Letters • October 2013

Switching to Reference Phono 2 SE

October 24, 2013


My system is pretty much like what you guys use: Lamm M1.2 Reference amps driving Wilson Sasha W/Ps. I'm also using an Aesthetix Calypso Signature preamp and Aesthetix Rhea phono stage.

About a week ago, I was able to audition an Audio Research Reference 5 SE. I very much liked the improvement it had on my system and I was able to swing a deal to trade my Aesthetix preamp for it.

I'm now also considering changing the Rhea for an Audio Research Reference Phono 2 SE, but the problem is there's no chance for me to audition this phono stage. Do you think this would be a significant upgrade or more of a sideways move? Should I consider another brand that you think would match better? By the way, my cartridge is a Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement, in case it would help with your advice.

Carlo Topacio

I must preface my comments by saying that I have no experience with the Aesthetix Rhea -- or any Aesthetix product -- in my system, so I can't tell you if the Audio Research Reference Phono 2 SE is "a significant upgrade or more of a sideways move" in any definitive way. I can offer two insights, however. First, you obviously liked the Reference 5 SE enough to obtain it, and I would say that the Reference Phono 2 SE is at least as good a phono stage as the Reference 5 SE is a line stage -- and probably better. This is no knock against the Reference 5 SE, but the Reference 2 SE is a truly special piece within the Audio Research line. Second, the Reference Phono 2 SE will have some serious synergy with the Reference 5 SE, the two giving you the same performance from the tonearm all the way to your power amps.

Finally, an anecdote. A friend of mine who hasn't listened to analog in quite a while visited a few weeks ago and proclaimed the Reference Phono 2 SE the best piece of equipment in my system. Again, this is certainly not any sort of definitive statement, but it does say something powerful about this phono stage. -Marc Mickelson

Nick Cave review

October 21, 2013


I loved your review of the new Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds LP. I can't play mine because my phono stage went down the day the LP arrived! I have to send it for repair because, as usual, mine was the only one that's ever had this problem.

Anyway, I was just wondering if the copy of the LP you reviewed was British pressed or American. I ask because the copy I got has a good deal of marking, nubs, etc. on it and the 7" has a bubbled label on one side and its own set of marks. I don't know how they sound of course, but they look far from brilliant.

Mike Malone

Clearly Mr. Cave's malign countenance extends beyond his discs and into the systems about to play them!

My copy was "Manufactured in the EU" -- I'm guessing Holland. Matrix is hand-scratched and reads "BC 9J 467 01 A1" and "BC 9J 467 01 B1," with both the figures 1 and 7 being continental style. There's also additionally a serial, "V - BS 001," and a name/logo, "Miles" (M in a circle).

The surfaces are super clean and quiet, and the disc is flat. The card inner sheds dust (as usual) but I'm assuming you will replace that with a proper inner sleeve. By the way, take a look at the TAB show coverage from RMAF and you'll see that MA Recordings are offering some new Japanese-sourced inner sleeves that look and feel fantastic. -Roy Gregory


October 16, 2013


The main fuse blew on one of my Primaluna monoblocks. I put in a spare and it's fine, but what would cause that? Should I be concerned?

Sheldon Simon

A fuse blowing is generally a cause for concern, as it's a sign that something has gone electrically wrong. However, it may be permanent or just temporary -- anything from a capacitor or transformer going bad to a blip of some kind with a tube. If you put in a new fuse of the same value (very important) and the amp works fine, you probably had some one-time issue that caused the fuse to blow. I would look closely at the tubes and see if one is glowing more brightly or dimly than the others, or flashing intermittently. That could be the cause in this case and should probably be replaced. -Marc Mickelson

Blade questions

October 10, 2013


I have already read your review of the KEF Blades. I am about to make the decision to buy the Blades. I would like to ask about speaker positioning. My room is 28 feet by 12 feet. I will place the speakers on the longer wall, so there will be ten feet between me and the speakers, so the side-mounted bass drivers may use the 28 feet of the room. Do you find this placement reasonable? The dealer had driven the Blades with a T+A MP 3000 HV integrated that can deliver 400 watts at 8 ohms. I was highly satisfied with what I heard. Do you have any idea about this amplifier?

Cengiz Ray

I don't think there will be any problem listening across your room. In fact, the coincident arrangement of the drivers in the Blade lends itself to this much better than a long, vertical array. I would suggest two things.

Your head will be quite close to the rear wall, so it would be sensible to have a soft surface (a rug or hanging) behind the listening seat to help calm early reflections from just behind your ears.

Likewise, you will need to be careful with the spacing between the speakers and the wall behind them, both to balance the bass level and to avoid hard reflections back into the ports, another instance where a soft interface might well be beneficial. I often find that downward-facing ports stood on my wooden floors benefit from a folded towel placed on the floor to prevent this problem.

Finally, you will probably need to work with the rake angle of the speakers, tilting them forward so that the listening axis intersects your ears. Use the spirit levels in the rear of the base as a guide.

When it comes to power amps, load tolerance and headroom are the order of the day. I do not know the T+A but have had excellent results using the Simaudio Moon 400M monoblocks, which offer a similar rating. That is the most affordable amplifier I have experienced with the Blades, but I'm sure there are others out there that will do the job. The think to watch out for is any harshness, separation or spotlighting of the tweeter, a sure sign that the amp is starting to struggle. Just remember, it is your system, so if you like the sound, that is what really matters. -Roy Gregory

"Great to see that this is still possible"

October 6, 2013


Your blog ["Home Business 2.0"] really made me smile. Great to see that this is still possible.

I still remember the garage on Mariano Ave. in Woodland Hills, California. From those humble roots came Infinity Systems. I was there.

Mark Schifter

DX-5 DSD and Reference 10?

October 1, 2013


As I’m sure you know, Ayre has upgraded the DX-5 -- they call it the DSD update. You reviewed the original version of the DX-5 and I wrote to you praising that very accurate and balanced review. Are you planning to review the updated version any time soon?

I’m also sure you also know that Audio Research’s Reference 10 preamp is out. As an owner of the Reference Anniversary, which you also reviewed, I was wondering if you had plans to review Reference 10 any time soon. I hope you will, as you are "strategically positioned" to do the comparison with the Reference Anniversary.

Alexander Gulidov

I have been in contact with Ayre about the DX-5 DSD, which is the upgraded version of the DX-5 that I reviewed (and own). They've said that they will provide me with a DSD version for direct comparison, but I don't know when that will happen. I'll inquire.

As for the Reference 10, I have one of them now, although it needs a lot of break-in still (it's under 100 hours right now). I'll be reviewing it, and I'll try to make meaningful comparisons to the Reference Anniversary. I no longer have that unit, but I can rely on my memory (not to mention my review) for context. -Marc Mickelson


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