Upgrade entire system, speakers first

I want to upgrade everything but thought I would start with speakers. Room is about 10 x 12 ft. Current system is Arcam alpha 8 integrated, Arcam CD and PSB bookshelf speakers on stands. Listen to mostly jazz and chamber music but would like to be able to listen to orchestral pieces as well. Budget for new system will be around $10K, thinking SS integrated, CD and speakers, new, not used. I would like to start with speakers now, maybe $4K and upgrade components 6 to 12 months later (cash flow!). Any suggestions for speakers appropriate to my small room would be appreciated (with comments on components to match in the future).

Welcome to AudiogoN! It appears that this is your first post. All I can say is "you came to the right place!" Over time you should be able to get lots of good advice on upgrading your system. And this is a great place to buy/try different components for your system.

The Arcam stuff is pretty good, but you're down a couple of notches from the top of their line. The PSB are also pretty good. Personally, I think you can get a better sounding system that will also do a good job on large scale pieces for a lot less than your $10K proposed budget. You have a small room, so you won't need huge speakers or high power. Also, if you intend to have CD as the only source, it opens up more possibilities as some higher end CD players have built-in volume control, so you might choose to go CD direct to a power amp, thus saving money over an integrated or seperates.

OK, now on to a recommendation: First, I would always suggest getting out to hear as many different speakers as possible. You can go to dealers or maybe look here in the forums for a club that is near where you live. If you can't actually audition speakers because you live in a remote area or small town, I would suggest making a short list and waiting for a pair to show up here on AudiogoN. If you can buy them at a good price, you can try them in your system, then re-sell them at little/no loss if you don't love them. You might spend a hundred or so on shipping or depreciation while you have them, but it's better than blowing $4k on a new pair and then reselling them for $2K-$3K.

My last bit of advice is purely person preference. I would highly recommend buying speakers that are fairly high efficiency and easy to drive. Low powered amps cost a lot less than high powed amps in general. Why commit to needing expensive high powered amps if you have a choice of lots of higher efficiency models.

My room is somewhat larger than yours and I'm using this DIY single driver speaker:


They sound great and are cheap and easy to assemble. And, in a room your size they can be powered by almost any amp. I'm currently using a 6 watt/channel digital amp or a 3.5 watt/channel tube amp. And they play plenty loud and have plenty of bass.

Anyway, I've rambled too long! Welcome and Enjoy,


You are now at a critical phase of your upgrade journey. This is where you will make the most sweeping decisions as to which direction to go in, and it is also where your experience is the least (not to say that you're inexperienced, but as time goes on you will inevitably become more experienced). The more you can learn now, the better.

One of the most important things to know here is yourself. What do you really want your audio system to do, and what compromises are you willing to make (if necessary) to get there? Also the more you know about acoustics and psychoacoustics, the better off you will be. You'll start to see the tradeoffs involved in various speaker designs (and sonic tradeoffs are inevitable everywhere in audio except in the marketing department).

May I suggest a book: "Premium Home Theater - Design and Construction", by Earl Geddes. Don't be put off by the name. The chapters on psychoacoustics, sound reproduction, and small room acoustics are superb. The author (and his wife who wrote the chapter on psychoacoustics) are among the leading researchers in audio today, and have published numerous papers and an advanced text on loudspeakers. Earl is among the world's foremost experts on small room acoustics. Here's a link:


I echo Reubent's suggestion of easy-to-drive speakers if possible, as you may want to try tube amps. Tubes have a more ear-friendly distortion characteristic than solid state typically does. One of the things you'll learn (if you haven't already) is that industry-standard measurements don't always correlate well with subjective perception.

Take your room situation into account, too. You don't need speakers that will fill an auditorium - you need speakers that will sound good from fairly close up at fairly low power levels. Some do and some don't. Reubent's suggestion of single-drivers speakers makes sense to me, though they do have their limitations. But their limitations are less likely to be an issue in your situation - and they do like tube amps!

Well there's a huge world of speakers out there in your price range, and then beyond that amplifiers, and then beyond that... The journey you're setting out on can and probably will be immensely enjoyable.

Best of luck to you,

Post removed 
My first suggestion, buy preowned here on audiogon from proven sellers and save huge money. I've been doing this for 8-10 years now and wish someone would have advised me similarly. The markup on audio equipment is crazy and most audio nuts take great care of thier components. So, find what you like then look it up here. Make sure it has original packing for safety save a few grand. If you can spend $10K new on equip. why not spend either $5K used for the same equipment OR $10K for a $30K system??? BTW, look at Merlin speakers very carefully, I couldn't be happier!
Maybe the Green Mountain Callisto would be good, the sound amazing, just not sure if you will be far enough away from them (1storder crossover) but others will chime in.
Also look at DK Design for Integrated, tube pre and SS amp built into one, even has a Phono stage at a great price, and it sounds really nice.
Thanks for the responses. I do like the idea of easy to drive speakers but am reluctant to try any DIY projects.I have done some reading on the web about acoustics, treatments etc. I have tried to audition several systems however I find that many systems even retailing around $5K or so don't sound to me that much "better" than what I have now, eg bookshelves from Focal (Chorus?),B&W (805), Neat (Petite). I'm not certain I can describe what I want other than a more "full bodied" and natural sound. Suggestions regarding specific equipment to audition would be most helpful. Used is a bit difficult as it involves International shipping which is why I wanted to stay with new equipment.
Artch, where are you located?

What larger - presumably unaffordable - speakers have you heard that you do like?

Have you considered just moving up the PSB line, or are you looking for something significantly different?

Looking for something completely different. I did hear a pair of Wilson Sophias and liked them.
Speakers are the most important, build arround the speakers.
The GMA Callisto is perfect for your room. Add a subwoofer in the future and very little can touch the sound for the money. Easy to drive also.
Good luck in your search.

Can I suggest you listen to a pair of Audes speakers, Excellent 3? I find these speakers to be very good for in the range of 4K and looks good. These speakers are relatively efficient @88db (2.83V/1M)I think you can pick one up for around 3.5K if you can wait. I listened to these last night powered by the Belles Reference 150 amp/Pre-amp from Exempler audio. WOW I would never guess the Belles/Audes can sound so good. The Belles is retail for $3K and again to can probably buy it used for less. Make an effort to listen to the Belles 150 reference because it's a must......

Good luck
Four of the more popular recommendations that may work well in your room are Spendor, Harbeth, Audio Note and Jean-Marie Renaud. All make smallish speakers that work well in smaller rooms, are very highly regarded and seem to have decent international distribution.
Sophias in a 10X12 room? Great speakers but wow that is a tight space isnt it?
Artch, thanks for the additional information.

Okay this is going to sound completely nuts, but...

I suggest you completely re-think your projected dollar allocation, and hold out for a pair of used Wilson Sophias. That's an excellent speaker, and Wilson Sophias driven by three grand of integrated amp & CD player will outperform just about any four grand speakers driven by six grand of electronics. I say this as a builder & seller of four grand speakers.

Once upon a time, years ago, I sold virtually everything I had to buy a fourteen thousand dollar pair of electrostats. I drove them with a $350 amplifier. Yes it was mismatched, but it was the best sound I had ever heard in any stereo system up until that time. Of course things improved when I bought more expensive amps, but if I had $14,350 and no more to spend on speakers + amp I'd go back to that combination (okay the prices have changed since then, but I think you get my drift).

I know a recording engineer who used Watt-Puppy 5.1's driven by a $600 amp, and he produced some excellent jazz recordings.

Best of luck to you!

I second Duke. What he says is not nuts at all!

You can find many fine integrated amps for $600 that sound very much like many a $6000 amp (only lacking power or some features).....but you will generally find a marked improvement in speakers up to around $4000. Above $4000 speakers start to become a diminishing return (mainly improvements in dynamics, SPL handling and bass extension.)
Artch, you have some great sugestions given. That is a tough size of room to work with and even with the Sophias you might have problems but a great speaker.

Here's my thoughts for you, JM Labs Mini Utopia or others from the JM Labs line up making sure that they are the "BE" series. Hook them up to a integraded amp such as Sim Audio and you will have a amazing system, the stage presence etc. will have you in awe. I looked on Audiogon and there are some for sale New Regular $8,200.00 Sale $4,000.00 obo with matching stands.

with all of the advice being given, keep in mind, only you can decide what you like. listen, listen, listen. go to as many dealers as you can to find it what type of presentation you like and what's available.
Give a try to Tyler speakers.
Check their home demo program: http://tyleracoustics.com/home_demo.html.

I've listened to Tyler Woodmere and Taylo Ref monitor, and they are by far the best speakers I've ever listened to, Woodmere for full range and Ref monitor for monitor speakers.
Artch be very carful in buying speakers because they are the hardest to move if you don't like them or want to change down the road. The Sophias you can't go wrong with as long as they work in your room size hum?

Do you have any dealers that you can go to and listen to the JM-Labs I mentioned? If you liked the Sophias but better mid and top end, you will be impressed with these and they will work in your room size. Make sure when you listen to them that they are in a room size simalar to yours and with good associated gear, ask them to switch different gear so you can hear the difference. The finish is top notch which is a bonus.

Thank you everyone for all the responses to my first post on audiogon. I think the Sophias are just too large for my room but my approach now may be to "blow the budget" on speakers at this time and then upgrade electronics at some point later. I was already planning to audition the Jean-Marie Renaud and also the JM Lab. The electra 1007 Be sounds interesting - anyone have any experience? I will certainly audition the other brands as well.
Jean-Marie what speakers? Just jokeing I know of them but don't go backwards. I sent off another thread prior to reading your reply and I don't know if this will proceed my other one sent or not.
Whatever speakers you ended up with, do not disregard room treatments as with that kind of room size I bet you would need them. To have the widest soundstage and having the speakers set up close to the side/rear walls, acoustical treatments are of huge importance and will substantially bring your system to a higher level.

With just so many speakers out there it just seem wise for you to judge for yourself which one do your prefer as everybody's listening preferences vary. I agree with the rest to build your system around your speakers since it is one of the most important component in one's system.

I've owned the Arcam Alpha 10 integrated amp about 8 years ago since it was first launched. Not the last word in transparency and dynamics ie. pretty flat throughout the spectrum range.
Ryder I agree room treatment is very important specially with the size of room that Artch has. You can make use of alot of things that we already have. Trees putting them in corners, they don't even have to be real but make sure they have alot of leaves. Rugs on the floor, soft hanging materials on the wall (first reflection is very important to deal with), canvis paintings but make sure to put obsorbant material behind the picture. You don't have to have a living space looking like a audio room.
Yes Dev I agree. My comment only applies for dedicated audio rooms. Living space ought to be as pleasant looking as possible. I am assuming that Artch's room is dedicated since it's to the smallish side.
I heard a system under your budget at my local dealer not to long ago that blew me away how good it was. This system really does click well together. The Source was the
Rega Saturn $2.4K
NAD Master series Integrated amp(M3) $2.8K
and Thiel PCS 3 way bookshelf speakers $3K
I'm sure you can get any or all of these components cheaper elsewhere, or used. This was a great sounding system and the Thiels would work well in your room. Not the deepest bass, but very good. Smooth, detailed, and a big sound.