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

Does Purifi Represent a Turning Point?

To Doug Schneider,

I have been involved with audio/hi-fi for many years and it really seems to me that there are more and more manufacturers and importer-distributers who are solely trying to grab the brass ring. They are not at all interested in introducing the next generation to quality audio reproduction. It appears to me that there is a never-ending number of these industry people who want to sell higher- and higher-priced gear to a shrinking customer base. There is no big picture, and, as a result, they will be responsible for their own demise.

My interest in audio/hi-fi began as a young consumer, developed later as a partner in a specialty audio shop for six years, and continued as an informed consumer for many years. In actuality, few, if any, improvements have been made since the ’70s to mid-’80s. I recently listened to a system belonging to one of our old customers, consisting of Rogers LS3/5A speakers, a Dynaco ST-70 amplifier, a passive ladder control, and an early Burr-Brown-based multibit DAC. I listen to most of what is offered today and it in no way approaches this system. It’s fantastic. I heard a pair of Dynaco A-25s about a year ago and they were really nice. No wonder they were the all-time best-selling loudspeakers. Yes, there are fine examples made today; however, on a price and general availability perspective the consumer is at a loss. We simply do not need audio jewelry that costs as much as or more than our car or our home.

I believe that we are at a turning point and technology will assist in bringing the experience of quality audio reproduction to a wider audience. I was hopeful about the Tripath-based amps a few years ago as they were inexpensive and very good. Then Texas Instruments bought out Tripath for their patents and disposed of the company and its products. So, with all of that, I believe the likes of Benchmark Media Systems and Purifi Audio are on the right track. Original thought and more affordable applications will hopefully expose quality playback to a larger audience. I would really like to see a review of the entire Benchmark stack of the basic DAC3 B, the LA4 line amp, and AHB2 stereo amp rather than a random sample of each component. This might be an interesting project for you guys to take on. Another product line to look at is the PSI Audio brand of professional powered monitors. They are very good; they have been around for more than 35 years and started as an OEM for Studer monitors before Harman bought out Studer. This is a unique line of high-quality speakers utilizing class-G amplification.

I found your article and review of the Purifi amplifier and monitors very interesting. I am curious as to which of the Hypex switching power supplies was used in the prototype amplifier. In reviewing the Hypex DIY parts site, it seems that there are three power supplies that look similar to the one used in the amplifier that you reviewed: SMPS1200A180, SMPS1200A400, and SMPS1200A700. Do you know which of these is the unit used in the amplifier you wrote about?

I do believe that this is the future of audio/hi-fi. Primarily, I have used push-pull directly heated triode amplifiers. With the eventual demise of NOS power tubes and the importance of energy efficiency going forward, it is important to find alternatives that can perform to expectations. It was only a matter of time until switching amplifiers matured to a high standard. This benefits everyone and will make the hobby more accessible to more people. This can only be a good thing as the current entrance fee is simply out of reach for many.

Thank you for the article and bringing this information forward. I find the work in this area to be eye-opening and of great interest.

Best regards,
John Shepherd
United States

What you wrote really struck a chord with me -- I mostly agree. But does Purifi amplifier technology represent a turning point for hi-fi? I believe it does, but we’ll have to see what the marketplace says. By the way, the Hypex power supply used in their evaluation amplifier is the SMPS1200A400. As a rough estimate, then, combining that power supply with two Purifi 1ET400A amp modules and the Purifi gain board -- which they sell as a package called Eval1 -- plus wiring and case should cost less than $1500 USD. That represents incredible value for such high performance. . . . Doug Schneider

Purifi, Pass Labs, or Hegel -- In Search of an Amplifier for Magico A5s

To Doug Schneider,

I read your review of the Purifi Audio 1ET400A amplifier and wanted to reach out to ask a question.

First of all, I am not an audiophile -- I have had to Google what a source, a DAC, an amplifier, and so on, are. I ended up investing in a pair of Magico A5 speakers, and my challenge now is to build a setup around the A5s while entering this (confusing) hi-fi world.

My first thought was to go with a high-end integrated amp, such as Hegel’s H590 or Pass Labs’ INT-250 -- both apparently used by Magico themselves. A more hi-fi–savvy friend of mine described these amps as “mustangs -- raw power but not very modern" and recommended looking into the latest Purifi amps and a decent source like Lumin.

As a technology person, I am attracted by the story of Purifi Audio and their goals, but I lack the reference point and experience to judge whether this is a good fit. Could a Purifi setup drive the A5s, and how would it differ from high-end integrated amps like Hegel and Pass Labs?

Best regards,
Lari
Finland

You certainly have a great set of speakers to partner with a fine amplifier! The trouble is obviously figuring out what to choose. In that regard, I agree with you that the world of hi-fi can be confusing -- mostly because there are so many choices, but also because everyone out there seems to have a different opinion. Obviously, this response reflects my own opinion on what you should do.

Because you’re new to hi-fi, I think the fewer components there are in your system, the better off you’ll be. Therefore, you’re on the right track considering an integrated amp for your speakers. An integrated amplifier has, at minimum, preamplifier and power amplifier sections all in one case. Going at it this way will give you great sound without a lot of complexity or fuss.

But before I get into what I’d recommend, please understand that the Purifi Audio amplifier that I’ve been writing about isn’t a commercial product -- it’s an engineering sample that uses their 1ET400A amplifier modules, which they supply to other companies to implement in their amplifiers. As a result, no one can buy this unit at a store. But even if you could, it’s only a power amplifier, so you’d need a source, such as a digital-to-analog converter (DAC) with a volume control, which is what your friend is recommending (a Lumin product), or you’d need to marry up the source with a preamplifier so you can adjust the volume. But I have some good news if you want to go the Purifi route . . .

The first company to license Purifi’s 1ET400A amp technology was NAD, with their Masters M33 integrated amplifier. Roger Kanno just reviewed the M33 for us and absolutely loved it, and he pointed out it has more features than most integrated amplifiers do. Not only does it have preamplifier and power amplifier sections, it also has a built-in DAC, a moving-magnet/moving-coil phono stage, Dirac Live room correction, and streaming capability based on the excellent BluOS software platform (developed by Lenbrook Industries, NAD’s parent company), among other functions. The M33 also puts out a decent amount of power -- it’s rated at up to 200Wpc into 8 ohms, which is plenty for typical setups.

The Pass Labs INT-250 and Hegel Music Systems H590 integrated amps you mentioned are also good options, with both providing more power than the M33 -- the INT-250 is said to deliver 250Wpc into 8 ohms, while the H590 is claimed to output 301Wpc into 8 ohms. Magico speakers tend to like quite a bit of power, so the INT-250 and the H590 might be better options than the M33. However, that will depend a lot on the size of your room and the volume levels you listen at.

The main downside of the INT-250 is that it is a barebones integrated amplifier -- there are no additional features beyond its preamplifier and power amplifier sections. As a result, you’ll need an external DAC if you plan to play digital music (which is likely since that’s what most people listen to these days), as well as an external phono stage if you’re planning to use it with a turntable -- something you might want to get into later. Therefore, for you, the better choice between these two is probably the more powerful H590. In addition to being an integrated amplifier, the H590 has an excellent built-in DAC and provides streaming capability via UPnP, which isn’t as full-featured as BluOS but still gets the job done. The H590 doesn’t have a phono stage, mind you, or the other features of the M33 I mentioned, so you’ll have to determine what your exact needs are to know if it’s right for you. Chances are, it has enough features.

All told, for your situation, I’d go with the NAD Masters M33 or the Hegel Music Systems H590, with the latter having more power and a decent set of features and the former having a plethora of features and less power -- though the power it delivers is based on Purifi’s cutting-edge amplifier tech, which seemed to intrigue you. I have little doubt one of those products will fit your needs perfectly. You make the final call. . . . Doug Schneider

Bryston and the Summer of 1978

To Doug Schneider,

Back in 1978, I was a very fortunate college student in that I found a way to purchase a pair of Rogers LS3/5a loudspeakers. In 1980, my roommates and I were robbed twice, which, along with momma’s State Farm insurance plan, led to a backup record player -- a Harman Kardon “twenty” complete with factory-aligned (and correctly aligned) Ortofon Concorde pickup.

One evening, courtesy of a classmate’s uncle, I hooked up a loaner set of electronics -- an Audio Research SP-3 preamplifier and a Bryston 4B amplifier (and now you know the connection). THAT created some magic to my then unjaded ears. Rickie Lee was singing when a roommate walked in -- he stopped, listened, and said, “It sounds like she’s in the room!”

(Indeed, it did.)

Later that year, one of my other roommates blamed me for turning him into an audiophile -- I blame those BBC monitors.

Thanks for your article.

Best regards,
Jim Susky
United States

P.S. Thanks also for the photo of an “original” 4B -- a plain Jane that really “put out” for a few hours.

That’s a great story! . . . Doug Schneider

Taming the Triangle Borea BR03 Speakers' Treble

To Doug Schneider,

I enjoyed reading your review of the Triangle Borea BR03 speakers. I recently ordered a pair and have found them very enjoyable aside from some occasional brightness. I’m just using an Emotiva BasX A-100 amp, so I’m wondering if that’s what may be causing the brightness. Do you think it would make sense to try a different amplifier, or am I just coming up against the nature of these speakers? If the former, I would be very grateful for a sub-$500 power amp recommendation that would smooth out the sound.

Thank you very much.

Sincerely,
Jason
United States

I wouldn’t blame the amplifier for the brightness -- it’s, to use your words, “the nature of these speakers.” If you look at our acoustical measurements of the BR03, you’ll see the tweeter’s output is fairly high at around 5kHz and 10kHz, particularly on-axis (i.e., directly in front), which is the cause of that brightness.

While some tubed amplifiers do roll off the highs, using an amplifier to tame brightness isn’t a good idea -- no good amp is likely going to diminish the highs all that much unless it has a tone control for the treble or some sort of equalization to let you turn the treble down. And don’t think about changing the cables or other electronics in your system because replacing them won’t do that much to reduce the highs, either.

I suggest working with speaker placement and room acoustics. Let’s start with speaker placement. Definitely don’t have the speakers toed in so they’re pointing straight at you. Instead, start with no toe-in at all, meaning the speakers are firing straight into the room. Set up that way, the tweeters’ on-axis output won’t be coming straight for your ears (I’m assuming you’re positioned several feet from the speakers and between them). This way, you’ll be hearing more of the off-axis response of both speakers, which isn’t as bright.

As far as room acoustics go, soft materials help to absorb high frequencies. I don’t know if your floor is hard or carpeted, but if it’s hard, consider throwing an area rug down large enough to fill up most if not all of the space between the speakers and your listening position. The rug will help to soak up some of the highs as well as reduce reflections from the floor. Similarly, soft materials on sidewalls (some people hang area rugs on them) can help too. . . . Doug Schneider

KEF R11 vs. Reference 1

To Diego Estan,

I appreciated your review of the KEF R11 from last summer, and I was wondering if you had any thoughts about how it compares to the bookshelf Reference 1 mounted on a floor stand. I’m debating the two for my room, which measures 20’ deep by 25’ wide.

I have heard the R11s live and loved them. The Reference 1 wasn’t available in the listening room.

Thanks for any thoughts you might provide.

P.S. I’m willing to entertain the use of subwoofers with the Reference 1s.

Sincerely,
Neil
United States

Thanks for your kind feedback. I haven’t had the opportunity to listen to any model from the KEF Reference series in my home, but I’ve reached out to my esteemed SoundStage! colleague Hans Wetzel, who owns Reference 3s and is quite familiar with the R11. He describes the R11’s style as “utterly coherent from top to bottom” and says that it is well-built and well-appointed and that it offers nearly full-range sound.” He considered making the R11 his reference speaker, but his space is too small.

Instead, Hans picked up a pair of Reference 3s, which he highly recommends. The Reference 1 is voiced almost identically to the Reference 3, according to our measurements. You might make some sacrifices in terms of extension below 40-50Hz and ultimate output, but they are more than made up for by the improvements in nearly every other performance parameter.

Personally, if I had to choose between the R11 and Reference 1 (without subs), I’d go with the R11. Bass performance is just too important to me, and in a room as big as yours I fear the Reference 1s would leave me wanting more. If paired with one or, ideally, two subs, I’d pick the Reference 1. First, a good sub will output deeper, more powerful bass compared to all but the most expensive full-range speaker/amp combos. Dollar for dollar, in terms of bass performance, subs win. Second, you can place the sub(s) in the room for optimal bass response, which you can’t really do with towers since they must be placed for optimal imaging. These differences become more significant the more work you put into dialing in the subs -- e.g., placement, volume setting, bass management and crossover point, and, for greater performance, measurements and EQ.

Best of luck! Please let me know what you end up with. I know you’ll be pleased with the sound either way. . . . Diego Estan

Hegel's H95 and Spotify Connect

To Doug Schneider,

Thanks for the thorough review of the Hegel Music Systems H95. It feels like this is a good choice of upgrade from my NAD D 7050, which is definitely feeling dated these days.

My only question is related to Spotify Connect, which I currently access via TosLink using my Sony Bravia TV that’s attached to my system. Hegel says on their website that the H95 comes shipped with Spotify Connect, but you say it’s due for update at a later time. Did the firmware update you did on the production model install Spotify Connect? Or is it still something we all need to wait for? With NAD and Spotify going their separate ways shortly after buying my D 7050, I do feel a bit stung, so it’s an important factor for me to consider.

Thanks for any info you can offer at all on this topic, as it would be much appreciated.

Sean R.
Canada

My H95 review sample was one of the first off the production line, so they didn’t have Spotify Connect implemented at that time. The firmware update didn’t install it, either. But I sent an e-mail to Hegel just after you wrote in and received this back: “Spotify Connect is available on it now.” If you do decide to change over from the NAD, you should be good to go with the H95 and Spotify Connect. . . . Doug Schneider

Q Acoustics or Wharfedale for Rock and Metal?

To Doug Schneider,

Even though I’m from Poland, I really like your articles.

I’m looking for a speaker for rock and metal. I don’t like the sound too lean, dry, and sterile. I prefer saturated sound, more sweet, and less technical, but still constructively detailed. I don’t like, however, when the bass kills the rest of the audioband and the treble is too much hidden.

I’m thinking about the Wharfedale Linton Heritage or Q Acoustics 3050i. Which one is the best choice? Maybe you can suggest something else. Which of these speakers have better imaging? Reportedly, a pair of Lintons are not masters of imaging.

Have a nice day!

M.
Poland

I could name off a dozen or more speakers that might do the trick, but when narrowed down to those two, for your requirements, there’s no question that Wharfedale’s Linton Heritage is the way to go. I know because I reviewed and lived with both speakers for a long time. The Linton can play really loud without strain, plus it has great bass that won’t cloud the rest of the audioband, as well as highs prominent enough that they won’t go unnoticed. With the 3050i, I think the bass could obscure the midrange and its highs might not stand out enough for you.

The Linton’s overall sound, while not overly saturated and sweet, leans a little that way, which I think you will like. Your point about imaging is true, however -- a pair doesn’t cast the most precise imaging or the most spacious soundstage. I think that has mostly to do with the Linton’s enclosure being so large (which definitely helps out the bass) and with many sharp edges. That big cabinet and those hard edges present obstructions that interfere with the launching of the soundwaves from its drivers. On the other hand, no affordably priced speaker can do everything, so I can’t knock the Linton too much for having minor deficiencies. I hope that helps. . . . Doug Schneider

Rubber Renue -- A Cheap Turntable Tip

To Doug Schneider,

I thoroughly enjoyed your review of the Triangle Borea BR03 loudspeakers. I appreciated how you used Bob Seger and Bruce Springsteen. You seem to have fun and enjoy the music. Some reviewers don’t get that, I think.

Here is something you might get a kick out of. You have a belt-driven turntable. I use Rubber Renue ($8.95 per bottle in Canada) to clean the belt once a year or so. If you want to try it, UHF Magazine still carries it and uses it. Why would I suggest this? Well, you might be surprised at the first cleaning. Listen to the very same song you had played before at the same level. I go out on the deck and simply soak a bit of the liquid into a paper towel, then slowly and gently slide the belt through. My Roksan turntable has a flat belt, yours may be a round belt, I’m not sure. But you will hear the improvement when you play the same piece. It is not a subtle thing. But I believe it shows how important the belt-platter interaction is. A cleaned record that still has some surface noise is suddenly quieter to listen to. I’m only suggesting this because you love vinyl and good music and enjoy it. Heck, if I had an extra bottle I would even ship it to you to try. It is that good. Also, the Take 2 reviews with Jay Lee are great. Always enjoy his YouTube videos.

Have a safe summer and happy tunes.

Cheers,
Lloyd
Canada

Interesting turntable tip! Plus, we’re glad you’re enjoying Jay’s video reviews -- we have lots more coming from him in the weeks and months to come. . . . Doug Schneider

Now 20 Years Old -- Mirage MRM-1 Loudspeakers Inherited

To Doug Schneider,

I have questions for you regarding the Mirage MRM-1 loudspeaker. I recently inherited a pair of these speakers with the stands, but was wondering: Is there a manual regarding the setup of the speakers? Also, how old are these? I have them hooked up to a Yamaha 5.1 receiver. They sound great. I just want to get a little bit more knowledge regarding this set and what they are worth today.

Thanks for your input in advance.

George
United States

It was very interesting to see this e-mail come in -- I reviewed the MRM-1 loudspeaker in the year 2000, which is about when it was released. We also measured it in the anechoic chamber at Canada’s National Research Council (NRC). The MRM-1 was priced at $2200-$2400 USD/pair at that time, depending on finish, plus there was a matching stand available priced at $600-$700/pair, again depending on finish. At that time, it was a very high-end stand-mounted design. I have no idea what a pair would be worth today, with or without stands.

Insofar as the sound quality of that speaker goes, it was good back then and would still be considered good today. Our measurements showed the MRM-1 to have a generally flat frequency response, both on and off axis, plentiful bass for the speaker’s size, and a slightly tipped-up treble. These things were readily revealed in listening. On the downside, the measurements also showed the MRM-1 to be insensitive (82dB/2.83V/m), so a pair needed a lot of amplifier power to make them sing. Its impedance didn’t dip below 5 ohms, though, so the MRM-1 didn’t present too tough of an amplifier load. If your Yamaha receiver is driving the pair well, that’s a good thing.

Even if you could find a manual, I doubt that it will help you too much -- manuals almost never give good information about setting speakers up. I would begin by spacing the speakers 8’ apart and sitting about 8’ from them. Since they have wide and even dispersion, as well as a slightly elevated treble, I would only toe them in about 10 degrees, if at all. Try that kind of positioning and then work from there.

Finally, here’s a piece of trivia on the Mirage MRM-1 that I don’t think many people know -- it was the first speaker that Andrew Welker designed for Mirage. He designed many more speakers for Mirage after that, but today he works for Axiom Audio, where he creates new speakers and electronics, and also carries on some of the design ideas he pioneered at Mirage. . . . Doug Schneider

Praise for the KEF R11

To Diego Estan,

I’ve recently upgraded my hi-fi system. I found the choice of speakers most difficult of all. I auditioned, amongst others, the Q Acoustic Concept 500, Monitor Audio Gold 300, ATC SCM40, KEF R11, and Bowers & Wilkins 702. After many auditions and listening sessions, I finally chose the KEF R11. Why? I found the pair not to be power hungry and not to lose tonality at low volume. I found their musical reproduction to be effortless and relaxed, which I prefer. My initial impression was that they were highly resolving, neutral, or maybe very slightly on the warm side of neutral, with a huge soundstage and excellent off-axis listening. They imaged well, especially given their potentially imposing physiques.

At the same time as purchasing them, I bought a pair of REL T/9i subs to augment them. Obviously, listening to equipment in a dealer’s demo room bears little similitude to the way they sound in your own listening environment. I was really surprised when I got them home as to how low they actually go. I have got the subs in situ, but, honestly, in most circumstances the R11s are sufficiently full-range to be satiating as standalone speakers. I’m restricted in my speaker placement, as my listening room is also the family lounge. So, in order to appease the wife, they are placed just 4” from the front wall and about 2.5’ from each side wall. I was pleasantly surprised how good they sounded without really sufficient room to breathe. When I have the place to myself, I do pull them out to about 20” from the front wall, which does reduce the “boom factor,” and that is when I find the subs come into their own.

Now that I’ve had the R11s in situ for almost five weeks and have spent many, many hours listening to both vinyl and CD that I’ve not listened to for many a moon, and equally streamed stacks of tracks, I feel that I am now qualified to “nitpick.” I think that KEF got the balance about right. They’ve voiced the high frequencies to prevent sibilance, and it works well, but to my taste, I would have preferred the top end fractionally brighter. I find the midrange very slightly forward, which I like, but, fractionally dry. The bass is fast, tightly balanced, and well controlled, but, for my taste, I feel they could benefit from a little more midbass slam. I found that whatever their placement, they, to my ears, sound better with both sets of foam bungs removed.

Nothing is perfect, but, I’m highly gratified with my purchase, and sincerely believe that for my listening preference, I made the right choice. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them to anyone. Despite their stature, they blend easily into any room and I think would constitute an upgrade to all but the pinnacle of “high end” systems. I think your review of the KEF R11s was pretty much spot on, and really enjoyed reading it.

Regards,
Howard
United Kingdom

Thank you for reading my review, and this very detailed email on your experience with the KEF R11s. They are phenomenal speakers and I certainly enjoyed my time with them; it looks like you are really liking them as well.

I guess the only comment I’d like to add is one I often make: don’t be afraid to experiment with room EQ, especially in your case, because you have added subs. With respect to your nitpicks, as I’m sure you’re aware, bass performance has more to do with the room than the speakers. Audiophiles like to say they obsess over “high-fidelity” sound, yet they are willing to accept 10dB swings in frequency response in the bass! A good room-EQ solution will not make your bass worse. The only question is: How much better will it be? There’s only one way to find out -- by trying.

Many good room-EQ solutions (e.g., Anthem ARC Genesis, Dirac Live) will also let you experiment and potentially fix your other nitpicks as well. For example, with my Focal Sopra No1s, I have a nitpick that is the opposite to yours -- they have about 1dB too much treble energy (from about 3kHz to 12kHz), and I have completely mitigated this issue with Dirac Live. This change of course is subtle, but it really matters on recordings that are too sibilant. What is not subtle is what Dirac Live does to my bass performance (I have dual subs as well, operating up to 125Hz) -- it’s a gamechanger for the low frequencies. Enjoy your KEFs. . . . Diego Estan

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