One of the biggest failings of the audio/video press is that we don’t do enough to present equipment in the context of a system that people might actually want to buy. Reviewing the Magnepan LRS or Q Acoustics 3030i loudspeakers is a pointless exercise if we don’t explain how to build a system around them.
Telling you that a $650 pair of loudspeakers sound great only gets you so far. How can you maximize that purchase and not make costly mistakes when building a system.
You have to create a path for people who are new. And it has to be a reasonable one.
Does It benefit the reader and industry more to discuss $500 products or $50,000 components?
As much as we enjoy reviewing state-of-the-art products (because who wants to review a Prius when you can spend time with a Porsche) that very few people on the planet can afford, there needs to be greater focus on the products that might help increase the size of the base – who might eventually have the money to buy much better products.
My listening priorities as a 51 year-old Orthodox Jewish man with 3 kids in private school and college are not the same as a 25 year-old living in an apartment (or parent’s basement…time to get out).
We agree, however, on one important concept; we both want to enjoy the music that we love with the highest level of sound quality that we can afford.
The concept of “affordability” is slightly tricky.
Everyone has a different budget. Some people can afford to spend $100,000 on a stereo system and that gives them the ability to try components that 99% of the population will never get to experience. It’s not a contest.
I know people who have spent that amount of money and have been stuck on the high-end merry-go-round for years. They’re never happy with the sound of their system and clearly care more about the equipment than the music.
Most people that I know have a very specific budget for their home stereo system. $3,000 is the most they would ever consider spending on a system and that’s actually a very good place to be.
Tune out any audiophiles who tell you online that you’re not really “serious” about music or hi-fi if you don’t spend a lot more. These are the same people who justify spending $3,500 on power cords before selling them at a loss on Audiogon or go through components like you have gone though masks during the pandemic.
Run away from reviewers who only seem to review products that are equivalent to one semester in a private U.S. college. They don’t care about helping you build a system or expanding the knowledge of consumers in regard to better sound quality. It’s about playing with expensive stuff they can’t afford.
At the end of the day, the only opinion that matters is your own.
90% of the text messages I receive from close friends and family about audio/video are focused on Sonos, Apple, LG, and Polk Audio.
My best friend of 45 years purchased a Sonos Arc and Sonos Amp this week because the combination provided what he needed for his new home and outdoor speakers.
Our focus this week will be on 3 excellent systems in the $2,000 – $3,000 range.
We either own these or have spent considerable time listening to all of them.
Chapter One: The Hot Veal with Extra Sauce
I didn’t grow up kosher. My parents sent us to Hebrew school for over a decade, but we were in the pizza business and professional “foodies” long before that term ever came into vogue. I also grew up with Italians and Portuguese and my daily eating habits were heavily influenced by that crossover of cultures. Dim sum was a weekend thing. Hot veal sandwiches with extra sauce were a permanent part of my diet growing up in Toronto.
NAD was a big part of my listening experience growing up as well. I spent countless hours listening to stereo systems as a kid at Bay Bloor Radio and there was always a piece of NAD gear in my father’s equipment rack at home.
It’s hard to build a bad sounding system around a NAD amplifier.
The Q Acoustics 3030i work exceptionally well with the NAD C 316BEE that has some extra punch in the midrange. The internal phono stage is a good tonal match for the Ortofon 2M Red MM cartridge. The Songbird is an excellent entry-level streamer/DAC source for this type of system. The Pioneer turntable retails for $699 on its own and can run with much better carts down the road.
NAD C 316BEE Integrated Amplifier ($449, see our review)
Q Acoustics 3030i Loudspeakers ($399/pr at Amazon)
Andover Audio Songbird Streamer ($129, see our review)
QED Reference XT40i loudspeaker cable ($159.95 at Amazon)
AudioQuest Cinnamon Optical Toslink cable ($99 at Amazon)
Chapter Two: Bangers and Mash
I love British loudspeakers. I inherited my first pair in 1983 as a Bar Mitzvah gift. A pristine pair of Celestion Ditton 33 MK IIs were my primary loudspeakers until 1993. They “disappeared” during a family move from Canada to New York City. Over the past few decades, multiple pairs of Spendor, Wharfedale, and KEF loudspeakers have been a fixture in our home. One brand that I never had the chance to try was Acoustic Energy; its distribution has been quite spotty and it’s great news for listeners that they have a really solid distributor in N. America in 2020.
The Acoustic Energy AE1 are active loudspeakers with separate class AB power amplifiers built inside each enclosure. If you’re looking for active wireless loudspeakers, the AE1 are not for you. KEF makes some outstanding products like the LS50 Wireless II loudspeakers for $2,500 if that fits into your budget.
The AE1 have flown under the radar for way too long. They continue to amaze me each day with their exceptional transparency, detail, imaging, and dynamic punch. If you listen to a lot of electronica, you’ll really enjoy its low-end response and speed. This is not some boring audiophile loudspeaker with a lush midrange and no chutzpah when you want to turn it up.
The only issue is that the two loudspeakers are not tethered together with a single piece of wire; two separate power cords, and a relatively long pair of interconnects (single-ended or balanced) are required to make them work. There is also only one input and two separate volume controls which were placed on the rear panel.
They are ideal for a desktop system or placed on a credenza. Place them on a pair of IsoAcoustics loudspeaker stands and you’re good to go.
The issue is fixing the source/volume control limitations.
Simple fix with a quality pre-amplifier like the Schiit Audio Lyr 3 which also includes a DAC and headphone amplifier.
We’re keeping this system in the digital realm but adding the pre-amplifier to give you long-term flexibility and add a little warmth to the sound.
Acoustic Energy AE 1 Active Loudspeakers ($1390 at Amazon)
Schiit Audio Lyr 3 Pre-amplifier/DAC/Headphone Amplifier ($499 at schiitaudio.com)
Allo USBridge Signature Streamer ($249 at allo.com)
IsoAcoustics Aperta Loudspeaker Stands ($199 at Amazon)
Analysis Plus Purple USB ($99 at Amazon)
Analysis Plus Oval One Interconnects ($99 at Amazon)
Chapter Three: The Kid
Some audio experiences are transformative. Listening to the Magnepan MG-III loudspeakers for the first time in 1989 at a local dealer was utterly jaw dropping. The rest of the system was a mixture of Mark Levinson and Proceed electronics and I’m pretty sure the dealer was taking human organs in trade. Having worked the previous four years during weekends and summers at my parent’s pizzeria, I had actually saved up enough money to afford this monstrosity of a system. Sadly, that money was earmarked for 4 years of college in another country so I had to settle for what I already had at home.
What struck me at the time was the mind-blowing transparency of the loudspeakers. Certain aspects of the music just sounded real; the imaging, clarity, and sensation of a real person singing in the same room actually made me laugh in front of the dealer.
I wasn’t some high-end virgin at the time, having spent my childhood inside one of the best stereo stores in the country. I had just never heard anything like that.
What also struck me was the amount of power that those large panel loudspeakers required.
There are a million opinions online about the topic but the simple truth is that you can drive a loudspeaker like the Magnepan LRS (Little Ribbon Speaker) with any amplifier that can double its output and is stable into a 4 ohm load. A/V receivers are not great choices in this scenario. Their actual power output into a 4 ohm load is rather iffy.
Emotiva, NAD (not the C 316BEE V2), Schiit Audio, Bryston, Audio Research, and Pass Labs all work well with Magnepan.
The LRS need a lot of space. A minimum of 3 feet from the wall behind them. You also need to angle the panels so that the tweeter potion of the panel are further from your ears than the woofer. I have my LRS turned so that the woofer panel is almost 2 inches closer to my listening position.
The LRS also benefit from either a heavy paving stone placed underneath the legs or a dedicated stand like the Magna Risers.
Audio systems need to be forward thinking and reliable so it’s easy to suggest this pile of Schiit Audio components to be the heart of this rig.
It has more than enough power, the right tonal balance, and a plethora of inputs (both analog and digital) for any source that you might already own or plan on adding in the future.
Don’t expect a lot of deep bass from the LRS – that’s not why you are buying it.
Magnepan LRS Loudspeakers ($650/pair, locate dealer)
Schiit Audio Vidar Stereo Power Amplifier ($699 at schiit audio.com)
Schiit Audio Saga+ Pre-amplifier ($399 at schittaudio.com)
Schiit Audio Bifrost 2 Multibit DAC ($699 at schittaudio.com)
Allo USBridge Signature Streamer ($249 at allo.com)
Total: $2,696 (not including cables)
Next article in this series: Audiophile System Builder: Linear Tube Audio, Decware, Omega
See all Audiophile System Builder recommendations.