Question Help with building my perfect system

mikeysthoughts

Well-known Member
Hi all,

Long time lurker, first time poster seeking advice on my long-term plan to create my perfect system. I'm seeking advice on optimising my upgrade path. I'm starting to drown with the number of variations and available options, and the more I read the less certain I am!

Too long, didn't read version:
Should I buy a DAC, a streamer, new speakers, the Oppo-205, or something else as my next step? Budget up to £2.5k.

I currently own:

Arcam AVR850
MA Bronze 2 bookshelves - front pair and centre only.
BK P12-300SB sub

These are being supplied by HDMI from my PC graphics card (Radeon 7570). (No intermediate DAC or dedicated streaming or disc players as yet). I stream Tidal from the PC.

Current balance of listening is 70% music, 30% film. Music is typically the full range of rock from the dynamism of FlorenceATM, Radiohead, Pink Floyd, Genesis to the aggression of Metallica, Linkin Park, System of a Down, to the subtlety and blues-based stuff of Rolling Stones, Clapton, Led Zepp. Also enjoy some drum & bass such as Chase & Status and Plan B, and some Hip-hop. I think you get the picture.

I'm not unhappy with the setup, but I'm very aware the MA Bronze 2 are probably the biggest constraint on really lifting the music - it currently sounds inhibited in the upper mid-range - Thom Yorke's and Matt Bellamy's vocals in particular sound constrained. The plan is that eventually the Bronze 2s will become surround speakers.

I spent yesterday afternoon with the guys at Nintronics in Welwyn GC yesterday, and they were exceptionally helpful. Prior to my visit I was thinking purely that a major floor-standing speaker upgrade would be the first priority. During the discussion I demo'd a few pairs, and they mentioned in my current setup a standalone DAC would give me a significant improvement. They've got a good price on the Chord 2qute at the moment, but it's not MQA-compatible.

However the Oppo-205 is (was?) MQA compatible, and also provides the benefits of a 4k disc player, which I would otherwise need to buy separately. This then led me down the rabbit hole of dedicated music streamers, such as the Bluesound Vault 2.

My first question is - would what would be a better upgrade path for the long-term plan of an optimal music and film experience?
1) Dedicated standalone DAC
2) Music streamer
3) Integrated solution such as the Oppo-205
4) A blend of the above?

Please do make recommendations about brand and models, taking into account my comments below about speaker preferences. PS - should I make MQA compatibility an essential requirement?)

What's really tricky to judge for me is the potential uplift in quality vs the Arcam 850. Is there really that much to be gained from bypassing its own DACs for stereo music? I'm going to ask the chaps at Nintronics for a home demo, but in the meantime your advice will be very welcome.

If I did go down the DAC or streamer route how would I go about implementing multi-channel audio through the 850, as those I've seen are primarily analogue L&R stereo out?

Moving on to speakers, I trialled a pair of B&Ws (I think it was the 704 s2), Dali Opticon 6 and Sonus Faber 3.0. All hooked up to their demo Arcam 850, with Dirac off.

After tuning in with my own Bronze 2s, we moved on to demoing speakers. I discovered that I dislike the brittle harshness of the metal-based tweeters in the B&Ws (I think that's probably a function of the type of music I listen to), so we quickly moved onto softer tweeter delivery of the Dalis and Sonus.

I really enjoyed the Faber 3.0s, but would need more time with them and the Dalis to really understand if there's enough of an improvement to justify the price differential.

So my final question for now is can anyone help narrow the field of speakers for me to trial going forward, and what might you recommend in the £1200-£3000 range? We didn't get time to trial bookshelves, and I'm sure there's lots of advice and opinion on the rest of the forum so I won't ask here, but do feel free to proffer an opinion if you think a 2.1 setup with bookshelves would offer any improvements.

Bit of a long one, so thanks for persevering this far and I look forward to reading your thoughts.
 

Rambles

Distinguished Member
Hello. My view is that your electronics are fine. Better than fine in fact. The Arcam AVR850 is a very highly regarded AVR for both music and movies.

Your weak link might be the HDMI connection between your PC and the AVR. This is fine for movies, but not the best option for music (possible jitter). You might want to try other ways of streaming music to the AVR that doesn't involve transmitting it via the HDMI connection, just to see if you can hear any difference. Doesn't the Arcam support streaming to it directly?

I think you are right that the weakest link might well be your speakers. See if you can have a demo of the Kef R series, they are quite a revelation (to my ears), a very relaxing, smooth and non fatiguing sound.
 

mikeysthoughts

Well-known Member
Doesn't the Arcam support streaming to it directly?
Thanks Rambles, it's very reassuring to hear that I've not over-bought on the AVR at the expense of stereo music capabilities.

The Arcam has an ethernet port and does support streaming but I understand its in-built capabilities are limited to Spotify Connect only... is this right, or could I potentially stream Tidal from PC through ethernet?

Separately, I have the option of optical or SPDIF out from a Creative Soundblaster X-FI Xtreme... would either of these offer a benefit over the HDMI for music?
 
Last edited:

Rambles

Distinguished Member
Thanks Rambles, it's very reassuring to hear that I've not over-bought on the AVR at the expense of stereo music capabilities.

The Arcam has an ethernet port and does support streaming but I understand its in-built capabilities are limited to Spotify Connect only... is this right, or could I potentially stream Tidal from PC through ethernet?
I'm not sure about that, but.. I would suggest just doing a listening test, like for like with high quality / bitrate sources, using the Arcam onboard streamer vs the PC streamer via HDMI to the AVR. If you can hear a difference, then you know you are on to something, and it might be worth further consideration of future options. But if you can't hear a difference then you know that you are not missing out.
 

dollag

Well-known Member
Streaming services are easily rectified by buying a chromecast audio for £30 and feeding the arcam an optical directly from it.

Your MA's are the weak link in your system there is not doubt about that, speakers generally have the biggest affect on sound reproduction then any other chain in your system imo (apart from the actual recording itself) and will yield the biggest results.

If you like the MA sound with the bronze, have you demoed their gold range?

As @Rambles said the R range from kef are impressive, especially for the money; however there are loads of other brands out there that might fit your needs. It's a very subjective thing when it comes to speakers so your ears will tell you what you need to know.

Do you have a budget in mind? Also is there any reason why your using only the front 3 channels? If you have no plans to use the additional channels then maybe your better off with something like the SR250
 

mikeysthoughts

Well-known Member
Your MA's are the weak link in your system there is not doubt about that, speakers generally have the biggest affect on sound reproduction then any other chain in your system imo (apart from the actual recording itself) and will yield the biggest results.

If you like the MA sound with the bronze, have you demoed their gold range?

As @Rambles said the R range from kef are impressive, especially for the money; however there are loads of other brands out there that might fit your needs. It's a very subjective thing when it comes to speakers so your ears will tell you what you need to know.

Do you have a budget in mind? Also is there any reason why your using only the front 3 channels? If you have no plans to use the additional channels then maybe your better off with something like the SR250
Yeah I think I'm coming to the conclusion the speakers should be priority 1 for upgrade, as Tidal streaming from PC is keeping me happy enough for now (having said that I will take up Rambles advice and hook up SPDIF from the PC to perform a direct comparison vs HDMI).

I guess the thread now becomes a typical speaker advice thread...

@dollag - the MA Bronze 2s are currently acting as a front three in a 3.1 setup purely because they were an interim solution to get myself going until I had time and budget to do some serious shopping. Next step is to push them to the rear as surrounds in a 5.1 and eventually an Atmos setup.

Trialling new speakers, so far I've only listened to the pairs described in the OP, and I'm looking to get advice regarding what I should try out, so thanks for your suggestions; Kef R series are on my shortlist for the next trial. I did like the Faber 3.0s but even ex-demo at £2500 that's a touch high for me right now.

My budget is in the £1500-£2000 range for a front pair, and longer term I'd aim to match with a centre.
 

gibbsy

Moderator
I agree with the above, the Bronze are the weak link, the Arcam certainly deserve better. Certainly going up the ranges in several manufacturers would pay dividends but speakers are such a personal taste that only you can decide suffice it to say that I would always recommend the KEF R Serie.

As for streaming I'm not that interested in music played that way but there are several high end units coming onto the market such as the Marantz ND8006.
 

mikeysthoughts

Well-known Member
but there are several high end units coming onto the market such as the Marantz ND8006
Aha - brilliant, that is precisely the sort of thing I'm planning for. I always have an anxiety about the optimum time to buy so I typically stay 18 to 24 months behind the newest releases (maturity of product, imminent new features (MQA in particular seems to be the next big thing?), early adopter price premiums, etc.), so I'll keep my eye on that as the next step following new speakers.

Apart from the Kef R and Dali Opticron 6s, any other suggestions for speakers that don't have a harsh/brittle top end?
 

gibbsy

Moderator
I've had KEF now in various forms for the last fifteen years or so. Prior to that I had Missions and Wharfedales Diamond 9s hooked up to my old Technics kit just on stereo music duties. I've never played music so good though as my present combination of Marantz SACD player, Rega Elicit R and the KEF R300s.

Apart from failures I cannot see me changing any of this kit in the foreseeable future. Only thing I lack at the moment is a good headphone amp which hopefully will be rectified in the next few weeks with the possible addition of a Lehmann Linear.
 

dollag

Well-known Member
If your open to second hand, i’d Listen to some pmc’s as to my ears, they sound sublime

Amphion 3’s a tad over budget I think
Ma golds
Kef r’s
Neat iotas

I heard some Proac’s earlier this year (cannot remember the model) they sounded stunning.

I’m not a fan of dalis personally and I feel the same way about b&w. It’s just a personal thing and glad your taking the time to audition yourself. I’ve had a few different brands but ended up going back to the kefs.

I’m not convinced with mqa personally I recently had tidal and was doing a lot of a/b comparison with their lossless catalogue and for me, I couldn’t justify the premium for a dac/steamer because it decoded a particular format so I ended up getting an oppo Sonica. Been blown away by it. It replaced my chord mojo as my primary dac and with its streaming capabilities, was just a no brainier. It’s sabre 9038pro dac chip and massive power supply it really punches above its weight.
 

mikeysthoughts

Well-known Member
I have been scouting the PMCs and there are a clearance pair of twenty5.23s available for £2500 and all commentary suggests they are worth a listen. As great as they seem for stereo, all I would say is I can't find anything to suggest they are comfortable as part of a multi-channel home theatre setup - any thoughts?
 

dollag

Well-known Member
I have been scouting the PMCs and there are a clearance pair of twenty5.23s available for £2500 and all commentary suggests they are worth a listen. As great as they seem for stereo, all I would say is I can't find anything to suggest they are comfortable as part of a multi-channel home theatre setup - any thoughts?

I have never heard them nyself in that congig personally but i rememeber someone on here swapping out their kef r rannge for pmc and was happy with the upgrade for clarity; however lost some of that immersion and imaging the uniq drivers give.

The arendals are highly regarded; however I have yet to hear those either
 

Cribbster

Active Member
This is definitely an area where you need to listen to the speakers and make your own choice based on what your ears are telling you. For me personally, although I do like the KEf speakers I have found the Arcam / Kef combination in the past to be a bit too "safe". Although they sound good together it feels as though there is a bit of life / sparkle missing that a different pair of speakers may bring to the party. I have really like Dali in the past but I can't get on with the new Optcons - tend to sound a bit harsh and sharp to my ears. Problem is - there are hundreds of speaker options available! I would be trying some of the Tannoy Revolution XT (some proper bargains to be had at the moment on them), MA Silver ( was disappointed with the Silver range when they first launched but they may be better now in the revised lineup) or maybe even trial some Fyne Audio speakers, possibly the F501 (currently getting very positive reviews and although a new company comes from a good heritage). All at the lower end of your budget. For the record I do like the PMC speakers I have heard very much but they are not cheap. I also quite like the Spendor A speakers but again, not cheap. I also do not like Q Accoustics based on all the speakers of theirs I have heard and nor am I fan of Focal or Neat for the same reasons. But, horses for courses - and this is the important bit, you might like them. That's why, although it's nice to get our opinions and thoughts, the most important stahe of this process is to go and have a listen yourself. That's also the fun part - if time consuming.
 

mikeysthoughts

Well-known Member
Problem is - there are hundreds of speaker options available! go and have a listen yourself. That's also the fun part - if time consuming.
Spot on, I'm glad to have some pointers from you and previous posters, and I'm already planning my next afternoon in a showroom. I do feel a twang of guilt about the amount of retailer time Im likely to take up... But I do want to get my perfect combo.

Putting speakers aside unless anyone else has suggestions, is there anything else in the OP that is worth discussing?

Thanks all
Mike
 

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