What should I upgrade?

Hi everyone!

I have a Bel Canto s300 (300 watts @ 4ohms) driving my Magnepan 1.6qr's. I'd like to get more defined low end throughout the volume spectrum.

Which choice is best and why?

1. Upgrade to the s500 (500 watts)
2. Add a JL Audio f112? subwoofer to existing setup.
3. Add room acoustic treatments, etc. (walls are wood, floors are cork.) *If choosing this option what is recommended?

PS. I use a Bel Canto Dac3 and stream from Mac ibook G4 via Airport Express using glass Toslink or hardwired via USB.

"Audiophile in training"
get some Bel Canto Ref1000 monoblocks. Get the original model for a better deal. You will be shocked at how your speakers will sound. They are underpowered right now.
Measure your current room response so you have an idea of what is going on. That will help you understand if room treatments or a sub will help.

Talk to Magnepan regarding if you are under-driving your speakers. Borrowing a more powerful amp to try would be a good idea, too. Cheers,
How large is your room?
Do you live in a House or an Apartment?
What type of music do you listen to?
Do you just want to tighten up the bass, or do you want more slam and dynamics?

I believe that your best solution to get a more defined low-end, depends on your answers to the questions above.

Hi Rich,

Room size: 17x35
Domicile: House
Type of music: Everything! (Mostly jazz. Jazz seems to be awesome!) It's the pop or rock that is lacking bass/dynamics.
Wants: I'm not sure what the difference is. I think I want both, but more importantly more slam.

Thanks for the assistance!

You want it all.., like the rest of us.

That's a fairly large room. I would think, that to add some dynamics and bass to rock music, you either have to get larger panels like the 3.6's or add a sub. I would think that adding a sub would give you more slam and dynamics, than getting larger panels. It's tough adding a sub to the Maggies and having them blend right. Many people here suggest 2 subs to better balance out room modes, and cancel out standing bass waves. But, I would try one first to see how you like it.

Your current amp is fine power wise, 300watts into 4 ohms. However, if down the the line, you want some more refinement, ease, fluidity, bigger soundstage and lower noise floor, then you may want to upgrade to Monoblocks.

I love the Bel Canto gear, though. I've owned the DAC3, and I would think that a pair of Bel Canto Ref 1000 Monoblocks are in your future. I still have a pair now, and I think they're great.

Let the addiction begin..,

I don't own nor have I heard any of the gear in this thread. But I DO own some Martin Logans and love them.

My semi-educated suggestion would be to treat your room with bass traps in all four corners (I use Auralex) to reduce the boom and clean up your transients which are actually mid range frequencies. Your room is an echo chamber. You have to soak up the bad stuff before you venture into refined bass response. You'll be amazed at the difference and have a good starting point for "real" bass.

Then audition a Fathom (or a SVS PB13 for less money) to give you the best of both worlds. Clean and powerful.

I have an SVS PC13 that was $1500 new and blends well with my panels.

FWIW from a mid-fi enthusiast.

Sorry I forgot to mention I have a pitched roof. on one sid it starts at 8ft and goes to 12ft. there are also 7 exposed wood beams that run along the ceiling. Where would I place bass traps and/or acoustic panels?
I believe that a pitched roof with beams on the ceiling will actually help break up any unwanted bass modes.

Before we worry about bass traps, perhaps we should get some bass first ; )


You need one Jl Audio F 113 or two of the smaller F 112 which are magnificent subwoofers.

Your room is huge, and the Maggies 1.6 are really too small for this size room 3.6 would be better,

More power couldn't hurt either it depends on how loud you play and how far away from the speaker you are.

The JL audio subs are really fast and blend well with these types of speakers, one of my customers had this subwoofer with a pair of $45,000.00 Scaena loudspeakers and the woofer could blend with this speaker which is really fast as well.
what cables are you using? more power would be great, two subs would be great, sure. but i would make sure that you're getting all the bass you can out of your system first to see where you stand.

i've never owned maggies and i don't know how sensitive they are to cables, but all the speakers that i've owned have been very responsive to different cables, particularly where bass is concerned.

i would think that the s300s would be able to get close to getting the lowest bass out of those speakers at low volumes, but (at least in my experience) that assumes that you've got good speaker cables and power cables on your components.

in my system, power cables on the components are as important as speaker cables for bass. recently i just got some nice (cryo'ed, for what that's worth) adapters to allow the use of 15amp power cables on c7 connections (those little 2-holed connections found on playstations and mass market electronics) and the difference on both my ps1 cd player and my hd cable box was great - the primary benefit being more bass. the two components had already been using a ps audio punch cable, which was a night and day difference over the tiny, stock cables, but using an even bigger/better cable was another jump.

so i would make sure all that is in place before spending tons on new amps.
Wow! I want to thank everyone for their advice. It sure is appreciated!

Re: Cables

Kimber Kable 4vs (15ft pair) for speakers (banana plugs).
Kimber Kable Timbre XLR interconnects (amp to dac).
Wireworld USB
Van den hul toslink.

Any reccommendations for speaker cable that will increase the bass??
well, a quick check shows that the 4vs are 13awg, maybe someone who knows maggies can speak to how they react to different cables?

my martin logans are not as sensitive as other speakers in terms of bass response because the panel doesn't go too low (so thin cables can carry the frequencies that it reproduces fine), but your maggies are supposed to go down to 40, so i would think a cable of 8 to 10 awg MIGHT make a difference, although i don't have any experience with that. my gallos react differently with ever cable i've tried on them, for example.

i'm sure that the kimbers are good cables, though, so if you haven't tried any aftermarket power cables, i would drop $50 on one to put somewhere in your system to see what that does. "my audio cables", element, and signal are all companies that have an audiogon presence and make great, inexpensive cables. for what it's worth, after i put a good power cable on my ps1 cd player, i had to turn the bass down on the back of my speakers (logans have powered cone woofers).
Is it possible to bridge my s300 so it outputs 600w and buy another s300 to bridge? If so, how does one "bridge" an amp?
Is it possible to bridge my s300 so it outputs 600w and buy another s300 to bridge? If so, how does one "bridge" an amp?

Hi Devon,

No, a fully balanced stereo amplifier such as yours can in a sense be thought of as being two amplifiers on a single chassis, each of which is already bridged. By that I mean that each channel contains two amplifiers, one of which amplifies a signal that is inverted in phase relative to the signal being processed by the other amplifier, with the speaker being connected between the "hot" outputs of the two amplifiers. That results in twice as much voltage appearing across the speaker, relative to what a single-ended (unbalanced) amplifier with otherwise identical characteristics would provide.

So bridging a single speaker between one of the output terminals of one channel and one of the output terminals of the other channel, with the inputs to the two channels wired out-of-phase relative to each other, would not result in any added power capability.

Also, fyi, bridging results in the amplifier seeing the speaker impedance divided by two, so your nominally 4 ohm speakers would be seen as 2 ohms, which many amplifiers cannot handle. A major reason that Bel Canto specifies a 4 ohm minimum speaker impedance for your amplifier figures to be that the factor of 2 applies in the case of fully balanced operation as well.

-- Al
Post removed 
Hi Develyn,

Your Kimber Cables are fine, Kimber Cables are excellent and represent very good value for the money, and as you go up the line they certainly do get better, like most things.

Keep in mind that when tweaking your system with, racks, cables, accessories or whatever, (and they all do improve the sound) you will improve what you already have, but it will not take your level of sound reproduction to completely new areas, that currently do not exist in your system, such as lower bass octaves. For that, you need to upgrade or add equipment.

I wouldn't bridge your amp either, 300 watts into 4 ohms is plenty of power for the 1.6's and from what others stated above it sounds like a bad idea. I also thought that bridging can create additional distortion, clipping or whatever.., especially when compared to upgrading to monoblocks.

OK, reading through threads like this I always like to check out the systems of the respondents to see if they own, or have owned, the specific gear you are asking questions about.

Here are some of my observations from someone who has owned Maggies for years (and sadly others, but I always come back to the Maggies) and used many different amps and subs with them. Here we go:

1) get a new amp first. You won't know what else you need until you find out what the Maggies can do with a well matched amp. Currently you are just a wee bit under powered. Bel Canto amps sound great with 1.6qr's. I had the BelCanto Evo4 bridged and it was excellent. The best amp I ever used with my 1.6qr's was the Innersound ESL amp. It was absolutely stellar, and woke up the the whole speaker, bass response from my Velodyne DD15 set up program was measured consistantly (in a room about your size with the speakers 4 ft from the wall) at 40hrz. The next I would suggest would be the BelCanto Ref1000 MB that I suggested at the beginning of the thread.

2) Only after you have done that, you may want to try a sub, but a very, very fast sub. Also, it depends on the type of connections you want to make. The JL Audio is a great sub, but you will have to split the outputs of your DacIII to get a line level signal to them, and I think they are pretty expensive. There are other very good subs you can get that you can run the speaker level connection to, that integrate very well, for much less: Velodyne DD series, Rel B series (you can run these for both HT through low level and for stereo through speaker level at the same time, very cool, oh yeah, and sound GREAT), Vandersteen 2wq (great match) are all excellent choices as well.

3) Your 4vs is an excellent cable, especailly since it's copper, and helps mellow out any potential brightness. You could move up to the 8tc for relatively little money, or you could add another set of 4vs and use one strand for each connection. That could be an even better idea.

Good luck, your building an excellent system.
after trying just about every brand of power cables, i'm using the biggest gauge cables for most things now. to me, it seems i get the best sound out of just unconstricting the power supply as much as possible. mostly ps audio 6 and 8 gauge. love my tg audio for less power hungry stuff, too.

and i agree with rich above in general, but i have seen great results in improving bass with power cables on components, which is why i suggested it (though i have nooooo idea why this is). you can't make a component better, but the idea is to at least get what you can out of everything and for what it's worth, i've never NOT seen an improvement in a component with upgraded power cords. hell, i've actually had well shielded power cables reduce hum from things like cable boxes and dvd players. and cables don't need to be expensive to be good at all, my $50 "my audio cables" power cord sounds as good on many things as my $750 cords, better on some things.

so my best idea over all for your system (that is, if i were spending the cash) would be to try a couple of mac cables on your stuff and then get (on demo, if possible) two smaller-but-stereo subs to fill out the sound. i love the sound of maggie 1.6's and i believe that getting more powerful amps wouldn't be as cost-effective as getting two (or one, even) subs to fill out the sound, but again, i've not owned them.

i'd still love for someone to comment on larger gauge speaker cables with the maggies.
Devon -- Some fundamental questions which I don't think have been addressed so far:

1)How far is your usual listening position from the speakers?
2)How far are the speakers from the wall behind them?
3)How far apart are the speakers?
4)What is the distance from each speaker to the nearest sidewall?

-- Al

1. 8-12 ft.
2. 3-5 ft.
3. 5-6 ft.
4. 4-5 ft.


PS. The input has been awesome! Sure is nice to have such an informed helpful community to rely on.
Hi Devon,

As we've seen, a case can be made for many different approaches. But here is my take, and I'll qualify it by saying that my experience with Maggies is fairly limited (several listening sessions at a friend's house, to one of the older, larger Maggies driven by Audio Research tube electronics, and integrated fairly successfully with a Sunfire subwoofer).

Your 8 to 12 foot listening distance leaves me much less inclined to recommend higher amplifier power than I was initially (based initially on the size of the room and the relative inefficiency of the speakers). And consider too that the upgrade you were initially asking about, from 300W to 500W, is only an increase of a little over 2db. I think that the clincher (in terms of not upgrading the amplifier power, at least for now) would be if you are satisfied with the volume you can achieve in the mid-range frequencies.

I think that a significant contributor to the bass shortcomings you are sensing is likely to be the 3 to 5 foot distance to the wall behind the speakers. That will result in a partial cancellation of bass frequencies centered in the area of roughly 70Hz. (The approximate formula is 86Hz divided by the distance to the wall in meters, and the effect is known as "1/4 wave cancellation"). That occurs because the reflection of the sounds at and around that frequency, that are radiated towards that wall by the speakers, will re-arrive at the speakers approximately 180 degrees out of phase (i.e., inverted) with respect to the original wavelaunch, and will therefore subtract from the original wavelaunch at and around that frequency.

Fixing problems in the deep bass region via room treatments is problematical at best, because the long wavelength of those frequencies makes them difficult to absorb. Moving the speakers further from that wall, if possible, would certainly help though, by lowering the frequencies which would be affected. So I would suggest trying that first, if it is practical to do so. Doubling the distance would get most of the affected frequencies below the speaker's 3db bandwidth point, which I feel pretty certain would produce a significant improvement.

If it is not practical to do so, or if doing so does not result in adequate improvement, considering that you undoubtedly have significant attenuation centered around 70Hz due to room effects, and considering that the speakers themselves are specified to be down as much as 3db at 40Hz, my strong instinct would be to add a subwoofer (or two). I would consider things like optimizing cable selection to fall within the realm of fine tuning the system, but I think that the issues I've mentioned are more fundamental and need to be dealt with first.

-- Al

thank you for the detailed follow-up. I'll give your suggestions a try.

PS. Thank you to everyone else who contributed.
I have one more question.

What about bi-amping? Could I use the s300 for one speaker and purchase an additional s300 for the other speaker? Would this setup provide any significant benefits?
Post removed 
Hey Al,

Wow, that's great stuff, I really enjoyed your post!

I forgot about the Dipole Effect.

Hi Devon,

Keep im mind that if you move your speakers out into the room more, than you may have to move your listening position backwards if that's possible. I don't believe side walls will effect dipoles that much because there is a null effect at the sides of the speakers.

I believe you said you have a short ceiling that slopes upward, so be aware that the further you get away from the front wall, your ceiling height will change also. Since these are tall speakers, ceilling reflections can also have an effect. I found another formula for magnepan speakers, regarding ceiling height.

I'm not sure if this formula takes into account your sloping ceiling, however it may help other people that have Magnepans. This is for a rectangular room.

0.618 x ceiling height in feet = The distance from the speaker to the front wall in feet.

This refernce formula is from George Cardas at Cardas Audio.

However, the "1/4 wave effect" will probably have a larger effect, since most of the sound is projected forward and backwards.

At least Al, gave you a really good starting point, and obviously you must go by your ears.

Good Luck,
Thanks again to everyone!

OK so I did what is the cheapest, I moved the setup to my family room (14x18)in the basement (carpet, 8ft ceiling tiles, paneling walls). I didn't rearrange anything as didn't want to do that until I heard a test. OMG! It's like an entire new system with a kickass subwoofer! Everything opened up and the bass came alive! I am going to rearrange tonight to find best positioning. I'll post back later. It's great when a solution costs $0 although I'm sure I'll start tweaking the room with acoustic treatments. I guess the main level room was just too big and hard. Whoever said the room is 50% of the equation is absolutely correct! If anyone reading this wants to hear a different sound from their setup, move it to another room that is most different than current room. You'll find a large difference either good or bad. Stay tuned!