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To Jason Thorpe,

Enjoyed your review of the VPI Prime Signature package. It became my destination table this past spring and have greatly enjoyed it since. I opted for the Rosewood finish, which takes it to a whole ’nother aesthetic dimension and obliterates any concerns regarding appearance -- it’s stunning.

The one thing you missed on is the cueing mechanism of the tonearm -- it is damped. It's just another one of those analog things where you gotta do it just so to make it work. It requires that you lower the lever .5” or so (somewhat quickly and purposefully), then release it and the damping kicks in. It takes a few tries to get the hang of it, but once you get it, it’s second nature. Gives you a few seconds to get to your chair before it eases into the lead-in groove.

If you should opt to make the Prime Signature part of your daughter’s inheritance, there is one more piece you’ll need to consider. The FatBoy Gimbal tonearm is a monster on that turntable! Gave myself one for Christmas and while I’m still getting acquainted, it’s obvious that it’s a significant improvement over the 3DR and ensures that this will be my final analog front-end -- unless, of course, my ship comes in with the winning lottery ticket!

Best regards and wishes for a happy holiday season,
United States

To Jason Thorpe,

Just a quick note to thank you for your excellent review of this extraordinary album. I was about to order the Classic Records copy. My wife and I are HUGE Junkies fans and saw them again three weeks ago in London for another amazing night of music. Margo [Timmins’s] voice still sounds amazing and the whole band were just awesome. Also got to meet Margo, Pete, and Jeff. Will order the Acoustic Sounds album now.

Thanks for your great review.

United Kingdom

To Hans Wetzel,

I came across your reviews of Dynamique Audio cables while looking up Nordost Heimdall cables, which as search engine results so often go, you didn’t review. My curiosity about the Dynamiques, in particular, their interconnects as a possible indicator for my purposes (S/PDIF), is about the degree of warmth they bring. Or do they fall in that tonal category called neutral?

I realize some people don’t make the distinction between neutral and warm, considering the natural warmth of most live acoustical instruments to be neutral. I wish it were so easy. It’s struck me since picking up this hobby again several years ago that high-end listeners, and the equipment developers that are designing for them, fall into two broad categories: those of us who start with or gravitate to tonal/timbral accuracy in choosing equipment, which to me means a modest degree of warmth; and those who are more focused on “sonic effects,” i.e., detail, transparency, staging, PRAT [pace, rhythm, and timing], and such. The latter tend to characterize the sound as “neutral,” tonally. To me, it’s some degree of cool. I came to realize that these different preferences stem from a variety of factors, such as hearing ability, musical background, and perhaps what one has come to believe is considered good sound. As for myself, while of course I like those sonic effects, “neutral” soon leaves me wanting to throw my equipment out the window.

Gene Goldenfeld
United States

Well, you’re correct that I didn’t review Nordost’s Heimdall cables, but I did review a “loom” of their Frey 2 line. As for your question about warmth vs. neutrality, I’m not sure I can provide a straightforward answer, as it appears you and I define these terms differently. But I certainly appreciate your perspective and the kind of sound that you’re looking for. Broadly speaking, I don’t think Dynamique’s cables will impart any real sonic signature on the sound of your system; however, compared to Nortdost’s cables, which I certainly think meet your definition of “neutral,” Dynamique’s cables may well sound somewhat warm. But if you’re looking for a cable brand whose overall sonic signature is quite warm and very sweet through the midrange, you might have to look elsewhere. For what it's worth, though, if you’re using a competently designed, modern DAC, your S/PDIF cable choice shouldn’t affect the sound quality of your system. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Jeff Fritz,

I have read many of your excellent audio reviews on SoundStage! Ultra, mainly DACs and those rather special Esoteric VRDS-NEO transports, which I also hold in high regard.

My audio experience and product research is firmly based on the studio side of the industry, but I am also an audiophile like you at heart. I have been looking at a couple of DACs recently, which you have reviewed and possibly even owned: the Weiss DAC202 and Hegel HD30 -- these two DACs are about the same price now used.

Now I know the Hegel HD30 is a newer DAC, and has more features compared to the Weiss DAC202, but if you were to select one or the other, taking into account the quality of both volume controls and purely on the overall sound quality (i.e., which converter mirrors the best analogue sound and reveals the room acoustics/instrument echo trails the clearest), which would you choose?

The only other converter I will be trying to get my hands on will be the Bakoon DAC-21 battery-powered DAC. I have a soft spot for certain high-quality battery DACs, having owned a LessLoss DAC 2004, which was completely handmade, hand-soldered, and hand-assembled -- a great DAC with those now out-of-production Burr-Brown PCM1704K chips.

I look forward to hearing from you.

United States

I have not used the Weiss DAC202 in a great while, so my memory of it is sketchy at best. I know that when I reviewed it years ago I was super impressed, but that was a long time ago, so I can’t be sure of where it stands now. On the other hand, I know the Hegel HD30 really well, having used it for months now. So my initial reaction would be to tell you to go with the Hegel. It is a really fine DAC with clear, precise sound quality. The one hesitation I have with that recommendation is knowing that Hegel recently released the new H590 integrated amplifier-DAC, with reportedly a better-sounding DAC inside than the standalone HD30. Could a new Hegel flagship DAC be too far away? Probably not.

I have no experience with the Bakoon DAC that you mention. I will give you one bit of advice, though: although I am a huge proponent of buying some products used -- amplifiers and preamps come to mind -- I don’t think buying a used DAC is necessarily the best way to go. DAC chips have gotten way better over the years. A newer DAC might outperform an older one that retailed for twice the price. In other words, DACs are always getting cheaper and better. The bottom line from my perspective is to buy as current as you can when it comes to digital. Good luck in your search. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Garrett Hongo,

I have been in this hobby for 65 years and have grown up with classical music, and your wonderful review of the Esoteric K-05X SACD/CD player painted a wonderful word picture of what you heard in your listening to classical music. Unfortunately, it is a little more expensive than I can spend [unless the wife can loosen the purse strings]. Thus, the reason for my e-mail: Would you, if you have heard the K-07X Esoteric SACD/CD player, be able to give me your impressions of its presentation of large orchestral classical music, especially its string sound?

I have read extensively on its technical merits, the transport, and the power supply. Can you make some general descriptions of how these technical differences translate into transparency, bass definition, frequency extension, lack of steeliness, presentation of soundstage, [and whether it has] sweetness like tubes?

I would appreciate so much your insights. It was a great review.

Highest regards,
United States

Thanks for your question and your appreciation of my review of the Esoteric K-05X player. I’ve only heard the older K-07 player and that was at a show long ago now, so I can’t give you a useful view of the new K-07X player, though our own Tom Mathew did review it in January 2016, so I do recommend reading what he wrote. But, in general, I find Esoteric players quite superior to others in their price range, a lot because of the attention to the rigidity and reinforcement of the proprietary transport assemblies. However, that said, the K-07X player uses a different transport mechanism than the K-05X.

I think the Esoteric K-05X transport has a lot to do with bass response, extension, and refinement (what you may hear as transparency). As far as sweetness and lack of steeliness go, I attribute that to the DAC. I had a Cary 303/300 tube-output player I’d kept for years (because of finesse and sweetness of string sound) before the K-05X. I found the Esoteric was comparable in sweetness, but even better with resolution. A better DAC does wonders for string sound, depth/layering, and resolution.

Mind you, I’m not endorsing the K-07X as I’ve not heard it. My recommendation is to audition a K-07X and judge for yourself with attention for what concerns you and what I’ve pointed out about the K-05X. . . . Garrett Hongo

To Jeff Fritz,

That [“Jeff’s New Room”] bump-out might not be a bad thing. I feel like sometimes symmetry creates its own problems with lower-frequency hotspots.

Will you have the bathroom/closest doors open or closed? I think it’d be interesting to try both. Your new listening room may have two tunable bass ports.

Congrats on the new house. Looking forward to reading about the set-up process.

Yuan Lu
United States

I am sitting here wondering how I could have missed such an interesting proposition! I can easily imagine that you are right, and that the closet and bathroom, being essentially enclosed in the overall structural envelope of my room, would have a significant impact on the sound depending on whether the doors to those spaces are opened or closed. I will check that out, and also measure the differences acoustically (if there are in fact differences to measure). I am slowly learning about the new room’s sonic signature, and this adds one more variable I will have to take into consideration. Thanks for pointing it out. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Jeff Fritz,

I’m maybe too late to contribute to this point as it was some time ago, but I’ve just came across your conundrum on defining what gear is appropriate to cover in SoundStage! Ultra from your March 2017 “Opinion” column [“Will the Real Ultra Products Please Stand Up?”], in reference to Paradigm speakers. I wanted to suggest an answer, which also touches on the ultra-high-end-price vs. no-guarantee-of-quality-sound debate. Put simply, I love reading about ultra-expensive gear, but what I really want to read about is ultra-sounding gear, even if it doesn’t fit with the ultra-expensive moniker. So just go for it and focus on ultra sound and if it’s also ultra expensive too, brilliant.

Keep up the good work and enjoy your new music room discovering and rediscovering great sounds.

Bill McCardle
United Kingdom

To Aron Garrecht,

All very good [regarding the Simaudio Moon 888 mono amplifiers], but where is the comparison to other non-Simaudio gear? A review in isolation tells the reader very little and at $118k-plus [per pair], the least we should expect is for you and SoundStage! Ultra to go that extra mile and do some comparisons. Otherwise, why don’t you just print the press release and brochure? Or was it a condition of your review that there would be no comparison, especially if fewer dollars could buy comparable or better sound? So come on SoundStage! Ultra, tell us what we really need to know -- where does the 888 stand in comparison to the competition?

Bill McCardle
United Kingdom

Thanks for your feedback. You bring up a valid point that I am happy to address. I will start by saying that it is not always possible to perform A/B comparisons with other similar products for a number of reasons. In this case, the 888s were compared to the W-7Ms because I own the W-7Ms as my reference amps, and using another Simaudio product for the point of comparison offered a unique opportunity to outline the advancements made in the 888 over a previous flagship model, and describe where the additional resources were allocated. Next, there simply aren’t that many comparable products on the market, and, as such, there weren’t any other “direct competitor” products available at the time of this review to use as a point of comparison. Additionally, the cost, complexity, and associated shipping arrangements required of a product like a pair of 888s, and other amplifiers of similar size, makes lining up parallel reviews very difficult. Sometimes this can be done if there is an overlap in the review period, or, the manufacturer happens to be close to a reviewer’s home, which can ease these arrangements, but, unfortunately, this wasn’t the case here. Finally, there are very few pairs of these amplifiers (I believe three worldwide) available for various audio shows and for reviewers, and, as a result, the window of time I had with them was very specific. I did not have any other amplifiers of any kind arriving within that window for additional points of comparison, and there wasn’t enough time to make arrangements to have other products here during the review. I want to stress, however, that never was there any condition of any kind placed by Simaudio on the review and whether or not a comparison could be made to a competing product. I was free to do what I wanted to.

I hope this helps shed some light on why the W-7Ms were used for this review as the sole point of comparison, Bill. We try our best to offer direct comparisons of competing manufacturers, but it just isn’t always possible, particularly for product as exclusive as this one. . . . Aron Garrecht

To Hans Wetzel,

I enjoyed reading your review of the Vivid Audio Giya G4. It was one of the few that tried the Giya G4 in a smallish space. I am thinking of getting the Giya G4 for my home office, away from my toddler’s little hands, and also where I can listen the most. I will move into a new home soon (not determined where yet). My estimation is that my future office will have dimensions around 14’W x 16’L x 9’H. From your experience with the G4s, do you think that the speakers would work in such a space? If not, what would you guess would be the smallest possible dimensions?

Manoj Cooray
United States

I’m jealous that you’re able to realistically consider grabbing a pair of Giya G4s, Manoj. Despite more than four years having passed since I reviewed the G4, it remains one of the finest loudspeakers I’ve ever heard. I’m confident that despite the G4’s diminutive stature, a pair will have no problem pressurizing a room with the dimensions you’ve specified. Before you rush out and buy, though, I would suggest checking out Vivid’s new Kaya line, which was introduced at Munich’s High End 2018. I bet the Kaya 45 would be a mighty fine alternative to the Giya G4 for a little more than half the price -- $18,000/pair. Yes, it’s a three-way design rather than the Giya G4’s four-way architecture, and looks a bit unusual; however, I’m betting you’d come awfully close to Giya-esque performance with an extra $12,000 to spare. Irrespective of which Vivid model you get, though, I think you’ll love the sound. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Garrett Hongo,

I’m looking to replace my much beloved CAT SL1 Ultimate preamp, which I’ve now owned for over 12 years, with something even better. My research led me to your review of the VAC Renaissance Mk.3. I was almost convinced that this would be the right choice for me till I came to this sentence when comparing it to the DeHavilland Mercury 3, “With soprano recital and Renaissance choral CDs, the VAC was less refined than the Mercury.”

That something costing half as much could be better in any area of music reproduction would indicate a failure of design of the VAC. Saying it was less refined is a serious charge. For those of us who like soprano and Renaissance choral music, your review would suggest we’d be better off buying the DeHavilland and pocketing the $5000 difference. Am I wrong to conclude that? Of course, I listen to other music as well, but still . . .

My system consists of the following:

Speakers: Verity Audio Parsifal Encore
Amp: Music Reference RM-9 SE
Preamp: CAT SL1 Ultimate
DAC: Concert Fidelity DAC-040
Music server: Specially built by Mike Powell of Verastarr Audio
All cables and power cords are Verastarr Audio Grand Illusion series and everything is plugged into the PS Audio power regenerator.

This system is extremely musical and involving and that’s how I like it. My research led me to two potential choices, the VAC Renaissance and the Shindo Monbrison or Allegro, as they seem to satisfy my needs (judging by the reviews).

The price of the CAT Renaissance [preamp] is going up from $15k to $20k. Unfortunately, price is an issue for me as I’m on a budget and don’t want to spend more the $10k.

Thank you ever so much. I’d like to read your future reviews.

United States

You raise a complex question! Thanks for asking it and for your appreciation of a review I wrote some years ago now.

The answer? As is often the case, the answer is “system dependent.” Luckily, I know the gear in your system very well!

Of the preamp targets you list, I know and highly recommend the Shindo Monbrison (have had it in my system). Yet, the Monbrison can be critiqued as being on the soft side, though rich in tone and texture. It’s fine with blues and jazz, but may lack the kind of powerful drive for rock and orchestral music the VAC Ren Mk.3 has. Drive and slam to beat the band has the Ren 3. Perhaps more than any pre I’ve tried.

But if a remote and built-in phono aren’t an issue, have you thought of the Lamm LL2.1 linestage? I owned one for several years and, next to the Ren Mk.3, it had the best dynamics, drive, and slam. Plus tone and refinement too (though not as refined as Monbrison or deHavilland Mercury 3). I loved its retro looks. Good luck! . . . Garrett Hongo