Heard my friend's system, thinking of leaving hifi

I asked a friend to come over and listen to my system which consists of a Cary 303/200 CD player, Plinius 8200 integrated and Soliloquy 6.2 speakers with Acoustic Zen cabling all around, most of which was purchased from this site. He politely told me to gather my best music and invited me to go to his place and listen to his system.

He has some type of Meridian arrangement where the CD player goes directly to internally powered fullrange speakers. Oh my, the first 10 seconds and I wanted to cry! It was all there: imaging, soundstage, naturalness to all instruments, non-fatigue, front row... I've been to alot of trade shows and dealers in my area so I know what a great system sounds like and where my modest system stands in comparison, but geez that Meridian system sounded amazing! I mean it dwarfed all by comparison. (The only flaw that I could find was that in the systems current state it didn't allow for the addition of an FM tuner.)

Naturally most of us can't afford to drop that kind of money on a passtime. Certainly, I really can't afford to drop $50k on a system like that, but jeez it sounded great! I mean I came home and wanted to give my system away and find another hobby!

Does anyone have any suggestions about any changes I could make to my system to start working towards getting to that sound? I would say that first the speakers would have to go. Something "fuller" than the 2-ways I currently have. Perhaps something with powered woofers? His sytem seemed to present all frequencies in a balanced manner. Mine seems a bit thin in comparison and certainly lacks the lower end. Any suggestions would be appreciated...
Look to the room acoustics first. There are many threads on this subject and lots can be accomplished without spending much $.
Do you have a dedicated room?...or, at least a room with no setup restrictions?

If your serious about giving it all away I know a good home for it.
But seriously, there will always be greater and lesser systems enjoy what you have.
this hobby is very subjective. keep this in mind when you read my suggestions. i too am looking for a pair of speakers. i favor panels. i urge you to listen and decide for yourself.

replace the speakers with a pair of analysis audio omega or epsilon. power them with a tube amp and buy a tube preamp. replace your acoustic zen cable with soundstring audio cable. i own 2 pair of interconnecs and a line cord. i reviewed their cable. you can read my review on audiophilia.com .
Lacking bottom end changes everything - for the worse IMO. I think a big part of what you heard was due to that.

Also, I know your speakers and never really cared for them all that much. Everything seems dedicated to the midrange - which is excellent - but you want a more balanced sound than that. How large is your room? Larger speakers with a cleaner top end would help a lot. Maybe even adding a sub for a potentially cheaper and more flexible alternative.

But don't despair. I have heard many fancy systems that I would never trade mine in for - although I admit there are a couple exceptions but I don't miss them. Sometimes it doesn't take very much to make a huge improvement in your own setup. I personally feel your speakers are your main limitation. Detailed info about your room, as Dave suggests, is needed. You want to make certain that your next pair of speakers are properly sized and designed to work with your room.

It's really tough to better the sound of active speakers. Audiophiles are too picky to use them, but active speakers tend to be the best sounding systems! I had them once, but I'm too picky too.



no offense, but your speakers are not the last word, even in their price point. changing them may put your system ahead of your friend's meridian...and you certainly don't need to drop a fortune to do it.
Deal with it, accept it and go on and have a happy life. One of the nice things about being an audiophile is that when you are bested nobody cuts off your head and parades it through the center of town on a stick to the cheers of the crowd. None of this stuff is that serious.
Slappin' down 50K on audio is no different then 50k on a nice auto, cmon everyday poeple do it every day.
With all the equipment I have purchased, the biggest bang for the buck was acoustic treatment. In order of priority for good sound, I would treat the room first, deal with speakers second. Unfortunately, most acoustic treatment, and really effective treatment, compromises the aesthetics of the room, especially if added after construction.
Don't leave, don't be discouraged.
Think of it as a learning experience and try to get to that level a step at a time or look for components that you can afford that get you close.
There are so many people who say they are audiophiles who then scoff at the thought of cable upgrades or of any new purchases that will improve the sound.
You have just proven them wrong.
It's not all about the music anymore is it?
One of the great things about hearing a truly great system is that (aside from live music) it gives you a reference point at which to aim. The fact that your friend is nearby and good enough to have you over means that as you sample different products and grow your own system you (and he) can check your progress against what he has going on at his place.

Money matters but not as much as some people think. Component synergy is very important. Finding products that complement each other is key. So is the room. I've heard very expensive systems sound very mundane in a bad room (or one which does not allow optimum placement of equipment and, particularly, speakers). I've heard modest systems that sound wonderful because they are positioned correctly in a good sounding room and the component parts have been carefully selected.

Venture forth, try new things. Keep refining your plans as you learn and try to anticipate where you are going. Avoid relying on other people's opinions, trust your ears. You know what sounds good--you heard it at your buddy's place. My stereo is still not where I want it to be and I've been evolving it upward for over 20 years. Folks on the Audiogon have been a huge help and I've invested the time to experiment and listen.

On the narrow point of what to change, I'd agree with the others who say start with the speakers--the transducers matter the most (despite what the folks at Linn used to say!). Set a budget, take your time and listen to everything you can. If you don't find anything at your price point that is significantly better than what you have wait until you have more money and then go listen again. It took me two years to find my current speakers and a year to find the one's before these. I think you can get very close to what your friend has if you are patient and willing to do the leg work.

Last thought: consider a pair of Harbeth Super HL5's. A peruse of the Harbeth users group will reveal that many folks are using Plinius amplification and are getting great results. The entire Harbeth line is phenomenal and the HL5's will, unless you have a very large room, have enough bass to give you the bottom end you are looking for. Get some nice (Sound Anchor) stands and set them up right (with lots of air around them). With the exception of frequency extremes and that last touch of detail and realism you may get pretty close to where you want to end up.
Thank you for all your encouragement. Please keep your insightful thoughts coming.

I live in an apartment, so there is no dedicated room and none in sight for a while. Hopefully I'll be able to locate my system in the same room as my office furniture but that won't be realized until I move to a different location. I'm going to have to deal with speakers being close to the wall in any scenario due to Wife Acceptance Factor. Currently I have a tv in between speakers and throw a blanket over it when I listen to music. My current room is roughly 20x30.

I definitely understand the importance of room treatment. You can really hear it at times, especially at the dealers, and usually can be held responsible for poor sound at the shows. (I noticed this at the HES show in NYC this past year.) The thing with the meridian system was that the thing wasn't in a dedicated room either. In fact, it had a glass coffee table right in between the speakers.

Regarding speakers, I was wondering what people think of Audio Physic and Von Schweikert? Any other speaker recommendations? I hear Dynaudio goes well with Plinius but I don't like the current line's aesthetics. I don't mind purchasing used.

Thanks again.
I've owned the Plinius 8200 MKII, and its a fine product for the price. However, I've also owned the Soliloquy 6.2i's and think you can do much better.

I don't know what you have in mind for a budget, but my first speaker recommendation would be something from Dynaudio... maybe the 72Se's that are currently listed.

However, since you don't really care for the Dyn's aesthetics, and you've stated interest in Von Schweikert & Audio Physics, consider the VR-4Jr's or the Virgo's.

Another gentleman recommended Harbeth... once again, not the last word in style, but a terrific recommendation, especially when mated with a REL Storm III subwoofer. The same can be said for Vandersteen 2CE Sigs... excellent value, but not necessarily easy on the eyes.

Another well respected brand to consider would be Spendor... and they also fill the niche when it comes to pleasing aesthetics.
Active speakers is the best possible solution for hobbyist,like many of us. Not only because theoretically active drive is better than passive. The main problem is for many of us is matching a passive loudspeakers with the right amplifier. There are endless variations, further complicated by cables.It is likely that the combination we able to do is a less satisfying and coloured soundprint, than the potential of each component alone. At an active system, professionally done this matching.
Suggest getting a Forte 40/4A or Placette RVC/McCormack DNA1 combo, also get the Usher BE-718, a clean sounding copper cable like AU24, you should get mighty fine sound. In fact, I am willing to bet your friend will admire the top end extension and detail of your Usher once you have them broken-in and dial in properly.
Soliloquy 6.2 in a 20x30 foot room is your problem. You need bass to create a soundstage and that will change everything. If you are on a tight budget, try getting a sub first. They are very flexible for adjustment, you won't have to get rid of your current speakers, and it can disappear in the room without difficulty. If you can afford getting new speakers altogether, go for it - but do your homework first and make sure you get a model that works with your room.

Portugal11 said:
"Does anyone have any suggestions about any changes I could make to my system to start working towards getting to that sound? I would say that first the speakers would have to go. Something "fuller" than the 2-ways I currently have. Perhaps something with powered woofers? His sytem seemed to present all frequencies in a balanced manner. Mine seems a bit thin in comparison and certainly lacks the lower end. Any suggestions would be appreciated... "

You've got a good sized room, so the speaker changes mentioned and/or a subwoofer WILL make a significant different; HOWEVER, you'll need to properly place the speakers to get the most out of them. A precision Sumiko speaker set will all open up your speakers dramatically.

Read my review in the Review section. The speaker set will make your speakers sound as if they doubled in size and yet the midrange, imaging and transparency will improve by several orders of magnitude and you'll listen at level 20% to 30% higher without strain. Your wife will even like you system and want to sit down and listen.

The Sumiko set aims to minimize intermodulation distortion between the speakers. Give the size of your room and assuming reasonable furnishings, you probably need no room treatment. (Still, that will depend on where the speakers end up, hardness of floors, etc.).

If you need to move in stages and can't afford new speakers right now, then do the speaker set first, then add a sub and then upgrade the speakers (if you still want to).

This IS THE MAGIC sauce. Find a Sumiko dealer in you area and beg him to do a set. (You'll have to pay something, most likely since you don't own Sumiko distributed speakers, but it'll be worth every penny).

Yes Active Speakers can indeed surprise you that much!! No passive crossovers and dramatically reduced IMD distortion and huge dynamics is like having a veil removed from the sound compared to passive speakers.

Of course it is not for everyone. Many people prefer a more relaxed or refined presentation or warm presentation then the dynamic, transparent and raw (sometimes harsh depending on the source material) sound of Actives. Judging from your observation of your friends system - you are the type person who likes "precision" - Active Speakers is the way to go and there are more models to chose from every year...PMC, Genelecs, Meridian, B&O, ATC, NHT, Adam, K&H....etc.

Anyway....IMHO it is highly likely that your friend's Meridian ACTIVE Speakers is the key to what you liked and heard.
Please, a better description of the room. The room is the most important part of any system. Unfortunately, itÂ’s also the most ignored. If the room is not properly tuned, and the system is not properly setup, you can put a $200,000 system in it and still not reach audio nirvana.
I have a rich friend who dropped the big bucks on the digital Meridian system.

If it cheers you up at all, I thought it was terrible, and could put together a much better system from Audiogon classified ads for $5-$10K, no problem.

Don't give up. Your experience is all part of the wonderful process.
Yo,Portugall1; we have a few things in common. I live in an apt for one. I have a "L" shaped room and a tv 'tween the speakers.(huge tv). Over the years I have had several rude thumps just like yours and,yes,I remember each one and what components contributed as thumps.
While you have many tips from the members it's hard to have that which is many times over your budget.( I assume)
Life is full of compromises we all have to live with; even those that are only about audio equipment. And like somebody has already mentioned;just enjoy the music, and what pieces you can afford.
Wait....wait....here. It's all about the music, doesn't matter where it comes from, if it makes you happy and gets you up to boogie a little...life is great. You have to love mucis first.
i have an entire house full of speakers, amps, cdp's, tv's, and gadgets (plus a dozen guitars, a piano, a clarinet, and a dulcimer). i have more stuff crammed into various closets, including wire, wire, and more wire.
but due to my present physical limitations, i lie in bed at night after dinner and a nap, and listen to my tivoli radio with a stereo speaker and dual subs. this is the best investment in audio i have ever made. i get commercial free music from alternative, jazz, prog. rock, classical, blues, etc.
there are only two adjustments i can make on the radio- tuning, and volume. sometimes i need to switch from the internal to external antennas for a weaker station. still and in all i either have hypnotized myself into thinking this arrangement sound great, or it really does sound great.
if you can deal with some rolled off high frequencies, and don't ask it to play bach's tocatta and fugue in d-minor, it does everything else wonderfully well. small jazz ensembles are simply outstanding.
i add this comment because i have heard wilson alexandrias (although not the version-2's sorry to say) and i still think good sound can come in some unusual packages. never in a million years would i have thought i would be writing about a table-radio system after investing tens of thousands on high-end audio, which will of course kill my little radio with one flick of one of it's woofers. but i need to get some rest at the end of a long day and i do NOT want to get up to put on music for reasons i will not get into here. fortunately there are some superb radio shows during the week- 24 hours a day.
buy your "friend" some merlot (or whatever) and invite yourself over when you want to hear everything on your cd's in full glory. as for upgrading your stereo, it just takes alot of time and patience. monitors are SO good these days (so i hear) that you don't need to get a really large set-up anymore. except for the bach of course...
Post removed 
I second Pdreher's recommendation of a REL Storm III sub. The single biggest improvement to my system was adding an active sub, especially the REL, which gets its signal from the amps, not the pre-amp, and a seamless blend with your speakers is easier to achieve.
Borrow one, demo one, or buy one on Audiogon (and sell it without a loss if it doesn't do it for you). It really fleshes out the sound of your system, and not just on bass-heavy material. Even acapella vocals benefit -- with the sub, you hear more of the 'room' the music was recorded in. A good, musical sub adds so much more than just lower octave information!
I know the exact difference in sound you're describing when you describe your friend's system vs. yours -- yours sounds anemic and as if certain frequency ranges sound good at the expense of others; his sounds full and well-balanced.
My advice: before replacing any of your components or speakers, try supplementing what you have with a REL sub, and see how you like the difference.
Good luck!
01-15-08: Shadorne said:
"Yes Active Speakers can indeed surprise you that much!! No passive crossovers and dramatically reduced IMD distortion and huge dynamics is like having a veil removed from the sound compared to passive speakers."

With all due respect, I don't think that active speakers are the key to reducing IMD, increasing dynamics and removing veils. Instead, assuming a basically competent system, it's about the speaker placement and room interaction. If you get those right then it doesn't take mega-bucks to put together and incredibly transparent, dynamic and revealing system that's pleasant to listen for hour after hour.

Lots of great advice, some dealing with one's character and others dealing with speakers and room treatments. I welcome both and am seriously pondering my next move!

Regarding speakers, it's going to take some time. Both in terms of listening and saving. I would probably be able to spend around $3k new or used without alerting the fiancee. Maybe $3.5k if I can unload the 6.2's.

With respect to speaker selection: The lower end Vandersteens (2ce) seem a bit too dark sounding for me. I loved the Quattros though; but, they'll never pass the Wife Acceptance Factor test (even if a could afford them). The same goes for the Harbeth, though I have heard they sound fantastic with plinius gear. They remind of the Jensens and Marantz receiver my parents had when I was growing up. Also, I have always (perhaps wrongly) associated Thiels with more "polite" music. There are times when I like to turn up some classic rock and 90's alternative. Though I do equally like to turn up jazz, acoustic and Spanish guitar, Vivaldi, Tchaikovsky, and Back.

For the musical purists: It is and has always been about the music. I play guitar (acoustic, classical and electric) as another pass time. For me, I want to replicate the "live" sound experience. Hearing this system was a real eye opener. It was active speaker arrangement but it was also non-fatiguing and slightly warm.

En essence, I think that I'm missing the full range of the sound spectrum. I'm reluctant to go the subwoofer route because it's my understanding that it's hard to pull off seemless interaction. Does anyone have any ideas regarding speakers that contain active woofers, like the Quattros?
Well, Portugal11, your last post has me thinking about a pair of Daedalus Audio DA-1's for you. Full range--check. Sound like real music--check. High WAF--check. I just sold mine for $3500, which was a very fair price. (I'm taking delivery on a pair of the new version DA-1.1's next week). I saw another pair up for sale here last I checked a few weeks back. Most of Lou's customers, like me, are moving up to the new models so more may appear soon. Email me off line if you want some more information. The DA-1's were the speaker I moved to after a two year search to replace the Harbeth's with something full range. I think my review is still floating around on the A'gon if you are interested. A truly great speaker that can be had used at your price point.

Perhaps it is all hype - certainly there is some marketing! I once shared your skepticism too. However take time to Listen to what Bob Stuart of Meridian has to say

"Active Speakers are 1000 times better..."
I haven't heard the Meridians since the 1990s, so maybe some miracle has occurred since then, but last time I listened they were still subject to the laws of physics and needed to be properly set up in relation to each other and relation to the room. When a non-active ("passive" is not the correct term) is set up properly it has the same potential.

Such beginning-to-end systems as Meridian DO eliminate almost all potential for component mismatches. Unfortunately the biggest mismatch in most systems is between the two speakers and the speakers vs. the room. That is better addressed with proper placement, rather than DSP, since DSP can only handle relatively minor anomalies. There is room for DSP in a well set up system, but only after IMD and resonances has been minimized by proper placement. Then, you can really only attenuate the peak resonances.

Even Stuart only talks about the POTENTIAL of active, powered systems. I agree with his statement of potential, but it's only potential. Most of the potential is available with properly set up and placed speakers. Since most systems lack this most important step, they're largely disappointing.

Active speakers are NOT 1000 times better, IMHO. They're not even two-times better than a well matched conventional system.

I've heard a full TACT system + speakers by Dynaudio (not active) in a large room. The system sounded awesome! But why didn't it sound... musical? The other room in which they demoed Accuphase gear with Cabasse speakers was far more engaging. So: optimized acoustics + in room response will not guarantee that a system will sound excellent and musical.
Btw, I didn't know Meridian could sound so engaging? It sounds impressive, that's for sure! Like the Meridian home theater demo I attended once. Impressive but artificial...

"Unfortunately the biggest mismatch in most systems is between the two speakers and the speakers vs. the room."
with respect I disagree. By fat the biggest mismatch /bungling /disaster, etc is between speakers and amplification.
01-16-08: Gregm said:
"By fat the biggest mismatch /bungling /disaster, etc is between speakers and amplification."

Interesting. I just haven't experienced that. Then again, I wouldn't try to couple a single ended, 300B tube amp with speakers like my Vienna Acoustics, which are so efficient. I've found that it only takes a little common sense to avoid a speaker/amp mismatch.

Active speakers are NOT 1000 times better, IMHO. They're not even two-times better than a well matched conventional system.

I agree - Twice as good for Active vs non-Active Speakers is closer to the difference and I agree that room acoustics/speaker placement can make this order of difference too (although most audiophiles know about this fact whilst fewer are aware of the advantages of Active Speakers or the problmes of matching speaker and amplifier).

1000 times better is just pure ridiculous hyperbole - nobody would believe that (I think this statement is tongue-in-cheek heavy handed marketing on the part of Meridian founder Bob Stuart - nobody in AES would buy this statement and Bob knows this!).
Frustration is more what I feel than anything...

I'm inclined to go with a new speaker rather than include a subwoofer. Wouldn't I have to inlcude two to do it right? Those Audio Physics in ebony look stunning but they get mixed reviews. I wish that there was a way to try out the Von Schweikert VR4JR locally...
From doing research on this site, I've found that Silverline uses Dynaudio drivers... That may be interesting. Anyone know anything else on this topic?
I've owned the Silverline Sonata II's. Decent speaker (kinda large), but despite it's size, it is lean in the bass and would benefit from a subwoofer (you only need one BTW). Even though Silverline does employ some Dynaudio drivers in their designs, my experience with the Sonata II did not resemble the Dynaudio house sound... and I've owned 5 pairs of Dynaudio's, and still own 3 pair.

The Sonata II's would be a very significant upgrade over your Soliloquy 6.2i's (I owned these just prior to moving up to the Silverline's). However, try to find (or wait for) a used pair of Sonata III's... they are supposed to be more dynamic, full & balanced sounding vs. the II's, and to me, the Sonata III's are much better looking than the II's.
You may want to visit a Martin Logan dealer and the hear the new Purity active speakers.It is just around 2000 usd with inbuilt amplifiers. I think one of the biggest bargain in audio. It has the speed and power of active speakers combined with the magic what electrostats have. Very interesting combination. At a very affordable price you may get almost everything what you need to enjoy music.
Here is some more info on what you heard at your friends house. Bob Stuart on DSP Speakers

I am surprised that you heard a system designed by Bob Stuart (at your friends) and loved the sound and were awed to the extent you want to throw away your own gear.....and yet you hope to get in the direction of this kind of sound through speakers where much of the cost is in high quality scandanavian furniture (impressive look) rather than a pure functional box speaker.

I know that Meridian have a whole range of speakers and price points besides the top of the line that your friend has - so why not start there. Besides there are many choices of Active speakers today from low cost two way near-fields designed for studios (ugly black functional boxes that have cheap or no veneer but where cabinet costs have been invested more in their driver quality - better sound for the same money but trade off is worse look) to absolute "monsters" that are priced similar to your friend's system. I would start modest, keep an eye out for a second hand bargain and work your way up over ten or fifteen years...just two cents, and assuming you really do want to impress your friend with equally good sound one day.

Unfortunately high quality sound AND ultra nice to look at veneers with stunning cabinetry are mega mega expensive. If you can forego the nice looking cabinets then you can still get good sound at modest prices, expecially second hand, IMHO.

Remember what Queen said, I quote "Fat bottomed girls you make the rockin' world go round" - that is the kind of speaker you want - not a tall thin elegant but rather dull blonde that is fussy, cranky and always on a diet!

Good luck!
Shadorne, you're right... I've got all the time in world. I'm going to hold off on speakers for the moment as I will be moving in a few months and the room parameters will most likely be different.

On that note, and based on reading in between the lines of your last post would you suggest that I try one of the Meridian CD players? I believe that the 508.24 has a following but I'm weary of used CD players and I believe that there were some quirks reported with Meridian players. (I think that they have a G 08 out now?) Moreover, would you associate imaging and soundstage with sources like a CD player in additiion to the speakers?

Great analogy regarding Queen and the dull blonde.
Vandersteen 3a sig, VS VR 4 jr, Aerial 7b, Meadowlark Heron all for around $2000 here on Agon.
Hi My suggestion would be to ask your friend if he could bring his Meridian Cd player to your house, to see what effect that will have in your system. Cheap experment probably only a few bottles of some good Merlot. LOL
Hey Shadorne, my hi-fi buddy has heard all the Meridian gear. Still loves his horns,lol.
A sobering thought; expensive doesn't always equal good/or best.
Hey Shadorne, my hi-fi buddy has heard all the Meridian gear. Still loves his horns,lol.
A sobering thought; expensive doesn't always equal good/or best.

Which horns does your friend believe beats Meridian hands down? If you are referring to the fact that Meridian gear is rather expensive and may not be great value then I will definitely conceed that.

Indeed there are all kinds of great sounding speakers at relatively modest prices especially if they do not need to be played that loud - I don't doubt your friend may have excellent sound with horns - after all these were THE most popular design for many many years before solid state gave us more power cheaply, allowing other designs to be able to compete...and horns excel at low distortion because the transducer moves much less...a very live/dynamic type sound. The fact that horns are still around and used in homes is testament to their great sound. I like the sound of horns too.
When I used to go over to a friend's house to listen to his far superior system, it only motivated me to set the audio bar higher. That is, I started working more overtime (my friend always said to me "If you wanna play, you gotta pay").He worked two jobs at the time. I learned much from John. When I was a novice, he was always encouraging when he came over to listen to my system. Sounds like you've done well so far. Be patient, and don't make too many changes at the same time. Enjoy the ride!