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To Hans Wetzel,
I am going to be purchasing a pair of bookshelf speakers and have narrowed my search to two sets: Energy CB-20 or the GoldenEar Aon 3. Do you have a preference? I am interested solely in sound quality. Regardless of the pair selected, I am going to be supplementing them with a sub.
I appreciate any insight you could give!
Energy makes some very good speakers for the money, as demonstrated by our review of the RC-10 back in 2006, and the CB-20 that you mention in 2009. It's interesting, though, that you have narrowed your search down to the CB-20s, which are $350 per pair, and the Aon 3s, which are $1000 per pair.
In terms of outright performance, the Aon 3 that Doug Schneider recently reviewed is the easy answer. Its folded-ribbon tweeter, 7" bass driver, and pair of 8" passive radiators makes for a compelling, if unconventional package. The Aon 3 will likely produce a larger, more robust sound than the CB-20 due to its larger cabinet and more capable drivers. Its treble will likely sound a bit "airier" and the bass will be noticeably deeper and tighter than the Energy's. All in all, the Aon will cost you almost three times as much as the Energy, but will probably provide a commensurate increase in performance. The best part of the Aon 3 is that it goes low enough that you might not see a need for a subwoofer.
If you're dead set on getting an accompanying subwoofer, however, I would probably go with the Energy CB-20. They're a capable set of bookshelf speakers that, with the right sub, can probably get you deeper bass than the Aon 3, and for less money to boot. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
Your statement that the substitution of the Nordost Blue Heaven speaker cable for the AudioEngine 5+-supplied cable achieved better sound for the entire system somewhat puzzled me. Since the left speaker is directly connected to its built-in amp and then to whatever feeds a signal to the amp, doesn't the Blue Heaven speaker cable only influence the sound of the right speaker and possibly improve it? Wouldn't that result in an imbalance of sound quality between the two speakers?
I own the AudioEngine 5+ and a Cambridge Audio DacMagic Plus and would love to better the sound. I did purchase better interconnect cables and a USB cable, but I hesitate getting a better speaker cable based on what seems illogical. Yet you say you got better sound with a single better speaker cable. Any idea why you got better sound? What am I missing here?
You are not missing anything, Allen. I tried a run of my Nordost Blue Heaven speaker cable very late in the review process, on a whim more than anything else, so I was surprised to hear such an apparent improvement in sound. My thinking at the time mirrored yours, but I decided to include the results, since the cable change made a dramatic difference. In retrospect, I should have been more diligent in listening for differences in quality between the two speakers. The folks at Audioengine confirmed for me that the quality of the cable connecting the amp to the drivers in the powered left speaker is comparable in quality to the included speaker wire meant to connect the active left speaker to the passive right speaker. Accordingly, I suspect you're right in thinking that my Blue Heaven swap only improved the sound from the right speaker. With that said, however, the sound did not strike me as unbalanced with the Nordost cable in place.
Regardless, I hope you are enjoying your system. I've heard nothing but good things about the DacMagic Plus, and I obviously know firsthand about the qualities of the A5+. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I just ran across your article on "old-tech" vacuum tubes. I enjoyed your perspective. I recently started putting a budget stereo system together. Ironically, I just "lost" two different eBay auctions for a Krell KAV-300i. They both went at about the $900 price.
I've recently run across a few articles on solid-state amplification, which had your same evaluation on "tubes." They also went on to say that with low distortion and adequate power/current across the audible frequency range, any two decent-quality class-AB integrated amps will sound the same. One author even stated that the only time you really would hear the difference is if a manufacturer deliberately altered the audible frequency range in order to fool a reviewer.
Sometimes in this industry you have to decipher what's "snake oil" and what's reality. Spending $1000 on a power cord is ridiculous when there is 1000' of cheap 14-guage wire in the wall going to your receptacle.
Well, Krell was out of my budget -- I heard that same amp you mentioned years ago, and would have loved to have gotten my hands on one! Instead, last week I actually purchased a NAD C 316BEE. On a budget, I'm hoping I made a wise choice. Have you ever heard of NAD trying to alter their amplifiers to get a "certain sound"? I assume that would show up as distortion?
If I'm off base on my "thinking" towards amplification, please feel free to let me know. I would appreciate your input. Also, do you have a recommendation for a decent digital source, such as a good-quality DVD player?
Thanks for your time!
Thanks for writing, Dan. Sorry to hear about the Krells that got away. Unfortunately, I have never heard any of NAD's products, so I cannot speak to whether or not they voice their gear to have a certain sonic character. Based on reputation, however, I am sure that your new NAD C 316BEE will perform pretty well for the money.
Addressing the point on class-AB integrated amplifiers sounding the same, I'll say that while the included components of a randomly selected pair of integrateds may be very similar, the manner of executing a design may differ dramatically. There could be differences in the circuit design, the materials used, and the tolerances of individual components that, when aggregated, have an audible effect on the resultant sound. To the uninitiated, the sonic differences between two integrateds may be negligible or imperceivable, but if you know your music collection well enough and have half-decent accompanying speakers and electronics, a savvy listener can quickly tell the differences. And why not? Just like speaker design, where driver material, cabinet construction, and crossover design all have a profound result on the quality of the final sound, so, too, do the design choices that go into integrated amplifiers. These subtle differences can mean that, since certain manufacturers use certain methodologies and materials throughout their product lines, they have a "house sound" of sorts, but this is not distortion. There is some snake oil in high-end audio, but the bottom line is that almost every aspect of your system has some impact on the final sound, it's just a matter of degree. I think it's fair to say that $1000 power cables belong in some people's systems, but only those that retailed for the price of a new four-door sedan.
On your last question of a decent digital source, there are too many to list. It totally depends on your needs, but since you mention a DVD player, I assume you are looking for a universal player. If so, look for one with a high-quality digital-to-analog converter, which would offer solid performance for both movies and music. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention computer audio, however, where with or without wires, you can get CD-quality sound directly from a computer, smartphone, or tablet to your NAD. It might be worth looking into. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
Wow! A dismissive attack on vacuum tubes and record players on an audiophile website written not as a letter to the editor, but by its editor as if his opinion was fact -- incredible.
Everyone has their preferences (and is entitled to them), but dismissing LPs and tubes altogether as outmoded just seems silly, especially in such a brief essay. Perhaps you're just trying to be controversial? It's one thing to say tubes and vinyl aren't for you, but quite another to dismiss them out of hand.
For my part, I've never heard a 100-percent solid-state amplification and digital-source system at any price point that didn't leave me just a bit cold. That includes high-resolution digital sources and top-end solid-state amplification. That's not to say there was nothing enjoyable about these systems, quite the opposite. Still, I wouldn't trade a less-expensive tube/vinyl system for any more expensive solid-state/digital system I've ever heard.
Some folks like vanilla and some folks like chocolate. Arguing that the "vanilla folks" are somehow misguided is just foolish. Same goes for preferences in audio. Yet audiophiles seem prone to being absurdly hidebound as to their particular preferences being "correct" and anyone who doesn't agree being "deaf." Unfortunately, it seems that many audiophiles enjoy looking down their noses at anyone whose system preferences, ideas about audio, taste in music, etc., don't agree with their own more than they actually enjoy listening to music.
Ironic then that an audiophile website devoted to less-costly entry-level gear and thus designed at least in part to draw in new high-end enthusiasts would publish an outright dismissal of a fairly large sector of the hobby.
A few points in response.
My monthly writings, per their filing under the "Feature Articles" section of the website, reflect only my personal opinion. Accordingly, my intention is not to be controversial, but rather to illustrate my own views on various aspects of the high-end audio scene. I can see how many tube lovers would heartily disagree with me, however.
In turn, I think if you reread my piece you would find that I support this very subjective opinion with nothing but facts. Tubes are a 100-year-old technology that by definition are outmoded (or old-fashioned) within the context of high-end audio. Their characteristic warmth is a result of audible distortion. Lastly, they generally have a shorter lifespan and are less efficient than transistors. I don't think any of these points are in dispute.
Finally, I am in total agreement with you that everyone is entitled to their own preference. My piece expresses only my lack of understanding as to why many listeners prefer tubes and LPs over more modern designs. I don't believe I wrote that such listeners were in any way wrong or "deaf." I don't think that my hearing is any more correct than other listeners'. But where I take issue with your "vanilla/chocolate" example is that there is no objective criterion for evaluating the qualities of one flavor over the other that are not, on their face, arbitrary. In high-end audio, however, subjective opinions about equipment are often taken in tandem with technical measurements. On that basis, I don't fully appreciate why tube fans prefer a sound that is "colored," in a way, by vacuum tubes. My ultimate point was that solid-state designs are getting much better at capturing the musicality and warmth that you seem to find so appealing in tube/vinyl rigs, perhaps making the newest generation of solid state gear attractive to listeners like you and me.
Fittingly apropos of all this, I will be reviewing an amp/preamp pairing that includes a single vacuum tube to "smooth the harsh digital edge." I am very much looking forward to hearing the duo in action, and appraising it not to see if it accords with my personal taste, but on its own performance-related merits. I may yet come to like tubes! I hope this afforded some context and clarity on my original piece. Happy listening, Travis. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
Thanks for the reply. At the time when I e-mailed GoodSound!, I was having trouble deciding which "upgrade path" to take. In my previous "audiophile" life, I would obsess over the hardware, and as I began this process it started happening again. Then I remembered some advice I was given when I first entered the high-end world: speakers first, then work from there, and have fun.
As I write this, I'm waiting on a pair of A2s from Audioengine. Unless the A2s really impress, they'll go back and I'll try another pair. All of the speakers you suggested were already on my short list, with the addition of the EmotivaPro Airmotiv 4.
Being that I have no dealers near, I am doing the buying online and making sure I can return the product if its not satisfactory, which almost any reputable online dealer offers. I know I mentioned my budget for this upgrade being around $300. I've paid more for interconnects in the past, so this is pretty cool! It's real easy to just throw money at something, but the real challenge for me seems to be getting almost the whole slice, the most sound, for the least amount of scratch. I still keep up with a lot of the high-dollar stuff; it's fun to read about, but it's more fun when something a fraction of the price is about as good.
Every component is important to one degree or another, but speakers should definitely be the anchor of any system. You're also right in saying that the real challenge is finding the products that offer the most performance per dollar spent. That's our goal at GoodSound!, and it's gratifying to find a product that really overachieves.
The A2s are great little nearfield monitors -- my own mother has a pair! Good luck, Jay. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
First let me say I've enjoyed GoodSound! for years. I no longer have a traditional stereo system; I've scaled back and now listen to music primarily on my computer. I have a Dell laptop, which is reasonably new and fast (for the time being). I'm currently using a pair of M-Audio AV 30 speakers.
I'm looking to improve my setup's sound. Where is the best place to start: speakers, DAC, etc.? I don't want to just throw money at it. I want to get the most bang for, say, $200-$300 or so.
Thanks again for your publication, and sensibilities on getting a lot for a little!
Thanks for the kind words about GoodSound! You are far from alone in primarily using a computer for your musical needs. That said, there are numerous directions you could go to maximize your sound quality for a modest sum.
Upgrading your speakers would be my first suggestion. While I have never personally heard the M-Audio AV 30, it looks to be a step up from more traditional and widely available computer speakers. With that in mind, to improve on the M-Audios might require a slightly larger outlay. For $398/pair, the NHT SuperPowers marry the pedigree of NHT's SuperZero 2.0s, which Roger Kanno favorably reviewed last fall, with built-in amplifiers for use as computer speakers. Another option would be Audioengine's $399/pair A5+, which I am very fond of. I suspect they don't quite match the NHTs for out-and-out resolution, but they more than make up for it with larger bass drivers, multiple inputs, all the wiring you could possibly need and a handy remote control. Both NHT and Audioengine sell matching subwoofers for their speakers should you crave a more full-range setup going forward. Orb Audio's Mod1s are another option, though I suspect they would be something of a lateral move from your M-Audio AV 30s.
Once you are happy with your speakers, I would suggest investing in a small digital-to-analog converter (DAC), of which there are many available for around $300. Audioengine, AudioQuest, CEntrance, Emotiva and Musical Fidelity are good companies to start with, but, frankly, most any DAC should noticeably improve the quality of sound coming from your Dell laptop.
I hope this helps, and let us know if we can be of further assistance! . . . Hans Wetzel
Greetings Andrea and Vince,
In my system I use two-channel audio (no headphones) and I already have a DacMagic Plus. I was wondering if getting the GT40 would be an upgrade to my system by replacing the DacMagic Plus.
Thanks and best regards,
Vince has not heard the GT40, nor have I heard the DacMagic Plus. Based on his review and some other characteristics of the Cambridge Audio unit -- the DAC chips used, support for higher sample rates, multiple filters, and asynchronous USB -- I would expect it to outperform the GT40. The GT40 may be attractive to somebody who is looking for a phono preamplifier, ADC, headphone amp, and DAC in a single, affordable box. At its price, I don't find it compelling as simply a DAC. . . . S. Andrea Sundaram
To S. Andrea Sundaram,
I'm thinking about trying to replace the stock interconnect that came with my Denon DP-500M turntable, under the assumption that it's not particularly high quality and that a reasonably priced replacement might improve the sound quality. Is this worth considering? If so, are there special considerations for choosing an interconnect for a turntable rather than a digital source? And how do I deal with the ground wire?
Since your turntable has RCA jacks, experimenting with different cables is a relatively painless process. (You don't have to rewire the tonearm.) I wasn't able to find any specific information about the grounding wire for your Denon, so I'm assuming that it is a completely separate lead. Just leave that connected to your phono preamplifier or receiver. Otherwise, it's no different from any other source. Most reputable dealers will offer a return policy on cables, so I don't see any harm in trying. . . . S. Andrea Sundaram
To Doug Schneider,
I am curious if you have any reviews of Definitive Technology's new monitors coming soon. I've read quite a bit about these speakers, but I haven't seen any full reviews. Anything you can tell me?
We actually have the StudioMonitor 55s and 45s in for review right now. Roger Kanno has one pair and Philip Beaudette has the other. The reviews will likely be published in the next couple of months. One of the reviews will appear here on GoodSound!, the other one will appear on SoundStage! Hi-Fi. . . . Doug Schneider
I am from India. I have B&W 683 floorstanding speakers. I want to match an amplifier to these speakers. Can you help me out? Two amplifiers are on my mind: the Cayin 265Ai (pure class A) and the Sugden A21a (pure class A). Will these amps match with my speakers or are there other amplifiers you would suggest?
Although I've owned a number of B&W speakers in my lifetime, I'm not familiar with the 683s, so I looked up the B&W-supplied specs to gather a little more information. Their sensitivity is rated as 90dB, which is a little bit above average, and the impedance is rated as 8 ohms, but with a 3-ohm minimum. That 3-ohm spec indicates that they should be used with an amplifier with good current capability, although the highish sensitivity indicates that it doesn't need to deliver all that many watts of power.
Overall, that bodes well for the amps you've chosen -- their manufacturer-supplied specs indicate power output of less than 50Wpc for both (into 8 ohms), and, from what I can tell, the dip to 3 ohms shouldn't be an issue with either amp. But will the 683s play loud enough for you with these amps? There's no easy way to say because it will depend on your room size and, also, how loud is loud enough for your tastes. I hope that helps. . . . Doug Schneider
To Doug Schneider,
I just stumbled upon your article, "Avoiding Buying Crap." I am looking to upgrade and have looked (researched) many of the names that you suggested. If you do not mind, I have a question. For a speaker budget of $1000, should I consider floorstanders or stick with bookshelf speakers? Also, in that price range, do you prefer any specific models? I am in RI and have to travel to listen to these speakers, so any advice that you can pass along would be greatly appreciated!
This is a common question that has no easy answer. With a $1000 budget, you should consider floorstanding and bookshelf speakers, since there are quite a few models of each type that may suit you. If you go with bookshelf-type speakers, though, you must also factor in the price of stands. (They're often called bookshelf speakers, but most audiophiles put them on stands, so it's for that reason that I prefer to call these small speakers stand-mounted designs.) Specific model numbers and names would be too difficult to recommend in any reliable way, but if I were in your shoes I'd look at the various models in these lines right now: Monitor from Paradigm, Verus from Aperion Audio, StudioMonitor from Definitive Technology, Image from PSB, and Aon from GoldenEar Technology. There are others you could look at, but there are a number of floorstanding and stand-mounted designs in these line-ups that would satisfy most listeners. . . . Doug Schneider