Hello from and observations of a (hopefully) pragmatic audiophile

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MattA

Hey folks, I just joined after following some threads about the "swarm" subwoofer idea to here.

My goals in Hi-fi (and home theater) are simple: I want to be able to understand dialogue in TV/movies, and I want to enjoy both music and movies. I'd love to reach some sort of Hi-fi nirvana, but I don't think that is possible, both financially and realistically (see my system and room in my profile).

It has taken me a long time to realize that my goals are also different from what most hi-fi products are trying to solve for. E.g. most hi-fi reviews are written from the point of view of a single person sitting in a sweet spot in a room that has been seriously compromised for, if not entirely dedicated to, hi-fi. That isn't me. My stuff has to fit into a multipurpose room that doesn't fit the usual hi-fi template(s).

Beyond the room, many reviewers don't seem cover some of my top priorities: quality of background level listening fidelity, quality of off-axis listening (both vertically and horizontally, i.e. does the music sound good across the whole room?).

I'm a software engineer by training and I love the tension between subjective objective hi-fi discussions/flame-wars, because they are similar the kinds of questions that come up when writing software.  Essentially, objective measures give a useful but incomplete picture of how equipment will behave.  The pure objectivists forget that the measures are not measuring "enjoyment."  The subjectivists properly value "enjoyment" but sometimes forget that most of that enjoyment comes not from mere tinkering but serious engineering work that makes heavy use of objective measurements!  :popcorn:

P.S. I recently moved to a place with a larger and more problematic living room (see my profile).  My B&W PM1 bookshelf speakers were not cutting it -- they didn't have the oomph any more.  Truth be told, they never really made the music "sing" for me, despite all kinds of good reviews.  Across a variety of situations they have always sounded competent, coherent, and detailed (Hi-fi?), but not enjoyable.  I'm now trying Wharfedale Lintons.  Initial impressions are good.  They are not endgame speakers but on balance they are more enjoyable.  My wife spent time playing music to test them out, which is a first!  She likes them but says something is sometimes lacking in certain songs -- she isn't necessarily moved as much as she is even when listening through cheap earbuds.  I'm not sure if we can achieve everything -- a great non-fatiguing system for everyday listening, and a party system for rocking out.  Pictures in my gallery+system areas, and below for the lazy.   :wink:





FullRangeMan

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Welcome  :thumb:
Any tube amp?

Phil A

Welcome!

WGH

She likes them but says something is sometimes lacking in certain songs -- she isn't necessarily moved as much as she is even when listening through cheap earbuds.

Welcome to AC.

Although I haven't heard the Wharfedale Lintons, they seem like nice speakers: 3 way with Kevlar woofer, 44 lbs each. I would be hard pressed to recommend a replacement for $1500.

I hate to say it but the "sometimes lacking" is probably the fault of your NAD C 390DD. The early digital amps I have heard have always been lacking, they have a kind of a clean soulless sound.

I would suggest an Anthem MRX 520 because the included ARC Genisis (microphone, stand, cables) room correction is one of the best and would increase dialog clarity and intelligibly. I use an Anthem AVM 60 and the sound is flawless. Plus you finally get a remote control!

ArthurDent

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Greetings & Welcome to AC Matt   :thumb:  Being one of the lazy, Thanks, for the pic & diagram.  8)

MattA

Welcome  :thumb:
Any tube amp?

Thanks. No tube amp, but my stepfather-in-law is pointing me in that direction. He has a PrimaLuna pre and likes it.

MattA

Welcome to AC.

Although I haven't heard the Wharfedale Lintons, they seem like nice speakers: 3 way with Kevlar woofer, 44 lbs each. I would be hard pressed to recommend a replacement for $1500.

I hate to say it but the "sometimes lacking" is probably the fault of your NAD C 390DD. The early digital amps I have heard have always been lacking, they have a kind of a clean soulless sound.

I would suggest an Anthem MRX 520 because the included ARC Genisis (microphone, stand, cables) room correction is one of the best and would increase dialog clarity and intelligibly. I use an Anthem AVM 60 and the sound is flawless. Plus you finally get a remote control!

I listened to a bunch of music today and watched the Cruise/Diaz movie "Knight and Day" through the Wharfedale Lintons this evening. They are definitely a different presentation than the B&W PM1s. More bass, less treble.

Yes, the "clean soulless sound" description does fit the NAD C390DD. When I bought it it was much better sound than the low end Denon AVR it replaced, and solved issues I was having with very grating fingers-on-chalkboard sibilance with squeaky character "Anna" on Downton Abbey.  :lol:  I didn't shop any other AVR before jumping to the slightly weird NAD.  I probably should have at the time, since could have bought a whole lot of AVR for the same money.  I wanted to be a cool "audiophile."  :roll:  It does come with a remote, but it is definitely a 2-channel audiophile product with some minimal HDMI support tacked on.

I will take a close look at the Anthem. I admit to not even considering AVRs before you pointed this out. I do watch movies and TV, but I care much more about the music, so I've been focusing more on those kind of products. I have to admit that if an AVR sounded great I'd be happy and would probably move on with my life!

JLM

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Welcome!  And thanks for sharing your "real world" issues with us.

First off, what are your listening patterns?  Do you primarily enjoy music solo and movies with others (a typical scenario)?  What genres of music/videos make up your normal listening?  What is your priority, music or movies?  How far away are you listening from?  Do you know the range of how loud you listen?  (There are free smart phone apps to measure sound pressure levels.)  What's your budget?  You mentioned looking at subwoofer swarms, how open are you to multiple speakers (I only see/read of two)?  Are you thinking of adding one or more subwoofers?

IMO speakers are the biggest factor for the sound heard and rooms are the second biggest factor.  Shop for speakers first, then look for the receiver that will serve them best.  Have you considered setting up separate audio and A/V systems in different rooms so you can optimize the system/room to each (audio and A/V)? 

A/V systems come in a variety of configurations, from just using the TV speakers, to 5.1 (most popular), to 7.1, 9.1, on up for true videophiles.  Most A/V dialogue (and signal in general) comes from the center channel and I don't see a center channel speaker.  Some users have "gotten away" with a stereo setup for A/V depending largely on the speakers used, but most consider the center channel as the most important speaker in an A/V system.  So I recommend an A/V receiver and adding a center channel.

Having a nice A/V receiver and center channel speaker would help with multi-channel materials.  But the challenge is in the design of that speaker as modern films are mixed to put a great deal of emphasis on the center channel, so they've gotten bigger over the years.  Typically "nice" center channel speakers are MTM design, which only provide good sound straight ahead.  Better to buy 3 matching monitors for front left/right and center positions (even if you have to place the center channel speaker on it's side) or splurge for a speaker with two woofers and tweeter above a midrange driver that matches the left/right front speakers.  That timbre matching is considered critical.

One example of a good basic 5.1 speaker system would be the $1000 SVS Prime Satellite System that uses 5 matching small 2-way speakers (left front, right front, center channel, left rear, and right rear) with a nice sealed subwoofer.  That would be more geared towards movies.  A better basic 5.1 system geared towards both music and films might be Paradigm Prestige (4) 15B and 45C plus Rythmik L12 subwoofer, total price $3900. 
keep in mind that 2 smaller subwoofers is better than one big one.

Setup is going to be a challenge in your space.  By those nasty laws of physics one end will be the primary listening location, the other will be secondary/background listening. 

WGH

An AVR would allow the addition of a future center channel, a sub and wireless sourounds. 99% of the dialog comes from the center channel so it should be very high quality. JLM has a bias against MTM center channel designs but a well designed speaker does not have a narrow sweet spot. I have a Salk Veracity HT2C, an MTM design, and it fills the entire room with a balanced sound. I would bet all of Jim's center speaker designs have wide dispersion characteristics.

B&W speakers are known for their tilted up treble, almost any speaker will sound mellow next to a B&W, except maybe a Klipsch, Paradigm, and all the other speakers at Best Buy competing for highest excitement factor.

Anthem has a house sound that can best be described as relaxed, that is actually a good thing when watching movies because soundtracks are usually mixed hot. The sound is always super clear, much better than my previous Outlaw surround processor that at the time I thought was pretty good.

The ARC Genesis room correction can be adjusted for each input, if the movie sound is perfect and the stereo is too laid back the response curves for that input can be easily modified.

MattA

Welcome!  And thanks for sharing your "real world" issues with us.

First off, what are your listening patterns?  Do you primarily enjoy music solo and movies with others (a typical scenario)?  What genres of music/videos make up your normal listening?  What is your priority, music or movies?  How far away are you listening from?  Do you know the range of how loud you listen?  (There are free smart phone apps to measure sound pressure levels.)  What's your budget?  You mentioned looking at subwoofer swarms, how open are you to multiple speakers (I only see/read of two)?  Are you thinking of adding one or more subwoofers?

Thanks JLM.

I think WGH's recommendation of an AVR took this into a TV/movie/multi-channel direction, but my primary interest and focus is 2-channel music. My response just prior shed some light on your specific questions but may not have been approved when you asked them. I think my ordered priorities are:

  • Good background sound. I.e. must sound good outside any "sweet spot" as we're reading, walking around, visiting with friends, etc. You know the experience when you walk into a restaurant and the music sounds great but is not dominant? I like that. I currently use a number of Sonos Play 5 speakers for ambient music in a few rooms and, while they are ok, they don't really satisfy.
  • Sufficient for TV/movies. Listed second only because an inadequate TV/system fails entirely. Music is more important, and I will settle for "good enough" TV/music sound. So far, we've been quite satisfied with 2 channel TV/movie audio without a sub. Wharfedale Lintons seem fine. If I went for a split system for music and TV I'd strongly consider a good soundbar for TV/movies. I've tried the surround sound thing and did not like it, mostly due to poor production values on a lot of TV shows. E.g. football became unbearable with the "surround" being used to over stimulate me with roaring crowd noise for three hours, and various TV shows just sounded worse in multi-channel. I also didn't like routing wires and having speakers everywhere.
  • Good critical listening music. I rarely sit and listen to music critically, but when I do it is nice to have a good system.[/il]
I rarely listen loud, probably 70-80 dbA average. Louder for movies, generally. Sometimes louder for critical listening. Never at "frat house party" or "live" levels. Part of my interest in "swarm" sub systems is the hope that they can help fill out the sound even when volume is low (i.e. a little fletcher munson curve effect). In my medium/large room the bass tends to disappear at lower volumes even when boosted with EQ.

My current system meets most of these goal, so in a sense my budget is $0. In our new room, I had been solving the problem of two smaller bookshelf speakers (B&W PM1) being inadequately small. The Wharfedale Lintons seem to be doing a better job, but I've only had them two days.

I'm a tinkerer, though, and I allow myself a monthly budget for all my personal discretionary spending. I'd happily spend many thousands on hi-fi stuff, but I'm balancing that against time. It might take the better part of a year to save for such a purchase. I'm quite happy to wait and get something better as long as I'm not hitting significant diminishing returns. Spending more also eats into other fun stuff like replacement laptop computers, clothing, etc.

As far as music genres: folk, rock, jazz, blues, pop (usually the more alternative/mature stuff). Some country, especially stuff that crosses over. For the most part, classical and similar is not in the rotation. With some exceptions, rap and R&B is not there, nor is most electronica/EDM/dance/ambient. When going for background music it is usually slower folk/jazz/blues, unless we're doing chores and it becomes more energetic pop, rock, blues. I say all this knowing that I've only listened to a tiny fraction of the music humanity has ever produced! I do generally appreciate the very best music from every genre.

MattA

An AVR would allow the addition of a future center channel, a sub and wireless sourounds. 99% of the dialog comes from the center channel so it should be very high quality.

The thing I miss most from an AVR is not the additional channels and not even the room EQ tech, but things like volume leveling and loudness compensation features when watching movies. Our music sounds good without the EQ, but we are often turning the volume up and down when watching movies (but not TV).

I know the Anthem receivers have pre-outs, but I also see that they have optical outs (SPDIF?). With those could I plug them into a separate DAC? I've been keeping my eye out for a "digital only" AVR just to see what that might bring to the table.


B&W speakers are known for their tilted up treble, almost any speaker will sound mellow next to a B&W, except maybe a Klipsch, Paradigm, and all the other speakers at Best Buy competing for highest excitement factor.

Yes. Ultimately I think the tilted up treble was fatiguing in the fairly reflective rooms I have used them in.

Anthem has a house sound that can best be described as relaxed, that is actually a good thing when watching movies because soundtracks are usually mixed hot. The sound is always super clear, much better than my previous Outlaw surround processor that at the time I thought was pretty good.

The ARC Genesis room correction can be adjusted for each input, if the movie sound is perfect and the stereo is too laid back the response curves for that input can be easily modified.

Good to know.

WGH

Anthem has instructional videos on how to setup their AVR's. It does have a Dolby Volume Leveler although I have never used it.
https://www.anthemav.com/videos/instructional-videos.php

The only digital out I use is the HDMI ARC (Auto Return Channel). When watching basic broadcast TV and the Anthem is on the TV sound is automatically muted and all sound goes into the processor through the HDMI (backwards). Blu-ray and HTPC plug directly into the Anthem, video output to TV uses the same HDMI cable.

I don't know if the Anthem does digital/optical out to a DAC. It doesn't have a USB input if that is important.

AVS Forum has a massive Anthem AVM60 thread. The AVM60 is the processor/preamp without the amps. The ARC Genesis room correction works the same throughout the entire Anthem product line although the MRX520 does not have Dolby Atmos. Good thing you have a year before buying anything, it will take that long to read the thread (I usually skip to the end).
https://www.avsforum.com/forum/90-receivers-amps-processors/2004562-official-anthem-avm-60-thread.html

I use a Van Alstine preamp, amp and DAC for my stereo. The Anthem AVM60 is used for movies going through the AVA electronics. The Van Alstine separates sound better than the Anthem for music, as they should for 3 times the price. The movie sound is killer, the Anthems have a great sound processor. My system has a lot of boxes, wires, inputs and switches, it's not for everyone, I'm one brain fart away from it not working.

At first I was going to recommend the Van Alstine SET Control Amp ($1199) but you need HDMI and all that other stuff so I went with Anthem. But if you want to take your stereo sound to the next universe at an affordable price then the AVA is the way to go. Too bad the NAD doesn't have preamp outputs.

AVA Vision SET 120 Review
https://www.audiocircle.com/index.php?topic=159180.0

New SET 120 Control Amp review at Hifitrends.com
https://www.audiocircle.com/index.php?topic=171020.0

MattA

At first I was going to recommend the Van Alstine SET Control Amp ($1199) but you need HDMI and all that other stuff so I went with Anthem. But if you want to take your stereo sound to the next universe at an affordable price then the AVA is the way to go. Too bad the NAD doesn't have preamp outputs.

The NAD C390DD does have preamp outputs, though turning them on sacrifices the sub output (they share the output). I wonder if using the Van Alstein SET 120 Power Amplifier would change the sound in a significant way. Using a separate amp could also be a stepping stone toward using separates.

To be honest, as a software engineer by trade, I am attracted to the whole "Direct Digital" design that NAD has going on with some of their products. All my sources are digital, and it just makes sense (to me) to keep it that way all the way through the volume/eq chain, so long as any signal processing preserves enough. But that is my left brain talking. My right brain might like some of the flavor other approaches bring! I have not tried them.

WGH

The NAD C390DD does have preamp outputs, though turning them on sacrifices the sub output (they share the output). I wonder if using the Van Alstein SET 120 Power Amplifier would change the sound in a significant way. Using a separate amp could also be a stepping stone toward using separates.

Oh yea, the sound would change significantly. The only way to know if you and your wife like the change is to try the Van Alstine 30 day trail, give them a call but be aware that nobody ever returns an AVA amp unless they are upgrading. 90% of the time Frank, the owner, picks up. You can discuss options, find out if 60 watts per channel is enough for the 90dB Wharfedale Lintons (I think it is plenty), great customer service and he loves talking about audio. If you are patient a used or demo may show up at a discounted price on his site but you will have to be fast to snag it, after the reviews everyone will want it. There may be a reviewer's unit (Hi-Fi Trends) of a SET 120 Control Amp (with volume control) out in the wild.
https://avahifi.com/

Can you separate the video and music inputs/outputs?

If so you can do what I do and take the NAD line out into one of the SET 120 Control amp inputs, all the other music outputs (DAC, FM) will plug directly into the SET 120 Control amp (with volume control) for the purest sound. For video only my preamp volume is turned up to 12 o clock (the preamp and amp is still dead silent at that extreme volume) and movie volume is controlled by the Anthem or in your case the NAD. The 12 o clock setting matches the volume of my other amps (surrounds & Atmos) that are connected directly to the Anthem processor. Just remember to turn down the volume at shutdown or morning music will wake everyone up.

Loosing the sub outputs is no big deal. One of the most musical subwoofers is made by REL. REL subs have 2 types of inputs designed to be used at the same time. A .1 LFE (low frequency effects) from a surround processor or AVR and most important a High Level Input (Neutrik Speakon): Used to connect to the main front amplifier speaker terminals (AVA SET 120). I use a REL sub and love it. Here is a current review by another AC member:

Got a Pair of REL S/812
https://www.audiocircle.com/index.php?topic=170815.msg1809553#msg1809553

REL website
https://rel.net/