Q&A # 158 - January 27, 2000
Q I presently have a HT system consisting of the following: Yamaha DSP-A1, Rogers GS6 (front), Rogers CC5 (centre), Rogers DB101 (front effect), Monitor Audio Monitor 3 (rear effect,) REL Strata II (subwoofer), Pioneer DV515 (DVD player), Marantz CD63KIS (CD player), Sony LD/VCD player, Samsung 43" Rear Projection TV, AQ Midnight + (Front Speaker cable), UTP CAT cable (Self made centre speaker cable), Double run cheap speaker cable (rear speaker), Illuminations D60 Digital cable for DVD-AV Amp, AQ Quartz for DVD Analog to AV Amp, Kimber Silver Streak for CD Analog to AV Amp, Kimber OPT-1 for CD Digital to AV Amp.
After listening for more than 1 year (80% music, 20% movie), I feel the music needs some improvement. I prefer sound that has life, great soundstage, and as real (TUBE) as possible.
My budget set is about US$1K for upgrading either the amplifier/ DAC (for CD), or speakers.
(1) How should I upgrade my sound system for HI FI?
(2) I have auditioned Dynaudio Audience 70 and Contour 1.3 MKII. I like the sound very much but I am afraid of 4 ohm loads that my DSP-A1 would not have power to drive. What is your suggestion?
(3) I also like floorstanding speakers, but Contour 1.3 MKII is a bookshelf speaker, so do you have an idea for other models (floor standing)?
A There are a couple of options. One is to use a tube interface between your CD player and DSP-A1. Such items are sold by several companies. Another idea would be to get a CD player that has a tube output stage. There are a few available, and the models from China are very affordable. I agree that you should stay away from 4 Ohm speakers when using your DSP-A1. You could get an outboard power amplifier, but that would shoot your $1,000 budget without really altering the tonality of your system. It would simply allow you to play movies louder.
Q My setup is as follows: Sunfire amp, Sunfire classic tube preamp and Dunlavy SCIIIs. I have a question as to whether my wiring is ok. With the amp at full power and no source playing and my ear to the speaker, is it normal to hear a slight hum?
A Yes, with the volume all the way up, the background noise will be amplified to the point that it is audible when you put your ear close to the speaker. Even with fully balanced preamps and power amplifiers, this will be the case. If you could hear hum when the amp is at mid volume (listening level) and in your seat, then you should do something about it, such as check for ground loops. But, in the situation you mentioned, it is normal.
Q I am an absolute beginner to hi-fi, and I have a mild hearing loss in one of my ears. Although I love music very much, until now, I thought that I was not able to hear any difference, so it was not worth it to spend money on this. So, I have a basic Sony CD player and amplifier, the cheapest I found in the nearby supermarket. Recently, my uncle passed away, and I received a pair of loudspeakers called "Jamo Classic 6". This is a two-way 100W loudspeaker, and when I connected them to my Sony amplifier, I was amazed at the difference I heard. So, I decided to purchase a higher level CD player and integrated amplifier. My question is the following: I was not able to find any test or review of this Jamo loudspeaker. Is the reason of this that these Jamos are not at high enough level? Either way, could you suggest at which price range a CD player and amplifier would fit the best with these loudspeakers? I mainly listen to classic and jazz. Maybe you can suggest one or two options. A good friend of mine suggests Marantz or NAD, but even among these there are so many different level products. Is this loudspeaker mid-fi or a high-end level? Could I get away with spending about $800 US for a CD and amplifier together? Is it worth to spend money on special cables on this level, or it is OK as is. Thanks, from Budapest, Hungary.
A A lot of people think that if they cannot hear high frequencies, they cannot distinguish really good hi-fi equipment. That, of course, is not really so. Much of the improvement with good equipment comes in the mid-range. Most of the audio energy in music is in the 60 Hz - 6 kHz areas, well within the hearing of older folks. In any case, congratulations on your discovery of hi-fi. I would say skip the fancy cables, because your budget is very limited. I think your Sony CD player will also be fine. Your Jamo Classic 6s are reasonably sensitive (90 dB), but they are 4 Ohms, which means you will need to buy a good amplifier that can handle low impedances. As to their quality, we have not tested any Jamo speakers yet, but have requested some for review. Stay tuned on that issue. So, I would suggest spending your entire budget on the amplifier, such as the Creek 4330 Integrated Amplifier ($500). It does not have a tremendous output power (65 watts/ch into 4 Ohms), but it is rated into low impedances, which is what you will want. There is also the Musical Fidelity X-A1 which is rated at 100 watts/ch into 4 Ohms and is $600.
Q I have a dropped ceiling, and I am looking to replace the ceiling tiles with better tiles. Could you please steer me in the right direction?
A Most ceiling tiles for dropped ceilings are already acoustical in nature. Something to consider is that irregular surfaces will do a better job diffusing the sound and will break up the first reflection's higher frequencies. Something else to consider is putting very thick insulation (as little as a few inches, but more will affect lower frequencies) above your dropped ceiling, which will provide upper bass absorption and possibly flatten out the lower-end response a bit. If your system sounds a bit boomy and thick, I'd suggest the extra damping above the ceiling. If it sounds bright, I'd look into tiles that offer a softer surface and more absorption. If the tonality is great, but the focus feels lacking, you might want to ante up for a not too absorbent diffusion panel or some similarly techno-device to break up the first reflection, but not alter the spectral balance by absorbing unevenly.
Q I am in charge of designing a multi-room stereo system for a friend's new house. He and his wife are currently building, and they want the wiring to be put in place prior to dry walling. They want speakers in 12 rooms that can be turned on or off when desired. and they want to have a surround sound, full theater capability in the"Media room". They want all speakers, in all rooms except the "Media room", to be built into the wall as discreetly as possible. Who do I go to have this done? What components would you suggest? Can this be done with one system or do I need two separate systems? The list of options I would like to offer them are: a. Dolby Digital, b. THX, c. Digital Theater Systems, d. Digital Signal Processing, e. DVD player, f. HDTV, g. DSS.
A I'd suggest using a couple of real multi-room controllers, such as the Russound reviewed in Secrets not so long ago, the CA-6.4. Two of them will give you 12 separate zones which allow independent listening of up to four sources. Optional additional keypads can control source operation. You will need a dedicated tuner in order to listen to radio while the home theater runs the DVD, but other than that, you can share components. For instance, run the digital out of the CD player to the receiver, and then split the analog outputs between the two controllers. Splitting the analog outputs between three inputs (media room receiver, two controllers, etc.) might work, depending on the source components, but it may also require a buffered distribution amplifier to prevent distortion. It will require a single-run of category 5 cable for each keypad location (one per room) and speaker wires, all to a central "head end." I'd strongly suggest a specialized A/V installer, NOT your electrician, general contractor, or neighborhood kids that have some spare time. The components can be integrated, so long as you don't need separate operation of source components themselves. All are incorporated into an upper-end receiver. My favorites include the Yamaha RX-V795a, Yamaha RX-V995, and Denon AVR-3300 for under $1,000. For DVD players, Toshiba makes some excellent inexpensive ones. Panasonic and Pioneer build some nice machines as well. HDTVs are still pot luck, but you need to be aware that it takes a good one to be able to display 1080i and 720p. It will also need the HDTV receiver, and new DSS receivers are supposed to be able to handle HDTV, along with a new dish to go with it. Run RG-6 to your favorite location. You may want two DSS receivers (one for multi-room music, one for movies). You'll probably need a professional to set up the dish.
Q It was your original reviews of the Meridian 565 several years ago that prompted me to research their products, and I eventually ended up with a 565, 518, and 586 DVD player in my system. I was wondering if you were aware of Merdians' new 568 surround processor, and if so were you planning on reviewing it anytime soon? Alas, Meridian has decided to end the life of the 565 and has no plans for future upgrades. The 568 will be the new platform, and will eventually support DVD-A, and other multi-channel music formats. I have to admit, I'm a little miffed that Meridian hasn't offered a generous trade-in program for owners of the 565. I bought mine only four years ago, and now, if I want to stay on the bleeding edge of technology, I will have to shell out $6500 for the 568.
A I know how you feel, and I also understand why they did what they did. From what I have seen and been told, the only thing the 568 and 565 have in common is the top cover. It does have a new chassis, and the back is completely different. The internals are all new and based on the 561/861 design. It offers PC setup and EEPROM (flash) upgrade via your PC. In the past when Meridian has upgraded the 565, it was either an additional DSP board or it was an EPROM exchange. If they were to upgrade the 565 to a 568, it would require replacing everything except the top cover.
At some point, a product life cycle does have to come to an end, and so far, the 565 appears to be the longest lasting processor. Think of it as a PC where you can upgrade only so many times before you need to move on to a new motherboard and CPU. At the time it came out in '94, Lexicon had the CP3+ and Fosgate had the Model3A. Since then, Lexicon has released the DC-1, DC-2, and MC-1. Fosgate became Citation, and they finally came out with a DD processor a year or so ago. I still have a 565 myself and an 861. If you want to improve your 565, you can add a PS Audio P300 (we reviewed it recently), and you will hear a new processor! A couple of people I know have added a P300 to their 565 and were really shocked at the difference it made.
DVD-A is still a distance off, and the 565 still works great! You should be able to get another year, at least, out of your 565 before DVD-A becomes visible on the radar. Even once it hits, it is going to take a while before we have any real amount of software. Five years for a home theater product is an amazing life. It has moved from Pro Logic to Dolby Digital to DTS, all as upgrades. I am sure they will continue to update the software in it if something new arrives, so it is not a dead item. I have heard great reports on the 568. It is apparent that they have taken the advancements made in the 861 and brought them down to their 500 series products.
Q I am interested in upgrading my 10+ year old gear. I will use the system 80% audio/20% HT, and I have a guilty conscience about spending too much and not spending locally. I have two good local dealers, one who carries Denon/Klipsch and one who carries Yamaha/B&K/Paradigm. I have tentatively thought about combining the Denon AVR-3300 with a combo of Paradigms (e.g., Monitor 3, CC-350 center, ADP-170 surrounds, and PS-1200 sub). The total would be about $2,500. I chose these purely on the recommendation of on-line reviews. In addition, I plan to start my purchasing with a DVD player doing double duty as a CD player. I have a 4:3 direct view TV, no component inputs. I have heard the Sony -330 does the best all-around job (for the price) of CD audio/anamorphic conversion for 4:3. (I would likely replace the player in the next few years with a prog scan player and the TV with a 16:9 TV.) Any suggestions? Specifically: 1. Should I mix Denon or Yamaha with Paradigm or Klipsch (I realize that this can be very personal)? 2. Should I spend more on fronts and less on surrounds/center/sub if I'm mainly listening to music? 3. Can I make use of the center/surrounds/sub when playing two channel audio? 4. Should I buy a separate CD player? 5. Are the receiver and speakers well-matched power and quality wise?
A The choice of the speakers will be more important to your sound than the choice of the receivers you mentioned. So, just go and listen before you decide. The Klipsch are more sensitive, but since you say you listen to music most of the time, this will probably not be an important factor (movie watching tends to be louder). You should be careful to get a good center that matches well with your fronts. A subwoofer is important even for just music, since a lot of music has some very low frequencies. The lowest note on a piano, for example, is about 29 Hz (fundamental frequency). For listening to CDs, I would suggest using the front left/center/right more than surround sound (except for those CDs with DD and DTS 5.1 music). However, there is no sense in getting some makeshift speakers for the rear surround and then having to buy some more later. So, I would suggest just getting the front left/center/right to start, and using either two-channel stereo or three-channel modes for now. Then, when you can afford it, get the same speakers for the rear as you have for the front left/right. Sony makes some DVD players that have dual lasers for CD use. Buy one of those, or get the less expensive DVD player and a separate CD player.
Q I just bought Bose Acoustimass 30 speakers, and I have a Pioneer DVD player. The DVD player has a digital out, and I need an inexpensive receiver that would be compatible with the two. I think I want 5.1 compatible? Can you help with what I should look for and what I don't need? I obviously want the best sound without spending much more.
A Yamaha's newest receivers in the $300 range have DD and DTS decoding built-in. I am sure the other manufacturers have new receivers like this too. They will all have digital inputs for connecting your DVD player. So, just pick one that has the looks and ergonomics (easy to move around in the buttons) that appeal to you. In the low price range, they will all sound pretty similar. As you go up in price from there, the receivers will tend to include more DSP modes (for simulating the sound of jazz clubs and music halls around the world), pre-in jacks (for connecting other processors), pre-out jacks (for connecting an outboard power amplifier), and better speaker binding posts.
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