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Budget Floorstanders + Amp Audition List and Results

Audiolab 6000A Amplifier

geekonstereo

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Feb 1, 2015
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Hello all,

After reading tons of reviews, discussions and debates on this forum as well as a couple of others, I did a bunch of auditions and bought my first 'serious' audio system.

This is what I finally ended up with:

Monitor Audio Silver 8 floorstanding speakers
Rogue Audio Sphinx integrated amplifier
Musical Fidelity V90-DAC

Just thought I'd pass on some details of the process for the benefit of future budding audiophiles (though what's on this forum is already quite adequate). Of course, what's below isn't set in stone, and I am by no means asking anyone to blindly follow these tips.

Anyway, the most important lesson I learnt is that while you can read all the reviews and discussions boards you want, nothing helps more than physically going to dealers and auditioning the equipment you may want to buy. The forums and reviews will probably help you narrow down your choices from, say, 20 to 10.

Also, make sure you stretch your budget as much as you can to get the best equipment possible. This doesn't mean that a $3,000 speaker from one brand will sound better than a $2,000 speaker from any other brand. But I have observed that a $3,000 speaker from one brand generally sounds better than a $2,000 speaker from the SAME brand.

As you audition different speakers, you will realize that each brand has its own 'sound', variations of which are played out over several different models.

When you budget for an audio system, don't neglect the amp. It does make a difference. I was inspired by what was written in a Stereophile magazine review of an amp. The reviewer urged readers to consider units that would still be useful several years from now, and cautioned that the world of DACs was changing too quickly. I thought that was good advice.

Make sure you have some funds left for decent speaker cables (more on that below).

All the opinions expressed below are just that, opinions. You could have a completely different experience with all these units. The only way to find out if they work for you is to go out and listen to them!

Now to business. Phase 1 -- Speakers
I was looking to buying a 2-channel system through which I planned to listen to 60% music and 40% movies. I was clear I didn't want as 5.1 channel system. It just isn't worth it unless you have a lot of money to spend and have a really huge listening/movie-watching room. A good pair of stereo speakers+amp and subwoofer (if needed) will be way better than a mediocre 5.1 system.

I was initially looking to buy a pair of bookshelf speakers with a subwoofer. But once I started auditioning them, I preferred the more open sound of floorstanders, which also meant that I could get away without necessarily having to use a subwoofer (you can of course buy one anyway to get really deep bass).

Auditioned speakers (all floorstanders, price estimates in Singapore dollars/pair -- in a range to account for currency fluctuations, taxes, etc.)

Wharfedale Diamond 10.7
Nice warm sounding speakers; the music seemed very smooth over it. Decent bass as well. Not much detail or depth though. I also wasn't particularly impressed with the looks/finish of these speakers. They looked a bit tired, to be honest. S$1300-S$1500

Dali Ikon 6 Mk2
Very different sound from the Wharfedale. Superb detail, clarity and imaging. But I found it a bit clinical, without soul, so to speak. Looks arent bad. In spite of the greater detail and clarity, I would have gone for the Wharfedale 10.7 if I only had these two to choose from. The Wharfedales had more character, and that's the best way I can express the difference. S1400-$1700

Boston Acoustics A360
Probably the best value-for-money speaker that I came across in its price range. Nice detail and clarity, not as much as the Dali Ikon 6 but better than the Wharfedale 10.7. Pretty strong bass. Looks are a bit uninspiring, but I have to confess I almost bought these. But when I heard them again after auditioning some of the other (more expensive) speakers listed below, I realized they were too 'laid back' for me. These speakers don't 'disappear' completely and the music isn't as smooth and lush as that which comes out of other (again, more expensive) speakers. But if you have a budget of S$800-S1000, I would recommend these. You won't be disappointed.

Tannoy Mercury V4i
These reminded me of the Dali Ikon 6. Superb detail, and maybe even better bass than the Dali. Cheaper too. But again, what put me off was that they sounded too 'analytical'. This type of speaker isn't bad. In fact, some might prefer it. Just that it wasn't for me. S$900-S$1200

Mordaunt Short Mezzo 8
I auditioned these because the dealer was offering the demo model in the shop for half the usual price. These were impressive, but I had to really turn the volume up to 'feel' the music. Superb bass and fairly good detail. A nice warm sound. But at lower (normal) volumes, it just seemed a bit dull. Additionally, the demo model wasn't in top condition cosmetically, so I didn't even consider buying it. Usual price is S$1800-S$2100

Zu Omen
These speakers had the most distinct and unique 'voice' among all the brands that I auditioned. They put out a dramatic, big and bold sound. Voices are superbly rendered and you feel as if the performance is taking place right in front of you. But that comes with a loss of detail. I could very clearly make out the difference between these and speakers that offer more clarity across the low-mid-high frequency range. Perhaps if were a decade younger and wanted a set of speakers to simply rock out and party in my bachelor pad/dorm room, I would have bought these. Check them out. S$2000-S$2500

B&W 683 S2
If there was one speaker that I actually disliked during the whole process, it was this one. Yes, detail was great, bass was deep and fit and finish were superb. But, good lord, I just couldn't stand the sound coming out of these. I think I understood what 'overly bright sound' means while listening to these speakers. Basically, it's a very in-your-face sound that seemed very harsh to me. The Zu Omen was also 'bright' I suppose, but in a very good way. I think the fact that some details are lost through the Zu actually helps smooth out the sound. With the B&Ws, the sound seemed to assault me. If you're wondering if the setup was all wrong, it wasn't. They were paired with a high-end Rotel amp and CD player and I had the showroom to myself with no outside noise. The dealer was polite and patient and let me listen to several types of songs. Again, this is only my opinion. I have nothing against B&W and I have read several glowing reviews for this model. S$2400-S$2600

PSB Imagine X2T
This is also a great value-for-money speaker. I thought it was comparable to the Wharfedale 10.7. Nice bass, but not very 'tight'. Similarly, great detail, but loses its way (only slightly) when complex compositions are thrown at it. Overall, a very pleasing, smooth, warm sound, with only a tiny bit of harshness in the higher frequencies. Good price too. S$1400-$1600. Looks are a bit 'meh'.

PSB Image T6
I was told by the dealer that the Imagine X2T is a better version of this speaker. Very similar sounding. Bass and high-frequency control were worse on these than on the X2T. This model has anyway been discontinued, apparently. S$1500-S$1700

PSB Imagine T2
Much better control than the Imagine X2T, but far lesser bass and impact. This wasn't good value for money, in my opinion. S$3000-S$3500

KEF Q700
It's a shame really, these speakers seem to have great potential, but are let down by one factor. The midrange and upper frequencies are nice and smooth, but the bass is just all over the place. For less money, the PSBs are a much better option. S$1700-S$2100

Paradigm Monitor 11
This was a nice all-rounder. I found it a bit on the bright side, but the sound wasn't harsh at all. But for the money, my eventual choice had much better bass and smoother sound. S$2000-S$2500

Monitor Audio Silver 6
I thought the Silver 6 was better than any of the other speakers I have listed above. Nice bass, but the mid-range is what shines. It's just magical. Incredibly liquid and transparent, with smooth, lush sound even at the highest frequencies. The fit and finish are superb, with very attractive looks. Excellent value for money, in my opinion. S1600-S$1900

THE WINNER!
Monitor Audio Silver 8
What I chose! Even more transparent, clear and magical midrange, and smooth high frequencies than the Silver 6, but much deeper bass that was very tight and controlled. It overall had an airier and more open quality than the Silver 6. Great clarity and detail as well, with a nice and wide soundstage. I just had to stretch my budget to get this. But for the sound, it isn't too expensive. S$2000-$S2500

Phase 2 - Amp

As I mentioned before don't skimp on this. Budget for this as well. I would suggest spending as much as you do on your speakers.

I don't really recall the prices of all the amps, but they are all around the range of the speakers mentioned above.

I obviously couldn't test the amps with the speakers of my choice, so in that sense they are limited to the quality of the speakers they were paired with.

1. Peachtree Nova125SE
Warm-sounding amp that lends a smooth texture to the sound. But sounded a bit dull and detail and punch were on the soft side. Great if you like that kind of sound. Nice set of features. Optical, coaxial, and analog inputs available. S$2000

2. Roksan Kandy K2 BT
Has a very convenient Bluetooth feature. Big on power - 140W RMS. So gives a lot of weight and boldness to the sound. But again, like the Dali Ikon, I found it a bit clinical and devoid of character. S$2200

3. Rotel RA-1570
This is what was paired with the B&W speakers. Enough said.

4. Yamaha AS-801
Amazing set of features. Top-flight DAC, phono input, subwoofer out the list continues. But the sound is kinda 'meh'. Not as coherent as the Peachtree or Roksan Kandy. But at S$1200, really good value for money.

5. Marantz PM6005 and NAD D 3020
Both really good amps with a superb set of features. The only reason I didn't go for them was because I wanted more power to drive the Silver 8.

THE WINNER
6. Rogue Audio Sphinx
This is a superb value-for-money amp. A tubed stage gives it a nice warm signature, while the Class D stage pumps out 200Watts at 4 ohms. The bass control is incredible, punchy and tight. It's got a tremendous sense of timing as well. It brings music alive. It speed gives the music a 'Zu speaker' effect, bringing performances 'live' to you. Also has a great built-in phono stage if you want to plug in a turntable to play vinyl. It's machined and built like a tank. Excellent minimalist, retro looks. All in all, a great deal for S$1900-S$2200
I bought the Musical Fidelity V90-DAC to go with the Sphinx. The V90 is awesome for the money.

A note on cables:
Frankly, I didn't have too much of a budget left for fancy cables after the speakers and amp. But I did make an effort to buy something that was recommended as a budget option.
I went for some good higher-end version Belden cables and interconnects, which are sold at only one shop in Singapore as far as I know. The same brand is sold by the rather famous Blue Jeans Cable in the U.S. They are solidly constructed and work very well. Excellent value for money.

This list was by no means exhaustive. I am sure there are several speakers and amps that I didn't/couldn't audition.

In any case, that's it! I hope this note is helpful to anyone who might be searching for their first serious audio system and seeking potential speakers to audition. Thanks
 
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alphacentury100

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Jun 11, 2011
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No doubt that the monitor audio Silver 8's are great sounding speakers built very well, but you should have listened to the KEF F500 speakers too. When I auditioned them, I felt the R series to be even better than the Monitor Audio GX series. But the built quality of Monitor audio speakers are top notch.
 

mpw

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please do put up some pictures once they are setup in your home..

will be nice to see..

have heard many good things about the RA Sphinx amplifier..

regards
 

hendelid

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Feb 9, 2015
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yes,No doubt that the monitor audio Silver 8's are great sounding speakers built very well,thanks
 

rahul_muzik

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Jun 24, 2014
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Though it was said before that OP couldn't audition other but for a serious auditioner i would recommend quad's to include in his list as i find a very serious contender not being considered in that price range particularly.
 
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