Towards a Better Sounding System – Part 2
Component Choices and Setup
The first thing you should know is that there is no perfect component in audio. This includes players, preamps, amps, wiring and all other devices. Spending more money on equipment only gets you closer to perfection. There are systems costing more than $200,000 and up. There was a system on Utube that probably costs up to $5,000,000. Only the top 0.5% can afford a system like those.
Before starting to get an audio system, you need to ask yourself several questions. What is my budget? What kind of music do I like? What is my room size? How much does visual appearance matter? Do you want a digital or analog source? Are you going to combine a stereo with surround sound and video system? Budget is a very important issue. Very few people can afford to put out over $20,000 all at once. You can more slowly put a system together. I suggest getting a very good player or streamer to start. Unless you can afford an expensive player or streamer, you will need a separate DAC. Then get a used good intergraded amp. Decent used inter connect cable and speaker cable, and the best speakers you can afford.
This will give you a good start at building a system. If you like loud rock music, will probably need larger speakers, which might cause room issues. In a small room, small speakers would be wise. With proper treatment, a larger speaker can be used. Large rooms create their own problems and need to be treated. The bigger the room the more treatment is needed. The next speaker decision is dynamic verses panel speakers. Dynamic speakers can produce more sound. They to me almost always sound slow. Panel speakers sound faster with more life. Panel speakers are made by these companies King Audio, Eminent Technology, Martin Logan, Magnepan and others. Combinations of panels and dynamic woofers are used by some manufactures, to help out with bass response. I have listened to very few dynamic speakers that I would be satisfied with. Panel speakers are even more critical at room placement than dynamic speakers. This is because they fire from the back as well as the front.
If you use small speakers you will probably need speaker stands. The tweeter of a speaker should be at seated ear level. If you want to use subwoofers, I suggest using a pair of subwoofers. I would suggest putting them inside and as close to your speaker’s woofers as possible. Putting them in the corners, increases the bass output, but causes bass phase problems. This is counter to what most experts would tell you.
Now we can start to put a system together. It is best to put the components between and behind the speakers, in the middle of the wall. If you are setting up a surround system, the components can be set to the side of the speakers. Speaker placement is a trial and error proposition. Start at least 3 feet from back wall and 10 feet apart. In increments, listen to a good recoding before and after each change in position. Move speakers apart and closer in increments. If the speakers are too close the sound stage will suffer. If they are too far apart, the system will lose image and definition. Then do the same thing moving the speakers forward and back. Look for the sound stage to be more three dimensional. Speakers can be tilted in somewhat if you need them to be farther apart.
We also need something to put the components on. There are some very expensive audiophile racks that most people can’t afford. I would suggest a solid wood non-resonate regular cabinet.
Choosing components is very hard. Most cities have very little choice in audiophile equipment. In addition most stores do not have equipment well set up. Listening at a store can only give you an idea of what a component can do. Some stores will allow you to take a component home with a credit card deposit. Most stereo store employees don’t have a lot of experience with products they do not have. If they know of a better product for the price, they will not tell you. There are big variables as to the room and supporting equipment to make a decision harder. The only place to hear a lot of equipment is at a large audio show like Axponia. Even there is a problem with room size and set up.
Reviews are a source of information. Magazines, however, can’t afford to antagonize companies with negative reviews. Also high end magazines don’t review smaller companies products, because they can’t afford to advertise in their magazines. They also only review 10% of the equipment available. The internet is also a source of reviews. Utube is a source for reviews, but has a tendency toward very expensive equipment or consumer grade equipment.Before choosing amps you need to decide whether you want tubes or solid state. Tubes do not have as much dynamic range. They also do not control bass as well. Tubes also need to be replaced every so often at an extra cost. With tubes, you are always thinking if the tubes need replacing. New tubes need a long brake in period and a slow wear down period. They also create extra heat you may not like on summer days. As you can probably tell, I use solid state amplification. If you want surround sound, you equipment cost goes up an amount.
Your next choice is what source you want to get to use for music. You have LP, digital and streaming. LPs have the most expensive way to get music. You need to have a very good turntable, arm and cartridge. They need to also be very well set up. You will also probably need a good phono preamp. You will need good vibration control for the turntable. There is also a problem with pressings. You have to think about the pressing. Most used LPs are trashed. Also you want to find early pressings from a stamper. There are various audiophile pressings of some titles. These can be expensive and are released in small batches. When they run out, they can get very expensive. For digital you need a disc player or a streamer. With either of these you will probably need a good DAC. Unfortunately most DACs are stereo only. If you want to do surround sound you can’t use most DACs. I don’t know much about current turntables. I, at one time, had an expensive audiophile turntable and over 5000 LPs.
For streaming you will need a streamer and DAC. For discs you will need a player and probably a DAC. Most high end players and DACs are stereo only. My choice of a player use to be very simple, buy the latest Oppo. Oppo has sadly stopped making players. They were great and played stereo and surround formats. Their DACs were good enough not to need separate DACs. If you want to do surround sound you will need a preamp that does surround sound, extra amps and speakers and speaker cables. I suggest buying a five channel amp for the center and surround speakers. I suggest getting good quality small speakers for the surrounds and using 10 gauge stranded wire for the speaker cabling. The center channel speaker needs to have a similar sound to your main speakers I do not have enough money to have separate high end audio systems and video systems, so I combine them into one system.
Next you need connecting cabling. You will need interconnects, power cables and speaker cables. Don’t buy cheap cables. Cables can run between $100 to over $5000 each. Most people can’t afford audiophile cable prices. I suggest you try buying cabling on the used market. Now you have a system you can work with and slowly upgrade as money becomes available.
If you can’t treat your room and place speakers at the best position you should just settle for an good intergraded amp, decent speakers and a upper mid-fi turn table, streamer or disc player. Chasing the audiophile sound is expensive and you’ll probably never get there.
If I had unlimited resources, I would put together this system. King Audio electrostatic speakers, Gryphon Mephisto amp, Audio Control Maestro M-9 preamp controller, Emotiva XPA-5 5 channel amp, 4- Thorough Bass subwoofers and 3 super tweeters. I would have to do some research on stands, power cables, interconnects and speaker cables that are High-end. Unless I win a huge lottery, this will not happen.
Part 3 of this series will be: Tweaking or how to make your system sound like you spent 2 or 3 times what you did