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Positive Feedback ISSUE 20


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Hello, I'd like to know what do you think about the third batch of this great series on SACD? A full review is appreciated.


Jeremy Porter

Hello Jeremy...

I got the complete set 3 just a week ago, and am about half-way through listening to them. My first take is that these are quite fine, particularly the Stokowski *Rhapsodies*, *Hi Fi Fiedler*, the Van Cliburn, the Heifetz, and the Beethoven 5/6, but I'll want to complete the listening session after the next set of system upgrades take place.

The above titles can be purchased with confidence, however.

We'll do what we can to comment on these as time allows.

All the best,


As an owner of the Horning Agathon Ultimates, I wanted to compliment Marshall for so effectively capturing and communicating the essence of these marvelous speakers. Keep up the good work.


Larry Borden

Dear E-i-C.,
I just finished reading Robert Levi's enthusiastic review of Dan Wright's ModWright Sony 999ES. I congratulate my friend Dan for a well deserved review.

While I do not want to take away from Dan's spotlight, I am bothered by Mr. Levi's statement: "My 999 now sounds more alive and detailed than any digital device I've yet heard, and more liquid than the Meitner DAC/player combo that I've heard in two different systems."

While I do not question Mr. Levi's opinion, I do have to question his methodology. The statement leads one to believe that in Mr. Levi's opinion, the ModWright Sony betters the EMM Labs combo. My understanding, from this review, is that the comparison was not made in the same system. If that is the case, in what systems did he hear the EMM Labs equipment? Was it at a show? Was it in a system that he was intimately familiar with?

My ties with EMM Labs are well known and to this day I have not heard better digital. I am not attempting to discredit Mr. Levi, who I do not always agree with, but I always respect. I am hoping to bring to his attention as well as to the readers' attention that I find this comparison to be highly

I request that Mr. Levi either audition the EMM Labs gear in his system for a proper comparison, or qualifies the statement in question a bit better. Another possibility is for another writer who has the EMM Labs equipment to do a follow up comparison.

Best Regards,
Jonathan Tinn
Blue Light Audio

PS. I loved Mr. Levi's tuner comparison. Both those tuners tend to be considered by most to be the front runners. Well done!

Hello Jonathan...
You and I both share an appreciation for the fine work that Dan Wright does at Modwright. I've heard one of his modded players for a brief time in my listening room ...though not the 999 (a 777 with tubed output) ...and thought it to be very promising.

At the same time, I am *extremely* familiar with the EMM Labs CDSD  transport, the earlier Meitner-modified Philips SACD 1000 (which I still ownand which still works) with its fiber output, and both the DAC6 and DAC6e processors. I have logged countless hours on the EMM Labs system in my listening room; I have also heard the CDSD/DAC6 front end at PFOer Mike Lavigne's magnificent listening room, in your (Jonathan Tinn's) listening room, and also at several shows. I own the Linn Unidisk 1.1 universal player with its very fine SACD playback (second only to the Meitner in my experience) in stereo and surround. I am also deeply familiar with the stock Sony SCD-1, various iterations of the excellent Richard Kern family of mods to the SCD-1, the stock 777, Kern's modded 777, the stock 333 (original carousel), and have a Tube Research Labs modded 595 here on extended loan, as well. I got to spend a few months with the Allen Wright's superb Vacuum State Electronics modded Sony DVP 9000ES, and one or two others in extended fashion (e.g., the Accuphase reference SACD player).

So I've heard a few.

Every SACD modifier that I have spoken with knows the EMM Labs front end to be the current reference standard for SACD playback, which is why you hear so many comparisons of modded gear with the EMM Labs.

As I read it, I took Bob's commentary to be casual, and not any sort of focused or "definitive" review or comparison (a *very* tough bird, that!) of Modwright vis-a-vis the EMM Labs SACD system. "More liquid" and "more alive and detailed" are highly debatable characterizations, at best, unless they are carefully defined/put into an explicit context. Bob would have to explain what he meant, and what the setting was before I would be able to evaluate the depth of his claim.

So, I would agree with you that I'd want to know a lot more about what "two systems" Bob heard the EMM Labs gear in.

Bob is a real audio enthusiast, and brings a freshness and excitement to PFO, which is why I enjoy his work. I don't always agree with him...I don't *have* to agree with someone to publish their work ...but I do appreciate what he contributes to PFO.

My position on the EMM Labs reference SACD system has not changed since I first began working with it:  in my experience, it is simply the finest digital playback I've ever heard. (That's on the Red Book side as well as in the SACD domain. The Linn CD-12 was superb and my personal reference for CD playback, until the CDSD/DAC6e came along.)

I haven't heard the Modwright 999 in my own system, but unless Dan is doing something at a level that no one else has yet achieved, I doubt that he has outdone the EMM Labs CDSD/DAC6e. Since I haven't heard it yet, I won't be categorical ...but I am doubtful of Bob's claim. I would tend to chalk up his comparison to flaws in the "two systems" he heard ...whatever and wherever they were.

Understand that there are still many CD and SACD systems that I haven't heard in my listening room yet, so I will avoid the trap of being categorical. Nonetheless, an extensive experience with SACD playback leads me to believe that it will take an extraordinary effort to best the EMM Labs system; so far, I haven't heard any evidence that this "sound barrier" has been broken!

If there's any SACD design out there that can do it, designers/manufacturers/dealers are invited to contact me; that's the only way to settle a question like this, eh? (Thus far dCS and Classé have refused to submit equipment for review; the Japanese firms apart from Sony are no-show. Ditto Krell, etc.) You're welcome to try, amigos; I'm willing to listen to reference-grade designs.

So don't say that you weren't invited.

Meanwhile, I'm glad to see that you enjoyed Bob's FM tuner comparison, Jonathan; as a long-time Magnum Dynalab owner, I thought that it was very helpful.

All the best,


Mr. Robinson,
At some point in the future someone on your staff is going to review the Harmonic Tech Cyberlight cables of Mr. Wang (of which we have... see,, and I thought you might like to know that a gentleman named Ric Schultz at has greatly improved upon the stock battery pack that Mr. Wang sells with the cables. I personally, can attest to the marked improvement in sonics brought about by Mr. Schultz's improvement to the already great sounding cables. If I am not mistaken Mr. Wang knows about Mr. Schultzs' pack and welcomes it.

Anyway ...just though it might give the reviewer another spin to his review and perhaps a further look into how great these cables are and can be.

Thanks, Dave Smith

Hello Dave...
Yes, Ric Schultz's reputation as a modifier is known to me, though I haven't met him or heard any of his work personally. It wouldn't surprise me if he couldn't bring improvement to the HT's power supply; most power supplies could stand some work.

Perhaps we'll give this a shot some time, but I'd have to hear from Ric before I would consider it.



Dear Danny,
I have read with great interest this review!  I have placed an order with Alvin last Friday (without the DAC since I'll be using the unit with my Tact Millenium MKIII digital amp).

I'm wondering how this unit will sound connected to a high end  DAC of a different brand via RCA digital cable comparing to other very high end transport?. Maybe the next reviewer would like to give this a try?

Currently I'm using an Audiomeca Mephisto II transport. If the TI 48 sounds just as good as the Mephisto I'd be already very happy.

It will get support from The Shelf and cones from back Diamond Racing. Power cord and digital i/c are Virtual Dynamic's Master Series.

Regards, Michael

Thank you for the comments; congratulations on making a great purchase! Regarding your specific question: to tell you the truth I didn't have a separate DAC available to check the performance of the unit with anything other then the Ar38; having said that I see no reason for potential improvements to the sonics beyond what I experienced with the Ar38, after all, this is Zero One's first foray into the world of digital - no doubt there are companies out there with significantly more resources available to design even better DAC's. Again, this was never an issue for the fine folks at Zero One: instead, they focused on developing a system that works well at a decent enough price point.

Using some sort of high quality rack or feet, etc. should seriously improve the performance of the unit as well, at least it did when placing the Ti48 on the EquaRack.

I'd love to hear from you and your experience with the TACT as DAC, so please feel free to keep in touch.

Thank you for supporting our magazine!

Warmest regards,

Danny Kaey

I was surprised that the recent story regarding PS Audio's Control Amplifier failed to mention that the amp uses B&O's Icepower. See Any plan to review other Icepower amps -- and perhaps to determine the relative contribution of the potted Gain Cell and the Icepower module?  (We did review an Icepower based amplifier - see - Dave Clark)

By the way, while I wasn't there, I had heard that Bonie Raitt followed the Boss that night at Harvard Square and joked that she learned never to have Springsteen open for her again.

Hello Ed...

Life is full of surprises, isn't it? I appreciate you passing along the info and link about Icepower. Though I'm not familiar with it, perhaps one of the PFO community will look into the Icepower line.

As to a comparison of the features you mention, that would be a challenging task, no? We generally review boxes as boxes, unless we're doing a modding/POOGE'ing piece. I doubt that we'd do anything along the lines of "Gain Cell vs. Icepower."

I can believe your story about Bonnie Raitt ...I certainly wouldn't have wanted to follow Springsteen at any time!



Thanks for your quick reply.

Sixmoons has been doing some work with Icepower.

See, and

There are now a couple of companies who seem to be doing little more than simply putting the latest generation of Icepower modules into a case, adding connectors, and attaching the wires. See and

What I had in mind was some comparison of these amps with the PS Audio. If there is a significant difference, then the Gain Cell is doing a lot of work. If there is little if any difference, the Gain Cell isn't making that much of a contribution.

Ed Hartnett

Hello again, Edward...

Srajan is doing great work over at; he's one of those relatively rare birds in fine audio journalism who I pay attention to.

We'll post your concept, which is an interesting one, and I'll see if one of our editorial group wants to run with it. If so, you've posed a reasonable challenge.

Thanks for writing ...stay in touch.

All the best,


Hi David,
In case you're wondering, your contributions have been missed for the last couple issues. I assume you're deep in the thrall of the Walker deck; I know I would be. If I can take you back a bit, you had mentioned in your review of the Komri that you would follow up in regard to speaker cables you found to improve upon K600 from Linn. I would be very interested in your findings. I also hope we get to read your musings about the Unidisk in CD mode, especially how it compares to the CD12. I wouldn't be at all surprised if we see a new speaker cable from Linn in the near future. Wow, this email makes me sound like a bit of a Linnie, but I guess for the time being I am enjoying their gear.

Have a great summer,


Hello David,
Yes, I've been preoccupied of late. Some of that has to do with items like the Walker Audio Proscenium; much of the rest has to do with professional concerns, family matters, and the doctoral dissertation that I'm trying to finish up this summer. Until that's done, I'm pretty much tapped out for a lot of additional writing. Our readers will just have to be patient with me.

I had hoped to be able to follow up on the cable question with the Komri's, but wasn't able to get any custom terminated cables in place before the speakers had to be returned. (The logistics of some fine audio projects are really quite demanding, meaning that I don't always get a chance to play with many combinations that would be most interesting.) What I can say is that, based on my experience, either the JENA Labs for those wanting a more detailed sound, or the Cardas Golden for listeners who want to mellow things out a bit, ought to work well with the Komri's. You'll want to watch cable capacitance carefully; the Komri's are voracious, requiring all the juice you've got. Be careful about using cables that get in the way of that need.

I'd also recommend that you use the Walker Audio Enhanced SST treatment with the Komri's, at both ends of the line. (And all the rest of your system, as well.) The difference that product has made in all sorts of settings is truly amazing, believe me. There's more bang-to-the-buck in that little bottle than you'd think possible.

In short (no time to write an essay or article right now!): Between the CD-12 and the Unidisk 1.1, I would give the nod to the CD-12 for Red Book. It has a somewhat more refined feel in its presentation. The Meitner CDSD transport and DAC6e combo better either of them for Red Book to my ears, though.

On the other hand, Linn hasn't (yet) produced a CD-12 level version of an SACD player. If they ever did, well, I'm quite sure that it would up the ante quite seriously.



In the Onyxrs550 review there is a statement that the Mk II version has changes to the crossover which is at 3800 hz to improve the bass response. Since I personally find speakers the most fascinating element of an audio system, I wonder if Positive Feedback can add some details on how this works.

Allen Edelstein

Hello Dave,
Here's a tale of what could have been a horror story, but instead became the tale of a truly honest audio operation which stands behind its work.

Based in part on your glowing review in Issue 15 on Allen Wright's Vacuum State Audio Level 4 mod to the Sony DVP-S9000ES I decided to go for it and ordered a Level 4 mod from Warren Gregoire in California. He told me that there was a new Level 4.5 incorporating a new jitter free Tent clock & related parts and he did the installation. The sound was truly terrific, especially with SACDs.

Then, after a couple of months the Sony suddenly died—some kind of failure in the power supply. I called Warren and with no hesitation he told me to send the Sony to him for repair. He found that he was unable to find the problem, but took complete responsibility under the VSE warranty, and he decided to send it to Sony. In order not to void the Sony warranty (still in effect) he first actually uninstalled the complete mod. I sent him a copy of the original purchase invoice and he sent the player to Sony. Then, instead of repairing it, Sony sent back a new player! Warren then told me of the new VSE upgrade to Level 5, consisting of a new independent raw power supply design & toroidal transformer, and I said to put it in. He then reinstalled the Level 4.5 mod and added the Level 5 upgrade. The only cost to me for this whole affair was $150 for the Level 5 upgrade, plus return shipping to me, and several weeks without the Sony. I don't think one could ask for more in the way of service and product support from a small audio operation.

By the way, the sound of the Level 5 modded Sony is awesome. SACDs now are very close to analogue to my ears, and Redbook CDs are nearly as good, even old ones. Wonderful soundstaging, front to back depth, no harshness in the highs, great dynamics! I have never heard your reference Meitner, but I don't think I need to. I'm a happy camper. If anyone is hesitant about ordering extensive mod work from these folks at VSE there is no need for concern.

Thanks for Gardiner McCauley

Hello Gardiner
Thanks for your letter. This is a terrific and heartening example of superior service, all right, and one that our readers should note. The VSAC mods to Sony SACD players are stellar; it's good to know that service after sales is equally so.

Kudos to Warren and company for doing the right thing.



I didn't know there was a letters column, but Clark suggested I send this in, so here it is. I'd be pleased to see myself in print :-)

A few specific comments relative to Clark Johnsen's delightful articles

From I: "The current cost of my favorite first balcony, second row, left side seat accounts perhaps for my absence: $62.50. That sonic phenomenon makes this location my favorite seat in the house, perhaps in the whole world." And from II: "And from my then-regular BSO subscription seats (Second Balcony Left, B14-15) I found myself helping to string a slew of mic cables."

This is of much interest to me. When I lived in Boston in the early 70's, I spent nearly every Friday afternoon in Symphony Hall for the 2:00 concert. In those days you showed up at 11:00 a.m. to get in line for rush seats costing... drum roll please... $1.00!! No, that's not a misplaced decimal point. Anyway, rush seats always got you somewhere near the middle of the rear of the second balcony (for the most memorable concert I saw, Borodin's Second Symphony, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, on Oct.1, 1971, I might very well have been sitting in exactly B14 or B15, as I remember being somewhat to the left). I always felt I was in heaven there, with sonics to die for. You could hear a pin drop. At other times, when I had the good fortune to be seated in the orchestra, I felt how great it was to be closer to the players, but I still felt the sound was better in the second balcony. It's nice to know I wasn't imagining this.

From III: "So, back to the Second Symphony. It represented "the new music" 1895-style, and while most critics detested it, there were also reports of men at the premier sobbing uncontrollably towards the end. Try to get a reaction like that today, with "the new music". We are so above it all, and the music is so forbidding! Although, in defense of humanity I do remember attending the Eighth at Tanglewood, Seiji Ozawa conducting, and many of us were in tears afterwards, including two who had scarcely even heard of Mahler before. So at least we do not simply lack the capacity."

I cannot listen to the last 5 minutes of the 2nd without weeping uncontrollably. It never fails. There is nothing else in music to which I react quite so strongly. About 25 years ago, I had the good fortune to sing the 2nd with the Springfield Symphony Chorus and Orchestra. Naturally, I had to control myself. But the most interesting thing I remember about the experience is how embarrassed I felt to be standing there like an idiot in the back of the stage, with 50 other idiots, doing absolutely nothing for nearly an hour before the singing starts. Try that sometime to take the wind out of your sails. That experience didn't diminish the impact of the 2nd upon me, but it did make me not want to sing it again.

Bob Cohen
Longmeadow, MA

You've been awfully quite on SACD. You must have (finally) realized that it's not better than reference-level Redbook (playing freshly burned gold CDR's).

John Harnick

On the contrary, Chevrier, my convictions are stronger than ever... I just had a dozen SACDs arrive yesterday, as a matter of fact. "Reference level Redbook" is not as good as "Reference level SACD" (pure DSD via EMM Labs conversion) to my ears. CD-Rs do in very many cases sound better than mass CDs, but that isn't saying much in my book. As a matter of fact, I haven't purchased a CD in quite some time.

I may have to live with the fearful necessity of Redbook, but I certainly am not going to bless it, my friend. SACDs and LPs and open reel tapes are a holy trinity that CDs have not entered into. My Linn CD-12 makes them sound better, but they aren't the equivalent of what I hear from the EMM Labs CDSD/DAC6e combination. Period.

As a word of explanation to our readers: 2005 has been the year of completing my doctoral dissertation; all other PFO projects are secondary to that project, which means that the PFO work that I do publish is concentrated on equipment reviews.

Arguments from silence are tricky things, you see....



You're in the (extreme) minority. Even SACD loyalist Marc Mickelson of Soundstage! has admitted that Redbook via Zanden is better. Sure it's terribly expensive but this technology should "trickle down" soon.

I'm personally using the VRS Revelation (hard drive) as my source unit - this performs much better than (any) optical unit (review - June, 2004 Maybe this is why I love Redbook - you can't do this with SACD.

Best, Chevrier

Hello Chevrier...
Being in the "(extreme) minority" never bothered me... that's fine audio in general.

I assume that you choose what you like based on your preferences, and not on demographics, true? If so, then we are agreed on that. If not, then we disagree completely.

I have no idea what Marc Mickelson cares for; I don't read most audio journals. I find that it's the best way to avoid "herdthink," and keep my own impressions unmixed with those of others.

The Zanden is unfamiliar to me... my experience with "trickle down" is that sometimes such technologies do, and sometimes they don't.

As to hard-drive-based systems: no, haven't voyaged there yet, though I've heard them at a handful of shows. Thus far, I remain under whelmed. LPs and SACDs have been my preference. Red Book remains "background music," car stereo, and CDs on the computer.

If you're enjoying your system, that's fine with me. I do the same, eh?