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

The iFi Zen Phono Measurements

Hi Diego,

A ways back, you and I had a good chat about the NAD C 298 amplifier, miniDSP products, and the merits of sub-sat systems. Well, one thing I can tell you is that I’m definitely a sub-sat believer! I added a KEF KC62 to my KEF LS50 Metas, ran a low-pass filter to the sub and a high-pass filter to the mains, time-aligned the system using Room EQ Wizard, and otherwise straightened things out via Dirac Live room EQ. I know the KC62 is not a be-all, end-all sub, but wow! It lifts my setup to a whole different level and absolutely brings out the best of the LS50s. My listening volume and distance are about perfect for these speakers. Thanks for the encouragement to take sub-sat systems and room EQ more seriously.

I now have the miniDSP SHD preamp. I had one reliability problem (the unit bricked itself) and received poor customer service from both miniDSP and the dealer, but, over the course of several months, they got me a replacement unit. I would (and maybe should) have cut my losses, but the miniDSP does things that I cannot find in any other device: great DAC, amazing I/O flexibility, and full control over DSP with the available quick presets (I use one for loudspeakers with a digital source, one for loudspeakers with vinyl, one with heavy parametric EQ correction for my headphone amp, and one I leave completely untouched as my control).

At this point, I can’t imagine thinking through my signal chain and saying, “the DAC warms it up a little, but then my cables cool it down, and my amp makes everything just right for my speakers which are warm, and then my room . . . destroys everything I worked so hard to achieve.”

Once again, thank you, and sorry for the length of this preamble. I look forward to seeing more content on the SoundStage! Network.

Anyway, now for my question. For my phono preamp, I’m auditioning the iFi Audio Zen Phono and found your measurements, which are the only ones out there. I’ll cut to the chase (and I don’t expect a treatise at all): Focusing on the moving-magnet (MM) section, do you consider these measurements to be solid? I gather the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) is a decent amount short of spec and that the THD+N isn’t anything to write home about, but the latter is mostly due to noise floor and not distortion. RIAA accuracy and overload margin look great. I just don’t know how to rate the whole package in terms of competency and whether it belongs in a serious system, where all the other parts carry their weight and then some (NAD C 298, miniDSP SHD, and KEF LS50 Metas plus KC62 sub). One thing that clouds my judgment is the obvious noise floor and distortion of the vinyl medium itself, and whether that renders any hesitation about the Zen Phono itself moot.

One complication for me is that I’m using the one gain setting you didn’t chart—the MC High (48dB gain/47k ohm input impedance) setting for moving-coil cartridges, which I can only hope performs more like the MM setting than the MC Low and MC Very Low configurations. I’m using it with a MM cartridge and the 48dB gain matches the TAS gain formula, and what I’m seeing in my miniDSP SHD’s input meters show it’s kosher in terms of signal strength (any more gain would likely be a problem, but it’s not clipping and the signal is strong, with no discernable electrical noise—like ground hum—at all). I’m using the 4.4mm balanced output into dual XLRs into the miniDSP preamp.

Sorry for the long message. No worries if you’re too busy to respond, and even the briefest interpretation would be appreciated. In any case, thanks for doing these measurements.

United States

Hi Tony,

First, it’s great to hear you dove headfirst into the world of bass-managed, room-EQ’d sub-sat systems. Welcome!

Coincidentally, I currently have miniDSP’s SHD Power integrated amp on the SoundStage! test bench. I must say, I’m blown away by the level of customization it has. It took me a while to wrap my head around everything the SHD Power does so I could explain it properly in the introduction to my measurement report.

To answer your question, the Zen Phono measured great overall, and especially for MM. You’ve hit the main points—super-low THD, extraordinarily flat RIAA frequency response (FR), and plenty of headroom. For the MM setting (and I would presume MC High would be very close, with a slightly higher noise floor), everything is pretty much state-of-the-art in terms of performance, except the noise and intermodulation distortion (IMD). These measured results were OK, but not great—but for the price, still pretty darn good. I would stress how great the FR is on the Zen. I almost never see ruler-flat adherence to the RIAA curve from 5Hz to 50kHz. If you experiment with different cartridges, turntables, or other components and hear FR changes, you will always know that your phono preamp is dead neutral with the iFi Zen Phono.

As for noise, I’d just see if you can hear any hum/noise from your seat at a reasonable volume without music playing. If you can’t, then it’s all good. As for IMD, well, it is what it is, as they say. Here’s a point of comparison with an expensive phono preamp I measured recently, the Saturn Audio 401. For IMD at 3kHz/4kHz and 18kHz/19kHz, the Saturn measured -108dB/-104dB to the iFi Zen’s -96dB/-77dB. For SNR, the Saturn measured 100dB (A-weighted) to the iFi Zen’s 89dB. Would you hear these differences? Maybe. I do think that IMD numbers are often overlooked in favor of pure THD—or, even worse, THD+N—which is silly, because music is not a single tone, but multiple tones.

The bottom line is that I don’t think you can go wrong at the Zen’s price point.

Let me know what you decide.


Anthem and Moon

Hi Diego,

I want to congratulate you for your professionalism and your dedication to audio. I am an audio enthusiast, but far from being an expert like you.

I saw your two reviews of preamps: the Anthem STR Preamplifier and the Simaudio Moon 390. I would like to ask you which of these two you would recommend for me. I only listen to music in a 2.1-channel system, using Tidal through a Bluesound Node. I have a pair of MartinLogan ElectroMotion ESL X speakers and a subwoofer from the same brand: the Dynamo 1600X.

I live in Aguascalientes, Mexico, and here there are very few audition rooms, and many brands are not available. It’s very difficult to carry out comparison tests between different brands or models; I imagine it’s a similar situation for a certain percentage of your readers.

In my case, my purchasing decision must be certain. I have to import the preamplifier, so there is no possibility to return it if I’m not happy with it. I thank you again for your advice—it’s very valuable to me.

I thank you in advance for your comment.


Hola Sergio,

The answer to your question is quite easy for me: Get the Anthem STR.

The main differences between the two preamps are a built-in network streamer on the 390, which the STR lacks, and full bass management and room correction (Anthem ARC) on the STR, which the 390 lacks. Since you have a sub and a capable network streamer (your Bluesound Node), you would gain no benefit from the 390’s built-in streamer, but would greatly benefit from the STR’s bass management and room EQ.

If you were to make an apples-to-apples comparison between the two preamps in terms of sound quality—that is to say, without room correction or bass management—in a blind, level-matched test, you would likely hear no difference. Both preamps are competently designed, low-noise, low-distortion audio devices. And even if you were to detect a very subtle audible difference in favor of the 390, this difference would be dwarfed by the sonic benefits of the Anthem’s bass management and ARC room correction.

In your situation, it’s a no brainer—buy the Anthem STR and enjoy.

Let me know what you end up with, and your impressions.


His Last System

Hello Roger,

I’ve read a number of your reviews with interest and was wondering if you could help a 68-year-old figure out his “last” system?

You seem to have a system that is very, very similar to what I am considering (MartinLogan speakers and class-D amplification). I am starting over with a clean slate, and trying to go “all American” with as many of my purchases as possible. The biggest question for me, though, is which speakers to buy.

Since I have been a “flat panel” speaker guy almost my entire life, I have narrowed my choices to the MartinLogan Masterpiece Series, which is where I am stuck. I am trying to justify the price difference between the Classic ESL 9 and the ESL 11A, which has larger, active woofers and Anthem ARC room correction. Are those features that important, especially since I am planning to use a pair of subwoofers anyway, and the $4000 difference would go a long way towards a new amp or subs? As you stated in your MartinLogan Masterpiece Classic ESL 9 review, you were able to achieve good results by using Anthem ARC separately in your Anthem Statement D2 A/V processor. Also, I can get a pre-owned pair of 11As for the same price or less than the cost of the 9s.

I have previously owned the JL Audio Fathom f112 subwoofer and have an opportunity to get a pair of pre-owned f112v2s at a price I can afford. However, I have also been looking at a pair of the company’s E-Sub e112s, whose active crossovers should be beneficial.

I believe class-D amplification is the direction I want to go. You are using Anthem M1 monos and I figure that a professional reviewer would not be using class-D amps with electrostatic loudspeakers unless he was absolutely convinced they succeeded. I read Doug Schneider’s interview with Peter Lyngdorf and his Lyngdorf Audio TDAI-3400 integrated amp was my first choice. However, I have also been looking at the Orchard Audio Starkrimson as well, since the TDAI-3400 might be older technology.

Although I am mostly interested in streaming music, I am looking at the Panasonic DP-UB9000 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player, mostly because I have a few Best Buy gift cards. I’m also really tempted by the Reavon UBR-X200 player, although it would be twice the price of the Panasonic.

So, Roger, if you have a moment to respond with any thoughts or recommendations, I would be very appreciative.

Thank you,
Larry Miller
United States

Hi Larry,

As you have been following my reviews and are considering a significant investment in your “last” system, it would be a pleasure to provide you with my thoughts.

You say that you are a “flat panel” speaker guy, so I will assume that the MartinLogan Masterpieces will be to your liking. As you point out, the difference in price between the ESL 9 and 11A is significant, but I am very happy with my 9s. I do in fact use them with powered subs—a pair of JL Audio E-Sub e112s—and the Anthem ARC Genesis room correction in my Anthem STR Preamplifier. That said, why wouldn’t you get a pair of pre-owned 11As for the same price if they are in good condition? You may find that you do not need additional subwoofers. And even if you do get subwoofers, ARC and the built-in powered woofers of the 11As will mean that your amp and subwoofers will have to do less work, which should improve the overall sound of your system.

You also mention that you want class-D amplification, but I am not married to that particular amplifier topology. I have heard some excellent class-AB amps, but I find that class-D amplifiers in my price range tend to offer a better price-to-performance ratio. And while I did love the sound of the TDAI-3400, I thought that the NAD Masters M33 was a better integrated amplifier overall. It’s also better value because it costs less than the Lyngdorf. As an aside, Peter Lyngdorf is one of the partners of Purifi, the company that produces the Eigentakt amplifier modules used in the NAD. I am not familiar with the Orchard products so cannot comment on them, but can heartily recommend both the TDAI-3400, despite being a few years old, and the M33. Both have excellent room-correction systems and are suitable for streaming. The M33 has the excellent BluOS multiroom streaming software, and is my favorite integrated amplifier in this price range.

Finally, you say that you are considering the Panasonic DP-UB9000 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player. While this is a fine player, it only plays BDs, DVDs, and CDs. It doesn’t support SACD or DVD-A. And if you will be using the M33 amp I recommend (or even the TDAI-3400), the audio signals have to be digitized to take advantage of the DSP and room correction. A player like the DP-UB9000, which has analog outputs, is not necessary, so I would recommend the Sony UBP-X800M2, which plays SACDs and DVD-As and is available at Best Buy for $329.99. The disadvantages of the Sony are that it does not automatically recognize Dolby Vision discs, which must be manually selected via the menu system, and it does not support HDR10+. Otherwise, it is an excellent digital transport for 4K Ultra HD Blu-rays and audio discs.

I hope this helps. Good luck in the quest for your “last” system!

Best regards,
Roger Kanno

Dutch & Dutch 8c Speaker Question

Hi Diego,

I hope you’re doing well.

We spoke a while ago about a pair of Focal speakers I was going to get that you had reviewed. I changed my mind and bought a pair of Raidho Acoustics TD1.2s instead. A good friend of mine bought a pair at the same time.

We both loved them but within six weeks he sold his and bought a pair of Dutch & Dutch 8c active speakers. He felt they were the only standmounted speakers that outperformed the Raidhos.

After eight months I finally got a chance to hear my buddy’s D&Ds and I was mighty impressed.

Since you reviewed the D&D 8c speakers, I’m wondering how you think they would compare to my Raidhos (if you know anything about them)?

For your information, I also have an Innuos Zen Mk3 music server; the Innuos PhoenixUSB reclocker; an Esoteric K-05X SACD/CD player, which I use as a DAC for the Innuos server; and finally, a PrimaLuna Dialogue Premium preamp and McIntosh Laboratory MC302 amp.

I listen to a lot of acoustic jazz, and although the TD1.2s’ bass is the strongest of any previous Raidho speakers, sometimes I feel they are lacking somewhat in this area. I could just add a sub, of course, but the D&D’s twin subwoofers make it an attractive option.

Since you know these D&Ds well, I’d sure appreciate it if you could give me your thoughts on any of this.

Thank you.

United States

Hi Bob,

Okay, from the jump, let me be unequivocal. Of all the audio components I’ve ever reviewed, the D&D 8c has left me with the most lasting impression. It’s truly a one-box, turnkey solution (i.e., active speakers with DAC and room EQ) that offers sound quality beyond reproach. Well, two boxes, actually. The speaker measures exceptionally well, too! The listening-window frequency response—and the off-axis response—is textbook perfect. The speaker does have a bit more distortion than some other high-quality speakers, but I didn’t hear it when I had them in my room—just buttery-smooth mids and an airy top end, with bass punch and extension that was hard to believe!

If you wanted to equal what the D&Ds can give you in terms of full-range sound with a conventional, non-active system, you would need a high-quality system built around full-range tower speakers in a large, professionally acoustically treated room, backed up with lots of acoustic measurements to optimize speaker positioning. Or (since most of us don’t have such a room), you’d need something like this:

  • Top-of-the-range two-way speakers (I believe this is what you have, but I’ve never heard Raidho speakers, and we’ve never measured them)
  • A high-quality sub (or preferably two)
  • A quality amp
  • A line-level high-pass filter (HPF) for bass management
  • A quality preamp
  • A top-notch room EQ processor (e.g., Dirac Live or Anthem ARC)
  • A quality DAC

In my opinion, if you were to omit just one item from this list, you would not quite achieve what a pair of 8c’s can deliver; and with the entire list, it would take some tweaking and experimentation with Dirac Live (or equivalent) to get there. There are preamps available that include a DAC, room EQ functionality, and bass management, so you could save on components that way: for example, the Anthem STR, the miniDSP SHD, and the NAD C 658.

In your case, if you wanted to keep what you have, but compete with the D&Ds, you’d need an HPF between your amp and preamp, and something like a miniDSP DDRC-22D (which is what I use) between your music server and DAC to implement Dirac Live. Plus, of course, the most important ingredient—a good sub (or preferably two). This is what I do in my system.

What are the drawbacks of a pair of D&Ds? There are only two I can think of, and they are unrelated to sound quality. If (like most of us) you’re in a typical, compromised listening environment, in terms of size and/or acoustic treatment, you simply can’t get much better sound quality, at any price, than the Dutch & Dutch 8c standmounts. The only drawbacks I can find are their looks (they’re not the prettiest), and arguably, their anti-audiophile ethos. What do I mean by that? Many of us actually prefer to have multiple boxes in our systems, each with its own dedicated audio purpose in the chain—it’s a fun part of the hobby. With the D&Ds, you add a music streamer with an AES/EBU digital output and you’re all set. It all comes down to what you’re looking for in your listening space.

Hope that helps a bit,

Bass Response of the Stenheim Alumine Two

Dear Diego Estan,

I read your review of the Stenheim Alumine Two loudspeakers and the follow-up review on positioning the speakers with much interest. I recognize how much effort you put into experimenting to find the right positions for the speakers. I have a lot of experience with a similarly sized speaker: the Linn Majik 109. The Linns need to be close to the wall, and the manufacturer advises a minimum distance of 23cm (9″), measured from the wall to the back of the speaker.

The best position I found for the right timbre and bass was 24cm (9.5″), or 48cm (19″) from the wall to the front of the speakers, with minimal toe-in.

In your review I noticed that you experimented mainly with placing the Stenheims wider apart and closer to the corners of your room. My suggestion is generally to try placing small speakers closer together. In my case, after much trial and error, I settled on 175.5cm (5′ 9″) apart. This position gives me a satisfying full midrange and surprisingly low bass, which is especially noticeable with acoustic bass.

I agree that Stenheim should provide suggestions for the best positioning of their speakers. Small speakers are often as difficult to position as larger ones.

I enjoy reading your reviews and those of others on the SoundStage! Network. They are very helpful in making an assessment of the reviewed audio equipment.

Kind regards,


Bonjour August,

Thanks for reading my initial and follow-up reviews of the Alumine Twos, and sending me your comments.

Since my room is relatively small, I rarely have issues with bass boost from two-way standmounts. Most speakers yield +4 to +8dB of boost (50Hz relative to 2kHz) in my reference position. The Stenheims were an exception.

Since I only found that corner loading yielded acceptable bass results from the Alumine Twos in my room, I was stuck with too wide a distance between the speakers—because I use the long wall for speaker placement. The best solution for the Alumines in my room would have been to rotate my system 90 degrees, using the short wall for the speakers, and leveraging the bass boost by corner loading once again. But, I had to draw the line somewhere—I wasn’t going to rearrange the entire room for the sake of this experiment.

I’m a big proponent of bass-managed 2.2 systems for two-channel audio. Given the price tag of the Alumine Twos, I’d still urge anyone not listening in a very small room to consider quality subs. If you’re spending this much money for state-of-the-art standmount speakers, what’s another two to three thousand more to get full-range sound!

Merci encore,

The Volume Control in the Bryston B135 Cubed

Dear Diego Estan,

I have a question about your measurements report on the Bryston B1353, where you wrote: “Based on the accuracy of the left/right channel matching (see table below), and 0.5dB volume-step resolution throughout its range, the B1353 volume knob is not a potentiometer in the signal path, but, rather, provides digital control (analog domain) over a proprietary or integrated volume circuit.” To understand it correctly, is the potentiometer only used to trigger a digital volume control, like the solution Yamaha is using in its A-S3200 and A-S2200 models? Or like Denon is doing recently in its PMA-A110 model?

This point is very important for me, because I listen to music mostly at a lower level. Most amplifiers with normal potentiometers are not very easy to adjust with the remote control at a lower level.

It would be great if you can answer my question.

Best regards,

Hi Matthias,

Thank you for your question, and for reading my measurement report. While I don’t know exactly what components Bryston uses for the volume control in the B1353 (aka B135 Cubed), I can assure you that the volume knob is not a potentiometer in the signal path—but first, let me explain a little bit about volume controls.

There are two main types of volume controls: ones that operate in the digital domain, and those that operate in the analog domain. A purely digital volume control consists of an analog-to-digital-converter to digitize the signal (if the signal is not in the digital domain already), and a bit-depth truncation circuit to reduce volume. Most home-theater receivers operate this way, and so do some high-end two-channel integrated amps. The Technics SU-R1000 that I measured in January is a case in point, mostly because it processes all signals in the digital domain.

Within analog-domain volume controls, we have two main types: old-fashioned potentiometers, which can suffer from noise over time and have poor channel tracking at low volumes, and the more popular digitally controlled analog volume controls. The latter typically uses an integrated circuit (IC), such as the Muses 72320 or Crystal CS3310, or a discrete solution using relays. These ICs or discrete solutions change the volume—or rather, the amplitude of the signal—using digital control to toggle switches (transistors or relays) within a resistor-attenuation ladder.

The measurements show that the Bryston has very low channel-to-channel deviation—but not the exact same deviation across the entire volume range like you’d see with a purely digital volume control, so that means it’s operating in the analog domain. But it’s also clear from the measurements that the Bryston B1353 offers consistent 0.5dB volume increments throughout the range—something that’s not possible with a potentiometer in the signal path—so that’s how I know it’s using a digitally controlled solution.

In summary: like the Yamaha A-S3200, the Bryston B1353 has a digitally controlled analog volume control—it’s not an in-signal potentiometer, but neither is it a purely digital volume control.

I hope that clears things up.


Kinki Studio Vision THR-1 Measurements Question

Hello Diego!

I hope you are well.

First, I would like to thank you for your great—and detailed—measurements of the Kinki Studio Vision THR-1 headphone amp [that are on the SoundStage! Network portal site]. Thank you, especially, for pointing out the peculiarities of the inputs and outputs.

I just bought that unit, which I like very much.

As I am not technically educated, I have a question that may be trivial for you: I would like to know if I can safely connect two pairs of headphones to the unit at the same time for comparison purposes—the HiFiMan Susvara headphones connected to the Phone1 (XLR) output, the HiFiMan HE1000se headphones connected to the Phone2 (1/4″) output.

Thank you in advance for your help.

Greetings from Switzerland y un muy feliz año nuevo!


Hi Dejan,

I went back to my measurements report to familiarize myself with the Kinki Studio Vision THR-1 again. That amplifier was reviewed by Mark Phillips on our SoundStage! Solo site.

Despite the product’s oddities, such as the lack of input buffers and truly balanced inputs and outputs, it still has a very robust amplifier capable of very high power. In your specific use case, you mention two high-quality planar-magnetic headphones, both connected simultaneously to the THR-1 as you described. I see no issues at all with this arrangement.

The HE1000se headphones have a 35-ohm impedance, while the Susvaras have a 60-ohm impedance. Since the Phone1 and Phone2 outputs are connected in parallel, having both pairs of headphones plugged in will create an effective 22-ohm load for the THR-1 amp. Given the 51-ohm output impedance of the THR-1, the only thing you should notice is a reduction in volume (about 5dB) if you plug in the HE1000se headphones when the Susvaras are already connected. Since planar-magnetic headphones effectively have a flat impedance curve from 20Hz to 20kHz, you should not notice any frequency-response changes with this arrangement. Please note, however, that if you were to use dynamic-driver headphones with a low impedance (e.g., 32–60 ohms), it is possible that you would notice very small changes in frequency response when connecting a second pair, depending on the impedance versus frequency curves of the headphones.

I hope that helps.


Bowers & Wilkins 705 S2 vs. PSB Synchrony B600

To Diego Estan,

I’ve read both your reviews [of the Bowers & Wilkins 705 S2 and PSB Synchrony B600], and would appreciate your thoughts on which speaker is better.

Michael Gross

Hi Michael,

In this case, I’d argue there is no “better” speaker, because they are both very good. However, they sound quite different.

Both are excellent in the bass department for speakers of their size, but in my room (confirmed by measurements), the PSBs had a bit more output and extension—so much so that they almost redefined what I thought was possible from a 6.5″ midrange-woofer in a two-way design in terms of bass!

In the midrange, I’d give the edge to the 705 S2 in terms of transparency and detail retrieval; but again, only just.

The treble is where you’ll find the biggest difference—between 5kHz and 10kHz, there’s an extra 5–8dB out of the 705 S2 tweeter. This is absolutely unmistakable and immediately noticeable. The PSB is voiced to sound neutral, while the B&W is voiced to sound exciting and attention-grabbing, with lots of “air.”

Which speaker is better for you will come down to personal preference and listening habits—mainly because of that difference in the treble. If you like to listen to your music fairly loud (say 90dB or more at the listening position), go for a pair of B600s. You’ll likely find the 705 S2s will sound fatiguing—and for some recordings, even irritating—over time. If you’re a low- or medium-volume listener (say 70–80dB SPL), you may prefer the extra air and detail retrieval that a pair of B&Ws can provide at these levels.

The speakers are around the same price, so my recommendation is to listen to both if you can.


Praise for the Arcam SA30 Measurements

Hi Diego,

I hope you are well.

I just came across your measurements of the Arcam SA30, and in your description of the chart labeled “THD ratio (unweighted) vs. output power at 1kHz into 4 and 8 ohms,” you commented: “Of note is that this dual ‘knee’ behavior in the plots above is unusual; however, THD values are consistently very low for any amplifier up until the second ‘knee.’”

I believe this “dual knee” behavior is just an indication of the SA30’s class-G operation. The SA30 uses two power-supply rails for the power-amp section; one lower-voltage rail for low-power outputs, where the output transistors are biased in class A, and a second, higher-voltage rail for higher power, where the transistors are biased in class AB.

If you consider this and look at your graphs, you can clearly see the class-G behavior, with the amp operating in class A up to about 27W into 8 ohms and 40W into 4 ohms. Above these levels, the amp switches to the second power-supply rail, effectively switching to class-AB biasing, hence the increased THD ratios.

And as a side note, I believe your measurements are excellent and comprehensive—an extremely good job! People are often quoting measurements on the Audio Science Review (ASR) forum, but they do not compare to yours. You even measured frequency response with a real-life load (i.e., a speaker), which is very uncommon. Sometimes, this might reveal differences in sound quality and signature [between components], which are often ignored on ASR because “they measure the same.” Yep, they do—with a purely resistive dummy load. Thank you very much for doing that!

I also thought the SA30 measured really well, considering it’s a budget all-in-one device. I’m impressed [by the results], although, as an owner of this device already, perhaps I shouldn’t be!

Best regards,


Hi Felix,

Thank you for your comments, insights, and kind words of praise. You’re absolutely right, and I should have taken more time to investigate the SA30’s amplifier topology when I was interpreting my measurements. This would have provided some context around the SA30’s measured THD results compared to more typical class-AB amps. Thanks to you, I have now added a few lines on class-G operation in my explanation under the “THD ratio (unweighted) vs. output power at 1kHz into 4 and 8 ohms” chart.

And I agree, the measured performance of the SA30 is exemplary, especially considering its price and exhaustive list of features, which, along with what Roger Kanno wrote in his review, led to the SA30 receiving a 2021 SoundStage! Network Product of the Year award.


Focal Aria 936 or Paradigm Founder 100F?

Good morning, Doug,

Let me begin by saying that I greatly enjoy your in-depth loudspeaker reviews for SoundStage! Hi-Fi.

I am now wrestling with my purchase decision for a new pair of speakers in the $5k ballpark. Having auditioned several speakers, the current front-runners are the Paradigm Founder Series 100F and the Focal Aria 936. I really loved both of these speakers.

I enjoyed and appreciated your review of the Paradigm. My question is this: Of these two choices, which do you prefer, and which one is better designed and constructed?

It is somewhat frustrating that there are so few professional reviews available for the Paradigm. Your valued input on the pros and cons of these two loudspeakers would be most appreciated.

Thank you in advance.

United States

Hello Ray,

I’m glad to hear that my reviews have helped. To answer your questions, I’ll start by saying that I haven’t reviewed or even heard the Focal Aria 936, but we published my review of the Aria K2 936 in May 2021, so I definitely know about that one. The K2 is basically a special-edition version of the Aria 936, the main difference being its use of Focal’s K2 material instead of flax for the midrange and woofer cones. I thought that the Aria K2 936 was a very good loudspeaker.

As you mentioned, I reviewed the Founder 100F recently. I think the reason that you don’t see many 100F reviews is because Paradigm doesn’t really need them; the company is already selling enough units based on the limited number of reviews so far. The speaker is that good.

But even though I have product experience that can help, the fact that you said you “really loved” both of these speakers says to me that it will do no good to tell you which one I prefer. That’s because you’re the one who must live with the decision, so it’s you who must make it.

I can give you some reassurances about product quality, however. I know both companies design and build very good loudspeakers—not just the models I’ve reviewed, but the others they make, too. I can state this with confidence because I’ve heard many of their speakers over the years. I’ve also been to Paradigm more times than I can remember, and, as you might’ve already seen on this site, I recently visited Focal and came away impressed. All told, both speakers you’ve chosen are well built by reputable companies that I’m confident will stand behind their products. I’d have no hesitation buying from either company.

Finally, the good news with this situation is that there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to making a purchasing decision. You’ve narrowed down the selection to two speaker models you like. Both would be worthwhile purchases. My advice to you is to go and compare both models again, then pull the trigger on which one you like the most. Use your gut feel if you have to. Once you’ve made the purchase, take the speakers home and don’t second-guess your decision—simply enjoy them.

Doug Schneider

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