Question Help me decide which route to take for "den" amplifier upgrade

morini3andahalf

Active Member
Hi all, I have been reading posts in this subsection of avforums for a while now as I am trying to evolve a system I set up in our den. I say den, but it's actually an open area "mezzanine" sitting room in the loft space on one side of the house. First some background about how this set up got to where it is currently before I ask for some advice on the options I am considering next.

The den was originally set up with a smart TV and a circa 1990's Sony STR DB930 AVR that had been sitting unused for many moons. I think I bought it in 1997 (ish) but it hadn't been used since 2010 when I got a newer HDMI switching AVR for downstairs. Anyway, the AVR had an optical input for the TV and I also added a chromecast audio via a second optical input. Speakers were a pair of old Tannoy mercury bookshelves that were sitting unused and I put these on spare atacama stands. The amp is used for two channel only, no plans to do multi channel surround as it is predominately a music set up.

So, last year my daughter and I were clearing out some space in the loft and she came across a few boxes of my old vinyl. I got rid of my turntable many decades ago, but after a bit of persuasion I agreed to add a turntable to the den system. I purchased a Rega Planar 1 and hooked it up to the inbuilt phono stage of the AVR. This did not sound very good to my ears (I am no audiophile, but I think I know what sounds good and what doesn't), it was muddy and lacking in any detail. Certainly, my vinyl albums did not sound anything like I remember back in the day. I took a bit of a leap of faith as my reasoning led me to believe the AVR inbuilt phono stage was probably the biggest contributor to the muddy sound and purchased a standalone phono stage (Rega Fono MM Mk3). This was a huge improvement and has given me many hours of pleasure listening to albums from my youth which were stashed away a long time ago. Very happy with the sound and the loft cleaning session has certainly rekindled my interest in vinyl. My youngest daughter (18) is now also hooked on the vinyl sound.

Fast forward to March this year and upgrade-itis has paid a visit. I always fancied a set of floorstanders and on semi-impulse I bought a pair of Tannoy XT6F's to replace the very old mercury bookshelfs. These were "graded stock" from Peter Tysons, apparently the boxes were imperfect but when they arrived the boxes were unmarked and the speakers perfect. I had read positive reviews on these speakers and thought at £500 they seemed like a good deal. You can probably guess what's coming next ;) The speakers look and sound great, but I honestly think the old AVR is letting them down. At anything more than moderate volume the sound is rather harsh to my ears. I like to listen at decent (wife says way too loud) volumes and I find long listening sessions quite fatiguing because of the harshness.

Summary of current system :
Amp – Sony STR DB930 AVR
TT – Rega Planar 1
Phono Stage – Rega Fono MM mk3
Other sources – Chromecast audio (SPDIF), TV (SPDIF)
Speakers – Tannoy XT6F

So, to get to the point I am now considering my options for replacing the old Sony AVR with a more appropriate stereo amplifier. I want to keep the CCA and want to be able to listen to audio from the TV. I have been going around in circles quite a lot as I can’t decide if it is better to get a new integrated amp with two optical inputs and DAC built in or to try and find a good second hand old school analogue only amplifier and buy a standalone DAC for the TV and CCA (I have no knowledge of what is available DAC wise within my budget). At one point I was even considering a power amp and using the pre-outs on the old Sony. However, on doing a bit of research it seems the pre-outs are not proper pre-outs at all, apparently, they deliver the speaker signal. I have now ruled out that as an option.

Built in DAC wise initially I was homing in on the Cambridge Audio CXA80 as Richer Sounds had these with £150 off last week. I seem to have missed the boat on that deal though as they are back up at £800 now. Also considering Audiolab 6000a which seems to have decent reviews, but only 50WPC. Any others I should be considering?

Analogue wise, looking second hand I see quite a few Arcam FMJ amps on ebay. I read on here the rega amps are highly regarded, but new they are too expensive to get past the Mrs and seem quite rare second hand. If I take the analogue amp route what are my options for connecting the TV and CCA? My budget would need to cover the amp and the equipment to connect those digital sources.

Budget £650 and I am after a warmer sound than I have currently. What would you do in my shoes? Keep in mind my listening is mostly vinyl, but we do have a family google play music sub and I use that a fair bit too.

Yes, I know I have probably upgraded components in the wrong order and should have started with the amp, but it is what it is
 

morini3andahalf

Active Member
I know it is bad form replying to my own post, but looking through the classifieds on here today an ad has caught my eye. Would an Exposure XM5 work well with my speakers? Seems to have everything I need funcionality wise, wolfson DAC, two optical inputs but not particularly powerful. Will this have enough headroom or should I hold out for something more powerful?

Would be a bit of a shot in the dark as I won't be able to listen before buying. Reviews seem favourable though. Quite tempted.
 

muljao

Well-known Member
I'd look at the Yamaha as801 which can be got for 579 in Peter Tyson. Maybe the nad d3045 might be worth looking at also. There are loads of good options, the fact you have a phono amp allows you look at amps that don't have one built in.

An outside left field suggestion, Yamaha wxc50 and a behringer A800 power amp
 

morini3andahalf

Active Member
I'd look at the Yamaha as801 which can be got for 579 in Peter Tyson. Maybe the nad d3045 might be worth looking at also. There are loads of good options, the fact you have a phono amp allows you look at amps that don't have one built in.

An outside left field suggestion, Yamaha wxc50 and a behringer A800 power amp

Thanks, more food for thought. I had not considered the Yamahas though I have seen them recomended on here. The problem is both the as801 and wxc50 appear to only have one optical input and I need two. A quick google on the behringer power amp suggests it isn't obtainable currently. One site had September delivery and I don't want to wait that long.

I was going to try for that exposure in the classifed section, but the ad has disappeared. Probably sold I guess?
 

muljao

Well-known Member
In that case have a look at the nad I've mentioned. Nad always made great HiFi and their power quotes were always real world numbers.

That amp has 2 optical, one coax, pc USB in and a phono stage as well as another line in with hdmi arc.

I have not heard this one but if I had to spend 600 tommorow on any new amp that I could not try out first I would pick this one, such is nads rep previously.

If you can find a dealer and try with your speakers I'd say it be a contender
 

Hixs

Distinguished Member
Another left field suggestion - Arcam AVR600

It's got all the digital connections you need and will work well as a stereo amp too.
 

morini3andahalf

Active Member
Thanks for the suggestions, the Arcam AVR is a bit too large and I'm thinking its a bit of a waste buying a multichannel amp when I only want stereo. At this point I'm leaning towards the NAD idea, but I was hoping for something with a bit more power.

I accept I can't have it all at my budget. The NAD has a lot of features for the price, but is 60WPC enough?
 

muljao

Well-known Member
Thanks for the suggestions, the Arcam AVR is a bit too large and I'm thinking its a bit of a waste buying a multichannel amp when I only want stereo. At this point I'm leaning towards the NAD idea, but I was hoping for something with a bit more power.

I accept I can't have it all at my budget. The NAD has a lot of features for the price, but is 60WPC enough?
Yes
 

Hixs

Distinguished Member
It'll be enough to drive them beyond neighbor friendly levels.
 

muljao

Well-known Member

morini3andahalf

Active Member
I've been wrestling with this all week and I very nearly pulled the trigger on the Nad d3045 at one point (several points if I am honest). I do like the specs of the Nad and it does look like a hell of a lot of amp for money. Think I've now read every review and reddit article out there, but I still have some doubts (probably superficial issues really). Looks are not really that important to me, I don't mind ugly, but the d3045 looks a bit cheap in the pictures and videos I've seen. I know this shouldn't be an issue, but if I spend £600 on a small piece of electronics I want to feel good about it.

I've spent far too much time on ebay past couple of days and found myself looking at all sorts of nice (old) analogue only amps thinking, yes, I'll bid for one of those and buy a DAC to connect the chromecast audio and TV. There appear to be lots of Cambridge Audio 640a's around and I read on here they are pretty well regarded. Would one of these do the job if I can win one at sub £100 sort of money and then add a DAC for the TV and CCA?

If I go down the route of the (very well spec'd) Nad I think I'm tied in there if it doesn't work out. Always thinking to myself "could I do better for the money". I have been changing my mind several times a day thinking about this and know that ultimately I need to jump one way or the other.

I used to be very indecisive, but now I am not so sure!
 

morini3andahalf

Active Member
Thanks for all the suggestions given. Certainly given me a lot of food for thought, but I have decided to save my money at this point for a nice (preferably British) amp further down the line and take the cheap second hand route to tide me over. The Nad D3045 looks a great option, but I'm not sure it would be the right thing for me long term.

So, I've bagged myself a Cambridge Audio Azur 640A V2 for £75 on ebay and I'm hoping this will be a step up on the old Sony AVR for driving my Tannoys. At least for listening to vinyl. Thinking I will get a £20 Fiio D3 Dac from Amazon to hook the TV up to the Cambridge amp and maybe use the CCA inbuilt DAC via RCA cable rather than using optical. At least for now.

Planning on stashing some cash and aim for something like a Rega Elicit R plus a proper external DAC in 6 months or so.
 

morini3andahalf

Active Member
So I thought I'd follow up on this even though it's been a good while.

The ebay second hand cambridge amp kept me pretty happy in the interim, but a chance demonstration of a "friend of a friend" system over the Christmas holidays had me deciding it is time for something better on the amplification front. Don't know the bloke, but met him in the pub with my mate and got talking about hifi and general vinyl nostalgia. He also has tannoy floorstanders, though they aren't exactly the same model as mine, I think they are DC6 and he's had them for a good few years. They are connected up to a Musical Fidelity MS3i integrated amp with a project TT and it's a vinyl only system. Anyway, he was kind enough to invite me around for an extended listen and I was astounded at how much more open, detailed and involving his system sounded compared to mine. Probably not a wise decision for me to go round and listen in the first place as I've been trawling the web looking at nothing but amplifiers ever since.

So, I've been looking at all sorts up to £1000 or so, but it is going to be very difficult to audition amp candidates with my speakers as no-one seems to stock them around here. I don't think they are made any longer either so it is likely to be a non starter to hear my speakers with any prospective amp at a hifi shop unless I take them with me - not really practical. Was thinking of just buying a rega elex R "unheard" and hope I like it or just stretch the budget by £150 and risk going for the same MF MS3i I heard and liked so much. Then, today I noticed sevenoaks had the next Musical fidelity model down, the MS2i, on offer for £699 with a free V90-LPS Phono Preamp thrown in on top (don't need another phono amp but I guess I can always sell it or sell the rega MM and keep it). Anyway, I took a leap of faith and ordered one. Hope I don't live to regret it!

From what I can see on the musical fidelity website the MS2i has slightly less power, is missing a phono stage and USB input (I don't really need either of these) compared to the MS3i. I know it's not an ideal solution but as most of my listening is vinyl I decided not to shell out extra at the moment for a full blown DAC and ordered a second Fiio to connect the CCA. Already using one to hook up the TV and it's been good.

Will report back when it arrives and I've had chance to give it a good listen.
 

gibbsy

Moderator
I would say the Rega would make a good partner for the Tannoys. You could contact AudioT in Cardiff or Swansea and arrange a home audition through their loan service. You did make a mistake in going to that house, you do realise that audio upgradiatus is more contagious than corona virus.

 

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