New audio set-up for complete newbie

zsejk

Novice Member
I'm new to this forum, so a thousandfold apologies if I should've introduced myself somewhere before asking questions.

:)

I've been looking to start myself on the road to audio heaven, and I think I need some advice on what components would server my needs best. I don't really have a specific total budget in mind, but somewhere around 1.000 euros (give or take) probably would be my yet-to-spend limit. I've already purchased some components, so we'll disregard the money spent on that.

;)

Anyway... here's what I've managed to cobble together so far:

I want the following components for music enjoyment in the living room (though not sure if I *need* them... feel free to point out my follies and/or stupidity):
  • amplifier (to connect to speakers, turntable, and CD player)
  • speakers (book shelf speakers)
  • turntable (starter table, just to see if I can get into it)
  • new CD player (at some point in the future, not necessary now as I have one, albeit a relatively poor one)
I have already purchased the following components (for music enjoyment from the computer):
  • DAC (JDS Labs ODAC)
  • headphone amplifier (JDS Labs Objective2)
  • headphones (Sennheiser)
What I've managed to research/decide so far:

Amplifier:
  • Marantz PM-6005: this one I like, but is too expensive for my tastes in the Netherlands: it costs 550 euros
  • Marantz PM-6004: more decently priced, but not the latest model I guess... not sure if that should matter?
  • Rotel RA-10: well priced and well reviewed, but WhatHifi claims it doesn't play well with Dali Zensor 3 speakers (the speakers I had in mind, of course); not quite sure if I should disregard an amp based on one sentence in one review ;)
  • Yamaha A-S300 or A-S500
  • Denon PMA-720AE
Speakers:
  • Dali Zensor 3: the only ones I've looked at, as they seem to be well reviewed and recommended, and they are within my aesthetic boundaries; feel free to convince me of the mistake in choosing these
Turntable:
  • Pro-ject Debut Carbon, possibly with the 2M red cartridge (not sure if that's necessary, or whether upgrading the cartridge later is better): this one has my preference because of positive reviews and online recommendations
  • Rega RP1 (with or without the Performance Pack): I made the mistake of reading somewhere that someone had a wobble once, and now it's stuck in my head that I don't want this table... :(
[edit]
Forgot my music tastes... they're pretty varied, but I think the following list gives an impresson: classical (Rachmaninov, Bach, Prokofiev, etc), death metal (Amon Amarth, Sepultura, etc), pop (old and new: Paul Simon, Phosphorescent, Kaiser Chiefs, Madonna, along those lines), regular rock (Rammstein, Metallica, etc), dance (anything really, your basic thump thump thump stuff).
[/edit]
That's about it. I'm really looking forward to getting my thinking errors pointed out ( :rtfm: ), and hearing your recommendations ( :clap: ).
 
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amcluesent

Distinguished Member
Amp/speakers/TT/CD for 1,000 Euros (£820) would be bargain bucket stuff, are you prepared to look at 2nd hand?

If so -

Mission Cyrus 2 + PSX power supply - £250ish
B&W 602 S3 speakers - £250ish
Rega Planer 2/RB250 arm/new cart - £300
Marantz CD-52 MKII - £50
Cables etc. - £50

£900 all up, maybe 1,200 Euros with P&P
 
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zsejk

Novice Member
Amp/speakers/TT/CD for 1,000 Euros (£820) would be bargain bucket stuff, are you prepared to look at 2nd hand?

If so -

Mission Cyrus 2 + PSX power supply - £250ish
B&W 602 S3 speakers - £250ish
Rega Planer 2/RB250 arm/new cart - £300
Marantz CD-52 MKII - £50
Cables etc. - £50

£900 all up, maybe 1,200 Euros with P&P
Thanks for the quick reply!

Sorry for being unclear about the CD player, I didn't actually mean to say that I want one now. I just thought it would be helpful to mention, so that you all could take it into account when thinking of decent amplifiers.

:)

As for the budget, I'm not really exactly married to the amount of 1000 euros, more like a guideline. Going to 1500 or even 1800 for exceptional reasons would be acceptable, I think...

:cool:

Apologies for not responding to your actual suggestions, I'm currently out walking the dog, so can't properly look them up at this moment.

;)
 

BlueWizard

Distinguished Member
Generally, I break down a Stereo System like this -

1.0x to 1.5x = Turntable (depending on whether it needs a cartridge upgrade)
1x = CD Player
1x = Amp
2x = Speakers

Not this just puts the budget into perspective and establishes a starting point, there is plenty of room to deviate from these numbers based on the equipment you find and your personal preferences.

Do you have any other needs? For example, do you need streaming of audio over local network or access to Internet Radio?

For a turntable a Project Debut Carbon with a Ortofon 2M Red is a very good choice. The Rega RP1 with the same cartridge is also a good choice. But frequently the Rega is listed without a cartridge, so the cartridge is an extra cost. Either one of these will be fine. These are the top two recommendations for a Turntable in this price range. So, it is down to your preference.

Depending on the Budget, it is hard to adhere to the recommendations above for the turntable, there is a minimum standard for a good quality turntable and you are at that standard. Few would consider anything less than the Project Carbon or the Rega RP1. In the UK, the Project Debut Carbon with 2m Red is currently about £325/each.

A good low cost system built from Yamaha or Denon would be very good for the money. The Marantz PM6005 is also a good amp with a long and positive history. Then new version comes with a DAC with Optical and Coaxial inputs, which is handy if you want to watch movies using your stereo as a sound system.

As to speakers, probably the top three that I would recommend are -

£257/pr = Wharfedale Diamond 122
£250/pr = Monitor Audio BX2
£299/pr = Dali Zensor 3

All have larger than typical bass driver with deeper than average bass response. All very good speakers, it just depends on your specific needs and available budget.

Here is a Denon system based on current prices in the UK -

£199/ea = Denon DNP-720 Network Streaming
£175/ea = Deonon PMA-720 50w/ch amp, PHONO
£178/ea = Denon DCD-720 CD player

Note all the Denon 720 series were originally about £350 each

In Yamaha, you have a few choices -

£450/ea = Yamaha RN500 Network Receiver, 80w/ch, DAC-2xOptical, 2xCoaxial, PHONO, Network Streaming, Internet Radio

£170/ea = Yamaha AS300, 60w/ch, PHONO
£240/ea = Yamaha AS500, 85w/ch, PHONO, Sub out

The Yamaha amps are good quality high powered amp and available at an exceptional price. They are 4 ohm rated so they can easily work with 4 ohm speakers.

£170/ea = Yamaha CDS300 CD Player
£350/ea = Yamaha CDS700 CD Player

The only criticism I've heard about the Yamaha CD players is that the USB-media port doesn't operate as reliably as it should with USB Thumb Drives. Though no criticism of the actual CD Playing ability.

I don't think anyone could find anything to criticize about the Marantz 600n series. Long history of user and critical acclaim. The new PM6005 has the addition of a DAC with both Optical and Coaxial inputs. the only short coming, though slight is the 45w/ch power rating. That is fine, but it is about as low as you realistically want to go.

£270/ea = Marantz PM6005. 45w/ch, PHONO, DAC

£260/ea = Marantz CD6005 CD Player

All the equipment you are considering is the very equipment I would have recommended for someone with an entry level budget. There really is not wrong choice, only the choice that best suits your personally.

Though it is a very good amp, the Rotel RA-10 (£350) is a very basic amp. I'm not even sure it has a Remote Control, and I don't think it has a DAC. For that you would need to move up to the RA-11 (£499). Though I think most would say the RA-12 is the only real model to consider. Though at a considerable £599, it is pressing your budget.

For what it is worth.

Steve/bluewizard
 

zsejk

Novice Member
@amcluesent : thanks again for the suggestions! Especially the speakers, your suggestion of B&W's has led me on the path to consider more speakers than just the Dali's. Also the Cyrus amplifiers look pretty interesting (I hadn't heard of them before, so learned something new). As I'm a beginner, I'm slightly hesitant to go for second hand stuff. I'd be worried I wouldn't be able to tell the difference between something just sounding off for my tastes, or sounding off because of some malfunction somewhere. Would you have different recommendations considering I wouldn't need a CD player, and the budget would move up to around 1000 euro's for just the amplifier and the speakers? The turntable would run up a cost of around 400 euro's regardless, so that would get things into that 1500 euro bracket I mentioned in my earlier reply.

:D

@BlueWizard: thanks for all those suggestions! It's really helpful to have them all listed like that. As to your questions: I wouldn't need to do anything "difficult" like streaming anything to anywhere. In fact, I don't even need a CD player per se. I would really be using this system to hook up my DAC (JDS Labs ODAC) which would be hooked up to my computer, or to hook up the to-be-purchased turntable (Pro-ject or Rega, as mentioned above). I might also sometimes hook up my old CD player.

;)

As a side note: I'm also more than happy to consider separates (I don't really even know if this is possible, but oh well ;) ), so for instance a phono preamp, an amp, and speakers. I already have the DAC, so that would be taken care of. Is that even feasible, with this budget?

Also, about the integrated phono stages in the various models mentioned above. On the Rotel RA-10 review on WhatHiFi for instance, it explicitly states that the phono stage is very good. Since I'd be spending around 400 euro's on a turntable, I don't really want to be stuck with an amplifier that has a slightly disappointing phono stage. Would you recommend the Rotel as well (despite the fact of course that it doesn't have a remote control, which I personally have no problem with), or would I simply not be able to hear the difference anyway? Or perhaps it is better to get a dedicated phono stage?

Thanks again for all the help! And apologies for the endless questions...

:)
 

BlueWizard

Distinguished Member
The power on the Rotel RA-10 is very basic, I think only 40w/ch. Again, that is enough, but it is about as low as a person would want to go. On general quality, Rotel are excellent amps.

Myself I have an Yamaha 100w/ch amp. Yamaha are exceptional bargains with higher than average power. I favor them based on price and power.

Do I understand that as you have now stated it, the €1000 is just for Amp and Speakers, which is about £820?

I think if you limit you budget to Amp and Speaker, you can move up in quality in both the amp and speakers. If we set a target of roughly £400 each, you can do very well.

The Dali Zenor 3 would still be in the mix at £299/pr. Other would be -

£499/pr = B&W 685-S2
£500/pr = Monitor Audio Silver 1
£449/pr = Kef Q300

If you would consider Floorstanding speakers

£449/pr = Wharfedale Diamond 155 (2x6.5" bass, 37hz)
£499/pr = Monitor Audio BX5

If you like the style, the Tannoy DC6. The Bass isn't extremely deep, but it is sufficiently deep for good sound.

£399/pr = Tannoy DC6 -

Tannoy Revolution DC6 Speakers (Pair) for £399.00 in Speakers

In amps, the previously mentioned Yamaha RN500 has network streaming, so your computer could be any where with network access and still stream to you stereo system. That does have some appeal. Price £450.

The next Yamaha amp above the AS500 would be the Yamaha AS700 with 90w/ch priced at £355.

You are somewhat in an odd price range, you either need to spend more .... or less.

Or shift your priorities.

For example the £599 Rotel RA-12 combined with the £256/pr Diamond 122 would not be out of place.

Or shifting the priorities in the other direction, the Yamaha AS500 (£240) with 85w/ch combined with the B&W 685-S2 (£499/pr) would not be out of place.

Both suit your budget nicely.

The Yamaha do have a PHONO input, and I have no complaint with the Phono Stage in my amp, it sounds fine. Though if, at a later date, you feel you need more, that can be a future upgrade.

If I were in the same circumstance, I think I would go for the Yamaha AS500 (£240) combined with the Wharfedale 155 (£450/pr) floorstanding. That hits your budget, and would make a very solid kick-ass system. Though that reflects my personal priorities far more than yours.

Steve/bluewizard
 

zsejk

Novice Member
You are somewhat in an odd price range, you either need to spend more .... or less.
That seems eerily accurate...

:cool:

I did indeed move the budget, lumping the turntable into the original estimate of 1000 euros seemed unfair to the rest of the system. I was hoping something around 1000 euros for just the amp + speakers would be more realistic, and would give a wider range of possible combinations.

Just out of curiosity, when you say "Or shift your priorities."... what do you mean exactly? Like, shift them from finances to quality? As in, stop worrying about the 1000 euros, and just try to find something nice for a beginner?

:)

If that is what you meant, is there some rough outline of a budget where you would say, yes, for that sort of money, you'd definitely get a really nice starter system?

:smashin:
 

zsejk

Novice Member
@BlueWizard : I just realized you probably meant priorities between speaker and amp. Considering this, I kind of like your Yamaha AS500 suggestion with either the B&W 685-S2 or the Wharfedale speakers. Hadn't really considered floorstanding seriously yet actually, to be fair.
 

BlueWizard

Distinguished Member
"Or shift your priorities."

Yes, generally we are seeking some balance between the amp and speakers. Generally that balance is speaker worth twice as much as the amp. Though budgets and priorities don't always allow for that.

The Yamaha AS500 and the Wharfedale Diamond 155 would reflect that common budget ratio.

But not everyone believes in that ratio and when it comes right down to purchasing specific equipment, few hit those ratios right on.

As I indicated before, this ratio establishes a starting point-

1.0x to 1.5x = Turntable (depending on whether it needs a cartridge upgrade)
1x = CD Player
1x = Amp
2x = Speakers


DACs, Streamers, and other similar equipment can be worked into this budget at about 1x each.

Putting more emphasis on the amp quality, the Rotel RA-12 combined with the Wharfedale Diamond 122 doesn't precisely fit my stated priorities, but it would still make a very good system.

It is all about striking a balances what best suits both your needs and your budget. On one hand, you need not spend every last penny, and if possible, a willingness to spend just a bit more can expand the possibilities. Though at some point we have to draw the line and stick to it, because for just a little bit more, there is always a little better equipment. But that doesn't end, you can start out at €1000 and end at €100,000 and there will still be one better piece of equipment for just a little bit more. This represents a very slippery slope.

To some extent it is all about refining your priorities. Myself I like big speakers, so the AS500 + Diamond 155 appeal to me. But the AS500 with good bookshelf speaker would still be a good system for those who don't like big speakers. Keep in mind the price of Bookshelf speaker requires an additional purchase of stands to mount them on. Myself I would rather put that Stand price into the speakers themselves.

Steve/bluewizard
 

Cribbster

Active Member
Or you could look for something second hand? How big is your listening space? As an example, I am selling some vintage English (Cyrus) hifi which packs a fair punch for around £1200 including floor standers. And that gets you a CD player, DAC, pre amp, a pair of mono block power amps, a pair of PSX-R power supplies a rack and a pair of Mission 752. Sure, the DAC could be bettered by newer kit and newer CD players may well outperform the Cyrus. However, as an ensemble for a starter I would have to say it's pretty damned good. Looking at the classifieds on here there are equally good bargains to be had. I have said it a few times but I really don't think you can fully appreciate what something sounds like until you actually hear it yourself. I have listened to quite a few things over the past few months and if I had gone out and bought a new system based on magazine reviews I could have ended up with an awful sounding system. I was fortunate enough to hear an older Devialet amplifier driving some Magico S5 speakers the other week. What was interesting though was that I was not blown away by the sound - not quite what I would personally want to listen to. But those are £40,000 speakers! Best thing to do is take the advice you get on here and then go and shop around. Places like Sevenoaks or (local to me) Oxford Audio Consultants seem quite accommodating these days in giving you a demo of equipment you are interested in. And that is essential as you really need to hear these things for yourself.
 

zsejk

Novice Member
@BlueWizard : that's a very good description of the sliding slope budget-wise. I've taken note of it, and have stopped raising the budget limits every time I see something that might be even nicer still than the previous nicest thing I saw.

;)

Your idea about priorities regarding amp vs speakers I have taken to heart in looking for appropriate combinations. I'm still all over the place, but slowly getting there.

@Cribbster : you make a good point about the second hand stuff, and maybe I should really spend more time considering it. I'm currently on the position that I want something brand new (the shininess factor, I guess), and then when I really get into things, start trying to assemble something kick-ass from various second hand items.

With regard to listening in the store, please correct me if the following is a faulty assumption: if I listen in the store, the acoustics there will be a certain way (let's call it acoustic situation A). Now when listening in A, I will for sure pick up the quality difference between a really bad speaker/amp combination, and a really good one. And I image I will also be able to decide which combination sounds best to my ears when presented with say two really good combinations. But then suppose I choose one of these good combinations, will it still actually be the better of the two in acoustic situation B, which would be my house? So basically, apart from elimination the really poor choices, is there really a very good point in fine tuning your choice in the store?

I understand of course there is such a thing as "home auditioning", but I imagine most stores would not be jumping up and down to facilitate this for the kind of budget we're talking about here.

I would love to hear people's ideas about this!

:)

My listening situation at home is extremely poor it turns out... I walked around the house clapping my hands (I realize this is not the best way to definitively decide upon acoustics in a room) in every imaginable room (ok, so I skipped the attic and the toilets), and there's a horrifically, almost painfully sharp echo everywhere. I have a living room with a stone floor and lots of windows, but no curtains to speak of. The bedroom has a wooden floor and adequate curtains, but one of the walls is an outside wall, made of concrete. The best place is a 3m by 5m study, with a curtain on the window (in the short wall), and floor to ceiling filled bookshelves on two sides (the two long walls). I would be sitting at roughly 2.5m to 3m from the speakers there.

Just thought that might be helpful info.

:)
 
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Cribbster

Active Member
I certainly understand your thought process around new and shiny kit. There are lots of benefits to new shiny kit such as being able to properly audition it, it is the latest kit so must (hopefully) be the best version available and it should be easier to get hold of what you want rather than wait or trawl through classified / ebay / gumtree etc.

I tend to approach the buying process in a fairly simple way. if I go to a shop and hear a combination of equipment that sounds pleasing to my ears and gives me the sound I want then that is my criteria met. I am not sure that the home acoustics will have that significant an impact on the sound quality to be able to change the sound of what I like in a audition room to something utterly unlistenable to when I get it home. Or that something that sounds hideous to me in an audition room will suddenly transform into audio heaven when I get it home. Sure, it may not be as good as it sounded in the audition room but I will still know that the quality of the sound is what I like.

I know that when you first start looking at getting a new system or new components you think the world of choice is quite small. However, it rapidly becomes clear that there is a huge amount of choice out there and the possible permutations of components is vast enough to make it quite hard to know if they are all as complementary to each other as any other combination. I am also increasingly persuaded that you can get a very good sounding audio experience for a sensible budget (maybe up to around £2k) and that after this point you are very quickly into the world of diminishing returns where the extra £500, £1000, £10,000 you spend on the combination of components will not necessarily deliver you that level of improvement to the sound. For example, the system I heard a couple of weeks ago was very nice. But was it really £50,000 of nice? Was it really 25 times better than a system I could put together for £2k? And the answer, to me, is no. But that could just be me. :)

As you are starting out what may be a good idea is to identify what particular type of sound or experience you are looking for. Clear, bright, detailed, warm, punchy? What part of the music do you listen for most? Are you about being able to hear the constituent parts in as much detail as possible or do you want to feel the punch of the bass drum kicking you every time the drummer hits it? Once you know that you can start to audition equipment whose traditional strengths / reputation play to those preferences. That way you will get a feel for the sort of sound any manufacturer and that will then narrow down your search.
 

zsejk

Novice Member
@Cribbster: you are absolutely right regarding the diminishing returns I think... or at least, that's certainly how it looks from where I'm standing.

:)

As to what music I like... it's sort of varied, and with that, it's sort of difficult to say how I like my music. If I listen to Simon & Garfunkel performing "The Boxer", I want to hear every little detail, yet it must be perfectly put together to form a whole, if that makes any sense (new to describing audio, so bear with me...). If I listen to Amon Amarth there must still definitely be detail to every part, but now it must also deliver some impressive ... let's say... physically overpowering effect as well.

Does that make any sense?

o_O

As to my progress in choosing equipment... I'm going to be listening to some used Linn speakers (Keilidh) this weekend. We've spent all week and weekend going round and round in circles regarding what we wanted, and all of sudden, in the midst of learning about impedance and sensitivity and accoustics, we stumbled across these speakers. I will let you know how they sound! They're pretty well priced (around 280 pounds), so no love lost with the audio hobby if they turn out horrible.

If they work out, I've my eye on a pre-amp/power amp combo by the same company, also used, also reasonably priced (550 pounds for a LK 140 power amp and a Wakonda pre-amp).

Aside from all these, and mostly if the speakers turn out horribly, we've kind of sort of made up this list of items that could be a good starter package:

- Monitor Audio BX2 (book shelf) speakers
- Bantam Gold integrated amp *or* NAD C316BEE integrated amp (*or* NAD C326BEE in an outlet deal... aaargh... the choices!)
- Pro-ject Debut Carbon 2Mred turntable
- Graham Slee Gram Amp 2 Communicator phono pre-amp *or* Cambridge Audio Azur 551P phono pre-amp

Is this proof I'm on some form of track to somewhere, or am I simply going mad?

;)

One reason I like the Temple Audio, Graham Slee and Linn products is that they are I believe hand-made, which I actually kind of like.

:clap:
 

Cribbster

Active Member
I am pretty sure I know what you mean on what you want from the audio experience as that seems very much the same as my view. If that is the case, based on my recent experiences, I would say what you want will be better delivered through floor standing speakers. I think you will struggle to get the impact you want from the BX2s as they will not deliver the punch or depth. One option to consider that I have heard recently is you could augment the bass end with the addition of a sub woofer. For example, the REL standard connector can be used on a normal hifi setup that does not have a specific sub out as it can tie into the speaker connectors.
 

zsejk

Novice Member
Well, thousandfold apologies for taking forever to get back here... we were overly occupied with all our new audio stuffs to think of posting back here.

:clap:

Despite all my original misgivings about second hand equipment, we actually ended up buying mostly second hand. We also went completely over budget, but I guess that was to be expected.

o_O

Anyway:

Linn Keilidh speakers (used)
Linn Wakonda preamp (used)
Linn LK140 amp (used)

Then the Pro-ject Debut Carbon w/ Ortofon 2M red cartridge (new), and a used Philips CD 753 (with the Lampizator approved TDA1549 DAC :D ... check his site out, pretty neat: PhilipsCD753).

I have to say that the Philips CD 753 hooked up to the Linn set-up is simply awesome, and yet the Linn set-up with the turntable is completely mind-bogglingly amazing. The integrated phono stage in the Wakonda sounds amazing (but maybe we're just accidental suckers for the sound it produces), so much so that when we got a Cambridge Audio Azur 651p phono stage (new), and hooked it up to the Wakonda and the rest of the Linn set-up, it sounded a little... meh. Not quite. But maybe it's an acquired taste, or maybe we were just spoiled before trying it.

We also bought a set of used Mission 770 Freedom speakers, which are quite frankly a little tinny and small sounding compared to the Linns (probably not completely surprising...). We put them in a smaller room with better accoustics, and when you play them just the right music (using the Cambridge phono stage and a second-hand Cyrus 6vs2 integrated amp), they might be ok. But maybe it's just a faulty set of speakers, or again, maybe we're just biased by the Linns now. Or maybe you shouldn't hook a new Cambridge phono stage up to a 8 year old Cyrus integrated amp and then connect Mission speakers from the 80s... who knows.

I also have a sneaking suspicion any set of speakers may not actually be better than any other per se (allowing for extremes of course), but rather one might be more to our personal preference than the other. Somebody else might for instance absolutely love the Missions, and hate the Linns.

In any case, next step: buy more vinyl!

:clap:

Thanks again for all the help! It may look like we didn't listen, but we really actually did.

:)
 

Cribbster

Active Member
Sometimes all we need / want is a sounding board for our ideas and thoughts. The end game in all of this, for most of us, is to have a system that delivers a sound that we are happy with and that helps us to enjoy listening to the music. I have given up on the game of trying to like stuff based on others views if it doesn't actually sound good to me.

If at the end of the discussions you have a system that you like the sound of and it is pleasing to you then job done. :)
 

zsejk

Novice Member
I think you are completely right. And it is a really pleasing set-up to listen to. Thanks again for all your time and good advice.

:)
 

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