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,
In your interview with Rob Darling of Roon Labs, you say that Roon gives users access to liner notes. I’ve read that claim many times, but I’ve never found liner notes in Roon, and I’m beginning to think it’s BS.
Depending on the contents in your music library, you may never have come across this feature, so I can understand your skepticism. Roon doesn’t provide liner notes for albums if they’re not made available by the label. But if they’re offered for the recording you’re playing, you can definitely access them from Roon, both for streamed and locally stored content. I have many downloaded albums that I’ve bought from Channel Classics, HDtracks, Hyperion, Nonesuch, and ProStudioMasters that include PDF files with liner notes in the folders containing the music. When these are present, you’ll see a little document icon, with a caption like “1 PDF," in the Roon playback window. If you click the icon, the PDF file opens in your Web browser. Qobuz includes liner notes with many albums, and when they are present, you can access them from Roon in the same way as you can with locally stored music. Tidal doesn’t have this feature.
Bottom line: if you stream from Tidal but not Qobuz, and if you don’t have locally stored music that includes liner notes, you’ll never have experienced Roon’s ability to display liner notes. The button that offers the option will not be present in the Roon window. In my article, I should have made this point more clearly, and your letter is an opportunity to add this detail. Thanks for writing.
All the best,
I just discovered your website. Yours is by far the best review of the Bowers & Wilkins Formation Duo speakers I have read or seen. I look forward to following your work. For what it’s worth, I’m a consumer of midrange equipment, both analog and digital. I’m probably just a few years away from downsizing, so more consolidated systems are in my future.
Thank you so much for your kind (and flattering!) note. I’m glad you enjoyed the review. I certainly enjoyed writing it.
Thanks for the promised review of the Yamaha WXA-50. You answered my main question -- how does the WXA-50 amplifier sound to someone with more experience than myself evaluating hi-fi equipment? I have looked with interest at the NAD D 3020 V2 and the D 3045, but the WXA-50 has some features that swing the score in its favor for me.
These include Wi-Fi streaming with the MusicCast App, tone controls (why are so many audiophiles against these?), and the DSP functions for volume-adaptive EQ and bass extension. My 30-year-old Yamaha receiver has a continuously variable “loudness” control, which I find very useful when listening to music at lower volume levels. I like the weight it adds at lower volume settings. To use the loudness control properly, I have to set it to flat and increase the volume control to my highest listening level. After that, I use the receiver’s rotary loudness control to reduce the volume -- at the same time, the receiver boosts bass output. Unfortunately, Yamaha did not include control for loudness on the remote, so I have to get up from my listening position to adjust the listening level. To have this controlled by DSP is a dream come true. If for any reason I don’t like the effect, I can switch the amp to Direct mode, bypassing any DSP.
Another feature that has me seriously considering the WXA-50 amp (along with its diminutive size) is the preset function. I can program six presets that can be accessed via the remote or the front panel. This is really helpful for my wife, because her favorite radio stations are accessible at the push of a button. To my wife, Simplifi’d hi-fi means not having to use an app on her phone to listen to music.
I was reading your article, “How I Simplifi’d My Hi-Fi,” and the following excerpt caught my eye: “Flanking the living room’s faux fireplace is a pair of stand-mounted Dynaudio Focus 200 XD powered speakers finished in satin black, with a firmware update that makes them sonically and functionally identical to the newer Focus 20 XD.” Can you please confirm how you determined that the Focus 200 XD is sonically identical to the Focus 20 XD following the upgrade? The reason I’m asking is that I’m about to pull the trigger on a pair of Focus 200 XDs on a run-out sale.
Thanks in advance,
Thanks for your inquiry. I didn’t do any formal testing to confirm that my Focus 200 XDs are “sonically and functionally identical” to the Focus 20 XDs following the upgrade. But that’s what Dynaudio promised when the firmware update was rolled out in the spring of 2017, and I have no reason whatsoever to question that claim. You can find more information about the upgrade on their “How to Upgrade Your System Without Upgrading Your System” and at “New Focus XD Firmware” pages. You’ll find a link for the firmware update for the Focus 200 XDs on the support page on their website. Click the “Firmware update” link to download a folder that contains the update itself, plus release notes and instructions for performing the update. The process is not difficult. Hope this helps.
Thanks for your prompt response. Those links confirm what you stated in your article. I just placed an order for the Focus 200 XDs.
I just read your review of Tidal vs. Qobuz and enjoyed it very much, thank you.
I have a small update that you may or may not want to post as a P.S. to that article.
Following the release of version 1.6, Roon now offers Qobuz integration. I just started testing Roon yesterday and up till now, am pretty excited about it. It even continues playback of the song I just played from my drive, with similar music from Qobuz.
Thanks for your review,
Thanks for your note, and I’m glad you enjoyed my article. I’m definitely aware that Roon 1.6 offers Qobuz integration, and use this feature frequently. I covered that new feature in an article on customizing Roon that appeared on Simplifi on February 1. I didn’t mention the new Roon Radio feature that you mention, but I know a lot of people really like it. Personally, I leave the feature turned off, because I prefer to choose the music I want rather than having Roon choose it for me. And often, I want a little silence after an album so I can have time to absorb the music I’ve just heard. But I think I’m in the minority in this respect.
All the best,
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