best solid state integrated to match with B&W 685s

Hi folks, I am new to Audiogon but love the site. I am just starting out on my trip to audiophile heaven, and currently I have 15 year old Yamaha gear (RX-485 and cheapo CDP). I bought the B&Ws in August and have been researching ever since.
The room is small, 14x12, and my music is intensely varied, from Snoop Dogg to Aphex Twin to Vivaldi. What would be the best integrated amps to start auditioning?
I am planning to eventually build a system with an external DAC and the Wadia iTransport, so am looking very hard at refurbished Deccos...Also considering the NAD C326 BEE, the Cambridge Audio 550a, the Music Hall A25.2, and a used Creek 5350SE if I can find it cheap enough.
Budget is under $800, has already been pushed to the limit.
Of those I suggest Music Hall or Creek. A used NAD C-370 or C-372 would provide ample power to drive rap or classical music. Decco may be another good choice.
You could buy a new NAD C-372 for $699. The ones you mentioned would all be fine choices. Or go for seperates? You could put something together for a very reasonable price. Check out the used NAD C-272/C-162 listed today. I'd go for this pair or the New C-372. Good Luck!
Thanks. I should say I listen to *very little* rap, but some tracks get me moving.
I have been nervous about buying used gear, but I am warming up to this notion after seeing how expensive entry level hi-fi really is.
The Decco really intrigues me but I am reluctant because of the limited amp quality I have read about.
Used NAD gear often does not match in color or styling, a minor consideration, but I am a visual person, so it does matter to me, probably more than most. I know the sound is most important.
I am not hearing a whole lot of support for CA out there...and there is an awful lot of it on Audio Advisor clearance...
What about the Jolida 1501RC? Would this be overpowering the 685s, does anyone have this amp? It is another hard to get item in Denver, so service would be a problem.
For the money you're going to overpay for electronics, you could get much "better" speakers (although that's of course subjective). I came close to buying those and then I auditioned several other speakers in the sub 1500 price range. I found 3 or 4 others I liked a lot more. I found you pay a premium for the B&W name -- even for speakers made in China.
I used a NAD C325BEEE with the 685's in a smallish room and the sound was terrific.
Since the 685 is a stand mount speaker, I would not get any integrated amp that did not provide *both* preamp out and main amp in jacks so that you could insert a bass management controller when adding a subwoofer later.

According to the B&W web site, the 685 can make clean bass to about 100 Hz at 1m. A sub is necessary if anything close to full range reproduction is a goal and you really should high pass the 685.

The Creek 5350SE and many NAD integrateds (as well as Bryston and some Rega) meet the criteria.
The NAD seperates I mentioned would match perfectly cosmetically and functionally. My take on the Cambridge (if that what you're referring to. CA?) is that it sounds just fine, excellent value. Buy the NAD 372 if new really matters. (Warranty.) You would not "over-power" your spks. I see your point if you decide adding an NAD CDP in the future, the colours may not match. I would not worry about this at all.
The Peachtree Decco is a great place to start and they're beginning to show up used for less than $500. The built-in DAC is quite good and when your budget is less pushed to the limit you can add any amp you want and use the Decco as a DAC and preamp. It's not the last word in build quality but a great bargain and its flexibility makes it an excellent centerpiece for a system you plan to upgrade.
Bob_reynolds - can you expand a bit on these two things - bass management using pre amp out and main amp in, how is this wired, and what do you mean by high-passing the B&Ws? Does this mean only amplifying the high frequency speaker terminals, and using a sub for the bass? Can you recommend a decent bass management unit?
Thanks for all the responses.
Mst - I auditioned several speaker sets in the showroom, was really itching to buy, and the B&Ws look really good with the grills off - better than all the others IMHO. I am an architect and thus place probably too much emphasis on looks...
How about an older Classe integrated like the Cap-101 or a Plinius 8100?
Classe CAP 101 cannot separate the amp from the pre outs, does that limit my ability to properly manage the low end frequencies(?), check out Bob_Reynolds post above.
The B&Ws are very good in the mid and high ranges, very detailed, but fall short on the low end. I think I am to insert a bass management unit somewhere in the signal path, not quite sure yet, and add a sub. I have seen this suggestion to manage the low frequencies with a separate unit before, just not sure how it works yet, or how much $$$.
Have not read up on the Plinius yet, and thanks alot for the suggestions, Mattybumpkin, makes for very interesting reading in the forums and reviews. I will keep researching these two units.
I think Bob is saying that you would have a set of pre-amplified RCA jacks out of the back of the integrated, and that you would connect those to your amplified subwoofer's RCA inputs. You would do a one-time balancing of volume levels between the speakers and sub by adjusting the volume control on the subwoofer itself, and then control overall system volume for regular use (both the sub and the speakers) with the main volume control on the integrated. A Radio Shack sound level meter comes in handy for the balancing act.

As for Cambridge Audio gear - there is nothing at all wrong with it, I have a Cambridge CD player I like very much. I just prefer the more powerful Creek, the Music Hall and the big NAD's to that particular Cambridge or the smaller NAD you suggested for your stated musical preferences.

You mentioned AA has CA gear on sale, that is because CA has a very rapid product cycle. If you can stretch a bit, the deal of the week is the Cambridge Audio Azur 840A amplifier for $899 on AA website. If this is the 840A v2, then it is a much better amp than anything mentioned in the thread to this point, and like the big NAD, it has preamp outs that could be used to drive a subwoofer.

PS - I totally get your aesthetics thing, I have to have all gear that is at least the same color black, if not exactly the same size, brand and logos. That is why I didn't choose NAD gear at one point - because it was gray!

PS2 - one last thought, the $799 (black) NAD C-355BEE is pretty close to the C-372 in terms of sound quality, and would very likely work well with the 685's in your small space, but at $899, the Cambridge 840A is a lot more amp for the money.
Audio Refinement. Very musical strong 50 wpc.
Realremo, I think you understand the concept. High passing the main speakers means to insert a high pass filter in front of the amp so that the amp/speakers handle signals above the subwoofer low pass crossover point. This takes the bass load off of the amp (thus, in theory a less powerful amp is necessary) and the speakers (reduces the distortion of the speaker system dramatically and will increase clarity).

Some subwoofers provide 2-channel bass management builtin so a separate BMC is not always required. For example, the SVS SP12-Plus, which I use in my office system and would recommend with your speakers. Some subwoofers, like Velodyne, provide a simple passive first order high pass filter; I would avoid these with your speakers.

An excellent separate BMC is the NHT X2. These devices will also contain a low pass filter with one or two outputs for subwoofers. So the low pass filter in the sub will need to be by passed.

Some people say that they can detect the presence of a BMC in the signal chain. That has not been my experience with any of the 4 different units I have used. I think the benefit of reducing distortion of the speaker system far outweighs the BMC's impact on the purity of the source signal.

So the wiring goes like this: pair of ICs from preamp (or preamp section of integrated) to BMC (whether sub builtin or external) and a pair of ICs from BMC to amp (or amp section of integrated).

Hope this helps.
Thanks BR. So the ICs from the head unit (CDP) still go into the "CD" connects on the integrated? CDP->integrated CD inputs->pre out to SVS SP12-Plus or BMC->if BMC, sub out to powered sub, how are the high frequencies amplified? is there a connect from the BMC back to the integrated, hence the main amp in? For this to work, there must be an input switch on the amp for the main amp in input, right? I would use this and not switch to "CD."
OR in a DECCO/amp situation, it goes Wadia->Decco->pre out to BMC->out to powered sub, how do I connect the high frequencies, are they connected to the Decco amp section>?
sorry, still confused...
The connection from source to preamp (or integrated) is unaffected. Typically, integrated amps that have both preamp out and main amp in jacks have jumpers that connect the preamp section to the amp section. You'll see them on the back panel. These are removed when treating the integrated as separates; which is the case when inserting a BMC between the preamp section and amp section. You can probably find a rear image of a NAD integrated that shows the jumpers, like this:

Here's two examples that may clear things up. Assuming an integrated amp with both preamp out and main amp in jacks.

1) Using external BMC. A pair (left & right) of ICs connect the preamp out jacks of the integrated to the input jacks of the BMC. A pair (left & right) of ICs connect the BMC output jacks to the main amp in jacks of the integrated. A single (left & right summed mono) IC connects the BMC sub output jack to the input of the subwoofer.

2) Using a sub with builtin bass management. A pair (left & right) of ICs connect the preamp out jacks of the integrated to the input jacks of the sub. A pair (left & right) of ICs connect the sub output jacks to the main amp in jacks of the integrated.
OK, what Bob said. Sorry for confusing the matter.
A new Rotel 15 series integrated at 60 watts will be perfect for those. Read the review in the last issue of Absolute Sound and he pretty much nails it. Use the Wadia
plain analog outputs until you can swing a Dac to go with it and you will be fine. Better yet, use a Squeezebox and take the digital out when you can afford a new Dac.
I have had a Decco and B&W 685 very recently... connected to my PC via USB.

The room is relatively small, but it sounded EXCELLENT to say the least.
Make sure the amp is made in China so the Chinese made B&W speakers work well with their country-mate.
My vote is for the Music Hall. Natural sounding amp that lets the music play.

Thanks for the responses, all...

Mst, OK I get it, you don't like Chinese-made products. Or maybe you just don't like B&W. But you've gotta admit - the yellow Kevlar cones are unlike most anything you've seen on a loudspeaker...

Realhifi, the Rotel 1520 is $999, for that price I could start getting separates - maybe Parasound A23 mated with a refurb'd Decco? Also soon to be available from Peachtree for $999, the iDecco, 40wpc integrated amp with ESS Sabre DAC and a digital iPod dock, they got the blessing from Apple, similar to Wadia's process. I saw the unit on their website and called them. Soon after it was removed from the site. Supposedly available in December...

The more I wait, I'm thinking I want to spend a little more and get separates, that way I will have the equipment to run whatever speakers I upgrade to (683's!). Have to get past the WAF, which is substantial.

Might have to buy a sub in the meantime. Anyone have any experience with Velodyne's Impact 10 or HSU research's STF-1?
I like the ACI Titan quite a bit. Excellent build quality and you save a ton because you buy directly from the maker. They have a generous return policy.
Low end Rotel or NAD would be great.
I would consider getting a higher quality integrated rather than fooling with separates in this price range. Look at these:

Exposure 2010S
Cambridge Audio Azur 840A v2
Naim Nait 5i
Rega Mira 3
Peachtree Audio Nova
or the new Rotel.

These amps will rock you world, and will drive the 683's if you eventually decide to go that route. More $$ towards electronics and less $$ towards additional case work and interconnects.
Thanks Knownothing; these are great suggestions. Of the list you posted, only the Rega and the Exposure have been reviewed by with raving success. I want very much to hear the Exposure, have emailed them for dealer locations.
Found the Nova in the 5th Element pages, John Marks agrees the Nova is a good deal for the money.
I sought out the Rega at a local dealer and after talking with me, he directed me toward the Anthem 225. I will go back and put him in a head lock until he sets up the Rega for me.
Reviews on the 840A v2 are less than stellar.
I cannot find a single bad thing anyone has said about the NAD C375, and plan to audition one at the same shop I bought the B&Ws, will attempt to hear the Rotel there as well.
The new Rotel is a winner.
I would go listen to the Naim and the Cambridge too if possible... REALLY. The reason they are not listed in Stereophile's recommended list is that they have either not reviewed them (Cambridge) or not in a very long while (Naim Nait-1985, at least four generations and 30 less watts ago). These are both "Class B" amps at least.

The Naim Nait 5i is or should be on everybody's "must listen" list and the version 2 of the Cambridge 840A is excellent. But if you had to "settle" for one of the others listed above, you would likely have few regrets.
Great Knownothing, thanks. I think I read in my research of the Naim lines that they use a proprietary type of interconnect or speaker wire, or both. Do you know if this is true?
There is a Cambridge dealer in my office building. He mostly does Cambridge's HT equipment, but says he can get their two channel stuff. I am not sure if he will just bring in an 849aV2 to let me audition, but I will certainly ask.
NAD integrateds are a good choice (though you don't need the 375), because they can be treated as separates in one chassis. I'd spread your budget across a middle tier NAD integrated and a sealed sub with bass management.
The older Naim's were more restricted in the type of wires they could accomodate. The current Naim Nait 5i, Nait XS and SUPERNAIT integrates all accommodate RCA jacks and multiple types of speaker cable. The XS and SUPERNAIT also have subwoofer outputs. See below from Naim website for features of the Nait 5i as an example:


* 50W continuous output into 8-Ohm loads, 500W peak into 1-Ohm.
* Zinc and aluminium anti-resonance casework.
* DIN and RCA phono inputs.
* Can be used with a wide range of interconnect and loudspeaker cables.
* Programmable unity-gain audio-visual input.
* NarCom remote control handset.
Bob_Reynolds, I am seriously considering trading in the 685s for a better speaker, instead of spending a lot of money on electronics and a nice sub to make the 685s sound better. I am trying to justify the $$$ that the ATC SCM series costs, they sound amazing for their size. Also the new Paradigm reference 20s were impressive in their bass extension.
I also have to consider the sound I can get out of the 685s when powered by a decent amp. I am running them now with a 15 year old Yamaha RX-485. The improvement might be enough to satisfy for now, but a dealer in town offered to give me %75 retail for the 685s on a trade-up...

If a choice is to be made, I am a believer in putting more money in the front end (source and pre/amp) due to GIGO considerations. In reality, most people building systems over time see-saw between improving quality of speakers, amp and source - eventually ending up with relative balance of quality across the board.

Your old receiver and digital source are clearly the limiting factor now, and the 685's are good enough to hang with and do justice to even mid fi gear costing a lot more.

That said, ATC speakers as a whole are in a different league than the 685's - but what would be the point of putting all that resolution downstream of a compromised signal at this point? They may actually sound less satisfying than the 685's because they would be reporting everything going on in front of them - both good and bad.

Now if you were to pair the SCM's with something like a Naim integrated and an excellent DAC like a Benchmark or Berkley, then you would be in business... Just something to think about.
Realremo, I think your approach is a good one, but be aware that almost every stand mount and many floorstanding speakers can benefit from a good subwoofer.

There are many options between the B&W 685 and the ATC SCM. Simply moving up in the B&W line would offer benefits. If you're considering changing amplification and speakers, then active speakers can provide a very cost effective option.

One possible system, is a Benchmark DAC1 sourcing active speakers.
"One possible system, is a Benchmark DAC1 sourcing active speakers."

This is an interesting idea. Bob, how would you configure a subwoofer in this set up?
I heard some pretty incredible active ATC's in the showroom, but of course they were beyond even my wildest high-budget dreams. My Q3 bonus was pathetic, I will not make a purchase until after Q4. In the meantime, I will continue to research. If we consider the NAD C355 or C375 + the B&Ws, that budget is about $1250 to $1650 - which active speakers + preamp are in that price range? I probably won't upgrade the head unit until I have a more firm understanding of which DAC's will re-clock (considering the PS Audio unit now, also the Music Hall 25.2, but don't want to pay for a volume pot I won't use).
Also, thanks for all the help.
And finally, after some sub-woofer research, I have a new understanding of transient response, and I doubt I could get a good quality sound for music from a sub that costs less than $700. This system is music only. Who wants muddy bass?
Still, at $1350 (B&W 685s + $700 sub) I still am not in range of the ATC SCM11s (+/- $1800).
Knownothing, with either an external bass management controller or bass management built into the subwoofer. I use the bass management in a SVS SB12-Plus in front of a pair of active KRK VXT6 monitors in my office (desktop) system (balanced ICs all around). I'm using an NHT PVC Pro at the moment, but I'll likely bring the DAC1 in since I'm no longer using it in my main system.
I would consider the Benchmark DAC1 (basic, USB, pre or HDR) as an upgraded source and preamp. I don't know how much budget would then be left, but you can look here for several active speakers: I use the JBL LSR4300 series in my main system and the KRK VXT series in my office system. Both hit way about their weight. I've never heard them, but Genelec, as well as, Dynaudio are said to be very good. Focal has these that use the Be tweeter.

Many pro monitoring systems incorporate a subwoofer by design. The JBL system does setup (phase, level matching and time delays) automatically, as well as, room mode correction.

Please share what you've learned about transient response regarding subwoofers and muddy bass.
Thanks Bob.

I listened carefully to one of the new NAD amps set up well yesterday, and came away impressed. Now thinking the combination of the C-326BEE with the 685's would sound great in a small room. Actively, crossed over as recommended by Bob R with a musical sub it could be very, very satisfying. Would be a clear upgrade path.

Bob's suggestion of an active speaker system with sub and DAC/pre combo is also interesting.
If you like the Rotel, let me know. I just put the RB-1582 and RC-1580 in the classifieds late last night. Both of them together retail for $2798. I paid around $2400 and I'm asking $2000, but would consider going lower. They have less than 50 hours and are in absolutely perfect condition as they were purchased brand new at the end of July.
Bob, I was reading that good transient response will help the sub sound more musical when used in a stereo music system, and that transient response is much more important with music than it is with HT. But I have also read that transient response is too subtle to be detected with the typical ear. So what makes a good sub in your opinion? As I browse the dealers' showrooms listening to subs, what am I looking for, besides an on-board active high-pass filter or crossover? What are the specs...?
I think Knownothing
had a good idea as I use a Denon 988AVR to run my B&Ws on a dedicated channel and they sound real good. I auditioned the 685s,705s,684s and the CM7 with it and they all had a great sound . Your gonna want a powerd sub with those also and the Denon will give you bass management for the sub along with the ability to do HT if you want or run sound to diffrent rooms. I just happen to have the Denon and like it and it's Burr Brown DACs but there are other good AVRs out there in your budget. Moer options and more bang for the buck.
TXdog - that looks like a nice unit, and I know Denon has been manufacturing quality HT AVRs for years, but mine is not a multi-channel system, and I don't think it will become one. We should talk when I start building my HT system in the living room - after my kids grow up a bit. They are 3 and 1, and I think any HT system in there would get trashed.

There are other folks on this forum that can answer much better than I, but here's my limited understanding.

There's a measurement called group delay (see here: that many people think is relevant to the "musicality" of a subwoofer. Sealed box designs typically have lower group delay than ported designs.

Look through these subwoofer tests: to see some differences. I would also place weight on the distortion measurements based on the size of your room, music tastes and listening levels.

For example, look at the REL Storm 5 -- great group delay; terrible distortion. Check some other respected names for comparison.

I have never really understood the comments that are made comparing music to HT. I think, other than max output, the same factors that make a great sub for home theater also apply to its use in a music system. You want clean bass loud enough and low enough to reproduce the source material.