E-mail comments or questions to feedback@soundstagehifi.com.

Accolades for Active Speakers

To Doug Schneider,

Back when the $1600/pair [Paradigm] Active/20 was available, I A/B’d it against the then-current $800/pair [Paradigm] Studio 20 -- no comparison: much more dynamic, flatter frequency response (a revelation in itself), and incredibly deeper/fuller bass. Passersby thought we were listening to the $2000/pair floorstanding Studio 100s (but the Actives had better imaging).

I understand Paradigm’s actives had reliability issues that I’m sure hurt the cause.

It was an epiphany for me and I moved on to another form of active -- single-driver speakers (active by default) and commissioned transmission-line floorstanders using the now-discontinued Fostex F200A driver (a mighty Alnico magnet that on its own reaches 30Hz).

But last year I scored a pair of Dynaudio BM5 Mk.IIIs for $850/pair before they were discontinued. They’re from Dynaudio’s professional studio monitor range and represent a step up from the Excite X14A without wood veneer. I like them very much. More analytical but less bass than my single-drivers.

Another reason active hasn’t sold in the audiophile realm is the inevitable comparison of studio work to home enjoyment. I’ve never understood why audiophiles poo-poo the studios that produce what we listen to. But I see the two coming closer together as home listeners tolerate less colorations and as you mentioned, clutter.

Anyway, keep up the good work.

Jeff McManus
United States

A Paradigm Active/40 Owner on Active Speakers

To Doug Schneider,

Just a few quick comments.

First of all, great insight on the historic perspective of active speakers. I still own the Paradigm Active/40s, and have been very reluctant to give those up. They serve as a second system, but remain a solid pair of speakers.

It looks like the age of active speakers has finally come. I may consider a purchase down the road, now that there are potentially a lot more options on the market.

Thanks for the write up.

United States

I am not surprised you’re reluctant to part with your Active/40s -- Paradigm was on the right path when they designed the series that model was part of. It’s really too bad they discontinued them. As to whether active speakers will finally catch on, there’s never been a better time than now, but we’ll still have to wait and see what actually happens. Thank you for writing in! . . . Doug Schneider

Ayre's Laid-Back Sound

To Doug Schneider,

I have no place to listen and was reading your review of the Ayre [Acoustics] VX-5. My question is about how you describe the amp as laid-back [sounding]. Is that referring to the soundstage where I may feel further back in the venue or to the transients and immediacy of the amp?

I listen to a wide variety of music, including rock, so transients are important as well as transparency. Sounds like the musicality is covered. If you wouldn’t mind commenting in these areas of the amp.

Bryan Hudson
United States

In my room, the VX-5 presented a very wide and deep soundstage with my reference recordings, but the front of the stage was consistently set back a little more than I heard with amps from Hegel Music Systems, Bryston, or Blue Circle. Likewise, I found that the VX-5 is not as immediate or visceral sounding as those brands’ amps, either. Instead, the VX-5’s sonic strengths are smoothness and liquidity, qualities that make it easy to listen to for hours on end without risking listening fatigue. Because of those attributes, some have likened the sound of Ayre’s amps, which are solid-state designs, to being a bit like tubed amps, particularly in the seductive way they present the midrange and highs. As a result, if you’re looking for an amplifier that sounds fast, immediate, and a little bit in-your-face, which is what usually best suits rock, the VX-5 might not be the best choice -- though you’d really have to listen for yourself to know for sure. . . . Doug Schneider

MQA: The Emperor's New Clothes?

To Doug Schneider,

Has it not occurred to any within the audio industry that something as “revolutionary” as MQA purports to be should be plainly obvious to everyone and not just those who claim to have listening powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men?

If you have to STRAIN to hear “something” then it is indisputable that “it,” whatever MQA claims “it” is, is not there at all. Kinda sorta like the Emperor's New Clothes. Bob Stuart is the tailor, no . . . it is more truthful to state he is the costumer of this wardrobe.

I am an adult and as such do not desire to sit at the table with the “cool kids” that lay claim to being possessed of the hearing of the gods. Like the Pharisees of old, they strain at a digital bit but swallow the camel that is MQA. Music should bring forth memories. It should make us smile. It should take us back in time and make the present all the more pleasant. It should NOT make us strain to hear the soundtrack of our life. Where is the pleasure in so-called “critical” listening?

It is said that love is friendship set to music. What a beautiful thought.

No one needs to buy the White Album again and, even more importantly, no one needs to be MADE to. To paraphrase a certain company, I want equipment that plays the music I have, not the music I’m being forced to buy.

Follow the money. MQA is naught but the lie of the ENC all over again. I can find my own tailor and BS (Bob Stuart) can stick his needles and digital thread where the sun don’t shine.

In all ways and for always, be well.

Scott S.
United States

I agree, something as sonically revolutionary as some have said that MQA is shouldn’t have us straining to hear the tiniest of differences -- if they are even there at all. Without question, if it’s that good, it should bowl you over. In my opinion, this is likely why the folks at MQA appear to be reluctant to do meaningful comparisons in public. . . . Doug Schneider

MQA: Smoke and Mirrors?

To Doug Schneider,

A great article [on MQA], Doug. Thank you for posting this informative read. It troubles me that a simple MQA encoding of “offered” music has not been done. It truly makes me wonder: Is MQA becoming “smoke and mirrors”? We’ll wait and see how it goes. But you’re not alone in questioning MQA.


I think it’s safe to say that MQA’s reluctance to do A/B comparisons with properly vetted source material casts a lot of suspicion on exactly what it is they’re claiming and doing. It’s possible that what they’re offering is a real benefit to audio enthusiasts, but it’s also possible that it is, as you say, smoke and mirrors. Until we can do those comparisons, we won’t really know. . . . Doug Schneider

KEF Praise, Devialet Question

To Doug Schneider,

Great review of the KEF Reference 3. Would love to hear the 3 or 5 sometime. KEF is really pushing the limit and pumping out industry-leading designs. Would be fun to compare one of their new models against a pair of older KEF 104/2s!

I see the Devialet Gold Phantom in your equipment list. Hoping a review is in the queue. Would love to read your Gold review and comparison to a topnotch “conventional” speaker system.

United States

I agree that it would be interesting to put an older KEF against one of the newer ones, though I have a sneaking suspicion that I already know how it would come out. With all that’s occurred at KEF and elsewhere since the 104/2 debuted, in 1984, it would likely be clobbered by most if not all the models in KEF’s Blade, Reference, and R-Series lines. Speaker designers have learned so much more since the 1980s, plus modern materials and manufacturing are so much better than back then. Then again, one would only know for sure by trying.

There is a Devialet Gold Phantom review in the works and your wish is going to come true, because it will be compared to more conventional speakers. In fact, one of the speaker models I plan to use for comparison is KEF’s Reference 3! . . .  Doug Schneider

Here's What Happened to the Devialet Gold Phantom

To Doug Schneider,

Whatever happened to your Devialet Gold Phantom review, which I believe was slated for February? We need more Phantom reviews; in the two and half years the product has been around, there has only been one comprehensive and truly critical review, Mr. Wetzel’s (and that was for the Silver, of course). Thanks a lot in advance and keep up the good work.

Jacques M.
United States

You noticed! I’ve used this excuse before and I’ll use it again: big workload running the SoundStage! Network and a very deep review queue. The KEF Reference 3 review, which just got published, was actually months behind as well. I’m working on the Devialet Gold Phantom and EMM Labs DA2 reviews right now and plan to have them online soon. Very sorry about the delay on the Gold Phantom, since I know you and many others have been waiting. . . . Doug Schneider

About MQA

To Doug Schneider,

Nice article that rings true on more than a few levels. I despise MQA for what it is -- a musical land-grab.



Well written. I am an enthusiast of the site and mostly enjoy Ken [Kessler’s] writing. As I say to him, so few write, most type. Note that with regard to your MQA piece I said, “well written.”

Be well.

Scott S.
United States

New Amp for Focal Sopra No2s -- Or Maybe Not

To Doug Schneider,

First, thanks for a great article on the Focal Sopra No2 -- really informative and helpful.

Based on your (and others) review, I’m buying a pair from the UK without hearing them -- ex-demo, so I can almost afford them! I’m based in New Zealand and being able to listen to them has proved too tricky.

My amp is a Yamaha AS-2000. It’s a good, powerful amp (I currently have Monitor Audio RX8 speakers), but I’m nervous it might be too bright and fail to get the best out of the Sopras.

I’m spending most of my money on the Sopras, so have limited funds for a new amp, except for what I get for the sale of my current equipment plus a bit.

Finally, my question: Can you please recommend an affordable amp for the Sopras?

Thanks for your time.

New Zealand

Insofar as affordable amplifiers go, I’d look to brands such as NAD, Cambridge Audio, Anthem, NuPrime, Bryston, as well as a few others. If money is a problem, you could definitely consider buying something used – there are definitely some great deals out there.

But before you go and sell your amp, I suggest getting your speakers in and trying them with what you have. The No2 is fairly sensitive and pretty easy to drive. There’s a good chance your Yamaha will work just fine. In my opinion, you should just take things one step at a time and only upgrade if you really need to. . . . Doug Schneider

KEF R900s or R700s?

To Doug Schneider,

I have a speaker problem and I kindly ask for your advice. My room is 35m2, plus my kitchen is 9m2, plus corridor (with stairs) is 3m2. My room is about square. My listening distance will be around 3.5-4.5m. Speakers will be around 2m apart (I could stretch it to 2.5m or a little more).

I want to buy KEF R900s, but some people suggest they will be too large for my room and that the R700s would be better. Personally, I don’t trust the smallish woofers of the R700 and I think I would prefer the R900 for performance. I listen to all kinds of music -- jazz, electronica, rock, classical, light-ish metal, and so on, but not techno or disco except for ambient -- and home theater. So, mainly normal music listening and movies, and occasionally playing music very loud (e.g., Rammstein)

So the questions are: Are the R900s too big for this room and completely unnecessary? Would the R700s be better?

I would be very grateful for advice.

Kindest regards,
Grzegorz S.

I haven’t had the KEF R700s or R900s in my own room, but I did review the R500s. Because of that experience with the R500s, plus some other experiences our writers have had with R900s, I can definitely pass along some information and give you some advice.

I loved the R500s -- they sounded very clean, even at extremely high volume levels, and put out surprisingly deep and powerful bass in my room, which is really big. I was surprised, because the R500 is not very big and its woofers are small. In fact, the R500’s bass was so powerful for its size that I wondered at that time just how much more bass the bigger R700 and R900 could deliver.

Shortly after, I learned a little more about the subject through fellow-writer Hans Wetzel, who was so taken by my review that he wanted to buy a pair of the R-series speakers and immediately looked to the R900, simply because it was the biggest in the line, yet still quite affordable. However, because his room wasn’t all that big at that time (he’s since moved, but his new one isn’t that big, either), I was concerned they’d overpower his room visually and sonically, so I told him that I thought he should look to the R700s instead -- just like people are telling you. Hans wouldn’t listen, though, because he was set on having the biggest and most expensive model in the line, which is the natural tendency of most. He ended up buying a pair of R900s, wound up loving the sound overall, but found out rather quickly that their prodigious bass output would often overload his room, and changing their placement wouldn’t help enough. Hans ended up using the R900s for some time, but knew all along that the R700s probably would’ve worked much better. Eventually he sold them and, in April 2016, he wrote an editorial about this experience on SoundStage! Access in an article called “Know Thyself . . . and Thy Room.” I suggest that you read it, because it describes the situation you’re in.

That’s not to say the R900 is the wrong choice for everyone. Writers Erich Wetzel (Hans’s brother) and Roger Kanno both own R900s. Erich has a fairly large room and says they’re the best speakers he’s ever had in there -- no complaints about too much bass. Roger Kanno’s room isn’t all that big, but they’re working well in it, in part because he uses the room-correction feature in his processor to better integrate the speakers’ bass output with his room. That’s not insignificant -- room correction can do wonders in terms of tuning the bass range and making things sound good in rooms that might not otherwise work well. Is that something you should consider? I’ll let you decide.

In closing, I can’t tell you which model to buy, but I can tell you that it is possible that, just like with Hans, the R900s could be too big for your room. As a result, don’t rule out R700s just yet -- their smaller woofers could be just the ticket. . . . Doug Schneider

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