What a great review of iFi Audio’s Neo iDSD DAC-preamp-headphone amp! I’m currently thinking about adding a DAC to my Bluesound Node 2i. I’m currently using the Node 2i’s internal DAC, and wondering if the Neo iDSD would be a significant upgrade. The rest of my system comprises an Audia Flight Three S integrated amplifier, Monitor Audio Gold 100 speakers, XLO Reference speaker cables, AudioQuest power cords, and a PS Audio power conditioner. I’d really like to know how far the sound quality would jump if I purchased this DAC.
Thank you for your great reviews, and keep up the great work.
Thanks for writing, and thanks for your kind words. That sounds like a really nice system you have. The short answer to your question is yes, I think the Neo iDSD would be an upgrade over the built-in DAC of the Bluesound Node 2i. I’ve never compared the two, but based on my comparisons of the Neo iDSD with the NAD C 658 streaming DAC-preamp (which I use in my current system), and the C 658 with the Bluesound Node 2i (which I previously owned), I think that adding the Neo iDSD would deliver a ballsier, more dynamic sound, as well as a quieter background and improved microdetail. Of course, I can’t be certain about this, never having directly conducted the comparison myself.
I enjoyed your review of the HEDD Type 07, and Jay Lee’s video review as well. If you have not seen it, Alpha Audio out of the Netherlands did a video comparison of a variety of active monitors. Included was the Type 07, which, like you and Jay, they really liked. It would be helpful to see you guys audition some PSI monitors, which are made in Switzerland. They have a very good reputation in the studio community. Neumann KH 120 and KH 310 monitors are very well thought of as well. Just some food for thought.
Thank you for your ongoing work and insight. It is greatly appreciated.
Thanks for writing, and for the lead on PSI monitors. I didn’t know about this brand, and after reading your e-mail, I reached out to them about reviewing their products for Simplifi. HEDD has announced second-generation models of its studio monitors. I expect to be reviewing a sub-sat system comprising the HEDD Type 05 MK2 monitors and Bass 08 subwoofer in the next few months.
All the best,
Discovering your website dedicated to Simplifi’d hi-fi has been a pleasure. I find your reviews interesting and informative, and appreciate your demanding approach and the way you compare different models.
With limited space in my home, I recently came to the conclusion that active bookshelf monitor speakers and a hi-rez music collection on a laptop hard drive would rescue me from the headache associated with a multi-component system, a web of wires, and piles of CDs. My Zu Audio floorstanding speakers and tube amp went to a friend’s place, freeing up space for a more compact sound system.
After listening to several active monitors (KEF LS50 Wireless, Klipsch The Sixes, and Acoustic Energy AE1), I decided on the Acoustic Energys. Of the three brands, they were the ones I liked the most. Through the AE1s, my favorite Pink Floyd tracks most closely corresponded to my Zu Audio Omen Standards, which I had come to love.
Almost having decided on the AE1, I accidentally discovered Totem Acoustic’s Kin Play. I was impressed by its appearance, which I think is in the best traditions of such famous brands as Neat Acoustics, ProAc, and Spendor. A sales consultant added fuel to the fire, so to speak, saying that Totem Acoustic products are “budget” high end, and competing speakers with a similar performance are, as a rule, more expensive. I thought the sound of the Kin Plays was just as “cool” as the sound of the AE1s. Of course, the character was different. The Kin Plays were more “cheeky,” but not “presumptuous” like The Sixes. They were livelier than the LS50s, and had more of an “afterglow.”
In your review of the Kin Play, you compare it to KEF’s LSX and SVS’s Prime Wireless Active. The logic of your comparison is clear—all three models are similarly priced. I’d like to know if you think the Kin Plays deliver sound in the same class as more expensive models you have reviewed, such as Elac’s Navis ARB-51, Focal’s Shape 65, and System Audio’s Legend 5 Silverback.
Thanks for your letter, and for your flattering words. I haven’t heard the Acoustic Energy AE1, but it looks like a speaker I’d really like to review. As you correctly observe, I haven’t compared the Kin Play against the Shape 65, ARB-51, or Legend 5 speakers. What I really liked about the Kin Plays was their big, spacious presentation and dynamic excitement—these are really fun speakers to hear. I think the Shape 65s, ARB-51s, and Legend 5s share these characteristics, but also deliver superior microdynamics and slightly smoother response. The ARB-51s have a warmer, more inviting character, the Shape 65s a more forward presentation, and the Legend 5s have greater transparency.
A fundamental difference between these speakers is that the Kin Play is a powered speaker, with a single amplifier for each channel, and a conventional passive crossover between the amplifier output and drivers, while the ARB-51, Shape 65, and Legend 5 are all active designs, with active crossovers before their amplifiers, and dedicated amps for each frequency range.
As I noted in my article “A Perfect Pair,” “active speakers have undeniable advantages. Because there are no passive crossover components between the amp’s output and the speaker’s drivers, dynamics are usually better. Designers can choose the amplifier best suited for each frequency band, and because each band has its own dedicated amp, the power demanded by one band won’t affect the other bands. If you’re playing loud, bass-heavy music through powered speakers, high power demands could cause congestion higher in the audioband. With active speakers, each higher-frequency band will have its own amp, so this won’t be a problem.”
The System Audio Legend 5 Silverback has a DSP-based crossover; the active crossovers in the ARB-51 and Shape 65 use analog components. As I noted in the article cited above, “DSP-based active speakers have some fundamental advantages over analog designs. With a DSP crossover, the designer can correct the timing of the drivers’ outputs far more easily than with an analog crossover. Designers can also use DSP to smoothen irregularities in the speaker’s response.”
The total power output of the amplifiers in all of these active speakers is greater than the Kin Play’s 120Wpc amplifier; that, and their active design, should translate to more effortless dynamics. But never having compared these speakers directly, I can’t swear to this.
As you observe, there are major differences in feature sets. The Totem Kin Play has a phono stage, Bluetooth, and optical input, as well as analog line-level inputs. The Shape 65 and ARB-51 only have line-level inputs. The Legend 5 has line-level inputs, but includes WiSA wireless capability; and the optional companion Stereo Hub provides HDMI-ARC, optical, USB, and analog inputs, plus Bluetooth and support for Apple AirPlay, Chromecast, and Spotify Connect. These features may be a major factor in your decision.
I think these are all excellent-sounding speakers. As noted, I haven’t had a chance to compare their sound directly, so it’s hard to give a more complete answer to your question. But I hope this helps. Thanks again for writing.
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.
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