Letters • September 2013

DACs and line conditioners

September 28, 2013


How critical is it to use my outboard DAC with my Audience AR-6 line conditioner? Will the DAC actually improve when connected to line conditioner, as opposed to plugging straight into the wall? I haven't AB tested it, but I was curious from a conceptual standpoint anyway.

Sheldon Simon

Your DAC will probably benefit from being plugged into your Audience line conditioner, as cleaner power will improve its sound, but the greater benefit may be to the rest of the system, if your line conditioner has isolated outlets, which is almost certainly the case. Digital gear especially can contaminate the AC line when it's plugged directly into the wall, but a good power conditioner should isolate it within the system, so any grunge it adds is kept from the other components. This also explains one reason why dedicated circuits work so well for audio purposes: They separate the system from the rest of the house and all of the appliances, lights and whatnot plugged in. -Marc Mickelson

SP20 compared to. . . ?

September 23, 2013


I am writing to inquire about the Audio Research SP20 you recently blogged about. I know you probably cannot make definitive statements about it, given that you heard it somewhat briefly on a visit to Audio Research, but I would be very interested in hearing your thoughts on where it falls relative to Audio Research's line stages (LS27 or the Reference 5 SE) and phono stages (PH8 and Reference Phono 2 SE) in terms of its sonic capabilities. I am still running the Reference 3 as my line stage and a Nagra BPS phono stage (amp is the Reference 110), and I am wondering if this single-box solution would represent an upgrade from what I have right now. Any chance you will be reviewing this one anytime soon?

Cyril Malak

When I was writing my blog, I wondered how long it would take for someone to write and ask just what you have. The answer -- not very long at all!

I wish I could offer something definitive, but I can't, having heard only the SP20 during my visit, so I have no context for comparing it to any of the other Audio Research preamps or phono stages in that system. I will say that Warren Gehl had only glowing things to say about the SP20, his thoughts being reminiscent of his effusive praise for the Reference 75, and he has heard all of the Audio Research products you mention, of course. The SP20 shares some of the circuitry and parts of the Reference products, so I am convinced that it is more than a mere one-box alternative to the separates. I will say that its sound is completely consistent with that of the newer Reference products and I suspect that you would find that it sounds faster and more detailed than your Reference 3. I don't have any plans to write about the SP20 (I have the Reference 10 for review right now), but that could change if enough people express interest in a review. -Marc Mickelson

Which Verve reissues to buy?

September 19, 2013


I need some advice, as I am about to make a large purchase of LP reissues.

With so many Blue Note 45rpm reissues by Analogue Productions and Music Matters, I went ahead and purchased more than a dozen to go along with my dozen or so '60s and '70s Blue Notes. You also recommended to me a few of the 50 Prestige mono and stereo titles just released. This is a great help to me -- along with your reviews -- as I don't have the time or money to purchase entire sets. But this leads me to the 25 Verve 45rpm titles mastered at Sterling Sound, the reason for this e-mail.

How does one choose 25 titles from so many greats on the Verve catalogue? They are described as the 25 choice titles. Is this true? If so, should I consider purchasing the entire set because I have a hard time believing all of these titles are absolutely must-haves. What do you think? Can you recommend a bunch of these or is this really a must-have set?

Jeff Levine

It is true that those 25 45rpm Verve titles are "choice" -- that is, among the label's best known. I don't think they are all must-haves, however. Some of the Oscar Peterson and Ella Fitzgerald titles are not nearly as musically important as, say, Ben Webster's Soulville or Bill Evans and Shelly Manne's Empathy, both of which are included and worth buying. That said, for me, the first title to pick is Ella and Louis, a masterful pairing of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong that bristles with vitality and personality. And while it's unlikely that you don't already have it in some form, Getz/Gilberto is also rather necessary, and it sounds great at 45rpm. I also like the two Johnny Hodges/Duke Ellington pairings, Back to Back and Side to Side, and Billie Holiday's Body and Soul and Songs For Distingue Lovers are classics. As you may be able to tell from these titles, the sessions chosen for reissue rely heavily on star power, so some of the most interesting (and obscure) Verve recordings are overlooked. One must pick and choose when it comes to reissuing LPs, and Analogue Productions has definitely taken the "greatest hits" route here. -Marc Mickelson

Stillpoints and LeadingEdge

September 13, 2013


I just finished watching the system setup presentation on the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest website. I was absolutely impressed with what you guys found that improved the sound of the audio system on demo. Many thanks for passing down this knowledge to us. However, I have two questions for you. Where can I purchase the acoustic panels mentioned? Where can I purchase the steel-point isolators as well?

Ben Pham

The two products that you are interested in are the Stillpoints supports and the LeadingEdge Acoustic Panels. Stillpoints products are widely available in the US and you can learn more about them at the Stillpoints website, as well as locating a local dealer. The LeadingEdge Acoustic Panels are available in the US through Audio Vision in San Francisco. I'm sure that they will be able to help and advice.

Of course, don't overlook the coverage of both the seminars and also the Stillpoints products on TAB. We also presented the seminar, in a longer and more detailed form, at TAVES in Toronto and the presentations are covered in some detail in blogs on the seminar and results. In addition, there is both a blog and also a full review of the Stillpoints support system.

And if you read that lot you'll be in need of some serious musical relaxation! Hopefully these contacts and articles will add to your knowledge and help in the decision-making process. -Roy Gregory

"Well done," TAB

September 7, 2013


Great reviews and accurate. Well done.

David Bosler

Vinyl on TV

September 4, 2013


The e-mail from Mike Doukas [below] and your response regarding silver's place in good-sounding audio put me in mind of movies and TV dramas in which high-end systems -- doubtless replete with silver and gold -- are part of the décor. These rigs invariably feature elegant vinyl playback setups and, in the case of Suits, a show on USA Network, a wall of LPs in a main character's tony office. I trace this practice to the low opinion many audiophile journalists held, and hold, regarding CDs. These opinions from on high have become of necessity received wisdom in the face of so much contradictory evidence. On TV or the big screen, a high-end system without a vinyl front-end would look downright odd.

Mike Silverton

In ten years will we be seeing on TV those same systems backed by large collections of CDs, as they become the next format to make a comeback, after people decide they actually like digital but also want to own something physical? Correspondingly, will some former vinyl collectors (myself included) be selling off their collections (again!), as some did during the advent of CD?

Nah. It's all just a dream. -Marc Mickelson

Audiophilia on TV

September 1, 2013


Who would have thought that a comment from me would originate from the TV show Pawn Stars. A guy brought in a whole mess of silver coins and bars. If you've ever watched the show, the main guy normally gives an intro to whatever the person brings in. Well, in this episode, when the guy brought in all that silver, the shop owner said that silver was used in sonic devices and it was very good at transmitting sound. That made me say, "Hmmm. My cables, Live Line, have precious metals in them." They say they have a copper core for the "hot run" and a silver core for the "return run." Then, at the very end, it has a mixture of all of the metals that are used in their resonators.

I just found it interesting that the guy on the TV show mentioned silver's audio properties.

Mike Doukas

I suppose it's good to know that some people outside the audiophile community know about things like silver being a good conductor. In my experience, however, when anything audiophile related is mentioned on TV (especially the value of records, which are often wildly inflated), it's apparent that the general public still doesn't get what we're about. Appreciation comes with experience, and most people just haven't experienced music reproduced well -- unfortunately. -Marc Mickelson


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