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To Aron Garrecht,

I’m considering two of the amps you have reviewed to pair with my Trenner & Friedl Isis speakers. Well, actually, if you can weigh in on my choice between three amps, it would be much appreciated. I won’t have the opportunity to audition any of these amps, so your opinion would help a lot.

The amplifiers I’m considering are the Merrill Audio Element 118, the McIntosh Laboratory MC1.25KW, and one I’m not sure if you’re familiar with: the Canary Audio Reference Two.

I’ve been reading your reviews and find your insights to be honest and thoroughly researched.

United States

Thanks for the kind words. I’ll start off by saying I have not yet heard a pair of Trenner & Friedl speakers, nor am I that familiar with the Canary Reference Two amplifier.

Between the McIntosh MC1.25KW and the Merrill 118, you really couldn’t have selected two more polar-opposite amplifiers in terms of their sonic characters. The McIntosh amp puts forward a full, rich sound with a powerful bottom end, silky smooth yet neutral midrange, and a rather polite top end. I absolutely loved listening to this amplifier with classic rock, particularly at higher volumes, and I never found myself even coming close to any kind of listener fatigue, whatever the volume; there is a consistent sense of ease to this amplifier that I found very appealing.

The Merrill 118, on the other hand, left me with the impression that it thrives on communicating the last iota of detail from any recording. Tonally, it is exceedingly neutral, with a tighter, slightly more controlled bottom end than the McIntosh amp, a similar midrange neutrality and fluidity, but a considerably more detailed, airy top end. The Merrill is not a bright-sounding amplifier, but it is incredibly transparent, and sounds best with higher-quality recordings.

Both amplifiers are exceptionally well built and reportedly use very high-quality parts throughout, although I was not able to take a peek at the proprietary class-D circuitry inside the Merrill. I was impressed by the levels of fit and finish of both amplifiers; the Merrill struck me as having an exotic presence whereas the McIntosh had more of a luxurious, muscular feel to it.

Without knowing more about what you are looking for in terms of sonic character, or what your Trenner & Friedl speakers sound like, I really can’t offer you a recommendation of which amplifier might work better with your speakers. The Merrill and McIntosh both offer more than enough power and sufficient damping factor to easily drive and properly control the 15″ drivers in your speakers. During a quick look at the spec sheet for the Canary Reference Two I noticed that this amp only has a damping factor of 16, which is considerably lower than either the McIntosh or Merrill and could affect the bass performance, so this is something you may want to consider.

Perhaps what I can suggest is that if your speakers sound anything like my Paradigm Persona 7Fs, that is to say, unapologetically neutral, the McIntosh amp would be my choice.

I hope this was helpful, Ken, and do let me know which way you decide to go. . . . Aron Garrecht

To Jeff Fritz,

First, let me thank you for your contribution to the Rockport speaker knowledgebase that is so valuable to us audiophiles. I would like to buy a pair of Rockport Technologies Cygnus speakers to combine with Lamm components: LL2.1 Deluxe preamplifier, and class-A M1.2 Reference monoblocks. I would like to know if you have ever had the opportunity to audition these components with the Cygnus speakers. I am a big fan of classical music (symphonic, chamber music, early music), but I also listen to jazz. My listening room is 7m long, 5m wide, and 2.5m high. Thank you for taking your time to answer.

Manrico Strappolin

My experience with Lamm Electronics products goes back to April of 2004, when I reviewed the M1.2 Reference monoblocks that you are considering. I concluded that review by stating, “If the ultimate test of a great audio component is its ability to get the gestalt of music correct, the Lamm M1.2 Reference is great in every sense.” One thing I love about high-end audio is that if a component is fantastic, it will continue to be so for many years. I have no doubt the Lamm products are still top shelf and hold up today as some of the best. You’ve obviously read my writing on various Rockport Technologies speakers, and specifically my review of the mighty Cygnus. I concluded that review with a simple statement: “You can buy these and never look back.”

I think pairing the Lamm components with those Rockport speakers will result in surefire excellence. I know of nothing that would prevent these products from making a synergistic match that will thrill you in every way. Although I have not heard this pairing in person, I certainly think you are on the right track. Good luck with your system, and please do report back once you’ve made your purchase and have the speakers in your listening room (and send a photo!). . . . Jeff Fritz

To Howard Kneller,

Having read your article on the Esoteric Grandioso G1 master clock generator, I am hoping you can help me with a couple of questions about issues I am facing with my equipment.

I have the following devices: Esoteric K-01Xs SACD/CD player, Esoteric G-02X master clock, dCS Network Bridge streamer, and Roon Nucleus+ music server. My issue is when I stream music from the Roon to the dCS. I have set up Tidal, Qobuz, and my own NAS as music sources, and one track may be at 44.1kHz, followed by one at 96kHz, 176.4kHz, 192kHz, DSD, and so on. The dCS only accepts two clock inputs (44.1kHz and 48kHz). It auto-switches between these two inputs if a clock signal is present for the given sampling rate, otherwise it uses its own built-in clock.

While the manual for the G-02X states that separate frequencies can be generated, I have not been able to configure it do this at the same time. The output is either 44.1kHz or 48kHz and must be switched manually. Do you know if the G-02X can be configured to supply 44.1kHz on A or A1 and 48kHz on A2 or B? My ideal setup would be to supply 44.1kHz and 48kHz to the dCS at the same time and 10MHz to the K-01Xs.

Assuming that there is no way to get the G-02X to output dual frequencies, what is the next best setup? For instance, should I configure the dCS so it is not clocked by the G-02X and allow it to use its own internal clocks that auto-switch based on sample rate? The K-01Xs is clocked at 10MHz from the G-02X. Clocking at 10MHz, will that sync to all possible sample rates? Which 10MHz signal output is better, TTL or sine wave?

I’ve tried to incorporate the dCS in a few different configurations, but I always seem to end up with a cyclical noise being generated. Any help you can offer would be greatly appreciated.

The rest of my audio system comprises Wilson Audio Sasha DAW loudspeakers, a Spectral Audio DMC-30SV preamplifier, and a Spectral DMA-300SV power amplifier, with MIT Level 1 cabling throughout. The only analog piece is my antique Nakamichi Dragon cassette deck, which sonically holds its own pretty well. No vinyl, because that was all incinerated, along with everything we owned (including MBL 101 and Snell Acoustics Type A Reference speakers) in the Camp Fire wildfire in Paradise, California, on Nov. 8, 2018. With the loss of 40+ years of collecting vinyl, I decided to go all-digital.

Best regards,
Tracy Petit
United States

Thanks for writing to me. You certainly have some fantastic gear -- I am sorry to hear about the loss of your previous stereo system in the California fires.

The G-02X clock can only output one frequency at a time because it has a single internal oscillator. Each output of the G-02X can be set independently and must be switched manually. I double-checked this with Esoteric’s North American distributor, and he in turn double-checked with Esoteric, who confirmed this information. With regard to how you should proceed from here, that really depends on the level of convenience you want and your impressions of the sound quality achieved by the various options available. We can discuss this further by e-mail if you like as it gets a bit too complex to describe in detail in this forum.

I hope this helps even if it’s not the answer that you were hoping for. . . . Howard Kneller

To Jeff Fritz,

I really enjoyed your review of the Plinius Reference A-150 amp. I have had mine since November 19, 2019, and it made an immediate and material improvement to the sound of my system. It replaced PS Audio’s Stellar M700 mono amplifiers and, regardless of the difference in power on paper, the Plinius really added some grunt to my GoldenEar Triton Ones without sacrificing detail, with the added bonus of a sweet midrange.

It was somewhat of an aspirational purchase for me -- I’m a Kiwi and, like my father before me, I’d always wanted to own one of their amps. If my kids catch the music/hi-fi bug from me -- I’m doing my best! -- I can see this Plinius amp being something I’ll pass on in due course.

All the best,
Sean Clayton
New Zealand

To Jeff Fritz,

Most interesting topic.

However, the problem with this simplified discussion of psychological aspects is that it might lead to thinking in stereotypes, IMHO! But in real life there are no 100% stereotypes! In the context discussed here I am pretty sure that there are also audiophiles who primarily invest in luxury brands -- offering not only top image but also top sound and top durability, etc.

Or think about a poor audiophile who wins the jackpot of a lottery. Would he refuse to buy a luxury product now? Same problem with other categories of psychology. A normal human being often shows all aspects of those categories differing in time [and] changing with mood. Thus let’s be careful with simplifications and generalizations. However, I am pretty sure that cognitive bias can fool a listener when he is primed by the information about the price! On the other hand, I hardly can believe that the gold plating of a Bricasti DAC’s faceplate will significantly improve the sound quality!

Best regards,

To Jeff Fritz,

My apologies in advance for this unsolicited e-mail. I just happened across your article where you describe your recent purchase of a stereo system.

I am intending to purchase a system myself and have been researching components and educating myself on the various technologies. A while ago, I had settled on the MSB Premier DAC with of course the Premier Powerbase. After quite a bit of research, today, I started to lean towards the Vimberg Tonda. With those components somewhat settled, a few Google searches happened to land me on your article listing the components of your stereo system.

I was pleasantly surprised that we had a couple of components in common and I am somewhat tempted to largely replicate your system as we seem to have similar goals. I was barely familiar with Boulder before but am looking for class-A amplification and the amplifier you chose seems to fit the bill. Of course, I will have to go with the Boulder 2160 instead.

Now that you have had your system for a while, I am wondering how you are liking it and if you would do anything differently?

If you have any more thoughts on your system or general guidance, I would love to hear it. I appreciate you putting together the article.

Kind regards,
United States

Thanks for writing and the kind words. I’m flattered that you are, after picking your first couple of components, largely replicating my stereo system. Your letter has given me the occasion to consider if I would do anything differently. The short answer is no, I wouldn’t.

I’ve been very happy with the choices I’ve made this time around. My stereo represents many years of experience in the industry and lots of trial and error. That’s not to say that I could not be happy with other components, because I most certainly could be. But as I sit here today and listen as I type out this response to your query, I have no regrets. I’m very satisfied with the sound quality, build and finish, ergonomics, company support, etc.

Your proposed system has the capability to reach even higher than mine. The MSB DAC you have chosen is a step above mine, and the amplifier you are considering is a generation newer. Perhaps one product you should also look at is MSB’s own large-format stereo amplifier, the S500. It might have particularly good synergy with the Premier DAC. Although it has been my experience that you can’t go wrong with a Boulder power amplifier. Two fantastic choices to choose from, really! The Vimberg speakers . . . well, I’d put them up against anything their size at any price. They are simply superb in all the attributes I value in loudspeakers. I also chose Shunyata Research power conditioning and cabling -- you might want to consider that too. One other thing you might improve on -- at least in the opinion of some -- would be a dedicated music server instead of the MacBook I use. I’ve heard great things about Innuos.

You are definitely on the right path. Your core components will be fantastic pieces, and will never limit your system’s capabilities to deliver magical sound.

Congrats, and please let me know when you have everything in, and please send a photo of the completed setup. Thanks again for writing. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Aron Garrecht,

I’m a longtime follower of SoundStage! Ultra and have to say it’s a wonderful job you have, especially when I read you can have a $16k Simaudio DAC on “loan” for the last four years then have it upgraded at no cost to you.

It’s also great to read that $30k is a “steal,” and I’d really love to know what an “industry accommodation price” might be to you for such a product.

Of course other people might call such long-term loans and accommodation prices bribes for good reviewers and reviews, but I know SoundStage! is above that sort of thing.

I just get frustrated at the glib way reviewers refer to their relationships with manufacturers and how easy it is to lose sight of how much money $30k is for most people. Although maybe not Ultra readers.

I know it’s impossible to put a value on good sound, but it might be a useful service to readers if reviewers stated beside their list of Associated Equipment what they actually owned and paid for themselves, what is on loan (long term or otherwise), and what was provided free by manufacturers.

Keep up the good work. It’s a tough job but someone has to do it.

United Kingdom

Thanks for writing in and posing some good questions. I’m happy to address these, and I’ll start by responding to your comment regarding the long-term loan of the Simaudio Moon 780D DAC. This was an unusually long loan; the longest I have kept any product, in fact. Back in 2016, I reviewed the original 780D, and towards the end of that review Simaudio reached out to see if I wouldn’t mind holding on to the 780D as a new version was in the works, with changes that were expected to be software-based only. Scope creep pushed back the release date of the 780D v2 several times, and then in early 2018 I was asked to review a pair of Simaudio Moon 888 monoblock amplifiers. Despite the 780D v2 having already come out, I was asked to hold on to my review sample until after the Moon 888 review, then return it with several other components Simaudio sent along with the monoblocks. It was late 2018 by the time I sent back all the Simaudio gear, but was asked again to hold on to the 780D v2 as it was slated to go on the road for some upcoming shows. That plan fell through, and it wasn’t until late 2019 that Simaudio reached out for me to return the unit. It’s now gone.

The EMM Labs DV2: As a reviewer, I’m afforded the opportunity to demo and review a lot of expensive gear most people don’t have access to, and I stand by my assertion that the EMM Labs DV2 is something of a steal amongst its peers. Here’s why: I believe the DV2 has no peers. Now, I understand where you’re coming from -- $30,000 is a lot of money for any audio product -- but for those with the means to shop at this level, the DV2 poses a genuine value in terms of build quality, performance, and technology.

This brings me to accommodation pricing, because, even after the discount offered by EMM Labs, the DV2 was still more than I could afford. Accommodation pricing varies depending on product and manufacturer; therefore, there isn’t a number I can put on it, but think dealer price, which is roughly 50% the retail price. I understand how long-term loans, industry discounts, and rumors around free product handouts can lead to various assumptions, but we at the Soundstage! Network pride ourselves on highlighting the good and the bad for each product we review, and we have strict policies governing product purchases and loans. . . . Aron Garrecht

To Hans Wetzel,

Thank you for the review I’ve read about the [Simaudio] Moon 700i v2 [integrated amplifier]. You must be a serious audio professional. That’s why I try to ask your opinion between the Moon and the McIntosh [Laboratory] MA9000 [integrated amplifier-DAC]. In July, I’ll do a demo, but before then I need opinions from professionals, so if it is possible . . .

Kind regards,
Franco Gravina

What cool amplifiers to which you’ve narrowed down your search! Each has its own unique personality and sonic flavor, so here is what I’d expect you might hear. The Simaudio Moon 700i v2 is a fantastic example of just how good a class-AB amplifier can sound. Its transparency, fleetness of foot, and extended, airy treble make for a sound that ticks all of my personal boxes. The McIntosh MA9000, by contrast, will likely sound a little fuller and more robust through the midrange, with plenty of power and drive in the bass, and a slightly subdued top end. These should not be night-and-day differences, but should reveal themselves through extended listening, so please do line that up with your own listening preferences and how such a sonic profile would match with your reference loudspeakers. Performance aside, the McIntosh sports far more power than the Sim -- 300Wpc vs. 175Wpc into 8 ohms -- and also includes a built-in DAC, while also retailing for notably less money here in the United States. I don’t know what they cost there. As for looks, you’re balancing the Mac’s signature blue VU meters with Simaudio’s more modern-looking chassis.

On pure sonics, the Simaudio edges it for me, as I favor that wide-open, hyper-transparent sound more than midrange body and presence. As a package, though, the McIntosh is super cool and a total hammer of an amp. You have a tough decision ahead of you. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Jeff Fritz,

If I don’t find a speaker soon I’m going to need a few doctors and a divorce lawyer! My room is 17’ x 10’. I have tried Wilson Audio Sophia 3s -- they were very nice but too harsh on top. I have tried Sonus Faber Olympica IIIs. Again, very nice, but lacked midrange. And I have recently had a home demo of some TAD Evolution Ones, which sounded quite overpowering and, again, a bit subdued in the midrange.

I would love a speaker that’s got authoritative bass, a great midrange, and a smooth top end. There are currently some EgglestonWorks Andra III SEs available. There are some Rockport Miras available, and some EgglestonWorks Kivas or Nines. I like the Audiovector R 3, but I think that a pair of them would lack the weight and authority I’m looking for.

There are other options available, but they all seem to have ceramic or metal drivers, which scare me.

Thanks for your time.

Kind regards,
Matthew S Williams
United Kingdom

Having both the Sonus Faber and TAD speakers in your system, and finding both lacking in midrange, raises some flags. As such, I would advise you to first examine your room acoustics. Those speakers are fairly neutral designs and there is no inherent flaw in them that would result in a lack of midrange. This might indicate an acoustics problem that should be addressed before you audition more speakers. Perhaps there is a dealer that could help with that, or a room acoustics company online that could assist based on your room’s dimensions and layout.

As for speakers that might work for you, of the ones you name, the natural choice would be the Rockports. In fact, the attributes you desire -- “authoritative bass, a great midrange, and a smooth top end” -- are some of the same terms I would use to describe the Rockport house sound. I would advise you to consider a pair of Rockport Atria IIs. That model incorporates Rockport’s latest thinking on loudspeaker design, including the waveguide-loaded tweeter. Based on your criteria for a speaker, I could not recommend them strongly enough. For your reference, I reviewed both the Mira and original Atria. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Jeff Fritz,

I hope you and your family have been well during these difficult times. I’m writing because I have an amplifier-matching question.

I did buy the Sonus Faber Olympica Nova IIIs and absolutely love them. Now, though, it’s time to upgrade amplification, but with all the choices out there I’m having a really hard time deciding. At-home auditions here in Canada (at least in Ottawa) are not often something that dealers do, which makes it more difficult. So I’m writing in the hopes that you might be able to provide some input into my short list:

  • Devialet Expert Pro 220
  • Bryston 14B3
  • Simaudio Moon 760A
  • McIntosh Labs MC312

Or some kind of used Vitus (not many of those around in Canada, though).

As always, I’m open to any other suggestions you might have. My price range is somewhat flexible but not unlimited.

Thank you kindly in advance. I truly appreciate it.

Best regards,

You’ve got some interesting choices there, Martin! The one that sticks out like a sore thumb is the Devialet. As I’m sure you know, it is the only one listed that is an integrated amplifier with DAC and other functionality built in. As such, it will not only replace whatever amplifier you are currently using, but also your preamplifier and DAC if you have a separates-based system. That is a huge consideration in terms of system configurability.

Leaving that out for a moment, you’re left with three powerful solid-state power amplifiers that will most likely be driven by either a preamplifier or a DAC with volume control built in. Each of those models you list is easily powerful enough to drive the Nova IIIs. So, in practice, I do not think the wide range of power outputs mean much (the MC312 at 300Wpc, 14B3 at 600Wpc, or 760A on the low end at 130Wpc, all into 8 ohms). In terms of sound quality, I can’t really give you a blow-by-blow comparison because I have not heard these models in my system. Describing a “house sound” based on past experiences with the brands is also not really that helpful, and would be a mere guess in terms of how it would apply to the specific models you list. Really, I’m only left with two suggestions. If you bought your SFs from a dealer that you trust, ask him or her what they think. Hopefully they know the Sonus Faber brand well and maybe will have a suggestion as to partnering amplifier. The second thing is that you can’t really go wrong with any of the three power amplifiers -- they are all made by solid brands I know and trust. Furthermore, they are all made by companies whose factories are within four hours (by car) of where you live, so I cannot imagine service would ever be an issue. I think you’d end up with a solid match with any of the three.

Back to Devialet. The company’s products do sound super, but choosing one does lock you into a system model that is not easily changed. Do consider that before jumping on that option. . . . Jeff Fritz