To Jeff Fritz,
In August, I corresponded with you regarding the Coda 15.5 class-A amplifier and the Devialet [products]. You asked me to stay in touch when I had made my decision. However, I have not yet made any decision since it has become a bit more difficult than I first thought.
I have now had time to listen more carefully to the Devialet 200 with the Magico S3 among other speakers. I agree with you in basically everything you wrote in your article about the Devialet. I have never heard a better amplifier, and if I purchased a Devialet I could live happily with it as my last amplifier. There is really no parameter of the Devialet that I can point to that could be improved. However, and here comes the part where your experience and input would be very interesting and of great value, after several long demos of the Devialet I also demoed another combination, just to compare with.
Firstly, we ran my Benchmark DAC2 HGC directly into the new Pass Labs X250.8 [amplifier] model. It sounded rather good, but it could not compare with the Devialet 200. But then something very interesting and a bit puzzling occurred. My dealer suggested that he should insert a Parasound Halo JC 2 preamplifier between my DAC and the Pass Labs X250.8. I had been very skeptical regarding what improvement a preamplifier could bring since the Benchmark DAC is extremely transparent, detailed, and well balanced, and also completely void of harsh treble (I do not use a preamplifier at home). However, after a few minutes when the JC 2 had been warmed up a little, something really special occurred. I heard exactly what you described in your review of the Coda 15.0: the golden magic of really good class-A amplification (the Pass Labs runs in class A up to about 16Wpc and the JC 2 is pure class A). The difference between this combination and running the Benchmark directly into the Pass Labs was, to say the least, huge. It was simply magic.
I have switched between this combination and the Devialet at two later demos and I have arrived at the same result both times. The Devialet is more transparent, detailed, and has better bass than the Benchmark/Parasound/Pass Labs combination, and it has a similar imaging ability. But, the Devialet does not produce (what I think is) the golden glow that you mention in your Coda 15.0 review to the same extent as the Pass Labs combination. This is especially apparent with female voices. There is also a fullness introduced with the Pass Labs combination that is very appealing. Hence, I am very torn in this decision, a traditional class-A/AB amplifier or the all-in-one solution of Devialet? In the end I think that my observations stem from the Pass Labs combination adding something to the output while the Devialet is absolutely transparent. I therefore would like to ask if you think that my conclusion about the Pass Labs combination adding something that is not there is valid? If so, I guess that I have to accept that maybe I have preferences for some types of "ear-pleasing" distortion.
Finally, I would like to say once again that your articles pointing to what is really important in the hi-fi industry are truly refreshing and thoroughly enlightening!
Welcome to being an audiophile in 2014. Your experiences are not at all surprising and, actually, refreshing for me to hear. Why? Because what you are hearing is so similar to what I have heard, that I could have just as easily been the author of your letter! In fact, in the end, there is very little that I can add to your conclusions. I believe that your assessment that the Devialet is dead neutral, while the separates combination you heard is pleasing in what it adds to the signal, is spot on. (I believe you prefer the Parasound's analog volume control to the digital volume control in the Benchmark.)
And your dilemma about which to choose and for what reasons is the same dilemma that I suspect many audiophiles will have all across the world, including me! But not only do you have to decide on the sound-quality issue -- what sound do you ultimately prefer? -- but the form-factor question: Do you want separates that you can play around with, or an all-in-one that is a set-it-and-forget-it solution that Devialet provides? That in and of itself could cause you lots of procrastination.
Which product(s) would I advise you to buy? I just can't say. I guess the best advice I can give to you is to go with your gut feeling on what will provide you the most long-term satisfaction. I'm certainly interested in your ultimate decision, mind you. It may help inform all of us when we face the same dilemma. . . . Jeff Fritz