Dazed and Confused - Upgrading System But Too Many Options!

Help! I am upgrading my stereo and just have too many options. Every time I think I have it figured out I go down another rabbit hole. I’ll start by saying what I have.

Speakers: Paradigm Monitor 9
Amp: B&K ST2140
Preamp: Rotel RC980BX
CD: Arcam CD72
Phono: Rega P3

I have settled on the KEF LS-50 monitors. I am looking to add a network media streamer and either a new preamp or integrated amp.

So to keep this short, I see these as my main options:
  • Do I get an integrated amp like Rega Elex-R, Creek Evolution 50A/100A with a Ruby DAC or something else?
  • Do I leave off the Ruby DAC and get a streamer like Cambridge Audio CXN?
  • Do I forget about both of the above and get a Cambridge Azur 851N that is a preamp and solid media streamer?
  • Do I keep my B&K and just get a new preamp and media streamer (leaning toward Cambridge CXN)? I really like the B&K and think it’s very solid but then I would need to get another amp to power the Paradigms in the basement. 
  • Do I say “screw it all” and just get a PS Audio Sprout?

My listening style of late has been headphones on my Android phone but I want to return to where I was BC (before children). The monitor speakers will be better for listening anywhere on the main floor, not just in the sweet spot. I plan to convert my CD collection to FLAC (currently it’s all 320 kbps mp3). So I have some work to do but I need to make it easier for me to listen to music at home and upgrade the quality.

I know I rambled on, so if you made it this far, thanks for reading through.

I think I am asking too many questions.  Let me refine.

Should I keep my B&K ST2140 and spend more on a preamp or should I replace the ST2140 with an Integrated amp?  Either way I'm getting a new preamp. I'm open to used equipment as well as new as long as the used equipment can accept current digital technologies. 
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Set up your digital front end prior to the other changes. I would go with an external DAC for down the road flexibility. Keep your amp/pre for now.

Have you listened to and are you set on the KEF LS-50s?

When you say "either way I am getting a new preamp" do you mean phonostage? If so that will cover your vinyl needs. Again adding flexibility for down the road.

Take it one step at a time, removing the confusion.

Enjoy the journey!

My preamp is the weak link.  It's an entry level preamp from the early 90s. No solid way to even connect my TV.  Right now the TV is connected via a headphone jack to RCA connection, which always comes loose so the speakers drop out.

I have not listened to the KEFs or any monitors.  I just don't see how I can go wrong for the price based on the reviews I read.

I assume a media server would have a digital output and leave the DAC to the preamp?  The phono stage can be added later on or I can listen in the basement with the old Rotel preamp.  I seldom listed to vinyl.  My old vinyl collection turned out to be a mess after I got the P3 - played too many times on cheap turntables with too much alcohol :(

One thing I am trying to do is minimize the footprint for the wife.  So fewer components are better than multiples.

Treebeard, do yourself a big favor, get a great sounding integrated amp and then look at a Aurender N100 music player (or whatever your budget will allow, Aurender gives you great selection), there ya go! two pieces of gear! AND your hearing some of the BEST digital has to offer!


Matt M
Unless you pick a integrated preamp with built in DAC, you will need a outboard DAC with N100.  

Aurender makes awesome music players.  You should check out A10 with a built in DAC and streaming capabilities.  

However an external DAC will allow total flexibility with future upgrades. 

How about a Parasound integrated? Has a very nice DAC built in.  You'll still need a streamer. I see New Old Stock (NOS) Squeezebox streamers in Audiogon for around $500. The most important part for me at least is the remote software support, so whatever you get, try out the software first if you can.


Ok, replace the separates with an integrated amp and get a music player. Some integrateds have internal DACs as do some players.  I use a Mac computer and if ever I changed to a music server can't say which one I would purchase. 

There are many very good monitors in or under the budget range of the KEFs (them included). Some by manufacturers/merchants with return policy. Check out Audio Advisor or Music Direct. 
Have been doing a lot of research and was all set on the Cambridge  Audio A851A and 851N.  Then I read about a recurring issue that randomly turns the volume up all the way and can damage the speakers.  Not sure how common it is though.  

My local dealer carries Cambridge so I stopped by today after work and they no longer carry it.  They said they now carry Atoll because it blows the 851A out of the water and they couldn't sell any 851As after customers did a side-by-side comparison.  I auditioned the Atoll IN100 with an Atoll DAC100se and a Bluesound Node 2.  It sounded great but just opened up more questions.  The Node is only $500 but I would then need a DAC.  Not a lot of info out there on Atoll.  

I found a couple AV dealers that I can audition Cambridge Audio and KEF LS50s.  So I guess that's my plan for now.  Has anyone heard of, or had first-hand experience with Atoll?  They are a French company. 
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Ken: everybody shoots names and specs and offering advice! My advice is this! The basis of the question is " upgrade "! Small incremental upgrade of any electronics is a waste of money! Upgrade should be just that, an upgrade! Big price doesn't always guarantee big upgrade! Remember, high end means bigger money for often smaller and smaller sonic differences! Spent months in research associated to budget! Then upgrade! The best question only gets a wide array of personal opinion! 

Great to hear from someone with the exact system I am considering.  Today I spoke with another local dealer who has the 851A/N but it's not set up for auditioning yet. He suggested that the 851N DAC is fantastic and if I didn't need my phono I could go with the 851W amp instead of the 851A.  I could move my Rega to the basement on the old system.  Another thing to research and consider. 

He also said he had some floor model KEF R300s with full warranty for $1,200, which is $600 off list.  He said they were better than the LS50s but the reviews I have read have said otherwise.  Maybe I upgrade the amp and music server now and see how it sounds on my Paradigms and then maybe new speakers next year.

I will!  I'm gonna upgrade the hell out of my stereo.  Half the fun is the research and learning about all the new technologies.  I will also need to budget for a NAS, which I wasn't planning on.
If you enjoy the quest of research/upgrading. Then why buy new?
Agon can save you the cost depreciation by buying used. 
If you feel your 'upgrade' isn't cutting it, then just re-sell it.

I think the Paradigm and BK amp are fine. I would go for a preamp upgrade first. Also, cables can make a difference and are a lot cheaper than components.
Perhaps, you can tell us what you think is lacking from your current configuration? It may help in guiding you next 'upgrade'
Thanks for the input.  I have bought from Agon before and will certainly again.  I guess part of me feels like if I go to these dealers and pick their brains and listen to their equipment and spend their time that I don't want to turn around and buy used from Agon.  But I haven't done much of that yet.  Only one visit and a slew of emails with another.  

I enjoy THIS quest because I'm going to get some shiny new toys and there will most likely be bourbon involved.  I don't want to do it all the time because, for one, I can't afford to constantly be buying and selling, and two, I don't get tons of listening time.  But when I do, I want to thoroughly enjoy it.

If I had to say what is missing it would be the soundstage and separation.  The B&K is a great amp with plenty of power (140w) and it's very warm.  It was far from an entry level amp when I bought it.  The Rotel pre is very entry level and is easily the weak link.  I could probably upgrade some interconnects too.  I definitely want to go digital and get a music server either way. 
I agree that the Rotel pre is the weakest link in your current system( not considering speakers, not familiar with them). I once owned the B&K ST140 and thought it great. Owned it for 25 years.

That said, there are many very good integrateds on the market now. Been down the same road and understand. Only you can decide which way to go. 

I would listen to the LS-50 monitors before you decide.  I found them bright, quite bright at times.
I appreciate your loyalty to the dealers who guide you, it helps keep them in business.
I was thinking you were using reviews and online opinion to do your upgrading. 
With regard to 'soundstage and separation':
As I said before, the Preamp is probably your weakest link and will probably be the most significant (in sound) change in your system.
With regard to digital:
I built a micro PC for streaming and bought a Schiit Dac running into McCormack Pre and amp. It sounds great. In fact, I love streaming Spotify and Classics Online so much, that I hardly ever use my CD library anymore. I know there are purists who swear by vinyl, but, being of the LP generation, I can't believe how wonderful not having to get up and change a record can be. Also, I get to listen to composers that I never had the time or inclination to listen to before.
Thanks for they continuing the thread guys.  I understand the LS50s have a long break in period.  I read something like 300 hours.  The dealer is pushing a pair of demo KEF R300s hard and provided an excellent price ($1,100).  I would be able to demo the KEFs.  He also gave me great prices on all the 851 components and the LS50s.  Maybe not as cheap as used on Agon but definitely competitive.

Unfortunately there is no place around me that has the 851 series available for an audition.  A few places within a couple hundred miles carry them but they are not on the demo floor.  So I will have to go on faith of reviews and research for the CA 851s.

Right now I'm leaning on getting the 851W (200w) and 851N and keeping my speakers.  I would then have my B&K and Rotel for the basement on an old pair of Advents I built from a kit in high school.  We will be getting a new TV and component rack so it will be my second listening room (for when the fam kicks me out of the living room).

Another option is to get the 851N and KEFs and an even cheaper option is to just get the 851N and plug it into my B&K.  As you can tell, I have pretty much settled on Cambridge Audio and KEF.  It's just what will be the winning component combination.  

I can really do without the tt because my old record collection is in such bad shape.  I can still move the tt to the basement. 

The dealer is working very hard to get me the right system so I will reward him. The last thing I want is to buy used after all this and then have to take it to the dealer if/when it breaks. 

Thanks again to everyone for the help.

Ken, If you are going with a dealer, then he/she should be able to allow you to audition all of the equipment. That is why you are paying him the higher dollar amounts, compared to buying used. Otherwise, it is like buying equipment from Agon based on the recommendations of its' members.

I would think so.  He said "it comes down to display cost allocations per the calendar".  Not sure what that means exactly.  We have only emailed back in forth so I'll have to ask him directly.  
Hi Ken,

I have a pair of Kef 104.2 speakers found them on Craigslist for $260.00 and they are like new! I am still using my Audio Alchemy DTI PRO 32 and DAC separates with a Adcom 710 preamp and Adcom 555 High Current Amp 200 wpc and it will rock Pink Floyd like you are there!  New equipment is great but I would want to hear it for myself to beat my 20 year old system!! I probably have a little over a thousand dollars in everything. I paid that much for my first 104.2 Kef's used at Sound Advice scratch and dent sale over 20 years ago ( tweeters need replaced). (They are wonderful but I really would like the 105.3's but they are twice as much and hard to find). I'll still with the vintage stuff until I run into somebody's stuff that can blow mine out of the water and I'll bet were talking thousands of dollars!
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Ken, in my experience, a dealer should be able to accomodate your requests. If you are only communicating by email, perhaps he thinks you are just a 'tire kicker'. A real brick and mortar dealer should be able to set up all the equipment for you to trial on a given day. If they continue to demure, I would look elsewhere. 

Sounds like you got a great system for a steal. I have not had much luck on Craigslist. Mostly old Sony receivers. I will continue to buy used, especially for my 2nd system and maybe speaker cables.

I'm sold on CA. There's always the vocal minority with a gripe, especially companies with higher sales. I think it's a quality product.

I plan on getting new interconnects and possibly new speaker cable down the road. One thing at a time. Right now I'm leaning towards the 851W/851N combo. However the dealer shot me a pretty good quote for some KEF R500s.  In that case I would keep the B&K and go with the R500/851N combo. I will try to get a demo on the speakers and then pick my path.

He's a one man shop and I need to make an appointment in case he's installing a system. I will bring this up to him when I set up the speaker demo. There is only one more shop in town and they sell the Atoll. Otherwise I need to drive a couple hours to demo a Parasound Halo. I'm sold on the 851N though.

Thanks again for the input everyone. 

Wow, I can't believe it's been so long since I posted.  I have definitely been remiss in my posting responsibilities.  I have made my purchase.  this is how it went down.

I demoed the KEF R300s at his house but there was no one within a few hundred miles that had any CA to listen to.  I liked the R300s but decided I needed to just get the 851N for now and keep my Monitor 9s and B&K ST2140.  My plan was to audition several bookshelves at home later.  Once I told him that he offered me a deal on the R300s and stands that I just could not pass down.  So I'm a proud new owner of a CA 851N and KEF R300s.  So far I am really liking it.  It is light years ahead of my old pre. My monitor 9s never sounded so good once I hooked them up to the 851N.

I'm still investigating an amp replacement down the road (sooner rather than later).  The B&K can then go downstairs with the Monitor 9s on the basement stereo.   

One thing I noticed when I compared the Monitor 9s to the R300s was that the Monitor 9s had better bass and more detail.  The detail surprised me.  But the soundstage was much wider on the R300s and at high volume the midrange was smother and clearer.  The monitor 9s actually sounded a little distorted on the vocals at high volume.

Anyway, I'm not sure what my next amp will be, maybe a 851A or 851W but there are so many others to choose from in that price range.  I guess I don't really need the analog pre anymore.  Can't wait for the next upgrade.  Oh, I also got a pair of Tributary Series 8 balanced cables.  Not sure where they stand in the overall scheme of things but I know they are better than the old RCA cables I had.

Thanks to everyone for your help.  There is a lot of information to navigate in the world of high-end audio!

Congrats on your new purchases! I would 'stay pat' and not be in any hurry to replace the B&K amp. Enjoy and let the new pre and speakers break in. With experience gained listening to your 'new system' you will better be able to define the improvements you are looking for with any future upgrades.