Letters • November 2011

Placement and break-in

November 25, 2011


I wrote to you earlier regarding the Ayre DX-5 and ended up buying it following your recommendation. Yesterday I received the Audio Research Reference Anniversary preamp and use it with DX-5 and Ayre MX-R power amps. I wondered if you could give a few tips on placement and break-in of the beast. I have it placed within my rack at the moment, the power supply one shelf above the main unit. Would you change anything? Would you swap, for example, the preamp with the power supply from where they are now? Just trying to get the best sound out of the beast.

Second, how would you recommend breaking it in in my system? Should I spin a CD with the preamp on 24/7 for a couple of weeks? Should I give it breaks, like during the night, for example?

Finally, as you know very well, the MX-Rs love being on, but listening to the music 24/7 is too much. If I leave the MX-Rs and everything else on but press the Mute button on the Reference Anniversary remote control, will the break-in process continue as normal or will it stop?

Any other advice would be appreciated! Just trying to do everything right, you know.

Alexander Guilidov

In terms of the placement of your Reference Anniversary, I'd say you're in good shape. I might try to separate the two units further, perhaps with a shelf in between, but this may yield zero sonic benefits.

Regarding break-in, yes, just play a CD on repeat; you can use the preamp's display to determine how many hours of play you've clocked. I've always believed that dynamic music was best for this, but that's only conjecture. When you don't want to hear music, your best option is to turn your amps off (or put them in standby) so the signal keeps passing through your preamp. Muting your preamp or putting it on an unused input will continue to put time on it as well, although without the benefit of a musical signal. You can leave the preamp on for the full number of hours you plan to break it in (Audio Research recommends 500 hours), although I personally would turn it off if I were to leave the house, just in case a tube blew. -Marc Mickelson

Allnic versus Audio Research

November 21, 2011


I enjoyed your review of the Allnic H-3000 phono stage. In your "Associated Equipment" section, you list the Audio Research Reference Phono 2, but you don't mention it in your article. How does the Allnic compare to the Audio Research?

Rony Weissman

For purposes of keeping the review of the Allnic H-3000 manageable, I decided to compare it to the Lamm LP2 Deluxe alone, as that was the phono stage I was listening to most at that time. I also own an Audio Research Reference Phono 2, however, and like it a great deal. Like other Audio Research Reference products, it excels at portraying space and scaling dynamically. Tonally, it gives the best of tubes without excessive warmth. I also like its adjustable loading and alternate EQ curves, both of which can be accessed via the included remote control. Unlike the Allnic and Lamm phono stages, the Reference Phono 2 uses no step-up transformers, deriving all of its gain from active devices.

The Allnic H-3000 is completely competitive in terms of performance with the Reference Phono 2, but with some sonic differences. Its effortlessness and ease made its amazing 3D imaging all the more engaging. It's slightly darker in tonal terms and presents more dense, fleshy images as well. The H-3000V adds infinitely adjustable EQ to the mix, making it the model to choose if you play a lot of older vinyl, as I do. -Marc Mickelson

New Eidolon or. . . ?

November 17, 2011


I enjoyed reading your Avalon Transcendent review. I have been listening to Avalon Eidolon Vision speakers for the past six years and have enjoyed them very much. I have heard that Avalon may be releasing a successor to the Eidolon Vision soon, possibly with a different name but at a similar price. This is of interest to me, and I was wondering if you may have heard anything about this. I heard that the new speaker may appear at the January CES, not far away.

The Eidolon Vision uses a single 11” bass driver, a ceramic midrange and a ceramic tweeter. I was wondering how bass performance might compare between using a single 11” woofer and two 7” woofers, as used for the Transcendent.

My listening room is about 10’ x 15’. Is there a relationship between room size and how large of a speaker works optimally? It may be possible that the Transcendent may be a better choice for my room size than the Eidolon Vision, or its successor.

Bryan Allen

I do recall hearing or reading something of a new Avalon speaker to be announced at CES, but I fear that the specifics have slipped my mind. All other things being equal, I would think that the 11" bass driver would deliver more bass than two 7" drivers. While the Transcendent delivers an excellent amount of bass, it's of course no match for the two 11" drivers in the Avalon Time or, from a more distant memory, the single 11" driver of the Eidolon. But the difference is not all that great (compared to the Eidolon's single driver).

Your room should be able to accommodate the larger speaker if you have plenty of flexibility in placement. One great advantage of the Transcendent is that it's less fussy in placement than larger Avalons (it's also more amplifier friendly). The size of your room might limit your options in terms of setup, especially if the room is not dedicated to one purpose. Avalons do like to be out from the walls more than some speakers, and in my somewhat larger room (13' x 15'), the dimensions shrink when speaker placement takes priority over sharing the room with others. The Transcendent allows for more compromise than the larger speakers. On the other hand, the new mini Idea speaker that was shown at the National Audio Show outside London and the RMAF in Denver certainly sounded fantastic when allowed to stand out in the middle of the room.

In any event, I suspect that your experience with the Eidolon Vision in your own room would be a better guide than any advice I could offer. -Dennis Davis

Ayre and Oppo

November 14, 2011


I enjoyed reading your review of the Ayre DX-5, where you praised its sound, even though the transport is originally an Oppo. I have the Oppo BDP-83 connected with a Transparent digital cable to a Wadia S7i. The sound is nice but far behind the sound from CD. Do you think the Oppo drive is the weak link? Is there an upgrade to improve the sound without replacing the Oppo with a very expensive player?

Naseem Yacoub

I assume what you're trying to achieve with the Oppo BDP-83 is the ability to play high-resolution data from DVDs and Blu-ray discs through your Wadia S7i, whose transport plays CDs only. Of course, the S7i can decode high-resolution data; however, what I'm not sure of is if the Oppo player can send it via its digital output. Oppo indicates online that your player has coaxial and TosLink digital outputs, but not if they can pass data that are greater than CD resolution. Your manual might have this information, along with if this feature needs to be enabled via the onscreen menus. If your player can't output the data or the feature isn't enabled, the high-resolution data are downsampled, which is the case with most Blu-ray and DVD players. This would account for the reduced performance of the Oppo/Wadia combination.

If you care to experiment a little more, you may be able to find an early Pioneer DVD player for little money at a thrift store -- I've seen them here locally. Many Pioneer DVD players can pass 24/96 digital data, and connecting one to your Wadia player would be a way to determine if the Oppo is passing the highest-resolution data. This feature does have to be enabled for the Pioneer players, so you'll want to take that into account. It's easy to figure out via the onscreen menus, or you may be able to find the player's manual online.

Regarding CD playback with the Oppo, that it doesn't sound as good used as a transport as the Wadia S7i itself is not surprising. The output/input of digital data, not to mention the digital cable, is a major cause of jitter -- digital timing errors that negatively affect sound quality. Wadia is also known for its use of high-quality transport mechanisms. It co-designed and co-engineered the transport used in the S7i. -Marc Mickelson

A review that "talks"

November 9, 2011


I read your excellent review on the Silent Running Audio Scuttle, and I'm sold. I will try to replace a rack I bought with the Scuttle and take you wise advice and wait until I am sure about my amps before saving for the Silent Running platforms. I'm actually very excited about the Scuttle! It is not often that a review really talks to me.

Jeff Levine

Thanks for the compliment. I don't think you can go wrong with the Scuttle. Once you adopt effective vibration isolation, your system will be even better positioned for you to assess changes to it. -Tim Aucremann

Life without CDs?

November 7, 2011


I just heard on the radio that a major record label will no longer be making CDs as of end of next year. Aside from vinyl, where does that leave us? Strictly computer-based audio, I presume. I guess I'll need to get a DAC with USB and connect to my laptop. The other side of the coin -- I guess-is vinyl is "obsolete," yet we still find ways to purchase it -- same as tubes.

Is downloading going to be the only media now without CDs? Very disconcerting. Do you think CDs will still be somewhat available after production stops?

Sheldon Simon

I'm not surprised that a major record label would announce that CD production will stop sometime soon. We audiophiles are not catered to by the major labels, and thank goodness for that! For us, there will always be vinyl, CDs and SACDs (which some of my colleagues buried long ago, and have been proven dead wrong about). There are labels like Mobile Fidelity, Analogue Productions, and others that make good money selling various physical media to us. We download as well, but not the compressed formats that the major labels will be pushing. Sound quality is too important to us, so we'll take the high-res route.

My point is that we're a niche, and not one that major labels will think is worth their while. That's OK, as there are other labels that will create the recordings we want. And that's saying nothing about the great CD renaissance that's sure to come. As vinyl has proven, everything that's old and discarded becomes new and desirable again -- especially if it was better to begin with. -Marc Mickelson

Preamp with "...the right balance"?

November 3, 2011


I am looking for a preamp with the right balance of tube tone, body and dimensionality with the attack, dynamics and musical detail of solid state. My gear includes Wilson Sasha W/Ps, Lamm M1.2 Reference amps, a Tron tube phono stage, and a TW-Acustic Raven One turntable with Graham Phantom tonearm and Koestu Vermillion cartridge.

The all-tube preamp I own seems to mask some of the dynamics and detail. I am borrowing a Musical Fidelity kW hybrid preamp and it gives me most of what I am looking for. So that got me thinking about the possibility of other hybrid preamps that might retain the attack, dynamics and detail of the Musical Fidelity but with perhaps a touch more of the bloom and body of tubes.

I know you are a big fan of the Audio Research Reference 5/Lamm M1.2 pairing. What else should I put on my short list to audition? I want a remote, and balanced outs would be a nice plus.

Dave Neumann

You have placed a very tall order -- "the right balance of tube tone, body and dimensionality with the attack, dynamics and musical detail of solid state." Hybrid preamps are not all that common. The Lamm L2 Reference would be a great choice for you, given that you have Lamm amps, but it has no remote control. You have identified a good candidate in the Audio Research Reference 5; I'm not sure if it can be classified as a hybrid, because it uses tubes in its output stage and power supply.

Beyond it and the Lamm L2, you are probably limited to all-tube preamps, and there is one that I can suggest: the Allnic L5000 DHT, which uses direct-heated triode tubes and certainly sounds dynamic, detailed and fast. I have one in for review right now, so you'll get to read more about it. Unfortunately, other favorites, such as the CAT SL1 Legend and Zanden Model 3000, don't meet your criteria in one way or another. -Marc Mickelson

Which Wilson?

November 1, 2011


You have been dealing with Wilson Audio for all these years, so you would know their speakers better than most, and from the way you review products, I trust your opinion. My listening room is 16 feet by 20 feet with a 9-foot ceiling. My room is set up with the speakers on the 16-foot length. Do you feel that the Sophia 3 would be better in the room or do you fee that the Sasha W/P would work well in this room?

Allen Ballweg

Both the Sophia 3 and Sasha W/P would work in your room, but because the room is quite large, the Sasha will more easily fill it, and the speakers' adjustments will give you more control over placement. As I noted in my review of the Sophia 3, the Sasha has the greater "potential" of either speaker, and a room such as yours will help it realize that potential. -Marc Mickelson


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