I get this question a lot, why Marantz? After all, isn’t Denon, Onkyo, Yamaha, Pioneer, etc, all about the same? Truth be known? Not really! Here’s why;
Take Audio Video (AV) receivers for instance; It’s not so much a matter as to whether other brands can make good sounding ones, they do. The real matter is where the brand focus is? Most brands are very focused on the Home Theater end of the industry, and of more concern, “on having something for everyone”. For this to happen in the U.S. market, it means having many models at small price increments starting for just a couple of hundred dollars. (Marantz has just 4 models and starts at $600.00). The vast majority of these other companies philosophy is that the average U.S. consumer won’t notice sound quality anyway, because U.S. customers are focused only on “price”. So they are totally caught up in covering all the popular bells and whistles and having each model at the “lowest price”. The problem with ‘feature/price based’ philosophy however, is that though they make some good sounding stuff, they also have a lot of “duds” in their lines. Marantz on the other hand does business very differently, in part because of who they are, and where they come from. Marantz began as a U.S. company more than 60 years ago, and competed head to head with companies like McIntosh. Both companies were/are regarded as making some of the finest sounding audio equipment available. There are a lot of AV dealers around, but if you notice, the few of us that are old school and actually care enough about sound quality to offer higher end product, usually carry “Marantz”. For us, it’s a line we can trust to have the best sounding equipment across the board, and because Marantz is known also for their exceptional build quality, reliability, customer service and support, it’s a “no headache” line that “we know” will sound at least as good, and in most cases better, than anything the competition can throw at us. Frankly, what more can you ask for?
We, evidently, are a Stereophile Recommended Components show room…
In my March 30th blog as we were headed out of town to the Montreal Hi-Fi show I mentioned having received our April Issue of Stereophile’s Special 500 Recommended Components. Like any dealer in the biz, there’s usually some gear you represent in there somewhere, but as I mentioned I was just totally blown away by the number of models from our brands here at The Sweet Spot, that made “the list”. I mentioned we had what almost seemed like the proverbial Stereophile showroom of recommended components. But since returning from the show I just haven’t had the time to sit down and write a report on my own evaluations for all these products, and what led to our decision to carry these brands. So I thought at this point, I should at least list them, and mention that we either have the model, or a step up or down from it. I also take the liberty to mention models we may not have here at this time because we are a dealer for the brand, so some are coming or going, and we can, and/or will be, getting it here for audition. Here’s the list, in descending order of class A, B, etc rating;
Power Amplifiers; Marantz Reference SM-11S1, McIntosh MC275. Integrated Amplifiers; NAD Masters Series M2, NAD 375BEE, Roksan Kandy K2, Music Hall a15.2, *Marantz PM5004, Preamplifiers: McIntosh A/V 150 Controller, Marantz AV7005 Preamp-Processor. Disc Players (includes all formats): Sony ES SCD-XA5400ES, Marantz Reference SA-11S2, McIntosh MCD500, Marantz CD5004, Music Hall cd15.2, NAD C565BEE. Turntables: Music Hall MMF 9.1. Phono Stages: NAD PP3, NAD PP2. Speakers: Revel Ultima Salon 2, Revel Ultima Studio 2, Klipsch Palladium P-39F, Klipsch Palladium P-17B, PSB Synchrony, PSB Image T, Totem Mani-2, PMC DB1i, Totem Model One Signature, PSB Image T6, Totem Acoustic Forest, PSB Imagine B, PSB Image B6, *PSB Alpha B1. Headphones: Grado SR60i
*Signifies one I have previously reviewed in our blog.
PS: Many of these are also recommended by The Absolute Sound & others, but this is just the Stereophile List for this year. Also, these brands have consistently made the recommended components list for years, and almost across their entire line, which of course, is one reason we chose to carry them. Some factors, other than musicality, which influence our decision to carry a brand are value, reliability, reparability, manufacturer support (dependability/customer service), brand availability over time, and manufacturer business ethics.
A short revisit of Stereophile’s Totem Dreamcatcher review / A word about great Mini Systems
Regardless of merit, if any, of reporting on the sound quality of $575.00 speakers while using a $6000.00 (Audio Research R110 w/a Tube Line Stage Preamplifier rig)I’d like to make a couple of points. Thankfully, Robert Reina also uses in his May 2011 Stereophile review, a Creek Destiny CD Receiver ($2200.00). Naturally, all of us who do equipment testing use a reference system, otherwise, we would have no standard of measure, and little clue as to how various components or speakers actually perform. However, the absolute highest level of a system I would report results on for $575.00 speakers, would be something in this price range, in our case, the $2500.00 Reference Mini System (Teac Reference ADH660NT/PDH60). Additionally, I tested these with several more real world priced systems, each including modest Integrates & Receivers from $350.00 to $800.00, and did comparisons with several monitors ranging from $279.00/pr to $2000.00. In fairness to Robert, the Dreamcatchers do use such high quality parts that one must test them with ultra expensive equipment just to see where they’ll go? However, it should be noted that the diminishing returns are with such a system as his, or our reference ($6000.00) will be well in play. I believe that most people building a system around these speakers will likely use them not at their absolute ultimate performance level , but ultimately, in their real world price class of $575.00.
One of the Dreamcatchers most important design attributes, is that they DO NOT need amplifier rigs of the afore mentioned prowess to achieve 80 – 90% of what they are capable of. As unfortunately do the vast majority of high-end mini monitors, and sadly, many lower end ones as well. This is where the honest genius of Totem’s chief Engineer, Vince Bruzzese, becomes so important, as all of his mini monitors are so well designed. I also agree with Robert that they do perform like much more expensive monitor speakers, so giving them a go with reference gear is irresistible. And it is only then that you can appreciate their measure of performance with modest electronics. It should be noted that there are a good many speakers that will fool you. Being relatively easy to drive and giving good performance with modest gear, yet really coming to life when hooked to high end equipment. Thankfully, in my examination, at minimum, you’ll achieve 85% of the Dreamcatchers ultimate performance with modest “quality gear”, like our NAD C316BEE & C515BEE Integrated Amplifier & CD Player ($650.00 for the pair). So for the quaint sum of about $1500.00 with proper accessories, the Dreamcatchers allow you do just that, “catch the dream of what super costly mini monitor rigs give you”, at a fraction of the price! And for those who aspire to touch the rewards of a reference caliber system, but of smaller proportion and dollar amounts, the Dreamcatcher coupled with the Teac Reference electronics gives an extraordinary performance! Articulately broad frequency range and shockingly immense soundstage, easily tackling even highly complex material like symphonic music. Quite frankly, a rare feet for any system at just $3350.00. But at the $3350.00 level, a nudge toward the Totem Mite should be considered for the paltry $200.00 more. Clearly, a balance of modestly priced, but well chosen, high quality speakers and electronics makes for a most musically rewarding experience! For testing I used all Ultralink interconnects, speaker wire, and line filtration. We have all the tested models above here for your auditioning pleasure.
Here’s another Montreal show report, from my friend and colleague, Wayne Munie. Wayne is a vastly experienced audio professional/audiophile. Wayne’s professional experience dates back to the early 1980’s as a sales consultant at Audiomusical, a High-End Audio Store in Belleville IL,. He later managed The Great St. Louis Sound Co. in St. Louis Mo, before working with me at Audio by US, back in Belleville, IL. I enjoyed reading Wayne’s take on the show. So here it is…
This was my second visit to Montreal for their Son et Image show. First I must say I truly enjoyed my visit to this beautiful city and its magnificent selection of restaurants. The Salon Son et Image show is a wonderful opportunity to hear a wide range of audio products. What was different this time from my previous visit in 2007 (beside the change in sponsor, name [formerly Festival Son et Image], and deletion of video games) was the extensive use of iTunes as a source. While I appreciate and personally take advantage of the convenience of having a music server hooked up to an audio system all my wow experiences at the show involved the playing of a CD or LP. Tube electronics proved to still be relevant in high-end audio; wonderful sound from the inexpensive Peachtree driving Dynaudio speakers, AudioNote, Audio Research, and Mastersound all were among the best sound at the show.
I have been to several consumer electronic shows and their are a few manufactures that always have good sound (Totem and Magnapan), but many manufactures just don’t know how to demonstrate good sound. Good sound is a cumulative result of the recording, playback equipment and listening room. A great system will allow good recordings to give you goose bumps and create an emotional experience. Good music poorly recorded is disappointing because you expect so much more but playing that music on a boom box only lowers your expectation doesn’t fix the failings of the recording.
The Audes speaker rep was set up in the entry to the Liberty Trading room using Roksan CD player and Mastersound amp and was consistently playing great music as a result I spent more time and more visits to this set up than any other. Great music masterfully presented that’s what we all want isn’t it?
According to this month’s issue of Stereophile magazine (May 2011), our Totem Dreamcatcher is a speaker which fully lives up to its name! Allowing those who dream of enjoying $2000.00 monitors, an equivalent musical experience without the cost! (See review by Robert J. Reina). Reading his review will make you want to own a pair for yourself. We have been thoroughly enjoying them since shaking hands with Vince Bruzzese (Totem’s Chief Engineer/CEO) at Totem’s state of the art factory in Montreal. Totem, as their name may suggest, uses mostly native components from North America, but adds the worlds very finest drivers, which are made in Europe. Not a single part in a Totem speaker is sourced from Asia. Vince is a firm believer in quality sourcing, and states unequivocally, that though his components cost him many times more, it is because of this, that he is able to maintain the highest standards in all aspects of production, quality control, fit and finish! This extremely high level of quality production is evident in every single model. Yes, all the way down to the Dreamcatcher. Most speakers built with this level of engineering cost three to four times as much from other manufacturers. In fact, most manufactures don’t build anything themselves, but only design & outsource!?! Personally, I feel this is due more to “greed than necessity”. And those who do some of their own manufacturing more often source everything under $2000.00 to China.
I highly suggest not only reading Robert’s review, but looking over what John Atkinson’s test bench report revels. As this is a perfect example of a very common disparity in true state of the “art” products, like the Dreamcatcher, and those most common these days, which are designed and built by computers. Which brings up another little know fact – most speaker names today are just that -“names” with the designers who started the company long gone! These companies were taken over by the suites, who use computers for their designs and “never” actually listen to their own products??? How on Earth can you claim you’re building a great “sounding” product, if “humans” never listen to the design prototype? The good news is, Totem’s are designed by humans. They undergo multiple listening tests, and are hand tuned by ear not oscilloscope. Of course, they use computers for the preliminary designs, but the speakers are FAR FROM finished at that point. Vince will experiment with lots of different drivers, crossovers, and designs before he is satisfied that is the absolute BEST he can do for a particular model. And what’s particularly entertaining about John Atkinson’s report, is that in the end, he too concedes the sound quality, albeit begrudgingly.
In my experience, it seems far too many “techie types” can’t get their heads around what truly makes an outstanding speaker, or audio component. If they can’t “see it on paper” they can’t understand the artist’s vision, or accept the outcome. They seem to forget some of the most important things in the equation, such as the human ear. Only the very finest speakers in the world are built in this way, and sadly, too often, the street prices for these stay well into the thousands of dollars. This is where Totem is a true breath of fresh air, sculpting each work of art with the same dedicated love and devotion, making absolutely beautiful speakers affordable for everyone!
By now, everyone knows I’m rather fond of our new Golden Ear Triton II speakers. And as we have been getting a lot of customer interest as well, I decided to test the reality of some of their assumed merits. The biggest of which, is their rated efficiency of 91db. The average speaker has an efficiency rating in the mid to high 80’s, so a rating of 91db suggests they “should be” easy to drive with lower powered amplifiers. It’s interesting though, that in our particular industry (consumer electronics), the governing body that sets the rules for product claims, “the FCC” does a very poor job of placing any meaningful limits on what manufacturer’s can claim. Watts per channel for instance is an excellent example. Haven’t we all done the preverbal double take when seeing the little plastic stereo boom box at the local chain store, claiming “100 watts per channel” (w/p/c)….now do we actually believe that if we connect said amplifier to a pair of “real speakers” of ANY EFFECIENCY RATING, that the little microchip amplifier there-in, will drive them??? For most of us who have some grasp of basic electro-mechanics, lets’ hope not! However, watts per channel has caused a surprising amount of confusion over the years, as many customers try to make decisions about what to buy and connect together. And far too often results- versus expectations are pretty far off. This rather loose FCC standard is a major reason that our more respected amplifier manufacturers build in safeguards, preventing customers from over driving amplifiers when connecting to less efficient speakers. So to get back to my story, I had a couple of customers audition the afore mentioned speakers. One plans to drive them with our McIntosh amplifier which will definitely do the job, and with great ease and musical integrity. The other however has a more conservative budget and was mentioning that with the Triton’s high efficiency rating, he was considering a very modestly amplifier with a low power rating of about 40 w/p/c. So knowing that rated speaker efficiency, rated amplifier power, and a few other variables does not guaranty that any given set of components are going to behave as expected, I decided to put said assumption to the test. Now here’s where it gets interesting. First, I grabbed a 40 w/p/c amplifier, similar to that suggested by the customer. Also, let me say that I use about 20 different standards to measure performance. Two of the more appreciable standards are “size of sound stage” and “enjoyable frequency range” or (top to bottom fullness). With these two standards, I was simply amazed by what I heard. The 40 w/p/c solid state was giving almost the same level of performance as our reference amplifier, to which these speakers had been connected. The reference amplifier is about 175 w/p/c. and costs about 10x as much. Of course, the other harder to define characteristics were being done with somewhat less integrity, but for most people, it would be difficult to identify what those performance differences actually equate to, especially in monetary terms. The second test, which involved an even lower powered (and priced) tube amplifier, netted yet different results. Not only was the sound stage equally impressive but the tube sound actually made the overall system synergy seam like a more expensive rig, with a sweet liquid midrange usually reserved for much more expensive systems. So obviously I have to conclude, that Golden Ear has been conservatively rated at 91db. Thus, I must say, the Triton II has demonstrated to me a much more rare speaker attribute. Obviously, Sandy and Co. knows a thing or two about speaker design, in that a high efficiency rating does not automatically equate to “easy to drive”. Other factors, such as a stable impedance plays a significant role when using lower powered, and priced amplification as well. To which Golden Ear is obviously in tune! This almost tempted me to go get that boom box amplifier and hook em’ up…but perhaps that’s a bit silly, after all, these are serious speakers, which will absolutely pay you back with greater and greater sonic rewards, as you improve various source components such as those in our reference system. This allows them to give every ounce of musical nuance, detail, and range, that the ultimate source has to offer, and makes for a very fulfilling and satisfying musical experience!
So in summary I must say, yes Virginia, there really is a low powered amplifier solution to a Golden Eared system. And it could get you amazingly good performance at a cost not much more than the speakers themselves. Imagine, a $2500.00 pair of full range speakers, being 1/3 the physical part of a $3000.00 sound system. For most people, this is absolutely Absurd!
The Montreal Salon Son & Image: Annual Hi-Fi Show
Every Spring, Montreal throws a party for both enthusiasts and those of us who are in the trades. So this past weekend, we have been indulging ourselves in essentially a giant toy store overflowing with tempting goodies from all reaches of the world. Some of the latest and without a doubt greatest gear created to date was on display for our aural pleasures. Exotic audio artwork from Ayon, MBL, Specimen Horns, Roksan, Luxman, T+A, Totem Acoustics and Oracle were some of our favorites. And this year, about 98% of the show was about AUDIO. In fact, we saw only one manufacturer showing video, which is just about right. As more customers today are interested in “sound quality” rather than the compromises which have permeated too much of the industry for the past ten years, with ever changing video technology and formats. Thankfully the “High-End” has reached the same consensus, and most of the more astute companies have dropped video processors altogether. By employing a high integrity integrated by-pass the high-end can stay with the “music first concept,” offering customers a much better audio experience. So be sure to stop by soon to check out even more of what’s new in cherry picked gear here at The Sweet Spot. Cheers!
Golden Ears aren’t necessary to enjoy these unassuming, yet amazing budget speakers! The PSB Alpha B1, at $279.00 a pair, is one of Hi-Fi’s greatest speaker bargains. With the ink quite possibly not yet dry on the review I just wrote about our coveted Golden Ear Triton II’s, I must say something right now about our most popular speakers, as I stare at them on the cover of this month’s(April) issue of Stereoophile Magazine that Jason just handed me? How bizarre. This is Stereophile’s Special 500 Recommended Component Issue. And we are once again fortunate to be a dealer for such a great and universally respected line of speakers. Ironically, every single one, of the now eight speaker models, designed by Paul Barton, (of PSB) is currently reviewed by someone, somewhere, as an industry’s “best in class”. What’s even more daunting however is that in this current recommended component issue almost appears to be a catalogue for our store, with no less than half of our current production pairs of speakers, as recommended components in each of their classes! But it doesn’t stop there; Stereophile has gone on to name the bulk of our inventory of electronics as winners in their various classes as well. I mean, Jason and I did “cherry pick” this stuff out from the masses, as we have the pleasure of being able to do for our Hi-Fi shop, but really, this many recommended components sitting on our display room floor is overwhelming. I almost feel that someone has given me one of the bogus magazine’s that the tourist photo shops can make up, complete with bogus articles about how great you are…I mean really, what is going on here!?! …are the editor/reviewers of Stereophile spying on us? Are the rooms here bugged? They’ve named our Revel’s, McIntosh, Marantz Reference, etc, etc, etc,. For instance, I regularly tell customers what a great value our Marantz PM5004 is as an Integrated Amp for its paltry $450.00 price tag, which they have listed right alongside many others at much higher prices! Or I’ll mention how you can actually enjoy a full blown symphony orchestra recording on these little PSB Alpha speakers at their ridiculously CHEAP price of $279.00 a pair, but occasionally I get the feeling that some customers think, “of course you say it’s good Mark – you sell it!!!” But really, if you like the idea that hey, you can build a quality system that will allow you to sit back, relax, and enjoy your favorite recordings. You should really like the idea that you can get away with that for less than a grand these days, including another greatly reviewed IPOD dock or CD player to go with! Come in and give these amazing bookshelf speakers an audition. They won’t disappoint!
I wrote, “Finally, a speaker that does it all” on February 17, 2011, which I had thought, about covered it, on this impressive new speaker technology from Golden Ear. But now it seems, I must write another review, about this same speaker!?!
Please note, “*Important Note”, below, as this is an excerpt from Chris Martens Perfect Vision’s Review of the Triton Cinema Two 5-Channel Surround System, which of course, is fronted by the “Triton II’s”.
*Important note: while this may not be the first review you read of the
Triton Cinema Two system, we believe it may be one of the first to cover the
final production version of the system (just like the ones enthusiasts will
be able to buy). The fact is that early Golden Ear press samples of the Triton
Two’s (including the ones sent to The Perfect Vision) were identical to the
pilot production models first demonstrated at CEDIA 2010. The Perfect
Vision learned, however, that Golden Ear had made small but significant
improvements in the control circuit for the Triton Two subwoofer amplifier
— changes that have been incorporated in all production model Triton Two’s
shipped to Golden Ear dealers. Accordingly, TPV elected to delay its review
until its Triton Two review samples could be retrofitted with final production
version amplifier control boards, which proved to be a good decision. The
change essentially redefines the neutral tonal balance point for the user
adjustable subwoofer amp, giving the production Triton Two’s an even clearer,
better balanced sound than the CEDIA demo units exhibited (plus a more
usable real-world range of amplifier adjustments).
The good news is that I cannot agree more. With the new crossover boards I received and installed at the beginning of the week, the greatly smoother, and more refined top to bottom tonal balance was immediately apparent. I was able to dial in the subs to the room much more accurately, completely relieving the mid base and mid-range of slight, but definitely noticeable, colorations. Now, the balance between very low base, mid base, and midrange is utterly perfect! This allows the Triton’s to really show their true colors, colorlessly, if I can put it that way. It has been a long time, perhaps too long, since I have heard a speaker produce such a detailed, uncolored, open, and true to the original portrayal of the midrange and high treble spectrum. Not to mention, entire audible frequency response. It may be time once again, for me to replace my home speakers. Not that mine aren’t very good ones, as they were $3000.00/pair from another very well respected speaker manufacturer. But alas, I am really enjoying hearing things I simply have not been able to, for a very long time, having previously owned speakers that employed that very special “Heil Air Motion Transformer” to which Chris, and other reviewers, are referring to.
To illustrate my point, take the DCC gold recording of The Doors, with Ray Manzarek’s insane organ notes; which on the Triton II’s seams to not only come to life in erie 3D largeness, but which includes the rarely audible secondary glass tube resonance, from Ray’s tube organ. This is goose bumb material, clearly overlaying the whole sonic image, which on our set up, is about 20 feet deep and wide, and seemed to have front row / front stage like height. Yes, a HUGE sound stage normally reserved for much more expensive speakers! Then with the sickeningly sweet triple lead guitar on-slot from the (Doobie Bros) China-Grove, this ingenius perfected technology based on the Heil Tweeter, coupled with totally unique piston driven mid-base drivers, completely takes over playing this stuff like I have not heard since the 70’s, when I often enjoyed this legendary ensemble LIVE! It’s flippin’ incredable! I feel like I’m being transported back in time right to the experience.
I further must caution you however, as stated by Chris Martens, that the Golden Ears will spoil you! This is the very problem I’ve been having since we put them on our floor. As I am responsible for doing all of the equipment testing here at The Sweet Spot@ADKAV, I’ve found I cannot listen to the Golden Ears prior to testing other speakers! Because what happens is, exactly as Chris says, the other speakers then sound mechanical, strained, or otherwise flawed. It’s a very discerning issue indeed!
Please see Reviews http://www.soundandvisionmag.com/audio/2011/01/test-report-goldenear-technology-triton-two-tower-speakers
I’ve just returned from Binghamton NY, home of America’s very own Stereo Electronics Manufacturer, McIntosh Labs. What a wonderful experience. Not only are the folks at McIntosh some of the most down to Earth, friendly people you want to meet, but they are like my neighbors. One of my neighbors works for Bard, assembling catheters for the Hospital Industry, and another works for Scott Paper, the source of my home paper product. On the factory tour, I met people who hand craft the circuit boards, glass faceplates, and even hand wind the power transformers. Many of these people have worked there for decades. Not only has McIntosh has been in business since 1949, but in the same building. One woman is a grandmother, who taught her trade to her daughter, and granddaughter, who now work their craft side by side with her. McIntosh “really is” a family business. I was thrilled and amazed to see how these dedicated crafts people work their trade, making each and every component for McIntosh Amplifiers, Tuners, CD Players, Music Servers, DAC’s, and Speakers. You know, there are some fine U.S. companies left, but very few, who still do all their own manufacturing right here in the U.S. of A. I try to do my little part, especially when making long term purchases, like my American made Harley Davidson, and my “mostly” U.S. made Dodge Charger, but now I can also truly appreciate owning not only the world’s finest sounding stereo electronics, but really appreciate knowing it was hand made by some great neighbors, in Binghamton, another – home town USA!
See link for a look into McIntosh: http://www.mcintoshlabs.com/inside/1073.asp