Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

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To Hans Wetzel,

I was wondering if you had a moment to help me make a decision. The used prices of a Devialet 200 and Hegel [Music Systems] H360 are somewhat converging, making them an option for somebody like me. Doug Schneider wrote that you had both a Devialet 200 and the H360, making you uniquely qualified to share your insights. I was wondering what your feeling is about these two after having lived with them for a while. I love the detail and precision of the H360, though it is a bit drier than I would like in a perfect world. I listened to the Devialet 200 a year ago, and, while I loved the detail, I remember it being a bit like a disembodied musical experience, maybe more cerebral than visceral. What’s your verdict?

Sonja J.
United States

That’s a tough call, Sonja. Objectively, the Devialet is the better amp. Its utter lack of distortion and super-low noise floor make it a state-of-the-art one-box solution. The Hegel’s more traditional architecture means that it falls a bit short of the Devialet in each of those respects. That said, I find the character of their sounds to be fairly similar, so I can appreciate your finding the Hegel a little “dry” and the Devialet more “cerebral.”

For me, I’ve kept the H360 and will likely continue to do so until Hegel replaces it. The Hegel’s flexibility makes it a useful tool for a reviewer, and more importantly, I think that the Hegel sound hits all the right spots for me. However, if I were to retire my laptop and give up the reviewing game forever, I would probably go with the Devialet -- the sound, the remote, the network control using Devialet’s AIR, all makes plenty of sense to me.

Since the above probably isn’t of all that much help to you, I’d highly suggest you read my review of the Devialet Expert 130 Pro, which will be published on SoundStage! Hi-FI soon. It might prove illuminating. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Roger Kanno,

I just read your review of the Parasound A 31 amplifier and it sounds as if it’s quite the amplifier.

I purchased a used Anthem Statement A5 on eBay recently only to have what appeared to be a mint unit to arrive; I was very suspect of some strong odor coming from the inside upon unpackaging it. I removed the top cover to find a burnt circuit board and as such returned it.

This episode prompted me to look at other potential offerings (new not used) and I was narrowing my search to the ATI Signature AT4005 at $4000 and the Parasound A 51 on a suggestion by my audio dealer, who I really trust. He said the smooth, warm sound of the A 51 is quite nicer than the Anthem A5 and he said that from what he knows of the ATI amps, they tend to be bright and somewhat sterile sounding. My room is a very large room with wood floors, stone wall on one side, and lots of glass on the other wall. He said I need warmth, not bright.

The speakers are new SVS Ultra Towers, which can be biamped. My dealer said that if I were to get the five-channel Parasound vs. the three-channel model, I could biamp the speakers, sending 250W to each section. He said that would make a huge difference vs. just sending 250W to jumpered speaker terminals.

My question to you is: Since you have used the A 31 and, of course, your Anthem monoblocks, do you feel it is worth spending another $1000 to buy the five-channel version to do the biamping? Will it round out the system better vs. just running a three-channel system?

My plan is to use this for two-channel stereo with dual subwoofers and have a center speaker for when I wish to watch a film. I am 80/20 music to HT. I really want a very full two-channel music system. The preamp is going to be the new Anthem AVM 60 with the latest ARC-2, which I tested and it’s amazing!

One of the subs will be a new SVS SB16-Ultra (not the ported one), which has a 1500W class-D amp built in. Any thoughts on your part would be welcomed.

Thank you,
Bruce Marton
United States

I am assuming that when you say biamping, you mean that one amplifier will drive the upper frequencies of a speaker, another the lower frequencies. Some refer to this as “vertical biamping.”

This is an interesting question since a speaker that is biamplified can sound better than if it is singly amplified (one amplifier to drive the highs through the lows), but the level of improvement will depend on both the speaker and the amplifier(s) used. In the case of the SVS Ultra Tower, I have not heard it, but understand it is a very high-value floorstander, so I suspect that the Parasound Halo A 31 should have little trouble in driving a pair. Of course, more power is never a bad thing, but the question then becomes: Should you biamp, get a better two-channel amplifier, or possibly even just get better speakers? It’s hard to know without actually trying the various options.

That said, the SB16-Ultra is a beast of a subwoofer (I just received one for review, but have not set it up yet). Furthermore, it sounds like you have more than one sub, which will give you plenty of bass. Combined with the AVM 60 and its excellent ARC-2 room correction, the Ultra Towers (and the amplifier) will be doing less work since the low bass will be reproduced by the sub(s), meaining even less of a need to biamp. In short, the system should sound excellent the way it is with just one amplifier channel per speaker. However, an A 51 doesn’t cost all that much more than an A 31, so you could get one and try biamping and if it doesn’t make much of a difference, use the extra channels of amplification for additional surrounds or height channels later on. Either way, you have some excellent components, so I think your system will sound fantastic whichever way you go. . . . Roger Kanno

To Roger Kanno,

Thanks for the review of the Anthem AVM 60.

I have an Anthem MRX 700 [receiver] from 2011, which was a departure from my music-system journey. I now own a Hegel P20 [preamplifier] and Hegel H20 [power amplifier], with an Auralic Vega DAC that I use for music, and on its way is a pair of PMC twenty.26 speakers that will arrive sooner or later. I’m very excited about that.

I still use the Anthem MRX 700 connected to the HT bypass on the P20 preamp for TV and movies, and, to my surprise, when I set my Mac Mini with Audirvana Plus or Roon to HDMI where the Anthem is connected, the performance of the Anthem MRX 700 with the Hegel H20 is quite good. It has a more forgiving nature that sometimes I find to be more enjoyable than with the Auralic Vega with both Audirvana Plus and Roon when I am using the whole audiophile chain (Vega, P20, and H20); perhaps there is with a little more noise in the Anthem. But when I see that this comparison between the Vega, P20, and H20 is not a night-and-day difference versus the Anthem and H20, I wonder if maybe having just the AVM 60 could do a better and simpler job than the Vega/P20 combo and may actually let me sell the Vega, the Hegel P20, and the Anthem MRX 700, and just get the AVM 60 with my H20 in my audio chain.

Or maybe I am not hearing what the H20, P20, and Vega can really do because my speakers are modest Paradigm Monitor 7s from 2005.

Best regards,

I have not had any of the Anthem MRX receivers in my system, but understand what you mean when you say that a “more forgiving nature” can sometimes sound more enjoyable. One thing I have found with Hegel components is that they do have a bit of a characteristic of sounding very clean and a little forward. They are certainly not harsh sounding, but things like vocals get pushed to the front of the soundstage, making them very present and giving a lively sound that I find very engaging. However, their clear and transparent sound does nothing to hide imperfections on less-than-pristine recordings, which is probably why the more forgiving sound of the MRX might sometimes sound better.

You do mention that you have some older and relatively inexpensive (when compared to your electronics) Paradigm Monitor 7 speakers and are expecting some PMC twenty.26 speakers, so I would definitely hold off on making any decisions until you hear your system with the new speakers. Also, I find that Anthem’s room correction system, ARC, not only makes multichannel movie soundtracks sound better, but also stereo recordings on most speaker systems with subwoofers, so that might also be some of what you are hearing with the MRX in your system. Once you get the PMCs, I am sure that you will be able to make a more fulsome assessment of whether you prefer the sound of your system with the MRX (and then possibly consider the AVM 60) or if you prefer the Hegel preamp and Auralic DAC. Based on my experience with Hegel’s components, I think that you will find that your system sounds better once you get more highly resolving speakers like the PMCs.

I look forward to hearing back from you on your impressions you once you get your new speakers. . . . Roger Kanno

To Hans Wetzel,

These [Monitor Audio Bronze 6] speakers I’ve considered buying, but I cannot audition them in my area. Their price recently came down into the mid-$800 range. There are many good options in this upper mid-fi range. There are only a few customer reviews of the Bronze 6 at Amazon and I have no place to audition them in the Tacoma, WA, area. Traveling to Seattle is too much for me (I’m disabled and housebound and do not drive).

Your review provided helpful info, but left me frustrated. First, you test $1000 speakers on amps that cost 2.5 to 4.5 times the speakers’ cost! That is not realistic. If I had an integrated amp that cost $2500, it would be paired with speakers costing at least $2000. Second, you provided no comparisons to speakers at similar price levels ($800 to $1200). Comparing floorstanders to small, expensive bookshelf speakers is at best comparing apples to oranges.

Best regards,
Lance Fredrickson
United States

Most of your points are well taken. I agree that reviewing the Monitor’s Bronze 6 with my Hegel Music Systems H360 integrated amp-DAC wasn’t ideal given the sizable price difference, and that comparing a big floorstander to a more expensive two-way bookshelf design isn’t the choice most buyers will be faced with. Totally fair. I do disagree with the common audiophile perception that a system should be “balanced” in terms of cost. Why is that? Cost isn’t necessarily correlated with performance. Moreover, you could make the argument that using a more expensive, higher-performance piece of electronics is actually more beneficial and revealing than using a less accomplished, but similarly priced amp. The more revealing the amp, the better it will highlight a speaker’s strengths and weaknesses, and in my humble opinion that’s the ultimate point of a review.

I’d also point out some harsh realities about being a modern audio reviewer. I write roughly one review a month, and have to be flexible about what products I get in for evaluation so that we can adequately cover the products and price points we target. With only so many review slots and only so many writers on staff -- almost all of whom have day jobs, I might add -- sometimes a product lands with a writer whose system perhaps isn’t a perfect fit on paper. That’s arguably the case with Monitor’s Bronze 6.

The fact remains, however, that I’ve probably had greater loudspeaker exposure over the last couple of years than the majority of professional reviewers out there (and at many different price points, from well less than $1000 per pair up to $30,000 per pair), and so I felt comfortable in being able to fairly evaluate the Bronze 6’s talents. I’m guessing that most buyers would not be cross-shopping the floorstanding Monitor with KEF's LS50 bookshelf loudspeaker, but a pair is what I own, it’s highly regarded among the hi-fi press, and is an incredibly popular model in terms of sales, so a reader such as yourself could potentially listen to both models in the same dealer and hear what I’m hearing. Sure, it would have been better if I had another similarly priced, similarly specced floorstander in-house to compare to the Bronze 6, but if I took that approach with each and every review I wrote, I’d either be very poor from having bought and sold so many products to serve solely as points of comparison, or I’d be imposing on a variety of manufacturers to loan me equipment that I’d be directly comparing to their respective competitors, which I’m not sure they'd be thrilled about.

In an ideal world, we’d have reviewers who specialize in a couple types of products; however, it turns out that reliable, high-quality writers with a passion for hi-fi are terrifically hard to come by. If you see a workable and affordable solution to our dilemma, I’m all ears. I hope that you were able to gain some insight into Monitor’s fantastic loudspeaker from my review. If not, I appreciate the time you took to read my work and to write in about it. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

Interesting article [“The Unhappy Audiophile: What I Want But Can’t Bring Myself to Buy”]. I can relate. I was wondering what it is that I’ve been chasing, trying to find the “best” equipment I can afford. I thought what I wanted was the best sound quality, but now I’m not so sure.

Because if it were sound quality, then I should be happy today. Yesterday I received a Parasound Halo Integrated. I only ordered it because for some reason it’s in Stereophile’s recommended equipment list. I thought it would likely be a return, I didn’t even want to open the box, because at that low price, you know . . .

I also have a Hegel H360 sitting in the other room, and an $8000 Audio Research VSi75 with KT150 tubes. I have decent speakers: Aerial Acoustics 6Ts. I bought a Chord 2Qute to make sure I had a baseline for a good DAC to compare. I auditioned a Devialet Expert 200 at home. I bought and sold a McIntosh MA5200, then a McIntosh MA7900. Rotel. Marantz. NAD. Sonos. Bose. Not in that order. The last one I bought was the H360.

I don’t know how to describe the strange combination of disappointment, excitement, uncertainty and annoyance as I come to the unpleasant conclusion that of all those fine pieces, the Parasound sounds the best in my house. One of my audio litmus tests is when I use the amp to watch TV. That’s when the truth is revealed. Music can sound great in many ways. But are the voices tonally correct and intelligible? Can you hear the ambient sounds mixed into the background? That’s where the tube amp -- the most expensive, high-end, and musical piece of gear -- falls short. So, I’ve spent $8000 and I still need subtitles or a soundbar?

The Devialet sounded all brains and no octane. McIntosh sounded like a Harley-Davidson gathering. Hegel was clean and orderly, but strangely “off” with an unnatural, hard bass. Kind of like a Norwegian, not a natural-born dancer.

The slightly tacky and old-looking Parasound delivers the goods. Even its DAC is better than the Chord, which rolls off the treble. How disappointing this all is! In a few days I’ll probably change my mind.

Sonja J.
United States

If you've seen my review of Parasound's Halo Integrated, you know how highly I regard that product. Regarding your journey of discovery, I think your case perfectly illustrates the need for every audiophile to listen to gear before buying, whenever possible. Obviously, that’s proving more and more difficult to do these days, but even the most well-reviewed electronics won’t appeal to everyone. There are many competently designed, high-performance amps available, so finding what speaks to you personally is really all that matters. I’m glad that you’ve had your eyes (and ears) opened to the fact that price and performance aren’t always correlated! . . . Hans Wetzel

To Philip Beaudette,

I’m considering the [Monitor Audio] Silver 6. I own a pair of KEF LS50 [loudspeakers] and an SVS PB-2000 [subwoofer]. Would I need to keep the sub in a system mostly used for music, but also the odd movie as well? Would this be considered a lateral move in switching to Monitor Audio? I heard the [company’s] RX6 and really liked it.


I agree with you about the Monitor Audio Silver 6 -- it is an extremely nice speaker that I love for the punchy bass and lively sound. I could easily live with a pair and be quite happy. If you decide to buy the Silver 6es, I don’t think you’ll need the sub for music, yet I’d advise that you keep it anyways -- at least for now.

If you’ve become accustomed to what a sub can do in your system you might feel you’re missing something if you take it away. Yes, the Silver 6es can produce great bass, but there’s no way they will dig as deep and with as much volume as your SVS PB-2000. If you take the time to integrate the speakers and sub properly, I suspect you’ll appreciate the extra bass extension that will be added when you listen to music. Plus, if you like the sub for movies, there is no way the Silver 6es can replace that. Again, the Monitor Audio Silver 6 is a great speaker, but it has its limits.

My only reservation about this change is whether a system consisting of the Silver 6es (with or without the SVS PB-2000) will be an improvement over the KEF LS50/SVS combination you currently own. Granted, I have never heard the LS50, but I know this speaker received rave reviews when it was introduced, both from our publication and several others. My concern is that, as you’ve suggested, this could be a lateral move rather than an upgrade. It’s impossible for me to say one way or the other.

If you do decide to make the switch, I’d appreciate if you could report back to me what you find. . . . Philip Beaudette

To Hans Wetzel,

Thank you for the great input a few months ago on the Parasound Halo Integrated and Hegel Music Systems H160 [integrated amp-DACs]. I wanted to follow up with all the new product releases in the integrated market. Have you had a chance to listen to the new NAD M32 or the Hegel Röst? I'm interested in how these compare to the sound of the H160. Also, there does not seem to be much detail on the Röst DAC?

Thanks again,
United States

Thanks for following up, Jared. I’m as interested in the NAD M32 as you are, and my name has been on their list for a review sample for many months now. The release date of the amp has been pushed back several times, but my hope would be to get one in by the end of the year. As for the Hegel Röst, it’s Al Griffin who currently has the product in for review for a new SoundStage! site to be launched January 1. While Al would know best, I can say that we’ve already reviewed the rest of Hegel’s current line of integrated amps, and I suspect -- though I’m not 100% sure -- that the Röst shares much of its architecture with the H80. It may well be that its DAC is more up-to-date than either of the circuits used in the H80 or even the H160, however. It might be best to reach out to your local Hegel dealer, or Hegel directly, for additional information. As for the NAD M32, I’d bank on seeing a review of it on SoundStage! Access next year. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I recently saw that you use the Monitor Audio Silver 10s in your personal system. I happen to own the same speakers, and I enjoy them very much, but my amp is a little too weak for them. I own a Densen B-110 [integrated amplifier] (its measured at about 75Wpc into 8 ohms, 130Wpc into 4 ohms), which sounds very nice and rhythmical, and can go loud, too. The problem is the bass can become a little unruly and muddy, and it doesn’t have the impact the Silver 10s are capable of, especially at low volumes.

I guess this is only natural for a biggish three-way speaker, so I would greatly value your advice on a matching amp, preferably one you’ve heard and liked with the MAs. I’ve heard your Hegel Music Systems H360 [integrated amp-DAC] on a friend’s ELAC FS 249; it was astonishing, but it’s way too expensive for me. Please note that I wouldn’t mind buying secondhand and that I live in Europe, which makes American products harder to find used, and more expensive.

Thank you in advance and keep up the good work!

Dimitris Ioannou

Hegel’s H80 or H160 would be natural options for you, and they are both specified to have a damping factor of over 1000, which tends to be correlated with bass control and precision.

Having reviewed the H160, I found it to sound almost identical to the H300, the H360’s predecessor, with great bass slam and impact. If you’re on a tighter budget, I think you’ll get a high proportion of the H160’s sound for a lot less money if you go with the H80, and you won’t be giving up any of your Densen’s power. Since Hegel is Norwegian, I am guessing availability on the continent shouldn’t be too difficult, and there looks to be at least one dealer in Greece. Good luck! . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I read your review of the Devialet 120 since I was thinking of buying one. When I was auditioning a pair of Harbeth speakers I heard this amp and thought it was one of the most amazing I’d ever heard, especially in terms of soundstage. What really interested me about your review was that you paired it with [KEF] R900s. These are the speakers I have and I am underwhelmed with [them], but that is probably due to my Cambridge Audio amplifier. Before I change my speakers, I’ll change the amp. Did you think that the KEFs were a good match for the 120?

Patrick Weldon

To be pretty direct, the Devialet 120, which has now been replaced by the Expert 130 Pro, remains the best amplifier I’ve ever heard. The 130 Pro purportedly cuts the already-low distortion rating of the 120 in half. I agree that you should change the amp before your speakers, especially since you know how good the Devialet amps are.

Regarding the R900s, I regret ever having sold them, and they remain my loudspeaker of choice for $5000/pair or less. I also recall being completely enamored with the Devialet/KEF tandem when I had the 120 in for review. Obviously, you may not feel the same way that I do about the KEFs, but I would consider holding onto them and trying them with Devialet’s SAM functionality, as they have a profile available for the R900. If they still don't strike your fancy, then at worst you'll have a “most amazing” amp to partner with whatever loudspeakers you wind up pivoting to next. Bottom line, grab a Devialet amp and don’t look back. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

Aloha from Honolulu, Hawaii, Hans. I found your “Out and About” article extremely intelligent and insightful, and a real breath of fresh air (especially compared to Ken Kessler’s snarky diatribes). It was as much about life and the modern world as about audio, and I agreed with all of it. I don’t know if I’ve grown or you have or we both have, but I always really enjoy your writing now, but when I first started reading your articles you struck me as somewhat smug, self-centered and arrogant. And you seem nothing like that now. You’re fast approaching the quality of Doug Schneider’s reviewing (and that’s saying a lot, as I consider him the best in the business). But please don’t forget about the budget end of the market, because you have to first convince newbies of the value of NAD C 316BEEs and PSB Alphas or Wharfedale Diamonds in competition for their iPhone dollars before they’re going to buy Hegels or even [Monitor Audio] Silvers.

I have a pair of Wharfedale Diamond 9.1s, which are perfect for my small room. I can’t imagine getting a better-sounding speaker without spending a lot more money. Anyway, keep up the good work. I really enjoy every one of Doug’s and your articles.

Doug Mencoff
United States

To Hans Wetzel,

I am considering upgrading my existing Rogue Audio Pharaoh integrated amplifier. The two models I am looking at are Hegel Music Systems’ H360 integrated amplifier-DAC and Musical Fidelity’s M6 500i integrated amplifier. I am also considering a third option: a PrimaLuna DiaLogue preamp with either a Hegel H20 or Musical Fidelity M8-500s power amp. Your thoughts? System as follows: Rogue Pharaoh with CIFTE NOS vacuum tubes, ModWright-modified Oppo Digital BDP-105, Clearaudio Concept turntable with Satisfy tonearm and Maestro V2 cartridge, Musical Surroundings Nova II phono preamplifier, Bowers & Wilkins 803 D2 loudspeakers, Velodyne DD-15 subwoofer, Audience power cords, Transparent Audio MusicWave Super analog interconnects and biwire speaker cables


You have suggested some quality alternatives to your Rogue Pharaoh, Edwin. While I’m sure the PrimaLuna preamp allied with either the Hegel or MF amp you mention would be really nice, I don’t think you’ll gain much on the performance end of things when compared to the two integrated amps that you reference. I reviewed the M6 500i a few years back, and currently use the H360 as my reference, so I definitely feel comfortable in suggesting that either would be a good choice for you. Judging by your current setup, I’m guessing that your preferences lean towards the fuller, warmer, richer end of the sonic spectrum. While I adore the Hegel’s resolving ability, clarity, and precision, it might be a little too “clean sounding” for your tastes. I’d highly suggest taking a listen to it nonetheless – it’s killer for the money.

I’d think the Musical Fidelity M6 500i would be similar in presentation to your Rogue Pharaoh, with an involving, velvety midrange that is imbued with a touch of warmth. It’s also a monster, with more than enough power and current to maximize your B&W speakers’ bottom end. I’d happily live with that amp today if the price was right -- I love everything about it, short of its cheap, plasticky remote control. You might also consider MF’s new Nu-Vista 600 integrated amp. It retails for £4999 in the UK (or roughly $6200 USD at current exchange rates, though I’m not sure what the pricing would be in Bermuda), and is a hybrid solid-state/tubed design like your Rogue Pharaoh. If my review queue wasn’t so healthily stocked, I’d have already inquired about a review sample. In all, then, I would steer you towards one of the Musical Fidelity integrateds. Good luck with your search! . . . Hans Wetzel