Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

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To Hans Wetzel,

I read your review on the KEF R900. I currently have the R700s. I noted your praise of the synergy with the Hegel Music Systems H300 integrated amplifier-DAC. I am considering purchasing Hegel's H20 amp for my system. Can I do any better than this for the money?


While I don't have experience with Hegel's H20, which was reviewed on our sister site SoundStage! Hi-Fi back in 2011, I do have several comments. The first thing is that the H20 costs $5750. The H300 that I reviewed last year, and subsequently bought for myself as a long-term reference, is $5500. It's also worth mentioning that the H300 makes 250Wpc to the H20's 200Wpc. Of primary importance, however, is that the H300 has a newer architecture than the H20, and Hegel's folks have told me the H300's performance is scarily close to their flagship H30 monoblock amplifier and P30 preamplifier, both of which are way more expensive than the H20. This is to say nothing of the built-in DAC that has performance approaching that of Hegel's flagship $2500 HD25. Having heard the P20 preamplifier, which is $2900 and wickedly good for the price, I'm pretty confident in saying that the H300 is a bargain and seriously worth considering over "just" purchasing an H20. While there may be a few benefits to having a standalone amplifier, I think they're eclipsed by everything else that falls in the H300's favor.

Can you do better? Yes, though probably not for the same money. I can't categorically say it's better than its direct competitors, because I've only briefly listened to a few of them. Peachtree Audio's $4499 Grand Integrated X-1 comes to mind, as does Electrocompaniet's $7499 ECI 6DS. But I harbor great suspicion that either of them have quite the performance of the Hegel. What is close-ish in price to the Hegel, and likely state of the art, is Devialet's new $6495 110. It has a good deal less power than the Hegel, at 110Wpc into 6 ohms, but the R700s are a reasonably easy speaker to drive, provided you're not looking to earn noise complaints from your neighbors. I wrote about their new line recently, and -- fingers crossed -- am due to receive a review sample of the 110 in the near future. It's worth mentioning that I don't say "state of the art" lightly. No one makes an audio product like the Devialet with its Analog Digital Hybrid (ADH) architecture. If you have a dedicated audio system, I'd seriously think about saving up for the Devialet. If, like me, your stereo pulls double duty with a television and all its connected devices, the extra power and connective flexibility of the Hegel might make some more sense. In either event, these integrated solutions are the way of the future. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

Talk about timing! I came very close to buying the PSB PS1s this morning. One of my concerns was of the bass, and how it compared to the Audioengine A2. Well, your review helped answer some of those questions. My plan is to move the A2s into the master bedroom's television-based system, and our little 2.1 PC speakers to the kids' "media" (television, computer) room. I'm also considering the Emotiva Airmotiv 4.

My one question concerning the PSB, since you've had some experience with it, concerns speaker placement. Due to desktop space, I currently have my A2s on a shelf, angled down slightly to have the tweeters at a more desirable angle. I noticed the PS1 is slightly curved at the bottom of the front baffle. Do you think that the round edge would make it difficult to angle down? I suppose I could do some rearranging, but my first preference would be on the shelf. Thanks again for the informative review. I'm still stoked about the whole "personal/PC/desktop" audio scene. It just gets better and better!

Jay Willingham

Glad you found the review helpful, and that you're as excited about the desktop audio segment as I am. The PSB is one of several really promising products out there at the moment. Unfortunately, I cannot comment on Emotiva's Airmotiv 4 ($349/pair), as I have no experience with it, though a folded-ribbon tweeter at that price point looks quite appealing.

As for the PSBs, its curved bottom segment will make it a little more challenging to angle down than a traditionally shaped loudspeaker, but I'm sure you can jam something under each speaker's rear to get the angle you're looking for. It's not elegant, but it doesn't have to be for $299 speakers. Write back if you wind up getting a pair to let us know what you think of them. There won't be a good deal of bass, but everything else should sound extremely clean. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I really enjoyed your review of the Definitive Technology BP-8020ST SuperTower loudspeakers ($1198/pair). I wonder whether you've heard the DefTech StudioMonitor 65 ($898/pair)? I'm curious to know if it might solve the problem of the detached bass you mention by its not having a powered, built-in subwoofer.

On the subject of the StudioMonitor 65, I'm hoping to compare it to a set of PSB Imagine Bs ($1099.99/pair), which the Crutchfield people think are more suited to music -- a wide range of classical in my case -- than the StudioMonitor 65. Any thoughts on that? Finally, have you heard the Epos Epic 2? The few reviews I've read sound promising, but there's nowhere to audition them in my state that I know of.


The BP-8020STs are great speakers. For rooms on the smaller side, they're super compact, and the built-in subwoofers make them reasonably full-range. While I haven't heard the StudioMonitor 65s, I would bet they are quite good. They use DefTech's newest BDSS midrange-woofers, while the 8020s use a modified older design. However, the 65s would also require stands, and they wouldn't have the output capability of the 8020s due to their much smaller cabinets, or the bass depth due to their lack of built-in subs. I would suspect, however, that the 65s are more seamless in their driver integration, and probably have a more sophisticated midrange sound, courtesy of their BDSS drivers. It's also worth mentioning that the 8020s are bipolar, which will make them sound much larger than the 65s.

While the detached-bass issue is worth taking into consideration, the greater concern for me would be the tweeter on offer. The DefTech aluminum tweeter definitely has a crispness, a liveliness to the treble that something like the PSB Imagine Bs probably lack. The PSBs will probably sound a bit smoother through the highs, while sacrificing a little bass extension when compared to the DefTech StudioMonitor 65s. I have not heard the Epos Epic 2, so I can't offer anything on that front.

In all, there's no clear winner among the speakers you mention. Each has its benefits and drawbacks. On an objective level, I imagine (sorry . . . ) that the PSBs offer the most evenhanded and resolving performance, while also having a nicer cabinet, but at a premium in terms of price. My choice would be the BP-8020ST, simply because I like the enormity of the bipolar sound and the ability to have nearly full-range performance for about $1200. Hope this helps. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I recently read your article, “Paradigm Lost,” and it got me thinking about the two Paradigm products in the Shift series. What do you think is a better value between the Shift A2 and the Millenia CT? Both are within $100 of each other and I believe both can be used for music and home-theater playback in a small room. I was wondering what your thoughts were about these products.


That's a great question, Rajan. In my mind, the Millenia CT is best used in conjunction with a television. It is much, much better than a sound bar; it will give you pretty deep bass, and is more manageable than the Shift A2 as far as positioning goes, even with the sub. I'd bet the Millenia is the better choice for home theater, for what it's worth, because the dedicated sub is deceptively good, if not quite as excellent as the satellites. The remote control is also handy, as far as TV use is concerned, but I would imagine not so much when used on a desk. You can only use the Millenia CT with its included remote, which means that if the little guy goes missing, you're quite out of luck.

On a desk or bookshelf, I think the Shift A2 is the better choice, what with its auto on/off functionality, lack of need for a remote, and more compact packaging, as it doesn't have a sub. Performance-wise, I would imagine the two systems to be fairly similar, short of bass extension, which obviously tips in the Millenia CT's favor. So my final advice would be to pin down exactly how you'll use a pair of speakers and go from there. I use the Millenia CTs with my television, but would probably go with the Shift A2 in most other applications. Both are quite good, however, so you can't go wrong with either. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

Nice job on the review of the Rogue Audio Sphinx, Hans. Your review matches my experience very much, as my system is neutrally balanced and I can hear changes very well. Mark O’Brien, Rogue’s proprietor, has voiced the Rogue very much like the rest of his amps -- neutral. This gives the average guy like me a chance to hear the system as a whole and its balance. Changes can be made easily by substituting tubes. I hear the occasional hot sibilance you heard and found adding a Pangea Audio power cord helped to tame it. I find very little to grumble about other than some control looseness. But the amplifier is solidly built and exudes an old-school American quality I find very pleasing. This is great value for money and I think this would make a great choice to power those new Magnepan Super MMGs!


Thanks for reading, Vic. The Rogue is a really solid piece of equipment. While it’s not totally neutral -- that tube does tend to offset the class-D section somewhat, and the sound is a little rounder than you’d expect from a dead-neutral design -- it’s still terrific for the price. I would imagine that substituting new tubes will void the Rogue’s factory warranty, but it does offer some options going forward. And I’m glad to hear you had success with the Pangea Audio power cord. I’d also agree that the Sphinx would not be a bad choice for the Magenpans, though I am not positive how it would fare pushing a 2-ohm load, which can sometimes happen with panel-type speakers. I’m not sure what load the Super MMGs present, mind you. Regardless, enjoy the Sphinx. It would be my top choice for an integrated under $2000. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I just read your informative review of the KEF R900 loudspeakers. I noticed you had a Rogue Audio Sphinx integrated amplifier in your rotation of components, but you did not say much about it. Is a review forthcoming?

Greg Newman

Greg, I actually just finished up the review of the Sphinx. It’s a terrific little integrated, and the review is set to be published on July 1. Check back then to see my thoughts, as well as to get a hint of other reviews that will be posted in the coming months. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I enjoyed your review of the KEF R900. I hope you are still enjoying them. I heard them at the recent New York Audio Show and really enjoyed them. In fact I enjoyed them so much, that my pair will be arriving Monday.

I was hoping you might share some thoughts on driving them. Currently I have an Arcam A32 and a P35 to passive biamp them. The more I read, the less I think of passive biamping. As funds become available I am considering my upgrade options. I'm thinking of getting an integrated with less than 200Wpc. Considering Hegel -- read your review -- or maybe Plinius. Appreciate any thoughts.

Mike Breunig

Arcam makes some great, neutral-sounding stuff. I actually have the A19 integrated amplifier in for review right now. Given the age of your components, however, I can understand the desire to upgrade. While I can definitely recommend Hegel's products, as I own the H300 integrated and have spent some time with their P20 preamplifier, I am not familiar with Plinius's products. But the Hegel H100 would be a solid start.

Arcam's A38 might be a good replacement, given your Arcam experience, and I have found that Rogue Audio's Sphinx integrated amplifier (GoodSound! review to come) works well with my KEFs. This is just a smattering of suggestions, and all are good products. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

Thanks for your review of the KEF R900s. I have them too, and like them very much. They are the biggest and best I could find, and I like to listen to them. My daughter had a sweet-16 party last week and we enjoyed them at maximum volume!

Dick de Jong
The Netherlands

I am not surprised that you're so enjoying the KEF R900s. Despite having had more expensive speakers here over the past few months, I don't feel that I'm taking a big step back when the R900s get hooked up again. And I don't doubt that they sounded clean at maximum volume. I would bet they'd fill all but the very largest room with clean, undistorted sound. Enjoy! . . . Hans Wetzel

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

To Hans Wetzel,

Nice review on the KEF R900. Do you have any experience with PSB's Synchrony One? Any idea how it would compare? I also noticed the Hegel Music Systems H300 in your system. Have you heard the Hegel separates?


I do not have any experience with PSB's flagship Synchrony One, but I know that it was one of the best speakers that the SoundStage! Network has ever measured in the anechoic chamber at Canada's National Research Council (NRC). We have also measured the KEF R900's little brother, the R500. There is not much of a difference between the two sets of graphs, and that is very much a good thing. The Synchrony One looks to offer a bit of a difficult load for an amplifier to handle, so having a heavy-duty amplifier on hand isn't a terrible idea. Its pickiness is offset by being terrifically linear in its frequency response. The R500 has an averaged frequency response (via the "Listening Window" graph) that is a bit more contoured -- notice the more pronounced depression in the 700Hz to 4kHz range -- that should manifest itself in the form of the speaker sounding slightly relaxed. I heard this quality in the R900, and I suspect it will measure largely the same, but with greater bass extension, a more benign impedance range (making it a suitable partner for many more amplifiers), and less distortion in the bass (via the "Total Harmonic Distortion + Noise" graph). In all, I think the PSB looks quite a bit more attractive than the KEF, and may approach the R900's performance from the midbass on up, but will not have quite the low-end extension that the British speaker does. This is just a supposition, though -- go and listen for yourself, if possible. I know both are very well designed.

With regards to Hegel, I have only heard the $2900 P20 preamplifier, as my brother Erich just finished up his review of it for our sister site, SoundStage! Hi-Fi. Hegel really, really knows how to make a preamp. I heard the P20 in his system for no more than about 15 seconds before realizing that I was hearing a great deal more micro and macro detail than his older, but still very capable Audio Research preamp. Given how resolving the amplifier section of my H300 is, I wouldn't be surprised if their power amplifiers are just as impressive. If I were you, though, I wouldn't make the assumption that the separates are necessarily better than the H300. The Hegel folks told me that the power and pre sections of the integrated are eerily close in performance to their flagship H30 and P30, respectively. With the convenience of a highly capable built-in DAC, I'd suggest starting with the H300, then see if you can justify the (significant) additional outlay that will be required to outperform it. It's really quite good. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

A simple question: What would be the best Benchmark Media Systems DAC for my system, which consists of an Adcom power amp and a Sony ES CD player? I am not interested in computer audio or home theater whatsoever. All I want is the best possible sound between my CD player and my power amp.

Edward J. Roell

While I think Benchmark's DAC2 HGC is a really terrific DAC, as I wrote in my February review, at $1995, I'm not sure it makes a lot of sense for your system and needs. If you are not interested in computer audio, I would go with Benchmark's base DAC1, which sells for $995. Despite its age, I think it is a solid-performing DAC that will offer an audible improvement over the digital-to-analog circuitry in your Sony ES CD player. The only caveat would be that, since you don't mention a preamplifier in your system, you would be forced to use the volume control dial on the DAC1 to change the volume of your system, as the base DAC1 does not come with a remote control. If this is an issue for you, then the decision becomes more difficult, for with the DAC1 HDR priced at $1595, which comes with a remote control, the DAC2 HGC would be just $400 more expensive. At that point, I would probably spring for the DAC2 HGC. I hope this helps. . . . Hans Wetzel