Letters • November 2010

"What are your thoughts on Audio Research versus Lamm?"

November 24, 2010


I have really enjoyed my time with Wilson Audio Sasha W/P speakers and Lamm M1.2 Reference monoblocks. Due to a recent move, I had to sell off all my gear. I have decided to purchase a pair of Wilson Sophia 3s for my smaller listening room in the new house. The room is 13' x 21' x 10'. I am looking to partner the Sophia 3 with either Lamm or Audio Research electronics. I really enjoyed the tonally full and harmonically rich sonic signature of Lamm. I find that I prefer darker to lighter and tonally rich to lean, even if it results in a slight loss of perceived transparency and detail. Will I regret going with Audio Research? Will the new Reference gear give me that similar "meat on the bones" sound, or will it come across as threadbare by comparison? I have the Reference CD8, Reference 5 and Reference 110 in mind. What are your thoughts on Audio Research versus Lamm?

Serge Brotsky

I answer more questions about Audio Research and Lamm than any other brands of electronics, perhaps because they share a number of sonic characteristics that, like you, I value. Given your admiration of the Lamm sound, I don't think you'll regret going with a complete Audio Research Reference system in your new digs, especially if space is a consideration. I have all of the Audio Research products you mention along with a pair of Wilson Audio Sophia 3s, and they comprise a smaller-scale system that delivers true reference-level sound. I've heard the Reference 110 drive loads tougher than Sophia 3s in large rooms without running out of power, and the Reference 5 and Reference CD8 are the perfect mates for it -- no surprise there. This system is far from "threadbare," producing a sound that I think is more truly neutral than so much of the lean-sounding electronics that are touted for their neutrality. "Meat on the bones" describes the sound well -- though you don't have to sacrifice detail retrieval, for instance, to get it. With each of its Reference products, Audio Research lives up to its "High Definition" motto.

Another configuration to consider would be one that mixes and matches the two brands. I use Lamm M1.2 monoblocks with the Reference 5 and Reference CD8, and it's a great combination, sounding a bit more fleet than the all-Reference system in the lower mids and into the bass, which also has greater power. The palpable midrange of the Reference 110 is hard to equal at any price, but the M1.2s' mids come close. -Marc Mickelson

New from Esoteric -- "I hope you will review one soon"

November 19, 2010


I just noticed a new product listing from Esoteric -- the K-01. This is said to be released in November, with a new-and-improved VRDS transport, new 32-bit DAC's, four filter options including two that are the new apodizing type, among many other improvements. This product is found under the "DAC" listing on Esoteric's website, but it is obviously a new CD/SACD player that betters the X-01 series, and (my guess, due to the advanced technology) their separates such as P-01/D-01 and P-03/D-03.

When the new X-01 came out, it was followed soon after by the P-series separates. I'm hoping this happens again. Your review of the P-03/D-03 was influential in my purchasing them, and I have enjoyed these immensely over the past three years or so. I am also aware that no matter how good digital products may be, technology advances so quickly that even the highest-performing units will be surpassed within a few years as new technology appears.

You may already be aware of this, or may possibly even be reviewing a K-01 as I write. If not, I hope you will review one soon. With the K-01's technology as described, I would be surprised if it did not surpass the P-03/D-03 in many ways. I'm hoping there will be new K-series versions of the P-03/D-03 following. If not, the K-01 may be my next digital front-end.

Brian Alberts

I visited Esoteric last month and talked with them about two new players, the K-01 ($22,500) and K-03 ($13,000). Both will debut at CES in January, although they are listed on Esoteric's website right now. Among their features, as you mentioned, are new VRDS transport mechanisms and 32-bit DACs. There are also digital inputs that can handle 24-bit/192kHz data, including a USB input that is asynchronous capable. As with previous Esoteric players, both the K-01 and K-03 are fully balanced and use multiple DACs per channel. The P-03 and D-03 will remain in Esoteric's product lineup, and there are no plans for K-series separates.

We're not in the process of reviewing the K-01 right now, but Esoteric has promised TAB the first of the review units shortly after CES. -Marc Mickelson

Zanden synergy

November 16, 2010


You mentioned in your review of the Zanden Model 3000 line stage that adding more and more Zanden components created a synergy effect (you stated it differently) as the combination of more Zanden equipment created additional benefit. Is this something you can comment on in somewhat greater detail? How do you experience this effect from a listener's point of view? If I remember correctly, Roy Gregory in his review of the Zanden Model 3000 line stage and Model 9500 mono amps had the same opinion.

Ray Demerse

The point I was trying to make in my review of the Model 3000 preamp was that while that unit has a different sonic character from the Zanden amps and digital gear, all of these products still worked exceedingly well together. This is a different kind of synergy than the one with Audio Research electronics, for example, which is really a matter of carrying the same sonic character from CD player through to the amp. I will speculate that the Model 3000's "inherent out-of-the-signal-path neutrality" is deliberate. Because of the preamp's central spot in the audio system, the Model 3000 was designed to simply pass the signal, allowing all of the qualities of the Model 9600 mono amps and the digital separates to blossom. If the ultimate goal of any preamp is to be sonically invisible, then the Model 3000 reached the ultimate goal, and it works especially well with the other Zanden products because of this. -Marc Mickelson

Paradigm Signature S6 v3s: heard 'em?

November 12, 2010


I read your review of the Paradigm Signature S8 v3 speakers. I currently own Paradigm speakers, and I am looking to upgrade, but I wanted to know if you had heard the S8 v3s. I am looking at several speakers, actually, not just Paradigms. How much would the Signature S6es cost?

Philip Susi

I haven't heard the Paradigm Signature S6 v3 speakers, but given that the tweeter, midrange and woofers are identical to those used for the Signature S8 v3 and the cabinets of the two speakers are very similar, I would expect the overall character to be about as close to what I describe in my review as possible, though with less bass depth. Sensitivity is above average and about the same -- a 1dB difference, actually -- so both speakers will play very loud without a lot of power. The Signature S6 v3 costs $2899-$3199 each, depending on the finish. -Marc Mickelson

Too much beauty?

November 10, 2010


I read with great interest your reviews of the Zanden Model 3000 preamp (and earlier the Zanden 9600 amps) and the Tidal Contriva Diacera SE loudspeakers. I wonder whether you were able to combine the Zanden electronics with the Tidal speakers. Did they prove a good match? If you did not combine these components, what would you expect from combining the beautiful-sounding Zanden amplification with the beautiful-sounding Tidal loudspeakers?

Victor Rudy

Unfortunately, I didn't use the Zanden electronics with the Tidal speakers, as the amps, preamp and digital gear had left by the time the speakers arrived. In speculating on how the two would work together, I can say that while both offer beautiful sound, they don't do so in a grossly colored, cloying way. The very best audio gear is able to straddle the beauty-truth line deftly enough to have you wondering which way it leans -- if it does so at all. Both the Zanden electronics and Tidal speakers do this, never sacrificing truth for beauty, or vice versa. On theoretical grounds, they would seem to be a good match. However, whether the Zanden amps have enough power to drive the Tidal speakers or exhibit the bass control the speakers require is a different question. A mismatch could certainly skew the results, causing a sonic outcome that's unbalanced. Unfortunately, high-end audio is about empirical experience, and I just don't have it with these two brands. -Marc Mickelson

Ayre MX-Rs and Wadia?

November 8, 2010


Have you had a chance to hear the Ayre MX-R mono amps, and, if so, what are your thoughts? I'm trying to put a system together, and I'm wondering if the MX-Rs would work with a Wadia 781 front-end, bypassing the preamp.

Pete Bare

I'm working on my review of the Ayre MX-Rs right now, so you'll get to read my thoughts on them soon. For many good sonic reasons, I think they would work very well with your Wadia CD player going directly into them. For more details, stay tuned for my review. -Marc Mickelson

Looks like...

November 5, 2010


The review of the Vivid G1 Giya is most encouraging, not because I shall ever hear this speaker's like, but that, like so many other things, it exists.

Regarding the appearance, could it not bring to mind the treble clef?

Many thanks for this and other reviews.

C. Paul Barreira

You're right -- the Vivid Giya does look like a treble clef. I wish I would have made that observation in my review. -Marc Mickelson

"...game-changing products"

November 3, 2010


Very interesting review of Nordost Odin. The reason for my e-mail is that you stated "Odin stands as one of the five most important and game-changing products I have heard." Okay, I will bite. What are the other four?

Harold Hughes

Over the course of 15 years of audio reviewing, I'd have to say these were game-changers -- they changed the way I listened to and greatly expanded the sense of what was possible in music reproduction.

  • Halcro dm58 mono amplifiers (2002-2003)

  • VTL TL-7.5 Signature line-stage preamp (original version, 2003)

  • Wilson Audio Sasha W/P loudspeakers (2009)

  • mbl 1511 CD transport and 1521 DAC (2000-2001, the first great digital I ever heard in-house)

  • Nordost Odin (2010)

I have heard the Audio Research Reference Anniversary line stage in very familiar surroundings, and it will probably make that list when I have a chance to hear it in my own system -- it has been that impressive in the three systems in which I have heard it. Based on what I heard at Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, the Technical Brain electronics may well be another contender. So the list of five may soon become a list of seven. -Paul Bolin

Reference CD8 versus C-5xeMP

November 1, 2010


I was just enjoying your review of the Audio Research Reference CD8. I noticed you had an Ayre C-5xeMP in your stable but did not compare its sound to that of the CD8. Those are the two players I'm thinking of buying, and I will not have a chance to hear them at home. Any info you could give me would be appreciated. I'm using the Ayre KX-R preamp, a Mark Levinson No.431 amp, and Revel Salon speakers. I listen to mostly jazz, some rock/pop, and lots of female vocals, not usually at to loud of levels.

Tim Soroski

Putting aside the difference in price and the fact that the Ayre C-5xeMP plays DVDs and SACDs and the Audio Research Reference CD8 does not, I think you'll find that both players are highly resolving with CDs. The Reference CD8, however, offers Audio Research's standard enormous soundstage and a very direct, unadorned midrange. Its bass is also deep and rhythmic, if not exactly the last word in weight. The C-5xeMP sounds quick and even-handed throughout the musical spectrum -- like your KX-R in a general way. It's not as spacious-sounding as the CD8, though certainly neither pinched nor limited in the way it portrays space. It keeps closely to an ideal of neutrality, giving the formats that it plays the room to sound distinct, which they do. I would recommend that you audition the C-5xeMP and CD8 balanced, as both sound their best from their XLR outputs. The difference with the C-5xeMP is great -- I wouldn't use it any other way -- while the CD8 is close in quality balanced and single-ended. -Marc Mickelson


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