Basic questions for newbies...

frenchnes

Novice Member
Hi all,

Sorry for the long post and sorry for the fact it’s a “beginner” post… so probably questions you will have answered dozens of times. But I hope this post will also interest all newbies..

My questions are a mix of how things work and system advices…. (I will number them for easy answer)

First : my objectives :

I am currently listening music on a computer (imac) , and a bose speaker and I want to invest in a hifi system that will blow me away sound-wise relatively to my current poor set-up.

I listen to digital music ( spotify), cds and plan to listen to my vinyls again.

Ideally in terms of budget I would like to spend £2000 max (disappointing I know 😊). But if adding an extra £500 gives a system twice better I could consider it.

Second : what I understood (or not) :

I am really not familiar with hifi at all. I am still struggling to understand the various “parts”. When I say parts, I mean amp, pre-amp, streamer, dac and probably more.

I understand (and correct me if I’m wrong) that you have “integrated amp” which are amp + pre-amp ?

You have even more all-in-one “integrated amp streamer” (or whatever the right term) that combine the integrated amp with a streamer (or receiver, what’s the difference) ?

1) I am still not sure of the role of the pre-amp ? is it necessary or not ? Necessary in the sense that without it you can’t select sources (phono, cds..etc.) ? Necessary in the sound quality ?

2) I was also wondering regarding Bluetooth : is Bluetooth (if there is any) a part of the amp or the pre-amp ? Do all systems sold nowadays have Bluetooth, and is there a difference in quality of Bluetooth system depending on the different systems ?

3) As said I have a spotify subscription and would like to use Spotify Connect. Would integrated amp enable that or should you have an all-in-one (that I called integrated amp streamer) system or a streamer/receiver ?

4) Now on integrated vs non-integrated : is there a traditional split of reasons why some people should choose integrated amp vs separate system and vice versa ? I was first interested in an all-in one system (integrated amp streamer) but I am worried that a) if one part malfunctions, too bad, b) it limits your upgrade possibilities, c) the whole stuff becomes obsolete faster as I imagine for instance streamer improves quicker than the amp part..? But now in terms of integrated vs not ? As I am not a hifi expert I guess an integrated system would be easier (less parts, less space, less cables and probably cheaper?)

5) DAC : not something I heard of before (which shows my hifi level). Is the DAC in the amp ? in the pre-amp ? I see some are sold as a stand-alone unit, does it mean there are none in some systems or is it a better one that overrun the existing sh*tty one ? Do mid-range integrated amps have a decent DAC system ? is this part a major component in the streamed music sound ?

6) now in terms of advice…. I was overwhelmed by the number of brands, this is just crazy ! And I’m sure there are dozens of great amps with fantastic reputation.. But from what I wrote above , are there a few obvious choices I should consider in your view ? As any newbie, I googled “best amps 2022” sort of things and some names come up frequently like the CXA81 for instance. I guess bigger brands tend appear more frequently in that type of search, but are they decent choices ? or are those sites influenced.. ? Anyway, any advice, suggestion is welcome.


SPEAKERS :

if there are a lot of amp brands, it’s probably even crazier for speakers… range of prices too…

7) the first question I want to ask and I am not sure it makes sense or not : how much would you spend in the speakers in the overall price ? I mean vs let say an integrated amp : same or less/more ? If we take my £2000 example, would a 1000+1000 get me a better sound that for instance 500 on amp and 1500 on speakers ? or 1500 on amp and 500 on speakers ?

9) For those who had recommendation for an amp/integrated amp, what set of speakers would you pair them with ? (because I guess some speakers “fit” better with some amps than others ?)


So that’s a lot of questions, I hope this post is ok for the forum. I have consulted AVforums very frequently for various reasons (TV, outdoor speakers and sound system…) and have always been impressed with the level and extent of knowledge. I hope basic questions are ok !


PS : this is for a small room (about 4mx4m) with 2 doors opposite walls, quite filled with things (table chairs, sofa, books, shelves…). Not sure it’s useful info but I have seen on the form people asking about it to others ! 😊
 

dogfonos

Well-known Member
Ideally in terms of budget I would like to spend £2000 max (disappointing I know 😊). But if adding an extra £500 gives a system twice better I could consider it.
It wouldn't. I'm afraid the law of diminishing returns applies.

I understand (and correct me if I’m wrong) that you have “integrated amp” which are amp + pre-amp ?
Yes.

You have even more all-in-one “integrated amp streamer” (or whatever the right term) that combine the integrated amp with a streamer (or receiver, what’s the difference) ?
Again, yes. Different manufacturer's use various names to describe such a unit but I think "integrated amp streamer" makes most sense. Traditionally, integrated amps with in-built radio tuners were called receivers. These days, who knows. There are so many types of combined tech in some products that make them difficult to name. I rarely understand how a complex hifi product functions from it's title alone - I have to read the spec sheet.

1) I am still not sure of the role of the pre-amp ? is it necessary or not ? Necessary in the sense that without it you can’t select sources (phono, cds..etc.) ? Necessary in the sound quality ?
Your suspicions are correct. In a purely digital, single source setup, a pre-amp is often unecessary when either the source has a volume control or the power amplifier has volume control. However, you're right in saying that a pre-amp is needed to switch between different sources. A dedicated pre-amp, or the pre-amp section of an integrated amp, has volume/balance control and often has tone control/filter circuits too.

2) I was also wondering regarding Bluetooth : is Bluetooth (if there is any) a part of the amp or the pre-amp ? Do all systems sold nowadays have Bluetooth, and is there a difference in quality of Bluetooth system depending on the different systems ?
There are no rules concerning the type of product that Bluetooth can appear in. It can be built into virtually any hifi product, if the manufacturer wants to. It's not normally part of an integrated amp but it can be and someone somewhere probably sells one. It is sometimes built into pre-amps. You can also purchase stand-alone Bluetooth receivers which feed into an integrated amp or pre-amp. Some powered speakers have in-built Bluetooth too.

3) As said I have a spotify subscription and would like to use Spotify Connect. Would integrated amp enable that or should you have an all-in-one (that I called integrated amp streamer) system or a streamer/receiver ?
An integrated amp would need to connect to the Internet either via wireless wifi or through a wired Ethernet connection to receive Internet-based services like Spotify. Normally, such devices would be called streaming amplifiers or all-in-ones or similar. You often need to check the specs to be certain.

4) Now on integrated vs non-integrated : is there a traditional split of reasons why some people should choose integrated amp vs separate system and vice versa ? I was first interested in an all-in one system (integrated amp streamer) but I am worried that a) if one part malfunctions, too bad, b) it limits your upgrade possibilities, c) the whole stuff becomes obsolete faster as I imagine for instance streamer improves quicker than the amp part..? But now in terms of integrated vs not ? As I am not a hifi expert I guess an integrated system would be easier (less parts, less space, less cables and probably cheaper?)
That's a good summary of the pros and cons for the two different approaches to system building. Personally, I tend to take the more flexible separates approach. Just my preference.

5) DAC : not something I heard of before (which shows my hifi level). Is the DAC in the amp ? in the pre-amp ? I see some are sold as a stand-alone unit, does it mean there are none in some systems or is it a better one that overrun the existing sh*tty one ? Do mid-range integrated amps have a decent DAC system ? is this part a major component in the streamed music sound ?
You seem to have worked this out already. Many modern integrated amps have in-built DAC's because many sources nowdays are digital. That said, many (most?) digital sources have in-built DAC's too (they often have two outputs: analogue and digital) so the consumer has the choice of which source output to use (i.e. a choice of using the source's DAC or the amps DAC).

Less common these days is for integrated amps to include a phono/RIAA input for a turntable, although some turntables now have in-built phono/RIAA stages and so feed into an integrated amps standard analogue line-level input (often termed CD or AUX input).

Don't wish to hog all your questions so I'll leave some for others. However, in the interests of balance, I should mention there is one type of system you may not be familiar with (apologies for the added complexity!) and that's a system built around a pair of active speakers. Active speakers, often referred to as active studio monitors, have in-built amplifiers and use a significantly different technology to direct specific frequency ranges to each drive unit than traditional passive speaker designs (and traditional powered passive speakers). Some consider the active speaker setup to have sound quality advantages (I do) whilst some don't.

A bit of light reading, if you're interested:

Too few articles differentiate between powered passive speakers and active speakers but this Wiki article does so a worthwhile read, IMO.

The system type (i.e. all-in-one, traditional passive or active speakers) has to be the first decision because the type and function of components required to assemble a system are different for each type.

Chosen wisely, £2000 - £2500 can get you a very nice sounding setup for a 16 sqm room - no matter what type of system you plump for. Good luck with your quest!
 

frenchnes

Novice Member
thanks a lot for your answers. I hadn't come across active speakers , i will have a look.
Regarding your point on turntables i am not sure to understand : is the "phono/RIAA" you mention is it what is called the preamp for turntables ? i remember when i had checked turntables a while back that there was 4 needed parts : turntables+amp+preamp+speakers and again there could be integrated systems (turntable including preamp...etc.) . I guess the preamp there is not the same as the preamp i was mentioning in my original post ? is it the phono/RIAA you mention ?
 

DT79

Distinguished Member
thanks a lot for your answers. I hadn't come across active speakers , i will have a look.
Regarding your point on turntables i am not sure to understand : is the "phono/RIAA" you mention is it what is called the preamp for turntables ? i remember when i had checked turntables a while back that there was 4 needed parts : turntables+amp+preamp+speakers and again there could be integrated systems (turntable including preamp...etc.) . I guess the preamp there is not the same as the preamp i was mentioning in my original post ? is it the phono/RIAA you mention ?
There is a ‘pre-amp’ which as you’ve already understood controls volume and switches your sources, this connects to your power amp, or the two can be be in one box in the form of an integrated amp.

Then you have a ‘phono pre-amp’, which applies ‘RIAA equialisation’* and increases the signal coming out of a phono cartridge, which is tiny, up to ‘line level’, similar to other sources such as CD players, streamers etc. The Phono pre-amp is plugged in to your pre-amp or integrated amp.

The phono pre-amp can be integrated into a turntable (which then has a ‘line output’ rather than a ‘phono output’), or into a pre-amp or integrated amp (where it will be called the ‘phono’ input). In cases where the phono pre-amp is integrated into another device it’s often referred to as a ‘phono stage’ (perhaps just to avoid confusion if the other device is a ‘pre-amp’!)

*In order for a vinyl record to work properly the frequency range has to be manipulated in a particular way, essentially so that the modulations of the groove are not as large as they otherwise would be, on most (and all modern) records this is done according to the ‘RIAA’ standard. So ‘RIAA equalisation‘ simply reverses this process so that the original sound is restored.
 

frenchnes

Novice Member
Thanks for all this info. it makes sense. but with all the combos possible, it's a bit of a Tetris game to buy the right pieces and avoid an overlap !
Regarding my question on how to allocate a budget between speakers and integrated amp for instance, any views ? i'm sure there's no golden rule, but i expect people buying £3000 amp won't pair it with £200 speakers to take an extreme example ?
My main goal (probably as everybody) is the best sound possible. Would the amp or the speakers make the most difference (i'm sure you hate the question as it may be impossible to answer..) ?
 

Lapstre

Active Member
Are you planning to use these for desktop use? What distance are you expecting to be listening from? What Genres do you listen to the most? How much do you tinker with EQ when using your current system? Do you live in an apartment/house? Is there a partner/spouse involved?

Seemingly Random questions I know, humour me 🙂
 

frenchnes

Novice Member
Distance : very close . i would say 2 meters in general and a few more when cooking a coq au vin or taking a rosemary infused bath.
Genre : mostly rock (70s..) and blues/jazz. And S Club 7.
Equalizer : i don't really
Apartment.
No one involved, only for my ears.
Desktop : not sure what you mean ?
 

[email protected]

Active Member
If your computer is your only source, the usual recommendation would be an integrated amp with digital input (I'd use USB) and speakers or a pair of active speakers with digital input. Many active speakers are designed specifically for "near field" use, which is what you have. However adding a turntable is a complicating factor, because you need something to plug them into. So that pretty much says you need an integrated amp and speakers.

I wouldn't spend $2K, for two reasons. First, there plenty of fine amps for well under $1000, and lots of really good speakers for $1000 per pair. But I also think you might be better off to think of this as a starter system, and get less expensive speakers originally. (I think you can get reasonable electronics the first time.) If you don't have any experience with hi-fi, I'm concerned that you won't know what to listen for in speakers. Lots of speakers are designed to sound impressive in the show-room, but won't do so well over the long run. You'll learn something from your first system.
 

gava

Well-known Member
Overall I'd say you have a pretty good grasp on things and @dogfonos has done a point-by-point.

A few things to consider...

£2,000 is enough to get something which really will blow you away compared to what you have now. Unfortunately it's just about enough to make you seriously wonder what you could get if you spent a lot more. (Speaks from experience.)

Personally I'd allocate the budget at least 50% into speakers, preferably a bit more if you can, but with "only" 2k to play with you will likely end up close to 50-50.

At this system price I think integrated systems give excellent value, and you can get a nice streamer, pre-amp, dac and amp all in one for sensible money. Splitting things out is messy and probably not the best value at this price - you need multiple power supplies, cases, circuit boards, etc in stead of just one.

I'd aim at around the £800-900 mark for a "just-add-speakers" solution, and then add a nice pair of speakers.

This is how I'd spend your budget.



And a decent set of stands & amazon basic cables adds an extra £100 or so.

£850 + £1,300 + £100 = £2,250. I predict happiness.
 

3rdignis

Active Member
I would go usb out from your iMac



Screenshot_20220307-150648_Samsung Internet.jpg
 

vacant

Member
I'm impressed by the detail in the questions posed in the original post, helps get some useful answers (which we have).

I'd suggest phoning Richer Sounds or similar and ask for a demo of stuff within your budget.
 

dogfonos

Well-known Member
Are you planning to use these for desktop use?

Desktop : not sure what you mean ?
Distance : very close . i would say 2 meters in general

Will the speakers be positioned on a desktop? Or a shelf? IME, speakers mounted on dedicated speaker stands usually give superior acoustic performance.

A main listening position two meters distance from the speakers is quite close in hifi terms but should be fine.
plan to listen to my vinyls again.
Do you already own a turntable (TT). If so, what TT and cartridge is it? Or does your budget of £2000 - £2500 need to include purchase of a TT?

Do you want to purchase a stand-alone CD player or can the iMac play CD's? Will you continue to use the iMac as a source for Internet music or will the new streamer be the sole source of Internet-based music?
 

frenchnes

Novice Member
Thanks a LOT for your answers.
To answer your points (not in order) : i don't intend to use my computer as the only source (but i will still use it). I want to listen to my old vinyls. I have a turntable (2 actually) so it's not part of the budget. They are old probably low/mid quality turntables that i got from my late father. (one is a Denon DP-200 USB and the other one is a JVC LA-31 for which i bought the first cartridge i found : a Philips ~ 946D77 (GP330). Which turntable would you recommend to use actually ?)
CDs : i hadn't thought about them ! yes i will probably listen to CDs, for the moment i will use probably the first old one i should have kept somewhere...
I guess i will later upgrade the turntable and the CD player... (if you have any recommendations... ;))
The speakers won't be on my desk but put them anywhere in the room where it's best. either on stands or on shelves (regarding stands, i quickly checked and i thought it looked very expensive for what it is.. are there cheap decent ones ?).
And regarding brands/models, i see a few names coming more often than others (CXA61 & 81, Lyngdorf TDAI1120, Audiolab, Arcam SR250, Powernode....) , some in my budget (just) some not so i also hesitate between new and second hand...
 

Lapstre

Active Member
A few good options on the thread. As people have recommended already, Active speakers might be the best way to go for you. KEF LS50 Wireless II is very good for the money, add a phono preamp and you're done.

Alternatively, going the PowerNode route will allow you to switch speakers, allow for surround expansion in the future, etc, but it won't be as well matched to your speakers as an Active System can be.
 

dogfonos

Well-known Member
A well-chosen £2000 - £2500 system based on passive or active speakers will sound very good indeed. I've had both active and passive setups over the years and, allowing for inflation, the cost would be similar to your budget in today's money. My setup these days is far more modest because I can get great musical satisfaction from budget products (due to knackered ears or just being tight?). The quality of cheap modern electronics (mainly digital) and active near-field monitor speakers never fails to impress - the performance vs cost ratio is as high as it's ever been, IME.

Others have suggested (and hopefully, will continue to suggest) passive speaker based setups but I'll focus on active speaker systems because I believe you'll get the best sound for your budget, i.e. it's where the real value lies, again IME.

In hardware terms, this means: streamer and pre-amplifier (or streaming pre-amp) with sufficient inputs feeding a pair of active speakers. Unfortunately, such pre-amps aren't that common at the lower end of the market so not much choice. I'd suggest the excellent Topping DX3 Pro+. The Topping doesn't have wifi, unfortunately, but it has high quality Bluetooth and flexible connectivity including a USB input - though best check the USB input would work with your iMac prior to purchase. If wifi really is required, something like the Google Chromecast Audio can be connected to the Topping via the Chromecast's optical output (which, confusingly for me, doubles as the analogue output). Alternatives to the Chromecast would be the Tibo Bond Mini or the lower range iFi products. If you want to splash the cash, the Bluesound Node is a versatile option.



Connecting a Chromecast Audio streamer to the Topping's optical input and the iMac to the USB (assuming compatibility) leaves two coaxial inputs to fill. Don't know anything about the JVC turntable but the Denon can output either phono-level (i.e. very low output) or line-level (i.e. higher output). Using the higher line-level output connected to one of these:

Amazon product

...would allow connection to a coax input on the Topping. The final coax input could be used for a CD player, assuming the CD player has a coaxial output.

As for active speakers that would suit a 16 sqm room, you're spoilt for choice. The reputable online magazine, Sound on Sound, have reviewed plenty. They're not prone to hyperbole yet are clearly bowled over by the APS Klasik 2020:


Not a looker, is it? But we're talking best audio for your budget and impressive cabinet finishes cost big money, which inevitably diverts resources away from sound quality considerations.

Other well-reviewed options in the £1k to £1.5k range would be Focal shape 65, Dynaudio Lyd 7 & BM6A, Eve Audio SC-207, Hedd Type 07 Mk2, Genelec 8040 BPM.

Most active speakers are priced individually, though not always. Most don't come with a grill, though some do. Each individual active speaker requires a mains connection (with few exceptions). You may find that active speakers at half this price, of which there are plenty, still sound way, way better than the current Bose speakers and may well satisfy. Speakers such as Adam Audio T7V, Yamaha HS7, Focal Alpha 65 Evo, JBL 306P Mk2, KRK Rokit RP7, Mackie MR624, RCF Ayra Pro6, Tannoy Gold7 etc. This link will give an idea what's available:


There are some actives aimed at the domestic market which often have nicer cabinet finishes such as those from Q Acoustics and Acoustic Energy (IIRC, both reviewed on avforums?). Edifier also sell some great value actives in the S2000Pro and S3000Pro, which have inbuilt Bluetooth and several connection options (the S3000Pro was also reviewed on avforums). Might be worth a look.
 

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