Letters • September 2014

CD's future

September 22, 2014


Your response [below] to the letter asking about the CD's future gives me such pleasure! You say that most audiophiles play physical media. Me too, thanks to a reluctance -- might as well call it a phobia -- for trying anything else.

Mike Silverton

The best turntable package under $7500?

September 17, 2014


What is the best turntable package (turntable and tonearm) under $7500? Music is old rock (mono, stereo and many bootlegs of '60s 45s). I have a Linn, and I don’t want to hand Ivor money for his Keel and other upgrades for such an old design. I prefer a new all-in-one design.

Paul Faughnan

It's pretty difficult to beat any of the VPI turntable/tonearm packages at any price level, and even harder now with the impending introduction of the Scout Prime, which by itself is about half your budget.

If you want to spend more than this 'table's proposed $4500 cost (with VPI's 3D printed tonearm and SDS power supply/motor controller), you can look at one of VPI's pricier packages, or I would suggest putting the money into a better cartridge. I know I would be very happy with this turntable and a Lyra Etna or Dynavector DV-XV1s -- both of which cost more than the 'table and 'arm but together should make some memorable sound. -Marc Mickelson

The present and future of digital

September 15, 2014


You may recall that a couple of years ago I had asked your thoughts on computer audio and whether you thought "it was there yet" -- comparable in sound to that of standalone CD players. You had answered that you felt it was getting closer but not quite there, and I absolutely concurred with that. It's a couple years down the road now and I was just curious about your current take on this topic. I look through my audiophile magazines and don't see much in the way of CD players any more. It's mostly DACs to connect to computers and the whole computer-audio thing. Am I in the Stone Age now by playing CD's? Is it worth the investment to take the plunge and get a USB DAC?

Sheldon Simon

There has been a major development in computer audio in the past year or so -- the ability to play DSD files in addition to high-resolution PCM. This conceivably puts SACD players in the sights of USB DACs -- once DSD files are available in quantity, that is. In my opinion (and probably the opinions of many of TAB's writers, who predominantly play physical media), CDs and SACDs continue to be very viable sources because the sound remains superlative. When you hear a CD played with the dCS Vivaldi stack, for instance, it's hard to argue that it doesn't represent the state of digital sound here and now just because it's "only" 16-bit/44.1kHz data. Of course, the Vivaldi separates can also play files, and they sound great too, although you often have to rip your own, adding an inconvenient step to the process.

Computer audio hasn't retired physical media among audiophiles, as was predicted a few years ago. CD and SACD players continue to be produced, although fewer of each, and often with some nod to computer playback included -- a USB input or the ability to rip and store data. I think what we'll see as the future becomes the present is that computer audio will augment our music libraries, not replace them. In fact, I think there's a chance we'll see the CD resurrected at some point, much as we have with the LP, everything old becoming new again.

If you can find enough downloadable music that interests you, then adding a USB DAC to your system makes sense. I'm not there yet, probably because I have huge CD and LP collections from which to draw. -Marc Mickelson

"Let your ears guide you"

September 8, 2014


I've been doing a lot of reading and thinking about speaker time and phase coherence. I am about to explore a new direction -- trying a DEQX device. I’ve been in contact with several DEQX reps and will try to arrange an in-home audition. I am not thrilled with the notion that the DEQX device is inserted in between my Audio Research Reference 5 SE line stage and Reference 150 amp -- it's just another artifact. But the DEQX US technical advisor assured me that whatever I lose by way of inserting the DEQX into the signal path will be more than made up in quantum multiples by the improvement in sound performance.

Some might ask, "Why bother? Just buy a pair of Vandersteen, Thiel or Green Mountain speakers." It’s a fair point. But, from what I’ve read and understand, using first-order crossovers and aligning the drivers on the front baffle at best does rough justice. Further, due to the dearth of brick-and-mortar dealers and brand choices, I am not in the best position to do live auditioning.

I did a search of The Audio Beat but didn’t catch any hits relating to the DEQX. Have you or any other the other contributors caught this gizmo in action? Any comments or advice?

Bruce Feinstein

I have no experience with the DEQX device. Time and phase coherence are aspects of speaker design that bother some listeners more than others, although I've always wondered if it's theory or sonic reality that's so troublesome. That is, do people hear the effect of time and phase coherence and consider it sonically significant or simply think it's important and therefore buy speakers that address it? You are probably aware of where I stand here -- I'm all about the experience, which is empirical, as opposed to being mere theory. While I've heard all of the speaker brands you mention, and have even owned Vandersteens and Thiels, I don't find that they sound the same -- or even similar in ways that I consider important to reproduction.

This sort of reminds me of how some speaker designers and audiophiles feel about horn-loaded speakers, whose great sensitivity translates to blazing dynamics but also obvious colorations that harm the sense of musical realism. Yet, some listeners prize horn loading above all other speaker technologies, even with what I would consider unacceptable flaws.

So I would caution you not to fixate on a couple of trees -- in this case, time and phase coherence -- and miss the forest. Aside from this reducing sonic reproduction to two tenets, it is a sure recipe for dissatisfaction with your audio system. The most elementary bit of advice is also the most relevant: Let your ears guide you. -Marc Mickelson

Valhalla 2 or Opus MM2?

September 1, 2014


I loved your review in The Audio Beat of Nordost Valhalla 2.

I currently have Wilson Alexias, a Pass Labs XP-30, an Audio Research Reference Phono 2, and an AMG v12 turntable with with Lyra Atlas cartridge.

I am currently running all Transparent Reference XL and was considering Opus MM2. But since you have spent a good amount of time with Valhalla 2 and also have Wilson speakers and Opus MM2 in your system, I wanted to get a sense of how Valhalla 2 compares to the Opus MM2 cables.

I would love to get your thoughts.

Mohammed Samji

Nordost Valhalla 2 and Transparent Opus MM2 are qualitative peers -- two of the very best cable lines you can buy -- but I would also say that they are for different listeners. Valhalla 2 is about sheer resolution and tonal neutrality, while Opus MM2 is more about background blackness, a function of how calm and composed they sound, as well as very powerful bass. This isn't to say that Valhalla 2 doesn't sound composed and have thundering lows, or that Opus MM2 isn't resolving and neutral. These are the respective cables' tendencies, the first things you'll notice about them. Both are very complete in their presentations, displaying no deficiencies, even as they do a few things that really allow them to stand out.

You already appreciate what Transparent cables do, so Opus MM2 may be perfect for you, especially given your system, although I would be hard-pressed to give up what I'm hearing with Valhalla 2 here with the same speakers and similar electronics. Normally I'd say that neither of these cable lines is wrong but one will be more right for you. Here, however, both will likely be right, though one may be the better choice for your system and tastes -- and budget. It would be a hard call for me to make. -Marc Mickelson


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