A letter I recently received from a reader asked:
Why are all online reviews so ridiculously long? Is it not possible for you to sum up how a component sounds in less than three pages and still make it interesting? It would be useful if you and your fellow contributors produced short pieces that offered a mere tease about equipment that you think sounds good and is worthy of a trip to a dealer to hear. Too much knowledge spoils the surprise. Are you really dating Rachel Weisz?
Ask and ye shall receive.
No Upgrade Path?
Well, the folks at Naim finally did it. It took a few decades, but Naim released something that has the lunatics at the Naim Forum howling with derision and confusion. Naim users have not been this upset since the NAC 72 pre-amplifier was discontinued. If you guessed a fifty-watt integrated replacement for the Nait5 that CAN NOT be upgraded with a Naim power supply, you would be correct. It appears that someone at Naim figured out that not everyone interested in putting together a system can afford to upgrade with a Hi-Cap, and that potential newcomers are put-off by the notion that they have to use Naim's DIN-terminated cables (which really has not been the case for quite some time) or the dreaded NACA5 speaker cable.
I rather liked the Nait5 integrated amplifier that I reviewed over a year ago, but all of that is history now with the introduction of the Nait5i. The Nait5i has four analog inputs (RCA and DIN), a unity-gain pass through for home theater (a standard feature on Naim pre-amplifiers), a so-so remote, and a lot more power. The Nait5Ős thirty watts worked with most speakers that I listened to it with, but the new Nait5i has almost double the power and on rock material, you can really hear the difference. Tonally, the Nait5i reminds me more of the older Nait3, which had some extra energy on top and was certainly very exciting. The now discontinued Nait5 has a slightly warmer tonal balance and sounds less forward.
Having listened to the Nait5i on two occasions, I think Naim has made a wide decision here. The Nait5i sounds coherent and balanced and allows you to really appreciate the "pace, rhythm, attack, timing"-thing that Naim lovers cream over. Another change is that you can experiment with non-Naim cables. At under $1,400, the Nait5i is a very good choice if you are looking for something simple that works well with Spendor, Harbeth, Neat, Meadowlark, Royd, and ProAc.
So Little, Yet So Bloody Good!
Enjoy the Music.com™ reviewer Neil Walker introduced readers to Graham Slee Projects when he reviewed their Gram Amp 2SE phono pre-amplifier. Not only was he impressed with its sonic capabilities, but also its ridiculously low asking price, making it one of the bargains of the year. With so many people still interested in vinyl, yet unwilling to spend thousands of dollars on a complete set-up, there is a real market for affordable tables, arms, cartridges, and phono pre-amplifiers.
At $800, the Graham Slee Gold Era Mk. V MM phono preamplifier is an even bigger bargain if you are looking for a well-made, superb piece of kit. The version reaching our shores sports a new faceplate, and works with MM and high-output MC cartridges. The Gold Era is powered by an external power supply and will fit quite easily behind most turntables if shelf space permits.
Over the past few months, I have been very impressed listening to the Gold Era when used with some of the high-output moving coils from Benz Micro, Dynavector, and Van Den Hul. If you thought that solid-state phono pre-amplifiers could not combine warmth, speed, timing, and soul -- well, you have been reading far too many audio reviews.
The Gold Era Mk. V is as good as any under $2,000 phono pre-amplifier on the market and performs well with both tube and solid-state line stage pre-amplifiers and integrated amplifiers. The Nait5i and the Slee are a very synergistic combination.
Oh No, Not Surround Sound!
Over the past four years, I have gone through three surround sound systems. The first system was great with music, but less than stellar with movies. The second system was good, but not exceptional with either. When I moved into my new home in Rockville, I had the luxury of a large living room (25' x 13' x 9') and I decided to use it for home theater.
Spendor-users will most likely flood my email box with nasty notes when I suggest using the "Classic" series as home theater speakers, but I have to go with what my ears are telling me. If you own a pair of SP2/3s, SP1/2s, or SP100s, give them a whirl in a surround system. Do not get the wrong idea and think that I am saying that the new "S" series are bad. The SR5 and S5e, in particular, are exceptional products for the asking price.
However, there is something to be said about a home theater system that really excels with music. The "Classic" series products are more musical sounding, have sufficient bass response, and just connect with you more.
The problem is that Spendor has never offered a center channel loudspeaker that could blend seamlessly with the "Classic" range of products. The little center channel that they introduced with the "S" series was really unimpressive. It was a "oh no, we better offer a center channel speaker" decision that did not pay dividends.
As an aside, why do people mix and match speaker brands in their home theater systems? How can you reasonably expect your system to sound coherent and well balanced if you use products that have different tonal characteristics? Buy from the same company and do it in stages if funds do not permit a one-time 5.1 set-up.
With the introduction of the new C9e center channel speaker ($1,800 to $2,000 depending on finish), Spendor has put ten rounds of 0.40 S&W into a one-inch hole from thirty feet. It is really that good.
At 23.6" x 14.2" x 9.1", the C9e is quite large, not to mention heavy. At close to forty-two pounds, it is not something you want to leave hanging hazardously over the edge of a television so that a little child can accidentally hurt itself. In the accompanying pictures, the C9e is sitting on top of a 36" Panasonic Tau 4:3 television and while quite secure, it is supported in the back (tilting it downwards) with cones and non-slip feet.
It is a three-way center channel speaker that uses two 165mm LF drivers, one 140mm midrange driver, and one 25mm coated fabric dome tweeter. At 88dB, 8 ohms, it is very easy to drive, although I would not use anything less than 30 solid-state watts or 50 watts of tube power. It only sounds okay with eight watts of single-ended magic.
Its quoted frequency response is 40Hz to 20kHz (+/- 3dB on its reference axis), and its dispersion axis is fairly large. It most certainly sounds better if you are dead center, but I sit slightly off to the side and has no complaints.
Tonally, it is as close to my SP2/3 loudspeakers as I could hope for, without actually putting a single SP2/3 in its place. The midrange does not have that last degree of sparkle, but the overall sound is quite seamless. You really do not hear the difference between the speakers while watching a well-recorded film or concert video. The C9e also has the ability to be driven quite hard and not give out during demanding scenes.
Spendor learned their lesson the hard way. They do not make center channel speakers as good as this one for the money in audio-land.