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July 27, 2009
I was out shopping for a new TV and the store wants to sell me an extended warranty. Q: Do you think extended warranties are worth the money?
A: Obviously, it will depend partly on the price you're paying for that extended guarantee. From my own experience, I've found them to be worth it.
Recently, a portable DVD player and a video camera both stopped working after the original warranties from the manufacturers expired. I bought extended warranties for both, though. The store replaced the portable DVD with a new, better model from a different manufacturer, and they sent off the video camera for repair and it came back fixed. Those warranties certainly paid off.
. . . Doug Schneider
June 25, 2009
In a recent published letter, you stated "...products from the same manufacturer work best together electrically and sound the best together as well." Q: Can you tell me what "electrically" means here? I thought all products worked together electrically.
A: "Electrically" means that the impedance and gain of a preamp and amp, for instance, are such that there are no mismatches. A preamp that has a high output impedance -- say, 1000 ohms -- must be paired with an amplifier whose input impedance is high enough -- say, 10,000 ohms or greater -- so that no impedance mismatch occurs, which would affect the performance of the preamp and amp together, increasing distortion. The unofficial rule is that the input impedance should be ten times greater than the output impedance, though some people who design audio equipment will tell you that one hundred times is best. In terms of gain, you want to make sure the preamp and amp together don't have too little, say 30dB total, in which case you may not be able to reach a high enough volume and the sound may be dynamically sluggish. You also don't want too much gain -- 50dB or more -- or you'll be consistently using the volume control at its very lowest settings and you may hear persistent hiss through your speakers.
Products from the same company were designed with each other in mind, so these sorts of issues don't exist. In fact, impedance mismatches between preamps and amps are unusual today, but gain mismatches are more common, especially with high-gain tube preamps.
. . . Marc Mickelson
June 10, 2009
I stumbled upon your review of the DVDO Edge today while Googling for an answer to a question I had about optimizing my home-theater system. When I read the opening paragraph my jaw dropped! It was as if you were listening to me explaining the rationale for my individual home-theater purchases to my wife.
My dedicated theater room has the following components: JVC RS1, Integra DHC-9.9, DVDO Edge, Toshiba HD-A35, Sony PS3, DirecTV HD-DVR and Oppo DV981HD. I have several questions regarding the best signal path and where to do the video processing as well as how those answers relate to professional calibration.
When my projector was installed, the installer (who was not ISF certified) did a "basic" calibration. To his credit, I have been very happy with the performance of the projector for the last two years. I have recently upgraded from a Yamaha RX-V2500 to the Integra DHC-9.9 and recently added the DVDO Edge as well. I also just purchased the Panasonic DMP-BD60 to replace the PS3, which will be moved to another room. I am considering replacing my Oppo 981 with the 980 now that I have the Edge. I was wondering if you would recommend the "downgrade" to the 480i signal into the Edge over 1080p into the Edge.
Now that I am close to completing my system, I plan on taking the final step and having the system re-calibrated by an ISF-certified technician. Q: What would/should they calibrate? The RS1? The Edge? The 9.9? All three? Where should the video processing take place? While the 9.9 and RS1 (and for that matter the Oppo) have very good video processing in their own right, the Edge would seem to me to be where the processing should take place. If that is the case, would an ISF technician calibrate only one input on the 9.9? Would it make sense to calibrate one input for each source directly in addition to the input for the Edge?
I think I have done my research well and obtained high-performing, high-value components and I hope to maximize their performance and enjoy them with my wife and four children for years to come. I was hoping you would be kind enough to enlighten me with your well-regarded opinion.
A: First, congratulations on your exceedingly good taste in equipment. You have quite an investment, but even with the rapid changes in HT equipment, its a system that should deliver great performance for years to come.
The problem you face is one that will be a nagger for the near future. The answer to your question is that you should leave two variables fixed and operate on the third, and that third variable should be the most flexible. The most flexible should be the Integra, but that is only if the ISF person has experience with it. It has deep, hidden menus, and needs to have a secret door unlocked to get at them. The only folks (supposedly) who have the keys to this "lock" are folks who have undergone training from Integra.
I assume you will also want to have the audio portion working at its highest potential. The folks to do that have to have paid Audyssey for their specialized testing equipment. So, if you can find someone who is Integra, Audyssey and ISF trained (check with whomever you bought the 9.9 from), I would have the 9.9 be the variable and keep all the other inputs fixed. The Integra can have each input specifically calibrated.
Also, have the ISF person set the JVCs addressable memories so that one is "flat" (that will be the fixed variable and would be using the projector in absolute dark), and then working from that flat setting, create two other picture settings and store them in memory. Finally, make sure to lock all of your settings in all the devices so no one can futz with your setup, and relax knowing that you have one killer system.
. . . Wes Marshall
May 26, 2009
Q: Do you know of a cheap way to clean records? I mean some way that's better than a Discwasher or other kind of inexpensive record-cleaning kit.
A: I know that some people clean records with inexpensive steam cleaners that can be purchased at department or drug stores, but the heat they produce would worry me. You can clean LPs with a 10:1 mixture of distilled water and isopropyl alcohol, using microfiber towels to blot up the excess. However, if you Google "home-grew record cleaner," you'll find a number of recipes that probably spread on the LP more uniformly and are therefore more effective. With these, you'll still use microfiber cloths, or, if you're adventurous, you can try to build your own vacuum record-cleaning machine.
May 11, 2009
I have run cables from my main audio system to speakers in a downstairs room so I can listen to music while I do woodworking. However, controlling the volume -- or muting the sound completely -- is a problem, because it requires that I trudge upstairs. Q: Do you have a suggestion for doing this remotely?
A: If your preamp, integrated amp or receiver is remote controlled, you are in luck. What you'll need is something called an RF extender. What this does is turn the infrared commands of the remote into radio-frequency commands, which don't require a direct sight line for control of your audio system. You'll aim your remote at a transmitter, which will send the signal to a receiver that converts it to an infrared command. The RF receiver will need to be in the sight line of your preamp, integrated amp or receiver. Then, when you push a button on the remote, the command will be received upstairs.
May 4, 2009
When I think of 45s, I think of those smaller records with the bigger holes in them. Q: Are there 45s that have a smaller hole like the for 33 1/3 LPs? If so, are the reissued Blue Note LPs like that, or can you point me in the direction of some that are? Also, do you feel that the older 45s with the bigger hole, have a sonic advantage? Or do the newer ones sound better than the originals?
A: The number 45 refers only to the speed, not the size. 45 singles are 5" across, while the Music Matters Blue Note 45rpm LPs are 12" and have the small spindle hole.
Yes, there is a sonic advantage: Each inch of groove, let's say, has less information packed into it because of the faster playing speed, which leads to better sound.
April 28, 2009I am looking for a good CD player for a system I am putting together for my garage. I want something that sounds good, but my budget is around $25, so I will be buying used. Q: Are there particular brands I should look for?
A: My suggestion is to look for Technics or Panasonic CD players that use MASH digital-to-analog converters. Players that have them will have "MASH" printed somewhere on their chassis. These converters use noise shaping to produce a more pleasing sound, and there are many, many models that used them, so you should be able to find one at a thrift store or garage sale and keep to your $25 budget.
April 20, 2009
I have an older Kenwood receiver that I use with a pair of small Infinity speakers. I would like to add a subwoofer to my system, but I'm not not sure how I can do this. Q: Do you have any advice about how I do this? I would add a brand-new subwoofer, if that's any help.
A: There are two ways to connect a subwoofer to an existing audio system: at line level and at speaker level. Line level is the easier way, as you'll only have to run a pair of interconnects (or perhaps only one interconnect, depending on how old your receiver is) to the subwoofer and nothing to the speakers. To do this, look for preamp outputs or a single subwoofer output on the back of your receiver. If you have neither of these, connecting at speaker level is your safety net. Here, you'll run speaker cables from your receiver to your subwoofer, and then run more speaker cables from your subwoofer to your speakers. Adjustments are more critical in this arrangement, because you're actually routing the signal through your subwoofer, which may or may not greatly affect what's sent on to your speakers (it depends on the subwoofer's settings). Either way, you'll want to read the manual that comes with the subwoofer very carefully so you adjust the controls appropriately. Otherwise you could end up with worse sound than you started with. If your subwoofer is set up properly, you won't hear it much of the time -- only when the very lowest bass is present in the music you're playing.
April 13, 2009
I have purchased the Dynaudio Sapphire speakers. They are 4-ohm speakers rated at 300W long-term power handling and 88dB sensitivity. Q: Would the Simaudio W-7 be better sonically than the Simaudio I-7? I'm thinking of getting the Audio Aero Prestige CD/SACD player with its built-in preamp, so I won't have to buy a Simaudio preamp. Do you recommend any other good CD/SACD players? Will SACD be replaced with another format like Blu-ray audio? And my room is small, about 12' x 27'.
A: You've asked a lot of questions here, which I'll try to answer one by one. If you don't need the preamp, then the W-7 power amplifier would be the best choice. As for SACD being replaced -- SACD is already dead. The horse that won that race was, actually, CD. Just for the record, DVD-Audio is gone, too. If we're looking to another high-definition format, Blu-ray might be one of them, but my bet is that computer-based audio systems will be the heart of high-res in the future.
April 8, 2009
I bought a vintage Marantz receiver at a garage sale. It's a cool little unit, and I paid only $10. The guy said it worked perfectly, but it doesn't. Q: Is it better to cut my losses and buy something new or have it fixed? I'm concerned mostly about the overall cost.
A: This is a question that many buyers of older products have to ask: fix it or donate it? I can tell you from experience that paying someone to fix such a product can cost you far more than buying a new replacement. The new unit may not duplicate the features of the vintage product (it will likely add quiet a few), and it won't have the retro look, but it should work for years without issue. The people for whom buying vintage audio products makes sense are those who can repair them themselves. Then it's just a matter of the cost of the parts and the time needed.
If, after all I've offered, you're still not sure, take your unit to an electronics repair shop with a low cost for estimates. Then you can find out the exact amount and make a decision based on knowledge, not the unknown.
March 30, 2009
I am trying to understand an amp's effect on dynamics. So many of the reviews I'm reading discuss the advantage of having 1000 watts per channel. Q: Is sheer power an essential ingredient or does the design of the amp have as much or more to do with re-creating superb dynamics?
A: Dynamic range -- the difference between the softest and loudest sounds -- can be affected most by the speaker and amplifier. Highly sensitive speakers often sound very dynamic because they can go from soft to loud with little power. An amplifier can increase perceived dynamics by having a low noise floor and lots of power in order to play loud. Thiel Audio, for instance, doesn't worry much about the sensitivity of its speakers because, as Jim Thiel has put it, "Watts are cheap." However, each doubling of amplifier power increases output by 3dB -- not a lot.
So, yes, the amplifier can affect the system's dynamic range, but it is not the only component that has influence.
March 23, 2009
I am considering purchasing a used pair of rather large, heavy speakers. They have to be shipped to me. Q: What things should I consider regarding this purchase? I can save a great deal of money buying used, but I would buy new if the reasons were right.
A: I think there are at least a few reasons to purchase new speakers and not a used pair. First, you'll have a warranty, which is important with any A/V product. Second, shipping a second-hand pair of large speakers is risky. Shipping damage could occur, even if the speakers are packed well. Third, with new speakers you can pick the finish options, which help dress up the speakers some. Fourth, many audio companies today revere their customers, and you'd be treated well by the company if something goes wrong down the road.
With electronics and smaller speakers, buying used represents much less of a gamble. With large speakers, it's a risk I wouldn't undertake.
March 16, 2009
I obtained a very old Fisher receiver that uses vacuum tubes. The receiver works but makes lots of cracking noise, especially when I turn the volume up or down. Q: Are the tubes worn out? Do tubes wear out? How do I check for this?
A: Yes, tubes wear out over a span of time, but that can be a year or ten years, depending on how much the product is used and how the tubes are implemented in the product's design. What you're describing, however, sounds like a volume control with noisy contacts, which oxidize over time. There are products for cleaning this. They spray on, dissolve the oxidation, and evaporate away. Try calling a local electronics-repair shop for a recommendation of which product to use. You can also ask if they can test your tubes. Chances are that with an old receiver a couple of the tubes are marginal or nearly kaput and in need of replacement.
March 9, 2009
I have an Ayre AX-7e integrated amp, a Velodyne VX-10B subwoofer, and Sonus Faber Concertino Domus speakers. The Ayre integrated does not have a pre-out; the Velodyne sub has speaker-level inputs and outputs.
If I connect the speaker line from the amp to the speaker inputs on the subwoofer, then go from the speaker outputs on the subwoofer to the speakers, does this degrade sound quality in any way? I'm told that connecting it this way maintains the sonic signature of the integrated amp, but because it's passing through the sub's amp, isn't that ultimately the deciding factor on the sound output? Q: Is this the correct/best way to connect the sub, or is there a better way given my equipment?
A: For many sub-satellite speaker setups, this is the best way to go, and in your case it appears to be the only way.
The signal won't actually pass through the Velodyne's amplifier; instead, it passes the the Velodyne's crossover and then carries onward to the speakers. The sub has various settings that you'll have to work with to get the best "blend" between it and the speakers -- you will see a control for varying the filter, level control, and a phase switch. These are your "tools," so make sure to read up and know what they're for and how to use them. They will have a huge impact on the outcome, and it might take a lot of time and work to get them right.
The concern audiophiles have with a setup like this is whether the sub's built-in crossover will have a detrimental effect on the sound. More than likely, it will result in some sort of degradation given that extra circuitry put into the signal path almost always seems to do that. On the other hand, if you get a very good blend between the speakers and the sub, that can often offset the negative effects the extra circuitry may have and you might find yourself ahead. This, though, you'll have to try with the equipment you have to know for sure.
March 2, 2009
I have a portable AM/FM radio that I use at work with batteries. I just noticed that it has a jack for plugging into the wall. I am sure I have a power supply that will fit that jack, but I'm wondering if there's something more that I need to think about than if the connector fits the jack. Q: Is there a certain amount of power my radio needs?
A: You were smart not to simply connect the DC power supply you have and plug it in. Your AM/FM radio needs a certain amount of power and current from its power supply, and if you use one of a different value, the radio won't work or, worse, it may be ruined. If you have the manual for your radio, look in it and see what's recommended. If you don't have the manual, the information you need may be printed on the back or bottom of your radio. You'll see something like "12V DC, 1A" for 12 volts and 1 amp. Then make sure your power supply has the same rating. If it doesn't, you'll need a different one.
February 23, 2009
I still record on and listen to cassette tapes, but it is becoming harder to find them new. Q: Do you know of any good sources for cassette tapes?
A: My local Walgreen's sells new Maxell cassette tapes, though they are type I formulations and not the best for taping music from CD or LP. You can still buy Cr02 tapes new, though they are scarce where I live, and metal tapes are completely gone, with no company that I know of making them at this time. The best advice I can give you for finding Cr02 and metal cassettes is to look at local thrift stores. You'll almost certainly be able to find cassettes that have already been used, in which case you can erase them and they will be like new again (providing they are good-quality tapes that didn't shed their magnetic coating). To erase a metal tape completely, you'll need a bulk eraser that develops at least 3000 gauss. Cr02 tapes don't have the same coercivity -- magnetic intensity -- and therefore don't requite such a strong magnetic field for full erasure.
February 16, 2009
I recently moved and for some reason my AM/FM reception is terrible. I have the same tuner and antenna that used to pull in stations from a hundred miles way with no problem. Q: Do you have any idea what might be the cause of my problem and how I might fix it?
A:Well, it's obvious that your move caused this problem. Did you move to a congested suburban area, or do you have a high-tension power lines near your new abode? If so, they may be your problem, with either buildings impeding the radio signal or power lines creating electromagnetic interference (EMI). If buildings are the issue, a different antenna may solve the problem, preferably one that's outdoors and as high in the air as possible. If the power lines are the problem, you should probably consider moving to satellite radio. However, so many radio stations stream their programming online, so that's an alternative as well.
February 9, 2009
I have a combined audio/video home-theater/music system that I use on a daily basis. As you can imagine, because the system has a TV, A/V receiver, DVD player and CD player, I have a number of remotes, and it's clumsy to have to shift from one to another just to go from playing music to a movie. I know there are a number of universal remotes on the market, but I'm not sure which one would be best for me. Q: Do you have a recommendation for a universal remote that will solve my problem?
A: I am a fan of the Logitech Harmony remote controls, and I'm sure one of these would solve your problem. Not only can you use it to control multiple products, you set it up with your computer, so there's no arcane programming needed. Logitech has very good technical support as well. I use one to control various pieces of my audio-only system, and it has worked perfectly.
February 2, 2009
Q: What does the weight of a record have to do with sound quality? I mean, if I have a clean Dark Side of the Moon or Allman Brothers At Fillmore East, would a 180-gram pressing sound better? Do I now have to get 180- or 200-gram pressings of stuff I already have?
A: The weight is really a way to express the thickness of the record, the idea being that a thicker record will be less adversely affected by harmful stray vibration, including that generated by the action of the needle scraping through the groove. After all, phono cartridges generate sound via very small movements, including any micro-vibration created by the needle itself as it engages the groove. In terms of the ultimate sound quality of any record, there are many variables that cause one pressing of the same material to sound better than another, including the mastering, the care taken in the cutting of the lacquer, the quality of the pressing, and the quality of the vinyl itself. Even LPs of the same music pressed at the same time can show variation in their sound. All things being equal, a thicker record should sound better than one that's thinner, and that's why many of the reissues available today are pressed on 180- or 200-gram vinyl. However, don't go out and start wholesale replacement of records that you already own. Just enjoy them. In some cases, you may want to experiment with a newer, thicker pressing, and there's certainly nothing wrong with that!
January 26, 2009
I purchased a Cambridge Audio DacMagic for Christmas, and I am now beginning to enjoy my own "radio" station from my computer. What a joy this is. I just set it to shuffle and away we go. The surprise at hearing unexpected treasures is giving a lot of satisfaction. What a great way to listen, even for this vinyl junkie.
My hi-fi is some distance from my PC. Q: What would sound best, a long USB cable to the DacMagic and short interconnects to my preamp, or vice versa?
A: There is nothing quite like having a source that plays on and on and on and sounds great doing it. In your particular circumstances, it is probably better to go with a long USB cable. The USB standard allows for about 16 feet before a repeater (signal booster) is needed, so you can go quite long. Of course, repeaters might add noise to the signal, so I wouldn't expect top-tier performance from such a setup. Ultimately, having a laptop or other unobtrusive computer close to your audio system would prove to be the best solution.
January 19, 2009
There are smooth surfaces in my home-theater room that I think are making everything sound echoey, if that makes any sense. Q: Do you know of any effective, attractive products for treating such surfaces? Maybe a paint or other surface treatment that will take care of this problem.
A: What you're probably hearing is the effect of slap echo: sounds bouncing off those hard surfaces and around your room. There are many companies that make products for treating such maladies. These are generally fabric-covered panels that hang on walls. They don't look awful, but I wouldn't say they're attractive either. A solution that companies displaying at CES will use is a simple one: houseplants. Try placing some plants, especially ones with large leaves, in front of those reflective surfaces and see if that solves your problem.
January 15, 2009
I have a decade-old receiver that still works, but I would like to replace it with something better. Q: What would you suggest I look at?
A: My first instinct is to tell you to consider a new receiver from the same company that makes the one you own, but this may not be the best path to "something better." NAD equipment often represents a person's first non-mass-market piece of audio electronics. NAD products are made well and designed with the idea of providing superior sound to what you'll find most often at large retail chains. I would look at what's in the NAD line and in your price range. The company makes CD players, A/V receivers, integrated amplifiers, preamplifiers and power amplifiers -- among other products -- and NAD's sister company, PSB, makes high-quality speakers as well.
January 5, 2009
I am moving my home-theater system from downstairs to our living room so that we get more use from it. But I'd like to hide as many cables as possible, and do away with those from the speakers to the amp. Q: Do you know of any wireless systems that replace speaker cables?
December 29, 2008
I just bought a Yamaha HTR-6160 receiver. I want to turn my room, which is about 14' x 12', into a surround-sound palace. My budget for seven speakers and subwoofer is about $1000. I don't look to make my room into a home theater so much as trance lounge, so I want clear sound and good bass. Q: Which speakers would you recommend?
A: A number of companies -- including Axiom Audio, Paradigm and Hsu Research -- offer inexpensive speaker systems that should meet your budget and sonic want list. You'll want to pay special attention to the subwoofer, as it sounds like it will get a good workout, given the type of music you'll listen to. Look for a larger driver and cabinet and a more powerful amp instead of believing published specifications, as they can be easily fudged. For bass, there is no substitute for bigger woofers, cabinets and amplifiers.
Poke around our Reviewers' Choice site for other ideas. That's where you'll find links to reviews of the best products we've covered.
December 22, 2008
I am a total beginner when it comes to downloading music. I found a couple of legal sites, and I would like to experiment. My question has to do with high-rez downloads. I found a site or two from which I can get 24-bit/96kHz music. Q: What can I use to burn 24/96 music to a DVD?
A: Nowadays most people who want to play back their files are not using discs at all. They play them with a computer-based audio system or they have a device to stream them to their main audio system. I use Squeezebox, as do a number of SoundStage! Network writers. It's affordable and works very well. You can use a wireless router, but I found that Ethernet connectivity was more reliable. I can now be in my listening room, where the Squeezebox is, find and select a file, hit play and the Squeezebox accesses the file on my computer 40 feet away in another room. Pretty neat.
Squeezebox has one limitation: It only goes to 24/48, so it would downsample 24/96 to 24/48. If you want 24/96 capability, then you need a different unit, but it will cost much more money. The Transporter will play files that are 24/96. There are other devices on the market, and with the rapidly growing popularity for downloading music there are sure to be a lot more very soon.
If you want to make discs from the files, I found a good, virus-free program that will do it. It's Audio DVD Creator (www.audio-dvd-creator.com). It works best with .WAV files, so download your HD files in that format or use a conversion program to convert them. There are a lot of conversion programs. I like dBpoweramp the best (www.dbpoweramp.com). Once you have your .WAV files, Audio DVD Creator is a snap to use. I can't remember a more consumer-friendly program. And it works, both quickly and well.
I downloaded a recording of the Sibelius Second Symphony from HDTT (www.highdeftapetransfers.com/storefront.php) in 24/96 FLAC format, converted it to .WAV (some sites will offer .WAV in the first place, and others don't; that's why it is essential to have a good conversion program if you're going to get into downloads seriously) then burned a DVD. I tried it on all my DVD players with total success. Two of my players do handle 24/96 DVD stereo, and I have to say that the sound was outstanding.
If you want to go the DVD-Audio route and have a player that will play those MLP tracks, here's a program that will make a DVD-Audio disc out of your files: DVD-Audio Solo (www.cirlinca.com/index.htm). I made a DVD-Audio disc out of those same Sibelius files much faster than I would have thought possible.
You can't burn an HD download to CD without downsampling it, so some sort of DVD is the way to go. If you've been following my series of articles on downloads, you know that HDtracks, HDTT, and Linn all offer high-quality material. There will be others that I'll be writing about throughout 2009.
December 15, 2008
My husband loves our home-theater system. Q: Do you have any suggestions for Christmas presents that he can use with it?
A: Do I ever. Each year on Home Theater & Sound we post a listing of video sets that we think would make great Christmas gifts. Here is a link to that listing. As you'll see, I recommend a few of these personally.
December 8, 2008
I am buying a pair of Magnepan MMG speakers from my neighbor who hardly used them. My receiver is a 1994-vintage Yamaha RX-V670 (70Wpc at 8 ohms and 80Wpc at 6 ohms). The Maggies are 4-ohm speakers! Q: Will this receiver drive these speakers or do I need to upgrade (which I am willing to do)? Also, how does a receiver or amplifier know it is driving an 8- or 6- or 4-ohm speaker?
A: Magnepan speakers are low in sensitivity, and while their nominal impedance hovers at 4 ohms, they present a resistive load to the amplifier -- their impedance varies little across the frequency spectrum. This means, in general, that an amplifier's power output is more important than its ability to deal with punishing loads when driving Maggies. In your case, however, I worry a bit about your receiver not having a 4-ohm rating. This often signals that a receiver can't handle a 4-ohm load. The best way to determine if speakers and receiver will work together is to try them and see what happens. Play the sort of music you like at levels you'll want to listen. If your receiver overheats and its protection circuit kicks in, then you'll need to upgrade. If this doesn't happen, its amplifier may be beefy enough to drive the MMGs.
BTW, a receiver doesn't "know" what kind of load it's driving, though it can certainly be taxed beyond its capabilities by a load it can't drive, in which case it does react to the load. Tube amplifiers often have options on the back for connecting speakers of different impedances, but solid-state amplifiers omit these.
December 2, 2008
I have an old JVC turntable with a Shure cartridge. Everything still works, but I think, after all these years, I should replace the stylus. Q: Do you have any suggestion of where I can find a replacement? I'm sure the Shure cartridge is long out of production.
A: I was actually in your position just a few months ago with two older Shure cartridges I have. I did online searches and was actually able to find replacement styli, though the prices seemed rather high -- much more than the cartridges cost or were worth to me. I then tried eBay and found better prices. Right before I was going to order, I did a search on RadioShack's website and found both styli for considerably less. And the great thing about ordering from RadioShack was the fact that I could take the styli back to my local store if they didn't fit. RadioShack sold tons of Shure cartridges in the day, and they seem committed to providing styli for them, so I would try there first and then other online sources, including eBay, if RadioShack doesn't have what you need for your cartridge.
November 24, 2008
I have an iPod that I would like to use as a source for my audio system. However, I don't have great faith that the many iPod docks on the market will preserve its sound quality. Q: Is there a "direct" way of connecting an iPod to an audio system, one that won't hurt sound quality?
A: You have two options for connecting your iPod to your audio system and preserve sound quality to the highest degree. The first is connecting it via its analog output to your preamp or integrated amp. Because you don't want to use an iPod dock, the best way to do this is via a special cable that connects to the iPod's analog output and then to the line-level inputs you want to use. You could also use the headphone output, but then the signal would pass through a volume control, and that will taint the sound to some degree. A better way is to buy a Wadia 170iTransport, which accesses the digital data stored on the iPod. You can then connect the 170iTransport to an external DAC, which will convert the digital to analog. This is the purest way, sonically speaking, to incorporate an iPod into your audio system.
November 17, 2008
I have some old stereo equipment that I'm not sure works. Q: Does it have any value and, if not, what I should do with it? I'd hate to just throw it away if someone would want it.
A: Old audio equipment, even if it's mono, almost always has value, unless it has been so abused that it's cosmetically and functionally trashed. The best place to find out its value on the market is eBay. Just search on the make and model. You may have some treasures; if not, you can always donate it to Goodwill or another thrift store, an act that's tax deductible.
November 10, 2008
I have my computer and audio system close to each other. This has caused a problem with radio reception. My AM/FM tuner, which is 15 years old, has fits with the computer when it's on, making reception scratchy. Q: What causes this, and is there anything I can do about it? What about buying a new tuner?
A: Computers are built to run software and crunch data, and peripheral concerns, such as the amount of radio-frequency interference (RFI) they create, are secondary -- if they are considered at all. When I worked in information technology -- basically as an in-house computer geek -- I answered many support calls about this problem. You really have two options for fixing your reception: Buy a new computer that doesn't interfere with your tuner as much, or move your computer away from your audio system. You might also try rerouting your antenna so that it is outside the computer's RFI footprint, though it may in fact be the tuner's circuitry that's being affected. Buying a new tuner is unlikely to solve the problem, as your computer, especially if it is an older model, may be emitting so much RFI that no tuner could cope with it.
November 3, 2008
I like watching concert DVDs (I like going to concerts too). I'm beginning to upgrade my modest "system" -- just my TV, a stereo receiver and some speakers. Q: Should I focus on sound that's best for home theater or music? I'm new to this and need some guidance!
A: I assume you're considering at a full 5.1-channel system that includes five speakers and a subwoofer. The criteria for selecting multichannel home-theater speakers is the same as that for stereo speakers that will play music only. You want to pick speakers whose fidelity appeals to you. You'll want to hear everything on your CDs and DVDs, so you'll want speakers that can convey all of that information. Determine your budget, shop around until you find speakers you like and can afford, and then use them as often as you can!
October 27, 2008
First, I must congratulate you on your excellent site!
Can you answer this question? Q: What's the lowest measured distortion and noise of any loudspeaker you've tested? Which loudspeaker holds this coveted crown? Please explain how the graphs read in laymen's terms!
A: What you are seeing with our THD+N measurement is a pair of curves reported in dB. The top curve of shows the frequency response of the loudspeaker at the determined SPL level (90dB or even 95dB), while the bottom curve shows the distortion component of the signal. The more the bottom curve extends from left to right and higher up on the scale, the greater the distortion of the speaker throughout its frequency range. As we point out, values below 40dB are too close to the noise floor of the test equipment to be of use, so the scale begins at 50dB.
October 22, 2008
I am sure you are familiar with Roy Allison of Allison Acoustics. Briefly, is he or his company still in business? If so, where is he located? If not, this brings me to my question, which I hope you will be able to answer. I own a pair of Allison Acoustics CD8 loudspeakers. A few years ago, after one of the driver's rubber surround rotted, I purchased a replacement driver from Allison Acoustics. Two mistakes with that purchase were that I did not realize that I could have the rubber surround replaced on the original driver, and I did not pay close attention to the driver that was sent to me until now. The woofer on the other speaker rotted, but I had the rubber surround replaced and the speaker performs like new. The salesman suggested that I check the other driver, and that's when I realized the difference between the two.
I have the original sales slip and a copy of replacement parts for Allison speakers. I discovered that the driver that I paid $55 for was not designed for the CD8; it's the 8" driver designed for the AL115 and AL130. The driver I need cost $95 and was designed for the CD series of speakers. I absolutely love my speakers, and I am not interested in giving them up. With a Sunfire True Subwoofer Mk IV, Outlaw Audio ICBM-1 bass-management unit, and Adcom amps, I am in audio heaven.
Q: Do you know of any way of getting an original woofer for the CD8 speaker? Is there a way to get a similar replacement that is equal in sonic characteristics and specifications of the original driver? And lastly, I hear a difference between the two speakers that at this point I have to ignore, but are there any electrical problems between amp and speaker? I am trying everything to restore my original pair to the classic design of what Mr. Roy Allison intended for these speakers and any help would be more than appreciated.
A: A few years ago there was talk that Allison Acoustics was going to be resurrected, but those plans fell through, and, based on an Internet search I did, the company is out of business. All is not lost for you, however. Your first option is to peruse eBay for a pair of your speakers from which you can get working original woofers. Depending on the size and weight of your speakers, however, shipping may be prohibitively high. Another option is to call Madisound Speaker Components and find out if they sell an equivalent driver. Madisound sells thousands of drivers and just may have what you need, or even a better driver that will be a direct replacement. If you're hearing differences between your two speakers, you'll want to buy a matched pair of any drivers.
October 14, 2008
A quick question about bulk speaker cable. Q: Is thick or thin speaker cable best for sound transmission if they both cost the same price?
A: The answer to your question depends on how thick and thin the speaker cable you're considering is and how long your speaker cables need to be. For long runs -- 50 feet or longer -- thicker cable, expressed by a lower number (16 gauge or 16 AWG), is better, though too thick can be overkill. If you're considering 18-gauge cable, you're probably OK up to, say, 50 feet in length, and then you might want to consider 16 or 12-gauge speaker cable instead.
October 6, 2008
Over the weekend my integrated amp blew its fuse. It's located on the chassis near the power cord, so I replaced it, and the fuse blew again a few minutes later. This particular unit is almost 20 years old, but I still get great enjoyment out of it. Q: Is it worth fixing or if I should simply replace it?
A: Just like pop cans and milk jugs, electronics can be recycled -- or, more accurately, repaired. If the fuse that's often near the power cord has blown twice, in all likelihood there is something wrong with your integrated amp's power supply. This is probably not something cheap to fix, although it may mean that there's nothing wrong with the rest of the unit. If I were in your shoes, I would take the unit to an electronics-repair shop and pay a small fee for an estimate, which is generally applied to any repair cost. If the estimate is too high, you can simply fold the fee into whatever you buy into replace your unit. You can also look on eBay for a working replacement, which, depending on the make and model of your integrated, may cost less than having your particular unit repaired.
September 29, 2008
I have a Yamaha YSP-800 single-speaker surround-sound system that will not switch on. I have tried all the manual's troubleshooting advice and changed fuses. Still nothing! Q: Do I bin it or is there a simple solution here?
A: If you've tried all the supplied troubleshooting advice, then you'll probably need a qualified technician to look at it. First, though, check if you have time on your warranty -- if you do, then chances are Yamaha will fix it for you for free regardless of how badly it might be damaged.
However, the problem may not be that severe, and even if it's not under warranty it could be something simple to fix, so it's probably worth at least getting an estimate. It might just be a broken on/off switch or something similar that's gone wrong inside and is very easy to fix. At this point, though, I see no choice but recommending that you find appropriate technical assistance to help you out.
September 22, 2008
I purchased a very cool Bang & Olufsen turntable at a thrift store in my area. The turntable works, but Im sure it needs some TLC to function and sound its best. Q: Do you know of anyone who fixes these turntables and how much some simple work might cost?
A: I was actually in the same boat. I got a Bang & Olufsen for free, but it needed some work. After investigating some organizations via the Internet, I settled on having a local shop do the work, and they fixed the table perfectly and for much less than the others quoted. A bigger issue than service, however, is obtaining a cartridge; each was specifically for use on B&O turntables, so they are rather scarce. If you received a working cartridge with your turntable, youre very lucky. If you have no cartridge, youll have to search for one on eBay or consider buying one of the Soundsmith replicas, which have the reputation for outperforming the original models. Either way, the B&O tables are worth the effort and expense involved in restoring them, as nothing else works quite like them and does so while looking so elegant.
September 15, 2008
Darned thunderstorms! My home lost its power while I was in the middle of watching a movie. It came back on a second later, causing the system to emit a loud thump that I thought damaged my speakers woofers. Everything seems to be working properly, but that thump has me worried. Q: Do you think this incident caused any damage?
A: Electronic components within your amplifier or DVD player may have been stressed by the quick off/on cycle, but you will never know for sure, and while your woofers may have made an awful sound, you actually have more to worry about with your tweeters, as they are more susceptible to damage. However, if your system is working properly, then you probably dodged a bullet, especially if you didnt have all of your electronics plugged into a surge/spike suppressor. For peace of mind, you might want to buy one of these devices if you don't already have one.
September 2, 2008
I bought a pair of used Infinity car speakers with the idea of turning them into a pair of kick-butt home speakers. Q: Can I just throw them into boxes and expect great sound?
A: It depends on what your definition of "great sound" is. It's safe to say that your auto speakers, probably coaxials, in cabinets will produce sound that won't send you screaming in horror. However, it's also safe to say that these "speakers" won't equal the sound quality of an Infinity speaker made for in-home use. I've been at a few keggers where speakers like those you propose pounded out Led Zeppelin for hours on end. I wouldn't call this high-end sound, but it sure went well with luke-warm beer!
August 25, 2008
I just read your latest comments about computer-based music. Im also beginning to seriously consider moving to a computer-based source. But until CES 2009 Ill continue to use my Stello DA220 with a media server (not good but very practical). Q: From your Digital Night (by Audio Advice) listening session, could you remark about the Audio Research DAC7 versus the Stello DA220 Mk II?
A: Unfortunately, my experiences with both of the DACs you mentioned has been in systems other than my own. My time spent with the Stello DA220 Mk II has been in the room of Ultra Audio editor Jeff Fritz. I am very familiar with the sound of Jeffs system; however, I have not been able to do any A/B comparisons between other DACs. The Stello is a very detailed and transparent DAC and has served Jeffs system for a couple of years now. On the other hand, the Audio Research DAC7 I heard was in a hi-fi system that I have never heard before. Audio Researchs top-of-the-line preamp and two-channel amplifier were used with the DAC7, a MacMini computer was used as the digital source, and a pair of Wilson Audio WATT/Puppy 8 loudspeakers rounded out the system. On top of all that, a $30,000 pair of speaker cables from Transparent Audio were used to feed the amplified signal to the speakers. Each demo track I heard sounded incredible. The sound was crisp, clean, and exceptionally smooth. It would be impossible for me to say that the DAC7 was solely responsible for what I heard that night, but I can say that it stood its ground in an exceptionally well-thought-out system.
Jeff Fritz is currently waiting for an Audio Research DAC7 for review. The DAC will arrive sometime over the next couple of months, so a direct comparison is right around the corner. Before that article will be written, Jeff's review of the Weiss Minerva FireWire DAC will be published. Based on my time with the Minerva, it is truly something special.
August 18, 2008
There's one thing about using a computer or music server for digital playback that has never made sense to me. People tout a savings in terms of space, but it's my understanding that it's illegal to put your CDs on your computer and then sell them, so you need to retain the discs. Q: How does that save space?
A: You are correct -- if you rip your CDs onto your hard drive, you must keep the discs in order to retain the copyright for the music. I think when people talk about a computer or music server saving space, they mean that if you buy your music strictly as downloads, you won't have the physical disc to take up space. However, hard drives inevitably fail, so if your music exists only as files on your computer, you'll want to make sure you have everything backed up or a computer crash may take your music collection with it.
August 11, 2008
I bought a box of old phonograph cartridges at a garage sale, and I'm wondering if it's worth keeping. I don't play records, but I know that many people still do. Q: Do these cartridges have any value, and is there any way to find out what price they might bring if I sold them?
A: Vintage phono cartridges, especially from Shure and Audio-Technica, absolutely do have value, especially among audiophiles, who like to swap one cartridge for another and experience a different sound. The issue with them, however, is usually the condition of the styli. You need a powerful stereo microscope to see if a stylus is worn out; even a worn stylus will produce sound, and it may also damage records. Luckily, it's possible to find replacement styli for cartridges that are 30 years old -- and older -- but some of these cost more than simply buying a new cartridge that often sounds better as well. To determine the value of the cartridges you have, do a search on eBay on each one; you should find model markings somewhere. To see if there are replacement styli for your cartridges, try searching with Yahoo or Google.
Don't throw out those cartridges -- someone will almost certainly want them.
August 4, 2008
I often see interesting audio products -- amps, speakers, turntables -- at garage sales, but I never know if they work. I wonder if they might be worth buying and having fixed, but I am not sure hwo to determine this. Q: Do you know of any websites that show what older audio equipment that's not working is worth?
A: The best place to find out the actual value of anything, including vintage audio gear, is eBay. You can look up the make and model and see what it has sold for. Of course, if the product isn't working, you have to factor the cost of repairs into the equation. However, I would say that the Antiques Roadshow rules apply: If you love it and use it, its monetary value is meaningless, so perhaps if you only buy products you will use, you'll be in good shape.
July 28, 2008
I have a number of cassette tapes I would like to erase and use again. Q: Can you tell me what I need to do to erase them? Do I need some sort of electrical device or will a magnet do the job?
A: A strong magnet would do the job to a certain point, but to fully erase a cassette tape you need an electronic tape eraser, also called a bulk eraser or degausser, which is essentially a very powerful electro magnet. If you plan to erase high-grade Cr02 or metal tapes, you'll need an eraser that develops a field that's 3000 gauss or greater, or your tapes will still have some residual signal on them. Geneva makes a couple of models that will do the job. Periodically you can find them for sale on eBay. Be sure to keep the unit away from other electrical devices and to remove your wristwatch when you use it.
July 21, 2008
I was looking through some of my old gear and found my Advent 300. What a wonderful piece of stereo equipment and a bargain at any price, even though I bought it about 25 years ago. It still works and puts out about 15 watts, but some of the switches and pots are misfiring -- lots of noise. Q: Could you recommend a company or organization that could assist me in restoring my little gem?
July 14, 2008
I have a home-theater system with five speakers, instead of just a pair of stereo speakers. I like playing music on my system, especially DVD-Audio discs that use all five channels. But these are becoming harder and harder to find. No stores near me carry them, so I have to buy them online. Q: Do you have any suggestions for where I can buy more DVD-Audio discs?
A: DVD-Audio was once thought to be the format that might replace CD, but it hasn't gotten even a small fraction of the market saturation predicted. Thus, fewer labels are releasing DVD-As, and you can't find any to buy. My first suggestion for finding more multichannel music discs is eBay. Just do a search on "DVD-A" (and "SACD," if you can play them) and see what's for sale. You should also consider joining Lala.com, an online music-trading service. You can request DVD-As from other members and trade them for DVD-As you no longer listen to or even CDs. Finally, there are thousands of DVD-Video discs that have musical programs on them, and some of them sound very good. Don't rule these out just because they have video. You can always leave your TV off and play only the music.
July 7, 2008
I have to ship a large, heavy receiver to my father who lives across the country. Q: Do you have any tips for how to ship such an item? Do you prefer UPS or Fedex? I have the original box, so I'm all set there.
A: It's good that you saved the box (and hopefully all of the packing) as that is the best container in which to ship your receiver. I suggest that you actually double box -- put the original box inside another box that's lined with bubblewrap or packing peanuts. You want to pack your item like it's a delicate instrument but able to withstand some rough handling. While you can insure your items with either UPS or Fedex, and it's a good idea to do so, taking the extra precaution to double box will make it less likely that your item will be damaged in transit. Regarding which carrier to use, I prefer Fedex because their prices for ground delivery are a little lower, but UPS is just as good in my opinion. I know many people have started using the US Postal Service, even for large boxes, but I still prefer UPS or Fedex, as shipping boxes is what they do day in and day out.
June 30, 2008
Q: What is a good source for older audio magazines, ones from the '70s and '80s? I have a number of vintage audio products I'd like to find out more about, but finding the magazines in which they were covered is very difficult, at least where I am.
A: You can find older magazines of all types on eBay, but you'll pay a premium price for them -- more than the cover price in many cases. For lower prices, try your local bookstores, especially any Half-Price Books that may be near you. You can also make inquiries at other smaller bookstores; they are often offered magazines and don't take them, thinking no one would buy them. Have titles and dates in mind when you make inquiries. Finally, www.craigslist.com is good for finding just about anything locally.
June 23, 2008
Q: Do you know of any high-quality way to use an iPod as a digital source? I'd like to replace my CD player, and use my iPod into a digital-to-analog converter, if that's possible.
A: As you surely know, there are many, many iPod docks on the market that allow you to use your iPod with an audio system, but these aren't able to output the digital data, only the line-level analog output. However, there are two products that do allow you to access the digital data, and they are both made by companies with high-end pedigrees. First, there is the MSB iLink, which looks just like a traditional iPod dock but has digital outputs instead of analog. It does require modifications to your iPod, which MSB can do. A recently introduced product is the Wadia 170 transport, which accesses the digital data without iPod modifications. Wadia has just begun shipping these.
June 16, 2008
I have an aesthetic question. I recently bought a vintage receiver that has some scratches on the front panel, mostly on the Plexiglas window of the tuner section. I'd like to remove these and restore the look of the receiver. Q: Do you know of any products that will get rid of those scratches?
A: There are various strategies for getting rid of scratches. On aluminum trim parts, you can use fine-grit sandpaper, then rubbing compound, followed by polishing compound. If you're not sure of what you're doing, though, you should experiment on a spot that's not easily seen before tackling large scratches right on the front of the unit. In terms of removing scratches on plastic, acrylic or Plexiglas, I've used a kit from a company called Janvil with very good results. I start with a heavy-duty polishing compound, then move on to a light-duty compound. Finally, I spray on a liquid cleaner that removes all of the grit left over and really brings out the shine. You can find this kit for sale online.
June 9, 2008
My listening room is arranged such that I can't set up my speakers uniformly, with an equal distance from them to the couch where I sit most often. This causes problems with the sound shifting to one side. Q: Is there some easy and cheap way to fix this? I should mention that I use my system for movies and music, and this problem is especially vexing with the former.
A: There is actually an easy fix provided that your receiver or preamp has this feature built in -- years ago they all did. Use the balance control to shift the output from your speakers to favor the channel that's farther from your listening seat. If you don't have a balance control, the cheapest way to add one is likely looking for a replacement unit that has one -- or just getting used to a shifted soundstage.
June 2, 2008
I just bought a pair of bookshelf speakers, but I can't use them on bookshelves (there are none in my room). I plan on buying some stands -- I've seen many of them available -- but I'm sure how high they should be. Do you have any recommendations? Q: How high should speaker stands be?
A: The height of your speaker stands will depend on how tall your speakers are and the height of your listening seat. The goal is to put each speaker's tweeter, which is generally nearest the top edge of the cabinet, at roughly ear height or perhaps just below. So what you need to do is measure how high your ears at when you're seated and then determine from this the height of the speaker stands you need. In general, if your speakers are small, you'll want 30", 32" or 36" stands, while with bigger speakers a 24" or 28" stand might be perfect.
May 26, 2008
Q: How much are you able to use your audio or home-theater system in an average week? I know for myself that I can't spend enough time listen or watching movies to justify a huge expenditure, so I wonder if my life is out of the ordinary or if others simply have more time for their electronics and speakers than I am able to find.
A: You would think that with part of my job involved in writing about CD players, amplifiers and speakers, I would have more time to listen than someone who works in an office, for instance, but that's not really the case. I have to make time -- put it aside from all of my other work and life requirements -- just like anybody else. I think for me, and many others who consider themselves audiophiles, quality over quantity prevails. We want deep, meaningful experiences when we listen, and we are willing to spend more money than others might to achieve them. Does the time we have justify the money we spend? Driving is nothing that interests me, so I own a dependable car that's not at all flashy. Listening to music actively does interest me, so I own an audio system that's expensive and would probably be considered flashy in its own way. This is a personal choice, and one I am happy to be able to make.
But, to answer your question, I am not able to use my audio system nearly as much as I would like to!
May 19, 2008
I have mold on my record collection .Q: What can I use to take the mold off the records?
A: Mold is very difficult to remove and can be impossible to remove completely. Your success will depend to what extent the mold has grown into the grooves and how long it has been there. If you have a record-cleaning machine, try a regimen with an enzyme-based cleaner, which is effective against organic stains. Audio Intelligent Vinyl Solutions and Walker Audio both have kits that include a cleaner with enzymes, and they work very well. If that doesn't do the trick, I've heard that some people have had success using steamers that can be purchased at drugstores. Use distilled water in these, and don't go overboard or you may warp or damage your records.
I've gotten a few moldy LPs at garage sales, and the enzyme-based products have worked well on them, though they haven't removed the mold completely, even with help from VPI and Loricraft record-cleaning machines.
May 12, 2008
I have a home-theater system that I use quite a bit but neglect. It's quite dirty and covered with dust. Q: Do you had advice on cleaning electronic equipment? Is one product or procedure better than another?
A: When electronic equipment works, it's easy to forget about, which leads to layers of dust building up. I am constantly cleaning my audio equipment, but when I need to do something more than dusting, I use Endust to remove the fine coating of dust that accumulates, then clean with Plexus, which is a plastic cleaner and polish. It puts a shine on many surfaces, including plastic and brushed aluminum, and it leaves a very light coating of wax, which makes it harder for dust to adhere. It's great stuff.
Don't neglect the connections when you're cleaning your equipment. Use isopropyl alcohol, pipe cleaners and Q-Tips to clean jacks and binding posts as well as the connectors for your cables. You'll be surprised at how much better everything looks and sounds after you're done.
May 5, 2008
I am thinking of buying an electronic item from someone on eBay. The item is hard to find, and the person on eBay seems to be selling one that's in exceptional shape. But I'm a little concerned. What if the item isn't as good as the description paints it to be? What if it is damaged in transit to me? Q: Do you have any advice for someone considering buying from eBay?
A: As you've discovered, eBay can be a great source of items that are hard to find locally. I've recently made two purchases, and I'm waiting for both items to arrive, apprehensive, as you are, about what I'll find. Many people make a living selling on eBay, so there is incentive for them not to get negative feedback. On the other hand, it's easy to be vague with language in descriptions and hide issues with items being sold, even if doing so is not particularly honest.
I wish I had some sort of magic formula for buying from eBay sellers. The best advice I can give is to read the item's description closely, examine any pictures, and ask the seller questions. These things should go a long way toward getting you the item you want in working condition. If things dont work out, contact the seller and let him or her know of your problems. Buyers do have recourse, even through the seller may be 2000 miles away.
April 28, 2008
I just bought a Yamaha cassette deck that can use metal tapes, and I'd like to use it to make high-quality copies of CDs. However, I can't seem to find any of these locally. Q: Do you have any suggestions about where I can find them online?
A: It's still possible to find new good-quality Cr02 cassette tapes -- Maxell still makes them -- but no company that I know of is making metal tapes any longer. You can search for them on eBay, but get ready to pay a high price for any you find. A better way is to comb thrift stores and garage sales for them. You will likely find some that have been used -- they can always be reused -- and you might even find some that are still sealed. Beyond that -- or some company deciding to manufacture them again -- you're out of luck.
However, if you're going to copy CDs (presumably for your own use only), why not just burn a copy to CD-R?
April 21, 2008
To Joseph Taylor,
A brilliantly written article. Thank you so much!
You really know Zappa, don't you? You were right about my arrangement of "Take Your Clothes Off" being inspired by the Lost Episodes version. I had written a chart on the song years ago (the first year of my tribute concerts) as a polka. When I heard the Lost Episodes version, it really reminded me of that early-'60s Blue Note vibe, where guys like Lee Morgan were playing bossa/R&B/straight-eighth-note grooves. I considered redoing it like that until it dawned on me that I could do it as a full-blown mambo, influenced by my history of playing with Tito Puente in the late '70s.
I'm going to forward your piece to my entire band. Thanks!
April 14, 2008
I own a pair of Merlin VSM SE speakers and want to downsize for my wife, but I don't want to give up the Merlin sound. Q: Can you recommend some smaller speakers? I'm thinking about a Reference 3A Veena or Tetra 405.
A: Well, the obvious choice would be Merlin TSMs, although on 24" stands they won't be much or any smaller than VSMs. Same with the other speakers you've mentioned. ProAc and Silverline both have slim floorstanders that have a smaller footprint than the VSM, but I don't think either sounds quite like a Merlin.
April 7, 2008
I recently read the June 2007 SoundStage! review of the Ayre CX-7e CD player and would like to solicit a little bit comparative input from you. Currently I am looking to replace a very old Meridian 207. It still works, but it is time. I have a decent analog front-end with Thorens and Linn turntables, and I have McIntosh solid-state electronics and speakers. The latter also have some age on them, but they have recently been brought into spec by McIntosh.
The CD players I am considering are the Ayre CX-7e, Simaudio Moon 5.3, Naim CD5x, Primare CD31 and possibly the new Bryston BCD-1. I would like to be around the $3000 price point, so the Moon 5.3 may be a bit of a reach. Like a lot of people, I am looking for smooth detailed highs and tight, well defined bass. My system is equalized with a noise generator and a real-time analyzer to take out most of the negative effect of the room. Because it is impossible to compare the players, let alone listen to them through my system, I am looking for some input. Q: Which player should I consider above the others? Also, I am curious as to which of the players I am considering is the best value for the dollar spent.
A: Of the CD players you mention, I would choose the Ayre CX-7e, which I heard and enjoyed greatly. It's well made, and Ayre supports its customers by upgrading their products instead of requiring that you sell and rebuy.
In terms of "value for the dollar spent," let me suggest a player not on your list: the Stello CDA320, which is similar sonically to the CX-7e, fully balanced like the CX-7e and costs less than any of the players you've listed. It also has a digital input, so you could connect a DVD player with a 24/96 output and play music DVDs through its upsampling D-to-A section. When we reviewed it, it was $1995, though with the sinking dollar its price might have gone up.
March 31, 2008
I have noticed that more and more music is available for download, which means that the owner doesn't get, and doesn't need, the actual disc. Q: Given this, is it wise to buy a new, expensive CD player these days? I mean, if discs are going away, why do you need a CD player?
A: The answer to your question has a parallel in the world of analog playback. The LP was supposedly killed off by the CD years ago, yet people still buy turntables today. Of course, this signals that there are new LPs being released, but it also recognizes that people still want to play the the LPs they've had since they first bought them. Therefore, as long as you have CDs, you will need some way to play them, so buying a CD player today isn't a bad idea at all.
March 24, 2008
I am loading my new music server with the CDs I own, which I then plan to sell, as I won't need them. Q: Do you know of any good online retailers that will pay a fair price for used CDs?
A: Before I discuss to whom you might sell your CDs, I want to point out that if you load them onto your music server, you should not sell them, as you will be breaking the copyright by keeping the music on your server and selling the physical disc. This is the same as creating a CD-R copy and then selling the disc -- a definite no-no.
Now, as for selling CDs, I've pruned my collection a few times, selling discs I no longer want to Second Spin, which does extensive online business and has a few brick-and-mortar stores. You can visit them at www.secondspin.com to see how much they'll pay for your discs, which fluctuates according to their stock and the desires of buyers. Second Spin even gives a reimbursement for the cost of shipping discs to them, and they buy movies as well.
March 17, 2008
I know you have reviewed both the PSB Platinum M2 and now the (newer) Synchrony Two B. Q: How do you think they compare? Personally, I purchased a pair of M2s a little over a year ago, but I have since been disappointed with their lack of warmth and emotion. (I play a lot of late-'60s rock and pop, as well as hard-bop jazz from the late '50s and early '60s.) They just seem kind of clinical-sounding and don't really involve me in the music the way I would like them to.
However, I recently heard the Synchrony speakers, and they seemed to have that warmth and vitality that my M2s lack. When I mentioned this to the dealer, he actually pointed out to me that the real culprit might be my amp, which is an NAD C352. So I'm curious to hear your thoughts on the matter. Do you think that the Synchrony Two Bs are actually warmer-sounding and more "alive" than the M2s, or am I just biased because my amp is giving me the wrong picture of the M2s?
A: Although I don't have the M2s on hand anymore and I am only going from memory, I would say that the new Synchrony models are a little warmer and more present in the mids, regardless of the amp. I noticed this when I listen to the Two Bs on their own, and then in a head-to-head comparison with the Paradigm Reference Signature S1 v.2, which I talked about in the review.
Therefore, it sounds to me like your dealer is more interested in selling you an amp than speakers. If you like the PSB sound but want a touch more warmth, I'd check out the new Synchrony speakers in your system instead of ditching your NAD amp.
March 10, 2008
Q: How important is the center-channel speaker in a home theater? Im thinking that if I cant get a really good one I might be better off doing without one altogether? What do you think?
A: The center-channel speaker in a home theater is extremely critical to good soundtrack reproduction. Youll find that the majority of the soundtrack is reproduced by the center-channel speaker, which includes the all-important dialogue elements. I agree with your thought that if you cant get a really good, matched center speaker youre better off letting your main speakers reproduce this critical channel of information. A really dinky, compromised center speaker flanked by much more capable mains makes no sense -- and will lead to worse sound than not having a center speaker at all. If you decide to forgo the center speaker, just remember to set your receivers settings so that it routes the center signal to your front left and right speakers.
March 3, 2008
I remember that years ago you could buy receivers and preamps with built-in phono stages. I still see some of these at thrift stores. Nowadays, though, you have to buy a separate unit for playing records. Q: Is there an advantage in sound of one approach or the other?
A: You can blame the CD for the death of the built-in phono stage, which became expendable, given that digital playback was to replace analog. But analog playback is especially strong right now. I know that one online seller has over 14,000 new titles available on LP, and new turntables appear with great frequency.
There is a theoretical advantage to a built-in phono stage: no interconnects needed between an outboard unit and a preamp. However, outboard phono stages can be more elaborately designed and built, and include user-friendly loading features. I use built-in and outboard phono stages, and both are very good, so I'm not sure there is a sonic advantage to either one. However, the built-in phono stage is much less expensive, and that's not even factoring in the cost of the interconnects. Less money spent on equipment means more money to spend on music -- and that's a very good thing, given those 14,000 new LPs available.
February 25, 2008
I appreciate your reviews. They are informative, helpful and "easy reads."
I noticed that you used Simaudio's new Moon i-1 50Wpc integrated amplifier and their CD-1 CD player to review the PSB Two B speakers.
I am currently looking at $1500 integrated amplifiers. I haven't come across any SoundStage! Network reviews for the Simaudio integrated. I am comparing it to the Rega Mira 3 (60Wpc). I found the Mira to sound quite decent, but I would like to see if I can match this sound quality with an integrated amp that has no capacitors -- my current (older) integrated amp apparently lost some of its abilities due to the degradation of its capacitors.
Q: What are your impressions on the Moon i-1 and any other comparable integrated amps readily available in Canada?
A: I received a number of e-mails from people who noticed I used the Simaudio pieces in that Two B review. There seems to be a lot of interest in them. Reviews of both the i-1 and CD-1 will appear in March on our Network. The i-1 will be on GoodSound!, whereas the CD-1 will be published on SoundStage!
February 18, 2008
Q: Are you going to add a search feature? Please. Pretty please.
A: You're in luck! We have a search feature for the entire SoundStage! Network. You can find it on our SoundStage! Network site. Right now, it searches only equipment reviews, but we should be adding more content for searching soon.
February 11, 2008
I'm considering a combination CD/SACD player, and I'm wondering what you think about this. Q: Are there enough SACDs available to make this purchase worthwhile?
A: I think the answer depends on your musical priorities. There are literally thousands of SACDs available, with new titles appearing every day. Many of these are classical titles, which people are listening to in surround sound and not strict stereo. If you listen mostly to rock, SACD will likely disappoint you in terms of selection, although there are many Rolling Stones, Police, Genesis and Peter Gabriel SACDs available. Jazz is somewhat stronger, though there are still many, many more jazz CDs than jazz SACDs.
I find SACD a worthwhile format in terms of sonics, but I can't remember the last SACD I purchased. Vinyl, believe it or not, is a much stronger format right now than SACD.
February 4, 2008
I recently upgraded my two-channel system and now I'm getting "mixed" comments on my upgrade. I am running a NAD C162 preamp, NAD C272 power amp, NAD C521BEE CD player and Boston Acoustics PV700 powered subwoofer.
My speakers were originally B&W CM1s that I loved, but I wanted to go a bit better, so I purchased B&W 805ses two months ago. Now I hear that my speakers are too good for my electronics. Q: I am very happy with the sound and was wondering what your opinion is. I keep thinking about the law of diminishing returns.
A: Most likely, the people who told you that think that because you bought more expensive speakers you now have to buy more expensive electronics to go with them. This is an old audiophile myth that's not based in fact. Most likely, it was started by some salesman. Furthermore, as I learned over the last 12 years by reviewing, although more expensive equipment can sound better than less expensive stuff, the reverse can also be true. So there's no direct correlation between price and performance. In the end, what matters is how products perform, not how much they cost, an important thing to take note of that's often even lost on reviewers.
What should you do? As you indicated, you're happy with the sound. Therefore, forget what those people told you and live with what you've got. However, that doesn't mean that you shouldn't still keep looking. You've got a very good system, and it's quite possible that you will find something that allows you to move up a step in performance again and you might feel it's worth purchasing. Only then should you do so. And who knows -- you might even find out that your upgrade involves your electronics, or even your speakers again!
January 28, 2008
I really enjoy your speaker reviews. You've reviewed a lot of good ones lately, haven't you? Q: Can you give me a heads up on what's coming? I want to know if there's something I should be looking out for.
A: I can tell you what speaker reviews I have coming, but I can't tell you much more. A review of the PSB Synchrony Two B speakers will be published on February 1 in the "On HiFi" section of SoundStage! A/V. Then, most likely in April, I'll be writing a review of the Synchrony One speakers. It will appear on SoundStage!, and, like the Two B review, will be accompanied by a full suite of measurements. But, other than that, I have no more speakers in the queue. However, given that I review so many, I suspect that something more will come along.
January 21, 2008
I have read a few of your reviews in which you tout the superiority of balanced connections. I've always thought that they are simply a different kind of connection and not better or worse. Q: What's so significant about balanced connections?
A: It's not so much that "balanced connections" are superior, but that the circuitry behind them can lead to improved sound. In theory, balanced circuits have some impressive advantages, the sum of which is lower noise, which is never a bad thing where the reproduction of music is concerned. "Improved" varies from product to product, but I've found that with truly balanced source components -- those with duplicated circuitry for the positive and negative phases for each channel -- the improvement ranges from obvious to startling. Some people whose engineering acumen I trust claim that the extra circuitry and cost of balanced products overshadow any sonic improvements, if they exist at all. Given that companies like Convergent Audio Technology and Conrad-Johnson make terrific-sounding equipment that's never been balanced, this view deserves some consideration.
As with all things in high-end audio, let your ears guide you and you can't go wrong.
January 14, 2008
I visit a number of online forums that deal with high-end audio. I've noticed that you and the other writers for your sites don't post there and probably don't visit either. Q: Is there a reason for this? I find certain forums very informative and useful.
A: You are correct -- we don't frequent or post on the online forums. Speaking only for myself, I find the "help" offered on many of the forums less than helpful, and the attitude on many isn't very welcoming to people in the audio industry or press. But we journalists do have our say, of course, in the many reviews and other articles we publish. I am happy to let those represent my opinion. I also answer a great deal of e-mail sent to me directly.
December 31, 2007
Q: If you had the choice between using a turntable as your source or a CD player, which would you choose and why? I am debating right now how to spend my music dollars, and I'm considering both.
A: I don't have to choose between using a turntable or CD player -- I can use both, and you can too. You can buy an inexpensive DVD player that will play CDs, and thrift stores often have working turntables. "Considering both" is a place to start, but buying both may be where you end up, especially if you anticipate playing both vinyl and CD. Why limit yourself if you don't have to?
December 24, 2007
Happy holidays. My three-year-old son seems to like music, and I'd like to get him some CDs for Christmas that aren't of the "silly songs" variety. Instead, I'd like to get him some serious music made for young children like him. Q: What do you recommend?
A: I have two recommendations. First, the venerable A Charlie Brown Christmas, which features the Vince Guaraldi Trio, certainly fits the profile of what you're after. There is also a Sesame Street collection called In Harmony that includes songs from Carly Simon, Bette Midler, the Doobie Brothers and James Taylor, whose "Jelly Man Kelly" is worth the cost of the CD all by itself. I'm a grownup (most of the time) and own both of these recordings.
December 17, 2007
I've been doing a lot of reading about audio equipment -- I'm putting together my first serious system right now -- and I'm confused by the lack of perspective among all of the audio publications online and in print. Q: What makes one product better than another? I read the reviews and two writers may have a completely different opinion of a product, though both will seem to like it. Maybe veteran audiophiles can decipher multiple reviews, but I can't!
A: You ask a very good question that I hope I can answer to some degree. First, audio coverage is confusing, mostly because publications are not all run in the same way. Some are professional and others are not. Ultimately, you have to pick publications -- and even writers for that matter -- based on their published output. Which reviews resonate with you? Which ones seem to be written by knowing people? Who seems to know what he or she is talking about? That's the place to start, then use the work of those writers you trust as a measuring stick for whatever you read. In all honesty, I think the audio press is in a very bad way right now, but there are skilled writers doing their jobs -- which is, in the end, providing useful information to readers. Find those writers and stick with them.
December 10, 2007
I've been looking for stereo speakers and was impressed by your review of the PSB T45s. I currently have a 28-year-old pair of Celestion Ditton 33s and a Sony STR-DE635 receiver. I recently "test drove" a pair of the PSB T45 vs. some Totem Sttaf speakers. The salesman suggested that the PSBs would be better for the rock/pop music to which I listen than the Totems, which to me seem better suited to classical music.
I then listened to the PSB T45s at another store vs. the new Mirage OMNI 350s, which the salesperson attempted to convince me would be a better speaker for my receiver because he said the PSBs are "bright" and my Sony STR-DE635 is a "bright" receiver. This was a new theory to me.
I found the PSBs to be delightfully "alive," but I'm aware that listening through a higher-end receiver in a shop doesn't replicate what I'd get at home. Q: I'm wondering if you have an opinion on using the PSB T45s with my Sony receiver. Would the sound likely be too sharp or harsh, or would I still get the realistic sound suggested by your review?
A: Unfortunately I can't tell you whether the combination of your Sony receiver and PSB T45s would be harsh or bright, because I've never heard that receiver. You may very well get good sound, but you won't know until you try. I would suggest auditioning the PSB T45s with your Sony receiver and decide if you like what you hear. I'm sure the store will be happy to exchange them for something else they have if you aren't satisfied.
One thing that caught my attention in your letter was that a salesman told you that the T45s would be better suited to rock/pop music. I agree that the PSBs sound good with rock and pop, but I found they were fine with classical music also. In fact, I thought they were good speakers for all types of music, and as is always the case, their sound was highly dependent on the quality of the recordings I played through them. Don't believe the misconception that some speakers are good for certain types of music but not for others. A good speaker is true to the source, and if a recording is good the speakers will let you know.
Personally, I didn't find the T45s overly bright, but I was using a NAD integrated amplifier and CD player, which obviously had considerable bearing on what I was hearing. If ultimately you aren't happy with the PSB/Sony combination, you may want to consider a change in amplification. In your system the receiver might be the weakest link, especially when connected to a revealing set of speakers such as the T45s.
December 3, 2007
Q: Can you kindly recommend a set of headphones (not the earbud type) for my new Sony Walkman? I will be flying to Asia next month, so I will take the headphones at that time. I also like to listen to my classical CDs while walking here in Florida. I need the headphones to be comfortable and provide fine sound quality.
A: It can be difficult to find good sounding headphones that can be driven by the output of a Walkman, or other similar device. In such situations, I prefer an in-ear monitor, because of its ability to block some amount of ambient noise. I, personally, use the Shure E3c for its slightly warm sound and robust build quality. The Etymotic ER-6 is another good choice, though it seems fragile compared to the Shure. The disadvantage to in-ear monitors is that a noisy headphone output can render quiet passages almost inaudible.
If you prefer a more traditional headphone, the Grado SR-60 is well suited to most types of music, classical included, and can be driven by all but the most anemic headphone outputs. They are also, relatively, inexpensive, and I find them quite comfortable. For good sound with the widest variety of equipment, I'm not aware of any better headphones than the Grados.
...S. Andrea Sundaram
November 26, 2007
Like many women this time of year, I am trying to find a gift to give to my husband. He loves music, which he plays from his computer and iPod. Q: Do you have a suggestion for a good gift for him -- something he may not have heard of? I'd rather get him something unique than some new speaker or CD.
A: I may have just the product for you -- the Audio-Technica AT-LP2D-USB turntable system, which is an LP-to-digital recording system complete with software. Your husband can plug it into a USB port on his computer and then record vinyl LPs to his hard drive. From there he can play them or upload the music to his iPod. Audio-Technica knows analog playback, so I'm sure this would be a very good holiday gift.
November 19, 2007
I am new to playing LPs and I'm wondering how important it is to clean them thoroughly. Q: I mean, won't there always be noise when you play an LP? I see many cleaning machines on the market, some costing thousands of dollars, and I wonder how vital they are for a small-time LP collector like me.
A: Yes, you will always hear ticks, pops and surface noise when you play LPs, but you can reduce this greatly by cleaning your LPs before playing them and then storing them right -- in non-paper sleeves. I have been very impressed with a couple of cleaning regimens on the market and two very good cleaning machines. They can turn LPs that are unplayable because they are so dirty into very enjoyable sources of music. I would let your budget guide you. If you can't afford a cleaning machine, even the $540 VPI HW-16.5, then go without, investing instead in very good cleaning products, including a carbon-fiber brush. Either way, cleaning LPs and maintaining their clean surfaces is important to getting the most out of analog playback.
November 12, 2007
I read your review of the Ascend Sierra-1 speakers in the October edition of SoundStage! A/V with great interest. I had auditioned the Paradigm Signature S2 speaker that you currently own and referred to in your article. I was very impressed with its performance; it was clearly my favorite from among the speakers I considered. The $2000 price tag was a bit beyond the reaches of my budget, but because of its outstanding performance, I was thinking it might be worth the stretch.
It sounds from your review like these Ascends are also quite impressive at a substantially lower price. Q: What, if anything, do you sacrifice with the Sierra vs. the performance of the Paradigm? If it's not all that much, it may be nice to make the stretch toward the less-expensive alternative. Any information would be appreciated.
I really appreciate the quality and clarity of your writing -- free of jargon and techno-speak. It's a pleasure to read.
A: Im glad you enjoy the reviews. First, though, I must say that my remarks are confined to the original Paradigm Signature S2, not the new v.2 model, which I dont have experience with -- at least yet.
In terms of value, the Sierra-1 comes out ahead. It does a lot of things that the S2 does, but at a fraction of the price. For example, theyre both very refined-sounding speakers and quite neutral from head to toe. Bass extension is comparable, although Id say that the S2 comes out a little ahead in that regard. Resolution through the Sierra-1 is extraordinary, and easily the equal of the S2. Therefore, if you want most of what something like the S2 gives you, the Sierra-1 accomplished all that at less than half the price.
Still, its not the S2. The S2 looks nicer and seems built to a higher standard. As I mentioned, the S2 also seems to go a little deeper in the bass, but what I didnt mention yet is that the S2 can also play considerably louder -- you can really hammer at them with quite a bit of power and they stay clean.
So, in a nutshell, if cost is a strong consideration, definitely look at the Sierra-1. It gets you most of the way there, which seems to be Ascends mandate when creating new speakers. If cost is no consideration -- and it isnt for some the Signature S2 is still a very good choice.
November 5, 2007
I work in the recording industry and use active nearfield monitors for all my work. Active two-ways can sound very decent, but I want to get a full-range speaker system for additional mastering work that I have started doing, as I find that the combination of a two-way active and subwoofer just never really seems to integrate properly -- unless you cross over very low, and even then....
I know that you have the opportunity to audition many full-range speaker systems. Q: Could you specify two or three full-rangers that are accurate, precise and very detailed?
Obviously something like the ATC SCM150 actives would be wonderful, but I have to look in the sub-$5000 range -- actually sub-$3000 would be better, but I doubt that is doable!
A: Two floorstanders that fit your criteria are the Thiel CS2.4 and Paradigm Signature S8. Both are "accurate, precise and very detailed." The Paradigm speakers cost more than your $5000 limit, but the S8 has been replaced by the S8 v.2, so you may be able to find a pair of demo S8s for $5k or less.
If you need bass flat to 20Hz, you won't find that for under $5000. The Thiels and Paradigms will both get into the 30Hz range, however. We measured both. You can find those measurements on our "Speaker Measurements" page.
October 29, 2007
The power-conditioning options are much more extensive in the audiophile world than in the music-production world, so I hope that you can help me. I am trying to put together a portable rig that would include a couple of keyboard synthesizers (Kurzweil K2661 and Yamaha Motif SX6) and a pair of Motion Sound 100-watt keyboard amps. I purchased some Xantrex PowerPack 600HD batteries and discovered that when I plug in the amps, they emit an obnoxious buzz. Neither a Furman Elite 15 Power Filter nor a Furman IT-1210 Balanced Power Transformer quelled the buzz. In fact, the Furmans themselves began to buzz when I plugged them into the batteries. I suspect that the problem is that the inverters on the batteries produce modified-square-wave AC and my gear needs pure-sine-wave AC. Q: What power conditioner would work best for my purposes? The PS Audio Power Plant Premier seems like it would take care of the problem, but I would prefer to purchase a lighter-weight and less costly power conditioner -- if it could do what I need it to do. Would a PS Audio UPC-200, a PS Audio Duet, or a Magic Audio Stealth Mini Reference do the trick? Would I be better off with the Magic Audio Stealth XXX (even though it costs a bit more)? Or would something else be more suitable? Any assistance would be greatly appreciated.
A: I have two recommendations. First, ExactPower makes power regenerators like those from PS Audio but smaller and lighter. Second, Shunyata Research has a long list of pro clients who swear by their products. I would think that either of these companies would have something that will work for you.
October 22, 2007
I was wondering if you could answer the following question. Both my receiver (Pioneer Elite VSX-49TXi) and powered subwoofer (Polk PSW1000) have crossover-frequency controls. Q: How should I adjust them? Should they be higher on the receiver and lower on the subwoofer (to allow the subwoofer to control its frequency response)?
A: I would use the receiver to cross over your subwoofer. If you did use the receiver and the subwoofer crossover controls as you suggest, you would probably miss out on some bass. The next question would be if you were optimizing your setup for movies or music. If your setup is primarily for movies, set the crossover to 80Hz in the receiver and your speakers to "small" and be done with it. Also make sure the subwoofers crossover is set to full range so that it doesnt filter your signal a second time. I would then use a SPL meter to level match the speakers from your receivers test tones. I personally like to have my subwoofer run a few dB louder than my mains for extra effect.
If you want to optimize your system for both music and movies, you can go a few steps further. You can try setting your mains to "large" and your sub to "plus" inside your receivers setup menu. This way, a full-range signal is sent to both the sub and the mains. At this point, you should use the subs crossover to filter the bass. I would still use the 80Hz setting for movies and then adjust the crossover to mate with your main speakers. You can check the manufacturer's specifications for your particular speakers to see how low they play. You can also adjust the subwoofers volume to integrate better for music. For example, if you have the speakers level matched and your receiver set flat for music, then adjust the volume control on the sub to +3dB for movies.
Finally, if you do decide to go this route, make note of these settings so that you can quickly adjust them on the fly, depending on what material you intend to listen to. Use your ears to make your final adjustments. Good luck and let us know how it works out.
October 15, 2007
I have about 800 to 900 NOS tubes from my father's old TV-repair shop that are still in there boxes and have been stored in his tube caddies. Q: I would like some honest advice about how to find an honest buyer. The tubes are from the 1960s, maybe a few from late '50s. Mostly RCA, but there are other brands too.
A: The value of your father's tubes depends on a few factors. First and foremost, whether they are tubes that have wide use in audio equipment. You can determine this by the combination of numbers and letters on the boxes or the tubes themselves. Valuable new old stock (NOS) audio tubes are 12AX7s, 12AU7s, 6DJ8s, KT66s, KT77s, 6550Cs and others commonly used in preamps and amps. There are many vacuum tubes that have little or no value because they were used for TVs (mostly) and not audio products. After that, the maker and year they were made affect value. The boxes may be marked "RCA," but the tubes were probably made by some other company. Certain brands and vintages can carry great value. Determining this is very tricky and involves looking at the inner workings of the tubes themselves. Experts know what to look for. Finally, how well the tubes test matters too. Your tubes may all look new, but some will likely test as weak or have shorts, while others will test as strong and new. Also, preamps and amps generally require pairs (or even quads) of matched tubes; matching is something that has to be done with a tube tester.
Regarding finding a buyer, if you live in an area with a large population, I would put an ad in the newspaper and field offers. You can also list the tubes on eBay, but then you'll need to catalog what you have to get top dollar. A knowledgeable local person will be able to tell what the entire lot is worth just by looking at them all.
For background information on the entire subject, here is a link on SoundStage! for a series of articles on NOS tubes:
October 8, 2007
I want to get the Magnepan MMG Ws and C for my home theater. Q: Can you recommend any receiver that would do the job (preferably under $500)?
A: I would recommend that you look at the specs of the various manufacturers and choose a model rated to play into 4 ohms. I do think the Onkyos, NADs, and Harmon/Kardons fill the bill, and perhaps some of the Denons. I would also buy a model that has preamp outputs so that if you ever wish to upgrade the receivers internal amplifiers with a separate multichannel amp youll have that option.
October 1, 2007
I want to connect my audio system to some speakers that will be on my patio. Q: Do you know of any reliable way to protect speakers outdoors? I can carry them in to avoid weather problems, but I can't be 100% sure I'll do this before every storm.
A: Many speaker makers have outdoor speakers in their product lines. These are meant to be used, and left, outdoors. Some look like traditional speakers, and others like rocks to hide them from view. Instead of carrying a pair of speaker in and out of your house, I would invest in a pair of speakers meant to be left outdoors. They are made to withstand the elements.
September 24, 2007
I noticed that youre reviewing a Paradigm Signature home-theater system. Q: Any chance youll be reviewing the larger speakers, maybe like the S8 v.2?
A: Were scheduled to review a large Signature v.2-based system, but Roger Kanno will write about it. That wont be for some time, and it will be after the S1-based system that Ill be reviewing on Home Theater & Sound.
September 17, 2007
I've lost the remote control for my TV, and I don't want to pay big money for a fancy universal replacement. Q: What kind of remote control to you suggest for someone like me?
A: You can buy a simple universal remote at just about any department store for around $10, but if you frequent garage and estate sales, you can often find these with their manuals for a dollar. You can also try combing eBay for the exact remote that came with your TV. TVs often go bad before their matching remote controls, so you may be able to find an exact replacement for less than the cost of a universal.
September 11, 2007
Q: A quick question: Should I spring for a new HD DVD or Blu-ray Disc player? Which is better?
A: You'll find proponents for both high-resolution video formats, so which one is "better" is impossible to find out. However, there are now universal players from LG and Samsung that handle both formats natively. We saw them at CEDIA. Here is a link to our coverage of them.
September 3, 2007
I have hundreds of old records that I've kept in good condition, cleaning them religiously with a Discwasher before I play them. I see that there are many new recording-cleaning products on the market now, and I'm wondering how they compare to the tried-and-true Discwasher. Q: Are they better, and if they are, how clean does a record need to be?
A: Cleaning records well is the key to enjoying them to their fullest. Not only will you reduce surface noise, pops and clicks, you will give your cartridge a better surface to track, so you'll hear the music with greater fidelity. Decades ago, Discwasher dominated the record-cleaning market, but advances in cleaners and cleaning regimens have made the Discwasher an anachronism. Some of the newest products, like those from Walker Audio and Audio Intelligent Vinyl Solutions, use enzyme formulas that deep-clean records in a way that a Discwasher simply can't.
So, yes, the new products are better, and the cleaner you can get your records, the better they will sound when you play them.
August 27, 2007
I have heard that you can repair CDs and DVDs with things like toothpaste and metal cleaner. Q: Have you tried this? I have a number of scuffed CDs that skip, and I'd like to repair them if I can.
A: I have also heard of people spot-repairing CDs with toothpaste and Brasso brass polish, but I personally wouldn't attempt such DIY remedies for scratched discs. You might wear through to the data layer and completely ruin the disc. A much better option is to have your CDs and DVDs professionally repaired. Many retail stores have machines that polish the entire playing surface, which makes it look like new, and they charge a dollar or two for this service. I've had a number of CDs and DVDs repaired this way, and each one played like new afterwards. However, it's important to know that this will only fix scratches on the clear playing side. Scratches on the printed label side are unfixable.
August 20, 2007
I am looking for a high-end AM/FM radio -- one that sounds as good as it looks. Many of the models made for the audiophile crowd are attractive and presumably sound good too, but they're also very expensive. Q: Do you have any recommendations?
A: I listen to a lot of talk radio, and for me the most important feature of a good radio is its reception. I live 100 miles from the nearest big city, and I'm surrounded by mountains, which makes radio reception a challenge. Still, I have two radios to recommend: the TEAC Premium Edition R1 ($129) and Grundig S350 ($149). Both pull in distant stations well and sound very clear. The Grundig has an especially long antenna and a very good tuner that differentiates stations well, so it's a very good buy. If you'd like to read a little more about both, here's a link to an article published on SoundStage!
August 13, 2007
A quick question from a newbie for you: Q: How should I allot the money I have budgeted for a two-channel audio system? I plan to have both a CD player and turntable.
A: I think the idea of spending the largest share of your budget on your speakers is still a good one, but your plan to purchase two sources changes things a bit. Here's how I would carve up your budget: 40% on speakers, 25% on preamp/amp combo or integrated amp, 15% on a turntable and cartridge, 15% on a CD player, and 5% on interconnects and speaker cables. If you buy an integrated instead of separates, you will probably spend less, in which case you can shift some of that money to your cables. Be flexible, but don't cheap out on your speakers.
August 6, 2007
I am noticing that analog paraphernalia -- turntables, cartridges, and LPs -- seems to be showing up more and more. Q: Why would this be? I thought the CD replaced the LP long ago.
A: While the CD was introduced in the early 1980s, it never "replaced" the LP. There are a few reasons for analog's staying power. First, the ritual of playing an LP makes for more intensive listening. You have to put out much more effort to play an LP than a CD, and you have no remote control for jumping from track to track. Second, young people who never really knew the LP are discovering it and embracing it as a musical experience distinctly different from the iPod, which they know well. Finally, analog playback sounds darned good -- much better than digital playback, some would argue.
For all of these reasons, analog has not only survived but is enjoying a renaissance right now. That's why you're noticing it.
July 30, 2007
Q: Do you guys have future plans to measure the new crop of Paradigm Studio v.4 models?
A: We wont cover the entire lineup, but well certainly review and measure a few of the newest Studio speakers.
July 23, 2007
Q: With all due respect, aren't you guys a little embarrassed that Red Book CD now sounds better and more lifelike than SACD? You should. You guys were gung ho for this corporate (Sony) format a few years ago, but now realize that this was a false belief.
Not that you were wrong about SACD -- it was good in its prime (vs. Red Book). It's just that it has taken some time for CD to improve to a point of no return. A 20-bit recording (which gets preserved on the 16-bit consumer issue) contains 120dBs of dynamic range and has nearly as much signal-to-noise ratio to boot. Harmonic distortion is also incredibly low -- hundreds of times lower than analog recording systems!
Knowing this, reviewers years ago should have realized that playback was the concern, not the format itself. Because Red Book was admittedly inferior in sound (to LP and maybe SACD, although not everyone was convinced of this) quite a few people in our community cried out for 24/96 or, even worse, a 1-bit recording system that never held water theoretically. This last point, despite "evidence" to the contrary. True, Red Book needed a few more bits and/or a higher sampling rate to reach full potential -- 16 bits wasn't quite enough, nor was the 44'1kHz. The latter had to increase to 48kHz, at least for acoustic, distant-miked music. This slightly higher rate solved the issue of phase errors that were created when mixing down to 44.1kHz.
The big news -- since 1993, when audiophile labels started doing it -- was to record and preserve a full 20-bits worth of music information on the 16-bit consumer copy. Best of all, we don't need any more bits for music. Boy, were we lucky!
A: You state your premise -- that Red Book CD playback sounds better than SACD -- like it's a universal truth. I don't agree at all. A well-made SACD still beats CD, though I will concede that playback does have its role. Would I prefer listening to CDs on the Zanden DAC and transport I just wrote about on SoundStage! instead of SACDs on an inexpensive Sony DVD player? You bet. But I have an Ayre C-5xe, and in terms of pure sonics, a well-done SACD still beats even the best-sounding CDs. And that's just in stereo.
SACD's biggest problem is availability. I might find a dozen new SACDs I want to buy in a given year -- and often far fewer than that -- while I could buy that many CDs every month. The best SACD can hope for going forward is numbers comparable to those for vinyl. Pretty pathetic for the "next big digital thing."
July 16, 2007
I am looking at Slim Devices for my digital playback. Q: Which do I go for, the Transporter or the Squeeezebox with a good DAC (Stello DA220 Mk II)? I will also have to keep in mind the cost that goes into cables -- Slim Devices unit to DAC and DAC to preamp.
A: The Slim Devices products are remarkably good and, frankly, both options are good. The Transporter incorporates a marvelous DAC section, but the entire unit is about $2000. As I pointed out in my review, you could go for the Squeezebox (an amazing device thats only about $300 and has all the functionality of the Transporter) and use a high-quality external DAC, like the Stello DA220 Mk II. Of course, youd need to factor in a digital cable. However, as I said, both options are good equally good, as a matter of fact.
July 9, 2007
I was at Circuit City the other day and saw some Polk Audio dipole surrounds that looked really good. Q: How would these compare with the direct-radiating models that I have also seen (by Polk and others)?
A: Generally speaking, direct-radiating speakers are being used more and more for surround duty and dipoles seem to be slowly fading away. I do think dipoles still have their uses, particularly in difficult installations where the surround speakers are mounted close to the listener's head and therefore a more diffuse sound is needed than can be attained using a direct radiator. However, todays soundtracks are designed with ample effects placed in the rear speakers, and these effects are designed to be placed properly in space. This is the real strength of direct-radiating speakers and why they are used more for surround channels in most home theaters today.
July 2, 2007
Q: Can you recommend some inexpensive speakers suitable for my apartment? My room isnt very big. I can afford a few hundred bucks. My amp is a Denon.
A: One of the best inexpensive speakers weve come across lately is Paradigms Atom Monitor v.5, which is priced at just $249 per pair. Its a small, stand-mounted speaker that produces a big, big sound. It should be more than adequate for your apartment and a good match for your amp (traditionally, Denon amps are quite good, and sufficiently powerful for most dynamic speakers).
June 25, 2007
Ive recently purchased a Unico integrated amp and Unico CD player, and I am waiting for a pair of Sonus Faber Concerto Domus speakers to arrive. In the meantime, I am shopping for surge protection for the system. Ive read on numerous forums and websites that the MOVs in cheap surge protectors are not good enough for protecting the hardware. Ive been considering the eight-outlet Brickwall PW8R15AUD. Q: Whats your take on this issue? Please suggest a reliable way to protect hi-fi systems.
A: The low-quality MOVs used in many cheap power bars will protect what's plugged in, but such units are bad for sound. All you have to do is plug your audio system into one of these to hear this. But there are companies that make products that preserve sound quality while protecting against power spikes and surges. Chief among these are the Shunyata Research Guardian and Hydra products, and the Essential Sound Products power distributors. All were designed and manufactured for audio purposes, and all will protect your electronics. There may be other brands as well, but these are the two I'm most familiar with. I've used them both with great results.
June 18, 2007
Q: Which is the best digital output to be used from a DVD player -- coax or optical? I'm so confused. Maybe you can help me decide.
A: Most often youll hear that coax is superior to optical; however, whats more important is the implementation of each type of connection. Depending on that, the superiority of one over the other could vary from player to player. Therefore, the only way you can really decide what works best with your DVD player is to simply try them both and see what differences, if any, arise.
June 11, 2007
I plan a 2.1-channel audio/video system in a 20'L x 10'W x 8'H open living room. Most new HDTVs have 10-15Wpc audio amps built in. Q: Can a main pair of relatively sensitive (88-90dB) stand-mounted speakers utilize the onboard power via audio outs without additional amplification? If yes, should I be concerned with distortion/clipping that may damage the speakers, and do you have any suggested speaker candidates?
A: I wouldnt recommend using a TV's onboard amp. It will likely be of low quality and low power, 10 to 15 watts per channel aren't much, and theres no indication of how such an amp will perform into low-impedance loads. More than likely, it wont sound very good anyway, and there is a real concern that you could damage your speakers due to clipping. My suggestion would be to buy a simple two-channel integrated amplifier designed for good-quality audio. For those on a budget, one brand we often recommend is NAD.
June 4, 2007
Amplifier technology has been changing rapidly over the past few years with the introduction of switching-amp circuits. Q: Where do these fit in with traditional solid-state and tube circuits? Are they better or worse?
A: "Better or worse" depends on how you look at things. Switching amps are certainly better in terms of power usage. They turn more of the electricity from your wall into output power, and do so without getting hot. They are also better in terms of size. You can have a 200Wpc amp that you can literally tuck under your amp. On the down side, however, are sonic considerations, and based on my experience, the digital/class-D/switching-amp circuits on the market don't sound as good as the bulk of more traditional solid-state and tube amps. They are popular for home-theater use because of their size and high output power, but for strict music, audiophiles haven't taken to them in a paradigm-shifting way. Maybe they will with more time, but so far tube and solid-state amps are still on very solid ground.
May 28, 2007
I am very keen on the MartinLogan Vantage speakers. I auditioned them with an Ayre 200Wpc amplifier and the sound was good. As the price of the Ayre is beyond my budget, I later auditioned the speakers powered by PrimaLuna Dialogue 1 as well as the Primare i30 and they sounded very ordinary. The details were just not there. I realized in the course of the audition that the MartinLogan speakers require high voltage and current from an amplifier. I have been told that it is possible for valve amplifiers such as Audio Research V55 to drive these speakers, but I have not been able to audition them together (in Singapore these brands are marketed by different companies in different locations). I usually listen to jazz, bossa nova and fusion. Q: Will the 55Wpc Audio Research valve amp will be sufficient or should I go for the Musical fidelity A5 to power the speakers?
A: I have no experience with the speakers or the amplifiers that you mention, so it is hard for me to make a solid recommendation. I understand that at times it is almost impossible to try equipment from two different distributors or dealers together, which is really the only way to know if the results will be acceptable to you or not. My guess is that the Audio Research will do a credible job for you, but that is just a guess, although it is based on knowing that the ARC amps are used in many widely varying systems. However, you liked the MartinLogan speakers best with a high-power solid-state amp -- the Ayre -- so that type of amplifier might be the best alternative simply based on the lower-powered amps that youve tried not being able to fully satisfy you.
May 21, 2007
I have a question about SACD. I have what I think is a pretty good stereo system, and I'm intrigued by everything I've read about SACD. Q: Do I need a megabuck audio system to hear the difference between a CD and SACD, or will I hear it even with my more modest system?
A: If you can hear the effect of equipment changes -- such as when you swap your amp for another -- you will be able to hear the difference between CD and SACD. However, one of the greatest features of SACD is its multichannel support, which makes for an enveloping soundstage. If you add center and rear speakers or play a multichannel SACD back through your home-theater system, it can sound like a different recording -- and in some cases a much better one. Also, it's worth keeping in mind that while new SACDs do appear, they are not abundant by any means, so your choices for new listening material on SACD are rather limited.
May 14, 2007
The High End show in Germany is coming up. Q: Will you guys be there? I love your show coverage.
A: Absolutely! Doug Schneider and Jeff Fritz are on their way to Munich right now, and they'll be providing live coverage of the show, which runs from May 17-20. You can see what Doug and Jeff see -- and hear -- on our A/V Tour 2007 site.
May 7, 2007
I like big speakers because of their bass, but I don't have a big living room in which to put them. Q: Are there any smaller speakers that offer big-speaker bass, and what will they cost me?
A: Today you definitely don't need big speakers to get deep, powerful bass. Subwoofers are plentiful and most sound so good that they are indistinguishable from each other. You can easily mate one of these subs with a pair of small speakers -- some no larger than a box of crackers -- and get full-range sound. You can also hide the subwoofer away in a corner, taking up even less of the floor space in your small room. A sub-sat system, as such a configuration is called, seems ideal for you, and it doesn't have to cost you much money at all.
April 30, 2007
I'm just becoming interested in high-end audio; I have no system now, but I will soon begin putting one together. I don't know where to start, though. Q: Do you have any advice on what I should buy first?
A: It may seem trite, but the best thing you can find right now is a good dealer to help you with your project. A dealer can expose you to many different brands of equipment and guide you based on your budget and perceived sonic interests. With the rampant buying and selling of used equipment on the Internet, dealers are often overlooked, and many have gone out of business. But for true music lovers who don't want to perpetually buy and sell audio equipment, they are vitally important sources of products and experience.
April 23, 2007
I just wanted to thank you for the reviews of the Axiom M3-series speakers. I bought a pair of M3 v2 speakers last month and I'm still breaking them in. For the price ($333) these gems sound like $2000 speakers. If anybody needs new speakers, run, don't walk, to Axiom's website.
April 16, 2007
Great review of the Mirage OMD-28. Thank you.
Q: My room will be around 14 x 14. Is that in your mind too small a room to use the OMD-28s to their full potential?
A: I believe that a room 14 x 14 is too small for the OMD-28s. The speakers are capable of quite extraordinary output levels, not to mention super-deep bass. I think theyd overload the room and, as well, you wouldnt get out of them what theyre capable of. My suggestion would be to look at the OMD-15s, which are smaller and, better yet, one-third the price.
April 9, 2007
I have an Esoteric DV-60 and I'm thinking of upgrading to the P-03 and D-03 Universal combination for audio and video playback. Q: Is the video of the P-03 Universal better than that of the DV-60, and if so, how so? Also, will the video circuitry in the P-03 Universal affect its audio capabilities?
A: According to Esoteric, the DV-60 and P-03 Universal use the same video chipset and scaler, and have the same software functionality. However, the P-03 Universal has a different and better output stage, so its video is better than that of the DV-60. In terms of audio performance, the standard P-03 and P-03 Universal are essentially identical because you can turn off the P-03 Universal's video circuit.
April 2, 2007
I am in the process of buying a new stereo system, and I am finding it hard to choose between tubes and solid state. I like the sound of tubes but hate the idea of having to do maintenance -- I had my last stereo system for more than a decade without a hint of trouble. Q: How do I get past my aversion to tubes wearing out in order to enjoy the sound they produce?
A: The answer to your question is more psychological than audio-related. I love tubes and have found tube gear to be at least as reliable as solid state. Yes, I have to replace tubes every now and then, but it's easy to do. In the end, if you enjoy the sound that tubes produce, you will probably find that the equipment doesn't enter your mind when you listen, in which case the tubes will have cured your aversion to them.
March 26, 2007
Every time I go out to try and find the perfect sound system for myself and my wife, I become befuddled with the number of options and engineering features that hi-fi equipment offers. I like listening to good music -- my music, of course: contemporary and traditional jazz, blues and some limited classical. Every time I go out to a store I bring my jazz CD with me to listen to various systems. I find subtle differences that make me go "Wow!" with each one. Yet I'm a consumer looking for the best value for my money, and I don't mind spending, within price breaks for good equipment. How do you qualify synergy when components are interdependent and you are trying to match components with quality and budget?
Recently I purchased Simaudio Moon Evolution i-7 integrated amplifier and Moon Evolution SuperNova CD player have stuck out for me with the quality and price without breaking my bank account. Now come the speakers (currently Pioneers from way back). Q: I'm not sure where to go or what to look for. Any suggestions with the synergy of these pieces and how to marry a speaker to them?
A: You have two problems. The first is that youre looking for the perfect sound system. In all my years of reviewing, Ive never found one. Every hi-fi components has flaws --- although some are more flawed than others! -- so, you basically pick what works best together.
The next problem that you have is that your options for speakers are nearly limitless. You have simply outstanding electronics, and theyre more than suitable to work well with a wide variety of speakers. Frankly, if I recommended just a few Id be doing you a disservice since there are just so many. The only piece of advice I can give, then, is to say to shop and dont stop until you find speakers that are the equal to those Simaudio components you already own. If you find that, you still wont have a perfect system, but youll certainly have an outstanding one.
March 19, 2007
Q:Are you guys going to cover the Festival Son & Image in Montreal this year? I know you skipped it in 2006 in favor of covering the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest.
A: Yes, we'll be in Montreal April 12-15 covering the show. We skipped last year's show because Doug Schneider was expecting an important delivery at that time: his first child. Look for the coverage on our A/V Tour 2007 site to begin on April 13.
March 12, 2007
I am currently considering two A/V preamp/processors for my new home-theater system: the Anthem AVM 30 and the B&K Reference 50 S2. In reviewing the input and output capabilities of both units, I have noticed that the B&K unit does not have HDMI in or out. Q: In this day of HD and HDMI connectivity, how important is it to have this feature integrated into your A/V processor?
A: This is a great question. My suggestion is to purchase a processor with HDMI capability, but my recommendation comes with a few strings attached. There is no doubt that HDMI capability is a great selling point for video and audio equipment, but not all electronic components that feature HDMI connections are equal. Since you are searching for a processor on the level of an Anthem AVM 30, it is obvious to me that you are in the market for top-notch audio performance, so don't buy a processor just to get the HDMI feature. Doing that would be a mistake! Make sure that you make no compromise in your system's performance just for that prospective feature. Just because a processor has HDMI capability doesn't mean that it can perform all of the potential duties of an HDMI connection. Ask yourself this question: While auditioning equipment; does this processor have enough video bandwidth to properly transmit a full 1080P signal? Why would you want to degrade your video signal just to employ HDMI? Most of the new HDTV displays come with two HDMI inputs, so unless you are dead set on using your processor's ability to be a video switcher, you can use the HDMI inputs of your TV.
In the end, it boils down to your personal expectations and your budget. I just reviewed the Anthem AVM 50 on Home Theater & Sound and I thoroughly enjoyed using its HDMI connections. With one HDMI cable I was able to enjoy the 1080i video signal as well as the new Dolby Digital Plus and TrueHD soundtracks from my Toshiba HD-DVD player. With my AVM 20, I had to use six RCA cables to carry that audio signal and the HDMI carried the video signal to the TV. The ease of using just that one cable was a huge luxury. The newer HD-DVD and Blu-ray Disc players are now only being made with HDMI connections. This means that the option of using the multichannel analog inputs on the processor for the new sound formats could someday come to an end. The consumer is being pushed toward HDMI.
By choosing to buy a processor with HDMI capability you are taking a big step toward the future. A surround-sound processor is the foundation of your system; so take that into consideration when you are forming your budget. That is the process I went through before I bit the bullet and bought the new Anthem D2. I think it will serve me well for a long time.
March 5, 2007
I am a 23-year-old who is just jumping into the exciting task of building my first real home-theater setup on my own. Only having been living on my own for a short while, it goes without saying that I don't have a ton to spend. I thankfully have already gotten my video needs out of the way, and I am moving on to speakers and a receiver.
I stopped by a local shop the other day and fell in love with some Usher S-520 speakers. I am looking to pair them with either a Denon 2307CI or Onkyo TX-SR674 receiver with the intent of adding another pair for rears, along with the matching center at a later date. Then I discovered (what I believe to be) a problem. The Usher website lists the power handling of these particular speakers as 50 watts, while the power output of both of these receivers is right around 100 watts. So I arrive at my question. Q: If I pair either of these receivers with the S-520s, will I damage the speakers?
A: While some may think that using a high-powered amplifier is a problem if your speakers can only handle low power, the opposite is really true. The reason is that what will damage speakers faster than high power is distortion. And distortion often occurs when the amplifier puts out too little power.
The distortion I'm talking about is called "clipping," and it's what happens when an amplifier reaches its maximum power output -- if you examined it on a scope, you'd see the waveform being sheared off. This is a nasty type of distortion, and when it happens it wreaks havoc on the speakers. Therefore, it's easier to damage a pair of speakers with, say, a 20-watt amplifier driven into clipping than a much-more-powerful amplifier delivering high power but running totally "clean."
So, in a nutshell, understand this: You can damage your speakers by delivering too much power to them, but you can damage them more easily by putting clipping distortion into them, even if the power level is much lower. As a result, it's best to buy an amplifier that delivers more power than your speakers can handle; that'll ensure the amplifier never clips. You shouldn't necessarily try to use all the power, though.
February 26, 2007
I have a Dish Network receiver in one room and it's hooked up with HDMI to an HD TV. Now I have it in another room in the back of the house and it's connected with coaxial and the picture is not that great. I do not have access to the attic to run the wire and the outside foundation is concrete. Q: Is there a connector or adapter that plugs onto HDMI from coaxial? Or is there another way to connect things? Or do I just have to break down and get another DISH Network receiver?
A: There is no connector or adapter that converts a coax RF signal to a digital HDMI signal.
If you are wondering why an SD TV fed an SD signal by an HD box looks worse than an HD TV fed and HD signal by an HD receiver, the problem is not the coax, its the TV. You cant send an HD signal over a coax cable unless you switch to a cable company and have them put an HD receiver at each TV. If you want to stick with Dish, Im afraid youll have to just get another box from the company. Thats a pretty cheap solution.
Im a big fan of Dishs VIP622 HD-DVR, which could solve some of your problems. It has both an HDMI output and a SD coax output. You could use the HDMI HD signal for your HD TV and use the SD coax for your other TV.
February 19, 2007
Q: Is there a way to keep the sound quality the way I like it when the channels of the TV are changed? As an explanation, I have noticed a wide variation in the sound quality between cable TV programs. Some sound nice and crisp; most are soft and muddy with no crispness. It is like the frequency response is rolled off. It is frustrating to get your system set up and then find that the sound changes all the time when the incoming signal varies. It would be nice if designers would make receivers and pre/pros that would compensate for this difference in signal.
A: The only solution (within the framework we operate under of accuracy first) is to set up the system properly -- i.e., as flat as possible at the listening area. If some stations sound different, there could be two causes: The originating station is making an error (unlikely) or your carrier is creating the problem (likely). First call your carrier -- and Im betting its a cable company -- and complain and demand the problem be fixed. If they dont act, get a satellite system. I like Dish Network.
If the problem is really bothersome, you can always put a compressor between the source and the amplification. This will render the quiet sounds louder and the louder sound more quiet. You would also be able to hype the high frequencies. This is obviously not high fidelity, but it might solve your problem. The best in the under-$5000 range is the ART PRO VLA. It has two completely independent channels, provides both limiting and compression, uses transformerless design and 12AX7 tubes, and accomplishes its goals in analog, something that will help maintain some smoothness. It runs about $300.
February 12, 2007
I recently hooked up a new Yamaha RX-Z9 receiver to my Polk Audio LSi-series in-wall speakers. The darn thing keeps cutting off any time I turn up the volume past an audible level. I keep getting a "check speaker wiring" error message, although the wires are correctly installed. Its OK as long as I keep it in two-channel stereo. Q: Any ideas why this would be happening?
A: Probably the hardest part to know is whether the error message you're getting is true or if there is another problem and that message just happens to come up. My suggestion would be to contact the store where you purchased the Yamaha unit to find out all the things that could trigger a message like that. As well, remember that the speaker wiring may not mean just the wires that are connecting the RX-Z9 to the speakers. A receiver not only sees those wires, but the binding posts, crossover components, and drivers, which are all connected to those wires, too.
February 5, 2007
I just read your review of the Oppo Digital DV-981HD. I only have a two-channel system. You mention that the Oppo makes a good transport. Q: How would I connect it to my audio DAC? If connected to the DAC, could I play both CDs and DVDs?
A: You could use the Oppo for CDs, but not DVDs. Im not sure I would recommend it for a system without a display, since most of the settings require menus. If you have your two-channel system hooked up to a display, then yes, it would make a fabulous CD transport.
January 29, 2007
Q: Is there anyone out there who can repair my Yamaha RX-1130 receiver? It took a power surge on the AC line due to a nearby lightning strike.
I am emotionally attached!
A: Without doubt, theres someone who can fix it. Simply go to www.yamaha.com, pick the appropriate part of the world for you and look for a "Service Locator" option. That will likely help you out.
However, whether you should repair it is another issue. Depending on the damage to it and its original cost, replacing it with a new model may save you money. You'd have a full warranty for the new unit as well. This is sadly the case with most mass-produced consumer electronics -- it's cheaper to replace them than fix them.
January 22, 2007
I find that the audio quality when using my iPod (using the headphone out) as a source is not as good as when I use my CD player. Q: Is there anyway I can improve the sound from my iPod? My equipment includes a Denon 5805 receiver and a Denon 3910 universal player.
A: We have published a couple of articles on SoundStage! Network sites that may help you: "Apple iPod Technical Brief and Usage Tips" and "Accessorize Your iPod." The first thing to do is make sure you're storing music on your iPod without compression, which will limit sound quality.
January 15, 2007
I recently purchased new Omnistat V2s (fronts, center and rears) to complete my home theater. The sound from these speakers is amazing; however, the deep bass is missing. Q: Is it better to buy a new Mirage sub to go with this system? What problems will I run into if I use a Klipsch Reference 10" sub with the Mirage speakers?
A: Congrats on a great home-theater setup. Some people seem to like to cobble together their home-theater systems from what they find here and there. However, I believe that its important to have brand- and line-matched speakers when putting together a good home-theater system. This doesnt necessarily extend to the subwoofer, though. Subs are different beasts in that regard, and the key with them is getting the position, crossover settings, and volume level correct to integrate seamlessly with the speakers. Therefore, you can use products from a variety of different makers, as many do. I happen to like Mirages subs and still use their Omni S10 with my Omnisat V2 setup. However, I have heard good things about Klipschs subs, too, so if thats what you have, it could also be a good choice for your system.
January 2, 2007
Q: With CES coming up, I'm wondering if you'll be covering it and THE Show. You publish the best show coverage; I always find out about new products and trends on your site first.
A: Yes, we will be doing daily coverage of the CES and THE Show starting January 8. Here is a link to our Las Vegas 2007 site. Just check each morning from the 9th to the 12th to read about what we saw and heard.
December 25, 2006
I live in Minnesota, where it's quite humid in the summer and shockingly (!) dry in the winter. In winter, it's hard to keep the household air humid enough to prevent the typical static shocks when touching light switches and most metal surfaces, including my equipment stands and audio equipment. Sometimes this is enough to cause temporary problems (input switching, powering off) with my abnormally sensitive Bel Canto Pre/Pro.
Q: What, apart from humidification, can be done to reduce static in carpets, cables, stands and equipment? All outlets are properly grounded.
A: I live in Arizona, where it's dry all year. Static electricity is constantly on my mind, especially as I am about to touch my audio electronics or laptop. One shock could mean a trip for service that would not be covered by warranty. I know there are various sprays for carpet that will reduce static electricity, but I wouldn't want to deal with their smell. What has worked for me (along with using a good humidifier) is being in the habit of touching something metal to discharge static electricity before I touch any of my electronics.
If you want a higher-tech solution, you can make a Zap Arrestor, the creation of former SoundStage! writer Greg Weaver. Here are the details.
December 18, 2006
I would like to share a cheap fix-it tip for this holiday season.
With two teens in the house, disposable income is a rare commodity, so, as the bedroom-system Boston Acoustics A70 speakers' sound turned bad from disintegrating foam surrounds, I found myself shopping for speakers with a budget of less than $300. None of the speakers I heard had the musicality I was remembering from the early life of the A70s. Desperate, I decided to fix the speakers. I found the "how to" information on the Internet, the surrounds at a local repair shop for $2.50 each, and the glue at the grocery store. For $8 and two hours of my time I now have speakers that sound like new and better to my ears than new speakers within my budget.
If someone with two left hands like me can do it, anyone can. Happy holidays.
December 11, 2006
I have a modest audio/home-theater system that I have plugged into one of those computer surge-protector strips. My question has to do with power purity. Q: How important is power conditioning to the overall sonic or video outcome of an A/V system? Would upgrading my surge-suppressor strip make a dramatic difference?
A: Most people who take their audio and video very seriously use good power conditioners, believing that their effect easily offsets the added cost. I am among these people. However, "a dramatic difference" to me may be barely noticeable to you. Much depends on the quality of your power to begin with and, frankly, your powers of perception. Luckily, power conditioners are an easy product to audition; just borrow a few from local dealers, plug your gear into them, and determine if you like what they do. I can tell you that the first time I swapped a power bar for a bona fide power conditioner the difference was easily discernible, especially with video, so I would be surprised if you return all of the units you borrow.
December 4, 2006
I am seeking a new CD player. Marc Mickelson gave the Aurum Integris CDP a good rap, as you have done for the whole Aurum system. I noted that your reviewed the Audio Aero Capitole 24/192 back in 2001. I can see that the Aurum CDP is obviously fantastic. Q: How do you see the two machines comparing? If you could give your opinion, that would be great. The Aurum CDP certainly sounds to be a fantastic new model on the market.
A: I reviewed the entire Aurum Acoustics system as well as the Integris CDP alone here on SoundStage! A/V in the "On HiFi" section. As youll see in that review, I gave it five stars for performance -- the highest rating that Ive ever given a component. So what do I think of it? Its the best I've heard, a true reference product. How does it compare to the Audio Aero I reviewed back in 2001? Its been quite some time, obviously, but Id say its better in every way, right down to the build quality. (I have no idea what the new series of Audio Aero products are like, mind you.)
The key to the Integris CDP, though, is that its not just a CD player but an outstanding preamplifier as well. Some people make the mistake of running the Integris CDP into their preamplifier. Thatll work, obviously, but youre putting a line stage in the way for no reason. Get that out of the way and youll revel in what I believe is perhaps the best-sounding digital front-end in the world.
November 27, 2006
Q: Could you please comment on the placement comparison between the Focus Audio FS68SE and the FS-688. Is one more challenging to position in the room? Also, would the 70Wpc from the Pathos Classic One Mk II integrated amp be adequate to power either speaker in a smaller listening area?
A: I've reviewed both speakers. The FS-688 is the better of the two, but it's much more money (over $3000). The FS68SE, while not quite the '688, is the better value (about $2000). Some people say that the FS68SE is more placement sensitive, but I don't see why that would be. The offset tweeter on the FS68SE isn't going to make an enormous difference, and that's the biggest design difference between the two. I believe that you'll have to put about the same effort into setting up both to get the desired result. As for your question about power, 70Wpc should be more than sufficient in a "smaller listening area."
November 20, 2006
I will finally have my own media room just a unused bedroom, but at least it's all mine. The room is 12'W x 15'L -- too big for my current speakers, I think. Q: What speakers would you recommend for a room this size? I will be setting up a combined home-theater/stereo system.
A: Not knowing what your current speakers are, I can only recommend that you experiment with them before dumping them to buy something new. You might discover that they will work well in your room. Also, not knowing what your budget is, I can only speculate in terms of new speakers. I am very impressed by Energy's new Reference Connoisseur-series speakers. We've reviewed two of them on SoundStage!, and both were named Reviewers' Choice. They are the speakers with which I would start my search.
November 13, 2006
I have $500 to spend on a home-theater and music system -- speakers, amplifier, DVD player, and all cables. Q: Can I get anything decent for that price, and where should I look?
A: Can you get a decent system for $500? You bet! You will be limited to home-theater-in-a-box systems, however, not separates from different companies, even if you buy used. Over and above what you can buy at Circuit City or Best Buy, I would look at what your local Costco has available. I recently pointed someone to Costco and a Philips system I saw there. It looked to offer a lot for it's $499 price, and Costco has a six-month return policy that would allow you to try any system before committing to it for the long haul. If you don't belong to Costco, perhaps one of your friends does. They also sell a wide array of HDTVs.
November 6, 2006
Q: How much do I have to spend on a turntable to get "good" sound? I see models that cost from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars; my budget is certainly closer to the low end than the high. I can also buy a working turntable from my local Goodwill store. I have many old records I'd like to tape, and I want them to sound their best when I do so.
A: You understand the turntable market well, it seems to me. While buying any old 'table at your local thrift store probably won't help you meet your goal of making your tapes sound their best, I don't think you have to spend a fortune to find a good-sounding turntable. You should determine your budget down to the dollar and see what you can buy for that. Keep in mind that while you can buy complete turntable packages, many turntables are sold alone, so you have to buy the tonearm and cartridge separately, and have both professionally mounted. If your budget is $300 or more, you will be able to find a high-performing, well-made turntable with which you can make fine-sounding tapes.
October 30, 2006
I have a dilemma. What is the best way to improve my system (NAD 515 CD player, Bryston BP-25 preamp feeding the power portion of a Yamaha RX-1130 receiver, Energy Veritas1.8 speakers, Kimber Kable interconnects and speaker cables)? Q: Which do you think will give me the most sonic improvement: having Bryston retrofit my preamp with their DAC, getting a dedicated power amp (I am thinking of a Bryston 2B SST or 3B SST C-series), or buying a better CD player and lesser power amp? Any comment or other thoughts you have would be appreciated.
A: Definitely buying a power amp to match your Bryston preamp will give you the biggest sonic improvement. Many home-theater receivers don't drive complex or low-impedance loads very well, and a Bryston amp will control your speakers much better than your receiver. If you can afford an upgrade of your power amp and CD player, all the better. However, those NAD players are generally pretty good, so I would concentrate on a new amp first.
October 24, 2006
I want to replace a pair of 20-year-old speakers with new models, but I hardly know where to start. There are so many brands on the market, each with a positive review. Q: How does one begin buying new speakers when he hasn't followed the audio market for decades?
A: Speaker shopping isn't so much different from shopping for other items that cost the same amount of money: You determine your budget and then shop within that constraint. I think what baffles most buyers who aren't audiophiles is the notion that there is one best speaker and if they don't buy it they will be wasting their money. In truth, there are many well-designed, good-sounding speakers in every price range that are never a poor buy. However, you can usually find one you like more than others, and this is where reviews can help you narrow down the field. After you've identified models that interest you, find stores that carry them and go listen. If they are sold direct, you can likely order them and use them for a short period with return privileges. This is ideal because the room in which a speaker is used affects its sound.
In the end, don't get too caught up in the sheer number of speakers on the market, but rather focus on a few that interest you and proceed from there. There's a forest out there to be sure; you only want to buy one tree, however.
October 16, 2006
I read your glowing review of the Logitech Harmony 880 remote control, and I agree that it looks like all that and more. However, it's expensive! I can buy three very good progressive-scan DVD players for what it costs. Q: Is there a cheaper remote in Logitech's Harmony line that's as good as the 880?
A: You show impeccable timing with your question! Logitech has just announced the availability of the Harmony 670, which retains many of the 880's features, including Internet setup, but omits the 880's color LCD screen and rechargeable battery. It costs $149 -- $100 less than the 880. If it were my money, I'd still buy the 880 -- who needs three DVD players? -- but I'm sure for day-to-day use the 670 will work just as well.
October 10, 2006
Even though I am not looking to assemble a full 5.1-channel home-theater system -- I am committed to stereo only -- I still find the task daunting because of the sheer number of products on the market. Q: Where would you begin if you were in my loafers?
A: The place to begin with any such project is determining your budget. Do you have $1000 or $100,000 to spend? If you're just now getting into home theater, you likely want to spend closer to $1000 than $100,000, in which case I would recommend visiting your local audio dealer -- one that specializes in stereo -- to find out what you can afford. If you don't want even that level of involvement, visit Best Buy or Costco and see if you can find an all-in-one system that you like. I saw such a system at Costco recently, and I was amazed by the quality and low price. This way you get to enjoy your system sooner without having to fret about how to build it.
October 2, 2006
I own a Yamaha RX-Z9 A/V receiver, and I recently upgraded my speakers to Polk Audio LSi series: LSi15 for my fronts, LSiC for my center, LSiFX for my surrounds and LSi9 for my surround rears. These speakers are rated at 4 ohms and my receiver was not designed to drive 4-ohm loads on all channels. I want to purchase a power amp to drive these speakers without fear of melting down the receiver. I will still use the receiver as a preamp/processor.
Q: Which would be the best amp to buy for sound quality and safe operation of my speakers: Arcam FMJ P7, NAD M25, or Outlaw 7700?
A: This is going to sound like the ultimate copout, but I cant tell you which of those three amps will work best in your situation because theyre all good-quality offerings from reputable companies. Furthermore, the differences between well-designed solid-state amplifiers are subtle, and while one person may think one amp is best, another person could favor one of the others. I know its not necessarily what you want to hear, but its the truth. Let your own ears and pocketbook be the judge.
September 25, 2006
I need a pair of bookshelf speakers for my room (20'L x 11'W x 10'H). I read the reviews for both the Energy Reference Connoisseur RC-10 and Paradigm Reference Studio 20 v.3 and I am confused. Q: Which speaker should I buy?
A: I suspect that you've realized from the reviews that both are outstanding speakers. Furthermore, both are probably suitable for your room. I could be happy with either speaker, and you may be able to as well. Which is best for you, though, is something you'll have to decide. Give them both an audition; I'm sure one will suit you.
September 18, 2006
I recently bought a pair Polk RT-6 speakers (40Hz-27kHz) as well as a Polk PSW1000 subwoofer (20Hz-160Hz) with which to listen to music only. Q: What is the best way to hook them up given that I am using a home-theater receiver? Again, I am just using them to listen to music. The other question that I have is where to the set the low-pass adjustment level (50Hz-140Hz) on the sub to have the speakers blend nicely.
A: The particular receiver you have will determine, to a large extent, the best way to connect your subwoofer. Most of the current crop of receivers have a setting that will be labeled something like "Stereo + Sub" that uses the receivers subwoofer output. A receiver like this will basically toggle back and forth between sending the subwoofer the LFE channel (with a 5.1 soundtrack) and sending the sub a low-pass output derived from the stereo channels. This makes setup easy and painless, and you have nothing to do but make sure you choose the right processing mode when listening. As to where to set the low-pass crossover, Im going to take a shot based on my experience: try 60Hz first. Listen closely to not only bass tracks, but midrange especially. If the mids sound thick, but the bass is good, lower the crossover to 50Hz. If that helps the mids, but hurts the bass, raise it to 55Hz. This is the type of process I use to integrate a subwoofer, and with some time and energy, itll work for you too.
September 11, 2006
I am considering switching from my AR Phantom loudspeakers and was thinking of buying a Mirage center-channel speaker, but I came upon your review of Mirages Uni-Theater. It seems that the soundstaging is not the best. Q: Have you ever listened to the Yamaha YSP-1000 Digital Projector? They have it on display at my local PC Richards, and I thought it was not good-sounding at all, but it was situated in a huge showroom.
A: Yamahas Sound Projector YSP-1000 is an interesting speaker system that uses all kinds of drivers and amplifiers along with DSP technology to make a surround-sound experience from a single speaker enclosure situated in front of you. Ive heard it at numerous trade shows, and I admit that its pretty neat. Its also quite a bit different than, say, the Uni-Theater, which has no built-in amplifiers or DSP technology; instead, the Uni-Theater is basically the three front speakers (left, right, center) in a single sleek enclosure.
Which one is better for your needs, though, will likely depend on your listening preferences. As I said, Ive heard the YSP-1000 at shows, and I was somewhat impressed by the immersive soundscape it created. But there was also something artificial-sounding about it that I found distracting. Others, however, might feel differently.
September 4, 2006
I just purchased a Samsung HL-S5087W HDTV. Q: As I move toward developing a home theater, can I incorporate my Klipsch Heresy IIs into the mix as my front R/L speakers, or should home-theater speakers be purchased as a set? If I can effectively employ my existing speakers, how do I match them with new speakers?
A: You just bought one of those sets? Man, youve got a great start for an outstanding home theater. I was looking at the same set over the weekend and almost pulled out my credit card to buy it. Then I thought about it a little longer. Its actually too big for the room in which I was going to use it.
Now, on to your question about speakers. I have no doubt that your Heresy IIs could make suitable left and right speakers. In fact, I would start out with just that, in a stereo setup (in other words, forget the center-channel and surround speakers right now). See how you like it. Frankly, Ive derived a lot of pleasure out of stereo home-theater setups. No one says you must go for surround sound right away!
However, if you do go for a full surround-sound setup -- i.e., with a center-channel speaker, surrounds, and, possibly, a sub -- you might have a little more trouble getting a center-channel to match properly with the Heresy IIs. And thats precisely where buying a tonally matched full setup all at once can have its benefits, because getting the center-channel to match is often a pain.
Still, I think the best option is to start with the stereo Heresy IIs and grow from there. In fact, its quite possible that you grow fond of the stereo setup and remain quite happy with that. And if not, know that theres no rush to jump into surround sound. My advice is to grow your system slowly and wisely, and youll enjoy it for many years to come.
August 28, 2006
I've watched as you have built your websites up to prominence and started new websites. Very impressive. Q: If I wanted to start an audio/video website, how would you recommend I do it?
A: I am sure that many people have theories on how to create a successful website, but, from our experience, the best way to ensure success is to create a site that you love, that's an extension of you, with no thought of making money. You will then have the energy needed to start and maintain such a venture. If you find a way to make money, great. If not, you have still created something that you, and presumably some number of others, value. This is actually how SoundStage!, our first site, began, and it is a model that has served us well.
August 21, 2006
My question regards quality of sound from a DAC hooked up to a hard drive versus a DAC hooked up to a high-end transport.
Q: If I were to hook up a DAC to a hard drive with uncompressed music files through an interface like a Sonos, wouldn't I get the same or better quality as using a high-end transport to a DAC? Isn't the high cost of a good transport relating (among other things) to solidity of the mechanism? And doesn't streaming the digital bits from the hard drive directly to the DAC through good cabling bypass the problems inherent in creating good transports?
A: My answer could be "yes," "no," "maybe," or "perhaps." The truth is, theres probably no single answer because there are many transports on the market and not all of them are going to perform the same, so its impossible to make a blanket statement about all of them versus hooking things up the way you propose.
As for the high cost of the transports, part of it has to do with the transport mechanism itself, but other things have to do with the electronics used and the chassis. Again, its not just one thing.
My best suggestion, then, is to simply experiment. After all, youre likely not going to find comprehensive enough reviews that will answer you sufficiently, and through trial and error you can find out what works best for you.
August 14, 2006
Thank you for your informative article, "The Truth About HDMI, DVI-D, and the Oppo Digital OPDV971H DVD Player." I found it online as I was searching for discussion on DVD players to match to a Vizio 50 HDM. The OPPO '971 sounds great, but when I went shopping for it I saw Oppo has a '970 with HDMI out (instead of the DVI to HDMI on the '971). Q: Is the '971 still the better machine? Or was it your recommendation prior to the '970?
A: The '970 is the replacement for the '971. It costs $40 less and adds SACD playback to the equation, as well as HDMI, a memory-card reader and upconversion via the component outputs and the availability of 480i over HDMI. One of the most important features of the '971 is retained -- the ability to convert the player to a Region 0 player capable of playing films from all over the world by doing the following:
Youre then good to go. The 970 passes blacker-than-black and whiter-than-white signals at all resolutions, it displays no macro-blocking or chroma upsampling errors. Do I like it? I havent yet gotten my hands on one, but I think the company is one of the greats, offering brilliant design features that manufacturers of far more expensive players cant seem to figure out. If I were in the market for a new DVD player, this would be the first one I look at. My guess is that it would also be the last.
August 7, 2006
I've just read your rather interesting journey through smoke and mirrors and have but one small question to ask of you. Early in the piece you referred to your acquisition of a Consonance Reference CD2.2 Linear and how it was as reviewed elsewhere: tuneful, well textured, and devoid of deep bass. And how! You say:
Well, I am also experiencing a reticent low end with my Reference CD2.2 Linear also (purchased just a month ago). Q: Which exact capacitors I should double up on to achieve the result you obtained?
Having just completed several recent cap mods to my trusty old EAR 869 SE amp with excellent results, reading your article had my ears pricked up in excitement. You see, this player is pretty much the extent of my budget, and if a few caps can tip the scales in the right direction, Banzai!
A: I am surprised to learn that your Reference CD2.2, purchased so recently, does not have adequate LF response. Heres the text of the message that Opera sent me:
I used Solen capacitors because they were the easiest for me to purchase online.
July 31, 2006
I currently have a cheap Audio Technica AT-PL50 turntable connected to an NAD T753 receiver. The Audio Technica has a built-in phono preamp, but I imagine that it can't be that good. I like the sound of vinyl and will be upgrading to a better turntable in the future. Q: Would a good phono stage make a difference in sound with this cheap turntable? Some say it will, and some say it will not. Can you give me something concrete to go with?
A: Not knowing how good or bad your Audio Technica turntable's built-in phono stage is, I can only say that such a configuration is highly unusual, and I suspect that any number of inexpensive separate phono stages will better it. However, there is a logistical issue to consider. Unless your turntable will output a non-equalized signal -- a signal that doesn't go through the internal phono stage -- you won't have any way to use it with an add-on phono stage. Conversely, if you plan to upgrade your turntable, you will probably not be able to use a new turntable with your existing turntable's phono stage. At some point, you will have to buy a new phono stage, likely at the same time you purchase a new turntable. Until you are ready to purchase both products, you will have to use what you have.
July 24, 2006
I'm building an in-home recording/rehearsal studio and need advice regarding sound control inside and outside the room. The room is 15' x 18' with a 14' ceiling. One wall is an exterior concrete block. The other three are drywall. Q: Can you recommend any material to put on the walls or floor to help absorb some of the sound?
A: If sound absorption is what you want, there are a lot of options. First, you could try the DIY method and go to a place like Home Depot and buy yourself a bunch of foam and wall insulation. Ive done that, and it works. But if you want something more "sound specific," you could try Sonex foam panels that have many wedges shaped like those found in anechoic chambers. They work really well, and you can find them at www.AudioAdvisor.com.
July 17, 2006
Q: If you had to choose between large speakers and a more powerful amp, and smaller speakers and a better amp, which would you choose? I am in the midst of such a dilemma, and I need some guidance.
Without knowing any of the products you're talking about, I can't give you a definitive answer to your question. For what it's worth, there is no stock way to put together a good-sounding audio system. Every audiophile mixes and matches products to produce a musically satisfying outcome. The best way for you to answer your question is to hear the products in question together. This may require that you purchase one of them and then parade the others through your system, choosing the ones that sound best to you. I would spend the bulk of my time, and money, on speakers; then you can find an amp that drives them to your satisfaction.
July 10, 2006
Q: Can you give me a recommendation for some bookshelf speakers? They will actually reside on the bookshelves that flank the fireplace in my living room. Unfortunately, this is the space I have to live with. Despite that, I'd like to come as close as possible to something that will provide reasonable imaging and sound.
A: There are actually quite a number of small-sized speakers that fit the bill; some will work better than others. What I don't want to do, though, is give you specific models because although you give a fairly good description of your setup, it's really not enough information for such a concrete suggestion.
However, with what you said, I suspect that if the speakers will flank a fireplace, then there will probably be little space behind them to the wall, so I would lean toward speakers that are front-ported versus rear-ported. This is to give the speaker some "breathing room." On the other hand, some companies have found nifty solutions to this problem. Polk Audio, for example, created something they call the PowerPort. It's a flange that has a cone that goes inside the port and acts as a guide to let the air flow out properly, even if the speaker is just a couple inches from the wall -- a great idea!
As well, how deep your shelves are will dictate how deep your speakers can be. For example, you don't want to get a speaker that is so deep that it's butted against the back wall and hanging over the front of the shelf it's on.
Finally, some speakers have a "boundary compensation" switch. Basically, this switch tailors the low-end frequency response of the speaker for close-to-wall mounting versus playing well out in the room. This is done because the room gain achieved is quite a bit different the closer the speaker is to walls around it. Admittedly, though, speakers with this feature are difficult to find.
July 3, 2006
A: Is there any connection diagram for making a component video to VGA cable? I have a Panasonic home-theater system with component video out and a Sanyo projector with composite or VGA in. I do not want to use composite video with my DVDs.
A: I wish there were an easy answer to this question, but what you want may not be possible with just a cable. In order to understand the options here, we need to step back and talk about how video is encoded. Video signals are made of two basic pieces of information: the color intensity, and a synchronization signal that lets your TV/monitor know where the picture starts. VGA works directly with red, green, and blue color signals. There are pins devoted to both horizontal and vertical picture synchronization, which helps keep the display stable even at the higher resolutions used by computer monitors. You may alternately see VGA referred to as RGBHV.
There are actually a couple of related standards for computer monitors that combine RGB plus the sync data differently, like RGBS and RGsB. A good discussion of how all this works technically is in the Intersil Application Note at www.intersil.com/data/an/an9513.pdf
Component video separates out the picture into three signals: Y, which is a luminance (brightness) signal that also contains picture synchronization signals; Pr, which is the red signal minus the Y signal; and Pb, which is blue minus the Y. The green signal can be derived from these three. You'll sometimes see this referred to as a YUV, Y B-Y R-Y, or Y Cb Cr; those are all the same thing. Why it's done that way is an artifact of how our television standards evolved -- the Y signal is like the input to a black & white TV, and this combination makes it easier to reduce the transmission bandwidth at the expense of color fidelity. Some component outputs mix the sync data into all three connectors, but this is the exception rather than the rule; normally it's just in Y.
In order to turn a component signal into a VGA one, the Y-Pr-Pb colors need to be converted into RGB. In addition, and this is the tricky part, the synchronization signal needs to be pulled out of the Y channel, then synthesized correctly into the horizontal and vertical components VGA expects. You can't do that with a cable; you need a fairly complex device called a transcoder to accomplish it.
Complicating matters is that fact that some projectors can handle inputs over the VGA connector without the separate sync signals, using the same information as the component cables but with a different connector. The popular Epson PowerLite S3 is a sample product here. Its component input connects via the same DB-15 connector the VGA comes in over, and you just change a menu option to switch the input mode. Normally if your projector supports this, you'll know because the manufacturer will sell you a component-to-DB-15 cable; these tend to be very expensive. You can find details on how you might build such a cable yourself at www.myhometheater.homestead.com/vgacable.html, and there are certainly generic commercial products available.
But if your projector only has a normal VGA input, you'll need a full transcoder box that converts component into VGA with complete synchronization data. Transcoders have traditionally been very expensive. The reference product in this area you'll often see others compared against is Key Digital's KD-CTCA3. Reseller RAM has a nice diagram of how this is used at www.ramelectronics.net/html/kd-ctca2.htm, and as you can see it's a $325 product.
The popularity of Microsoft's X-Box, whose HDTV outputs are in component form when using their High Definition A/V Pack, has dramatically increased demand for inexpensive component-to-VGA transcoders. Your typical X-Box owner already has a VGA monitor connected to his computer he'd like to be able to connect to the X-Box console. There are now several companies making basic transcoders; examples include:
The very picky members of the popular AVS Forum have been working on some DIY projects in this area for quite some time as well. www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/archive/index.php/t-310247-p-2.html gives a long thread on this topic. Wading through all that, there are plenty of complaints that the inexpensive products don't give perfect picture quality when handling high-definition formats in particular. The end result of their design process is a mid-priced product built to order at www.crescendo-systems.com/rev_transcoder.html. That actually includes fine-tuning controls to get the best HV-sync conversion quality for your equipment.
To wrap all this up, I'd suggest the following for your situation:
(1) Find out if your projector's VGA input supports running component over its DB-15 input without separate sync signals. If so, get an RCA component-to-DB-15 cable and try that out.
(2) Consider purchasing one of the moderately inexpensive component-to-VGA transcoder devices and see whether you're happy with its quality.
(3) If not neither of the above do the job, you'll need to open your wallet wider to purchase a higher-grade transcoder.
Good luck sorting all this out!
June 26, 2006
Ive recently purchased very nice mid-priced floorstanding speakers and a subwoofer (almost exclusively for music listening). I have an equally nice center-channel speaker that I think would match admirably, assuming adding a center channel would improve the soundstage even further in an already impressive sounding 2.1 setup. Q: Would adding this center speaker improve the overall sound? I have researched numerous forums and related articles, but nobody really addresses this topic with any real amount of certainty, or give it the attention it might deserve; most articles deal with home-theater (5.1 and up) applications only (but not two-channel, stereo, whatever).
A: Designing a good center-channel speaker to match appropriately with left and right speakers is tough. More often than not, Ive heard center-channel speakers that dont match the front left and right speakers tonally, and this makes for an awkward presentation across the front. Thats why Ive often done away with the center-channel, even in home-theater applications, to get a more consistent tonal balance across the front. Of course, one loses the image specificity that a center-channel speaker can help provide, so its one compromise traded off for another. One the other hand, the really good center-channels Ive heard that match the left and right speakers properly can provide a really rich and rewarding sonic experience, adding greater specificity to the front stage and opening up the seating position to be wider than just a single sweet spot. The key, though, is that the center must be a good match for the left and right speakers, so youll have to look hard and be critical in your auditioning.
The attention the center channel doesnt get in two-channel discussions comes from the fact that there are only two channels -- left and right -- and theres no center-channel information. They just arent used in stereo setups, but they are, of course, used in 5.1/multichannel/home-theater setups.
June 19, 2006
Q: Im thinking about buying a projector for my home theater. Do you think now is a good time?
A: Projectors (and flat-screen TVs, too) seem to be like computers: changing every few months, and getting cheaper and better all the time. Its always better to wait if you can. However, you cant wait forever.
If I were to buy a projector today, Id probably get something that looks great doing 720p and doesnt cost a whole bunch. The reason is that well-done 720p looks quite good, and you can get a good projector for a very reasonable price and then put it in a second system in few years. On the other hand, 1080p is where its at and what most people want. Those projectors, while not cheap right now, will probably be quite a bit cheaper in the near future.
June 12, 2006
You review a lot of two-way speakers. Q: Do you believe that two-way speakers are inherently better because theyre simpler? Ive heard that and I want to know if you agree.
A: There are those who believe that to be true, mostly because two-ways have fewer drivers and generally use fewer crossover parts than three-, four-, or more-way designs. As well, the designer only has to concern himself with the interaction of two drivers in one cabinet, not three or more. As one designer said to me, "It took five times as long to design my three-way speaker than my two-way model."
On the other hand, although a two-way might be easier to make sound good, that doesnt mean theyre always going to be better than three- or more-way designs. Right now I have the best-sounding speakers Ive ever had in my room -- a three-way design from Aurum Acoustics. More on those in a future review.
June 5, 2006
The amount of video content available on the Internet is astounding. You can see full-length shows nowadays, which makes me wonder where the video market is headed. Q: Do you foresee HD DVD or Blu-ray Disc being the next big thing, or will online streaming of video content be the next iPod-like revolution?
A: You ask a very good question, and one that requires a crystal ball to answer with certainty. In my opinion, Doug Schneider got it right in his article "Why the HD DVD/Blu-ray War Wont Matter": "The next important medium is no medium at all -- straight through the Internet and into your home with no disc, no video stores, and no more late fees." No format will be the next big A/V thing; as you point out, it has already begun.
May 29, 2006
I own an iPod and would sometimes like to listen to it without headphones. Q: Can you tell me how I can do this? Are there products specifically for this?
A: The iPod has created a vast accessories market -- 2000 products and counting -- in its wake. You will read about it and a few specific products on SoundStage! A/V soon.
May 22, 2006
I just read where one writer says to worry about your speakers and room but not the source components. Q: You review a lot of speakers. Do you agree with this?
A: No doubt, the biggest impact you can make with any audio system involves the speakers and the room. So, when youre shopping for components, dont shortchange yourself on your speakers, and pay close attention to how they work in your room.
That said, though, you still need to ensure that your amplifier is capable of driving the speakers sufficiently and that its clean-sounding, and you want to buy a source (likely a CD player) that can retrieve everything off the recording.
So, although the speakers are important (along with the room theyre playing in), theres an old saying about "garbage in, garbage out." In summary, I believe in optimizing every point in the system, and leaving no weak links.
May 15, 2006
It is impressive the way you describe Mitsubishi's HC3000 projector. Q: Is the HC4000 better? It does have a three-year warranty, 2000 ANSI lumens, and 2500:1 contrast ratio. What is your opinion?
A: While the specs are fascinating, Id go for the 3000. The 4000 uses the same chipset, but is intended for the road-warrior market, not for the discerning home-theater user. While the brightness on the 4000 may seem useful, at that level, Id like to see more contrast, and the fan noise is too loud for when you and your significant other are sobbing over the next showing of The Notebook.
May 8, 2006
The Focus Audio FS68SEs are truly remarkably well-designed speakers that one appreciates more and more over time. I have a particularly well-made piano cut that has a portion in which the right hand moves down the upper scale. I have used this cut as one of my audition pieces and have heard crossover abnormalities in most every speaker auditioned. (One or two notes in the scale will be slightly muffled relative to the other notes -- perhaps due to a significant phase shift between woofer and tweeter at that particular frequency? Perhaps due to cabinet resonance?) Anyway, once heard, this effect jumps out in some two-way speakers that will remain nameless.
I'm sure you well know that once you have lived with a speaker, you begin to hear its particular coloration over time. For example, subtle colorations in female voice. With the FS68SE, I cannot detect any crossover abnormalities at any frequency. After living with my FS68SEs, I have yet to detect any colorations in female voice that I have heard in listening to other well-regarded minimonitors. It was nice to read your review and recommendation.
You own some extremely good speakers -- exactly why they received the Reviewers Choice nod in review. As for the effects you hear on your demo recordings, I think whats most important is that you have these recordings and you use them as a reference from speaker to speaker. Many audiophiles neglect that when auditioning -- thats exactly why making judgments with unknown material is so difficult at shows, for example -- but its necessary to have a reference point.
As you have found, I, too, found that I enjoyed the FS68SEs more and more over time. I suspect for many, then, they will be a "final purchase" that people will own for many years before they tire of them.
May 1, 2006
We are in a quandary as to which speakers to use for a home-theater system we're putting together. We would like to go higher end, but with a budget of around $3000 for left/center/right, we're having a really hard time selecting speakers that fit both our budget, which we think is generous, and our requirements for a nice-sounding home theater. We have heard some nice Focal speakers, but they were a bit too shrill or bright and ultimately out of our price range at close to $4000. We've narrowed it down to two that we really want to audition: Monitor Audio GS20s with GSLCR for the center, or the GSLCRs for all three channels (is it a good idea to use the same speaker for all three?); and Triad Gold LCR. We'll be using a Velodyne SPL-1200R subwoofer.
Q: Which do you think is the better speaker package for us?
A: Actually, $3000 for just the front three speakers is quite a healthy budget. For example, the system I have in my living room right now -- a Mirage Omnisat V2-based home-theater system -- costs $2400 and that includes the surrounds and subs. Therefore, for $3000, I can think of a dozen speaker models off the top of my head that Id audition.
But back to your questions. In terms of those two brands youve narrowed things down to, I have no direct experience with either. But in there you ask whether its a good idea to use the same speaker for left, center and right. My answer is "probably," but also, "it depends." Im a stickler for how the center-channel speaker blends with the left and right speakers. Quite frankly, most dont match all that well. Now, an LCR design has likely been created to allow for three matched speakers across the front stage; however, more than likely the center speaker will be resting on its side, above or below a TV, whereas the left and right speakers will likely be used vertically. My hope is that the designer ensured that the resulting tonal balance, whether the speaker is on its side or standing tall, remains the same. Get my point? As well, further compounding the problem is the fact that the TVs screen acts as an extension of the center speakers baffle, which affects the frequency response. Many designers actually tailor their center speaker's sound to compensate for this.
So, as you can see, there are no easy answers. Three identical speakers seems like the right way to go to get a perfect blend across the front stage, but understand that there is quite a bit more at stake than simply ensuring that all three speakers are the same. Sometimes a different center-channel speaker is better, and sometimes not. But do understand that $3000 for three front speakers is quite a lot of money, and your options for what you can choose are, as far as Im concerned, wide open.
April. 24, 2006
The brochure for a particular CD recorder says that it makes "bit-accurate copies." This confuses me a bit. I thought that all CD recordings were bit-accurate, considering that they are recorded digitally. Q: Do all CD recorders make bit-accurate copies? If not, why not?"
A: All CD recorders can make bit-accurate (or bit-perfect) copies, in which the dub carries digital code identical to the original. Thats not always desirable, however. If youre copying a whole disc, its probably a good thing, but if youre making a compilation CD from several different sources, levels can vary annoyingly. To overcome that, some recorders provide a digital level control, which, in order to adjust the record level, must change the digital code. Such recordings are digital, and may sound like the original, but theyre not bit-accurate.
And, of course, anything recorded via the analog inputs is never bit-accurate.
Ian G. Masters
April 17, 2006
I have an admittedly quite old Arcam Alpha 8 amp that seems to have developed an aversion to operating at reasonable volume. The amp cuts out to standby whenever the volume is raised above a polite level, or if a loud crackle or pop is encountered (I play mostly vinyl, though the volume problem occurs with CD too). Have the good-taste police corrupted it? Q: Is it time for a new amp, or is there a chance I can annoy the neighbors with my old favorite again?
A: I would say that your decision on what to do depends on how much you like your Alpha 8 and how much it will cost to fix it. Now, in your case, youre quite lucky because based on your e-mail address (not shown here), it appears that youre in the UK, where Arcam is based. My suggestion, therefore, would be to visit their website and follow the instructions on the Technical Support page (currently located through the Technical Info link on the main page) in order to contact the company and find out how to go about getting an estimate to fix your amp.
April 10, 2006
I've read a couple of your reviews and I've found them very useful. I was wondering if you could give me some impartial advice. I am currently shopping for a new set of speakers for my fiancé. He wants to move away from his boxy, bookshelf Yamaha speakers to something a little more sleek and stylish to match his new Toshiba HDTV. I have a price limit of $800 CDN and I've researched several makes and models. I am currently looking at three systems:
(1) The Athena Technologies WS system
All of these systems are within $150 of each other. Q: Which of these systems would you recommend? I want to stay within budget, but get the most bang for my buck. Also, is there anything else you could recommend that I may not know about?
A: I know all three systems quite well, having reviewed the Nanosat system for Home Theater & Sound and the Athena WS-100s right here on SoundStage! A/V, and having heard Paradigms Cinema systems many times at shows. Id say that youve narrowed it down to three excellent systems and all of them will offer you great bang for the buck. Id say that youve done your homework, and well.
In that mix, though, the Athena and Paradigm systems are similar in that they are forward-firing speakers, which many will consider a "conventional" design ("conventional" not being a bad thing in this case). The Nanosat, on the other hand, has what Mirage calls an Omnipolar radiating pattern, making it quite a different experience to listen to. I really like Mirages Omnipolar technology but, admittedly, its not for everyone because it doesn't produce a "conventional" sound.
That said, to err on the safe side, Id probably choose either the Paradigm or Athena system. Both are more along the lines of what your fiancé has right now, and what most people are used to hearing. As for which is better of those two, Id say that theyre both equivalent in terms of performance, build quality, and overall value. Both systems also look quite nice alongside big-screen TVs, and have special brackets available for wall mounting. Its hard to fault either, and thats not surprising since they both come from large, well-established companies that have served the audio/video marketplace well for many years. The deciding factor will likely have to be which one you like better.
April 3, 2006
I read your "Trend" article, "Death by Digital," and I mostly agree with you, but I would like to point out the following. Film is not dead, and analog music is not dead either. However, both have become extremely tight niche markets with very few walk-in consumers. Your film-based neighborhood store failed not only because the owners failed to understand that digital is attractive to the masses to whom its flaws are inconsequential. It also failed because once the transition to digital started, the owners failed to understand that the only way for them to survive as a film-based business is by expanding beyond the local region. Similarly, there are no local LP stores left; however, search the Internet and you will find quite a few dealers operating nationally. Bottom line: The problem you describe is one of people who wed themselves to technology and its inherent qualities and flaws as opposed to seeing those qualities and flaws from a market perspective and understanding the implication to their businesses.
By the way, I just discovered your website this week and find it interesting, informative and easy to use.
Admittedly, the word "dead" implies that its completely deceased and gone -- and, of course, film, like the LP, is still around. In fact, both will be around for a long, long time to come. As you say, they can both be considered "niche" products, and there will continue to be a market for them among avid followers. Heck, you can probably even still find people who use 8-track tapes if you look hard enough!
But as a viable consumer format for the masses, film is dying off rapidly, just as the LP did when CD came along, and thats really the point of my article. Its got little place anymore, and I dont see anything in it that will bring it back.
March 27, 2006
I noticed that the new Donald Fagen album was released in the DVD-A format. Q: I thought DVD-A was dead in the water. Is that not the case?
In terms of being mass-market formats, both DVD-A and SACD may not be "dead in the water," but theyre surely dying. However, despite the fact that theyre dying, theyre the two high-resolution surround-sound formats still around. That said, Donald Fagens new album, Morph the Cat, is available in a "special edition" version that has a DVD-A along with a regular ol CD. Although I dont have the disc, information Ive located about it says the DVD-A has an "advanced resolution" surround mix as well as an "advanced resolution" stereo mix. The CD, of course, just has a stereo mix. If you ask me (and you have), despite the fact that DVD-A is on the way down, this package is good in that it provides a little bit of everything for everyone, and should make people who own DVD-A players, and particularly those with full surround-sound setups, happy.
March 20, 2006
After listening for the first time to my eAR 1001 ICEpower amps (from Acoustic Reality in Denmark), I thought, "Wow, that is a completely different sound from what Ive heard in the past" (conventional transformer-based amplification). The sound was clear with very low coloration and very dynamic. The bass was in a league of its own. I compared the ICEpower amps to the Accuphase A-50V class A power amp, which cost almost ten times the price when new, and I must say that I slightly preferred the sound of the ICEpower amps!
Ive been listening to them now for almost a year. Although my opinion hasnt changed much, I must say that there is something with the ICEpower amps that is a bit off, namely harmonic richness (and lower midrange fullness). I think conventional amps (and especially tubed ones) have more of this harmonic richness. What do you think? Q: Is something missing with these amps in terms of sound, or am I used to listening to colorations that are not present any longer?
A: Your letter struck a chord. In a limited experience last fall, I was impressed with how different ICEpower amplifiers sound depending upon design choices. To my ear, the "plug and play" approach results in an amp in which, as you point out, theres something "a bit off." Several weeks of burn-in did not change my immediate impression of the stock modules low-contrast harmonics. However, friends who have purchased the "plug and play" ICEpower amplifier consider it to be exemplary in all facets of reproduction. It will be interesting to see if their short-term gratification changes over time as yours did.
Another implementation I heard was one that modified to a small degree the ICEpower1000ASP module. The Red Dragon Leviathans positive impact did not change during a month of use. In my report, I ventured that a secret to the Leviathans rich tonality was the use of a wood-reinforced chassis. Since the Acoustic Reality eAR 1001 is encased in gorgeous African padouk, I am now wondering if I overstated the virtues of the Leviathans wood usage. If you get a chance to compare the Red Dragon and Acoustic Reality amplifiers, please write me with your observations.
March 13, 2006
Q: Is there any advantage to using balanced cables/connections?
A: This is a very timely question. I just wrote an editorial on balanced circuits on our SoundStage! site. In short, the advantage is better sound due to less noise. However, this conclusion is valid only if the equipment in question is truly balanced and doesn't just have XLR inputs or outputs. Fully balanced digital gear offers the greatest increase in sound quality when used balanced. Some products, like the Esoteric X-01 Limited CD/SACD player, should only be used balanced in my opinion. At $13,500, it is simply too costly to cripple by using any way other than balanced.
If you have balanced equipment, experimenting is easy, and your ears can be the judge. I'd be surprised if you aren't pleasantly surprised.
March 6, 2006
I like to listen to FM radio -- NPR in particular -- but I have a hard time getting good reception where I live. Q: Would a separate "audiophile" tuner for my audio system improve FM reception?
A: Depending on your particular circumstances, a good antenna may benefit you more than a good tuner. FM reception where I live is spotty, but I've had very good luck with both TEAC R-1 and Grundig S350 standalone radios, both of which have long antennae and good FM tuners. An audiophile-grade tuner would likely need an antenna mounted on your roof to pull in weak stations, which would add to the cost of the entire setup. Before you spend big money on a separate tuner, however, I would try one of the radios I mention and see if it solves your problem.
February 27, 2006
I plan to buy a high-definition TV, tuner, and satellite receiver for a new house. I want to distribute both HDTV and NTSC signals to TVs in other rooms, even if it means being able to watch only one source at a time throughout the house. Q: Can I add an RF modulator to a video output from my A/V receiver and distribute the RF signal via regular coaxial cable?
A: What you suggest might well be the most convenient way to go for NTSC signals. Whatever signal is selected by the receivers input control could be fed to the modulator, and that delivered to the system throughout the house. The advantage is that you can run almost unlimited amounts of cable, and only one wire will be required for both audio and video.
The negatives are that the picture will likely be less than pristine and the sound will be mono, but that might not matter if your intention is only to feed 13" sets in the kitchen and bedroom. If you want a full-blown home-theater experience in the remote locations, however, youll need much more complex wiring, and that might be better left to a professional installer.
Ditto high definition. If youre planning to use a rooftop antenna, its signal might be split between several HDTV sets, each with its own tuner. If you intend to get the high-def feed from a satellite dish, high-tech cabling will be necessary if you want the system to deliver its full potential.
Ian G. Masters
February 20, 2006
I recently bought Paradigm Reference Signature S8s, a C5 and a Servo subwoofer to replace my old speakers. My room measures 22 in length, 16 in width. Q: Do you have any suggestions for the ideal distances as to how far from the walls and from each other the front left and right speakers should be placed for best effect? I use the speakers for both home theater and listening to music. I use the Denon 5805 receiver to drive the 7.1 system.
A: That sounds like an outstanding system you have, and your room is fairly big, which is ideal. Given that, you could get very technical and buy some sort of room-analysis software, or you could hire a professional acoustics consultant, or you could simply start experimenting, which is the quickest, easiest, and cheapest way to place speakers. Thats precisely what I do.
First, what I try to do is get the front left and right speakers at least as far apart from each other as I am sitting away from either speaker. For example, if I sit 8 away, I try to get them at least 8 apart. The center-channel speaker obviously goes directly between, and at the exact same distance away from the listening position as the left and right speakers. I try to ensure enough distance from the walls so each speaker can "breathe," which, in general, allows them to sound their best. I try to leave at least 3 to each side wall, and 3 again behind the front speakers to the wall thats closet to them -- more if I can get away with it. Based on your room dimensions, you seem to have enough space to do the same. For example, if you space the front speakers 8 apart and sit about 8 front them, that leaves you with about 4 on either side of each speaker (you mentioned that your room is 16 wide; one also has to take the width of the speakers into consideration, which I didnt for simplicitys sake).
Of course, these are just guidelines; you will have to determine where the best locations are through trial and error. However, this explains what I do, and thats not a bad place to start.
February 13, 2006
I hope you don't mind, but I have a question for you. Let me start by giving you a quick run down of my equipment.
Esoteric DV50S universal A/V player
That is my audio system. I have everything connected with balanced cables.
Now, my Krell is slowly going out on me, so it's time to start looking for a replacement. I have traded e-mail with Marc Mickelson and Jeff Fritz a few times, and they have been always helpful. Marc said that I should look into the Classé SSP-600. It does look very nice.
My local dealer sells Lexicon, Arcam, and Jeff Rowland. He suggests that I separate my two-channel preamp from home-theater duties. He recommends a Rowland preamp with probably a Lexicon MC8B processor. Now that would be a steep climb, even with whatever discount I may get. I have read that the Lexicon bypass is not very good.
Because I have a top-end player, that worries me. If I get the Lexicon I am almost forced to get the Rowland. Q: Could you see the Classé SSP-600 outperforming that combo for home-theater and two-channel use? Two channel has become important to me, so I don't want to compromise it.
I would appreciate any comments you may have.
A: Marc and Jeff deal with your style of setup more often than I do. You obviously have a wonderful group of gear. And you can always get the Krell repaired. Even if it's out of warranty, Krell is a company that takes it reputation seriously, and I can't imagine them leaving you out in the cold.
That being said, I spent years with Rowland equipment and found it to have the most effortless, coherent sound of any preamp I tried. At the this past CES, I stopped in and asked Jeff if there was ever a hope he would offer a home-theater processor. He looked at me like I was an alien life-form and immediately shot back a simple "No." No explanation, no discussion, just "No."
I don't like using a separate two-channel preamp and a processor in the same setup. If you are intent on preserving every iota of the stereo signal, have a separate stereo system in a dedicated room. I don't know if you are old enough to remember Ivor Tiefenbrun of Linn Products and his famous demonstrations about how having a second set of speakers in a demo room destroyed the sound of the playing speakers. It may have been a canny way to get all the other speakers out of the room, but enough people heard the difference that hundreds of shops around the world started demonstrating with just one pair of speakers in the room. I personally heard the difference, and heard it more reliably than, say, the difference between two well-made speaker cables. So if you resort to trying to have a stereo system and a home theater in the same room AND you believe that your signal is so dear that you can't use something wonderfully clear and clean like a Lexicon or a Classé processor, then, I assure you, the presence of the additional speakers will do more to harm your sound than the (I believe non-existent) dirtying effect of the processor.
Will the Rowland sound different than the Classé or the Lexicon? Yes. And the only solution you have to figuring out which is best is trying them all in your system. If it were me, I'd be buying the Classé. The GUI is the best in the industry. Period. The sound is competitive with anything on the market. It's gorgeous, and a bargain at the price. Dead last on my list would be trying to cobble together a stereo and a surround sound. The only winner there is the shop that gets to sell you two pieces. But that's me. You may pick differently. Try them yourself, then decide.
February 6, 2006
Q. Ive never been able to figure out a basic unit of audio: the decibel. Can you explain it?
A: If theres one thing calculated to furrow the brow, its the decibel. Its everywhere in audio, but notoriously hard to comprehend.
In the first place, the decibel (dB) is not a unit, like a watt or an inch, but a ratio. Two signals that differ by, say, 3dB bear the same relationship to each other whether they are loud or soft. The same ratio could be stated as "2:1," but the decibel uses a logarithmic notation, both because cumulative gains and losses in level can simply be added or subtracted (two devices in a row that each increase level by 3dB have an overall gain of 6dB, which would otherwise have to be multiplied to get 4:1), and because it keeps the numbers manageable. The range of human hearing is roughly 1,000,000,000,000:1, which is much more easily expressed as 120dB.
Decibels also correlate fairly well with the subjective experience of hearing. The minimum change in level most people can hear is 1dB. A level change of 3dB, although it requires a doubling or halving of power, is a very modest level change to the ear; to achieve what would sound like twice the loudness, a power increase of 8 to 10dB is required. And when a components frequency response is specified as being ±3dB, this means that nowhere within the components stated frequency range is the output more than twice or less than half what it is in the midrange (usually 1kHz).
What makes things more confusing is that decibels are often used as if they were units -- as, for example, when we say that an orchestral crescendo is at the 100dB level, or that an amplifiers noise level is -90dB. In both cases, the figure is still a ratio, but refers to an unstated standard level. So the orchestra puts out a sound 100dB greater than the reference used for sound pressure level (SPL), which is understood, and the amplifier noise is 90dB lower than a particular output level (often rated output, sometimes 1W).
January 30, 2006
I have a Denon receiver that is not playing sound out of the right channel. I have checked the wiring and even changed the speakers from the left to the right. I imagine I have a blown channel. Q: Is there a fuse I can change, or, if the channel is blown, can I solder in something? If I send the receiver in for repairs it may cost more than I can buy a new receiver for. I am willing to take the chance on repairing it myself because I have nothing to lose at this point. I just need to know what to look for once I am inside the case.
A: You seem to have done a good job of troubleshooting to ensure that it is, in fact, that channel. Sometimes the problem can be something like a loose wire, or even a problem somewhere else. Id be lying if I told you that I could tell you exactly what to do to fix your receiver just from your e-mail. You might try consulting with a Denon technician, but, in the end, you will likely have to take the receiver to a service center to determine what the problem is.
January 23, 2006
I've seen the pictures of NAD's Masters Series product in your CEDIA and CES show coverage. However, I have not yet seen these products for sale anywhere. Q: Do you know when the Masters Series products will be available? I'm anxious to see them in person -- and audition them!
A: NAD will begin filling dealer orders for Masters Series products in early February. Beyond that, you know as much as we do. You will be reading reviews of the products on our sites later this year.
January 16, 2006
My room dictates that my home-entertainment unit sit right beside one of the main (unshielded) speakers. It has glass doors with relatively strong magnetic latches on top. If my VCR is near the top of the unit, it's near the magnets; if it's placed lower, it approaches the magnetic field of the adjacent speaker's woofer. Q: Do I risk damaging videotapes in either location? If the latches are a problem and I must move the VCR down closer to the woofer, would inserting steel cookie sheets between the speaker and the shelf unit protect the VCR and tapes?
A: If those are your only positioning options, I'd leave the VCR up top. The latch magnet could cause some degradation, but it's likely to be much more benign than what the massive magnet structure of your woofer might wreak. Shielding would undoubtedly help if you do move the recorder down, but the steel would have to be much heavier than cookie-sheet grade. In the top position, the danger is not so much when a tape is in the machine as when you insert or remove the tape -- if the tape gets too close to that latch, precious video data could be disrupted. If you could move the VCR one unit down in the stack, you'd lessen the chance of brushing the latch but still be far enough away from the woofer. I'd still put in some shielding, though.
January 9, 2006
I have a JVC DVD player that is about 18 months old and is connected to our system in the usual way (SCART leads). In the last week it has blown the fuse in the plug three times, without the unit even being turned on, it seems. Q: Any ideas why?
Even though the power switch isnt turned on, the unit is likely in some sort of "standby" state, even though its just plugged in. That said, any time a fuse blows, something is wrong. It's blowing to protect the device against further damage. You should definitely take the player to a qualified repair technician for service.
January 2, 2006
Thanks for your review of Bel Canto's eOne S300 amp. I was very interested to read about your experiment with the Diamond Resonators. I have an S300 that I am currently auditioning and would tend to agree with your comments, particularly with regard to soundstaging. I also found the midbass somewhat muted, unless the music is played at ridiculously loud levels. And I found vocals didn't come through quite right, also muted in some way. Unfortunately, I don't have any Resonators to experiment with to see how they improve things. I may have to see what else may work.
The reason I have the S300 to audition is that I had purchased a pair of eVo2 amps to use as monoblocks. Unfortunately they generated far too much RF interference for my system and were far too noisy. I have been sent a S300 to see how it works; it does fix the problems the eVo amps cause, but I wasn't impressed with it compared to my previous amp (a Rotel Michi). I have now been offered, at a slight increase in cost, a set of Bel Canto REF1000s. I am wondering how much of the family resemblance will come through in the REF1000. If the REF1000 compared well with the Red Dragon Leviathan you reviewed, I would be interested. If the REF1000 was more like a beefier S300, then I am not interested. Q: Have you had a chance to listen to the REF1000? If you have, would you be able to provide any comments with regard to how it compares to the S300 and Leviathan?
A: We currently have a review of Bel Canto's REF1000 mono amps scheduled for SoundStage!, although we are still waiting for the amps to show up. Perhaps that review will provide some answers for you. Sorry we can't be of more help to you right now.
December 26, 2005
I read your review of Classé SSP-600 in November. In the article you mentioned you are also reviewing the Lexicon MC-4. Q: Can you share with me when the review will be published and how the MC-4 compares to SSP-600? I am choosing among the Classé SSP-300, Lexicon MC-4, and Arcam FMJ AV8 or DiVA AVP700. It's becoming a very tough choice because they all have their own unique sound. Currently I have a pair of B&W 802D speakers, which I drive with Musical Fidelity M250 monoblocks and a Rotel RSP-1066. I listen to a lot of classical music.
A: The review should be out in the next two months. You have superb equipment, and a lot of your final choice will boil down to which mates best with what you've got. That being said, there are enormous differences in connectivity and ease of recording among your choices. Frankly, for my money, given how close these processors are in terms of quality of sound, I'd be just as interested in being able to easily use all of my equipment. If all you are doing is listening to a stereo pair of speakers and simply using one source, then pick solely based on sound. For myself, I like to be able to record any of my six source components onto my CD-R, DVD-R, or VCR, and I like to be able to use any two sources at any time.
We all have different needs.
But to answer your question more directly, the Classé SSP-600 is one of the best-sounding components I've ever had in my home, and the SSP-300 should sound identical.
December 19, 2005
I was recently asked to explain what happens to a speakers voice coil when an amplifier is driven into distortion. I answered that "A powerful tug-of-war takes place where the winner ruins the voice coil." I added that you shouldnt drive your amplifier into distortion in an attempt to make the music louder. Q: Was I right?
A: Im not sure about the tug-of-war analogy, but youre correct that the biggest risk to a loudspeaker is to drive it with an underpowered amplifier pushed to levels it cant cleanly produce. Ideally, an amplifier simply makes a larger replica of the waveform it sees at its input, but if that input is increased beyond a certain point, it will demand output on peaks that the amplifier cant produce. Instead, it simply continues to produce its maximum output until the input level drops. This effect, called clipping, creates a series of square waves that, like all square waves, contain large quantities of high-frequency energy.
Music has a fairly predictable distribution of energy across the audio spectrum, most of it concentrated in the lower frequencies. A speakers crossover network sends these strong bass signals to the woofers robust voice coil, and the much weaker treble frequencies to the delicate coil of the tweeter. Because of the greater power demands in the lower frequencies, thats where clipping is likely to occur, so spurious material with bass-like power and treble frequencies is routed to the tweeter, which can fry quickly.
It might seem that too big an amplifier would be just as risky, and its true that you can ruin a speaker through sheer brute force. But at most listening levels, even very high ones, the high-frequency peaks are of only short duration, and most tweeters can handle them. But big amps have enough power reserve that they dont often clip, and so dont produce the most dangerous sort of distortion.
Ian G. Masters
December 12, 2005
Q: Will an Ayre AX-7e integrated amplifier, which is rated at 60Wpc into 8 ohms, with an Ayre CX-7e as its source, successfully power a pair of Amphion Argon2 two-way loudspeakers, which are rated at 85dB/W/m sensitivity, in a small 13L x 10W x 14H room where the speakers are on the long wall opposite a couch?
A: Other than the very high ceiling height that you indicate, the room you described is quite small, and I ran the Argon2s in a similar-sized room with far less power than what youre saying the Ayre AX-7e can deliver. What most people dont realize is that it only takes a small amount of power to get a speaker playing to "average" listening levels. Where power really becomes a concern, though, is if you want to play your speakers loud -- really LOUD which the Argon2s, despite being small two-ways, are quite capable of. Then, perhaps, youll need a more powerful amplifier, but not at normal levels.
December 5, 2005
I just read your Omnisat v2 FS review. Very informative. I currently have the Omnisat Micros and enjoy them. As stated, they have different sound than direct-radiating speakers, but one that I've grown to enjoy. I was considering upgrading to the Omnisat v2 FSes, but also considering adding two Rocket UFW-10 subwoofers to accompany the existing Omnisat Micros. It seems to me that adding two subs would give me more bang for the buck. I don't think the improvements in my system of the v2 FSes over the Micros versus adding the subs may be worthwhile. I have a PC-Ultra sub from SVS, which I like a lot, but in my current setup, I figure maybe I might be missing some upper-bass detail and articulation.
Q: Could you provide me with your opinion regarding the sound quality of the v2 FSes over the original Omnisats, and any thoughts on the UFW-10 subwoofer if you've had any experience with it or any similar configuration?
A: If you like the original Omnisat speaker, theres no doubt youll like the new v2 series, which includes the Omnisat v2 satellite and the Omnisat v2 FS floorstander.
Still, youre right -- depending on what your priorities are, you might get more bang for the buck by adding dual subs. Quite frankly, the v2 FS, even though it has far more bass that any of the other Omnisat models, is no match for a sub -- something I found out when I reviewed the Omnisat v2-based home-theater system in Home Theater & Sound.
Still, I havent heard Rockets UFW-10, although Jeff Van Dyne seemed to like it when he reviewed it on GoodSound! over a year ago. I was quite impressed with Mirages Omni S10 subwoofer, which I think it is a good deal at just $500.
November 28, 2005
I purchased a CAL Icon CD player in 1990. For many years I had great listening experiences with it. Then, in March of this year, my CD player developed a problem -- the motor "stuck" and the drawer would not open. I took the CD player to The Stereo Doctors in Savannah, GA where it was successfully repaired. The drive belt was replaced, and so were the load motor driver transistors. There was a problem reading the disc if a track higher than #6 was selected, but playback was OK when played straight through from the beginning, so I just played my discs from the beginning.
I did not use the CD player for about two months, and the drawer stuck once again. The motor was making a kind of grinding sound, too. I took the player back to The Stereo Doctors and was advised that not only was the motor grinding, but the power light also failed. The technician is very fond of the player and has tried in vain to repair it. He indicated that he would need a repair manual to try something different and determine the cause(s) of the failures and, hopefully, repair it once again. Q: Can you help me find a repair manual for my CAL Icon CD player?
A: In 1998, Go Video purchased California Audio Labs. In 1999, Go Video was renamed Sensory Science, and shortly thereafter CAL closed its doors. You might want to call Sensory Science and see if you can get the service manual for the CAL Icon. However, given that this player is now 15 years old, its mechanism may very well be dying or already dead. Personally, I wouldn't sink any additional money into it, but if you want to proceed, Approved Audio Service claims to "maintain an inventory of many of the original parts and manuals for most of the [CAL] product line," including the Icon.
November 21, 2005
Yesterday someone told me he had a CD recorder, something that records onto CD without use of a computer. I did not know that such a thing existed, but I too have boxes of vinyl LPs and cassettes that I am anxious to convert to CD.
I just visited Amazon and searched for "CD recorder" and found the listing for the TEAC GF-350. Very interesting. I then went to Google to see what anybody else has to say about the GF-350 and found your review. There should be a website called "Review the Reviewers" because not all reviews are worth the time to read. However, yours does not fall in that category. Thank you for the details regarding how the product responds to practical use. And thank you for not being a "sound snob."
Although I have already spent quite a bit of money on equipment to accomplish the desired conversion, including a new computer and CD-RW drive and installed software I cannot figure out how to properly use, not one LP or tape has so far been converted. I did manage to copy a CD to PC and then burn a copy, but that is not my goal. The TEAC GF-350 is clearly the equipment that will work for me, and your review gives me more confidence that the money will be well spent.
November 14, 2005
I read your article on the TEAC GF-350 CD recorder/turntable. You said that once you record to an audio CD, you can then make further copies on your computer. Other reviewers have said that you can only make one digital copy because of the Serial Copy Management System that the GF-350 supports. I almost bought this system last month, but I was discouraged by the copyright issue. I have about 250 LPs, some that are rare. I'd like to burn many of them to CD.
Q: Can you make copies of the disks that the GF-350 writes? Can I move the files to play on the computer or an MP3 player?
A: I think the user guide says that you can make one copy of the disc you create using the GF-350. I haven't tried to make any further copies, but I've had success making one copy of a CD-RW.
November 7, 2005
My old open-reel tape recorder includes the speed of 1-7/8ips. The machine is beyond repair, and I've been unable to find a replacement deck that has the slow speed. Unfortunately, I have a number of tapes recorded at 1-7/8ips that I now cant listen to. Q: Can you suggest any way to transfer these to cassettes?
A: Although 1-7/8ips is the audiocassette standard, this speed was fairly rare for open-reel tape, even in the heyday of that format. A number of manufacturers offered the speed in the early 1970s, almost all of them European: Braun, Ferrograph, Philips, Tandberg, and Uher. You might be able to track one of these down in the second-hand market by placing a classified advertisement in one of the hi-fi publications or on eBay.
If you cant find a deck that will play your tapes directly, however, there is a way to cheat. Youll need two open-reel decks, both of which have at least two operating speeds; one of these decks must offer 3-3/4ips and have the same track configuration (quarter- or half-track) as your tapes. Play your tapes back on this machine at 3-3/4ips and record them onto the second deck at its higher speed (7-1/2ips, for instance). When you play this copy back at the machines slower setting (3-3/4ips), the pitch should be correct, although you may hear some degradation in the high frequencies and a slight increase in noise. Still, thats better than nothing. This version can then be dubbed directly onto a cassette or a recordable CD.
If you can find one of the few early cassette decks capable of operating at double speed (Marantz and TEAC made them, as I recall), you can eliminate one generation of copying. Play your original at 3-3/4ips on the open-reel machine and copy it to the cassette deck at its higher speed. It should then play normally at the slower speed on any cassette deck.
October 31, 2005
I am setting up a 7.1 home theater on a budget, but I want strong musical performance as well. Q: Which of these tower speakers would work for me? Canton 702 DC, Aperion 533-PT or 633-T, Paradigm Studio 60. Or, on the cheaper side, the Athenas you just reviewed? I'm driving them with a Denon 3806 or 4806 receiver (I haven't decided which yet).
A: Potentially, all of those speakers you have mentioned could offer you outstanding performance, and I could recommend each one for various reasons based on what I know. Even the Athena WS-100 coupled to a powered sub could likely suit your needs. However, these days if I were setting up a full home-theater system, particularly a seven-channel one as you have mentioned, I would never consider just the front speakers without considering the center-channel as well as the other speakers as a complete package. Remember, a home-theater system is a full system, and one would consider using different left and right speakers because you need them to match. Therefore, my recommendation is that before you make your final decision, listen to the fronts as a stereo pair, because thats important, but listen to the whole system, too. Oh yes, one more thing: when you listen to that entire system, do it with the video off -- this is important, because too often when the video is playing people are really watching whats onscreen and not listening closely enough to the sound.
October 24, 2005
Thank you for your recent review of Mirage's Uni-Theater. Q: Mirage Uni-Theater vs. Yamaha YSP-800 -- which would you expect to be the more satisfying companion to a plasma TV? Either way, I plan on adding a subwoofer, most likely the Mirage Omni S10. I understand the Uni-Theater is not going to render as much surround effect (I won't be adding additional surround speakers); might it still be the better choice despite that? I would appreciate any advice/feedback you might offer. My living situation prevents me from evaluating products for myself.
A: I can say confidently that a subwoofer would be a great addition to either unit, and the Omni S10 is an excellent choice. I have an Omni S10 here right now, and I am finding its performance extremely impressive given its size and price ($500).
As for your quandary over the Uni-Theater and the YSP-800, that one is not so easy to answer. Although on the surface they're similar products -- all-in-one speaker designs intended to be used with a plasma or LCD TV -- internally they're quite different. Yamaha's YSP-800 is a fully active system using digital power amplifiers and some 21 internal drivers that Yamaha calls "sound beams." The YSP-800 uses digital signal processing to generate a very spacious surround effect from just a front-mounted speaker. I've heard the YSP-800 at shows and have been impressed by the trickery it uses to create convincing surround sound. On the other hand, I wasn't completely blown away because I have heard "virtual" surround systems over the years that do pretty neat things with just two front speakers. However, I've also been one to tire of these "artificial" surround systems fairly quickly. Although they can be impressive at first, once the novelty of the surround environment wears off, they can be less satisfying, and sometimes even irritating. To be fair, though, I certainly haven't heard the YSP-800 for long enough to know whether that would be the case for it.
I haven't tired of Mirage's Uni-Theater, though, which I have listened to for a long, long time, perhaps because it's not really the same thing as the YSP-800. While the Uni-Theater is a one-piece design, it has no built-in amplifiers or DSP circuitry -- the Uni-Theater is basically three small Mirage speakers in one chassis. Due to the nature of the Mirage designs, it will sound quite spacious (a result of Omniguide technology, which I talked about quite extensively in the review), but it won't give you that artificial surround environment; instead, the Uni-Theater gives you a left, front, and right speaker all in one piece, and it relies on the surround processing to come from the receiver or the surround-sound processor that you use with it.
October 17, 2005
I am interested in purchasing the TEAC GF-350 turntable/CD recorder, and you are one of the very few people to review it online. I have collected a lot of 12" dance-club vinyl over the years that is not available on CD, and I would like to burn it onto CDs. When I play a 45, a 12" dance-club single, and a 12" LP, the volume can be different for each song, and when you burn all three of them to the same CD you would have to adjust the record-level control for each song. Q: Have you done this, and does the finalized CD come out with the same volume level for all three different types of music that it has just been recorded? Please let me know if the record-level control works well with the TEAC CD recorder. I have been waiting to see the reviews -- you can only purchase it online and not in local stores here in Boston. I don't want to incur shipping charges if it doesn't work out.
A: I think the recording-level control on the GF-350 works very well, but you'll definitely need to do some experimenting to make sure the volume level on your final recording is consistent from one track to the next. There's a recording-level indicator on the unit and that should enable you to gauge what the ultimate volume will be.
October 10, 2005
You mentioned in an earlier review of the Omnisat v2 FS that you were going to do a review of a full home-theater system using Omnisat v2 satellite speakers, along with the new center-channel speaker and the Omni S10 subwoofer. Q: Have you had an opportunity to do this review? I am planning to purchase a new system for my den, and I am curious as to what you thought. The Omnisat v2 FSes will not work in my space.
Henry T. Morrissette
Q: The full Omnisat-based home-theater system is set up as I'm writing this. It comprises the v2 FS floorstanders as mains, v2 CC center-channel speaker, v2 satellites for surrounds, and Omni S10 for the low end. The full list price for this system is $2400, and early impressions are very promising. Look for a full review either October 15 or November 1 at the latest.
October 3, 2005
Ive read about Fletcher and Munsons research and about equal-loudness curves. It seems to me this is an important effect, and that audio manufacturers should offer a loudness control rather than a switch in their amplifiers and receivers. (Years ago, I purchased a Yamaha preamp for this very reason.) Loudness controls of any sort are not usually offered on todays multichannel components. Q: Is loudness compensation no longer considered important?
A: This aspect of audio has always been problematic. It has long been observed that human hearing is less sensitive to lower frequencies as the signal level is reduced: as we turn the volume down, the bass disappears before the midrange and treble do. Fletcher and Munson did a number of experiments at Bell Laboratories in 1933 that yielded the curves shown below. Other curves from more sophisticated experiments have been released more recently, but they basically show the same thing. In effect, they indicate how much the bass must be boosted to have the same spectral effect as the overall volume level is reduced.
Until fairly recently, most preamplifiers and receivers offered a switch that produced this progressive boost as the main level knob was turned down. Most buyers had no idea what it did, and either hated it or loved it because it usually led to boomier bass.
One problem was that audio designers had no way of knowing the conditions under which their components would be used. The actual loudness of a particular sound is influenced not only by the sensitivity of the loudspeakers -- the sound level produced by a given amplifier output -- but also by the size and reflectivity of the listening room. In other words, they couldnt predict whether a given level setting would produce a sound that was loud or soft in a particular situation, so they had to guess.
Yamaha, as you note, went some way in trying to correct for this. Their system used a dual level control in which you set the loudness knob fully clockwise (that is, with no loudness compensation), and used the main volume control to set a comfortable, reasonably loud level. From then on, you would use the loudness control when you wanted to attenuate the signal, and it would apply the appropriate equalization.
That was a step in the right direction, but it ignored the fact that loudness is not only a matter of the control settings but also of the musical material itself. If you set the loudness control for the proper amount of boost during pianissimo passages, it would sound horribly boomy when the music got loud again. On the other hand, other than classical music, a lot of what we listen to has fairly limited dynamic range, so loudness compensation might be useful.
Some new components do still have a loudness control, but my guess is that most manufacturers figure that multichannel equipment is usually cranked fairly high anyway, so loudness is not an issue.
September 26, 2005
Q: Is there an ideal height for speaker stands? I mean for sound quality, not convenience or décor.
A: There is an optimum height for speaker stands, but it is based on the speakers sitting on them and the height of the listening seat. You generally want the speakers' tweeters to be at ear level when you are seated, although this my vary from speaker to speaker (some have the woofer above the tweeter; in such a case, talk with the manufacturer). I've used 24" stands with many speakers, but with taller speakers or a lower listening seat, shorter stands are required, while some very small speakers need stands that are 28" or 30" high -- unless the listening seat compensates.
September 19, 2005
I read your review of the Harman/Kardon DVD 31. Q: Have you looked at the Cambridge Audio DVD player in that price range? I have been told that the video rivals that of $1000 players.
A: I haven't used any Cambridge Audio players in that price range, but I'm always intrigued by comments regarding a product compared to another and being declared its equal in performance at a fraction of the cost. How long can a product remain "a bargain" before the more expensive product it's being compared to is simply considered overpriced? In short, I'm not surprised to hear that a low-priced player performed so well. In terms of video playback, the price for given performance keeps coming down and down and down. As I said in my DVD 31 review, even my sub-$100 Panasonic DVD-S27 has impressive picture quality considering its price, and the DVD 31 cleans house on my aging Kenwood DV/S700 which, in its day, was quite a bit more expensive than the DVD 31.
September 12, 2005
First, I'd like to say that I very much enjoy your writing style. I swear, you could make the nutrition information on a cereal box sound interesting.
I'm writing to ask you a question about the Harman/Kardon DVD 31 that you were most impressed with. Q: Could you please tell me how you feel it would compare to the Panasonic DVD-S77 model? I know that you stated you have the DVD-S27 and that this is a newer model. Any help would be greatly appreciated as I value your opinion. I was geared up to purchase the H/K when Sound & Vision reviewed (and loved) the S77.
A: Do you believe that I once actually wrote the "nutritional information" for a food manufacturer? It's true. Nevertheless, the bulk of my writing, and interest, lies with audio and video. As you know, I found the Harman/Kardon DVD 31 to be an outstanding player for its price, significantly bettering the Panasonic DVD-S27, which I own. That said, the S27 is a bare-bones, basic DVD player that costs a fraction of the price of the DVD 31, less than $100, so that must be factored in. Still, I can certainly justify stepping up to the new DVD 37 or DV 47 (which were just released at CEDIA 2005 and replace all previous Harman/Kardon DVD players, including the DVD 31) and would be more than willing to pay the extra price for either unit. As for Panasonic's newer DVD-S77, it's not really a successor to the S27 because it has far more features, such as DVD-Audio playback capability (which the DVD-S27 didn't have), and its list price is $249.95, bringing it much closer to the price of the DVD 31. Unfortunately, though, I don't have an DVD-S77 on hand, so I can't compare it to the Harman/Kardon DVD 31, so I can't say which would actually be better for you.
September 5, 2005
I live an hour from Indianapolis and would like to attend the CEDIA show for a day to see and hear what's new in home-theater equipment. Q: How can I go about doing this?
A: CEDIA is really two shows in one: the Expo and the certification classes. Like CES, CEDIA Expo is a trade-only show, which means that only people who work for manufacturers, dealers, and distributors along with press can attend. Compared to CES, there are few individual demos at CEDIA, as the show's setup isn't conducive to them. Instead, products are displayed in static fashion, more for show than go. If your work is related to consumer electronics, you may be able to attend CEDIA. If not, you won't miss much from a demonstration standpoint.