For the last 15+ years I have been through my fair-share of high-end HT/audio equipment. Part of this reason has been to find the one box that performs as well on music as it does with home theater. The other part, of course, was just keeping up with the JoneES, EXs, PLII and Xs. My venture has taken me through Fosgate, Citation, Proceed, Lexicon MC1, Parasound Halo, Lexicon MC12B, Cary Cinema 6...and several demo brands in between. Having got discouraged with the HD-DVD/HDMI uncertainty, I even decided to pick up an HK AVR635 in the interim. Sadly, my wait didn't last long as I still wanted something more musical than the 635.
Enter the newly acquired Soundstage, complete with the 7.1/HD upgrade. I figured this used piece would be a nice stop-gap to hold me over until things settled down in the industry. What I wasn't expecting was a piece of equipment that not only could hold me over...but could (IMHO) compete with some best products I had ever used and owned. It's hard to imagine that this is nearly a 6-year old platform. While I know the upgrade brought it further along, some of the basic functions and features were ahead of its time; little things, like to-the-inch speaker measurements, separate x-over and BM for 2-ch vs. multichannel, .05db volume and delay control...and even volume memory and mode recall for each input. These are things that some of my more-modern SSPs still didn't have. While the analog 2-ch sound on the Aragon is one of the best I've heard, the dac section is no slouch, either.
It's been a while since I had the AVP and Halo, but these were always two of my favorites for digital music. They had a similar quality I enjoyed...a neutral to slightly warm presentation, loaded with dynamics and detail. And while the AVP was always a great overall performer, it just became a little dated for movie surround sound, lacking some of the peripheral detail I found in the newer Halo. What's amazing is that the Soundstage has all these great attributes; going out on a limb, I'd say the Aragon combines the best from many of these pieces...both in sound and functionallity.
While it would be unfair for me to say that one is better than the the other (since I no longer have them to compare to...and it's been so long) what I can say is that Aragon gives up nothing from what I recall of the others. Both the 2-channel and the multichannel inputs/bypass on the Aragon are as clean as I've ever heard. In fact, here it competes very favorably with one of my favorite 2-channel analog pre/pros...the Citation 7.0 (which I still own). With the broad-band components used in the multichannel inputs, the Aragon is incredible with SACD/DVD-A...and should be right at home with the new high-rez formats.
Even as a dac, the Aragon is impressive, imparting a large soundstage filled with detail. The low end just seems to be huge and much tighter than what I've recently heard, while the upper frequencies are crystal clear without any hint of brightness. I have a smaller room now, and I could never turn my system up to reference levels without being a little uncomfortable; with the Aragon, it not only sounded more clean and transparent...I had room to spare without cringing.
For sure I thought the one area I might suffer was in DD/DTS for movies because of the advancement in DSP/surround technology. In fact until this time, I didn't think I was losing anything in HT when it came to using my HK/635. A comparison with my Cary Cinema 6 confirmed this as my wife couldn't pick which one was superior. While I could tell differences (especially for music), those differences in DD/DTS/surround weren't as great as I had hoped. The moment I hooked up and ran the Aragon, I could tell their were differences without even putting them side-by-side. The others just sounded lean and compressed by comparison. But just to be sure, another direct comparison using the wife had her instantly choosing the superiorty of the Soundstage.
The Aragon sounds so good, that I don't even miss engaging any of the post processing for 6.1 or 7.1 channels. Ironically, I've never heard DD/DTS-EX/ES Matrix/Discrete, PLII and even Neo-6 sound so good. Whenever I engaged these on some of my other SSPs, they often sounded like they were attenuated, resulting in a slight loss of resolution. Yet, with the Aragon, there appeared to be no attenuation and the resolution and dynamics were the same as the original signal (I didn't have to turn the volume up to compensate). You can't even tell they're enabled, other than to notice the increased soundstage from the additional speakers. Even logic-7, which I love in both the MC12 and 635, seems a little veiled compared to the open, detailed reproduction in standard 5.1 by the Soundstage. From bass output (which is excellent) to center channel resolution, everything is incredibly clear and consistent.
As an aside, I spent over a week putting it through the paces. Through all my button-pushing, switching modes, etc., it never hung up on me. In fact, unlike a few other SSPs I've used, I never got a pop, click or delay on any of the CDs (including DTS) or digital satellite channels that I tried. This is quite impressive considering the age of this unit and some of the bugs I've had with other SSPs. It appears that Mondial got this thing right, right from the start.
While the Soundstage doesn't have all the bells and whisltes of the current crop (PLIIx, HDMI, etc), what it does have is still ahead of some, especially were it counts. In fact, it has a combination of complexity and simplicity that is unique among many of the processors I've owned. With its combination of music and movie sound quality, it is one of the best units I've had in my system.
I've been looking to integrate my home theater system and 2 channel listening system. I had thought about just getting the ADCCOM preamp, which was stereophile A rated and has a home theater pass through that inactivates the volume letting the HT processor volume control the entire system for HT.
I have spent the last year looking and testing various products to integrate and upgrade my system. I tested the B&K Ref 30, Denon 5800, Integra Research AV processor, Krell HomeTheater standard, McIntosh, Sunfire Grand Cinema and Anthem. The Aragon is absolutely at the top of this list. It offers great sound, good features such as flexibile bass management with various settings depending on your inputs, HT or Stereo Analog. The bass management is done in the analog realm.
The sound quality is great especially in the stereo direct mode. It is at the top of the list for stereo analog by far. It even betters analog only preamps. For home theater, DD and DTS is so detailed and clear with a great soundstage.
I'm extremely happy with this purchase and to think I purchased it for only $1500 from ubid. It is absolutely the steal of the century. It retails for $4000. I have purchased from Ubid before and some of the items I get that are shipped from Ubid is pretty shoddy. I was concerned with spending so much from Ubid since I usually limit the amount I spend there per item because of their shipping and return policies. However, I just couldn't pass up this deal and on top of it all the shipping comes direct from Klipsch and to my surprise it was actually double boxed! Great Job Klipsch. (Klipsch just recently purchased Aragon.)
Furthermore, there are planned upgrades to this unit soon from Aragon. Check out their website in the forum section. You can upgrade to DPLII, ES, EX and all the new standards soon. Plus it can be upgraded to component video processing.
$1500 for a brand new with full warranty, was absolutely a no brainer. The double boxed shipping was icing on the cake. This is cheaper than the B&K Ref 30. I also thought about waiting for the Outlaw new preamp, but I think that it would be hard for it to outperform anything on that list. It might be comparable to some of those on the lower end but probably not the middle or top end of my list.
Highly recommend it. Go get one before they are all gone!
This was purchased by me as a step-up from a Parasound pre-amp. The Parasound was very good; the Soundstage is great! Very neutral-sounding, achieving the majority of the remaining 10% in sound quality lacking with the Parasound. Integrated with the Conrad-Johnson MF5600 amplifier, the resulting sound is fantastic-slightly warm, natural-sounding and great in both stereo and home theater. In fact, this home theater pair produces stereo sound comparable to a high-end stereo system (very rare with current home theater systems).
Connections on the rear of the unit are fantastic-logically ordered and labelled with plenty of room! I have even wired (using a $4 Radio Shack cable) the trigger outlet to my amplifier and can turn on the amplifier-pre-amp unit remotely from my sofa! Other components in my system include B&W Matrix 804 front speakers, B&W Matrix HTM center speaker, Paradigm Reference Servo-15 Subwoofer, RBH MC-6 in-ceiling surround speakers, and Adcom GCD-700 CD player.
Although others on this site have criticized the remote, I enjoy using it and find it to be quite functional. I am using it as a universal remote and enjoy it so much that I have stopped using my universal Rotel remote. There are only a few DSP modes (which is fine with me, as I think they are gimmicks).
In summary, if you are looking for a beautifully laid out preamp-processor that values sound over gimmicks and sounds as great in stereo mode as it does with home theater, this is a wise purchase. Highly recommended!
This is one of few Surround pre amps with Direct Stereo capability to buypass DACs and maybe the only one that has capability use the subwoofer output in this mode. Incredibly the new B&K Reference 30 has a direct mode without output to subwoofer when the Reference 20 did have output to subwoofer in this mode. An analogue mode with output to the subwoofer is an important feature for flexibility to use separate DACs or DACs in CD player and also have flexibility to add DVD audio or SACD.
Quite easy to use and sounds fantastic in either Digital or Analogue mode. Should especially appeal to people who want to use for music listening
This is the perfect union of stereo and multichannel. I feel the 2 ch. performance is very comparable to my "audiophile" system above. The HT performance is excellent as well. Don't think twice about non-THX certification. Once you hear it, it won't matter. Upgradeability is as good as it could be and it offers 2 ch and 6 ch analog pass-through for DVD-A. 6 balanced outputs are nice, too. I don't miss on-screen display (thought I might). The remote takes a while to learn. Its a universal remote made by another company and Aragon didn't bother to mention the correct input code, but once I figured this out I was off and running. Once you get the hang of it, its about as good or better than any other universal remote I've tried. 5 stars in spite of this initial frustration. It just sounds that good.