Two boxes - A power amp, a pre, a dac and a streamer

SpectacularFish

Novice Member
Hi, I'm looking to upgrade my amp and streaming source, and would like to have not more than two different boxes, maximum three.
What combinations usually gives the most bang for the buck, and also makes sense in the longer run? Also, anything else to consider? We are talking about the £1500-2500 price range all in all.

I see you can get all kinds of combinations, like
[Power] + [pre with dac and streamer]
[power and pre] + [dac and streamer]
[power, pre and dac] + [streamer]

I currently have the last solution, with a chromecast audio connected to a integrated amp with a digital in.
 

Ugg10

Distinguished Member
A couple of obvious choices would be (within budget second hand) -

Cambridge 851N + 851W
Naim NACN172sx + NAP250

The Bluesound Node2i can be used as a pre amp with your choice of power amp (plus has line in if you have an analogue source) as can the Cambridge CXN.

The new NAD C658 is interesting as well as a streaming preamp. Some Nad integrated amps can also have the Blos module fitted to take care of streaming (C368 / C388).

Lots of choice really but depends on your speakers, room and listening choices as to what will work and only your ears and an audition (ideally at home) will make the choice for you.

if you don't have speakers then a steaming preamp and active speakers may be an option.
 

BlueWizard

Distinguished Member
Are you determined to have Pre-Amp/Power-Amp?

That is hard to do in two boxes, I can't think of any Pre-Amps that have Network Streaming built in. So, that would mean three boxes minimum.

Can you give us some more details on you system as it exists now?


If you don't specifically need Pre/Power, then an Integrated Amp and Network Streamer would do it.

Here are a couple of amps to get you started -

Rotel A14 Integrated, 80w/ch, DAC - £899 -


Rotel RA-1572 Integrated, 120w/ch, DAC - £1395 -


And here is a very common highly rated Network Streamer -

Bluesound Node-2i Network Streamer - £499 -



If you want a Network Streamer that looks more equipment based, that is, will blend more easily with common Audio Equipment, then consider this -

Cambridge Audio CXN Network Streamer - £799 -



This can be bundled with a Cambridge Amp - Cambridge CXN Network Streamer + CXA81 Integrated Amp w/DAC - £1650 -


Moving up one higher in the Cambridge line up -

Cambridge 851 Amp, 120w/ch, DAC - £1100 -



Cambridge 851 Network Streamer - £1300 -





Another alternative -

Yamaha AS1200 Integrated 90w/ch - £1999 -



Yamaha WXC-50 Network Streamer/Pre-Amp - £280 -


Again, can you explain your system a little more so we have some context? Do you really need a Pre/Power setup? What are your speakers or what speakers will be used with this system?

Steve/bluewizard
 

FaxFan2002

Well-known Member
I tried to stick to £1500 - £2000 which I almost did. But the key is the speakers here, you going to spend a lot on a combination of streamer, dac, amp(s) you need to match carefully as per @BlueWizard above.

I've always found the advice of dealers fantastic at matching components so I'd always get their advice or verification as well.
 
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SpectacularFish

Novice Member
Are you determined to have Pre-Amp/Power-Amp?
Not at all. All options are on the table, so I am just trying to figure out what configuration I want. I have read that up to a certain price point, an integrated pre/power is always the best value, so that is my first choice right now. So a integrated, simple analog amp like the rega elicit-r and a combined dac/streamer is on my shortlist.

And talking about pre with streamer and dac, the NAD C586 as mentioned above is such a thing. I don't know how common the solution is.

I was more looking for principled answers, than to specific recommendations for my system.


(But since you are asking, what I am keeping going forward is as follows:
Speakers: Focal Kanta 1
Turntable: Rega Planar 6 with Ania MC pickup
Phono stage: Rega Fono MC

I know certain brands, like Naim, is very popular with the Focals, and I've also gotten good advice in another thread)
 

FaxFan2002

Well-known Member
By crikey, those are some good speakers! I'm not sure I'd be willing to match a £1500 - £2000 AMP / Pre AMP / DAC / Streamer setup with those bad boys.
 

SpectacularFish

Novice Member
By crikey, those are some good speakers! I'm not sure I'd be willing to match a £1500 - £2000 AMP / Pre AMP / DAC / Streamer setup with those bad boys.
I've gotten the Naim Uniti Atom recommended for them (Amp, and streamer in one), and used I can get one for like £1600. Still looking out for other options, since i a) Need more input channels for a second turntable my and old grimy cd-player and b) a fully integrated system is not good for my upgraditis. Also, i know Naim watts are something for itself, but I believe I need a more massive amp, in every meaning of the word.
 

mseve1

Active Member
It doesn't really matter which configuration you choose unless you're looking at a specific path for possible upgrading in the future. However, I wouldn't consider any option which doesn't have a physical volume control (invaluable when you mislay your remote/phone/tablet). Also, don't overlook 'single-box' solutions such as the Naim Uniti Atom which can seriously challenge separate units.
 

BlueWizard

Distinguished Member
.... an integrated pre/power is always the best value,....
By Integrated Pre/Power you just mean an Integrated Amp such as those I suggested.

And talking about pre with streamer and dac, the NAD C586 as mentioned above is such a thing. I don't know how common the solution is.
NAD does make a Pre-Amp/DAC that has BlueOS built in, which means it functionally has a Bluesound Node built in.

NAD C-658 BluOS Streamer/DAC/Pre-Amp - £1499 -



To which you would need to add a Power Amp or Integrated Amp.

Keep in mind a Pre-Amp/DAC or Pre-Amp Streamer will simply have a Volume Control relative to the Pre-Amp section.

You can also get the NAD C-388 Integrated Amp with BluOS 2i Module added - 150w/ch - £1898 -


I was more looking for principled answers, than to specific recommendations for my system.
In theory, the Amp for the Job is any amp you can afford that you like that meets your personal requirements. I know, not very helpful, but true none the less.

But the more you make your requirement known to us, the more we can point you at equipment that meets those requirements.

(But since you are asking, what I am keeping going forward is as follows:
Speakers: Focal Kanta 1
Turntable: Rega Planar 6 with Ania MC pickup
Phono stage: Rega Fono MC

I know certain brands, like Naim, is very popular with the Focals, and I've also gotten good advice in another thread)
YIKES! Nice system.




I think we also need to think about the Type of Amp you want. For example - Creek, AudioLab, Rega, and others - are very minimal Amps in terms of feature. Then Amp like - Rotel, Yamaha, NAD etc... - have more features like DACs, Streaming, Tone Controls, etc...

You seem to be leaning toward the Minimalist type Amps. Confirm?

Something like the Musical Fidelity M6i might be worth considering -

Musical Fidelity M6si Integrated, 220w/ch - £2,499 -



To which you would then have to add Network Streaming, but that can be as low as £500 from Bluesound.

While NAIM is certainly good, they are by no means cheap. Here is a Network Streaming Pre-Amp and a 70w/ch NAIM Integrated Amp -

NAIM NAC-N-272 Streamer/Pre-Amp - £1,999 -


NAIM NAIT XS-2, 70w/ch Intergrated Amp - £1,499 -


From what I've heard, NAIM tends to be very conservative in their Power Rating, so you could consider that a pretty Strong 70w/ch.

In terms of general concepts, I would say Strive for 100w/ch or Greater, though the NAIM would probably be fine, as would the Yamaha AS1200 at 90w/ch. But just in terms of Power, the 220w/ch Musical Fidelity would be finer.

Also, there is one better ROTEL Integrated Amp that has 200w/ch -

Rotel RA-1592 Integrated w/DAC, 200w/ch - £2095 -




The Rotel do have a Network Connection, but it is for updates only. It does not have Streaming. But again, basic Streaming from the Bluesound Node-2i hits a pretty high standard at £500.

There is one better Bluesound Streamer though - The Vault 2i - which as a CD Player for Ripping CDs to the internal 2TB hard drive, which can hold thousands of albums.

Bluesound Vault-2i Streamer/CD/HD - £1099 -


Since all the music is stored right there on the Vault device, it is self-contain, I don't think it need a separate computer running anywhere. Though be aware, that you can add external HD/SSD Drives to the standard Node-2i, but you don't get the CD Ripper.

I think if you are really going to go for Premium quality amps and you want Streaming, you are going to have to go over budget.

Steve/bluewizard
 
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BlueWizard

Distinguished Member
I've gotten the Naim Uniti Atom recommended for them (Amp, and streamer in one), and used I can get one for like £1600. ...
From Sevenoaks, the NAIM Uniti Atom is £2249 and while the Networking looks pretty spectacular, it has a 40w/ch amp. I'm not sure that works with £4500 speakers -


Steve/bluewizard
 

TB Rich

Active Member
Look at a Hegel H120 for £2200, or if you can push the budget the H190 for £3200.

It's an all in one like the NAD C388 but I'd wager sounds a lot better. I don't think I've ever seen anything but stella praise for Hegel.
The NAD is good, and 1 box solutions are certainly convenient, but having owned one (C368) then it's certainly not the last word in audio quality and has been eclipsed by my more separates route (albeit probably twice the cost so I guess no surprises).

That's the thing though, do you envisage upgrading parts of the setup later?! There's certainly fun to be had in doing so! I myself am tempted by a H190, but I also know I have a hankering to try a tube pre at some point, maybe a Chord Qutest for a DAC upgrade etc too.... not enough money to try them all and spending large on a single device like a H190 then makes it difficult or certainly unjustifiable to start replacing components.
 

SpectacularFish

Novice Member
I should probably mention that the platforms I'm planning on utilising is Tidal, Spotify and internet radio. So it does not need to be able to rip my lackluster CD collection, or play all my mp3s on some drive lost in my basement.

I think we also need to think about the Type of Amp you want. For example - Creek, AudioLab, Rega, and others - are very minimal Amps in terms of feature. Then Amp like - Rotel, Yamaha, NAD etc... - have more features like DACs, Streaming, Tone Controls, etc...

You seem to be leaning toward the Minimalist type Amps. Confirm?
Confirm! I' look into the amps you mentioned, specially the musical fidelity.
At the same time, I enjoy things that just work, and my girlfriend should be use the system, without getting frustrated. Thanks for all the suggestions!

From Sevenoaks, the NAIM Uniti Atom is £2249 and while the Networking looks pretty spectacular, it has a 40w/ch amp. I'm not sure that works with £4500 speakers -

I think you are correct. I may have mixed it up with one of the larger amps of the Uniti-series. Nevertheless, they seem less powerful than my current amp, which I'm not comfortable with.


That's the thing though, do you envisage upgrading parts of the setup later?! There's certainly fun to be had in doing so! I myself am tempted by a H190, but I also know I have a hankering to try a tube pre at some point, maybe a Chord Qutest for a DAC upgrade etc too.... not enough money to try them all and spending large on a single device like a H190 then makes it difficult or certainly unjustifiable to start replacing components.
Yes, exactly this. I want to be able to swap up different components, without changing everything. Both in order to make it possibly purely monetary, but also to be able to make smaller adjustments to the sound of my system. And i feel that a integrated amp has a longer best before date than a dac, and a dac has a longer best before date than a streamer. I am especially wary of the streamer suddenly becoming outdated either due to technological changes, or to a lack of support.

What i've gathered so far is that going all separates is best if you don't have a budget, and also don't mind spending time matching components and working all the equipment when you use it. At my price point a integradet amp and then a dac/streamer is probably the best value for money, but that a fully all-in-one box also could work. Exactly if i'm getting a amp with or without a dac is mostly about how i envision my upgrade path. Right?
 

TB Rich

Active Member
And i feel that a integrated amp has a longer best before date than a dac, and a dac has a longer best before date than a streamer
I would agree with this myself, and in terms of where to consolidate boxes given that yes an entirely separates route would blow the budget - then I think to my way of thinking I can compartmentalise the analog stages of a pre/power into buying a purely analog integrated. And then the digital side of the equation with the DAC/streamer elements of the frontend, combined as another.
So 2 boxes and split out from analog and digital. It still affords scope to upgrade, albeit that is more likely to be the digital side with either an external DAC or different streamer as and when standards and software change.

With a ~£2.5k budget, I think I would settle on £500 for a Node 2i off the bat, it's a great all in one with excellent software - but knowing that an external DAC is a very good and plausible way to upgrade later (and the 2i internal DAC is not bad at all to get going).
With the remaining £2k, my short list would be 2 options: 1) a Yamaha AS1200 (or similar) as an integrated choice, and 2) a Hegel P20 as a power amp choice. This would require using the 2i at least initially as the preamp and volume control. But you could then add a Hegel P20, a Schiit Freya+, or whatever pre-amp you fancy later on to give the dedicated pre stage (I don't overly like digital volume controls so I would without question be tee'ing up a pre-amp purchase).


(Actually I really quite like this later idea for myself especially as I can use my Audiolab 8300A in dedicated pre-mode in the interim!!) :)
 

phil t

Well-known Member
(But since you are asking, what I am keeping going forward is as follows:
Speakers: Focal Kanta 1
Turntable: Rega Planar 6 with Ania MC pickup
Phono stage: Rega Fono MC

I know certain brands, like Naim, is very popular with the Focals, and I've also gotten good advice in another thread)
For your budget, nothing new will do the speakers justice.

Assuming you can find clean examples, then as suggested above, second hand Naim NACN172sx + NAP250.

I auditioned, using Neat SX1, the Naim Uniti Atom through to the Naim ND5 xs2 and Supernait 3 and at each step the music became more engaging.
 

BlueWizard

Distinguished Member
For your budget, nothing new will do the speakers justice.
...
I see your point but I think it is overstated. The speakers are about £4500/pr, that implies that amps in the £2000 to £2500 are close to ideal for the speakers. Equally, a well chosen amp in the £1500 range should still be good. Of course bigger and better amps are always better than smaller and cheaper amps, but everyone's wallet has to draw the line somewhere.

Yes, a £5000 Amp would probably be more ideal ...but... to get it ... you have to have £5000 to spend, and the OP would like some form of Networking and an amp for under £2500. That's what we have to work with.

The suggested amps are all fine amps. The Original Poster will simply have to find his personal compromise between Quality, Cost, Feature, and Preferences. Because ... that is precisely what we all have to do.

Steve/bluewizard
 
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phil t

Well-known Member
I see your point but I think it is overstated. The speakers are about £4500/pr, that implies that amps in the £2000 to £2500 are close to ideal for the speakers. Equally, a well chosen amp in the £1500 range should still be good. Of course bigger and better amps are always better than smaller and cheaper amps, but everyone's wallet has to draw the line somewhere.

The suggested amps are all fine amps. The Original Poster will simply have to find his personal compromise between Quality, Cost, Feature, and Preferences. Because ... that is precisely what we all have to do.

Steve/bluewizard
I don't disagree Steve, just pointing out that a pair of £2200 speakers responded to better electronics. If they do, then a set at twice the price will do too.
 

SpectacularFish

Novice Member
I've realised that my chromecast audio does everything I need from a streamer sufficiently.
That leaves getting a new integrated amp, and possibly a dac.

What's a sensible budget split between a amp and a dac in my case? My gut tells my to go all out on amp, and cheap out on dac. Or, get a dac with DSP. That would be a fun rabbit hole to throw myself into.
 
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TB Rich

Active Member
I've realised that my chromecast audio does everything I need from a streamer sufficiently.
That leaves getting a new integrated amp, and possibly a dac.

What's a sensible budget split between a amp and a dac in my case? My gut tells my to go all out on amp, and cheap out on dac. Or, get a dac with DSP. That would be a fun rabbit hole to throw myself into.
YMMV but my ~£2k ish amp short list would be:
Arcam SA30 @ £2k
Yamaha AS-1200 @ £2k
MF M6si @ £2.5k
Naim XS3 @ £2.2k
Edit: And a Rega Aethos @ £3k - but I like to include an example of the price tier above to satisfy my curiosity of the improvement that going outside the budget could bring. I'd worry about the issue of if I liked it way more than the others of not at the time!! Luckily when I auditioned speakers I didn't like the most expensive ones I put in the test!

Personally I have an aversion to integrated amps with DAC's, it's a technology that is improving and evolving, so I would side with your notion of spending as much/all on the amp. A good analog only 2ch amp won't date due to formats and technology in the digital realm changing. Get a DAC later when funds are built back up, that's my view point and you may see it otherwise and in which case the SA30 might be a good idea, I mean it will improve the DAC on the Chromecast that's a given! And if it sounds better in your listening than the others then hell 'free' DAC right ;)!

As far a cheap DACs go, whilst I have bias I don't think you can look past the Schiit Modius for ~£260 delivered from the US with import charges, ~3 days delivery too! When UK disti eventually gets stock it'll be about £225 delivered, but don't hold your breath on them anytime soon!
You can take a punt on the plethora of Chi-fi DACs out there (Topping / SMSL etc), but for me at least they don't float my boat. But a Topping E30 costs little and is meant to be very decent.
 

SpectacularFish

Novice Member
YMMV but my ~£2k ish amp short list would be:
Arcam SA30 @ £2k
Yamaha AS-1200 @ £2k
MF M6si @ £2.5k
Naim XS3 @ £2.2k
Edit: And a Rega Aethos @ £3k - but I like to include an example of the price tier above to satisfy my curiosity of the improvement that going outside the budget could bring. I'd worry about the issue of if I liked it way more than the others of not at the time!! Luckily when I auditioned speakers I didn't like the most expensive ones I put in the test!

Personally I have an aversion to integrated amps with DAC's, it's a technology that is improving and evolving, so I would side with your notion of spending as much/all on the amp. A good analog only 2ch amp won't date due to formats and technology in the digital realm changing. Get a DAC later when funds are built back up, that's my view point and you may see it otherwise and in which case the SA30 might be a good idea, I mean it will improve the DAC on the Chromecast that's a given! And if it sounds better in your listening than the others then hell 'free' DAC right ;)!

As far a cheap DACs go, whilst I have bias I don't think you can look past the Schiit Modius for ~£260 delivered from the US with import charges, ~3 days delivery too! When UK disti eventually gets stock it'll be about £225 delivered, but don't hold your breath on them anytime soon!
You can take a punt on the plethora of Chi-fi DACs out there (Topping / SMSL etc), but for me at least they don't float my boat. But a Topping E30 costs little and is meant to be very decent.
Thanks for your suggestions. I've been eying the Yamaha and the Aethos myself. Do you think the Naim XS3 really has what it takes to drive my speakers?

I've been thinking of buying a cheap Rega Dac or something 2nd hand, as a intermediate external dac.
 

TB Rich

Active Member
Do you think the Naim XS3 really has what it takes to drive my speakers?
In terms of power, no problem, Naim are considered to be an excellent high current amp with decent reserve capacitance.
Those Focal are 88dB sensitivity and have 8ohm nominal and 3.9ohm minimum impedances. The XS3 is 70w in to 8ohm and 100w in to 4ohm.

These amp and speaker numbers are as it happens quite similar to my Audiolab/KEF combo. Amp is marginally more powerful at 75w in to 8ohm and 115w in to 4ohm, but the speakers are marginally harder to drive with 87dB sensitivity and 8ohm nominal and 3.2ohm minimum. I can completely stand by 100% my combination having fantastic synergy and the amp drives the speakers perfectly, tons of low end and no shortage of control etc.

So whilst it's not an exact science, given the very similar numbers on paper to my setup then I would expect the Naim and Focal being well suited. There is no substitute for listening though.

(also I'm firmly of the opinion there's too many people out there that think your need a gazillion watts! No doubt not helped by the sheer number of poor Class D stuff out there with weedy power supplies that don't support big current demands. Quality A/B amps like Naim and Audiolab have beefy psu's and large capacitors for reserve current, cannot see why you'd need more than 70w or so unless you have a very large room and drive your speakers very loud - unlikely given you have bookshelves?).
 

Rob Sinden

Distinguished Member
AVForums Sponsor
Next week you’ll start to see the Lyngdorf TDAi1120 streaming amplifier arrive in stores at £1,995. If you can get a dem of this I’m sure you’ll agree the simpler signal path of the Equibit amp gives cleaner, clearer sound than other alternatives at the price.

The weakest link in most higher end systems is the errors the room creates and these can only be removed with room correction. RoomPerfect is the best room correction system available and is built into this amp. If you ask Lyngdorf users of their experience with RoomPerfect I’m sure you’ll find they agree.
 

TB Rich

Active Member
They look amazing, really really great design language - I'd consider buying them for that alone!

However it is kind of odd that given one of main talking points to these amps is the whole minimum signal path and pure digital amplification they have (and the supposed clarity and lack of distortion that brings), but not a single mention of the signal to noise ratio at any point!
I'm very aware numbers don't tell you how a device sounds, but when something is to some extent relying on technical virtues to sell and define itself in the broader market place, then kind of odd that one of the most easily understood metrics that would demonstrate that implied strength, is omitted.

Also big can of worms surely on room correction systems. Totally agree almost universally that bass is improved with DSP, but beyond I guess about 300-500hz when the room stops having issues with standing waves, then I see very frequently people prefer to not apply EQ past that point.

Interesting devices though and love the looks.
 

Rob Sinden

Distinguished Member
AVForums Sponsor
There isn’t one of the well know EQ systems I’d use on a really good stereo because they change the sound of the speakers to try and match a target curve. RoomPerfect is unique in producing a target curve that’s unique to your speakers and your room so their characteristics are preserved.

I really hope you get the chance to hear this amp. I totally agree that specifications can only tell you so much but I’m sure if you give it a listen you quickly hear the clarity on its amp design and benefits of RoomPerfect. Go take a look at the reviews…………

BTW When you do, turn of RoomPerfect when listening to say some jazz and you'll hear the improvement in sound quality in the mid and high frequencies as well as the bass.
 

SpectacularFish

Novice Member
Are there any older alternatives? Trying to go the 2nd hand route this time..
For example I have multiple Lyngdorf TDAI2170 available, and if they have a toslink in, would work.
Still not entirely sold on the whole class D amp thing, but at the same time open for some digital room corrections.

BTW, just got myself a Tidal HIFI subscription. A clear improvement from spotifys highest quality playback, even though the apps are not that good.
 

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