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Tag AV32R vs Arcam AV8 listening report

Discussion in 'AV Pre-Amp/Processors & Power Amps' started by kryten, Jun 17, 2003.

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  1. kryten

    kryten
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    Finally got round to comparing these two today and thought people might be interested in _my_ opinion.

    Processors being compared: Tag AV32R bp192 EX and Arcam AV8
    Other equipment: Arcam P7 amp, Arcam FMJ DVD player, Dynaudio Contour 1.8MkII, Audience 122C, Audience 52 rear, M&K sub.

    The DVD player was connected to the amp via digital (co-ax) only as this is how I'll be connecting my 757AI for non-SACD/DVDA stuff. Video output was connected directly to a Toshiba plasma using component outputs. Levels were matched before listening and varied up/down during the listening process as well.

    First up was the Tag. Norah Jones sounded excellent, very detailed and clear. Dire Straits Sultan's of Swing up next. First track 'Sultans of Swing' was very good with extremely detailed high end, especially the cymbal strikes. Private Investigations was also about as good as I've heard it. Jean Michelle Jarre, Oxygen 7 was also good with excellent control over the fairly enormous bassline and impressive movement across the soundstage. DPLII Music sounded good on the JMJ stuff.

    Then onto films. The Matrix, Neo vs Morpheus fight seen was a little lacking in 'oomph' - couldn't quite decide why. Overall it wasn't that 'involving'. The Morpheous recsue was more impressive and very detailed with sound placement excellent from the basement entry up to the crashing of the helicopter. Gladiator 'battle of carthage' (DTS) was very detailed with good steering round the room, though again the bass was a little weaker than I had expected.

    Next up, the AV8 with the same listening/viewing order. Immediately on Norah Jones the soundstage seemed wider and better defined - everything was there on the tag, just not as well placed - the Arcam made it sound more like a continuous stage. The bass was more controlled and certainly seemed a bit more powerful on the Dire Straits/JMJ tracks. Initially it seemed as if there was less high end detail, especially on Sultans of Swing, though it could be that had I listened to the Arcam first, the Tag would have felt too bright. However, towards the end of Private Investigations there is someone breathing to the right of the stage - hadn't ever noticed this before, and certainly didn't hear it on the Tag.

    On Gladiator, again the bass seemed more controlled and the arrows/spears seemed to be placed more accurately as they flew through the air. Detail on the shrill sword clashes was maybe a little less. The musical score was better defined and not lost in the fighting noises.

    The Matrix fight scene was immediately more involving - it just sounded more as if I was 'there'. Steering and placement were similar, but there was more power to the bass sounds. The same with the rescue scene: it was just more convincing.

    Put the Tag back on. Certainly there was more at the top end. Listened for the breathing in PI and it was there - it just had to be listened for. Same with the Matrix fight scene - everything was there when played through the Tag, it just didn't quite seem to all be connected together.

    Its very hard to describe, but I'm not quite ready to buy either. My preconception was that the Arcam would be better on music and the Tag better on films.

    The reality was that they were certainly different on music (Arcam better bass and more convincing soundstage, Tag more detailed highs) but as to which was 'better' I couldn't decide.

    As for films, the Arcam was a clear winner. It was just more convincing in involving me in the film. I started watching and enjoying the film, whereas with the Tag, I was just listening to see what I could hear.

    I also came away feeling that while for the most part they both presented the same level of detail, it was when listening to the Arcam that that detail more easily revealed itself. Despite listening to the Tag first, I didn't hear anything that I'd not noticed before, whereas with the Arcam I heard things that I thought hadn't been there on the Tag but when I listened to the Tag a second time, they were indeed present.

    Not sure what all this adds up to. I've got an offer of a Dual Sharc Tag at a very good price but I need to buy it today and I must admit that on the basis of today's demo, I'm not convinved its the best option. Certainly I didn't come away thinking that I _must_ buy it. I'd 90% decided to buy the Tag before listening and was really only going to 'make sure'.

    That's before I take into account the other differences:
    The Arcam has RGB switching, a proper Zone 2 and I'll get a 3 year warranty from my dealer.
    The Tag will do room EQ and has a proven upgrade record, but only 18 months RTB warranty.

    I can get a home demo of the Arcam next week so I'll probably wait for that......
     
  2. sounddog

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    One thing you may want to consider / demo ... if you're going to be using it for music a lot and using a dedicated CD player ... is how they sound using their analogue bypass.
     
  3. Nic Rhodes

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    Thanks for the effort here, I must admit to having similar feelings myself on this one, at a push I would buy the Arcam over the Tag but both are similar in quality albeit doing different things (I own a Tag by the way0. The dual SHARC is certainly much better again but it has to compete with more epensive and much better products like th Lex and Brystons. Gone are the days where there are few choices, the market now has many excellent products and it is now a matter of you pays your money and....
     
  4. kryten

    kryten
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    Can you go into details? Its a Dual Sharc I have the option on (for the same price as an Arcam!) but without being able to listen to it, unless I am 100% certain it is a BIG step up, I think I'll probably go for the Arcam.
     
  5. NicolasB

    NicolasB
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    Based on an isolated demo I would say that the dual-SHARC Tag is a surprisingly large step up from the bp192EX. Comfortably ahead of the Arcam, except that the Arcam has a superior analogue bypass. In that sort of price bracket you might also want to consider a Meridian 568.2 and Bryston SP1.7.
     
  6. kryten

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    Thanks Nicolas - its a tough decision though: do I go for the Arcam, which I've heard and like a lot, or something that everyone is saying is a step up from the Tag bp192 but I cannot listen to the dual-sharc first (which I thought was pretty good until I compared it with the Arcam) .

    Analogue bypass will be used for SACD/DVDA but for the moment at least I'll be mostly using the digital connection from Sky+ for TV, and the DVD player for films and CDs.

    I must admit I was surprised at how much more involving the Arcam was than the Tag. Its not that there was anything much wrong with the way the Tag presented the film soundtracks: they just didn't seem to take me _into_ the movie. I personally doubt whether the dual-sharc will make a big difference to this, though of course, I could be wrong!

    As for the Bryston/Meridian, both have less video switching than the Tag, which is one of its downsides (for me at least) and so are pretty much ruled out. They are also both a grand more than the 3k I'm looking at spending.

    Oh, and many thanks for pointing out before that I really _should_ listen to them back-to-back and not a day apart (which if you remember was my original plan). I'm sure you were right as I may not have noticed some of the more subtle differences between the two given an extended delay between the comparisons.
     
  7. sticker

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    I believe that SteveEX has the dual sharc and has also demo'd the AV8, he might be able to help
     
  8. dts_boy

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    kryten, having been in your shoes a few months ago i was looking at the same two processors. i then got to hear the parasound halo and it blew me away. it has all the detail and performance that i liked of the tag with the slightly "warmer" sound of the arcam. anyway, i am very bad at describing these things but i loved the sound and at £3500 it is good value for money imo
     
  9. paiger

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    I may be a cloth-eared fool but I have been in the market for similar gear for a while and have yet to commit. I did demo the Tag and AV8 together, through a Sony 5 channel amp (all they had at the time) and I think some B+W's.

    I was amazed at both but felt the AV8 edged it for reasons I can't explain. I just prefered it, I felt it was a 'deeper' experience. Having said that, I'm not sure if I could tell them apart blind and it may be my subconcious directing me towards the one with the pretty face.
     
  10. Spligsey

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    I heard the DS TAG the other day and i liked it.
    The surround decoding & placement were excellent.
    I thought the tonal balance was cool.

    Didn't get chance to do a 2 channel demo..


    The Meridian 568.2 still takes some beating as an all rounder, although their customer service can be beaten!

    Adzman
     
  11. Nic Rhodes

    Nic Rhodes
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    I think the Dual SHARC Tag (which I haven’t got at the moment) is the processor to beat at £4k, if you can get one for £3k it is a bargain. I feel there is a SIGNIFICANT jump in quality from the bp192. I can’t hear any difference between the AV192 abd the AV32 Dual SHARC. It just does everything better (DD / DTS etc sound better) and a whole load more besides (TMREQ, DTS 24/96 etc).
     
  12. kryten

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    Parasound Halo - now you're just making things more difficult!

    Paiger - which Tag did you listen to? I am certain I could tell the two apart 'blind' - the difference was pretty large. I too felt the AV8 gave the better 'experience'.

    Beekeeper - I'm sure the dual sharc is better, but I'm trying to figure out _how_ its better. For me, the Tag really didn't get me involved, whereas with the AV8 I could easily have sat there listening to whole albums/films without realising it.

    If the Dual is just 'more detail' then I don't think its for me. Its hard to describe, but the more I think about it the more it seems that when using the Tag I heard everything that was on the soundtrack but when using the AV8 I became part of the soundtrack - I changed from trying to listen to the processor to just enjoying the sound. I don't know how else to explain the difference.

    I think what I'll try and do is get along to a Tag dealer and listen to a dual sharc. It means I'll miss out on the bargain, but then I can compare the dual to the AV8 directly. If the dual is indeed better I'll buy it, whereas if I bought it now, I'd always be wondering if I'd done the right thing. After all, its only money.......
     
  13. Anodyne

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    Why is the analogue bypass an issue with anything other than SACD/DVD Audio? For CD replay surely the DACs in all these processors are superior to any you'll find in all but the most expensive payers.
     
  14. sounddog

    sounddog
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    Well it's not unusual to match a TAG or AV8 with a CD player costing over £1000 - where I would think the DAC in the CD player WOULD be better than that in the processor. I think even Arcam themselves would say that their CD33 would sound better though the analogue inputs than through the AV8s internal DAC.

    Vikki
     
  15. Anodyne

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    Tag's DVD player costs over £4000 and rely's on the internal DACs of the processor and is generally considered to be amongst the best front ends money can buy.

    Surely this says something about the digital capabilities of AV processors at this level?

    It seems to me that the analogue bypass issue is a red herring and only relevant when it comes to multi-channel audio which in itself is a compromise that will only be resolved when/if a digital standard is agreed.
     
  16. paiger

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    I listened to the bp192, I think with the 5.1 bypass although I believe he set it up with digital inputs. This was some time ago when the dual wasn't out. At the end of the day I would be delighted with either and am seriously considering a cheap second hand av32 to upgrade later as a means of getting in on high end.

    On the subject of DAC's I believe I'm right in saying that there can be problems with clock timing when using the CD as a transport only. I think the Tag's synch link gets over this by matching the clocks.

    In the case of the AV8, it may be better to have a good CD player which will do all that and send it straight through a good analogue bypass.

    The above maybe a load of tripe so correct me if I'm wrong.
     
  17. Nic Rhodes

    Nic Rhodes
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    Kryten

    We are not just talking about more detail here, steering is better, cohesion is better, bass is better and more flexible. It just hangs together so much better than the other Tags. The difference between the Dual and the other Tags are significant IMHO. The difference between the other variants of AV32R are small in comparison. You need to listen to this baby before making a decision. If you like the Arcam I think you might prefer this and I fully agree with the Arcam over the basic Tags, despite owning one. You need to listen to it to see if the difference is significant to you.
     
  18. kryten

    kryten
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    I don't currently plan on buying a separate CD player, though of course that could change.

    I purposely only listened via the digital connection as that is what _I_ will be doing as without doubt the processor's DAC will be better than that in the 757. I would also guess that both will be fairly transparent when fed with an analogue DVDA/SACD signal from the 757, though as I currently have few albums on this format, its not a major issue.

    Also, time was an issue and I spent the best part of 3 hours there anyway, so adding an analogue test as well would have taken even longer.

    The digital comparison gave me enough to think about!!

    Beekeeper - thanks for that. I've come to the conclusion that I have to listen to the Dual Sharc - I'm not prepared to buy it without hearing it first and if that means full price, so be it - its too much money to risk making the wrong choice.
     
  19. sounddog

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    But kryten has already said that he prefered the sound from the DACs of the Arcam ...

    No it's not a red herring ... its relevant if you're going to use it. If you already have a £1000 CD player ... then not many people would ditch that JUST to buy a £4000 TAG Transport. The analogue capabilities of the amp could also be important if Radio or Vinyl play an important part in your listening habbits.

    I'm not saying that for everyone the analogue bypass is important - but if you are going to use it extensively it MAY be one this that COULD sway someone from one processor to the other.

    Vikki
     
  20. NicolasB

    NicolasB
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    1) That isn't true.

    2) Even if it were true, life is never that simple.

    Consider the combination of an Arcam DV27 paired with an Arcam AV8. Both the player and the processor use exactly the same DACs. And yet if you play a CD then it sounds substantially much better if you use the player's DACs with the processor in bypass mode than it does if you use the processor's DACs. Why? Hard to say. Maybe engaging all the digital circuitry in the processor creates a small but detectable amount of interference, so shutting it down and doing the conversion in a separate box sounds better. Maybe the SPDIF output of the player somehow introduces some jitter which isn't present if the conversion is done internally. But the fact remains that it sounds better using the player's DACs.

    Does the DV27 count as one of "the most expensive players"? Arguable. Some people reckon it's comparable to £800 stand-alone CD players. Some don't rate it that highly. Most people would agree that if you're prepared to pay £1000-£1500 for a CD player, you can get something significantly better. (Arcam's own CD23 is just one example).

    Also, of course, you keep your options open as regards upgrades. If the processor has a good bypass then you reserve the option to buy a better CD player (or even a better stand-alone stereo DAC) at a later date.
     
  21. Anodyne

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    It wasn't my intention to discuss the relative merits of the Arcam vs the Tag, I'm just curious as to why the analogue bypass issue seems to be a make or break issue when considering processors.

    I'm fairly sure that Tag have done ABX tests that show that it is extremly hard to distinguish between an analogue input and a well implemented digital solution....

    Will
     
  22. sounddog

    sounddog
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    I'm playing devils advocate here ... but I'm sure manufacturers can manage to do ABX tests to show anything pretty much ... I'm not saying their tests were flawed ... but always check who's creating any report based on statistics and opinions. I'm not sure if anyone independant has ever done a test between high end (>£1000) CD players compared with internal DACs of highend processors.

    Anyway ... as I said, weather the Analogue Bypass is an issue depends on the user ... to many people it is as you say irrelevant. But if the processor is also the centre of a music system, and you already have a high quality CD player, or use a tuner or turntable or other analogue device ... then of course it can be a part of making your mind up over which processor to buy.

    Vikki
     
  23. Steve.EX

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    Kryten.

    Firstly, my apologies, i simply didn't have the time to respond to your e-mail this morning only reading it at 6.30 this morning.

    From reading your post's i am inclined to think that the Arcam is for you.
    The Dual Sharc is still a Tag, still an av32r, it has no real change in it's tonality and does IMHO increase on detail, speed and stability over the older 32r, the very "strengths" you seem least impressed by.
    For example on a full blown discrete 6.1 soundstage the 360 degree is utterly stable, and i have found that (i.e Balum's tomb scene LOTR) there are so many finely delineated strings present that i liken it to being able to position a 10 piece band within a 2 channel presentation.
    I find it is all in the detail/space/reflection/inflection.
    Similarly the lfe channel and bass management, i find to be preferable to the Arcam, it is in my opinion accurate, not warm not forceful but accurate. I feel the lfe channel is one of total cleaness. In fact the word "cleaner" is quite apt IMO when comparing the 2 generations of 32r.
    TMREQ is VERY effective and as Beekeeper has mentioned elsewhere TMREQ with a lesser sub WILL in most instances be far preferable to a superior sub with no TMREQ.
    Of course TMREQ is a "fix" and the same or better results may be achieved by A.N.Other (i.e Arcam) and treating room resonances at source, some of these methods are unfortunately, however not very wife appeasing.
    The Tag bypass has come in for knockings of past (just as the 100x5r has), in my humble experience this, however not so clear cut as some would say.
    I have had reasonable exposure to the AV8, having borrowed it for 4 (admittedly seperate) weekends and when played alongside the Dual sharc, with all bells and whistles turned off (TMREQ etc) straight up gunfight so to speak the, Dual Sharc, to my ears is the better unit, it is (to how i perceive the word to mean) more accurate (not "warm" nor as some have said "excitable")



    Regards

    Steve.
     
  24. ukaudiophile

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    Hello,




    There is also another factor here, it is highly likely that if you give the same DAC to two different designers, whiclst the usage of the DAC may be similar, the analogue output stage would be different. This is something which is often overlooked, but if you have, for example, a really great upsampling chip, a high quality DAC that's been correctly implemented, but it's mated to a poor analogue output stage, then all the work you do ahead of the DAC counts for nought. It is possible that the analogue output stage of the DAC in a processor has more compromises in it's design than that of a high quality £1000+ CD player, and indeed this is what you're hearing.

    Another related point is if the CD player has a very carefully designed power supply stage where the digital and analogue sides have been scrupulously cleaned and filtered, then maybe the power supply in the processor is not so scrupulous, so noise is getting into the analogue circuit, hence the difference in sound quality. Please note that I'm not saying that the designers of these excellent pre/pro's have not been thorough or carried out competent engineering, just that market forces (i.e. the need to hit a retail price point) may not have given them the parts budget to be as thorough as, for example, the parts budget of a high end CD player.



    Given what the likes of the Arcam and Tag pre/pro's being discussed here cost, then I would say that for a music lover £1000 would be considered quite routine, in fact double that could be easily justified on sonic grounds.

    NicolasB's last paragraph is salutory advice, the fact that you have a really high quality analogue pass through doesn't mean you'll necessarily use it today, but it does keep your options open for the future, and to be honest, when you're spending this sort of money you really need to look at the purchase as a long term investment in your system, not a quick fix or a patch.

    Best wishes,

    Dave
     
  25. Edgeyboy

    Edgeyboy
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    I demoed both long and hard before buying the Arcam AV8 / P7.

    I agree totally with Kryten's first post and his comments about the way each product sounds.

    Tom.
     
  26. kryten

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    Fair point about the bypass and keeping options open for CD upgrades. There seem to be a few CD23s around at the moment, so I guess that may be worth a look in the near future.

    Analogue bypass is an issue to a certain extent but I didn't have time to listen to everything and it was less important, given the time pressure, than the other listening I did. Now time isn't an issue, I'll be listening to the bypass too.

    Tom - thanks for that!

    Steve - no problem. I didn't call you as I forgot to take you number with me. I think from what everyone has said the Dual is probably a better competitor for the AV8, so I'm going to try and get a listen to both.

    As for TMREQ, judging by initial ETF plots I only seem to have one serious resonance at about 70Hz so it may be that I wouldn't get masses of benefit from it.

    The Tag was certainly very revealing. Accurate is certainly a good description and I was impressed with the detail. It could have just done with a bit more _something_! Though of course, that may indeed be what the dual sharc provides. Had I simply gone along to confirm that the Tag was a great processor and stopped there, I would have bought the Dual and I'm sure been very happy with it. Just in a straight comparison with the Arcam, it lost out somehow and I really cannot describe _why_!

    This is the bit that's confused me. The detail was just as good on the tag (possibly better on some parts) but it just didn't seem to 'work'. When I went back and listened to it again, everything was present. I guess it could just be that its a sound that is so 'accurate' and therefore different from the normal sound most hi-fi produces, you need to become used to it, to really appreciate its strenghts.

    I am beginning to wonder if the Amp used (Arcam P7) and to a larger extent the speakers (Dynaudio) had some effect. From experience I've always found the Dyns to be incredibly revealing and accurate - maybe the combination of that with the Tag's similar sonic presentation was too much?!

    Maybe its just that the Arcam processor, amp and Dyns happen to work incredibly well. I just can't figure it out :(

    Of course, the other thing is that my hearing isn't exactly perfect. I've a rather large (though very high Q!) dropout at about 6kHz which almost certainly means I hear these things somewhat differently to others.

    Oh for the good old days when decisions like this were simple and the winner was crowned by taking the number of flashing lights on the front multiplied by the number of stars awarded by What HiFi..... :)
     
  27. Steve.EX

    Steve.EX
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    Kryten.

    Indeed, where was there to go wrong with LP12's and the like.

    I think with all things a proper assessment. unfortunately is one that takes more than an afternoon etc, and i am sure that the same applies for the Arcam as i feel it does for the Tag in so much as it's a "grower", greater appreciation/awareness comes with familiarity.
    I do not envy you your quandary, as a previous Tag owner it was perhaps a little easier for me, that said i still have a 4000.00 processor that is still not working correctly.
    I use my Tag with Kef 203 on the front 202c center and 201's on the back (with the older tdm34's on the sides) and these speakers are as i am sure you know not backwards in being forwards yet i find the match perfectly acceptable, it is most likely that the majority would not, it is hung together by 3 x Rotel 993's and 2 x Rotel 985's which although decidedly low-fi their more warmer tones tend to bring it all back a little i am sure.
    As you and everyone so clearly observe what sounds "detailed/pure/accurate/etc" to me will sound like banshees to someone else.
    i have also spent time with the P7 which i have to say in the normal course of events gives the illusion of limitless power very impressive for a 400.00 per channel amp, although i would look to perhaps 3 Musical fidelity 3.2's or 4 older 3's etc of preference.

    regards

    Steve.
     
  28. Steve.EX

    Steve.EX
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    Kryten.

    I must also (unfortunately) add, (and were i you i would pay particular attention here).

    When auditioning the Dual Sharc have a cd player (other than Tag/Audiolab) connected via sp/dif, listen to a "quieter" cd IN DIRECT MODE only (not with sub) You are listening for a spitting sound much akin to shorting out a capacitor etc, if this is present then i personally would not buy that particular unit.
    Mine has been away, had a brain transplant, has come back and is no better, this "problem" is fast gathering cult notoriety and has effected several owners of new and up-graded units alike, as such there seems to be no known cause/fix yet. The majority of owners are unaffected by this fault and it seem's to be another Tag "chasing the ghost" scenario on us few unlucky ones.
    You have been fore-warned.

    Steven.
     
  29. petrolhead

    petrolhead
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    Kryten

    To be honest, I felt you answered you own questin in your first post and for some reason feel the need to justify the Tag. Is this a cost thing because if not and you buy the Tag you will sit there wishing you had bought the Arcam :)

    Just my 10 peneth worth
     
  30. sticker

    sticker
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    To stick my oar in and probably add nothing toward helping you make your decision :laugh: I have to agree with petrolhead.

    I could be accused of being slightly biased as I have just bought the AV8/P7 combo, but I only did this after a lot demoing and in the end it was between the Arcam and the Tag (I haven't heard the DS). I was given a lot of good advice by various members of this forum, BUT I would say that your very first post on this issue sounded exactly what I thought when I was in the same situation as you.

    Its very hard to pin it down and put your finger exactly why I like the Arcam to the Tag, but in the end I chose using feelings over, shall we say "thinking it through" :p The Tag's history of upgradability is a major factor here, but it wasn't enough in the end.

    At the end of the day you have to be able to sit back and enjoy the sound not constantly have to analyse if you've missed anything.

    I should also note that getting a fantastic deal helped :laugh:
     

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