Budget of $30K. Help me build a system

Hi all,

I just got around to unpacking my Merlin VSM-M's from a few international moves and have decided to rebuild since I sold off a lot of my gear in those moves. I have a budget of about $30k. Will be setup in a pretty small room of 14x8

What remained was an Aragon 8003 and a Lexicon MC1. Not really an ideal setup for these speakers.

I'posted in "Speakers" because I am under the impression that is the component you start with and should build around. So looking at upgrade paths I've almost decided on the following:

Master VSM-MXM (sell my VSM-M) $13,600- $2k = $11,600
Ars Sonum Filamonia SJ ESM $4,300
Bryston BDP1 $2500
Bryston BDA1 $2500
Cardas Clear ~$3000
GIK Acoustic treatments $2000
Equitech Son of Q balanced power conditioner $2500
Hi-Fi Racks Podium Reference $2000

Which brings me to $30,400k.

Am I missing anything? Any concerns with the synergy of selected components or do you think they marry well?

Problem I have is I live in a location where I am limited to what I can audition in person. So a lot of this I will be buying deaf...which is not ideal. It also limits me to what I can buy used since there isn't much of a market here and with shipping and power issues doesn't make it cost effective in most cases.

Thanks for your advice.
Well if you are going to be buying all this unheard then buy it all used and you can cut a lot of those prices nearly in half.
Several manufacturers have a program in which you have a month to audition the speakers at home and the option to return them is you are not satisfied.
Are you familar with setting up a system in a 14x8 room? That is a serious challenge! Especially to justify the bucks you are about to spend.

You have to set up your system in a nearfield set up and many speakers are not heard to their advantage placed so close to the listener. I don't know about yours though. Personally I would be seeking out electronics (at least) that do not have a tonal emphasis on the upper-mids or highs which are normally rolled some by the difference in distance from speaker to ear in a set up other than nearfield.

Don't laugh but in a room that size I would get some very high quality monitors, supplement their bass with a sub woofer which can be set independently, location wise, to avoid bass problems and drive the system with high quality tube electronics appropriate to the speakers.

Probably unuseful advise but you asked.-)
Just going to suggest to you perhaps a radical departure from your current approach:

If you sort through the very high end systems on audiogon, you will find the system is often built around the front-end, the opposite of what you suggest (the speakers). This is because the source is your starting point, and nothing can undo problems that begin here. Consider allocating 10-15k of the 30 to the best DAC/CD/Turntable you can afford, and reduce spending on treatments. The goal is balance: no one component should "outclass" the rest. Music reproduction is a chain, and a system is only as good as its weakest link.

Kind regards,
I agree with Newbee that room size is a critical variable for you, esp. regards getting a speaker that will work well either nearfield or close to boundaries.

My first that was that many 13k speakers would be bigguns that would need lots of breathing room or overpower your space, but I see the Merlins in question are a modestly sized two way tower. Just my opinion, but wondering if 13k is a lot for such a speaker . . . .

Buy the best pair of vintage Audio Research tube monoblocks you can buy with the matching pre-amp.

Buy a vintage TEAC x 10 Reel to Reel to record digital onto analog tape...Super Cool!

Buy pair of dc10audio Berlin Studio Monitors with the solid maple horn

The look and sound of this system will be fun and hard to beat!!
Yes room size is critical here.

However I did hear a speaker yesterday that I think would suit. In fact its the finest speaker I have ever heard - period - and believe me I have heard a lot.

I am lucky and live pretty close to a small speaker maker out my way here in Australia - Lenehan Audio - and so get to hear all of his stuff.

Anyway I was down there yesterday checking out some new amps I ordered from him which finally cleared Customs (god these things take a long time here in Aus) and he had this new all out speaker he was working on for a customer connected.

It blew me away. I can't listen to my speakers any more - these things are that awesome. If it wasn't for the fact I have an even wilder isobaric speaker on order I would get a pair straight away - a friend from Canberra was with me and was so impressed is probably getting a pair after hearing them. We were both simply blown away.

Anyway here is a link to the thread over here in Aus about them rather than simply repeat it here:

Its a big ask to get a speaker unheard and from an small overseas maker at that. Although it is so new the exact price is not known but I am sure it is well under your $30K limit.

Ejlif - First, thanks all for the reply.

I live in Europe and have not been able to find a good marketplace for used high-end equipment. Buying used from Audigon doesn't seem like an option due to high shipping costs, people not willing to ship global and the gear I have targeted not in high supply.

Gsm18439 - Some do but the cost of $650 each way in shipping (was what I was quoted for a medium sized speaker) seems like I could waste my budget on shipping alone if I auditioned quite a few speakers.
Newbee - Valid point. It is a concern. And it gets worse. The ceiling is slanted 10' which slants to 6.5' on the long wall.

But it is the only room I have ant the moment. I have been working with GIK Acoustics to come up with a strategy. 2 sofit traps, 4 diffusers, 8 bass traps (with 3 hung from the ceiling). They assure me it will help with acoustics but how much, I dont know.

I could entertain monitors but as I am looking at this as my last purchase for a long time and this house is not somewhere I will live for a long time I would hate to paint myself into a corner.

The Merlin's are supposed to be pretty good off axis in terms of power response and only being a two way speakers as Jordis pointed out, bass response might be 'controllable'

The amp im looking at is a Class A 30w tube amp so my thought was its not a huge amount of power.

Still valid points and will talk to Bobby about this possible issue and see what can be done. Thanks.
I have Merlin Master VSM's with Master BAM and ARS-Sonum Filarmonia and Cardas cabling.

All I can say is that, set up properly, you will have a world class system that will bring you many, many hours of enjoyment. I am currently waiting on the very latest upgrade to the BAM (a re-wire using Cardas Clear wire), and I've been told by other customers that it's the icing on the cake.

The difference between VSM-mme's and the Master VSM's is very significant, btw. So I suspect that the leap from the VSM-M's to the MXM's will blow you away.

It's always preferable to be able to audition in your home exactly the system you will have. But I know that's not always possible. Since you're familiar with Merlin, and the speakers are voiced using the Filarmonia, I don't see how you can go wrong.

Bonne chance!

Looks like you assembled a great souding sysyem and all of your ducks are in a row. I'd still give Bobby a call @factory for final tweaking.

Budget for the Cardas Clear wire geoemtry upgrade to your Master BAM. Less than $400.00 upgrade and it is truly the icing on the cake for the VSM Master.

I agree with your approach of starting with the speakers and the amp/speaker interface is very important. I think you are on the right track with Merlin and ARS as from my experience they work well together.

I would re-evaluate the funds set aside for everything else. I know Bobby recommends Cardas with his speakers but I do not think you have to go with Clear. A friend of mine had Merlin's and used Golden Reference which are a bit less expensive. There are lots of other less expensive cable options as well that I think would work nicely too.

In addition, I would hold off on both the power conditioner and room treatments until you had everything set up in your room and listened for some time. I used both extensively for a while and learned I could live without a power conditioner and live with minimal room treatments (basically bass traps in the corners behind the speakers). If you are going to be listening near field, and in your size room that is most likely going to be the case, you may not need room treatments at all.

In any case my point is to shave off some dollars on the accessories and put more money into your source or just get the Bryston combo and set the rest aside until you have had some time to evaluate. It's possible you won't need to spend the full $30k.
Thanks all, you advice has been helpful in seeing other point of views.

Clio09, what you suggest is basically where my mindset has gone. Hold out on room treatments and power conditioner for now. A good point regarding cables. I think I might consider the Cardas Presence and take the money saved and invest in a better DAC.

Not that there is anything wrong with the Bryston BDA but a few things I have been reading lead me to believe I can improve at this 'link in the chain'. Calyx Femto, Lampinator, Aurelic to name a few.
hello blueshirt, i own a pair of the vsm's, they will work fin in a smaller room. i'm sure that bobby p. would agree with me on that one. i have a small to medium sized room 17' x 10' and the vsm's sound wonderful. i have them paired up with an older ars filly. the pair just lets the music through. check out the ayre cx7 for a digital front end. its stand alone, but it does a fantastic job on redbook cds. great choice for cables, should be a killer system, ron

$6950 x 2


$6390 x 2

Total = 26,680

PX05 Passive Integrator -$500
The room size is a bit of a problem, but you are wise in not wanting to lock into speaker selection based on the room. I do think it is essential that you choose the speakers first and work from there in assembling the rest of the system.
There are speakers that are known for their ability to do well in long wall close to the wall applications. Having only 8' to work with is going to be tough, but I have heard Wilson Sophia III's in a room not much bigger and they did really well. Another speaker you might consider for less money is the Dali Helicon 400's. They also do well close to the wall and in fact are designed for that purpose. I don't know if the Euphonia MS4's would be similar in that regard.
I've never had the pleasure of hearing Merlins but I do see a lot of Merlins in systems being driven by Joule Electra amps. Don't know if this helps, just my .02.
Perhaps if you consider speakers that are designed to be used near the back wall - say the small or mid-size Audio Note - that could upgraded to the AN-E if and when your space increases in size. Amps that work well for the AN-K/L will also work well for the AN-E.