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Luxman L-550AX -- the Little Amp that Probably Can

To Hans Wetzel,

Great and informative article on the [Luxman] L-550AX. I am thinking of buying one but I am worried that it might not have enough power to drive my Spendor D7 floorstanders in a medium-sized room (4m x 6m). I am running a MacBook to the stunning Questyle CMA800i DAC-headphone amp. Any thoughts?

Cheers and thanks,

Corey Tai
United States

Spendor’s D7 is specified as having a sensitivity of 90dB (1W/m), which is above average. Combined with the fact that Luxman rates their amps’ power outputs very conservatively, and that your room isn’t particularly large, I think the L-550AX would be a fine choice provided that you won’t be playing organ music at ear-splitting levels. Do it! . . . Hans Wetzel

Hegel Hum?

To Garrett Hongo,

I enjoyed reading the review of the Hegel Mohican CD player. I am considering purchasing this player and have read a few reviews for it, but none of the reviews I’ve read mention whether the player is silent in operation, if there is any mechanical noise from the transport, or hum. As I sit close to my kit this is an important factor for me when purchasing new hi-fi.

Kind regards,
Robert H.
United Kingdom

Aloha Robert, glad you enjoyed the Hegel Mohican review. Your question about its quietness of operation is a very good one! I had noticed no noise whatsoever during the entire time of evaluation, but, just to be sure, I played it silently just a moment ago and it is absolutely dead quiet. No transport noise at all. It’s an important point I should have noted in my review, in fact, so I’m very glad for the chance to put that on the record. Thank you for asking. . . . Garrett Hongo

How Much Hegel Power?

To Doug Schneider,

I’m looking for an amp for my PSB Imagine T2 speakers to replace a NAD C 375BEE. Would the Hegel H80’s power be enough for the T2, or do I need the bigger H160?

Thanks,
Narek A.
Armenia

Hegel’s H80 and H160 are respectively rated to deliver 75Wpc and 150Wpc (both in 8 ohms). Since each 3dB increase in speaker volume requires a doubling of amplifier power, that means that the H160 won’t play the T2s all that much louder than the H80 can. Still, you might need that 3dB of headroom that the H160 can provide, since it could mean the difference between running out of power and clipping during musical peaks versus having enough juice to sail through it all cleanly. Of course, this will all come down to how loud you play the speakers, which will depend mostly on the size of your room (bigger rooms tend to need more power) and the SPLs you typically listen at. From what I read, your NAD C 375BEE is rated at 150Wpc into 8 ohms, so you can use that as a gauge for how much power you need. Since I don’t know your room size or listening preferences, I’ll leave it to you to decide if the H80 can meet your needs or if you’ll need to step up to the H160. . . . Doug Schneider

The Best Power Amp for Vivid’s Giya G1

To Doug Schneider,

First, I would like to say that I really enjoy your reviews. They are thorough and you do a great job of conveying what I feel is important about the components. I also appreciate that you have the equipment measured.

Your review of the Vivid Giya G2 was what turned me onto this brand and ultimately lead to my buying G1s. I am searching for an amplifier to use with them (currently use Spectral but feel it is not doing justice to the bass). Since you review tons of equipment and you reviewed the G2s, I thought you might be able to help. My question is: If you could pair any amplifier to the G2/G1, which one would you choose? I am expecting you will need a little information as well. For budget around $50k or preferably less (this budget range is what makes this difficult as there are soooo many options). I mostly listen to vocals, blues, acoustic stuff, with some classical and jazz. I want the sound to be dynamic, with excellent soundstaging and imaging (the Vivids do an excellent job of this). I get most of this (minus the bass) with the Spectral. What is missing is the “texture” to the sound. I don’t have that “I can smell the resin on the bow” sound that I am wanting.

Thank you for any advice you can offer. I am hoping that one amplifier just pops into your head and you think is a no-brainer choice.

Todd
United States

For $50,000, you can get pretty much anything! There’s no question you have many options. However, even though you’re willing to spend that much, none of the amps I’m going to mention even come close to approaching that price, yet could all deliver the kind of performance you need. I can’t say they’re no-brainers, since you’ll really have to listen for yourself, but they’re definitely what I’d begin my search with, even if you have the money for something that costs more.

If you great want bass control, extraordinary resolution (high detail is what I believe allows someone to “smell the resin on the bow”), and more-than-enough power, look to the Devialet Expert 1000 Pro monos, which will cost you $34,990 -- well within your budget. Because each amplifier is in its own case, it’s a true dual-mono design, with each amplifier rated to deliver 1000W into 6 ohms or 750W into 8 ohms. Plus, if you go this route, you don’t need a preamplifier or a digital-to-analog converter -- it’s all built in.

If you want to stick with a pure power amp, I’ll give you these options: the Luxman M-900u and something from Bryston. The Luxman M-900u is, to date, the best-sounding power amp I’ve heard. It’s so smooth and sweet sounding that you’d swear it has tubes inside, though there’s not. The M-900u is a solid-state design that is conservatively rated to output up to 150Wpc into 8 ohms (our measurements show output greater than 200Wpc) and can ably drive pretty much any speaker to high volume levels. I didn’t get a chance to use the M-900u with the Giya G2s since they weren’t here at the same time, but I played the M-900u with many other speakers and its sound always impressed -- clean, dynamic, weighty in the bass, and awesome resolution. The M-900u’s price is $20,000, which, again, is well within your budget.

I mention Bryston because I powered the Giya G2s with their 4B SST2 (300Wpc into 8 ohms) and it worked incredibly well -- the amp provided more than enough power, tremendous bass control, and plenty of detail. At its price of about $5000, the 4B SST2 was an absolute steal prior to being discontinued. Bryston has replaced the SST2 series with the SST3 models and their performance is supposed to be even better. Frankly, the new 4B SST3 might be all you need -- and it’s only $5695. It, too, is rated at 300Wpc into 8 ohms. However, I sense you probably want something more, so you could look to their top-of-the-line model, the 28B SST3 mono amp, which is rated at 1000W into 8 ohms and is priced at $10,995 (you’ll need two of them, so double that). They also have many models in between.

Some audiophiles overlook Bryston, thinking their amps are too cheap to be considered among the best. Not true at all. Bryston’s amps offer performance that compares to and often betters amps priced much higher. Plus, their amps come with a 20-year warranty, which kicks the crap out of the two-, three-, or five-year warranties that most companies offer on their amps. They have been making amplifiers since the 1970s, so they really know what they’re doing and stand behind what they make -- there’s a lot to be said for that.

Insofar as amplifier recommendations go, that’s what comes to mind. I hope it helps. . . . Doug Schneider

Audio Research's GSPre -- Why the Tubes?

To Doug Schneider,

I enjoyed your review of Audio Research’s GSPre. You raised an issue that has “bugged” me since I acquired an LS27 linestage -- the tubes inside some of ARC’s amps don’t necessarily color the sound. That’s a good thing, IMO, as I want to hear everything in the recording, unblemished.

My question is simply: If the tubes don’t color the sound (and the sound quality is fantastic in my system!), then why have them there? (I’m not an electrical/audio engineer.)

Thanks for reading.

Pete
Canada

What you’re asking is something I’ve asked myself; however, I’ve come to the conclusion that the answer comes not from second-guessing the design choices of the company, but from listening to the result. I listened to the GSPre and found it to sound fantastic. From what you’re telling me, your LS27 sounds great as well. What’s more, they don’t have the stereotypical tube-type colorations, such as an overly warm sound or rolloffs at the high- and low-frequency extremes. Could they have gotten a similar result with all-solid-state designs? Since Audio Research only makes tubed equipment, we’ll never know. But, as I mentioned, I have given up guessing. In the case of the GSPre, I can only say that, based on how it sounds, the end certainly seems to justify the means. . . . Doug Schneider

New Bryston DAC vs. Old

To Philip Beaudette,

I enjoyed reading your review of the Bryston BDA-3: concise, balanced, and insightful.

I wonder, though, how does the BDA-3 do sonically when compared to a BDA-1. I have the BDA-1, and love it. DSD is overhyped IMO, so I don’t really need/want DSD and HDMI capabilities.

Thanks for any insights on this.

Regards,
Pete
Canada

I can’t answer your question directly, because I’ve never heard the BDA-1, let alone had the opportunity to compare it with the BDA-3. However, I have a fair amount of experience with Bryston DACs: I had one onboard the Bryston B100 SST integrated amplifier I used to own and I reviewed the BDA-2 and BDA-3. I also reviewed the BCD-1 CD player. As a result, I feel qualified to at least comment on your question.

When I reviewed and ultimately purchased the BDA-2 DAC, I was able to compare it directly alongside the DAC built into my B100 SST integrated amplifier. I found the two sounded far more similar than different. I don’t think it should come as a surprise that that these two DACs share a house sound. Both are highly transparent and resolving of musical detail, while remaining faithful (i.e., neutral) to the source material. Although I found the BDA-2 slightly more laidback sounding than the B100’s onboard DAC, the difference was small. In fact, my decision to purchase an outboard rather than onboard DAC when I bought the B135 SST2 integrated amplifier had more to do with the fact that, as a reviewer, I wasn’t happy I couldn’t use my DAC each time a new integrated amplifier came in for review.

While the BDA-3 may not sound identical to the BDA-1, I do not expect it would sound drastically different. Part of what distinguishes these two pieces is the fact that the BDA-3 has a number of HDMI inputs and can decode DSD, two features you have indicated that you don’t require. Furthermore, you said you’re happy with your BDA-1. Unless you can get your hands on a BDA-3 to audition and you completely disagree with what I’ve said here, I would stick with what you already have. I think there is a tendency to assume that as companies come out with new versions of their products, this somehow makes the earlier versions markedly inferior. While this may be true in some instances, I don’t think it applies here, especially in the case of a company such as Bryston, which has a long history of delivering well-designed, solidly engineered products.

In short, if I were in your position, I’d save the money you might spend on the BDA-3 and put it towards investing in some new music. My guess is that discovering new music will be more far more rewarding than hearing your existing collection through what I anticipate will be a fairly similar-sounding DAC to what you already own (and love). . . . Philip Beaudette

Bryston Mini A and Mini T

To Philip Beaudette,

I’ve read your reviews of the Bryston Mini A and Mini T. It would be nice to have a bit of a comparison of the two. I’m looking for a system to complement my Rythmik Audio 15” subs. My primary goal is reproducing orchestral music with good dynamics. Good dynamics is why I’m looking at the Minis. Any suggestions or insights would be appreciated.

Thanks,
Bruce Fenster
United States

If you're looking for a dynamic speaker for large-scale classical music, both the Bryston Mini T and its smaller sibling, the Mini A, can certainly deliver. When I reviewed the Mini A, what impressed me the most was its ability to maintain its composure and play with low distortion even at volumes I thought would give it trouble. The Mini As might be miniature in stature but when it comes to their output, they are anything but small. Unless your listening room is quite large, I am pretty certain they will be able to reproduce the large-scale dynamic shifts in your music collection.

As you know, the Mini T is a larger version of the Mini A. As loud and clean as the Mini A can play, the Mini T can play louder still. Its bigger drivers can move more air and, in combination with its larger cabinet, its woofer can generate deeper bass. The Ts are better suited to a larger room where you can actually take advantage of their greater output and awesome dynamic capabilities.

Given that you are using multiple 15” subwoofers, I am going to assume that you have a fairly large room and/or that you really like to push the dynamic envelope. Without knowing anything else about your system or room, I’d be inclined to lean towards the Mini T over the Mini A. Since the Mini T can play lower in the bass than the Mini A, you should be able to cross that model over to your subwoofer at a lower frequency, thereby allowing the Mini T to play more full range. Furthermore, because the T can play louder in the bass, you might be able to dial back a bit on the volume of your subwoofer, which, in turn, could help to more seamlessly integrate your speakers and your subwoofer. Subwoofers sound best when they don’t call attention to themselves, but instead transition smoothly with your mains.

I hope that this helps. Please let me know if you have any further questions. . . . Philip Beaudette

Hegel H360 vs. Devialet 120 or 200?

To SoundStage!,

Hegel H360 vs. Devialet 120 or 200? Anyone done this comparison? Hans? Or Hegel HD30 and amp vs. Devialet?

Thanks,
Danny
Israel

It’s interesting that you should bring this up, because I was just talking to Hans Wetzel about all the integrated amps he has reviewed and has on hand. He owns a Hegel Music Systems H360 and a Devialet Expert 200. He was also the one who reviewed the Devialet Expert 120, though he doesn’t have that in-house anymore. However, Devialet is sending him the new Expert 130 Pro for review, which he should have in a few days. I suspect that his review of the Expert 130 Pro will discuss most if not all of these amps, since he always includes comparisons. The review won’t appear on this site, though; instead, it will be published on SoundStage! Access, since he’s senior editor for that site and it fits nicely into the content there. . . . Doug Schneider

Vivid Giya G3 vs. Vivid B1 Decade vs. KEF Blade Two

To Doug Schneider,

I have carefully read your reviews of the KEF Blade Two, the Vivid B1 Decade, and the Vivid Giya G3 many times, and would love to ask a couple of questions and also ask for your help and opinion.

By way of background: I have had a keen interest in the B1Ds since reading your review this past spring. Recently at RMAF my wife and I spent a good deal of time with Philip O'Hanlon (On a Higher Note) listening to the Giya G3. We also spoke at length with George (one of his dealers) about the difference between the G3 and the B1D loudspeakers, and after asking about what we generally listen to he recommended the B1D with Eclipse subwoofers to fill in the lower register. (I’ve never had a subwoofer in play in my system and I am not sure if this would add the bass I’d be missing with the B1D.)

At home, our room that is used for listening to two-channel audio is relatively small at 14’ x 13.5’. I love the full, rich sound of the G3 (it was almost indescribably good), but I wonder if the bass load would be too great in that small room. As an aside, after listening to the G3 my wife commented about how the G3 completely disappeared and this is the only speaker she’s heard that has so emotionally moved her.

I’ll be honest that we have not heard the B1D, but I do think I have a good feel for what it will sound like, except for the lower register, augmented or not. And then there’s the KEF Blade Two -- would it also potentially load too much bass in my room? But I do love the KEF’s absolutely stunning design and shape . . .

As you might be able to tell, I am a bit confused about which way to go. Our plan is to acquire new speakers in the spring and in order to secure a pair of the limited-edition B1Ds before they are sold out I will need to put money down now (without having a chance to listen to them). We also listened at length to the KEF at RMAF and really loved the Blade Two’s sound (although for my money, the G3 is one of the best-sounding loudspeakers I have heard -- but it is about $15k higher in cost). I guess the reason I am so confused is that I am incredibly interested in the great resolution and upper-range clarity that you describe for the B1D (and also for the KEF Blade Two) and don’t want to get the G3 if I have to forego that. But I want to hear enough bass as well. Isn’t there something in this relative price range that comes close to providing it all?

So, that’s my dilemma -- at these prices I want to make the right choice. Near the end of the summer we bought the Ayre KX-5 Twenty preamplifier and VX-5 Twenty amplifier and we are completely satisfied with these, but they deserve to have a better speaker system than my eight-year-old Dynaudio Confidence C2s. Yes, we have considered the new Magico S5 Mk.II, but I have been told quite plainly (by two different dealers) that the Ayre just won’t provide enough power to get the most out of the Magicos. And if that’s the case, then I’d rather not have to replace the Ayre [electronics] at the same time as the speaker acquisition.

Please help: How would you balance the trade-offs between the highs and the lows with these different speaker choices? Which one of these comes the closest to “providing it all”?

We do trust your experienced opinion, so thank you in advance for your thoughts.

Karl Weiss
United States

First off, I need to point out that although I did review KEF’s Blade Two and Vivid Audio’s Oval B1 Decade, I didn’t review the Giya G3 -- Peter Roth did, on SoundStage! Ultra. Still, I’m very familiar with that model. Furthermore, I have reviewed the Giya G2.

When you’re paying up to $40,000 for a pair of speakers, you have many options -- so many that I could go on and on about what’s out there. However, for this answer, I want to confine my comments to the four speakers you mentioned: KEF’s Blade Two, Vivid Audio’s Oval B1 Decade and Giya G3, and Magico’s S5 Mk.II. Let’s start . . .

As much as I love the KEF Blade Twos for their sound and appearance, I think they would overload your room with too much bass -- 14’ x 13.5’ isn’t all that big. In my room, the Twos delivered extremely powerful bass, but the listening space I have here is much, much larger than what you have. If you want to still look at a KEF, consider the Reference 3, which is what I have in right now for review. It doesn’t produce the bass depth or fullness that the Blade Two does, but has a similar sound overall.

I would heed the advice of the dealers about the Magico S5 Mk.II. I haven’t reviewed that model but I have reviewed the original S5 and the V2. Both of those speakers needed quite a bit of power to really sing, so I can believe that the S5 Mk.II does as well. The VX-5 Twenty is fairly powerful, but it’s not super-powerful.

That leaves you with the choice between the Oval B1 Decade and the Giya G3. The B1D sells for $28,000 per pair and the Giya G3 sells for $40,000 per pair. Despite the higher price, it doesn’t automatically mean that the G3 is better. Instead, it’s probably going to come down to which you prefer.

When I reviewed the B1D, I found it to be a great improvement over the original B1. I also thought the B1D sounded clearer and cleaner through the midrange and highs than the Giya G2 (which costs almost twice as much). Still, the B1D couldn’t compete with the G2 in the bass -- the Giya G2 goes much deeper and with greater slam. And based on what I’ve heard from the G3, I have no doubt that it can deliver a little more bass than the B1D as well. Frankly, its inability to deliver powerful bass below about 35 or 40Hz is really the B1D’s only weakness. However, that’s offset by the fact that a pair of B1Ds costs $12,000 less than a pair of G3s -- you would definitely have enough left over to add a subwoofer if you need to. Still, don’t rush into buying one just yet. If you do buy a pair of B1Ds, which is the direction I’d lean, I suggest you set them up in your room, assess the bass performance, and then decide if you need more bottom end. There’s a good chance the B1Ds will provide all the bass you need, particularly since your room isn’t very big.

Do you have other choices? Definitely, which I mentioned at the outset. But with the information you gave me, that’s how I stand on your current choices. . . . Doug Schneider

Vivid Audio's B1 Decade -- State-of-the-Art Measurements?

To Doug Schneider,

I have read your reviews of Vivid Audio Oval B1 and B1 Decade, as well as the KEF Blade Two. Your reviews are excellent, but I find it interesting that you could almost predict your conclusions from the NRC measurements.

The distortion measurements (from the upper bass on up) for the B1 Decade are truly state of the art and essentially show a transducer that is more accurate than most of the valve electronics out there. The difference in measurements between the B1 and B1 Decade is astonishing.

I was going to purchase the Blade Two but will now focus on acquiring a pair of the B1 Decades.

Thanks,
Rami
Canada

I am glad that you like my reviews and that our measurements are valuable to you. The measurements never tell the whole story, but they can tell a lot if you know what to look at.

Insofar as the Oval B1 Decade goes, it is clearly better than the original Oval B1 in pretty much every way -- sometimes by a little bit, sometimes by a lot. Where it still falls back against something like the KEF Blade Two is its inability to produce really low bass (below 40Hz), something I outlined in the review. But if you can do without those low frequencies, it’s hard to imagine a speaker that is much better than the B1 Decade is for any price. . . . Doug Schneider

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