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andyyy
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Sub $500 System Redux

Hey everyone, I'm a poor college student going to school near Philadelphia, and I'd like to put together my first setup. About a year ago I ditched my Bose QuietComforts for a pair of Grado SR60s, which have been amazing. I'd like to do the same thing with my speakers, but I can only spend about $500.

From what I've gleaned from Stereophile's budget component reviews and the archives of this forum, both the PSB Alpha B1s and the Paradigm Atoms are good choices for bookshelf speakers.

I guess I'm torn between getting a receiver, (like the HK 3380 I've seen mentioned here) which appeals to me because I listen to the radio and records on my turntable, and an amp (like the Trends TA-10.1) which seems like it would provide better sound quality.

How much sound quality will I be sacrificing by going for the receiver? Any other suggestions? If you were building a $500 system what would you buy?

Thanks!

Andy

PS I think it's great that Stereophile has started this Entry Level forum! This and Stephen Meijas' blog are what have really gotten me excited about getting into better speakers.

ohfourohnine
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Re: Sub $500 System Redux

Features, rather than just sound quality would seem to be the issue. You say you like to listen to the radio. If there are good FM stations in your area playing the kind of music you want to hear, the HK 3380 would give you that music through the speakers you're planning to buy - and also through those Grados - for less than $200. Its built in phono pre will handle your turntable. Add the PSB Alpha B1's, and you still have, maybe, enough in your budget to buy another record.

Given your stated preferences, that's how I'd spend your money. What little difference in sound quality might be involved wouldn't seem to offset the loss of FM programming as a source.

Best of Luck, Glad to hear you enjoy spinning vinyl.

Jan Vigne
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Re: Sub $500 System Redux

Does the Trends amplifier have a headphone output? Seems obvious what you'd be giving up there. Does that still put it in consideration?

bobedaone
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Re: Sub $500 System Redux

I have a pair of Atoms in a second system and love them. The great thing about them is that they are now officially part of the Monitor series, and are equipped with the tweeter and midrange driver from their big brothers. Don't expect very deep bass. I find it to be adequate. I'm also one who would sacrifice some low frequency extension for the quality of midrange that the Atoms offer for the price.

Alright, amplification. I, like most people around here, choose sound over features at any given price point. However, I think you'd be doing yourself a disservice getting something as limited as the Trends. Could you live with one input? You have a great pair of headphones, so you'll probably want a headphone socket. You also mentioned you like radio and vinyl. The Harman Kardon will do everything you want it to do, and probably some stuff you haven't even thought of. Is it a compromise in sound versus the trends? Well, I haven't heard either, so I can't comment concretely, but it probably is a sonic step down. Personally, though, I'd rather have a good-sounding amplifier that satisfies my needs that a better-sounding one that doesn't. I think you'd be very happy with the HK.

Welcome to the forum, Andy! Good luck with your System!

guillermo123
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Re: Sub $500 System Redux

andyyy:

I sympathize with your situation, seeing as I find myself in the exact predicament. I'm a poor grad student setting up a first system and I'm torn between the HK-3385/3485 receiver or the NAD C-325 BEE. I'd love to hear more from some experienced forum members about any potential differences in sound quality.

FYI: If you do go the Harman Kardon receiver route, the HK-3385 (updated version of the 3380) is available for $199 w/free shipping from jr.com.

andyyy
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Re: Sub $500 System Redux

Thanks for the advice!

I had just assumed the Trends amp had a headphone output -- I'm definitely not going to give up using my Grado's for slightly better sound quality, so it looks like the receiver is my best option.

guillermo: Thanks for the tip! Also, I found refurbished 3480s for sale directly from Harmon on eBay for about $150 with shipping.

If I'm able to pick up the receiver for $150, are there any speakers in the $350 range that might have better bass than the two I've mentioned already?

Also, on a more general note, what system would you recommend for $500 to a beginner audiophile?

Jan Vigne
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Re: Sub $500 System Redux


Quote:
I'm a poor grad student setting up a first system and I'm torn between the HK-3385/3485 receiver or the NAD C-325 BEE. I'd love to hear more from some experienced forum members about any potential differences in sound quality.

What do you want to know? They are both considered good budget items but they are not similar in the sound they produce. Both companies have a rather signature sound that you can choose between. If you read a few reviews this signature becomes apparent I think.

Why don't you tell us what you think will suit your tastes and we can tell you which product is more likely to accomplish that task. What are you listening for, what's important and what's not?

At this price range it's far more important to know what you are willing to give up rather than what you would like to have. We all want clear mids, tight bass and sparkling highs. Once you begin listening closely you find out how expensive those qualities are.

The "best" of this breed of high achiever is usually capable of "sins of ommission", meaning the sound is musical in ways that remind you of live music but not capable of giving you everything you hear in the real thing or through more expensive gear. It is generally considered wise at this level to pick an item which leaves out a few details rather than tries too hard and has "sins of comission".

smejias
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Re: Sub $500 System Redux

Hi Andy.
Wow, it's really great to hear that I've somehow helped to build your interest in hi-fi. It's an honor, and I'll try to continue to help however I can.

I agree with the other guys here -- go with the amp that best satisfies your requirements for both features and sound.

As for the speakers, you might also give a listen to the Epos ELS-3 and the sparkly Usher S-520. I remember Bob Reina was particularly impressed by the Ushers' low-bass capabilities.

In any case, it seems to me that you're on the right track towards happy listening. Thanks so much for joining the forum.

andyyy
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Re: Sub $500 System Redux

Stephen: Thanks for the recommendations, I'll look into those as well.

Also, I was browsing Audiogon today, and it seems like I could get a pair of used floorstanders within my budget. Does anyone have thoughts on buying used equipment like this?

Thanks again for all the advice!

Jan Vigne
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Re: Sub $500 System Redux

Audiogon and similar sites are far better than going eBay. Just check the ratings for the seller before you commit cash.

bobedaone
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Re: Sub $500 System Redux

I'm generally wary of used buys, especially online. That being said, I bought both my tuner and my DAC on eBay, and am very satisfied.

I've never shopped Audiogon, but it seems to me like an honest community of enthusiasts. Be extra cautious with speakers, though, and make sure you get the whole story. Speakers are vulnerable to damage, such as chipped/split cabinet veneer and tweeters that have been harmed by clipping distortion from underpowered/overdriven amplifiers. Especially with older speakers, the foam inside might be deteriorating. You would then want to have them refoamed, which might make your great deal less great than you hoped.

Buying used is definitely a viable route, and one that can net you great gear for less coin. Keep your wits about you, though.

ohfourohnine
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Re: Sub $500 System Redux

Quote>> "...and it seems like I could get a pair of used floorstanders within my budget. Does anyone have thoughts on buying used equipment like this?"

1- Many floorstanders are inferior to bookshelfs on stands

2- All floorstanders, obviously, aren't created equal.

3- Buying used is a risk/reward game not generally recommended for beginners in any field - including audio.

The question is probably which floorstanders and what is it you think they'll provide?

Jan Vigne
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Re: Sub $500 System Redux

That wasn't the question but it's a good one. I think most of us would rather have a good standmount rather than an inferior floorstander. Good versions of both have their own sets of advantages and disadvantages. If you're looking for more bass from the bigger speaker, you could be mistaken in your assumptions and you could do better with a good small speaker and a good subwoofer.

Poor Audiophile
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Re: Sub $500 System Redux

Thanks! I just learned something!!

cyclebrain
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Re: Sub $500 System Redux


Quote:
That wasn't the question but it's a good one. I think most of us would rather have a good standmount rather than an inferior floorstander. Good versions of both have their own sets of advantages and disadvantages. If you're looking for more bass from the bigger speaker, you could be mistaken in your assumptions and you could do better with a good small speaker and a good subwoofer.

To reinforce your point. More bass doesn't mean "good bass" or worth sacrificing other qualities that a small monitor speaker can provide.

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