I enjoy your reviews on SoundStage! Simplifi, finding them comprehensive and informative, yet easy to read and digest. Based on your reviews and personal system choice, I know you are a fan of active speakers for home listening. I’m planning an upgrade to my current hi-fi setup, and the active vs. passive decision is probably the biggest choice I face.
I’m not wed to the traditional amplifier-cable-loudspeaker approach. However, the open-concept room where my new components will reside is on the large side (25’ x 23’, including seating, on-wall TV, kitchen, and dining areas). If I go the passive route, it would be an integrated amplifier and small-to-medium-size floorstanding speakers. If I used an NAD Masters M10 with built-in room correction, it could contribute to smoother in-room response, given the unusual dimensions and configuration. But most articles I’ve read indicate there are real benefits to an active speaker such as the Dynaudio Xeo 30.
In your opinion, would these benefits more than offset the potential benefit of Dirac Live room correction? I would add a Bluesound Node 2i to any active speakers to handle streaming, while the M10 has BluOS built-in. Tough choice I know, so your thoughts and opinions would be most appreciated.
Thanks for your note, and your kind words. I can’t provide definitive answers to your questions, but hopefully, I can help you navigate your options.
I think the Dynaudio Focus Xeo 30s and Bluesound Node 2i would make a wonderful system, delivering great sound, with really simple system layout (which, as the senior editor of Simplifi, I really appreciate!). For a couple of years, I was using the Node 2i with Dynaudio Focus 200 XD stand-mount speakers, and loved the combination, not just sonically, but functionally as well. BluOS is a great software platform for streaming audio, so the Node 2i proved a flexible, easy-to-use source.
I assume that in your large space, the room boundary-conditions for the two speakers are quite different. All of Dynaudio’s Focus XD and Xeo active speakers have controls for speaker position, and these can be set independently for each channel. I found that capability very useful in my room, where one speaker is near a corner, and the other along a long wall. My living space is much smaller than yours, so for your application, a more powerful floorstanding model is likely a better choice.
As you surmise, full-blown room correction will be even more effective in addressing room problems than the Dynaudios’ speaker-position controls, as I’ve confirmed by reviewing two NAD products with Dirac Live room correction -- the Masters M10 streaming integrated amplifier ($2749), and the Classic C 658 streaming preamp ($1649).
If you go with passive speakers, and are looking for an integrated amp with room correction, the M10 is an excellent choice, especially as it has both Dirac Live and an excellent network streamer. Another option is Arcam’s SA30 integrated amp ($3000), which also has Dirac; but its streaming capabilities are more basic -- Apple AirPlay 2, Google Chromecast, and UPnP. However, like all BluOS products, the SA30 can also work as a Roon endpoint, so if you plan to use Roon, you’re all set. My only concern is power -- will the M10 (100Wpc into 8 ohms) or SA30 (120Wpc into 8 ohms) have enough power to fill your large space? The answer will depend partly on your listening habits, and partly on the speakers you choose, but I expect you’ll be fine with either amp. However, this is something I’d consider in your position.
Depending on your budget, there are other possibilities. NAD’s new Masters M33 amp ($4999) is rated at 200Wpc into 8 ohms, and uses new the new Purifi Hybrid Digital output stage. This looks like a really interesting product, and Roger Kanno is in the process of reviewing it for SoundStage! Hi-Fi. Of course, it uses the BluOS platform, and has Dirac Live.
Another very interesting amp is Lyngdorf Audio’s TDAI-3400 integrated amp-DAC ($6499), which Roger Kanno reviewed on SoundStage! Hi-Fi on June 15. It uses Lyngdorf’s RoomPerfect room correction, and is rated at 200Wpc into 8 ohms. Another option is Anthem’s STR integrated amp-DAC ($4499), which has built-in Anthem Room Correction and is again rated at 200Wpc into 8 ohms. Roger reviewed the STR for SoundStage! Hi-Fi in June 2018.
Here’s another possibility that you may not have considered -- combine a streaming DAC-preamp like the NAD C 658 with analog active speakers like Elac Navis ARF-51 floorstanders ($4599.96/pair). I’m using that very combination, and like it a lot.
I realize that I’ve probably raised more questions than I’ve answered, but I hope this helps. You have some really great options -- I don’t think there’s a bad choice here. Feel free to write back if you have more questions, and let me know what system you ultimately choose.
Firstly, I’d like to thank you for your work on SoundStage! Simplifi. I’ve been looking into new equipment recently and have enjoyed reading your informative articles and reviews.
After reading your reviews of the NAD C 658 streaming DAC-preamp and Elac Navis ARF-51 and ARB-51 active loudspeakers, I have purchased the C 658, and auditioned both versions of Elac’s active speakers. I really enjoyed both of them, but preferred the additional bass of the floorstander. In both cases, I felt a subwoofer would be useful in the future for certain genres and for watching movies.
I then found your article where you compare the floorstanding Elacs to the stand-mounts plus SVS PB-2000 Pro subwoofer.
Ideally, with no budget constraints, I would go for the ARF-51s and a meaty subwoofer, if only for the fact I prefer the aesthetic of floorstanders, and have always desired to own some. However, since the total cost of the ARB-51s plus stands and a sub like the PB-2000 Pro is less than that of the floorstanders, financially it doesn’t make sense.
So my questions relate to your final paragraph. When you tried the ARF-51s and sub together, did you cross over at 60Hz or 80Hz? On a technical level, is the ARF-51 with a high-pass filter engaged likely to outperform the stand-mount in the frequencies not dealt with by the subwoofer? I’m trying to make an informed purchase, and not stretch financially to the ARF-51s plus a sub if the performance difference is negligible.
To throw another spanner into the works, a friend has offered me a very cheap deal on some KEF R700s that I have yet to hear. Decisions, decisions . . .
Thanks for your letter, and congratulations on your new system. As to your question whether you should go with the ARF-51s, or ARB-51s plus a sub, it’s hard to offer any definitive advice without knowing anything about your listening room, preferred musical genres, and listening habits. But even with this information, I doubt I could provide any more insight than that offered in in my feature, “All About that Bass.”
In any case, I suspect you already know the answer to your question. “I prefer the aesthetic of floorstanders and have always desired to own some,” you write. I think that should be your starting point; otherwise you’ll always be second-guessing your decision. So my suggestion would be to buy the ARF-51s, and after you’ve lived with them for a while, make a decision about the sub.
I really enjoyed the SVS PB-2000 Pro, but if your primary application is music as opposed to movies, you should also consider the SVS SB-2000 Pro, which Diego Estan reviewed on SoundStage! Access in February. As the SB-2000 Pro is a sealed as opposed to ported design, you’d be trading off some wallop, but gaining some definition. The SB-2000 Pro is also smaller, which in some rooms could be an important consideration (it would be in mine).
When I used the PB-2000 Pro with my ARF-51s, I set their high-pass filter at 80Hz. If I had had more time, I would have experimented with both settings. Compared to the ARB-51s plus a sub, the ARF-51-plus-subwoofer combination should provide more weight and greater sense of ease in the bass frequencies not covered by the subwoofer. In that region, each of the ARF-51’s three woofers has to move only one-third the distance as the single woofer on the ARB-51 to produce the same volume level, so they’re operating in their linear region, free of distortion, more of the time.
As to the possibility of purchasing used KEF R700s, I can’t offer any first-hand advice, as I’ve never heard that speaker. The R700 has not been reviewed on any of the SoundStage! sites, but Doug Schneider has reviewed the R500, and discussed the R700 in his reply to a reader’s letter in March 2017. When evaluating the financial end of that deal, keep in mind that you’ll also have to buy a power amplifier.
Good luck with your decision. Whichever route you go, I think you’re going to end up with a great system.
Thank you for your reply. Regarding my choice, I think you are right -- my heart desires floorstanders so I will probably go with the ARF-51s and add a sub later. Sometimes the most financially sound decision isn’t necessarily the right one! Whilst I do think it’s worth listening to my friend’s KEF R700s, I also subscribe somewhat to the Simplifi philosophy. There is a certain appeal in not having to worry about matching passive speakers to the right amplifier.
Speaking of passives, do you think you will have the opportunity to try the Elac Vela range at some point?
On the subwoofer front, I think I am sold on eventually getting a sealed SVS subwoofer in gloss black to complement the ARF-51s sonically and aesthetically. Although, Elac does make their own subs, which might be worth considering!
Thanks again for your thoughts and insight. I look forward to reading your “Top Ten” article in a few weeks.
Hello again, Liam,
Great choice! I’ve been really happy with the C 658 and Elac Navis ARF-51s, and I bet you will be too. And with decisions like this, it’s almost always better to go with your heart than your head, and get the product you love, rather than the one that you think you should get. Not that you should ignore your head. With financial decisions of this scale, it’s important to do some research to make sure your heart is leading you in the right direction, and you’ve clearly done that.
I think your long-term plan to match the ARF-51s to a sealed subwoofer is excellent, and also agree that it’s worth looking into Elac’s subs. Their models that work with a companion smartphone app for performing room EQ look really interesting.
I doubt that I’ll be reviewing any of Elac’s Vela speakers, as I focus on active and powered models. But who knows, maybe they’ll be covered on another SoundStage! site.
Thanks again for writing, and enjoy your new system.
Bravo! It is wonderful to see studio monitors reviewed in “normal” and nearfield setups from the point of view of high-performance home audio. (Pro-audio reviews of monitors are usually boring, focusing strictly on the ability of the monitors to “translate.” One rarely sees anything about soundstage depth, enjoyability, or other important aspects of audio.) I was convinced long ago that these kinds of speakers provide killer value in home audio if one can overlook their typically utilitarian appearance. Think what it would cost to quad-amp a pair of standmounts with active crossovers, if you even could!
The best audio experience I’ve ever had in my home was not with my big rig of separates and 6’-tall electrostatic speakers in a dedicated room. It was when, for grins, I moved my modest but decent desktop rig comprising 5” pro monitors, isoAcoustics stands, and a DAC-preamp to the den, set it all on wooden chairs, for goodness sake, and sat down 10’ away. (My family was out of town at the time.)
I popped a Chesky CD in the computer feeding the DAC and experienced a wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling laser-focused soundstage like I've never experienced before. Ever. Sound was coming from 4’ to the outside of the speakers and well behind the front wall. The music was absolutely alive. To think that it was coming from a $1000 setup made me laugh out loud. I stayed up until 3:00 a.m. experiencing my best-engineered recordings in a whole new light.
Please continue reviewing pro monitors in home-listening environments. Some current efforts in this sphere are true giant-killers.
Incidentally, the 5” monitors I referred to are the humble but overperforming JBL LSR305, which can be had for as little as $120/each in the US. On the opposite end of the scale, I’d love to experience Barefoot Sound’s compact three-way Footprint01 or 02 monitors someday. Those would be great to review as home audio. Hint, hint.
Thanks for writing, and thanks for the enthusiastic feedback. Your experience is interesting, and confirms my own (although I have never been fortunate enough to own electrostatic speakers and a big rig of separates). I agree completely about studio monitors offering killer value for home listening, and will certainly be reviewing other such products in the future.
And your hint is definitely taken. I’ve just sent off a note to Barefoot Sound requesting review samples of their new Footprint02.
Dear Mr. Brockhouse,
I really enjoyed your thorough November 1, 2019, review of the NAD C 658 on SoundStage! Simplifi. I have what may be a dumb question about playing files from an iPhone through the unit.
You note that one can play files from an iPhone or other Apple device using a software update that accesses Apple AirPlay. I understand that one also can access the music files and streaming apps on an iPhone through a Bluetooth connection (although I don’t know if iOS has aptX capability). In either case, will the stream from the iPhone be using the DAC in the iPhone or the presumably superior DAC in the NAD unit? Is there a way to be sure that it runs through the NAD’s DAC?
I realize that the iPhone generally will have AAC, and that won’t compete with the quality of the streams from, say, Tidal. However, I do have a lot of music in the iPhone that may not be readily available elsewhere. It would be helpful to know if it would be possible to eke out a bit more quality with the better DAC in the NAD.
I suppose I could buy a separate DAC and run that into the NAD’s inputs. However, after paying $1600 for the DAC in the NAD, that doesn’t seem like a very elegant or cost-efficient approach.
Thanks for your letter. These are all good questions.
First thing: the NAD C 658 supports Apple AirPlay 2 out of the box. There’s no need for a software update.
As you correctly observe, you can use either AirPlay or Bluetooth to stream music from an iPhone or iPad. That can be music stored on the device, or music from an app, such as Tidal. The advantage of AirPlay over Bluetooth is that it works over Wi-Fi, and sends uncompressed CD-resolution audio. Bluetooth, on the other hand, uses lossy compression -- Apple devices support the standard Bluetooth SBC codec, as well as Bluetooth AAC (but not aptX or aptX HD). Especially when streaming uncompressed or lossless music (this could be Apple Lossless files on your device, or audio from lossless streaming services like Amazon Music HD, Qobuz, and Tidal), AirPlay will sound better.
But for high-rez streaming services like Amazon Music HD, Qobuz, and Tidal, it’s preferable to use the BluOS app, rather than streaming from your i-device via AirPlay. BluOS supports high-rez audio to 24-bit/192kHz PCM, as well as MQA. With AirPlay, you’re limited to 16/44.1 PCM.
You mention that a lot of the music on your iPhone is encoded in AAC. I assume this is music you’ve downloaded from the iTunes store, and/or music that you’ve ripped using the iTunes app using AAC compression. Even with this music, AirPlay will work better than Bluetooth -- even though the C 658 supports Bluetooth AAC, as there are losses in sound quality (reduced HF response, additional noise) when transmitting AAC files via Bluetooth AAC. That won’t happen with AirPlay. Also, AirPlay has greater range than Bluetooth -- because AirPlay uses Wi-Fi, you can stream to the C 658 from anywhere in your home where there’s a good Wi-Fi signal.
There is no need to buy a separate DAC and connect it to the C 658’s inputs. With both Bluetooth and AirPlay, your i-device will be sending digital audio, which will be converted to analog by the DAC inside the C 658.
As you correctly note, connecting an external DAC to the C 658’s analog inputs would be inelegant and wasteful. It would also be pointless if you wished to use the C 658’s Dirac Live room-correction feature, which works in the digital domain. By default, analog signals are converted to digital, and then converted back to analog at the output stage.
The C 658 has an Analog Bypass function, which is enabled in the Settings menu. You’d select this function if you were connecting an external DAC to one of the C 658’s analog inputs, otherwise the signal would go through a D-to-A conversion in the external DAC, and then A-to-D and D-to-A conversions inside the C 658. With Analog Bypass enabled, Dirac room correction would not work on any component connected to the analog input. Bottom line -- there’s no point at all in using an external DAC with the C 658.
I recently purchased a Lumin T2 network music player, but am confused as to how to connect it so that I get the most benefit from it in my system.
The T2 has Ethernet and USB ports on the back. Here are my questions about using the USB port:
Here are my questions about using the Ethernet port:
Your assistance on these questions will be much appreciated.
Some of your questions were beyond my expertise, but Angus Leung, Lumin’s Global Sales and Marketing Manager, has graciously provided information that you should find helpful, which I have paraphrased in the answers below:
In the lead sentence to my review of the Lumin T2, I posed the rhetorical question, "Do you have to be a propeller-head to enjoy Simplifi’d hi-fi?" I don’t think you do, but as your excellent questions about the T2 illustrate, it sure helps!
Thanks for writing.
To Doug Schneider,
I’m more than a bit puzzled about Gordon Brockhouse’s review of Elac's Navis ARF-51 active speakers on SoundStage! Simplifi. The review mentioned “excessive [and ‘hot’] sibilants,” as well as a “slightly hard edge” that a minus-1 adjustment on the rear-panel mid- and/or high-frequency switches would not fix.
When I reread the earlier review of the smaller ARB-51 bookshelf model, I found NO mention of anything remotely like that in comments about its sound! Similarly, I saw no mention of these (I’d certainly say NEGATIVE) attributes in reviews by Neil Gader in The Abso!ute Sound, or in online reviews by John Darko (he characterized them as “lovely”) or Steve “The Audiophiliac” Guttenberg. I note that both Neil Gader and Steve Guttenberg were using pricey Pass Labs preamps, and what I would call “upscale” DACs.
I also saw reviews at Michael Lavorgna’s sadly “defunct-yet-still-up” Twittering Machines website about several powered speakers, and in Jason Victor Serinus’s review of the Vanatoo powered speakers in Stereophile, that mentioned the salutary effects of aftermarket power cords (and power “conditioners”) with active speakers. I note that Gordon mentioned using AudioQuest power cords, but I don’t recall if they were in use for these reviews.
Gordon Brockhouse responds:
Doug Schneider has forwarded your e-mail to me. I was very aware of this discrepancy when I was writing the review, and after I completed it. I don’t have any deep explanation, other than to say I heard what I heard, and wrote it as I heard it in the time allotted. As I noted in my review, the “slightly hot” sibilants were apparent with some, but not all vocals.
This can be partly explained by the program material -- as I noted, Youn Sun Nah hyper-enunciates in this track, as she is prone to do. And the Webb sisters (singing backup to Leonard Cohen) have a breathy, whispery style. But the sibilants, as I noted, didn’t sound as prominent through the Dynaudio Focus 200 XDs.
Was this effect “a NEGATIVE,” as you emphasize? It wasn’t enough to keep me from buying the review samples, which I have been enjoying tremendously. It should be obvious from the review that my reaction to the ARF-51 was overwhelmingly positive.
As to the discrepancy between the two reviews, several possibilities occurred to me after reading your letter. The ARF-51s were brand-new, straight out of the box, when I reviewed them. Because a sample of another product in for review turned out to be defective, I had to delay that review, and bump up the review of the ARF-51s by two weeks, to maintain our publishing schedule. Were the ARF-51s insufficiently broken-in as I was writing the review?
Or maybe, as you suggest, my source components were a factor. That wouldn’t explain the discrepancy between my reviews of the ARB-51 and ARF-51. I used current Bluesound products as the main source components for both speakers -- a Vault 2i for the ARB-51, and a Node 2i for the ARF-51. Doubtless, the sonics would be better with higher-end components, of the sort Neil Gader and Steve Guttenberg used in their reviews. As Andrew Jones observes, and as I confirmed by using the Lumin T2 network player for part of my ARF-51 review, Navis speakers definitely benefit from upstream improvements.
As to your question about power cords, I used AudioQuest NRG-Y3 cords with the ARB-51s (the AQ cords are routed up through into the Dynaudio stands I placed the Elac bookshelves on), and Wireworld Stratus 7 cords with the ARF-51s. I can’t imagine this being a factor.
I hadn’t listened to the Youn Sun Nah or Leonard Cohen tracks since writing this review, so after reading your letter, I played these songs through the ARF-51s, which now have hundreds of hours on them. I used two different source components: NAD’s C 658 BluOS streaming DAC (review pending) and Naim's ND5 XS 2 network music player. On these tracks, I still heard those slightly hot sibilants. Were they hot as when I wrote my review? I can’t say, but they definitely were there. I will say one thing though -- the sibilants didn’t seem to be as displaced from the singer’s vowels as they were earlier. It may well be that using better source components made a difference, or maybe it’s because the speakers are fully broken-in. But the effect was still present.
I didn’t listen to these tracks with the ARB-51s, and no longer have the review samples, so I can’t comment on whether they show the same effect.
I suspect with a couple of recordings, I chanced upon program material that shows up some irregularity in the ARF-51’s response, and once I hear something like that, I keep noticing that effect whenever it appears.
This has happened to me before. For example, in a review for another outlet of Totem Acoustic’s Signature One speakers, I wrote, “Right off the bat, I was bowled over by how fast, articulate and dynamic the Signature One sounds. This is an incredibly involving speaker that pulls you into the music. However, I noticed some upper midrange peakiness. Whenever a pianist hit a loud E5 or F5 (659 and 698Hz respectively), the sound was almost piercing if I had the volume turned up. (I don’t claim to have perfect pitch. But a few times when I noticed this peak, I paused the music, put on a set of headphones connected to my iPad, and tickled the ivories on a virtual piano in a keyboard app. E5 and F5 matched the offending notes.) The issue did not disappear following break-in. It was most obvious with piano, not surprising given that instrument’s long sustain time and (sometimes) sharp attack. But it was also audible with female vocals, saxophones and other content with long sustain time.”
It’s interesting to juxtapose this review with reviews of the same speaker in SoundStage! Hi-Fi and Stereophile, both published several months after mine. Our measurements showed a sharp, narrow peak around 700Hz. In his measurements sidebar to the Stereophile review, John Atkinson commented on “a strong panel resonance at 700Hz.”
I haven’t seen measurements of the ARF-51, but I wonder if there’s a narrow peak somewhere in the 5-8kHz region, where sibilants occur, that was accentuated by a couple of the recordings I used -- notably that Youn Sun Nah track. If there is, that peak goes unnoticed much of the time. I’m much less bothered by it, and it shows up much less frequently, than that 700Hz peak with the Totem Signature One.
Whatever is happening here, it hardly ever interferes with my enjoyment of the ARF-51s. I have not experienced one nanosecond of buyer’s remorse since purchasing the samples, and I certainly would not disagree with John Darko’s characterization of the Navis speakers as “lovely.”
I wish I could resolve this discrepancy more clearly, but this is the best I can do. Thanks for writing.
Thank you so much for your prompt and detailed response to my e-mail regarding your Elac Navis ARB-51 and ARF-51 reviews. Whenever I see reference to excessive and/or hot sibilants and a slightly hard edge, I think of terms like “analytical” or “ruthlessly revealing,” which it now seems don’t apply here.
As for the Totems, I’ve heard them a number of times at audio shows and have always found them a bit bright -- this is a problem for me because a lot of my favorite music is recorded in mediocre quality.
The solution, of course, would be to hear the Navis speakers for myself, but after checking dealers listed on Elac’s website, I found that in my area, almost all of those dealers are the Magnolia section of Best Buy stores. I doubt they would even have the Navis speakers available to demonstrate.
I contacted an actual storefront audio dealer shown on Elac’s Website. The dealer didn’t have the Navis speakers on display, but said they could ORDER them for me. (Why wouldn’t I just order them online, say, from Crutchfield, and save around $200 in California sales tax?!)
I’m not inclined to buy something “unheard,” so that leaves audio shows. The highly personable Andrew Jones used to conduct demos at The Home Entertainment Show in Southern California, but after the original promoter unexpectedly passed, it’s still not back to its former strength. Andrew Jones didn’t conduct a demo at T.H.E. Show demo this year or last. There was an Elac demo both years, but it was conducted by Ted Denney, who used the floorstanding Adante speakers to demo his tweaks (very effectively, I might add).
I find this very frustrating. I’d like to hear the Navis ARB-51, and the AMT-tweeter-equipped Carina, too. I’m looking at bookshelf-size speakers, because I live in an apartment, and feel the need to consider my neighbors.
Keep up the good work -- you’re one of my favorite reviewers!
You’re welcome -- and I’m very flattered by your last paragraph.
You’re definitely right about descriptors like “analytical” and “ruthlessly revealing” not applying to Elac’s Navis speakers. Commenting on Andrew Jones’s demo of the ARF-51s at the Montreal Audio Fest last March, Doug Schneider wrote, “The bass was extraordinarily deep and full, the midband tonality was perfect, the highs were exquisite, and there was all the detail I could ask for -- yet all with such smoothness that I could swear there were tubes in the chain somewhere. There weren’t.” I think Doug’s description captures the sound of the Navis ARF-51s perfectly.
All the best,
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