AV Guide June 2004

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AV Guide June 2004
In This Issue:
Issue 5, June 2004
4
Big-Sounding, $750 Surround Speakers that
only Look Tiny...
Infinity TSS-750 5.1 Channel Speaker
System
7
To Build a Fine, Small System, Part IV
Musical Fidelity X-150 Integrated
Amplifier
11
A Transistor Amp Even Tube Guys Can
Love?
Edge G4 Power Amplifier
14
One of the Best AVRs Ever?
Pioneer VSX-59 Txi AVR
18
Home Theater to Go; We Sample Two
Tasty HTiB Rigs
Yamaha DVX-S120P & Onkyo LS-V955
Home Theater in a Box Systems (HTiB)
22
Dynamite A/V Electronics from legends
Jim Fosgate & Jim Strickland
Fosgate Audionics FAPT/FAA1000.5
Multichannel Controller/Amplifier
26
Musical “Realism:” How do you define
it?
29
Manufacturer Comments/Errata
From the Editor
What Product Specifications Can't Tell You…
Want to try an interesting experiment? Visit any big-box electronics store or specialty-audio or home-theater shop, and do this: Try to predict, purely on the basis
of published specifications, which components will turn out to perform best when
you actually try them. If your experience is anything like mine, you'll find this
exercise eye-opening, and in some cases downright shocking. How so? I'll make
the prediction that you'll encounter two surprisingly common phenomena.
First, I suspect you'll run across at least a few products with seemingly modest specifications whose real-world performance clobbers that of products whose
specifications seem superior on paper. Second, I'm almost certain you'll find units
whose printed specifications seem identical (or nearly so), yet whose real-world
performance capabilities are night/day different. In a world where we've all been
conditioned to put at least some trust in empirical measurements and numbers, we
may well ask, "Why so little correlation between specifications and real-world
performance?"
I believe there are at least two factors that work against us. First, and I realize
I may sound cynical in saying this, I think that from the manufacturers' or retailers' points of view, the purpose of specifications is not so much to describe products as to market them. Thus, manufacturers and retailers have an incentive to
quote numbers that cast their products in the most favorable light (and to refrain
from quoting numbers that might give us pause for concern or second thoughts
about making a purchase). Second, even under the best of circumstances, I believe
there are important aspects of audio and video performance that fall in "gray
areas" between established specification categories. In short, there are differences
that we can see and hear between products, but we don't yet know how to measure. Either way, the point is not that numbers fail to tell the truth (most manufacturers can back up their specification claims, and certain types of measurements,
such as "in your room" tests of speaker performance, can be very instructive), but
that they fail to tell the whole truth about product performance.
What does this mean for you or me as we try to assemble good audio and
home-theater systems? It means that Rule Number 1 is always, always to select
components on the basis of observed real-world performance—not just on the
basis of numbers on a chart. We need to dare to be results-oriented, because at the
end of the day, it's better sound and image quality that we're after, not impressive
numbers on a page. This method of product selection may at first seem a little
frightening and foreign to those who prefer to base purchase decisions on seemingly incontrovertible data spread out in comparison tables, but when you wind up
with a system that really makes music and film come alive, the extra effort you
put in up front will all seem worthwhile.
Just remember this: The eyes, ears, and brains God gave you remain the finest
audio and video "test instruments" ever devised. Use them wisely, and enjoy.
Publisher/Editor
Chris Martens
Web Producer
Jerry Sommers
[email protected]
Copy Editor
Sallie Reynolds
Acquisitions
Neil Gader
A/V Visionary
Harry Pearson (founder of The Absolute Sound and The Perfect Vision)
Advisors
Mark Fisher, Robert Harley, Thomas B. Martin, Jr.
Reviewers
Jim Hannon, Scot Markwell, Chris Martens, Thomas B. Martin, Jr., Sallie Reynolds,
Jerry Sommers, Thuus Thompson, Randy Tomlinson, Mike Woods
Absolute Multimedia, Inc.
Chairman and CEO
Thomas B. Martin, Jr.
Vice President,
Publisher TAS & TPV
Mark Fisher
AVguide Monthly
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Chris Martens
512.334.4515
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Jerry Sommers
[email protected]
AVguide/The Perfect Vision/The Absolute Sound
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Chris Martens
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© Copyright Absolute Multimedia, Inc., Issue 5, June 2004. AVguide Monthly is
published monthly by electronic distribution, $29.95 per year which includes
access to the AVguide Archives by Absolute Multimedia, Inc., 8121 Bee Caves
Road, Suite 100, Austin, Texas 78746. Published in the U.S.A.
© Copyright 2004, Absolute Multimedia
AVguide Monthly
Page 2
AVguide Monthly
Chris Martens
Equipment Review
Big-Sounding, $750 Surround Speakers that only Look Tiny ...
Infinity TSS-750
5.1 Channel Speaker System
Y
ears ago, when I went off to college, the most prized possession
I took with me was my stereo system,
which was based on a small, quite
beautifully made pair of Acoustic
Research AR-4x loudspeakers (all the
rage among audio-savvy
students in the early
1970s). Times have
changed
with
the
advent of personal
computers, the internet, and discrete digital surround sound for
music and films, but
many teenagers and
20-somethings I count
as friends today tell
me that music and film
are every bit as important to them now as
they were to me, back
in the day. So I got to
wondering
what
I
would choose as my
first set of good loudspeakers (not the
junkers that come with
boom boxes) if I were
starting out in this hobby
today.
First, I reasoned
that, if I were an A/V
first-timer born within
the last 20 years, I
would probably want
surround-sound speakers, partly because I
would have grown up
with multichannel audio
as the emerging norm
for music playback, and partly
because surround sound adds so
much to the film-viewing experience.
Next, I would need the system to be
affordable—something a student or
recent graduate could afford with a bit
of careful budgeting. Then, I would
want a compact system, something
© Copyright 2004, Absolute Multimedia
AVguide Monthly
that could fit—with a bit of furniture
juggling—within a dorm room or studio apartment. Finally, I would want
my system to sound good, really
good, as in "noticeably better than the
speakers that come with most
portable
systems or
entry-level
home-theater-in-abox rigs."
Too tall an
order? Not at all: This is exactly the
kind of question AVguide Monthly
loves to tackle. But where to start?
One good strategy when hunting
for maximum value is to look at the
affordable products offered by manufacturers whose top-tier models you
admire, and so I decided to check out
modestly priced speakers from
Infinity. Infinity offers superb high-end
speaker systems (if you've heard its
flagship Prelude MTS system, you
know the word "superb" is something
of an understatement), yet it takes
particular care to migrate its
advanced
speaker
technologies
downward into more affordable
speaker families—of which the TSS
(Total System Solution) models are
the most accessibly priced of all. A bit
of research led me to request a review
sample of the $749 TSS-750 system,
which comprises four identical
satellite
speakers, a companion
center channel, and a powered subwoofer.
Behind-thescenes, the TSS-750 system enjoys a
reputation for producing particularly
good sound for the money. But does
it deliver the sonic goods in reality?
In a word: Yes.
When you first open the carton
that contains your new TSS-750 system, you'll be struck by two things:
First, the satellite and center-channel
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Equipment Review
L/R and Satellite
speakers have an exquisite, almost
gem-like appearance (you will want to
run your hands over their finely textured surfaces), and second, these
speakers are really and truly tiny.
Don't be put off by their diminutive
size. Just follow Infinity's setup
instructions, mount the satellites
using the standard wall-mount brackets or optional Infinity TS floor stands
(we recommended the floor stands,
though, because they look great,
place the speakers at exactly the right
height for a seated listener, and—
importantly—position the satellites
away from nearby reflective surfaces),
position the speakers as Infinity suggests, wire up the system using the
cables provided, power up your multichannel amp or AVR, and prepare to
be amazed. If you're like most listeners, your first reaction will be, "Man,
these little guys sound BIG!" Of
course just about every sub/satellite
speaker system on the planet claims
to produce "big" sound, but what sets
the TSS-750 system apart is that it not
only sounds big, but also refined.
© Copyright 2004, Absolute Multimedia
AVguide Monthly
Here are some of the elements
of that refinement.
First, the TSS-750s offer a
very good degree of midrange
openness and resolution—good
enough that you could be fooled
into thinking you are hearing the
midrange drivers of a more
expensive system (which, if you
remember Infinity's technology
trickle-down, may in a sense be
true). On strings, brass, female
vocals, guitars, wind instruments, and the like, the TSS750 satellites deliver a much
clearer and more sophisticated
sound than you'll hear from
most of the comparably sized
speakers that come packaged in
home-theater-in-a-box systems.
Second, the TSS-750 tweeters offer plenty of treble extension, a good measure of delicacy and detail, with only an infrequent hint of excess "bite" on
some hard high transients (and
if you use more softly focused
entry-level electronics rather
than the highly revealing
Fosgate Audionics components
I had in my reference system,
you'll probably hear no excess treble
edge-definition at all). These Infinity
tweeters can sound downright mesmerizing on well-recorded percussion,
as I discovered when drinking in the
silvery tones of Roy Haynes' cymbal
work on Gary Burton's Like Minds
SACD [Concord Jazz]. Come to think
of it, the shimmering tubular voice of
Burton's vibraphones as heard
through the Infinitys on that recording
sounded pretty great, too.
Third, the TSS-750s image beautifully, with good reproduction of depth
cues in multichannel music. A common myth holds that all small speakers image well, but it's been my experience that some image quite a lot
better than others. The Infinitys are
among the best I've heard, partly
"If you're like most
listeners, your first
reaction will be,
'Man, these little
guys sound BIG!'"
because their mid/bass drivers and
tweeters sound so fast and responsive (not veiled or sluggish, like some
small speakers I've heard), and partly
because you rarely hear aberrations
that jerk your attention off the music
and back toward the speakers. I
believe that Infinity's optional speaker
stands also played an important role
in helping the speakers to image well,
largely because the stands positioned
the satellites at a height and angle
that made the resulting image/soundstage float just above the plane of the
speakers (the sheer height of the
image contributed to the impression
of an unexpectedly "big" sound).
Fourth, the mid- and upper-bass of
this system works out amazingly well,
especially in light of the fact that the
Center
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Equipment Review
Subwoofer
small satellites and center-channel
speakers demand that the powered
subwoofer be crossed in at a fairly
high frequency (120Hz). Ordinarily,
high subwoofer crossover frequencies
worry me, partly because the standard
THX crossover frequency should be a
considerably lower 80Hz, and partly
because most subwoofer drivers start
to sound a little loose, boomy, or
"wooly" if you run them up too high.
However, the TSS-750's subwoofer
sounds clear and
well-damped, so that
it melds quite nicely
with satellites and
center channel, with
only a tiny bit of extra
"thickness"
or
warmth
in
the
crossover
region.
Granted, there is a
bit of voicing discontinuity between the
very top of the
woofer's range and
the bottom of the
satellite's range, but it is not very
noticeable, and in general errs in the
direction of enhanced warmth (which
beats weak, thin bass any day). What
surprised me was how well the sub
could handle hard, fast mid- and
upper-bass transients (say from a
kick drum or solo bass guitar, as on
the extremely punchy "Bass and
Drums" track from Led Zeppelin
bassist John Paul Jones' Zooma
[Discipline Global Mobile]), while still
managing to go fairly low with reasonable authority (the sub gets
down to around the low 40Hz range,
I believe).
Finally, the system is thoroughly
pleasing on film soundtracks
because its fine imaging and generally "big" sound help promote a
sense of immersion in the world of
the film. Surprisingly, this little system can fill a large space with sound
(my home-theater room is over 20'
long with 9' high ceilings), even during big cinematic moments, provided
you exercise reasonable restraint
and don't go too crazy with the volume-control knob. The cacophonous
final battle scene from The Last
Samurai [Warner], which features
the pounding hooves of a cavalry
charge, the thunder of howitzers,
and the crack of rifles, worked out well
through the TSS-750 system, though
just discernible signs of compression
told me I was getting close to the system's volume limits. But let's keep
some perspective; it's amazing that a
system this size could play so loudly
in a room so large.
Given the terrific sound you get for
your money, I can't really bring myself
to describe this system as having
"drawbacks," but I
can mention a
few performance
limitations
and
user tips you
should
know
about. First, this
system's speakers
are
not
extremely sensitive; they like a
fair amount of
power, so plan on
investing in a
robust multichannel amp or AVR. Second, this speaker
system sounds much better balanced
when its center-channel speaker is in
play (the satellites and center channel
have complementary strengths).
Thus, I recommend listening to stereo
"What surprised
me was how well
the sub could handle hard, fast midand upper-bass
transients…"
© Copyright 2004, Absolute Multimedia
AVguide Monthly
material via a good surround-sound
mode (e.g., Dolby Pro Logic II). Third,
this system really cannot be driven to
crazy "rock the house" levels (though
it can play quite loudly in smaller
rooms). If high-volume capabilities
are important to you, plan on looking
for something a little bigger. Finally,
do spring for the matching Infinity
speaker stands; they look good and
help the system sound its best.
Here's the bottom line: I've yet to
hear a $750 surround-sound speaker
system that can even come close to
this one. If you want to get well
launched in multichannel audio or
home-theater, and you'd like to get
the most sound for every dollar,
Infinity's TSS-750 system will put a
smile on your face, and music in your
soul.
Specifications
Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price:
$749 (TSS-750 speaker system), $179/pr. (TS
speaker stands)
Type: Standmount
Driver Complement, Satellites: 3 ½" MMD
(Metal Matrix Diaphragm) bass/midrange; ¾''
MMD tweeter
Driver Complement Center: (2) 3 ½'' MMD
bass/midrange; ¾'' MMD tweeter
Driver Complement Subwoofer: 10" woofer
Integral Amplifier Power for Subwoofer:
150 watts
Subwoofer Operating Principle: BassReflex
Sensitivity Satellites: 88dB
Sensitivity Center: 89dB
Impedance Satellites: 8 ohms
Impedance Center: 8 ohms
Dimensions, Weight, Satellites: 6" x 4 1/8" x
4 3/8", 2.8 lbs.
Dimensions, Weight, Center: 4 1/8" x 9 ¼" x
4 3/8", 4.5 lbs.
Dimensions, Weight, Subwoofer: 16 ¾" x
10 ¾" x 15 ¾", 33 lbs.
Associated Equipment
Pioneer PDP-505HD plasma display; Fosgate
Audionics FAP-T1 controller and FAA-1000.5
multichannel amplifier; Sony DVP-S9000ES
and DVP-NS500V DVD/SACD/CD player;
Synergistic Research X2 interconnect, subwoofer, and speaker cables (featuring proprietary Synergistic active shielding system);
Chang Lightspeed CLS-HT 1000 Mk II power
conditioner
Manufacturer Information
Infinity Systems
250 Crossways Park Drive
Woodbury, NY 11797
(516) 674-4INF
www.infinitysystems.com
Page 6
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Sallie Reynolds
Equipment Review
To Build a Fine, Small System Part IV
Musical Fidelity X-150
Integrated Preamplifier/Amplifier
I
n Parts 1, 2, & 3, I've discussed the
goals of this series: to put together,
for $5000, a musically satisfying system—refined, accurate, and capable of
sustaining the emotional response we
get from music we love. Four months
into the project, the Magnepan MG12
loudspeakers are fully broken in and
making the characteristic Maggie
magic: clear from top to bottom, rich
and complete in fundamental and harmonic reproduction, balanced in frequency response, accurate and yet
sweet. The REL Q-108 subwoofer fills
out the low frequencies down to nearly
20Hz. The Rotel RDV-1060 DVDAudio/Video player brings added clarity
© Copyright 2004, Absolute Multimedia
AVguide Monthly
in the highs and midrange, extended
the dynamics and the bass. The whole
package is remarkable in its clarity,
transparency, and fidelity to music.
I didn't want this to be in any way a
"beginner" system—one that you put
together with uncomfortable compromises (compromise is always an issue
when you are comparing any system,
no matter what the price tag, to live
music); a system you expect to
upgrade as soon as you can afford it.
My goal from the beginning has been to
find components of reasonable price
whose performance stands up to the
most critical judgment. I expected it to
be a difficult task on all fronts, requiring
several articles outlining an arduous
search for every satisfactory component.
This has not been the case. My
guides through what might have been
the audio hell innocent music lovers
regularly traverse have been extraordinarily sharp, and the first or at worst
second suggestion has, with speakers,
sub, and CD player, come up roses. It's
particularly my luck and privilege to
work for a knowledgeable editor who
knows the components in his
bailiwick—and who has nice instincts
about what will sound good with what.
He saved me weeks of experimenting.
I'm passing along the blessing.
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Equipment Review
The really hard part of this task, I've
thought all along, would be replacing the
Marsh Sound Design preamp and amp
from my reference system with lower
cost alternatives. They are clean, clear,
satisfying, not too difficult to set up, and
problem free. Pity,
I thought, not to
leave them in the
system, but at
about $3800 the
pair, they were
just too expensive. I needed an
integrated. And no
integrated, we've
been told, can
match the performance of good
separates. So I
braced for the
long search, and
for disappointment. For having to say, in
the end, what I didn't want to say: Here
is the big compromise, the component
you'll want to upgrade
as soon as your budget
allows.
Then the Musical
Fidelity X-150 integrated arrived. It is a tiny
thing: 8.6 inches wide,
3.8 inches high, 14.9
inches
deep.
It
perched on the huge,
conventional-looking
Marsh amp like a
feather on top of a hat.
It's got plenty of power,
though, the potential
for biamping (I'm going
to try this one day), and
a phono input. In less
than ten minutes, it was ready to play.
One member of my listening panel,
Michael, has nearly the same reference
system as mine: Marsh electronics, Be
One speakers, REL sub. He has a
Panasonic DVD player for both music
and movies-the only significant difference, if you don't count his tastes in the
wilder reaches of Pop/Folk/Rock (tastes
I find myself drawn to, for the sheer
musicianship of the players and sometimes the honesty of the lyrics). We put
on Nickel Creek [Sugar Hill], by the
young group of that name. Track one,
"Ode to a Butterfly," is a complex, lilting,
and moving instrumental for violin, mandolin
and
banjo,
and
acoustic bass. It is
close- (and well-)
miked and though texturally simple, goes
from extremely high
frequencies to a good
solid midbass. The
playing has finesse
and fire; ornamentations are so fast and so
delicate, a less-thanfinely resolving system
can muddy them. It
certainly puts system and listener
through their opening paces.
In two notes, we were stopped in our
"In two notes, we
were stopped in
our tracks. By the
end of the first thematic statement,
we were smiling.
'Sweet!' someone
murmured."
© Copyright 2004, Absolute Multimedia
AVguide Monthly
tracks. By the end of the first thematic
statement, we were smiling. "Sweet!"
someone murmured. At the end of the
song, we just sat. "Well," I said, finally,
"the highs are a little bright, don't you
think?"
"That's the speaker cable," Michael
said. He has the same one. "It tends to
exaggerate the highs. And even so, they
are much clearer." He was right. The
Marsh gear was more forgiving of the
cables than the Musical Fidelity. That is
to say, it was not capable of as fine a
resolution in the extreme highs. I say
that because even with the brightness,
we weren't hearing distortion through the
Musical Fidelity. We were hearing clarity.
I had a new set of Blue Heaven
speaker cables from Nordost that
weren't yet in the system. I don't like
changing more than one component at a
time when I'm evaluating gear. But clearly the time had come. We put in the
Nordosts, I hit Play, and the song began
again. Gone was the slight sharpness on
the highs. Indeed, the entire frequency
range was audibly smoother and finer.
Characteristics we had earlier appreciated through the X-150 were now even
more refined. Instrumental lines were
separated beautifully, yet the fabric of
the music remained intact. The frequency balance was so good I didn't think of
it ‘til later. Dynamics and transient
response
were
spectacular. The
fingerings of the
banjo/mandolin
player
became
audible (he's the
best I have heard),
but not with that
halt-in-your-tracks
detailing that takes
away from the
musical
experience. So many
touted "high end"
characteristics
come through to
me in many systems as an imbalance in frequency ranges.
All in all, the system now offered
much more of the musical experience as
you might hear it live. No, it doesn't
sound live. I've never heard a system
that fooled me for an instant. Harry
Pearson (founder of our sister magazines The Absolute Sound and The
Perfect Vision) says what's missing is
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Equipment Review
largely continuousness. The system
cannot quite catch the unbroken flow of
natural sound in air. Missing frequencyrange elements may
be almost as critical;
something just isn't
picked up by the
recording mike, perhaps. You can hear
it if you stand next to
a guitarist while he
plays. Then put on
your best recording
of guitar music.
What's
missing?
Wood sounds, harmonics? I don't
know. But I hear "it"
instantly when the
live guitarist strikes
the first chord.
This
system,
though, makes a satisfactory substitute.
We were caught in the music, and
caught equally in the performance—
which is really what listening to music is
all about. A machine today could perform
the notes to perfection. It's the artist
making the music who adds the naked
human element to the experience. We
don't usually go to concerts to hear this
or that piece of music, but to experience
an artist we know or know of performing
that music. And we buy recordings the
same way (with label thrown in as well).
Among all the arts, it seems to me,
music is particularly about blending
many efforts into one extraordinary, primal moment. For an instant, we cannot
hide. Life in all its joys, terrors,
ecstasies, griefs, sweeps over us. And
when the music stops, we escape with a
sense of mixed longing and relief.
We went on, that first night, playing
music my panel was familiar with. Not
that we needed convincing. Ten minutes
had done that: This little gem was better
than the Marsh duo in every way except
soundstaging: frequency extension; clarity; detail retrieval, but not at the
expense of frequency balance; harmonic
retrieval;
dynamics;
imaging.
© Copyright 2004, Absolute Multimedia
AVguide Monthly
Whatever role amplification plays in
soundstaging (not as prominent a one as
speakers do, probably) was served
equally well by the Marsh and the
Musical Fidelity. The system's soundstage was still deep, wide beyond the
edges of the Maggies but not sloppily so,
and surprisingly high. It was the height
element, which is one place where the
image of the performer is wedded to the
"…we weren't
hearing distortion
through the
Musical Fidelity.
We were hearing
clarity."
"soundstage," that increased with the
Musical Fidelity. Singers took on a more
normal human vertical placement. The
digital ceiling was still there, of course,
but unless I hear digital and then listen to
vinyl, and good, uncompressed vinyl at
that, the ceiling-lift is a factor I tend to
aurally to forget. That is, I can talk about
it, but only when I hear a good vinyl system am I surprised into thinking: "Ah yes,
that's it."
It was all so easy. Set up had been a
snap. Listening was a sweet pleasure.
After awhile, we began talking about the
music: Brad Roberts'
vocal growl on Crash Test
Dummies' "God Shuffled
His Feet" [CD of that title,
Arista] that somehow,
unlovely as it is, moves
you to laughing and crying at once; the exquisite
a cappella harmonies on
"Northern Cross" [Cry Cry
Cry, Razor:Tie].
After my panelists left,
I kept on exploring music:
the dark rumbling melody
that
opens
Ravel's
Concerto for Piano Left
Hand [Chandos]—when
you can hear this properly, it sets your stage for
responding to the coming tsunami of
emotion; the heat and precision of Laura
Love's bass guitar [Laura Love
Collection,
Putumayo]—she's
the
daughter of Preston Love, who played
sax with Basie and other jazz groups,
and she can handle the most complex
musical material, even such tricky
medieval ornamentations as hemiola, a
timing shift from two to three or three to
two notes in a bar, familiar today from
Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story.
But you don't often hear pop performers
executing it. Love's "All Our Lives" gives
a taste of her deft intricacies on the bass
and subtleties of voice—all intensely fine
with the Musical Fidelity in the system.
In subsequent days, I have played all
sorts of recordings, and in each case,
even with full orchestral pieces, the X150 is the superior performer, and the
system seems to grow in satisfactory
sensory expression. In the magnificent
Vaughan Williams A Sea Symphony
[Telarc], the Atlanta Symphony Chorus
voices are clear and powerful—"Behold
the sea!" they shout. And you almost
can. In calm moments, the massed voices drop to softness, still miraculously
clear and lovely (the soft stuff is some-
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Equipment Review
times the hardest to get right, both for
performer and equipment), rising above
the instrumental background that illuminates Vaughan Williams' play of the elements against Whitman's words. I lived
by the water for many years, and this
wonderful performance calls up its many
moods.
As my discussion of bird songs in
Part III of this series may have warned
you, I use my system in wildlife work. I'm
preparing on a talk on coyotes, now, and
have several recordings of their eldritch
voices. Coyotes are unlike any other
creature in their songs and intertribal
communications: howling, warbling,
yodeling, yapping, growling, laughing,
sighing. The X-150 showed up all the
poor recording techniques. You can hear
the mike overloads and the digital cleanup, which flattens the sound and thins it
till it nearly hot-glues your brain to your
skull. Still, the lonely "Here I am, where
are you" howl filled the house and sent
the local fauna—including my usually
unflappable Great Dane—into a tizzy.
The pack greeting, yodels yaps snarls
snaps, was hair raising. The Dane was
convinced these rude singers were right
in her yard. I was equally convinced,
now that I could hear everything on the
CDs, that someone with really good
field-recording techniques and equipment should go after America's wild and
woolly rap group.
The lesson here for you non-coyote
howlers is that the system, now with the
Musical Fidelity, will reveal what's on the
recording. If that is good to excellent,
you will enjoy yourself. If it is bad to execrable, you probably won't be able to
stand it. One of my favorite recordings,
Dave Carter's When I Go, compromised
by the REL subwoofer, is now terminally
flawed by the soft hoots of the recording
mike. They no longer go away when I
turn off the sub.
So who has made this final bit of
magic? Antony Michaelson founded
Musical Fidelity in 1982. He is a fine
classical clarinetist who couldn't find a
system that played music the way he
© Copyright 2004, Absolute Multimedia
AVguide Monthly
heard it, so he set out to make one that
did. Furthermore, he wanted something
other music lovers would respond to and
could afford.
Michaelson designs ear first, with a
dedication that is single-minded and a
thoroughness that assumes you are as
obsessive as he is. And here lies the one
(amusing) problem I had with the X-150.
The volume knob on the handsome
faceplate is marked in downward-progressing increments from Infinity to 0. I
was leaning over the back of the unit,
having installed the cables, and, all set
to turn on the system, noted that the volume knob read "Infinity." Oops, I
thought, I'm going to blow the Maggies.
And turned it to near-0. And nearly blew
the Maggies. I didn't, bless my fast reaction time. But it was close.
There was no warning of this numerical aberration in the manual. Other
reviewers I asked had never heard of it,
either. When I inquired about it in an
email, Michaelson replied: "…the volume control …is calibrated in -dB from
zero attenuation. When the volume control is at 'full,' it does not attenuate or
reduce the input signal, and that is the
maximum gain of the amplifier with no
attenuation, hence 0dB." Okay. All I can
say to you, dear readers, is—let your
sensory-memory be your guide. All volume knobs go up clockwise. So ignore
the Infinity (no sound) and the 0 (full
sound), and let your fingers do the dialing. Only be sure you aren't fosicking
around behind the amplifier, with your
sense of direction skewed, when you do
it.
Summing, then: Every now and then,
a piece of gear comes along that does
something so wonderful with the music
that you go bananas. The Musical
Fidelity X-150 proves that you don't have
to be playing with a behemoth system to
experience this fine madness. Coupled
with good cables (the Nordosts are very
neutral), this integrated does nothing
wrong that I can hear. And hearing nothing wrong is a wondrously, gloriously
crazy thing.
So what am I going to do? I set out to
find a system that would make readers
as happy as I was with my reference
system, but at a considerably lower
price. Didn't believe I'd really do it, if you
must know, but it was worth a try. And
I've ended up wanting this one myself!
And where to from here? Well, in the
next installment I'll discuss the cables
and other accessories you'll need to
complete this system, and then—vinyl.
An inexpensive LP system that lifts the
ceiling. It will have to add to the $5000
budget, of course. But proportionately.
I haven't been able to play LPs satisfactorily for nearly 15 years, since the
old Sea Cliff days of the Crosby-mod
Quads, Quicksilver tube amps, and
Mapleknoll table lovely of sound and
impossible of disposition. Dare—
double-dare me—to try it?
Specifications
Price: $1299
Output: 105 watts one channel into 8 ohms
(20dBW); 141 watts into 4 ohms
THD + noise: <0.01% 20Hz to 20kHz
SN Ratio: >98dB A-weighted
Frequency response: 20Hz to 20kHz, +0, 0.2dB
Inputs: 3 pairs line-level RCA connectors; 1
pair phono RCA connectors
Outputs: 2 amplifier channels via 1 pair per
channel binding posts; 1 pair RCA audio outs
controlled by the volume; 1 pair RCA tape
record fixed line-level output
Dimensions: 8.6 x 3.8 x 14.9 inches
Weight: 14.3 pounds
System Budget
Magnepan MG12 loudspeaker: $1099
REL Q-108 subwoofer: $749
Rotel player: $899
Musical Fidelity X-150 integrated amp:
$1299
Total: $4046 (leaving a margin for interconnect
and speaker cables, plus a good power conditioner-which we'll discuss next month).
Manufacturer Information
Musical Fidelity
www.musicalfidelity.com
Distributed in the U.S. by:
Signal Path
215 Lawton Rd.
Charlotte, NC 28216
704-391-9337
Price: $1299
Page 10
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Jim Hannon
Equipment Review
A Transistor Amp Even Tube Guys Can Love?
Edge G4 Power Amplifier
T
he tube vs. transistor debate has
been one of the most lively and contentious in all of audio. Admittedly, I've
been a tube advocate for decades, ever
since a dealer suggested I use the original Quicksilver 8417 monoblocks to
tame the top end of some highly regarded, but somewhat bright-sounding, minimonitors. Whereas, I've used (and prefer) massive solid-state amplifiers in several bi-amplified systems to control the
bottom end, tubes have generally been
my choice for the mids and highs. Yet,
there are definite tradeoffs between the
two technologies. Although I've missed
the extension at the frequency extremes,
as well as the control and speed of some
solid-state amplifiers, I haven't found
many that reproduce massed strings
and voice to my liking. Tubes have a naturalness, dimensionality, and realism
that I find addictive.
Edge Electronics has generated
some serious buzz and acclaim for its
line of solid-state amplifiers employing a
unique laser-biasing technique and
other proprietary features designed to
make them more natural sounding than
competing
transistor
amplifiers.
However, its "NL Series" starts in the
five-figure range and is not an option for
me. Fortunately, Edge's new "G Series"
uses many of the design innovations
employed in its more expensive electronics, but only its top of the line G-8+
has the laser-biasing feature. Having
auditioned the G8+ at my local Edge
dealer's shop, I can confirm that the
laser-biasing feature is really something
very special. Listening to a stack of
Decca reissues from Speakers Corner,
© Copyright 2004, Absolute Multimedia
AVguide Monthly
including Stravinsky's Petrushka, and
Brahms' Hungarian Dances, the G8+
totally trounced another highly regarded,
and equally expensive, solid-state amp.
Among other advantages, the Edge
reproduced massed strings much more
musically and realistically.
However, the real-world question for
me was, "How does Edge's least expensive amplifier, the new G4, sound without the breakthrough, laser-biasing fea-
"The Edge G4 is
the first moderately priced solidstate amp that has
made me seriously consider foregoing tube amplification."
ture? I'm excited to report that it has
many of the same fine sonic qualities of
its more expensive siblings, and that's
very good news for those of us who can't
shell out the big bucks for amplification.
When I first heard Ella's voice and Joe
Pass' guitar on Take Love Easy [Pablo],
I knew I was dealing with a different
breed of amplifier. The Edge G4 is the
first moderately priced solid-state amp
that has made me seriously consider
foregoing tube amplification.
Except for laser biasing, the modest
G4 incorporates many of the engineering innovations found in Edge's more
costly amplifiers, but it is a downsized
version utilizing intelligent design tradeoffs like less expensive parts, lower
power, etc., to make it more affordable.
However, like its siblings, the G4 drives
transistors differently than traditional
solid-state amps that use a PNP (positive-negative-positive) transistor to drive
the bottom of the sine wave and an NPN
transistor to drive the top. Edge's chief
designer, Tom Maker, has developed a
proprietary method enabling a closely
matched pair of NPN transistors, with
tolerances tighter than 1%, to drive both
parts of the sine wave, dramatically
increasing linearity and minimizing
crossover distortion. Its power supply
transformer is also proprietary and uses
a grain-oriented silicon steel perimeter
shield and an electrostatic shield
between the primary and secondary
windings. The G4's thick, high-quality,
machined aluminum chassis is designed
to reduce vibration, yet it is visually stunning, with its cooling fins discreetly
tucked within the perimeter of the top
and bottom plates. Indeed, the G8+
monoblocks, at more than twice the
price, use a similar costly enclosure.
The G4 has some real practical
advantages over some of the best
sounding, and much more expensive,
transistor amplifiers I've heard. It weighs
in at a modest 37 pounds, so you don't
have to worry about getting a hernia or
straining your back moving it around.
Additionally, it runs cool to the touch, so
you don't have to cycle the air conditioning on and off in order to listen, and it
can be left on all the time without seriously impacting your electric bill. Not
only is the G4 extremely stable, but it
works quite well with tube preamps,
enabling you to enjoy some of the
advantages of each technology. I've had
to rule out some promising solid-state
amplifiers because their input impedances were too low, but the Edge G4
Page 11
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Equipment Review
and my tube preamp were an outstanding combination.
The Edge's linearity, ultra-low distortion, and power supply prowess have
major sonic benefits. The first thing I
noticed about the G4 was its startling,
"reach out and touch the performer,"
transparency. It reminded me of the
transparency one can obtain from certain electrostatic speakers, a vivid and
somewhat spooky feeling the performers
are with you in the same room. It's like a
clear, crisp fall morning in NYC, when
everything comes sharply into focus and
has added depth. Listening to Take Love
Easy, Ella was there and Joe Pass was
sitting next to her playing the guitar. On
a great mono recording, Maria Callas
seemed like she was right in front of me
beautifully singing Puccini Operatic
Arias [EMI]. Recordings of live concerts
take on a special kind of excitement with
the G4, such as the crowd reactions during the performances on Corea/Hancock
[Polydor]. Listening to audiophile fare
like Jazz at the Pawnshop [Proprius], I
half expected a waitress to come up and
give me a check.
The next thing that struck me about
the G4 was its neutral, natural balance.
You won't find a tizzy top end or upper
midrange glare here, unless it's on the
recording or in another part of your system. Despite other merits, the Achilles'
heel of many solid-state amps, even
some quite costly ones, is that they are
unable to reproduce natural, realistic,
massed string tones. They typically have
too much forward "edge" along with high
frequency grain and grunge, but the G4
has none of this characteristic transistor
sound unless it is driven into clipping (no
surprise). Additionally, it sounds wonderfully natural on massed strings without
blunting the leading edge of the sound,
as some tube amps can do. Check out
the excellent reissue of Paul Paray
Conducts Music by Ravel and Debussy
© Copyright 2004, Absolute Multimedia
AVguide Monthly
[Speakers Corner/Mercury] and you'll
hear vivid, yet natural string sound
through the Edge G4, in addition to
thrilling, precise soundstaging.
Those of you who are pace, rhythm,
and timing freaks are going to love this
amplifier. Its lighting speed, striking clarity, and low distortion had me listening to
a lot more jazz, rock, and blue grass
recordings than usual. Instruments in
rhythm sections such as drums, cymbals, piano, guitars, mandolins, etc. really came alive with amazing detail, but
without brightness or overhang.
Listening to great recordings like
Richard Thompson's The Old Kit Bag
[Diverse Records] or the Albert
King/Steve Ray Vaughan collaboration
In Session [Analogue Productions] was
a pure joy.
As good as the G4 is, it is not for
everyone. If you have inefficient, power
hungry speakers you may need to look
to the higher powered alternatives in the
Edge line or elsewhere. However, coupled with the 4 ohm Genesis Vs or the
90 dB efficient Hyperion 928s, it was difficult for me to get the amp to clip, even
at pretty LOUD (call the cops!) levels.
Admittedly, there were times I preferred
tube alternatives on voice, such as
Mirella Freni on French and Italian
Opera Arias [EMI], but on the Maria
Callas recording, the G4 was ultimately
more satisfying. Lastly, given the speakers on hand, I was unable to fully assess
the amp's deep bass performance,
though with my local dealer's help I auditioned the G4 with the new Avalon
Ascendant speakers, and that combination produced solid, satisfying deep
bass. What I can say emphatically is that
the G4's mid-bass performance with the
Hyperion 928s was among the best I
have heard anywhere . . . at any price.
Finally, the G4 is just plain fun, and I
listened to it for hours on end without
any aural fatigue. It has been totally reli-
able, even with demanding loads like the
Quads (with clamping circuits) and the
Genesis Vs. While I was cranking the
Gladiator soundtrack [Decca], my wife
came running into "my" listening room
and stayed, saying the system had
never sounded better. While the Edge
G4 is a breakthrough at its current price,
I hope that the talented Edge design
team will continue to migrate its amazing
technology down to still lower price
points so that even more audio and
video enthusiasts can experience what
great solid-state designs can do.
The Edge Electronics G4 has shaken
my world and shattered my pervious
perceptions about moderately priced
solid-state amplifiers. It has the speed,
extension, and control one expects from
a high-end transistor amp, but without
any associated brightness. Moreover, it
has the natural timbre and sonic realism
I've typically only associated with tubes,
coupled with startling transparency, and
holographic imaging. It is the first affordable solid-state amplifier that I could
happily live with as my long term reference. As an avowed tube lover, that's
not easy for me to say.
Specifications
Price: $3,250
Number of Channels: 2
Power Output: 100 watts\ [email protected] 8 ohms
Input Type: RCA connectors
Constant Current Capacity: 10 amps
Input Impedance: 33,000 ohms
Dimensions: 15"d x 16 3/4"w x 4 3/8"h
Weight: 37 pounds
Associated Equipment
MFA Venusian preamp (modified); VPI Aries
(updated); Graham 1.5 tonearm with 2.2 bearing; Koetsu Black cartridge; Cambridge Audio
CD player as transport; Musical Fidelity TriVista 21 DAC; Precision Fidelity M-7A power
amplifier (modified); Quicksilver 8417
monoblock power amplifiers; Hyperion 928
loudspeakers; Genesis V loudspeaker system;
Quad ESL-57s (modified); Cardas Golden
Reference phono cable; Virtual Dynamics
"David" interconnects, speaker cables, and
power cords; Purist Audio and Flexygy 6
speaker cables; Chang Lightspeed CLS-6400
ISO MkII power conditioner; etc.
Manufacturer Information
Edge Electronics
815 S.E. 47th Street, Cape Coral, FL 33904
877-461-7443
www.edgeamp.com
Page 12
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Tom Martin
Equipment Review
One of the Best AVRs Ever?
Pioneer VSX-59TXi Elite A/V Receiver
B
y almost every important criterion,
the Pioneer VSX-59TXi is one of
the top two A/V receivers currently on
the market. An AVR is a complex piece
of equipment, so it would seem to take
a lot to emerge at the top of the heap.
The Pioneer offers some enticing features, certainly, like dual SHARC
Melody Ultra + Motorola 48-bit DSPs,
THX Ultra II certification, acoustic
measurement and correction, 24-bit
DACs, and multi-room facilities. But to
really be great, an AVR circa 2004
needs more than features. It must do
six basic yet demanding things, and do
them well.
First, a great AVR has to provide
high-quality digital-to-analog conversion. To assess this, I set up the
Pioneer and first tested it on two-channel music. This might seem odd, but
stereo reproduction often reveals the
limitations of the basic circuitry in complex home theater gear. In part, this is
because music provides a known reference: the sound of live music. I listened
to the Pioneer via its analog bypass
© Copyright 2004, Absolute Multimedia
AVguide Monthly
mode, where no D/A conversion takes
place, and then listened to the same
tracks via the Pioneer's built-in "Legato
Linear" D/A converters. I also made
comparisons with my reference stereo
systems.
The Pioneer's own D/A conversion
outpaced the D/A converters built into
my reference players. The Legato
Linear converters have an exceptionally smooth sound, particularly in the allimportant and difficult upper-midrange.
On jazz and simple pop material, like
Norah Jones' Feels Like Home [EMI],
or Patricia Barber's Verse [Blue Note],
the lack of graininess and background
noise was astonishing. This smoothness is critical to achieving a sense of
"you-are-thereness," and is something I
frequently find missing in CD and DVD
players costing up to $3000. If I had to
quibble, I would say that the Pioneer's
D/A conversion is ever so slightly
recessed in the upper midrange and
lower treble (absolutely the side to err
on), and that the very top frequencies
are a trifle elevated. To put this in per-
spective, though, I found string tone
very listenable, for example on the
Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet with the
Cinncinnati Symphony and Jarvi
[Telarc]. I should also say that I think
Pioneer's choice of these minor deviations from absolute accuracy could
complement the limitations of many a
speaker system.
The other critical element of D/A
conversion is the handling of Dolby
Digital film soundtracks. There are, of
course, limitations to these soundtracks
themselves, especially at high frequencies, that no digital processor can fix (if
the data isn't there in the first place it is
gone forever). That said, I was again
surprised to find that the Pioneer fared
very well in comparison with my references. In particular, the Pioneer has a
superb ability to separate complex
material into its individual parts. It does
this without artificially brightening the
upper midrange or adding edginess to
the sound. This quality helps you relax
and focus on the film itself, and is an
important help in establishing a sense
Page 14
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Equipment Review
of realism, particularly a sense of
space. It also increases dialog intelligibility and improves your awareness of
small cues in the action. In this sense,
the Pioneer was in the same league as
my (generation old) Meridian 861 (at
around $15k), and proved superior to
three $1k AVRs I have evaluated
recently.
Beyond a good digital section, a
great AVR must have accurate analog
circuitry. Why? Well, for one thing,
most SACD and DVD-A players, not to
mention turntables, only output analog
signals—they've done the digital-toanalog conversion already. If you want
to avail yourself of these high-resolution music sources, there's no sense in
reconverting to digital and then converting back to analog again. So, you
need a good bypass mode, in which the
output of the DVD player is sent
through to the amplifier with as little circuitry as possible in the way.
The Pioneer's bypass mode sounded excellent. It was clearly better than
going through the added conversion
step, with better imaging and a
smoother, more continuous sound. In
addition, the Pioneer's analog preamp
compared well with my McCormack
MAP-1 multichannel preamp. The
McCormack had more resolution, but at
the price of a slightly forward treble balance.
The other area in which you want
good analog circuitry is in the power
amp. The power amp in the Pioneer is
good, as AVRs go, but this is one area
in which building everything into one
box has its limitations. On the plus
side, I found that the VSX-59TXi amp
had exemplary mid-range and high frequencies, and the bass was solid and
well defined. The bass did, however,
lack the full-on subterranean quality
that can come from separate power
amps (albeit at a higher price). To put
this in context, I think most people
would be pretty impressed with the
Pioneer playing the track “Seven
Nation Army” from The White Stripes'
Elephant [Third Man], but this cut can
have an even more realistic amount of
air in the bottom octaves. This limitation
may not matter much to you, since
you'll likely be using a powered subwoofer, and the bottom octave will be
controlled by the sub.
© Copyright 2004, Absolute Multimedia
AVguide Monthly
In great AVRs, the power amp must
also be able to drive low-impedance
loads at high levels. The Pioneer provides seven channels, with 130 watts of
power each. But making this power
effective is actually a bigger task than
you might think, given the need to cram
seven channels of high power amplification, power supplies and heat sinks
into a relatively small box. I've had
experience with several AVRs that simply shut down due to thermal overload
at moderate-to-high volume with
demanding speakers. So, part of the
reason you buy a high-end AVR, rather
than a $1k-range AVR with seemingly
similar specifications, is for the higher
current capability of the former.
Pioneer is obviously sensitive to this
issue, as they suggest that speakers
with an impedance of 6 ohms or greater
"Pioneer's Legato
Linear D/A converters have an
exceptionally
smooth sound,
particularly in the
all-important and
difficult uppermidrange."
be used. If you have lower impedance
speakers, they provide a "Safety
Mode".
My Revel Salon/Voice/
Embrace system has a minimum
impedance of 3 ohms and a nominal
impedance of 6 ohms, and I experienced no difficulties with Safety Mode
switched off. In fact, the sound at high
levels was quite pure, with no sense of
strain, though this was in my modestlysized 3000 cubic foot room.
Fourth, a great AVR should have
acoustic compensation for room and
speaker limitations. This is a relatively
new use of DSP technology, and one
that is far more valuable in my view
than the endless string of surroundsound modes that you'll find in almost
every AVR. The idea of acoustic compensation is simple. Your room will
alter the sound from the ideal--through
resonances related to its dimensions
and reflections related to its surfaces
and your speaker location—even if
your speakers are perfect. And, your
speakers aren't perfect, no matter what
they cost. So, as in the case of the
Pioneer, acoustic compensation measures the deviation of your room and
speakers from an ideal. Pioneer calls
this an Advanced Multi-Channel
Acoustic Calibration Circuit (MCACC).
Pioneer provides a measurement
microphone, while the signal generating, measuring and correcting equipment is built into the VSX-59TXi. You
basically place the mic at your listening
position, press a "start" button and the
receiver does the rest. After running a
set of measurement signals, the receiver automatically sets speaker levels,
delays, and frequency compensation,
using a digital equalizer. In addition,
this circuit adjusts the re-equalization
needed to make soundtracks sound
right in a home theater, based on your
actual room size. The VSX-59TXi also
allows you to compensate for different
levels of room reverberation by fine
tuning its measurement window so that
adjustments are based more or less on
the direct sound from your speakers.
"Sounds cool," you say, "but does it
work?" Well, basically, the answer is
yes. The first thing I noticed with
MCACC on (it can be switched on or off
at will) is that some bass bumps that
are inherent to my room were reduced.
This is exactly what should happen,
given that most room problems occur at
low frequencies. Also, the MCACC-corrected signal seemed to have a greater
sense of image depth and height. At the
same time, some image specificity and
an ever-so-small amount of high frequency purity were lost with MCACC
on. I'd say that the effect of MCACC
was mainly positive on soundtracks,
but with CD, SACD or DVD-A, I would
probably leave the signal in full bypass
mode. These observations need to be
taken in the context of using a very
high-end speaker system. With a less
advanced speaker setup, or a more
unusual or less acoustically-prepped
room, the positive effects of MCACC
would likely be greater.
Page 15
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Equipment Review
The fifth aspect of a top-of-the-heap
receiver is that it must have the necessary inputs and outputs to function as a
home theater control center. Your
needs may be more or less demanding,
but Pioneer has tried to have your
needs covered. Not to delve into
alphabet soup, but in addition to traditional analog audio/video and digital
inputs, it offers component video
switching, i-Link (a.k.a. IEEE 1394,
potentially for high resolution audio),
USB multi-channel (for MP3 and WAV
files from your PC), and it will handle
Windows Media 9 signals. In cases
where the VSX-59TXi offers multiple
inputs, these can be assigned in various ways.
Still, the Pioneer is not all things to
all people. I would note that video
switching on receivers seems to run a
generation or two behind the state of
the art for displays. I would also note
that physical size constraints, even
though the Pioneer is a big receiver,
mitigate against this, or any, receiver
acting as the switching center for complex systems (this is where the
Pioneer's RS-232 port and 12V trigger
would be useful in linking to more
sophisticated controls).
Finally, a superb AVR should have a
thoughtful, simple user interface. As
today's receivers go, the Pioneer is
quite good. It comes with an LCD
remote that uses a browser-style
screen setup. Some of the main controls, like volume, are buttons on the
remote. Inputs are easily switched
using one knob. The instruction manual is clear about how to do things, with
excellent graphics to support the text.
The controls feel solid. All good things,
as far as they go.
However, every AVR I have evaluated in the last year falls prey to a big
user interface flaw: each has a control
set up that is deeply and fundamentally
mode-dependent. What this means is
that some buttons do one thing in one
"mode" and another thing (or nothing)
in another mode. For example, on the
Pioneer, when the amp is set to Safety
Mode, two of the three bypass modes
(particularly the "real" bypass mode)
cannot be accessed no matter how
many times you press the button. This
is just one simple example, which in
reality is made more complex as the
© Copyright 2004, Absolute Multimedia
AVguide Monthly
modes for one setting are linked to
modes for other settings. You really
have to keep the manual next to your
listening chair, at least for the first few
months. And you have to press a lot of
buttons to get things done. To be fair, I
find Denon's implementation of modes
even less intuitive than Pioneer's, so
perhaps the industry is making
progress.
The other user interface issue seen
in the Pioneer, and most other AVRs, is
created by sheer complexity. I am no
flat-earth, neo-Luddite guy, but do we
really need 28 different sound modes?
I don't think we do, but even supposing
"The Pioneer's
bypass mode
sounded excellent
…clearly better
than going through
the added conversion step, with better imaging and a
smoother, more
continuous sound."
this fluff is needed to sell receivers
competitively, the user interface
shouldn't be designed to make basic
operation (stereo, multi-channel audio,
and Dolby Digital) clumsy. If you can't
hide all these modes and options and
flexibility, clumsiness seems to be an
inevitable result. Again, this is an issue
on practically every AVR.
Despite this, I do think this is a
spectacular A/V receiver in some fundamental ways. I would give it a grade
of "Great Minus." It has excellent
sound, and where its sound is imperfect, the Pioneer engineers have made
the right choices for the real world. It
pays attention to both music and
soundtracks as critical sources. It has
state-of-the-art flexibility, particularly in
terms of room integration. The user
interface is pretty good when viewed
against the competition, though I'd like
to see the industry do a radical overhaul on its thinking in this area.
When you bring value into the equation, receivers in this price range have
some tough competition. If the highend sound of the Pioneer is attractive,
but your room is large or you have
demanding speakers, then a separate
processor and amplifier are probably
your best bet. You could also save a
significant amount of money with a less
expensive receiver and get good, if not
great, sound. Positioned in between
these two options, the Pioneer shines if
you listen extensively to both music
and soundtracks and you have a difficult room/speaker setup.
Specifications
Pioneer VSX-59TXi Elite A/V Receiver
MOSFET Power Amplifier
Price: $4500
Power Output: 130 Watts x 7 @ 8 ohms
(MOSFET Power Amplifier)
Surround Decoding Formats: Dolby
ProLogic IIx, Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital ES,
DTS, Windows Media 9 processing
Video Inputs/Outputs: 7 composite, 7 SVideo, and 3 component video inputs; 4 composite, 5 S-Video, and 1 component video outputs (Component video frequency response
100 MHz)
Audio Inputs/Audio Outputs: 12 analog
inputs (including phono), 7digital inputs, built-in
FM tuner; 5 analog outputs (including headphones), 2 digital outputs
Other Inputs/Outputs: Multi-room IR input
Dimensions: 17 5/16" x 8" x 18 ¾" (w x h x d)
Weight: 68 lb.
Associated Equipment
McCormack MAP-1 multichannel preamp,
Meridian 861 Digital Processor, Sunfire
Signature power amp, Naim Nait 5i integrated
amplifier, Yamaha S2300 universal disc player,
Toshiba SD-6200 DVD player, Pioneer DV563A DVD player, Revel Salon, Voice and
Embrace speakers, ProAc Super Tablette loudspeakers, Velodyne DD-10 subwoofer, Nordost
Blue Heaven interconnects, Audioquest Jaguar
interconnects, Audioquest Type 4 speaker
cable, ASC Tube Traps, Monster Power
Conditioner
Manufacturer Information
Pioneer Electronics (USA), Inc.
2265 E. 220th St.
Long Beach, CA 90810
(800) 421-1404
www.pioneerelectronics.com
Page 16
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Jerry Sommers
Equipment Review
Home Theater to Go; Two Tasty HTiB Rigs
Yamaha DVX-S120P and Onkyo LS-V955
Home Theater in a Box
H
ome-Theater-in-a-Box
(HTiB) systems have
dropped in price substantially
from just a few years ago.
Today, lots of manufacturers
offer bundled packages with
DVD receivers and surroundsound speakers ranging from
cheap and gimmicky systems
made by people you've never
heard of to solid units that
come from well-established
brands. With so many HTiB
systems available, the hunt
for the perfect system can be
both exciting and intimidating.
Enter Yamaha's DVX-S120
and Onkyo's LS-V955, units
from two hugely successful
manufacturers well-known in
home theater. These
HTiB systems are
affordable, easy to use,
expandable, and fun!
Both the Yamaha
DVX
S120P and
Onkyo LS-V955 support bass manageYamaha DVX-S120P HTiB
ment, enabling you to
upgrade to larger
speakers when you've
outgrown the stock
speakers.
Both support headphones, and the
for all its
cool thing about the Yamaha is that it
bells and whistles.
offers "Virtual Surround"—a mode that
At the heart of the system is the
lets you hear a simulated surround
slim and stylish DVR-S120 progressivepresentation from two-channel headscan DVD receiver. Putting out a
phones. Perfect for when the kids are
healthy 55wpc, the system has enough
sleeping, your spouse is cranky, or your
power at moderate volume levels. The
roommate is easily agitated at 2AM.
Yamaha supports 19 32bit DSP modes
and all of the basic sound formats,
Yamaha DVX -S120P Home Cinema
including Dolby Digital, DTS, and Dolby
System
Pro Logic II, as well as Matrix 6.1 mode,
which simulates a phantom back chanThe Yamaha retails for $799.95; but, in
nel using the rear surround speakers.
searching on the web, I came across
Digital-to analog conversions are perthe low price of $549. Pretty affordable
formed by 192kHz/24 bit audio DACs.
© Copyright 2004, Absolute Multimedia
AVguide Monthly
DVD Video, DVD-R/RW, DVD+R/RW,
CD, CD-R/RW, MP3, VCD, and SVCD
discs are all supported. The Yamaha
includes a built-in AM/FM radio tuner.
Connectivity to and from the unit is supported by S-video, component, and
composite connections. Audio connections can be made via a pair of analog
inputs (via RCA jacks), or through an
optical digital input; a digital audio output is also provided.
The speakers are all magnetically
shielded, and are minimalistically slim
and a stylish, metallic grey. Handsome
stands are included and they complement the speakers quite well (or you
can hang the speakers on the wall). The
NX-S120 L/R speakers are two-way,
acoustic-suspension
speakers with four 2" woofers and a ½"
tweeter. These can be mounted flush
against a wall or on the included stands.
The NX-S120 surround speakers consist of two 2" woofers and a ½" tweeter.
The NX-C120 center speaker consists
of four 2" woofers and a ½" tweeter. The
NX-SW120 subwoofer is attractive, with
a beveled look and a front firing port.
Page 18
www.avguide.com
Equipment Review
Utilizing a built-in 120w amplifier and an
8" multi-range driver, this little bass cannon is ready for action.
The universal remote is quite easy
to use and to program, and after 30
minutes of set-up with the manual and
the remote, I didn't need to refer to the
manual again. This ease of use made
the fact that the remote wasn't backlit a
minor omission.
Yamaha Music Playback
For music evaluation, I used The
Flaming Lips' DVD-A, Yoshimi Battles
the Pink Robots [Warner Brothers]. I've
played the hell outta the two-channel
CD version and thought it only fair to
judge the system on something I know
so well. Because this is a DVD-A title
and the Yamaha doesn't support DVDA, I listened to the Dolby Digital surround tracks on the disc instead. On
"Fight Test," drums are cleverly panned
in a clockwise direction around the listener. This is pretty cool in stereo, but
even better in surround. At moderate
levels, I was swinging my arms and
bobbing my head to the clever mixes. At
moderate levels, music playback on the
Yamaha DVX-S120P can be quite satisfying, but when the system is pushed to
its limits you'll hear a trough in its lower
midrange/upper bass response; if you
reach the point where the system starts
to sound like five tweeters and a subwoofer, it's time to back off the volume.
For many listeners, moderate volume
levels will be fine, but when this system
is played at party levels, the highs
become glassy and distortion kicks in. I
don't see most people pushing the system that far. Still, when it comes to
achieving high volume levels, hoping
you can is one thing; experiencing that
you can't is another.
Yamaha Film Playback
The true strength of the Yamaha DVXS120P lies in its convincing portrayal of
film sources. In The Matrix Revolutions
[Warner Home Video], there is a scene
right before Trinity invades the
bondage-theme nightclub. The scene is
reminiscent of the lobby scene in the
first Matrix [Warner Home Video], where
Neo and Trinity go through the metal
detectors and unleash a fury of bullets.
© Copyright 2004, Absolute Multimedia
AVguide Monthly
In Revolutions, the villains, in an acrobatic firefight, are "Dancin' on the
Ceiling"—no disrespect intended,
Lionel Ritchie. The Yamaha picked up
the distinct sound of shell casings landing on the ground cleanly and crisply;
bullets whizzed inches away from my
head; I actually started dodging the bullets, just without blurring out and emulating bullet time effects.
From Ringwraith screams to catapult assaults, the Yamaha, on the
"Siege of Gondor" scene from The Lord
of the Rings: Return of the King [New
Line Home Entertainment], put me right
in the action. Dialog was clear and intelligible; and at moderate volumes, the
action was fierce and intense without
distortion.
The Yamaha DVX-S120P made
musical and film sources come alive
with surround envelopment. Straight out
of the box, you can have this system
ready for you to enjoy music or movies
in 30 minutes flat. Musical sources are
satisfying to a point, but that's not why
you would buy this system. You want it
for the movie playback.
Onkyo LS-V955
Theater System
Envision
Home
Onkyo's LS-V955 Envision Theater
System retails for $1,000.The DRS-2.2
DVD receiver and subwoofer are the
same models that appeared in the
Onkyo LS-V950 system a year ago. The
only thing that has changed is an
upgrade to more sophisticated vertical
tower loudspeakers. The guts of the
system is the stylish and hefty brushedaluminum DRS-2.2 progressive-can
DVD receiver, which puts out a healthy
40wpc. When powered up, this baby
looks like a work of art, with its recessed
neon cobalt-blue panel lighting. The
DVD receiver has component, S-video,
and composite-video outputs, with optical and coaxial audio inputs. The latest
surround-sound decoders are on board,
with Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic II
and DTS all supported. The DVD player
accepts redbook audio CDs, CDR/RWs, and even MP3-encoded discs.
The DVD receiver supports four additional inputs and includes an FM/AM
tuner. The remote control was extremely easy to use, with back-light capability
for low-light conditions, and a learning
function, so that all of your components
can be controlled by one remote.
The new magnetically shielded
speakers are a change from the model
950 cubes, taking on a more modern
metallic, vertical, and curved look. The
SKF-240F L/R speakers and SKC-240C
center channel each contain a pair of 3
1/8" woofers and a 1" balanced dome
tweeter, whereas the SKM-240S surrounds have only one 3 1/8" woofer and
a 1" balanced-dome tweeter. The L/R,
center and surround speakers are all
"Straight out of the
box, this Yamaha
system is ready to
have you enjoy
music or movies in
thirty minutes flat."
bass-reflex designs, and for such a
compact HTiB, these speakers go
unusually low, filling that mid-bass void
I observed when playing the Yamaha
system at high volume. The speakers
are cased in attractive reflective aluminum finish caps at the tops and bottoms of the L/Rs and surrounds and on
the ends of the center channel. This
design is a lot classier than the boxed
"Bose" look of the 950 speakers. The
system is complemented in the oomph
department by the 150-watt powered
subwoofer. The subwoofer is a behemoth, resembling a rectangular sitting
stool, out of place with the classy-looking DVD receiver and speakers, but this
puppy is supposed to be tucked away in
a concealed location, right? I'll tell you
one thing; this sub kicks some sonic
booty. And another impressive feature:
An extra set of front speaker outputs
lets you add another L/R speaker pair
using the "B" front-speaker terminals.
Onkyo Music Playback
Listening again to "Fight Test," from the
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots DVDA, I found the Onkyo system not as
bright as the Yamaha and I actually
heard some midbass from the L/Rs,
Page 19
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Equipment Review
center, and surrounds. You can get the
same enveloping, sonic-bubble immersion effect I enjoyed on the Yamaha
system, but the Onkyo's overall presentation is weightier and more believable.
The bass is deep and satisfying, so this
system sounds great with music. But
bone-crushing film soundtracks is
where this system really excels. The
overall sound is very laid back, and
that's a good thing. "Three MC's and
One DJ" from the Beastie Boys
Anthology DVD [Emd, Capitol] had
punch and authority. The instrumental
for this track is supplied by Mixmaster
Mike from the Bay Area's Invisible
Scratch Piklz, undeniably the greatest
Turntablist group in the world and multiple-time world champions at the DMC
Championships. Mixmaster Mike takes
a beat from a record and manipulates it,
scratching to create an entirely different
beat—this is beat juggling at its finest!
This particular song calls for all the juice
a subwoofer can handle and the Onkyo
didn't even break a sweat. "Ricky's
Theme" is a bossa-nova-vibed song
that so overflows with bass and organ it
just makes you nod your head. The
Onkyo handled this track with finesse
and accuracy. Hip Hop sounds great on
the Onkyo; the bass is definitely there
and the mids and highs aren't overly
bright.
Onkyo Film Playback
The Onkyo LS-V955 handled music
quite satisfyingly. But I was amazed at
how much more enjoyable movies
were. Action and dialog compliment
each other beautifully in Ron Howard's
The Missing [Columbia Tristar].
Realistic horse gallops, trail-riding
action, gunshots, thunder, howling
winds, bird calls, and a shamanistic
exorcism all were reproduced beautifully and realistically through the Onkyo.
On The Matrix Revolutions, during the
club-lobby machine-gun scene I discussed earlier, the spits of machine-gun
fire had force and dynamics, and I could
feel the percussive thumps as bullets hit
my chest—that's how powerful this sub
is! The sub amp includes a line-level
control, and in checking the setting after
this scene, I was surprised to note it
was only a quarter of the way up. Yep,
sometimes, you need even more bass.
© Copyright 2004, Absolute Multimedia
AVguide Monthly
Onkyo LS-V955 HTiB
And I could have turned it up, but the
impact of the movie at this level was
quite enough for me. After dodging bullets, the second time, I was ready to call
this system "The One." The Return of
the King had me holding onto my chair
"Watching The Matrix
Revolutions …I could
feel the bullets hit my
chest; that's how powerful this Onkyo sub is!"
yelling at Frodo to not trust Sméagol.
The bass impact of catapult assaults
was pronounced and deep, and orc
howls were scary and realistic. I have to
admit that the beginning of this movie
had me almost falling asleep, but then
the realistic immersion this system provides sucked me into the story and kept
me entertained. Now if I can just stop
talking like Gollum and calling the
remote "my precious," I think I'll be
okay!
The speakers in the Onkyo LS-V955
handled music sources surprisingly
well, their build-quality adding weight
and authority to the bright presentation
so many surround systems possess.
Music sources sounded phenomenal,
with extra oomph in the bass department supplied by the SKW-240 subwoofer. The Onkyo LS-V955 excels in
both looks and sound reproduction.
Highly recommended!
In the last couple of years, prices
have dropped dramatically on HTiB systems, features have become more
abundant, and the quality of the hometheater experience has become more
realistic. Both the Yamaha and Onkyo
HTiB systems exemplify the fun that
you can have with both musical and
movie sources. If you're looking for a
good HTiB system you can buy for a
street price below $600, I recommend
the Yamaha DVX-S120P, but if your
wallet can stand the extra bills it takes
for the $1K Onkyo LS-V955, buy it—just
be sure not to be blown away by the
BASS!
Page 20
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Equipment Review
Specifications
Yamaha DVX-S120P Home Cinema in a Box system
DVR S120 DVD Receiver
Suggested System List Price: $799.95
Power: 55 Wpc x 5 channels @ 6 ohms, 1kHz
Decoding Formats: Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic II, DTS, virtual Matrix 6.1
Disc formats supported: DVD Video, DVD-R/RW, DVD+R/RW, CD, CD-R/RW, MP3, VCD, and SVCD
Audio Inputs/Outputs: Built-in AM/FM tuner, two analog inputs via RCA jacks, two optical digital inputs, one digital output
Video Outputs: One composite, one S-video, one component
Dimensions: 14 3/16" x 2 15/16" x 14 3/16"
Weight: 14 lbs. 2 oz
Speaker Set: Two NX-S120 L/R, two NX-S120 Surrounds, one NX-C120 Center, one NX-SW120 Subwoofer
Type: L/R and Surround: Stand or wall mount. Center: Tabletop/set-top or wall mount unit. Subwoofer: Powered, floorstanding unit.
Driver Complement, L/R:
2-way acoustic suspension, (4) 2" mid/woofers, (1) ½" tweeter
Driver Complement, Satellites: 2-way acoustic suspension, (2) 2" mid/woofers, (1) ½" tweeter
Driver Complement Center: 2-way acoustic suspension, (4) 2" mid/woofers, (1) ½" tweeter
Driver Complement Subwoofer: (1) 8" multi-range woofer
Integral Amplifier Power for Subwoofer: 120 watts
Sensitivity L/R: 86dB
Sensitivity Satellites: 86dB
Sensitivity Center: 86dB
Impedance L/R:
6 ohms
Impedance Satellites: 6 ohms
Impedance Center: 6 ohms
Onkyo Envision Home Theater System LS-V955
DR-S2.2 DVD Receiver
Suggested System List Price: $1000
Power Output: 40 Wpc x 5 channels @ 6 ohms, 1kHz
Decoding Formats: Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic II and DTS decoders
Disc formats supported: Audio CDs, CD-R/RWs, MP3-encoded discs
Audio Inputs/Outputs: Built-in AM/FM tuner, four audio inputs, two analog audio outputs, one digital audio output
Video Outputs: One composite, one S-video, one component
Dimensions: 17" 1/8 x 4" x16" 13/16
Weight: 19.4 lbs.
Speakers: Two SKF-240F L/R, two SKM-240S Surround, one SKW-240 Subwoofer
(2) 3/8" woofers, 1" balanced dome tweeter
Type L/R, Surrounds, and Center: Tabletop or wall mount units.
Subwoofer: Powered, floorstanding unit
Driver Complement, L/R:
2-way bass reflex, (2) 3 1/8" cone-type mid/woofers , (1) 1" balanced dome tweeter
Driver Complement, Satellites: 2-way bass reflex, (1) 3 1/8" cone-type mid/woofers, (1) 1" balanced dome tweeter
Driver Complement Center: 2-way bass reflex, (2) 3 1/8" cone-type mid/woofers, (1) 1" balanced dome tweeter
Driver Complement Subwoofer: Bass Reflex, (1) 8" cone-type woofer
Integral Amplifier Power for Subwoofer: 150 watts
Sensitivity L/R:
Not specified
Sensitivity Satellites: Not specified
Sensitivity Center: Not specified
Impedance L/R:
8 ohms
Impedance Satellites: 8 ohms
Impedance Center: 8 ohms
Manufacturer Information
Yamaha Electronics Corp.
6660 Orangethorpe Avenue
Buena Park, California 90620
800.292.2982
www.yamaha.com
Onkyo USA Corporation
18 Park Way
Upper Saddle River, New Jersey 07458
201.785.2600
www.onkyousa.com
Associated Equipment
Panasonic CT-27D11E Direct View TV
© Copyright 2004, Absolute Multimedia
AVguide Monthly
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Page 21
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Chris Martens
Equipment Review
Dynamite A/V Electronics from legends Jim Fosgate & Jim Strickland
Fosgate Audionics FAP-T1/FAA-1000.5
Multichannel Controller/Amplifier
FAP-T1 Controller
F
or many of us, the Holy Grail of
home entertainment would be multichannel electronics offering audiophile
sound quality for music, plus all the processing power needed to bring film
soundtracks alive. Of course, depending
upon your point of view, "processing
power" and "audiophile sound quality"
may not seem like they belong in the
same sentence, since audiophiles typically crave the kind of pure, clear sound
that can only come from simple, uncluttered amplifier circuits. As anyone who
has navigated a multichannel controller's
setup menu can tell you, though, simple
and uncluttered are two things most surround sound controllers are not. What's
the solution? I've often thought it would
be a controller/amplifier combo that
offered plenty of processing power, but
that eliminated unnecessary complexities, and that featured purist analog
amplifiers designed by and for audiophiles. I'm pleased to tell you this is
exactly what Fosgate Audionics offers in
its new FAP-T1 controller and FAA1000.5 multichannel amplifier. Does this
"less is more" approach work in practice? You bet it does, as I'll discuss in a
moment. But first, let me supply some
© Copyright 2004, Absolute Multimedia
AVguide Monthly
background on Fosgate Audionics.
Many enthusiasts associate the
name Fosgate with car hi-fi, which
makes sense given that Rockford
Fosgate was one of the first manufacturers to offer serious, audiophile-grade
amplifiers for automotive applications.
"…the FAP-T1 and
FAA-1000.5
proved to be the
best sounding and
most powerful set
of multichannel
electronics I have
yet auditioned in
my home."
Over the years, however, Rockford
Corporation—which
is
Fosgate
Audionics'
parent
company—has
extended its reach far beyond car-fi,
developing strengths in high-end audio
and home theater by acquiring or merging with famous firms such as Acoustat
(known for its full-range electrostatic
speakers), Audionics of Oregon (known
for its purist audio amplifiers), and Hafler
(known for innovative amplifiers that
offered great value for money). With
high-end roots that run deep, Fosgate
Audionics today is led by a four-man
"dream team" of designers that includes
Jim Fosgate (holder of more than 25
audio-related patents, and the developer
of Dolby's Pro Logic II system), Jim
Strickland (holder of nine audio-related
patents, designer of the Acoustat loudspeakers, and developer of the
trans•ana circuit used in the FAA-1000.5
amplifier), Charles Wood (founder of
Audionics of Oregon), and Gary Church
(a veteran loudspeaker designer with
over 25 years of experience). I believe
this wealth of design experience greatly
influenced the configuration and overall
sound of the FAP-T1 controller and FAA1000.5 amplifier.
The FAP T1 is a 7.1 channel preamp/processor with built-in AM/FM tuner
that gives you everything you need for
Page 22
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Equipment Review
high-performance playback of multichannel music and film soundtracks, and
nothing that you don't. The FAP-T1 supports a broad range of audio and video
inputs (including an external 5.1-channel
analog input with bypass capabilities),
and whose output capabilities are highly
flexible (including 7.1 channel analog
audio outputs and what Fosgate
describes
as
"High
Bandwidth
Professional Quality (HDTV compatible)
Component
Video
Switching").
Convenience touches include a pair of
12-volt trigger outputs, external remote
inputs/outputs, provisions for controlling
an A/V system in a second zone, and
even a security camera input. The faceplate of the FAP-T1 features an array of
easy to use control buttons, a big volume
/rotary encoder control knob, and a large
5" TFT LCD control/display screen
(which makes it easy to monitor on-thefly control adjustments without disturbing
the picture on your main display). The
controller is supplied with a simple, universal remote control with switch selectable control backlighting to help you find
your way in the dark.
Unlike controllers that offer DSP-driven surround sound modes galore, the
FAP-T1 keeps things simple, focusing
primarily on getting its essential Dolby
and DTS surround modes to sound
their best. Thus, the FAP-T1 supports Dolby Pro Logic II, Dolby
Digital and Digital EX, DTS, DTSES, DTS-Neo:6, plus a special
Cirrus Logic-powered Extra
Surround mode aimed at
synthesizing "realistic 6.1
or 7.1 surround sound
from digital and analog
sources." The closer
you look at this controller, the more
audiophile-oriented
touches you find.
For example, the
FAP-T1 features a unique,
switch-selectable 5.1-channel
analog input bass management control that allows users to apply an 80 Hz
high pass filter on the Left, Right, Center,
Left Surround, and Right Surround channels, with summed, sub-80Hz information from those channels being sent to
the subwoofer channel (this is a great
feature for those whose multichannel
players do not provide built-in bass man-
© Copyright 2004, Absolute Multimedia
AVguide Monthly
agement functions). Further, for all digital
inputs, the controller supports Cirrus'
Triple
Crossover/Precision
Bass
Management functions, which allow you
to set separate subwoofer
crossover frequencies for your
main, center channel, and surround speakers (the available options for each are
40Hz, 60Hz, 80Hz, 100Hz,
120Hz, and 150Hz).
Accordingly, you can
mix large (i.e., full
range)
speakers
and small (i.e.,
satellite-type)
speakers
in
your system,
taking
full
advantage
of
the
benefits
o
f
each;
you
simp l y
select a
low subwoofer
crossover
frequency
(e.g., 40Hz) for
use with your
large speakers
while choosing a
high frequency (e.g.,
120Hz) for use with
you small satellites. No other controllers
or AVRs I've seen offer this useful feature. All analog/digital conversion tasks
are handled by high quality devices—
specifically, Crystal CS5360 24bit/48kHz analog-to-digital converters
and Crystal CS4396 24-bit/192kHz digital-to-analog converters (the Crystal
DACs, in particular, sounded much better than the DACs found in some quite
expensive CD players). Finally,
Fosgate
Audionics
claims the FAPT1 provides
"audiophile
quality preamplifier
stages"
whose analog-bypassed
frequency
response is a
very tightly specified
10Hz
to
20kHz, +0/-0.2dB.
Of course, specifications alone can't tell
you how a unit will
sound, but the fact that
the FAP-T1 has such tight
tolerances suggests the
designers took care to insure
that this would be a wide-bandwidth design.
The FAA-1000.5 is the 5-channel companion amplifier to the FAPT1 controller, and let me tell you that
it is a real bruiser. Unlike many mass
market AVRs, (whose "funny number"
power specifications look impressive on
paper, but whose real-world output
leaves much to be desired), this powerful amplifier offers real muscle, putting
out a whopping 200 watts per channel,
from 20Hz to 20kHz (+/- 0.1dB), with all
five channels driven concurrently, and
driving 4, 6, or 8 ohm loads (and all without requiring cooling fans!). The amp is
a modular design, meaning each of its
channels is a separate unit that plugs
into the amplifier's card cage-style main
chassis. The FAA-1000.5 is based on
Jim
Strickland's
trans•ana
(Transconductance
Active
Nodal
Amplifier) circuit topology, which uses
JFET devices in its front-end stages,
MOSFET devices in its power output
stages, all fed by an exceptionally efficient, regulating switch-mode power
supply. Without delving into too much
technical detail, I should mention that the
trans•ana topology offers two essential
benefits: First, it requires fewer serial
amplification stages than conventional
amplifiers do (just four stages from input
Page 23
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Equipment Review
to output), and second, the design concentrates power gain in the amplifier's
final output stage, thus allowing "use of
the finest preamp circuitry available up
until the very last stage." The FAA1000.5 external appearance reflects simplicity and strength; from the outside all
you see is a big, black, beautifully-finished monolith whose real panel provides five input jacks, five sets of speaker taps, a 12 V trigger input, a three-way
speaker impedance optimizer switch, a
turn-on mode switch and a master power
switch, and whose beveled faceplate
provides only a set of power and channel
LED indicators. There are no channel
level controls (Fosgate believes they
would degrade sound quality) or other
gongs, whistles, or gimmicks—just a
dead quiet amp that pumps out tons of
clean power.
Together, the FAP-T1 and FAA1000.5 proved to be the best sounding
and most powerful set of multichannel
electronics I have yet auditioned in my
home (though I've not sampled top-tier,
premium-priced, units from such leaders
as Meridian or Theta). I auditioned the
Fosgate Audionics combo first with
KEF's superb KHT 9000 5.1-channel
speaker system, and then with a hybrid
system that combined elements of the
KEF system with a pair of Gallo
Acoustics' astounding new Nucleus
Reference III full-range loudspeakers
(watch for my upcoming reviews of the
KEF and Gallo speakers in our sister
magazines The Perfect Vision and The
Absolute Sound). Here's what my listening tests revealed.
On films, the FAP-T1 and FAA1005.1 produced a smoothly enveloping
soundfield at least as effectively as any
other multichannel electronics I've
heard. Some of the battle scenes from
Master and Commander: The Far Side
of the World [Twentieth Century Fox], for
example, feature the sounds of shattered
shards of wood and metal whistling up
and over listeners' heads, and through
the Fosgate duo the three-dimensional
illusion can be so convincing you almost
feel the urge to duck and cover. What is
more, the Fosgate Audionics pair also
gets the timbre and dynamics of wellrecorded sound effects just right. In The
Last Samuraii [Warner], during the final
cavalry charge, the furious whoosh of
Captain Algren's katana sword being
© Copyright 2004, Absolute Multimedia
AVguide Monthly
FAA-1000.5 Multichannel Amplifier
drawn from its scabbard, and the piercing, almost chime-like ring of its forged
steel blade grabs your attention, serving
as a momentary sonic symbol for both
the valor and futility of his charge. Sound
effects just don't get much more believable than this. But taking sound quality
one further step, the Fosgate Audionics
pair also gets large-scale dynamics right,
even on passages that would make most
other amps beg for mercy. A good example occurs in the final minutes of Miracle
[Disney], which depicts the 1980 U.S.
Olympic Hockey Team scrapping its way
toward victory over the seemingly invincible Soviet National team. As the end of
the decisive game draws near, the action
gets louder, more frantic and more percussive, with violent man-on-man collisions, the hard smack of shots on goal
being taken, and the mounting roar of
the capacity crowd on its feet. As the
action and soundtrack dynamics rose to
a fever pitch, the Fosgate Audionics pair
kept its cool, answering call after call for
more power without breaking a sweat.
The really striking thing, though, was not
just the amplifier's raw power (which is
formidable), but the fact that it could—
like some of the best two-channel audiophile amplifiers—deliver textural finesse
and raw, dynamic wallop at the same
time.
On music, the FAP-T1 and FAA100.5 proved an even bigger surprise,
because their sound quality—unlike that
of so many controller/amplifiers and
AVRs—seemed in no way compromised
by their built-in surround sound features.
In the interest of comparing multichannel
vs. stereo amplifier sound quality on a
level playing field, I deliberately compared the Fosgate Audionics pair to
stereo components of similar cost per
channel (where, for reference, the FAP-
T1 costs about $357 per channel while
the FAA-1000.5 costs $540 per channel).
What I found was that, in analog bypass
mode, the FAP-T1 offered sound whose
transparency, balance, and resolution
were quite competitive with those of
stereo preamps in the $1000 price range
(and beyond), while the iron-fist-in-a-velvet-glove sound of the FAA-1000.5 more
than held its own in comparison to stereo
power amps in the $1200 range (or
above). In terms of voicing, the FAP-T1
and FAA-1000.5 are well matched, offering neutral balance with excellent lateral
imaging and good (though perhaps
slightly foreshortened) reproduction of
front-to-back depth cues in music.
Overall, the FAP-T1 had an ever so
slightly "dry-sounding" presentation,
which was beautifully complemented
both by a touch of offsetting warmth in
the sound of the FAA-1000.5, plus that
amplifier's potent and nicely-weighted
bass. The FAA-1000.5 offers tremendous reserves of power, so that it handles loud pieces with complicated
dynamics (e.g., Hovaness' Storm on
Mount Wildcat [Telarc] on SACD) with
grace and poise. For music lovers, this is
all wonderful news; it means we can
finally enter the world of surround sound
without sacrificing sound quality.
When listening to good surround
material through the FAP-T1 and FAA1000.5 on appropriately high-quality
speakers, you'll enjoy imaging and
soundstaging that are qualitatively similar to what you'd hear from a good stereo
system, but where the images and
soundstage wrap around to your sides
and behind you. On some recordings,
the difference is revelatory. Though the
recording may be a touch too psychedelic for some tastes, I'd suggest listening
the SACD version of Pink Floyd's Dark
Page 24
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Equipment Review
Side of the Moon [Capitol] in stereo and
then again in surround. The well-loved 2channel version is excellent, but I find
the surround version even better, perfectly exploiting the album's layered textural effects and placing each sound
source in a three-dimensional space
(check out the ticking clocks that encircle
you at the beginning of the "Time" track
and you'll hear what I mean).
While these components perform
beautifully with multichannel sources
heard in analog bypass mode, I think
many listeners
will be floored to
hear how good
the
FAP-T1
sounds
when
using either its
DTS or (especially) Dolby Pro
Logic
II-Music
modes. As I mentioned earlier, Jim
Fosgate originally
developed
the
Dolby Pro Logic II
system, and I
suspect he may
know a thing or
two about implementing that system that most other designers do not. In
any event, the FAP-T1 offers the best
sounding Dolby Pro Logic II-Music mode
I've ever heard. Let me put that remark in
context. Dolby PLII modes in better controllers and AVRs generally sound pretty
good, but they also sound, well,
"processed" (meaning they impose a
sort of sonic "veil" that blurs the finest,
smallest details in the music). Not so
with the Fosgate Audionics controller; its
Dolby PLII-Music mode sounds clear
and expansive—with inner details that
truly rival those of your original twochannel source materials—so that you
quickly forget all about signal processing
and lose yourself in the beauty of the
surround soundfield. Even on material
that would leave timbral processing
errors naked and exposed, such as the
pure, sweet sound of Hilary Hahn's solo
violin in Meyer's Violin Concerto [Sony],
the sound of the Fosgate's Dolby PLII
decoder always rings true. In short, the
FAP-T1 converts stereo sources into
audiophile-quality surround sound
sources at the push of a button, faithfully
preserving the textures, tonality, dynamics and "feel" of the original. This system
offers a model of simplicity and sonic
excellence.
There are only a few nits I would pick
with this combo, which I'll list here. First,
I feel the FAP-T1 should offer a 7.1channel (not 5.1-channel) analog input. I
realize the norm is for today's multichannel players to provide 5.1-channel outputs, but I think a 7.1-channel input
would add a desirable measure of future
proofing consistent with the rest of the
controller's
d e s i g n .
Second, I think
both the FAPT1 and FAA1000.5 should
come with sets
of complimentary 12V trigger
cables.
This
seemingly
inconsequential
detail becomes
important once
you realize that
the FAA-1000.5
does not provide a faceplate-mounted
Standby/On switch, and when you discover—as I did—that trigger signal
cables can be surprisingly hard to find in
local electronics shops. Finally, I'd like to
see Fosgate revise the graphic layout of
its manuals to make the labeling of topic
headers more consistent, and the divisions between topics easier to spot. In
fairness, the manual text, itself, is clear
and well-written, but the hard part is finding the sections you need at a glance.
However, these are minor points that in
no way dampen my enthusiasm for
these components.
At a combined price of $5300, the
FAP-T1 and FAA-1000.5 pair is not
cheap, but neither is it "crazy expensive"
(you'll pay about a 20% premium over
the cost of a top-flight AVR to get the
Fosgates, and they're well worth it);
these components offer excellent value
for your money. They not only sound
great in the here and now, but offer the
possibility of future upgrades, thanks to a
replaceable programming ROM in the
controller. Best of all, these components
have their priorities straight, placing a
"As the action and
soundtrack dynamics
rose to a fever pitch,
the Fosgate Audionics
pair kept its cool,
answering call after call
for more power without
breaking a sweat."
© Copyright 2004, Absolute Multimedia
AVguide Monthly
premium on sound quality, simplicity,
ease of use, and an ample—but never
gratuitously complicated—set of useful
features and functions. For those who
have yearned for multichannel electronics that could deliver audiophile sound
quality at a fair price, the long wait is
finally over.
How good are these components,
really? Let's just say that I'm scheming
for ways to come up with the scratch to
buy a set for myself.
Specifications
Fosgate Audionics FAP-T1
Preamp/Processor
Price: $2500
Decoding formats: Dolby Pro Logic II, Dolby
Digital and Dolby Digital EX; DTS, DTS-ES,
and DTS Neo:6; Cirrus Extra Surround.
Inputs: Nine analog audio (with analog
bypass), one external 5.1-channel analog
audio (with analog bypass), six digital audio
(two coax, four optical), five composite video,
five S-Video, three component video (with
bandwidth suitable for HDTV)
Outputs: One 7.1-channel analog audio, two
digital audio (one coax, one optical), two tape
out, one composite video, one S-video, one
component video, and one Zone 2 A/V output.
Other I/O: 12V trigger signals, external
remote, security camera input, 5" TFT LCD
control/monitor screen
Dimensions: 17.12 " x 4.6" x 14.76"
Weight: 17.6 lbs.
Fosgate Audionics FAA-1000.5
Multichannel Amplifier
Price: $2800
Number of channels: Five
Power output: 200 Watts/Channel
Number and type of audio inputs: Five
unbalanced.
Dimensions: 17" x 7.5" x 15.75"
Weight: 62 lbs.
Associated Equipment
Pioneer PDP-505HD plasma display; Sony
DVP-S9000ES and DVP-NS500V
DVD/SACD/CD players; KEF KHT 9000 and
Infinity TSS-750 5.1-channel speaker systems,
Gallo Acoustics Nucleus Reference III fullrange loudspeakers; Synergistic X2 speaker
and interconnect cables with active shielding
system; Chang Lightspeed CLS-HT1000 Mk II
power conditioner
Manufacturer Information
FOSGATE AUDIONICS Division
Rockford Corporation
546 Rockford Drive
Tempe, AZ 85281
(866) 777-7282
www.fosgateaudionics.com
Page 25
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Chris Martens
Musical Realism
Musical "Realism:"
How Do You Define It?
W
hen our sister magazine The
Absolute Sound first arrived on
the scene just over 30 years ago, its
founder, Harry Pearson (or HP, as he is
best known in print) promoted the then
radical (and perhaps still radical) idea
that hi-fi systems are best evaluated by
comparing their sound to that of an
unshakeable "gold standard:" namely,
the sound of live, unamplified music as
performed in a natural acoustic space.
For audio engineers who believed that
everything worth knowing could and
should be quantifiable and measurable,
this observational approach to product
assessment seemed scary, haphazard,
and fraught with the perils of unchecked
human subjectivity. But music lovers—
especially those who knew and loved
the sound of live music—saw the matter
differently. For them, it had already
become clear that the human ear could
discern important differences between
components that no amount of "objective" laboratory testing could fully
explain. Faced with more than a few
instances where components measured
right but sounded wrong (and vice
versa), many enthusiasts ran to
embrace the sound of live music as the
yardstick against which all hi-fi components would be measured (or at least
that's what many of us told ourselves).
Overall, the live music standard has
served us well, with the result that good
modern components arguably sound
much more lifelike than those of 30
years ago. However, the concept of
comparing hi-fi components to a live
music standard had—as do many great
and intuitively appealing ideas—its
© Copyright 2004, Absolute Multimedia
AVguide Monthly
share of problems and glitches.
First, as a general rule, listeners
benefited from applying the live-music
standard only to the extent that they
actually knew the sound of live music,
and were willing to refresh that knowledge on a pretty regular basis. One
problem was that some enthusiasts and
would-be critics weren't nearly as familiar with the sound of the real thing as
they sometimes let on, possibly because
the sounds they really knew best were
those produced by various hi-fi
systems—not those of real instruments
"…though the sound of
live music may indeed
be a standard, individuals' perceptions of (and
emotional reactions to)
the sound of live music
are not standardized…"
or voices. This meant that many enthusiasts drifted into the habit of picking
components purely on the basis of personal tastes rather than on observational comparisons to a known standard. Of
course, there is no rule against choosing
components on the basis of personal
tastes, but there is a world of difference
between stating one's preferences as
gospel truth (e.g., "component 'X'
sounds good to me, so therefore it is
good") versus offering disciplined, experience-driven observations (e.g., "On
well-made recordings, component "X"
faithfully reproduces four or five sonic
qualities I clearly remember hearing in a
live concert I attended last week.").
Second, listeners quickly found they
needed to learn how to distinguish system changes that simply altered their
systems' sounds vs. those that actually
improved overall musical realism. Harry
Pearson has written that "everything
sounds," meaning that there are likely to
be noticeable changes in sound quality
whenever we change any components
in our systems. But this fact, which
comes as a revelation for many listeners, made it even more important to
remember that not all change is good
change. Until our judgment gets firmly
grounded in familiarity with the sound of
live music, it is easy to get caught up in
a "flavor-of-the-month" approach to system modifications, in which we wind up
sampling sonic changes with no real
idea whether or not they are taking our
systems closer to the sound of the real
thing.
Third, listeners discovered that the
apparent sound quality of their systems
was dependent upon, and interacted
with, the sound quality of the recordings
they played-often in very complex and
unpredictable ways. Many of us fell in
love with the sound of a select group of
particularly well-made recordings that
we adopted as references, only to find
later on, sometimes in sonically painful
ways, that we had unwittingly started to
buy components "tuned," as it were, for
the specific purpose of making our tiny
handful of reference recordings sound
more realistic. The problem, of course,
was that systems tuned for realism on a
just few recordings won't necessarily
sound very musical on the broader
Page 26
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Musical Realism
spectrum of recordings that most of us
like to play. Thus we had to learn the
hard way to strike system compromises
that let us achieve satisfying levels of
realism both on great and not-so-great
recordings, and across many genres of
music.
Finally, many of us came to see
that though the sound of live music
may indeed be a standard, individuals' perceptions of (and emotional
reactions to) the sound of live
music are not standardized—
not even when hearing the
same performers playing the
same music in the same
room at the same time. Part
of the variation in perception
can be attributed to differences in listening position or
perspective, where what we
hear, and want to hear, is to a
degree governed by where we sit
relative to the performers. But
other factors, including listeners' temperaments, interests, and expectations,
also come into play. Some people, for
example, perceive music as a gestalt
whole, while others perceive it more as
an intricately interwoven group of individual musical lines or "threads." Some
are particularly sensitive to tonal balance, textures, or to large- or smallscale shifts in dynamics. Some are
acutely aware of the locations of sound
sources, while other are keenly attuned
to room acoustics and ambient sounds
in the environment. The point, then, is
that one man's conception of the "sound
of live music" can—for all kinds of legitimate reasons—be different from another's.
Despite issues like these, the highend audio industry has for decades
moved forward with the stated goal of
pursuing ever higher levels of musical
"realism," but perhaps without ever
answering the most fundamental question of all: Is facsimile reproduction of
the sound of live music what we really
© Copyright 2004, Absolute Multimedia
AVguide Monthly
want?
Many enthusiasts would bristle at the
suggestion that we might want anything
else, but some years ago I had a fascinating conversa-
t i o n
w i t h
the wise
owner of a
high-end
audio store in
Maryland, a talk that shed some
thought-provoking light on this subject.
The dealer and I were discussing two
competing speakers, and agreed that
one speaker could sound eerily lifelike
at times, yet was fatiguing to listen to for
"…the high-end audio
industry has for decades
moved forward …without ever answering the
most fundamental question of all: Is facsimile
reproduction of the
sound of live music what
we really want?"
long periods of time. The other speaker,
in contrast, offered lower levels of
absolute "realism" (it would never fool
you, not even for a split second, into
thinking you were hearing live music),
yet it was thoroughly enjoyable to hear
for hours on end. How could that
dichotomy be explained?
The dealer thought about the question for a moment, and then said, "You
know, though they would never admit it,
I doubt most of my customers could
handle the sound of live music in their
homes—not even if their systems could
give it to them. If you took away the
experience of going to the concert,
watching the artists play, and interacting with other audience members,
they'd be left with nothing but the
naked sound. And I suspect the
sound of live music, heard in isolation from the rest of the experience, might prove too dramatic, too
intense, and too demanding for most
people to enjoy in a relaxed way."
At first, I was not comfortable with
this provocative idea, yet I couldn't help
but suspect that it contained a large
grain of truth. Live music is, after all, a
powerful and mysterious thing whose
ability to move us to the bottoms of our
souls is perhaps impossible to explain.
Even the best hi-fi systems can only get
us part of the way toward the places live
music can take us, and if they could take
us further I frankly don't know how we
would react. And so I asked the dealer:
"If your customers can't handle the
unvarnished sound of live music, then
what do they want?"
The dealer's hypothesis was that listeners wanted components that reproduced the aspects of live music that carried the most meaning for the individual
listener, and that facilitated the illusion of
the listener's hearing real performers in
a space other than his or her own listening room. Thus, while the resulting
sound might not be an exact replica of
the sound of live music (and so might
not be "realistic" in the strictest sense of
the word), it would nevertheless convey
rich musical meanings in terms that mattered most to the listener, and would
draw the listener's mind and emotions
Page 27
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Musical Realism
out of the cares of the day and the confines of the listening room. I added the
observation that good components not
only needed to do what was necessary
to convey meaning and create the live
music illusion, but also to refrain from
doing anything that might disrupt or
shatter that illusion.
"Exactly," the dealer said, "and
that's why the more 'realistic' speakers
we were discussing could be problematic. The very things they do in order to
achieve higher levels of absolute realism sometimes turn against you,
destroying the 'live music' illusion by
forcefully reminding you that you're only
listening to a hi-fi system."
Over the years, I've reflected back
on that conversation many times, using
it as a touchstone for refining my own
thinking on musical realism, and here
are some the of the observations I've
made:
• The sound of live music is inherently
rewarding, and it sets an absolute "realism standard" for reproduced music. It is
therefore worthwhile to enjoy live music
as frequently as you can, and to become
familiar with its sound. (I would also urge
you to consider playing music, if you are
so inclined, since this experience will
forever change and enhance the ways
you listen to music.).
• While the sound of live music serves
as a "realism" standard, remember that
your experience of live music will in
many respects be as personal and
unique as you are. It is worthwhile to
take time to identify those qualities in
live music that speak most deeply to you
(these are the qualities without which
music would seem—for you—lifeless,
flat, and dull).
• It is equally important to take stock of
those qualities in music reproduction
that you find distracting, disruptive, or
downright irritating (these are the quali-
© Copyright 2004, Absolute Multimedia
AVguide Monthly
ties that prevent you from listening
through or beyond the limitations of the
hi-fi system to hear and enjoy the
music). Paradoxically, it often turns out
that certain "realistic" qualities can—if
taken too far—become the most annoying distractions.
• I believe the goal of any music system
is to recreate as many of the satisfying
aspects of the live music experience as
Remember that the system should serve as a
conduit to an experience, and not so much
an end in itself.
can comfortably be accommodated in
your home, yet without drawing attention
to itself. (Remember that the system
should serve as a conduit to an experience, and not so much an end in itself.)
Choosing Components for Musical
Realism
I suggest that you look for five things.
• General: Look for components whose
sound closely approximates that of live
music (or gets as close as your budget
allows).
While it's a free country, and you can
choose components that offer a preferred set of colorations or sound effects
if you want to, I recommend against
doing so. Typically, colored sound
proves tiresome, boring, and limiting in
the long run.
• General: Look for components that
work well both with reference recordings
and less-than-ideal recordings (you can
skip this recommendation if your collection includes nothing but referencegrade materials, but for most of us that
will not be the case).
While no one ever likes to admit it, some
compromise may be necessary. As a
general rule, the harder you push your
system toward absolute realism on great
recordings, the less forgiving it is apt to
be of shortcomings in modest recordings. Think those tradeoffs through
carefully, and choose accordingly.
• General: Likewise, look for components that work well with a broad range
of musical genres—even if, for now,
your musical tastes are fairly narrow.
The trouble with choosing a speaker
that's optimized for a specific genre is
that it limits your options and discourages the musical exploration you might
find rewarding later on. You don't need
a system that dictates the material you
should be listening to; that should be
your choice.
• Specifics: Look for components that—
above and beyond general faithfulness
to the sound of live music—do a particularly good job with those specific
aspects of music that mean the most to
you (the "must have" qualities you'll
need in order to be happy with your system).
• Specifics: Look for components that
are largely free of the qualities you find
most disruptive or distracting (the "can't
stand" qualities your system needs to
avoid lest it drive you crazy in the long
run.).
In future issues, we'll discuss in greater
detail the individual qualities that together comprise realistic sound, but for now
try thinking through your own set of
musical "must have" and "can't stand"
qualities, and remember to take time to
enjoy the music.
Page 28
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Manufacturer Comments
Edge Electronics
Dear Editor.
Thank you very much (for the AVguide Monthly review).
Needless to say, I am thrilled to read about how much Jim Hannon enjoyed the amp.
Sincerely,
Steven Norber
Edge Electronics
Yamaha Electronics Corp.
... thanks for the kind words!
Doan Hoff
Yamaha Electronics Corp.
Musical Fidelity
Dear Editor,
First, on behalf of Signal Path International (U.S. distributors for Musical Fidelity), I would like to thank you for the very in-depth review.
We have taken the X-150 to many dealers using multiple speakers in multiple rooms, and almost everyone reports having experiences similar to those your reviewer
Sallie Reynolds had with the X-150. The most frequently heard comment on the amp is, "It's too cute to sound this good."
We feel that the X-150's combination of appealing cosmetics coupled with its exceptional audio performance make it a strong contender for those who simply want
their systems to sound musical--even if they don't need to take advantage of the amp's compact size to address a space limitation.
As an added benefit of doing business with Musical Fidelity in the United States, if owners submit their X-150 warranty registrations at www.musicalfidelityUS.com,
the warranty will be extended from 2 year to 5 years, parts and labor.
Thanks again for a wonderful review, and we're glad you enjoyed the X-150 integrated.
David Solomon
Signal Path International
Errata from AVguide Monthly, Issue 4
PNF Audio Cable Review: When initially posted, our review of the PNF Audio cables contained two errors. First, we neglected to mention that PNF Audio is a family-owned company headed by Delores, Michelle, Joseph, and Tim Guida (respectively, PNF's President, Vice President, Chief Engineer, and Director of Sales &
Marketing). We also misquoted the standard price of the PNF Symphony speaker cables, which is $339 per 10' pair.
Velodyne DD-10 Subwoofer Review: When initially posted, our review of the Velodyne DD-10 Subwoofer described the woofer as providing a 7-band parametric
equalizer. In fact, the DD-10 comes with an 8-band equalizer whose standard center frequencies are 20, 25, 32, 40, 50, 63, 80 and 100Hz. As Velodyne's Curt
Chisholm mentioned, these center frequencies can be set to any frequency between 15 and 100Hz via the subwoofer's remote control unit.
We apologize for any misunderstandings created by these initial errors. Please note that we have already applied the necessary corrections to the copy of AVguide
Monthly, Issue 4, archived on the www.avguide.com web site.
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AVguide Monthly
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