Upgrading HT Receiver and Speakers

Hi All, I’ve been looking into upgrading my current home theatre system, and have spoken with some retailers around the area I live, and would like to ask some questions of actual owners if that’s okay?

I live in Western Canada, my bonus room is fairly enclosed at 16ft long (including 2ft depth shelving), 12 feet wide, and a 9ft ceiling.

My primary use is movies (around 90%), but will increase music listening with a decent system!

I am limited to a 5.1 bookshelf system due to pre-wired built in home entertainment center, rear speakers are in the corners, so no dipoles.

Retailer options in my area and product suggestions, prices between retailers have come in around +-$500 from each other:

Retailer 1
Rotel 1057 Receiver, B&W CM1's and CMC center, REL subwoofer, (or B&W 602S3's with matching center)

Retailer 2
Arcam AVR-300,Totem Rainmakers, matching center, and DefTech Supercube 2 Sub, (or def tech bookshelves?)

Retailer 3
Arcam AVR-300, Quad 12L front, Quad 11L rear, matching center, HSU VTF2 Sub

Retailer 4
Sherwood Newcastle R865, Paradigm Studio 20's front and rear, CC570 center, and PW2100 sub

Now the questions and opinions that I’d be grateful to hear answers for:
1) Which combination provides the highest level of detail without being bright/forward if you’ve listened to the above?

2) Cost vs quality benefit: are you paying more for B&W & Quad vs Paradigm due to country of manufacturer, and therefore would the similar price of the paradigms be indicative of better build quality and sound over the aforementioned 2? The same goes for the receivers, but I have been reading great things about the Arcam.

3) Has anyone compared the B&W CM1's to the 602S3's?

4) Why are bookshelves better on stands vs an actual shelf? Are there any recommendations to remedy this since I'm stuck with shelves?

5) I think we pay a little more in Canada due to lower volume sales than the USA, but how do the prices sound of the above combos compare?

I’m thinking it would be good to stick with one retailer as all have been very helpful when I’ve spoken to them, but they all (understandably) have their personal biases on the equipment they are selling. I will be calling them to set up demo’s to have a listen, but the better prepared I am with information, the better I’ll feel.

Thank you all so much from a former forum lurker……
You sound like you're a well informed, thoughtful purchaser, as you should be given the amount of money involved. I can't answer all of your questions, or even most of them, but I would like to throw in a few comments to add to your pool of information.

It is admirable that you wish to be dealer loyal. Many dealers rely on such loyalty in return for their service. It can produce a good relationship that can last for years. The dealer points you in the right direction because he's familiar with you and your likes/dislikes, and you provide a continuing source of business in return. However, loyalty has some limits. It has to be someone you are personally comfortable with, and whose advice you trust because he understands your needs. He also has to have the equipment you want, at a fair price. There are a couple of people I would gladly give my business too, even if it cost a little more, but they just don't carry the lines that I am interested in, or else they charge way more than the going rate for the same equipment at other stores. Being loyal doesn't mean agreeing to be taken advantage of.

You should absolutely audition the systems that the four retailers are recommending. Don't feel guilty about it. It is their cost of doing business and you pay for it in the markup on high end equipment. However, to take up their time with extensive auditioning and then go and purchase used is pushing ethics a bit, at least if that was your intention from the start. If you were auditioning in good faith, and then it just happened that you found an extremely good deal used, well that's a different story. Your consicence might be bit more clean in that case. Give them a fair shake, and hopefully it is returned to you in some way, either as a good deal or in continuing service.

You mentioned that you are planning on auditioning the systems. If that is the case, you don't really need us to tell you what we think because you will hear the equipment with your own ears. So don't be unduly influenced by our opinions in response to your post. We can tell you what to look for, but since you will be hearing the gear yourself, be confident in your own judgment. Don't let us tell you what is best when your own ears are involved. That's what leads to "audiophile nervosa". We start second guessing our own opinions based upon what others say, even when we hear the equipment ourselves.

Now about your questions specifically.

First question, which system is detailed without being bright. Answer, I don't know. Great answer,...eh. (I'm Canadian so I say "eh" a lot. Perhaps you do too. This is an inside joke amongst Canadians in case people of other nationalities are reading this post). I haven't heard all of these systems. I think the Totems would be ahead of the Paradigms, but I haven't hear the B&W or Quad speakers so I don't know where they would rank.

Second question, cost versus quality due to country of manufacture. Answer, there is no relationship on that point whatsoever. Put the point out of your mind lest you be influenced by an irrelevant consideration. Cost depends on a whole lot of things in addition to country of manufacture. The country could be relevant on the issue of shipping costs to the distributor. However, there are some "foreign" manufacturers in the U.S. which are closer to you in western Canada than some of the Canadian manufacturers are. More importantly however, cost depends on a whole lot of things: economies of scale in production, distributor and dealer mark-up, R&D which went into equipment devlopment, advertising expenses. All of these points, and others, differ from manufacturer to manufacturer. You absolutely cannot assume that two things which cost the same are of the same quality level.

Question three, the comparison between the two B&W's. Can't help you on this one. I haven't heard either.

Question four, bookshelf on stands rather than on a bookshelf. Answer, it's acoustics and speaker performance. Putting a speaker on a stand allows you move it about to the optimal position for imaging, soundstaging, etc. It also allows better vibration control. Putting a speaker on a bookshelf is going to cause resonances in the bookshelf and the bookshelf cavity, and it is unlikely to be able to be moved about to its best position for stereo performance. Why pay for a high end speaker if you're not going to set it up properly? You've wasted your money. Would you buy leather seats for your car and then put a plastic seat cover over it? If you're stuck with shelves, you will have a serious compromise in performance. Another alternative that might be practical for you, depending upon the speaker and your room and furniture placement, is a wall bracket to hold the speaker.

Question five, about the price in Canada relative to the U.S. This may or may not be correct, depending on the particular equipment you're talking about. I refer back to the answer to the second question. Also keep in mind that lower volume sales in one country do not necessarily make it more expensive in that country if the manufacturer sells worldwide. For example, if I made speakers in Britain, the manufacturing economies which I have are in Britain. They don't change if I sell fewer speakers in Canada than in the U.S. Distribution and shipping costs may be higher, but that can be offset by having fewer retailers to service, or by using one distributor for all of North America, or by only selling in a few large markets, etc. So you can't assume that lower volumes of sales automatically means higher prices when you are talking about a multi-national company. It may or may not be the case for a particular manufacturer, but it is not a given in all situations.

I live in Canada too. I think that for the last ten years, a lot of the price differential between Canada and the U.S. was due to exchange rate differences. Also, if you bought British gear through the U.S., you were in effect, paying double import duties. There were duties when the product went to the U.S., which is built into the price, and then you paid duty again if you brought it into Canada from the U.S. I am finding now with the Canadian/U.S. exchange rate becoming more favourable for imports to Canada, that the deals are getting better in bringing in stuff from the U.S., especially U.S. manufactured products.

A couple more general comments. All of the sytems you are facing seem to be pretty good. I think that Retailer 4 with the Sherwood/Paradigm is a bit more downscale than the others, both in amp and speakers. That is not to say that you might not like it however.

Personally, I would choose the Rotel or the Arcam over the Sherwood. Rotel is well know for bringing audiophile quality at budget prices. And both would have good resale value if you decide to upgrade in the future. I've heard both of these. Personally, I prefer the Arcam for longer term satisfaction, but I would not be unhappy with the Rotel. I would probably want to upgrade more quickly however.

Regarding speakers, I'm a big fan of Totem. My taste would be to prefer the Totems over the Paradigms. The Quads and B&W's are not speakers I have heard.

So, in conclusion, I can't offer too much in the way of advice regarding direct comparisons as I haven't heard all of this equipment. Based on what I have heard, I would go into the competition thinking that I would like the system of Retailer 2 (Arcam/Totem). Retailer 4 would be the one I would anticipate liking the least (Sherwood/Paradigm). I would have to hear Retailer 1 (Rotel/B&W) and Retailer 3 (Arcam/Quad) to see what I thought of them.

It sounds like it will be a lot of fun. If the thread is still active when you decide, please let us know which you chose, and why.
Thanks for your response Markphd, and I feel a little more comfortable, however,I think your answer to my question 4 has me quite worried now. This is a fair chunk of change for me to drop on a system that isn't going to perform the way it should with the speakers going on shelves.

Unfortunately, I can't wall mount the speakers. The home entertainment unit is shaped in drywall, with oak shelving. The shelves are 22" wide and 24" deep. Probably easier to attach a picture if possible.

I dropped by one of the big box stores and listened to the Totem Dreamcatchers in one of their home theatre rooms. The salesperson also had some similar sized bookshelves from Energy to compare them too, and I was amazed at the difference. We watched a scene from my son's favorite movie Robots, and the detail difference was very good with the Totems versus the Energy's. I also know what I'm missing now with my current sub/sat speaker system.

Having listened to the Rainmakers in a higher end store some time back (when I was first thinking of buying just new speakers and realized I'd have to include a new receiver in my upgrade) I was very impressed with them, but would like to hear them with the center channel as well with a movie playing.

I would also still like to listen to the others in my list. I see Quad's are actually being discussed in the Speakers section of the forum, and seem to be very well regarded. I imagine my shelves wouldn't do them justice though.

Perhaps I should hold off on buying the higher end equipment until I can develop a dedicated sound room (basement), and go with something cheaper like the dreamcatchers and a newer receiver from the big box stores.

I forgot to mention, that I would rarely be cranking the volumes (to reference levels if the term is correct????) since our little guy would be sleeping when we watch most films. So detail at a lower volume is an important factor as well. When he's up and wants to watch Robots or play xbox, that's a different story. :)

Thanks again for your time
Hello again.

I thought that it was interesting when you said that you heard the Totem and the Energy speakers at the same store. Where I live, one of the well known high end stores also carries both Totem and Energy, as well as Arcam. That's where I heard the Arcam/Totem combination. I would anticipate that the difference you heard between Totem and Energy would be what you would hear if you compared Totem to Paradigm. That's one of the reasons I suggested that Retailer 2's system would be a bit better than Retailer 4's.

One other point on the speakers being placed in the wall unit. Ask the retailers what they think about the bookshelf placement for the models they carry. It's not going to be as good as a stand mount, but it may still sound pretty good. For example, if the speaker is a sealed unit (i.e. no port), there will not be any backwave bouncing around in the wall unit. And if you put the speaker on some cones to try to isolate vibrations into the wall unit, the speaker may perform in a satisfactory manner. In addition, even if the speaker does have a port, the speaker designer may have intended that it be placed close to a back wall in order to reinforce the bass. If the particular model is such a speaker, having it close to the back of the wall unit may not be too bad. You would still be advised to put it on some cones on the shelf however.

The point you made in the last paragraph about low volume performance is also important. I find that the performance of some speakers is quite different when played at low versus high volume level. The monitors which I have need a little bit of volume before they start to perform really well.

If you decide not to go high end until you have your dedicated room give a listen to the Def Tech Power Monitors. They are bookshelf with built in subs. The soundstage and low end is pretty impressive for a bookshelve speaker. You could use them as l/r/c and the def tech bpx2 surrounds(bipole). You could even hold off on the sub if you wanted to..
Howdy. Retailer two and four have the best HT combos out of that bunch in my opnion, except for the sub. I'd go woth 2 or 4 but tkae that rel sub out of number 1 and put it into one of the other two options.
You're spending too much on the receivers in 2 & 3, you don't need the 300 and its bad advice not to buy seperates at that price point.

Drop down the Arcam line to the lower receivers and move up to Totem Model 1's. This combo will outperform any of the above suggestions by a serious noticeable margin. And will give you a stellar music system simultaneously.

This combo will serve you better, and clearly put the Totem system out where none of the other manufacturers can touch them.

Retailers 1-3-4 are very underwhelming ordinary systems. Sherwood and Paradigm is a headahce in the making so is Rotel and B&W. The Paradigms would work well with the Arcams should you want to shift you budget down considerably.

Only 2 has potential to be great with the above advice.

Get the HSU Subwoofer from retailer 3, its the best sub on the list. Hope that helped.
Thanks for all of your responses. Sounds like the Arcam is the way to go, even a lower model such as the 250? The Rel sub was also almost twice the price of the HSU.

Totem's Model 1's are quite expensive I think (and worth every penny probably), but I'm still concerned that I'm going to pay a lot of money for speakers that will lose their sound quality once I put them on my shelves. Would the Arcam be able to drive these speakers properly?

The basement development is still going to be a few years out, so I'll be using the bonus room entertainment center for some time yet.

The big box store that carries Totem let me borrow the Dreamcatchers this weekend to listen to on my current system. I used my sub and didn't bring the dreamcatcher sub home. There was a sound improvement, but not dramatic over my current speakers. This told me that I would have to definately upgrade my current receiver as well. When I took them back, I asked him to hook the speakers up to their system which is an Onkyo (don't remember model) and again, there was an improvement (or seemed to) over my system at home. The other location had the Dreamcatchers and Energy speakers hooked up to a Denon and I seem to remember more detail coming from the Denon.
Well Brit,

You should get a sealed speaker, Blue Sky and ATC make affordable speakers that I know work well.

Blue Sky has the amplification built in so you could get an Arcam AVP-700 to run them. But you prewire is an issue as you would need to run interconnect wire, not speaker wire.

ATC has sealed systems that also work well, new models coming out soon too.
Go with retailer 2: Arcam AVR-300,Totem Rainmakers, matching center, and DefTech Supercube 2 Sub.
Make it easy on yourself. Don't overthink it. You like the Totems.

So go Option 2.

I love my AVR300. I use it with Nola Minis (terrific speakers) and a Nola Thunderbolt sub. No regrets at all. (My main 2 channel stereo system is upwards of $16k, so I'm farily picky about sound.)

I don't think the Arcam is overkill for you - there's no point in putting a cheap receiver with high end speakers - you just get the result you heard with your in-home audition. Garbage in garbage out.

The only change I'd consider would be an REL sub. RELs and Nola TB are my two fave affordable sub lines for music & movies.

Other than that - it's a bitchin' system - enjoy!
Thanks for all of your responses guys. Sounds like the Arcam will be the way to go.

Unfortunately I will have to wait a while longer to do some upgrading since my dog just had a back operation. It was hard justifying a new system vs saving the dogs life.Oh well.

I have bought a Denon 1906 to get me by for now. I know it says 85W/channel, but not sure what that rating would be with all channels driven.

Thinking of getting the Klipsch RB-51 bookshelves + center, since they're not a bad price. Thinking they'd go well with the warmer Denon???

I hooked up a pair of Energy c100's and while they provided more depth, my original polk htib sub sats sounded more detailed on the higher end.

I hate to ask again, has anyone mated a mid to lower end denon with Klipsch? Any other speakers in that price range that can provide good detail?

Thanks again