|SoundStage! Feedback: July 1999
July 22, 1999
To Marc Mickelson,
Pardon me for correcting you, but Dave Mustaine
has never performed on any Metallica album. He has writing credit on Kill 'Em All
and Ride the
As your letter and the one below prove, I obviously goofed here. But I fall back on my great lack of knowledge regarding Metallica as an excuse. Thanks Ian and Chuck for setting the record straight....Marc Mickelson
July 19, 1999
July 13, 1999
To Marc Mickelson,
I must say many thanks to the writers of Soundstage!! I have written letters to three SoundStagers (you, Greg Weaver and Doug Blackburn) regarding questions about reviews, and ALL have responded within 48 hours. Moreover, they were refreshingly forthright in their answers (not hemming and hawing). This shows the deepest respect for SoundStage! readers and is a welcome change.
July 12, 1999
Would you be able to divulge the EDP (estimated date of publication) of Pete Goudreau's next article ("Pete's Place" #4)? I have very much enjoyed reading Pete's articles and look forward to his future work.
Pete has had some problems getting the components he needs for his next column. We anticipate that the article is still a few months off, probably to be published on October 1....Marc Mickelson
July 10, 1999
To Marc Mickelson,
I was reading your review of the Linn Majik integrated amp, and I was surprised to find that you used a portable CD player as your source. I've had a Rotel 865BX for a long time now, and I am looking at my options for a new player (NAD, Marantz, Rotel) all for around $600 or so Canadian. The rest of the system is a Rega Brio integrated and Totem Mite speakers. I tried an old Sony car Discman that's about eight years old and was not very happy with the results. Yes, I bought a Monster Cable interconnect for the portable. Do you really feel that an inexpensive portable can do the job? And if so, what interconnect (reasonable) would work?
Thanks for your help.
I began using the Panasonic SL-S321C portable in my second system out of necessity, but it has stayed because it sounds darned good. I can't say this of all portables, however. Panasonic has replaced this model with another, which HeadRoom sells (they REALLY know their stuff when it comes to portables). I can't comment if it sounds better than the models you mention, but I know it was cheaper -- runs off batteries too. There is one definite down side though: no remote.
In regard to interconnects, I use either JPS Labs Ultra Conductor or DH Labs Silver Sonic. Both are reasonably priced and good. The adapter you use to convert the mini-jack line-level out to stereo RCAs is very important. I use a simple one-piece adapter from Radio Shack, but I know that other companies make some that are gold plated....Marc Mickelson
Greg Smith adds: I have two Sony Discman units from the era Alan is talking about (purchased in 1991 and 1992), and I can verify that both sound pretty dismal compared with the modern players like recent Panasonic units I've looked at. The SL-SX300 from this month's "Fringe" is good enough that I plan on including it as one of the sources next time I compare a couple of home CD players. It's a substantial step up even from the SL-S320-era stuff from not too long ago.
There are three companies I know of that make high-quality cables to connect a portable mini-jack to RCA. HeadRoom sells some units sourced from Straight Wire, up to 1 meter in length. These are built very solidly in addition to sounding good. It's also possible to get Kimber PBJ terminated with a mini-jack at one end, but I find the result a little too fragile for serious portable use on the road. It's not something most Kimber dealers stock, so you may have to prod them a bit to special order one. Finally, Monster sells a cable for this application, but I tend to shy away from their products because I don't like the amount of force their turbine RCA connectors exert when you remove them.
July 9, 1999
To Doug Schneider,
I'm writing this quick letter to you because you are the publisher of a major publication in the audiophile/videophile world and so your views carry a bit more weight within the industry than those of regular everyday consumers like me. Because I know you are busy, I'll keep my question brief (and please feel free to forward this e-mail to someone you deem more appropriate to answer).
My question is this: how long can DVD last with its seemingly endless problems in manufacturing (both players and the discs themselves), and why haven't major publications like yours said something about these problems? I bought a Pioneer Elite DV-05 DVD player about two months ago after looking through magazines and reviews and deciding that it seemed like a good player. Two months later I'm a bit upset because I've encountered a lip-sync problem with the player on the Enemy of the State DVD (i.e., the sound coming from the DVD was not matched with the video). Thinking I may have had a bad DVD, I started looking at the Internet newsgroups and discovered that many DVDs and DVD/player combinations have issues with lip-sync, layer changes, and audio dropouts.
The reason I'm asking you this question is because I would have liked to have heard about these potential issues before I bought the DVD player. When I moved from VHS to DVD, I thought I was moving up in technology. While the picture is clearer with a DVD, the lip-synch issue is very noticeable, and as my wife said so eloquently after I had upgraded, "Why did we go backwards?"
Has SoundStage! mentioned these issues before? As a consumer, I'd like to use publications like yours for advice and guidance when making new purchases, and I would certainly hope to see both the positives and negatives of a particular unit or technology mentioned.
Again, I know you are busy and I thank you for your time. I'm obviously a frustrated DVD user at this point, and I hope that somehow processes can change a bit before the next wave of HDTV gadgets come out.. Thanks!
Hello Steve and thanks for your letter. You obviously bring up some very good points because there have, indeed, been some problems with DVD technology. However, lately I've been boasting to people that DVD is finally a "promise fulfilled." The players are relatively inexpensive and the software is both plentiful and fairly priced. Furthermore, many DVD movies have fine attention to detail and plenty of worthwhile extras that show the movie-producing companies have adopted the technology well.
This does not mean that there have not been and are not currently some problems. I will say that I have personally only witnessed one problem with my own DVD player -- on a single DVD the navigation of the menu system did not seem to function properly with my control keys. Other than that, I've never experienced dropouts or lip-sync problems (I use a Kenwood DV-S700 DVD player).
The problems you have encountered are very real, mind you, and seem to affect specific DVD players. Searches through the newsgroups bring the problems to light. For the consumer, such maladies are very unacceptable, regardless of price of the player. If there are well-documented problems with specific players that can be duplicated with multiple copies of the same DVD, then the manufacturer of the player should fix the DVD players that are in the field or offer a refund. If it is a problem with a specific disc pressing, those companies should re-press the discs and offer exchanges (I'm sure most companies do this, if not at the manufacturing level,then at the retail level. I've had to make CD and DVD returns, and no questions were asked). If you feel your DVD player is not functioning properly and it is not the problem of the disc, you have every right to inquire about this with the retailer. If not satisfied there, contact the manufacturer -- a well-written letter always helps.
One thing that is not well publicized about DVD technology is that the discs themselves are more fragile than CDs. For example, an easy way to damage a DVD and make it completely unplayable or only partially playable happens when the disc is removed from its case. Some consumers pull hard on the disc, producing a severe warp (you should press on the center pin to release the disc, so it does not catch). While the disc immediately unwarps even when it catches on the center, the damage to the data layers is already done. For reasons such as these, some feel DVD is not suited to the rental market....Doug Schneider
July 8, 1999
To Greg Weaver,
Two months of "Synergizing" devoted to the effects of some bike reflector tape on the back of a CD? This seems rather excessive, although I don't doubt that your mind and the minds of countless others can indeed discern the effects of the Rainbow Foil on your listening experience.
Consider the placebo effect. Surely you are aware of experiments where subjects have been given sugar pills to treat their problems and have miraculously experienced improvements to their condition. The mind is a powerful tweaking device -- maybe the most powerful and cheapest.
This Rainbow Foil phenomenon reminds of the article I read in Stereophile, where the author stated he prefers to manually change tracks on records rather than have these automated digital devices (CD players) with remote controls that remove the connection between listener and playback system. Don't get me wrong, I own a Project 1.2 turntable and enjoy the warm sound of vinyl and its inherent "real-ness," but I don't consider manual operation a positive attribute.
This brings me to my hypothesis -- the more a connoisseur has invested in his hobby, the more he will enjoy it. This investment can be in time or money. The Stereophile article writer derived more listening enjoyment after manually changing record tracks, cleaning records, aligning his needle, and ensuring that he need not find another hobby since audio is so time consuming. People who own Ferraris swear their car runs faster after applying nine coats of wax and polish. My friend constantly replaces parts on his high tech bicycles to reduce the weight of the bike by milligrams because it "improves performance" even though he doens't race. The irrelevant 1/2 second he saves on his ride does not compare to the enjoyment he gets from simply knowing he has optimized his bike to the greatest extent possible within his means. Rich audiophiles may spend $4k on a fancy phono cartridge and enjoy the benefits. Audiophiles on a budget spend hours tweaking their system at low cost and enjoy the benefits. And so on and so forth.
Here lies the problem. When a highly suspicious product is recommended by a respected writer within the audio community, several members of the audio community may suspect the integrity of the writer's conclusions. I can tell you that the three people I know that view SoundStage! now wonder whether any of SoundStage! is worth reading. For example, I used to wonder whether I should pick up items such as damping material, replacement feet for components, etc. But now that I see that even Rainbow Foil can be perceived as making a big difference in your listening experience, I am forced to conclude that many of your recommendations may be the result of placebo effects, and more specifically the knowledge that you have done everything within your means to optimize your system.
I used to read SoundStage! in order to find ways to tweak my system cheaply and effectively. Now I'm not sure why I read Soundstage at all. I'm not saying that Rainbow Foil doesn't improve your listening experience, but I am saying you are losing readers. Choose your content wisely and consider whether advertiser revenues for certain products are worth the price you pay in readership.
I look forward to being exciting about reading SoundStage! articles at some point in the future.
...S. Hayes Ewing
Thanks for your feedback. Although I cant say I share your sentiments, I would like to address a couple of your points. First, I wonder if you have even tried the Foil. We have received overwhelmingly positive response to the columns I wrote, as have the Belts, who have responded to almost 500 requests for samples. In fact, the Foil is a no-cost tweak to try -- you only need to write and ask for a sample and then decide for yourself.
Also, I gave ample consideration to the placebo effect, as you inquire. But the placebo effect is based on the assumption that one wants to experience results. If you didnt pick up on the high level of skepticism I had for the products initially, the incredulity I held for the provided "explanation" as to how they accomplished their results, and how astounded I was to find that they actually worked, then you might want to re-read the material. Its all there.
Your last point has me the most concerned and seems to be the real slant of your letter. You should be aware that PWB Electronics is not a SoundStage! advertiser and has shown no interest in becoming one. If you look at our list of advertisers and our reviews, you will find many companies that have never had a review of any type and, conversely, many companies that have had reviews, and very positive ones at that, who do not advertise.
Finally, I dont mind admitting that I was very concerned about the exact reaction you are experiencing -- ask my editor! Your seeming complaint here is that a "highly suspicious product is recommended by a respected writer within the audio community." But that is exactly why I chose to write about these products. Though the offered explanation for their benefit would appear suspect, their results are not. That is exactly what SoundStage! and our readers expect of me. Im only too happy to bring such items to light -- regardless of the risk....Greg Weaver
July 5, 1999
Wonderful service and thoroughly enjoyable site!! Keep up the great work.
May I make a review suggestion, or make that two suggestions? I have long been interested in the Audio Physic Virgo speakers, and recently found that a reviewer with Stereophile uses these as one of his reference speakers. Could you audition these and write a review, or is one in the works?
Second, and last, I have also listened to the NHT 3.3 speakers, which did not originally make my short list for auditioning, but one store happened to carry them (I am looking in the $4000 to $8000 range) and was very impressed. Could you, would you, consider reviewing these speakers also?
Thank you for such an excellent site.
In regard to the Audio Physic Virgos, we are in the process of writing about the new Audio Physic Avanti Century speakers, and our reviewer will be making some comparisons to the Virgos in that review. We'll see what we can do in regard to NHT....Marc Mickelson
July 3, 1999
To Greg Weaver,
I just finished reading your latest column, and I was surprised to hear that anyone believed the PWB Rainbow Foil to have no effect. By now I have tried and retried the Rainbow Foil test about 100 times and there is no doubt that the Foil provides significant improvement. I completely concur with you that no CD should be played without the Foil (and, as you indicated in your column, this absolutely applies to DVDs as well). I have also experimented with the Cream Electret with pretty much the same results you cited, but I have found the maximum benefit can be gained by only applying the Cream to the label side of the CD, and that only a smidgen of Cream is needed to provide a thin coating and to achieve the desired result. BUT, there's more.
I also acquired some Quantum Rainbow Foil (QRF) -- designed according to PWB to be used in conjunction with the Cream Electret -- and as incredible as it seems, the application of the QRF with the Cream provides additional sonic improvements to those achieved with the Foil alone. The improvements are subtle, but the changes are definitely closer to the "natural" sound of the actual musical instruments. I also have added more of the various PWB Foils, and each addition moves the sound to a more natural and enjoyable level.
I am completely at a loss to explain the phenomenon of PWB, but I find myself spending little time worrying about it because there is no escaping the fact that I'm enjoying my sound system more than I ever have.
I have begun my experimentation with applying the Foils and Cream to objects other than CDs (loudspeaker enclosures, driver plates, power supplies, component enclosures, etc.), and my results have been positive. The improvements are very subtle when evaluated individually, but their effects are cumulative. I find myself, after a time, noticing aspects of musical pieces that I had never heard before, and becoming almost irresistibly involved in the musical performance. Am I merely paying more attention to the music than I have in the past? I don't believe so. As a drummer for many years, I have always loved music and have always enjoyed intensive listening sessions. However, the application of the PWB devices has raised my appreciation of reproduced music to a new level. I again want to express my gratitude to you for having the gumption to trust your evaluative skills and to put us on to the PWB products. It'd be a lot easier to remain quiet and leave the risk of promoting "unusual ideas" to others.
Where does this end? I'm not sure. But I will definitely continue my experimentations with PWB products, and periodically, I will report to you my findings. Consider this an interim update; I'm still experimenting with a prototype product that May Belt was kind enough to let me try. My initial impressions of that product are favorable, but I'm not ready to talk about it yet. One of the down sides to PWB devices is that initially it's difficult to believe that these strange items can have a positive effect, and testing them to make sure you're not dreaming is very time consuming. The upside is that the damn things seem to work. I'll let you know how my evaluations go, and if you have any doubts about my mental well-being, rest assured that I am not yet swinging the dead chicken.
July 2, 1999
First, many, many thanks for the superb equipment and music reviews.
I was wondering if you have considered a review of the new Dunlavy Athena speakers? They are getting very good reviews on the audio newsgroups, but so far I haven't seen a published review. I've auditioned the SC-IVAs and loved them, but they are too big for my listening area. The Athenas seem to offer Dunlavy performance close to the SC-IVAs', supposedly DALs most popular speaker to date, in a compact size. This has got to appeal to a lot of people.
Also, given that the list prices match almost exactly, if you do review the Dunlavy Athenas, it would be great if you could compare them to the Merlin VSM-SEs.
All the very best,...Neville Parakh
July 1, 1999
To Marc Mickelson,
Just wondering: in your Cromolin review, you brought up the famous tweak of using weights (sandbags) on top of your components to weigh them down and damp resonances, but you said that you needed a lot of sand (100+ pounds??!) to hear the difference. Is this true? On Audio Asylum, I've received a few posts (as well as asking Jon Gale) about some DIY isolation platforms, and I'm about to make this MDF-bubblewrap sandwich to put my transport and DAC on top of, and then weigh them down with sandbags. But 100 pounds is just an obscene amount! Did you really not notice any changes with, say, just 10-20 pounds of sand?
Hi Keith. When I mention 100 pounds of sand, I mean for it to be spread around an entire system -- on each component, your speakers, even on empty rack shelves. I didn't hear any improvement when I put one sandbag on one component, but when I put 10-12 bags all over, I did....Marc Mickelson