What to add to my system for best sound?


I'm new here, and learning fast, but oh so much to learn. I recently bought my first real stereo (don't laugh) which consists of very basic stuff, and I'm realizing after listening to it that I have more expensive tastes than this stuff can handle. I have Axiom M50 floor standing speakers which are decent, balanced, dynamic, but lack detail. They are powered by an Onkyo receiver and cd changer. I want to add something to get the best sound out of this stuff (I'm going to get some better cables to start), but I'm very curious about the whole "tube amp" thing, and integrated amps and pre-amps.

I'm prepared to buy some used stuff to make this sound better -- especially the detail issue I mentioned -- I want the sound to draw me in more. I might even buy more speakers, and just use these Axioms somewhere else...

I can spend up to $1000 on more stuff (used stuff bought on audiogon probably), if Santa is kind to me!


Julieb63, I have some questions for ya. How did you end up choosing the system you currently own, especially the Axiom M50s? Also, what kind of music do you prefer?
Tube gear is good for simple music like vocal. No good in pop music. Since your Onkyo receiver shall have DSP filter (different music format like, Drama, Music Hall, Theatre, etc), I suggest you should work on a SACD player/Universal Player/redbook CD player/DAC, etc

Source is very important in a stereo system. Bad source wont have good sound even applying decent amplifier.
My advise would be to buy some better amplification and then see how things sound w/your spks and CDP. Cables are very important as well. Kimber Kable 4VS spk. wire is an excellent choice on a budget. I also like Straightwire's budget "Musicality and Chorus" interconnects. If the used ($400)Kora "Explorer SI-90" int. amp is still available here, I would highly recommend you consider purchasing. Also, do not disregard older equipment. Recently bought a mid-80's Sony TA-AX-6 int. amp and I'm extremely impressed by its sound. You do not have to spend a fortune to get great sound. My basement system consists of older Sony/NEC components which I bought used for peanuts. Sounds absolutely great in the room w/JM Lab Chorus 705 on custom made 28" oak stands. The key is finding the right equipment for the particular room. Bill
My advice is always the same.What have you done with the room.The room is the biggest variable.Start to read about room acoustic treatments.Better if its a dedicated room.My room looks like a room treatment sales showroom.Tubetraps,acoustic panel absorbers,RPG skyline diffusers.If you are handy you could make all of them.Before you give up on your gear do a little experimenting with this stuff.Not that new amps and subs and cd players are out of the question,its that you need to ,"Tune the room".Good luck and pick up a copy of stereophile guide to hometheater and start to read Russ Hershelmann's articles.It may seem over whelming at first but soon you will start to hear the same buzz words and it will all come together.KG
Pick up copies of The Complete Guide to High-End Audio by Robert Harley and/or Good Sound by Laura Dearborn. They'll tell you most everything you'd want to know about the subject. Once you know more, you'll be able to become a smarter buyer and reach your goals much quicker.
I have to take exception to Lafish's statement on the alleged limitations of tubed amplifiers: "...good for simple music like vocal. No good for pop music." C'mon, now - this is ridiculous as a blanket assertion, and easily disproved if you drop by my house sometime.

Julie, without recommending tubes over SS or vice-versa, I would heartily endorse Kotta's sentiment that you don't yet know what your speakers are capable of, considering what you're driving them with now. No, I am not familiar with your Axioms, but they are apparently a pretty well regarded speaker in their catagory, and from your description of the rest of your system I would hazard a guess that they are the strongest link in the chain you've got at present.

I think your plan to check out a good integrated amp would make sense on your stated budget. If you want recommendations that are meaningful, you should probably tell us about your sonic and listening preferences, including your tastes in both music and playback volume, as well as the size of your listening room.
First thing I would do is take the money you were going to spend on higher end speaker cables and put it back in your pocket. At this stage of the game, you will get far more bang for your bucks by upgrading your source [CD player] and your amplification. In the meantime, believe it or not, I would use 12 gauge OFC wire cables for my speakers. You can get it for about 30 cents per foot and,
along with upgraded amplification and CD player, will give you a much bigger upgrade than scrimping on your other components for higher end speaker cables. If you are having a hard time deciding between tubes and solid state, you might check out the Jolida JD1501 Hybrid Integrated Amp. It uses tubes AND Solid State. For your source, again, if you like a tube sound, check out the AH! Njoe Tjoeb 4000 CD Player. At this stage of the game, I would take a look at CD/SACD players, but -- frankly -- I would hold off on SACD until your budget is higher -- maybe on your next round of upgrades. Prices of SACD players will come down, higher end SACD technology will filter down and in the meantime, you can be enjoying the heck out of your CD player. Just my opinion.

Welcome Julie,

It's been mentioned a few times already, but knowing the room set up and your musical preferences would help a lot.

The Axioms can stay for a while, you could've done a lot worse. You mention a lack of detail, that may be partially improved by using some decent speaker wire. CD Changers are notorious for providing convenience over decent sound; if you subscribe to the garbage-in garbage-out theory any problems emanating from the source will never be fixed downstream. If I was in your situation and had $1000 to spend I would allocate $350 for a good stand-alone CD player and $550 for an integrated amplifier, spend the extra $100 or so on some interconnect and speaker wire. I’d buy the stuff used right here on the ‘Gon to stretch my buck too.

You’ll get a lot of recommendations, here’s my two cents worth... I'll start with the CD player:


Nice player, HDCD compatible too. Nice feature if you own some HDCD disks. $340 asking price


I like this player lots, will mate nicely with a warm sounding integrated $425 asking price)


If your budget is a little tight you'd do well to consider a 63SE. Sure it's a bit dated but a fine player for the money. $180 asking price

There are other CD players worth considering as well, this is a good starting point. Be aware that some players are more laid back sounding, not sure you want or need that in your system since what you're looking for is more detail.

As for an integrated, again there are a few options to consider. At the ~$500 mark two that are listed here:


YBA design at a fraction of the cost. I've owned one of these in the past, very nice unit. Yes it's a bit warm sounding but if you have a slightly more detailed/forward CD player it should match nicely. $575 asking price


Depending on your musical tastes a tube integrated may make sense. One of the advantages of a tubed unit is the flexibility, you can change the tubes and dial in the sound to your tastes. Tubes look cool too. $526 asking price

Some cable ideas, bear in mind cables can be negotiated a little more aggressively:



Silver will add detail, but .5 meter may not be long enough.


Nice cable and ought to mate nicely with the CD/Integrateds mentioned above

Speaker wire… I’ll assume 8’ is enough for your set up and you can use spades (better connection than most other termination schemes), but bananas are acceptable too.



So…how would I spend your $1000 (I love spending other people’s money):

Music Hall CD-25 player $340
Audio Refinement /complete Integrated $575
Goertz MI2 speaker cable with silver spades $150
JPS Ultraconductor interconnect $70

With some negotiation you can probably get this stuff for $1000

Any one of these choices will provide a big improvement and will hold their value reasonably well. Yep, once you get into this hobby you'll be changing your system over time. Negotiate with the sellers, but be reasonable. Best, Jeff
I have a different opinion than anyone else:)

I have built two different systems in my life, so I dont want to give any confusion about my skill at this! all I can tell you is what my ears heard!

my first system was
NHT SuperTwo speakers running off an old crappy receiver, so I got the upgrade itch and picked up:
Parasound HCCA 1500a (~600$)
adcom 565 pre (~300$)
ah tjoeb 99 cdp and some JPS ultraconductors (~300$)

Thats how I decided to spend my 1000$ and to be honest the sound improvement was tiny. I think the biggest difference was the nice sound from the ah tjoeb cd player...so after about 9 months I sold out all the gear and figured I'd try again with a bit more money and hope for some better results!

my second system I started with Tyler Acoustic Ref Monitors after reading some great reviews (~1300)
I plugged these into the same crappy receiver I had running off a random dvd player and instanly the sound FAR eclipsed the sound from my last system!! and I mean FAR eclipsed it!
every single thing about the sound was better.

SO right there I'd say dump every penny into your speakers.

However I can go on! I got the upgrade bug again soon after and after reading all the talk on here about how upstream gear makes such a difference I went on a spending spree!!
I picked up:
CAL CL15 cdp (~700$)
Rogue Magnum 66/88 (pre/amp) (~2000$)

I did a few a/b comparisons with my crappy receiver/dvd player and my new 2700$ gear and the difference just isn't there...its not even close to the leap in sound I heard from upgrading my speakers.

SO! I figured it must be my cable sucks, my rat shack interconnects/speaker cable etc.
So I picked up some signalcable (~70$) speaker cable and a pair of (~130$) MusicLink Plus interconnects and they have made an audible difference!
Everything is sounding great these days, I've kept all the gear and need to do another a/b switch with my old crappy reciever/dvd player, but I'm gonna bet the difference will once again be negligible.

SOOO!!! what I have experienced is that (room treatments aside) 96% of the sound quality I now have has come from getting better speakers, 2% has come from cable upgrades and the other 2% I attribute to an upgraded cdp/amp/pre

Feel free to flame me and tell me my ears suck:)
I'm just telling ya what I hear
Hi Julie

Lots of good advice posted, I helped my sister find and setup a system very much like yours last year. I spent a couple of hours setting it up for her and I must say that I was impressed with it's over-all sound (so was she).

A couple of months latter I was over for a visit, I walked in and noticed she had moved the speakers to were they looked better (out of the way she said). This system has now lost it's soundstage, bass has a boom to it and the mids and highs have become lost into the back-ground.

This and many other sites have much good info on room acoustics and speaker setup. These things can be done with little or no cost and will be easy to hear even with the gear you already own.

I agree with the above posters that a nice integrated amp and better source will make your Axioms sing to a higher note with correct speaker placement with-in your room.

Welcome to audiogon. Some simple suggestions:
1. Play with the speaker placement and room treatments first. There are some great posts about this.
2. As you can tell from the previous posts, there is no right answer. Trust your own ears.
3. A music system is only as good as its weakest link. Try to decide how much money you're willing to spend on hardware and balance that amount over the entire system. Save money for software (the most important part).

All the best to you with your quest for sonic nirvana.

I have a cheap $100 CD player (Yamaha - which I hope to upgrade soon) and a pair of Klipsch speakers I bought 8 years ago for $300 (your Axioms are better). I just bought a Jolida 1501rc integrated hybrid amp (tube pre-amp and ss amp) and was amzed at how much it improved the sound..check Underwood Hi-Fi for a good deal.

I would second the above recommendation...upgrade to a better amp and spent $400 on a CD...maybe Music Hall, which people seem to love.

Geoff --

I will not flame you. I agree that an upgrade in speakers is usually the biggest bang for the buck. And, not a controversial some people claim to hear it while others don't kind of thing like high end cables. The kind of obvious everyone hears it no doubt about it this sounds so
much better kind of thing.

But, I also believe you need some balance in a system. So, I also believe a good way to upgrade is to improve the
weakest link. In her system, I think the speakers are the
strongest link. At some point, you need better components to get the most out of your speakers and I believe that upgrading the other two components will help get more out of those speakers.

There is also a real noticeable difference between a receiver and an integrated amp or separates and I believe
her speakers have enough resolution to be able to hear the difference a nice integrated amp like the Jolida will make.

Further, I believe that digital technology has really improved and higher end technology is filtering down into
players at a lower price point. I have noticed a large
difference when a system is balanced; Nice speakers served by appropriate amplification being fed by a nice
CD player.

Finally, I believe there are some components that give a
much bigger bang for the buck and when one is on a budget,
it is best to seek out those types of components -- like
the Ah! Njoe Tjoeb 4000 CD player and the Jolida hybrid integrated.
Based on your comments...you "want the sound to draw you in more"(and more detail)...audiophiles call this "involvement"...and my many years of listening have brought me to this...you can upgrade your source and amp all you want(which in your case wouldnt hurt)...but to truly be immersed in a musical performance...there is nothing like a time/phase coherent speaker design...in your range: Vandersteen 1,Meadowlark swift, Green Mountain Europas(which I own)...of the 3...the Europas are the most detailed but require stands(always a hidden cost)...good luck...
Rsbeck, I agree with the need for balance that you and others speak of.

The argument that I am trying to pose (based on my 2 system experience) is that it takes a high quality speaker to hear the differences between amp/pre/cdp. And that I dont think a 500$ or 1000$ used speaker will have the resolution to pick up on much of a difference to justify the cost.
The dollars would be better spent on speakers where an audible difference and greater resolution is sure to be heard.
Geoff -- I have no problem with your approach -- I wholeheartedly endorse it. At this stage of the game,
when one wants to hear a significant upgrade in music
quality, an upgrade in speakers will definitely give a big bang for the buck. I don't think Julie will go wrong with
a speaker upgrade and I also think she would notice some difference with a better front end and amplifier.
I would put upgraded speaker cables last on her list of
priorities. If could do nothing but talk her out of
blowing her money on high end cables and get her to
put every penny of that money into speakers instead, I
would feel like I made a difference in the world. So, you're preaching to proverbial choir. But, i still like those two components and believe they also have a place in a system at her price point. If she starts with a speaker ungrade, perhaps a component upgrade would be next -- and I would STILL hold off on purcahsing high end cables.