Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Stereo systems bleg

I am trying to buy a stereo system of the old type - good speakers, amplifier and CD player. My budget is up to about $3500 but I'd be happy to pay less than that.

I am mainly interested in listening to classical music (orchestral, piano sonatas, opera) though I listen to rock and some folk music as well.

I've looked at a few systems in specialist audio stores and frankly thought the sound quality was unattractive with thick, very unnatural bass sounds that seemed to dominate. Even orchestral music had a rock album 'thump, thump, thump' quality to it and a dullness which you didn't seem to be able to correct by altering the balance. I've heard that the dislike of strong bass sounds is connected to age - it gets harder to hear treble sounds as you age.

I was also underwhelmed by the 'test' recordings retailers supply - obviously intended to make you go 'wow' with the wild sound flourishes - so of course I now take my own CDs.

I haven't bought a decent stereo system for 20 years so - as salespeople are quick to intuit - I am not knowledgeable. I'd be interested in ideas from readers - not retailers.

Is my budget too low - surely not in an era of cheap Chinese imports? Who are good retailers in Melbourne? Are any of the music magazines or online sources of information reliable or do they simply promote commercial interests? What about all this stuff on cables - is it baloney?

Comments welcome.


Mark U said...


Try getting some info from the Duratone Hi Fi website.

hc said...

Thanks Mark.

Francis Xavier Holden said...

harry - how urgent is your purchase?

I'm overdue to do a blogging dialogue with at least one other on this.

I'll take you through an iterative process, and express my biases and opinions.

The principles haven't changed in 20 years.

Some good things: after a drought it is now possible in the last few years to get good enough turntables cheapish. CD players can be got cheap.

My qualifications? - Having to get good (enough) equipment on a low budget over the years and sort wheat from chaff. Then going on to help others do the same. I spent years reading aus-hi-fi and other newsgroups back when they were vaguely readable and researching good sound on a budget.

The budget is plenty.

You will need to use all your economic rationalist skills to defend yourself against bullshit, psuedo science and the (general) tendency to audiophoolery.

A word of warning: don't chuck out your old gear. After thinking and listening you may decide that most of it is as good as you can get.

Any money saved can go on buying more music.

hc said...

fxh, not urgent at all - I have not had a decent stereo system for 20 years.

I renovated my house and now have a decent large room where I can put stereo equipment - speakers etc. I like the old-fashioned 2 speaker system, decent amp etc and would like a turntable and CD.

Are you going to post on your blog? If so I'll regularly inspect.

D W Griffths said...

I had a look at this about four years ago and was astonished at what is being sold as high-end equipment these days. I had never thought of myself as a fussy hi-fi consumer until I considered buying new gear.

I heard a lot of tiny speakers that left the low notes to a a "subwoofer". Avoid these like the plague; they leave a hole in your music where the lower midrange and most of the bass ought to be.

The audiophiles I talked to mostly commented that this was where the demand was these days and there was nothing that could be done about it.

The electronics have come a long way. Speakers don;'t seem to have come on at all. I found my 1988 NAD bookshelf speakers (actually made by KEF) were the equal of anything priced under $800. (I ended up keeping all my old gear and taking the gift of an old Pioneer amp and Infinity speakers from my sister and brother-in-law. Otherwise, I might have bought some more NAD gear.)

The UK hi-fi magazines still seem to take sound seriously e.g. What Hi-FI. I'd buy a few copies and work from there.

Oh, and the only reliable way to check out gear is by taking along CDs you know intimately and having it played to you.

Rob said...

Harry, listening to audio gear in shops in very misleading. The only way to test it is to take it home and try it in your own listening environment. Most good dealers will let you do this (Duratone does).

Also, classical music is very difficult to reproduce in a way that gives the illusion of 'natural' sound. Sad to say, you have to pay up big for the privilege.

Anonymous said...

I'm having the same difficulties. I have a library of several hundred classical CDs which were chosen for sound and performance. Now How Do I Listen To Them?

I searched through the following sites but I'm looking forward to hearing about your results.


my setup is as follows:
NAD C352 Integrated Amp
NAD C542 CD player
Bohlender-Graebener Z-92 Speakers
Monster M-Series Interconnects & Bi-wire cables
Approximately $4k total from a local authorized dealer.
Become a Purist
Linn Classik integrated amp / CD / tuner combo
Linn Katan speakers
Total price: about $3600
A whole new world of sound for the least money possible. Or perhaps the ideal compact minimalist system for a bedroom or office. Either way, this is the minimum system most of us would have at home. The Linn Classik combines a top notch CD player, tuner, and amplifier in a small, elegant chassis, and looks and sounds great anywhere in the house. Remote control is included of course, and you can even program the Classik to wake you up in the morning to your favorite radio station or CD. Add a pair of the Grado RS2 headphones for a truly outstanding personal music system.

A Fine Starting Point
NAD C525iBEE CD player
NAD C325BEE integrated amplifier
Rega R1 bookshelf speakers
Total price: about $1200
This is the entry level system that we all agree is the minimum for enriching your musical experience. For the money you would spend at an electronics megastore, you can have a system that actually sounds good. If you have a tight budget but want something that performs, give this a listen. You'll be pleasantly surprised.

Ed Le Blanc said...

I have a ELECTROVOICE I just purchased a few weeks ago. I have give up finding a mate. This is the 800 and I only have one. This is the one with the 30" woofer.

Fred Brown said...

Try to avoid subwoofers larger than 12 inches. Bigger only adds color.
My system is:
NAD M15/M25 pre/amp 160 watts per ch
Bohlender Graebener 220i center
B G 420i front L/R mains
Kef surrounds
Velodyne SPL-12r subwoofer
The BG speakers are all a combination of planar ribbon/6.5" cone speakers.
I've auditioned many systems and this has the most fidelity that I have found to date without going bankrupt.

Martina said...

These every system is very stereo bleg.