Budget system not up to expectations...

I've just set up a new system, and I'm trying to troubleshoot it.
Hopefully, someone might have some insight for me.

I had an older Onkyo system (SV414 amp with 6CD) powering some old Infinity Studio Monitor 100s.

I'd been looking around to upgrade my speakers, and decided that B&W CDM1s sounded great for their pricepoint.
I found a used pair, that the seller let me demo, and they sounded great compared to what I'd previously had.
So upon purchase, I decided that it was time to move up from lampcord and buy some quality speaker cable.
I selected a used 10' of Analysis Plus Oval 9, which came with the T1 spades, that of course did not fit in the Onkyo barewire speaker connects.

So I had to upgrade my amp. I decided to go with a Denon AVR-1803 receiver over the Yamaha RX-V800.
Of course when the Denon arrived the speaker posts fit banana & barewire only (I could have sworn I read that it had 5-way!) which when speaking to Analysis Plus about retermination,
they said that AudioQuest makes a Spade to Banana adapter that would be just fine. It didn't make much sense to me that if the construction of a cable is so crucial, how an adapter could be harmless, but I took the manufacturer's word for it.

I noticed that my Apex DVD player had a digital coax out, so I figured, why not see how that fits in with the system, since I already own it, plus the cost of an AQ VSD1 coax.

So finally, this evening, I got a chance to hook it all up after a month of frugal planning.

While it sounds better than my old system, I can't quite tell if I'm being over-expectant, but it doesn't quite sound as good as when I demo'd the speakers on my old Onkyo connected with quickly stripped spare coax I had out in the garage.
The sound seems muffled, and the stereo field sounds completely fake. If I position myself near the sweet-spot, and lean from left to right, it feels like the corresponding speaker is simply louder, and there is no illusion of stereo space.
I auditioned the same CDs on both the Onkyo CD through Analog, and the Apex DVD on both digital and analog. (the Onkyo had much much more bass.)

Can anyone offer any suggestions?

System recap:

Denon AVR-1803
B&W CDM1 on Apollo A3 stands
10' Analysis Plus Oval 9 with T1 Spades & gold banana adapters
(used, so pre-burnt in)
Onkyo 6-Disc changer
Apex AD-660 DVD with Digital out
The Denon Onkyo and Apex are not even decent mi fi gerar. You get what you pay for.
I had a slightly similiar system with older bw speakers and onkyo sv90 125w receiver (MIT T2 IC's $50 each, Audioquest slate speaker cable $91). The onkyo blew away my denon 2801 that I bought. While looking at your system, your speaker cables sound much more expensive than what I think you need. I would have used the money on a decent 2 channel amp (anything around $200+) and bought a pair of under $80 used speaker cables later. I had audioquest slate which I bought for $90 from audioadvisor (they are much less than the oval 9 but yet are still a huge jump from zip cord). I now use MIT cables, which I think help with this type of equipment. The Denon's (and most surround receivers in general) are fine for watching movies, but as you can see from my previous posts to me there performance for music leaves something to be desired. I probably would have bought a nice integrated or pre-amp combo for the same money I spent on the Denon 2801 if I were to do it again. While having heard a similiar quality apex player via the digital out or analog coax the volume was very muted in comparison to my other DVD player, again I would not spend so much money on a digital cable for this $15-30 at most (canare digiflex, apogee wide eye, radioshack).

Did you do the demo where your system is or in the garage? (I'm thinking about a possible bad room interaction.) Try swapping out the Denon and Analysis cables back to the Onkyo with lamp cord. See if it improves back to what you remember from the demo. If it does improve, then I would guess either that there might be a defect in the Denon or the Onkyo was colored in a pleasing way. Good luck.
Painter, are you using your system to watch movies at all or is it dedicated to music? From your post I can tell you're a pretty discerning listener, so I'd say that Pe3046's advice about going straight to a good integrated or pre/amp might be the only way you'll be happy. I think the AP Oval 9s are very good speaker cables and may just be passing an upstream signal you don't like. I went through exactly what you're experiencing, you have the curse my friend.
Oval 9 is very revealing. Probably too much for your source and amplificaiton. Either upgrade your front end or switch to a ~$100 used cable (would recommend a Cu one from Audioquest). This is a typical "mismatch" issue, your cable is more expensive than you CD/amp. Or your room maybe a bad accoustic one, a revealing system may cause edgy sound in a bad room. Try to place speaker in different locations.
Please don't hear this as insulting but are you sure you have your speakers wired in phase?

Bishopwill's suggestion is the first place I would look. The comment about moving your head side to side, sounds like it's out of phase. Now, you could have all the colors matching correctly and either a speaker or the amp terminations are wired incorrectly (yes this happened to me once). If you have the Stereophile test CD, it's first cut is a phase test. We make a test CD, but didn't put the phase test on it--and may ad it for future.

I will also have to concur with "Pe3046" when it comes to what type of system you are trying to put together with in reference to what type of electronics you are currently using. If this is going to be a mostly music system, then while your speakers and source (for now) appears to be fine, I cannot help but wonder why would you be using an a/v receiver to anchor your music system??? In such a system, I think that either an two channel integrated amplifier (from the likes of Arcam, Creek, or Rotel) or a "entry-level" preamp/power amplifier setup (from the likes of Adcom, NAD, Parasound, or Rotel) would make better sense. With exception to my preamp (I own the flagship Adcom GFP-750), my own amplifier (an Adcom GFA-545 MkII that is of 1991 vintage) is in the same price class as one you should be considering for your system as well. A change in cable wouldn't hurt matters much either. I currently use MIT cables (MITerminator 2 and MITerminator 3 Interconnects with MITerminator 2 Speaker Cables) in my system as well. With a few exceptions, a/v receivers are fantastic for movies, but they would be the last things I would pick if I am assembling a music system. But now, if this is going to be more of a movie system than a music system, then the choice to use a receiver becomes more valid then.

And by the way, how is that Apex DVD Player holding up??? If I am purchasing a cheap dvd player, I would think that Toshiba or Sony would make better choices as well.

And lastly, make sure your speakers are wired "in phase" before making any quick judgements. If they sound muffled and closed in, it could be that your system is "out of phase" as well. This can be easily corrected by making sure your amplifier terminals match up with your speaker terminals when you are connecting them together (i.e.: red terminal from receiver to red terminal at the speaker, and black terminal from receiver to black terminal at the speaker).

Check your connections first. If they seem to be intact, then I would check all of my equipment after that.

Good Luck........

Thanks for the replies!

I guess now if you'll oblige me, does anyone feel up to playing the "match a new integrated amp to my speakers and cables" game?
Hopefully I'll be able to return the Denon, but I am "stuck" with the CDMs and AP-O9s for now. Obviously price is an issue, but if there's an amazing enough unit, I might throw prudence out the window.
Being forced to choose, this will be a music system, as opposed to HT.

Budget: $400 (less if possible, but perhaps could go to around $600 if it was really, really warranted.)

Now on to the specific replies:

1. Natalie: Uhm, thanks for the vague advice. I'm accepting any donations you're offering to help better my system. In the meantime, I'll spend the money that I can.

2. Pe3046: I think I'm in agreement with you. It's all after-the-fact, tho. I thought my research was rock solid, but maybe I should've Posted (here) Before Purchace.

3. Jameswei: Sadly, I think the Onkyo/lampcord sounds slightly better... Could this be the Denon requiring burn-in time?

4. Gunbei: I wanted the best of both worlds, of course! Heh, yeah... I think I do have the curse--pretty badly, too.

5. Bluefin: Are you really saying to get rid of my cables to match the quality of the Denon? I couldn't recoop any cash from the cables at this point, so I'm hesitant to even consider it. My listening room is not ideal at this point, (building a new home soon) but I've situated the speakers as best I can.

6. Bishopwill: Just to be sure, I mis-wired them, and my head nearly imploded in the sonic vacuum! AAIIIEEE!

7. Rives: Done and Done. I think I'd be interested in one of your Test CDs, as I'm currently using my favorite discs as unquantifiable reference.

8. Chaskelljr2001: "...why would you be using an a/v receiver to anchor your music system???" 1.) I didn't set out to create an exclusive music system 2.) Incorrect interpretation of research / belief in web reviews.
"A change in cable wouldn't hurt matters much either." To a more expensive one? NoCanDo.
"And by the way, how is that Apex DVD Player holding up???" The Apex is my favorite little $69 gadget ever. It plays DVDs, DVD-R, VCD, SVCD, MPEG1s, MP3s, JPGs, and a few other odd formats. You can reprogram the ROM to make it region free, disable Macrovision and burn in a custom-made graphical background. Not very "phile" oriented, but a beautiful little H4xie workhorse.
Painter, my experience with friends I've known assembling low to mid fi systems is that when they bring one or two pieces from a store into thier own system, it sounds completely different, especially in the amp/cable/speaker loop. The way these 3 interact can be frustrating. More expensive isn't necessarily better if things don't mate up.
If you're rich, you can keep swapping things out till you get a good match. If you're not, things are tough! The above respondents certainly were not sensitive to that. You need to get all your gear to a shop, cables included, to try as many combinations as possible...or find some way to get a bunch of gear/cables to your place for trial. There is no other way.
Does the Denon have an analog or 2-ch direct feature? And do you have any friends or a cooperative dealer from whom to get some other/better gear to try? I'd be curious about 3 options:
1. a better CDP analog into the receiver's analog bypass
2. an outboard 2-ch amp
3. an outboard small integrated (in addition to, not in lieu of, your receiver)
If you are saying you could spend an additional $400-600, I think any of these will offer an improvement, but it'd be nice to try before you buy to see which offers the best return to your ears.
"Sadly, I think the Onkyo/lampcord sounds slightly better"

It might actually. I tried the AP oval 9 a couple years ago in my 2ch system that was about $10k then (Hybrid tube/ss circuits). It didn't do anything performance wise and I went back to my longer runs of Kimber 4PR I'd had for 7 years. (When the salesmen found out I was using 4PR they'd always freak out like I was heretic, but it didn't bother me since I knew better). When I emailed analysis plus asking the LCR values of their cables--they wouldn't even give me an answer. Just one of these politician BS answers that circumvents the question "we feel that inductance is largely misunderstood in cable....blah, blah, blah". You could sell the AP at over half, maybe 2/3 of what you paid.

NAD builds nice integrateds for <$400 new and the older Audiolab 8000 series were pretty good units too. If you insist on using one of these high peformance cables you might want to try something like Kimber 4PR for a system like yours or another cheaper cable like Bluefin says. Personally, spending more money on your speaker cables than your amp, as others have noted, really isn't the best way to get maximum performance.

Search older threads on budget integrateds for more discourse, there should be quite a few.
I can tell you the integrated's that I was looking at, but my speakers were not as power hungry as the bw. Someone just posted a used Rotel for $425, The audio refinement complete (60w per channel but very nice and musical sounding), The roksan caspian..I have seen these go used for $595 sometimes, the creek, nad, arcam. Someone more familiar with the power requirements of the BW can direct you to the type of wattage you want. If it were me, I would sell the AP Oval 9 speaker cables to spend more money towards the amp (you should be able to get what you paid for them if you bought them used off audiogon). As never owning these but from what I have read they are more towards the neutral to bright sound, the opposite I would think of what you would need for this level of equipment. You should look to spend around $30-50 used on interconnects (straightwire chorus, MIT T2, DIY cables, audioquest)and less than $100 used on speaker cables (a little more for bi-wire versions)I would go for a warmer sounding cable but that is what I like. For $600 you could get a Adcom GF710 pre-amp (remote) and a adcom 545 or 5400 amp. I would advise you to do more research (search older threads,look on audio asylum also) on integrated and pre/amp combos or what amp's people are using with the bw and then post again. There are also some good deals in higher wattage amps if you go something a little older.

I used three different runs of Analysis Plus Oval 9 during the period I owned the Simaudio Moon I-5 and Electrocompaniet ECI-3 integrateds. The speakers at the time were Sonus Faber Concertinos and ProAc Tablette 50 Signatures. My experience with the AP9s was that they delivered a full sound especially in comparison to the DH Labs T14s which they replaced. Although I liked them, I've heard varying accounts of how the AP9s affected people's systems, so I don't think it's safe to assume how they'll sound if you buy a new amp.

The Simaudio Moon I-5 is a 70wpc solid state integrated. It has lot's of detail, but sounds a bit on the lean side so I don't know how it'll work mated to your B&W CDM1s and source. The Electrocompaniet also 70wpc has most of the good things of the Moon I-5, but with a smoother presentation. Both integrateds sound much stronger than 70wpc, and can usually be found for between $1000-1500 used.

I'm not sure of the CDM1's sonic signature, but I've heard they can be tough to drive, so a tube or low powered SS integrated might struggle a bit. Even still, I would consider the Rogue Tempest or Audio Research CA50 tube integrateds if you can swing the cash and sell your other amps. Do you listen loud? What kind of music do you like?
Painter: One possible explanation that no one's mentioned yet: Buyer's Remorse. You've spent all this time and money, and you're expecting WOW! And all you get is EH? I don't think a $400 integrated is going to solve your problem. I suggest that you STOP upgrading for a while, and see if your new system grows on you. It probably will.
Bomarc raises an interesting point that makes me think ... The question and subsequent discussion is framed as 'what's wrong with this equipment?'. Wouldn't we take another tack if it were "how can i improve my sound?" To what extent have you looked at your speaker positioning and room issues? Perhaps there is still some low-hanging fruit there.
yeegads - too much information:
I'm not sure what to make of all this above, but do learn one thing from this experience...
When you make any changes to a system, only make them *one change at a time* then listen for at least a couple of days so you get used to it before changing anything else. If you do not like the change, then go back to square one (even if you do that immediately) & then make a different change elsewhere. It's no wonder that you don't presently know where you're at; you don't really know how you got there.
Go with speakers that you like (you have that now) & then build the rig up around them. Pick one of your receivers, whichever one you like best when connected with zip cord, then experiment with speaker cabling until you find a good match. MIT T2, T3, T4 may work nicely so that's a good rec. You might even consider what the seller was using for both the equipment & the cable interface (you liked the demo). If you start out with a known good working model that's at least a place to grow from.
Next thing is to find out what interconnects work nicely with your source components. If anything has detchable AC cords then this is another possible area of tuning experimentation. Play music that you like & are very familiar with when you demo; use those references consistently.

So I just got back from the AV store and listened to systems that were 3 & 4 times the value of what I have, and none of them gave me that WOW factor either.

I think Bomarc hit the nail on the head with the idea that I'm expecting too much.

I appreciate everyone's effort in trying to help me.
I think I'm actually going to just take a break from trying to "fix" the problem right now and listen to what I actually have for a little while.
Painter, I found that it's a rare store that gives you that WOW experience. With so much gear fighting for floor space it's often difficult to create the best environment to showcase their components.

You may be expecting too much from an AV receiver for 2-channel WOW reproduction, but I still think you can achieve your goal with the advice in this thread.

I think you're taking the best route by taking a break, listening to what you have, reflecting and not making a rash decision.

Post again after you get tired of sitting under that fig tree. ;-)