High-Priced Rip-offs vs. Sensibly Priced Performers

To Doug Schneider,

I’m sorry this e-mail is so long but I’ve never written to individuals such as yourself and I’ve always been verbose. I’m writing to you on the strength that you call it like you see it.

It would be fair to say that I’ve been in the market for a new stereo system for some time (oh, 20 years), and only now am I able to countenance spending money. And yet.

I’ve listened to stuff like D’Agostino Momentum amplifiers driving Wilson Sasha speakers and found the sound “mechanical” and disjointed. I’ve listened to B&W speakers and they sounded “wrong.” This includes the 803, 802 and so forth. I’ve heard Naim systems and they were OK but expensive.

I’ve listened to Audio Note (UK) and AN Japan products, and gagged on the $400,000 price tag the Kondo had whilst driving Tannoy Westminster SE loudspeakers. Let alone the spectacular price tag on the turntable, arm, cartridge, cables.

Each new product that came out was “brilliant,” “SOTA,” and next week supplanted, according to reviewing magazines. No lousy, overpriced products -- astonishing.

The ticket prices seemed there was no end in sight. Hence, the “The Luxury/High-End Conundrum” [article that Jeff Fritz wrote on SoundStage! Ultra]. Reality, it appears, has disappeared and appears to be getting worse.

I’d love to buy Rockport, Magico, or Vivid speakers, yet due to vast distances and a deteriorating exchange rate, will not.

So I’m going to go and listen to Revel Performa3 F208 loudspeakers that I can probably buy for AUS$6500 or less (distributor bought when AUD vs. USD was almost in alignment).

I’ve listened to and really liked the Devialet 240, but understand the 200 is possibly better and has a great price/performance ratio. It has all the flexibility (kids download music on their Macs) and exceptional WAF, and, above all, performance that will extract everything the Revel has to offer, even without SAM being available for the moment [for those speakers].

I suspect Jeff [Fritz] stopped the “TWBAS” [column on SoundStage! Ultra] simply because of the crushing realization that price isn’t all. When he wrote about the 120 driving the Q7, well that convinced me.

Jeff was shocked, but I’m aware that you and Hans [Wetzel] already had a powerful opinion about Devialet and expressed it.

One dealer has the Revel, another the Devialet 200 plus transport. I’m going to try the CEC TL3N and PS Audio transports. I’ll utilize Devialet’s built-in DAC.

Everyone has an opinion and this is where I seek your advice. Will it be as good as what is possible with a $20,000 budget (self-imposed)?

All the best,


Mark, you’re on the right track. While there are some extremely good expensive products -- Vivid Audio’s speakers are insanely good, as are the new Luxman separates I’m in the middle of reviewing -- some of the stuff that’s out there just makes me shake my head. For example, I’ve yet to hear a pair of Wilson speakers come close to justifying their price tags (disjointed is what I often hear, too), but they’re popular, so maybe I’m missing something. Or not. And I’m still trying to figure out what the fuss is about with some of this ultra-expensive stuff that gets so much press (speakers and electronics), but never seems to outperform the good stuff that sells for a fraction of the price. Do people simply gravitate toward these items because they're expensive? Oftentimes, I think so. As for a $400,000 price tag for a system, I think that’s just nuts -- no system I’ve ever heard has come close to justifying a price tag like that one.

As a result, you’re wise to look at brands such as Revel. The Performa3 F206 speaker, which I just reviewed, is fantastic. Roger Kanno just reviewed the Performa3 F208 for SoundStage! Access as part of a full multichannel setup, and he loved it as well. For their prices ($3500 and $5000 per pair for the F206 and F208, respectively), you’re buying a speaker that’s extremely good and you’re certainly not getting ripped off. But that isn’t the only good speaker brand. KEF is doing some fantastic work these days, as are Paradigm, Axiom, and PSB. Even Sonus Faber has upped their game by offering very good value with their Venere and Olympica lines. There are others, but those are what popped to mind as I'm writing this. So, good speakers are out there that really perform and aren’t stupidly priced.

About Devialet. Yes, Jeff Fritz recently discovered what I encountered a few years ago when I reviewed the D-Premier: that the all-in-one Devialet amplifiers outperform many of the separates-based systems out there. According to Jeff, it was staggeringly obviously in his system, particularly when the 120, which is the company’s lowest-priced and -powered amp, drove his Q7 speakers better than any amp he’d tried them with before. Suffice it to say that Jeff is now a convert to the brand and has been writing nothing but praise about their products on the SoundStage! Ultra site since. Right now he’s reviewing the 400 monos, which will be published on that site in December.

So if you end up with a pair of F208s being driven by a Devialet amp, you could do a lot worse -- you could spend five times that and get a system that’s not nearly as good. As I said, you’re on the right track. . . . Doug Schneider