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A "Work in Progress" Audio System *LONG*

 

New member
Username: Atomheart

Denver, CO USA

Post Number: 1
Registered: Oct-04
Hello Guys,

This is my first post here, although I have read this board for a while. Earlier this year, I started upgrading the audio system I had purchased when I first graduated from college. It was 8 years old, except for the reciever which I had replaced 2 years ago.

I had originally bought a harman/kardon system with BOTTOM of the line Infinity speakers, intending to upgrade the speakers when I got the money. The system sounded really good to me at the time, and so the idea of upgrading never occured to me again, until I came into a bit of money 6 months ago.

Deciding that it was finally time to upgrade those woefully cheap speakers, just to see what improvement it would make. I am a fan of Infinity, and always wanted a set of Infinity Kappas back in the 80's, so I ended up getting a pair of new Infinity Kappa 600 towers, a Kappa Center, Kappa 200 Rears, and an Infinity Intermezzo 1.2s subwoofer to hold the system down with.

Once these speakers were all connected to my harman/kardon AVR520 reciever, the system came to life like I had never imagined possible. I heard depth of soundstage and detail that I hadn't dreamed was even present on a Compact Disc. For movies in DTS surround, the church scene in Kill Bill Vol. 2 (much to my embarrassment) had me getting up, and turning on the lights to hunt down the stray fly that had gotten into my living room. It wasn't until I saw the actor on the screen swat at his ear that I realized the fly was IN the surround mix, and not a real creature in my room with me.

This gave me a serious bug. And since I had just spent $7500.00 on speakers, I figured, "in it for an inch, in it for a mile." Having heard that harman/kardon was not exactly known for their CD player prowess, I started shopping around for a better CD player. I ended up deciding on an NAD C542 based on price, and NAD's reputation. I did audition it at a boutique stereo shop, but the speakers they were playing demos through I had never heard of, and were about 1/2 the retail price of my Infinity Kappa fronts, so I couldn't really be sure of the quality. It sounded thin, and without body or bass, but decided that my system not only had more "full range" speakers, but also a subwoofer which the demo system did not have.

I ordered the CD player, and two weeks later, had the box at home, hooking it up via the digital TOSlink connector. Immediately there was a large noticeable increase in detail and realism to every recording I tested, and I knew this was a big leap in the right direction. Then, knowing the analogue section of the C542 was paid extra detail, I used those outputs instead of the TOSlink, and BY GOD the sound got even better. I went on a 2 week long listening binge of every album I could yank out of my CD rack that had any special interest to me, and the new system had something new to say about every single album I played. I discovered entire instrument lines that I swear were not there before. I guess I didn't have a concept of just how bad a set of $200 speakers could be all these years.

After the shock and excitement wore off, however, I have started listening more critically...and accepting that my living room isn't the best listening room possible, it will have to do, since 40% of the systems use is for DVD movies. I would like to improve things more though if I can, and I know I can.

I have noticed that the music, while splayed over a very deep soundfield, is made up of primarily 2-dimensional objects that simply occupy different layers of space. For example, When listening to John Coletrane, we are presented with a flat, 2-dimensional saxiphone from one location in the room, and far behind that saxiphone, is a flat 2-dimensional piano, and to our right chimes in a flat 2-dimensional trumpet, etc.

While the music is very deep, and detailed, the instruments themself dont seem to be warm and buttery, but instead, cold and lifeless. Electronic and sterile. I have also noticed a lack of mid-bass, and a slight smearing of highs when they are hit with any force or suddenness. It has been suggested that my amp is the cause of most if not all of these problems. I know the harman/kardon AVR520 (80w per channel in 2 channel mode) is a mid-fi component at best, so my next plan was going to be to upgrade this to a set of separates.

I just read the thread here about British Sound...and it really started me thinking about how important this decision is going to be in regards to all my future experience with this system. I want a preamp and amp that is going to give me the sound I have in my head...and I'm not sure how to do that while auditioning this equipment on different speakers in a listening room at a store that is wholly different than my living room, but hopefully, I can come close, and learn to love what I end up with.

I was at a friends house yesterday, and he had just aquired a used, early 90's Pioneer reciever, that he had hooked up to some "same-era" Pioneer speakers the size of filing cabinets. He proudly fired up the system. It had almost no soundstage that I could discern. There were two layers of sound -- One that sounded like a solid field about 1 foot in front of the entertainment system, and another layer of sound coming directy from each speaker. This kind of made me chuckle, because the thing that so delights me about my new system is that no sounds seem to be coming from the stereo or speakers at all. Other than that, however, this pioneer reciever was putting out bass and mid-bass that my harman/kardon has never dreamed of producing, and even more suprising, that mid-bass and bass was warm and buttery, and I was actually suprised at how good his system really did sound. It really drove home how much my current system is lacking in mid-bass and warmth. My subwoofer can produce bass on its own, extremely accurately, and down to far below human hearing...but mid-bass, I'm devoid of, and what remnants do come through the mix, are cold and lifeless. I know my speakers are easily capable of producing this range with detail, so I've placed blame squarely on my h/k reciever.

I have narrowed my pre-amp/amp shopping down to a couple of models, but wanted to hear some of the opinions of you more experienced hi-fi guys, to maybe help me predict which (if either) of these will give me more of a full, warm sound that I currently lack, or to hear some other possible suggestions in my price range.

1. NAD T163 preamp - NAD T973 7 channel amp

This would replace the 5 channel h/k reciever, but I would use the extra 2 channels on the NAD to bi-amp my front Kappa 600 towers to give me plenty of clean power to the 10 inch woofers.

2. Sunfire Theatre Grand - Cinema Grand 200~ Seven

Same setup, utilizing bi-amping to my front towers.

How would these two choices differ from eachother in sound qualities? Which is likely to sound more warm, smooth, and less bass-aenemic? Minute detail is really important to me. As the system stands, I can now listen right up through Miles Davis's trumpet and hear his lips vibrating on his mouthpiece. I dont want to lose any of that detail or delicacy. NAD has really impressed me with the CD player so I am leaning towards their pre-amp/amp combo over Sunfire.

I'd like the combo to land right around $3000-$3500. Any other suggestions that would better fit my desires? Any opinions on the combo's I've listed here? Any help is much appreciated. Thanks guys!



 

New member
Username: Atomheart

Denver, CO USA

Post Number: 2
Registered: Oct-04
By the way, the music I listen to on the system is about:

10% jazz and folk
25% techno/dance/rap
30% classic rock
45% hard rock/heavy metal/goth

Clean powerful mid-bass and bass is really important.
 

Silver Member
Username: Rh1

Post Number: 284
Registered: Jun-04
Eric....I had to laugh when you said

"For movies in DTS surround, the church scene in Kill Bill Vol. 2 (much to my embarrassment) had me getting up, and turning on the lights to hunt down the stray fly that had gotten into my living room. It wasn't until I saw the actor on the screen swat at his ear that I realized the fly was IN the surround mix, and not a real creature in my room with me. "

This is the same realization I came to in the exact same scene when I heard my new system. I smoke outside of my house and unfortunately i let bugs in sometimes when coming back in, my cats love it though, gives them something to chase around. Anyway, I actually took a swat past my ear thinking the bug was hovering around my head! That is when I new my money was well spent :-)

To your question about the combos I am sorry to say that I have no advise on the matter as I have not experienced those products together. I am sure others have so good luck on your choice.
 

New member
Username: Atomheart

Denver, CO USA

Post Number: 3
Registered: Oct-04
Good! I'm glad I'm not crazy. Hehe. Yea, the sound engineers did one HELL of a job on that particular insect. Bravo.
 

barn
Unregistered guest
I have just spent 6 months searching for lounge room listening utopia and auditioned every brand that I could find. Its best to take the units home and try before you buy, most stores will let you if you put the item on visacard and they credit the purchase if you return it.

My end choice was Arcam which I would highly recommend but Music fidelity may be the
type of sound that you have described looking for.
Goodluck.


 

New member
Username: Atomheart

Denver, CO USA

Post Number: 4
Registered: Oct-04
As it turns out, Sunfire was exactly the sound that's in my head. I have found the one sound I've been searching for all this time.

I have a Sunfire Ultimate Reciever on order now, for $3699 after shipping.
 

New member
Username: Davidr

Calgary, Alberta Canada

Post Number: 9
Registered: Oct-04
Atom heart, can I ask you how you bi-amped using the 7 channel receiverand not the pre/power amp combo.

I was hoping to do something similar but I didn't know the best way of going about it. Thanks.
 

New member
Username: Atomheart

Denver, CO USA

Post Number: 5
Registered: Oct-04
I haven't done that yet. I just got my hands on the reciever about an hour ago, and it is sitting here on my desk waiting for me to take it home. I am first going to just hook it up in 5.1 to make sure it works...then I was trying to figure out how I can run it while bi-amping my fronts. I dont think its possible though after much thought. I think I'll have to settle for 5.1 until I buy an external amp. My first idea was to run RCA's from the front left and right pre-outs over to the DAT inputs (which I wont be using) and then set the rear outputs to run Zone 2, and leave Zone 2 always set to the DAT source.

The more I think about it, I dont think that will work, because isn't that running it through the preamp twice? I'm afraid the volume will just boost itself to infinity and blow my speakers. So I considered running the "fixed main" left and rights to the DAT input, since that bypasses volume, but here's the problems: That would be a downmixed matrix of all 5 channels being routed to the low frequency transducers of the fronts...and secondly, the zone 2 does not recieve any type of processing like sonic holography and I think the only way to get the same processing mixed in would be to use the normal main pre-outs.

I will call Sunfire and discuss this with a technician tomorrow after I have the unit up and running in my system, and make sure everything is working on the receiver. I'll report back here about what I find out.

When I purchased it, I kinda resigned myself to running bi-wired 5.1 for the time being, and improving when I can afford another 2 channel sunfire amp in the future.

 

New member
Username: Davidr

Calgary, Alberta Canada

Post Number: 10
Registered: Oct-04
That was the exact problem I was thinking of.

On the point of later upgrading to with another 2 channel amp, my only concern is mismatching your Front L/R and center speakers. I have talked to a few people and I have the impression that by bi-amping the two fronts and not the center that it may cause an inbalance with the center. Then again I could easily be wrong, so anyone who does know or sees a flaw in my logic please correct me, as I am interested in going the same route as Atom. I was recommended towards a three channel seperate amplifire to biamp both the fronts and center speakers. However first of all, I don't know how many center speakers are bi-amp/bi-wirable and secondly, in your case, Sunfire doesn't make three-channel amps (only 2,5 or 7).

See this thread for my discussion with landroval on the topic: https://www.ecoustics.com/electronics/forum/home-audio/106875.html
It regards an inferior receiver that doesn't have 7 channels (NAD T743) however I think the idea is somewhat similar.
 

New member
Username: Atomheart

Denver, CO USA

Post Number: 7
Registered: Oct-04
Maybe the answer is to get a separate 5 channel amp, and run bi-amp your fronts, and 1/2 of your center with it, then the other half of your center, and rears with the reciever?

If its a Sunfire external amp, rated the same as the receivers amps, I dont see why the fronts would be imbalanced "sonically"...you would just have to turn down the trims on them to compensate for more power to get the volume the same? My Infinity Kappa center is bi-ampable as are my rears.

Its kindof a mess. I'll let ya all know what Sunfire says directly when I talk to them about it.
 

Bronze Member
Username: Davidr

Calgary, Alberta Canada

Post Number: 11
Registered: Oct-04
You must be excited. I am jealous. It should sound amazing whatever happens. Let us know how you like it once it's all set up (that is after you can pry yourself away from it)
 

New member
Username: Atomheart

Denver, CO USA

Post Number: 8
Registered: Oct-04
Well...the results are in. It sounds simply: brilliant.

I couldn't possibly be happier with the sound. My neighbors must agree with my assessment on sound quality and my selections of test music, cuz no police showed up.

GONE is the problem of lacking bass. GONE.
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