6 Great-Sounding and Affordable Systems Update?

Geickel -- Sat, 02/13/2010 - 22:14

A couple (or maybe three) years ago, NG, RH and CM did an article titled 6 Great-Sounding and Affordable Systems.  I have yet to purchase a system based on your recommendations (hindered by financial struggles, I am using a late 90's Kenwood surround receiver with a pair of Boston Acoustics VR1s that I got on clearance), but still am planning on making a purchase.  There are a few companies whose products I intently wait for reviews on (and for obvious reasons for any audiophile on a budget) : PSB, NAD, and OPPO Digital.
First of all, I wanted to ask if you guys plan on reviewing the successors to NAD's C 162BEE and C 272BEE pre and pro, the C 165BEE and C 275BEE.  So...are you?  I ask this because, although I'm sure there are new products just waiting to push the envelope, this combo has been on your "best of" list, at least for the past couple of years; and, since they have been replaced/updated, it only makes since that you would report on the changes and improvements between them and their predecessors.  I am also interested in purchasing them in the future, especially if the phonostage is everything it was cracked up to be on the older models, as I would like to pair them with a Rega P-24 turntable.  Really, in my opinion, reviewing the successors to all entries on your "best of" list should be a priority, but that is just my $.02.
Now, to the point of my post.  I have read many times on this site, as well as in Mr. Harley's book, The Complete Guide to High-End Audio (which, by the way, are you working on a fourth edition?) that there is a synergy that exists between certain components, regardless of whether they are the same brand or not, that causes the system's overall performance to far exceed the performance of the individual components themselves, when their cost is taken into account.  I, for one, would like to see more articles revolving around this "synergy".  Considering the fact that, at least recently, the vast majority of the reviews that I have read about the products that the companies mentioned above put out (and I know that there are other brands as well that fit into this group of over-achievers) claim that they could be put up against products costing anywhere from two to several times their price.  And, for example, if the OPPO BDP-83 could be compared to products costing four times its price, and you paired it with an amplifier and speakers that compete with products costing two to four times their prices, connected them with the "perfect" cables, THEN they all (together) have that synergistic component to boot, would you not end up with a system who's sound is worth many times the cost of its individual components?  I mean, who WOULDN'T want a system like that?  I know that this is what you guys are after as well, but I think that it would be in your interest to start another publication, or maybe a quarterly or semi-annual article, that focuses specifically on gear that not only performs well, but competes with/outperforms more expensive gear.  Then you might somehow include a section that states how the component relates to other components synergistically.  I know that in Playback, you have a list of "Playback Recommended" components.  Maybe you could just take those products (products that have an exemplary performance/cost ratio), along with any other products that fit into the category that are/were not reviewed in Playback, highlight specific systems that have great synergy, and make it more accessible to readers.  Or maybe you don't have a warehouse full of all of your favorite products from the last few years (or maybe you do), which would understandably make a task such as I have laid out somewhat impossible.  Maybe the best we could ask for is a more frequent and updated version of the article "6 Great-Sounding and Affordable Systems" to give some of us more of a starting point in putting our systems together.  So, could you please take this request into consideration.  I KNOW that you guys are always busy following the ever-evolving industry that is high-end audio, but that is an article that would, in my opinion, be even more helpful than some of your reviews, especially to readers who don't have access to all of these components for auditioning, and to those of us who are on a tight budget as well (which, I presume, is a great percentage of us). 
Specifically, I am curious about the synergy between the NAD pair and Rega turntable referenced above, Oppo BDP-83SE (which I know Mr. Martens is currently reviewing) and PSB Imagine speakers (probably Bs with a 5i or 6i sub), as well as a system consisting of the recently reviewed C 326BEE, Oppo BDP-83/BDP-83SE, and the new PSB Image speakers (all of them should be similar in all respects down to their individual capabilities in the bottom end, right?) or Alpha B1 (which I'm pretty sure, at some point in the next couple of years, Paul Barton and friends will be refreshing, which will be interesting considering the new Image B4's price in comparison).  I realize that the latter system is similar to the "The Ground Floor" system of the original article, but it'd sure be nice to see how the newer components "synergize" with each other.
WOW!!  If I were you reading this, I'd feel as though the person writing this was not only complaining, but telling me how to do my job better.  Please know that I think what you guys ARE doing is awesome, and reading your reviews of these types of products makes me downright giddy.  I am only sharing improvements that I think would benefit your site.  Maybe what I am suggesting is too much.  Maybe it wouldn't be as beneficial to your site as I think.  But for sure I know it would benefit your readers, especially those of us who are on a budget and can't wait to assemble a system whose sound quality very much exceeds the system's cost; and I think you gentlemen would agree.
On a side note: Mr. Harley, in your book you give a list of the best dimensional ratios for a listening room (according to M.M. Louden).  However, I noticed that your listening room, which you built from the ground up, was not necessarily built according to the ratios on the list.  You say the dimensions were chosen due to modal distribution.  Also, I've seen other ratios around on the internet.  I'm a bit confused about that, but understand that there are many, many factors that go into designing a listening room.  In any case, at some point in the future, I am going to build a dedicated listening/home theater room.  Can a single room effectively accomodate both purposes?  I would like to custom build a room for the speakers that I am going to purchase.  Is this possible?  Practical?  One last thing:  In your book, you talk about how a surround audio environment is best served with identical speakers in all positions.  I've read several reviews where the reviewer used SACD or DVD Audio in their review of a "surround package" from a particular brand.  My question is this:  If the speakers all the way around are "timber-matched", can these systems compete with other systems where all speakers are identical?
I realize that this post is an article in itself.  I apologize for any excessive commas and parenthetical statements.  Thank you for reading my words.  Thank you also in advance for considering what I have said.  I am a big fan of your site, especially where it concerns over-achieving components like the ones I've mentioned above.  I hope to finally have that "dream" system, or at least a budget "dream" system, soon.  I also hope to join your GEC club when financial obligations allow.  Thanks again.

john195 -- Sun, 02/14/2010 - 08:55

Have a look at whathifi.com for some good reviews, and then come back to this site to compare.
All the best.

Anon (not verified) -- Thu, 02/18/2010 - 08:45

Whathifi.com seemed to be very focussed on gears from a certain country only. I built my first system purely out of 5-star rated gears....alas to realise my folly... I have since traded out every of those gears and settled into European gears (Swiss pre-amp, power amp and analogue; German speakers and CD dac and transport) with Japanese cables [when they say 7N, they really mean it and not just US marketing ploy].

Tom Martin -- Sun, 02/21/2010 - 15:43

You have material here for several threads! You might get better replies by breaking this up.
RH and CM can comment, if they see this, on great sounding and affordable systems articles in the pipeline (if any). As you say, we all like these projects, though they are hard to do.
As for specific comparisons and synergies (e.g. NAD and Rega), I think you are drifting in the direction of what dealers exist to help you with. Or other forum members. Try as we would like, there are roughly 10,000 pieces of audio gear on the market at any time. These change every few years. The permutations and combinations are mathematically gigantic.
On your room questions, I think most of us believe that you can certainly have a single room that works for home theater. You can see my approach:
If you are cost constrained, I would say it is a virtual certainty that you can create a better system by NOT having identical speakers in each location.
As you say, room modes are only one element in the creation of a good listening room (e.g. absorption, reflection control, diffusion). And when it comes to ideal modal distribution there are different "optimal" models (Sepmeyer, Louden, Volkmann, Boner, Bolt, Everest etc). Usually you will have some constraint that drives your choice of optimal models (usually ceiling height). Then there is equipment placement within the room.
We're working on a guide to all of this for the GEC.

CEO and Editorial Director, Nextscreen LLC

Geickel -- Mon, 02/22/2010 - 21:23

Thanks, Tom, for replying to my thread. I first posted it in the "system building" thread several weeks ago. I knew when I wrote it that there was so much material covered that it would probably be skipped over because of its size, but I wrote it all together...probably due to time constraints and sheer laziness (and the fact that I was addressing questions/issues that had been building for a while in my mind). I appreciate your input and thoughtful responses to my many questions/suggestions, and I do hope that CM and RH will comment on this. I really don't have the time to spend breaking it up into multiple threads, and then tracking them, but I do appreciate the suggestion. I figure that if there is anything in my post worth reading and addressing, someone will.

Tom Martin -- Tue, 02/23/2010 - 09:21

I do think it is worth commenting on the synergy idea. I would suggest thinking about synergy as having both positive and negative values. My point here is that, if we use components with negative synergy as a reference, then a group of components with positive synergy will be vastly better. But, I am not as confident that a group of components that work pretty well together will be radically improved upon through synergy. The "work pretty well"components can be bettered, yes, but the difference isn't huge. Or, if it is huge to you, that's because the synergy solves a particular issue that really bugs you (and is hard to predict being huge in general).
Negative synergy is created when one ignores basic compatibility. Take the hot new Magnepan 1.7 speakers. They are rather inefficient. At CES they sounded superb and could run with almost anything else I heard. But we should note that Magnepan had the brains to use 1000 watts per channel for their demo. Pairing them with the otherwise truly excellent Peachtree iDecco (40WPC) would probably result in negative synergy: low bass impact, clipping at times, and a generally turgid sound (I don't know, haven't tried it, but I have heard Magnepans with the wrong front end way too often and that's how they sound). Of course, this sort of thing isn't so easy to predict.
There will be those who disagree, but I think one reasonable approach is to select your speakers first. While there is a lot of hating going on about dealers (mainly from dreamy folks who want to have their cake and eat it too), this is an area where the audio channel can really shine. You look at the TAS Editor's Choice List and select a few speakers in the relevant price range that seem to fit your listening orientation. Go to dealers and listen, with ancillary equipment better than you plan on using. Pick the speaker than sounds most accurate to you, on your music. Ask if this speaker has any special sonic requirements (especially power demands and room placement demands). Power demands have to be factored into the price equation. Placement demands are more unforgiving. I would simply say avoid speakers that don't fit with your space. Way too many consumers buy a speaker that is inappropriate for their size space (I know, I've done this).
Then you can spend the next few years aligning the rest of your system around the speakers. And, very important, dialing in the setup and room.

CEO and Editorial Director, Nextscreen LLC

Geickel -- Tue, 02/23/2010 - 09:55

Thanks again, Tom.  I will remember this when I am finally able to audition and choose a set of speakers for the long haul.  I really appreciate your comments on my 'article'.

Tom Martin -- Tue, 02/23/2010 - 11:51

I asked Robert when the next systems issue will be. He says the December issue (street: October).

CEO and Editorial Director, Nextscreen LLC

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