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bmuell
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Ariel's Usher S-520 setup

Hello!

I'm just getting into this audiophile world, and I'm in the process of putting together my first turntable setup. I came across this As We See It column which listed Ariel Bitran's first setup. I was already looking at the Cambridge integrated amp with a Pro-ject Debut III turntable (virtually identical to the Rega P1), and the story brought to my attention the Usher S-520s and Bellari pre-amp. I'm very interested in this combination, and I was just wondering if he had any opinions now a couple months after the story was published. Would he have made any changes now in retrospect? If I decide to reproduce this setup almost verbatim (except for the turntables) is there anything I should know? Are there now available any better components for the money? I'd love a follow-up!

Cheers!

Ariel Bitran
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Re: Ariel's Usher S-520 setup

Hey Bmuell,

Welcome to the forums! First of all, I love my system. Since i had not had that much experience before in hi-fi, I couldn't tell you in retrospect if there are regrets in terms of the equipment. To me, there are no flaws. It sounds inspiring. Drums sound particularly amazing. Even though I'm a guitarist, nothing gets me off like really great drumming. More than anything, my system has really gotten me in touch with my vinyl collection. Records that I've listened to a bunch are new, and records that I never thought to listen to again are making their way back into my system more often than those popular ones.

The Bellari is honey-sweet. Thats one of the first things I noticed. That preamp sounds like caramel: rich, creamy, and smooth. I came to SM the next day after I had first listened to it saying that I was surprised how the tube preamp actually sounded "brighter" than I was expecting. Then I thought about tube guitar amps, and it all made sense. Especially after I told him my comments about the way guitar sounded: "they had some much bite." The attack of the Bellari VP129 is fierce for such a little dude.

If possible, do some more research on integrated amps. Not that there are flaws with the Cambridge, but there are others in this same category of budget integrateds like the NAD315BEE, which could be another option. I chose the Cambridge because it was recommended to me by Usher's distributor as a good match for the speakers. I also listened to it in a hi-fi store here in NYC and fell in love. Its direct smoothness matched well with the Bellari's red-hot aggression. If we're talking in regards to Ninja Turtles: the Bellari is the Raphael, the Cambridge is the Leonardo--a perfect team when put together.

This system will give you sooo much satisfaction, but as always with the Stereophile creed, listen first if you can. Everyone's ears are different. If you can't listen first then read reviews, ask more questions, and research these forums. The sage of our members far supersedes many consumer reports. Finally, pick up the most recent Buyer's Guide if possible (made by yours truly), and highlight stuff that seems interesting.

The only advice I would have is really pay attention to your room set-up and take the time to set-up the speakers. JA wrote a great piece about this . The Ushers really change in regards to their placement, as any speaker, but if you're like me, space is limited so you gotta make the most of it. Also, since my listening room is kinda awkward, I feel like I haven't been able to get the most out of them yet (can't wait to move so I can rearrange my hi-fi).

I'm pretty familiar with my system, so I can answer more specific questions. I know that when I have a record's outer sleeve in my lap the bass response gets better or that I should actually get a new cartridge. SM tells me that he's never heard a record skip. I find this hard to believe. Maybe its because he started off with a great cartridge. This also lead me to believe that the Ortofon OM-5 cartridge that both the Rega P1 and Debut III come with may be falling short.. So I guess I do have a little REAL advice: think about the AT95E. I've heard only good things, and will take your system to the next level for $50. Thats my next step once I get some cash-ola.

bmuell
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Re: Ariel's Usher S-520 setup

Hey Ariel, thanks for the quick response!

I'm definitely going to go give the Ushers a test run (can you even purchase them online?). I live in SoCal and there are a few retailers not too far from me that I plan to check out.

I know I'll have a better idea once I listen firsthand, but do you find that the Ushers reach low enough for you? Have you considered adding a sub? I've been using a 2.1 speaker setup with my PC for as long as I can remember, and I wonder if I'll miss the extra bass. Adding a sub into an existing 2 channel setup seems tricky.

Also, have you noticed any sort of humming from the Bellari? I've read in reviews that that is a somewhat common problem with the unit.

Thanks again. I can't wait to get started.

Ariel Bitran
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Re: Ariel's Usher S-520 setup


Quote:
do you find that the Ushers reach low enough for you?

They won't give you boom(!) if thats what you're looking for. They do better with punchy bass (like Stanley Clarke or Pedro Aznar), probably because its in the higher bass frequencies. double-basses do well and still maintain a little thud, but you won't get the same impact as you would with a sub. If those low frequencies are important to you, try out both with and without the sub in the store, and see if the difference is worth the price.

I also have a sub with my PC, and when I listen to music form one system to the other I can get a little lost. When I was mixing one of my own songs, the bass sounded great through my computer speakers + sub but when I brought it to my hi-fi it didn't quite stick out as much as I wanted, so there's definitely a little room for improvement in terms of bass response for the Ushers.


Quote:
Also, have you noticed any sort of humming from the Bellari?

Not when there is music playing, but when the P1 is off definitely. Still, its not something I notice when there's music playing. I would think about getting a good power strip to connect the Bellari to. It doesn't have a power on and off switch so I use a fairly junky power strip which could lead to some of that hum.

bmuell
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Re: Ariel's Usher S-520 setup

Doing a little more research, I found out that the main cause of the humming is the power supply. It looks like Bellari figured this out as well, and now the VP130 ships with a DC supply rather than the AC one on the VP129. Apparently you can eliminate the hum on the older version by swapping out the power supply with a replacement from Radioshack. If that doesn't work, you can try fixing the ground connections inside the case. Otherwise, Bellari seems to have good customer service.

Ariel Bitran
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Re: Ariel's Usher S-520 setup

Nice! I'll check it out. Thanks!

bmuell
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Re: Ariel's Usher S-520 setup

Now that I've settled on the components, I was hoping for some input on accessories. In particular, I'm at a loss as far as speaker cables go. Could someone recommend some budget speaker wire and banana plugs? Is this Monster Cable speaker wire a good deal along with Ixos plugs?

Also, how much benefit are high-end RCA cables with gold/copper connectors over standard patch cables? I bought a Mogami 3606 RCA cable with my Bellari VP130, before I really knew my options. I'm going to need two cables, one each for my Bellari and my TV.

Lastly, I'm looking for some speaker stands for the Ushers. I came across the Lovan Affiniti brand, which I think looks nice. Is there anything else I should consider? Here's a picture of matching piano black speakers and stands:

Edit: I bought 50ft. of 12 gauge copper speaker wire and 4 pairs of copper locking banana plugs from Monoprice.com, and a 2ft. "Whirly Wisp" RCA interconnect from Yaccocables.com. Still trying to figure out what to do about stands...

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