I know there are a few thousand of you out there that own the RM9s or RM200s....
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I have been using an RM200 in conjunction with Wilson WP7s for quite some time and have heard this combination with three different preamps in my own system, and a couple of other preamps in a few other systems.
The first few combinations I heard were in a dealer showroom where I heard the RM200 and WP7s with a Hovland HP100 and a Jadis JPL. The JPL was more more tonally rich but seemed to slow the tempo of music down. The Hovland was more extended at the frequency extremes but images seemed to have less body. Nevertheless, I preferred the music when the Hovland was in the system.
After obtaining a RM200 and WP7s for myself I auditioned a few preamps at home. I had a Spectral DMC10 delta that made the music sound very precise and pure but left me unengaged because it was kind of colorless tonally. I listened to the HP100 again in this system, which I liked a lot more but seemed to present the music as if it was occurring on the other side of a window. It was a bit remote and left me a little disinterested. Finally, I listened to a Wright Sound Laboratory WPL20, which was really inexpensive but highly recommended by a friend. I liked this most of all because it had the extended frequency response of the Hovland but it also let the music flow outward toward me in much the same way it does during a live event. There seemed to be less in the way. I kept it and I am still using it.
A friend of mine has nearly the same system that I have but he uses the HP100 instead. It sounds very good but always seems to leave the music a little distant no matter how loud the system is played. He prefers the Hovland to the Wright which he thinks is a bit less refined and too brash for his taste. I have also heard his system with the latest iteration of the Audible Illusions Modulus 3, which is also very nice but seems to miniaturize everything to the point that it seems like everybody is playing in a box.
Hope this is helpful.
I'm not sure that the Wright would kill the giants but it does sound quite different. Before I settled on the RM200 I auditioned a lot of different sets of electronics with the WP7s. Some were very expensive and very impressive. I thought that the big Audio Research stuff was absolutely beautiful, for instance. Ultimately, though I found it, and a lot of the other expensive stuff more refined and precise, they were a bit too relaxed for me. Something important seemed to be missing.
I can offer another observation that may be helpful. If you have heard WP7s and WP8s you know that the 8s are smoother, less noisy and more extended at both extremes. But for some reason I have not been able to identify I find music a lot more engaging through the 7s than the 8s. While the 8s clearly sound better I prefer music through the 7s. I think that my preference for the Wright + RM200 may be kind of similar.
Sorry for rambling. Good luck in your search.
I wonder about a pre since Roger is fairly adamant that no active pre will work better than a passive, like his Pot-in-a-Box - which I admit does work pretty well, especially for #135!! I've used some pretty good preamps (CAT, Lamm, ARC, Joule, Placette Active) but only had the Joule at the same time I had the RM9. I'm willing to pay up to $4,000 -$6,000 for something that matches really well with this amp, though Roger is going to be making a passive with tube buffer stage - and that may be the ticket, as the principle of passive appeals to me, as does the need for buffering the input and output of the volume control.
I've got a Music Reference RM5III and I find the phono stage is considerably more transparent than the line stage. It's line stage has great balance and musicality, but it's not the last word in transparency in my system. The phono stage however, is a real winner within the limits of it's 36db of gain. Of course, it's possible the RM5 mates in a more synergistic manner with Music Reference amps (and others) than it has with those amps I've used it with. As to Rogers insistence no preamp is the equal of a passive, I'd say that Roger has some closely held beliefs that seem to be primarily rooted in engineering logic rather than listening. Nothing wrong with that, it's just that most of us know engineering logic isn't always a guaranteed path beautiful sound. Audio reviews in print and on the web are replete with numerous tales of those who tried to follow the path to audio nirvana through the use of passive preamps and eventually found them unsatisfactory. For the modest outlay, the "pot in a box" isn't a big gamble to try though.
As I've gone down this path and spent countless hours (and $$$) listening I've slowly come to the conclusion that engineering logic like that exhibited by the likes of Roger Modjeski and Jack Elliano are right.
The idea of if it measures good it sounds good has some merit to it.
Of course we all hear differently and have our preferences so that's why our hobby and the industry that caters to it exists.
BTW - I own an RM-10 and Lightspeed and I have to say this combination is difficult to beat at it's price point and then some.
It too have been on the passive-active-passive joy ride, so I know what you mean about the audio nirvana path. That is why I was especially careful and attentive going back and forth with the Lightspeed and Joule LA150 Signature. Both are great preamps (at $450 versus $6,500 that should be enough to choose the LS) but regardless of cost, I preferred the Lightspeed - a matter of taste and system context no doubt. I use it with my RM10 and RM9 Special Edition. Is it the best? Heck I don't know. I only know that it is very, very good and at $450 stupidgood (my favourite word from Bobby P at Merlin).
I do also hear - no pun intended - the listening and engineeering dichotomy. I can only say that having heard several Music Reference amps (RM10,9,9SE, 200, and 200 wired in Class A and triode)that while Roger certainly knows his way around a test bench, the quality sound of his amps suggests that he either does listen, or if he doesn't listen, it may in fact not be relevant to do so (I think he listens)and that he does not lose that skill of producing good sound with the challenges presented in designing a preamp.
None of this means that I could tell anyone whether they would prefer a high-quality tube line stage or a passive - I know I can't - but the Lightspeed produces some of the very best sound I have had over the past 30 years where I've tried scores of some of the very best preamps and amps on the market. If money is any issue at all, the LS, with proper impedance matches between source-pre-amp (gain should be no issue with most sources) is a low-cost option for SOTA sound that for some might be as good or better than anything else you might buy.
I've been at Roger's place a couple tines and know he does listen. I think like most his designs have a house sound. I also know he spends a lot of time measuring, specifically for distortion and hum. He is probably one of the few designers who publishes the hum measurements for his amps.
I know one thing, the RM-10 is one quiet amp, more so than my S-30 and Auricle Musicblocs. It is probably the quietest amp I've had in my system since my solid state TRL D-225.
Roger sounds alot like John Dunlavy - makers of fine products that measure well, both degreed electrical engineers, and both myth busters regarding audio vodoo and pixie dust - I don't think either view wire, capacitors, transformers, resistors as totems imbuing equipment with "magic" (and we all do look for that magic).
Not only does Roger eschew audio voodoo and pixie dust, he also challenges standard engineering principals of application design and feedback. Anyone who can make a EL84 amp which outputs twice the watts or more than other EL-84's do (writing his own Class AB2 application versus copying/modifying what's generally available in the books), uses 14db of negative feedback (when most advertise "zero" feedback), is dead quiet, and sounds magical to boot must know something about electrical engineering and audio design.
Never thought I would do it, but today I put my RM9 SE up for sale, with my speakers the RM10s have plenty of power and I will continue to use it and my Atma MP3/Atma-sphere M60s with my Merlin VSMs (which I never plan on selling). In a way, I wish I only had the RM9, but I feel too vested in the Atma combo and stash of NOS tubes for them. Maybe I'll be lucky and it won't sell:) The Lightspeed Attenuator works beautifully with both.
Pubul57, the other day, a friend brought an RM9 to my house, I'also have Joulet Electra 150MK11se, and merlins vsm mme, and wasn't a good match, had gain problems,
had to turn my preamp, around 4oclock" to get decent sound,
and the noise floor was horrible, we try both settings,
low-Hi, and still had same problem, at normal levels, sounded very sweet and holographic with the EL34s
but had to shot it off, and go back to my QS,V4, mono amps,
have you experience same problem with your set up?
No, and I was using the Joule LA150 SE with the 6db gain setting, and to have owned the V4s. Usually, loud was 11-12 o'clock. In fact I now use a zero-gain preamp with the RM9s. Something sounds wrong with your experience, but no idea what. Now with zero gain, I do need to turn it up to 2 o'clock, but that is no problem. Is this with a CD source? My EMM can switch between 2v and 3.8v outputs and gain is never problem with any preamp I have used. Something must be wrong with the RM9, in fact it is much more sensitive than the V4s (as it is designed to work with passives) - I owuld give Roger a call, something is not right.
probably so, the amp was pretty beat up, and highly modded. was been sold to me dirt cheap, $800,
had pass on amp, coudn't take the chance of that preamp,
blowing up my amps,or preamp,
was courious about it, because, heard it sounds really good with the merlins,
my digital source, acustic arts transport, Kora Hermes DAC,
finally got the merlins singing, with all cardas GR cables,
was very frustrated with speakers lack of bass, and soundstage, almost ran them though a wood chipper,
but now they, sound incredible, very spooky immaging and coherent, droved my patience to the limits, but finally pay off.