Skip to main content

Topic: Some questions about modern hi-fi systems (Read 2943 times) previous topic - next topic

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.
Some questions about modern hi-fi systems
First post here! Pardon me if i may make any mistakes, I'm still learning about this forum.

I need some suggestions to re-build my stereo system. I won't let you decide it for me but I do need some information to further confirm my decision. Your input may or may not be accepted(I hope you take no offense, I have no intention to)but will surely be appreciated.

What I have left with me now is a Bryston 3B ST(a power amp)and a pair of Bohlender & Graebener Z-7 loudspeakers. So I need :
A.)A source(DAC+CD player. A player is important because I still use CDs)
2.)A pre-amp

I used to have a CD player and a pre-amp but I was broke since the global crisis in 2008-2009 and so I sold my CD player and pre-amp to survive. I didn't sell the amp and the speakers because I thought they would worth more in the future. But I can't live without a good stereo system so in about 5 years ago, I went into the headphone world, I bought myself an AKG K701 and Beyerdynamic DT880 pro 250 ohm(older models, but I did like their transparency and open-ness without being trebly and putting out "fake details"). However, as good as my headphones can be I find the sensation of listening on them are less satisfying than a pair of loudspeakers. They are allright for some progressive and rock and some jazz fusion records since such records usually doesn't capture the ambience of the recording room and doesn't require a high timbre accuracy(most of the performance are recorded/mastered with effects after all). But for symphony, opera and orchestra they are kind of weird to me. I really can't get the headphones to get "lost" in the presentation and I'm not very comfortable with that sensation. As I have some money recently, I decide to go back to a stereo system.

I'm somehow confused because there's almost no hi-fi store here. Well, there is one nearby. But since the owner probably aware they are the only hifi store left in the town they simply increase the price of almost everything for about $200-300! For example, an amplifier that usually cost about $600 in any other store would cost $800-900 there. Also that strangely, they won't let me demo any unit cost lest than $1000 which pissed me off(excuse my language)but I succeed in forcing them to let me try at least two pair of new speakers(JBL 530 and Monitor Audio Bronze 2, I won't come back to that store again). There's one other place where I can order some units with a fair price but they are about 300 kilometres away from my house. If I get there I would probably have been too tired to make the right decisions(and my audiosonic perception may be ruined as well). So in short, I can't perform any audition.

I've contacted the salesman at that store and ask him several questions. I asked him about how much should I spend on a source, pre-amp, etc. I also asked him about some products such as Marantz reference gears like Marantz SA8005(which could be very useful to me as it has a digital input so I can stream a digital signal from my computer)and PM8005. Interestingly, he said they are kind of overkill and he'd also explain that these days I would not have to spend that amount of money to enjoy a great sound. "High quality doesn't have to be high end" he say. So instead, he recommend me the Marantz PM6005 since he claim it has a built-in DAC which are noise-free and transparent and buy the cheapest disc player with a digital out that I can find. I told him I would prefer it to have an analog output or a pre-amp or some kind of line out because I'm going to use it with my power amp. Then he recommend me a Denon AVRX1300W receiver with a pre-amp and DAC for about a similar price with many more features I'm going to like. I asked him why then there are still $1000+CDP and amp around and he admitted they have better build quality and components but It won't really affect the sound quality. He did a great explanation but I'm a bit suspicious since he is, after all, a salesman.  Who knows he might be just trying to sell the Denon and the Marantz for some reasons.

So, my questions are :
1.)Is it true that modern source and amps are all sounding more similar than different with each other?
Well, I was looking into Marantz products because I remember they have a smooth, wet sound that are pleasing to me.  I have fond memories of Marantz's esotec amps and Marantz 1060 integrated. I also once switch to a Luxman receiver and I really hear the difference. Quite drastic actually, the Luxman have better details, far less wet so I can hear the high freq far easier(if my phrases may seem confusing I may as well just say the Luxman had more "clarity" in their presentation, less bass, less full sound but that clarity alone is very exciting to me). I once compare them directly and the difference was there. I also had an experience with a Mcintosh amp and I didn't like it; they sounded like the Marantz but at the time I was expecting the kind of sound like Luxman in their price but with better texture, resolution and refinement and they didn't do it.
But it was many many years ago. The salesman told me that today's audio products doesn't work like that anymore. They simply sound similar(the DAC especially)that I should focus more on features and budget rather than sound and he also said that I can hardly buy a unit with bad sound quality(although the reliability of each brand and each series may vary).
2.)What's a good option for me then?
1.A receiver as a preamp+DAC and some cheap player with a digital out.
2.Sell the Bryston and get the Marantz PM6006 or buy Marantz HD-AMP1 instead, along with the cheap player as a transport(so I can also use the HD-AMP1 for my computer-based headphone system since it has an USB input)
3.Get a DAC with analog(line)output(PM6006 clearly doesn't have one)or a CD player and a separate pre-amp.
4.Sell the whole thing and build a new system instead(and how much should I spend?)
I did like that JBL and Monitor Audio bookshelf speakers, I thought they provide better imaging and accuracy(less cabinet resonance, easier to get "lost" in the presentation). But I'm unsure about this conclusion since I wasn't in a comfortable condition when I test them.
3.)Did the salesman tell the truth?
Silly question, but I'm curious about this as well.
4.)Does the pair of loudspeakers I have and those two pairs of bookshelf speakers not sound better than my headphones?
If that is the case I'll choose the option 4 then. I need some recommendation for the speakers too.

Pardon me for the long post(although I understand you may not even bother to read them all, hahaha). I'd hope I have provide enough information. Thank you.

  • yourlord
  • [*][*][*][*]
Re: Some questions about modern hi-fi systems
Reply #1
4.Sell the whole thing and build a new system instead(and how much should I spend?)

This, and just look for the specs you want in the components. You should be able to build out a complete and amazing sounding system for under $2000, and that's splurging. My current system was less than $1k and it sounds fantastic.

3.)Did the salesman tell the truth?

Pretty much. The design goal of an amp is to amplify the input signal with as little audible change in the quality as possible. Modern components are more than capable of this. If an amp "colors" the sound then it's faulty or poorly designed. Some "audiophile" brands even distort the output in specific ways and call it their signature sound. And yep, it's their signature inferiority on display.

  • Porcus
  • [*][*][*][*][*]
Re: Some questions about modern hi-fi systems
Reply #2
A source(DAC+CD player. A player is important because I still use CDs)
Rip to hard drive! As you play, kind of - I am not sure if any of the secure rippers actually facilitate "play as you rip", but if you use a tracks-based application you can start playing track 1 after a few seconds. If not, you can let e.g. foobar2000 play your CD, and then you can rip it afterwards, while it is still in your drive.

  • DVDdoug
  • [*][*][*][*][*]
Re: Some questions about modern hi-fi systems
Reply #3
Quote
A.)A source(DAC+CD player. A player is important because I still use CDs)
What's the DAC for?   A CD player will have a DAC built-in.  

Or, you can get a DVD or Blu-Ray player since virtually all of these also play CDs.   (And, you can probably find a DVD player for $20 or $30 USD.)

Your computer's soundcard also has a DAC and as long as your soundcard isn't noisy a separate DAC is unlikely to be audibly better.   And with your soundcard, the software/drivers can play/decode virtually any format, whereas a stand-alone DAC usually supports a limited number of formats. 

I recently bought a Blu-Ray player for under $100 USD, but it doesn't have a DAC.   It only has HDMI & S/PDIF outputs.

Quote
2.)A pre-amp
A separate preamp will probably cost more than an Audio/Video Receiver (AVR).    A preamp is a specialty item, whereas AVRs are mass-produced and mass-distributed at much lower cost.     An AVR will have the DAC and all of the CODECs required to play all of the DVD/Blu-Ray audio formats, it will have multiple inputs, a tuner, remote control, etc.   And of course (sadly) you won't need your power amp.     (Most AVRs don't have preamp outputs, so can't plug-in your power amp.)

Quote
But for symphony, opera and orchestra they are kind of weird to me. I really can't get the headphones to get "lost" in the presentation and I'm not very comfortable with that sensation. As I have some money recently, I decide to go back to a stereo system.
I don't listen to classical music, but I prefer speakers in a room too.    Headphones are a "different experience" and I never get that the "soundstage illusion" that some people perceive... 

Re: Some questions about modern hi-fi systems
Reply #4
A source(DAC+CD player. A player is important because I still use CDs)
Rip to hard drive! As you play, kind of - I am not sure if any of the secure rippers actually facilitate "play as you rip", but if you use a tracks-based application you can start playing track 1 after a few seconds. If not, you can let e.g. foobar2000 play your CD, and then you can rip it afterwards, while it is still in your drive.
What he said. I still buy CDs, but I can't remember the last time I actually played one in the traditional sense.

  • Porcus
  • [*][*][*][*][*]
Re: Some questions about modern hi-fi systems
Reply #5
How many sources? If there are only a couple, then maybe not even a preamp or AVR - what about a computer and active speakers?
(I use that ... and pretend that it is not from the MQA BS guy.)

Re: Some questions about modern hi-fi systems
Reply #6


What I have left with me now is a Bryston 3B ST(a power amp)and a pair of Bohlender & Graebener Z-7 loudspeakers. So I need :
A.)A source(DAC+CD player. A player is important because I still use CDs)
2.)A pre-amp


1.)Is it true that modern source and amps are all sounding more similar than different with each other?

Depends what you call modern. Amps started sounding pretty much alike after the second or third generation of SS amps, which would be in the 1980s at the latest.  Vinyl playback gear always sounded different and AFAIK it still does due to inhernent technical limitations.  Reasonably good CD players always sounded alike, and the general run of CD player started being good in the late 1980s. The price of a good CD player then started going down and down, with the result that it is hard to buy one that has poor enough audio to sound different, outside of some very high priced boutique items that are designed to sound different, which is to say in general, worse.  These days you can't find CD players very easily, and in fact your garden variety ca. $100 Blue Ray (BD) player sounds as good as anything. But watch it, many don't even have analog outputs.  The common interconnect of 2017 is HDMI.

Quote
What's a good option for me?

1.A receiver as a preamp+DAC and some cheap player with a digital out.

This  can work. The cheapest player will probably be a BD player with just a HDMI output, but the AVR (modern receiver) will have HDMI inputs, so this will work for audio and also audio/video.

Your existing speakers can work with the AVR.

Sell the Bryston and you might get enough cash to fund all of the new gear.

  • stephan_g
  • [*][*][*][*]
Re: Some questions about modern hi-fi systems
Reply #7
The Marantz gear that the OP fondly remembers has precious little to do with the brand's current components. In the early '80s Superscope eventually replaced all the US-developed models by their own (which werent generally that great), the company was sold to Philips soon after, and in more recent times changed hands again and is now a sister company of Denon. Meanwhile, the likes of the 1060 are still appreciated by vintage audio enthusiasts.

If a preamp and a CD player are all that's needed to get you going for now, then do buy a preamp and a CD player. The best times for either kind of device arguably were a good while in the past, but then nobody said they'd have to be new either.

There should be any number of perfectly fine, dependable CD players available for little money that, if anything, only need some basic maintenance (lens and rails cleaning). I might look for a 1992-1995 Sony with a handy numeric keypad at the player itself (CDP-597/797/897/997, CDP-X202ES/229ES - all of these use the trusty KSS-240A pickup, which don't usually go bad save for maybe a little electrolytic on there, the bigger ES models all have unobtainium pickups unfortunately). Technics also had some rather decent units during that time, the x40 series comes to mind. Philips/Magnavox players arguably were a bit past their prime at this point, their strength was more in classic multibit jobs, but the first generations are quite popular among enthusiasts as they have rock solid CD mechanics and will reward a bit of TLC (the very old ones have a voltage doubler in the power supply that commonly suffers from bad caps), I guess you just shouldn't get one with display driver IC issues. Pioneer I'm no expert on, they had a penchant for these funny upside down mechanics where the lens likes to fall out and float around inside the unit and has to be glued back in with just the tiniest amount of superglue at the edge (not for the faint of heart), but other than that their stuff tends to be pretty reliable. Denon's big-iron players from the late '80s / early '90s still are rather sought after, I don't think you can get any pickups though. Marantz has been all over the map over the years, some nothing to write home about, others well worth looking for (I'd stay away from late-'90s/early-2000s models using the SAA7378 digital filter, these don't have bit-perfect digital output and that can be annoying). Not sure I'd recommend an Onkyo, my '92 model (admittedly only a lower midrange one) has kinda sluggish seeking and its D/A section is not the most sonically neutral either. (I think they've had their share of issues with their motors. Makes me wonder whether mine doesn't have a sluggish sled motor due to gummed-up lubricant, that sort of stuff happens and likes to take out unsufficiently cooled motor driver ICs along the way.)

Preamp wise, I think the best times were about the late '70s to late '80s / early '90s. The big Japanese makers would almost all have had something at least decent, Yamaha / Kenwood / Onkyo and the like are well worth looking at (the bigger Kenwood Basic model is not "basic" at all, parts quality arguably aside), Luxman too. What I've seen of Adcom seemed geared towards low distortion while paying precious little attention to noise levels, so not sure. Some of the finest gear was made ca. 1978-82 before cost-cutting hit, it's obviously getting a bit long in the tooth by now and may appreciate some attention to contact issues, old electrolytics, bad solder joints and killer glue.

Long term, getting the CDs ripped to FLAC (/ALAC) would be handy, so the PC with a decent soundcard / DAC could be used as a convenient source (or maybe a streaming thingy). Ripping software suitable for a modest number of discs at once tends to be free, a solid, decently fast optical drive is recommended though. If you've got 1500 discs at once, I'd shell out for dBpoweramp for its more reliable tagging (correcting that by hand can take a lot of time). It is also to be hoped that there are not too many discs using preemphasis, which are commonly not treated appropriately and may require manual application of deemphasis to correct for overly trebly sound, too bad rippers tend not to wave any big red flags either. These mostly are from the first half of the '80s and/or from Japan, though classical recordings may have used PE a good while longer (as it makes the most sense there).

Granted, some stuff that modern AVRs can do like room correction is pretty neat and can be a lifesaver in crappy rooms, but I wouldn't necessarily trust them to live as long as a Bryston (which, mind you, might also appreciate some new filter caps after 30+ years) - profit margins really aren't that great, and components may be run on the edge (I've seen one pair of 2SC5198/2SA1941 on close to +/-60 V supplies if memory serves, which qualifies as almost suicidal in my book - one accidentaly short, and you've got a problem). Manufacturers have really tried to get their software licensing cost down in recent years, the fancier Audyssey room correction versions have become quite rare (unfortunately) and some old proprietary solutions have been dragged back out instead.
  • Last Edit: 03 April, 2017, 02:06:59 AM by stephan_g
My little "blogalike":
http://stephan.win31.de/music.htm

  • 2Bdecided
  • [*][*][*][*][*]
  • Developer
Re: Some questions about modern hi-fi systems
Reply #8
your garden variety ca. $100 Blue Ray (BD) player sounds as good as anything.
...but they are so slow!!!

Re: Some questions about modern hi-fi systems
Reply #9
your garden variety ca. $100 Blue Ray (BD) player sounds as good as anything.
...but they are so slow!!!

You got to get the right one. The newer ones are as fast as traditional CD players.

But I hardly ever use mine. I've got this music file library on my computer and distributed over any number of uSD cards in various devices,

Re: Some questions about modern hi-fi systems
Reply #10
Just another voice.  My main listening system has no CD player, and no pre-amp.  What it does have is a network connection, an OrangePi single-board computer doing duty as player and crossover, and two amps, one for my mains and one for my subs. I rip CDs as I buy them, and add them to the networked drive from any of the networked PCs I have. The drive has about 500 CDs at this point...

It's simple to use, invisible in the listening room, and sounds better than anything I've had before.

  • greynol
  • [*][*][*][*][*]
  • Global Moderator
Re: Some questions about modern hi-fi systems
Reply #11
I estimate that in 90% of residences, preamps serve as nothing more than placebophile audio bling when chosen over integrated amps or receivers.  If you think your preamp provides an improvement in sound quality, feel free to prove it. :P

I would not spend a penny on something from Bryston or their boutique ilk.  People suggesting such brands are welcome to justify it, but be prepared to comply with TOS8 if done on the grounds of sound quality.

What's that I hear, the sound of crickets?
Is 24-bit/192kHz good enough for your lo-fi vinyl, or do you need 32/384?

  • KozmoNaut
  • [*][*][*][*][*]
Re: Some questions about modern hi-fi systems
Reply #12
I estimate that in 90% of residences, preamps serve as nothing more than placebophile audio bling when chosen over integrated amps or receivers.

A preamp is useful in a setup with active monitors, where you need the tasks traditionally handled by an amplifier or receiver (volume control, input selection, phono preamp, tone controls), in a more living room-friendly way than using a mixer. You could get an amplifier or receiver with preamp outputs, but it does seem a little wasteful to have that perfectly fine power amp section and not use it at all.

(I'll admit that it is hard to find a remote control-equipped preamp at a competitive price, though)

  • ajinfla
  • [*][*][*][*][*]
Re: Some questions about modern hi-fi systems
Reply #13
Fishing expeditions on HA go hand in hand with "wet sound".
Loudspeaker manufacturer

Re: Some questions about modern hi-fi systems
Reply #14

Granted, some stuff that modern AVRs can do like room correction is pretty neat and can be a lifesaver in crappy rooms, but I wouldn't necessarily trust them to live as long as a Bryston (which, mind you, might also appreciate some new filter caps after 30+ years) - profit margins really aren't that great, and components may be run on the edge (I've seen one pair of 2SC5198/2SA1941 on close to +/-60 V supplies if memory serves, which qualifies as almost suicidal in my book - one accidentaly short, and you've got a problem).

I see a potential confusion of the concepts of working life and useful life. I have a store room of classic audio gear that still works, or at least it worked when taken out of service. It is not in use because it was superseded by modern gear with a more relevant and appropriate feature set. The old gear has operational life but not useful life.  The old 2 channel gear still sounds great as 2 channel gear but it lacks many of the modern features that frankly I didn't buy the gear to obtain, but now that it is there, I use it and feell like it is a benefit. 

Modern features can be a simple as HDMI inputs,  a network-aware music player or more complex features like surround sound. While the full boat 5.1, 7.1 or 11.1 surround system might  be a bit much for many, LCR is a relatively simple but effective enhancement over 2-channel. But, it takes the full complexity of surround processing to work well with modern sources.  Automated system integration features like Audyssey, Trinnov or Dirac are more controversial, but many find them to be beneficial.

One of the ironies f life is that due to the economies of scale of mass production it can be far more cost-effective to use an AVR's line level outputs and power amps you may never use than to buy a dedicated surround processor with no amplifiers.  The centerpiece of my main home system is an AVR that only had power amp outputs, but that I reduced to the functional equivalent of a preamp or surround processor  by means of power amp to line level converters of my own design and construction.

  • greynol
  • [*][*][*][*][*]
  • Global Moderator
Re: Some questions about modern hi-fi systems
Reply #15
Fishing expeditions on HA go hand in hand with "wet sound".
I see that now. In the past I might have binned the entire conversation (subjective (and imagined) fluff is useless for any sort of progression in discussion).  I still might.
Is 24-bit/192kHz good enough for your lo-fi vinyl, or do you need 32/384?

  • greynol
  • [*][*][*][*][*]
  • Global Moderator
Re: Some questions about modern hi-fi systems
Reply #16
I estimate that in 90% of residences, preamps serve as nothing more than placebophile audio bling when chosen over integrated amps or receivers.

A preamp is useful in a setup with active monitors, where you need the tasks traditionally handled by an amplifier or receiver (volume control, input selection, phono preamp, tone controls), in a more living room-friendly way than using a mixer. You could get an amplifier or receiver with preamp outputs, but it does seem a little wasteful to have that perfectly fine power amp section and not use it at all.

(I'll admit that it is hard to find a remote control-equipped preamp at a competitive price, though)
Yes, and that would make up part of the 10%.
Is 24-bit/192kHz good enough for your lo-fi vinyl, or do you need 32/384?

Re: Some questions about modern hi-fi systems
Reply #17
I’d like to apologize for this very delayed reply. My PC had problems several weeks ago in which the PSU failed, and then the HDD failed. It took sometimes for me to do a research and find the correct replacement(I was worried those hardware stores might fool me in some way or another due to my lack of knowledge with PC machines).

Anyway, thank you very much for the responses. Really appreciate it!


4.Sell the whole thing and build a new system instead(and how much should I spend?)

This, and just look for the specs you want in the components. You should be able to build out a complete and amazing sounding system for under $2000, and that's splurging. My current system was less than $1k and it sounds fantastic.

3.)Did the salesman tell the truth?

Pretty much. The design goal of an amp is to amplify the input signal with as little audible change in the quality as possible. Modern components are more than capable of this. If an amp "colors" the sound then it's faulty or poorly designed. Some "audiophile" brands even distort the output in specific ways and call it their signature sound. And yep, it's their signature inferiority on display.

Glad to find I can someone trustworthy nearby. Thanks.

A source(DAC+CD player. A player is important because I still use CDs)
Rip to hard drive! As you play, kind of - I am not sure if any of the secure rippers actually facilitate "play as you rip", but if you use a tracks-based application you can start playing track 1 after a few seconds. If not, you can let e.g. foobar2000 play your CD, and then you can rip it afterwards, while it is still in your drive.

Well, that’s the thing, my friend. I’m trying to eliminate the use of PC as a multimedia hardware because I don’t really understand computers and when something goes wrong I would have a harder time trying to fix it on my own. I do appreciate it’s versatility though such as hours of gapless playback, making my own playlist, playing various format, converting, playing around with DSP plugins etc in one device alone. However, if this isn’t a good idea I’m willing to change my mind. Should I optimize the use of computers, what do you think?

Quote
A.)A source(DAC+CD player. A player is important because I still use CDs)
What's the DAC for?  A CD player will have a DAC built-in. 

Or, you can get a DVD or Blu-Ray player since virtually all of these also play CDs.  (And, you can probably find a DVD player for $20 or $30 USD.)

Your computer's soundcard also has a DAC and as long as your soundcard isn't noisy a separate DAC is unlikely to be audibly better.  And with your soundcard, the software/drivers can play/decode virtually any format, whereas a stand-alone DAC usually supports a limited number of formats. 

I recently bought a Blu-Ray player for under $100 USD, but it doesn't have a DAC.  It only has HDMI & S/PDIF outputs.

Quote
2.)A pre-amp
A separate preamp will probably cost more than an Audio/Video Receiver (AVR).    A preamp is a specialty item, whereas AVRs are mass-produced and mass-distributed at much lower cost.    An AVR will have the DAC and all of the CODECs required to play all of the DVD/Blu-Ray audio formats, it will have multiple inputs, a tuner, remote control, etc.  And of course (sadly) you won't need your power amp.    (Most AVRs don't have preamp outputs, so can't plug-in your power amp.)

Quote
But for symphony, opera and orchestra they are kind of weird to me. I really can't get the headphones to get "lost" in the presentation and I'm not very comfortable with that sensation. As I have some money recently, I decide to go back to a stereo system.
I don't listen to classical music, but I prefer speakers in a room too.    Headphones are a "different experience" and I never get that the "soundstage illusion" that some people perceive...

Oops. I miswrote it. I meant to say a universal disc and an external DAC. I need this standalone DAC not only for the disc player but for my PC-based headphone/hifi system, in case I want to switch between the player and my PC.

Unfortunately, the built-in soundcard in my PC is not good at all. It isn’t capable of delivering a clean, noise-free sound and it’s so quiet but if I connect it to an external amplifier, it’ll clip. It’ll also clip if I set the volume in Windows above 80 and even if I push it to 100, it’s still too quiet(with a 32 ohm headphone, let alone loudspeakers). I bought myself a Fiio E10k USB DAC earlier this year for my headphones and it solved the problem. So I suspect that the soundcard was indeed the problem.

I can confirm that. When I bought this Bryston amp I paired it with an Audio Research SP series preamp and that was quite costly. I didn’t really mind the cost back then as I was younger, single and more productive. Today, I don’t think I’m willing to spend the same amount of money for a single unit like that anymore(unless there’s no other option).

Glad to see we can relate on this one. My AKG K701 open-back headphone is said to have a really convincing “soundstage”. However, it’s still too left and right for me except with some extra separation. Maybe I’m not used with it just yet. Maybe it’s reputation are exaggerated. Regardless, it does sound great(I mean it fullfiled my personal expectation).

How many sources? If there are only a couple, then maybe not even a preamp or AVR - what about a computer and active speakers?
(I use that ... and pretend that it is not from the MQA BS guy.)


Most likely two, my PC and the disc player. There are music files I bought digitally which are harder to find elsewhere. That suggestion may be allright. But my PC really can’t play audio files on it’s own without problems. I’ve tried replacing the PSU, power cables, etc and it’s still noisy. My smartphone can play music too but I often forgot where was the last time I’d put it.



What I have left with me now is a Bryston 3B ST(a power amp)and a pair of Bohlender & Graebener Z-7 loudspeakers. So I need :
A.)A source(DAC+CD player. A player is important because I still use CDs)
2.)A pre-amp


1.)Is it true that modern source and amps are all sounding more similar than different with each other?

Depends what you call modern. Amps started sounding pretty much alike after the second or third generation of SS amps, which would be in the 1980s at the latest.  Vinyl playback gear always sounded different and AFAIK it still does due to inhernent technical limitations.  Reasonably good CD players always sounded alike, and the general run of CD player started being good in the late 1980s. The price of a good CD player then started going down and down, with the result that it is hard to buy one that has poor enough audio to sound different, outside of some very high priced boutique items that are designed to sound different, which is to say in general, worse.  These days you can't find CD players very easily, and in fact your garden variety ca. $100 Blue Ray (BD) player sounds as good as anything. But watch it, many don't even have analog outputs.  The common interconnect of 2017 is HDMI.

Quote
What's a good option for me?

1.A receiver as a preamp+DAC and some cheap player with a digital out.

This  can work. The cheapest player will probably be a BD player with just a HDMI output, but the AVR (modern receiver) will have HDMI inputs, so this will work for audio and also audio/video.

Your existing speakers can work with the AVR.

Sell the Bryston and you might get enough cash to fund all of the new gear.

My personal preference for a modern equipment is any equipment made from 1995 until today(2017). I gain that preference when back in early 2000s, I was making a copy of a digital album(burn) to a CD-R and my Nakamichi MB2 CD player which is from the 90s can’t read it. I was then trying to find out why and turned out that older CD players usually can’t read anything other than redbook. Thank you for the detailed explanation anyway. I agree that a CD player or any other sound equipment incapable of delivering a transparent, distortion-free audio signal is bad(or at least I don’t want it, personally).

This. I’m still a little bit confused about this HDMI thing. I’ve read that HDMI transferring A/V digital signal from one equipment to another. If I use the HDMI output on a TV or disc player to the HDMI input on a receiver that does mean it’ll bypass the built-in DAC in the TV and disc player as the HDMI cables only transfer the digital signal to be processed by the signal receiver, is it correct?

The Marantz gear that the OP fondly remembers has precious little to do with the brand's current components. In the early '80s Superscope eventually replaced all the US-developed models by their own (which werent generally that great), the company was sold to Philips soon after, and in more recent times changed hands again and is now a sister company of Denon. Meanwhile, the likes of the 1060 are still appreciated by vintage audio enthusiasts.

If a preamp and a CD player are all that's needed to get you going for now, then do buy a preamp and a CD player. The best times for either kind of device arguably were a good while in the past, but then nobody said they'd have to be new either.

There should be any number of perfectly fine, dependable CD players available for little money that, if anything, only need some basic maintenance (lens and rails cleaning). I might look for a 1992-1995 Sony with a handy numeric keypad at the player itself (CDP-597/797/897/997, CDP-X202ES/229ES - all of these use the trusty KSS-240A pickup, which don't usually go bad save for maybe a little electrolytic on there, the bigger ES models all have unobtainium pickups unfortunately). Technics also had some rather decent units during that time, the x40 series comes to mind. Philips/Magnavox players arguably were a bit past their prime at this point, their strength was more in classic multibit jobs, but the first generations are quite popular among enthusiasts as they have rock solid CD mechanics and will reward a bit of TLC (the very old ones have a voltage doubler in the power supply that commonly suffers from bad caps), I guess you just shouldn't get one with display driver IC issues. Pioneer I'm no expert on, they had a penchant for these funny upside down mechanics where the lens likes to fall out and float around inside the unit and has to be glued back in with just the tiniest amount of superglue at the edge (not for the faint of heart), but other than that their stuff tends to be pretty reliable. Denon's big-iron players from the late '80s / early '90s still are rather sought after, I don't think you can get any pickups though. Marantz has been all over the map over the years, some nothing to write home about, others well worth looking for (I'd stay away from late-'90s/early-2000s models using the SAA7378 digital filter, these don't have bit-perfect digital output and that can be annoying). Not sure I'd recommend an Onkyo, my '92 model (admittedly only a lower midrange one) has kinda sluggish seeking and its D/A section is not the most sonically neutral either. (I think they've had their share of issues with their motors. Makes me wonder whether mine doesn't have a sluggish sled motor due to gummed-up lubricant, that sort of stuff happens and likes to take out unsufficiently cooled motor driver ICs along the way.)

Preamp wise, I think the best times were about the late '70s to late '80s / early '90s. The big Japanese makers would almost all have had something at least decent, Yamaha / Kenwood / Onkyo and the like are well worth looking at (the bigger Kenwood Basic model is not "basic" at all, parts quality arguably aside), Luxman too. What I've seen of Adcom seemed geared towards low distortion while paying precious little attention to noise levels, so not sure. Some of the finest gear was made ca. 1978-82 before cost-cutting hit, it's obviously getting a bit long in the tooth by now and may appreciate some attention to contact issues, old electrolytics, bad solder joints and killer glue.

Long term, getting the CDs ripped to FLAC (/ALAC) would be handy, so the PC with a decent soundcard / DAC could be used as a convenient source (or maybe a streaming thingy). Ripping software suitable for a modest number of discs at once tends to be free, a solid, decently fast optical drive is recommended though. If you've got 1500 discs at once, I'd shell out for dBpoweramp for its more reliable tagging (correcting that by hand can take a lot of time). It is also to be hoped that there are not too many discs using preemphasis, which are commonly not treated appropriately and may require manual application of deemphasis to correct for overly trebly sound, too bad rippers tend not to wave any big red flags either. These mostly are from the first half of the '80s and/or from Japan, though classical recordings may have used PE a good while longer (as it makes the most sense there).

Granted, some stuff that modern AVRs can do like room correction is pretty neat and can be a lifesaver in crappy rooms, but I wouldn't necessarily trust them to live as long as a Bryston (which, mind you, might also appreciate some new filter caps after 30+ years) - profit margins really aren't that great, and components may be run on the edge (I've seen one pair of 2SC5198/2SA1941 on close to +/-60 V supplies if memory serves, which qualifies as almost suicidal in my book - one accidentaly short, and you've got a problem). Manufacturers have really tried to get their software licensing cost down in recent years, the fancier Audyssey room correction versions have become quite rare (unfortunately) and some old proprietary solutions have been dragged back out instead.

Marantz is now the sister company of Denon. So Denon bought Marantz then? Wow, a lot of things have changed in HiFi since(more than I expected). I mean, I remember Denon and Marantz were in a different league. Denon made great equipments but they were often placed among the likes of NAD, Rotel, etc which weren’t considered as “serious” brand back then. Whereas Marantz, were often put in competition against the likes of Mark Levinson and McIntosh(all I can remember these two brands were known to be very innovative, I don’t have any intensive experience with any of their product though so I’m simply going by the mass beliefs which could very well be invalid).

Yes I can confirm that. This Bryston amp is amazing. I’ve never had repaired it. Not even once. It has no problem at all so far. I saw my fellow friends are often recapping their power amp or any kind of reparation since they don’t work or don’t function as intended anymore after 5-7 years(possibly they didn’t treat it very well). I’d never have that problems with my amp. It is therefore have a good resale value. I’m unsure about other Bryston products though, never had another unit from them.

Thanks for the comprehensive explanation too. It seems like that it’s not a very good idea to go back using a standalone CD player anymore based on the reasonable responses I received here. I’ll remember this.

Just another voice.  My main listening system has no CD player, and no pre-amp.  What it does have is a network connection, an OrangePi single-board computer doing duty as player and crossover, and two amps, one for my mains and one for my subs. I rip CDs as I buy them, and add them to the networked drive from any of the networked PCs I have. The drive has about 500 CDs at this point...

It's simple to use, invisible in the listening room, and sounds better than anything I've had before.

I don’t think I understand that. What does a network connection have to do with a stereo system? Is there some kind of wireless, outboard controller you are using to get the OrangePi doing all those tasks that I’m unaware of? Kind of confused here.

Re: Some questions about modern hi-fi systems
Reply #18
I estimate that in 90% of residences, preamps serve as nothing more than placebophile audio bling when chosen over integrated amps or receivers.  If you think your preamp provides an improvement in sound quality, feel free to prove it. :P

I would not spend a penny on something from Bryston or their boutique ilk.  People suggesting such brands are welcome to justify it, but be prepared to comply with TOS8 if done on the grounds of sound quality.

What's that I hear, the sound of crickets?
le to use, invisible in the listening room, and sounds better than anything I've had before.
[/quote]

Hahaha. Fair enough. I don’t follow the logic of those placebophiliac guys either. One example, about 2-3 years ago I was asking this kind of question on an “enthusiast” forum and they told me I should go for separates(transport>DAC>pre-amp>power amp>stereo speakers). They claim that such a setup will deliver an absolutely better performance since all the hardwares have their own, isolated power supply and therefore will perform better as one hardware only doing one job. Based on my experience, the more electronic hardware I put in my system means more signal interference which mean adding problems. Hardwares have the upside and the downside on their own and since I’m using even multiple hardwares, I multiply the problems of each hardware in total. Also that if something went wrong it would be harder to track and fix where the problem is(the amp, source, cables, speakers, or what?). Then we have the case of say potentially 5 broken machines, add that to the reparation cost. Not to mention how many watts will be required to power them all(the electric bills, man!). I assume this is why the manufacturing trend moving more toward an “all-in-one” set of devices. Not only to save watts. But also in cases where something went wrong, the potential case which the consumer could have will simply be one broken machine. (Please correct me if I’m wrong, folks).

The reason I went with Bryston and AR(Audio Research, not to confuse with Acoustic Research)products because I didn’t have many knowledge concerning this field at the time. So back then I thought “let’s just buy the best and forget the rest this time”. I was also using a pair of Martin Logan speakers the day I bought them. I was also going after the resale value. I didn’t think I could have a decent resale value had I went with the 80s Sansui instead. I also found that they do what I want them to do well so I had no problems. I can, however, understand where you’re coming from with your “boutique brand” claim. I’m just trying to tell you that we are on the same side as I always disagree with those placebophiliac guys as well.

Fishing expeditions on HA go hand in hand with "wet sound".

Well, I’m willing to accept I’m possibly wrong with that personal impression of mine since I admit there wasn’t any formal nor educated test the day I heard the difference. It was simply an amateur-ish impression. That’s allright with me. I’m always a student in this hobby.

  • saratoga
  • [*][*][*][*][*]
Re: Some questions about modern hi-fi systems
Reply #19
This. I’m still a little bit confused about this HDMI thing. I’ve read that HDMI transferring A/V digital signal from one equipment to another. If I use the HDMI output on a TV or disc player to the HDMI input on a receiver that does mean it’ll bypass the built-in DAC in the TV and disc player as the HDMI cables only transfer the digital signal to be processed by the signal receiver, is it correct?

That isn't how you'd wire up a DVD player.  The DVD player would be hooked up to the receiver via an HDMI cable.  If you also wanted to watch video DVDs, you'd also hook up the TV to the receiver using a second HDMI cable.  But in either case the receiver receives the audio directly from the source device (DVD player).  Nothing is routed through the TV, which likely does not have an HDMI output anyway.

You're not bypassing the TV's DAC, you're just not using the TV, except to show video DVDs.  When listening to audio you may not even have the TV powered on. 

Re: Some questions about modern hi-fi systems
Reply #20
This. I’m still a little bit confused about this HDMI thing. I’ve read that HDMI transferring A/V digital signal from one equipment to another. If I use the HDMI output on a TV or disc player to the HDMI input on a receiver that does mean it’ll bypass the built-in DAC in the TV and disc player as the HDMI cables only transfer the digital signal to be processed by the signal receiver, is it correct?

That isn't how you'd wire up a DVD player.  The DVD player would be hooked up to the receiver via an HDMI cable.  If you also wanted to watch video DVDs, you'd also hook up the TV to the receiver using a second HDMI cable.  But in either case the receiver receives the audio directly from the source device (DVD player).  Nothing is routed through the TV, which likely does not have an HDMI output anyway.

You're not bypassing the TV's DAC, you're just not using the TV, except to show video DVDs.  When listening to audio you may not even have the TV powered on. 


I see. Now I understand that better. Thanks for clearing up my confusion.

Re: Some questions about modern hi-fi systems
Reply #21
Sorry to be slow responding to your question. My home is all networked. I have several computers, NAS (Network Attached Storage) I use for backup and such. Yes, I am a computer geek.

My main system is located in my living room, with the OrangePi and amplifiers in a cabinet in the adjacent dining room. The system that has all the music on it is upstairs, so I can't hear the drives/fans. Yes, I'm using wired connections, though wifi would work as well. I control the software in the OrangePi via wifi and a tablet or laptop from anywhere in the house.

Here is the living room: http://www.dp-design.com/_portfolio/living-spaces-design/frank-lloyd-wright-inspired-living-room/

Re: Some questions about modern hi-fi systems
Reply #22
Sorry to be slow responding to your question. My home is all networked. I have several computers, NAS (Network Attached Storage) I use for backup and such. Yes, I am a computer geek.

My main system is located in my living room, with the OrangePi and amplifiers in a cabinet in the adjacent dining room. The system that has all the music on it is upstairs, so I can't hear the drives/fans. Yes, I'm using wired connections, though wifi would work as well. I control the software in the OrangePi via wifi and a tablet or laptop from anywhere in the house.

Here is the living room: http://www.dp-design.com/_portfolio/living-spaces-design/frank-lloyd-wright-inspired-living-room/

I wanted to tour the whole house, but most of the links seemed to be broken. Living room seems to be acoustically live or maybe even harsh.