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

Two Excellent Articles!

To Ken Kessler and Doug Schneider,

Now then, these two articles were an excellent read! I am of an “age” when I still can’t afford the things I lusted after in my youth, simply because the sellers of said equipment are asking too much. They know all too well the premium one’s memories put on stereophonic WayBack machines!

Still, I do have several nice ’70s-era receivers and a few turntables, and recently purchased a—GASP!!!!!—Grace Link music streamer, from Grace Digital. It’s affordable. When I buy audio equipment, music is the only attribute that’s important to me. I’m NEVER influenced by my ego, just my wallet, ergo my choice. Thus, I added a streamer to my headphone and rotating retro receiver setup.

I still listen to records and CDs, but never to terrestrial radio. I subscribe to SiriusXM and Pandora Premium (or whatever they’re calling it now), and I still have Amazon Music Unlimited (but no longer in HD because I decided it wasn’t worth the money). My favorite Internet stations are The Great American Songbook, Crystal Radio (“Beautiful Music,” from Toronto, Canada), and The Breeze, out of Crown Point, Indiana. The two latter stations play what is often called “elevator music,” but I like it as it was one of the favorite genres of my parents while I was growing up.

“Sir” Doug, your lead photo made me smile. I am handi-capable (!) and would trip over your nest of neat stuff, but I’m envious of your equipment nevertheless. Well done, sire, well done indeed. I was never a skateboarder but one of my brothers was, so memories of those times flooded over me while I read your article.

And Ken? Familiarity breeds comfort, not contempt. Retro styling can do that and it seems to me that the so-called baby boomers will be the last generation to have memories worth recalling and building upon.

You gentlemen are good people. Thanks for the smiles.

Scott S.
United States

On Offending Ottawans and Recommending Technics

To Doug Schneider,

Thanks for the great article on The Record Centre. Coincidentally, I was on the phone with John Thompson earlier in the day before reading your article in the evening. As a 35-year career public servant, the only thing I take offense to (and a mild one at that) is the suggestion that most of us are performing mind-numbing work and have lost our enthusiasm for the work. I guess it depends on where you work and most importantly, on your manager(s)!

On a more serious note, I am glad to see that The Record Centre has become the latest high-end hi-fi shop in the city, while also keeping the average audio consumer in mind. I have not visited the store for some time and I only discovered they were selling Technics Grand Class gear while I was researching the SL-G700 CD/SACD player. I am mostly interested in this model because of its streaming capabilities. The disc playback is a nice bonus, making it a valid upgrade for my venerable, still-functioning Simaudio Moon Eclipse CD player. Online reviews have been quite positive on the overall performance of the SL-G700 and I was wondering if at $3800 it competes with standalone streamers or DAC/streamers (like the Moon 280D) in that price range.

Sincerely,
Pierre
Canada

You’re not alone in taking offense to my comments about Ottawa and a lot of the work that goes on here—writer Diego Estan, who also lives in Ottawa, was a little upset. But only a little.

With that out of the way, I’ll jump straight to the Technics player to answer your questions as best as I can. I can’t guarantee you’ll like the sound. I haven’t listened to the Technics SL-G700, but looking at the information that Technics provides for it, I’d imagine it sounds very good—it’s based on the newest AKM DAC chipset design and the designers appear to have taken great care with the analog circuitry and power supply. In addition, it plays both SACDs and CDs, which might be handy because playback of both disc types is still popular with audiophiles. It also should provide an upgrade on your Simaudio Moon Eclipse, which must be close to 20 years old! The Eclipse was a great CD player when it came out, but digital playback technology has advanced a lot since then.

As you pointed out, the SL-G700 also has a built-in streamer, although I’m not sure how well it will work for you. For any streaming component, a lot depends on the usability of the software that has been implemented. To know how enjoyable it will be to use, you really have to try it out. But I do recommend you try the SL-G700—it looks like a very good digital component for the price, and I am sure John Thompson can find a way to make that happen for you. . . . Doug Schneider

One of Doug's Best?

To Doug Schneider,

I just finished reading your article on The Record Centre. What a fine way to start my Monday! This is a good-news article, especially in these most trying of times. It made me smile, and it feels good to know that passion and smarts prevail in business.

This is possibly one of the finest pieces you’ve done, Doug. I wish you continued success and urge you to keep fighting the good fight. We need success stories like this more than ever.

Stay safe, and here’s to the future. May it bring us more good news.

Cheers,
Lloyd
Canada

P.S. If I didn’t have a Luxman integrated amplifier, Accuphase would be my other choice. They’re seriously good.

Glad to hear you enjoyed the article. As for Luxman and Accuphase, I agree—I really like both brands, too. . . . Doug Schneider

Bowers & Wilkins 705 S2s with Audiolab Monoblocks and a Walkman?

To Diego Estan,

Hope all is well. My name is John, from Hong Kong.

Recently I decided to update my hi-fi system. I am no audiophile or sound engineer, and have little to no understanding of audio jargon! I read and re-read it, trying to figure out what would suit me best, but I get lost in a maze of opinions.

Anyhow, I’m thinking of Bowers & Wilkins 705 S2 speakers with Audiolab 8300MB monoblock amplifiers, using my Sony Walkman NW-ZX507 digital audio player as a source. The room is small (very similar to your room dimensions). All my music files are MP3 and are of lesser quality than they should be.

I picked the speakers based on the endless praise I’ve read regarding their distinctive midrange and highs without sacrificing bass. For the monoblocks, I chose them purely for their looks; clean and minimalistic.

I’ll hook up the Walkman to the monoblocks with XLR cables.

Does that make sense? Your input is highly appreciated. Thank you, and be safe.

Regards,

John
Hong Kong

First, you mentioned MP3 files. When encoded at the highest bit rates (256 or 320kbps), MP3s can sound very good, and in many cases be nearly sonically indistinguishable from CD quality. However, given how much money you’re willing to spend on this system I would urge you to experiment with lossless file formats such as FLAC, ALAC, or WAV. Try ripping CDs to FLAC, or subscribing to a streaming service that offers CD quality (16-bit/44.1kHz) and above, such as Tidal and Qobuz.

Second, with respect to the amps, I would ask whether you really need this much power (at least, for your first serious hi-fi system). The Bowers & Wilkins 705 S2 speakers are relatively easy to drive, so they don’t need that much power. Unless you have a very big room and listen at high volumes, I’d urge you to get the Audiolab 6000A integrated amp I reviewed in October 2019. This will also provide you the flexibility of a volume control, multiple inputs, and a built-in digital-to-analog converter. You could connect a CD player, turntable, or streamer down the road, or even use its Bluetooth capability to wirelessly connect a phone. In my opinion, the 6000A will easily drive the 705 S2s to very loud listening levels in most domestic environments. Also, consider that with your Walkman connected directly to power amps, just forgetting once that you’ve left the Walkman’s volume control up too high before hitting play could be disastrous for your speakers.

With respect to your choice of speakers, I highly recommend you listen before you buy, if possible. Sonically, a pair of B&W 705 S2s does all things very well. In particular, the bass, midrange, and imaging precision are simply amazing given the price and size. The one downfall is that the 705 S2 has a little too much treble energy and can sound a bit bright. Whether you like this will depend on your personal taste, and how loud you like to listen. If you like to listen loud, you may find some recordings sound too bright. At lower volumes, you may in fact like how the B&Ws provide more air and spaciousness compared to other competing speakers. And remember, reading my comments is no substitute for going out to a dealer and listening for yourself. Best of luck. . . . Diego Estan

Digital Output from a Chromecast Audio Streamer?

To Doug Schneider,

Thanks for reviewing the Heaven 11 Billie integrated amplifier-DAC.

I have a question regarding your setup. What is the “partnering TosLink interconnect” you refer to in this sentence, and how are you using it with the Google Chromecast Audio streamer? You wrote: “I connected a Chromecast Audio wireless streamer ($35, discontinued), using its partnering TosLink interconnect ($10, discontinued), to one of the Billie’s TosLink inputs, so I could wirelessly stream uncompressed music from Tidal.”

I have a Chromecast Audio but only ever used its 3.5mm output jack to connect to the RCA input of my AV receiver. So, I am wondering how it can be used with TosLink.

I’d like to ask one more question. When I play Tidal over Bluetooth it uses the Masters setting, but I assume the quality is ultimately lowered due to the limitations of Bluetooth transmission (even with aptX). However, when I use Tidal over Chromecast Audio it reverts to HiFi quality, as you mention in your answer to Kiran’s question. So my question is whether Bluetooth or Chromecast Audio offer better quality from Tidal. I suppose the Masters setting on Tidal via Bluetooth is misleading since it gets compressed later on?

Thanks,
Alexander
Switzerland

Great questions!

What many people don’t realize is that the little Chromecast Audio jack outputs a digital or analog signal, depending on the type of cable you connect to it. Currently, you are connecting your Chromecast Audio to your receiver with an analog cable that has a 3.5mm connector on the Chromecast side and RCA connectors on the receiver side. When connected with an analog cable, the Chromecast uses its built-in digital-to-analog converter (DAC) to output an analog audio signal.

If you purchase what’s called a mini-TosLink cable—which is a digital optical cable that has a 3.5mm connector on one end and a TosLink connector on the other—and connect that to the Chromecast Audio and the other end to the TosLink input on your receiver (all receivers have them), the Chromecast device will automatically bypass its own DAC and shoot out a digital signal to your receiver via the TosLink cable. This allows your receiver’s DAC to convert the signal from digital to analog. Depending mostly on the quality of the DAC in your receiver, this may be a better way to connect your Chromecast Audio.

When Tidal outputs in HiFi mode, the resulting files are streamed at 16-bit/44.1kHz resolutions. Tidal’s Masters setting outputs the proprietary MQA format, which, using a lossy compression algorithm, can pack high-resolution music files (e.g., 24/96 and 24/192) into 24/44.1 or 24/48 files. When you stream wirelessly with Bluetooth, the bitrate, regardless of the flavor of Bluetooth codec used, is lower than 16/44.1, so any file listened to that way will be at a lower resolution. The Chromecast Audio can support resolutions up to 24/96, but, unfortunately, Tidal’s software won’t stream higher than the HiFi setting (i.e., 16/44.1) to it—that’s why, even if you select Masters, Tidal will always revert to HiFi quality when streaming begins. Still, I’ve found that many music selections still sound great at the HiFi setting, so it’s not that much of a deficiency. I hope these answers help. . . . Doug Schneider

Go with a Purifi-based or Parasound Power Amp?

To Doug Schneider,

Thanks for a helpful, illuminating write-up on the speaker everyone wants to know about—the KEF LS50 Meta.

You mentioned listening to them with your Purifi Audio demo unit, and it seems you liked the pairing.

On the topic of commercially available Purifi Audio power amps that might be just perfect for the Meta—the NAD C 298 power amplifier [using Purifi Eigentakt technology] is available everywhere and lists for $2000 (in USD).

I was wondering if you knew whether the C 298 is in the SoundStage! review pipeline at all, and more generally, if you think it would be a smart choice to audition with the LS50 Meta.

I’m stuck between going sorta brutish and old school with a Parasound Halo A 21+ amplifier or submit to my futuristic, energy-efficient overlords and go Purifi. Without boring you about all my gear, I’ll just say I think I have a neutral DAC and strive for a neutral but lifelike and engaging sound signature out of my speakers—now or in the future.

Thanks again!

Tony A.
United States

So many audiophiles fear change, so they get stuck in the same rut with old-school products when, in many cases, they could have something better. Parasound makes very good amplifiers and the A 21+ could make you happy, but I strongly encourage you to have a look at NAD’s new C 298 power amp. I’ll let the cat out of the bag and tell you that we have it in the review schedule and, in my opinion, this amp should be on the shortlist for anyone looking for top-flight amplification, even if they’re willing to spend multiples of its price. I hope that helps. . . . Doug Schneider

Only Incremental Improvements: KEF LS50 to LS50 Meta

To Doug Schneider,

It was with a great deal of curiosity and interest that I read your review of the new KEF LS50 Meta loudspeaker.

I have five of the original LS50s in my theater and, having read the sales pitch, I was most curious how the Meta would measure. Pulling up the old SoundStage! Network measurements for the LS50 to compare, it looked as though you were just measuring another LS50. The differences, for the most part, could be put down to standard production variations as much as to any new refinements.

It was interesting that they really couldn’t improve the cabinets at this price point, but not altogether surprising.

The biggest difference I can see in KEF’s literature is that their Metamaterial Absorption Technology virtually eliminates the back wave of the tweeter and reduces total harmonic distortion (THD) by around 0.03%. So that’s, maybe, a 4dB reduction. I’d consider that to be no more than an incremental improvement.

The LS50 has as close to the ideal temporal response as you can get with a passive speaker. That being said, it’s not perfect -- it can be improved by forgoing the passive crossover and biamping the speaker with a digital speaker processor. Using FIR and steep IIR filters, you can tweak these speakers to be as close to perfect as they can be. Add in some serious digital signal processing (DSP) like Dirac or DEQX and you will have perfect group-delay response.

In other words, the improvement in sound quality from the slight reduction in THD afforded by the Meta can easily be matched by using room correction and an effective DSP crossover with the original LS50s. Yes, this is a more expensive way to go, but it does offer greater control than you can get with the wireless version of the Meta. Whether the sound would be drastically better is another story.

One thing that does suck is that KEF doesn’t offer a single LS50 Wireless II to use as a center speaker, so that model is out for me.

So, as it stands, I’m only three stereo Purifi Audio Eigentakt amps (for left, center, and right) and a couple of DSP units away from having as great a surround system as you can get with my LS50s. I’m good with that! And no, I won’t be going the active route with the surround speakers, either.

So, Doug, thanks for another very informative review.

All the best,
Jeff Henning
United States

Thanks for reading and responding. It’s true the differences between the LS50 and LS50 Meta are small, so there probably are other ways to improve the sound of a system rather than swapping out the older model for the newer one. Still, I think fans of the original will be pleased by the small improvements and, in many cases, will want to make the move. . . . Doug Schneider

KEF LS50 Metas with a Sub

To Doug Schneider,

I enjoyed the KEF LS50 Meta review.

It would be interesting if someone matched them with a quality subwoofer and then compared them to more expensive speakers with better bass. Would such a setup be better for less money?

Danny
Israel

I agree that matching the new LS50 Metas with a topflight subwoofer would be a good thing to do. In fact, I hope someone who has writes in. But time permitting, it might also be something I do. . . . Doug Schneider

Taking the Fun Out?

To Doug Schneider,

You are taking all the fun out of home audio by deviating from faith-based, subjective audio reviewing.

Just tell everyone that the item being reviewed is fantastic in every way and it’s the best thing you’ve ever heard -- with the possible exception of something similar you reviewed 18 months ago that was just slightly better. Now that’s audio reviewing.

Your scientific approach is ridiculous. What does science have to do with audio?

As for the IsoAcoustics zaZen I isolation platform, I’m not surprised that its performance was marginal. I have IsoAcoustics Aperta speaker platforms under my KEF LS50s, which are stacked on Rythmik Audio subwoofers on the left and right channels in my home theater. I wasn’t worried about the speakers vibrating on the subs, but rather, the vibration of the subs modulating the sound from the speakers. While the Apertas helped, their efficacy was not what I’d hoped for. To improve their performance, I then added Sorbothane hemispheres to the top and bottom of the platforms and, voilà, they work great! If I turn the mains amp off and crank up the subs, the LS50s hardly vibrate to the touch.

I already knew that such issues are highly dependent upon the mass of the item that’s being isolated and the frequencies to be damped, but your review really drove it home. Too light or too heavy an item and it works poorly or not at all. Also, that several damping layers are better than just one. Honestly, a platform made from a piece of Corian or a 1/4″ carbon-fiber plate sitting on Sorbothane hemispheres could work way better and be much cheaper. Or even 3/4″ plywood. And also, what is the platform standing on? How sturdy is that and how much is it vibrating? A turntable on a magnetically levitated concrete slab that’s next to a subwoofer is still going to get the crap vibrated out of it through the air when you turn up the volume.

This product isn’t exactly snake oil, but one size does not fit all. That is its failing.

I haven’t played a record in over 15 years, but my turntable sat on the concrete mantle of a huge stone fireplace throughout the 1990s until 2004. That is acoustic isolation -- unless there’s an earthquake!

All the best,
Jeff Henning
United States

I can appreciate a little sarcasm from time to time! However, I’m glad you pointed out that the IsoAcoustics zaZen I platform isn’t “snake oil.” It’s not. But as you pointed out, the effectiveness of the zaZen platform will have a lot to do with what’s placed on it and what it’s sitting on. I still think it’s a good product for the price. . . . Doug Schneider

Thanks for the Purifi Eigentakt Measurements

To Doug Schneider,

I am writing to thank you for your most recent article on the measurements of the Purifi Audio Eigentakt amplifier. I found it so enlightening and revealing that I’m seriously considering the purchase of the NAD Masters M33 integrated amp, even though some of its measurements are not quite as good as the Eigentakt itself.

I am a blind person and your article was most useful because of the written descriptions of what was shown by the graphs -- very useful for those who can’t see.

May I make a suggestion? I realize that this might be a bit more work, but providing brief explanatory notes on the highlights of speaker measurements you publish would be a huge help. At the moment, only the graphs are shown, with the exception of the sensitivity ratings.

Again, a whole lot of thanks!

Yvon Provencher
Canada

Thank you for the feedback. You make a good point about the speaker-measurement graphs -- let me see what we can do going forward. . . . Doug Schneider

More Articles ...