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tmclssns 03-13-2013 06:47 AM

Beforehand, my excuses if this is going to be a long (perhaps difficult) read. English is not my native language and I have tons of questions, thoughts, ideas. I'm writing down "our story" in detail as to better inform any readers about our road so far and to better understand what we want.

Current setup
A few years ago we moved in our new house. I wanted to upgrade our PC-speaker 2.1 "audio system" to something better. One day we stumbled upon a "nice" set. Harman Kardon AVR-142 and a 5.1 set of JBL speakers (SCS200.5)

Satellites: max recommend amp 100 watts. 50 watt continuous handling / 160 watt peak. 8 ohm. Sensitivity y 86dB @ 1 Watt/1 meter.
Woofer: 8" 100 watt RMS

For the love of music
About a year ago I somehow started to develop an interest in "accurate sound reproduction". I discovered FLAC, SA-CD, etc. I never thought there was a problem with the "sound" our current system was producing because honestly, I didn't know any better. My interest kept on growing and one day I walked into a high-end audio store in Antwerp. That's when it all started coming together. I sat down in a comfortable sofa, with in front of me a gold amplifier and CD player (Accuphase). Left and right accompanied by some very weird but beautiful looking speakers (Martin Logan Theos ESLs)

I was blown away. I listened to a live recording of "The Eagles" and to the soundtrack of "The Gladiator". It started to appear for me, this is how audio should sound. While I have the same albums in FLAC, I was never particularly touched by it. I went home, told my wife about it and we went back on a Sunday for another listening session. She was almost moved to tears by the performance of this setup. Afterwards again however if we heard the price of both the Accuphase amplifier, CD player and the speakers.

It's all about the speakers
Luckily for us the salesman told us that Martin Logan has a smaller set, the ElectroMotion ESL which uses the same technology. They connected these speakers up to a Naim SuperUniti 2 and boy, did it sound good. So we went home, discussed a little bit and went back with our Harman/Kardon AVR, which in theory, was able to drive the ElectroMotions. We connected everything up, used the same source material as we would use at home, powered up everything, sat down and... it was disappointing.

It sounded compressed, there was no stage in front of us, there was no "3d"-feeling and worse the music no longer conveyed emotion. Obviously the AVR was the culprit here. But we were still convinced the electrostatic speakers from Martin Logan were the way to go! So I started looking for AVRs that could handle these speakers. Rated at 6 ohm, needing a 20-300 watt amp. I quickly found some AVRs that could provide the necessary power however apparently at 20kHz, these bad boys drop to 1.6 ohm - something most AVRs, even standard amps, struggle with.

During my research for an AVR that could handle the low impedance's I also came across articles that shed some light on the electrostatic speakers. Since they're charged, they attract (a lot of) dust. That's not really that bad but since the membrane moves back and forth and the front/rear is open, it moves particles in both directions. If you place these speakers close to a wall, you might actually "project" dirt to the wall directly behind these speakers and since the particles are charged, they're hard to remove and you're left with dirty walls.

Another issue seems to be the sweet spot. Even though Martin Logan claims they "fixed" the sweet spot listening position by curving the panels, they still have a very small sweet spot. I've read reports that even moving 2-3 metres away has a dramatic impact in audio quality. The misses was not amused hearing that we would pay 3000 euro's for two speakers and not being able to enjoy them in the living room as well as in the kitchen (which are directly next to each other without any wall in between)

Everything becomes uncertain
Knowing that, everything became a question mark again. Which speakers do we buy to upgrade our system? Which AVR?

I know you've read this a hundred times already but we want to have one integrated system. Not meaning that separates are not an option but we don't want a separate setup for watching movies and another one for listening to music. So the final setup should be able to do both.

What we wish for
  • High-quality audio playback (premium hi-fi, close to high-end without actually being high end, in price)
  • DLNA streaming support (since our music is stored on a NAS, Lossless FLAC - 44.100, 16-bit, own rips with EAC)
  • Controllable with iOS / Android app (requested by my wife)
  • Support for current video formats and preferable future-proof (4k for instance)
  • Front L/R speakers will be floorstanding speakers, surround speakers are left in place (those of the JBL set) as well as woofer, for now

So while I was still convinced about the Martin Logans, I came up with the following setup:
  • Martin Logan ElectroMotion ESLs
  • Yamaha RX-A820 (used as pre-amp for front L/R)
  • Rotel RB1572 (as power amplifier)

This setup would've been a match for the Martin Logan speakers but then I read all the "bad" stuff about the Martin Logans and wasn't so sure about the speaker selection anymore. I also heard from a few people that Yamaha isn't really sounding musical. Meaning that there are other brands that put audio / musicality performance more in the foreground.

So based on that information I started looking at different setups.

Speaker options
  • KEF R700
  • B&W CM9

From a price point, there isn't that much of a difference. So I'll just have to visit an audio store and ask for a comparison between the two in a live demo session. I don't know if any of you have any recommendation / remarks about those two?

AVR options

With the Martin Logans possibly out of the way, I don't think a power amplifier is necessary.
  • Denon AVR3313
  • Marantz SR7007
  • Onkyo TX-NR818
  • Cambridge Audio Azur 551R + Cambridge Audio Stream Magic 6 (for streaming/network play, as the AVR doesn't support it)

The Cambridge Audio is the only AVR without 4k support. I know 4k sources are not widely available yet. However a few years ago HD content in 1080 was uncommon. A few years later and it's a standard. So I don't want to buy an AVR now without 4k support, only to have a 4k capable TV within 4 years and source material, without an AVR to play it. This by definition doesn't rule out the Cambridge Audio as an option, but only if you guys are convinced 4k isn't something for the near future.

The Marantz and Onkyo are placed, together with Cambridge Audio and NAD, above Yamaha, Denon, etc. by most people I talked to. Both have an app to control the streaming and as far as I know, both have somewhat the same capabilities and are about the same price.

The downside however is that I haven't found a shop here in Belgium that has both products in stock and can provide me a listening session to compare both products side by side. So I can't judge if they actually sound different. So any recommendation on that is appreciated. Why would you buy the Onkyo or Marantz over the other?

As noted above, we would replace our current AVR and front L/R speakers only at this time and leave everything else in place (that is center, sat. L/R and sub woofer). Both KEF and B&W have surround, center channel and woofers to complete the system but that's something for the future (financially).

Thanks for your attention. I know it was a long post. Any advice is welcome.

Selden Ball 03-13-2013 08:52 AM

In addition to speakers, the acoustics of the room also have a big impact on the quality of the sound you hear. Electronics are a distant third, although the room equalization software available in most modern receivers can make a significant improvement in the quality of the sound you hear.

In other words, if at all possible, you should listen to the speakers in your home to find out which you like best. You might ask about rentals or loaners.

Among the receivers you've listed, the Onkyo 818 has the best room equalization software (Audyssey MultEQ-XT32). The Denon and Marantz receivers have MultEQ-XT, while Cambridge provides only Audyssey 2EQ, which is seriously stripped down and includes no subwoofer equalization.

I hope these comments help a little.

tmclssns 03-14-2013 01:46 AM

Thanks for the reply Selden.

Another question I have is should I focus on "future proof" products or not? From what I've read for instance the Cambridge audio products are more focused around accurate sound reproduction but aren't really interested in a fully-loaded feature set or the latest technologies.

So from that perspective a Marantz SR7xxx receiver seems to be a better investment. You'd give in some on the music playback but win on the other end regarding features (streaming radio's, dlna, airplay and 4K)

However I've read that 4k isn't anywhere near ready. Broadcasting might not happen before 2020. Also it has merely an advantage over fullHD on 40-50" screens and now they're even talking about 8k already. So my guess is that this whole "4k passthrough/upscaling" might as well be a sales hype to make you feel that you need a newer system that has the latest technology.

From price point perspective, the Marantz SR7007 + Kef R700 isn't that much more expensive than the Cambridge Audio Azur 651R, the Cambridge Audio Stream Magic 6 (so we have streaming, dlna, etc.) and the Kef R700. Benefit here is that two separates for AVR / streaming are probably better than an integrated unit.

The only thing the Cambridge Audio setup is missing, is 4K - but if that is a non-issue for the coming ten years, for the 200 euro/dollars it's more expensive, you get a lot more "audiophile" sound experience in return.

Selden Ball 03-14-2013 01:34 PM

It depends on what you mean by "accurate".

Cambridge receivers provide the fewest digital processing options, so they make the fewest changes to the audio signals. However, since speakers and your room produce distorted sounds, and room equalization software like Audyssey is designed to counteract those distortions, audio which has not been processed can be less accurate than audio which has been properly processed.

People who've heard audio processed by Audyssey MultEQ XT32 claim that it's much more accurate than Audyssey MultEQ XT. At the moment, Onkyo's 818 is the least expensive unit providing XT32. The Integra 80.3 pre/pro, Denon's 4520 receiver and the Marantz 8801 pre/pro are quite a bit more expensive.

Future-proofing is almost impossible these days. Networked services in particular are constantly evolving, for example, which suggests that you use the least expensive device which provides access to the services you want, so upgrading is less painful. Many Blu-ray players are relatively inexpensive and there's plenty of competition in the network services they provide. (Sony's BD players seem to be the most cost effective in that regard just now.)

While 4K source material will be in short supply for a while, it should be available soon from both Sony and Red. Both companies claim they will be providing proprietary 4K file servers to the consumer market RealSoonNow. Of course, those devices will be very expensive.

4K projectors are already available (for about $25K U.S.) and people who have them have been happily using them with large projection screens. In some circumstances, especially with large screens,, 2K images projected at 4K can look better than when projected at 2K.

My opinion is that right now, if you have to ask how much a 4K device costs, you can't afford it. smile.gif I'd guess their prices will come down to a more reasonable level in about 5 years or so, by which time they'll be pushing 8K as the next big advance. In either case, though, they'll be selling to a very small fraction of the over-all video market. Most people are quite happy with standard resolution, and only purchase HD devices because that's all that is available. They don't frequent AVS, either.

traianescu 07-10-2013 12:36 AM

the pair marantz kef r sounds fine or the sound it is too dark/warm ? i thought to buy r500 & marantz sr7007.. or is it better pioneer with the amplification in class d?

Selden Ball 07-10-2013 08:00 AM

Personally, I'd get the Marantz receiver instead of the Pioneer. Audyssey room equalization seems to be somewhat better than Pioneer's proprietary MCACC room equalization. The improvement in sound provided by room equalization is far greater than the subtle differences between their amp designs.

traianescu 07-10-2013 08:50 AM

thank you! it is true, the amplification is better with Marantz, hdam and all the other things, better than denon anyway. Mcacc instead is a single point and do not EQ the subwoofer

Selden Ball 07-10-2013 10:58 AM

You might want to wait a couple of weeks. This year's 7000 model (SR7008) is expected to be available at the end of July. Of course, it'll be more expensive than the 7007, since resellers will be discounting their remaining stock of 7007s even more.

traianescu 07-11-2013 02:57 AM

yes, i read about the new series, but right now, online, the price of 7008 is exactly double than the marantz sr7007

Selden Ball 07-11-2013 12:52 PM

Remember that authorized dealers are only allowed to post list prices publicly. You have to call them to get the best pricing. Marantz will not honor the warranty if you purchase equipment from unauthorized dealers.

Tazishere 07-11-2013 01:21 PM

You really should consider separates considering the speakers you are using it with. If not, then get the top of the line receiver. I believe that would be the Cambridge Azur 751, Onkyo 5010, Pioneer Elite SC-79, Marantz sR-7007.
Consider a THX certified receiver or separates. That would ensure that they can drive the low impedance loads. Good luck in your search.

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