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Budget separates system for Classical Music

Thropplenoggin

New member
Jan 6, 2014
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I'm hoping to buy a budget system of separates for classical music in the coming year. By classical I mean the whole spectrum - from plainsong (Tallis/Palestrina), solo instrumental music (Bach's unaccompanied piano, cello works), orchestral (the might of Bruckner), and opera (Mozart/Wagner).

I thought I would ask about different amps/CD players regarding brightness/warmth, etc. I am looking to spend around £500-600 on amp/CD player.

My present system is a Denon microsystem M-38 but I'd be happy to try a new 'sound': I've been reading up on NAD amps (316/326BEE) and CD players (516BEE), and the Marantz PM6005/CD6005. I've heard that Yamaha are quite bright sounding, so even tho' the Yamaha AS500 is a bargain, perhaps I should steer clear of this?

As for speakers, I have just bought a pair of Dali Zensor 1s and will use these initially but may upgrade these to Zensor 3s or something in a higher price range: Q Acoustics 2050i, Focal Aria 906, but that's a long way off.

At present, I would just like some advice about the sound of integrated amplifiers and CD players with classical music on a budget of £500-600.

I should add that, aside of CDs, some music will come via a Fiio X3, which has an in-built DAC and can handle hi-res audio files, so an amp with a coaxial input would be useful, too.

Any food for thought appreciated.
 

matt49

New member
Apr 7, 2013
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Hi,

You asked for food for thought, so here goes. A bit abstract, I’m afraid, but I’m sure more specific suggestions will follow.

In your situation I’d be minded to put the larger share of the budget into the amp.

My reasoning is: the amp has to be able to drive your speakers well enough to reproduce the dynamics of classical music. Classical CDs tend to be mastered at lower levels than recent pop recordings, so as to leave plenty of headroom for louder passages (within the constraints of the CD medium). If you master at higher levels, you end up having to compress the dynamics, and this compression bedevils much pop music on CD. As the mastering of classical music is done with little compression and at lower levels, your amp will have to work harder to recreate the loud passages without going into clipping.

So I'd say you need an amp that has enough power to drive your speakers. In fact, rather than thinking about the tonal character of amps, I’d be thinking about their power output.

Now a question: would you be prepared to buy second hand? Second-hand amps can represent outstanding value. They’re less prone to external or internal damage than CDPs or speakers, so they represent a relatively safe bet. For about £400 you might well be able to pick up an amp that originally retailed for £800-£1000. The classifieds sections on Pink Fish Media and Hifi Wigwam contain a lot of well looked after kit, sold by enthusiasts to one another (i.e. less risky than eBay). If this is of interest, I’m sure people here can suggest some good current and older models to look out for.

Your Fiio X3 will produce excellent sound from its internal DAC via its line-level output. (You may need to buy a splitter cable for a few pennies.) I wouldn’t consider outputting from the digital coax out, as you’d need to buy another DAC, and the Fiio already has a very good one. You can also use the Fiio as an outboard USB DAC to play music stored on a PC/Mac or NAS drive. I’d seriously consider going down this route. I’d be surprised if this weren’t capable of producing a sound rivalling CDPs costing far more. Another reason not to spend much of your budget on the CDP, in my opinion.

:cheers:

Matt
 

Thropplenoggin

New member
Jan 6, 2014
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Thanks, Matt.

A very interesting post with salient points a-plenty.

This morning I took order of the Dali Zensor 1s, and whilst I appreciate they need to be run in, the sound from them is quite simply astonishing compared to the muddy dirge of the speakers (Denon) bundled with the Denon M-38.

Funnily enough, I have already been using the Fiio X3 via line output (QED Profile 3.5m to 3.5m) to the M-38's 'portable in' input. There is also a source direct function on the microsystem. Even with the old speakers, the FLAC files and hi-res audio sounded very, very good - much better than I was getting from the CD player. One question: would there any benefit to upgrading this interconnect or using a 3.mm to RCA cable?

Today, I've been doing comparisons with the Fiio and CD player through the new speakers, and again, the Fiio just sounds incredible. I know it has a very good DAC chip (Wolfson WM8740, same as the Rega Saturn according to their bumf)...is this what is making most of the difference to the quality? I have spent the past week ripping CDs to FLAC and then playing it via the Fiio.

It does seem to vary with recordings, though. A remastered EMI disc of Klemper/P.O. in Mahler's 2nd sounded equally superb, but often there is a quietness and lack of clarity from the CD player. Can I assume, then, that this is the weak link in this microsystem, which I can now bypass via the Fiio?

I am happy to accept your sage advice to invest in a very decent amp and would welcome all suggestions.
 

CarlDW

New member
Dec 29, 2011
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I would agree with Matt, the Zensor 1's would really benefit from some good quality amplification, so most of your budget should be spent there. As for what, I personally would look at an ex-demo Rega Brio-R or Arcam A19.

CD player-wise, I would recommend the Sony CDP-XE930 - they can be had for well under £100, are solidly built and sound great.
 

matt49

New member
Apr 7, 2013
51
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0
Thropplenoggin said:
Thanks, Matt.

A very interesting post with salient points a-plenty.

This morning I took order of the Dali Zensor 1s, and whilst I appreciate they need to be run in, the sound from them is quite simply astonishing compared to the muddy dirge of the speakers (Denon) bundled with the Denon M-38.

Funnily enough, I have already been using the Fiio X3 via line output (QED Profile 3.5m to 3.5m) to the M-38's 'portable in' input. There is also a source direct function on the microsystem. Even with the old speakers, the FLAC files and hi-res audio sounded very, very good - much better than I was getting from the CD player. One question: would there any benefit to upgrading this interconnect or using a 3.mm to RCA cable?

Today, I've been doing comparisons with the Fiio and CD player through the new speakers, and again, the Fiio just sounds incredible. I know it has a very good DAC chip (Wolfson WM8740, same as the Rega Saturn according to their bumf)...is this what is making most of the difference to the quality? I have spent the past week ripping CDs to FLAC and then playing it via the Fiio.

It does seem to vary with recordings, though. A remastered EMI disc of Klemper/P.O. in Mahler's 2nd sounded equally superb, but often there is a quietness and lack of clarity from the CD player. Can I assume, then, that this is the weak link in this microsystem, which I can now bypass via the Fiio?

I am happy to accept your sage advice to invest in a very decent amp and would welcome all suggestions.
Great to hear the Zensors are doing the business.

Also good news about the sound from the Fiio. Once you get a new amp, a 3.5mm to RCA cable would be necessary (at minimal cost). The Fiio produces a line level signal through its analogue out, so should be connected to a new amp in the same way as a CDP would be.

Aside from the Rega Brio already suggested, I'd be looking out for second-hand models from e.g. Leema (Elements), Exposure (2010), AVI (Labs Series), Naim (not sure which models), Roksan (Kandy K2).

Good luck!

Matt
 

Covenanter

Well-known member
Jul 20, 2012
63
0
18,540
What Matt says makes sense.

If you wanted to go for more expensive CD/Amplifier the Marantz CD6004/PM6004 are a bargain now that the 605 range has come out. I have these and they are excellent for classical IMO.

Chris
 

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