Letters • October 2012

System Setup and Optimization seminar

October 30, 2012


Fantastic write-up on Roy Gregory's TAVES seminar. It's amazing to me how little attention, say, The Absolute Sound and Stereophile pay to this stuff, with Harley just recently realizing how good the Stillpoints system is. This is groundbreaking work you guys are doing.

Brent Rody

Horns in general, Volti Vittora in particular

October 23, 2012


I'm glad you are softening to big horn speakers. I know that horns have had their issues, but they also have had their strengths, and I am working hard to preserve those strengths in my designs and offer systems that can be appreciated by all audiophiles.

The Vittoras may or may not benefit from corner placement; it really depends on the room. Placing the Vittoras in corners may or may not extend the bass frequencies lower. I think it's more likely that corner placement will enhance the bass that is already there, not extend it lower, and that may or may not work well with the room they are in. I have found they are very flexible speakers in terms of room placement. I am able to get very good imaging and soundstaging with them pointed in or out from the listening position, and they seem to work well in just about any room shape, filled with furniture or not. The only restriction that I know of is that they need a little space between them to get a good central image. If someone has a narrow/long room, with the Vittoras placed at the short end, it will be difficult to get them spread apart enough to produce that nice central image.

Greg Roberts
Volti Audio

861 or DX-5?

October 17, 2012


I just read your review on the Ayre DX-5. For CD mode, how do you think it would compare to the Wadia 861? Better? Worse? Or just different?

Mark Brockway

Unfortunately, I can't answer your question as it's stated, because I've not heard the Wadia 861 in my system. While we reviewers get to hear a wide cross-section of products, we unfortunately just can't hear everything on the market, even from major makers like Wadia. I can say that I bought the Ayre DX-5, so I'm very partial to it, with CD, SACD, and especially Blu-ray Disc. This is one of the formats -- along with DVD and DVD-A, not to mention computer audio -- that the Wadia player can't accommodate. For me, this is an important functional difference that's completely in the DX-5's favor: it opens up a world of playback possibilities that the 861 doesn't. -Marc Mickelson

Fun with ground loops

October 11, 2012


Another quandary with ground loops. I've determined my outboard DAC to be causing noise, so I simply disconnected it. However, when I substitute my solid-state amp in the system instead of my tube amp, the DAC is quiet. Now I'm really puzzled.

Sheldon Simon

Not being able to hear what you're hearing (the nature of the hum), I can only speculate. However, it sounds like one of two things is happening. (1) Your DAC has an inherent hum, perhaps because it's not working properly, and the voltage gain of your solid-state amp is low enough that the hum isn't audible, but swapping in your tube amp increases the gain and therefore the hum. (2) It could also be that your solid-state amp is grounded differently and therefore not creating a ground loop with the DAC in your system. I suppose a third option is that your tube amp, and not your DAC, is actually the cause of the hum. -Marc Mickelson

TAVES seminar

October 4, 2012


Very cool report on your TAVES demonstrations. Now, can you give us an idea what these changes sounded like?

Brent Rody

As you can see from the step-by-step description, any detailed account is going to be long and time-consuming to compile and post. I'm working on it and we'll post it as soon as possible, alongside the existing blog entry, but in the meantime, here's the short version.

One of the questions I addressed at the beginning of the seminar was how to judge the quality of a system, any system, in a strange environment? It's actually much easier than it seems; all you have to do is ask yourself two questions: How much does this sound like real people playing real instruments? How close do the musicians seem?

The first is pretty self-explanatory; does it sound like a group of people, hittin', blowin', bangin' or yellin'? More importantly, do they sound like they're doing it together?

The second question isn't about physical distance, but about the sense of presence and immediacy -- of being in the same space as the musicians.

It's a formula that works every time. It works for strange systems in unfamiliar rooms, it works for upgrades and tweaks too. And it worked for this seminar. Each step brought you closer to the sense of real musicians, moving you further and further from the notion of the system doing the reproduction, until -- by the end -- the performance existed as a totally separate and independent entity.

This absence of the mechanical and presence of the human/organic is what separates great systems from also ran hi-fi. Frankly, even I was surprised by the extent to which we achieved that goal -- which makes the listening all the more enjoyable. -Roy Gregory

Which preamp and amp pairing?

October 1, 2012


I just wanted to say that I've been a fan of the site for a happy couple of years now! The reviews are always concise, helpful, and actually informative. Much obliged!

I have a question that I'm sure has been asked before, but I was hoping you could provide some insight. I'm looking to invest in the next level of components, stuff that would put me in the $20,000+ range per device, which opens up questions about the Pass Labs XP-30/XA160.5, the Conrad-Johnson GAT/ARTsa, the new References from Audio Research, or even the R-series from Ayre -- and I'm sure there are a couple that I'm unintentionally ignoring. All of these marques are very different and all are, arguably, wonderful.

Ideally, I'd bring in each pairing and run them through their paces, and that is probably the next step. In the hopes of narrowing the field before that happens, I've been collecting opinions that can help me pre-sort the field.

The question is, which would you choose, if you had to choose only one? Or is there another pairing?

My needs are, unfortunately, complicated. I don't have a pair of speakers at this time. I'll be looking at many -- some easy to drive, some not; some full range, some not. These reference pieces would, obviously, need to be more general purpose than special-purpose, if that makes sense.

Anyway, any thoughts you'd be willing to share?

Scot Hull

Of the pairings you mention, the only ones I've heard in my system are the Audio Research and Ayre. However, I would personally also consider the VTL TL-7.5 III and MB-450 IIIs, and the Convergent Audio Technology SL1 Legend and JL2 Signature Mk 2. Both would easily meet your criteria.

Which one would I choose? That's tough to answer, as they are all first among equals in my mind, though for different reasons. I would probably take the Audio Research or VTL separates for both reviewing and musical purposes, but I would truly be happy with any of them.

I'm sorry I can't be more definitive -- and discuss the Conrad-Johnson and Pass Labs pairings you mention. Equipment this good is more about different than absolutely better or worse. -Marc Mickelson


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