Wilson Sophia2s demand better than AYRE V5xe, so..
...What would you recommend?
Just took delivery of Wilson Sophia 2s. Plinius CD101 - Ayre K1xe - Ayre V5xe - Sophia 2s. Synergistic Research cables.
The K1xe is very good, I'd like to keep it, but I need a new amp.
The V5xe is too lean in the midbass, no texture or bloom. Soundstage is okay, but not "full" enough. No deep bass!
At the RMAF, I liked VAC phi 200s on the Von Schweikert VR-9se AND on the Greshman Black Swans as a point of reference.
I'm open to tubes or SS, but I think tubes might get me where I want to go. I'm looking for very full and detailed imaging that absolutely floats in the air, with intense layering, body and texture. I need better control over these speakers, and stronger deep bass output, speakers sound too thin now. I want fullness of images like MBL speakers, but with a more natural, involving midrange like the best Acapellas.
Budget is 10k new or used. Again, looking for a warmer, natural sound with very delineated images that complement my dynamic Wilson speakers, so don't underpower me!...
Do a Search on Audiogon for Butler - check out those *sweet* Monad monoblocks, 19K originally, but now within your budget. These amps are works of art, absolutely stunning. And check out the 6 Moons review, I think you'll be impressed.
Friends of mine also have the Sophia 2's, and had a similar experience with their Gamut MKII amplifier. They are now using a Jadis Defy 7; which sounds very good. Their dealer, Brooks Berdan, had several possible choices for them, and they liked the Jadis best. The Jadis is a tube amp. I hope that is in your scope of options. From what I heard, as they evaluated the system, the Jadis really sounds the best.
I think you should also not exclude the option of keeping the Ayre amp and just replacing your preamp with a tube linestage. If you can demo tube preamps in your system, e.g Audio Research LS-26 or REF3, or VTL TL6.5, it may well be worth it.
I too use and love my Ayre K-1xe preamp, and plan on keeping it for a very long time as well. (The phono stage makes this an incredible value as a full function preamp, IMHO!) Its neutrality and transparency is incredible.
However, I too found most solid state amplifiers to be somewhat lacking in bloom, especially in the mid-range. (Perhaps having a solid state preamp with a solid state amp is just too neutral.) I found my long term amplifiers when I bought my Lamm M2.1 (200 wpc) monoblocks. These amplifiers are hybrid amps, with just one 6922 tube in each amp, but that one tube just seems to add a sense of life to the music. (FYI, replacing the stock Sovtek 6922 with something like an Amperex Orange Globe 6DJ8 ($200/pair), or better yet, the Amperex pinched waist 6922 ($400+/pair) will really make these amps sing!)
I used to use these amps with my Revel Studios, (which I felt sounded similar to the original Sophia), and now use them with my Eggleston Works Andra II. The Andra II speakers really have great bass response, and these amps provide all the power and bass extension I would ever want. (The M2.1s have better bass response than any tube monoblocks I've ever heard.) Their mid-range is fantastic, with a nice touch of tube bloom. (Vocals are great!) Their treble response is great, with good extension and lots of decay to cymbals. (Note: with the stock Sovtek tubes the sound has just a slight touch darkness. However, with even decent NOS tubes, this touch of darkness is no longer present.)
I got my Lamm M2.1s used for $7K. The Lamm M2.2s (220 wpc) replaced the M2.1s, and are slightly better in the treble response, but tend to run slightly over your $10K budget @ $12K used.
My two cents worth. Good Luck in your search!
PS As an alternative, the DarTZeel NHB-108B, (The "B" version has balanced inputs), is a mighty fine solid state amplifier, and might do the trick if you can get by with 100 wpc. Used they run about $12K too.
The current PASS Stereo Amplifiers have a very good synergy with Wilson Audio Speakers and are within your budget. The X250.5 and X350.5 work very well with the Sophia. I would recommend an audition if possible - "Reno HiFi" offers "at Home demos", for a small restocking fee - this worked-out well for me - the PASS bettered comparably priced Amps. that I tried from Krell, McIntosh, BAT and Musical Fidelity, with my Sophia Spkrs.
PLINIUS PLINIUS PLINIUS. The MOST "tubelike" SS amps made. The older sa series should work perfect or a 102/103. They too sound best in balanced mode. I have had MANY amps and I always come back to Plinius
Since I used own Pass X250.5, I would say Pass labs would be best candidate. However, Dartzeel is also strong contender but not many arround as seconhand. I have Krell 402 and almost satisfied with it. Lastly keep avoided Boulder power amps for Sophia. Makes sense?
The Sophias are broken in. They were purchased and set up by an authorized dealer as a "demo" pair.
My dealer is pushing VTL MB450 SII and VTL 6.5 pre, but at $26.5k, plus CA taxes, I don't see the value. The MB450s at $15k is a little spendy, but it may be one of the best options.
Thinking outside the box are you? Swaping the preamp could be a good idea, I'll borrow my dealers VTL 6.5 and see where it takes me with the Ayre amp.
I have a Plinius 9200 integrated which does okay with the Sophias and sounds more magical than the Ayre, but lacks control, impact and transparency. A bigger Plinius could be the ticket since I've got Plinius as a source?
Not enough experience with the other brands mentioned, but great ideas everyone...
I'd save up a few more bucks and get the Ayre MXR monoblocks. I agree with you on the K5x, I had one and it never floated my boat. I found happiness with a set of Parasound JC-1s, maybe not the best but really good for the money. I also have the K1-x and love it.
1) Spend the $50 on Jim Smith's new book. I would be willing to bet that you will find what you are looking for with a bit of tweaking rather than buying a new amp. (I'm sure that MusicSlug's perceptive question about speaker break in would be covered in the book.)
2) If after going through the book, make sure that you audition whatever amp you are considering *in home*, *in your system*. That's the only way you are going to know if the new amp will give you what you are looking for. It may turn out that the problem isn't the amp at all, but any one of the other components in your system (including the cables, which by all rights should cost less than an amp, but probably don't).
My local high end shop has an open house every year. In Oct. 2006 the system that blew me away was a a SME turntable driving a VTL signal chain with VTL reference monoblocks driving a pair of Wilson Alexandria V2s. The sound was phenomenal to the point of causing sane men to consider a second mortgage to put this system in their house. This past April I went again, and this time the Wilson MAXX's were being driven by a stack of the new Ayres that are carved out of solid billets of aluminum. Although they sounded excellent by most standards, the VTLs of the year before totally spoiled me. The Ayre chain sounded like electronically reproduced music. I could go home to my much cheaper system at home and not feel like I was missing a whole lot. The VTL chain from the year before made me forget all about the equipment; my jaw was too busy dropping because it sounded like the Duke Ellington big band was in the listening room.
I don't know how much of a house sound VTL has, and the top end monoblocks (such as the Siegfried) have a lot of solid state logic controlling and guiding the tube circuits to extend their linearity, speed, and consistency, but there are currently some high powered VTL monoblocks in the A-gon classifieds in the $5K range that should make your Sophias get up and sing, bark, and boogie. If you could find something from VTL's Reference line on the used market at your target price ($10K), I don't think you would regret it or want to move on to something else for a long time.
Johny, please don't take this the wrong way, but how can you be sure that what you heard you can attirbute to the amps and not to the speakers. not defending Ayre in any way, but just curious. Because you did hear different speakers with different amps. let's not forget that the Alexandrias cost about 3 times as much as Maxx? is this even a valid comparison? You have heard 2 different systems 6 months apart.
Besides the fact that sonic memory is short, these were totally different system. Were they even in the same room?
Hmm...not a real fair comparison, to say the least.
I agree with you. Hearing Wilson on very good tube gear will leave a lasting impression. VTL has a lot of synergy with Wilson. I can tell you that Ayre is not the greatest match with any wilson speaker. I tried my MXR with wilson and it was to much of a good thing.
I have heard the entire Wilson line from the Sophias on up, and some of the models several times. They definitely have a common sonic signature and I find that the biggest difference from one model to the next concerns scalability and how big a room they can energize with their sonic signature. Secondly, I heard the Alexandria and Maxx in the same room. Third, I don't really squint and concentrate on how a given system *sounds* so much as monitor how it makes me *feel*, because it's that connection between the music played and how it affects me emotionally that reveals what a signal chain really has going on.
The Alexandria may be 3 times the price of the MAXX, but that's because of the principle of the law of diminishing returns. On a lot of music, and each optimized for its room, the two will sound very similar. Actually, since I heard them both in the same room, the advantage should have gone to the MAXX because the Alexandria was too much for that room size.
I have listened to too much gear and too many types of music over too many decades to have any doubts as to what I heard and what made the first demonstration so compelling and the second one so "ehhh." The VTLs rule and are a great match for the Wilsons. The Ayres by comparison are placeholders.
I'm not too concerned about the time that elapsed between the two demonstrations (which were actually more like 16 months apart) because I can recall vividly how I *felt* when I heard the two systems. The demo with the VTLs was two years ago and I can STILL recall how I felt emotionally when I heard it, which is to say, the most exhilarated I've EVER felt in 40 years of pursuing high end audio. The demonstration with the Ayre amplification, by contrast, was like watching a movie that's a good time-passer, but which you forget about as soon as you walk out of the theater. The Alexandria powered by the VTL Siegfried Reference Monoblocks was Sir Laurence Olivier doing Hamlet; the MAXX's powered by Ayre was Die Hard 2.
Hce4: I actually own sophias (the 1st version). I have 2 basic recommendations for you. First, be doub-ly trip-ly and quadrup-ly sure that the physical positioning of the speakers in your room is absolutely optimal. It makes an immense differebce when it's correct. I assume your dealer did it, but if you guys didn't take a long time to voice them properly, you can get midbass deficiency. I've tried a number of amps with my Sophias. Cary V12's, Jeff Rowland 201's, Bel Canto Evo 2's Audio Research SD135, and my final choice and long term keepers, The Audio Research VM220 MonoBlocs. There is just NO SUBSTITUTE for high power tubes on the Sophias. The VM220's were recently dropped fro the Audio Research line so there may be some still available. They were about 10K new. I've seen a few pair on the 'Gon for about 6K. Wilson audio has a long history of showing their spekeakers with Audio Research tubes, and if you call them, AR will be high on the list of recommended electronics. They are well built and last forever. Sophias LOVE tubes...when properly matched they are superb. Hope this helps, Jim
I suppose I should mention the system that inspired me to purchase the Wilson Sophia 2s:
Wilson Sophia 2 speakers SME 30/2 turntable (don't know what the cartridge was) VTL 6.5 phono preamp VTL 7.5 series 2 preamp VTL MB450 series 2 mono amplifiers Transparent top cables (don't know what models, but all the cables combined cost way more than the speakers, I was told) Room - 21x15x10 feet and very well treated!
Similar experience to Johnnyb53. I kept thinking, this is unlike anything I have ever heard before, words simply fail.
One recommendation I received via email is to consider a new source, and specifically a new turntable. As we all know, turntables offer the best bang for your buck when it comes to value and sound quality. Most agree the ratio between turntables and CD players is 3 to 1, meaning, you'd have to spend 3x as much on a CD player to acheive similar sound on a turntable that costs 3x less. Plus, we all know that a good vinyl set up can give those things I'm looking for such as tone, bloom, dimensionality, spacious and natural sound. Another suggestion from someone thinking outside the box, as was the tube preamp change and room "tweaking" suggestions...
But, it doesn't change the fact that the Ayre amp is lacking, in my system, bottom end extension, pitch and impact, midrange texture and body, and utlimately control.
Ultimately I may find the VTL gear I originally auditioned is the solution to sonic bliss for me, but I welcome any further comments and opinions on the matter. I'm trying to recreate what I experienced with VTL on a smaller budget... I'll keep you all posted!
I'd also like to add that while my dealer set up the Sophias personally in my home, they ended up in a position I would never have guessed. Room is 15x15 with a vaulted ceiling from 10-15 feet and open to other areas of the house (ie. lots of area to pressurize and the potential of peaks and valleys)
They are much closer to the back wall (6" or so) with very little toe in (maybe 2" turned inward from straight ahead alignment). I had SF Cremonas before, and it took me months to dial them in - 3 feet off the front wall and nearly a straight-to-the-ears toe in.
I'm not saying the speakers are in a horrible spot, but the set up took about 30 minutes, and there was no complicated tape on the floor or "walk and talk" voicing Wilson Audio normally recommends. ???
Don't get me wrong, the speakers provide excellent separation of instruments and a somewhat focused image with okay depth. For example, listen to the opening of Breaking Silence from Janis Ian and on my system you'll hear her singing solidly in three different spaces, but I know this track and it could be better. Problem is, I can't tell if it's the speakers positioning or the electronics that are failing to give me the extra soundstaging abilities Wilson is known for. However, as mentioned above, I can hear the amp running out of juice and I'm missing certain qualities (bass, texture, etc.)...
I see that you are contemplating using the VTL MB-450s. My friend used to use the VTL MB-450s with his Eidolon speakers, before he upgraded to the Lamm M2.2s. The VTLs are very musical amps, with great mid-range and a well extended treble. The bass response is very good too.
However, two things kept me from getting these amps when it was my time to upgrade.
One, was the heat. These amps run hot. (Even hotter than the Lamms run, which is my only gripe about the Lamms actually, as they run very warm.) In the summer, we used to have to open a window and run a fan with the VTLs running, whereas now, with the Lamms, we just have to open the window. (FYI, we live in California, where it is usually fairly warm all summer.) That is only a problem for 4 months or so out of the year though. (However, for a couple of months out of the year, it helps reduce the heating bill!)
Two, the bass response of the VTLs, while very good, (especially for a tube amp), was not in the same class as the Lamms. The Lamm bass response is quick, tight and deep. The VTLs did not go as deep, nor were they as quick and tight. Although for a tube amp, I must say they did quite a good job.
It might not be fair to compare the two amps, as the VTLs usually runs around $4,500 used, whereas the Lamm M2.1s (the M2.2s predessecor, which has the same bass response as the M2.1s) run about $7,000 used, which is about 50% more. (The M2.2 run closer to $12K used.) However, if you want the best bass response....
The reason I bring this up, is that one of your original points for upgrading was that you wanted "stronger bass output", and I did want to point out that while the VTLs have good bass output, it is not great bass output. As we had done a direct comparison between the two, I thought you might be interested.
It was an all top-of-the-line VTL amplification chain, so I'm pretty sure the line stage was the TL-7.5 Series II Reference Line Preamplifier. Not sure what the phono stage was.
This was at the "Because the Music Matters" event hosted by Definitive Audio of Seattle. Mikey Fremer was a guest host for the event, and co-hosts and sponsors included David Wilson of Wilson Audio Specialties as well as founders and reps for VTL, Transparent, Classe, and others. The demo that so grabbed me was a joint effort put together by VTL, Wilson, and Transparent. Mikey was operating the SME turntable.
So anyway, in this particular room, the system had the best that Wilson, VTL, and Transparent had to offer in October 2006.
The Lamm M1.1 came out in 1994 and being that it is full class A amp you would have to start to worry about maintenance on the amp. Now the M1.2 that came out in 2004 would be a very nice amp for the Sophia II but at that price range your getting into the Dartzeels, Audio Research Ref's of the world.
I will have to disagree that the Lamm M1.1 has more bass output then the VTL MB-450 sigs. Maybe the VTL MB-450 were not sigs that you were listening too. There are about 6 different version of MB-450. I have had both and I thought the VTL had more bass and was deeper. Solid state will for the most part be tighter but I think tube amps have a much more natural sounding bass.
There is absolutely no way to adequately set up the sophias in such a complicated space in 30 minutes. I'd recommend you do 3 things. 1)Photograph the space. 2) draw a schematic of the room to scale, 3) Contact customer service/support at Wilson Audio in Utah and send them all of the pix and drawings. See if they think this set-up is in any way appropriate. I'd discuss the "quickie" set up system used by your dealer. I'd bet they'd suggest the set-up is "sub-optimal" and I'd guess they have some suggestions to help. I'd caution against buying electronics until the speakers are properly positioned. In my room, once the set-up was optimal everything snapped into focus both spacially and in term of tonal ballance. My speakers sound very different from your description with every single amp I tried. The sophias are usually positioned with more toe-in than you describe, and certainly more than 6" breathing room behind the speakers. JIm
For a time period I owned a pair of Sophia 2s, an excellent speaker, and if I had kept them then I may have moved towards tubes to tame the Wilsons...but when I considered going to the WP8...I ended up with different speakers. A couple of thought...personally I find it inconceivable that anyone could "dial in" Wilson speakers in 30 min...thus perhaps some work could be done on that issue. Having wandered through a few amps...I ended up with the MX-Rs...the guy who bought my Sophias...was local...purchased the ARC Ref3 (not sure which version) and Ref 110 amp...he has never been entirely happy with the sound...and I suspect part of it is his room...he even got a pair of WP8s...for the MX-R...preamp choice is critical...I used a VTL 6.5 for a time...an great pre...but ended up with the KX-R....
Demos or not, you bought your Sophias new w/warranty from an authorized dealer, and they owe you a better setup than 30 minutes and 6" from the back walls. I recommend you read every Stereophile review of Wilson speakers you can get your hands on to get an idea of what a Wilson setup is *supposed* to be. Several are at http://www.stereophile.com, including an extensive review in 2002 of the first-generation Sophia. Then I would contact the dealer and give them a second chance to do a better setup. If you don't get cooperation, warn them that your next step is to call Wilson Audio Specialties. It's well known that Wilson dealers can lose their franchise if they don't do the factory-prescribed setup on every new pair of Wilsons they sell.
Most of the S'phile reviews have a detailed write-up on what the Wilson guy did in positioning the speakers. In the Sophia review, Peter McGrath positioned the speakers 56" from the wall behind them. Wilsons are also often positioned wider and with more toe-in than is typical. The more extreme toe-in helps diminish the side walls' influence on early reflections (IIRC).
If you got lean bass with the speakers that close to the back wall just wait if the speakers get moved out from the wall. If the speakers are that close to the wall behind them you should have to much bass.
A square room doesn't help so maybe that is the reason for the speaker placement that they came up with. You can not follow someone else room placement as yours can be completely different. You can always make your current location with tape and try moving them around and see if it sounds better.
You can always try Cardas speaker placement. I has always worked well for me. http://www.cardas.com/content.php?area=insights&content_id=33&pagestring=Room+Setup+8
Hi, Johnnyb53 makes some pretty good points. As a Wilson owner, and one who has had 2 different dealers, one ok, and one super, the setup here is critical. I'd give your dealer a 2nd chance then call Wilson directly.
I have sat back and watched this thread unfold. You have great speakers, great electronics, good cables. You should be happy. Breakin could be a culprit.
Any chance a speaker is wired out of phase? Or you have some electronic issue?
I do like tubes with my Wilsons, but I am surprised by your comments on your sound. You have a good selection of equipment, yes you can always get better.
If you spend much more, I'd say step up to Watt Puppy 7 or 8's....and keep your electronics.
I am also a Sophia 2 owner and can endorse the earlier comments regarding toe-in for Wilson speakers.
Mine are toed-in so that only a small slice of the inner surface is visible from the listening seat.
In my setup experience, soundstage & image precision increased with amount of toe-in. At a certain point, the image really snaps into focus. I recommend you mark the dealer positions on the floor then experiment yourself.
You wrote: "I will have to disagree that the Lamm M1.1 has more bass output then the VTL MB-450 sigs."
Assuming you wrote that because of my post, (I believe I was the only one to recommend the Lamms in this thread), I would like to point out that what I actually wrote was that the M2.2 (and hence the M2.1) amplifiers have more bass output than the VTL MB-450 sigs. Please note that the M2.2 has 220 wpc (and the M2.1 has 200 wpc), which (obviously) is double the power of the 100 wpc Lamm M1.1 amps. (I don't even think that I mentioned the M1.1 amps actually, so I am not sure why you brought that up.)
And, I fully stand behind what I wrote. The Lamms (that I mentioned) have incredibly great bass response. And yes, they do indeed have better bass response than the VTLs, based upon our direct comparison.
I am a Sophia Series 2 owner, and have used a myriad of power amps (ss/tubes) with these speakers including the VTL MB-450 sigs (tubes)...not reliable, unfortuately. As a result, I would never demo these ever again.
Nothing has compared to the performance I have received from matching the Wilson Sophia Series 2 with the new ARC VS-115 tube amps. They are perfectly matched for the system, room , and there have not been any performance glitches. Please feel free to email me for more details.
I played around with positioning, WOW that made a difference.
Moving the speakers further out into the room and toe-ing them in so they fire about 2 feet behind my head really made all the difference in the world.
The speakers now disappear and the soundsage has expanded in all directions. There is no muddiness to any peformer's position. Bass which was more one note has developed texture and defintion. Everything is more resolved and well placed within the soundstage.
That being said, the Ayre equipment partnered with the Sophias lacks weight in instruments and voice. It also creates a soundstage that is too delineated, lacking a cohesive and coherent soundstage. Transients are sharp and do not bloom as they should. Think of RCA cables versus XLR on equipment that should be run unbalanced. Sure it's quieter, but you sacrifice part of the musical message. The last breath of a performer, the key of a piano held or the plucked string of a guitar that resonates through the wood. This is the way Ayre made me feel, incomplete, edgy, separated. Perhaps on warmer, less resolving speakers, this hyper delineation would be great, but on my Wilsons, I need the full musical expression.
So, I was set to try Lamm M1.2 reference amps, but wanted to try a cheaper solution first. Heck with the Lamms, I could have gone with the VTL's, the amps that inspired the purchase of my Sophias. I tried the Pass Labs XA30.5. On the Sophia 2s and in my situation, it has provided the perfect amplification solution. I feel this Pass amp is more resolving and transparent than the Ayre V5xe, but not exactly in the traditional "see through" transparency effect. Ayre may have the edge there. No, with the Pass I feel I am getting the full musical message, I feel like I can hear more of everything. In addition, everything is no longer separated, but woven together without any loss of real resolution. The soundstage is finally coherent. I feel like I am listening to music, with all the different instruments, voices and effects woven together but stable and distinct on the soundstage. The edginess is gone and I can hear deeper into the music.
The thing I would like to stress most about this Pass labs amp is it's coherence. Think of coherence in the best possible way, stability, fullness, complete.
The Ayre K1xe mates very well with the Pass XA30.5, but ultimately I will find a better matching preamp. I'll update the thread when I make that discovery, but remember these are just my experiences in my room and the reflect only my opinions. Hearing the Ayre MXRs with Vandersteen Quatro Woods was an amazing experience and suffered none of the faults I experienced in my setup, so truly YMMV!
You do realize that every Ayre component is a balanced circuit and should be used with the necessary XLR cables to retain the balanced configuration. I hope you're running them that way. It sounds howver, that you like Vandersteen speakers...never the less. I don't think the problem you have is with the amp. You could try Audio Research. Personally, I think its the speakers. I would live with the speakers for awhile to see if they break in to a more pleasing sound or see if you can return them and get what you really like.
I ran the Ayre components completely balanced with Synergistic Research's top Tesla cables (Apex & Precision).
In addition, I have Sonus Faber Cremonas, and even with the Ayre and Sonus Faber, I got similar results.
The Vandersteen and Ayre combo put the Ayre in the best light I've heard yet, but I still prefer a well set up Wilson system. It may be the speakers, but after many auditions I kept going back to my Wilson dealer and appreciating all that the Sophias did...
I suppose Ayre is just not for me, but I'm sure many others love Ayre for exactly the same qualities that drove me away. YMMV.
Thanks again for all the comments, repositioning made the strongest difference as many of you suspected!