Stereophile Review


#1

I just read a very strange review in Stereophile. First time through, it seemed like a mixed review based on both the review itself as well as the measurements section. Second time through, it seemed like the reviewer was just trying to make a point about PS Audio marketing. After the third time and reading Paul’s response, I think the piece, in its entirety, is pretty stellar. What are your thoughts?

I own the DS and am in the market for a new amp. I have just made the decision to place an order for a BHK 250 at the end of the month.


#2
briang said I just read a very strange review in Stereophile. First time through, it seemed like a mixed review based on both the review itself as well as the measurements section. Second time through, it seemed like the reviewer was just trying to make a point about PS Audio marketing. After the third time and reading Paul’s response, I think the piece, in its entirety, is pretty stellar. What are your thoughts?

I own the DS and am in the market for a new amp. I have just made the decision to place an order for a BHK 250 at the end of the month.


Uh, where does one see Paul’s response?

#3

I think Fremer’s review was overall very positive and well done - though I do not appreciate that he spent time criticizing our marketing - he’s an equipment reviewer after all - but, that’s Michael. And I respect him greatly. He has very good ears!

It’s a really positive review if you clear away some of the stuff that does not need to be there.


#4

In my print copy, Paul’s response is on page 141. I think the response is sarcastically, but politely, funny.

By the way, my decision to purchase the amp has nothing to do with the review.

Thanks


#5

Can we go back to the statement about not using speakers that dip below 4 ohms…what normal speaker doesn`t ?


#6

I was also surprised by that statement, especially regarding the monos since they were specifically designed to provide additional current.


#7
BryanEye said Can we go back to the statement about not using speakers that dip below 4 ohms....what normal speaker doesn`t ?
John Atkinson did not write one should not use speakers that dip below four ohms.

He wrote “[I]t is a well-designed, well-engineered powerhouse of an amplifier, though it will perform at its best with speakers having an impedance of 4 ohms and above.” A perfectly reasonable statement as he found distortion increased slightly into four ohms and below. This finding is perfectly normal and common.

As a practical matter, one will never hear this measured increased distortion, even into speakers which truly present a four ohm load instead of merely dipping below four ohms on occasion. But, on a measured basis, the amp does do its carefully measured best above four ohms.

On another topic, I do not find Mr. Fremer’s brief observations on PS Audio’s marketing out of place. It is relevant, albeit not directly tied to the performance of the amp. I, too, find PS Audio’s marketing overly breathless and hyperbolic. It is appropriate to question the factual foundation of statements such as “has no peer,” “unparalleled in its ability to render details,” “one of the top five power amplifiers in the world, regardless of price.” But coming to know Paul, he is justifiably proud and fully believes what he is saying - as Mr. Fremer specifically noted.

And I would much rather read these comments than Mr. Dudley’s political observations, Mr. Tellig’s travel logs and hero worship, etc.

I would enjoy learning Mr. Fremer’s observations of the differences in the amp’s sound balanced v. single-ended. It is fully reasonable to have listened to the amps single-ended, but perhaps balanced operation would remove the slight reservations he expressed.


#8

The big irony is of course that audio reviewers (Fremer first in line) wrote the book on using hyperbole to further their commercial interests (i.e. keep their reviews relevant and stay employed). These guys discover paradigm shifting, game changing pieces of gear with such predictable (high) frequency it is completely laughable. I am personally more interested in learning about companies moving the ball on price performance (like PS audio) than enless fretting about whether or not component A sounds slightly better than former reference component B. In my view such subtle differences come down to personal taste and more often then we care to admit placebo effect and expectation biases.

In other words, all I need to know is if the BHK is competitive with amps 3x the price. Whether or not reviewer XYZ thinks it sounds a little better or worse somewhere in the frequency range under certain circumstances in his system I could not care less.


#9

I had a hard time figuring out the direction and intent of the review, to be honest

I thought he found the amplifier great sounding - but struggled to find reasons why he didn’t like it. So he sought to tear down PS Audio’s marchitecture material. I noticed in a lot of forums, some guys get very irked by PS Audio’s marketing literature and immediately decide to slag the product off. Without even giving it a listen. It’s a shame really. I have compared the DirectStream to benchmark products like Playback and EMM Labs which cost considerably more, as have others, and there is no question - the DirectStream DAC is just a game changing product. I suspect the BHK amps are going to do the same.

And I thought Paul’s response was spot on - smart, witty and took the piss - but with class.

The recommendation to avoid speakers that dipped below 4ohm impedance was a little odd - considering the reviewer had conceded that the design goal was to make the amplifier sound good - at the expense of overall noise levels. Again this reminds me of some of the initial reviews of the DirectStream DAC - and for that matter, the Playback Designs MPS-5 which measured badly but somehow sounded right. I wonder how these noise levels translate to actual performance in a real world test.

I also agree that with the comments here that with well-designed balanced systems, it is terrible that you do not test it the way it was intended. Perhaps, Paul, you could ship him the BHK preamp along with the BHK monos next time around :wink: I wonder how that combo will fare against the 6 figure pre and power combo the reviewer was using.


#10

I would re-subscribe to Stereophile (if it had lapsed) just for the article… but here’s some excerpts from the Conclusion and Paul’s response

Pardon any typos - trying to read off the phone app :)

Quote

From the midrange up, PS Audio's BHK Signature 300s go toe to toe with many amplifiers costing far more. They manage the smooth, rich, yet well-detailed midrange and high frequencies produced by far more expensive models without smoothing over delicate transient detail - the latter being the price often paid by less expensive designs to achieve those qualities. I've reviewed far more expensive amplifiers that don't do as well in this area.

The BHK 300s bottom end is nimble, well-textured and rhythmically solid, though there’s still more weight, power and physicality to be had in the very lowest octaves. But given their cost - high but far from the highest - that’s hardly surprising. Of course, you’d also need speakers that can express those qualities. Still, I’d much prefer the nimble rhythmic pacing of the BHK 300s to greater weight that’s more sluggishly presented.

How good are the PS Audios? I spent a few months thoroughly enjoying them without reservation - especially their engaging transparency, transient delicacy, harmonic and textural richness, and convincing timbral accuracy. But I’m spoiled. I need to be able to see into the soundstage without restrictions caused by opacity or grain, and I have no tolerance for electronica: transients that are annoyingly soft and cloying (boring), or too sharp and artificially drawn (annoying). The BHK 300s easily passed those tests.

Near the end of my listening, I reinstalled the big darTZeels, only to make the necessary comparisons. It may not be fair to compare a $14,998 pair of amps with a $135,000 pair but the PS Audios asked for it. I wasn’t surprised by what I heard from the darTZeels: more weight, more space, greater low-level detail and textural resolution, finer gradations of micro dynamics. Nine times more of those qualities? No - but who’s counting?

All in all, the BHK Signature 300 is a terrific mono block amplifier that almost lives up to its hype. But please, PS Audio - don’t wait another 30 years before doing this again.

Here's Paul's response:

Quote

.... In our experience, balanced operation of the 300s produces meatier, more palpable bass and mid bass, as well as a deeper soundstage - the areas in which Michael preferred his $135,000/pair DarTZeels.

Michael made so many positive statements about the BHK 300s that it’s difficult to focus on just a few, but I truly appreciate his characterisation of the 300s as a “powerful, nimble-sounding amplifier that immediately drew me in with fast, punchy, tight bass; rich, liquid mids; and delicate, transparent highs - all effectively well-integrated into a coherent whole”. I’m touched by “I would be hard-pressed to identify anything wrong in the BHK’s sound,” and by “This kind of convincing and sophisticated performance, particularly from the midband up, is what one expects and gets from the finest cost-no-object electronics.” I expect that modest Bascom is blushing right now.


#11
DoggieHowser said I had a hard time figuring out the direction and intent of the review, to be honest
I find the review clear; he is favorably impressed with the amp, not so with the marketing. See, e.g., your quotes above. :)

#12
Elk said
DoggieHowser said I had a hard time figuring out the direction and intent of the review, to be honest

I find the review clear; he is favorably impressed with the amp, not so with the marketing.
See, e.g., your quotes above. :slight_smile:

Did you think Paul oversold the BHKs? I honestly think he was rightfully proud of what he and Bascom achieved.


#13

Some might see it just as a Marketing ploy. I don't. Obviously, P S Audio has to sell. But I find Paul's 'giddy with excitement' as genuine and I find it refreshing. When I first listened to the DS I could clearly hear why Paul & Ted were so ecstatic.... The DS was 1/3rd of the price of my Linn Klimax DAC; performance wise, ..it killed my Linn DAC ! The DS was / is such a revelation and I now own two .. Yes - there was a big build up to the launch of the BHKs - but soon as I heard the 300s they blew me away, and in that instant, I could see / hear all that Paul & Bascom were preaching had sheer veracity and wasn't just hyperbole....

The BHK 300s are by a vast distance the best amplifiers I have ever heard, and believe me, at over 3.5 decades buying top flight I have owned stellar equipment..... Since I introduced the BHKs - I literally have to be dragged away from my system ..... this shouldn't be misconstrued as a Marketing ploy !


#14
Elk said
BryanEye said Can we go back to the statement about not using speakers that dip below 4 ohms....what normal speaker doesn`t ?

John Atkinson did not write one should not use speakers that dip below four ohms.

He wrote “[I]t is a well-designed, well-engineered powerhouse of an amplifier, though it will perform at its best with speakers having an impedance of 4 ohms and above.” A perfectly reasonable statement as he found distortion increased slightly into four ohms and below. This finding is perfectly normal and common.

As a practical matter, one will never hear this measured increased distortion, even into speakers which truly present a four ohm load instead of merely dipping below four ohms on occasion. But, on a measured basis, the amp does do its carefully measured best above four ohms.

On another topic, I do not find Mr. Fremer’s brief observations on PS Audio’s marketing out of place. It is relevant, albeit not directly tied to the performance of the amp. I, too, find PS Audio’s marketing overly breathless and hyperbolic. It is appropriate to question the factual foundation of statements such as “has no peer,” “unparalleled in its ability to render details,” “one of the top five power amplifiers in the world, regardless of price.” But coming to know Paul, he is justifiably proud and fully believes what he is saying - as Mr. Fremer specifically noted.

And I would much rather read these comments than Mr. Dudley’s political observations, Mr. Tellig’s travel logs and hero worship, etc.

I would enjoy learning Mr. Fremer’s observations of the differences in the amp’s sound balanced v. single-ended. It is fully reasonable to have listened to the amps single-ended, but perhaps balanced operation would remove the slight reservations he expressed.


Thanks Elk!

#15
Dirk said

Some might see it just as a Marketing ploy. I don't. Obviously, P S Audio has to sell. But I find Paul's 'giddy with excitement' as genuine and I find it refreshing. When I first listened to the DS I could clearly hear why Paul & Ted were so ecstatic.... The DS was 1/3rd of the price of my Linn Klimax DAC; performance wise, ..it killed my Linn DAC ! The DS was / is such a revelation and I now own two .. Yes - there was a big build up to the launch of the BHKs - but soon as I heard the 300s they blew me away, and in that instant, I could see / hear all that Paul & Bascom were preaching had sheer veracity and wasn't just hyperbole....

The BHK 300s are by a vast distance the best amplifiers I have ever heard, and believe me, at over 3.5 decades buying top flight I have owned stellar equipment..... Since I introduced the BHKs - I literally have to be dragged away from my system ..... this shouldn't be misconstrued as a Marketing ploy !

Thanks Dirk. I know, I get carried away - and it really turns some people off - the company might be better off with a more stuffed shirt marketing approach - certainly companies like B and W and Levinson (in their prime) were more than successful with reserved marketing - but I find it difficult to express my enthusiasm in reserved tones - it's not me. And PS Audio has always been a very personal company.

#16

Wow…I didn`t mean to ruffle all these feathers…I simply read a review.

I am thinking of buying a pair of King Sound 3s , maybe the smaller Soundlabs or the new Quads 2912s, which sounded great at Axponia last year. Like my older Acoustats These are not a easy speaker to drive , so it seemed like a valid point to bring up…

Sorry

Bryan


#17

I thought it was a very good review…even great. I do not think ‘Mikey’ was critical of PS-Audio’s “marketing.” He addressed what everyone who has been following the development and role out of the amp(s) wants to know…“how good are the amps?” Specifically, are they among the best of the best. According to the review, the amps do indeed provide characteristics of other amps considered to be among the very best. Damn, at under $15,000 that’s fantastic praise.

Note too, that ‘Mikey’ has not - as far as I am aware - reviewed an amp that he feels bests his darTzeel monos. I suspect the darTzeels are in fact incredibly excellent amps, but I also expect Mr. Fremer may be reluctant to concede that his beloved darTzeels aren’t at least an edge above any amp(s). That being said, and like Mr. Fremer said in his review, it is hardly fair to compare a $15,000 amp to a $135,000…and whether fair, it’s hardly practical.

Additionally, had the reviewer conducted his review and comparison to the darTzeel’s using the BHK’s balanced outs, he would likely have been even more favorable of the BHK’s.

Kudos to Paul and company, and to Bascom, for another strong review.


#18

I also think comparisons to amps closer to the PS amps price would have been helpful. Such as perhaps the Pass Labs Amps.

I really got nothing out of the review. Not to mention that he did not even try a balanced connection.


#19

The TAS review compares it with the Pass 160.8 (twice the price).

I personally compared mine with the Spectral 360s ($20K). However, I went through some system changes - since the BHK never really sung with Spectral preamp (DMC 30SS Series II) and MIT cabling (very expensive). I am now playing sans preamp and with Transparent cabling, and the BHK direct can easily hold it’s own against the Spectral / MIT setup at far lower cost. I have gone through too many changes over too long a period of time for a fair direct comparison, but from what I recall the BHK actually bests it. I would expect that inserting the forthcoming tube preamp will clearly set the BHK combo apart Spectral / MIT, still at lower costs.


#20
DoggieHowser said Did you think Paul oversold the BHKs? I honestly think he was rightfully proud of what he and Bascom achieved.
I doubt it, although to be fair I have not heard them. Why is this question directed at me?
BryanEye said Wow...I didn`t mean to ruffle all these feathers...I simply read a review.
I do not see any ruffled feathers. We are engaged in a great healthy discussion.

On my part, I think you misconstrued John Atkinson’s statement and explained why. Mr. Atkinson did not make a “statement about not using speakers that dip below 4 ohms” as you claimed. If asked, I am sure he would endorse the amps for speakers which dip below 4 ohms - as I explained above.

Paul McGowan said I know, I get carried away - and it really turns some people off . . . but I find it difficult to express my enthusiasm in reserved tones - it's not me. And PS Audio has always been a very personal company.
I initially was in the turned-off camp; superlatives, if anything, make me skeptical. But I have come to learn the enthusiasm is authentic, real and heartfelt, not marketing hyperbole. Mr. Fremer makes clear he understands this, but still pokes some fun and calls PS Audio to task. For example, I find it perfectly appropriate for a reviewer to wonder out loud what the other four best amps are when a manufacturer proclaims its amp is one of the top five in the world.

So what are they? devil_gifheh, heh, heh . . . .