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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

Amp Choices for KEF Reference 1s

To Doug Schneider,

Thanks for your KEF Reference 1 review. Your review provided enough insight for me to make an informed decision towards buying my KEF Reference 1s -- thank you. My budget is slightly slim now and I can spring for a high-quality amp of 125Wpc into 8 ohms or a more powerful amp of 250Wpc into 8 ohms, but [the latter] is considered high value rather than highest quality. Which amp do you think would provide better service to the speakers?

Jared C.
United States

Great choice on your loudspeakers! Now, let’s see what we can do about the amp.

First off, it is important to understand that in order for a loudspeaker to increase its output level by just 3dB, you need to give it double the amplifier power. As a result, all other things being equal (including both amplifiers’ abilities to drive difficult loads, which I’ll touch on below), that 250Wpc amplifier will only give you 3dB more output from your speakers than the 125Wpc one can. That’s not a lot, since a 10dB increase is required for a perceived doubling of loudness. As a result, a 3dB increase will only come across as a little bit louder. Does that little bit matter to you? You will have to decide.

Another thing to consider is how well each amp will drive more difficult loads. An 8-ohm speaker load is considered typical, which is why power ratings are always stated that way. However, that 8-ohm loudspeaker rating is more or less an average, because a speaker’s impedance varies based on frequency. For example, the Reference 1 is rated as 8 ohms, but dips as low as 3.2 ohms near the bass region, so it can be a bit challenging for some amps. To understand better how well those amps will drive your speakers, you really need to know how well they perform into 4- or even 2-ohm loads. I suggest looking into that a little more since the 8-ohm rating only tells you so much.

Obviously, based on the above, I can’t tell you which you should buy -- there’s not enough information. However, I will tell you a story about an amp purchase I made almost 30 years ago, which wound up being a mistake and might help you today.

Back around 1990, a company called Forte offered the Model 3 and 1A stereo amplifiers. From what I could tell, they were basically the same amplifiers, just that the Model 3 was a class-AB design, so it ran cooler and was rated to output 200Wpc into 8 ohms, while the 1A was biased as pure class-A, so it ran much hotter and could only deliver 50Wpc into 8 ohms (I suggest looking up differences between AB and A if you do not already know, since it’s too lengthy to get into here). Since both amps had essentially the same parts inside, they had the same abilities to drive difficult loads. They were also priced the same.

At normally listening levels, the 1A sounded markedly better than the 3A did -- it was smoother sounding overall, and there was more body and realism to the sound. Sonically, it wasn’t even close, at least at normal listening levels. But because the 3 could deliver more power, it could play speakers a little bit louder (its 200Wpc rating gave it 6dB more headroom than the 1A).

Being a young, naïve audiophile, I wound up buying the Model 3 simply because it was more powerful. I was scared that I would run out of juice with the 1A. That was my mistake. All the time I had the 3, I never used all the power it could provide and I always knew that the 1A sounded so much better and would’ve likely provided me with more than enough power. As a result, I always regretted the decision I made. That’s not to say that the lower-powered amplifier will always sound better. It’s just that whichever one you choose, make sure it delivers sufficient power and gives you all the sound quality you truly desire. . . . Doug Schneider

Sonus Faber Olympica III vs. PSB Imagine T3

To Doug Schneider,

I am considering the purchase of floorstander speakers (my Sonus Faber Guarneri Evolutions, although eminently civilized, often sound too thin). You have reviewed three models that interest me: Sonus Faber Olympica III, Focal Sopra No2, and PSB Imagine T3.

The Sopra No2 I have auditioned at home and found a bit too harsh for my taste; the Olympica III I intend to audition soon. Unfortunately, the PSB Imagine T3, which I am very curious about given their whole concept, user opinions, and rave reviews, aren’t auditionable here and would imply a blind buy.

Would you be so kind as to comment on its relative merits vis-à-vis the Olympica (and, BTW, the Guarneri)?

Thank you for your time.

Henrique B.

I’ve witnessed too many cases where someone buys something unheard and isn’t happy afterwards, so I always caution against it. As a result, I’m glad you were able to hear the Sopra No2 and that you plan to audition the Olympica III. In my opinion, if you like the Olympica III, just buy a pair and forget about the Imagine T3 if you can’t hear it. But if you don’t like the Olympica III and you’re still wondering about how it compares to the T3, I’ll give you some thoughts, though I’d still caution against buying based only on what I say, whether here or in the reviews. Remember, I loved the Sopra No2 when I reviewed it, but you found it too harsh sounding.

PSB’s Imagine T3 is probably the most neutral- and natural-sounding speaker Paul Barton has ever designed. It exhibits a very smooth- and even-sounding midrange, clean and extended highs, and extremely deep bass -- quite a bit deeper than the Synchrony One, which it replaced. Overall, it has such a balanced sound that some have criticized it for being a little bit boring sounding, since no part of the audioband sounds too forward or too relaxed or sticks out in any way. For those who value strict neutrality, they’ll likely love it because it really doesn’t have much of a sonic personality. However, for those who want a little bit of character, they might find the T3 lacking pizzazz that other speakers exhibit.

I wouldn’t necessarily say that Sonus Faber’s Olympica III is full of character, but it does have more character than the T3. Compared to the T3, the III’s midrange is smooth but subtly relaxed, which gives it a bit of laid-back sound; its highs are actually a little more prominent, yet always clean and sweet; and its bass is a little fuller, though it doesn’t go quite as deep and isn’t as tight. When I reviewed the Olympica III, its departures from strict neutrality were obvious, but I still loved the sound because it was so pleasing overall. Insofar as how Sonus Faber’s Guarneri Evolution compares, I can’t tell you, because I’ve never auditioned it critically. The only thing I will say is that the Imagine T3 and Olympica III don’t sound thin.

Broadly, that’s how I think the Imagine T3 and Olympica III compare; however, as I mentioned, don’t base a buying decision on what I just wrote. Whenever possible, try before you buy for long-term satisfaction. . . . Doug Schneider

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

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