Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment


Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

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I just got an iPod Touch for my wife and we were wondering if there is some kind of free software application that would permit listening to the radio. That would be a first for us, as we don't even listen to computer music. Second question about the iPod: Could we use the USB on the Oppo BDP-83SE to listen to the Music Store on the player through our sound system?

Sincerely,
René

The iPod Nano has a built-in FM tuner that allows the reception of regular, over-the-air radio signals. The iPod Touch, however, does not have a built-in tuner. But you can download apps that will allow you to listen to Internet Radio services like Pandora, Slacker, and others that are free. Since these are Internet Radio services, the iPod Touch requires access to a wireless Internet connection to receive these broadcasts.

Most audio/video devices such as the Oppo BDP-83SE cannot be directly connected to an iPod via the USB port. Many manufacturers sell iPod "docks" that connect to the iPod and output audio and/or video and usually provide playback control when connected to one of their compatible receivers or processors. Most of these docks only output analog audio and rely on the iPod's digital-to-analog conversion section, which is good but certainly not the best. However, some newer docks such as the one available for the forthcoming Anthem receivers can extract the digital signal from the iPod and send it to the receiver to utilize its higher-quality digital-to-analog converter. Wadia's standalone 170iTransport dock can also extract the digital-audio signal from an iPod and then present it to a DAC or processor via an S/PDIF digital connection. 

You could also simply use an adapter to connect the headphone output of an iPod to the analog RCA inputs of a receiver or preamplifier. It won’t deliver the best sound possible because it’s an analog connection, but it will work. Some products like the Cambridge Azur 350A integrated amplifier that I have in for review even have a 1/8" input jack on the front panel for connection to an iPod or other MP3 player to make matters easier. . . . Roger Kanno

I am considering an FM tuner and would appreciate your recommendation on either the Marantz ST7001 or the NAD C 425. Which would you recommend?

Gary A. Giordano

My experience with the NAD C 425 was that it sounds good but is not especially sensitive or selective. I haven't played with a Marantz tuner in some time, but my recollection is that they were a bit more selective at separating stations close to one another on the dial. Besides the NAD and Marantz, I'd look at the Onkyo T-4555 that offers AM, FM, and HD Radio (about $500). It's a nice unit. You might also try the Sangean HDT-1X that also is AM/FM/HD. It's cheap (I've seen it for as little as $170) but needs a reasonable FM antenna (the Terk Pi-B or AF-1 are good choices). Actually, that goes for any of the tuners. Hope that helps. . . . Thom Moon

My friend told me to keep my speaker cables as short as possible. He suggested 8’. The problem is that I need to use cables that are about 12’. Is that going to be a problem? 

Albert Walling

In general, you should try to keep the cable lengths short, but it’s not going to make much difference at all if you use 8’ or 12’. . . . Doug Schneider

I'm comparing the Arcam A90 and Anthem Integrated 225 integrated amplifiers. They're around the same price point where I live. I'm using them with Tannoy DC6 speakers and a Paradigm DSP-3100 subwoofer. Any thoughts?

Many thanks!
K. Ashoo

It seems that you’re comparing two great contenders. We reviewed the Integrated 225 and think very highly of it. We never reviewed Arcam’s A90, but our past experiences with other products from Arcam have always been excellent.

To determine which is better for you, you’re really going to have to listen to them side by side. We won’t be able to make that comparison for you. The only thing we will draw attention to is power output, since there’s a significant enough difference. The Integrated 225 is rated to deliver 225Wpc into 8 ohms, whereas the A90 is rated to deliver 90Wpc into 8 ohms. Do you need the extra power that the 225 provides? That will depend largely on how loud you listen and your room size. It might also depend on whether you might look at different speakers in the future. If you buy something that needs more power than the DC6 does, you don’t want to be caught short. But, like the listening experience, this is something you’ll have to determine. . . . Doug Schneider

I'm looking to purchase a pair of nearfield monitors for home mixing and don't have a very large budget. I'm thinking $200 max. I was wondering if you had any recommendations for me.

Thanks,
Shane Gann

The most important thing to realize is that no good-quality $200 speaker will deliver much bass. That’s because the cabinets and woofers are small. But you can get good midrange and highs.

For that price, I’d look at the Audioengine 2, a surprisingly good self-powered speaker that sells for just $199/pair. They’re a clear step up from the speakers that most people use with their computer systems. If you don’t need something that’s self-powered (i.e., you have an amp) and you can spend a little more, you should consider the Axiom M2 V3 that’s priced at $296/pair. This speaker is notable for its superb neutrality from the upper bass through to the midrange and highs. . . . Doug Schneider

I'm an audiophile from Shanghai, China. I've just read your review on the Simaudio Moon 300D. At the moment I use Silverline Minuet speakers and a Simaudio Moon i-1 and CD-1. I’m considering getting a 300D for computer-based audio. I’m wondering if you compared the USB input of the 300D with one of its S/PDIF inputs being fed from a sound card's S/PDIF output. My suspicion is that Simaudio would recommend the S/PDIF input for higher resolution and was wondering what you think. Thank you very much!

Yours sincerely,

Wu Minggang

Nihao Wu! It's great to hear from a reader in China.

I didn't try an S/PDIF output directly from my audio computer to the 300D, just USB. However you are correct that the S/PDIF input will offer higher-quality sound. The USB input on the 300D is limited to 16/48, but its S/PDIF inputs will go all the way to 24/192. It was my plan to buy an Asus Xonar computer sound card and use its S/PDIF output into the 300D for up to 24/192 resolution computer audio, but instead I bought an iMac and will use it with Amarra software and USB, probably with an Ayre QB-9 DAC (to be determined). Of course, even limited to 16/48 with USB, the 300D sounds great. My plan to go to higher resolution isn't because I think something is missing from the sound of the 300D’s USB input, but because as a reviewer I have to be able to use the full capabilities of the products I review. . . . Colin Smith

Dear GoodSound!

I need an audiophile setup to listen to my classical music CDs. Take in consideration that:

1) I only listen to classical music and recordings made from 1900 to 1960, because the best artists were in these years. So consider the fact that the recordings are not so good.

2) I like true stereo recordings (made with only two microphones), so I need speakers with a very sharp stereo image. For me, this is probably the most important thing.

3) I don t like colored sound, considering I listen only to classical music.

4) I ask you to recommend a complete setup with the minimum price to obtain an entry-level but audiophile-quality setup, from the CD player to the speakers. I will also consider active speakers.

5) I have seen speakers such as the Polk Audio RTi A1 loudspeakers and Infinity Primus P252 loudspeakers that were given Reviewers’ Choice awards on SoundStage!

6) My room is little, so for now I could consider a bookshelf-type speaker.

I hope you can help me.
 
Alessandro

A good pair of neutral-sounding loudspeakers will work well with any type of music. A neutral speaker is one that has very flat frequency response, both on and off axis, as well as good bass and high-frequency extension. You’ll also want the speaker to have very low distortion, particularly in the highs, given the nature of the recordings you listen to. You don’t need your speakers adding any nasty sounds to recordings that aren’t all that clean sounding to begin with. It goes without saying that your electronics should also be very neutral-sounding and free from distortion. Frankly, that’s not difficult to find these days given the general high quality of modern-day electronics.

The two speakers you mentioned are excellent in terms of performance and value. They’re a good starting point, but there are many more to listen to.

I won’t recommend specific models, or a specific system, because what you choose will come down to individual preference. Your own ears will have to decide. But I will point you to some brands that I recommend you look at, because they have various models that will likely fit your musical needs and budget.

For electronics such as amplifiers and CD players, consider NAD, Cambridge Audio and Arcam. They all have a number of products that would be suitable . For speakers, look at Paradigm, Axiom Audio, Aperion Audio, PSB, Infinity, and Polk. They all offer small to large speakers at a variety of prices. If your budget allows, look at Finland’s Amphion as well. I mention Amphion because you said how important imaging is to you. Their lowest-priced speakers tend to be priced higher than the lowest-priced speakers belonging to the other brands I’ve mentioned, but you might feel it worth it since their speakers tend to image extremely well. Don’t compromise on cables to connect it all together, but don’t go overboard and spend too much either. DH Labs (Silver Sonic) offers some excellent interconnects and speaker cables for a very reasonable price. Their White Lightning interconnects and ST-100 speaker wires are exceptional values.

I hope that helps. Happy shopping!

I am in college and my roommate and I are getting a projector for our room and need to buy a sound system to accompany it. I have read a few articles, but most of them are about systems or speakers that are out of my price range. 

I have a price range of $200-$350 and the main use of the sound system would be for movies and video games. I was wondering what might be a good choice for a full sound system within my price range. 

Thanks,

Will

You could buy one of those cheap home-theater-in-a-box systems that come from places like Best Buy, but most of them are junk. We’d recommend looking at something better. If you value good sound like we do, look at a speaker system from Audioengine (Audioengineusa.com). Their self-powered speakers are very well made, good sounding, and quite affordable. For example, the 2 starts at $199 for a pair, the 5 at $349 for a pair, which seems to fit your budget. They build the amps into the speakers. You can hook the analog outputs from a CD player, DVD player, or even an iPod to them and you’re in business.

Another option is to look at Axiom Audio’s Audiobyte computer speakers (AxiomAudio.com) that come with a dedicated amplifier that also allows for hook-up of a subwoofer (good for future expansion). The Audiobyte speaker system is $349 (two speakers and the amplifier, but no subwoofer). Audioengine and Axiom Audio both sell factory direct and offer money-back guarantees if you’re not happy with your purchase.

I am in the process of building a new system, the first since college. It has been downhill since then. 

Currently, I have two MartinLogan Source loudspeakers, a MartinLogan sub, dual NHT A1 amps with an NHT X1 crossover, an older Sony CD changer (jukebox), my original Garrard GT-55 turntable (new cartridge, but needs a tune-up), and, finally, a Dell P4 computer with lots of disk space. The old Sony stereo receiver is history. 

I will be using the system for 2.1-channel audio only. I may be over reaching, WAF is running thin, but I am looking for a XM/HD/FM/AM tuner and haven't found one yet with all four (I already have Verizon FiOS music channels), a DAC, and a preamp to pull it all together. I am hoping the computer will handle Internet Radio. I am looking at the Peachtree Nova, but am not certain this would be the best value. 

Any suggestions/ideas would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks!

Gregg Reilly 

I cut and pasted "XM/HD/FM/AM tuner" into Google and it came up with the McIntosh MR88 and Onkyo T-4555 tuners. So there is equipment out there that appears to support all four. More than likely, those aren't the only ones. Or if they are, there will probably be others in the future.

As far as what would be the best for your situation, as well as the best value, you have too many options to list here. The Peachtree Nova is certainly one component to consider, but there are integrated amps, receivers, and preamps that have built-in DACs that can suit your needs. I could list a dozen different options right now, and that's just scratching the surface. You'll really have to do some shopping around and then come back with some specifics if you want better advice.

But insofar as Internet Radio goes, I can give you some direction there. There are tabletop radios as well as receivers that support it. However, I’ve found that a computer works as well if not better. But how do you get the music out of the computer and into your music system if your computer isn’t located anywhere near it? What we use here is an Audioengine AW1 wireless adapter that allows you to stream the music signal from your computer to your audio system. It works great and its sound quality is suitable for this application. In fact, we were doing this the other day when we were having a backyard party and wanted to listen to some Latin music that we ended up streaming from a station in Venezuela. Aperion Audio just released something similar called the Home Audio Link that does the same thing. Kevin East just reviewed it on SoundStage! Xperience, one of our sister sites.

I am looking to add a stereo preamp to my system. I am looking at a Rotel RC-1580, Cambridge Azur 840E, and Emotiva USP-1, or any other preamp that you may suggest. 

Bernard Robertson 

You’re not giving us much information to go on, but you seem to have a good enough start for your search. If you want some suggestions for other brands that offer stereo preamps for a reasonable price, look to: Anthem, Bryston, NAD, and Vincent Audio.

I currently own a pair of Quad 21L speakers that I partner with a couple of integrated amps (Rega Elicit and PrimaLuna ProLogue 2). The setup sounds fine, but I am considering buying another pair of speakers with the goal of achieving a lower bass response, an engaging and rhythmic sound, yet without any shrillness.
 
I believe Eric D. Hetherington has quite a lot of experience with the Quad 21Ls. I wonder if he has heard the PMC GB1s and the Totem Hawks as well. If yes, could he please share his experience regarding these speakers compared to the Quad 21Ls.
 
Thanks and regards,

Anand 

Eric reviewed the Quad 21L in 2004; however, he no longer writes for us. But I think we can still help.

I have no idea how much money you’re willing to spend on your speakers, or if you’re concerned with buying new versus used, but there are other brands that you should be looking at if finding the best speaker for the money is a priority.  All of the speakers you mention have been on the market for quite some time and, at least to my ears, can be bettered significantly by the newest offerings from companies such as Paradigm, PSB, Focus, Dynaudio, and more. For example, there are numerous modestly priced speakers that can deliver deep, tight, low-distortion bass. If “shrillness” is a concern, I strongly suggest that you look at the newest Signature series from Paradigm that features beryllium-dome tweeters. Their tweeter is state of the art and outperforms the tweeters used on many ultra-expensive, boutique-brand speakers that can cost tens of thousands of dollars. My suggestion is to not limit yourself to just those brands you’re mentioning but to go out and do some serious shopping to find the best that’s currently out there.