amp & speakers

Discussion in 'Hi-Fi Stereo Systems & Separates' started by dap33, Feb 12, 2014.

  1. dap33

    dap33
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    as per title looking for an amp and a pair of speakers, budget £1500 - £2000. The room is small about 4m x 3m.

    All of my music comes downloaded from the internet played on my macbook via itunes(dont know if i need a dac as well?), which mainly consists of D&B, Old School Hip Hop, Ghetto Funk, Rock all sorts.
     
  2. dogfonos

    dogfonos
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    No other sources? It's easy to think that all you need is a conventional amp + speakers because that's the way it's always been. But times have changed. Many folk now use a computer as their only source which makes a conventional amp redundant (who needs multiple switched inputs, volume control, tone controls etc if the only source is a PC/Mac). Simple principle: pay for features you don't need and audio quality will suffer for any given budget.

    Fortunately, there are other options in the form of active speakers - and there are scores, if not hundreds, of them out there. These AVI speakers are one of the most domestically orientated examples I'm aware of that fit your budget (£1250):
    AVI ADM9.1: unusual active speakers prove a viable system alternative | gramophone.co.uk
    This is not a recent review because a newer version is now available that, allegedly, has improved sound quality and in particular, deeper and stronger bass. Size wise, they really fit well with the 4 x 3m room too. Too large a speaker in this size of room could swamp it with excessive bass. That said, if you want more bass extension (and seeing your music choice, you might), there's a matching sub (£800). And just in case you may want more switched inputs in the future, these AVI speakers have two optical digital and one stereo analogue inputs.

    Other high quality active speakers are available, usually marketed at pro studio users so great audio quality but no grills and the finish if often (but not always) a bit workman-like. As yet, only a handful of these pro music products offer digital inputs.

    Does your Macbook have an optical digital output? I think the pro version does. If not, either connect the amp or active speakers to the Mac's headphone outlet (quality from computer headphone outlets can be iffy) or buy a DAC - type of DAC will depend on what system you buy.

    Last point. Unless you have (or intend to have) high quality audio files then there's no point in spending this much money, IMO. No matter how good the active speakers (or amp + speakers) are, they can't compensate for poor quality source media.
     
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  3. MIFF INFIDELIUS

    MIFF INFIDELIUS
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    As dogfonos pointed out, if the source itself is poor ( eg less than ~320kbps , Mp3, Wav...) quality speakers may reveal the poor quality of the recording and could sound dull at best.

    DAC can help with this but not considerably. If you have the means to connect a DAC ( USB or optical ) than one would definitely be on my shortlist.
     
  4. dap33

    dap33
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    Thank you very much for the info guys. The last hifi i had was a technics sa-eh500. So i'm a bit off a noob when it comes to modern hifi set ups. :)

    I have plenty of flac albums, but the majority of the music i listen to on a daily basis, i'd say on average the music is between 192 kbps and 320 kbps. So i think the AVI ADM9.1 may be a bit of overkill. I had looked at the Kef X300a. I also have ps3 with external hardrive to connect.
     
  5. dogfonos

    dogfonos
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    Agree.

    I've seen but not heard these. Have to say that they appear expensive for what you get. IMO, there appears to be better value elsewhere but then I've not listened to them - perhaps they'd blow me away?

    IME, products aimed at the hifi market rarely offer good value (probably like these KEF speakers).

    In the £500 price range, I'd be looking at pro music active monitors such as these:

    Yamaha HS8 Studio Monitor | www.whybuynew.co.uk
    M-Audio M3-8 Studio Monitor x 1 at Studiospares
    ADAM F7 x1 Nearfield Monitor at Studiospares
    There are so many more options. Check out these links and they'll lead to others. Some speakers are priced as singles, some as pairs.

    Does this mean you will need an input for a second source?
     
  6. BlueWizard

    BlueWizard
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    I'm not against the idea presented by others that you should consider Active Speakers or Studio Monitors, but I think first rather than assume, we should ask you to refine your requirements.

    In a Studio Monitor, likely you have very precisely designed active crossovers, plus very precisely matched amps, and in your budget range very high quality drivers. Mackie, Genelac, Focal, and many others are as good as it gets.

    But Studio Monitors lack a degree of versatility that you get in a Stereo Amp. Perhaps a Stereo Amp is not necessary at the moment, but a good amp will last for decades, so you need to look a little more long term than just the moment.

    In a room 4m (13ft) x 3m (10ft), you certainly don't have a lot of space, but given the type of music you like, I might be inclined to go with modest floorstanding. Though given they type of music you like, Bookshelf/Sub would not be out of place. Not my personal favorite, because it is a bit harder to blend the Sub and Front together, but it certainly can be done. Also, consider the proximity of neighbors and to what extent big bass is going to disturb them.

    With primarily Digital Music, there are two ways of streaming. While a direct Audio connect to the Headphone out or Line out are possible, most would prefer to use some type of DAC. Don't worry, relative to your budget, they are not that expensive. While an Optical Connection is possible, most would use USB out on the computer. So a direct Digital Connections of some type is the first method.

    The second method is actual streaming over your local Computer Area Network. If you store the music Data on a NAS (network attache storage) then you can access the music independent of whether you computer is on or not. NAS is generally no more expensive than a common USB hard drive. Hard Drive Storage today is very cheap. This can be accessed via direct wire connection or by WiFi connection.

    And, in some cases it is possible to stream music directly from a Smart Phone or Smart Pad to the stereo system using Bluetooth. This is good for casual listening, but how good it is depends on the Bluetooth protocol being used. However, it is not going to sound bad, just not as good as playing directly from storage or disk.

    Next, how do you feel about Tone Controls? While I virtually never use them, I do like having them. There are higher end amps that do not have Tone Controls. It has nothing to do with the quality of the amps, it is simply a choice on the part of the designers.

    Next, if you do choose Network Streaming of music, which would of course give you access to Internet Radio, for best results and easiest use, it is best do download an APP to a Smart Devices like a Smart Pad, or Smart Phone. These are typically free, and give you much greater versatility in managing and selecting your music.

    Now, if you don't mind a direct connect to your Mac, then the solution is simply - a quality DAC, and amps and speakers. Whether the amps and speakers are separate component units or combined in to one active unit is up to you.

    As to DACs in general, you can get a single purpose USB DAC that is no bigger than a USB Thumb Drive. You can get a more versatile DAC with multiple optical/coaxial/USB input also at a pretty fair price. The choice is based on your needs. Also note there are amps that have DAC built into them, and even some Stereo amps that have Computer Networking build in.

    Right now, you seem to be centering the system around your computer, however, if you use Streaming, you could center the system around your TV for movie watching, and still have no problem playing your computer based music. But is that something you might want or need? These are the secondary issue that need to be resolved in order to guide your choices in the moment. You also need to weigh long term vs short term. You are spending a considerable amount of money. If you plan it right, the resulting system could server you for decade. However, if you purchase strictly based on short term consideration, then perhaps when you move to a new place or your general fortunes change, you will be buying a new system again.

    Lately I've been saying - You can't get what you want until you know what you want.

    Knowing and getting what you want comes from careful consideration of your wants and needs, with an eye on both long term and short term goals.

    While I'm not trying to talk you out of Studio Monitors, because they would be superb in your price range, I'm simply trying to get you to properly weigh all necessary considerations. You can't really go wrong either way. If this is primarily a computer based system, then Active Speakers/Studio Monitors are compact and they sound great. If you foresee this going beyond simply computer music, then you certainly will not go wrong with a component based system.

    Also, in the field of Studio Monitors, they do make Studio Monitors that have 8" and 10" bass drivers. So, even in this realm, you are not limited to tiny speakers.

    Give your budget, no matter which direction your choose, active or separate, you are likely to come away with a very good system. For now it is simply a matter of working out the details of which type of system best suits your needs.

    For what it is worth.

    Steve/bluewizard
     
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  7. dap33

    dap33
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    thanks dogfonos and bluewizard i really appreciate the time taken to give me some info.

    Yes i would like to connect my ps3(and tv if possible) as well, i play music through the ps3 connected to my tv at the moment and the sound is great, just through my tv speakers(Panasonic Plasma) nothing special.

    But how much better could the music, i listen to be, if I got a amp & dac and speakers. I dont listen to music at super loud levels and i not looking for earth shattering bass levels. Not to bothered about streaming.

    thanks again
     
  8. BlueWizard

    BlueWizard
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    For £150 you can get a Cambridge DACMagic 100 which has 1x optical, 2x coaxial, and 1x USB-PC connections. Combine that with an Amp and some speakers, and you would have a very good system for movies, music, and games.

    Again, myself, I would prefer a modest floorstanding speaker, but given the music you like, and given a desire to listen to movies, and not knowing the proximity of the neighbors, likely a Bookshelf/Sub would also be a good choice. This is something of a personal preference. Keep in mind with a Stereo amp you really don't get electronic bass management. You have to fine a balance between the Front and Sub using exclusively the controls that are on the Sub.

    You might need to determine the full range of output possibilities on the PS3, but if you can feed the PS3 to the TV, then you should have no problem feeding the Optical Out of the TV to the DAC and then to the Amp. A Stereo amp will give you inputs from other sources, if the need arises.

    One aspect that needs to be considered, it the availability of a Remote Volume Control. Active Speakers and Studio Monitors generally don't have the option of a Remote Control. In a strictly computer system where you are sitting at the computer desktop, that's not that much of a problem. But if you are watching TV, or lounging back away from the compute or TV, having an available Remote can be handy.

    Keep in mind, that once you connect an external amp, whether component or studio monitors, the TV remote control will no longer work to control the sound volume. That is why your external devices needs its own remote control. A stereo amp will not be a problem, a vast majority do have remote controls. However, as common as a remote is with a Stereo amp, it is equally rare with studio Monitors. There are a few active speakers with remote control but they are not that common.

    If we assume your budget is a working £1600, and we subtract £150 for a DAC, then that leaves us with £1450. The common way to divide this is 1/3rd for the amp, and about 2/3rds for the speakers. Though this isn't etched in stone is simply establishes some perspective and a starting point.

    That leaves roughly £500 for the amp and the balance for Speakers (£950/pr). If you decide on getting a Subwoofer, then count on that eating a very substantial portion of our speaker budget. Though in that room, you do not need a huge Subwoofer. I'm guessing something in the neighborhood of £300 to £350.

    Again, these prices are not etched in stone, and rarely to the final prices actually match up. I'm simply establishing a starting point. There is plenty of flexibility when we start looking at actual equipment. Also, since you originally said you could go as high as £2000, I've left a great deal of flexibility for equipment choices.

    That should give you some additional perspective. I'll have to give it some thought though before I recommend specific equipment. But I am confident that for your budget, you can get a very nice system.

    The only hesitation I have in making recommendations is the room size. A bit on the small side, and that makes it difficult to decide what is going to work best.

    I'll give it some more thought.

    Steve/bluewizard
     
  9. michaelkenward

    michaelkenward
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    I make no comment on your choice of music – it is alien territory to me – but I would say that what you are listening to is noise, not music.

    I wouldn't spend more than a couple of hundred quid for something to listen to most downloads. If they aren't flac files, or very high quality mp3s, the more you pay the more you will find the sound painful as the faults come to the fore.

    Don't take my word for it – why should you? – just visit any site where they natter about sound quality.
     
  10. BlueWizard

    BlueWizard
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    That depends on the specific downloaded music. Generally 192k bit-rates are OK, but technically lacking. MP3 with 256k or 320k bit-rates are close to a CD. Notice I said close. Most would prefer their download files to be in FLAC format. FLAC is considered bit-prefect, though it does use a compression method. Alternately Apple-Lossless format, also bit-perfect.

    Given your genre of music and that you have downloads instead of burns or rips, it is possible that a £2000 system is a bit of overkill, but I would rather have a good system that can expand and grow with me over time than a limited system.

    Steve/bluewizard
     
  11. dogfonos

    dogfonos
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    Not an area I know a lot about but there is clearly concern here over the quality of your music files.

    All I can add is that Ogg Vorbis files at 320kbps (Spotify premium) sound quite a bit nicer than Ogg Vorbis files at 160kbps (Spotify standard) whilst I'm not sure that even the 320kbps files sound as good as CD - close call to my ears though, and on some music, I fail to pick out any sound quality differences between CD and 320kbps Ogg Vorbis files (when listening to identical tracks).

    Could you purchase Apple lossless files from now on?
     
  12. dap33

    dap33
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    all the artist albums in my collection are flac converted into apple loseless. Its the other music(podcasts, soundcloud mixes etc) i listen to more often i'm worried about now. If 192kbps-320kbps isn't good enough then what?
     
  13. MIFF INFIDELIUS

    MIFF INFIDELIUS
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    I listen to wide range of music myself, from liquid |DnB, jazz, rock you name it... and while 320kbps is OK, it is not a FLAC which is so easy to get spoiled by. Then again, bad room acoustics and or incorrect speaker positioning may result in worse results than few bits missing from an mp3 file.

    Some listeners can tell badly recorded / re remastered material because the high quality speaker can reveal as much. Needn't worry too much though, even between exact 320kbps bitrate files the difference can be quite noticeable. The whole point is that good recordings ( to begin with ) will give you most for the money spent ;)

    EDIT - It's also worth mentioning that some speakers are more forgiving when playing bad source than others
     
  14. dap33

    dap33
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    EDIT - It's also worth mentioning that some speakers are more forgiving when playing bad source than others

    be really interested in hearing some speaker recommendations
     
  15. BlueWizard

    BlueWizard
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    You still need to answer some of the questions about the type of equipment you want, and any specific features you might need.

    Though this is just to shift the discussion more to equipment, here is an example of a system I might consider -

    Yamaha RN500 (£450) 80w/ch, AM/FM, Network Capability, built-in DAC w/ coaxial, optical, and USB-media, etc...

    Superfi - YAMAHA RN500 NETWORKED STEREO RECEIVER

    In speakers, just as a suggestion -

    Superfi - WHARFEDALE DIAMOND 155 FLOOR STANDING SPEAKERS (PAIR)

    That barely takes you to £1000.

    Still at a modest price, consider bookshelf with Sub -

    Superfi - WHARFEDALE DIAMOND 122 BOOKSHELF SPEAKERS (PAIR)

    Superfi - DALI ZENSOR 3 SPEAKERS (PAIR)

    These bookshelf speakers on their own will go pretty deep, close to 40hz at -6dB.

    Then combine that with a high value Sub -

    Sub Woofers - Sub Bass - Subwoofer

    In that small space, the XLS200 would be more than enough.

    That puts you in the £650 to £700 range for speaker, then adding the suggested amp above, brings the total to a modest £1050.

    Again, this is just to get the ball rolling. There are many other systems to consider. But it would help our making recommendations, if we had a better idea of what specifically you were looking for in terms of features.

    There are ways to add Network Streaming and Internet Radio access by external means, either now or later. This typically cost roughly £250 to £300.(SONOS)

    Also, if the system and you computer can or will be in reasonably proximity to one another, a direct connect between the Computer and the Stereo system would be about £150 (USB DAC).

    Though not cheap, there are ways of connecting your computer and you stereo wirelessly. -

    D2 24-bit Wireless DAC

    Note the price is in US Dollars. A quick check indicates the UK price is about £500.

    This doesn't give you full network capability, but it does give you high quality sound (24bit/96KHz PCM), and allows your computer to be separate from the stereo system. "Separate" meaning they can be in different rooms, and you can still listen to anything that is happening, for an audio perspective, on your computer.

    So, you have a lot of options, but we can't narrow the options down until you give us some feedback on the features you think you might need.

    Again, these aren't so much recommendations as to simply shift the discussion to hardware and give you some sense of the possibilities for you money.

    For what it's worth.

    Steve/bluewizard
     
  16. BlueWizard

    BlueWizard
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    Also an additional thought. How permanent is this location? If you plan to be there for a few years, then that might color our recommendations, it is a relatively small room, especially if it is a closed room.

    If you will move within a few years (like 3 or less), then perhaps the system can be a bit over-sized for the room. But if we go beyond say 3 years, then best fit the system to the room.

    I can think of many more possibilities for amp/speaker systems, but I need some feedback.

    Steve/bluewizard
     
  17. dap33

    dap33
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    thanks blue wizard

    Network Streaming and Internet Radio i have no interest in particularly, its certainly not a deal breaker. I want ideally to be able to connect my ps3 and use that as the media player (i have a load of music on a 1TB external harddrive which is connected to the ps3) as well as a laptop as and when is needed. Would i need a dac for the ps3?

    I have no plans on moving at all, to much stress involved lol.
     
  18. BlueWizard

    BlueWizard
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    I'm not sure what the output options are on the PS3, nor the user interface for music, no direct experience. So, you'll either have to educate me or other will have to deal with that issue.

    For direct playback from your computer, I would suggest a USB DAC. Though if Optical is available that is certainly an option. The cost of either an Optical or USB DA would work well within your budget. Though there are amps that have at least Optical/Coaxial inputs.

    I'm still inclined to recommend modest floorstanding, though Bookshelf/Sub would suit your style of music better. If the bookshelf are wisely chosen, then you can play with or without the Sub, and without should be fine for casual listening, Good bookshelf have pretty deep bass. For example, the Diamond 122 with 6.5" bass drivers go down to about 40hz. When you are serious into the music turn the Sub on for the extra bump in the bass.

    I tend to stay away from subwoofers in a stereo system because they are hard to integrate. Not impossible but it takes some conscious and deliberate effort to seamlessly blend the Sub to the Front. You won't have any electronic bass management for the front speakers, and on the Sub, you are limited to the controls on the Sub itself. People do this all the time, and more than getting it right, it is about getting it to sound the way you want it to sound. Since I'm not you, I can't say what it will take to get the perfect blend between the Front and Sub speakers. Again, for myself, I just prefer to get Floorstanding.

    As far as a DAC, let's make this simply and assume you need an everything DAC. The Cambridge Audio DADMagic 100 has individually selectable 1x Optical, 2x Coaxial, and 1x USB-PC. That should cover everything. The price is currently about £150 from RicherSounds.com.

    That means you can choose just about any Amp you want. I think I figured about £500 for the amp and roughly £1000/set for speakers, and that leaves you a bit of room for flexibility.

    As to specific amp and speakers, I'm going to have to give that some thought. Plus my Internet connection is acting up right now so it is hard to search for possible products. I'll check back tomorrow.

    Steve/bluewizard
     
  19. Silverblack

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    I would look at either the cambridge audio minx xi streamer it has both optical and coaxial plus Bluetooth, aswell as a sub out. It's small but packs 40 watts into 8 ohms, 47 watts into 6 ohms and 55 into 4 ohm loads.

    Then there's the marantz cr510 streamer that has Apple AirPlay USB inputs on the front and back plus a sub out and an optical digital in although it lacks on Bluetooth. It also packs 60 watts per channel i have been considering either of these compact systems myself but will be partnering them with high quality speakers.

    I've already demoed the marantz with the best combo i have heard so far which was with the monitor audio silver 1 and 2 speakers the sound quality astounded me bass in spades negating the need for a sub but with everything in between making for a very nice non fatiguing sound.

    I'm yet to try the cambridge audio minx xi where that comes in at £500 though i would match that with either the dynaudio dm6 speakers or focal chorus 714v speakers if you could accommodate floor standers nintronics have some nice prices at the moment on them and amazon seem to be showing them on there site to.
     
  20. dap33

    dap33
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    theres a digital out(optical) and a av multi out.
     
  21. MIFF INFIDELIUS

    MIFF INFIDELIUS
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    This is where it get trickier :)

    What I meant by that statement - for instance I find the Q acoustics ( 2010i?) great little speaker but it's the type that do reveal lower quality material and on the other hand, B&W are not overly sensitive to bad source. Unfortunately I am not in position to recommend speakers, it truly is very subjective and what works for me may not for others.

    You don't really need DAC for your PS3 although I use my DAC for music as well some odd movie. ( everything through my high spec PC )
     
  22. dogfonos

    dogfonos
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    Personally, I'm very suspicious of speakers said to be insensitive to poor quality sources. I mean, do such speakers somehow differentiate between good and bad sources/media and 'soften the blow' of poor recordings yet when faced with great material, allow the full majesty of the performance through? That would be decision-making, wouldn't it?
     
  23. MIFF INFIDELIUS

    MIFF INFIDELIUS
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    I should have said that the same tunes sound different ( better to my ears ) on B&W then on my pals Q acoustics but forgive the error as I realize the variables are too great to fit my earlier statement and there's indeed no magic involved :rolleyes: :laugh:
     
  24. dogfonos

    dogfonos
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    Sorry if that came across as sarcastic - wasn't meant to be. It's just a 'bee-in-my-bonnet' subject for me. It's true that some speakers are more forgiving of poor sources/media than others and when some reviewers (not you) mention this, they often add 'but they sound brilliant with great source/material.' I've never found that to be the case (although I've not listened to any recent B&W or Q Acoustics speakers) and don't follow the logic of it. IMO, a 'forgiving speaker' can't be a revealing speaker.

    See what I mean about a bee-in-my-bonnet subject? And off-topic too - oops.
     
  25. dap33

    dap33
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  26. Richy1984

    Richy1984
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    Personally I dont see the point thatn getting anything more than an ipod doc if youre going to play poor quality files as low as 120kbps, but thats just me. I'm not sure how much difference better files can make, and quite how obvious it woudl be on a £1k-£2k system (as i've never done a comparison) but why spend so much, to then not make the most out of it?

    For a £2k budget, I'd look second hand and get a Naim Uniti with some PMC GB1i's :)
     
  27. dap33

    dap33
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    120kbps? all the artist albums i have are flac/apple lossless but the podcast/mixes i listen to are 190kbps and 320kbps
     
  28. dap33

    dap33
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    b&w speakers a good match up with yamaha amps?
     
  29. Richy1984

    Richy1984
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    Appologies. I must have misread!
     
  30. MIFF INFIDELIUS

    MIFF INFIDELIUS
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    I'd say its down to which B&W line. Yamaha is quite neutral and laid back sounding overall and as such I think it works well with instrumental and vocal music.

    I am yet to hear B&W with some serious amplification but I can't shake the feeling my yam a-s500
    85W pCH is able to get the most out of them and despite the specs that would suggest (mine) B&W are quite easy to drive with 89dB sensitivity and 120W recommended power handling, I'm led to believe that B&W are fairly power hungry speakers and would be happier with more like 250W onwards and I'm not even talking about close to reference volumes.
    I even experimented with my gemini 2 sub which only feeds my suspicions further. ( on the other hand my B&W are hardly top of the range either )

    These are my personal impressions though and your may differ. Either way, you can't go wrong with 200W or more W pCh ( I'm not saying more W is always the answer either ) amplifier.
     

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