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oso101
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Help me refine my $1000 set-up plan

Thanks to some great advice and resources on this forum, I'm close to finalizing the plan for my ~$1000 starter setup, and would love critiques/comments on the plan.

Some background from my original post: 

 I will be in a relatively small apartment and don’t tend to blast my music, so I don’t need anything super powerful. I want compatibility with the following sources: CDs, PC, iPhone, and possibly FM radio. I would like future compatibility with phono and a blu-ray player, which I will buy later when I have the cash.

I listen to lots of acoustic/Americana/bluegrass, folk, traditional country, jazz, world music. I like a natural sound that captures the wood and air of the acoustic instruments that I tend to listen to.

 

Here's the current plan:

Speakers: Wharefedale Diamond 10.1 ($350)

Amplifier/Receiver: HK 3490 ($400 - includes FM tuner, digital inputs, and phono stage)

CD Player: Sony PS1 (~40 on eBay)

Airport Express, with Airfoil software, via optical out to receiver for playing lossless music from PC and iPhone (~$95 total)

This comes to a very reasonable total of $885.

 

Plan B would be to get a better-sounding amplifier (NAD316BEE, Marantz PM5004 , Music Hall a15.3, etc) which would require an external DAC to run the Airport Express through, and possibly an external phono preamp. I would also not have an FM receiver, which would be ok since I can stream the little radio I listen to via my iPhone/PC.

If I get the $350 Schiit Biifrost, for example, and a $200 entry-level phono preamp, that brings my total to a much-higher $1400.

So my questions are:

1. Would plan B give me improved enough sound quality to warrant the extra $500+, and if so, what amplifiers and DACs should I consider?

2. If plan A is my better option in terms of cost-benefit, does it look good as is or would you recommend I check out different components?

 

Thanks in advance for your help!

Bill B
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1.5

Maybe consider getting the Schiit Bifrost (which is more future-proof than most other DAC's, due to the updates that they will make available over time).  It would be better than the DAC inside the HK, plus it would be more future-proof than most other DAC's, due to the updates that Schitt will make available over time.

And don't get a phono stage now, since you don't have a turntable - and if/when you get one later, the HK's phono stage will tide you over.  And you can then get today's $200 phono stage for $100 used.

One other thing- I havent used the Sony PS1 and I understand it's a bargain.  But I think that due to it's video gaming purpose, it's slow to load CD's, and might be pretty noisy (a different brand video game console here at my home has annoying mechanical and hum/fan noises).  If you get any other "real" cd players in the used market, for the same $40 or so, they will sound great if they have a digital output (coaxial, or optical/Toslink) connected to your Bifrost.

Bill B
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also

As long as I'm spending your money, you could get a blu-ray player now.  Everyone likes the Oppo and so do I (I have the BP-103) but I also got a Samsung bluray player for $77 at Walmart.  Works great and has built in wi-fi and "smart" features so you can have commercial-free Pandora for free, plus Netflix and other stuff.  It has a digital out so you can run its audio through the Bifrost too.  And it serves as a cd player too of course.

oso101
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Amplifier choice

Thanks for all the advice. You make a great point about using a "real" but less expensive CD player (or blu-ray player) with the Bifrost. I may try the PS1 since I already found one dirt cheap for now, but upgrade to an inexpensive bluray later. We don't actually have a TV right now, so it seems worth waiting until we do to buy a bluray so it'll have the latest wifi/streaming capabilities.

So, at this point, I have two remaining questions:

1. If I do get the Bifrost - which, from your comments, I assume would be a big improvement from the HK 3490's DAC - is the HK still my best bet, or would I get significantly better sound from the options mentioned above that don't have an internal DAC (Marantz, NAD, Music Hall, etc)?

2. Do the Wharfedale speakers seem like a good fit for this system and budget, and the type of music I listen to, or are there other speakers I should consider?

Thanks again!

commsysman
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System Choices

The HK 3490 is a good choice; lots of power, good sound quality, and a phono stage; only about $300 from Amazon.

You REALLY want to get an OPPO BDP-103. It has a great DAC, plays CD, SACD, DVD, AND connects wirelessly to the internet to stream music, AND connects to your computer via USB, AND can play music direct from a 16 GB USB flash drive ($15) that can hold 100 albums of music as 320K high-quality MP3 files (about 100 MB each), AND do about 20 or 30 other things, AND has a great DAC. $499 and worth a lot more. Check out the OPPO website for more details. This thing does it ALL, so you won't need another DAC or anything else.

OPPO also provides free downloadable software upgrades as they become available.

The Pioneer BS-41 speakers are very good, and only $180 from Amazon. They probably sound as good as the Wharfedales (which are also very good), but are less expensive; quite a bargain.

Bill B
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bifrost

I do think the Bifrost would be a worthwhile improvement from the internal HK DAC.  I have not heard any of those particular alternative amps.  The ones mentioned may be truly better, but only by a pretty small amount.  I have a famliy member with an old HK receiver, driving very nice, expensive Shahinian speakers, and they sound fantastic.

I also haven't heard those Wharfedales, but have read the review and the widespread good comments about them.  If you had more privacy/space or higher volume needs or different music preferences, I would say go with larger speakers with more/deeper bass and volume capability.  But it seems like they would be perfect for your needs.

They're not the only speakers in the world, tho, and there will be others of similar quality, price, etc.  One can't listen to them all, but see if you can audition some, with music of your choice (bring cd's). 

oso101
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Zeroing in

Zeroing in on a final plan here:

I'm going to order the HK 3490. I can use its digital inputs with the Airport Express for now, and use the PS1 I already have for CDs for now.

In a few months, once I'm used to the system, I'll order the Bifrost. With Schiit's 15-day trial period, I can test it out and see how much it improves on the HK's internal DAC.

Same with CD players - I can audition a CD player with a digital out through the Bifrost to see how much it improves on the PS1 via analog outs.

This will let me have a solid, working system right off the bat for a reasonable initial expense, with options to upgrade it in the near future if I really hear improvements.

The remaining question is the speakers. I'd love to do a side by side comparison of the Wharfedales and their competitors but it's unclear how and where I could do this in the SF Bay Area. I suppose I could order multiple speakers and return others, but that seems complicated and potentially expensive with shipping & restocking fees.

Bill B
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Good plan

And yeh, it's not always to compare speakers directly. Try at least to find a dealer who has wharfedales or another speaker you're interested in.  They will then have other brands to compare them to, and you might make a serendipitous listening discovery. 

commsysman
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Speakers

From my experience, ANY speaker listening in a dealer's showroom is a total waste of time.

They will sound completely different in your home with your amplifier.

The slight inconvenience and/or small cost of shipping is far out-weighed by the need to get it right.

The odds are barely 50-50 that you will get the right speakers on the first try without hearing them at home.

There is a great synergy between the amplifier and the speakers and also the speakers and your room acoustics. You can't come close in a showroom.

The thing that is REALLY inconvenient and expensive is when you buy the wrong speakers and figure it out a week or two later. It happens a lot.

Nellomilanese
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Lose the Wharfedales

This coming from someone who owns and love the Wharfedale brand, but for that kind of money Monitor Audio BX2 are far better. 

I listened both in combination with HK receivers and Onkyo. MA BX2 have better bass and treble, more detail, soundstage about the same I guess, although a better listening room than the dealer's cramped room would be needed to give a more informed decision.

Wharfedale seemed more laid-back to me. What people are sayin' about amp/speaker sinergy is true...for me the HK + MA was a cracking combo, very dynamic and lively. 

Just my opinion.

For the record I have an Onkyo+Wharfedale combo but if I was to choose again i'd go for the HK+MA for sure.

Bill B
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a note on AEx

Just a note about the Airport Express:  Yes, you can use its digital (optical) output into a digital input on a receiver.  Or, as you probably already know, it has a built-in DAC so you can use a standard mini-jack cable to connect it to a "regular" (analog) input on your receiver.  You can determine if you prefer one or the other.

Odds are good that there won't be much diffference in sound quality; they both use inexpensive (yet perfectly adequate) DAC's.

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