My .02 Cents
I spent the morning in my local Definitive Audio. I hadn't been in and wanted to hear the newest gear they were carrying from Paradigm, B&W, NAD and Rotel. This is my first review so go easy fellas.
The Gear I paired together
Rotel RA1520 Int. Amp ($1000) paired with B&W CM-9's ($3000pr)
NAD C375BEE Int. Amp ($1300) paired with Paradigm Studio 60 V.5 ($2000pr)
Rotel RCD-1520 CD Player ($1000)
NAD C565BEE CD Player ($800)
I should note I used the Rotel RCD-1520 cd player in both systems while reviewing.
CD player faceoff
Listening Between the NAD C565BEE and the Rotel RCD-1520 there was a pretty clear margin between which was the better budget cd player. I found the NAD to project everything in more of a confined area in the soundstage. It didn't sound bad just more subdued. The NAD had a more layed back sound to it and wasn't nearly as engaging as the Rotel. The tray operated quickly and switching between tracks was quick and effortless. As for the Rotel which had to take time and think about what it was doing before ejecting and reading the disc. Switching between was also easy and quick. The Rotel sound was much more lively, there was a bit more detail in the mids and highs compared to the NAD and it projected a very good clean airly soundstage.
Between these 2 A/B comparisons the Rotel RCD-1520 cd player was a clear winner in my book. It may cost $200 more, but it is money well spent. I listened between both systems setup and it performed very well with both.
Rotel RA1520 Int. Amp paired with B&W CM-9's
I compared the B&W CM-9/NAD C375BEE Int. Amp first and found it to be ok but it wasn't a very good match. It made the B&W's a bit bright and depending on the song almost harsh. I felt that listening fatigue set in a bit with this setup.
Now the B&W/Rotel RA1520 Int. Amp sounded fantastic together. It had a nice wide sound stage that with a good recording showed good depth, airy highs and good seperation between instruments. Now I found the soundstage not to extend far past the speakers themselves but used all of the room between them to its advantage. The music seemed much more lively than compared to the B&W/NAD combo. I should also note I felt the B&W's had a bit more bass extension than the Paradigms. The B&W/Rotel combo made the listening experience much more lively and seemed to pull you in just that much more. I did not experience any listening fatigue while listening to this setup. These two pair very nice together! Anyone looking for a good starting point to get into 2 channel audio should definately have a listen to this setup.
This total setup for electronics and speakers would set you back roughly $5000 before tax, speaker wire, and cords. (price including Rotel CD player)
NAD C375BEE Int. Amp paired with Paradigm Studio 60 V.5
For this I started with the Paradigms matched with the Rotel RA1520 int. amp. Again like before, it just didn't sound right. It made the Paradigms bright and harsh. The soundstage was ok, but again it sounded more confined within a smaller area instead of using the whole area between the speakers.
When I switched over to the NAD amp it was another story. The speakers opened up and were much more lively. It allowed the speakers to use a bit wider soundstage. The depth and clarity wasn't as good as the Rotel/B&W combo but still produced a very sweet sound together. The NAD/Paradigm combo was also not harsh or bright at all. The NAD amp has a more relaxed sound compared to the Rotel/Paradigm combo. Some may like this though. I prefer a more engaging experience like the Rotel/B&W combo. Not to say the NAD/Paradigm combo doesn't do an admirable job. This setup for the money may be one of the best i've heard.
This total setup for electronics and speakers would set you back roughly $3800 before tax, speaker wire, and cords. (price including Rotel CD player)
Paradigm Studio 60 V.5 and B&W CM-9 speakers
I found each to have decent bass extension but I felt the B&W's reached a bit lower and sounded a tad cleaner. The Paradigms had a tighter bass sound at times also. Again the Paradigms threw a decent soundstage but the B&W's went just a tad wider while also projecting a bit more seperation between instruments on good recordings. The Paradigms have a more laid back sound compared to the B&W's more engaging sound.
The Winner Is
First place goes to the B&W/Rotel combo.
If you have a bit more money in your pocket i'd get the B&W/Rotel combo. It sounded fantastic and kept drawing me in for more.
Second place goes to the Paradigm/NAD combo.
Honestly it was a very close second. It may have sounded like I was raving more about the b&W/Rotel combo and ragging on the Paradigm/NAD combo, but the points I made are fairly minor. If you don't mind a more laid back sound then the Paradigm/NAD combo would be the winner. If you like to be more engaged in the listening experience i'd go for the B&W/Rotel combo. Either way your going to sound fantastic for the price. It all comes down to what your ears tell. Have a listen for yourself and you'll understand what I mean. To some $3800 vs $5000 is a big differance and won't justify spending more for that extra bit of performance.
Now also this is biased towards the music I listen to. I tested these with the likes of Michael Jackson, The Eagles, Elton John, Apocalyptica, Frank Sinatra, The Shins, Kenny Chesney, etc. I didn't test these out with rock which I should have done too. If you listen to the likes of Metallica, Korn, Norma Jean, Linkin Park, etc (which I too have in my collection). Then You may prefer the more layed back highes and tighter, firmer bass from the Paradigms. But if you listen to more live recordings, jazz, country, etc then you would probably prefer the B&W's clean, detailed sound.
I hope this is helpful for all you audiofiles looking into these products.