Second hand Quad is well worth a look, based on my experience with the Elite Stereo Power amp.
The 77 Integrated could be a good option.
Other than that, I can recommend the older Sony ES integrated amps, more than enough power, plenty of inputs and very smooth presentation without being boring (in a nutshell). They often have decent Phono stages and headphone outputs too.
Just noticed that you have headphones, may be a problem with the Quad gear.
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This is going to be very hard to resolve, I'm afraid. I listen exclusively to classical as well and by that I mean listen (Radio 3, Gramophone magazine). Not just the occassional Classic FM inspired soundtrack. Firstly, I love string quartets, but they are the 'bain of my life' regarding sound quality. Almost all HIFI I have owned makes them sound overly shrill. This is of course in comparison to a live performace, but also compared to the radio or TV. I owned a £1500 Densen that made me get rid of string quartet CD's because they sounded so awful. Basically, you will have to sacrifice detail to obtain warmth. Most people, I find, who dispense advice are not true classical afficianados and can't tell the difference between chamber, instrumental or orchestral, let alone baroque, romantic or 20thc. Furthermore, I have yet to visit a HIFI shop to audition HIFI whereby the assistant ever listens to classical. Basically, they just know the names of a few artists, never the compossers themselves. The last one mistook Mozart for Mahler! Anway, lots of ranting, but what to do. If you can ever afford it, go down the Quad/Spendor classic route. If not, lots of disapointment. I have a Marantz Pearl Lite (probably OK), Roksan Caspian MK1 (probably too bright) and Neat Petit SX (also too bright). All were brought with auditioning (such an awful process) and then after a brief period of acceptance, disappointment. With string quartets, they sound better on the radio. Piano is also very difficult - a recent Chopin recital of the Ballades (Muller), is so clankerous I can't bear to listen. Violin sonatas are especially bright. Large orchestral pieces (eg Mahler 3) do however, sound very good. Never at any point have i managed to receive expert guidance from someone who actually loves the music themselves and listens to it in preference, so the know what a string quartet should sound like. Usually, after a while of listening they say something like 'OK but why not try this Van Morrison Cd so that you can see what the HIFI is really capable of'.
I have to say my system copes extremely well with a full range of classical music from chamber recordings all the way up to Mahler Symphonies and Wagner operas. I've struggled with different set-ups over time, but the Denon amp is extremely capable at reproducing the timbre of individual instruments as well as maintaining them as part of a cohesive whole where applicable. Soundstaging is excellent and the sound never veers towards excessive brightness. This system even copes admirably with piano music, which is very important to me.
The best reasonably priced system I've ever heard for classical music was Arcam CD37, Arcam A38, and Focal Chorus 806v speakers. Still too much money for me at present, but incredible performance for the money.
Sources: Rega RP3/Elys 2 - Roksan Kandy K2 CDS Phono Stage Cambridge Audio 540P
Amplification: Exposure 1010
Speakers: Dynaudio DM2/6
Listening to MUSIC!
Do they sound OK on headphones? If not, then surely this is a recording issue?
Personally, leaving aside whether the reproduction is accurate, I don't find string quartets "shrill" (or at least, not unless they're supposed to) on anything I listen with.
Main: SqueezeBox Classic>AVI ADM40
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Francophile, the Yamaha A-S700 could well be the ideal amplifier despite what the WHF? review said about it.
It gives a big, smooth, detailed and effortless sound that is ideal for long periods of listening. (I heard it back when it had 4 stars and before the more fashionably 'tweaked for the UK' A-S500 was launched and before WHF dropped the A-S700 to three stars.)
I hope you get a chance to hear one.
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If you see one in good condition, and they come up reasonably often at that so one will, have a look at Sansui's AU-217. Lovely amp, works well with all kinds of music. The Mark I was a 30w model, the Mark II was upped to 40. Typical price around £60.
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AVI Lab Series CD player / various cables
I've had an AS-700. It is a nice amp with, as Chebby suggests, a big, smooth sound. However, it can also come across as being a bit gutless. There tends to be a misconception that classical music requires silky smoothness and warmth above all else, but you also need a system to be able to handle huge orchestral climaxes (far more demanding dynamically than most other music). For me, this is where the AS-700 falls down. It is a big and smooth amp but it isn't a rhythmic amp and despite its power rating it doesn't have adequate sense of dynamic attack when it is required. This is why I couldn't live with it, despite its attractions with smaller-scale chamber music. Certainly one that needs carefully auditioning.
you also need a system to be able to handle huge orchestral climaxes (far more demanding dynamically than most other music).
I don't agree with that I'm afraid. Even my Bose Wave radio handles orchestral climaxes well. The difficulty is with chamber music - these nearly always disappoint. I would be particularly interested to hear of any concrete examples that are successful. I find even my SACD recording of the late Beethoven Quartetsby the Tokyo Quartet, rather lacking. Again violin tone is a couple of octaves too high, completely ruining the experience. Wagner opers will sound good on any reasonable HIFI. Mahler is difficult, not because of the Highs, but the almost inaudable lows, when although he is using large orchestral forces they are hardly making any sound ie much of the first symphony.
To fully control a tutti orchestral climax and maintain textural information takes a very good amplifier. I agree that there are wider issues regarding dynamic range and, certainly, composure and tonal quality at low dynamic levels can be very hard to achieve. A good amplifier should be able to handle both ends of the dynamic spectrum but there are many that struggle.
Regarding chamber music recordings the violin tone cannot possibly be 'a couple of octaves too high'. The hi-fi can onlly reproduce the pitch that has been recorded which will be the pitch at which the music is written. You might find the sound too 'bright' but this is not related to pitch. For the pitch to be affected would require the CD player or turntable to be running fast (resulting in higher pitch) or slow (resulting in lower pitch).
For a really superb quartet recording try the Takacs Quartet's recordings of the Bartok String Quartets. Beautifully recorded and quite extraordinary playing.
To fully control a tutti orchestral climax and maintain textural information takes a very good amplifier.
Could you name an amplifier that can't do that. I've never owned one. Thanks for the CD recommendation, but Im not particularly enamered with Bartok's sound world. I did however own the Takacs recording of late Beethoven string quartets, but gave to the local charity shop as i found the sound too shrill. I am still very surprised that you find listening to string quartets on your HIFI set-up enjoyable.
Can you give any examples?
I think all this is getting to what is the nub of the issue for me. Hi-fi equipment seems to be made to reproduce the kind of music that most people buy/want to listen to: no surprises there, but a 'good' amp - a five star WHF recommendation for example - should surely be able to cope well with any music, a comment that has been made before on this forum.
Phileas has a point, and I'm well aware that classical CDs (especially) are notoriously varied in recorded quality, mine certainly are; but shouldn't a 'good' amp make the best of what it plays? 'Rubbish in rubbish out' is an easy phrase/excuse, but I want an amp which will make the best of (e.g.) the Kolisch Quartet's marvellous playing of Schubert, even though it was recorded in 1929. The Yamaha I tried (see above) even made a hash of a Haydn quartet (recorded in 2001 on original instruments) and of Walter Klien's 1970's recording of a Schubert sonata; 'clankerous' indeed. These discs don't sound harsh or clankerous on an old Denon DRA-F101 system that I possess, but of course they don't sound particularly clear either.
So your remarks, cse, strike a chord with me, not 'rant', I think, more a cri du coeur as they say where I live; and I very much take your point about the detail/warmth compromise. Is 'warmth' manufacturer-speak for 'muddiness'? In any case, from your experience it appears that simply paying more for an amp will not resolve this issue.
I can't afford an Arcam 38 and can't find an Arcam A65. I am aware that a Quad could be the answer, but is there a suitable Quad which also has a headphones outlet? The Arcam Alpha 9 is high on my possibles list - someone described its sound a a bit 'muddy', which is a encouraging!
I have shown an interest also in Nad amps - here is why:
I wonder what youmake of this (cse, matthewpiano...).
OK. I've just listened to the opening of the Beethoven 12th quartet played by the Takacs quartet on Decca on my ADM40s.
Doesn't sound shrill to me.
I've listened to the same track previously on my mobile phone using AKG450 'phones and from memory it didn't sound shrill then either.
Perhaps we have different definitions of the word "shrill"? Do you prefer the sound of string quartets on vinyl?
I think there is a huge variation in the perception of shrill.
For me, Classical music, especially strings and female opera singers, sound best with Valves; and second best with SS Class A. I also prefer speakers from the likes of Sonus Faber, Harbeth and Spendor (especially Classic range), for this type of music.
"Everything has been said before, but since nobody listens we have to keep going back and beginning all over again." André Gide
For me, all music sounds best when it sounds real and believable.
I can't believe a properly designed and made amplifier of any kind would cause a string quartet to sound shrill in way it wasn't supposed to.
Poor loudspeakers could, but cse says string quartets sound OK on radio although I'm not sure what he means by that - FM tuner or tranny?
I also don't understand the bit about quartets sounding a couple of octaves too high!
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