Advice for a new hi-fi customer

Hello, I'm hoping I can get some help/comments/suggestions in upgrading my system. I have consumer level stuff and only recently realised what I have been missing. I use my current system for audio and home theater. I know I need to upgrade everything but only have the $$ to do it in stages. Currently: Kenwood AV reciever VR-2080 (100wX5 with preamp outputs) Kenwood DV-2070 DVD player Bose 201 Bookshelfs Bose Acoustimass II Series 5 (Two sats and one passive sub) Bose VCS-10 center Cheap cables connecting them right now. I wish I had known more before I got some of the stuff I did, but c'est la vie. I am making up for that now by doing lots of research/listening before I buy anything again. I have listened to and really like the Magnepan 1.6 speakers.(86db sensitivty) I would like to purcahse those as my first upgrade. The Kenwood "should" be able to power them (not well, I know. :)). But what I would like to know is where I should spend my next 1000.00. I have put a general price cap for myself at 1000.00 per component or upgrade. For example, I was looking for 2 channel amps in the 1000.00 range to conmsider after getting the maggies. All components need to be compatible with home theater. I will probably use the preamp section of the kenwood for a while since getting a hi-fi piece to replace it and to what it does (AC-3, DTS, ) is rather expensive. I listen to all types of music but generally do my critical listening to female vocalists like Tori Amos, Liz Phair, Ani D'franco, Jewel, Leah Andreone. Also listen to, but not very critically, rock, alternative, eletronic, classical, jazz, blues, techno, even some rap. I have heard the 1.6's paired with KRELL 250mc monoblocks and a wadia 850 cd transport and REALLY liked the sound. (Of course total system price was like 17,000) Also liked the time i heard a different set of 1.6 with Rotel CD player and 130w Rotel amp, but the bass wasn't "as" nice. (this is MUCH more in my price range) So you could use that as a reference of my tastes. My room is medium sized maybe 18x20. (Haven't actually moved into it yet.) Thanks for any help, Nathan
Congratulations and welcome to the world of Hi Fi!! It's an EAR-opening experience!! I think you are on the right track in upgrading your speakers first. Speakers have the THE single-most audible effect on your system's sound. I suggest you listen - REALLY listen - to a LOT of speakers before making a buying decision. Make sure you visit more than one hi-end store too, because they probably carry different brands that you will want to audition. B&W and Paradigm make some great entry level audiophile speakers - be sure to check them out. Next should be an amplifier upgrade, hopefully one that you can audition with your new speakers to make sure they work well together. For value's sake, stick to solid state stuff for now. You may want to consider a standalone CD player. (check out California Audio Lab's new players around $1,000 or a used CAL Audio Icon MkII w/ Power Boss upgrade around $700) Even though you have a DVD player, I've found that my Icon MkII sounds WAY, WAY better on CDs than playing them on my Sony DVD player. DVD lasers are focused differently than a standard CD laser, which may account for the audible difference; or maybe it is in the electronics, I don't know - but my ears can HEAR a difference. And you can pick up a used Icon under your budget restraints! Remember, your amp and speakers can only reproduce what they are given by your CD player and preamp. Extract more info from the CD, pass it unchanged through the preamp and you get better sound at the end of the chain. Cables are dead last on the list, although you can use them to fine tune. Just don't go overboard on cables - I don't think it's worth it. Get yourself a subscription to Sensible Sound magazine ($29/yr, bimonthly, (800)695-8439). It's a great little mag that "helps audiophiles and music lovers to spend less & get more." It's right up your alley (and mine, too). It's real easy to get seduced by $15,000 speakers and $20,000 amps and $1,000 cables covered by the glossies like Stereophile. I know because I subscribe too and I have heard those $250,000 systems I'd die for. But, alas, we all can't afford such luxuries when we have things like car payments, mortgages, family, etc. So get Sensible Sound while you are waiting for the lottery winnings. And let your EARS tell you what you should buy, not the ad hype, salesperson, or anything else. This hobby should be about ENJOYING THE MUSIC, not becoming hyperanalytical, anal-retentive, compulsive tweakers. Don't fall into the trap - HAVE FUN AND ENJOY GREAT SOUND!!! Good Luck!!
Again welcome to HIFI, You will be glad that your Bank statement will never be this hi again. LOL. Personally I would go with technology before speakers. Take alook at the different HIFI MAgs and read read read. If your just entering in I would take a look at Adcom, B&K, Rotel Products, you can find excellent products and value here. Especially if you buy Dealer Demo's, the B&K AVR101 is an Excellent product that well get your Bose Singing like never before. The reason I like the B&K is it is up gradeable to different formats as they come out. So you won't out grow it. Secondly everything has a different sound so you need to build your system around 1 center piece, and I beleave that is your Pre/AMP/Processor. From there pick out your speakers, ect. And don't get caught up with cables and line Conditioners and stuff yet. They can and do make a difference but that will come later.
you should ignore electronics and replace your speakers first, simply because they are probably awful. You can make decent speakers sound pretty good, even with older electronics, but bad speakers will always make expensive electronics sound crappy. Go ahead and buy your maggies, then listen to them for a while. buy used electronics of high quality, and you will save A LOT of money.
Get the speakers first. They will provide the ultimate test of everything you buy afterward, because if some future component does not make the maggies sing, you know to look elsewhere. I have owned the predecessor to the 1.6's for years and I swear by them. Take one component at a time. Maggies like a lot of good, dynamic power. If possible, audition any new component at home, in your system (good dealers will let you do that). Make your decisions based on how components sound in YOUR stereo at YOUR home, not in the showroom. Enjoy! It's a great ride!
Start with speakers, BUT ALSO TREAT YOUR ROOM WITH ACOUSTIC TRAPS. THE ASC "FRESCOES" ARE THE BEST VALUE. E-mail me with specific questions, and I'm happy to help. Also, get some Sennheiser HD-600 headphones, so you can hear what your speakers/amp/room are doing wrong, and figure out how to fix it.
I agree with checking out speakers first; compare some B&W CDM1 SEs to your maggies. they're about$1100. Or the B&W 805s for $2K. Try some Dynaudios, Thiel CS.5or CS1.5, PSBs, Vandersteens, Pro'll find many different "trademarks" in sound, and note the equipment used to demo them--have the salesman match them up with components in your range$$$ when at the store. Then you can sell off all your current gear and amass a setup that will get your juices pumping. If you like music, it's a thrill. Get going and best of luck.
Welcome to high end audio! The good news is that high end is not necessarily more expensive than top of the line mass market stuff. The other good news is that going to good equipment tends to rekindle one's love of music. One rule of thumb I follow is that with every piece of new gear, strive for something significantly better. Typically, that requires about a 2x increase in list prices BUT keep your eyes open for good used equipment and pay lots of attention to reviews. The price spreads in Stereophile's Class A and B categories can be as great as 10:1 -- that means there's some fantastic values to be had, and indeed there are. One way to prioritize spending your money is to spend each dollar where it will have the greatest impact on improving the sound. You already have a base system; upgrading the speakers is probably the next logical step, followed by an amplifier that can drive the speakers properly. Then think about a 2-channel preamp and how to integrate it with the HT setup so that you have a 2-channel audiophile signal path from source to speakers when you want to listen to music. After the preamp, there's the CD player upgrade. Or, you may want to do the CD player first, as the A/V receiver already provides a preamp. The idea is that as you upgrade, there's diminishing returns, so always try to bite off the biggest amount of improvement from an increasingly smaller room to improve. And the amazing thing is, you CAN trust your ears. It's more a matter of practice (listen to a lot of different things using a few favorite pieces of audition music) and gaining confidence that you CAN hear the difference in things. By the way, in picking audition music, try for a variety that represents different styles of music you like as well as different sonic aspects. The female vocalists you mention are generally well-recorded, polished voices (I use Sara McLachlan's "Angel" for one. It offers opportunity to evaluate the upper midrange for vocal reproduction, the sense of air around Sara's image, resolution by listening to the fine articulations of her voice (breathing, lip and tongue sounds), as well as reproduction of piano and cello that extend through the midrange and down into middle bass. The only thing you have to watch for is that the piece is so beautifully sung and recorded that it makes any system sound great! James Taylor albums are extremely well engineered and give opportunity to evaluate the male voice and acoustic guitar (lower and middle mid range). Jazz albums also are usually well-engineered. I like to take along the remastered version of Dave Brubeck's "Time Out" CD and listen to "Take Five". On a good system, you'd swear the sax player is standing there just left of center. You not only hear the sax, but the rush of breath through the instrument. Take along something to check for bass slam, and something to check for dynamics. Sister Hazel's CD "Somewhere more Familiar" is well recorded and gives a pretty good sense of a live bar-band performance. The real acid test for a system, I find, is classical music. It's hard to reproduce violins that aren't screechy, and to give a sense of presence and depth to the classical soundstage. These are just a few thought starters... enjoy the journey, and happy listening! Steve
ALSO, read "The Complete Guide to Highend Audio". And forgive old Bob's absurd tone in addressing the reader as "she/her". Political correctness run amuck...but it is the best source for the beginner, and even a few guys longer in the tooth.
Better check the preamp capabilities of the Kenwood VR2080. I had one and thought of doing the same only to find that the preamp was only for the sub. Could be wrong but check it out.
Welcome to the jungle! You might be even more confused now after all these so very different suggestions, the ambiguity of the world of Hi-Fi. I have been slowly building up my system on a budged for several years now, and the lesson learned is to read and listen with an open mind about/to as many components and speakers as possible before buying. An then we have to set priorities, make choices. What is your priority here, home-theater or music listening? When on a budget, is is hard to put together a system that does both well. And the logic of numbers tells us that home-theater setup costs more with more channels and speakers etc. My personal opinion is that quality is more crucial for music listening.. the sound is all that there is, no visual stimulation to go along with it. You already have a 5 channel receiver with pre-outs, which would be a good enough add-on to a better stereo music system, used only for movie play-back along with your Bose speakers for rear. Then your focus should be on the front channels (i.e. your stereo system), where you could get good integrated amp for less than $1000 (and run the L-R main pre-outs from the Kenwood through it for movies), and better quality speakers along with matching center. And, as hifi4me suggested, a good CD player like the Cal Audio is a must (check them out used). If you listen a lot to female vocalists, it is a must to check out monitors like the NHT Super-Zeros/One or the B&W DM302 which cost only $250-350 a pair, and complement them with a sub for hometheater. The Super-Zeros can be found here at Audiogon for as low as $140 with a matching sub for $300-400, and these are shielded for hometheater use. But listen somewhere before you buy, and read the literature. Good Luck!
speakers 1st, used separate ht electronics nest beginning a 5ch amp, adcom is surprisingly revealing of what comes before it. remember, youre going 1k increments. then a sunfire theater forntend for ht. thats where you might want to actually spend $. im personally using adcom 555II with a dynaco passive 5 ch box but running the front spks directly from the amp. works fine and cheeeeeep. spkr wire for the rears and center is malibu lighting wire, 16ga, good insulation, and cheeeeep. have fun!
It's great that you have an interest in hearing how pleasing music can sound. Remember, what someone else says sounds good may not sound good to you. You really need to listen to music you know on various systems. If the music makes you smile and makes you tap your feet, you found it. Enough of the "theory". Here's a system recommendation: Bryston electronics, Rotel CD player, Maggie 1.6 speakers. Try it if you can.
The maggie 1.6QR's might blow your receiver to kingdom come. You're receiver probably outputs 8 ohm loads. The magnepans are (probably) 4ohms or less. You will want to make sure your receiver can drive these before connecting it up.
I second the opinions of others that quality used equipment can yield more cost effective results than new, particularly in categories of audio gear that possess few moving mechanical parts, such as tuners, amplifiers, and speakers. Don't forget to audition equipment from quality Canadian, British, and European manufacturers as well as the BEST Japanese and American brands. Do expect some brands of new quality gear to take some time to break in. Cheap awful stuff stays bad forever. And above all, let your ears, not your eyes, ego, or wallet be the judge. Audition using familiar recordings of acoustic music (classical, jazz, folk, blues, unplugged rock, or whatever) so that you can compare that sound to some roughly analogous live reference. Remember that sound preferences can be very personal, so what pleases you best may not please someone else. However, do buy a sound that you can live with without fatigue, but not at the expense of the details and nuances of the music. Do listen to great equipment that you can't possibly afford, then try to see how close you can come to that great sound within your budget using lesser equipment. Think about what conveniences and controls you really need; in high fidelity less is often more. Have fun!
Congratulations upon your entry into the world of high end audio! That having been stated, I have read all the prior responses, agree to varying extent with most of it and will try to refrain from any unnecessary repetition. One thought worthy of repeating is the fact that there is some truly decent performing equipment out there these days, for not a whole lot of money. Indeed, if you are a savvy shopper, for the price of mass market mediocrity, you can have yourself an extremely satisfying high-end system. First off, in my humble opinion, CD players are dinosaurs. Instead, get yourself a DVD player with true 96 kHz output. Pioneer's latest entry-level 525 player would be an excellent choice and you can pick one up new for under $200 on the web! Used merely as a stand-alone player for standard CDs, I think you will marvel at the performance/value this player brings to the table. Then, as funds permit, pair up the Pioneer player with MSB's latest Link Dac III (under $350, discounted), another true sonic marvel at its price point. Later on down the road, I suggest you have mod super-guru Andy Bartha (I can provide his contact info if you email me) modify the Pioneer player (for approximately $350) and the Link Dac unit (approximately $400. You will then have a true world-class combo digital front-end. This pair, costing all told, about $1300, I dare say will be better that anything costing 5 to 10 times as much from just a couple of years ago. In terms of your power amp, I would take a serious look at David Belles' 150A amp. The basic, stock unit lists new for around $1299. Pound-for pound, dollar-for-dollar, I think it is one of, if not the best values around. Moreover, there is much you can do with it in terms of upgrades and tweaks, again as funds permit. Preamp-wise, there is a relatively unknown guy by the name of George Wright, out in Washington State, who builds tube equipment that is truly remarkable for its price. You can get one of his combination line stage and outboard phono stage units for a mere $650 --- an incredible value! If you are not into playing vinyl, your $650 will be well-spent on Wright's more expensive, fuller featured, line stage-only preamp. Finally, cables do make a difference! The best interconnect value (entry-level prices) I personally know of, are the DH Labs family of products. Best regards and good luck, Rick P.S. Of course, it should go without saying that you must change those speakers! In what particular order in the scheme of things, is up to you. This will be the toughest of your undertakings. Here, personal preference really comes into play. Demo as much as you can and keep an open mind. My personal preference is a full-range speaker, where (in my particular listening room) with a small enough leap of faith, the results are quite consistent with a live performance. Always value-conscious, I chose PSB Stratus Gold i's, as I found they afforded the most bang for my buck.