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Rantings of a Hi-fi newbie

Discussion in 'Hi-Fi Stereo Systems & Separates' started by Daneel, Jan 1, 2004.

  1. Daneel

    Daneel
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    Just before Christmas last year I decided to buy a decent sound system, for both music and movie use. After much reading, talking and a bit of listening (more would have been good) I went for some B&W 600 s3 series speakers, a Velodyne sub, a Pioneer receiver, a budget Marantz CD player, a mid-range Toshiba DVD player and basic, inexpensive cables.

    A year later I’m giving serious thought to buying some B&W 700 series speakers, a stereo amp and a mid-range CD player (and also wondering where I am going to find the money). This “upgrade fever” snuck up on me, I wasn’t expecting it at all. The plan was to stick with my current system for at least 3 years by which time my career will have progressed to the point where by income becomes better than average and I can consider something really nice, the KEF reference range perhaps, after a bit of saving.

    Circumstances have conspired against my plans however and having moved house to begin my new career I don’t have the space for my HT system and so am listening to music through my VideoLogic Sirocco Crossfire system connected to my PC and my Acoustic Energy Aego2 in the living room. I went home for Christmas and realised how much I miss having good sound. I also began thinking that the jump from my current ~£3,000 system to around £20,000 for the system I envisaged around the KEF reference range was somewhat large.

    Yesterday I noticed a hi-fi shop not 100m from my place of work and after a lunch time visit have set-up a demo of the Monitor Audio GR20s, B&W 703s and 704s with suitable amp and CD player, about £2500 ($4200 with the 704s, the 703s add an extra £600) worth of equipment!

    I began to ponder what all my reading and listening had taught me over the past year and why it is that prices in all areas from amplifiers to cables can range from a few hundred pounds to many thousands.

    So what opinions have I arrived at? Note these are not conclusions and I can’t even say this is what I have learned as that implies I have at least a degree of certainty that I am correct.

    Starting with amplifiers, I hold a weak opinion that an amp is an amp. As long as it has enough power to drive a speaker to the desired level and has a reasonably flat frequency response it will sounds very similar to another amplifier. The thing is that while this is true of a power amp and so a part of an integrated amp, this isn’t quite the case for pre-amps which tend to add their own colour (read not neutral frequency response) to the sound.

    In my case however I don’t think this should cause me too many problems. I believe that neutral is good, if the original recording is not warm and lush, then I don’t want to hear that coming out of my sound system! I don’t care if it sounds “better”, I want to hear what was originally recorded. If the artist wanted it to sound warm (or whatever), then between their own performance and the sound engineer they would have recorded it that way.

    I’ll see how well this opinion holds up if I do buy the intended stereo system mentioned above then compare it to the same speakers driven by my receiver. Although I will have heard both after the demo, they won’t have been in the same room so any kind of comparison will begin on a flawed base.

    CD players I am even less sure about. If you use a digital connection between the source and amp then to me as long as the CD player does the job it’s supposed to the sound should be the same. You can argue all day with me about how jitter can be introduced and buffers can’t deal with the problem but as someone with a background in computer science and some physics I have yet to see an argument that stands up to scrutiny. With an analogue connection, as you are sure to use with a good CD player (unless you have an external DAC of course) it all comes down to the DAC. Again, if a DAC does its job I’m not convinced how much difference another one should make, maybe it’s the small amount of amplification that is done within the CD player that causes the difference. However I have seen too many opinions from people I respect on DACs making big differences to form a strong opinion in this until I’ve had extensive experience myself.

    Again, the demo I will be attending shortly will allow my to compare a couple of mid-range CD players (probably the Roksan Kandy Mk III and the Rotel RCD-02) so lets see how much difference I can hear.

    Speakers are the one area I’m not going to present any sort of “they are all very similar” argument. This is what actually turns electricity into sound and where I feel most of my money should go. The biggest problem though is that no matter how good my speakers, I have to get them to work in whatever room I choose to place them. At my parents house I get a big dip between 50 and 60 Hz which is highly annoying.

    I have been advising people for some time to always demo before they buy rather than relying on what other people say but although it is obviously a good idea, unless the demo is in the place you intend to have the speakers, they are going to sound substantially different when you get them home….

    Speaker wire is speaker wire and this is the stuff I’m most confident that putting lots of money into does not pay off. To me, speaker wire should transport the signal coming from your source to your speakers with as little change as possible. Given all the difference nuances that people seem to hear with different wiring I have attributed the apparent differences to two sources.

    First, some people convince themselves that the differences are there when they can’t actually hear any difference at all. A double blind test should be mandatory for anyone claiming to hear a difference.

    Secondly, I think some speaker wire in made to intentionally alter the sound. As my aim is for neutrality, this is not something I want in my system. Given suitably thick cable I can’t imagine it takes $100 per foot of shielding and other such “features” to get a signal a few feet across a room. Any differences that are introduced over the journey that are not intentional should be masked by the vastly larger changes that will be introduced by the speaker and the room.

    Please note I’m talking about speaker wire here and to a lesser extent interconnects between CD player and amp. If we move into video cables my opinion changes.

    It is worth mentioning that the best sound quality I have heard so far has come from my Sennheiser HD580s hooked up to my receiver. The sound is very nicely balanced, punchy and oh so clear. Unfortunately I don’t like the sound stage created, it just isn’t nearly as nice as even my B&W 602s3s can come produce.

    I think that the audio industry gets away selling with some hugely expensive items simply because sound is such a personal thing and what you are hearing is exceedingly hard to measure. It’s not like saying material x is stronger than y or even CPU A, on a given application, is faster than CPU B. This uncertainty together with good marketing and design are more than enough to part people from their money. Just look at Bose! (sorry couldn’t resist)

    Ok, I’ve written somewhat more than expected. I did this to clarify my thinking on this area and try to decide if my pending upgrade is really necessary or if I am simply being sucked in by the marketing I would like to think does not affect me. I have no doubt that some of my opinions will change and I hope that this will generate some interesting discussion. I am not looking for an argument though, so if you violently disagree with something I’ve said, please remember that many of my opinions are weakly backed up and that finding an absolute right or wrong in any this is nigh on impossible.
     
  2. rupbert

    rupbert
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    Nice read...
     
  3. andy572

    andy572
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    <knock, knock>

    Ah. Er, hello. Is this the Cynics meeting? Oh, good.

    Hi, my name is Andy... :D

    A fine read indeed, Daneel. Though as much as I liked it, I'm afraid that I have to take two points off for your use of the 'B' word! :laugh:

    :smashin:
     
  4. Nobber22

    Nobber22
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    So you haven't actually been to demo any of this kit yet and all your opinions are just musing's in your head? :D
     
  5. Daneel

    Daneel
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    I listened to a set-up consisting of Monitor Audio GR60s, Meridian 559 power amp and Meridian 507 CD player today. Not sure what the pre-amp was. This was the first time I've heard a highish end system.

    The midrange was very nice, vocals in particular, the highs were reasonable but the bass sounded bloated. Considering the price of that lot I was far from impressed. It could have been the demo room of course but still, I was expecting more.

    I'm going back tomorrow with some of my own music :)
     
  6. bobgriffiths

    bobgriffiths
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    Daneel From the system you own, i will take a guess on what you like.
    I think it’s very close to my own tastes.
    I can say only this... I can demo a system like yours to some customers and they would hate it!
    UNLESS you listen to acoustic instruments all the time what’s your point of reference for how a system should actually sound.
    Nearly all recordings are coloured by studio acoustics, engineers taste, type of mics used etc thousands of variables!!
    I believe from the equipment you have chosen you have a good ear for detail and realism.
    I kid you not some guys would say it sounds tinny or bright!
    That’s because the music they first heard was on a Amstrad Midi with a BSR turntable crappy speakers and then they bought the same track on CD and played it on there new AIWA MINI .This is their point of reference of how it should sound!
    Then they come into AV stores and say it sounds tinny!!
    Often the memory of how it should sound is far from how it really sounded.
    The reality is violins are shrill, hard fast transient percussion should make you blink but that’s not easy listening. So I completely agree with your statements


    "In my case however I don’t think this should cause me too many problems. I believe that neutral is good, if the original recording is not warm and lush, then I don’t want to hear that coming out of my sound system! I don’t care if it sounds “better”, I want to hear what was originally recorded. If the artist wanted it to sound warm (or whatever), then between their own performance and the sound engineer they would have recorded it that way."


    Now in the old days of two channels there were quite different rules .The source component was king the idea that if it was bad in the first place then no amp or speakers would make it better. This still holds true for a great system but is not as important as in the days of 33 and 45’s.
    With CD players so good for so little it is very hard to tell the difference between a lot of them. Yes your right the most notable difference in sound is when you change speakers. BUT if you get ALL the parts of the system right some how a system can be more than its parts and real Synergy can happen.
    I worked in Hi fi sales for Ten years (I own my own AV installation company now) and C.D players I didn’t like in some systems made other Systems really sing and for some reason other than tech spec OR PRICE!
    You are right about amps but as you know tech spec does not tell you how well the amp will drive a speaker when it asks the most of the amp.
    My opinion on cables is like yours.
    Some are designed to colour the sound to a particular taste but always buy well constructed cables.. That’s just common sense the old 10 percent rule is a very vague rule but at least puts the fact that you should put some money on one side for cables.


    I don’t think I have said anything new and have just had a rant of my own
    Sorry BOB
     

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