Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

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To Hans Wetzel,

Greetings. I'm considering a Rogue Audio Sphinx integrated amplifier for a pair of Totem Dreamcatchers. Would the Sphinx be a good match for the Totems? My source at the moment is a Marantz CD6004. Looking forward to your advice. Thanks in advance.

Puerto Rico

I don't see why not, Rafael. At 100Wpc into 8 ohms, the Sphinx comfortably exceeds the 20-80Wpc that Totem calls for to power the little Dreamcatchers. Though the bookshelf speakers are rated at 4 ohms, according to Totem, I don't think this will trouble the Sphinx. I do wonder if the Sphinx's slightly lively character -- a trait of its class-D Hypex amp module -- will combine with the Totem's titanium tweeter to sound a little bright. There is no question, however, that the Sphinx is a terrific hand-made integrated that sounds quite resolving. In fact, it's probably my top choice for integrated amps for under $1500. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I really enjoyed your BS article. Your article inspired me to do my own audiophile activism by writing a comment on the Sound & Vision website ( Most audio review publications make me feel so jaded. Articles written on the SoundStage! Network, on the other hand, makes me feel excited to be an audiophile. Keep up the fantastic work.


Dear Hans:

Honestly after reading your post, the point you were trying to make was not particularly clear to me and wouldn't have been even had my name not been involved.

What "Bullshit" are you calling?

Was it a piece about measurements versus performance? Price versus measurements? Inept reviewers? Inept editor assignments?

Differences of opinion between what a reader hears and a reviewer hears?

So far I don't smell any bullshit.

Was it a piece about the "rise of the Internet" and the ability to instantly respond to a review instead of having to wait for publication of a letter to the editor?

Interesting topics but so far I don't smell any bullshit.

Then comes mention of the "$200,000 speakers" that while you don't name, the name of which is obvious to anyone who knows my name, which you do mention.

Then you call me classless by sarcastically calling me "classy" for insulting readers.

A small turd but still no "bullshit".

So what is it you are calling "bullshit"?

Answer: Wilson XLFs and my so-called "rave" review because the speakers don't meet your supposedly "objective" definition of good measurements and your

"firm conviction that the very best sounding products boast exemplary measurements".

I don't consider my review a "rave". I didn't "rave".

Rather, I set out a very clear definition of what a very expensive speaker should be capable of doing sonically. And then I made the case for why the XLFs met the standard. That is not my definition of "raving".

Your post defines "rave" the secondary definition of which is "to speak wildly and incoherently".

You claim the XLFs didn't produce "exemplary" measurements but you don't bother to define "exemplary".

That's the second bit of "bullshit" in the post, but that one is a large stinking pile of it!

You claim the XLF's measurements are "mediocre"—a pretty stinging accusation—but you are too busy "raving" to make a case for why the XLF's measurements don't meet your "standards" or in what ways they are, in your opinion, "mediocre" or even what you heard when you listened to them—something you don't bother telling your readers you actually did.

That's more "bullshit".

They might be interested to know how the speakers sounded to you or in what ways the measurements you read correlated (or didn't) with what you heard.

That omission is the post's next bit of "bullshit".

Then you state without bothering to explain why and how, that a two-way design's measurements indicate it was "relatively competitive" with the $200,000 speaker and the "relatively small difference in the two model's technical performance"—leaving aside bass response and limitations inherent in any two way speaker.

More "bullshit". Laughable bullshit.

That is like saying "Between 40mph and 65mph on a straightaway there's little difference in the performance between a Lamborghini and a KIA" and they both get you to the supermarket and have seats. How they handle on curves or off the line or in braking speed etc. is off the table. Or in your case not even mentioned.

You write that few readers commented on the two way review but even there you don't bother to explain your point.

The point Hans is that readers react strongly and negatively more often than not to reviews of expensive products regardless of how they measure mostly out of envy and they are incentivized to look for deviations from "perfection" in expensive products as a shield to assert their envy.

You point out that readers tried to "grasp how the speakers' retail price in any way reflected the manufacturer's cost to build them". Perhaps there you could have pointed out how ignorant readers can be about costs of doing business and how the "parts cost" of a product is an imbecilic measure that fails to take into account the true costs involved in running a business.

It was your choice to mention the unsubstantiated and untrue charge by a reader that Michael Fremer was "likely charged a deeply discounted price for his review samples".


Every product regardless of price has flaws both measured and heard. I have heard many expensive products that measured well but contained sonic flaws or better, sonic "characteristics" that I found unacceptable to my ears. These are still good products.

There's a reason why all of the very expensive and well-engineered, designed and built speakers out there--many costing more than the XLFs—all sound different from one another and measure differently: the designers chose different trade-offs, used different materials, etc.

That is a fact of audio life you failed to mention. A discussion of that would have made for a far more interesting piece. There are no perfectly measuring products. There are no sonically transparent products either—especially transducers. All have colorations. Chose your favorite.

Are there overpriced products out there? Of course. If you think the XLFs are overpriced you should make that case instead of an irresponsible insinuation.

Then you commit the laughable: "My intention is not to single out Michael Fremer or Stereophile...."

YES IT WAS! Because you did!

If your intention was really to not single out Michael Fremer, or Stereophile or Wilson, you could have written the piece without mentioning my name, Stereophile's or the price of the expensive speaker, which by mentioning the price and my name makes obvious "WIlson XLF"

More "bullshit"!

I for one am always happy to have my findings "flagrantly challenged". That's been my lot since I began advocating for vinyl and writing, starting in the 1980s, that compact disc sound was awful despite the "perfect" measurements. However, I was correct: the early players and discs sounded poorly because what was causing the sound was not being measured, yet the mesmerized continued their "blind veneration" because the measurements were "perfect".

CDs still measure better than vinyl but vinyl sounds more life-like whether or not the cause is "euphonic colorations" or yet to be measured flaws in digitization or simply that they are two different technologies. Ultimately we listen, even after measuring.

You make this charge: "I was, and frequently am, bemused by the blind veneration some readers lavish on products like Fremer’s loudspeakers, presumably because of how exclusive the club of ownership must be. It is certainly not predicated on measured performance."

You "lavish praise" on readers who blindly lash out at products they've not heard and who make insinuations about manufacturer/reviewer transactions to which they are not a party, and then you criticize "some readers" who you fail to identify, who you "presume" have "blind veneration" for "products like Fremer's loudspeakers" because of "how exclusive the club ownership must be."


To quote a Motown song made popular by The Rolling Stones: that's "just your imagination running away with you".

Actually, without knowing their motivations I've accepted many reader requests to visit and hear my system for themselves. I guess when they say leave saying it's the best system they've ever heard or one of the best systems they've ever heard (the best I've ever heard was a gigantic horn system in Greece) I guess in your opinion I duped them or maybe they felt they'd gained "exclusive club ownership."

Finally Hans, after reading your piece I'm moved to leave you with your own words, which, for me, best sum up what you've written:

I have zero interest in the vacuous musings of Hans Wetzel whose proverbial 2¢ offer nothing to the greater discourse.

Rest assured that my intention in writing that was not to single out Hans Wetzel.

Michael Fremer
United States
Senior Contributing Editor, Stereophile

Thanks for reading, Michael. This really illustrates the stated point of my article, mainly that reader criticism of audio writers should be encouraged! Much appreciated. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

What a great article you penned! I've often fantasized about opening just such an audio shop with just the kind of gear you propose. I think it might have legs if the shop were oriented toward music and fun and situated in the right place. It needs coffee, too.

Imagine an ad something like this:

Groove Grove 

Headphone - Computer Sound - Living Room Audio
Affordable audio. Insanely awesome sound.
Bring your tunes and see. We're groovin' right now!

Naturally, the ad needs a huge graphic equating music with cool headphones and a high-tech bookshelf speaker and dancing/fun. 

The shop needs big street-facing windows and a hip feel with big music-oriented art on the walls. Music must be playing! Maybe hire some people to dance during high-traffic times to draw attention. Shoot, you could probably stock some current vinyl, too.

Brad Potthoff
United States

Brad, that's not far off what I had in mind, though the dancing . . . may or may not attract the type of clientele a store like this would be catering to! As for the coffee, in an urban setting, the better bet would be to open up next to or down the street from a coffee shop. I know there are tons of people, both students and professional types, who frequent and linger in the coffee shop on the corner of my street, and I can certainly picture folks wandering from there into a hi-fi store on a nice Saturday afternoon. The same could be said for vinyl -- better to leave vinyl sales to a dedicated music shop and focus on doing one thing well. How about near art galleries, though? In Philadelphia, we have free monthly events where people litter the streets, take in all types of art, and drink decent alcohol. Not only is that the type of crowd who might have interest in a nice little stereo system, but you could also partner with local folks for events like this to demo equipment. This is to say nothing of the various types of events an urban store like this could host, with musicians and industry folks making brief presentations that are more approachable and laid back than the stodgy ones we're all used to seeing at local dealers.

Do I think this type of store would "blow up" and become insanely profitable? Nope. But I do think it could be cool and sustainable, and help to spread the good word about high-fidelity sound. As with anything else, however, the key is "location, location, location." . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

Thanks for the Devialet 120 review. I was wondering if you experienced it at very low volume, and, if so: what is/was your take on it?

I am asking because I read two reviews (glowing, as usual, with Devialet) about a real weakness with very low-volume listening where the music loses its momentum. What Hi-Fi? goes as far as to not recommend it if very low-volume listening is regular, which is my case. Hence my question to you, Monsieur.

I heard the Devialet twice and was very impressed with it as a concept, but ultimately it had that elusive so-called musicality (whatever that means) that makes or breaks a product, in my opinion. I must admit I pretty much felt the same about the Hegel Music Systems H300 you mention in the review, thinking: why pay more when it does everything so right and sounds so great? But the Devialet is soooo sexy, clever, and foward-thinking compared to, well, anything really.

Also, it was great to read the Devialet 120 and Wadia Intuition 01 reviews back-to-back, although at first I thought you should have compared and contrasted more these two pieces, as they are quite similar products aimed at the same clientele. Then again, re-reading both reviews, one got an award and a rave, but the other didn't. Chris Connaker at pretty much said the same as you.

Anyway, thanks for the reviews; you've been read, and if you have anything to add to the low-volume thing, I would like to know.

Thanks again Monsieur.


I have read about the low-volume complaint, but I feel confident in saying that I heard nothing of the sort. Neither did our editor-in-chief, Jeff Fritz, who is currently testing the 120's SAM feature. What this could be ascribed to, perhaps, is what I mentioned about the Devialet's treble in my review. Because it does not have quite the zest and air of a traditional class-AB amp, it may sound a hair turned down, or muted, by comparison, at low volumes. But I cannot emphasize enough, that this is by comparison only. I was thoroughly, deeply, hugely impressed with every aspect of the Devialet 120's sonic performance, and firmly believe it punches far, far beyond its price point. I do not think it a stretch to say that it offers truly reference-level sound. It sounds like you heard what I did in your two auditions with the piece and that is hardly a surprise.

As for the Hegel H300, which I referenced in the review and use as a reference integrated amplifier-DAC, I maintain that it's a standard bearer at its price point of $5500. Competing designs from Bryston and Simaudio should also be mentioned in the same breath, but the Hegel takes it for me. If you're using a pair of inefficient loudspeakers in a very large room, then the Hegel would make a great deal of sense. Make no mistake about it, however: The Devialet 120 is bluntly the better amp, and the very best I have heard. Doug Schneider, founder and publisher of SoundStage!, agrees, as does Jeff Fritz. I can't fathom a stronger endorsement. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

Thanks for a very nicely written review of the Devialet 120.

I have some input to your comment on the treble. The class-A and class-D output stages work in parallel. To avoid the switching noise normally associated with class-D and skip the low-pass filter often used, if I understand this correctly, the class-A section has a DSP controlled “correction” output that cancels high-frequency noise from the class-D stage. Very neat.

I own a D-Premier and have used many firmware revisions. The correction output is clearly a real balancing act for Devialet developers. Some firmware versions have more “lively” treble while others can seem to control too much. The current version 7.1 is marginally on the controlled side. For example, the early version 6.xx was quite bright in my opinion.

Best regards,
Olav Sunde

Hi Olav, thanks for reading. It's interesting to hear that you've heard differences in the D-Premier's treble response with various firmware updates. I can't say whether that is a tailoring of sorts on the French company's part, or whether it was an unintentional side effect of some other change they made. All I know is that the treble in the Devialet sounds markedly different from anything else I've heard. I suspect this contributes to the folks out there who say that the Devialet doesn't sound as good at low volumes. With a less "lively" sound than most every other class-AB or class-D amp out there, it may well sound different, but I never found it problematic. As you can tell from my review, firmware version 7.1 worked splendidly during the review period. I wouldn't prefer the treble any other way. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Sathyan Sundaram,

I read your review [of the NAD D 1050]. I am curious to know if you can help with a question. How does this DAC compare to the Cambridge Audio DacMagic?

Ron P.

Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity to hear the DacMagic, but we awarded the DacMagic Plus a Great Buy when we reviewed it. Cambridge Audio has DacMagic products at two price points bookending the NAD D 1050 ($499): the DacMagic 100 ($399) and the DacMagic Plus ($650). The feature sets are reflective of the price points with the DacMagic 100 missing balanced outputs, a second optical input, and a headphone-amp output. The DacMagic Plus includes the upmarket features of upsampling and selectable filters, and of the three is the only one useable as a preamp with its variable output. Different DAC chips are used as well: Wolfson WM8742 for the DacMagic 100, Cirrus Logic CS4398 for the D 1050, and Wolfson WM8740 for the DacMagic Plus. In terms of sound, my recommendation is to audition each product of interest with your own system. . . . Sathyan Sundaram

To Hans Wetzel,

Spencer from The Abso!ute Sound here.

I read your article and I must agree with you that my December, 2013 article was hastily written, a little rambling, and might not have been your target audience. It was meant mainly for vinyl-philes who dislike sharing their systems because “everyone is so damn stupid and can’t possibly understand my hobby.”

It might surprise you that I’m younger than you are.

Maybe I live in an insular world, namely Austin, TX, where everyone fetishizes vinyl for myriad reasons. When people come over to my house, they go crazy for the thousands of vinyl records and all the stereo gear that fills the shelves and house. Dance parties ensue, all-night vinyl benders, iPod DJ parties, CD parties, et cetera. It’s less the medium that matters, rather the experience with a great stereo system. When my partner and I throw parties (she couldn't care less about stereo gear), the first thing her friends and my friends want is to play the latest vinyl from the latest release of band XYZ. In general, our friends are less interested in digital, though sometimes it’s more convenient (and safe) when too much drinking has occurred; don’t want drunk friends or myself making any careless mistakes.

I think I mention in my article that an acquaintance once left a record on my tube amp, and melted it into a Dali sculpture.

Anyway, good follow-up to my article. I will have a much better, more thorough version for 2014. You made good points, and I will take it to heart.

I will fully admit that I want more people to invest in quality stereo systems. It’s not about job security (though it would be nice to keep my job at TAS), it’s an attempt to help people realize the joy of music appreciation. $1000 buys a lot better sound these days, compared to even a decade ago. People can afford high-end audio; what keeps them away is the snobbery, not the price.

Nobody makes fun of the welder who saved for 10 years to build his hot rod. If he spent $45,000 on a stereo, they would think that was crazy. Again, it’s not the dollar amount spent on the stereo, but rather the sense of elitism that is associated with such stereos. We as audiophiles -- young audiophiles -- need to address this issue and make it clear that high-end audio isn’t about being rich, but rather passionate. My passion began when I rebuilt my first tube amp, a vintage Harman Kardon A500 tube integrated. By the time I was 20, I had spent well over $15,000 on my stereo (driving forklifts and working in the Texas heat and snow of Colorado paid for it), but nobody ever thought I was crazy, because I shared my passion with each and every individual who came to my place. Not once did I exclude anyone, but rather showed them the proper techniques, and then gave them free rein to play with the best system they had ever heard. Car guys take their friends for rides; we stereo enthusiasts should do the same thing. This was the point of my article.

Anyway, let’s work together toward a common goal. I’m here to change the audiophile world, not perpetuate the exclusivity so many people associate with the audiophiles of yesteryear.

Thanks, Hans. Your article was honest, well written, and full of great ideas.

Spencer Holbert
United States

To Erich Wetzel,

I read your review of the Rotel RB-1582 MkII power amp with much interest. When will the review of the matching RC-1570 preamp be published? I am interested in the DAC of this preamp for my Sonos Connect. How will its DAC compare to DAC separates such as the Rega DAC, Arcam irDac, or Audiolab M-DAC?

Currently I have the Rotel RA-1062 preamp and the RB-1080 power amp driving my B&W 805S bookshelf speakers.


I obtained an Arcam irDAC to listen to in comparison with the RC-1570 (the review will publish soon). I found that the Arcam would be a superior DAC to that in the RC-1570 if you are looking at simply getting a DAC. However, if you are in the mood to upgrade your preamp to something newer, the RC-1570 will absolutely be compatible with your amplifier and B&W speakers. The RC-1570 will definitely be more current as an integrated preamp-DAC combo, but I am not sure that the sound of the preamp section itself will be better than what you have now. As a result, I would definitely listen to the RC-1570 to confirm that you will be upgrading your system's sound and not just changing it. The Arcam as a standalone DAC will absolutely do a great job with the equipment you have in place already and will give you more accuracy and precision to your system’s sound without being harsh or sharp sounding.

Unfortunately, I cannot speak about the Rega or the Audiolab as I do not have sufficient experience with them to fairly comment. . . . Erich Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I'm building a modest stereo system and for now I bought an NAD C 316BEE amp. I have no idea which speakers will be good with this amp, so any recommendation will help me. I know there are a lot of factors that affect the choice (music and room, for instance) and the best way is to hear many combinations, but I do not know where to start. Some recommendations that I have found on the Internet: Wharfedale Diamond 121, Mordaunt-Short Mezzo 1, Monitor Audio BX2, Q Acoustics 2020i, and PSB Image B6. Thoughts? Thank you in advance!

Best regards,

The NAD is a great start. As for the speaker end of things, you've touched on some great companies. All have good reputations, even if I haven't heard many of the individual models you mention. I know and like PSB's work, as well as Monitor Audio's. What I would do is add in two more suggestions for you to consider: Cambridge Audio's Aero 2, which we recently reviewed on sister site SoundStage! HiFi, and Paradigm's Atom v.7, which was also reviewed on Hi-Fi. Doug Schneider was bowled over by the Cambridges, and given the pedigree of loudspeaker that commonly occupies his listening room -- frequently in excess of $10,000 per pair -- his deep praise should not be taken lightly. The darker, intimate Cambridges are offset by the Paradigms, which, for the price point, have a livelier complexion, including a zest and zing to the treble that I happen to fancy, while remaining remarkably coherent through the midrange. PSB's Image B6 likely falls somewhere in between the two on the tonal front, and may well be the most neutral of the three.

Bottom line? You likely can't go wrong with any of these, but the Cambridge is the design that has most impressed us in the past few months. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I just read your reviews of the GoldenEar Technology Triton Three and MartinLogan ElectroMotion ESL speakers with great interest. I'm in the market for a pair of two-channel speakers in this price range. Which of these would you buy? Any other speakers in this price range you would prefer? Thanks.

United States

Ken, you've picked two good speakers, but they're rather different. The ESL is -- bear with me here -- a polarizing design. An electrostatic panel can produce some really compelling sound, but it's idiosyncratic in terms of its dispersion. I've found that it's a love-it-or-hate-it kind of thing. If you, personally, love it, there isn't really an argument here. Grab the ESLs. If you don't, however, then the GoldenEar is an excellent choice at the $2000/pair price point. Its powered bass section and relatively high efficiency mean that it will be a relatively easy load to drive, even for modest electronics. The High Velocity Folded Ribbon (HVFR) tweeter is a real honey, as it's both smooth and extended in operation, contributing to an overall sound that is broad and expansive. The Triton also gives you the option to dial in the bass as you see fit, which is a nice option to have. As I said in the review, it offers a great deal of performance for the money.

As for other speakers that I might consider? Definitive Technology's BP8060-ST SuperTowers, floorstanding models from Canadian firms Paradigm and PSB, and KEF's R300s and R500s all come to mind. This is hardly exhaustive, but I know each of these is a competent design, and should serve you quite well. . . . Hans Wetzel