Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

To Hans Wetzel,

After reading many reviews, including yours, of the Hegel Music Systems H300 integrated amplifier-DAC, and seeing that you've chosen it for your reference, I purchased one. I have KEF LS50 monitors, which are very much like the KEF R900s you now have as well, in character if not kind. My only source currently is an Apple iMac into the USB DAC on the Hegel, so it is a simple and elegant system.

This is my first experience with higher-end audio and since your system (or parts of it) is so like my own I wonder if I could ask your advice? I have two questions really. The first is to ask your experience with speaker cables. I purchased a pair of Kimber 4PRs to run things in for a few weeks to get a feeling for what the system really needed. I love the high-end detail they bring out, but the low end is overly lean and they can be quite harsh with poor recordings, of which there are many more than I realized. I am presently assessing the Acoustic Zen Satoris, which bring out the lovely liquid midrange in the H300 that the Kimbers only hint at and a substantial body they lack entirely. Perhaps overly so? Still, they make acoustic instruments like piano and those in orchestras very real and present in a way that's hard to fault, and the Kimbers never made me want to get up and shake my ass the way the Satoris do. Unfortunately all this comes at the cost of the midrange and upper detail the Kimbers offer. With the Kimbers I can clearly hear lyrics I had trouble understanding before and with the Satoris, though the voices have weight and presence, I can't hear what the hell they are saying too often for my liking. Also, perhaps rather oddly, although the Kimbers have more "air" (i.e., separation and clarity), the Satoris give a more realistic sense of the physical recording space. With the Kimbers, I can hear more overtones in an acoustic guitar and when playing Cyndi Lauper's "True Colors," there are second voices above and behind her and it sounds like she's whispering the song into my ear with intimacy and immediacy. On the other side, with the Satoris the plane at the opening of "Back in the U.S.S.R." sounds like an actual jet. Also, much to my shock, listening to the rest of The Beatles, aka "The White Album," for the first time ever the Beatles sound like real flesh-and-blood people rather than the slightly angelic voices I've always heard before.
I guess you could say the Satoris bring the body and soul where the Kimbers have a spiritual, if slightly disembodied, quality.

I'm looking for the holy trinity I suppose. Have you any suggestions? I've been reading good things about the Magnan Signatures (5"-wide copper-ribbon cables), but I gather the founder has retired and the company has closed down. There's a set of Inakustik LS1602 demos listed on Canuck Audio Mart that are highly touted. It seems crazy to put $5000 cables on a $1500 speaker, but they are great speakers and the cables are listed at 70% off. There is also a set of Stealth Hybrid MLT demos listed on CAM as well for $1400. If these or anything else perhaps closer to earth come to mind, please let me know. (I've heard the DH Labs Q-10 Signature is inexpensive and very good, but have been cautioned against mixing silver cables and metal drivers. The Stealths have some silver as well.)

My second question is about the Hegel's power requirements. With its proprietary feed-forward Sound Engine circuitry, is it as sensitive to A/C noise as other systems? I am in an apartment building with notoriously dirty power, have dimmers on many of my lights, and we're coming into air-conditioner season. And yet, when I crank up the volume full and stick my ear to the speaker without a signal all I hear is silence. Do you recommend specialty power cords or line filter/conditioners with this setup?

Thanks for your time,
Brett Lisk

Brett, that's a delicious little system you have there. I find the Hegel/KEF tandem to be a deeply resolving one, and it sounds like you're enjoying the twosome as well. While I think that cables definitely do make a difference as far as sound quality goes, I don't zealously affiliate myself with one brand or another. I do not have experience with either of the cables that you mention or the respective companies that make them. I can identify with your experience, however. My first pair of reviews for GoodSound! were of Nordost Blue Heaven LS cables, and a loom from Britain's Dynamique Audio. I found the Nordosts to sound more expansive, and a bit more extended at the top end, while the Dynamiques impressed with their outright resolution and bass. I admired the qualities of both. In hindsight, I would say that the Nordosts are a bit "tipped up" at the top end, and perhaps a hair lean through the bass. This seems to be the company's signature sound, of sorts. The Dynamiques, on the other hand, weren't bass heavy, as I originally thought, but simply produced the bass that the Nordosts did not. I suspect you might be running into something similar. If you're not satisfied with either of the cables you're currently using, I wouldn't think you'd find the tonal solution you're looking for by going up the respective product lines.

Your suggestion of DH Labs' Q-10 is probably a good one, as I, too, have heard very good things about that modestly priced cable. You get silver-plated OFC conductors for around $500/pr., which is pretty good value. I can personally attest to the quality of Dynamique Audio's Caparo hybrid speaker cable, which uses 4N (99.99%) silver conductors and 7N (99.99999%) silver-plated copper conductors. They're handmade in England, have a 30-day refund policy if you're not satisfied, and they sound terrific.

Beyond this, however, I can't speak of other brands. What I can tell you is that the notion of silver cables and metal drivers being problematic is utter nonsense. Oh, and no need to go overboard on cables -- $1500 should buy you a great pair of speaker cables and a USB cable that you should never feel the need to replace. Your audio money is better spent on other equipment -- or better yet, your bank account.

As to the Hegel's power requirements, I, too, live in an apartment building, though I'm lucky enough to not have any power issues. If you're hearing nothing but silence out of your KEFs when the Hegel's volume is dialed up, I think you've answered your own question. If truth be told, I am skeptical of the purported benefits from power cords and conditioners. Many believers are fervent in their defense of "clean power" and how significant a change it can have on sound. I bought the Nordost power cords that I currently use along with the rest of my original review set, but only out of a belief that it somehow made sense to keep everything made by the same brand. I probably wouldn't do so again, and won't advocate it until I read of a double-blind study that demonstrates a difference, or hear a product that, to my ears, sounds better than a stock cable into a wall outlet. At least with double-blind tests of speaker cables, listeners can hear differences, even if there's not agreement on which is better. But that's hi-fi audio, then, isn't it? Go listen for yourself, and if you hear improvement then I say, why not? Truth is in the ear of the beholder. . . . Hans Wetzel