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Dan9575
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First Timer Setup Help

I’m looking to put together my first hi-fi system. I’ve done a bunch of research already, but hoping for a bit of guidance before I pull the trigger and commit!

I plan on using it almost exclusively for music and listen to a wide range, from classical piano to house/electronic.

Speakers - 2 B&W 685s

I considered the 686s, but it seems like the relatively inexpensive bump up to the 685s is worth it

Sub – B&W 608

I was thinking about trying with out the sub to begin with, but I’m expecting I will need it. I’m not looking to rattle my windows, but do want the bass to be present when called for.

Amp – NAD C316BEE

I don’t really need much in the way of features, just something basic and quality that is going to be able to drive the 685’s. From what I’ve read it seems like the NAD should have no problem with that.

I was also considering the Marantz PM5004, which has A and B outputs – could those be used to bi-amp the speakers (never done this before)? And if so, is it worth doing? The Marantz is slightly more expensive and the output is 5 watts less.

Input – Currently, the main input is going to be from my Macbook Pro or iPod via the 3.5mm jack with an RCA adapter. My space is about a 16 x 16 square studio apartment and the setup will go centered up against one of the walls

My question is basically – am I missing anything obvious with this setup/is it a good choice for the money for a first time setup? Is there anything else I should consider or tweaks to the setup worth looking into? 

Any thoughts appreciated!! 

bierfeldt
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Three thoughts?

My experience is that Marantz is a bit more liberal with its power ratings than NAD.  The Marantz will likely be less powerful than you would think relative to the NAD.  Additionally, I think in the lower end equipment, NAD sounds better.  I own several Marantz units but most are higher end where they do a better job.  

My second question is have you demo'd those speakers?  Based on the note, it sounds like you might be judging based on the specs.  If you haven't listened to them, I strongly suggest you do.  B&W makes great speakers but they tend to be expensive for what you get.  I personally didn't like those 685's at that price point.  I think Polk's RTiA3 sounds as good for $250 less.  Guys out here love the Wharfedale Diamond Line which i have not heard.  For the same money, I think the Kef Q300 sounds better.  You could also consider the PSB Imade B5 at $450 and i think are As good for less money.  

Regarding the subwoofer, same story.  B&W sounds great, but expensive for what you get.  I picked a Mirage sub over the B&W last time I bought speaker.  I think it was the CM8 or 10. I think Sunfire makes a far better sub for the money and you could also consider Polk, PSB and Kef.  They all make great products that can deliver the same performance for less money or better performance for the same money. 

Finally, on bi-amping.  You need speakers that are bi-ampable.  I don't believe those speakers have two sets of binding posts so they are not bi-ampable.  In this range of speaker, that shouldn't be a priority.  

 

Good luck.

 

Bill B
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add this

Good proposed set up.  It's hard to go wrong with the B&W's, good quality and engineering and sound.  I don't disagree that you might find something equally good for a somewhat lower price, but you won't regret B&W.  I do think you will get more enjoyment if you spring for the subwoofer.

I suggest adding an external DAC, so you get better sound out of your laptop.  There are good compact ones w/ good value made by Meridian and Audioquest and others.

Bill B
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also

also suggest an Apple Airport Express, so you can play music wirelessly from either your MacBook or the iPod.  That can expand your choice of DAC too, since you don't need to have a "small" one plugged into the laptop.  You can use any compact or full size one, and feed the digital output, via Toslink, from the Airport Express into the DAC which you plug into your NAD.

Dan9575
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Thanks!

Blerfeldt – thanks for the advice! I think I will stick with the NAD for the amp.

On the speakers, I have listened to a bunch of speakers in person, including the Polk, KEF, and PSB, which I did like. Unfortunately, it wasn’t all in one siting side by side, but over different visits to different stores. To be entirely honest, I couldn’t differentiate much, other than noting that they all blow away what I’m listening to now (a $200 Samsung home theater-in-a-box type setup). I think my subconscious made me think I liked the B&W the best because they were the most expensive ones that fit within my budget! Given your comments, I think it’s worth revisiting those brands once more while trying my best to eliminate the higher price = higher quality bias (I wish I could do a “blind” listening test…)

On bi-amping, I think the B&W 685’s do have two sets of posts. My sense was that it was not worth worrying about, but I wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing something obvious. Thanks for confirming!

 

Bill B – Thanks! I hadn’t considered getting a separate DAC. I initially thought it might not make much of a difference at this level, but it seems like that might not be the case. I like the idea of the airport express actually – being able to go wireless from my laptop would be another added plus

 

Questions would be:

-       Do you loose anything in terms of quality streaming over the airport express vs plugging the Meridian or DragonFly directly into the USB?

-       Going via Toslink (vs USB) from the airport express to the NAD is the best bet?

-       Any recommendations for entry level DAC’s to consider for this setup?

-       This may be a silly question, but right now all of my music is in iTunes as 320k mp3s. How blasphemous is this and do I really need to upgrade my files in order to make this all worth it? (A lot of my listening is on the go my phone, ipod, or ipad where the convenience of using iTunes also has a lot of value)

commsysman
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KEF C3

The KEF C3 is a very nice speaker, and KEF Direct has them for only $199 per pair right now (they have been $349). The Q300 is even better.

Toslink has been condemned repeatedly by Stereophile reviewers for low sound quality for many years. I suggest that you stay completely clear of Toslink.

I have a $25k stereo system that uses Vandersteen Treo speakers, and I find the 320K MP3 files to have no audible loss in sound quality compared to the CD via my OPPO BDP-95 or other source. I have been using that as my standard for my computer audio files and the music I put onto 16G USB memory sticks for my car audio etc.

The NAD is a good amplifier, but for about the same money you can get the Music Hall A 15.3 amplifier, which IMO is better in several ways. Audio Advisor has it for $549.

I find all B & W products to be very much overpriced for their sound quality. You can do much better. For a sub, I recommend the NHT B12D. I have it. I love it.

The B & W 608 is too small and wimpy in any case.

bierfeldt
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It is really tough to judge speakers in different stores

You may already have done this, but I brought my own music and picked things that were extreme.  For instance, Journey can sound very tinny and unpleasant via the wrong speakers and that became a screener for my wife.  Try and take 5 or 6 different CDs and take your time with them. Journey, Paula Cole & Peter Gabriel, a classical soundtrack, Iron Maiden, and Mile Davis were what I took with me to give a nice range and to expose any potential shortcomings.  Using the same music at least eliminates one variable.  

I was at a higher price point than you and ended up choosing between Sunfire HRS's and B&W CM5s.  Ultimately, I bought the Sunfire's because the differences were tiny in sound quality but the B&W's were $600 more per pair.  

Bill B
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Toslink good

I don't recall stereophile condeming optical/Toslink.  Sounds perfect to me (and I have compared it directly to digital coaxial from the same component, could not identify any sound difference).  I think I recall reviewers such as John Atkinson and Kalman Robinson enjoying sound through their optical connections too.

commsysman
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Toslink

There has not been much comment on it lately, because they nailed the lid on its coffin years ago.

I think you will find that no reviewer at Stereophile uses it; certainly not in an equipment review.

 

 

Bill B wrote:

I don't recall stereophile condeming optical/Toslink.  Sounds perfect to me (and I have compared it directly to digital coaxial from the same component, could not identify any sound difference).  I think I recall reviewers such as John Atkinson and Kalman Robinson enjoying sound through their optical connections too.

Bill B
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toslink

JA in a 2013 review:

"Tested via its TosLink input, the Marantz had impressive resolution. Increasing the bit depth from 16 to 24, with a dithered 1kHz tone at –90dBFS, drops the noise floor by 20dB (figs.7 & 8), implying resolution approaching 20 bits, which is close to the state of the art. Repeating the spectral analysis for the 24-bit tone via Ethernet and Twonky Server gave the same result (fig.9), as did repeating it for 24-bit data on a USB stick and 24-bit data streamed from my MacBook Pro via USB, indicating that the NA-11S1 doesn't compromise resolution via any of its physical inputs."

Bill B
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ans

- No, nothing is lost when streaming in that setup.  All is full resolution, up to 16/44 resolution (full, lossless CD quality) through the Airport Express.

- Going via Toslink, out of the Airport Express into your DAC, is the way to go.  Your DAC then feeds the NAD.

- Good entry level DAC's are made by Schitt and AudioEngine and HRT and others.

- 320k is fine.  It's not as good as full resolution, but better than the previous "default" of 128k for most mp3's.  Now, it is a fact that 320k is a lossy compression, and thus objectively a lower resolution than CD's.  However, it's good and you don't NEED to upgrade your music files.  Once you're all set up, you can do your own comparison.  Rip a CD into a lossless format, and compare it to your 320k version.  Then you can decide if you hear a worthwhile difference.

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