from cambridge audio azur 640/arcam alpha 7/mordaunt short MS10i Classic to...


Standard Member
I apologize for extreme verbosity. I've been looking through different forums looking for one with decent participation of people who listen to classical music and know British equipment, and are friendly and helpful. You all seem to fit the bill... :)

I have lived happily with above system for 12ish years, happily focusing on chamber music, and living in smallish apartments. It's been very sweet, detailed in the upper range, with surprising bass when positioned properly.

Limitations: approximately zero soundstage/imaging; everything very bright, such that a bright recording becomes unlistenable. (Scholl's English Folksongs and Lutesongs, for eg.)

I'm looking to move to a system that better fills an open-concept A-frame house (about 2-1/2 stories and ca. 11m x 6m--it matters how the system sounds from 10 ft above and 20 ft away, as well as in the sweet spot, given the house layout). Everything hardwood and drywall; we're too fond of the architecture to start hanging baffles.

Most importantly, I want to be happier listening to opera and symphonic music.

Making a change is slightly heart-wrenching because I'm emotionally devoted to the MS 10i Classics. I don't want to lose their warmth and detail. But I don't want a confused cacophony in the midrange and bass when the music gets complex. In what I've heard lately, I see that my Arcam amp is as much responsible for that cacophony as anything in my system.

I have the impression from what I've heard so far that I could perhaps go up one price-point in the amp area and improve my life considerably, but I have to go up two in the speaker area so as not to leave myself permanently nostalgic for the dear, sweet MS 10i Classics. I'm not replacing the CD player now; in a year or so I'll move to a DAC, NAS, and playing from Pure Music or some such thing.

Apart from the general desire to hear more detail and feel less under assault when the midrange and bass get going, and to have some (preferably much improved) soundstage, I care a huge amount about hearing timbre. I haul around Paul Badura Skoda as a test CD, for which my friends mock me, on the reasonable grounds that I've never heard an 1824 piano live--so how can I judge speakers and amps by it? I care a lot about hearing the instrument. I can entertain myself for hours in looking up which violin someone is playing and comparing its sound to another.

What I've listened to so far:

Music Hall a15.2. At first I was annoyed that it surrounded every sound by a little pocket of resonance. This seemed to completely empty out and wreck vocal music (you'd wonder why Carolyn Sampson got a recital at the Wigmore Hall with a voice that weak). And it made for what seemed the most true-to-life violins I've ever heard. The strings, the wood, the varnish: all there. Much better imaging, on simple music anyway. Feels like sideways step/different set of tradeoffs. But it raised the bar on what I'm looking for in strings, which isn't helping me.

Audiolab 8200a. Carolyn Sampson is restored to her full and rich voice that fills the Wigmore Hall beautifully. I'm agreeing with the idea I read out there on the forums that it's nice, fast, clean, but somewhat clinical and non-musical. It is growing on me over time, however. Definitely better sense of who's crashing around where on the stage in Don Giovanni, but not much better sense of sorting out the midrange/bass into a clear image of who's playing what where. Woodwinds entirely lost in the strings when Don Giovanni is dining with the Commendatore, at least with current speakers (more below).

On hearing my response to the Audiolab, a friend suggested SimAudio Moon i1. I have that at home this weekend alongside the 8200a. A little more beautiful moondust magic, but I'm afraid it is moondust. Initially feels very much more transparent and open, except for bad hum for which it has to go back to shop, but as I continue it feels a bit more like a trick and like the moondust puts an edge on vocals in the treble that I don't want to hear. But again....more sense of the wood and varnish.

I've listened to a friend's Moon i3, which is what made me realize how much the problems of the system lie in the Arcam Amp. It gave me a very nice soundstage with my little MS 10is for the first time, which is saying something because that was an acknowledged short-coming from the day I bought them. But I'm not spending that much, so...

Both these amps are undoubtedly better than my old Arcam. I put it on now and notice for a moment that I've been missing its sweetness, but then something of significant speed or complexity starts and the muddle begins, and I know I can't go back. But the amps I've heard so far still leave me feeling a little under assault. Which brings us to the speakers, because this could be as much a speaker thing as an amp thing.

Because I'm trying to leapfrog to another level with the speakers, but keep it definitely under C$1400, I'm looking at second hand. (I haven't listened to anything new up to $2000 that didn't leave me feeling I was losing too much for what I was gaining.) And I have to be able to listen to them first because I'm quirky and fussy. So whatever's locally available. This weekend I'm listening to Opera Consonance Eric Grand, and I've been over to someone else's place to hear a pair of B&W 604. Short of making friends with a moving company, I can't quite put these two speakers side by side, but he lives in a bright A-frame too, so I may just take over my on-loan amp and old cd player and give it a listen. I think, but don't know until I hear the B&W again, that it gave more definition in the midrange and bass, despite the fact that I read exactly the opposite about it on-line.

I've heard the Opera Consonance Eric Grand next to various $2K speakers, and they do sound like $4K speakers that I'd be very happy to get for less than half price. B&W were $2K speakers too, so my memory may be deceiving me on the definition question.


Anything in my basic reasoning that's going wrong? Emphasis on speakers vs. amp? Looking for a speaker that may outclass any amp in my price range?

Is this voice vs. strings a trade-off in my price range, and I should cease now from driving myself crazy looking for something that gives me both--just prioritize?

Anything other amps I should listen to in the one-step-up-from-budget range?

There's a local dealer quite flexible about lending out amps with some good variety (Creek, Naim, Rega...good variety for a small city on the eastern edge of the continent!).

A friend has just taken home some Harbeths but I refuse to go listen because I can't afford them and don't want to curse myself further with expectations!

- Lyn


Standard Member
Forgot to say I've also had the chance to listen to some vintage speakers--a friend's Thiel CS2s and another friend's ancient Merlins (before the VSMs and TSMs...the model name is hard to track down). Thiels--definitely much better soundstage and midrange detail, but that open soundstage also seems to be in the next room. I think you'd love them if you love the acoustics at Alice Tully Hall, which I don't. They don't perform that well on my 1824 piano test. Perhaps tweeters need refreshing? The old Merlins are gorgeous, leave me missing some detail in the treble, and not for sale!

simon ess

Well-known Member
Wow! Hellava a first post :)

I'm sure the good folk here will be able to give you some pointers.

Wish I knew enough to help.

Welcome to the forum :hiya:

Don Dadda

Distinguished Member
Wow! Hellava a first post :)

I'm sure the good folk here will be able to give you some pointers.

Wish I knew enough to help.

Welcome to the forum :hiya:

Ditto :thumbsup:


Standard Member
Okay, I decided I was under-powering the speakers, and I decided the audiolab only seemed dry and clinical until I'd spent more time with the other options (moon i1) sound more enchanting, yes, but because of generous sprinkling of moondust.

With an 8200CDQ and an 8200P I can do the pre-power thing and get a dac to boot, so that's what I'm doing.

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