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Aragon Stage One Review


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#1 of 42 OFFLINE   Ricky T

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Posted March 31 2003 - 04:37 PM

My new Aragon Stage One came four days ago. I got the black version (actually very dark grey) because the silver was back ordered 2-4+ more weeks and all my other gear is black. The blue lights look very cool. Compared to the Aragon Soundstage, the Stage One has more features such as component video switching, 7.1 modes (such as THX Ultra2, dts-es discerete and matrix, dd-ex, dts-neo, and dpl2--5.1 only). Set up is more complicated, probably because of these extra features and THX setups, as well as the Pronto Neo remote.

My system is:

Speakers:
NHT 3.3 mains
NHT Audiocenter 2
NHT 1.5 sides
NHT Superzero rears
NHT SW3P passive rear/LFE subs (2)

Equipment:
Aragon Stage One
Rogue Magnum 66 Tube Preamp
Parasound 2200II 250x2 Amps (2)
Parasound 806 Amp (sides, rears, 1 sub)
Parasound CDC-1500 CD Carousel
Panasonic RP91 DVD

I had the Aragon Soundstage about 6 weeks before the Stage One. Before the Aragon, I had the Lexicon MC1 for about 14 months, and the Onkyo 989 about 8 months before that. Before the Onkyo, I had....well, let's just say my wife tells our friends that our dining room was a UPS shipping outlet for over a year Posted Image I've had the Rogue with HT bypass for about 10 months (for 2 channel only). I've had the Parasound amps about a year, and before that a combination of Citation 7.1/5.1 amps for ~ 2 years. Before the Citations...well, my house was a UPS shipping outlet Posted Image

The decision the past month has been between an upgraded Aragon Soundstage and a new Stage One. I went with the Stage One because it has THX Ultra2 processing, I got a pretty good deal, and I don't have to wait long. I think the Stage One will rule my HT for at least as long as the MC1 did I'd have to pony up serious big bucks, $4500+, to get the next step up....Meridan 568v2, Lexicon MC8, Theta Casablanca II.

Anyway, so far listening to the Stage One, I would say the sound for DVDs is pretty close to the Soundstage....lots of resolution/detail but never harsh or bright. Bass actually might be a little stronger, believe it or not.

Initial mixed feelings on Ultra2 and THX. On Gladiator, the 7.1 Ultra2 sounds as good as the discrete 6.1 dts track. Not sure yet how much improvement Ultra2 imparts on standard 5.1 tracks in the rear soundstage. I think an improvement is there, but more hit or miss, and not as evident as 5.1 Logic7....Lexicon still rules the game for the rear soundfield. THX processing, even with Re-Equalization turned off, seems to alter the sonics a little. Maybe warm it up or tame it a little. Not sure if this is a good thing yet, as I loved the pure sonics, slam, detail produced by the Aragon Soundstage.

DPL2 music/panaroma, limited to 5.1, might sound better than DTS-Neo in 7.1 (6.1 with dual mono rear centers).

The Pronto Neo remote is easy to use, has good menus...but my wife and I will continue to use our trustworthing, non touch screen, Marantz RC2000II for everyday use.

Some 2 channel music comparisons. On day one, I originally thought the Stage One was closer to my Rogue. After tonight, I was wrong. The Rogue produces a wider, deeper soundstage with seemingly bigger sound. On Soundstage vs Stage One for 2 channel, the Soundstage probably had better imaging capabilities while the Stage One has a little more detail and warmth. The adjustable DPL2-Music mode adds more spaciousness to 2 channel, albeit with a slightly different sound. But DPL2 still does not match the Rogue's soundstage that seems to go around my head and as high as my center speaker. I had to turn the prepro off to make myself believe that no subs or other speakers are on.

If I had a 5.1 setup, I would easily just keep the Soundstage rather than than pay $1200-1500 more for the Stage One, or $980 to upgrade the Soundstage to 7.1 with component video.

A couple of buddies are coming over next week to hang out. Hopefully, they bring a copy of CD tracks that they have memorized...then we can do the same sequence: aragon 2 channel, aragon DPL2, rogue 2 channel. All leveled matched to the exact volume on the first note of the song (I usually use 80dB).

#2 of 42 OFFLINE   Kevin C Brown

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Posted March 31 2003 - 07:32 PM

Ahhh, so Ricky *did* get his $3-4k pre/pro. Posted Image

Seriously, I looked at the ACT-3 upgrade, but some of the missing *features* did it in for me. (I have a 7.1 setup with Acurus amps, and really really like Mondial stuff in general.) I dang near pulled the trigger on a Soundstage (and then also for the upgrade), but the Soundstage is 19" wide, and wouldn't look right with the rest of my gear. (Yes, some of us *do* buy gear for *other* than just sonics alone.)

But I am still jealous. I really like Mondial's attitude of taking an excellent 2 channel pre, and building an HT processor around it. Enjoy! Posted Image
If it's not worth waiting until the last minute to do, then it's not worth doing.

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#3 of 42 OFFLINE   Ricky T

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Posted March 31 2003 - 10:35 PM

Kevin,

Getting into a $3-4k current prepro and Mondial/Aragon was quite unexpected for me. I was perfectly happy with my MC1/Rogue combo. Then a couple of friends got the Soundstage, then I tried it and was hooked on the Aragon sound. I guess I missed a couple of Mondial boats too about 18 months ago when new Aragon amps were going on ubid at prices lower than used models are going for now!

I read in another post that you are 80% 2 channel. Maybe you should try a 2 channel preamp with HT passthrough. Tubes?

#4 of 42 OFFLINE   dpippel

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Posted March 31 2003 - 10:49 PM

Interesting impressions Ricky. I'm almost in the same boat as you. I have a Rogue 66 Magnum with HT passthrough integrated into my HT as well. Wonderful piece of equipment. My current processor is a Marantz AV9000 (which I love), but I've got the bug and have been trying to locate a Soundstage for a couple of weeks now, so far with no luck. There are two for sale at AudiogoN right now, but they're both a little too used for me. If you have any info on a good source please let me know.

Anyway, I've been researching the Stage One as well and was happy to come across your post. Since it doesn't have OSD, how difficult/easy was configuration and setup? Also, since it used a DB-25 connector for it's DVD-A/SACD multi-channel inputs, does it come with an RCA to DB-25 connector or do you have to buy that yourself?

Careful man, there's a beverage here!


#5 of 42 OFFLINE   Ricky T

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Posted April 01 2003 - 12:20 AM

Doug,

You probably could have bought mine, but a couple of friends were interested, and one finally decided to bite. I will keep an eye out for you; but it'd be hard to judge how "used" these units really are; and most owners have less than 3 years of use since the Soundstage started shipping Dec99/Jan00. You should watch ebay too.

Setup on the Soundstage is super easy, partially because of its purist design. The Stage One is easy too, but a little more complex due to the additional 7.1 and THX features. The Pronto Neo makes is quite easy to make configuration changes.

Aragon does not include one, but I just ordered a DB25-to-6RCA adapter from onkyousa.com for $13 plus $6 shipping. Should work fine, as it did when I had the Onkyo 989 (which also uses the DB25).

#6 of 42 OFFLINE   dpippel

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Posted April 01 2003 - 01:39 AM

Thanks for the info Ricky. My eyes are peeled, but this piece seems to be something that owners hang onto. There are very few in the pipeline right now.

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#7 of 42 OFFLINE   Ricky T

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Posted April 01 2003 - 01:43 AM

Doug, I agree, most of the Soundstage and Stage One units for sale the past few months is due to Aragon's great trade-in program for Soundstage original owners...hard to pass up the new Stage One for $2k even AND keeping the Soundstage...which means owners doing the trade-in now have two units and need to sell one!

#8 of 42 OFFLINE   Charles Gurganus

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Posted April 01 2003 - 01:51 AM

Doug, I will know in a few days if I will keep Ricky's Soundstage. It arrives today. Posted Image It is trying to replace my beloved Sony TAE/TAP combo, which IMO, is a pretty tall order. If it bests the TAE/TAP, I will sell my combo to fund the Soundstage buy. I'd prefer to sell the combo as a combo but I may go ebay if I can't get a fair offer. There IS a chance I like my combo better. If that happens, and the Soundstage is available, I'll let you know.
Charles

#9 of 42 OFFLINE   John Tompkins

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Posted April 01 2003 - 02:37 AM

Charles,

Congrats on pulling that trigger. While everybodies ears/setup are different, I have a feeling that it will be a noticeable improvement for ya especially with your related equipment list..but you never know untill you try..let us know what ya think

#10 of 42 OFFLINE   Ricky T

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Posted April 01 2003 - 03:01 AM

Charles,

Call me tonight if you have any questions on hookup Posted Image

Doug,

Here are three posts I made in another forum on comparing the Aragon Soundstage against my Lexicon/Rogue/Parasound Dac combo:

(Post #1)
ARAGON DAC VS PARASOUND 1600HD DAC
Parasound CD changer is hooked up to both via digital out. Parasound dac is hooked up analog into Aragon. This dac has four Burr-Brown premium 63K dacs. Both sound great and awefully close; I don't think I can tell in a difference in any time of blind test. The guy who sold me the Soundstage also only noticed the most subtle improvement when he bought the highly regarded, 192/24, upsampling Music Fidelity A24 Dac.

ARAGON (Aurum Preamp Inside) VS ROGUE MAGNUM 66
Now, I put the analog outs from the parasound dac into the Rogue (which sits between the prepro and front power amps). Both have big, defined soundstages, with the Aragon probably a little wider and the Rogue a little deeper. Instruments and vocals are equally detailed and joyfully flying all around. The Rogue is lusher, has more bass, and more musical. Is this solely solid state vs tubes? So if I were to run a tube dac into the Aragon would I get the same lush sound? Or is this more a case of Aurum vs Rogue? Or both: tubes and Rogue?

Anyway, the Aragon Soundstage is astonishingly a great preamp/dac, easily the best 2 channel performance I've had in my system from anything with a digital input. If someone doesn't want tubes, I can wholeheartedly recommend the Aragon. I truly believe you are getting the $2k Aurum preamp "inside."

All 2 channel listening is done with RS meter handy, with the beginning of most songs pegged at ~ 72dB.

(Post #2)
More 2 channel comparisons. The Rogue's soundstage is definitely taller and deeper. Seems like vocals are coming from above my center speaker, which is placed on top of my RPTV and not even on. The soundstage appears to extend all the way behind my head.

(Post #3)
My buddy who has heard just about every processor (over 10) in my system finally came over tonight and listened to the Aragon. He helped me calibrate the Smart Jr that provides matrix 6.1 with circle surround processing (you really need two people to do this)....I had the rear centers way too low before calibration.

He thinks my system has never, ever sounded so good than with the Aragon in matrixed 6.1 and 2 channel. The detail, dynamics, bass, channel separation were awesome, and he used the word "sweet" alot. He says it's better than the MC1 for movies, and just a touch behind my Rogue tube preamp for music.

#11 of 42 OFFLINE   dpippel

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Posted April 01 2003 - 03:43 AM

Thanks for all of the great info Ricky! And Charles, I'll keep my fingers crossed that you decide to stick with your Sony combo Posted Image. If you do, consider the Aragon sold. Let me know either way, would ya?

Careful man, there's a beverage here!


#12 of 42 OFFLINE   Charles Gurganus

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Posted April 01 2003 - 04:20 AM

Sure Doug. I will be heading out waiting for the brown truck and doing some rack rearranging right after lunch.
Charles

#13 of 42 OFFLINE   Darrel McBane

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Posted April 01 2003 - 06:01 AM

Ricky, I've had my Silver Stage One for just over a month now. It's been a solid performer since day one. It took Mondial/Klipsch a while to get the trade-in program going. But, it also meant that the versions shipped don't have the "new product problems". I still haven't figure out what to do with my Act-3. But, the difference of the two units is worth the price difference to me. It great having the bypass capability from the Stage One. I've also thought of adding a tube preamp within my system. I've had my eyes open for a used VLT 5.5 preamp. But, there are others out there that should work well also. I find I don't use PLII much. For music so far it has been straight stereo. For TV I've found that I prefer DTS-Neo 6 music mode. It seems to anchor the front soundstage without making the center channel dominate as much as PLII. You may want to try the newest version of the original "Stage Gate" movie. In 7.1 it sounds great. Especially in the Pyramid scenes.

Glad your enjoying the Stage One. Good Luck!
Enjoy the Toys!

#14 of 42 OFFLINE   Ricky T

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Posted April 01 2003 - 06:21 AM

Darrell,

I forgot about the great deal that original Act3 owners also get. $3k for a new Stage One and keeping the Act3 is a smoking deal, considering you probably paid alot less for the Act3 than a Soundstage would have cost. You can probably get ~ $500 for your Act3 as anyone still has until June 30 to upgrade the unit to 7.1 and the latest chips/dacs for $950 (less than 1500 for a "pseudo" Stage One is not a bad deal!).

I agree, the 2 channel performance on the Stage One is very good, and I would be very happy with it if I didn't already have the Rogue in my system. I will do more comparisons on DTS-Neo vs DPL2. And see if I can add that Stage Gate dvd to my netflix queue.

#15 of 42 OFFLINE   John Tompkins

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Posted April 01 2003 - 06:44 AM

Do you mean "stargate" or is "stagegate" something else ?

#16 of 42 OFFLINE   Darrel McBane

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Posted April 01 2003 - 08:06 AM

OOPS!

Stargate Posted Image
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#17 of 42 OFFLINE   Chriss M

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Posted April 01 2003 - 12:12 PM

Darrel,

have you tried adjusting the DPLII parameters for center width? By default I also find it very center heavy but you can adjust this to your liking.

Neo6 music mode as far as i know does not alter the L/R signals at all. So what you're getting is basically the equivalent of regular stereo + a matrixed center signal.

#18 of 42 OFFLINE   Darrel McBane

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Posted April 01 2003 - 12:41 PM

Thanks Chriss M. I haven't done a lot of tweaking with either DTS Neo 6 or PLII. As far as TV goes. I don't really care about the sound that much. I used Party mode on the Act-3 for TV and FM.

I have just added an OTA HD receiver. And have been tweaking the sound somewhat with it. Some shows are DD 5.1 so I have been playing with some settings with the HD audio feed to the Stage One.

"Neo6 music mode as far as i know does not alter the L/R signals at all. So what you're getting is basically the equivalent of regular stereo + a matrixed center signal".

If that's all it does. I have no problem with that. It sounds fine to me. But, in time I'm sure I'll get a little more serious with the options.

My next step is adding a tube preamp. That's #1 on my list of "Things to upgrade."
Enjoy the Toys!

#19 of 42 OFFLINE   Ricky T

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Posted April 01 2003 - 01:19 PM

Darrell,

Try this (should only take one minute on the Pronto):

Select the source, TV
Choose DPL2 as the surround mode
Go to the Adjustments menu and choose Dolby Pro Logic
Choose Pan (or Panorama)
Select page 2
see Center Width? The default is 3, you can steer the sound from the center to the mains by increasing this parameter (all the way up to 7).

#20 of 42 OFFLINE   Darrel McBane

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Posted April 02 2003 - 12:30 AM

Thanks Ricky. I did do some playing with a couple of settings on PLII last night. I used the Pan and changed the center width some. It does open up the center. I guess I need to spend some time with it. If you change the settings on PLII, does the settings lock in. Or when turned off; does one have to adjust each time the Stage One is used for that input on PLIIs settings?
Enjoy the Toys!