Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Please send all questions to All questions sent to this e-mail address will be replied to online. If you do not wish to share your e-mail with other readers, please do not send it. But if you have a question, chances are others are wondering the same thing. Therefore, you will be helping not only yourself, but other readers as well when your question gets answered here.

To Hans Wetzel,

I hurt for you, man. I made a move 15 years ago that necessitated putting my large stereo in a smaller room, and it hasn't been quite the same.

It looks like you are on the way to installing a dedicated power line and a pair of standmounts. Or, you might try speakers that radiate sound differently and roll off at 40Hz or so, like smallish MartinLogan electrostatics. How about DSP room correction? Does the Hegel let you install such a thing between the preamp and amp sections? Fortunately, there are some great hi-fi dealers in your area who can help. Good luck!

Brad Potthoff
United States

All solid suggestions, Brad. Once I get settled and get a better handle of what my options are, I may wind up following through. Until then, I just need to get back in the saddle on the review front. Happy listening! . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I had a chance to listen to the new-to-North America Wharfedale Diamond 220 bookshelf speaker at Audio Oasis in Toronto last week. This tiny wonder baffles my brain regarding how such a small, cheap ($400) speaker can sound so good. I would really appreciate a review by you to confirm what is still causing me to shake my head a week later.

Nigel Marsh

I mentioned the new Diamond 200 line in my Best of CES 2015 editorial last month, precisely because I suspected it might offer really strong performance for the price. We will reach out to Wharfedale to see what we can arrange. Brave new audiophile world we are living in, Nigel. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I am setting up a secondary audio system for my home, but I am having a very hard time trying to determine which amplifier to use. The reason is that we don´t have too many dealers around here, so I need to purchase the product through the Internet, without being able to make an audition.

After extensive research I have come to two alternatives, but I cannot pick between them. One is to get a Hegel Music Systems H80 integrated amplifier-DAC, and use it with my Oppo BDP-103 player as a transport and my Lenovo computer. The other is to get the Rogue Audio Sphinx integrated amplifier, and pair it with the Oppo BDP-105, which also has S/PDIF, optical, and USB inputs, and then can act as a DAC. In both cases I would be using the new MartinLogan Motion 35XT bookshelf speakers, which I bought about three months ago.

Your review of the Sphinx really impressed me, especially when you made comparisons with your Hegel H300 [integrated amplifier-DAC]. In my main system I use an Audio Research VSi60 integrated amplifier; a Bel Canto DAC2.7, CD3t transport, and REFLink USB converter; and a pair of MartinLogan Ethos electrostatic speakers. All of them are connected [through] DH Labs cables. This is to say that I love tubes, so the Sphinx is a great alternative.

However, I am a little scared about the class-D amp. Recently I had a Bel Canto C5i and it sounded exactly like you described in your review: “I find that class-D has a characteristic sound: clear and quiet, but often sounding thin through the midrange, as if singers and instruments had gone on a diet. Bass seems to get lost in translation, with low frequencies noticeably abbreviated. Overall, class-D sounds a bit etched -- mechanical, artificial, and decidedly not immersive. Also, I have no idea about the Rogue´s signal-to-noise ratio, and since I cannot hear the product I consider this an important reference.

On the other hand, I like the Hegel’s convenience (amp and DAC in one device), and I’ve heard excellent things about this Norwegian company. My hesitancy comes from the fact that I hate excessive brightness and fatiguing tweeters (that’s why I go with electrostatics and tubes), and I don’t know if this amp will have glare. Furthermore, I agree with you on the fact that an amp’s ability to get you involved with the music is more important than its accuracy or measured performance, and that’s another good argument for the Rogue.

So, given the fact that you have experience with both the H80 and the Sphinx, what would you do in my case? I know it is pretty hard to recommend things, since sound depends on so many variables: cables, speakers, and personal preferences. However, I would very much appreciate your opinion.

Please receive my best regards!
Luis Perez
Costa Rica

You have picked two great products, Luis, but I worry that neither is exactly what you are looking for. Since you are a proud tube fan, and owner of a lovely little Audio Research unit, I worry that both the Hegel and the Rogue might stray just a bit too far out of your comfort zone. You mention brightness and fatigue being a concern, and the Rogue definitely has a little of that class-D “zing” to it. Though it is going on two years since I reviewed the Sphinx, I do recall it sounding lively in the upper midrange, with a little bit of a sibilant edge, despite having lovely presence. The Hegel, on the other hand, will have a slightly forward, but incredibly clean and smooth presentation. I happen to like the kind of immediacy that the Hegel provides, as well as the Rogue's gorgeous midrange vibrance. As to whether you will, based on your preferences, it’s difficult to say. Of the two, the Rogue would be my suggestion. If you are open minded and could live with a little more zest in the mids, the Sphinx may well win your heart. . . . Hans Wetzel 

To Hans Wetzel,

Thanks for the review of the NuPrime IDA-16. I would like to know more about the comparison with the Wyred 4 Sound in the conclusion. Is it a comparison with the W4S DAC-2, DAC-2 DSD, or DAC-2 DSDse? I´m thinking of buying the W4S DAC-2 DSDse, but it will be a little cheaper to buy the IDA-16, because I then can sell my Lyngdorf SDA 2175. It is so important for me how good the DAC in the IDA-16 is. Thank you very much.

Steen Boye Pedersen

Vince Hanada's review of the IDA-16 left me quite intrigued: DSD capable; 200Wpc (into 8 ohms); an attractive, slender profile . . . delicious. In looking back at what Vince wrote in the conclusion, I can only conclude that Vince was referring to the Wyred 4 Sound  mINT, as it is the only current integrated amplifier-DAC in Wyred 4 Sound’s lineup.

As far as deciding between the DAC-2 DSDse and the IDA-16, it is worth noting that the former is a pure digital-to-analog converter, while the latter is an integrated amplifier-DAC. The IDA-16 does have an optical output, as well as pre outs, for what it’s worth. Having not heard either of the products in person, I can't tell you which is the better DAC, especially since each uses the same Sabre ESS9018 chipset.

On the flexibility front, choosing between the two is a no-brainer -- grab the NuPrime. You would save money, as you suggest, while also getting a complete one-box system that Vince thought very highly of. Considering I use NuForce’s (NuPrime’s progenitor) $549 DDA-100 integrated amplifier-DAC on a daily basis for my desktop system and continue to be impressed with its sound quality, I can only imagine what almost $2000 more will get you. If you're that unsure, it looks like you might be able to take a DAC-2 DSDse on trial from Wyred 4 Sound. Good luck! . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I have the following components: Sudgen Masterclass PDT-4F Fusion CD player, Mark Levinson No.38 preamplifier, two Parasound Model 2250 power amplifiers (used as monoblocks), and Bowers & Wilkins 683 floorstanding speakers. As far as interconnects are concerned, I am using AudioQuest Diamond (both balanced and unbalanced). I am also using AudioQuest speaker cables. I have been looking for a Parasound 2250 review all in vain. Can anyone assist? How can I improve my system -- any ideas? Your assistance will be appreciated.

South Africa

While I can't help you on the Parasound 2250 review front, I can assure you that you have a solid system there. Parasound's amps are excellent for the money, so I'm not sure you can do much better. The only standout suggestion I have right now is Benchmark Media's AHB2 power amplifier. While it doesn't look particularly inspiring, its sound is pretty spectacular. My review of it should be published in the next couple of months. Benchmark doesn't appear to be shipping to South Africa at the moment, but keep an eye out on their website.

Regarding your CD player, I'm not familiar with Sudgen's products, and I can't tell from their website too many details about your PDT-4F. That said, there are a multitude of CD player-DACs out there for $1500 USD or less that will allow you to continue to enjoy your CD collection, while also giving you the ability to transition to a computer-based solution in the future. Given the maturity of digital-to-analog conversion technology over the past five years, it may be something to seriously consider. Your Levinson preamp is a classic! I'm sure it's quite good, but like everything else, today's preamps -- even affordable ones -- are really impressive. Since I don't know your price parameters, or whether you want to replace one or all of your current pieces, it's difficult for me to say more. But a high-quality preamp-DAC might also fit the bill, which would allow you to continue using your Sudgen CD player as a transport. Personally, I would start with Parasound's Halo P 5 and go from there. Though it's not priced like a Levinson, being $1095, I think you'll be surprised by just how good it is.

Your Bowers & Wilkins speakers are likely quite good. I would not be in any rush to replace them. If you are itching to, however, consider brands such as KEF, Dynaudio, GoldenEar Technology, Monitor Audio, Paradigm, and PSB. You'll find each makes a full-size floorstanding model that likely betters the 683 in one way or another. Hope this helps! . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I read your column about the Devialet Phantom with interest! How would you compare this product (Silver version) to the Bang & Olufsen BeoPlay A9?

Pascal Convers
United States

In order to answer this faithfully, I should state two things at the outset. First, I have yet to physically hear the Phantom or Silver Phantom. And second, I haven't spent more than a few minutes listening to B&O gear over the course of my life.

That said, I definitely have a few comments. B&O has a reputation for distinctive luxury products, and while they've done some serious audio work over the years -- think of their pioneering ICEpower research -- I don't think anyone other than the average consumer would equate their products with cutting-edge hardware. I don't doubt that their products sound very good, but their marketing and design efforts seem to point to sonic considerations taking a definite back seat to aesthetic ones.

As far as the B&O A9 is concerned, it looks like an interesting loudspeaker at $2699. Dual tweeters and mids, a ported 8" woofer, built-in amplification, and wireless connectivity. Note, however, that the frequency response is listed at 33Hz to 25kHz, but without qualification, so 33Hz may well be -10dB, or worse. Moreover, the A9 appears to use several generic class-D amps, probably of the ICEpower variety. Finally, the A9 looks to be pretty sizable, at 35" high with a stand, and 28" in diameter.

For $2390 per pair, the Silver Phantom is a different proposition. Its design is, believe it or not, totally geared towards maximizing sound quality. In terms of acoustics, it's pretty much ideal, with a single apparent point source for treble, midrange, and bass drivers. Further, its amplifiers aren't the now-common class-D variety, but a proprietary and patented design based on the company's high-end amps. The French company's amps aren't just different, but to my ears, as well as to those of SoundStage!'s Doug Schneider and Jeff Fritz, better sounding than just about everything else on the market, irrespective of price. I've been told that the Devialet team set the target of equaling, or bettering, the performance of their $6495 Devialet 120 amplifier and a pair of $20,000+ loudspeakers. I've also been told that they met their performance-related targets. If this were any other company, I would have dismissed such a claim. But given what the company has been able to do since they debuted the D-Premier in 2010, and how much cleverness they appear to have built into the Phantom and Silver Phantom, I'm incredibly excited to find out how they sound.

So, on the one hand is a pretty cool wireless floorstanding speaker that probably sounds pretty good, and on the other is an even more flexible wireless loudspeaker that promises nearly state-of-the-art sound. Interestingly, I suspect Devialet is targeting roughly the same kind of consumer that the A9 is. I suspect that the Silver Phantom will be the better loudspeaker, and by a wide margin. We won't know until the Phantoms begin shipping in the coming months, though. I hope this helps. . . . Hans Wetzel

To S. Andrea Sundaram,

Thanks so much for your thoughtful response [to my question in October].

I am auditioning the [Lehmannaudio] Black Cube SE phono stage, which is not tube, but still sounds better than the Bellari in my opinion: tighter bass, more defined mids and highs. We're trading out the resistor to give it more oomph. Your suggestion to improve the front end is wise.

I'm still surprised that more component makers are not creating DAC/ADC functionality, especially with a headphone amp and a decent phono stage. With more and more powered speakers, this is the one piece missing.

Thanks for all your help and research. I look forward to staying in touch!

United States

Thanks for writing in again. It's always nice to hear when advice has been helpful (and helpful to hear when it hasn't been). . . . S. Andrea Sundaram

To Hans Wetzel,

First of all, I wanted to say thank you very much for the time you invest replying to our questions. It really means a lot for us who can barely afford the financial luxury to have a decent sound system and who are not able to demo equipment on the fly with ease.

A while back, I sent an e-mail about my existing system: a Marantz SR7005 [receiver], Marantz CD5004 [CD player], Marantz TT-15S1 [turntable] (a recent add-on in the family), Bowers & Wilkins CM8 loudspeakers, matching CM Centre [center-channel], and an REL T7 subwoofer. When I sent you an e-mail last year, I had an opportunity to demo the KEF R700 [speakers] with my Marantz SR7005, but I was not able to find synergy with my Marantz, at least sonically. Sorry, I might be totally wrong, as well, because I know KEF's R-series speakers have very good reviews, which is why I demoed the R700 in the first place.

You recommended a Hegel Music Systems H80 integrated amplifier-DAC, or better yet, H300. But I accidentally read your reply a year after I submitted the upgrade question and it so happened that I was in with my local vendor trying the Parasound A 21 amplifier to drive my CM8 speakers. I put a hold on the Parasound order after reading your reply and I was excited and astounded about the Hegel integrateds you mentioned.

My local vendor is willing to loan me a Parasound integrated, which I am very grateful for, and I will be buying a Hegel system (if I decide to choose Hegel) blindfolded, since it seems hard to demo them here in California.

The Parasound's retail cost is $2500, while the H80 is $2000, and the H300 is $5500, the latter of which will be over my budget. I will bite the bullet and sacrifice some of my other expenses if the Hegel will become my ultimate reference system for the long haul. I still want to keep my Marantz SR7005 for surround and movie watching. I plan to upgrade my speakers maybe in the next 2-3 years.

I am totally confused since there are so many out there, but your good judgment, unbiased recommendations, and expertise will be greatly appreciated. I dearly love my local Parasound dealer and I believe in Parasound products being some of the best, but if Hegel has an edge and is worth the extra $3000, so be it. And the big final question: Will there be a night-and-day difference between the Parasound A 21's 250Wpc, the Hegel H80's 75Wpc, or the H300's 250Wpc? Kudos to you and your staff!

United States

Thanks for the kind words, Emmanuel. While I am a big fan of Hegel's equipment and sound, I think it would be a step too far to say that their equipment is clearly better than Parasound's. If you are unable to audition the Norwegian company's wares at your local dealer, I wouldn't worry too much about it. Parasound makes excellent equipment, as my brother Erich found out earlier this year after reviewing their A 23 amplifier and P 5 preamplifier-DAC. Moreover, the A 21 is a dedicated amplifier, unlike the H80 and H300 integrated amplifier-DACs, which have preamps and full-fledged DACs built-in. If your only need is for a powerful and highly resolving amplifier, the A 21 sounds like a fine choice, and I don't think you should have a single regret over either the H80 or H300. If you like the Marantz sound, I think the Parasound will suit your tastes better than Hegel's sonic profile, anyway.

As for your big question of power, remember that each doubling of amplifier power yields an additional 3dB of output at the speakers. If you're going to play your system LOUD, that pretty well rules out the H80. The 250Wpc on offer from either the A 21 or H300 should be more than sufficient for your needs, though. And with the A 21 being less than half the price of the Hegel, I think your wallet will thank you by going with the A 21, and you'll be able to start saving immediately for your speaker upgrade in the coming years. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I have bugged you before about Musical Fidelity's M6 500i integrated amplifier, but I have given serious consideration to switching integrated components. I would like to ask you about the Wadia Intuition 01 and the Devialet 250, and the benefits into the two speakers I have on my short list and if this is a good way to go. I have Wilson Audio's Sophia 3 or Sasha as one choice, and Revel's Ultima Studio2 as the other choice. Will the power delivered by these two products make these speakers sing?

Thank you, Hans.

Sean Spong

I can't imagine you going wrong with either the Wadia Intuition 01 or Devialet 250. Both should have more than enough power to drive the Revel Studio2 or either of the Wilsons. In fact, you could probably get away with the Devialet 200 -- unless you're listening at obscenely high volumes, I doubt you'll need the extra 50Wpc.

I think you'll find the Intuition sounds more like the Musical Fidelity than the Devialet does. In either event, I believe the two integrated amplifier-DACs will be a step up in resolving ability and transparency from the M6 500i, despite how much I like that monster of an amp. I'd audition both options before pulling the trigger, however, as each has a distinctive sound. . . . Hans Wetzel

To S. Andrea Sundaram,

Thank you so much for your enlightening and thorough review of the ADL GT40 way back in 2011. I have been using the GT40 since about that time, and your review hit on all the reasons why it has been the perfect component in my simple, modern vinyl/digital system for over three years. I haven't seen any other components that offer the GT40's combination of DAC and ADC to allow the ripping of vinyl to hi-res WAV files. I think I'm looking to upgrade, and I wondered if you had knowledge of any similar products?

I say "I think" because I have been very happy with my system but am wondering what would be a logical upgrade. I rarely pay attention to the 80,000+ MP3s in my iTunes library, and instead only listen to vinyl LPs, usually ripping them as I listen. I only listen to WAV files ripped to 16-bit/48kHz in my iPhone 6 Plus and on the iPod in my car. The vinyl leans towards classic rock, jazz, and some classical. I'm collecting Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab records, vintage vinyl, and new pressings of contemporary bands.

My setup is simple: Rega P3-24-> Ortofon Bronze cartridge-> Bellari VP130 preamp-> ADL GT40-> Mackie HR824 MK2 powered monitors. Accessories: Spin-Clean MKII; Zerostat Milty 3; Primacoustic Recoil Stabilizers; HiFiMan HE-400 headphones.

I'm wondering if you thought the system would be most improved by better powered monitors (Genelec?); or with an improved turntable (Well Tempered Lab?); or an upgrade from the ADL GT40, if there is one.

United States

When it came out, the GT40’s combination of features might not have been quite unique, but it certainly was rare. However, given that you are using an external phono stage, you do have other options. For A/D/A duties, you could look to professional or home-studio equipment, but the headphone amp will probably not have been a design priority, if it even works when you’re not connected to the computer.

The first similar product that comes to mind is also by Furutech -- the Esprit. Fellow SoundStage! writer Vince Hanada favorably reviewed the Esprit in 2013. In particular, he found it to be very quiet, which was one of my complaints about the GT40. It also has greater flexibility in setting recording levels, and gives an indication of clipping. For those reasons, it may be worth an audition. Furutech has also announced the Stratos, which appears to be an upgraded version of the GT40. No one I know has heard it, so I can’t offer any guidance on that product.

I haven’t heard the monitors you own, but they have a good reputation. Besides, it makes more sense to me to improve the front end, so that the recordings you have made from your LPs won’t let you down, if you eventually upgrade speakers or headphones. All of the equipment you’ve listed offers very solid performance. It may be worth looking into upgrading the phono stage, or adding structural modifications to the turntable/tonearm -- there are lots of these available for Rega turntables. The best way to start is to think about where your current system isn’t entirely satisfying: noise performance, neutrality, drive, etc. Then think about which component is most likely to affect that performance parameter. I hope that helps, and good luck. . . . S. Andrea Sundaram

To Hans Wetzel,

That was a nice piece you wrote on the relative affordability of great headphones and matching USB amplification. I concur. However, I just can't get as excited about head-fi as many do, even though I want to. To me, I've discovered that live and recorded music is just as much about the visceral experience of the sound waves hitting the skin as it is about them hitting the eardrum. Without the subtle feel of the plucked guitar string or the not-so-subtle thump of the drum, headphones seem never to be loud enough for me . . . and that's very, very bad. I do head-fi in a pinch or when travelling, but my preferred listening method at home has become nearfield monitors on my desk, which to me offers the best of both worlds. This arrangement provides much of the intimacy and detail of headphones but with the physical impact of a conventional stereo. Oh, and the price is very much in the portable audio realm. Now, if only I could take them on the airplane!

Brad Potthoff
United States

I know what you mean, Brad. I agree that headphones, no matter how good they are, simply can't recreate the experience of musical reproduction in quite the same fashion as a proper stereo system. But I was, and continue to be, deeply impressed by just how far you can hear into a recording with a few-hundred-dollar pair of headphones.

Regarding your desktop monitors, I'm going to be exploring that in depth for the first time in the very near future. I've invested in my first adult desk, which should not only be large enough to accommodate my work laptop and external monitor, but also my personal laptop, NuForce's DDA-100, and a pair of monitors like Amphion's Ion+. That should make quite the formidable desktop system, and I'm eager to hear how well that combination works over the long term. I suspect that it will offer much of the same experience as a regular stereo system, and at a great discount in price, too. Will it offer the same “physical impact,” as you say, of my reference KEF R900 loudspeakers? I admit, I'm a bit dubious on that front. But I think it's a very interesting middle ground between the traditional stereo and this headphone culture we find ourselves in. Don't be surprised if I start writing about my experience with it in the future. . . . Hans Wetzel