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Advice needed on new Hi-Fi system

Discussion in 'Hi-Fi Stereo Systems & Separates' started by InsertNameHere, Sep 17, 2003.

  1. InsertNameHere

    InsertNameHere
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    Hi all :)

    For around 6 years now, I’ve been using an Aiwa Mini Hi-Fi system to play my music on. However, although its been pretty good to me (I’ve had no complaints up to now), I’ve been toying with the idea of upgrading this with a ‘separates system’. Now, I have to admit I’m a bit of a ‘newbie’ when it comes to Hi-Fi equipment but hopefully after your help and expertise I will be in a better position to make a final decision…

    Now coincidence or not, it just so happened that What Hi*Fi? has issued an ‘Ultimate Hi-Fi Guide’ this month. In this its summarised virtually all the five star equipment its reviewed over the years (highlighting best buys, best for bass, best for classical etc). But in order to gain other opinions and user feedback I’ve been browsing the net for any useful bits of information and looking through past posts on various forums and newgroups - including this one…

    It’s a lot of information to take in but I would first like to outline two systems that I’ve ‘ended up’ with (purely based on reviews and user opinions):

    The First (and most favourable one I guess):

    CD Player: NAD C521BEE
    Amplifier: NAD C320BEE
    Speakers: Acoustic Energy Aegis Evo One
    Interconnects: QED Qunex 2
    Speaker Cable: QED Silver Anniversary Biwire


    The Second one:

    CD Player: Marantz CD5400
    Amplifier: Marantz PM7200
    Speakers: Acoustic Energy Aegis Evo One
    Interconnects: QED Qunex 2
    Speaker Cable: QED Silver Anniversary Biwire

    Before asking any questions relating to these setups, I would like to give you a few facts to base your answers on first:

    - My budget is around £650 (that’s around $975 for you US folk).
    - The type of music I mostly listen to is Rock and Metal.
    - The approximate dimensions of my room is 3.5m by 2.5m.
    - The system will be sitting on either a desk or unit.

    Now, with these points in mind I was wondering what would be the best equipment for my purpose? (It doesn’t have to be confined to the above – but please keep in mind my budget ;)). Will either of the two above setups be able to handle my music ok? And what kind of benefits will result from buying a slightly more expensive CD Player to what is listed? That is the NAD C542 (as opposed to the NAD C521BEE) and the Marantz CD6000-OSE (as opposed to the Marantz CD5400). Is the extra cost justified?

    If possible it would be nice to have optical out for my Minidisc player (but I guess coaxial wouldn’t be the end of the world).

    I also have a few more ‘general’ questions to ask if you don’t mind. Maybe you could shed some light on them… ;)

    - With regards to speakers its pretty obvious that ‘floorstanders’ are speakers that stand on the floor but What Hi*Fi are using these other terms as well: ‘Standmount’ and ‘Bookshelf’. What do these actually mean?
    - When purchasing a new system what precedence do you place on potential components? Should it be CD Player first, then Amp, then Speakers since the output of the system can only be good as its input?
    - Its obvious that speaker cable comes on the roll and either plugs or connectors are required for it. Is this a simple job to do? Does it require soldering or something? Also how many plugs are required? I’ve been looking at pictures of the cable and I get the impression I need 8 – that’s 4 for each cable. Is that right?

    Finally with regards to retailers, I’m at a bit of a loss. The only local Hi-Fi shop that I know of is Richer Sounds and after looking at their website, they don’t appear to sell any of the above. However, I have found this equipment on various online retailers. Which ones have a good reputation because to be honest I haven’t heard of any of them. They are:

    http://www.prcdirect.co.uk/PRC/PRC.storefront
    http://www.hifi4less.com
    http://www.empiredirect.co.uk
    http://www.unbeatable.co.uk
    http://www.hifibitz.co.uk

    I apologise for all the questions but hopefully you can provide some answers or at least point me in the right direction. I’m sure with your guidance I could come up with a terrific system!

    Thanks in advance,

    Alex
     
  2. MarkE19

    MarkE19
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    Few! What a first post.:D
    Well let me be the fist person to welcome you to the forum.
    Lets start here:
    Floor standers - yes they stand on the floor.
    Standmounts - normally around half the size of floorstanders and are designed to go on a small stand to make them about the same hight as FS'ers.
    Bookshelf - the next size down from SM'ts and tend to get put on larger stands or (guess where :confused: ) on a shelf.

    Budget break down - there really is no hard and fast rule here. A system is ony as good as the weakest part. Feed the amp rubbish and it will sound rubbish, but that equaly applies to the quality of the speakers. If the speakers are too good for the other units then they will show up the rest of the system. You really should try and match the quality of all components to get the best out of a system.

    Speaker terminals - they can be bare wire, bannana plugs or spades (and a few less seen options).
    Bare wire is cheapest, but most fiddaly to get all connected.
    Bannana plugs are the most common and will fit into most amps and speakers.
    Spade connectors are not that common in UK, but more so in Europe as they are not able to use bannanas (fit into power sockets). Some amps/speakers will not take bannanas so spades are required.
    Each speaker needs 2 cables (or 4 if biwired, 6 if tri) so 2 plugs on each end means 4 per cable (or 8 or 12). Some can be crimped or others (prefered method) soldered. The cable you mentioned above is biwire so for that you need 8, but a standard amp can not use 4 cables, only 2 (and many speakers can also only take the 2 cables). You do not need biwire cable, or you could split the 4 cables of biwire into 2 sets of 2 cables (often cheaper than 2 sets of 2 cables).


    Appologies, but I have probably given you more questions to ask than answers. :rolleyes:
    Time for a coffee and then I'll reread your post and see if there is anything more I can add.

    Mark.
     
  3. MarkE19

    MarkE19
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    There does not seem to be too many HiFi retailers around these days. Richer Sounds do tend to fill a gap in the market for many people. But as you have noticed they do only sell a limited range.
    All the internet retailers you have mentioned are fairly well known on here (HiFiBitZ are even one of the sponsors of this forum). You will always find a few people that will recommend any one of those listed, and then a few more that will tell you to stay away from them. I'll leave that to those that have used them.


    Choosing the kit is something that is down to personal taste. I might love something that another forum member will hate. Get along to some stores and demo. I notice that you are in London, so for the large range you might want to go to Tottenham Court Road. There are loads of HiFi store there. Most of them do not have dedicated demo rooms, but should be able to play a CD on a few different systems. Try to get a setup the same as you are trying to buy. Very good speakers connected to a really good amp can sound very bad as they just don't work well together. Put either of them into another setup and they could sound great.
    Also you have listed components that have been reviewed over a long time span and therefore many of them could no longer be made or just have newer models available. This is another reason for getting out to the shops.
    Once you have found the setup that you want then do search the internet for better prices. This can save you a small fortune and even enable you to fit higher spec models into your budget.

    Mark.
     
  4. jamessampson

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    I have your exact N#1 system but with Mission M74 speakers - exact same interconnects / cables etc... which I got for £585 all in.
    I am very pleased with the system - everything I play sounds fantastic!

    I was very dissapointed with the Marantz CD5400 - far less revealing or detailed compared with the NAD - Sade and Norah Jones for example were noticably inferior - not what I was expecting given that many people / mags rate the Marantz as a wrothy rival to the C521BEE.

    The Marantz PM7200 is a great amp - although I can't tell a blind bit of difference with it being in Class A mode or not! If you go with that amp, I'd go with a better cd player than the CD5400 - possibly the CD6000-OSE as you say, or the NAD C542 which is better than the C521BEE and should go well with the Marantz's extra oomph. Personally though, I'd stick with the C320BEE which is a great match for the C320BEE and is definitely good enough!

    I listened to both systems you are looking at and the NAD was best over a range or different music - plus you get the SR4 remote with the NAD amp which controls every other NAD - the C521BEE remote doesn't have a volume control which to me is annoying!

    I bought my system about a month ago from Audio-T (Enfield) who were very helpful. They price matched the NAD electronics (with PRC Direct's prices) to £165 (C521BEE) and £175 (C320BEE) with the Mission M74's for £125 (ex-display) - they even chucked in the QED Qunex 2 interconnect and the speaker cable plugs (£4 each) - not a bad deal considering it would have cost £920!

    Hope that helps,

    James
     
  5. InsertNameHere

    InsertNameHere
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    lol. Well I thought I’d ask all the questions in one go instead of stringing them out over several posts. Also, I tried to be thorough as possible so you’d have all relevant information at hand and a fair idea of my situation from the outset. I can assure you I wasn’t just brushing up on my typing skills ;).

    Anyway, firstly thanks for your answers / suggestions. Some useful information there. However, after reading your second post Mark (particularly the bit about the selection of kit is down to personal taste and what one person may like, another may not), I feel as though I’m back to square one lol. As I said in my first post, I’m not really an audio expert. The only system I’ve really listened to is the one listed above – the Aiwa V750. I kind of get the feeling that ANYTHING I go and listen to will be an improvement. More importantly though, for the last 6 years I’ve been using the same settings on my Hi-Fi system (regardless of the music I’ve played). That is high bass and what Aiwa class as “Rock” and “Live” settings. I fear I’ve been exposed to this sound for so long, anything different will sound strange to me. Therefore, unlike all you experts out there, I don’t think I’ll be able to make any ‘confident’ judgement on whether the system is producing the right bass, treble etc. I was hoping to rely on reviews / user opinions to determine which components are known to produce ‘the right’ balance of sound (as well as those which are well built, reliable and good value for money) and go from there.

    Anyway, if I have time, I might head down to Richer Sounds sometime this Weekend and see what’s on offer. What brands, however, are generally considered to be good? I know RS tend to offer Cambridge products. What are these like? Also, what pointers can you (or anyone else) give me when trying out a setup? What should I be looking / listening out for?

    Thanks again for your help (and also for the welcome)


    Can you tell me how the system copes with a heavier type of music? I was looking at a site called audioreview and for the NAD C520 player (the predecessor to the 521 I believe), it said its more suited to ‘Jazz/Classical/Pop’. Do you agree with this? Also, I’ve read that some of the NAD players are prone to ‘skip’ every now and then. Is this something you’ve experienced? Mind you, again, these were comments made about older models so its more than likely that this problem’s been resolved since.

    I looked on the web for Audio-T but unfortunately they have no stores local to me. I guess I’ll have to stick with Richer Sounds…

    Thanks for taking the time to post mate,

    Alex
     
  6. jamessampson

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    The NAD system copes brilliantly with everything I chuck at it - rock, pop, jazz - the lot. Jazz especially sounds good - involving and warm. I mainly listen to old 70's/80's stuff - Pink Floyd, Dire Straits, Tubular Bells etc which sound great; but then again all other stuff (Norah Jones, Sade, Elton John etc) are all equally as good.

    My C521BEE doesn't skip at all - I guess it was sorted a while ago - the C520 was out years ago and got replaced by the C521, then the C521i and now the C521BEE.

    I've never had any Cambridge equipment, so I can't really comment - although I know their new DAB tuners are very good and very affordable (£150 I believe).

    Definitely make sure you audition the system before buying. When listening to the kit, play a piece of muisic you like over and over - in my case Sade, Smooth Operator. Listen to say the first minute of the song a couple of times and then swap over, say, the amp. Listen to this a couple of times over the same track listening for any differences. Then swap over the cd player and mix and match with different amps. Once you think you're happy, try a completely different piece of music - say heavy rock or rap, and see how it copes with it - some kit sounds great with pop, but play any rock and it sounds awful.

    Take time with speakers especially - generally I tend to spend the most on speakers and make sure you get the best out of them by biwiring and using decent cable - like the QED Silver Anniversary BiWire you suggest.

    Bear in mind that most stores will have all speakers biwired, or even biamped, and have decent (£100+) interconnects with all mains filters and vibration pads; - again a system can sound substantially different with different interconnects and cables - try these out as well as they make a huge difference and can be used to 'hide' or 'limit' any poor sounding accoustics. For example, use a heavier cable to minimize an over bright treble; or a less dense thinner cable to minimize heavy handed bass.

    Once you're happy, moan at the store to give you a decent discount and chuck in interconnects - which they usually do.

    I know I annoyed the guys at Audio-T as I spent over 2 hours mixing kit and swapping amps, cd players, speakers, cables, interconnects over and over again - but then again you've got to make sure you're happy with the system completely before you agree!

    Good luck...

    James:cool:
     
  7. Montana

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    One small suggestion that I would give you is, with you're current mini Hi-Fi system is, get you're favourite cd and turn off the dsp modes( like the rock and live that you have been listening to) and set to normal, also (if you have one) set the graphic sliders to "0" (thats in the middle).
    I had the same problem when I started to look for separates, I never used dsp modes(because to me they sounded very echo'y) , but I changed the graphic to the way I liked the sound.All you are doing with the graphic is actually distorting the sound and making it very different to what the artist intended.
    So I turned everything to normal, graphic to flat "0" and listened to my favourite cd's again, and there was such a difference.Now this is what I guaged my first purchases on.
    Always (if possible) listen to your intended purchases, it makes a lot of difference.If you have a wife or girlfriend etc , take them along with you as they might notice something you don't and it gets them involved.
    Anyway , I hope this helps a little and report back when you have had a listen to future purchases.

    Andy
     
  8. InsertNameHere

    InsertNameHere
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    Hi Andy

    After reading your post, I decided to do as you said – that is turn off all DSP settings on my Hi-Fi. Well, in short, it didn’t go down too well lol. I don’t know whether its just down to my system, but the sound was absolutely awful. My music seemed very flat and distant and at times ‘boomy’ as if my Hi-Fi couldn’t handle the music being played - even if it was soft rock. Please tell me that’s not how its going to sound on a separates system!?!! If it is, then I may seriously have to reconsider my plan.

    Thanks for your reply. It has proved very useful!

    Alex
     
  9. Montana

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    No, its not what you're new system will sound like at all, but it's showing the downside of your system now.If you have a good listen to a cd several times, then go into Richer Sounds (not ideal, but a good start), and setup a demo(if you're local branch has one) and listen to the BOTTOM of the range separates system, you will see what a heck of a difference that makes.
    From here you will be able to judge how good/bad other separates are against what you listened to_One other tip I will give you is have some time in the demo room by yourself(or with wife/girlfriend) , without a salesman being present.This is because a) they constantly natter(so not hearing anything) b)they put you off standing over you(like being in school) and c) this makes you relax, and listen to the music without outside distractions.
    If you have any other suggestions , just ask, as I know how daunting it is changing, and not knowing much, but we all started here !

    Andy
     
  10. RickB

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    Alex,

    Buying a hifi is one of those quests that only you can really solve - people can give suggestions and advice but its down to you to find the answer.

    One piece of advice I would stress is that if you have a hard and fast budget of £650 - then dont worry at this point about connecting cables. Okay people might question this - but cables are something that can be replaced easily and cheaply in the future when funds are available - your choice of CD player,amp and speakers can not. If you decide you like something that falls slightly outside of your budget - go for it - but make a mental note that interconnects and speaker cable must be upgraded when funds permit. Ignoring a better component because you need a budget for improved cables is pointless. You can never make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

    The other thing to be careful of is reviews. One mans water is another mans poison and all that. Marantz stuff is recognised by many as being wonderful - but I find it to harsh to listen too - I bought CD6000Ki-signature a couple of years back on the strength of reviews and fortunately managed to get my money back when I returned it the next day. For me it was overly bright and harsh - yet I know numerous people who swear by it. Use them as a guide - but dont take it as gospel.

    £650 isn't that small a budget - it would be best to go to a couple of dealers and ask their opinion. For your budget you could easily get a system that sounded excellent. Richersounds are great for products that are end of life (read very cheap) but not so great for current products. Dont be afraid of spending a couple of hours listening to stuff and swapping components out to see if you can improve things.

    The other point to make is that you shouldn't assume that one manufacturers CD player and amp are better than a combination of two different makes of CD and amp. Listen to a Nad CD player with a marantz amp and vice versa - you dont need to stick to a single manufacturer.

    That said the two systems you listed despite the same speakers will give pretty different sounds - the Marantz will be brighter and faster, the Nad more natural - neither is a criticism - just pick the one you prefer on your own choice in music.

    RickB
     
  11. hornydragon

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    insertnamehere if you live in london then a tube ride or 2 will get you to some of the best retailers around! have a look at the dealer listings on manufacturers sites and in the hifi press. go and listen to the systems you are thinking of take 3 cd's you love but that are different not all very similiar sounds obvious i know!!!
    then listen to them before setting off and see what you think in the dealers demo room!!!
     
  12. nsherin

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    Ah - I can see why the NAD combination was your favourte. As a C521BEE owner myself, I reckon it's a storming player for the money. You'll struggle to find anything else to beat it in the sub-£200 territory. Yes, it's top whack in the £200 or less CD player range, but the results certainly give that enjoyment factor!

    Oh and QED Qunex 1 is a decent budget interconnect at £20 along with QED Original Speaker cable at £2.50/metre.
     
  13. mick23

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    insertname

    take your time to audition/demo amps/speakers etc, make sure as suggested you bring cds of THE TYPE OF music you wish to play, rather than use shops demo cds which tend to be of the more mellow nature.

    i would suggest you leave cash/credit card at HOME, prior to demos so you do not purchase in haste,

    it is far cheaper in the long run to spend modest sums on going to demos than purchase something that after a while may not really be to your liking,

    i have never dealt with audio t but they do seem to offer a trial period , or the option of changing an item of simular or higher price .
     
  14. mick23

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    jamessampson

    the use of heavier cable to "hide" treble excess had never occured to me, thats possibly why demos never sounded so bright as at home????
     
  15. jamessampson

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    mick23

    Supposedly, denser thicker speaker cable does increase the bass and 'limit' treble; whereas thinner less dense cable emphasizes the higher frequencies.
    I'm not certain about this, but from what I have heard it does tend to be the case.

    Audio-T allow you to upgrade an item of higher value within a month - although they have agreed to upgrade my NAD C420 tuner to the latest C422 for free (both cost £180) - will nicely match my silver NAD kit now!

    James
     
  16. andymc

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    Getting all nostalgic here. NAD was the first kit I ever owned teamed up with some B & W DM5's. It sounded fantastic.

    Just use your ears and watch what your feet do. I find if I want to tap my feet/sing along then its working - if it washes over me then it washes over me.

    Your first choice seems definately the best in my experience though award winners do not always work well together that system is fine in my opionion. Let us know what you go for


    Andy Cuthbert
     

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