Hi everyone... I'm trying to start setting up a new listening system, and I'm hoping that I can get some help from the people around here since I'm a little lost in all the options available.
A little background on the music I listen to... it's mostly rock/metal but I do have quite a few jazz/blues albums that I enjoy listening to. I have a turntable (technics 1200) and also have all my CDs ripped to FLAC and stream them using a squeezebox.
After looking around at all the options out there I noticed that most amps are really expensive, and since I'd like something with tubes I initially thought I'd start out with something small. So I was looking at the Cary xciter integrated and the matching DAC, and pair it with a set of bookshelf speakers. I was interested in this setup mostly because later when I want to upgrade I can just move it to the bedroom/office and don't need to worry about selling it.
Then after looking around some more, I saw that there's other more powerful amps that I could get that aren't terribly expensive. Some of the ones I saw were the SixPacs which seem like they would make up a solid tube power amp that I most likely won't need to upgrade in the near future. The other option was getting a tube integrated like the Cary 120S or something from Rogue Audio (either the Cronus or the Tempest II).
So out of all these options what do you guys think makes most sense? Just spend some money upfront on a good power amp that I could use as a base for my sound for a long time, and just add preamps/DACs as needed?
A used Cayin is the way to go. The 50 or the 88 would a an ideal start with tubes. Pricing should be under $1000. Great sound, great value. Yes, you will need a phono stage, but you might be able to use your existing one and just pick up the output from the tape loop.
What speakers do you have or plan on buying? Hard to make a suggestion without knowing the load that the amps need to drive. Also budget (inexpensive can be $500, $1000, $2500, etc...depending on your financial situation)?
I'm still undecided on speakers, but the budget for speakers would be preferably around $1000-$2000, maybe a bit more depending on how much I spend on the amp. I listened to some Totems that sounded pretty good (rainmaker bookshelfs were cheap), and I can get a decent deal on the Vandersteen 2c signatures but I haven't actually heard those speakers (or how they would sound for rock/metal).
Budget for the amp is around $2000-$2500, and if I go with a power amp only I can use my current receiver as a preamp temporarily until I decide on a pre.
My suggestion is to start with the speaker first and work your way back in terms of the amplification driving them. Do you have local high-end audio dealers where you can audition various speaker models and associated equipment? I would not buy the amps and speakers separately if you can help it. But if you have limited auditioning opportunities, then I would choose the speakers first, preferably having heard them and liking their sonic qualities, and then deciding what amps to drive them. Also I would budget more for the speakers and a bit less for the amplification. So in terms of your guidelines above, I would spend $2000-$2500 for the speakers and $1000-$2000 for the amplification. One last question, what is the size of your listening room and how loud do you like to listen as that will determine whether you can make due with monitors or whether you would be better served with full-range floorstanders?
Agree with Tpreaves and Cmalak - get the speakers first and skew your budget to the speakers to make sure you maximise the potential at the end of the chain. If you think you would prefer tubes, make sure you listen to the speakers driven as such. Also, look for speakers that have sensitivity around 90db or higher as this will give you more flexibility when it comes to amplification.
I can also agree with the Cayin recommendation although the A88-T requires you to manually bias the tubes by opening up the chassis. If this is not to your liking have a look at some of their external bias options or other amps with auto-bias.
Thanks a lot for all the responses so far, and what you said does make a lot of sense so I think I'll focus on finding the speaker I like first.
Tonight I went by a local audio shop and I tried some Dynaudio and Elac speakers, and for a first impression I really liked the Dynaudio Contour S1.4. I didn't bring my own music this time but listening to some jazz with female vocals sounded really good, and they had some rock that I got to try out (Faith No More) and that also sounded really clean. They're pretty expesnive speaker, around $3300 I think, but they might be worth it.
And as for biasing my amp that's not a problem... I have a couple guitar amps currently (one with KT-88 the other with 6L6) so I'm pretty familiar with tubes, and this is actually one of the reason why I want a tube amp.
The Dynaudios at 86db and 4ohms nominal are not the easiest drive and may require a bit of power to sound their best, though to be fair, I haven't heard them and you have - what was the amplification used in your audition?
A pair of standmounts I can highly recommend are the Lenehan ML-1's from Australia. They'd come in at less than the Dynaudio's and are rated at 86db and 8ohms nominal. The only problem will be the difficulty to audition. I took such a gamble and it has repaid me with an outstanding monitor speaker. Sounds great on the end of a Cayin A88-T and equally good on the end of a solid state Musical Fidelity. Have a look at their website to get an impression of the design philosophy which is pretty interesting.
Hens... thanks for the speaker recommendation, I'll have to spend some time to research them.
The Dynaudio's were powered by a Pathos Classic One, which at 70 watts doesn't seem like a whole lot of amp and it didn't have any problems driving them. However I only spend a small amount of time with the speakers so I'll have to go back for a closer listen.
I listen to similar music and I have had the 2CE Signaures and upgraded to the 3A signatures. Vandys are very right sounding with the right electronics and if you like to listen at fairly high volumes, they are non-fatuiging. I have TAD pre amp and the TAD Hibachi monoblock amps.