Wow, this is a far greater response than I had expected.
I live around 20 minutes away from Norwich, but my work takes me all over the UK and obviously I would have no trouble in commuting anywhere in order to demo anything. I certainly have no qualms with increasing the speaker budget if it will get me noticeable gains.
I do have a couple of questions, and you will have to forgive my ignorance here, I understand that active speakers have amplifiers built into the speakers themselves, requiring only a pre-amp and the source, is this correct? What advantage does this have over a passive set-up with both pre and power amplifiers? Further to this, integrated amplifiers have been recommended; does this mean that separate pre and power amplifiers offer no advantages?
Or is all of the above completely subjective to my preferences?
In theory, Active speaker should be better than the comparable Passive, Pre/Power should be better than integrated but at the end of the day, one approach wont be better than the other. Its all in the Implementation rather that the specific design.
I would not get hung up on specific specifications or designs, there are good and bad versions of every type.
Best to hear as much as you can. Hifi shows are agreat way of getting a lot in, although usually in sub-optimal conditions but it can give you a taster of what you might want to shortlist.
I would recommend trying to hear two other approaches, some Open Baffle (Di-Pole) speakers such as Magnepan, Quad ESL, Apogee and such like to hear something different. Also the other way is high efficiency, small/no crossover wide range drivers with low powered SET amplification, another approach to hifi.
I agree that for the budget concerned, the OP would be well served by investigating other approaches to speaker design as you mention; certainly Quad 989's are utterly magnificent, but like all diopoles placement can be problematical in many diverse rooms - one needs a very large space, with the speaker ideally about 1/3 of the way down the length of the room - not always appropriate for many people. Then there are the issues of power handling and bass response - like all designs they are of course a compromise, but a very nice one!
With respect to active, the verdict is in, and has been for many years; given all other things being equal in a loudspeaker design - assuming a box loudspeaker with the same cabinets, drivers, amplification etc, active is always technically better than passive operation - it's an iffrefutable scientific fact, end of story really.
Lower distortion, better damping and control of the drivers, better phase response, higher SPL levels, higher resolution and better dynamics are all pluses of active operation.
Against that, the real world disadvantages for some is the inability to readily fiddle about with mixing and matching amps/speakers. Hence, it's probably fair to say that lovers of film and music would most likely be swayed by an active, plug and play approach, whereas home hobbyists into HiFi as a hobby, would likely prefer the mix and match, separates approach. But on technical grounds, there is no argument; as I say, all other things being equal in a loudspeaker design, active is measureably, technically and demonstrably better.
I'm curious why you think AVI is a curved ball, needing to be dodged.
Do please note, I don't own anything AVI, nor am I likely to, however, I fully support an active speaker solution to the OP's question and budget.
The harsh technical reality, (and perhaps an unpalatable one for some) is that he's likely to get a techically better, and better matched and balanced system, from tertiary trained experts practicising their craft and science at the highest levels, as against mixing and matching disparate separates, aided by an untrained (but othewise well meaning and profit motivated salesperson) to assist you in hopefully finding a setup that will bring long lasting satisfaction.
Aside from that, it's very much personal preference as to whether you want to build your new car from various third party parts suppliers, or go to the likes of Audi, Mercedes, BMW, Lexus etc, and buy the complete deal designed, engineered, built and matched by the manufacturer from alpha to omega.
IMHO the car analogy is a useful one, as it contrasts the two approaches to hiFi system buying - naturally some people will prefer the mix and match approach, because for them, the mixing and matching IS the hobby - the music appears to be secondary in many cases from the reading I do of how many audiophiles approach building a HiFi system. Fair enough if that is what one wants - but is that what the OP actually wants I wonder?
Not really a curve ball, more that the AVI disciples are spamming this forum at the moment!
I don't agree with you regarding tertiary trained experts (how can we find out if they are, and in what disciplines?) nor about the mix and match approach. The fact is sources and amps make far less difference than people think in terms of balance, it is more about ensuring that an amp can meet the power requirement of a speaker.
More than than, though, is that there are some brilliant speakers, equallyng or surpassing most actives, which would be shut off by such a narrow approach. Few speakers can match the immediacy or the scale of the Magnepans, Martin Logans and other flat panel speakers. There's also the issue which has often been mentioned here about the limitations of small drivers in terms of scale and bass. There's also the unfortunate fact that many actives can be a ltle forward and sound a touch hard. I heard some B&Os, though not your model but the long skinny ones, a few times and, in the end, didn't really like them. They have not a hard sound, but to my ears a processed sound I didn't like.
The reality is that passive speakers are going to be round for a while, they are extremely good given their only technical limitation, the crossover, and, frankly, I doubt in blind testing whether many would be able to pick between them and their active counterparts.
Yes I would agree, but if you were in the market with that kind of budget, it would be a shame not to try and hear the many other approaches that you would not usually hear at the lower end of the market.
I would agree that not everyone wants massive panel speakers or huge horns, but also the same way not everyone wants small bookshelf or floorstanders with everything built in.
With £20k in the pot, there is so much choice you cant really narrow it down to one implementation, let alone one or two specific products.
The point I was trying to make, is that people should not buy on a particular design implementation.
To reason, just because I like open baffles, or flea powered SET amps does not mean every version will automatically be better than a standard boxed speaker or kW Solid State beast.
Michell Gyrodec SE / RB300 / Ortofon MC10 Supreme | Sony DVP-S9000ES
Doge 8 | MiniDSP | Decware Zen / Behringer A500
DIY Active Horns / Keesonic Kolt
WIth that sort of budget I would look at B&O.
Well, I'm probably biased to a point, as I own B&O, but for the budget concerned I would definitely concur.
B&O is a bit of a cuckoo in the nest, as regards mainstream HiFi forums, as they resolutely do not market to audiophiles.
Indeed, you will not find any psuedo science or foo, either at an engineering or marketing level eminating from B&O - they are easily the most professional Hifi company I have ever dealt with.
B&O are often lambasted by Ivory tower inhabiting Audiophiles as being all about style over substance, or 'lifestyle' systems. I have often wondered where the idea comes from that a HiFi should NOT be an adjunct to your life, to enhance your enjoyment of recorded music and film in the home, but needs to be 'serious' to be of any value in audiophile terms.
So lets have a slightly more objective look at what B&O can bring to the party.
They've been around since 1925, and are arguably one of the oldest companies in the business.
R&D at the highest levels has been at the core of B&O's competencies for many decades. From a project run over several years in conjunction with KEF, B&O and The Technical University of Denmark, the Archimedes project was a mulit million pound investigation into psycho acoustics, and the speaker room interface.
They fund scholarships into relevant acoustic and electrical research with various Danish Universities at PhD level - one of these lead to the co-development of B&O ICE power amplification.
Another collaboration with Professor Dr. David Moulton of Sausilito Audio Works, lead to the commericial realisation of the Acoustic Lenses Technology, of which a full two years were spent on the Mathematical modelling and testing alone.
Their semi-anechoic chamber, the 'cube' is the largest independantly owned loudspeaker testing facility in Europe.
Every speaker system that leaves B&O's facilities is individually tested and calibrated by computer in an dedicated sound proof room, and the individual results recorded on computer file, logged against the serial numbers of the speakers in question. They also do extensive pre-production testing in terms of reliablity, overload protection, environmental protection etc (smoke, water, heavy knocks, dropped, crushed etc)
Their electrical engineering, acoustic and audio engineering staff are trained to the highest tertiary calibre.
Dr. Geoff Martin, who is their chief sound engineer, has a Bachelor of Music in Organ Performance; a Tonnmeister degree, and a PhD in acoustics.
B&O keep spares for their speakers, in some cases for up to 30 years.
As if that was not enough, there are a couple of also patented and proprietary features to their active speakers, apart from the ALT etc.
With the trend to ever smaller cabinets and speakers, B&O have researched and developed cabinet technology that has moved right away from conventional engineering with MDF built, wood veneered cuboid or rectangular boxes.
Manufacturing in engineering grade plastics and resin mixes, along with aluminum - all manufactured and machined in house - allows B&O to move right away from the acoustic and design limitations of conventional cabinet shapes and materials. B&O also make aluminium trim pieces for the likes of BMW - such is their in-house expertise.
Small elegant forms in loudspeaker cabinets, usually means small volumes and little space for actual drivers, and correspondingly a relatively poor bass response.
To answer this technical limitation, B&O have developed proprietary technology, called ABL, or Adaptive Bass Linearisation. Essentially, on-board DSP software looks at where the bass driver starts to roll off physically, and in turn boosts the ampflier output so as to extend the frequency response, hence getting excellent measured results from small speakers (relatively speaking) as regards bass extension. In turn, very comprehensive overload protection is built in as well, with thermal protection on all the individual drivers, and the system is also tuned and calibrated in pre-production, to cater for all testable overload conditions, such as for example mechanical overload of a bass driver - and protected against the event.
This sort of idiot proofing of a HiFi product is simply not practicable to try and build in to a passive speaker/separate amplifier system buidling scenario.
One of the trademark design elements of B&O's top tier speakers is the ALT lenses.
All cone speakers beam, that is the higher the frequency, the narrower the effective spread of frequencies is from the driver, whilst maintaing specification which is usually quoted as +/- 3 or sometimes 6db points, and measured on axis. Hence, a tweeter might have a frequency dispersion of 60 degrees horizontal, and 10 degrees vertical, +/- 3db limits, measured on axis, as per a B&W 800. But when you travel considerably off axis, as evidenced by a polar response, or as it's sometimes called a power response graph, in plan view usually, the output simply lobes all over the place with lots of frequency and amplitude humps and dips.
Now, measured anechoically, and on axis, this is of little consequence, however when you put a speaker in a room, the off axis frequencies, the ones that are up and down and all over the place in frequency and amplitude, reflect off the side walls and ceiling/floor, to arrive at your listening position milliseconds after the accurate on axis waveform has arrived at your ears - and distorts and colours it.
The ALT lenses have been specifically designed to ameliorate this issue, and constrain reflections to floor and celing, whilst allowing a near flat amplitutde and frequency response through a horizontal arc of 180 degrees, and a vertical one of 30 degrees.
Hence, unlike conventional box speaker designs, the secondary reflected waveforms from boundaries, arriving at your ears milliseconds after the direct waveform on axis with the speaker, are amplitude, phase and frequency coherent and virtually flat, such as to measureably and demonstrably limit audible colouration from the speaker/room interface, and provides a level of natural and accurate timbral response I've seldom heard equaled by any conventional 'box' loudspeaker - even the big B&W 800's with their separate Marlin Heads and wonderful cabinet design.
It's worth noting that some aspects of the goals achieved by the ALT lens design, were a direct outcome of the Archimedes project into speakers, rooms and psycho-acoustics.
I've deliberately avoided discussing particular models within the B&O portfolio; that is up to the OP to investigate should he desire, but the audiophile who writes off B&O as makers of 'lifestyle' systems is seriously misinformed to say the least.
Whether he or anyone else should feel interested enough to investigate B&O is entirely up to you; I simply relate some of their unimpeachable credentials in R&D and audio and acoustic design.
I agree; the OP should listen to different speaker philosophies and design approaches in particular.
This video by PMC who make both active and passive speakers explains the differences quite well: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=3A4UMh1AOHw
Just as long as they choose active because they are the best, technically that is.
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Accuphase E350 amp, Electrocompaniet EMC1UP CDP, Siltech 25th Classic anniversary 330I XLR Harbeth Super HL5 on Sound Anchor Quod ELS63 stands, Chord Odessey2 speaker cable. Grado SR60 headphones.
Well thank you very much for everyone’s input so far.
I've booked a few demos for this week, taking a look at B&W 800D/802D and B&O BeoLab 5's, two different approaches as you guys have recommended with regards to the speakers. My given budget has been blown out of the water, but that doesn't really matter, I'm sure the wife won't mind at all
Still haven't got a clue as to what i should be looking at with regards to source equipment, as I say, I'm definitely open to a streaming option but i would like to retain a CD player and a Turntable.
For a source, I would look at a CD transport (doesnt need to be fancy) and a nice DAC, that in the future you can add a streaming source to for example. Personally, I dont see the advantage of streaming over CDs unless you want multi-room setups where a wireless source like Sonos might be good.
Turntable wise, there are so many choices too, Turntable, Arms, Cartridges and Phono Stages/Step Up Transformers all to match together.
As I said, there really is so much choice out there you cant really start to narrow down without hearing anything. Best off just go to some other dealers, that may stock some unknown brands to you, and hear some different stuff.
You could always do a roadtrip and a couple of dealers in one day that are near together.
In the case of B&O, Dr. Geoff Martin (with whom I've had some correspondence) and Dr. David Moulton would come to mind, but there are others and I'm sure some enquiries would reveal all. Then there is Harmon International, with the likes of Dr. Sean Olive, and his predecessor, Dr. Floyd Toole.
Of course you're going to find similar professionals at the likes of B&W, Meridian etc.
Re: a Hard sound - I tend to find most speakers, if they're designed to be as accurate, as in as close to the original sound as possible, and not 'tweaked' with smiley response curves etc, to sell, will tend to sound like the recording you're using - I've some recordings that can be 'hard' and others very closed miked and 'breathy' - particularly on jazz, and others very upfront, others very distant perspective - I tend to think the weak spots in a system are the recordings, rooms and speakers. In terms of electronics, and the overall picture, as long as an amp can drive a speaker effectively and without clipping, I think differences between them when ABX tested are so small as to be irrelevant. Which is not to say NO differences exist, but rather that in the context of ABX blind testing, and rooms, recordings and speakers, agonising about small, barely perceptiible differences in amplifier sound is just that - agonising and neurotic.
It would be interesting to have an ABX blind test done between two otherwise identical speakers, albeit one passive and one active.
Interestingly, and perhaps also relevant, before I bought my Lab 9's, (which I've had for about 5 months now) I had my V1-40 TV for just on 5 months, and did some measured, matched listening levels between it, with it's 4" bass driver, and it's two 2" mid/treble drivers, each with an individual 32Watt ICE power amp behind it in fully active array, and my Naim SBL's driven in passive mode by my ES Sony 9000 series digital amp, with a measured/reviewed 227 watts RMS per channel available into an 8 ohm load, and in both cases streaming ALAC files from my Mac.
On anything small scale, i.e. where there was no large amounts of bass, or bass extension, where the greater power and two 8" bass/midrange drivers of the SBL would come into play, such as solo piano, string quartet, or even well recorded pop such as James Taylor's October Road, I was able to fool several listeners into believing they were hearing the SBL's when they were in fact, listening to the V1 TV.
For my own experiments with matched levels, and of course sighted, I found the TV consistently had much better resolution of detail, which made instruments sound much more real and believable in terms of their tonal signatures - i.e. timbre, as well as all the little HiFi stuff, like unheard coughs, doors closing in recording studios and such.
In terms of musical dynamics, again, subtle musical inflection such as rubato, brought the performance of many works to life in terms of realism and involvement, that the ES Sony/SBL simply could not match. Bear in mind that the Sony ES9000 amp is going to be at a very high level of quality - I read of owners swapping out the likes of McIntosh and Krell etc to buy it when it was first released - and it was considerably better than the Naim kit I had which preceeded it.
But, we're comparing an active TV sound system, with what could be argued as a fairly high end separates system. That the TV outdid it in several important areas of performance, I found to be, well, confounding really, and was also instrumental in my eventually going with an fully active speaker solution to build on those performance and technical advantages.
The fact that I have a system that is infintely neater, space saving and much nicer looking is the icing on the cake!
A few dealers in your area for you
and 1 in Ipswich http://www.signals.uk.com/
Without being at all disreptful, having read your posts, I can't help wondering whether you want a hifi system as an excellent music source or as a statement of your considerable budget. In short do you want it for sound or bling/kudos?
Some of the gear that has been mentioned will achieve both, particularly B&O.
Despite the paranoid claims of certain people on here, you could easily find that you need only spend a fraction of your budget and yet get superb sound, in terms of the DAC, pre and power amps and speakers. £3250 will buy you that, the AVI ADM 40. With your budget, AVI should probably be auditioned asap to see just how much extra you could spend needlessly[in terms of sound quality].
Silver disc sources could be a bluray player and if you are at all computer literate then streaming sources include Sonos and Apple tv, although yet again you won't be spending much money.
A turntable is where you could really go to town in the spend department. I would sort out the digital source and amp/speakers first because you have a consistent medium in the cd by which to judge things.
The main source of AVI ADM 40 demo is at the owners home in Gloucestershire, but individual owners of AVI product are happy to let you listen to their own speakers. Access via the AVI/HDD web forum.
As has been mentioned, you have a fantastic budget and a very decent sized listening room[hopefully without any 'issues'] so it will be fascinating to see what you end up with. Hopefully you will keep us up to date.
Best of luck, just be careful that you don't spend needlessly, unless of course that doesn't bother you.
Apple Lossless - ATV3 - AVI ADM 40 also ATV3 into AVI ADM 9T [my wife's system]
and Grado SR80i
to the OP:
I recommend to spend the most on speakers. Actives are better by desing but unfortunately will give you limited choice in domestically suitable ranges. Some very good speaker options: B&O, Genelec, Adam Audio, ATC, AVI ADM40. If you like good bass, get a good sub too (ATC, GL Audio etc) perfectly well within your budget).
Sources: modern sources produce practically indistinguishable output so should be chosen purely on functionlaity, looks, compativility and interface. Some options are: MacMini, Sonos, Apple Airplay devices (e.g. Airport express, ATV or third-party options), Squeezebox touch (although discontinued) and plenty other streamers. Add a nas if you want or stream from a computer.
Given the above, I would budget (up to) 15K for speakers and the rest for everyhtign else.
If you do not want to stream get a modern bluray player (for CDs) and a pre-amp with digital inputs (or a DAC with volume contorol) and some actives. But I would recommend a streamer as it will allow you easier acces to your music. A near perfect set would be a MacMini + AVI ADM40, or the mini with a dac/pre and say ATC 50As or Adams of your choice and maybe a sub.
Another important advice - think through all the interfaces, control and integration (how easy and pleasant will it be to operate the gear for you and your significant others, how well the components interact and are compatible, how robust is the connection etc). You do not want to spend 20k and end up having to mess with switches/cables/logins/restarts etc, you should be able to achieve very sleek control and full integration. To this end, do not forget to budget for controllers e.g. a dedicated ipod/ipad or an advanced remote like Philips TSU range or similar. Once again - think it through. do not rush.
System here http://www.whathifi.com/forum/your-system/my-dream-system-oh-maybe-one-day
... and as another touch of high-budget sound excellence, get a pair of top high-performace headphones with those soft real leather pads (e.g. http://www.audeze.com/products/headphones/lcd3 or similar) and put them on a nice zebrano wood stand and enjoy occasionally - those will have better sound than any system (due to lack of speaker/room interaction).
A perfectly valid question, also a very easy one to answer, I want this system purely for the sound quality as I have found myself pondering the purchase of a new system over the last year or so. I've learnt a lot simply from reading all the posts in this thread. I will definitely be demoing lots of equipment of the coming weeks, finding the exact sound i want.
I'll know what I'll want when I've heard and compared many systems. The budget is simply a means to an end, spending needlessly is certainly not something I plan on doing
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