Upgrading to an Arcam AVR750 Receiver and A REL Series S/5 Sub-Bass System
I am a classical music listener with a substantial music collection. I am compulsive enough to keep a record of every time I listen to a given piece of music and include notes about the quality of the recording and my listening experience. Excellent, accurate sound reproduction has always been important to me, and I had high quality speakers and components. On March 15, 2016 my audio world changed. With each piece of music I listen to now, since that day, thanks to my notes, I am able to compare my present listening experience with the past. It has improved dramatically with the arrival of the Arcam AVR750 Receiver and the REL Series S/5 Sub-Bass system.
The Arcam has class G amplification – which provides incredible definition and clarity regardless of power requirements which is a breathtaking advance over my previous receiver. The delicate inner voices in the classical music are crucial, and they are presented in pristine clarity. Conversely, if power is called for, class G delivers it without compromise and without distortion.
The REL replaced a high quality subwoofer that was brand-matched with my speakers when I purchased them. Besides a 12-inch driver, the REL has a 12-inch passive speaker pointed at the floor. Most importantly, it can take its audio feed directly from the amplifier-out connectors. Before, I found I was always fiddling with the gain of my subwoofer for various sources- DVD or CDs; I have never touched the settings on the REL. Ultra Fidelis sets it up and you just leave it. It becomes a natural part of your system, which never unduly calls attention to itself, but is always present – such as feeling the organ pedal in your chest, or the dark, deep notes of the cello, more than heard, but gently felt. It as if a whole new dimension of music has been opened. This is why they call it a sub-bass system, and not merely a subwoofer.
The REL was installed and carefully placed by Jonathan – and once it is set, you never need to touch it again. As mentioned above, the bass is amazingly natural, yet when called for it can startle you- experiencing the cannon shots in the film “Master and Commander” is beyond belief! I felt the concussion in my back while sitting on the couch – thanks to both the driven and passive speakers.
Coupling these two components has provided a constant revelation as I listen to post-March 2016 music. Each time I introduce music to the Arcam and the REL I am in for an invigorating new experience.
I am writing this on the one year anniversary of adding these two jewels to my music/home theater system, accomplished under the guidance of Ultra Fidelis, in particular Jonathan Spelt. When I first encountered them nine years ago, I called seeking a product. They could have simply provided that for me, but instead engaged me in a conversation concerning what it was I was trying to accomplish. They listened to me and suggested a very different path. One can buy and replace components, but to have people such as Jon involved in your musical experiences is something much richer and more valuable than mere products. I am exceedingly grateful for the great care, products and support of Jonathan and the Ultra Fidelis team which has improved a very important aspect of my life: the wonder of faithfully reproduced music.
Marty’s Review of the Vandersteen 2Ce Signature IIs with 2Wq Sub
This winter, I started the process of buying new speakers. Step one in that process was putting my former speakers up for sale. They sold right away, faster than expected, so things were looking good. Unfortunately my bank account wasn’t full enough to afford the Vandersteen Treos that I desired, but Jon advised me not to overlook the 2Ce Signature IIs, especially when paired with the 2Wq subwoofer. This fit my financial situation better, so he and Bob set up that combination for me in the store and I came down on a Saturday morning for an extended audition. I was more than impressed listening to them and a pair was ordered for me. My new cherry wood Sig IIs and matching 2Wq were soon in my living room.
I attached the bases that allow the correct angle to be set and then spent some time with a tape measure and the owner’s manual to get the set-up right. Although the set-up is more involved than with most other speakers, the measurement guidelines are straightforward. The angle must be set relative to your seated ear height and the relationships between the distances to back wall and side walls are critical. All this is fully spelled out in the owner’s manual and just takes a little time, but this time spent on getting it right is well worth it. The result is “the Vandersteen sound” and it is immediately apparent. Because of the phase and time alignment that are part of all Vandersteen speaker designs, music sounds more natural and real. All of the music reaches your ears with the timing created by the musicians and instruments intact. The imaging and depth of soundstage is truly something special. If I had to sum up Vandersteen sound in one word, it would be “dimensionality.” I have heard the Treos and Quattros, the 5A carbons and the Sevens. They all do it. Naturally the higher up the line you go, the better they are, but at this price range the sound is remarkable. All of the audiophile buzzwords are there. Air, depth, imaging/dimensionality, and with the 2Wq sub perfectly integrated bass and slam.
Speaking of the 2Wq subwoofer, Vandersteen does subs differently from other manufacturers. When you introduce a 2Wq (or two) into the system, the main speakers are rolled off in the low bass and the sub fills in these lowest octaves for a full range frequency response. I am sure Jon and Bob can explain this better than I can, but just know that it works! You won’t get that one note bass boom like a home theater sub, but real dynamics and tonality. Listening to an upright bass on a good jazz recording you realize that there are actual notes being played. Plus, with adjustable “Q” on the sub’s control panel, you can really fine tune how tight or loose you want the bass. If you like that big boomy sound or maybe are using it with a home theater set-up you can have it that way, but you can also set it for a more musically accurate experience. Another benefit of the 2WQ is that when I can trade up to Treos, I can use the same subwoofer.
Ok, so how does it sound? I would say that the soundstage is about depth. Janis Joplin on “Try” is 4 or 5 feet behind the speakers. Shelby Lynne on “Just a Little Lovin'” is not as far back. The thing is, you can easily tell the difference. On the great SACD “Jazz in the Key of Blue”, Roy Hargrove moves around as he is playing. It’s easy to tell when he backs up and moves forward. He also moves side to side at different times. It’s like he is on the stage and you can tell right where he is. Not just left or right, but how much left or right.
Of course, all of the dimensionality in the world doesn’t matter if the tonality isn’t right, but the difference between a baritone sax and tenor is apparent as is soprano sax and clarinet. Back-up singers and individual instruments are easily defined. When Satchmo’s voice comes in on “St James Infirmary” I always get goosebumps.
So this must be the greatest speaker ever right? Well the Treos and other Vandersteens on up do all these things better and cost more for a reason. But at this price level, the combo of 2CE Signature IIs and 2Wq subwoofer is phenomenal. Vandersteen has sold over 100,000 Model 2s for a reason. I think one reason the price is so reasonable is because they have been in production for so long, but they have been continuously upgraded over the years. And they are made in the USA.
At the beginning of this review I said that I hoping for a pair of Treos. Well I am very happy with my 2s. At some point I will move up the Vandersteen line, but until then I still get to listen to the Vandersteen sound. Once you hear it, you can’t unhear it. And you can always tell when a speaker doesn’t have it.
Rob's Review of his Audio Research LS-27 Preamp
I wanted to send you my thoughts now that I have lived with my Audio Research LS-27 preamp for some time. Last summer I was happy with my system that consisted of a BAT VK-31SE preamp plus a Musical Fidelity M6-PRX amp, BAT VK-P10SE/SP phono pre (purchased used from you) B&W 803S Speakers, and a Music Hall MMF 9.1 turntable with Denon DL-103R cart (turntable and cart purchased used from you). I bought used items from Ultrafi in the past but nothing new. Even though I never bought new, you have always given me great information, advice and counseling regarding this hobby. This has saved me time and money over trying to figure things out on my own. Let it be said that at this point I had the constant upgrade-itus bug because I wanted to hear better and better things from my system.
When I began having a couple of issues with my BAT Preamp I brought it in for service. Bob said he could fix it but it may take a few days so you loaned me an Audio Research LS25. Providing such a nice loaner while my unit was in for repair is great service but you knew better… The loaner changed everything for me. The LS25 simply sounded much more open and extended that my BAT. The BAT had great low end but to my surprise, the LS25 matched this but was more open and natural. The soundstage enhancement was very good. I could not go back to my BAT. After some consideration and based on your advice and recommendation, I decided to buy a new ARC LS27 from you. Now that I have close to 300 hours on the meter I must tell you that I am thrilled with this unit. The openness, 3D soundstage and pinpoint imaging are awesome. The smooth sound of the mids and grain free highs are great, and I never feel that there is any missing detail. There is absolutely no fatigue or compromise. You even cured me of the upgrade-itus.
I am very happy with the LS27 and I plan to hold onto this for many years to come. Thank you to you and Bob. Your excellent service and advice are extremely valuable to me.
The Break In
Two weeks of using the Niagara 1000, which by now should be fully broken in.
First off, I can’t hear anything made worse by the Niagara when listening with any source. So regarding “Do no harm” that Audioquest claims to be a fundamental mission statement, I would say mission accomplished.
I tried to reproduce some of the demonstrations that Garth Powell did at the Niagara 7000 debut event. Once again, mission accomplished. My Muddy Waters “Folksinger” album was just as useful to compare before and after as what I heard that night. I didn’t unplug everything for all of my comparisons, just the power amps. That was enough.
As for audible benefits, there are many. Warning: Audiophile cliches to follow. The soundstage is deeper and wider. The bass is deeper and more palpable. The noise level is lower. I am surprised that even the lead-in on vinyl is quieter. Images seem suspended in space between the speakers. Sound blooms from a blacker space, especially with lights out. That sounds funny, but it is really kind of eerie. When it’s dark in the room and the music starts, it seems totally untethered from anything.
As I mentioned in Part I, I get the biggest difference with digital sources, but vinyl is also better. The soundstage and imaging must be related to the reduction in noise. I had my wife sit in the sweet spot (obviously my normal seat) and tell me what she heard. She said that she heard more of a layering and more texture to the music. That’s it exactly.
So you can see that I am very happy with my Niagara 1000. All the things that I like about my system (and there are many) I like better now. In the last year, with Jon and Bob’s help, I have upgraded the so-called “accessories” that go with my components. They have been almost all Audioquest. Speaker cable, some interconnects, a Jitterbug, and the fabulous Diamond USB. The Niagara 1000 is now an integral part of my system. It has been a great learning experience to understand what all makes a difference in the way my stereo sounds.
Marty's Take on the Niagara 1000
Like many other UltraFi fans I was at the Garth Powell demo of the Niagara 7000. It was an impressive event and I was looking forward to getting a Niagara for my system. The Niagara 1000, the entry level of the Niagara series, fortunately fit my budget. Bob called me last week to let me know that it was in stock, and Saturday I came home with a brand new Niagara 1000 and an NRG-4 power cord.
I read the manual, installed it in my system, and put on some Stevie Ray Vaughan to get some current flowing. I rocked out while I made dinner, and, a couple times while sauces were simmering I walked into the living room and sat down for a few minutes. Even though the manual said it could take 2 weeks to break in, SRV’s voice was noticeably clearer.
After dinner my wife and I sat down to some serious evaluation. Vocals were amazing. So we cycled through our favorite female singers. Within a few hours the fine details really came through. Nickel Creek was delicate and layered. About half way through the Cowboy Junkies “Trinity Sessions” I noticed that the bass had really started being palpable. I was loving it!
The most improved was music played through my computer. Listening to Tidal, the Niagara 1000 made it sound like a high rez file, not lossless CD quality. Vinyl was also better, in the sound stage particularly. But digital was most improved. More electrical devices in the playback chain? That makes sense to me. When my wife suggested that I play my favorites, out came the blues. Man does electric guitar sound great. Really good sustain, the notes hanging in the air.
These are first day impressions. I am very happy and can’t wait to see if it breaks in and gets even better. I seriously doubt that I could get the same system improvements for the price if I had spent it on any other components. I will report back in a couple weeks.
Living with the Niagara 7000
I first heard the effects of the Niagara 7000 on November 10th at the official U.S. launch by Garth Powell of Audioquest at Ultra Fidelis. As I wasn’t feeling tip-top, I chose to sit in the back row in a room full of audio aficionados. Mr. Powell started out the evening by playing some live music on his drum kit to “set our ears” and to give us a point of reference for the rest of the night. What I heard the rest of the evening, even from the side of the back row, impressed me enough that the following week, I purchased the first store stock unit of a Niagara 7000 to arrive at the store.
I will say that a little planning goes a long way when setting up the Niagara 7000. It weighs in at about 80 pounds and had the tightest plug sockets known to man. I was able to plug in all of my equipment before sliding the unit onto the bottom shelf of my HRS rack. Since then I have moved one power cable to separate my CD player from my pre-amp — much easier with the unit out of the rack.
Anyway, what the Niagara 7000 has done for the sound of my system is quite amazing. I find myself listening at lower volumes than ever before. And, while listening at lower levels, there is a much greater sense of focus, ease, openness and dynamics than previously. Additionally, the soundstage extends both in front of and to the sides of my speakers. Previously, the soundstage was defined by the location of my speakers. Listening to Roger Water’s Amused to Death on 200 gm LP, the sound is almost 3D fully immersing me in the sound. On Shelby Lynne’s Just a Little Loving, also LP, there is clear space around her voice and the instruments. Even listening after my wife has gone to bed at very low levels (4 on my REF 5 SE volume setting) there are still good dynamics and details creating a whole new late night listening experience.
Bottom line: the Niagara 7000 has taken my already very good system to a new level.
System: Audio Research REF 5 SE, Audio Research REF CD9, Simaudio MOON 610LP, Audio Research REF 75 SE, Vandersteen 5A Carbon, Audioquest Niagara 7000, Audioquest Fire and Wild interconnects and speaker wire.
Audiophile in training
This time last year, if you would have asked me what Grado GR10es were, I probably would have thought it was some kind of kitchen gadget. Then I started dating someone who knows more about audio equipment than most people know about really… anything.
As a novice audiophile, I’m attracted to rhythm, lyrics, the overall aesthetic of good music. I probably spend upwards of 50 hours a week with earbuds in, listening to the soundtrack of my life. Music brings me back to a moment once lived, good or bad. It can transform an experience, fabulous or mundane.
Knowing that my life revolved around music, my boyfriend gave me an incredibly thoughtful Christmas present – Grado GR10e in-ear headphones. They also came with very important instructions.
“Break them in first before you go telling the world about them…”
I threw those $15 Sony earbuds away with reckless abandon and, with a solid 150 hours of play time on these Grados, I can honestly say they were not lost on me. They fit more comfortably within the ear cavity, almost providing a noise-canceling effect you would get in over-ear headphones. The way the music can flow from ear-to-ear with full sound even with compressed digital music is incredible. It’s easy to close your eyes and get lost in the quality. The headphone package from said fab boyfriend came with an AudioQuest Dragonfly DAC to be used through my computer’s USB port while I’m listening at work, enhancing the streaming music on my computer like it had intended to be listened to. Talk about getting the full experience!
It’s not everyday you hear girls raving about audio equipment. Maybe it’s because we have history to back up the assertion that we aren’t the most targeted demographic. Ironically, women can notice changes in pitch and high frequency more readily than men. So this goes out to all the great boyfriends out there looking for a gift that their girlfriend will actually use and appreciate. Take note: a new purse is nice, but that $400 clutch for special occasions doesn’t get used everyday…
Time for an upgrade
I’ve always appreciated high fidelity and had a system when I was young (in the ’70s — Rectilinear 7 speakers under-powered by a Sansui AU-7700 integrated amp, and a Phillips 877 turntable which I still have) that was the envy of most 16 year olds in my very small town. As life went on, my ability and/or interest didn’t keep up, and I went through a series of very average consumer grade components.
A couple years ago I visited the shop when it opened on North Ave, a few blocks from my home, and Jon was kind enough to tune up my Phillips turntable while I listened to the Vandersteen 7s, which definitely will rekindle anyone’s interest in hi-fi. About a year ago, it was time to retire the old (>18 yrs) consumer grade components for something better while working within the scale of my very small Tosa home, my equally small budget, and my questionable “ears”. Jon was extremely helpful in assessing my needs and educating me about the subtle differences in sound between competing brands (my ears/knowledge are not that sharp), and I took home an Arcam A19 integrated amp and Vandersteen 1Ci speakers (Arcam was not on my radar when I went to the shop. A nice upgrade from the Cambridge I had my eye on). Sure, these are entry level components by Ultra Fidelis’ standards, but the improvement over what I’d been listening to over the years was nothing short of stunning, and a number of my “consumer electronics” colleagues have been equally impressed. A year in, I’m quite happy. Except, I didn’t think my LPs were sounding quite up to snuff, sooo….
…While, for purely nostalgic reasons, I hated to part with my Phillips 877 that I had since my teen years, it was clearly the weak link, so Jon set me up with a Pro-ject Debut Carbon Espirit last weekend. Again, nothing spectacular by Ultra Fidelis’ standards, but a palpable improvement over the Phillips. The Pro-ject doesn’t make poor recordings better, but the good stuff is now very good.
Importantly, despite contributing minimally to the bottom line of the shop, each time I’ve made a purchase, Jon has treated me as though I was in the market for the Vandy 7s and a couple of AR power amps.
That’s high praise, folks.
Another Happy Audio Research CD9 Customer
It’s been a long and interesting journey to where I am today. I’ve been fortunate to have very good digital play back for a very long time. Ok, so my very first player was so-so, but it was the best sounding Phillips that I could afford in 1984. I still have my first two CDs: The Outfield, “Play Deep” & Cat Stevens, “Footsteps in the Dark: Greatest Hits, Vol. 2.” Of course they sound very different today, but I was pretty happy with my early player. Mind you, I wasn’t going to be giving up my turntable any time soon, but the Phillips was not nearly as bad sounding as the pundits claimed.
My next player was a highly modified Pioneer Elite PD-73 which later became my transport for a number of DACs including the Meridian 565, 568, and G68 (a surround processor that handles up to 24/192). I also threw in a few players along the way, the Meridian G08, Esoteric X-03SE, Lindemann 820S, and the very well-reviewed Lindemann 825 CD/DAC.
One day I was talking to Jon and lamenting that my system just wasn’t getting the job done anymore and that it was sounding very precise but not particularly musical. Jon suggested that I bring my electronics to the store on a Wednesday and that we’d spend some time trying to identify what was up.
The next Wednesday I dismantled my system and loaded up my SUV with electronics and cables, and headed down to North Avenue with a quick stop for a giant iced tea. When I arrived, Jon and Bob had the Ultra Fidelis system warmed up and ready to go. The first thing that we did was put the Lindeman 825 into the system… It sounded detailed and clean, and we thought that it sounded pretty good until we played the same music through the Audio Research DAC-8… Oops, are you sure that that’s the same CD? Where’d all of that openness and warmth come from? Hmm, and that was a completely updated 825 just recently back from Lindemann, too.
Well, next we threw in my amp- no problems there. And then we swapped in my pre-amp. Again, similar to what we heard from the CD player, very detailed and clean, but very dry – almost sterile. Back to the Ref. 5 SE. Holy sound stage Batman! There was no comparison. The REF 5SE outperformed my almost identically priced pre-amp across the board.
The verdict: The amp was good to go, but the pre-amp and the CD player had to go… away. They now reside in my bedroom and are part of an excellent Sonos system that may be the best MP3 player setup in the city. I checked with Jon to see if we could cancel the REL sub-woofer that I had on order. He quickly called Sumiko and was able to cancel the order – he then called ARC and ordered a Ref 5 SE and a DAC 8 for me. I was in audio hog heaven. I later added a dedicated CD spinner to the system and thought that I was done.
And then… the CD9 arrived in the store. I was running some errands and popped in to say hi, and Jon said to me, “Have you heard the CD9 yet?” With some trepidation, I asked, “What’s the CD9?” Jon replied, “It’s Audio Research’s latest reference CD player/DAC.” So, we listened for a while and I left thinking that it sounded great, but not a lot better than my drive and the DAC8. Over the next few months, the more I listened, the more I started to hear subtle differences, but still thought that my DAC 8 and transport was close enough.
A few months later I as was getting ready to have a number of friends over for an evening of music and good cheer, I started thinking about the CD9 and wondering what it would sound like in my system, in my home. On a whim, I called Jon, and after telling him to be free to laugh at me, asked if I could borrow the CD9 that evening. He didn’t even hesitate and said yes… I promised to have it back by opening the next day and drove over to the store where he helped me load it, and an Audioquest power cable, into my car. After getting home and moving my turntable out of the way I plugged the CD9 in to let it warm up. Before the gang showed up I played a favorite track on my DAC 8. Yep, sounds great; how’s the CD9 going to beat that?
You know what’s next don’t you… I hooked up the CD9 and played the same track as I walked back to the kitchen to finish getting ready. I was out of the room, and almost dropped my wine glass. Everything sounded better! It was like the CD9 reached down into the bits, dug deeper into the soul of the music and brought it forth. I quickly walked back into the music room and sat down, my wine glass now forgotten, and spent a few minutes doing some serious listening. My first impression was correct, everything was better, even better sitting in front of the system than standing in the kitchen.
When the gang arrived, who had all heard my system many times before, I explained that we would be listening to the generously loaned CD9 from Ultra Fidelis, and put on the first selection of the night from one of my friends, Dan. When the song finished there was a moment of silence and then Dan said, “Apparently, I have never heard that song before.” That was the theme for the rest of the evening as everybody played the music that they had brought over. The CD9 was a resounding success. Dan was still talking about it the next month, wanting to know if I kept it.
The bottom line is that I have been enjoying my very own CD9 for the past few months and my DAC 8 has moved on to make a new owner happy via Jon’s help. If you haven’t heard the CD9, you owe it to yourself to do so. If you have heard it, you owe it to yourself to compare it to your current player. You may find that like me, you need to figure out what you can sell to get one. Many thanks to Jon and Bob for the assist on this very musical journey!
My system: ARC REF 5SE, ARC CD9, ARC PH-8, SME 20/IV Vi/Lyra Delos, Pass Labs 30.5, Adam Gamma semi-active speakers, REL R-528SE sub, Audioquest interconnects, speaker, power cables, Furman power conditioning.” – Bob F.
Thank you Bob!
So what does the Lyra Atlas do?
What does the Atlas do? Well, honestly, I’ve been up until 12:30 am listening every night since last Thursday. I’ve been moved so emotionally, at times bursting out laughing and then almost crying. I’ve read all the reviews, agree with them all, and I can tell you this: you will not walk away from hearing this cart unchanged.
Like a first kiss, you will not forget what you just experienced…seriously. I brought my former cartridge – a very well-reviewed high-end piece that I loved – to the store and we listened to it, then we listened to the Atlas. My old one just sounded like “good analog”. (Nothing wrong with that, for sure) But, the Atlas made it sound smeared, congested, tubey, and uninvolving. With the Atlas, you are involved, I can assure you. What are the nits? Aside from having to rework finances (and as crazy as it felt to buy this expensive cartridge, it feels crazier now to imagine not having it), I find I approach taking it off the record with some degree of nervousness. Other than that, I am in audio, no musical, nirvana. I also have to say both Jon and Bob have shown such professionalism and care it is a true pleasure to buy from Ultra Fidelis.” – Jeff B.
- Designer: Jonathan Carr
- Builder: Yoshinori Mishima
- Type: Medium weight, medium compliance, low-impedance moving coil cartridge
- Stylus: Lyra-designed long-footprint variable-radius line-contact nude diamond
- Cantilever system: Diamond-coated solid boron rod with short one-point wire suspension
- Coils: 2-layer deep, 6N high-purity copper
- Output voltage: 0.56mV@5cm/sec.
- Frequency range: 10Hz ~ 50kHz
- Channel separation: 35dB or better at 1kHz
- Compliance: Approx. 12 x 10-6cm/dyne at 100Hz
- Vertical tracking angle: 20 degrees
- Cartridge body: One-piece machining from solid titanium billet
- Cartridge weight (without stylus cover): 11.6g
- Recommended tracking force: 1.72g
- Recommended load directly into MC phono input: 104ohm ~ 887ohm
- Recommended load via step-up transformer: 5 ~ 15ohm