Complete Audio Systems Overhaul (CASO!)

RLCCM

Standard Member
Hullo all, I've decided its time to completely overhaul the audio systems I am currently using, they are in one case, out of date and struggling, and in the other actually non-existent!

Current states:
Room 1: Cinema Room! I invested wisely a few months ago in a Sony HW50es projector, which is banging out a massive 3.5m wide image, with wonderful quality and immersiveness. This is all coupled up with the following:
Sony BDP S550 blue-ray player
Arcam AVR 200 amp (pre-hdmi, it shoes its age)
KEF KHT2005 eggs with the KUBE 1 Sub in a 5.1 setup.

The room is a very open mezzanine level above the living room, 5m x 8m (and up to 6m high where the roof joins at the top!), with hard wooden laminate flooring and this means compared to my past home (a much smaller living room!) much sound is lost in the open space, and it feels like a lot of fidelity has been lost. Certainly at lower volumes, or more gentle film soundtracks, the set seems to lose some edge in the sound department. Cranked up a bit (which has the problem of disturbing neighbours) or with a more action-packed film, the lack of fidelity is less of a problem. Currently also its my only real outlet for stereo music (I listen to mostly Jazz/big band/acoustic rock or grunge and a little classical!) and in this open space the fidelity is lost, and the problems of the system are readily apparent.

Room 2: Living Room! Currently has a TV (Phillips 42" Essence) and my PC, only!

The room is also very open and of decent size, about 6m x 5m, with hard tiled flooring! Given that I actually spend most of my time down here, and realised that I hardly listen to my beloved Jazz anymore, have decided that a Hi-Fi system needs to come in. It would be nice to be able to plug the PC into it, and also the TV if I wish to, and have the option of possibly future proofing it with NAS box connectivity and USB for ipad (when parties are concerned!).

In terms of budget, I don't want to go too crazy, but do like quality items/instruments. You will have to excuse me for talking in GBP prices!

Proposed Set-Up changes:
Cinema - I thought to replace the front 3 KEF 2005 speakers with a trio of KEF LS50 (£1200 for 3), leaving the rear pair with the old KEF 2005 eggs. I hope this will solve the sound quality problems I have with the front speakers several meters away, as well as when I do wish Stereo music upstairs. I tend not to use too much subwoofer, as it is more likely to disturb the neighbours, so thought also to continue with the KUBE 1.

Additionally, considering the age of the receiver, I thought to change it to a Pioneer SC LX86 (I maybe able to get one for just £1000, which seems like a bargain) otherwise would look at the LX57 or LX 77. I figure that the pioneer should have a great movie sound, though am told also to look at the Anthem MRX500 or Arcam AVR400 which would be more musical. Does anyone have any comments on these possibilities, or am I missing off another Amp I should be looking at? In the past musicality would have been particularly important to me, however if I do put together a hifi system for downstairs too, then it becomes less so.

For downstairs in the living room, I thought to couple a pair of KEF LS50 (£800) speakers to an Arcam FMJ A19 (£650) , and Marantz 6005 CD player (£350). I thought that keeping to the same speakers means that in the future I can integrate/marry the two systems easily if I like.

The total spend of these changes would be approximately £4000, though there is no exactly defined budget, I will be ok to spend a little more or less, as long as I get bang for the buck!
However, I have several additional questions, particularly as I don't know too much about Hi-Fi separates.
1. Will a mid-high end AVR like the above mentioned, really suffer in musical quality compared with a standalone stereo Amp like the A19?
2. Does the CD player really make such a lot of difference to sound quality? If so, should I look at spending more and upgrade to something like an Audiolabs 8200CD (£700), does this have particularly better features also that I should consider.
3. What of the speakers? the KEF R300 also seem extremely similar in writing to the LS50.
Will the LS50 (or R300) actually work well in a surround sound set-up?
4. Will I get away with my idea of saving some money by not replacing the rear KEF eggs? or is it a crazy idea which will cause a huge imbalance to watching a movie.
5. What other stereo amps should I consider, assuming I go down that route for downstairs. Is this relatively inexpensive Arcam FMJ A19 a good investment, or will a little higher spend get me something which produces a significantly better sound? Or is there something else that simply shatters it in performance?
6. If I decide the separate stereo set-up is too much, what simple addition would give me that improved stereo sound if I use just one set-up upstairs?
7. Are the various components I have selected above, generally well matched?

I want the detailed voicing and finesse that Jazz requires, but really I want the listening to be enjoyable, and reproduce the energy in the music and the punch of a Basie Big band. My current KEF's with ancient Arcam are ok, but they aren't exactly buzzing with excitement, and the more open echoey spaces I have don't help at all (am slowly dampening with added furniture/rugs, but is a slow process). I had an old Technics all-in-one before (which I bought as a teenager) and frankly though this didn't have as good quality as what I have now, the sound was probably more together and energetic, in its own more limited way.

Many thanks for your time and responses!
 
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Mark.Yudkin

Distinguished Member
1. Will a mid-high end AVR like the above mentioned, really suffer in musical quality compared with a standalone stereo Amp like the A19?
The main consideration is that an 8 channel device costs 4x as much as a comparable 2 channel one, so if you only need 2 channels, there's no point in getting 8.
2. Does the CD player really make such a lot of difference to sound quality? If so, should I look at spending more and upgrade to something like an Audiolabs 8200CD (£700), does this have
particularly better features also that I should consider.
It makes a difference, and something around £700 should be pretty close to the point where spending more yields lesser benefits.
3. What of the speakers? the KEF R300 also seem extremely similar in writing to the LS50.
Will the LS50 (or R300) actually work well in a surround sound set-up?
To be blunt, the LS50 / R300 is going to be the weak point of your final system, especially for the music setup, and it is here I'd recommend remedial action.
4. Will I get away with my idea of saving some money by not replacing the rear KEF eggs? or is it a crazy idea which will cause a huge imbalance to watching a movie.
Yes, the rear speakers play a much smaller role than the fronts, and the Eggs will probably match the LS50's (despite my statement above). In fact, you could probably even leave the Eggs if you get better front speakers.
5. What other stereo amps should I consider, assuming I go down that route for downstairs. Is this relatively inexpensive Arcam FMJ A19 a good investment, or will a little higher spend get me something which produces a significantly better sound? Or is there something else that simply shatters it in performance?
The A19, or any of its similarly prices competitors will be fine. There is no device that "simply shatters it", but not all devices appeal to everybody of course.
6. If I decide the separate stereo set-up is too much, what simple addition would give me that improved stereo sound if I use just one set-up upstairs?
Better speakers! The Arcam AVR400 or Anthem MRX500 are a good option for musical performance, and since there are announced replacement models, can / will soon be found at decent prices.
7. Are the various components I have selected above, generally well matched?
Yes and no. You're skimping on the speakers, yet their performance completely dominates the total system performance. I suggest raising the (music room) speaker budget and performing some serious auditioning at the dealers.
 

RLCCM

Standard Member
Many thanks for these useful and concise answers.

I didnt realise that these speakers would be considered such a weak spot actually, with such rave reviews - actually the LS50 are about 3-4x the cost of each KEF egg, so thought it would work as a serious upgrade, bearing in mind quantity.

That said if the speakers really are the weak point here, do you or anyone else have suggestions for alternatives that provide real inporovement for sensible money for the stereo.

I plan hopefully to go to my nearish dealer soon, though when i was last there they werent terribly helpful in testing these various items, so will be hit and miss. Unfortunately they are still the best shop anywhere remotely close to me!
 

PSM1

Distinguished Member
When you went there before and they were not helpful had you booked a demo session with them or just turned up? If you want to listen to specific kit then arranging a time etc. with them in advance will make it run a lot smoother. This is because they can get all the kit set up (which can take a bit of time) and also by arranging a time you are showing them you are a serious buyer and not just someone of the street looking for a little listen.
What is your budget for all the new kit?
The LS50 are a good speaker but I think Mark's point was (may be wrong so do not want to put words into his mouth) that the other kit you are looking at would deserve better to get the most from them especially from a music point of view.
PMC would be a speaker I would listen to as well as some of the higher end Focal ranges.
 

RLCCM

Standard Member
Yes thats what I gathered too, I didnt actually think the other components I listed above were all that much higher quality relatively, the marantz cd player being 350 and the amp 650.

The LX86 anp is different for me as I would be buying that effectively half price from richer sounds in london.

With regards to service, actually its because they are Swiss/French and lazy rather than anything else. I bought the projector from them, and did get a comparison vs jvc - but only because they already had it set up! They never called me when the stuff arrived in store to test even though i asked several times!

Also being relatively linited to brands as i dont have many shops to choose from. That said i rather buy from a shop i can test at than online.
 

RLCCM

Standard Member
Oh and to add to that, with regards to budget, I am basically the sort of buyer who likes that zone where quality increase would be expensive, but saving much means significant quality decrease i.e that sweet spot!

In otherwords, I probably can spend a little more or less, without worrying too much if the quality is justified. By the sounds of what you both say however, it seems to me that i am better off spending the extra 350 on upgrading the stereo speakers rather than the Cd player - though one does not nessesarily preclude the other
 
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PSM1

Distinguished Member
I am not sure you need to spend more as such on the speakers but look at getting bigger speakers, especially for your stereo system. The lower frequency response of the LS50 is only 79Hz which makes it more of a satelite speaker than a full range standmount etc. Hence they are going to rely heavily on a sub to give a full sound. So they maybe fine to replace your Kef eggs with and with a sub upgrade as well should give a good sound there but they are not going to be good as a stereo pair.
Hence for the stereo system I would look at larger speakers with a much better lower response. So look at a decent sized standmount or even floorstander.
We are all lookinjg for that sweet spot but that is different for different people. Some people will be fine paying £10k+ for speakers and reckon that the extra money is worth it but others will not. Sounds like your sweet spot is around your current price point give or take a few hundred. Hence I would look at the Kef R range, PMC twenty range (although may well be over budget) and Focal 800/eutopia series.
 

RLCCM

Standard Member
Of course, what I hadn't given thought to before, also would be to buy a dedicated centre speaker, e.g. an R200c, rather than use a third LS50 or R300 or other speaker of choice!

I'm starting to do some research on alternative speakers in the meantime anyway, hopefully will get a chance to go to my shop tomorrow to check things out. They appear to stock, and have decent prices on KEF as well as B&W, but not sure what there will be to compare/compare against, I think they have the R series though not sure about the LS50. Worth a trip anyway.

I think I will have more trouble finding Focal and PMC here though, I will ask them for sure.

Thanks for the advice so far, will update.
 

MI55ION

Distinguished Member
From the sound of things it seems your av dealer isnt very helpful. Speakers play such an important role in audio that I wouldn't base a purchasing decision on a quick shop demo not least because the room will most likely be very different to yours. I would therefore request a home demo and if they can't accommodate then look online for dealers that do. It is worth losing a few hundred returning a range of speakers that you don't like if that helps in finding a set of speakers that work well in your space long term.
 

RLCCM

Standard Member
Funnily enough with some internet searching (for Focal speakers) I've uncovered another shop, a little drive away but not too crazy, which has a section of offers including pairs of:
Focal Chorus 816W limited edition for £850
Focal Chorus 826W limited edition for £1030
Focal Chorus 836V for £965
Focal Chorus 826V for £800
KEF LS50 for £690
KEF R100 for £615
KEF R300 for £930
KEF R200c for £550
(£1 GBP = $1.60 USD)
Which are more or less the best prices I have seen anywhere for speakers, and what appears to be a shop set-up for demo's and with a large brand range.... Maybe I'll change my direction to visit here instead!

I know nothing about the Focal speakers, so any further comments on the Focal range is greatly appreciated.
 

PSM1

Distinguished Member
I would not worry about having the LS50 as a centre and in fact it could be an advantage if you have the LS50 as front L/R. This is because you will have the same speaker across the front 3 speakers which is the ideal situation. Dedicated centre speakers in some respects can can a bit of a compromise and in some cases are more for ease of placement (side orientated) than an improvement in the front sound stage.
Focal speakers are very clean sounding and can sound a little lacking in bass (although it is there just it is very clean/tight). They are an often very overlooked speaker which is a shame since they have a lot to offer and are great speakers for the price IMHO.
 

RLCCM

Standard Member
So as it happens i found some time to visit this other shop yesterday and the results were very interesting. Certainly eye opening as to the different styles/sounds of differing speakers.

Firstly Amp wise they no longer stock the A19 but did have a creek 50a. Which compared to a much more expensive yamaha 5000, sounded bright but with a little loss of bass and clarity, but it was a nice bright and warm sound.

When it came to speakers, i got to compare some offerings from Sonus, KEF and the 700 series from Focal.

I have to admit, the Focal 726/736 was excellent, coupled with cambridge 651 amp and cd player in a bundle for about £2000, which seems ok.

That said, i want to investigate other options further still, particularly with kef/arcam/creek etc. as well as the focal 800 and 900 series.

The Focal 700 setup sounded clear and bright, i completely agree about the bass too - it was clear and tight, but i prefer that for jazz anyway, where a bigger booming bass is unwanted. Actually this is partly why i liked the focals.

The KEf made a good showing too and worth looking at again though i forget which model it was.

Also the advice to avoid ls50's for stereo is justified. Focal standmounts were probably better imo but obviously the floorstanders are the best way to go - though i really didnt want floorstanders initially. Any other good stand mounters/bookshelves to look at anyone?
 
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Mark.Yudkin

Distinguished Member
Focal are French, readily available over here in Switzerland, and competitively priced too, unlike many of the speakers originating in UK or US. The importer is in Lausanne and is also the Arcam importer.

A very popular quality speaker in CH is Piega, but they're a bit more expensive than what you're looking into.

For a music system you're probably better off with floorstanders. So far you've left the question 1 or 2 systems open, so we're trying to hedge our bets and sit on the fence. If you could make a decision, we can probably be a bit more specific.
 
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RLCCM

Standard Member
Yes as said above I tested the focal 700 range yesterday at a shop very clise to Morges as it happens called audio visual factory. The guy there was quite knowlegeable it seems. I also agree the pricing for focal really is competitive.

It was very good though particularly as it higlighted the clear difference between using a stereo and theatre setup - and so definitely am going in the direction of having 2 separate systems.
 

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