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.
realremo
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.
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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.
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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...
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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.

db
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
NAD C-375BEE
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 Stereophile.com 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.
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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:

Features:

* 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...
Realremo,

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.
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"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).
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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.
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