Home audio system recommendations


I hope I have this in the correct forum.

I’m new to this forum and returning to home audio after about a 35 year absence. I am looking to replace my very old system and would be interested in what your recommendations would be.

I enjoy a wide range of genres but primarily gravitate towards rock. About the only genres to do not care for is metal, hip hop/rap and opera and even in those genres I have found cuts that I like.

I was also a part time drummer for many years as well as a front of house audio engineer, that was good enough to freelance with a couple of the larger regional audio production companies in my area.

I am not a technician and have been out of the business now for about 12 years so a lot off the technical jargon is lost on me primarily because I have forgotten what it is.
I like what I call a rich sound. A modified flat, ear response curve with a little bump up in frequencies at 5K and up, a little bigger bump up at 100hz and down and dip in the in the 1K to 2K range. I also like it loud.

The only piece of high end audio equipment I’m familiar with is Magnepan. I love their clarity and accuracy but I’m not sure they can deliver the very low end that I’m looking for, at least not by them selves. I’ve also heard some Bowers & Wilkins that I’ve liked.

As far as amps and preamps I have no idea as to what I am doing. I have listened to a couple of McIntosh amps and I was not impressed. I thought they were rather thin sounding. I have also listened to a couple of Bel Canto amps, a Coda Technology and an Audio Research amp, all of which I thought were better than the McIntosh amps.

I do not know the models of any of the gear that I have listened to with the exception of the Bel Canto which was their current e series mono block amps with their e 3.7 DAC/Preamp. All other amps were integrated.

I would not call myself a purist. I’m just interested in good clean sound with some solid low end thump. Any recommendations?


Budget?  How big is your room?

I use, and recommend, Tannoys. I  built a one-off pair from HPD 315 (ca 1975 Dual Concentric 12" speakers) in 150 liter 192lb. enclosures, bass reflex. They will stay with me until my lifetime is over.

I power them with either an SET 300B amp, or a Class D amp @ 500 Wpc. They sound great either way in my larger than average room.

Welcome back, regards,
My take:
Try to audition as many speakers as you can. If you are in the NE, then I can give you some dealers.
I wouldn't worry too much about the amp/pre/dac/etc. When you find something that 'wow's you, then start looking at the other components.
Also, if you find something, let us know and I can assure you, there will be a flurry of posters offering other brands that should be similar sonic-wise.
Of course, if you aren't near any major cities, things are a bit more difficult. Then either take our recommendations with a grain of salt, or try to make some time to go and visit the dealers closest to you-It makes a nice weekend trip-Just contact who ever you are considering and give them a heads up that you are coming and if they can accommodate you.
The room can and will probably change. The current room is 10' x 14'.
I don't want to influence responses at this time by stating a budget. The current plan is to assemble the system over time by scouring the secondary market. Having said that if a single component is priced at 20K or more it's a good bet that it won't happen.

My current system contains a pair of smaller magnepans that are approximately 10 years old and is the newest and best component that I have so these will more than likely be that last piece that I replace. Kind of a backwards way of doing things but the unfortunate reality that I have to face.


You have some interesting requirements, a bump in 5Khz+, bump in 100hz bass, but a dip in 1-2khz midrange.  You definitely do not want a speaker that has a full bodied midrange.  Avoid Dynaudio and Morel speakers.  The Dynaudio and Morel speakers have a tube-like bloom in the midrange.  The Tannoy speakers have typically had a very laid back midrange, but not clear.

In my opinion, my absolute favorite speaker is the B&W D3 series.  It is very engaging.  However, it is very flat and real - so it has a very full and strong midrange.

For your tastes, I would seriously look into Wilson Audio speakers.  Wilson likes to use Scanspeak drivers for their midrange and a modified Scanspeak tweeter.  The Scanspeak drivers are extremely resolving, but I think they are slightly thin in the midrange.  This might be what you're looking for if you want a dip in the 1-2-khz range.

TMR Audio has some Wilson Audio Sophia 3 speakers for sale at about $11k.  These are crystal clear clean sounding speakers with a slightly thinner midrange and a very powerful bass/midbass response.  The Sophia's use a titanium tweeter which is somewhat bright (you like the 5khz+ bump), but still use the Scanspeak midrange.  They are 4 ohm speakers, so I would look at a very high current amplifier so that the bass is not weak.  Parasound JC1 monoblocks come to mind, but the amplifiers can really be anything.

Wilson Watt Puppy are nice too, but they are definitely a lot older (maybe up to 20 years).

Proac speakers also have your desired character, but they are not going to be as good as the Wilsons, and definitely not as strong in the bass.

In my own way of defining things, I would call B&W D3 a richer sounding speaker because the midrange is more solid and full with more resolution.  It is not going to sound as clean/clear as the Wilson.  This may not be what your looking for, however.

The B&W Diamond (D2) series has a softer midrange than the D3, but it is also not going to sound as clean/clear as the Wilson.

There is a pair of Focal Electra 1028 BE's for sale now on this site! $4800 + shipping from Michigan. List price was $7000. A superior speaker than any listed above! 
You have some interesting requirements
Yeah, Live audio will do that to you.

but the amplifiers can really be anything.
This was kinda what I was thinking, but in reading through a different thread in the forum where some guys were stating that some tube amps couldn't reproduce solid low end and solid state was deficient in other areas and me being a novice at this level and having to piecemeal a system together over time I thought I would turn to the experts whom have been at this for awhile.

Tone is the utmost importance for me and if I can't get the windows in the house to rattle with each kick drum beat while the system is delivering clear, warm and intelligible mids and crystalline highs for that little touch of sugar I might as well just listen to my iPod. (Maybe a tad over stated but you get the picture)

ARC amps seem to be popular in my area and with the limited research that I have done they appear to be a pretty good product, but if they can't deliver the low end I'm looking for than I want to know that before I purchase one as opposed to after. I'm also assuming to achieve the low end that I want I would have to incorporate a subwoofer.

I have heard some B&W speakers and have liked what I have heard. I have not heard any Wilson Audio speakers but have seen some. TMR Audio and Focal Electra I have not heard of. Physical speaker size may be an issue since I am a small guy and would need to move them around, including stairs, on my own.

I will start doing some research on the gear that has been mentioned so far.

Thanks everyone for your help.
Tone is the utmost importance for me and if I can't get the windows in the house to rattle with each kick drum beat while the system is delivering clear, warm and intelligible mids and crystalline highs for that little touch of sugar I might as well just listen to my iPod.

It appears that you have conflicting goals. I'm not saying that a sound system cannot deliver on the above. Rather that one's ears / hearing/processing will be overwhelmed by the 'kick drums rattling the windows and the subsequent reflected waves to (your word) 'intelligently' process all the other stuff, at the levels of warmth and clarity you are asking for.

Now here it comes.  There is a tendency for people just to chime in with their own speaker with the opinion that "they are the best speakers, period". lol.  Speakers are a very personal choice and not every speaker is the right one for every person.  I personally do not like the Wilson signature because I feel it is slightly too thin and overly clear sounding - almost like "turning up the sharpness on video too much".  That's my own personal opinion, but based on what you said you are looking for, the "Wilson signature" may be what you want.

Focal speakers are very clean and fast.  However, for me, they just seem too thin overall (not enough body/thickness -- even in the bass).  The beryllium tweeter is crystal clear, but I noticed that it introduces a "bell like" character to all tones.  I'm sure many people love Focal, but it is not for me.

It's unfortunate that you said speaker weight is an issue.  If you are looking for strong bass, you have to accept very large/heavy cabinets and drivers.  You could do a subwoofer, but the fidelity may not be what your looking for.  Maybe look into REL subwoofers.  They tend to blend very well with audiophile speakers.

The Wilson Sophia 3 is about 165 lbs per speaker.  That is a sign of good cabinet construction (cabinet that is resistant to resonance with good bracing).  The Sophia do have wheels so moving them around is easy, but you would need help with getting them up/down stairs.  The Sophia is 89db efficient, which is pretty good for an audiophile speaker (typical is 86-87).  As I said, they require high current amp.  A 100 watts per channel is somewhat lean in my opinion, I would recommend 200 watts minimum.  The Parasound JC1 are 400 watt monoblocks, but something like Parasound A21 would be minimum.  I do not have experience with tube amps, so I could not advise on what would be good.

TMR Audio is a vendor that re-sells used audio equipment (a.k.a. The Music Room).  They are excellent in customer service.  I have purchased from them several times.

If you have some good ear buds, maybe you can listen to some youtube videos.  Obviously, it's not going to sound as if you were really there hearing the speaker, but I have actually found it is very good at giving you an idea of the "sonic character" of a speaker.

Some videos of the Wilson Sophia 3. 




With the B&W D3 series, you should be able to hear that the midrange is a lot stronger and more solid, but not quite as "crystal clear" sounding.  I think the B&W has pretty good strength in bass/midbass.  In my own opinion, I think the B&W D3 sounds the most natural and real.  It depends on your personal tastes which you like better.




Here's an example of a more "warm" sounding midrange.  The previous generation B&W Diamond (D2) has a warmer / less clear sounding midrange.


With Focal, hopefully you will be able to hear the difference in character.  Once again, it's all personal taste.




Hopefully all this helps.

Well, if you are going to keep the Maggie's, then you should only concern yourself with amp/pre/dac or TT.
John Rutan at Audioconnection sells Magnepan and other speakers.
I would PM or email him and get his take on this. I hate to recommend a brand of speaker/amp/pre just because I like it. It is the synergy of the components that make the music come to life. And, Johnny is one of the nicest and knowledgeable people you will find in the hifi world.
If you want bass the Maggie's are NOT the way to go- building a system usually STARTS with the speakers... actually, always starts there.  Without a great amplifier to go with your great speaker choice
you're going to be disappointed with the results.  THEN you need to get the best CDP you can afford.  You can scrimp on a preamp if you find a great headphone amplifier or a CDP with a variable output (volume) control.  Wire comes last and power cords come after wire.
Power conditioners are not (relatively) important either.  
    Finally, your present room is 10 x 14 which is not very large, but you state you're considering other rooms for later.  This is no small matter and you have to make a decision about your future plans 
before you buy anything at all.  
    If you were going to do what I did (which is hardly good advice but it's the only thing i can talk about with any authority) is get an older pair of B&W speakers.  They kick ass and play nice and clean too.  Plus you can get something higher up the line by going back a few years.  And there are lots of examples out there both here and elsewhere.  Last but not least, best of luck.
I doubt that any specific speaker will have the specific eq curve that the OP has outlined. The only way to achieve this will be with an equalizer in the loop. Either that or just buy the best Magnepan models when time comes to upgrade the speakers, since he likes their sound.

It is also a fact that a given amplifier brand will have synergy with certain speaker brands, and sound like crap with others. For instance, Parasound Halo amps have a house sound that is on the warm side somewhat, and therefore would not be a good match with a warm sounding speaker brand like Vandersteen. Unless one likes a rolled off top end.

I have a pair of Totem Rainmaker speakers, and when I got them was warned that my Nad C375BEE was not a good match. They were right, I decided to keep the speakers and acquire a different amp/preamp combination.

Anyway, whichever speakers chosen, the amp/pre need to compliment them. For Magnepan, I’m sure googling specific models would help find what amps owners have had success with. A subwoofer might be a good option here, so a preamp that will crossover the main speakers and send the lows to the sub would be the way to go. Hsu Research(an internet direct brand) has great subwoofers for under $1000.  Look at the ULS-15.

Then there are cable options. Cable effects are real. Stay away from stranded wire in all of the cables. Solid core based cables do less harm to the signal. Audioquest are good but get expensive. If one can do a package deal, savings can be had for sure. One can get an amazing system for under $10,000, no need to consider $20,000 components as the OP mentioned.