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radiofreenewport
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another request for recommendations (around $1500)

Hi all,

 

First off, thanks to all of you who respond to the frequent requests about new systems. I've been lurking here for a few weeks and I've learned a lot from your posts. Thanks for being patient with us rookies! I want to upgrade my stereo home system, which is a Squeezebox Touch going into a NAD 7225PE receiver (about 25 years old) and Infinity RS3 bookshelf speakers.

 

I listen mostly to MP3s (high-quality: usually 320 or 256 vbr) and occasionally streaming audio, mostly alternative rock, Americana, and jazz. I don't need a home theater system, though I will probably run my TV into it. The stereo is in an open living room/kitchen space that is 26' x 16' with 10' ceilings. It sits in the middle of the 16'-wide wall, up against the wall. We rarely listen to music really loud (like to the point where it would be hard to talk over it). And my hearing is somewhat damaged from being a musician and music fan my whole life (not terribly -- just some of the normal loss that many here probably have experienced).

 

I've budgeted roughly $1500 for a new amp or receiver and speakers. If I will get more bang for my money, I'll go with an amp. I rarely listen to non-streaming AM/FM, and can always add a user/cheap tuner later. I have researched this, mostly by reading (here and at Audiokarma) and asking some friends, I'm a little overwhelmed by the number of options. I've read many raves for the Harmon-Kardon 3490, Denon 697, NAD C316BEE and 326BEE, Music Hall A15.2, and the Marantz 5004 & 6005. Ditto for speakers, with recommendations for Wharfedale Diamond 10.1 and 10.2, PSB Image T6, B&W 684 (and an 800 series, too), Audioengine A5, and well as various Polk, Klipsch, and Paradigm models. I’m probably forgetting some in both categories. It seems like the more I read, the more I'll come up with options.

 

Here are my questions for you.

 

1) Is some combo of the equipment I mentioned above likely to be a big upgrade over what I have now? I would assume so, but I don't know where my current gear ranks. A Crutchfield advisor suggested that I keep my amp, as it is still a good piece of equipment, and put the money toward PSB Image T6 speakers and a Cambridge Audio DacMagic.

 

2) Budget-wise, am I near a next step up in quality? I could probably go up to $2000 if it would be worth it. I'm thinking here of acoustic guitars where, over a certain point, you're really spending money for the visual details and little touches that only great players could appreciate (for example, many pros play the same $2000 Martin that I have).

 

3) For the size of room and type of listening that I described, would you recommend bookshelf or floor-standing speakers?

 

4) I've seen some posts suggest that listening in a stereo store is pointless because what really matters is how a system sounds at home. I've seen others suggest that you should spend time listening to a bunch of gear. My problem is that there's only one decent store here in Cincinnati that has quality, affordable gear. Given that, is it worth ordering online and dealing with possible returns?

 

5) That all leads up to the main question: what would you recommend that I buy?!

 

6) Last question -- one of the reasons I bought a Touch is that their internal DAC gets such good reviews. Given my budget, would I gain from having a separate DAC? If so, what would you recommend? I've seen many mentions of the Schiit DAC.

 

Thanks for your patience and advice! Cheers.

commsysman
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SYSTEM CHOICES

I had a couple of NAD 3020 amps and also a 3060 and a 325BEE over the years, and they were pretty decent amps; with some sounding markedly better than others (the 356BEE I didn't like at all), so I'm not quite sure how good yours is; 25 wpc is pretty low power for most speakers; not much headroom.

Anyway, I think that the Music Hall 15.3 would be a worthwhile improvement regardless.

The PSB Image T6 speakers are superb speakers and I would certainly recommend those to you. I had them for two years before I went to the Vandersteen Treos. You can get a substansial discount on them at Saturday Audio (minor factory blems; full new warranty, $1039/pair in Cherry). They have a relatively small footprint, also.

The Focal Chorus 816V is another one that is very good for around $1300.

Floorstanding speakers are always best IMO for full-range sound (with no subwoofer). You just get a lot more sound, and the two I am recommending are very easy to drive; good sensitivity. For a room your size tower speakers should be ideal.

Both of those speakers are easy to recommend because I have never known anyone to find any major faults with them. Some of the other speakers you mentioned are sort of hard to like and only appeal to certain tastes. In general, I find that PSB, Focal, Wharfdale, and KEF are the brands that are consistently nice-sounding across the board, with no significant "gotchas".

bierfeldt
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I love those RS3 speakers

I love Infinity speakers from that era and have a pair of Kappa 8.1's, SM3 bookshelves, an SM Center and those RS3's. 

How do you feel about the RS3's and how they sound?  Those are great speakers and were not inexpensive at the time.  If I recall, I paid like $400 for a pair in 1994 and although technology has advanced, if you like the way they sound and they are in good condition, you might find that some of the speakers you mentioned above are not going to be a big step forward.  I struggled to find a reasonably priced speaker that I thought was a step forward from those Infinities however I had an added constrain of my wife's animosity toward large speakers. 

If you can deal with a larger speaker, your best bet might be Magneplanar.  You can demo the MMG's in your home for 30 or 60 days depending on whether your buy from a dealer or direct (if no dealer is in your area).  They are awesome speakers for the money at $599 though they only go to 50hz.  If you like Infinity, you will probably like the MMGs.  They very much remind me of the Renaissance line from that same period (also a ribbon speaker)  The Super MMGs for $1199 have a bass panel included and will go deeper but if you are happy with the way the Infinity's sound, you likely would be happy with the MMGs.  One thing to note though is they are inneficient and need a power supply that can function well at 4 ohms. 

The Rega Brio R integrated is very well designed and is rated for 73w at 4 ohms at $899 from Needledoctor with a 30 day return policy.  That would put you at $1500 plus tax/shipping with the MMGs, about on budget.  That would be a clear step forward from what you have and you would have the opportunity to effectively demo it in your home.  I have and the Brio R for 4 months and truly love it.  IMO, it is the best value in integrated amps under $1000. 

One other note, anytime you can get your DAC away from other circuits, it should improve the sound so having an externatl DAC should help but only you can tell how much.   Cambridge Audio's DacMagic or Peachtree's DacIt are great values at $499.  There are other but you can get those from Needledoctor or Crutchfield so you get the 30 day return policy.   

radiofreenewport
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Commsysman, thanks for your

Commsysman, thanks for your suggestions. The Music Hall 15.3 and PSB Image T6 seem to keep coming up in my searches and discussions. I really appreciate your last comment about those certain speakers seemingly being well-liked across the board. I often read about speakers and amps having a certan color to them or being less/more  transparent, and I'm not well-versed enough in audio to know what that sounds like in practical terms. So, that comment is especially helpful.

radiofreenewport
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Joined: Jan 5 2014 - 3:31pm
Thanks, bierfeldt! Your reply

Thanks, bierfeldt! Your reply is especially helpful, as I just heard back from a local store that I thought was out of my price range -- and I haven't heard of most of what they carry, so I was a little scared off -- but I've now learned that it probably isn't. Magnepan and Rega are among the lines they carry, so I'll be sure to check out the system you suggested. It's good to be reminded that I can always check out and return a DAC -- a bit less cumbersome than shipping speakers back.

To answer your question, I like the RS3s well enough, but they just sound ok to me -- nothing special. I rarely have any "wow" moments with them. I seem to remember liking them more at one time, and I wonder if that's a function of having them in a bigger space. In the past, they've been in smaller living rooms, and as I described above, they're now in a bigger open LR/kitchen space.

Thanks again to both of you! I welcome any additional suggestions...

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