My exp. with Focal Sopra No.2 , Harbeth 40.2, Passlabs XA30.5 and Hypex NC400


Hello. Long time reader here.

I want to share my listening experiences since i bought my Sopra No.2’s last year. I think it may shed some light on people who suffered from brightness on their system. Please excuse my English as it is not my native language.

My other components are Primaluna Dialogue Premium Preamp and Gustard x20pro Dac with Singxer SU-1 via HQ-Player and Roon. Interconnects are DH Labs Silversonic and speaker cable is Kimber 8TC. My room is 45m2 and not treated. I would say my room has some echo and can sound harsh on higher volume levels. (I will deal with this later hopefully.)

I will try to keep it short below:

Sopra No.2’s with NC400’s:
Pros: Extreme clarity with huge sound stage , speed&timing , dynamism , attack , total control on bass , good instrument separation. NC400 allows all this without breaking a sweat.
Cons: Fatiguing after some time , especially with higher volume. Bright and forward on almost half of the music i listen to and neutral on the other half but never warm. (I listen to almost every kind of music though it’s mostly Jazz both with vocals and instrumental only.) Mids and low-mids(esp. on vocals) were not rich and full as i wished.

The fatiguing alone bugged me to change my speakers and my dealer sent me Harbeth 40.2’s to try at home.

Harbeth 40.2’s with NC400’s:
So compared to Sopra No.2’s it was less hi-fi and more of a live music experience with the midrange of Harbeth’s as we know it. Non-fatiguing , just slightly warm ,sweet sound and overall a wonderful match with the speaker and the amp. Believe it or not it was more than just a glimpse of when i listened to 40.2’s with Dan D’Agostino MOMENTUM LIFESTYLE AMPLIFIER. Last weekend we tried the NC400’s with my brothers SLH5’s and i think he is now considering selling his Naim setup which is 6 times more expensive then NC400’s :)

I wanted to keep Harbeth 40.2’s but we could not agree on price with the dealer so i kept my Sopra’s and decided to try a well regarded amp with it. That was Pass Labs XA30.5.

Sopra No.2’s with Pass Labs XA30.5 :
Brightness and fatiguing gone for good. You get the magical warm sound of Pass Labs , suddenly Sopra’s are different speakers now. The amp really has it’s own color as they say. Bass is less controlled and almost too slow compared to NC400’s. I was worried about 30w is not going to be enough for my room but i never miss 200w’s of NC400’s unless i listen to electronic dance music.

I am never selling my NC400’s as they will come handy when i want to listen instrumental tracks or EDM.
For example , Chuck Mangione - Children of Sanchez or Charles Lloyd & The Marvels - La llorona gives you goosebumps when listened through NC400’s while with XA30.5 they won’t impress you as much.
They are really more than their money’s worth but the XA30.5 is still a better match with Sopra No.2’s.

I guess i couldn't keep it short. Oh well..


tonediary
Sopras are bright speakers when compared to warmer speakers like Harbeth. 

Pair Focals with a warm amp and you'll get a (subjectively) more neutral tone. Pair Harbeths with a brighter class D amp and you'll get a more neutral tone. 

You've just discovered why amp/speaker matching is such a critical aspect of building a great system. 

Nice reporting - tonediary.

I concur w/ helomech post. Get an amp/speaker combo right and you will be musically rewarded.

Happy Listening!

You've just discovered why amp/speaker matching is such a critical aspect of building a great system.

True, but I wouldn't say "discovered" , just experimented the importance of system matching in my case. I could not believe how much of a different speaker Sopra's were with two diff. amps. Same goes with Harbeth's , although Alan Shaw says his speakers sound the same with different amps if i remember right... 

I drive a pair of 1008Be's with a pair of pass xa100.5's and they are very smooth and detailed not harsh at all; all silver cabeling.  What little experimenting I have done it seems to suggest Focals like class A power and/or Tube amplification as I had a Cary Tube integrated driving them prior to the xa100.5's and they were not harsh at all.  I did try a pair of Herron M1a's ss class A/B and the harshness was there so I sent them back. 

Chuck 
You should think about addressing your untreated room before making your final amp decision.  Hard, reflective room surfaces paired with a wide dispersion loudspeaker can lead to the sound you've described.
Nice write up. Thank you for sharing your findings with the amps and speakers.

Have you considered speaker isolation? It may tighten up the bass and improve sound performance overall.
You should think about addressing your untreated room before making your final amp decision.

My room is close to "untreatable" if that makes any sense.  I have glass everywhere :(   I am thinking of doing some small treatment with acoustic panels here and there but not sure if it is going to make a noticeable difference. The start of this video shows the room before i changed my setup and speakers. It gives an idea on my acoustic problems :)  https://youtu.be/K94GoaT5FQI
Nice write up. Thank you for sharing your findings with the amps and speakers.

Have you considered speaker isolation? It may tighten up the bass and improve sound performance overall.

Thank you David! The Sopra's are already quite isolated but i have heard Isoacoustics-gaia isolators are really good for sopra's too.
Worth trying out the GAIA 1s...Crutchfield is great in that regard because of their generous return policies. Or give the Townshend Seismic Podiums or the Star Sound Technologies Sistrum platforms a go.

Let’s leave the Point 8 for another round. : )
Good report.

That sums up my experience comparing Harbeth to Focal speakers as well. (I did a lot of speaker auditioning in the last 2 years).
A good strategy for system building is to get a loudspeaker that at a minimum doesn't have to fight your listening room.  The Focals with their broad upper midrange and treble dispersion are at war with your extensive glass room.  As an alternative you should consider loudspeakers with controlled directivity design, or even full blown DSP laden powered loudspeaker systems like Kii or Lyngdorf Steinway.

BTW, I like your drone video of the apartment.
Look up tuning dots at Marigo Audio - developed by physicist turn window vibration into heat - they will truly tame your windows. Acceptable visually compared to acoustic panels etc.
BTW, I like your drone video of the apartment.

Thank you :)

A good strategy for system building is to get a loudspeaker that at a minimum doesn't have to fight your listening room.

Well i might move soon , so i will look for a house with a potential dedicated listening room in it :)



Look up tuning dots at Marigo Audio - developed by physicist turn window vibration into heat

Wow that really sounds like voodoo stuff :) Do they really work? 
I mean some tiny dots in each corner of my windows going to affect my room's acoustics? I will just take your word on it and buy them if you tried them yourself. @gammajo 
Big shout out for Marigo VTS dots, which come in a wide range of sizes (1/8” diameter to 1 1/2” diameter) and colors depending on application - headphone frame, speaker cabinets, speaker diaphragm, CD tray, printed circuit board, wall outlet plate, the protrusion at the base of large electron tubes, the bottom glass of small tubes, room walls, windows and a bunch of other stuff. How small can something be and still have an audible impact on the sound? 😳
@geoffkait  Nano size

@tonediary  If you buy a roll of 3M copper tape you can make your own,
very effective, you can go to geoffkaits website to get a idea of what they look like. basically rectangle with 2 corners clipped at 45 degrees, work well! Cost of roll of tape $20  
Copy cat alert. 😸 I don’t agree you can do it yourself. I have secrets. Besides, copper tape is not constrained layer damping, especially the way I use it.Marigo VTS Dots on the other hand 🖐 are constrained layer dampers. I have Flying Saucers for Windows and for Unused Wall Outlets, including non audio outlets, neither are contained layer dampers or have anything to do with vibration, I’m afraid.

Your friend and humble scribe, Geoff Kait
Copy cat? I never said make them and sell them.
Are you stupid or something?
@tonediary, If you like what the Hypex NC400’s do then you should definitely try the Mola Mola Kaluga’s, NC 1200 based amps by the designer of Hypex, Bruno Putzeys. 

Also check out his Kii active speakers which have 6 Hypex amps and dacs built in.
@tonediary, If you like what the Hypex NC400’s do then you should definitely try the Mola Mola Kaluga’s, NC 1200 based amps by the designer of Hypex, Bruno Putzeys.

Also check out his Kii active speakers which have 6 Hypex amps and dacs built in.

Both Kaluga's and Kii speakers are way out of my budget at the moment. Though i will look for a used Kaluga monoblocks in the future. Thanks.
The factors in sound reproduction perception in the sequence of importance:
1. brain+ears
2. loudspeakers+room
3. the recording 
4. dacs, amps, preamps, 
5. butterflies over china
6. cables, connectors, spikes, audio furniture, nanosprays etc
nugat:  perfectly stated.  Unfortunately, everyone on here will disagree.  This place is full of people who let their brain get the best of them and don’t understand the most basic aspects of human brain psychology.
nugat,

Agree with your general point, with the exception of spikes. Spikes will typically raise the speakers and changing the relationship of the woofers with the floor and especially the tweeter/mid level to the ear, it certainly can change the sound (as acoustics/speaker design would predict)...tdepending on the speaker design/dispersion characteristics, crossover design, etc.

But other than that...yeah :)

I am quite aware of how I can perceive my system’s sound differently at different times. Sometimes if I’m beginning to think less of the sound I take a break from listening for a few days or more, and when I come back I get "wow" again.

And it’s crazy how little I have to move a speaker to produce a difference in the sound, be it shifting or toe in/toe out. I have a room designed with the help of an acoustician and it allows me to "tune" the room a bit to taste - more lively, less lively, etc. It’s certainly educational to hear only the effects of changing room acoustics.

I haven’t tried any Chinese butterflies in the system, though ;-)
Part of your problem is your ancellory gear isn't up to snuff.

The more revealing a set of speakers the more it shows you the limitations of your cables and Gustard Dac.

With a $14k speaker that are resolvling you need far superior dac and cabling. 

Ncore amps are highly detailed but lack the magic that conventional Class A/B amps have hence you prefered the Pass.

We tried a number of highly rated Hypex and Ncour amps  impressive but not magical. Your tube preamp was partially responsible for you getting good sound in the beginning. 

As per Naim vs Ncore, if your friends system was wired up with Naim cabling he has never heard his system and a brighter amp might add more excitement to his rig. We love Naim hate their cables. 

Go find your self a T+A Dac 8 DSD and an Innous server and you will be shocked at just how much better your system will sound..

Ditch the 8TC for better cables, also the Silversonic is okay at best. 

Also treat your room by using bookcases filled with books or wall haniging some rugs. 

You will see that a well matched set of speakers with resolution trumps a set of "musical" speakers which don't have the resolving power, but are more laid back. 

Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor NJ
And of course, a high end dealer will be happy to sell you much more expensive cables ;-)

tonediary...keep nugat's post in mind.  Your wallet will thank you.




Wall hanging some rugs, or book cases filled with books....

for someone who acts like such a high end snob -- it’s amazing that you use guesswork for THE most important aspect of sound after speakers (maybe before?).

Maybe you should try to learn a bit about REAL room treatment and acoustic science before you keep posting on here like you are an all knowing superior audiophile (aka salesman).

I won’t even get started with your cable beliefs. So funny. Maybe start using your spare time to learn a bit about human brain biases and such before you make your next annoyingly long winded post on here.   Do you even realize that several of the well known cable manufacturers don’t even agree on what the actual effects of different speaker cables are?  For instance, some state that their cables will add warmth to a system, or tighten up the bass, etc — while Audioquest for example, completely denies ANY of that is possible, and all cables are doing is removing noise from the signal to give you the purest signal possible.  I won’t even get started on how many times cable companies have falsified comparison demos and gotten caught.  If this stuff really made an audible difference, why would they go to such great lengths to fake it?

Only exceptions of course are the speaker cables that have actual in line devices that actually do change the sound (think MIT).

You are such a grasshopper and you don’t even realize it.
Contuzzi many people don't have the funds to invest in real room treatments. Hence our comments.

As per being a high end snob, guess what we aren't at all or we would not even made that recommendation. 

If your definition of a snob is to recommend the appropriate cabling and accessories then we are. 

Your argument doesn't hold water. Cabling is like tires to a car, go buy a Ferrari and put on some glass ply tires at $200 a tire vs the $1,000.00 Pirelli P0 that Ferrari specs on the car and see if the car performs.

If you lose information from point A to point B you are not going to get it back no matter how good the components and speakers are. 

As per room treatment, trained with Tony Grimani of Lucas Films and did the Russ Herchelman course, you can see the Theater we built for Rev Runs Rennovation. Online look up DIY networks Rev Runs Rennovation.

You can also see pictures of our rooms at the different NY Audio shows with different acoustic panels, Shakti Holographs and other acoustic devices

https://www.facebook.com/audiodoctor1/photos/a.122500301156525.22643.122499304489958/163219852685335...

or here

https://www.facebook.com/audiodoctor1/photos/a.122500301156525.22643.122499304489958/138072913200029...

Dude your ignorance is showing through when you dismiss cables and power conditioners, I sit here in our reference room and I am demoing one $5k power conditioner vs a $14k one and guess what they make a huge difference with the expensive one not right now sounding better than the cheaper one and if I plug directly our amps directly into a dedicated 20 amp circuilt with Furutech outlets the sound is way more flat and lacks a huge amount of the life that running throught the power conditioner adds.

As per cable demos we can give you the names of clients where we have changed one cable and we both heard a large and noticable difference.

AQ cables are hardly our reference standard, as per cables sounding different yes they do. We were a Kubala Sosna dealer and all of their cables imparted a bit of warmth to the sound. Nordost cables all tended to sound super clean and detailed, and the Wireworld tended to be the most balanced.

Again, your ignorance and bias is showing through. 

We have invested thousands and thousands of dollars in showroom cables, way over $22k in fact, do you think we would have spent that kind of money if there were not difference manifested in our demo systems?

Contuzzi you sound like many of the angry audiophiles that deny the facts that many, many people who are Doctors, Lawyers, CEO's of company smart, educated, people would not pay money for cables or power condtioners if they weren't demonstrably better and made their systems sound better. 

Yes certain companies do make ridiculous claims, others do not.

Our experience is based on empirical testing we listen.

Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor NJ


audiotroy,

I don’t think you are trying to hoodwink anyone and that you, like many into high end audio, are quite convinced about your experiences with cables and other such things.

"If you lose information from point A to point B you are not going to get it back no matter how good the components and speakers are. "

You aren’t losing any (audible) information if you simply choose a well constructed cable for the task at hand, and it’s trivially easy to choose a 6 foot (or much longer) cable that won’t loose audio information. If you swallow cable manufacturer marketing, you will think you are...but the electrical properties of wire have been known for a looong time.

I sit here in our reference room and I am demoing one $5k power conditioner vs a $14k one and guess what they make a huge difference

Can you tell the difference when you don’t know which you are listening to, in a carefully controlled manner to make sure bias isn’t the factor?


Our experience is based on empirical testing we listen.

Homeopaths, astrologers and faith healers will tell you the very same thing. They test empirically: they do their thing, if someone reports a difference...viola! It works just as they think!

That’s what you get when you aren’t controlling for variables, especially the variable of human imagination and bias. Any belief system can flourish under those conditions, and the experience will be as convincing and vivid for everything you find at the local psychics fair as in the local high end audio salon.

No one is immune from it. Not even audiophiles, believe it or not!

I don’t rule out the high end cables can possibly make a difference in sound; it’s just that the methods audiophiles use to determine this are extremely unreliable. And whenever I’ve used a more reliable method; blind testing, the results do not favor the claims of cable makers. (Though there have been some intriguing results here and there in blind tests...there still isn’t enough reliable data to make the case that super expensive high end cables make an audible difference over sane-priced competently constructed cable - e.g. Belden, Canare, etc.  And even IF high end cables could make some difference, they are still without doubt the biggest, ballsiest cash grab in high end audio)



Contuzzi we made those suggestions as some people don't have the money to invest in real high end acoustical solutions.

If you check our NY audio shows photos over the years you will see plenty of examples of the room treatment products we use and endorse.

https://www.facebook.com/audiodoctor1/photos/pcb.1632190780187462/1632198526853354/?type=3&theat...

As per acoustical training, bet you we got a lot more than you, trained with Toni Grimini and Russ Herschelman at Cedia. 

We build real movie theaters and design and fabricate our own room treatments. as mentioned earlier not everyone has the funds to do acoustics correctly.

Prof the power of suggestion works both way, the reality is we have spent about $40k and more on cabling for our rooms, do you honestly think we would spend the money if we couldn't hear the difference.

We did one demo were we changed one ethernet cable from a generic to a high end $200 one and the differences to both the client and ourselves was staggeringly obvious.

Most people don't want to spend the money us included, if we couldn't hear the difference nobody would purchase these products. 

Mass hypnosis it isn't  Over 30 years we have done numerous cable shoot outs and tests. 

Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor NJ

It would be nice if somebody could point to a scientific double blind test of cables.
the reality is we have spent about $40k and more on cabling for our rooms, do you honestly think we would spend the money
if we couldn’t hear the difference.

Yes.

Of course it’s possible for people to spend large amounts of money on imaginary benefits. How is it not obvious that the amount of money someone spends on something has nothing to do with the verity of the claims? All around the world, every day thousands, millions of people throw money at things driven by false beliefs.

Audiophiles are not excepted from this - in fact high end audio is rife with this kind of thing.

Most people don’t want to spend the money us included

Yes and that is why it matters all the more that the claims should be tested far more carefully! We all would rather not spend $6000 on a cable if a $40 cable will be just as accurate (or more) or audibly indistinguishable. But this can’t be determined with justified confidence using the usual audiophile methods of “put it in the system and do I think I hear a difference?”

That method ignores everything we know about human bias. And the strength of your conviction adds precisely nothing to the justification of your conclusions because...well....that’s how bias works. It can produce life-transforming experiences in people, even when there is nothing at work but the persons own imagination or altering perception.

And it’s also why it’s somewhat dispiriting to think many people will be led to spend thousands of dollars on cables, perhaps unnecessarily, because their high end dealers pronounce confidently on their worth based on poor testing methods.

Again, it’s not my claim that no high end cable can’t or doesn’t sound different or better than an average cable. I’m merely pointing out that most such beliefs have been derived from very poor methods.

But saying this in the typical high end audio forum is like being an atheist crashing a church revival. It’s never received well and it’s hard to bridge the two worlds.




I had similar results with my Nord Acoustics Hypex NC500 based amps paired with my Martin Logans.  When I first got them they were a significant upgrade from the older class D amps I had in before.  They were very controlled and detailed with a low noise floor, but I found them harsh at times and fatiguing at high volumes.  I upgraded again to the PS Audio BHK300s - not a fair fight, as these are much more expensive amps, but the hybrid tube/ss amps resolved the brightness and fatigue I was experiencing with the Hypex ones when paired with my electrostats, and I lost none of the detail (though my noise floor did go up).

The focal sopras were my 2nd-most favorite speakers when I was demoing last year, but the Martin Logan Expression 13As just imaged sooooo well when set up right, and now that they are paired with better amps, I'm very happy.  
Same experience I had with Ncore (NAD M22) and Sopra 2's.  They werent bright or harsh, just sterile and uninvolvimg.  The dealer even said "that's the best Class D I've heard in here" which was quite the indictment of previous class D because the Ncore were getting smoked by the class ab amps.

These speakers are just so sensitive to amplification.  The Pass amps are a great match and so was Perla Audio which is what I ended up going with.
Nice to see @shiner01 @emcdade @prof  had same the experience with Ncore amps and/or Sopra 2's. 

One other update on my setup would be the Duelund DCA16GA speaker cables (connected to Passlabs xa30.5) which made a significant difference on smoothness and much more analog sound overall. I can confirm others that this cable is magic. Normally my ears don't even really notice that much of a difference between cables. I will now try DCA20GA as interconnects.

I really need to decide on a new Dac though. Stuck between Holo Spring LVL2 , Gumby or a used Dac that uses an Ultra Analog 20400A chip.. That's if i can find one..