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on that note, you've been thoroughly expunged from Soundstream for a while now, what can you tell about the amps Karl Cummings designed, in your opinion?

Expunged - love that word... Anyway, I will answer your email as I go through it to the best of my knowledge... I never met Karl, but I think his designs speak for themselves. I have no persoanal opinion of him. but I do respect his work.

like, if a new model Reference was a 10 on a scale from 1 to 10, where would the Van Gogh series land?
OK,this is 100% subjective, obviously. SQ - I like the new Reference better, no question. Build quality - I think both pretty close. Interior design quality - I like the VG but think the new Ref is a a more intelligent and modern design. Controls - ner Ref by far. (Ok, I am normally never biased, but not I am - I designed the pre-amp stage that is in all of the new amplifiers. Well, I am not sure what is in 2013 models, because I am willing to bet they will cheapen them now that I am not there to throw a fit like a little girl until I get my way. lol) Exterior design - I like both, but I like heatsink fins- just my opinion. Honestly, the Ref amps that they refused due to quality that were sold in Germany were not blue, but rather grey. I love that look. But I could appreciate the VG in a nice install ina luxury car where the design was appropriate...


and, I see you mentioned some amps coming out of Soundstream being current hogs compared to the new school of stuff Epsilon is putting out, is this going further back than the Van Gogh, or including them?
I was referring to the Human Reigns that we were talking about. Man, when I was EXPUNGED (lol) none of the new stuff in the 2013 catalog was even on the table. The purchaser there buys whatever he wants even though... Nevermind, not going to go there. Same with the speakers. Those were all put together within a few months after my time. M designs typically take a year from concept to production. But I am a picky ass and several of my designes to over 5 revisions to get them right. And I failed at one design that never even came out because I could not get the factory to do as I told them. I was in the process to trying to get back to basics without all of the motor cover crap. Without all of the bling bling BS. I wanted to make badass drivers, with better performance, and at the same cost or even a bit less. They we just starting to listen, biut as you can see from the catalog, they finally listened. But I made it very clear in a separate post that I had NOTHING TO DO WITH THE 2013 PRODUCTS!!! I would have done everything WAY different. Anyway, with a few glances, it is obvious that all of the new products were not done by me, and obviously not done by any engineer at Soundstream, because they do not have one anymore. They have a purchaser that makes his own decisions, and they have a couple other people that give idea of they think is cool. I am guessing that they started calling factories after I was gone and asked them to send samples of off-the-shelf products to test. Then, without knowing my testing/auditioning protocol (I never did my testing with anybody else! I got opinions several times, but I never executed my personal protocol while anybody was with me) they probably listened and then said "put flat or semi-flat diaphragms on everything and follow this scheme..." Really not sure, but some things are obvious and I will not say them for everybody, only in a private PM...


and in response to why people may have hard habits about old school bulky parts, bigger boards:

when you got in, 29 years ago you probably remember the ad copy of Orion, and Hifonics, among others that came later on.
Oh yeah, I remember.

Mil-spec, was a feature.
1% tolerance, metal film resistors, remember that?
lol Yeah, I remember. They should have included the other obvious features...

Oxygen Breathing PCB Topology
SACT - Separate Actual Channel Technology
Remote Controlled Activation

And my favorite...
Customized Aluminum Heat Extraction!!!
LOL


double-sided epoxy PCB, ounces of copper in the traces...
I think as we saw more companies come to market we eventually began to expect certain things, and then you had Audio Art, you had Phoenix Gold, making the insides pretty and using high grade parts.
I still think the PG MS amos were the most beautiful on the inside... I wanted to do that but I was shot down.

I remember reading about mosfet, and when those amps moved from just the power supply to full mosfet, in the Rockfords. There was some debate even then, about how mosfet wasn't as well-suited in that application in comparison to bi-polar devices.
And that argument still is in effect today. Both work and both have pros and cons. I had an engineer dummy it down for me so I could form my own opinion. I prefer bi-polar, but that is just my opinion...

We (consumers) have a running tally in our head that is filled with perceived "better ways to do it" and look at amplifiers with virtual wish lists, and when the old school ad copy put it in our brains so long ago, that high current was equivalent to high quality, we accepted it. Complementary Symmetry circuits, good. Darlington transistor arrangement, great... When we were told that Sanken made the best bi-polar output transistors, we accepted it. When we saw high grade capacitors in products, (because we are all capacitor experts, haha) we thought wow, that's great.

I think a lot of us who look at new school items miss the ad copy, like the various advantages of using SMT and insertion machines don't get up to the level of advertising like we used to get in the days of Car Stereo Review and amplifiers being tested by Tom Nousaine and all the geek we could reliably digest, coming mainstream.
I agreee with all of that...


That whole geeked out part of the hobby and the sales pitch, using jargon and interesting sounding catch phrases, is a lost art today.
Damn right! So what do we have today. A few OS guys like me, and the new generation that thinks they know everything. There is no doubt that they will create new technologies, but EXPERIENCE COMES FROM EXPERIENCE. Experience doe snot come from a boom or primadonna opinion. It is is funny though, like you were saying, how people loved to learn about new stuff back in the day. People today want OS, yet they do not know why and what the downfalls are. Ya know, I really think the whole term "Old School" is respected too much. When I hear that term, I immediately think "oh cool! Something I can identify with from my past". Others may think they they are cool if they like OS. But when thing are remembered because they were cool, how is that much different from nostalgia? Are nostalgia and OS the same thing? Does that make them better? I guess my point is that I think alot of people want and respect OS for now reason whatsoever...

The old school, it was cool to know why someone's amp was inferior to the one the salesman sold you yesterday, because it was in the details.


I think the automation progression, or engineering tech has made it so that even the cheap chinese caps that are produced today are possibly better made than the better caps from 30 or 40 years ago.

but, what's the limit, where does the line get crossed? 10 year longevity? 5 years, stable like a rock and in tolerance, then flushed? Chinese product is made to an obsoletion lifetime where the old school amps weren't. They were products being made with the best feasible parts for a price, but the parts used weren't engineered for an average mean, they were meant to last as long as the product, and it showed in the prices.

I agree, it's a long time now passed, where the consumer not only appreciated the finer points of a product and listened to salesmen but didn't mind paying extra for perceptual quality. Today, it's mostly European product that can be looked at the same way and guess what? They charge the equivalent of old school pricing, for their stuff...
Yup. And remember ho cool the shops were back in the day. Even the flooring was awesome. Today, most shops have zero brand loyalty, and are set up like little flea markets. It is all about business, which is important, but the passion of the 80s & 90s will never be matched again, in the USA. The few shops I have been in here are very serious. Serious about quality, serious about knowledge, and serious abut trying to be better than the next shop, in every way. It is that healthy competitive ambition that makes the shops here awesome. In the USA, it is all about sales, lowest prices, for the most part...
Sad reality...
 

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thanks for that thoughtful reply, Grizz.

I too believe that resurrecting the climate of the mid-nineties in car audio is a hard sell, but I have to believe that a period of recession-proof, deficit NOT looming, economy booming would serve to give people the discretionary income in large numbers, and not just the 2 percenters, that could support a renaissance in the aftermarket.

The technology being built-in the products, seems to be shifted towards being built into the cars, today. We have one-size fits all stuff like the MS-8 and Imprint, and a couple of new processors from the Europeans, but following the old school pattern we are left with fewer and fewer choices where a double or single DIN slot can be filled and there is room for the additions/improvement, without damaging the vehicle's aesthetic and function.

And, it's nice that you can get a "Harmon Kardon" or a "B&W" system, but the proliferation of audio companies in the OEM, seems like a profit-motivated move on the part of the audio companies themselves, and not as much as a consequence of buyer's tastes, or needs anymore. The same people who might have sprung 3K for a decent aftermarket system, will pick up the option on the car at the dealership, and have it warrantied with the tires.

That competition you speak of, does seem to be as you say, more a European observation in innovation, when American companies built the industry and basically dominated it for decades. The aging engineer base in the US coupled with the constant pressure to "get it done cheaper in China" means that any right-minded startup is going to have to charge a premium for a product built here, and be subject to the consumer winds. Like JL produces their upscale subs in Florida, likely with parts off a container ship. Even then, they have to price the product to where people develop a veneer of audio snobbery if they can afford them, and distaste/jealousy for the ones who cannot.

If any of the old school qualities were to be applied to a business model here in the US, it probably wouldn't survive based on the quality of product coming out of China today. That might be the result of too much excess, or billed-in luxury of a luxury good, that defined the late nineties or it might represent the devaluation of labor in a foreign market, unfairly compromising an entire industry to the point of the Chinese looking decades down the road, instead of what's going to happen next quarter.

If anyone disputes this, they just have to look at who is building the lion's share of car audio today, the transition away from an American manufacturing base is nearly complete.
Agreed. That last sentence is vomit inducing, but true. Your comment about better OEM systems is an interesting topic. If I have the choice of a standard system or Bose system, of course I would take the standard system and upgrade it. I'm sure there may be a BOSE system, out there that is pretty nice, but I have never heard one. Better than stock, sure, and great for the not-so-picky. But not good enough for me.

However, I have heard some pretty outstanding OEM systems. The Fender system in the VW is pretty sweet, but they screwed up on the tweeter in my opinion. Swap out the tweeters and that system pretty awesome. My BMW come 3 stereo options: Standard, Hi-Fi and Super HiFi. The Super system has the L7 JBL/Harman system that is quite possibly the best system out there. The mid level system I heard was a radical drop in quality and not acceptable. My car has just about every option known to man, but has the standard system. I NEVER turn it on. Even the navigation voice sound bad. Utterly pathetic. Funny, most brands make a Good, Better, Best series of Products, but BMW has the "fat man farting yogurt" level, the "sounds great for talk radio, at least" level, and then jumps to the "If God came down for a visit, he would have this system in his car". But even with the **** system I have, you simply cannot replace the radio and start from scratch. The entire vehicle is controlled by that radio. Auto manufacturer are making it very difficult upgrade, but if they do it right, it is hard to justify an upgrade anyway, for most people anyway...
 

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Agreed. That last sentence is vomit inducing, but true. Your comment about better OEM systems is an interesting topic. If I have the choice of a standard system or Bose system, of course I would take the standard system and upgrade it. I'm sure there may be a BOSE system, out there that is pretty nice, but I have never heard one. Better than stock, sure, and great for the not-so-picky. But not good enough for me.

However, I have heard some pretty outstanding OEM systems. The Fender system in the VW is pretty sweet, but they screwed up on the tweeter in my opinion. Swap out the tweeters and that system pretty awesome. My BMW come 3 stereo options: Standard, Hi-Fi and Super HiFi. The Super system has the L7 JBL/Harman system that is quite possibly the best system out there. The mid level system I heard was a radical drop in quality and not acceptable. My car has just about every option known to man, but has the standard system. I NEVER turn it on. Even the navigation voice sound bad. Utterly pathetic. Funny, most brands make a Good, Better, Best series of Products, but BMW has the "fat man farting yogurt" level, the "sounds great for talk radio, at least" level, and then jumps to the "If God came down for a visit, he would have this system in his car". But even with the **** system I have, you simply cannot replace the radio and start from scratch. The entire vehicle is controlled by that radio. Auto manufacturer are making it very difficult upgrade, but if they do it right, it is hard to justify an upgrade anyway, for most people anyway...

I totally agree. Factory headunit integration is becoming more and more prevalent. Even in "low end cars" also iPod integration is becoming a defacto standard, so many people don't have the motivation to go through the pains of upgrading a stock system. I long for the days of the "radio delete" option...
 

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Auto manufacturer are making it very difficult upgrade, but if they do it right, it is hard to justify an upgrade anyway, for most people anyway...
Oh so true. I have heard from several music lovers that either play music, have BOSE home systems, fancy/trendy headphones, loaded ipod classics, and some with OK aftermarket systems now or in the past that have noticed how much better stock systems are sounding.....some of these guys have rented several cars over the last two years or so and have said that they would be fine with most of the systems in cars today.

None are audiophile types that have expensive home or car systems but they all love music. However, trying to sell them a $500-$2500 car audio amp will be a VERY tough sell indeed.
 

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So adding to HRU's the new HRU's are not as good as the older ones. I am surprised till now no one has done a circuit board comparison of old and new Human Reign. We would see if there is some difference or not..

I bought the new Human Reign and going to run it in few days after listening to new Ref's and Sinfoni Amplitude. Lets see how it goes.
 

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Interested to see what you think about the Ref vs. HRU. (depending on which Ref)
I went from Mcintosh to Ref to HRU and back to Ref.
To me the Ref was the best of the bunch...... I had the 4.920 (as well as several other models :) and I thought it was a substantial amount more powerful? Or it seamed? I know they were rated the same and doubt either was that under rated...... I preferred the 4.920 personally. But the HRU was sill a stud! It ran much cooler thats for sure.....handled bridged at 3ohms cooler too....but the 4.920 did run 3ohms bridged without issue!!! To be fair.....I beat the **** out of all of them :)
 

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Interested to see what you think about the Ref vs. HRU. (depending on which Ref)
I went from Mcintosh to Ref to HRU and back to Ref.
To me the Ref was the best of the bunch...... I had the 4.920 (as well as several other models :) and I thought it was a substantial amount more powerful? Or it seamed? I know they were rated the same and doubt either was that under rated...... I preferred the 4.920 personally. But the HRU was sill a stud! It ran much cooler thats for sure.....handled bridged at 3ohms cooler too....but the 4.920 did run 3ohms bridged without issue!!! To be fair.....I beat the **** out of all of them :)
I have the same ref as urs 4.920 when i moved from Ref to Sinfoni. The higher frequencies were far more pronounced and the depth increased. Lets see how these fare. I don't want to be disappointed :(
 

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I'm impressed that you're impressed. :D I always value your opinion since I a not an amp engineer and like to hear what other knowledgeable people have to say. The REF boards took years to get right and all previous attempts fell short of what we were looking for. All of the grey ones that were sold in Europe were failures that our FIRED German distributor back doored directly from the factory. Imagine the load I almost dumped when I saw them in vehicles at the Sinsheim show! I was not happy. All of the new designs have been awesome for us, this far...

Even though this post is more than 1 year old, it definetely caught my attention given my current experience with an acquisition of a SS Ref 800.2 (the so called "european model" in gray), which by the time I'm writing this it's on its way from Germany to me.

I was about to buy a MB Quart Premier amplifier from eBay Germany, when the Soundstream Ref 800.2 caught my attention, given the low price of 200 Eur (which equals about $267). I searched a bit more on the internet about this model, found some stellar reviews of it and it's 4 channel sibling, the Ref 800.4 (which by the way, sells at exactly the same price as 800.2 - strange, huh?) from the german Car & HiFi and Autohifi magazines (some well regarded review magazines from Germany, as well regarded as a review magazine can be nowdays:p ). The reviews gave 6 out of 6 stars to both Ref 800.2 and 800.4 amps and awarded them as "Absolute top class" in terms of SQ and power, in 2006 and 2008, respecteviley. You can still find the german reviews scanned on the former SS german distribuitor website, Audio Design (which I guess Grizz is mentioning as being fired back in the day:

Audio Design GmbH | Soundstream

Please note that in the PDF of the Ref 800.2 review, the map being pictured is blue, not grey.

Being interested in finding some data about this SS Ref 800.2 I looked over soundstream.com where I found a 2009 manual of the REF2.640 amp (see below):

http://www.soundstream.com/manuals/2009/Reference Amplifier (2009).pdf

What really intrigued me was the statement from page 3 saying: "When we first decided to reintroduce the coveted amplifiers, we just wanted something as fine as the originals. They were finer than most amplifiers in the marketplace today. After failing to deliver for a couple of years, we decided to hold back until we were 100% certain that there was nothing else we could do to make the amplifiers any better.
Many crappy clone amps popped up in Germany and Asia, but none were real Soundstream Reference amplifiers, and they certainly did not come from us."

Assuming that I might be "robbed" paying for a fake amp that I just bought from eBay Germany, I immediately email-ed Soundstream at the U.S.A Sales & Information email address ([email protected]) and in CC I copied the International Sales email address ([email protected]) asking if the Ref 800.2 model I just bought is a fake one or not (providing the auction link which pictures a gray Ref 800.2 amp).

20 minutes later I received an email from Chuck Kenney (National Sales Manager) telling me: "No, our amps are blue.We release reference in 2010. Those are fake amps." Just when I really got pissed off, I receive another email, this time form SS tech Support telling me: "That model was made exclusively for Germany. We would not have any info on any of the models"

You can imagine my surprise...

I have written back to the german eBay-er asking about the authenticity of the amps and their source, quoting Chuck's email.He replied me twice about the fact that he sells exclusively genuine stuff (he has a huge B&M shop and warehouse in Germany and more than 5500 sales on eBay with a feedback score of 99.7%) and the distributor where he got those amps (he has more than 10 listed as quantity on eBay) is Audio Design (Germany).

Then I have addressed an enthusiast SS fan on caraudio.com asking if he knew something about this story of the german SS amps, whom was very kind in replying me that he knows those Grey Reference Amps were made for Soundstream but were rejected by the company. The distributor in Germany without SS permission gave the ok to have them made anyways. Soundstream never sold those amps, or made any money from them. From what he knows they are still good amps. But the owner of Soundstream wanted the relaunch of the Reference amps to be "Better Quality" than the amps they were presented with. (The grey ones). The amps come in Soundstream boxes but Soundstream dose not recognize them as a Soundstream product and are not and never were covered by any kind of warranty. He mentioned that a lot of the 5 channel Grey Reference amps (Ref 800.5) were purchased by a company called Tidal Audio in US and sold under that brand name. They look exactly the same but have Tidal Audio Screened on the amp.

Afterwards, I have read Grizz's post quoted above and, as I got more confused, I wrote back to the german buyer telling my findings so far and making him aware of Chuck's email and the story behind the german SS made amps, and he got a little mad and replied me this:

"........someone is telling a lot of bull****, the european distributor is in the netherlands now. A company like Audio Design, which is 3-4 times bigger than Soundstream will never back door order directly from the factory..... what they have done (Soundstream) is to let them build for the european market, with the agreement from Soundstream US, because the americans didn't want to build the version for europe with "European-certification" + " RoHS compliant" and in that way they let them build in a different colour....(grey in this case).

I'm still waiting for the map to reach me, but I reckon, that I was never so confused regarding any of the acquisitions I have made:worried:

Who is right: Grizz (former SS employee, as I understood), Chuck (current National sales manager) or the german retailer (a very big shop/warehouse and serious eBay-er, as it seems)? I imagine that if what Grizz is saying above is true, there would have been a huge copyright infringement scandal targeted towards Audio Design (Germany)...

PS: I have written back Chuck yesterday asking about an official Soundstream distributor in Europe, but no reply so far...
 
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