Proposed 2.0 PC Based Hi Fi on budget of around £500 - Alternative suggestions most welcome. - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 6 Old 05-04-2013, 07:30 AM - Thread Starter
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Hello everyone,

I have a large collection of mixed quality mp3s (although I'm just getting into Flacs and 96Khz files) which I used to be quite happy playing though a cheap set of Genius active speakers which I purchased for about £30 from Maplin about 5 years ago. After hearing my housemates new DAC, I decided it was about time I started pursuing some higher quality sounds. After reading around for the last week, this is what I've come up with. I would be most interested to hear other people's opinions regarding how the equipment might work together or what they would do differently for around the same money.

Speakers: Cambridge Audio S30 - £130 (which I will need to find some short (approx 6") preferable adjustable desk stands for)

http://www.whathifi.com/Review/Cambridge-Audio-S30/

(I also looked at Tannoy Mercury V1, JBL Control 1 Pro, Wharfedale Diamonds 10.1s) I really fancy the JBL Studio 530s but they are out of my league for the moment!

Amplifier: Temple Audio Bantam Gold £190 - After reading about T-Amps, I was attracted by their low power consumption, heat, efficiency and the sound that people say they make. I was originally looking at a Topping TP60 but after reading about the Bantam Gold, decided that it sounds like the one I should have. I would be interested if anyone knows of a D class that has more power than the Bantam Gold with a similiar level of sound quality and attention to detail in it's construction. Whilst looking at amps I also considered the Renkforce E-SA9, Yaquin VK2100 hybrid tube integrated and the Yamaha AS500 which is really beyond my budget and probably has a lot more functionality than I need any way since I only have one source.

http://www.tnt-audio.com/ampli/bantam_gold_e.html



DAC / pre amp: Aune T1 Tube 96Khz Dac (approx £130) - This seems a well regarded bit of kit and I have to admit, I'm attracted by the sexy exposed valve!

http://www.quartzacoustic.com/?product=aune-t1-24bit-usb-dac-tube-headphone-amp

1 set of short quality interconnects and decent USB lead for the DAC that dont cost the earth.

Thanks for reading, as I said before, I would love to hear any feedback/alternative suggestions for this proposed system.
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post #2 of 6 Old 05-05-2013, 12:55 AM - Thread Starter
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I realise now tht I should probably have posted this in 2 Channel Audio, but hello? anyone?
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post #3 of 6 Old 05-05-2013, 01:56 AM
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Speakers: The CA's look OK, but as the sound of speakers varies so much, you really should hear all possibilities and decide for yourself.
Amp: Unless you are stuck on it being tiny, just get a good second hand Yamaha integrated. Not much power for the money. Reading the datasheet for the chip that the power amp is based on, I do not believe it meets the specs posted on the manufacturer's website.
DAC: These are a generic commodity item these days so spending big oon one doesn't get you any more. As the DAC chip is voltage out, the tube is not necessary and is a cosmetic embellishment that will do nothing positive for the sound.
Cables: 5 quid is all you need to spend in total for the system - more than that and you are simply throwing money away.
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post #4 of 6 Old 05-05-2013, 02:03 AM
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Hey, this is cool. My first post, and there's someone dealing with exactly the same, uh, "problem" as I am.

I'm a hi-fi newb too so don't have any profound wisdom to impart, just the solutions I have arrived/am arriving at, and what I've done to get there. I have gotten some help from a friend of mine who's been into this stuff for a quite a bit longer, though, and have done some reading up.

Speakers: said friend of mine came across and recommended a used pair of Duntech PCL-10's in excellent condition that I ended up buying. I compared them against Wharfedale Diamond 7.2 Anniversaries, and I did like them better – although the Wharfedales sounded really good too, considering that they're a lot cheaper (about 100€, give or take, used).

Amp: I borrowed my friend's Topping TP60 and Chinese Maranz 7 copy tube pre-amp (with tubes swapped for a matched set he got off eBay), and compared that against a basic Onkyo A/V receiver I already owned. I'm sorry to say neither I nor any of the other people I listened with could hear any difference whatsoever between them, either with or without the pre-amp in the signal chain. They all sounded great.

I concluded that if the amp makes any difference (other than power, if it's too weak), it's too small to matter, and went looking for one with the features I want instead. The only tech "threshold" spec I set was output power – the recommendation for the Duntechs is 60 W minimum, so I decided to set a strong preference for that.

I also experimented with a few different placements for the speakers, and it makes an enormous difference. In some configurations, they sound like speakers; in others, they sort of "snap into focus" and instead of hearing music coming from two speakers, I hear music coming from various points in a broad and deep imaginary soundstage. It's as if something shifts about the sound that causes my brain to interpret the signals differently and create that illusion. I couldn't get as dramatic a shift with the Wharfedales.

(My test procedure was pretty sloppy though; I matched levels by ear and switched between them without telling my listeners (including said hi-fi friend) which combination they were listening to. None of them even tried to guess about the amps or CD players; all of them reacted the same way to the speakers (as did I). We all thought the Wharfedales sounded warmer and mellower, but less precise, and the Duntechs were more natural and had a much more vivid stereo image. "I'm not sure which ones I like better, but the second ones [Duntechs] sound more expensive" was one comment.)

I ended up buying a Yamaha A-S300 (found it for 199 euros here, but unfortunately they only deliver to Finland.)

It's specced at 70 W RMS per channel (120 W peak) for 6 ohms, which is plenty for my speakers, so I didn't see any good reason to pay more for a more powerful version, such as the A-S500. (The same place had had an A-S700 for 299 euros, though, and if they weren't out of stock I probably would've succumbed, just because.)

I was very much attracted to the compact size and small form factor of the type-D amps as well, but couldn't find one that met or exceeded 60 W/channel, was remote controllable, and didn't cost a good deal more, so I went with the more conventional solution in the end.

I also looked at several second-hand amps, but decided not to go with those simply because they might be defective, and I don't know this stuff well enough to be able to tell until it's too late. Also the cheapest ones that met my speakers' recommended spec would've cost as much as the A-S300, so I decided to play it safe and get the new one.

I'm pretty happy with my choice so far. There's more than enough oomph there, it looks relatively civilized, nice aluminum face plate and all, feels relatively well built, with a sturdy chassis and solid connectors and posts. It's also extremely straightforward to operate (which is why I didn't want a multi-channel A/V receiver), and I have no problems at all with the sound. The knobs are a bit disappointing though; they look like metal but are really plastic and feel a little cheap when you fiddle with them. The Topping's metal volume control felt definitely classier. Digital inputs would've been nice too. But for 199 euros I ain't complaining.

I already had a Sony CDP-XB720 CD player from the turn of the millenium. My hi-fi friend also lent me a first-generation PlayStation 1, which apparently has a legendary DAC. I couldn't tell any difference between those two either, nor between the digital out and analog out of the CD player (tried that with my Onkyo A/V receiver). So I didn't see the point of getting an external DAC. I haven't yet tried connecting the A-S300 to my old MacBook Pro that I use as a home server; I intend to use that for playback of my digital music. If there's a problem with its analog audio out, I will of course add a DAC, but I'll do a comparison between that and the CD player first. (I have a sneaking suspicion I won't be able to hear a difference there either.)

As to the cabling, I just bought 2.5 mm speaker wire and some banana plugs for the speakers (had to extract the plastic plugs blocking the posts in the amp for some EU-related reason), and am using some perfectly ordinary RCA interconnect for the CD player. I will swap that to a slightly better-looking one cut to the right length eventually, once I find a nice A/V rack to put them in.

So, short version –

Speakers: Duntech PCL-10, bought used (paid 520 €)
Amp: Yamaha A-S300 (paid 199 €)
CD player: Sony CDP-XB720, already had it (0 €)
Cables: bog-standard (about 15 € for the cable and another 15 € for the plugs)

Edit: I forgot, I also bought speaker stands for them. Paid 99 € for those. I'm sure a couple of cinderblock bricks would've done the job as well, but I have to look at the damn things too so thought that a pair of civilized-looking ones were worth the extra cost.

Total about 750 €, which is about £ 630, a bit more than your budget, largely because of the speakers.

Any advice? Try looking for used speakers. They don't wear out as easily as amps, they've made some really, really good speakers since the 1970's at least so there's a huge range of stuff available, and you can get really good value for money. I bought mine from a local used equipment dealer rather than privately, because (a) he let me borrow them over the weekend to try them out, (b) he offers a warranty in case something isn't right, and (c) my hi-fi friend vouched for him. I'm sure that cost me a little extra compared to buying from a private seller, but IMO it was worth it.
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post #5 of 6 Old 05-05-2013, 04:24 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by A9X-308 View Post

Speakers: The CA's look OK, but as the sound of speakers varies so much, you really should hear all possibilities and decide for yourself.

FIrstly, thank you for taking the time to reply. The speakers I can buy in person at my local Richer Sounds, so I will be sure to have a listen to a few before I finally make up my mind. It was actually a long and unputdownable thread on this forum that really whetted my appetite for the S30s - I have someone who could quite easily carry out the same modifications that Avsforum member Denis Murphy modifications talks about within that thread.
http://www.avsforum.com/t/1327952/almost-got-floored-by-cambridge-s30

Quote:
Originally Posted by A9X-308 View Post

Amp: Unless you are stuck on it being tiny, just get a good second hand Yamaha integrated. Not much power for the money. Reading the datasheet for the chip that the power amp is based on, I do not believe it meets the specs posted on the manufacturer's website.

Could you please point me to the discrepency in the specs you have noticed?

I also forgot to mention that I am currently listening to my music on an old pair of JPW Mini Monitors with a blown tweeter on the right (which I am compensating for with the balance control) and a second hand Cambridge Audio A1mk3 SE which is very nice but has scratchy pots. Anyway, I'm pretty set on having a completely brand new set up. I'm pretty sure I want to go the T Amp or other D Class route for several reasons.

1. They just look so cute and dinky.
2. The best of them seem to be capable of producing sound quality comparable to much more expensive class a/b amps.
3. They use much less electricty and output less heat, which makes them very efficient.
4. I realise that more power is generally better for low volume listening, but by all accounts a 25W T AMP should fill my small room nicely. If you think I could benefit from more then I guess I should be looking at some of the higher output D Classes.
5. I occupy the hottest room in this house and get direct sunlight blasted at my window throughout a large part of the day during summer. Anything adds as little as possible to the warmth of my room is a bonus.
6. The Temple Audio Bantam Gold is British Made, which whilst it's not my overriding criteria, is also a bonus should I need any servicing carrying out. Not to mention the the slight patriotic thrill I get from supporting a small British manaufacturer of quality h fi equipment!
7. I've had enough dodgy second hand gear to last me a lifetime! I don't want to have to get anything recapped etc, though before discovering T Amps, I was considering a 70s' Sansui.
8. Multiple source, remote control, balance, bass and treble are not important to me. I have a remote control for my PC to adjust the input volume and if at all necessary, balance and eq can be adjusted on my PC.
Quote:
Originally Posted by A9X-308 View Post

DAC: These are a generic commodity item these days so spending big oon one doesn't get you any more. As the DAC chip is voltage out, the tube is not necessary and is a cosmetic embellishment that will do nothing positive for the sound.

I accept that I could probably buy a reasonable DAC for a lot less than the Aune, but the valve stage does appeal to me, even though I realise than valves actually add harmonic disortion to a signal. I'm not sure what you mean about the DAC chip being voltage out making the tube a cosmetic embellishment. As I understood it, voltage out is an analogue signal which is what valves deal with. I am a noob so I don't want to appear as if I'm arguing with you and I'm certainly willing to learn if you'd care to elucidate. This thread on another forum discusses what differences changing the valve in the Aune T1 will make to your sound and the idea of being able to adjust my sound by swapping the tube appeals to me.

Quote:
Originally Posted by A9X-308 View Post

Cables: 5 quid is all you need to spend in total for the system - more than that and you are simply throwing money away.
OK, maybe, so are you saying that expensive interconnects and speaker cable are all just a con?
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post #6 of 6 Old 05-05-2013, 05:00 AM - Thread Starter
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Primejunta, thanks for detailed and informative response. I am honoured that your first post should be a reply to my first post!

It sounds like you have put together a great sounding system on not too much money, albeit slightly larger than my own budget! I have never heard of Duntech speakers and I can't see any on ebay so imagine they would be difficult to source in the UK.

I find your comments on the Topping TP60 very encouraging, especially as Bantam Gold has much better numbers for THD. The second edition boast <0.005 THD which surely has to be a major factor in sound quality. I have no idea which affordable integrated amps can match or exceed this figure.

http://www.templeaudio.net/bantamgold.html

As I said in my previous reply, I'm heavily drawn to the Cambridge Audio S30 speakers because of so many glowing reports. They seem quite sensitive at 90db to be driven well by a low power T AMP although I would like to know what budget speakers are avaiable in the UK that have a higher sensitivity.

I did consider building a system based on vintage gear as I know they made some terrific hi fi in the 60's and 70's, but in the end after reading up decided that like vintage cars, I could be letting myself in for a whole load of trouble and expense. I've never built a brand new system before, and with the quality of equipment that's available today for not very much money, I see no reason not to get the best new gear I can afford.
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