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To Doug Schneider,
I am considering purchasing a tube amp but am wondering about how much hassle they are to maintain versus a solid-state amplifier. Any thoughts?
Every tube amp that I know of requires more maintenance than any solid-state amp that I know of. With a solid-state amp you simply set it up, plug it in, and it usually works flawlessly for many, many years without tinkering of any sort. With tube amps there are tubes that wear out and, usually, bias levels that have to be checked regularly and adjusted if need be. There might be other things you need to do as well such as clean the tube sockets. How often you have to change tubes and adjust the bias varies based on the design and how often you use the amp, but, obviously, the point made here is that tube designs definitely do require more work than their solid-state counterparts. . . . Doug Schneider
If I understand the general conclusion in the "Audio 101 Part Three: Amplifiers" article, it seems to me that you are saying that class-D amps are really the state of the art, and that older class-A and -AB designs are not really as good. Am I missing something?
Class-D amplifiers are state of the art in terms of efficiency, and they can certainly sound quite good. But I'm not ready to say that they are state of the art in terms of sound quality. For the very best sound, I still think more conventional designs have the edge, even if they are less efficient, cost more, and are physically larger. Ultimately, though, you could build a great audio system around any number of amplifier configurations, no matter which letter of the alphabet your amplifier type ends in. . . . Jeff Fritz
To Colin Smith,
I am thinking of changing my 20-year-old amplifier for a better sound. My current setup is a Marantz CD6002 CD player, Pro-Ject Debut III turntable, Cambridge Audio 640P phono preamp, Sony TA-F235R amplifier (30Wpc), Wharfedale Diamond 10.2 speakers, and inexpensive 6mm copper cables biwired to my amp.
I have a very small listening room, and the speakers are about 1.2m apart. I have tried the NAD 3020 integrated amplifier after reading so much hype about it and it now rests under my bed after I realized my old amp is much more detailed and offers deeper bass. I am quite happy with my sound except that I want something more “excitable” and with my current setup the midrange is somewhat sunken-in and appears rather drowned. I want to hear more than just the treble and bass. I also do not want to spend too much on a new amp. I have narrowed my search to:
Sony TA-F4A (go vintage?)
Any opinions/help/advice? Thanks in advance for your time.
With their lowish 86dB sensitivity, your Wharfedale speakers are a little tough to drive. For that reason I'm more comfortable recommending as powerful an amplifier as you can squeeze into your budget. Among the choices you list, the Marantz PM7001 (70Wpc into 8 ohms) best meets the power criteria, although that amp is discontinued and may be difficult to find.
As for the NAD 3020, keep in mind that it was considered excellent for its time and that as electronics age their performance level can drop off dramatically. For that reason I hesitate to recommend any vintage components that haven't had a thorough going-over. The youngest Sony TA-F4A was built 32 years ago and I wouldn't want to put much faith in the ability of its original parts to have withstood three decades of service and still be performing like new.
There are other alternatives you might want to consider. Cambridge Audio's 550A is well regarded and reasonably priced at $550. The contemporary NAD C 326BEE is also an excellent choice at $499. If you can swing it, Anthem's Integrated 225 ($1599) is a killer amp for the money and could serve as the basis for a higher-end system when you're ready to upgrade speakers and sources one day. In that regard the Anthem could be considered "future proof." . . . Colin Smith
I read a review by Ron Doering about the Musical Fidelity M6i integrated amplifier in September and enjoyed it.
I'm looking for an integrated amplifier to work into my surround system; it must have home-theater bypass. I like the M6i but I’ve also got eyes for this Harman Kardon HK 990. It was released in September and it has interesting specs but no reviews.
Are any of you familiar with the brand and have you any idea of the Harman Kardon sound? I want a two-channel integrated to match with my ATC SCM 19 bookshelf speakers. I'm really impressed with the specs of the Harman Kardon HK 990.
I’m very familiar with the brand but not familiar with that model, and none of our writers has reviewed it. I did look it up and can see why you’re quite taken by the specs and, probably, the features too. It’s quite powerful and there appears to be a lot jammed into it. It's certainly interesting. But even if we review it, it won’t be for quite some time -- and I can’t even guarantee that we will, since we’re filled up with other gear right now. However, I did some searches and found some articles on the HK 990 from professional reviewers as well as consumers who have had experience with it. Keep looking and see what you can find out.
The only piece of advice I’ll leave you with is this: look at the specs but don’t buy based on those alone. Specifications and measurements can tell you certain things, but they can’t tell you everything. Ultimately, you have to let your ears decide, so you should definitely try it before you buy it. . . . Doug Schneider
I just got an iPod Touch for my wife and we were wondering if there is some kind of free software application that would permit listening to the radio. That would be a first for us, as we don't even listen to computer music. Second question about the iPod: Could we use the USB on the Oppo BDP-83SE to listen to the Music Store on the player through our sound system?
The iPod Nano has a built-in FM tuner that allows the reception of regular, over-the-air radio signals. The iPod Touch, however, does not have a built-in tuner. But you can download apps that will allow you to listen to Internet Radio services like Pandora, Slacker, and others that are free. Since these are Internet Radio services, the iPod Touch requires access to a wireless Internet connection to receive these broadcasts.
Most audio/video devices such as the Oppo BDP-83SE cannot be directly connected to an iPod via the USB port. Many manufacturers sell iPod "docks" that connect to the iPod and output audio and/or video and usually provide playback control when connected to one of their compatible receivers or processors. Most of these docks only output analog audio and rely on the iPod's digital-to-analog conversion section, which is good but certainly not the best. However, some newer docks such as the one available for the forthcoming Anthem receivers can extract the digital signal from the iPod and send it to the receiver to utilize its higher-quality digital-to-analog converter. Wadia's standalone 170iTransport dock can also extract the digital-audio signal from an iPod and then present it to a DAC or processor via an S/PDIF digital connection.
You could also simply use an adapter to connect the headphone output of an iPod to the analog RCA inputs of a receiver or preamplifier. It won’t deliver the best sound possible because it’s an analog connection, but it will work. Some products like the Cambridge Azur 350A integrated amplifier that I have in for review even have a 1/8" input jack on the front panel for connection to an iPod or other MP3 player to make matters easier. . . . Roger Kanno
I am considering an FM tuner and would appreciate your recommendation on either the Marantz ST7001 or the NAD C 425. Which would you recommend?
Gary A. Giordano
My experience with the NAD C 425 was that it sounds good but is not especially sensitive or selective. I haven't played with a Marantz tuner in some time, but my recollection is that they were a bit more selective at separating stations close to one another on the dial. Besides the NAD and Marantz, I'd look at the Onkyo T-4555 that offers AM, FM, and HD Radio (about $500). It's a nice unit. You might also try the Sangean HDT-1X that also is AM/FM/HD. It's cheap (I've seen it for as little as $170) but needs a reasonable FM antenna (the Terk Pi-B or AF-1 are good choices). Actually, that goes for any of the tuners. Hope that helps. . . . Thom Moon
My friend told me to keep my speaker cables as short as possible. He suggested 8’. The problem is that I need to use cables that are about 12’. Is that going to be a problem?
In general, you should try to keep the cable lengths short, but it’s not going to make much difference at all if you use 8’ or 12’. . . . Doug Schneider
I'm comparing the Arcam A90 and Anthem Integrated 225 integrated amplifiers. They're around the same price point where I live. I'm using them with Tannoy DC6 speakers and a Paradigm DSP-3100 subwoofer. Any thoughts?
It seems that you’re comparing two great contenders. We reviewed the Integrated 225 and think very highly of it. We never reviewed Arcam’s A90, but our past experiences with other products from Arcam have always been excellent.
To determine which is better for you, you’re really going to have to listen to them side by side. We won’t be able to make that comparison for you. The only thing we will draw attention to is power output, since there’s a significant enough difference. The Integrated 225 is rated to deliver 225Wpc into 8 ohms, whereas the A90 is rated to deliver 90Wpc into 8 ohms. Do you need the extra power that the 225 provides? That will depend largely on how loud you listen and your room size. It might also depend on whether you might look at different speakers in the future. If you buy something that needs more power than the DC6 does, you don’t want to be caught short. But, like the listening experience, this is something you’ll have to determine. . . . Doug Schneider
I'm looking to purchase a pair of nearfield monitors for home mixing and don't have a very large budget. I'm thinking $200 max. I was wondering if you had any recommendations for me.
The most important thing to realize is that no good-quality $200 speaker will deliver much bass. That’s because the cabinets and woofers are small. But you can get good midrange and highs.
For that price, I’d look at the Audioengine 2, a surprisingly good self-powered speaker that sells for just $199/pair. They’re a clear step up from the speakers that most people use with their computer systems. If you don’t need something that’s self-powered (i.e., you have an amp) and you can spend a little more, you should consider the Axiom M2 V3 that’s priced at $296/pair. This speaker is notable for its superb neutrality from the upper bass through to the midrange and highs. . . . Doug Schneider
I'm an audiophile from Shanghai, China. I've just read your review on the Simaudio Moon 300D. At the moment I use Silverline Minuet speakers and a Simaudio Moon i-1 and CD-1. I’m considering getting a 300D for computer-based audio. I’m wondering if you compared the USB input of the 300D with one of its S/PDIF inputs being fed from a sound card's S/PDIF output. My suspicion is that Simaudio would recommend the S/PDIF input for higher resolution and was wondering what you think. Thank you very much!
Nihao Wu! It's great to hear from a reader in China.
I didn't try an S/PDIF output directly from my audio computer to the 300D, just USB. However you are correct that the S/PDIF input will offer higher-quality sound. The USB input on the 300D is limited to 16/48, but its S/PDIF inputs will go all the way to 24/192. It was my plan to buy an Asus Xonar computer sound card and use its S/PDIF output into the 300D for up to 24/192 resolution computer audio, but instead I bought an iMac and will use it with Amarra software and USB, probably with an Ayre QB-9 DAC (to be determined). Of course, even limited to 16/48 with USB, the 300D sounds great. My plan to go to higher resolution isn't because I think something is missing from the sound of the 300D’s USB input, but because as a reviewer I have to be able to use the full capabilities of the products I review. . . . Colin Smith
I need an audiophile setup to listen to my classical music CDs. Take in consideration that:
1) I only listen to classical music and recordings made from 1900 to 1960, because the best artists were in these years. So consider the fact that the recordings are not so good.
2) I like true stereo recordings (made with only two microphones), so I need speakers with a very sharp stereo image. For me, this is probably the most important thing.
3) I don t like colored sound, considering I listen only to classical music.
4) I ask you to recommend a complete setup with the minimum price to obtain an entry-level but audiophile-quality setup, from the CD player to the speakers. I will also consider active speakers.
5) I have seen speakers such as the Polk Audio RTi A1 loudspeakers and Infinity Primus P252 loudspeakers that were given Reviewers’ Choice awards on SoundStage!
6) My room is little, so for now I could consider a bookshelf-type speaker.
I hope you can help me.
A good pair of neutral-sounding loudspeakers will work well with any type of music. A neutral speaker is one that has very flat frequency response, both on and off axis, as well as good bass and high-frequency extension. You’ll also want the speaker to have very low distortion, particularly in the highs, given the nature of the recordings you listen to. You don’t need your speakers adding any nasty sounds to recordings that aren’t all that clean sounding to begin with. It goes without saying that your electronics should also be very neutral-sounding and free from distortion. Frankly, that’s not difficult to find these days given the general high quality of modern-day electronics.
The two speakers you mentioned are excellent in terms of performance and value. They’re a good starting point, but there are many more to listen to.
I won’t recommend specific models, or a specific system, because what you choose will come down to individual preference. Your own ears will have to decide. But I will point you to some brands that I recommend you look at, because they have various models that will likely fit your musical needs and budget.
For electronics such as amplifiers and CD players, consider NAD, Cambridge Audio and Arcam. They all have a number of products that would be suitable . For speakers, look at Paradigm, Axiom Audio, Aperion Audio, PSB, Infinity, and Polk. They all offer small to large speakers at a variety of prices. If your budget allows, look at Finland’s Amphion as well. I mention Amphion because you said how important imaging is to you. Their lowest-priced speakers tend to be priced higher than the lowest-priced speakers belonging to the other brands I’ve mentioned, but you might feel it worth it since their speakers tend to image extremely well. Don’t compromise on cables to connect it all together, but don’t go overboard and spend too much either. DH Labs (Silver Sonic) offers some excellent interconnects and speaker cables for a very reasonable price. Their White Lightning interconnects and ST-100 speaker wires are exceptional values.
I hope that helps. Happy shopping!