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Positive Feedback ISSUE 29
january/february 2007


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What Mr. Rintelen, Mr. Walker and Mr. Moncrieff didn't say is that the [Micromagic] Magic Diamond is a Denon 103 modified (same conical shaped stylus, same cantilever, different body).

Very funny!

All the best,

Marco Bertinelli Terzi
Ancona, Italy

Well, Marco, given what Rintelen had to say about the design and construction of the Magic Diamond, I am not sure that I would employ the reductionistic humor that you're enjoying. I expect certain similarities among cartridges's in the listening that I separate the common from the exceptional. The Magic Diamond is a cartridge that I would put into that second category. Is the Magic Diamond  merely a "Denon 103 modified"? Apart from the fact that "there is nothing new under the sun," I doubt it, given Christian Rintelen's comments about Reto Andreoli's work, but only the designer himself could authoritatively address your comment.

Having said that, I do note that the Denon 103 does have a fine reputation, of course; like Shelter, it is a known "over performer."

All the best,


Dear Dave,
I believe that you must be one of the few who have experience with the Wavac LCR-X2 phono amp and will be able to draw conclusions about how it compares with other cost no object phono amps. I have one on hand. Could you please tell me whether others like Art Audio, Manley, CJ, Lamm or E.A.R. are better?

Niels Christiansen

Hello Niels...

I did have an extended experience with the LCR-X2 and the excellent Grand Prix Audio Monaco turntable paired with the Dynavector DV 507 MKII tonearm and the Dynavector DRT-XV1s MC cartridge (see my "Impressions" article in PFO Issue 25 at The LCR-X2 is wonderfully engineered, and shows the usual attention to detail that has made Wavac legendary. Of course, the prices of Wavac components are uniformly stratospheric, as well; the LCR-X2 lists for $25,000 the last time I checked. One thing I can say about Wavac:  you spend a LOT of money, but you DO get exceptional quality. (That's not always true with every expensive component in fine audio.)

Then again, very few of us can get very serious about MSRP's of $25K for a phono amp, eh?

I have no personal experience with the Art Audio, CJ or Lamm phono amps, so cannot comment on those.

I have had the Manley Steelhead (MSRP USD $7300) in for a visit, back in 2003 (see I liked it quite a lot, and gave it a Brutus Award in 2003. In comparison, the LCR-X2 was quieter than I remember the Steelhead being, and seemed to present its music out of a clearer sonic background. On the other hand, the Wavac phono amp doesn't have any of the extremely handy multiple I/O's and configurable impedance and capacitance loading of the Steelhead, nor its volume control. In fact, the Steelhead is still the handiest swiss-army-knife-of-a-phono-amp that I know of right now.

The E.A.R. 324 phono amp, on the other hand, is not quite as configurable as the Manley, but does allow for switchable MM and MC operation, variable loading, and its transformer-based design is both quiet and very clean. At the price point that the 324 occupies ($3995), I'm not aware of a more versatile phono amp at this time...though I'm certainly not omniscient.

The current top o' the heap for me in phono amps is the latest iteration of the Walker Audio Reference Phono Amp, which I gave a Brutus Award in 2006 (see It tips the financial balance beam at a MSRP of around USD $13,000 or so, and like the Wavac doesn't have configurable options, but it's the best I've heard up to this point in time. And it does this at half the cost of the Wavac.

If you're shopping for cost-no-object phono amps, the Walker is my choice.

Best wishes to you on your audio journey....


Dear Doctor S.,
You Couldn't Be More Right! The recording of "Love" is just incredible. There is one thing better. Go see it, it will blow your mind and you don't even need any help from your friends.

Jack Roberts

Marhsall Nack,
I have a simple system—Unico integrated amp and Modwright modified Sony CD/SACD player. The player takes two power cords—one to the main unit, and one to the separate power supply for Modwright's analogue tube output stage. If I had only one Harmonix Studio Master, which component would you advise me to use it with? It may be a simple question, but it requires a complicated answer.

Some people think the CD transport benefits the most from a wire upgrade, so the player's main unit is a good candidate. Then again, I know from experience there is a mutual affection between the SM and tubes, so it's worth trying on the player's power supply.

Once upon a time I had in a Unico Class D amp. I remember it being VERY detailed, if a bit on the thin side. If yours fits this description, the SM would warm it up and give it more body.

I would try the Studio Master first on the players main unit, then rotate it to the other locations. If you like what it does and the budget allows, consider acquiring more.

Marshall Nack

Dr. S.'s record reviews reminds us of why we love this hobby - the music.

Great work!

Jay Valancy

Regarding the CLC and all other "scams". I've been a believer in" it all makes a difference to the sound" for years and have defended my views in numerous forums and have been called a number of names and my intelligence put into question. All this from a bunch of technobabble couch potato pseudo scientists( I always wanted to say that get that off my chest).

What never ceased to amaze me, was that for people who profess to have an understanding of the more technical aspects of this hobby and who also have put all their faith in specs and scientific dogma, they are unwilling to even fork out $20.00 for a fuse and give the IsoClean a try.

They are so entangled in their own belief systems, that for anyone to claim to hear a sonic improvement from the fuse is reason enough to ridicule them. I feel sorry for these "non believers", they don't know what they are missing by not having an open mind, which I think is first on the list of must haves for an audiophile. The other is to banish the word "neutral" from our vocabulary, but that is a rant for another day.

Chuck Lee

Hi Dr.,
Always a pleasure to read your stuff, and really enjoyed your thoughts on speakers. I am on the hunt for speakers now, and taking it slowly is quite difficult. Your list is something I will print and put on my wall. I just listened to a pair of Devore Silverbacks that reminded me of your comment about dealing with phase. These speakers are tilted forward on the stands to get the proper sound. Is that the type of thing you were referring to? (by the way they sounded damn good to me until he put on a CD vs. vinyl—I only listen to SACD and CD).

I also just listened to a pair of VMPS RM V60s with ribbon tweeters. They only go down to 70Hz and must be mated with their sub. They are not a box, but shaped like a 'V'. Is this what you meant by weirdness? (by the way I thought they sounded incredible). This guy has been making speakers for almost 30 years.

Unfortunately, lots of things sound good to me, including my current speakers that only go down to 35Hz. But I know I need more bass. (My room is 25x14.7 with 10' ceilings). So, I already made a mistake ...and, naturally I can't evaluate speakers in my room...

Do you generally have a recommendation regarding buying a full range speaker vs. using a sub to get the full range? Will I really know if I am listening to something that delivers 20Hz at -3dB? Do I ask too many questions? I guess so ...I was hoping to buy used, but then it is even easier to make a mistake...
Well, thanks for the list, but really would like to know your thoughts on speakers designed to be used with subs.

Take care,

Nick Georgos


Thanks for the note, and the kind comments.

Yes, the tilting thing, exactly what I was talking about. Stuff like that, sharp objects, things one reads about NOT doing in basic speaker building manuals. Or deceptions such as "time alignment is accomplished electronically." Yea, ok, I am stupid, tell me anything.

I don't know the Devore product, but if a speaker changes character with different source material, I would certainly be wary.

I am doing a review of a VMPS speaker currently, and while I don't want to let the cat out of the bag, it's going to be very enthusiastic. 

I think there are significant advantages to multiple box speakers ... not the least of which is flexibility in adjustment. Being able to place and adjust the bass module is a great idea ... you just have to exercise some time and care about integration. Powered subs, if they use reasonably good quality amplification solve other problems too, especially the overall power needs for the system. Normally I suggest two subs, in proximity to the mains, but this is absolutely not a hard and fast rule. It just generally makes integration easier.

If you like your speakers, you can always play with adding a high quality sub ... and perhaps save yourself oodles of cash. But if you are jonesing for new speakers, well, nothing else will do.

As to your question about how do you know? This is a very interesting question.

Well, first of all, precious little recorded material has much at 20Hz. We are mostly talking harmonics and trailing edges of transients (the rumble from a bass drum hit.). We don't really hear much at this level, but we definitely FEEL it, and that is part of the magic ... the slam and impact of live music, part of the dynamics often missing from reproduced music.

The second phenomena is that those low frequencies interact with those more within the audible scale, and this produces a richness, a palpable solidity and harmonic texture, absent in their absence.

When you feel the music, viscerally, in your gut and ass, and your eyes go wide and your reaction is to say, "Oh my!" then you are there. Once experienced, never forgotten.

But remember the current hi-fi fashion is very much like religion of the 19th century, desiccated, dry, clinical and specifically intended NOT to produce passion. A big full range system with lots of power is more like voodoo, unabashedly sensual, emotional in the extreme, designed to make you dance and feel and appeal to your body, not just your head.

As to recommendations, outside of the review process I don't do that. Too many variables, too many complexities for blanket statements, not qualified by context.

But your room is of sufficient size to give you a lot of options. Again, take your time and have some fun doing this.

If you are a true bass head, you are probably looking at multiple box arrays. You are best off with manufacturers who already build this way, rather than trying to match brands. Like other components, it is just an easier way to be assured of compatibility.

However, for the record, I think that VMPS is at the top of the price-to-pleasure ratio and personal preferences aside, from my experience it would be hard to go wrong with them.

Dr. Sardonicus

Dear Dr. S.,
[Regarding the latest essay by Dr. Sardonicus at ]: I am wondering, why do we have to use a truckload of words and phrases to explain things that are natural, for the most part?

The "problem" with audio and its "priesthood" is that the priests are "self-entitled," a master-class or group that is convinced that we, the "audio herd" are a mindless, potato-headed mass. They have the "divine" order to explain things and guide "us," the common lot, about what the poet has in mind and why he says and does what he does.

As in everything that includes...(shivering...) mysteries, words are mere black or colored ink leftovers, for the biggest part of humanity. You know well that it all comes down to the real cultural level of our species.

But...hey...those "good knights" are here, day and night, guarding us, acting as our keepers and protectors. We: the lowlife.

I liked your parallel worlds of human relations and audio. After all, there are five, or six (?) senses, so tightly integrated, all sharing equally in our perception of things.

Keep on "leaving" the black ink leftovers, as long as you are willing to. They are treated with respect.


W.J. Lamprou


Mr. Lamprou,

Thank you for your most interesting letter. Coming from the great state of Idaho, the term "potato head" actually has a very positive connotation for me. True, the tubers are not high on intellectual capacity, but dang they go good with sour cream, butter and chives!

As to "truck loads of words," an expression I love, by the way ... very amusing ... I am so guilty, mea culpa, mea cupla maxima ... 'cause I LOVE words, love 'em, love 'em, love 'em. There are very few things more satisfying in life than the exact word ... and the more esoteric and arcane, the more savory they are. I mean, why call someone a jerk, when you can call them a scurrilous jackanapes, or a malodorous bolus of hog phlegm?

There is a sort of personality cult dynamic that has grown up around audio reviewers, which is, when you think about it, sort of absurd. Well, it is absurd unless it is based on the reviewer being handsome and entertaining (such as I), and then I think it is completely justfied! But the rule is that the more seriously we take ourselves, the less seriously any other reasonable person can take us.

I love your expressions about "black and colored ink leftovers." I have absolutely no idea what you mean, but I will certainly be turnng that around in my head for a bit.

And in closing, let's see, sight, hearing, taste, touch-proprioception, and smell ... what the devil is the sixth one?

With respect ... the good Dr. Sardonicus.

Dear Sir,
Just wondering why no coverage of all the new Esoteric gear at CES 2007? They make fine products but you don't seem to review them or even report on them. Does this have anything to do with advertising?

Thank you for taking the time to reply,

S. Douglas

Hello Simon...

In response to your aspersion regarding advertising and PFO's coverage of Teac: don't be absurd. I will give you the benefit of the doubt, and assume that you are a new reader ...the only thing that excuses such a churlish question.

CES is always an enormous show. A number of PFO editors and writers were there, but we cannot guarantee that every room will be covered. Even with the best of intentions, there's simply too much too see, too many rooms, and too many people wanting our attention to give everything the due that it might deserve. It's a question of resources, you see....

As to Teac Esoteric reviewing: we are actually quite familiar with the Esoteric line ...they were here in two of our Oregon listening rooms for extended listening this year ...but we are waiting for the arrival of the new DSD models after CES. This is due to our preference for native DSD handling
of SACDs. Should these arrive and prove worthy, you'll certainly be hearing from us.

David W. Robinson

John Acton,
I'll use my poor english writing this message to ask you an opinion, if possible. I just purchased a Blue Circle NSCS (In fact, I'm waiting... 12 week wait line... :)).

I'm really in doubt about speakers I can use "musically sinergystically" with the NSCS. I do not consider I am an audiophile, especially because I'm new in this hobby and also because here in Brasil I don't have many chances to audition equipments. What I'm really really interested is in music; I really love to listen to music, its emotion and its fun.

While drinking brazilian good beer I use to listen to brazilian popular music (MPB, in portuguese), Samba, Bossa-nova, brazilian Rock and Pop, cuban music, some Jazz, Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix. But as I can not audition most of equipments I read about I try to ask about the possibilities of good matches for my taste. My start point is that I want something musical and not harsh, entirely different of the NAD/B&W system I own today (No more metal tweeter!).

I'd like your opinion, if possible, as I read your review and saw that you used Quad 11L as a secondary speaker. The Quad L Series are very very well known. The brazilian Quad distributor is also PMC distributor and told that in his opinion the Quad's are veru much better than PMC's. I'm considering Quad 12L or 21L: do you think I'm gonna find sinergy wtih NSCS/QUAD? The other option is Opera Loudspeakers, model Linea Classica Prima or model Linea Classica Seconda. Any opinion?

Any other suggestion? Distributed in Brasil: B&W, Dynaudio, Naim, Opera Loudspeakers, PMC, Quad, Sonus Faber, Thiel, Zu.

Hi João, 

First, let me congratulate you on your purchase of an NSCS. I am very impressed with the Blue Circle gear that I've heard, both at shows and in my own system. And, with Blue Circle, you get the kind of dedicated product support on the part of its designer, Gilbert Yeung, that you don't often find in the high-end audio indutry. 

The NSCS is a very transparent and neutral amplifier, with just a hint of warmth in the lower mids and reticence in the upper mids to give it flavor. It is powerful enough to not be a limiting factor in choosing speakers. It is very musical and emotionally involving—in short, a great amp. I suspect it will last you through many speaker upgrades over the years. 

I think that the NCSC would do a great job with the Quad speakers. I haven't heard the newest iteration of the L-series, but having considerable experience with the previous models, I think that the relaxed transparency of the Quads would match well with the NSCS. I would also perhaps look at something from Dynaudio, or perhaps even Naim (given your taste in music). I think the Thiels might be a little too close to your B&W speakers in sonic signature (very detailed and upfront), but you could always give them a try. I did like the PMC speakers I heard at a dealer, but I have not directly compared them to the Quads, and I'm not sure the comparison would have been fair, as they were much more expensive. The Sonus Fabers I've heard have been nice, if a bit on the warm and syrupy side. I'm not personally familiar with the Opera speakers, sorry. 

One note - if you decide to go with the 12L (or other stand-mounted speaker), make sure to invest in high-quality stands. It may sound crazy, but they make a difference. 

Lastly, you may want to try the NSCS with your current speakers first. You may be surprised at how well the neutrality of the NSCS matches up with the B&Ws. You can always audition other speakers later, if you feel you are still missing something. 

Let me know if you have any other questions. You might also try posting this question on Blue Circle's web site forums (you'll have to register first). There a lot of knowledgeable and friendly people there who could provide additional input. 



Hello David,
Thank you and Rick Gardner for your insightful performance evaluations of Critical Mass Systems in 2006 and the 2 ensuing Brutus Awards and the Writers Choice Award. These are great honors and strengthen our commitment to excellence. 

Your words, particularly your thoughts for improvement are taken very seriously. Excellence is a process of continuous improvement and this is the path Critical Mass Systems is committed to follow.

Based on Rick's suggestion we expanded the types of component interfaces provided to audiophiles at no charge to help tune their systems to personal taste. Personal taste is the most important criteria in the enjoyment of music reproduction and we are committed to continue focus in this area.

Your comments about the reaction of the resting area to load limits with the 245 pound Boulder 2060 caught our attention. We are introducing our “Black Label” isolation systems at CES 2007 in January 2007. These systems were designed and patented exclusively for audio and represent a comprehensive approach to component isolation. Since your Awards and comments for the Black Label systems were conveyed prior to launch, we thought we'd “go for it”.

While the practice of bridging 2 systems together to support a load nearly double the load limit of the systems is expressly prohibited, the challenge of creating a system that can retain peak isolation performance with its load shifted to the front or back without suffering degradation or compression is, well, a challenge. What makes this challenge most appealing is that none of the leading manufacturers of passive isolation systems has accomplished this without some form of external compensation. So, we solved the problem for the benefit and furtherance of high end audio.

Concurrent with launch, Black Label isolation systems will retain their standard 130 lb load limit (greater limits available upon request) and, in addition, the front or back of the system will be able to support the entire load. This is like standing a 130 lb component up on edge and moving it to the front or back of the resting area. This is not something we recommend, and we do not think it necessary for custom isolation systems designed for greater loads like the Boulder 2060, for example, but it does guarantee a vast “safety reserve” of load capacity which stands at the ready as part of the standard design.

We want our potential customers to know that we care, listen and try to find solutions to new challenges on an ongoing basis. We welcome you to join our growing family.

Again, thank you David and thank you Rick. You guys rock!

Very Respectfully,

Joe Lavrencik

Mr. Levi states in his follow-up report to his Modwright Sony 9100ES review, "The 5687s are only available from Tungsol, so nothing to be done here."

In fact, there are many 5687 tubes that can be rolled into the Modwright Sony 9100ES, including Raytheon 5687 black plate square getters and Sylvania GB-5687 among others. Each provides a nice change from the Tung Sol tubes provided with the Modwright, and I prefer both to the Tung Sol tubes. Also, Mr. Levi did apparently not experiment with a Mullard 5AR4 rectifier in the 9.0PS tube rectified power supply.

In my 9.0PS feeding a Modwright Sony 999ES analog output stage, I have found a Mullard rectifier to be a substantial upgrade from the supplied Sovtek tube. The Mullard tube results in tighter bass, and an overall more coherent and controlled presentation.

Readers should be encouraged to take the already excellent Modwright players with tube rectified power supplies to even greater heights by experimenting with NOS tubes. The results are substantial.


Grant Johnson

Greetings Sasha,
Several weeks ago I emailed you about the experience I had when I went to listen to the PMC GB1. If you recall, the bass I heard was like skim milk and the listening area at the dealer was less than ideal. After our last correspondence I contacted the dealer and expressed my opinion about the lack of bass. He determined that the receiver he was using was the root of the problem. Although it was set to a stereo mode, the receiver was performing as if it was still in a surround sound mode and was looking for a signal from the subwoofer. He said if I were to come out again he would make sure that he would have something set up so that I could properly listen to the GB1. In the meantime I was auditioning other speakers at my house but always had it in the back of my head that I had to listen to the GB1. I went back to the PMC dealer earlier this week and when I arrived he had this monstrously huge Mcintosh amplifier and an equally huge CD player, with its own volume controls, hooked together. This time I heard bass of the whole milk variety, but still the acoustics of the room greatly inhibited the performance of the speakers. The dealer offered to sell the display models at a discount and said I could return them in a week if I wasn't pleased with them. What did I have to lose.

Sasha, I have to tell you, those speakers have taken up permanent residence in my house. There is nothing I can tell you about those speakers that you don't already know yourself. Additionally, the wife approval factor is way off the charts, and my son said within the first two bars of the first CD I played, ", are those clear"! I have gone from great dissatisfaction listening to music from my cube system, to discovering everything I have missed, to enjoying music again all in a few short days.

Trust me, I have many superlatives to describe my impressions of the GB1 but I am going to save those for an amateur review I want to write in in the not too distant future. Would you mind if I mentioned your review as an additional reference source? I know your review was for the FB1+ but I am sure it would have been no less glowing if you had written about the GB1.

One final note, for Xmas I received as a gift "The Complete Guide to High End Audio", Third Edition by Robert Harley.

Thanks a ton for your advice and a have a Happy New Year.

Michael Sienkowski

Greetings Michael,

Happy New Year, and happy listening! Glad that worked out well for you. Frankly I was a little puzzled to hear from you that the GB1 had no low-end at all. I think, based on your comments, that it was a combination of system gear and the room working against what you heard at the dealers. Though slightly less in specs than the FB1+, your new GB1's are still from the same PMC family tree, and as I tried to convey to people, the PMC company REALLY knows what it's doing in terms of 'transmission line' designs, and what that approach brings to the low-end frequencies, while still preserving wonderfully clear 2-way design benefits in the mids and uppers. So now you have heard for yourself......

Yes, please second any of my opinions and add your own. 

All Best,

Sasha Matson

In Moratorium …Classical Music on Oregon Public Radio

When widespread programming changes were first announced in 1997, listeners of Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) were in an absolute uproar. Those changes including canceling most of the network's music programming, in favor of news and other informational "talk" programming.

One especially well-loved program, Performance Today, was spared after huge pressure was brought to bear to have it reinstated.

So much has changed.

On January 15th, Performance Today will be dropped from the OPB lineup. This time, there was hardly a murmur of protest. Theories for this apathy include the presupposition that fewer and fewer people actually listen to classical music nowadays, and are simply more interested in the grisly and dehumanizing details of our modern feckless world.

After all, why put forth the intellectual and emotional effort to listen to Mozart, when you can passively soak up some spit-slinging third-world nut job, once again promising death to America …or numbly review the fifth re-hashing of a marginal daily news story, highlighting (pick one: Greed, Violence, Dishonesty, Greed)?

I do sympathize. It takes a lot of air time to explain why dozens of American boys and girls die each week for, what was it again? Oh yes, to prevent the deaths of American boys and girls.

Once we expunge all the beauty, the art, the music, those fragile voices of spirit and hope, perhaps death will become less onerous, less terrifying …hell, even welcome, because there will be precious few reasons to live.

Fie on thee, OPB, a pox on thy house! I got your "pledge" right here.

Rick Gardner