Please Critique my Setup and Recommend Upgrade(s)


As a lifelong musician and former recording / pro audio engineer, this is my first foray into the world of HiFi and I could really use some advice and direction.  Last week I bought the following setup for a dedicated listening room that is essentially a 13x13 square room on three sides with the area behind me extending back another 25 or so feet.  There is a partial backwall about four feet wide but it is mostly open air behind me.  Ceilings are 9' and I have GIK bass traps in all corners, early reflection points on the side walls, and panels overhead between speakers and listening position.  Speakers are about 2 1/2 feet from back wall, 6 ft. apart, slightly toed in on cheap stands weighted down by cinder blocks.

1. 2017 VPI Scout Prime turntable with Ortofon Bronze
2. 2017 Rega Brio Integrated 50wpc Amp and Phono Stage
3. ELAC Uni-Fi UB5 Speakers

So far this setup certainly sounds good, but it isn't blowing me away either.  At lower volumes the soundstage feels a little small and two-dimensional.  At louder volumes the sound seems to fill the room more, thereby enhancing the soundstage and making the music feel more natural as opposed to coming from directly in front of me.  The stereo imaging is okay, but I expected a little more stereo separation.  Also, perhaps the speakers are still breaking in, but the ELACs don't seem to do the best job of presenting the music in a cohesive manner.  It sounds like the frequency bands are a little disjointed.    

Should I stick with the ELACs but consider a higher end integrated amp that can feed them a little more power like a Parasound Halo?  Or should I nix the ELACs and invest in some more efficient and higher end loudspeakers,e.g. Devore, ATC, ProAc, etc...?  Would I still get an audible improvement with these nicer and more efficient speakers if I stick with the Rega Brio, or do these high end speakers warrant a truly high end amp?  I ask because I likely can't upgrade both speakers and amp at the same time.    

I also considered the KEF LS50, but it seems like they are similar to the ELACs in that they are rather inefficient and need a powerful amp.  

   
529proaudio
The Elacs are an excellent budget speaker, but perhaps you have aimed too low
aimed the speakers too low or aimed for too low in my speaker choice?  
Many audiophiles have their own opinion on this subject but in my opinion, at the end of the day, the music comes out of the speakers.  You can have all the best downstream sources and amp, but if your speakers can't produce the sound, you've hit a major limitation that you can't fix.  I would look into buying better speakers, potentially ones that can grow with improvements to your audio system.  I think the Vandersteen 2CE could be an excellent choice, where the sound quality would improve with incremental upgrades.  Last word of advise, don't try to match the speakers to the amp.  Try to find the speakers you like and match the amp to the speakers.  Gook Luck! 
529proaudio - I was just looking at the specs for your speakers and amp and here are a couple of thoughts. The Elacs are not all that efficient at 85db/1w and being 4ohm are somewhat hard to drive for their size. Your amp is rated at 50WPC at 8ohm and 73WPC at 4ohm which tells me that it’s not a very high current amp which would be a better match for the Elacs. The Elacs are also rated at 40-140WPC so you’re already kind of at the low end.

The other possible consideration is that the speakers are fairly small considering the size of the room.

Have you tried moving the speakers closer to each other and your seating position closer as a test?

Also (and I’m guessing you know this) based on the design of the tweeter and midrange drivers sharing the same physical space, I would imagine that you’d want these drivers pointed directly at your primary listening position (right at your nose in other words).

Greg
both the Rega and the Elac are great values, but the VPI can do much better...depends what you want
Hi Greg, I agree about the Rega being somewhat underpowered for the inefficiency of the ELACs. Given the choice, would you upgrade the speakers to something better and more efficient or keep the ELACs and upgrade to a more powerful amp? I'm leaning towards upgrading the speakers, particularly since the Rega is also my phono stage and headphone amp. 

As for speakers, any favorites (new or used) in the $3k range?  
529proaudio - I think that for the size of room that you have, if you can get full frequency floor standers, you'd be happier in the long run.  As a general rule, all new systems should probably start with speaker selection.

Sure, I have my favorite speakers but it's such a personal choice, what I like (Bowers and Wilkins), you may hate.  

I suggest listening to as many as you can and see what sounds great to you.  Once you've arrived at a speaker set that you really like is to think about your amp next.

All part of the fun :)

Greg


Excellent observations & recommendations above.    Re: flat @low volume vs decent @high volume.   I do not really have a back wall either behind my listening chair.  The volume does need to be cranked up to enjoy what my system has to offer.   I think having a back wall is important for pressurizing the room - especially @lower volume.  By any chance, can you reverse your set-up and face the speakers toward the rear wall - put the equipment rack off to the side?
IMO, upgrade the speakers first.  Instead of the LS50, consider the KEF R300 or R500.  The R series is really impressive and a huge step up from budget stuff like Elac.
Tekton Double Impact. $3000 delivered. 

Eventually, you're going to want more and better amplification. I'd start with better amp or speakers.  Later on, you can pick your "final" speakers for your listening room, but I'd recommend going for better power now, with the Elacs, just to illustrate the benefits of improved current delivery.  If you add a decent subwoofer as well, that just might take care of things long term.  You'll never get proper bass from the Elacs alone, even in your medium-sized room.

My room is about 14 x 14, opening out on two sides.  You might want to look at my photos to see I've approached this kind of space, just to give you an approximate sense of scale. 
"As a lifelong musician and former recording / pro audio engineer...." In my experience musicians are very happy with poor or mediocre sound systems since they are able to produce the real thing on a regular basis. It's the recording/pro audio engineer in you that is going to need a better hifi. It sounds to me like what you are missing is realistic "scale" and seamless "coherence". Scale will require bigger speakers and maybe a bigger room. Improved coherence can come from higher quality speakers with better crossovers or from a single driver speaker. Your choices will depend on how much more you want to spend. 
Given your pro background, I’d listen to the new Klipsch Forte III speakers ($4000/pr). Very immediate and articulate (if they’re anything like my La Scallas). Klipsch also has a new design called "The 15s" ($3000/pr) which are self-powered, are Blue-tooth enabled and accept phono and digital input -how cool is that? They have a single horn for mids/tweet and a fifteen inch woofer. BTW, the 15s feature some sweet wood-work. They go for the "Craft built" look. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NA51bUYwuBk
@proudio529 you bought low/mid end system and that’s the sound level that you’ll get .not more and not less. If you really want a big improvement you will need to upgrade your system .I can recommend one of the British speakers ATC,Proac,Harbeth or PMC.
Amplification : McIntosh,Bryston or ATC .
Also you’ll need good cables : Audioquest, Whireworld ,Cardas or Tellurium.
Aimed too low for your speaker choice

You are getting all sorts of advice, all of which is true to some extent. . I would suggest starting with the speakers as you will have an immediate improvement.  Listen to the new ones before buying if possible (if they are really nice, they will let you bring your amp) . Going "used" is usually safe, and will enlarge the pool of choices.
" It sounds like the frequency bands are a little disjointed."

That's your speakers. The Elac's are OK, but you can do a lot better. You can fix that by getting time and phase correct speakers like the Vandersteen Model 1's. They're more coherent than a esl or ribbon type planar speakers. (I've actually put them next to ML's and Magnepans). I know your budget allows for a more expensive speaker like the Model 2's, but they may be too big for your room and amp. The 1's are much easier to drive. Also, Vandersteen gives you contour controls for the mids and highs that you can use in less than ideal rooms and placement. If you upgrade your other components in the future, the Vandersteen's will let you hear the differences in better electronics in ways the Elac's could never do.    
+1 for fstein.
Start with speakers and then the amp. Go to as many audiophile stores that you can stand and listen to speakers in a room with enough space to equal your own. If you can find them, see if you can listen to some of the recommendations others have made in this thread. Most important, pick what sounds best to you. Then, see if you can demo them in your home. Finally, get an amp that goes best with those speakers. Make sure, the speakers can be driven by your current amp. If not, and you love the speakers, you know what's next. If you want to get on the continuous improvement merry-go-round, then the new components should better your turntable combo. Otherwise, just smile when you drop the arm!
Kenny

All good ideas above. It's interesting that no one has mentioned the placement of the speakers. They play the room. Although you've tried different placements before you purchase something new try this. Sumiko Master Set Speaker setup. You may not be maximizing the speakers and their amplification specifically for your room. I don't believe in formulas. Take your time. Use your ears. And it's free. Once maximized then you can upgrade first with full range floor standing speakers you like then match an amp to them. Best of luck!
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As others have said, and I concur, you could do with better speakers(first) and better amp/pre(second).
My 2 cents( and +1 kenny):
Start by going to as many dealers as possible and listen and learn what you like. Don't confine your listening to models in your price range, listen to the most expensive, too. 
This will give you the understanding of what is possible.
When you narrow down what you like/want. Then look for a matching amp and preamp. Again, a good dealer will help you with your decision, and you can always ask here, too.
Bob
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" All good ideas above. It's interesting that no one has mentioned the placement of the speakers. "

I did. I also forgot to mention Vandersteen recommends the OP's Rega as a good match for the Model 1's.
Have you listened to your current setup sans the acoustic treatments?  My thought is you are over-damped for the space.  Take them all out and listen.  Then start adding back a piece or two at a time and see what you think is better.
Hey guys, can’t thank you enough for all of the sage advice. Much appreciated! I experimented with a few things today and am definitely getting a better sound. I swapped out the generic loaner phone connect for what appears to be a much better, albeit far from boutique, phono connect from Pro-ject that my dealer highly recommended. Next, I moved the speakers back a bit and placed them wider which has certainly opened up the image and enhanced the low end a bit. For reference, they are 32" from back wall to front of speaker and 39" from side wall to front of speaker. I don’t feel that the acoustic treatments are overly absorbing the room necessarily, as the sound is still what I would consider bright, almost too much so. I do think it is pretty accurate as I’m not getting any early reflections from the 9’ ceiling or the side walls and the bass should be pretty well trapped in all of the corners.  Scrolling through the pics on this site, I'm kind of blown away to see so many setups with uber-expensive gear and zero acoustic treatment.   

Despite the noted improvements, I’m afraid I’m already addicted to this and am still very curious to hear what a truly high end loudspeaker and/or amp combo is capable of. Thinking seriously about jumping on a used set of Devore Gibbon 9’s, but am having a hard time spending that kind of money on speakers I’ve never heard...especially until I’ve had a chance to check out some of the other brands suggested here.

Thanks again for all the suggestions.  I really appreciate you taking the time to support a ’total newb’ as my 8 year-old son would say.

Best,
Chris

2nd
Tekton DIs
"nix the ELACs and invest in some more efficient and higher end loudspeakers,e.g. Devore, ATC, ProAc, etc?"

Yes. If your budget allows I would go for Active ATC SCM25A, 40A or 50A. Of course it will be night and day. 
You need to think of the speaker/amp as a combination. Given your size room there are many speakers that can be driven to very loud levels with 50wpc, however not all. Also must consider the sonic synergy between both components. I would take the amp to dealers when auditioning speakers. then you will know wether you need upgrade both. 
"I'm kind of blown away to see so many setups with uber-expensive gear and zero acoustic treatment"
Excellent point, so very true. Amazing isn't it? So much $ spent on gear, little-to-nothing on room treatment.
I'm equally guilty. Been in this hobby since the 70s. Always bought gear, never any treatment. Just recently started adding treatment and really spending time dialing in the best speaker and listening seat positions for my dedicated 14x14 room.
I've read the setup is at least 50% of the sound you will get.
I believe it.
I highly recommend Jim Smith's book Get Better Sound.
Lots of great posts already, bunch of good people on this site, lots of great information.

Tom
acoustic treatment...room placement...component matching...especially speakers...though some speakers seem very sensitive to these, and others much less so, though always important...some speakers seem to always sound good even if mismatched with amp and room, and others only sound good if perfectly set-up
I recommend the Rogue Audio Cronus Magnum II, or the Prima Luna Dialogue Premium, if budget permits. The ELACs should shine with a gutsy tube inegrated. The Magnum II has an improved phono stage over the original, by the way. No phono in Prima Luna though.
I tried the Rogue Sphinx hybrid at my dealer but the Rega Brio was better with the ELACs. He has a Cronus Magnum that I can try, but he told me the phono stage wasn't all that great. Not sure if he meant in comparison to the Brio or just in general. 

Still thinking that upgrading to a pair of more efficient and better speakers would kill two birds with one stone as the low power of the Rega Brio wouldn't be as big of a deal. Still, I wouldn't be caught dead playing a solid state guitar amp, so something tells me I'm going to really prefer a tube amp when I finally hear one. 
 
Been crazy busy but hope to check out a few places this next week. 


IMO your turntable is your best component, so I'd vote to upgrade to floorstanders for more presence and a beefier amp to match. Get a used pair of Spendor A6 speakers or go for the KEF R500.

BTW I'm actually going to listen to your very turntable/cartridge combo tomorrow! I've got Spendor D9 speakers and the Chord CPM-3350 amp.
I used to have a 13x13x8 ft room. I had a pair of large speakers at 1st and I couldn't get them to sound any good. So I went with a pair of Totem Model 1's which are fantastic speakers, but I was missing the low end. After going thru different amps I ended up getting a Rel subwoofer to pair up with the totems. This allowed me to get the right low end without having to turn up the volume. Also, before I bought the Rel, I bought a pair of Totem Mani 2's which needed much more power and again I couldn't drive them in that small room. I eventually used the Mani's in a dedicated room that was 22x13 which sounded great.

If if you do look at larger speakers, I would go with a forward ported speaker that would allow you to put them closer to the back wall. I would look at the Usher Mini Dancer I. 

IMO there is nothing wrong with the VPi, you can always upgrade that later. 
Bought them last week?   It can take weeks before all that new equipment burns in!  Its not going to reach its potential until it does.  Just adding one piece of new equipment into a broken in system will take it down a notch.  When everything is new?  Its going to take a while before everything settles in.  Most likely,  things will be veiled until it happens.
Another +1 for Tekton Designs Double Impacts. Do some research, read some reviews, and get a pair in for a month or two. I'm pretty sure they will take things in the right direction. http://www.tektondesign.com/test.html
Where are you sitting? What I am getting at is they are most likely too close try 8 feet apart, should improve your soundstage.  

Your speakers need a better amp to push them perhaps a very nice tube amp.  I know they can get expensive, but there are some that are very nice in the $2500-$5000 range.  

Bottome line better amp.

good luck and always buy quality!!!

People will recommend what they have heard.  You. Red to expose yourself to as many speakers as possible. Look at those that are over your budget. Chances are you can find them used for less. Personally I think the Vandersteen ones and twos are a great sound and there are lots out there used. I have B & Ws which lacked bass added a used Vandersteen self powered woofer the 2WQ, which freed the amp from handling the bass Entire system sounded so much better. You might be able to keep the  amp and the Elacs with a self powered subwoofer. Also consider your cables 
We've upgraded many Debuts and Uni-Fis to ELAC's beautiful BS 403 bookshelf. It's $1000 in gloss black/white, and sounds considerably better than either one of the less expensive lines.
If you can audition that particular one, that's what I'd recommend.
I'd also remove all the treatment from the room. Get a baseline performance level that you're satisfied with just by playing with positioning of the speakers, then add the panels/traps if/when needed.

cheers,
alex

Ok...the VPI Scout Prime with an Ortofon Bronze (I am assuming 2M series since the Rega is only MM loading) is your strongest component.  I am wondering though, if you are limiting it by using the integrated phonostage of the Rega Brio.  I'm not a big fan of integrated anything, but especially not for the phonostage.  I'd maybe consider borrowing a proper separate phono pre-amp from your dealer.  A good all-rounder is the Sutherland Insight. Music Direct sells them and gives you a generous 60-day return period should you not be happy with it.  

Speakers are so subjective; not only is their sound a consideration, but their style also should influence your decision.  What looks good to me might not you and might not fit the rest of your decor.  I'm a fan of Martin Logan electrostatic paneled speakers.  They are not the most efficient and will get better the more power you throw at them.  They are very fast and accurate and provide a nice sound stage, but they have compromises.  Biggest one being there is a very narrow sweet spot for the listener.  The only cone speakers I would consider ditching the Logans for are Tidal or Aerial Acoustics (that I have heard).  But those are super expensive!!!  Looking at the speaker selection offered at say, Music Direct, I think Sonus Faber has one of the better reputations.  I've not heard them, but know the company is well respected.  Focal also, but the ones sold at MD are their lowest end (I think).  I'd look at Stereophile online and see what speakers they recommend in your price range.

Here is a link:

http://www.stereophile.com/content/recommended-components-2017-edition-loudspeakers#XA72TpL7A6pv5so2...

Kind regards,
Jason
HOLY S#!T, that's a lot of advice in 4 days!
This will be a drop in the bucket.
+1 for waiting until the system burns in, unless there is a 30 no risk return or something.
Starting with the best speakers is a well worn philosophy. In your case, however, the relatively low power of the Brio limits you. It won't be enough for the Vandersteen 2Ce, so it's already pushing you down to the 1Ci. So you've pretty much got to upgrade the integrated in order to broaden your speaker choice.
One approach may be to buy something like a used 100 W Rotel as an interim. It would power almost any speaker your going to look at, you could probably get one for about $250, (and sell it for the same amount when your ready), and they sound really good for the money. Something like a RA-1070 or even a receiver like the Rx-1052 (go with something like a NAD if you want a warmer sound) Shop for the speakers you really like, and then an integrated that brings out their best.
Also, you only mention the VPI/2M bronze as a source. The cartridge may take longer than the rest of the system to break in. Do you have a CD player? Is it giving you the same issues as the LPs?

Best of luck.
Thanks again guys, really appreciate the advice!!!

As for the Rega Brio, I agree that it is a limiter at 50wpc for many speakers, but is it fair to say that upgrading to more efficient speakers would be as helpful as buying a more powerful amp, if not more?  I'm still new to speaker sensitivity and impedance, but wouldn't an upgrade from 85db to 91+ be the equivalent of running a monster amp with the ELACs?

I would guess I'm around 24 hours of music on the system, so I suppose I'm still in the burn-in phase with everything...again, the system doesn't sound bad by any stretch, but I'm willing to try a different amp and/or loudspeaker to make it really shine.  
I'll third the Tekton Double Impacts.  Huge value--maybe the biggest I have ever experienced in  over 40 yrs in this hobby.  Listening to them right now.  They  would be easily driven by your current set up.  (not sayin' you won't get the upgrade itch  once you hear these.)
Also, just to be clear, the room is actually about 13' wide by at least 40' long. My designated listening area of the space is 13x13. 
Quickest bang for the buck with the amp you have Tekton Doubles
If I were you, I would do this:
1. Get a sealed sub,put on a corner, not symmetricaly.
2. Put the best cabling you can afford from power cord to speaker cables, look for occ.
3. Try all the possibilities of the speakers positions.
Good luck!
A lot of recs for the Tekton so far. Is this a new speaker company / design?  The only reviews I can find are kind of obscure home theater sites. 
I agree with what several others have already said, focus on your speakers first...I've had Polk, B&W, Energy, Monitor Audio, Definitive Technology, Cambridge Audio, Event, BIC, Wharfedale, Sunfire, Pioneer, JBL, Bose, Pinnacle, PSB, and several others.  I have sold most of the above brands off, some of which I had more than one model, and have settled on KEF R300s, which someone above has already mentioned to you.  The detail and esp the stereo separation will floor you...I also have the R400 sub paired w/them, and am very happy w/this setup.  I also have the Halo P5 pre, which someone else mentioned.  I bought it mainly because of the built in crossover section...but be advised that the DAC in it stinks.  Of course, if you are doing a [mostly] analogue system, that would be a non-issue. I am using a hybrid [Vincent] amp that warms up the sound somewhat ~ overall, a very nice, detailed sound.  Oh yeah, I am not doing a turntable at all, I'm using an Oppo UDP 203 to play CDs, which I know is not very trendy right now.  How funny that now CDs are "old-school".  But some of the things you are looking for [stereo separation, big soundstage] I have in spades.  As you know, and many above have already said, it's primarily preferential ~ keep after it, tho, because you can definitely get the sound you want...you just have to keep experimenting. 
Well, that was a long and roundabout way of saying, I second the vote for the R300s ;-0
Speakers for sure.  We can nitpick and upgrade the whole system, but for me, your speakers are the weak link. I also thought about the cartridge, as it seems to be a bit outmatched by your table, but that I think can stay for a while. 

I dont know your budget or taste, but these two speakers caught my eye after a cursory search.  Both larger and more sensitive than your current speakers, and both a big jump up. Both in the 800-1200 price range on the 2nd hand market on audiogon.

https://www.audiogon.com/listings/full-range-tannoy-eyris-dc3-floorstanding-speakers-pair-1862-2017-...

https://www.audiogon.com/listings/full-range-revel-f36-pair-white-2017-03-31-speakers-90710-harbor-c...

I think I would look for a speaker I liked and that the rega could drive reasonably well first. My next focus would probably be a MC cartridge and a phono preamp that can properly amplify the MC cart.  I would budget about $1000 for a new MC cart and perhaps $500 for a used phono preamp. I think that level of analog gear will be more properly matched to your table, and once you have found speakers, the source is the next worthy upgrade.

lastly, I would look at the amplification and cables.  All this of course assumes that you don't mind diving in and funding a total system upgrade!!  It certainly doesn't have to happen overnight.  But if you have the taste for it and want the next level in sound reproduction, that is the path I would follow in the months or years to come.


@529, Tektons have been around for a while. I am very glad I took the chance on them. IMO they will simply crush anything in and around the 3k mark. I've owned KEF Reference, Paradigm Sigs several times, Ushers, Dynaudio, Revel Performa, and some more I'm sure I'm forgetting. This is just my opinion the Double Impact as an overall package spanks them rather handidly.