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Not happy with Cambridge 540A - what next?

 

New member
Username: Alanmack

Post Number: 1
Registered: Apr-05
I'm looking for an amp to replace an old Sherwood AI-1100 which I have been using with a Cambridge 640C CD player and very small Monitor Audio speakers.

I've been trying the Cambridge 540A on my system but I find this combination quite lacking in weight/vibe at the lower end of the spectrum - too much treble yet with with no real punch there either.

I'm looking for suggestions as to what amp to try next - the NAD320BEE or Rotel RA-02 or Marantz PM4400 look like the contenders.

I guess the Sherwood being a cheap unit tends to add a bit of low-fi "loudness" to the lower parts of the spectrum which I quite like so I wonder will one of the contenders make me happier or am I always going to be a little disappointed with better units?

Thanks

Alan
 

New member
Username: Alanmack

Post Number: 2
Registered: Apr-05
I should just add to my original post that my real problem is getting an amplifier that gives a bit of a boost to my small speakers at the lower end of the spectrum
 

Silver Member
Username: Sun_king

Leeds, West Yorkshire UK

Post Number: 204
Registered: Mar-04
Do you listen at low volumes? With small speakers and low volumes you're always going to be searching for bass. I'd suggest sticking with the 'loudness button' cheaper amps before you end up spending more and more upgrading through the 'proper hifi' ranks. That is unless you want to get some new speakers.....
 

New member
Username: Alanmack

Post Number: 3
Registered: Apr-05
Compared to the Azur 540A I find the old Sherwood reasonably OK at fairly low levels with even with its loudness button off!!!!

But I've just dug some filthy, bigger speakers out of the garage and tried them with the Azur. There's more bass but it still has the same lack of impact I described above. I don't know exactly how to describe it but the Azur seems to give a slightly distant, haunted sound.

I think I want more in my face impact - a closer more dynamic sound. I always find it difficult to interpret reviews but I wonder whether the NAD might be better for me or the Rotel? If not maybe the Marantz PM4400 which seems to be more a loudness button machine?
 

nout
Unregistered guest
I agree with Sun King...although Denon could be a likely candidate and their amps aren't "cheap". Denon's bass is generally round and fat and all Denon amps have a loudness switch.
Were are you from? I know that in the US there isn't much choice: the US website only displays one type: the PMA 2000 MK IV, which is rather expensive. But you can find older types, used obviously, like the PMA-525R, which has a Loudness switch or the PMA 255 UK, a great amp, but (not surprisingly) a UK model.

It gets better: for the amount of money of a new NAD C320BEE you can easily buy a used Denon PMA 1500R (good phono input and very well build) or PMA 1055R, both sound really warm with an emphasise on the lower registers. A big meaty bass (and a loudness switch...)
 

New member
Username: Alanmack

Post Number: 4
Registered: Apr-05
Thanks for the Denon suggestion - I'm from the UK. How do Marantz or Yamaha compare with the Denon sound?

Thanks

Alan

 

Silver Member
Username: Sun_king

Leeds, West Yorkshire UK

Post Number: 206
Registered: Mar-04
Marantz have a deep, pronounced bass but again you'll find more bass with an amp with 'loudness'. The cheaper amps tend to give the customer what he wants, ie more bass. The more expensive hifi amps aim to give the consumer just what's on the cd or other source with no embellishments. Maybe you're just used to the non-hifi sound? The Marantz PM7200 has good bass and their lower, cheaper models also have a loudness switch - as do Yamaha. I don't like the Yamaha sound though. Buy an amp at Richer Sounds in the UK and you have 14 days to exchange it for something else OR get your money back. Can't go wrong with that deal, plus they're one of the cheapest dealers too.
 

nout
Unregistered guest
How do Marantz or Yamaha compare with the Denon sound?

Both (Marantz and Denon) have a meaty, full blooded bass. The Denon has a big bump in the upper bass, kinda like a loudness already built in, where Marantz bass tends to go deeper, as Sun King already mentioned.
Also Denon, the PMA 1500 especially, plays music a bit larger than life (huge voices, giant sized instruments - I exaggerate a bit). The Marantz is more accurate and natural when it comes to imaging and is also a lot more refined.

If you can find the money for Denon's PMA 1500R successor, the PMA 1500 MK II, you'll get a holographic and organic sound.

Yamaha is a bit on the bright side of neutral, a rather too agressive treble for my taste.
 

New member
Username: Alanmack

Post Number: 5
Registered: Apr-05
Thanks for the detailed info. It's all been very useful - I'll have a good listen to lots of stuff this weekend. I've just one other question - the range of amps you both suggested have quite a big range of power outputs. I usually only listen at moderate neighbour-friendly levels, sometimes a little more but never deafningly loud. My old Sherwood (nominally 50W/8ohms and so there must be a huge overhead in unused power) takes everything in its stride. Would I find any differences at moderate volume levels if I went down to say 30W with less overhead or if I went up to too big an amp (which might not quite get into its stride at lower levels)?

From what I read quoted power output is an unreliable measure. Incidentally I notice the PM7200 has some kind of quiet "class A" mode - is this useful?

Thanks again for any info

Alan
 

nout
Unregistered guest
Firt of all: keep Sun King's advice in mind: a cheap amp with loudness switch can do the trick.

That said, the Denons and Marantz's handle low levels very well. Maybe the Marantz PM 7000, the model that came before PM 7200 doesn't like to play at lower listening levels, I read this in two reviews (TNT Audio and Hifi Choice) although this wasn't my experience with this amp.

I own the PM 7200 myself and listen at night very often, so I too have to keep the volume pretty low, but its sound stays pretty dynamic, detailed and with enough bass (to my ears ofcourse)

And PM 7200's class a switch can help to open-up the soundstage even more...it can, I never heard a difference between its class a and ab mode...some people do.
 

Silver Member
Username: Sun_king

Leeds, West Yorkshire UK

Post Number: 207
Registered: Mar-04
Power doesn't necessarily equate to volume, nor do you only need to choose big power if you have particularly power hungry speakers - power equals a deep, healthy and controlled sound also. You can't have too much really and it's worth bearing in mind that during a typical listening session at moderate volume, your amp will only be putting out around one watt of power. So even a 30w amp could be considered overkill! So if you like the sound of an amp, buy it regardless of the power output. So long as it has enough power to drive your speakers! If they are moderately sensitive then basically any amp will be able to drive them. You raise a fair point about an amp maybe not getting into its stride unless cranked but I think that applies to most modern amps regardless of their power. Plus at lower volumes the human ear finds it hard to hear bass frequencies - that's why the loudness circuit was incorporated in the first place, to raise the bass frequencies when the hifi is being played at low volumes. Of course lots of people leave that switch depressed all the time but it was originally designed for quiet listening - hence the designation "loudness." As for the Marantz class A switch, I'm with Nout on this. It makes no difference to these ears but supposedly sounds "sweeter" according to some reviewers.
 

Silver Member
Username: Sun_king

Leeds, West Yorkshire UK

Post Number: 208
Registered: Mar-04
The loudness switch doesn't feature on "proper hifi" amps as it is considered a colouration of the sound, an embellishment and therefore goes against the audiophile grain so to speak although in fairness there is a sound argument for its inclusion at low listening levels. Decide whether you want a good, full sound at low levels or an excellent sound at moderate to higher levels - then purchase accordingly. That's the advice I'd give you.
 

Silver Member
Username: Sun_king

Leeds, West Yorkshire UK

Post Number: 209
Registered: Mar-04
The more expensive amps definitely need good speakers for them to sound at their best but the cheaper amps can boost the performance of less able speakers, particularly in the bass department. I'd also include this fact in your equation. Sorry for the three separate postings, I'm not aware of being able to edit comments once you've posted them so was unable to add to my original text!
 

New member
Username: Alanmack

Post Number: 6
Registered: Apr-05
Thanks for all the great info so far. I will have a long listen this weekend. In the meantime I took my Azur 540A round to a friend who has the Rotel RA-02. Wow what a difference in - the Rotel sound is practically in your face, the Azur very set back. In fact I'm now starting to wonder whether this is actually the more critical issue for me than Bass as such. But I guess the Rotel will be too harsh for my speakers/room. I guess I need something a little further back, but forward of centre if you see what I mean. So in addition to difference in tonal qualities how would you rate the forwardness of the various makes. From what i've read the NAD is somewhere in between Rotel and Cambridge. Is this right? Where are Marantz and Denon - slightly further back and forward of the centre respectively??

Thanks

Alan
 

Silver Member
Username: Sun_king

Leeds, West Yorkshire UK

Post Number: 211
Registered: Mar-04
Nad are warm, so are Cambridge - by warm I mean laid back and relaxed. The Nad amps have more bass punch though. Marantz is fairly warm in my experience, certainly the PM7200. It isn't Nad/Cambridge warm but it's the relaxed side of neutral in my opinion and quite possibly your best bet unless you plump for a Denon with loudness control. I've found a lot of Denon amps to sound a little muddy but they certainly aren't bright or in your face. I prefer warm amps, you can listen for hours and it is unfatiguing. They aren't quite as impressive in a 10 minute demo but over the course of an evening you'll be happier. I'd say test the Nad, Marantz and Denon amps - you should most certainly find what you're looking for amongst those. Maybe worth giving the Cambridge Azur 640A a shot too, you might just like it. Make a point of listening through small speakers and if possible take your own down to the shop. You want an amp that sounds good with your kit! That's the good thing about Richer Sounds; you could buy an amp from them, take it home and try it. If not happy you've got 14 days to take it back and swap it for something else! Try that and do the same again if necessary.
 

nout
Unregistered guest
the Rotel sound is practically in your face

I agree. Too much for my liking.

To my ears Denon is a touch more upfront than Marantz, but less than Rotel.
Marantz (PM 7200) and NAD (C352) do not differ that much, they both aren't really upfront, but they are very open and detailed though. The Marantz has a tiny bit more presence, is slightly more open than NAD...and (surprisingly) smoother too. NAD has better dynamics.
 

New member
Username: Alanmack

Post Number: 7
Registered: Apr-05
Well thanks nout and Sunking for all your advice. Today I went to various shops for a good listen and took home a Marantz from Richer Sounds in Edinburgh.

Let me say that I prefer the Marantz to the Azur 540A sound. I'm definitely going in the right direction but I'm not quite sure I'm there yet. I still feel I would like slightly less soundstage and a slightly more forward sound.

I listened to some various combinations of CDs and amps on speakers but mainly with headphones.

Two combinations that struck me

1) RA-01 amp + NAD 521BEE CD
Excellent. The smoothness of the CD player really gives a nice sound with the Rotel, no harshness at all. But I find the NAD sort of slightly pinpoints the vocalist and with a strange vocal colour compared to other makes. If it wasn't for that reservation I would have gone for this combo straight away.

2) Marantz + Denon Cd player (685 I think). Whereas I wasn't too keen on the Denon amp (as you suggested very sluggish in the bass) I thought here the Denon "loudness" in the source you mentioned worked actually quite well here with the Marantz. I listened to some slightly harsh recordings and they were great.

So any opinions - I guess Denon CD players are not as highly rated. What do you feel about the vocal placement with NAD? Is it common to all their equipment? (It seemed that the NAD amp also had tightly focussed vocals).

Alan
 

nout
Unregistered guest
What do you mean by pinpoint the vocalist? And how is the vocal coloured; dark, bright or grainy?

Obviously you like the Rotel amp very much, so you could try the Denon cd player with it or a Rotel cd player: the highly praised RCD-02.
 

New member
Username: Alanmack

Post Number: 8
Registered: Apr-05
Well by pinpoint I think I mean clearly separate the vocals from the instrumental parts possibly to the extent that they seem too far separated.

The NAD has extremely good and rock steady separation of the soloists in loud choral works (this I quite like - the words are unbelievably clear).

But I listened to some Tim Buckley and I found that his voice almost seemed to have become detached from everything else.

In Tim Buckley's case the colour of the vocal line was darker than with the other CD players. I have to say that possibly this was partly the Rotel doing as well.

Possibly the darkening of the vocal sound in comparison to is what made it seem more disconnected.

I tried the Denon CD + Rotel but this was possibly slightly too harsh in poorer recordings.

By the way, and I don't know how worried I should be!!!!!!!, but the Marantz amp has a slightly overheating electrical type smell coming from the inside!! (Actually this was there before I switched it on).

 

Silver Member
Username: Sun_king

Leeds, West Yorkshire UK

Post Number: 215
Registered: Mar-04
The Marantz PM7200 gets hot, no doubt about it. Don't worry, if it's new then all the components will be new and will give off a slight electrical 'heat' smell for several hours. In class A it gets so hot you could fry an egg (not really but you catch my drift) but again, don't worry. Why do you think it's so big? Let some air circulate in that big box! Each amp you try will have its own character and way it presents the music. All I can suggest is try some more, it's your own ears that can decide. Have you tried the Rotel amp with either a Rotel or Marantz cd player? Might be an option worth trying.
 

demonjon
Unregistered guest
Dude, take heed - whilst there are still some available, buy the musical fidelity x-80 - they are selling brand new on ebay for 229 quid!!

This is a £600 rrp amp - and a bl**dy good one at 600!

I bought one to replace a c320bee which to my ears was too laid back, very boring with rock music. the x-80 is fabulous! really dynamic, great attack and impact with the right music.. but also beautifully detailed with softer stuff. The soundstage is lovely and vocals sound superb.. much better than the nad.. and i'm talking tim buckley.. live in london 1968 is heavenly, his voice deserves kit this good :-)

you won't ever see a bargain like this again, and although you won't be able to demo it.. trust me - you will be floored.
 

nout
Unregistered guest
By the way, and I don't know how worried I should be!!!!!!!, but the Marantz amp has a slightly overheating electrical type smell coming from the inside!! (Actually this was there before I switched it on).

Yes, when I got my Marantz amp it smelled weird, the smell is gone now and the warmth isn't anything to worry about, make sure you have enough room.

I cannot help you with the cd player question, from what I've heard the NAD C542 is more detailed than C520BEE, so the voice is likely to be even more pinpoint.
You can try the C520BEE with the Marantz amp?
Just listen to more cd players, Marantz CD 7300 for instance or Rotel RCD-02
 

New member
Username: Mrtorture

Montreal, QC Canada

Post Number: 1
Registered: Apr-05
Hi! My name is Dan. I'm looking for a new amplifier and I was looking for the Cambridge Azur 540a . I have 2 pairs of speakers which are The Wharfedale Diamond 7.2 and some Dynaudio 80. Is the Cambridge Azur 540a is a good choice and if so, which speaker set should I use with it? Thanks everybody....
 

Bronze Member
Username: Audioholic

Post Number: 41
Registered: Apr-05
Alan, I think what your hearing is simply the old Sherwood is a vastly better amp with your speakers. The loudness button is something that should never be used, as well as tone controls. They are basically of low quality, high distortion.
Sunking.....I have a system that has no loudness, no balance and no tone controls coupled to pretty small monitors and the sound is supreme at low volumes. In fact, it's vastly superior to my previous large woofer speaker system. So it IS possible to do low volume with small speakers and be happy.
Alan, keep looking at amps.....i'm sure you'll find one that fits your needs.
 

Silver Member
Username: Gavincumm

Post Number: 225
Registered: Feb-05
what you are hearing is the speakers finally being able to image as they were meant to do!

with a cheap amp like the sherwood, they are held back and restrained. Throw something in there like rotel, and you can hear the difference for yourself.

You are SUPPOSED to be able to hear the singer in the middle of the speakers, detatched from everything else, depending on how the album was recorded. That is part of the soundstage.

Enjoy the world of high performance sound reproduction :-)
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