono stage, for instance, you will still want to begin with the cartridge, but you'll have to match its output to your phono stage's gain and not the other way around. -Marc Mickelson

The Maggie "effect"

May 23, 2011


I loved your article on the Magnepan visit. I’m very curious. Was the five-speaker arrangement they had specific to Magnepan speakers, or could it be employed with any other speakers? Were there any other special components or “tricks” to achieving the same effect?

Joel Alperson

The people at Magnepan speculate that the improvement is due to the dipole radiation pattern of their speakers, along with the point-source nature of the MMC2s used for the Tri-Center. Electrostats that function similarly should also work. The steering of the stereo signal is the other part of the equation, however, and Magnepan is researching what may be happening there. I'm scheduled to write about the system at some point, and I'll certainly do some digging then. -Marc Mickelson

Driving Thiels

May 19, 2011


A couple of years ago, you were kind enough to answer a question I had about driving Thiel CS2.4 speakers with an Audio Research Reference 110 amp, which I was considering purchasing. Your response was that you expected no problems -- and, in fact, you confirmed that for me with Audio Research. I ended up buying the Reference 110 and loved the combo.

I read with great interest your review of the CS3.7. I have just moved into a dedicated room (5 meters by 3.8 meters, treated with RealTraps), and I am considering the CS3.7 as a new speaker. I should be able to get the New Zealand dealer to let me have a play in my room.

I am reminded of Jim Thiel’s axiom that “watts are cheap.” I’ve also seen Wes Phillips' review of the CS3.7 in Stereophile where he gave the distinct impression that anything less than 150Wpc wouldn't cut it. In your review, you commented on the lovely midrange of the CS3.7/Reference 110 combo.

I wonder if you regard the CS3.7 as a significant change from the CS2.4. Also, I guess I’m wondering if you regard the Reference 110 as sufficient to let the CS3.7 shine. I have heard the CS3.7 driven by an Audio Research HD220 amp and was very impressed.

Kevin O’Connor

Jim Thiel had home theater in the back of his mind when he designed the CS3.7. It is actually a bit more sensitive than the CS2.4, so your Reference 110 will have an easier time driving it to acceptable levels. Given that you're satisfied with the output of the CS2.4s with the Reference 110, I don't think you'll be disappointed with the CS3.7s.

In terms of performance, the CS3.7s will represent more than a "significant change" from the CS2.4s. They are a distinct step upward -- and toward Jim Thiel's ideal -- from the CS2.4s, which remain one of my very favorite speakers in their price range. The CS3.7s possess wider bandwidth and even greater resolving power. Again, I don't think you'll be disappointed with the CS3.7s, especially when paired with your amp. The two balance and complement each other well. More likely, you'll immediately begin devising a way to pay for them.  -Marc Mickelson

Cartridge contenders

May 16, 2011


I enjoy TAB and look forward to your reviews, news and letters.

I am looking for some guidance on my next cartridge upgrade. Currently my system consists of Wilson Audio Sasha W/P speakers, Lamm M1.2 Reference amps, a Lamm LL2.1 Deluxe preamp, a Tron Seven phono stage, a TW-Acustic Raven One turntable, a Graham Phantom II tonearm, and Cardas Golden Reference cables. I am currently using a Dynavector XX-2 Mk II cartridge. My short list of contenders includes the Dynavector XV-1s, the Koetsu Sky Blue or Vermilion, and the Ortofon Windfeld. Given my location and lack of local dealers, I won't be able to audition any of these cartridges in my system and will (unfortunately) have to make a decision without hearing whatever I buy.

I noticed that both you and Paul Bolin use the Dynavector XV-1s. I assume that's because it is an excellent cartridge and a good reference tool. I have read some threads on the audio forums (always dangerous!) where the XV-1s can sound tipped up and/or too thin-sounding in some systems. That is not the direction I want to go in my system.

I was just wondering if you could share your experience with this cartridge and any contenders in the $3000-$5000 range. Also, it's probably time for some cartridge reviews in TAB!

Thanks much for any feedback and advice. And keep up the great work at TAB.

Dave Neumann

You are correct -- both Paul and I use a Dynavector XV-1s cartridge (and Lamm M1.2 amps, for that matter). As Paul once explained it so succinctly, the XV-1s walks a fine line between Koetsu (on the warm, full side) and Clearaudio (on the leaner, more analytical side). Thus, the XV-1s is able to dig everything out of the record grooves while conveying abundant tonal color, image density and harmonic liveliness. I've heard that the XV-1t is even better, but it's also twice the price, and while I'd love to hear it, I've been so content with the XV-1s that I've not pushed the issue with the brand's importer.

Regarding contenders in your price range, as well as cartridge reviews in TAB, I will be writing about the Allnic Puritas at some point. It's breaking in now. So far it has proven to be a very fine cartridge in the same general mold as the XV-1s. -Marc Mickelson

Contacting Aronov Audio

May 13, 2011


I just read your news story about Aronov Audio. I owned one of their amps in the early 1990s, and it amazed me with its explosive dynamics. Amongst many amps that I owned (Jadis, Cary, Gryphon, Innersound, Leben) this one had a really distinctive character.

A quick Google search provided no website or e-mail contact for the company. Can you give me one? Thanks for your answer (and for your good e-zine).

Martin Jouanneau

Aronov Audio is in the midst of building a website. For now, you can reach the company at this e-mail address. -Marc Mickelson

Sophia 3 review -- when?

May 11, 2011


I am interested in when you will be posting your review of the Wilson Audio Sophia 3 speakers in your excellent publication.

John Murphy

I'm working on my review of the Sophia 3 right now, so it will be published very soon -- though a review from another TAB writer is in the queue before it. Stay tuned. -Marc Mickelson

Classé or Lamm with Wilson?

May 10, 2011


Can you please tell me, when reviewing the Wilson Audio Sasha W/Ps, which amplifiers did you like better with them -- the Classé CAM-350s or the Lamm M1.2s?

I understand that the Sashas' impedance drops to 1.9 ohms with some nasty phase angles to boot. Did you ever experience either of your pairs of amplifiers struggling with the Sashas?

Finally, I'm curious to know if you've ever paired the Audio Research Reference 5 preamp with your Lamm amplifiers. If so, how might it have compared to using one of Lamm's own preamps?

Eli Jacobsen

Overall, I decisively preferred the Lamm amps, which have been my reference amplifiers for years. They're simply better amplifiers than the long-discontinued Classé amps. The Classé CAM-350s are fine amps and handled the speakers effortlessly, but so did the Lamms, and the Lamms are in a different league in terms of resolution, imaging and overall refinement.

I never noticed either amp even begin to strain even with the deepest bass and synthesizer bass, but my listening space is not that large. Frankly, any well-engineered modern high-end amplifier of at least 100 watts should not have any trouble with the Sashas in any normal-sized space. I have effectively driven them with Atma-Sphere MA-1 Mk 3.1s, as has my colleague Tim Aucremann. Marc Mickelson has had similar results using an Audio Research Reference 110 with Sashas.

I heard a Reference 5 for an afternoon in my system and was most impressed. I have never heard Lamm preamps anywhere but at shows. I switched to fully balanced cabling 15 years ago and the Lamm preamps have single-ended inputs only. -Paul Bolin

Lamm or ARC -- or both?

May 6, 2011


I am in the process of building a system around Wilson Audio Sasha W/P speakers. For electronics, I have narrowed down my long search to either Lamm (M1.2 reference monoblocks and L2 Reference preamp) or Audio Research (Reference 210 monoblocks and Reference 5 preamp) products.

While both sound wonderful, I am having a difficult time getting over a hurdle with each system. For the Lamms, the lack of remote on the L2 Reference is a big problem. For the Audio Research, having a tube power amp, from maintenance and cost perspectives, is a fairly big concern.

So I am thinking about running the Sashas with the Lamm M1.2s and the Audio Research Reference 5. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to hear this combination directly, so I wanted to reach out to you and the TAB team to see if you any thoughts on the synergy between this combo or any direct listening experience you can share.

Rich Behrman

As I was reading your message, I thought to myself that the M1.2s and Reference 5 were the perfect answer, and then you came to this same conclusion. I use this combination and it's a great one, especially with the Sashas, which I've heard along with the Lamm amps and Audio Research preamp. The M1.2s and Reference 5 have complementary gain structures and, moreover, similar sonic personalities. They both offer a big, rich sonic picture that's also detailed and spacious, and the amps drive the Wilson Audio Sashas very well. I suggest connecting preamp and amps balanced, so you get the most out of both, especially the Reference 5. -Marc Mickelson

Audio Research amp review?

May 3, 2011


I'm a regular reader of your webzine, which I've found to be very good and informative. During TAB's existence, several Audio Research products has been reviewed, so you and your team of reviewers have lot of experience with Audio Research gear. Have you plans to review some of the new Audio Research class-D amps? It could be very useful for qualified reviewers, like yours, to take a look at these amps in comparison with traditional tube amps. By the way, I'm a satisfied LS26 owner.

Juan Molina Zamudio

The quick answer to your question is "yes," we would like to cover one of Audio Research's class-D amps. I've heard the DS450 a couple of times and been very impressed with it. However, because Audio Research, releases new products at a steady clip, it's hard to arrange reviews of everything. I will follow up with Audio Research regarding its class-D amps, and we'll look to cover one at some point. -Marc Mickelson

"...a new, quieter top-shelf phono stage"?

May 1, 2011


I love your publication for sure. Keep up the great work!

I've used a Hovland HP-100 full-function preamp for the last seven years with good success, but unfortunately it is heck on 12AX7s. It eats those tubes for lunch in the phono stage -- I am replacing them twice a year. That gets pricey over time, but every brand tube that I have tried gets really noisy after about six months of use. So I am in the hunt for a new, quieter top-shelf phono stage to use with my VPI Aries 3 turntable (with Dynavector tonearm and cartridge). I recently acquired Magnepan MG3.6es (man, these speakers are good!). I've heard the new MG3.7s, and they are even better and on my list. I'm driving the Magnepans with a set of Cary 500 monoblocks, and they are great performers too.

I've auditioned an Audio Research Reference Phono 2 and was very pleased with what I heard (and it is pretty darn quiet too). That route forces me initially to keep the Hovland in the loop and use it as a line stage (the line stage works well and does not present the noise issues) and forgo a remote. I don't absolutely have to have a remote, but it would be nice.

Have you listened to the EAR 912 at all? I cannot find much written online about this one-box line/phono stage, but most everyone knows about Tim de Paravicini's reputation and track record for producing great-sounding gear. To me, the 912 is a bargain (if the sound quality is there) because I can grab one for under $10,000 and get a phono and line stage with a remote and excellent cartridge adjustment flexibility. Any thoughts or impressions you can give me on the 912 or other potential prospects I should audition? How do you feel about the Reference Phono 2?

I've always loved the sound of the Hovland; I would put it in the "musical" category. It has a very beautiful sound, and has plenty of life. Unfortunately, it doesn't have the most quiet phono stage out there, and it has no easy way to modify loading for using different cartridges. I'm not a detail freak; more detail is great, but I want a phono stage that sounds real, one with plenty of PRaT and grunt.

Howard Strader

Thanks for reading and your kind words. TAB requires a lot of hard work, so it's nice to know that people value what we do.

I have no experience with the EAR 912 preamp you mention, so I can't help you there. I do have a great deal of experience with the Audio Research Reference Phono 2 -- it's my reference. Putting aside its user niceties like dual inputs, remote-controlled loading and alternate EQ curves, its sound is wonderfully spacious, dynamic and quiet. The Reference Phono 2 is expensive, however, and given that you'd like to purchase a remote-controlled preamp too, I suggest you consider the Audio Research LS27 and new PH8 (both $6995), which together cost a little more than the Reference Phono 2. You get many of the user features of the Reference Phono 2 with the PH8, and, as TAB writer Dennis Davis discovered, the LS27 has more than a little in common sonically with the Reference 5, the line-stage mate of the Reference Phono 2. If this combo is still out of your prices range, you can consider substituting the PH6 ($3495) for the PH8. You'll then be below the cost of the Reference Phono 2 alone. -Marc Mickelson


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