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Jeff,

I wrote to you a while back, and I have a new question.

I am again considering an upgrade for my two-channel system consisting of Magico Q3 speakers driven by a Bryston 14B SST amp and a Bryston BP-25 preamp. My source is a Weiss DAC202 fed from Amarra running on a MacBook Pro, and the system is cabled with Nordost speaker cables and Shunyata interconnects. The listening area has proven to be a good one, and I have enjoyed many hours over the past seven years with what I have currently, but dreams of upgrades are part of this hobby.

I want to stay with the Q3s, and I’m considering either a simple update to Bryston 28B3 mono amps or going all-out for my dream system, which would include an MSB S202 amp in hopes of being able to add an MSB DAC at a later date.

The question is, since you have listened to some of these components and perhaps given similar systems a listen, what will I be missing in going with the Bryston preamp and 28B3 amps versus the Bryston preamp with the MSB S202 amp? A Magico M2/MSB combo is my dream system.

Thanks again for your kind advice. Your SoundStage! Ultra columns are always an informative and entertaining read.

Regards,
Tim
United States


Hi Tim,

Talk about a can’t-lose situation. First of all, your current system contains some amazing products, and I have no doubt that, since you say you have a good room, the sonic performance you are experiencing is extremely good. The fact that you’ve lived with this system for seven years is a testament to that. Still, I understand—believe me!—the desire to upgrade, and I think you are looking at some great options.

Moving up to a larger Bryston amplifier—in this case going from an older 14B SST stereo amplifier to a set of the company’s most current monoblocks—is likely to yield a nice improvement. The more advanced circuitry of the later design and the higher amount of power should translate nicely into sonic gains. I have to say I have not heard any of these Bryston amps in my system, though the company’s reputation for terrific amplifiers is well known.

I have heard the MSB S202, and it is truly an exquisite amplifier. How it would fare in the same system versus the largest Bryston monos is anyone’s guess. However, the real clue as to what you should do is when you say you want to add an MSB DAC eventually. Any MSB DAC paired with any MSB amplifier is going to give you a unique synergy, which I explained in detail in the S202 review linked above. If an MSB DAC is in your future, then my advice is to stretch for the S202 now.

As for your dream setup of the above-mentioned MSB components and a pair of Magico’s fantastic M2 loudspeakers, I’m with you there. I can’t think of a compact system that would outperform it, frankly. The amazing sonics, when coupled with the exemplary build quality of these products, mean you’d be in rare air in terms of the overall high-end experience. Truly an endgame system.

Good luck, and please let me know what you settle on.

Jeff Fritz

Hi Jeff,

I enjoyed reading about your new reference system in the April 15 update. The Apple MacBook Air as a music server intrigued me. Are you using Roon, or are you using another music player? I saw the “A” app next to the Roon logo and was wondering. This might be a nice chance to talk more about using the MacBook Air USB connection to the MSB DAC and why you selected that as the server. Another neat, newer option is using an iPad Pro to stream via USB out,and you can then use Apple Music in Hi-Res Lossless mode to serve the DAC. By the way, I love the new equipment rack—the SGR.

Bill
United States


Hi Bill,

Thanks for the note. I do use both Roon and Audirvāna music players on the MacBook Air. Your suggestion of using an iPad Pro with USB-C output and Apple Music is an intriguing one! I like the SGR too—is it too superficial to enjoy the aesthetic match to the Apple? LOL!

Jeff Fritz

Dear Jeff,

I always enjoy reading your comments and points of view. I just watched your YouTube video on Gryphon Audio Designs’ Apex amplifier—it was very interesting.

I have the Gryphon Mephisto [amplifier] and Pandora [preamplifier]. Do you think the Commander [preamplifier] will provide a substantial improvement over the Pandora? Perhaps, eventually, I could see myself going down the Apex amplifier road, too. Any input on this will be most appreciated.

Best regards,
John
United States


Well, John, you are in an enviable position. Your Gryphon Mephisto class-A power amplifier (which I assume is the Mephisto Stereo) and Pandora preamplifier are amazing performers. In fact, these products are surely in the conversation when discussing the best available if cost is no object.

And then along comes the Apex Stereo and Mono amplifiers, and Commander preamplifier. These new Gryphon flagships, from what I can gather (I’ve not heard them—yet) and from the information I’ve received from Gryphon personnel, are not just incremental improvements on the existing next-best Gryphons. Many companies state in their marketing materials that this or that product was conceived without cost or practicality as considerations, but I actually believe it in this case. Not only do you have the very latest thinking on amplification from a very mature design team at Gryphon, but you also have improved parts—like a new type of bipolar transistor. I am speculating, but my gut tells me the new Gryphons are beyond amazing.

So what does this all mean for your specific upgrade question? I guess I’d say this: if you have the means, and it’s not keeping your kid from going to college or anything else of the sort, well then, you only live once. Go get ’em both and let me know how your system sounds once you’ve got them installed.

Jeff Fritz

Hi Jeff,

Great review of [Alta Audio’s] Alec speaker—you captured its strengths and weaknesses. The midbass dip, to me, is a result of the dip in the frequency-response curve shown in the graph you provided. Please keep up the great reviews and the lab testing that helps to explain a product’s performance.

I also want to mention that your article on Stereophile and D’Agostino was excellent! Too many reviewers just provide subjective assessments without doing the lab work. As consumers we want products that also test decently (or outstandingly); lab measurements can help point out problems, which may, at times, be audible and may impact the product’s functioning and longevity.

I own Harbeth Audio M30.2 XD speakers and value their flat frequency response—no deep bass, though. I’m using the Boulder Amplifiers 866 integrated amplifier, a Bluesound streamer, and a Shunyata Hydra Delta power conditioner. Your reviews and comments about Boulder products made me confident about my purchase.

All the best for 2022!

Peter
United States

To Jeff Fritz,

Jeff, in reference to your article on the Dan D’Agostino Master Audio Systems Progression series, I noticed the following when the company announced its new S350/M550 amplifiers: the power specifications, dimensions, and prices increased, but according to the specs, the weight decreased by ten pounds, perhaps due to a decrease in robustness of the power supply (3000VA transformer to 2000VA; 400,000µF capacitance to 100,000µF). This seems to be consistent with the thrust of your article. It’s not often that we see an audio writer take a stand such as yours.

Please keep up the good work.

Sincerely,
Gaines Wilburn
United States

Hi Jeff,

I’ve been following and enjoying your hi-fi adventures for years but was surprised and a little shocked to read you have “moved on from the Vimberg Tondas.”

I understand your feelings about the Sonus Faber Maxima Amators, but after having invested so much time, energy, emotion, and money in the Tondas, I’m curious what caused you to leave them behind. I haven’t read anything about your reasons but I may have missed it.

Your experience with the Amators is refreshing to read, considering the quality of the speakers you have had, and to be honest, it touches a chord with me in a way you may find interesting.

Besides many others, I’ve had speakers from Wilson Audio, Avalon Acoustics, Revel, Sonus Faber (the standmounted Electa Amator II), MartinLogin, and Quad HiFi, and even a pair of Hales Transcendence 8s in their short-lived heyday. I loved them all, but recently I picked up—purely on spec and for fun—a 20-year-old pair of Audiovector M3 Avantgardes with ribbon tweeters.

These unassuming speakers are utterly stunning and have taken me closer to the emotion and fun of music than anything I’ve ever had. How can that be possible?

But, and this is why I’m writing, even though I love the music the Audiovectors make I still want to go after the “big” names. What I have is more than good enough yet I’m being pulled back to Wilsons or possibly Magicos. Why?

It would be nice if you could explain why you moved on from the Tondas. Did you wrestle with a similar dilemma, or was your reasoning not hi-fi related?

Keep up the good work.
Bill McCardle
Cornwall
United Kingdom


Gosh, why do we audiophiles do what we do? I know lots of hi-fi manufacturers that have been trying to figure that one out for years and I’m not sure we are any closer to understanding the whys and why nots.

As for my ownership of the Vimberg Tondas, I have nothing but great things to say about those speakers. There were no disappointments whatsoever, and I’d heartily recommend them today if someone were to ask my opinion. I could have lived with them, happily, for many more years.

I decided to sell the Vimbergs and move on to the Sonus Faber Maxima Amators for a simple reason: when the SFs were released, something about them spoke to me—I guess you could say I needed them. I described this in my first article about the Italian speakers—“Material Obsession: Sonus Faber’s Maxima Amator”—and I have not regretted my decision for a second. Was it a rational decision? I can’t tell you that, but then we exist in a hobby where rational thinking does not need to be factored into every decision! I wanted the SFs, I got the SFs, and I’m thrilled with the SFs. That’s really the gist of it.

Sincerely,
Jeff Fritz

To Jeff Fritz,

I really wish you hadn’t reviewed the SF Maxima Amator speakers. I’m an audiophile and an avid woodworker and those speakers have really put a spell on me, and I haven’t even heard them yet! But after your great review I must audition a pair.

Question: did you part ways with your Vimbergs in favor of the SFs?

Keep up the great work.

Tyler
United States


Thanks for the note. The Sonus Faber Maxima Amator article you mention is not a formal review. It’s actually part of a series of three articles, recounting my ownership experience—I bought a pair of Maxima Amators for myself—from selection through setup to my listening experience. If you like beautiful wood and great sound, then gosh, I can’t imagine a better speaker than a Sonus Faber!

To answer your question: yes, I have moved on from the Vimberg Tondas that formerly inhabited my listening room.

Jeff Fritz

To Hans Wetzel,

Prices on Magico speakers have risen dramatically. Have you heard the A1? Is this speaker okay for a 12′ × 15′ room, or does it make sense to buy the A3, which is about 50% more expensive? I listen almost exclusively to classical music. I’d appreciate any advice you could give me.

Also, was the A1 developed primarily for surround-sound or home-theater use, since Magico is also selling a center speaker and subwoofer that can be used with it?

Thanks,
Al Parker
United States

I have not heard the A1, which Doug Schneider reviewed on our sister site SoundStage! Hi-Fi, but I did review the A3 back in 2019. And while the A-series speakers were not designed primarily for surround-sound or home-theater use, any loudspeaker that’s as sonically accomplished as the Magicos should perform well in a home-theater setup.

The solution to your equation turns on two variables. First, do you predominantly play orchestral works, or more of the chamber variety? And second, do you generally play music pretty loudly? If you primarily listen to orchestral works, especially at higher volumes, I think the A3 makes a load of sense. Asking the little A1, which—like all Magicos—doesn’t have a bass-reflex port, to push a ton of air is asking for trouble. On the other hand, if you have a more balanced classical collection and don’t frequently listen at high volume levels, I think you may be very satisfied with the A1, especially since your room is not very large. I would expect that even though it lacks the higher maximum volume and more extended bass, the A1 should otherwise sound almost identical to its larger sibling. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Garrett Hongo,

I’m in the market for a new phono stage and I’m considering the Zanden Audio Systems Model 120, in part because of your excellent and very informative review from 2014. So thank you for that.

I would be really interested in your perspective on the Model 120 versus the Zanden Model 1200, since I’m making a long-term phono stage purchase and would consider the 1200 if it’s much better than the 120. And a quick answer would be much appreciated.

I’m also considering an Allnic but adjusting EQ curves with it is perhaps too cumbersome. With the Zanden it seems so easy. Do you often find yourself using its non-RIAA EQ curve selector to improve the reproduction of records, even now?

Thanks,
Kevin
Vermont, United States

The Zanden 120 is my reference phono stage, and I agree that it’s very easy to use. The new Zanden Model 1200 Signature has just been released, and, though I am very interested in reviewing it, its retail price ($26,765, all prices in USD) is more than twice that of the 120 ($9800), unfortunately.

The 120, therefore, is quite a bargain, in my opinion.

And, yes, I do use the various EQ curves on the Zanden 120. I find the Decca and Teldec curves especially useful for, respectively, Decca/London and DGG (Deutsche Grammophon) LPs. Angel Records LPs also benefit greatly from the EMI curve. . . . Garrett Hongo

To Jeff Fritz,

I’ve followed your writing over the years and found myself gravitating towards tastes similar to those you’ve endorsed in the past. For example, I’ve owned a pair of Devialet 800 monos, and currently own a pair of Vivid Audio Giya G2s (Series 1), both partially on your recommendation, and been a very happy listener for many years. Unfortunately, I recently damaged a driver in one of the Giyas and am contemplating using this as a convenient excuse for an upgrade.

I have loved the open, transparent, and refined sound of the Giyas. My previous speakers (Wilson Audio Sashas), by comparison, had a darker, more forward sound. Currently, my electronics are a Pass Labs X250.8 amp with a dCS Rossini as the digital source. I’m now wondering what would qualify as a speaker upgrade at this point. The new Giya G2 Series 2 seems only to be a comparatively incremental uplift. I’ve been referred to Vimberg loudspeakers and looked at the Tonda, which seems to have garnered excellent reviews; in particular, as an outperformer at its price point. I know you have specific experience with this speaker, although the high-density fiberboard cabinet gives the snob in me pause for thought. Also on the list is the Estelon X Diamond, which I’ve read a lot about and whose design I am warming to. And then, the usual suspects of Magico and Rockport Technologies. I know the price points of these speakers are very variable, but I’m willing to pay a bit more if it’s getting me an appreciable improvement over the Giyas. I feel like your advice here would be invaluable, given the experience you’ve had with my current speakers as well as those I’ve mentioned, and greatly look forward to hearing from you.

Best,
Dav
United States

The first thing to consider is why you want to upgrade your speakers. I’m actually writing an “Opinion” article on this very subject right now. If it’s for sound quality alone, then bettering the Vivids you already own is going to be a tall order. The only way I would be willing to write a check for an upgrade to the Giya G2 would be if I had actually compared the Vivids with their potential replacements in a space I am familiar with. With some products I could easily endorse an upgrade based on what I know of company A versus what I know of company B. But not in this case.

Vivid makes some of the absolute best loudspeakers in the world, period. So do Magico, Rockport, Tidal/Vimberg, and Estelon. Many times when considering which of these brands to purchase, the choice comes down to certain sound characteristics that could be filed under “listener preference.” One model may do some particular thing better than another, but then fall just short in another area. There are many other factors involved as well, such as design aesthetics and just wanting a change to keep the hobby interesting.

My advice would be to fix your current Vivid speakers and see if you can set up some appointments to get out and hear some of the alternatives you are considering. I know that is a tough proposition in our current environment, but hopefully some private auditions are doable for you. Replace those Vivids only when you fall in love with something else, and not a moment before. . . . Jeff Fritz