Amp Advice for budding audiophile (currently have CA 340a + 340c + SL30)

makemywish

Active Member
Ok. First of all this is a great place to learn and after having spent a few weeks reading up on various threads, I have mustered the courage to seek advice.

I have been an amateur musician and have some appreciation of music both as performer as well as listener (I think I am trying to communicate that I have a good ear). I like my music clear and punchy with good articulation of the different frequencies. For the last ten years, I owned a Sony Mini (all in one) system, as my finances could only afford an inexpensive system.

I have saved some money to buy a decent budget separates system. So,

I first bought a cheap Tangent Amp-50 (£50) and Eltax Floorstanders (Concept 180) to wet my toes. After a week of listening I realised this sounded the same as my previous mini system. So I returned them to Richer Sounds and bought a £349 Cambridge Audio (340A, 340C and S30) deal. The speakers were biwired with Cambridge Audio cables and the CD player was connected to the amp with a QED Qunex 1. I have an ipod that is connected to the amp via a Cambridge Audio ID10. I have installed Rockbox on my ipod and play FLAC files. The speakers are stand mounted. The difference in the sound was significant, with clear articulation of all the ranges. However, there is something missing -- the lower frequencies are slightly muddled and unless I play a really well mastered CD, the sound leaves you desiring for more. For the evaluation I played the following:

CDs

  • Eagles (Hell Freezes Over)
  • Bryan Adam (Best of Me)
  • Stevie Ray Vaughan (Best)
  • John Lee Hooker (Shake it Baby)
  • Mendelssohn (Violin Concertos)
FLAC over iPod

  • Norah Jones (Fall)
  • Michael Buble (Crazy Love)
In all fairness to Cambridge Audio, one cannot expect the sound of say a £1000 system. But then, after 10 days of listening the sound does not sound exhilirating (is that common or do hi-fi owners continue to be thrilled as much as they did the first time they set up and played their stereo). The main flaws I find are as follows:

a) the bass is weak unless the source bass has some really well defined bass hits (like in the bass drum in Hotel California from Eagles' Hell Freezes Over or Buble's Cry me a river).
b) The sound is clear (low, mid and high range) but not crisp. By this I mean, I played one of my own composed tunes (composed on a computer) with very good bass, mid and high details. It does not sound the same they do off my Mac, played on earphones. When you turn the volume below 8pm, you struggle to get well defined articulation.

My question is, am I being too critical? The other is:

So, I am planning to return the system and instead get the Marantz PM6003, CD6003 and Wharfedale 10.1

Am I doing the right thing. Should I swap the 340a for another Azur instead?

£600 is the maximum I can stretch my budget to. The wife is already losing her hair over the £340 purchase.

Cheers
K
 

karkus30

Banned
Whoa, stop right there. Go and audition some different setups from other manufacturers using your discs before you go spending more money.

Get an idea of how other systems sound.

You have done the classic......what hifi 5 star/richer sound thing and listened to those that also bought into it and won't have a word said against their purchase.

That's not to say that the system is good or bad. But it is a fact you are unhappy with the sound and that is all that needs to be said.

Should mention that most MP3's played through headphones have boosted bass and it's a common complaint that hifi systems don't have the same bass performance.

Audition, audition, audition :thumbsup:
 

Chucky Pancamo

Standard Member
If youre lacking bass the Naim (amplifier range) are amazing - theyre also very clear and neutral sounding and have excellent dynamics. Theyre pricey though - the naim nait 5 can be had for around 300 quid secondhand.

Thought id chip that in anyway, good luck :)
 

BlueWizard

Distinguished Member
I think there are other things that must also be considered. First, what is your room like? Where were the speakers placed? How big is the room?

Next realize that if I won the lottery and bought my ideal system, it still wouldn't come close to the systems of some true audiophiles. They spend thousands on everything. Top turntables can run £50,000. Amps can be £100,000 and you need more than one of them. £100,000 could easily be spend on a pair of speakers. But, none of us, are remotely in that league.

Next, you need to align your expectations. Most assume that as the price goes up, with each upward increment, they are going to hear more and more. You are not! You are going to hear less and less. In the end, at the top end, you shouldn't be aware of the speaker or amps at all. It should be totally transparent. All you should hear is the music, and that should be your goal.

Now, how do you listen, and what are your expectations when you listen? The Cambridge S30 are pretty good speakers, but they have something like 4" woofer. Really? How much did you expect to come out of a 4" woofer. Tiny speakers do not make big bass. Big cheap speakers on the other hand make big cheap bass. You hear the bass, but you don't hear the bass instruments; it is just generic booming bass. Also, some people like that. For some people that is exactly what they expect to hear.

And that brings us back to expectations. Your expectations first must be realistic, and second must be right; both generally right, and right for you.

Consider this speaker -

Hifi Gear ~ Our Products ~ In ceiling / in wall ~ Monitor Audio

Infinity (BETA 40) is not so well known in the UK, but in the USA they are very well regarded as a speaker company. The BETA 40 was released in 2004 at a suggested retail of £499/pr (if I remember right). So, this is a speaker selling at a very deep discount because it has been long discontinued and replaced by other models. Price £200/pr.

In terms of amps, do you want a lot of quality and a little power, or do you want basic quality and lots of power? That's actually not an easy question to answer.

But, consider this, Harman Kardon HK3490 with 120w/ch to 8 ohms with AM/FM, digital inputs, pre-amp and subwoofer outputs, price £300 -

HARMAN KARDON HK3490 FM/AM STEREO RECEIVER £299.95 at hifix.co.uk

At HiFix, you can see several Harman Kardon stereo amp. Many feel the HK980 with is just an integrated amp with 80w/ch at £315 is a good choice.

HARMAN KARDON Hifi and AV at Hifix

Notice that HK also makes CD players.

Now, I have to ask, how loud do you play? If you are frequently up over 50% volume, which you really shouldn't be, then likely the Cambridge amps are not for you. However, if you can keep in under 50%, then there are several nice models at attractive prices.

You should be able to get the 540A and 640A within your budget.

Now, you don't really have to spend all that money.

The NAD C315BEE and NADC326BEE can be seen at HiFix.co.uk and at Richer Sounds. Then modest but high quality NAD C315 with 40w is about £200, and the NAD C326 with 50w is about £250 (Richers). Excellent amp; excellent price.

I'm just trying to show you the possibilities. And there are several other possibilities that I haven't mentioned. The point of this post, again, is just to point you at the possibilities.

Finally, in your new budget, what do you expect to get for that money. What I mean is list the items, do you expect a CD Player in that price range?

So -

-Amp
-Speakers
-CD Player

Or just amp and speakers? Or whatever?

£600 max?

Steve/bluewizard
 

dablk

Active Member
I would suggest you need to look just at the speaker for the time being. Like Steve said they aint very big. A b&w 601/602, would wipe the floor with them. Look for them second hand on here if you wanna try a quicker fix.

I doubt however you will be able to just return the speakers as its a package deal

I would say initally the jump between say a £100 amp to a £500 amp is huge. However cant agree more that after that the spend more get less is all too true. I had to go seconds route to be able to truley say my kit sounded a whole lot better. And that was £1000 worth of 10 year old second hand amplification.

Set a budget then go for a listen...and do also listen to a speaker or amp or cd that would mean a couple more months saving. Be ahappy with what you have bought. Not thinking if only i had saved and spent another £50/100/200. I once did this as I was young and wanted to walk out the shop with speakers that day! Took me a few years to be able to afford swap those once i had thought about it.

I will be honest richer sounds arent really in the buisness of doing a demo for everyone. Theyre fantastic at hooking great prices at entry level kit to the masses. Did they even suggest sitting down for a listen? doubt everyone in there on a sat gets to use the listening room. Try your local hifi deal or even some of the bigger chain stores like practical/sevenoaks/even superfi on a weekday. If they wont give you the time of day. Just dont buy from them.

Most important of all.

Have some fun doing it.
 

makemywish

Active Member
Thanks. All very valuable feedback. The speakers are arranged in an equilateral set up. I tried three combinations -- the speaker center meeting point directed behind the listening position, at the listening position and in front. Since the S30s have a rear bass port, the speakers are placed 2 ft from the wall behind it. The speakers are in the middle of the room.

The woofer size was something I did not factor in.
 

dablk

Active Member
2ft too me is quite away form the wall for a smaller speaker. Why not try moving it back a bit. It should give you more bass especially with a rear bass port.
dablk
 

makemywish

Active Member
I think there are other things that must also be considered. First, what is your room like? Where were the speakers placed? How big is the room?

The room is quite big 15 ft x 30 ft.

Next realize that if I won the lottery and bought my ideal system, it still wouldn't come close to the systems of some true audiophiles. They spend thousands on everything. Top turntables can run £50,000. Amps can be £100,000 and you need more than one of them. £100,000 could easily be spend on a pair of speakers. But, none of us, are remotely in that league.

Next, you need to align your expectations. Most assume that as the price goes up, with each upward increment, they are going to hear more and more. You are not! You are going to hear less and less. In the end, at the top end, you shouldn't be aware of the speaker or amps at all. It should be totally transparent. All you should hear is the music, and that should be your goal.

Agree.

Now, how do you listen, and what are your expectations when you listen? The Cambridge S30 are pretty good speakers, but they have something like 4" woofer. Really? How much did you expect to come out of a 4" woofer. Tiny speakers do not make big bass. Big cheap speakers on the other hand make big cheap bass. You hear the bass, but you don't hear the bass instruments; it is just generic booming bass. Also, some people like that. For some people that is exactly what they expect to hear.

The music in my opinion should not be played loud, just enough to fill the room, have clear articulation without muddying the various sounds.

And that brings us back to expectations. Your expectations first must be realistic, and second must be right; both generally right, and right for you.

Consider this speaker -

Hifi Gear ~ Our Products ~ In ceiling / in wall ~ Monitor Audio

Infinity (BETA 40) is not so well known in the UK, but in the USA they are very well regarded as a speaker company. The BETA 40 was released in 2004 at a suggested retail of £499/pr (if I remember right). So, this is a speaker selling at a very deep discount because it has been long discontinued and replaced by other models. Price £200/pr.

In terms of amps, do you want a lot of quality and a little power, or do you want basic quality and lots of power? That's actually not an easy question to answer.

In terms of amplification, I want quality and a little power. Don't want to be served an asbo by my neighbours.

But, consider this, Harman Kardon HK3490 with 120w/ch to 8 ohms with AM/FM, digital inputs, pre-amp and subwoofer outputs, price £300 -

HARMAN KARDON HK3490 FM/AM STEREO RECEIVER £299.95 at hifix.co.uk

At HiFix, you can see several Harman Kardon stereo amp. Many feel the HK980 with is just an integrated amp with 80w/ch at £315 is a good choice.

HARMAN KARDON Hifi and AV at Hifix

Notice that HK also makes CD players.

Now, I have to ask, how loud do you play? If you are frequently up over 50% volume, which you really shouldn't be, then likely the Cambridge amps are not for you. However, if you can keep in under 50%, then there are several nice models at attractive prices.

You should be able to get the 540A and 640A within your budget.

The max I will push the amplifier to to (my current 340a) is 11 o clock for say 15 mins or so. Is the 540a or 650a a significant improvement over the 340a?

Now, you don't really have to spend all that money.

The NAD C315BEE and NADC326BEE can be seen at HiFix.co.uk and at Richer Sounds. Then modest but high quality NAD C315 with 40w is about £200, and the NAD C326 with 50w is about £250 (Richers). Excellent amp; excellent price.

I'm just trying to show you the possibilities. And there are several other possibilities that I haven't mentioned. The point of this post, again, is just to point you at the possibilities.

Finally, in your new budget, what do you expect to get for that money. What I mean is list the items, do you expect a CD Player in that price range?

So -

-Amp
-Speakers
-CD Player

Or just amp and speakers? Or whatever?

£600 max?

Steve/bluewizard

The minimum I want is Amp and Speaker. The retailers in my town are RS and Superfi.
 

dablk

Active Member
Your a little mistaken. Power does not mean that its going to be loud, but it does helps if you want to rock the planet.

I would bet that 11'o clock on a 50w Cambridge audio amp would be the same volume as 11'oclock on a 200w cambridge audio amp.

200w means that if you then wanted to run the amp at 4'oclock it is more likely able to cope.
 

makemywish

Active Member
I would suggest you need to look just at the speaker for the time being. Like Steve said they aint very big. A b&w 601/602, would wipe the floor with them. Look for them second hand on here if you wanna try a quicker fix.

I doubt however you will be able to just return the speakers as its a package deal

I would say initally the jump between say a £100 amp to a £500 amp is huge. However cant agree more that after that the spend more get less is all too true. I had to go seconds route to be able to truley say my kit sounded a whole lot better. And that was £1000 worth of 10 year old second hand amplification.

Set a budget then go for a listen...and do also listen to a speaker or amp or cd that would mean a couple more months saving. Be ahappy with what you have bought. Not thinking if only i had saved and spent another £50/100/200. I once did this as I was young and wanted to walk out the shop with speakers that day! Took me a few years to be able to afford swap those once i had thought about it.

I will be honest richer sounds arent really in the buisness of doing a demo for everyone. Theyre fantastic at hooking great prices at entry level kit to the masses. Did they even suggest sitting down for a listen? doubt everyone in there on a sat gets to use the listening room. Try your local hifi deal or even some of the bigger chain stores like practical/sevenoaks/even superfi on a weekday. If they wont give you the time of day. Just dont buy from them.

Most important of all.

Have some fun doing it.

You hit it! Demos are a problem. RS wouldn't give a demo -- they asked me to try it at home (I don't know what that means. Do I get a full refund if I don't like it or do they deduct the 15%?).

I am not comfortable with online shopping as one will be unable to return the product once the box is opened (plus one has to spend on shipping). I don't own a car, so that is an additional drawback.

In the absence of a proper listening, one is making purchases in the dark. (on an aside, I find this strange because in my Asia travels late last year I discovered that most retailers will happily do a demo (walk in) unless it is a really expensive system).

Any one know of retailers in Leeds who will do a demo?
 

dablk

Active Member
You hit it! Demos are a problem. RS wouldn't give a demo -- they asked me to try it at home (I don't know what that means. Do I get a full refund if I don't like it or do they deduct the 15%?).

i didnt know they had actually sunk that low...if thats what they said i would be looking for a 100% refund!

there used to be a hifi shop in headingley. I know sevanoaks have moved to weatherby which isnt a million miles by bus or take a train to sheffield and try moorgate acoustics it wasnt that far from the station...they maybe out your budget but they also have a rage of clearance items.

superfi like i said are abit easier to deal with on a weekday.
 

JonnyLinq

Standard Member
[...]

The speakers are stand mounted. The difference in the sound was significant, with clear articulation of all the ranges.

[...]
Cheers
K

What speaker stands are you using? I've got a set of SL30's (front L+R) and am thinking about getting stands. My floor is carpeted.

I've temporarily stood the speakers on my TV unit, which is very solid but it does mean they're quite close to each other and also a bit too low (c. 30 cm off the floor). They're also taking up space I could use for other things like my Xbox and various box sets, etc.
 

makemywish

Active Member
What speaker stands are you using? I've got a set of SL30's (front L+R) and am thinking about getting stands. My floor is carpeted.

I've temporarily stood the speakers on my TV unit, which is very solid but it does mean they're quite close to each other and also a bit too low (c. 30 cm off the floor). They're also taking up space I could use for other things like my Xbox and various box sets, etc.

Soundstyle Z2. 30 cm off the floor is not desirable height at all. Ear level is what you should aim for. Also, since S30 is rear ported you should place them close to the wall. Experiment with various distances from the wall -- the best performance should be delivered at no more than a maximum of half a metre.
 

rich m

Active Member
I own a lot of Cambridge Audio gear and i really rate it. Not to say there aren't improvements to be had, but in terms of value i think it's great and would require quite a big outlay to improve upon. I've never heard their speakers though. I agree with Bluewizard that the size of the speaker may be holding you back, and if it were me that is where i would look to make an improvement, especially if you could stretch to some decent floorstanders. The Acuostic Energy Neo 3 can be had at a big discount at the moment and they are supposed to have excellent bass. The issues that raises though are a) you probably can't audition them b) what do you do with your current speakers and stands?
 

JonnyLinq

Standard Member
Soundstyle Z2. 30 cm off the floor is not desirable height at all. Ear level is what you should aim for. Also, since S30 is rear ported you should place them close to the wall. Experiment with various distances from the wall -- the best performance should be delivered at no more than a maximum of half a metre.

Thanks for the advice - I had been wondering about distance from the back wall. Like you say though, the best way is simply to play around with it. Unfortunately space is scarce around the tv so the speakers will end up in the region of 10cm-20cm from the back wall - I hope that'll be enough.

As far as the current setup is concerned, I only got them yesterday and that was the best I could do (which is nevertheless a major improvement over the tv speakers). I've homed in on the Atacama Nexus 7i (70cm) and as you and others here suggest just raising them should (I hope) result in a significant improvement.

Now off to blast some music through the speakers. :)
 

BlueWizard

Distinguished Member
I think your first priority should be your speakers.

Someone, not too long ago, managed a demo from a local Richer's of all the speakers they had in the generally £100 range. The winner in this person's eyes? The Cambridge SL30's, but based on clarity, not bass. Again, these have 4" woofer which means they move a limited amount of air, and they have limited rated bass response. Note: the rated response of the SL30's is 55hz, that is actually pretty good for a small bookshelf, but response or no response, they are still small. But, they are also relatively cheap (...sort of ...more or less).

I think a better speakers at a similar price would have been a Diamond 9.1 (5" woofer). Better yet, though somewhat rare, the Diamond 9.2 (6.5" woofer).

I'm an old school big-box big-woofer kind of guy. So, for me even a 6.5" woofer is positively tiny, unless you have more than one of them. So, to meet my personally taste, I would likely consider something like the Infinity Beta 40, unless I had a real compelling reason and need to get small speakers.

Now, perhaps you do have a reason for needing bookshelf speakers. That's fine. But you need to move up into the 5" to 6" woofer range. If I remember correctly, a 5" woofer is 70% larger than a 4" woofer, and you can expect the same increase between a 5" and a 6.5" woofer.

Most people mistakenly assume that a bigger speaker needs more power, not true, or at least, not always true. I used some big-box speakers with a 12" woofer, and drove them very successfully for many years with a basic 45 watt amp. Then later with a new 50 w/channel amp, still worked nicely. Later added some floorstanding speakers, each with twin 8" woofers. Still had no problem driving them with 50 watts.

So, right now I think, you need to think long and hard about speakers. How much you can spend? How big you can handle? How much bass you want? ...and so on.

Think about what you want for speakers. It is usually said that an upgrade in speakers, assuming you have a decent amp, will make the most noticeable difference. Second comes the amp. A bigger amp on admittedly limited speakers, is not going to make much difference.

Also, audition whatever you can. Most audio store will audition anything they have connected, assuming the store isn't real busy. That will help you gather a sense of the possibilities, and will help you put other speakers into perspective when you hear them. Other, larger store, will arrange an audition of specific combinations of equipment by appointment.

If you are also intent on replacing your amp, consider NAD; good amps, good value, good bass response.

Steve/bluewizard
 
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