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To Hans Wetzel,
I enjoy your reviews and insights into this hobby very much, but today I am seeking advice on an upgrade of a highly reviewed product. The Audiolab 8200CDQ is a CD player with a built-in preamp, and can be used as a standalone DAC in a computer-based audio system. The question of differences in sound quality of higher-end players versus cheaper ones is the debate, as I currently use a Yamaha DVD-S657 SACD player that I purchased back in 2005 for $350.
The Audiolab 8200CDQ retails for $1600 CAD. How much of an upgrade can I expect with a higher-end CD player/DAC, and, of course, the preamp? My current system is made up of an NAD C 272 amplifier, NAD C 162 preamplifier, and Axiom M80 speakers.
Thanks for emailing, Gerald. Unfortunately, I do not have any experience with Audiolab's products. It does appear that the 8200CDQ has earned some very positive reviews, however. I also noticed that the unit uses ESS Technology's Sabre 9018 Reference chipset. While a chipset is only as good as its implementation into a given design, I am currently reviewing Benchmark Media Systems' DAC2 HGC, which, like the 8200CDQ, is a digital-to-analog converter, as well as a preamp. It, too, uses the 9018 chipset, and in my early listening tests, I think it's seriously good. If the 8200CDQ comes close to the Benchmark's implementation of the 9018 chip, I would bet that the Audiolab 8200CDQ could work well as a replacement for both your NAD preamp and your current Yamaha SACD player.
As for how much of an upgrade it will be from your current setup, I can only speculate. I know that digital-to-analog conversion has come a long way since 2005, when you purchased your Yamaha. Sound quality has improved, both in terms of resolution and musicality, and prices have fallen dramatically too. It's a good time to upgrade, and I suspect that it won't take you long to appreciate the Audiolab if you wind up purchasing it. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I read your write-up on the KEF LS50. What kind of amplifier were they using? Do you have any amplifier suggestions for them? I am looking for an integrated amplifier to use with this speaker, but will consider separates if the price is right.
The Audio Excellence folks at TAVES partnered the LS50s with Cary Audio Designs' 120S MKII tube amplifier, which develops 60Wpc in Triode mode and 120Wpc in Ultralinear mode. The reason I mention its power ratings is that the KEFs are pretty inefficient speakers, with a sensitivity of 85dB (2.83V/1m). Combined with a minimum impedance of 3.2 ohms, they're not going to be the easiest speaker to drive. I'd recommend an amp that can produce at least 100Wpc into 8 ohms and is stable into a load that drops below 4 ohms.
With that said, I don't think there's a need to invest in separates. There are a lot of terrific integrated amplifiers out there, and without knowing more about your preferences and budget, I'd suggest starting your search with Peachtree Audio's new $1499 nova125. With 125Wpc, a tube buffer, and a built-in Sabre digital-to-analog converter, you get your money's worth. For $1599, you could also check out NAD's C 375DAC. If you choose either of these, you'll have a really terrific $3000 system -- the KEFs are that good. . . . Hans Wetzel
I liked your article on the three best speakers. Do you have any of these in for review? I also have another question: Is it okay to buy factory direct? Everything I read says to listen first. I can't do that if I order them online. Any advice is appreciated.
Doug Schneider currently has the KEF LS50 in for review, and early signs point to their performance mirroring what he and I heard at TAVES. The review will appear on SoundStage! Hi-Fi. We inquired about the Cabasse 2.1 system, but have instead lined up another of their products for review. As for the Magnepan 1.7s, they are a few years old at this point, so it is unlikely that we'll get those in. I would be very curious to hear the company's future products, however.
As for factory direct, it's not an issue as far as I'm concerned. But if there's any opportunity to hear a product that you're interested in, or even another of the same company's products, I'd highly recommend it. When buying an audio product that you're going to have to live with in the long term, it's probably worth the extra effort to determine if you like it. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I noticed in some of your recent responses to readers that you mention GoldenEar Technology's Triton Threes and Definitive Technology's BP-8020STs. Will there be reviews of these? If so, when?
I'm in the midst of writing up a review of the Triton Three, and the BP-8020ST is next in my queue. The reviews will likely be posted in the next six or eight weeks, and both will be worth the read. . . . Hans Wetzel
I am thinking of purchasing a pair of Polk LSiM705 loudspeakers; however, I wonder if I have the right associated equipment in order to drive these marvelous loudspeakers.
My equipment consists of a Musical Fidelity XT-100 integrated amplifier, with 50Wpc into 8 ohms and 80Wpc into 4 ohms, and a Rotel RCD-1072 CD player. My interconnects are AudioQuest's Columbia and my speaker cables are Transparent Audio's MusicWave Plus. Could you tell me if I am going to have problems driving these loudspeakers with my equipment? If so, which amplifier would be more suitable for the LSiM705?? Lastly, is the Rotel RCD-1072 still a good CD player to use?
Thanks in advance for your useful reply!
I've seen the smaller LSiM703 in person, and I was deeply impressed with its build quality and overall appearance, so I can see why you're leaning towards Polk's larger LSiM705, which looks to be a very good speaker in light of our recent review of it. Polk lists the speaker as a nominal 8-ohm design, and they recommend 20-250W of power be used. However, the LSiM705 is also listed as being 88dB efficient, which is pretty average. All things considered, I think you could use the Musical Fidelity XT-100 to solid effect provided you neither have a large listening room, nor like to play your music terrifically loud. But if one or both of these is a reality, you might be better served with a power amplifier or integrated amplifier that delivers at least 100Wpc in 8 ohms.
As for your Rotel player and cabling -- you have pretty nice equipment, Rafael. See how the LSiM705s work out with your Musical Fidelity. If the tandem seems to do well, you may not feel the need to upgrade anything else. If you do, think seriously about transitioning to a computer-based system, and look to the many DAC reviews that we have written in the past two years to find something that fits your budget and musical tastes. Let us know if we can be of further help. . . . Hans Wetzel
Hope all is well with you and the rest of the GoodSound! team. I am enjoying the articles and your intense passion for affordable audio gear.
What do you think of Aperion Audio's Forte Tower compared to their bigger brother that Jeff Fritz reviewed last year, and any other similarly priced floorstanding loudspeaker? Also, are you as "enthusiastic" (from Hans Wetzel's article "Honesty in Reviewing") about this speaker as Mr. Fritz was about its bigger brother, or is there another speaker in that price range that excites you more?
My listening room is 10' x 12' with ten DIY acoustical panels that are each 4" thick. My system consists of the Vincent Audio SA-31 preamplifier, Odyssey Audio Khartago stereo amplifier, Emotiva ERC-1 CD-player, Vincent Audio PHO-8 phono preamplifier, Shunyata Research Diamondback power cables, and Transparent Audio MusicWave speaker cables with MusicLink interconnects.
Speakers are the Parts Express' MTM kit. I also have two subwoofers by Dayton Audio, powered by an O Audio subwoofer amplifier.
This is fun again when I don't think about the return shipping of trying out speakers for a few weeks! I tried a pair of Wharfdale EVO2-30s, but thought they sounded too recessed, and I had to pay $107 to return them. Ouch!
Thanks in advance for your help,
I'm glad that you're enjoying the site's content -- we take a lot of pride in our work.
I've only briefly heard Aperion's Grand Verus Tower, and their Intimus 5T, which I recently reviewed and now costs only $632/pr. -- a bargain! Based on what I heard and saw of the Grand Verus Tower, Jeff's review is probably still right on target. Given that you have a relatively small listening room, but also have a pair of subwoofers, I think you could be happy with either the Grand Verus or Forte towers. One thing to keep in mind is that the Grand Verus is noticeably the more substantial loudspeaker -- it weighs 67 pounds, as compared to the 30 pounds of the Forte. Combined with the dual 6" woofers found on the Grand Verus, you might find their flagship model having far more robust bass. If it were me, I would probably ditch the subwoofers and rely solely on a pair of Grand Veruses.
As for other speakers in that price range, you definitely have some options. I am currently listening to a pair of Definitive Technology's BP8020-ST speakers, which retail for $1200/pr. The BP8020-ST is a bipolar speaker with a built-in powered subwoofer. It delivers a broad, but very focused sound. I also have in for review GoldenEar Technologies' $2000/pr. Triton Three, which also makes use of a built-in powered sub, as well as an Air Motion Transformer tweeter. The GoldenEar is a more relaxed sounding speaker than the DefTech, and offers better bass extension. My most unorthodox, but probably most emphatic recommendation is KEF's $1500/pr. LS50 minimonitor. I recently heard them while covering the TAVES 2012 audio show, and they are terrific. They offer better clarity through the treble and midrange than anything I currently have in my listening room, and that includes my reference Mirage OMD-28s, speakers that once retailed for $7500/pr. Since you already have a pair of subwoofers, you'd have excellent, almost full-range sound for a reasonable sum. I don't like being over-the-top about any product, for fear of sounding like I'm pandering; however, the LS50 is that good. . . . Hans Wetzel
I am seeking the best sound quality out of my system without spending a great deal of money on bulky equipment. As a result, I am wondering if I should stick with my Aiwa LCX-70M stereo system, and simply install plug-ins to improve sound quality, such as those from Dolby Laboratories or DTS? If not, what would you recommend to replace it, and at what cost?
I am not sure what you mean by installing plug-ins, but if you're looking to improve on your Aiwa system, you can go in a few different directions. To retain all of the connectivity that your Aiwa system provides, you would probably want to buy a newer all-in-one stereo system from a big-box store like Best Buy. Take a listen to what they have and go with what you think sounds the best.
If you do not necessarily need a CD player or tuner, however, you can spend $300 or $400 on a pair of powered speakers (speakers with amplifiers and multiple analog inputs built-in) that will assuredly sound better than anything you would be looking to purchase from a place like Best Buy. Audioengine's A5+, which I reviewed earlier this year, would be an excellent place to start your search. You could also check out NHT's SuperPower, PSB's Alpha PS1, or M-Audio's AV 40. . . . Hans Wetzel
I am currently shopping for an integrated amplifier and am considering Bryston, Musical Fidelity, and NAD. Do you have any firsthand experience with these? Are there any other brands I should be looking at? Your guidance is appreciated.
I don't think you can go wrong with any of these brands. I recently toured Bryston's Canadian factory, and can attest to the care and expertise that they lavish on their products. Their 20-year warranty is, I believe, the longest in the industry. While their older lines had a slightly cool sound to them (think Krell), their newest lines are supposed to be pretty neutral, and objectively very, very good. I recently reviewed two Musical Fidelity products, the M1DAC and M6 500i integrated amp. I found both to be pretty good, especially the integrated. I can't be sure of your price range, but if you like warmer-sounding gear that provides a good deal of ambience to a recording, you can't go wrong with their well-built products. As for NAD, Sathyan Sundaram recently reviewed their C 375DAC integrated amplifier-DAC. Based on his detailed review, my suggestion would be to try and listen to the NAD if at all possible, since it is likely the least expensive, yet most fully-featured integrated amplifier you could by from any of these three companies. If that doesn't strike your fancy, I'd then suggest Bryston's B135 integrated, or Musical Fidelity's M6i. . . . Hans Wetzel
Does it matter if I use spades or bananas on my speaker cables? I am ordering some new wires and I have a choice. My preference is for bananas.
We've answered this several times before -- the shape of the connectors makes zero difference. Go with what you prefer, or what works best for the binding posts on your speakers or amplifier. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I have a general question about in-ceiling speakers. I just moved into a new house that is already wired for them and I'm having issues picking a decent set due to the amount of options in the marketplace, as well differentiating between paying for a brand vs. real quality. With a budget of around $500, can you guide me and give me your opinion on the topic? Maybe I'm being too cheap as well. Thank you very much!
We don't really cover architectural speakers here at GoodSound!, so I'm not in the best position to offer advice on specific models. That said, many of the brands that we review also happen to have in-ceiling models, and since many of the same or similar drivers are utilized for such products, the overall sound quality is likely very similar. As for being too cheap, I can't be sure of how many in-ceiling speakers you're looking to buy, or of the size of the room where they will be used.
Aperion Audio, Axiom Audio, Definitive Technology, GoldenEar Technology, MartinLogan, Paradigm, PSB -- these are but a few companies to explore, and by no means comprise an exhaustive list. If you can, try to hear at least one of these brands at a local dealer, and compare the sound quality to the other brands on offer. I suspect you'll wind up with something that sounds pretty good. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I have read many of your reviews and I'm wondering what your thoughts are on USB cables. Have you tried many? Do you feel they make a difference? What do you recommend for less than $100?
Thanks for the kind words, Ryan. Contrary to common sense, USB cables do seem to make an audible difference in a signal chain. I have experience with four different USB cables: DH Labs' Silver Sonic, Dynamique Audio's Firelight, Nordost's Blue Heaven LS, and Ridge Street Audio's Poiema!!! R-v3 Digital Master. Each allowed for subtle improvements in sound, with the latter three offering slightly better performance than the DH Labs Silver Sonic cable. The Silver Sonic USB, which I own, is a fraction of the price of the Dynamique, Nordost and Ridge Street cables, however, and available for under $100. You could also check out some of AudioQuest's offerings.
With that said, I would only recommend investing in a USB cable if you are happy with the rest of your system. The improvements in sound that you will hear with a reasonably priced USB cable, such as the one from DH Labs, or even the several-times-more-expensive Ridge Street cable, are modest. In my experience, an upgraded cable will be slightly more resolving and sound a little cleaner than a basic USB cable. But again, it's a subtlety. If you're currently using a digital-to-analog converter that is more than a few years old, my suggestion would be to put your money there. In terms of performance per dollar spent, that is a far better investment. . . . Hans Wetzel