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To Hans Wetzel,

I have read with great interest your various reviews of different amps and speakers over the years. My current setup is Dynaudio’s Confidence C1 [loudspeakers] paired with a Hegel Music Systems H360 [integrated amplifier-DAC]. Overall, I am happy with the sound, especially with the Dynaudios because I had their Contour 1.3 SEs in the past and just wanted to take that sound/philosophy to the next level. The Hegel was more a leap of faith, but a fellow hi-fi aficionado recommended them to pair with the Confidence C1, so I followed his recommendation and picked up a used Hegel. I like Hegel’s warm and natural sound and think it pairs well overall with the Dynaudios. Dislikes are that the [Apple] AirPlay connection is not reliable and does not give the best sound quality. I could have bought a streamer but did not feel like incurring the extra expense.

But now, I am looking to make a change and I’m considering these options—I want to stay in the $5000–$6000 range:

  1. Hegel H390 [integrated amplifier-DAC]: I know I will like the sound, but I expect everything to be better, especially connectivity.
  2. NAD M33 [integrated amplifier-DAC]: The NAD Masters Series M32 DirectDigital was a contender three years ago, but I was led to believe Hegel’s sound is superior. I have seen the rave reviews on the M33. I like the design and all the features, but am a little concerned that in terms of pure sound, it won’t hold up to the Hegel H390.
  3. McIntosh MA5300 [integrated amplifier]: I was recommended this by a dealer I talked to yesterday. What to say? McIntosh is iconic, but I’m not sure the entry-level model is up to par for the Dynaudios, and the next one up is too pricy.
  4. Simaudio Moon 700i [integrated amplifier]: I saw a used 700i [at my dealer] for $5444. It seems compelling, but I’m hesitant to buy a model that is a bit dated at this point.
  5. Any other options?

Not in a rush to make a move; I want to make sure it is the right choice. It is tough to audition the equipment, as every dealer has a different setup and equipment available, and it’s next to impossible to test the equipment at home. So, I need to make another decision based on reviews and expert recommendations. At this point, I am leaning towards a Hegel upgrade. For me, vocals, authenticity, and soundstage for classical music rank at the top of the list. Sorry for the long e-mail. It would be super nice to get your take.

Andreas Biebl
United States

You’ve made some interesting choices, Andreas, and you’ve definitely reached out to the right reviewer! I’ve previously owned the Hegel H360, own a Hegel H590 (which is very similar to the less powerful Hegel H390 you’re considering), reviewed the NAD M32 when it was new, and recently reviewed the successor to the Moon 700i, the 700i v2. Unfortunately, I don’t have any first-hand experience with McIntosh, though I suspect the MA5300 is a solid amp for the money.

I think the Hegel would be a sensible purchase. The built-in DAC, in particular, should prove to be a notable upgrade on the unit built into your H360. The H390 will sound a little different than your H360, however, as Doug Schneider pointed out in his review of the H390, but should still definitely sound familiar to you.

While I obviously like Hegel, I have to say that NAD’s M33 would be my personal suggestion. It uses Purifi’s new Eigentakt amplifier modules, which sound and measure like an absolute dream. You also get a terrific-looking case, a nice touchscreen, Dirac Live room-correction software, and plenty of I/O. I get that it’s a bit of a gamble for you having never heard it, so let me put it this way: As someone who adored my H360 when I owned it, if I were upgrading from an H360 and had roughly $5000 to spend, I’d spring for the M33, as it’s currently the best integrated amp-DAC that you can buy for five grand.

Happy hunting, Andreas. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Jeff Fritz,

As someone who owns a Gryphon Antileon Evo stereo amp, the dCS Vivaldi DAC, and Rockport Cygnus speakers, I obviously agree with your tastes. Two things I might add/change: I do believe that a good preamp adds something significant to sound quality, and I don’t believe the small difference in sound quality of the Antileon Monos justifies doubling the cost. In keeping with some of your more recent articles regarding value and opportunity cost, I would use the money saved on the Monos and put it into a good preamp, or into the listening room if you really want to run direct. As crazy high as these prices are I actually do think the dCS, Gryphon, and Rockport represent value in this crazy hobby.

I really enjoyed your articles about finding value and downsizing a bit. Avoiding the chase for bragging-rights gear that added very little. That took real courage. Don’t reverse course, Jeff. You’re the only one we can count on for telling the truth as you see it irrespective of the industry.

United States

To Garrett Hongo,

I am looking into the Luxman D-380 CD player as a replacement for a vintage California Audio Labs Icon Mk II player. I will be using it with a Leben CS-600 amplifier and DeVore Fidelity Orangutan O/93 speakers. I am looking for a more organic and less harsh sound. My listening room is a tad on the bright side, so a sweeter sound is a must. I wonder if you have had any experience with the lower-priced Luxman CD players, as my wife is having a case of sticker shock.

From your review, it sounds like the D-380 is quite a gem in this digital audio world.

United States

Thanks for your question about the Luxman D-380. I loved its sound, frankly, and wished I could splurge on it for my own family-room system. Along with Lector and Ayon players, I’ve got a venerable California Audio Labs CL-15 there, so I’m familiar with the CAL house sound. It was, in fact, my first high-end piece. But I’d always heard the CAL Icon Mk II was extra special.

I also know the rest of your system pretty well—the Leben integrated and DeVore Orangutan speakers. Terrific setup!

My feeling, fairly strong, actually, is you’ll be extremely happy with the D-380, which will be a great match with the rest of your system. The style of this player will shine and its sound will really bloom with your Leben/DeVore gear.

When thinking about the D-380 for myself, I also researched a lower-priced player from Luxman, the D-N150—a compact, half-size unit. Much more “affordable,” it has the same transport as the D-380 but with a different DAC and no tube output. I anticipated that I might be disappointed in its sound by comparison to the D-380.

The D-N150 also lacks the D-380’s retro wooden case. I’d say the D-N150’s style is more “swanky utilitarian,” if you don’t mind the contradiction, and better suited for a desktop system. But the D-380, with its gorgeous walnut case, would look fabulous with your DeVore 0/93s (assuming they’re in walnut too), both echoing and accenting their cabinets.

If I had to choose one player for my family-room system, it would be the Luxman D-380. Basically, I’d go for it if I were you, man. . . . Garrett Hongo

To Jeff Fritz,

I just purchased a pre-owned Gryphon Antileon Evo [amplifier]. Much of my decision was based on your reviews of the Antileon and Mephisto. The Antileon should arrive today or tomorrow. Now I have two of your favorite amps, the Antileon Evo and a Boulder 2060. I’ll let you know my impressions of the Antileon in a few weeks.

United States

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