Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

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To Hans Wetzel,

I just read your review of the Benchmark DAC2 HGC. I pay attention to your writings because you're the only reviewer I know of that owns Mirage OMD-28s. I noticed you used KEF speakers for the Benchmark review. Did you sell your Mirage OMD-28s? I ask because I have struggled with the OMD-28s to get them to have good clarity with solid bass in my family room. I still have them, but just replaced them with Dynaudio Focus 340s. But I sort of miss using the OMD-28s, with the open, big soundstage. However, I don't miss the disappointing bass and clarity I experienced with the OMD-28s.

Do you still have them? What cables are you using with the OMD-28s? Are you biwiring, triwiring, or using single wires with jumpers? With my OMD-28s I used JW Audio Cryo Nova single wires with JW Audio Cryo Nova jumpers (this is a custom-twisted magnet-wire cable).


Emerson, I did wind up selling my omnidirectional Mirage OMD-28s, and for reasons that you will likely appreciate. When I first purchased my Mirages -- which was actually before I became a reviewer here at GoodSound! -- I was over the moon with them. They were gorgeous looking, threw out an enormous soundstage, and had prodigious bass. As I began to review more and more equipment, I realized that the bass was overemphasized, resulting in tons of it, but at the expense of ultimate definition. If you are finding a paucity of bass in your room, it's certainly not down to wires. I found the 28s needed a good deal of power and current to sound composed in the bass, and I suspect that might have something to do with it on your end. An amp delivering 100Wpc into 8 ohms would be a minimum suggestion, but I found that they sounded their best with over 200Wpc, which I learned when I partnered them with Hegel's H300 or Musical Fidelity's M6 500i.

Regarding the wires, I found that, given just how bass happy the OMD-28s were, Nordost's Blue Heaven cables were a better match than more traditional cables. The Nordosts have a slightly lean, airy sound that offset the overripe bottom end of the Mirages. When I used the 28s with my other reference speaker wire, Dynamique Audio's Caparo, I originally thought that they were bass heavy. In retrospect, the Caparos are pretty even across the audioband, and just happened to expose the Mirages as being overeager in the lower registers. Oh, and I've always been a single-wire guy. Some claim to hear dramatic differences when biwiring or triwiring, but I happen not to, for what that's worth.

As for the clarity of the OMD-28s, this was the deal-breaker for me. On larger orchestral works, I adored the Mirages. They portrayed recording space like no other loudspeaker I've heard, but with closer-miked stuff, I always felt like their imaging was a bit vague and amorphous. Hardly a flaw, this is a byproduct of the design. When you splay sound in the fashion that the Mirages do, you'll get huge sound, but at the expense of clarity.

When someone was willing to buy the Mirages for nearly what I paid for them, I jumped at the opportunity. They're terrific, and if I had a perfectly symmetrical listening room to set them up in, I may well have kept them. In the end, I decided to go with KEF R900s. They don't reproduce space quite as well as the Mirages, nor do they have quite the bass extension or beautiful high-gloss finish, but in every other respect, the KEFs are the superior loudspeakers in my room.

I'm sure you'll love the Dynaudios -- I used to own a pair, and the Danes know how to design a mean speaker. But if you wind up wanting to further explore your options in the non-direct-radiator department, I highly suggest Definitive Technology's BP-8060ST or BP-8080ST models. These bipolar speakers have built-in powered subwoofers, sound almost as large as the Mirages have, and offer imaging that rivals some of the better direct radiators out there. These towers use what DefTech calls a Forward Focused Bipolar Array, in which the rear-mounted drivers play 6dB down from what the front drivers produce. Their research has shown that this is the best way to preserve the imaging of a direct radiator, while also providing a credible bipolar-type soundstage. I think the results are terrific, and if I didn't need fully passive reference loudspeakers for reviewing purposes, I probably would have replaced the Mirages with the DefTechs. They won't have quite the velvety sound of the OMD-28s; rather, they're a bit more crisp sounding. But they're an easy recommendation for a full-range speaker from my vantage point. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I am a novice listener and don’t have a lot of experience with audiophile and high-fidelity music. Last year I bought Bowers & Wilkins CM8 front speakers, paired with a Marantz SR7005 receiver. For some reason which I cannot thoroughly explain, I just felt that something was missing. I am in the process of replacing my current setup with either the KEF R700 or R900, a Parasound A23 amplifier and will use the Marantz as a preamp-processor. Would KEF’s R700 or R900 be a good upgrade sonically? If it is, do you have an integrated amplifier -- $5000 or less -- that will match well with either of the KEFs? I know this is a silly question since each person's hearing preferences will vary. Many thanks for your time.


Emmanuel, while your Bowers & Wilkins speakers and Marantz setup have a rich heritage and an equally rich sound, I think you’re on the right track in thinking that there might be more resolving products out there. The KEFs would be at the top of my list, and predictably so -- I made the KEF R900 my personal reference loudspeaker. A review of the R900 is forthcoming on GoodSound!, but know that KEF’s R-series models are some of the best speakers you can buy under $5000. Another reviewer here on GoodSound!, Roger Kanno, has also made a pair of R900s his own, and we’re in agreement about just how good they are. While I haven’t heard the R700s, I suspect they will sound nearly identical to the R900s, short of abbreviated bass extension, and maximum output, the latter of which is a surprisingly high 113dB. If you have space constraints, go with the R700; otherwise, I can heartily recommend the R900. There are a goodly number of very good speakers available for under $5000 that you might consider, but I really do think that the KEFs currently sit at the summit.

As for an integrated amplifier at $5000 or less . . . I have a suggestion, but it will cost you slightly more than you’re looking to spend. Hegel’s H300 is $5500, but for that money you buy a 250Wpc amplifier, one of the quietest preamplifiers I have heard at any price, and a D/A converter that can hold its own with some of the industry’s top names. Try and hear one if you can. I think it’s within a stone’s throw of the best sound available under $10,000, and it retails for barely more than half of that. I wound up purchasing one to serve as my reference for the future, and combined with the KEFs, I’m confident that I own two of the top performers available today, which combine to outperform some of their far more expensive competitors. I think you’ll be shocked by just how much more revealing a KEF R-series and Hegel tandem will prove to be over your current setup. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

Regarding your recent piece on CES 2013, I have to say this insane bullshit has been going on for a long time. Why these shmucks peddle this malarkey is a mystery to me. This nerd-lick hobby is for dumbass schlemiels with deep pockets and no friggin’ brains. The hobby has also gotten so boring that I would rather have a good bowel movement than worry about this absurd baloney.


The sad thing is that, while many a schmuck may wind up being sucked into the malarkey, there are a goodly number of relatively bright people who get sucked into the manure as well. GoodSound! does more than fit a need -- high-fidelity sound at reasonable prices -- it fits an ethos. When someone is offering a piece of audio equipment at exorbitant prices, the reaction shouldn't be "Oh, I bet that sounds good." Rather, it should engender skepticism and the question "Why?" If you get a straight answer that's predicated on engineering principles and cost of manufacturing, that's one thing. If it's some amorphous nonsense about "getting closer to the music" or some such, cast a suspicious gaze before quickly moving on. More aspersions will be cast in my March editorial, so you should check back on March 1st. Oh, and good luck with the bowel movement. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I enjoyed your review of the Hegel H300 integrated amplifier, and its comparison to the new Musical Fidelity M6 500i. I own Amphion Argon2 and Argon3L speakers, and am looking for a second integrated in addition to my Musical Fidelity A5, whose sound I like very much with both sets of speakers.

Do you know how the above two amps would do with my Amphions? Do you know how the Musical Fidelity M6i or the M6 separates would compare? I care about both large orchestrations -- like Mahler -- which tend to challenge amps under 200Wpc, and human vocals, both singer-songwriters and classical (never mind my Louis Armstrong and other jazz).

Thank you in advance,

It's funny that you mention Amphion, as I am due to review one of their products in the coming months. As for the two integrated amplifiers that you mention, I really enjoyed my time with both, though they are rather different. You sound fond of your current Musical Fidelity A5 integrated. I briefly heard that model a few years ago, and I would imagine you'd be very happy with something like the M6 500i. It looks like it is around $1000 more than the M6PRX and M6PRE separates that Musical Fidelity offers, and that money buys you an integrated chassis, almost double the power, and no need for a pair of interconnects. It also looks like the M6 500i is built to a higher standard than the "regular" M6 line. $6999 is certainly a lot of money to spend, but I can almost guarantee your satisfaction with the British "Super Integrated," as Musical Fidelity calls them.

However, if you have a Hegel dealer within driving distance, I highly suggest making the drive to listen to the H300. It's $1500 less, includes a terrific DAC, and, to my ears, is the slightly more resolving of the two amps. I actually purchased one myself in the last few days, to use as my reference for the near future. It offers a different sound than the Musical Fidelity, for sure, as it's not quite as sweet or warm sounding. It also has half the power rating and a less robust chassis. But remember that doubling power only earns you an extra 3dB of headroom as you crank up the volume. Unless you like listening at deafening levels, the 250Wpc that the H300 provides should more than suffice.

Bottom line, you can't go wrong either way. They're both terrific products. But do try to listen to the Hegel, and let me know in  what direction you wind up going. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

Interesting read on your choice of a new reference speaker. I, too, find myself in the same situation as I want to upgrade my speakers. I currently have Axiom M80 V2s with an Axiom center and surround speakers.

I jumped on a set of Energy RC-70s that once sold for $2200/pr., and got them for $800. I have had them for 30 days. Before I decide to keep them, I must say that they are not as bright as the Axioms and I find them three-dimensional. The Axioms are really forward-sounding, with the Energy on the recessed side. I could have gotten the GoldenEar Technology Triton 3 for $2000/pr., as well. I know the Energy speaker is around 2007 technology, and I'll have to live with this upgrade for a while. I also got the Energy Veritas center speaker, regular price $1000, for $500, and the Veritas mini-bookshelf speakers for $250/pr. What's your opinion on this particular upgrade? Sometimes when I listen to both of these models they sound similar and I'm afraid that over the long haul that there's not enough differences to consider the Energy as a huge upgrade.

Gerald Greene

I don't think you went wrong in your purchases, Gerald. Energy makes some good speakers, just as Axiom does. You may be right that the move from Axioms to Energys was more lateral than anything else, but both companies make overachieving value-oriented products, so it's hardly a damning assessment.

Yes, something like the GoldenEar would probably offer a noticeable upgrade, as would a few other speakers that are newer and incorporate more modern materials. But if it were me, for the moment, I would enjoy the good deals that you got on your Energy speakers. I was able to purchase my now-departed Mirage OMD-28 loudspeakers for $2300/pr., a steal considering they once retailed for $7500/pr. I knew that there were better speakers out there, but I thoroughly enjoyed their company for the two years that I owned them. If you decide in the future that you'd like to go a different direction, GoldenEar Technology would offer a good starting point. You might also check out -- in no particular order -- Paradigm, KEF, Definitive Technology, Aperion Audio, PSB or Sonus Faber. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I have an older NAD CD changer and it's starting to produce static in one channel. I am thinking of replacing it with another changer to keep the harmony in the house. A while back, I connected a Peachtree DAC to the digital output of the NAD and neither my friend nor I heard much of a difference, if any. We were using the same Kimber Hero analog interconnect into my preamp.

All the CD changers I have seen are entry level at best. I was wondering if you could direct me toward good-sounding player around $1000 CDN.


I'm not sure many companies make CD changers anymore, as Compact Discs are falling out of favor these days. Marantz makes a five-disc changer, the $399.99 CC4403, that could well suit your needs. For what it's worth, while Peachtree makes some pretty good stuff, they wouldn't be my first suggestion for a reasonably priced DAC, and it may well be that if you tried a different DAC, say from Benchmark Media Systems or Musical Fidelity, you'd hear a more substantial difference in the resultant sound. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I'm French and I will try to write the best English that I can. I'm about to buy one of these amplifiers: Hegel's H300 or Musical Fidelity's M6 500i. I have just read your H300 review on the GoodSound! website.

Their prices are quite close in France, but still very expensive, and the products are a bit different.

The Musical Fidelity is very powerful, while the Hegel has a DAC inside (a very good one?), but with a less powerful 250Wpc power rating. My speakers are Dynaudio's C2. If you had to choose between these two amplifiers, which would you buy? Why? Thanks.

Best regards,

Bruno, if you've narrowed down your search to these two integrated amplifiers, you are in a very fortunate predicament. Both the Musical Fidelity and the Hegel are terrific, albeit different, products.

The $6999 Musical Fidelity M6 500i is a bit of a monster. Weighing in at more than 70 pounds, with a solid, overbuilt chassis, it's the kind of component that should last for more than a decade without any issues. It has a sonic personality that is not quite neutral, and errs on the warm side. While it does not have tube-like warmth, it's on the same continuum. Personally, I found it very engaging, and almost purchased my review sample. With 500W on tap, it's also highly doubtful that you would ever have need of a more powerful amplifier.

The Hegel has a different feature set and personality. Costing $1500 less than the M6 500i, at $5500, the Hegel H300 doesn't look or feel quite as substantial as its British counterpart. It's more sparse and utilitarian than the Musical Fidelity integrated in terms of its design, but also includes a high-quality built-in DAC. It also sounds a bit Scandinavian, in the sense that it's forward, and a little more honest and neutral. At 250Wpc, it sounds like it would be significantly less powerful than 500i, but in reality, doubling power only gets you 3dB in actual output. Unless you like to really pound out music through your Dynaudios, I doubt you'd need the overhead.

In the end, it comes down to what you prefer. The Dynaudio C2s are excellent, and pretty neutral, meaning you'll hear the coloration of the Musical Fidelity as much as you'll hear the forward nature of the Hegel. Personally, I'd lean towards the Hegel, but in an ideal world, I'd own both. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I have read your review about Musical Fidelity's M6 500i integrated amplifier [on SoundStage! Hi-Fi] and it sounds really good to me. Would you recommend this amp to go with Spendor's A9 loudspeaker? Also, what CD player would be good to partner with the Musical Fidelity?

Thank you for your time.


I very much enjoyed my time with the M6 500i. Its build quality is terrific, and its sound is as revealing as it is sweet. Its huge power reserves mean that you can push the Spendor A9s -- a speaker I've not had the pleasure to hear before -- to very high SPLs without distortion. I can't imagine the Musical Fidelity being a bad match for any speaker, really. One thing to note, however, is that the M6 500i is not dead neutral. It has a slight warmth and relaxed quality about its sound that I happen to really appreciate. It's not quite as colored as a vacuum tube amp would be, but it’s along the same lines.

If you wanted something that's more neutral, check out Hegel's H300 integrated, which is perhaps slightly more resolving, while also costing less, and includes a built-in digital-to-analog converter. But you cannot go wrong with the Musical Fidelity. I seriously considered purchasing my review sample, and I think it'll be a classic.

As for your question about CD players, there are plenty of good ones available for reasonable money. I'm not sure what your budget is, but I would start my search with Oppo. Their BDP-95 looks to be a great value at around $1000, as it would allow you to use your CD collection with a top-quality Sabre 9018 Reference DAC. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

Nice review of the Hegel H300. But for that price wouldn't I be better off buying separates?

Philip J.

The $5500 USD price of the Hegel H300 is a substantial investment, no doubt. But given that it's an amplifier, preamplifier, and digital-to-analog converter in one chassis, the price becomes more understandable. Buying separates means that you're paying for three chassis and possibly two remote controls, to say nothing of the cabling that you will need to wire everything together. That's not to say that you couldn't buy separates and have a terrific system. But I highly, highly doubt that you could spend $5500 on separates and come close to the Hegel's overall performance and flexibility. If you're the type of listener who enjoys consistently altering aspects of your system, then maybe separates make sense. But if you're looking for an endgame solution, I can't recommend the Hegel highly enough. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I am making the transition to using my Apple Macintosh as my primary audio source, but want to keep that CD-quality sound. I have a pair of ADS L990 loudspeakers, and like the compartmentalized quality of NAD's C 375DAC, but covet the extra power of Anthem's Integrated 225. I am also thinking of acquiring the KEF 201/2 Reference Series speakers later on. What will be a better investment when it comes to these two amps? I do like my sound on the warmer side, but also with a little kick to it, too.


Congratulations on making the jump to computer-based audio. I think you'll be surprised by just how good it can be. As for the amps that you're suggesting, I have a few comments.

The NAD that Sathyan Sundaram recently reviewed generates 150Wpc into 8 ohms, whereas the Anthem puts out 225Wpc into 8 ohms. They’re both priced about the same. However, the NAD also comes with a digital-to-analog converter built in, whereas the Anthem does not. The DAC would be a welcome feature for you as you transition your Mac to music duties. While more power is often a good thing, I'm not sure you'd really miss the extra power of the Anthem with the speakers you have now. NADs have always sounded a little on the warm side, to me at least, and so that might be another point in its favor.

If you do wind up with the KEFs, mind you, its sensitivity rating of 86dB might make power a more important consideration for you, especially if you enjoy cranking up the volume. In that case, the Integrated 225 might be the wiser choice. If you do wind up with the more powerful Anthem, however, just make sure to invest in a DAC as well, which will allow you to maximize your sound quality. . . . Hans Wetzel

To Hans Wetzel,

I enjoy your reviews and insights into this hobby very much, but today I am seeking advice on an upgrade of a highly reviewed product. The Audiolab 8200CDQ is a CD player with a built-in preamp, and can be used as a standalone DAC in a computer-based audio system. The question of differences in sound quality of higher-end players versus cheaper ones is the debate, as I currently use a Yamaha DVD-S657 SACD player that I purchased back in 2005 for $350.

The Audiolab 8200CDQ retails for $1600 CAD. How much of an upgrade can I expect with a higher-end CD player/DAC, and, of course, the preamp? My current system is made up of an NAD C 272 amplifier, NAD C 162 preamplifier, and Axiom M80 speakers.


Thanks for emailing, Gerald. Unfortunately, I do not have any experience with Audiolab's products. It does appear that the 8200CDQ has earned some very positive reviews, however. I also noticed that the unit uses ESS Technology's Sabre 9018 Reference chipset. While a chipset is only as good as its implementation into a given design, I am currently reviewing Benchmark Media Systems' DAC2 HGC, which, like the 8200CDQ, is a digital-to-analog converter, as well as a preamp. It, too, uses the 9018 chipset, and in my early listening tests, I think it's seriously good. If the 8200CDQ comes close to the Benchmark's implementation of the 9018 chip, I would bet that the Audiolab 8200CDQ could work well as a replacement for both your NAD preamp and your current Yamaha SACD player.

As for how much of an upgrade it will be from your current setup, I can only speculate. I know that digital-to-analog conversion has come a long way since 2005, when you purchased your Yamaha. Sound quality has improved, both in terms of resolution and musicality, and prices have fallen dramatically too. It's a good time to upgrade, and I suspect that it won't take you long to appreciate the Audiolab if you wind up purchasing it. . . . Hans Wetzel