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 Doug Schneider,

I am about to invest in a new, moderate home-theater system and would like to ask your opinion on the quality and value of this purchase.

  • Yamaha BD-A1010 Blu-ray player
  • Yamaha RX-A810 receiver
  • Paradigm SE 1 left/right front speakers and SE Center speaker

Approximately $2400 for all. Is there any other recommendation you might have for similar components in a similar price range?

Thank you for any advice/opinion you may offer.

Patrick J. Diskin

I think you could be happy with that system, but I did notice that it’s missing surround speakers and I don’t know if that is deliberate or not. If you are planning to get surrounds, I would suggest SE speakers for the rears so you have a timbre-matched system, something that’s important for the highest-quality sound. If the reason you left out the surrounds was due to cost, I suggest looking at Paradigm’s new Monitor v.7 series that were just released. You won’t get the real-wood veneer cabinets of the SE models, but you will get Paradigm's latest technology that results in spectacular sound at a lower price.

One other thing I would suggest is to look at other receivers. Yamaha has a strong reputation for producing feature-rich receivers for reasonable prices, but they don’t have a good reputation for high sound quality. On the other hand, Anthem, which is a sister company of Paradigm, has gained a reputation for including a modest number of features but providing excellent sound. Of the features they do include, one stands tall: Anthem Room Correction (ARC). You can read a review of the Anthem MRX 500 receiver here. . . . Doug Schneider

To S. Andrea Sundaram,

I was about to buy the Furutech Alpha Design Labs GT40 for digitizing my record collection when I read your lucid review and realized the GT40 wasn't suitable for my application.

I'm a bit new to ADCs. Do you have any reviews for ADCs for high-quality LP and cassette tape conversion to digital? Or could you point me in the direction of some info on digitizing LPs and old 4-track mixdowns?

I have a collection of old analog music (4-track guitar and bass recording mixes and 50-100 LPs) that I would like to make digital. I would like to record it at reasonably high quality (24-bit and 96kHz) for archiving, but most tracks will end up burned to a CD or for use on an MP3 player for everyday use. I use computers daily but this application is new to me, so I'm a bit lost. What, for example, should I consider in terms of power and soundcard quality when buying an ADC? I am eventually willing to spend up to $600, but might start out by familiarizing myself with something in the $100 range.

I interpreted your review to mean that the GT40 was built more as a DAC (whose applications I would not be able to name) than an ADC. Also, there was some tech talk about needing a preamp in addition to the GT40. I'm looking for something with all necessary components: preamp, power amp, high-quality soundcard (I don't really know what this is, but suspect it's the heart of the ADC process), and USB connection. I want this all to sit between a turntable (a whole other story, I know) and my computer. I also want the option of cleaning up hisses and pops using software like Audacity, so don't want the all-in-one department store LP-to-CD conversion devices like the one by TEAC.

Kevin Ryan

My review of the GT40 focused on its use as a DAC and headphone amplifier, because we believed those to be the features of greatest interest to our typical readers. We actually cut a significant portion of my original draft where I had gone further in-depth on using the GT40 as an analog-to-digital converter. (It would have made the review too long.) The GT40 incorporates a fairly decent phono preamplifier and passable ADC into a convenient-to-use package. That said, if you aren't interested in the very nice-sounding headphone amplifier that Furutech put in there, you may be able to get the same, or higher, quality level on the input side or greater flexibility for less money.

By far the cheapest option is the Sound Blaster X-Fi HD ($99), which even incorporates a phono preamplifier with RIAA correction. The specifications look promising, but I have no idea how it sounds. If you already have a phono preamplifier, you should probably consider one of the many USB digital audio interfaces targeted at the home studio market. Many of these devices operate at 24/96. They will all handle at least stereo inputs, and many of them could even accept the four individual channels on your tapes -- no down mixing required. I have experience with products from M-Audio and EMU in this price range, but there are many other brands as well. If your stereo is not located in the same room as your computer, you may want to consider a standalone hard-drive recorder from TASCAM or Fostex. These provide the same ease-of-use as an old tape deck, but you could then back up or edit the resulting digital files on your computer. We haven't done reviews on these sorts of products in the past, but we may consider doing so in the future. . . . S. Andrea Sundaram

To Doug Schneider,

I have one pre-out from my Denon AVR-4311 and two inputs on my sub. Should I use a single mono cable or a “Y” cable to connect to the sub? What's the difference between them?


Providing they’re both inputs of the subwoofer (and one is not an output for connecting one subwoofer to another in series), chances are they are for the left and right channels, which is irrelevant in your case because your AVR-4311 has one mono subwoofer output. Where left and right inputs would be relevant is if you’re connecting the sub to, say, the left and right line-level outputs of a stereo preamplifier.

Insofar as connecting your receiver to the sub, you’d be better off to look at what the owner’s manual says first. They might recommend using a specific input or there might be suggestions on how best to hook up a single-output receiver -- not every subwoofer out there is the same, and the configurations of some of them can vary quite substantially. But if you don’t have access to the manual, or it doesn’t say explicitly how to hook it up, I suggest running just a single wire and see how that works. Chances are you’ll probably have to put the sub’s volume control about 3dB higher because only one input is active and not two, but that shouldn’t degrade sound quality. . . . Doug Schneider

To Doug Schneider,

I have currently an Onkyo HT-S3200 home-theater A/V receiver hooked up to a pair of KEF iQ30 speakers (as well as the stock speakers that came with the Onkyo). My primary source is a Samsung Blu-ray player (BD-C5500). My headphones are Sennheiser HD 595s.

The problem is that I mostly listen to music from CD, and I think that it should sound better.

I have been thinking of upgrading to a hi-fi amplifier, maybe a Cambridge Audio Azur 350A and in the near future a Cambridge Audio Azur 350C as my CD source, costing nearly $700 to $900.

Is the upgrade worth it? Am I going to notice a jump up in sound quality worthy of the price? I am always looking for better sound but I am on a budget and do not know if I should be happy with what I have or, on the other hand, if I could really get a major boost in sound quality for that price. I considered Cambridge Audio because a local dealer has their products in stock.

Thank you for any help you can give me.

Best regards,
Mark Sánchez

There are some very good-sounding A/V receivers on the market today, so it wouldn’t be correct to say that in every instance a stereo hi-fi amplifier would sound better. In general, though, I think it’s safe to say that you can get better audio performance from a dedicated, high-quality stereo amplifier than you can from an A/V receiver. The reason is that the good hi-fi companies tend to put more effort into optimizing the audio performance of their stereo integrated amplifiers and preamplifier/power-amplifier combos than the companies that make everything-in-the-box A/V receivers. So if improved sound quality is what you’re after, a good two-channel amplifier can provide an upgrade worth the price.

Cambridge Audio is an excellent brand, and since your dealer carries their products, that’s as good as any place to start out shopping. But I wouldn’t end your journey there. NAD has made excellent, affordable hi-fi components for years, so I’d certainly seek that brand out as well. . . . Doug Schneider

To Doug Schneider,

Currently I have a system that consists of a Yamaha 85Wpc six-channel receiver, a Panasonic five-disc DVD changer, a pair of JBL Northridge ND310 speakers, and a JBL PB12 powered sub.

I am not that impressed with the wholesomeness and depth of the sound quality. I think I need to get a multichannel power amp. What is a good amp I can get for around $600?


You mention that you need a multichannel amplifier, which usually means three or more channels, but by the looks of things you might only need a stereo amp, meaning two channels, because you only mention the ND310 speakers. Perhaps you have a center-channel as well as surrounds that you just didn’t list.

Nevertheless, you probably can do better than your Yamaha receiver with either a separate preamp-processor and power amp, or even a better receiver, since there are far better ones than you have. Your budget isn’t that high, so if what I am recommending blows by it, remember that you can always shop on the used market and get a substantial discount. Brands I’d look to first for power are Anthem, NAD and Emotiva. There are many others, but checking out what those companies offer will give you a great start and, I'm pretty sure, a significant upgrade over what you have. . . . Doug Schneider

To Jeff Fritz,

At the outset I wanted to say I appreciate your article on the Aperion Audio Verus Grand Towers.

I was in the process of building up a good system for my room and I have been looking to buy a good pair of speakers costing around $1500 USD. After one month of research on the Internet I now have shortlisted the Salk SongTower QWTs and Aperion Audio Verus Grand Towers. After reading reviews on both the speakers, I stand more confused.

Assuming that you've heard both the speakers, I'm putting forward a request to help me choose one of them. I am going to run them with a Harman/Kardon AVR 7550HD in a room that is about 14' x 22' (acoustically not treated) and although I am more of a music person, I do plan to build up an HT setup later. Could you suggest for me a good comparison study on the Internet that I can go through and make up my mind because being in India I cannot audition any of these and Internet research is the only thing I am going to base my decision on?

I know both the speakers stand very close and it all boils down to personal taste; it would be great to have your opinion on which, out of the two, you would you prefer to buy for yourself. It would mean a lot to me.

Looking forward to it.


I have not heard the Salks but I did look at them online just now. They look like they might be fine loudspeakers and I like the fact that they show some measurements. But even without hearing them I'd still lean toward the Aperions, and here's why: from a drive-unit standpoint, the Aperion is a much more robust design. It is a full three-way loudspeaker with five drivers. The Salk is a two-way design with three drivers. Now, admittedly, that doesn’t make one speaker automatically better than the other, but in this case I'd say that, since you might get into home theater at some point, having greater power handling and the lower distortion that can sometimes come from more drivers, is a good idea. I also know that Aperion now builds their own tweeter, and that is an advantage because it is ideally suited to the Verus Grand Tower. I'm just not sure about the Salks. Lastly, I've only heard good things about Aperion's customer service. I have no idea how Salk's is. I'd go with Aperion speakers. . . . Jeff Fritz

To Doug Schneider,

I am looking at spending approximately EUR1500 on some speakers. It has been suggested I hear three brands: KEF, B&W and Focal. I have heard of B&W only. Do you have any experience with those brands or any others? The speakers will be used for home theater as well.

Great site.


Those are three great brands to look at. KEF and B&W are UK companies, while Focal is out of France. We’ve reviewed speakers from all three companies and they have been anywhere from good to great, so chances are you’ll end up with something you like even if you limit your shopping to only those three.

Still, for that kind of money you have plenty of options. If I were shopping I’d also look at speakers from these companies: Dynaudio, PSB, Paradigm, and Monitor Audio. Like the three you already mentioned, these companies all make products for stereo and home theater. PSB and Paradigm are Canadian, Dynaudio is Danish, and Monitor Audio is British. I suspect you’re located in Europe and you should have no trouble finding products from all these companies there since they're sold worldwide. . . . Doug Schneider

To Doug Blackburn,

I read your review of the different AudioQuest USB cables, and I think that you made a very good analogy. It is 100 percent in agreement with the difference that I've found in other digital cables.

You may also find this interesting: I had an experience a few years ago with the top-of-the-line digital transport and DACs from Esoteric. I went to an event held by a dealer who operates out of his own home -- he is also a concert pianist. There were a number of audiophiles there, since these were the first units in the US. Later on in the evening, after many people had gone home, we went out to dinner -- the dealer, the representative from Esoteric, the guy from Stealth Cables, myself, and my friend who had just joined us. We got onto talking about different digital cables and also the rubidium master clock in the system. After dinner, we went back to the dealer's house and played around a bit. The differences were not only obvious to the trained audiophiles, but also to my friend. She couldn't care less about audiophile equipment, but she is a violinist. She latched on to the sound of the violin in a concerto we played. She said of the better cables, "I hear more of the bow sound." When it came to the rubidium master clock, the differences were also not subtle. We even did an unexpected blind test, because they were figuring out how to reroute the cables. At first, we didn't hear any real difference. When we went to switch back, we realized that the master clock hadn't been operating. When it was turned on, boom, more focus and more texture to the violin sound.

The difference probably has something to do with timing, even though, as you pointed out, that shouldn't matter when everything is re-clocked. But most audiophiles agree that it does.

S. Andrea Sundaram
Contributor, The SoundStage! Network

To Doug Schneider,

I’m shopping for my first pair of speakers and I’m wondering if I should look for a soft- or hard-dome tweeter. Some people tell me that the soft domes sound better. Is this true?

David Trell

This question comes up every so often because generalizations do get made about the various tweeter diaphragm materials. Soft-dome tweeters are usually made from silk and are said to have a “sweeter” high-frequency sound. That character has a bit to do with the way the silk dome breaks up in the highest frequencies. Hard-dome tweeters usually have a metal-based dome and break up differently. Aluminum, titanium, and beryllium are common materials used today. Many people feel that each of those materials has a characteristic sound, with beryllium usually being described as the smoothest-sounding because its first break-up mode is much higher than the audio band. The problem with beryllium is that it’s very expensive, so you tend to only find it used on pricey speakers. Aluminum and titanium, which are much cheaper, and are used often in lower-priced speakers, show break-up behavior much closer to the audio band, so some people find these to be a touch harsh if the designer hasn’t done anything to tame these resonances. There are other materials as well, even diamond, but there's no need to get into all that here!

Although I’ve found that some of these generalizations about the sound of each material are somewhat true, what’s more important is the overall driver design. For example, one of the best-sounding tweeters I’ve heard is in Vivid Audio’s speakers and it uses an aluminum dome. Their engineers did some clever things to generate the smoothest sound possible from this material. But I’ve also found great-sounding titanium-, beryllium- and silk-dome designs as well. And I’ve heard some bad ones. The key here isn’t to focus on the dome material, but, instead, on the final result. In other words, what it sounds like. The way to test that is, of course, with your ears, so don't discount any speaker you're shopping for just because of what the tweeter is made of. . . . Doug Schneider

To Doug Schneider,

Thank you for posting a very informative and helpful response to my question regarding a Simaudio Moon DAC upgrade.

I am very much satisfied with my Moon i-1 and CD-1 but was curious whether a potential DAC purchase for the Sony Blu-ray would benefit the existing Moon components as well. Good thing you mentioned that very few DACs can handle Direct-Stream Digital (DSD) for SACD playback. I now realize that most external DACs are aimed at computer-based audio and perhaps few, if any, will ever incorporate decoding for DSD. Hopefully some DACs eventually will.

Based on my experience with my own Moon i-1 and CD-1, I suspect that the Moon 300D is a fabulous DAC at its price point. My decision will be based on what I intend to use a DAC for at  this time. Noting it (and the competition) cannot accept digital data from an SACD disc player, I may elect for the less-expensive Moon 100D simply to better enjoy uncompressed PCM from the Sony Blu-ray player. Also, I might explore the Oppo BDP-95 universal Blu-ray player, which can also play SACD and DVD-Audio discs. The Oppo has better onboard DACs than the much-less-expensive Sony.


I think you’re wise to look at an all-in-one SACD player to improve DSD playback. Oppo makes great universal players that not only play SACDs, but basically every other disc format there is. They are also very reasonably priced, so that’s as good a place as any to start. . . . Doug Schneider

To Doug Schneider,

I own a Simaudio Moon i-1 integrated amplifier, Moon CD-1 disc player, and a budget-but-decent Sony BDP-S370 Blu-ray player (2010 vintage) that also plays SACDs.

I have been considering purchasing a separate DAC to elevate the sound quality from this Sony Blu-ray player in order to better enjoy SACDs and the higher-resolution (uncompressed) stereo tracks from various concert Blu-ray Discs. (This Sony Blu-ray is equipped with an optical digital output.)

GoodSound! has a very positive review (June 2010) of the Simaudio Moon 300D DAC and other publications have given favourable reviews to the less-expensive Moon 100D.

Here is my question: If I were also to drive the Moon 300D DAC with my Moon CD-1 transport, will the 300D provide an appreciable improvement over the Moon CD-1's onboard DAC? (The CD-1 is equipped with a coaxial digital output.)


Canada’s Simaudio has made quite a name for itself in recent years by producing well-regarded CD players and DACs, but we have no idea if the 300D external DAC will show a marked improvement over the DAC that is already in the CD-1 -- none of our reviewers has made that comparison. You should know that even though the 300D is capable of decoding PCM music files up to 24-bit/192kHz resolution, your CD-1’s transport can only read CDs, so you will be limited to standard 16-bit/44.1kHz playback if you use the CD-1 and 300D today. The 300D will also not play back DSD files, which is the file format that SACD is based on, even if you connect it to your Blu-ray player (very few DACs do). The 300D will allow you to stream higher-resolution PCM music files from a computer source, but only if you’re able to connect to its S/PDIF coaxial or TosLink inputs, since its USB input only supports 16-bit/48kHz resolution. Obviously, that’s a lot of information to digest, but I hope that what I’ve explained helps you to make a decision. . . . Doug Schneider