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To Hans Wetzel,
I just read your impressions on the Hegel Music Systems H300 integrated amplifier-DAC and the Rogue Audio Sphinx/Pharaoh. I am in the midst of the same search, but with a variation to mention: my listening profile and gear.
I have a pair of GoldenEar Technology Triton Two loudspeakers, a Mac Mini for a source, and an Auralic Vega digital-to-analog converter. I listen to a lot of rock, pop, metal, and Latin music, and am trying to figure out if the Hegel H200/300 integrateds could be better than the Rogue Pharaoh, or vice versa. Because I don't need another DAC, I was looking more towards the Hegel H200, but I have been told that the H300 is a lot better sounding than the H200. In my case, I have never had tube gear, but it appeals to me. The only possible issue is that where I live we have a constant temperature of 32°-35° Celsius (90°-95° Fahrenheit). Of course inside the house there is air conditioning and I keep it under 25° Celsius (77° Fahrenheit). I definitely need a HT bypass.
Which one do you consider to fit better in my profile, the H200, the H300, or the Pharaoh? Is the Pharaoh better than the H200?
Nice system, Mike. Having previously reviewed the GoldenEar Triton Three, I imagine the larger Triton Two is quite the mean loudspeaker. Don't have any experience with the Auralic, though.
As for the Hegel and Rogue integrateds you mention, I think all of them would work. I was impressed with what Rogue's Sphinx integrated was able to do for $1395, and so I suspect the more powerful Pharaoh, which has a more sophisticated power supply and analog circuit, will be noticeably better. If you're interested in tubes, then the Pharaoh would be my suggestion. At $3495, it is $2000 less expensive than the H300, $900 less than the H200, offers a HT bypass and 175Wpc (far more than you'll ever need with your powered GoldenEars), and its class-D/tube hybrid design should sound delightful. I'm not sure the Pharaoh will offer quite the same outright performance as either of the Hegel models, particularly the newer and more refined H300, which we have measured on a test bench and found to offer distortion and noise levels well below what you would normally expect at this price range. But don't let that dissuade you. If I were in your shoes, the Pharaoh is what I'd go with. As for the temperature concern, I think it's a non-issue. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I read your review of the Musical Fidelity M6 500i and wanted your advice on whether this amp will work well with the Bowers & Wilkins 802 Diamond loudspeakers. Also, will the matching Musical Fidelity M6DAC be much better than the M6CD, which has a DAC built-in? Is it night-and-day, or worth looking into? My goal is to put together an easy system that is easy to use for my wife. I have Focal Electra 1027 Be speakers, but have lusted for the 802s. I also considered the newer Electra 1038 Be by Focal, but like the looks of the 802 Diamond. Can you give a good opinion of the M6 500i with both speakers?
Thank you. If I dream, I will get the Focal Scala V2 Utopia -- will the M6 500i be good enough for that speaker if I was to get them?
The M6 500i is a peach of a product, short of the remote. It has more power than you should ever need, and would be just fine when paired with any of the speakers you mention -- Scala V2 Utopia included. It has an inviting yet expansive sound that I think anyone would appreciate. It isn't the last word in resolving ability, but it's still quite good. It's also worth noting that just because you have an expensive pair of speakers, you shouldn't feel compelled to spend a lot on the rest of your system so that it's somehow "balanced" in terms of component cost. Cost frequently does not correlate with sound quality in the high end. That said, the M6 500i is an easy recommendation, and despite not having listened to it in over a year, I found myself just last week fondly thinking about it.
As for the sound quality of the M6DAC versus the M6CD, I can't really say. I'm not familiar enough with Musical Fidelity's line to comment with any authority. What I can say is that they have a reputation for producing equipment that falls on the warm-sounding side, electronics included. I would bet both products are resolving, but so are a litany of others these days. Digital has come a long way, and one can get crazy high performance for not much money. There are plenty of other companies who offer startlingly good sound for around the same price. Arcam's FMJ D33 comes to mind, as does Ayre's QB-9, Hegel's HD25, and Benchmark's DAC2-series products -- though there are many more that probably warrant consideration. If you're set on staying with Musical Fidelity, and can forgo a Compact Disc player, my recommendation would be to just grab the M6DAC.
On the 802 front. They're splendid looking speakers. They sound great. And back in the day, they were one of the best speakers you could buy for the price. I'm not so sure that the current version is as resolving as some of its competitors in the marketplace. Regardless, you know exactly what you're getting when you buy a pair. Given that, your strong affinity for them, and the fact that they will produce quite the sonorous sound when paired with the Musical Fidelity amp, I say make the jump and don't pay a second thought to the Electra 1038. While I'm confident the Focals are at least as revealing as the 802s -- possibly more so -- they don't have the same pomp and circumstance. The Musical Fidelity / Bowers & Wilkins tandem will look and sound great 25 years from now. Go for it. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
Your review of KEF's R900 speakers was very informative and full of good information. I am interested in your room size as I am being advised that the R900s are too big for my room. My room is 5.6 meters wide where the speakers will be located, and the back wall is 7.15 meters wide. Length is 7 meters. It is about 45 square meters in area. I'm told I should get the smaller R500 but didn't really like the sound coming from them.
I live in Moscow, Russia, and have limited choices but have been looking at the Bowers & Wilkins CM10/CM9 surround-sound speaker system and Sonus Faber's Venere 3.0. These are available in gloss white as my wife is insisting on this color for our apartment. All the speakers will be used in a surround-sound system but I listen to a lot to music and will possibly get an amp that delivers good music as well as movies. At some stage I may get a separate amp and processor just for playing music. So maybe the movies would be the priority for the new amp.
The A/V receivers I am looking at are the NAD T 787, Marantz SR7008, Denon AVR-X4000 or AVR-4520CI, Integra DHC-9.9 or DTR-50.2, and finally, the Pioneer SC-LX87. Pioneer seems to have all the bells and whistles for the latest movie surround-sound system, but I don't know about the music side of it.
Any advice would be appreciated, and again I really like your reviews. I have not yet seen a review on the Bowers & Wilkins CM10s.
So let's start with the room. Converted to feet -- because Americans find the metric system too inconvenient -- it looks like your room is about 18’ by 23’. That is decidedly not a small room. Accordingly, I think the R500s, while certainly capable speakers, as our own Doug Schneider believed when he reviewed them, might not work as well as the larger R700s, or even the R900s as a stereo pair. A few months ago, I would have said without reservation that you should spring for the R900s. They are a 90+% loudspeaker in every parameter of their performance, and, along with PSB's Synchrony Ones, really are the benchmarks at about the $5000 USD price point.
Here's the thing, though. After having spent a goodly amount of time with some top-quality, narrow, two-way speakers recently, like Vivid Audio's Oval V1.5s and Sonus Faber's Olympica I, I'm now keenly aware of how giant cabinets can affect a speaker's presentation. My room is huge, with about 12’ ceilings, and floor dimensions of around 20’ by 30’. Unfortunately, my setup is really hamstrung due to my living in a city apartment, so their placement is far from ideal, sitting about 7-8’ apart, and non-equidistant from my sidewalls. The result is still impressive, but I now have a strong sense that the large cabinets of the R900s necessitate their being placed much further apart -- I'd say 10-12’, which means you'd want to sit equally far from them. Spaced, as I currently have them, the sound is a little confined or boxy. In retrospect, I should have sprung for the R700s, I think.
If you can afford to give them that much space, I say go for the R900s -- they're a large-room speaker, and properly set up, I'm confident you'll find them superior to the Bowers & Wilkins speakers, as well as the Sonus Fabers you mention. If you can't give them that much space, I would suggest either the R700s, which dig nearly as deep in the bass, or the R500s with KEF's matching R400b subwoofer. If you're building a home theater, and it sounds like you are, then go the R500/R400b route. The towers can play obscenely loud, and they use an uni-Q driver identical to their larger R700 and R900 siblings. As such, you are losing nothing in the sound-quality department, are getting significantly smaller cabinets (which will mean they image a bit cleaner), and will get even deeper bass (courtesy of the R400b) for less money than the R900s. Going with the R900s in a home-theater setup in a room with your dimensions is overkill, in my mind.
Both Bowers & Wilkins and Sonus Faber manufacture great-looking speakers, arguably better looking than the KEFs, but I have some reservations. I suspect the CM10s will have a warm, non-neutral tonal character, as well as a contoured frequency response that makes the speaker sound pleasing, if not ultimately faithful to your recorded music. As for the Venere 3.0s, I would bet they are quite neutral, and I know they're just crazy good-looking in person. But are they as resolving as KEF's R-seriess speakers? I doubt it. The Olympica Is that I have in for review are likely the prettiest speakers I've ever seen, but I do not think they are any more revealing than my R900s, which would seem to suggest that the Veneres would not be either.
On the AVR front, I admit to being wholly ignorant -- I am a two-channel guy through and through, unfortunately. That said, I might be able to give you a little bit of help. I know that NAD and Marantz make great-sounding stuff. I would also add to your list Anthem, whose R&D facility I visited last year, as well as Arcam, whose headquarters I toured a few weeks back. Both companies have highly competent engineers, and they are as concerned about outright sound quality as they are with connectivity.
On the Arcam front, I spent some quality time with their AVRs, as I explained here. Their AVR450 is terrific for its $3500 asking price, which looks to be within your budget. No need, to my ears, to purchase a separate amp or processor. Their $6000 AVR750, however, is on another level. If there's an "ultimate" AVR to be had, I think it's that one. Even through modest loudspeakers, the difference in sound quality between the two models was profound. Good luck with your search, and let me know if I can be of further assistance. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Aron Garrecht,
I read your excellent review of the Bel Canto REF150S and agree with it 100 percent, as I have one of these in my system. I was thinking of getting another for my second home.
You alluded to the REF500S. Do you think the REF500S is that much better than the REF150S if one doesn't plan to drive large speakers hard?
In comparing the REF150S to the REF500S, I'd have to say that there are more similarities than differences. The most noticeable difference I heard, other than an increase in power and dynamic headroom, was the added control and articulation in the bottom end. I remember low frequencies sounding more resolved and a bit more authoritative overall. The differences in the midrange and higher frequencies were subtle at best. If you are running efficient speakers, say, 89dB or better, and don't run them at really high volume levels, I think you can easily get away with going with the REF150S. I remember that amp sounding more powerful than its specifications would suggest.
That said, if your speakers require a bit more power to drive them properly, or you crave arresting dynamic swings partnered with improved control in the bottom end, you may want to explore the REF500S. My recommendation to you is to see if your dealer will let you take home a REF500S so that you can do a direct A/B comparison in your system, driving your speakers, in your room.
I hope this helps, and let me know which way you decide to go. . . . Aron Garrecht
To Hans Wetzel,
I enjoyed ["A Pilgrimage"]. What do you think of the Ascend Asoustics Sierra Tower, MartinLogan Motion 40, and Tekton Design Pendragon speakers? Keep the reviews coming.
If I'm being honest with you, I have to say that I don't have personal experience with any of the speakers that you mention. Still, I might be able to offer advice.
About ten years ago we reviewed one of Ascend Acoustics' bookshelf speakers on the SoundStage! Network, which appears to still be on sale today. Beyond that, I can only advise based on what I see from their website. It's promising though. Their Sierra Tower speakers have a seven-year warranty, are level matched within ±1dB of one another, and come with an individualized frequency-response plot for the speakers you order. Combined with the fact that they're made in the U.S.A., that's pretty impressive. For around $2000/pair, that sounds reasonable, and certainly worth considering for a tower speaker.
The MartinLogan Motion 40 was actually reviewed on our sister site SoundStage Hi-Fi last year. It looks like a lively speaker with some definite virtues, but you might take a look at the measurements included in the review. Between 400Hz and 800Hz, there is a massive 10dB swing, and that is smack dead in the midrange, where you're likely to hear most vocals. The reviewer characterized the midrange as being "lean" and the bass as "beefy," and the Listening Window graph in the measurements bears this out. Relative to the lower midrange, where male vocals would be, the bass is 5-6dB up. So unquestionably, the Motion 40 is going to have a sonic personality.
The Tekton Design Pendragon is interesting. Doug Schneider is finishing up a review of a Finnish speaker called the Aurelia XO Cerica, which, like the Pendragon, uses three tweeters in its design. Intrinsically, there are both benefits and drawbacks to doing so, but Doug found the Cericas, which are $7100/pair, unbelievable sounding. I've heard some good things about the Pendragon, and the three-tweeter design may help to explain why.
Something that gives me pause about them is that they're a two-way design in which the three tweeters are crossed directly over to a pair of massive 10" midrange-bass drivers. That's pretty unusual. Asking a 10" driver to handle both the mids and the bass in a design is demanding. Speaking of the word handle, the product's page on their website has it spelled "handel," in addition to spelling the word triple, "tripple." I have to say that if a company is going to ask me to part with $2500 for a pair of loudspeakers, I'd want to see that they pay attention to how the product is presented. The company does offer a 30-day "Risk-Free" trial for their speakers, but should you return them to Tekton, you are responsible for return shipping costs of a massive pair of speakers, as well as a 15% restocking fee -- that's $375! Hardly risk free. But that doesn't have any bearing on the sound of the speakers of course. We'll look into this company and see if we can review something of theirs.
So that's what I think. Around the same price range, I believe there are other models worthy of consideration. How about Aperion Audio's Verus Grand Tower at $2000/pair? Aperion ACTUALLY has a risk-free 30-day guarantee. Or how about Definitive Technology's $2000/pair BP-8060ST, or GoldenEar Technologies' $2000/pair Triton Three? These are just a few examples. There are a goodly number of competent speakers out there that could fit your bill for around $2000. Let us know if we can be of further assistance. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I was looking for some good articles or reviews on Hegel Music Systems' H300 and Dynaudio's Focus 160. Well, I recently bought these two products. I have received the speakers and am now waiting for the Hegel H300 to arrive. Initially I wanted to buy Musical Fidelity's M6i with the speaker choice of either KEF's LS50 or Dynaudio's Focus 160. But my dealer convinced me that the Hegel H300 is far superior to the M6i and I was offered a huge discount on the Hegel, as well. As for the speakers, to be honest I couldn't look away from the beautiful sound of the Dynaudios, even though the LS50 is a game-changer.
Right now I am in doubt with my purchase on the speakers. KEF and Hegel is a great match. I wonder how good the Focus 160 will sound with the H300. The reason for the doubt is mainly that I have my Focus 160s connected to a vintage Pioneer SA-710. And to tell you the truth I am not sold on the sound of Dynaudio yet! Well I know the amplifier that I am using is not enough or even near to enough to drive speakers like the Focus 160, but still there is a little bug in my head that's been bugging me for a while. I can still change the speakers to the KEFs. For me an audition is not an option. So, I humbly request your expert view on this matter.
Maybe I'm biased, as I run KEF's R900 and the Hegel H300 in my reference system, but I think you're very much on the right track in the equipment you discuss here. While I agree that the $1500/pair KEFs would work very well with the Hegel, I think the $2900/pair Dynaudios would work just as well, and probably even better. I used Dynaudio's Contour 1.8 Mk II for almost eight years, so I'm not unfamiliar with Dynaudio, even if I have not had anything newer of theirs.
I know, as you do, that the LS50 is a crazy-good speaker. I was actually on the phone with the folks from KEF earlier today and they told me that it took the company six months to sell three times as many pairs of LS50s as they were expecting to sell in a year. So a lot of other people are also well aware of how good the LS50 is. I have no doubt that you'd be happy with them. But if you "couldn't look away from the beautiful sound of the Dynaudios," I really wouldn't stress out about it. Like KEF, Dynaudio has been making very high-quality speakers for decades. Their cabinets are also of high quality, and the wood-grain finish available on the 160s stands in stark contrast to the black-and-rose-gold combination found on the KEFs. You'll also likely get more substantial bass out of the Dynaudios due to their increased cabinet size and larger mid-bass driver.
My personal choice would be the LS50, if only because you would get a level of performance that approaches or possibly even equals that of the Dynaudios (short of the bass) for almost half the price. But it sounds like you're pretty content with the Focus 160s, so I don't see a pressing need to get rid of them before the Hegel even shows up. My advice would be to try the Dynaudio/Hegel combination and see what you think. I suspect you'll be pretty happy. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I'm calling on you for advice again. I am finally getting around to moving to a computer-based audio system and, of course, have lots of questions. I have started ripping my CDs using Apple's iTunes to my Dell laptop for use in my library. I have an Oppo BDP-105 that, as you know, has a USB input. The question is: What do I use with it? Maybe an Apple iPad, but the 128GB version is not cheap. Apple's 160GB iPod classic -- would that work? Or an Apple MacBook Air, which is $1000? I need to be able to use a remote to search the library so it may have to be an Apple product, as opposed to a cheaper non-Apple product. What product would you recommend to connect to and store my music library on, as well as being able to navigate in my listening chair?
Thanks for writing in again, Gerald. The Oppo BDP-105 has a wonderful reputation, and should work well to play both your CD collection, as well as your computer-based collection going forward. I wouldn't recommend the iPod or iPad -- neither would work well for the purpose you discuss.
A MacBook Air (the least-expensive laptop Apple currently sells) is still pretty expensive, and comes with a solid-state drive that won't be big enough for you. What I would suggest is grabbing a used 13" MacBook Pro -- anything made within the last couple of years will do just fine -- and just make sure that it's one with a regular hard-disk drive, and comes with all of its associated CD-based software. You could also get a used Mac Mini, though that would potentially require you to purchase a monitor as well.
A simple web search will show you how to wipe your hard drive and reinstall the system software, ensuring that the machine won't be bogged down by the detritus left over from its previous owner. You could then transfer your entire iTunes library directly from your current Dell laptop, and should have a pretty solid little setup for not too much money. Don't bother replacing your USB cable with an "audiophile" one until the rest of your system is to your liking, since it won't yield the performance dividends that other upgrades might. An audio player such as Audirvana might make a decent investment, but, bluntly, if your digital collection consists solely of your ripped CDs, iTunes should be all you need.
I'll also briefly tell you what I plan on doing in the coming months. My workhorse of a laptop, a 17" MacBook Pro from mid-2009, is due to be replaced once Apple updates their Pro line of notebooks. I plan on replacing my current laptop's hard drive with a new one at a cost of no more than $100-$125, so that I minimize the risk of a drive failure. If you're putting all your music in one place, it makes sense to play it safe, and a newer drive will certainly help your chances, while also giving you way more drive space, and, in turn, space for music going forward. For another $100, you could get a cheap external hard drive as well that can serve as a storage backup for your machine so that you won't lose your music if one of the drives fails. I plan on doing this wirelessly with an Apple AirPort Time Capsule, which is their version of a wireless router with a built-in hard drive. Check back in November or December for my editorial about building a modern-ish music server for a relatively small sum. If you do it right, the thing should last for years with no problem! Let us know how the project turns out! . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
You asked me to keep you posted, so I’m sharing my final actions and decision.
Yesterday I worked out a deal to borrow KEF R700s, which I used to conduct a side-by-side comparison with the Focal 836 W Prestiges. Upon listening to the R700s, I was immediately surprised with how much bass they produced. In fact, it was quite boomy. Unfortunately, the demo pair were missing three of their four port plugs, so I didn’t have the opportunity to tighten things up a bit. Also, since I didn’t have the R900s, I could only imagine that they would have greater bass. However, given that I’m a bit of a bassaholic and that I could tune out some of their boominess with the plugs, I quickly dismissed my reaction.
Treble/mids -- this is where I felt the comparison was similar to if I had the R900s. Just as I noticed the boomy bass of the R700s, the R700's midrange sounded more cupped or boxy compared to the 836’s midrange. Imaging also seemed better with the 836es than the R700s. After approximately two hours of auditioning the two pairs in question, I decided that I preferred the 836es. I was a little disheartened because I went into this wanting to buy the KEFs, but I had to go with what I liked to hear.
Then some Focal Electra 1008 Be speakers were thrown in the mix. After I decided on the 836es, I asked if there was a speaker in the Electra line that was close to my “original” budget. In all of my research, I never included the Electra series because at that time I thought they all were outside of my budget. Well, I immediately fell in love with the 1008s and, after negotiating for more Wife Acceptance Factor, decided to up my budget. I’ve never heard highs and mids that sounded that good. Also, for a bookshelf, they produced just as much bass as the 836es. However, there were two negatives to considering the 1008s. First, they are not as efficient as the 836es and second, I learned that the stands were not included. Well, to make this shorter, I decided to up the budget and spring for the larger 1028 Be speakers.
Thanks again for responding to my initial inquiry.
John, it's funny how things work out, right? Do not for one second think that you're somehow making a wrong choice here. While the R900s are definitely my cup of tea, they may not be for everyone. And I know what you mean by the R700s having a "boxy" sound to them. Their sound is not as divorced from the cabinet as a more sophisticated, or at least a smaller, loudspeaker would be. Also, Focal has been making good loudspeakers for a long time, so I think you did well.
As far as springing for the Electra line, I can't blame you. Frankly, I think the Electra line is the looker of Focal's various ranges, and their beryllium tweeters are phenomenal. While surely a step- up in price, I would probably have made the same decision that you did. Enjoy. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I realize I may not get a return answer here, but it is certainly worth a shot, as they say. I am debating between the Rogue Audio Pharaoh integrated amplifier (the big brother of the Sphinx that you reviewed earlier this year) and the Hegel Audio Systems H300 integrated amplifier-DAC. Since the Hegel H300 is your reference, is it possible to let me know which sounds better since I cannot audition either piece?
I have scaled down my system and did have tubes in my EAR (Esoteric Audio Research) 868 preamplifier. I decided to go with an integrated and am using Vienna Acoustics Mozarts. I love them but am in a quandary as to which integrated I should use. The Hegel has received rave reviews and the Rogue Pharaoh is so new it has none. The Pharaoh does, however, have tubes. I know you have only heard the Rogue Audio Sphinx, but from what I have heard, the Pharaoh is similar, but much better and with more power. Thanks so much.
What a pickle you're in, having narrowed your search down to these two. Well, I can't speak much to the Pharaoh, since, as you say, it's so new that it has yet to be reviewed. Maybe I can finagle a review sample at some point! Despite this, I do have some comments and suggestions.
You are probably well aware of the regard in which I hold the Hegel H300. It's really, really exceptionally good, and not just for the money. Its noise floor is the lowest I've heard from the various hardware I've had through my listening room. It has a properly resolving amp with high power (it's rated at 250Wpc into 8 ohms) and tiny amounts of distortion. And it has a full-fledged digital-to-analog converter that's quite good. And a real, bespoke remote. And preamp outs and home-theater throughputs. The thing is a high-end Swiss Army Knife. We recently had the H300 measured on a test bench and it produced some of the best measurements that we have seen from an amplifier, irrespective of price. For all of those reasons, I think you and many others could be happy with an H300.
That said, I was really taken with Rogue's Sphinx, which offered really compelling performance for the price. If the Pharaoh has an improved power supply and amplifier circuit, then I would imagine its $3495 asking price is well worth the money. It's also about $2000 less expensive than the Hegel, which costs $5500, though its 175Wpc output is less substantial, and it does not have any digital inputs/DAC. You mention the Pharaoh has tubes, and that you have (or had?) a tubed preamp before. For this reason, I'd probably recommend the Pharaoh. The Sphinx's midrange was downright lovely, with a hint of that delicious tube richness, but with all the accuracy and acuity that a solid-state, class-D design can bring. I suspect you'd miss that quality in the Hegel, which almost hits you in the face with its sheer clarity. For a tube fan such as yourself, then, Pharaoh all the way. While it's easy to respect the Hegel and its abilities, it's easier to fall in love with the Rogue for the tube sound. Oh, and Rogue's website claims that the Pharaoh is currently available for an introductory price of $2995. If that's the case, I'd suggest moving quickly! . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I’ve been researching floorstanding speakers that cost between $4000/pair and $6000/pair for several months and have narrowed my decision to Focal's Chorus 836 W Prestige ($4499/pair) and KEF's R900 ($4999.98/pair). I’ve had the opportunity to audition the Focals, but the nearest retailer that carries the R series is over four hours away, assuming that they have R900s on the floor. Your review of the R900s was very helpful to my research. Could you compare and contrast the Focal Chorus 836 W with the R900?
You've picked two great brands, and two solid loudspeakers. But there are certainly differences here. The most obvious one is the design of each speaker. The French, undoubtedly, have a much better notion of style and presentation than the Brits. So the Focals are a lot more interesting to look at, while the KEFs are -- while well-constructed -- a bit staid looking. Different strokes for different folks on that front. On the other hand, the Focal uses a traditional three-way approach of tweeter, midrange, and three 6.5" bass drivers, while the KEF uses a coaxial driver sandwiched in between two larger 8" bass drivers. I can almost guarantee that the $500 premium for the KEFs will get you deeper bass response than the Focals.
Doug Schneider, who reviewed the Focal Chorus 836 W last year for SoundStage! Hi-Fi, a sister site, was smitten by their "rich midrange," and found them quite capable on the whole. The Focal company has a long history, and know their way around a loudspeaker, so I have no doubt they are well designed and sound every bit as good as Doug explained in his review. But there's a primary difference between the two that's worth exploring. We measured the Chorus 836 W in Canada's National Research Council's anechoic chamber. It is a reasonable performer with a relatively flat listening frequency response. It also offers an amplifier a pretty benign electrical load. Take note of the "Total Harmonic Distortion + Noise" graphs, however. There is some distortion in and around the midrange that is not ideal. Contrast this with measurements we took of KEF's $2599.98/pair R500 loudspeaker, the R900's baby brother. In the "Listening Window" graph, you can see that the frequency response is approximately as flat as that of the Focal's, but with two differences. Whereas the Focal has a bump up in the bass around 100Hz, and a non-linear top end, with a fall in treble energy followed by a sharp rise, the KEF remains pretty flat on both ends. Furthermore, in the "Total Harmonic Distortion + Noise" graphs, you'll see the KEF has pretty much zero distortion from the midrange on up. While it has a sharper rise in distortion in the bass region, we are not nearly as sensitive to this distortion as we are distortion in the midrange, where many vocals and instruments play. Blame evolutionary biology for that.
Measurements alone can't tell you that one speaker is definitively better than another, but they can provide insight into a how a speaker will perform. In this instance, the almost-$2000-less-expensive KEF R500 in some ways outperforms the far-more-expensive Focal. The R900’s measurements will not be exactly the same as the R500, but you can expect them to be similar, with what I suspect to be significantly less distortion in the bass, thanks to the much larger and more capable bass drivers on offer.
Which one's better? Judging from the measurements above, I would bet that the R900 can play cleaner, louder, and deeper than the 836 W. On the other hand, the 836 W is a lot more interesting to look at, is several hundred dollars per pair cheaper, and, based on what Doug Schneider wrote about the pair he listened to, is likely to have a more alluring midrange. Which, I hate to say it, means that you need to clear out your schedule one Saturday to make the trip and hear the KEFs. Call ahead and make sure they have a pair of R900s for you to hear. For a pair of speakers that will probably serve as your daily companions for the next decade or so, I think it's a minor hassle in the grand scheme of things. Whichever you choose, you're getting a quality loudspeaker. Let us know how it goes! . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
Great review of the Definitive Technology BP-8020ST SuperTower loudspeakers. I've been looking to upgrade from my PSB Image T5. I've looked at the Mirage OMD-15 and I wonder if these are speakers you would recommend since you have the larger OMD-28s. I am also considering GoldenEar Technology's Triton Two or DefTech's larger BP-8060ST or BP-8080ST. These will be connected to my PrimaLuna ProLogue Two with a Logitech Squeezebox.
While I haven't heard the PSB T5s that you own, I have heard several Paul Barton designs, as well as talked to the man on one or two occasions. I am confident in saying that you have a very good pair of speakers, and while you will probably hear some differences in the list of competing products that you mention, odds are that in some ways you'll be moving sideways, rather than upwards, in terms of sound quality. You've mentioned a number of loudspeakers here, and so I'll tackle them in order.
While I owned Mirage's final flagship loudspeaker, the OMD-28, I never had a chance to listen to the OMD-15 ($2500/pair when last available). They look to be a relatively easy load to drive, and by reputation I hear they have surprisingly deep bass. You would need to take some time and effort to set them up correctly to maximize their performance, as they'll definitely need breathing room due to their omnidirectional dispersion. Their imaging is . . . different. Different than just about anything. If they're like the OMD-28s I used to have, they probably sound enormous, but at the expense of image specificity.
Which leads me to the DefTechs that you mention. The Forward Focused Bipolar Arrays found in their SuperTower series, whereby the rear drivers are 6dB down from the front drivers, works very well. They create a soundstage which is almost as cavernous as the Mirage OMD-28s I used to own, but with terrific imaging to boot. It's worth noting that they do have a crisp, crystalline sound to them, perhaps sounding a little sharper and brighter than your PSBs. But this will be offset by the tubes in your PrimaLuna integrated amplifier. I think any of the SuperTower models that you mention would compliment your existing setup.
As for the GoldenEars, they have a different personality, which I found while reviewing their Triton Three loudspeaker. They have a more sophisticated disposition, as their High Velocity Folded Ribbon (HVFR) tweeter has a smoothness that the DefTechs do not. This quality is not necessarily better, just different. The slightly warm, smooth, laid-back character of the GoldenEars probably falls to the one side of your PSB T5s, while the more strident and surgical character of the DefTechs falls on the other. Having reviewed a speaker in each line, I can say with confidence that you cannot go wrong here. High efficiency, active bass sections, and deeply capable everywhere else. My preference would be for the BP-8060STs, as their $2000/pair price, the same as GoldenEar's Triton Three, gets you that enormous bipolar soundstage, and almost all the bass of the larger 8080 model. But definitely listen to both lines of speakers before making a decision. . . . Hans Wetzel