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How to allocate budget for new stereo system

I would like to get a new amp+pre-amp (or receiver, if that makes the most sense) and speakers. I mostly listen to rock and jazz from a Sonos system playing from Pandora or music I've downloaded from iTunes. Sometimes I like to throw karaoke parties, for which it's nice to play really loud.

The room is not ideal--it has hard surfaces and high ceilings, and is about 600 square feet. I'd also like to have just two towers and no sub, since it is unsightly, even if that means getting larger towers.

I want to get something very, very good, and I want to be smart about how I go about this, so I'll skip the gold-plated ethernet cables this time 'round. This will be the last stereo I buy.

If I understand correctly, amplifiers are pretty boring (get enough power and a flat response and you're set, don't have to spend a lot for this). Speakers are the weak link in the chain, so you should spend more there. So here's what I'm trying to figure out:

1. Given a $10,000 budget, how much should be allocated for each component?
2. What about a $30,000 budget? Is this budget so far past the point of diminishing returns it's absurd to consider?
3. Does it make sense to look at getting a separate power amp and preamp, or will a good receiver perform just as well and save money?
4. Supposing I can test components at home, how can I test them most fairly? For example, I know that in listening tests, louder is usually perceived as better. How can I mitigate this when comparing two amps or two sets of speakers?


How to allocate budget for new stereo system

Reply #1
To be a little less blunt about it, starting out with a budget is fine, but you really shouldn't say "I have $10,000, tell me how to spend all of it", because you'll probably end up with overpriced components that perform the same as or maybe even worse than lower-priced components

Instead you should decide what you want your new system to do (personal listening, streaming, occasional parties, has to look reasonably nice, floorstanding speakers, no subwoofer) and then try to find the most cost-effective gear to meet those requirements with a maximum budget of $10,000. You may end up spending half of your maximum budget, but that's good, as long as your requirements are met.

1. Given a $10,000 budget, how much should be allocated for each component?


Taking into account what I wrote above, by far the most important factors are room acoustics, speakers and source material, in no particular order. All three are very important.

High quality source material is easy to come by in this age of digital audio and high quality DVD/Bluray movies etc., so that's easily and inexpensively taken care of.

Room acoustics are a lot more important than most people seem to think. You can have the most accurate loudspeakers in the world, but if your room is a reverberating mess, you will never get satisfactory sound quality. I know very little about room acoustics, Ethan Winer is Hydrogenaudio's resident expert on room treatment, and he's a part owner of [a href="http://realtraps.com/articles.htm" rel="nofollow"]RealTraps[/a], which is a company that will tailor acoustic damping solutions for listening rooms. This is not an endorsement as such, I have not used their products (I live in Europe) and I have no relation to the company. But based on his posts here and on other sites, as well as his videos on Youtube, he knows what he's talking about.

Lastly, high quality speakers don't have to be wildly expensive, but you're not going to get high quality for free. Your room is around 600 square feet (~55 square meters), which is not enormous, but does place some demands on the speakers. I would choose high-efficiency speakers with relatively large bass drivers and probably horn-loaded tweeters. The short explanation is that a higher-efficiency speaker will play significantly louder than a lower-efficiency speaker of the same maximum power handling ability before they both run out of steam. In the old days, high efficiency meant Cerwin-Vega, and that generally still holds true. Klipsch are also known for making rather efficient speakers, and you might appreciate their aesthetics more. But as a rule of thumb: Bigger speakers are generally more efficient than smaller speakers, and they house larger speaker drivers, which is good for low-frequency sound.

I bought some vintage stereo gear from a guy last week, and he had a very impressive surround sound setup, with 6 huge Cerwin-Vega speakers each the size of small fridge. He unintentionally also had a pretty decent room, with lots of soft surfaces (chairs, couches, pillows, rugs etc.), so the end result was quite pleasing. Those big CVs filled up the room with sound in a very pleasing way, and they did it without becoming 'shouty' as lesser speakers will when turned up loud, above their optimal performance level.

The best thing you can do when selecting speakers is to try them out in your own room with your own music. It's a bit of a hassle, but it's the only way to know which speakers you prefer.

Once these three factors (source material, acoustics and speakers) are in place, then you can start to look at amplifiers (unless you've chosen active speakers with built-in amplification) and other devices.

2. What about a $30,000 budget? Is this budget so far past the point of diminishing returns it's absurd to consider?


As above, don't set a limit of how much you want to spend, but rather of how much you can spend, and then find something within that limit that meets your needs, no matter if it only costs half as much.

3. Does it make sense to look at getting a separate power amp and preamp, or will a good receiver perform just as well and save money?


Not really, unless you really need a lot of power, and I would think that a 2x150W integrated amp like a NAD C375BEE (or something similar) should be plenty even for really loud parties in a 600 square foot room with a set of efficient speakers (ie. above 92db/1W @ 1m or so).

Of course, if you're buying active speakers with built-in power amps, you would need a preamp, but no separate power amp.

4. Supposing I can test components at home, how can I test them most fairly? For example, I know that in listening tests, louder is usually perceived as better. How can I mitigate this when comparing two amps or two sets of speakers?


It would be a bit of a hassle, but you would need a calibrated SPL meter (for volume matching), one or more helpers and some way of ensuring that you cannot see or otherwise detect which component you are listening to.

How to allocate budget for new stereo system

Reply #2
High quality source material is easy to come by in this age of digital audio and high quality DVD/Bluray movies etc., so that's easily and inexpensively taken care of.
Is 24-bit/192kHz good enough for your lo-fi vinyl, or do you need 32/384?

How to allocate budget for new stereo system

Reply #3
I'm not advocating piracy, hold your horses

Compared to the LPs, cassette tapes, 8-tracks etc. of yesteryear, it's incredibly easy to find good recordings for not a lot of money. And when I talk about quality, I'm talking about the formats, not the production values.

If you sort away the crappily-produced junk, there is a lot more high quality recordings out there today than there ever was before, especially if you're into jazz or classical music.

How to allocate budget for new stereo system

Reply #4
Not piracy; the loudness war.

Not everyone limits their listening to classical or jazz.
Is 24-bit/192kHz good enough for your lo-fi vinyl, or do you need 32/384?

How to allocate budget for new stereo system

Reply #5
That's true, but there is still well-produced rock, metal etc. out there, usually from independent artists.

How to allocate budget for new stereo system

Reply #6
I bought some vintage stereo gear from a guy last week

Buying used, when possible, can significantly extend your purchasing power. It does take more time, however the savings can be substantial.
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?  ;~)

How to allocate budget for new stereo system

Reply #7
I bought some vintage stereo gear from a guy last week

Buying used, when possible, can significantly extend your purchasing power. It does take more time, however the savings can be substantial.


Absolutely, I agree 100%.

Things I have bought new: my Adam A5X speakers, my headphones and my Chromecasts. Either because none were available on the used market, or because I don't want to use other peoples' grubby headbands and earpads.

Everything else has been bought used. Speakers, amplifiers, receivers, tuners, tape decks, turntables, CD players, all for significantly less than half of the original price, and still in perfect working order. The gear I bought last week was some late-70s goodness, a Technics SU-7700 amplifier and a set of JBL 4410 speakers, for less than half of what a set of 4410s in good condition usually go for, and even at that price I would consider them a bargain for the sound quality you get. But they're big, boxy and covered in (real) wood veneer, pretty much opposite of what most people want today, so people tend to disregard them. The guy threw in a set of Sony SS-G1 Mk2 speakers for free. They're also big and boxy, plus a little bit beat up and wonderfully late-70s brown, but they play just fine, and free is free.

However, if you're looking at A/V surround receivers, you pretty much have to buy new or only very lightly used if you want the latest features. But honestly, as long as it's got HDMI input/output and supports at least DTS, do you really need anything more? And receivers of that capability can definitely be had used from people with upgrade mania.

How to allocate budget for new stereo system

Reply #8
Something I have been seriously considering is DIY speakers.  There are quite a few companies that make kits.  And there are quite a number of designs out there made by credible sources.  One specific kit I was looking at makes 2 speakers for around $350.  The last thread I was reading about someone that built them was that he thought they sounded better than the builders 2 floor standing Klipsch reference speakers he paid $600 a piece for.

If you have the time and resources, you may get a lot of bang for your buck with DIY speakers.

Definitely not for everyone.  But it is something I want to give a try sometime in 2016.

How to allocate budget for new stereo system

Reply #9
OT: This reminds me of the old "sweet sixteen" DIY speaker design. It combined 16 5 inch speakers in a cabinet that, supposedly, gave the equivalent of a 20 inch woofer (5 times 4) at low frequencies, but whose high frequency response was the equivalent of a 5 inch speaker (times 16). I was always tempted to build one, but never did.

http://techtalk.parts-express.com/showthre...t-Sixteen-Array

How to allocate budget for new stereo system

Reply #10
DIY line arrays are definitely a thing that a lot of people toy with and enjoy.



But you're probably never going to get the same kind of bass performance from an array of small drivers that you would from comparatively fewer larger drivers. But they do look cool.

How to allocate budget for new stereo system

Reply #11
What KozmoNaut said!   

I also suggest you "educate" yourself by going to an audio/video store and listening.    Listen to a variety of speakers.  And if you really have a budget if $10K or more, you should be able to find a shop that will allow you to audition speakers in your home.   

Even if you aren't planning on using your system for movies, listen to some surround sound systems.    There are Dolby "soundfield" settings for stereo music.  For example, I use a setting that sends some delay and reverb to the rear speakers.    That's blasphemy to an audiophile purist, but I like the sound of a 'bigger room" than I really have.

There is information on the RealTraps site about how to measure your room.  It's always a good idea to know where you're starting before you attempt any acoustic treatment or EQ, and then you can measure it afterwards to check the improvements.

Many home theater receivers have room correction built in (which can correct for some  acoustic & speaker deficiencies) and that would be an advantage to a receiver over separate components.    And for playing movies, a receiver with HDMI inputs and built in decoding for all of the DVD/Blu-Ray formats is virtually a necessity.

How to allocate budget for new stereo system

Reply #12
I know very little about room acoustics

It may have been best if you left it there, but alas..

Ethan Winer is Hydrogenaudio's resident expert on room treatment, and he's a part owner of RealTraps[/a], which is a company that will tailor acoustic damping solutions for listening rooms. This is not an endorsement as such, I have not used their products (I live in Europe) and I have no relation to the company. But based on his posts here and on other sites, as well as his videos on Youtube, he knows what he's talking about.

Really? He [a href="http://www.avsforum.com/forum/91-audio-theory-setup-chat/2157985-achieved-flat-bass-response-now-i-need-help-taming-echoes-2.html#post37942185]unequivocally maintains[/url] that controlled blind listening tests like the ones performed by Dr Toole and the mountain of researchers he quotes, are wrong....and that fully sighted, uncontrolled Studiophile isoward "listening" experience and woo beliefs, trump all that. Expert??? Please.
Care to link some blind listening tests of the efficacy of some of the stuff Ethan peddles?

As to the OP, $10k for a 600 SF room stereo seems a bit much IMHO, but one should be free to spend whatever one wishes to please oneself. Far more important for good sound, is how the speakers will react with the room based on layout, placement and decor, along with the specifics of what makes "good" sound...to you. There is something called preference and yours is the only one that matters.

cheers,

AJ
Loudspeaker manufacturer

How to allocate budget for new stereo system

Reply #13
This is purely my opinion, but even the notion that you need $10,000 for adequate audio in a 600 sq ft room seems ludicrous to me. Maybe if you pay some people to completely remodel the room, but that's about it. A couple grand will cover a VERY good amp and VERY good floor standing speakers.

I play bass guitar, formerly in a metal band, and my bass rig has 2 15" drivers in a  500Wrms cab and 8 10" drivers + horn in a 400Wrms cab. The amp driving those pushes 700Wrms (underpowered for the cabs, I know). This is pro audio gear. I could remove every item from every shelf and wall in my house with it (my neighbors used to hate me). I was able to completely bypass the house PA at most of the clubs we played at and just carry the entire venue with that rig. This is the gear used to create the music you are trying to reproduce. I could buy 2 of those rigs brand new for your $10,000 budget and have money left over for a couple of decent bass guitars.

I'm just trying to illustrate that you don't need to drop new car money to get outstanding audio reproduction equipment. $2-3k is probably way more than enough and the rest will buy a lot of room treatment if you want to go there. Or, maybe invest the rest in your retirement fund so you can retire early and spend more time listening to that awesome system.

How to allocate budget for new stereo system

Reply #14
That's my point in my original reply. Have a sense of your maximum budget, but then try to find the most budget-friendly option that covers your requirements, within that limit.

How to allocate budget for new stereo system

Reply #15
3. Does it make sense to look at getting a separate power amp and preamp, or will a good receiver perform just as well and save money?



I recommend to have a look at active speakers, IMHO a better solution than separates.
An example: http://kiiaudio.com/en/
Adding a decent DAC is all you need.
TheWellTemperedComputer.com

How to allocate budget for new stereo system

Reply #16
An example: http://kiiaudio.com/en/
Adding a decent DAC is all you need.
Funny, I've been thinking about the same speaker. It doesn't require a DAC since more than decent DACs + power amps are built in. A pair will eat up the whole 10k budget, although the cardiod LF response is supposed to make it much more tolerant to room acoustics, so you might save on room treatment. Interesting concept.

How to allocate budget for new stereo system

Reply #17
Spend the most on Speakers as these are the statement item in a room, above a certain $$$$ you are paying for quality of finish and brand name, not sound. That said I am sure there are people who are happy they have spent $$$$$ on some B&O speaker because it looks wow.

Amps, as long as they are powerful enough the distortion on modern ICs is so low it is inaudible.


How to allocate budget for new stereo system

Reply #19
A pair will eat up the whole 10k budget, although the cardiod LF response is supposed to make it much more tolerant to room acoustics, so you might save on room treatment. Interesting concept.

Indeed a well executed concept and yes the gradient bass is helpful in any room, especially a small one where front wall proximity can be problematic due to placement limitations, etc. However, the OP (who may have been simply RichB styled fishing), did state "playing really loud"...in a 600SF (say 20' W x 30' D) room. Despite its superb engineering, it still uses "hi-fi" main drive units (I have the tweeter and similar SEAS midwoofers)...and that would be a stretch to get clean/dynamic output in a fairly large, possibly crowded room. YMMV.
I'm all about active DSP, gradient bass, etc. but perhaps a higher output tower as suggested by OP might be more adept for the scenario. IMO.

cheers,

AJ
Loudspeaker manufacturer

How to allocate budget for new stereo system

Reply #20
If anyone is interested:


From left to right:
on-axis, 10° elevation (not the lower green line, that is behind the speaker), 30/60/90° azimuth and on the right THDs at different SPLs
"I hear it when I see it."


How to allocate budget for new stereo system

Reply #22
OT: This reminds me of the old "sweet sixteen" DIY speaker design. It combined 16 5 inch speakers in a cabinet that, supposedly, gave the equivalent of a 20 inch woofer (5 times 4) at low frequencies, but whose high frequency response was the equivalent of a 5 inch speaker (times 16). I was always tempted to build one, but never did.

http://techtalk.parts-express.com/showthre...t-Sixteen-Array


The Sweet 16 was debunked in the day.

http://www.roger-russell.com/columns/columns.htm#sweet

http://americanradiohistory.com/Archive-Au...io-1961-Sep.pdf  pp 23-25

How to allocate budget for new stereo system

Reply #23
I bought some vintage stereo gear from a guy last week

Buying used, when possible, can significantly extend your purchasing power. It does take more time, however the savings can be substantial.

If your local dealer(s) are open to the idea, buying ex-demo stuff is also worth asking about. You won't get the same savings as 2nd-hand, but the items will not only be almost new, but are likely to have been used carefully by people who know a bit about what they are doing.

I got my current speakers that way - I was looking for the KEF iQ5, but they had a pair of iQ7s in the window and I got them for the price of the 5s. It doesn't hurt to ask; the worst that can happen is that they say no.

Richer Sounds used to (maybe still do) buy up bulk stock of items that had just been replaced by a newer model, which meant they could offer the 'old' stuff at big discounts. Customers would get something cheap that was the latest model only a few months before. I got a Pioneer amplifier at half the original RRP.

How to allocate budget for new stereo system

Reply #24
If anyone is interested:


From left to right:
on-axis, 10° elevation (not the lower green line, that is behind the speaker), 30/60/90° azimuth and on the right THDs at different SPLs


Just under  10,000 euros. IOW over $10,000. Not clear whether that is each or for a pair.

Well Tempered Computer Price Info

Are they any better technically than JBL Pro LSR 305/308s at under $250 each?  If they are, is the difference worth that kind of money?

 
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