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Help me build my first serious music (stereo) system

I think I'm ready to build my first serious music (stereo) hi-fi system.
Most of my collection is digitized (.flac, .ape) so the source will be played from my computer.
Originally, I thought I would need a dedicated DAC, a stereo amplifier and a pair of speakers.
As some people pointed out in my other thread (https://hydrogenaud.io/index.php/topic,116700.0.html)
I may as well use a DAC that is built in the amplifier as most modern amplifiers and receivers have very good DACs.
I would like to hear what you guys recommend for my setup. My budget is the following:
$2000-2500 for speakers and $2000 for everything else (integrated amplifier or DAC+amp).
One important piece of information about me - I prefer to listen to music at moderate volume levels... Jazz and soft rock are my two favorite genres.
I heard that some speakers play well only at higher volumes while others can do well at low volumes as well. That's what I would probably like to have...

Re: Help me build my first serious music (stereo) system

Reply #1
Quote
I heard that some speakers play well only at higher volumes while others can do well at low volumes as well. That's what I would probably like to have...
A speaker that sounds good at high volumes should also sound good at lower volumes.    i.e. There's no reason for frequency response, or distortion, or anything else to get worse at low volumes.

Sorry, I don't have any recommendations for you.   I would suggest you listen for yourself and some dealers will allow you to "audition" speakers at home so you can hear how they sound in your acoustic environment.    ...Different people have different preferences and different tastes and manufacturer's specs are mostly worthless unless you are comparing specs from the same manufacturer.

Quote
$2000-2500 for speakers and $2000 for everything else (integrated amplifier or DAC+amp).
You get more bang-for-the-buck with a receiver.    You might have to get a home theater receiver if you want the built-in DAC, and it may be more economical since they are mass-produced and marketed competitively..   You don't have to use all of the "extra" channels.

Does your computer have HDMI or S/PDIF? 

If it was me I'd probably bias the budget more toward speakers, but that's up to you.









Re: Help me build my first serious music (stereo) system

Reply #2
My budget is the following:
$2000-2500 for speakers and $2000 for everything else (integrated amplifier or DAC+amp).

A $4500 budget should make room for a decent full-digital active speaker setup.  A quick eBay search for a 2nd hand located in North America (since you quote "$") brings me this set within your "speaker only" budget frame, and then you have included amps after the DAC after the digital crossover: https://www.ebay.com/itm/Five-Meridian-DSP5000s-96-24-complete-5-0-System/142950434535
I don't know the 5000s, but I have used their big brothers for fifteen years, and they are here to stay - no matter how much of a beating Meridian deserves for their "MQA" shit.
Edit: These are quite old, they only have s/pdif input. Newer ones have USB and ethernet. IDK how this works with the average BluRay player, I don't have any.

Downside: You need an ADC for analogue sources. But that won't cost much, if the bar is that it shouldn't degrade your FM radio signal.
“It sounded bad to me. Digital. They have digital. What is digital? And it’s very complicated, you have to be Albert Einstein to figure it out.”
- Donald Trump, May 2017

 

Re: Help me build my first serious music (stereo) system

Reply #3
If I were building a new system to play computer-based files, I would not connect my computer directly to the hifi.  I would put my music files on a server in a closet with both local and off-site backup.  For server software, I'd use Daphile; and for my player I'd buy a pre-built unit from Allo.

As for hardware, I'm also partial to the amplified speaker approach (e.g. Meridian), but there's nothing wrong with any number of transistor or tube electronics and a pair of passive speakers.  For this, you have to visit some shops and/or friends and listen until you decide what you like.  Be sure your supplier offers a home demo period so you can confirm what you like in the shop also sounds good in your room.  Sometimes, it doesn't.

Actually, what I might do if I wanted minimal fuss is purchase an NAD C 368 with optional BluOS module and a pair of PSB speakers.  I like the fact that NAD and PSB are sister companies and said to be "voiced" for one another.  The BluOS feature means you need not run a server, but instead can keep your files on any PC, hard drive, or NAS that is accessible on your network.  (You still need a local/off-site backup plan, however.)  As time goes by, you can add more Bluesound devices to extend your music to other zones within your home.  Bluesound offers TuneIn for internet radio, and the NAD has a MM phono section and a sub out.  Of course, you control the whole thing with an app.  Not much it can't do.

Re: Help me build my first serious music (stereo) system

Reply #4
I think I'm ready to build my first serious music (stereo) hi-fi system.

I may as well use a DAC that is built in the amplifier as most modern amplifiers and receivers have very good DACs.

My budget is the following:
$2000-2500 for speakers and $2000 for everything else

I prefer to listen to music at moderate volume levels... Jazz and soft rock are my two favorite genres.
I heard that some speakers play well only at higher volumes while others can do well at low volumes as well.
The last part most likely from folks who don't understand Fletcher Munson and human perception vs level.
No one can advise you better than you for such a personal choice, like speakers that are going to fit your room and tastes.
As noted, modern amplification/dacs, etc are commodity pieces. Pick one with the features you need, a user friendly remote, etc, etc. For simplicity, a 2ch receiver, integrated or maybe dac-pre/power amp combo should set you back 500-1000 at most. Spend the rest on speakers. Keep in mind that simplicity may also limit future expandability if that is a concern. A more complex AVR will have a lot of features you don't need, but possibly some you can use that won't be present in 2ch electronics.
No one here knows your room layout and tastes in loudspeaker sound better than you. Nor where you live, as to suggest possible auditions.

Btw, I also use Foobar for 2ch++ direct from laptop via a wireless DAC at stereo
Loudspeaker manufacturer

Re: Help me build my first serious music (stereo) system

Reply #5
Quote
but there's nothing wrong with any number of transistor or tube electronics and a pair of passive speakers.
1950's tube technology is ridiculous.    Tube amps can be as good as solid state amps, but they are expensive.   McIntosh makes some fine tube amps (I owned an old mono McIntosh amp once) but they are not economical.   They are also not energy-efficient.

(Guitar players seem to prefer tube amps driven into distortion but that's a different topic.)


Re: Help me build my first serious music (stereo) system

Reply #6
Are you okay with some fairly easy DIY? Speakers from the late S. Linkwitz ought to be wonderful picks.
http://linkwitzlab.com/LXmini/Introduction.htm
I have the older Linkwitz Plutos and have been much pleased. It may seem strange to build speakers from plumbing supplies, but they work! If I had a larger space and didn't seem to move apartments every few years, I might have opted for the larger LX521s.


Re: Help me build my first serious music (stereo) system

Reply #7
Tubes?? Well, for those with computer audio and who walk upright, perhaps a network receiver may be a bit more prudent.
Loudspeaker manufacturer

Re: Help me build my first serious music (stereo) system

Reply #8
500-1000 at most
If that doesn't mean that the expense could well be below $500 and will definitely be below $1000.01 then I will go ahead and say it.

A 2-ch ADC/preamp/amp over $1000 is for suckers.  As it is, $500 is easily getting into the area of diminishing returns.
Is 24-bit/192kHz good enough for your lo-fi vinyl, or do you need 32/384?

Re: Help me build my first serious music (stereo) system

Reply #9
500-1000 at most
If that doesn't mean that the expense could well be below $500 and will definitely be below $1000.01 then I will go ahead and say it.

A 2-ch ADC/preamp/amp over $1000 is for suckers.  As it is, $500 is easily getting into the area of diminishing returns.

I am thinking of going with Cambridge Audio CXA80 amplifier. It has a decent DAC, USB input plus 2 independent amplifier channels.
Had a chance to listen to it coupled to a pair of Paradigm Premier 800F speakers today - this combo impressed me quite a bit.
By the way, is it normal for speakers of this class to have such high low end frequency (50 Hz)?

Re: Help me build my first serious music (stereo) system

Reply #10
I'd say the speakers are what impressed you.

Making a competent amplifier to drive them is a trivial task and has been for decades now.
Is 24-bit/192kHz good enough for your lo-fi vinyl, or do you need 32/384?

Re: Help me build my first serious music (stereo) system

Reply #11
I'd say the speakers are what impressed you.

Making a competent amplifier to drive them is a trivial task and has been for decades now.

Perhaps. Unfortunately, I don't have much of experience or other speakers that I listened to, to make this conclusion.
What I learned though is that I prefer a "warm" sounds rather than harsh. Any other brand recommendations I can audition that might produce warm sound? I hear B&W speakers are "warm". Is that true?

Re: Help me build my first serious music (stereo) system

Reply #12
I hear B&W speakers are "warm". Is that true?
A bit of those characteristics you hear around are plagued by audiononsense that should be taken with a grain of salt, but I guess everyone has a gut feeling of what "harsh" and "warm" means - everything is relative, but there is some history to what was could be a yardstick.  Back in the day when there were way more compromises necessary, there was an "English sound" tradition. Which throughout the seventies was influenced by this thing: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LS3/5A . For this use, the BBC first and foremost needed to get voices right.

B&W arrived to the game a bit later, with some speakers that - compared to a lot of shoeboxes found in UK homes - could deliver some proper bass. Is that "warm"? Maybe. (Then, to every European dish there is an American copy with waaaaay more fat, right? Oops, did I say that?)
“It sounded bad to me. Digital. They have digital. What is digital? And it’s very complicated, you have to be Albert Einstein to figure it out.”
- Donald Trump, May 2017

Re: Help me build my first serious music (stereo) system

Reply #13
500-1000 at most
If that doesn't mean that the expense could well be below $500 and will definitely be below $1000.01 then I will go ahead and say it.
A 2-ch ADC/preamp/amp over $1000 is for suckers.  As it is, $500 is easily getting into the area of diminishing returns.
Well, one can spend <$100 on amplification...and get something with no features and inability to drive some low impedance/low sensitivity speakers. I don't agree that >$1000 is for suckers, when that buys you an amp powerful enough to drive any speaker you choose and/or have features, like advanced auto EQ with microphone etc.
Yes, it's possible to get a <$500 AVR with all that...but not any stereo one that I'm aware of. If you know of one post a link.
For auto 2 channel auto room EQ, the least expensive option I'm aware of is the Yamaha N-803 network receiver....$600-750.
You (or I) may not find auto-eq a useful feature, someone else like the OP might....and might also want only a 2ch system, not a million buttons AVR.
Loudspeaker manufacturer

Re: Help me build my first serious music (stereo) system

Reply #14
I am thinking of going with Cambridge Audio CXA80 amplifier. It has a decent DAC, USB input plus 2 independent amplifier channels.
Had a chance to listen to it coupled to a pair of Paradigm Premier 800F speakers today - this combo impressed me quite a bit.
By the way, is it normal for speakers of this class to have such high low end frequency (50 Hz)?
Buy what you like, but the Cambridge doesn't strike me as worth anywhere near $1k and no, at $3k for speakers you can certainly get <50hz. However if you really like those Paradigms @ $2k/pr, adding a sub or 2 for <50hz can be done for <$1k and go lower than any passive speaker can.
A Yamaha R-N803, a USB to Coaxial S/PDIF Converter, the Paradigm 800Fs and a/or pair of Rythmik L12s is within $4k budget.
The Yamaha has plenty power, can be networked to untether you and has useful features like YPAO for dealing with your room modes without you having to buy/learn how to measure. Unless you want to, then there may be other options.

cheers,

AJ
Loudspeaker manufacturer

Re: Help me build my first serious music (stereo) system

Reply #15
500-1000 at most
If that doesn't mean that the expense could well be below $500 and will definitely be below $1000.01 then I will go ahead and say it.
A 2-ch ADC/preamp/amp over $1000 is for suckers.  As it is, $500 is easily getting into the area of diminishing returns.
Well, one can spend <$100 on amplification...and get something with no features and inability to drive some low impedance/low sensitivity speakers. I don't agree that >$1000 is for suckers, when that buys you an amp powerful enough to drive any speaker you choose and/or have features, like advanced auto EQ with microphone etc.
Yes, it's possible to get a <$500 AVR with all that...but not any stereo one that I'm aware of. If you know of one post a link.
For auto 2 channel auto room EQ, the least expensive option I'm aware of is the Yamaha N-803 network receiver....$600-750.
You (or I) may not find auto-eq a useful feature, someone else like the OP might....and might also want only a 2ch system, not a million buttons AVR.
Why must it be 2-channel.  Casually browsing with google, it doesn't look like the entry fee for AVR receivers with room correction is $500.

Of course you may need to plunk out a lot more for the ability to drive any speaker in any environment.
Is 24-bit/192kHz good enough for your lo-fi vinyl, or do you need 32/384?

Re: Help me build my first serious music (stereo) system

Reply #16
Quote
What I learned though is that I prefer a "warm" sounds rather than harsh.

:D I used to think I knew what "warm" means, and it had a clear meaning to me...   :D    But after I read this the meaning is not so clear, and It's not what I used to think:    
Quote
while “warmth” could be thought of as “a feeling of rich intimacy, fullness and sweetness of sound."
   
So...  I try to stick to scientific/engineering terminology like frequency response, distortion, and noise.   But, sometimes I fall-back into old habits and I'll say "bright" or "dull" in reference to high-frequencies.




Re: Help me build my first serious music (stereo) system

Reply #17
Why must it be 2-channel.
First sentence of the thread... :D

it doesn't look like the entry fee for AVR receivers with room correction is $500.
< symbol means it can be had for less! I think even the 200-300 range (new) has now.
Along with 800 button remotes ;-). Man said 2 ch, so sticking with wishes...plus I don't think the auto optimizers w/ mic for MCH work quite as well with only 2ch present. Not sure though.


Of course you may need to plunk out a lot more for the ability to drive any speaker in any environment.
True, though as we both know, wise choice of speaker can be driven by even the least expensive amps. Unfortunately, an actual impedance measurement, as Toole/Olive lament, is almost never part of the info. Shame.
Loudspeaker manufacturer

Re: Help me build my first serious music (stereo) system

Reply #18
What I learned though is that I prefer a "warm" sounds
Bass controls are still available for non-idiotphiles
Loudspeaker manufacturer

Re: Help me build my first serious music (stereo) system

Reply #19
I don't know what the features are of the CXA80 and I have to admit I'm not well versed in the Hi-Fi market. Haven't been for some time.
Is 24-bit/192kHz good enough for your lo-fi vinyl, or do you need 32/384?

Re: Help me build my first serious music (stereo) system

Reply #20
I don't know what the features are of the CXA80 and you're right and I have to admit I'm not versed in the Hi-Fi market. Haven't been for some time.
CXA80 has a ‘dual mono’ design to eliminate the cross-talk between the two channels, it has USB-audio input and  a 24-bit/192kHz WM8740 DAC chip from Wolfson. It also features a subwoofer output in case I ever want to add that extra-base :-)
I don't think it has the ability to adjust to the room acoustics like Audyssey by Denon...

Re: Help me build my first serious music (stereo) system

Reply #21
Have we determined that crosstalk in non-dual mono amps is a legitimate problem?  It smells like marketing to me.

How much does that Wolfson chip cost and are there any double-blind test studies that indicate that it is audibly superior under non-pathological scenarios?

Again, I have to question whether this is just fueled by marketing and name-brand recognition.

Based on your requirements and assimilating what AJ has said, it would seem power and an adequate output impedance to drive the chosen speakers are left as the likely thing that makes or breaks the amp amp you choose. The rest of it is pretty much standard equipment.
Is 24-bit/192kHz good enough for your lo-fi vinyl, or do you need 32/384?

Re: Help me build my first serious music (stereo) system

Reply #22
CXA80 has a ‘dual mono’ design to eliminate the cross-talk between the two channels
Irrelevant marketing fluff

I don't think it has the ability to adjust to the room acoustics
Relevant to sound and price, as in why the f does it cost $1k then, when said featured slightly less powerful amp is just over 100 bucks?
Loudspeaker manufacturer

Re: Help me build my first serious music (stereo) system

Reply #23
Quote
I think I'm ready to build my first serious music (stereo) hi-fi system.
Most of my collection is digitized (.flac, .ape) so the source will be played from my computer.
Originally, I thought I would need a dedicated DAC, a stereo amplifier and a pair of speakers.

I suppose the first thing would be to make sure you aren't overlooking anything basic.  How big is your room?  What sources do you anticipate listening to?  And have you looked around to see what features are available, perhaps ones that you don't use now but might use if you had them?  I went through this process a few years ago and ended up buying a TOTL (at the time) Marantz receiver.  I suppose one reason I chose that is I was replacing a 35-year-old near-TOTL Marantz receiver with more power than any receiver available today.  It was within your budget , but even that really was overkill.  I use it as an AVR as well and it looks nice, so I don't necessarily regret the purchase.

So, these AVRs (by no means limited to Marantz) have features such as DLNA, Internet Radio and streaming services that are very handy--far better than any DAC/Amp combo.  I use mine in conjunction with a custom HTPC, but I end up using the HTPC as a server for music and actually play it using the AVR.  Same for internet radio and streaming.  This eliminates the computer from the audio stream entirely.  I still have a separate connection via TOSLink so that I can use Foobar, Audacity, etc and send it to the AVR.  One thing most AVRs do not lack is a multitude of connections.  I even have a phono stage.  In any case, there's no sane reason, IMO, to have a bunch of separate units when the AVR will do everything and much more in one handy device.  And AVRs with all of the relevant features can be had starting below $500.  The DACs will be fine, just determine how much power you need and which features are relevant to you.  It can be a lot of work--figuring out which one will work best for you will be an adventure.  You'll need to learn about them so you don't miss out on something you may not currently even know about.  For me, it was the ability to set up 1-button favorite radio stations from around the world.  Currently my favorite classical music channels are in Chicago, Los Angeles and Copenhagen--all just a button away.  Finally, if you are not using the video features, AVRs go out of style pretty quick as new video features come along, but the audio(stereo) angle of it remains the same.  This makes used AVRs an excellent option in your situation.  If you don't need 4K, the options available at $500 will blow you away.

Speakers are a little more frustrating, IMO.  The type of music you listen too is actually among the least demanding as far as speaker systems go--at least that's my opinion, which may be disputed.  You may want "accurate", or you may want something with a sense of spaciousness and brightness.  For example, Bose 901s or Ohm Walsh speakers might just be your thing.  The only way to know for sure would be to try them all in your room for an extended audition--and that after running the room correction on your AVR.  That would take many years, given the vast number of options out there.  I don't know how to quickly narrow it down, either. You should at least consider using two smaller speakers with 1 or 2 subs--and if you get better AVRs, they will have good sub correction and integration.  Mine, for example, has separate Audyssey room EQ for 2 separate subs. 

Last, keep in mind that if you haven't had a "serious" music system before, it's hard to go wrong (although not impossible) by buying some better stuff.  Just don't blow your budget on power conditioners, exotic speaker cables, expensive damping feet and gold-plated USB cables and you should be OK.

Re: Help me build my first serious music (stereo) system

Reply #24
I don't think it has the ability to adjust to the room acoustics like Audyssey by Denon...

Processing to handle room issues, that could certainly make a difference. But which ones do more than simple EQ?
“It sounded bad to me. Digital. They have digital. What is digital? And it’s very complicated, you have to be Albert Einstein to figure it out.”
- Donald Trump, May 2017

 
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