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ZMA + MG944 Speakers Kick A$$ (Read 654 times)
Dave1210
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ZMA + MG944 Speakers Kick A$$
04/07/14 at 18:21:27
 
All...I posted the below over in the ZMA forum, but thought it would be worthwhile to post here as well.  Cheers!  -d

I think the combination of ZMA & MG944’s is fantastic (for reference, I have the latest generation stock MG944’s).  I don’t think the cost mismatch would make sense to most, but I would invite anyone to have a listen and hear for themselves just how good the combo is.  I am sure the combo can be beat, but at what expense?

IMHO, music sounds natural, musical and engaging (e.g. foot tapping).  Whether I am listening to Miles Davis play trumpet, Hank Jones play piano, or Malcolm Young overdrive a Marshall stack with his Gibson SG, everything just sounds right.  Ditto for drums, vocals, etc.   Music is crisp, clear, detailed, fast and liquid.  The 944’s disappear and there are no boxes or veils to be heard.  

I just recently did two listening sessions with a friend and fellow audiophile and there were quite a few speechless moments (“I really don’t know what to say, it sounds so good”).  We covered jazz, jazz vocals, blues, acoustic rock, indie rock, hard rock.  We listened at low volume, high volume and everything in between and not once did the ZMA/944 combo skip a beat.   We heard things in recordings we haven’t heard before and not once did we complain about listening fatigue (although there were a few times we turned it down to prevent hearing damage..dB meter was north of 90dB).

The sweet spot is pretty narrow with the 944’s (so that could be better), but doesn’t seem to be much different than the panel speakers or electrostats I have auditioned.  In fact, the more I think about it, it would be fair to compare the 944’s (when driven by the ZMA) to panel speakers.  The 944’s are extremely fast, detailed and with the first and second reflection points treated the imaging is fantastic, and there is very good soundstage depth (without being dipoles).  I  would argue the 944’s trade off a slight amount of resolution and soundstage height (vs. panel speakers) for better bass slam, seamless driver integration and better dynamics at low listening volume (which may be an amp vs. speaker consideration given that I have only auditioned panel speakers with SS amps).  

In summary, there isn’t much to fault the ZMA/944 combo on.  Cheers.  -d
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Lonely Raven
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Re: ZMA + MG944 Speakers Kick A$$
Reply #1 - 04/07/14 at 18:53:19
 
Yeah, I wish the sweet spot were a little wider. The head in a vice thing can be rough, and it also makes setup require a bit of precision (I use a laser pointer to get within an inch all around).

Does yours have a crossover built in, or is it wide open with a capacitor to filter out the low frequencies?

For the money, I love my MG944, the tweets really make these IMHO, and the speakers go surprisingly low frequency. Though I sometimes wish I had a little bit more detail in the lower mids, and wider sweet spot.
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« Last Edit: 04/07/14 at 18:59:43 by Lonely Raven »  
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Dave1210
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Re: ZMA + MG944 Speakers Kick A$$
Reply #2 - 04/07/14 at 19:10:30
 
LR...capacitor only.  Is your experience similar with the ZMA?  I'm curious because I think I remember you saying your MG944's had a crossover.  I think the 944's provide performance well above their price point (especially when driven by the ZMA).
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Lonely Raven
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Re: ZMA + MG944 Speakers Kick A$$
Reply #3 - 04/08/14 at 03:17:47
 
Oh yeah, they perform beyond their price for sure.

Maybe I'm too picky, but there are still things I wish I could change. It might have something to do with the MG-945 sounding so great, especially with those bass cabinets.

I'm focusing on source right now; the 944 punch above their weight class, but I think I need something better in the future.
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Dave1210
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Re: ZMA + MG944 Speakers Kick A$$
Reply #4 - 04/08/14 at 03:29:51
 
Maybe I'm too picky, but there are still things I wish I could change. It might have something to do with the MG-945 sounding so great, especially with those bass cabinets

LR...say more.  What do you think needs improvement?  Or what does the 945 combo excel at?    

I have been going to our local audio shops and I will be going to Axpona to get a sense for what I might be missing with my current setup (I realize neither are great for sound, but you have to start somewhere).  

I would greatly appreciate your perspective since our systems are very similar (aside from the source).  Cheers!

UPDATE:  I am also planning to attend the Mini-Decfest in May.  I am more interested in a few speaker comparisons vs. the tape source (although it will be interesting to get a sense for how high is up with the master tapes)  
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« Last Edit: 04/08/14 at 04:46:08 by Dave1210 »  
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Lonely Raven
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Re: ZMA + MG944 Speakers Kick A$$
Reply #5 - 04/08/14 at 15:56:46
 
Quote:
UPDATE:  I am also planning to attend the Mini-Decfest in May.


So go propose a date in the mini-tapefest thread!

As for the speakers...I started writing up this three paragraph description and tried to compare the 944 to the 945, and I realized I really don't know what I like about the 945 as I've not tried to put words to it. Since I am happy with the 944, I've really (intentionally) not put much effort towards listening to any other speakers. Plus, I don't want anyone to think I'm bashing the 944 - I'm just maybe a bit pedantic with my gear and people mistake that for dislike when I point out flaws.

Being *very* general, on my 944 I've got one frequency that sounds a little strained. The 945 does something with space and air (with the bass cabs), but I think gives up some midrange speed to gain the full bottom end and upper air.

Again, I've not really compared and contrasted the two, so take what I say with a grain of salt. I'm also a fan of T-M designs over M-T-M, simply because I find their accuracy better - I truly believe I can hear the time smearing that comes from too many drivers, so simpler is better.

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Dave1210
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Re: ZMA + MG944 Speakers Kick A$$
Reply #6 - 04/10/14 at 20:28:33
 
Any tracks in particular that highlight the missing/strained frequency?    I can’t say that I notice anything in particular with my setup, but maybe if it was pointed out to me it would be a “duh” (or “doh”) moment.  Do you think it has anything to do with your 944’s having crossovers?  

During a recent listening session we did notice something a bit odd while listening to a couple of tracks on Tom Petty’s ‘Full Moon Fever’.  Tom Petty seemed to be eerily disconnected from the rest of the band.  His head/voice was floating high and in front of the speakers while the rest of the band, including his guitar, was set back in the soundstage.  I would say my current setup portrays depth reasonably well, but something about this presentation of the soundstage seemed a bit unnatural (maybe it was because the guitar we thought TP was playing seemed to be behind him?).  The other thing my friend noted was that the guitars in ‘I Won’t Back Down’ lacked midrange clarity.  It didn’t specifically catch my attention because it sounded to me like the rhythm guitar part was palm muted. In general, I find that electric guitars typically don’t have the same clarity, speed and attack as a well recorded acoustic guitar.  That said, electric guitars can sound amazing and if you haven’t listened to Stevie Ray Vaughn play “Little Wing” on your ZMA, give it a spin and let me know what you think.  There is good dynamic range in that track and I may or may not have been playing air guitar while it was spinning.  Good stuff.

In the same listening session, we hooked up a pair of Polk Audio RTi4’s ($300 bookshelf speakers) to the ZMA.  We mostly wanted to hear what would happen, and while the results may seem obvious, it was insightful.  At first we started with the 4 ohm tap because that is the tap I typically use with my 944’s (and we wanted the initial experiment to be as single variable as possible). The music coming out of the Polks was muffled (it sounded like someone put a comforter over the speakers), lacked speed, presence and the bass sounded chesty.  Since the speakers are rated at 8 ohms the obvious next experiment was to try the 8 ohm taps on the ZMA.  We were both surprised how much better the speakers sounded when hooked up to the 8 ohm taps.  While using the right speaker taps on the ZMA helped significantly, the Polks were lacking vs. the 944’s in every aspect.  Ok, so we proved that $1500 speakers are better than $300 speakers (we all know higher price doesn’t necessarily mean higher performance in this hobby...so it was worth a shot)   Well, I think it’s more than just that.  What bothered me the most was that I lost my connection and engagement with the music when listening to the Polks.  My foot tapping stopped and the ‘magic’ was gone (maybe this is the same thing they are having difficulty describing in words over on the DirectStream forum).  I realized just how important this musical engagement is for me and how the system and sound quality can really influence this.  It seems a stretch to call it an ‘ah ha’ moment, but I think it may have been for me.  I have heard people say that you don’t need high quality gear to listen to music (well that is true, I can listen to music on my car stereo if I want, but that isn’t the point).  All you need is good music and a great recording (i.e. recording quality is one, if not the most important element in the chain).  We listened to a lot of great recordings on the ZMA/Polk setup and I can say without hesitation that recording quality is not the most important element in the chain.  Anyway, after about 30 minutes of listening to the Polks, we went back to the 944’s (this time on the 8 ohm tap to keep it single variable).  Everything was right with the music again.  The magic was back.  It was night and day.

I now have a better appreciation for why lower reactance speakers (less fluctuation in impedance as a function of frequency) might be better suited for a tube amp with transformers.  It was also glaringly obvious that the ZMA needs a good speaker to really shine (the ZMA doesn’t make a bad speaker sound good, it just shines a spotlight on the negatives).  Which then begs the question, what speakers would sound significantly better than the 944’s when paired with the ZMA?

I think part of what I am struggling with is that I don’t have better references to compare to.  I don’t know how high is up.  Part of my reason for attending the mini-Decfest is to further increase my database in this area.  My assumption is that Steve’s setup is amazing and I will get a sense for what I am missing (and should be striving for) with my own system.  While I definitely want to hear what master tapes sound like (I have always heard people say that nothing comes close and it will be awesome to hear it with my own ears), I am less interested in that as the singular focal point of the day/weekend, mostly because I doubt I will ever own a serious collection of master tapes.  In addition to the master tape experiment, I would like to hear the ZMA with Steve’s 944’s and a few other Decware speakers (especially the HR-1’s and 945’s w/ companion cabs).  A third priority for me would be to compare different Decware amps. The last thing I need is another Decware amp, but it would be nice to understand the underlying character of each of them.  So much to learn…

For the moment, I have moved past the initial excitement/(over) analysis phase with the ZMA.  This means the reference discs are sitting idle in a shoe box and I am just spinning music I want to hear regardless of recording quality.   That said, I was wondering if you have heard “The Wild Hunt” by The Tallest Man on Earth (I recently posted this album in the ‘What’s Spinning’ thread).  The recording quality is pretty lo-fi and I was expecting my listening session to be slightly painful or maybe even unlistenable, but it wasn’t.  It was very clearly less audiophile than it has ever been, but that didn’t diminish my connection to the music.  In fact, I think I may have been 'closer' to the music than I ever have been before.  I think I said this early on, but the transparency of the ZMA hasn’t ruined 'everyday’ music for me.  

I think I have written enough for now.  Looking forward to mini-Decfest…

Cheers,
David
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« Last Edit: 04/11/14 at 02:12:31 by Dave1210 »  
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Lonely Raven
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Re: ZMA + MG944 Speakers Kick A$$
Reply #7 - 04/10/14 at 21:37:35
 

Thanks David, I will try and find the album and track that makes my speakers strain, and get you the info.

I'll also check out that lo-fi album you mentioned.

I too am finding that I'm playing any ol' thing and really enjoying it. The Toe Tapping factor is high with the ZMA/944 combo.

~Eric~


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