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post #1 of 19 Old 09-30-2012, 09:38 PM - Thread Starter
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I want to buy a system to listen to mp3 and compact discs. I don't really want or need a surround sound system but do most people use one system for both? I have a budget of maybe 2-3k. Lastly, do you believe that the best sound can be generated from headphones as opposed to speakers? I have several higher end headphones but I always believed that the best sound came directly from speakers. Maybe someone can elaborate. Thanks.
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post #2 of 19 Old 10-01-2012, 09:13 AM
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If you want the best sounding music possible you might want to rethink using MP3. Flac files are much better - they are lossless and contain the same information the original CD they were created from do. There are many ways to stream Flac files. I use an HTPC streaming over coax. You can use a laptop - and there are many other options for streaming by wire and wireless. I do stream some MP3 music but usually only 312kbps stuff.

You could set up a surround system to also play stereo. I do this using a stereo preamp that has home theater bypass - in normal mode the stereo preamp drives my 2 channel amp and the HT processor is not even on. If I want to watch a movie I turn on the other amp (three channel) and the HT processor and put the stereo preamp in HT bypass and I have a 5.1 system. They share the same main left/right speakers which are full range speakers and don't require a sub to be on in stereo mode. For HT I sometimes turn on all four subs.

Obviously it cost more to set up something like what I have than it does for a stereo only system. And if I were to have spent all my money on a dedicated 2 channel setup it'd be quite awesome. A decent preamp - amp - set of speakers - and a good cd player is all you need for a nice stereo system. Add a computer for Flac files if you like - and I'd add a DAC since most computer DACs aren't all that good. I find myself using the stereo only at least 95% of the time. Which leaves me wondering why I even need the other parts...

As for headphones - I don't even own a pair.

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post #3 of 19 Old 10-01-2012, 12:24 PM
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Originally Posted by johnstac View Post

I want to buy a system to listen to mp3 and compact discs. I don't really want or need a surround sound system but do most people use one system for both? I have a budget of maybe 2-3k. Lastly, do you believe that the best sound can be generated from headphones as opposed to speakers? I have several higher end headphones but I always believed that the best sound came directly from speakers. Maybe someone can elaborate. Thanks.

I second the FLAC recommendation. MP3 and other lossy formats don't all sound "bad," but you'll definitely be able to tell the difference between lossy and lossless on a systems far cheaper than $2K. If you have music that's below itunes quality (256kbps AAC), I would budget for upgrading some or all of that music to CD. The difference between CD and AAC is tougher to hear once you get to itunes quality, so do some comparisons between a CD and its itunes equivalent to see if you think it is worth replacing with the CD, but I suspect you'll find that CD quality music sounds better on a $2000-2500 system than itunes files sound on a $3000 system. If that's the case, spend that $500-1000 on CDs.

There are plenty of home theater receivers that also output high-quality stereo music, but if you're not planning on using multichannel, you will get much better performance from a 2.0 receiver for less money. Put the money you save toward better speakers, especially if you have a big space to fill.

Headphones aren't better or worse than speakers, just different. At your budget, I suspect you'll probably get "better" sound for from a headphone-only setup, since you need less power to drive them and you don't have to worry about the room dynamics. The obvious tradeoff with headphones is mobility and the ability to listen with other people, though, so how you plan to listen to your music is as big a consideration as how "good" it sounds.

Enjoy the music!

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post #4 of 19 Old 10-01-2012, 01:09 PM
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I have several higher end headphones but I always believed that the best sound came directly from speakers. Maybe someone can elaborate. Thanks.
Headphones reproduce sound free from room interactions, therefore less critical to set up. The convenience of speakers is you don't have to wear the damn things all the time you are listening.

When it comes to amplifiers, I use an ART four output headphone amp that is very quiet and reproduces sound excellently for about 70$.
I use Klipsch in ear monitors., about 90 - 100$.

If you go the speaker route - I found used speakers worthwhile listening to, and at present enjoy a Klipsch Heresey that sells on ebay for about 200 - 300$ used.
As to amplifiers - no need to spend more than a few hundred $ at the most. All you likely need - guessing here not knowing your room size - will be in the 50 - 70 W range.
I had good luck with used and vintage stuff.

Flac is unfortunately not a format supported by most online sellers, you often have only MP3 available or have to use Apple losless.
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post #5 of 19 Old 10-01-2012, 01:26 PM
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If you've got MP3s already, converting them to FLAC or anything else will not make them sound better. And if you're buying them today, you're probably buying 256 kbps files, which you would be hard-pressed to tell from FLAC or WAV or anything uncompressed. I'd put those concerns aside for awhile.

I'd also dispute the notion that there's something sub-optimal about listening to stereo on a multichannel system, or using a multichannel receiver. Yes, concentrating your budget on two speakers or a 2.1 system will get you better speakers, and if this system is really just for music I'd recommend going that way. But there are still a few advantages to using a multichannel receiver.

I think you want someone to tell you that the right kind of system to get is X. But there's no single answer to what X is. The question is, what kind of a system do you want?

If you can't explain how it works, you can't say it doesn't.—The High-End Creed

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post #6 of 19 Old 10-01-2012, 01:38 PM
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But there are still a few advantages to using a multichannel receiver.


For two channel music?

I listen in ambiophonics mode, no need for anything beyond 2.1.
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post #7 of 19 Old 10-01-2012, 01:47 PM
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For two channel music?
1. Bass management.
2. Room correction.

If you can't explain how it works, you can't say it doesn't.—The High-End Creed

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post #8 of 19 Old 10-02-2012, 02:42 AM
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I'd second the AVR route. With your budget spend 75-80 percent on speakers. Then pick up a good avr for around 500. Middle of the road denon can be had for about 400-500 depending upon discount you can find on-line.

Yes, bass managment and room correction are two pluses. When using my denon with paradigm studio speakers I noted that room correction (audyssey) took a slight edge off the system. I was glad I used it. In addition the recievers come with airplay which will stream mp3 files from i-tunes or even play them from usb drive (or usb hdd). I bought new speakers I expect in soon and I'm researching integrated amps, but I doubt I'll pull the trigger as it would cost me a lot of gear to replace the basic functionality I've got with an AVR. (I could use my 3311ci preouts and an amp, but there is really no need.)
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post #9 of 19 Old 10-02-2012, 07:02 AM
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Originally Posted by glangford View Post

I'd second the AVR route. With your budget spend 75-80 percent on speakers. Then pick up a good avr for around 500. Middle of the road denon can be had for about 400-500 depending upon discount you can find on-line.
Yes, bass managment and room correction are two pluses. When using my denon with paradigm studio speakers I noted that room correction (audyssey) took a slight edge off the system. I was glad I used it. In addition the recievers come with airplay which will stream mp3 files from i-tunes or even play them from usb drive (or usb hdd). I bought new speakers I expect in soon and I'm researching integrated amps, but I doubt I'll pull the trigger as it would cost me a lot of gear to replace the basic functionality I've got with an AVR. (I could use my 3311ci preouts and an amp, but there is really no need.)

This is good advice - AVRs do have some very nice audio features not found on many stereo receivers, such as airplay and room correction. My preference would probably still be a stereo receiver with better performance and fewer bells and whistles, but the above posters are right that AVRs in your price range perform very well as stereo receivers.

One caveat: if you're planning on running the system as audio only, make sure the AVR doesn't require a TV for the advanced settings. If so, one option is to get a small monitor with HDMI as part of the system so you can use it for any onscreen display features. That also allows you to use an appleTV and other devices that can stream music but that require a display to operate.

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post #10 of 19 Old 10-03-2012, 02:26 AM
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Originally Posted by JD NC View Post


One caveat: if you're planning on running the system as audio only, make sure the AVR doesn't require a TV for the advanced settings. If so, one option is to get a small monitor with HDMI as part of the system so you can use it for any onscreen display features. That also allows you to use an appleTV and other devices that can stream music but that require a display to operate.

I generally can operate my denon without using the monitor. You'd probably want a monitor on for setup but after that you'd be good to go, although I couild do it without. I can navigate flac files on usb with ease and change basic settings without the need for a monitor.
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post #11 of 19 Old 06-05-2013, 12:11 AM - Thread Starter
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It has been some time since I first asked for help and wanted to share some more info in hopes of getting more specifics. In response to one poster, I am actually seeking specific advice on what to buy simply because I don't have enough knowledge to know what would sound best in my specific situation. So, a little bit more about the area that I want to use.

I have an office that is 11x11. Currently the only audio have I have in the room is my PC running a Soundblaster X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty with M-Audio Bx5a speakers. So I will literally be setting this up from scratch and don't really plan on using my computer as part of the sytem. That is, unless you guys have any experience and can tell me that it will work in producing good sound. I think I remember one person telling me some time ago that I could connect an amp through the computer. I don't know if this is the way to go or not. I really am a complete newb when it comes to audio. Typically I just like it loud but I know that doesn't always mean better. So here are the facts:

I have no acoustic treatment yet. I realize that I could start fixing that now, but I just wanted to get some equipment first.
I mainly listen to classic rock and some easy listening
Budget is still around 2-3k
Should I purchase the speakers first? Will that help me determine what type of receiver/amp to purchase?
Should I be looking at an AV receiver even though I don't plan on using video? I ask because I read that the AV receivers have the room correction ability that may be needed with a room this small and that may not be available in a standard audio receiver. Thoughts?
At this point I don't believe I will ever use the equipment for video. Only audio.
Based on some advice I have recently bought most of my mp3 on CD and then used apple lossless. I also still have some Amazon and Itunes purchased music

With a room this small, I'm not sure if that works to my benefit or not. Does room size affect sound quality? I could possibly use my master bedroom but the wife may not go for the treatments. I would really like some suggestions on a receiver, an amp if necessary, and speakers. At this point I don't even know how to get my music from iTunes to my future sound system. As I said, total newb.

Thanks for any help.
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post #12 of 19 Old 06-06-2013, 07:06 PM - Thread Starter
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bump. still hopeful that someone has time to help.
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post #13 of 19 Old 06-07-2013, 02:46 AM
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Are you planning to set this system up in your office? I'm not quite sure I see the point. Your source is iTunes or ripped/purchased music in mp3 or flac (or alac) and you already have nice speakers. What are you hoping to accomplish with receiver and speakers and removing the computer from the solution? At best, you could shop for higher quality active monitors for incremental improvement and start looking into room treatment but you really don't need another system. If you want one that's a different story, but your computer will be an important part of the system regardless.

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post #14 of 19 Old 06-07-2013, 05:49 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by johnstac View Post

I want to buy a system to listen to mp3 and compact discs. I don't really want or need a surround sound system but do most people use one system for both?

I think so. A good starting point is a 5.1 AVR, configured for as many speakers as you want to use. 2.1 speakers make a very good system for playing 2 channel recordings.
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I have a budget of maybe 2-3k.

You can do a lot with that kind of a budget.
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Lastly, do you believe that the best sound can be generated from headphones as opposed to speakers? I have several higher end headphones but I always believed that the best sound came directly from speakers. Maybe someone can elaborate. Thanks.

I listen with both. To me the main benefit of headphones is privacy or more properly the ability to listen by yourself without bothering others in the house. They can provide higher intelligibility and detail. If you live with others who can appreciate a shared listening experience, then speakers still make a lot of sense. Headphones can be somewhat deficient in the tactile experience of listening to bass.
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post #15 of 19 Old 06-07-2013, 02:03 PM
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So your goal is to have better sound in your office with a 2 channel integrated/receiver (with better speakers) getting music from itunes from your computer?
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post #16 of 19 Old 06-07-2013, 06:39 PM - Thread Starter
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Thanks for the replies. First about using the computer in the sound system. This was just my ignorance but I thought a computer was a computer and not used for true high fidelity. I will likely use my office space which like I said, measures 11x11. While I do use the computer now together with the speakers I mentioned, I though I could do so much better? Is this really as good as it gets? I'm not complaining about the speakers. They are fairly new and replacements for a pair of smaller M-Audio that I was using before. I do notice thought that I get some distortion at higher volumes. I thought with better equipment I could achieve audio nirvana...lol. I guess at this point I'm not equipped to assess my audio needs with no treatment of the room. Maybe that distortion is something else.

So my computer is custom built and higher end so it would be great if I can incorporate it as well. Will I notice any difference with better speakers? For an 11x11 room, maybe I don't even need an amp or whatever. That is what I was hoping to get suggestions on from you guys.

Yes, the goal is 2 channel audio and if I can use the computer to do something please share how. Thanks.
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post #17 of 19 Old 06-08-2013, 05:25 AM
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The computer as a part of the system doesn't mean the quality will be low. This is predicated first on the source content, which begs to be analyzed in your situation based on the comments above. Any fairly decent sound card or onboard sound should suffice with a good pair of speakers to provide you with quality audio. While your Creative sound card is designed for gaming it's a quality component. There are now cards specific to music but they will [probably] make no difference.
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if I can use the computer to do something please share how

I think you already know this, but the computer will be the source of all your digital content. Your existing MP3s and ripped CD's (download and purchase dbpoweramp and rip everything to FLAC - or ALAC if you're an iDude) will be stored and served from the PC, as well as any of your favorite online subscription services (Pandora, Spotify, etc.). Whether you stay with powered speakers or migrate to a receiver and passive speakers, the computer will still play its part.

I might recommend starting off by locating a nearby Guitar Center and listening to a few pairs of powered monitors. If you hear something you like then buy them and keep the computer as the heart of your system. If nothing wows you, then start to audition passive speakers in your price range. I recommend being very critical in your passive speaker quest, as speakers sitting 3 feet from your ears, regardless how they sound from 8' away have the potential of driving you mad in no time at all.

As Arny said, you've got a heck of a budget, and with it a lot of choices. Auditioning is lots of fun, I'm envious! OK not really, I'm done for awhile. wink.gif

Edit: As an afterthought, what kind of music do you listen to? Many monitors are deficient in the bass department, without looking I'm guessing you aren't getting much lower than 70Hz with the M-Audio speakers. Could this be the cause for your perceived mediocrity? To some people and some genres subwoofers make a big difference.

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post #18 of 19 Old 06-13-2013, 09:16 PM - Thread Starter
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I listen to a wide variety of music but mostly I would say 70's classic rock, some 80's pop, and even some disco (but don't hate me for that!) I do like bass but not the kind of bass that is annoying. Like the guy who pulls up next to me in his car listening to rap. I like bass but only in its original form. I have never in 48 years went and listened to speakers at a store. Aside from my younger days of course when I was shopping for car stereos. I don't know the difference in sound when it comes to powered or passive speakers. I know what they are technically but not sure I would know the difference if I heard them. It seems to me that powered speakers would have more white noise just by their nature but I could even be wrong about that. As you mentioned, it may be difficult to determine what sounds good in a sound room at a store versus sitting at a desk with the speakers just 2 feet from my ears. In my my office my left speaker is literally less than 3 feet away and the right one is about 5 feet away.

So can I just ask then about the speakers I already own. What is your opinion of these:

http://www.m-audio.com/index.php?do=products.main&ID=d727dd8039249d22237dd18c45cf9c87

Can I expect to have any better sound quality for 2-3K? Would the difference be marginal? I guess that would be very difficult since you guys would actually probably have to hear the speakers with my audio card etc. I think part of the issue is that I need to treat the room. I could also use some advice on this as well. I need a good company that offers good looking panels that my wife would approve of and that wouldn't make it look like a sound studio. I just don't have that much freedom on a downstairs room of this house.

Thanks again to all who have replied.
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post #19 of 19 Old 06-14-2013, 07:05 PM
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Check out Mackie Powered monitors and a USB dac. You'll be set.
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