Discussion in 'Home Cinema Speakers' started by Lee James, Dec 12, 2004.
Which is the most important to get right which makes the biggest difference to overall quality?
Most of the money in a budget should go on speakers.
It isn't that straightforward as even the best and most expensive speakers won't sound good on the end of a naff amplifier.
yes but in a budget that little more should be on speakers.
I'd have to disagree with that. For stereo use... imho most of the budget should be on source, say 50% as a guide, 20% on amplification, 20% on speakers and 10% on cabling.
That said, experience would tell me to even those figures out on AV use.
To further confuse. It is of course, important to get the whole lot right. Get the wrong setup and however much you spend it will still sound terrible.
For Stereo use I'd tend to be of the same opinion as galewis but i'd reduce the cabling budget. More 45% source, 30% amplification, 23% speakers, 2% cables. Obviously this is a guide and should certainly not be taken as read!
The most important thing, in my opinion is the source: If it doesn't get the information from the media then everything else is irrelevent.
The amps come second: No matter what amplification you have, it can only reproduce what it receives. Rubbish in. Rubbish out.
Then come the speakers: No matter what speakers you have they only reproduce the signal from the main system.
Of course there are more things to consider. Speakers are a piece of furniture as well, they have to meet with the wifes approval and match the room. They also tend to be the piece of equipment you hold onto for longest. CD/DVD players get changed more often as new technology make last weeks CD players obsolete. Especially in budget systems. They also have to sound right with your equipment. It's IMO, better to select source and amps and then match speakers to your system to compliment the sound you like.
There is a big difference between an expensive system and a budget system. The dearer you go the more you spend on the amplification stage purely because you need more amps. However the speakers still end up at the bottom of the list.
30% on Source, 50% on amplification 15% on speakers, 5% on cabling.
This is just from personal experience.
He is talking about Home cinema
In stereo I'd say 52% speakers, 33% amp, 12% source 3% cables.
HC - 70% speakers (inc sub), 20% amp, 7% source, 3% cables.
As I've said before, IMO this source first then working towards the speakers is old thinking that doesn't reflect the current state of technology where a capable source is cheap as chips.
Is this purely because of the amount of speakers required?
As has been said already, decent sources are incredibly cheap.
I don't think the number of speakers required for HC tells the story... even if you only required 2 speakers, most of the budget should be on the speakers.
The reason is simple... source components like DVD players can now be built in huge factories in China, and the cost to produce them is now just a fraction of what the humble CD player would have cost in the early digital years.
Amplifiers are cheaper too, as newer more efficient amplifier designs have been invented. However the benefit is not quite as pronounced as it is for digital sources.
Speakers on the other hand havn't changed much over the years, and it still requires a craftsman to build a decent cabinet.
Building decent drive units, sourcing powerful magnets, the art of 'tuning' them together, and building the cabinet..... none of this can be undertaken on mass in a Chinese factory.
15 years ago, the biggest budget should have been spent on the source (garbage in , garbage out), but now things are very, very different.
Spend the money on speakers... no hesitation.
Yes and because of the sub.
Good Amp 1st then Speakers and Source...
I must admit I've heard some very good combinations of expensive amp + cheap speakers. My B&W 602S3 paired with a Primare A30.5 (biamped) with the Pioneer 2011 as preamp sounded amazing for music. That's £300 speakers with £2600 (1700 + 900 IIRC) of amp/pre-amp. The source was a 2nd hand Marantz CD4000 I picked up for £50
In most cases though, I'd spend the money on speakers first.
Rubbish in = Rubbish out
Source 1st, amp 2nd, speakers last. Quite simple.
Thanks for all your answers. It's fascinating, especially the way opinions vary so much!
I'm going to conclude that both speakers and amp are really important. For good quality sound to reach your ears it has to go through two stages and if either stage is flawed then that quality won't make its journey to your ears.
I'll probably spend a little more than I'd originally expected to on my sound system but it'll be worth it. I'm glad I decided not to get an all-in one system because I'm sure I will want to upgrade in future.
I still don't really know what specifications are important in amps and speakers. Watts? Amps? Drivers? Are there any key specs to look for that are a good gauge of quality, or are specs meaningless and it's just a matter of price, manufacturer and first hand experience (as with digital cameras)?
Spec should only be used as a rough guide when deciding what will work together, eg a pair of full range floorstanders paired with a cheap 50W amp is going to fall on its face. If that amp is a Krell however it will probably be just fine. Watts often don't mean much as you will come to discover, it's the ability of the amp to handle tough loads.
Although we have just given budget split advice, it's only a rule of thumb. If it sounds good to you, get it! As you said, experience is key. Demo a lot of stuff before you buy and don't let anyone talk you into things. I've heard £8k stereo systems that sounded crap, in a hi-fi shop no less where they should know what they are doing.
2nd hand kit will double your buying power and reduce upgrade costs (you WILL upgrade). I highly recommend going this route.
In truth the specs are fairly meaningless as apart from anything else there is no standard that all manufacturers adhere to so there is no substitute for listening to anything that you propose buying.
I go along what somebody else mentioned earlier, that the cost of electronics has come down so much over the last few years that you get greater bang for your buck.
I think the majority of your budget should be spent on speakers first. If you are into home cinema then there are some cracking integrated multichannel amps, less than £500, that would drive fairly expensive speakers very well.
If you also want good stereo, then buying inexpensive separates such as cd player, integrated stereo amp will improve the experience greatly (think Cambridge Audio here).
The mass production of AV gear does not indicate an improvement to sound quality.
The best advice I can think of is not to buy until you have listened to the system you want to buy.
In agreement with everyone else: Don't buy untill you hear it!
As for the availability of cheaper good quality components I'm afraid I can't buy into that one. Cambridge Audio seem to be plagued with problems at the moment. An awful lot of DVD and AV amp DACs in the budget range are a long way off the mark as well. Match them with some expensive amps and speakers and all that will happen is the Speakers will show up the flaws in the system. You only have to look to the avamp section of this forum for peoples opinions on 2 channel playback on most budget AV amps. Of course there are the exceptions to the rule.
I also don't believe amp and speaker design have changed much over the years. (Apart from the advent of digital amps) A modern £1000 Amp won't sound a lot different than a 10yr old amp of the same equivilent price. Same goes for speakers you still have crossovers and drivers, the configuration is pretty much the same, indeed a lot of older speakers are in great demand. CD/DVD players? Lot's of things have happened there. Better transports, better Dacs and more functionality. But mass production does not always bring you quality. If you want that you unforetunately, still have to pay for it.
For a good stereo:
a good dealer should give you as a nice present suited cables and interconnects.
Note the fact that, according to this rule, you get a system performing at 150%
Now seriously, I spent 33% in each part, and got the interconnects and cables for free from the dealer. I even told him if I should invest in better ones (which I'd buy him!), and he didn't recommend it, since the improvement would be ridiculous compared to the price... Or the other way around?
About the difference between stereo and Home Cinema differences in this respect... I don't buy there is one, because you need to feed each of the speakers with good amplification. Well, the source might be out of this equation, but if you want to have everything, you will also need several sources... Or a very expensive universal player...
I think getting the pre amp section right is the most iimportant bit of any system, whether this be in an intergrated unit or a seperate pre/pro and power.
This will effect the overall sound more than anything.
I had a 3802 and then changed to a denon A1, obviously alot better, but I thought it was because it had more power, but then I went for a used lexicon DC1 and parasound power amp which is rated at less, it was a totally different sound, more open and detailed, then changed to a meridian 568.2 again more detailed and a much, much bigger soundstage, but also warmer, which I didn't think I liked.
Now have a Lexicon MC8, again around the same price as the Meridian but a different sound.
I have tried quite a few dvd players and they do make a difference, but not in the same way as the amp side, they either sound good or ****e, to be honest.
Speakers when driven properly can sound awesome regardless of price, I have heard some small £400 bookshelf speakers on £10k worth of kit that sound wonderful, but I have never heard £10k worth of speakers sound good on £400 worth of electronics.
I would say that the most important thing is to get a sound you like, I bought a Tag processor after the meridian without listening to it, and I have to say that it was not my cup of tea at all, in fact I used an old arcam alpha 7 stereo amp in my cinema set up while I was waiting to replace it as I just could not stand the way the Tag sounded, very bright and edgy with no soundstage, but I guess loads of people like a lively sound.
It all comes to getting in some demo rooms to get an idea of how different kit sounds.
How do you explain this?
Recently I listened to three different cd players which I connected to my home setup and which I also listened to at my local hi-fi store.
cd player 1 cost £850
cd player 2 cost £400
cd player 3 cost (£85)
These were connected up to my equipment where the amp cost ((1300), stereo pair of speakers (£600).
In the hi-fi store the stereo pre/power amp cost a combined (£2000) and the stereo speakers (£2500).
I compared cd player 1 against 3 and cd player 2 against 3, and do you know what the result was ----- I could not tell the difference between them both at home and at the shop. So the source made no difference at all.
I decided to upgrade my speakers instead to a £1600 pair. These made a huge difference to my systems sound, so you know what I would recomend you do.
The sources were Arcam cd192,cd73 and Sony xe270.
That doesn't surprise me in the slightest. Getting the information off a CD is not something that requires expensive equipment these days.
I will not comment on the correct ratio: as it's all a matter of taste (and what you want from the system)
As for the spec, if i had to choose just one very important feature from EACH (Amp & Speakers) IMO :
AMPS: The power supply - no matter what silly wattage the manufacturer claims, if there's no power the sound will distort. I've seen a good 30W rated amp (was an NAD) simply humiliate another similarly priced amp rated at 100W (will not mention brand!) - every one could tell the difference (even our girlfriends!!!) - we concluded it was the power supply!
SPEAKERS: Linear response - a hard one to read off a spec sheet since a speaker may be linear in one room & not in another! But at least you'll know the starting point is good.
OH - and for both, a very important spec it how they sound to you - so demo it/them!
Not overly surprised by this. I've struggled to tell the difference between some £500 and £800 CD players. They use pretty much the same components after all. Most use a Sony Transport. With the occasional Philips available in the >£800 bracket. Perhaps, If you'd gone a little higher and changed brand, you might have been able to discern some difference?
In your final setup in the shop even using the Arcam 192 you still have only used a cheap CD player. No where near the quality of a player I would put with £4500 of amps and speakers. If you'd listened with a £3000 Transport/DAC combo I wonder what you'd have thought? I don't know what transports Arcam use but I'd be surprised if they were any difference between the one in the 73 and 192. Next time you're in a hi fi shop try and get a demo of a Rega Planet or Naim Nait 5 (a couple of exceptions to the rule)and compare them to anything made by Arcam. As for the cheapo CD player. Excelent!
I own a Cheapo sony DVD player and I think it's excelent. It's connected to an offboard DAC and it's better than any £3000 CD player i've heard.
You don't have to spend a fortune You just have to get it right.
I have to agree that this does seem the most obvious method, and the most logical.
However, to complicate things, imagine a decent separates system of CD, amp and speakers, alongside a "reasonable" mini system. Now plug the mini system speakers into the separates and the separates' speakers into the mini system. i think there's a good chance the mini system/decent speakers combo will sound better...........
Since, regardless of the quality, the speakers are the most sensitive part in the chain*, I would start choosing some speakers I like, and then look for an amp and cd player suited to them.
*in the sense that they mostly determine the kind of sound you will get (bright, laid back, neutral...)
Beobloke, would disagree with you there, we have one of the cheap denon all in one systems in the kitchen and when we first moved I had my kit set up and not the speakers, long story short, had friends round on the saturday we moved in and grabbed the speakers (there are tiny little monitor things) and hooked them up to the meridian pre and cinepro (cinepro has 500wx6 with all channels driven) and these speakers sounded absolutely awesome, our front room is around 14ftx28ft and theses completely filled it.
If you are talking about a pair of £5 speakers then I would agree that some decent speakers on a £50 midi system will probably sound better, but it would not be a sound that anyone on here could live with.
Speakers can and do change the sound, but they shouldn't determine the sound of a system, if you have a bright sounding amp then you will have to buy some pretty warm sounding speakers to tame it and that is not adviseable, can be a pain in the arse when it comes to upgrade time.
I think there is alot of difference in tone on budget speakers, but get to some high end gear or monitors and they can sound pretty similar.
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