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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.
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 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!
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?
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.
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
To Hans Wetzel,
I was wondering if you could make a recommendation between the Parasound Halo Integrated integrated amplifier, Hegel Music Systems H160 integrated amplifier-DAC, and the Parasound A 23 and P 5 separates. I think there are a lot of us out there looking for this sweet spot of a $2500-$3500 system, but find it impossible to find a location with multiple products to listen to. Consider the question asked from a reader who is using Zu Audio Omen Mk.II loudspeakers, and lossless files from a MacBook as the primary source, with no intention of expanding to records.
Thank you for your thoughts and keep up the great work.
I totally understand your predicament, Jared. I’m an integrated guy, so between the Parasound separates and the Halo Integrated, I’d lean towards the latter. Not only is it one less box you need to deal with and find an outlet for, but the Halo actually makes more power than the A 23 does -- 160Wpc into 8 ohms vs. 125Wpc into the same load. I expect the two setups sound almost identical to one another seeing as their internal components are roughly the same.
As for whether I’d go with the Parasound over the Hegel, it’s hard to say. Here’s why: Hegel’s electronics seem to have a distinctive sound profile, and I love it. They sound super clean and clear, with a vibrant, slightly forward presentation. They “pop” really well. While that’s not tonal coloration or a clear lack of neutrality, per se, that is a definite sonic signature. The Parasound, by contrast, is a total chameleon -- it’s silly neutral, and not just for the money. It’s signal in, signal out, full stop.
Because I like the Hegel sound, as well as their industrial design, and the H160’s built-in Apple AirPlay functionality, I’d personally spring for the H160. For anyone who hasn’t heard a Hegel product in person, though, I’d heartily recommend the Halo Integrated. It may not “excite” in the way that the Hegel does, but the Parasound is $1000 cheaper. For $2500 or less, it’s the easiest recommendation I could ever make on the electronics front -- no-brainer.
I do have two other suggestions for you to consider, though. NuPrime Audio’s $2600 IDA-16 integrated amplifier-DAC sports 200Wpc (into 8 ohms); a sleek, modern form factor; and no frills, such as a headphone jack, bass management, or analog preamplifier. It’s a PWM-based switching amplifier, built with digital playback principally in mind. Along the same lines, you should also consider NAD’s upcoming M32 integrated amplifier-DAC, which will retail for $3499. It looks to have the build quality of a $5000 integrated amp, 150Wpc of NAD's Direct Digital amplification (it’s not a traditional class-D circuit -- the signal remains in the digital domain almost right up until the speaker terminals), and a gravitas about it that would shame both the Parasound and the Hegel integrateds. I’m expecting a review sample at some point in September, and I am VERY excited to hear what NAD's come up with. Hope this helps. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I just read your article and I must say that it felt like déjà vu. Like you, I was one click away from buying a pair of KEF Reference 1s and half a click from buying a Devialet 200. What stopped me was the price and the question to myself of how happy I would be with the purchase compared to what I already have. Both factors acted as an albatross, always hovering hauntingly above, causing me to question the need for another purchase.
My current system is composed of an Anthem MRX 710 receiver; Paradigm Signature S6, C1, S1 speakers (all v.3); and a Definitive Technology SuperCube 4000 subwoofer. My source is a 2008 MacBook Pro with Audirvana, and an Apple TV for when I stream from my iPhone. As you know both the Devialet and Reference 1s are a considerable amount of money, and while I can afford them, there is no doubt I would have to make a few sacrifices for a few months to pay for them. Do I want to make those financial sacrifices? For both products the answer is always a 95% yes.
The second question is always what gets me. How will it compare to what I already have? I know the Devialet will sound better than my Anthem without room correction, but it may not when I have my room correction on. As you have written before from personal experience, I have also purchased speakers too large for my room. I live in a 600-square-foot condo and bought the largest speakers that I could without going too crazy. The S6es sound mostly fantastic! Imaging, highs, and mids are great. But the bass is like trying to contain a raging bull; in this case, the bull cage is the volume control. Playing an R&B track at any decent volume without room correction overloads my room with heavy bass that takes away all the enjoyment from listening to my speakers. Once I turn on the room correction, everything sounds as it should, or at least as I think it should.
Considering all of this I thought to myself, well, if I want to enjoy a Devialet then I should buy smaller speakers; hence, the urging sensation of wanting to buy a pair of Reference 1s. But wait, then those two questions come back to haunt me and have kept me in check. Anyways, I just wanted to tell you that same damn albatross that haunts me probably haunts you and many others. Do I want to shoot the albatross? Will it make me happy after I do?
Keep up the great writing.
Misery loves company, Chester! Come on in, the water’s warm. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I just read your review of the Arcam FMJ A19 integrated amplifier. I have Sonus Faber Venere 2.5 loudspeakers and a Pro-Ject 1XPression III turntable. Would you choose the Arcam (with its lack of digital inputs, but with a good MM stage) or would you choose the Peachtree nova65SE (with its limited [number of] digital inputs and lack of phono stage)?
That is an interesting question. For a few reasons, I would lean towards the Arcam. You don’t mention having a digital source, and the Pro-Ject would obviously link up nicely with the A19. Further, having just reviewed the Sonus Faber Venere S, which I’m guessing is voiced pretty similarly to the rest of the Venere line, I think the Peachtree might not be the best option. I admittedly haven’t heard the nova65SE, but I have heard multiple other Peachtree products and found their sound to teeter towards the lively, vibrant end of the spectrum -- so much so that some might find the sound bright. The Arcam, meanwhile, is a bit more cultured sounding, with a fuller midrange and a touch of warmth to it. Moreover, a good digital-to-analog converter (DAC) can be had very cheaply these days, so adding an external DAC in the future would be quite easy. For these reasons, and a few others, I’d take the Arcam and not look back. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I read your latest article on the matching of speakers and listening room and I recognize much of what you write regarding bass problems. I have a rather large listening space, but it is our living room so I am constrained by this; i.e., I cannot place the speakers in an optimal position. The speakers have to be close to the wall behind, and one of them is in a corner as well, which of course is not optimal for good bass reproduction. Like you, I do not want to give up the bass since it is a vital part of the musical experience, so for a long time I lived with bass-related problems. My PMC speakers’ in-room response is down to 20Hz, but my main problem has been the 80-120Hz region. Therefore (while skeptical), I finally purchased the Amarra-based license for Dirac Live room correction and I now stream music through Amarra from Tidal, and watch TV and Netflix using Amarra SQ+. Both of these applications have the Dirac room correction integrated.
After doing the room measurement and activating the correction filter, I followed up with about two weeks of rather difficult habituation to the new sound. The Dirac room correction involves both amplitude and impulse-response correction, so a lot happens when the correction filter is activated. At first I did not like what happened and I felt that I missed something. Actually, I did according to the measurements: two 15-20dB nodes at 70Hz and 90Hz, and one 12dB suck-out at 100Hz. I simply missed the exaggerated bass and the time smearing of bass transients that made the bass sound really powerful. I was almost ready to give up the room correction. However, after about two weeks of habituation and making a slight change of the target frequency curve by smoothly increasing the bass from flat to +5dB below 100Hz and back to 0dB at 20Hz, my impressions have changed fundamentally. Everything is dramatically improved, while I no longer have the exaggerated bass around 100Hz, I can hear and feel the really deep bass below 30Hz clearly for the first time, and the cleaning up of the impulse response has a significant effect on the audibility of bass lines that previously were diffuse and smeared. And there is no boominess whatsoever. If I turn off the correction filter now, after getting used to how it should sound, I can really hear how bad things were previously. Interestingly, I have compared the corrected sound from my speakers to the sound I get when plugging my wife’s B&W P5 Series 2 headphones directly into my Benchmark Media Systems DAC2 HGC and it sounds VERY similar, which I interpret as the room-correction filter doing exactly what it should do.
Regarding good speakers for smaller rooms, I can, by my own experience, recommend PMC’s smallest floorstanding model, the twenty.23. While rather small and only having a 5.5” midrange-bass woofer, they have real deep bass (below 30Hz) thanks to the transmission line. Really worth an audition . . .
Misery loves company, Ake. I am glad to hear that I am not the only one with a less-than-ideal listening setup, and equally glad to hear you’ve found a successful solution. Using room-correction software would, I think, complicate my ability to fairly evaluate loudspeakers in my listening space, but it certainly sounds promising as a long-term solution. As for your happiness with the PMCs, that doesn’t surprise me. We reviewed the larger twenty.24 on our sister-site SoundStage! Hi-Fi in 2012, and reviewer Doug Schneider seemed enchanted by them. . . . Hans Wetzel